Monthly archives: March 2005
I had my first real good laugh of the baseball year tonight. It was just a small thing, but sometimes, well, it's the little things that do it to you. Erstwhile Yankee first baseman Travis Lee--we hardly knew ye--was batting against Mike Mussina in the top of the fourth inning of the Yankees-Devil Rays exhibition game at Legends Field. I was only half-watching when Mussina delivered an 0-2 breaking ball that just missed the outside corner for strike three. Mussina glared in at the home plate ump. He came back with the same pitch, only this one was lower, and well out of the zone. Lee did not chase it. So Mussina comes back and floats a change-up around Lee's eyes. Lee swung and missed and I instinctively started laughing. Anyone who has ever taken a Conan swing in whiffle ball could empathize with what Lee was thinking. How do you lay off such a pitch? And how do you have the chutzpah to throw it?
Emily didn't get what was so funny. Man, baseball slapstick can be so obvious (the blooper reels they play between innings on the Jumbo Tron), and yet so subtle, the ultimate inside joke. I couldn't help but immediately jump to the fantasy of Mussina getting a quality lefty like David Ortiz out on a bullcrap pitch like that sometime, oh, round October. Yeah, I'm about good and ready for the season to start. You?
Burning Down the House
The 1977 Yankees have been written about to death, but there is a new book which incorporates the Bronx Zoo antics of George, Billy, Reggie, Thurman and company, into the social dynamics of New York city during the Summer of Sam. "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Buring: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City," by Jonathan Mahler received a mostly favorable review in the Times yesterday from William Grimes:
The city needed a win in the worst way. If the Bronx was burning, so were large swaths of Brooklyn, notably Bushwick, which had imploded in a frenzy of looting and arson when an electrical failure plunged the city into total darkness on July 13. All summer, a crazed killer dubbed Son of Sam had preyed on young couples in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. There were not enough firefighters or police officers to deal with either problem, because the city, virtually bankrupt, had laid off thousands of workers. There was an edge of desperation when New York fans chanted "Reg-gie, Reg-gie."
Grimes is impressed with Mahler's writing skill but doesn't believe that the author's themactic ambitions work in the end:
...In a last-ditch effort to tie up loose ends, Mr. Mahler anoints Mr. Koch, Mr. Murdoch, Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Jackson emblematic figures of the new New York. The idea is not nearly as compelling as the stories in which they have played pivotal roles, and which Mr. Mahler tells with such skill. In the end, the Yankees, however heroic, cannot carry the conceptual weight assigned to them. It's probably better not to think too deeply about Mr. Jackson's three home runs in Game 6. Just savor the moment.
In a very crazy year, oh, what a moment it was. I'm putting this one on my wish list for summer reading. Looks highly entertaining at the very least.
Jay Jaffe is an admitted fair-weather fan when it comes to the New York Yankees. Jaffe grew up in Utah rooting for the Dodger teams of the late 1970s, so it's natural that he was no fan of the boys from the Bronx. But when he moved to New York city in 1996, Jaffe fell fell for Joe Torre's Yanks. Jaffe then rooted for the Bombers during their recent glory years, but now, the affair appears to be over. What gives? Well, it mostly has to do with the way the Yankee front office has operated for the past several seasons. In a recent article for Baseball Prospectus, Jaffe writes:
It's painfully clear the Yankee front office is, if not out of ideas, then at least at an impasse as to how to implement the ones they have with creativity and foresight. In this regard, the pesky Red Sox have not only surpassed them, they figure to hold a distinct advantage going forward. Nowhere was that more clear than last October's LCS clash. Sox GM Theo Epstein and his charges created a big edge for themselves in constructing and deploying their roster, while the Yanks drastically misused theirs. Emblematic were Game Six's flailings of Sierra and reserve first baseman Tony Clark--two aged hitters with more than a few holes in their swings--which occurred while reserve outfielder Kenny Lofton looked on from Torre's doghouse. Can't anyone here run this team?
Jay isn't the only member of Prospectus who is down on the Yankees. Joe Sheehan, a native New Yorker, and lifelong Yankee fan, has them missing the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Bronx Banter Interview: Chuck Korr
One of the best books that I've come across in my research for the Curt Flood biography for teenagers that I'm currently working on, is a history of the Players Association by Chuck Korr, "The End of Baseball As We Knew It: The Players Union, 19601981." Korr is a professor and sports historian at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His book on the union is the ideal companion to John Helmer's "Lords of the Realm" (not to mention the "A Whole Different Ballgame," by Marvin Miller and "Hardball," by Bowie Kuhn). Now available in paperback, "The End of Baseball As We Knew It" won the Elysian Fields Quarterly's Dave Moore Award as the best baseball book published in 2002 and was runner up for SABR Seymour Medal for the North American Society for Sport History's award best sport history book of the year.
