Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: November 2004


Let the Bidding Begin
2004-11-30 08:18
by Alex Belth

Wasting little time, Omar Minaya has reportedly offered Pedro Martinez a three-year, $37.5 deal, with an option for a fourth season. According to Murray Chass:

Omar Minaya's imagination seems to know no bounds. Minaya, the Mets' general manager, didn't invent the term "thinking outside the box," but in baseball he is among its leading practitioners.

Minaya is imaginative, aggressive and determined. He must also be fearless because with his early activity he has created enough hope among Mets fans that they will surely have a letdown if he fails to execute one or more of his plans.

Mike Lupica is impressed by Minaya's assertiveness. The good news, he writes, is that:

Minaya [is] letting people know that the Mets are going to be in play with the big boys this time.

...Minaya is saying that the Mets don't sit back anymore. I think Pedro belongs in Boston. I think he'll stay in Boston, unless he leaves a great situation over money the way Jason Giambi did. He's still better than anybody the Mets have, if he can pass a physical. You want to know why Minaya tries? That's why.

I still figure that Martinez will stay on with the Red Sox. But then again, I wouldn't be shocked at all if he simply goes to the highest bidder. Across town, all is still in Yankeeland. Oh, they are close to re-signing John Flaherty. Very well, then. Quickly moving on, if you want to fill your head with Yankee musings, check out Cliff Corcoran's look at the Bombers' 40-man roster, as well as thoughts about their pitching from Larry Mahnken and Jay Jaffe.

Lots of Stuffin', hold the Turkeys
2004-11-29 08:12
by Alex Belth

Thanksgiving came and went this year without any major deals going down for any of the local teams. Last Wednesday, there was more kibbitzing about the Yankees interest in sending Javier Vazquez to Arizona for Randy Johnson. However, Peter Gammons delineated why the proposition is a dicey one for the Diamondbacks:

What makes no sense is Arizona taking on Vazquez. Wink, wink -- we know the Yankees would take on some of the money, but Vazquez has $25M guaranteed in 2006 and 2007. Now, the Diamondbacks likely will be worse than any of Vazquez's Expos teams, so he'll demand a trade at the end of the '05 season. If he has a good year, Arizona will be embarrassed. If he has a bad year, he will be virtually untradable at that price. Then there's the matter of Diamondbacks owner Jeff Moorad being the agent Vazquez fired.

Since the Yankee farm system is thin near the top, one talent solution is for the Diamondbacks to get Tom Gordon and Kenny Lofton, then spin Gordon off to either the Indians or Cubs, two of the richest organizations in young talent, and Lofton to the Phillies or Giants for a third prospect.

Meanwhile, Met general manager Omar Minaya dined with Pedro Martinez in the Dominican Republic on Thanksgiving. The Mets will reportedly make Martinez an offer in the near future. John Harper examines whether signing Martinez is worth the risk in today's Daily News.

Lovely How I Let My Mind Float, Now I'm a Take My Baaaaad Ass Home Cause I'm Goat
2004-11-23 08:57
by Alex Belth

Gary Sheffield will have surgery on his left shoulder today. The Yankees' right fielder had been told by several doctors, including Dr. James Andres, Stuart Hershon, and Frank Jobe, that he wouldn't need to be operated on, but the pain has continued, so he will in fact go ahead with the surgery. According to the New York Times:

[General Manager, Brian] Cashman described the operation as minor and said that if everything goes as expected, Sheffield will recover in four to five weeks.

The Times also picked up on a report which appeared last Sunday in the Dominican newspaper, El Caribe, concerning Pedro Martinez. Apparently, Pedro was impressed by Steinbrenner when the two met in Florida last week. In addition, Derek Jeter got together with him as well.

"I want respect, affection and the best treatment possible," Martínez said, without specifying a contract figure. "I am not asking for anything that Pedro Martínez doesn't deserve. People don't understand that when it's about a free agent, that means that you can go to the best bidder."

..."I would play baseball even in a goat's den," he said. "Anywhere. That doesn't worry me."

Yup. He's a ba-a-a-a-d, man. (Aw, hell, I just couldn't resist.)

Meanwhile, Tony Massorotti reports in the Boston Herald that the Sox have upped their offer to Jason Varitek. Ah, the price of success.

2004-11-22 08:39
by Alex Belth

Awww, man. Monday morning and there's not one baseball article to be found in New York's big three papers. Over the weekend, there were rumors about the Yankees making an offer to Pedro Martinez (which was later contested), and the Red Sox making a counter proposal. Who knows what's going on. The one that that is sure is that Pedro is making himself some mo money here.

In His Element

Several weeks ago, Sripraphai, a small, inviting Thai restaurant in Woodside, Queens got a two-star review from Frank Bruni in the New York Times. A friend at work hipped me to the place a few months ago, and the review reminded me that we should get out there, even if it meant waiting on line for a table. So Emily and I went out to Queens on Saturday night with Jay Jaffe and his girlfriend Andra, their close pal Nick Stone, and fellow AB-scribe, Alex Ciepley. The trip was well worth taking. The food lived up to advance billing and the price--$85 including a generous tip for six people--was oh so right.

But perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the evening was watching Alex C navigate us through the intricacies of Thai cuisine. A bonafide foodie who once lived in Thailand for a year-and-a-half, Ciepley was clearly a Duke in his domain. We all had dishes we wanted to try but were more than comfotable leaving the final decisions up to Alex who took care of the ordering. As each dish arrived and quickly made its way around the table, we ate at am insatiable, almost furious clip. About half-way through the meal Nick looked up and noticed that in his excitement as our defacto host and tour guide, Alex had barely eaten anything. But it didn't seem to matter much; he was in his glory.

We all had a great time, and most importantly, the place had Alex's seal of approval. On the subway ride home, Jay, Nick and I looked over at him, sitting with the girls on the other side of the train, his head buried in the take-home menu, lost in a reverie. The restaurant--not to mention the company---was terrific and another reminder of why living in a city like New York is so rewarding. (It was a cold, rainy night, but that didn't stop us from going out of our way to the west village to pick up some off-the-hook cupcakes from the sinful Magnolia bakery.) What made the experience even sweeter was going with an expert like Alex, who derived so much pleasure and deep satisfaction from the trip that by the end of the night, my man was--and I don't think this is an exaggeration--swooning.

Master and Commander
2004-11-21 18:17
by Alex Belth

In researching the 1964 Cardinals for the Curt Flood project I'm working on, I came across a good bit about the difference betweeen Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra in Bill Veeck's book (written with Ed Linn), "The Hustler's Handbook." In his first year as Yankee skipper, Berra won the pennant, then lost the World Serious in seven games and was promptly fired. So much for Yankee loyalty:

The decision to make Yogi Berra, of all people, the manager of the Yankees was admittedly one of the more moonstruck episodes in baseball. Furthermore, pitting him against Casey Stengel of the crosstown Mets was the worst mismtach in history. No boxing commission would have allowed it. Yogi is a completely manufactored product. He is a case study of this country's unlimited ability to gull itself and be gulled.

