"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: August 2004

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Night of the Living Dead

“I’m a blunt getting smoked and I can’t wake up.” KRS-ONE

Man, I had the worst dream last night. The Yankees suffered the most lopsided loss in team history, falling 22-0 at home to the Indians. (I can’t believe they gave up the two-pernt conversion.) Hold up. That was no dream. It was a nightmare. Omar Vizquel had six hits, tying an American League record for hits in a nine-inning game. Esteban Loiaza finished the game for the Yanks. Not wanting to be left out of the festivities, he was torched in the ninth, serving up two, three-run bombs.

The Angels scored a bunch of runs late but it wasn’t enough to beat the Red Sox who won their seventh consecutive game. Boston now trails the Yankees by three-and-a-half games, and they are creepin’ closer.

A mortified Yankee team will look to rebound on Wednesday night against the ace of the Cleveland staff, C.C. Sabathia. Just what do the Yankees need to do to get a good performance out of one of their starting pitchers? Wait a minute, don’t answer that. I’m going back to bed.

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“Don’t Look back. Something might be gaining on you.” Satchel Paige

Puttin’ Out the Fire (With Gasoline)

Bring on Taynon, CJ, and who is that warming up in the bullpen? Esteban Loaiza? Come on in, the water’s fine. Welp, we Yankee fans need to laugh to keep from crying tonight. Take it on the chin, and suck it up. (And at this point, with the score 13, no 14, make that 15-0 in the fifth, getting some laughs out of this one is the best we can hope for.) It’s a joyous night for Red Sox Nation and an utterly forgettable one for the Bombers. Let’s turn the page, as they say. Hmmm. I think I’m out of cliches. Funny, how El Duque

The Doctor is…Out

Javier Vazquez didn’t make it through the second inning tonight in what was the shortest outing of his career. He was nothing short of awful. Jake Westbrook, on the other hand, looks sharp. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are out to an early lead in Boston. Need to vent? Unleash your fury below…

As Good as it Gets

Every time I ride out to Brooklyn to visit my old barber I get this feeling that once I get there, he won’t be around anymore. It is not only because he’s getting older but because the Carroll Gardens-Cobble Hill neighborhood has become so gentrified that the older shops along Smith street are regularly replaced by chic boutiques, hip bars and trendy new restaurants. I lived in Brooklyn for five years (1995-2000) and loved my barber, Efrain Torres, a soft-spoken Puerto Rican man who lost the lease on his barber shop four years ago. Since then, he has a chair in another shop on Smith street, and still happily works six days a week.

It may seem like a long way to schlepp for a haircut. After all, I live in the Bronx now. But Efrain approaches his work with great care and respect for his craft. The barbers around my way are a good bunch of guys, but they cut hair like they are late for dinner. And not only do they rush, but their movements are coarse and violent. Their work is often sloppy. I’ve got a hard cut to screw up–a conservative fade (1 1/2 on the side and 2 on the top with a straight razor to clean up the lines). But I usually come home with small nicks from the razor with random little hairs sticking up from the top of my head.

Emily, who loves my hair short, will inspect their work and usually has some cherce words for their craftsmanship. “You should go back down there and have them get it right.”

“Ahh, sweetie, it just doesn’t work like that. It’s fine, whatever.”

I know I’m getting a second-rate cut but it’s depressing trying to find a new shop. I always know that I’ve got Efrain, who I visited last Friday afternoon. (I’m not the only one who will travel a ways to see him either. He has regulars that come in from Long Island and Weschester as well.) A father and son–also Puerto Rican–own the shop and cut heads too. They will be silent for long periods of time and then suddenly come to life with tall tales of fighting and “How to be a man.” They speak a mixture of Spanish and English, usually depending on who is in the shop. A heavy-set Spanish woman has a corner area where she cuts women’s hair. A glass statuette of a dolphin sits on top of a can of hairspray next to her. I’ve rarely seen her with any clients. She spends most of her time rummaging through her bag or through the drawers of her table looking for make-up. You’d think her bag was a clown’s prop. She’s in there forever. Then she applies more lipstick, eye-shadow. She is comically vain. When she’s left with nothing else to do, she will take a hot-iron and touch up her big, orange hair.

Efrain speaks with a heavy Spanish accent, but has a gentle voice and is unhurried in virtually all of his movements. It is always comforting to see him. He works in a predictable, almost robotic manner. Always the same routine. It’s one that I’ve come to forget. I used to get impatient waiting for him to finish, but now, I appreciate the pace. His hands are soft. When he wipes away small hairs that have fallen in my face with a brush, he does it as if he touching somebody who is asleep, afraid to wake them.

He’ll tell me stories that have no punchlines. He’ll stop what he’s doing at one point for the payoff. I sit there with a frozen smile on my face waiting for the kicker which never comes. So I keep smiling and offer a laugh which prompts him to laugh back, pleased that I’ve enjoyed his story.

