Monthly archives: February 2005
Breakin Bread (and Bacon) with Bill
Rich Lederer has the first of his three-part interview with Bill James up today over at The Baseball Analysts. Anyone who has an even passing interest in James is in for a treat. It's not often that he gives long interviews, and, if the first part is any indication, Lederer's work is bound go down as a classic. It could end up being the definitive Bill James interview. I'll link the second two installments as they appear.
Say, Say, Say (What you Want...)
"He certainly has the right to say what he wants to say. But don't get yourself thinking that you have to respond to it. You do what you want. I don't tell guys what to do. I just tell them this is part of being here. He's The Boss. It's something they should have known before they got here, anyway. Any time he says something, it's news." Joe Torre on his Boss (Newsday)
Steinbrenner's outburst risked jeopardizing the dual support for Giambi by focusing even greater attention on him, if that's possible. Giambi has enough pressure on him without Steinbrenner creating more.
Speaking of the Boss, my good pal Repoz is what you'd call a classic-Steinbrenner-hater. It's a label that he wears proudly. Growing up, Repoz fondly recalls the Mike Burke/CBS days, when he and his friends could move down to the good seats at the end of a game and actually shoot the breeze with Burke. Last Friday, Repoz sent me this bit from Burke's 1984 autobiography:
I finally came across the Michael Burke book "Outrageous Good Fortune" from 1984 and I thought you would dig this little passage about the whole facade todo. During the planning stages of the The Yankee Stadium renovation, Burke was notified by architects, that the new Stadium could not support the facade without girders...so there could be no facade. Michael Burke wanted some of the facade to remain...somewhere.
Oh, and I liked this little bit buried in a Mets "notes" piece:
Willie Randolph called Joe Torre on Friday morning and got positive feedback from the Yankees' skipper. "He said you guys have been nice to me," Randolph said, referring to the media. "He said I'm doing okay. As long as I'm getting approval from the godfather, I'm all right."
Man, it was a decent Sunday for the sports pages in New York as they finally had some Boss George news to splash. Okay, it isn't that interestingóhe took a potshot at Arm Tellemóbut hey, it's better than nothing. Steinbrenner isn't the same media monster" he once was, but he's intent on showing he's still got some gitty-up left in him. Bill Madden, whose book with Moss Klein, "Damn Yankees" Steinbrenner once called, "Venonmous stuff," sat down with the Boss and got the lowdown.
Nothing changes at Legends Field for Matsui. He is still the most covered player on the most covered team. Whatever attention Randy Johnson is getting, or Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter, it pales when compared to Matsui.
After improving offensively last season, and performing well in the playoffs, Matsui has become a fan favorite in New York. The Yankees are expected to try and work out an extension with Godzilla sometime this spring.
The brightest moment out of Yankee camp yesterday was when Mike Stanton served a bp meatball to Bernie Williams, which was promptly crushed over the left field fence. Felix Rodriguez threw well, while Flash Gordon still hasn't been able to entirely shake off his poor performance against the Red Sox last fall. Still, his manager thinks he's a stand-up guy:
"He's honest, and you can't help but want to hug the guy." - Joe Torre on Tom Gordon's admission that he was very anxious before pitching in Game 5 of ALCS last fall. (N.Y. Daily News)
Finally, Bill Madden has a piece on Jon Lieber, the one who got away:
"To be honest," Lieber was saying yesterday in the solitude of the clubhouse of the Phillies' spring training complex, "I thought I'd be back, but there was always the chance they might decide otherwise. I guess that's what happened. I have no hard feelings toward them. It was just business. I really appreciate everything they did for me. They stuck their necks out for me, gave me a chance when all the other clubs weren't willing to go there. They committed to me for two years."
But here's the telling quote:
"In retrospect we probably should have picked up the option," Yankee GM Brian Cashman said yesterday. "But who knew the market was going to explode the way it did?"
Straight-shooting from Cash.
My good pals Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith have launched a new baseball blog called, The Baseball Analysts. Anyone familiar with their work won't be surprised to find that it is an excellent read. Rich has kicked off their first week with an entertaining three-part series (one, two and three) simply titled, "Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?" It's terrific stuff.
Spring training means puff pieces galore for baseball fans. Sometimes it feels like fool's gold: there are lots of stories, but none that are especially meaningful. Still, it's better than nothing, and I ain't complaining. Today gives news about Boss George, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Doug Glanville, Rey Sanchez, Ugie Urbina, Cookie Monster, Sammy Sosa, and Willie Randolph and his new-look Mets.
Here's a little blurb from Sam Borden that appears in today's Daily News:
[Bernie] Williams offered the first strong defense of A-Rod yesterday when asked for his reaction to the procession of Red Sox players who have bashed Rodriguez over the past week, calling him a "clown" and saying he wasn't a "Yankee type." Several Sox implied A-Rod wasn't a true Yankee because he hadn't been part of the championship teams of the late '90s, but Williams said that was a silly sentiment.
"Some days I feel like I want to retire right at that moment, and some days I feel like I want to play another 10 years," Williams said.
I've always imagined that Bernie is the kind of guy who will walk away from the game. I don't think of him as someone who will be a coach or a broadcaster. But who knows? Maybe he wouldn't mind playing for three or four more years as a part-time player. I don't see it, but stranger things have happened.
Stop Making Sense
"We're here to get in shape for the season," Torre continued, "so whatever the distractions, let's air them out here. Let's get it out, get it over with - let's deal with it. You don't hide from it, you deal with it and move on.
The New Guys
The Good Guys
On the lighter side, Jack Curry had a nice, long piece covering Bernie Williams' five-day tour of Venezuela and Colombia as U.S. cultural ambassador last week.
And Bob Klapisch recently caught up with Mariano Rivera to talk about how the 2004 ALCS may have effected his pysche:
To even suggest the Sox are in his head evokes a smile out of Rivera, who playfully says, "Come on, bro, no way. That's not possible."
Roger Angell couldn't have said it better himself.
And On and On and On
The Alex Rodriguez story continued over the weekend as various members of the World Champs (Millar, Arroyo and newcomer, Matt Mantei) had their say. Rodriguez spoke with reporters at Legends Field on Sunday and addressed some of what has been flying around of late. John Harper doesn't think Rodriguez is helping himself any, but Murray Chass holds the media responsible for all of this mishigoss:
One player, Trot Nixon, ignited the game with negative comments about Rodriguez last week and atorrent of teammates have followed. But the teammates' comments have not been unsolicited. They were at the urging of reporters eager to inflame the game to incendiary levels. They were all but handed a script.
Joe Torre is from the old school, and bemoans the current in-your-face culture of self-promotion and disrespect:
"As a whole, there is a lack of respect. It's unfortunate and I know that I speak for my generation, but it's reality. I don't know. It certainly is against the grain for me."
The trash-talking continues between members of the Red Sox and Alex Rodriguez. Though Rodriguez has yet to report to camp, and offer any comebacks himself, he doesn't need to be around to draw attention to himself. This story is already old, but it'll be a running theme to contend with all season long. In other backpage news, ol' quotable himself, Boomer Wells, was talking to the Daily News yesterday:
"I've never had a good relationship with Joe, we've had a few run-ins, and Mel Stottlemyre, as well," Wells added. "Mel's probably the best pitching coach I've ever had, but when you have run-ins like that, it just leaves a sour taste. And who needs it? I can understand their point, and hopefully, they can understand mine.
"I'm pretty sure that me not liking Alex Rodriguez is not a groundbreaking story. I'm sure there's a lot of guys in the big leagues that don't like each other. The comments came about because of play in the field last year. I never really thought it was nearly as big a deal as people have made it. I'm pretty sure Alex could care less whether I like him or not. I don't need somebody not liking me to motivate me to play. The guy's an MVP."
That's couldn't care less, but pernt taken.
Chass Nails Yanks
Forgive me for not giving Murray Chass' recent series of articles regarding how the Yankees handled Jason Giambi's contract more burn here. But for a thorough account and good analysis of it all, check out Jay Jaffe's latest post.
Okay, enough clowning around with the Red Sox...at least for the next five minutes. Yeesh, Alex Rodriguez isn't even due to report to the team until the weekend. Meanwhile, his teammates seem content to let him fight this war with Boston by himself. The big news for the Yankees is the arrival of The Big Unit, who was in camp yesterday, working out, and talking with reporters. Kevin Brown, was there too, and he told Newsday he's worked hard to cure the back injuries which hampered his performance for the entire 2004 season.
Camps Begin, Sox Still Don't Like Rodriguez
When people ask me about the Yankees, I tell them about (Derek) Jeter and Bernie Williams and (Jorge) Posada. I don't tell them about Rodriguez. ... He can't stand up to Jeter in my book or Bernie Williams or Posada."
There's more. Nothing shocking, just more fuel to the fire. Nixon thinks Rodriguez is a phoney, pure and simple. John Harper wonders what the point of harping about Rodriguez is:
Question to Nixon: Why do you care whether A-Rod is a true Yankee? If you're worried so much about the Yankees, worry about Randy Johnson, and pray that as a lefthanded hitter, Terry Francona doesn't make you face him.
Rodriguez has replaced Clemens as the man everyone loves to hate on the Yankees. Harper likens him to Pedro Martinez. So, how many games do the Sox and Yanks have to play against each other this season before there is another fight? And is there any question but that Rodriguez will be in the middle of it?
Somthing is in the air
It was horrible, cold, blustery and rainy yesterday in New York. But this morning, the boids is chirping, the sun is out and it is supposed to get up to the mid-fifties this afternoon. Knowing that our favorite ballplayers are begining to report to their respective training camps, all I can think about it Biz Markie singing, "It's Spring Again."
While Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada", and newcomer Carl "The Italian Stallion" Pavano settle in to their spring rituals, the Yankees eye talking contract extension with Hideki Matsui sometime before the season begins.
The Ol' Goat Gets Bullish
Yankees come and Yankees go, but one thing remains the same: Bernie Williams is still the teams' centerfielder. Now, if you look at his defensive statistics over the past four seasons, or if you've simply watched the games, it's clear that he isn't a defensive asset any longer. Regardless, he's still my favorite Yankee (Mariano Rivera is number two). And Bernie, bless him, isn't ready to conceed to old age just yet. According to a bit in the Daily News:
Or as George King notes in a mini-Yankee preview:
You go, you old goat, you.
Check Your Local Listings...
Steroids is the talk of the town in baseball these days. Jose Canseco's new book has generated an expected amount of controversy. Later this year, Boston Herald columnist Howard Bryant will release a book about baseball in "the juiced era." Will Carroll has his own book on performance-enhancing drugs due out this spring. 60 Minutes is featuring a profile on Canseco this coming Sunday, and according to Cliff Corcoran, Bryant will appear in the segment. Be sure to check out for it.
Well, What Did You Expect?
Jason Giambi addressed the media yesterday at Yankee Stadium and, in case you haven't heard yet, apologized for his behavior without specifically admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs. Tyler Kepner has a good write-up of the strange scene this morning in the New York Times. Joe Torre and Brian Cashman sat next to Giambi as he answered questions from reporters. Cashman told the Times:
Joe Torre added that Giambi will be the biggest question mark facing the team this spring:
As Murray Chass reports, regardless of what Giambi says or does not say, it is highly unlikely that the Yankees will ever be able void his contract:
For Giambi, it was an understandably uncomfortable start to his season. There is also little doubt that it will get worse for him before it gets better. The route to salvation, at least as far as he and the Yankees are concerned, lies in how he performs on the field.
Jason Giambi: This is Your Life
Does this mean Giambi will be contrite and offer some sort of public apology? Local columnists Mike Lupica and Mike Vaccaro hope that is the case. No matter what he says, or how delicately the Yankees handle the proceedings, Giambi is still going to face a torrent of national media attention once he reports to spring training.
Tino Martinez, who according to Buster Olney's recent book "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," used to be a master clubhouse motivator, told the Daily News that Giambi's teammates will be behind him:
It's like Martinez never left.
People Get Ready
There is less than a week before pitchers and catchers report to Yankeeland, which means the puff pieces are about to begin. Hey, it's better'n'nada, right? (Well, at least for a few weeks anyway.) While Pedro Martinez made headlines in New York today for reporting to camp early, several Yankee veterans, including including Mariano Rivera, Flash Gordon, Gary Sheffield, Tino Martinez, and Derek Jeter, are already working out at the Yankees minor league complex. Jetes and Alex Rodriguez may not be best friends any longer, but Jeter isn't about to stoak any sort of feud with Rodriguez. They will be pitted against one another by the local press, but I doubt they'll ever become another Reggie and Thurman. Never mind that soap opera anyhow. The Glimmer Twins will move to the sidelines in the next few days when Jason Giambi is expected to address the media for the first time since the end of the 2004 season. Man, talk about one uncomfortable situation. Yeesh.
A New Day
To the everlasting delight of Red Sox Nation, Yankee fans as well as Yankee players, are still haunted by the 2004 American League Championship Series. Recently, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield have spoken about how long this winter has been for them, licking those nasty wounds and all. The memory of the loss won't go away for a long time, either. However, the sting will begin to ease some once the 2005 begins. Jorge Posada, for one, is eager to get going. According to the Daily News:
I usually make the move anywhere between late January and mid February, and this year, I made the transition this past weekend. The weather in New York was in the mid forties, and the sun was shinning. Em and I strolled through Central Park on Saturday and had the windows to our aparment cranked open the past two afternoons. I announced to her that winter is now dead to me. She that, "That's fine, don'e forget your scarf." No, no, it's still winter, of course. But the switch went off inside me. I could smell a faint hint of spring, which means a faint small of dirt, which means...well, what else could it mean: baseball's almost here. Truthfully, it'll be hear before we know it as pitchers and catchers report to the camps around the major leagues next week.
The Yanks may have forgotten about brining Ramiro Mendoza back now that they have extended an invitation to the veteran southpaw Buddy Groom to jern the team in spring training. If he makes the squad, he'll ink a one-year, $850,000 deal. Boy, if you could just turn the clock back three or four seasons, the Yankees would really have a powerhouse bullpen, with the likes of Felix Rodriguez, Steve Karsay, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Mike Stant Stanton, Groom, and of, course, Mariano Rivera holding down the fort. As it is, Groom gives the Yankees the left-handed specialist they lack. He may not be as impressive as Steve Kline, or the imposing B.J. Ryan, but he's probably a step-up from Stanton.
Steven Goldman has a fine appreciation of Alex Rodriguez, and the third baseman's impressive 2004 campaign in the most recent edition of The Pinstriped Bible. Looking at the numbers, maybe Rodriguez didn't have an off-season after all:
The return of El Bruho?
Although I read Malcom Gladwell's piece on the nature of choking in sports, I had not read his wildly popular first book, "The Tipping Point," when I picked up his second effort, "Blink." I didn't get too far into "Blink" before I understood why Gladwell is so well-liked; he's a gifted writer, with the rare ability to make complicated ideas approachable to the average reader. His prose is conversational and lively, his enthusiasm contageous. "Blink" examines when we should and should not trust our initial reactions. As Gladwell writes in the introduction:
Gladwell has been criticized for being a populist and watering-down sophisticated ideas, but I think his greatest strength is engaging his readers and stimulating thought and conversation. At least that's what "Blink" did for me. It just got my mind racing, making connections between improvisational acting and basketball*, casting actors in a movie and the dynamics of personal relationships. I loved it. I don't know if it's a perfect book, but it's a great read, and it has served as a catalyst for lots of great conversation.
I wrote Gladwell, told him that I appreciate his book, and shared a story about how changes in the process of film editing relate to decision-making. I won't lie, I also was just dying to ask him if he thought the Yankee playoff collapse last fall could be considered choking. He wrote back, told me he was a huge fan of "Moneyball," and that he didn't think the Yankees had choked. In fact, he suggested that baseball is not a sport that lends itself to choking in a team sense like football or basketball do. If Bernie Williams is slumping that won't necessarily impact how Derek Jeter performs. (Individual situations like what happened to Steve Blass or Chuck Knoblauch are different.)
I thought it would be fun to ask Gladwell some questions as he's a big sports fan. However, with his book tour in full swing, he's simply too busy to sit down to do the kind of extensive interview I usually like to do here. So at the risk of being flip, here's six quick questions I recently asked Gladwell (for a longer conversation with him, check out Rob Neyer's 2002 interview). I figure it's best to be somewhat timely, instead of holding off for months. I hope it encourages you to consider reading "Blink." When things calm down some for Gladwell, I'd like to continue talking with him about sports, so if you've got any questions you'd like me to ask, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.
BB: How did you come to write "Blink" and what is it about? Was it something that you had been mulling over for a long time?
BB: You've got such an elastic mind, illustrating an intellectual concept with a wide variety of examples, from car salesman to food testers to scientists to musicians and improvisational actors. What draws you to using such an eclectic group of characters?
BB: Youíve obviously got a knack for seeing things as others donít. Where does that come from? Did you grow up reading a particular writer or writers who did the same thing?
Here Comes the Fun
Has anyone else noticed that it is getting lighter, earlier these days? I haven't had to turn on the light this week as I'm getting dressed in the morning. Hot dog. We're just a precious few weeks away from spring training, and Yankee star-power is already rearing its fabulous head. Here's the latest on Yogi Berra, The Big Unit, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. For a report on how the other half lives, check out the latest from Cliff Corcoran.
With spring training still weeks away, many fans are still catching up on their baseball literature. If fiction interests you, consider Lee Irby's new novel, "7,000 Clams,", a crime story about a bootlegger that features none other than the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth. I recently asked Irby, a history professor at Eckerd College, what drew him to writing the book.
BB: What kind of license did you take with the Ruth legend?
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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