Continue reading...
Politkin' fer Pitchin
2004-11-19 08:10
by Alex Belth

The priority for the Bronx Bombers this off-season is pitching. Yesterday, Joe Torre told the AP that he would welcome Pedro Martinez to New York, while Curt Schilling and the Red Sox wooed Carl Pavano. Lots of courting going on before Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, for some bonafide analysis on what the Yankees could or should do with their pitching staff, check out recent posts from Cliff Corcoran and Jay Jaffe.

Go West

Yankee radio announcer Charley Steiner may be on his way to Los Angeles to join Vin Scully in the Dodgers broadcast booth. Jon Weisman asked what I thought about the prospect of Steiner leaving New York for the coast. The first thing that popped into my head was a moment from The Honeymooners when Alice sang, "I don't want him, you can have him, he's too fat for me." Yo, chill kid. Actually, I don't mind Steiner at all, but he was hopelessly miscast alongside ol' Silver Throat, John Sterling. Why? Because their pairing violates the fat-skinny tradition of comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Gleason and Carney, Siskel and Ebert, and Mike and the Mad Dog. With Steiner and Sterling you had heft with hefty and the chemistry just didn't work. I hope Steiner goes to L.A. and flourishes. What do you guys think? Weisman has a post up on it over at Dodger Thoughts. Head on over and chime in with the New York perspective.

Moose Call
2004-11-18 08:22
by Alex Belth

The Red Sox didn't waste any time responding to the meeting between Pedro Martinez and George Steinbrenner. Pedro met with Red Sox officials yesterday. According to Bob Hohler in the Boston Globe:

The meeting, which was scheduled before Martinez's side trip to Steinbrenner's offseason headquarters in Tampa, was considered crucial because both sides were eager to reach an agreement and move on to other concerns.

At the very least, Martinez almost certainly needed to sense some willingness by the Sox to improve their initial offer if he were to maintain faith in the negotiations. And the Sox needed to determine whether they could afford to reasonably satisfy Martinez's expectations, particularly if he believed his meeting with Steinbrenner improved his bargaining position.

On a conference call with reporters yesterday, Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina said he didn't think the Bombers need to make any drastic moves:

"Almost everyone was new last year, and nobody was really sure what was going to happen, and we had injuries to deal with," Mussina said. "To win 101 games with that kind of staff was pretty impressive. We may just need a little bit of an adjustment.

"If you keep trying to do an entire overhaul every year, you're not going to get 101 wins every year. One year, you're going to do that and it's not going to happen. Maybe we have to work with it just a touch and try that, instead of trying to throw a new handful of people in there."

The perfessor has spoken.

Let's Do Lunch
2004-11-17 09:44
by Alex Belth

Pedro Martinez met with George Steinbrenner yesterday in Florida. It was only a matter of time, right? It is not clear if Martinez and Steinbrenner are using each other to drive up Pedro's price-tag or if he has a sincere interest in playing for the Yankees next year. Yankee officials are said not to be attracted to Martinez, but that's never stopped Steinbrenner before. The Yankees could also be engaging in talks with Martinez to influence a possible deal with Arizona for Randy Johnson. So much posturing and so much time...John Harper has a good take on the story today in the Daily News.

Meanwhile, Gary Sheffield made the front page of the local tabloids today. Man, just say the word scandal these days and you are bound to see R. Kelly's name attached to it.

That Time of Year
2004-11-16 08:21
by Alex Belth

For some of us, a season never feels complete until Roger Angell weighs in with his take in pages of The New Yorker. Angell's latest is available on the Internet (thanks to Repoz for the link). A longtime Red Sox sympathizer, Boston fans will relish this one. Enjoy:

I didn’t think much about all my Red Sox fan-friends until the World Series was over. Now they are triumphant, and their old pains and desperate attachments have become historic and quirky. They won’t need their amulets and game-watching rituals anymore—the stuff that was mentioned in so many of the TV news stories the day after, and in some New England newspaper feature stories. A copy of the Bangor Daily News mentioned a family in Old Town that mowed a “Go, Sox” pattern in the lawn, and a ninety-four-year-old lady in Lakeville, Massachusetts, who made herself a little ceramic Fenway Park each year, with porcelain nuns at play inside. This stuff may go on, but, like the Sox home games next year, it will be terrific fun but not the same. Perhaps trying to hold on to something, I got in touch with a bygone Red Sox hero, the pitcher Jim Lonborg, who had won two games in the World Series of 1967 and lost the last one, Game Seven, to Bob Gibson, whom he’d faced on two days’ rest. Lonborg is a dentist in Hanover, Massachusetts, and he called me back after he’d finished with his first patient of the day. He told me that he still got back to Fenway Park to see the Sox three or four times each year, and he admired the energy of this new bunch. So far, none of his old teammates had called, but a few friends had, savoring the day. He’d watched the last World Series game with his twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Nora—he has six children—and they’d high-fived after the Sox won.

“That’s all?” I said. “Only a high-five?”

“Well, there were more neighbors and family here when we watched the last game against the Yankees,” he said, almost apologetically. “When that was over, Nora ran up and jumped in my arms and knocked me across a table.”

While we're talking about quality goods, be sure and check out Jon Wiesman's excellent article about baseball blogging as well as the latest chapter in Rich Lederer's oustanding series on the Bill James Abstracts.

Left of Center
2004-11-16 08:09
by Alex Belth

Just how important is it to have left-handed pitching, particularly left-handed starting pitching? Neither the Red Sox or the Yankees (or the Astros or Cardinals) had any left-handed starters in the playoffs this past year. But the word around town is that the Yankees are craving one, if not two southpaws for their 2005 rotation. The Daily News delineates possible Yankee plans today, while the Times reports that the Bombers may have interest in a lefty of a different kind--get this--first baseman Carlos Delgado. (Umm, huh?)

Winter of Their Discontent Part I (of a Running Series)
2004-11-15 08:05
by Alex Belth

How long will the Yankees be haunted by how the 2004 season ended? At least until spring training, probably longer. Jack Curry caught up with Alex Rodriguez recently and the Yankees' third baseman is feeling predicatably low:

Three weeks after the Yankees faded in four straight losses and two weeks after Rodriguez barely watched the Red Sox shelve 85 seasons of misery, Rodriguez settled on the villain in this tale. He looked in the mirror and never stopped staring.

"The fact that I got what I got, I deserved every bit of it because I was brought here to help win a championship and we didn't get that done," Rodriguez said. "Therefore, we failed. I don't think you can point your finger at any one guy because we win and lose as a team. But if you had to point a finger, I think you would point it right at me."

..."Obviously, what will make it better is coming back next year and winning a title," Rodriguez said. "But I'll never forgive myself or my team. As good as we were, there's no way we should have lost four games in a row to anyone. That disappointed me. That shouldn't have happened."

