"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: September 2003

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GAME ONE

Bob Ryan has a piece on the Yankees today in the Boston Globe, and remembers how excited New York was when the Bombers finally made it back to the playoffs in 1995.

Ben Jacobs offers his analysis of the Yanks-Twins Serious, and he is on point as usual.

If you have some time to kill before the start of the game today, go over and check out Jay Jaffe’s last posting of the regular season. It is a treat (so what’s new?).
Also, if any readers are watching the game today, if you would be generous enough to give me updates and details via the comments section below, I sure would appreciate it. It’ll help me fill me in when I have a moment to sneak a peak at the score.

Thanks, and let the games begin.

MORE THAN A CONTENDER

I know this may not be the right time for non-baseball stories, but I did want to mention the passing of Elia Kazan. Kazan was one of the most influencial theater and film directors of the 20th century. A member of the Group Theater in the 1930s, Kazan was one of the founders of The Actors Studio. He directed the stage versions of “Skin of Our Teeth,” “Death of a Salesman,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Kazan also made his mark in the movie world, directing the film version of “Streetcar” as well as “On the Waterfront, ” “Viva Zapata!” and “East of Eden.”

Kazan is perhaps most famous for naming names during Communist witch hunt of the early 1950s. The Times had an excellent, and even-handed appreciation of the director, who was 94, in yesterday’s paper. It’s well worth reading, as Kazan is well worth remembering.

If you haven’t seen “On the Waterfront,” I suggest you rent it once the season ends. (Check for Fred Gwynne–aka Herman Munster—in a bit role as a gangster in the begining of the movie.)

A NICE TUESDAY

It isn’t chilly this morning in New York: it’s cold. But the skies are blue and it should be an absolutely beautiful day for playoff baseball. I’m going to be stuck at work, so I’ll miss the damn thing. But if I have to miss one game, I suppose Game 1 is a safe bet.

The Yankees have been playing well and so has Minnie. New York isn’t overly confident, and the Twins aren’t cowed. Mike Mussina has owned the Twinkies during the course of his career, and Johan Santana is a devastating young pitcher who seems to be unfazed by the pressure he faces this afternoon. All the makings of a good game, right?

The local papers are filled with special sections today. Most of them aren’t telling you anything you probably don’t already know, but if you are interested, head over to BaseballNewsstand.com and check it out.

Peter Gammons gives the Bombers “props”—heh heh—in his latest column. He also hits the nail on the head when he writes about the great expectations facing this year’s squad:

The greatest barrier facing the Yankees is that they have to win. In George Steinbrenner’s world, losing is not an alternative. If they win, they did their job, like a GM assembly worker, or a toll taker on the Garden State Parkway. If they lose, Phinneas T. Boss will …

… be quoted a lot.

WELCOME BACK

Man, it’s tough to find a good barber. I’ve lived in the Bronx for three years and I am still having issues. When I have the time, I still travel two plus hours round-trip on the subway to see my old barber in Brooklyn.

This past Saturday I figured I would try a joint that I spotted on Broadway and 240th street. This is a few blocks from the end—or the begining—of the IRT, Broadway local 1 and 9 trains. Manhattan college is a short walk up the hill, and even further up the hill is Riverdale, where I now live. There used to be a row of bars on Broadway, but there was constant trouble between the locals and the college kids; things got nasty at one point and the city shut many of the places down.

As I walked from my neighborhood down the hill, I day dreamed about the coming playoff games at the Stadium. At one point, I took a short cut through the woods. (This was the first time I made the trip, so it felt like an adventure.) When I got to the bottom of the hill, I noticed a young kid with a Yankee cap, and a mitt, having a catch. I couldn’t see who he was throwing the ball to at first, and when I got closer, I realized he wasn’t having a catch with anyone: he was pitching the ball against a big tree.

He was a thin, fair-skinned kid with bright eyes. He missed the tree, and as he went after the ball I called out to him. “Getting ready for the playoffs?” Indeed he was. We chatted for a few minutes. He told me that he favorite pitcher was Mike Mussina and that Jason Giambi and Alfonso Soriano were his favorite players. I asked him a few more questions. It’s amazing how a kid’s face will light up when you aske them what they think.

