"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: February 2003

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NEVER ENDING STORY Brace

NEVER ENDING STORY

Brace yourself, Jack Curry had a startling scoop in today’s Times: George gets the final word. The Boss always has last licks when it comes to newspaper controversy, and he threw the press a couple of bones in regards to the tiresome Jeter flap. As he ducked into an elevator yesterday, the Boss opined:


“I am the way I am,” Steinbrenner said soon after the doors to the elevator closed. “I got my message through. If I’m paying a guy $16 million, I want him to listen.”

Classic George. Give ‘em a tidbit, and leave ‘em wanting more.

Steinbrenner reiterated himself this afternoon:


“I was trying to get him completely focused,” the New York Yankees’ principal owner said Thursday. “I said I need that for this year. For us to prevail, we need him completely focused. He’s that important to the team.”

…”I think (manager) Joe Torre will get that across to him. I think (Jeter’s) going to be fine. He always gives 100 percent. But I need 110 percent.”

As far as Jeter is concerned, the story is dead.


“It’s done from my point of view,” Jeter said Thursday. “When something is over in my mind, it’s done.

Of course, we all know: It ain’t over ’til the Fatman says it’s over.

The Boss wouldn’t have it any other way.

(Oy fuggin Vey.)

BOO WHO? Here’s a

BOO WHO?

Here’s a laugh. God Squad, Gold Member Brett Butler, who was brought to Met camp specifically to help Roger Cedeno become a competent center fielder, appealed to New Yorkers’ kinder side, asking that we not boo ol’ Roger when he stinks up the place:


“Roger is one of the sweetest kids you’ll ever meet, and he’s got one of the greatest hearts in the world,” Butler said. “And if somebody boos him, he’s going to be hurt.

“If the fans will understand that’s how Roger is and support and embrace him, then Roger will be successful. If not – and they bury him, which can happen – it’s a double-edged sword that makes it kind of tough.”

This is New York Butler is talking about, of course. Hell, booing is simply a New Yorker’s misguided attempt at encouragement.

Tell you what. If Butler is willing to stand on the top step of the dugout, whenever Cedeno makes an error, I’ll be happy to boo him instead of Roger.

SAY IT AIN’T SO

SAY IT AIN’T SO

Both Mike Lupica and Bob Klapisch have columns on Joe Torre’s tenuous job security.

According to Klap:


Torre isn’t afraid to oppose Steinbrenner in public, but he’s smart enough to keep the rhetoric polite and carefully muted. There’s virtually no chance he and The Boss will engage in the type of war that cost Martin his job so many times. If Torre and Steinbrenner ever quarrel, it’ll be in private.

…Those who are close to Torre say he has a healthy and realistic approach to his tenure in the Bronx: He knows that, sooner or later, everyone gets fired by The Boss. Everyone. Certainly, Steinbrenner isn’t taking direct aim at Torre, but the manager is already armed with the knowledge that, no matter what happens to him, history will regard him kindly.

…The Boss believes it’s his money that propelled the Yankees to the top. He can’t understand why Torre instead gets so much of the credit. Steinbrenner has had to remain silent on this issue for the better part of seven years, but now that the Yankees have gone two seasons without a championship, he seized the opportunity to travel in his personal time tunnel, all the way back to the ’70s and ’80s

A more pressing issue for the Yankees could be their lousy team defense. John Perricone, who just surpassed the 40,000-hit mark at Only Baseball Matters, thinks that the Bombers’ lack of defense will be lead to their demise in 2003, just as it hurt them against Anahiem in the playoffs last fall.

The New York Times has an article this morning about the Yankees’ defensive concerns. Joe Torre, for one, isn’t sweating yet:


“I don’t think it’s a terminal problem,” he said

…”Soriano has been learning the position, and Jeter has had little nagging injuries the past couple of springs; they didn’t have a chance to get used to each other,” [third base coach, Willie] Randolph said. “I look at this spring training as a chance for them to work hard, work together and get accustomed to each other.

“It has to be like clockwork, be automatic. It’s like dancing. It’s a groove. Like Bucky Dent and I, we knew what each other wanted to do. They haven’t arrived at that yet.”

…”He can do all the things at second base that you need done,” Torre said. “He’s not afraid of guys sliding in, he’s got real good range to his right, behind the bag, and he’s an accurate thrower. He struggled somewhat going to his left because he’s getting used to it, but he has the wherewithal to be an outstanding second baseman.”

When spring training started, General Manager Brian Cashman called Soriano the one player whose defense could significantly improve. The others, he said, are who they are.

THE SAD STORY OF

THE SAD STORY OF STEVE BECHLER

I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about the sudden death of Steve Bechler, the 23-year old Orioles pitcher who died of heatstroke on Monday. I don’t know why it’s had this effect on me. Perhaps it’s because this story brings home just how far atheletes will go to gain a competitive edge. The photograph of Bechler being carted off the field on Sunday is heart-breaking (it’s been reprinted adnauseam, once again today on ESPN’s website). According to a front-page report in the Times today, it may not ever been known whether the dietrary supplement ephedra was the main cause of Belcher’s death:


“But what is clear, experts said yesterday, is that ephedra can be dangerous. They said that no other dietrary supplement on the market had stirred as many warnings and frightening medical histories as ephedra. It has been linked to deaths, to strokes, to heart arrythmias and even psychotic episodes.”

IT DON’T MEAN A

IT DON’T MEAN A THING

Here are some first impressions of Godzilla Matsui’s swing:


“He’s very compact for a power hitter,” Torre said. “Normally, a lefthander has an uppercut. He’s level. When you’re compact, it’s less likely that a pitcher can punch holes in your swing. There’s less a pitcher can exploit, less moving parts.

“His approach seems sound. Like Tino (Martinez), he seems to have the ability to hit the ball with authority the other way.”

“His swing is built for all the forkballs they throw over there,” [Jason] Giambi said. “He’s a great low-ball hitter.”

“I told him that standing ovation when he strikes out, that [bleep] is gone,” Giambi said. “I told him I got booed for the first month, but it was fun, the ultimate place to play.”

Booing a baseball player in Japan isn’t common. Yet Matsui understands when he fails to deliver a hit in a key situation he is going to hear it.

“I guess I can’t help it if I strike out,” Matsui said. “I will look at it as an awakening.”

This is how Joel Sherman saw it:


Matsui keeps his feet at about shoulders width and strides very little into the ball. The knob of his bat is held out about a foot from his heart, and his hands drift back a few inches as a pitch is delivered. Between pitches, he begins by staring into the opposite batter’s box before shrugging his shoulders and slowing swiveling his head to face the pitcher.
…Hitting coach Rick Down, after eyeballing his new pupil for the first time, said, “There are not very many moving parts. Maintenance will be easy.”

Down mentioned the thickness of Matsui’s legs and the power he derives from them, and even within the confines of a meaningless batting practice session, Matsui pulled enough balls with authority to hint at his power potential. In fact, Ventura, who played as a Met against Matsui in a 2000 exhibition in Tokyo, said, “People don’t realize just how strong he is. This is not a small, thin guy.”

IT’S OKAY WITH ME

Don’t count on Jason Giambi to stir shit up with The Boss. The Yankees best hitter played choir boy yesterday when asked about the restrictions placed on his personal trainer:


“I don’t think it’s a punishment,” Giambi said. “I know Mr. Steinbrenner loves to win, and when things don’t all fall into place, he starts looking for things to make it better. This is just one of those things where we could be more focused. I don’t know, but I don’t think he’s trying to punish me. I just think he wants to win the World Series.”

MOVE OVER DJ, YOU’VE

MOVE OVER DJ, YOU’VE GOT COMPANY

Looks like Derek Jeter isn’t the only superstar shortstop with an axe to grind this spring. After recieving the first real dose of bad press from the Boston media late last season, Nomar Garciaparra arrived at training camp with a chip square on his shoulder. Dan Shaughnessy broke the story in yesterday’s Boston Globe:


”I don’t know how to act this year,” Nomar said yesterday, while sitting in front of his locker after a workout. ”Somebody will write some [expletive] or whatever. Some [expletive] that I was unhappy or I’m this. I don’t get it.

”I was unhappy last year when we weren’t in the playoffs. I’m happy with my situation, but I can’t win, and I don’t know how I’m going to act. If I was happy all year and we were losing, then it would be, `Well, he’s a little too happy. Obviously he doesn’t care.’ You know what I mean? If I’m walking around chipper all the time and we’re not winning, then it will be like — `what’s Nomar so happy about? He has nothing to be happy about. We’re not in the playoffs.’

