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Monthly Archives: March 2003

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OPENING DAY EXCLUSIVE BRONX

OPENING DAY EXCLUSIVE

BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: BUCK O’NEIL

“When you stop learning, you’re through”

I was lucky enough to meet Buck O’Neil, the legendary Negro League ballplayer, nine years ago when I was working as a production assistant on the Ken Burns documentary, “Baseball.” I escorted him around town before a screening of one of the episodes, and it was easily one of the most memorable days of my life. You hear about people who have a presence, who light up the room when they enter it? That is Buck O’Neil.

I caught up with Buck a few weeks ago, and I thought our interview would be the ideal way to kick off the 2003 season.

Enjoy.

(The following conversation took place on Saturday, March 22, 2003.)

BUCK O’NEIL INTERVIEW

Q: How is it in Kansas City this morning?


Buck: It’s a beautiful day, a beautiful day. It’s supposed to get up in the 60s today.

Q: Well, it’s over 60 already here in the New York City, getting ready for Opening Day. It’s going to be especially great this year because it’s been such a long, trying winter.


Buck: It has been a tough winter for you folk out there.

Q: What exactly are you up to these days, Buck?


Buck: Running all over the country, running my mouth. Since the Ken Burns documentary, literally, I’ve been all over. I do some public relations for the Kansas City Royals, and I’m the chairman of the board of the Negro League Museum, here in Kansas City. When you get out here, you got to come see it. Last night, I went to see this baseball team over in Kansas City, Kansas. It was professional, but they don’t belong to any one organization. They call themselves the T-bones. That’s from Kansas City; you know we are Beef people. They call themselves the T-bones, so I was over there talking to those people. They in a league, but they don’t belong to any organization in the Major Leagues. After that, I went to a club, and they were having Ladies Night, so these were ladies who sung jazz, famous jazz and blues singers, they called it, “Just entertaining the Ladies.” And they put on a show. And tonight I’m going to the Gem Theater. The guys are going to come in, the horn players, the alto players. Two great alto players going play at the Gem Theater tonight, it’s going to be Charlie Parker night. They have a Charlie Parker Week here. I’m going tonight.

Q: Buck, how did your participation in the Ken Burns “Baseball” series effect your life?


Buck: Oh, man. I haven’t rested yet. I’m still going. Mm-hmm. Well, my life took off again, after the Ken Burns documentary.

Q: Buck, I’m working on a biography on Curt Flood, which is aimed at a teenage audience. Could you explain what it was like to come up through the minor leagues in the mid 1950s for black players?

Buck: Well actually in the middle 50s, if you were a black major leaguer you were on top of the world. You were on top of the world during that time. With guys like Curt Flood: Now, Jackie, what happened to Jackie wasn’t nothing like what happened to guys like Curt Flood. Because Jackie was here with the [Kansas City] Monarchs and Jackie’s first job with organized baseball was with Montreal. Where with Curt Flood, it might have been Macon, Georgia. The difference was night and day. Those guys who played in the lower minor leagues, played in the south and they had a hell of a time. It was really tough for them. But with Jackie, playing in Montreal, that’s just a different culture altogether.

Q: Robinson was accepted more openly.

Buck: Of course.

Q: What were your impressions of the Cardinals in the late 50s and early 60s?

Buck: One thing, see was that the Cardinals had some outstanding black ballplayers. That’s what happened with the Cardinals: they had outstanding ballplayers all around too. The black population really took to the Cardinals. With Curt Flood, Curt Flood was first class all the way. Baseball was actually cruel to Curt Flood. When Curt wouldn’t go to Philadelphia Curt actually changed baseball. When he wouldn’t accept that contract to go to Philadelphia. During that era, the owners in baseball had all the control over baseball players. They paid you what they wanted to pay you; they would send you where they wanted to send you. And I’ve seen people during that era in organized baseball; I’ve seen so many guys that actually played minor league baseball all of their careers when they were qualified to play Major League Baseball. This was not only black players but white kids too. Teams like the Yankees owned all the players in their chain. And you had to stay on the Yankees team, unless they traded you. You didn’t have any out. And that was true for all of baseball. They paid you what they wanted to pay you. But when Curt Flood reneged his trade, this is where you came up with the union. Mm-hmm.

Q: Were you surprised when Flood sued Baseball?


Buck: With Curt Flood? No. I figure it would have to be someone like Curt Flood to have done it.

Q: Had you met Flood when he was a younger player?

Buck: Not until he went into organized baseball. I met him when he was with Cincinnati, before he went to St. Louis. Outstanding young man. You know you kind of figure baseball players were guys who just made money and were not that educated. During that era, I’d guess that maybe 5% of Major League Baseball players were educated. Because the Major Leagues wanted the kids right out of high school. Uh-huh. Get them when they 18 years old, 19 years old. These guys would maybe get to the Major Leagues when they 23, 24. Where, as the college man, you don’t sign till he’s 20-something years old. Flood didn’t go to college, but he was smart like the college men.

Q: Bob Gibson and Bill White were both college guys. What about George Crowe? I’ve read that he was a veteran role player who had great influence on the younger black guys like White and Flood.

Buck: What a guy. George Crowe was the type of man who was a student. He was kind of different from the average baseball player. This was a George Crowe. Just like a Jackie, and a majority of guys: you see 40% of the Negro leaguers were college men. The reason why the Negro Leaguers were college men more so than the Major Leaguers, [was because] we trained in a college town. We would go to spring, always go to spring training in a black college town and we played [against] the black colleges. The black colleges were like a minor league for the Negro Leaguer. Mm-hmm. Crowe played some years in the Negro Leagues. He spent some time in the minors now, but the guys I’m talking about that spent a lot of time in the minor leagues were more or less, white ball players. That was before Jackie.

Q: Crowe’s influence was supposed to have been formative for Bill White, and Flood, and Gibson.

Buck: Oh, Bill White. Bill White is first class, now. Still. Mm-hmm. Bill White was the type of guy that any ball player would look up to. Because of his character. And another thing too: he could play. He could play. When blacks would come to the Major Leagues they noticed that when they went to St. Louie, New York, Harlem, he wouldn’t be going to the dives in those places, he would go into the first class places. And ball players would follow his lead.

Q: You became a scout for the Cubs in 1956. Was that your first job in Major League Baseball?

Buck: Yes. And I’m still doing some things for the [Kansas City] Royals now.

Q: How did you come across Ernie Banks?

Buck: Oh Ernie Banks? Well, the Monarchs had a traveling team we called “The Baby Monarchs.” We had so many black ball players, we couldn’t play them all. When we went to spring training, we’d maybe have 40 people there. Uh-huh. When we got ready to cut, we pretty much knew who the regular guys were going to be, but the other kids we’d put them on the little Monarchs team. Cool Papa Bell was running this ball club. They went to the northwest, and they would travel from Omaha all the way up north to Canada to play. That’s the team I started with in 1937. They were like a farm team for the Monarchs. Cool Papa Bell was running the Little Monarchs for us and he saw a team, saw a ball player from one of those semi-pro teams in Texas. When their season was over, they came into Kansas City, and Cool said, “Buck, I saw a kid on a team from Dallas, Texas, and he could play short stop for you.” I said, “Yeah, that sounds good.” This had to be Nineteen-and-forty-nine. 1949. Early in the spring of 1950, I went down to Dallas and signed this kid Ernie Banks. I hadn’t seen him play; Cool had seen him play. I signed him and he went to spring training with us in 1950. Played the season with us: good-looking kid. Went to the service in ’51 and ’52, came back in ’53, played with us, and that’s when the major league teams started scouting him. Now the Cubs We used to play our East/West Game in Chicago. Always played it at Comisky Park. And we played Ernie in the ballgame and after the ballgame that night, Tom Baird, who owned the Kansas City Monarchs called me and said, “Bring Ernie Banks out to the ballpark,”-the Cubs ballpark—”they want to sign him to a contract.” So Wendell Smith, who wrote for “The Pittsburgh Courier” and “The Chicago Defender,” he came, picked us up, took us out to Wrigley Field and that’s when they signed Ernie Banks.

Q: This is before you worked in the Major Leagues, correct?

Buck: This is 1953, but um, when the general manager of the ball club was getting ready to sign Ernie Banks. He said, “Buck, you know this Negro League Baseball is about to close, because Tom Baird is going to get rid of this ball club [the Kansas City Monarchs]. When he does, I want you to come work here as a scout for the Cubs. And so your first job is right now, I want you to sign Ernie Banks. You signed Ernie Banks to a Negro League contract, now I want you to sign him to a Cub contract.” So I signed Ernie Banks twice.

Q: When did Lou Brock come around?

Buck: This was several years later that I saw Lou Brock at Southern University in Baton Rogue.

Q: Was he an outfielder at that point?

Buck: Yeah. He was playing right field. Fast kid, he could really run and make contact. Steal bases.

Q: Tough loss for the Cubs when you guys traded Brock to the Cardinals in the middle of the 1964 season.

Buck: Yeah, well the one thing about it is when I go to St. Louis now they give me a standing ovation for Lou Brock.

[Laughter]

Because see, they called me in when they wanted to trade Lou Brock. They called me in, and said, “What do you think? Would you like for us to trade Lou to St. Louis?” I said, “Oh, well, that’n be alright because Billy Williams in the outfield, we got Sweet Lou Johnson in the outfield, we got George Altman in the outfield. We didn’t need outfielders, what we needed was pitching. And Broglio had won 20 games the year before, so this was a good trade, we thought, for us. We didn’t know Broglio had the bad arm. Hmm-hmm.

Q: How personal was your relationship with Ernie Banks and Lou Brock?

Buck: Oh, they’re like my sons. Mm-hmm.

Q: Where in the hell did you find Oscar Gamble?

Buck: In Montgomery, Alabama. Montgomery, Alabama. What I’m doing, is scouting the colleges, and I go to a Sunday ballgame, and this is the city club. They playing ball, and I’m scoutin them. And I saw this kid in center field, and I asked him, “Well do you play with any other teams besides this one?” He was a high school boy. And he said, “Yeah, we gunna play, next Saturday, I’m playing on a team that’s not an old man team, but a team of kids in some spot not far from Montgomery. And actually they played on a field out there: it was one-way in, and one-way out. But it was actually, once you got in there, they had a beautiful little diamond. And they were having a picnic, and I went, and he was on this ball club, and I saw him again playing and said, “Oh, man, this is what I’m looking for.” And so that’s when I signed him. This had to have been in the late ’60s.

Q: Gamble has a reputation as a real cut-up. Was he like that as a kid?

Buck: Actually during that time he was kind of a quiet guy, when I first met him.

Q: I know he didn’t play for you, but what did you think about Minnie Minoso?

Buck: Oh well, Minnie Minoso. Well Minnie Minoso, I first saw as kid in Cuba. In 1946 he played in Cuba. I was playing in Havana and he was playing for another team. Third base. Good-looking ballplayer. Good-looking kid.

Q: Think he should be in the Hall of Fame?

Buck: He did have quite a Major League career, and Minnie was a good ballplayer, very good ballplayer, but when you speak about Hall of Fame, you speaking about great. Cause think that everybody that played in the Major Leagues at the time was a good ballplayer. You had to be a good ballplayer to play in the Major Leagues. But actually, you are not talking about good ballplayers when you talk about Hall of Famer, you talking about great ballplayer. Uh-huh. And I imagine in Minnie had gone into the Major Leagues at say 21, he would have more on the board than he does now. Minnie’s such a personable fella. And everybody likes Minnie. Uh-huh. He was a good ballplayer.

Q: What was the role of statistics in the Negro Leagues? Did you walk around thinking, “Oh, I’m a .300 hitter,” “He’s a 30 home run guy?”

Buck: Yeah, we felt that, we felt that. As far as statistics were concerned Now when we played in Kansas City, [we had] the “Kansas City Call,” a black weekly. “The St. Louis Organ,” a black weekly, “Chicago Defender,” black weekly, “Pittsburgh Courier,” black weekly, “Amsterdam News”—that’s New York city: black weekly. All them now. Now when we played in those cities, somebody was there. All the stats: we got ‘em. But when we left those places if we played in KC, we knew the “Call” would cover it. Because the white paper, which was “The Kansas City Star,” they didn’t cover our ball. Neither did the New York papers. Only the black media covered [black] baseball. When we were in those cities, they would cover us. When we moved out of those cities, which we did quite often like, we’d play in Washington, but after that we’d go to Richmond. Uh-huh. And other cities too. Unless we were in the cities with the big papers, that was the only times we’d get the coverage. So we didn’t get the complete stats we should have had. Let’s say we would keep up with it here in KC, and when we were on the road we our traveling secretary would keep track of our numbers. He was really on stats. He would keep up with ours. And so would somebody say with the New York Black Yankees. But it didn’t get into the Major Leagues and the big print.

