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Monthly Archives: April 2003

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BACK TO BASICS Jose

BACK TO BASICS

Jose Contreras had an impressive start yesterday for the Columbus Clippers, throwing five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out eight. Apparently, the big Cuban’s heater was clocked at 98mph, a far cry from what we saw from him when he was with the Yankees. To be fair, Contreras is a starter, and was regulated to the bullpen in New York.

Mariano Rivera is ready to go for the Yanks, and Derek Jeter was back with the team last night, shit-eating-grin and all. Jeter was goofing around on the bench, certainly a sight for sore eyes for us Yankee fans. He expects to be activated in a couple of weeks.

With a base on balls last night, Nick Johnson has now walked in thirteen consecutive games. He leads the AL in that category too.

Not for nothing, but I’m glad that Suzyn Waldman is not calling the games for YES any longer. He strength is doing the pre and post game shows, and I think she does that fine (although she’s better suited for the radio, and I used to like her coverage of the Knicks as well as the Yanks). But I’ve noticed that she has become so breathy, that I’m going to start calling her ol’ Iron Lungs. Each breath she draws sounds dramatically like it will be her last. Not only that, but she’s looking more and more like Karl Malden with each passing day.

The Yanks face ol’ man Moyer in the Bronx tonight. Moyer has an even better Bugs Bunny change than Chris Hammond. I don’t know what his numbers are against the Yankees, but I always feel like he kills us. And it’s a slow, painful death at that. I practically feel like jumping out of my shoes at home. My cousin Gabe said it would be good for baseball if the Yanks lost tonight (making it three in a row). “Then they can win 44 straight of whatever.”

FORBIDDEN FRUITS The subject

FORBIDDEN FRUITS

The subject of homosexuality in baseball is a touchy one indeed. After all, who really wants to talk about it? We’re not Gay. Well, Christian Ruzich, The Cub Reporter, and I do, and we’ve exchanged e-mails on the topic, and I thought I would share them with you. First, here is what New York Times reporter Buster Olney had to say about it when we spoke several weeks ago:

BB: Do you think baseball is ready for a gay player to come out?

Buster: No. It’s interesting cause when I covered the Padres Billy Bean was on the that team [that’s Billy Bean, the gay ballplayer, who came out publicly a few years ago, not Billy Beane the Oakland GM]. I really believe that if any team would have been able to handle that situation, it would have been that team. Because the best player, Tony Gwynn, is a very tolerant person, he’s very broad-minded. It was a very young team, that had stripped it down and they had all these young players, and Billy was very well liked. Some of the other leaders on the team like [Brad] Ausmus, were very bright guys. Trevor Hoffman, very accepting personality. If it was going to work, it would’ve worked on that team. But there is no doubt veteran teams like the Yankees I covered, or the Mets now: no chance. There is no chance.

BB: Because of the hoopla that would surround it?

Buster: Well, not only that, but the anticipation of it would prevent the front office from even making the move. Saying that, if the greatest pitcher in the game came out and said he was gay, they’d probably bend the rules. But it would have to be a great player. If you think about how they did it with Jackie Robinson, part of the reason why it worked was because he was a great player.

BB: And they chose him for his personality as much as his ability as a ballplayer.

Buster: Exactly. Billy Bean said that it’s basically unworkable, and I agree with him. It would have to be a player who is established. A player who won three Cy Young awards and then came out. Right. And even at that point, he would never be accepted by half of the players. No matter what he did or what he said.

Here is the first letter I received from Christian:

I’m interested to know what you think about what he has to say about a gay player coming out. Do you think it’s as impossible as he does? I go back and forth — on the one hand it seems like a baseball clubhouse is probably one of the most homophobic places on Earth, but on the other hand I imagine if a player came out while playing in a more liberal city (San Francisco jumps to mind, but Chicago or Minneapolis are other possibilities) he might be accepted, or even embraced, by the city. Of course it would matter quite a bit who the player was, if he was already beloved, etc. I mean, if Kirby Puckett had come out, I don’t think it would have been a big deal, but Carl Everett might have run into some problems.

Whaddya think? Also, was Buster’s reference to a “three-time Cy Young award winner” purely hypothetical?

To which I responded:

I’m sorry to say that I do think it would be pretty tough for a player to come out of the closet in the pro game today. It’s not that he wouldn’t be excepted, or even lauded by some fans in certain cities, but I’m not sure if his supporters would out-number his detractors.
Think about the constant taunting the player would receive. Not only would some unruly fans call him a faggot when he’s batting, but the ump could be thinking the same thing, and so could the catcher, and even the guy on deck.
I think his problem would lie in the locker room. It’s like Olney was saying about women in the locker rooms: there is a sizable percentage of the players that would never accept them.
Yes, I think Olney was being hypothetical when he said that player would have to win 3 Cy Young awards to get away with it, but his point is well-taken. It would probably take a player who is an established star to get away with something so bold as coming out of the closet.
I think that for a queer player to come out publicly, he would have to be a man of tremendous character, strength and confidence. The Jackie Robinson analogy applies here, especially in that the player in question would have to be a stronger man than he is a player.
Of course there are gay ballplayers out there. Perhaps they are comfortable being private about their sexual orientation. I don’t know. What I mean is that even if there was a triumphent example of a gay ballplayer coming out, I don’t know that it would lead to others following suit. I could be wrong.
The question is: What does a gay ballplayer have to gain by coming out? We certainly know he’d have a lot to lose. Do I think this is a sad commentary on our culture as well as our favorite game? You bet. But what are you going to do?

