"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: January 2004

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TROUBLE IN TITLE TOWN

Tim Marchman has a good piece in The New York Sun today about why Yankee fans should be concerned about the coming season:

The lack of depth exposed by Booneís injury has the club seriously considering such third-base options as Tyler Houston and failed prospect Drew Henson. Neither can cover for Derek Jeterís defensive shortcomings with their range and sure-handedness, as Boone was expected to; this is a big problem given the ground-ball tendencies of several of the clubís new pitchers.

All this rightly worries Bronx boosters. Yet even taken together, these problems are little compared to the clubís real, tripartite crisis: huge commitments to declining veterans, a desiccated farm system, and chaos among the best management team the Yankees have had since the 1950s.

Y’uh-oh. But we already know this, right? Marchman concludes:

Whatís to be done? Nothing.The Yankees invested massively in superstar talent, leaving nothing aside for contingencies; that canít be easily fixed, and results from an inflexible organizational approach.This is a team that doesnít have a single adequate reserve on the roster capable of taking over if frontline players go down, and Iíd be shocked if Boone were the only one to go down. Giambi, in particular, is worrisome, as the knee injury that made him incapable of playing in the World Series is the same one that prematurely ended Mark McGwireís career.

If things go well, this team is of course capable of being the best in baseball and winning World Series. But this season could also be the beginning of an ugly and epic collapse.

I think Tim is correct in stating that the Yankees are a high-risk/high-reward proposition. Things could turn sour quickly, or the Yankees could make it to the playoffs, and maybe even the Serious again. One thing is certain: It sure won’t be dull in the BX this summer. But then again, it rarely is.

COOPERSTOWN CONFIDENTIAL

HOT STOVE EDITION

By Bruce Markusen

(Reprinted at Bronx Banter with the permission of the author.)

Yankee Doodles

In spite of the acquisitions of veteran free agents Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Tom “Flash” Gordon, and Paul Quantrill, itís been a winter of discontent for many in Yankee fandom. Most Pinstriped diehards have already vented frustration over the failure to aggressively pursue homegrown Bomber Andy Pettitte (which might have served as a preemptive strike against the Astros and their offseason plan to sign the resident Texan), the lukewarm interest in free agent prize Vladimir Guerrero, the continued signings of older players in their mid to late-thirties, and the failure to address the teamís near abysmal defensive scheme. The Yankees, though still talented and ever capable of reaching the World Series for a sixth time in seven years, are a less likeable bunch than most of their predecessors dating back to 1995, which means that many of their fans have placed an even higher premium on winning it all. Otherwise, George Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, and perhaps even Joe Torre will hear a season-long wrath filled with “I told you soís” and “What were you thinkingís?”

The latest offseason setback canít be blamed on the front office or the owner, however. Aaron Booneís ACL tear, which he suffered while foolishly playing pickup basketball in violation of his contract, leaves the Yankees with a serious hole on the left side of their infield. (The Players Association has stepped in and claimed that Boone didnít violate the contract, but Booneís already admitted to his mistake. The Association is trying to say that Boone didnít breach his contract because he wasnít playing basketball in a professional league, which is a simply laughable argument.) Letís hope the Yankees donít try to kid themselves into thinking that some makeshift platoon of Miguel Cairo and Enrique Wilson will fill the bill in 2004; in a stacked division where the Red Sox may have already established themselves as favorites, the Yankees need a real third baseman, preferably one whose strength is on the defensive side of the field. Cairo and Wilson are middle-infield utility types; neither has a tremendous amount of experience on the corner and neither can hit well enough to play every day.

Whom do the Yankees turn to? In the short term, theyíre ready to take a flyer on ex-Phillie Tyler Houston, who lost his place on Larry Bowaís Christmas card list but has quietly signed a minor league deal with the Pinstripes. Houstonís an intriguing option, but heís a below-average defender at best, doesnít hit left-handers, and is better suited to filling a bench role as a backup infielder and third-string catcher. Coming off an excellent season as a pinch-hitter in Philadelphia, Houston could very well make the Yankeesí 25-man roster, but itís not likely to be as the everyday third baseman.

