"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

DON’T CALL IT A

DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK

It didn’t take long for George Steinbrenner to start squawking. Boss George usually surfaces after taking a hit like Steinbrenner did last week from Larry Lucchino. The old man came to life in an exclusive interview with the Daily News on Sunday, and it’s exactly the kind of schtick we’ve come to expect out of Steinbrenner: insinuations, taunts, defensiveness, pride, envy, mean-spiritedness and paranoia. (There is a companion piece with some of George’s best pals in today’s paper.)

You didn’t think you were going to make through the holiday season without hearing from the fat man himself, did you? Hell, George is right on time.

In “Wait Until Next Year” (1988), Mike Lupica gave a name to this kind of Steinbrenner Outburst:

GEORGE (jogj), v., GEORGED, GEORGING. 1: To insult, verbally abuse, taunt members of the New York Yankees in the nespapers. 2: To threaten with demotion to the minor leagues, usually Columbus of the International League; or threaten with trade to another major league team. 3: To actually bully Yankees to the point where they are unable to perform at previous levels of baseball skill, specifically, levels exhibited before becoming Yankees. USAGE: Exclusively relating to the principal owner of the Yankees, George Steinbrenner; i.e./ to be Georged by Mr. Steinbrenner.”

Roger Angell, talking about the Bronx Zoo era, suggested that Steinbrenner, “didn’t really want to let his ballplayers play the games. He didn’t want to put them out on the field and wait and see what happens, which is what you have to do in the end. He wanted to impose his will and in doing that he got between us and the players. I always had the feeling at Yankee Stadium when he was there that he was standing up in front of me and I was looking at George Steinbrenner and I wanted to see the Yankees, instead.”

In Sunday’s interview, Joe Torre and Derek Jeter got Georged.

Daily News: Joe Torre has become a New York icon. Judging by some of your actions, such as the way his contract was dragged out last year, it sometimes seems that you think he gets too much credit and you don’t get enough.

GS: Joe is the greatest friend I’ve ever had as a manager. It’s a great relationship. I don’t want to destroy that, but I will tell you this: I want his whole staff to understand that they have got to do better this year. I will not see him drop back into the way he was before. Right now he’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Before he came to the Yankees he didn’t even have a job. Three different times as manager he didn’t deliver, and was fired. Look how far he’s comes. He’s come that way because of an organization, and he’s got to remember that.

I’m glad Joe is an icon. He’s a hell of a guy, a tremendous manager and a tremendous figure for New York. I just want his coaches to understand that just being a friend of Joe Torre’s is not enough. They’ve got to produce for him. Joe Torre and his staff have heard the bugle.”

There it is: George at his finest. He insults Torre, then pats him on the back. Compliments him and turns around and makes a condescending remark.

Sure, it must be the coaches fault. That fat ass Zimmer couldn’t hit a fungo worth a half-a-shit last year.

No matter how succesful Torre has been for Steinbrenner, he still can’t let Joe get away clean. He’s got to stick a prick in him to remind him who the master is. It is a reminder of how much Steinbrenner had in common with Billy Martin. Both men used paranoia to fuel there success.

“Billy Martin proved what a powerful strategic tool paranoia is,” Tom Boswell commented in Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary. “He believed that everyone was against him. And so he spent every waking moment figuring out how imaginary enemies could be defeated in their nefarious plots. And sometimes he not only created strategies to defend against things that would never be done against him. but he realized that those attacks were in themselves novel and he would then try those attacks that he had already dreamed up a defense for. That’s why he was so wonderful at suicide bunts and double steals and any way that you could humiliate or psychologically defeat the other team, he was sure that’s how the world reacted to him. He was sure the world hated him. And so he turned that really raw, frightened paranoia into wonderful strategic intelligence.”

The major differences between Martin and Steinbrenner is that Martin was a baseball man, and a thug, who grew up in the mean streets of Oakland. George is a football man, and was a rich kid. Billy Martin was something steely and ornery and deranged that could come from the mind of R. Crumb. A friend of mine mentioned the other day that Steinbrenner is more like Pee Wee Herman’s nemesis, Francis, from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

George isn’t a squeeze-play, double-steal guy; that is much too clever and smarmy. Steinbrenner is bigger and blunter: he’s a Gashouse Gorilla, a six-guns-a-blazing, bulldozer.

Here is what George said about Jeter:

Q: The Yankees haven’t had a captain since Don Mattingly. Do you see Derek Jeter as a strong candidate?