I didn’t want to make him feel strange, so I kept the conversation brief and continued on, walking past the train yards, down to the barber shop. The moment I walked in, I knew I was in the right place. A black guy and a big Latin guy were cutting heads; hip hop music was pounding on a stereo.

I had a nice conversation with big Looie, and he gave me a good buzz. I don’t need to go to Brooklyn anymore.

On the way home, my new friend was still pitching. I saw him wind up and miss the tree once again. Got to work on his control, I thought. When I reached him, he was poking around the woods, looking for the ball—an old, muddy ball. God, that brought me back. How familiar was that sight?

I couldn’t resist, so I asked if I could have a catch with him. We hung out for about fifteen minutes and talked a lot about baseball. I obviously didn’t have a glove, but that was OK. He was careful not to throw the ball too hard, and each time he made a poor throw he follwed it with an immediate apology as he ran after it. He was 13 years old, and plays center field. But he wants to be a pitcher. I told him about some of the pitchers I like and asked him a lot of questions about who he likes, and why.

I could tell he was energized by our conversation and that made me feel good. I felt boss about making a connection with a kid, and I felt good that it clearly meant something to him as well.

Baseball doesn’t seem to matter to kids the way it used to. At least white and black kids. (I was spoiled living in a Dominican neighborhood for three years.) But if you look hard enough, you’ll still see the die hards playing whiffle ball with tied up socks, or a ball of tin foil. Or you’ll see a kid pitching by himself on a Saturday afternoon, gearing up for the playoffs.

As I walked away, back through the woods, I heard the ball miss the tree again and crunch through the leaves. The air was getting crisp, and the fall is almost here. He may keep missing for a while, but he’s showing up. And that’s a beautiful thing.

BRONX BUMMERS

Tom Boswell previews the playoff match ups in The Washington Post. He is excited by many of the possibilites and with the Giants, Cubs, Red Sox and A’s all in the mix, it is easy to see why. The one thing that would make the post season a bummer, according to Boswell, is if the Yankees win it all.

Ah, go peddle your papers, man.

COUNT DOWN

I’ve been gearing up for the Yankees-Twins serious since I woke up in the middle of the night unable to stop thinking about it last Thursday. The Twins are a good team, but I think the Yankees should be able to beat them. If Minnie pulls off the upset it won’t exactly be the Jets over the Colts–the Twins have good pitching, stellar defense and a decent offense.

After losing to the Angels in the first round last year, it is hard to feel too confident in the 2003 squad. These Yankees have to prove themselves. Still, I won’t lie. If they lose in the first round, it would be a disappointing way to end the season. What worries me even more than losing however, is what will happen after they lose. Here is a portion of a letter I got last week from Alan, a Bronx Banter reader:

…There’s King George lurking in the background, and I’m just terrified of what the crazy man might do if we fail to finish in the money for the third straight year. He’s been held marginally at bay since returning from his most recent lifetime suspension, largely because the Yankees were awful when he left and successful when he came back. But it’s obvious that the meddling has increased in recent years — and it can only get worse.

The Boss George Hot Stove Show is an annual event. It cannot be avoided. I just hope that it doesn’t get too ugly. But if the Bombers lose, it undoubtedly will. The only way to prevent heads from rolling, is for the Yankees to win.

Or else. (Cue cliff hanger organ music.)

Be sure and check out Twins fans Aaron Gleeman and John Bonnes analysis during the serious. Both have indepth previews of their sites now. Don’t sleep; take a peek.

ALLS WELL THAT ENDS WELLS

The Yankees ended the season taking three of four from the hapless Baltimore Orioles at the Stadium over the weekend. Andy Pettitte won his 21rst game on Friday, and then Jorge DePaula threw a gem in the second game of the twi-night double-header. But the Yankees couldn’t hold on for the win. Roger Clemens won his last regular season start in New York on Saturday, and yesterday, Boomer Wells collected the 200th victory of his career. Derek Jeter fell short of the batting title, but considering how his season began, he had an admirable season.

