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Monthly Archives: February 2003

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GAYS ON BROADWAY? SAY

GAYS ON BROADWAY? SAY HEY

Richard Greenberg’s play, “Take Me Out,” opened on Broadway last night, after having had a succesful run at Joe Papp’s Public Theater last fall. Here is an excerpt from Ben Brantely’s review today in the Times.


["Take Me Out" is] the story of Darren Lemming (Daniel Sunjata), a god among baseball players and the star of a team called the Empires, who sets off a complicated chain of ultimately tragic events when he publicly announces that he is gay. This allows Mr. Greenberg to consider – in language that gives joltingly bombastic dimensions to locker room humor – big, big subjects like sexual and racial prejudice, moral responsibility, public versus personal identities and the inability of people to ever truly know one another.

Whew! That’s a roster that would have overloaded even Sophocles. And in trying to give theatrical life to each theme, Mr. Greenberg winds up sacrificing fully developed characters and credible plotting to Ideas with a capital I. Despite a vivid ensemble of actors who embody a lively spectrum of bat wielders, “Take Me Out” ultimately fails by the dizzyingly high standards it sets for itself as a metaphysical mystery play.

But the director, Joe Mantello, has sensibly chosen to emphasize the play’s less ponderous aspects. These include zippy (if improbably polysyllabic) dialogue; a hypnotic narrative that does much to disguise the potholes in the plot and is appealingly delivered by Neal Huff as a shortstop with the worldview of a novelist; and a host of good-looking guys standing around naked for the show’s already notorious shower scenes.

…But ultimately, it’s [Denis] O’Hare who owns the evening. A lonely, emotionally constipated gay man whose life takes on meaning when he takes on Darren as a client, Mr. O’Hare’s Mason becomes baseball’s dream cheerleader. To see him bend and blossom before the mysteries of the game is a bit like watching Cary Grant, in his priggish mode, being thawed out by a madcap Katharine Hepburn in “Bringing Up Baby.”

And what an enchanting and enchanted take on baseball Mr. Greenberg has created for Mason, both passionately personal and lyrically analytical. It’s a sensibility that is so smart, raw and sincere all at once that you may find tears in your eyes in the first act as Mason describes the raptures of “the home-run trot.”

There is also a moment in the second act that turns baseball into something like grand opera. The white light of night games floods the stage as the ensemble members act out an evocative baseball ballet, and Mr. O’Hare waxes into hallelujah-like paeans to the game. “Maybe I’ve had a ridiculous life,” he says, “but this is one of its best nights.”

The scene is one of the most stirring on Broadway right now. It’s an unconditional, all-American epiphany that, in these days of fretful ambivalence, is something to cherish.

You have to wonder when gay ballplayers will feel comfortable enough to come out. Homosexuality is one of the last great taboos to grip the game (and sporting culture in general), and it would take a man with considerable personality to publicly address the issue. Hopefully, it will be a star player. I wouldn’t hold my breath on it happening any time soon, though. Whoever makes the move will have to be a brave individual. It won’t be someone as touchy as Robbie Alomar, that’s for sure.

THAT’S A WRAP Mike

THAT’S A WRAP

Mike C over at Baseball Rants, has a couple of excellent articles on the Hall of Fame voting process. The first concerns Whitey Herzog’s reaction to not being elected earlier this week by the Veteran’s Committee, while the second tackles Jayson Stark’s latest column.

Hal Bodley weighs in on the Committee’s choice not to select anyone for the Hall as well.

Meanwhile, Jay Jaffe, has a funny take on Reggie Jackson’s insatiable need for attention. He also comments on Jackson as a Hall of Fame voter. (If you are Whitey Herzog, this doesn’t bode well for you.)

Ed Cossette has a good posting today about superstition and the Red Sox.

FIT AS A FIDDLE

Yankee fans, don’t miss out on Will Carroll’s team health report at Baseball Prospectus. Carroll is as informative and definitive as usual. According to the report, the biggest cause for concern is the respective health of Nick Johnson, Bernie Williams, David Wells and Andy Pettitte.

DEBUTS Godzilla Matsui hit

DEBUTS

Godzilla Matsui hit a home run yesterday in his Yankee spring training debut against the Reds, while Jose Contreras got his tits lit, giving up a grand slam to Adam Dunn.


“He hit a rocket,” Manager Joe Torre said. “He just hit a bullet.”

…Jason Giambi, who was on base, reminded Matsui of his experience last spring. Giambi homered twice in his exhibition debut, then hit no more the rest of camp. “Don’t let that be the last one,” Giambi told him.

What impressed Giambi most was not the home run but the at-bat that led up to it. Matsui, who walked 114 times while batting .334 last season, saw eight pitches.

“That’s part of his game a lot of people don’t realize,” Giambi said. “He’s a great hitter, not just a great home-run hitter.”

Contreras was in the dugout for the homer and admired what he saw. “It was a perfect swing,” he said.

Of his own performance, Contreras was not as kind. He retired the last five hitters he faced, three with strikeouts. But Contreras was quite disappointed with his first inning, when he needed four mound conferences with catcher Jorge Posada. Contreras and Posada had trouble with the signals. Contreras’s splitter was everywhere, his slider was flat. The pounding he took had no precedent.

“That never happened to me in my 10 years of pitching – five runs in one inning and a grand slam,” Contreras said through an interpreter. “I know it’s just baseball, but I have to prepare better. It was my first game here and I wanted to leave a good impression, and I didn’t. I know a lot of people were anxious to see me perform, but I wasn’t able to give them the results they wanted.”

When Contreras gets in trouble, he tends to work more deliberately. Stottlemyre noticed and tried to let him pick up the pace on his own. He finally went to the mound after the homer. “It gives me something to look for the next time,” Stottlemyre said. “Next time, maybe I’ll try to go out when I see it, before the damage is done.”