Here is Christian’s reply:

I think it’s a damn shame that there isn’t an out major league player. I love sports, but I hate the macho bullshit that often comes along with it. For so many people, sports is wrapped up in some weird belief system where success in sports equates with success as a man, and too often an adjunct of that is homophobia. Athletes talk about how trust is one of the most important factors in making a team, and how they could “never trust” someone who was gay, and it just makes me mad. And then I read Todd Jones go off on this very subject, and it just makes me madder:
I suppose it’s just a reflection of the beliefs of the majority of America, and living in San Francisco and Oakland for the last six years has skewed my concept of what “everyone” thinks, but basically I can’t wait for someone to be brave/stupid enough to come out while still active. It’ll be a shitstorm to rival what Jackie Robinson went through, but I think (most) people will get over it relatively quickly and ultimately it will be good for baseball and America as a whole. We’ll see, I guess.

Todd Jones is quoted in an article by Denver Post theater critic, John Moore, on Richard Greenberg’s play “Take Me Out.” The piece is an indepth and insightful examination of the deep-rooted homophobia that exists in pro sports. Greeenberg told Moore:

"I think it would be an enormously difficult thing to do," said Greenberg, "and I think it will probably be hellish for whoever does it, no matter who he is. There is nothing but disincentive...You can imagine what a gay player would be up against," said Greenberg, an openly gay man. "You're endangering his life."

The only incentive for doing it anyway, he said, “is if the player just can’t stand it anymore. When living the lie becomes impossible.”

Colorado pitcher Todd Jones probably speaks for the majority of ballplayers when he said:

“I wouldn’t want a gay guy being around me,” Jones said. “It’s got nothing to do with me being scared. That’s the problem: All these people say he’s got all these rights. Yeah, he’s got rights or whatever, but he shouldn’t walk around proud. It’s like he’s rubbing it in our face. ‘See me, hear me roar.’ We’re not trying to be close-minded, but then again, why be confrontational when you don’t really have to be?”

That kind of attitude “speaks volumes about America,” said actor Daniel Sunjata, a Jeter lookalike who plays Lemming in “Take Me Out.” “Sports are the last bastion of sanctioned homophobia in this country. The fact that something like sexual preference can so adversely affect your career and your income is depressing. If I were a pro baseball player, and I was gay, I might not come out, either, for those exact reasons.”

All-around good guy, Mark Grace had a more enlightened take:

“I’ve played for 16 years, and I’m sure I’ve had homosexual teammates that I didn’t know about,” he said. “If one out of six or seven men are homosexual – do the math.”

“I think the perception in the clubhouse would be one of, for lack of a better word – fear,” Grace said. “Fear that they’d be stared at or (that a gay player might fall) in love with them. But I think if you’re intelligent at all, you’d understand that homosexuals are just like us. They don’t think everybody’s attractive. Just because this guy’s homosexual doesn’t mean he’s attracted to me.”

I’d like to think that there are more guys like Mark Grace than Todd Jones out there, but I’d also like for money to grow on trees. Still, I think this is a fascinating subject and I’ll continue to write about it as long as there is something to add to the discussion. Anyone with thoughts or comments, please send them in. I’m curious to know what the readers are thinking. Are you saying, “Enough already with the Fruits, let’s get back to boxscores and pitch-count?” Let me know.

GIL, A REAL MECHE

GIL, A REAL MECHE

Seattle right hander Gil Meche overshadowed Roger Clemens and the hoopla surrounding Ichiro and Godzilla at the Stadium last night, as the Mariners shut out the Bombers, 6-0. Meche, winner of the Audie Murphy award, looks like he just jumped out of an old WWII movie; he has the innocent good looks of the boy next door. (“He’s attractive,” my girlfriend Emily remarked, “but he could use a hair cut.” For what it’s worth so could Matsui. “Godzilla needs to get his ass to Barbazon.”) He pitched quickly, and had the Yankee batters out of synch all evening.

After the game, Meche told reporters:

“Probably the biggest night of my baseball career,” said Meche, who scattered six singles and walked two. “How could it not be? Beating a Hall of Famer and this lineup? It’s unbelievable.”

Clemens wasn’t terrible (he did strike out eight), but he did give up 3 dingers (Boone, Davis and Edgar).

I was reminded just how much strong the rivalry with the M’s has been over the past few years last night. Damn, I hate losing to those guys. But honestly, with the exception of Brett Boone, there is hardly anyone to dislike on Seattle. I don’t even hate Boone, it’s just that his cockines is easy to root against. Sheeet, what’s not to love about Olerud, Edgar and Ichiro? And Bob Melvin appears to be a good guy as well.

No, the worst part about last night was that the Sox just keep coming and coming.

But fug it, I shouldn’t be riffing. The Yankees will probably not be shut-out too many times this year. It could be worse,after all: I could be a Mets fan.