The Yankees final record is 101-61, which tied the Braves for the best in the game. The Bombers led the majors in attendance, and broke the team’s all-time mark, which was set last year.

TALKIN’ THE TALK

I saw a sound bite on EPSN this morning that might be of some interest to the Oakland A’s. It was after last night’s game in Boston, when infielder Todd Walker told the TV cameras—as well as the Fenway Faithful: “We’re going to roll into Oakland and whip some ass and move on from there.”

Hmmm. He’s got the nerve to say it, let’s see how he backs it up.

WOO-HOO, WE’RE NUMBER TWO

Congrats to Red Sox Nation this morning, as their boys clinched the wild card last night at Fenway Park. There was a wild celebration after the game, which featured Manny Ramirez talking to the press! Funny what winning can do, huh? While part of me is happy for the Sox faithful, another part of me scoffs at such premature celebrations. Pardon me if I’m a spoiled snob, but the Sox haven’t won anything yet. You’d think that a good portion of the Nation would be leary of such antics as well.

Listen, I’m happy for the fans and the team—or as happy as a Yankee fan can ever be with such a thing. Theo Epstein assembled a fine squad, and they play with a lot of character and moxie: they are an entirely admirable group of players. If the 1996-2001 Yankees were hard to hate, so are these Red Sox. But calm down, now. Wait until you’ve won something meaningful before you go throwing a ticker tape parade.

Last night’s Love-In will seem hollow if they can’t make it out of the first round. Then again, it is just the begining if they can make it all the way to the Championship.

Oh, and a special congrats go out to Scott Adams, Ed Cossette, David Pinto, Ben Jacobs, and my man, Johnny fuggin’ Red Sox—all Red Sox fans of the first order.

BLACK MARK

My blogging pal, and fellow New Yorker, Steve Keane, sole owner and proprietor of The Eddie Kranepool Society, recently took exception with an article written by Daily News columnist Filip Bondy. The article in question was a puff piece about one of Bondy’s beloved “Bleacher Creatures.” It is a trivial little column, and I’m certain that this isn’t the first time the Yankee-friendly Bondy has chapped Keane’s—or any other self-respecting Met fan’s—behind:

I have never hide [sic] my hatred for Filip Bondy of the NY Daily News. I’ve always felt that Bondy has had a vendetta against the Mets. Back in the late 80′s he wrote a column calling Mets management racist for not having any African-American players on the team. This is the same guy who writes about his love for the NY Yankees. The same NY Yankees who would have been the last team in baseball to become interrogated [sic] if it were not for the Boston Red Sox.

While I can’t disagree with Keane’s assessment of Bondy, I do want to offer some clarification regarding the Yankees race record. They were one of the last teams to integrate, but when they finally promoted Ellie Howard to the majors in 1955, there were still three teams that remained all-white: the Phillies, Tigers and of course, the Red Sox.

The Yankees’ racist management, and the casual bigotry of Casey Stengel and some of the players is indeed a shameful mark on the teamís history. Interestingly, they initially had been one of the first clubs to sign black players. In 1949, GM George Weiss recruited Artie Wilson, Frank Austin, and Luis Angel Martinez; next, they bought the contracts of Bob Thurman and Taborn from the Kansas City Monarchs. But none of these players came close to making the big club, who by then, were in the process of reeling off five consecutive championships.

According to Jules Tygielís scholarly history of integration, “Baseballís Great Experiment:”

The Yankees had

GEARIN’ UP

Mike Mussina was denied his 200th career victory yesterday because the White Sox scored eight runs off of him in the sixth inning. Esteban Loaiza picked up his 20th win of the season as the White Sox rolled over the Bombers, 9-4. Bernie Williams hit a homer and so did Jason Giambi.

I think that Bernie will catch fire next week against the Twins. And I’m mostly saying that because he’s had a terrible season and he’s my favorite Yankee.

