Monthly archives: October 2006
Off the Record...
In other news, another report on George Steinbrenner's health.
Short Order Sheff
The Yankees have until midnight on Sunday to make a decision on Gary Sheffield's $13 million option for 2007. As Alex previously reported, Brian Cashman's plan has been to pick up Sheffield's option, but only after finding a team willing to trade for Sheffield and assume his entire salary. Sheffield caught wind of this plan last week and was predictably upset (if there's one thing Gary won't stand for it's the lack of a long-term contract).
Sheffield's public outburst, in which he said "there's going to be a problem" if the Yankees pick up his option and then trade him, appeared to endanger Cashman's plans. But, as the final paragraph of this extended version of the AP story above indicates, the possibility of obtaining Gary Sheffield at one year/$13 million in lieu of shelling out a Beltran-like nine figures over seven years for an over-30 Alfonso Soriano has generated a great deal of interest around the league. According to today's Newsday, a trade is still the most likely scenario to result from Sunday's deadline. That Newsday story cited an unnamed AL official as saying that Cashman is looking for "a package of prospects, bullpen help or a starting pitcher" in return for the surly 38-year-old right fielder who is coming off a soft tissue injury to the left wrist which generates a great deal of the power in his swing.
Here's hoping it works out. The Yankees already have outfielders Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera, and the major league-ready Kevin Thompson and Kevin Reese under contract for 2007. What's more, they will likely need that $13 million to help improve their starting pitching. They have no need for Sheffield, who in addition to his age, injury and attitude, proved to be an awful defensive first baseman (though his transition did occur under far from optimal conditions). Despite all of that, Sheffield remains a valuable asset. Cashman's plan, if successful, will turn Sheffield's redundant value into more beneficial assets for the ballclub, yet another sign that the Yankees' decision making is headed in the right direction.
As for the other two option decisions the Yankees have to make, they'll have until a week from Sunday (Nov. 12) to decide whether or not it's worth an extra $3 million to keep Jaret Wright around (his buyout is a whopping $4 million). The deadline on Mike Mussina's $17 million option is the following Wednesday (Nov. 15). I assume the Yanks will opt to buyout Mussina for $1.5 million. The only suspense there is whether or not they'll work out a new, less expensive two-year deal with Moose by that deadline, or if they'll wait and bid on him along with the other 29 teams as the offseason progresses. My guess is the former, given their failure to retain Jon Leiber under similar circumstances two years ago. That is, of course, if Moose is amenable to their offer.
Jeez, well that wasn't even close, now was it? The Tigers kicked the ball around for five games, couldn't hit worth nuthin', and got stomped by the Cardinals. It wasn't a particularly exciting Serious. Actually, other than the Mets-Cards, the entire playoffs were boring.
My immediate thoughts go out to Brian Gunn, Larry Borowsky, Will Leitch, Dayn Perry and all the other great Cardinal fans I know out there. First championship for St. Louie since 1982--good for them. Who would have called it, right? And our boy Jeff Weaver pitched a whale of game last night--guess he fixed that lazy three-quarter arm angle problem that kept him a mediocre pitcher for so long. The only regret I have is not getting to see The Gambler out there in Game Six with his back to the wall. Oh well. A surprising champion in what was a most entertaining year in baseball. We don't have to like it, but we'll take it.
How many days 'til pitchers and catchers, again?
Game Four, Take 2
Desperate to get his offense going down 2-1 in the Series, Jim Leyland has dropped ALCS MVP Placido Polanco to the seventh spot in the order, moved Carlos Guillen into the vacated third spot and Sean Casey into Guillen's fifth spot. Curtis Granderson and Ivan Rodriguez, who, like Polanco, are 0 for the World Series, remain batting first and sixth, however. Good luck with that, Jimbo.
Peace On Earth And Good Will Toward Bud
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr have been vilified for a laundry list of reasons over the last two decades, often for good reason. But when the first post-strike Basic Agreement expired in late 2002, the players and owners averted a work stoppage for the first time since 1970, reaching an agreement right at the August 31 deadline. Last night, Selig and Fehr appeared at Busch Stadium in St. Louis just before Game 3 of the World Series to announce that, with the 2002 agreement set to expire in December 19, they've not only avoided a work stoppage yet again, but they've beaten the deadline by nearly two months.
More impressively, despite last night's game being something of a snoozer (a 5-0 Cardinals win behind a dominant outing from Chris Carpenter), the news of the new agreement appears to have been something of an afterthought to the mainstream media this morning. As well it should be. A dozen years after the World Series was cancelled as a result of what was then the longest work stoppage in professional sports history (thanks NHL!), order has finally been restored with the game on the field stealing the headlines from what, given the history* of labor strife in the sport, is actually a far more remarkable event. While it's clear that timing of this announcement was in no way coincidental (Selig's has had the specter of the 1994 World Series hanging over his head throughout his commissionership and is clearly still desperate to exorcise it), it remains apt. Though it is somewhat contradictory to do so, I think Selig and Fehr deserve to be celebrated for conducting this round of labor negotiations outside of the media spotlight, and for allowing the new agreement to be brushed aside by the media as a boring business story secondary to the game itself.
That said, a new labor agreement is big news, regardless of the temperature of the fire in which it was forged. The full agreement hasn't been posted yet (though once it is, it will likely appear here), but here are a few highlights as cribbed from the official press release.
Couple Few Things
I thought that we would all be spending a good deal of time during the Hot Stove season talking about Labor/ Management politcs. But it looks like that won't happen. Go figure. Talk about an unexpected, but happy surprise.
Here are two Yankee items of interest in today's Daily News:
1. Scott Boras says Alex Rodriguez will be a Yankee next year.
2. According to Bill Madden, the Yankees plan to pick-up Gary Sheffield's option only to trade him.
Elsewhere, Jack Curry has a piece on Joe Girardi today in the Times; Mike Plugh has a knucklehead idea; SG takes a closer look at Mr. Matsuzaka, and finally, Steve Goldman and I chatted about Curt Flood recently, and our conversation is part of the latest installment of "The Pinstriped Bible."
The World Serious moves to St. Louis tonight. If the Cards can't win behind their ace, Chris Carpenter--who has been terrific at home this year--they am in deep doo doo. For you history buffs, I've got a write-up of the 1968 Serious between the Cards and Tigers over at SI.com.
Brrr Stick 'em, Ha-huh-Ha Stick 'Em
Pass the Kool Aid, I'm Drinking
Pine-tar or not, the new-and-improved (and very demonstrative) Kenny Rogers continues to roll. The man has not allowed a single run in three playoff starts. He must have sold his soul to the Devil. How else to explain how the formely timid Gambler has turned into the Raging Bull of baseball? You gotta laugh about it at this point. Wha' happen, dude?
Duel of the Dogs
...Or battle of the once and future chumps, however you'd like to put it. After the Cards rolled over the Tigers in Game 1, it's Jeff Weaver and Kenny Rogers in Game 2. It's been my feeling all along that Rogers won't win a pressure game this October. This isn't exactly a 2-0 game, or a 2-2 game like the one Weaver started in the NLCS, but there is some heat on the Tigers to win tonight. Let's see if the real Gambler finally shows.
Ain't it the Truth
If there are any Met fans you are trying to console today, you might want to point out the following quote:
"It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."
I feel you, bro, I can relate.
