"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: January 2004

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FRIDAY FUN

I don’t know if you’ve been over to Jay Jaffe’s site, The Futility Infielder this week, but if you haven’t, and are interested in the pending sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, not to mention other Bud Selig-related items, make some time this weekend and check out the great work Jay has been doing.

Speaking of his Budness, Rob Neyer has an entertaining article that briefly touches on the legacy of all the baseball commisioners, from Landis to Selig.

And to finish off the subject of yesterday’s tryouts by El Duque and Maels Rodriguez, peep this article from The Miami Herald, as well as reports by Will Carroll and Bryan Smith. For what it’s worth, El Duque was one of my favorite Yankees ever. Even if he is broken-down and ornery, I sure would be happy to see him back, for the entertainment value alone. I don’t know if it makes good baseball sense, but since when do I have good baseball sense? I just want to see Posada and Duque drive each other nuts again.

GORILLIA MY DREAMS

As the sporting world awaits the Super Bowl, baseball news is squarely fixed on the back-burner. That will start to change in a few weeks, but for now, good baseball stories are hard to come by. (I know you are feelin’ my pain.) So I thought I’d share a couple of excerpts with you from a slept-on little gem called “Pinstripe Pandemonium.” Written by Geoffrey Stokes, a reporter from The Villiage Voice, the book follows the Bronx Bombers throughout the 1983 season. It is a slim, but shrewdly observed, and well-written book.

The Hall of Fame voters recently passed Goose Gossage over once again, but many Baseballists—a nifty phrase coined by Jay Jaffe—feel that if any reliever is qualified for induction, it is Gossage. Described by Stokes as “curiously shy,” the Colorado native talked about the stress that accompanies being a closer:

“Sometimes, after a bad loss, I’m amazed that I can go out there the next day and do anything at all. But fortunately,” he grinened, “there’s this gorilla in me that just takes over.

“Of course,” he added, returning to the subject of rhythm, “when it does, somebody’s gotta keep it on a leash. I don’t care how fast you throw; if you throw nothing but fastballs, there are hitters in this league that are gonna catch up to you. Somone’s gotta slow me down.

“But that’s hard for a cather to do. If I’m gonna get beat, I want to get beat on my best pitch, not on some off-speed thing that’s just supposed to set the fastball up. But what happens is, I get out there, and I throw a ball at ninety-five miles an hour easy, so I just gather up my strength and try humming the sombitch at a hundred. I’m out there, and I feel that with just a little more effort, I could throw the sucker right through the catcher–and maybe halfway through the umpire, too.

“The thing is, it doesn’t go as fast, ’cause my asshole’s tight. It’s pretty hard to throw a ball with one hand around your throat. And when that happens, even before everybody’s turning around to watch the fuckin’ home run, it affects the team. It’s like your kids; when they see fear in your face, they get afraid too, even if they don’t know why. In the clubhouse of at the hotel, everbody’s got his own personality. But when I’m out there with runners on second and third, one out, and a one-run lead, I’m responsible for the whole team.”

Gossage has become an arch-type for a certain kind of closer: snarling, physically imposing, flame-throwing. Dennis Eckersley, a control expert, who specialized in taunting and humiliating his opponent, is another. And now, so is Mariano Rivera, master of the single pitch, who is so cool that it barely looks like he’s awake out there sometimes. But no matter the personality, all succesful closers thrive off the responsibility of having the game in their hands. Gossage concludes:

“The only thing about [closing] is you can’t take it home with you. It’s not like I’m a starter and I have to think about it for five days, have to spend my time saying ‘Damn, that was a stupid pitch.’ Except for the playoffs or the Series, there’s always tomorrow. You know, it’s like hunting. ‘Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you.’”

What’s that some sort of Eastern Philosophy? Far from it.

TRYIN’ OUT

Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez threw 35 pitches in front of a group of scouts yesterday at the University of Miami. The headline in The Times today reads, “Hernandez’s Workout Hard to Rate,” which seems appropriate because so much about El Duque has always been hard to figure. The scouts were divided on what they saw. According to Charlie Nobles in The Times:

[El Duque's] less-than-inspiring velocity left some teams wondering how to rate him.

“It’s tough to evaluate that performance,” said Mark Wiedemaier, a special assistant to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ general manager. “It looked like he was playing catch.”

Al Goldis, the recently hired talent assessor serving as a high-level assistant to Mets General Manager Jim Duquette, chose his words carefully in describing his reaction to Hern

MOVIN ON UP

David Pinto, whose Baseball Musings is one of the most prolific and popular baseball blogs going, is going to work for Baseball Information Solutions–the company behind “The Bill James Handbook”—as a programmer. Pinto has previously worked inside the industry for Stats Inc. as well as ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. Check out David’s post today for the skinny on his new gig. The good news for us is that Baseball Musings isn’t going anywhere.

