Welcome, Yankee fans, to the first edition of "Yankee Panky" on Bronx Banter. First, special thanks go to BB's Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, for allowing me to riff on two subjects I've studied my entire life: the Yankees and the media.
In this space, we'll address on a weekly basis -- and sometimes more frequently, if the situation merits -- how the team is portrayed in the local and national media. Along the way, we'll review the battle of the back pages in the Daily News, the Post and Newsday, the top storylines of the week, and examine TV and radio coverage as well.
While I will be critiquing the coverage in this space, I will not criticize specific writers or broadcasters. I spent the past five years as senior editor of YESNetwork.com and still call many of the writers and broadcasters on the Yankee beat my colleagues. I'll leave the railing to Phil Mushnick and Bob Raissman, since that's what they get paid to do.
This column will also be an exercise in engaging you as readers and fans to speak up. (This is a place for banter, after all, isn't it?) If the media, from an idealistic standpoint, is supposed to be the eyes and ears of the fans, do they do a good job of serving their audience? What kind of stories do you care about: features that give a sense of humanness and personality to the players, or do you want better game analysis? Do you care more about snappy quotes and the soap opera elements that feed the tabloids, or do you prefer the more intellectual type of coverage presented by the New York Times, Baseball Prospectus and bloggers like Steven Goldman at YES?
We can get to those questions throughout the season. For now, here's my quick recap of the spring, and the backpage count for the week:
Number of times the Yankees led: 1 (Wednesday, 3/21) On this day, the Yankees announced they would not give A-Rod a contract extension, leaving the door open for him to opt out after the season. Since the Yankees have a history of not giving contract extensions before the season, this should not have been a surprise. It should be even less of a surprise given the treatment of Mariano Rivera's contract as he enters what could be his final year as a Yankee.
Top Story, Part 1: A-Rod. From his admission of a cooler relationship with Derek Jeter to the Mike and the Mad Dog interview to the "will he or won't he" be here in 2008 questions, when was enough enough? Why didn't editors sound the dead-horse alert?
On his WEPN radio show, Michael Kay called for Alex Rodriguez to "shut up" and "stop doing interviews." On virtually every stop of the Baseball Prospectus book tour, the contributing authors were asked about A-Rod and, naturally, defended his status as a great player. I hope this year is the year he'll be able to get out of his way both psychologically and verbally and stop caring what people think, but that's not his makeup. The New York papers have played A-Rod to be the anti-Jeter for three years, when really the biggest difference between the two is their relationships with the media. Jeter uses the press to preserve clubhouse matters and an image similar to Nike brethren Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, whereas A-Rod comes across as a little brother in his sibling's shadow, using the media to pine for attention.
As someone who had to assess these situations and decide how to cover the soap opera in a workable way for YES, I can tell you honestly that not long after his game-winning home run against the Braves in late June last year, I wanted the A-Rod stuff to stop. But he has a tendency to keep bringing the stories on himself and making news through his actions. Maybe this is the year he does it in a positive way in New York.
Top Story, Part 2: Carl Pavano. A cause for contempt among Yankee fans and to some extent, teammates (remember Mike Mussina's quote; "He's got to prove to a lot of people he wants to pitch for us."), the pinstriped punchline for the past 18 months has come through the spring healthy and is now being considered for the Opening Day start on April 2 against the Devil Rays at the Stadium. I don't have a problem with the logic or facts of this report, given Chien-Ming Wang's hamstring injury, Andy Pettitte's back spasms and Mussina's desire to keep to a regular schedule. Let him start Opening Day in front of 56,000 fans who can't wait to boo him and see what happens.
Here's my beef: To say that Pavano has redeemed himself among teammates and fans is farfetched. You don't go from "CRASH TEST DUMMY" in September to redemption in March. Just ask A-Rod.
Top Story, Part 3: The Roger Clemens discussion. This would be going on even if Brian Cashman hadn't lured Andy Pettitte back from Houston. Clemens was coy in his YES broadcast booth appearance two weeks ago, which is typical. He's been vague every offseason since 2003. I'm inclined to disbelieve anything that's written or said about Clemens' return one way or another. Like many, I believe he will pitch, either in New York or Boston. The Post's Kevin Kernan went so far as to use his Sunday column to declare that the Yankees should force the issue and sign Clemens before the Red Sox do.
(By the way, the majority of the writers and broadcasters covering this story were there in '03, his last Yankee season. They should know that they're speaking falsehoods when they say he retired. He pulled the Jordan "99 percent" line. He never officially retired. Saying he retired insults anyone who was paying attention. Phew, glad I got that off my chest.)
Story we all saw coming, Part 1: Phil Hughes's lackluster Spring -- the Post's George King called it a "flop" in Sunday's edition leading to questions of his Major League readiness, and whether he'll be able to handle New York.
Story we all saw coming, Part 2: Gary Sheffield popping off at the Yankee organization the first chance he had to meet with the New York media. His comments, however true or untrue they may be, fit the pattern of how he left his previous five teams.
Surprise column: Joel Sherman of the Post criticizing Jeter's skill as a captain in the wake of the first phase of the spring's A-Rod dilemma.
Most underreported story: Granted, he was hurt for much of the Grapefruit League season, but did anyone else notice how much leaner Jason Giambi looked? (I'm glad not too much has been made of the team's lenience regarding Giambi's mullet and scruff. He needs to be grubby.)
What's your take on all this? There's a lot here, so fire away.