Monthly archives: October 2008
In November of '02, I started Bronx Banter on Blogspot. The next year I took it to All-Baseball.com, and for the past four seasons, I've been with the crew at Baseball Toaster. It’s been a great run and a true honor to blog alongside the talent here. Now, Bronx Banter is moving again, this time to the SNY network of blogs.
The new address is www.bronxbanterblog.com.
The Banter writing crew, Cliff Corcoran, Bruce Markusen, Emma Span and Will Weiss, are all coming along, I retain complete editorial control, and the new spot will be poppin. Please jern us. Once again, I want to say what a great time we've had here at Toaster. Special thanks to Ken Arneson for making the transition a smooth one.
Thanks, and as Kane says:
Last Chance for Romance?
After three games, the aggregate score of the World Series is dead even at 10-10, but if the Rays don't win tonight, this thing could be over, as Cole Hamels would pitch for the title tomorrow. Given that this has the potential to be the most exciting World Series since 2001, it would be a shame for it not to go at least six, and preferably seven games, but the last World Series to start off like this also ended in five games as the Yankees beat the Mets in the 2000 fall classic. I explain in my preview of Game 4, which is up over at SI.com.
Three games in, and this has been a fun, competitive World Serious. The Rays were down 4-1, came back to tie the game, but the Phils pulled it out with a cheap hit in the bottom of the ninth.
Go Baseball! Hope we get four more just like it.
All of the baseball cards that I use to illustrate my posts are from my personal collection, which includes every regular-issue Topps set dating back to 1979. The first complete set I ever owned was the 1987 set. It remains one of may favorites both because of its nostalgic significance to me, and because of its appealing design and fine photography. With the recent quasi-retirements of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds (the latter of whom was pictured on the first card in the first pack of 1987 Topps cards I ever bought, his .223 average prompting me to think he was some skinny slap-hitting nothing), the last remaining active player who had a card in the 1987 set is Jamie Moyer (Moyer's then-teammate Greg Maddux is the only other active player from the 1986 season, but his first Topps card was a 1987 traded card). I had written Moyer off as a scrub in the early '90s. He was released by the Rangers after the 1990 season and spent most of the 1991 and all of the '92 seasons in the minors, and I figured he was just another anonymous face on a baseball card that I'd never see again.
Instead, Moyer quickly resurrected his career with the Orioles and, after a quick layover in Boston, emerged as an unconventional star with the Mariners just before the turn of the century. Last October, I found myself at his locker in Citizens Bank Park, interviewing him about Coors Field in anticipation of his Game 3 NLDS start, and now, 21 years after I pulled his rookie card out of a pack I bought on a trip to the mall with my mom, he's starting his first World Series game at the age of 45, and I'm writing about how he could cost the team he grew up rooting for a chance at its second championship, for SI.com. I guess we've both come a long way.
Incidentally, the sight of Moyer in a Cubs cap on this card reminds me of the ex-Cub factor, a theory which was popularized in the 1980s stating that the winner of a playoff series could be determined by finding out which team had fewer former Cubs on its roster. The 2001 Diamondbacks (and the 2003 Cubs, who actually won a playoff series themselves) blew a hole in the theory, but for yucks, Phillies Moyer, Matt Stairs, and Scott Eyre outnumber the Rays' lone ex-Cub, Cliff Floyd, three to one.
Finally, here's the factoid from the back of the pictured card: "Jamie pitched 3 consecutive No-Hitters at Souderton Area High Scool, Souderton, Pa. in 1980." Yes, 1980.
Card Corner--Roger Repoz
Most baseball fans who navigate the internet know of the man named “Repoz,” the pseudonym for Darren Viola, who selects and introduces articles for Baseball Think Factory. But where did that nickname come from? We can thank a former Yankee outfielder from the 1960s for that little invention.
Roger Repoz (pronounced re-POZE, as in someone “lying in repose”) not only had a lyrical name, but also seemed destined to become a major league superstar. Some members of the Yankee organization regarded him as the next Roger Maris, but Repoz (seen here in his 1966 Topps card) would end up settling for a career that was more along the lines of Roger Cedeno or Roger Metzger. As if the Maris comparisons weren’t stressful enough, many New York writers and fans began referring to Repoz as the “next Mickey Mantle,” in part because he shared a blonde crew cut and a powerful uppercut swing with the legendary Mantle.
Playing for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens and employing a newfound batting stance in 1965, Repoz emerged as a top-flight Yankee prospect, prompting minor league manager Frank Verdi to call him the best everyday player in the International League. Shortly thereafter, Repoz earned a mid-season promotion to the Yankees, with mediocre old favorite Horace Clarke sent back to Triple-A to make room for the young outfielder. (That exchange, in and of itself, should have been something of a harbinger of doom.) Given his talent, Repoz seemed like a can’t-miss superstar in waiting. An excellent defensive outfielder with the speed to play center field, Repoz also owned the kind of left-handed pull hitter’s swing that made him a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium.
With everything in place, including an opportunity to play for a team in decline, Repoz should have continued the Yankees’ long line of center field greatness. So what the heck happened? Repoz may have had a smooth, picturesque swing that produced 23 home runs over parts of three seasons in pinstripes, but he struck out too much, tried to pull the ball too frequently, tinkered with his batting stance endlessly, and couldn’t touch left-handed pitching. Soon realizing that he would never transform himself into the next Mantle or Maris, the Yankees traded Repoz to the Kansas City A’s as part of a package for pitcher Fred Talbot and catcher Billy Bryan. When the A’s came to the same realization as the Yankees, they sent him to the California Angels for pitcher Jack Sanford and outfielder Jack Warner.
Repoz’ fortunes continued to flutter in Anaheim, but he did play better for the Angels than he had for the Yankees or the Athletics. In 1968, Repoz put together his finest season, an ironic development given that it coincided with “The Year of the Pitcher.” He batted a not-so-terrible .240 and reached then career highs with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs, totals that would have been even higher if he had not missed nearly 30 games while serving as a private first class in the National Guard. In assessing his 1968 breakout, Repoz gave much of the credit to his use of an Exer-Genie, an exercise machine developed by NASA for astronauts who needed to work out in the confined quarters of a spacecraft. If only the Angels had played their games in outer space.
After a miserable 1969 season—the only bright spot was a career-high 60 walks—Repoz rebounded in 1970, launching a career-high 18 home runs in 407 at-bats. The Angels rewarded his power surge by making a trade with the White Sox for Gold Glove center fielder Ken Berry, which made Repoz the odd man out in the Angels’ outfield. With Berry flanked by the enigmatic Alex Johnson in left and the comebacking Tony Conigliaro in right, Repoz’ days as an everyday outfielder had come to an abrupt end.
By 1972, Repoz’ career reached a crossroads. No longer in California’s plans (and now sporting some of the worst sideburns in the game), Repoz found himself exiled to the Orioles’ organization, where he resurfaced as an everyday outfielder in Rochester. Playing for the Triple-A Red Wings, Repoz earned the nickname “Rocket Man” because of the lengthening distance of his home runs. But then in August, he took a backward turn, enduring a 4-for-45 slump that resulted in a barrage of boos from Rochester fans.
Repoz’ 1972 struggles convinced him to seek employment elsewhere. Like other onetime Yankees Clete Boyer and Joe Pepitone, Repoz signed a lucrative contract for $123,000 with the Taimeiyo Lions of the Japanese Leagues. That might not sound like a lot of money, but it made him more highly paid than many established stars in the major leagues at the time. His new Japanese contract brought a new set of expectations, with Asian fans but merely expecting him to emerge as the “next Sadaharu Oh.” That never happened, leaving fans with a sense of disappointment once shared by fans of the Yankees.
So by the end of his playing days, Repoz had managed to disappoint two sets of fans on two different continents. That should have guaranteed that he become forgotten in the baseball world, but thanks to the work of a man now carrying his name at another web site, that won’t happen for a long, long time.
Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #45
By Steven Goldman
I don't know if this is my warmest memory of Yankee Stadium. Somehow my memories of the ballpark are more vivid than warm. There's not a lot of romance attached to it. Maybe that's because in the games I have attended as a fan, in my pre-professional days, I've seen a disproportionate number of losses. This is true even of the good years. Resultantly, my inventory of memories stretching back to the 1970s mostly shows visitors like Paul Molitor, Kirby Puckett, and George Brett doing mean things to the Yankees, and mediocre starters like Neil Allen and Joe Niekro doing their desultory best not to lose too badly. Even the things that are vivid involve losses. I was at the 1998 playoff game against the Indians where Chuck Knoblauch failed to pursue a ball that was sitting on the ground right next to him because he was arguing with the umpire, while Enrique Wilson tore around the bases with what proved to be the winning run. It was amazing to hear 40,000 people shouting, "Throw the f**king ball!" in near unison.
Some of my most vivid memories involve personal embarrassment or shame. The 1988 Old Timer's Day game is fixed in my mind not only because of the grand slam that the great Jose Cruz pinch hit against the White Sox, the last home run of his career and his only as a Yankee, but because at almost that same moment my car was being stolen. I was 17; it was the first time I had driven to the ballpark. PS: despite the grand slam, the Yankees lost.
Going back still further, I can remember one of my first trips to the Stadium, if not the first, when I was about five years old. On our way into the building, I had seen a little toy horn that one of the vendors was selling. It was nothing more than a blue tube of plastic with a trumpet-shaped bell at the end. I was, in my childish way, very excited to have it, but as we entered the Stadium, a security guard saw the horn and started screaming at me. "What is that thing? You can't bring that in here!" My parents intervened and the guy relented. I was allowed to bring it in, but with a warning: "Don't make ANY noise with that thing!" For the rest of the game I felt scared, as if I was being watched, as if one wrong move would get us thrown out. I remember nothing about the actual contest, just the powerful feelings of mortification that blotted out all else. I imagine the Yankees lost.
Far more recently, during my professional years, I passed out in the Yankees clubhouse (in front of Tanyon Sturtze's locker—he brought me a chair) and had to be carried out on a stretcher after Gene Monahan administered smelling salts. Thus I have experienced Stadium-based mortification both as a very young child and as an adult. It only remains for me to reap some kind of extreme embarrassment in old age; perhaps I'll soil myself while interviewing Derek Jeter, Jr. at Stadium II.
Mo Money, Mo Problems
Who said sports ain't glamorous?
JR Moehringer won a Pulitzer in 1999 for this article.
Two years earlier, he was nominated for the same award for his piece Resurrecting the Champ, which was made into a movie last year. I didn't see the flick but think the article is a monster, absolutely riveting.
Just check out this classic opening:
I'm sitting in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, waiting for a call from a man who doesn't trust me, hoping he'll have answers about a man I don't trust, which may clear the name of a man no one gives a damn about. To distract myself from this uneasy vigil--and from the phone that never rings, and from the icy rain that never stops pelting the window--I light a cigar and open a 40-year-old newspaper. * "Greatest puncher they ever seen," the paper says in praise of Bob Satterfield, a ferocious fighter of the 1940s and 1950s. "The man of hope--and the man who crushed hope like a cookie in his fist." Once again, I'm reminded of Satterfield's sorry luck, which dogged him throughout his life, as I'm dogging him now. * I've searched high and low for Satterfield. I've searched the sour-smelling homeless shelters of Santa Ana. I've searched the ancient and venerable boxing gyms of Chicago. I've searched the eerily clear memory of one New York City fighter who touched Satterfield's push-button chin in 1946 and never forgot the panic on Satterfield's face as he fell. I've searched cemeteries, morgues, churches, museums, slums, jails, courts, libraries, police blotters, scrapbooks, phone books and record books. Now I'm searching this dreary, sleet-bound Midwestern city, where all the streets look like melting Edward Hopper paintings and the sky like a storm-whipped sea. * Maybe it's fatigue, maybe it's caffeine, maybe it's the fog rolling in behind the rain, but I feel as though Satterfield has become my own 180-pound Moby Dick. Like Ahab's obsession, he casts a harsh light on his pursuer. Stalking him from town to town and decade to decade, I've learned almost everything there is to know about him, along with valuable lessons about boxing, courage and the eternal tension between fathers and sons. But I've learned more than I bargained for about myself, and for that I owe him a debt. I can't repay the debt unless the phone rings.