What distinguishes "The End of Baseball As We Knew It" is the fact that Korr had complete access to the Association's papers and files. It is a remarkably well-documented work, a simply fantastic resource for anyone interested in the history of the union. But Korr wasn't only interested in the Association's point-of-view; his interviews with Judge Robert Cannon, who presided over the union before Miller entered the stage, as well as John Gaherin, the owners' head negotiator during the Miller-Dick Moss years, give the book balance and depth. These two men, along with Frank Scott, who ran the Association on a part-time basis during the Fifties, are often overlooked. But they were key figures in baseball's labor saga, and Korr makes sure to get their side of the story.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Korr, who is a generous and engaging guy. Here is the first part of our conversation. Enjoy.
Bronx Banter: How did you manage to get access to the records at the Association and how did that help form your book?
Chuck Korr: Ted Simmons read an article I'd written that analyzed how free agency and large salaries for professional athletes in the U. S. and Britain had changed the relationship between them and the fans. He sent a copy of the article to Don Fehr, who was interested in it. Maryanne Ellison Simmons (Ted's wife and the founder of a very important magazine for wives in baseball, The Waiting Room) and Ted thought it was important to have a historian write about the union and suggested that I should look into the idea. I contacted Fehr and Marvin Miller and when both of them said they would make the records of the union available to me, I decided to set aside the work I was doing and see if it would be possible to write a history of the union. Fehr, Gene Orza, and Mark Belanger did everything possible to assist my work--they gave me an office space when I needed it and wrote letters to everyone whom I wanted to interview. Everyone involved with the union made a commitment to have no control over the final product. In fact, no one involved with the union saw any of the manuscript until after it had gone to the press for outside peer review.
While a plan is still being negotiated, the team seems to be acting like a superstar free agent and asking for the moon. The team is reportedly expecting the city and state to pitch in $300 million to build, among other things, a parking garage that would be used mostly during games. That is wrong, and if the city intends to give the Yankees Macombs Dam Park for its new site, the team - not the taxpayers - should pay to replace that open space elsewhere. The Yankees can boast that they would pay for the stadium - about $750 million - but under new rules they can deduct capital costs from annual payments to the league, so they will hardly feel the pinch.
The Times owns a piece of the Boston Red Sox. Yankee president Randy Levine told the Post:
"Not only were the facts cited in the editorial incorrect, but the arguments are similar to those emanating from rival teams worried about a new stadium rising in The Bronx."
Since You've Gone
Even though he was roughed up in a minor league outing yesterday, Randy Johnson and the rest of the Yankees look relatively copasetic as spring training draws to a close. While there are new additions on both the Sox and the Bombers, many familiar faces are returning this season: Jeter, Posada, Bernie, Sheffield, Rodriguez, Matsui are still here, as are Damon, Bellhorn, Manny, Varitek, Nixon, and Millar. The clean-cut Yanks vs. the Dirt Bomb Sox. It will be interesting to see how the new guys figure into the rivalry. (It's a drag that Edgar Renteria is on Boston, cause I've always enjoyed rooting for that dude.) Boomer Wells is a beauty fit, that's for sure. Clement, Miller, Pavano and Wright change the look of the rotations, not to mention Mr. Johnson, of course.
But you know what's got me bugged out? The Red Sox without Pedro. He's been the most important player on their team since he arrived from Montreal in the late 1990s. With all due respect to Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro was the biggest star in Boston. Every series against New York, the talk revolved around Martinez: when was he pitching, was he healthy? The feeling was always that the Sox just had to win the game he started. I'm not saying the team is better or worse without him, just marketedly different. Life without Pedro will take some time getting used to.
Oh, and for those of you who are superstitious, SI has picked New York to win the Serious this year. That's bound to bring a sigh of relief to many card-carrying members of Red Sox Nation. If you believe in that sort of thing, that is.
Something to Remember
A day after he was plunked on the left knee by a David Bush pitch, Tony Womack appears to be okay, at least physically. He's still peeved about the beaning though. His teammates weren't too pleased about it at the time either. Something to look out for when the Yanks face Bush again during the season.
Hallelujah, Joe Torre got it right. The twenty-fifth man on the Yankee roster is . . . Bubba Crosby! Congratulations, Bubba. Allow me to suggest you wear a pare of dungarees under your uniform pants to avoid getting splinters in your bum.
Okay, maybe that's not fair, but getting Bubba on the roster, which is great, is only half the battle. The other half is getting Torre to rest Bernie once or twice a week and--rather than moving Matsui into center and starting Sierra in left, a possibility that seems to intrigue the Yankee skipper a little too much for my liking--start Bubba in his place.