”So I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. I’ll just ask somebody every day how I’m supposed to be acting. You tell me. You ask my teammates and my coaches. Nobody says I’m unhappy.

”I wish you guys could tell me the best strategy, because I’m in a no-win situation. And then people make [expletive] up to try to make me look bad.”

Asked to specify what was made up, Garciaparra referred to a column by Steve Buckley in the Herald last summer that recommended he leave town if he’s so unhappy. The column erroneously stated that he had called the press box to change a scoring decision. Garciaparra is still steamed about the allegation.

”One thing that came out on me was if I don’t like it here, get the [expletive] out. Go home. That I’m calling up people [official scorer] and changing errors.
”I don’t need to talk to the guy. He asked me if I wanted to talk about it, hey, the damage was done. What was he gonna do, go write that he lied and that he [made a mistake]? Go ahead. Do that. Show me some [expletive]. But I’ve got more class than that. I never talked to him and never said anything.”

Reached in Boston last night, Buckley said, ”There’s a difference between making stuff up and messing up. I messed up, and I told Nomar.”

Buckley was a bit more pointed in his column this morning.

Garciaparra, like Derek Jeter before him, directed most of his anger toward the media:


“I definitely expect myself to be a certain way, but at the same time you’re in an environment where you walk on eggshells and can ruin you,” Garciaparra said yesterday at the Red Sox spring training complex. “Let’s face it, there are things that still get brought up about some guys from six, seven or eight years ago so you have to watch everything. You’re constantly stressed. And so if you’re not careful, everything gets destroyed that you’ve worked so hard for.”

KEN BURNS INTERVIEW Part

KEN BURNS INTERVIEW

Part II.

Bronx Banter: Jackie Robinson was a fitting choice as the hero of the “Baseball” series. Without taking anything away from his greatness, what about Larry Doby? He was the first black player in the American League. I don’t mean to single you out on this, but how come Doby has been so over looked, even neglected, by history?


KB: That’s one of those situations where when you are not the first, you get forgotten. It’s the John Adams syndrome. So maybe it’s going to take somebody of David McCollough’s caliber to rescue the Larry Doby’s of the world. The guys who end up in second.

BB: Nice guys finish last, right?


KB: That doesn’t make him any less courageous or any less heroic, it’s just that we focused our attention on the heroism and courage of Jackie Robinson, and that’s what we endow with all the symbolic importance that Jackie Robinson has for us.

BB: So it was more of an aesthetic choice rather than just saying, ‘Oh, Doby’s story just isn’t all that interesting.’


KB: It’s just a question of first, it’s not even a question of aesthetics. It’s just Jackie was first, and Jackie also happened to display this incredible courage and heroics and really wore it. And Doby, of course, had to go through much of the same thing, it’s just because our attention was on Jackie, we didn’t have the time to do Doby as well.

BB: What about Minnie Minoso? He was the first black Latino to play in the majors, and he was a popular player who put together a Hall of Fame career, certainly comparable to Doby’s. Bill James, Rob Neyer and Allen Barra all have him high on their list of players most worthy of the Hall of Fame. Considering how dominant Latin players are in the modern game, why hasn’t their been more of an outcry about Minoso NOT being in the Hall?


KB: I don’t know. Maybe you’ll start one. Or perhaps there already is one and you’ll be joining in the cause. It just has to do with the wave of people’s attentions and concerns. I think the great effort of the last 20 years in the Hall of Fame has been to redress the incredible wrongs done to the Negro Leagues. Now that they have added a number of Negro League players, taking on a little bit of an act of faith their statistical accomplishments, thanks to the work of Buck O’Neill and others. Maybe now is the time to talk about the Latin thing. I mean baseball does mirror the waves of immigration, and now we are talking about Asian superstars, so maybe there will be a time when they are even coming to the Hall of Fame.

BB: Are you still in touch with Buck O’Neill?


KB: Yes, in fact I just wrote him a letter today. He’s 92 and never looked better. He is as handsome as ever, and is, you know, one of the greatest human beings that ever walked the earth.

BB: I don’t know if there is any player who is more compelling to me than Curt Flood. He was great in the interviews he did for “Baseball.” What were your impressions of the man?


KB: I loved him. He and I hit it off in a really intense way. You know, you meet some people, and do a lot of interviews, and you come across a Buck O’Neill and you know you are going to know him for the rest of your life. The same thing happened with Curt, and I’m just so sorry that his life was so short. We did speak many, many times after the series was out, and sort of conspired to do things I saw him a couple of times afterwards. I found him an incredibly sensitive person. And I don’t mean that in a clichZd way. I mean there are some people whose vibrations a little bit finer. I think that was true with Curt Flood. And I think it made it more susceptible to the pain that the world is inevitably going to doll out. Perhaps, it even shortened his life, I don’t know. But one sensed an emotional fragility in him that was interesting and attractive, particularly for a ballplayer of such extraordinary importance in the game.

BB: Was he bitter in the last years of his life?


KB: No, I think it was a more complicated emotion than that. You can look at Buck O’Neill and say, ‘There’s someone free of all bitterness,’ right? And you can look at others who might have a chip on their shoulders, not to name any names. And I think Curt was somewhere inbetween. I don’t think that’s what animated him. I think that he knew that he came at a particular time. He performed a function. I’m sure he wished that he had been on the other side of the great largess that was bestowed on the players, after his, and Messersmith, and NcNally’s contributions. But Flood was really a pioneer, and he is a sacrificial lamb, and I think somewhere along the line he had come to peace with it, although I think it was also eating him as well. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. You know Flood paid the price for the time he came along. But he will always be an important person. He was the first one over the top of the fort.

BB: Do you have any idea what Flood did in the last years of his life?


KB: Well, I think he did what a lot of baseball players do. He was an “ex-ballplayer.” And that means a variety of things. You should talk to his widow. Judy is an amazing human being, and they raised a family together. I remember meeting a couple of the kids, and they really had their head on straight. And I think that’s what he really focused his attention on. I think he had some business interests, and he was doing charitable work, and of was of course, still connected to baseball.

BB: Thanks for taking some time out to talk.


KB: It was my pleasure.

THE CURSE OF PUMPSIE

THE CURSE OF PUMPSIE GREEN

The Red Sox are the winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award when it comes to horseshit race relations. There isn’t a town that has had a tougher time accepting black players than Boston, which is strange because of the terrific liberal history the city enjoys. Still, the story of black players on the Red Sox is a sad one, especially considering they have had their share of talents: Reggie Smith, Cecil Cooper, George Scott, Jim Rice of course, as well as Ellis Burks, Oil Can Boyd and Mo Vaughn. Rice had the best career as a Red Sox, but he’s remembered as a sour bastard, as well as a super-hitter: admired more than adored. Smith, Cooper and Burks all had their best years after they left Boston, and Mo Vaughn never should have left Boston, plain and simple. He was the first black star who enjoyed being a black star in Boston.

But did you know that according to Howard Bryant, the Red Sox didn’t sign a black free agent until they signed Andre Dawson in 1993? That’s almost twenty years after the birth of free agency. The Yankees do not posses a good history of race relations themselves, but when it came to free agency, at least George Steinbrenner was color blind.

The Boston Globe reported yesterday that once again the scarcity of black players on Boston’s roster is a reminder of a disturbing past:


”I think this is just an unfortunate anomaly,” [GM, Theo] Epstein said yesterday. ”Obviously, we do not consider a player’s race in our evaluation of the player.

”Believe me, I’m very aware of the Red Sox’ terrible history of race relations. Our goal as an organization is to reverse that history, to become a trailblazer for diversity.

”This does not always manifest itself on the field because race is not a factor in our player personnel decisions. But there are plenty of other ways to make a difference, and this owership group is off to a great start in those areas.”

Former GM Lou Gorman first initiated a change in the redneck climate, beginning to hire African Americans to front office jobs during the early 1990s. But, according to Howard Byrant in his book on racism and Boston, “Shut Out:”


With so many years of perceived slights, what existed between the club and the city’s blacks was nothing short of a cold war.

Gorman, frustrated by the lack of response to his inroads by a bitter black community, threw up his hands in despair, convinced that even his best efforts would be fruitless. For years, the Red Sox were attacked for ignoring the black community. Now, when the club attempted to create a bond in minority neighborhoods, they were rebuffed with distrust. What, Gorman wondered, was he supposed to do? It was one thing to be aware of one’s own actions and treat people accordingly, quite another to change the entire culture and perception of a team, which had been in place since the turn of the century.

