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Monthly Archives: January 2003

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LETS GO METS ESPN

LETS GO METS

ESPN has been running a series called “Hot Stove Heaters” this winter, previewing each and every team. Today, Bob Klapisch pens the 2003 scouting report for your New York Mets. He also adds a column about Ty Wigginton; so too, for that matter, does The New York Times.

Perhaps the best news for Mets fans is their promising farm system, which was analyzed by minor-league guru, John Sickels:


Although the acquisitions of Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd, and Mike Stanton get the headlines, it is the farm system that gives the best hope for the future. The Mets farm system is in better condition than it has been in for some time, and several youngsters are ready or nearly ready to help.

This comes as good news indeed, especially after the Mets lost the one, long-standing player who came up through their system, Edgardo Alfonzo, to free agency this winter.

AIN’T A DAMN THING CHANGED

Rob Neyer has an article on the AL East today that taught me something new. Did you know that since the D-Rays entered the league in 1998, the standings in the AL East have remained the same each year? Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Devil Rays: it’s the same ol’ song. Curious. Not suprising, but what are the chances?

Here is Neyer’s take on the Yanks-Sox fighting it out for first place:

http://msn.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/neyer_rob/1501929.html


We could spend a week analyzing the Yankees and Red Sox, but today is Friday so let’s just spend a paragraph or two.

The Sox finished 10.5 games behind the Yanks last season, but the teams’ run differentials were essentially equivalent, so that 10.5 means something closer to 0.5 if you’re looking ahead rather than behind.

The Red Sox have improved themselves at DH, at first base, at second base, and probably third base. The Yankees have improved themselves in right field, and at one slot in their pitching rotation. I think first place might boil down to which starters decline more: Boston’s one-year wonders (Lowe and Wakefield), or New York’s ancient armsmen (Clemens and Wells)? The difference is that if something happens to Clemens or Wells, manager Joe Torre can turn to Jeff Weaver, a No. 6 starter who’d be the No. 1 starter for most teams in the majors. If the Red Sox run into trouble, manager Grady Little can turn to Frank Castillo, a No. 6 starter who’d be a No. 4 starter for most teams.

IS THAT COLLUSION I SMELL?

Murray Chass has a long article concerning the collusion in today’s New York Times.

Mike Carminati weighed in with his take earlier in the week.

NYC BASEBALL MOMENT Last

NYC BASEBALL MOMENT

Last night, I was on the uptown side of the 50th street station on the 7th avenue line during rush hour. As I moved to my usual spot on the platform, I heard a street musician across the tracks on the downtown platform, strumming an accoustic guitar, singing the Simon and Garfunkel classic, “Mrs. Robinson.” Dude had a pleasent, high-pitched voice, and since there were no trains rumbling through the station, I could hear him fairly well.

I sung along with him until something strange happened. When he got to the “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?” part, he didn’t say Joe Dimaggio. I had reached my usual waiting place at the platform, and bent my ear to hear better. Sure enough, he replaced Joe Dimaggio with “Jackie Robinson.”

“He just said, Jackie Robinson,” I said out loud to no one in particular. A woman who was leaning against the wall, turned her head to me and smiled. When he sung Jackie’s name again, we both reflexively looked at each other. That was the extent of our exchange before the uptown local rushed into the station.

MILLAR SAYS HE WON’T GO

This is the story that just won’t end. The Boston Globe has the latest on the Kevin Millar charade:


Kevin Millar, breaking his silence regarding his stalemate with a Japanese team that may require the intercession of Major League Baseball to end, confirmed last night that he will not report to the Chunichi Dragons and has told the team he will not play in Japan. The first baseman/outfielder also reiterated his hope that a resolution can be reached that will allow him to play for the Red Sox

Millar wants to have his cake and eat it too, and it looks as if the Sox may get their man yet. But haven’t I said that before?

THE BENOVOLENCE OF KING GEORGE

Hal Bodley caught George Steinbrenner in one of his more benevolent moods in this article for Baseball Weekly:

On Joe Torre:


“Joe has done a great job, but he and his staff will have their hands full this year because they have a lot of important decisions to make,” says Steinbrenner.

…”We want Joe to have a good team, and he will,” says Steinbrenner. “He’s a good manager – the best I’ve ever had.”

On the Yanks:


“You’ve got to pay – we’re not the only ones, but we’re the No. 1 guy,” says Steinbrenner of the new tax. “It’s aimed at the Yankees; it always has been – since the 1920s. I read the other night an article about Clark Griffith, the original owner of the Washington Senators. He said then ‘we’ve got to do something about the Yankees winning every year.’ He led a movement, and it wasn’t successful then.

“If we do our work properly … New York is a great place to play, and your fans support you. This team belongs to the people. They support it with their hard-earned money, and I mean that truly. They pay to see them play and deserve to have their team be a good one.” Steinbrenner refuses to take credit for the recasting, although he had to approve the expenditures. He says it was a team effort, a culmination of hours of work by his baseball advisers. “I’m very proud of my people; it wasn’t just one guy’s effort.”

…”It’s going to be fun watching some of these fellows, how they fit in. It’s not like going to the card game with the same deck of cards you had the last couple of years. We’re going to have a lot of people in new roles. I can’t guarantee we’re going to be a better team, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job. Just getting to the finals, getting to the World Series is something. It’s so difficult.”

MEET THE METS: PUFF, PUFF PASS

Here are a couple of puff pieces from today’s Daily News. One on Michael Piazza, who is refreshed after spending time in Europe this winter, and another on Maurice Vaughn, who is ready to rock and roll after gearing up with the Ohio State Football team.

ON THE LOW

Rob Neyer has a good article about how Sandy Alderson has surreptitiously taken control of the All-Star Game:

Neyer on Sandy Alderson


Is having Alderson serve as a sort of “All-Star Czar” the perfect solution? No, it’s probably not. But the fact is that whoever’s in charge is going to be criticized, and if anybody can take the heat without flinching, it’s Sandy Alderson. It’s also worth noting that the Commissioner’s Office or the American and National League offices have always technically had jurisdiction over the rosters. It’s just that they’ve generally preferred to pass the buck.

Alderson might not be the new Harry Truman. But you’re not likely to catch him passing a buck.

Hmmm. We are sure to hear more about this as the season unfolds.

NICE NAME, KID

While perusing Aaron Gleeman’s Top 50 Prospects (Mets 3, Yanks 0) article at Baseball Primer, I was laid out when I read that Boof Bonser, a right-handed pitcher in the San Francisco organization, made the list. Not that I’d ever heard of Boof Bonser before, but I know that I’m likely to forget him anytime soon.

What a great baseball name. Cecil Fielder’s son, Prince Fielder, a young home-run-hitting hunk-of-love, has a pretty good name too, but Boof Bonser is my cherce for the prospect with the coolest sounding name..

Incidentally, here is some of Gleeman’s analysis of Bonser:


Besides having a really strange name, Bonser is a massive human being that throws very hard, striking out a lot of guys and walking his fair share too.

The Giants decided to start Bonser at Double-A last year and it turned out to be a mistake. He struggled with his control and gave up 3 homers in 24 innings before he and his 5.55 ERA were demoted back to Single-A. Once back in Single-A, he did very well, striking out nearly 10 batters a game and limiting opponents to a sub-.200 batting average. There was some cause for concern even though he was pitching very well, because his velocity was down slightly from past years. His fastball was still clocking in above 90, but not at the usual 94+ that he was capable of in the past.

Bonser did a lot of good work with his curveball and change up last season, possibly because he was less able to just blow people away with his fastball. The loss in velocity is still a concern, as is the drop in his K rate.

After striking out 11.2/9 in 2000 and 12.0/9 in 2001, Bonser’s K rate dropped quite a bit in 2002, as he struck out 9.8/9 in Single-A and 8.6/9 in Double-A. Drops in K rate as a player progresses through the minors is often to be expected and Bonser is still striking out a ton of batters. He did not improve his control in 2002 and he walks too many batters right now.

Bonser has a ton of potential, but the Giants have lots of good arms in the system and he’ll have to cut down on the free passes at some point and work on finding that extra zip on his fastball again.

The braintrust over at Baseball Prospectus also has an informative piece on this year’s crop of prospects that is worth checking out.

Speaking of names, earlier this week I was dicking around the Baseball Encyclopedia and found the baseball name this side of Orval Overall. None other than Creepy Crespi. You could look it up.

PERFECT?

Jerome Holtzman has a piece on former major-league hurler, John Curtis, who once carried a perfect game into the 8th inning, and is currently working on a book about perfect games, along with another former pitcher, Mark Grant, who is now an announcer for the San Diego Padres.

Holtzman writes:


According to James Buckley, Jr. of Santa Barbara, Calif., perfect games occur once every seven to eight seasons. Buckley’s “PERFECT,” published by Triumph Books last year, is an analysis of the 16 perfectos and also includes perfect games broken up with two outs in the ninth.

Buckley estimates that since the birth of the National League in 1876 there have been about 180,000 games. A perfecto surfaces once in approximately 22,000 games, or .00005 percent.

Here are a few notable reactions Curtis and Grant have recieved for their project:


Greg Maddux: “My definition of a perfect game would be throwing every pitch where you want to throw it. And, you know what? So what if you give up a hit or a run or two.”

Mike Krukow: “When I first came up, Rick Reuschel was sitting in the clubhouse with me and he said, ‘One game I want to throw before I quit, is a 14-hit shutout where I get lit up, and I just figure a way to get out of it. And here’s the rest of the scenario. You have nothing that day. Nothing. Not only that but the umpire’s strike zone is miniscule.’

“That’s the way it was in 1987 in the fourth game of the playoffs against the Cardinals. We were down two games to one and we had to absolutely win this game. Every inning was a puzzle. My only mistake was an 0-2 pitch to pitcher Danny Cox. We won 4-2. And because of the pressure in that game, what it meant to our organization, what it meant to me as a player, and how I got through nine innings with nothing, that was my idea of a perfect game. It wasn’t a 14-hit shutout but it was getting it done with nothing.”

And finally from Roger Craig, former big league pitcher, pitching coach and manager:

“I’ve gone into a game with the bases loaded, thrown a bad pitch, and the batter hits into a double play. And you come into the dugout and everybody pats you and says ‘Nice going! Great pitching!’ But it was a bad pitch. I knew it. The catcher knew it and the umpire knew it.”

ED LINN, ANYONE?

I mentioned earlier in the week, that I’m reading one of Ed Linn’s books on the Bronx Bombers, “Steinbrenner’s Yankees.” For all the Yankee and Red Sox fans out there, Don Malcolm has an article about Linn’s book “The Great Rivalry” at Baseball Primer. I snooped around Big Bad Baseball.com and found several more articles on Linn by Mr. Malcolm, including a nice obituary, and excerpts from “Steinbrenner’s Yankees,” “Hitter,” (with Ted Williams) and “The Hustler’s Handbook,” (with Bill Veeck). Click away and enjoy.

THROWBACKS

Last but not least, there are two good articles by Alan Schwarz that are worth a peek at. The first profiles Dodger manager Jim Tracy, and compares him with the low-key legend, Walter Alston.

The second, which was published yesterday, covers a true baseball lifer, Tony Siegle, who has worked for 22 general managers in a 38-year career in the front offices of the major leagues.


[Siegle] has negotiated the waiver jungle as one of the best rules men in the business. Recent years have brought a new revenue-sharing luxury-tax lexicon that he knows as well as English, which it does not resemble. Siegle never has been a general manager, probably never will, but he sure has some stories to tell, having worked in the trenches for 22 of them over the years.

I would have liked to know why exactly Siegle will never become a gm, but he certainly has worked for some interesting people, including: Paul Richards, Frank Lane, Harry Dalton, Al Rosen (twice), Jack McKeon, Brian Sabean, Ed Wade, and Omar Minaya

Here is portion of Siegle’s expertise in rating the men he’s worked for:


Most Innovative: Omar Minaya (Expos)

“Look at what he’s had to do with this team, whether it’s building the organization or budgets or the Puerto Rico thing. He’s handled it all really well in a very tough position. People have no idea what goes on around here.”

Least Waiver Knowledge: Al Rosen (Astros and Giants)

“Al was worse than Omar — just kidding. (Laughs.)

Worst Waiver Snafu: Frank Lane (Brewers)

“I just get the paperwork from Frank Lane after he trades someone for Bobby Pfeil. Now Lane’s a living legend, I’m just starting out. I go to Shirley, the secretary, and say, ‘We can’t make this deal. We don’t have waivers.’ She says, ‘You better go tell Mr. Lane.’ Yeah — easy for her to say.

“I tell Lane that this is an interleague trade and we don’t have waivers. He says, ‘Young man, you have just saved this organization a lot of embarrassment. Shirley, call Philadelphia, tell them we can’t make the deal — and tell them who told us we couldn’t.’

“I had just come over from the Phillies. It was one of my proudest moments in the game. Ever since, I’ve been known as a rules guy.”

Nuff’ said.

DRAMA QUEENS No matter

DRAMA QUEENS

No matter what Bobby V eventually says, it will pale in comparison with the histrionics that characterized the Yankee teams of the late 1970′s. The Bronx Zoo Yankees would make for a great movie. It may be redundant to make a fictionalize version of a team that was so theatrical in it’s own right, but that’s okay. If they can make full-length features out of Scooby Doo and Josie and the Pussycats, they can make one on the 70′s Yankees too.

I doubt it would ever happen in George’s lifetime, but it’s a cinch for a comedy classic. Too bad that 70′s Retro is now passZ. I picture the Bronx Zoo movie to be a cross between “Slap Shot” and “Boogie Nights”; “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “The Turning Point.”

The costumes and soundtrack alone would be worth the price of admission. Get a group of terrific spaz method actors, and you’re set.

Ed Linn’s book “Steinbrenner’s Yankees” details the Billy, George, Reggie years expertly, and provides excellent fodder for a script. Here is an example that caught my funny bone the other day.

It is spring training, 1977. Reggie has just brought his star with him to Yankee camp, after the Big Red Machine had swept the Yankees the year before. Already, the camp was fraught with tension. But Reggie doesn’t appear in this scene…

Cast of Characters:

George: Michael Gambon? No, Mark Holton who played Francis in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” is more like it.

Gabe Paul: Think William Holden in “Network”

Billy Martin: Harry Dean Stanton

Yogi: Himself

Ed Linn sets the scene:


Billy Martin was fired for the first time a week before the end of spring training, after the Mets had shut out the Yankees 6-0 in St. Petersburg, in a game that was telecast back to New York.