A well-deserved and hearty Mazel goes out to David. I wish him all the luck in the world with this exciting opportunity.

NEVER TAKIN’ SHORTS CAUSE BROOKLYN’S THE BOROUGH

“Those who come from Brooklyn know just what I’m talking…” MC Lyte

Developer Bruce Ratner has reached a tentative agreement to buy the New Jersey Nets for $300 million. As you have probably heard already, he would like nothing more than to move the team—originaly from Long Island—to Brooklyn. The Nets’ lease in New Jersey doesn’t run out until 2008, and Ratner faces a myriad of obstacles in getting a state-of-the-art facility built in Brooklyn. Still, the news has a lot of New Yorkers excited. The proposed arena would be built near the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is at the heart of the borough’s recent gentrification, just a stones throw away from Fort Greene, and Park Slope. Mark McClusky links several good articles regarding the pro’s and con’s of the prospective site for Brooklynites. While I think the notion of Brooklyn having its own franchise again is romantic and fitting, the reality is too far off for me to get too amped up yet.

CLOSED

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci has a column this week about closers and the Hall of Fame. Essentially, Verducci believes that closers are similar to kickers in football, and that it is fitting that is has been difficult for them to reach the Hall:

There is one kicker in the NFL Hall of Fame: Jan Stenerud. There are three closers in the baseball Hall of Fame: Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley. That sounds about right to me. These guys are specialists and as such deserve a more critical eye when weighing their careers.

Verducci is skeptical about whether Bruce Sutter should make it, and he compares Mariano Rivera’s career to Troy Percival’s. The two have awfully similar regular season numbers, though Rivera still comes out on top:

Of course, Rivera has something else in his favor. He has been knighted as The Greatest Postseason Reliever in History. Rivera has thrown 96 postseason innings (15 percent of his career regular-season total) and allowed only eight earned runs, a 0.75 ERA. Those numbers alone, like Eckersley’s solid years as a starter, could put Rivera over the top when voters consider his career.

Rivera is the specialist’s specialist. Someday he might break through the bias writers have against relievers, a bias that deserves to be in place.

Speaking of specialists, Jesse Orosco, who will turn 47 in April, is finally calling it quits. Mama, pray your babies grown up to be southpaws…

LEADING OFF…

Seth Stohs is running a preview of major league hitters and pitchers for the upcoming fantasy baseball season. But his preview will be of interest to the casual baseball fan as well. Stop by, and check out what Seth makes of your favorites (Stohs is addressing offense first: yesterday was the AL Central, today gives the AL East).

KEEPERS

While the Red Sox brass dismissed the latest Alex Rodriguez trade rumor yesterday, they came to terms with Trot Nixon and Byung-Hyun Kim. Nixon, who has been with Boston longer than any other player on their roster, signed a one-year deal ($6.6 million) while Kim inked a two-year contract ($10 million). Nixon has been a fine player for Boston. Not only that but he’s always looked like a Red Sox to me. Even if he hasn’t been their greatest player, when I think of the Red Sox, I think: Trot Nixon. I would hope that Boston will try to sign him after the 2004 season, but Tony Massarotti thinks the Red Sox could disgard Nixon’s current contract in favor of a three-year deal during spring training.

MEET THE METS

The Mets launched the 2004 season with the start of their annual caravan yesterday in Grand Central Station. Forgetting their insipid new slogan, “Catch the Energy,” there is reason to look forward to the coming year at Shea. After all, the Mets have no where to go but up. While the Metropolitans didn’t make a big splash their fans were hoping for by signing Vlad Guerrero, who knows, they still may consider trading for Magglio Ordonez (One can always hope). Regardless, it will be exciting to watch Jose Reyes develop alongside his new partner, Kaz Matsui. Mike Cameron too, should give Mets fans—not to mention Mets pitchers—plenty to ooh and ahh about with the glove in centerfield (along with Cliff Floyd, Cameron is one of the more likable outfielders in the league).

But the biggest story in Queens remains Mike Piazza’s transition from full-time catcher, to part-time catcher, part-time first baseman. According to John Harper in The Daily News:

Mike Piazza pledged his allegiance to the ballclub, be it behind the plate or at first base. And if he still wasn’t exactly bubbling with enthusiasm over the idea of his much-debated move to first, at least he seemed committed to making the effort.

“I’ll be ready to play both positions,” Piazza said. “The thing that’s always worked for me is to keep it simple. I’ll work at it and we’ll see how it works out.”