When he’s finished with the straight razor and everything is done, he’ll take a pair of sissors and snip behind my ears or on the top of my head. As he was doing this last Friday he stopped and told me, “I’m sorry it takes so long, but you have to pay attention to the details. It’s the small details that make the difference.”

Ain’t it the truth. The telling detail. It’s hard to find people who take their craft seriously, but when you do find them, they are worth their weight in gold. Am I right? No matter what they do. If they drive a bus, or cut heads or write for a living. Pat Jordan is a throwback baseball writer. He is a journalist who writes “straight” stories in a style that pre-dates New Journalism or Gonzo writing, though he came of age in the era of Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson. His best pieces are long profiles, but he doesn’t get to do much of them anymore. His most recent baseball piece for The New York Times Magazine wasn’t longer than 2,000 words. He used to write 6,000 word articles regularly.

It’s hard for a writer like Jordan to thrive in the today’s magazine culture, which is a shame for someone who takes his craft seriously. He writes clearly, and has a keen eye for observation, not to mention human behavior. He respects the language and doesn’t let cute language or gimmicks get in the way of the story. But even if he doesn’t get the opportunity to pen longer pieces anymore, he is now offering a look at some of his best unpublished work. Jordan recently launched a website which posts a new story every month. They are no baseball pieces yet, but a sampling of all kinds of work: a piece about a healer, an expose on the porno industry. Jordan is charging up to four bucks per story. The shorter stories are only one or two dollars.

Anyhow, they are worth the money if you appreciate honest and unpretentious craftsmanship. Jordan writes like Efrain Torres cuts heads: with sensitivity and discipline. His work also suggests that he is doing exactly what he was meant to do on this earth. He cares about his craft which makes the visit well-worth the trip. Tell him I sent you.

So You Want to be a Baseball Writer?

Rey Ordonez, eat your heart out

If most baseball writers are, at heart, failed players, then at least I meet requirment number one. Here are a couple of telling snap shots of me from a junior varsity game back in the spring of 1986.

Notice the fine form:

The discipline and grace:

For the record, my team lost the game. I struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch to end it. The damn pitch was right down the middle too (a bp meatball if there ever was one). This was the one game my dad attended that year; fortunately he brought his camera. Unfortunately, a shot of my coach consoling me after I made the last out has been lost. It was my favorite memory of the game.

And a literary career was born!

Blue Jays 6, Yankees 3

Half-Full

“We’re playing well,” [manager Joe] Torre said. “I’ll take winning five out of seven at every turn. If that’s not good enough, it’s not good enough. We have no control over them (Red Sox), but we’re playing well right now.” (N.Y. Daily News)

“This game is about runs, and they are on their best run of the year,” Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said of the Red Sox. “We’re in the driver’s seat. We’ve got a month left of baseball, and hopefully our best baseball is ahead of us.” (N.Y. Times)

I’m generally an upbeat person but when we’re talking about sports I’m a pessimist–at least when it comes to rooting for my teams–always waiting for the the other shoe to drop. My girlfriend Emily has battled Crohn’s Disease for years and at times I see how it clouds her view on life. But above all, she is a fighter. No matter how difficult things get for her, how dark things can get, she takes her lumps then comes out swinging. And when it comes to baseball, she is an optimist of the first order. It makes for a good partner (and sometimes a good foil). She never thinks the Yankees are out of a game. The ninth inning on Saturday was proof enough for her that anything can happen at any time.

As frustrated as I was to see yesterday’s game slip away from the Yanks–a botched double play and a miscommunication between Derek Jeter and Enrique Wilson along with some poor pitches by Mussina and Paul “Lighter Fluid” Quantrill was enough to do the trick–let us look on the bright side: Mike Mussina pitched his best game since returning from his elbow injury and Alex Rodriguez went 4-4. Also, the Yankees went 5-2 on the week. Who knew that the Red Sox would forget how to lose? Boston won again yesterday, and now trail the Yanks by just four-and-a-half games (four in the loss column). They have won 12 of their last 13 games. However, now is the time for the Yankees to make up a few games as the Sox play their next nine games against the Angels, Rangers and A’s.

Larry Mahnken, another noted Yankee optimist, isn’t pressing the panic button yet either. In the latest edition of “Rivals in Exile,” Mahnken writes:

If A-Rod does hit in the clutch down the stretch and in the playoffs, it will make up for the loss of Jason Giambi, though Tony Clark and John Olerud have been surprisingly solid in his place. They’ve posted a combined .802 OPS as Yankees, which isn’t special, but above average for AL first basemen. That’s about the level of production the Yanks got out of Tino Martinez in the late 90′s. Clark and Olerud have taken a potential disaster and turned it into a push. If Giambi does come back and is effective, that would be huge, but with three great hitters already in A-Rod, Sheffield and Matsui, the Yankees don’t need him.