Torre had several conflicting quotes today about the likelihood of this happening. The most promising was this:
"This guy [Crosby] may be a regular in a part-time situation, where he may play 2-3 games here or there"
More troubling was this:
"He can steal a base, and that's probably where he'll be utilized more times than not. We don't pinch-hit for many people, but we do have a couple of guys you'd pinch-run for. In that regard, he's a bonus for us."
And of course the ever-present:
"We do have options if we want Ruben to get some playing time, we can put Ruben in left field and move Matsui to center. [Matsui] is so good at what he does, that won't be a concern if that's the way we decide to do it."
Ducks in a Row
According to the Associated Press, Joe Torre has set the Yankee rotation. Of course there was no mystery about which five pitchers would comprise the rotation, and Randy Johnson had already been named the Opening Night (what is this Broadway?) starter, but with three off days in the first two weeks, the Yankees have decided to skip their fifth starter until April 15. The question was, who is the fifth starter? The answer: Jaret Wright.
Here's how the Yankee rotation is expected to shake out over the first two weeks:
4/3 v Bos: Johnson (Opening Night)
Which would set the order from there forward as: Johnson, Wright, Pavano, Mussina, Brown.
Meet the Mets
The place to be for Met fans is the newly-formed MetsGeek.com, which has a roster of eight writers, including Jeremy Heit and Matt Gelb. Andrew Hintz has a good interview with veteran New York sportswiter, Bob Klapisch up today. I like this exchange:
MetsGeek.com: ...Who's the best interview on the Mets?
Count Down to Ecstacy
It is gray, raining, and chilly in New York. Emily and I took a long walk yesterday down affluent Fieldston road and though there were several clumps of snow still littered around, we also saw a few fuzzy buds on the trees as well as batches of purple and yellow crocus' popping up. On the first warm day of the year, I'll generally be able to smell baseball, mixed in with the dirt and the blooming cherry trees. That didn't happen this weekend, but you can feel it coming. Each morning, there is more and more activity from the little birdies outside of our window, chirping and buzzing around.
It's hard to believe that in a week from now, we'll be recapping Opening Night. It sure has been one long, hard winter for us Yankee fans. And yet, once again, there is so much to look forward to this year. I know that I'm ready to go, although I'd be lying if I said I was stoaked about seeing the Red Sox this early in the season. I understand why it makes sense, but couldn't we just ease into it a lil' bit? The last few years I've wondered why the schedule-makers don't have the Yanks and Sox start and finish the season against each other annually. This year, they've finally gotten around to it. But I don't relish the hoopla this early. It feels like too much, too soon. But considering the WWF nature of this rivalry I suppose it is fitting. So for the first couple of weeks we'll be all jacked up. Things could be a lot worse.
Put Him In, Coach
With less than a week left before opening day, the battle to make the Yankee roster is intensifying. Most of the heat is on who will back up Bernie Williams in center, as that's generally assumed to be the only open spot on the Yankees 25-man roster. Of course it's not really that simple.
I'll get to that in a moment, but first, here's an update on the cuts the Yankees have made in the past ten days.
All-Baseball AL East Preview
I'm just a dirty preview whore. Two days after participating in the Baseball Analysts' roundtable on the AL East, I've provided the Yankee entry in All-Baseball's AL East preview, which is now up on the main page over there.
In these previews I've been allowing my homerism to show through by picking the Yankees to win the division. At Baseball Analysts I was outnumbered three to one on that subject, but logic seems to win the day at All-Baseball, where Evan Brunell's Red Sox entry (written independently) confirms my belief that the Yankees remain the team to beat in the East. Check it out.
Now, I know what you're thinking: "why the hell doesn't he write something for Bronx Banter." Well, the good news is that I've turned in the book, so starting this weekend, I should be in full effect in this space. What's more, next week is Preview Week (TM) here at Baseball Toaster. We'll have a different set of predictions for you each day next week on the main page, so be sure to stop by for that. Opening Night at the Stadium is one week from Sunday. All systems go!
A Small, Good Thing
"I love baseball. You know, it doesn't have to mean anything, it's just very beautiful to watch." (Woody Allen as Leonard Zelig)
Such was the case for the Yankees yesterday, when, in a meaningless game, everything seemed right with the world. Randy Johnson had his best performance of the spring, dominating the Atlanta Braves for six innings; Mariano Rivera threw another scoreless inning with ease; and the offense, led by Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, Jason Giambi, and Derek Jeter, pounded out twelve runs.
People, get ready.