Jack Curry has an article in The Times today about why Jose Contreras should be considered as a viable option for a start in the post season:

When Torre was asked about putting Contreras in the rotation, he said, “I don’t know how that would happen,” but, of course, he knows. Torre could gamble a little, use Contreras instead of the sagging Wells and explain it by saying that Contreras has been more reliable.

“You might see that,” catcher Jorge Posada said. “You never know. Anything can happen. I think you could see him in Game 4. But I think they’ll want him in the bullpen because Skip wants to use him more than once.”

Still, when Posada was asked if Contreras would be in the top four if the Yankees ignored reputations and chose the pitchers who are performing the best, he said: “Absolutely. He would be one of them.”

Meanwhile, Christian Ruzich and Will Carroll must have been happy after the Cubs shut out the Reds last night to remain a game ahead of the Astros. I did manage to catch the Barry Bonds at bat vs. Billy Wagner replayed on ESPN last night. Bonds was pinch-hitting in a one-run game and Wagner was throwing nothing but cheese. He whiffed the best hitter on earth with his 100 mph fastball, and somewhere in Ft. Lauderdale, Pat Jordan was smiling.

DOOMSDAY: NO JOY IN YANKEELAND?

There is no joy involved with the Yankees. The reporters covering them have mentioned this time and again during the course of the 2003 season. There is only victory, and nothing else in Boss George’s universe. Win or look out. That may or not be true.

Fortunately, I only have to root for the Bombers and I get a tremendous amount of joy following the team. I also appreciate the joy that Derek Jeter derives from the heat of a pennent race. He shows it in little ways in practically each game. I think that between the lines, there is joy to be found on the Yankee team, regardless of the pressure they face from their owner, the press, and the demanding fans.

Heck, some fans may only be happy if the Yankees win the Serious, but as I mentioned earlier today, you are setting yourself up for a long, cold winter if that’s the only thing that will make you happy.

Bob Klapisch, a longtime New York reporter, delineates the possible outcomes for the Yanks should they lose in the playoffs or Serious this year. One thing is for sure—and I’m sorry to say this—but unless they win it all, Cashman and Torre’s coaches won’t be back.

BARRA BARKS

Allen Barra is back with a characteristically charged article on the way the New York press covers the Yankees. This one appears in The Village Voice, so Barra doesn’t hold back even a little bit. He is right on the money when he criticizes Mike Lupica’s typically shrill sensibilities (which in this case involved the Aaron Boone trade):

The Yankees, he wrote, “were simply out to win at any cost. It is the real business of the Yankees, and it sucks the joy out of the season.” Out of whose season, exactly? And why, we’re entitled to ask, shouldn’t Steinbrenner and Cashman be out to “win at any cost”? If the fans are willing to pay the price for the tickets and beer, what exactly is Steinbrenner supposed to do with that money? Pocket it as pure profit, as so many of those teams getting that fat luxury tax from the Yankees do? Or try to improve his team the best way he and his front office see fit?

If teams such as the Cincinnati Reds leave players like Aaron Boone and Gabe White (the real steal in the deal) out on the doorstep, is it less of a case of the Yankees “sucking the joy” out of the game or of the Reds spitting it out?

I’d pay to see a steel cage match between Barra and Lupica any day—or even a head-to-head trash-talking contest, like the one Norman Mailer had with Gore Vidal on the old Dick Cavett show.

ONE UNHAPPY REDBOID

Even though Jason Giambi has posted back-to-back 40 home run seasons, I’m sure there are still Yankee fans who long for the days of Tino Martinez. I don’t know why, but old habits die hard I suppose. I’m sure Tino wishes he were still in New York too. Anywhere but St. Louis. Redbird Nation has a revealing post today, detailing why Martinez is miserable playing for the Cardinals.

AND THAT’S THAT

As some of the older Yankee players said during the postgame celebration last night, this just doesn’t get old. The Yankees blanked the White Sox, 7-0 and clinched the AL east for the sixth consecutive year. This was a volatile campaign for the Yankees, who will play the Twins starting next Tuesday in the first round of the playoffs, with shades of the ol’ Bronx Zoo strudel threatening to disrupt the harmony of the Joe Torre era.