Q: Did you pick up “The Amsterdam News” when you were in New York during those days?

Buck: Oh yeah. But actually, what we would pick up with that they would tell me what happened with the Black Yankees played in New York City or Philadelphia or Washington. But they don’t have the stats when they played in Albany, New York. Or Buffalo.

Q: Did you read the stats for the Major League players?

Buck: Every day. Oh yeah, sure.

Q: In the “Baseball” movie you talk about being part of the jazz culture in Kansas City during the 30′s. Count Basie, Lester Young, Ellington, Armstrong. In fact, I put on an Inkspots cd this morning before I called you, just to get in the mood. Which group did you prefer, the Inkspots or the Mills brothers?

Buck: I liked them both. I liked them both. I liked them both. Oh, great entertainers. They were great entertainers. They were contemporaries, Mm-hmm. Then I guess the Inkspots—we started hearing them here and there, before the Mills brothers.

Q: What about the 1950s? Did you listen to other jazz after swing? Did you listen to more modern guys like Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, or Horace Silver?

Buck: Yeah. See, actually, I’ll tell you a story. You know, you hear the different sounds, but it’s all music. I remember once sitting in a club with Count Basie. We sitting there, it was actually a jam session. They were jamming. All of them had finished their work on the regular job, in Kansas City. And we’re in this club, and they’re jamming. We had played baseball, and that night I go to the club, we call it the ‘Subway,’ and I’m sitting there with Count. The other guys were jamming; he had played. A kid comes in with a horn. And they said, ‘Let him blow.’ He started blowing, didn’t none of us know what he was blowin’, but we had to listen to it, cause he’s makin’ some sounds we’d never heard before. Uh-huh. He was turning’ those notes, you know, different ways. And, that was Charlie Parker. He was still a kid. Uh-huh. He was still in high school. So actually, the music, the music, changes, but it’s still music.

Q: You keeping up with the latest Rap records?

Buck: Yeah. Yeah, I listen to it. Anytime you play music, I want to hear it. Mm-hmm. I want to hear it.

Q: You still follow the pro game these days?

Buck: I just got back from Arizona. I still do some things with the Royals. So I went out to their spring training. But every year, I’ve been going to spring training, been going to some parts of spring training, for the last 70 years. We got some good-looking young ball players. You going to hear something about them. Got a center fielder [Carlos Beltran], that’s a good ball player, and our first baseman [Mike Sweeney] is first class. Great hitter.

Q: What seems to be the biggest difference from when you played?

Buck: The only difference made in Baseball since Baseball started was the DH hitter. Baseball is still the same. The players playing now are in better shape than we ever were. They’re stronger. But the difference is, in my era the best athletes in the world played baseball, cause that’s where the money was. Football, basketball was more or less college sports. Made a living professionally, you played baseball. So the best athletes in the world played baseball. But right now, the best athlete in the world could be teeing up the golf ball, you know, or hitting a tennis ball a hundred-and-something miles per hour. There is so many ways to make a great living now. So the best athlete in the world might not be playing baseball.

Q: Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson would be football stars.

Buck: That’s right. Cause Jackie might have played football if would have come along today. So many of the guys that I know, would have played basketball.

Q: Was the competition more intense in the ’30s and ’40s than today?

Buck: Sure. The supply was greater than the demand, really. Say, in the ’40s. Cause everybody played baseball. They were so many baseball players. This is why a guy could stay in the minor leagues for 10 years. Because he couldn’t go no place else, unless his team would move him. But right now, the demand is greater than the supply.

Q: How do you feel about watching Barry Bonds rewrite the record books the past couple of seasons?

Buck: Outstanding, outstanding. See Barry Bonds has always been an outstanding athlete. He got bad press. But hell, he been the top guy, up there with people like a Willie Mays, an Ernie Banks–people who may have received more favorable media coverage than he did, but honey: He can do it all. Right now, you talk about a great athlete out there, you got to say, A-Rod. Mm-hmm. Great ballplayer, down there in Texas. I was with him last year. We gave him an award. The Negro League Museum gave him the Josh Gibson award last year. Went down there to Texas, talked with him. Fine young man, fine young man. Going down to sign autographs with him next month.

Q: There were a couple of flare-ups in spring training this year between teams, with guys getting plunked. Talk about the lost art of the brush-back pitch.

Buck: Well, it’s changed, it’s changed. It’s made a lot of home run hitters. Because you can’t—if you pitch inside, and throw the ball, say two inches inside of the plate, you get the umpire coming out with his finger in your face. Mm-hmm. This is baseball now. We didn’t have that problem. We didn’t have helmets either. I know I hit behind Willie Brown, who was a home run hitter, I’d hit behind him. He’d hit the home run, and I knew I was going down, but I didn’t know on what pitch. (Laughs) A lot guys lean over the plate now, but they don’t get it. One thing about it is, actually, you could get hurt, really. And getting hit with the ball did hurt a lot of people. Now, the main thing, the worst thing is the strike zone: they made it so small. Uh-huh. With that high strike. That high inside pitch we used to get for a strike, you don’t get it anymore. And that low, outside pitch we used to get for a strike, you don’t get that anymore. Mm-hmm. They trying to rectify the small strike zone. They need to put it, making the strike zone where it should be, from you arm pit, down to your knees. Some umpires call that now, but not all of them.

Q: It’s all about promoting offense.

Buck: They lowered the mound. When we had Bob Gibson, and all the 20-game winning pitchers, the mound was higher. They lowered the mound because they wanted more offense. They thought the people would like that. The home run would bring the people to the ballpark. During my era a good ballgame was a 1-0 ball game, a 2-3 ballgame. A good ballgame now is a 7-8 ballgame.

Q: Do you get bored watching 3, 4 hour games?

Buck: I’m never bored. I’m never board at a baseball game because I’ve can always see something. Mm-hmm. I can always see something. I like to watch ballplayers. Because I see a kid and it feels like it did when I saw Lou Brock and said, “Hmmm. Cool Papa Bell.” Mm-hmm. Like now, I see Ken Griffey, I say, “Oh, Ken Griffey? Look like Turkey Stearnes.” When I see ballplayers now I equate them with great ballplayers I’d seen long time ago. I see a kid swing the bad good, “Hmm. Ted Williams. Aaahh.” So that’s why baseball is so interesting to me.

Q: So you are not all caught up in thinking, “Oh it was so much better in my day, it’s lousy now.”

Buck: That’s always the way it’s been. When I came in with the Monarchs, they said, “Buck, you a good first baseman but you’re not as good as the fella that came before you.” I came up with a kid when I was a manager, a Cuban kid [who] played first base for me, and could play first base. They’d say, “You a good first baseman, but you’re not as good as Buck O’Neil.” You know what I mean? This is what the older folks will do. Just like the guy said, “Inkspots good, but they not as good as the Mills brothers.”

Q: What does Opening Day mean for you? Does it still get you excited?

Buck: Of course, of course. It’s a brand new season, a brand new year. The first thing: it’s spring. You understand what I mean? Baseball opening the season, that means this is spring. Mm-hmm. Spring. And I always get up with spring every year. I’m going to see some kids that hadn’t seen before. Right here, at Opening Day in Kansas City, the 31st, I’m going to be at the ballpark, right behind home plate.

Q: Are you still learning things about baseball?

Buck: Let me tell you something: when you stop learning, you’re through. Mm-hmm. I’m 91, but I’m still learning. Not only about baseball, about others things [too]. Yeah, yeah. You should always keep learning, as long as you live. You’re going to write. You’ll learn something. And not only that, you’re going to teach things. Cause what you’re going to write about now a lot of people, could be baseball fans, don’t know about. Mm-hmm. Of course, you learning, you teaching, that’s life. That’s life. And right now we going through a tough time. Over there now, you hope that we’ve learned from the last time we were over there. [This time] it’s going to be different. Mm-hmm.

Q: You have an amazing sense of optimism about the world.

Buck: That’s what you should have. Cause always figure that tomorrow is going to be better. Don’t care how good today is, tomorrow is going to be better but it is exciting though to get up. It’s like the first time you see a Willie Mays, huh? “Mm, look at this.” (Laughs)

Q: Us Yankee fans a feeling that a little bit these days with the kid Soriano.

Buck: Hey, you got to. How you think I felt when I saw him? Huh? That kid. How can he generate that kind of power? Oh, man. (Laughs) It’s amazing, isn’t it?

Q: It’s like his bat has batteries or something like that. It’s supercharged.

Buck: I’m telling you. He’s got great wrists. And, oh man. You look at him and say, “This is going to be another superstar.”

Q: You think he’s going to last?

Buck: Of course, of course. Yes. Man. A kid like—Boy. It’s still there. I’ll tell you one thing—you know what worries me about baseball? (Pause) The black kid in the inner city stopped playing baseball. Going to basketball. You know the white kid, 170 pounds, 175 pounds: Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, that white kid. He stopped playing baseball now [Dave Eckstein notwithstanding]. Mm-hmm.

Q: Why is that?

Buck: It’s just the difference in the times. Now, all those kids used to play baseball, but what they do now? They play soccer, they doing other things. A lot them actually, don’t play baseball. They on the computer. They doing a lot of things that we never did. I remember in my time, you hear the mama [say], “Alright now, its time for you to come in.” Now you got to tell the kids, “Why don’t you go out and get some sunshine? Go outside and get some sunshine.” But there’s so many things he can do inside the house, you couldn’t do in my era. I remember the southern white boy: he was hungry. He wanted to get out of that cotton field just like the black kid wanted get out of the inner city. Baseball was the out. That’s it. Baseball is the out for the Latin kids; baseball is the out for the Japanese kids. Uh-huh. You understand? This is his way out. And this is why they playing.

OPENING DAY GEMS The

OPENING DAY GEMS

The Times ran their Baseball Preview over the weekend and there were several notable articles…

Jack Curry has a good profile on the ace of the Atlanta Braves, Greg Maddux, who is always interesting, no matter how boring he might seem:


“Why am I so good?” Maddux said, repeating a question. “I think it’s probably because I understand myself as a pitcher, somewhat. I have an idea of what I can and can’t do on the mound. That’s probably the only reason I’ve lasted for the last five or six years.”

…While Maddux’s fastball rarely exceeds 89 miles per hour, it is a pitch he hones extensively and a pitch that enables him to be so masterly. Maddux’s fastball has tremendous movement and he can usually hit a one-inch box from 60 feet 6 inches. Since he controls it like a yo-yo, it enhances the rest of his repertory. Maddux counsels teammates to spend more time controlling their fastballs and less on curveballs or sliders.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of time he puts on perfecting the command of his fastball,” Mazzone said. “It’s his No. 1 priority. In his mind, if you can command your fastball and change speeds, there isn’t a heck of a lot more you have to do.”

…”I think what separates him is he’s so much better at recognizing what the last pitch dictated and gathering information from that than most guys are,” Glavine said. “Most guys say: `I threw a fastball in. Now I’m going to throw this.’ Why? They don’t know. It might not have anything at all to do with the last pitch. I think that’s what he’s good at. Seeing the hitter’s reaction and using that information on the next pitch.”

Allen Barra, one of the best baseball writers around, has a column on Barry Bonds. I don’t know if this is just a guest shot for Barra—who regularly writes for the Wall Street Journal and Saloon.com, but the Times sports department would improve significantly with someone like Barra on board.

Lastly, Michael Lewis wrote an amazing article on Oakland GM Billy Beane in the Times Magazine yesterday, detailing the art of the deal.

The story centers around Beane’s last-minute moves before the trading deadline last summer.


Having kept the team close enough to hope, he could now go out and shop for whatever else he needed to get to the playoffs. When he set off on this shopping spree, he kept in mind five simple rules:

1) No matter how successful you are, change is always good. There can never be a status quo. When you have no money, you can’t afford long-term solutions, only short-term ones. You have to always be upgrading.