So whoís the answer to the Yankeesí newly developed hole on the infield? Gary Sheffieldís offer to play third is a noble gesture, but the Yankeesí infield defense is already well below average and canít sustain another position filled with unnecessary hijinx. Drew Henson can barely play at the Triple-A level, so the Yankees shouldnít dare think that he might be anything near adequate in the Bronx. Erick Almonte isnít out of the question, but the fact that he was dumped from the 40-man roster over the winter

DODGER BLUES?

For all of the latest on the state of the Los Angeles Dodgers, get yourself over to Dodger Thoughts on the double and check out what Jon Weisman has to say (and it ain’t all pretty).

MCSOLD

Frank McCourt has finally bought the Los Angeles Dodgers. The owners approved McCourt’s bid for $430 million today. It is too late for the Dodgers to capitalize on the off-season free agent market. But hopefully, this once-great organization will now have some much-needed direction and stability. David Pinto expects changes.

DREAMIN’

Like many of us baseball fans, George Vecsey probably doesn’t have much to do these days but dream warm thoughts. Some Yankee fans have been dreaming about pairing Alex Rodriguez with Derek Jeter on the left side of the Yankees’ infield since November (while others are mortally offended by the notion that Jeter would be the one asked to move to third). It is a nice, unrealistic, dream. Today, we can add Vecsey to the list of dreamers who think the Yankees should try and land Rodriguez.

This is a very slow news day in New York, folks. The pressing news is that the Bombers have respectfully declined Gary Sheffield’s offer to play third base (so much for Aaron Gleeman’s “Infield of Doom”), while former-Yankee utility man Todd Zeile has some less than complimentary things to say about his former employers. According to The Daily News:

“I have no desire to play again for that organization,” said Zeile, who appeared in 66 games for the Yanks last season before finishing the year in Montreal. “I don’t know that they’d have a desire to bring me back, so I don’t want to be presumptuous in that regard. (But) I thought I was going to get more playing time – as it turned out, I didn’t. I think some of the things that happen over there are different than in any other organization in baseball.”

… “Every day is potentially the end-all,” he said. “It’s whatever they need that day. It can sometimes be unsettling for people in role positions there. I don’t really have a desire to get back into that mix.”

I can’t muster up the energy to comment. Thanks for the memories Todd. Fortunately, things are a bit more lively down in Tampa and gasp, Detroit. Pudge, say it ain’t so, bro. Talk about playing yourself. Yeesh.

MO BETTER BLUES

The first time I ever came close to entertaining the notion of rocking a Boston Red Sox jersey was when Mo Vaughn wore number 42 for them in the mid ’90s. Entertaining was as far as it would get, though I have to admit after visiting Fenway Park in the summer of 1999, and browsing through the gear shops across the way from the stadium, the Sox have some great stuff to wear. But let’s be real: Me Hatfield, them McCoy. It’s never going to happen.

But if it were, I’d still probably choose to rock Mo’s number 42. I thought he was a great player up there, and a terrific part of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. He was also the first black player to be truly embraced in Boston without apologies (and I’m not counting Tiant because he was Latin). No small feat, indeed. By the time he arrived in New York to play with the Mets, Vaughn’s career had been unfortunately reduced to a series of fat jokes. I could never get with that, and was sorry to see such a promising career hit the skids so quickly after he left Boston.

I’m sure I linked Ben Jacobs’ appreciation of Vaughn a few weeks ago, but if I didn’t, here it is again. Gordon Edes also had a nice piece on Vaughn in his Notes column in The Globe last weekend. Despite his ugly departure from New England, and his rapid decline, Vaughn remains a fan favorite in Red Sox Nation. And that’s the way it should be.

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

Rob Neyer and Steven Goldman add their takes on what the Yankees will do to fix the sudden problem at third base. Cliff Corcoran is back for more, and Shawn Bernard rates the defense of some of the possible candidates to replace Aaron Boone.