…George had been screaming all along that the team wasn’t prepared to open the season. And not without reason. Billy had always run a loose training camp, but this camp had been, [in the words of the immortal Mick the Quick] well-uh, rid-i-cu-lous. And for a great deal of laxness, George had only himself to blame.

Billy Martin’s marriage had broken up, and he was living a bachelor life several miles away in Boca Raton with his buddy Mickey Mantle. So he would drive to the practice field every morning, not always on time and not always without a lady companion. Gabe Paul had told him at the beginning that the team couldn’t stand that kind of thing, had in fact instructed him to move back into Fort Lauderdale and stay with the team and ride on the team bus. Whereupon Billy went over Gabe’s head to Steinbrenner, and George, being the great guy that he is, told Billy that it was perfectly okay, boys will be boys, enjoy.

With the team going so rotten, George was no longer in a mood to be so indulgent…Most of all, George wanted Billy on the practice field on time, and he wanted him on the team bus with the players.

Well, it was no great issue. The team was living in Tampa now, and Billy was living with them. But, still, he liked to drive back and forth from the ballpark with his coaches, so he could talk things over whiles the coaches made notes.

When George came striding toward the clubhouse after the Mets game, he was ripping mad. The Yankees had not only lost, they had been shut out. Instead of starting Reggie, as Billy had promised to, he had sent him in late in the game as a pinch hitter. Instead of playing the starting lineup all the way, as George had instructed him to, he had finished with a team of substitutes.

But if you want to know what George was really furious about, it was that he had discovered during the game that Billy had driven to the ballpark in a rental car.

Let’s imagine the following confrontation as a scene from The Bronx Zoo movie.

PARKING LOT EXT. BALL PARK. FLORIDA

The Yankee players slowly make their way to the team bus. About half of the team has dragged ass out to the parking lot.

INT. STADIUM HALLWAY

The hallway is empty, but we hear oncoming footsteps.

George (off-screen): I don’t give a fuck. This shit has got to stop right now. Do you hear me, Gabe? I’ve got to stop it right now!

INT. LOCKER ROOM DOORS

George bursts in, followed by Gabe Paul. There are a few players still lingering, the clubhouse man and a few reporters remain as well. Billy is standing in the doorway of the manager’s office.

George: I want to talk to you right now. You lied to me!

Billy: I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear that shit anymore.

George: You heard what I said! That thing is going to stop right now!

Billy: You fat bastard, I don’t give a shit what you say. I’m going to do it my way.

George: You lied to me! You told me you were going to ride on the bus.

Billy: F
uck you, I’m not riding on any fucking buses. Get the fuck out of here.

Gabe: Hey…hey, watch yourself Billy.

Gabe steps toward Billy. George stands ten feet away, incredulous with fury.

Don’t…Billy, don’t…

George: (softly, to himself) What did you say? What did you say?

Gabe: Billy, don’t talk to him like that.

Billy: Then YOU can tell that fat bastard to go fuck himself. Hear me? He can go fuck himself!

George: (Moving in) You don’t talk to me like that, goddammit! You don’t ever talk to me like that.

Billy: I’ll talk to anybody like that.

Billy turns and strides into the trainer’s room. George steams after him, Gabe by his side. We wait a beat and several players in towels, along with a couple of trainers, exit the trainer’s room. But they do not go far; the remaining men in the locker room sit still and enjoy the fireworks.

George: (os) You lied to me, and not only about the bus. You promised to play the starting team all the way today, and you fucking lied about that too.

INTERIOR: TRAINER’S ROOM

George and Billy stand at opposite sides of the trainer’s table in the middle of the room. Paul is behind George.

Billy: Don’t tell me how to manage my ball team, you lying sonofabitch. I’m the manager, and I’ll manage how I want to manage. It was an EXHIBITION game! An ex-hib-i-tion game. This is not a game where you leave your blood and guts on the field to win…There are things I gotta find out now!

George: Well, you should have already figured them out. That is what I’ve been telling you all along! The season begins in a week and you don’t have this goddamn team ready.

Billy: For christsakes George, you don’t prepare for a 162-game season the way you prepare for a 10-game football season.

Billy slams his fist in a bucket of ice water. The ice cubes splash up, and George gets soaked.

George: I ought to fire you! I should fire your ass right now.

George wipes his face and frantically digs ice cubes out of his jacket pockets.

Billy: You want to fire me, fire me! But leave me the fuck alone.

INT: LOCKER ROOM

Gabe Paul exits the trainer’s room and motions to one of the coaches.

INT. TRAINER’S ROOM

Billy and George are standing at opposite sides of the room. Billy is coiled; George fumes. Gabe walks in with Yogi.

George: (to Yogi) You’re the manager.

Yogi: Now take it easy, George.

George: You want to be the manager? You’re the manager.

Yogi: Billy’s a good manager. You don’t want to go doing anything because you’re mad now.

George: The job is yours!

CUT TO:

The Next morning.

INT. HOTEL HALLWAY.

We see George; brisk and manicured, walking down the empty hallway. He checks is watch, and knocks on Gabe Paul’s door.

CUT TO:

Gabe lets George in, and Steinbrenner barrels straight passed him.

INT. HOTEL HALLWAY

Billy Martin, pale and disheveled, walks down the same hallway. When he knocks on Gabe’s door, Billy looks around nervously.

CUT TO:

CLOSE UP: Gabe putting the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.

CUT TO:

INTERIOR: YANKEE TEAM BUS

Billy Martin sits in the front seat of the crowded team bus. Art Fowler and Yogi Berra sit behind him.

According to Linn:


From then on, Billy rode the bus. And he never yelled at George in public again. But whenever Billy expected to be fired during the season, he would tell the writers that from the moment those ice cubes hit George’s face, he knew that his days as the manager of the New York Yankees were numbered.

Be that as it may, it was Gabe Paul who wanted to fire him the next time around and George Steinbrenner who saved him.

Cue: Organ Music.

Tune in again next time for more of the Bronx Zoo Chronicles.

TOP OF THE WORLD,

TOP OF THE WORLD, MA: DOWN IN FRONT

The Red Sox are going ahead with their plan to add 280 barstool seats on top of the Green Monster in left field. Both Dan Shaughnessy and Tony Massarotti give their take on the Red Sox’s money-making ploy to significantly alter one of the most famous monuments in all pro sports.

NOT SO FAST

According to the Associated Press, the Red Sox may be willing to bend their policy of not negotiating with players during the season, for ace hurler Prince Pedro Martinez. Is anyone suprised?


“We have a policy of trying to avoid negotiations during the season,” Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said Wednesday, “but if you’re talking about our exceptional players, they call for exceptional treatment.”

DOG PILE ON THE RABBIT

Apparently Mo Vaughn skipped the Mets Caravan two days ago because he wanted to avoid questions about his weight. But the hefty slugger did have lunch with Fred Wilpon at Gallagher’s Steak House yesterday and briefly spoke with the press. He joined his teammates (new and old) in jumping all over the Mets’ former skipper, Bobby Valentine.

According to the Daily News:


Mo Vaughn targeted the former manager yesterday, suggesting that Valentine may have been responsible for several offseason reports that the Mets were considering voiding Vaughn’s contract if the burly slugger didn’t lose significant weight before the 2003 season.

“That never happened. Everybody knows you can’t void a contract, anyway,” Vaughn said at Gallagher’s Steak House in midtown. “To be honest with you, I think that was Bobby Valentine with all that.”

Team owner Fred Wilpon was the one who told Vaughn to lose weight during the Mets’ postseason meetings, and team executives closely monitored Vaughn’s training program over the winter, visiting him at his Columbus, Ohio, home on multiple occasions. But Vaughn was adamant that his contract wasn’t a topic of conversation at any time.

Vaughn didn’t want to pin all the blame on Valentine for last year’s last-place finish, but he did say that there were concerns in the Mets clubhouse about Valentine’s dealing with the media – and how much he told them about the inner workings of the team.

“We were miffed all season about how certain things got out,” Vaughn said. “Where did those things come from? … Process of elimination is what I’m going through.”

Seems like killing Bobby V is even easier than abusing Vaughn for his girth these days. Fortunately, Bobby V won’t remain silent forever. He’ll wait for just the right moment, and pow: the beat writers will be in 7th heaven.

After all, Hell hath no fury like a Piazzan scorned.

CORRECTION I recieved an

CORRECTION

I recieved an e-mail from Yankee fan Jeff Lindy, correcting my final tally for the Yanks-Sox series last season.

I ended yesterday’s article with:


The Sox were then 9-5 against the Yankees for the season, but New York went on to win 4 of the last 5 meetings. Excuse me if it felt like like
Deja Vu all over again.

Jeff, set the record straight:


…The Yanks won the season series against the Sox, 10-9.

–April–
Fri. 12 at Boston L 3-2 7-4 Oliver (1-0) Hernandez (1-1) Urbina (4)
Sat. 13 at Boston L 7-6 7-5 Arrojo (1-0) Rivera (0-1) Urbina (5)
Sun. 14 at Boston W 6-2 8-5 Mussina (3-0) Wakefield (1-1) Rivera (5)
Mon. 15 at Boston L 4-3 8-6 Lowe (2-1) Pettitte (1-1) Urbina (6)

–May–
Thu. 23 at Boston L 3-1 31-17 Martinez (7-0) Lilly (1-4) Urbina (15)
Fri. 24 at Boston L 9-8 31-18 Arrojo (3-1) Karsay (1-2)
Sat. 25 at Boston W 3-2 32-18 Mendoza (2-2) Lowe (7-2) Rivera (15)
Sun. 26 at Boston W 14-5 33-18 Mussina (7-2) Oliver (4-4)
Fri. 31 Boston L 5-2 36-19 Lowe (8-2) Wells (6-2) 52,941

–June–
Sat. 1 Boston W 10-2 37-19 Mussina (8-2) Oliver (4-5)
Sun. 2 Boston L 7-1 37-20 Castillo (4-5) Lilly (2-5)

–July–
Fri. 19 Boston L 4-2 60-36 Martinez (12-2) Mussina (12-4) Urbina (24)
Sat. 20 Boston W 9-8 61-36 Karsay (5-4) Gomes (1-2)
Sun. 21 Boston W 9-8 62-36 Stanton (4-1) Urbina (0-5)

–August–
Tue. 27 at Boston W 6-0 82-48 Wells (15-6) Fossum (2-3)
Wed. 28 at Boston W 7-0 83-48 Mussina (16-7) Martinez (17-4)

–September–
Mon. 2 Boston L 8-4 84-52 Fossum (3-3) Mussina (16-8)
Tue. 3 Boston W 4-2 85-52 Clemens (12-5) Castillo (5-13) Stanton (3)
Wed. 4 Boston W 3-1 86-52 Pettitte (9-5) Lowe (18-7) Karsay (9)

Good looking out Jeff. Thanks for picking it up.

My Favorite Things of

My Favorite Things of 2002

IV. Eggs Gets Hitched

Part One:

The most memorable weekend of baseball in 2002 came in late July when my brother Benny Eggs got married, and the Yanks hosted the Red Sox at the Stadium. Eggs married a Mets fan of all things. Actually his wife isn’t too committed either way, but her family is hardcore, Long Island, shot-and-a-beer, You Gotta Believe, Mets fans. It all makes sense because Ben, who is two and a half years younger than me (he turned 29 on January 15th), rooted for the Mets when we were growing up.

Our father was and is a defacto Mets fan, if he remains much of a fan at all. Benny Eggs followed suit. Maybe he just liked the way their uniforms looked and the way the player’s names sounded. I don’t know why he chose to be a Mets fan. I do remember that Joel Youngblood was one of his early favorites, notable because they shared a similar smooth, baby-faced complexion.

Ben didn’t remain a Mets fan, or develop as a sports fanatic per se—not at least until the current Yankees run (or the Knicks run that preceded it in the early to mid ’90′s). He was immersed in the sporting culture growing up, but he wasn’t a card collector, or a stat head, or a baseball junkie. He was distracted with other things, deeper things.

Ben was an introvert, a bright kid who appreciated the game, and enjoyed playing it. Plain and simple, Benny Eggs was a gifted, graceful athlete, a natural. He also has a gift as a natural comic and mimic. Bone-thin, and small, with big round brown eyes, and sandy-brown hair, Ben was quick and agile. Plus he usually had lady luck on his side. Whether we played football or Go Fish, Ben Eggs got the breaks.

When we got grown, Eggs and I actually lived together for a while, way out in Brooklyn. This was a few years ago, when we were both in our twenties. From 1996-2001—I left Brooklyn and moved to the Bronx just in time for the Subway Serious in 2001—we must have watched 70-80% of the Yankee games that were televised. Fuggin Ball-game-watching-bachelors. Two fat bastids. Ben had come back to the game, as naturally as he strayed away from it, but this time he chose the Yankees as his team, as naturally as he once pulled for the Mets.

There is a scene in “Stand By Me” where the lead, played by Will Wheaton, is sitting on the train tracks early in the morning by himself, while the other boys are still sleeping. Previously, the night ended on a down note as River Phoenix bawled his eyes out cause he had it rotten all over. Wheaton looks almost exactly like Benny Eggs did at that age.

Anyhow, Wheaton is sitting quietly on the tracks when a deer crosses the tracks about 10 yards away. The deer stops and looks at Wheaton, who looks back and smiles gently back at the deer. The deer slips off and the moment is suddenly, irrevocably lost, but the connection was made, and Wheaton soaks it in quietly.

This is what I’d call a Benny Eggs moment. Eggs is one of those guys that kids and animals are irresistibly drawn to. Is it any surprise that his favorite player is none other than ol’ Sweet Pea Sensitivity himself, Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams? I thought of the scene from “Stand By Me” a couple of years ago when Bernie did something incredulous, or flakey during the middle of a game, and it struck me how beautiful it was that he shared a kinship with my younger brother. The two of them are right out of the Buster Keaton School of subtle deadpan physical humor. James Agee once wrote that Keaton seemed to posses a “mulish imperturbability under the wildest of circumstances.” This applies nicely to both Bernie and my brother.

Are we naturally attracted to players that look like us? Or at least those who we think act like us. It makes sense right? After all, people tend to choose dogs that look like themselves. (That’s a classic street-watching New York pastime in and of itself.) I know I have an inherent attraction to Shawn Green, and Mariano Rivera cause they’re Cool, Calm and Collected Flaco Super Stars. Ben Eggs has Bernie, though they don’t look alike at all. What they share is a disposition, a sensibility. Eggs loves other players as well—Mussina and El Duque come to mind, but he has rucchmones with Bernabee.

Eggs asked me to be his best man at his wedding and I proudly accepted. It was the first time I ever had that job so I won’t lie: I was stressed. Not uncomfortable or unsure, just anxious. The Red Sox were in town to face the Yanks, which didn’t help matters. I mean I had known that the Yanks were going to host the Sox for months, so I knew I would be feelin it. Why couldn’t they have played the dopey Indians or something? Something less…involved.

