"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: April 2003

Older posts            Newer posts

DEAR JOHN Here is

DEAR JOHN

Here is an e-mail I got this morning from an old friend of mine, John Burdick, one of my creative writing professors when I was in college, who also happens to be a long-time Yankee fan:

Alex,

From the AP:

“New York has outhomered opponents 43-5 — hitting the most in the major leagues and allowing the fewest. The Yankees have as many homers as Detroit has runs.”
Detroit is the new or posterboy for revenue sharing, now that KC is winning games and Montreal is not so bad at all.

In last night’s romp, the Yankees left 27 men on base!

Now, you know I have my reservations about all of this. My team, right or wrong, of course, but I just don’t enjoy it as much when they’re payroll is 30M higher than the next closest, and when the only acceptable outcome is a championship, and even that is more a cause for relief than jubilation. Honestly, I wish I were a Royals fan right now. That would be fun. So I take to following individuals more than the team. Soriano looks to be rectifying the problem that kept him from winning the MVP last year, which is to say he didn’t lead the league in *every* major offensive category. He looks a little bulkier to me this year, just a little.

Now, if you subtract the salaries of Jeter, Rivera, and Karsay, maybe their payroll looks more like the Mets’. Aw hell, subtract Giambi’s too, as he’s hardly been better than Rey Sanchez thus far. So no doubt, they are hot, *globally* hot, and it’s not just money. But be still. It’s a long season. Starters will slump and go down with injuries. The bullpen is suspect, but that doesn’t show when the starters are going late and the offense is simply blowing everyone away.

The luxury is that just about the time Ventura, Posada, Matsui, and Mondesi start to decline, Giambi will be himself again and Jeter will be back. Bernie and Sori are the only others who need to be themselves all year all the time.

And correct me if I’m wrong, Alex, but isn’t Bernie a traditionally slow starter, like a terribly slow starter? If so, damn, maybe this is HIS MVP year. Truthfully, I always thought he had an MVP in him, if he could stay healthy and play 145+ games.

BTW, I suppose you saw that my Orangemen won the national title? Nothing, no Yankee collapse or Laker triumph, can take the smile off my face this year. This was the most unlikely and most pleasant surprise of this fan’s life.

Here is another e-mail I received today; this one is from reader, Steve Bonner:

Alex, First of all thanks for the great site and keep up the good work. I think the below quote, attributed to Rick Reed in Jim Caple’s column this morning, sums up the Yankees perfectly:

“I’d like to give you my glove and and you go out there and try to pitch to that lineup,” Reed told reporters after the game. “I’m thanking God we’re in the Central and not the East. That’s unbelievable. Un-be-lieveable.”

Steve

I want to thank all the readers who have sent me comments on the Buster Olney interview, and I especially want to thank my fellow bloggers (and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus) for all the plugs and kind words. All of your support is more than somewhat appreciated.

ESPN has several good pieces on the Yankees today. Darren Rovell writes about the marketing of Godzilla Matsui, and Bob Klapisch reports on the Bombers hot start.

Jason Giambi, one of the few Yankees who is not on fire these days, told Klap:

“I can’t even count how many times I’ve taken a walk with runners on first and second, just to load up the bases for Bernie,” Giambi said. “To me, being disciplined at the plate, getting on base, scoring a lot of runs, it’s the most important thing.”

…”As soon as some of the other guys get cold, I’m going to get hot. And then Jeter is going to be back,” Giambi said. “That’s what a machine does — it never stops. That’s us. This could go on all year.”

ROMPER STOMPER “The Freak,”

ROMPER STOMPER

“The Freak,” Alfonso Soriano has hit a home run to lead off a game three times this year—all in support of Roger Clemens, who earned his 297th career victory last night in the Yankees 9-2 win over the defending World Champs. Raul Mondesi added a homer of his own, and Bernie Williams had a couple of hits and a couple of RBI (he now leads the team with 22). At the rate lil’ Sori and the Yankees offense is going, how long will it be before the Yankees get in their first brawl? If they don’t slow down soon, it’s hard to believe that the rest of the league is going to sit back and watch them roll over everyone without getting a bit nasty with them.

Soriano’s brilliance is unsettling in this regard: just how long can he keep this up? Both John Sickels and Rob Neyer confirmed his status as a freak of nature last year. So the question remains: Is Soriano a great player, or the next Juan Samuel? The great Sandy Koufax spoke with Joe Torre before yesterday’s game and told the Yankee manager:

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody with quicker hands than Soriano.”

There is something about Soriano’s blinding talent that makes me question whether it will last over five, ten years. Still, it won’t stop me from appreciating every moment that little freak gives us in the meantime.

The Bombers dominating offense and sterling starting pitching has masked the team’s mediocre bullpen, which is starting to look like a M*A*S*H unit. Antonio Osuna joined Mariano Rivera and Steve Karsay on the DL yesterday with a strained groin. In his place, the Yankees have called up right-hander Al Reyes, who they picked up after the Pirates released him this spring. According to the Daily News:

Reyes, a 33-year-old righty, has eight years of experience in the major leagues. His career record is 15-8 with three saves and a 4.12 ERA. In eight relief appearances at Columbus, Reyes had one save and a 1.04 ERA. He struck out 10 in 8-2/3 innings.

The young Jason Anderson now moves into Osuna’s set-up role, and the Yankees better pray that their bats keep clicking with Seattle, Oakland, and Boston on the horizon.

Rivera, who was supposed to throw yesterday, pushed his outing back one day due to some general soreness and will pitch this afternoon instead. He will likely join the team next week in New York when the Yankees face Seattle and then Oakland.

Meanwhile, Billy Conners is busy working on fundamentals and mechanics with Jose Contreras in Tampa:

“This guy has very good stuff, but he’s a little messed up here,” said Connors, the club’s minor league instructor, motioning toward his head. “He has too much pressure to perform. What everyone is hoping is that we can get him to relax a little, get some success and self-confidence and quickly get him back with the team.”

Contreras is scheduled to pitch for Triple A Columbus next Tuesday.

HURTIN’ This morning I

HURTIN’

This morning I sent Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus an e-mail asking him what we should make of the Steve Karsay situation. Yesterday, the Times reported that he would likely miss the remainder of the season, but after his visit with Dr. James Andrews, the reports today are that he’ll be okay….when we don’t know. I’m not the swiftest cat on the block when it comes to sports medicine so I asked Will why Karsay would need two cortisone shots.

He replied:

[Karsay] needed relief in two distinct areas. NEVER a good sign and one that they’re already thinking he’s at significant risk. Still, it’s just inflammation and not something surgical so there’s still a chance he’ll come back. Give him a week’s rest and he can pick up his rehab again. Chance of recurrence? 100%.

Meanwhile, things are sure looking bleak over at Shea these days. David Cone left last night’s game vs. the Astros after two innings with a gimpy hip, and to make matters worse, Jeromy Burnitz suffered a broken hand late in the game when he was nailed by a 97mph Billy Wagner pitch. Naturally, Burnitz had been the hottest hitter on the team.

I caught some of the game on TV last night, and after Cone was yanked, Mex Hernandez was talking about how it’s probably time for Cone to hang it up. The announcers didn’t know why Cone had been pulled from the game at that point, so I don’t know if Mex changed his tune when he learned that Cone had been hurt. But I would doubt it.

Cone, one of the all-time stand-up guys, spoke with the media following the game:

“I don’t think I can answer all the questions tonight,” Cone said in reference to inquiries about a possible trip to the disabled list. “All I can say is I’m not ready to give up. It certainly was disappointing tonight. I know everybody is wondering if I can go on – or what I have left. Those are all legitimate questions. I certainly think about those things myself. But I showed enough in spring training, threw the ball well in my first start. And I know something is still there. I still believe I can help the team. I still believe I can win games. But tonight was a big setback. It’s something I’m going to have to think long and hard about.”

The Wilpons (Jeff and his father Fred) are going to have to think long and hard about the future of their team. I thought that Steve Phillips should have been kicked to curb along with Bobby V last year, and if anything good comes out of another misbegotten season at Shea, it will be the firing of the GM. Steve Keane, who runs The Eddie Kranpool Society, has been harping about Phillips for weeks now. For the skinny on the sorry sons of bitches from Queens, be sure and check out Steve’s blog, pronto.

JETER RE-INJURED Yeah, my

JETER RE-INJURED

Yeah, my heart skipped a beat too, when I recieved an e-mail carrying this subject-heading yesterday. I should have known better when I saw that it was from my ol’ pal, Greg G, winner of the most obnoxious Yankee fan west of the Mississippi contest (and that’s saying something). Fortunately for the Anahiem faithful, Greg G will not be attending the Yankee-Angels series this week.

After I was finished cursing him out for fooling me with his phoney headline, I must say, his e-mail made me smile:

Did you hear about Jetes? He reinjured his shoulder diving headfirst into a supermodels thighs. He said he would retest his shoulder tomorrow, by diving headfirst into Miss America's buttocks.

AFTERMATH Jose Contreras had

AFTERMATH

Jose Contreras had a bullpen session for the Yankee brass in Tampa yesterday and is scheduled to pitch a simulated game on Thursday. If all goes well, Contreras will start next Tuesday night for the Columbus Clippers. While George Steinbrenner has remained mum about the subject, Joe Torre has put his beef with George behind him:

“That’s as far as this is going,” he said. “Yesterday was our farewell swan song for that.”

Mike Lupica spoke with former Yankee manager Dallas Green, who clashed plenty with George during his stint at the helm of the Bombers in 1989. Here is Green’s take on the Torre-George affair:

I feel as if I know JoeTorre pretty well, and it must have taken a hell of a lot for him to take whatever beef he has with Steinbrenner this far. Particularly because he’s been the one guy in all of history who’s been able to work hand in hand with George, or at least the job George wants done with the Yankees.”