MORE BOOMER BLASTS

More quotes are spilling out from David Wells’ upcoming biography. Shocked?


“As of right now, I’d estimate 25 to 40 percent of all major leaguers are juiced. But that number’s fast rising.”

…”Down in the minors, where virtually every flat-broke, baloney-sandwich-eating Double-A prospect is chasing after the same, elusive, multi-million-dollar payday, the use of anabolic homer-helpers is flat-out booming,” Wells wrote. “At just about 12 bucks per shot, those steroid vials must be seen as a really solid investment.”

He writes that amphetamines are so commonplace that “stand in the middle of your clubhouse and walk 10 feet in any direction, chances are you’ll find what you need.”

“As a pitcher, I won’t ever object to a sleepy-eyed middle infielder beaning up to help me win,” Wells said. “That may not be the politically correct spin on the practice, but I really couldn’t care less.”

…”A syringe full of ‘roids can make it a whole lot easier for a major leaguer to feel confident about his game,” Wells wrote. “They’re easy to score. They’re easy to use. They really do work.”

Steroids, according to Wells, have changed the game.

“The ’78 Yankees look like a high school team when compared to today’s players,” he said.

Wells also takes swipes at teammates Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, insuring that once again, he won’t be winning the “Mr. Personality” award in the Yankee clubhouse. David Cone, who is pals with Boomer, commented on Boomer’s book in the Post this morning:


“Chances are I was probably with him,” Cone said in a manner that meant he was, indeed, with Wells. “We are both good friends of Lorne Michaels [the executive who created Saturday Night Live]. We have always supported the show together. So, yes, we were probably there.”

In explaining his pal, Cone kept using the word “throwback” to describe Wells’ penchant for late-night activities, even when they might have come before a game he pitched. But when asked how many times Wells might have pitched in such shape, Cone refused to answer, saying, “I am not going to throw him under the bus.”

…”He’s a throwback,” said Cone, who is trying to make the Mets this spring. “He’s always been a loose spirit. He could have pitched in the 1930s and ’40s with the Gashouse Gang, who were known for throwing a few back on the nights before they played. His way of doing things has worked for him.”

…Of the half-drunk revelation, [former Yankee pitcher, Mike] Stanton joked, “That surprises you? How?”

DON’T SLEEP

Will Carroll, from The Baseball Prospectus, has an authoratative piece on the dangers of heatstroke, and co-authors another fine article with Nate Silver on the dynamics of pitching injuries.

Essential reading.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci has an interesting look at the derth of stellar center fielders in today’s game.


“Like a lot of things, it goes in cycles, and we’re in a down cycle,” [Oakland general manager, Billy] Beane said. “It’ll come back.”

Where have all the good center fielders gone?

“They’re playing shortstop now,” Beane said.

KNOW THY ENEMY

You may have noticed that I haven’t been covering the Red Sox too tough over the past few weeks. Since spring training started, the old “Us vs. Them” mentality has taken hold. It’s not to say that there aren’t interesting things happening to Boston’s Home Nine, it’s just that the thought of the Sox is starting to make me see red.

Partisanship aside, here is a look at how ex-Yank Ramiro Mendoza is coming along.

And here are a couple of good articles on starting pitcher Derek Lowe, who survived a brush with skin cancer this winter, and pitched in the Sox spring training opener yesterday.

REGGIE: ME AND MY

REGGIE: ME AND MY BIG, FAT MOUTH

Predictably, Reggie Jackson didn’t stay mad for long. After clearing his pipes to Jack Curry in The New York Times yesterday, Reggie backed off this morning:


“It ruffled some feathers with people I have a good relationship with,” Jackson said. “I am treated very well in this organization. I have no negative feelings toward the Yankees. If it weren’t for the Yankees, I wouldn’t be in baseball. If not for George, I wouldn’t have a job in baseball. It’s too good here.”

SHUT OUT The newly

SHUT OUT

The newly revamped Veteran’s Committee didn’t select anyone for the Hall of Fame yesterday. Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva and Ron Santo had the best showings.
Personal favorites, Minnie Minoso and Curt Flood weren’t even close. Marvin Miller didn’t make it either, but seemed to take the news in stride:


“The way I see it, I received over 75% of the players’ vote,” Miller said philosophically by phone from New York. “I harken back to when I was first elected as executive director. Although managers, coaches and trainers were all considered management, they voted and, despite that, I won 489-136. I guess I have to conclude after all those gains we made for the players, I’ve lost ground.”

Miller chuckled as he said it, but later admitted his disappointment. “I’m understandably disappointed, but you have to put it in context,” he said. “I’d said in the past I thought it was doubtful I’d be elected. It was an honest appraisal, and so it’s not disappointing in that I expected it.”

Bill Madden reports on the mildly suprising turn of events in the News, and Dave Anderson does the same in the Times.

After all the build up, I was bummed that nobody was elected, but I suppose nobody was better than Gil Hodges, despite tremendous local sentiment for the ex-Brooklyn Dodger.

BOOMER’S BOOK: DOCK ELLIS

BOOMER’S BOOK: DOCK ELLIS AIN’T GOT NUTHIN ON ME

According to his forthcoming book, “Perfect I’m Not. Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball,” (to be published by William Morrow on April Fool’s Day), David Wells pitched his perfect game with a wicked hangover.

The New York Post reports:


Wells writes that he was still drunk from the night before when he mastered the Twins on a brilliant Bronx Sunday.

“As of this writing, 15 men in the history of baseball have ever thrown a perfect game. Only one of those men did it half-drunk, with bloodshot eyes, monster breath and a raging, skull-rattling hangover. That would be me,” Wells wrote. “Never in the history of professional sports has a feat so difficult been accomplished by an athlete so thoroughly shot.”

