Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: February 2005


Breakin Bread (and Bacon) with Bill
2005-02-28 12:52
by Alex Belth

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...)
2005-02-28 08:39
by Alex Belth
"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)

As expected, there a more thoughts on Steinbrenner's weekend outburst today. Here's a good one from Murray Chass in the Times:

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.

"I shouldn't have said it, but that's how I feel," Cashman said Steinbrenner told him. Maybe Steinbrenner has withdrawn so far into the background in the past year or two that he has forgotten the impact his words can have. Or, as always, he doesn't care what impact his words have.

This time at least, he did not direct the words at one of his players. That left some room for humor. "Matsui said he wished he could speak better English," Tellem said. "If he did, he could act as a marriage counselor for George and me."

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 there could be no facade. Michael Burke wanted some of the facade to remain...somewhere.

From the book...Burke to the acrhitects...

"Then take it down and mount it around the perimeter wall behind the bleachers. We've got to preserve that characteristic somehow. Come back and
tell me you can do that." They found a way.

Years later, long after I left the Yankees, I happened across a television interview with George Steinbrenner. The reporter asked him about preserving the facade, applauding the fact that it had been done. In response George
related how it came about. "You see, I was watching a game at the Stadium
one night in 1972, the last year in the old park. My good friend Cary Grant
was my guest. 'George', he said, 'you've just got to keep that facade. It's so characteristic of the Yankees.' 'OK, Cary,' I said; 'we'll do it for you' And we did."

Oh, well.''

Alex...the book is chock full of anti-Stein material....a must read for those with that lovely trace of hatred still left in our soul.

The Don

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."
Boss Barks
2005-02-27 19:38
by Alex Belth

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.

True Blue
2005-02-25 08:57
by Alex Belth

A couple of days ago, I was thinking about remarkable it is that we just don't hear boo about our boy Hideki Matsui. Today, Joel Sherman has a really nice column on him:

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.

...Under Joe Torre, the Yankees have wanted to portray a style that honors their heritage: Show up ready every day to play well, but never show up the opponent. Matsui embodies that as well as any player who was drafted and developed in the organization.

"You couldn't ask for a better Yankee," said Afterman, whose ties to Japan helped facilitate Matsui's signing.

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.

Room Service

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)

Gone, But Not Forgotten

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.

Remember When?
2005-02-24 14:04
by Alex Belth

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.

N.Y. Puff'n'Stuff
2005-02-24 08:36
by Alex Belth

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.

Defending Rodriguez
2005-02-23 08:11
by Alex Belth

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.

"You have probably one of the greatest Yankees that ever wore this uniform, and that's Cap (Don Mattingly), and who would argue that he's not a true Yankee?" Williams said. "Still, he didn't win a World Series here. I just don't think that's an accurate statement."

Could this be Bernie's last year with the Yanks? Will he possibly hang em up for good at the end of the year? According to Newsday:

"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
2005-02-22 08:33
by Alex Belth

Rodriguez, Sheff, Giambi, The Big Unit, more from Trot Nixon...Thank goodness the Yanks have Joe Torre. His calming influence makes for what John Harper calls, "The Perfect Zoo Keeper":

"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.

"I've always done it this way, even before I was with the Yankees. Obviously I didn't have as many talented people as I have now. Every year we get more high-profile people, but you find out that once they come in, they're easy to talk to.

"That makes my job easier ... talking, the basics, it's common sense. As far as I know, anyway, it's common sense."


The New Guys
2005-02-21 09:24
by Alex Belth

And what about the newest members of the Bronx Bombers? Here's Jayson Stark on Randy Johnson and Tyler Kepner on Jaret Wright.

The Good Guys
2005-02-21 09:18
by Alex Belth

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."

That's not a lie. That's not a boast. Rivera is among the least neurotic players in the clubhouse, having made a permanent peace with the leadoff walk to Kevin Millar in the ninth inning of Game 4, ultimately costing the Bombers a chance to sweep the Sox.

But no one counted on Rivera walking Millar on a full-count fastball just inches inside. That started the Yankees on a downward spiral that turned into the most traumatic postseason collapse in baseball history.

Sitting at home days later, watching the Red Sox on TV in the World Series, Rivera said, "I asked myself, 'What could we have done differently? What did I do wrong?' It took me eight to 10 days to get over it. Then, I finally decided it wasn't meant to be. Sometimes you just can't explain it and you leave it at that."