Cooler than Cool (All in the Family)
After Game One of the ALDS, I was riding home on the subway when I ran into a charming couple. They were both wearing Chien-Ming Wang shirts and in no time we got to chatting. They are originally for Tawain but met at Syracuse University. They now live in California and were on the East Coast for a week. First, to see Wang pitch, then to return to Syracuse to get married. Just the two of them (they will have a ceremony for their families back home at a later date). Anyhow, Jason and Ann were absolutely delightful, friendly and warm, and when I told them that I had recently gotten engaged myself, they just lit up and insisted I take a picture with them. I agreed only if they promised to send me a photo of their wedding. Dig it (and forgive the bounciness of the subway):
Now for the real scoop:
Jason and Ann, who is cooler than you? Here's wishing you a long and happy life together. (And yo, if you catch this, e-mail me again, I lost your address.)
Meanwhile, in the Bronx
Rick Cerrone, the Yankees head of media relations (not the former Yankee catcher), will not be back next season. Jason Giambi had surgery yesterday, with Andy Phillips and Randy Johnson up next.
Holy Smokes, that was a great game. Well, the sun will come out tomorrow, as they say. But it's gray and raining in New York this morning. My condolences to the many fine Met fans around town, and my congrats to Cardinal fans everywhere.
All the Marbles
Game 7 tonight at Shea. Let's hope it's a good one.
It's a beautiful thing. Writers from both sides of tonight's Game 7 match-up have typed words today that baseball fans of all stripes (pin and otherwise) would do well to take to heart.
The beautiful and the terrible thing about baseball is that good teams will lose a third of the time, and bad teams will win a third of the time. The only thing the players can really control is the amount and intensity of effort they pour into the game. So long as the effort is genuine, we Cardinal fans (and I think most fans everywhere) are willing to accept the result for what it is. Someone has to win, someone has to lose all we as fans can reasonably ask for is that everyone competes as hard as he can. (Thanks to Viva El Birdos for the link)
The frustrating beauty of baseball is that you can never trust what you're watching. Any hitter can have a 4-for-4 day if everything breaks right; you have to build a team that ignores the daily randomness and simply compiles the raw numbers that lead to bulk wins over the course of the season. General manager Billy Beane of the Oakland A's, innovator of the famously subversive "moneyball" method of building a roster, lamented that his approach "doesn't work in the playoffs." He was right, but not in the way most people understood him. It's not that his approach in particular didn't work; it's that nobody's does. It's almost entirely luck.
And finally from Alex Nelson at Mets Geek:
I know better now. One game is impossible to predict. Trends are just trends, streaks can be broken, and the mighty humbled. It's going to come down to a coin toss.
Don't Stop Believing
The Cardinals broke serve in the NLCS on Tuesday night by defeating Mets ace Tom Glavine. Last night, the Mets broke back with a 4-2 win over defending NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter.
John Maine was inefficient, but effective, escaping a bases loaded jam in the first and stranding men on the corners in the third. Though he walked four, one was an intentional pass to Albert Pujols (2 for 3 with the walk, but neither a run scored nor driven in). Meanwhile, he struck out five in 5 1/3 innings and allowed just two first-inning hits.
On the other side of the ledger, Jose Reyes set the tone by following Maine's first-inning Houdini act with a home run on Carpenter's third pitch of the night. Reyes would go 3 for 4 with that homer, a pair of steals and a second run scored later in the game. Singles by Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Shawn Green increased the Mets' lead to 2-0 in the fourth after which I, sitting high up in the stands over first base, felt the Shea Stadium upper deck sway for the first time.
I'd feel that sway again in the seventh after Paul Lo Duca followed two-out singles and stolen bases by pinch-hitter Michael Tucker and Reyes with a two-RBI single off former Met closer Braden Looper. Those two insurance runs proved to be the difference as Billy Wagner--following 2 1/3 scoreless innings from Chad Bradford, Guillermo Mota and Aaron Heilman--coughed up the only two St. Louis runs of the night in the ninth on a Juan Encarnacion single, a Scott Rolen double, and a two-out, two-RBI pinch-hit double by So Taguchi before finally getting David Eckstein to ground out to send the series to a decisive seventh game to be played in Flushing tonight.
After the Mets tied the series at 2-2, I posted a comment stating that I expected the series to go seven games, but that it looked to me like the Cardinals would ultimately prevail. My reasoning was the Mets' lack of a viable Game 7 starter. I'm more optimistic now that the seventh game is a reality. Not having to use Darren Oliver since he threw six scoreless innings in relief of soon-to-be ex-Met Steve Trachsel in Game 3 will allow Willie Randolph to have an extra-quick hook with announced Game 7 starter Oliver Perez. Perez didn't actually pitch all that well in Game 4, but kept the game close long enough for the Mets offense to start raking for what remains the only time this series. Should Perez start to falter tonight, Randolph should have no qualms about going to Oliver early, after which, it will be all-in. Only Wagner threw more than 14 pitches last night, only Bradford and Mota threw in each of the last two games, and of those two Bradford has thrown most combined pitches with a mere 21.
Of course that optimism is all dependent on the Mets breaking through against Jeff Suppan, who held them scoreless on three hits over eight innings in Game 3. But this is Jeff Suppan after all. The Mets had no problem with him back in May, the only other time they faced him this year.
A couple of other notes on attending the game last night:
Maybe I'm just bitter, but there doesn't seem to be nearly as much negativity among Mets fans as there are among their cross-town counterparts. Even when Billy Wagner pulled his John Wetteland act in the ninth, the stadium got quiet, but no one was ranting or raving about how terrible he was or predicting the imminent demise of their team's season. Maybe its the difference between the upper deck crowd and the bleacher creacher crowd I'm used to in the Bronx, but I can't get through a regular season game without hearing countless predictions of failure from the Yankee "faithful" ("their gonna strand these runners" "he's gonna hit into a double play" "why'd Torre bring him in, he's gonna blow the lead" "here we go . . ."). Meanwhile, in the Mets first NLCS appearance in six years, down a game and facing elimination, I didn't hear a single fan get down on the home team. You gotta believe indeed.
That said, when the Mets increased their lead to 4-0 in the bottom of the seventh, a good number of fans headed for the exits. These people should be banned from Shea for life. How can you leave Game 6 of the LCS (never mind that its the first one your team has been in in six years) after seven innings with a mere four-run lead and the top of the opposition's line-up due up in the top of the eighth? That's mind boggling to me. Another exodus started after Heilman cleared the one-through-four hitters in the Cardinal order in the top of the eighth. I'm sorry, if you're at Game 6 of the LCS with your team fighting for it's postseason life, you don't leave until the last out, never mind the score, but especially when a grand slam could still alter the outcome.
Finally, I'm convinced that the Mets are benefiting from positive sartorial mojo. They've worn their alternate black uniform tops just once this postseason, that being in their ugly Game 3 loss in which Trachsel failed to get out of the second inning and the offense was shut out by Suppan and Josh Kinney. Otherwise they've stuck to their proper home whites and road greys. Down two games to three with their backs against the wall, what did they wear for Game 6? Pinstripes and all-blue caps, just like it oughta be. They even ditched their two-tone batting helmets for solid blue, and though it was hard to find proof, stuck with blue for their undershirts and socks as well. Kudos to the Metropolitans for that one. Now if only they'd ditch the black drop shadow and those nasty two-tone helmets and alternate unis altogether for 2007. Meanwhile, I'm hoping for those pretty blue caps and pinstripes again tonight, as well as a ballgame that lives up to the tight, well-played contests of the last two nights, regardless of the outcome.
It Comes Down to This...
You Gotta Believe.
