"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: December 2004

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Happy New Year

The Yankees and Diamondbacks agreed in principle to a trade yesterday that would bring Randy Johnson to the Bronx and send Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Dioner Nararro and between eight and nine million in cash to Arizona. There will be plenty of “The Rich Get Richer” articles wailing about how unfair, or just plain absurd it all is. And why not? These kind of pieces while obvious and easy are based in truth, especially when you consider that the Yankees’ pitching staff will make more than the entire payrolls of some teams. Here’s Murray Chass, for starters:

This is what happens when the Yankees don’t win the World Series for four consecutive years. Losing breeds big eyes and bigger paychecks for other players. Steinbrenner’s soldiers are ordered to find superstars who will enhance the team’s chances of getting to and winning the World Series. Damn the dollars, full speed ahead.

Ever since Ban Johnson introduced the Highlanders, spending and spending some more has been a time-honored Yankee tradition. And so has bitching about it.

If the Johnson signing becomes official next week, the Big Unit will be reunited with his former Seattle teammate, Tino Martinez, who apparently will be back with the Yanks next season. Martinez is close with Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. According to Buster Olney, he was a legitimate clubhouse leader during the 96-01 championship run, even though his coaches and manager were never especially in love with him. I have to admit I feel funny about Tino’s return. While I always liked him, I wonder if this is a “You Can’t Go Home Again” scenerio. Maybe, I’m reading too much into it, but is bringing Martinez–a hyper competitive player–back going to undermine Jason Giambi‘s attempts to get his career back in gear? Perhaps the Yankees are still hoping that they can rid themselves of Giambi before the season. How I don’t know. Maybe they think that Tino will help motivate him. Who can say. I know that Martinez is probably as good a back-up as Tony Clark was last year, even though Tino has never been a bench player before. What do you guys think, will Martinez have a positive, negative or benign impact on the 2005 team?

Wright On

Jaret Wright was officially introduced as the newest member of the Yankees yesterday afternoon. More importantly, the Diamondbacks and Bombers continued to discuss a trade that would bring Randy Johnson to New York. According to Lee Jenkins in the New York Times:

A trade for Johnson, six months in the making, is finally close to fruition.

The Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks continued negotiations yesterday, and the Diamondbacks appeared as though they would take pitcher Javier Vazquez, the minor league catcher Dioner Navarro and one other prospect, probably the left-hander Brad Halsey, for Johnson. With that package, the Yankees figured to give the Diamondbacks $8 million or $9 million to offset Vazquez’s contract. Arizona could then package Navarro with its own prospects and send them to the Dodgers for Shawn Green.

Johnson and the Yankees constitute a match made in Big-and-Tall heaven.

Reportedly, the deal could go down today or tomorrow. However, Bud Selig would not sign off on it until next week and the Yankees and Johnson still have to work out an extension.

Paying the Price

In the most recent edition of The Pinstriped Bible, Steven Goldman compares Jason Giambi’s current situation with that of Charlie Keller, who played left-field for the Bombers in the Forties. Goldman is always entertaining, but he’s essential reading for Yankee fans because of the historical perspective he brings to his columns. Anyhow, he concludes with some sage words about The Man Who Wasn’t There, Mr. Giambi:

Prior to his power explosion of 2000 (for the purposes of this exercise, we will assume that the 33-home-run season in 1999 was his age 27-28 peak), Giambi was a very productive player. If he had never blossomed into a .340 average, 40-home-run hitter, his .296/.381/.497 averages would have made him a wealthy man for the rest of his life. Giambi has, or had, the ability to excel in the major leagues.

For some reason he allegedly felt the need to do something more when what he had was enough. That does deserve some kind of award, but not a wiser-than-thou, smart-alecky one. What the controversy has done to his career, his reputation, and possibly his health is a cause for sorrow rather than superiority. He’s pitiable. Who wants to say that about anyone?

There are rumors of the Yankees pursuing Carlos Delgado, as well as placeholder types like Tino Martinez. Delgado, at least, is intriguing, but so is a comeback from a healthy, all-natural, new-outlook-on-life Giambi.

