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Monthly Archives: March 2004

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Cooperstown Confidential

By Bruce Markusen

Spring Training Edition

March 11, 2004

Rapping With Mudcat And Scoop

On February 14, former major league standouts Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Al Oliver visited the Hall of Fame to participate in a Legends Series event celebrating Black History Month. In one of the most enjoyable assignments Iíve received at the Hall, I had the pleasure of interviewing these two well-spoken former stars. One of a dozen African-American pitchers to win 20 games in a major league season, Grant won two games and hit a key home run for the Minnesota Twins in the 1965 World Series. Oliver, a lifetime .303 hitter and the 1982 winner of the National Leagueís batting crown, helped the Pittsburgh Pirates to the World Championship in 1971. Grant was also a member of that 1971 Pirates team, but was traded in mid-season to the Oakland Aís, thus denying him the opportunity to play in that fallís World Series.

The educational program with Grant and Oliver, which featured a number of youngsters in the audience, highlighted the Hall of Fameís celebration of Black History Month. Grant and Oliver talked at length about the racism that they battled in becoming big league stars, while also expressing hope that baseball will eventually overcome its current struggles in recruiting young African-American players and fans. The following is a partial transcript of that interview, which occurred in front of a capacity crowd in the Hall of Fame Libraryís Bullpen Theater.

Markusen: Why is baseball struggling in drawing more young African Americans to play the game?

Oliver: The bottom line is, I really donít think that they have had the proper Afro Americans to market the game of baseball. Basketball has Michael Jordan. Football has so many guys, like Walter Payton. Baseball, for whatever reason, did not have that proper player. It seems like they were lacking something

Talkin’ Baseball

I attended a Baseball Prospectus/Pinstriped Bible Pizza feed in the heart of Times Square last night and had the chance to talk with some engaging and very bright baseball writers and fans. The only drawback was that I didn’t get to talk to even more people than I did. As it was, I hung out with Chaim Bloom, Alex Ciepley, Jim Gerard, Murray Markowitz, Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, Steven Goldman, David Pinto, Nick Stone, Steve Keane, John Kay, Derek Jacques, Repoz, and a kid named Justin. Joe Sheehan will be in town to do a Prospectus book signing in Brooklyn in two weeks and I hope to keep the conversations flowing then.

Interestingly, two topics that a group of us touched on are examined in the local papers this morning. The first is the case of Willie Randolph–one of my favorite players as a kid–and how he has had a difficult time making the leap from coach to manager. As much as the guys at my table agreed that Randolph seems like a decent, if taciturn guy, none of us had much sympathy for him. Murray Chass explains why:

Perhaps, too, he would have served himself better had he managed in the minor or winter leagues to gain experience. An ardent family man with four children, Randolph nobly didn’t want to leave them for long periods and burden Gretchen, his wife, with their sole care, but others, like Tony Pe

You Talking Loud But You Ain’t Sayin Nuthin’

White Noise

The political grandstanding continued in Washington yesterday as senator John McCain took center stage in the steroid story. Gentlemen, start your soapboxes (Reggie Jax goes to Washington). What, is this an election year or something? Selena Roberts files a report in the New York Times today. Over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto notes:

I have a feeling this is all theater. The Senate has better things to do than worry about steroids in baseball.

In a second post, Pinto continues:

I don’t think it’s clear that the union has no desire to fix this issue. The union is run by very smart men, who I suspect understand the steroid issue much better than the Senators questioning them. They understand that tests consist of false positives and false negatives, as well as real results. That’s why players are only being reprimanded after long term failures, and why the players privacy is protected. The program they put in place may not be intrusive enough for a lot of people, but I think that the fact that 5 to 7% came up positive instead of the 70% that some people speculated about means that testing may be working.

Hey, don’t y’all know that players just want to make like Eddie Murphy and party all the time?

At the same time, the New York papers are filled with the kind of non-story that drives Lee Sinins and Joe Sheehan bananas. Gary Sheffield was upset with the way the Yankees handled his recent thumb injury. He then told reporters just how bothered he was by it. Yankee general manager Brian Cashman then met with Sheffield for twenty minutes and they smoothed everything over. End of report, good night.

