Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: December 2007


Calmer than You
2007-12-31 20:18
by Alex Belth

This year for Christmas, my secret Santa (my step-sister's husband) got me a 1996 World Series baseball autographed by Joe Torre. How cool is that? I don't care much about autographs but this one I like. It's the perfect gift to get from a secret Santa. Thoughtful.

One of the things I'm most excited about 2008 is the release of The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan, a book I edited, with help from Gabe Fried at Persea books and Pat himself. As I've mentioned on the Banter previously, Jordan played with Torre in the Braves' minor league system in the early '60s.

In 1996, Pat did a piece on Joe Torre for the New York Times magazine in the middle of the summer as the team was surging then slumping. It wasn't a long profile or a particularly memorable one. By Jordan's own admission, it is a minor piece. The story did not make the cut for our collection; in fact, it didn't make the B-list. However, I have a couple of drafts of the story, one called "The Patience of Joe," and another one, completely restructured, called "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" that have some good stuff in 'em.

Here is the begining and end of Pat's working draft of "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

Joe Torre, the New York Yankees' manager, is sitting behind his desk in his office off the clubhouse in Yankee Stadium, talking to Rick Cerrone, the team's director of media relations, while making out today's line-up card.

Torre is a big, dark, sinister-looking man of 55. He has the blocky build of a professional wrestler, The Villain, recently gone on a diet. He has dark, olive-colored skin, black stubble of beard, and bushy black eyebrows that hand low over his threatening, black eyes. He does look villainous…a Mexican bandito about to pillage a town of peasants…a vengeful Saracan warrior about to sack the camp of a hated enemy.

A sportswriter barges in, unannounced. He starts haranguing Cerrone over his late-arriving press credentials which caused him to be an hour late for his interview with Torre. The sportswriter's face is flushed with anger. Torre's threatening eyes shift up, only the whites showing. Torre stands, a dark, threatening presence. He raises his hands, palms out, as if to fend off heat.

"Calm down," he says, almost pleading. "Calm down. I'll give you all the time you need. Have some coffee. Someone get him some coffee. Please!"

When Torre was a pudgy, 20-year-old catcher in the Milwaukee Braves' minor league farm system in 1960, he looked every bit as old and dark and threatening as he does now. He always looked like an old man playing a young man's game. At 20, Torre would waddle out to the pitcher's mound in his catching gear to confront his baby-faced pitcher, red-faced, furious, kicking the dirt, making a spectacle of himself, embarrassing himself and his teammates because of their latest error. (Torre never embarrasses his players, he says, because, "I hit .360 one year, and .240 another, and I know I tired just as hard both years." When Yankees' rookie shortstop, Derek Jeter, made a crucial error that lost a game in August, Torre said, "He's played his tail off for us and has won a lot of games. More than the error, that's what to keep in mind." Which is why, Wade Boggs, the Yanks' veteran third baseman calls Torre, "A player's manager.")

Even at 20, Torre knew not to embarrass his teammates, and when he saw his young pitcher doing it, thrashing around the mound, he would stop ten feet from his raging pitcher, raises his hands, palms out, and say, in the same, pleading voice he uses today, "Calm down. Relax. We'll get 'em for you. Don't worry."

After Torre has calmed the sportswriter, he says, "I have a temper, I just don't vent it. (He also has stomach troubles.) Maybe it's more healthy to show emotion. I don't know. I'm a patient person."

Torre always played the game with the patience of an older man. Even at 20, he had what was called "a professional attitude." Which meant he approached the game unemotionally, diligently, doggedly, the only way possible if a player is to fashion a long career over 100-plus games a year. Each season, each game, each inning even, can be a lifetime of emotional highs and lows. Young players, furious pitchers, caught up in those emotional high and lows don't last long in the game. Torre lasted 17 years. He finished his playing career with a lifetime .297 batting average and is the only player to be voted the National League's Most Valuable Player, in 1971, when he led the league in both batting, .363 and runs batted in, 137, and the National League's Manager of the Year, in 1982, when he led the Atlanta Braves to a division title. This is Torre's 15th season as a manager (New York Mets, Atlanta, St. Louis Cardinals) and his first with the Yankees, who are leading the American League East with the third best record in baseball, and are considered one of three teams with the best chance at winning the World Series, the last of which the Yankees won in 1978.

Torre has blended a team of youthful players and grizzled veterans, born again Christians and recovering substance abusers, into arguably one of the most well-balanced teams in baseball. The present-day Yankees play an unremarkably adept game Torre calls "a National League game. We grind it out, one run at a time." The Yankees pick away at their opponents, a single, a stolen base, a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly ball, and a run, in a way that makes every player feel he's contributing to their success.

Continue reading...

Sticks and Stones
2007-12-31 08:06
by Alex Belth

So, I know this is kind of a bummer way to end the year, but I was doing some research not so long ago and stumbled across the Dick Young article that effectively sent Tom Seaver packing from the Mets, the one where Young brought up Nolan Ryan and his wife. This is Dick Young at his absolute, mean-spirited, vicious worst, shilling for M Donald Grant:

Continue reading...

When it Raines
2007-12-30 12:43
by Alex Belth

More on Rock. Once again, from Rich Lederer, who breaks down the Bill James Abstract take on Raines from the 80s, and this, a fine Q&A with Jonah Keri.

Very Not Good
2007-12-28 12:26
by Alex Belth

Seriously bad news for a former Yankee. The story was originally reported in the Miami Herald.

Pastime Passings--October, November, and December
2007-12-27 15:08
by Bruce Markusen

With this representing the final installment of Pastime Passings for 2007, it’s an appropriate time to pay homage to some of the baseball people we’ve lost over the final months of the year. Here are tributes to those who have passed away, both broadcasters and players, during the months of October, November, and December.

Stu Nahan (Died on December 26 in Studio City, CA; age 81; lymphoma): A well-known presence on the Los Angeles sports scene since the 1950s, Nahan most recently worked on Dodgers broadcasts as a pre- and post-game host for KFWB Radio. After retiring from a journeyman hockey career as a minor league goaltender, he became a go-fer for veteran broadcaster Bob Kelley on Pacific Coast League broadcasts for the Los Angeles Angels. He eventually became a play-by-play man for the minor league Modesto Reds before hosting nightly sports reports on KCRA TV in Sacramento. In 1968, he returned to Los Angeles to anchor sports reports, working at a variety of local stations before being dismissed in 1999. Nahan also gained national acclaim for playing commentators in feature films, including Brian’s Song, Private Benjamin, and all six incarnations of Rocky. In one of his most memorable appearances, Nahan played himself while interviewing the lead character of Jeff Spicoli (portrayed by Sean Penn) in the 1982 hit, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Tommy Byrne (Died on December 20 in Wake Forest, NC; age 87; congestive heart failure): A hard-throwing left-hander with a reputation for wildness, Byrne pitched for four American League teams from 1943 to 1957. He was best remembered for his tenure with the Yankees, his first and last major league team. Pitching in three different stints for the Yankees, Byrne earned selection to the All-Star Game in 1950 and appeared in four World Series. In 21 postseason innings, he struck out 11 batters while forging an impressive ERA of 2.53. Nicknamed "Wild Bill," Byrnes led the league in walks three times. An intimidating pitcher who liked to throw inside, he led the league in hit batsmen five times. Byrnes could hit almost as well as he could throw hard fastballs. He batted .238 during his career (143-for-601) with 14 home runs, including two grand slams. In addition to the Yankees, Byrnes pitched for the St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox, and Washington Senators during his 13-year career. After his playing days, he served as the mayor of his hometown in Wake Forest for 15 years.

Don Chevrier (Died on December 18 in Tampa, FL; age 69; blood thinning disorder): The first television play-by-play man in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays, Chevrier became known as the primary sports voice of CBC, the Canadian network. Described as the "voice of God" by former CBC executive Rick Brace, Chevrier featured a booming baritone that helped make him popular with Canadian viewers. As the first TV voice of the Jays, he partnered with former Yankees star Tony Kubek to form a memorable broadcasting tandem. Chevrier also became close friends with another Toronto broadcasting icon, the late Tom Cheek, who died in 2005. The versatile Chevrier did play-by-play on Canadian Football League Grey Cup telecasts while also becoming the CBC’s voice of curling. He also did work for ABC TV in the United States, including "Monday Night Baseball" and boxing broadcasts, where he frequently teamed with Howard Cosell.