Moehringer is also the author of an acclaimed memoir, The Tender Bar. If you aren't familiar with his work, I highly recommend checking it out. He's one of the best we've got.
I haven't been drawn to Charlie Kaufman's movies (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), at least the ones he's written. So I can't say that I'm falling over myself to see his directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. However, I do admire the Times' film critic, Manohla Dargis, and she gave the movie nothing short of a rave this morning.
Yeah, it took some moxie on the part of Joe Maddon to stick with David Price, who wound up getting the final seven outs for the Rays last night (he also got a key break with a non-call in the ninth). And onions to Price for bending but not breaking.
The Series is tied at one as the action moves to Philly tomorrow night.
The Phillies were supposed to win Game 1 last night behind Cole Hamels, and they did. The Rays are supposed to win Game 2 tonight behind James Shields to salvage a split at home. Result pending. My preview is up on SI.com.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #44
By Chris DeRosa
A Goodbye in Eight Games
23 May: Sea 2 @ NY 13
I've only made it to a handful of games in recent years, so with this season being the last chance, I bought a seven-game package and distributed one of each pair of tickets to my family as Christmas presents. My dad and I got a good one to start it off. Andy Pettitte finished off hitters more efficiently than he usually does, and Matsui and Giambi had big games at the plate. Our seats were half-way up in right field, which afforded us a view of the new building. There is some comfort in the fact that it is literally across the street. When you go to new place, you're still making the familiar trip.
The most memorable game that I saw with my dad when it was just the two of us was Old Timers' Day, 1978. This game was a famous one in Yankee political history; they announced Billy Martin would return as manager—bizarrely, a year and a half later—and he got a deafening sustained ovation. We had an old used car at the time, and, getting onto the expressway on the way home, the engine burst into flames and we had to abandon it. There was a group of kids who saw it happen and broke into "Burn, baby, burn—disco inferno!"
19 June: SD 1 @ NY 2
A sunny Thursday afternoon game with my brother Ben, who is a Red Sox fan. As an exercise in nostalgic reverie, having the San Diego Padres as the visiting team is a bit jarring. Do the Tigers or Indians play ever here anymore? The Yankees announce the opposing lineup to the "Imperial March" from Star Wars, which by logic, should obviously be our theme, if you want to embrace the Evil Empire conceit. "It's because they have no sense of humor about themselves," says Ben.
Joba Chamberlain started for the Yanks and held San Diego's minor league lineup in check, striking out nine. In the second, he loaded the bases with no outs, but then he unclogged the inning with a strikeout, a tag out at home from a ball that squirted away from the catcher, and another strikeout. Chamberlain came out for the sixth, struck out the first two guys, and then must have reached 100 pitches, and Girardi took him out. "Why don't you just put him in a bubble?" said Ben.
30 June: Tex 2 @ NY 1
My friend Kevin, who is not a big fan, called me and told me he thought he'd better see Yankee Stadium before they tore it down. I went off the plan and splurged for tickets in Box 628, over third base in the upper deck, because I wanted to show him the sort of seats that will not exist in the new place. He was surprised to learn that Yankee Stadium is freshly painted, made of concrete, and only mildly pungent. He was under the impression that he was going to see some venerable old ballpark with rickety wooden planks and peeling paint.
Even Fruit I Like Room Temperature
Did you ever suck the jelly out of a jelly donut and then fill it with chocolate-swirl ice cream?
Mm'eeeh, could be.
Grace Under Pressure
Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, and Brad Lidge made like Stravinsky last night and composed a big win for the Phillies.
Philadelphia left a ton of runners on base because the Rays' pitching was excellent too. The experts said that Philly needed to win Game One. Now, let's hope the Rays tie it up tonight and make it a Serious.
It's strangely fitting that the Phillies and Rays are meeting in the latter's first World Series. When then-Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar was assembling what would be the inaugural Rays roster in late 1997, he decided to build his team around pitching and defense. Any good defensive team needs a strong defensive shortstop, so LaMar worked out a deal with the Phillies to draft a young outfielder out of the Astros' system in that November's expansion draft and flip him to Philadelphia for the Phillies good-field/no-hit shortstop Kevin Stocker.
Stocker had taken over the Phillies shortstop job as a rookie in July of their pennant-winning season of 1993 and had since established himself as one of the game's best defenders at the position. A 27-year-old switch-hitter who wouldn't price himself off the team, Stocker was exactly what LaMar was looking for to anchor his new team's infield. The problem was that LaMar had failed to notice the steep drop off in Stocker's defense during the 1997 season. Stocker's glove recovered in 1998, but he had his worst season at the plate, hitting just .208/.282/.313, and his season was mercifully ended a month early when his hand was broken by a pitch. The next year his bat picked up, but his glove work declined again, and knee tendonitis ended his season soon after the All-Star break.
That winter, LaMar scrapped his defense-first concept, signing aging sluggers Greg Vaughn and Vinnie Castilla to join Jose Canseco and original Ray Fred McGriff in the Tampa lineup. Stocker, the symbol of the Rays' abandoned approach of just two years earlier, was released in May. Despite LaMar's shift in focus, the Devil Rays of 2000 once again finished a distant last in the American League in runs scored. Making things worse, the young outfielder Lamar had used as currency to acquire stocker was a 23-year-old Bobby Abreu, who hit .312/.409/.497 as the Phillies' right fielder in the Rays' inaugural season of 1998 and proceeded to perform at a Hall of Fame level over his eight and a half seasons in Philadelphia.
Now, a decade later, LaMar is the Phillies' scouting director, and his team is in the World Series against a Rays' team that produced its first winning season, first playoff berth, first division title, and first pennant in part due to a renewed focus on pitching and defense. The signature player in that renewed focus is Jason Bartlett, a good-field/no-hit shortstop who was acquired for a talented young outfielder. The trick being that Bartlett wasn't the key player in the deal that brought him to Tampa Bay from the Twins, righty starter Matt Garza was, and the outfielder he was traded for, Delmon Young, is no Bobby Abreu, which just goes to prove that intention is only as good as its execution.
To be fair, LaMar deserves to have a better legacy in Tampa Bay. It was under Lamar that the Rays drafted Aubrey Huff, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, James Shields, B.J. Upton, Andy Sonnanstine, and Young, and it was Lamar who fleeced the Mets in the Scott Kazmir deal. Still, it took a change in ownership and an overhaul of the front office for the Rays to figure out how to make proper use of that bounty.
My point in all of this is that, even in a World Series in which the two combatants have just one prior championship between them (the lowest combined total since 1980 when the Phillies and Royals met, both looking for their first), there is still some history here.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #43
By Jacob Luft
I was lucky as a kid in that my parents used to let me tag along on business trips. Oftentimes that meant New York City, though it could also be Chicago or D.C.. On one such trip to the Big Apple, I remember taking in the view atop the Empire State Building, looking west across the Hudson River and asking my dad, "What's that over there?"
"Oh," he replied, "that's just New Jersey."
(Little did he know he was talking to a future bridge-and-tunnel boy and proud resident of West Orange, N.J.!)
If mom and dad didn't have time to take me out to see the sights themselves, they would leave me with my great aunt or some other family friend. Funny thing, though: I can't recall ever being consulted on the destination. I was at the grownups' mercy of what they considered to be a good time for a kid. That changed one day -- I don't remember the year, sometime in the mid-1980s -- when my mom got in touch with an old friend of hers from the old country (Nicaragua) who volunteered to watch me for the day.
Upon picking me up at the hotel he asked, "Where do you want to go kid?"
That was my cue.
It was the dead of winter. I had heard the newsman on the TV say it would be in the teens with minus-7 wind chill. Suffice it to say, there was no baseball scheduled on this day. Don Mattingly was on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean bashing coconuts. He wasn't bashing baseballs at the Stadium.
"Uh, you know it's not open right?"
"I don't care," I said. "I just want to see it."
"OK let's go."
He was kind enough to leave some frost on his windshield that morning for the benefit of a kid who had never seen snow, but it was more slush than anything at that point. Still, I was duly impressed. I recall crossing the river, heading toward the Bronx on the highway and seeing the big grey hulk of the Stadium rise up. He drove around in circles for a little while trying to afford me the best view possible. As many longtime Yankee fans have told me, the Stadium in the '80s was drab and dreary, and that jibes with what I saw that day. From the outside it seemed a lifeless edifice, especially with heavy sleet providing all of 30 feet of visibility. But hey, that was The House That Ruth Built, and Lou Gehrig played there and so did Joe D. and Mickey Mantle and all those guys on the baseball cards I had back home in a shoebox. I was on Cloud 9 just being so near to hallowed ground for the first time.
Unable to gain access to the Stadium itself, we did what I considered to be the next best thing: We ate a McDonald's a couple blocks away. Nothing like a Quarter Pounder, French Fries and a Coke to ease the sting. I remember the fries being extra salty, which went in perfect balance with the gritty neighborhood. And it wasn't just any McDonald's. It was a Yankee Stadium McDonald's, with pictures of Gehrig and Ruth and other legends all over the wall. My pilgrimage felt complete.
"So," my guide asked, "how about we go to the Statue of Liberty now?"
Jacob Luft is a senior editor at SI.com.
According to Joel Sherman, major league executives believe that Atlanta is a likely destination for Jake Peavy. Eh. So long he doesn't wind up in the AL East (i.e. Boston), right?
In a recent chat at ESPN, Buster Olney answered a Yankee question:
Dave (NY): I know you've said Cashman wouldn't make Tex a priority. How do things stand on that front? I'd rather have CC myself.
And wouldn't you know it, but Rob Neyer also fielded a Yankee question in his latest chat:
Josh (NY): Cano and Kennedy for Matt Kemp? Yankees need a center fielder and reports say the Dodgers love Cano.
Who out there is bully on Tex? What about CC? I don't know that either will end up in New York, but if I had to pick between the two, I'd guess that the Yankees have a better shot at Teixeira. Whadda ya think?
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #42
By Dick Lally
June 8, 1969: Mickey Mantle day. I grew up idolizing Mantle, and when he came back on the field to accept the adoration of a crowd that under appreciated his great skills for far too long, I must have set the Guinness Book record for most goose bumps in an afternoon.
We sat in box seats on the third base side, I was fourteen and the cheering was as dense as concrete, a baseball version of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. I came back a month later for Old Timers' Day and received the commemorative recording of the event as a keepsake. I had it for years until it was lost in a move.
During the regular game that day, my friend Patty and I went to the concession stand and found Mike Burke signing autographs. The Yankees president had that great head of grey hair which he wore stylish coiffed and nearly down to his shoulders. Patty called out, "You're a hippy," and Burke said, "That's right. Want to hear me hear me sing 'Purple Haze?," an answer that completely charmed the crowd of teenagers massed around him.
Dick Lally is the author nineteen books, including nine on baseball.
"Never let a woman in a red dress pass you by without talking to her."
As Mike Vaccaro notes in today's New York Post, life is moving quickly for one David Price. He's enjoying moments now that just don't happen everyday. Heck, any of us would be lucky if they happened once in a lifetime.
I watched Game 7 of the 2001 World Serious alone in my apartment with the sound off. When the Yankees lost I heard yelling from somewhere upstairs in my apartment building. Clearly, not everyone in the Bronx rooted for the Yankees. Over the next few days I ran into many Red Sox fans whose season had been made by the Yankee defeat.
The Sox have handled the Yankees over the past five year and Red Sox Nation has turned into their own entitled version of Yankee fans. I'll cop to it--I really wanted the Sox to lose the ALCS in the worst way. It practically made the season for me, saved us from another winter of Boston lording over the game. Now, I sound like a Sox fan. Funny how these things work.
Meanwhile, both Yankee and Sox fans will have the Rays to contend with for some time. But for now, I've got a peaceful, easy feeling. I can exhale, digest, and enjoy World Serious and then, the long winter.