“One more thing,” Dallas Green, now a senior adviser with the Phillies, says. “Joe Torre is not an easygoing guy, even if he comes across that way. He is a tough guy. A tough, quiet, tough guy. If he thinks he’s right and you’re wrong, he’s not going to let go. It’s why I believe that eventually he’ll have a face-to-face with George and get this straightened out, at least for the time being. After the season? I don’t know.

“I keep hearing he won’t ever walk away from his contract. I have a feeling Joe’s got enough by now. And after this season, he might have reached the point where he feels as if he’s done enough. And as if he’s had enough.”

We will be hearing that this is Joe’s last year for the next six months, so we had better get used to it. Still, Green hit the nail on the head when he said:

…”Maybe it was as simple as him sending a message to his players at the same time he was sending one to George,” Green says. “There’s always the understanding, in every single clubhouse, that the clubhouse is for or against the manager. I’d assume that clubhouse is stronger than ever now for Mr. Torre.”

At 17-3: mission accomplished, thus far.

YANKS BOMB WORLD CHAMPS

YANKS BOMB WORLD CHAMPS

Since I get up at six a.m. during the week, there is no way I’m going to catch any of the Yankees-Angels series. I can’t just catch the first few innings, because no matter what’s happening, I’ll get too worked up to fall asleep. Traditionally, west coast swings have been murder for the Bronx Bombers, so I have no qualms about holding out until the morning, and discovering the results on the backpage of the tabloids on my way to the subway.

Having said that, you can imagine the spring in my step this morning when I read that the Yanks rolled over the World Champs, 8-3 last night in California. Last week, a reporter asked Joe Torre if he looked at this series as a rematch of last year’s playoffs. Torre said, “Let me ask you a question: If we sweep them, do we get their World Series rings?”

Still, the Yankees manager admitted:

“It’s not just another series,” Torre said. “You’re playing the world champions. These guys manhandled us.”

Bernie Williams had two hits and two RBI, “the freak” Soriano had two hits again (and so did Giambi), and Jorge Posada added a home run to keep the conga-line moving along. Jeff Weaver wasn’t sharp, but he pitched well enough to earn the victory. Yankee starters are now 15-0.

Antonio Osuna left the game in the 8th inning with a leg injury. The morning papers didn’t know the seriousness of the injury. In related news, the Times reports:

Reliever Steve Karsay, who cut short a bullpen session on Monday, saw Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala., and received two cortisone shots in his right shoulder. Andrews found no damage to the rotator cuff, and Karsay will resume his throwing program after resting for five days. “You couldn’t ask for better news, considering how long we’ve gone with this thing,” Manager Joe Torre said. “It was worrisome.”

I will put in a call to the injury guru Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus and see what he makes of the latest news on Karsay.

BUSTING OUT Buster Olney

BUSTING OUT

Buster Olney and Mike Freeman have an front page article in The New York Times today on the state of drugs in Major League Baseball. The piece is lengthy and well-researched, though it ostensibly tells us what we already know: that athletes will do just about anything in their power to give themselves a competitive edge. What the article does shed some light on, is just how unsettled the players are about how to address the issue of drugs and drug testing. Olney and Freeman cover everything from steriods to amphetamines:

“Sooner or later, it’s going to get out that there’s a greenie problem, and it’s a huge one,” said [fomer player, Tony] Gwynn, who became the baseball coach at San Diego State after completing a 20-year career in 2001.

“Guys feel like they need an edge. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of it earlier in my career, but I know that coming down to the end of my career, it was rampant on my club. I would just laugh at the guys. I’d be like: `You’re 23 years old. What the heck, look at me, I’m in my late 30′s, and I’m taking two aspirin and saying, let’s go.’ “

Union rep, Tom Glavine, disagreed:

“I have a problem with all these guys that aren’t playing anymore now coming out and saying that all these problems exist,” Glavine said. “If the problems were there and they were so prevalent, how come nobody said anything when they were playing?

“Is there stuff going on? Sure. Is it 50 percent? I don’t think so.

As Malcom Gladwell told Rob Neyer last summer, most players have probably moved beyond steriods and are now experimenting with Human Growth Hormone, which is much harder to detect:

An aggressive drug-testing program would cut down on certain abuses, but its never going to catch everyone — or even close to everyone. The drug-user is by definition always one step ahead of the drug-tester, since you can’t develop a test for a drug until people start using it.

Does that mean we should give up? Probably. But there are two issues worth considering. The first is — is it really true that drugs destroy the integrity of the game? Sure, everyone is hitting 40 home runs right now, but I suspect that’s because hitters were quicker to pick up on the value of performance-enhancing drugs than pitchers. There’s a chance that pitchers will “catch up” and bring the game back into balance.

BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: BUSTER OLNEY

I had the opportunity to meet up with Buster Olney on Easter morning at Shea Stadium to talk about the life of a baseball beat writer. Olney covered the Yankees for the Times from 1998 through 2001, and currently writes about the New York football Giants. We spoke for about 40 minutes in the chilly Shea Stadium parking lot, and I found him to be an engaging and bright guy.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

The following interview was conducted on April 20, 2003.

Bronx Banter: Could you tell us how you became a beat writer?

Buster: When I was fifteen years old, Red Smith, who worked at the New York Times, came to the high school where I was and spoke there. Some of the English teachers knew that I was a sports nerd, so they kinda set it up so that I would sit next to him [Smith] at this dinner. And so we talked. That was about the age when I was starting to come to grips with the idea that I’m not going to play second base for the Dodgers. Or play right field. Or play for the Lakers.

BB: Where did you grow up?

Buster: In Vermont.

BB: So what’s with the Lakers and Dodgers?

Buster: I read a book on Sandy Koufax when I was six and I became an L.A. fan. So anyway after I talked to Red Smith, it just kinda like popped into my head. I’d like to write [about sports]. You know, I was terrible.

BB: Terrible at sports?

Buster: Terrible at writing. But I loved sports. I was completely into it and it seemed like a natural thing for me to do, so I started working at my high school paper a couple of months later. And it’s just what I wanted to do. Growing up I wanted to work at either the New York Times or the Boston Globe, and cover Major League Baseball, because that was always my love.

BB: How long did it take you before you reached the Times?

Buster: Aaah shoot, let me think here. I got there when I was 33 years old. So it was 17 years. I went to college at Vanderbilt; I worked at the Nashville Banner. My first regular, professional job. And then I worked four-and-a-half years for the San Diego Union, which merged into the Union-Tribune. I covered triple A baseball in ’89 and ’90 for the Nashville Banner. Keith Lockhart and Chris Hammond were two of the guys on that team that year. Then I covered the Padres in ’93 and ’94 for San Diego; covered the Orioles in ’95 and ’96.

BB: The Alomar years.

Buster: The whole spitting incident, yeah. And Ripken breaking the [consecutive games played] record in ’95. It was an interesting two years, although they were by far the least favorite team of all the teams I’ve covered.

BB: Were there just too many sour personalities?

Buster: The sour personalities weren’t as problematic for me as the number of guys who dogged it. There were players on the team that on a daily basis dogged it. And it was awful to watch. You know, people always figure since you cover the Yankees it’s great because the team wins. I don’t really care if the team wins, I care about writing interesting stories and there has to be an essential integrity to what you’re watching on a daily basis. When I covered the Padres in ’93, this was a team that lost 101 games, but the players made you care some. I mean here were these young guys that didn’t know what they were doing, but they were great to watch. And obviously the Yankees were great to watch. I covered the Mets in ’97 for the Times and then from ’98 to 2001, I covered the Yankees.

BB: But you didn’t grow up as a Yankee fan.

Buster: No, I hated them.

BB: Did that affect you when you covered them?

Buster: Well, the fan had gotten beat out of me well, not beaten out of me, that sounds too dramatic. It’s just that you’re training is to try and look objectively at things. Ah, when I met Tommy Lasorda when I was in Nashville in 1988 that pretty much took away my fan experience. You know I was a Dodgers fan, and he wasn’t what anyone would have imagined. He was rather crass. That reinforced the notion that these guys You come to look at athletes as people you have to work with.

BB: How adversarial is your relationship with the players?

Buster: I think it’s a lot different than people You know people by and large think baseball players are jerks. I think they are like any other group of 25 people, in any job: You like fifteen of them, don’t have an opinion of eight of them, and can’t stand two of them. That’s the way it was for me. I found that players 95% of the time were very easy to deal with. I didn’t run into too many difficult players over the years. You know Bip Roberts was difficult at times; Cal was difficult, when I was covering the Orioles. There were situations that would come up that would make a player more difficult, not necessarily the player itself, but like Knoblauch, on a daily basis would have to talk about his throwing problem. It became a little tough to deal with him, but you know, I don’t really blame him. That’s tough [not being able to throw]. I think that’s one thing. People have to remember that these are guys, going to do their jobs on a daily basis, and I know that I have difficult days, and I can be moody. If some guy was a jerk on a given day, I just brushed it off and went on to the next day.

BB: What is the relationship like between you and the other beat writers?

Buster: Adversarial. My theory is that writers spend too much time talking to each other. My philosophy was to always be polite to everybody, I would never try to prevent anyone else from doing their jobs, I wouldn’t like talk to other players about writers, or try to plant seeds, or try and do anything underhanded.

BB: I just read Bob Klapisch and John Harper’s book about the 1992 Mets, “The Worst Team Money Can Buy,” and they painted a tense portrait of the working relationship between that Mets team and the media. Was that your experience as well working the beat in New York, or was it just about that particular team?