I hope that Piazza is healthy this year and has a terrific season. With the exception of Hubie Brooks and Mookie Wilson, he is my favorite Met player ever. The next ground ball that he doesn’t run out will be his first, he calls a good game, is a solid receiver, and oh yeah, he just happens to be the greatest hitting catcher of all-time.

For more on the Mets, be sure and stop by Steve Keane’s The Eddie Kranepool Society and Avkash Patel’s the raindrops (they both have a full listing of Mets blogs and other Mets-related sources.)

STICKING AROUND

The Yankees avoided arbitration with Alfonso Soriano, who earned $800,000 in 2003. The two sides have agreed on a one-year deal for $5.4 million.

In other news, the A Rod Rumor Mill is starting to churn once again (or is that my stomach?).

EASTWARD HA!

Kaz Sasaki has informed the Seattle Mariners that he will not return to the team in 2004, choosing to remain in Japan. Bryan Smith believes that the Mariners will be able to survive Sasaki’s departure, but he also stresses that Mariner GM Bill Bavasi’s other moves will doom Seattle to a third-place finish in 2004.

THE PITCHING BOOKS ARE COMING, THE PITCHING BOOKS ARE COMING

Fans of baseball literature should be in for a treat this spring, as two highly-anticipated books about pitching will be released. One is a collaboration between Rob Neyer and his former employer, Bill James, “The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers.” The second title is the debut effort by Baseball Prospectus’ injury-guru, Will Carroll. Carroll recently handed in the manuscript for “Saving the Pitcher.” While he’s experiencing some trepidation over how the book will be received, if it is anything like his “Under the Knife” column, it should be insightful, engaging, and above all, educational.

STUCK

When Orlando ‘El Duque’ Hernandez came to the States to pitch for the Yanks in 1998, it wasn’t long before a fairy-tale story accompanied his adventures. Before long, political strings were pulled, and his ex-wife and two children were allowed to join him in the U.S. Jose Contreras, the latest Cuban exile to pitch for New York, is not enjoying the same kind of luck. Contreras recently told the Spanish newspaper, La Prensa that Cuban officials have denied permission for his wife to leave Cuba. They have informed him that she will have to wait four more years before she can apply again.

GUTTER BALL

The Yankees are looking at John Burkett as the insurance arm they need to fill out their rotation. Oy veh. Burkett has spent the last few years with the Red Sox. Whenever he has started against New York, Yankee fans have felt confident that the Bombers could send the old man to the showers by the fifth inning. You think Red Sox Nation will share the sentiment should Burkett pitch against them in 2004? Count on it.

NO HARD FEELINGS (SINSERIOUSLY…)

Nomar Garciaparra isn’t the one. He isn’t going to stir the pot. According to an article by Gordon Edes in The Boston Globe, Garciaparra is taking the high road:

“I focus on the things I can control,” he said, “and the things I can control are focusing on getting ready for the season. I’m not going to feel unsettled. I’m under contract with the Boston Red Sox. I know that. My focus is on getting ready. I look forward to this year.”

And what about the potential drama with teammate Kevin Millar?

…And yes, he insisted, he’s square with Kevin Millar, who has been backtracking ever since he came out in favor of trades that would have brought Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez to Boston, at the expense of Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez.

“Kevin and I are friends,” he said. “We’re friends. We’ve always been friends. Always. There are two sides to every story.”

The story yesterday was this: Whatever bitterness Garciaparra may harbor toward the Sox is tucked away, far from prying eyes. He insists it doesn’t exist. There were no Pedro-like demands that if an extension isn’t agreed upon by the start of the season, he is definitely walking come October.

The Sox and Garciaparra may have gone beyond the point of no return in terms of Nomar’s long-term future in Boston, but I hope that he remains in New England. Call it the traditionalist in me. As much as I love to root against the Sox, I was sad when they let Mo Vaughn get away and would feel the same way if Nomar bolted. I think Garciaparra should be a Red Sox for life.

I THINK WE’RE GUNNA NEED BACK UP

My man Cliff C profiles the Yankees’ new back-up first baseman, Tony Clark over at Cliff’s Big Red Blog. I didn’t realize how young Clark is, or how decent he has been during his career. If used correctly, he should turn out OK for the Bombers:

A Tony Clark/Kenny Lofton platoon (with Bernie shifting to center against lefties) would give the Yankees a tremendous boost. Take a look at those two lines again:

Tony Clark vs. lefty pitching: 2003 – .279/.355/.500 (.285 GPA); 2001 -
.321/.376/.557 (.308 GPA)

Kenny Lofton vs. righties: 2003 – .313/.373/.478 (.287 GPA); ’01-’03 – .281/.354/.442 (.270 GPA)

By way of comparison here are the GPAs for Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano over the past two seasons. Jeter: .289 & .273; Soriano: .283 & .286.