Five years later, an older Wells remembers and laughs.

“I don’t recommend doing that. It’s not healthy,” Wells said yesterday of attempting to get big league hitters out while hung over. “It was a phase of my life when I was a party animal. Back then I went out all the time. I could do no wrong that year. I was in a zone all year.”

…Joe Torre said he saw no signs that Wells was walking on the proverbial waterbed that day.

“That stuff has been going on forever,” Torre said of pitchers working after staying out late. “Don Larsen [another perfect-gamer] did it. You certainly hope your pitcher takes care of himself the day before he pitches, but . . .”

That should sell some books, huh?

Boomer’s revelation brings Doc Ellis to mind. Ellis, who once wore haircurlers during a game, and who called George Steinbrenner’s pep-talks “high school Charley shit,” pitched a no-hitter for the Pirates the morning after he had tripped on LSD. The episode is recounted in Ellis’ biography, “In the Country of Baseball,” co-written with Donald Hall. Suffice it to say, Boomer Wells isn’t the first nut job to perform well while still loaded.

STILL REGGIE, AFTER ALL

STILL REGGIE, AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

Rob Neyer mentioned the other day just how much ink has been spilled on the Bronx Zoo Yankees, and it’s true. It’s funny that nobody has made a Movie-of-the-week about that team (I’m thinking about the 1977-78 version, featuring George, Billy, Reggie and Thurman). Maybe it won’t happen until the principal players are dead. Still, when I was recently reading Ed Linn’s “Steinbrenner’s Yankees,” I wondered: who would serve as a good narrator? Who could play the Cameron Crowe roll in “Almost Famous?”

Who would work? Chambliss, Willie Randolph? Maybe Fran Healy, the seldom-used back up catcher, and one of Jackson’s few allies on the team, would make a good fit. The narrator would have to be a minor character, someone on the fringes.

How about Ray Negron?

Who?

Let’s turn to June 18, 1977, one of the most controversial days in Yankee history. The Yankees were playing the Game of the Week in Boston and getting creamed, when Billy Martin replaced Reggie Jackson in the middle of an inning with Paul Blair. Martin thought Jackson had loafed after a ball. When Reggie returned to the dugout, all hell broke loose.

According to Linn:


The TV Camera in center field had caught it all, and a mobile camera at the end of the dugout had come wheeling in to catch a close-up of the wrestling match. Before the camera could be activated, Ray Negron, who runs the Betamax (closed-circuit camera) for the Yankees, had thrown himself in front of it and was screaming at the cameraman. Negron is a former Yankee bat boy and Pittsburgh Pirate farmhand. He had been hired by Billy Martin at the beginning of spring training, but he had also become so friendly with Reggie Jackson-they shared the same locker area, and they both spoke Spanish—that Reggie had asked him to move into his apartment and become his general factotum. Negron was the one man on the club who had reason to like and be grateful to both Billy and Reggie, and what was happening was so painful to him that he found himself throwing a towel over the mobile camera and threatening to break the radar gun over the cameraman’s head. The mobile cameraman recalled afterwards that it was Martin who had shouted to Negron to cover the camera. It was exactly the opposite. The first thing Martin did when Yogi let him up was to pull the still-hysterical Negron away from the cameraman and shove him down on the bench.

It’s a thought, no?

Negron went on to work as an advisor and substance-abuse counselor for the Rangers and Indians. Interestingly, he was hired by Robbie Alomar a few days ago to work as the second baseman’s personal assistant, a job he previously held when Alomar was with Cleveland.

Back to Reggie. After disaster was averted in the dugout that day in Boston, 1977, Martin almost lost his job. Gabe Paul, who was not a Martin fan, prevented George from canning Billy the Kid, cause it would look like Jackson was running the team if the manager was fired right then and there. Negron made sure Reggie left the locker room before Martin arrived.

Later that night, two reporters came up to Reggie’s room to talk—Paul Montgomery of the New York Times, and Phil Pepe of the Daily News.

Here is Linn’s account of Reggie in rare form:


As the interview began, Reggie was sitting on the floor, bare-chested except for a gold cross and two gold medallions. A blonde was in the shower, a local girlfriend. Mike Torrez was sitting in a chair alongside Reggie with a bottle of white wine “If I go too far,” he hold Torrez before he began, “stop me.”

His memory during the interview was that he hadn’t said anything when he came back to the dugout, but had merely held his arms open in that “What did I do wrong?” gesture. “The man took a position today to show me up on national television. Everyone could see that.”

At one point he became so upset that he retreated to the edge of the bed and began to read the Bible. He was a born-again Christian, he told them, and quite often went to the Bible for solace.

Once he had himself back under control, he resumed his position on the floor and went right back to the company line. “I don’t know anything about managing, but I’ll take the heat for whatever the manger says.”

And then he began to come apart. “If the press keeps messing with me,” he sobbed, “I’ll hit thirty homers and maybe ninety ribbys and hit .270. If they leave me alone, I’ll have forty homers, one hundred and twenty ribbys, and I’ll be hitting .300.”

For the record, the press didn’t leave Reggie alone—he didn’t give them a chance to—and he ended up hitting .286, with 32 homers and 110 RBI.


His eyes filled up, and began speaking with rising emotion about the way he was being treated on the ballclub. “I’m just a black man to them who doesn’t know how to be subservient. I’m a black buck with an IQ of 160, and making $700,00 a year. They’ve never had anyone like me on their team before.” Except for Steinbrenner. “I love that man, he treats me like I’m somebody.”

His voice broke, and he came rising up on his haunches. “The rest of them treat me like I’m dirt.” There were tears running down his cheeks now. “I’m a Christian,” he screamed, “and they’re fucking with me because I’m a nigger, and they don’t like niggers on this team. The Yankee pinstripes are Ruth and Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle. I’ve got an IQ of 160, they can’t mess with me…” He was a man so clearly out of control, a man in such terrible torment, that Mike Torrez stood up and told the writers, “I think you’d better leave.”