Buster: I think so. Every team is going to have its guys that are difficult to cover, but that was a unique team. The worst thing to cover is a bad, veteran team, because the players are so cynical, the writers are cynical. Usually, the players are not playing that hard, because they are not excited. They probably recognize much earlier than a younger player would, how bad they are. Reading that book, and knowing some of the personalities You know Eddie Murray. At that time Brett Saberhagen [was] definitely immature. After a while, you can see the difference between you and the players. There’s no question that in a sense it’s a young man’s business. When I was covering the Padres a lot of the players were my age. Now some of these guys you have in the clubhouse—

BB: Like Soriano.

Buster: Yeah, Soriano. When I started covering baseball he was like twelve, thirteen years old. I’ve had the experience of going through a number of different situations in seeing how players handle things. Let me give you an example. Randy Keisler was pitching for the Yankees [This was in 2001] and he had a bad game, and he was very emotional, and he basically ripped Stottlemyre and Torre saying, ‘They didn’t have faith in me.’ It’s my job as a reporter to ask the player his opinion. It’s not my job to protect him from his own opinion. I remember sitting there, listening to this and thinking, oh you dumb schmuck. {ItaliCS}. But, hey, you know, you are supposed to report what the player is feeling. And there are times, as I get older, you definitely develop an instinct for, this is what you should say, this is what would probably be best, but you can’t inject yourself that way.

BB: That kind of outburst was rare on the David Cone Yankees.

Buster: I think that Cone clearly was a guy who always knew how to deal with the press. Think of the players involved. Jeter is very savvy. He’s intentionally boring, I think. He tones down his opinions because he knows how dangerous is can be for a player like him to go too far out on a limb. He’s careful. O’Neil was great if the team played bad, because he would just indict himself. But if they played well, he would he would run away from you because he was superstitious and thought if he said anything, he’d blow it.

BB: What about Bernie?

Buster: Bernie doesn’t like dealing with the media that much. I mean, he kinda runs, and when you get him, he’s gracious. But there were definitely times when he would run out of the clubhouse. I think Cone provided a lot of cover for those guys because he would come out and make himself completely available. If he wasn’t a pitcher he’d probably be the Whitehouse spokesman. I mean the guy could spin, and he was a talent, and Joe [Torre] could do the same thing. I think there was a tremendous amount of mutual respect for the players, and because Joe never blew up an issue. You know when Steinbrenner would say something inflammatory—he’d rip a player, rather than roll his eyes, or give a response that would escalate the situation, Joe would just it in place: Mr. Steinbrenner is the boss, and blah, blah, blah. One thing that is really important to players now is they want to hear from the manager first, rather than reporters, what an impending move, or their standing [is] and Joe uniformly, talked to the players before they talked to us. And that wasn’t always great for us, I mean we wanted to get the information, but it was a tremendous way for Joe to maintain respect among the players.

BB: You know there was a lot of talk about how the clubhouse was different last year after losing Martinez, and Paulie O, and Brosius, even Knobolauch. But the other night I was watching Matsui sitting on the bench next to Todd Zeile and Robin Ventura, and I think they pick up where the old guys left off, in terms of providing a steady, veteran professionalism.

Buster: I think Matsui would have definitely fit in on that old Yankee team. Last year they got away from it, and lost their soul.

BB: Can you pinpoint what it was that was tangibly different?

Buster: Mondesi came in, and has a reputation as a guy who is very active off the field. And that’s pretty different from what they had. You know his approach to hitting was you know .

BB: Dude is a hacker.

Buster: The thing that I remember about last year is the way Joe dealt with Giambi was very different than what I had been around.

BB: With kit gloves?

Buster: A little bit. Joe is always focusing on ways of winning, so in other words if he thought Cecil Fielder gave the Yankees a better chance to win than Tino Martinez in the ’96 Series, he would put Cecil Fielder in the game. Strawberry would start one game; Raines would start another. And the players accepted it. With Giambi last year, I don’t think there is a question that they are better team defensively with Nick Johnson at first base. It was interesting to see Joe, rather then at some point go to Giambi and say, ‘We’re a better team with you as a designated hitter,’ and Nick Johnson as a first baseman. He never really did that. Giambi had good hands and no range. And he’s not a very good defensive first baseman. And I’m curious to see if that takes place at some point. But that was a different type of thing from what I had seen with the Yankees.

BB: How much of a difference was there between the Mets and Yankees clubhouses?

Buster: The culture was definitely different. It’s night and day. Joe, I think has a lot of players that he doesn’t like. It’s not players he doesn’t like. For instance: Wells. I don’t think he’s going to be going out to dinner with Wells when he retires, but Joe realizes how to deal with a situation in a professional manner. With Bobby, I always thought he was superior to Joe in terms of in-game preparation. But in terms of managing people, he didn’t do it as well. And that filtered over into the clubhouse. And I really believe this. I don’t think the Mets have had good leadership in their clubhouse. They don’t have leadership personalities.

BB: What’s the deal with Mo? He was always known as a clubhouse guy in Boston. Is it all about having to produce?

Buster: Yes. He’s a terrible player for the Mets. And because he is a terrible player, if he says anything, it kinda bounces off hollow walls.

BB: Isn’t that what happened with Cone during his disastrous 2001 season?

Buster: I think so. Well, he felt that way; I don’t think the other players felt that way. But he understood it because he had been around long enough. At the end of that year he had really toned it down in terms of talking [to the media] because he felt like he didn’t have the credibility. And that’s an important part of it.

BB: Do you think Bobby V’s arrogance can be attributed to the fact that he’s younger than Torre?

Buster: No. Joe suppresses a lot. I’ve heard about meetings between him and Steinbrenner where he basically picks and chooses his spots. Bobby is a guy who if he was a solider, would be in the front lines, always involved, always engaged. Joe is much more calculated. Bobby is quicker to react.

BB: Do you think Torre’s years as a television broadcaster helped him understand the media angle better?

Buster: He says it did. But from my understanding of Joe, that’s how he always was. Where as when you think about Bobby’s history, you see that he was class president, ballroom dancing champion—

BB: Pancake-eating champ.

Buster: Yeah, he’s out front on everything. 9-11, he was out there, all the time, trying to do things. He likes to be right out front. When he managed in the American League with the Rangers the other managers referred to him as ‘Top Step,’ because he was always on the top step of the dugout. Now, you could look at it and say he’s only in it for his own ego, but after being around him, I think that’s just the way he is. He likes to be out front.

BB: He’s perfect for TV.

Buster: Yes.

BB: He’s got the charm and the ego for it.

Buster: Ego, not so much. You could argue it’s ego, but Bobby doesn’t mind having his opinions known, and I think Joe picks and chooses his spots.

BB: Is Michael Piazza an easy guy to work with?

Buster: The beat writers like him a lot. This year, there is the perception that he isn’t enjoying himself as much has in the past. But I know the beat writers think he’s a terrific guy.

BB: You mentioned earlier that the relationship between beat writers is basically adversarial, was it the same way between writers at the Times, or were you guys all allies?

Buster: Definitely allies. I loved working with those guys. For instance when I covered the Yankees, Jack Curry and I would talk all the time, go through ideas, do a lot of sharing. The columns, the same way. If I heard something I’d tell Tyler [Kepner, now the main Yankee beat writer for the Times].

BB: How much did you learn from Murray Chass?

Buster: A ton.

BB: He’s the Yankee Don, right?

Buster: I think there are two essential pioneers in our business. One of them is Murray, who was the first to really delve into the financial side of baseball. Think about how much is written on contracts and negotiations and stuff. I think that all started with Murray. And then you have Peter Gammons. He was the first to do a Sunday notebook. Which has now become a staple. Think about being a baseball fan, being excited, waking up Sunday morning, reading the baseball notes. Peter essentially invented that, and I think that the thing I’ve always admired about Peter is that he likes people. I know this, because I fell into this trap—and we all do—but Peter managed to stay out of it. He understands that you have to give people some space. You have to give players some space. And he hasn’t gotten into the trap, even though he’s almost 60 years old, of saying all ballplayers are jerks. He basically treats them as individuals and gives them the benefit of the doubt.

BB: Is Gammons widely admired amongst the baseball writers?

Buster: I think that most people that know him have enormous respect for him, yeah.

BB: How well did you work with the other guys at the paper?

Buster: Our paper was great. You hear stories. And that can come and go. Like when I worked in Baltimore, with Kenny Rosenthal. I loved working with Kenny. He had enormous energy: he could compliment what I did, I could compliment what he did. He could feed me stuff, I could feed him stuff, and it was totally wide open. Where you run into problems—and I never had this at the Times—is when the beat writer keeps stuff, hoards stuff away from the columnists. At the same time, if the columnist is not open to the beat writer, it’s the same thing. And I never understood that because a beat writer is going to help the columnist, and vice versa. It seems silly to me when I’ve heard stories about that, but that happens.

BB: Do you enjoy baseball more now that you are not covering the beat anymore? Now that you do weekend-fill-in stints.

Buster: I always enjoyed it. I never lost—I love to come to the park, and I love to watch the games. And that never waned. The only thing that became extremely difficult was being away from home. Going away for ten days, two weeks, coming back, and your child is a different person than when you left. [Olney has a three-and-a-half year old daughter] But in terms of coming to the park, sitting down, starting up the pitch chart that I would keep, I loved doing that. I love watching sequences of pitches, seeing what the pitchers are trying to do. I’m probably watching more baseball now than I ever have.

BB: You got the dish?

Buster: Oh, yeah. Direct TV. Flip back and forth between games. Let’s see what Brad Radke’s doing. You know it’s neat being able to see the Kansas City Royals. Because let’s face it, where I grew up we didn’t have a television. Everything I got was on radio. And if I saw a baseball highlight it was like a UFO sighting. And now, you can sit there and click through all these different games, and it’s pretty neat.

BB: Did growing up with baseball on the radio force you as a writer to pay greater attention to detail?

