Monthly archives: February 2006
A Nice Tuesday
Quickly cruising around the local papers this morning, we've got Sam Borden's interview with Steve Swindal, Jim Baumbach on the budding relationship between Robinson Cano and Larry Bowa, Don Amore catches up with Andy Phillips, Mark Feinsand details Eric Duncan's fine spring thus far, an amusing piece on Jason Giambi's new workout partner, Bob Klap on Lee Maz, and finally, Tyler Kepner catches up with our boy Bernie:
"It's all in the way you look at it," Williams said Monday after lifting weights long after most of his teammates had left. "You can look at it and say, 'Oh, they're messing with me, they don't respect me, this and that.' But you've got to make your choice.
Bernie has always reminded me of the children's story Ferdinand the Bull. Nice to see that he continues to stop and smell the flowers.
The Negro League election to the Hall of Fame was announced this afternoon and neither Minnie Minoso or Buck O'Neil made the cut. I am personally bummed for both of them, but don't expect either to feel sorry for themselves.
I've been fortunate enough to have several encounters with O'Neil. The first was of the more memorable days of my life. Twelve years ago, I worked as a runner for Ken Burns as he and his team of editors mixed the sound for "Baseball." It was my first job out of college and not only did it reunite me with the game (and the game's history), it also introduced me to people and players I didn't know anything about. Ken hipped me to Lester Young and Willie Morris. I learned about Curt Flood's story--and found it so moving that now, after three years of work, am set to publish my first book this spring--and it's all about Curt. I also got to meet Buck O'Neil. I had seen him on the mixing room screen for months, and heard much about him from the rest of the crew, so when he came to New York in May of '94 for a screening I felt as if I already knew him.
Beast in the East
In addition to some of the cool new Yankee sites that Cliff has already added to our roll call, please g'head and check out the fresh Canyon of Heroes blog by long time Bronx Banter reader Mike Plugh. Mike lives in Japan and, no joke, he used to live in the same apartment building where I currently reside in the Bronx. We've never met, but he's a great guy. Talk about a small world. Welcome him to the club, y'all.
Well, They Can't Be Worse, Can They?
The special Negro League Hall of Fame vote will be announced later today (this article in the Times is worth checking out for the photograph alone)--here's hoping it'll be a memorable day. In the meantime, the Yankees begin their exhibition season this Thursday. Randy Johnson threw another bp session yesterday; Joe Torre is pleased with what he's seen from Al Leiter thus far. Tyler Kepner covers Carl Pavano in the Times:
Asked how important Pavano's recovery was to the Yankees, Torre did not hesitate.
Bill Madden has a piece on Bernie Williams in the News:
"Last year was a wake-up call for me," Williams said. "It seemed like I was breaking someone's record or passing some milestone and that was not my focus. Given my situation, with my playing time being reduced, it was very frustrating for me. When they signed me this winter, they were expecting me to accept a certain role.
The Yanks will be in good shape if Pavano and Bernie are even reasonably productive this year, no?
Tempest in a Teapot
Sheff riffs, Sheff and Cash talk, Sheff chills. Nothing to see here folks, move along.
What's Old is New
Randy Johnson grazed Johnny Damon yesterday during live batting practice, but the more compelling tidbit is that 19-year old Phillip Hughes impressed the veteran Yankee hitters during his session. Jorge Posada said he hasn't seen such a live arm since Mariano Rivera was a youngster. "He reminds me of Roger Clemens; that fastball is late," Jason Giambi told the Post. Joe Torre added:
"The thing that is unusual for a kid as young as he is, the curveball is really impressive...It's one of those real tight rotation breaking balls. He is not commanding it like he is going to after more experience, but his stuff is very real."
Joel Sherman has a nice column praising Torre this morning as well:
For the 11th year, he had to deliver an introduction speech to the full Yankee squad on Wednesday. In the wrong hands, this could turn into a forum of rolled eyes and emotional disconnect. But according to the players who heard the words, Torre had not gone stale. As Mike Mussina explained, "He never says anything to give you reason to think, 'oh shut up.' When he speaks, you just realize it is a big deal.' Alex Rodriguez added, "When it is manufactured and artificial, veteran players see through that [garbage]. He has that magic in his voice. It feels as if it is coming from a higher authority."
This is nothing we don't already know, but it is well put, don't you think? Lastly, our boy Sheff was riffing some to Bob Klap yesterday. Well, what did you expect?
You Don't Have To Put On The Red Light - UPDATED
When I first plunked down the cash for a Baseball Prospectus Premium Account a few years ago, my primary motivation was being able to read Will Carroll's Team Health Reports. For those unfamiliar with Will's THR's, every spring he goes team by team through the major leagues, assigning green, yellow, or red lights to each team's starting line-up, starting rotation, and closer indicating their likelihood of injury in the coming season (see his introduction to this year's THR's here). His 2006 THR for the Yankees (co-authored by Michael Groopman) went up on Tuesday and contains more than a few surprises, as well as more than a comfortable number of red lights.
Among the surprises are a yellow light for Robinson Cano ("a young player at a risky position") and a green light for Johnny Damon (who, despite his habit of crashing into everything and everyone in center field, has never spent a day on the DL in the majors--knock knock). Even more surprising were the colors assigned to Shawn Chacon and Chien-Ming Wang. If I were to tell you that one of those pitchers earned a red light and the other a green, you'd naturally assume it was Wang who got the red due to his history of shoulder woes. Not so. Chacon is the man most likely to sell his body to the night. The reason is his history of low workloads. Dating back to 2000, his age-22 season and his last full year in the minors, here are Chacon's annual innings pitched:
2000: 173 2/3
Those 173 2/3 innings in double-A at age 22 remain his career high (those 63 1/3 innings in 2004 were the result of the Rockies ill-fated decision to make him their closer that season).
With all five members of the 2005 opening day rotation as well as Wang having missed at least one start due to injury last year, the Yankees are likely hoping Chacon will be able to take the ball every fifth day this season. That means racking up around 200 innings, assuming he's reasonably effective (33 starts * 6 IP/start = 198 IP). That's a minimum 20 percent increase over what was already his second highest career IP total.
All of which should inspire increased pesismism over Chacon's prospects for the coming year. Still, despite his miserable 1.33 K/BB ratio in pinstripes last year (an alarming lack of improvement over his career 1.32 mark despite his having finally escaped Denver's thin air), his fluky good .240 opponent's average on balls in play (league average hovers around .300 and Chacon is all but guaranteed to regress toward the mean), his history of wearing down late in the season (last year being a startling exception), and the fact that I was convinced he was the suck even after the Yankees picked him up last year, I can't seem to get that down on Chacon. I really was impressed by what I saw from him at the end of last year, from the drop on his curve to his strong showing in his first career postseason start. What's more, there are established sabermatricians who think Chacon just might be above average. Certainly, Chacon remains one of the biggest X-Factors on a rotation full of question marks.
As for Chien-Ming Wang's green light, I've dropped Will an email asking him to shed some light. I hope to add his response to this post later today.
UPDATE: Will reports that his system does not include data on minor league injuries, creating what he himself describes as "a huge hole in the system," through which Wang slipped twice by avoiding surgery, making his late-season DL stay look like nothing more than a tired arm. Will is hesitant to override his system, but, and this is me speaking now, for all intents and purposes, Wang should be at least a yellow.
We're Havin' a Party
It seems as if all the big boys at Yankee camp are happy, confident and looking forward to a successful season. Tyler Kepner reports:
Looking for a laugh, one reporter quickly asked [manager, Joe] Torre, "Who's the best owner in the major leagues?" [owner, George] Steinbrenner interjected: "Who's the best manager in the major leagues?" Then he pointed vigorously at Torre, who returned the gesture, and sat on the couch next to reporters.
Joe Torre addressed the team for the first time and his words evidentally had more urgency than usual. According to Bob Klapisch:
This is our world, Torre said. This is what it means to be a Yankee. You'll be loved [and hated], respected [and despised]. Everyone will be watching from this moment on.
Talk is cheap, of course, but in light of the debacle on 33rd street, it's comforting to know that George's collection of high-priced stars can actually deliver--if not a championship, then at least probably something close to it. As my friend Matt B said to me last week, the Bombers were awful for much of 2005 and they still won over 90 games and made the playoffs. Unless they are side-swiped by injuries--a very real possibility--we should be in for another entertaining season, don't you think?
Growing up, I often confused Minnie Minoso with Manny Mota, even though I knew Mota played for the dreaded Dodger teams of the late '70s. To be honest, I didn't really know much at all about Minoso until I read Allen Barra's collection of essays, "Clearing the Bases" a few years ago. But after reading Barra's piece, I was hooked, and today, I've got my own tribute to Minoso up at SI.com.
In "Minnie Minoso: The New Latin Dynasty," Barra wrote:
Isn't it odd that at a time in sports history when we are more issue-conscious than ever, no one has a clue as to who the first Latin ballplayer was? Well, anyway, I didn't ahve one, and I've been writing about this stuff for more than twenty years. Either I'm different from most fans in this regard, or the grumbling you sometimes hear from Latin ballplayers is legitimate.
Outside of Chicago--where Minoso's number is retired by the World Champion White Sox--and perhaps Cuba, not that many people talk about Minnie at all. Barra sparked my interest, and made a compelling case for Minoso as a Hall of Famer, comparing him to Doby and Enos Slaughter.
Both Doby and Slaughter were very good players but what I would rate as borderline Hall of Fame candidates. Both had a lot of people pulling for them and pleading special case arguments; Doby had virtually all the writers who had back the first Negro Leaguers, and Slaughter had fans such as Tom Wicker, who wrote a chapter advocating his HOF candidacy for Dan Okrent's "The Ultimate Baseball Book."
Minoso still doesn't have a lot of people campaigning for him, though he has a chance to be elected to the Hall next Monday. I recently spoke with Tony Oliva, another Cuban-born star, and he thinks that Minoso compares well with Doby:
Look at the numbers. And Minoso was a guy who played outfield, he played infield, he played very, very hard. But he was a Cuban. You have to take care of your people first. That had to be the reason [he wasn't elected to the HOF]. If you had the same situation in Cuba, they would try and take care of Cubans first, you know? For us to achieve something, we've got to do double of what the other people do...The name Minnie Minoso was everything if you followed sports in Cuba. He was the top of the line for me. He put up a lot of great numbers, especially in those days when it was very tough to play. In Cuba, man, everybody loved Minoso.
Peter Bjarkman, a Latin baseball historian, has an excellent chapter on Minoso in his book "Basball with a Latin Beat" (essential for any well-stocked baseball library). Minoso, he writes:
was the most colorful dark-skinned Cuban ballplayer of the post-Robinson integration years. Yet Minoso's flashy style and dramatic flair translated into huge efforts at doing precisely what was needed to win ballgames for his team. He played with a reckless abandon aimed always at achieving nothign short of total victory; his was a flair with a clear work ethic. He stole bases with the game on the line, harassed pitchers with daring base-running ploys, took extra bases and made impossible wall-crashing catches.
Here's hoping that Minoso gets his due while he's still alive to enjoy it. He's certainly deserving.
Last Friday, Alex posted a link to a Bill Madden puff piece speculating as to what Yankee life would be like after Mariano Rivera. Certainly Rivera deserves his due, but at a time when we're all desperate for some meaningful baseball news, this seemingly annual bit of warmed over column leftovers turned my stomach.
Part of my problem with the piece, I now realize, is that, while Rivera has undoubtedly been one of the greatest closers in baseball history and is a level above even the best closers in the game, the gap between what he does and what a journeyman such as Todd Jones is able to do in a given season is much smaller than the gap between the what one can expect from an ace starter or one of the league's top hitters and a comparable journeyman. I mean no affront to Rivera, but it's true that, in this post-Eckersley era, closing ballgames is no more difficult than kicking field goals. The league average success rate of both is in the area of 75-80 percent. In 2005, Rivera converted an excellent 91 percent of his save opportunities. Todd Jones converted 89 percent of his. Those of you who play fantasy baseball already know this. Nearly every team has a guy who can rack up 30-plus saves with a decent ERA and a handful of strikeouts. Unless you get completely caught napping, you'll wind up with at least one of them on your fantasy team. Getting something useful out of your catching position, on the other hand, is something only a lucky few are able to do.
Indeed, the man the Yankees will miss most when the time comes just might be Jorge Posada. For all the lumps he's taken over the years for his defense and baserunning, Posada has been the second most productive catcher in all of baseball since 1998. Only Mike Piazza, the most productive catcher ever, has contributed more to his team(s) over that eight year span. Now that is going to be hard to replace.
What's more, though Posada, who will turn 35 on August 17, is nearly two years younger than Rivera, who turned 36 this past November, history suggests that the Yankees will have to replace their catcher before their closer. Let's use some very simple standards to determine a productive season for a closer and a catcher. For closers we'll use 30-saves (a standard Rivera has reached in eight of his nine seasons as Yankee closer, saving 28 in his injury-shortened 2002 season). For catchers we'll use 15 Runs Created Above Position (or 15 more runs created than the league average catcher, a standard Posada has reached in seven of his eight seasons since taking over the majority of the catching duties in 1998, with 17 RCAP in his disappointing 2005 season).
While 16 pitchers have had 30-save seasons after the age of 35 (three of them, including Todd Jones, doing so in 2005, and seven of them doing so more than once), there have been just 12 catchers who have been 15 or more runs above average in a single season after the age of 35. While this suggests that a third more closers than catchers have had productive seasons after age 35, the gap is actually far wider. Remember, the first 30-save season in baseball history was Ted Abernathy's 31 saves in 1965. Meanwhile, Hoyt Wilhelm, who is second only to Eckersley in saves recorded after the age of 35, never once saved 30 games in a single season. If I lower the standard to 20 saves twelve more pitchers join the list, and Ellis Kinder, who save 27 in 1953 at age 38, is the earliest among them chronologically.
The list of catchers with 15 RCAP seasons after the age of 35, meanwhile, stretches back to Jim O'Rourke's 1887 season with the New York Giants. O'Rourke created 28 more runs than the average National League catcher in 1887 at age 36. The following year he move to left field.