Stir it Up
The first Alex Rodriguez trade rumor has sprouted up, what with Sweet Lou taking over for Dusty Baker in Chicago. Rich Lederer asks some initial questions. Also, while you are there, check out Jeff Albert's examination of Derek Jeter's swing.
Right on time, the Mets busted out in a rather royal way last night against the Cardinals, knotting the series at two. Nervous National League-rooting New Yorkers were finally able to get some sleep last night. In the end, I say the Metropolitans take it in seven.
Many sympathetic observers feel that the Yankees need to trade Alex Rodriguez this off-season. But Benjamin Hoffman offers evidence that Rodriguez should stay in pinstripes.
M.I.A. (Well, Almost)
I may be in the minority here, but for sheer entertainment value, I really miss this guy.
Cards Blank Mets
The Mets lost 5-0 last night and I'm sure panic has started to set in for some Met fans, what with the prospects of Oliver Perez pitching for their team tonight in what will be the biggest game of the season to date. But it's not like the Cards are throwing Bob Gibson out there either, and my feeling is that the Mets romp in Game 4 (with Perez throwing a gem) and find a way to even this series. Meanwhile, yes, I did sleep better knowing that the Yankees weren't the only team to get stomped by the Tigers.
Gambler Rolls, Wagner Touched
The Mets lost a tough, but exciting game last night to the Cards while Kenny "The Animal" Rogers continues his improbable run as October playoff stud, bringing the Tigers within a game of the World Serious. More baseball this afternoon and tonight. Mm, mm good.
One Trick Pony?
Nice trick, Smiling Jack. But can The Gambler do it twice? Game 3 of the ALCS kicks off later this afternoon in a very chilly Motor City.
You Want to Hear the Specials?
I enjoy going to Artie's Deli on the Upper West Side because the food is decent. Artie's is a neo-old-sytle Jewish Deli (it's only been around about a half-a-dozen years) without the neighborhood prices. I grew up on the Upper West Side, and Broadway is now littered with big chain stores--Staples, Circut City, Victoria's Secret, Godiva. Artie's stands out--not because the food is so terrific--but because it's not outrageously over-priced. There is something synthetic about it, but if it doesn't have the history of other classic Jewish deli's like Katz's or Ratner's or the Carniege, it does have its heart in the right place, and it does provide some of the atmosphere you like to see in such an establishment.
I arrived early for a dinner date with a friend last night and saw that my favorite waitress was on duty. When the plump, black hostess greeted me, I pointed to the waitress, an squat, older woman who has the gruff disposition (not to mention charm) of a William Demarest character, and said, "I'm meeting a friend and want to sit in her section." The hostess grabbed two menus and as she led me to a table said, "Are you sure you know what you are doing?" "Yeah, I know exactly what I'm doing."
I don't have much of vested interest in the ALCS playoffs but am rooting for the A's. Man, Frank Thomas just missed hitting a game-winning grand slam in the ninth inning last night. Instead he popped-out to end the game. It reminded me that when I played baseball in high school, missing a fat pitch and popping it up felt much worse than striking out. Yo, did you guys see Rodney in the eighth inning? Christmas. His change-up/fastball combo was simply devastating. And though I'll continue to pull for Oakland, I don't really dislike the Tigers. Heck, I predicted that The Gambler wouldn't win another game in the post-season, but up 2-0, at home, he's got zero pressure on him. So let me revise that: Kenny Rogers will not win any kind of pressure game this October.
Here's a thought: how much of a boost does Pudge Rodriguez's reputation get should the Tigers win? Yeah, he's already a Hall of Famer, but I mean, he was just killed a few years ago when he bolted Florida for the pathetic Tigers. While there has been more than a fare share of snickering when it comes to Pudge's svelt figure over the past two years (he was one of the lucky ones who didn't get caught, the thinking goes), he continues to be a dangerous defensive catcher and still has some life in his bat. He's had a ton of talented pitchers to work with in Florida and now, in Detroit, but he certainly hasn't screwed them up. How you like me now, indeed.
As for the NLCS, I'll be honest, deep-down, I just don't have it in me to actively root for the Mets. I've tried to do it, cause they are from New York and all, but I suppose it just goes against my nature. That said, I wouldn't be upset if they won it all as they are an exceedingly likable bunch. Not only that, but I've got some very dear friends that are die-hard Met fans and I would just be thrilled for them should the boys from Queens pull it out. I interviewed "the voice of the Mets" Gary Cohen the other day for SI.com. Check it out. My hunch is that we're going to see the Mets and Tigers in the Serious. As far as match-ups go, we could certainly do worse.
Lights, Camera, Action
ESPN is currently filming an 8-part TV movie version of Jonathan Mahler's hugely entertaining book, "The Bronx is Burning." Since ESPN has yet to make a credible movie, count me skeptical that this will be any different, even though gifted actors like John Turturro and Oliver Platt are featured in this one (imagine, Turturro playing both Billy Martin and Howard Cosell during his career, that's some kind of feat). Roger Catlin, TV critic for the Hartford Courant, dropped by the film set a few days ago. Check out his write-up. The biggest sign of trouble?
The screenplay was vetted with Major League Baseball to avoid the kind of confrontation that led ESPN's critically lauded series "Playmakers" to be canceled over objections by the NFL.
Who wants to see a sanitized version of the Bronx Zoo? That's like watching "Good Fellas" on broadcast TV. But we are talking about a Disney movie, after all. Who knows, maybe we'll be surprised.
A Sad Night in New York
When the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series to the Diamondbacks there was a silver-lining to the defeat--it saved the life of utility infielder, Enrique Wilson. Had the Yankees won the Serious, Wilson would have been on the flight headed for the Dominican Republic that tragically crashed in Queens. From Buster Olney's 'The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty' on the Belle Harbor crash:
The victory parade that would have taken the Yankees up New York City's Canyon of Heroes for the fifth time in six years was canceled, so Enrique Wilson, the team's utility infielder, decided to change his flight home. He was supposed to return to the Dominican Republic on Nov. 12, eight days after the end of the World Series, but moved up his departure a few days. He was at home when he heard that American Airlines Flight 587 the plane he was supposed to be on had crashed in Belle Harbor, a neighborhood in Queens. Two hundred and sixty-five people were killed in an accident that shook a city still reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Had the Yankees managed to beat the Tigers last weekend in the ALDS, Corey Lidle would still be alive. These are just some of the thoughts that ran through my mind tonight during an intermidable commute home from Manhattan to the Bronx. I could not concentrate on reading, I did not not want to listen to music. I wished I had someone I could talk to, and I looked around for anyone wearing a Yankee cap but found nobody. I was left to my thoughts and felt very alone. When I got off the subway on 231st street, I ran for the BX 7 bus in a driving rain and just missed the damn thing. I did not have an umbrella and so I waited for more than twenty minutes in the rain, the hollow pit in my stomach now climbing up to my chest, which became tighter by the moment. A crowd of people formed but hardly anybody spoke.
It's so interesting to see how death affects people. Before I left work this evening, there was already a good dose of gallow's humor floating around. "I bet A Rod is to blame for this," said one co-worker, obviously joking. Another walked past my desk and said something about how Steinbrenner always manages to steal the Mets' thunder. I shot him a dirty look and said, "Wow, that's messed up." He registered my reaction and said defensively, "If you can't laugh at life, what have you got?" Rage shot through me. What kind of insensitive jerk, I thought. Then I remembered something callous a family member said to me about the Twin Towers on the afternoon of 9.11 and was reminded that in a time of death or existential crisis there is no "right" or "proper" way to act. Some people will instinctively use humor to avoid the pain of the situation. They may say things that strike others are completely inappropriate. Really, it's unfair to judge anyone's reactions in these moments.
