"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: November 2002

Kudos to John Perricone over

Kudos to John Perricone over at Only Baseball Matters for reaching the 20,000 hit milestone. It proves that if you are as dedicated and enterprising as Mr. Perricone has been, the readers, they will come.

One of my most treasured

One of my most treasured baseball pals is my cousin Gabe. He’s the Met fan I always turn to first whenever anything is going on. Here is his take on the Mets’ pursuit of Glavine:

Tom Glavine is a red herring, isn’t he? I mean, I
like him more than I did at the start of all this, and
I don’t have any reason to believe that he wouldn’t
win 16 games for the Mets next year. But let’s
consider some things:

1. The Mets had a $94 million payroll in 2002 and
stunk.

2. In spite of this payroll, the Mets didn’t have any
basis for expecting to be a great team in 2002. A
competitive team, maybe, but not a great team.

3. It is maybe fair to say that the Mets could not
have expected the complete meltdown of 2002. However,
the notion that most or all of the underachievers will
rebound and propel the Mets into postseason contention
is a bit dubious to me. The Mets are an old team and,
in one or two cases, an overweight team. (Mo is
obviously beyond overweight for an athlete, but Cedeno
and Alfonzo looked way too beefy last year.) Of the
players who underachieved, it is perhaps only safe to
assume that Burnitz and maybe Alomar will rebound.
And in Burnitz’s case, his adjusted career norms are
not so much better than his 2002 performance. Mo will
probably be closer to his second half than his first,
but his days of hitting .300 seem long gone.
Meanwhile, Piazza had his worst offensive season.
From a historic standpoint, the fact that his worst
season still left him the best hitting catcher in
baseball is tremendous; however as the centerpiece of
the Mets line-up, he left something to be desired.
Cedeno and Alfonzo had years solidly within their
established parameters. Given all this, even if the
Mets were to win 88-90 games in 2003, they wouldn’t
have any basis for expecting to compete with this team
beyond next season.

4. It is not impossible that 2003 will be Tom
Glavine’s last great year. Glavine is old and at this
point strikes out few hitters. Pitchers with low
strike out rates tend to deteriorate faster than those
who strike out more than the league average. There
are some exceptions, but not many. If it’s true,
Glavine’s last great year would coincide with an
imminent, massive, and unpredictable roster turnover.

5. After the 2003 season, the Mets will (one way or
another) be free of the contracts of Burnitz, Ordonez,
Benitez, Franco, and Alomar–about $36 million in
2003, $46 million if they don’t sign Glavine. If the
Mets simply play out the string with this roster,
however many games they win, they have the chance to
be off-season monsters next year. $46 million per is
some serious dough. Even if that is an unpredictable
road to take, it seems like it has the potential to be
much more productive in the long run than signing an
aging pitcher.

6. If we can expect Tom Glavin to win 16 games in
2003 under normal circumstances, how many can we
expect Steve Trachsel to win? I’m gonna say 10-11.
(He’s won 11 the last two years.) Now, five games
isn’t nothing–it’s often the difference between
making the playoffs and not. But it doesn’t guarantee
a berth. More importantly, it seems as if the Mets
will have between $27-30 million committed to Glavine
in 2004-2006, when he likely will not be winning
sixteen games a year. If the Mets don’t honestly feel
that the acquisition of Tom Glavine all but assures
them a playoff berth in 2003, they should forget about
signing him. If the realistic outcome is winning 84
games instead of 79, it’s a bad move. Frankly, it may
be a bad move anyway. There are appropriate and
inappropriate times to break the bank on a free agent.
Even if the Mets make the playoffs with Glavine, the
signing could hinder them for three years. (It’s why
trades for people half way thru contracts are usually
more productive signing free agents.)

7. Acquiring Denny Neagle is a bad move.

8. Acquiring Tom Glavine is not a great move. It
would not turn an organization around. Signing a free
agent never turns an organization around. It might
make a good team a championship team, but in the Mets’
case it may be like treating frostbite with a
flashlight. Or something like that. . .

Bob Klapisch updated his take on the Glavine situation last Friday.

I was amused by the talk of a Yankees-Rockies-Mets swap over the weekend. I agree with my cousin; acquiring Denny Neagle would be bad for the Mets. Shea is a good place to pitch, but the vibe is all wrong for a flake like Neagle. Forget Glavine, how much better is a fruitloop like Denny Neagle than ol’ Steve Trashcan?