Cause He is Not the One, Got More Game Than Parker Brothers, A Rod is Hitting Bombs and Yo, He’s Smooth Like Butter

John Harper is one of my favorite local writers because he often seems more interested in what is happening on the field than what goes down behind the scenes. Today, he accurately describes Alex Rodriguez’s swing:

He makes it look easy. The swing is too smooth for a home run, especially when A-Rod hits it to right-center, his true power slot, as he did yesterday. There is none of the violence that Sheffield or Jason Giambi bring to a home-run swing. Often it doesn’t look like it’s gone as it leaves the bat.

“A lot of times,” A-Rod was saying yesterday, “it looks like a fly ball. But it just keeps going.”

…A-Rod says it is as much a learned skill as it is a natural gift that goes back to his days in Seattle, when he hit with Edgar Martinez for hours at a time, absorbing everything the long-time Mariners’ DH had to offer.

Rodriguez does have an easy swing. It is so smooth that sometimes it isn’t exciting to watch. He’s like a cyborg. But how can you argue with the results?

Speaking of great hitters–but one with a distinct cut–the Yankees received good news regarding Gary Sheffield’s right thumb: he won’t need surgeryyet. Apparently, Sheffield played just fine after he tore ligaments in the thumb last summer (the numbers back this up), and he’s ready to get back in the line up. According to the New York Times:

Braves Manager Bobby Cox said he did not remember Sheffield’s injury and was not surprised to hear that Sheffield would keep playing.

“He’ll be in there, believe me,” Cox said. “He’s as tough as they come. Gary never complains about anything. He’ll play. If the bone ain’t showing, you’re playing, right?”

…Sheffield’s final numbers last season

Thumb Luck

When Gary Sheffield jammed his thumb last week in an exhibition game against the Blue Jays, he didn’t think much of it. But yesterday, there was cause for concern, and Sheffield will be in New York today visting a hand specialist to determine whether or not he’ll need surgery. Brian Cashman and George Steinbrenner are worried, though Sheffield still thinks he’ll be OK. However, if he does go under the knife, he could miss between two and three months.

What does this mean? Will Kenny Lofton be the Yankees new right fielder? I’m going to wait and see what today gives before I get too excited one way or another. (Hey Will, the new meds must be working.) Aaron Gleeman, for one, doesn’t think that Yankee fans need to panic:

New York signed Travis Lee and Kenny Lofton this off-season and went into spring training with a ton of depth among outfielders and first basemen. Luckily for them, the two players who have gone down with injuries are both outfielders, meaning they can simply plug in their depth and keep on chugging along toward 100 wins.

As long as Sheffield is back for October, the Yankees will be just fine. That’s the beauty of a Mo Vaughn-sized payroll. They have the ability to not only pay Sheffield $13 million a year, they can also pay Lee and Lofton about $5.5 million to be role players and insurance policies.

Pumped Up

Murray Chass has a good column today about how the steroid scandal doesn’t seem to have bothered ticket sales–at least in Boston and New York. Christian Ruzich, Twins Fan Dan, and Jay Jaffe have weighed in on the affair, but nobody has been as devoted to in-depth and thorough coverage of steroids in baseball as John Perricone has been. Take the pillow from your head, and put a link in it.

Finally, check out Seth Stoh’s nifty bit of Twins history today over at Seth Speaks.

Blister in the Sun

After watching the Yankees play the Red Sox yesterday I wrote that you could feel the intensity of the rivalry through the television set. The players felt it too. You could see that on the field. Who takes a meaningless spring training game this seriously? According to the Daily News:

“I know I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Curt Schilling, the newly acquired Red Sox pitching ace. “It’s Boston and New York and it’s different from anything else. I’ve only been here three weeks and I know it.”

…Alex Rodriguez, destined to become a flashpoint of sorts for fans on both sides, considering his pedigree before he even stepped into pinstripes, perhaps said it best: “It was as intense a spring training game a I’ve ever been in.”

Sportswriters noted–helped generate?–the heat too. Tomas Boswell opines:

Yet, in its bizarre way, this game epitomized the best that baseball offers. How can you over-hype a game, even in spring training, if it took a century to create the passions that envelope generations of fans on both sides?

And John Harper explains:

The electricity is sparked mostly by the Sox fans’ obsession with beating the Yankees. It has always been as much a part of the culture as their Boston accent, but not like this.