For many Yankee fans this is only the begining. “Now, the real season starts,” is what some of the more thoughtless fans will bark today as if they were following basketball. As if the regular season was an afterthought. But regardless of what happens over the next couple of weeks, we should take a moment to appreciate another fine season.

I still pinch myself regularly to remind myself of how fortunate I am that a team I root for has been this succesful for so long (I root for the Jets and Knicks, after all). I don’t expect it to last. Why should we be so fortunate? I figure that one year, fate, or injuries or Boss George or the Red Sox will put an end to the current run. Maybe it will happen next year or the year after. But for now, the Yankees have made us proud once again.

One of the great pleasures of watching the Yanks win is getting to see Joe Torre get blubbery. I’m sure it must make Yankee-haters ill, but it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It has to do with the fact that Torre is a native New Yorker, and an Italian man of a certain temperment and disposition. Go to Gravesend, or Carroll Gardens or Bensonhurst in Brooklyn and you can find men like Joe.

Torre is grave and paternal, firm but fair, and he manages the circus around the Yankees better than anyone before him. It is fitting that he gives it up for us in the end, the ol’ softy. He lets his guard down, his voice starts to tremble, and then come the water works. I’ve always had the sense that he appreciates how meaningful the Yankees’ success has been. It’s not just cliches with Torre, he’s not distant and removed, he’s like one of the family; that’s why he’s known as Saint Joe around these parts.

Jose Contreras was brilliant last night and will allow us to go into the off season thinking that he wasn’t a $32 bust after all. The Red Sox came from behind to beat the O’s in dramatic fashion at Fenway last night; later on, the Mariners lost, and now the wildcard race is all but done. The YES cameras caught Jeter checking out the scoreboard in the 8th inning last night. The O’s had taken a 5-2 lead in the top of the 9th, only to tie the game on a Todd Walker homer in the bottom of the frame. Jeter peeked at the scoreboard in center field, and then did a double take. He smirked, ala Robert DeNiro, as if to say, “Whaaat? Don’t those guys ever die?” Never a dull moment for the Yankee captain.

Jason Giambi hit a grand slam in the 9th inning for his 40th homer of the year. He also hit a double to left center field which is a positive sign indeed. Giambi is the first Yankee to record back-to-back 40 dinger seasons since Mickey Mantle. Not bad for a guy who has played with injuries all year. According to John Harper in The Daily News:

Giambi, meanwhile, admitted before the game there was reason he wasn’t using the whole field anymore.

“My back side’s collapsing,” was the way he put it before last night’s game. “Because of my knee.”

It’s a wear-and-tear injury of sorts that he has downplayed for most of the season, even as it has deteriorated over the last couple of months and caused him to limp noticeably at times.

But in trying to explain why he hadn’t been driving the ball to left-center anymore, Giambi said the state of his left knee is such that he can’t keep his weight on his back leg at the plate, wait on the pitch and drive the ball to all fields as he had done with such great success throughout his career.

In other words, the injury has wreaked havoc with the sweet swing responsible for batting averages of .314, .342, and .333 the last three seasons.

“It’s not an easy thing to swallow,” said Giambi, batting .251 after his 2-for-4 night, “when you’re a career .300 hitter, and you’ve never hit below .290, and you look up there and see your average at two-forty-something.

“It’s tough. But that’s the risk you take when you play hurt.”

Giambi doesn’t need to apologize to anyone. With Jeter, Nick Johnson, and Bernie Williams all missing significant time, Giambi couldn’t afford to get healthy. As a result, his numbers dropped, but he still put together a fine season. His effort has not gone unappreciated.

CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

Newsday columnist John Heyman has a piece today about why the Yankees should be licking their chops at the prospect of facing the Twins in the first round of the playoffs. Sure, they might appear to be a better match for New York than Boston, Seattle, Oakland or even Chicago, but I wouldn’t discount the Twins either. And the fact that the Yanks have won 13 straight over Minnie doesn’t fill me with confidence, it gets all of my superstions working overtime.