On the Mend
There are puff pieces in the local papers this morning on Alex Rodriguez and Tony Womack. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter is scheduled to take batting practice today, but Bernie Williams is still aching. Unfortunately, this is something we are all too familiar with. It can't be much fun for ol' Bernie either:
"It seems to be a pattern with me, I guess," Williams said. "I figure there's nothing I can do about it. It just seems funny that every year something happens that throws my normal spring training pattern off."
Traditionally, it takes Bernie a few months to settle into a good groove. But considering his advanced age, you've got to wonder when his body will turn on him for good.
Mariano Rivera pitched a three-up, three-down, six-pitch inning last night in the Yankees' 5-1 win over the Phillies. Oh whatta relief it is. Not only did Rivera look sharp, but Paul Quantrill pitched a scoreless inning as well. Jaret Wright started and tossed six shut out frames himself. In all, it was a good night for the Bomber's pitching. Hot dog.
Baseball Analysts' AL East Preview
Rich and Bryan are doing what they call "two-on-two" conversations to preview each division, pitting two bloggers covering two different teams in the division "against" the site's charming hosts in a roundtable discussion that covers every team in the division (the Toaster's own, Alex "Cub Town" Ciepley was part of the NL Central discussion, as was Jon "Dodger Thoughts" Weisman for the NL West).
In the AL East edition, Patrick "Sully" Sullivan from The House that Dewey Built (a frequent Bronx Banter commenter) and I go head-to-head (and two-on-two) with Rich and Bryan. Enjoy!
Against the Grain
The Yankees have been heavily criticized by the sabermetric community this winter for signing Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. But alas, Ken Rosenthal thinks that Pavano and Wright are the key to their season. Not only that, but as much as it may pain him, Rosenthal is picking the Bronx Bombers to win it all. Go figure.
According to Howard Byrant in today's Boston Herald, David Wells will start on Opening Night in the Bronx versus Randy Johnson and the Yanks. However, Curt Schilling is looked sharp in an intrasquad game yesterday:
"I felt very good...I thought I threw the ball with a lot more velocity. A lot more balls felt normal.
There will be plenty of time for Schilling and Johnson to hook up this year. Plus, Boomer generally gets up for a big game. Regardless, there will be plenty to write about with him on the mound in New York against his former team. Whatever happens, it most likely won't be dull.
Now There's Something You Don't See Every Day
Emily and I caught a good portion of the Yankees exhibition game against the Tribe last night. In his third at bat, Jason Giambi laced a long fly ball to deep left field. It sliced behind the left fielder and bounced on the warning track. Meanwhile, Giambi who was running hard out of the box, was storming around second, headed for third...I started yelling as he beat the throw for a triple. I turned to Em and said, "You'd better store that in your memory bank, cause we are not likely to see that again this year...or maybe ever." Giambi scored on Ruben Sierra's single through the left side, and was greeted by smiles all around from the Yankee bench. Rich Lederer--who wrote a fine piece on the late Dick "Monster" Radatz this past weekend--was watching too, 3,000 miles away from the Bronx, in Long Beach, California. He thinks the Giambi's feat was significant for a couple of reasons, belly laughs aside:
1. Giambi has only had eight three baggers in his entire career and not a one since 2002.
Giambi's hair is also longer than I can remember it being since he joined the team. I know it won't ever get as long as it was in Oakland, but as far as I'm concerned, the longer the better.
You know why I don't make predictions? Cause I don't really enjoy it, and because it mostly proves how little I really know. Having said that I want to immediately revise my "hunch" about Gary Sheffield. Watching him bat last night I was thinking how it's virtually impossible to predict that his performance will fall off if he remains healthy. I know that is a big "if"--just like Bernie actually scoring 100 runs again certainly is--but I take it back. Nothing in my gut tells me that Sheff will be anything but a terror.
Okay, here goes a couple of dopey hunches I came up with this afternoon:
Javier Vazquez will have an outstanding year.
Jason Giambi will do better than expected, while Sheffield will have a down year.
Jorge Posada will suffer the first serious injury of his career.
Derek Jeter will score 100 runs again.
(Man, do I hope that Bernie can do the same, score 100 runs, and go out looking good.)
And for Cliff's sake, here's to the Yanks pick up Placido Planco before the trade deadline this summer.
Enough randomness for now. What you got?
What's Old is New
Mariano Rivera threw a bullpen session yesterday, while Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams sat out with minor injuries, as Mike Mussina was roughed up by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. As Mussina explains, there are some days when you just don't have it. He told Newsday:
"As you get ready for a new season, some days it feels like you've never been out there before. For me, this is about the time when I feel kind of blah," he said. "It happens. You work through it."
I wonder if Moose ever has the dream that Nuke LaLoosh had, standing on the mound with nothing more than his jock and garters...n'aaah, probably not.