There is a Lovable Loser quality about Traschel. In another baseball lifetime, he could have stepped right out of Ring Lardner’s “You Know Me Al”. As a matter of fact, you can read Lardner’s epistolary novella in the time in takes Traschel to get through the bottom of the 5th.

Did everyone see the photo’s

Did everyone see the photo’s of Michael Piazza’s visit with the Pope? Good to see a nice Catholic boy like Michael making the big time. I wonder if the Pope had any tips for Yazzie. Personally, I feel that Michael should grow his hair long again. He doesn’t have to go with the mullet, though that wouldn’t hurt. Even if Mike is a clean-cut guy, the dirtbag look has always suited him. In fact, it seems to me that Yazzie is a far more menacing presence with long, grizzly locks, and a nasty-looking mustachio. Especially since he’s such a pusscat. It sure makes him a lot more fun to watch. Not for nothing, but Giambi could let his greasy-ass hair grow a lil’ bit too.

As if Mets fans needed

As if Mets fans needed another reason to hate the Braves, they now have the opportunity to see whether Mike Hampton, the pitcher who spurned them for the big money, and educational perks of Colorado, can resurrect his floundering career in the NL East with Atlanta. Some guys have all the luck.

Sure, Hampton has had to pay for his avarice, as his numbers over the past two seasons demonstrate. His slugging aside, Hampton has payed the piper, in true Faustian style; I know more than a few Mets fans who took great pleasure in watching his misfortunes.

Now, it’s Hampton who may have the last laugh. He is sitting pretty, having succesfully wriggled his way out of a career-threatening situation in Colorado, and he hasn’t lost a cent of his outlandishly large contract. Three teams will pay Hampton the remaining $84 million on his contract, with the Braves on the hook for $48 million over 6 years. Not a bad deal if he bounces back. Tim Kurkjian reports on the details of the trade, which is one of the more complicated deals in recent history.

Of course, it’s a calculated risk on the part of the John Schuerholz; Hampton could be a complete bust. But with pitching guru Leo Mazzone returning, it’s hard to believe that Hampton won’t recover at least some of his pre-Colorado form.

What makes the Hampton deal so interesting is that is seems to have fallen into the Braves lap. If this is the start of a trend, there could be a few more good suprises this winter.

Of course, the Mets pursuit of Tom Glavine becomes even more urgent now. Even if it’s from a public relations point of view. But how could anyone be suprised if Glavine plays both the Mets and the Phillies, and returns to Atlanta himself? Bob Klapisch writes today that the Mets still have a good shot at the vetern lefty, but I have my doubts.

Nothing like stoaking the fires of a rivalry. Especially with a red-ass, douche bag like Hampton cast as the latest villain. Is Glavine next?

It all makes me wonder what suprises the Sox have in store for us Yankee fans this winter.

And vice a versie too.

There are two things

There are two things that strike me abou

One of my favorite parts

One of my favorite parts of the Bill James Abstracts and Baseball books were the historical biographies, which were characteristically informative, droll and idiosyncratic. I don’t think they ever made it past the A’s, but no matter, they still covered a good bit of ground. Reading the entries on the Alou brothers last night, I wanted to share the following bit about “one of the best strings of graffiti” that James had ever seen:

‘First handwriting, somebody has written “Jesus is the answer.”
Second handwriting, next guy has added “What is the question?”
Third handwriting, “Who is Matty and Felipe’s brother…”

At the end of Felipe’s profile James adds,

‘Alou’s biography, “Felipe Alou…My Life and Baseball” was helpful in preparing this article, and will be of particular interest to those of you who talk about Christ as if he was renting the next apartment.’

Zing.

Another shout to John Perricone

Another shout to John Perricone over at Only Baseball Matters for anticipating the signing of Felipe Alou (11/7/02). Alou is going to take over for Dusty Baker as skipper of the San Francisco Giants according to espn.com. Felipe replacing Dusty? How appealing can you get?