There were legitimate reasons for this retrenchment. The first was the lack of tangible results. Despite positive talk, little about the Red Sox organization had changed publicly. The second reason was even more severe: The consequence of the team’s history finally seemed to have caught up with it. Black players, who because of free agency now could control to a great degree which teams they played for, now did not want to play for the Red Sox. And they were voicing it.

It was one of the great unforeseen consequences of the free agent era. Saddled with the blemishes of the past, the Red Sox now found themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage. The price the Red Sox would pay for Eddie Collins, Joe Cronin, and Pinky Higgens would not completely be paid during that era, but now in the free agency era, in which players could decide not only what teams they wanted to play for but also which ones they did not. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield once said that he would never play for the Red Sox for any amount of money, thanks to an ugly incident during the mid-1980s where a bottle was thrown at him from a moving car while he took a morning jog. Joe Carter, the great outfielder, would always be wary of Boston’s reputation. Time Raines, the longtime Montreal Expos great, was bitter toward Boston because of an ugly incident at Logan Airport when police detained he and his wife while connecting through Boston to a vacation in the Bahamas. The authorities said Raines fit the description of a wanted cocaine dealer. To Raines, it was an example of the mistreatment that came with being black.

In addition to free agents choosing to avoid Boston, players with tenured status in the game chose another strategy that indicted the Red Sox: They would include language in their contracts to prevent them from being traded to the Red Sox. Two high-level black stars, Marquis Grissom and David Justice, inserted language into their contracts that prevented them from ever being traded to the Red Sox .When he was to become a free agent in 200, Peter Gammons told Ken Griffey, Jr. that he should consider Boston. A play of Griffey’s immense talent along with an effervescent playing style would be revered in Boston, Gammons reasoned. Griffey’s response was cool and incredulous. He would never consider Boston, the racist city, the place where he could get lynched. “I told him that he would own the city if he came here,” Gammons said. “He looked at me like I was nuts. The city still has a racist label. It’s very sad.”

THE PLUMBING OF PITCHING When

THE PLUMBING OF PITCHING

When I was growing up, my uncle Fred taught me how to draw, paint and most importantly: How to look. He also taught me how to be a Yankee fan. Fred married into the family when I was about three years old, and he made a huge impression on my creative development, as well as my sporting identity. A painter who makes a living as an animator—he’s done spots for “Seasame Street” for years—Fred went to Cooper Union during the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement, in the mid to late 50s.

Fred would take me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was a kid, and excitedly, expertly guide me through various galleries to specific paintings. He always had a lesson plan. The way he navigated his way around the MET made me feel like I was getting a private tour from an expert, which in fact, was exactly what I was getting. Whether we looked at Vermeers, or Carravaggios or Edward Hoppers or later on, Franz Klines or DeKoonings, Fred deconstructed paintings like he was a plumber. Straight, no chaser, no muss, no fuss, you know what I mean?

We looked at how painters work with spacial relationships, with composition, and tension, and color in their work. Essentially, Fred stripped away all subject matter, and was able to show me how painters paint, and how they made the viewers look, regardless if the picture was abstract or representational.

“Every great painter has a drawing or a painting of a sink,” he used to tell me. And he’s not far off the mark. Put your favorite artist to the test when you get a chance. A sink, after all, is not a glamourous subject, but it is a blunt, and simple one which requires basic discipline and concentration. A sink also stripes away all pretention. What is it? A lousy ol’ sink, you say. But, it’s a great subject for any artist, young or old. The beauty is in the simplicity, because it’s such a throwaway, everyday object.

I’ve carried this notion of plumbing to other areas of interest as well—writing, music, moviemaking. I love dissecting the creative process, discovering the bare bones of a craft.

Of course, baseball offers both the art of pitching and hitting for us to dig our forks into.

This past weekend, there were several articles on the nuts and bolts of pitching mechanics, preparation and philosophy. So, let’s take a break from all the other nonsense for moment and look at the plumbing of pitching…

I saw Tim Kurkjian file a report from Yankee Camp over the weekend, and he said that Jose Contreras looked impressive in his bullpen sessions for the Yankees. According to scouting reports, Contreras apparently uses his slider and his forkball/splitter early in the count to set up his fastball. Curious.

The Post filed a story on the Cuban pitcher this past weekend, detailing his training methods:


“Since I left the [Cuban national] team in Mexico [in October], I took one week of vacation. Since then I have been working out and throwing,” Contreras said at his Legends Field locker. “I have pretty much been throwing for three months. I would say that’s the reason I might look a little bit ahead of the other guys.”

Yesterday was the second bullpen session for Contreras since camp opened and it was impressive. The fastball had life and the splitter danced. And his location, usually off for pitchers at this stage, was razor sharp.

“I am ready right now to start pitching in games,” said Contreras, who signed a four-year deal worth $32 million.

“He is very businesslike, very compact and he seems very sure of himself,” Torre said of Contreras, who uses multiple arm angles ala Orlando Hernandez when releasing the ball. “There is a lot there and you get a little anxious to see him but it’s still not going to be until you see the games that we are going to take note of all the equipment he has.”

Two pieces of equipment Contreras uses aren’t conventional to most pitches. Prior to throwing in the bullpen, Contreras plays catch with a 12-ounce baseball (a regular baseball is between 5 and 51/4 ounces) and a softball.

“The [baseball] builds strength and the softball helps with the grip, especially the splitter,” said Contreras, who was 117-50 during the past seven seasons in Cuban league play.

John Harper, who is as unassuming as he is outstanding, had a terrific feature on Tom Glavine’s approach to pitching last Sunday:


Glavine’s cutter moves in harder and later on righthanders than I would have guessed. It doesn’t have the speed of Mariano Rivera’s cutter, or the violent down-and-in action of Al Leiter’s, but if it’s thrown in the right location, Glavine’s cutter has enough on it to tie up righthanded hitters.

“Yeah,” he says, “but it’s easy to throw that pitch when I don’t have to worry about making a mistake with it. It’s harder to trust it with a hitter in there. That’s what makes pitching away so much easier. If I make a mistake out there, it’s usually only a single.

“I’ve been stubborn over the years about pitching away, but even though hitters know I’m going to work them away, I find that most hitters are not going to allow themselves to hit singles to right field all day. They want to hit home runs and extra-base hits. In the back of their mind they’re always waiting for you to hang that one pitch they can smoke, and when you throw the ball down and away where you want to, you get your nice little ground ball or popup.”

Glavine then motions for me to slide out farther, so that the middle of my chest is in line with the outside corner. He tells me later he’ll ask Mike Piazza to set up the same way on either side of the plate because he uses the catcher’s body, not the glove, as his target.

“I can’t throw to the glove,” he says. “I want the catcher’s body splitting the corner. I’m looking at your chest and I want the glove right there in your chest.”

…”I don’t have a complicated game plan,” he says. “I might shake off 10 to 15 pitches a game, but everybody knows what I like to throw. Mainly I want my catchers to get out there a couple of inches off the plate so I can hit that spot and they don’t have to move the glove to catch it.”

Meanwhile, the Times had a good story on Chris Hammond, who is slated to replace Mike Stanton as the lefty set-up man in Joe Torre’s bullpen. (Evidentally, Hammond had a relationship with none other than the Great Joe D himself. On a side note, one of DiMaggio’s lawyers has just published an anti-Joe D book. Looks as if that trends here to stay.)


Hammond has a killer changeup.

Hammond has thrown the pitch since he was 10. It got him to the majors with Cincinnati in 1990, and brought him back a decade later.

“Very few pitchers really want to throw the changeup,” Hammond said. “I was talking to John Rocker a few years ago about it: `If I were you, I would sit down and that’s all I’d do in the off-season, work on my changeup.’ And he goes, `I can’t. If I’m going to get beat, I don’t want to get beat on my changeup.’ “
Hammond was incredulous at that logic. For him, the changeup is a devastating weapon, evaluated at a score of 80 – the highest possible – by the Yankee scouts.

“It has different action on it,” Newman said. “He has great arm speed and command of it. The funny term people use for it is the `Bugs Bunny change,’ because it’s like it stops in midair. It’s so good he throws it to left-handers and right-handers.”

Hammond held right-handers to a .206 average last year, and left-handers were more helpless, batting .174. He delivers his changeup awkwardly, stomping hard on the mound with his right foot and then releasing it. The harder he stomps, the more he is concentrating.

…”It looks funny,” Newman said, “but more importantly, hitters think it looks funny.”