The focus of that obsession now, of course, is Alex Rodriguez. People who cover the Red Sox say the home folks seemed to take losing A-Rod harder than they did Aaron Boone’s climactic home run last October, if you can imagine that.

“Sox fans have come to expect losing to the Yankees on the ballfield,” one Boston writer said yesterday. “The A-Rod thing cut deeper because in December they were all so sure he was coming. The outcry when the Yankees got him was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

The rivalry is also very real for the front offices of both teams. Witness the incident in the parking lot yesterday. Gordon Edes reports:

Emotions came to a boiling point in a stadium parking area, where Yankees publicist Rick Cerrone and a longtime Sox security guard, Dave McHugh, a retired postman from Portland, Maine, had a run-in.

“Do you know who I am?” shouted Cerrone, contending that McHugh had pushed him. “I’m with the American League champion New York Yankees, and you’re a typical Boston Red Sox employee.”

McHugh said he was merely trying to pass through a crowd of reporters in order to allow some Yankee players who had driven down from Tampa to leave, and that he’d put his hand out, said “excuse me,” and gave Cerrone a small push when Cerrone inadvertently backed into him. Part of the problem was that Reggie Jackson’s older brother, Ja Mz, had a car that was blocking that of Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. A call was placed to the Hall of Famer in the clubhouse, and he quickly got in touch with his bro. “You better get out there,” he said. “You’re starting a war out there.”

On the field, things were far more civil. George Vecsey writes:

Fraternization in vivid daylight: Nomar Garciaparra, wearing a bright-red warm-up shirt, meandered over to the batting cage and began hugging Yankees

Sample Size Sunday Special

That’s the Joint

A few years ago I used to spin records at my friend Steven’s bistro “Plate 347,” which was down on 2nd avenue between 21rst and 22nd street. I was never serious about being a DJ, but I had made a professional quality mix cd with a friend of mine in 2000, and I found that playing records once a week gave me some spending money and a chance to meet people. It was fun learning what records you could play when, and what particular records were sure-shots every week

Sunday Papers

Joy in Cubville…?!?!

Christian Ruzich thinks that there is plenty of reason to be excited about the Cubbies in 2004. Optimism from a Cubs fan? I know it sounds like Ripley’s. The question is: Do you believe?

Testing One, Testing Two

Nomar Garciaparra has some reservations about the accuracy of the random drug tests that major league ballplayers will undergo this season. Garciaparra is unusually outspoken about the steroid scandal:

“People don’t realize that testing isn’t infallible,” he said. “What are you going to do when you get a false positive? What are they going to do when a guy is getting accused and then realize, `Oh, well, oops, we messed up’? Are they going to go back and try to restore the guy’s name and reputation or are they just going to accept the fact that the guy’s reputation and name are ruined?”

…”Now, all of a sudden, we have names,” Garciaparra said. “I don’t know where the anonymity is. When you see that, how are we supposed to trust anybody with anything like that? How am I supposed to go in there now and agree to a drug test when you tell me one thing and it’s not true?”

Also, be sure and stop by Dodger Thoughts to get Jon Weisman’s thoughtful take on the steroid story.

You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

My cousin Jonah didn’t play or watch baseball as a kid, but he’s become a devoted fan over the past seven or eight years, and I like talking baseball with him a lot. As a Mets fan he doesn’t pay much attention to the Yankees, but I liked what he had to say about Derek Jeter in an e-mail yesterday:

Recently I’ve been feeling bad for Jeter. He’s gone from being overrated to being dissed by everybody. Maybe he should let Rodriguez play ss but I get the feeling that the first time he makes an error this season everyone’s going to say “see? he’s no good.” Maybe Rodriguez is better equipped to learn and excel at a new position than Jeter is. There is definitely something smirky about Jeter that I dislike but all of a sudden he’s an underdog. Probably he’ll be his regular self and I can go back to not liking him but this off-season I get the feeling that he’s being under-appreciated.

On that note, let me turn to Joel Sherman’s column about Jeter in today’s Post. Sherman reports that Jeter isn’t at all pleased about being slighted since the arrival of Alex Rodriguez:

“Derek has had to defend himself on things other than winning and baseball,” [bench coach] Willie Randolph said. “And he doesn’t like that.”

