Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Yankee Panky: Spring Training Edition
2007-03-26 09:30
by Alex Belth

By Will Weiss
Bronx Banter Correspondent

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 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.

Until next week...

2007-03-26 09:47:44
1.   Knuckles
On the media front, did anyone see that Cox is offering a $90 rebate for 2006 MLB Extra Innings customers who buy the package, rather than switching to DirecTV?

I am really hoping Comcast follows suit. This would probably get me to buy the upgraded package, and would happily eat the $30 difference.

2007-03-26 09:50:42
2.   pistolpete
Can't we criticize the writers just a little?

For example, if I read that Bob Raissman has called YES 'Al Yankzeera' one more time, I'm breaking into his house and shaving his awful turn of the (19th) century mustache.

Ok Bob, we get it, you think YES is biased. Move on.

2007-03-26 09:51:52
3.   rbj
Welcome, Will. Nice analysis.
FWIW, I can't stand the Soap Opera stuff. I had more than my fill in the 70s & 80s, am still stuffed with it.
2007-03-26 09:54:03
4.   weeping for brunnhilde
Here's a question: the other day during one of the games, Kay (and/or maybe Flaherty) said something about how Giambi's looking to go the other way more this season.

I feel like I've heard that before in seasons past, about how he'll be more of a situational hitter instead of just hitting into that dragnet all the time.

So when Kay said that, I took it with a grain of salt and waited for him to elaborate.

But he didn't.

Why now, suddenly, should he decide to go the other way?

What's been preventing him in the past?

Has not going the other way in the past been personal choice or is this what the organization instructs him to do?

Is he a good enough hitter to be able to go the other way not as a matter of course, but as the situation demands?--say, winning run on second base in the ninth inning? (I know, there'd be no shift in that case, but still, the point is the same--cutting down one's swing when all that's needed is a solid line-drive somewhere.)

I guess this is a media question in the sense that I often feel that the media fail to dig deeply enough about such questions. I rarely hear detailed analysis about why so many players have such gaping holes in their fundamentals.

When this does come up, the explanation is a platitude like "You don't walk your way off the island (Puerto Rico, e.g.)" or "He doesn't get paid to bunt."

But the larger question is never explored.

Why exactly is it that power hitters (and worse, even non-power hitters) can't execute simple sacrifices or put the ball in play at all costs, when the situation calls for it?

It often seems to me as if the media has totally given up on the fact that there is such a thing as fundamentals, and that it's not too much to demand that every player who puts on a uniform be expected to bunt on command.

Sorry to rant and meander, but that's my comment.

2007-03-26 10:17:05
5.   jkay
If A-Rod offered Micheal Kay an exclusive interview on his radio show, he would accept in a heartbeat.

Your media theme is a good one. I would add Yankee blogs into the mix along with tv, radio and newspapers.

In my opinion, most of the old media sports coverage is stale. Very few, including Pete Abraham get it but for the most part, the "old media" label rings true.

Blogs have come a long way and should be included as mainstream media.

2007-03-26 10:24:16
6.   WillWeiss
To address a couple of these: No one is free from Raissmanisms. Note, MSG is frequently referred to as "Madison Square Gulag" in his columns. ... As for the question of elaborating on players' inadequacies, more often than not, that's a function of Kay or any other PBP man trying to set up his analysts. If the analyst doesn't pick up the cue, the subject hangs in limbo. As for digging into details about fundamentals, many writers do not for fear of compromising relationships with certain players that could jeopardize them receiving information in the future. Writers are in a tough spot, because many times they can't write what's obvious for fear of compromising their "objectivity." In other cases, knowledge of the game's intricacies is lacking. The overriding factor, though, may be that editors don't consider the topic that interesting. It doesn't sell papers.
2007-03-26 10:26:23
7.   WillWeiss
Thanks for the suggestion on looking at blogs. I may add a "blog post of the week" item among my weekly awards. I don't plan on sticking to a particular format for this column, so any suggestions you all have are welcome.
2007-03-26 10:30:11
8.   Knuckles
I think Kay, and Sterling to some degree, are too often concerned with making sure the audience realizes that he/they talk to the Yankees on a regular basis, to think about getting into analysis. This is my biggest pet peeve of the broadcasters, "I was talking with him during BP/ I rode the elevator with him this morning/ I spoke with him after last night's game." You travel with the team, you see them every day, we KNOW you talk with them!