What they need is good relief, which could make Steve Karsay the most important September addition. While you don’t want to go too far in projecting the return of a pitcher who has been out almost two full years, but Karsay’s with the team, throwing in the bullpen, and looking good. If he’s able to pitch effectively in September, he could give the Yankees the vital solid middle relief they need to keep Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera on their butts. And if he pitched well, he could be a huge addition to the postseason roster.

The next three weeks represent the Yankees’ last, best chance to finally put Boston out of the AL East race. If they play well, they can tack on a couple of games before they play the Sox on the 17th. If they don’t add any games, or even worse, drop some, then things get hairy.

Amen. Not like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop or anything. But no matter what shakes down over the next few weeks, it looks like the Yanks and Sox will play six more exciting games against each other before we reach the playoffs. Did you expect anything less?

Yankees 18, Blue Jays 6

“If I had stuck on the base, it would’ve been worse,” Sheffield said. “I feel pretty good. I don’t have a big limp. … I walk pretty good. Freak accidents happen in this game. Thank God it’s not worse and I’ll be OK.” (N.Y. Daily News)

Yankee fans got a little bit of everything on Saturday: thrills, spills and even some uncomfortable chills. Kevin Brown had little control in the early innings, he labored, and before you know it the Bombers were behind 4-0. Then the offense rallied against Ted Lilly

Yanks 8, Jays 7

In what was most likely his last chance as a starter for New York, Esteban Loaiza was awful once again but the Yankees scored enough runs to come away with a win. Phew. (Or is the P-U?) I know it is not nice to call a professional useless, but that is pretty much what Loaiza has been as a Yankee. Tom Gordon was forced into the game when the middle relief couldn’t hold a four-run lead (he earned the save). The Yankees walked eleven times and Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, and Bernie Williams added homers. The Bombers remain five-and-a-half ahead of the Sox who won again (Boston has won ten or their last eleven already).

Jason Giambi took some swings off a tee yesterday in Florida. Perhaps there is a chance he will make it back this season after all. Giambi’s saga continues…

Yankees 7, Blue Jays 4

Awww, Bacon

I won’t lie to you. When the Blue Jays had two men on with nobody out in the third inning, already up 4-0 lead, I started preparing myself for the Bombers to end the evening four-and-a-half games in front of Boston. Emily wasn’t home yet so I let out a few cherce words, a couple of primal screams. After all, the Red Sox can’t seem to lose these days, and it looked as if Jon Lieber wasn’t going to make it through five innings. I wasn’t the only Yankee fan groaning. Larry Mahnken was holding his own upstate New York:

We know that this is a slump, that this is not the real Yankees we’re seeing out there. We know this is a slump because the numbers being put up by their players are even worse than even the biggest pessimist could have predicited, and that we can be almost entirely certain that these players will almost all put up numbers better than the past week and a half over the remainder of the season, and for most, those numbers will be appreciably better. We know that, considering the unusual fact that nearly the entire team has entered a slump at the same instance, the slump is likely to end soon, if gradually. And more than this, we know that because of the relative ease of the remaining schedule, the possibility of the Yankees dropping the final 5

Indians 4, Yanks 3

Dag Nabbit

The Yankees lost a game they should have won last night. Coupled with a Red Sox victory, the Yankees’ lead is down to five-and-a-half games. For the Indians, the win was a relief as it ended a nine game losing streak. The highlight of the evening was a squirrel which appeared in the third inning and liberally pranced around the field for the duration of the game. It was a frustrating loss for the New Yorkers who begin a four-game series in Toronto tonight.

El Duque pitched reasonably well, and the Bombers had a 3-2 lead when Flash Gordon took the hill in the eighth inning. But Gordon, working for the third consecutive night, didn’t have any control and walked the first two batters. Both men would come around to score and that was the game. However, it’s hard to get down on Gordon. If anyone or anything can be blamed for the loss it would be the Yankee offense, who once again hit the ball hard at times, but had little to show for it. Alex Rodriguez went 0-3 with runners in scoring position. According to George King in the New York Post:

Each team was terrible in the clutch. The Yankees went 2-for-12 and the Indians were 2-for-14. Alex Rodriguez’s troubles hitting with runners in scoring position continued. He went 0-for-3 and hit into a double play that vacuumed the life out of a possible big seventh inning. A-Rod, who has four hits in the last 27 at-bats in the clutch (.148), is hitting .200 (23-for-115) with runners in scoring position.

Jon Lieber will try to give the bullpen a rest tonight. The bats need to make like the Bombers and make it easy for him.

Sheff of the Past

Jack Curry has a nice piece on Gary Sheffield’s experience in the Little League World Serious today in the Times. Well worth a peak.

To Live and Die in L.A.

Bleeding Dodger Green

Jay Jaffe has the second part of his Gary Sheffield profile up at The Futility Infielder. This portion covers Sheffield’s time in L.A. Terrific stuff. Be sure to check it out.