As I stared into space on the subway, I wondered why I was feeling so empty, so sad. I've never had any special affection for Lidle, a mouthy pitcher who seemed to have burned his fair share of bridges in different clubhouses across the big leagues. Nevertheless, he was a familiar face. Though I didn't know him personally, we all watched him on TV, lending the illusion of intimacy. This summer, I saw Lidle in the Yankee clubhouse on several occasions, walked up the runway to the dugout right behind him on one occasion, in fact.
I was sitting in the middle of the Yankee dugout, staking out a prime seat for Joe Torre's pre-game press conference, one late Sunday morning in August when Lidle walked past me, down to the far end of the bench, to conduct a TV interview. A middle-aged woman interviewed him, and a young camera operator with a baseball cap turned backwards, stood next to her. Lidle, an altogether average-looking man, wore a Yankee cap and a warm-up suit and held a bottle of water in his right hand as he sat on the bench and looked into the camera. The smell of freshly-cut grass permeated the air, and though the Yankees would not take batting practice on this morning (it had rained the night before), the grounds grew were busy attending to the field as the organist played a medley of pop tunes--first "Sonny," then "I've got you Under My Skin," and then "I Feel Fine." I overheard the woman asking Lidle about being a Yankee and him saying, "One month exact." Had he seen any Broadway shows since he'd been in town? No, he had not. "I understand you are a big poker guy," she said, hoping to engage him. Lidle had a blank look on his face and answered her questions in a bland manner, as if he was on automatic pilot. He told her about a Texas Hold 'Em celebrity event he hosted in the off-season. Eric Chavez, Scott Erickson, and David Wells were just some of his friends who had shown up.
The interview did not last long. After Lidle walked away, the interviewer looked disappointed. She asked her cameraman, "Did he sound O.K.? He wasn't very talkative."
"He could just be tired like the rest of us," he said.
The cameraman began packing up his equipment as the organist transitioned into "I Can See Cleary."
The first time I remember seeing my father cry when I was a boy was the day after Thurman Munson died. When they had a ceremony for Munson at Yankee Stadium, my father sat in his chair in the living room and sobbed. I was nine at the time and just couldn't understand why he was so upset. After all, he didn't even like the Yankees. He explained to me that sometimes it is sad when a person dies, no matter who they are, even if they did play for the Yankees. When I got older, I understood what he was telling me. But it wasn't until my trip home on a chilly, wet, October night, that I really felt what he meant.
A small plane crashed into a high rise building on 72nd street on the east side on Manhattan this afternoon. According to reports, the plane not only belonged to Yankee pitcher Corey Lidle, but he was apparently on board and killed as well. Lidle's passport has been recovered. There may have been another Yankee on the plane too but this is not official. (My first thought is that Lidle played high school ball with Jason Giambi.) Intial reaction here in my office brought back memories of 9.11. For Yankee fans, this tragedy also brings back thoughts of Thurman Munson who was killed in a plane crash in the summer of 1979. It is foggy, almost a bluish gray, in mid-town Manhattan and it is raining as night falls. This is absolutely stunning, terrible news.
5:30 p.m. The Mayor is giving a press conference. He has not released any names. Bloomberg said that the two people on the plane were the instructor and a student with about 75 hours of flying experience. According to the Mayor, the plane was small and flimsy and that it pretty much burned-up. The crash does not seem to have caused major damage to the building. Apparently the plane took off from Teterborough airport in New Jersey, circled around the Statue of Liberty a few times and then headed up the East River. Radar lost contact with it around the 59th Street Bridge. They still do not know why it turned toward Manhattan Island at 72nd street.
Last month, Tyler Kepner wrote an article about Lidle's interest in flying for the New York Times:
He earned his pilot's license last off-season and bought a four-seat airplane for $187,000. It is a Cirrus SR20, built in 2002, with fewer than 400 hours in the air.
Tyler Stanger, Lidle's flight instructor told Kepner:
"He was probably my best student," Stanger said in a telephone interview. "He learned very, very quickly, and a lot of it is desire. He had huge desire.
"You never complain about pressure because you understand it goes with what you do," Torre said yesterday at a news conference at Yankee Stadium. "With the danger of failing is the elation of winning. You can't get elated unless there's a danger."
Joe Torre was sharply dressed yesterday as he addressed the media at Yankee Stadium. His wife, Ali, was with him. After talking to several people about the situation, and then reading the papers this morning, it occurs to me that Torre needs the job as Yankee manager as much as they need him. Perhaps even more so. With two ex-wives, four kids, and more than a few houses to maintain, Torre was simply not going to walk away from $7 million. But it is more than that, of course. Torre will be paid handsomely (if not quite as handsomely) as a TV analyst and a regular on the lecture circut when he finally hangs up the spikes, but he'll never have the prestige and glamour that he currently enjoys as the manager of the Yankees.
That is a lot to give up and Torre is obviously willing to allow himself to be left hung-out-to-dry for several days by the owner as the local media speculated wildly about his future. In the past he has put-up with being second-guessed by his owner, and allowed Steinbrenner to trash his coaches, stuff Buck Showalter would not put up with (you can see Lou Piniella telling George to take-this-job-and-shove-it if he had been in the same situation as Torre was this week). Of course, the Boss at 76 is different from the man who ran the team by fear and intimidation in the 70s and 80s, and Torre has achieved far more success than any manager George had before him. Still, I can't help but feel how much the job matters to Torre, and am struck by how much he'll deal with in order to keep the position.
The other thing that struck me was the following passage from Tyler Kepner's coverage today in the Times:
"The interesting part is, when you say it's been six years, if I'm not mistaken, it was 18 years when I got here," Torre said. "And then in '98, it was: 'Hey, it's been two years since you won. What happened?' There's a lot of luck involved.
For all the talk of the character and guts and will that the '96-'01 Yankees had when compared with the '02-'06 teams, some observers believe that the critical difference between the two is nothing more than pure luck. And here is Torre saying as much himself. He should know. Torre's monumentally bad luck for most of his career as a player and as a manager has been well-documented. Then he enjoyed one of the most improbable runs of luck, good fortune, whatever you want to call it, that any manager in baseball has ever been blessed with (certainly in the free agent era). Now, he returns to the hot seat once again, hoping to roll a lucky seven one more time before the ride is finally over.
The Next Best Thing?
Meet the Press
Joe Torre is now meeting with the print media at Yankee Stadium. TV and radio are not there. Check with Pete Abraham's Lo Hud blog all afternoon for updates. I'm listening to the feed on the FAN and the word is: Torre is staying.
According to George King in the New York Post, Joe Torre will not be fired as the skipper of the Bronx Bombers. Meanwhile, at the Daily News, Mike Lupica and Bill Madden continue to lead the charge in the campaign to see Joe go. From what I'm hearing the issue will be resolved one way or another by tomorrow (just in time to steal one more day of headlines from the Mets).
And just FYI, over at SI.com I've got a tribute to Buck O'Neil, who passed away a few days ago. We should all hope to lead lives that are half as full as the one Buck lived. He was simply a tremendous spirit. Baseball, nah, the world in general, needs more like him.
Say it Ain't So
"The great thing about baseball is that there's a crisis every day." Gabe Paul
That goes double for the Yankees, especially after another crushing playoff defeat. Before a long winter of more A Rod mishegoss, of trade talk and free agent signings, the first order of business in Yankeeland is the future of manager Joe Torre. The belief is that George Steinbrenner will can Torre and replace him with one of his longtime favorites, Lou Piniella. If that happens, Torre's run as Yankee manager, one of the more remarkable stories in the Steinbrenner Era, will finally come to an end. The Boss was in New York yesterday and issued a predictably terse statement.
According to an article by Joel Sherman and George King in the New York Post:
Steinbrenner was described by sources as trying to cool off yesterday from the Yankees' ouster on Saturday as a way to assure that his decision about Torre is not rash. However, in a brief conversation with reporters at his midtown hotel yesterday, Steinbrenner clearly had not morphed into a Torre ally.
The Yankees' owner will return to Tampa today where he is expected to meet with executives to discuss what to do with Torre.
Reggie Jackson told the New York Times:
"It seems like the great job he was doing all year, all that's forgotten," Jackson said in a telephone interview.
Torre has enjoyed a terrific run of success with the Yankees, still there have been some fans who are ready to see him go (though I imagine if Torre gets the boot, there will be a great cry from other fans which will only help cement Torre's legend). They are not alone. Some writers, like Mike Lupica, and Tim Machman, think it's time for him to go as well. Over at SI.com, John Heyman writes:
There is no evidence Torre will survive this time. Some folks within the organization say they can see Brian Cashman, his longtime ally, fighting to save him. But even if Cashman, who himself has surely noticed Torre's strategic failings this season, puts up a fight, it's a losing fight now and can't be based on anything beyond abject loyalty, nostalgia and a sense of debt.
Bob Klapisch talks about how Torre has lost touch with his players. Gary Sheffield was puzzeled by Torre's decision to move Rodriguez to eighth in the batting order and bench Jason Giambi in what turned out to be the final game of the season, and could likely be the last game of Torre's Yankee career.
The Sun Also Rises
Anyone feeling hungover this morning? I am and I didn't even have anything to drink last night. The Yankees' entertaining and highly enjoyable season ended prematurely yesterday, with a whimper then a thud, and we fans can't help but feeling angry and sad--completely helpless. There will be plenty of blame to go around (if you think we've seen the peak of the A Rod bashing, hold onto your hats). Will they fire Joe Torre, How Could This Have Happened?!, etc, etc. Guys, I just don't have it in me to dig into the dirt right now, so you'll excuse the lack of links. The Yankees weren't the only team to take it on the chin in the first round--look at the Twins, who also had a rewarding regular season. But that's what makes baseball unpredictable, wonderful, and, at times, painful.
I think I'll be pulling for the A's in the ALCS. I don't have anything against the Tigers, and I think they have the best home uniforms in the game next to the Yankees. But I have to admit that I was slighly put-off by their post-game celebration on the field after the game. I understand there has been bupkus to cheer about for Tiger fans, and I think the effusiveness expressed by the players were genuine and sincere. So it's not like I was offended on principle or anything. But this was just the ALDS. What ever will they do for an encore? I felt they were gilding the lily some, but, what the hell do I know? The only thing I came away with watching Kenny Rogers lead the charge, standing on the dugout showering fans with champagne, was the thought that he will not win another game in October. Oh, but maybe that's just the bitterness talking.
No matter. Like I mentioned, it is a beautiful, crisp, Sunday morning on the east coast. The sun is out and the leaves are turning. I want to thank all of the regulars--and semi-regulars--who make Bronx Banter the community it is. Again, you guys are the best. And for those who have been with us for more than a minute now, you know just cause the season is over for the Yanks, doesn't mean we're going anywhere. We'll be here for ya through the long winter.
Keep coming back.
The Tigers handled the suddenly hapless Bronx Bombers with ease today, pounding New York 8-3 and ending the Yankees' season. Jeremy Bonderman pitched well, while Jaret Wright made an early exit (he gave up two dingers in the second inning). The offense was completely flat. Jeter had a hit and Posada hit a late home run, but Alex Rodriguez, dropped to eighth in the order today, was horrid, and Gary Sheffield and Robinson Cano were not far behind. The end came swiftly and without mercy for the $200 million Yankees. They are sure to get decimated by the press in the coming days and weeks. Rodriguez may get so much abuse that the Yankees may consider trading him.
This was nothing short of a stunning way for an entertaining season to end. The Tigers deserve a good measure of credit--their pitching was especially strong. But after Game One, the Yankees played tighter than a tick's ass and they are left with the bitter taste of defeat to ponder for the next four plus months. Or as everyone's favorite whipping boy put it:
"You kind of get tired of giving the other team credit," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said after another terrible October. "At some point you've got to look in the mirror and say, 'I sucked."'
This one stings right now. But keep coming back and we'll commiserate together. Hey, you guys are the best.
A Tight Spot
The Yankees have their backs against the wall today and their season hangs in the balance. Will the hard-throwing Jeremy Bonderman make like his teammate, The Gambler, and pitch the game of his life today? Is there any way that Jaret Wright can come through for the Bombers?
Talk about tight spots, dig my situation. I'm in Vermont for Emily's sister's wedding (she was married in Mexico last spring, this is the U.S. celebration). The ceremony isn't until tomorrow but there is a family barbeque today. Guess what time it starts? 5:00, smack dab in the middle of the biggest game of the year for the Yanks.
My first thought when I learned the Saturday schedule was to tape the game and watch it later in the evening. But that's when I thought the Yanks would win on Friday. Even if I prevent the other Yankee fans from watching it on the TV here, they've got cell phones, and scores will be floating around the party for sure. What to do? How to be a dutiful fiancee and make small talk when I'm sure to be distracted? Can you feel my pain?
I'll just have to find a way to suck it up, just like the Yanks. I know I'll be able to do it and I know they will too.
Go git 'em, boys.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Welcome to our Nightmare
The worst case scenerio reared its ugly head tonight for the Yankees as Kenny Rogers, the consumate October choke-artiste, came up aces for the Tigers, throwing the best money game of his career. It was nothing short of Ripley's I tell you and I can't recall being more livid watching a game all season. Rogers had a nasty curve ball that he used for a strike-out pitch, to go along with his normal assortment of slop. His control was excellent and he had the Yankees at his mercy. Did he make a deal with the Devil? This certainly wasn't the Kenny Rogers we knew in New York.
The Yankees had a runner on base in each of the first eight innings but could not score a run. The team went 0-18 with runners on base, and as result lost Game 3 in humiliating fashion, 6-0. Rogers kept the Yankees off-balance, had them chasing a diving change-up out-of-the-zone, and frozen, looking at fastballs perfectly placed on the black. In all, Rogers had eight strike outs in 7 2/3 innings of work. Moreover, Rogers was increasingly animated and charged-up on the mound as the game progessed.
The Yankees, it seems, can not buy a break in this series. In the fifth inning, with the score 3-0, Bernie Williams narrowly missed a two-run home run. He chased ball four in the dirt and struck out instead. When Robinson Cano went down next, Rogers screamed at his catcher, "C'mon, godammit, give me the ball." In the top of the sixth, Derek Jeter smoked a line up the middle. The ball caught Rogers--an excellent fielder--in the glove and he was able to pick it up and throw Jeter out. In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Guillen's two-out line drive hit off Jeter's glove for a hit, opening the door for the Tigers to score two more runs. And that's the way the cookie crumbled for the Bombers who now look to Jaret Wright to stop the bleeding and salvage the season. Think about that for a moment and see if you can sleep well tonight. (Emily, always the voice of reason said to me, "Well, if Kenny Rogers can pitch a great game what makes you think Jaret Wright can't do the same thing?")