But no, it had to be the Sox, ripe for me to weave into indelibly into the memory of my brother’s wedding weekend. Oy fuggin Vey.

It was the fourth series between Boston and New York, with the Sox holding an 8-3 lead. Many of the games had been tense and entertaining; Shea Hillenbrand won a game at Fenway early in the season hitting a bomb off a disbelieving Mo Rivera. What I remember most is the little smile that Rivera wore, like, “I can’t believe that little shit beat me. First Game 7 in Arizona, now this? New fucking obstacle everyday, huh Lord?”

Going into the series on the weekend of July19-21, the Yanks held a slim two game lead on the Sox.

The wedding took place at my mother’s house in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. It’s actually my stepfather’s place, and this was the fourth wedding it would host. The first was when he married my mother in the mid 80′s; next came my twin sister in the early 90′s, and then in successive summers, my step sister, and Benny Eggs.

My stepsister Maile was married in the middle of July as well, and had uncommonly good luck with the weather. Cool and low humidity in the middle of July? Stop. But she got it.

So it couldn’t happen again, right? Eggs was going to have to take an L in that category, right?

It sure looked that way to start.

Part Two:


I’m not going to argue with anybody about this, but there is no rivalry in the great wide world of sports to compare with the Yankees versus the Red Sox. It’s the gracious expanse of Yankee Stadium verses the looming Green Monster of Fenway Park. The Power and the Glory of the New York Yankees versus the never-ending Challenge of the Boston Red Sox. There are ghosts on the field when these teams meet, a history that speaks of great deeds and sleeping heroes. And don’t think it doesn’t communicate itself to the players on the field. The field is crisper, the hitting is firmer, the ball comes shooting off the bat with the fresh, clean poing of another opening day. Baseball becomes again what baseball is supposed to be, a game of shifting fortunes within a series of steadily rising climaxes–an excitement, an entertainment, an event.

Ed Linn, from “Steinbrenner’s Yankees”

FRIDAY

All of my mom’s siblings (2 aunts and an uncle with various lil cousin off springs) came to the States from Belgium to represent Eggs. It was the first time the lot of them was here in the States at the same time. The fact that Benny Eggs’ wedding is what brought them here, lets you know a lil something about the Thin Man. He’s got a lot of Belgian in him. My British friend Mike Fox used to call Eggs, “Benny, The Blonde Jew.”

They were all up at the house when I arrived on Friday night. All the Frenchies. It had just started to rain. Muggy and rainy. Mussina v. Pedro at The Stadium, and my old man is taking both families out for dinner at a restaurant by the Hudson over in Verplank—the same place that is catering the wedding the next day. The game was delayed by the rain. When we got to the restaurant a heavy fog lay over the Hudson, and it was actually quite beautiful.

This place had a couple of dinning, banquet rooms, and a big bar with a panoramic view of the river. They had TV’s but I didn’t care if the game was called. I wasn’t going to watch it anyhow.

After dinner, the bride’s family got involved with the Karaoke portion of the restaurant and my family reluctantly followed. You never saw fish out of water like my Belgian Mersplucah, naturally rigid, contained, in a middlebrow bar watching Karaoke. The bride sang a song to Ben Eggs, and the only thing that marred her gorgeous performance was a neurotic need to apologize for how lousy she thought she sounded.

I took it all in while keeping an eye on the T.V. The game had finally started after being delayed for more than an hour. Mussina was pitching in the second inning.

I wound up driving back to the city that night with my old man—we left straight from the restaurant. As fate would have it, we hit a traffic jam just north of Yonkers. The rain had stopped, and it was hot. At least I didn’t have to suffer through the tension of the game. We were stuck on stupid for so long in that traffic I figured the game would be over by the time I walked in the door.

No such luck. Not only was the game—one of the precious few that CBS carried—still on, but there was a raging party taking place three flights up. I knew that because Salsa music from somewhere was causing my furniture to reverberate. Not the ideal environment to unwind and prepare for the big day.

Pedro was still pitching. There were two outs in the 8th inning and Boston lead, 3-2. Fug. That can’t be good. Dominicans Revenge! They’re killing me all over.

With a man on, Bernie laces a double off the mighty Prince P; Boston skipper Grady Little yanks Martinez from the game. In comes Ugie Urbina, who had been killing the Yankees all year. The same Ugie Urbina that could have easily been wearing the pinstripes himself. Ugi: the anti-Rivera.
Full of fist-pumping, leg-splitting theatrics. So distasteful to the spoiled taste of most Yankee fans.

Fat ass Jorgito Posada comes up for the fourth time of the night with the go-ahead run on second. As usual, Martinez had dispatched Posada swiftly, and viciously; at the end of the night Posada was 4-34 lifetime against Pedro. After facing Martinez, Posada can be in a funk for day’s even weeks. It’s not just that Posada is embarrassed by Martinez, he’s undressed and emotionally and mentally violated by him too.

Posada had whiffed all three times he faced Pedro and he whiffed against Ugie too. The Sox added a run in the 9th and Urbina set the Yankees down in order, with the usual array of horseshit gestures and exclamations. The Sox were now 9-3 against the Yanks and Urbina had earned his 5th save against New York.

I didn’t fall asleep for a while after that. Sure, I was keyed up about the wedding, giving a speech, making sure everything ran smoothly, but I was also cursing that som’bitch bastid Ugie fuggin Urbina and his cocky ways. ‘He’s gunna get his,’ is all I could come up with. When in doubt, be spiteful, just like the Red Sox fans, right?

SATURDAY

Fox carried the game the next afternoon, a 1 pm start. El Duque, probably Eggs’ favorite starter was pitching. The wedding started later in the afternoon, around 4:30-5:00. The weather cooperated. If it wasn’t as brilliant as it had been for Maile’s wedding, it sure wasn’t raining and it wasn’t too sticky either.

I did my best to steer clear of the game; it wasn’t that hard with all the business swirling through the house. The first time I checked the score, the game was in the bottom of the 4th. Johnny Damon had just jumped against the left center field wall and snagged a Shane Spencer blast that was destined for Homersville; but as he bounced off the wall, the ball popped out of his glove and fell back in play safely. Yanks 5, Sox 2.

Later, I caught the Sox making a comeback against Our Man From Havana. I turned it off. The next time I checked in I saw Posada miss a tag at the plate, which gave the Sox a 6-5 lead. How many times does Posada botch plays at the plate (re: Roger Cedeno stealing home when the Mets played at the Stadium earlier in the year)? I gotta concentrate on my speech, and this fuggin guy is killing me.

I bit a small hole in my lip, turned the damned thing off, and went to get dressed. From there on out, I only tuned in on the radio from my sister’s room where the groom and his men were sweating it out.

Mariano was in and then just as quickly he was pulled. An injury? Nu?

The first guests arrived. In comes Mendoza. I couldn’t take it anymore.

When my uncle Fred, the Yankee fan, and his son-in-law Scott, the Red Sox fan walked up the driveway, they anxiously asked what the score was. I told them to get bent: the Yanks were down and I was done for the day if I was going to keep my wits about me.

They informed me that Soriano had tied the game with an RBI single in the 8th. (I later read that Dustin Hermanson had thrown the kid a fastball on a 0-2 count; hey, I know he’d just been activated from the DL, but had he been paying attention at all?)

I popped upstairs during the cocktail hour a few more times, only to find that the game was still going on. They were now in extra innings.

When the ceremony began, the game was still undecided, and my attention was on more pressing matters than the game. The ceremony was lovely, the sun was shinning, and as my mom later said in her toast, “Ben’s famous luck served him well once again.”

The Yanks won in the 11th on Robin Ventura’s infield single. Soriano scored the winning run and the Stadium celebrated at the same time that we celebrated Benny Eggs’s marriage.

SUNDAY

I was more exhausted that I had anticipated being the following day. Emily and I slept in.

The Times headline put it best: “Soriano Delivers On An Afternoon Filled With Tension.”

I figured we could expect more of the same in the finale, and I was in no mood to put up with Sterling and Steiner for another 4-hour marathon.

We made lunch, read the paper and zoned out to horseshit Sunday TV. When I finally checked the score it was 8-7 Boston in the 8th. Another nail-biter.

As it turned out, the Yanks started the game off with a bang against Boston pitcher, John “Old Man” Burkett. In the first, Soriano, behind 0-2, reached out and lined a single to center off a waste pitch. When he attempted to swipe second, Jeter smacked a ground ball into left for a single, Soriano hustled to third. The throw came too late to get Sori, was wild, and the kid scored. Giambi creamolished the next pitch into the right-centerfield bleachers, and the pitch after that was hit even deeper into the bleachers by Bernie Williams.

But Boston had chipped away, with Nomar and Manny hitting two homers apiece. Jeff Weaver, still new to the Yanks, had another rough outing; even Tony Clark hit a 3-run bomb off of him. It was the first time a Yankee pitcher had ever given up five homers at The Stadium.

By the bottom of the 9th, I was worked up into a fever pitch. Emily sat on the couch in my living while I paced back and forth with a stickball bat in my hands. Ugie Urbina came in to close it out for the Sox. I told her all about what a putz he was, how one day he was gunna get his.

He had to go through the heart of the Yankee order. Giambi lead off, and swung and missed at Urbina’s first two offerings. He took the next two pitches and then fouled off a nasty slider that was in on his hands. The at-bat started at 4:13 pm and lasted until 4:20. The count went full, Giambi fouling off pitches, staying alive. On the 11th pitch of the at-bat, Giambi tried to foul another ball off, but instead he tapped a slow roller toward third. The Sox had the shift on against Giambi, with only one fielder on the left side of the infield; it took a great hustle play by third baseman Shea Hillenbrand to keep Giambi from reaching second.

Enrique Wilson came in to run for Giambi. Up comes Bernie Williams. Once again, Urbina gets ahead 0-2, this time with off-speed stuff in the dirt. Ugie tries to spot an 0-2 fastball on the outside corner, but it’s up in the zone and Bernie laces it into right for a single. Trot Nixon, the right fielder, with his eye on Wilson going to third, missed the ball, which snaked under his glove, past him into deep right field. Wilson wobbled taking a huge turn around third—Weeble Woobles but they don’t fall down—and scored easily. Bernie to third.

The game is tied, still no one out. So the Sox walk the bases loaded and take their chances facing Posada, who still hadn’t recovered from Pedro on Friday night, and was 0-13 in the series. Grady Little yanked Nixon from right, and replaced him with infielder Lou Merloni, who became the third infielder on the right side. Manny Ramirez moved from left field right behind second base, in shallow center, and Johnny Damon played nickel back in right center.

Urbina was in a tight spot. The count went full, and wouldn’t you know it, but the som’bitch bastard walked fat ass Jorge to end the game. Sweet Justice.

The Yanks ended the weekend four games ahead of the Sox, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Sox were then 9-5 against the Yankees for the season, but New York went on to win 4 of the last 5 meetings. Excuse me if it felt like like Deja Vu all over again.

411 For the skinny

411

For the skinny of the Jose Cruz Jr. signing, look no further than John Perricone’s Only Baseball Matters. Nuff’ said.

MEET THE METS

The Mets held their annual winter caravan yesterday, which included the unvieling of their new, bright orange BP jerseys.

Though Mo Vaughn was conspicuously absent, Cliff Floyd, Al Leiter, Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza, and of course, team mascot and number one goombats John Franco, were all in attendance. Too bad Ian Strombringer aka Tank Pratt isn’t around any more.

Drat.

For the first time since the end of last season, Piazza spoke about the team’s new manager, and indirectly, their old one as well:


“Art has a very even-keeled disposition,” [Piazza] said. “Hopefully it’s going to be a little more consistent all the way around, from everybody, the players, the front office, the coaching staff.

“We want consistency. We want to stay off that roller-coaster, whether it’s on the field or off the field. We want to play good baseball, be professional, and play the way we’re capable.”

When asked if that was any sort of commentary on Valentine’s more mercurial personality, Piazza bristled at any notion that he was being critical of his former manager.

“I’m just saying … it was everybody last year,” he said. “The manager didn’t lose the games. The players lose the games. We didn’t play well. But you can’t fire all the players.

“They wanted to make the change. You can debate it. I’m sure everybody was a little surprised, but as professionals, you have to go out there. … I’m very encouraged with Art and his staff. We’ll see. I don’t know how else to put it.”

Tom Verducci has a good column about the historical significance of Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez playing in the same division.

The Daily News ran an article today about Al Leiter, who spoke eagerly about the prospects of working with Tom Glavine (a topic I touched on yesterday):


“I’m going to get a feel as to what his routine and his program is,” Leiter said yesterday at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, as the Mets kicked off a week of appearances to promote the 2003 season. “I’m not going to blow mine up just to be like him. But I like to know that here’s a guy who has been successful in the league for a long time, and does it with not the greatest stuff – I mean, not the raw stuff of a guy who is going to throw 95 mph.

“Like you look at Randy Johnson, he doesn’t help me much. I don’t throw like that. Very few guys can just throw a couple of fastballs and dump a little slider in the dirt. So to watch Tom, he’s got to pitch. He’s got to know the psyche of the hitter. He’s got to know what a hitter is trying to do. That you can absolutely look at.”

…”His style of pitching is night and day from mine. He lives away. He throws his two-seamer away. He pounds the outside corner. He expands the outside corner. He plays off the frustration of a hitter. He changes speeds much better than me. I’m a guy who powers the ball on the inside part of the plate. They complement, where I’m successful and where he’s successful.”

Does Glavine’s presence help in that it alleviates the pressure to be a “No. 1″? No, said Leiter.

“To think about the strength and weakness of a hitter and execute a quality pitch, that’s all that matters,” Leiter said. “What happens is, when you bring in a good pitcher, you’re better as a staff. And when you’re better as a staff, you have better people around you. And when you have better people around you, you have better ideas to throw around.

“Good pitchers give you good advice. Good staffs are contagious. Bad staffs are contagious.”

Finally, Newsday has a puff piece on my man Cliff Floyd, for those of you who are interested.

YANKS INK ACEVADO The

YANKS INK ACEVADO

The Yankees continued to strengthen their bullpen yesterday, signing right-hander Juan Acevedo— a product of the Mets farm system—to a minor-league contract. Ostensibly, Acevado, who served as the Detriot Tigers closer for most of 2002, would compete for set-up role in the Yankee bullpen. There is a chance he won’t make the opening day roster, but as the saying goes, “You can never have enough pitching.” According to espn:


Acevedo is guaranteed $150,000 and would get a $900,000, one-year contract if he’s added to the Yankees’ major league roster. If he’s added to the roster, New York also would get a $3 million option for 2004 with a $50,000 buyout.