The number of times that has happened in baseball history: zero. What’s your pleasure, Mr. Delgado?

I have always liked Carlos Delgado but I’d rather see Giambi come back and have a decent season. There is so much to look forward to in 2005, but I’m more curious about what happens to Jason Giambi than just about anything else.

Nuggets

It has been another memorable year for us Yankee fans. Am I right? So maybe it wasn’t memorable in the way we’d like, but it had more than its fair share of good parts. I just wanted to take a quick moment to thank all of the professional baseball writers out there, particularly those here in New York. As you know, I link to their stuff often. I really admire the job they do. I know this site would be a while lot different if I couldn’t excerpt and refer to their work. I’m also thankful for all of the great baseball writing there is to be found on the Internet, most of it done by amateurs like myself. Sometimes the sheer volume of writing is overwhelming, but I just try and share what makes an impression on me with the rest of youse.

Having said that, here are some links’n’things to keep you busy for a minute:

1. Rich Lederer’s three latest Bert Blyleven articles (one, two and three) are a must for anyone interested in the Hall of Fame election process.

2. The final 2004 edition of “Rivals in Exile,” from Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken.

3. Our pal Sully’s look at the contracts of seven Red Sox players, including their newly minted captain, Jason Varitek:

This one is gonna hurt. His offense is solid but his defense continues to slip. Varitek right now is the very worst catcher in the American League with respect to throwing out runners. I am willing to accept that he adds something in the clubhouse and that his handling of a pitching staff may even shave a little off of the team ERA. But all of the magical, intangible pixie dust in the world doesnít change the fact that catchers decline quickly and that even in his current form, Varitek is a very good and not great player. His .882 home OPS since 2002 is remarkable but it also appears that a lot of the credit for his success belongs to the cozy dimensions of Fenway Park. His road OPS over the same stretch of .760 isnít quite as impressive and may be more indicative of his true value. By 2007, I think Varitekís contract will be an enormous drain on the team and the $6 or $7 million dollar player we all know and love right now will probably be worth about $2 or $3 million by then while being paid $10 million.

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Can of Corn

By Brian Gunn

When Alex asked me to guest host a segment of Bronx Banter, it seemed only natural that I should write about movies. See, I may have grown up a Cardinals fan in the suburbs of St. Louis, and Alex may have grown up a Yanks fan in New York, but when it comes to movies we’re from the same neighborhood. We’re both nuts about Bob Altman, Pauline Kael, and Robert Towne, and we’ve both seen Hollywood from the inside out, each of us working in the film business at various times (just like another All-Baseball scribe, Jon Weisman).

I originally wanted to use this space to talk about some of my favorite baseball movies (Bull Durham, Bad News Bears, even that almost-masterpiece Cobb), as well as some of my least favorite baseball movies – like, say, Field of Dreams. But I didn’t feel right talking about Field of Dreams because I hadn’t seen it since it came out 15 years ago. It’s possible, I thought, that it had improved over time. After all, the film was made for guys like me – yuppies in their mid-30s, about to have families of their own, maybe feeling guilty about their relationship with their dads. If I was going to write about it I needed to see it again, hopefully with an older and wiser perspective. So I rented it on DVD, thinking maybe I’ll actually like it after all these years

If I was any closer to you, I’d be behind you

The Yankees and Diamondbacks spoke on Monday, several times yesterday and may be close to a deal that would send Randy Johnson to New York and Javier Vazquez, prospects and cash to Arizona. Joel Sherman reports that a trade–there are two possible variations on the table–could be completed as early as today, while according to the Daily News, Johnson has already told a few of his teammates that he’s headed for the Bronx. Stay tuned…

The Hot Corner

By Cliff Corcoran

Submitted for your approval, Alex Rodriguez’s 2004 season:

.286/.375/.512
.301 EQA
36 HR, 106 RBI, 112 R
28 SB (88 %)

Those are some pretty numbers, especially when they’re coming from your 28-year-old third-baseman who just posted a 106 Rate in the field and is under contract for the next six years. Those numbers represent what just might have been the greatest season ever by a Yankee third baseman, and was at worst one of the four best alongside Red Rolfe’s 1939, Graig Nettles’ 1976, and Frank Baker’s 1918.