Buster: I would guess that is true. Ned Martin and Jim Woods were the Red Sox radio broadcasters. And I never got more excited—you ask me about being a fan, and there are times I walk up to players like Reggie Jackson, who I rooted against as a kid, it’s a benign experience to me now. But when I saw Ned Martin, I almost tackled him; I was so excited to see him. I think I scared him. Thank you Mr. Martin, so much, I learned so much about baseball from you . We used to have a silver radio that we would carry around—I grew up on a dairy farm, and we had a silver radio, about four inches by six inches. And I would just take that with me, through hay fields, on the tractor, shoveling manure, stacking wood. That’s what I would do all day. At nights, I would listen to WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont and the signal would go dim at eight o’clock. So I would try to pick up games from other cities. CAU in Philadelphia. I heard some Expos games on the French stations. I don’t understand a word of French, but I got to know the scores, and I learned the numbers so I could pick up the scores. It was funny I had a hard time picking up Yankee games, but I could pick up the Phillies, Orioles. I remember one game, it must have been a weird atmospheric thing, I actually got a Mariners game. And I don’t know why. But for about an hour I got the bounce, all the way across the country.

BB: You grew up in Red Sox country. Do you root for the Sox?

Buster: No, I was actually a huge Dodgers fan. Psycho Dodgers fan. I followed the Red Sox because that’s the team I could listen to on the radio. And you know, I wanted them to win the ’75 World Series; made bets with my teachers. Going to Fenway Park you know, that my Mecca. Going to games. But I didn’t quite catch that sickness. And that’s quite a relief. I can imagine going through my whole life thinking, there’s no way one of my teams is going to win a World Series.

BB: Well, what are they going to do with themselves when they do win a World Series?

Buster: They won’t.

BB: They won’t?

Buster: No. (Laughs)

BB: Will a Chicago team win the World Series before the Sox do?

Buster: Before the Red Sox, yeah. No, I’m kidding. No, they obviously have a good team this season. But it’s part of the culture that they won’t [win a Championship]. It’s part of the culture that they’ll fail. In some ways it’s reassuring. I’ve met Chicago Cub fans, whose team does badly, and they seem relish that a little bit. Oh, yeah the Cubs stink . Where as the Red Sox fans are like, every year: This is the year! . It’s reassuring that have it there. It’s like a prisoner with like a life sentence or a death sentence, waking up in the morning thinking: I’m going to get out! I’m going to get out!

BB: It seems to me that the baseball life can be and extremely lonely one. The constant travel. It must affect the writers just as it does the players. Did you have some sort of empathy with what players go through in this regard, or them with you, for that matter?

Buster: No. In the years that I covered the team I think I had two players ask me about my family, or knew something about my family, period. I mean it’s a totally one-way relationship. It didn’t bother me too much, and I think the reason why is because I grew up in such a small town. I would basically be alone on the farm for three months at a time. It doesn’t bother me to be alone. But I do think it does–and I don’t know what it is, and I haven’t been able to define it–but it does something to your personality that makes most of the relationships you are in, totally one-way. I think what covering baseball does actually, is it takes away your own empathy. Because when you walk up to a player, it’s so much about them, it’s all about them, it’s all about them. Some days they are a little bit annoyed that you are asking questions about them. And I found myself toward the end of my being a beat writer, feeling that way toward people in my life.

BB: They are always interviewing you.

Buster: They’re asking about me, and I was so busy, that I would be like: You know, I’m really busy . I don’t know exactly how to define it, but I know that now that I’ve been off the beat, I can see how the life can skew your personality if you do it for too long. There is something unhealthy about living your whole life where everybody in your life, you focus on them, and they aren’t interested in you. Not that they should be.

BB: You get about as much love as an unsolicited shrink.

Buster: Yeah, right. Exactly. I’m not complaining about it. It’s not like it bothered me that players didn’t ask me. But it’s part of the dynamics and it’s odd. It’s odd. It’s not normal. If I worked with you in an office and I got to know you, I would know if one of your kids was born, even if we weren’t good friends. I would still know that; send a card, wish you Merry Christmas and that type of thing. And it just didn’t exist that way. If you think about it, you deal with these guys and you know so much about them. You know their personal lives, you know how much they are making, their moods, their mood swings, and they don’t know anything about you.

BB: Nor do they care.

Buster: No.

BB: Even Torre and these guys? The coaches.

Buster: I mean they may know you from your writing. But you know I had a child when I was on the beat, and nobody asked me about it or said anything. It’s not a complaint, it’s just the way it is.

BB: How do you find football players to be different from baseball players?

Buster: Well, there is definitely a harder line of us against them [in football]. I think baseball players generally view the writers as colleagues. It’s like Hey, howya doing . You walk up to Mike Stanton, How you doing tonight? Yeah, tough game. With football players, it’s like climbing over the wall to see their personality. The access you have in baseball is great. You have three-and-a-half hours before the game, lots of time after the game. In football, it’s 45 minutes. You are rushing around, you don’t have any time to say to a player, How you doing? And I’ve probably felt that type of connection with Tikki Barber, Strahan a little bit. A couple of the guys: Jason Garrett, who is the back-up quarterback. But it’s much more difficult to get that in football. I understand why the NFL does it, because they want to keep that hard line. But I think people don’t understand the personalities like we do in baseball and I think that is a detriment. Think about how much we learned about someone like Clemens, or Cone, or Brosius or O’Neill, because of the time that writers got to be able to know these guys.

BB: Are you going to stay with football for the foreseeable future?

Buster: You know the dynamics of it, where you cover the same players and only have sixteen games to write about? I don’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life, that’s for sure. I can see two or three years.

BB: Would you like to go back to baseball as a columnist?

Buster: I think that’s Times choice. I love covering baseball, but I really love covering the NFL. I love the strategy, I love trying dissect that. There was a lot of stuff that happened in the games that was fun to explore like baseball was fun to explore. I loved covering the Giants last year, I just can’t see doing it for a long time.

BB: Could the paper just up and put you on the NBA beat if they wanted to?

Buster: It’s the same thing as baseball. The travel. In theory I would love to cover the NBA. I covered a ton of college basketball, the southeastern conference. So I love basketball, but the travel is brutal.

BB: Who was the best baseball player you covered while working on the beat?

Buster: The best player that I ever saw was Robbie Alomar in the first half of the ’96 season. Every day the guy invented ways to win games. He was incredible. Then he broke he was thumb midway through that year, but for those three months, he was the best player I have ever seen. Deon Sanders is the fastest player I ever saw. There is no doubt that the most winning player was Jeter. I mean he just had an enormous prescence.

BB: When did the Yankee team look at Jeter like OK, he’s the one?

Buster: See I don’t know, cause I wasn’t doing the Yankees until ’98. I don’t know if it was there right away.

BB: Was it there in ’98?

Buster: Oh yeah. He had established himself as being a guy who cared a lot, but they could see that in ’94, ’95 when they saw him in spring training.

BB: We know Jeter’s defensive numbers don’t stack up. And there are several guys at his position who are superior offensively. So you try and rate him, and he may be the forth or fifth best shortstop in the game, but he may be his team’s most valuable player, in spite of how well the Yankees have played without him.

Buster: Except for Rivera. I think a lot of the players on the other teams believe that Rivera is essentially the difference between the Yankees winning two championships and winning four or five. Because the Yankees had what other teams didn’t have: a closer who would not lose in the ninth inning. He has this very calm demeanor but he is unbeliebably competitive. The purest confidence I ever saw in any player I was around came from Rivera and Jeter. I mean it wasn’t even close. The classic thing about Rivera is when he gave up the homer to [Sandy] Alomar ['97 playoffs], the next year, you had the stereotypical story for every writer: Was this thing that was going to devastate Rivera? Would he have a Donnie Moore moment and never come back? So we watched him answer all theses questions, over and again as all the different writers came into the city, and he was very genteel about it. He always answered all the questions. And I said, ‘It really doesn’t bother you, does it?’ Then he explained to me what he believed in his heart, or what he’d convinced himself, is that Sandy Alomar was lucky that he was pitching. Against any other pitcher, he never would have hit a home run. Because Rivera throws so hard, and throws it out over the plate, Alomar sticks his bat out, gets it off the middle of the bat, it flies into the stands. So Rivera thinks that even though he lost the game, he was in control of the situation. That’s pretty rare. And he and Jeter are the only two players I saw that were like that. And actually, Jeremy Shockey, the Giants tight end has some of those same traits. You can see it right away; he thought he could control situations. O’Neill was a great player, and Cone was a great player, and so was Clemens, but they don’t they didn’t have that same level of confidence.

BB: Did Reggie Jackson have it?

Buster: I don’t know. No, I don’t think he did. There were times when he would struggle for two or three months at a time. I would guess not, but I can’t really answer that.

BB: You mentioned that Robbie Alomar at one point was the greatest player you ever saw. When you see him know is it just a totally different guy?

Buster: Totally. Completely different. He can be a very moody player. I think that the Hirschbeck incident took a lot of his energy out of the game. I know he hated being booed, he hated the way people felt about him. You know he was public enemy number 1 for a couple of years. Every park that the Orioles went to, he got booed.

BB: What exactly did Hirshbeck say to him?

Buster: The situation was, it was late in the year, and the Orioles needed to win the game. It was a very tense game. In an important moment, Robbie complained about a call, went back to the dugout, and Robbie said, ‘Just pay attention to the game.’ Then Hirschbeck threw him out. He came on the field, Robbie’s going nuts. [Baltimore manager] Davey Johnson asks Hirshbeck, ‘Why did you throw my best player out of the game?’ And he said, ‘I don’t care about that motherfucker, he’s outta here.’ Robbie was right there. Now subsequently people said that Hirshbeck used a racial slur, or that he was gay, or whatever it was, but that night, what everyone involved said, was, I don’t care about that motherfucker . I think the other stuff is revisionist history.

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.

BB: How are women reporters treated in Major League clubhouses now? Are they more or less accepted?