The Tampa Bay Rays are a good baseball team. In fact, they're the best team in baseball. I give four reasons why over at SI.com.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #41
By Neil deMause
Of the five hundred or so games I've seen at Yankee Stadium, a fair number would probably qualify as "historic": The Pine Tar Game. The Jeffrey Maier Game. Don Mattingly's first postseason appearance. Jimmy Leyritz' game-winning 15th-inning homer in the 1995 ALDS, presaging his more famous game-winning 8th-inning homer in the World Series the following year. Game 6 of the 1996 World Series, which ended with Charlie Hayes' catch in foul ground and Wade Boggs atop a police horse. Game 4 in 2001, which ended with Derek Jeter's 10th inning "Mr. November" home run. Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, which ended with my friend David and I watching the final out on the TV in the bleachers concession stand, then turning on our heels and leaving before the Red Sox celebration could begin. No-hitters by Jim Abbott and Dwight Gooden (though I missed Dave Righetti's July 4 no-no against Boston, along with most of the other 300,000 people who now claim to have been there).
Those, though, are all historic events - they'd be just as famed if they'd happened somewhere else. When I think of my two-plus decades as a Yankee Stadium denizen, I keep coming back to one weekend in 1985, which though historic in its own way, was mostly memorable for other reasons:
FRIDAY: It was the summer before my sophomore year in college, and rumors of a baseball strike were in the air, so I was determined to jam in as many ballgames as possible. The final weekend before the deadline was a four-game series against the White Sox - still then in those hideous horizontal-striped jerseys - so I set out to see them all.
I took my usual seat in Section 39 - the bleachers were general admission in those days, so I'd sit in whatever row was far enough back to give room to stretch out, but close enough to hear what Dave Winfield was saying if he made one of his excursions through the outfield fence gate to chat with fans during a pitching change. The game was instantly a seesaw battle, and went into the 7th inning deadlocked at three apiece.
Andre Robertson, the former phenom whose career was derailed in a car wreck on the West Side Highway, led off with a single, and was pinch-run for by rookie Bobby Meacham. Dale Berra, brought in that year to play for his dad (who lasted all of 16 games), reached on an error, bringing up Rickey Henderson. Henderson lined a ball toward Death Valley - then still a spacious 411 feet from home - and Meacham charged home, pausing only briefly to see if the ball would be caught. Berra, meanwhile, was running head-down, and was only a few steps behind Meacham as they approached home plate.
I had a perfect view of the relay throw from Ozzie Guillen to Carlton Fisk as it arrived, well before Meacham. Fisk grabbed the ball, lunged one way to tag Meacham, then the other way to tag Berra. A stunned, awed silence settled over the stadium.
The Yanks ended up losing in extra innings. It all seemed somehow appropriate for those years.
Woo Hoo! Ray's Send Sox Down Lonely Avenue
Emily and I listened to the last couple of innings of Game Six on Saturday night driving home from a black tie function upstate. By the time we returned to the Bronx Em made me promise that we were not going to watch Game 7. So I had movies on Sunday afternoon--first The Pope of Greenwich Village and then Charlie Wilson's War. I watched Rourke and Roberts ham their way through the old Village and then made it through the first hour of Charlie Wilson's War with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and his mustache chewing up the scenery before Em asked how to check the score on-line.
We turned on the TV. The Rays were up 2-1 in the sixth, so it was safe to watch. And we didn't turn the tube off until past midnight, until the dopey post-game celebration and interviews were finished. We sat there, our hearts beating, especially during the top of the eighth, into it. Em complained that her stomach was hurting. Welcome to Baseball, lady, you asked for it. Of course, when it was all over, we went to bed heppy kets. Matt Garza was terrific, just that much better than Jon Lester, who was solid once again.
So much for momentum. So much for experience. The Future is Now and David Price saved the Rays' bacon and helped them advance to the World Serious. The Red Sox defended their championship admirably--the Rays had to beat them. And that's just what they did. Now, all the Red Sox fans littered throughout Manhattan can go home, go back to where they belong---they can go back to Brooklyn.
Don't Call It A Comeback
They've been doing this for years . . . friggin' Red Sox. If the Rays stagger like zombies through tonight's game, which they likely will, it'll be like 2004 all over again, except in a dome and on artificial turf. Awful. My preview of Game 7 is up on SI.com.
Joba Chamberlain makes his first boo boo. Glug, Glug.
Over at Why I Like Baseball, Cecilia Tan posts an interview she conducted with Tommy Tresh back in 2004:
Tresh: You know, I grew up with my dad being a major league ball player and because everything was there in front of me all the time, I never paid a whole lot of attention to it, to stats and all that. But I tell you there are a lot of people out there today who do. Playing in these fantasy camps and so on you really run into people who know everything. They know everything about you. Those have really been fun, for the players as well as the people who come. I've been doing them for over 20 years now but some of my best friends are people I've met through fantasy camps. It's like every year you have a week's vacation with your friends. So it's fantastic. As close friends as I've ever had. I've got friends of my own background that I might have known longer that I don't see a week a year. But the thing that makes it all work is that everybody has a love of the game, they have that one thread of common thing, and it doesn't matter if you're a fireman from New York or you're an attorney from Tampa, there are so many different variations of jobs and careers and so on that are all mixed together, and nobody wears that hat during that week, everybody wears a Yankee hat. It just really works well. I really enjoy it.
The Rays were seven outs away from a pennent and now they are one game away from going home. And they have to go through Jon Lester. Good Night and Good Luck. Or something like that. If Tampa finds a way to win Game 7 it will be a terrific story but they sure are facing an uphill battle. And I certainly wouldn't put any money on them, would you?
Night Of The Living Dead
Some teams would have been knocked out by the Red Sox's Game 5 comeback, the 2004 Yankees among them. I don't think the Rays are one of those teams and expect them to wrap up the pennant tonight. My prediction for this series was Sox in seven, but only if the Rays fail to win it in six. Never mind that I got most of the others wrong (Dodgers in six? Not so much). My preview of tonight's Game 6 is up on SI.com.
Observations From Cooperstown--Bucky's Blast
“Memory is what I have,” Hannibal Lecter said to Clarisse Starling during a thoughtful moment in The Silence of the Lambs. That might be a strange introduction to this story, but given the struggles of the Yankees this past summer, the memories of 30 years ago are far more appealing to this long-term fan of the franchise. It’s been three full decades, but the impressions of the fall of 1978 remained sharp and fully defined.
It’s still the most memorable game I have ever seen. It was a tie-breaking play-off game that took place on October 2 that season, when the Yankees and Red Sox grappled in Fenway Park’s October twilight to decide the championship of the American League East. If you’re old enough to have experienced that game, you remember exactly where you were that fall afternoon.
Ridden with injuries to key players like Goose Gossage, and laden with controversies involving the triumvirate of Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, and George Steinbrenner, the Yankees had endured a miserable first half of the 1978 season. On July 19, the Yankees reached a low-water mark when they fell 14 games back of the Red Sox. All seemed so incurably lost that Martin’s decision to resign four days later, which paved the way for the hiring of Bob Lemon, struck most observers as a move that would pay benefits the following season—and not any time sooner.
Lemon, a Hall of Fame pitcher who had received praise for his calm managing of the White Sox in the mid-seventies, didn’t see it that way. He restored order quickly by ignoring a fit of temper thrown by Jackson, and by fining Mickey Rivers and Roy White for breaking team rules. Under Lemon’s calming leadership, and aided by the continuing domination of ace left-hander Ron Guidry, the Yankees regrouped and slowly climbed back into contention in the American League East. A New York City newspaper strike didn’t hurt, either; annoying beat writers like Henry Hecht were no longer around to fan the flames of Yankee controversy.
To Serve Fans
Congress is taking Assemblyman Richard Brodsky's report about the new Yankee Stadium's cooked books seriously. The charge is being led by Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who is chairman of the House's Domestic Policy subcommittee:
In an e-mail interview on Thursday, Kucinich said that "our factual findings could be the basis for a later agency or court finding of legal liability."
One wonders if such action by the I.R.S. could have a direct effect on team payroll in the coming years, thereby making the Yankees' proposed spending spree this winter one that severely handicaps their flexibility in subsequent offseasons. It seems a long shot, and I certainly wouldn't expect the Yankees to alter their behavior in the near term, but this bears watching.
So the Yankees wrapped up their organizational meetings yesterday and they have their offseason plan in place. According to SI.com's Jon Heyman, the plan appears to be get everyone:
The Yankees' top executives have decided to pursue many of the game's premier free agents, chief among them starting pitchers CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe, and first baseman Mark Teixeira, among others, this winter. They will also will pursue Jake Peavy, the Padres' Cy Young-winning starting pitcher who may be available via trade, and may take a look at top free-agent outfielder Manny Ramirez . . . The Yankees will also consider bringing back starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, who has told them he'd like to return. . . . The Yankees may also consider Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets as yet another free-agent alternative, but there are some concerns about his injury history. If Mike Mussina decides he want to keep pitching, the Yankees would be interested in him, as well.
All this really tells us is that they Yankees aren't ruling anyone out and do plan to be big spenders this winter. So that's good, but before you get yourselves in a tizzy trying to figure out who the Yankees can trade for 2007 NL Cy Young award winner Peavy, bear this in mind from Pete Abe:
Barry Axelrod, Peavy's agent, made it clear this afternoon that his client wants to stay in the National League. "It's where he's comfortable," Axelrod said. "He knows the hitters and he enjoys that aspect of the game himself."
In other news, Chien-Ming Wang is throwing off a mound, the Yankees have stated their intent to return Joba Chamberlain to the rotation for 2009, and Phil Hughes is tearing up the hitters' paradise that is the Arizona Fall League with the new cutter he showed in his late-season return. That's all very encouraging and means the Yankees are really only likely to sign two, three tops of the six non-Peavy pitchers listed above, which includes Pettitte and Mussina.
If it were up to me, I'd stay away from Burnett and Sheets due to their Pavano-esque injury histories. Sheets averaged 134 2/3 innings from 2005 to 2007 and was unable to help the Brewers in the playoffs due to reoccurring elbow pain. Burnett had made 30 starts just once his his nine major league seasons prior to his walk year this year. Instead, I'd go after Sabathia (of course), Lowe, and Moose, with Pettitte as a backup option.
Lowe will be 36 in June, so he shouldn't be offered much more than a two-year deal. If he wants more, the Yanks can let him go and sign Pettitte, who has said he won't sign elsewhere and should take another one-year deal. Pettitte was awful down the stretch, but blamed his poor performance on a loss of stamina due to his failure to stick to his usual winter workout regimen as he wanted to stay out of sight during the fallout from the Mitchell Report. Mussina might want another two-year deal if he decides to return, as a return may mean a commitment to go for 300 wins (he's at 270), but he earned it by reestablishing himself as the staff ace this season. Given the fact that Wang, Chamberlain, and Hughes are in their team-control years, as is everyone in the bullpen except for Mariano Rivera and Damaso Marte (if the Yankees decide to pick up his $6 million option), a pair of two-year deals for Moose and Lowe would be extremely affordable and leave plenty of payroll room for the Yankees to throw Johan Santana money at Sabathia. Of course, CC, a career .261 hitter who connected for two home runs this year, may also prefer to stay in the NL where he can hit, but if that's the case, the Yanks can up their offers to Lowe and especially Mark Teixeira, the latter of whom is the free agent I most hope the Yankees will sign this winter.
Smile, it Won't Muss Up Your Hair
Happy Friday, Peoples.
And while yer at it, shake it, shake it:
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #40
By Jeff Pearlman
My family hated baseball.
That was the worst thing about growing up a sports fan at 24 Emerald Lane in Mahopac, N.Y. My mom could not care less about sports. My dad could not care less about sports. My brother could not care less about sports.
Me? I cared. Boy, did I care. My walls were lined with one poster after another—Rickey Henderson next to Wesley Walker next to George Foster next to Bernard King. My closets were stuffed—stuffed!—with baseball cards, 30 ... 40 together, rubber-banded in ways that left Mario Soto and Dan Pasqua positioned in the most awkward of poses. Dozens of baseball caps lined up neatly behind my bed.
But nobody cared.
Then, one day, my dad asked if I had any interest in going to a Yankee game. It was 1985 and Rich Green, one of his employees at Herz Stewart & Co., had an extra ticket. "You guys both love baseball," Dad said. "He wants to take you."
I still remember walking into the stadium that first time. We sat along the third base line, and my posters had come to life. There was Ken Griffey, Sr., his hat tipped high atop the front of his Afro, stretching calves the size of large dogs. There was Henderson, the great base stealer, twitching his fingers into white batting gloves. There was Henry Cotto, uhm, well, yeah. Henry Cotto. The grass was as green as a 7-Up label, Bob Sheppherd's voice even more God-like then the one I'd heard on TV all those times. My seat was made of a hard blue plastic, and as the innings passed I must have bounced up and down upon it, oh, 500 times. Like Victor Mata, I was just happy to be there.
I've been told a game was even played that day. I recall little of it, only that Dave Winfield made an amazing leaping catch into the rightfield stands and that Butch Wynegar started at catcher. Doesn't matter, though. What sticks with me is the magic of the day; the feeling of walking into a building and knowing love.
Jeff Pearlman is a writer for ESPN.com.
Shake n Bake
As I was walking down 50th street last night after work I thought about a friend who recently was in town. He couldn't stand walking in New York--or at least in midtown where he was staying. He complained to me about the congestion. "Why are people stopping to take pictures of a cop on a horse?"
As a native New Yorker, I take it for granted that as I walk I'm thinking two people ahead, and that slipping in and around clueless pedestrains is second nature to me.
On the subway platform I ran into a guy I used to know in the movie business. A music editor. I hadn't seen him in a long time. We met in 1988--twenty years ago, fer cryin' out loud--when I was a messenger and he was the music editor on The Last Temptation of Christ. He snuck me into a crew screening which was one of the highlights of my summer. I recall that I was sent on a delivery to 5th avenue and 58th street with twenty minutes to spare before the screening. I ran from the Brill Building on Broadway and 49th street and back, dodging through the crowds doing my best Barry Sanders, and was a hot, sweaty mess, but I made the screening. The movie had been scheduled to debut at the New York Film Festival but there was so much commotion over it, they rushed the post-production schedule and it was released in August. When the screening was over, I remember Michael Powell, the acclaimed British director and husband to Scorsese's longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, a frail man, stood up and remarked on Peter Gabriel's score.
I mentioned the incident to the music editor last night and he said, "I got in trouble for that." Which I also remembered. We smiled about it. Then talked about how much the business has changed, who has died who is still around. Then we said goodbye. But I'll never forget how exclusive I felt, sitting in that screening, or how this dude went out of his way to do a solid for an eager young kid when he knew he'd get balled out for it.
It's a Start
The Yankee brass met yesterday and Hank Steinbrenner told the AP: "The plan as of right now is [Joba] Chamberlain is going to be a starter," the Yankees co-chairman said. "Everybody's pretty much in agreement with that." (King, NY Post)
Apparently, Andy Pettitte would like to return. Perhaps Mike Mussina will be back as well, although I'm less sure about that. Still, it would be cool to see Chamberlain begin the year in the starting rotation. That would be nifty.
Deja Vu (All Over Again)
They won't die. The Red Sox just don't go away. They are a tough out and as much as I dislike them, I admire that as defending World Champs, they are making it difficult for the young Rays, who kicked away a shot at going to the World Serious last night. Evan Longoria with an awful play in the eighth (after making a nice pick) and then Gabe Gross with perhaps the worst pressure throw in recent memory helped the Sox tie the game. It was a forgone conclusion that the Sox would win it in the ninth. When Carlos Pena came to bat with runners on first and second and just one out in the top of the inning, Chip Carey said, "Pena's only hit into two double plays all year..."
The kiss of death...Thanks, Skip.
Hey, the Rays now have a painful moment they've got to live with. They broke their cherry.
Funny thing is, I still think the Rays will win this series, in six. As a friend of mine pointed out last night, my belief about momentum vanished after that Albert Pujols dinger off Brad Lidge didn't secure the series for the Cards a few years back. I sure wouldn't be surprised if the Sox took it in seven. Upset, yes? Shocked, no.
Gettin' All Mavericky
Joe Maddon has taken a team that was the worst in the majors a year ago and brought them to within one game of the World Series, but with a chance to win that one game tonight, he's swapped out his best starter in favor of the one who gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 2 . . . and it's the right move. Now that's mavericky! Of course the Rays may lose tonight, but they might have lost anyway like they did the last time they faced Daisuke Matsuzaka, and now they're more likely to win Game 6. My preview's up on SI.com.
And since I've got SNL in my LCS, here's a little something for NL fans.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #39
By Mark Feinsand
Since I started covering the Yankees in 2001, I have witnessed some of the most memorable moments in history at Yankee Stadium. Not just Yankees history or Yankee Stadium history, but baseball history.
The Aaron Boone home run. The Red Sox ALCS comeback. Roger Clemens' 300th win. Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius hitting dramatic homers in the bottom of the ninth on consecutive nights in the 2001 World Series.
But when I was asked what moment stands out to me from my time as a fan (1978-2000), there was one that jumped to mind immediately.
It was Tuesday, October 17, and the Yankees were trying to close out the Mariners in Game 6 of the ALCS. The Mets had closed out the Cardinals in the ALCS the night before, and a win over Seattle would send the Yanks into the first true Subway Series between the crosstown rivals.
As a kid growing up in New York in the '80s, I had many more friends that were Mets fans than Yankees fans, since the 1986 Mets captivated the city and seemed to turn most 10-12 year olds into Mets fans. But with a father who grew up in the Bronx, I wasn't about to be a convert (He did help me become a San Francisco Giants fan, however, having moved to the Bay Area in 1989, but that's another story). A World Series between the Yankees and Mets would be the most memorable baseball week in my lifetime.
I was at the game with my buddy Matt Sadofsky, his sister, Janna, and their father, Lenny. Sadofsky and I were fraternity brothers at Boston University, and as Yankees fans living in Boston, we had become good friends while fending off the Sox fans that surrounded us.
We watched the ALDS games at a sports bar in 1995 (that was the year of the Baseball Network, so the Red Sox series against the Indians was on local TV, forcing us to spend what little money we had to watch at the Sports Depot) and sped home in about 38 seconds to watch Jim Leyritz hit his homer after the manager told us they were closing up.
So Long, Farewell
Tommy Tresh died yesterday. Vic Ziegel writes that Tresh was a nice guy, always available to chat with reporters, even if he didn't have much to offer. I hunted around my Yankee library last night, found some stuff on Tresh, and Ziegel was right, he wasn't especially interesting. But he was a good Yankee and Ziegel shares his one good Tresh story here.
Stairway to Heaven
Something tells me Matt Stairs' home run in Game 4 was the unofficial end of the Dodgers' season. We'll find out tonight. The Dodgers' last hope is that their 24-year-old ace, Chad Billingsley, can beat the Phillies' 24-year-old ace, Cole Hamels. I don't see it happening. My preview is up on Si.com.
Random Thought: how often did the Dodgers' 68-year-old manager accidentally call Billingsley "Clay Bellinger" this year?
October is a bittersweet time for baseball fans. A long and sometimess difficult season comes to an end with the excitement (and often disappointment) of the postseason. We hate to see it go, but to be free of our rooting obligations is also a kind of liberation. There's no greater consolation, whether your team's been eliminated from play or just taken one on the nose in a tough game, than the splendors of autumn, especially in the northeast.
Check it out.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #38
By Hank Waddles
I have only been to Yankee Stadium three times, but each visit holds a significant spot in my memories. My first visit changed my life. I was born in Detroit, Michigan, and geography told me to root for the Tigers until at the age of seven in the summer of 1977 I convinced my parents to spend one day of our New York City vacation at Yankee Stadium. Catfish Hunter started the game, Chris Chambliss launched a late pinch-hit home run to bring the Yanks from behind, and Sparky Lyle got the win in relief. My strongest memory from that afternoon, though, is of a play that wasn't made. Graig Nettles lunged into the stands in pursuit of a foul pop-up, and I was confused when the crowd cheered for him even though he hadn't been able to make the grab. "They're cheering because he gave it his all," my mother explained. He gave it his all. To this day, whenever I hear that phrase I think of Graig Nettles.
My third visit was bittersweet. Last month my family and I flew across the country to New York from our home in California so that my children could one day say they had been to the original Yankee Stadium, the place where Ruth and Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio, Yogi and Whitey, Reggie and Thurman, Jeter and Rivera had all played. A-Rod homered, Jeter picked up four hits, Mike Mussina coasted to his sixteenth win, and everyone went home happy, but a little sad that we'd never visit again.
Neither of those games, as memorable as they were, measures up to the visit I made in August of 1997. A friend's wedding brought me to the east coast, and as fate would have it, Don Mattingly Day was scheduled while I was in the area.
Mattingly, for me, was everything, a bright light in a dark time. The previous generation of Yankee fans had Bobby Murcer to guide them through the wilderness, but Mattingly was better; in my teenage mind, he was legendary. I was fourteen years old when he outlasted Dave Winfield for the American League batting title, and I remember tracking each of his hits in a computer program I'd written. (This was long before the instant gratification of the internet, and I couldn't wait for the stats in the Sunday sports section.) A few years later, just before he was robbed of what should've been his second MVP award, I announced to my mom that I would one day name my son after him. (As it happened, I didn't, but I was wearing a Yankee jersey in the delivery room when my son Henry was born.) Even when I got to college I mirrored Mattingly's batting stance during IM softball games, crouching low and turning my front toe towards home plate.
Mmm, Mmm, Good.
I have watched all of the playoff games but it wasn't until Willie Aybar's blast last night that I made an audible noise. I jumped up off the couch and yelled, then crossed the room to high five my wife. She saw me coming and was scared, so she slipped her hand behind her back like a turtle retreating into its shell. She didn't want any part of a stinger.
I watched the game last night with a mixture of glee and dread. I've effectively blocked out most of the details of the 2004 collapse but it won't ever go away, at least not yet. And of course, the Indians blew a 3-1 lead against the Sox last season too, so no, I don't think Boston is out of it. I won't believe the Sox are done until they are done. Dude, I was nervous when they scored their fourth run of the game last night, and when I went over the possible pitching match-ups for Games 5, 6, and 7, I convinced myself that the Rays are in trouble.
Still, that game was a Lu Lu. And when I wasn't being nuerotic, I enjoyed every last minute of it.
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
The Rays beating Jon Lester last night has changed the look of the ALCS. I had figured Lester to give the Sox a 2-1 lead in the series with the Rays tying things up tonight in a favorable matchup between Tim Wakefield and Andy Sonnanstine. Now, if the Rays win tonight, they're a game away from the World Series and the Sox will have to win two straight just to force a Game 7 and get Lester back to the hill. How quickly things can turn. My preview of tonight's game is up on SI.com.
Bobby Meacham is just destined to be a hapless figure in Yankee history.
Those of us who remember all too well his misadventures as a player in the Eighties can't be shocked by the news that Meacham has been fired as the Yankees' third base coach. Pete Abe has the details--and also links to an item by Mark Feinsand reporting that pitching instructor Rich Monteleone was canned too.
Think Tino Martinez will become a coach? Or maybe perhaps this will mark the return of Lucky Luis Sojo?
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #37
By Tyler Kepner
[Editor's Note: This piece was written and submitted before the end of the regular season...]
My seat in the press box is Row 1, Seat 1. I have sat there for seven seasons as the Yankees' beat writer for the New York Times. The Star-Ledger is to my right, and the visiting television booth is to my left.
The color analyst sits on the right side of that booth, so I am separated from him by a glass panel. You can't really talk unless you lean out the front of the box, but you can communicate by signals. Was that pitch a slider or a curve? A changeup or a splitter? You make the universal hand motions for the pitch, and you get your answer.
Most of the analysts wear a World Series ring, it seems. Bert Blyleven of the Twins wears his 1987 ring. (I've never seen his '79 model, from the Pirates.) Rod Allen of the Tigers wears his 1984 ring, Rex Hudler of the Angels wears his 2002 ring, and so on.
When Ron Fairly worked for the Mariners, he wore a 1989 Giants N.L. champs ring, from his days in the booth in San Francisco. I always wondered what happened to the three rings he won as a player with the Dodgers.
The broadcasters have their quirks. Hudler always holds onto a baseball when he calls a game. He calls it his pacifier. Jerry Remy of the Red Sox does every game with a little stuffed "Wally The Green Monster" on the desk in front of him. Nobody keeps more meticulous notes than Blyleven.
Sometimes I'll look up the broadcasters' career stats on my laptop, careful to tilt the screen away, in case they catch a glance. I remember learning that Candy Maldonado (he wears a '92 Blue Jays ring) pinch-hit in the ninth inning of the game that made me happier than any sporting event ever the final game of the 1983 N.L.C.S., when the Phillies won the pennant. (I was 8. Candy struck out.)
I'll miss stuff like that when the Yankees move. Maybe I'll have the seat next to the visiting broadcasters again, but I doubt it. And I doubt I'll walk down the ramps after night games, instead of taking the elevator.
The ramps from the loge level to the street remind me of how old the place really is they're impossibly cramped, with low ceilings, thick black bars on the sides, and what I assume to be the original structural bolts, painted over many times. It's better to walk the ramps when it's empty, I suppose, late at night.
I remember covering the Angels in 1998, when a chunk of steel fell into the loge level seats down the left field line before a game at the Stadium that April. You knew then that the place was doomed, but it has stood for one more decade.
Now it has finished with a string of seasons where four million people packed in. The fans should be proud of that. The fortunes of the team rise and fall, but to the end, Yankee Stadium never lost its appeal.
Tyler Kepner is the Yankee beat writer for The New York Times.
Battered n Bruised
The Dodgers had the Phillies right where they wanted them, poised to even-up the series, and then, it happened: Victorino tied the game and the Lumber Jack, Hard-hitting Matt Stairs creamed a fastball deep into the night--I don't know if has landed yet.
In the words to Bobby D, the Dodgers Bleeeeww it.
Sure, L.A. can come back. It has been done. But it's not likely. I sure wouldn't put any money on 'em. Meanwhile, the Rays beat up Jon Lester, a major hurdle. They've still got a loooong way to go before they defeat the Sox. But it's a start.
How Lowe Can You Go?
The Red Sox figure to win behind Jon Lester this evening. That puts the focus back on the Dodgers and Phillies in the late game. With Cole Hamels lurking as the Phillies' starter for Game 5, the Dodgers need to win tonight just as much as they needed to win last night. Joe Torre is taking his chances with Derek Lowe on three-day's rest rather than turn to the very young Clayton Kershaw or the very old Greg Maddux. Is it the right move? My previews are up on SI.com
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #36
By Jonah Keri
My first trip to Yankee Stadium was supposed to be my second trip. A last-minute bailout the first time delayed the inaugural expedition for 12 years.
The day was August 12, 1995, the summer after second year of college. Brian, Elan, Eric and I set out on a four-day baseball road trip down the East Coast, with the first stop in the Bronx.
It took a while. The drive from Montreal takes six hours. There was also a stop at Crabtree & Evelyn to buy this girl we were staying with a gift for her hospitality. (Sales clerk at the store, inquiring about our gift choice: "Is she earthy?). When we finally arrived at the ballpark (one of the scam-job parking lots around the park, to be precise), we were zonked. Stepping out of the car, we felt the blast out of a muggy New York evening, complete with all the smells you come to expect from a quality borough on a hot summer night.
We were expecting a shrine, a living monument commemorating Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Meacham, all the Yankees greats. Instead, we got a zoo. Swarms of people everywhere, flitting around the periphery of this monstrous structure. We were told to pick up our tickets at Gate something, we couldn't remember. After 30 minutes of darting through the throng, shoving people aside and getting piss-off responses from fans and stadium workers alike, we finally found our ticket window. Made it to our seats in the bleachers just in time for first pitch.
Once again, it smelled. Awful. We were told that trash sometimes piled up under the bleachers, but we figured that was just an exaggeration. Um no, it was not. Combined with the sweltering heat (89 degrees at game time), we were doing everything in our power to focus on the game, or beers anything other than the sticky, stinky, squashed-in mess that was left field that night.
Card Corner--Joe Niekro
Two weekends ago, the Hall of Fame held its annual fantasy camp, an event that will forever remind me of Joe Niekro. Two years ago, Niekro made his final public appearance at the Cooperstown camp. Three weeks later, he was gone, the victim of a brain aneurysm that claimed his life at the age of 61.
Whenever we hear of someone’s passing, someone that we just saw days or weeks before, it always hits us a bit harder. On that Saturday in October, Joe Niekro seemed to be in very good health. Working as a fantasy camp coach under his Hall of Fame brother Phil, Joe threw back-to-back seven-inning games at Doubleday Field in the afternoon and then took part in a discussion panel at the Hall of Fame that night. He was one of the best people on that panel—outgoing, funny, and full of pride in his son, Lance, who had managed to make his major league debut with the Giants three years earlier. (Lance, by the way, has fittingly taken Joe’s place at the last two Hall of Fame fantasy camps, working side by side with uncle Phil.) But the overriding theme of Joe Niekro’s comments involved sincere admiration for his Hall of Fame brother. Like most people in the audience that night, I learned that he and Phil were remarkably close, closer it appeared than most sets of athletic brothers. There was not even a trace of jealousy on the part of Joe toward his more famous brother; there was simply respect and love for a big brother who happened to be a Hall of Fame pitcher.
Although Joe’s career did not achieve the same heights as Phil, he was an awfully good pitcher, too. Remarkably, Joe achieved most of his pitching glory after turning 30. He struggled in his early years, bouncing from the Cubs to the Padres to the Tigers to the Braves, just trying to establish himself as something more than a journeyman right-hander. His career began to change in 1973 and ’74, when he joined Atlanta. Having toiled primarily as a fastball-slider pitcher in the late sixties and early seventies, Joe began learning about a third pitch—the knuckleball—that he would add to his pitching repertoire. It was the same pitch that had already made his brother the ace of the Braves’ pitching staff. As teammates in 1973 and ’74, Joe learned all he could about the knuckleball from Phil, ranging from the basics of throwing it to the sophistication of making it flutter within the strike zone. Borrowing a page from big brother’s notebook, Joe began using the knuckleball more and more when he joined his next team, the Astros, in 1975. He didn’t master the knuckleball right away—no one does—but he refined it over the next few seasons, until it became the primary weapon in a highly effective pitching arsenal.
Watch the Closing Doors
Two, Three, Break.
Claudia La Rocco had a great profile in The Sunday Times on a dance troupe called the Subway Entertainment Crew. They can usually be found on either the 4 of 5 trains:
The entire piece, which is accompanied by a slide show, is well worth checking out.
Shea Ya Later
You've got to hand it to the Worldwide Leader. They sure know how to stockpile talent--writers like William Nack, Chris Jones, Howard Bryant, and Wright Thompson, to name just a few. How about J.R. Moehringer, the award-winning journalist and author of the terrific memoir The Tender Bar? Moehringer wrote a fairwell to Shea Stadium recently--I missed it completely until I was browsing around ESPN's site over the weekend--and it is first-rate, like most everything he writes:
If you haven't seen the latest editon of The Best American Sports Writing (edited by Nack), the volume is worth picking up for Moehringer's non-profile profile of USC coach Pete Carroll alone.
The Dodgers got back into the NLCS in more ways than one last night, first by refusing to be bullied by Philly's aggresive pitching tactics, and more importantly by coming away with a win. L.A. looks to tied the series tonight.
I caught Game Two last Friday night with Jay Jaffe. His best call of the evening? Blake DeWitt is a dead-ringer for our own Cliff Corcoran. It really is a pretty good call, man.
The Rays pulled out their must-win game in extra-innings last night. Now, the Dodgers arrive home down 0-2 in the NLCS facing not just one, but a pair of must-win games. With Cole Hamels lurking as the Phillies' Game 5 starter, the Dodgers simply cannot afford to lose either tonight or Monday and give Hamels a chance to pitch Philadelphia into the World Series Wednesday night. Fortunately for the Dodgers, tonight's pitching matchup is in their favor. . . .
Read the rest on SI.com.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #35
By Bruce Markusen
My father first took me to Yankee Stadium in 1973 when I was all of eight years old. I didn't realize it until just before the Stadium finale last monthwhen I finally looked up the game on Retrosheetthat it was actually the final night game in the history of the old Yankee Stadium. More specifically, it was the night of September 28th, a Friday night, with the Yankees playing host to the venerable Detroit Tigers. Like the Yankees, the Tigers were playing out the string that fall, but they carried a royal bearing as the defending American League East champions.
As I recall, we had seats somewhere down the left field line; I think they may have been in the reserved section. Man, I loved that Stadium, from its landmark facade, to the wonderful way the upper deck framed the ballpark, to the fading green color of the seats. It was both a stadium and a time machine. Though my father and I had an unobstructed view, some fans near us were positioned right behind one of the old Stadium's columns, which must have completely blocked their vantage point. (Some people call them posts or pillars, but we always referred to them as columns.) Those old columns, while they looked regal on TV or from a long distance, and gave the place the classic feel of a Roman coliseum, were just about the only drawback to that terrific old ballpark.
Aside from those ever-present columns, I'll always remember that game first and foremost for the fact that Woodie Fryman started for the Tigers. (For some reason, my father and I talked about Fryman a lot that night. He was a pretty good left-hander, a so-so starter for the Tigers who eventually became a very serviceable reliever for the Expos.) Fryman gave up all four Yankee runs over six innings, despite having pitched a shutout through the first five frames. The Yankees' early offensive ineptitude against Fryman shouldn't have been surprising considering that Celerino Sanchez batted fifth in manager Ralph Houk's lineup. I haven't bothered to do the research, but that might have been the only time that Sanchez batted fifth in anyone's lineup.
It should have been the last time, too.
Music to My Ears
Thank you for doing your best to make this a series. Course it won't really be a series until Boston trails but it is a start. Now, it's up to the Dodgers to get back into it at home against the Phils later today.
With Jon Lester looming in Game 3 as the ALCS is set to move up to Fenway, tonight's Game 2 at the Trop is a must-win for the Rays. Unfortunately, Scott Kazmir hasn't been sharp since May. My preview of tonight's game is up over on SI.com.
Mouth of the South
More fun from the Yankee front office...
Hank Steinbrenner sure does give good quote. Here's the lastest, via George King:
"There is one very important point here," Steinbrenner told The Post during an exclusive half-hour session. "The most important thing to remember is this: If you didn't get it from me or my brother [Hal], it doesn't mean [anything]. I don't care about some piss-ant employee. If you don't get it from me or Hal, it's meaningless. I have a lot of things [in Tampa] and Hal is in New York, which is good."
Mum's the woid from here on out, eh?
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #34
By Maggie Barra
The big deal over the end of the Yankee Stadium is over and before long we'll be seeing pictures of the Stadium being torn apart. But I don't want to see those images because I want to keep my memories alive.
The first time I remember going to Yankee stadium is one of my earliest childhood memories. I can't recall every detail, but I vividly remember the first time I looked out on the field. I was six; I know that because I got to leave my first grade class early. My father was already there, my mother and I joined him.
I remember being perplexed by the slanted ramps that seemed to never merge and were separated by black vertical bars. I remember the dark blue paint next to white everywhere and knowing that they were the Yankee colors. I followed about two feet behind my mother. The game had already started, and most of the people were in their seats. There was a small square doorway resembling a miniature tunnel; the walls were navy again with a hint of shine that felt sticky and reminded me of rubber, especially against the unremarkable concrete floor.
There was a slight upward climb past the door. My mother's high heels clacked as she hurried, then suddenly she stopped at the edge, seeming to stand in the open with no roof over her. I came up behind her and saw it for the first time. Before I noticed the actual stadium, a deafening roar arose from all around me and a lit up sign announced "Home Run!" I had heard of a home run before, but wasn't sure what it meant, but I knew from the crowd's reaction that it was good.
As I stood there, I felt a little breathless as I managed to take in this very large, wonderful place. I noticed the green grass with a crisscross pattern, the white letter-looking sign behind home plate, the endless supply of people surrounding the field except for the spaces with no seats, and at the back, a black area underneath the scoreboard. The net behind the plate expanded like a spider web.