So why do they seem so disappointing?

Back in February, I contributed a piece to this site that debunked the myth that Alex Rodriguez is, or was on his way to becoming, the greatest shortstop ever to play the game (Honus Wagner has him beat any way you slice it) and gave lie to the oft-touted fact that Rodriguez is, or has been, the best player in the game (ditto Barry Bonds). Those misconceptions of Rodriguez’s standing in the game might answer my question in part, but they’re only part of the story.

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Me and My Yankee Shadow

By Alex Ciepley

It’s often easy to figure why you’re a fan of a team. I’m a Cubs fan because my father is a Cubs fan. I was raised on WGN and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And if there’d ever been any doubt of my eventual loyalties, my fate as a Lover of Lovable Losers was sealed during the heady days of Sandberg and Trout and Durham in 1984. People love their teams because of their family, or geography, or perhaps just as a whim. But no matter the reason, it’s usually easy to find out.

Is a person’s disdain for a team as easy to trace? The Yankees are often called an easy team to hate. But what’s the real motivation behind this feeling? Red Sox fans, gluttons for punishment, may despise the Yankees for beating them year in and year out (at least until this year!). A modern day Mets fan may be down on the Yanks for stealing their teams’ thunder, always one-upping them on the raggy back pages.

I hate the Yankees, too, though in ways both more abstract and more specific. I’m bugged by the way Jeter sticks his ass out on an outside pitch. I shudder at the way A-Rod make millions a year but still frosts his hair like a cheap escort. I can do without Bernie’s record album or Giambi’s deodorant commercials.

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The Year in Books (Part Three)

By Christopher DeRosa

Roger Angell, Game Time: A Baseball Companion (2003)

Essays from the ’60s to now. As Richard Ford says in the introduction, Angell is not a baseball romanticist, and itís true heís too light on his feet to be labeled a sentimentalist, but he does write with great affection for the game, in an adult voice that never takes itself too seriously. This collection features many examples of his strengths: the eye for the telling detail, the felicitous turns of phrase, and the sweet wrap-ups. I read him to remember, rather than to learn, but I learned some things too. Check out this description, from the 1980 essay “Distances:”

Gibsonís pitch flashed through the strike zone with a unique, upward-moving, right-to-left sail that snatched it away from a right handed batter or caused it to jump up and in at a left-handed swinger

The Year in Books (Part Two)

By Christopher DeRosa

Jeff Pearlman, The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform

Yo Oh No

As Jason Varitek’s new deal–not to mention, exclusive new title—is sealed for the holidays, Javier Vazquez had some cherce words for the Yankees:

I’m disappointed that the Yankees are talking about trading me for having only a bad second half to the season,” Vazquez was quoted as saying yesterday in La Perla del Sur in Puerto Rico.

“I’ve had four consistent seasons in the major leagues, and for one bad second half it’s unfair that they want to trade me,” he added. “I still trust in my abilities, and if the Yankees trade me, they will regret it.”

“Good for him,” says Emily when I read her this quote. You can’t hardly blame Javey for being irked. I love the guy. Still, it seems increasingly unlikely that he’ll be returning to the Bronx in a Yankee uniform next year. Quite frankly, if I were the Bombers and could have either him or Randy Johnson–sentiment aside–I’d take my chances with the Big Unit. But I will also miss Vazquez should he leave. I expect him to have a great year no matter where he pitches. At least I sure hope he will.