Mike C from Baseball Rants thinks this is another good pick up for the Bombers.

WEAVER MAY GET SHOT

Joel Sherman reports today that the Yankees are leaning toward using Jeff Weaver in the starting rotation and putting Jose Contreras in the pen to start the season. I know there are a lot of things that can happen between now and opening day, but this sounds like a sensible plan to me.


“It is Weaver’s [rotation] job to lose,” [one] source said.

In fact, the source said, the Yanks are intrigued about what Contreras’ 95-mph fastball would look like setting up Mariano Rivera if the rotation were blocked to him initially

And now it looks as if Weaver will start because: a) the Yanks recognize Contreras might need an adjustment to the majors and could even begin in the minors and b) that asking him for 30 starts/200 innings in his first season could be unwise. They also know that with age issues involving Clemens and Wells, plus Pettitte coming off elbow woes that there should be many chances for a sixth starter in 2003.

“They will not force Contreras into the rotation just because of the contract,” the source said. “They are looking at the big picture.”

Travis Nelson, who runs Boy of Summer, has a good link to one of the Yankees few viable pitching prospects, youngster Julio DePaula.

GEORGIE PORGIE

I am currently reading Ed Linn’s book, “Steinbrenner’s Yankees” which I owned as kid, but lost at some point along the way. It just arrived from Barnes and Noble.com and I’m eating it up accordingly. Linn, who is most famous for co-writing “Veeck as in Wreck,” “Hitter” (with Ted Williams), and “Nice Guys Finish Last” (with Leo the Lip), covers the Bronx Zoo Yankees in a brisk, readable manner. The more I refresh my memories of those turbulent days, the tamer George’s recent outbursts seem in comparison (the Mark Newman situation notwithstanding).

Bob Klapisch contributed another piece on the Madness of King George this past Sunday:


We know why Steinbrenner is occupying all the space in the Yankee universe: he hasn’t quite digested the early exit from last October’s AL Division Series, and the high-fiving that’s gone on in Bud Selig’s office ever since. But The Boss’ need for revenge already cost him one of his most trusted advisers and is threatening to soil his relationship with Torre, as well as Derek Jeter.

Interesting, wasn’t it, that Torre wouldn’t respond to Steinbrenner’s recent jabs about the club’s underachievement last year. Smart man, Torre. He knows there’s no winning a public war with The Boss. Torre also knows that when Steinbrenner wants to take down his manager, he starts with the coaches – a tactic he perfected in the Billy Martin era. That’s why it was so revealing to hear Steinbrenner say Torre’s coaches, “have to do more than just be friends with Joe.”

We’re still waiting to hear from Jeter, who, according to Steinbrenner, partied too much in 2002, hence his first sub.-300 average since 1997. If Jeter is as smart as Torre, he won’t utter a word in response. If history has taught the Yankees anything about a Steinbrenner tempest, it’s this: Make like the matador handling the enraged bull. Use the cape, avoid the frontal assaults, wait until the beast exhausts itself.

MILLAR’S CROSSING

The strange story of Kevin Millar continues to unfold, and evidently, it’s not out of the question that he may wind up in Boston after all. According to the Boston Globe:


Now, Millar is not due to report to Japan until Saturday, when spring training begins. But even the Chunichi Dragons, the team that signed Millar to a three-year, $6.2 million contract after purchasing him from the Florida Marlins, yesterday expressed uncertainty about whether Millar will show up.

Major league sources, meanwhile, said yesterday that Millar will not report, has informed the Dragons of his intentions, and is attempting to have his contract voided so he can play for the Red Sox. One source said Millar’s agents plan to cite as precedent the case of Japanese third baseman Norihiro Nakamura, who earlier this month backed out of a two-year deal with the Mets to sign a $6.5 million contract with Kintetsu, becoming the highest-paid player in Japan.

SO LONG

In the past year, Red Sox Nation have dealt with the passing of several men who were vital to their beloved team in fashion or another: Ted Williams, greatest hitter ever; Dick O’Connell, arguably their best GM ever, and Ned Martin, who for 31 years worked as the television and radio voice of the Home Nine. This weekend, Jack Rogers, longtime traveling secretary of the Sox, who has charted pitches in the press box for the Sox since he retired in 1994 died. Dan Shaughnessy paid tribute in his most recent column.

DAUBACH CHANGES SOX

Former Red Sox super-scrub Brian Daubach has been invited to spring training with the Chicago White Sox.

Here is how Mike C from Baseball Rants views the move:


Daubach isn’t the next coming of Gehrig, but he has hit 20 home runs a season for the past four and has had an OPS at least 16% better than the adjusted league average in three of those seasons. His .812 OPS last year beat out a lot of other first basemen: former MVP Mo Vaughn, Angel and Tim McCarver hero Scott Spiezio, super-rookie Carlos Pena, playoff-bound Tino Martinez, Scott Hatteberg, Doug Mientkiewicz, Julio Franco, Mark Grace, J.T. Snow, and Nick Johnson (DH-1B), and teammate Tony Clark, among others.

This is a guy that could be a useful part of a contender or a useful starter on a pretender. Now, he will have to be a bench player on a team that now has three first basemen better than the starter on its main competitor, the Twins. Though I hate to endorse any Jerry Reisdorf team, the ChiSox could be the closest thing to a lock in MLB. I fully expect the world to be shocked if or when they win their division.

FISHY FRY

Both Gordon Edes (Boston Globe) and Bill Madden (Daily News) criticized the Florida Marlins for giving Pudge Rodriguez a one-year, $10 million contract, over the weekend in their Sunday columns.

According to Edes:


Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez, a 10-time All-Star who last week signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Florida Marlins, said he was depressed that teams showed so little interest in him this winter. But Rodriguez has missed an average of 59 games the last three seasons, and with the rare exception, like a Carlton Fisk, few catchers avoid a decline in production after a decade behind the plate.

The notion that Rodriguez is going to cause a rush at the box office is laughable, especially since he is so obviously a short-timer. For a team that supposedly has no chance of making a go of it without a new stadium, the Marlins are making some curious choices about how to allocate their resources. They’re already committed to paying $23 million for Mike Hampton to pitch for division rival Atlanta, part of a complicated three-way deal with the Rockies. And with $7 million of Rodriguez’s contract deferred, chances are strong that Florida will be paying I-Rod while he’s playing for someone else next season.

Madden adds:


As one scout said: “The four at-bats per game did not compare to the 120 decisions Rodriguez had to make with pitchers.” From Rodgriguez’s standpoint, he turned down a three-year $22 million offer from the Orioles – purportedly because his agent, Jeffrey Moorad, had promised to get him $10 mil per year. But according to industry sources, the Marlins are deferring $7 million of the $10 million, meaning the value of the contract will be reassessed at around $8 mil. Meanwhile, Rodriguez has consigned himself to a new league, with no DH to give him valuable extra at-bats, and in one of the worst hitter’s parks in baseball. And for $8 mil he almost certainly could have stayed in Texas to showcase his wares for one season.

BIGGIO: EXPOSED

In case you missed them, make sure to check out Rob Neyer’s two (frick and frack) very funny and convincing columns regarding the future of the Astros’ old second baseman/newest center fielder, Craig Biggio.

LAST WORD ON LIEBER:

LAST WORD ON LIEBER: JOE G GIVES HIS BLESSING

When former Yankee catcher, Joe Girardi speaks, Yankee fans should listen. Joel Sherman reports that Joe G thinks the Bombers did the right thing in signing Jon Lieber, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery:


Girardi, a Yankee from 1996-99 and Lieber’s catcher as a Cub the past three seasons, told a pitcher who had spent his career in the Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cub organizations that he “would love every minute of it because of the drive to be the best.”

Lieber accepted the counsel, signing a two-year, $3.3 million free-agent contract that could escalate to $16.55 million over three years if the righty earns every incentive.

But Girardi predicted Lieber would be with the Yanks by July 1, saying “George [Steinbrenner] always uses the word warrior and he got a warrior in Jon Lieber. He’s going to come back quicker than most people.”

Girardi likened Lieber to Wells, explaining, “You don’t think he is going to be ready. But he is almost a freak like Wells with that kind of strong back and broad shoulders, and there he is on the mound ahead of everyone else.”

Also like Wells, Lieber throws strikes and, Girardi said, “is a joy to play behind because he works so quickly and goes after hitters.”

Unlike Wells, Girardi calls Lieber, “incredibly humble. He hates talking about himself. If he pitches a great game, he credits the catcher, and if he pitches poorly he blames himself. He was a great teammate. He has the makeup to be a great Yankee.”

“This is not a big monetary commitment for a pitcher with a potential high ceiling, especially when you consider the very high success rate now with this kind of surgery,” Cashman said.

SALIERI’S NEXT MOVEMENT?

One day, there will be books written about the current Yankee Dynasty; there will be books that cover the Mets, and their relationship to the Yankee team, too. Perhaps the 1995-2002 run won’t inspire the volume of writing that the Bronx Zoo Era, and the Amazin Mets of the 80′s did, but we can expect the exploits of Bernie, and Fonzie, Piazza, Jeter and Paul O’Neill to be given their just due some day. The recent crop of Yankee players may not be as wild, irreverent or quotable, as the som’bitches of yesteryear, but they’ve been more successful on the field.

Since the middle of 1997, the Yankees and Mets rivalry has been comically represented by the various fortunes of the two Italian guys from the Tri-State Area: Joe Torre and Bobby Valentine. Now, with Bobby V fired, and Art Howe taking his place, the Mets are sure to experience a drastic change in personality.

But back to Valentine for a moment. His time in New York constitutes a memorable chapter in the history of the Mets and the Yanks. For every good break Torre received, Valentine seemingly got a bad one. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I turned away from a Mets game when something awful went wrong (uh-hum, Armando), just to tune in to the Yankee game just in time for some late-inning horseshit magic.

Torre, sure of himself, settled, reserved, has been the antithesis of Valentine, who is combative, and bold—alternatively unctuous and charming. I always had the feeling that Valentine still thought of himself as the super-prospect whose career was derailed, unjustly, horribly, by the leg injury in California. He never seemed to be over the fact that he never made it as a player. Or maybe he was but he managed with vindictive, almost paranoid energy. A young man’s energy. Known as a top-step manager, I always got the feeling that Valentine was cock-blocking his players.

The STATS Inc. 2002 Scouting Book report on Valentine put it bluntly:


Little changed regarding Bobby Valentine and his massive ego. Although his confrontations with others were minimal last season, he remains perhaps the most disliked skipper in the game. Nevertheless, Valentine played a crucial role in his team’s comeback during the final six weeks, despite going to battle with a popgun offense that ranked 15th in batting average in the National League.

Compare that with their assessment of Saint Joe:


Torre relies on his players more than his scouting report or stats. He often lamented last year about the information overload that exists when some players try to use technology instead of common sense. Torre has as much sense as any manager in the game, and will continue to manage well as long as the Boss provides him with the horses.

Watching the Mets lose in spite of his best efforts, while the Yankees did everything but fall ass-backwards into victory, I couldn’t help but think of Bobby Valentine cast as Salieri to Joe Torre’s Amadeus. Only Mozart isn’t a genius boy wonder, and it’s not his peerless talent that set him apart. Joe Torre’s Mozart would be played by Abe Vigoda or maybe Paul Sorvino: The Lifer, The Sage, A Real Brooklyn Joe. It was Torre’s peerless good fortune, mixed with competence and patience that have made him a success.

But Bobby V was the young stud, who had excelled in so many things so earlier—he was an outstanding football player, a terrific dancer, and also once won a pancake-eating contest. Valentine has been compared with other strategists like Gene Mauch, Tony LaRussa and Buck Showalter. He’s Mozart and Salieri all wrapped up in one. With a hint of Billy Martin thrown in for flavor.

I noticed the similarities between Valentine and Salieri in Pauline Kael’s review of Milos Forman’s 1985 film:


Salieri, who has worked hard at his music, been a servile courtier, and achieved fame and high position, is envious of Mozart’s incredible talent…At first, its quite funny when the slimy-smooth Salieri complains that his exertions–his always doing the proper thing, studying, going to church—he seems to expect God to give him exact value for every prayer he has ever delivered. (He’s like a kid saying to Mommy, “I was always a good boy and ate my spinach and did my homework, but you love my brother more than you love me–and he uses dirty words and chases girls.”) Salieri thinks that because he suffers so much he should be a genius.

As written for the screen, the big, showy role of Salieri seems to be an impossible one (he has too many schemes)…But Abraham’s intensity has a theatrical charge to it in the glances that tell us what’s going on under Salieri’s polite smiles…Abraham is a wizard at eager, manic, full-of-life roles, and he gives Salieri a cartoon animal’s obsession with Mozart—he’s Wile E. Coyote.

Valentine was back in the news this weekend, having turned down a analyst job at ESPN. According to Bob Raissman in Sunday’s Daily News:


The gang from Bristol, interested in hiring Bobby V to replace Buck Showalter in its “Baseball Tonight” studio, offered him a three-year contract. Included in the offer was a stipulation that probably was the first of its kind by a network looking to sign a former manager or player.

If Valentine decided to bolt for a manager’s job at some point during the life of the proposed contract, he’d have to pay a monetary penalty to ESPN.

Whether this unusual clause prevented Valentine and ESPN from reaching an agreement is unclear. Valentine told friends at last weeks’ Baseball Assistance Team dinner he wasn’t sure what he will be doing this coming baseball season.

“It might just be I’ll have my first summer off in 33 years,” Valentine said.

SHEA REY

There were a couple of articles on the Mets’ super-prospect Jose Reyes over the weekend in the local papers. On Saturday, the Times reported:


Jose Reyes was the first player Fred Wilpon sought out today when the Mets’ bus finally arrived at their complex here
[in the Dominican Republic]. Wilpon would address a group of players the Mets are training here, but Reyes was the one Mets executives were here to see.

…Reyes, 19, realizes the Mets have set up their shortstop job to be his before the end of the season, and meeting him was among the objectives of the delegation of team executives that spent 24 hours bouncing across dusty roads in the southern part of this country.

Team executives also visited closer Armando Benitez’s ranch and baseball stadium Wednesday, met for four hours that night at a beach resort to discuss improving player development and building a facility here, and spent most of today on a bus between tours of a local baseball academy and a university that has proposed starting an education program for Mets players. Then they visited the team’s current field for its Dominican program.