Twinkle Toes Goes
Man, I hate to see to see a great player like Robbie Alomar go out like this, just 276 hits short of 3,000. His brilliant career came to a resounding thud the day he was traded to the Mets. Still, I'll always remember how he mashed Yankee pitching for years. And, of course, his acrobatic defensive work at second base. My favorite Alomar move was when he went far to his left, got his mitt on a grounder, and then like a spinning top, left his feet and rolled to his left, falling into right field, while being able to keep his balance long enough--as if temporarily being able to float--to make a perfect throw to first and nail the runner. It was as gorgeous a move as I ever remember seeing a second baseman make, and Alomar seemed to have the patent on it.
Talking in my sleep
I'm not sure how many of you caught my comment on Alex's Barking and Biting post this past Monday, but for those who didn't, it explains my absence in recent weeks (a.k.a. the entire history of this site). I'm still under the crush, but as the Yanks have hit the half-way point of spring training, I felt I really owed you guys some sort of catch up post. So here's a quick look at the first round of cuts the Yankees made last week.
Bobby Be Berry, Berry Good
Rany Jazayerli wrote a terrific article on Bobby Abreu yesterday over at Baseball Prospectus (registration required). Jazayerli contends that not only is Abreu the most over-looked star in the game today, but that he's on putting together a Hall of Fame career (Abreu is this generation's Rock Raines). Course, I know that I've not been alone in being a big Abreu fan--Joe Sheehan has raved about him for years. But it is nice to finally see a thorough appreciation of Philadelphia's durable right fielder. (I used to dream that Abreu would replace Paulie O in right field. Aaahh, so much for that.)
Here's the bit that struck a chord with me:
The main reasons why Abreu is so underrated are that rather than having one recognizable skill, he makes his game contributions in a variety of ways; and that rather than having an outlier MVP-caliber season surrounded by a series of lower-quality campaigns, he settles for giving the same MVP-candidate performance, year after year.
I couldn't agree more. Reminds me of what Bill James once wrote about Bernie Williams:
[Williams is] So steady and unwavering he goes unnoticedÖIf a player is accomplished in three, four, five areas, it is harder to recognize the breadth of his total accomplishment. Williams spreads his accomplishment all over the statistical map. He hits doubles and home runs, he draws walks, he hits for a high average, he runs well, he plays a key defensive position, and he bats from both sides of the plateÖHe tends to be overlooked in the discussions of the best players because his talent isnít isolated in one areaóitís everywhere.
Let's hope Abreu remains healthy and continues to have a wonderful career.
Must Be in the Front Row...
Jay Jaffe is the host of one of the longest-running baseball websites on the Internet, The Futility Infielder. He's also an author at Baseball Prospectus. And now, Jaffe's made his television debut. Good gosh, what a week. I haven't seen the clip yet, but I want to wish Jay kudos and congrats, and all of that good stuff. I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must be to try and sound coherent, forget articulate on TV. Jaffe writes about his experience here and here. Go check it out and chalk one up for the good guys.
"Everybody wants to hit home runs...It's all about the long ball. Chicks dig the long ball. Maybe that's why I don't have any." Tony Womack
Every saber-friendly Yankee fan's favorite, Tony Womack has played well of late, impressing Joe Torre with his wheels of steal. So long as dude is batting ninth, there won't be too much bitching about him round these parts.
Meanwhile, Kevin Brown, whose fourth child war born on Tuesday, got served by the Pirates in an exhibition game yesterday. Needless to say, Brown wasn't exactly pleased with his performance. The Post reports:
"He's not happy when he gives up runs," said Mel Stottlemyre. "He didn't think he had anything. I thought he threw good.
Finally, Mariano Rivera is expected to throw later today.
Take it E'z
Jason Giambi, who was excused from having to testify before Congress, is having as good a spring as anyone could have expected. He isn't tearing the cover off the ball, but Giambi isn't especially anxious either. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:
Giambi has one extra-base hit so far, a home run on March 7, and he recently told [hitting coach, Don] Mattingly that he wanted to hit more doubles. Mattingly laughed him off - "You can't direct it," he told Giambi - but he understood Giambi's larger meaning, that he wants to drive balls to the gaps.
Much as been made of Giabmi getting off to a good start once the season begins. Where do you think Torre will bat him in the line-up come Opening Day?
According to the Daily News, we shouldn't be overly concerned with Mariano Rivera's tender right elbow. But the Yankees (and their fans) are always cautious when it comes to Mo. As Will Carroll noted in his column for Baseball Prospectus yesterday:
Rivera hasnít had problems this early before, though the Yankees are used to him needing time off to rest and recover. The Yanks will watch him closely through the early season; Rivera makes his money in October.