GS: Joe (Torre) would like that right now, but I don’t think now is the right time. I want to see Jetes truly focued. He wasn’t totally focused last year. He had the highest number of errors he’s had in some time. He wasn’t himself. [Jeter had 14 errors in 2002, his lowest total since 1999; his fielding percentage of .977 was 3 points higher than his career average. But who is counting?---A.B.]

As far as trying and being a warrior, I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of him. Being how much better wouldhe be if he didn’t have all his other activities? I tell him this all the time. I say, ‘Jetes, you can’t be everything to everybody. You’ve got to focus of what’s important.’ The charitable things he does are important. A certain amount (of his outside pursuits) are good for him and for the team, but there comes a point whe it isn’t, and I think we’re getting close to that point.

He makes enough money that de doesn’t need a lot of the commercials. I’m not going to stick my nose into this family’s business. They are very fine people, (but) if his dad doesn’t see that, he should see it. When I read in the paper that he’s out until 3 a.m. in New York City going to a birthday party, I won’t lie. That doesn’t sit well with me. That was a violation of Joe’s curfew. That’s the focus I’m talking about.

Jeter’s still a young man. He’ll be a very good candidate for the capaincy. But he’s got toshow me and the other players that that’s not the right way. He’s got to make sure his undivided, unfettered attention is given to baseball. I just wish he’d eliminate some of the less important things and he’d be right back where he was in the past.

This is a calculated move on George’s part to stir Jeter a bit, and for what it’s worth, I think he’s right on. But this is just a warning shot. George knows that Jeter is not the kind of guy like Winfield or Reggie who will take him on in the press. Who knows? He took a cheap shot at Jeter’s family, which is a familiar line of attack. It would be uncharacteristic of DJ to say anything provocative in response.

Reggie Jackson said in today’s News, “George knows what notes to play. Whenever he had trouble with me, he called my dad, and my dad would raise hell with me. That was the way to reach me—and George knew it.”

Steinbrenner uses the Father-card often, perhaps due to his rocky relationship with his old man. “You always try to please you father,” Steinbrenner told the News yesterday. “I don’t care who you are. If I was running a hurdles race and won three and lost one, he’d say. ‘How come you lost?’ That was the thing you should concentrate on. Spend no time concentrating on your victories. Concentrate on your defeats, so they don’t happen again.”

Is it any wonder why Steinbrenner cherished Paul O’Neil like he did?

Jeter got Georged alright, but the difference between the 80′s and now is that definition’s 2 and 3 of Lupica’s definition need not apply. Steinbrenner doesn’t thirst for spotlight like he did in the 70′s and 80′s, but he does need to express himself every once in a while. Ho-friggin-hum. Geoge is content playing a ‘supporting role’, but he’s like Harry Lime in “The Third Man”: His presence can be felt even when he isn’t there. It’s the ultimate cameo. You have to enjoy how scripted it all is; Steinbrenner is doing himself. It’s about as authentic as a William Shanter dramatic reading.

Truthfully, I think it’s kinda good for Jeter. He’s gotten as free a pass as any high salared player has ever had for George. What makes him so special?

George like to fire up the old engine every once in a while. The old Lion still needs to roar. Fortunately, both Joe Torre and Derek Jeter are shrewd, cool-calm-and-collected professionals; they know how to play George, especially George. Still Reggie Jackson, of all people, had this sage advice to offer: “I am a Yankee. I’m one of George’s guys. I take heat from him like the janitor, or Brian Cashman or Joe Torre or the secretary. You learn to deal with it or you move on. I’ve learned to stay mostly out of his gunsight. When called upon you show up. When you’re not, you stay out on the range and do your work.”

After all these years, the Hall of Famer is still walking on eggshells. Here is more from Lupica in “Wait Til Next Year”: “Once you took George Steinbrenner’s money, you opened yourself up to the Georging. It was part of the deal. There was a lot of money. You wore pinstripes at home. You play the home games at Yankee Stadium, the most famous sports arena in the United States. You had access to the endoresement potential of New York City, the media center of the frigging world.
And you knew that you would get punished, publicly and relentlessly and in the most common sort of language, for failures, great and small.
You would get your ass Georged.
Sometimes with a red-hot poker.”

But George wasn’t only taking shots at his own team this weekend. Larry Luchino and the Red Sox did manage to come up as well.