The Yankees’ bullpen is stuffed with hard throwers – Mariano Rivera, Steve Karsay, Antonio Osuna – and Hammond gives them a different look. As it is with all newcomers, he must prove he can handle the pressure of being a Yankee. But wherever he is, Hammond said, he will always be nervous.

Joel Sherman has a piece on Andy Pettitte, who is facing a crucial season in his career, and Jonah Keri conducts an outstanding interview with Oakland A’s pitching coach, Rick Peterson, at Baseball Prospectus, that is well worth reading.

Finally, Murray Chass wrote a compelling article about the Jesse Orosco and the fountain of youth on Sunday. He also compiled a list of aging veterans who are willing to play for a fraction of what they once made, which once again suggests just how difficult it is for some players to leave the game. (Jim Caple and Aaron Gleeman give their takes on Rickey Henderson, who has not been signed by a team yet.)

Here is Dennis Eckersley, always a straight-shooter, talking to Mike Bryan in spring training 1988, from the book “Baseball Lives:”


People say baseball players should go out and have fun. No way. To me, baseball is pressure. I always feel it. This is work. The fun is afterwards, when you shake hands.

When I was a rookie I’d tear stuff up. Now I keep it in. What good is smashing a light on the way up the tunnel? But I still can’t sleep at night if I stink. I’ve always tried to change that and act like a normal guy when I got home. “Hi, honey, what’s happening?” I can’t. It’s there. It doesn’t go away. But maybe that’s why I’ve been successful in my career, because I care. I don’t have fun. I pitch scared. That’s what makes me go. Nothing wrong with being scared if you can channel it.

I issued to hide behind my cockiness. Don’t let the other team know you’re scared. I got crazy on the mound. Strike a guy out, throw my fist around—”Yeah!” Not real classy, but I was a raw kid. I didn’t care. It wasn’t fake. It was me. This wasn’t taken very kindly by a lot of people. They couldn’t wait to light me up. That’s the price you pay.

I wish I was a little happier in this game. What is so great about this shit? You get the money, and then you’re used to the money. You start making half a million a year, next thing you know you need half a million a year. And the heat is on!

Used to be neat to just be a big-league ballplayer, but that wore off. I’m still proud, but I don’t want people to bother me about it. I wish my personality with people was better. I find myself becoming short with people. Going to the store. Getting gas.

If you’re not happy with when you’re doing lousy, then not happy when you’re doing well, when the hell are you going to be happy? This game will humble you in a heartbeat. Soon as you starting getting happy Boom! For the fans—and this is just a guess—they think the money takes out the feeling. I may be wrong but I think they think, “What the hell is he worrying about? He’s still getting’ paid.” There may be a few players who don’t give 100 percent, but I always thought if you were good enough to make that kind of money, you’d have enough pride to play like that, wouldn’t you think? You don’t just turn it on-or off.

This got me thinking about the David Cone situation. While Eck is scathingly honest, in the mold of a Pat Jordan, Cone is far more measured and polished. Still, I think Eck hits on something universal when he said:


I’ve been very fortunate to pitch for fourteen years in the big leagues. That’s a long time for a pitcher. I’m afraid of life after baseball. Petrified. I’m not ashamed of saying it. I’ll be all right, but nothing will ever compare with this. I will not stay in baseball. I think about commercial real estate and money-big money!

Or maybe I’ll grow up after I get ouf of this fuckin’ game.

And that, I believe is at the heart of the matter for all American men, not just aging jocks: The fear of growing up.

Perish the thought.

BOSOX OUTBID BOMBERS The

BOSOX OUTBID BOMBERS

The Red Sox exacted a measure of revenge against the Yankees, when they outbid the Bronx Bombers for the services of the top junior defector from Cuba. According to the Boston Globe:


The Sox signed 18-year-old righthander Gary Galvez for a bonus similar to the amount players selected late in the second round or high in the third round of the amateur draft receive: about $500,000.

”We’ll end up signing 20 to 25 kids internationally this year, and we think this will probably be the best guy we sign,” said Louie Eljaua, the team’s director of international scouting. ”This is our first-round pick.”

Galvez, whose fastball has hit 93 and throws an above-average curve, was the ace of Cuba’s junior national team before he defected last August. With 23 other refugees, he rode a vessel to an island near Key Largo, where the group was rescued by the US Coast Guard. He spent a month in Miami before he established residency in the Dominican Republic.

Several teams bid on Galvez, with the Sox and Yankees among them. Eljaua said the Sox did not make the top financial offer to Galvez, but prevailed because of the relationship they had built with him and because of his confidence in the team’s pitching program.

”Every time you have a high-profile international guy, it’s usually going to be the Yankees or us in the end,” Eljaua said. ”This time, the good guys won.”

…Galvez will report to the Sox once he obtains a visa, which could take several weeks. He is projected to pitch at Single A Augusta.

WHAT’S UP WITH PRINCE P?

In what has been a relatively quiet Red Sox spring thus far, the only potential cause for noise could come from an expected source: the great Pedro Martinez. Dan Shaughnessy stressed that management play hardball with Martinez.

On Saturday, the Globe reported that:


Principal owner John W. Henry and CEO Larry Lucchino met privately with Martinez soon after he arrived Friday at the club’s spring training headquarters – a meeting that apparently bred considerable good will.

”I know we’re going to work it out,” Martinez said in a news conference after the first formal workout for pitchers and catchers. ”They’re a group of responsible owners. They know what to do. They know their business. I’m sure they’re going to work something out. I’d like to finish my career in Boston.”

”If they don’t pick it up now, it means they don’t trust me,” he said. ”It’s a matter of confidence between them and me, and I’m sure they have the confidence, and I’m fine.”

”The uncertainty of whether I’m going to be in Boston is not easy to handle,” he said. ”That’s why I don’t want to be in that position of, where am I going to go? Am I going to stay in Boston or not? That’s not a fair position for a player like me.

WHO’S ON FIRST?

While the Sox happily play musical chairs with their first basemen, Kevin Millar finally arrived at camp to throw his hat in the ring.

According to the Globe:


The breakthrough in the Kevin Millar situation…came after Japanese officials were told that if the standoff continued, Major League Baseball might not proceed with plans to send the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s to Japan to open the 2003 season there next month.

Mike C, over at Baseball Rants thinks all is not kosher in Beantown:


Millar should be a useful member of the Red Sox team this season. But any baseball fan should be rooting as hard as they can for the Yankees to bury the Sox by the break. The whole affair stinks worse than last week’s meatloaf. Of course, the Pavlovian fans have been taught that the Yankees are the evil ones because the spend their seemingly inexhaustable funds wisely as opposed to the Red Sox, who appear to get a mulligan once or twice a year and whose owners were fast-tracked into purchasing the team even though better offers were on the table. If that’s not evil, I don’t know what is.

At least Millar has found himself in a friendly environment:


A friend of Garciaparra, Trot Nixon, Lou Merloni, and Todd Walker, Millar is renowned for trying almost anything to help him hit, including spraying his bat with deer urine last year on Opening Day after his inaugural deer hunting trip. When he went 0 for 3, though, he abandoned the gimmick.

Good thing, or it might have been harder to make even more friends on his new team.

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Is there any column that is more complete and thorough on a weekly basis than Gordon Edes’ Sunday Notes feature? If so, let me know, cause it’s bound to be a treat. Edes examines the hype at Yankee camp this week. So does Tony Massarotti, who like his peers in New York, Joel Sherman and even Bob Klapisch, is clearly a provocateur:


Whatever air of invincibility the Yankees possessed during the five-year span between 1996-2000 is going, going, gone.

“I think if you spend $180 million, I don’t think it’s just because you have it to spend,” Red Sox owner John Henry said of the Yankees’ current estimated payroll upon arriving at his team’s spring training facility on Friday.

“I think it’s also because there must be a need.”

…Do the Yankees have talent? Of course they do, though the 2001 Red Sox proved that talent alone is not enough. As much as the Yankees were stocked while winning four World Series titles during the final five years of the last millennium, they were also a unique collection of professionals. No lesser an authority than Seattle Mariners general manager Pat Gillick suggested before last season that the absence of chemistry (Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius) would adversely affect the Yankees more than anyone believed. It certainly seems Gillick hit the bull’s eye.

METS TO ROBBIE: NO

METS TO ROBBIE: NO SOUP FOR YOU

Steve Phillips and the Mets have decided not to to talk contract extension with second baseman Robbie Alomar until the season is over. Alomar, who is famous for being fickle and moody, took the news in stride:


“I wanted to be a Met until the day that I retire. But sometimes you don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m going to stay real positive. I still have one more year to go. I feel real comfortable about this year, and if the right situation comes, I’ll be a Met until I retire.”