A photograph accompanies the article, which shows Reyes, in shorts—sunglasses resting on the bill on his cap—taking batting practice. A switch hitter, the photo captures Reyes from the left side; at first glance, the following through, the form doesn’t look unlike Junior Griffey. There are four Mets executives in the background, casually dressed, monitoring the session.

It took me a few moments to recognize that Art Howe was one of the blurred figures in the background. He is standing a few feet away from the other execs—which included Steve Phillips—hands clasped behind his back, shoulders drooped slightly. He looks strong in his passivity; reflective, observant. The papers in New York have already made the comparisons between Howe’s hands-off approach and the laid-back success Joe Torre has enjoyed. It is an easy analogy, but a fitting one. What stuck me about the photograph isn’t how much Howe looked like Torre but how much he didn’t look like Bobby Valentine.

He doesn’t have to be Joe Torre to have a Joe Torre effect.

On Sunday, Michael Morrissey filed an article on Reyes too:


“He’s a young, hungry kid with a very captivating smile that just embraces you,” former Double-A Binghamton manager Howie Freiling said.

…Scouts still believe Reyes will grow into his frame – if he hasn’t stopped growing yet. He’s added an inch or two since September. Offensively, he still needs to improve his on-base percentage and become a more lethal bunter. Defensively, he must cut down on his occasionally erratic throws.

But can he help the Mets in 2003?

“There’s the million-dollar question,” Freiling said. “Let me say this right off the bat: I’m dodging it.

“But clearly, irrefutably, he has both the physical and mental tools to be a major league ballplayer soon. Do they want to rush the kid and watch his growing pains?

“Sure, he can play there next year. Would it be better for Jose to start at Triple-A and develop and get more seasoning? That’s the question.”

ALL TOGETHER NOW

The Mets have invoked the spirit of the Yankees quite convincingly this off-season, not to mention some of their ex-players. Whether it’s intentional or not—and I can’t believe it’s pure coincidence, it’s there. Joining Mike Stanton, David Weathers, Rey Sanchez, Al Lieter, and even bench-coach Don Baylor, is former Yankee reliever, Graeme Llyod., who was signed to a minor league contract by the Mets Friday.

According to Newsday:


Graeme Lloyd joined the Mets Friday as a kindred spirit. He feels like a New Yorker, having enjoyed his time with the Yankees. He is close friends with some of the Mets’ relievers. Most of all, like most of the Mets, he believes he has nowhere to go but up.

“I’m at a loss as to why the Mets played as they did last year,” the 35-year-old lefthanded reliever said. “But this year is a new year. As a player who hasn’t done well, I certainly feel I’ve got a lot left, and I want to redeem myself.”

He said his body has “recovered from a hectic last two years, you might say.” It was a passing reference to his rough road since the Yankees sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays in the February 1999 deal for Roger Clemens. Lloyd missed the 2000 season because of rotator cuff surgery – at the same time he was mourning the death of his wife, Cindy, 27, to Crohn’s disease.

In an interview during spring training in 2001, he said it helped that he could concentrate on his work: “Whatever you’ve got, you’ve just got to give.”

The Mets, in announcing the signing, mentioned his 0.00 career postseason ERA (13 games, eight innings). They hope it does not become an irrelevant statistic.

FRED, SANDY, TOM GLAVINE, AND AL

I sure hope that Al Leiter and Tom Glavine can remain healthy this year because they would be one of the more appealing 1-2 combos—or book-ends of a top three—New York has seen in a few seasons. Certainly the most quotable. With Glavine, living on the outside part of the plate, and then Leiter busting you in on the hands with the hard, heavy stuff, they’d compliment each other nicely. Leiter and Glavine are like a two-headed incarnation of David Cone. Leiter is demonstrative, and emotional—all schoolyard—on the mound; affable and easy with the media. Glavine is the calm, poised professional, and a big union man to boot. Put them together and you get a riff on our old friend Coney.
Leiter makes a brief appearance in Jane Leavy’s new book, “Sandy Koufax:”


Now, [Koufax] mentors informally–showing up at the Mets spring training camp in Port St. Lucie to help Wilpon’s team, and of course, at Dodgertown, eschewing face-time for distant mounds where he works with young pitchers. In this way, Koufax is not unlike Milt Gold, Milt Laurie, and Milt “Pop” Secol, Brooklyn men, coaches, who volunteered their time to help other men’s sons realize their potential. This is where he can be a baseball player again…and a teacher. “You should be better,” he told Al Leiter one day after observing him in spring training. “I know,” Leiter replied.

A couple of days later, Wilpon passed on Koufax’s telephone number and a message: “Call anytime.” Leiter was honored and astonished, unsure what he had done to merit the attention. Unlike so many self-satisfied players, Leiter wanted to get better. As Koufax likes to say, When a pupil is ready, a teacher will come.

One night, not long after, Leiter returned home after pitching eight shutout innings to find a message from Koufax on his answering machine: “Way to go. Great job. But when you’ve got him set up for the outside corner, you gotta nail it.” And then he hung up.

Although Tom Glavine doesn’t throw nearly as hard as Koufax did, he has made his reputation living on the outside corner, and he will one day join Koufax in Cooperstown. Here is more from Leavy:


No matter what the scouting reports said, Koufax would pitch his game. He believed in cultivating his fastball, working it the way a farmer works the land. Little by little, he would expand the strike zone, training the umpire to see its dimensions his way. By game’s end, he’d get that strike call on the outside corner. He told Torborg, “Sit in the middle of the plate and if I starting hitting your glove, then we’ll move to the corners.

…Koufax believed in the outside corner of the plate the way some people believe in reincarnation. It was a tenet of his faith that anyone who can put a fastball on the outside corner of the plate 85 percent of the time can win fifteen games in the major leagues. He never believed in just getting a pitcher over, everyone one had a purpose. Throwing strikes? Overrated dogma. Challenging a power hitter inside? Macho posturing. His job was to train the home plate umpire to define the strike zone as he saw it, expanding it inch by inch, inning by inning, cajoling him into giving a little more, and then a little more. When finally, he had a batter where he wanted him, leaning out over the plate, he’d come inside–and then go outside again. “You pitch outside, you throw inside,” he liked to say.

THE OTHER GIAMBI: BREAK

THE OTHER GIAMBI: BREAK OUT OR BUST?

Nate Silver has an sharp analysis of Peter Gammons’ candidates to have a breakout season in 2003. While Silver admits that “lists like these are little more than a grownup’s version of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey,” he has fun giving Gammons’ choices the once over using something called The PECOTA system:


As it happens, however, we’re unrolling a new forecasting system at BP this year–one that is also preoccupied with the question of breakout candidates. The PECOTA system–short for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm–seeks to identify potential breakouts by comparing a player against a database of his historical peers. In so doing, it comes up with an objective estimate of the probability that a player will display marked improvement in the upcoming season (defined as an increase of at least 20% in his Equivalent Runs per plate appearance, or a decrease of at least 20% in his PERA, relative to a weighted average of his previous three years of performance).

There is a link to the complete PECOTA glossary in the article as well. Here is what Silver writes about Jeremy Giambi, whom many people feel will have a productive season for the Boston Red Sox:


I was expecting Little G to fall into the same category as Durazo: a stathead favorite who might be somewhat misplaced on this list by virtue of the likelihood of his picking up more playing time. Instead, PECOTA renders a very strong judgment against Giambi; his Breakout rate (5%) is the lowest of any player on Gammons’ list, and his Collapse rate (33%) is the highest of any hitter.

The notion has been tossed around that Giambi is a breakout candidate because he’s shown a growth curve similar to his older brother. Giambi the Elder does appear on his little brother’s comparables list–he’s Jeremy’s 77th best comp, well behind such notables as Sixto Lezcano, Kevin Maas, and Mike Epstein. Sure, bloodlines might count for something, but that obscures the fact that the two Giambis aren’t tremendously similar players. Jason is two or three inches taller, depending on who is doing the measuring, and he played much more regularly than his brother did early in his career, which is normally a positive developmental sign.

More importantly, though, there are important differences in their approach at the plate:

JEREMY JASON
Age BB rate K rate BB rate K rate
25 12.3% 20.2% 8.5% 15.9%
26 17.0% 18.7% 9.4% 15.1%
27 19.9% 23.7% 12.3% 15.5%

Jason, while always a patient hitter, did not walk nearly as often as Jeremy did early in his career, nor did he strike out nearly as often. For a player in mid-career, Jeremy’s patience borders on the absurd. He saw, on the average, 4.5 pitches per plate appearance last season; no regular player topped 4.3. About 44% of Jeremy’s PAs last season ended with a strikeout or a walk, a figure that almost exactly matches Rob Deer’s career average. Giambi has “old player’s skills” to an extreme, and the PECOTA program thinks that players with that sort of profile don’t age very well.

Why is that?

Giambi doesn’t put very many balls into play, and when he does, he’s one of the slowest runners in baseball. Poor speed and a high strikeout rate are both drags on batting average, and generally a combination to be avoided. Certainly, there are exceptions; some of the greatest sluggers in recent memory have put together spectacular careers with just that collection of skills.

But those hitters had substantially more power than Giambi, and provided greater disincentives for pitchers to challenge them. The worry is that Giambi’s approach will cease to be effective if pitchers simply resolve to throw him more strikes. He hasn’t displayed enough power, or a consistent enough ability to make contact, to suggest that he’d be able to compensate fully for a decline in his walk rate by improving his contribution in other areas.

It may not be a coincidence that Giambi’s tenure in Philadelphia was the most successful period of his career to date; he was in a new league, and by virtue of Larry Bowa’s infatuation with Travis Lee, his exposure to pitchers was irregular. The PECOTA system insinuates that, given repeated trials against the same set of pitchers, the weaknesses in Giambi’s approach will be exploited. He’ll provide the Red Sox with a multifold improvement over the most recent vintage of Tony Clark, but it’s almost certain that Giambi’s rate of production will be well off from last year’s level.

ALL THE KINGS MEN

ALL THE KINGS MEN

The suits at the Yankee Command Center are playing musical chairs, as VP of Baseball Operations, Mark Newman was replaced by Gordon Blakely, formerly VP of International and Professional Scouting. According to the Daily News, Newman’s request for a lesser role:


…Lands him in the post of Vice President for Player Development and Scouting. Newman’s often acrimonious relationship with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner appeared to bubble over Tuesday when the two exchanged words and, according to sources, the argument ended with Newman telling The Boss he would resign his position. A source said Newman even said some farewells before leaving work that day, but he and Steinbrenner appear to have somewhat mended things.

Bob Klapisch reports that the old Bronx Zoo George is back, and barking louder than ever:


One club insider said Newman’s decision surprised “no one” and another said such quarreling has become commonplace within the Yankee hierarchy this winter.

“There isn’t one person (in the front office) who hasn’t had some kind of blow-up with George lately,” the source said. Indeed, Steinbrenner has, after years of assuming a background-posture, single-handedly taken control of the organization — a role-reversal that’s evolved steadily since the Yankees were beaten by the Angels in the American League Division Series.

Ostensibly, Newman will be replaced by Gordon Blakeley, who has served as the club’s VP of international and professional scouting. But there’s no doubt Steinbrenner will remain at the epicenter of the Yankees’ universe, as he’s pushed even GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre further away from the decision-making process.

The return of the old George is not a welcome sight for veteran Yankee fans, but it should be greeted with open arms by the rest of the league. If history tells us anything, the more meddlesome Steinbrenner becomes, the more trouble his team will encounter. If the Yankees can’t be beaten on paper, then maybe they will implode from the pressure cooker coming out of Tampa. You think Joe Torre is going to earn his keep this year? Oy. Pass the pepto.

MORE ON LIEBER

Mike C, over at Baseball Rants has posted the latest installment in his history of relief pitching, an excellent and thorough chapter which covers the 1970s. (There is another good article on relievers at Futility Infielder.)

I recieved an e-mail from Mike yesterday giving me his take on the Yankees newest starter, Jon Lieber:


…The best way to sum [Lieber] up is that he is a typical Pirate pitrcher. He’s about average, maybe a little better. It seems that the Pirates organization has generated thousands of number-three pitches, guys with ERAS slightly over 4.00 who win 12 games a year (Esteban Loaiza, Steve Parris, Jason Schmidt via Atlanta, Steve Cooke, Francisco Cordova, Kris Benson, Todd Ritchie, Jimmy Anderson, Josh Fogg and Kip Wells–both via the ChiSox. I guess the best of the lot is Denny Neagle and he came from the Twins).

He was pretty good in 2001 but not great and it looks like a career year. Given the injury, his return is dicey at best. I don’t know much about the injury. Somehow though I think it’s not a bad move. If he can return, he’s cheap by Yankees’standards and has a higher ceiling than Hitchcock, say.

He has odd numbers. His strikeouts fell from around 8 per game in 1999 to around 5.5 in 2001, but he improved (?). He still manages to strikeout about 3.5 as many guys as he walks, and even though he gives up more than a hit per inning, he has a good WHIP (1.27 for his career, under 1.2 the last two years) because he doesn’t give up many walks. He’s a control type that will drive you crazy some days, but if the planets align he could have a season like Paul Byrd’s last year (who also recovered from an injury just prior to 2002).

It seems that it cost theYankees one of their braintrust to sign him, so that’ll hurt. At least he’s interesting.

SUPER GIL

Keven Kernan writes another insipid tribute to local hero Gil Hodges in today’s Post. I don’t doubt that Hodges was a wonderful player, a good manager and a fine man, but I’m sorry to say that alone doesn’t qualify him as a Hall of Famer. New Yorkers, in their inimitable, grandiose fashion, may feel that their love for him is enough. It’s not. Here is a typically unconvincing argument offered up by Mets long-time radio voice, Mr. Schlitz himself, Bob Murphy:


“I’ve studied the record and he is definitely deserving. He was the leader on a wonderful baseball team, that sent what, four, five guys to the Hall, not only that, but his stats substantiate him being in the Hall. And Tom Seaver has said that Gil was the best manager who ever lived.”

Gil Hodges was much more than all that, though.

“I’ve been making a living out of sports for 50 years,” Murphy explained, “and there are two people who I would put at the top of the list of the finest people I’ve ever met, Gil Hodges and the basketball coach Henry Iba.”

I question that Hodges’ statistics merit his being elected to the Hall, even though he did lose vital years to the War. And that Tom Seaver thinks he was the best manager who ever lived, means 100% Dick to me. I’m not down on Gil Hodges so much as the weak, sentimental case that has been made on his behalf.

WINDY CITY RIVALRY

I’ve never been to Chicago, and know precious little about the rivalry between the North Side Cubbies and the White Sox of the South Side. I’ve always pulled for the Cubs in a distant, sympathetic way. The White Sox? I never had much of an opinion either way. But last year I began wondering why the White Sox and their losing legacy has been so over-looked. The Cubs and Red Sox are famous because of their suffering? What about the White Sox has regulated them to misfortune’s stepchild? I asked the Cub Reporter, Christian Ruzich for his thoughts on the White Sox-Cubs rivalry.

He sent me an e-mail yesterday:


Well, now, I would never say that White Sox fans are dopes. After all, my mom is White Sox fan.
Let’s just say this — remember that shirtless father and son duo that ran out onto the field and attacked Tom Gamboa? I don’t think there were too many Cubs fans who were surprised that it happened at Comiskey Park.
In general, Cubs fans would say that White Sox fans are mullet-wearing, Camaro-driving drinkers from the south suburbs, while White Sox fans would say Cubs fans are ex-fratboy stockbrokers who only care about the scene at Wrigley instead of watching the game.
Like all stereotypes, they both have a kernel of truth to them — Comiskey is very blue-collar stadium in a working-class, mostly black neighborhood, and the fans tend to be people who’ve followed the White Sox for a long time, through thick and (mostly) thin. I used to love going to Old Comiskey, but the new one is soulless, plus when I was 21 I almost got in a fight with a guy who wouldn’t stop smoking right behind us during a playoff game so I have a bad attitude about the place.
Meanwhile, Wrigley is in the middle of an affluent, mostly white neighborhood, and the people at the stadium (I hesitate to call them fans) tend to be people using the company’s season tickets, or frat-boys who’ve paid 50 bucks for a bleacher seat and are walking around with a stack or 11 or 12 empty Old Style cups. It got bad after the Cubs won the division in ’84 and TribCo decided not to hold back any bleacher seats for day-of-game purchase. Still, I’m a Cubs fan and I cherish the memories of the two years I lived close enough to the park that I could sit on my stoop and hear the crowd signing along with Harry Caray.
Anyway, that’s probably more than you wanted to know, but there is a definite White Sox vs. Cubs split among Chicago fans, mostly from the White Sox side (check out http://www.whitesoxinteractive.com/rwas/index.php?category=3&id=953 to see what I mean).

…There are a few other White Sox legacies, like the South Side Hit Men of ’77, or Winning Ugly in ’83. And of course the Bill Veeck Era (Disco Demolition, the exploding scoreboard, the shower in the bleachers, etc.). But yeah, the White Sox really haven’t captured the imagination of people outside the South Side.

My Favorite Things of

My Favorite Things of 2002

III. Books…

I started reading baseball books seriously again after the Yankees beat the Mets in the Subway Serious in 2000. I felt compelled to try and put the Yankees run into some sort of perspective, and that led me back to the bookshelf. For the past few years I’ve enjoyed digging into the subculture of baseball literature, and last year was no different. Perhaps the most significant discovery I made was when I acquired my cousin Gabe’s collection of Bill James Abstracts. His mother was selling the house he grew up in, and when he went to clear his things out, I told him to give me any and all of his baseball books if he was going to throw them out. Well Gabe came back with a treasure chest, complete with Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts 1984-88, and The Bill James Baseball Book: 1990-92.

I was familiar with James in name and reputation only, but had never sit down and read any of his work. Needless to say, perusing the Abstracts has been a rewarding experience. I’m not a science of math guy by nature, but I found it hard to resist James’ irreverent and authoratative prose. I especially liked the biograhical information, and James’ even-handed, emperical approach to statistics. I also loved revisiting the 1980′s, and reading about the teams and players I grew up with from an adult perspective.

I don’t think I actually read any of the James books from soup to nuts, but I picked them up and put them down often. Collections of essays are often my favorite books to read, and re-read. I can only assume the Abstracts will be as well used, and invaluable in the coming years as the Roger Angell and Tom Boswell compilations have been and continue to be.

While discovering Bill James was paramount to my baseball education last season, I didn’t stop there. Here is a list of the other baseball books I read:

Favorites:

The Way It Is by Curt Flood and Richard Carter
Inside The Yankees: The Championship Year by Ed Linn
The Curse of the Bambino by Dan Shaugnessy
Beyond the 6th Game by Peter Gammons
Baseball Dynasties by Eddie Epstein and Rob Neyer
The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers by Bill James
The Curse of Rocky Colavito by Terry Pluto
Clearing the Bases by Allen Barra
No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman

Honorable Mention:

Why Time Begins on Opening Day by Tom Boswell
What Ever Happened to the Hall of Fame? by Bill James
Baseball’s Great Experiment by Jules Tygiel
Wait Til Next Year by William Goldman and Mike Lupica
Collision at Home Plate by James Reston, Jr
A Whole Different Ballgame by Marvin Miller
The Short Season by David Falkner

Poorly Written But Informative:

Shut Out by Howard Bryant
Talking Baseball: An Oral History of Baseball in the 1970s by Phil Pepe
Baseball, Chicago Style by Jerome Holtman and George Vass

I recently finished Jane Leavy’s acclaimed new biography on Sandy Koufax, and hope to post a review in the coming weeks. I hardly have enough time to keep up with all the promising books I’ve got waiting in the wings. A good problem to have, for sure.

On Deck:

Nice Guys Finish Last by Leo Durocher and Ed Linn
The New Thinking Fan’s Guide to Baseball by Leonard Kopett
1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball by Red Barber
October, 1964 by David Halberstam
Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer

LIEBER AND PUDGE SIGNED

LIEBER AND PUDGE SIGNED

The Yankees completed a two-year, $3.5 million deal with right-handed pitcher Jon Lieber yesterday according to a report to espn.


The deal, which the Yankees have not yet announced, calls for a signing bonus and the minimum $300,000 salary this year. New York gets an $8 million club option for 2005.

There was noise about the Yankees screwing the Red Sox again, which proved to be exaggerated. According to Joel Sherman in the Post:


As with luring Jose Contreras and steering Bartolo Colon to the White Sox, the Yanks thwarted a Red Sox effort to land a pitcher. But a Boston official said the Red Sox had made no offer to Liever and were not willing to make a serious investmnet in a plyer with considerable health issues. Also, Lieber’s agent, Rex Gary, while acknowledging Boston’s interest, said, “it would be wrong to make this a Yankee vs.Red Sox thing. The Yankees got to the forefront and stayed there weeks ago. This was not a situation in which we were going back and forth between the Yankees and the Red Sox.”

I asked some National League friends what they made of Lieber. Christian Ruzich, who runs The Cub Reporter said:


Lieber is a very good pitcher. Average stuff, yeah, but great control. Great K/BB ratio, sucks up a lot of innings. He’s coming back from surgery, but he’ll only be 33 this year, so it could be a nice pickup for the Yankees. I had really hoped that the Cubs would find a way to bring him back. He’s been one of my favorites, and not only because he’s almost exactly my age (4 days younger).

I also asked my cousin Gabe, the Mets fan, if Lieber was a better version of Steve Traschel, and he replied that Trashcan never won twenty games pitching in Wrigley Field.


I’d say Lieber’s more like Bob Ojeda than Steve Trachsel. He’s a great fourth or fifth starter, and even a decent three guy if you play in a weak division.

As for Pudge Rodriguez, he turned down a 3-year deal from the Orioles and signed a 1-year, $10 million contract to play for the Florida Marlins in his home town, Miami.

According to espn:


Jim Beattie, Baltimore’s executive vice president of baseball operations, had been trying to sign Rodriguez. “I thought Ivan was a very good fit for us, playing in the AL, where he could be a designated hitter when he wasn’t catching,” Beattie said. “But he lives in Miami, and I’m sure those were among his considerations. We spent most of the day talking about a three-year deal, but I guess he wanted to go with more money and a shorter term. I would have been discouraged if we paid more money than we were comfortable with. The offer we made was what we thought was an appropriate amount of money.”

Dave Hyde, columnist for the Miami Sun-Sentinel gives his take on the signing here.

For what it’s worth, the NL East now sports a nifty group of recievers in Pudge, Piazza, Mike Lieberthal, Michael Barrett, and uh-hum, Maddog’s boy, Javey Lopez.

SPOILED JOCKS BETTER THAN LOUSY WRITERS

Michiko Kakutani reviewed Norman Mailer’s new book on writing, “The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing” yesterday in the New York Times. Next time you hear someone killing celebrity jocks, consider the emis* according to Stormin’ Norman:


People are always complaining in sports about how much money these athletes get. At least those athletes can answer, ‘I’m getting that money because I’m the best in my field.’ In literature it’s exactly the oppostie. It’s the mediocrities who make the mega-sums. That was always true to a degree, but it’s intensified considerably.

Yeah, just ask Mike Hampton.

* Emis is the Yiddish word for “the truth.”

LOOKING AHEAD Much has

LOOKING AHEAD

Much has been made this winter about the Yankees’ surplus of starting pitching, but only Jeff Weaver, Jose Contreras and Mike Mussina are signed passed this season. Tyler Kepner reports in today’s New York Times that “the Yankees are close to adding another starter to the mix.”


According to a baseball official, the Yankees are in serious discussions with Jon Lieber, a former 20-game winner who might not pitch this season but is expected to be ready for 2004.

Lieber, a right-hander who turns 33 in April, went 20-6 for the Chicago Cubs in 2001 but had Tommy John surgery on his elbow last August. The surgery typically requires 12 to 18 months of rest and rehabilitation.

The official said the sides were working on a two-year deal with an option. The deal would be heavily based on incentives similar to the one [David] Wells signed last winter, when he was a healthy risk because of back surgery…

Liebeer, who was 6-8 in 21 starts last season, made the National League All-Star team in 2001, his fifth season as a regular starter. Over five years with Pittsburgh and our with the Cubs, he has established himself as a control specialist, typically striking out at least 100 more hitters than he walks each season.

“You look at his stuff, and his stuff’s O.K.,” one National League advance scout said. “But then when you see him, you go, ‘Wait, he keeps getting people out.’ He’s a very good competitor with the heart of a lion. When he’s on, he’ll give you a good, solid six or seven innings, at least. Getting him for ’04 makes a lot of sense.”

…If the Yankees complete their deal with Lieber, he will have a job, leaving them with only one slot to fill in the rotation. The start of the 2004 season is more than a year away, but in the Yankees’ world, spots are going fast.

Maybe they can get Don Gullet to fill the fifth slot.

OH PUDGE

Speaking of ex-Yankee hurlers, Jim Beattie co-GM of the Balitmore Orioles is busy these days. There is a report on mlb.com which suggests that the Orioles may be close to signing former Blue Jays outfielder Jose Cruz, Jr. and free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez to one-year deals. That would keep things lively in what should be a much improved AL East this year. Stay tuned…

MO’ MINNIE MINOSO Last

MO’ MINNIE MINOSO

Last week I wrote to Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated’s top baseball man, and asked what he made of the curious case of Minnie Minoso. Here is his response:


I grew up when Minoso was doing his play-in-a-fifth decade thing as a lark, so I admit I never took him seriously enough. While on the Vets screening committee, though, the more research I did on him the more I appreciated his career. Great player. I don’t know why the previous Vets committee didn’t look at him more. I’m pretty sure he’s one of the five best players on that Vets list. Whether he gets in or not, though, is another matter. I really don’t know what to expect out of that vote. It all depends on whether the living Famers use all 10 spots on their ballot or just pick one or two. Tom

I searched around the net for the skinny on Minoso and found several articles of note.

The Baseball Library has a good overview of Minnie’s career, complete with important dates, and career achievements. The Black World Today offers a look at Minoso as a Latin pioneer, Andy Trenkle makes a case for his selection to the Hall of Fame, and Jules Rothstein writes about what an all-around mench he is.

Finally, here is a tidbit from Sam Plummer, a long-suffering Cubs fan, and close family friend, who I’ve known since before I knew how to walk. I saw Sam over Christmas and mentioned my interest in Minoso. He started singing what I mistakenly remembered as a piece of classical music, only he replaced the lyrics with the names of the Go-Go White Sox from the 1950′s. I was set straight in an e-mail I recieved from Sam this afternoon:


It’s not classical music, it’s a Christmas carol, and the initial effect depends on the similarity of “Orestes” to “Adeste”, then on the resemblance of Spanish names to Latin words. Later you sort of bellow “Sherman Lollar” before sort of chanting “Paul Richards, Nelson Fox….”
Adeste, fideles,
Laeti triumphantes,
Venite, venite ad Bethlehem.
Natum videte, regem angelorum;
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus dominum.
Or in English:
O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
Now then:
Orestes Minoso,
Chico Carrasquel,
Saul Rogovin, Billy Pierce, and Omar Lown.
Sherman Lollar, Luis Aparicio,
Paul Richards, Nelson Fox,
Paul Richards, Nelson Fox,
Paul Richards, Nelson Fox, and Early Wynn.

BOSTON BANTER While the

BOSTON BANTER

While the Yankees will have a busy even challenging year with the additional media attention Hideki Matsui brings with him from Japan, the Red Sox are second to nobody when it comes to media frenzy. In fact, although the Sox are comprised mainly of reserved stars like Nomar Garciaparra (who felt the heat late last summer in the local papers), and Manny (puff-puff-pass) Ramirez, not to mention stand-up-guys like Trot Nixon, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek, they have shown more signs of being like the old Bronx Zoo over the past few seasons than their counterparts in New York.

Superduperstar pitcher Pedro Martinez, never one to keep his feelings to himself, started the ball rolling last week.
About the only thing that is diminutive about Martinez is his body. Pedro’s talent, and his mouth will never be mistaken for being small. Prince P ripped his club in an interview with El Diario from his home in the Dominican. Bill Burt from the Eagle Tribune offered a translation:


On his contract status with the Red Sox:

“If the Red Sox don’t sign me to a contract before the end of spring training, I will become a free agent … They’ve had a lot of time. After (spring training), I will not sign a contract with the Red Sox.”

Translation for the Red Sox: “I know that you know that I know there’s a team option in there that means I can’t go anywhere until 2005, but I like scaring my fans for their support.”

On watching pitcher Bartolo Colon go to the White Sox instead of Boston: “I don’t like that. I wanted him in Boston. If we want to win, we need another big-time pitcher and Bartolo would have given us the push we need.”

Translation for Red Sox: “Fossum can’t carry Colon’s jockstrap.”

On losing Ugueth Urbina to free agency:

“We need a closer. Derek Lowe needs a closer. We both trusted in Urbina and I can’t trust someone else to do the job in the future … Urbina was the right man for the job.”

Translation for Red Sox: “This closer-by-committee stuff is for the birds. Get a closer, now!”

The Dominican press also reported that Pedro has fired his agent and will do his own negotiating.