Yanks 5, Indians 4

Next to Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui has been the Yankees’ most valuable offensive player this season. Godzilla offers a wonderful stylistic contrast to Sheffield’s hyper-active batting stance. For the most part, Matsui is as still and calm as Sheffield is active. Matsui gently rocks back and forth, slightly lifting his front leg, as he waits for each pitch. His shoulders twitch as if he were a hippo reflexively shooing away the little birds that rest on its back. If not for these small movements you’d think Matsui was as dead as a Frankenstein monster.

Matsui came up with the winning hit for the Yankees last night when he slapped Bob Wickman’s 1-0 pitch into left field for an RBI single. Derek Jeter led off the ninth in a 4-4 game with a walk. He then swiped second as Gary Sheffield struck out and wasted little time stealing third as well. Alex Rodriguez had three hits on the night and now had a beautiful opportunity to put the Yankees ahead with a fly ball to the outfield. But Rodriguez tapped a pitch low and away weakly to short for the second out of the inning. Rodriguez’s frustration hitting with runners in scoring position continues. I’m certain that nobody is more aware of this than Rodriguez himself. Interestingly, Matsui hit virtually the same pitch–low and away–but drove it to the opposite field for a single.

Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his 43rd save of the year–oh those Deomocratic ground balls—while Tom Gordon got the win. The Indians have now dropped nine games in a row. Javier Vazquez allowed four runs with two out in the third inning, but he pitched a decent game. Along with the other Yankee pitchers Vazquez simply isn’t striking men out this year, but he was able to keep them in the game, pitching seven innings. For the second-straight night, the Yankees appeared poised to blow the game open. Kenny Lofton was the hard-luck loser last night, striking the ball hard to the outfield three times with just a sacrifice fly to show for his efforts. (Coco Crisp made a terrific catch in left to rob him of a hit.) Lofton is one hit away from two thousand career hits. So close yet so far…

Regardless, a win is a win, and the Yankees stay six-and-a-half in front of the Red Sox who beat the Jays, 5-4.

Comeback on Hold?

According to Joe Torre, the chances of Jason Giambi returning this year appear to be getting worse. Torre told the Times:

“If he plays, I’m not sure how much of him we’re getting, basically. I mean, I hope I’m wrong. I know no more than you do.

“But just the fact that he hasn’t been able to do anything significant baseball-wise, and to be ill right now. Again, this is ill like the normal cold and stuff; it just keeps eating up days.”
…”It’s a setback,” Torre said. “He’s really drained right now.”

“I think the thing that concerns me is to be able to get him enough work where he can rehab, and now that seems to be out the window. It doesn’t seem that there’ll be any games left to rehab at.”

This is a bummer, man.

And Now For Somethign Completely Different…

Truman Capote wrote a scathing profile on Marlon Brando for The New Yorker in 1957 called, “The Duke in his Domain.” I read it years ago and was telling a friend about it yesterday. It was a memorable, finely observed piece. So I googled it and it turns out that The New Yorker has put it up on the Net, most likely in honor of Brando’s recent passing. If you are a Brando fan, it is a must-read. I don’t know how long it will be posted, so take a peak while it’s up.

Yanks 6, Indians 4

Mike Mussina threw a lot of pitches in the first couple of innings last night. He walked three, allowed four hits and gave up three runs in five innings. Not a terrific line, but he didn’t look awful either. He was sharper in his final two innings of work. Cliff Lee was erratic early, and he gave up three runs in five innings. The Bombers took a 4-3 lead on Ruben Sierra’s two-out single in the eighth, but Flash Gordon gave the run right back in the bottom of the inning.

This set the stage for yet another big home run by Gary Sheffield. With two men out in the ninth, Bob Wickman plunked Derek Jeter in the elbow. Jeter was hurt badly enough to leave the game (fortunately, the x-rays were negative and though he may not play tonight, he should be OK to go tomorrow). This put the Yankees in a tight spot as Kenny Lofton had led off the inning pinch-hitting for Miguel Cairo. With Jeter out, Gary Sheffield was going to get his second shot at third base this year. But before he changed positions, he yanked a slider into the left field stands to put the Yanks up 6-4.

Watching Sheffield up with the game on the line, I’ve come to expect him to not only come through with a hit, with a home run. The YES cameras actually missed the swing live as they had cut away to a shot of Joe Torre watching in the dugout. Sheffield had barely missed a similar pitch from Wickman early in the count, which he fouled back dislodging a portion of padding from the backstop. When the camera cut back to live action, we saw the ball fly over the left field fence. Surprised?

Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth and the Yankees gained a game on Boston who were shut out by Ted Lilly and the Blue Jays, 3-0. The Yankee lead stands at six-and-a-half games. Gary Sheffield played third but didn’t get a ball hit to him.