…”Of all the guys in our clubhouse, I feel best about having him on the team,” Randolph said. “He’s the biggest winner on the team. Other guys still have to show what they can do. Derek has done it.”

This is the clubhouse feel about Jeter. It also makes him symbolic of the intensifying war within the game between quantative [sic] analysts and scouts. Statistically Jeter pales to A-Rod and, using newly devised defensive metrics, he pales to just about every shortstop. But among teammates, Jeter always has been the guy other Yanks want batting with a game on the line, the guy other Yanks want the ball hit to in October. Either you believe that stuff is worth wins or you don’t. It is part of the ongoing debate.

Considering that Sherman writes for the Post, he has been remarkably aware of sabermetric analysis. He concludes that an angry Jeter could be a very dangerous Jeter for the rest of the league. As local talk show host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo would say, “Excellent point Shermie, that’s an excellent point.”

Talking Turkey

Good Guh-News

According to reports in the Daily News and the New York Post, Joe Torre and the Yankees are talking extension. Yesterday, Torre told reporters:

“I think I’m leaning toward wanting to do it again,” Torre said.

John Harper notes that this is great news for the Yankees and Yankee fans:

There are no Lawrence Franks [rookie head coach of the New Jersey Nets] in baseball, because the job isn’t about film study and long hours and halftime adjustments. It’s about presence and personality and, particularly in the case of a team like the Yankees, knowing how to lead star players across the desert of a 162-game season.

Cashman said Torre has a feel for it that you can’t teach.

“It’s a gift he has,” Cashman said yesterday. “He was a great player himself who can relate to today’s players. He just has that Midas touch of knowing when to be forceful and knowing when to pull back. The combination of his touch and the talent here has been lethal.”

It’s the reason that Steinbrenner, with more to lose now than ever, has gone sweet on Torre again. He’s romanced him this spring and probably will pay him something like $15 million for two more years.

Joel Sherman continues:

“I just love the players and the game itself,” Torre said in explaining why he now wants to extend his deal. “I am looking forward to the job every day. I am not ready to pack it in. I’m just happy I feel the way I do.”

Yankees president Randy Levine handled the previous negotiations with Torre. Swindall, Steinbrenner’s son-in-law, has been in charge this time and developed a rapport with Torre that helped ease the manager’s mind. Torre also conceded that sidekick Don Zimmer’s departure could have fostered a better bond with Steinbrenner, who detests Zimmer.

“That [Zimmer's presence] was part of the stress,” Torre said.

So it appears as if Torre will be around for a little while longer (by the end of spring training, the Yankees could also reach an agreement with closer Mariano Rivera to keep him in pinstripes for at least another two seasons too). Naturally, Torre will have his hands full, but that is nothing new. Yesterday, the Yankee manager took some time to talk with Jason Giambi, whose personal trainer Bobby Alejo will not rehired by New York. It has been a tough camp for Giambi, and there is a lot of pressure on the slugger this season. In Bob Ryan’s column yesterday, Johnny Damon all but called Giambi out as a steroid-user:

Damon played with one of the players named (do your homework, people). Says Damon, “I know he’s done stuff in the past. He’s made a lot of money. Hopefully, he’s aware, he’ll stop, and he’ll continue to play well.”

Ouch. If Giambi starts off slowly this year, expect Yankee fans to be all over him. He’s in a tough spot. I wonder how much this pleases the good people of Oakland.

Speaking of the Sox, according to the Dirt Dog, Bob Hohler’s story about Curt Schilling brushing back teammate Kevin Millar is largely fictitious.

Questions and Answers

Travis Nelson has an impressive and thorough article about the possibilites of baseball coming to New Jersey, while my neighbor Dr. Manhattan asks himself the same set of questions I asked my Roundtable Group over the weekend. Dr. M even adds a few questions of his own. Here is my favorite:

Dr. M: Who will be the starting pitcher acquired by the Yankees in midseason?

A: Al Leiter, assuming he doesn’t suddenly collapse. He’s a lefty and still throws reasonably hard with good breaking pitches, which will be an asset against David Ortiz and Trot Nixon (the only real problem with the Yankees not having a lefty starter). As an old pitcher on a bad contract (and a no-trade, I believe), he can probably be had cheaply (and he will almost certainly waive his no-trade for a chance at the World Series without leaving home). And Jim Duquette has (properly) not been afraid to trade with the Yankees.