“I was very uncomfortable with the way they handled my business so I have fired them,” said Pedro, whose old agent’s firm was bought by another sports marketing company. “They didn’t tell me they were going to sell (the firm) … I am prepared to sit down and negotiate with any team and to sign my next contract.”

Martinez also said, “It is not my intention to be the highest paid player in baseball. I just want to be recognized for what I’ve done in the business.”

Let’s just say, it’s going to be interesting when Pedro arrives in Fort Myers for pitchers and catchers workouts in mid-February. Stay tuned.

MORE ON MILLAR

The saga of Kevin Millar continues to unfold and it now appears highly unlikely that the Red Sox will be able to pry the former Marlins first baseman from Chunichi Dragons. According to Gordon Edes:


The convoluted matter is out of the Red Sox’ hands. Major League Baseball interceded and ruled that the Red Sox could not cut a deal with the Japanese team, which signed the righthanded hitter to a two-year, $6 million contract after purchasing him from the Florida Marlins. The Marlins placed him on major league waivers, a prerequisite to completing the deal, and typically a mere formality. But breaking with protocol, the Sox claimed Millar. When he rejected the claim, he became a free agent. The Sox hoped to compensate Chunichi for the $1.2 million they had paid the Marlins, then sign Millar to a Boston contract.

The player enthusiastically embraced that idea, but MLB informed the Red Sox that Millar had to honor his contract with Chunichi. For Millar to play for the Sox under those circumstances, he would have to ”post” for free agency, much like Ichiro Suzuki did before signing with the Seattle Mariners. Teams then would submit sealed bids to Chunichi for the right to negotiate with Millar, giving all clubs the same access to Millar as the Sox, at a price likely to be higher than the Sox are willing to pay.

The only way Millar can circumvent that process is if he can demonstrate that he does not have a valid contract with Chunichi, an avenue his agents were pursuing, according to one source familiar with the proceedings. The Red Sox are not involved in that process.

Ed Cosstte, over at Bambino’s Curse noted:


This doesn’t come as much surprise, really. While I joined in the chorus calling Epstein’s moves to get Millar “shrewd,” in the back of my mind it did sound like some dirty dealing, like they weren’t really treating the Japanese team as a business equal. On the other hand, MLB doesn’t particularly stand out in my mind as a group who puts business ethics high on its list of priorities. The way they’ve managed the Expos since taking over the owner’s role seems pretty shady to me. Indeed, they should begin to tilt the E in Expos to more resemble the crooked E in the Enron logo.

In addition, the Red Sox are close to signing former Twins first baseman David Ortiz, according to the Boston Globe:


Ortiz…passed a physical in Boston Saturday and has agreed to a one-year deal for a sum in the vicinity of $1 million. Ortiz, a lefthanded hitter, batted .272 with 32 doubles, 20 home runs, and 75 RBIs last season for the Twins, numbers comparable to those posted by Daubach. But with Daubach arbitration-eligible, the Sox elected to sign the 27-year-old Ortiz, who was released by the Twins in December.

For more on the Sox, check out Tom Verducci’s analysis of their bullpen-by-committe strategy, and Peter Gammons’ take on Theo Epstein’s rocky winter.

YOU DON’T SEND ME FLOWERS…

Sean McDonough, son of the late Will McDonough wrote a tribute to his father and his supporters, in the Globe over the weekend.

In his Sunday Notes column, Gordon Edes noted:


At the memorial for Globe columnist Will McDonough at the FleetCenter last week, a floral arrangement from Steinbrenner occupied a position of prominence in front of the casket, with another from the Yankees nearby. The Red Sox also sent two arrangements, from Lucchino and Henry, that weren’t positioned quite so near. Leave it to McDonough, who had sharply criticized Lucchino in his [second to] last column, to find a way to make a final editorial comment …

THE GIANT FROM SOUTHIE

THE GIANT FROM SOUTHIE

I primarily remember Will McDonough working the sidelines for CBS on football Sundays, when I was a kid. Aside from his distinctive Boston accent, pock-marked skin, and goofy ears, he never stood out to me; just another fugly, old guy talking head. But I became a bit more familiar with him over the years, periodically reading his column in the Boston Globe, and recognized his status as one of the top insiders covering the NFL.

Howard Bryant offered a revealing portrait of McDonough, and his relationship with longtime rival at the Globe, Peter Gammons in his informative, yet maddingly uneven book, “Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston:”


The rise and influence of the Boston Globe were illustrated no better than in the rivalry of its two greatest writing stars, Will McDonough and Peter Gammons. Each in his own way reflected the city’s strengths and weaknesses through his copy and approach to the job

For its long-term effects on a city and its signature sports franchise, there would be no more lingering, important story in Boston baseball history than race, and more than any two reporters in the city’s history, Gammons and McDonough would shape the parameters of the discussion. They would do this not only by what they wrote, but also by what they did not. In the truest testament to the power of both, McDonough and Gammons would spawn a generation of reporters that would emulate the two giants in both style and personality.

Both moved the market in their own way. McDonough did not believe the Red Sox were a racist franchise and thus would pay no future penalty for past decisions. He would not cover the story of race and the Red Sox as a story at all, but more as a fabrication created by people intent on damaging the legacy of Tom Yawkey and Joe Cronin, of whom McDonough was especially fond. More than any other reporter in the city, it would be McDonough who would deny the existence of race as a legitimate factor in assessing the club

Will McDonough was different. He was every bit as ambitious as Gammons, and his zeal to be an insider was equal to that of Gammons. No sports department would ever boast a baseball and football writer that were more wired into their subjects than Will McDonough and Peter Gammons. Where the two differed was not so much in the end results, but in their personalities. Class would be a central issue. Not only had Gammons attended the Groton School, on the elite prep schools in the nation, but his father served on the school’s faculty.

McDonough was a tough Irish kid from South Boston. He was from the streets. He was an Irish Catholic in a city where being so was only a benefit because of hard struggle. Being tough mattered, especially being from Southie, where no one gave anyone anything. In fact, it was the opposite. Everyone in Southie saw the anchors of life they coveted being taken away. He attended Northeastern University and joined the Globe in 1959 at the bottom rung, as a copy boy. If Gammons climbed at the Globe from being deigned a star and taking full advantage of a great opportunity by outworking the competition, McDonough saw his own rise through nothing except grit, tireless sourcing, and connections

As a football writer, Will McDonough would grow to be a giant. He knew the game’s power players and like Gammons, was as powerful a player in his coverage of the Patriots and the NFL as there was in the league. McDonough preferred the old school ways, when reporters and their subjects stood much closer. He enjoyed the insider’s position, when the game was simple and a handshake could be trusted. There were no agents, no complications.

McDonough had his quirks. Over the years, McDonough would almost boast of his retentive abilities. He would write whole stories, with quotes, without having taken a single note. He was quick to ally himself with people in power; over the years three would be few journalists, if any, who would call an owner at home as readily and easily as Will McDonough.

He was combative. The most famous instance of his temper came when he grew tired of the media needling from Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn in 1977. When their argument heated, Clayborn inadvertently poked McDonough in the eye, and McDonough responded by sending Clayborn to the floor with the right cross. It would be one of the most famous moments in Boston sports journalism, the day a reporter knocked a player on to the canvas. Pugnacity didn’t stop there. McDonough made enemies, and as his position as a reporting giant grew, he was not the person to cross. He could be cruel, using his column to protect his allies and destroy his enemies, no small hammer. To disagree with McDonough was to risk the wrath of a powerful and well-connected reporter who had a column each week that reached hundreds of thousands. Clark Booth marveled at how complete McDonough’s enmity could be. “When he circled the wagons on you, you were finished. I never saw someone who could be so unforgiving of a person. And he was a giant, so you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.”

In one sense, Will McDonough and Peter Gammons were alike. In their daily reporting, neither held the Red Sox very accountable in its culture and climate for minority players. Yet like the other areas of their relationship, it was for wholly disparate reasons. Peter Gammons did not seem to own much of a personal or moral passion for the race question, while McDonough simply did not believe that race in Boston was a story at all.

Part of the reason Gammons shied from racial issues, though Glenn Stout, was the same reason the entire Boston journalism community did: He could Boston journalism avoided race issues was [sic] because Boston and its surrounding regions were overwhelmingly white. There was not much clamor for sticky racial issues that, if uncovered, would spoil the fun of following the Red Sox. There was in the 1970s and ’80s enough backlash from busing that it was a risky gambit to harp on the Red Sox and their race record.

But the biggest reason Peter Gammons avoided writing about race was his personality itself. He was an insider, not a moral crusader. Race aside, he would not be the type of reporter—after he became a giant name in the business—to take unpopular stances or choose to dissect complicated, messy issues that deviated from the game’s power structure. He could be brilliant at it, as he was in his underrated 195 book “Beyond the Sixth Game,” a brief but entertaining and informative book on the dramatic way baseball—and the Red Sox in particular—had been affected by the advent of free agency. Gammons also chose to be a baseball insider, and to be a true insider it is unwise to take too many unpopular stances, lest sources view you with unwanted suspicion. There is no question that his journalistic legacy suffered from this choice, but his import and influence in the game rose tenfold

Meanwhile, Will McDonough was not a social engineer, and did not see his position as responsible for cultural accommodation. He tended to view the world in simple, rhetorical terms. Life was what it was. It was not perfect, and you played with the hand life dealt you. His view of race relations was conservative, and like many a Boston Irish Catholic, he still saw himself at times as a hounded minority, although it had been nearly a century since the Irish in Boston won a political and popular majority. He was exasperated by the racial question in Boston, unable to empathize with the notion that it was a difficult, uneven city for blacks. For McDonough, because life was imperfect, you had to adapt to the culture; the culture didn’t adapt to you. Thus, he grew short with social alchemies such as bussing or black players pressing for rights. He preferred players who came to Boston, kept their heads down, and kept their mouths shut. This was especially true of black players, the more vocal ones having traditionally the more trouble in Boston. Once, he received a letter from Mo Vaughn’s father. Vaughn was involved in a bitter contract struggle and McDonough was slamming him mercilessly in his column. “I responded to his letter, father to father,” McDonough said. “And I told him, ‘I’m going to give you some advice for your kid. Tell him to be quiet and play ball. That’s how you do it around here.’” It was a typical McDonough response: unapologetic, pointed, and impolitic.

The result was a conservative, angry voice that was reactionary in the face of a new generation of player, black and Latino, with different cultures and belief systems

McDonough saw race in Boston in clear and linear terms, but he also was looking from the lens of a great and powerful Boston majority, the Irish Catholics. He was part of the in crowd in Boston, the political power brokers in the city. McDonough privately enjoyed that a Southie kid like himself could himself [sic] become a power player in the city. William Bulger, a Southie son who would rise to be state’s senate president, once hired McDonough as his first campaign manager. He grew impatient with talk of institutional and cultural racism, the type of insidious belief structures that permeate an entire organization but have no single culprit. To believe that the Red Sox could have developed a racist culture over a half-century, he wanted the guilty unmasked. “Everyone keeps talking about the Red Sox being a racist ball club. Well, who was it? Was it Tom Yawkey? Was it Joe Cronin? Was it Dick O’Connell? Who?” McDonough’s temper was easily inflamed by race, an illustration of impatience with a difficult topic that belied his Boston roots. He wanted the smoking gun. To Will McDonough, if the cross wasn’t burning on the lawn, racism didn’t exist. Bud Collins, who considered himself a longtime admirer of McDonough as a journalist, separated with his old colleague in the area of race. “It was one of the many areas where Will and I disagree,” Collins said. “But it might be the most important.”

“Will McDonough,” though Tom Mulvoy, “is the most elemental guy I know. He always believes he’s right. Nuance isn’t Willie McDonough. He makes his call and that’s it. You’re not going to get philosophical treatise from him.”

Just as a note, my copy of “Shut Out” is an advanced uncorrected proof, which should explain the few grammatical errors.

CURSES Dan Shaughnessy returned

CURSES

Dan Shaughnessy returned to the baseball beat on Friday with a column evaluating Theo Epstein’s off season thus far. Shaughnessy noted that while the rookie GM has taken the high road as far as the rivalry with the dastardly Bronx Bombers are concerned, some of the Red Sox players feel a bit differently:


”I kind of like it,” said Lou Merloni. ”I see our owners doing everything they can to beat those guys and that’s not a bad thing. Hopefully, the Yankees will get caught up trying to beat us off the field and forget about what really matters. Maybe they’re worried about us. That’s a good thing.”

Johnny Damon added, ”It goes back to 1919. Steinbrenner is willing to win at all costs. They have deeper pockets, but they fear us and that’s why they are making these moves. And the year we win the World Series it’s going to get back at all 26 they’ve won.”

Are they the Evil Empire?

”I wouldn’t say that,” said manager Grady Little. ”The last guy that said that had to hear too much about it.”
Epstein knows there’s growing impatience in the Nation.

”It’s not our job to have our finger on the pulse of exactly what Red Sox fans feel, but I know it’s the nature of fans to want it all and want it now and want big names,” he said. ”But the nature of running a ball club is to take the broad view and put the best team on the field and keep the best interests of the organization.

”We will only make a trade when what we receive is better than what we’re giving up. If you don’t have the discipline, patience, and confidence to walk away, you’re not going to make a good deal (read: Shea Hillenbrand and Casey Fossum was too much for Colon). I remember. I was a fan and the only thing they care about is who’s going to be wearing the uniform. There will be a time when we go above and beyond for a player, but it will be the right player with no questions about it.”

Tough days for the guitar-slinging Boy Wonder. Never outhustled, he’s been outspent and outfoxed by the hated Yankees and his boss has made life tougher by insulting the Boss.

That’s why they call it the blues.”

Ed Cossette, who pens the excellent Bambino’s Curse blog, loved Johnny Damon’s pluck (or nerve or chutzpah), and as a Red Sox fan I suppose it’s nice to hear some of the old fire from a player. As good a player as Damon is—why the Yanks signed Ro White without even making an offer to him last season, I’ll never know—and as soothing, and reassuring as his needling may feel to Red Sox Nation (give him credit for giving the people what they want), didn’t we hear a lot of this kind of tough talk out of him last season?

Red Sox fans love to tweek ever-sensitive Yankee fans (present company included), and Damon is happy to play the part of designated shit talker. Quite frankly, he doesn’t have anything to lose by throwing rocks at the throne; instead he simply enhances his popularity within Red Sox Nation. That’s good for him, but Johnny: come back to me. Talk to us when you’ve won…anything.

SPIDEY SENSE IS TINGLING; POCKETS, JINGLING BABY

The Twins signed their lovable, and huggable center-fielder Torii Hunter to a four-year deal on Friday according to espn.