Sound the Alarm?

Murray Chass reports in the Times that George Steinbrenner isn’t flying off the handle over his teams’ recent struggles:

“I’m not panicking at all,” Steinbrenner said in a statement. “We’ve been down this road before and I have tremendous faith in my players, my manager and the leadership of the team. We will be O.K.”

The comment is remarkable for its mellow tone and its absence of threats. It is remarkable for the calmness and serenity it projects.

Managers often say they have to maintain a steadiness in the face of adversity, lest the players see panic on their faces and panic themselves. But here is Steinbrenner wearing a stoic mask. What a development.

However, George King notes that Boss Steinbrenner called his inner-circle to Tampa to meet. The group included GM Brian Cashman. Without knowing the particulars, we can all imagine what went on behind closed doors in Florida. And it most likely wasn’t a kinder, gentler George.

A Bomb?

Alex Rodriguez continues to struggle and Mike Lupica rips him today in the Daily News. Rodriguez had an infield single last night, and was robbed of a hit by Omar Vizquel and a missed call by the second base umpire. He hit the ball sharply in his last at-bat but grounded out to third. Keep plugging away Rodriguez, we are behind you. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi still has a sore groin and now has a cold. He hasn’t continued working out yet.

Getting Better All the Time

I enjoyed Paul O’Neill’s infrequent stints in the YES booth last season mostly because of how he busted Michael Kay’s chops. But as much as I admired O’Neill as a player, I find him hard to take as an analyst, if you want to call him that. He’ll usually preface commentary by saying, “You know, when you’re out there in right field…” followed by the standard ex-jock spiel. Oy. On the other hand, I’m really impressed with how thorough and professional Joe Girardi has been for YES. He’s got a good sense of humor and he’s extremely well-prepared. Maybe his work-ethic as a catcher has carryied over to his career as a broadcaster. Girardi seems like he’s a cut above of his peers. He’ll talk about a Cleveland hitter and let you know how he’s done over the last week or so, as if he’s actually sat down and watched tape of the games. Go figure. I’d be happy to hear more of him moving forward.

Angels 4, Yanks 3

Garbage Time

The Yanks ended a thoroughly lousy weekend in which they were swept by the Angels, by collecting just four hits all afternoon. Kevin Brown was tagged for a three-run home run by Bengie Molina and that was enough to sink the Bombers. Nothing has gone right for the Yankees over the past week: they’ve lost six of seven games and a full five games in the standings. They now lead Boston by just five-and-a-half games. Wonder how the Mount St. Steinbrenner Fury Index is going?

The only rally the Yankees had yesterday was partially thwarted by another inexplicable sacrifice bunt by Derek Jeter. Kenny Lofton led off the third inning with a single and scored on Bernie Williams’ double to right. Man on first, no out, Yanks up 1-0. And you could see it coming. Even a guy wearing a Jeter jersey in front of me was shouting out, “Why?” Jeter bunted Williams to third, completing his 13th sacrifice of the season. There was a smattering of applause at the stadium, admiring the captain’s “smart” play. Oy veh. Oh by the way: end of rally. Gary Sheffield doubled Williams home. Somewhere Earl Weaver was shaking his head. Kelvim Escobar pitched well and the Yanks wouldn’t get another hit until Sheffield hit a solo dinger in the eighth.

While Jeter’s lack of walks this year–he has just 26–has really hurt his numbers (.326 BBP), his newfound love for the sacrifice bunt just doesn’t make any sense. The New York press has been slow to call Jeter on it–the Times didn’t mention it at all today–but a loss like yesterday’s is enough to start them asking questions. Joel Sherman opines:

Why would Derek Jeter, struggling again on offense, sacrifice with Bernie Williams on second, one run already in and no outs in the third? Jeter said because he felt the team needed to build toward another run and that Kelvim Escobar’s 95 mph fastball tails into righties, and he did not feel he could shoot the ball to right field. But he also disputed he has sacrificed more this season, though the 12 [actually 13] he has are one more than he had produced in the three previous seasons combined.

The blame for the Yankees’ slump does not rest on Jeter’s sacrifice bunting of course. I know I’m picking on him. Alex Rodriguez isn’t hitting a lick, and other than Sheffield, neither is anyone else in the line-up. Oh, and they haven’t had a lights-out performance from any of the starting pitchers either. The team starts a three-game series in Cleveland tonight. The Indians have fallen out of the playoff race. One of these teams is due for a win. Let’s hope it’s the New Yorkers…

I was at the game yesterday. It was a beautiful day to be at the park. The place was packed. But we sat on our hands for most of the day. There was a seven-year old Mets fan sitting behind me who was taking great delight in the Yankees’ misfortune. He didn’t stop talking throughout the entire game and seriously, it took all of my maturity as an adult not to turn around and say something that would potentially scar the kid for a long time. I came close to losing it, and am thankful I managed to control myself. You all should have seen the look on my face though. A true comedy routine if you ever saw one. Anyhow, Emily had a great time. “I’m at the ball game,” she kept saying. “I’m so happy to be at the game, and you can quote me and put it on your site.”