I was talking with my cousin Gabe–a Mets fan–the other day about how Leiter would likley end up in Boston by the end of the year. He corrected me and said that it is more likely that he’ll go to the Bronx. What do you think?

Buzz

The Mets and the Dodgers are playing a baseball game this afternoon. Awwww, bacon. In the spirit of G. Mota and Michael J Piazza, do you think the Yankees and Red Sox will engage in a benches-clearing brawl this year? If Curt Schilling’s intrasquad outing yesterday is any indication, I’d say the odds are likely. Wonder what Kevin Brown will do when he faces his teammates in a scrimage?

Thanks to David Pinto, I found some great information on steroids over at Nick Schulz’s site. In particular, Schulz has links to two informative articles: one by Baseball Prospectus writer Dayn Perry, and another by Patrick Cox. They should both be required reading.

Advertisements for Myself (and Others)

I appeared in a story about New York-based baseball bloggers that was written by Mets beat writer Pete Abraham for Weschester County’s largest paper, The Journal, last Sunday. Doug Pappas, Jay Jaffe, Larry Mahnken, Steve Keane, Cliff Corcoran, and Vinny Milillo and Scott Milholm were also featured. It was great to see the blogging community receive some attention, and I am honored to be mentioned in the same company with all the bloggers Abraham interviewed (many of whom didn’t make the final cut).

All Shook Up

Yesterday, a story in The San Francisco Chronicle claimed that six baseball players–Marvin Bernard, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield and Randy Velarde–received steriods from Barry Bonds’ trainer, Greg Anderson. The source was not named, and none of the men have been accused of using steroids. Regardless, the ramifications of the story were felt around baseball on Tuesday, notably in Yankeeland. John Harper has a measured take on how both Jason Giambi–shook–and Gary Sheffield–defiant–handled the latest allegations. Murray Chass has an even-handed column in the Times.

In all, it’s not a cheery morning in baseball. (Oh, by the way, the Yankees had their first intrasquad game yesterday too.) Somehow it is fitting that ol’ Marge Schott–one of the game’s great comic villains–passed away yesterday just to put the icing on the gravy on a black day for the sport. But as Will Carroll cautions, we should resist the urge to be shrill here:


Letís not jump to uneducated conclusions. Letís take our time and cover this correctly.

Amen to that.

Mean Ol’ Man Mike?

I wanted to take a moment here to thank Ben Jacobs, Steven Goldman, Rich Lederer, Cliff Corcoran, Jay Jaffe and Christopher DeRosa for their contributions to Bronx Banter Preview series I ran last week. I think I can speak for the majority of the readers when I say we are all better and more informed fans because of their efforts. In addition, I would also like to thank all of the writers who participated in the Roundtable Discussion. I deliberately selected a diverse group and I think the results were fun and stimulating. Hopefully, weíll do it again next year.

On that note, the one part of the Roundtable chat that really struck me were the answers to the Mike Mussina question. Mostly because the writers all seemed to agree that Mike Mussina is a virtual lock to win 15 games, let alone 20. I know itís hard to predict how many games a pitcher will win, and you usually wonít hear prognosticators say that an ace pitcher is going to win 12 games. But 15 games is nothing to sneeze at, and while we expect good pitchers to win at least that many games, how often do they actually do it?

I asked Rich Lederer to do a quick bit of research for me and he discovered that only three active pitchers have won 15 games in five consectutive seasons: Greg Maddux, 1988-2003; Roger Clemens, 1986-1992; and Randy Johnson, 1997-2002 (from 1995-1999, Charles Nagy won at least 15 games, but I donít think heís with a team any longer). From 1994-1997, Mussina won 15 straight, and in the three seasons since heís been a Yankee, Mussina has recorded 17, 18 and 17 wins. As the writers in the Roundtable Discussion noted, Mussina is a good bet to win 15, but in spite of the Yankeesí terrific offense, nothing is a lock.