After the AL MVP was announced yesterday it took me a good half an hour to remember how much I actually like Miguel Tejada. I felt that Alex Rodriguez should have won the award, but it’s hard to bitch about Tejada getting it. He is a terrific player who had a stellar season. I’ve followed Tejada since I read the book “Away Games” by Marcos Breton and Jose Luis Villegas. The book came out in 1999 I believe, just when Miggy and Ben Grieve made their way to Oakland’s major league squad. (I wonder if it’ll be updated now that Miggy’s hit the big time.) The book offers an excellent general history of baseball in Latin America, as well as a touching portrait of a skinny kid who one day would become the AL MVP. Well worth checking out.

Yesterday, John Perricone at Only

Yesterday, John Perricone at Only Baseball Matters conveyed his dismay concerning the treatment Barry Bonds has recieved from both the media and the public over the years. While I think Bonds has not helped himself as far as his image is concerned, a lot of the criticism he has drawn suggests racism’s pervasivness is alive and well. What particularly caught my attention was his analogy to Don Mattingly, a local favorite (who many argue is overrated); one the great players of the Larry Bird 80′s. It struck me as poignant because Mattingly enjoyed his greatest years with a player who is more than a little bit like Bonds in Rickey Henderson.

Henderson didn’t last much longer in New York than Reggie Jackson did; he didn’t make the same kind of impact, though he was a better all-around player. Mattingly, of course was the most popular Yankee since Mickey Mantle. I can only imagine the bemusement a young baseball fan will be greeted with 30 years down the road when he looks at the books to compare Mattingly with Henderson. “How is Mattingly even in the discussion?” he might say. But those of us (mostly white) old-timers who grew up in New York during the 80′s will most likely stick to our guns, arguing that Donnie Baseball had more “heart” and “grit” and all those other wonderful intagibles, than Rickey Henderson ever dreamed of possessing. Numbers are overrated we may say. But the real issue is how deep our perceptions run.

The issue of perception and racial stereotypes is thorny and complicated, and I don’t pretend to be an expert. But it’s clear to me that a black player like Henderson didn’t recieve the kind of praise or adulation that seemingly fell into Mattingly’s lap. I don’t mean to suggest that Mattingly was a phony, or that he didn’t deserve the attention. But how many Yankee fans or members of the press for that matter, pulled for the young Mattingly over Dave Winfield in 1984 when they battled it out for the batting title simply because he was white?

It should come as no suprise then that Henderson also runs a close second to Bonds as the most under-appreciated great player of his time.

Last night I did some rummaging around in my baseball library and pulled out “Wait Till Next Year”, a book about the 1987 sporting scene in New York written by columnist Mike Lupica and screenwriter William Goldman. (Bantam Books, 1988.) This portion, written by Lupica, may be of interest, John:

‘In New York, it has been historically more useful to be a white star than a black star; the opportunities for endorsements and commercials and billboards and all the rest that comes with being a celeb are more readily available to you. With the Mets, Gary Carter and Ron Darling were infinitely more appealing to Madison Avenue than Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, even before Gooden’s difficulty getting the passing grade on the urine test.
This sort of racism is not specific to New York, or baseball; it is part of professional sports now. [Wasn't it always?] There was just more conversation about it around the Yankees in early 1987 because [Rickey] Henderson was having such an electrifying start, the Yankees were in first place, the Mets were in trouble, and Henderson still wasn’t the toast of the town. A lot of people thought it was a combination of the normal racism of sports, and perception—the way players were presented to the world in the newspapers. Henderson had the image of being cocky. Lenny Dykstra, the white center fielder for the Mets, strutted and swaggered just as much at Shea Stadium as Henderson did at Yankee Stadium. But Dykstra, who had traded mightily on the Mets’ World Series championship during the off-season, had a reputation as being tough.
Henderson was a hot dog.
Dykstra was his nickname: “Nails.”
It was a subtle distinction, but a distinction nonetheless.
Henderson, the black man, was cocky.
Dykstra, the white man, was tough.
Henderson had an image problem. Dykstra didn’t. That day at Yankee Stadium, the crowd at kept cheering after Mattingly’s grand slam, wanting Mattingly to come out and take a curtain call. Mattingly, a shy man who thinks curtain calls are silly displays, didn’t want to go. Henderson, laughing, ran up the dugout steps, waved, got Mattingly’s cheer.
In the clubhouse, Willie Randolph said, “It’s the only way Rickey can get one.”
And there was more than racism going on.’