Meanwhile, Tom Boswell joins the chorus of critics who think the Yankees’ front office have made some suspect decisions this winter:

What odds could you have gotten last fall that Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, David Wells and Jeff Weaver — four-fifths of the New York rotation last year with 120 starts among them — would all be pitching for other teams? It’s unparalleled and almost incomprehensible.

Losing Pettitte, largely because George Steinbrenner snubbed him with offseason indifference, may haunt New York for years. Pettitte was penciled in for five more fine seasons and a place next to Whitey Ford. The Yankees can talk all they want about their rebuilt staff, but it’s a bluff. This team is gut-shot. You don’t win titles at Yankee Stadium without a quality southpaw starter. Kevin Brown will be 39 in March and missed half his starts in 2001 and ’02. Pitching depth has always been Joe Torre’s hole card. Now he can’t name his fourth or fifth starter.

At the same time, Boswell likes the boys from Boston:

Hard as it is to accept (without smelling salts), the AL favorite is clearly the Red Sox. Curse or no curse, you can’t get around it. The Red Sox are now the overdogs. They’re so loaded and rich that they might as well wear pinstripes this season.

I have a feeling that the Red Sox will be the favorites in many a pre-season prognostication. Don’t you?

THIS, THAT AND THE THIRD

Mark Feinsand at mlb.com confirms the story that Gary Sheffield has offered to play third for the Bombers, and offers his suggestions about what the Yankees’ options are. Obviously, Sheffield wouldn’t help the Yankees defensively, but I’m sure management appreciates the offer all the same. It’s the kind of move that you would expect from a team-player like Derek Jeter (though it remains to be seen if Jeter would be any better at third than he is at short). Rich Lederer e-mailed me from the west coast this morning and added, “I was thinking how odd it was that Sheffield, a newcomer, had volunteered to plug the gap but that the team’s leader and captain hadn’t stepped forward with a similar offer.”

Meanwhile, John Heyman reports in Newsday that New York has signed Larry Bowa’s favorite son, Tyler Houston to a minor-league contract, so Sheff and Jeter may not have to worry about moving anywhere anytime soon.

AT CLOSE RANGE

Alan Schwarz has an intriguing piece over at Primer about the future of defensive statistics. Don’t look now, but the future is closer than we think:

This spring, Major League Baseballís Internet portal, mlb.com, will install in select parks a three-camera set-up to measure pitch speeds, locations and breaks

DUSTY FINGERS

SOMETHING LIKE CRATE DIGGIN’

Over at Baseball Primer’s “Clutch Hits,” my man Repoz searches the Internet and finds choice stories like Lord Finesse and Diamond D dig in the crates and find ill beats. Yesterday, Repoz linked a little gem on Mudcat Grant. The article is about the influence Grant’s mother had on his life:

Grant learned forgiveness from Viola. Thatís also where he learned religious tolerance. Before beginning to play pro ball in Fargo, N.D., his mother had a request. Although a Baptist, she wanted him to attend other services. Episcopalian. Jewish. Catholic. Mormon.

“I was the laughingstock of Fargo,” Grant said. “They said, ‘Did that ballplayer come by your church yet?í ”

After the season, Grant returned home and told his mother about the other churches.

“She said, ‘Do you know why I sent you to do that?í ” Grant said. “I said, ‘No.í She said, ‘When you die and go to heaven, if you think that the only people youíre going to see is Baptist, God is going to slap you upside the head.í “

Mother knows best.

SO FINE?

Here is an e-mail I received from reader Adam Birbrower today, listing his Bottom 10 Gay Icons:

10. Pete Rose
9. Al Harbosky
8. Greg Luzinski
7. Billy Martin
6. Yogi Berra
5. Ralph Kiner
4. Chad Curtis
3. Tom Lasorda
2. John Rocker
1. Popeye Zimmer

Speaking of Gay porn and Gay Icons, here is my vote for potential Gay Icon most likely to be be a Gay porn star (or something like that): Pete LaCock.