It's like they hear Giambi say something like hitting to left, and instead of asking any follow-up, they probably walk away, already formulating how they're going to work it into a broadcast...

The newspaper guys, I can take 'em or leave 'em. I skim all the links each day, but bottom line, their job is to sell papers, not provide good Yankee coverage. Radio and TV however- fans tune in to the game, and it's up to the broadcasters to make it better or worse than straight play by play.

One thing I am NOT looking fwd to this season, is that every time the Yanks visit a new city, all the local hacks are gonna be mailing it in by writing the now-standard "Why this city would be a good 2008 location for A-Rod" piece. Mark my words, this will not go away. A-Rod could show up to opening day with "Yankee 4 Lyfe" tattooed in gothic letters across his abdomen, and some hack in Detroit would extrapolate that to the "D" on the Tigers cap and roll out the same old story. And you can bet your ass that Theo will do as much tampering/disruption as possible thru the media via Peter "I Went into the HOF Wearing a Sox Cap" Gammons. And why wouldn't he? I bet Cashman/Sabean/Schuerholz would love to have a puppet/mouthpiece/mole in the national media through whom they could sound off ideas and information.

2007-03-26 10:36:56
9.   jayd
4 That was an excellent post. I've wondered alot of that myself and had gotten to the point where I was thinking Giambi would be my surprise MVP pick (over the more logical AROD.

He still has to prove himself a DH, for which he is not temperament-oriented. The big guy likes the glove on his hand and enjoys being in the field.

He is enough of a hitter to totally fool that shift anytime he wants. Is it DonnyM telling him to be true to his swing? I don't get it, though. What's wrong with .320 30HRs instead of .280 and 37? Wouldn't the extra hits show in the rbi column?

Even after all the disappointments I still pull for Jason, something about the 2+5 =7 and the blue collar earthiness he still exudes. I want him to have a huge year and don't see how more of last year gets us anywhere. I hope he can make the switch to DH and was hoping the hitting challenge would be the key.

2007-03-26 10:43:19
10.   weeping for brunnhilde
Man, Arod has a pretty swing.

And there goes Giambi, pulling that outside pitch right into the dragnet.


6 Thanks, Will. I get what you're saying, but why must "writers" be worried about getting "information?"

Why not hire a bunch of guys (and gals) to dig up information and another bunch to analyze the actual game of baseball?

My very favorite broadcaster, far and away, is Keith Hernandez. I love his eccentricity, his wit, and intelligence, but above all, I love his respect for the game.

Nothing gets by him, because of how much he cares about baseball. You can just feel how personally invested he is in the game's being played well.

When a player, be he Met or opposition, makes blunders in fundamentals, you'll hear about it from Keith, as if he's personally aggrieved.

That's as it should be.

Thanks for this, Will, look forward to seeing you around.

2007-03-26 10:48:42
11.   monkeyball
Question: Let's say something happens like last year's Yankees-ordered David Justice hit on ARod. Will your loyalty to your buddies in the media keep you from commenting? If so, you really have no business doing this. As far as I'm concerned that was one of low points of sports coverage in my memory, and illustrates the sorry state of journalism today(not just the sports variety) .
2007-03-26 10:55:18
12.   weeping for brunnhilde
9 "He is enough of a hitter to totally fool that shift anytime he wants. Is it DonnyM telling him to be true to his swing? I don't get it, though. What's wrong with .320 30HRs instead of .280 and 37? Wouldn't the extra hits show in the rbi column?"

Honing this skill would be especially useful for the postseason and otherwise against superior pitching; sometimes you have to just take what the guy throws you and make the best of it.

The most beautiful thing in the world to me is to watch some pesky hitter not only spoil a sick pitcher's pitch, but actually turn it into a base hit instead of sitting around waiting for the guy to leave one out over the plate, which if he's a good pitcher, he won't do.

It just exasperates me watching hitters reach across trying to pull the outside pitch.

2007-03-26 11:04:57
13.   OldYanksFan
Vote for your favorite Yankees blog:
2007-03-26 11:12:48
14.   C2Coke
13 My favorite is definitely the Banter, but to be fair I think the poll is for most Yankees news and updates, wasn't it?

Is it possible to become too spoiled by a blog? Honestly, Alex and Cliff, you guys are awesome. Thanks for all the new addition this season. And welcome, Will.

2007-03-26 11:15:33
15.   weeping for brunnhilde
14 Hear, hear!

This place does rock.

And as to baseball? Shall I compare it to a summer's day?


2007-03-26 11:17:58
16.   WillWeiss
Regarding Monkeyball's comment: There was never any proof that Justice's A-Rod rant was Yankees or YES ordered. In my dealings with Justice, he was always candid. He knows what he can and can't say, and what he said at the time was a reflection of most Yankee fans' feelings. Plus, it made for great TV. I had reservations about running the clip on at the time, but we took the risk, did it and it ended up being one of the most viewed videos on the site during the season. It's important to note that the YES broadcasters, or any broadcasters, for that matter, are not journalists. They're not there to break stories or report. The audience needs to recognize that. ... On the subject of "loyalty to my buddies in the media", there's a difference between a colleague and a friend. The two are not synonymous. I have no loyalty to them aside from my respect and knowledge of their work, because I know how difficult their jobs are. There is also a difference between commenting, critiquing and slamming. I won't use this space to slam anyone or say that a column sucked or didn't suck, or this writer holds a grudge, etc. That's not what this is about. Reread my post and see how I treated the Clemens commentary and the Pavano "redemption" items. Pointing out semantics foibles will be a big part of what I'll do.
2007-03-26 11:45:10
17.   WillWeiss
To weeping for brunnhilde. ... To answer your question of why must "writers" be worried about getting "information?" ... Over the course of time, players are a source of information beyond the day-to-day assortment of cliches. A nugget on another story could be in the offing -- anything. Perhaps I worded it incorrectly. Writers aren't worried about getting information, but they may not want to harshly criticize a player who has helped them in the past and affect future stories. Remember, many of the beat guys and columnists are there every day, or close to it. Ethical questions like those are part of what makes the job so hard.
2007-03-26 11:50:05
18.   Jim Dean
And Minky gets his first XBH, and RBI's, of the Spring!

Oh and Dice-K has a NO-HITTER through five against the Reds.

2007-03-26 11:56:30
19.   Jim Dean
Will -

Any opinion on how Cashman gets by without the same scruntiny by the press as of past GM's?

As folks around here know well, I think they lost in 2005 because they had Bubba Crosby starting a deciding playoff game in CF.

Last year it was Jaret Wright starting a deciding playoff game.

Will this year be Minky? Pavano?

How does the guy get away with truly terrible acquisitions? Because he collects 63 right-handed minor league pitchers? Because he wasn't really in control from 1998-2005? Because he's got dirty pictures of Lupica and Sherman getting it on?

2007-03-26 12:02:52
20.   Shaun P
16 Will, welcome aboard - loved your essay in BP 2007, and am looking forward to your media-centric take on the Yanks.

I grew up in upstate NY, so I never read all the tabloid soap opera garbage, and now that I know of it, I have no use for it.

I might be one of the few Yankee fans who think Susyn Waldman brings a lot to the radio broadcast, but I've always wondered why she doesn't ever do PBP. I know she used to do it on TV, and I thought she was pretty good at it.

2007-03-26 12:05:49
21.   dianagramr
Hi Will .... welcome aboard

I was very impressed by your passion of convictions and depth of knowledge at the recent BP events in NYC and NJ.