CHIP OFF THE OL’ BLOCK

I used to hate Chipper Jones when he was a young player for the Braves. I simply didn’t like his looks, and I didn’t like the fact that his country ass didn’t like New York (why the nerve). But then he got too good for me to hate. Plus, I don’t root for the Mets, so I didn’t really need to hate him anyway. Now, not only do I appreciate him, but I actually root for him as well.

This summer, I’ve been thinking about how steady he’s been for the Braves, and yet despite his classical jock handsomeness, and the fact that he plays for America’s Team, Jones doesn’t receive a lot of national attention. Not as much as A. Jones or Gary Sheff, or Maddux or Smoltzie. I may be wrong about this, but that’s the impression I get.

Fortunately, Rich Lederer has a pointed analysis of Jones’ career accomplishments over at Rich’s Weekend Baseball Beat. Just in time to scratch my itch. And yeah, Chipper Jones has been one of the best in the game ever since he started playing.

FAMILY DOCTOR

Will Carroll, the injury professor over at Baseball Prospectus, has joined the all-baseball.com family. Make it a daily read, as Will has energy to burn, and lots to say. I’m honored to be on the same team—big ups to Ruz for giving Will another forum to speak his mind.

HOLD UP, WAIT A MINUM

Alfonso Soriano led off last night’s game with a home run off big, bad Bartolo Colon. It was ‘lil Sori’s 13th lead off dinger of the year, a new record. He followed that with another solo shot in his next at bat. But Colon and the Chicago bullpen was able to work out of several jams, and the Sox eventually defeated the Bombers in extra innings, 6-3. Magglio Ordonez smacked a 3-run shot off Jeff Weaver to put the Yankees celebration on hold.

The Sox were streaking a few weeks ago, while the Yanks struggled. Now, Chicago must settle for moral victories and sour grapes. Wha’ happened? Jack Curry posed the same question in The Times:

What made one first-place team fly and the other fizzle?

“Money, money and money,” Frank Thomas, the White Sox designated hitter, said. “The bottom line is there’s a lot of pride in that organization. They will win at all costs. That’s what pro sports is all about. Steinbrenner wants a winning team year in and year out. He’s got the ability to go out and get those players.”

…While the gluttony enables the Yankees to absorb huge mistakes, the money does not automatically make them winners. The endless payroll gives the Yankees more flexibility if they stumble, but then they still have to get up and produce.

“If we were able to spend $150 million or $130 million, we’d win every year, too,” Thomas said.

…”Money doesn’t guarantee you’ll have big performances down the stretch when it counts,” [Derek] Jeter said. “You can have all the money in the world and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have people who are going to play well. That’s an easy out. Money, money, money. Go ask him why Minnesota is where they are.”

Take Two tonight. Jose Contreras will start, and it looks like Mike Mussina will be getting a Game 1 start in the playoffs.

MILESTONE

Congrats to Greg Maddux, who won his 15th of the year yesterday (on the third try). With the victory Maddux breaks Cy Young’s record for consecutive seasons with 15 or more wins.

What does it mean? It means that Greg Maddux has been very fortunate, and very good for a very long time.

Or as Rob Neyer noted a few weeks back:

Is Maddux’s streak of 16 15-win seasons really more impressive than Cy Young’s streak of 19 13-win seasons or Warren Spahn’s streak of 17 14-win seasons?

No, not really. If we draw the line at 15, we’re doing it simply to glorify Greg Maddux, (whose streak includes two 16-win seasons and three 15-win seasons), and he doesn’t need us to glorify him. It’s enough, I think, to say this:

In baseball’s first half-century, Cy Young was the game’s most durable and consistent pitcher.

In baseball’s second half-century, Warren Spahn was the game’s most durable and consistent pitcher.

And in baseball’s third half-century, Greg Maddux has been the game’s most durable and consistent pitcher.

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