BEEFCAKE IN BOY TOWN

Alex Ciepley is an openly gay baseball blogger who doesn’t often write about gay issues, regardless of his provocatively titled blog, “Ball Talk.” He follows the Cubs, has a succinct and crisp writing style, and is a shrewd analyst. But today he offers us some fluff: “Baseball’s Top Ten Gay Icons.” You might be surprised at some of the guys who made the list. Anyway, this is a fun article, and Ciepley’s comments are both enlightening (for this straight fan) as well as amusing. I hope to see more of this kind of writing from Ciepley as the season unfolds.

COMING OUT

There is a very interesting story coming out of Cleveland today. Dig the AP report:

Indians minor league pitcher Kazuhito Tadano is asking for forgiveness for what he called a one-time mistake — his appearance in a gay porn video in which he engaged in a homosexual act.

Tadano took part in the video three years ago when he was a college student. Sitting in Cleveland’s clubhouse Tuesday, he said he hoped to put his actions in the past.

“All of us have made mistakes in our lives,” Tadano said, reading a statement in English. “Hopefully, you learn from them and move on.”

Shunned by Japanese baseball teams, the 23-year-old Tadano signed with the Indians last March. They think he can make their club this spring.

I likeDavid Pinto’s take on this over at Baseball Musings:

It seems to me an openly gay ballplayer can’t be too far into the future. A team with young players, like Cleveland, may be the right place for the first homosexual ballplayer. After all, these young men have grown up in a much more tolerant society than I did (I was born in 1960), and may not think it’s such a big deal.

Last year, Buster Olney shared his feelings about this subject with me:

It’s interesting cause when I covered the Padres Billy Bean was on the that team…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.

The young Indians have more in common with that Padres team than they do with the big market squads in New York:

If he pitches well during spring training, Tadano could win a spot in Cleveland’s bullpen. Whenever he joins the Indians, pitcher C.C. Sabathia says Tadano will be welcomed.

“This is the right team and the right organization for him,” Sabathia said. “We have good guys here. Everybody has done something that they regret in their lives. He’s a person just like everyone else.”

Homosexuality is one of the last great taboos in American team sports. Let’s hope it doesn’t remain that way for too much longer.

WHO’S ON THIRD? I DON’T KNOW

YANKS GET THE GAS FACE

Baseball Prospectus offered two stellar articles on the Aaron Boone situation yesterday. The first was written by Andrew Baharlias, a lawyer who worked as staff counsel to the Yankees from 1997-02 (subscription is required). Baharlias reviews the technicalities of the case, and offers an insiders take on what the Yankees will do now. The second piece “Bye, Bye Boonie,” features the kind of irreverent humor and insight that we’ve come to expect from Derek Zumsteg (again, subscription is required).

Zumsteg confirms what Bob Klapisch, Tyler Kepner, Mark Hale, and Sam Borden have written: There is no desirable bodies out there to play third for the Yanks. Nobody. According to Kepner:

“It’s thin,” Cashman said yesterday, referring to the third base market. “This is not the time of year and definitely not the position you want to be looking for. I don’t anticipate finding one externally for quite some time.”

Boone would most likely have been the No. 9 hitter in a loaded lineup. The Yankees can get by without his bat, but they will greatly miss his defense. “The biggest issue for me is defense and support for our pitching staff,” Cashman said. “Boone is a tremendous defensive player with a lot of range. That’s going to hurt more than losing his offense. But we’re not there yet.”

And Bob Klapisch reports:

Of course, no one has yet concluded that Boone’s season is over, at least not until the medical tests are complete. Cashman indicated the third baseman would likely “fly all over the country” to see a number of specialists in the next two weeks. That explains why the Yankees never formally announced Boone’s injury to the public…

Privately, though, executives were startled that Boone was so forthcoming about how he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Considering he was injured in a pick-up basketball game, a clear violation of his contract, Boone is in danger of being released by the Yankees and having his $5.75 million salary voided. In this case, Boone’s honesty could prove to be expensive.

Said one Yankee executive, “do you know how often GMs hear from a player, “I hurt myself on the treadmill?” And you’re like, “right.” But when a guy says that, there’s nothing you can do.”