The Year in Books (Part One)

This being the time of year when we count our blessings, let me say that I’m fortunate to have a guy as gifted as Christopher DeRosa contribute the occasional piece to Bronx Banter. For real. DeRosa, a professor of history, assembles a terrific review each year called the “Baseball Procrastinator” which he sends it off to his friends. I’m fortunate enough to be on the list and “The Procastinator” is just tons of fun. One portion that I especially enjoy is DeRosa’s book reviews. So with his permission, I’m going to reprint his 04 reading list here in this space over the Christmas weekend. I hope you enjoy em as much as I have. And hey, here’s wishing everyone a safe and heppy holidaze.

Book Review

By Christopher DeRosa

Buster Olney, The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty (2004)

Here is the first good book about latest Yankee dynasty. The title refers to game seven of the 2001 World Series. On the cover, Mariano Rivera stands on the mound, hands on hips, back to the camera. On the back, Paul OíNeill sits in the dirt at second base, head buried in hands. However, they are in their home uniforms, in Yankee Stadium. Game 7 was in Arizona, so I donít know what thatís about.
Olney provides the sort of insights I crave into the inner workings of the greatest team of all time. Whereas most people portray Steinbrenner as a tyrant, Olney characterizes him as a quitter — it rings true. He is prey to the same anxieties I have watching a game, actually, but he lashes out at real people. Joe Torre, aptly described by Chad Curtis as a “social genius,” has George somewhat intimidated, “Heís stuck with me, and heís stuck with me.” Mel Stottlemyre comes off as surprisingly enthusiastic and unpretentious, one of the kindest people around the Yankees.
Thatís good. Iím sentimental about this team and Iím glad they were likable. Bernie Williams, depicted trying to comfort families of the victims of the World Trade Center attack, is also the nice guy I want him to be. Clemens has an appealing generosity. El Duque is amusingly paranoid. Mariano Rivera holds “wild thing” closer theatrics in contempt. For a while, he didnít even realize someone had tagged him with signature entrance music. Tino Martinez often seemed to me like an OK but clearly limited player, but in the clubhouse, he was one of the key motivating personalities. Itís no wonder the press has never warmed to his replacement. The happiest and saddest player was Darryl Strawberry, who lived his Yankee days as if he fully believed the team had saved his life. When cancer prevented him from going north with the club in í99, he immediately fell apart. The profile of Derek Jeter just confirms the image. What you see is what you get.

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Yo Ho Ho

So, it’s the Red Sox who end up with a fitting, if expensive, Christmas gift, while Yankee fans will probably have to wait until 05 for the Wright stuff. Ah well, such is life. Something tells me we’ll get more than our fair share of goodies before it’s all said and done.

In the Twinkling of an Eye (We Shall All Be Changed)

By Edward Cossette

Closing in on two months since Keith Foulke casually underhanded the ball to first for the final out of Game 4 of 2004 World Series, I am very happy to report that I’ve neither lost my identity (which, as a Red Sox fan, was defined by loss according to the media) nor have my beloved Red Sox become "just another team" to me since winning their first World Series in 86 years.

No, no, the red of the two dangling socks of the Red Sox logo has never seemed brighter nor more deserving of of fan idolatry than it does to me now, awash in the cleansing, baptismal waters of triumph realized.

And I don’t use the baptism metaphor lightly; baseball, Red Sox baseball, has always been a spiritual circumstance for me, and I’m not drinking from the chalice of hyperbole when I describe the feeling of putting a lifetime of not-quite-enough-to-win-it-all behind me as one of rebirth and resurrection.

I am a Red Sox fan reborn.

Everything is different now. But, at least for me, not in the negative way so many media pundits, scribes, and philistines prophesied and continue to presage. Instead, the difference is one of affirmation and positivity.

The Red Sox fan I was is no more. The Red Sox fan whose relationship with the team was built upon a memory of the past, of loss and sorrow, has been transfigured and delivered into a new realm.

Red Sox fans everywhere are now living in what Dante called il punto a cui tutti li tempi son presenti, "the point at which all time is present" (Paradiso, xvii).

And this is why I had to end the Bambino’s Curse weblog. Why I had to let it go to dust and ashes. The blog represented a past I/We have been delivered from.