As far as Curt Schilling's post-championship comments about Rodriguez:

"Anytime he says something about me it's a compliment, especially when they're in their championship parade and they're still thinking about us," Rodriguez said. "The one thing I hope is that he continues to speak poorly about me and the Yankees because that will give us great motivation to beat the Red Sox in the future."

As Rodriguez carefully selected his words, he was seething. He is miffed that Schilling, who made several recruiting calls to Rodriguez about joining the Red Sox after Schilling was traded there last November, has blasted him so incessantly.

But, when Rodriguez was asked if the words hurt, he said: "Absolutely not. Red Sox are not supposed to like Yankees."

What are the odds that Rodriguez will be in the middle of another brawl between the Yanks and Sox next year?

Post Script with Bill James
2004-11-12 12:34
by Alex Belth

Bronx Banter celebrates a Boitday, Albeit Belatedly

A few weeks ago I posed a series of questions about the end of the 2004 Yankee-Red Sox season to a group of writers. Bill James was one of the guys I had contacted to participate. The first post I ever wrote here at Bronx Banter was about James. I just looked back on it and noticed that I celebrated my second birthday of hosting Bronx Banter last week and didn't even notice it. I knew it was sometime in November dangit. (It was Em's birthday yesterday and you can bet your sweet bibbie that I remembered that one!) Anyhow, James didn't respond, until yesterday that is. So I threw a few more bp fastballs his way and here is what he had to say for himself.

Bronx Banter: Did you attend any of the playoff games?
Bill James: Three games of the series against the Yankees, all four in the World Series.
BB: How tense were you watching the ALCS, especially games 5 and 6?

BJ: One click short of a heart attack.

Continue reading...

You've Got to Pick Your Spots
2004-11-12 08:55
by Alex Belth

It's All About Timing

It's tough to find successful "As-told-to" biographies. I imagine that most of them consist of the subject talking into a tape recorder for many hours and dumping the mess on a writer. Then the writer goes off to transcribe the ramblings in the attempt turn it into something coherent. I may be wrong, but rarely do these kind of books strike me as true collaborations. The results are often clumsy and artless, though they can still be entertaining. But it's a pleasure when a book of this sort seems to capture the subject's spirit, their rhythms and inflections. When the writer and subject actually connect.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, Ed Linn captured Leo Durocher's personality vividily in their book, "Nice Guys Finish Last." Another winning example is "Second Wind: Memoirs of an Opinonated Man," by Bill Russell with the historian Taylor Branch (1979, Random House; currently out-of-print). Russell grew up in West Oakland, and I came across this book researching the Curt Flood project I've been working on. (Rusell was four years older than Flood but played high school basketball with Frank Robinson.) Anyhow, it is a terrific read, emotionally direct and tender. Well worth snatching if you ever find it in a used bookshop.
Continue reading...

We Can Work it Out
2004-11-12 08:36
by Alex Belth

At the annual charity dinner for Joe Torre's "Safe at Home" foundation last night, Jorge Posada told reporters that should the Yankees sign Pedro Martinez, he would be cool with it:

"I don't have anything against Pedro, if he's my teammate," Posada said. "Obviously, we'd work things out. I'd catch him. You know this guy's a winner, he knows how to pitch, he does everything possible to try to win and keep in shape.

"I've got no problems getting things straight and going on. We are gentlemen here and we are adults, so we can work things out."

Posada also lobbied for another Martinez, his old pal Tino, to return to the Bronx. Which Martinez would you rather see in pinstripes in 2005?

Chock Fulla...Stuff
2004-11-11 08:39
by Alex Belth

It's getting winter cold here in New York. But there is plenty of hot baseball air in the papers today: the Times reports that the Yankees are setting their sights squarely on Carlos Beltran; the Post notes that Brian Cashman and Joe Garagiola Jr met briefly, presumably to talk about Randy Johnson; Newsday mentions that Andruw Jones could be a good fit for New York should Beltran slip away, and according to the Daily News, the Yankees also met with Carl Pavano's agent yesterday. The News also has a story about the Mets interviewing Yankee coach Rick Down without permission. Ostensibly, it's all much ado about nothing, but at least it's about baseball.

One thing is for sure, Mel Stottlemyre will be back for one final season as pitching coach and Joe Girardi will be Joe Torre's bench coach. According to the Times:

"I had always intended on returning," Stottlemyre said. "I never had the word retirement in my mind at any time. There was more in the papers about retiring than I had in my mind."

..."My family very much wants me to go out the right way," he said. "I think the way is to announce that this will be my last year as pitching coach for the New York Yankees. Doing it this way takes away a lot of the thinking that health might be a problem."

..."I sensed a little bit from what you read in the papers and things going around that someone in the Yankee organization might be happy if I stepped down," Stottlemyre said, in reference to articles that appeared last week suggesting that he was preparing to retire.

Some Yankee fans, including me, have wondered if it isn't time for Mel to move on. However, Steven Goldman defended Stottlemyre well in the most recent edition of "The Pinstriped Bible":

In general...I think we're too quick to blame Stottlemyre for things that have gone wrong and don't give him enough credit for the many things have gone right.

...Perhaps Stottlemyre couldn't help [Jeff] Weaver get over his psychological problems. Neither could Joe Torre and a dozen other people connected with the Yankees organization. Every pitching coach has some pupils that will not be helped. The pitcher then changes teams and does a little better because he's found a coach who can somehow get through to him, or he's desperate enough to finally listen. Jason Marquis, who could not find success with the Braves' Leo Mazzone but was helped by the Cardinals' Dave Duncan, is a great example.

That leaves [Javier] Vazquez. If, as has been continually asserted, Vazquez's problem was mechanical/psychological (though emphatically not a phobic response to New York) rather than physical, it would be fair to say that Stottlemyre deserves to share some of the blame for the pitcher's breakdown. Still, there is a limit to what any teacher can do with a pupil who is unwilling or unable to listen, and in the heat of a pennant race, with 10 other pitchers to manage, the task becomes even more difficult.

And, as I've already mentioned here before, I'm excited about Joe G becoming the bench coach.

2004-11-10 09:03
by Alex Belth

Roger Clemens won his seventh Cy Young award yesterday. It was not a surprising cherce. Even if he wasn't the best pitcher in the league it's pretty special that he pitched so well for the Astros. Looks like he's serious about hanging em up this time too. If this is it, what a way to go, huh?

Speaking of saying good bye, Brian Gunn, who has been one of the most prolific, informative and entertaining baseball writers on the Internet for the past two seasons is closing up shop at Redbird Nation to persue other interests. Check out his farewell post. He will be missed.

Lastly, there is a Mike Piazza for Shawn Green rumor making the rounds at the general managers' meetings. Hmmm. What do you think, Met fans? Also, check out the latest baseball stylings from Rob Neyer and Steven Goldman.