..."What's the point of being angry at myself or at losing?" he said. "Life will go on. Baseball will go on. No one is supposed to succeed every time. I've always said, you learn more from failing than you do from winning."

Roger Angell couldn't have said it better himself.

And On and On and On
2005-02-21 09:11
by Alex Belth

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.

Athletes have long accused reporters of creating stories, and, sadly, this is one of those instances. It has become one of the most distasteful instances I have witnessed in 45 years of covering baseball.

...This story has not seen its last chapter. Twenty-four position players will be in the Red Sox' camp tomorrow. That's 24 more players who can be asked about A-Rod.

No, make that 23. Kevin Millar showed up yesterday and was asked the obligatory question. It doesn't matter what he said in response. Just that he was asked was predictable and ridiculous enough.

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."

"I would like to believe when we win as a team, you understand how tough it is to win and you respect the other team that tried to beat you. You have to understand there is somebody else trying to do the same thing you are."

But Seriously
2005-02-18 09:27
by Alex Belth

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.

"There's no hard feelings one way or another. Life moves on and now I'm in a Boston uniform and it's my job ... to go out there and beat the Yankees."

Curt Schilling likes to talk even more than Wells does. Here is his relatively tame latest take on Alex Rodriguez:

"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
2005-02-17 10:12
by Alex Belth

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.

Nice Package
2005-02-17 09:59
by Alex Belth

Okay, enough clowning around with the Red 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
2005-02-16 09:30
by Alex Belth

Hey, guess what? The Red Sox really don't like Alex Rodriguez. Yesterday, Trot Nixon told the Associated Press:

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.

The Sox as a team don't just seem to hate A-Rod, going back to the fight with Jason Varitek last year and then the infamous slap at Bronson Arroyo's glove in the playoffs; they seem positively obsessed with the guy.

But why are they talking about him in February? Shouldn't they be happy just to bask in the glory of their historic championship? If you didn't know better you'd swear the Sox actually lost again last year, and all their talk about A-Rod is just a sign of their frustration.

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
2005-02-15 08:12
by Alex Belth

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
2005-02-14 09:22
by Alex Belth

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:

The Yankees' center fielder bristled at talk of retirement at a clinic for young players in Venezuela, saying his experience will help carry him through despite a decline in some of his physical talents.

"I'm still not thinking about retirement," the 36-year-old told The Associated Press. "I'm going to play as long as my physical abilities allow me to. I still feel very good physically."

Or as George King notes in a mini-Yankee preview:

Extremely prideful, Williams is bent on proving he can still play at a high level.

You go, you old goat, you.

Check Your Local Listings...
2005-02-11 13:27
by Alex Belth

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?
2005-02-11 08:03
by Alex Belth

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:

"The biggest thing that I'll be watching is not what takes place on the field," General Manager Brian Cashman said. "It's how he handles the process. It's going to be a journey, and it's going to be a long journey. Today will not end it. He knows that and we know that."

Joe Torre added that Giambi will be the biggest question mark facing the team this spring:

"The effort will obviously be there," Torre said of Giambi. "But I think we're all curious to see how he's going to recover from what he went through. He certainly looks healthier than he did last year."

..."He's going to have to understand that even in his home ballpark, on a regular basis, he may not get the response he wants to get," Torre said. "I think he has to be tougher. In being human, there's only so much you can do to say, 'I understand,' and go on about your business. It's something he's going to have to condition himself to do. But when he looks around, he's going to see a lot of support."

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:

A person with knowledge of the contract said that before they signed off on Giambi's seven-year, $120 million deal, the Yankees acquiesced to his request and removed all references to steroids from the guarantee language routinely included in contracts.

The Yankees were not innocents in this matter. They didn't say to themselves: Delete references to steroid use? Well, all right if you insist, but why would you want us to do that?

They wanted Giambi badly enough that they relinquished the right to suspend him or stop payment on the contract or terminate the contract or convert it into a nonguaranteed contract if he was found to use steroids. No other words were deleted from that paragraph of the contract, the person said.

Mike Lupica, Bob Klapisch and Dave Anderson were less than impressed with Giambi's performance. Tim Marchman, however, has a slightly different take:

It's hard to tell exactly how Giambi let down the press. I'm a member of the press; I'm not offended or disappointed or surprised by his drug use. He didn't harm me in any way.