As I’ve written before, the notion of "the Curse" was never something I took literally. I instead described it as all of our collective Red Sox fan angst, heartache, and desire. Only in these days and weeks since the Red Sox won the World Series have I come to the realization of just how true that was.

So long as the mind is captivated by memory, and really feels itself to be that past image … it can do nothing to save itself; its sacrifices are of no avail, and its Law gives no life. For it is under the spell of abstraction, so that, in the language of symbolism, it is "formed of clay", or wandering in the wilderness, in a "dry barren land where no water is". And under this spell it remains hopelessly and helplessly captive, just so long as this dead
image continues to give any illusion of life … (Watts, Myth and Ritual in Christianity, p. 98).

When the final out was recorded in the bottom of the 9th in St. Louis, it was time for me to put the "dead image" of George Herman Ruth, the Bambino, whose ghostly presence was the central design image, both literally and metaphorically, of my blog to a final, peaceful, rest.

But baseball, like life, continues. And in its constancy, its endurance, day to day, season to season, from boyhood, to middle age, and beyond, it will remind me and counsel me to live not just in the moment, without past or future, but also to realize that it is the timeless, eternal moment wherein our real lives exist.

Or said another way, "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don’t care if I never get back."

See you in Spring when everything is new again. (You’ll find me not among the dead but the living.)

Blame Game

According to reports coming out of New York, the Dodgers indeed gummed-up the potential Randy Johnson blockbuster…for now. Here is the scoop from Bill Madden and Murray Chass. Meanwhile, Carl Pavano, who Bobby Valentine has dubbed the “New Italian Stallion,” was introduced as the newest member of the Yankees at a press conference in the Bronx yesterday. And Bronx Banter favorite, El Duque, agreed to a two-year deal with the White Sox. I hope he continues to pitch well. If he’s healthy, White Sox fans are in for a treat. I know I’ll miss him.

Stocking Stuffers

I love writing about rooting for the Yankees. That ain’t hard to tell, is it? But yo, one of the most satisfying aspects of hosting this blog is having a community of readers who stop by, time and time again. I can’t tell you how rewarding that is for me. Some of you make yourselves known in the comments section, while others prefer to just read along, keeping your thoughts private. I value both kinds of readers, of course.

Anyhow, I was thinking how I could best say thanks, while offering some small token of my appreciation at the same time. I’ve been absolutely swamped with my 9-5 of late, so the interview I recently conducted will have to wait until early next year (so much transrcibing, so little time). Instead, I contacted a couple of writers and asked if they would be willing to submit a guest article to help celebrate another fine baseball year. Lucky for me–and now you–a bunch of ‘em said yes. So over the next week or so, I’m gunna post articles from some of my favorite Internet writers, who I’m also fortunate enough to call friends.

The first piece is by Tim Marchman, who writes for The New York Sun and The New Partisan. Hope you enjoy. Heppy holidaze guys. Thanks for helping make Bronx Banter a lively place to get together and shoot the baseball breeze.

Flawed Heroes: Then and Now

By Tim Marchman

You have to take all the recent talk about the death of the baseball hero in a fair perspective.

There are, apparently, hundreds of sportswriterís sons tearing down Jason Giambi posters from their walls and pronouncing the disgraced slugger a cheat and a fraud. Giambi is both, and deserves in some measure the scorn of his young fans; but I doubt that these children will suffer too greatly from their disillusioning. They may even end up the better for it.

I grew up in Queens following the Davey Johnson Mets, probably the sleaziest team in living memory. Because it was Queens and because the Mets were so great and the Yankees so consistently second-best both in their division and in the city, to be a Yankee fan was usually a matter both of family inheritance and inborn contrarianism, and thus something fiercely clung to, like a threatened faith.

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Ding Dong, the Deal is Dead

So, wha’ happened? The New York Times reports:

As yesterday began, there was widespread anticipation that the three teams involved in the Johnson trade would send a signed agreement to Commissioner Bud Selig’s office so that he could approve the deal. Instead, the Dodgers’ owner, Frank McCourt, informed Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president, and the Arizona ownership – in separate telephone calls – that he wanted out of the trade.