Here is where Henderson bears an even stronger resemblance to Bonds:

‘Henderson simply refused to sell himself to the writers; he simply was not one of the kings of clubhouse schmooze. He would not, or could not, make himself available to writers before games. Rickey had his own way of doing things, and his reluctance to promote himself in any way just seemed to fit into the tapestry of being Rickey. He was a game player. He did not enjoy the running and drills of spring training; did not like rules of any kind; he would hide in a corner of the dugout in Fort Lauderdale when the Yankees ran laps early in spring training, then jump out when [then manager, Lou] Pinella and the coaches weren’t looking, join his mates for the final lap. He did not like getting to the ball park any earlier than he had to; it was obvious to teammates and writers covering the team that he had terrible work habits. The slightest injury sent him to the bench; it was a problem that would become more and more acute for Henderson, and his team, and his image, and Yankee fans. [The irony for Henderson, is that he ended up with the career record for stolen bases and runs scored, but never shed the image as a player who loafed it.]
And there was “Don’t need no press now, man.”
The writers had never forgotten those first words Henderson spoke in the Yankee clubhouse, in April of 1985. Henderson had injured an ankle in Florida, had needed extra time to recuperate, and the regular season had started without him. When he did show up, the writers were waiting for him.
Henderson shooed them away from his locker, saying, “Don’t need no press now, man.”
He hadn’t gotten a lot of press since…
One day a writer said to Dave Winfield, “Why isn’t Rickey bigger around here than he is?”
And Winfield, voice dripping with sarcasm, said, “You mean like I am?”
Claudell Washington was more vocal and belligerent about the issue, especially at the end of May , when Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons would create a national sensation with some remarks about Larry Bird, and the fact that he might not be as big a star as he was if he wasn’t white. Thomas, when given the chance to explain himself by columnist Ira Berkow in the Times, said, “Magic (Johnson) and Michael Jordan and me, we’re playing on God-given talent, like we’re animals, lions and tigers who run wild in the jungle, while Larry’s success is due to intelligence and hard work.”…
Washington: “You think Rickey Henderson doesn’t understand what we’re talking about with this whole black-white deal? You think he doesn’t know? That man Rickey is a legend. He should be on every billboard in town, on every commercial. Rickey Henderson is the best.’ (pp.181-83)

I don’t think Don Mattingly was any less sincere in his approach to the game and his talents than Henderson was to his, it’s just that Mattingly was the personification of what Curt Flood once labled as “that paragon of nineteenth-century Integrity—the Hungry Ball Player.” To be a bit more disparaging, I should say, “The Hungry White Ball Player”. The humble, over-achiever. Flood added, “To acquire a public reputation as a ‘hustler’—a good competitor—is usually a matter of posture or personality…Slowness of foot also helps, requiring the player to fling himself to the turf in vain efforts to catch balls that more gifted athletes might have handled while remaining unruffled and erect.” (From “The Way It Is” by Flood with Richard Carter. Trident Press, 1971. pp.51 + 59.) Reading Flood’s observation I couldn’t help but think how nicely it applied to David Eckstein and Garret Anderson this post season. Which player recieved more press, what kind of press what it, and who is truly the better player?

Cynicism aside, Mattingly was a grinder of the highest order, one who led by example. One of the reasons for his popularity was certainly his race; it is why Mattingly was lauded for his dedication, and perspiration, while Winfield was derided as a disapointment at best, and at worst, a choke artist.

The truth is Mattingly was praised for developing skills which overcame his lesser natural talent, while Bonds and Henderson were scorned for neglecting their superior skills and natural gifts. Or at least taking them for granted. Mattingly was the thinking man’s player; Rickey and Bonds are showboats. I think the fact that Bonds was a rich kid, not to mention a black one, didn’t help endear any of the great white public to him either. And John is correct, Bonds has never played the “Golly gee” card, or even the “Baseball been berry, berry good to me” one that Sammy Sosa has shrewdly employed so succesfully.