2) The day you say, ”I have to do something,” you’re in trouble. Because you are going to make a bad deal. You can always recover from the player you didn’t sign. You may never recover from the player you signed at the wrong price.

3) Know exactly what every player in baseball is worth to you. You can put a dollar figure on it.

4) Know exactly who you want and go after him. (Never mind whom they say they want to trade.)

5) Every deal you do will be publicly scrutinized by subjective opinion. If I’m the C.E.O. of I.B.M., I’m not worried that every personnel decision I make is going to wind up on the front page of the business section. Not everyone believes that he knows everything about the personal computer. But everyone who ever picked up a bat thinks he knows baseball. To do this well, you have to ignore the newspapers.

Beane, who looks like a younger, more attractive Kevin Spacey, comes off like a character in a David Mamet play, minus the contrived Mamet-like cadences. This article is long, but well worth it. It’s the best profile I’ve read on Beane to date.

Don’t sleep.

NO JOY IN CABLEVISONVILLE:

NO JOY IN CABLEVISONVILLE: GETTING OVER IT

Determined not to let the latest set back between the Yankee-owed YES network and Cablevision—who just happens to be my local cable provider—get me down too tough, I got up early Saturday morning and went to stand on line with cousin Gabe, the Mets fan, to see the Leonardo Da Vinci show at the MET. This was the final weekend of the exhibition, and the mobs had been turning out all month for a look at what has hyped as a once-in-a-lifetime showing.

The Saturday papers did a good job of covering the YES story, which essentially boils down to George Steinbrenner being an ogre again. The monster has been loose all winter. Jeter got it, Torre got it, Boomer’s getting it, and so, once again are all the innocent Yankee fans who have the sad-ass misfortune to be Cablevision subscribers. In the words of Mike Lupica, we’re all getting ‘Georged.’

Speaking of the lip, Lupica, a veteran of this kind of Yankee stunt, penned the kind of dead-to-rights piece on the whole affair that reminds you of how good a tabliod columnist he can still be:


…Finally Leo Hindery, who is the CEO of YES in name only, and James Dolan of Cablevision got in a room with Gerald Levin and Richard Aurelio, two big-time New York guys acting as mediators, at the mayor’s house. They came out a few weeks ago and announced what is now known as an “interim” deal that would put the Yankees on Cablevision and into those three million homes. We all cheered. Because of the fans.

Only now Steinbrenner, hiding behind Hindery and his Crack Television Committee the way he always hid behind his Crack Baseball Committee when something used to go wrong with the Yankees, backs away from a deal he knows everybody agreed to as if he’s Guillermo Mota of the Dodgers and here comes Mike Piazza.

He backs out of the deal, and blames it all on Cablevision, of course, and lets Hindery stand there and take the weight for him. Why? Because something never changes, the way George M. Steinbrenner never changes.

Which means nothing can ever be his fault.

Now Steinbrenner doesn’t want to open his books as part of the deal, because no owner ever does in baseball. No owner wants you to know how much he’s making. Particularly Steinbrenner, who’s already getting murdered with revenue sharing. What is one of the biggest reasons he wanted his own network in the first place? Because it could be Yankee revenue that wasn’t officially Yankee revenue.

In all matters, he wants it all. Now this interim deal that has turned into no deal at all.

“The best part of this,” Dolan said yesterday, “is that (Steinbrenner) wants people to believe he’s not running the show.”

Cablevision is a monopoly, big, bad, greedy, occasionally real lousy. And makes no secret of that. Steinbrenner is a different kind of monopoly, his greed just as blatant. He just dresses his in pinstripes.

Bob Raissman, the media columnist for the Daily News, lays a good share of the blame on Cablevision.

(The Times reports on Sunday that the Yankees have made a self-serving counter-proposal to Cablevision in a last-ditch attempt to get the team on the air by Opening Day.)

I read the papers on the train, and felt better. Lupica’s column had hit the spot. I was able to forget about the whole mess, and concentrate on the DaVinci show, just ahead.

Of course, my unlce Fred the painter, had seen the show about 4 or 5 times. I got on the 1 train at 231st street at approximately 8 am. It should take a half an hour to get to 79th street, where I then transfer to the crosstown bus, that lets me off on 5th avenue and 79th street. The Met opens at 9:30, so we figured on meeting at 8:45—which was pretty lax I must admit.

The train ride was running smoothly and by 8:20 we were on 110th street. Right on time. At 103rd street, the doors stayed open extra long, and then somebody exited the car ahead of mine, and yelled, “Somebody’s having a seizure!” A weird stillness that fell over my car, which was crowded for a Saturday morning. We didn’t hear any commotion.

Had we heard that right? Nobody continued yelling for help. There was a kid in scrubs in our car who was eventually summoned. Everything was happening painfully slowly. And the feeling of collective helplessness was papable. Later, it reminded me of watching Geoff Jenkins busting his ankle last season. There wasn’t anything that happened in 2002 that enraged me more than how long it took to get medical attention to that kid last summer. The Brewers medical staff moved in slow-motion. It was like like Double A at its finest. I felt so helpless watching it at home. No wonder nobody wants to go play in Milwaukee.

At 8:26, we were still in the station when my old friend Ricardo walked onto the train. We ran in the same group for a while a couple of years ago, and hadn’t seen each other in a minute. I saw him first, standing across the car from me. He scanned the car when he first walked in, and we made eye contact, but dude didn’t recognize me. Homeslice rocks some thick ass glasses, and I know he didn’t pick me up.

Another minute passes before he does recognize me. He comes over and I fill him in on the seizure story. We chat for a mintue and then we split. The EMS had still not arrived. I felt guilty leaving the scene. We decide to walk down to 96th street—he was on his way to work (Ricardo is a copy editor for the AP). I caught him up on my life-in-a-nutshell, on the walk down Broadway. We exchanged cards and I ran off to catch the crosstown bus at 96th street—which had just rolled up the block.

I jogged up to Amerstam avenue, but and watched the light change against me and the bus get smaller and smaller. So I did something I rarely do—I hailed a cab. It was 8:35. Fug it. Had a nice conversation with the cab driver too, a Kurd with a great name: Sham Shawali.

I made it to the Met by 8:40. There were already lines along both sides of the front steps. I checked for my cousin, didn’t see him, and got in the shortest line.

Stood next to this older dude who eventually started up some small talk. In no time we got around to chatting about baseball. This guy had one of those strawberry-sized-W.C. Fields, Father Rosacea shnozola’s that are mesmerizing. It’s the only part of the guy you can look at. He was a funny old character, bitter and hung-over and hostile. He must have been in his late 50s-early 60s. He was one of the these guys who don’t want to have a conversation, they want to rant at you.

Well, I can’t have that, so I didn’t let him talk at me too long. We ended up having a decent chat.

Gabe showed up by 9:00, when the lines were getting hairy. A third line had developed down the center of the steps. By the time they opened the doors, it was a bonafide bum’s rush. People rushed in from all directions. Middle aged ladies had their kids, walked up, cutting all lines, and buffaloed their way in.

It was pretty funny. There was a kind of general panic that made everything seem like a little bit too much like a Mel Brooks sketch. But since when is that bad? As I made my way through the bag search I over heard a screatchy Upper East Side Joan Rivers-like voice say, “Which way is Leo? Which way is Leo? I gotta see Leo.”

People were basically sprinting to the Da Vinci exhibit.

At it was crowded. First, they roped us into lines like cattle. Then we made it into the show and the first two galleries were very congested. But after a couple of minutes of adjusting, I found some rush-hour commuter patience, and managed to get a good long look at every picture.

And it was so worth it. The show was absolutely amazing. Despite the viewing conditions. All of the drawings are unbelievably small, and intolerably fine. Walking through the show felt like walking through a genius’ hard drive. The guy was like a freakin’ computer. He was into everyting—science, art, medicine. And the show has something for everyone.

There was an amazingly animated quality to the studies and drawings of horses. As cerebral and mathematical was Da Vinci was—he is a draftsman in a true architectural sense, his drawings have an expressiveness of an artist, not a mere clincical illustrator.

Gabe and I brought our mitts to have a catch, but we were so hungry after the show, we skipped the catch and headed straight for delicious brunch.

Mmmm, delicious brunch.

Oh, man. It was enough to make me forget the YES-Cablevision screw-job for a minute, that’s for sure.

NOT SO FAST… Earlier

NOT SO FAST…

Earlier this afternoon I was talking to a friend of mine about being able to watch the Yankees on Cablevision this coming season. I said, “Even though everything looks good, I can’t get excited yet. I won’t believe it until I see it.”

Sure enough, things aren’t looking so good for about 3 million Cablevision subscribers, as talks have broken off between YES, and Cablevision.

Excuse me if I wearily shrug my shoulders and say, “I told you so.”


The collapse of the talks came less than a month after the two sides vowed to work out their differences on behalf of the fans. The Yankees start their season Monday.

“Unfortunately, at the moment, Cablevision and the YES Network are unable to agree on the details of the previously announced agreement to have Yankees games carried on the Cablevision cable systems,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.

Both sides are blaming one another for a change.

More mud-slinging, and broken hearts to come.

SPRING TRAINING FINALE My

SPRING TRAINING FINALE

My good friend Mindy, aka Minnie Minosa, aka the Big, Fat Milejio, recently went down to spring training with two of her baseball buddies—Anne and Allison. These ladies are all in their early 30s, and are wild Yankee fans. I don’t know Allison too tough, but my girlfriend Emily and I went to a Yankee game last summer with Mindy and Anne, and well, they were a sight to see. What a pair of loud asses. Damn, it was like sitting next to Frick and fuggin Frack.

Mindy is one of the smartest people I know, and while she’s always been a baseball fan, she has really delved into the culture and history during the past year. Her curiosity and passion are infectious, and we had many spirited conversations and debates throughout the long winter. She may have a bod like Boom-Boom Belinda, but the beauty part is that she’s a Tom boy, and a brainiac to boot. (People often think she’s Latina cause of pa-dapp over here, and ba-bam over there, but Minosa is 100% Pizzan all the way.)

Anyhow, the Gleesome Threesome had been planning a trip to Tampa all winter long. Mindy even made Allison and Anne a little picture book of names and faces of famous Yankees, past and present, so they could identify some of the old bastards they may run into in spring training. Sure enough, they had a blast, and when they returned Mindy was kind enough to write up the following report.

Enjoy.

YOGI, GATOR, PUFF ‘N’ STUFF

By Mindy DePalma

My friends, Allison, Anne, and I arrived in Tampa for Yankee Spring Training on Thursday afternoon, March 13th. This was our first time at spring training and we only really had hopes of seeing some great baseball and getting some sun. We weren’t interested in autographs and we certainly didn’t have any expectations of meeting any baseball players, past, present or future.
We arrived at our hotel and while we were waiting in the lobby to check in, a cab driver walks through the door and yells, “Whitey is here.” This nearly sent me through the roof since Whitey Ford just happens to be my all-time favorite Yankee. Unfortunately, it ended up being a different Whitey (or a sick joke) because he had left the hotel a few days before we arrived. However, it must have been a sign of things to come because as soon as we checked our bags, we grabbed our bathing suits and headed out to the pool. As we were rounding the corner toward the pool, we see Yogi Berra standing in our path. My jaw dropped to the ground as I raced by toward the door. However, my friends were not going to let this moment pass. After much pushing, shoving and nagging, Anne finally persuaded me to go over and ask him for an autograph. I did. He was nice, and shy; luckily the two men he was with broke the ice and started chatting with me for a few minutes. The two men ended up being his son, Larry and his nephew, Angelo.
That night we went to the exhibition game against the Red Sox. Andy Pettitte started, and faired pretty well. He looked healthy and lasted about 3 or 4 innings. Shea Hillenbrand and Trot Nixon got a couple of knocks off him, but no serious damage was done. I came to realize that starters only last 3 or 4 innings during spring training games. Brandon Claussen followed Andy, and then Mo closed it out. Much to my relief, Mo was spectacular. He blew away the Socks with a couple of strike outs and a pop out.
The next day we attended the Yankee/Devil Rays game, and arrived early to watch batting practice. We caught the last 15-20 minutes of Jeter, Giambi, Soriano, and Zeile. The fence surrounding home plate was packed, but we got a great view of the guys waiting in line to swing. Off to our side, was a desperate 8-year-old screaming his little heart out (“Mr. Jeter, Mr. Jeter!”) for Derek Jeter to come over and sign his baseball. Jeter eventually yelled back and said, “I can’t do it now because I’m working, but I’ll come over in a little bit.” Which he did. Finally, this poor child’s vocal cords were restored.
This game was our first look at Jose Contreras (his stuff was good, but he got a little beat up in the first couple of innings). We sat behind 3rd base and had some time to kill before the game started. I spotted the bullpen from across the field and quickly left my friends to check out Contreras warming up. I also hoped to catch a glimpse at my main man, the Gator, Ron Guidry, who was in camp as a pitching instructor. When I ran over, there were a bunch of people leaning over the walkway overlooking the bullpen. A few guys were milling around, but there was Gator sitting in a chair in the corner of the bullpen. He would occasionally glance up at the crowd uncomfortably as if he felt like he was trapped in a fishbowl. Finally, I yelled down and said, “Hey Gator!” and waved. He looked up, smiled, and waved back. Oh the joy!
Finally, Contreras came out and started warming up with a softball. He tossed a few light rounds and then slowly threw harder and harder for about 10 minutes. Finally, he switched to a baseball. Contreras threw for a while with what seemed like a nice degree of heat; his form looked great. Finally, he seemed thoroughly loosened up. After he walked out onto the field to throw a few to Jorge Posada, Mo Rivera came walking out to the pen. Most of the people on the walkway had left at that point, so I gambled, and again couldn’t restrain myself and yelled, “Hi Mo!” Like Gator, he looked up, gave a dazzling smile, and said hello. My bullpen session was complete. The game was starting, so finally after about a half hour or so I rejoined my friends.
After the game, we returned to the hotel and headed down to the pool. We ran into Larry Berra and his cousin Angelo, and their friend Robert. We chatted, told them about our day and went off to our room. Later, that evening as we finished dinner at a nearby restaurant, our new friend Robert came over and invited us to a Yankee cocktail party. I looked at Robert in disbelief.