Randy Johnson allowed five runs but he wasn't entirely awful. A three-run second inning featured an awful defensive throwing play by Jason Giambi. It was just not the Yankees night, pure and simple. Things happen fast in the first round. The Yankees and Twins were the hot teams going into October, but Minnie was swept by the Oakland A's and the Yankees are hanging on for dear life. Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano have done bubkus in the series (though Cano got his first hit, a single, tonight). Damon, Giambi and Abreu did dick tonight. The entire team mustered just five hits.
But this is no time for pointing fingers. The entire team has got to suck it up and show-up in full-force tomorrow. Otherwise, what has been a fine and awfully enjoyable season will end prematurely and regrettably. Time to see what kind of fight these guys have in them.
Hang tough, guys. The Yanks'll get 'em tomorrow. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
All About the Benjamins
The notion of Alex Rodriguez as an over-priced flop has been the single largest media story around the Yankees in years. Rodriguez does not go 5-5 in playoff games like Derek Jeter--he hasn't done much of anything substantial in his past two-and-a-half playoff series. Forget about what he has done in the past--his lifetime post-season numbers are far from embarassing--New York is a what-have-you-done-for-us-lately town. I hear Yankee fans everywhere hating on A Rod, and the papers fuel the flames. The back page of the Daily News today shows a close shot of A Rod after a strike out. He is looking down, a sullen expression on his face, as he lifts the helmet off his head in frustration. The headline reads "Awol." The New York tabloids relish humiliating Rodriguez when he does not play well, especially in the playoffs.
Even far-minded critics like my man Jake Luft are harping on Rodriguez's failure, which grows more glaring with each mediore game. Buster Olney has a great blog entry on the subject today over at ESPN. A Rod hit the ball well in Game One, but only had one hit to show for it. He whiffed three times in Game Two. The first and lasat K you have to give to Verlander and Zumaya, the other two at-bats are on Rodriguez.
But New York's obsession with hating Rodiriguez says more about Nee Yorkers themselves, and the nature of the tabloid competition here, than it necessarily does about Rodriguez himself. (Just like ovation Torii Hunter got from Twins' fans after mis-playing a ball into an inside-the-park home run said something about Minniesota fans. I know Hunter is different to them than A Rod is to Yankee fans, I'm just saying. ) Not that A Rod doesn't contribute to the matter but the resentment that people express says more about what they demand from the highest-paid player: nothing short of being the absolute best in every way. They feel entitled to take the guy down if he doesn't match their expectations.
It's not that Yankee fans don't want him to do well. They do want to see him succeed. He got a bonafide ovation as he walked to the plate in his first at bat of the series. But when he fails the fans turn on him quickly and without mercy. He reminds us of our own failures, our own inability to meet certain "clutch" situations all the time in our own lives. Not only that, he confirms our worst fears about ourselves--that we won't do well. Watch a Rodriguez at-bat with a group of Yankee fans and most of them expect him to fail, and go so far as to root against him. It's a weird kind of maschochistic thing, I don't get it.
I heard two construction workers talking about the Yanks in the local deli this morning and their entire riff on A Rod was what a bum he was for making all that money. "If you or I performed like that in our jobs, Frankie, we'd be out of jobs, am I right?"
"And then he sits there and takes pitches. How do you take pitches."
"They teach you in little league you gotta swing the bat, right?"
"I can't believe a guy gets paid all that money to leave the bat on his shoulder."
And so forth. You've heard it all. It's not as if Rodriguez has not have some big hits as a Yankee--he has. But he has to have them in the playoffs. Now. He's the only star player in baseball whose entire season is judged almost exclusively by how he does in the playoffs. 120 RBI? Should have been 148. Get bent. What have you done for me lately?
It is a very real media story and while we're all sick of it but it could get the guy run out of town if he fails and the team bows out early. That would be a shame because headcase or not, after three years in New York, Rodriguez is probably the best third baseman in Yankee history, and that's pretty awesome. He's not Nettles with the glove by a long stretch, but he's a much better hitter. Better base runner, better player. But a bigger mystery. When the game looks hard for a player, when he's a scrappy guy like Wally Backman or David Eckstein, fans identify them with and give them a pass. It's the Wayne Cherbet syndrome, you know what I mean? The game is hard for A Rod too, even though he's supremely gifted. It's just difficult in a different way, a way people can't relate to or identify with. They just see that he's good looking and very rich and he's strikes out three times in a playoff game.
But now it's time for Mr. Rodriguez to meet our old pal, the Gambler Kenny Rogers. If you don't get at least two hits tonight, it's only gunna get worse tomorrow, kid. So as Don Corelone said to Johnny Fontaine, "You can act like a MAN! (slap) What's the matter with you?" Go get 'em, bro, leave it all out on the field and kick some ass. Remember, the Gambler is a bigger headcase than you. Doubles in the gap, dude, doubles in the gap. The story won't go away until you come through. Make it happen.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
The Tigers tied the best of five series against the Yankees on a sunny and crisp fall afternoon in New York. They followed the ideal formula to beat the Bombers: a few well-timed hits (the revenge of Marcus Thames), add some pop (Carlos Guillen), mix in some decent starting pitching and then get to your devastating bullpen. Final score: 4-3. Justin Verlander was effectively wild as the Yankees did not score early, which tends to mean they're going to have a long day. Other than Johnny Damon's three-run, upper-deck home run, were effectively shut down all game long. Jason Giambi hit a long ball that went foul, Bobby Abreu hit a long single that was just short of a dinger too. And Mike Mussina could not protect a 3-1. The worst of for Mussina came when he left an 0-2 mistake rigth over the plate to Curtis Granderson, who tripled home the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh.
Joel Zumaya was sick for the Tigers, striking out Jeter, Giambi and Alex Rodriguez late in the game and throwing steadily over 100 mph. Rodriguez went 0-4 and took the brunt of the fan's abuse. He didn't have a good game, however, his first and last strike outs, well, those were cases where you just have to credit the pitcher now, don't you?
Now, we've got ourselves a serious. You may have your doubts about Randy Johnson, who is looking to make-up for his lousy showing in Game 3 of the 2005 ALDS (and I think he will), but as a friend said to me yesterday, "It's not so much that I'm confident in Johnson, it is that I am positive that Kenny Rogers will be awful." Tonight gives a new twist to the title "Grumpy, Old Men." Johnson and Rogers may have different styles, but they both seem like miserabl sobs in their own special way.
I'm headed up to Vermont for the weekend. I'll be checking in and providing pre-and-post game articles, though there may be fewer links than usual, on the count of they've only got a dial-up connection where I'm going to be out in the sticks. Cliff returns on Sunday from his honeymoon. Here's hoping he'll have something to sink his teeth into (i.e., ALCS Preview) when he arrives.
If you've got free time, check out a Q&A I did with Wade Boggs earlier this week. It includes a link to one of SI's great interviews of all-time--from the 1986 Baseball Preview issue, Boggs, and Don Mattingly sit down to talk hitting with Ted Williams.
Game Two, Take Two (The Big Chill)
There is a serious mix of clouds and sun in Manhattan this morning and it is decidedly cooler than it has been for the past few days. The fall has returned. Now, this feels like weather for October baseball. It will be brisk and chilly out there this afternoon. Mike Mussina and Justin Verlander square off shortly after 1 pm at the Stadium.