Speaking of which, my cousin Gabe called me in the middle of the Card-Mets game last night. I had caught Ty Wiggenton’s at-bat with the bases-loaded in the first. He battled Matt Morris to a full-count and then smacked a grounder deep in the hole at short, which Edgar Renteria fielded and then threw a seed to first to record the out. Typical Mets I thought. About 20 minutes later, I saw on the ticker that the Cardinals had scored three in their half of the first. Ugh.

Gabe, who is anything but an alarmist, calls and says, “I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but this could be the season right here. They could be done. And I don’t mean that as a judgement, but as an observation.”

That just may be the case. Hey Steve Phillips, remember what ol’ Satch said: “Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.”

YANKEE BENCHES By Guest

YANKEE BENCHES

By Guest Columnist: Chris DeRosa

Hello, Bronx Banterers. Alex asked me to come off the bench with a Yankee-related feature, so I thought I would take substitution as my theme and discuss Yankee benches: the best benches the team has had in the past and those of the current dynasty.

Yankee fans of a sabermetric bent tend to ignore the slew of coffee table books about the team, and therefore may have missed the fact that Bill James wrote three parts of the latest entry in the genre, The New York Yankees: One Hundred Years, The Official Retrospective. He writes short essays on each of the 25 greatest Yankees as selected by a group of sportswriters, five of the most famous Yankee teams, and six of the club’s greatest managers. It is a pricey book, but it is fun to have James’s always intriguing perspective and to have him take on greatest- (NY)-team-ever debate, even in abbreviated form. Besides, what other coffee table book is going to diss the ’61 club and poke fun at Bobby Meacham?

Anyway, one thing James mentions in talking about Casey Stengel was how frequently his teams led in “Bench Value Percentage,” a measure of the percentage the non-starters contribute to a team’s success. Stengel’s Yankees led three times, 1949, 1951, and 1954. I looked them up. Not surprisingly, these three also had the three highest win shares totals that any of Stengel’s Yankee benches amassed. Might one of those clubs, I wondered, be identified as the best bench in team history?

Choosing one is harder than I thought. First of all, who should count as being a bench player?

If someone is acquired in the last third of the season to be part of the starting lineup, is his contribution really “off the bench”?

If a bench player plays himself into the starting lineup halfway through, score one for the bench? Or count him as a regular?

If you’re half of a strict platoon, are you a semi-regular, or riding the pines?

Chili Davis is supposed to be your regular DH, but he gets hurt. Darryl Strawberry steps in and leads the team in homers much of the way. Strawberry gets sick and Davis makes it back late in the year. Strength in depth for sure, but which one counts for the bench?

The easiest thing to do is to define the bench as the contributions of everybody beyond the eight (or nine with DH) players who got the most playing time. Even then, you’ve got to make some common sense adjustments. Joe DiMaggio shouldn’t count as a bench player for the 1949 Yankees even if he got less playing time than Cliff Mapes. Clearly, what matters in discussing the bench is the contribution of Mapes and other players who stepped in when DiMaggio was injured.

The question of injuries raises a further complication. The 1949 team was famously riddled with injuries. Is a reserve squad that is called on more often for this reason better than another that is equally ready and able, but kept on the bench by a healthy lineup? Maybe not better, but probably “greater.” It’s like when they rank the presidents. You have overcome a major crisis or two in order to rate with the greatest ever. Here are the total win shares claimed by some of the most active Yankee benches and their top not-ready-for-full-time-players:

1949 59 Mapes 12, Johnson 9, Lindell 6, Silvera 6, Stirnweiss 6, Keller 5, Kryhoski 4, Phillips 4
1951 51 Brown 13, Mantle 13, Collins 11, Jensen 9, Hopp 2, Johnson 2, Silvera 2
1954 48 Skowron 13, Coleman 6, Robinson 5, Slaughter 5, Miranda 4, Woodling, Cerv 3
1955 44 Howard 11, Collins 9, Robinson 7, Rizzuto 6, Cerv 5, Martin 2
1980 46 Gamble 11, Murcer 9, Piniella 7, Spencer 7, Lefebvre 4, Werth 3
1997 47 Curtis 11, Boggs 10, Posada 6, Sanchez 5, Whiten 5, Stanley 4, Duncan 3, Kelly 2

Another reason the total doesn’t tell the whole story is that it is difficult to measure the crucial bench quality of versatility. The variety of problems a team can solve off the bench is important along with the overarching measure of their contribution offered by win shares.
Comments on Some Great Yankee Benches

All of which goes to say that it may be too hard to identify the one best bench in team history. Here are some of the excellent ones, though. The bench didn’t figure much until Casey Stengel came along, and he always had a deep and talented roster. There is an extensive literature on Stengel’s use of reserves, so I won’t rehash all that here. In 1949, he did most of his rotating in the outfield and at first base. I think it was his 103-win 1954 club that best exemplified his concept of the roster as 16 players who were all worthy, with the batter-by-batter circumstances dictating which eight were playing and which were licking their chops.