Buster: By and large they are expected. But I can honestly say there have been times when players have come up to me and said, ‘Why does she have to be here?’ Some of them are leery, and suspect

BB: That they are pecker checkers.

Buster: That they are leering at the players, yeah. But I think most of the players dealt with it professionally. Are they all comfortable? No. But they dealt with it professionally.

BB: Are the male sportswriters uncomfortable with women reporters?

Buster: No. I never heard a word from another male reporter about it. I always thought it was extremely difficult for women to cover baseball. More so than in football because of the access you have in baseball. You have an incredible amount of access in baseball. A lot of beat reporting is based on relationships you have with the players. A woman can come in there and be the best reporter in the history of the sport, be the greatest writer, and at least a third of the players, if not half, would never accept her. Just because that’s just the way of the world I guess. It’s not right, but that’s the way it is. As a male writer in baseball, I could exploit the tremendous amount of access that I had. There is a comfort level they are going to have with me that they would never have with a woman.

BB: How much of a barrier existed between you guys and the Latin players?

Buster: None. Sojo was one of the nicest guys I ever covered and Duque was one was one of the most difficult guys I ever covered. The language thing could be frustrating and I was glad that I had taken some Spanish in high school.

BB: What about my boy Hurricane Hideki Irabu?

Buster: I thought him to be one of the saddest players I ever covered. He so had so little self-confidence. I don’t know him, and I can’t document it, but I just thought he was like the kid who got picked on in high school, and was just very defensive. There was something about his background; you could just see he had no self-confidence.

BB: Do you get the same impression from Jose Contreras, or have you not been around enough to see him?

Buster: I don’t know him. The times I’ve seen him, the body language, you can tell he doesn’t have much confidence right now. Whether or not he can build that up, I can’t say. But there is no doubt watching him pitch, that he doesn’t have any confidence.

BB: When you go into the Stadium this morning have you already thought of an angle for today’s story?

Buster: No, I’m actually working on the book I’m doing.

BB: What’s the book about?

Buster: It’s about the Yankees championship run.

BB: Oh cool. It’s about time. Hey, this is something I wanted to ask about the transition years in the early 1990s: how much influence did Brain Sabean have in developing some of the farm talents?

Buster: I think Stick [Michael] and Showalter were the two main guys. Sabean learned a lot, but Stick definitely changed the culture and changed what they were looking for: more left-handed hitting, on-base percentage guys, and quality personality guys. Getting rid of guys like Mel Hall, and bringing in guys like Mike Gallego. Even though he wasn’t a great player, there was a culture a respect that clearly developed in the early ’90s.

BB: I always felt like when they won it in ’96, somebody should have held up a glass to Don Mattingly in the locker room after the game.

Buster: He started that. There are strands of his DNA all through the championships. Jeter told this great story about him. The two of them were on a backfield during spring training. And they were by themselves. The team was off playing a team in another town somewhere, and those guys were just working out. This was ’95. And Mattingly turns to Jeter in an empty stadium and says, ‘You never know who is watching. We’d better run it in.’ So these two guys run it in, cause that’s the right way to do it. And a lot of the players from O’Neill to Bernie, talked about Mattingly’s respect for his teammates, and how well he treated his teammates. That continued all through the championship years. And that, by and large is still present today. The players have an enormous amount of tolerance for each other. Irabu tested it, Wells tests it. But if you go in their clubhouse it’s a lot more tolerant than the Mets clubhouse let’s say. There is a perception that some of the Mets under-cut Bobby. Some of the players don’t like Benitez, the ownership. It’s just a very different culture than the one you find at Yankee stadium.

CHINKS IN THE ARMOR

CHINKS IN THE ARMOR

Even as the Yankees mushed the Twins yesterday 15-1, completing the season sweep, and improving their overall record to 16-3, all was not well in Yankee land. The latest controversy between Joe Torre and George Steinbrenner is far from over, and according to the New York Times, the Yankees will likely be without the services of set-up reliever Steve Karsay for the remainder of the season (speaking of injuries, Rafael Hermoso reports that Cliff Floyd’s gimpy achillies may be a long-term problem for the Mets this year):

Asked if he could count on having Karsay this season, Manager Joe Torre said no.

“We’re starting from scratch here,” Torre said. “I’m sure there’s going to be a period of time when he’s not going to do anything. You’re looking down the road farther than we can see.”

Steinbrenner has yet to respond to Torre’s public criticisms of the Yankee owner, but yesterday the skipper said:

“I’m over it,” Torre said. “But I can’t pretend it never happened.”

…”Everybody knows when you work for the Yankees, you pretty much have to be ready for anything,” Torre said. “I’ve always been loyal to the people I work for, and to me, I feel good about that part. But I’d like to believe loyalty’s a two-way street, too.”

Joel Sherman joined Mike Lupica in suggesting that this may be Torre’s final season with the Yankees:

Steinbrenner has created an unacceptable paradigm for himself. He will do anything to win, but the more the Yanks win the more credit Torre gets and Steinbrenner hates how much credit Torre gets. Thus, even winning can no longer be a shield for Torre.

So I fully expect – championship parade or not – that Torre will step away after this season with a year and around $5 million due him. Torre loves his money, but he could always get more of that on TV, the lecture circuit or writing books on leadership. He only has one reputation and the post-career opportunities will diminish if Steinbrenner muddies him too badly.

No one talked to yesterday who knows Torre and Steinbrenner expects Torre to resign during the season or The Boss to fire him. They feel Torre is too committed to his players to pull a Roy Williams and walk away. But they figured with Torre’s buddies, bench coach Don Zimmer and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, likely to go after this year, he will simply follow.

David Pinto thinks that George will come to his senses and move past this mess, but I’m not convinced. At the very least, this incident should serve as a reminder to Yankee fans that we should be appreciating and savoring every moment of every game this year. Because when Joe joes, who will stop George from ruining the Yankees all over again?

The Twins must be happy they don’t have to face the Yankees again. Boomer Wells pitched his second complete game of the season yesterday,”the Freak” Soriano, belted a grand slam, Bernie Williams added a homer, while Nick Johnson hit two of his own to lead the Yankees conga line past Minnie. The Gashouse Gorillas head to Anahiem tonight to face the World Champion Angels in a 3-game series, before ending their longest road-trip of the season with a weekend series in Arlington against the Rangers.

JOE RIPS GEORGE Things

JOE RIPS GEORGE

Things have been going too well for the Yankees. They’ve been playing terrific ball, despite missing their two biggest stars, Jeter and Rivera. And in spite of the fact that the Red Sox are keeping pace with them in the AL East. Maybe George Steinbrenner is bored. He reared his ugly head again this weekend.

In an uncharacteristic display of emotion, Joe Torre publicly criticized Yankee owner George Steinbrenner before he won his 700th game as manager of the Bombers, over the organizations decision to send struggling pitcher Jose Contreras to see George’s pitching guru in Tampa (Billy Conners), after Torre had told Contreras that he would be headed for Triple A Columbus. It is the angriest Torre has been in his eight years as Yankee skipper.

According to the New York Times:

“I know my place and I know my job,” Torre said today. “But don’t ask me to make a decision and tell me it’s my decision and not have it be that way.”

…”If he wanted to send me a message, he could have told me on the phone the other day,” Torre said. “He certainly doesn’t have to send me a message that he’s the Boss. We all know that.”

…”I suggested we want Billy to come up here,” said Torre, who is not close to Connors and could have been speaking sarcastically. “This way we could all benefit from his knowledge.”

I was out at Shea Stadium early yesterday morning to conduct an interview with New York Times writer Buster Olney. Olney covered the Mets in 1997, and then worked the Yankee beat from ’98 through 2001 (he now covers the New York football Giants, and is currently writing a book about the Yanks). We spoke for about 40 minutes in the chilly Shea Stadium parking lot before he went to work—Olney spells the regular beat writers on the weekend (I hope to transcribe the interview and have it posted later in the week). We had no idea about the impending Contreras/Torre controversy, but here is how Olney characterized the Yankees’ manager:

Joe never blew up an issue. You know when Steinbrenner would say something inflammatory—he’d rip a player, [and] rather than roll his eyes, or give a response that would escalate the situation, Joe would just put it in place: Mr. Steinbrenner is the boss, and blah, blah, blah. One thing that is really important to players now is they want to hear from the manager first, rather than reporters, what an impending move, or their standing [is] and Joe uniformly, talked to the players before they talked to us. And that wasn’t always great for us, I mean we wanted to get the information, but it was a tremendous way for Joe to maintain respect among the players.

…Joe suppresses a lot. I’ve heard about meetings between him and Steinbrenner where he basically picks and chooses his spots.

Yesterday, Torre picked his spot:

“I sat in my room yesterday with the young man and told him where he was going, and it turns out that I’m the liar here,” Torre said. “That’s the sad part. I always pride myself to be as honest as I can possibly be. When that gets questioned, especially when you’re dealing with a communication problem, then I have a problem.”

Mike Lupica opines:

Everything that has happened since the start of spring training makes me believe this is Torre’s last season, one way or the other.

…Is this a calamity? It is not. The Yankees are too rich and too good. They put all controversies behind them the way they put all the bad teams in the American League East behind them, and will eventually put the Red Sox behind them.

…Torre and Steinbrenner will get past this, the Yankees will get past this. Neither man will forget, whatever they say from here. This is a big deal, even when the Yankees keep winning. The manager made it a big deal.

Expect George to fire back. Torre accomplished what he set out to do: maintain his authority and respect level in the clubhouse, with his players. He’s willing to take the hit with Steinbrenner in the papers in order for his players to know where they stand with him. Maybe Lupica is right. What if Torre walks away, regardless if the Yanks win the championship or not? What will George have to say for himself then?