Bob Marquis (Died on November 28 in Beaumont, TX; age 82): Marquis played one season for the Cincinnati Reds, appearing in 40 games in 1953. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .273 with two home runs in 44 at-bats. A U.S. Navy veteran, Marquis had previously served in the military during World War II.

Joe Kennedy (Died on November 23 in Tampa, FL; age 28; cause of death unknown pending an autopsy): The seven-year veteran left-hander, who had pitched for three major league teams in 2007, collapsed in the bedroom of his wife’s parents while preparing to serve as the best man at a Florida wedding. He was taken to nearby Brandon Hospital, but was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. The cause of his death remains undetermined, pending the results of an autopsy.

Drafted in the eighth round of the 1998 amateur draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Kennedy made his big league debut in 2001, marking the start of a three-year tenure in Tampa Bay. Establishing a reputation for his competitiveness on the mound, Kennedy gave the Rays hope of finding an ace for the top of their rotation. Making 72 starts for the D-Rays, Kennedy pitched well at times, but suffered from a lack of run support, accounting for a record of 18-31. After the 2003 season, the Devil Rays traded him to the Colorado Rockies, where he would enjoy his finest season. Despite pitching half of his games at Coors Field, Kennedy posted a 3.66 ERA while winning nine of 16 decisions. He never matched that level of triumph again, eventually bouncing to the Oakland A’s. After starting the 2007 season with Oakland, Kennedy was released, signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, released for a second time, and then signed by the Toronto Blue Jays. Kennedy became a free agent at season’s end; in spite of his recent struggles, he was expected to receive offers from the Blue Jays and potentially several other teams. Over his seven seasons, Kennedy posted a record of 43-61 with a 4.79 ERA in 908 innings.

Kennedy became the second active major leaguer to pass away in the last two years. In 2006, former Yankee right-hander Cory Lidle (a onetime teammate of Kennedy) died just days after New York was eliminated by Detroit in the American League Division Series. Kennedy is survived by his wife and one-year-old son.

Joe Nuxhall (Died on November 16 in Ohio; age 79; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma): Nuxhall was best known for being the youngest major leaguer of the 20th century, pitching in a 1944 game for the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 15 years, ten months, and 11 days. Nuxhall struggled badly in his wartime debut, giving up five runs on five walks and two hits in only two-thirds of an inning against the first-place St. Louis Cardinals. Undeterred, he spent the rest of the season in the minor leagues, returned to high school in the fall, and then continued a long baseball apprenticeship in the minor leagues before making it back to the Reds in 1951, seven years after his debut. Nuxhall would last 16 seasons in the majors, establishing himself as a solid left-handed pitcher in the mid-1950s. A two-time All-Star, Nuxhall led the National League in shutouts in 1955. Except for brief stints with the Kansas City A’s and LA Angels, Nuxhall remained with Cincinnati through the 1966 season, when he retired with 135 wins and over 1,300 strikeouts. The following spring, "The Ol’ Lefthander" returned to the Reds as a broadcaster, continuing what would become a 63-year association with the franchise.

Matthew Wasser (Died on October 24 in Waltham, Massachusetts; age 22): A member of the Yankees’ media relations department, Wasser was assisting the Boston Red Sox with statistical work during the American League Championship Series at the time of his death. Wasser was killed when his taxi was struck by a suspected drunken driver. The driver, Lawrence P. Laine, was arrested and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol.

Wasser had joined the Yankees only last spring, working with both local and national in media. He was scheduled to graduate from the College of New Jersey in December. As a tribute to Wasser, the Yankees sent his family a signed baseball to be placed in his casket.

Owen "Red" Friend (Died on October 14 in Wichita, Kansas; age 80): After signing with the St. Louis Browns in 1944, Friend made his major league debut five years later. A defensive-minded infielder with the ability to handle second, short, or third, Friend played two seasons with the Browns before missing two years while serving in the U.S. military during the Korean War. He returned to the big leagues in 1953, splitting the season between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. He later played for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs before his major league career ended in 1956. After his playing days, Friend became a minor league manager, scouted for the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles, and served on Joe Gordon’s inaugural coaching staff with the expansion Kansas City Royals in 1969.

Don Nottebart (Died on October 4 in Cypress, TX; age 71; effects of a recent stroke): Nottebart was best known for throwing the first no-hitter in the history of the Houston Astros/Colt .45s franchise. Pitching for the Colt .45s on May 17, 1963, the right-hander set down the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1. Nottebart allowed a single run in the fifth inning through little fault of his own—a two-base error followed by a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. Using a devastating slider, Nottebart struck out eight Phillies and walked three in pitching the no-hitter at Colt Stadium. He would finish the 1963 season with a record of 11-8 and a 3.17 ERA. Over the course of a nine-year career, Nottebart won 66, lost 96, and posted an ERA of 3.65. A veteran of the Colts, Astros, Milwaukee Braves, and Cincinnati Reds, Nottebart saw his career come to an end in 1969, when he split the season between the Yankees and Chicago Cubs.

Bunky Stewart (Died on October 3 in Wilmington, NC; age 76): A veteran of five major league seasons, Stewart pitched for the Washington Senators from 1952 to 1956. The left-hander finished his career with a record of 5-11 and six saves. All five of his wins came in his final season, when he logged a career-high 105 innings.


Bruce Markusen is the author of "Cooperstown Confidential" at He can be reached via e-mail at


Solid as a Rock
2007-12-27 05:57
by Alex Belth

Why bother blogging when Rich Lederer is doing such a bang-up job? Rich has long championed Bert Blyleven's candidacy for the Hall of Fame (hey, Bill Conlin is actually voting for Blyleven this year). Now, he takes on a new case: Rock Raines. If you think I've beat this horse into the ground already, well, get used to it. I'm on the Raines bandwagon.

Okay, here's a random question for the day: If you could read a biography of any sports writer who would it be? And I'm not talking about a book that has already been written. Or maybe the better question is this: What major sports writer most deserves a serious biography? Jim Murray, Dick Young, W.C. Heinz? Who would you be interested in reading about?

Which One of Dese?
2007-12-26 05:42
by Alex Belth

Aw man, sorry for being out-of-the-loop for a minute there, guys. Got caught up in the holidaze and, well, there wasn't any pressing news that needed to be covered anyhow. One guy who hasn't let the year-end festivities slow him down, is my old pal, Rich Lederer, who has a terrific Q&A with veteran baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby up at The Baseball Analysts. Here's a bit about Rock Raines:

Rich: You sent me an email last year, saying that you had come around on Blyleven. I commend you for being open minded on the subject and changing your vote. My next project is to have you see the light on Raines. I would be remiss if I let the comparison to Coleman go by without comment. Yes, they both played left field, led off, and stole a lot of bases. But, other than that, the difference between Raines and Coleman is like night and day. Raines hit .294/.385/.425; Coleman, .264/.324/.345. That's 141 points of OPS. Over the course of their careers, Raines got on base twice as often and had twice as many total bases as Coleman.

I know you referenced their top five years, but the truth is that Raines (.334/.413/.476 with an OPS+ of 151) was a much better player than Coleman (.292/.340/.400 with an OPS+ of 104) at their respective peaks, too. I don't think the five-year numbers are much different. We agree on Coleman. He's not a Hall of Famer. But we disagree on Raines. I believe he is very worthy. I hope you keep an open mind on Raines and give him a closer look next year.

Tracy: That's probably not the only one we disagree on. Raines will have to get in line for me, behind Dawson and Murphy and Rice, while I still try and sort those three out. I know there is support for each of them, but I guess what I have the hardest time dealing with is why Rice's support seems stronger when I would put him third out of the three, and I'm not convinced yet on any of the three. Now that's where a vote gets difficult because I have so much respect for the people that Dawson and Murphy are that it is hard not to put them on my ballot.

With all due respect, how long does it take to sort out candidates like Dawson, Murphy and Rice, guys who have been on the ballot for a good while now? I read one baseball writer's list recently, and a guy he voted for last year isn't get his vote this year, and vice versa. It's frustrating to read about the voting process at times, but, ah, what am I getting steamed for? This is the Hall of Fame we're talking about. Tom Yawkey's got a plaque in the jernt. Never mind.