If anyone has harmed the press, it's been the press, which offered nothing more than innuendo as ballplayers swelled grotesquely in the 1990s. Our job is to cover baseball; the job of a ballplayer is to play it. Players owe writers nothing but the common decency and respect any person owes another. If Jason Giambi can avoid disappointment when I put whiskey in my body, I can avoid disappointment when he puts testosterone in his.

...The accounts Giambi has to settle are with his own conscience and his fellow athletes - not with you, not with me, and not with George Steinbrenner. These are not matters for press conferences, and it's unfortunate that the Yankees would trot the man out in a deeply silly attempt to pre-empt what will be a richly deserved storm of bad publicity for their organization.

In speaking yesterday, Giambi has already done more than he needs to do. It speaks well of him. Apologies are at best more than the rest of us really need, and at worst more than we deserve.

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
2005-02-10 08:27
by Alex Belth

Jason Giambi will meet with the local media today at Yankee Stadium. According to Tyler Kepner, the event is being carefully orchestrated by the Yankees (and will not be televised live):

Late yesterday, the Yankees announced that [the press conference] would be at Yankee Stadium, with strict ground rules. They have invited each newspaper that regularly covers the team to send no more than two reporters.

Giambi will meet with the print media in one location, and Cashman and Torre may be in the room with him. After that meeting, Giambi will speak with television reporters in a separate room.

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:

"Hopefully, he says he's healthy and he's feeling good," Martinez said. "He's a great hitter. He's got a great eye and he still has the ability to put up big numbers. I don't know what he's going to say, but I know the guys on the team are ready to get him over here and get going and get the first couple of days out of the way because I'm sure those are going to be the hardest, with the media and stuff.

"He'll be accepted just fine by the team. He played with these guys last year; they know him. The thing about it is, because of all the controversy, people don't really realize he's a great guy off the field and in the clubhouse as well. I'm sure everybody is pulling for him. I know I am. I want him to get back and have a great season, because I want to win a championship again and obviously he can help us."

It's like Martinez never left.

People Get Ready
2005-02-09 13:50
by Alex Belth

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
2005-02-08 08:11
by Alex Belth

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:

It was tough to swallow what we went through," he said. "The sun has come up and we've got to go at it again this year. I'm excited about the moves we made, I'm excited about the rotation. I'm really, really happy with everything, but I'm going to miss Javy (Vazquez), we became really good friends. He was the one who went. It's tough to see that."

Which begs the question: Will Carl Pavano fare better or worse than Javier Vazquez did last year?

Toon Time
2005-02-08 08:00
by Alex Belth

Peace to Repoz for linking these boss cartoons from Korean artist Choi Hoon. Here are your New York Yankees in action, past and present.

Fresh Direct
2005-02-07 08:24
by Alex Belth

Winter is not my favorite season. But my trick is to get sick of it before everybody else does. That way when I turn the corner and start thinking in a spring-state-of-mind, it doesn't bother me how much snow, or lousy weather we still have to endure. I'm ready. I'm ready for the buds to start showing on the trees, I'm ready to start seeing skirts, and some flesh move around the city again. I'm ready for rebirth, dog.

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.

Hot Dog.

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.

Appreciating Alex
2005-02-04 13:32
by Alex Belth

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 funny thing about Rodriguez having something to prove is that in 2004 he was largely consistent with his own standards and probably turned in the best offensive/defensive season ever by a Yankees third baseman. The first thing to note is that Yankee Stadium is a much tougher hitter's park than Ameriquest Field in Arlington. The park formerly known as The Ballpark in Arlington gifts right-handed hitters with a lot of home runs. Yankee Stadium doesn't do much for hitters at all, other than giving a mild boost to left-handed home run hitters. Decades after the left field "Death Valley" has shrunken to what Bill James called "Life Support Valley," the ballpark in the Bronx is still a pitcher's best friend.

At home, Rodriguez hit a good-but-not-stunning .280/.365/.492. On the road he batted .293/.386/.534, which is what he had been doing in neutral parks all along. As a Ranger in 2003, he batted .282/.384/.577 on the road but bulked up to .314/.407/.652 at home. Yankee Stadium doesn't do that for anyone. It's the Joe DiMaggio story writ small.