I vote for intellectual discussions of the game (I can always listen to Joe Morgan or read Lupica if I want pablum)

2007-03-26 12:09:18
22.   WillWeiss
Hi Diana ... Thanks for the compliments. ... You are definitely an intellectual if you can correctly use the word "pablum."
2007-03-26 12:10:41
23.   WillWeiss
Shaun P ... Thanks for the nod on the BP essay. There's more to come on that front. ... As for Suzyn, all I know is that moving her off PBP was an executive decision.
2007-03-26 12:25:37
24.   Shaun P
23 Thanks, Will. Baseball's impact on the environment, and what the game can do to help, were things I had never thought about before, so I'll be looking forward to more eco-news!
2007-03-26 12:30:48
25.   WillWeiss
Jim Dean,

Cash gets criticism, but not in the mainstream because he treats the writers well. Perhaps more than any other GM, he knows how to give a quote without really saying anything. Regarding the deals he's made, there has been criticism, but rarely will you see it as compromising future stories for the sake of analyzing a deal comes into play. There's a lot of ego involved on the writers' parts as well. It can easily be misinterpreted that they come off as knowing more than the GM, and that's a road many writers don't want to tread.

2007-03-26 12:39:39
26.   Sliced Bread

Good idea for a column. I enjoy comparing the headlines in the NY rags, and the various ways Yankee "news," and info-tainment is dessiminated to us fans.

I check out all the daily papers if I have the time, but I think the Yanks coverage in the NJ Star-Ledger, and Newsday is consistently informative, and well-written.
Is the Yankee coverage better in the 'burbs? Maybe so.

Radio-wise: I switch between Kay, and Mike and the Dog on my long drive home. Both shows conduct good interviews with the players, coaches, managers, reporters etc.
But when the hosts go into their rants I tend to switch to music after a while.

Are Yanks fans well-served by the local media? I'd say yes, but I'm always looking for quality coverage and analysis, which is why I come here everyday (and stay for the banter).

Not sure about one thing you wrote today: It's true that Clemens never officially retired, but I don't think Clemens did the Jordan'esque "99% retiring" thing.

Here's how Cashman responded to Rocket's un-retirement/non-retirement, whatever it was, back in January 2004:

"I am surprised [that he's not retiring]. There was never any 'I'm 90 percent retired,' or '99 percent retired.' It was always communicated he wanted to go out a Yankee. But people have a right to change their mind. We weren't allowed to be a part of the process [of negotiating for 2004], for whatever reason. But I'm not going to dwell on this."

Judging from George Steinbrenner's terse statement, he was also surprised:

"Roger Clemens was a great warrior for the Yankees -- a teacher and a leader. He told the world he was retiring, and we had no choice but to believe him."

It would be inaccurate to report that Clemens retired before signing with the Astros, but the "conventional wisdom" is that he un-retired. Sometimes conventional wisdom needs a copy-editor.

2007-03-26 12:43:38
27.   Jim Dean
Thanks Will. It's nice to have you around here. It's weird cause I don't know the business, but it seems like writers have no problem ripping players for their attitudes and whatnot (A-Rod, Jeter, Schilling up in Boston) but things that can actually be analyzed objectively (trades, signings, call-ups) are seldom mentioned. Just weird - maybe why we're seeing the evolution of sports journalism and away from the monolith operations. Chass and Shaughnessy have particular trouble dealing with that.

BTW: Great job over the YES site. To hire someone like Goldman so early on really says alot about the operation over there. It's just too bad you can't get him to write more for you (besides five days a week).

2007-03-26 13:06:21
28.   monkeyball
No offense, Will, but your defense of the Justice incident is pretty weak: There was no "proof" it was a setup, and a lot of people watched it. If that's the case, I have hard time seeing you're what your quarrel is with the rest of the media else perpetuating "Rodramariguez" by whatever means necessary.

"It's important to note that the YES broadcasters, or any broadcasters, for that matter, are not journalists."

Thanks for clearing that up.