School is in Session
It's almost like a flashback watching these Red Sox. They really are like the Yankee teams of the '90s--they just find a way to win. The Rays had their chances last night--bases loaded in the first, first and third no out in the seventh, first and second nobody out in the eighth--but the Sox set them down. Need a double play ball, bingo, you got it. Need a hitter to swing 3-0 and pop out, boom, it's done.
And the Sox take Game 1, 2-0. Nice, tidy, efficient. Somebody is going to have to beat the defending World Champs, cause they sure don't beat themselves.
Hey, Good Lookin'
The only uniform number the Tampa Bay
Nine major league clubs featured pinstripes on their home uniforms this year, but after the Yankees, whose use of the pinstripes dates back to 1915, the Phillies are the major league team with the longest uninterrupted use of pinstripes on their home uniform. The Phillies adopted the original version of their current home duds in 1950, the year the Whiz Kids got swept by the Yankees in the World Series. They had one major redesign that stretched from 1970 to 1991, but still featured pinstripes at home, then switched back to an updated version of the Wiz Kids uniform. The alternate home unis which the Phils wore in Game 1 of the NLDS are a variation on the the home duds they wore from 1946 to 1949.
Similarly, the Red Sox and Dodgers have been models of sartorial consistency. The design of the Red Sox's home uniforms dates back to 1933 and, save for some variations striping and piping, the only significant change it has experienced since then was a six-year flirtation with pullover v-necks in the '70s. As for the Dodgers, save for the addition, removal, and restoration of names on the back and the swapping out of the "B" on their caps for an interlocking "LA," their home uniforms have remained unchanged since they introduced the red number on the front in 1952, while the distinctive Dodgers script dates back to 1938. Also, their current road uniforms are a variation on the road flannels they wore for their first 13 years in Los Angeles.
The Rays, of course, have brand new uniforms this year along with a brand new color scheme and their sort-of-new name. I think they could beat the Sox in six in the ALCS that starts tonight, but it's more likely that the series will go to a seventh game, which means the Sox will win because they'll have Jon Lester on the mound for Game 7. My preview of today's games is up on SI.com
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #33
By Kat O'Brien
Unlike many of you, my first experience at Yankee Stadium was recent. I grew up in the Midwest, never came to New York until 1999, and didn't get the chance to go to a game at Yankee Stadium until the 2004 playoffs. Yes, those playoffs that Yankee fans would love to forget and fervently wished had never happened and had never let the Red Sox get back in the World Series.
Because my in-person experiences at Yankee Stadium are all within the past five years, what stands out most are the larger-than-life events that have been held there. To me, that's the way it should be, since Yankee Stadium has held big events since its inception. Along with playing host to so many World Series games, people remember great boxing matches held there by the likes of Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis; Notre Dame's "Win for the Gipper" over Army; and several Papal visits. Mostly, though, it's all about baseball.
I remember in 2001, watching on TV as baseball resumed at Yankee Stadium after 9/11. I remember vividly the attempted return to normalcy amid tremendous emotion. I was not yet covering baseball, so I could root for teams. I had never been a Yankees fan, had followed the Cardinals growing up, but I wanted the Yankees to win the World Series that year. That sentiment isn't unique in any way, but I felt like maybe something good could happen there to make New Yorkers smile after tragedy.
Then I remember the playoffs and the in-season series against the Red Sox, which always feel like postseason games. I covered that American League Division Series in which the Yankees beat the Twins (Alex Rodriguez's first playoff series in pinstripes) and the American League Championship Series where the Red Sox broke the Yankees' hearts. The crowds were so into those games that it was a huge thrill just to be in attendance even when some of the games ended so late that deadlines were a mess.
And finally, I remember the All-Star Game this year. The Yankees did a tremendous job of bringing back greats from the past few decades of All-Star Games. And the spectacle was a perfect sendoff for the Stadium, a celebration of all the great baseball that has been played at Yankee Stadium for so many years. Having the Yankees' own World Series greats, from Yogi Berra to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter to Mariano Rivera; there made it oh-so-memorable. I believe most of us thought, even at midseason, that there would eventually be a sendoff in the playoffs. That wasn't to be, but I'm sure Yankees fans will always remember the All-Star Game as an emblem of the greatness that has been Yankee Stadium over the years.
I enjoyed my last few trips to the Stadium, peeking in as the 4 train rolled up to the 161st Street Subway. To me, seeing the Stadium before it's open to fans always feels like you're stealing a glimpse.
Kat O'Brien is the Yankee beat writer for Newsday.
Yankee Panky #64: Awards
The Yankees finished 2008 with an 89-73 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993, leading many to wonder what went wrong. There was a sense of uncertainty surrounding this team going back to last November and December, when amid the fallout of another ALDS loss, the managerial situation, specifically how the team handled Joe Torre's contract, mushroomed to a PR disaster. Anyone stepping into that mess, whether it was Joe Girardi, Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa, would have felt squeezed. Throw in the A-Rod contract situation and the World Series drama with Scott Boras, Andy Pettitte's vacillating between retiring and returning before signing the $16 million deal and being named in the Mitchell Report and Hank Steinbrenner's impersonation of his father, and it was an offseason to forget.
On the field, the Yankees did what they've done each of the last four years: dug themselves a big hole with a slow start. While they valiantly tried to extricate themselves, they just did not have the horses to climb over a handful of teams to play October baseball in Yankee Stadium II's curtain call. In short, as a team, the Yankees were incomplete. There were some debilitating injuries — losing Jorge Posada and Chien-Ming Wang for the last 3 ½ months were crushers, to be sure. But overall, the maladies that plagued the Yankees for the better part of the last three or four seasons caught up with them. Age, poor situational hitting, and erratic pitching and defense were recurring ills. During down times, those holes were gaping. Alex Rodriguez, despite the six-week absence in April and May, could not and did not carry the offense as he did a year ago. With 32 HR, 103 RBI and 104 runs scored, he had a down year — for him. According to Baseball Prospectus, A-Rod posted below league-average numbers in RBI situations (he drove in 15.1% of runners during RBI situations overall, and a conversion rate of just 33.7% with runners on third), and in at-bats where the double play was in effect, his 15.3 GIDP percentage was the fourth-highest among MLB third basemen.
A-Rod wasn't the only one under fire Robinson Cano got the big contract and regressed. Melky Cabrera proved what scouts have said for the better part of two years — he's a fourth outfielder at best. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, the two supposed stalwarts of the Yankees' future starting rotation, bombed. The bullpen was a mess. Even Mariano Rivera was not immune to the scrutiny: his numbers in save situations.
And unlike the Red Sox, who were able to infuse their lineup with youngsters like Jed Lowrie, who has made Julio Lugo expendable, the Yankees had little in the minors to fill the holes.
How did the numerous media outlets treat the Yankees? Relentlessly until they figured out that the Yankees would miss the playoffs and they were a non-story.
As usual, all the action around the Bronx made for interesting reading and viewing, which brings us to the 2008 Yankee Pankies, which cover the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Yankees' on-field play and the media's coverage of it.
You Ain't the Boss o Me
You might find this shocking, but Joe Torre's big brother doesn't exactly think the world of Hank Steinbrenner. Go figure that.
Maybe he'd like Michael Scott as a Boss instead.
Spirit of '77
Sadly the Royals and Yankees will be watching from home, but the Phillies and Dodgers are set to square off in the NLCS for the fourth time since 1977 (and first since 1983). I think the Dodgers will take this in six games, their two loses coming the games started by Cole Hamels. My preview of Game 1, which pits Hamels against impending free agent Derek Lowe, is up on SI.com.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #32
By Marty Appel
As the days of Yankee Stadium wound down in September, there was a lot of talk about the majesty and perfection of the original, 1923-73 ballpark, and talk of how the remodeled park (1976-2008) paled in comparison.
I worked in both ballparks. Let me tell you, when the new one opened in 1976, nobody talked in disappointing terms. The feeling was that the new had captured the grandeur of the old, while adding the touches that made it more fan friendly, not to mention safer. The old place, after all, was no longer structurally sound and needed repair.
What has been largely forgotten over time is the horrible obstructed view seats in the original park, with so many steel poles extending through each deck, causing horrible sight lines. In addition, there were no escalators, the rest rooms were antiquated, the place was developing a seedy quality, and it wasn't attractive to fans. Barely a million a year were trekking up to the Bronx.
It's like the nostalgia for Ebbets Field. Few remember how narrow and uncomfortable the seats were. Your knees bounced off your chest. It was a terrible place to see a game.
The new place opened to generally rave reviews, and two million came to see it in year one. It was the first time an American League team had drawn that many people in a quarter century. Baseball was beginning to find its sea legs in the mid '70s after a decade of lost ground to the NFL. An exciting '75 World Series set the table. A Yankee pennant in a new Yankee Stadium in 1976 really set baseball into its modern marketing era.
The introduction of luxury suites, a modern marvel scoreboard, and hey unobstructed views from every seat turned Yankee Stadium into a fan delight. On top of that, the team began to shine with star after star. They won ten pennants in the new Stadium, and although they won zero between 1982-1996, the team was always competitive, always had star power, and became worthy of Broadway show prices.
Munson and Jackson were followed by Winfield and Mattingly, and they were followed by Jeter and Williams and O'Neill and Rivera. With skilled role players, the roster was finely crafted to produce not only championships clubs but also a likeable Yankee team a new concept to a sports culture used to either loving or hating the Yankees.
To me, the only regret about the modernization was that it eliminated the ability to have Yankee Stadium declared a landmark, and to keep the concrete walls standing. I welcome the new stadium. No one ever expected the team to draw four million a year, and they just plain outgrew the current one.
But it would have been nice to see the concrete shell, the one that goes back to 1923, find a way of remaining, no matter what will ultimately come to be on the land itself.
Marty Appel attended his first Yankee Stadium game in 1956, and worked for the team from 1968-92, first in PR and then as TV producer. He now runs Marty Appel Public Relations and is the author of the forthcoming biography, MUNSON: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain (Doubleday).
The Manny and Joe Show
The headline on the back cover of the Daily News today reads:
Torre & Manny's succes in L.A. turns into...YANKS' WORST NIGHTMARE
They've got to sell papers, I get it, but the only nightmare I can see is the Red Sox winning the World Serious again (and even that's not enough to keep me up at night). I don't think the Yankees would have made the playoffs if Torre had stuck around, do you? Which is not to say that I don't hope he wins it all with the Dodgers--the story is just too good to pass up (though I'd rather see Tampa to win it all at this pernt). I would smile from ear-to-ear if Torre wins a Serious in Hollywood.
Of course Manny is the superstar getting the most ink right now, deservedly so. In this week's Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci's article on the Manny and the Dodgers has some good nuggets on Manny's brilliance on the field.
In the signature at bat of the series, in Game 1, Ramirez swung flat-footed at a wicked shoe-top-high 0-and-2 curveball from reliever Sean Marshall and blasted it 420 feet into the Wrigley Field bleachers.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #31
By Joe Sheehan
My set of Yankee Stadium memories is different than those of most fans my age. In 1989, I started college at the University of Southern California, finishing in the spring of 1994. After a brief stint back east, I moved back to the Los Angeles area in January of 1995, where I lived until the spring of 2007.
I missed the dynasty. I missed Mystique and Aura. I missed Charlie Hayes by the tarp and Wade Boggs on a horse and 125 wins in '98 and four titles in five years. I missed all of it. When I left, we were a national joke, the team that fired managers every few months, the one that traded away all its good young players and never made the playoffs. When I came back, we were the team for which making the playoffs wasn't good enough.
This is my first full year in New York City since 1988, and to celebrate, the Yankees are missing October for the first time since 1994 and closing down Yankee Stadium. It's enough to make a guy think about moving back to L.A.
I don't have a single memory of cold October nights spent cheering Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams or Mariano Rivera. I never saw a dogpile on the pitchers' mound, never watched a victory lap, never hugged a stranger as my favorite team in sports won a championship. All of my Yankee Stadium memories come from a different era, the 1980s, when New York was a Mets town and seasons ended in September. I went to dozens of games a season back when you could decide at 6:45 to head to the Stadium, grab a gypsy cab from Inwood for six bucks, buy a seat in Main Reserved for $12 and be in it by first pitch at 7:30.