…”I don’t have any thought that Robbie will be affected or impacted by this negatively,” [GM] Phillips said. “I think he’s professional and he’s been in this position before. He’s motivated to go out and have a great season.”

Alomar said he wasn’t offended by the Mets’ position.

“Maybe I feel a little sad that I might not be here,” Alomar said. “I want to be here. So we’ll wait and see what happens.”

WHO’S ON THIRD?

The Shea Hillenbrand-to-the-Mets rumor was revived this weekend, with a new twist. Now, there is talk about the Mets trading an assortment of young pitchers to the Red Sox for Hillenbrand, who would then be moved to the Marlins in exchange for Mike Lowell.

Cliff Floyd has nothing but good things to say about both Hillenbrand and Lowell.

My cousin Gabe lamented last week, that when the Yankees aquire former Mets, they do well in the Bronx, but when the Mets pick up ex-Yankees, they are less than inspiring (Al Leiter notwithstanding). That would all change if the Mets are fortunate enough to somehow land Mike Lowell. In fact, I believe that Lowell would be an outstanding replacement for Edgardo Alfonzo–he’s solid, reliable, and even-keeled.

Hmmm. I may become a Met fan yet…

STORM BURIES NEW YORK,

STORM BURIES NEW YORK, MISSES TAMPA

For all the hoo-ha surrounding Derek Jeter’s Monday morning meeting with the press, the results must be seen as a disappointment. For the papers anyway. Throughout his career Jeter has been knocked for being a stiff interview, the prototypical jock robot. Suddenly, he was expected to add a juicy chapter to Bronx Zoo lore, but I’m happy to report that Jeter was his usual, bland self yesterday.

According to Joel Sherman in the New York Post:


The biggest difference between Derek Jeter’s morning press conference and the one Hideki Matsui held in the afternoon was Matsui was boring in two languages.

Jeter did make like the great Joe D however, and bristled at the percieved tarnishing of his image:


“Image is important because that’s who I am,” Jeter said. “No one wants to have an image they don’t care about.”

“The problem is the way it’s all been painted. That was my primary concern. Now, everywhere I go, people ask if I party too much.

“I didn’t want Yankee fans to be thinking that I could care less whether we win or lose.”

“Obviously, I know I can do a lot better than what happened last year,” he said. “Healthwise, I’m in better shape than I have been.

“Ever since my shoulder injury (2001), I haven’t been able to work out as much. This year I could.”

What about the Boss?


“I don’t think there is an issue of revenge, I don’t know how you get back at The Boss,” Jeter said. “I don’t feel a need to get back at The Boss.”

What about George taking all the glory if the Yanks win?


“He should take credit if we win, because he put together the team,” Jeter said. “Hopefully, the year will go like that and we can answer the question then.”

“If you don’t win, what’s the point of playing?” Jeter asked. “I am my biggest critic. Nobody gets on me more than I do. I am a perfectionist.”
News:

Veteran columnists, Bill Madden and Mike Lupica weighed in with columns and, like Bob Klapisch, suggested Jeter move on, quickly.

According to Madden:


You’d have thought by now, after nearly eight years as a Yankee, that Jeter would have come to realize all of this comes with the territory. There’s nary a Yankee superstar, from Reggie Jackson to Don Mattingly, who hasn’t at one time or another been touched up by Steinbrenner.

Instead of grousing about how his image has been tarnished, Jeter should not forget that he had some pretty good company in that Steinbrenner rip job in December.

How do you think Torre felt hearing for the umpteenth time that he was just another run-of-the-mill losing manager until he came to the Yankees, and that he should not forget it’s the organization that’s been responsible for his four-ring, Hall of Fame success these past six years? How tempting do you think it was for Torre to retort: “If that’s the case, will it be the organization who gets the blame if we don’t win again this year, or just me and my coaches?”

Lupica echoed Madden’s sentiments and couldn’t help adding a jab:


Now that Steinbrenner has picked on Torre, Jeter and Jason Giambi in succession, you have to think it’s somehow going to be Bernie’s turn next.

Even Jeter’s dad added his two cents to the proceedings:


“[Steinbrenner's comments] questioned his work ethic, his integrity,” Charles Jeter said in a telephone interview. “It bothered him, rightfully so. It annoyed him. It annoyed me, to be honest with you. But I don’t want to be part of the equation. My feeling is he took the right approach in what he said. I feel Derek has handled it.”

“My main thing with Derek is to keep things between the white lines,” Charles Jeter said. “We all work for somebody. I guess what Derek said is, `The boss can say anything that he wants to say.’ You just hope the things that are said are about what’s between the white lines.”

“This too will pass and Derek will go on,” Charles Jeter said. “And hopefully the Yankees will go on in their quest for another championship.”

Father knows best, right?

NOTE: I accidentally posted a

NOTE:

I accidentally posted a bunch of articles this morning before they were finished and ready for publication. I’m trying to remedy the situation. The articles won’t be ready until tomorrow, but if you see that mess that’s up there today, please discard it, and tune in again tomorrow.

Perhaps I’ll figure out a way to get rid of them so as to avoid any confusion. But if I can’t, bear with me.
Thanks.
Alex

LET IT SNOW, LET

LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW: SPRING IS HERE

I’m an early bird by nature. New Yorkers usually get fed up with the lingering winter sometime around mid-March, early-April. I hit the boiling point somewhere right after the Super Bowl. At some point, something just snaps inside of me, and no matter how much winter is left, I’ll make the mental transition to spring. That way when spring finally does roll around, with the great smells of dirt, and worms, and flowers and baseball, I’m way ahead of the game.

By the time New Yorkers are finally able to shed the layers of old-man winter, and the city becomes a sea of exposed flesh and hormones, I’m be there with a shit-eating grin on my mug, talking bout, “Come on in, the water, she’s fine.”

The poster-boy for spring.

I made the mental switch this past week, in spite of everything.

No matter how much snow is dumped on us, no matter how brickadocious the temperature becomes, I’m stubbornly sticking to my guns: it’s springtime.

It all started about 10 days ago, when we had our last snowfall, before the monster that’s currently blanketing a good part of the country. It was the Friday before last, and I was going to meet an old friend for dinner on the Upper West Side. I had some time to kill, so I strolled through the lower part of Central Park.

It was the magic hour, when the sky is still blue, but darkness was descending over the city. There were a good number of people out, but not enough to feel crowded. I love the stillness, the hush that comes over New York when a big snow hits. Everything is slowed down just so.

As I walked past the softball fields at the base of the park, I couldn’t help but walk closer. The fields—four in all—were surrounded by a fence for the winter. I stood right next to the fence and looked out at the virgin snow covering the diamonds. To my right, the skyscrapers of Manhattan were lit up against the fading blue skies. When I was a kid, skyscrapers reminded me of the Imperial Star Destroyers from the “Star Wars” movies—majestic, impregnable.

Here they were, standing guard over this patch of ballfields, lending an almost surreal grandeur to the scene.

I closed my eyes and imagined the same scene in July. The heat and humidity of summer, the sounds of games being played at all four diamonds, the smells of hot dogs and dog shit and roasting nuts, and of course, the cast of characters that make up the scene—umpires, vendors, players, goldbrickers, tourists.

There was something comforting about looking at the snow-covered fields, so still, so far removed from all that activity. The snow was keeping the fields safe for yet another lively summer of baseball.

With the professional players reporting to spring training to get loose, it’s just a matter of time before the seasons unfold and all the sights and sounds of our game return.

I started clapping and chanting, “Lets-Go-Yan-Kees,” just to make sure the ol’ pipes worked. A couple of passing tourists eyed me curiously, but I didn’t care. I stuck around for a couple of more minutes, taking it all in, and then happily made my way to dinner, thinking: fug the snow, spring is here.

MY FAVORITE THINGS OF

MY FAVORITE THINGS OF 2002: PART V

Baseball Brethren: Jesse Glasberg and Bob Backus

I.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Baseball is the dichotomy between the game’s inherent loneliness, its solitude, and the sense of fraternization, and togetherness that it promotes. For every David Cone, there is a Dave Kingman.

This doesn’t just apply to the players. Think about how much time the average fan spends absorbing the game alone, whether reading the box scores in the morning paper, or day dreaming about their favorite team as they drift off to sleep at night. For some this is enough, but for most of us, the sense of participating, and sharing our feelings about the game is simply irresistible.

