Monthly archives: February 2008
In their exhibition warmup for the exhibition season, the Yankees stomped the University of South Florida 11-4 in a game that wasn't even as close as that score would suggest.
L - Johnny Damon (LF)
Pitchers: Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Kei Igawa, Jeff Marquez, Alan Horne, Chase Wright
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Nick Green (2B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Austin Romine (C), Colin Curtis (RF), Austin Jackson (CF), Justin Christian (LF), Juan Miranda (DH)
Opposition: A college team using wood bats for the first time.
Big Hits: Jorge Posada went 2 for 4 with a double and a two-RBI triple. Colin Curtis went 1 for 3 with a double. Those were the only extra-base hits by the Yankees, who reached base 23 times but didn't strike out all game. Melky Cabrera was 2 for 2 with a sac fly. Bobby Abreu was 1 for 1 with two walks.
Who Pitched Well: Everyone but Igawa. The other four Yankee pitchers combined for this line: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K, the lone hit against that group was a base hit up the middle off Kennedy. Marquez got all three of his outs on groundballs. Horne got his three on two grounders and a K. Kennedy got three outs on the ground, two by K, and just one in the air. Hughes struck out the first two batters he faced on a total of eight pitches. Ed Price says Hughes looked the sharpest of the Big Three.
Who Didn't: Kei Igawa's lone inning of work went: fly out, walk, wild pitch, walk, HBP, grand slam, K, K. Per Peter Abraham, pinch-hitter Eric Baumann, who hit the grand slam, had struck out in his only two previous at bats this season, "was also swinging a wood bat and missed the 2006 and 2007 seasons with a shoulder injury." Pete also points out that the walk that started the USF rally was a five-pitch walk to the ninth-place hitter in a college lineup with the Yankees leading 9-0.
Nice Plays: Colin Curtis made a sliding catch in right to end Hughes' inning of work.
Ouchies: Derek Jeter was hit near the left elbow with a pitch in the first inning, but stayed in the game and singled in his next at-bat.
More: Pete Abe's play-by-play of the first 5 1/3 innings. Anthony McCarron (sitting in for Mark Feinsand) takes the action a few batters further up to the salami of Igawa (read from bottom up). Tyler Kepner reports these other recent finals of MLB vs. College action:
Red Sox 24, Boston College 0
I'm tickled that the closest game was between the Pirates and a Community College. Nonetheless, four times as many runs were scored off Igawa in his one inning of work today than were scored by the college teams in the other 62 innings we've accounted for. Igawa should be proud. Finally, for trivia fans, Bryan Hoch has the lineup from the last game between the Yanks and USF.
Card Corner--Thurman Lee Munson
As Jorge Posada enters the beginning of what is assuredly his last major league contract, we will likely hear discussion of his ability to produce at an advanced age and various arguments concerning his candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Along the way, we will hear continued comparisons to Thurman Munson, the last great catcher the Yankees featured before Posada’s emergence. The Sabermetrically inclined have already chosen Posada, based on his power, his ability to draw walks, and his longevity. When looking at something as cut and dried as OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), there is indeed little argument that Posada has been superior to Munson.
Having seen both Munson and Posada play, I cannot say that I agree with that assessment. Of course, basing the argument on statistics like on-base percentage and slugging, I'm going to lose the debate. Yet, I do think that there a few players by which statistics don't come close to giving us a complete and accurate picture of their abilities. Munson, I believe, is one of those rare players.
Munson (as seen in this 1978 Topps card, No. 60) was not the kind of player who fared well in any OPS debate. He didn’t draw enough walks, preferring a more aggressive style at the plate, predicated on swinging early in the count and putting the ball into play. Furthermore, he was not a slugger; he was a line-drive hitter who used the outfield gaps to his advantage. He did have a little bit of power, but that was usually negated by the Death Valley dimensions of Yankee Stadium in the 1970s. By a conservative estimate, Munson probably lost three to five home runs a season because of the ridiculous lengths to the left-center and center field walls at the Stadium. Unlike Dave Winfield, Munson didn’t have much influence in bringing those fences in to a more reasonable distance.
While Munson fell short in power and patience at the plate, he bettered Posada in every other aspect of the game. (I really don’t mean this as a detraction of Posada, who has been a terrific Yankee, but more as a favorable portrayal of Munson.) Those not old enough to have seen Munson play missed out on a special day-to-day performer.
As a hitter, Munson covered both the inside and outside of the strike zone, spraying hits from corner to corner. That helped him bat .300 or better five times, on his way to a lifetime batting average of .292. With his ability to take pitches to right field, he became a master at executing the hit-and-run, as good as anyone I've watched over the last 35 years. His hit-and-run prowess hallmarked his overall excellence as a situational hitter; adept at moving runners up with either a sacrifice bunt, a ground ball to the right side, or a deep fly ball, Munson became a managerial favorite, especially to an appreciative (and demanding) Billy Martin.
Munson was also an exceptional baserunner. Though he only had slightly above-average speed, he ran the bases with a kind of aggression rarely seen in catchers, regularly going from first to third and taking the extra base against weaker arms. All in all, Munson was a very good offensive player—not great, due to his lack of home run power, but a productive and important contributor to the Yankees’ mini-dynasty of the late seventies. Heck, he won the American League MVP in 1976, buttressed by seventh-place finishes in 1975 and 1977. Yet, it was on the defensive side of the field that Munson excelled to the point of brilliance. With a catlike middle-infield quickness that belied his infamous "Squatty Body" nickname, Munson blocked pitches, fielded bunts, and chased pop-ups with a mix of ferocity and swiftness. Pitchers loved to throw to him, in part because Munson called a game effortlessly, with an uncanny ability to put himself in synch with his pitcher’s preferences. Munson adapted well to each pitcher; in conversations on the mound and in the dugout, he treated some pitchers with a firm hand, others with a dose of humor, and still others with a more fatherly, sensitive approach. Given the ease with which he adjusted to each pitcher’s personality, it’s not surprising that he became the Yankees’ captain—their first since Lou Gehrig.
And then there was his throwing, which was a spectacle in and of itself. Due to a shoulder injury, Munson adopted a slinging sidearm style that no coach would ever teach a young catcher. By throwing from the side (and sometimes even lower), Munson managed a quicker release of the ball. Although wholly unorthodox, Munson’s sidearm slings became deadly accurate, as he tailed his throws just to the right of the second base bag.
By now, it’s become plainly obvious that I’ve used very few statistics in my praise of Munson. Let's get to those. There was the high batting average, the three straight 100-RBI seasons from 1975 to ’77, the lusty .357 batting mark in six postseason series, the incredible number of games he caught during his peak years, and that’s about it. Most statistics don’t tell us much about the subtle skills—the defense, the baserunning, the situational hitting—that set Munson apart from American League catchers who weren’t named Carlton Fisk. If you saw Munson play, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you didn’t see him play, perhaps now you’ll have a little better understanding as to just how valuable Munson was to the Yankees of his era. In the next "Card Corner," I’ll discuss what it was like to attend the Yankees’ first game after Munson’s death.
Bruce Markusen, the author of Cooperstown Confidential for MLB.com, has written seven books on baseball. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All in the Family
Jonathan Mahler, author of The Bronx is Burning, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, has a long profile on the Steinbrenner clan in the latest issue of Play. It is a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the changes that have taken place in the Yankee organization over the past calendar year. Mahler paints Hank and Hal Steinbrenner as we've come to know them--good cop, bad cop. It is interesting that Hank rebelled against his father and yet often sounds a lot like The Boss. Witness this bit at the end of the piece:
"Red Sox Nation?" Hank says. "What a bunch of [expletive] that is. That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans. Go anywhere in America and you won't see Red Sox hats and jackets, you'll see Yankee hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We're going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order."
I agree with part of Hank Steinbrenner's statement. I think Red Sox Nation is a pompous, self-aggrandizing term (though I'm guilty of using the phrase in this space numerous times over the years), one that has been pumped up by the Red Sox organization, many of their fans, as well as ESPN and other media outlets. But I'm not so sure that you don't see Red Sox hats all over the country these days. The bandwagon is in full-effect (as is a Sox bashlash). What the Red Sox are not--and correct me if I'm wrong--is an international team. You'll probably find more Yankee hats worldwide than that of any other sporting team. That doesn't mean that there are so many actual Yankee fans out there, just that the Yankee hat is a symbol of New York and New York is an international city in a way that Boston is not.
Regardless, the quote from Hank made me think: What's the over/under on how many cringe-worthy statements Hank Dog will make this year? I say it'll be under a dozen, but there will be some doosies in there. Either way, I don't entirely dislike Hank's bluster because it is a reminder of his old man (man, I never thought I'd say that!).
Parsing Joe Girardi's Lineup
The Yankees play their first full-squad game under Joe Girardi today in an exhibition against the University of South Florida. Among other things, this gives us our first glimpse of a Joe Girardi-penned Yankee lineup. Here's how it looks:
L - Johnny Damon (LF)
No real surprises there. In fact, one of the few things that can be gleaned from that lineup is that Girardi is indeed serious about giving Jason Giambi a shot to claim the first base job, thus opening DH up for Hideki Matsui full time. Notice that Matsui is absent from the above as he's still rehabbing his knee. Once Matsui joins the action on or around March 9 (per the Star-Ledger's Ed Price), Girardi, who clearly prefers to alternate his righties and lefties throughout the order, will be forced to hit two lefties back-to-back.
The good news is that, other than Bobby Abreu, who is firmly ensconced between the two best right-handed hitters on the team, none of the Yankee lefties really struggle all that much against their own kind. Cano was largely neutralized by lefties in 2006, but last year he hit them better than righties (.328/.374/.490 v. L; .296/.344/.487 v. R). Damon hit lefties better than righties in 2006. Matsui absolutely crushed lefties back in 2005, doing most of his damage against them, and while Jason Giambi's production does drop against lefties, he's been so productive over the course of his career that he still has a career .855 OPS against portsiders.
In fact, if there's one player on the team other than Abreu who might need to be kept away from lefties it's Melky Cabrera, who has hit 13 of his 15 career home runs and all 10 of his major league triples against right-handed pitching (including one homer hit righty off a righty). Then again, if the idea is for Melky to make or break, forcing him to hit lefties might be a necessary part of the process.
Thus it may not matter how Girardi works Matsui into the lineup. Last year, Joe Torre hit him fifth with Giambi and Cano hitting seventh and eighth respectively. I'd like to see Cano hit higher in the order, possibly even serving as Alex Rodriguez's protection, with Posada, Matsui, and Giambi to follow. If Girardi is willing to give up the ghost on alternating his lefties (though I generally approve of that strategy), a Posada-Cano-Matsui-Giambi order, despite it placing three consecutive lefties in front of Cabrera, might also be compelling.