Torii Hunter and the Minnesota Twins agreed Friday to a $32 million, four-year contract, just days after the All-Star outfielder said he wouldn’t get a multiyear deal.

“Yesterday it happened so fast, I was like, ‘We’re going to get this deal done,”’ Hunter said. “They came to where I felt it was fair for both sides. I commend them for getting there. Thank you!”

“What it’s about is helping my family out,” Hunter said. “At the same time, to be at home with the Minnesota Twins, the team I love, you can’t ask for much more.”

His first big purchase will be a house for his mother, Hunter said.

“My mom’s in a two-bedroom apartment in the ‘hood,” Hunter said. “My brothers, we slept with the rats and the roaches. We all came up together. … That’s what I came here to do: Work hard, play this game hard so I can be able to help my family.”

The good fellas at Twins Geek weighed in on the move, as did Mike over at Baseball Rants.

Last fall, Rob Neyer wrote a sensible column about why it would behoove the Twins to consider moving players like Hunter:


In the outfield, it’s assumed that the Twins need to lock up Torii Hunter with a long-term contract. But do they? Granted, Hunter’s a fine player. But Jacque Jones could shift to center field and the Twins wouldn’t lose a lot defensively, and they’ve got plenty of guys who could then replace Jones in left field.

See, the Twins are loaded with outfielders. They’ve got so many outfielders, they don’t have room for them all. In addition to Hunter and Jones, the Twins also have Bobby Kielty, Dustan Mohr, Michael Cuddyer and Michael Restovich.

You know how the story’s supposed to go. Plucky franchise puts together a solid team, consisting mostly of home-grown players, despite limited budget. Team wins 94 games. Team gets torn apart because of budget woes, and soon sinks back to whence it came. And so Bud Selig was right. Our plucky little franchise was nothing but an aberration.

The players certainly buy into this paradigm. As Pierzynski recently said, “We have to keep this team together. If we do that, hopefully we can make it two steps further next year. Hopefully, Mr. Pohlad will step up to the plate and get it done.”

And if Pohlad doesn’t “step up to the plate”? Right, the Twins plummet right down to third place (or even fourth, if Tigers owner Mike Illitch ever “steps up to the plate”).

But it doesn’t have to work that way. What if a franchise put together a solid roster, consisting mostly of home-grown players, and then continued to develop good players, who replaced the first group of home-grown players as they became more expensive?

Were the Twins moved to sign Hunter, an enormously popular player, after the White Sox traded for Barolo Colon this week? I’m can’t say. But they didn’t over pay him. I don’t know if Hunter will continue to improve as an offensive player, though there is no reason to expect he’ll fall off defensively for several years. Regardless if the deal makes the best baseball sense or not, it’s good to see the Twins fork over the dough for one of the game’s most irresistible, and personable young stars. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

QUICK TAKES Terry Pluto

QUICK TAKES

Terry Pluto writes about the Bartolo Colon trade from Cleveland’s perspective, and Bob Hohler reports how Casey Fossum is one Red Sox who is happy about the deal that kept him in Boston.

Bob Klapisch also filed an article on the Godzilla Matsui press conference for espn.

INCORRIGIBLE YANKS FOIL BOSOX

INCORRIGIBLE YANKS FOIL BOSOX AGAIN; DUQUE TO EXPOS

The Yankees traded El Duque Hernandez to the Expos yesterday, in a three-team trade which featured Bartolo Colon moving to the White Sox. In addition, Expos recieved another pitcher, Rocky Biddle, outfielder Jeff Liefer and cash from theYankees, who in turn picked up right-handed reliever Antonio Osuna, and minor leaguer, Delvis Lantigua. The White Sox also got $2 million from the Yanks.

Most importantly, the Yankees prevented Colon from landing in Boston. Here’s the skinny from the papers in Boston and New York…

The Globe reports:


Call it what you will, Red Sox fans: a crushing defeat, a squandered opportunity, or the natural byproduct of prudent management. In New York, they viewed the three-way deal that sent Bartolo Colon yesterday from the Montreal Expos to the Chicago White Sox as a joyous coincidence.

In the final act of a bargaining drama that dwarfed all others in significance this winter, the Yankees indirectly thwarted Epstein by sending righthander Orlando Hernandez and $2 million to Chicago, which in turn traded Hernandez, righthander Rocky Biddle, outfielder/first baseman Jeff Liefer, and more than $2 million to Montreal for Colon and minor league infielder Jorge Nunez. The Yankees received righthanded setup man Antonio Osuna, minor league pitcher Delvis Lantigua – and the pleasure of depriving the Sox of a star who could have shifted the balance of power in the American League East.

…Epstein ranked among Minaya’s most aggressive suitors, offering him countless proposals involving Sox players before he launched a national search for a third party to complete the deal. Before it was over, Epstein tried to recruit at least 10 teams to help meet Minaya’s often-divergent demands.

”It was close a couple of times,” Minaya said. ”Two days ago, we were trying to find a third player, from a third team. We discussed guys who might have gotten it done, and some would have possibly gotten it done.”

But none did, though Minaya went out of his way to praise Epstein for his persistence and creativity.

…Beyond derailing the Sox in the Colon chase, the Yankees met one of their greatest needs by acquiring Osuna to help fill the void created by the departures of setup men Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Stanton. Osuna appeared in 59 games last season for the White Sox, going 8-2 with 11 saves and a 3.86 ERA. A hard thrower, he struck out 66 in 67 2/3 innings.

Minaya also met his goals, though he may have settled for less than he could have received from the Yankees when they offered Hernandez, first baseman Nick Johnson, and outfielder Juan Rivera last month before the deal hit a snag when Minaya sought more cash than New York cared to invest for Colon.

”I think it’s fair to say that I started out hoping to end up with a package of players that had higher ceilings,” Minaya said. ”I didn’t get what I originally hoped to get, but the market this year has been different.”

Minaya said his effort to move Colon was aggravated by several factors, including Contreras becoming a free agent and the Braves trading Kevin Millwood to the Phillies, eliminating Philadelphia’s interest in the Montreal ace.

”The past month and a half, I don’t wish on any GM, especially a first-year GM,” Minaya said. ”It got a little scary there for me.”

Imagine how it felt for Epstein.

Here is how Bill Madden called it in today’s Daily News:


The Red Sox could have had Colon had Theo been willing to give up their prize young lefty starter, Casey Fossum. Once Epstein balked, it gave the Yankees another opening to orchestrate the Colon sweepstakes.

Fossum may blossom – even into a No. 1-2 starter for the Red Sox. But when he does, where will Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez be? Boston’s two franchise players are both free agents after the 2004 season, and with nearly $100 million tied up in Manny Ramirez alone through 2008, the financially strapped Red Sox almost certainly won’t be able to keep them both.

As one baseball person, neutral to the Yankee-Red Sox war, observed yesterday: “Other than the Yankees, who are always in a win-now mode, no other team in baseball needs to win in 2003 as badly as the Red Sox. Their future is definitely now.

And yet, they let Casey Fossum stand in the way of getting Colon, who along with Pedro, would have given them the most formidable 1-2 pitching punch this side of Randy (Johnson) and (Curt) Schilling. Can you imagine Steinbrenner doing that?”

Actually, at one point Steinbrenner was willing to give up still-promising lefty slugger Nick Johnson and El Duque to get Colon for himself. That was, of course, before he outbid the Red Sox for Contreras. Now it would seem he’s gotten everything he could have hoped for this winter without having to sacrifice Johnson.

To which a resigned Red Sox Nation would only say: What else is new?

Tony Massarotti, adds a “cry-me-a-river” opinon piece in the Boston Herald:


You have to wonder sometimes if Red Sox fans ever will get it, if they ever will realize that they are nothing more than an unwanted speck of lint on those dapper, deep blue baseball caps in the depths of the Bronx. Rivalry? What rivalry? In New York they must see it for what it is, an inferiority complex of the highest magnitude. Think Empire State Building and you’re starting to get the idea. Yes, size does matter.

If the Red Sox really wanted to, they could have had the blocky Colon, who is built like a mailbox (what a melon, eh?) and has the force of a mail truck. The man was there for the taking. The Sox could have given up Shea Hillenbrand and Casey Fossum and maybe thrown in some cash, and they could have entered the season with The Big Three of Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Colon at the front of their starting rotation.

The Sox chose not to.

So what exactly does that have to do with the Yankees?

It has all become a convenient excuse now, a way for the Red Sox to explain decades of frustration in their traumatized little minds. WHERE WOULD WE BE IF NOT FOR THE YANKEES? HOW MANY TITLES WOULD WE HAVE WON? WHY HAS FATE DEALT US SUCH A CRUEL SENTENCE? In the eternal, piercing words of Nancy Kerrigan, WHY ME?

Sometimes, when the anxiety level reaches its apex, you can’t help but think that Red Sox officials have succeeded only in perpetuating this madness. If Sox oligarchs John Henry and Larry Lucchino did not understand the psychological damage the Yankees have inflicted over the years, they surely do now. Longtime Furious George adversary Lucchino made the mistake of referring to the Yankees as the “Evil Empire” after the Yankees undercut the Red Sox in the Contreras Affair last month. In the same aftermath, the sincere Henry lamented the plight of competing with The Money Store.

Like it or not, that is the reality of owning the Red Sox or supporting them. It just is. Baseball has made attempts in recent years to restore competitive balance to a game that has indisputably gone awry, but those changes will not help the Red Sox as much as they will hurt. The Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins each won more games than the Sox last season, and they did so with combined payrolls equaling less than the number spent by the Red Sox. Both of those clubs would love to have the money that we throw around in Boston, unless, of course, you happen to be Billy Beane.

But please. Stop whining. Stop blaming the Yankees for everything that goes wrong.

For goodness sake, try to have just a little self-respect.

To add insult to injury, the Sox have also apparently lost former Marlin Kevin Millar to Japan after all, according to report in Baseball Weekly.

Over at espn, Jason Stark has a good piece on the method to King George’s Madness. Here is an excerpt:


“[George] treats his employees the same all the time,” [a] baseball man said. “He doesn’t just treat them that way when they don’t win. He treats them that way when they win, too. His schizophrenic behavior with his employees is legendary. But his commitment to winning is also legendary.”

That’s a great thing if you’re a Yankees fan. But after a winter in which Steinbrenner added digs at Joe Torre and Derek Jeter to his standard rants and raves, our buddy Peter Gammons suggested the Boss has gotten so insatiable, he has actually taken the fun out of winning for his troops and his fans. There’s some truth in that.

But Steinbrenner’s supporters say that even if that’s true for some people, it beats the alternative.

“Hey, he’s involved in a sport,” says one friend of Steinbrenner. “Sports is about winning. George puts winning at a premium. So what? How is that wrong? That’s why you get into the business. Why did George get into this business? He wanted to win, and he wanted to make money. And he’s been very, very successful at both.”

“You know, you need seven starters to win a championship these days,” said one GM the other day. “Just usually, you keep a couple of them in Triple-A.”
“I don’t even worry about it,” said another AL East general manager, Toronto’s J.P. Ricciardi. “I knew coming into this job that they would be like this, so it’s not surprising. You always know the Yankees are there. It’s like playing football in the Big East. You know you have to play Miami sometime. So when you compete with them, you just work on trying to beat them. We don’t get caught up in worrying about how they do it. We just worry about our own house.”

Mark Shapiro, Cleveland’s GM, says: “I don’t look at the Yankees with envy. I don’t look at the Yankees with jealousy. I don’t look at the Yankees with resentment. I look at them as an organization that makes good decisions with their money and plays the game the right way. There’s a lot more to like about the Yankees than to dislike, even as a competitor. If you’re another organization trying to compete with them, you need to frame what you need to do internally, not judge yourself against someone else.”

“They’ve got a right to do what they do,” one NL club executive said of the Yankees. “As we’ve all learned, just because you spend a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re going to win a lot of games. They’ve got the resources to do what they do, and they do it well.

“So they signed a guy like Contreras. Yeah, it gave them a surplus. But that surplus also allowed them to keep certain players (like Contreras and Colon) away from other teams. If you’ve got the resources, who cares if Contreras makes 15 starts and spends the rest of the year in the bullpen? If he’s in Boston, he might make 30 starts and win 15. It means they have to pay more luxury tax, but to them, it’s all relative. Whatever they have to pay in tax isn’t as bothersome as Contreras pitching in a Red Sox uniform.”

But just because the Yankees kept upping the ante (and the payroll) this winter doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention to the labor deal.

They’re well aware of how much tax they’ll have to pay if they can’t move Mondesi, Sterling Hitchcock or Rondell White. But they’re also well aware that in a year, the contracts of Clemens, Mondesi, White, Hitchcock, Andy Pettitte, Robin Ventura and David Wells all expire. That’s more than $50 million off the books. So they’re in the midst of a long-term retooling, not a succession of one-year quick fixes.

They also needed to take only one look at the throng that showed up for Matsui’s press conference this week — a throng bigger than your average Devil Rays crowd — to look at his signing as a business deal as much as a baseball deal.

So there’s a method to their madness. But does that mean it isn’t sometimes madness all the same? Well, no. It’s just classic Steinbrenner madness.

For the Chicago angle on the trade, here are two articles from today’s Chicago Sun Times (one, and two), as well as Rob Neyer’s take on how Colon changes the shape of the AL Central.

DUQUE: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY

El Duque was one of my favorites. It’s hard to resist a guy with such an enigmatic past, not to mention a beautiful pitching delivery, especially when he was m-o-n-e-y in most every big game he pitched for the Bombers. When he arrived midway through the 1998 season, who knew what to make of him? Hideki “Boo Boo” Irabu was already proving to be a major disappointment, even though I always thought he was funnier than hell (with all the straight-shooters on the Yankees boasted, they needed at least one screw up). But if Irabu looked like a combination of Ralph Kramden and a second-rate Elvis impersonator, El Duque came across like Yul Brenner. There was something inherently serious and grave about Hernandez, while Irabu proved to be nothing more than a tempermental clown.

El Duque has quite a temper too, and it’s another reason I’ve enjoyed watching him so much. Knowing that Jorge Posada had spent most of the day instigating Hernandez into a competitive fury, and then watching the two red asses have it out during the course of a game, was a sincere delight.

There is an excellent account of Hernandez’s life and career in Cuba titled, “Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream,” by veteran newspaper men, Steve Fainaru, and Ray Sanchez. The book reads more like a Graham Greene novel of political intrigue than the average baseball biography, but it’s very well written and offers a compelling portrait of Hernandez as a complicated, even haunted man (the relationship Duque had with his older brother is especially revealing).
George Willis has a the first of what I hope are several appreciations of Duque in today’s New York Post.

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