I’m a loquacious bastard by nature, so I use baseball as a way to meet people. It’s a safe topic, especially for men. I’m not into cars or carpentry, so if it’s not books, painting, or records, I find that sports is the ideal social lubricant.

Like most things I enjoy, baseball has a rich oral tradition. Tom Boswell addressed this phenomenon in his article, “This Ain’t a Football Game. We Do This Every Day,” from his collection “How Life Imitates the World Series:”


Conversation is the blood of baseball. It flows through the game, an invigorating system of anecdotes

Ride the bush-league buses with the Reading Phillies or the Spokane Brewers or the Chattanooga Lookouts, and suddenly it is easy to understand why a major league dugout is a place of such addictive conversational pleasures. In the world of the minor leaguer, which is split between short hours of athletic adventure and long hours of idleness, talk becomes a staple of sanity

This rich verbal tradition-the way the game has taken on the ambiance of the frontier campfire or the farmer’s cracker-barrel stove and moved it into the dugout-is what marks baseball so distinctively, not only among our games, but among all our endeavors

This passion for language and the telling detail is what makes baseball the writer’s game.

In his book, “Take Time For Paradise: Americans and Their Games,” A. Bartlett Giamatti, describes the insatiable gregariousness baseball fans posses. The scene is the lobby of the Marriott Pavilion Hotel in St. Louis, during the 1987 NL Playoffs between the San Francisco Giants and the Cards:


The sound is a high, constant hum, a vast buzz of a million bees, the sound almost palpable and, for hours, never varying in pitch or intensity as anecdote vies with anecdote or joke or gossip or monologue or rude ribbing, so reminiscent of the clubhouse. It is the sound of tip and critique and prediction and second-guessing, of nasty crack and generous assessment, of memory cutting across memory, supplementing and correcting and coloring the tale, all the crosscutting, overlapping, salty, blunt, nostalgic, sweet conversation about only one subject-Baseball.

Here is the oft-told tale that is the game is told again. It is told always in the present tense, in a paratactic style that reflects the game’s seamless, cumulative character, each event linked to the last and creating the context for the next-a style almost Biblical in its continuity and instinct for typology. It is told in a tone at once elegiac, sharply etched, inclusive of all nuance. Baseball people have the keenest eyes for the telling detail I have ever known.

II.

One evening, early last May, I was in the Lincoln Center area on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and had some time to kill. I gravitated to everybody’s favorite loitering spot: Barnes and Noble. When I got to the baseball display on the third floor, I noticed an old-timer dressed in a navy blue suit, wearing a navy blue Kangol, leafing through “The Bill James Historical Abstract.” He looked a like cross between the great sports writer, Shirley Povich and Uncle Junior from “The Sopranos.”

Must be picking up the book for his grandson, I thought. But after a few moments, I figured he was reading it for himself, so I started up a conversation. Much to my surprise, not only was he a bonafide fan, but he liked Bill James to boot.

I licked my chops and peppered him with questions for the better part of half an hour.

He introduced himself as “Jesse” but didn’t offer a last name. He must have been in his early 70s. Jesse had been a season ticket holder with the Yankees from 1976 through the early 1990s, “When George jacked up the prices too much for me to bear.” He has also been a season ticket holder for the Mets since 1973.

These are some of the observations he shared with me:

Tom Seaver was the toughest pitcher he ever watched, but Koufax, at his height, was the best he ever saw.

Watching Jackie Robinson running the bases was the most memorable part of his baseball upbringing. “It wasn’t that he was the fastest, but having been a track star and a football star, he was able to change directions better than anyone I ever saw. He would get out of virtually 50% of the run-downs he got in, he was that strong and quick.”

Willie Mays had a powerful arm, but it wasn’t as accurate as Clemente’s or Furillo’s. But overall, Mays was the most complete player he’d ever seen.

Larry Doby was overrated. Minnie Minoso was better.

The DH was a curious, even appealing idea, but it failed, and he prefered the National League game.

Whitey Herzog and Tommy Lasorda were two of the best managers he’d seen, but nobody was better than Jimmy Leyland.

Bobby Valentine is bright, but rash.

“What about Zimmer?” I asked.

“Zimmer is just plain nuts I’ll always give a guy like Torre credit, though. He was a Giants fan who was from Brooklyn. When I was growing up, Giants fans were the older guys. The Giants were the first great New York team, the McGraw teams, Me Ott, you know. So if a kid in the 1940s or 50s was a Giants fan, it was most likely because his father or his uncle had been a Giants fan. To be a Giants fan in Brooklyn? That was saying something. I’ve always appreciated Torre for that. Just like how I don’t appreciate Giuliani for being a Yankee fan. He grew up in Staten Island. Everybody was a Yankee fan. The Yankees were always winning. How hard is that?”

I asked Jesse how the game has changed for him over the years.

“It used to be more fun. There was less player movement. You got to know the guys. Get attached to them, even though there were still plenty of trades. I guess I feel like I know the 1941 Dodgers roster better than the current Mets team, and I go to the games.”

Jess chuckled in disbelief. “Can you imagine? A utility man is a millionaire these days.”

When I exhausted my queries, the conversation died down a little. As it turned out, Jesse was going the opera, across the street at the Met. We strolled outside together, and swapped Phil Rizzuto-Announcing stories. We were standing in front of the fountains at Lincoln Center when I said goodbye. But something seemed off. It looked as if he wanted to say something.

Finally, he goes, “Well, maybe we should exchange numbers and maybe we’ll go to a game sometime.”

III.

Three weeks later I got a call from Jesse, and we eventually went to a Mets game.

It was a reasonably cool day, for the middle of the summer. The Twins were in town to play the Mets. Tori Hunter hit a line-drive home run to left center. I remember the crisp sound of the crack; the ball zipped over the fence in a hurry.

Jesse brought his 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers Yearbook to show me. We picked up where we had left off at Barnes and Noble. As fate would have it, the fellow who sat next to us was a season-ticket holder as well, and joined in our meandering conversations. He had just one seat at Shea, but season tickets at Yankee Stadium and Tampa Bay as well.

Here we were, three virtual strangers, brought together by a mutual appreciation for the game. Jesse grew up in the 40s, Bob in the 60s, and I came of age in the 1980s. This is as close to Sandy Koufax and Leo Durocher as I’m ever going to get, so I asked tons of questions, and did a lot of listening.

We had a great time and didn’t mind that the Mets got spanked.

By the time the game was over, our new friend, Bob, had offered to send me any tickets he would not be using for the remainder of the season. Would you believe, he ended up sending me tickets for a good half a dozen games?

Bob and I exchanged e-mails during the course of the remainder of the season, which were enlightening and funny.

Let me share just two:

7/11/02

I can’t recall if I already told you, but I was a Red Sox fan from 1961-1969, which for me was 5th grade through first year of college. The Yankee team of Mantle and Maris I greatly admired, but I grew up on the CT-MA border and rooted for the Red Sox. From 61 though 66, they were a second division team and they finished wither last or next to last in 66 under the forgettable Billy Herman. The Sox pennant drive in 67 was to me a greater surprise than the Mets of 69 because you knew the Mets were developing an incredible pitching staff. The Sox had one star, Jim Lonborg, and a bunch of journeymen who had the best years of their lives that season. Plus the Mets had to contend with one great team in the Cubs, while the Sox were facing four (Twins-65 pennant winner, Orioles-66 World Champion, Tigers-68 World Champions, and the White Sox, who had the best pitching in the league) that year.

The key to the Red Sox success was the way Dick Williams destroyed the country club atmosphere the Sox had through his tough guy stance. Dick Williams was kind of a cross between Bobby Valentine and Bobby Knight. He had Valentine’s way of being sarcastic and also brilliant in terms of lineups and strategy. But he could explode with anger and passion, like Knight. The coaches and managers I most admire have been that type; I respect the people who push to be their best. I guess my all time favorite manager was Gil Hodges and Dick Williams would be second.

Most players [on the Sox] hated Williams, but they played hard and won the pennant. My father lost a three year battle with melanoma in October, 1967 and the Sox pennant drive certainly helped me deal with the last four months, which were pretty awful. Also the Red Sox attendance had fallen to under a million in 66, so this 67 team created a tremendous resurgence of baseball interest in New England that has never gone away since.

Lonborg ruined his career in a skiing accident that winter and the Sox were no longer pennant threats. Crybaby Yaz could not deal with Williams’ ways when they were not winning pennants and [owner, Tom] Yawkey could not deal with Yaz being mad at him, so two years after the greatest managing job I had ever seen, Dick was fired. And I swore I would never root for the Red Sox again until Tom Yawkey died. And when he finally died, I still hated him so I kept rooting against them. Dick went on to win pennants with Oakland and San Diego; both teams were bad before he got thee and he taught them how to win. The players on the A’s actually liked him because they were pretty tough themselves and totally focused on winning. After they won the 73 World Series, Williams tried to leave the A’s to manage the Yankees but Charlie Finley wouldn’t let him, so Dick quit and sat out a while. And the Yankees hired Bill Virdon, one of the worst managers in baseball history, but that’s another story.

Williams was like Bobby Knight in that people either loved him or hated him. I loved them both. Truthfully my nature is to be somewhat like them. I guess that is why I admired Hodges the most because he could command respect and fear without yelling at or being sarcastic with people.

Thanks for listening. I probably have not though about Dick in 10 years or so. By the way there is a great book called “Red Sox Century” that I skimmed in a bookstore a couple years ago. It really covered that period of Red Sox history well, especially how Yaz was able to manipulate Yawkey into firing Williams. To be replaced by the dullest manager I ever heard of, Eddie Kasko.

Later, I wrote Bob, and told him of my bigotry toward Red Sox fans and New Englanders in general. The tension of the Yankees-Sox summer had me boiling over, but Bob set me straight:

8/31/02

New Englanders are provincial, but many New Yorkers act as though nothing that happens outside of NYC has any importance. That pessimism you spoke of is kind of a game. It is like me to have any hope of avoiding a strike because of some silly Calvinistic idea that it would hurt less if I were expecting the strike. And lets fact it, with 84 years since a world title and the memory of ’86 still alive, who can blame them for not being too hopeful. Many sociologists have written papers about different theories on how it will affect NE when the Sox finally win a title. There will be initial euphoria, but then there may be depression. The fans will miss having something to hate as passionately as they do the Yanks. Not too many sports fans get to think of the other team as its fans as the Devil Incarnate.

A couple of other things. You should draw no thoughts about New England from southern Connecticut residents. There is a reason why they call it the Tri-state area. CT from Hartford west and South has no connection to New England mores and values. It sees itself as a suburb of NY and see Mainers as boobs (as do I).

I have spent considerable time in New York, Ohio, Florida and Texas. I would agree we are more racist than New York, but much less so than Florida, Ohio and Texas. But my friend, whether you like it or not, most people in this country agree with John Rocker, they just don’t want to admit it.

From one inquiring mind to another,

Bob Backus,

Lifetime President (and only known member) of the 1918 Club.

All of this, just because I opened my mouth and started talking. I hope to run into both Jesse and Bob this coming season. When I do, I’ll let them know you said “hi.”

I’ll be damned if Baseball isn’t the game that keeps giving.

MILLAR’S CROSSING The long

MILLAR’S CROSSING

The long and convoluted case of Kevin Millar has finally been settled, and the Red Sox have yet another first baseman. It should be interesting to see if Mr. Millar makes all the effort the Red Sox have gone through to aquire him worth while.

THE MOUTH THAT ROARED

THE MOUTH THAT ROARED

Just how long did you think we were going to have to wait for fat-ass Boomer Wells to open his big, fat, mouth? Wells, one of the few current Yankees who would have been right at home on the Bronx Zoo teams of the late 1970s and early 80s, sounded off yesterday, and was in good form, defending Derek Jeter, and pushing for a contract extension. According to the New York Post:


“Derek is not a party guy, he is not out there every night, trust me,” said a chuckling Wells. “He has gone out a couple of times, big deal. [Jeter] has every right to be mad. I try to get him to go out but he goes to dinner, goes to a movie and calls it a night. He didn’t have a .300-plus season [last year], but we all have a bad year.

“He has done a lot for this team and carried this team at times, especially in the postseason. For George to jump on him like that was unfair. George tries to light a fire under your [butt]. I think it’s the wrong way to do it, in the press instead of going up to the individual. I think that would be a lot better.”

OLD MAN RIVER

David Cone was his usual self-depricating, charming self yesterday as he described his comeback as “a long shot.” Seeing pictures of Cone next to Leiter and Glavine in the locker room looked more like a college reunion, or a casting call for “That Championship Season” than a legitimate comeback.

The Mets have issued Cone Doc Gooden’s old number 16 for good luck. But he’ll need more than mojo to make the team.


“I think people understand what’s going on here, that this is just an old warhorse who’s having a hard time retiring and wants to give it one last shot,” Cone said.

You said it mister.

A REAL MENSCH

I was talking to my cousin Gabe yesterday, and he just can’t get excited for his Mets yet. Of course it’s still early, but it’s hard to begrudge any Met fan for being cautiously optimistic at best.

“Maybe it would be different if Fonzie was coming back,” he told me.

True indeed. But as Whitestone’s finest, Edgardo Alfonzo packs his bags for San Francisco, he’s not leaving New York without saying goodbye. Alfonzo has rented ad space on the top of taxi cabs for the next month, where he has an banner that reads: Fonzie Loves New York.

The gesture is a reminder of what Met fans will be missing in Alfonzo: a real mensch.

I don’t know if it will make Gabe feel better or worse.

IF YOU WIN, YOU

IF YOU WIN, YOU WIN, IF YOU LOSE, YOU STILL WIN…

Bob Klapisch adds his two cents to the Jeter/George story, and notes that Jeter is playing into Steinbrenner’s hand by stating his case to the media:


Make no mistake, Steinbrenner wants Jeter to succeed, because the Yankees need him. But George wants to look good, too, “Abso-[fuggin]-lutely” is what Reggie Jackson said when asked if The Boss is seeking to gain control over Jeter. He’s even begun his campaign on Jason Giambi too, denying clubhouse and field-access this summer to Giambi’s personal trainer, Bob Alejo.

Steinbrenner and Giambi will meet face to face Tuesday, and we’ll learn in just a few days what it took us seven years to discover about Jeter. And that is, even the coolest and hippest sometimes can’t resist Steinbrenner’s bait.

If Giambi turns out to be as sensitive as Jeter, don’t expect Steinbrenner to relent. And if that’s the case, the entire Bronx summer has a chance to end up in the toilet.

My, how times have changed.

In his 1984 autobiography, aptly titled “Balls,” former Yankee third baseman Craig Nettles had this bit of advice for young players:


Today [1983], my recommendation to a young ballplayer is, “Be controversial. Be as controversial as you can—if you can handle it.” A lot of players can’t. Reggie wsa one of the guys who could, and the more controversial he was, the better he played. Our kids, [Don] Mattingly and [Steve "Bye Bye"] Balboni, they will never be controversial. All the young kids coming up are quiet. But I tell them, “Being a good soilder is only going to cost you money in the long run.”

Ah, the good ol’ days…

Nettles was a sardonic, clubhouse wit, who incidentally had a lousy business acumen. He was traded to the Yankees from Cleveland just a month before Steinbrenner bought the team.

During his first season with New York, he played for “The Major,” Ralph Houk:


Ralph said to me, “This owner is giving me a lot of trouble so far with all these phones calls, but one thing about him, he isn’t afraid to spend some money and buy some players when we need them.”…I like that aspect of George, that he wants to win so badly that he’ll go out and do whatever he can to make us a winner. And that’s all a player can ask for.

But Ralph kept complaining that George was calling him on the phone all the time. He’d call during the game, in the middle of the night. Things he’s done to all his managers since…

Despite what Ralph told me about George, I didn’t realize the problems were as bad as they were until the final day of the [1973] season. The final game didn’t mean anything, and after the game, the guys were getting ready to go home. But the word was, “Stay around until the end of the game. Ralph is going to make an announcement.” I didn’t know what it was going to be. And at the end of the game, you could hear the fans outside in the stadium, tearing the stadium apart, because it was the last game in Yankee Stadium for two years while they renovated, and with all that noise going on outside, in the clubhouse underneath the stands, here was Ralph Houk telling us that he was leaving.

As we sat around on the stools by our lockers, Ralph cam out and said, “I got to tell you guys something. I’ve had enough. I’m quitting.” And he broke down into tears.

I spoke to him afterward and Ralph said, “I have to quit before I hit the guy.” Ralph said, “I don’t want to leave the game of baseball by punching an owner. But if he keeps on bothering me like he does, I’ll end up hitting him.”

Maybe that’s the answer. Jeter should just go up to George’s office and punch him in the eye ball.