Still, the lesson here is not to expect anything radical from Joe Girardi's lineup construction. The top four seem set in stone and, honestly, until Cano proves himself worth of hitting third over the course of a full season, there's no real reason to tinker with that structure. The Yankee offense is so potent and well-balanced that putting the hitters in order is an almost fool-proof exercise. The real trick is not how to order them, but how and when to rest them and whom to play in their stead on those occasions, and Girardi's facility with that won't become evident until the regular season is well underway.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the Yanks fair against USF today. According to Peter Abraham, the Red Sox swept a double-header against Boston College and Northeastern yesterday by a combined score of 39-0, drawing 27 walks in the process. It's no wonder Tino told his old USF buddies to throw strikes today. Still, the Yankee starters will only play four or five innings and Kei Igawa is scheduled to pitch in the fifth, so I expect USF to fair a bit better than their Massachusetts counterparts.
"I learned to write during the war. The material was so rich you had great opportunity. The trick was to under-write.
Two wonderful writers died yesterday, W.C. Heinz, 93, and Myron Cope, 79. Both had been sick for some time. Heinz, whose reputation as a pioneer of creative non-fiction has been championed over the past decade, may have been the more accomplished writer of the two, but Cope, who is most famous as the radio voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was a terrific takeout writer in his time (1950s and 60s) as well.
How big a deal was Heinz? The late David Halberstam was one of his greatest supporters. In the introduction to The Best American Sports Writing, 1991, Halberstam wrote:
"When I think of the early influences on me and many of my contemporaries, I think of men like [Red] Smith, [Jimmy] Cannon and [W.C.] Heinz. They were the writers who we as young boys turned to every day, and they were the ones experimenting with form . . . When I think of the pioneers of New Journalism, I think first of the trinity of my early heroes: Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon and Bill Heinz."
The Yankees got their first game action of the spring yesterday afternoon with a seven-inning intrasquad game. Pete Abraham posted the lineups, and play-by-play of the first 3 1/2 innings, as did Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. Hoch also posted the final tallies and pitching lines (compare them to Abraham's accounting here).
It's interesting to note that Girardi distributed the regulars between the two teams, whereas Joe Torre used to put them all on one squad (see last year's lineups). Girardi had four of the Yankees' expected regulars in each lineup. Hideki Matsui didn't play, likely because he's still rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee. Matsui also missed the 2006 intrasquad game due to his aching knee (which may be one of most insignificant facts I've ever cited on this blog).
Looking over those pitching lines, Sean Henn and Billy Traber, the top two contenders for the lefty spot in the pen, both had rough outings, with Henn having some obvious control problems. Mike Mussina threw 77 percent of his 30 pitches for strikes, but didn't get the results he wanted. At least he has the excuse of having faced the starters, allowing hits to Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Morgan Ensberg. The fourth hit off Moose came when a would-be double-play ball from Jose Tabata took a wild bounce over the shortstop's head. That drove in Mussina's only earned run. He also allowed an unearned run in the first after an error by Brett Gardner in center field (overrunning Cano's single) allowed Jeter to go to third and subsequently score on an out.
Moose wasn't the only pitcher to pitch in bad luck as there were seven errors in the game (in addition to Gardner, the offending fielders were Justin Christian, Chris Woodward, Cody Ransom, Nick Green, Eduardo Nuñez, and Marcos Vechionacci, all but one of them playing for the "Gator" team). At the plate, Ensberg had the big day, picking up the only extra base hit of the contest (a double off Mark Melancon) and scoring three of the "Goose" team's six runs.
In the third inning, righty reliever Scott Patterson was hit in the foot by a comebacker which ricocheted to shortstop for an inning-ending double play. Patterson walked gingerly off the field and has a contusion on his right ankle. In other aches-and-pains news, fellow righty reliever Scott Strickland has been shut down for a few days due to a swelling near his pitching elbow. I don't expect either hurler to factor into the bullpen competition even if healthy.
The Yanks have a light workout today and will play an exhibition against the University of South Florida tomorrow before starting their official spring schedule against the Phillies on Saturday. The Yankees trio of young starters (Chamberlain, Kennedy and Hughes) are all scheduled to pitch tomorrow. The USF team is coached by Tino Martinez's brother-in-law, and Tino was a volunteer assistant coach for them last year. Tino's a special instructor for the Yanks this spring and, per the Daily News' Mark Feinsand, offered the USF staff some advice on how to be good hosts to the Yankees.
The Yankees rotation starting Saturday will be Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and Phil Hughes, with Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain pitching in tandem out of the five-spot. Tyler Kepner believes this is how the rotation will look to start the season, barring injury and pending a decision on the fifth spot, of course.
In this week's Voice, the always provocative Allen Barra weighs in on Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens (but mostly, Andy Pettitte):
Why hasn't Andy Pettitte heard from MLB, and why hasn't there been talk of a suspension? In his deposition to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Pettitte admitted that his father injected him with HGH in 2004. (And surely the most bizarre single piece of evidence to emerge during the entire hearing process is that Pettitte's dad stuck a needle in his son's ass.) In admitting this, Pettitte was in effect also admitting that he had lied to the Mitchell Commissionand thus to Major League Baseballabout the extent of his drug use.
Allen's a living, breathing, barroom argument waiting to happen. What do you make of his latest take?
Spring is the Air
It happens every year, just like the groundhog looking for his shadow, but it doesn't always happen on the same date. Sometimes it comes and then goes away again for days or weeks. I look forward to it because I know it will always surprise me. One morning, usually in late February or early March, I'll walk out of my apartment building and there it is, even in the heart of New York City--vague, ellusive, a mere hint, but it is there all the same: the smell of spring. I can't exactly describe this smell, but mostly, it is the smell of dirt, of fresh soil, which brings with it the promise of the buds and flowers and all that good stuff coming back to life. I love the spring, it is my favorite season of the year. It means that green is coming back in our grey lives, it means the bountiful produce of summer is coming, it means that women shed their overcoats and we can see some flesh again (legs, legs, New York women have the best legs, and man, do they know how to use them).
But more than anything this smell means one vital thing: baseball.
I caught a hint of the smell this morning, a relatively mild, overcast day in Manhattan. I was half-asleep. Was I still dreaming? Maybe it was the rain from last night. Whatever, it makes the baseball season seem that much closer. For a wonderful look at the boys of spring, check out this picture gallery at the New York Times' website. It features 16, evocative, very strong line-drawings by Robert Weaver, who kept a sketchbook for Sports Illustrated during a 1962 spring training visit.
Tyler Kepner has a piece on Phil Hughes' blog today in the Times (I'm quoted in the story). Hughes started the blog last month and has been posting every couple of days, sometimes a number of times in a single day. One of the keys to good blogging is to keep things short and sweet and to update often. Hughes is off to a promising start. I'm curious to see how he maintains the site as the season rolls along. I'm sure if he keeps it up, his readership will continue to grow, no matter how he perfoms on the field.
I think the trend of athletes' blogging is an interesting one. Fans have more access to information than ever before, yet emotionally, we often feel more detached from professional athletes than ever before too. Blogs provide an immediacy (the illusion of intimacy) that is hard to find, and certainly one that you are not likely to see in post-game interviews on TV. I believe it's a way for jocks like Hughes to feel connected to his fans in a way that is safe, controlled.
Funny, this isn't quite like Jim Brosnan or Jim Bouton exposing the secrets of the boys club. This is inviting us into the boys club. Sort of. It's a PG version of the ballplayer's life. It's not the down and dirty stuff. Then again, Hughes wouldn't be able to get away with exposing the secrets of the locker room, and I doubt that any active ballplayer would dare to be too candid in a blog, certainly not the way Bouton was in Ball Four. Now, when that happens, then we'll really have something to talk about, right?
Oh, by the way, last week, EJ Fagan, over at Pending Pinstripes posted a very useful reference guide to the Yankees' best prospects. Check it out when you can.
Yankee Panky # 43: Feature Presentations
It’s that time of the year where baseball starts to lead the back pages because there’s nothing else worth noting in New York, thanks to the area’s winter sports teams hovering between anonymity (Devils), mediocrity (Rangers and Islanders), or suckdom (Knicks and Nets). So with snow on the ground, it’s the media’s function to get fans even more excited about the baseball season, which is now five weeks away.
For every article praising Alex Rodriguez's talent, there are another three that give the impression that the press is out to tear him down. Rodriguez exaggerated last week about how many drug tests he was administered during the 2007 season, which hurts his credibility. Today, the big news, at least in the Post (I consider this story interesting, but not lead-worthy), is the note that A-Rod’s mental toughness could slip without Larry Bowa and Mike Borzello in the clubhouse to kick his butt. Is he that co-dependent? Is that a story that could have waited until mid-April or May, if he got off to a slow start and the writers then clamored for reasons why? What do you think?
Kudos to Derek Jeter for taking a stand on HGH testing and saying that blood tests, despite it having to be collectively bargained, is the best and preferred way for the league to operate its drug testing platform. Jeter’s position differs from many of his teammates, according to Mark Feinsand of the Daily News. It’ll be interesting to see how the philosophical differences play out as this story progresses, because as we all know, it’s not going away.
The Stuff of Legend
We won't know until years from now, but I wonder how history will treat the sluggers of the past twenty years? Or, how home run hitters from the 60s-80s will look in comparison? Which players will be forgotten? Who will be re-discovered? I got to mulling this over recently after reading Laughing on the Outside, John Schulian's wonderful piece on Josh Gibson (SI, June, 2000):
We know just enough about Josh Gibson to now forget him. It's a perverse kind of progress, a strange step up from the days when the mention of his name drew blank looks. He has been a Hall of Fame catcher since 1972, so that's a start. And you can always remind people that he got the Ken Burns treatment and public television, or that he was a character in an HBO movie, or that he inspired Negro leagues memorabilia harding back to his old ball club, the Homestead Grays. Any of it will do to jog memories. Josh Gibson, sure. Hit all those home runs, didn't he? Then he's gone once more,gone as soon as he's remembered.
Gibson died at 35, of "booze and dope and busted dreams," just a few months before Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby entered the major leagues:
Whatever pain he died with lives on in the Negro leaguers who played with him, against him, and maybe even for him if they were fortunate enough to walk where he never could. "I almost hate to talk about Josh," says Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who jumped from the Negro Leagues to the New York Giants in 1949. "It makes me sad, for one thing, on account of he didn't get to play in the major leagues. Then, when you tell people how great he was, they think you're exaggerating."
If you could go back in time, what player(s) would you most want to see? Gibson is up there for me, Satch too, as well as Pete Reiser, Dick Allen, Walter Johnson, Stan Musial and Yogi Berra (to name just a few).
Joba Chamberlain's rookie debut in pinstripes was as exciting as any we've seen in recent years. Last week, Pete Abraham said Chamberlain came into camp looking, if not exactly svelte, then certainly fit. Joe Lapointe has a piece on Joba today in the Times, with this nice lede:
Joba Chamberlain recently tried to involve his fellow pitcher Mike Mussina in some postpractice recreation in the Yankees' clubhouse.