After thinking about it some, I have to give Boone some credit for being honest. A cynic will call him a sucker, but it shows that he’s got a conscience. However, as Baharlias surmised, “Unfortunately, New York is the place where contract language trumps contrition every time out; truth is no defense when you’ve signed on the dotted line.”

Looks like the Yankees, and their fans will have to sit on this one for a minute. Unless of course you believe that the Bombers would seriously consider Gary Sheffield’s offer to man the hot corner (hmmm). In the meantime, thanks to Rich Lederer (whose latest piece examines the career of Lefty Grove), here is an excerpt of classic comedy to keep you laughing, or keep you from crying, depending on where you sit…

Costello: What’s the guy’s name on first base?

Abbott: No. What is on second.

Costello: I’m not asking you who’s on second.

Abbott: Who’s on first.

Costello: I don’t know.

Abbott: He’s on third, we’re not talking about him.

Costello: Now how did I get on third base?

Abbott: Why you mentioned his name.

Costello: If I mentioned the third baseman’s name, who did I say is playing third?

Abbott: No. Who’s playing first.

Who is on third? Heck, isn’t that MC Serch I see? Or is it the Prime Minister, Pete Nice?

WHO’S ON THIRD?

Although the full details of Aaron Boone’s injury are not available yet, reports in The Daily News and The New York Times elaborate on Tom Verducci’s scoop this morning. According to Tyler Kepner:

Boone told the Yankees last Monday that he had injured himself playing basketball, and the Yankees flinched at the news, even as they appreciated the admission. The injury came at the worst possible time for the Yankees, with virtually every third baseman already signed for the coming season.

“We are currently evaluating the extent of the injury and expect to solicit multiple opinions before providing a complete diagnosis,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said in a statement. “Concerning his contract, I can confirm that there are certain prohibited activities which include basketball.”

While the Yankees won’t miss Boone’s offense, he was the best defensive infielder on the team. So again, who will play third for the Bombers in 2004? The options aren’t exactly encouraging right now. Cliff Corcoran, intrepid Yankee blogger, was up late last night asking himself this very question. Perhaps the Yankees will get creative. David Pinto suggests signing Pudge Rodriguez and moving him to the hot corner:

Peter Gammons did a piece on Pudge’s footwork a few years ago in which it was noted that he moved like a second baseman. Pudge could have easily been in fielder. He has the arm for third base, he has a great bat for third base, and no one else seems to want him. Why not give it a try?

Can’t wait to see what Steven Goldman has to say in his Pinstriped Bible column this week.

BOONE-BOO

DOH!

As if Aaron Boone didn’t already have enough of an uphill climb in his effort to win over Yankee fans this year, Tom Verducci is reporting that Boone suffered a serious knee injury (believed to involve the ACL) playing basketball last week. Boone could miss the entire 2004 season. This sure won’t endear him to the Bleacher Creatures. According to Verducci:

The Yankees will seek all or some relief from the $5.75 million they were to pay Boone this season. Boone, whose dramatic home run ended the epic seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship Series against Boston, avoided arbitration Dec. 1 when he agreed to the one-year deal to return to the Yankees. His contract contains a standard clause that prevents the player from engaging in activities considered to pose significant risk of injury. Basketball is specifically mentioned in the clause as a prohibited activity.

Well, at least this gives us something to talk about. (Will Carroll, what do you hear, what do you say?) The burning question is this: Can the Yankees adequately replace Boone at third at this stage in the game? OK, I’m sure some observers will look at this as a chance to upgrade. Who do you think they’ll target? (And I don’t want to hear about Drew Henson, thank you very much.) I know the Rangers just made Alex Rodriguez their captain, but at least now we can still dream Steven Goldman’s dream.

Roy Smalley, Aaron Boone, Mr. Boone, Mr. Smalley. Pedigree doesn’t necessarily mean a thing in pinstripes, huh?