All he said was, “Ron Guidry is there.” I flew out the door.
When we got to the cocktail party, we said our hellos to Larry and Angelo. Everyone was outside on a patio by the water. As soon as I walked in I went to grab the closest chair at the furthest table from the crowd and who was sitting there but Ron Guidry. I just stood there and looked down in disbelief as he looked up at me. Earlier in the day I was just giddy over seeing him in the bullpen and now here he was a few inches from me. Larry said, “Go ahead, you can sit there.” As soon as I sat down next to him, Guidry looked over, extended his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Ron Guidry.” Fuck, yeah you are! I said, “Yeah, I know. I’m a really big fan of yours. You were my favorite player growing up.”
Guidry’s form has barely changed since his pitching days. He was still tall and lean. He lacked the middle-aged man gut that haunts many guys his age. His hair was slicked back and had almost no gray in it. He could not have been more handsome. His slow Louisiana drawl eventually worked at calming my nerves enough to engage in a conversation. So I peppered him with questions. He was more than happy to chat, and here is some of what he said
I asked Gator how he felt about his role as a special instructor and if the players really listened to his advice during spring training, and he told them that some do,

“But you will always get young, cocky guys who don’t want to hear what you have to say and that’s fine. The veterans don’t really need much advice, but they tend to be very respectful.”
He particularly noted Mo Rivera as a great guy. “Then, there are some of the young kids who want to ask a question but they are too intimidated,” he said. “For example, the other day there was this kid in the bullpen who kept looking over at me and I knew the kid wanted to ask me something. So finally I went up to the kid and said, ‘I know you want to ask me a question so why don’t you just come out and ask. That’s what I’m here for. If you don’t ask me, I can’t help you.’”
I told Gator that Whitey Ford is one of my all-time favorite Yankees and that I was disappointed to hear that he had left because, someone told me, that the young guys don’t really listen to people like Whitey anymore. I asked if he sensed the same thing:
“Well the game has changed a lot and so have the attitudes.” Gator said when he first came up and Whitey Ford was a pitching coach and then a special instructor he was just awed by Whitey. He was thrilled to just be in his presence. “You don’t always find that anymore.”
I asked him what he thought of some of the arm problems Andy Pettitte has been experiencing over the past couple of years. I suggested that perhaps his workouts with Roger [Clemens] has been affecting his pitching since Roger is a power pitcher and Andy is a classic finesse pitcher.
Gator said, “The conditioning that Andy has experienced has been good for his body, however he’ll never have a body like Clemens and he knows that. Second, if you will remember when Andy first came up he had a stronger fastball and when he stared experimenting with change-ups, he not only lost speed on his fastball but he started experiencing arm problems.”
Guidry said that whenever a pitcher starts to change his style he always runs into problems with his arm. Which is why, he noted, he only threw 2 pitches (fastball and a slider). “So, really Andy is going back to his original form.”
Gator asked me if I was really old enough to remember him, and I assured him that I was, I delved into some Bronx Zoo talk. I asked him what he thought of Billy Martin as a manager.
“I liked Billy. I never really had a problem with him. However, he didn’t really understand pitchers.” He said when they first hired Goose Gossage as a closer his freshman year with the Yankees was pretty rough. He got knocked around a lot. In fact, Ron said, “I told Billy I don’t want that guy closing my game. Now, Goose is one of my closest friends and he was a great pitcher, but back then [that first year] I didn’t want him closing for me.” I said, “You wanted Sparky Lyle instead?” He said, “Well yes.” But eventually Goose got his game together and went on to become one of the great closers in baseball.
Gator spoke very highly of Gossage, so I told him he was one of my favorites as well and that I was a bit surprised that he didn’t get the votes for the Hall of Fame this year. Ron said, “Aw, he’s got plenty of time to make it. Hopefully, he’ll do it.”
At one point during our conversation, Guidry got up to refill his drink. I took that as a sign to scram and apologized for monopolizing his time. He turned and said, “No, I’m not leaving I’m just going over to the table to get a drink. I’ll be right back. Can I get you something?”
He returned in about 30 seconds (just enough time for my friend Anne to run over and say, “Are you totally dying right now?” I quickly said yes and scooted her away as I saw him approach the table.) When he returned I said, “I’m sorry for chewing off your ear. You must get sick of being bombarded by fans all the time”
“Well it depends upon the approach. When you came over and told me that I was one of your favorite players and sat down to chat, I have no problem with that. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have a conversation. But some people don’t approach you that way.” He didn’t elaborate on the wrong approach, but I think he meant if you are trying to eat a meal or if a fan gets in your face aggressively, that’s when it is a problem. I was grateful for his reassurance since I was nervous enough just talking to him and did not want this moment to end any time soon.
As I was sitting there talking to Ron, I looked to my left and there was Yogi Berra and Don Zimmer at a table nearby. When I turned toward the other direction, I spotted Mel Stottlemeyer, his wife, and Bobby Mercer at a table. It all seemed very surreal. I looked at Guid and said, “Wow, there’s Mel Stottlemyre and Bobby Mercer!” Ron turned to me and said, “Why don’t you go over and say hello. They are two of the nicest guys you will ever meet.” I looked at him and said, “No, that’s okay. I would rather talk to you.” There was no way I was going to pry myself from Guidry, however I did notice my friends Anne and Allison chatting with Mel and Bobby. Anne couldn’t resist because next to Derek Jeter, Mel is her favorite Yankee man. Anne and Allison were with Larry Berra, who introduced them as fans who “like old Yankees!” Everyone got a good laugh out of that!
I asked Ron if he was looking forward to Ron Guidry Day later this summer. He didn’t seem too enthused over the attention, but was appreciative for the day. I asked him which former teammates would be joining him. Goose Gossage was the first person that he mentioned. He also listed Graig Nettles and Sparky Lyle. I can’t remember the rest because we got sidelined by my friends, who had come over to brag to him that I had already purchased tickets for his Day.
Ron Guidry was incredibly nice, polite, and patient with my enthusiasm over meeting him. He sat and talked baseball with me for well over an hour, joked around with my friends and me, and could not have been more of a gentleman. After we ended our conversation and parted ways, he even came over to say goodbye to me before he left. Though I was incredibly nervous talking to one of my favorite Yankees it was without a doubt the highlight of my visit to Spring Training.
Toward the end of our conversation, Guidry and I were standing around and suddenly, out of no where, up walked Graig Nettles. I had asked Gid earlier if Nettles had left because I thought I had seen him. Gator responded, by saying, “You never know. That’s why he’s called Puff. He’s there one minute, the next he’s gone.”
Luckily for me, Puff reappeared. So when he walked up to us, Gator turned to him and said, “Puff, this Mindy.” Nettles turned to me, extended his hand, and said, “Hi. I’m Graig Nettles.” I said, “Yeah, I know,” with a smile plastered across my face. I couldn’t believe it.
After being introduced to Graig, veteran Daily News beat writer, Bill Madden, walked up and started discussing the latest Jeter/Boss George incident. Nettles defended Jeter by saying he was a great kid and a terrific ball player and that there was no reason he shouldn’t be made captain. Nettles said, “After all, if he made someone like me captain, why the hell wouldn’t he make Jeter captain. It doesn’t make sense.”
Puff was funny, and honest. I found him to be more humble and friendly than I could have imagined. He hung out with us for the remainder of the night. He was incredibly nice to fans at the local bar where our entourage settled. A few fans approached him to sign some autographs and talk some baseball. He happily did both. One of them even bought us a round of drinks, much to his immediate embarrassment. When the fan insisted on buying them, Nettles turned to me and said, “I’m sorry about that. I hate when that happens.” I said, “Why? He’s a fan and he is just happy to talk to you. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed by that. You just made his day!” Graig said, “Yeah, I guess you are right,” and proceeded to chat with him for a while much to the fan’s delight.
Neither Nettles nor Guidry seemed entirely comfortable with a fuss being made over them. They both seemed to be adamant about just being looked at as regular guys, which made them all the more appealing and cemented their standing on my all-time favs list.
We stayed in Tampa for the remainder of the weekend and caught a couple of more games. On Sunday’s game our seats were right next to the bullpen so we got to see Clemens warm up (he was the starting pitcher.) At one point, Reggie Jackson came out to stand in as a hitter. I was sitting directly above him in my seat. It was my first and only close look at Jackson and it was definitely a treat to seem him standing at the plate again (even without the swing.)

On Monday, we were invited out to a ballgame in Clearwater by a friend of ours whose father in-law is Bill Giles. The Phillies were playing the Yankees, so we got to sit in the coveted seats behind the dugout. Since we were with the Giles’ we sat behind the Phillies dugout, which gave us a perfect view across the 3rd base side to the Yankee dugout. We missed the end of the game because we had to leave early to catch our flight back to NY, however we did get a wave from Derek Jeter who stood stranded at 1st base talking with Lee Mazzilli. Jeter seemed a little puzzled by people on the Phillies side waving to him, but he was a good sport and waved back. Anne nearly collapsed into her Philly cheese steak.
We owe a big thanks to Larry Berra and his friends for making our vacation so memorable. Who knew the turn of events that would take place when I stopped to chat with him about his dad on our first day at the hotel?

SHAPE OF THINGS TO

SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

It’s very tempting to sit down and make predictions for the coming season, but this year, I’m going to pass. For the past two years, I’ve said that the Texas Rangers will improve and Ken Griffey will have a comeback season. I could repeat myself again, but why bother? It’s not a matter of being right or not, I just don’t think I’m even-handed enough to make an interesting crop of predictions, especially when it comes to the AL East.

I’m a pessimistic and superstitious fan by nature. I always think of the worst case scenerio, and then expect that it will come to fruition. That’s why each year I pick the Red Sox to finally beat the Yanks. It has to happen at some point, right? Forget what the realities are, what the numbers say, I hunker down, and prepare for inevitable failure and disappointment.

Hell of an attitude coming from a Yankee fan, huh? I sound like a fuggin Sox fan, fer cryin out loud. Well, I don’t like coming off like a know-it-all, boasting about how monstrous the Yankees are. It’s just not my nature. There are enough arrogant Yankee fans to go around, anyhow. I’ll stay cautiously optimistic, nervous and appreciative.

My friends accept my superstitions and therefore don’t listen to a thing I say. My credibility with them is shot. Oh, well.

A few days ago, I sent my cousin Gabe an e-mail that said, “Neither the Mets nor the Yanks will make the playoffs this year.” I was trying to get a rise out of him, and of course, I did.