Furthermore, Lederer explains that:

Winning 15 games is a much more difficult proposition than generally believed. To illustrate, from 1999-2003, each season has produced fewer than 30 pitchers who have won 15 games. That works out to not even one pitcher per team. Winning a certain number of games is as dependent on the team’s fortunes as it is the individual pitcher’s statistics. In order to win 15 or more games in this day and age, a starting pitcher not only has to perform well but he generally needs to be on a reasonably good team, stay off the DL, and have luck on his side. Most pitchers would also need at least two good relievers–one to hold the lead in the eighth inning and one to close it in the ninth.
To the extent that there are 15-game winners, they tend to be bunched on teams. Last year, for example, the Yankees and Mariners both had three 15-game winners. The A’s had three the year before.
Given the Yankees’ offensive prowess, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, and Javier Vazquez all won 15 games this year. However, based on recent history, the odds of it happening are probably not all that great.

But as Joel Sherman points out in his column today, the Yankees need Mussina now more than ever. Sherman writes:

[Mussina] is the lone major leaguer to win at least 17 games in each of the last three years. As a Yankee, he has 52 wins, 659 innings and a .642 winning percentage. The only other major leaguer to even reach levels of 45/600/.600 in the same three-year span is Mussina’s now ex-teammate, Clemens.

“One of these years I’m not going to throw 200 innings,” said Mussina, 35, whose streak of nine straight 200-inning seasons is the majors’ longest (see chart). “I hope it is not until I’m 42.”

Considering the fact that Mussina has been tinged with odd luck throughout his career, it is easy to say, “This is the year that everything will go right, and heíll win 20.” I have done it each year that heís been in New York. Maybe Mussina will never win 20 and he’ll be left muttering like Dennis Quad in “Breaking Away” about being mean ol’ man Mike. As far as I’m concerned, Iíll be happy if he wins 15 again and I’ll be elated if he finally gets his 20-win season.

Nice Guys Play Center

Recently, two Mets beat writers told me that Mike Cameron has a great clubhouse presence. Yesterday, the Times ran an informative article on Cameronís approach to playing center field. In case you missed it, head on over and give it a gander.

If it Bends…

A few years back I had a good conversation about comedy with a cab driver while we were stuck in midtown traffic. We were talking about the actor-comedian Jay Mohr and why we found him so hard to take. My impression of Mohr was that he was a slick, self-satisified car salesman. He had charisma, but just not the kind I wanted to be anywhere near. The cabbie–himself a struggling stand-up comedian–had Mohr pegged. “The reason he won’t take off is because he isn’t vulnerable, and every great comedian, or comic character, needs to have some vulnerability in order for people to embrace them.”

I think this is right on, and although it was something I knew, I had never heard it expressed in so many words. Of course, it isn’t absolute, but it’s not far off. Think about it: Archie Bunker, and Ralph Kramden were incorrigible louts, but they were also fraile and sensitive too. That’s how the audience can put up with their obnoxious behavior. Some of our greatest comics have been amazingly vulnerable. Lenny Bruce and especially Richard Pryor come to mind.

I think that vulnerability is what attracts us to ballplayers as well. We may not be aware of it consciously, but I think it’s there. It makes them more approachable, especially in the modern era of millionaire athletes. They don’t need to express it, because we all know that they live with it. (Think about the state of Jose Contreras’ pysche.) On any given day they could suffer a career-ending injury.

The sense of uncertainty is particularly actue in the spring when baby-faced youngsters fight to get noticed and old timers hang on, giving baseball one last try, before it discards them and moves along happily ever after.

There have been a few articles of late that have, in one way or another, touched on the vulnerability of ballplayers. Tyler Kepner profiled Kevin Brown in the Sunday Times, and here is a good one about Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, who was humbled by the Red Sox’ efforts to move him over the winter:

“My agent called and told me about the waivers,” said Ramirez, who was available to any team willing to pay the remainder of his contract (five years, $101.5 million). “I was a little bit mad. But I said this is a business. Baseball doesnít need me. I need baseball.”

Even better, here is what Oakland’s third baseman Eric Chavez recently told my label-mate Mark McClusky:

When you struggle, there’s nowhere to go. You can’t hide, you can’t take a couple of days off–you have to jump back in the saddle the next day. I’ll go home sometimes and I’ll honestly think I’ll never get a hit again. That’s not the case. I know eventually I’ll run into a hit. But there are times when the ballpark is the last place you want to be going.