Where Bonds loses me is when he complains about not being liked as much as Jordan, Russell, Jabbar and Gretsky. Or respected. The two words are very different to me. If you want to be liked, you have to be a likable guy, or go out of your way to create a likable persona. Barry has always had a say in this, no matter what scars he accrued watching the media’s treatment of his father as a kid. Bonds has made a choice, and he’s had to live with the consequences. He’s chosen to be true to himself, and that has apparently precluded him from using the media to his advantage. His grudges, real or imagined are too great to overcome.
But I don’t think Bonds really cares about being liked. I sure don’t know how well liked Kareem was during his heyday. Respect, that’s another story. It’s seems to me that

Bonds is as respected as a player can be, between the lines. If not by the media and the public than at least by his peers. Feared is another word that comes to mind. But it is true that he isn’t admired, or revered in a way that say, Cal Ripken is. Race certainly has something to do with this. I don’t want to take Bonds off the hook totally, because he’s accountable as well, but Bonds was never interested in selling himself to White America like Michael Jordan has.

I never thought of comparing Bonds and Mattingly, but it’s interesting to think about, simply from a practical approach. They had such different styles. They were such different hitters. I found a good bit from Tom Boswell in his book “Heart of the Order” (Penguin, 1989) that pertains to this difference:

‘For historical reference, the Musial analogy works [with Mattingly]. Left-handed hitter. Eccentric closed and coiled stance. Sprays the ball. Tons of doubles. Not too many walks. Hard to strike out.
“He doesn’t look like Musial, but he hits like him,” says Orioles manager Earl Weaver. “Musial was the best at adjusting once the ball left the pitcher’s hand. He’d hit the pitcher’s pitch. Williams was the best at making them throw his pitch. He didn’t believe in adjusting. If it wasn’t what he wanted, he knew enough to walk to first base. That’s why he hit .406.
Once every coupla games, a Musial or Mattingly is going to adjust and put that tough pitch in play instead of walking and you’re going to get some extra outs. But he’s also going to drive you crazy by popping a perfect fastball on the fists down the left-field line for a double.” (p.68)

You could say the same thing about our Vlad Guerrero today.

Here is one last bit, again from Curt Flood, who once approached Mr. Wunnerful for some hitting advice.

‘Stan Musial also helped—mainly by working as hard as he did on his own perfect swing. If this immortal felt the need for frequent extra practice, how could I hope to prosper on less effort? He was an awesome sight in the batting cage, sweat pouring, brows knit in concentration, telling the pitcher what to throw next, hammering twenty or thirty balls to the fences and beyond—polishing, polishing, polishing.
I once plucked at his sleeve for advice. I had become overanxious about the curve ball and was swinging at it too soon. When balls are being fired toward your head at ninety or a hundred miles an house, there is no time for deliberation. I mean, you do not just decide to delay your bat in case the pitch turns out to be a curve. Proper timing is an end product of a properly balanced stance, a properly hinged swing and, of course, athletic reflexes. I asked Musial if he could tell me how to adjust my swing. He thought about it for a while and then confided with total sincerity, “Well, you wait for a strike. Then you knock the shit out of it.” I might as well have asked a nightingale how to trill.” (pp.63-4)

Vlad G of course takes it to another level. He doesn’t concern himself with balls and strikes. I’m not sure what game he’s playing inside his own head, but he sure does know how to knock the shit of the ball.

As a passionate Yankee

As a passionate Yankee fan, born and bred in and around New York City, I’ve always been keenly aware of what goes on up north in Boston with the Red Sox. Although plenty of Yankee fans conveniently enjoy the rivalry, few ever seem to be overly concerned or bothered by the Sox. At least not in New York City; Conneticut is another story. But from what I have observed, New Yorkers, or should I say, Yankee fans, feel ostensibly indifferent or smugly superior to the plight of the Red Sox. Perhaps that’s because New Yorkers’ take a back seat to nobody when it comes to self-absorption, although Red Sox Nation isn’t far behind. Mostly, it’s due to the Yankees utter dominance over Boston.

Interestingly, the most uncomplicated and cheerful Sox supporters I’ve encountered are the many Latino’s (especially Dominicans) who don Red Sox caps and jerseys throughout the city, especially uptown where I happen to live. Their interest revolves around the fortunes of Prince Pedro and homeboy Manny Ramirez, of course. (What happened to all that Tribe gear that used to be so prominent a few years ago?) They pay no heed at all to history, and confidently predict the demise of the hometown Yankees. Of course, they are relative newcomers to Red Sox Nation, so they must be forgiven for their optimism.