I think this could be a fun year, I really do.
Passed a Diving Jeter
It's the story that won't go away: Derek Jeter's fielding. Jeter's glove work has been a topic of conversation for the better part of five years now. He is getting older so we can reasonably assume that his fielding will continue to slip. This is no great crime, of course. Unless, the guy playing next to you is, or at least, was, better suited to the position The main bone of contention has been that while some have viewed Jeter as a great defensive player, others, looking at the numbers, say, "You have got to be kidding me."
In today's paper, Joel Sherman gets tot he heart of the matter:
This is not just one set of Ivy League academics calling Jeter the majors' worst fielding shortstop. Just about every respected baseball statistician who has publicized results reveals Jeter is, at best, among the poorest defensive shortstops in the game.
I understand why Jeter did not move from shortstop to second or third when Alex Rodriguez arrived in New York. It is Jeter's will and his ego that made him into a great player. I don't even blame him for not wanting to move. However, it would have clearly been the best move for the team, so I take Jeter's reputation as the ultimate team player with a grain of salt. Jeter's fielding is an old story around these parts, but it is one that likely won't go away until the time comes when he finally moves to another position.
Observations From Cooperstown--The Trifecta
As I impatiently wait for some sign of spring, I’m thinking about a former Yankee broadcaster, a front office man, and the need for feedback. So let’s try to address all three topics in the latest musings from the home of baseball…
Earlier this week, the Hall of Fame announced the winner of its Ford C. Frick Award, which is given annually to an outstanding baseball broadcaster. Once again, the Frick committee bypassed the man who should have been an obvious selection years ago. He’s someone that most Yankee fans are familiar with, either from his days as a player or for his more recent work for the MSG Network. While I’m not old enough to have seen Tony Kubek play, I can safely so that no one among the broadcasting set has helped me learn as much as he did.
Other than highlights and clips featured on ESPN, I’ve heard very little of the broadcasting done by this year’s Frick winner, Dave Niehaus. I know that he’s extremely popular with Mariners fans, an absolute institution in the Great Northwest. Based on most media reports I’ve read, he’s also very deserving of the award. But I just don’t see how he should receive this award before Kubek, at least based on their resumes.
Niehaus has worked almost exclusively as a play-by-play announcer. Kubek has done extensive amounts of both play-by-play and color commentary. Niehaus has worked only as a local broadcaster, first for the Angels and then for the Mariners, beginning with their birth in 1977. Kubek has worked as both a local broadcaster, for the Yankees and Blue Jays, and at the network level as the lead analyst for NBC. Niehaus has never announced a World Series or an All-Star Game. Kubek has broadcast a slew of World Series games and All-Star games throughout a career that dates back to the mid-1960s. Niehaus is best known for the catch phrase, "My, oh my." Kubek is best known for being analytical and thought provoking during his broadcasts. Again, I don’t mean to demean Niehaus. He deserves this award—just not ahead of Kubek.
As a broadcaster, Kubek has filled almost every role, beginning with those live interviews he used to conduct in the stands during World Series broadcasts. Articulate enough to describe game action and insightful enough to analyze what we were seeing, few ex-athletes or professional broadcasters have been able to match Kubek’s versatile skills in the booth. All the while, Kubek established one of the best-known work ethics in the announcing game, exhaustively researching player backgrounds and tendencies prior to each game or series and always venturing into the clubhouse to find an elusive insider angle.
Perhaps the best thing I can say about Kubek is this: I learned something new about baseball almost every game that I heard him work, whether it was the importance of the bench and the bullpen or a coherent definition of a secondary lead. As much as Tony was a broadcaster of the game, he was also a teacher, and that wasn’t easy with students like myself who thought they knew everything about the National Pastime.
For many fans who read about baseball on the Internet, Bill James was their guru. For me, it was Tony Kubek.
A baseball genius died on Tuesday; sadly, few people seemed to take notice.
When Bob Howsam joined the front office of the Cincinnati Reds in 1967, the franchise was mired in non-contention. In fact, the Reds had won nothing tangible since 1961, the year of their last pennant, and no world championships dating back to 1940. By the time that Howsam stepped down as the Reds’ chief executive and team president in 1978, the team had won six division titles, four pennants, and two world championships within the span of a dozen seasons. As the primary architect of the "Big Red Machine," Howsam made the Reds relevant for the better part of the 1970s.
Howsam resuscitated the Reds’ franchise by using a two-tiered approach. He simultaneously rebuilt Cincinnati’s farm system while also executing a series of shrewd trades, some of the blockbuster variety and some that failed to create a ripple at the time. The restocking of the farm system laid the foundation for Reds success; the trades provided finishing touches to what would become a mini-dynasty.
Unsuccessful in his two-year stint as the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals (though he did pull off the steal that brought Orlando Cepeda to town), Howsam completely reversed the course of his career in Cincinnati. Under his leadership, the Reds drafted and developed young pitchers like Don Gullett, Gary Nolan, and Wayne Simpson, who all became major contributors to the 1970 National League championship team. Howsam then oversaw the draft selections of Dave Concepcion and Ken Griffey, Sr., who became important supplements to the Big Red Machine of the mid-seventies. With Gullett, Concepcion and Griffey all playing vital roles, the Reds advanced to the World Series in 1972, 1975, and 1976, winning world titles the latter two seasons.
Yet, it was at the trading table where Howsam displayed the height of his brilliance. In 1971, he pulled off two deals that sealed Cincinnati’s fortunes as a future world champion. The first one came in May, producing few headlines with its announcement. Knowing that Concepcion would fill the shortstop role for years to come, Howsam peddled light-hitting infielder Frank Duffy and an obscure minor league pitcher named Vern Geishert to the San Francisco Giants for spare outfielder George Foster. (Frank Duffy for George Foster? That became a running joke throughout the 1970s.) Facing a logjam of outfielders in San Francisco, Foster would eventually become the Reds’ everyday left fielder, one of the league’s top right-handed power sources, and the 1977 National League MVP.
Then came Howsam’s master stroke during the 1971 winter meetings. With his lineup leaning too heavily to the right and the Reds’ defense shaky in spots, Howsam dealt Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Jimmy Stewart to the Houston Astros for Joe Morgan, Denis Menke, Cesar Geronimo, Ed Armbrister, and Jack Billingham. In one fell swoop, Howsam improved the Reds defensively at three infield positions (with the new configuration moving Tony Perez from third base to first base), found a new center fielder in Gold Glover Geronimo, and bolstered the starting rotation with Billingham. Most critically, Howsam obtained one of the greatest players of the seventies in Morgan, who would win two MVP awards while adding speed, range, on-base percentage, and a left-handed bat to the Cincinnati equation. That trade, engineered by Howsam, remains one of the most significant in major league history.
Bob Howsam died on Tuesday at the age of 89, a victim of heart failure. Since he was overshadowed by so many great components of the Big Red Machine—a machine that he helped construct—very few people outside of Cincinnati paid much attention to his passing. Hopefully that will change one day, when Howsam takes his deserving place in the plaque gallery at Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
It’s been just about one year since I started writing these columns for Baseball Toaster. Given that time frame, it’s overdue for me to solicit some feedback from our regular readers. Of the features that we do regularly—"Card Corner," "Pastime Passings," "Observations from Cooperstown," "Rumor Mills"—what do you like to read the most? What could you do without? Are there any additional features that you’d like to see done here? Would you like to hear more about Cooperstown and the inner workings of the Hall of Fame? Do you prefer the content that is directly related to the Yankees, or do you want material that represents a change of pace from the usual conversation?
Feel free to post feedback here, or to send me an e-mail at email@example.com. And, as always, thanks for reading and taking the time to provide us with input.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com. He, his wife Sue, and their daughter Madeline live in Cooperstown, just a short drive from the Hall of Fame.
Wrapping Up Week One
Spring training is officially one week old, but since I posted my look at the 69 players the Yankees have in camp this year, the sum total of our commentary on the goings on in Tampa has been Alex's post of Andy Pettitte's opening statement from his press conference on Monday. Why? Two reasons: 1) there's been no news, and 2) Peter Abraham has it covered.
The back-page stories thus far have been Andy Pettitte's late arrival due to his stopover in Washington, DC to give a deposition about the contents of the Mitchell Report, and Alex Rodriguez sticking his foot in his mouth regarding how often he was drug tested last year. Both stories are dead. Pettitte reported on Monday, four day's late with the team's permission, and is already on a normal pace. Rodriguez just misspoke, and I think the media and fans are finally getting used to the fact that he has a tendency to say the wrong thing and learning to ignore it when he does.
Otherwise it's the usual business. Joe Girardi's focus early on appears to be on conditioning and fundamentals. On the first day of camp, he told his pitchers, "Take care of your bodies. You can't make the team today, or tomorrow, or the next day, so take it slow and make sure you get your arm strength before you start trying to impress people." According to Pete, Girardi has been more active on the field than Torre, going from spot to spot to observe his players up close, but has been relatively hands-off thus far, letting his coaches coach while taking extensive notes.
The one big change in camp this year appears to be an increase in running, with Girardi having the players working on stamina where Torre used to have them do more sprinting. Both Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have joked to the media about their dislike for the increased running. Alex Rodriguez, a workout junkie, kinda likes it. Pete Abe wisely points out that the running has less to do with Girardi than new strength and conditioning coach Dana Cavalea, who replaced Marty Miller after the rash of hamstring injuries the Yankees suffered early last year (apparently because they weren't doing enough running).
Speaking of workouts, as per the usual spring training script, most of the news in week one was about who has come to camp in great shape, though Abraham attributes some of that to Girardi's having explicitly told his players to do so. The Yankee list includes Johnny Damon, who came into camp last year a bit heavy and has something to prove after a season in which he was slowed by a variety of injuries and terrible in the first half, Bobby Abreu, who also has something to prove after his terrible start to last season and is in the walk year of his contract, Jason Giambi, who was injured and unproductive last year and is likely in his walk year as well as the Yanks are sure to buyout his option at year's end, Derek Jeter, who may finally be accepting the fact that things won't come quite as easy to him as age starts to catch up to him, and Joba Chamberlain, who seems to have put the conditioning concerns that allowed him to slip to the Yanks in the 2006 draft behind him.
In addition to those guys arriving in great shape, Pete Abe said that Mike Mussina, another veteran in his walk year with something to prove after a poor 2007, and Phil Hughes, who lost a lot of time to injury last year, have arrived with a "sense of purpose." I'm not sure what that really means, but Abraham did follow up by reporting on strong bullpen outings from both of them. Hughes and Chamberlain have also been seen working out with Andy Pettitte doing a reduced version of the Roger Clemens workout which, for all of the wisecracks that can be made given the Mitchell Report fallout, is no joke. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com has more encouraging news on Hughes.