At this level, the game is much more mental than physical. Sometimes the harder you try, the worse it gets. You want your talent to take over, but everyone else is talented too, so you try and get an edge mentally. You can’t get comfortable. I’ve never been comfortable enough where I can honestly say I’m a good player. I’ve seen what baseball can do to people. Until the last day I play, I’ll never be comfortable in this game.

Chavez is surprisingly candid. Interestingly, McClusky thinks that it helps explain what is keeping Chavez from realizing his full potential. But indivudal players aren’t the only vulnerable ones. Witness the so-called fall of the Atlanta Braves. Murray Chass pens what could be his best column since returning from medical leave and suggests that we probably shouldn’t count Bobby Cox and company out just yet. GM John Schuerholz tells Chass:

“The greatest winning streak in baseball is our winning 12 consecutive division titles,” he said the other day. “The second-longest streak is the number of years people have predicted our demise.”

As great as the Yankees and Red Sox appear, they are a string of injuries away from missing the playoffs (remember the 1987 Mets?). It’s this uncertainty, this vulnerability that helps make the game so compelling.

Clutch Hit

I want to direct everyone to the latest edition of Mudville Magazine, as well as Tim Marchman’s new venue: New Partison.com.

Yankee Preview: Roundtable Discussion 2

Last Licks

Part Two: B-Side

BB: Who will have the better season: Pettitte or Vasquez? Clemens or Brown.

Allen Barra: Right now, if Kevin Brown escapes injury, he’s a better pitcher — that is to say, more effecitve — than either Pettitte or Clemens. For that matter, putting aside the question of durability, he’s probably at least as effective as Curt Schilling. Vasquez is probably a better pitcher than al of them, and he’s just coming into his prime.

Jack Curry: This is the shortest question so far, but maybe the toughest because, really, who knows how they’ll act react in their new environments. A couple of Yankees were raving about how much Brown’s pitches move. Just nasty stuff. If he stays healthy (I know, a big if), I think he’ll have a better year than Clemens. Pettitte and Vazquez is a tossup. I think both will win 15-18 games and be productive starters. But, with the Yankees, of course, Brown and Vazquez need to perform in October.

Steven Goldman: I donít buy this question, because differences of contextleague and park and supporting personnelmake the answer dependent on more than the merits of each pitcher. What I think youíre really trying to ask is, “Did the Yankees make the right choices here?” Vazquez is already a better pitcher than Pettitte and should remain so, but thatís only germane if the choice was Vazquez or Pettitte, which it wasnít. Whether letting Pettitte go will depend on whether the teamís estimate of his short-term injury future is accurate, and we wonít know that for awhile. Clemens or Brown wasnít a choice either, and what he does vs. Brown is not at all relevant to the sitch in the Bronx. I think heíll be fine.

Jay Jaffe: Vazquez will thrive in the Bronx, Pettitte will do reasonably well in Houston, the better defense behind him tempered by the loss of the favorable dimensions of Yankee Stadium and that great run support. Clemens will be fairly effective in limited use and I think Brown will too, though his stats will suffer by comparison to his LA days. I give the Yanks the edge overall.

Bruce Markusen: Statistically, Vazquez will have the better season, in part because of pitching at Yankee Stadium and in part because of his terrific natural stuff. Pettitte will have a good season for the Astros, but his ERA and home runs allowed will both rise while pitching in a ballpark thatís not favorable to left-handed pitchers. I would have liked to have seen both pitchers in pinstripes, but thatís a whole other story. Based on what scouts say about Vazquezí repertoire of pitchers and on what people in Montreal say about his steady character, Vazquez has a chance to be very, very good in New York. With apologies to Orlando Hernandez, he could be their best Latino starter since the days of Luis Tiant and Ed Figueroa. In terms of matching up Brown against Clemens, it all comes down to Brownís health. If he can avoid the disabled list, he can put up better numbers than Clemens did the last two years in New York

Yankee Preview: Roundtable Discussion 2

Second Helpings

Round Two, Side One

Here is the second part of the Roundtable Chat.

[A note on how the forum was conducted. The questions were e-mailed to the participants. When I received the responses

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