Jackson’s rocky relationship with Steinbrenner and the Yankees was only getting started in June of 1977, but all these years later, Reggie is still around, and just like George, he needs to sound off every once in awhile just to show us that he can. Reggie still needs to know that he matters, that he is important. He found a sympathetic ear in Jack Curry of the New York Times:


“I think, first of all, I’d like to have a meaningful title that would be of value to me and the minority community and separate me in the organization instead of just being a springtime coach,” Jackson said. “I want something of value, whether it’s baseball ops or something where I work for Brian Cashman or Mark Newman, or I’m a special envoy. Anything.”

“Not for me, but for my community and family because I’m more than an adviser to the managing general partner,” Jackson said. “If I was the only one, I’d feel as though I’d have more credibility.”

Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Don Mattingly and Clyde King are also special advisers to Steinbrenner.

Jackson added that he wanted credibility as a “baseball-content person,” and “not as a trophy; not as just fluff.”

…”I don’t really call myself a coach,” Jackson said. “I’m a teacher, a mentor, I’m anything. I’m a big brother, at times, a father, at times, and a messenger, at times. There’s no job too menial and, hopefully, they think I’m capable of handling the big jobs.”

…”If I remain as I am now for the rest of my days, I’ll be grateful,” Jackson said. “I got a place to hang my hat. I got a locker that says `Reggie’ or `Mr. October.’ I appreciate that. I got a plaque in center field. I know who puts the plaques in center field. So I’m on the team. I’m part of his family. For me, I need family, I need friends. I need loved ones. I need to be cared about, which probably makes me pretty damn human.”

This is a man who just wants a little love. Is that so wrong?

THE ENVELOPE PLEASE The

THE ENVELOPE PLEASE

The Veteran’s Committee will announce their selections for the Hall of Fame later this afternoon. Who is going to make it? The one name I keep reading about is a logical one: Marvin Miller. Alan Schwarz has an excellent two-part interview with the former head of the Player’s Union this morning at ESPN.com.

Schwarz asked Miller about Curt Flood, who is also up for selection:


Miller: I’d vote for him. He is the ideal one for this. The statistics stand up, I think. I haven’t examined them closely. But for a number of years he was the outstanding center fielder in baseball. It was a period when Willie Mays was admittedly entering his last days as a player. But Curt Flood was clearly the best center fielder in baseball.

And his off-the-field thing … let me tell you a story when he was deciding about the lawsuit. He’s all gung-ho. I felt it was my responsibility to play devil’s advocate. It was easy to do because I really felt pessimistic about the whole thing. The court was never going to reverse itself. So I ply him with all the reasons that any sane person would decide not to do this: “I don’t think you can play and do this lawsuit. You’re 32 years old and I don’t think you can take a year off. Furthermore, I don’t think (the owners) would let you come back. They have long memories. And it’s million-to-one shot — the Supreme Court almost never reverses itself. Finally, I threw him the final punch — even if you prevail against the odds and they rule for you, you will not benefit. They won’t assess damages retroactively. Curt, as far as they’re concerned, you’re dead. You’re not gonna be a player, you’re not gonna be a coach, you’re not gonna be a scout.”

“I won’t get any benefit?”

“No.”

And he said, “But it would benefit all the other players and the others to come, wouldn’t it?”

“Most certainly.”

And he said, “That’s good enough for me.”

That’s why I think Curt Flood belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Rob Neyer, makes his case for Ron Santo, Wes Ferrell, Carl Mays and Minnie Minoso.

Here is the case for Minnie:


Minoso isn’t going to get elected, because not enough voters saw him play. But Minoso almost certainly does belong in the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to say exactly when he’d have first played regularly in the major leagues if not for the color line, but it stands to reason that it would have happened before he was 28.

But instead, it did happen when he was 28. Minoso spent a couple of seasons in the Negro National League, then graduated to so-called “Organized Baseball” with a couple of fine seasons in the Pacific Coast League. And then in 1951, he finally got his shot, with the White Sox. When he was 28.

Minoso’s career “rate stats” are outstanding: .389 OBP, .459 slugging percentage. He was exceedingly durable, especially for a player who led his league in HBP no fewer than 10 times. But he finished his career with “only” 1,963 hits, which of course isn’t a lot for a Hall of Fame outfielder who wasn’t a big power hitter.

It’s fairly safe to assume, though, that if Minoso had grown up in Georgia with pale skin rather than in Cuba with dark skin, he’d have reached the major leagues three or four years before he did. Let’s be conservative, and give Minoso four more seasons. He was good for approximately 175 hits per season, and 175 times four is 700 hits. Add 700 to 1,963, and you get 2,663 hits.

There are, to be sure, players with more than 2,663 hits who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody with 2,663 hits and Minoso’s broad base of skills who hasn’t been elected or won’t be. Bill James rates Minoso as the 10th-greatest left fielder ever, and I think that’s just about right

I’m rooting for Minnie, and Flood, even though I’m not convinced Flood should make it, regardless of the stand he took against the Reserve Clause. I’d put my money on Miller though. Who else? Hodges, Torre, Oliva, Dick Allen? We shall soon find out.

THE NEW POPEYE Joel

THE NEW POPEYE

Joel Sherman doesn’t trust the Love-In that is taking place in Mets camp this spring. After taking his shots at the Bronx Zoo for the past few weeks, Sherman takes aim at “Art Howe’s House of Boredom:”


Maybe Howe really is the second coming of Joe Torre. Maybe those Mets who embarrassed themselves last year really are on a mission this season. Maybe the introduction of champions Tom Glavine and Mike Stanton really will bring a missing seriousness to the proceedings.

