Red Sox fans rejoice. Your team won't be stuck with the burden of the SI-cover Jinx this year...The Yankees will! Not only that, but the photo shoot stirred up more shit in the Bronx Zoo over the weekend as the Boomtown Rat, David Wells was at it again.
The cover of the forthcoming Sports Illustrated baseball issue features the Yankees starting pitching staff flanked by Boss George himself. Guess who was a no-show? Yup, Boomer Wells, who has a running beef with SI over a story the magazine ran on him last season.
At the photo shoot, somebody asked George: "Where's your boy?"
"Who can tell? I really don't care."
Now that Wells has lost his last supporter in Yankee land, his left arm is going to have speak volumes this season.
"If he (Steinbrenner) is mad, so be it," Wells said. "I told those other guys I have a problem with SI. They can either respect my decision or not. Nobody has said anything to me and I'm not really worried about it.
"If they are mad, they know where my locker's at. My door's open. I have no hard feelings toward anybody.
"If it makes me look bad, oh, well. It won't be the first time. It wasn't anything against George or the other guys on the cover. That was a personal thing with SI. I've had problems with them.
"I did what I thought was right. I won't do anything for them, ever. I don't want my name in that magazine. It's like the National Enquirer. If it was any other magazine, I would've done it. They wrote a story that was disrespectful to me and my family (in the July 10, 2000 issue)."
Does Wells think Steinbrenner respected his stand? "No," the pitcher said. "He doesn't give a ---."
Meanwhile, will the the Sox be this years Anaheim Angels? Theo Eptstein has collected pesky, professional hitters to augment his superstars Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra. While the Sox line up may not have as many house hold names as the Yankees do, they may be every bit as tough. Bill Madden profiled Theo Epstein's methods in the Daily News yesterday.
While Madden doesn't gush over the young GM, he doesn't bash him either.
As for [Bill]James' influence, Epstein says emphatically: "I tell people the truth. We have input on all our decisions from different people, but I'm ultimately in charge of making those decisions. Every team uses stats in some way. I laugh when I hear Bill James is making all the decisions around here. I have three former GMs, Bill Lajoie, Lee Thomas and Mike Port, working under me. One day, I'm sure, I'll be a former GM working somewhere else."
He laughs as he says it, as if to assure he doesn't take himself nearly as seriously as some of the crusty baseball lifers might think.
Epstein was not able to land a star free agent over the winter, and raised eyebrows when he passed on the chance to land Bartolo Colon, choosing instead to keep Casey Fossum. Fossum, a thin left-hander who has drawn comparisons to Ron Guidry has struggled this spring.
But the book on the season isn't out yet. Hell, it's only just begun; Epstein can always trade for a boffo pitcher by the trading deadline if the need arises.
The Red Sox are a dangerous, deep offensive team. With Johnny Damon and Todd Walker in front of Garciaparra and Ramirez, they have a big front four, and with Kevin Millar, Jeremy Giambi, Shea Hillenbrand, Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon -- along with David Ortiz and a healthy Bill Mueller -- in the mix to the end of the order the Red Sox could conceivably lead the league in runs.
"What we also have here is an incredible group of gamers," Millar said. "If attitude were a problem in the past, it isn't now."
...Their mix-and-match bullpen is OK, but as Billy Beane says, "if it doesn't work, it isn't because the idea is wrong, it's because they have the wrong people. They are very happy with Chad Fox (who Little believes may be the key to the pen), Alan Embree and Ramiro Mendoza, who is in terrific shape. But under this concept, they need at least three pitchers with an out/strikeout pitch, and right now Bobby Howry, Mike Timlin and rookie Matt White haven't demonstrated one. Pitching coach Tony Cloninger likes the 96-97 mph velocity of Hector Almonte, but while has thrown very hard, he hasn't consistently demonstrated a hit-and-miss pitch.
..."We've really got something good here," says Damon. "There's a lot of media focus on what we might not have, but what we do have is one helluva team that will play as hard as anyone. The guys they brought in here are all tough gamers. And that will make a big difference come August and September," traditionally the months when the Red Sox fade to black.
Back in Yankee land, Mike Mussina's start was rained out yesterday, but that didn't stop him from getting his work in.
Mike Flanagan, Mussina's former pitching coach in Baltimore, once said he had never seen a pitcher who could correct his mechanics from pitch to pitch as well as Mussina. But last year, for the first time in his career, Mussina struggled with his mechanics for months. Mussina's earned run average reached 5.03 in May and was 5.35 in June and 5.22 in July, before receding to 4.11 in August and 1.48 in September. He finished the season with an 18-10 record, knowing he might have won 22 to 25 games if he had thrown better.
"To me, it's night and day from last year," he said, "because I know what happened coming out of spring."
Mr. Gammons had a couple of notes on the Bombers as well:
Opposing teams had better not underestimate Hidecki Matsui, because he's a good player," says one AL GM. "He's got bat speed. He's a good outfielder. My guess is that he'll hit .270-.275 with 20-25 homers. He's got some holes, but most everyone has holes."
Finally, Raul Mondesi was fined by Joe Torre for showing up late for Saturday's game after being excused to deal with personal business in the D.R. for a few days.