I hope to be able to post more positive quotes like that as the week moves along.

Another Day…

It is an absolutely gorgeous day here in New York. Slightly overcast, but sunny, without a trace of humidity in the air. Em and I and just about to head on over to the stadium with a couple of friends of hers to catch the game. Brownie will be on the mound for the Yanks. I have a good feeling about them today. Lord knows, Boss George will be ranting and raving later this afternoon if they don’t win. Look for Joe Torre to continue managing like we’re in October (he had Tom Gordon warming up yesterday, down 5-1 and never got him in the game).

Dog Daze

The Yankees continued their slide on Friday and Saturday at the stadium, losing 5-0 and 6-1 to the Angels. Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Sele and the Angels bullpen helped wipe the floor with them. I was at the game this afternoon, staying through the fourth inning, and getting thoroughly soaked before my brother and I eventually bagged it (the game was delayed for over three hours). Bernie Williams made a base-running mistake (wake up and join the rest of us Sweet Pea) while Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter made errors in the field. The team looks flat and they got their asses handed to them. First it was Minnesota and now it’s Anahiem. The Angels beat up on Esteban Loazia who was booed as he left the field, though not nearly as badly as he could have been. Jeff Davanon hit a long home run into the right field bleachers then took his own sweet time rounding the bases. You could time the guy with a calendar. Yo, he hit the ball a ton, respect due, but last I checked his name wasn’t Vlad Guerrero. Try running around the bases smart guy.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox won twice and now trail the Yankees by just six and a half games. Boston has won five straight. While it is probably premature to panic, I can safely say that there are a lot of unhappy Yankee fans tonight. As you can tell, I’m not even a little bit happy. Sure, it’s unlikely that the Yankees will play as poorly as they have for the past week for too long, but one never knows…And just because the Bombers have never squandered a big lead late in the season doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen. While some will say, “It’s the Yanks, it’ll never happen to them?” I say, “Why wouldn’t it happen to them sooner or later?”

Kevin Brown goes against Kelvim Escobar tomorrow before the Yanks head off to Cleveland. Here’s hoping that no matter the result, the Yanks show up and play a more compelling brand of baseball.

Yanks 13, Twins 10

“We made one helluva comeback, then we saw something we haven’t seen all year,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I still can’t believe Sheffield hit that out.” (Star Trib)

The Yankee offense was in good form last night even if the bullpen was not. The Yanks won a wildly entertaining game by the skin of their teeth, something Yankee fans have grown accustom to this season. The New Yorkers broke the game open with five runs in the fifth and by the seventh inning stretch led 9-3. Minnesota’s center fielder Torii Hunter collided with the outfield wall trying to rob Jorge Posada of a double to start the fifth and had to leave the game on a cart. It was a scary moment, one that had me rattled watching at home. Generally, I hate any team the Yankees are playing, no matter what I think of them objectively. But even in the heat of competition, it’s difficult to dislike Hunter. As he lay on the ground I was really concerned that he seriously injured himself. Fortunately, he seems to be OK.

But Twins starter Carlos Silva was rattled and Gary Sheffield capped the scoring off when he launched a tits-high fastball into the left field seats for a three-run dinger. Alex Rodriguez would add a two-run shot in his return and the Yanks were cruising. But El Duque couldn’t get out of the seventh and for the second-consecutive game reliever Paul Quantrill gave up three straight hits. The Twins scored five in the seventh and then resident Yankee-killer Shannon Stewart (four hits) smacked a two-out triple off of Flash Gordon in the eighth to put Minnesota ahead 10-9.

However, the Yankees were not done. After Derek Jeter grounded out to start the ninth off of Joe Nathan, Gary Sheffield tied the game with his second dinger of the night (and 30th of the season). It wasn’t a terrible pitch; fastball low and away. Sheffield yanked it to the seats in left. (Which made me wonder: How many home runs has Sheffield hit to either center or right field this year? Off the top of my head, I can recall only one that he hit to right, in the second game of the season back in Japan.) Nathan has been brilliant this year but the Yanks got to him. Alex Rodriguez followed with a single–his third hit of the game–and promptly swiped second base. He scored on Hideki Matsui’s RBI single to right. The Bombers added two more runs thanks to a pinch-hit by Ruben Sierra.

Mariano Rivera put heads to bed in the bottom of the ninth, throwing ten pitches and striking out the side. As the team went through the post-game, high-figh conga-line, Rivera was uncharacteristically animated. With Sheffield and Rivera leading the way, Yankee fans could sleep comfortably knowing they would not be swept. However, the Twins have their attention. The Bombers made like Fellini and gained a half-a-game on the idle Boston Red Sox.

Staying Put?

According to reports in all of the local papers this morning, it is unlikely that the Yankees will trade Esteban Loiaza to the Rangers.

The Stick That Stirs the Drink

In New York, the 1996-2001 Yankees are considered a connisseur’s team much in the same way that the New York Knicks of the late 60s and early 70s were. Curiously, there has been relatively little written about them, especially when compared with the Bronx Zoo Yankees of the late 70s. (Has there been any team in the last fifty years that has inspired more literature–if you want to call it that–than the Bronx Zoo Bombers?) The recent Yankee teams have not been as controversially juicy as their shaggy predecessors; in comparison, they are a tame bunch. But there have been plenty of interesting characters–flakes, stand-up guys, and red asses–that have passed through the Bronx over the past ten years. Buster Olney, who covered Joe Torre’s Yankees for the New York Times from 1997 through 2001, has written the first detailed look at that team. “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty” (Harper Collins) is an insider’s look at the one of the great teams of the modern era.

The following is a chapter Olney devotes to Stick Michael and Buck Showalter, two men who were largely responsible for the Yankees’ return to glory. Enjoy!

Book Excerpt

From “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”

by Buster Olney

Gene Michael had tickets, and he would watch the first innings of Game 7 [of the 2001 World Series] from the stands, but it was understood that eventually he should make his way to the visitors’ clubhouse, where his presence was required. Steinbrenner’s superstition was powerful and he needed his trusted amulets to ward off defeat. Michael, the director of major league scouting for the Yankees, would be seated alongside Steinbrenner and Dwight Gooden, a special assistant, in the visiting manager’s office through the game.

Michael’s relationship with Steinbrenner had roots 30 years deep. He had worked for him as a player, coach, manager, general manager and scout, and like many of Steinbrenner’s baseball lieutenants, he had fled the Yankees and then returned, in his case after spending much of the 1980s with the Cubs. When Michael came back, he, like all Yankees executives, was intermittently shoved out of the loop. But Steinbrenner seemed to trust Michael’s judgment on players above that of all other advisors.

Steinbrenner had turned to Michael in the summer of 1990 as he faced a suspension from baseball. He had been caught paying a known gambler for damaging information on one of his own players, Dave Winfield, and his lawyers began negotiating a sentence with Commissioner Fay Vincent. It was a good time for Steinbrenner to leave, anyway; he had run the team into the ground with rash decisions, and the Yankees were a laughingstock. “I want out of baseball,” Steinbrenner told Vincent during deliberations over the penalty to be levied. “I’m sick and tired of it.” He agreed to a suspension of indefinite length, knowing he could subsequently apply for reinstatement, but before he left the Yankees Steinbrenner decided to replace his general manager, Pete Peterson.

At the time, Michael was working as a scout for the Yankees, and he phoned Steinbrenner to suggest former Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton as a candidate for general manager. Michael had been impressed by Sutton’s intelligence, and he thought Sutton would satisfy Steinbrenner’s standing desire for marquee names; Don Drysdale was another possibility, Michael thought. But Steinbrenner sounded completely disinterested. A couple of weeks later, Steinbrenner called back. “We’ve been thinking about your choice,” Steinbrenner said. “But we keep coming back to one name.”

Michael waited, silently. “Aren’t you going to ask me who it is?” Steinbrenner asked.

“OK,” said Michael. “Who is it?”

“You,” Steinbrenner replied, and Michael was stunned.

“I have great confidence in him,” Steinbrenner told reporters when Michael was introduced at a press conference, as he had about other general managers and managers he had fired in the past. “No one is more knowledgeable in the organization.” But a club official close to Steinbrenner thought the real reason the owner chose Michael was because he trusted Michael’s motives. Michael might make decisions Steinbrenner didn’t like, but Steinbrenner believed he would never make any decision without the best interests of the Yankees at heart.

He had been the team’s general manager before, during 1979 and 1980, after Steinbrenner had pried him off the field. “Forget about managing,” Steinbrenner had said, “and come up here with the other second-guessers.” Now, in 1990, Michael was attracted to the challenge of rebuilding the Yankees, and he had some ideas of how the team could be improved. And with Steinbrenner out of the day-to-day operations, Michael would have the element most essential to restructuring the team: time.

There would be time for the prospects to develop in the minors. Time for the youngest Yankees, like 21-year-old Bernie Williams, to evolve into productive major leaguers. Time for the organization to restock its pool of pitching. Steinbrenner would not be around to impetuously override the judgment of his baseball executives. He had changed general managers 14 times in his 17 years as owner of the Yankees, but now it appeared Michael would have carte blanche for at least a couple of years, maybe longer.