A-MEN

Alex Rodriguez was in New York last night to pick up his American League MVP award, but is making headlines this morning as the Rangers announced that he’s been made team captain. Does this mean the A Rod-to-Boston deal is finally dead? Gordon Edes in The Globe thinks so. So how did the latest twist in A Rod’s off-season come about? The Rangers’ owner provided some answers:

“This was the first time we’ve all been in the same location since the trade fell apart,” said Hicks, noting that Rodriguez and his wife had just returned from a European vacation.

“We spent five hours together and worked through the inevitable issues that build up when you go through something like this. As is often the case, two or three issues are amplified in the process to 10 or 12 issues, but we worked through those issues very quickly and put them behind us.”

One of those issues was the contentious relationship that had developed between Rodriguez and Showalter, who reportedly had made futile attempts to contact Rodriguez since the end of last season.

“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Hicks said of the reported friction between the men. “You see it in business all the time, a lack of communication. But they had a chance yesterday to look each other in the eye, they had a chance to talk, and they both realize they want to win a championship.”

Brooklyn Blogger Adam Dlugacz was on the scene and filed a report over at Zimmer’s Way:

A-Rod told a story about how after the trade failed to go through he had gone to Europe to get away from things. At first he liked that no one knew he was, he didn’t say where he went, but he admitted that after a few days he missed being recognized. (It’s amazing, Babe Ruth had the same experience when he first went to Europe, and complained about his lack of attention bitterly. The players almost need to be reminded of who they are.) Finally, on his last day there were three kids who appeared to recognize A-Rod. He admitted that he was craved the attention and was excited as the kids approached him. However, instead of asking for an autograph all three kids, in broken english, began chanting “Let’s Go Yankees!”

I should note that Cashman and A-Rod were sitting next to each other. And, A-Rod talked about how much he loved New York City. I honestly think that Boston, as a state would commit suicide if he came to the Bronx.

For now, it appears as if Rodriguez isn’t going anywhere soon. But then again, stranger things have happened.

Oh, and just to wrap up my thoughts on “In America,” there is something that I forgot to mention about the rendition of “Desperado.” Fortunately, Larry Abraham sent me an e-mail and hit the nail on the head when he observed:

I thought that the “Desperado” moment was one of the best in the movie. What I picked up on–I missed the knowing quality of her voice–was her pronunciation of the word “desperado”–with that British “a” from “flat” instead of the “ah” that we Americans expect. For me it captured how she was both quintessentially Irish and–as a cowboy–quintessentially American.

I caught that too. Thank you for noting it Larry.

IN TUNE

There is a sequence about two-thirds of the way through Jim (“My Left Foot”) Sheridan’s fine new movie, “In America” that will likely remain in my memory for a long time. The film is about a young Irish couple who move to Hell’s Kitchen in New York with their two young daughters (ages ten, and six, I’d guess). They have very little money, and they live in a dilapidated building on Manhattan’s West Side populated with junkies and derilicts. Essentially, the story is about their struggle to get over the accidental death of their young son.

Samantha Morton, who was brilliant as Sean Penn’s silent foil in “Sweet and Lowdown” stars, but all of the actors are terrific. Anyhow, the sequence that stood out for me was when the ten-year old sings the Eagles’ tune “Desperado” on stage at her school’s recital. The choice of the song came as a surprise, especially coming from a young Irish girl. The director shows a montage of images as she sings, and her voice is soft and light, but not exactly innocent (the character has seen too much for that). The sequence is a reminder of just how emotionally powerful pop music can be when used with sensitivity and care.

Some filmmakers, like Stanley Kubrick and recently Q. Tarrantino, are famous for their selection of source music. But these two are overtly clever and ironic in their approach; the songs may stick with you, but often they have a look-at-me-Ma quality to them as well. Martin Scorsese too is revered for his attention to music, and in his early films, like “Mean Streets” and even “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” the songs don’t simply serve as a commentary on the character’s lives, they feel like independent characters themselves.