It’s just, this is the time of year for delusions, for best-case scenarios. And I have been in Mets camp before and bought the hype, heard this same – is it propaganda or promotion?

This time I am going to have to see it from April on to believe any of it.

To counter Sherman’s skepticism, here is a bright and cheery article by John Harper on Al Leiter, the Mouth of the Mets.

If the Howe-Torre comparison makes sense, does that make Don Baylor the new Don Zimmer? They both have dubious mangerial track records, and they are both chubby baseball “lifers.” Zim has a steel plate in his head; Baylor holds the all-time record for being hit by a pitch. Last summer Rob Neyer made a convincing arguement that Baylor was a poor manager, and surmised:


Don Baylor is a fine “baseball man,” but time has passed him by, leaving too many things that don’t work in the 21st century. Let’s not feel too sorry for him, though. He’s made a good living in the game for three decades, and he’ll have a job in baseball for as long as he wants one. “Manager” just shouldn’t be that job any more.

Mets GM Steve Phillips, is happy to have Baylor as Art Howe’s right-hand man:


“Obviously, having managed a lot of games, when it comes to being Art’s righthand man with the game decisions, he’s been through just about everything before,” Phillips said. “Having been in the National League, and having a knowledge of the players and personnel in the league, will help with Art’s learning curve on the bench.

“He also brings just instant credibility with players. One of the things we thought was the connection with Mo (Vaughn) … and that Don could be an asset trying to help us get the most out of Mo this year – communication, knowing his approach at the plate – obviously working everything through (hitting coach) Denny (Walling). They’re similar, big guys. They were similar types of threats at the plate.”

Said Howe: “I want to be surrounded by the best people I can be surrounded by. He’s certainly one of the best in the game.”

Baylor’s sagacity can be traced back to his days as a player. In the spring of 1985, he told David Falkner:


You have to learn to forget the bad in this game. The sonner you do, the sooner you’ll be able to continue playing. In ’73, I made the last out in the playoffs. I saw Billy North jumping straight up in the air. They were going to the World Series, and I was going home to watch. We lost that game in our park, it was a day game in Baltimore. I thought that was the end of the world. I had made the last out and let Oakland go to the World Series. I stayed up most of the night with that, and then the next day, the sun was out and everything was going on a usual; I was still alive and I had my heatlh and I could let myself think for the first time that it was a game and not life and death that I had just been through.

ROB TO THE RESCUE

ROB TO THE RESCUE

Rob Neyer has a fine, even-handed look at Boss George in his lastest column for ESPN. He carefully reminds us that in spite of Steinbrenner’s boorish personality, he is the chief reason why the Yankees have been successful since CBS sold the team in 1973:


If you read what’s been written about Steinbrenner, you’ll have a hard time escaping the conclusion that he’s something less than a wonderful person. But if you ignore much of what’s been written and instead focus on the facts, you’ll also have a hard time escaping the conclusion that the Yankees have won six World Series since 1973 not in spite of their owner, but because of him.

…Yes, he meddles — and lies, and bullies, and blackmails — but he also wants to win more than any other owner in baseball, and you can’t separate these like the egg yolk from the white. If you want one, you have to accept the other.

George has made foolish trades, just like the next guy, of course. If it wasn’t for Gabe Paul, Ron Guidry would have never made it to 1978 as a Yankee. But Steinbrenner has had his shinning moments too (most recently going after Mussina and Giambi). Here is one I didn’t know about:


In their book Detroit Tigers Lists and More, co-authors Mark Pattison and David Raglin report (and I’ve confirmed this with a Detroit baseball writer) that in November of 1997 the Tigers and Yankees worked out a big trade. The Yankees would get pitching prospects Mike Drumright and Roberto Duran, and the Tigers would get Bernie Williams, who was set to make a large sum of money upon gaining free agency at the conclusion of the 1998 season.

Tigers general manager Randy Smith thought the deal was done … only to be informed by Yankees general manager Bob Watson that the deal was off. Why? Because Boss Steinbrenner nixed the trade. And in 1998, 1) the Yankees won 114 games, 2) the Yankees won the World Series, shortly after which 3) the Yankees signed Williams to a new seven-year, $87.5 million contract

YES, INDEED

Props go to Aaron Gleeman for pointing out Steve Goldman’s stellar column, The Pinstriped Bible, over at the YES Network’s website. As Gleeman correctly pointed out, Goldman is no shill, and his column (which appears every Thursday) is insightful and appealing. Check it out.

MAILBOX Here are a

MAILBOX

Here are a couple of letters I recieved recently via e-mail:


Alex:

Thanks for the baseball memories. Spring’s not so far away, and it
feels closer than ever with Yanks reporting, and the various media
frenzies in full bloom, and yes Steinbrenner’s a bad loser and sometimes
worse than that, but it all finds perspective sometimes, and it can be
the smallest thing, like the bullpen boys calling Chris Hammond’s best
pitch ‘the Bugs Bunny Change’. Thank god baseball’s back. (Tho’ in my
day, I thought Bugs called it ‘The Slow Ball’.)

Cheers. HARLEY.

Bugs’ slow ball resulted in the famous “strike-one, stike-two, strike-three, yer out (x 3)” dismantling of the nefarious Gashouse Gorillas. But nothing was better than the last pitch Bugs threw that day, when he announced:


Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a
powerful, paralyzing, perfect, packi-dermis, percussion pitch.

This item appeared over the AP wire. Somehow, I missed it but it was brought to my attention this morning:

PLUMBING PROBLEMS

An elderly man dressed in a a Yankee baseball uniform was taken into custody
today at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Police, answering a call
from museum authorities about a disturbance in the picture galleries, were
forced to arrest the man who, according to gallery goers, was ranting
incoherently about “plumbing” “Tintoretto” and “windowsills.” One
eyewitness complained: “You should have heard what he was yelling about
annunciations.”