Paul Quantrill was shut down yesterday with a pulled muscle in his rib cage. Quantrill has pitched with discomfort for several weeks now. Newsday reports:
If anything, the Yankees were pleased that Quantrill, a workhorse throughout his career, agreed to shut it down for two days. ("Any more than that and we're going to be fighting," he said.) But Quantrill thinks he made it worse by pitching through it.
Has anyone seen Karsay this spring? He isn't looking good. I don't think the Yanks can expect much out of him this year, do you?
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Rich Lederer has a good piece about the most/least efficient base-stealers in the game. Alex Rodriguez (28-32) and Derek Jeter (23-27) are two of the most efficient; Bernie Williams (1-6) and Gary Sheffield (5-11) are two of the least.
Mariano Rivera has a mild case of bursitis in his right elbow and won't pitch until the end of the week. According to reports, Rivera should be able to throw a side-session on Friday. Hopefully, this isn't anything to be overly concerned with. Joe Torre told reporters:
Recently, Hank Waddles conducted a fine interview with Tom Stanton, author of "The Final Seaon," an account of the last season at Tiger Stadium. Stanton's other works include, "The Road to Cooperstown," and "Hank Aaron and the Home Runs That Changed America."
Here is an exchange that really spoke to me:
I didn't have a similar father-son relationship when it came to baseball, though baseball was a common ground for us. My dad was born in 1937 and though my grandfather rooted for the Giants, and was generally not interested in the sport, my dad was a rapid Dodgers fan. Through my grandfather's connections, my dad ended up at Yankee Stadium for the World Series often during the 1947-57 heyday. By the time I was growing up, pop was a defacto Mets fan, but wasn't an active baseball enthusiast any longer. We did connect through the game. He shared his memories from the past about the Dodgers with me on occasion and would use Ted Williams and Willie Mays as examples of how even the greatest performers have to put in blood, sweat and tears in order to be great, when he was giving the ol' 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration speech.
But our catches, while not necessarily competitive, were anything but relaxing. I don't think he was ever too eager about playing catch. As a result, he seemed agitated and impatient, consistantly whipping the ball too hard for me to handle. I'd ask to to slow it down, but he didn't hear me. My had would sting as I tried to make every catch. But I don't recall it ever being fun. My one clear memory of us having a catch ended with me throwing my mitt down and going inside after I couldn't take all of his pegs anymore.
But I've got a younger brother Ben who played a lot of baseball with me. Early on, I tortured him with the ol' Great Santini routine, but eventually we grew out of that, and by the time we were in our twenties, he came to regard each other as equals. Stanton is right on when he mentions the non-competitive nature of just having a catch. How wunnerful that can be. It is almost the perfect expression of non-verbal male communication. Sure, you can talk, but you don't feel neccesarily compelled to. You can give each other pop ups or grounders or pretend to be taking a relay throw. Horse around or just enjoy the act of throwing and hearing the ball pop in the other person's glove. Most of all, there is a rhythm, that is almost intimate, which defines a great catch. The sense of being connected to another guy through the simple act of throwing a ball back-and-forth, is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. Believe it.
Speaking of Fathers and Sons, you've just got to head over to The Baseball Analysts and read Rich Lederer's piece about the day his father, a sports journalist, replaced Walter Alston and managed the Dodgers. It's a special post and we can only hope to see more of the same from the Lederer collection as the year moves on.
Barking and Biting
With the steroids mess dominating the sports pages these days, it's enough for me to just not want to look. Reggie, McGwire, Jeremy Giambi are the lastest names to make the grade (Doc Gooden receives another "F"). Meanwhile, in Florida, Randy Johnson pitched three solid innings for the Yankees yesterday. He even was geared up enough to find the time to bark at the home plate ump some too, as John Harper reports in the Daily News.
We're Ready for Your Close Up, Mr. Plimpton
Tom Verducci spent five days playing with the Blue Jays this spring, and his experiences make for the cover story in Sports Illustrated this week. Jay Jaffe has a wonderful post about Verducci's article. Check it out when you get a chance.
Did You Hear the One About...?
Patrick O'Keefe IM'd me yesterday afternoon and asked if I heard anything about Mariano Rivera. O'Keefe told me that his site devoted to Mariano Rivera had it's all-time record attendence due to a bogus story that was making the rounds about Rivera being involved in a car accident. There was no truth to the story, and Rivera pitched one solid inning against the Blue Jays last night. In case you missed it, Jack Curry's story on Rivera earlier this week in the Times is worth checking out.