Daily News: John Henry, your former partner and owner of the Red Sox, was quoted as saying after you signed Contreras that he “was and is a big risk.” What’s your response?

GS: “That’s just ridiculous. It makes him look stupid because they did everything they could to get him, including offering more money than we did. They offered $10 million to get him away from us. I give credit to Mr. Contreras. He wanted to play for the Yankees.

John Henry put down $1 million to buy into the Yankees. He gets back $4.7 million. I hope he does as well for his partners.”

DN: Larry Lucchino, president of the Red Sox, called the Yankees “the evil empire” after the signing.

GS: “That’s B.S. That’s how a sick person thinks. I’ve learned this about Lucchino: he’s a baseball’s foremost chameleon of all time. He changes colors depending on where he’s standing. He’s been at Baltimore, and he deserted them there, and then he went out to San Diego, and look at what trouble they’re in out there. When he was in San Diego, he was a big man for the small markets. Now he’s in Boston and he’s for the big markets. He’s not the kind of guy you want to have in your foxhole. He’s running the team behind John Henry’s back. I warned John it would happen, told him, “Just be careful.” He talks out of both sides of his mouth. He has trouble talking out of the front of it.”

Steinbrenner’s history with Lucchino is delineated in an article that appeared in the Boston Globe on Saturday. Lucchino hasn’t backed off his comments either. “Let’s just say that on the list of top people with respect and affection for me, you will probably not find George’s name there…I think there’s a large set of people for whom George Steinbrenner has venom, “Lucchino told the Globe. “Perhaps it’s a badge of honor. If it’s true, I’ll wear it as a badge of honor.”

The Globe asked Lucchino how the Sox can compete with the Yankees if they have little chance to outspend them.

“The Force will be with us,” Lucchino replied.

Nice touch, huh? (And you wonder why Yankee fans are paranoid?) According to Gordon Edes’ Notes column on Sunday, “..the Red Sox CEO is being referred to as ‘Luccino Skywalker’ on some Internet message boards.’

A Star is Born.

Every fanbase has their own, individually carved, made-to-order cross to bear. Red Sox and Cub fans bear perhaps the most famous crosses (while the White Sox have one of the most underappreciated), but every team has a cross to bear. Yankee fans have to bear Steinbrenner, and accept the fact that they root for the most hated team in all of pro sports.

In Annie Hall, Woody Allen complained to Tony Roberts, “Don’t you see? The rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing Communist, Jewish, homosexual, pornographers. I think of us that way, somtimes, and I live here.”

That pretty much sums up how I feel about the Yankees. And even Yankee fans. The rest of the country looks at us like we’re right-wing, front-running, fascist bullies. That’s how I feel often, and I love em to tears. T

That’s the cross a Yankee fan has to bear. We are conditioned as New Yorkers to be defensive and paranoid anyhow; being a Yankee fan feels like an extention of that native tendency. It’s the icing on the gravy. Everybody vs. Us.
Here is George’s short-but-sweet reply to his 30 years owning the Yankees yesterday in the News:

“Overall, I did my best. If I did make serious mistakes I tried to rectify them. Nobody can tell you that everday that goes by in their lifetimes they don’t learn more. As long as you can say you did your best, I guess that’s enough.

I am a driver. I never let up on my guys. We have a pretty damn good organization, and they’re all working. We don’t take two or three weeks off at Christmas. We work, because they’re all gaining on us. They’re doing everything they can to gain on us”.

No doubt, Scrooge M. Nixon.

SOX GM CONTENT OPERTATING ON THE LOW

The Red Sox inked my old friend, Ramiro Mendoza last night, which after weeks of speculation, did not come as a shock. Here is an e-mail I recieved from my cousin Gabe this morning:

Hey,

I just wanted to note Mendoza signing with the BoSox,
and express my sympathies. I know he was one of your
favorites, and to have him sign with the enemy must be
painful. I’m not sure how it compares to Ventura
going to the Yanks for me; that trade felt so
deadening, even if, on paper, it made sense. (In
retrospect, though, last place would have been
slightly more tolerable with Robin than without. . .)

Does it make any difference that you’ll still get to
see him pitch a lot? Probably it makes it worse,
given whose uniform he’ll have on. I’m sorry all
players you can’t keep don’t go to the Padres. San
Diego’s like a retirement home anyway, so it’d be like
sending them out to pasture.