Even that was an expensive night. Tickets were always available, it seemed. I was the kid who loved baseball, so whenever my parents' friends had extras, the tickets ended up in my lap. I'd get a call at 3 p.m. to drop by a local bar and pick them up, and be at the game that night. Looking back, I took it for granted-who knew there'd be a time when Yankee tickets would be a commodity, bartered and sold like gold bricks?-and looking back, I wonder if I wasn't just a little bit lucky to grow up in the last era when a lower-middle-class kid could get to 20 or more Yankee games a summer.
The night games were fun, but when I think about the Stadium, the sun is shining on a weekday afternoon and it feels a little bit like stealing. That was my thing; weekday day games. They're a lot more common than they used to be, but growing up, there'd be a handful each season, and I'd try and get tickets for them when single-game ducats went on sale. For each, I'd strike out around 10:30 a.m. on the M100 to the Bx13, getting there before Gate 6 opened, then rushing to the right-field wall, glove on hand, hoping to catch a ball during batting practice. If you got there right when they opened the gates, you'd catch a little bit of Yankees BP, but mostly, it was the visitors. I would stand up against the wall, beg opposing pitchers playing long toss for baseballs, hold my breath when Fred Lynn or Matt Nokes or Kent Hrbek came to the plate, and never, ever, come away with a baseball.
All She Wrote
A planned concert in early November at Yankee Stadium has been cancelled, according to this item by Mark Feinsand in the Daily News.
The last event at the old place will remain the final regular season game, played on September 21st.
Man, it was nice to see Bernie there wasn't it?
Newsflash: Jon Lester Is Good
With no games to preview today, I've got a piece up on SI.com summarizing five things I took away from the ALDS. The first of them Yankee fans new already: Jon Lester, who was 2-0 with a 1.19 ERA in three starts against the Bombers this year, is the Red Sox's new ace.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #30
God knows why -- I've been to dozens and dozens of games over the years -- but the very first thing I think of, when I hear the words "Yankee Stadium", is Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. I couldn't first remember some nice come-from-behind affair against the Sox, or one of those sharp Andy Pettitte LDS wins over the Twins, or my first game with my dad as a kid, or learning to keep score? No, I go back to a frigid and drizzly night, in the far reaches of the upper deck, sitting by myself because by the time I'd managed to log onto Ticketmaster, they only had single tickets left.
And somehow, it's actually a nice memory. I was wearing just about every item of clothing I owned in a futile attempt to layer for warmth, topped off with my ancient and oversized Paul O'Neill t-shirt, and using a garbage bag I'd brought from home as a poncho. This was my first Championship Series game ever -- I'd seen a few Division Series games, but that was it, I'd never been there for any ALCS or World Series moments in person. And so I was absolutely determined to enjoy myself, no matter what -- alone, freezing, damp, broke, watching the Yankees engage in one of the greatest chokes in sports history against that loudmouth Schilling... whatever. I wasn't about to let anything get me down. (Plus, I was so sure they were going to pull it out the next night. Way too sure).
How to Stay Warm During a Chilly October in New York
It's painful to see the Red Sox playing so well, but in a way, it is a tribute to the Yankees' success in the late '90s, a run that forced the Red Sox to build a bigger, smarter team. It's as if they are the villans in the superhero movie who create a supermonster to defeat the superhero (Though you'd be hard-pressed to find a Sox fan who considers the Yankees the heroes).
As much as I hate to see Boston winning, I do appreciate that they are defending their title so well--at least thus far.
So while we wait for the hot stove to warm up, we are left with our memories--and what a stockpile we've got to choose from! I've been digging around in the Esquire archives lately, and now offer up Charles Pierce's 2001 profile on our man, Mariano Rivera:
Soft and Sweet
Sox give Halos that Peaceful, Easy Feeling. Actually, I'm sure there was nothing peaceful or easy about it. The Sox win games like the 90s Yankee teams did, huh?
Elimination Day III
I don't think the Angels are going to get past Jon Lester tonight, but I sure would like to see one of these two series come down to a decisive Game 5. Think the White Sox can pull another one out at the Cell? My previews are up on SI.com
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #29
By Bob Klapisch
Everyone's got a farewell memory of Yankee Stadium, maybe a personal shrine. I'm no different: as I left the great ballpark for the last time on September 21, I said goodbye to an abstract soft spot in my heart that won't make it across the street.
I consider it a shrine without shape or form; it's just a place. Actually, it's just air-space, the spot right outside the Yankee clubhouse where David Wells was waiting to launch the most bizarre showdown of my career.
I've had my share of shoot-outs (see: Bobby Bonilla, 1993), but none that could've been reviewed by journalism ethics class. Ok, a little background. In the summer of 1997, when I was still a beat reporter for the Bergen Record and one of the few writers who actually liked Boomer I always considered him slightly larger than life, if not larger than his uniform - I caught wind of a explosive confrontation between the lefthander and George Steinbrenner.
It occurred in the ninth inning of a game the Yankees were losing to the lowly-Expos, during which Wells had been knocked out. Steinbrenner, embarrassed that the defending world champs were getting punished by one of the National League's worst teams, was pacing the clubhouse. He was in a terrible mood.
Wells wasn't happy, either. He started a conversation with the Boss that would soon make headlines.
"Hey, George, you need to get some security out there in right field. Build a wall or something," Wells said.
He was referring to a fan who'd leaned over the railing and prevented Paul O'Neill from catching Darrin Fletcher's second inning fly ball. The fan caught the ball and it was ruled a home run.
That was all The Boss Steinbrenner needed to hear. The engine of his rage was now fully ignited.
Meat n Potatoes
When you talk to fans who grew up in the Sixties, many of them chose between Sport magazine and Sports Illustrated in the same way that Rock N Roll fans picked either the Beatles or the Stones. Sport was a monthly, SI a weekly. There was no pretense about Sport--the writing was lunch pale, no frills and featured writers from around the country. The photography was wonderful too. When Andres LaGuerre took over SI, it became literate, the New Yorker of sport magazines. No matter which you prefer, together, they helped define a golden age of sports magazine writing.
The launching of the SI Vault earlier this year was a terrific occasion for all of us who love sports writing, although navigating the site is still a painful and frustrating experience. Sport hasn't been around in years, but they do have a website and recently, a handful of articles have been posted, including this 1953 profile on Mickey Mantle by Milton Gross:
There have been few more exciting rookies than Mantle was in 1951. Yet Mickey could have become one of the greatest busts simply because he had had so much ballyhoo. Until the end of last season there were many who viewed Mantle with misgivings, because he was a kid who was asked to walk before he could crawl and run before he could walk in baseball. There was question of his maturity for a role so large as the one in which he was being cast and it is entirely possible that what veered Robinson so firmly in his praise of Mantle was not what Mickey did over the entire Series, but his reactions on just one play.
For more on Sport, check out Mark Armour's 2007 tribute over at The Baseball Analysts.
The Angels got it together and finally beat the Red Sox. Go Figure that.
Took 12 innings. The series is still alive with Lackey and Lester going tonight. Now, that's worth the price of admission.
Elimination Day II
All three Division Series could wrap up today, but I think the White Sox will survive the weekend, and am hoping the Brewers will as well so that we can see CC and Cole Hamels face off in Game 5. My preview of today's action is up over at SI.com.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #28
By Jon Weisman
Mostly, I remember white.
To celebrate my graduation from college in 1989, I went on a mini-ballpark tour with some members of my family. I flew from California to New York to meet my sister, who was living there at the time. A few days later, the two of us would meet up in Boston with my brother and father, and we'd go on to see games at Fenway Park, Skydome and Wrigley Field. But first, it would be New York, New York: Shea and Yankee Stadiums.
At least, that's what I recalled when I started to write this. But after looking back at Baseball-Reference.com, I realized that I must not have seen the Mets on this trip. It must have been another day in another year that I took the subway out for a hot, sticky day game at Shea and had a lousy hot dog but a good time.
My memory, in some respects, has become just awful. When it comes to my first visits to Yankee and Shea Stadiums, I remember next to nothing about what happened during the games themselves. (By comparison, I distinctly remember that in my first trip to Fenway Park, in 1982, the one-and-only Derek Botelho flirted with a no-hitter in his first major-league game.)
But for my only trip to Yankee Stadium, I couldn't even tell you who played or who won, without the aid of the Internet. I would have guessed the Yankees won, based on some good vibes I recall feeling among the crowd as we were leaving. I also recall that the game was on the afternoon of Independence Day, and that there was a postgame concert by the Beach Boys that we didn't end up sticking around for. But I'm not sure you can trust me on any of that.
What I can testify to, two decades later, is the experience of the visit.
We sat high, high behind home plate - it almost felt like a blimp's-eye view of the action - but I enjoyed the vantage point. I sort of marveled at how much I enjoyed it.
And most of all, I remember white, the dominant color in my mind when picturing Yankee Stadium. Inside the royal blue of the seats stuck out but the outer shell was all white. I had never seen a ballpark that looked like this, and it struck me as so fittingly majestic. I'm a Dodger fan, but I knew I was in hallowed ground. Yankee Stadium had an immediate feel, and that feel was more important to me than anything that was happening on the field. I could be wrong, but I have to think that feel will color the memories of many people as the years go by.
Jon Weisman blogs about the Dodgers over at Dodger Thoughts.
For You Blue
When the Cubs lost the first two games at home against the Dodgers I wasn't especially surprised. For all of the talk about a new vibe at Wrigley this year, these were still the Cubs after all. They'd need to win at least one round before I started to truly believe.
I called my oldest friend in the world, Lizzie Plummer, whose father, rest his soul, was a long-suffering Cubbie fan. I had been thinking about him for weeks, knowing he would have been reserved about all the good cheer.
"You know what he would say?" Liz told me over the phone. "They've come further only to fall farther."
He would not have batted an eye at a first round sweep. Still, my heart does go out to Cub Nation or whatever they are called. This one is for you.
At the same time, I'm thrilled for Dodger fans. Yowza La-La Land, pinch yourself--youse one series away from the World Serious.
The Brewers and Cubs try to stay alive tonight. As I write in my SI.com preview, I'm not optimistic about their chances. Here's how the last 54 best-of-five series to start 2-0 have ended:
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #27
By Will Weiss
Part Two of Two: The Personalities
I'm lucky to have my own batch of special memories from my five years covering the team. But the thing I'll miss most is interacting with the many people who gave the stadium life.
There were a few regular occurrences: the mad rush for positioning in the dugout when Joe Torre would prepare for his pre-game conference with the media; Jim Kaat making a beeline through Brian Cashman's office to get coffee right before the seventh inning stretch; Bob Sheppard's sprint to the elevator right after the game (you wouldn't believe how spry he was) and the way he'd disappear when the elevator reached the lobby. There was also the inimitable way in which official scorer Bill Shannon announced a scoring decision. The first time I heard, "Single, runner takes second on the throw," or, "E-Five. Error on the third baseman," I thought it was the ghost of Harry Caray, or at the very least, Will Ferrell's impersonation of the late broadcaster.
I learned a lot about the press culture and how to act mainly to shut up and stay out of the way from Phil Pepe. He covered the team from the early 1960s through the early '80s, and observed the many internal changes that took place. We would frequently eat dinner together in the press dining room before games, particularly in 2003 and '04, when he rotated with Bill Shannon, Howie Karpin, and Jordan Sprechman as official scorers.
The press dining room was an interesting place to mingle, network, and get information from "sources close to the situation." It was routine to see writers chatting up advance scouts from teams both the Yankees and their opponents would be playing within the next week to 10 days. I had some good conversations with members of the A's staff prior to an Aaron Small start back in 2005, as well as chats with the Twins in 2004 before the playoffs.
Spanking the Monkey
Red Sox play Daddy Dearest once again. The great K Rod gets pasted.
The Angels are toast don't ya know.
Not So Sweet Dreams
Jason Bay hits a three-run bomb as the Sox score four runs in the first inning out in California.
The nightmare continues for the Halos.