Me? I’m constantly worried about the Sox, in spite of their history. Why gloat about 1918? Their streak of futility is bound to end sometime, right? (Silence…) All things come to an end, right?

That’s the way I see it anyhow. I was too young to truly remember the Bronx Zoo championships of the late 70′s and just old enough to have cried my eyes out for days when the Dodgers beat the Yanks in 81 (I was 10). Rooting for the Yankees in the 80′s was trying to say the least. The Mets were the toast of the town, while the Yanks were repeatedly satogaged by the egomanical sadist from Cleveland. Not to mention the fact that everyone else in the baseball universe was rather pleased that Steinbrenner was tearing the once-proud franchise down from the inside out. Growing up in the 80′s rooting for the Yankees was a masochistic endeavor for sure (forget the Jets and the wack-ass Knicks).

I’ve always been more inclined to masochism than sadism myself, and that’s probably what makes the Red Sox appealing on a certain level. Of course, once the season begins I revert to adolescent histrionics, professing nothing but hatred and contempt for the Sox, like any self-respecting Yankee fan who was raised the days of Butch Hobson, Craig Nettles, Fisk and Munson, etc. I’ve got a couple of guys who bust my chops about it. They call me a closet Red Sox fan. (I’ve read a few excellent books on the Sox this summer, which I will get to at some point this winter.)

I wouldn’t go that far, but I will say that I worry about the day when the Sox finally beat the Yanks in a big spot. Sure. Who wouldn’t? A dumb ass Yankee fan, you say? Well, I couldn’t agree more. It’s the casual, over-confident bozo’s who make up a large section of the Yankees fan base that give the rest of us normal, superstitious and neurotic diehards a bad name. The other shoe has to drop eventually doesn’t it? The current Yankee run has to come to an end at some point, right? My thinking is that if I can imagine the worst case scenerio at least I won’t be caught off guard when it happens (maybe I am a Sox fan at heart).

All of this lead me to breath a deep sigh of relief this morning when I read that Oakland’s golden boy Billy Beane rejected a lucrative deal to become the GM of the Sox last night. Peter Gammons reports that Beane agreed to a deal only to drop out at the 11th hour sighting concerns about being away from his family on the west coast. Beane’s arrival in Boston would have added some heat to the Yankee-Sox wars, and I’m sure it would have made it all the more exciting. But I’ll be frank: I’m a coward. I’d rather sleep at night instead of wringing my hands worried about Boston (I do enough of that anyway). Bill James is one thing—an appealing novelty. Billy Beane would have been outright uncomfortable. I don’t know if he’s as good as his reputation, but I sure am glad we don’t have to find out the hard way.

The news of Bill James

The news of Bill James joining the Boston Red Sox as a senior advisor, reported by his former protoge Rob Neyer yesterday, sure is a curious way to initiate the Hot Stove League this winter. It is a move that is certain to attract the attention of those of us who follow baseball writers and writing as much as the game itself. As Neyer points out in a seperate piece, James is not the first Sabermetrician to be employed by a Major League team, but he sure is the most famous.

Although I have no idea how much the Sox will benefit from James’ expertise, it does make sense that the team with perhaps the greatest literary history, should hire a heavyweight like James. It’s a weird but delicious marriage, one that appears to have been an easy call for Boston’s owner John Henry, who has long been a fan of James’ work. If you are progressive enough to value the benefits of Sabermetrics, why not go directly to the Don?

I’m interested to see how the media in Boston will react to James. Will Bob Ryan or Gordon Edes at the Globe have access to James, or will the Sox keep him an in-house presence?
James has enjoyed great success as a baseball analyst and observer, and yet he’s operated outside of the game, on his own terms. Will he be like Pauline Kael, the film critic, who left her post at The New Yorker in the late 70′s to work for Warren Beatty at Paramount, but only lasted 4 or 5 months in Hollywood before returning to her post, or will he truly flourish within the confines of Fenway park? No matter how it pans out, I can only hope James will one day write a book about his experience with the Sox. That way he can cover his ass with prose if his sage advice somehow fails. Either way, we will have another entertaining an enlightening book to gobble up.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver