"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: September 2003

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STARS

Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada are two Yankees that I’ve had short fuses with over the years. I don’t mean to suggest I haven’t appreciated their contributions, or that I don’t like them, or think that they are losing players, but you know how it is: some guys burn you up faster than others. It’s as much about me as it is about them.

But both longtime Yanks have had terrific seasons. Pettitte won his 20th game of the year on Saturday, the second time he’s won 20 in his career. Whatever uncertainty existed about Pettitte’s health will most likely be overlooked now, and I would be surprised if he didn’t return to New York next year. (Of course as good as Pettitte’s been, Mike Mussina has been the best pitcher on the staff—just ask my man, Cliff.)

Posada is being considered as an MVP candidate. I heard Joe Morgan mention it on ESPN last night. Wow. He’s been great offensively, but I’m really impressed with his his poise behind the plate. There have been times in the past when Posada let his emotions get the better of him. This year, he has delivered a mature, all-star performance. I guess he can get away with calling his teammates out after losing in the first round last year, after all.

CRYIN’ TIME

The Yankees swept the Devil Rays in Tampa this weekend and are on the brink on clinching the American League East. But things got nasty before it was all said and done. On Saturday night, the Yanks and Rays exchanged hitting opposing batters, and yesterday, emotions boiled over.

D-Rays starting pitcher Jeremi Gonzalez—a high-strung, square-jawed kid with a yellow mop of hair who looked like he just stepped out of a David Lynch casting session—threw high and tight repeatedly to the Yanks during the early going yesterday. He moved Bernie, Godzilla, Boone, and Enrique Wilson off the plate, before finally plunking Nick Johnson in the 5th. He brushed Jorge Posada back later in the inning too.

Posada took exception, stepped out of the box and glared into the D Rays dugout. Well, that was all it took to get Lou Pinella going. Sweet Lou yelled something at Posada who promptly grounded out. But on his way down the first base line, Jorge had some cherce words for Gonzalez. The pitcher charged Posada at first, but both players were restrained. The benches cleared and who do you think was in the middle of things, yelling the loudest?

That’s right, Sweet Lou himself. According to the morning papers, he called the Yankees “a bunch of crybabies.” Then, there was a Yankee yelling back. Wanna guess who? None other than Sweet Pea himself, Bernie Williams. Now that was worth the price of admission.

No punches were thrown, and nobody was ejected. Roger Clemens had a 3-0 lead at the time, and he got through the 5th and 6th inning before he retaliated. With two out in the 7th, the Rocket airmailed one over catcher Javier Valentin’s noggin (he nipped him with the next pitch). The Yankees won 6-0.

“I said that the Yankees are a bunch of crybabies,” Piniella said. “Not all of them. I said they’ve got a bunch of them.”

…”The amazing part about it is, when the Yankees buzz people in, or when they hit people, it’s O.K.,” Piniella said. “When it’s done against them, they don’t like it. They’ve got a bunch of talent on that team; they’ve got a great team. I respect them as individuals. But at the same time, let’s play baseball. The rules aren’t supposed to be circumvented in their favor.”

Who is the cry baby here? Joe Torre remained calm.

“I’m not saying we don’t all yell at the opposition once in a while, but I think Lou is frustrated,” Torre said. “He’s had a long year. He’s not used to losing a lot of games. But I think this ball club has won more games than maybe they would have with someone else there.”

Meanwhile, after losing a crusher on Saturday, the Red Sox came back with their ace and a win yesterday, and Boston continues to lead Seattle by 2 1/2 games for the wildcard. (It would take a monumental collapse on Boston’s part to miss the postseason now.) The Twins and A’s–thank you Mr. Lily—all but have their divisions locked up.

AFTER THE STORM

Mike Mussina, Joe Torre, George Steinbrenner and Gene Orza all had cherce words for MLB after yesterday’s game. The game officially ended in a 1-1 tie and will be made up if needed.

Meanwhile the Sox beat the D-Rays and the Mariners lost to the Rangers. Boston trails the Yanks by five games, but leads Seattle by two and a half; the Yankees magic number for clinching the division remains at six.

With the M’s starting a weekend series against the A’s it may be time to say goodnight. Incidentally, there is an article out of Seattle today which pits Pat Gillick vs. Billy Beane.

Dig this:

“You have to give them credit, but the test is going to be how they maintain it,” Gillick said. “It’s difficult, with that payroll, to maintain. We’ll have to wait and see. Initially, they’ve gotten it done, but once Tejada and Chavez are eligible (for free agency), if they can’t pay them, you’ll probably see a decline in their won-loss record.”

Said Beane: “Time will tell. Listen, at some point, yeah, there will be a dip in the performance level. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that. But you know what? That’s the case with every sports franchise. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.”

Gillick further took shots at Oakland’s “Moneyball” approach:

“I think from the Double-A level up, statistical information is more pertinent than from Single-A down,” he said. “At least when you get to Double-A, Triple-A and the major leagues, you have something to compare the statistics against. I’m not sure what the level of competition is at Class A, rookie or amateur level.

“I don’t want to limit myself in one area. If we think the best player is from college, we’ll take him; if we think the best player is a high-school player, we’ll select that player. If we think we want to get a player from China, Japan or the Dominican Republic, those are all areas you have to investigate.”

“Why limit yourself to one area? Why say you have to draft college guys and you have to fit this criteria? I think you’re limiting yourself and not looking at the big picture. Baseball is full of exceptions and opinions. Last year, anyone could have had Esteban Loaiza for nothing, and now he has a chance for the Cy Young.

“They have a theory what they do, but I think what they’re doing is limiting themselves, maybe because of economics. They think high-school kids are too much of a longshot, too much uncertainty. But the old saying is, if you want to hit it big, you’d better take a risk.”

Said Beane, “When you have an unlimited payroll, you can take that approach. When you have a limited payroll, there’s certain things you can and can’t do. We’re in that situation in Oakland, unlike some other people.”

Added Beane, “We’ll continue to try to compete in our situation. We’re not asking anyone to either validate us or mimic us. Our responsibility is to our fans and ownership, and to the players in this organization.”

Gillick has taken much heat for not improving his team when he’s had the chance. It appears as if the Mariners will win 90+ games again this year and miss the playoffs. Still, he’s got an impressive track record, and has been one of the best GM’s of the past 25 years. But he comes across as petty and spiteful here. Think chasing the A’s once again has anything to do with it?

WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?

The Yankee game has been suspended, proving once again, when it comes to running things in MLB, it ain’t the heat, it’s the stupidity. Man, don’t you think they could see this coming? Wonder how peeved the Yankees are having to sit around and wait for a flight to take them into the eye of the storm?

DELAYED

The Yankee-O’s game is tied after five innings in Baltimore. They are now sitting on their hands as the game as been delayed by rain. Hey, no fuggin kidding. Was it supposed to rain today?

Bunch of greedy sombitches…

SMOKIN’

I know I’m a couple of days late on this, but Pat Jordan had a piece on flamethrowers in The New York Times magazine last Sunday. I don’t think the article was one of his best—it felt slight—but it is still worth reading. I was, however, taken with Jordan’s portrait of Houton’s Billy Wagner. While interviewing the diminutive southpaw in the Astros locker room, Wagner’s two young boys sat in a nearby chair watching TV:

Wagner is obviously a caring father — as he talked to me his eyes kept flitting toward his sons — in the way of men who experienced difficult, disruptive childhoods. His parents married young in a small Virginia town. They fought a lot and shuffled off their son to live with various relatives. Wagner lived with his grandfather, who used to whip him with a switch, and then his aunt and uncle. No matter where he lived, however, he lived in poverty (food stamps were not unknown) and anger. He remembers as a boy standing outside the home of his aunt and uncle, picking up a baseball and firing it at the house in anger.

”It was the only way I could express myself,” he said. ”I used to rage and explode; now I channel it to aggressiveness on the mound.”

Despite his success, he said, he’s still insecure about it. ”There’s no way I should throw a baseball 100 m.p.h.,” he said. ”I’m small. I see guys 6-foot-8 throwing 88. There’s nothing I did to get it. Maybe throw a football a lot. I have the short, quick arm motion of a quarterback. Some say it’s in my legs, or my wrist. But I don’t know why.”

Jordan has always been able to find the tremendous vunerability in the athletes he writes so well about. That’s probably due to his own experience as a bonus baby prospect, who never made the major leagues. It’s certainly why I find him to be one of the best baseball writers going.

DEARLY DEPARTED

Hall of Fame historian Bruce Markusen details the baseball men we’ve lost in 2003 in his latest Cooperstown Confidentail column over at Baseball Primer. The year isn’t over yet, but some great baseball men have passed on—guys like Larry Doby, Sam Lacy, Leonard Koppett, and most recently, Bobby Bonds. Worth taking a look.

SHAMELESS PLUG FOR A FAT MAN

Several years ago my old friend Russell started doing a lounge singer routine in the downtown scene here in New York. I had limited patience with the scene, but I did manage to see him perform as Johnny Fayva once. It involved Russ dressed up in a wild leisure suit, with a blond wig and blond mustache. He sang old rock tunes like Dean Martin, karate-chopped like Elvis, and by the end of the act, he had stripped down to a thong—something neither Dino nor the King ever attempted.

Russ moved out to LA a few years ago, but Johnny Fayva is alive and well. If you want a cheap laugh—and what better kind of laugh is there—stop by his webpage. Be sure and check out the “Iraqi Freedom” video.

YO MO

SI’s Tom Verducci still thinks Mariano Rivera is a top-flight closer:

Let’s get something straight: Mariano Rivera is not a question mark for the New York Yankees. He may not be unhittable, as he was in the past, but he’s still ultra cool in the clutch and still has plenty of the nasty stuff needed to get hitters out, if not dominate them. If you’re looking for a reason why the Yankees are vulnerable — and there are a few of them — don’t look to their closer.

…I wouldn’t worry about Rivera. He may have lost a smidgen of velocity and sometimes lacks confidence in that high fastball hitters chase, but his stuff is still plenty good. The real problem is the rest of the Yankees’ bullpen, which this year has forced manager Joe Torre to bring Rivera into numerous games in which runners are on base. The slender right-hander has such good mechanics and doesn’t throw a lot of pitches, so I do think he has at least two more All-Star quality years left.

If indeed Rivera can put up two more All-Star seasons, will he have a legitimate shot at the Hall of Fame? It’s a tough one to figure simply because great closers like Sutter and Gossage have yet to be recognized. I keep thinking that once Eck is elected, the thinking on closers may change. I would guess that if Rivera continues to be very good in the regular season, and sensational in the postseason, he’d have a decent chance at making it into Cooperstown somewhere down the line.

STORM’S A BREWIN’

David Wells was gunning for his 200th career victory last night, but he gave up five runs in the early innings, and the Yanks couldn’t score enough runs to help him out. (They managed eleven hits, to no avail.) Wells stayed in the game and pitched well after that, but the Yankees lost, 5-3. The game took all of two hours and twelve minutes.

The Bombers played the game as if they had a plane to catch. If it were up to them, that’s exactly what they would have done. With a massive storm headed up the east coast, today’s game has been rescheduled as an afternoon affair. The only snag is that the game is about the only thing that will go ahead as planned in Baltimore today, as the schools and local government will be shut down.

“I’m sorry we have to play, period,” said David Wells, who pitched a complete game in the loss. “It’s not good. The city’s closing down, the government’s closing down, and we’re playing. Figure that out.”

…”I don’t really see it,” first baseman Jason Giambi said. “I don’t see the need to get it in, especially when they’re shutting down schools and having the Navy get their ships out. I hope everything works out and everybody’s safe. I don’t understand the thinking of what they’re trying to accomplish.”

Joe Torre, the Yankees’ manager, had a theory. “Everybody’s scratching their head about why we’re cutting it so close, but it’s not our decision,” Torre said, later adding, “When you’re dealing with revenue in today’s game, that’s what it comes down to.”

Mike Mussina will pitch for the Yanks today, and has a chance to earn his 200th career victory.

The Red Sox were shut out by the D-Rays in Boston last night, while the Mariners finally beat the Rangers (thank you, Mr. Moyer). Boston’s lead in the wildcard is down to a game and a half. Johnny Damon missed last night’s game, and the Sox, who have been relatively injury-free throughout the season, are starting to show some bumps and bruises.

The A’s won behind a strong effort from Barry Zito, and their magic number—like the Yankees’—is down to six. The Twinkies beat the White Sox again and now lead Chicago by two and a half games in the central. Finally, Doc Halladay pitched a complete-game shut out against the Tigers and may have earned himself the Cy Young award.

THAR HE BLOWS

Is old man Steinbrenner starting to look out the front door? Maybe yes, but on the other hand, certainly not. According to an article by Richard Sanomir today’s Times:

Steinbrenner manufactured his own intrigue yesterday in two telephone calls.

In the first one, he was discussing the business acumen of his sons, Hank and Hal, and his son-in-law, Steve Swindal, when he said: “You don’t want to let go, but I’m going to let go. After this many years and so many ups and downs, if I can deliver a championship, I can feel like I can step aside.”

But minutes later, Steinbrenner called back to say that he did not mean to say that a 27th Yankees championship would trigger his retirement, only that he might slow down a bit.

“I didn’t say I’d step aside,” he said, “but there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when I’m going to step aside and let the young elephants in the tent. This is not a retirement announcement. What I mean is that the young elephants, the young sons and the son-in-law, will be more and more active.”

Love him or hate him, the Yankees will be forever altered when the old elephant shuffles along. I’ve mostly disliked Boss George since I started rooting for the Yankees in 1979, but I’m also grateful that he’s been dedicated in providing us with a winning team, despite of his unsavory methods. I’ve been thinking a lot about the day when he’s gone this summer. Everything that I know about the Yankees, the way they operate with free agents, with the media, with the rest of the league, is rooted in the Steinbrenner Era. I can’t help but wonder if I’ll actually miss the big bully when he’s gone.

In the late 1980′s and early ’90′s, I remember wishing that George would not only leave the Yankees, but God’s green earth as well. It was the only way the Yankees would have a chance to win again I figured. Of course since then, George has enjoyed a Nixonian twilight. Some teams wish they had a guy like Steinbrenner running their team—just ask Christian Ruzich.

Just goes to show, you got to be careful what you wish for, huh?

MADDUX STUCKS

Greg Maddux failed in his second attempt to win his 15th game of the season last night. Javy Lopez caught Maddux for the first time since Christ was a Cowboy, and the Maddog left with a three run lead. But Atlanta’s bullpen coughed up both the lead and the game. David Pinto has several good posts regarding Maddux over at Baseball Musings for those of you who are interested.

WAKE ME UP WHEN THEY’VE WON

I struggled to keep my eyes open last night as I watched HBO’s “Curse of the Bambino” documentary. And believe me, it was a struggle. The hour-long show was a bit better than the Yankeeography slop that the YES network churns out regularly, but it was far from memorable. Judging by his performance as the show’s narrator, it appears as if Ben Affleck had a hard time staying awake too. Affleck comes off like a rank amatuer, and is ill-suited for the job at hand.

The show is essentially a slight, self-aggrandizing tribute to Red Sox Nation. Thanks primarily to historian Glenn Stout, there is more balance and attention to accuracy than can be found on any Yankeeography. But overall, the show was unfocused and trite, rehashing familiar moments. Perhaps, if you are a Sox fan, the show was oddly gratifying. I found it a bore, which is a shame, because the Sox are such a rich subject.

If you are a Chicago fan, I’m sure you are thinking, “Cry me a river, fellas.” Of course, the highlight of the piece was getting to see Edward Cossette’s fat head. Edward had several quotes that made the cut, and my only complaint is that there wasn’t even more of him.

FREAKS

Ben Jacobs has another nifty analysis over at Universal Baseball Blog, Inc. This time, he compares the freak Alfonso Soriano with the super freak Vlad Guerrero. Larry Mahnken gives his take on ‘Lil Sori too. Good stuff, men.

O’S CAN’T SPOIL YANKS WINNING WAYS

Rocket Clemens pitched seven innings and allowed two earned runs, which was good enough to notch the 308th win of his career. Derek Jeter had two hits, Godziller collected 3 RBI, and the Yanks beat the O’s again, this time by the score of 6-3. The Yankees’ number for clincing the division is down to seven games.

In Boston, Pedro Martinez pitched a complete game, and the Sox edged the D Rays, 3-2. The Red Sox are now 2 1/2 games ahead of the Mariners, who lost to Texas. Alex Rodriguez smacked his 44th home run of the year; Rob Neyer thinks it’s time for us to stop worrying and love the bomb—give the man the MVP already. Here, here.

This is not a good time to be a Mariners fan.

BOMBDIGGIDDY

Last night was gravy night for the Yanks in Baltimore as they pounded the O’s, 13-1. Andy Pettitte won his 19th game of the year and will likely have two shots at winning 20 for the second time in his career. ‘Lil Sori hit two homers and has now reached the 30-30 club in consecutive seasons. Soriano led off the game with a blast, his 11th lead off dinger of the year, which puts him one behind Brady Anderson for the single season record. Aaron Boone added two homers of his own.

Jason Giambi hit his 39th of the year and collected his 100th RBI; not to be outdone, Hideki Matsui, fresh off his Pimpzilla fashion display, notched his 100th RBI as well. Jorge Posada added bases clearing double for his three RBI and he now has 95 on the year (his career high is 99).

Since beating the Red Sox 3-1 in New York nine days ago, the Yankees are on a roll. Even my pessimistic arse doesn’t have much to crow about these days. Instead, I’m grateful that we’ll get another opportunity to experience playoff baseball in New York. Joe Torre and the Yanks are gearing themselves up for the post season. According to The New York Times:

With a 92-57 record coming into tonight’s game with the Orioles, the Yankees had a two-and-a-half-game lead over Oakland for the best record in the league and, thus, for home-field advantage in a possible A.L.C.S. But Torre is mindful of what happened last season, and he will manage accordingly.

“I think there’s a price tag on that,” Torre said, referring to the pursuit of the best record. “You have to decide on what’s more important: being ready to go to the postseason or being concerned about getting that extra game in the championship series. If one works hand in hand with the other, sure, you want to win. But the most important thing is making sure your team is mentally and physically ready to play.”

The Red Sox crushed the Devil Rays in Boston, 8-2 and gained a game on the Mariners, who lost to the Rangers. (The Sox will go down in history as the first team to have nine guys hitting at least .285 with 28 homers and 95 RBI.) Boston is 1 1/2 games up in the wildcard race with 13 games left to play. They trail the Yanks by 5 1/2. It looks as if the Mariners will be the first to wilt, blink, and fade but don’t say that too loudly around any card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation. There is still too much time for something cruel and unusual to happen.

Speaking of which, Ben Affleck narrates an HBO documentary on Red Sox Nation tonight at 10 pm. (Richard Sandomir reviewed it in The Times yesterday…watch out now.) It would be easy to throw potshots at Affleck, but with our ex-mayor being Yankee celebrity fan #1, I think I’ll just keep my mouth shut on this one. I’m going to watch the show in the hopes that Edward Cossette’s talking head made the final cut. It will be a nice day for the blogging community if Ed is indeed in the documentary. Cossette is one of the original baseball bloggers—I believe this is his third season—and continues to put out one of the best columns out there.

Don’t sleep, take a peek.

YANKS HEM ‘EM UP (LIKE BELL BOTTOM JEANS)

As Emily and I continued to unpack this weekend, we had the Yankee games on in the background. On Friday night, she turns to me and says, “You know what? I get really sad when the game gets into the 6th, 7th, 8th innings because it means that the game is almost over.” You can only imagine how excited she was when the Yanks and D-Rays played a day-night double header on Saturday. She was miffed that there wasn’t another double header on Sunday.

Have I picked the right woman or what?

The Yanks won three of four from Tampa Bay and increased their lead over the Red Sox to 5 1/2 games. (The Red Sox lost two of three to Chicago in Boston.) Their magic number for clincing the division stands at nine games with thirteen left to play. It would take a Gene Mauch-like collapse for the Yanks to miss the post season at this point. It’s hard to see Joe Torre going out like that.

It was a wet and humid weekend in New York, and until yesterday’s 5-2 loss, the Bombers had reeled off eight consecutive wins. Jason Giambi is starting to swing the bat well again, and Bernie Williams enjoyed his 35th birthday in style.

Jose Contreras was nasty yesterday and struck out a career-high eight batters. (He then showed off his playa threads as part of an annual rookie hazing after the game.) I don’t have a great feel for him yet. It might not be fair to compare him to El Duque, but I keep thinking about the Yankees’ erstwhile Cubano as I watch Contreras.

Contreras has much better “stuff” than El Duque, but he doesn’t seem to have the same competitive poise. When he gets ahead of batters, and is “on”, Contreras looks impressive. His forkball—a splitter that sinks in a floating motion not unlike a knuckle ball—is especially effective. But when he falls behind, he unravels quickly.

It’s also hard to tell much about Contreras’ personality on the mound. He looks like a sleepy hulk. If El Duque was an international man of mystery–the Yankees version of Yul Brenner, Contreras comes across much more like a gentle giant, our very own Herman Munster (actually, that’s not a great call, but it’s the best I can come up so far…OK, he looks more like a combination of Delroy Lindo and Shrek). Hernandez was a red ass, and he was difficult to deal with when he wasn’t completely healthy, but he also possessed an inimitable style on the mound that Yankee fans won’t soon forget.

It is hard not to be curious about Contreras, especially considering that he’s gonig to be around for a minute. With Antonio Osuna taking a beating again yesterday, it is likely that the big man will serve as a reliever during the playoffs. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen.

YANKS COMPLETE SWEEP ON SOMBER NIGHT IN THE BRONX

Roger Clemens had nasty stuff early on last night, but the evening turned out to be more of a grind than a breeze for the big guy. When the Rocket left, with two outs in the seventh inning, he had thrown 120 pitches. Clemens allowed two runs on seven hits before Gabe White and Mo Rivera closed the door with ease on the Tigers. Nick Johnson hit another dinger, Bernie Williams added his 12th of the year, and Jorge Posada added two RBI (91) to give the Bombers a 5-2 win. The Yankee lead over Boston now stands at four (the Sox had the night off and return home to face the White Sox tonight).

The game moved along at a brisk pace. During the seventh inning stretch, the Yankees played a video tribute in honor of 9.11. The video was characteristically maudlin, but what was truly chilling was the moment the presentation ended, the clock read 9:11.

The Yankees host Tampa Bay for four games at the Stadium starting tonight. Jeff Weaver will get a start in a day-night double header tomorrow.

COMING UP SHORT

Is Mike Mussina the best starting pitcher to have never won 20 games in a season? Ben Jacobs thinks so. Check out his fine article over at Universal Baseball Inc.

OH BOY

I want to offer my apologies to Mike C of Baseball Rants. His wife gave birth to a baby boy last week, and not a baby girl as I initially reported. Congrats are in order either way. Thanks for setting me straight Murray.

DO YOU BELIEVE?

Count Boswell in. Tom Boswell, one of the great baseball writers of the last 30 years, believes that this will be the Red Sox year. Hey, if the Angels could do it last year, why not dream big like Jayson Stark and imagine a Sox/Cubs World Serious, right?

You would think that veteran writers would know better than to choose Boston, despite the very real evidence that the Sox could in fact pull it off. Even Boswell’s wife knows this:

To this day, my wife will not watch an important Red Sox game. Why? “Because it will make them lose.” She’s not much of a sports fan. But she got a proper New England education. If you put hope in the Sox, they will lose. Yet for eons that hope lingered, until the hope itself became an anchor.

But that’s what makes all of this fun. The bigger the expectations, the bigger the celebration, or in the case that history repeats itself, the harder the fall.

As soon as I finished reading Boswell’s article, I recieved the following news from Lee Sinins:

Redsox RF Trot Nixon’s strained left calf is expected to keep him out of
the lineup until at least the weekend. But, BP’s Will Carroll is reporting
that it might be serious enough to put the rest of the season in jeopardy.

What if the White Sox end up being the “cursed” team to win it all?

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