The Divine Ms. Em
2004-11-09 12:32
by Alex Belth

During the ALDS I posted a goofy snap shot of myself in front of a candy store on Arthur avenue in the Bronx. A couple of readers asked why I didn't include a shot with my gal Emily. She was with me that day, "so what gives?" they said. I'll tell you what: the picture with her in it didn't do her justice and I just couldn't run it. I value my life, dude. I may write about Em here but I'm not about to post a lame picture of her if I know what's good for me (and surprisingly, I do!).

Well, better late than never. With the help of my technical guru Alex Ciepley, here are a couple of shots of me with the Minister of Defense. They are a bit dated, but hey, we haven't changed much since they were taken. Plus, they were all approved by Emilish herself. Talk about official.

All smiles hanging out in Chinatown.

At my brother's wedding in the summer of 2002.

Later that year at my man Alan Friedman's wedding in Jersey City.

Come Together
2004-11-09 08:40
by Alex Belth

The Yankee coaching staff is virtually set for 2005. Mel Stottlemyre, Don Mattingly, Luis Sojo and Roy White are all expected to return. Joe Girardi will replace Willie Randolph while Neil Allen will become the new bullpen coach. Last week, the New York Times reported that Stottlemyre would not come back. But now, it appears as if he will. According to Anthony McCarron in the Daily News:

"I have an interest in coming back, that I'll tell you," Stottlemyre said when reached at his home in Washington State. "It's just that we have not gotten together yet. I don't think I should get any further into it than that. I'll let any other comment come from the club.

"Hopefully, it can be resolved."

...There were several published reports in the past week that Stottlemyre, who will turn 63 on Saturday, was not coming back and the coach said he was stunned and hurt by them.

"I'm quite upset," Stottlemyre said. "There's no truth to any of them ... There's been everything in there that my wife (Jean) wanted me to retire, everything. She's been real upset. Please put the word out.

"I've been hunting and it was a tremendous trip and I was completely out of circulation. I hadn't had any talks with club officials. Now I'm trying to catch up."

In other Yankee news, general manager Brian Cashman, who is attending the general managers' meetings in Florida, told reporters yesterday:

"It's more likely going up a little bit than it is going down," Cashman told reporters in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton. "Because we aren't getting any relief of any major free agents involved.

"But again, my preference is to put the best team out there that can win a championship.

"It's unlikely we'll have a drastic change in payroll."

The payroll will increase. It's a shock, I know.

Extra, Extra

Hot off the press, the first edition of The Hardball Times Annual is ready for sale. I've contributed an article--a reworking of a piece I first posted here about my trip to the winter meetings in New Orleans last year. The book also contains work by Aaron Gleeman, Larry Mahnken, Ben Jacobs, Steve Treder, Studes, Vinay Kumar and the rest of the THT staff. There are also guest columns by the likes of Brian Gunn and Bill James. The book is available in traditional book form for $16.75 (plus shipping and tax); it can also be purchased as an e-book for $6.25. Get a jump on your Holiday shopping and check, check it out.
Continue reading...

Moving Picture Monday
2004-11-08 08:55
by Alex Belth

It's a light day in the baseball universe here in New York. Bill Madden reports that Don Mattingly will return as the Yankees' hitting coach in 2005. According to George King, Mel Stottlemyre will inform the Yankees later today whether or not he'll continue on as Joe Torre's pitching coach. What else? Um, it's still hard to fathom that the Red Sox won it all...(Dig it Dog, it really happened.) Oh, here's the latest thoughts from Derek Jacques, and Jay Jaffe. Check em out.

Em and I saw Alexander Payne's new movie "Sideways" this weekend, which features terrific work from Virginia Madsen, Thomas Haden Church, and the lead, Paul Giamatti. It's not a great movie, but the fact that it is uneven was kind of appealing. It's moving and tender, not nearly as ironic or arch as Payne's earlier work (which includes the hilarious "Election" as well as "Citizen Ruth" and "About Schmidt"). I've always liked Madsen. She was wonderful in an HBO movie about minor league baseball in the 1950s called "Long Gone," and she makes the most of her supporting role here. Giamatti is solid, once again playing a dour intellectual. (There is a shot of him with is real-life father, Bart that will stand out to baseball fans.) I'd say that the movie is worth your ten bucks.

Continue reading...

Attsa Fine
2004-11-07 10:01
by Alex Belth

On the field Joe Girardi always struck me as combination of Yogi Berra and Chico Marx. He didn't look as much like an ape as Berra did, but they could have been distant relatives. Far from effete, Girardi had a maternal quality about him. I'll never forget how he pulled David Cone to the ground like a mother bear protecting her cub after the last out of Cone's perfect game. Anyhow, it appears as if Girardi will replace Willie Randolph as Joe Torre's bench coach. Nothing is official yet, but expect an announcement to be made one way or the other this week. Personally, I think it's great news and the prospect of Girardi sitting next to Torre for a full season is a welcome one. The status of Mel Stot and Donnie Baseball is still uncertain. Both are believed to be haggling over money with the Yankees.

The Yankees declined Jon Lieber's $8 million option for 2005 but are still interested in bringing the right-hander back next year.

Scanning the Sunday papers, Ken Rosenthal thinks the Bombers need to go for broke and do whatever they need to do to get Tim Hudson. Also check out Murray Chass on Curt Schilling, and the latest from Peter Gammons. It's sunny and brilliant in New York today for the Marathon. Hope everyone has a great one.

Three Wise Men
2004-11-05 13:43
by Alex Belth

Here is the second installment of the Season-Ending Review I started earlier this week. I was fortunate enough to get Allen Barra, Rich Lederer and Glenn Stout to share their thoughts about the Yankees and Red Sox. Hope you enjoy and have a great weekend.