The return of El Bruho?
2005-02-04 13:28
by Alex Belth

According to Joel Sherman in the New York Post, the Yankees may offer Ramiro Mendoza a minor-league contract. What's old is new again. Joe Girardi and Luis Sojo are part of Joe Torre's coaching staff, and Tino Martinez and Mike Stanton are back with the team. Who is next?

Quick Six
2005-02-03 08:49
by Alex Belth

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:

"Blink" is concerned with the very smallest components of our everday lives--the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that spontaneously arise whenever we meet a new person or confront a complex situation or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. When it comes to the task of understanding ourselves and the world, I think we pay too much attention to...grand themes and too little to the particulars of those fleeting moments. But what would happen if we took our instincts seriously? What if we stopped scanning the horizon with our binoculars and began instead examining our own decision making and behavior through the most powerful of microscopes? I think that would change the way wars are fought, the kinds of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews ar conducted, and on and on. And if we were to combine all of those little changes, we would end up with a different and better world.

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?

MG: Blink is a book about what happens in the first seconds of any encounter. When you see someone for the first time, or hear a song for the first time, or have to make a decision in a blink of an eye, what happens? I got interested in the subject, weirdly enough, when I grew my hair out. I used to have short, respectable hair. Now I have a fairly wild afro, and the minute my hair changed my life changed as well. I started getting stopped by cops, and getting speeding tickets, and pulled out of airport security lines. Something was happening in that instant when people laid eyes on me that fundamentally changed the way I was perceived and treated by the world, and I wanted to understand what it was.

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?

MG: Iím always interested in making the ideas Iím writing about seem relevant, and the best way to do that, I think, is to look for as many different manifestations of that idea as possible. So if I can explain something about what happened during the Diallo shooting by talking about autism (as I do in Blink) I think it helps to make the ideas seem more real.

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?

MG: I'm not sure where that comes from. It might be that Iím very accustomed to being an outsider. I'm the immigrant son of immigrant parents. I'm bi-racial. I'm left-handed. I'm only person to have grown up in Canada who neither skates nor swims. I suppose if you were to put all that together, you'd come up with the psychological portrait of someone who sees the world through a slightly different lens than others.

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Here Comes the Fun
2005-02-02 08:28
by Alex Belth

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.

7,000 Clams
2005-02-01 08:23
by Alex Belth

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.

Irby: One day at the library, I was doing research on what I thought would be a scholarly piece on the history of baseball in St. Petersburg. I decided it would be fun to delve into what the Yankees were up to when they hit town for the first time in 1925. In the St Pete Times I saw an article that mentioned Babe Ruth getting sued for $7,700 (I changed it to 7,000) by some bookies in NYC. The same story appeared in the New York Times; no Ruth bios mentioned it (that I found). I kept digging. During spring training in 1925, Ruth's wife Helen came down to save the marriage (it didn't work, they separated right after). He was drinking like a fish, sleeping around, and got pretty sick (he nearly died after he left spring training--The Belly Ache Heard Round the World). I figured all of that would work in a novel. I am a huge baseball fan. My father was a Yankees fan from the sticks of Virginia because my uncle, Red Irby, played shortstop in the Yankees farm system in the 1950s (he got to Triple A; he was good). Red, though, blew out his knee, drank and caroused, and yelled at his managers. Career over. Mine never got started. I loved the sport but couldn't play it well.

BB: What kind of license did you take with the Ruth legend?

Irby: Very little, I hope. I tried to capture him, his spirit and his appetites, the best I could. I wanted a complete picture, warts and all. He was generous and selfish, larger than life and strangely childish. I followed him around through the St Pete Times. Everywhere he goes in my book, he went in real life during March 1925. The book climaxes at the running of the Babe Ruth Cup at Derby Lanes Dog Track. For his voice, I relied on his own book, Babe Ruth's Own Book on Baseball, that was ghost written but probably from interviews with him. That helped with his cadence. It is a suspenseful tale that I imagined men and women would both like--I tried to put in everything but the kitchen sink. I spent four years writing it because I wanted the book to be well constructed. The plot twists and turns like a mystery; there is history for those who like it; a love story; hit men sent by Al Capone; and the Babe. I used slang from the Twenties so there are almost no "curse" words. I slaved over the details and sweated everything. The editor who bought the book at Doubleday, Jason Kaufman, was the editor for The Da Vinci Code, so I felt pretty good about my efforts. Lucky for me, Jason is a big Yankees and baseball fan.

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