The exception to all of this appears to be Kei Igawa. According to Abraham, the player nicknamed "Quest" because of his affinity for running (or was it his affinity for video games?), is "the only Yankee who looks like he spent the winter on the couch . . . He's so behind in running drills it's like he's carrying his translator." No comment.
The reporters have developed the habit of asking Girardi at the end of each day if everyone is healthy. Thus far the only issue has been some back spasms suffered by center field prospect Austin Jackson, though they didn't seem to be of any particular concern. Abraham reported that Kyle Farsworth survived a staph infection in his leg in January and that Hideki Matsui, despite reports that his surgically repaired knee was bothering him, is moving smoothy during drills and showing no ill-effects.
Giardi has said that Chamberlain and Igawa will both be in the competition for the rotation, that he hopes to get Johnny Damon 600 at-bats as the team's primary left fielder, and suggested that Bobby Abreu will remain in his customary number-three spot in the lineup. Legends Field has been renamed after George Steinbrenner, an appropriate and deserved honor. Morgan Ensberg is wearing number 21, ending the unofficial retirement of Paul O'Neill's former number.
And that's about it. Pete's blog is essential reading for some of his great slice-of-life observances, which lend color to a fairly mundane part of the season. Among the highlights thus far have been notes on the clubhouse attendants' disrespect for Carl Pavano, Sean Henn needling Andrew Brackman about his the college basketball career, Mike Mussina's interior decorating, the wild fielding drills Toñy Pena puts his catchers through, Kevin Long filling Larry Bowa's shoes as a friend to Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano, or Tino Martinez, who is in camp as an instructor for the first time, learning how to hit fungoes. Also, check out this shot of Derek Jeter messing up Andy Pettitte's official photo.
In the meantime, no news is good news.
Ol' Man Winter am Still Here
It's snowing, really snowing, here in New York this morning. Here are a couple of few things to get you going:
"I think Girardi will do great," the former Yankee told The Post yesterday at Tigertown. "I'm not saying that he's better than Joe (Torre), he's just different. He's an X and O guy, that is something I've stressed and I believe. When a guy is smart about the game, you can never trick him, you can never fool him. He's always prepared and he puts his players in the right spot. It's up to you to succeed. You either do or you don't.
"I think Jeter is going to have an MVP season, that's my prediction for the year," Rodriguez said. "And I think Bobby is going to have a monster year."
Over at BP, Joe Sheehan believes that Damon in left, Matsui at DH, and Giambo at first is the way to go:
Once you start with the premise that Cabrera has to be the everyday center fielder, the rest of the dominoes fall naturally. Left unsaid, of course, is that Damon, Matsui, and Giambi are all signed to contracts that are unmovable, and there's no stomach for releasing any of them. In fairness, none of the deals are excruciating; the Damon deal has predictably looked worse two years in than it did on the day it was signed. The two years left on Matsui's contract are a tough callhis production, from a DH, isn't special, and he's not as durable as he was three years ago.
There are a lot of questions about the Yanks this year--the offense, while still potent, is a year older, the defense isn't strong, and who knows about the starting pitching (I, for one, think that Andy Pettitte is going to have a rough go of it). Still, I'm really excited to watch this team, aren't you?
Blogging (It's Not Just for Kids Anymore)
Even the pros do it, and do it well. Witness Buster Olney's blog or Rob Neyer's joint over at ESPN. Or, more recently Joe Posnanski, who has taken to the medium like a fish to water. We can add SI.com's Jake Luft to the mix now that he's got his own site, Luft on Deck. Stop by and check out today's post on Hank Steinbrenner (and props to Jake for including George Carlin in the piece).
In brief...check out this CNBC link of Joe Torre talking about George Steinbrenner (the full interview airs Monday at 9p/12a ET on CNBC).
Joel Sherman can't help it. He still likes Andy Pettitte. Also, the Post has put up a sizable excerpt from Sherman's informative book, Birth of a Dynasty. It's the chapter on Pettitte. If you haven't read Sherman's book, check the excerpt out.
Finally, over at YES, Steven Goldman has a non-baseball related interview up with the musician Dan Zanes.
The Write Stuff
Over at Yankees for Justice, Todd Drew writes about going to see Jimmy Breslin speak at the Barnes and Noble on 66th street, across the street from Lincoln Center, and just a few blocks north from where bar-restaurants like The Ginger Man and Saloon and O'Neal's Ballon used to stand (bars where guys like Breslin, and my father, drank):
"Would you be a newspaperman if you were just starting out today?" I ask.
The business has certainly changed. And it is still changing. Here is Frank Deford, who along with Dan Jenkins was the most celebrated of the old Sports Illustrated writers, in an on-line interview:
Given the flux in the whole journalism industry, I'd be presumptuous to advise any young student quite what to do. It's too fluid right now. All I could safely say is that if you have talent, you will succeed, but in what venue I have no idea. You got to be quick on your feet now and be instinctive in choosing the right journalistic path for you. And then it will probably require a switch somewhere down the road.
Nothing stays the same--the nature of business, art, the city. But that shouldn't stop us from appreciating the great tradition of newspaper and magazine writing. The Star-Ledger has a wonderful, eight-part tribute to Jerry Izenberg's 55 years in the business. Video clips are included along with Izenberg's memory pieces. In the second installment, he talks about his mentor, Stanley Woodward, the famed sports editor for the New York Herald Tribune. (Woodward wrote a wonderful memoir, Paper Tiger, introduced by John Schulian. Roger Kahn devotes an entire chapter to Woodward in his recent memoir, Into My Own.)
Also, in case you missed it when it ran late last summer, here is Mark Kram's poignant memoir piece about his father, also Mark Kram. The elder Kram was a gifted but troubled star writer for SI in the sixtes and seventies--his piece on the "Thrilla in Manilla" is widely anthologized:
What I remember now is his back, the way it dampened with an enlarging oval of perspiration as he sat with his big shoulders crouched over the typewriter. Steeped in piles of newspapers and assorted coffee cups corroded with tobacco ash, he labored amid a drifting cloud of pipe smoke in Room 2072 wrapping up a piece on the National Marbles Tournament, which would later be included in The Norton Reader. I remember him chasing away a young woman that day who'd come early for his copy. Even at 17 I had to laugh, because he used every second allotted to him by a deadline, be it an hour or weeks. He'd get up, jam his pipe into his pocket, and pace, up this corridor, down the other, light his pipe and end up back at his office, where his typewriter remained with the same piece of paper in it on which 12 words had been written. His editor Pat Ryan refers to this as "stall walking" what jittery thoroughbreds do to calm down but eventually that sweat and tobacco paid off in prose that was like slipping into a velvet boxing robe.
Speaking of the old days, Bob Ryan edited The Best of Sport a few years ago, a good introduction to guys like Arnold Hano, Myron Cope and Ed Linn.
If you like that sort of thing...
Be Like Mike
I knew Santino was going to have to go through all this . . . but I never wanted this for you. I work my whole life, I don't apologize, to take care of my family, and I refused to be a fool dancing on the strings held by all of those big shots. That's my life, I don't apologize for that, but I always thought that, when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings.
In his introduction to the first major interview conducted with Hal Steinbrenner in roughly 20 years, GQ staff writer Nate Penn positions the younger Hal as the Michael Corleone to older brother Hank's Sonny:
During their first, busy off-season, Hank, 50, emerged as a sort of Sonny Corleone figure, impetuous and impudent, throwing down gauntlets left and right. . . . His outspokennesson subjects ranging from A-Rod to Joe Torre to a possible trade for ace Johan Santanaled many to assume he was running the team, but behind the scenes the chain of command was a work in progress. "They indicated that now Hank is the baseball person," a baffled Scott Boras tells me during the first, ill-fated round of A-Rod negotiations, "yet they had me talk with Hal." . . . Throughout, Hal, 38, remained, like Michael Corleone, in the shadowssubtle, wary of media, a private family man.
The interview is a must-read throughout. In the key sections, Hal explains his vision for how decisions will be made by the team moving forward:
I'm going to sound like a military-school guy, but I'm a big believer in chain of command. Under George, I think a lot of people felt like George was going to make the decision, no matter what, and they just didn't make many decisions. The direction that we're moving toward is more along the lines of how I think an efficient corporation should run. It doesn't mean I'm right, but that's my take. I don't want to have to be here twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, analyzing every single piece of information that comes across the desk and feeling like I need to make decisions that other people are perfectly capable of making.
That sort of measured, analytical approach which trusts the expertise of the people hired to make decisions rather than second-guesses or haphazardly overrides them is good news for Yankee fans, as is Hal's attitude toward the team's home grown pitchers. Continuing from above:
It's well publicized in New York that [Hanks and I] didn't agree on that deal. My concerns were economical and financial, and I'm not gonna get into those, but I also had baseball concerns. I didn't want to get rid of these kids! Boy, the last time we had three young pitchers like Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, I couldn't even tell you. [Never -CJC]
Sounds familiar. Elsewhere, Hal confirms the perceived split between his strengths and those of his brother: "My background in grad school [Hal earned an MBA in 1994] led me to do certain things, like finance, that weren't his strong points. Hank always loved the baseball operations and knew the statistics for every player. We each had our strengths."
He also confirmed that his close involvement in the team really only dates back about 12 months, and Hank's even less: "I obviously became considerably more involved at a somewhat dramatic pace when Steve [Swindal], my sister's ex-husband, left [in February of 2007]. A couple months after that, I think Hank realized I could use some help."
Considering the fact that there are so few good baseball movies, it's inexcusable that Long Gone, a made-for-HBO baseball movie from the mid eighties (1987 to be exact, the year before Bull Durham was released) is not available on DVD. It isn't a great movie, but it is a very good one, one that offers numerous satisfactions, particularly the performances by William Peterson (Stud Cantrell), Virginia Madsen (Dixie Lee Boxx) and Durmot Mulroney (Jamie Donn Weeks), who have rarely, if ever, been as good. In a wonderful bit of casting, William Gibson and Teller play the father and son ownership team of a low-minor league team in the 1950s (these two alone make the movie worth watching.)
The script is based on the short, but lively baseball novel by the veteran journalist and Hank Williams biographer, Paul Hemphill. The screenplay isn't as sharp as the book. Subplots involving a black player posing as a Latino, and a young player knocking up a local girl, as well as the standard big-game finish, are weak points, but the movie retains the inherent charms of the book all the same. The locker-room scenes here are looser and more vulgar than the ones in Bull Durham (though they aren't as lewd as the ones in Slap Shot).
Jack Nicholson was reportedly interested in playing Stud Cantrell for years. It's too bad he didn't make the movie because it would have been great to see Nicholson play a ballplayer when he could still get away with it. (Something tells me he'd be far more belevable than DeNiro was in Bang the Drum Slowly.) That said, Peterson is more than credible, and he's got that same, over-the-hill spark that made Paul Newman so winning in Slap Shot. Moreover, the role of Cantrell was a welcome departure from the heavy roles Peterson played in To Live and Die in L.A. and Manhunter.
Unfortunately, HBO has not aired the movie in years and, again, it is not available on DVD. The only way to see it is on an old VHS tape. Perhaps one day, HBO will decide to re-run it. I don't know why they wouldn't. It's a little gem. Not the great baseball movie that we know can (and will) be made one day, but still, a very appealing one.
Andy Pettitte spoke to the media yesterday in Tampa. He was flanked by Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi. Teammates, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera sat nearby in the audience. Here is Pettitte's prepared statement:
I just wanted to say, well, I'm happy to be back here and again looking forward to giving the Yankees every ounce of energy I have this season. I want to thank the New York Yankees for giving me a few extra days with my family. I think they realize this has taken a toll on my family, and other than my relationship with God, my family is the No. 1 priority in my life.
Most of the columnists I read this morning suggest that the drama is far from over for Pettitte.
Meanwhile, Rob Neyer had a post about Posada yesterday at ESPN. He writes, in part:
Is Posada the best "old" catcher ever? No. That title clearly belongs to Fisk. Best mid-30s catcher? I don't think I'm prepared to say that; it's a great battle between him and Howard. Which is appropriate because those two have a great deal in common. Both were Yankees. Both weren't worked particularly hard in their 20s; Posada because of Joe Girardi, Howard because of Yogi Berra.
I expected Posada and Alex Rodriguez to come back down to earth some this year. But they will still likely be All-Stars (though it'll be interesting to see how the third base voting goes now with Cabrera in the league), even if their numbers understandably fall off.
The Source (Good n Plenty)
It wasn't so long ago when you really had to hunt around to find good Yankee blogs. That just isn't the case anymore. In fact, there are so many interesting Yankee-based blogs that I have tough time keeping up with them all. We don't even have a full listing of 'em all on our blog roll, but there is still more than plenty to keep you busy: Replacement Level Yankees, Yanksfan v. Soxfan, River Ave. Blues, Yankees Chick, Canyon of Heroes (welcome back, dude), Was Watching, and No Maas, just to name a few (and no disrespect meant to the other fine blogs that I didn't mention). Kat O'Brien, who did an excellent job on the beat last season, is blogging On the Yankee Beat, Jack Curry and Tyler Kepner do a nice job at Bats, and of course, there is Pete Abraham, whose tireless efforts have established The Lo-Hud Yankees Blog as the premiere one-stop shop for all the behind-the-scenes Yankees action. I don't think it is a stretch to say that Pete has raised the bar for all the professional writers who are now being asked to blog in addition to carrying out their usual assignments. This is a perfect, little example of why his site is so good--nice composition Scorsese, you done good.
Soul on Ice
I tried to represent as many different sports as possible when I put together The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan. Funny thing is, while there may be more great writing about boxing than any other sport, including baseball, no boxing stories made the cut, though Pat's done some decent ones, like this one about Amir Khan, the Great British-Pakistani-Muslim Hope:
At 10 p.m., Amir Khan walked into the arena amid the flash of cameras and TV lights and the Asian girls aiming their cellphone cameras at him. He was wearing his trademark silver trunks, but with a slight alteration: tartan trim had been sewn in. Steve Gethin stood in his corner, his blue eyes wide.
Pat did a handful of hockey pieces for Sports Illustraed in the '70s including a good one on Derek Sanderson. We included a hockey story in our collection, one of his earliest pieces for Sport magazine, about the Bruins at the old Boston Garden. Here is a good little profile Jordan did on Mike Keenan for The Sporting News in 1994, just after coach Keenan left the Rangers for St. Louis.
Italian waiters at Gian-Peppe's Restaurant in "The Hill" section of St. Louis are wearing tuxedos with frilly shirts. They hover around Keenan at his table as if he were the Mafia Don out of "A Bronx Tale."
I'm not a hockey fan and I never have been. I don't follow boxing but I liked it as a kid. Hagler, Hearns, Sugar Ray. The tail end of Ali. The Rocky movies (seeing Rocky III in the balcony of Loews 83rd street--a theater no longer with us--with the place literally shaking during the big fight at the end, was one of the more memorable movie experiences of my childhood). Larry Holmes v. Tim Witherspoon, vs. R. Tex Cobb, all the way through Iron Mike's early days.
I want to read more boxing writing at some point--there's so much good stuff out there. I'd at least like to give it a shot. It's such an appealing sport for writers because, as Len Shapiro of the Washington Post says, "It's the greatest sport in the world until they get in the ring."
Lot of good boxing movies too, come to think of it: Body and Soul, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Fat City, Rocky, Raging Bull, When We Were Kings. And Slap Shot is arguably the greatest sports movie of them all.
Couple Few Things
Following in the tradition of his old man, Hank Steinbrenner says he hopes he won't regret not making a deal for Johan Santana. Maybe Hank will start coming through the clubhouse and give the troops the ol' Knute Rockne before long.
"Joba is competing for a spot in the starting rotation right now," Joe Girardi said. "We're preparing him to be a starter. We're going to look at the pitching staff as a whole and decide where people best fit."
So, maybe Chamberlain won't be in the pen this year. Starter, reliever, which one of these? Speaking of Joba, last year, a friend of mine pointed me to this good, 2005 profile from Omaha World-Herald.
Chien-Ming Wang lost his arbitration case.
Yankee Panky # 42: Love Is Not in the Air
“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly.”
The Roger Clemens-Brian McNamee divorce dominated the Valentine’s Day sports headlines. And yet while media members clamored to dissect the proceedings in Washington, most people I spoke to, both in and out of the business, treated it with a resounding “Who cares?”
Newsday’s Johnette Howard summed it up beautifully here.
As far as the Capitol Hill proceedings were concerned, I found two poignant snippets of analysis from writers for whom I have great respect: ESPN.com’s Howard Bryant, and the Post’s Phil Mushnick (Laugh all you want. He’s cynical, yes, but he gets it right).
From Bryant: "Ultimately, we did not learn that Roger Clemens lied, nor did we learn he did not. As expected, the truth lies somewhere in the creases of the memories of the people involved. What we did learn is that Roger Clemens had an answer for everything the committee asked him. At the ready, his finger was always pointing at a reason, but it was never at himself. And that is why so many of the committee members did not believe him.” (Newsday’s Jim Baumbach and Robert Kessler echoed Bryant’s summary.)
From Mushnick: “Wednesday's hearings weren't quite as party-divided as many have claimed. While all the Republicans were seen as anti-McNamee and pro-Roger Clemens (vice versa with the Democrats), Mark Souder, Republican from Indiana, was one of the committee members who wisely refused a social meeting with Clemens days before the hearing. Souder condemned such chumminess as inappropriate.
And it was Souder, Wednesday, who was the only Representative to ask why team owners weren't being called to answer for their look-the-other-way role in MLB's drug scandal. And that's still a very good question. How did team owners miss what was obvious to everyone outside of baseball?”
Some other highlights:
While I’ve found the coverage of these hearings to be fairer than the “rush to judgment” style exhibited following the release of the Mitchell Report, I’m feeling like Cush in “Jerry Maguire:” I just want to watch and enjoy baseball. I’m ecstatic to see stories with slugs like “Joba Chamberlain throws off a mound for the first time since ALDS.” At least if the word “injection” or “infusion” is used in and article with that angle, it won’t have anything to do with a needle.
SPEAKING OF COMPARISONS …
Mr. Goodell destroyed the Pats’ tapes in the League’s investigation. In not so many words, Goodell said, “It’s my league. We reserve the right to reopen the investigation if we see fit, and I stand by my actions.” Why can’t Mr. Selig do this?
I’m not a fan of many of the NFL’s administrative practices, particularly on the issue of health insurances and pensions for retired players, but one thing the league has done consistently is preserved its autonomy when pressed on how it polices itself. Meanwhile, MLB has continually sought help from external sources, including the federal government, and demonstrated disunity and a lack of leadership in this regard. Based on the coverage I tracked, few writers or sports/legal pundits addressed that fact.
Moreover, for politicians to cry foul on sports and attempt to legislate the leagues on a basis of purity, competition, and character is eminently hypocritical. Politics and athletics, since ancient times, have been two of the most corrupt entities, largely due to the presence of the most intrinsic and addictive of drugs: the thirst for power, success and fame.
Until next week …
Card Corner--Charlie Kerfeld
Of the few acquisitions the Yankees have made this off-season through either trades or free agency, I’m most intrigued by the prospects and potential of Jonathan Albaladejo. With or without Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees’ bullpen needs help, both in terms of quality and depth. If Albaladejo can pitch anywhere near as effectively as he did last September for the Nationals, he will certainly aid the Yankee cause. His mid-nineties fastball and superb control, if given the proper chance to shine, will be a welcome addition to Joe Girardi’s revamped bullpen.
Then there’s Albaladejo’s size. At six feet, five inches and 250-260 pounds, the right-hander commands a hulking presence on the pitcher's mound. Whenever I hear those kinds of dimensions, the name of Charlie Kerfeld comes to mind. As seen in his 1986 Score rookie card, Kerfeld looked a little bit like a truck driver on the mound, though I have to confess that he looks a little slimmer than usual in this photograph. Hey, perhaps the camera subtracts ten pounds.
In actuality, Albaladejo doesn’t really look like Kerfeld; he’s Latino (born in Puerto Rico), has a more angular face, doesn’t wear glasses, and sports an earring (which he’ll have to ditch in Yankeeland). But he does fall into that same general category as Kerfeld—talented but overweight reliever, with a little eccentricity thrown in for good measure. (Like Kerfeld, Albaladejo is considered a little bit light above the shoulders, an airhead, if you will.) Those kinds of pitchers have a tendency of flaming out over the long haul—think Dick "The Monster" Radatz or Brad "The Animal" Lesley—but for awhile, they can create a stir with their mix of stuff, antics, intimidation, and imposing monstrosity.
Fitted with oversized glasses and carrying anywhere from 230 to 250 pounds on his 6-foot, 6-inch frame, Charlie Kerfeld looked like few other major-league players of his era—or any other, for that matter. On the mound, the native of Knob Noster, Missouri, was as boisterous as he was overweight, often engaging in a series of awkward gyrations while pitching in short and set-up relief for the Houston Astros. Unlike the staid Mariano Rivera, Kerfeld showed his emotions as they changed, often coinciding with strikeouts of opposing batters in key situations.
Away from the mound, Kerfeld was just as entertaining. As he sat in the bullpen, he sometimes donned a large conehead, a practice shared by fellow Astros relievers Larry Anderson and Dave Smith. He wore outrageous clothes to the ballpark, ranging from Rambo-style military fatigues to pink high-tops. (It’s not clear if he wore the fatigues and the high-tops at the same time.) A superstitious sort, Kerfeld wore what he considered his lucky "Jetson" T-shirt under his uniform. With the Astros, he wore No. 37 and once negotiated a contract that included an annual payout of 37 boxes of orange-flavored Jell-O. I assume that it took Kerfeld less than a full year to finish off those boxes.
With his odd quirks, robust personality, and general good nature, many fans and writers considered Kerfeld a refreshing 1980s version of Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. Like Fidrych, Kerfeld forged one dominant season; in 1986, he posted a 2.76 ERA and won 11 of 13 decisions while setting up Dave Smith in the Houston bullpen. With a riding fastball and a convenient touch of wildness, Kerfeld alarmed and overpowered most National League hitters. And like Fidrych, he lacked staying power. After his meteoric 1986 season, Kerfeld flopped so badly that he never again fashioned an effective season. In fact, he never managed to keep his ERA under 5.58 the rest of his career. Kerfeld saw his major league days end after a failed 1990 stint with the Atlanta Braves because of continuing issues with his weight and an injury to his right elbow.
The Yankees hope that Albaladejo, whose weight remains a colossal concern, will have more long-term success than Kerfeld. Then again, if he can help the Yankees reach the League Championship Series in 2008, the way that Big Charlie did with the Astros in 1986, perhaps the Yankees will be happy with just that.
Bruce Markusen, the author of seven books on baseball, writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com and weighs less than both Charlie Kerfeld and Jonathan Albaladejo.
The Yankees didn't make any radical changes to their roster this offseason. In fact, of the 21 players most likely to head north with the team, only veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins wasn't on the team last year. Still, Spring Training 2008 feels like a new beginning for the team. A lot of that has to do with the fact that there's a new Joe running the show. Joe Torre managed the Yankees to a dozen playoff appearances in as many seasons, including six World Series appearances and four world championships. This spring, he's over in Vero Beach, decked out in Dodger blue as that team's new manager. Back in Tampa, the new Yankee skipper is Joe Girardi, who was the Yankee catcher during four of Torre's seasons at the helm, three of which ended in championships.
Over the past twelve years, more than a third of which I've covered either here or at my previous blog, Yankee fans became used to Joe Torre's managerial style, his likes and dislikes, his tendencies, preferences, and pet peeves. Of Girardi's managerial style, however, we know very little. Girardi has been retired for four years, three of which he spent as a broadcaster for the YES Network and one of which he spent as the manager of a newly-gutted Florida Marlins team. Though Girardi's Fish had a losing record in 2006, their 78-86 performance and brief late-season flirtation with the NL Wild Card race was viewed as an unexpected success. Still, Girardi came under criticism for feuding with ownership, overworking his team's young pitching staff, and exhibited an alarming affection for the sacrifice bunt. This offseason, Girardi has often said that he learned a lot from that experience, hinting that his approach as the manager of the Yankees will differ in meaningful ways. Exactly how he'll affect those changes remains to be seen.
We don't really know what to expect from Girardi at any point this season, nor do we know what impact will be felt from the resulting turnover in the team's coaching staff. Mix in the continued emergence of the team's pitching prospects starting with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, the continued development (or lack thereof) of Melky Cabrera, and the wide-open front half of the bullpen, and this spring should be unlike any the Yankees have experienced since Torre's inaugural season of 1996, despite lacking the significant roster turnover experienced by the team that year.
While the Yankees once again have the potential to be one of, maybe even the best team in baseball in 2008, the season will ultimately be one of transition. Beyond the introduction of Girardi and his coaches, this will be the first season in which George Steinbrenner's sons Hank and Hal, who emerged from the long shadow of their father's failing health over the offseason, will be in public and practical control of the team. Thus far, Hank has filled his father's shoes as a blustery boaster constantly feeding the media leap-before-you-look quotes, while Hal has worked quietly behind the scenes to support Brian Cashman's team building efforts, though some have said he is as motivated by penny-pinching as by his belief in his GM. This season will also be the last for the original Yankee Stadium, which conjures up a flood of mixed emotions from sadness over the loss of the landmark which, for many Yankee fans, is something of a second home, to cynicism borne from the Stadium's loss of character following renovation 30 years ago and the design flaws apparent in the new stadium, to anger over the mistreatment of the community and the city both physically and financially as a result of the construction project, to excitement over the state-of-the-art structure rising in the Bronx, despite it's already apparent flaws and the damage inflicted by its creation.
On the field, this will also be a year of transition, as the young starters will have to cope with innings limits as they build up their stamina for their first full major league seasons. Those extra innings in the rotation will be consumed by Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina, two long-time Yankees who are likely taking their final tour in pinstripes. Similarly, a long-term fix at first base is being put off one more year as Jason Giambi plays out the final year of his contract. This season also finds the Yankees waiting out the final year of their commitments to Kyle Farnsworth and Carl Pavano, which will leave Kei Igawa as the last barnacle stuck to Brian Cashman's hull. Then again, Cashman's in his walk year as well.
There's a lot of change on the horizon for the Yankees, and a lot of change already at hand. With all of that looming in the background, let's get to the business at hand and take a look at the 69 players Girardi and his coaches will have to sort through in Tampa this spring in order to settle on the 25-man Opening Day roster of the 2008 New York Yankees.
The Boogie Down Book Shelf
The spring baseball books will start coming out soon. I'd like to try to have more book reviews this year, and not necessarily long ones either. Have you ever read James Agee's movie reviews for Time magazine (collected in the essential Agee on Film)--he'd write these killer little wrap-ups in three or four sentences that are as appealing, in their own way, as a five-page Pauline Kael bender.
I've run book reviews by Chris DeRosa for several years now and he recently sent me a file of his complete book reviews from the past eight years. There are a couple of longer, Yankee-related critiques that I'll post shortly, but for now, check out a DeRosa sampler (again, I found myself drawn to the short reviews).
On the Shelf
by Chris DeRosa.
Essays from the 60s to now. As Richard Ford says in the introduction, Angell is not a baseball romanticist, and it's true he's too light on his feet to be labeled a sentimentalist, but he does write with great affection for the game, in an adult voice that never takes itself too seriously. This collection features many examples of his strengths: the eye for the telling detail, the felicitous turns of phrase, and the sweet wrap-ups. I read him to remember, rather than to learn, but I learned some things too. Check out this description, from the 1980 essay "Distances."
Gibson's pitch flashed through the strike zone with a unique, upward-moving, right-to-left sail that snatched it away from a right handed batter or caused it to jump up and in at a left-handed swingera natural break of six to eight inchesand hitters who didn't miss the ball altogether usually fouled it off or nudged it harmlessly into the air. The pitch, which was delivered with a driving, downward flick of Gibson's long forefinger and middle finger (what pitchers call "cutting the ball"), very much resembled an inhumanly fast slider, and was often taken as such by batters unfamiliar with his stuff.Bob Gibson had Mariano's cutter?
You know that great baseball conversation you wish you could have with Bill James? This is it. Nine-hundred player comments provide James a forum for a free-wheeling and fascinating discussion in which he proves himself not only the game's greatest analyst, but its ablest historian and keenest practical observer. Some people assume James knows abstract numbers but they know actual baseball. In fact, James runs rings around his critics as a student of "actual" baseball. No one watches the game like he does, or at least no one watches it like he does and can also connect what he sees to the game's larger contexts. The guy is a genius. Perhaps the best baseball book ever published.
Rob Neyer wrote a glowing review of this book when it was reprinted in 2004. I wanted to check it out, but it was shrink-wrapped and I thought I maybe had read it at the Closter Public Library about (geez) 18 years ago. Finally I saw an unwrapped copy and flipped through. I quickly understood what Neyer and other people thought was so great about it. There's a lot in there about Lyndon Johnson and the war and such. It's not about Willie so much as the times, see? Nah! I mean who would turn to a Willie Mays bio for a history of the Sixties?
The best history of the Yankees ever written, though not necessarily definitive. Stout's writing can be strangely informal, but at times lively. The analysis of the baseball on the field is strictly conventional and not as probing as it should be, but no other book has tried to synthesize the history team in as much detail and on as many levels. Stout is at his best on the politics of the early American League, but he's also interesting when trashing Ralph Houk, profiling Steinbrenner, and enthusing about Torre's Yankees. Good photos, with celebrity pinch-writers contributing essays, including the obligatory Molly O'Neill piece. David Halberstam's essay on George Weiss reiterates the legitimate criticisms, but makes no attempt whatsoever to explain why he was a great GM, nor does Ira Berkow's effort shed much light on Stengel.
The 1939 Yankees get their book. It's too bad they waited so long to make their move on the 1927 Yankees. They might have been top dog for a while if they'd jelled before 1998, before DiMaggio died. Tofel isn't the only one to do this, but he repeats without comment the quotes saying that Lou didn't forgive Babe and didn't hug him back on Lou Gehrig Day in 1939. However, Gehrig's fingers are clearly visible on Ruth's shoulder in the accompanying photograph. Maybe he didn't forgive him anyway.
The analysis of the team is pretty conventional and not deep. But it does provide the definitive account of the demise of Lou Gehrig. Tofel cites medical journal articles that plausibly claim that Gehrig was feeling physical effects of his disease in 1938, even though his stats don't show a tell-tale ski-slope across the season. The portrait of Gehrig, fleshed out by personal correspondence, is the richest part of the book, but it offers other interesting tidbits such as: Art Fletcher led the team in a singing of "Roll Out the Barrel," after every win. The players treated the All Star Game with the utmost seriousness, on par with the World Series. In the summer of 1940, Gehrig sued the Daily News for suggesting that the Yankees' struggles were due to a team-wide ALS infection. He won a settlement.
The real story of Mel Stottlemyre's career as a pitching coach revolves around his misguided effort to teach Dwight Gooden the cut fastball, and Mariano Rivera's later development of the very same pitch. Of the former, Stottelmyre has nothing to say, and on the latter, he writes: "From the first time I saw him he was throwing his legendary cutter." Most people date the cutter to the 1997 season, as opposed to 1996, Stottlemyre and Rivera's first year together. Either Stottlemyre has it totally wrong, or maybe Rivera was mixing in the cutter more than we thought in 1996. I do have that tape of game 2 of the 1995 ALDS where he throws what the broadcasters describe as a "real good cut fastball."
Don Zimmer, features Gerbil in his Yankee helmet, but the photo I clipped for the baseball annual is a lot more spontaneous. Some might think that Zimmer, part of the Boys of Summer, the '62 Mets, the tragic Red Sox, a Wrigley miracle, and Torre's Yanks, would have a lot of good stories for a book like this. But Don Zimmer isn't an observer type. He's a funny character in other people's stories. A standing-in-the-bookstore review reveals nothing amusing in this one.
Roger Angell has written a book about David Cone's 2000 season. Cone is known as a guy who isn't a rube, but he's never been that interesting either. The excerpt in the New Yorker was a bore, with Cone and Angell fretting about his injuries and woes in mundane fashion. A whole book like this would be about as fun as Cone's 4-14 season.
Standing in the bookstore, I see that he doesn't cover Gehrig's demise in as much detail as Tofel did. Plus you have the Ray Robinson bio. If you ask me, Lou Gehrig is borderline biography material to begin with.
An important contribution to the 1977-78 New York Yankees' drive to be the first "25 players, 25 books" team in baseball history.
I guess he was a good writer, but all the stories in here are hokey and inaccurate.
I picked up Gould's posthumous baseball collection, flipped it open randomly, landed on an idiotic apology for Joe Jackson, and immediately shut it replaced it on the shelf.
I don't expect a lot of agreement here, but I submit that the more enraptured you are by Roberto Clemente, the less you actually know and care about baseball.
Stark graphic novel about a House of David team in a bad scrape.
I was less impressed than most reviewers. Informative but a little wrapped up in the poetry of it all.
Katie saw this in the art section of a great bookstore in Miami, but I thought it was too expensive. Later I bought it remaindered, and liked it so much I almost feel guilty about not paying the original price. The cards look great and this has to be one of the most beautifully designed baseball books ever published.
Signs of Life
The official reporting date for pitchers and catchers is still two days away, but a number of Yankees are already in Tampa working out. Jack Curry of the Times reports on Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter. Pete Abe reports on Joba Chamberlain, who is already working out with new pitching coach Dave Eiland. Phil Hughes, who has taken Sean Henn's number 34, is among the other pitchers in camp. He went to a NASCAR race at Daytona with Shelley Duncan and Ian Kennedy on Saturday, so count those two as in camp as well as Henn, Jeff Karstens (per Pete's post), and . . . Carl Pavano [insert joke]. There are others there as well, I'm sure. Up around these parts, my lawn is frozen solid, but news like that makes me think I can smell the grass.
Last Tuesday, Cliff and I met in Manhattan for dinner. We walked a few miles north, up Manhattan's west side, and caught up on our lives. When we got to the 72nd street subway station we saw Hillary Clinton supporters and Cliff spotted Rob Reiner, boosting for Mrs. Clinton. Cliff and I enjoyed dinner and then I came home and came down with the worst stomach virus I've ever had. I still haven't fully recovered but it knocked the hell out of me something fierce for a few days there, which is why I haven't posted anything of late.
Catching up, however, here are some links for you:
Over at Tiger Tales, Lee Panas conducted an interesting study on baserunning. Using the Retrosheet play-by-play databases, he determined the success rates for base runners in taking extra bases on hits and advancing on ground outs, air outs, stolen bases and other plays. Then, Panas combined everything into a single base running performance measure called Bases Gained Above Average(BGAA). According to his findings, Johnny Damon was the third best base runner in the American League in 2007.
Sam Borden, previously with the Daily News, is now a columnist for the Lo-Hud. Here is a piece he wrote on Phil Hughes a few days ago.
In the Times, Jack Curry profiles Joe Girardi.
In the News, Don Mattingly tells Bill Madden that it is just as well he wasn't hired as the Yankee manager, given the recent turn of events in his private life.
Yanksfan vs. Soxfan tackles the PECOTA predictions for the 2008 Bronx Bombers.
Also, I know this story is dated, but did you guys see this about Mike Lupica v. Lisa Olson? Yikes.
Observations From Cooperstown--The End of the Hall of Fame Game
Last week’s news regarding the death of the Hall of Fame Game came as no surprise, considering that strong rumors of its demise had been floating for weeks. Still, the news is no less disconcerting; the game, while only an exhibition, has meant so much to fans in upstate New York (many of whom cannot afford to attend major leagues games in person), not to mention the benefits to the Cooperstown economy. It has also provided a natural link between the Hall of Fame—the repository of baseball history—and the current-day game as it exists at the major league level.
The Hall of Fame and MLB are taking the bullet for the termination of the game, and that’s really not fair. Some internet posters immediately tried to blame Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey, perhaps because of their dislike of him over the Tim Robbins/Bull Durham incident of a few years ago. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Petroskey, along with just about every high-ranking Hall of Fame official, wanted this game to continue. The game promotes the Hall of Fame while providing an economic boost of about $30,000 to the local economy. As the saying goes, what’s not to like? The end of the Hall of Fame Game—that’s the last thing that Petroskey and other Hall officials wanted to see happen.
MLB has tried to absorb some of the heat, citing the scheduling difficulties created by inter-league play and the lack of available off days during the regular season. Scheduling problems have certainly created large roadblocks, but that’s largely because of contemporary major league players, who have made a habit of complaining about the trip to Cooperstown. Even if a team has a day off and happens to be somewhere east of the Mississippi, the team’s players still have to approve participating in the game. And that was becoming increasingly difficult, because of the growing number of players who wanted nothing to do with traveling to upstate New York during one of their scheduled days off. Now, let’s keep in mind that a player might have to play in one, maybe two Hall of Fame games during the course of his entire career. That was apparently too much of an inconvenience, weighing more heavily than the wonderful public relations that the HOF Game created for baseball on the whole.
The termination of the Hall of Fame Game represents the opposite of public relations. The decision to end the game after this year’s June matchup between the Cubs and Padres has created such a firestorm in upstate New York that Senator Chuck Schumer has lent his efforts to a petition calling for MLB to reverse its decision. (The online petition, for those who are interested, can be found at ipetitions.com.)
While I applaud the efforts of those who are supporting the petition, the realist in me dictates that it’s time to move forward. After this year, the Hall of Fame Game will have ended, nearly 70 years after its inception, and there’s likely nothing that can be done to change that. Very smartly, the Hall of Fame realizes that the game needs to be replaced with some other tangible event. The Hall has already begun exploring alternatives, including some kind of a "Futures Game," a game involving minor league teams, or perhaps even an "Old-Timers" or "Legends Game." And I’m all for that. While each of these concepts carries logistical problems, their potential benefits will bring some much-needed juice to the Hall of Fame calendar.
Last week on MLB Radio, afternoon host Seth Everett asked Hall vice president Jeff Idelson about the possibility of a Futures Game featuring prospects from two different organizations. Idelson seemed receptive to the idea. A mid-season Futures Game, coinciding with the All-Star break and featuring top prospects across the board, has already proved successful since its inception in 1999. By narrowing the concept, the Hall of Fame could take advantage of existing rivalries, such as the "future stars of the Red Sox against the future stars of the Yankees." Still, such a game would require some compromise. Since it’s highly unlikely that all of a parent team’s affiliates would have off on the same day, the parent team would have to be willing to give their top prospects a one-day leave of absence. For organizations that value winning at the minor league level, that stipulation could pose a problem.
As for the second possibility, a game featuring minor league teams will actually take place at Doubleday Field this May. It’s not affiliated with the Hall of Fame, but has been scheduled as part of the International League’s 100th anniversary celebration. This matchup, pitting the nearby Syracuse Sky Chiefs against the Rochester Red Wings, will count in the International League standings. Some Cooperstown observers believe that the Red Wings-Sky Chiefs game could become a precursor to an annual minor league game at Doubleday Field, one that the Hall of Fame might affiliate itself with. Hey, how about a game featuring the Yankees’ top affiliate at Scranton-Wilkes Barre against the Mets’ top minor league team, currently stationed in New Orleans? That would become even more feasible if the Mets relocate their Triple-A team to Syracuse, which has been hotly rumored.
An Old-Timers Game would be an even better idea than a minor league game or futures game, given the name value of retired stars. Such a game could be attached to Induction Weekend, when 50 or so Hall of Famers are already in town. Hall officials have resisted the idea in the past, in part because of worries that some Hall of Famers wouldn’t want to embarrass themselves in a game setting. Fine, that’s a legitimate concern. So let’s supplement the Old-Timers Game with a few non-Hall of Famers who are a little bit younger and in better physical condition. Twenty or 30 retired players, in addition to the Hall of Famers, usually attend Induction Weekend anyway. Another possibility would be to invite retired players who are scheduled to appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. The Hall could easily offer each player a reasonable honorarium to have their names introduced to the crowd, followed by two or three innings of participation in a game.
There is precedent for Old-Timers games at Doubleday Field. In 1989, the Hall of Fame celebrated its 50th anniversary by featuring a game of retired legends, including Hall of Famers and recently retired stars like George Foster and Manny Sanguillen. I’ve talked to a number of longtime Cooperstown residents about that game; every one of them has raved about the commercial and artistic success of that game. Not only did the game draw a strong crowd, but the participants also did well in playing to the fans, taking full advantage of the intimacy of Doubleday Field.
Perhaps the time is right to bring the old-timers back to Doubleday Field. That would be a great way for the Hall of Fame to counteract the unhappiness that came with last week’s demolition of a Cooperstown institution.
Bruce Markusen, the author of seven books on baseball, writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com.
Pitchers and catcher report a week from today, but I must admit, I'm still glowing from the Giants' Super Bowl win this past Sunday, which was my best experience as a football fan since the Giants won their first Super Bowl 21 years ago. Gregg Easterbrook had high praise for the the Giants and the game in his alternately essential and indulgent Tuesday Morning Quarterback, meanwhile the almost exclusively indulgent Bill Simmons was able to step back and notice the strong parallels between the Giants' upset and the then-underdog Patriots' upset of the Rams six years ago. Simmons, who attended the game with his dad, concluded his column thusly:
The last thing we heard as we were walking (OK, hustling) out of the stadium right after the final play . . . was the sound of euphoric Giants fans chanting, "Eighteen and one! Eighteen and one! Eighteen and one!" Yes, it's safe to say the Boston-New York rivalry has been taken to new heights. As a tennis umpire would say, "Advantage, New York."
That "18-1" rings like a distant echo of the now-dormant "1918" chant that was once heard throughout the Bronx. That said, I have a hard time translating the rivalry between sports. The Patriots are an expansion team that plays in "New England," not Boston, and their natural New York rivals are not the Giants, but the Jets, who aren't up to the task. Still, after watching the Pats and Red Sox claim five championships in the past six years, even Jets fans and local football haters have to have a glimmer in their eye after the Giants knocked off the near-perfect Pats.
If nothing else, the Yankees can take inspiration from the Giants, who beat a seemingly unbeatable team from Massachusetts with a roster stocked with young homegrown players including Eli Manning, David Tyree, Steve Smith, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boss, Madison Hedgecock, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Barry Cofield, Jay Alford, Corey Webster, and Aaron Ross (along with a couple of key homegrown vets in Michael Strahan and Amani Toomer). As much as I'm still watching The Play on a loop on my DVR, the thought of the Yankees getting their turn to do something equally amazing is all I need to redirect my thoughts toward roster minutia and the $600,000 that separates the team and Chien-Ming Wang in the right-hander's arbitration case. Until Wang and company report to camp a week from today, however, I think I'll go watch that play a few more times . . .
Yankee Panky # 41: Weird, Wild Stuff
What a strange week. New York over Boston in the Super Bowl. The Mets get Johan Santana. Chuck Knoblauch clamps up in front of congressional attorneys, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens maintained their respective stories for the same panel, and Kim Mattingly is in jail.
* * *
The Giants’ win has a similar feel to when the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. Not as great of an underdog story, to be sure, but the Big, Evil, Untouchable Team was toppled, and in dramatic fashion. I’m not even a Giants fan, but I’m gloating, sort of.
It was also a strange week in baseball, when there was baseball news. The Cute Franchise in Queens pulled a major coup with the Santana acquisition. It was odd to read stories, like Ken Davidoff’s giving the Yankees an assist to the Mets. It was even odder to read reactions in both the mainstream and the non-traditional outlets providing an effective, “Well at least he didn’t go to the Red Sox,” vibe. RealGM graded the trade an A for the Mets and a C for the Twins.
HAVE YOU HAD YOUR B-12 TODAY?
I especially loved how the Daily News made it a point to mention the color combination of Clemens’ wardrobe, how he held a “hot beverage cup” and threw a curveball for photographers before heading into the Rayburn Building.
Exhibitions like that are exactly why news people should not deal with sports stories. Cue the circus calliope music.
We’ll see if any curveballs are thrown next Wednesday, when both Pettitte and Clemens give their testimony in front of Congress.
The saddest part of the recent proceedings may be Chuck Knoblauch. When asked about his alleged use of HGH, he said, “It is what it is.” As Emma Span beautifully encapsulated in this space, Bad Luck Chuck’s statement was not as convincing as DeNiro’s “This is this” mantra from “The Deer Hunter.”
LEGENDS OF THE FALL, AND BY FALL, I MEAN PERSONAL DECLINE
IN OTHER NEWS…
Bring it Back, Come Rewind
It is unseasonably warm but overcast this morning in New York. I saw a gang of Manhattan college kids wearing Eli Manning jerseys trooping to the subway this morning, on their way down to the parade. When I got off the train in midtown, more Giants fans--a father taking his young son over to Rockefeller Center, a group of high schoolers cutting school. Everybody likes a parade, right?
Not for nothing, but I'm not a fan of the Yankeeography series--I find the shows slick at best and maudlin at worst--but the box set is worth checking out for the bonus dvds, which feature player highlights. The best part of these highlights is that most of them are not cut-up like the ones we generally see on TV. In many cases, they'll show an entire at-bat sequence, pitch-by-pitch, in real time. The bonus clips are not thorough, and concentrate on home runs (I would have loved to see a fielding compilation for Willie Randolph), but still, it is refreshing to see baseball clips that don't rush by you like a slam dunk. I wish there was more of that. Plus, I'd love it if they did a spin-off Yankeeography show, one where they would honor guys like Roy White and Joe Gordon.
Finally, Roger Clemens visits Washington today. Pete Abraham summed up my feelings about this nonsense last week in a rant over on his blog.
With a Little Bit o Luck
For all of the hype about the kind of character it takes to win championships, it also takes a certain amount of luck. Takes both, not always in equal measure. When Eli and Plax could not hook up on that play with the Giants leading 10-7, I thought it'd be the moment they'd most regret should they have lost the game. But then, how about that improbable David Tyree catch? Are you kidding me? That was the Bucky Dent moment of the game. How did Manning not get sacked? How did Tyree manage to come down with that ball? Talk about the All-Schoolyard Play of the season! Then Eli made a few more key passes, including the game-winner. Good for him.
Of course, much of the credit for the win goes to New York's defense.
Have to say, their coach aside (who manages to be terse and dour in victory as well as defeat), the Pats were gracious in defeat. Reminded me a little bit of when the Yanks lost the D-Backs in '01. Tom Brady is a class act.
It is snowing in Manhattan this morning. Andy Pettitte visits Washington today. But right now, the city is alive with the Giants' stunning Super Bowl win. Congrats G-Men, you done made the city proud.
Take that Beantown.
Big game out west tonight, Giants/Pats. Stupit Bowl. Tom Petty at the half. Em and I will be watching. Made ribs in the oven this afternoon. I'm not a Giants fan but I'll have no trouble rooting for them tonight. I like Eli. Tom Brady and Randy Moss are great players, and I've never hated the Patriots they way I hate the Red Sox (never hated the Celtics either). Their coach is overbeaing but what can you say? Can't have it all. I'm not wild about the Giants coach either. Hopefully, it's a game mid-way through the fourth quarter. Would be a major upset if the Gints pull out the win. I suspect a decisive victory for New England, but one never knows...
Where Have You Gone, Chuck Knoblauch?
He described the Mitchell report as “crazy” and “interesting,” and added that what actually bothered him about being mentioned in the report is that “I’ve got nothing to do with any of that, I mean, any baseball.”
Ten years in a job and no friends? Even Barry Bonds has friends in baseball; I’m not sure about Randy Johnson, but next to him Knoblauch is Oprah Winfrey. He sounds awfully relieved to be not only out of the game, but as far away from it as possible.
Knoblauch seemed destined to be the source of much amusement after the 1998 playoffs, when he argued passionately with the first base umpire for what felt like an eternity -- while the live ball lay in the grass a few feet away, and the opposing runner (Enrique Wilson of all people) ran home. Knoblauch, deeply outraged by a call, was completely oblivious to the increasingly desperate screams of his teammates, 55,000 fans, and, almost certainly audible in the Bronx from a TV room fifteen miles away, my father. Since the Yankees eventually recovered to win that series, and the next, it was soon forgiven, just a memorably funny moment on the way to a happy ending.
Card Corner--Steady Eddie
From time to time throughout the year, I’ll be spotlighting cards that were issued as part of Topps’ colorful 1978 set. Featuring a nice mix of profiles and action shots, the set remains one of my favorites. It also helps that the 1978 season worked out pretty well for the Yankees, too.
From time to time throughout the year, I’ll be spotlighting cards that were issued as part of Topps’ colorful 1978 set. Featuring a nice mix of profiles and action shots, the set remains one of my favorites. It also helps that the 1978 season worked out pretty well for the Yankees, too.
Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003, Eddie Murray burst onto the baseball card scene some 30 years ago, when his rookie card came out as part of Topps’ 1978 set (No. 36). While there’s nothing grossly unusual about this card, it features a few subtleties. There’s one of my old favorites, the classic Topps trophy cup, which is represented through a logo placed on one of the card’s corners, honoring each player who earned selection to Topps’ all-rookie team. By the way, I’ve always wondered, is that cup really yellow?
Murray’s primary position on the card is listed as DH, while his secondary position on the card is first base. And that’s no mistake, since Murray actually served as the Orioles’ designated hitter 111 times in 1977, while surprisingly playing only 42 games at first base. (Quick now, who was the Orioles’ regular first baseman in 1977? Boog Powell? Terry Crowley? Or perhaps Sabermetric whipping boy Tony Muser, the failed manager? No, it was actually slugging Lee May, who hit 27 home runs that season. May wasn’t a favorite of Sabermetric types for his playing, largely because of his inability to draw walks, but he had legitimate power and was a much better player than either Crowley or Muser.) Murray even appeared three times in the outfield his rookie season, though that position isn’t mentioned on the front of the card. In retrospect, this positional breakdown seems rather strange, since Murray ended up becoming a very competent first baseman, to the point that he won three straight Gold Gloves from 1982 to 1984.
The Topps card, while picturing a young Murray finishing a left-handed practice swing, also shows him wearing a cap underneath his helmet, a Murray trademark. Is it just me, or does no one in baseball do this anymore? It seems like more players used to wear both a cap and a helmet in the seventies and eighties—former Yankees Dion James and Bobby Murcer come to mind, along with 1970s icons Willie Davis, Al Oliver, and Willie Stargell—but the trend has become lost, perhaps because of the mandate that players use the ear-flapped helmet. Or maybe it’s because major league rules no longer allow players to run the bases wearing only a soft cap. Or perhaps it’s just not fashionable anymore.
In regards to Murray the player, few hitters were as consistent as the Orioles’ first baseman was from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. From 1978 to 1993, Murray emerged as a lock to hit at least 20 home runs, draw 70-plus walks, and collect 90 RBIs each season. The nickname "Steady Eddie" didn’t just occur because of his first name and the convenient rhyming pattern; it fit his even-handed level of production to perfection.
Some critics of Murray have knocked him for never achieving a level of superstardom; he never put together the kind of monster season that we have become accustomed to seeing from power-hitting Hall of Fame types. Murray never hit more than 33 home runs in a season, never drove in more than 124 runs, never slugged higher than .549. The criticism is legitimate to an extent, but it doesn’t do enough to detract from his year-to-year excellence and his inspiring career totals: 504 home runs, 3255 hits, and 1,333 walks. Those, dear friends, are Hall of Fame numbers.
While few would debate Murray’s Hall of Fame worthiness, many would argue about Steady Eddie’s character. For years, baseball writers have lobbed insulting words at Murray, who refused to talk the media for most of his career. They’ve called him surly, uncooperative, and downright callous. Others have gone so far as to call him a clubhouse cancer, citing his negative effect on the New York Mets’ clubhouse in the early 1990s.
So it was with considerable trepidation that I prepared for an interview with Murray in 2003. As part of my duties at the Hall of Fame, I used to conduct an in-depth videotaped interview with each newly elected member of Cooperstown. Expecting the worst, I began to talk to Murray. Within a few seconds, Murray shunted aside all of my fears. He was thoughtful, polite, and to the best of my knowledge, sincere. Rather than answer each question with some cliché of immediacy, Murray took a few moments to ponder my words before providing a reflective, meditative answer. Though not particularly smooth in his delivery, Murray did his best to give me some insight as to his patterns of thought, his philosophies on baseball and life. I learned about he had overcome a childhood of poverty, as one of 12 brothers and sisters living in the ghetto. (One of his sisters had died only a week before the interview, yet Murray retained his composure throughout our talk.) After about 20 minutes of discussion, I concluded the interview, not only glad to have been spared Murray’s supposed surliness but wholly impressed with the newest Hall of Famer.
Prior to our sit-down, I had never been a particular fan of Murray. In short, I believed the writers, without stopping to assess why Murray had chosen not to talk to them. (The running feud stemmed from a 1979 article, in which sportswriter Dick Young discussed members of Murray’s family. Murray considered the article intrusive and unfair. ) I believed the stories that claimed Murray led the league in laziness, selfishness, and lack of hustle. Plus, he had made the mistake of never playing for my team, the Yankees.
Thankfully, our opinions of others can change. Now I look at that rookie card of Eddie Murray a little bit differently.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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