Talk to you soon.
Gabe

Mendoza could come back to haunt the Yanks; it would be hard for me to hold it against him. Jason Giambi may hit one 4 days long against him too, so I’m sure things will find a way of evening themselves out.

But inking Mendoza is another smart, if unspectacular move on the part of the Theo Epstein, who turned 29 over the weekend. The rookie GM is making a habit of these kind of deals. Peter Gammons praised the signing of right-hand reliever Chad Fox a few weeks back.

Gordon Edes has a good piece on Epstein in Sunday’s Globe (reports of all that broken furniture were refuted).

“We have a lot of respect for the way the Yankees go about their business in a lot of way,” Espstein said. “We’re trying to mimic the Yankees from the early ’90′s, when they built their dynasty focusing on scouting and player development.”

Murray Chass asked Epstein about his rookie campaign thus far, in yesterday’s New York Times.

“I think we learned a lesson,” he said. “We’re not going to beat the Yankees by throwing money around. We won’t necessarily beat them on the big-name players. We won’t beat them through quick fixes. We’re goint to beat them on smaller moves, maybe by outworking them, though they’re smart. They have unlimited resources. It’s clear we’re going to have to develop our own placyers and take a slightly different approach…Our practice is not to get into bidding wars for free agent. We do our research and cost analysis, and we establish parameters.”

Epstein told the Globe, “They [The Yankees] are our ultimate challange. They raise the bar and inspire us to work even harder. We have zero margin for error.”

The Sox have lost out on free agents Jeff Kent, Edgardo Alfonzo, as well as Contreras.

“The constant thread in all these situations is we’ve been less willing whan other clubs to guarantee longer contracts,” Epstein said in the Times. “In most cases, we’ve offered one or two years.” He said that four-year offer to Contreras was an exception to the team’s new practice.”

“Last December,” he said, “if you looked at the Angel’s club on paper and you looked at the Yankees’ club on paper, you’d have been happier being a Yankees fan than an Angels fan. But the game isn’t played on paper or in a payroll department.”

“We’re not going to be able to spend with the Yankees. Our approach is not to throw money around and not to go after big names for the sake of big names. It’s to have aroster, 1 to 25, that’a a competitive club. We need to be better in smaller areas. Pennants are won and lost in the details. That’s where we have to be better. Pennants are also won and lost with talent that is developed within.”

“The real commodity is low-service, high-impact players, ” Espstein said, referring to good young players who are relatively inexpensive. “They’re like gold chips. But they’re nearly impossible to acquire, so you have to develop your own.”

I feel most comfortable with the job. I’m accepting of the age humor. I think it will drift away.” But, he added, “I look forward to seven weeks from now when the focus shifts back to the players on the field.”

SABER-ENVY

In Rob Neyer’s letter box last week, the former Bill James protege wrote,

“Hey, did you see what Dan Shaughnessy wrote about the trade for Giambi?

‘Some of us find it a tad frightening that the Sox made a big deal of Giambi’s on-base percentage when announcing the deal. It’s easy to see Bill James’ fingerprints on this trade.’

I don’t have any idea if Bill James recommended Giambi, but it’s not like Theo Epstein’s not capable of noticing that Giambi can hit. To me, what should be frightening to readers of The Boston Globe is that 1) Shaughnessy apparently thinks that the Red Sox should not care about on-base percentage, and 2) he seems to be truly afraid of James’ very presence on the franchise payroll. When I appeared on a television show with Shaughnessy last month, he said he found the hiring of James “troubling.”

So he’s frightened and he’s troubled. I guess the obvious question is, why? What is it about Bill James that gives Shaughnessy the heebie-jeebies?

I don’t know. But if he doesn’t get over that particular fear, he’s going to get left in the dust. That’s not to say that one can’t make a fine living without listening to all those crazy kids and their kooky newfangled ideas. But you know, if you’ve got any self-awareness at all, being a dinasaur ain’t much fun.”

True, dat.

STEP BY STEP: GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME

What is Steve Phillips trying to do to me? Turn me into a Mets fan? As if landing slugger Cliff Floyd wasn’t enough, he continues to fill out his roster with lovable (ex-Yankee) role players like Rey Sanchez. Who is next? Randy Velarde? Regardless of whether Sanchez has been brought aboard to help mentor the young Jose Reyes (a role that would seem to fit him to a T), he should make Robbie Alomar a happier second baseman.