BB: Is it fair to say that they suddenly lost their character in the final four games of the ALCS? Was it a lack of character that lost this series or did the teams flaws finally rear its ugly head? (As Tom Verducci noted last week: "Hard to find someone who hurt the Yankees more than Tom Gordon and Kevin Brown in the ALCS. The Red Sox batted .500 against Gordon in the eighth innings of the series (7-for-14), with a double, a triple and two homers. His ERA in the eighth inning was 19.29. Brown is a broken down pitcher who has no clue how to pitch without dominating stuff and alienates himself from the rest of the team.")
Allen Barra: It’s always possible to reflect on any lost series and pick the player show did not perform well and say that they lacked “character.” Character is one of those terms like “chemistry” that some sportswriters pull out when they lack anything more specific to talk about. But as I’ve said many times, chemistry is an exact science, one with results that are predictable from the start. If the Yankees lacked “character” or “chemistry” after the ALCS, why was it not known that they lacked “character” or “chemistry” before the series?
Tom Verducci was on to something when he said that the Yankees were more hurt by Tom Gordon and Kevin brown than anyone else, though I do not think Tom Gordon did the hurting so much as he was hurt. The Yankees exhibited outstanding character all season long, posting a record number of come from behind wins, overcoming the loss of their number one slugger, Jason Giambi, and a pitching staff that was constantly breaking down and getting blown out. The inability of some pitchers in the starting rotation to last three innings and the further inability of some relief pitchers to keep the team in the game was a big leak which was left unplugged all season long. You could see the sand pouring out and the sack becoming more limp. This in turn put an unfair burden on what should have been the Yankee’s strength, the trio of Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, and Mariano Rivera, all of whom had pitched in record number of games with weeks to go in the regular season. What ultimately happened in Games, 4, 5, 6, and 7 was exactly what should have happened all season long: the quality part of the bullpen faltered.
What is amazing is that the Yankees lost for the simple want of two or three reasonably good pitchers in the bullpen, the kind who would seem to be reasonably obtainable, and that the weakness went all season without being addressed. So long as the Yankees kept coming from behind, it was assumed that this weakness could be ignored. For want of a nail a horse was lost … etc.
Rich Lederer: The Yankees lost something in the final four games but it wasn't their so-called character. They lost the ALCS. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Glenn Stout: Oh, I don’t think they lost their “character” – I think they lost two close games, and after that the door was open, momentum started to swing and any narrow advantage the Yankees had going in had sort of been used up. I think it’s important to remember that from the beginning of 2003 thru the first three games of the 2004 ALCS, nearly sixty games, the Yankees won every time they had to – either to beat the Red Sox, keep them at bay or to protect their lead. That’s bound to run out at some point, just as the splurge the Red Sox had in August and early September to draw close couldn’t last, and the way the Yankees hit in games 1-3 couldn’t last. Yankee fans also keep comparing this team to the late ‘90’s team, which of course won four out of five World Series. That’s completely unfair, because that will never happen again under the current playoff setup. It’s not that this team doesn’t measure up – it’s that no team can measure up to that club. I think we’ll all realize that about twenty-five years from now when no other team as come close to duplicating that record.

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If I Was Any Closer to You I'd Be Behind You
2004-11-05 08:54
by Alex Belth

Willie's in. Could Tino be next (say it ain't so)? Mel? We still don't know. Not much more than gossip and rumors today, so I thought I'd offer up something completely different, a couple of epistolary nuggets from the desk of Julius Marx:

To Chico Marx

March, 1942

Dear Chico,

My Favorite Picture Producer was at our hourse for dinner the other night and each year he eats progressivley louder. The sucking of chicken bones and corn on the cob (a terrible mistake, I realize now) could be heard from miles around. Many people thought it was an air raid and began drawing the blackout curtains and dousing the lights.

We then proceeded, at his insistnt behest, to the loges of the Pantages Theater where he snored through two of the longest pictures since the beginning of the talkies.

Tune in again next week for another thrilling chapter of the little fat man with the sucking cavities.

In the meantime, always examine the dice.


From McCall's Magazine

April 8, 1963

Dear Mr. Marx:

Could you send us a few quick notes about cars in connection with an article we are planning for summer?

...If you drive, we would like to have a list of the items you keep in your glove compartment. What "extras" do you wish glove compartments had room to hold?...and many thanks.


Bernice Conner
Senior Editor, McCall's

April 15, 1963

Dear Miss Conner:

You ask what I keep in my glove compartment. The last time I looked I had a woman's bikini, one half a cheese sandwcih without mustard and a letter from the finance company saying that if I don't pay the $5,000 I own on the $5,000 car, they will take the matter into their own hands. If they do, they'll find it pretty messy in that glove compartment.

Any further information you may want will have to come from my attorneys, Schrecklichtheit, Schrecklichtheit and Meyer.

Sincerely yours,

Groucho Marx

I think he forgot a Schrecklichtheit. Or was it Hungadunga?

Go Go to D.C.
2004-11-04 13:47
by Alex Belth

John Viega, a Yankee fan who has lived in Washington D.C. for the last twenty years, has just launced "Washington Baseball Blog" and will be covering the Expos, or whatever they are soon to be renamed, I'm sure there will be several sites that focus on the Washington's new team but John's is the first that I'm aware of. Stop by and check it out.
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Welcome Back
2004-11-04 08:29
by Alex Belth

Brooklyn's in the House

Willie Randolph, a native of Brownsville, Brooklyn, is the new manager of the New York Mets. This makes for a good story around these parts. Randolph has always been appreciated as a quiet professional in New York, one of our own. Along with Omar Minaya, who grew up down in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Mets have two homeboys at the helm. I don't know how talented either one will be at their jobs, but initially, the local sportswriters like both men and are giving them the benefit of the doubt. Randolph has seen it all in New York: he played for Billy Martin in the wild and crazy Bronx Zoo years, and coached for Joe Torre in the championship years of the late 90s. Randolph has been known to be diffident and sensitive with the media in the past. Obviously, that won't work when Mike and the Mad Dog are killing him in early June.

I'm pleased for Willie--he was one of my favorite players when I was growing up--and am curious to see how things pan out for him in Queens. Be sure and check out the Mets sites that I've got linked to the right, to see what the National League half of the New York baseball scene have to say about the move.
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Feels Just Like (Starting Over)
2004-11-03 13:59
by Alex Belth

Is this the begining of a new day for the Red Sox or will 2004 look a lot like 1980 did for the Phillies before long? Allen Barra throws his hat into the ring with an essay on the Sox (and Yanks) in the current edition of The Villiage Voice. Check, check it out.

Swept Away
2004-11-03 13:49
by Alex Belth

When I previewed the ALCS, "Moneyball" author Michael Lewis predicted that should the Red Sox win it all, Theo Epstein would down play the significance sabermetrics had on the team's success. I haven't followed Epstein's comments closely, but I certainly haven't noticed the mainstream media giving props to Boston's sabermetric qualities, have you? In his column yesterday, Jim Baker, who used to assist Bill James, wrote:

In the wake of the Red Sox winning it all, there has been precious little mention of Bill James and his role in their success, even as Theo Epstein is getting plenty of credit. Why is this? As my friend Tim Walker says, "It doesn't fit the story line." The whole "idiots" thing is far more intriguing to the typical media outlet than the intelligence invested in piecing together the Red Sox.

This is extremely disappointing to me because it bespeaks an anti-intellectualism that permeates our culture. Yes, the players had to execute--as is always the case--but attention must be paid to the braintrust that gathered them there and did things like limiting the team to 12 sacrifice bunts. One of two things is happening: either the media doesn't understand the extent to which James contributed, or they do and can't bear the thought of it.

I think that the media may not understand the extent of James' contributions. I know that I don't know how much influence he has or doesn't have. Clearly, sabermetrics is a valued tool by the current Boston regime. At the same time I suspect that Baker is right, many guys in the mainstream press probably can't bear the thought of giving an outsider like James credit where credit is due.

Catch Up
2004-11-03 13:37
by Alex Belth

Heard any good rumors yet? The Newark Star Ledger floated one the other day about the Yankees moving Jorge Posada to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Randy Johnson. Now, it's just a rumor, but shoot, that must mean the Hot Stove League is starting to bubble. Steven Goldman, a longtime Posada advocate doesn't think it would be a wise deal for New York:

Posada is the kind of player who should age well. He is going to strike out more and hit for less of an average, but the power should maintain and so should the walks. The other two are going to be team leaders and "great handlers of pitchers."

The trick is to trade up, not down, and this would be a huge step down, not to mention a further dilution of the team's identity. You could more easily replace Derek Jeter — with A-Rod, who is already here — than you can Posada, so maybe Jeter should be offered up for the Big Unit or Tim Hudson and his vanishing strikeouts. Trading Jeter for a top pitcher and signing a free agent third baseman like Adrian Beltre would leave the Yankees a stronger club than trading Posada for a lesser pitcher and signing Varitek. Why is that somehow unthinkable? Maybe it's because the difference between perceived value and actual value with Jeter and Posada is so large.

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Mel Done
2004-11-03 10:14
by Alex Belth

According to Jack Curry in the New York Times:

Mel Stottlemyre, the pitching coach who has been at Manager Joe Torre's side since the Yankees hired him in 1996, will not return in 2005. A person who spoke to one of Stottlemyre's colleagues said this week that Stottlemyre would not be back for a 10th season as coach.

The Yankees will promote Neil Allen, the Class AAA Columbus pitching coach the past two seasons, to replace Stottlemyre. Not having Stottlemyre will be a major adjustment for Torre, who has basically entrusted the pitching decisions to Stottlemyre during their successful tenure together.

Woody Allen once said, "Change equals death." But in this case, the Yanks should make out like Biggie Smalls and find out that indeed there is life after death.

Election Day Shocker
2004-11-02 19:25
by Alex Belth

Well, how do you like that? Derek Jeter, the man some love to love while others love to hate won was awarded the first gold glove of his career today. Now I don't hold the gold glove in high regard and I certainly don't think that Jeter is the finest defensive short stop in the American League. My first reaction when I heard the news was laughter. Oh, how the Primates are gunna love this one, I thought. I think the first comment over at the Baseball Think Factory sums it up nicely: "This could get ugly." You may fire when ready, Bub.

Election Day
2004-11-02 11:00
by Alex Belth

Yankee fans, in keeping with the spirit of the day, I thought we could have some fun looking back on the 2004 season. Please cast your vote to the following questions in the comments section below:

1. Who is your favorite Yankee?

2. Which Yankee do you love to hate?

3. Who was the most valuable Yankee?

4. What was your favorite Yankee moment of the year?

5. While yer at it, what was your favorite game?

Looking forward to the results. As Michael Kay learned from an old girlfriend, "C Ya." Peace, I gotta go.

Mecca in the Nation
2004-11-01 13:30
by Alex Belth

Yo, you know I couldn't just ask about the Yankees. So here's a couple of three questions about the Red Sox while we're at it.

Cast of Characters: (In almost alphabetical order)

Mike Carminati (Mike's Baseball Rants)

Cliff Corcoran (Cliff’s Big Red Blog)

Jay Jaffe (The Futility Infielder)

Derek Jacques (The Weblog that Derek Built)

King Kaufman (

Rob Neyer (ESPN)

Patrick Sullivan (The House that Dewey Built)

BB: Now that the Red Sox have won the World Serious, how will it change the culture of Red Sox Nation?

Mike Carminati: I wonder if there really is a Red Sox Nation or a collection of individuals who were acting the mob because of the rallying cry of the curse. I think that they’ll become more atomized as their one glaring issue evaporates.

Cliff Corcoran: Everything will be different. Their entire identity changes. They're no longer pessimists, they have no reason to doubt. They're no longer losers, they're the defending World Champions. Long-suffering and cursed are stricken from the list of applicable adjectives. All that remains is a fervent devotion to their team and the sort of boorishness that can be found as easily in the Bronx and in Beantown. It's over. Everything that Red Sox Nation was (other than obnoxious and devoted) is suddenly ancient history.

Jay Jaffe: In the short term, Yankee fans are going to have to listen to all of the bullshit they dropped on Sox fans' heads directed back at them, the "1918" and "Who's Your Daddy" chants and all that. And much of it will be deserved. What goes around, comes around. In the long term, the Sox will come to be seen as another wealthy northeastern team whose spending keeps them among the league's elite, and whose fan base won't be quite as endearing once the fruits of success have been tasted. You'll see less of a bandwagon as various entities attempt to cash in on RSN chic, and somewhere along the way there will be a backlash. Which isn't to say that the Sox won't continue to have an intelligent, boisterous (if occasionally obnoxious) diehard fan base. The line from Spinal Tap -- "Boston's not a big college town" -- has been cracking me up lately as I think of the RSN phenomenon. You've got a veritable factory for churning out the kind of folks that we come into contact with online all the time, and they'll continue to maintain their presence and their connection with this team, especially over the next few years while members of the championship club remain on the roster.

Derek Jacques: We've already seen the bandwagon swell to bursting. I was walking through the Upper West Side during game 4 of the World Series, and you could see people crowding outside of the bars, cheering the Sox on. The fact they were standing outside showed some enthusiasm, but it also indicated that they only came out to watch the game after the sixth inning. I wonder if these guys have given their '86 vintage Mets gear and '98 vintage Yankees gear to the Salvation Army, or do they just keep it in the closet, collecting dust while their owners wait to see which way the wind blows next year?

King Kaufman: Completely. Not because I like to pull this obnoxious move but because I was up till all hours writing on this very subject and don't want to get into it again, I'll just refer you to my column and pull out this excerpt:

The Red Sox had finally done it, had finally buried the ghosts of 1918 and Babe Ruth and all those years. "We forgive Bill Buckner," read a sign in the Busch Stadium stands. The Red Sox were champions at last.

In other words, they're just another team now. The sackcloth and ashes are so 2003.

There's something beautiful, almost holy, about rooting for a team that, for all the close calls, hasn't won in so long. Any Red Sox fan will tell you that what they've wanted for as long as they can remember was a championship, that they'd give up anything to get one, anything.

And now that they have one, they're just going to want another.

Rob Neyer: Biggest Myth of the Year: Winning the World Series will change Red Sox fans. Red Sox fans, or at least the great majority of them, don’t waste their time thinking about the stupid curse that doesn’t exist and 1918. They worry about Pedro’s arm and they worry about how they’re going to get tickets for the Yankees game next weekend. And those worries aren’t going to change just because the Sox happened to win a World Series.

Patrick Sullivan: Now it's about baseball. No inferiority complex, we can stick our chests out a little more...other team's fans can't mock us. My great hope is that Red Sox fans become more fans of the sport itself rather than simply being "fans" of this popular and likeable entity known as the Boston Red Sox. My feeling has always been that first and foremost you should be a fan of a sport before you are a fan of a team. There are too many Red Sox fans and not enough baseball fans in "the Nation". But maybe now that the peripheral storylines have been wiped out, the focus will turn more to baseball.

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And Say Children, What Does it all Mean?
2004-11-01 13:14
by Alex Belth

It's sunk in. The season is over. The winter is coming. Soon it will be very cold in New York. While part of me is depressed, another part is relieved. But I'm also excited to let my mind wander and delve into whatever part of baseball history that interests me. I've got at least a dozen good baseball books on my shelf waiting to be read, and a bunch more that I'm apt to peruse at any moment just for the hell of it. Which is what I did with The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers yesterday. It's one of my favorite--if not my favorite--book by James. One bit that caught my attention was about the 1962 National League pennant race:

The Dodgers got ahead, and then they lost. In the mind of the typical sportswriter, when you get ahead you’re supposed to win. This is particularly true if you represent a media center, New York or Los Angeles, because to a large segment of the media, the story of any season is either going to be the story of how the Dodgers won, or the story of how the Dodgers lost…Nobody should have to apologize for losing a split decision to Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali. And nobody should have to apologize for finishing one game behind the 1962 Giants.

I think this applies to the 2004 Yankees to a degree. As badly as it may sting, there is no shame in losing to the Red Sox. Of course the Sox winning means that there is a significant story in 2004 other than the Yankees losing. All the same, the quote has some merit and I know it made me feel better coming across it. Perspective, mmm-mmm good. Another thing that I thought might help cure my blues would be to run a little post-script to the 2004 Yankee season. So I asked a bunch of bright baseball guys what they thought about how it ended. Group A appears today and I'll have Group B later up later in the week.

Cast of Characters: (In almost alphabetical order)

Mike Carminati (Mike's Baseball Rants)

Cliff Corcoran (Cliff’s Big Red Blog)

Jay Jaffe (The Futility Infielder)

Derek Jacques (The Weblog that Derek Built)

King Kaufman (

Rob Neyer (ESPN)

Patrick Sullivan (The House that Dewey Built)

Bronx Banter: There has been a lot of talk in New York that the 2004 team lacked the integrity and the character of the 1996-2001 teams and that is why they found a way to lose the ALCS. The reasoning behind most of the criticism is that the Yankees have strayed from the formula that made them so successful during those years. I'm not sure how I feel about this. On one hand it's hard for me to imagine the Paul O'Neill-David Cone teams blowing a 3-0 lead, but then again I don't think they faced a team as persistent and good as the 2004 Red Sox. In addition, I think the fact that the Yankees developed some players from within during those years stands as an anomaly in Steinbrenner's reign as Yankee owner. After all, the first run of success that they enjoyed from 1976-81 seemed to have as much in common with the 2002-2004 Yankees as they do with the 96-01 version.

The Yankees were a flawed team this year who managed to comeback time and time again during the regular season, which must account for some kind of character.

Is it fair to say that they suddenly lost their character in the final four games of the ALCS? Was it a lack of character that lost this series or did the teams’ flaws finally rear its ugly head? (As Tom Verducci noted last week: "Hard to find someone who hurt the Yankees more than Tom Gordon and Kevin Brown in the ALCS. The Red Sox batted .500 against Gordon in the eighth innings of the series (7-for-14), with a double, a triple and two homers. His ERA in the eighth inning was 19.29. Brown is a broken down pitcher who has no clue how to pitch without dominating stuff and alienates himself from the rest of the team.")

Mike Carminati: No, they didn't lose their character, whatever that is, just the series. What was the stat that Tim McCarver shoved down our throats, that the Yankees had come from behind 61 times this season. That is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways—why were they behind in that many games anyway—but it certainly shows that this team had desire or character or whatever other squishy names are used for those sorts of intangibles.

Cliff Corcoran: The character issue, to me, is only relevant if you want to discuss the offensive choke, but then one of the main offenders was Alex Rodriguez, who had enough "character" to create the winning run of the ALDS on his own, so I'd just as soon write that off altogether.
What cost the Yankees the ALCS were the team's on-the-field flaws. The starting rotation had been a mess all year and although it straightened up somewhat in September, it wasn't enough to save the extra strain put on the Big Three in the bullpen, which was in turn exacerbated by a poor middle relief situation, that was in turn exacerbated by the struggles of the rotation. Add in the fact that those Big Three aren't getting any younger and you get two blown saves in situations that could have sent the Yankees to the World Series, Mo being wild and practically handing the Red Sox the tying run in Game 4, Quantrill then gift-wrapping the game in the twelfth, Gordon having nothing in general in Game 5 and Mo unable to get a K when he most needed it (not that it was fair to ask that of him), and the Yankees' World Series hopes riding on the arm of a pitcher who I didn't even think should have been on the roster (Esteban Loaiza), not once, but twice (Games 5 and 7). As for Kevin Brown, he had been giving up 3 runs in 6 IP or 4 runs in 7 IP before he broke his hand. Would that sort of performance been enough to win Game 7? It just might have been. But the fact that the Yankees had to turn to him exposed not Kevin Brown's character weaknesses (which are glaring and were already plain to even casual fans), but the fact that the team's hopes had been riding on El Duque's aching shoulder and Javy Vazquez's fouled-up mechanics for far too long. Those are on-the-field flaws. Mix in an offense that virtually shut down after Rodriguez's homer in the third inning of Game 4 and you've got a Yankee team that's watching the World Series on television.

Jay Jaffe: This was a seriously flawed team going into the playoffs, one built on a thin pitching staff and the shaky premise that 35- and 39-year-olds are as able-bodied and capable as they were in their primes. Still good enough to put up the best record in the AL, of course, but the reason they came from behind 61 times, the most in major league history, was because of shoddy starting pitching which put them in a hole early and a great lineup of hitters who were consistently able to bail them out. At least until Game Seven.

Derek Jacques: It's dangerous to attribute the Yanks' come-from-behind quality this season to "character". The 2004 Yankees had a great offense, mediocre starting pitching and a good bullpen. With this mix of elements, it's only logical that some of the time, the other team will get the lead against the mediocre starters, the good bullpen will hold the game close enough to give the Yanks the chance for a comeback, and the great offense will score enough in the late innings to produce the win. "Character" could reasonably mean that the comeback wins showed that the Yanks didn't quit in those games. That's true. But I think most major league teams don't quit when they're down. Those other teams have character, too. They just don't have the amount of ability the Yankees did in the bullpen and up and down the lineup. The Red Sox showed a lot of character coming back from a 3-0 hole, but if they hadn't been able to patch up Schilling's ankle, or if David Ortiz had gone into a slump, it's likely that character wouldn't have taken them to a World Championship.

As for the flaws, if Verducci wants to talk about Gordon and Brown, he has to realize he's talking about a pair of old, injury-prone pitchers. Gordon was ridden as hard as any reliever in baseball this season, at the age of 36. He had a great regular season, but you saw less and less of that amazing12-6 curveball of his as the season went on. Does the fact that Joe Torre called on Gordon 80+ times this season mean that Gordon lacks character? Brown was rightly labeled an idiot for the broken hand incident, but he pitched in pain the whole year --even before he learned that walls are hard. Heck, he showed a fair bit of guts fighting his way onto the postseason roster after he had the pins removed from his hand in late September. If Brown had anything left in the tank for Game 7, the press might be talking about how Brown's a "big game pitcher" rather than a "soulless mercenary"; how he injured his hand due to his "intensity and competitiveness" rather than the fact that it "alienated" him from the rest of the team.

King Kaufman: I don't think that's fair to say. I don't think character wins games. Hitting and pitching and fielding win games. The Yanks lost four straight because they got beat four straight nights by a team playing better baseball. There might -- might -- be something to the idea that a harmonious clubhouse and a team with some kind of sturdy character, however you define that, can help a potentially successful team achieve success over the course of a season. But even teams oozing character from their pores can have four bad days, and teams with none whatsoever can have four good ones. Think of places you've worked. A harmonious workforce might lead to higher production--might--but there's probably some bad weeks too.

Rob Neyer: Nobody lost (or gained) their character. These were two evenly matched teams, and it just so happened that instead of alternating wins, they bunched them at the beginning and end of the series. As for Tom Gordon, back in August people were suggesting that both he and Quantrill were overworked, and that the Yankees would suffer in October. So maybe there was something to that.

Patrick Sullivan: If Bill Mueller hits pulls that 9th inning pitch 12 feet further to the right, Cairo makes the play and none of this is even discussed. Think about it. If you accept the premise that the Yanks and Sox were pretty close to evenly matched, don't you then have to accept that it is equally likely that the Red Sox could reel off three or four straight against New York. It's not a choke. It's another data point that baseball is a quirky sport. Character did not cost the Yanks at all - a lack of timely hitting, bad breaks and baseball's inherent nature cost them.

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The Character Problem
2004-11-01 09:10
by Alex Belth

Guest Columnist: Christopher DeRosa

Looking back at the 52 times the Yankees and Red Sox have played each other in the last two years, fans of either team may now recall profound thrills, disappointments, and pleasures. Each team beat the other in more than one emotional, fiercely contested game. One tiresome aspect of the super-sized rivalry, though, has been the way many sports media people, some fans, and a couple of players were constantly trying attribute moral superiority to whichever team had won the last game. Last year’s result insulated us from the nonsense; this year’s brings it crushing down upon our heads.
So as Yankee fans, we must endure the insults graceless winner Curt Schilling tossed at Alex Rodriguez. We must live with Bob Klapisch’s postmortem, in which he wrote, “…the images of the Yankees’ lack of heart were everywhere…” in game 7. These are just the wages of fandom; you take the lows with the highs. But the larger question remains, does blowing a 3-0 lead in the ALCS confirm the thesis, put forth best by Buster Olney in his fine book The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, that the 2002-2004 Yankees have lost their way by replacing winning players with soulless mercenaries?
When it comes to character and attitude issues in sports, moderate is appropriate. It is naïve to assume, as some extremists do, that all players, by dint of having reached the major leagues, must be similarly dedicated and mentally tough. A bad attitude or lack of group confidence can ruin a season. I mean, I doubt you would want to share a foxhole with the Chicago Cubs. But writers’ observations about the Yankees’ alleged character problem lack credibility when you know from experience that they were perfectly ready to write it the other way. If Mariano Rivera, whom we generally agree is not a gutless loser, has a better inning in game 4, then the Yankees would have been gritty pros, and the Red Sox would have been underachievers who talk too much. The sports media present a world in which only one team in thirty has heart, and they’ll let you know which one it is right after the last out of the World Series.
Those of us who watched the team day-in, day-out, need not buy this ex post facto characterization. All those come-from-behind wins don’t necessarily indicate great moral resiliency, but they aren’t consistent with a gutless team either. To judge by what I remember from comments posted here at Bronx Banter, all year we regarded Gary Sheffield as a fearless clutch hitter demolishing a reputation for selfishness. All year, we saw Alex Rodriguez do everything he could to subordinate himself to the team mission. We had overworked relievers who never complained about being overworked. We had veteran stars moved up and down in the batting order without squawking. We had the clearly ill Giambi staggering up there, trying to eke out a walk, because that was the only thing he could do to help the team.
Until the recent vilification of A-Rod, no one’s reputation has suffered more from the Yankees’ lack of 21st century championships than Jason Giambi’s. It may be that in 2004 he was a bad investment, but no matter, he was already the poster boy for the Soulless Yankees in 2002, when he was an MVP candidate and hit well in the playoffs, and in 2003, when he played hurt all year and hit two homers in game 7 of the ALCS. Connoisseurs were unmoved; they still preferred their Tino.
I wouldn’t deny that the Tino-Brosius-O’Neill Yankees had a special group confidence, but, hey: that was the greatest team of all time. And its immediate successors. I don’t want to argue the point right now. Let’s say it’s on the short list. If you are going to treat every departure from the greatest team ever as a tragic little betrayal of what made it all so special, well, you may find yourself unhappy with the team for a very long time. I submit that the 2002-2004 Yankees largely preserved the professionalism and hitting of their better ‘90s championship clubs, and had sufficient courage or testosterone or whatever, to win a title. They did not match the championship teams in pitching or fielding.
To say the Yankees don’t have a character problem is not to say they have constructed a team in the optimal way. To compete with Boston over the long haul, New York needs to develop some of its own players again. A pitcher, for instance. The Yankees haven’t deployed a pitching staff this bad in over a decade. Group confidence was only one asset of the late 90s Yankees. They also had Mariano Rivera throwing 95 mph rather than 92. They had Orlando Hernandez giving them fifteen innings in a series rather than five in a postseason. And those two were the good news in 2004: the Yankees would have lost the division without either Mo or El Duque. Mussina tuned in his fastball once in a while, like a fading radio signal, and Gordon had a good year. The rest was one disaster after another. And, frankly, the pitching staff is not entirely clear of the character problem. We had one guy self-inflict an injury, and no one willing to discomfort the Red Sox hitters when their pitchers threw at A-Rod with impunity.
That’s not good, but remember, even the title teams had some malcontents, some owner-interventions no one wanted, and a second baseman who forgot how to throw to first base. You loved that team, I loved that team, but the team that it morphed into won 305 games over the last three years. No, it wasn’t as great, but it wasn’t some tragically flawed, hollow shell of its former self either. It was, in fact, generally a pleasure to watch. It went 3-3 in postseason series. So did Babe Ruth’s Yankees in the 1920s. It was disappointing, but playoff baseball is not primarily a matter of willpower, and these guys do not deserve reputations as losers. Perhaps they can take comfort in the knowledge that all aspersions cast on their character can be vaporized by a single good postseason run. Just ask the Red Sox.