My previews for today's ALDS Games 2 are up on SI.com. Two lefty starters give the Rays-Chisox series a different look, while Daisuke Matsuzaka's stellar record belies his unimpressive pitching.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #26
By Cecilia Tan
I have so many memories of Yankee Stadium that it is hard to narrow it down to just one to write about today. My earliest memory of the Stadium is of a Bobby Murcer grand slam, which thanks to Retrosheet I now know was August 2, 1974, when I was five years old. I learned to keep a scorecard there. I learned what the word "sucks" refers to there. My 13th birthday party was at the Stadium. I was there for Dave Righetti's no-hitter in 1983. I've been there for half a dozen opening days, about as many Old Timers Days, and for a pile of playoff games (though still no World Series). I've been there on the forgettable "Liza" days and for walk-off wins. I was there for the Home Run Derby and All-Star game this past season.
Pick one, he says. Pick one.
Then there are all the times I've been there professionally. A photoshoot in Monument Park. Sitting in the press box for my first game. My first time in Joe Torre's office. Sitting in the dugout during batting practice. Listening to Mike Mussina tell a story during team stretch about getting his wisdom teeth out.
Pick just one to write about?
I can't. I'm going to remember so many things about the Stadium that are only going to mean something to me. Like how my little brother Julian and I were somehow convinced that Eddie Layton, the organist, had a booth out beyond center field to watch the game from. We used to take binoculars and try to locate him. I have no idea why we thought the organ was behind the black batters eye. Maybe because the lone sound tower at the Stadium was out there? I wasn't really convinced otherwise until I was in my 30s and took a tour of the Stadium that included the press box and scoreboard operations.
There's that gap between the bleachers and the grandstand in right field, where you can see the train go by. The elevated track is at just the right height and in the 1970s, we used to see the cars go past festooned with graffiti. When the games got boring (which they did sometimes), Julian and I would play a game where if the next train went right to left I would win, and if it went left to right, he would win. And we'd stare at that grand white limestone edifice, the courthouse, which always looked like a long home run might be able to hit it.
I'll never forget the thrill of coming out of the dank, dark concrete tunnel into the upper deck, into the wide open brightly lit field of green and blue, and having my breath taken away.
The ladies rooms in Yankee Stadium are pink. The layers of latex paint are so thick that the walls practically feel like rubber. And the way the ones in the upper deck are shaped, there are always two stalls to the right of the door that a lot of people don't see are there. That's always where I headed. The ladies rooms have attendants, too, like they do in Broadway theaters. Will we have them in the new Stadium, I wonder?
Not the Retiring Kind?
I caught this bit from Mike Mussina's brother via Jim Baumbach over at Newsday. Maybe Moose won't retire after all. As a fan, I sure would like to see him make a run at 300. Even if he doesn't get there, I would love rooting for him for another couple of two, three years. I've been a fan since his days in Baltimore.
Observations From Cooperstown--Abreu, Brinkman, and Bull Durham
The current-day Yankees, a former pinstriped shortstop, and a baseball movie at the Hall of Fame have all created interest for your Cooperstown correspondent. Here are the latest musings from upstate New York:
Now that the disappointment of a lost 2008 season has given way to reluctant acceptance, I’m fully ready to embrace an off-season that I hope is filled with activity for the Yankees. The winter plan should begin right now, with the Yankees giving strong consideration to the futures of free agents Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettitte.
Of the four, Abreu is the most interesting case, and perhaps the most debatable. At the age of 34, he’s nowhere near the player he was during his peak years in Philadelphia, but he’s still a viable batter who can contribute mightily to a pennant-winning team. He’s a .300 hitter who still reaches base 37 per cent of the time, retains enough speed to make him a factor on the base paths, and still has the kind of 20-home run power that makes him a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat. Given those offensive strengths, I think the Yankees should attempt to re-sign Abreu—but only after two major conditions have been met. First off, Abreu has to accept a maximum of a two-year contract. Absolutely no three-year deals, not for a player who will turn 35 in March, and not even two years with one of those ridiculous player-slanted options, where the team has to buy out his contract for some ungodly amount. If Abreu insists on anything beyond two years, it’s time to cut him loose and count the draft picks. The Yankees simply have to stop over-committing to aging players with long-term deals.
Second, the Yankees have to make it clear to Abreu that, if he is to return to the Bronx in 2009, he will have to do so as a DH, or perhaps even as a first baseman. Simply put, his days as an everyday right fielder have come to an end; the Yankees cannot afford his Luis Polonia/Danny Tartabull butcher-boy routine in the outfield anymore. In recent years, the Yankees have been far too reluctant to move players off their original defensive positions once they have surpassed their expiration dates. They dawdled far too long with Bernie Williams, resisting a switch to first base or left field a full three years after he had become a major liability in center field. They’ve been similarly reluctant with Giambi, who should have been made a fulltime DH years ago. Instead, they simply “wished” that Giambi would improve at first base, as if he could somehow magically counteract the effects of age and a lack of natural athleticism. It’s time for the Yankees to change that approach, starting with Abreu. The man can still help offensively. He just shouldn’t be allowed to touch an outfielder’s glove until there’s a ten-run differential on the scoreboard…
Former Yankee shortstop Eddie Brinkman passed away this week at the age of 66, the cause of death unannounced. If you don’t remember Brinkman as a Yankee, that’s certainly understandable. He played only part of one season in New York, as a 1975 mid-season pickup purchased for a small fee from the Texas Rangers. Though well past his prime, the Yankees were hoping that Brinkman could help them at the time that preceded the arrival of Bucky Dent. (The Yankees’ shortstop situation was so bad in the mid-1970s that Jim Mason ranked No. 1 on the depth chart. Ugh.) Brinkman had enjoyed some of his best seasons in Detroit, where he emerged as a key contributor to the Tigers’ 1972 American League East title. Playing in 156 games that summer, he committed only seven errors, setting a major league record for fewest miscues by a fulltime shortstop. He also put together a streak of 72 straight games without an error, particularly impressive given the lack of artificial turf in the American League at the time. Brinkman played so well defensively that he actually finished ninth in the league’s MVP balloting, despite hitting .203 with a .279 slugging percentage.
Man or Myth?
Over at ESPN.com, Bill Simmons has a long, rambling, often entertaining and insightful piece on Manny Ramirez. You have to wade through a lot of words to get the nuggets of gold, but they are there. I like how Simmons writes from the perspective of a fan, and I admire that he's not afraid to criticize ESPN personalities like Peter Gammons. He is a conversational writer, not lean or succint. But part of the fun in reading him are the tangents, to see how he ties it all together. He's like a late-night underground FM DJ from another era--he riffs:
And while we are talking baseball legends, let's go back to Scott Raab, writing about Don Zimmer in Esquire circa 2001:
My previews of today's playoff games are up over at SI.com. The short version: the Rays have a significant home-field advantage, the Brewers must win today behind CC Sabathia, and the Cubs are in big trouble.
Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #25
By Perry Barber
Until he suffered a debilitating heart attack two years ago at age eighty, Arthur Richman was probably the oldest active man in baseball. He spent more than sixty years total as an award-winning sportswriter and columnist for the Daily Mirror and other New York newspapers, traveling secretary for the Mets, then senior advisor and vice-president of media relations for the Yankees, starting in 1990. I was introduced to him in 1983 by Dennis D'Agostino, the Mets' assistant P.R. director at the time, now a respected author and sports statistician.
Arthur's sixteen-year tenure with the Yankees was marked by both elation and turmoil. His showdowns with Steinbrenner were legendary, and he used to regale me with tales of how they would yell and scream at each other over some mishegos, then George would "fire" him and Arthur would just show up at work the next day, both of them acting as if nothing had happened, best friends forever.
His office looked out over the field behind the press area where the writers and announcers are stationed during games. Decking its walls were hundreds of signed photos of him and his deceased brother Milton, who is in the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame, with practically every famous person who ever lived. Arthur liked to joke that he was the only Jew who could get you an audience with the Pope! Books, media guides, Yankee give-aways, hats, baseballs, bobblehead dolls, and more lay stacked up in piles everywhere. His desk was always cluttered with notes of thanks from people for whom he had done something wonderful, or requests for help getting tickets or an audience with a player, all of which he did his best to facilitate. He was always so busy checking in with the beat writers and columnists that he could never sit still and watch a game for long.
I thought David Cone was one of the bright spots in the YES booth this year, didn't you? He improved steadily as the season progressed and I hope to hear more of him next year.
Hey, ever read Scott Raab's Esquire piece on Cone back in '99? Raab caught up with Cone during srping training and the article was a good one: check it out. My favorite part centers around Cone's anxiety about leaving the game:
"I'll miss having that ball in my hand," he says, sitting in the clubhouse before practice. "I'm going to have trouble with it, emotionally. I'd like to say, 'Hey, I'm a little more well-adjusted than that -- I have a future and I have a mind and I have things to look forward to,' but to me it's just about...I love to pitch so much."
Oh, and of course, there is this too:
I depart the clubhouse just in time to see Don Zimmer, the Yankees' sixty-eight-year-old bench coach, through the doorway of the coaches' locker room, buck naked. You can call yourself a baseball fan, make the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, and hock your grandma's silver to buy a Mark McGwire rookie card, but you don't truly know baseball until you've seen Don Zimmer's cascade of flesh, led southward by the dowsing rod of his manhood.
Both Manny Ramirez and Jason Bay went deep last night helping their teams, the Dodgers and Red Sox respectively, win Game One of the ALDS. Ramirez's dinger was one of those Are You Kidding Me? shots. He swung at a pitch only Yogi Berra or Roberto Clemente or Vlad Guerrero could love, and golfed it into the bleachers at Wrigley. The great ballpark in Chicago was almost silent during the last couple of innings, a hundred years of knowing, inevitable dread overwhelming the positive vibes.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox beat the Angels, again, prompting me to wonder if the Angels are men or
It's only one game, but still. The Angels need to make this a series. C'mon you Halos, get it together.
A New Sherif in Town, and Not Reggie Hammond
For baseball fans, I think it's safe to say that Baseball-Reference is the greatest thing since sliced bread (or at least since Retrosheet). Joe Pos sure likes it. Oh, and by the way, Pos is pretty damn good too. And so is this cat Prince Albert.
Yankee Stadium Memory #24
My last trip to Yankee Stadium (and second overall) was on July 10, 1997. It was Bud Light Umbrella Night and it was the only giveaway I had been to in my life where ONLY the adults in attendance got the prize. The umbrella looked like it could withstand winds of up to 1-2 mph. I ended up giving that umbrella to a coworker and he's passed away and the ultimate disposition of the umbrella is something I've never determined.
I came to the game with a friend of mine who was visiting New York for the first time. She noticed that there was a sign that said "Watch Your Language." She asked me "How bad can it be?" I told her to wait.
We were in the grandstand in a section that was adjacent to the bleachers. There was some "colorful" interplay between the two sections. When I got back home I asked a New York born friend of mine how parents put up with that sort of behavior and he said, "Ahh, that's just how they socialize us out there."
The game was Hideki Irabu's Yankee debut and the crowd was very excited about the highly touted import. At last, the Yankees would have their own Hideo Nomo. Irabu wasn't bad, striking out 9 in 6 2/3 innings. But I never got the same sense that the Yankee fans were going to embrace Irabu the same way that the Dodgers fans had embraced Nomo. (Hey, I was prescient!)
But I could tell who the real hero was: Tino Martinez. When Martinez homered off of Omar Olivares in the third, the bleachers went nuts. The love of Tino Martinez is something I never did quite figure out. I think it had something with the fact that people liked to say "Tino."
As I look back at the boxscore, I see that Derek Jeter went 4 for 5. And I don't recall it at all. But then he was just Derek Jeter, good young shortstop and not America's Favorite Shortstop (New England excluded.)
Bob Timmermann blogs about baseball over at The Griddle.
Over at Was Watching, Steve Lombardi isn't thrilled by the news that Brian Cashman is sticking around as the Yankees' general manager.
In case you missed Chris Russo's gleeful little rant about the end of the Mets season, you can check it out here.
For those of you with more refined tastes, check out Biz's Halloween Beat of the Day:
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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