Yankee Panky # 36: Fallout Boys
2007-12-22 04:10
by Will Weiss

It's been more than a week since the Report's release, and the Yankees have been at the center of the coverage and analysis. Of the 86 names released in the 409-page document — how many of you have downloaded it? — 22 were Yankees, either past or present, with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte at the forefront.

What surprised me at the outset was the experts' surprise at Clemens' inclusion in the report. Ever since BALCO broke four years ago, Clemens' name has been sprinkled among prominent players on the accused list of PED (performance enhancing drug) use.

"I don't want to believe it," John Kruk said during the Mitchell Report special aired on ESPN that afternoon. He then contradicted himself by saying that as players age, they should not get better, and that since Clemens did, that's a possible indicator of foul play.

"In my days as a general manager, I had heard rumors of Clemens using steroids, but I always attributed his success to his tremendous work ethic," Steve Phillips said on the same program.

Curt Schilling's Dec. 19 post on was interesting, gripping and will certainly be a talking point for a while. In his 3,200-word post, he wrote that if Clemens is found guilty, he should return the four Cy Young Awards he won in the time frame of the era in question, but that if he's clean, he should come forth and declare it, as Albert Pujols did in response to WNBC-TV's indefensible release of incorrect names two hours before Senator Mitchell's press conference. If you're going to scoop someone, at least make sure you have the facts and corroborate the sources.

The evidence presented by Jose De Jesus Ortiz in the Houston Chronicle supports that. Ortiz wrote that Clemens' name was wrongly included in an LA Times story published last year on the players included in Jason Grimley's affidavit, which at the time were redacted.

A few of the accused have, in fact, come forward and admitted their usage, like Brian Roberts, Jay Gibbons, and most notably, Pettitte. Pettitte's admission was strange, particularly the "if what I did was an error in judgment" line. HGH was still illegal to obtain without a prescription in 2002, so yes, committing a crime was an error in judgment. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," is akin to the Chewbacca defense.

On, Jemele Hill called Pettitte's admission a farce, comparing the statement to "smoking weed for glaucoma." Her analogy may be a bit extreme (doctors in more than a dozen states can prescribe medicinal marijuana to glaucoma patients), but I understand Hill's skepticism and the tone of her reaction. Every player who admits guilt or professes innocence will have his words interpreted 12 ways from Sunday, dissected for tone and leaving us to question the athlete's contrition.

I credit Pettitte for issuing some sort of response to defend himself, given that one of his closest associates, trainer Brian McNamee, sold him out. And judging from my interpretation of Pettitte in covering him for two years, I believe he was sincere.

The media will be split in their interpretations of the admissions and their perceptions of the players who come forward — or don't — because of their inclusion in the report. Friday's opening of Kirk Radomski's sealed affidavit, as well as Grimsley's, could lead to an even bleaker picture of the game. In addition, journalistically and legally, the public release of those documents could change the way we access information, regarding what becomes public record.

* * * * *

In terms of overall coverage, ESPN had the broadest and covered the most angles. I'm actually surprised they haven't developed a microsite within the MLB index solely devoted to the Mitchell Report. The timing of ESPN forming its investigative team could not have been better. T.J. Quinn, Mark Fainaru-Wada, Shaun Assael, Howard Bryant, and Mike Fish were all over the report and finding stories behind the stories. It gives me hope that good journalism, even in the sports field, where traditionalists and professors still cringe at the juxtaposition of sports and journalism, exists.

The reporting has been generally well-founded, and I'm surprised that since the Report was released, fewer writers have rushed to the morality soapbox. That's been left to the politicians. As a fan and a realist, I'm not a fan of the romanticization and preservation of the myth of purity in baseball or any other sport. Regardless of how much testing there is, or how severe the penalties are for the athletes who test positive, there will always be cheating. People will always look for an edge. It doesn't just occur in athletics, it's everywhere.

* * * * *

David Justice's inclusion in the report is surprising on one hand, but then not, when you look at the sharp decline after the 2000 (age 34) season. Declaring his innocence on Colin Cowherd's ESPN Radio show is not exactly a way to boost credibility, either. (I apologize to fans of The Herd, but the way he treated Sean Taylor's death was disgraceful, and having a segment called "Spanning the Globe" when all the news within the segment comes from within the U.S. is an insult to our intelligence.)

YES has not stated whether it will keep Justice as an analyst next year. How they treat the situation, and how KHTK Radio in Sacramento handles the broadcast career of F.P. Santangelo, may determine how other outlets who have hired ex-players named in the Report deal with the analysts and the allegations made against them.

* * * * *

In other Yankee News, Buster Olney writes that the Yankees might be coming around to the Joba Chamberlain bullpen theory I've advocated in this space for several months.

Alex Belth has the full excerpt below.

Finally … Alex Rodriguez's "60 Minutes" interview was illuminating, particularly the description of the depth of his rift with Scott Boras, and his admission that opting out of the contract was a mistake. But even though he came across as sincere, I had to laugh when A-Rod called the opt-out scenario and the subsequent series of events "a bad nightmare." As opposed to the good kind?

Here's to hoping you all have a safe holiday free of bad nightmares, PEDs and long legal documents.

Bullpen for Starters
2007-12-21 10:14
by Alex Belth

From Buster Olney's column today over at

Heard this: If all goes well in spring training for the Yankees, Joba Chamberlain is likely to start next season in the Yankees' bullpen, as part of the team's effort to limit his innings. Chamberlain will go to spring training and, at the outset, prepare to pitch out of the rotation, along with five other rotation candidates: Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Mike Mussina and Ian Kennedy. Assuming that none of the other five has a physical or performance breakdown, Chamberlain would then open 2008 in the bullpen, as a set-up man, for at least the start of the season -- under the Joba Rules.

The Yankees want to restrict the number of innings Chamberlain throws, and working him out of the bullpen for at least a couple of months will allow them to do that. Chamberlain may return to the rotation sometime in the middle of the season, depending on the Yankees' needs.

I can't imagine the thought of Chamberlain pitching out of the pen next season will sit well with many of you. Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say?

Card Corner--Mr. Mustache
2007-12-21 05:45
by Bruce Markusen

There’s a myth about Reggie Jackson that most of the controversy and conflict in his career took place during his five seasons with the Yankees. That’s really not the case. While his battles of ego with Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner garnered the most media attention of his career, Jackson was just as controversial during his days in Oakland. He butted heads with manager Dick Williams and most of his coaching staff. He once fought Billy North, a onetime friend who had become a mortal enemy by 1974. Jackson frequently sparred with A’s owner/general manager Charlie Finley, who could make Boss Steinbrenner look like Charles Ingalls by comparison. One of Jackson’s controversial episodes bordered on silliness, but it was just the kind of occurrence that made life with Finley’s A’s so entertaining.

In 1972, Jackson, reported to Oakland’s spring training camp in Arizona replete with a fully-grown mustache (as seen in his 1972 Topps card, No. 435), the origins of which had begun to sprout during the 1971 American League Championship Series. To the surprise of his teammates, Jackson had used part of his off-season to allow the mustache to reach a fuller bloom. In addition, Jackson bragged to teammates that he would not only wear the mustache, but possibly a beard, come Opening Day.

Such pronouncements would have hardly created a ripple in today’s game. Players freely make bold fashion statements with mustaches and goatees, and routinely wear previously disdained accessories like earrings. It’s really no big deal in 2007. But this was 1972, still a conservative time within the sport, in stark contrast to the rebellious attitudes of younger generations throughout the country. Given that no major league player had been documented wearing a mustache in the regular season since Wally Schang of the Philadelphia A’s in 1914, Jackson’s pronouncements made major news in 1972.

In the post-Schang era, several players had donned mustaches during spring training, including Stanley "Frenchy" Bordagaray of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid-1930s and, more recently, Richie Allen of the St. Louis Cardinals and Clete Boyer of the Atlanta Braves in the first two years of the seventies. (Allen’s 1971 Topps card shows the mustache in clear view, but it’s believed that the Dodger Stadium photograph was taken just before the start of the season.) Yet, in each case, the player had shaved off the mustache by Opening Day, either by his own volition or because of a mandate from the team. After all, there existed an unwritten rule within the conservative sport, one that strongly frowned upon facial hair. In addition, several individual teams had more recently instituted their own formal policies (most notably the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s), policies that forbade their players from sporting facial hair.