No further details were available.

SCRIBES TO GEORGE: ENOUGH

SCRIBES TO GEORGE: ENOUGH ALREADY


“The great thing about baseball is that there’s a crisis every day.” Gabe Paul

While Mike Piazza and Jason Giambi unleash hitting clinics in spring training bp, the heavy hitters of the New York print media were out in fine form, getting their licks in, over the weekend too. On Sunday there were articles from New York Times warhorse Murray Chass, the distinguished Times columnist Dave Anderson, and the always pugnacious Mike Lupica in the Daily News. Each expressed a resigned sense of fatigue with the antics of one George M. Steinbrenner. Lupica isn’t so much resigned as he is fed-up. They are bored, already, and how can you can’t blame them? The same beat all these years.

The truth is, unless you are a Yankee fan, there is less and less that is attractive about George’s team. It’s like Roger Angell once said: you want to see the Yankees and all you can see is George. He’s getting in the way of you and the team.

Here is Chass on the Jeter-George Puff Pastry Strudel:


Jeter has had a charmed career, playing shortstop for the Yankees only during their current championship era. He is too young to have experienced the verbal abuse Steinbrenner heaped upon his predecessors, Reggie Jackson, for example, in 1981, and Dave Winfield throughout his nine years in New York.

In 2003, this Steinbrenner shtick is old. It should be ignored.

If Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ principal owner, saw that his attacks were disappearing into a verbal void, he might abandon them and develop a new act. The problem is, players won’t ignore his comments because they gain widespread dissemination.

Of course, what we really learned from this exercise is that Jeter has an ego too. Sure, he could have walked away and taken the high road, but he’s proud, and vain and sensitive just like the rest of them. Fine.

The winners in this flimsy scandal will be Yankee fans, Jeter’s teammates, and Jeter and Geogre as well. Jeter will likely put forth a terrific effort, like he’s done every year since 1996, the numbers will speak for themselves and everyone will be happy. Jeter is never going to be the best player in the league, or maybe even the best player on his team. But he is the leader of his team, and for Yankee fans, that is enough.

Naturally, Jeter will have to confront The Boss again in September if he’s had a great year, cause George will be popping off about how it was his motivation that was the key to Jeter’s success. And you know he’ll be hearing from George if he has a shitty year. Jeter can let his ego can get involved or he can look the the other way. Of course, it’s easy to take the high road when you’re on top.

Still, I don’t think Yankee fans are particularly sweating this Hoo-Ha. We know it’s George being George. As distasteful at he is, at the end of the day, we’ve got everything we want, right? This is tabliod candy. It’s Michael Jackson, fer crying out loud.

Chass continues:


Not everyone has been overcome by the Steinbrenner-Jeter exchange, hanging on their every word.

“It’s crazy,” a longtime Yankees fan said. “It’s nothing. It’s a nonstory.”

But plenty of people are still listening

I’m not usually a fan of the veteran Times’ columnist, Dave Anderson. He seems to be more distinguished by his endurance rather than his relevance or substance. I’m not familiar with his early work, so perhaps I’m being unfair, but most of the time, his columns leave him glazed over with boredom. But Anderson was precise and sure, like an old country doctor, in his examination of Jeter and George on Sunday:


Steinbrenner is a corporate chameleon. With strangers, he can be charming and charitable, especially if he wants something they’ve got. But if you’re on his payroll, he feels entitled to do or say anything in order to get more production out of you – whether you’re the Yankee Stadium receptionist or you’re the Yankees’ best player.

When the Yankees were winning four World Series championships in five years, the principal owner’s relative silence had some people thinking he had mellowed.

Those people didn’t understand. With all those new World Series rings and profits, Steinbrenner didn’t have much to growl about. But ever since the Yankees were rudely eliminated in the first round of last year’s American League playoffs by the Anaheim Angels, his bark has been as threatening as his bite.

“He’s worse than ever,” Yankee front-office people were heard to mumble in recent months. “Worse than the losing years.”

Meanwhile, Lupica opines:


Steinbrenner should know that better than anyone. Money can’t buy you love.

Yankee fans know, too. Oh, they show up at Stadium in record numbers. They sure want Yankee games back on Cablevision. But there is something joyless about all of this, going into every season and being told that if their team doesn’t win the World Series it has let everybody down and is a loser. This is the sense of entitlement Steinbrenner has bullied into the culture of baseball in New York.

If there is even the hint that the Yankees might not run away with things, Steinbrenner will spend more, bring in more guys, put the uniform on them and make them instant Yankees. He has to do it now that the Yankees have come up short two years in a row, that’s what he keeps saying. I’m a bad loser, he says. He’s just as bad a winner. And always has been.

I don’t buy into the joylessness that Lupica has been writing about lately. I’m going to find continued joy in watching Soriano swing, Bernie Williams play center field, Jeter run the bases, Giambi work a pitcher, and Rivera mow through the ninth, no matter how much noise George makes.

That is what still makes this team different. The team is worth watching. No matter how much George tries to get in the way, it’s easier to ignore him these days because the Yankees have so many compelling players. This is Joe Torre’s Yankees too.

Still, Lupica reminded me of something Nettles wrote in his book, “Balls:”


George has never learned how to lose. He thinks being a good loser is a sign of weakness. And that’s not how life is. You’re going to lose sometimes.

Baseball fans understand this inherently. Even spoiled ass Yankee fans, even though they need to be reminded more often. Daily News media columnists, Bob Raissman understands that all Yankee fans who are bound to Cablevision, are all losing, no matter what the Yankees do:


It’s really curious that Steinbrenner would go after guys who have brought him four world championships, while he barely flaps his lips at Cablevision. The company’s stance against the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network has a far greater adverse impact on Steinbrenner, and Yankee fans, than any off-the-field endeavor Jeter might undertake.