Here is his response:


What did you do, consult an oracle? Thanks for spoiling it for the rest of us!

I have no illusions about the Mets making the playoffs, or at least no illusions about the them winning a lot of games. If it’s possible to win the NL East by going 90-72 then I guess the Mets have a shot. I don’t see this team winning 95+ and therefore don’t see them winning any wild card.

As for the Yankees, I understand you need to protect yourself, but what indication have the Yankees given that they won’t win between 95-100 games this year, thereby putting themselves in decent position for a playoff berth? I mean, do I think there’s a chance that the Yanks will win 94-97 games and not make the playoffs? Sure. But I’d say the odds of them getting in are about 1:1, at worst. Probably better. There’s a better than 50% chance the Yankees will win the division. If they don’t do that, there’s maybe a 25%-35% chance they’ll still get in the postseason.

CONE-GRATS, OLD MAN It

CONE-GRATS, OLD MAN

It looks as if David Cone will not start the season in Florida after all. According to the Times, Cone will likely pitch a week from tonight against the Expos:


At age 40, Cone has a finite number of pitches left, and the Mets determined that he, and they, are better off if he throws them against major leaguers instead of minor leaguers. So Cone will pitch in an intrasquad game Sunday and, if he recovers normally, he will start next Friday against the Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium, completing his ascent from retirement to the Mets’ fourth starter.

“I was a self-proclaimed long shot coming in,” Cone said, “but I think everybody probably gave me longer odds than that, almost a no shot.

“To have this chance right now,” Cone added, “it’s tremendously exciting.”

I don’t know whether having the 40-year old Cone as your 4th starter is an encouraging sign if you are a Mets fans, but at least it’s an entertaining story for the rest of us. Just keep Roger Angell away from him and he just may do alright.

ON THE DEFENSIVE Joe

ON THE DEFENSIVE

Joe Sheehan, one of the excellent writers at Baseball Prospectus, which I think is the best baseball think-tank going, previews the AL East.


The Red Sox have had some of the best core talent in baseball for the last four years, with Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez. This year, however, they have the best supporting cast they’ve had in a while. Combined with some cracks in the Yankee Wall, the added depth should be enough to slide them into first place for the first time since 1997.

…The Yankees ended last season cowering from a hail of line drives slashed by Angels hitters, smashes that found green grass and highlighted just how bad a defensive team the Yankees had become. They did nothing to address that in the off-season, and go into 2003 with the same core problem they had in 2002: an up-the-middle defense that allows far too many singles and doubles.

The situation may deteriorate in 2003, as the Yankees’ pitching staff seems likely to strike out fewer batters and leave more chances for Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano to practice relay throws and cutoff plays

…Until the problem of inferior gloves at three key positions is dealt with, the Yankees will have a hard time issuing late October champagne showers. It has nothing to do with revenue sharing and luxury taxes, and everything to do with an inability to identify and solve a problem.

Steve Goldman writes an stimulating column called The Pinstriped Bible for the YES Network. His latest piece covers the 19 Commandments of Baseball, and I think it’s the best Bible entry to date for YES. Goldman addresses the Yankees deficiencies in the field:


Commandments on Defense (The Rey Ordonez Rules)

9. A player’s offensive and defensive contributions must be in balance.

The prophet Casey Stengel said: “I don’t like them fellas who drive in two runs and let in three.” What Stengel also should have said was, “I don’t like them fellas who save two runs and strand three.” Either way, you’re down one run.

Fortunately, the distribution of chances on defense are such that a player has many more opportunities to contribute at the plate than he does in the field. Thus, a good bat/mediocre glove is always preferable to a good glove/mediocre bat.

10. The difference between the best and worst defender is not as large as you think.

There are only so many balls hit in the area of a given position each season. Although there is no way to say definitively how many balls Omar Vizquel can field that Derek Jeter can’t (the number being dependent on the pitching staff, the number of lefty and righty batters faced, the weather, a butterfly coughing in Beijing and dozens of other variables), a reasonable generalization might be that Vizquel makes five to 10 amazing stops that Jeter watches go by. Those 10singles are more than offset by Jeter’s offense.

The Daily News also has an article on the Bombers defense:


“We have to improve our overall defense,” Jeter said. “Everyone says that you win with pitching, but you can pitch all you want. What if you don’t catch the ball?

“We were shaky at times last year,” Jeter added. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it. People pay a lot of attention to the number of errors and how a play is scored and I think it’s tough to go on that, but do we need to play better defense? Yeah. That’s a true statement. I think everyone would say it.”

…”I think Jason is a lot better with his throwing, more consistent,” Torre said. “Soriano we’re talking to about getting as aggressive in the field as he is at the plate. Jeter is as healthy as I’ve seen him in the last few years, so I don’t worry about him.

“Robin is limited, range-wise, but he can make the routine play, which is what we need him to do. He doesn’t have to be spectacular.”

A scout who has watched the Yankees most of the spring echoed Torre’s words about the infield.

“The guy at short is good, the guy at second has his moments, the guy at first will catch what he can get to and the guy at third has lost a step, but still can catch the ball,” the scout said.

“If they are worried about their defense in the infield, they shouldn’t be. I’d take that with the offense that they provide. I don’t think their infield is that weak. They still made the playoffs.”

BAYLOR HAS CANCER Mets

BAYLOR HAS CANCER

Mets bench coach, Don Baylor has been diagnosed with cancer in his bone marrow and with begin taking chemotherapy next week.


“I know what I have to do and I plan to do it,” Baylor said Thursday. “It’s a good time to get it done and get it behind me. It’s treatable, so why not treat it now?”

Baylor, 53, will undergo four days of oral and intravenous chemotherapy beginning Monday — when the Mets open the season against Baylor’s former team, the Chicago Cubs — to treat the multiple myeloma. The treatment will be repeated once every 28-to-36 days as initial therapy.

“There’s a fairly high upfront success rate, somewhere in the vicinity of 60-70 percent,” Dr. John Olichney said about the possibility of complete remission. “The problem is that there are recurrences.”

This is the same kind of cancer that Mel Stottlemyre battled three years ago.

Stottlemyre returned to the team the next spring and still is the Yankees' pitching coach. Baylor has talked with Stottlemyre about his experiences.

“My family will give me comfort but I have to do this alone,” Baylor said.

…The cancer was detected as a result of spring training physical last month and an examination determined Baylor had an abnormal monoclonal protein. He underwent bone marrow tests in New York on March 12, and the tests determined he had an overgrowth of abnormal white blood cells in the marrow.

Baylor told the team Thursday. Olichney agreed that the chemotherapy wouldn’t hinder the former Cubs and Colorado manager at the start of treatment but said it might cause him to miss some road games as the therapy progresses.

STRAIGHT FROM THE GURU’S

STRAIGHT FROM THE GURU’S MOUTH

Bill James, noted sabermetrican, and current advisor to the Boston Red Sox chatted on-line with fans yesterday. These kind of forums are usually glib and unsatisfying, but this one is still worth checking out. James is gruff and dismissive as usual, but that’s part of what makes him fun.

Here are some bits that caught my attention:


Odenton MD: How do your models project that Matsui might do in his first season in the majors?

Bill James: My best guess is that he will hit over .300 with 40-45 homers. Everybody tells me I’m wrong. Let’s hope.

…Greensboro, NC: Can you explain the reasoning or statistical superiority of Boston’s closer -by-committee, and who is the best reliever this spring for the Sox?

Bill James: Having two good relievers is better than having one. Having three good relievers is better than having two. I’m not advocating a “closer by committee”; I don’t know where that term comes from, and I don’t think anybody in our office has ever advocated such a thing. But here’s a simple way to think about the issue: suppose that you were managing a strat-o-matic team, or an APBA team, or a Diamond Legends team, over the course of a 162-game season. Would YOU use your bullpen the way that most major league managers use theirs? I don’t know anybody who would. When the egos and the “psychology” and the BS are taken out of it and the issue is reduced to simply doing what is in the best interests of the ballclub, it becomes obvious that this isn’t it. The way that most teams use their bullpen simply does not make sense.

…Newport Beach, CA: Mr. James given the better nutrition, sports medicine, and fitness regimens what is considered “prime” years for a major leaguer? It seems that many players are still producing well into the mid thirties when those years were considered the tail end of a players career.

Bill James: Untrue. Aging patterns have not changed significantly. Barry Bonds, born 1964, is still performing well (how’s that for understatement?), and so people focus on Bonds and use him to represent the modern 39-year-old player. But if you focus on ALL the players born in 1964, you’ll find that 90% of them are long gone, and that even the stars (with one or two exceptions) have faded to dim shadows of what they once were. Put another way, if Barry Bonds shows that players are aging more slowly, why doesn’t Ken Griffey prove that players are aging more rapidly?

…Phoenix, AZ: Bill, I would like to get a prediction from you in regards to the most important stat of all. How many games do you think the Sox can win this year?

Bill James: One more than the Yankees, two more than Toronto. I really don’t have any idea. We have a good team.

JOE COULDN’T CATCH A

JOE COULDN’T CATCH A COLD

According to Lee Sinns’ ATM report yesterday:


The Yankees say John Flaherty has won the backup C job and are looking to trade Chris Widger.

Flaherty is an outmaking star. His OBA vs. the league average ranks among the top 10 worst figures for catchers with 3000+ PA, since 1900–

OBA DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE
1 Bill Bergen -.131 .194 .325
2 Billy Sullivan -.068 .253 .320
3 Otto Miller -.057 .275 .332
4 John Bateman -.053 .271 .324
5 Jim Hegan -.053 .295 .348
6 Red Dooin -.053 .272 .325
7 Bill Killefer -.052 .273 .325
8 Oscar Stanage -.051 .284 .334
9 Zack Taylor -.049 .304 .353
10 John Flaherty -.049 .293 .342

Yankees MGR Joe Torre says Jeff Weaver has defeated Jose Contreras for the 5th starter’s job. Contreras will go to the bullpen.

No surprise there. After 4.32 ERA/10 RSAA and 4.08 ERA/9 RSAA seasons, Weaver had a 3.52 ERA/16 RSAA in 32 games (25 starts) with the Tigers and Yankees in 2002. Weaver set career bests in both RSAA and ERA and has a 4.31 career ERA, compared to his league average of 4.67, and 23 RSAA in 126 games.

I wrote to Lee and asked him why he thought Torre chose Flaherty. He replied:


I think Joe Torre goes out of his way to find the worst backup catcher he could possibly get and have him make the team. Last year, it was Alberto Castillo. This year, it’s John Flaherty. Maybe next year, it will be Mike DiFelice or Tom Prince.

What about Snagglepuss Tony Eusebio? The Expos just sent him down to the minors.

HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE

HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN

The Yankees will be cautious with Mariano Rivera, who will start the season on the disabled list with a strained groin. The Times reports:


“I’m not even going to think about him until the latter part of April,” Manager Joe Torre said tonight. “We certainly want to be sure and don’t want to take a chance, especially with his history of shoulder problems.”

Rivera’s aura of invincibility continues to erode. He closed out three consecutive championships from 1998 to 2000, but he faltered in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series and has had health problems since.

“Let’s admit it – the run we had with him was pretty superhuman anyway,” Torre said. “It was awfully tough for anyone to live up to that, including himself.”

Buster Olney, the erstwhile Yankee beat reporter for the Times, has a good article on David Wells today. I was a big fan of Olney’s Yankee coverage and was sad to see him leave the beat (he covers the NY football Giants these days). He usually was able to pull a telling detail from a story. His piece on Wells illustrates how most of Boomer’s teammates view the fat man as a benign clown.
Wells has dominated the papers in New York for the past month. Derek Jeter, who has enjoyed a quiet spring after the broo-ha-ha with the Boss earlier in the year, must be thankful.

GO SOUTH OLD MAN

According to the New York Times, David Cone will start the season in the minors:


Today the Mets indirectly unveiled some of their decision making, and their starting rotation, when General Manager Steve Phillips announced that he had optioned the right-hander Jason Middlebrook to the minor leagues. David Cone’s status was still unresolved, but indications were that the Mets would ask him to continue his comeback in Florida and then the minor leagues, leaving the final two spots in the rotation filled at the start of the season by Mike Bacsik and Jae Weong Seo.

SOX SET

Pedro Martinez had his final tune-up of the spring, and appears ready to roll. The major looming issue for Martinez is his desire to sign a contract extension:


Martinez was even presented with the scenario that after 2004 the Yankees could sign him as a free agent. He played along with it saying, ”Imagine that. Pedro Martinez being in New York. The whole Dominican population. How many Dominican flags every day? Now it’s not just Pedro Martinez fans but Yankees and Dominicans. I don’t even want to think about that. It’s a business to [Yankees owner George Steinbrenner]. Great for George, not good for the Red Sox.”

Dream on, Yankee fans.

Meanwhile, the Sox cut junk-baller Frank Castillo, proving that management is as bright as advertised. Dag. Speaking of which, Gordon Edes excerpts a portion of a Q & A with GM Theo Epstein that will appear on Boston television later tonight.

CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD

CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD

Mike Lupica has a no-nonsense piece on Joe Torre in the Daily News today. Lupica reports that Torre continues to be the straw that stirs the Yankees drink:


Torre was asked if he ever knows what to expect before he gets to [spring training in] Tampa.

“I come down here with the same mindset every year,” he says. “Nobody is going to — up my team.”

He says this in a calm, even voice, says the words without anger. But he is as serious as a Clemens fastball. Torre could be talking about George Steinbrenner and he could be talking about David Wells, who has suddenly turned into the world’s biggest baby, one who acts as if even the current world revolves only around him and his junk book and his hurt feelings. Somehow it is as if Joe Torre knows already, before an official pitch is thrown, that this is going to be a hard season for him all the way.

It only makes him more important to the Yankees than ever.

“I’m not going to let anybody or anything get in the way,” Torre says.

…”In the end, the other stuff doesn’t matter,” Torre says. He nods in the direction of the visitors clubhouse in Bradenton, 10 days before the start of the regular season. “It’s still about those guys out there. It’s about the players, and the game. At least it’s supposed to be.”

“I know what I want in the spring, I know what I’m looking for,” Torre says. “I know how to do this.” He smiles. “If I ever went out there, and after everything they’ve been through in October and told them, ‘We have to win a bunch of games down here,’ they’d laugh at me.”

They don’t laugh. They just play for him, and play hard, and respect him. Maybe the guys who have been around the longest respect him the most. Maybe they understand the Yankees need Joe Torre this season more than ever. Nobody, he says, is going to mess with his team.

Speaking of the m-a-n, Craig Elsten from Baseball Prospectus, has a good Q & A session with San Francisco skipper Felipe Alou. Check it out.

NO MO

As expected, Mariano Rivera, will start the season on the disabled list; he joins fellow-reliever Steve Karsay. Juan Acevedo then, will serve as the closer to start the year.


“If you’re going to step into the fire, step into the fire, huh?” said Acevedo, who had 28 saves for Detroit in 2002. “It’s weird, but I really try not to think about it.”

Yankee GM Brian Cashman is looking for another arm for the bullpen.


The Cincinnati Reds are trying to deal two relievers – the left-hander Gabe White and the right-hander Scott Sullivan – and are interested in starter Sterling Hitchcock if the Yankees pay his salary. Cashman said he still wanted to trade Hitchcock, who relieved for two innings in tonight’s 5-0 victory over the Phillies.

The Yankees should be able to make due without Rivera for the short term. There is no reason to rush him. But in the long run, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees playing far into the playoffs without the charmed Rivera. The Yankee manager tells Mike Lupica:


“It’s not just having the arm,” Torre said. He points to his head and says, “It’s this.” He smiles and points to his stomach and says, “And this.”

CONE CONTINUES COMEBACK

David Cone had another solid performance last night against the Dodgers. Whether or not he starts the season with the Mets, it looks as if he’ll be with the ball club before long.

According to the New York Times:


Mets executives have been encouraged by Cone’s progress. They do not want to rush him back and feel he would benefit from taking a regular turn in Class AAA Norfolk’s rotation. The Mets do not need a fifth starter right away, so Cone could go long stretches without work. And he needs to pitch to build arm strength.

The prospect Aaron Heilman was reassigned to the minor leagues today, leaving Jason Middlebrook, Mike Bacsik and Jae Weong Seo in the running for the two vacancies in the starting rotation.

BOOMER O.K.

David Wells had his best outing of the spring, and just in the nick of time. You know what? I kind of like the corner Wells has painted himself into. I’ve always liked Wells’ game; I enjoy watching him pitch. I could care less about the fact that he’s a horse’s arse. But now that he’s shown how big a horse’s arse he is, there is nothing left but his game. I think it’ll be fun watching him handle the pressure. What’s the worst that can happen? If he blows, they’ll trade him, or cut his ass. (Imagine if they demoted him to Columbus? That’s be ripe.) If he’s good, the only drawback is having to hear him crow again. But let me tell you something: if Wells can manage to win 10-15 games, he can make all the noise he wants. He’ll be gone by the end of the year anyhow. Might as well go out with a bang.

IMPOSSIBLE TO DREAM? Aaron

IMPOSSIBLE TO DREAM?

Aaron Gleeman has his picks for the AL East today, and wouldn’t you know it, the Yanks and Sox are picked one and two. But, there is a catch: Gleeman thinks the Sox will finish in first, while the Yanks will snatch the wildcard.


My reason for liking the Red Sox so much is pretty simple. They had an excellent pitching staff last year and it should once again be very good. And they had the 2nd best offense in the AL last season and I think they have made several improvements to it during the off-season.

…Basically, I think the Red Sox have a tremdendous offense and I wouldn’t be surprised if they topped 900 runs in 2002, possibly even coming close to 1,000.

David Pinto found a terrific article on Bill James over at CBS sportsline. It is the most thorough piece on James since he went to work for the Sox that I’ve encountered. A must read.


“I’m actually surprised it took someone that long to hire a Bill James,” [Oakland GM, Billy ] Beane said during a conversation in his office at Oakland’s spring complex in Phoenix. “Obviously, I’ve read a lot of his stuff and respect him. Someone with his ideas either has or will ultimately revolutionize how teams are put together.”

“My challenge is to do what I can do to create for the organization ways of thinking about problems we face,” said James, who professed surprise when Boston contacted him last summer about this position. “Theo constantly faces the challenge of ‘What is this player worth? What is he worth in dollars, or what is he worth in trade? What is the plan for him?’

“What I’m trying to do is to create ways of thinking about those problems that are orderly and constructive.”

…”I just want to stress that we’re not re-inventing the wheel,” [Theo Epstein] said. “We certainly don’t think we’re smarter than anybody else. We’re cross-checking ourselves. If there’s a different way to do things, then let’s at least explore it.

“If you spend $100 million every year on your team, it would be irresponsible not to look for every competitive advantage.”

James works out of his Kansas house and, the way the relationship currently is structured, he’s scheduled to travel to Boston quarterly to meet with the front-office staff and scouts to further analyze the information he researches and analyzes throughout the year.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” James said. “They’re really good people to work with. It’s fun to be involved with an organization that has a lot of energy. There are a lot of ideas floating around. People are excited about the job.

“It’s still evolving very much. We’re still trying to figure out how I can make the best contribution.”

Finally, Mark Armour has a great article on the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox team over at Baseball Prospectus. Armour properly credits GM Dick O’Connell for building the 67 team, whose success may not be so shocking after all.

WHATTA YA WANT ME TO DO, CRY ABOUT IT?

Over at Baseball Rants, Mike C has posted “Welcome to the Hall’s of Relief” Part VIII, the last installment in his comprehensive study on the history of relief pitching. The work Mike has done is nothing short of breath-taking. If series like this don’t lend credibility to the blogging world, I don’t know what will.

Baseball Rants also features a guest-columnist today, Chris DeRosa, who pens a lengthy and often hilarious article on the Yankees and competitive balance. I agree with much of DeRosa’s sentiment, and look forward to reading more of him as the season unfolds.


Having everyone railing against [the Yankees] gives the season a thrilling edge. Every Yankee loss carries the extra bitterness of having gratified the baseball ignorami, and every win is sweetened because it sticks it to same. Even in Colorado in mid-June, the place is packed (they’re like Europeans at McDonalds: they hate us but they come out all the same), and on TV you can hear the noise rolling out of the stands: “Yankees suck.” Awesome

OH MO Mariano Rivera

OH MO

Mariano Rivera pulled his groin in yesterday’s game against the Tigers and will likely miss 5-7 days. He is doubtful for Opening Day.

AHH SHADDUP-A YOU FACE

Joe Torre and Brian Cashman read David Wells the riot act yesterday, while George Steinbrenner continues to give his erstwhile pet the high hat.

According to the Times:


Wells has called Steinbrenner and very much wants to meet with him, but Steinbrenner has ignored him all spring.

“I just think that we probably eventually should sit down and talk,” Wells said. “I don’t have any hard feelings or anything of that sort against him. I understand things that are going on. But until we talk, we’ve just got to focus on baseball.”

…Asked if he planned to meet with Wells, Steinbrenner said: “I have no plans to do anything. How’s that?”

Steinbrenner has deferred questions to Torre and Cashman, who spoke out strongly against Wells’s comments.

“It was extremely disrespectful, I thought, toward our owner,” Cashman said. “Whether he meant it or not, he conveyed to me he was sorry. But trying to endear yourself to someone in this environment, that’s not the way to go about it.”

Torre said: “Our boss is our boss. You have to respect the fact he is the boss. Respect is a big word for me. The way it came out, it looked like a sign of disrespect.”

Until recently, Wells had enjoyed a kind of impunity because Steinbrenner liked him so much. Torre, Cashman and Wells’s teammates have put up with Wells largely because Steinbrenner has steadfastly supported him. But Steinbrenner’s silent treatment is eating at Wells.

“It would be nice to talk to him, but until he finds time in his schedule, I just have to wait,” Wells said. “I’ve called him in the past and it’s been a while. But he’s a busy man. I just can’t barge in. I’ve got to wait. He’s got a lot of things going on.”

Joel Sherman sounds the alarm in the Post:


The Yankee soap opera had one of its most eventful and disturbing episodes of an eventful and often disturbing spring. Suddenly, the team that can’t lose showed a few ways in which maybe they can as the back of the rotation, the core of the bullpen and the emotional stability of an entire organization under the closing grip of George Steinbrenner became greater concerns yesterday.

The likelihood is the Yanks have too much talent and can withstand even super-sized doses of immaturity and injury. But this is not exactly the vibe you want to be emitting with the real games coming fast. This close to the regular season, the Yankees are trying to figure how long they will need to shut down Rivera and if they will ever be able to shut up Wells.

Never one to miss a soap opera, Reggie Jackson has once again has popped up as a voice of reason.

Stop laughing, dammit.

NO ISSUES HERE

Regardless of David Wells’ self-inflicted problems, Jose Contreras is content to start the season in the bullpen.


Contreras answered honestly when he was asked if he thought he deserved to be one of the five starters: “I don’t think so,” he said through a translator. “I think the other five have done a better job than I have. If I start in the pen, I’ll work to get a spot in the rotation.”

OH BROTHER

Somewhere, John Perricone is smiling. If not dancing. Perricone, who runs Only Baseball Matters, has long kvetched about Chubb Rock, Livan Hernandez. But he won’t have to any longer, as the Giants traded Herandez and catcher Edward Guzman and cash in exchange for pitcher Jim Brower and a player to be named later. Livan joins his older half-brother, Orlando with the Expos. With Livan on board, my “Slap Shot” call on the Expos gains more credibility.

CASHING IN

The Big Unit, Randy Johnson was given a two-year contract extention by the D-Backs yesterday worth $33 million.


“Eventually I will get old, and I won’t be able to do the things that I want to do,” Johnson said, “but that’s why I’ve been preparing over the years to become more of a pitcher than just going out there and being a power pitcher.”

He said that as he gets older, there probably won’t be as many strikeouts.

“People will say, ‘He’s not striking out people anymore,’ but the bottom line is are we still winning,” Johnson said. “Now I feel it’s a great accomplishment to go out there at 39 years old and not have my best stuff but still get the best hitters out in baseball.”

David Pinto compares Johnson and Nolan Ryan from ages 34-38 over at the new and improved Baseball Musings today.

BLOGNOSTICATIONS Both David Pinto

BLOGNOSTICATIONS

Both David Pinto (who has redesigned his “Baseball Musings,” to celebrate its one-year anniversary), and Aaron Gleeman preview the NL East. Neither is terrbily impressed with the Mets.