2007-03-26 13:38:11
29.   Jim Dean
Anyone notice:

Bruney has 13 K against 2 BB and 3 H in 6 IP this spring. How does he not make the team?

2007-03-26 13:50:18
30.   WillWeiss
Good catch, Sliced Bread. ... I was going by an ESPN Sunday Conversation not long after the '03 World Series, where he did use the "99 percent" line. Your point about conventional wisdom is well taken.
2007-03-26 13:58:21
31.   WillWeiss
No offense taken, monkeyball. Perhaps you misunderstood me ... I don't have a problem with the media perpetuating the story. I know how it works, because I was a part of the perpetuation. I'm as guilty as anyone. That doesn't mean I can't say what I feel regarding editors perhaps exercising some control and rehashing the same story. That's the issue. Was that last part sarcasm? Tone gets lost on the written word. I made the distinction in that post because a lot of people don't know. I apologize if you knew that and took that the wrong way.
2007-03-26 14:27:07
32.   Shaun P
29 With all the injuries, and Beam and Britton's ineffectiveness, I'd say the last bullpen slot is down to Bruney and Bean, so Bruney is probably a lock, as the Yanks just won't give Colter the shot he's earned. C'est la vie.

That said, I wouldn't give Bruney a job based on 6 IP in spring training. 6 IP is way too small a sample size, and like MFD wsporter said the other day, spring training isn't just '"the ultimate definition of 'small sample size'" but . . . it's a sample of something far different and ultimately less useful than regular season ball'.

If Bruney gets a slot, it should be because he's young, cheap, throws really freakin' hard, and has a minor league K/BB (in AA and AAA) of 3.42 (in 138 IP!), which is awesome and a great predictor of future success in the bigs. I hope it happens.

2007-03-26 16:49:56
33.   C2Coke
32 And don't forget Bruney's performance from last year, which wasn't half bad!
2007-03-26 18:51:16
34.   Chyll Will
So many Will(s) around here >;) I admire the premise for your column here, it's even better to have someone in the know to ponder theories with about media motivation. Now there's someone to play with when I go on my "bad media" tangents, fun! Welcome aboard...
2007-03-26 19:30:54
35.   Jim Dean
32 His 2 ER in 20 IP last year can't hurt either with 25 K against 15 BB.

34 And I thought Weiss was the sober version of Chyll - like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Or are they?

2007-03-26 19:44:36
36.   WillWeiss
Don't know if any of you saw this article from Dayn Perry on, but it offers some pretty good insight, despite the title. ...>1=9232
2007-03-26 19:53:57
37.   yankswolf
Regarding the Surprise Column:

The whole Jeter captain thing is really getting to me. The more I think about it the more I realize he could have handled this whole thing better. Jeter always comes across so stiff, I think someone who is truly a great captain would have "unplugged" this whole AROD thing 2 years ago. Does he have to do it? No, absolutely not. He still is golden in the eyes of everyone, including me. But he still could have handled this better...I don't even care if Jeter says that him and Arod arent friends anymore, but if he was just a little bit more open about it and about himself it would make me feel better. He is doesnt matter....but he should still give in a little bit more so this whole thing can go away.

2007-03-26 19:59:30
38.   Chyll Will
35 I was thinking that too, but I haven't drawn any conclusions just yet. The first question would have to be: root beer or cream soda?
2007-03-26 20:01:30
39.   wsporter
32 MFD, Did I really say that? What a long winded, overdressed anarchist I turned out to be ...
2007-03-26 20:21:04
40.   Chyll Will
37 It will not go away. It would get MUCH much worse. But it's too late in the day for "grrrr" so I promise to expound on that at another time, good night ...zzzzz
2007-03-26 20:31:47
41.   Chyll Will
39 ...zzzz Trust me, it's not so bad. The right hat and cane combo makes anyone look like a million bucks ...zzzzz
2007-03-27 06:58:04
42.   Shaun P
39 MFD, long-winded perhaps, but your point was valid. Us lawyers do tend to go on and on and on, don't we? ;)

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