AROUND THE HORN

1. Nate Silver has a good article about the Yankees’ 7-man rotation at Baseball
Prospectus.

2. Tom Verducci previews the 2003 season, with a couple of questions for each team.

3. Baseball Weekly has a feature on Bill James and the influence he may have on the Red Sox.

4. Last but not least, Jack Curry has a piece on the “cool and coy” new manager of the Texas Rangers, Buck Showalter.

Enjoy.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NUTHIN

MUCH ADO ABOUT NUTHIN

There is a lot of hot air coming out of Yankee Land for a change, and not all of it from Tampa, Fla. With another weekend of snow on the horizon for New York, the local papers are keeping us warm with all the “Bronx Zoo” bluster they can conjure up. Joel Sherman and Harvey Araton, two of the more shrill columnists on the beat, pen gloom-and-doom columns today.

As expected, the fall out from Derek Jeter’s AP interview, made for a feeding frenzy this morning. While the Jeter v. George story makes for juicy headlines, it isn’t really a big deal. What? Jeter got ‘Georged?’ This is the start of his 8th season as the starting short stop of the New York Yankees, isn’t it about time the unflappable superstar finally got decked by Steinbrenner? After all, what makes Jeter so special? That he’s a class act, and a wonderful player? When has that stopped George before? Considering what his boyhood favorite Dave Winfield went through in the Bronx, this ‘controversy’ is a mosquito bite, no matter how hurt Jeter’s feelings are.

As usual, Bronx Zoo veteran, Bill Madden hits the nail on the head, sighting the final scene in Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown”:


Unlike Steinbrenner, Jeter has gone out of his way to shun controversy. And given the sensitivity of his “Turn 2″ charity for underprivileged kids, it is understandable why he would feel his image has been unfairly tarnished.

In lieu of a formal apology, all I can say to him is: Forget about it, Derek. It’s Chinatown.

DIVINE INTERVENTION

Okay, don’t laugh now, but a voice of reason emerged in Yankee camp yesterday, and it belonged to none other than the “straw that stirs the drink” himself, Reginald Martinez Jackson. Mr. October, who recieved more abuse from The Boss in one season (1981) than Jeter will in a lifetime, arrived in Tampa and immediately went into counselor-mode:


“Derek is hot and the reason he is hot makes sense,” Jackson said. “His character was attacked. This is a very conscientious guy and basically the un-named captain. He is the voice of the club and it’s his team.

“If you want to target someone for the team not having a good season last year, he is the guy. He is not an off-the-field party guy. If he were, the media would have been on to it long ago rather than waiting eight or nine years. The Boss is paying big iron and he wants big-time input into the ballclub.”

…”Jeter’s a tough kid. He went through what he went through with his sister a couple of years ago (when she was sick) and he never let anyone know about it, and that’s far more important than this.

“It’s hard for me to imagine he could be more motivated than he is.”

I’M ALRIGHT, JACK

Although Jason Giambi isn’t due in Tampa until later today, any strudel involving his personal trainer Bobby Alejo has seemingly been squashed:


“He will be allowed in the weight room, allowed on the planes and allowed to throw batting practice indoors at home,” GM [Brian] Cashman said. “He is not allowed on the field or in the clubhouse.”

How that translates into how effective Alejo, who is paid by Giambi and not the Yankees, can be with Giambi remains to be seen.

“We are trying to limit [clubhouse access] as much as possible,” Cashman said when asked why Alejo’s access was sliced. “We will have a lot more personnel in the clubhouse this year.”

…Added Joe Torre: “We’ve made changes every year. (Roger) Clemens had his guy, (Brian) McNamee, a couple of years ago. Then last year, he didn’t have him but was still able to work with him (away from the ballpark). (Jorge) Posada has his own guy, and (Derek) Jeter and Bernie (Williams), and when you let one guy have it, then the other guys resent it and you have a problem.

“It’s nothing against the individual. It’s just that when you let one guy have it, it opens it up.”

Giambi’s agent Arn Tellem said, “Everything’s fine. We worked it out. There are no issues. We got what we needed and the Yankees did too.”

OH, BROTHER

Meanwhile, the biggest news around Red Sox camp is what Prince Pedro may say when he arrives. That, and the already tired topic of the Theo Epstein’s age.

Jeremy Giambi, who is expected to have a strong showing for the Sox, addressed rivalries with the Yankees and his brother:


”The Yankees got the names, the Yankees got the big contracts, but you look at our team, throughout the lineup, the guys pitching and our pen, and we match up with them very well,” said Giambi, who spent eight weeks working out in Arizona this winter in the same demanding program followed by Nomar Garciaparra, Lou Merloni, and another new Sox pickup, Todd Walker . ”I think we’re actually a team that can play more consistent because the Yankees are going to have some injuries. I think they know that, too, I think that’s why they’re holding on to so many pitchers.

”Hopefully, we can play more consistent and if they get a few guys hurt, that’s our chance to take advantage of it.”

…”Before things settled down, he was more excited than anything,” Jeremy Giambi said of his brother’s reaction to the trade that brought Jeremy to Boston, ”especially when he heard Theo indicate that I would get everyday at-bats. Jason’s my biggest fan, not just my brother. We’re part of the biggest rivalry in baseball, maybe the biggest rivalry in sports. There’s going to be quite a serious lockup every time. He’s thinking things are going to be out of control when they come into Boston or we go into New York. Just adding more fuel to the fire.”

WELCOME BACK

At the very least, the Jeter story succeeded in keeping the return of David Cone off the backpages. Score one for the Boss. John Harper has a thoughtful column on Cone’s return in the News:


…You have to wonder about him at age 40. He’s not a big, strong guy, and he was never a workout fiend, put it that way.

Nevertheless, most anyone who has known Cone over the years will be rooting hard for him, especially New York sports writers, since he is the all-time stand-up guy in a locker room, always there to answer for himself after the bad days as well as the good days.

I just hope he’s not doing this because he’s chasing those seven wins he needs to reach 200 victories, or because he’s bored. I hope his fastball is telling him he can do this, and not just the fearless competitor in him that won’t let him back down from a challenge without a fight, whether it’s on the mound or in a pick-up basketball game.

Mike C wrote a terrific analysis of Cone’s chances over at Baseball Rants. (Don’t miss the 7th installment in Mike’s history of relief pitching.)

David Pinto also has a funny take on the signing at Baseball Musings.

Cone has always been a good quote, so I hope he does well, but he was reduced to a virtual mute in 2000 when his game went south. I doubt whether the Mets will stick with him too long if in fact, he is all warshed up.

PLUG TUNIN’

Travis Nelson, the Boy of Summer, has a thorough and detailed preview of the 2003 Phillies that is well worth perusing, and Aaron Gleeman wrote an interesting series of articles comparing Sandy Koufax with the Big Unit. The results may suprise you.

WHY WAIT ‘TIL MONDAY?

WHY WAIT ‘TIL MONDAY? JETER SPEAKS OUT

Derek Jeter didn’t wait until Monday to address Boss George’s critique of his priorities. Jeter spoke with AP columnist, Steve Wilstein this morning. Here is some of what he had to say:


“He’s the boss and he’s entitled to his opinion, right or wrong, but what he said has been turned into me being this big party animal…He even made a reference to one birthday party. That’s been turned into that I’m like Dennis Rodman now.

“I don’t think that’s fair. I have no problems with people criticizing how I play. But it bothers me when people question my work ethic. That’s when you’re talking about my integrity. I take a lot of pride in how hard I work. I work extremely hard in the offseason. I work extremely hard during the season to win. My priorities are straight.”

…”No way am I trying to get into a verbal match with the boss,” Jeter said. “I’m just trying to make it known that I care about one thing and that’s winning.”

…Jeter’s image as a playboy on the town surely has been promoted by New York’s gossip columns, where he’s been romantically linked to models, singers and actresses.

“I’m not a hermit,” Jeter said. “It’s not like I’m locked up in my house. But it’s amazing the things that are in the gossip pages that aren’t true. They’ve got me dating everyone imaginable. A lot of it I wish I would have.”

The real downside of that, he said, is that some fans will say, “there he is again, out partying. He doesn’t care.”

That’s the kind of false image that Jeter worries Steinbrenner is fostering with his complaints and that tabloids are spreading. Last week Jeter was asked if he was going to change his approach to this season after losing in the playoffs.

“My response was, no, not at all,” Jeter said. “Next thing you know, the back page of the Daily News had a picture of me saying, ‘Party On.’ Like I was saying, that I refused to change my ways for the boss or to be the captain of the Yankees.

“If you’re a fan looking at that, you’d think I don’t care whether they win or lose. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

You go, DJ: don’t take no shit off nobody.

Ya hoid?

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