According to Pinto:


The Mets are a hard call again. The good players on the team are old. The lineup 2-5 is as good as any in the division, if everything works out. I think Cedeno is a gamble at leadoff; he’s had great years getting on base, and poor ones also. I really think the Mets would get more out of Alomar-Floyd 1-2. Mo Vaughn is a key, and he’s having a good spring. Sanchez is an awful offensive player, and yet he’s an improvement over Ordonez. The play of two rookies, Wigginton and Reyes may make or break the Mets season offensively. The rotation, despite the addition of Glavine, is not deep. Again, the two best pitchers, Leiter and Glavine, are old. The Mets strike me as half a team. I think they’ll fight the Marlins for third place.

Gleeman cuts to the chase:


If it wasn’t for their remarkably solid farm system, the New York Mets would be the Baltimore Orioles, constantly trying to sign enough aging players to finish with 82 wins until the end of time.

…Their offense is old and declining. Their pitching is just plain old. Their defense, particularly if Roger Cedeno plays in CF, is beyond bad. The sooner they realize this current team isn’t going anywhere but mediocre, the better. They need to clear the decks of the over 30 crowd, so they can begin setting up for the Jose Reyes/Scott Kazmir/Justin Huber era.

Once again, the Mets will hover right around .500 this year and will finish with just enough wins to make their front office go out and acquire a few more 35 year old pitchers to make “one more” run at it (“it” being 85 wins) in 2004.

Ouch.

JINXED Red Sox fans

JINXED

Red Sox fans rejoice. Your team won’t be stuck with the burden of the SI-cover Jinx this year…The Yankees will! Not only that, but the photo shoot stirred up more shit in the Bronx Zoo over the weekend as the Boomtown Rat, David Wells was at it again.

The cover of the forthcoming Sports Illustrated baseball issue features the Yankees starting pitching staff flanked by Boss George himself. Guess who was a no-show? Yup, Boomer Wells, who has a running beef with SI over a story the magazine ran on him last season.

At the photo shoot, somebody asked George: “Where’s your boy?”


“Who can tell? I really don’t care.”

Now that Wells has lost his last supporter in Yankee land, his left arm is going to have speak volumes this season.


“If he (Steinbrenner) is mad, so be it,” Wells said. “I told those other guys I have a problem with SI. They can either respect my decision or not. Nobody has said anything to me and I’m not really worried about it.

“If they are mad, they know where my locker’s at. My door’s open. I have no hard feelings toward anybody.

“If it makes me look bad, oh, well. It won’t be the first time. It wasn’t anything against George or the other guys on the cover. That was a personal thing with SI. I’ve had problems with them.

“I did what I thought was right. I won’t do anything for them, ever. I don’t want my name in that magazine. It’s like the National Enquirer. If it was any other magazine, I would’ve done it. They wrote a story that was disrespectful to me and my family (in the July 10, 2000 issue).”

Does Wells think Steinbrenner respected his stand? “No,” the pitcher said. “He doesn’t give a —.”

Meanwhile, will the the Sox be this years Anaheim Angels? Theo Eptstein has collected pesky, professional hitters to augment his superstars Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra. While the Sox line up may not have as many house hold names as the Yankees do, they may be every bit as tough. Bill Madden profiled Theo Epstein’s methods in the Daily News yesterday.

While Madden doesn’t gush over the young GM, he doesn’t bash him either.


As for [Bill]James’ influence, Epstein says emphatically: “I tell people the truth. We have input on all our decisions from different people, but I’m ultimately in charge of making those decisions. Every team uses stats in some way. I laugh when I hear Bill James is making all the decisions around here. I have three former GMs, Bill Lajoie, Lee Thomas and Mike Port, working under me. One day, I’m sure, I’ll be a former GM working somewhere else.”

He laughs as he says it, as if to assure he doesn’t take himself nearly as seriously as some of the crusty baseball lifers might think.

Epstein was not able to land a star free agent over the winter, and raised eyebrows when he passed on the chance to land Bartolo Colon, choosing instead to keep Casey Fossum. Fossum, a thin left-hander who has drawn comparisons to Ron Guidry has struggled this spring.

But the book on the season isn’t out yet. Hell, it’s only just begun; Epstein can always trade for a boffo pitcher by the trading deadline if the need arises.

Peter Gammons wrote about the Sox in his column over the weekend:


The Red Sox are a dangerous, deep offensive team. With Johnny Damon and Todd Walker in front of Garciaparra and Ramirez, they have a big front four, and with Kevin Millar, Jeremy Giambi, Shea Hillenbrand, Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon — along with David Ortiz and a healthy Bill Mueller — in the mix to the end of the order the Red Sox could conceivably lead the league in runs.

“What we also have here is an incredible group of gamers,” Millar said. “If attitude were a problem in the past, it isn’t now.”

…Their mix-and-match bullpen is OK, but as Billy Beane says, “if it doesn’t work, it isn’t because the idea is wrong, it’s because they have the wrong people. They are very happy with Chad Fox (who Little believes may be the key to the pen), Alan Embree and Ramiro Mendoza, who is in terrific shape. But under this concept, they need at least three pitchers with an out/strikeout pitch, and right now Bobby Howry, Mike Timlin and rookie Matt White haven’t demonstrated one. Pitching coach Tony Cloninger likes the 96-97 mph velocity of Hector Almonte, but while has thrown very hard, he hasn’t consistently demonstrated a hit-and-miss pitch.

…”We’ve really got something good here,” says Damon. “There’s a lot of media focus on what we might not have, but what we do have is one helluva team that will play as hard as anyone. The guys they brought in here are all tough gamers. And that will make a big difference come August and September,” traditionally the months when the Red Sox fade to black.

Back in Yankee land, Mike Mussina’s start was rained out yesterday, but that didn’t stop him from getting his work in.

According to the Times:


Mike Flanagan, Mussina’s former pitching coach in Baltimore, once said he had never seen a pitcher who could correct his mechanics from pitch to pitch as well as Mussina. But last year, for the first time in his career, Mussina struggled with his mechanics for months. Mussina’s earned run average reached 5.03 in May and was 5.35 in June and 5.22 in July, before receding to 4.11 in August and 1.48 in September. He finished the season with an 18-10 record, knowing he might have won 22 to 25 games if he had thrown better.

“To me, it’s night and day from last year,” he said, “because I know what happened coming out of spring.”

Mr. Gammons had a couple of notes on the Bombers as well:

Yankees GM Brian Cashman did his usual superb job bringing in Juan Acevedo and Antonio Osuna as insurance for Ramiro Mendoza and Steve Karsay, who has had physical problems all spring. Now with Chris Hammond uncertain, Cashman is talking to the Reds about Gabe White.

Opposing teams had better not underestimate Hidecki Matsui, because he’s a good player,” says one AL GM. “He’s got bat speed. He’s a good outfielder. My guess is that he’ll hit .270-.275 with 20-25 homers. He’s got some holes, but most everyone has holes.”

Finally, Raul Mondesi was fined by Joe Torre for showing up late for Saturday’s game after being excused to deal with personal business in the D.R. for a few days.

BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: MARVIN

BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW:

MARVIN MILLER TALKS ABOUT CURT FLOOD

Aside from my duties as host of Bronx Banter, I have been working on a proposal to write a biography on Curt Flood for a Young Adult (i.e.: high school) audience. Needless to say, I’m pretty jacked up about it. The idea of writing a book for kids who will probably be reading it because it’s the easiest, most accessible, least painful choice for a book report, is good enough for me. But oddly enough, there isn’t much material available on Flood yet. This may come as a surprise, but there isn’t one major biography written about Flood. They are just getting around to Larry Doby. There is a lot of material dedicated to Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron has been acknowledged too. Clemente is covered. Even Dock Ellis and Minnie Minoso have books.

Yet Flood’s story screams out Baseball Behind the Music with the best of them. What gives?

Flood’s autobiography, “The Way it is,” is an illuminating but incomplete book; expressive, and insightful, but loose in terms of chronology. There is a mix of keen observation, and literary pretension that defines the book. But even the sermons are lively—and typical of the day. Flood comes across as the ideal 60s anti-hero. Not only is it is one of the better-written books by a jock, it’s good social history to boot.

The only downfall is that “The Way it is” was published in 1971, a year before Flood’s case was even heard by the Supreme Court. Flood is reported to have worked on a second book during the 1970s, but I have no idea what ever came of the project. I don’t know of any writing that substantially covers Flood’s life since 1972.

If there is anyone out there who does, do a brother a favor and let me know, cause I would find it invaluable.

So, I gotta a bunch of research to do, but I’m cool with that. I like investigating. Finding the story through people’s memories, digging.

Who better to talk about Curt Flood than Marvin Miller, now 86, the former Executive Director of the Player’s Association? There is an excellent chapter in Miller’s autobiography, “A Whole Different Ballgame,” on Flood, so I didn’t think he’d mind talking about him.

Miller was easy enough to get in touch with.

“He’s in the book, under Marvin J. Miller,” said the receptionist at the Player’s Association. 10 minutes later, I had scheduled an interview.

I didn’t really know what to expect from him, but with a little editorial help, I categorized my questions into 3 levels of importance for him, so as not to come off like a half-cocked jackass. I called him on the phone, in the mid morning, and braced myself for a sharp, bitter old man; I hoped to get a half an hour out of him even if he was a jerk. But Miller seemed subdued to me. He was nothing if not accommodating, and we ended up talking for a full hour.

It’s funny, but I’ve see the sarcastic edge, the anger, in Miller when I’ve read the transcribed text of this interview, but it didn’t come across when he was talking. He still had some bite, but at 86, even Marvin Miller’s hard-on-at-the-world just isn’t ain’t what she used to be, you know what I mean?

I wasn’t throwing anything but bp fatballs anyhow. I wasn’t trying to get his ire up. Nice and easy.

Here was my angle: I wanted to know how to tell Flood’s story to a kid in high school.

The following is an excerpt from the conversation I had with Miller, but it doesn’t include much of the stuff that is geared towards the kids. I’ve leave that stuff for the book. But I’m not trying to jerk you around; he talked long enough to cover a lot of ground.

Hope you enjoy.

MILLER ON FLOOD

(This interview took place on March 15, 2003, over the telephone, between my crib in the west Bronx and Miller’s apartment on the east side of Manhattan.)

Q: When did you first learn of Curt Flood’s plan to sue baseball?


MM: My first knowledge of it was his telephone call from St. Louis, to our offices in New York. It came right after he had been notified that he had been traded. And I believe that his first notification had not come from the club, but a newspaperman, which was adding insult to injury.

[According to Flood's biography "The Way it is," Flood didn't hear about the trade from a reporter, but from Jim Toomey, assistant to the Cardinals GM Bing Devine: a flunky. A pencil pusher. A zhlub. Sounds like newspaperman, though!]

Flood came to New York. But he did something first. He had a personal attorney in St. Louis for business matters. He had a portrait business; he was an accomplished artist. And for whatever reason, he had a personal attorney. He asked in the telephone call if he could bring him, and I said sure. So, that first meeting involved, Flood, his attorney [Allan H. Zerman], Richard Moss, the general counsel of the Player’s Association, and myself. We met for hours. For hours and hours. It started out in the office it continued as lunch in the hotel restaurant for pretty much the rest of the afternoon.

Q: Were you excited about a player of Flood’s stature taking on the owners? And did you think he had any chance of winning?


MM: Yeah, I think I was excited about the idea that somebody thought so seriously about the problem. But to answer your next question, no, I didn’t think he had a chance. I spent a good part of that day—and subsequent days and subsequent phone conversations—and explained to Curt Flood and his attorney why I thought the case could not be won. I thought it important to do that because he was risking a lot with this. I knew that it was almost certain that if a suit were filed that he would not be able to continue playing. I knew that he was no longer a 20 year old kid, but somebody who was going to be 31 or 32 at that point.

And that taking time off from playing while a case would wind it’s way through the courts meant almost certainly that he would not be able to regain his old form and play again. Much more than that, I thought that it was important for him to know all of the risks he was taking. Ending his career as a player was only one of them. I told him that I did not know what his ambitions after his player career were, whether it included being a manager or a scout. In other words, to stay in Major League Baseball.

I said, “If your ambition is running in that direction you have to know that the owners are very vindictive people. And they have long memories. They are not going to take kindly to a lawsuit, and I would be amazed if you were not blackballed from everything. That is part of what you have to understand.”