Perhaps nobody built a reputation for their use of pop music more than the British playwright Dennis Potter did. His two masterworks–both six-part mini-series made for TV–”Pennies From Heaven,” and “The Singing Detective” were fantastic examples of this. When asked, “Why do popular songs have so much power in your work?” Potter replied:

Because I don’t make the mistake that high-culture mongers do of assuming that because people like cheap art, their feelings are cheap, too. When people say, “Oh listen, they’re playing our song,” they don’t mean “Our song, this little cheap, tinkling, syncopated piece of rubbish, is what we felt when we met.” What they’re saying is, “That song reminds us of that tremendous feeling we had when we met.”

Jim Sheridan understand this, and allows the deep emotions that can be associated with a trivial pop song to pour over the audience. I’ve never cared much for The Eagles, but I sure won’t be able to hear “Desperado” without thinking of that little girl again. (I feel the same way about Leonard Cohen’s self-titled record and Robert Altman’s “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” too.)

I think “In America” is well worth your ten bucks, and if you want a real treat, I would also strongly suggest that you rent Potter’s “The Singing Detective”–which was recently released on DVD–as well. With a couple of months of winter left, it’s an ideal way to pass the time.

GUESSING GAME

Here is the second excerpt I promised from Geoffrey Stokes’ “Pinstripe Pandemonium.” This one involves hitting, and there was nobody on those old Yankee teams who thought, taught, talked, and lived hitting like Lou Pinella. (One of the greatest images I have of Pinella–and I don’t remember where I first read this–is of him standing up in his wife’s bed in the middle of the night, looking in the mirror, practicing his stance. I wonder if a cigarette was ever dangling from his lips as he inspected his form.) So without further ado, here is Sweet Lou:

In this league at least, the really successful hitters guess a lot. I know that once I’ve seen a pitcher three or four times–certainly once I’ve seen him for three or four games–I have a pretty good idea what he’s going to do in certain situations. That’s why a batter loves to see the count at two-and-oh or three-and-one. You know the guy out there’s gotta throw it over the plate, so you zone the ball. You decide ahead of time where he’s gonna put it–low, high, inside, outside–and what kind of pitch he’s going to throw, and you narrow your strike zone to that pitch. If it’s somewhere else, let it go by; he’s still gotta give you one or two more chances to hit the ball. But if it’s there, you’re ready for it. That’s when you get your extra-base hits, and that’s when you get pitchers in trouble, because once you’re on base, he’s got to pitch a little differently. He doesn’t want the big inning, so he’s going to pitch a little more cautiously. What you’ve done is you’ve taken some options away, made him a little more predictable, and if he gets behind the next batter, then he’s really in trouble.

There are a lot of good pitchers in the league–there aren’t any bad ones, that’s for sure–but there’s only a handful of great ones. Those are the guys who can either challenge you and get away with it–put it right in your zone and dare you to hit it–or the ones who consisntenly outguess you, who always have you lookin’ at the three-and-one strike. But even with them, you’ve gotta make your own guess and get ready for a ball in your zone, because once or twice a game, even those guys are gonna lose their rhythm or try to do too much with a ball, and if you’re not ready, that’s a real lost opportunity. The only real difference between the good pitchers and the great ones is that the great ones don’t yield to the situation around them. They’re kind of self-contained, and they’re gonna make you hit their pitch, not yours.

End of lesson. Thank you Mr. Stokes and Mr. Lou. Pitchers and catchers in three weeks.

CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC

Two years ago I roped my cousin Gabe into an idea I had for a book. He’s a Mets fan and of course, I root for the Yanks. We started to exchange e-mails during the 2001 season and I thought it would be great to compile a book of e-mails exchanged between a Met and Yankee fan over the course of a season. Well, I don’t know how good the book would have been, but by the middle of the summer in 2002, we realized it wasn’t going to fly.

The best thing that came out of the experience–other than being treated to Gabe’s almost daily e-mails–was that I got in the habit of writing about baseball every day. And that set me up to eventually start the blog you are now reading (incidentally, Gabe is editing the Curt Flood book I’m writing for Young Adults).

I really like the idea of a correspondence between a Met and Yankee fan, and now, there is a blog devoted to such an endeavor, called “Yankees, Mets and the Rest.” Head on over and see what Scott and Vinny have in store for us.

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