First Taste (mm, mm Good)
So last night, Emily and I were sitting on the couch filling each other in on the events of the day. After awhile I clicked the TV on and discovered that the Yankees and Blue Jays were on YES. Our first game of the year. Em promptly announced, "Time to knit," which is what she does while we watch baseball. We watched the last four innings and saw Godzilla hit a three-run homer. I don't know why, but it was especially comforting to see him again. It was good to see all of the guys, and curious to see some of the new faces too. (Giambi looks really big again.) I have to admit, it was disorienting to see Tino Martinez in the line up. Talk about back to the future. It's going to take a minute to get used to seeing his coiled, intense self on this version of the Yankees. It was also nice to watch Joe Girardi, looking trim, hair buzzed low, sitting next to Joe Torre. Most of all, it was just great to see a baseball game, no matter how meaningless. And I was reminded of how lucky I am to have a partner who not only tolerates my love of the game, but actively enjoys it herself.
Nice Guys Finish Last
There is a sympathetic profile of Jason Giambi by Nate Penn in the latest issue of GQ magazine. Giambi is anything, if not well-liked by those who know him:
Giambiís greatest flaw seems to be his need to be a good boy, who wants to please everyone, all of the time. I can identify with this because I struggled with the same kind of need for years. Growing up, I wanted people to like me more than respect me. I thought that if I could get people to like me enough, all of my needs in life would be met. Well, I eventually accepted the fact that this was a fantasy. A nice fantasy, but a fantasy all the same. The truth is that I am a nice guy, so I donít need to bend over backwards trying to constantly prove it. It's exhausting, and not necessary. And I've come to the opinion that, as difficult as it feels at times, it's better to be respected than liked.
I believe that Jason Giambi is a nice guy. But in trying to accommodate everyone, he left himself vulnerable. Unfortunately, he doesnít have the luxury of being able to move through his growing pains in private like the rest of us. He has to make the transition from entitled adolescent to an adult under tremendous public scrutiny. Penn concludes:
Sometimes you've got to learn the hard way. I don't feel sorry for Giambi, but I am pulling for him.
New Bronx Buttas
Hey yo, yo, yo. Welcome to Bronx Banter's new home, Baseball Toaster. After a great run at All-Baseball.com, we're starting f-r-e-s-h for 2005. Course it should be nothing short of another entertaining baseball season in the Boogie Down.
I'm proud to announce that Cliff Corcoran will be co-writing Bronx Banter with me this season. When I started this blog, I always dreamed of having collaborators, and I've been fortunate enough to have writers like Chris DeRosa, Edward Cossette, and Brian Gunn submit articles periodically. But I've long craved something more permanent. I don't pretend to be any kind of baseball expert, which is why I enjoying linking to other writing around the web. Now, there will be another distinct voice right here. I think the two of us will compliment each other nicely and be able to provide you with even more balanced Yankee thoughts and coverage than ever. Cliff is actually emotionally stable when it comes to the Yanks, which is comforting, knowing how nuts I tend to get when the going gets tough. What's really cool about having Cliff aboard is that he's a crack analyst. He does just the kind of stuff that I love reading but am not so interested in writing myself. I'm not going anywhere but now you'll get two writers for the price of none!
I'm sure a lot of you are already familar with Cliff's stuff, but do wish him a warm welcome (and not a Bronx Cheer) to the blog when you get a minute.
Also, bear with us for a minute as the technical kinks sort themselves out. As Robert DeNiro told his cronies in Good Fellas: "It's gunna be a good summer!"
Just Like Starting Over
When I was but a wee lad, knee-high to a sowís ear (er . . . whatever), my elders would often lean over me in a terrifying manner and say such horrible things as "enjoy it while you can, it wonít last forever" and "these are the best days of your life, you know." I took them for fools at the time. Still do. Certainly there are advantages to the responsibility-free lifestyle of childhood, but with that lack of responsibility comes a significant lack of personal freedom. School, for example, is downright fascist.
Still, one thing I do miss about the nine months of ritualistic abuse that comprised the school year is the optimism and clean slate with which I would approach each new grade in September. Armed with a brand new pencil case and the latest model Trapper Keeper, I was always sure that this would be the year Iíd complete every homework assignment (on time, no less), and get "a hundred" on every test. It never happened that way, of course, but that feeling of hope, ambition, and freedom from the previous yearís failures and shortcomings was invigorating, something Iíve never been able to recreate in a work environment.
The closest I come to that feeling as an "adult" is not the change over of the calendar, with itís empty resolutions and tradition of starting the new year on the worst footing possible thanks to the debauchery that ends the previous one (of which I generally donít partake), but the beginning of the baseball season as players report to spring training in late February and early March. Suffering from the same delusions that plagued me in past Septembers, each player arrives at camp with a brand new pencil case and the latest model Trapper Keeper, sure that this is the year theyíll learn to lay off the slider low and away, hit the cut-off man, avoid the injury bug, and finally work up to their potential and play well with others.