1954: Only Mantle and Berra, the two best players in the league, batted 500 times on this team. The rest of the team was like a giant awesome bench. Charlie Silvera hit well in a handful of at bats backing up Berra, as he always did. At first base was Joe Collins (343 ab), Moose Skowron (215), and Eddie Robinson (142) combining for 22 homers and 89 walks. In the infield were Andy Carey (411), Gil McDougal (394), Phil Rizzuto (307), Jerry Coleman (300), and Willie Miranda (116). The outfielders after Mantle in descending order of playing time were Irv Noren (426), Hank Bauer (377), and Gene Woodling (304), Enos Slaughter (125) and Bob Cerv (100). All these players, with the arguable exception of Miranda, were important contributors to the Yankee dynasty, although not all played well in 1954. James’s Guide to the Baseball Managers reports the 1954 Yanks set a record for pinch hitters, 262, who hit .292 and set a record with 7 dingers.

1977: An example of a fine bench that didn’t get to strut its stuff the way Stengel’s did is that of the 1977 World Champions. Billy Martin got over 500 at bats for seven regulars, but he had in reserve plenty of offensive punch and a couple of glove men who didn’t hurt the team at the plate. Despite the signing of Reggie Jackson, Lou Piniella managed to get over 300 at bats again in a platoon outfielder-DH role, and he hit the snot out of the ball: .330 and slugging .510. Cliff Johnson hit .296 and slugged .606 in 142 at bats, in 56 games at 1B, DH, and catcher. Infielder Fred Stanley (.261) and outfielder Paul Blair (.262) came bearing gloves. George Zeber and Dell Alston both hit .320 in limited trials, and subsequently appeared on those four-head-shot Topps rookie cards in 1978. Klutts’ also had Alan Trammell and Paul Molitor, so that turned out to be a pretty good card.

1980: Like 1954, a 103-win team that didn’t go all the way and had few regulars. Only Reggie, Randolph, and Rick Cerone batted 500 times, Cerone actually led the team with 147 games. The bench was deep in bats. Switch-hitting outfielder Bobby Brown got a big break in center when Ruppert Jones got hurt and played pretty well, hitting 14 homers and swiping 27 bases in 137 games. From the right, Lou Piniella again had a good 300+ at bats, hitting .287 and slugging .462. When Graig Nettles went down, Semi-regular DH Eric Soderholm hit .287, slugged .462, and subbed at the hot corner when Nettles got hurt (though they later added Aurelio Rodriquez to play third and he didn’t do much

THIS DATE IN ROCKET

THIS DATE IN ROCKET HISTORY

On this day in 1986, Roger Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners. Tonight, he is gunning for career victory number 298.

WILLIE MAKES SURE SORI

WILLIE MAKES SURE SORI DOESN’T GET A SWELL HEAD

While Alfonso Soriano continues to defy the laws of probability with his battery-operated bat, he has steadily improved with the glove as well. But his mentor, third base coach, Willie Randolph isn’t blowing smoke up lil’ Sori’s ass:

“I still think he’s got a ways to go,” Randolph said. “Being an All-Star is a nice thing, but an All-Star to me is doing it offensively and defensively. When you start talking about the whole package, that’s when you see the confidence get to a new level. That’s when you start saying: ‘I enjoy doing this. I can be an All-Star hitter and an All-Star second baseman, too.’ ”

…From third base, Robin Ventura has noticed the footwork. That is a change from last season, when Soriano led major league second basemen with 23 errors. Ventura said Soriano used to wait for balls to come to him, but now he moves toward them to receive better hops.

“From where I’m at, I see the ball bouncing at him and what kind of hop he’s going to get,” Ventura said. “Last year you could see it happen before it got there. It was like watching a car wreck, watching the hops come at him. He was making it tougher on himself, but he’s got it now. You can tell his confidence just by watching him.”

ICHIRO, GODZILLA IN THE

ICHIRO, GODZILLA IN THE PLACE TO BE

Big happenings in the Bronx tonight as the Mariners come into town for a three-game series, which features Seattle’s star Ichiro, and the Yankees’ left fielder Godzilla.

Mariano Rivera will join the team for the first time this year, and Yankee fans will hold their collective breath until we see him pitch.

There should be a terrific crowd buzzing at the Stadium tonight, and I have a feeling the next week will provide a tense, playoff-like atmosphere in the House that Ruth Built.

Check out this scouting report on the Yankees from Seattle native Shane O’Neill.

Also, don’t sleep on U.S.S. Mariner, for comprehensive blog coverage of the series.

DOGPILE ON THE METSIES

DOGPILE ON THE METSIES

Buster Olney has an article that appeared on the front page of The New York Times this morning about the state of the Mets. As well all know, it isn’t a pretty picture.

They are a bad defensive team. Among the league’s best defensive teams a few years ago, the Mets are tied for second in the major leagues in errors. They strike out constantly, ranking fifth in that category, while compiling one of the major leagues’ lowest on-base percentages.

…A general manager for another team said: “I can’t believe a team that spends that much money is that bad. There’s nobody who really scares you when you look at their lineup, on paper. The only starter who might scare you is Al Leiter. They don’t look real good.”

Mike Lupica, the King of the tabliod columnists in New York, weighs in on the ugliness that is the Mets, and characteristically doesn’t pull any punches:

The Mets have to make some kind of move over the next month or so, or get ready to make some moves, and big ones, moves that even might involve Mike Piazza. If that is the way things work out, if they are falling out of another race and out of another season in June, the first move has to be with Steve Phillips, the general manager. Who can’t be allowed to make any more moves himself at that point.

A LITTLE OF THIS

A LITTLE OF THIS AND A LITTLE OF THAT

The Yankees return home to New York today, where it is a clear, sunny and brilliant spring day. It’s the perfect day to talk a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. The Bombers start a six-game homestand tomorrow, and will face the Mariners and the A’s. (Meanwhile the Red Sox will host the Royals and the Twins at the Fens.) Next week they fly out west to play in Seattle and Oakland. The next two weeks will be a good test of how the Yankees stack up against two of the best teams in the league.

Heavyweight Tom Boswell gives his take on the always-interesting/never-boring New York Yankees in The Washington Post:

They may be truly great this year, but, if you look closely, they’re also old and flawed. They’re admirable individually yet unpalatable collectively. They’re off to the best start in their history. Which just sets ‘em up for a big fall. Yes, right now, the Yanks have all their classic themes roiling at once.

…Never have George Steinbrenner’s men been so brazenly greedy relative to the rest of the money-strapped sport. The Boss, luxury tax be damned, has topped all past buying frenzies. So his team has never been easier to hate. Feel the injustice of that $164 million payroll, a dozen times Tampa Bay’s size. Let it burn. Doesn’t it feel good? If your heart has a stitch or a seam in it, and you’ve never lived within the five boroughs, you have to root against them.

Yet, in this era, the Yankees define conflicted emotions. They’re the team that’s so exemplary they drag you, kicking, into their camp.

Gordon Edes reports on the Yankees early-season success in The Boston Globe, while Anthony McCarron delineates the power structure of the Yankees front office.

Lastly,John Sickels, ESPN’s minor-league guru, has this to say about Derek Jeter’s temporary replacement, Erick Almonte:

His strikeout rates are high, while his walk rates are all over the place, low at times but not so bad at other times. He is 25 years old, so he doesn’t have a lot of development time left and is close to being as good now as he’ll ever be.

Looking at the minor-league numbers, Almonte projects to hit between .230 and .260 in the major leagues, with touches of power and an erratic on-base percentage. What he’s doing now is about what he should be expected to do, maybe a little better. He has no star potential that I can see, but certainly does enough to be useful as a middle infield reserve.

MONEY-BOSS PLAYER The hot

MONEY-BOSS PLAYER

The hot baseball book of the spring is clearly “Moneyball, The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” Michael Lewis’ study of Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. Christian Ruzich, The Cub Reporter and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus received reviewer’s copies and are enjoying the book immensely, and quite frankly, I can’t wait to get my hands on it too. The New York Times Magazine published an excerpt from the book last month, and Billy Beane comes across as a charming, slick, and danergous operator—like a shark from a David Mamet play. (Kevin Spacey should play him in the movie version).

Joel Sherman has a column on the book today in the New York Post. Needless to say, former Oakland skipper, and current Mets manager Art Howe, who was famously at odds with Beane, is not portrayed in a favorable light. Howe refused to comment on the book, but as Sherman reports:

Yesterday before his team was swept by Arizona while setting a double-header record with 27 strikeouts and committing an error at every position except third base, Howe described this discouraging first month of boos and boots as a “piece of cake compared to what I’ve been through in the past.” When asked later if that meant his time under Beane, Howe would only say, “I had my moments.”

As depicted in “Moneyball,” the A’s would not have been all that different if managed by a cardboard cutout of Howe. Unlike other GMs, Beane dictated (among other things) lineups, bullpen usage and strategy – specifically no steals or sacrifices. Howe would confirm with players who stole on their own that it was indeed their decision, so Beane would be furious with them and not him. Most unflattering of all was that Beane even ordered where and how Howe stood in the dugout – on the top step with his chin raised to project leadership to his players below, though Howe preferred to sit on the bench.

Considering the way the Mets played yesterday, Howe could have used cardboard cutouts of his players which may have at least cut down on all the errors.

TEXAS 2-STEP I’m happy

TEXAS 2-STEP

I’m happy to report that my girlfriend Emily returned from her recovery-hiatus in the hills of Vermont this past weekend. She was down at my place in the Boogie Down Bronx on Saturday, and it was nothing short of great to be with her again. Em was even excited to watch the Yankee game on Saturday night, even though she was so beat by the time the game started, she didn’t make it past the third inning. She was awake long enough to see her boy Giambi hit a first-inning home run. I had told her that Giambi—her favorite Bronx Bomber, had been slumping, so not to expect much. So naturally he hits a homer.

“Now that I’m back, he’s going to be fine,” said Emily.

David Wells didn’t pitch particularly well, but he did go eight innings. The game irritated the hell out of me, for some reason. You know how there are some games that just drive you nuts? This was one of them. I figured the Yankees were going to be blown out. Boomer whiffed A Rod in his first two at-bats, but then Rodriguez jumped all over a 2-0 fastball his next time up, and tied the game with a solo shot to center. I turned in with the ol’ girl during the seventh inning stretch figuring I had better things to do than dick around watching the game.

But I couldn’t get to sleep, so against my better instincts, I got up to check the score about 45 mintues later, just in time to watch Juan Acevado K A Rod on three pitches (all looking), in the 10th inning to give the Yanks a 7-5 win. The Freak Soriano had 3 hits and collected the game-winning RBI off of Ugie Urbina.

Rodriguez, and The Rangers exacted a measure of revenge on Sunday, pounding the Yanks 10-6 to avoid being swept. A Rod went 5-5 and had 6 RBI, including a bases-loaded double that had Joe Torre second-guessing his decision to leave lefty Randy Choate in to face the King of Swing.

Sunday’s game was the ugliest game of the series, but I didn’t mind so much. Sometimes you gotta get spanked, right? Jeff Weaver didn’t have much and when Joe Torre came to get him, he looked like he was trying to suppress a smile. Hey skip, I sucked pretty bad today, huh? The Yanks ended their longest road trip of the year at 8-2, so what’s not to like about that?

I flipped back and forth between the game, and the Hoopskaball playoffs. As badly as the Yankees played, Jason Giambi pinch-hit in the ninth and represented the tying run. Even though the Yanks got smacked around, they still had a chance to win the game.

The Yanks are now 20-5, and the only drag is that the Red Sox are only 4 games back. Boston pulled out a 14-inning win over the Angels last night in Anahiem (incredibly, the Cardinals beat the Marlins in a 20-inning game yesterday too). Naturally, Pedro Martinez didn’t get the win, although he looked fine, striking out ten in seven innings of work and leaving with a 4-2 lead.

I was talking with Ed Cossette of Bambino’s Curse yesterday, and he expressed to me the constant anxiety Red Sox fans live with regarding Pedro’s health. I was thinking about it later, and I have a question for the reader: Who was the last great pitcher who was as vunerable while he was in his prime as Martinez? I don’t think the Koufax analogy works, because according to Jane Leavy’s book, Koufax knew going into the 1965 season that his days were numbered. I don’t get that sense with Pedro at all. Has there ever been as dominant a pitcher who was as frail as Pedro Martinez seems to be?

Inquiring minds want to know. (Like me.)

DEEP IN THE HEART

DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS

The Yankees won the opening game of a three-game series in Arlington last night, beating the Rangers 3-2. Mike Mussina improved to 5-0, struck out nine, and allowed one run in eight innings of work. Mussina seemed to get better, working quickly, as the game went on. After striking out the side in the eighth inning, I was a disapointed that he didn’t return for the ninth. Not only was Mussina spotting his fastball, and using his over-the-top knuckle-cuve effectively, but he added a three-quarter-arm breaking ball which had the mighty Texas bats stumped all night.

Juan Acevado pitched the ninth instead and made things interesting. With one out, Juan Gonzalez swung at a shoulder-high fastball and lofted the ball towards the seats down the third-base line. Robin Ventura followed the high pop fly, and carefully stepped onto the tarp, stood up, leaned over slightly and recorded the second out of the inning, before he fell gently over into the stands. Almost everything about Ventura appears laconic, and this play was no different. It was a sure-footed play, but it seemed as if it was happening in slow motion. YES broadcaster, Ken Singleton commented that Ventura, “Looks like one of those loggers, doesn’t he?”

Carl Everett then reached on what looked like Alfonso Soriano’s first error of the season (a difficult grounder to his left that he booted), and scored on Ruben Seirra’s double to right (Raul Mondesi, showing off his powerful arm, almost nabbed Sierra at second to end the game). The second baseman, Michael Young was next, and he smacked Acevado’s first pitch off the glove of first baseman Nick Johnson. The ball bounced to his right, and lil’ Sori scooped it up and flipped it under-hand to Acevado to end the game. It was a long way to toss a ball under-hand, and Acevado practically snow-coned it in his glove, and they narrowly beat the streaking Young by a half-a-step, to seal the win.

Boy, the Rangers are a strange team. They are a motely crew of muscle-headed sluggers, managed by one straight-laced strategist in Buck Showalter. This is the first time Buck has managed against the Yankees since he left the Bronx in the October of 1995. Orel Hirshiser is his pitching coach, and the two of them look prim and studious.

Showalter and Orel each have their own, sleek little table-stand in the dugout. Hirshiser dilligently charted each pitch thrown by his staff. He has just the kind of business-like efficiency that makes him a perfect fit with Buck.

YES broadcaster Michael Kay said that he had asked A Rod before the game how he liked Showalter, and A Rod looked at him in the eye and said, “I love him. You know wanna know why? Because I crave discipline and he provides it.”

It’s not often that you hear your superstar saying he craves more order, and structure and accountability. Kay reported that Showalter compared Rodriguez with Mattingly, in terms of his love for the game and his work ethic. According to Kay, that is not a comparison Buck throws around lightly.

But the Rangers roster isn’t just weird, it feels perverse. They have some youth of course, even though Mark Teixeira didn’t play. The kid Hank Blalock did, and boy is he milk-fed, bro. “Good-looking ballplayer,” as Buck O’Neil would say. He looks like a ballplayer. Or he looks like a jock, California-style, ala Shane Spencer. I would find it hard not to call him “meat.” Mussina duped him into grounding into a weak ground out his first time out by throwing him an offspeed pitch on a full count; the next time up, he wacked a hanging curve ball up the middle for an RBI single; the last two times up, Mussina set him down on three pitches.

It was good to see Mr. Universe himself, Alex Rodriguez, and although I’ve never cared for him too tough, it was nice to see the smooth fielding, sweet-swinging future Hall-of-Famer Rafie Palmero too. But in the second inning, when Mussina faced Juan Gonzalez, Carl Everett and Ruben Seirra, I felt like I was watching a bad reality-TV show where they get a group of former celebrities and force them to live together. Or some ill espisode of the Rikki Lake show.

What a collection of Bone-heads, man.

My favorite Martian, Alfonso Soriano had a mutliple hit game again. As Steve Goldman noted in his Pinstriped Bible column this week, Nick Johnson is serving as a terrific counter-point to Sori. He is as patient as Sori is aggresive. Johnson collected a base on balls for the tenth consectuctive game. He flew out deep to left in his first at-bat, and hit a two-run homer to left in the sixth.

Jason Giambi put together a solid at-bat in the third, and drove a full count pitch up the middle to drive in the Yankees first run. Colby Lewis started for Texas, and he pitched well, mixing a good curve ball in with mid-90s gas.

LE FREAK, C’EST CHIC

LE FREAK, C’EST CHIC

I’m not the only one calling Alfonso Soriano “The Freak,” these days. Aaron Gleeman simply prefers “Freak of Nature,” which is the same difference, really (Initially, I started calling Sori “Superfreak,” but he’s still too young for that title, which I think fits Vlad Guerrero better at this stage of the game). Gleeman, who has a real gift for statistical analysis, covers lil’ Sori, and his freaky-ass self in his column today:

I will admit to being one of the people who thought that there was just no way Soriano could continue to hit like he did last season while never walking and striking out in bunches. And while I will gladly admit I am wrong, I do so while still in complete and utter disbelief of what he is doing.

…Since Soriano will basically swing at and hit anything that is thrown close to the strike zone (and by “close” I mean within 5 feet on either side and from the tops of his shoes to his helmet), many people have wondered “why pitchers ever throw him strikes.” I have also wondered this, particularly after seeing this stat last season…

Alfonso Soriano putting the first pitch of an at bat in play in 2002:
97 at bats
45 hits
.464 batting average
.825 slugging %
6 homers
15 doubles

Those are just about the freakiest freak numbers that ever freaked the earth.

Freakin A, bro.

BIBLE THUMPING Here are

BIBLE THUMPING

Here are the last two installments of Steve Goldman’s excellent Pinstriped Bible column over the YES website (I’m sorry I forgot to link last week’s piece). Goldman offers objective analysis of the current Yankee team, while providing a thorough, and detailed historical context to measure their accomplishments by. It makes his weekly column a must-read for all Yankee fans.

This week, Goldman compares the 2003 Yanks with four other Yankee teams who got off to similar starts (1928, ’39, ’49, and ’58—yeah, all those teams went on to win the World Serious).

Here is what Goldman has to say about Nick “Godzookie” Johnson, since Joe Torre moved him to the 2-hole in the batting order:

Nick Johnson is now displaying the great eye at the plate that made him such a prized prospect. Credit Johnson and the Yankees brain trust for mental flexibility: Johnson’s minor league success came from crowding the plate within an inch of its life. He tried it last year, and other than earning him 12 free bases/bruises on HBPs, it didn’t work. This season Johnson has backed off — he hasn’t been hit once — and he’s found that not only can he still control the strike zone, but he can control it better. The mechanical issue resolved, the man’s natural ability has taken over. At this writing, Johnson is carrying a .982 OPS and there’s every reason to expect more of the same.

When Jeter returns, Torre is going to face a tough decision as to how to reorder his lineup. Respect for Jeter’s previous accomplishments dictates a return to the top of the order, but Johnson is doing things in the two-hole that aren’t in Jeter’s bag of tricks — Johnson is likely to draw twice as many walks as Jeter takes in a typical year. Jeter does many things well, and he could bat anywhere, and should be encouraged to do so. Johnson’s confident, he’s hot, and should be a fixture at the top of the order from now on.

GREAT GOOGLIE MOOGLIE Just

GREAT GOOGLIE MOOGLIE

Just how good are the 2003 Yankees? Jayson Stark has a column at ESPN that says, well, they are damn good, perhaps great. Of course, it is way too early to be talking about great anything (the mere suggestion makes my Spidey Sense tingle), but considering that they’ve been without Rivera and Jeter (and a productive Jason Giambi), the Bronx Bombers have done a good job of living up to their moniker, for sure:

“Sometimes in baseball,” [Elias historian and analyst Steve] Hirdt said, “you’ll see something so overwhelming that you regard it as a special measure of a special talent. Like Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game. Nobody has a game that good unless they’re something special. And these Yankees have had 3

PEOPLES IS PEOPLES Steve

PEOPLES IS PEOPLES

Steve Keane, sole owner and proprietor of The Eddie Kranepool Society, writes:

Alex,

Great work as usual on the Olney interview. I was struck by a few things Buster said.

About Tom Lasorda, My wife and I were going to the theater about two winters ago when we ducked into the Marriot Marquis on Time Square to warm up. There was a sportswriters dinner going on and I happened to see Lasorda standing near by. I went over to say hello and the guy looked at me like I asked him for a loan. What a phony bastard.

I go to Cape Cod every summer for vacation. Peter Gammons is a year round resident of the Cape and I got to know him a few years back seeing him at Cape Cod baseball games. He is a true gentleman. Not only is he baseball guru but his knowledge of rock n roll music is unmatched.

You would think just by accident some player would ask a beat writer about his family or where he went to school or any kind of personal small talk. I mean you see these guys the whole season. I guess the players are as self centered as we believe they are.

As a whole, I think athletes are self-centered, but not any more so than your run-of-the-mill actor, musician, or artiste. As a side note, Steve mentions today that it may be time for the ancient mariner of the Mets radio broadcast booth, Bob Murphy to step down. Personally, the less coherent Murphy becomes, the more I enjoy listening to him. His voice, garbled, and slurred, sounds like Schlitz Beer, if Schlitz Beer could talk.

“Eeeeeee Strugg ‘im out.”

BOMBED I got an

BOMBED

I got an e-mail from Ed Cossette yesterday as the Sox were getting their tits lit in Texas, and he told me, “I guess I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.” Derek Lowe continues to be inconsistent, and manager Grady Little told the Boston Globe:

”Right now,” he said, ”the biggest thing I’m looking forward to is getting the hell out of Texas.”

Trouble is already brewing between the Sox and the Boston press, according to the Boston Globe. Pedro Martinez is not talking to reporters, and now Grady Little has issued a mandate that his players only talk to the media about baseball related issues, after a definite-type-of-situation went down earlier this week.

For what it’s worth, I’m sure Ed will feel just a wee-bit better when he wakes up this morning and finds out that the Yankees finally lost a game. Andy Pettitte didn’t have much of anything last night, and the Angels jumped on him for six runs; the Yankee bats for once, were unable to rally, and the Yanks are no longer the best team in baseball. The best team would be your Kansas City Royals, baby. Don’t throw rocks at the throne, playa.

Not for nothing, but I caught the tail end of Mike Lupica’s diatribe against the Bronx Bombers last night on ESPN’s the Sports Reporters II. Ostensibly, Lupica echoed what my friend John alluded to yesterday, and that is that watching the Royals win is much sweeter than the watching U.S. Steel win. I understand his point. If you are an average fan, what’s not to love about the Royals winning? It’s a great story. But the Yankee fan in me says, “Speak for yourself, papi.” Lupica finds the Yankees to be obnoxious and joyless, which is fair enough. But that’s not going to stop me from enjoying their success, no matter how high their payroll climbs. (Do I ever feel guilty about it? Sure. But it’s all part of being a Yankee fan.) If you can’t find any joy in watching Soriano or Bernie hit, then it’s your loss, not mine. But hell, Lupica has to sell papers, I just get to root for my team.

STARTIN’ SOMETHING? Things may

STARTIN’ SOMETHING?

Things may not look promising for the Mets this year, but at least they are only 3 games out of first place. This doesn’t feel like a team that go out and win 20 of 25 games, but at least Cliff Floyd and Robbie Alomar are starting to get hot. Floyd has been pounding the ball this week, and cursing the ill winds at Shea too, as he has had several balls knocked down short of the wall, and land safely in the gloves of the opposing team. Alomar had two doubles last night and now has nine on the season (he had 24 last year). What’s more impressive is that he’s driving the ball in the gaps like the Robbie of old.

Last night, Pedro Astacio made him first start of the year and Mets beat the Astros, 7-4.

GETTING DEFENSIVE David Pinto

GETTING DEFENSIVE

David Pinto has a nice exchange with Steve Bonner regarding the Yankees defense over at Baseball Musings. Pinto opines:

Yes, the defense and bullpen is weak. But the offense and starting pitching is so strong, those weaknesses are easily covered up. Sure, they can hurt them in the post-season; in a short series weaknesses can be easily magnified. But I would expect the Yankees to address the bullpen if it continues to be an issue, and I think the offense is good enough (especially if Jeter returns and Giambi starts to hit) to cover the weak defense.

END OF THE LINE…

END OF THE LINE…

The Mets placed David Cone on the DL yesterday, and though nobody said it, his career could be over.

According to the New York Times:

Cone seemed surprised when asked if he would pitch again.

“I would hope so,” he said yesterday. “I’m not willing to give up at this point. I’m also very much a realist. I also understand physically I need to be able to go out there and give more than I’ve shown so far, be more reliable and show I can hold up every five days and pitch more than five innings.”

At the same time, Cone admitted:

“I’ve had a long, very good career,” Cone said. “At this point, it’d be in bad taste to complain about anything. I’ve had so much good fortune in my career. This was kind of an experiment at first. It turned into a pretty darned good story and now it’s questionable. I understand that.

“I knew that coming in that this would be tough, that there was going be a chance I couldn’t do this physically. I still haven’t conceded anything at this point.”

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