Michael was introduced at a press conference on Aug. 20, 1990, and a reporter asked whether Michael would have taken the job if Steinbrenner had not been forced out of the game. Michael smiled. “That’s not a fair question,” he said. “I wasn’t offered that.” Twelve years later, Michael again declined to answer the same question. But friends inside and outside the organization thought the answer in both instances would have been no.

For many years, it seemed Michael made a mistake to make a career in baseball, because anyone who had seen Gene Michael play basketball and baseball knew that he was better at basketball. Michael himself preferred basketball. Almost 6-foot-3 and stronger than his slender build might suggest, Michael could shoot and play defense, and he liked basketball better because you could practice by yourself; a ball and a basket and you were in business. Baseball required too many players. But he wanted to play professional sports and baseball seemed like a more stable employment option; the major and minor leagues were better established. He signed with the Pirates for $25,000, but never felt fully confident, the way he did in basketball. Playing in the Class B Carolina League in 1962, Michael faced a Durham Bulls pitcher named Wally Wolf and was completely overwhelmed by Wolf’s fastball; nobody could hit that stuff, he thought. Wolf was subsequently promoted to Class AAA, where hitters pounded him, and Michael was appalled. If Wally Wolf can’t get to the majors with that fastball, Michael thought, how am I going to hit major league pitchers?

Michael had a strong second season in the minors, though, batting .324 and stealing 36 bases, and in that winter, as 1961 became 1962, he played basketball in Akron – and was recommended to the Detroit Pistons, who had lost a couple of guards to injuries. Michael was offered a two-year contract that would have offset his baseball signing bonus. But this was before players had agents and lawyers to represent them in negotiations, and Michael knew that his baseball contract specifically forbade him from pursuing a basketball career. “Nowadays, you see players get out of that kind of contract all the time,” Michael said years later. “But I was scared.”

Twins 7, Yanks 2

Three in a Row

“If we have to see them in the playoffs, they know it’s not going to be easy.” Johan Santana

Yo, tell me something I don’t know. The Twins whipped the Yankees for the second straight night at the Metrodome. Both games have been anything but competitive. Johan Santana was efficient and devastating. He had a two-hit shut-out going into the eighth inning when allowed three hits before being pulled. The Yanks managed to score a couple of runs but it was too little too late. Mike Mussina and Taynon Sturtze gave up seven runs between them. By the middle of the game, the Minnesota crowd let the New Yorkers have it, chanting “Yankees Suck.” Not for nothing, but I’m not impressed. I understand them wanting to vent after losing so often to New York over the past few years, but couldn’t they have come up with something better than “Yankees suck?”

In his first start in a month-and-a-half, Mussina was understandably rusty. He didn’t have much control and the Twins took full advantage. (Anyone know Shannon Stewart’s lifetime numbers against the Yanks? Man, he always seems to kill ‘em.) In all, it was a sour night for Yankee fans as the Red Sox gained another game in the standings. Boston trails the Yankees by eight games. As Jack Curry notes in the Times today:

Once again, the Yankees’ comfort level does not seem to coincide with how a team with the best record in the American League should feel. Unless the Yankees get better performances from their starters, they look more flawed than formidable. Mussina and Javier Vazquez returned from injuries in the first two games here, but each was glaringly ineffective.

“I understand it’s not going to be the way it was just yet,” Mussina said. “You hope for a little better command of the baseball, but you just don’t know. I really wasn’t too disappointed.”

It was nice to get a look at Joe Nathan, Minnesota’s ace closer. He looked strong, though several Yankees hit the ball right on the screws (Williams, Matsui, Sierra). In fairness to Nathan, perhaps he wasn’t at his best working with a five-run lead. Alex Rodriguez returns to the Yankee line-up tonight and not a moment too soon. The Bombers look to El Duque to save their bacon once again.

Separation Anxiety

Gary Sheffield spoke with Dr. Frank Jobe yesterday and apparently will not need surgery when the season is over. He has a separated left shoulder. Again, according to Jack Curry:

Jobe told Sheffield, the Yankees’ right fielder, that the trapezius muscle in his shoulder had pulled away from the bone and caused a separation. Jobe, who had studied Sheffield’s medical records but not met with him, said that Sheffield would need to rest for a month so that scar tissue would form around the muscle and enable him to heal completely.

…The trapezius muscles are flat, triangular muscles that are involved in the movement of the shoulder and arms. Sheffield has a damaged acromioclavicular joint – the separation of the shoulder – which the Yankees never disclosed. Sheffield said Wednesday that Jobe recognized the injury as similar to what Sheffield experienced when he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

…To be playing in this kind of pain and then thinking you’re going to need surgery and you don’t know if you can rebound from it at this point or have the desire to rebound, that’s a big relief to know I don’t have to go through that process,” Sheffield said. “That’s one road I don’t have to cross.”

Here Today…

George King reports in the Post today that the Yankees could be close to trading recently acquired pitcher Esteban Loaiza to the Texas Rangers for a couple of minor leaguers.

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