Yet, Steinbrenner has displayed more zeal going after his shortstop and manager than he has when commenting on Cablevision founder Charles Dolan and his son

…No offense to [YES boss, Leo] Hindery, who has worked long and hard trying to get a deal for YES with Cablevision, but if Steinbrenner has a problem with Torre, a manager who has brought him four titles, why does the manager of his YES Network get cut slack? Hey, if Steinbrenner said it’s easier winning four championships than securing a deal with Cablevision I wouldn’t argue with him.

Still, it’s curious that Steinbrenner, who is big on motivation, has failed to take the gloves off and put some verbal heat on the Dolans. Steinbrenner knows how to create pressure and make headlines. Even if his words had no impact on Cablevision suits, they would at least show Steinbrenner is out there battling for Yankee fans.

Perhaps this will dawn on Steinbrenner one hot day in July, when he comes to the realization many loyal Yankee fans still can’t watch the games on TV.

Why wait?

Yankee fans need a 110% effort from Steinbrenner on this matter – now.

A-fuggin-Men.

Lupica couldn’t resist adding a parting shot of his own, jabbing at not only George, but all the self-satisfied, entitled Yankee fans too:


It is another reason why the baseball season would be a lot better here, and not just for Mets fans, if the Mets got better fast. No one wants Steinbrenner’s angry face to be the face of baseball in New York.This isn’t Yankee hating, or Steinbrenner hating, even though that is always the knee-jerk defense of Steinbrenner. It is just sheer exhaustion.

JOHNSON IS YANKS FIRST

JOHNSON IS YANKS FIRST CASUALTY

According to a report on CNN.SI.com, Yankee DH Nick Johnson has stopped taking batting practice due to the lingering effects from an wrist injury that occured last August. Though an MRI was negative, a discouraged Johnson has shut it down for the time being:


“It’s a concern because it’s something that’s lingered,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said Friday. “You don’t know how quickly he can recover from this. He’s shut down until we find out what the best course of action is.”

“I’m pretty concerned,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t feel too good.”

“It’s too bad,” Torre said. “This young kid has had some problems and really hasn’t had a chance to get on track. He has a great deal of potential. He’s a good kid and wants it badly.”

SO GIVE A SHOUT

SO GIVE A SHOUT IF YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKIN ABOUT

You’ll excuse me if I’ve been slow in getting to all of the quality baseball blogs and websites out there, but this past week, I came across one of the best: Jay Jaffe’s Futility Infielder. It is neatly designed, and the writing is top-notch. I’ve linked Jay’s site with the other regulars on the left-hand column of Bronx Banter. You should make a point of getting there as often as possible. Just this week, Jaffe has excellent posts on Voros McCracken, a baseball writer, and sabermetrician, who was hired by the Red Sox (prior to Bill James, mind you), as well as a link to an long article on Steve Dalkowski, the fire-balling, party animal, who was the source for “Nuke” LaLoosh, Tim Robbins’ character in “Bull Durham.”

Don’t sleep.

SANDY TO DODGERS: NO

SANDY TO DODGERS: NO FRUIT FOR YOU

According the the L.A. Times, Sandy Koufax has abruptly severed ties with the Los Angeles Dodgers because of a report in that appeared in the New York Post, which suggested that Sandy is a big, ol’ fag.

The Post is a subsidiary of News Corp. which also owns the Dodgers:


Koufax, a very private man who established a standard for pitching excellence in four of the most dominant seasons in the game’s history from 1963-66, recently informed the Dodgers he would no longer attend spring training here at Dodgertown, visit Dodger Stadium or participate in activities while they are owned by the media conglomerate…

Expressing his feelings to the Dodgers through [senior vice president, Derrick] Hall shortly after learning of the report, Koufax said “it does not make sense for me to promote any” of the companies controlled by News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, adding he would “feel foolish to be associated with or promote one entity if it helps another.” Hall said Koufax stressed, “I have no problems with the Dodgers or their current or previous management. It’s more so about [News Corp.].”

Contacted Thursday by The Times, Leavy, a former Washington Post reporter, said she assumed the item was about her book. She called it “thoroughly erroneous on all counts. [The item] was blatantly unfair, scandalous and contemptible. It was thoroughly without basis in so far as it had to do with Sandy or any relationship I had with him professionally. It’s not the kind of journalism I practice.”

Leavy said she had not spoken with Koufax since the item appeared, about his feelings toward the Post, News Corp. or the Dodgers.

“Sandy Koufax is as principled a human being as I have ever met in my life,” she said. “If this is a stand he is taking, I certainly understand why he might feel that way and I totally support it.”

…”It was irresponsible and inappropriate,” Hall said of the Post’s report. “It’s unfortunate that this happened, but we fully support and understand Sandy’s position on this. It’s terrible because he’s an important part of this organization and its rich history. And most importantly, Sandy has a lot of friends who are hurt by this.”

…Koufax has held a variety of minor league pitching positions with the Dodgers. He has been a fixture at spring training since his closest friend on the club, Dave Wallace, returned in 2000, tutoring pitchers during the exhibition season. Wallace, a senior vice president in baseball operations, also recently had dinner with the intensely private Koufax.

“The disappointment I feel can’t be expressed enough, and I feel saddest for the players who will miss the benefit of learning from Sandy, who has so much to offer,” he said. “To lose the knowledge of a guy of that stature … I really don’t want to say anything else about it.”

It sure is nice to see someone stick it to Murdoch. Once again, Koufax couldn’t be cast any better.