…Whether Arizona even wants Vazquez is uncertain. His value might have taken a blow yesterday when Dodgers General Manager Paul DePodesta, in a conference call with reporters to discuss the deal’s demise, said he had a health concern about one of the players. It was an apparent reference to Vazquez.

… One baseball executive said the Dodgers had come to believe that Vazquez did not want to pitch on the West Coast and might invoke his contractual right to demand a trade for the 2006 season. There was also speculation that Vazquez, to underline his opposition, might have refused to take a physical for the Dodgers, and that this was behind the health concern cited by DePodesta.

And according to the Daily News, Yankee president Randy Levine is not pleased about how the Dodgers handled themselves:

“Last Friday, the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Yankees all unequivocally agreed on this trade with a window for the commissioner’s approval, to negotiate extensions and for physicals,” Levine said last night. “Over the weekend, this was confirmed by myself, Jeffrey Moorad, (D-Backs CEO) Ken Kendrick and Frank McCourt and both the Yankees and Diamondbacks proceeding by submitting paperwork (to the commissioner). The Dodgers, however, did not and for whatever reasons pulled out of the trade and from here on in, we will think long and hard before we ever do business with them again.”

Who knows? Was Vazquez really that unhappy about going to the Dodgers? Is he really not healthy? Did the Dodgers do business in bad faith? (Whatever their reasons, it apparently didn’t have too much to do with getting someone to replace Shawn Green, as Los Angeles reportedly agreed in principle with J.D. Drew to a five-year, $55 million contract late last night.) Does it really matter now? The Yankees and Diamondbacks are expected to continue to try and work something out for Johnson. Whether a third team will be involved or not is anyone’s guess right now.

Meanwhile, Boss George met with Scott Boras yesterday, kicking off the Carlos Beltran talks. No big Christmas presents for the Yanks, but there is still plenty in the works for 2005.

Back to the Drawing Board

The Dodgers done gone killed the deal. The Yankee-Diamondbacks-Dodgers trade is caput. Looks like the Bombers won’t be getting the Big Unit for Christmas after all. Shoot. But hey, so long as they can get the big sombitch before Opening Day, Yankee fans will be plenty happy. For now, it’s back to square one with Arizona. Well, at least Yankee fans won’t have one K. Ishii to kick around.

Hold Up (Wait a Minute)

The Dodgers are holding up the three-team, ten-player trade that features Javey Vazquez going to L.A., Shawn Green to Arizona and of course, Randy Johnson to the Bronx. The Dodgers want to make sure they’ve got somebody to play right field, namely J.D. Drew. According to the New York Post:

Early yesterday, the deal hit a minor snag when Dodger GM Paul DePodesta was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying there was uncertainty in the organization about making Green part of the three-team trade without having a run-producing replacement lined up. Later in the day, however, after Dodgers owner Frank McCourt talked to Diamondbacks CEO Jeff Moorad and Yankees president Randy Levine, it was clear DePodesta’s worries had been calmed thanks to L.A. closing in on Drew.

What are the odds this deal gets done–or falls apart–by Christmas Eve?

Tall Order

Bud Selig is expected to sign off on the ten-player blockbuster deal today. Arizona and New York will then have a 72-hour window to negotiate extensions with Shawn Green and Randy Johnson. Nothing new to report, really. All we can do is wait. Meanwhile, El Duque and Ruben Ruben declined salary arbitration last night giving the Yankees until January 8th to sign them to a deal or lose the right to work something out with them until early May. I’d like it if they could keep Duque and dump Sierra but I think it’ll work the other way round. Jason Varitek also declined arbitration but my guess is that the Red Sox will sign him before all is said and done. Even if they have to over-compensate to keep him, I can’t see them letting Tek go.

Waiting for Randy

The blockbuster trade that would bring Randy Johnson to New York is all but complete. It needs to be approved by Bud Selig. The papers are reporting that it should go through by the middle of the week.

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