Basically, a Lofton/Clark platoon would give the Yankees another full-time offensive player on the level of a Jeter or Soriano. I just hope Joe Torre’s smart enough to make it happen.

EL JUDIO MARAVILLOSO

The Marvelous Jew

Last weekend, ESPN Classic broadcast Game 7 of the 1965 World Serious. I was only able to catch the last couple of innings, but it was a treat to watch. (It’s amazing how low key the Dodgers celebration was after the final out in comparison to the modern pile-on, and assorted fireworks.) I don’t know why the network doesn’t show more games from the early days of T.V. through the 1970s. (I’m sorry, but I have a hard time considering any game that has been played in the past five years “classic.”) Football fans have been monumentally spoiled by NFL Films. You want to learn about Jim Brown or Sayers or the old Packer teams? It’s all there for you.

But baseball fans who were born after 1970 don’t have the same luxury. By all accounts the 1960s was an exciting era for the game, but I’ve rarely seen games from that period played on TV. (It’s one of the reasons why Roger Angell is so important to our generation; his reporting gives you a good sense of the sights and sounds of the time.) The same goes for the game in the ’70s. Hey, I’d like to watch McCovey, Bonds, Stargell and Dick Allen too. What about Sutter?

While I doubt that we’ll see a change in this sorry state of affairs anytime soon, we should be thankful for the morsels that we are given. Rich Lederer, who grew up watching those Dodger teams in the ’60s, caught the Dodgers-Twins game over the weekend, and has written a terrific appreciation of the Serious and Koufax’s performance in it. He also critiques the sabermetric evaluation of Koufax’s career. A good read on a cold day for sure.

BAIT

Like most Yankee fans, Shawn Bernard suspects that the Bombers will have another starting pitcher by Opening Day. Today, Bernard speculates if Maels Rodriguez, the latest Cuban hot shot pitcher to defect to the States, will be that man. Rodriguez is 24-years old, and can apparently throw smoke. He’s Cuban. That should be all George needs to hear, right? When Rodriguez is allowed to work out for major league teams in a few weeks, expect the Yanks to be pursue him aggresively. Whether or not it makes any sense–for the Yankees or anyone else—we shall soon find out.

YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN (CAN YOU?)

According to ESPN, the Chicago Cubs have made a two-year offer to future Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux. Perhaps feeling the squeeze after the Astros upgraded their staff with a Hall of Famer of their own this week, the Cubs made what seems like a logical offer to Maddux. Maddux wouldn’t have to be the ace of the staff, plus Chicago would get a shot to have the Mad Dog win his 300th game in a Cubbies uniform.

Sounds appealing to me, even though the deal calls for Maddux to make between $6 million and $7 million per year, which would represent a dramatic paycut. It should be especially appealing for all those unemployed, gold-bricking Cubs fans that former manager Lee Elia once lambasted. Oh yeah, I’ve heard that the Cubs are now the Yuppie team of cherce in Chicago. But let us not forget the bleacher bums who were celebrated by Elia in a fateful postgame press conference, back in 1983:

Eighty-five percent of the people in this country work. The other fifteen percent come here and boo my players. They oughta go out and get a fucking job and find out what it’s like to go and a earn a fucking living. Eighty-five percent of the fucking world is working. The other fifteen percent come out here. A fucking playground for the cocksuckers.

Bring Maddux back, Cubbies. Give the bums and the Yuppies some gravy. And then make Ruzich and Carroll really happy and go sign Pudge to boot.

CRYIN’

OH, YOU DIRTY RAT

Some Yankee fans are moaning about the fact that Roger Clemens has signed with the Astros. He was ripped in the tabloids yesterday; today, Roger’s sister defends his actions in The Post. Really, I can’t get behind being upset with Clemens. I’m not surprised he’s chosen to play for the Astros; makes all the sense in the world to me (Actually, I was skeptical that 2003 was his swan song). Nor am I in the slightest bit upset that he won’t be a Yankee this year, at least from a personality perspective (it’s likely he’s still got some good innings left). Has he ruined his chances of wearing a Yankee cap when he goes into the Hall of Fame? Probably, but so what? It’s only fitting that he should go in as a Red Sox. So I don’t get what all the cryin is about. But hey, you’ve got to find a way to sell papers in the middle of winter, right? Got to find something heated to keep you going in this bone-chilling weather. Fortunately, we New Yorkers have insulation: we’ve got enough hot air to keep us warm 365 days a year, thank you very much.

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