DOWN IN FRONT: YANKEE

DOWN IN FRONT: YANKEE (FAN) GO HOME

My friend Greg G, is as loyal a Yankee fan as I know. He also represents everything baseball fans all over the country depise about Yankee fans. He’s loud, vulgar, and thoroughly obnoxious. G regularly drives me crazy during the course of the season, bragging about how the Yanks will win it all, and laughing when players on rival teams get hurt. Basically, he violates every superstition I hold dear.

Here is a part of a letter I recieved from him the other day. Truthfully, I didn’t have the nerve to print the entire thing. If you are feeling queasy, you may just want to skip this and move along with your day:


Greetings from sunny L.A. I am a diehard Yankee fan, (who as luck would have it) moved to Los Angeles in 1993 only to miss most of my beloved Yankees recent renaissance. I visit the big A (now Edison Field), whenever the Yanks are in town. I even had the good fortune to see Don Mattingly’s first and last pinch hit homer to put the Yankees over the top of the Angels in the strike-shortened season of ’94. My brother’s friend, (also a transplanted New Yorker) went down to the fence behind the batting cage and exhorted Mattingly by shouting at him prior to his at bat, “I came all the way from NY Donnie, we need a big hit!” And Don Mattingly looked at him curiously and amusedly, and then Donnie Baseball delivered to the delight of the more than two-thirds of the crowd who turned Anaheim into the Bronx west for the day. Now I get the YES network and last year I watched no less than 145 games. (Much to the dismay of my good friend Al Belth from the Bronx, who is a stones throw from the stadium, and has cablevision holding him hostage.)

I always take solace when we Yankee fans took over Edison Field, and turn it into our personal NY playground, where we can rebut any of the in-bred Angels fan by asking them to show us their 26 World Series rings. Prior to last season the Angels would show nostalgia clips on the jumbotron of when they won the AL west in the 80′s. The best player that they could trot out was our beloved Reggie Jackson (who was past his prime by the time he showed up in La La land). The California Angels changed their name to the Anaheim Angels a few years back. Rightly recognizing that they could not in any way represent the California sports contingent since they were only drawing fans twice the size of the attendance of Expos games.

Now the Angels are the defending champs. I bet we see Angel fans coming out of the woodwork just like the Amazin’ Mets after ’86, when all of a sudden everyone decided that the Mets were where it was at. The Angels increased their payroll by 20 million to bring back the same nobody’s who knocked Goliath on his rump last October. The Angels always played the Yanks hard in Anaheim, mostly because they wanted to quiet all the Bronx brood who turned their sanitized park into a looney bin, and actually sounded like a sporting event was taking place not some boring kennel club dog show.

Now we’ll have to hear it from the Anaheim A-holes, who have been waiting since the team’s existence to be able to brag to anyone, and especially Yankee fans like me, that Team Disney finally got a ring. If David Eckstein, (who’s dwarfed by the bat boy, and has a second job as Tinkerbell at the crappiest place on earth), is holding up another trophy this October, I personally swear that I will eat Mo Vaughn.

Ah, Yankee class. You gotta love it.

POSADA’S SON HAS 3RD

POSADA’S SON HAS 3RD OPERATION

Yankee catcher, Jorge Posada has not been in camp this week. His 3-year old son, who was born with craniosynostosis, “a condition where the bones in a baby’s skull fuse before the child’s brain has stopped growing,” had his third major surgery yesterday. Posada is expected to arrive in Tampa shortly.

METS GIVE CLARK A

METS GIVE CLARK A CHANCE

Tony Clark, a former All-Star first baseman, who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat last season, was signed by the Mets to a minor league deal, and hopes to make the team as Mo Vaughn’s back-up.

LOOKING GOOD, AND FEELING

LOOKING GOOD, AND FEELING FINE IN METS CAMP

While there hasn’t been a dull moment in Tampa, the Mets are having a virtual Love-In at their training camp in Port. St. Lucie. Two days ago, owner Fred Wilpon inspired his troops with a all-in-together-now speech. John Harper reports that everything is coming up roses and daffodils for the Shea-Hey kids with new skipper Art Howe at the helm.

Wilpon’s high school pal, Sandy Koufax was in camp too, talking with Al Leiter. The Post reports that Tom Glavine’s professionalism has already made an impact on his teammates:


Glavine said the main ingredient to success is hard work.

“That’s all part of building up that winning tradition and respect that you want,” Glavine said. “You’re not going to get respect from people unless you earn it, and you earn it by carrying yourself the right way as an individual and a team.

“You go out there, you hustle, you do what you’re supposed to do, and when you win the game, well, you act like you meant to win the game.”

Gary Pettis, the Mets outfield coach, has his hands full with Brett Butler’s boy, Roger Cedeno, but remains hopeful:


“I’d like to see our guys a little more comfortable running after fly balls. I want to make sure we get enough work in so we run smooth so the ball doesn’t look like it’s bouncing. They have to run on their toes. The longer you run, you have to run on your toes and that’s the problem with a lot of outfielders. They don’t stay on their toes. They start out on their toes, but then they start pounding the ground and the ball appears to move on them because their head is going up and down.

“If you don’t work at it,” Pettis adds, “that’s one of the hardest things to pick up.”

THE DIPLOMAT The venerated

THE DIPLOMAT

The venerated former captain of the Yankees, Don Mattingly, who is making his annual visit to Yankee camp as an instructor, commented on the George/Jeter business:


“It was part of [Yankee culture] 15, 20 years ago, it’s part of it today, and it will probably be part of it five or 10 years from now,” Mattingly said. “You grow up in it. It’s normal.

“I don’t have any advice for Derek other than ‘be himself.’ He’s handled himself great so far. He’s won championships, he’s a great player and he’s been a great guy for the team. There’s no reason to think that won’t keep happening.”

…”It’s easy for me to laugh, I’m back on a farm in Indiana.”

And that’s the truth: thhhpppt.

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