Baseball’s conservative grooming standards, which had been in place for over 50 years, were now being threatened by one of the game’s most visible players. Not surprisingly, Jackson’s mustachioed look quickly cornered the attention of Charlie Finley and Dick Williams. "The story as I remember it," says former A’s first baseman Mike Hegan, "was that Reggie came into spring training… with a mustache, and Charlie didn’t like it. So he told Dick to tell Reggie to shave it off. And Dick told Reggie to shave it off, and Reggie told Dick what to do. This got to be a real sticking point, and so I guess Charlie and Dick had a meeting, and they said well, ‘Reggie’s an individual so maybe we can try some reverse psychology here.’ Charlie told a couple of other guys, I don’t know whether it was [Dave] Duncan, or Sal [Bando], or a few other guys to start growing a mustache. Then, [Finley figured that if] a couple of other guys did it, Reggie would shave his off, and you know, everything would be OK."

According to A’s captain Sal Bando, Finley wanted to avoid having a direct confrontation with Jackson over the mustache. For one of the few times in his tenure as A’s owner, Finley showed a preference for a subtle, more indirect approach. "Finley, to my knowledge," says Bando, "did not want to go tell Reggie to shave it. So he thought it would be better to have all of us grow mustaches. That way, Reggie wouldn’t be an ‘individual’ [anymore]." Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Darold Knowles, and Bob Locker followed Reggie’s lead, each sprouting his own mustache. Instead of making Jackson feel less individualistic, thus prompting him to adopt his previously clean-shaven look, the strategy had a reverse and unexpected effect on Finley.

"Well, as it turned out, guys started growing ‘em, and Charlie began to like it," says Hegan in recalling the origins of baseball’s "Mustache Gang." Finley offered a cash incentive to any player who had successfully grown a mustache by Father’s Day. "So then we all had to grow mustaches," says Hegan, "and that’s how all that started. By the time we got to the [regular] season, almost everybody had mustaches." Even Dick Williams, known for his military brush-cut and clean-shaven look during his managerial tenure in Boston, would join the facial brigade by growing a patchy, scraggly mustache of his own. Baseball’s longstanding hairless trend had officially come to an end.

And as always, Finley had found a way to profit from it.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Bruce Markusen, who writes Cooperstown Confidential for, is the author of the upcoming book, Out of Left Field: Unusual Characters in Baseball History.

Mr. Magic
2007-12-20 05:34
by Alex Belth

Knick fans have been called the most loyal of all New York sporting fans. The fact that the Garden still draws crowds with the organization in its current state (i.e. shambles) says something about the Knick faithful. Maybe the rattle-your-jewelry crowd just needs a place to keep warm. I don't know how anyone but a complete boob or a die-hard fan could go to the Garden to watch this horrid excuse for a team. The call for Isiah Thomas' job has reached new heights in recent days (despite the fact the Knicks actually won a game last night). But I'm afraid that with Jim Dolan running the team, Thomas is only part of the problem. Still, he can't split soon enough for most of us who care even a little. The sooner we're rid of this snake-oil salesman the better.

Which brings me to another bit from an old Sport magazine that I ran across recently, circa 1976. From a cover story on Earl Monroe (the original "Magic" though he's of course better known as "Pearl") by Woody Allen:

My impressions of Monroe [when he played for Balitmore]? I immediately ranked him with Willie Mays and Sugar Ray Robinson as athletes who went beyond the level of sports as sport into the realm of sports as art. Seemingly awkward and yet breathtakingly graceful...

Then in 1971 he got traded to the Knicks...Could he play alongside Walt Frazier? Frazier was then the premier all-around guard in basketball and had set standards so high that years later when he might be off his game a fraction and could no longer single-handedly win games, the fans could not deal with it and turned on him. I found this unforgivable and it certainly says something about the myth of the New York sports fan.

Woody reluctantly went to talk to Monroe at the players' upper west side apartment. When he arrived, Woody was greeted by Pearl's girlfriend ("My God, she's packed into those jeans with an ice cream scoop.") Monroe was out running errands, so Woody and the girlfriend chatted...for a few hours. Monroe never showed up, and finally Woody excused himself.

I back out the door, dumbling and apologizing, for what, I don't know. Then, walking home this sunny, Saturday afternoon, I think to myself, how wonderful. This great athlete is so unconcerned about the usual nonsense of social protocol. Unimpressed by me, a cover interview, and all the attendant fuss and adulation that so many people strive for, he simply fails to show up. Probably off playing tennis or fooling with his new Mercedes.

Whatever he was doing, I admired him for his total unconcern...That night, Earl scored 28 points and had eight misses against Washington; the next day he tossed in 31 points against the same team.

I thought about how Sport's editors had relayed Monroe's enthusiasm about the prospect of our interview. I thought, too, that if I had missed an interview I'd be consumed with guilt. But that's me and I'm not a guy who can ask for a ball with the team down by a point, two seconds left on the clock, and, with two players hacking at my body and shiedling my vision, score from the corner. If I misse the basket and lose the game for my team, I commit suicide. For Monroe, well, he's as nonchalant about that tension-strung situation as he is about keeping appointments. That's why I'd tense up and blow clutch shots, while Monroe's seem to drop through the hoop like magic.

Boy, the Knicks sure could use some magic these days. But even Houdini would have his hands full making this bunch disappear.

Head Games
2007-12-19 05:42
by Alex Belth

Baseball has barely had an off-day since the end of the World Serious this year. Even before the release of The Mitchell Report last week, the Hot Stove League has kept us all busier than normal. Especially us Yankee fans. Ever feel as if the constant media coverage--including the daily posts here at Bronx Banter--is just overwhelming? Sometimes, it's just crosstown traffic, a lot of noise to me, and I'm as much a junkie, insatiable for breaking news, as the rest of you. In light of all this activity, my annual posting of the following Roger Angell quote, may seem old fashioned or wistful for a quieter time. I'm not generally one for nostalgia, but so be it. I'm a willfully stick my head in the sand for a minute and give my winter fantasies some room to roam:

"There is a game of baseball that is not to be found in the schedules or the record books. It has no season, but it is best played in the winter, without the distraction of box scores and standings. This is the inner game, baseball in the mind, and there is no real fan who does not know it. It is a game of recollections, recapturings, and visions. Yet this is only the beginning, for baseball in the mind in not a mere yearning and returning. In time, this easy envisioning of restored players, winning hits, and famous rallies gives way to reconsiderations and reflections about the sport itself. By thinking about baseball like this, by playing it over and yet keeping it to ourselves, keeping it warm in a cold season, we begin to make discoveries. With luck, we may even penetrate some of its mysteries and learn once again how richly and variously the game can reward us."

Roger Angell, from "Baseball in the Mind"

Chew on that. We'll be back shortly with more buzz.

The Rich Get...More Expensive
2007-12-18 09:58
by Alex Belth

It will be more expensive to go to Yankee Stadium next year. This is a drag, but not much of a surprise. The Red Sox already raised their ticket prices by 9% for 2008, while the Mets will hike their prices by close to 20%. Gasp, Yipe, and all of that good stuff.

Sandman Speaks
2007-12-18 05:47
by Alex Belth

Mariano Rivera, who likes his pockets fat not flat, spoke to reporters yesterday after the Yankees made his new 3-year, $45 million deal official. Naturally, he was asked about Andy Pettitte and the Mitchell Report. According to Mark Feinsand in the Daily News:

Rivera thinks that players fingered by the report would be better off admitting their mistakes and moving forward.

"I will not lose respect for my teammates or whoever did it," Rivera said. "I don't know the reasons why they did it - or if they did it. I just saw Andy come out and say that he did it, and if you did it, the best thing to do is bring it out and start new. Put an end to this thing."

..."I'm not trying to tell people to do that; I'm just a friend, and I respect their decision," Rivera said. "If they want to come out, they'll do it. If they don't want to come out, they won't do it. I think it's the best thing, to put an end to this thing and move on. It's a new year, hang up everything and start new."