This year, that feeling for me is especially strong because of the confluence of spring training, my move here to Bronx Banter, and the launching of our new host, Baseball Toaster. So, with the crisp spring air in our lungs and visions of a 162-0 Yankee team dancing in our heads, letís all get out a clean sheet of loose leaf paper and, in our best, clearest handwriting, take a look at this yearís crop of Yankee campers.
It's Only Going to Get Worse
The Yankees were on the field, but Jason Giambi was not. He was the designated hitter in the team's exhibition opener Thursday, and as the Pittsburgh Pirates hit in the middle innings, Giambi was back in the Yankees' clubhouse, taking shadow swings in full uniform.
That's What I'm Talkin About
Yesterday, David Pinto linked an article that Ed Price wrote in the Newark Star- Ledger about the Yankee line-up. Today, there is more good news regarding the prospects of Tony Womack leading off. It just may not happen. Looks as if Joe Torre is comfortable with Derek Jeter leading off and Womack hitting ninth:
Derek Jeter batted leadoff Thursday, with the new second baseman, Tony Womack, batting ninth. Manager Joe Torre said he expected to stick with that arrangement, mainly because he could not think of another everyday player who could bat ninth. (N.Y.Times)
Good as Golen
Phil Allard has a good interview with the author Peter Golenbock over at NYYFans.com. It's part one of two, and worth checking out if you are into Yankee history. Speaking of which, peace to Repoz for linking this article on Jim Bouton early in the week. Here's a good one from the Bulldog:
"Baseball has become a gross game presented in a gross manner with loud noises and advertising,"Bouton said. "There's nothing beautiful about it. Nothing contemplative. Baseball's beauty is its timelessness. There's no clock.
I remember that the Pirates had one night last summer where they shut down the electronic scoreboard and just had an organist play during the game. Man, I wish I could have been there for that. Not to be a snob, but it sounded so, well, civilized.
The Veteran's Committe did not elect anyone to the Hall of Fame yesterday. (Say what you want about Maury Wills, but I don't get how he gets twice as many votes as Minnie Minoso...okay, I understand how, I just don't think it's fair.) In the Times, columnist Dave Anderson questions the committe's methods:
After two veterans committee shutouts, it's fair to wonder how responsibly do the Hall of Famers, especially the 58 ex-players among them, take their duty as voters?
For more excellent Hall of Fame coverage, check out what my label-mate Mike Carminati has to say. (Oh, and while you are there, Yankee and Red Sox fans should definately read the first part of Mike's history of trades between the two teams.)
Breath of Fresh Air
"They influence not only fans but organizations," said Leiter, who is paid to do a weekly spot on Michael Kay's ESPN radio show. "Teams in New York listen to those guys. Why I don't know. One guy's a know-it-all, and his opinions are better than anybody else's, and the other guy is a clown who throws a ball 47 miles-an-hour and plays tennis.
Anyone listening to Fatso and Fruit Loops this afternoon? If so, let me know how they respond. I love bullcrap like this.
Oldies but Goodies
Randy Johnson has a sore left calf and will miss his first spring training start. Johnson insists that this is not a big issue. Meanwhile, Kevin Brown pitched two innings yesterday in a intra-squad game and felt good when all was said and done. It would be curious if Brown ended up being a valuable contributor in 2005, particularly after how he finished 2004.
Back for Thirds
Part three of Rich Lederer's chat with Bill James is up:
BJ: Rickey [Henderson] is one of a kind. Someone should write a really good book about Rickey. There is an essential connection between ego and greatness and no one better illustrated that than Rickey. When Rickey is 52, he will still believe that he could play in the majors. You can say that his ego is out of scale to his real world, but his ego is what made him so special. Somebody should document mannerisms and Rickey was a walking catalog of annoying mannerisms. He was a show. Every at-bat was a show. It's not like a Reggie Jackson show where it's done for television. It's a live show. It's done for the guys in the ballpark and the guys on the field. The show made him totally unique.
I really enjoyed this conversation. I can't wait for lunch.
Pass the Biscuits (Mirandy)
Part Two of Rich Lederer's "Breakfast with Bill" interview is up. I like this exchange regarding a trio of James' former assistants:
RL:...I was wondering if you could talk about some of the different people that worked for you. The fact that your disciples have become notable in their own right reminds me of the success of Bill Walsh and his assistant coaches.
Chris Smith has a good profile of Mets general manager Omar Minaya in the latest issue of New York magazine. I don't know whether or not Minaya is a good GM, but I like him:
In private conversation, the six-foot-tall Minaya leans forward, establishing an intimacy. Heís resolutely upbeat, flashing a broad smile, and instead of launching into monologues, he frequently stops and asks questions, appearing genuinely curious instead of slick.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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