I also explained to him that I didn’t want to know anything but what I was about to say, but I wanted him to think about it. I said, “If there is anything in your life that you would rather not see on the front page of your local newspaper, then you shouldn’t go ahead with this.”

Because I would not put it past major league baseball to root out anything unpleasant in his life and release it. Even though I had asked him not to tell me about anything in his life, he told me anyway. He said, “Well, I do have a brother that is in jail for drug passage.”

I said, “Well, there is something that is not publicly known and if you’d rather not have it publicly known then it’s something you have to consider, because it will become publicly known. So, Flood takes all of this in. A lot of what I’ve just mentioned did not happen in our first conversation, but before the case was filed, in subsequent conversations and so on. I felt it my responsibility to play devil’s advocate and then some, so Curt would understand all of the down side to this.

At one point I finally said, “You know wining the case would be a million to one shot. The Supreme Court has already ruled on this two times, and the court just doesn’t revere itself that often.” Major League baseball has always gotten the silk glove treatment by the court, by the congress, by presidents. Baseball is considered holy writ. And the courts look the way all the time with regard to baseball.

Q: Why is that?


MM: Well, because it’s holy writ. I mean, you don’t need any better example than the first Supreme Court case in 1922. Federal League v. Baseball. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a noted jurist, and a poet, wrote the most asinine decision you ever saw in a case that said that baseball was not covered by the anti-trust laws. Not because of anything it said in the law but because baseball was not an industry operating under inter-state commerce. This, about an industry that in the Major Leagues alone, involve travel across state lines from New York to Pennsylvania, to Ohio, to Massachusetts. Holmes, to his ever-lasting disgrace, wrote that baseball is an industry, that’s not an inter-state commerce, and it’s not even an industry. It’s a series of exhibitions he said. (Heh-heh) Exhibitions with millions of dollars changing hands. Such nonsense. If you ask me how a noted and able jurist ever gets himself to write an opinion like that for a unanimous court, (heh-heh), I just can’t explain it. Numerous court decisions after that, both on the Reserve Clause and all kinds of things effecting baseball, they never rule against baseball. At least in those days.

Q: Considering the long odds of the case, what did you hope to gain from the suit?


MM: Well, it wasn’t so much that I hoped to gain. Before our meetings were over I was convinced that Curt Flood was going ahead with this. Therefore, since I couldn’t stop it, my concern was to have the best foot forward, to get the best possible council for him, to prepare the best possible case, so that it would not result in causing further damage for court cases in the future. It was not a question of hoping to gain; it was a question of hoping to cut losses.

Q: Were you surprised that Flood v. Kuhn made it all the way to the Supreme Court?


MM: “Surprised” is a funny word. I did not know. As you probably know, it takes four Supreme Court justices to agree to hear a case. I had had some discussions about this with lawyers whom I respected. And there were differing opinions. I just did not know whether the court would accept it for argument. It was great when they did because it meant that at least four justices felt that there was some merit and it was worth the time of the Supreme Court to look into it.

Q: Even though the Flood case ended in failure, how much of an influence did it have on the advent of free agency at few years later?


MM: That is very hard to assess. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’ve always felt that it must have had some effect. If it did nothing else, it brought to the center of discussion the inequity of the Reserve Clause. The Reserve Clause had existed for a hundred years up to that point, but there was almost no discussion of it before the Flood case.

Writers who cover baseball never wrote about it. Almost nobody did. Here and there, there were people in academia who did write about it. Once in a while it would get mentioned at a seminar in a college group. But by and large, there was no publicity about it. I think what the Flood case did was to bring it font and center. It focused attention. I think it made a few people realize for the first time how bad that system was, how un-American if you will. To that extent Flood’s case made a positive contribution. I think it brought out to the players who also were in the category of not having really focused on it, because of something they had grown up with and had been told repeatedly that baseball would collapse without it, and all that nonsense.

It focused the attention of the players not just on the case itself but the arguments being made. In that sense it was an educational contribution. I think it educated the media, it educated the players, it educated the general public to a certain extent, it educated a few congress people here and there, it caught the attention of at least four justices of the Supreme Court, and it may have even reached some of the owners.

Q: It’s ironic that none of Flood’s peers managed to show up at his trial. Was that a bitter disappointment for either you or Flood?


MM: I think for Flood it was a bitter disappointment. I think for me it was a disappointment about myself. I had not made a concerted effort to get players to come. One of the reasons is that I was always cautious about exposing players to danger to their careers. I felt at that point and time that individual players coming to court, where there were owners and the commissioner and owner’s attorney’s also attending. I felt that kind of exposure was more dangerous than I wanted to recommend. Now you have to understand that we are still the early days of the union, we had not been tested by a strike yet. Our first strike was in 72. We still did not have the right to have grievances eventually heard by an impartial arbitrator.

Q: When did that change?


MM: In the 1970 basic agreement. But when Flood was traded and he made his mind up to sue baseball, it hadn’t been agreed to yet. Up till that point, if players were discharged, or discriminated against, you could grieve but it would eventually be heard by the commissioner of baseball who was an employee of the owners, who was paid by the owners.

Q: So the provision in the 1970 basic agreement that arranged for an impartial arbitrator was far more important to how free agency came about than Flood’s case.


MM: Oh, without any question. Because as you know, what eventually over-turned the Reserve Clause was a grievance heard by an impartial arbitrator in 1975, and without that having been gained in the contract, it would have been heard by the owner’s commissioner, who could tell you up till today, how he would have ruled.

Q: How did the owners over-look the provision?


MM: Like so many things, there is a mythology in baseball. One mythology is that baseball labor’s relations are the rockiest ever seen in any industry: strikes and lockouts every time a contract comes up. All of it untrue. All of it totally untrue. All of the important progress made in labor relations in baseball, all of it, from the first collective bargaining agreement, to the recognition of the union as the sole collective bargaining representative, from to a grievance procedure, to a grievance procedure with impartial arbitration, from salary arbitration to the free agency agreement: all were resolved without strikes. All of them. It’s amazing to me how revisionists can rule history.
It’s not just like this in baseball; it’s like this in a lot of things. But in baseball since I have first hand knowledge of it.

(Laughs)

At any rate, the negotiation of the impartial arbitrator as the final point in the grievance procedure in the 1970 agreement was achieved through collective bargaining. Through discussion, through proposals, and counter-proposals, through argument.

Q: Did you have any idea how important this ruling would eventually be for the players in the future?


MM: I had a vision of how important it would be before I had it.

(Laughs)

I think it was a victory for baseball. I know the owners would not agree with this. Anytime you enhance justice and human dignity, it’s an advantage for everybody concerned. I think the notion that a commissioner in baseball, who is recruited by the owners, whose powers are only what the owners will give him, who is paid only by the owners, who can be fired, and is fired at will by the owners, can not be an impartial individual whether it’s over a tiny grievance or a big grievance between the employees and the employer that pays them. It can’t be. It’s a conflict of interest that sticks out all over the place. Any time you get rid of a conflict of interest that it so glaring, you have done something that has enormous benefit to everybody involved.

Q: Flood’s legacy is often misconstrued. A lot the time I hear him referred to the first free agent, or the guy who started free agency, which isn’t the case at all.


MM: You are right; it wasn’t the case at all. The case lost, beyond appeals. Nothing concrete came of it other than the educational aspect that we talked about before. The union itself, which through the unity of it’s members, through the understanding of the members of what needed to be done, through the skills of people like Richard Moss, who was the general council, who argued the case, to the union’s successful effort to have both a grievance procedure and eventually impartial arbitration, all these factors and more, were responsible for the progress that was made.

Q: Why would Curt Flood’s story be meaningful for a high school kid growing up today?


MM: (Laughs) It’s hard to put myself in the place of a young boy today. It’s been a long time since I was a young boy. But I think Flood’s life, as an adult was admirable. People often talk about role models, about professional athletes as role models. I don’t necessarily accept that athletes are or should be role models. But when you find somebody like Flood who was not just a superb performer and great teammate—as all of his teammates from the St. Louis Cardinals will tell you, but as someone who thought about social problems, and about injustice and who was willing to sacrifice a great deal to try and change things. I think the integrity of a man like that is so impressive that it’s hard to describe.

Q: It puts Flood in Jackie Robinson’s company in terms of having a ton of guts.


MM: I will not run down Jackie Robinson’s contribution in any way Robinson had to have great internal fortitude, great courage, great discretion, judgment, all of those things. Curt Flood too. But Flood was risking something. Risking a great deal. Robinson was being given an opportunity, and he did well. Earned it and then some. Flood already had it. And was a star player, making close to a top salary in the Major Leagues at the time. He clearly knew the risks—I learned this first hand, and took them anyway. I think you have to recognize that while the Robinson experience did eventually pave the way for black and Latin players to player in the major leagues, the terms under which they worked were not that great. In fact, they stunk. Truth be told, they were still the most exploited people in the country. And by that I mean, not that they were the poorest in the country. As an economist, I will tell you that exploitation means the difference between what your services are worth and what you get paid. With that definition, major league baseball players, including those who benefited from Jackie Robinson’s experience, were the most exploited people in the country. While Flood alone did not change that, he helped. The union changed all that, but Flood’s contribution was significant.

Q: Did you keep in touch with Flood when he left baseball? Did you ever run into him again?


MM: Well not exactly run into him, but I wrote a book that was published in 1991 called “A Whole Different Ballgame.” The publisher in conjunction with the publication of the book hosted a book party in New York here. I invited Curt Flood and Mrs. [Judy Pace] Flood. They came to New York. We had several meals together and we talked about old times together, and they attended the party and I was very glad to see them.

Q: There is a general impression that Flood that ended up a sour, resentful man. The martyr. Was he able to move on with his life outside of baseball, and get come to peace with his suit against MLB?


MM: That’s, that’s my impression of him. I don’t know if you know this or not but before he became ill, sometime in the mid 90s, Don Fehr—the present director of the Player’s Association invited Curt to attend a board meeting. I’ve forgotten where it was held, I wasn’t there, but all the reports agree that when Curt Flood walked into that room the board meeting was in progress, and the board meeting stopped, and there was a looong, loud, standing ovation.

THE LAST WORD… Here

THE LAST WORD…

Here is Aaron Gleeman’s take on the Rondell White-Bubba Trammell trade. Like most observers, Gleeman thinks that the addition of Mark Phillips makes the deal a sound one for the Bombers:


I really like Mark Phillips. He’s a big left-handed starter with awesome stuff. Baseball America ranked him as the #3 prospect in the San Diego system and I would agree with that ranking.

Phillips was San Diego’s #1 pick (ninth overall) in the 2000 draft. He runs his fastball up there in the mid-90s and also works with a great curveball that one of my readers who has seen him pitch quite a bit once described to me as “disgustingly filthy,” which is about the highest compliment you can give a pitcher.

The caveat for all pitching prospects is that they need to stay healthy (which Phillips has done) and show they can pitch at the upper-levels of the minors (which Phillips has not done). Still, as far as pitchers that haven’t pitched at Double-A yet go, I like Phillips quite a bit.

He struck out 9.5 batters per 9 innings last year at Single-A. His control was pretty bad at times (5.7 BB/9), but I don’t worry about that as much in a 21 year old pitcher. Mark Phillips is still a long way from the Major Leagues and may never get there, but he is potentially a #1 or #2 starter at the Major League level and has awesome stuff and good results in the minors so far.

Basically the Padres sold him and an extra season of Bubba Trammell to the Yankees for $5 million dollars. I’m just not sure I would have been willing to do the same.

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES

Gulp hard, Yankee fans. Looks like we are in for another year of dominance from Boston Red Sox ace, Pedro Martinez. Gordon Edes reports in the Boston Globe that Pedro is good to go for opening day. Some Yankee fans may express skepticism about worrying too tough about Martinez as the Bombers have pretty much broken even against him since he’s been in the league. All the same, it scares me, because I revere Pedro’s greatness, and after all, he does pitch for the dreaded Sox.


”I’m not quite sure how hard I was throwing,” Martinez said, ”but from the first day I pitched on the side, I felt more strength and flexibility, and I’ve had pretty good command of everything. That’s something weird compared to last year.”

This time last year Martinez was still feeling his way back from a partially torn right rotator cuff.

”I’m a lot more relaxed, I’m very comfortable with myself,” Martinez said, echoing a theme he has sounded all spring.

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