In another minor story, the Yankees signed Met-killer Nick Green to a minor-league contract. He will join Chris Woodward in fighting for a spot come spring training.

2007-12-17 05:54
by Alex Belth

It's brick in New York today. The Mets and the Yankees are looking into the possibility of picking up Mark Prior reports Anthony McCarron. Johan Santana is still a Twin. Otherwise, there ain't much popping round these parts. Alex Rodriguez was on 60 Minutes last night (zzzzz). But here are a couple of Prospect Listings, ranking the Yankee's young guns, to keep you chattering: one, from John Sickels, and another from J.P. Schwartz.

Destination Nerdville. Population: Me
2007-12-16 17:03
by Alex Belth

So last weekend my wife was away, and do you know what I did with my wild and nerdy ass self? Went down the the public library on 42nd street and checked out old issues of Sport magazine and Inside Sports on microfilm. (I'm nuts, what can I say.) Sport was an amazing publication in the fifties and sixties, and even in parts of the seventies, but by the eighties, it was a shell of its former self. The roster of writing talent at Sport during it's heyday is remarkable: Arnold Hano, Ed Linn, W.C. Heinz, Ray Robinson, Roger Kahn, Frank Graham Jr, Dave Anderson, Myron Cope, Al Hirshberg, Jim Brosnan, Dick Schaap, Jimmy Breslin, George Vecsey, Pat Jordan, Vic Ziegel, and Jerry Izenberg to name just a few. (All of the Sport compilations are out of print, but Bob Ryan edited a solid collection just a few years back that is well-worth picking up.) I'm not exactly sure when Inside Sports started. It was either at the tail-end of the seventies or the start of the eighties. Tom Boswell was their baseball guy for a long time, and they were very good, at least through the first half of the eighties. I found a lengthy and very entertaining profile on Nolan Ryan by Tony Kornheiser (yes, he had chops), and an excellent piece on Pistol Pete Maravich during Larry Bird's rookie year with the Celtics by David Halberstam.

Anyhow, here a few random nuggets on a favorite Yankee, Willie Randolph, that I came across. First, from a profile in Sport, Octover 1976, "Hey, Say, Willie Can Play...Willie Randolph, That Is," by Kevin McAuliffe:

Randolph is one of the American League's top rookies of 1976, but unlike Detroit's Big Bird, who thrives on attention, Randolph avoids it. He has never believed in stardom, for others—"As a kid, I never said, 'Oh, there goes so and so,' and tired to get his autograph"—or for himself. "I'm not what you call a starry-eyed fella," he says.

Then, from Inside Sports, August 31, 1980, "Willie Randolph: The Making of a an Advance Man," by George Vecsey.

"It's an old cliché, but it's true. A walk is as good as a hit," Randolph said earlier this season, sitting in front of his locker in Yankee Stadium, a huge portable radio-cassette player—his "box"—propped on the rug. The cassesttes are mostly Isley Brothers, Roberta Flack and "a lot of jazz."

Says Willie: "I knew I'd walk a lot. I know the manager appreciates it when you take a 3-1 pitch, when you get on'd have to swing at anything close on 3-1 when you're batting eighth," Randolph says. "When you're batting leadoff, you take the walk. That's how I do it."

…"Willie knows the most important thing is to get on base," [Reggie] Jackson said. "He has learned to steal when it counts. He doesn't wait until there are two strikes. He goes down early, so the hitter has a chance to bat…The only two things he has never done are hit .300 and win a Gold Glove. That's it. Willie is a winter. He's not a laugh-and-joke guy, which I like, because I'm not either. He's a good family man, too. I'll tell you what: If Willie does hit .300, you won't notice the difference. He'll do it the same way he hits .270."

Willie from Brooklyn. He was a good one.

My Bad
2007-12-15 17:05
by Alex Belth

Andy Pettitte released a statement today apologizing for using HGH on two occasions in 2002 to recover from an injury.

Card Corner--Ken Berry
2007-12-14 11:18
by Bruce Markusen

With so much of the recent baseball conversation delving into the solemn and sober issues of steroid use and how the game should react to the problem, I thought it would be nice to throw a lighthearted change-of-pace. Along those lines, this week’s Card Corner presents something a little bit different.


Yes, I admit it. I used to think that former California Angels outfielder Ken Berry (Topps 1972, No. 379)was the same Ken Berry who starred in the 1960s television series, "F-Troop." After all, the actor who portrayed Captain Wilton Parmenter, the shy and not-so-fearless leader of Fort Courage, seemed young enough to be a ballplayer. The show also aired during the fall and winter months, resulting in little conflict with the baseball season, which ran for most of the spring and summer. (As a seven-year-old in 1972, I had no idea that TV series started filming during the summer months, which would have made it difficult for Berry the baseball player to honor his major league schedule with the Angels. To make matters worse, I didn’t realize that "F-Troop" had aired live from 1965 to 1967, and was simply being featured in reruns by 1972. So in theory, Berry the ballplayer would have been filming "F-Troop" in the mid-1960s while still with the Chicago White Sox. All of these revelations are rather embarrassing.)

Captain Parmenter would have made a good outfielder, just like baseball’s version of Ken Berry. (Baseball’s Berry won two Gold Gloves for his defensive play in center field and earned selection to the 1967 All-Star Game. Back in the day, he was referred to as an excellent flychaser.) As the overmatched commander of "F-Troop," Parmenter looked lean and fit, and appeared to have enough speed to play center field. Some of the other characters on "F-Troop" also fit the stereotypes of ballplayers. Sergeant Morgan O’Rourke, played so smoothly by veteran actor Forrest Tucker, would have made a strapping, left-handed hitting first baseman. Corporal Randolph Agarn, as played by the mawkish Larry Storch, would have fit right in as a goofy, wisecracking utility infielder. And then there was Hannibal Dobbs, portrayed by character actor James Hampton of The Longest Yard fame, who would have seemed just right as a slightly daffy relief pitcher.

With or without baseball, "F-Troop" was a solidly good, funny show that was sometimes hilarious. It never would have flown in today’s world of politically correct speech (the portrayal of the Native Americans on the show is considered offensive by many critics). In some ways, it was a latter day "Little Rascals" (another riotous program that is never shown anymore because of over sensitivity and political correctness), but it was still funny, with likeable and sympathetic characters. It just would have been that much better if the Ken Berry who played center field so skillfully for the Angels, White Sox, Cleveland Indians, and Milwaukee Brewers had been the same guy who so cleverly played Captain Parmenter on TV.

Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for and is the author of the upcoming book, Out of Left Field: Unusual Characters in Baseball History.

Hung Over
2007-12-14 05:45
by Alex Belth

Jose Canseco's best bud, Alex Rodriguez spoke to reporters just hours before the Mitchell Report was released yesterday. Tyler Kepner has the details.

I haven't read the Mitchell Report so I can't offer any kind of educated analysis. In reading through the New York papers this morning, I haven't found many really good takes on it either, though Tim Marchman's column is good. Howard Bryant and John Helyar offer solid work at ESPN.

For Your Viewing Pleasure
2007-12-13 11:03
by Alex Belth
Done...but no Details
2007-12-13 08:18
by Alex Belth

It's official. The Yankees announced this morning that they have signed Alex Rodriguez to a ten year contract. No specifics are available at this time. Word of the deal was first heard hours after the Barry Bonds fiasco went down, and now this, just hours before the release of the Mitchell Report. Man, the Yanks do move in mysterious ways sometimes. Then again, perhaps they anticipate having to deal with some unpleasentness later and want to have something encouraging to lean on.

It's now snowing in earnest in New York City. The leaks are starting to leak...Bombs to be dropped shortly.


Pete Abe has audio from Alex Rodiguez.

Another Update:

I have seen a list of the names from the Mitchell report from three different people (it's the same one that is listed in the comments section below). It could be complete baloney. We shall shortly see. But it's close to the one that Will Leitch just posted at Deadspin.

Again, an Update:

Over at, Jon Heyman reports that Clemens, Pettitte, Mike Stanton, Chuck Knoblauch, Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts are named in the Mitchell Report. Also, heard from a reliable source that Albert Pujols is not in the report.

Snow Job?
2007-12-13 05:45
by Alex Belth

But first...

There is a possibility that Andy Pettitte could pitch for the Yankees in 2009. According to Anthony McCarron in the Daily News:

"That was another reason why it was an extremely, extremely tough decision for me to make," Pettitte said on a conference call yesterday, his one-year, $16 million deal with the Yankees finalized. "I realize the new park is coming in. I felt like if I made a decision to play this year, it could draw me back for another year.

"It's definitely in the back of my head. I can say if we get through this year physically fine and my wife and kids thought it would be fine and if the Yankees wanted me back, I can't say I'd rule it out that I wouldn't come back and play one more year in the new park."

Moreover, as Pete Abraham reported on his blog yesterday, Pettitte weighed in on the Johan Santana hub-bub:

"There's been a lot of speculation that we need a true power arm, an ace," Pettitte said. "I disagree with that. I think Wang is an absolute stud and he is an ace. I understand he struggled in the postseason this year. That's going to happen. I've struggled like he has and the next year pitched extremely well in the postseason. I'm so high on Wang.

"If you add one of those guys (Santana or Haren), great. They have great arms and are unbelievable pitchers. But to say we need it, that's hard for me to say. I think we have the talent to contend. Obviously, Boston is extremely tough, they've shown themselves to be the team to beat. They're champs and there are other teams, too. But I think we've got the talent to win another championship."

Elsewhere, with the Giants annoucning an Aaron Rowand deal yesterday, it doesn't look as if Godziller Matsui is going least, yet.

What's the Haps?

Like it or not, today will go down as a memorable one in with the Mitchell Report set to be released. Mitchell will give a press conference at 2 p.m. Bud Selig will have one a few hours later, and Don Fehr will hold his own even later still. Some people feel that this mess will rank with the Black Sox scandal. Others, including many sportswriters, are exhausted with the topic, and don't particularly care. I don't think this is as catastrophic as a strike, in terms of the public support of the game. I don't think it will keep heads from going to the ballpark next year, do you?

But I wonder how many fans are waiting on pins and needles for 2 pm? And are people interested simply because it's December and there isn't much else to going on? I know that the press can't contain themselves--it's been remarkable that there have been no names leaked to this point. I have to admit I'm eager to hear who is named, but it's in the same guilty-pleasure way that I'd be eager to look at an accident or a clip of Brittany Spears drunk coming out of a club on You Tube. In office buildings across the country, people will gather to hear the news, just like they did with the OJ verdict years ago.

It's not to say that I'll feel satisfied that justice was done when the names are released. There will be lots of questions to be answered about how the report was conducted, if it's legit, or if it is just a dog-and-pony show.

With the first snow storm of the year due to begin later this morning in New York, one thing is for sure: There will certainly be plenty of hot air to keep us all warm for the next couple of days.

Yankee Panky #35: What's Next?
2007-12-12 05:55
by Will Weiss

Christmas is approaching, and the Yankees have yet to buy fans their big offseason present. Because they haven’t cannonballed into the deep end and splashed everyone at the pool party, media types are circling like starving wolverines, bandying theories about why the Yankees will or won’t be successful in 2008.

The Detroit Tigers were the news, with their acquisition of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Thanks to Steve Phillips and fellow Ithaca College alum Karl Ravech, I know the AL pennant will return to Motown in ‘08. Do the Tigers have a great lineup and a solid top three starting rotation? Sure. Does any of that guarantee even a wild-card? Ask the Pittsburgh Steelers how their guarantee worked out last week.

The Tigers included a top-flight prospect in Andrew Miller to get Cabrera and Willis. They were willing to mortgage some of their future to get two bona fide All-Stars. The Yankees weren’t willing to do the same, and they’re left Sans-tana. Depending on what you read and who you believe, the Yankees’ firm stance of conservatism is the correct approach. Newsday's Wally Matthews goes so far as to say it’s making them likeable. Do Yankee fans want the team to be likeable outside the bounds of New York and Boston?  

Maybe the key to that is Joba Chamberlain, ESPN Magazine’s newest cover boy and the winner of’s fan poll of the young star will have the greatest impact on the 2008 sporting landscape. With triple-digit power on his fast ball and a slider that dances like a wiffleball in a 20 mile-per-hour gust, it’s not a stretch. Maybe people just like his name. Look at all the fun we had with it in this space when he burst onto the scene in August.

I still maintain the young Cornhusker could make a bigger impact by remaining a devastating set-up man for Rivera and eventually inheriting that role. But the LaTroy Hawkins signing all but assures the Joba Plan involves pitching every fourth day. That is, unless Brian Cashman does a 180 on his public support of Kyle Farnsworth and deals the reliever. This is the same man who was 100 percent positive Bubba Crosby was the Yankees’ 2006 starting center fielder, until he signed Johnny Damon for that job six weeks before spring training.

* * *

Elsewhere, the Winter Meetings coverage was bland. I’ll admit, I lost interest myself when the Yankees announced they were withdrawing their entry in the Santana Sweepstakes.

The lefty’s situation is reminiscent of Alex Rodriguez’s four years ago, between the posturing, the interested teams involved, and the hype surrounding his next destination. Would anyone else be shocked if the Yankees, after months of lying in the weeds, landed him in a blockbuster deal right before Spring Training, as they did with A-Rod?

Until that happens, the faux deadlines of Hank Steinbrenner and “doors are still open for Santana” stories will dominate coverage. And since it wouldn't be a Yankees offseason without trade rumors, stories like the ones that surfaced regarding Hideki Matsui will continue. It's the cycle of the Yankees Hot Stove, which right now, is on low heat.

Next week … Mitchell Report fallout, and a friendly game of Where In the World Is Johan Santana?

And the Winner is...Doh!
2007-12-11 05:38
by Alex Belth

George King has a story today about Hideki Matsui. Still no clear word on whether the Yanks will trade him or if he'll waive his no-trade clause. Murray Chass has a piece on Bobby Meacham, a player who is memorable for all the wrong reasons for Yankee fans.

Not much else going on in the world of the Yankees at this moment, so allow me to digress. I just finished a story for Variety on how genre movies have fared in the Best Picture department over the years (not well). Here's something to chew on--what are the best movies that were nominated for Best Picture but did not win? Here's my list of the Top Twenty. Oh, and I'm a sucker, I didn't have stones to make a Top Ten...Also, you can choose a movie even if you think it wasn't the best movie of that particular year. For instance, I have "Chinatown" on my list even though I wouldn't have given it the top prize over "The Godfather II."

The Front Page
Grand Illusion
The Thin Man
The Maltese Falcon
Citizen Kane
Great Expectations
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Sunset Blvd
12 Angry Men
Bonnie and Clyde
The Last Picture Show
Dog Day Afternoon
Taxi Driver
The Right Stuff
Dangerous Liasons

Honorable Mention: Raging Bull, The Philadelphia Story, E.T., Hope and Glory, Breaking Away, Prizzi's Honor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

And hey, while we are at it, how about the Top Ten Worst Movies to Win Best Picture? (There are so many, I know...)

The Greatest Show on Earth
Mrs. Miniver
The Sound of Music
Chariots of Fire
Ordinary People
Million Dollar Baby
Dances with Wolves
Forrest Gump

Whatta ya got?

I Put a Spell on You
2007-12-10 06:27
by Alex Belth

I could hear the groans across the tri-state and beyond when I read this.

Sunday Tidbits
2007-12-09 08:00
by Alex Belth

The New York Post says that Carl Pavano will accept an assingment to the minors, and that Dan Haren is on the Yankees' radar. In the News, Anthony McCarron, has the latest on Godzilla Matsui. Oh, and Steve Lombardi has the scoop on the latest Yankee gear.

By the way, it was no surprise that Marvin Miller was not elected to the Hall of Fame last week. But it was pathetic. And it's been nice to read all of the support Miller has received ever since the snub was announced.

Observations From Cooperstown--A Mixed Bag
2007-12-07 05:23
by Bruce Markusen

The lifeless winter meetings came to an end, the Veterans Committee weighed in, and the city of Cincinnati lost an icon. Here’s a view on those three topics from cold and snowy Cooperstown.

Now that the pursuits of Johan Santana and Dan Haren seem to have concluded, it’s time for the Yankees to concentrate their efforts on other postseason goals. (By the way, the winter meetings have become such a dud that baseball needs to bring back a trading deadline for the final day of the meetings; that way, someone will feel compelled to make a deal.) Principally, the Yankees need to fortify their bullpen, bolster their right-handed hitting, and possibly consider acquiring an innings-eating veteran for the back of the rotation.

Toward that first goal, I love the Yankees’ acquisition of Jonathan "Don’t Call Me Jessica" Albaladejo from the Nationals. In picking up Albaladejo for Tyler Clippard, who needs another pitch to succeed at the major league level, Brian Cashman pulled off a veritable steal. Albaladejo pitched lights out for the Nats during the final month of the season, overpowering hitters with a mid-90s fastball and surprisingly good control. There’s only one question about Albaladejo—his weight. Listed at 250 pounds (and he might weigh closer to 260), he needs to keep himself from enrolling in the Wilbur Wood Reform School for Eating. In the short term, Albaladejo could become the new Charlie Kerfeld. Let’s just hope he can avoid the boxes of Jell-0 and the arm problems that short-circuited Kerfeld’s career.

While they have a full cache of eligible right-handed relievers, the Yankees are badly lacking in bullpen southpaws. Ron Villone won’t be re-signed, Sean Henn is not the answer, and Kei Igawa looks like a long man at best. The Yankees have approached the Pirates about Damaso Marte (their first choice) or John Grabow (the backup plan). I could see the Yankees giving up a B-level prospect for the soon-to-be-33-year-old Marte, who struck out 51 batters in 45 innings last season. Last season, there was talk of the Yankees sending Kevin Thompson to the Pirates for Marte, but Thompson is now on the Pirates’ roster as a backup outfielder. So how about Chase Wright or Jeff Marquez for the veteran lefty?

In terms of right-handed hitting, I’ve heard very little talk about the Yankees pursuing another veteran bat. That would be a mistake, given how feeble the Yankees looked against quality left-handers last year. Even with Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada back in the fold, the Yankees could use a strong right-handed platoon player. Shelley Duncan might be the answer, but he struggled toward the tail end of 2007. Then there’s Mark Loretta, but he’s only valuable in terms of on-base percentage, with no power whatsoever. How about Kevin Millar, who hit 17 home runs and drew 76 walks? If he’s willing to accept a role as a platoon first baseman-DH and emergency outfielder, he might be a suitable alternative.

Finally, there’s the issue of starting pitching. With Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy in the projected rotation, the Yankees can’t expect any of the young right-handers to log 200 innings. If you subtract one of the "Big Three" and replace him with Mike Mussina, you’re basically dealing with a six-inning pitcher. Here’s where a durable veteran could come in handy. On the free agent front, there’s Jon "Big Daddy" Lieber, who happens to be a close friend of Joe Girardi. And on the trade block, there’s talk of the Giants’ Noah Lowry (along with Jonathan Sanchez) coming over as part of a deal for Hideki Matsui. Though not a workhorse, Lowry has averaged 173 innings over the last three seasons. He’s also a left-hander, always a nice commodity at Yankee Stadium…

The Hall of Fame is taking a major public relations hit in the aftermath of Monday’s news that the Veterans Committee had elected Bowie Kuhn but somehow had bypassed Marvin Miller yet again. Like him or not (and I haven’t always cared for Miller’s arrogant personality), Miller registered a huge impact on baseball’s financial landscape throughout the 1970s and early eighties. Without Miller, arbitration and free agency would not have come into play as quickly as they did, and perhaps not at all. Today’s game is financially healthy, probably better than ever—and Miller deserves some indirect credit for that, too. Hall of Famer? How can you have a Hall of Fame without a pioneer of Miller’s stature? There’s no question that Miller should be chosen. But with only two former players on the committee (Monte Irvin and Harmon Killebrew), Miller’s fate was sealed before a formal vote even took place.

As for Kuhn, I have to confess that I liked him on a personal level. Having talked to him informally on several occasions and having interviewed him as part of a live program at the Hall of Fame, Kuhn struck me as personable, thoughtful, and well intended. It’s also an exaggeration to call him the worst Hall of Fame selection of all-time, not when you have players like Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk and executives like Morgan Bulkeley and Tom Yawkey occupying places in Cooperstown. (Perhaps the election of Kuhn at the same time that Miller was rejected serves to underscore the situation, making the anti-Kuhn lobby that much more incensed.) Still, Kuhn suffered too many losses at the hands of Miller and mishandled too many other situations, such as his effort to censor Jim Bouton’s Ball Four and his failure to attend Hank Aaron’s record-breaking home run. In light of those shortcomings, I would not have voted for Kuhn.

In contrast, the other four selections by the two separate Veterans Committees were on the money. Barney Dreyfuss oversaw a number of successful Pirates teams in the early 1900s while also playing a large role in implementing the first World Series. Walter O’Malley, though still reviled in the borough of Brooklyn, was arguably the game’s most influential owner from the late 1950s through the late 1970s. Managers Billy Southworth and Dick Williams were both criminally underrated, Williams because of his prickly personality and Southworth because most of his success came during the World War II era. Each man won four pennants and two World Championships; given their overall winning percentages, those are Hall of Fame markers.

So with four out of five correct, along with two bad omissions in Miller and Doug Harvey, the Veterans Committee did some passable work, certainly an improvement over the blank ballots of recent years. The Hall of Fame now needs to balance the composition of the Veterans Committee, which is too heavily slanted toward management and against the union. Ultimately, the committee charged with the directive of electing executives should feature a balance between retired players, former or current executives, and members of the media. Four apiece from each category would be ideal. That way, Miller would have a fighting chance…

I met Joe Nuxhall, who died last month at the age of 79, just one time. It happened several years ago in spring training, which I used to attend as part of my duties at the Hall of Fame. On a sunny March morning, I sat down to interview Nuxhall and Marty Brennaman at the Reds’ spring site in Sarasota. Both men could not have been nicer, absolute gentlemen, both on and off camera. I talked with Brennaman about his love of the defunct ABA (American Basketball Association) and with Nuxhall about baseball in general. Based on our short conversation, I learned at least a little bit why Nuxhall was so beloved in Cincinnati.

Nationally, Nuxhall was best known for being the youngest major leaguer of the 20th century, pitching in a game in 1944 at the age of 15. Yet, there was much more to his story. We tend to forget that after Nuxhall struggled so badly in his wartime debut, he returned to high school and then continued a long baseball apprenticeship in the minor leagues before making it back to the Reds, seven years after his debut, in 1951. Nuxhall would last 16 seasons in the major leagues, establishing himself as a very good left-handed pitcher in the mid-1950s. A two-time All-Star, Nuxhall led the National League in shutouts in 1955. Except for brief stints with the Kansas City A’s and Los Angeles Angels, Nuxhall remained with Cincinnati through the 1966 season, when he retired with 135 wins and over 1,300 strikeouts. The following spring, he returned to the Reds as a broadcaster, continuing what would become a 63-year association with the franchise.

Given such longevity, along with his easy-going personality and generous nature, it’s not hard to see why Nuxhall became one of the city’s most cherished icons.


Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for He can be reached via e-mail at

Fo Fizzle Santizzle
2007-12-05 05:41
by Alex Belth

So it doesn't look like the Yankees are going to trade for Johan Santana after all. According to reports, the Red Sox are in "serious" talks with the Twins. It sure would be uncomfortable for us Yankee fans if Santana goes to Boston. I still think the Yanks should make a deal if they can, but it's hard to complain too much if they don't, because I'm also interested in seeing how Hughes pans out.

I have to say that I love the Marlins-Tigers deal at least for aethetic reasons. The Tigers home uniforms are easily top five in the game, and arguably, the coolest uniforms, period. I think it's nifty that Cabrera, the best right-handed hitter not named Pujols, Ramirez, or Rodriguez, will be playing for a good team with a great uniform. And how about the D-Train in Motown? Dontrelle with that royal "D" on his chest? That should be fun. And they are playing for Jim Leyland? What's not to like if you are a Tigers fan? Of course, the deal makes the American League that much tougher than it already is. Jeez, think about it--Granderson, Polanco, Magglio, Cabrera, Sheff, and Guillen. That's ill.

Yanks Trade Pitching Prospect, Add Lefty, Santana.
2007-12-03 22:28
by Cliff Corcoran

What? No! Not that. Sorry.

Lefty = Andy Pettitte.

Santana = Nationals' righty reliever Jonathan Santana Albaladejo.

Pitching Prospect = Tyler Clippard, who went to D.C. for Albaladejo.

Now that we've cleared that up, for all I know there could be some other news by the time you're reading this but as of 2:30am EST, when I'm writing it, the big news is that the Yankees have added the first piece to their bullpen by trading faded pitching prospect Clippard to the Nationals for Albaladejo.

It's a solid trade. The Yankees have a full rotation worth of pitching prospects who both ranked ahead of Clippard and had passed or were about to pass him on the organizational ladder, including Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Allan Horne, and Jeffrey Marquez, not to mention 27-year-old Chien-Ming Wang, who's a back-to-back 19-game winner. With Horne and Marquez due to start the 2008 season in Triple-A and the other three ticketed for the major league rotation, there's simply no room for a B-grade starting pitching prospect such as Clippard in the upper levels of the organization.

That wasn't the case a year ago, as Clippard was considered the runner-up to Phil Hughes in the Yankees' pitching-prospect hierarchy. He fell behind in part because of the outstanding performances of Chamberlain, Kennedy, Horne, and Marquez, but also because of his own failings in 2007. Called up amid the flurry of debuting rookie starters the Yanks were forced to employ in the first half of the year, Clippard struggled in five of his six major league starts, and returned the minors without the pinpoint control that had fueled his prospect status to begin with. Clippard was actually bounced all the way down to Double-A and posted a 5.40 ERA there. Though he's still just 22, that took a considerable amount of shine off his status.

Further reducing Clippard's value to the team was the fact that his lack of a dominant out-pitch (he survives on a 90-mph fastball, some slop, and that ability to deceive hitters and locate his pitches) makes him a poor candidate for conversion to high-leverage relief. Thus, the Yankees flipped him for someone already excelling in that role, Nationals reliever Jonathan Albaladejo, who shot from Double-A to the majors last year, posting a 1.41 ERA in 38 1/3 innings between Triple-A Columbus and the majors.

A tall, 25-year-old, Puerto Rican righty, Albaladejo was drafted by the Pirates in 2001 and began his professional career as a starting pitcher in the Pittsburgh organization. He was converted to relief in 2005, finally cracked Double-A in 2006 (a season in which the presence of 3 games at Rookie league suggest an injury rehab, though I've been unable to find evidence of the actual injury), then signed with the Nationals as a six-year minor league free agent and promptly pitched his way not only to the majors, but to the New York Yankees.

Albaladejo throws in the mid-90s and appears to have tremendous control, having walked just 1.73 men per nine innings in his minor league career and just two men in his 14 1/3 major league frames. His strike out rate isn't quite as impressive, but in combination with the walks it yields a 4.27 K/BB over more than 500 minor league innings, which is remarkable. Albaladejo has also allowed less than a hit an inning in his pro career and doesn't seem to have much of an issue with home runs either (though he was somewhat protected by RFK Stadium last year).

Continue reading...

Yankee Panky #34: The Winter Schmoozings
2007-12-03 08:15
by Will Weiss

Representatives from all 30 teams are gathering in Nashville for this year’s Winter Meetings, and with a weak free agent class, there’s sure to be plenty of trade discussion.


Previewing storylines is always fun as the meetings get under way. The Yankees’ pursuit of Johan Santana will not only dominate the local coverage, it will be the hot-button issue from the mouths of Karl Ravech, Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Tim Kurkjian, Ken Rosenthal, Jayson Stark and anyone else who claims to be an expert. The difficulty, as always, will be separating truth from rumor, as access to numerous sources provides an exponential increase for baseball gossip mongers.


I saw this first-hand when I covered the 2003 Meetings in New Orleans, a year when no Yankee representatives attended the extravaganza. (Had I had advance knowledge of this, I wouldn’t have gone. On the day I arrived, there was still talk that at least Brian Cashman would come, but he never did. It was like a journalistic version of “Waiting for Godot.”) The day before the meetings started, Andy Pettitte held his Houston Astros press conference and immediately rumors swirled regarding Roger Clemens’ fate. He came to New Orleans for an event, and reporters fled the Marriott to chase him down and initiate an impromptu press conference, but didn’t make his move until long after the meetings concluded.


How do the meetings work?


Reporters from thousands of outlets set up camp in the large conference/ballrooms at the designated hotel location. Team reps hole themselves up in their rooms and arrange meetings, phone calls, etc., away from the snoops. Reporters, if/when they stay in the conference room, are working the phones trying to get angles into what’s happening on the floors above. A lot of events happen on the fly. Cash might say to a reporter that he’s willing to talk to reporters at 3 p.m. He’ll tell one reporter and it’ll filter down to everyone else, and there will be an informal gathering at the designated time to briefly discuss what did or didn’t happen in his Johan Santana talks with the Twins.


The bulk of the action occurs in the lobby. That’s where you can scope the area and if you’re quick, catch a quick one-on-one interview and perhaps scrounge up some information that no one else has, and get it posted first. Many team reps will try to hide themselves within the throng of reporters, interns and prospective job applicants to discuss team business amid the chaos.


A fair amount of reporters interview each other, too. In some cases, writers from other markets are the “sources familiar with the situation.”   


One of the coolest and most educational elements of the Meetings is the manager conferences. Reporters get to speak with all 30 managers on an individual basis at times designated by MLB. Without having access to a Yankee rep, interviews with Bobby Cox and Jim Tracy enabled me to craft stories on Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown and Paul Quantrill, who were entering their first seasons in New York.


The Meetings are also a key spot for college grads looking for jobs in baseball. Many will have interviews already set up before arriving, but those who don’t hang in the lobby and work the room.


More than anything, the Winter Meetings are a social gathering mixed with a business element. Four years ago, two major free agent signings were announced -- Miguel Tejada to the Orioles and Keith Foulke to the Red Sox – the Yankees issued a press release finalizing the Kevin Brown acquisition for Jeff Weaver, Brandon Weeden and Yhency Brazoban, and it was an opportunity for new managers like Lee Mazzilli to introduce themselves to the writers in a different setting. Those announcements seemed to be a break in the three-day schmoozefest.


Perhaps this week, the Yankees will engineer a blockbuster trade that will make the schmoozing worthwhile.


What's Left?
2007-12-03 05:57
by Alex Belth

According to the Houston Chronicle, Andy Pettitte will return to the Yankees next year:

Andy Pettitte, who contemplated retirement this winter, has told his good friends, a few former Astros teammates and some current Yankees teammates that he will return to the Bronx for the 2008 season.

Through people close to Pettitte, the Chronicle has learned that the veteran lefthander has told family members and teammates that he has decided to return to the Yankees in 2008.

...That wait is over, and the Yankees have been informed of the decision by Pettitte's agent, Randy Hendricks.

When reached by telephone this morning, Hendricks, who was in route to Nashville for the start of baseball's winter meetings today, confirmed that he has advised the Yankees that Pettitte will play for them in 2008.

Whoa. If this is true, it's a very good thing. As for Johan Santana, it's been a busy weekend of rumors. First, the Yankees officially included Phil Hughes in an offer, then the Red Sox countered. Now, Hank Steinbrenner wants to get something done quickly (re: today), otherwise, the Yankees are prepared to move on.

"This is not a bluff; it's just reality," the senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said in a telephone interview Sunday night. "It's a fact. The Yankees will not be used to jack up the price on people — whether by agents or other teams — ever again. That's over."

..."I don't want to continue this dog-and-pony show, playing us against the Red Sox," Steinbrenner said. "I'm not going to participate in that. This is our best offer. Minnesota knows it's our best offer. Everybody knows it is.

"We need to get this done. If we don't, I certainly won't be upset about keeping Hughes and Cabrera. I definitely won't. I don't think Minnesota wants to be stuck negotiating with just one team."
(Kepner, N.Y. Times)

First day of the Winter Meetings. Be sure and hit up Pete Abe's blog for all the latest.