GODZILLA WATCH

With all the hoopla over Jose Contreras, Hideki Matsui’s name has slipped from the headlines momentarily. But there is some interesting information regarding the Yankees other international star.

John Sickels had this to say about Matsui in his column last Friday.

And here is an excerpt from Roy Neyer’s December 20th Mailbag:

“A bit before noon, a guy named Chris asked me what I thought of Hideki Matsui. Chris, a Yankees fan, said he’d be surprised if Matsui managed an OPS much better than 750. I asked him why, and at 12:13 he responded …

‘The combination of a smaller, harder baseball, smaller parks, and pitchers that throw 3-5 miles per hour faster seems like it will only have a negative impact on his stats. Everyone uses Ichiro as an example of a Japanese hitter being successful in the major leagues, however, I don’t feel this is a valid comparison to Matsui for a couple of reasons.

Ichiro has been well known for his contact ability, speed, fielding and throwing arm. In my opinion (and I could be wrong, it would not be the first time), speed is speed. If you are fast in Japan, you will be fast in the majors. The bases are the same distance apart in each place, so a fast time to first in Japan will be fast in the states. I think that fielding ability and throwing arm fall into the same arena. They are skills that translate well to the major leagues. Although, his throwing arm could have been affected by the bigger, heavier baseballs in the states.

Matsui is, by all accounts, an average fielder, with average speed and an average arm. I tend to think he will remain average in all three areas with the Yankees.

As for the offensive side of the game, I can’t really back up my beliefs with facts. I’m sure you hate that. Ichiro is a contact hitter. He has a short, level swing. I would think it is easier to adjust to pitches of higher velocities when you have that type of swing, opposed to a longer, uppercut-style swing like Matsui. Also, the park size has less of an effect on Ichiro since he is a slap hitter. If anything, smaller parks would hurt him, because the outfielders would play a few steps closer to the infield. Which would allow them to snare some of his line drives that may drop in. I doubt it makes an overall impact of any significance. I also think the heavier ball would be balanced by the fact that certain line drives that would be caught will drop in and some line drives that would be hits, may not make it through the infield.

All of this is difficult to back up with stats, given the few number of Japanese hitters to play in the U.S.

I thought I would get your opinion because you seem to have a better perspective than most fans and writers I know of.’

Chris
…Shortly after Matsui’s signing was announced, I wrote a short note for a sidebar in the story. A bit later, though, a few readers pointed me to Jim Albright’s article at BaseballGuru.com, wherein Albright makes a pretty good case for his own method for deriving “major league equivalent” statistics from Japanese baseball stats. His case, basically, is made by the fact that Ichiro Suzuki and Tsuyoshi Shinjo have performed in MLB approximately as Albright’s method would have suggested.

And Mr. Matsui? Here’s what his translated numbers look like, prorated to 162 games, for the last three seasons:
HR OBP Slug
2000 30 .402 .531
2001 25 .412 .514
2002 35 .418 .551

Remember, those aren’t the numbers Matsui compiled in Japan; these are approximately (and, of course, theoretically) what his numbers would have looked like if he’d been playing on this side of the Pacific in those seasons. Considering the consistency of Matsui’s performance, there’s good reason to think that he’ll be the second- or third-best hitter on the team, behind Jason Giambi and perhaps Bernie Williams. It makes you wonder how the Yankees got Matsui for three years at just $7 million per season (average annual value). And it also serves to remind us that for all their money, the Yankees often spend it wisely.

Of course, we don’t really know that Albright’s method works generally, or that it will work specifically with Matsui. He’s only the fourth Japanese hitter to come over here, and while it’s true that it worked for the first three — Ichiro, Shinjo, and St. Louis’ So Taguchi (who spent the season in Triple-A, and fared poorly) — that’s not much of a sample size. But based on what we’ve got, there’s every reason to think that Matsui is going to be outstanding.

I’m not worried about his ability to hit the fastball, because great hitters generally don’t have a problem with the fastball, as long as it’s straight. And the ballparks in Japan aren’t as small as most of us think. If Matsui has a problem, I think it will be inside his head. But you know, baseball’s a pretty big deal over in Japan, so it’s not like the guy’s never faced any pressure before. And if he’s lucky, he doesn’t speak a lot of English.

Oh, and for you Mets fans wondering how Norihiro Nakamura may fare, here are his MLE’s for the last three seasons:

HR OBP Slug
2000 28 .347 .460
2001 32 .395 .505
2002 29 .360 .480″

That is all.

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