Let's Go Yanks!
There'll be No Game Tonight, Scram, Come Back Tomorrow
Game Two will be made up at 1 pm tomorrow afternoon. Shoot, I went home and hung out with my cousin Eric. Didn't much rain up here in the northern Bronx but better safe than sorry, right? There will be a lot of distracted Yankees fans at work on Thursday. Well, we always beg for day games. Now, we've got one. Have a good night, peoples. I'll catch you in the a.m.
Update 11:20 p.m. Yeah, it's coming down pretty good here now. It would have been a slopfest like we saw last year if they had tried to get this one in. They made the right call.
Dive or Thrive (which one of these?)
Believe it or not, it's even warmer and muggier in the Bronx tonight than it was last night. But there it is, strange things sometimes happen. Like Mark Kotsay's inside-the-park home run this afternoon in the A's, Twinkies game, or two Dodgers getting tagged out at the plate by fomer Dodger catcher Paul LoDuca (Yo, Paulie, you know, Paulie) in the course of about ten seconds. Kotsay hit a sinking line drive to center field. Torii Hunter charged the ball which took a late, vicious curve down and to the right--the TV analysts on ESPN said it "knuckled." Hunter, a highlight reel centerfielder and all-around infectiously aimable dude, dove and it got past him. Kotsay didn't get a great jump out of the box but when he saw the ball get past Hunter he started to book his ass off. After he scored easily, Kotsay popped up from his slide and thrust his fist in the air. Hilarious. As for the Dodgers, I still don't know what they were thinking there. One of the guys, especially the trail runner, J.D. Drew, has got to try and run LoDuca over. Still, I am pumped for Carlos Delgado, and I think it's great that CliFFFloyd hit a bomb.
In the bowels of Yankee Stadium there is a cafeteria for the writers. During the playoffs, the room is converted into the press room where the pre-and- post game interviews are conducted. Through the far end of the room is a door which leads to the downstairs press room, a large, windlowless concrete room lined with tables and chairs and lots of men (and some women) typing away on laptop comupters. The sound of all of all the fingers tapping away on keyboards sounds like the patter of gentle rain on a tin roof. It is extremely active this evening, three hours before the game. The Yankees are on the field taking bp. Reporters are writing their stories.
I go upstairs to the main press box. The first person I see after the security guard lets me in is a middle aged woman wearing a Yankee hat and a navy blue Yankee polo shirt. She is holding a clear plastic box of chocolate chip cookies. "Hey, you wanna cookie?" she says to me opening the box and holding it toward me. "Do I?" I say and grab a large, doughy cookie. I turn right and hit the head. As I'm peeing, I eat the cookie and I hear the woman out in the hallway offering everyone she sees a cookie, the same way she asked me. And they say nobody is nice a Yankee Stadium.
This would be a money game for the Yankees to win tonight. It's a Must game for the Tigers. Mike Mussina is a big ticket pitcher; he's expected to win these kind of games. I've always liked him, so you know I'm pulling for him to come up big. Justin Verlander is a very good young pitcher too. He struggled in the second half (he was awful in August), but had a couple of strong starts late in the year and you just got to love his stuff. He seems like he's going to be a real pitcher and not just a thrower. If the Tigers can get a two or three run lead going into the seventh, they can snake out a win for sure and then we've got ourselves a series. Part of me thinks the Yanks are going to continue the pound-a-thon and just roll, while the other part of me thinks that A Rod will blow and Sheffield will make a crucial error, Verlander and the pen will be great and the Tigers will find a way to win. I'm a twin, what can I tell you? I see both sides of the cern.
Yo, if they are going to hit dingers off Mussina, let's just hope nobody is on base when they do, that's all I'm saying.
Hope everyone enjoys the game but in order to do so you are going to have to wait around for awhile it seems. They played the anthem and the crowd waited for the Yankees to take the field. But they never did and the fans didn't know for why? Well, evidentally, there is threatening weather a-comin' this way with the quickness, or so says the doppler radar. The rain is supposed to hit between 8:15 and 8:30 and keep up for a good hour-and-a-half. Yikes. Luckily, I brought some good reading material. Too bad I forgot my gollaches. Kind of funny to see the game called before it starts to rain. People are just scratching their heads, going, oy. Call the babysitter, we're gunna be here awhile.
Irregardless, as they like to say in the Bronx, Let's Go Yan-Kees!
A Good Start...
When I left the Stadium last night it was close to midnight. Most of the exits on the ground floor were already closed so I had to walk around the park the long way, through the outfield bleachers, to reach the street. The bright stadium lights were dimmed and it was still humid. Incredibly, the place was virtually empty. I was surprised at how fast everyone was gone. The subway stations were desolate too--the night crew already had long hoses out and were washing down the platforms. When I reached the 1 train at 168 street, I was a little unnerved by just how alone I felt. Nobody was around, which is never a comfortable feeling for this New Yorker.
It wasn't long before an Asian couple wearing matching Wang shirts joined me on the platform. I struck up a conversation with them. Yes, they were both originally from Tawain but they had met as students here in the States, at Syracuse University. Now, they are co-workers in southern California. They made the trip back east, in part, to see Wang pitch last night. I asked if they were a couple or just co-workers and they told me they are returning to Syracuse this weekend to get married. Just the two of them (they have no family in the States). How cool is that? I told them that I just got engaged and we became fast friends. We rode the train uptown together and they insisted on taking pictures with me before I got off at my stop. We hugged goodbye.
Couple of mid-day links for your face:
Emma Span on the different clubhouse cultures in the Bronx and Queens, uber-Yankee blogger, Pete Abraham with some cherce links, Larry Mahnken recaps Game 1, Tom Verducci on Derek Jeter, Jack Curry on Jim Leyland, Ken Rosenthal on the Yankee offense, and finally, an interview with yours truly for the Sports Media Guide site.
Jeter Leads, Bombers Follow
ALCS Game One: Yanks 8, Tigers 4
The auxiliary press box takes up four full sections in right field. Each row actually takes up two rows of seats, one with a long wood board laid across the top to serve as a table. A security guard named Lee Brown shows me my seat. He is a lanky middle-aged man, with a high forehead and an afro and has the features of the jock-turned-actor, Bernie Casey, only he's thinner. So, I am sitting in the front row, second box from the right. Not three feet to my left is a 25 inch Television set, resting on an additional wood platform. Each row has its own TV, which is playing the Fox broadcast of the game. The TV feed is about three seconds delayed and it is truly surreal being so close to a set, seeing the game the way we normally do in the privacy of our own homes, our own lives, out of the corner of my eye as I look out onto the real Yankee Stadium field.
After the anthem and the pageantry, two jet planes fly over the Stadium. "This gunna be awesome," says Lee as he moves to far right corner of the loge section. As they pass by, Lee salutes and releases with an exaggerated gesture, waving the planes goodbye. The field is cleared and then "Hell's Bells" by AC DC starts to play. The door to the bullpen in left center field opens as six umpires climb out of the Yankee dugout and slowly amble towards the plate. As they move the song continues to play. They plod slowly but with purpose like an unintentional Quentin Tarrantino parody.
I arrived at Yankee Stadium tonight at twenty to seven, just shy of two hours before first pitch. I heard a couple fighting on the train ride up. "That's not what I'm sayin, you don't listen," the guy said. "I know what you're sayin, you just intrepret me wrong," she answered. I tried to engage a non-descript-looking and desultory dude to no avail. But when I climbed the stairs to the street a block away from the Stadium in the Bronx, I was greeted by an unseasonably warm evening, laced with the last bits of humidity this Indian Summer has to offer. They say it may even rain later on. The sun was setting, and you could feel that something different was in the air. Traffic was blocked off, and there were a lot of cops around. Things felt orderly.
I just missed magic hour, the sun was already well down, and there was just a little bit of natural light left. I got to the area where a cop has to check your security in order to pass. The cop, as always, is a young Latin guy, maybe late twenties, big, brown eyes, neatly trimmed mustache. I've seen him each time I've been at the Stadium this year and I greet him with a smile. He asks for my ID, checks it, and tells me to go ahead without any further recognition. Running parallel along the third baseside of the Park is a basketball court and a ratty baseball field. With no lights and precious little daylight left. But Kids were still playing hoops on the basketball court, and behind that, other kids were winding down a baseball practice. My favorite part of playing baseball as a teenager was staying late at practice taking grounders from my coach until it simply got too dark to see.
I moved towards the Yankee Press area. A group of cops are standing around. I hear one say, "With a strip on the roof? And you wouldn't rock that Sh**?" Not too many people yet, certainly no crunch, this was also that last pause in of the long regular season before the team and the fanbase kicks off another October. First team to eleven wins. And it is definitely Broadway tonight in the Bronx. When I turned the corner to the final stretch before approaching the club box and press areas, I was almost knocked over by a wave of cologne. Guys stood in small groups, talking on their cell phones. Pretty, sun-tanned, guys with make-up, some smoking cigars.
The Yankees set up a tent outside of the press area to accomidate all the media that will be here tonight. Three women in their mid-twenties are behind the desk. "Belth. That's B as in Bronx," I say to the women. "Did you say B as in boring?" says one of the girls who was sitting down (the prettiest one was standing). "No, but I say A as in aardvark. Or P as in--" "P as in pig," the girl says. "Or as in pneumonia," I say using an old Elaine May line. I wait. No laugh. Okay, then, moving on.
I go up to the press box to see where I'm to be seated. There is an auxillary press box set up in the loge seats out in right field. I figured I would be seated there. I checked out the chart in the press box behind home plate and ran into a sportswriter I have known for a few years. He was on the phone and told me to hang on. I looked down at the field and saw the Tigers taking bp. I leaned against the top railing of the press box, and looked down and saw a fat meat sandwhich of some sort. And fat fingers picking it up. The fat fingers belonged to a fat sportswriter who typed with furious speed and grace on a small laptop keyboard. His fingers moved with the light touch that some big men like Fatty Arbuckle have dancing.
The sportswriter I was waiting on got off the phone and talked to me about something that was on his mind as he walked to towards the elevator. I was going the other way but walked with him. In the middle of thought, he was distracted by someone else and immediately walked away. I stopped walking and looked after him. When he got to the door that leads to the elevator he finally looked up and saw me. I raised my hand, "OK, catch up with you later." And he looked haggard and quickly dipped through the door after the man he was now speaking with.
As I walked the corridors of the Lodge section I was struck by how quiet it still was. It is so cinematic walking through a stadium, every so often catching another glimpse of the field. I stopped and talked to a security guard. Finally somebody normal.
I finally got to my seat just before seven. Front row of the press box in right field. Only the railing is in front of me. Tough to get one in here but a homer is always possible. Incredibly dope seats. You guys know that I'm appreciating every moment and am truly humbled by the opportunities I've worked so hard to create.
Bring the muthafargin' Rukus.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
Can I Start This?
Don't you guys miss ol' Cliff right about now? I know I do. I've grown accustom to reading his series previews just as much as you have. But our man is still on his honeymoon over in Italy (he returns on Sunday). I'm not much for predictions and previews myself, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out what heads are saying about the Yankees-Tigers match-up in the ALCS. Dig the linkathon:
Tyler Kepner, Steven Goldman, Joel Sherman, John Donovan, Dayn Perry, David Pinto, Rany Jazayerli, SG, ESPN, Mitch Albom, Mike Plugh, Sam Borden, Ben Kabak, Don Amore, Steve Lombardi, and Brian Borawski.
There, that should get you started. Yo, I'm mad excitable and it's not even 9 a.m. Another October, another chance for the Yanks to make a run at the title. These are good times indeed. I'm trying to stay calm and enjoy every moment of it, cause I know it won't last forever. It's been another great season for the Yanks and another great season here at Bronx Banter with all of you guys. I look forward to watching the playoffs unfold along with you. And that's word to Big Bird.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
That's the Fact, Jack
Rich Lederer takes a look at the MVP race in both leagues. I like his two cherces: Prince Albert and Derek Geetah.
That's a Wrap
The Yanks lost their final game of the season 7-5 to the Jays (thank you very much, Kyle Farnsworth). They finish the year 97-65 tied for the best record in baseball with...the Mets. Go figure that. The Tigers lost today while the Twins won, meaning that Detroit will play the Bombers starting Tuesday night at the Stadium. This is a match-up that many Yankee fans wanted, especially with the Tigers limping into the post season. But careful what you wish for, right? They still have a lot of pop in their lineup and a nasty bullpen.
Derek Jeter went 1-5 and lost out on the batting title to Joe Mauer who had two hits today. Mauer .347, Jeter .343, Robbie Cano,.342. Congrats to Mauer, who becomes the first catcher to ever lead the American League in batting. A truly remarkable season for Mauer, who is one of three MVP candidates on his team (Santana and, the favorite, Justin Morneau, are the other two). What a wonderful year for out boy Jeter, the future Hall of Famer, who was a beast.
So, the match-ups are all set. Yanks vs. Tigers. A's vs. Twins.
Let's Go Baseball!
Welcome to October (We've Only Just Begun)
"I've pitched through pain and discomfort before," he said. "I'm 43 years old. I've got an arthritic knee that I'll probably need replaced. I've had one back surgery and another one, probably, that I may need. I'm not going to complain about my health. I'm here to pitch in the postseason, and I'll do whatever I can."
In spite of Johnson's uncertain status--and I don't think there is much doubt that he'll be out there for Game 3, or Game 4 of the ALCS--there were smiles all around Yankee Stadium yesterday even though the Bombers fell to the Jays, 6-5. Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield hit back-to-back home runs and Derek Jeter went 3-3 to raise his average to .345. Jeter is just one point behind the Twins' Joe Mauer, who did not play yesterday. It is foggy and raining this morning the Bronx (the Big Unit is scheduled to have a bullpen session this morning which will go a long way in determining how ready he'll be for the ALCS). This is a game that could easily be called, seeing as how it doesn't have any significance, or bearing on the playoffs. However, if the game is played, Jeter will start, you can count on that (it would be a shame if Mauer, who sat out yesterday, doesn't play this afternoon).
Bernie Williams will serve as the Yankee manager today. Mike Mussina won a cern flip with Mariano Rivera and will act as pitching coach, while Lee Maz will be the bench coach. After the game yesterday, Joe Torre told reporters, "Bernie says the toughest part will be staying awake for nine innings." Torre laughed and then said softly, "He's so beautiful." Not ten minutes later, Jeter told a group of writers, "I don't think Bernie's sat on the bench [for an entire game] in eleven years, so this'll be a first." Jeter added that Bernie might not sit there for the whole game today, and said, "I think the bench coach will play a big part in tomorrow's game."
Update Here comes the sun, folks. After raining all morning, the sun is out. Sure, there are lots of clouds but looks like they will get this one in. Go DJ.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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