Thus, there have been barely more than a third (37.5 percent as many to be precise) as many 15 RCAP catchers over the age of 35 in the last 119 seasons than there have been 20-save pitchers over the age of 35 in the last 53 seasons.
For yucks, here are the dozen backstops that made the cut, four of whom, lead by extreme outlier Carlton Fisk, did so more than once. Note the absence of many of the greats of the position, including Bench, Berra, Cochrane, Dickey, Carter, and, yes, Piazza, who is entering his age-37 season:
So what does the future hold for Posada and the Yankees' catching situation. Well, to begin with, Posada has a $12 million option for 2007 that will vest when he catches his 81st game of the season. He'll also become a 5-and-10 player on June 27 (ten years in the majors, five with the same club), giving him the ability to reject a trade. So barring a complete collapse, Jorge will at the very least be the teacher part of a student-teacher platoon in 2007 (scary thought, I realize).
That said, with no in-house prospects other than 19-year-old Jose Gil, who has yet to catch an inning above rookie ball, the next Yankee catcher will have to come from another organization. With that in mind, we'd all be well advised to keep an eye on the Dodgers, who have a pair of catching prospects in camp this spring competing to become the next L.A. backstop. According to this article from yesterday's Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers will likely have to commit to either 23-year-old home grown prospect Russell Martin or erstwhile Yankee prospect Dioner Navarro sometime in the next year. Navarro is a full year younger than Martin and will likely be the Dodgers starting catcher this season. Martin has yet to crack triple-A, but could prove to be the superior hitter in time. Either one could greatly improve the Yankees future behind the plate if he finds he no longer has a future in Tinseltown.
As for Posada, the Yankees have long hoped that because he wasn't converted to catching until his age-20 season, and was brought along slowly in the majors, splitting parts of three seasons with Joe Girardi, he would age slower than the typical catcher. However Jorge's declining production over the past two seasons at age 32 and 33 (from an admittedly staggering high of 49 RCAP in his near-MVP season of 2003) seems to have dashed that hope. Entering his age 34-season, I'm hoping for one last gasp from Posada before his decline takes full hold. If we do get such a season from Posada, be sure to enjoy it. As the Yankees will find out all too soon, catchers who can produce like Jorge, at any age, don't come around nearly as often as reliable closers.
Alex Rodriguez arrrived at the Yankees' training camp yesterday. Reporters, eager for something juicy to write about, were ready and waiting. Meanwhile, Bernie Williams prepares for his new baseball life.
It's a Set Up
While the Yanks hope that Octavio Dotel will be an effective addition to their bullpen during the second half of the season, Joe Torre tells the New York Times that Kyle Farnsworth will share set-up duties with Tanyon Sturtze. That's a whole lot of "doh!" for the money, no?
The Black Boid
Dag, it got brick cold again in New York this weekend. Em and I watched "The Maltese Falcon" last night. "This is good," she tells me (like I don't know). I say, "Sure it is, honey" without trying to sound like a stuffed shirt. Today gives cooking--for me at least--a hearty soup, a pot of marinara sauce for whenver, and Emily's weekly soy-nut-bulgar-surprise (hey, I don't ask questions when it comes to her food, I just cook it, bro).
Breifly, crusing around the local papers, here are a few tidbits:
Tyler Kepner on Aaron Small; Bill Madden on Ron Guidry; Joe Torre on Mariano Rivera; Brian Cashman on Gary Sheffield, and finally, George Steinbrenner on Ozzie Guillen (and yeah, I purposely avoided Ozzie's SI quotes earlier this week because the last thing we need is the comments section to spin out all day on another boring Alex Rodriguez-is-a-phony debate). For what it is worth, Guillen issued a public apology to Rodriguez.
Hey, any fans out there planning on going to spring training this year? I've never been myself, but if you are gunna go, or if you've been in the past, I'd love to hear what it is like. Might help keep us all warm on a cold day in the Big Apple.
Right On Time
There was a brief George Steinbrenner sighting yesterday. The Yankee owner barked off a couple of words to a pack of reporters and then tooled off in his golf cart. Nothing surprising but naturally enough to make the back pages on a slow sports day in New York.
Yesterday, Bill Madden had a piece on Randy Johnson. This morning, he has one on Mariano Rivera:
No one in the Yankee universe is prepared to think about life after Mo, even though, at age 36 and his place in the Hall of Fame assured, it's agreed these now are all gravy seasons.
We can only hope it is for another few seasons.
Meanwhile, there are a couple of puff pieces about Mike Mussina and the possbility of his signing an extension, and, in a move that is bound to unleash wisecracks galore, the Bombers signed the hunky, and by now, clunky, starting pitcher Scott Erickson to a minor league contract. Thank you, Mr. Giambi, you old bird dog you.
Good Morning, Campers!
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training today. The words dance about before my eyes. Oh frabjous day! Callooh Callay! (chortle, chortle, chortle).
It's tempting to say it's been a long, cold winter, but that's hardly true. Long, perhaps, but it's been unseasonably mild. Sure there were cold spells, but early January felt like spring, causing me to prematurely anticipate the arrival of today's date. The two feet of snow that was dumped on New York City this past weekend has already melted down to a few inches. The rocks in my new front lawn are already poking their heads out from under the blanket of white. Yesterday I went to work with a fleece scarf wrapped around my chin and neck, only to be greeted by a sunny and mild day come lunch time.
Unlike these many false starts, however, it appears spring is finally here, and though we were spared winter's harsh sting, it still feels like a mighty long time since that infamous double play put the stake in the heart of Yankee fans last October.
This marks the beginning of my second season here at Bronx Banter and while I arrived last March filled with schoolboy enthusiasm, this year my mindset is more one of calloused determination. The change is less the result of my experiences in this space over the past year, which have ranged from good to great to dream-fulfilling, but of a very busy and distracting offseason and the realization that the Yankee roster I've come here to discuss is not as different from the one I spent eight months of last year picking apart as I had hoped it would be.
Much like last year, the Yankees enter camp with their roster essentially set. Barring injuries (which given the Yankee pitching staff are all but guaranteed), the Yankees will open the season with a 25-man roster that looks like this:
1B Jason Giambi (L)
R Andy Phillips (IF)
L Randy Johnson
R Mariano Rivera
DL: R Octavio Dotel
Indeed, Joe Torre has already told The Star-Ledger that he expects to open the season with twelve pitchers, due largely to the size of his hurlers' contracts. As outrageous as this is, it works out pretty neatly. Of the above 25 men, Kelly Stinnett is the only player to have reached his arbitration years who will make less than $1 million in 2006. Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano, Andy Phillips and Bubba Crosby, each of whom will make the league minimum (recently raised to $327), are the only other six digit players listed above.
This style of roster building has its most damaging effect on the Yankee bullpen, but before we get that far, let's take a look at the Yankees' short-handed bench.
One More Day...
Hip-hip...Jorge! Oh, and of course Derek Jeter is just itching to get things rolling as well. Ever notice that he's always one of the first guys ready to go round this time of year? SI's Tom Verducci thinks Jeter, not Johnny Damon, should be the team's lead off hitter. No arguments here.
This past Friday, the Yankees avoided an arbitration hearing with Shawn Chacon by signing the right-hander to a $3.6 million contract that split the difference between the offers made by the player and the club. With that, they cleaned their offseason slate. With pitchers and catchers due to report on Thursday and my slate similarly clean (a couple of book projects, a foray into homeownership, the resulting move, and some key wedding planning having conspired with a slow offseason to keep me away from this space far more that I would have liked since the end of the ALDS), I thought this would be a good opportunity to review the Yankees' offseason moves. I'll follow this up on Thursday by projecting the team's opening day roster and taking a look at the various and sundry players the Yankees will have in camp this spring.
The Yankees were at a crossroads last October. Thanks to the remnants of a dynasty that came to an end a half-decade ago and the financial wherewithal to supplement those pieces (Jeter, Rivera, Posada) with an all-star squad of veterans (Mussina, Giambi, Sheffield, Rodriguez, Johnson), the Yankees had reached the postseason for a staggering eleventh consecutive season. But due in part to the lack of harmony and foresight in the front office, the team had gone home without a Championship in each of the last five of those seasons. On the heels of the absolutely abysmal offseason that followed the 2004 campaignhighlighted by the commitment of a combined $57.95 million to Carl Pavano, Jared Wright and Tony WomackYankee General Manager Brian Cashman, with less than a week left on his contract, gave the team an ultimatum. If the Yankees refused to run all baseball operations decisions through him, he'd sign with another team that would.
To their credit, the Yankees relented, re-signing Cashman to a three-year, $5.5 million deal and giving him authority over all player transactions. As Cashman's in-season infusion of talented youngsters via the promotions of second baseman Robinson Cano and pitcher Chien-Ming Wang suggested, it was exactly what the team needed.
At long last freed from the foolish and impulsive moves made by the team's vilified Tampa contingent, Cashman took a good look at his team and properly recognized that, while the infield was solid-to-excellent and the starting rotation was, if loaded with question marks, at least well-populated, the outfield, bullpen and bench needed to be completely restocked.
The first order of business was the outfield. With Bernie Williams' 2006 option declined, Hideki Matsui's contract set to expire, and Jason Giambi installed at first baseas well he should be by anyone who's ever seen his splitsthe Yankees had nothing more than Gary Sheffield and Bubba Crosby to populate the three outfield spots and designated hitter.
Man, the snow was tremendous yesterday. But the sky is blue and the sun is shinning this morning as New Yorkers attempt to dig their way to work. Just a couple of items today...
The Yanks claimed right-handed picther Darrell Rasner off waivers from the Washingon Nationals the other day. As a result, Jason Anderson was designated for assingment. Cliff, anyone, got a vibe on this minor move? And what about this Luis Garcia cat?
Traditionally, the mainstream media tends to portray Black and Latin players in two extremes: they are either a threat (Cepeda, Clemente, and then later, Reggie Jackson), or the clown (Minoso, Ortiz). Over the course of his Hall of Fame career Henderson has found himself in both camps. The older he's gotten, the more he's become the clown, with his Casey-like language, and seemingly pure love of the game. Anyhow, it's kind of embarassing to those of us who have admired his greatness (and his sesne of style and humor) throughout. Regardless, it's nice to see that Henderson is being welcomed back into the big league game, even if it is in the small role of spring training instructor. Good for the Mets. But nevermind getting Rickey to try and teach Reyes how to steal bases, have him learn Reyes how to take a walk and he could really be of some good use.
Oh, and in case you missed the latest on Carl Pavano's creaky back by Madden and McCarron yesterday in the News, here it be.
Yeah, so we're under a mound of snow here in New York this morning, but Mother Nature can't fool us, there's still only a couple of days left 'til pitchers and catchers. Dump all the snow you want on us you old bag, spring is a-coming.
Two days ago, Emily and I were downtown and we grabbed a bite at an old greasy spoon restaurant on 6th avenue and 12 or 13th street (I forget which). It's a coffee shop on the corner of the street and what makes it stand out is simply the fact that it is still standing. In a neighborhood that is changing all the time it is a comforting to see an old place like that holding its own. They don't sell $15 eggs, they sell it for $2.50. Students, professors, doctors and rent-stablized old timers make up the crowd, and you can tell some folks come in several times a day. It's a real neighborhood place.
After we picked our way through a lousy lunch I chatted up the guy running the place, a 26-year old Greek kid named Chris. His old man opened the shop back in the mid-1970s. I started talking to him because he was wearing a Yankee cap. We bs'd some about the team--I asked him who is favorite players were, and DJ was at the top of the list. When I brought up Alex Rodriguez he told me how much he hated him, and we proceeded to get into the well-worn Alex Rodiguez debate.
"All that money he's taking from them, bro, and the guy can't get a hit in the ninth inning."
I told him he was being too hard on Rodriguez and then listed all of A-Rod's accomplishments--from his home run records, to his playoff performances, all to no avail. Finally, as the conversation was clearly going nowhere, Emily said, "Enough, let's go."
Fair enough. Chris was a nice guy, but it never fails to amaze me how some fans cling to their impressions regardless of the facts. Which is not to say that I think my opinions are the end all be all, but I try to balance my emotional reactions with reality.
Anyhow, I was reminded of "I Know Best" mentality that fans--including myself--often have last night as I was leafing through an old Sports Illustrated magazine (October 7, 1974--Catfish Hunter on the cover). In the "They Said It" quote section toward the front of the issue, I found this bit:
Danny Murtaugh, Pittsburgh Pirates manager: "Why, certainly I'd like to have a fellow who hits a home run every time at bat, who strikes out every opposing batter when he's pitching and who is always thinking about two innings ahead. The only trouble is to get him to put down his cup of beer, come down out of the stands and do those things."
The snow is coming down so hard here in the Bronx that I can't even see clear down to the subway. But my mind is on green fields and warm climates, guys stretching and smiling, shagging fly balls, taking grounders, grabbing their crotches, spitting, and their turn in the cage. It seems like a pipe dream given the conditions up here, but in reality, it's only moments away.
Meanwhile, I'm going to make something delicious to eat and Em and I are going to watch "The Godfather II." Hope everyone is having a good weekend.
Hope Springs Eternal
Yankee general manager Brian Cashman was in the heart of Washington Heights yesterday and he told reporters that he'll keep Roger Clemens on his radar this spring, though it's unlikely that the future Hall of Famer will return to New York. However, as Bob Klapisch notes:
It made for good conversation on a chilly February afternoon. Cashman seemed at peace with the Yankees' pitching staff he still professes faith in Carl Pavano and in the bench, where Andy Phillips won a landslide victory over Mike Piazza during an internal poll of the organization's scouts. The Yankees might be hard-pressed to win 95 games again, especially with the on-paper surge of the Blue Jays, but on balance, it was a good winter for Cashman.
Ben Kabak considers the pros and cons of the Andy Pettitte coming back to the Bronx as well. Want some more wishful thinking? How about this report on Ramiro Mendoza. Hey, you've got to love pre-season optimism, right?
Signs of Spring
Ahhh, the comfort of pre-spring training puff pieces sure are a sight for sore eyes. The Daily News has a few of 'em today, including a bit featuring the latest from Joe Torre, and another detailing Octavio Dotel's rapid recovery from Tommy John surgery. According to Anthony McCarron:
"I don't want to say I'm 100% now, but I'm feeling really good," Dotel said.
Following up on Bob Klapisch's piece for ESPN last week, Christian Red has an article on Jason Giambi, who says that he expects to play first more than DH this year. I liked this bit:
"I was always the guy, in the beginning, that took over for Tino," Giambi said. "Even though I had great years (in Oakland), we hadn't won that World Series.
Meanwhile, over at SI.com, Tom Verducci believes that Chien-Ming Wang could have a breakout season in '06:
The cool right-hander is a strike- and groundball-throwing machine, getting through his average inning as an AL rookie with only 13.7 pitches. Pitching for a team loaded with offense, Wang is a near lock to win 15 games -- but only if he stays healthy, which is still a concern among the New York executives.
No earth-shattering news, but hey, it's a start. Dig in.
Cheap Shot Tuesday
Okay, since there isn't much news a-shakin', how about taking pot shots at Murray Chass' examination of Michael Lewis' "Moneyball." Chass, the highly respected columnist for the New York Times has been a frequent target of criticism on this blog over the past several seasons. This one should be fun for practically everyone.
Whatta ho-hum game last night, huh? Seattle sure picked a cruddy time to have a less than stellar performance; the refs only added insult to injury for 'em. The Stones did little to improve my mood at half-time. I thought they were all about to keel over as they plodded through "Start Me Up." (You make a dead man, what?) They did get better though, and "Satisfaction" was a more convincing production. Anyhow, good deal for the Bus and company, and now back to the business at hand...
I got an e-mail from Bronx Banter regular, Mike Plugh, a guy who grew up in and around New York and is now teaching high school in Japan. Dig:
I enjoyed the piece about your day in Inwood and it got me thinking. I see that kind of thing everyday here in Japan and it amazes me. Baseball has been played as an organized game since the late 1800s in Japan, and I can't imagine a greater love for the sport anywhere other than the Carribbean and some pockets of the US. To paint a picture in as few words as possible, I see junior high school kids riding their bicycles in the dead of winter to go to practice. I live in the Siberian snow country of Japan and I swear these kids are dedicated to the sport beyond sane proportion.
Reading Mike's letter made me appreciate why a guy like Bobby Valentine is thriving in Japan. It's not simply a detour from his MLB career--though I believe he'll return one day--but a end onto itself. I'd love to visit one day, wouldn't you?
Super Bowl Sunday. I plan on spending as much of the pre-game portion of the day as possible watching the half-hour Super Bowl highlight shows on ESPN2. I actually have the first XXXVII or so of them on tape in my basement, but I just moved into a new house and they remain packed. Football is my second favorite sport after baseball, but it's a pretty distant second, really. Nonetheless, those excellent NFL Films highlight shows, with their dramatic slow motion shots, trumpeting fanfares, and poetic John Facenda voice-overs, do it for me every year. I especially enjoy the first XXII, which include all of the shows Facenda narrated before his death in 1984 (plus a few more), and take us from Lombardi's Packers through the Giants' glorious Super Bowl XXI victory over that punk kid Elway and Elway's historic humiliation at the hands of the equally historic Doug Williams the following year.
As for this year's game, I'll be rooting for Big Ben and the Steelers, in part due to my everlasting distaste for expansion teams and gaudy uniforms and my corresponding fondness for past dynasties and sartorial consistency. That said, the Futility Infielder's Jay Jaffe has an enjoyable write-up of his thirty-years of rooting (albeit frequently half-heartedly) for those expansion Seahawks. Most of all, I'll be rooting for an exciting game. Nothing's worse than devoting a day to a dud match-up that ends in a blowout.
With that in mind, allow me to reprint a list I posted on the BRB in the wake of Super Bowl XXXVIII of what I believe to be the ten greatest Super Bowl finishes in the game's history:
10) VII: Dolphins 14, Redskins 7 - The Redskins trail the undefeated Dolphins 14-0 with just over two minutes left and are looking a 17-0 deficit in the face when the Dolphins' field goal attempt goes haywire. A botched snap is picked up by Dolphins' kicker Garo Yepremian, who attempts to pass only to have the ball fall behind him, where it is scooped up by Washington's Mike Bass, who takes it 49 yards to bring the Redskins within a touchdown with 2:07 left.
Good or Great?
The Yankees new mouthpiece Johnny Damon (dubbed in the comments section the other day as "Johnny Talk Show") met with George Steinbrenner yesterday in Tampa to say "hi." Bob Klapisch has a piece on Damon's good pal, Jason Giambi over at ESPN. Otherwise, all is quiet. However, thanks to Baseball Think Factory, I came across an interesting article by Mike Green at Batter's Box, making a strong case for Mike Mussina (class of '68) being a Hall of Famer. Check it out and let's discuss.
The Future is Now
You know it doesn't much matter if the groundhog sees his shadow this morning or not, according to what I read in the paper this morning, there's only 14 more days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Hey, New York native John Perricone would be happy to know that in his home town, sometimes if feels as if only baseball really does matter. Yesterday, a friend of mine showed me a poll on WFAN's website that had more New Yorkers amped about spring training than the Super Bowl or the Final Four. Granted, hockey has a limited audience, the Knicks are awful, and there aren't any local teams playing in the big game this Sunday, but still...
Yo, I forgot to tell you guys the sight for sore eyes I caught last Saturday up in Inwood. It was another unseasonably warm day and I went to visit my brother. On the way over, I was walking up 207th street and saw an older guy standing in the sun, filling out a lotto card outside of a Bodega. He was earing a Red Sox hat, not an uncommon site uptown. I thought to myself, I wonder if there have ever been as many Sox fans in New York as we see these days? Not only do you have a lot of transplanted New Englanders living here, proudly showing their colors, but the Latin communities uptown--especially the Dominicans--have been rockin' Boston caps ever since Manny signed with the Sox, and they got Pedro. Formerly, you'd see a lot of Indians hats, but even with Pedro gone, Manny is a hometown hero in these parts. Add in Ortiz, and the fact that the Sox are just a good team, you see that Boston has become almost like a third team in New York, next to the Yankees and Mets.
It was so nice out, that we took Ben's little boy Lucas (all of a year-and-a-half) out to Inwood park to tool around. The park is right across the street from their apartment. There are basketball courts, tennis courts and a huge green field with at least five baseball diamonds. Inwood is still a predominately Dominican neighborhood, so it didnt' come as a major surprise that there, in the middle of winter, were kids playing baseball. A warm day? Quick, let's get out and play. Now, this may not seem like a big deal for those of you who live in California or Florida, but in up here in the Northeast, where we're always bemoaning the fact that kids don't care about baseball anymore, it sure is a warming scene.
We passed the first diamond where seven kids--must of been 8th or 9th graders--were playing: two dudes on the left side of the infield, a guy in center, another in left, a pitcher, a batter, and a lone kid on the right side of the infield. They were using muddied old baseballs, were dressed like scrubs in sweats, and playing some kind of game of round robin. As we walked by, the kid at bat swung and missed at a pitch, and then popped one up to second base. The fat kid who was stuck on that side of the field because he was probably the worst of the lot made a futile stab for the ball, which landed with a thud about five feet away from him. Immediately, the rest of the guys started laughing, busting on him, including the batter. A wave of anger shot through me and I remembered being that age, taking pick-up games like this so seriously that I lost any sense of humor I may have had at the time. I wanted to defend the poor kid who wasn't much good and who was laughing at himself along with the other guys. I imagined that I was him, humiliated, directing my anger at the hitter. I wanted to yell, "Yo dog, what the hell are you laughing about, why don't you try hitting something besides a cheap-ass pop-up, you fuggin toy?"
My brother carried his son on his shoulders. We were approaching the playground. But before we got there we passed a second diamond that was occupied by a girl's softball team. The girls were roughly the same age as the boys, but this was an official, or semi-official workout. They too were dressed in scrubs, but they had helmets, and looked altogether more organized than the boys. A middle age man stood on the mound, and a thick, middle aged woman, yelled out instructions from behind third base. It didn't look as if there were enough girls for two teams, but it appeared as if a game was in progress. There was an intensity in the air that was almost palpable. I stopped and watched as the batter swung and missed at a pitch and then fouled the next one into the backstop. The coach was not just lobbing the ball in there. There was a runner on third, and the batter grounded the next pitch to short. The runner came home but the batter didn't move out of the box. The third base coach came out onto the field, pointed around, gave some specific intstructions, clapped her hands and returned to her position. Soon, it became evident that they weren't playing a game, but running through game situations.
I was almost besides myself. I mean, how cool is this, I thought. It's January, and these girls are out here working on game situations, at full tilt. They cut right to the chase: bottom of the ninth, tying run on third, here's what we're going to do. The girls were focused, attentive, fierce.
After cooling our at playground for a while we made our way back. It was getting late and sky was grey. Three of the boys had taken a seat and only four kids were left on the first diamond. I'm sure at least one of them was a competitive red ass like I had been at that age, wanting to win whatever competition they were having, pissed at the fat asses sitting out. One thing was sure, though, a couple of them were going to keep playing until it got too dark to see anymore. Yup, in some parts of the country, even our city, it's true: only baseball matters.
I Don't Want Him, You Can Have Him, He's too Fat for Me
Okay, that's a diss, and I don't really mean it like that. But it's a Honeymooner's quote, and yo, I'm happy that ol' Rubes got a chance to stick around some more. Hey, better in Minnie than in the BX, right?
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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