MONSTERS OF THE MIDWAY

MONSTERS OF THE MIDWAY

The Yankee machine kept rolling along over the weekend against the Twins. The Bombers won all three games and extended their winning streak to 12 over Minnie. About the only bump in the road came on Sunday, when Joe Torre blasted George Steinbrenner, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Roger Clemens was not sharp on Friday night, but he was his usual plodding, domineering self, and he powered the Yankees to a 11-4 win, aided by homers from Ventura (who hit two), Mondesi and Soriano.

The funniest play of the game was when Clemens covered first on a slow roller to Jason Giambi. It looked like two offensive lineman doing an egg-toss drill. Clemens caught Giambi’s lip and slid/crashed into first base to record the out.

Anderson, Contreras and Osuna followed Clemens to close the Twins out. Contreras allowed a double and a base on balls and was swiftly yanked. He stood out even further because of his flacid mechanics. The other Yankee pitchers worked quickly, with confidence, while Contreras continued to look lost. He wasn’t using the lower-half of his body, his legs, at all. It’s even more glaring because he’s such a big, powerfully-built guy.

Jason Giambi continued to struggle, swinging through fastballs. The Yankee bullpen was a bit shaky again, and Giambi angrily scooped a throw in the dirt late in the game, that was pretty funny. Torre whispered something in the slugger’s ear as he came off the field.

Saturday’s game was closer, but the Yanks still managed to come out on top, 4-2. Andy Pettitte pitched a nice game, and Chris Hammond and Juan Acivedo closed the game out with some flair. In the sixth inning, Tori Hunter made a sensational catch, robbing Nick Johnson of a homer. Two batter later, Hunter almost pulled off the feat again, but Bernie Williams’ shot was caught by a fan in the first row, and Hunter slammed his mitt into the wall in frustration. (It was the second magic trick Bernie had pulled off in two nights; on Friday he somehow was called safe on a steal of second.) It has just been going that way for the Twins.

Sunday’s game held some promise for Minnie, with their young gun Kyle Lohse taking the hill, but after giving up lead-off singles to Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson to start the game, Jason Giambi tee’d off, and creamolished a fastball to straight-away center to give the Yanks a 3-0 lead. Giambi, who had been 0-8 since Friday, ended the day with two hits, and he also blistered a line-drive that was turned into a double-play. Giambi may be stirring from his slump, and is certainly the most dangerous .194 hitter in the league. With Mike Mussina pitching for New York, the Twins were in trouble, and the Yanks cruised to an 8-2 win. Ron Gardenhire protesting home-plate umpire, Joe Brinkman’s stingy strike zone, got himself run early, but it didn’t help his team too tough. Bernie Williams hit another homer.

Alfonso Soriano had at least two hits in all three games. A few weeks ago I was looking for a word that best describes Soriano. “Freak” was the most apt word I could come up with. Then I thought maybe we should call him “Superfreak.” But after thinking about it for a while, I think Vladimir Guerrero is “Superfreak,” and Lil’ Sori is just “The Freak.” Still, there is no other way to explain him. He’s just a freak of nature.

For full coverage on the Twins, check out Aaron Gleeman and John Bonnes’ excellent Twins Geek blog as well.

DAY DWEAM BEWEAVER On

DAY DWEAM BEWEAVER

On a cold and blustery afternoon in the Bronx, Jeff Weaver allowed three hits over 7 2/3 innings, and earned his first win of the season as the Yankees shut-out the Blue Jays, 4-0, to improve to 12-3. Weaver threw a lot of breaking pitches, as he was without his good fastball. John Flaherty, who started in place of Jorge Posada behind the plate told the Times:

“A sign of a good pitcher,” Flaherty said, “is a guy who doesn’t have it and can still go out and get a quality start. Maybe you’re seeing him grow up.”

Raul Mondesi continued his hot hitting, collecting two more hits, including a solo homer. Manager Joe Torre told the Post:

“I like the start he’s had because of his average. Last year took him out of the way he should be hitting,” Joe Torre said. “With two strikes he was an easy mark. Now he’s grinding better, hitting back up the middle. It allows him to be productive without the home run.”

Mondesi credited Reggie Jackson, who worked with the slugger throughout the spring, for his improved patience and offensive production:

“I try to be around him as much as I can,” Jackson said, “just to boost his confidence until he can fly again on his own. He’s not a No.8 hitter, that’s for sure, and I’m certain you’re gonna see him moving up in the lineup before long. They told me last winter that Raul just needs to be liked. So did I.”

Lil’ Sori added a solo shot of his own, and who else but Godzilla Matsui delivered a bases-loaded double to give the Yankees all the runs they would need.

The heavyweights of the New York press were out in full form this morning praising the Yankees for their fast start: Mike Lupica, Bill Madden and George Vecsey.

Lupica spoke with Toronto Manager Carlos Tosca (who looks like a combination of Larry Bowa and W.C. Fields), who is more than somewhat impressed by this year’s Yankees:

“They’re like the cavalry. They just keep coming over the hill. And after awhile, you think to yourself, ‘Well, the Third Division can’t be as strong as the First.’ But it is. Believe me when I tell you. They don’t stop coming, and they don’t quit.”

…”No matter what the score in the game,” Tosca said, “you never have the sense that they think they have enough runs. In that way, they really don’t ever go away. You watch other teams and they score a certain amount, and you can see them backing off. The Yankees don’t do that. They are the best I’ve ever seen at add-on runs.”

Meanwhile in Boston last night, Pedro Martinez bounced back from the worst performance of his career, to blank the D-Rays, 6-0 in Boston last night. As we all know, an angry Pedro, is a scary Pedro:

”Cold weather and Pedro,” Tampa Bay first baseman Aubrey Huff would say afterward. ”It wasn’t a very good mix.”

No kidding, bro.

THE DEFENSE RESTS Here

THE DEFENSE RESTS

Here is a letter I recieved this morning from Harley, a loyal reader of Bronx Banter, responding to my column yesterday about the Yankees’ suspect defense:

ALEX: I understand why one might suspect that ‘shoddy defense’ will bring the Yankees back to earth in the near or sorta near future. But then again: this assumes Soriano is incapable of improvement (something the first month of the season belies), that Posada will never figure out how to block the plate (okay, that’s probably a lock), that Matsui will falter in left (haven’t seen it so far), that Bernie will continue to decline (who cares! he’s hitting the cover off the ball!!), and so on. Or look at it this way, because nothing really matters unless it is examined in the context of the Red Sox. The Yankees have superior gloves at two of three outfield positions (I’m giving Damon the nod, but not by as much as you think). It’s a wash at third, but you could give it to Ventura because Shea’s got hands of stone. Okay, Nomar, but he’s made more errors in the playoffs per game than Derek ever did. The difference at second is insignificant because Soriano’s athleticism will carry the day. And the Giambi/Johnson hybrid is just fine by me. The latter is not a detailed sabermetric analysis, but then again, the Numbers Boys are to baseball as Milton Friedman is to economics. It all
looks great in the abstract. But in the real world? Governments collapse, the Red Sox fall.

Cheers. HARLEY.

PS Just mortgaged the house to pick up two second row seats behind the Yankee dugout in Anaheim. God help me — and them — if those morons are still bashing plastic tubes together.

I should put Harley in touch with my boy Greg G, a native New Yorker now living in Venice, who has made a cottage industry out of terrozing the Southern California locals at Angels games. You take the lout out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the Bronx out of the lout. Ya heard?

THE RETURN OF PRINCE

THE RETURN OF PRINCE P

I know baseball season has officially begun when I start grinding my teeth whenever the Red Sox win a game. I have tried to be fair in my coverage of Boston’s Home Nine, but now that the games count, I find that I’ve reverted back to the maturity level of a 5th grader. Cursing them, hating them, instinctively and irrationally. Still, in spite of my limitations, it’s been great to enjoy a good rapport with Ed Cossette, who runs the excellent Red Sox blog, Bambino’s Curse.

Pedro Martinez will pitch tonight against the Devil Rays after experiencing the worst outing of his career. I was e-mailing with Ed the other day, and here was his reaction to Pedro’s performance in the Sox home opener:

Sad to see/hear Pedro get booed. I know it’s a tough town, but sometimes I think people take that too far. Indeed, I suspect it’s the fans who really don’t have much self-esteem about their own baseball knowledge, or who really don’t love the game and instead hide behind that mob mentality. Obviously, it’s the same group who won’t give up on the “Yankees Suck” thing, despite how ridiculous it is.

I remember talking to a Yankee fan a couple of years ago about the “Yankees Suck,” chant. “The worst part about it,” I said, “is that it just isn’t true. I could almost deal with it if they Yanks did suck. I mean I’m not interested in going to the Stadium and yelling, ’1918,’ or ‘Red Sox suck.’”

“Yeah, the only difference is the fuggin Red Sox do suck.”

Oy veh. There isn’t much difference between Yankee fans and Red Sox fans after all. We both think we are superior. And we are both wrong.

DEFENSIVE CONCERNS John Perricone,

DEFENSIVE CONCERNS

John Perricone, whose Only Baseball Matters, is an essential daily read, had an article yesterday about defensive efficiency. Though it is still early, we know the Yankees are not a good defensive team. And while their D hasn’t hurt the Yanks yet, according to John, it will sooner or later.

..Even though their defense is looking a bit suspect, their pitchers have been stingy, so stingy that they are carrying the defensive load, although with a EQA of .310, (best in baseball, by a good margin) they can win giving up 6 runs per game or more right now. That’s not likely to continue, nor are they likely to go through the season allowing just 40 home runs either…The Yankees will come back to the pack over the next month or so, and they may even slip more than that.

With shoddy defense and a suspect bullpen, the Yankee bats are going to have to keep booming, and the starting pitching is going to have to stay sharp, for the Bombers to fend off the Red Sox over the next six weeks.

PLAYER HATING There is

PLAYER HATING

There is a Mariners-based baseball blog, called the U.S.S. Mariner, written by Jason Michael Barker, David Cameron, and Derek Milhous Zumsteg that is worth checking out. Here is what Derek Zumsteg recently wrote about Alex Rodriguez:

Can we get over this booing thing with Alex Rodriguez? Alex gave us the best five shortstop-seasons this club ever saw, he was a consumate gentleman, he gave generously to Seattle of his pre-free-agency salary and his time…I would ask everyone who boos Alex what decision they would make in his position — except that it doesn’t matter. He’s a symbol now, a symbol of the greed people see in baseball players, and booing him allows fans to feel self-righteous and bonded against that greed.

Never mind the kid hasn’t missed a game since Christ was a Cowboy, and has done nothing but put up two of the best seasons ever by a shortstop in the process.

BLUE JAY WAY The

BLUE JAY WAY

The Yankees rallied, down 5-0, to tied the score against the Blue Jays last night, but Sterling Hitchcock and the bullpen could not hold the lead and Toronto beat the Bombers for the first time this season, 7-6. The temperature dropped over 25 degrees from the opening pitch to the 9th inning, and the winds were swirling wildly. David Wells started and was not sharp. The fatal blow came when he hung a breaking ball to Carlos Delgado, who smacked a 3-run dinger with practically one arm. (Yikes, that man is stong.)

Just how bad is the Yankees bullpen, and how much should Yankee fans be worried about it? It’s piss poor, and with a tough schedule ahead, I would say it’s time to start getting a bit nervous. After today’s game, the Yanks go out west, and play four against the Twins, followed by 3 against the World Champs, and then 3 in Texas. They return home to host Seattle and Oakland, before going back out west to play the same two teams again. After that, Anahiem comes to the Bronx, followed by Texas. Then the Bombers travel to Beantown for 3, and finally, return home for 4 games against the Jays and then 3 vs. the Sox. All in all, it is the roughest stretch of the year for them. Mariano Rivera will likely be ready by the time the Yanks face Seattle, and believe me, they are going to need him:

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus, opined:

Osuna, Hitchcock, Acevedo, Anderson, Contreras and Hammond; there may not be a bullpen of less accomplishment than that anywhere in baseball. Yes, some of those guys had random good years in 2002, but the ones who did are old–the caliber of reliever that regularly floats from good run to bad run, 70 innings at a time. The absolute talent level in the Yankee bullpen is about as low as there is in the game, and if you took these guys out of pinstripes and put them in Brewer blue or D-Ray green, they’d be just another punchline.

The pressure is going to be on the starting pitching and the offense to break even or better during this stretch. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fair against the league’s elite teams with their patch-work bullpen. But I fear it could get ugly.

On a lighter note, Jason Giambi put together an impressive at-bat against his boyhood pal, Corey Lidle, smacking a 2-RBI double on a full-count pitch, as the Yankees rallied to tie the game. Giambi, who has more walks (14) than hits (11), has clearly struggled at the plate; he looked uptight and irritated with himself on the bench last night:

“The interesting thing is, I’ve never seen a hitter like him walk like he does,” Manager Joe Torre said. “A lot of power hitters, when they get to two strikes, end up striking out a lot. He gets to two strikes and walks a lot. That’s a credit to him; he’s not changing his approach.”

…”I’m not punching out,” Giambi said, referring to his strikeout total. “I’m taking my walks. That’s what you’ve got to do until everything comes into place. The most important thing is we’re winning ballgames. I’m hitting the ball, I’m just not getting a lot of hits.”

Just like last year, perhaps Giambi will get into a groove once the Yanks hit the road.

Raul Mondesi continues to impress offensively, taking pitches, and driving the ball with authority. Erick Almonte deftly bunted for a base-hit during the big Yankee rally, but struck out wildly in his next two at-bats. With men on 2nd and 3rd and no out in the 6th, Almonte K’d on a full count pitch. He pulled his head out, and looked as if he was trying to hit a 12-run home run. If he had simply tried to hit the ball where it was pitched, a ground-out to second base would have scored a run. Instead, Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson followed with strikeouts themselves, and the Yankees didn’t score.

Sori slugged a solo shot off to lead off the 9th, and the Yanks put runners on the corners with 2 outs, but Jorge Posada whiffed to end the game.

LATIN LINGO I’m sorry

LATIN LINGO

I’m sorry that I missed out on the Mets-Expos series in Puerto Rico last weekend, so here are a few related, if belated articles. As cool as it seems for MLB to host games in P.R., baseball is not the sport there it once was:

And here’s a myth that could get exposed during the 22 games the Expos will be playing in San Juan this season: Baseball is not revered with unbridled passion any longer on this island. Contrary to popular opinion, Puerto Rico is not a baseball-crazed nation.

…Listen to the explanation that winter league president Enrique Cruz gave the Puerto Rican Herald this winter about the lack of interest in the game in Puerto Rico, compared to the passion for the game in the rival Dominican Republic.
“Baseball is part of their culture there,” Cruz said. “They have more big leaguers than we do, they have all these baseball schools and the people live baseball in a way that we don’t. In Puerto Rico there is so much entertainment competing for the baseball fan’s attention. You have the movies, [amusement parks], the Internet.”

In an effort to energize the country’s lagging baseball interest, former major league pitcher Edwin Correa, has started a baseball academy, which has recieved partial funding from MLB:

Here, in a one-story building 30 minutes south of San Juan, Correa is trying to salvage Puerto Rican baseball, which has sent fewer players to the major leagues in recent years.

This season, 38 major league players on opening-day rosters came from Puerto Rico, compared with 79 from the Dominican Republic. The amateur draft’s numbers are even more remarkable. Fifty-five Puerto Ricans were taken in 1989, the first year they were subject to the draft; 37 were drafted the next year and 23 last June.

…”I think the kids in Puerto Rico have a lot of comforts,” said Vazquez, one of the handful of Puerto Rican stars to come out of the draft. “They have computers, PlayStations, all types of things like that. A kid has a life outside of sports.”

…”There’s probably always a little skepticism when it comes to this type of program, whether it’s Puerto Rico or anywhere else,” [MLB executive, Sandy] Alderson said by telephone. “Besides the logistics, what are the motivations of the individual involved? Are they as honest and altruistic as they say? I think in Edwin’s case, it’s been borne out.”
Correa recognized that children in the Dominican Republic “have that hunger to play, that desire to leave their country or to have a better future.”

“One thing we want to instill in our players is desire,” Correa said. “To want to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and be at school, that takes discipline.”

The academy’s $5,500 tuition sounds steep, but players have help. Vazquez, Delgado, Gonzalez and other Puerto Rican major leaguers have lectured and donated scholarships. Sixty-six students receive some form of financial aid, the administrator Lucy Batista said.

Finally, here a terrific article by Nick Peters on Felipe Alou , which appeared in the Sac Bee earlier this week. Peters covers Alou’s early days in baseball:

“We had it worse than the blacks,” he recalled. “At Lake Charles, the blacks would buy food for me at the bus stop, at a line for ‘colored only.’ I couldn’t go in a white restaurant, although I was light-skinned — my mother is Spanish.

“Two blacks on the team and I were put up with a nice white family. They cooked breakfast and lunch for us, but dinner was not part of the agreement. And the blacks had a social life. They didn’t want me with them when they were with girlfriends.

…”There was no other communication with anyone.”

It was more comfortable when he reached the Giants to stay in 1958, their first year in San Francisco. Spanish-speaking teammates included Ruben GZmez, Ramon Monzant, Valmy Thomas and Cepeda. Jose Pagan came in 1959, Marichal in 1960.

Although there was strength in numbers, the Latino players often were treated like second-class citizens — by frugal management that didn’t pay them commensurate with their worth, and by the pervasive climate of discrimination.

…”I was more diplomatic than others. I was older and a little wiser, and I had gone to college. Most of the other Latins signed when they were very young. I tried to be a buffer between management and the Latin players.”

BEAT STREET, KING OF

BEAT STREET, KING OF THE BEAT, COLD ROCKIN’ THAT BEAT FROM ACROSS THE STREET

My lady, Emily and I spent some time in the town of Burlington, Vermont last Saturday. It was the first sunny day they had seen up there in a quite a while, and Emily was thankful to get out of the house, and move around a bit. We met Em’s sister, and her boyfriend for lunch, and popped into a couple of used bookstores as well.

I came away with a hardcover copy of Roger Angell’s “Late Innings” (doubles), “Great Time Coming,” David Falkner’s book about Jackie Robinson, “Our Game,” a single-volume history of the game by Charles Alexander, “Oddballs,” a dopey book about great baseball personalities, by former Rolling Stone journalist, Bruce Shlain, and “The Worst Team Money Can Buy,” a book about the 1992 Mets by veteran New York beat writers Bob Klapisch and John Harper. (Don’t joke, I know this year’s edition of the Mets could be in the running for the worst team money can buy, but at least they are a heck of a lot nicer than the ’92 squad.)

I had started reading Jim Brosnan’s classic “The Long Season,” on the train ride up north, but when I poked my nose through the new books before I returned home on Sunday, “The Worst Team Money Can Buy,” jumped out at me, so I put tales of Solly Hemus and Frank Robinson aside for the moment, in favor of the antics of David Cone, Greg Jefferies and Doc K.

I read two-thirds of it on the way home, and finished the last 50 pages before I got out of bed the next morning.

So you want to be a sportswriter? You may want to reconsider after reading this book.

Fans always seem to think reporters are the luckiest people on earth because they get to wander around the locker room, but in truth it’s uncomfortable under the best of circumstances. You’re on opposition turf—there’s no avoiding the antagonistic nature of the job—and the majority of players don’t want you there—it’s as simple as that.

Truth is, baseball writers know the sport is lent to agony: In no other pastime does failure become such an integral and public element. The best hitters in the game fail at least twice as often as they succeed, and that ensures a more adversarial relationship between players and writers-much more so than in basketball or football. Always, it seems, there are crucial at-bats that become pop-ups, ones that demand interrogation in day-to-day coverage. Is it any wonder that writers are chummier with pitchers than with hitters? Sooner or later, though, players of every position have to absorb in-print or on-air criticism, and in the case of the hypersensitive, under-achieving Mets, that led to tense postgame questioning.

Harper and Klapisch are blunt, but entertaining in describing the life of the tabloid beat writer. Klapisch worked for the Daily News at the time [he's now with the Bergan Record and ESPN], while Harper was at the Post [he's now at the Daily News]. I remember how cut-throat those papers were in the late 80s and early 90s. There was always talk of one, or both of them coming dangerously to folding, and closing shop; the pressure to get the big scoop was amplified.

Many beat writers are former jocks themselves: Klapisch pitched for Columbia (his claim to fame being that he once fanned Ron Darling, when he played forYale), and Harper was an infielder, who once played on a championship fast-pitch team.

Why are we doing this book? It’s not for the joy of working together, put it that way Friends, sometimes, but neither of us would turn his back on the other. It’s the nature of the job, the paranoia that comes with the territory, always wondering if the guy two seats down in the press box is working on a story that is going to blow the lid off the beat. On the road you travel together, eat together, play pickup basketball together, then put up the professional wall while working the clubhouse. More and more, however, the [1992] Mets have become the common opponent, a great clubhouse turned cold and miserable.

Klapisch and Harper may have written the book out of spite, or at least a great deal of frustration, but the tone doesn’t come across as mean-spirited. They are self-effacing and sincere, and the pace of the book is quick and lively. I love the vulgarity, the pulpy details of jock writing like this, but I have to admit: the story they had to tell left me feeling completely depressed. It was like seeing a car-wreck; I couldn’t look away (I grew up with the Bronx Zoo Yanks after all), but it wasn’t much fun. The 1992 Mets were just a sour bunch, and the story of how the Mets failed to take full advantage of a great team in the 80s, left me enervated, though fully engaged. Actually, it made me appreciate the current Yankees run even more.

When Klapisch and Harper were writing about the decline of the 80s Mets, there was no sign of what would transpire in the Bronx over the next 10 years. The 92 Mets, run by Al Harazin, attempted to clean up the bad boy image of the 80s teams, by acquiring safe, proven, professionals like Eddie Murray, and Willie Randolph, while paying a King’s ransom for Bobby Bonilla. Jeff Torborg replaced the hapless Buddy Harrelson and tried to run a straight-laced ship. The results were disastrous, and it seemed like no team could win in New York in the free agency era without being a group of red-ass bastards:

More than ever, teams need some sass in the clubhouse—players who aren’t consumed with their public personas. Is it coincidence that the only teams that have won in New York since free agency came along is the hard-ass Yankees of Munson and Nettles and Reggie and Billy, and the fuck-you Mets of Backman and Dykstra and Hernandez and Carter? In some ways that’s all chemistry is, having enough players with the balls to say, Fuck you, I don’t care what they think or you think, I don’t care what’s in the papers, I don’t care if this guy throws at my head, I’m going to kick their ass and yours too if you’re not right there with me. That’s why the Mets missed about Knight and Mitchell and Backman and the others who were dismissed too quickly. It’s an attitude no amount of earnestness can buy, a toughness you can feel around certain teams and certain players that isn’t defined in numbers or character references .The Mets had it, and management didn’t appreciate it–that was the sad part.

The Yankee teams of 1996-2001 weren’t sons of bitches, but they were tough, and had tons of resolve. The Mets of the 80s were assholes, just like the old Yankee teams. Of course, the bit that made me laugh the most in the book involved the old Yanks (who at least were funnier than the Mets):

Little by little, the Mets were becoming the old Yankees, the original press haters. Billy Martin had been the leader, a virtual dictator, even after he’d been humbled so many times by George Steinbrenner. Norman MacLean, then of the United Press International, once walked into Matin’s office and asked him for a few minutes’ time.

“Get lost, Norman,” Billy said pleasantly.

“Just a quick couple of sentences,” MacLean persisted.

“Norman, get the fuck out of here,” Billy said, his face darkening.

“Look, all I need is three sentences,” MacLean said, panicking.

Softening, Martin smiled and said, “Okay. You want three sentences? Turn on your tape recorder.” When MacLean obliged, Martin leaned into the microphone and said, “Fuck you. You’re an asshole. Get out of here.” Billy leaned back in his chair and said, “How’s that Norman?”

Yup, you have to have pretty thick skin to be a reporter, or a jock for that matter. “The Worst Team Money Can Buy,” paints a vivid portrait of the uneasy relationship professional writers share with the athletes they write about. It should be required reading for any young writer who has aspirations to be a baseball beat writer.

When I was through with the book, I gained a new appreciation for how difficult it would be for Robbie Alomar, or any other gay ballplayer to come out. The players and writers may seem like grown men, but they operate in a world of heightened adolescence. Although Klap and Harper don’t talk much about women reporters in the locker room, their book reminded me of the terrific 1979 Roger Angell piece about female sports journalists, “Sharing the Beat.” Angell interviewed several young women reporters, as well as veteran old school dudes like Jerome Holtzman, and Maury Allen.

The most illuminating and poignant observations came from Jane Gross, and I think they are still relevant today:

I think women reporters have a lot of advantages, starting with the advantage of the player’s natural chivalry. We women are interested in different things from the men writers, so we ask different questions. When Bob McAdoo gets traded from the Knicks, my first thought is, How is his wife, Brenda, going to finish law school this year? And that may be what’s most on his mind.

The other advantage of being a woman is that you’re perpetually forced to be an outsider. As a rule, you’re not invited to come along to dinner with a half-dozen of the players, or to go drinking with them, when maybe they’re going to chase girls. This means a lot, because I believe that all reporters should keep a great distance between themselves and the players. It always ought to be an adversary relationship, basically. That’s a difficult space to maintain when you’re on the road through a long season.

My presence doesn’t change the way the players act or talk. I’ve begun to see that the pleasure men take in being with each other—playing cards together, being in a bar together-isn’t actively anti-female. It isn’t against women; it just has nothing to do with them. It seems to come from some point in their lives before they were aware there were women. They have so much fun together. I really have become much more sympathetic to men because of my job.

I’m sure the black players treat me differently from the way they treat male writers. They don’t think I’m a honky-I’m another oppressed minority. They may not have thought this all the way through, but it’s there. Male sportswriters all seem to think that the athletes are going to take a shot at us on the road, but it hardly ever happens. In fact, that comes much more from the sportswriters than from the players, and you can tell them I said so.

MIGHTY MOOSE: YANKS SHUT

MIGHTY MOOSE: YANKS SHUT OUT TORONTO

Mike Mussina pitched a gem at the Stadium last night, as the Yankees blanked the Jays, 5-0. The Bombers are 11-2, which is the best start in team history. Mussina allowed 3 hits over 8 innings, and was nothing short of dominating, as he out-pitched Tornto ace, Roy Halladay in front of 33,833 in the Bronx. The game was just the tonic the Yanks needed after Monday’s turgid affair (the game last two and a half hours intsead over four plus hours). According to the Daily News:

“When we left the park (Monday) night, I think we both knew, (Toronto starter Roy) Halladay and myself, getting deep in the game was a big thing,” Mussina said. “This was a fun one to play in after that one.”

Mussina had an extra day of rest because of the Yanks’ rainout on Friday and he said it was “probably the entire reason I was able to pitch like that. I’ve been relatively successful with an extra day.”

Jason Giambi continues to struggle with the bat, but my man Bernie Williams has been quietly consistent.

“In a lot of ways,” Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi said, “he’s among the most underrated guys in the sport.”

“Bernie bores you with his consistency,” manager Joe Torre said. “He can carry you for a week or 10 days because he can light it up. Otherwise, he goes out there and plays every day and he can stay under the radar.

“Just because he’s a constant more so than the guys who spike a lot, he doesn’t attract a lot of attention.”

“We know how he can light it up when he does get hot,” Torre said. “Right now he isn’t hitting the long ball, but he’s getting a lot of big base hits. That’s where the .400 average comes in. He uses the whole field.

“He gets that blood rushing. We still haven’t discovered what causes that, but he can carry you.”

As usual, Williams is balanced and even-keeled about his sucess:

“I look at what happened to Derek after he prepared so well for the season, and I recognize you can’t predict health,” Williams said. “But, yes, I am very encouraged by this start. It is something I dream about, putting it all together one season.”

…”I always take it in perspective,” he said. “I’ve been playing this game a long time, knowing we can go down as quick as we can go up. I am just trying to stay consistent and enjoy this good time.”

…”My goals are simple, to have fun and play here every day,” he said. “I’ve been so blessed to play center field for this great team at this great time. I don’t know a lot of jobs that top that. As I get older, I feel even more fortunate.”

AROUND THE HORN Jay

AROUND THE HORN

Jay Jaffe, the Futility Infielder, celebrated the two-year anniversary of his site last week. A generous congradulations to you, Jay. You have paved the way for the rest of us, and I’d like to extend a Laurel and Hardy high five to you, brother.

Ed Cossette, the best nemesis a Yankee fan could wish for, has a good post on my favorite Red Sox, Tim Wakefield, over at his stellar site, Bambino’s Curse.

Mike C, from Mike’s Baseball Rants, has a nice post today on Alfonso Soriano that is worth checking out as well.

Don’t miss out on the heavyweights of the baseball blog universe either: John Perricone, Aaron Gleeman, Christian Ruzich, and David Pinto.

These men are the cream of the crop as far as I can tell.

Older posts            Newer posts
feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver