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Monthly Archives: January 2005

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Putting the Me in Mean

Bob Klapisch recently visited Alex Rodriguez in Miami and was invited to join the Yankee third baseman’s morning work out routine. Needless to say, Klapisch was left gasping for air, and impressed with Rodriguez’s drive. Further, he writes that, like Giambi, Rodriguez has a need to be liked. But, in a meeting with George Steinbrenner last week, Rodriguez was encouraged to worry less about being accepted in the Yankee clubhouse and concentrate on developing an edge, a mean-streak:

Steinbrenner told Rodriguez it was no longer necessary to defer to Jeter. Even though he rarely ventures into the clubhouse anymore, The Boss nevertheless zeroed in on the Jeter-A-Rod dynamic: It’s Rodriguez who has sought Jeter’s approval, not the other way around.

…”This is still Jeter’s team because he’s the captain, but my approach is not to be everyone’s best friend,” Rodriguez said. “My approach is to win championships. The only way to do that is to be myself, and to take care of my world. With my talent people will follow naturally.”

Watching the Yankees last year, it was obvious that Rodriguez deferred to Derek Jeter. While Jeter is the captain and a Yankee icon, Rodriguez is the superior player. If he needs to channel the inner-Reggie in him to play his best ball, so be it. It’d be sure to make the newspapers happy, but if winning is really the only important thing in Yankeeland, the end result will most likely make Yankee fans pleased too.

The Elephant in the Yankee Clubhouse

Tyler Kepner has an extensive profile on Jason Giambi in the New York Times today. According to Kepner, Giambi is a player who sincerely cares what people think about him. This leads Kepner to wonder how Giambi’s nice-guy personality with react to the jeering he will hear from fans everywhere in 2005:

When games start, he will face a season-long test of his mental makeup. Fans will be ruthless, and Giambi will care what they think.

“That’s both a strength and a weakness for him,” said Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. “When you’re a major league player, it can be a character flaw. But it’s not a character flaw as a human being. He’s a good guy, and if it affects him, that’s because he does care.”

Will he run into trouble in the Yankee clubhouse?

“Jason’s a nice guy,” said Yankees reliever Mike Stanton, who was Giambi’s teammate in 2002. “He’s very personable, he’s intelligent, he’s got a good personality. I would think it would be tough for somebody to hold a long-term grudge on somebody you liked before it started.

“I’m not saying it can’t happen, but I think most of his teammates would probably say they just want him to get healthy.”

From a distance, former teammate Tony Clark thinks Giambi will pull through:

“The same commitment he had that made him a superstar in our game will be the driving force behind him excelling again,” Clark, who now plays for Arizona, said in an e-mail message. “It won’t be easy, but anything worth its weight usually isn’t. My hope for him is that through all of the adversity, he finds the strength he needs to have to be a contributor on the field and the inner peace to persevere off of it. I know he can do it.”

Jason Giambi, this is your life.

Sic Em

Jay Jaffe, the Peter Finch of baseball bloggers, looks at what the Yankees have done this off-season, and well, it makes him sick. Dayn Perry thinks the Bombers have done a poor job too, and I know that Steven Goldman, Cliff Corcoran and Larry Mahnken aren’t wild about what’s been going on in the Bronx either. But nobody goes for the jugular quite like Jaffe. Kick em in the grill, Jay.

Giambo Speaks! (Sort of)

I got a late start this morning and the sun was up by the time I was walking east on 231st street to the subway. The streets looked virtually white in the sunshine. As clusters of people waddled their way down the street, wonderfully long and narrow shadows were cast behind them. The shadows must have been three or four times longer than a persons actual size. When I got on the train, I read a bit in the Times about Jason Giambi. Talk about a guy with a long shadow. According to Tyler Kepner:

Giambi has finally made contact with Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman.

“I’ve had good conversations with him,” Cashman said yesterday. “He’s doing well, working hard, and all his medicals are good. We’re looking forward to him returning and having a lot to prove.”

In other Yankee news–and boy, there hasn’t been much to talk about in the past few weeks–utility man Damian Rolls has been offered a minor-league contract, and the team is close to offering a similar deal to Doug Glanville, to serve as a back up outfielder.

Minky Dinky Dog

Carlos Delgado goes to the Fish unt the Mets get Minky. Happy?

Soul Train

On the way home yesterday evening, I was listening to my walkman and reading print-outs from Baseball Prospectus on the 1 train, when, at 86th street, I heard a commotion. It was coming from my left so I pulled the left earphone away from my ear and I heard a man talking loudly, and sternly. Like many New Yorkers, Iíve grown numb to the pleas of panhandlers (and there are far fewer homeless people on the trains than there was ten, fifteen years ago). Sometimes I listen to their stories and give them some change, sometimes I donít. Iím more inclined to dig into my pockets to the musicians who make their way through the cars.
A middle-aged, dark skinned man stood in the middle of the train. He had a beard, and was missing several teeth. He wore a wool cap and a large sweater, and had a fanny back strapped to his waist. A clear, plastic bag dangled from his right hand. I only caught the tail end of what he was saying, “

Coming to Town?

So, will Carlos Delgado be a Met, or what?

Drag

Larry Mahnken, who hosts the Replacement Level Yankee Blog, is in a tight spot. His apartment building burned down two nights ago, leaving Larry homeless. He didn’t have insurance, but fortunately, he got out in one piece and has his health. But he’s lost everything. One way we can help is by leaving a donation on his paypal account which is posted on his site. We’re thinking of you Larry and are thankful that you are still with us.

How to Stay Warm

The hot air that fuels the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry is plenty warm here in the dead of winter. Even with most of New Englander focused squarely on the Super Bowl. Hey, here’s some breaking news for all you trash-talking Northeastern yentas out there: Alex Rodriguez doesn’t like the Red Sox, is hated by Red Sox fans and probably many members of the Red Sox organization too. Curt Schilling is not going to win a popularity contest in the Bronx anytime soon either. As if you didn’t know, the two superstars have exchanged barbs this off-season, with Mr. Rodriguez the latest to fire-away. Look for Rodriguez to be in the middle of another on-the-field brawl next season (though my hunch says that David Wells, and not Schilling will be on the other end of the exchange). I think it’s reasonable to expect a lot more barking back-and-forth from certain parties, as well.

Some people think Rodriguez is a manicured phony. But he is smart enough to be accountable:

“I played well at times, I played terrible at times,” Rodriguez said. “And at the end of the day, I feel like my job was a failure because I was basically taken there to be the final part of a world championship team. So if you have to blame someone or point a finger at someone, you have to look in my direction, and I take 100 percent of the blame.”

Jason Giambi could learn a thing or three from the way Rodriguez handles himself as a New York star.

Snow Bound

On Friday afternoon a friend of mine called from the subway platform on the 7 line in Queens. He was above ground and freezing his tucchas off. He said that when New York is this cold, the streets white from the salt, he is reminded of the scene in “The French Connection” when Gene Hackman is shadowing the Fernando Rey character. Popeye Doyle is standing outside in the cold, shivering, on the stake-out, for what seems like hours, hopping in place, trying to stay warm, while Charnier is comfortably eating dinner in a toasty, upscale bistro. That’s what New York is like when it gets this cold, he told me. Gray and unforgiving. Ain’t it the truth.

Our weekend travel plans shelved, Em and I got up bright and early on Saturday morning and headed down to the big Fairway store, off 125th street and the West Side Highway, where we do our weekly shopping. We knew there would be a rush what with a snow storm on the way, but dag, by a quarter-to-nine in the morning, the place was ridiculous. “Dogs and cats, sleeping together…” It was retarded. Leave it to New Yorkers to get nuts over a foot of snow. We weaved and dodged our way through the panic and managed to get home a few hours before the snow actually hit. Ahhh, so what to do during a snow storm? Why make a home-made chicken soup, of course.

Which is how I spent my Saturday. In the evening, when cabin fever began to set in, Emily dragged my ass outside for a walk. She loves the snow, and we had a good time doing the snow-angel thing, trooping around the neighborhood, taking-in the silence, admiring big patches of virgin snow. We returned home for some hot chocolate and watched “Cutter’s Way,” a slept-on 1981 Jeff Bridges thriller, that featured John Heard’s breakthrough, if hammy, performance. Emily got distracted and was up puttering around about half-way through the movie. I hadn’t seen it years and think it holds up pretty well. But then again, I’m a sucker for Jeff Bridges, who is almost always good.

Not much happened in New York baseball over the weekend. The Mets are still in the hunt for Carlos Delgado…or are they? Meanwhile, the Yanks picked up Rey Sanchez to be their futility infielder. Sanchez played with the team briefly in 1997 and got along famously with Derek Jeter. I know the guy can’t hit, and I don’t know how much he’s lost in the field–he used to be reliable–but I’ve always liked him, scrub or not.

Second that Emotion

I think that many of the Yankee fans who read Bronx Banter would truly love to see Robinson Cano get an opportunity to play in New York this year. Many of us are already prepared to hoot and holler when Tony Womack inevitably starts the year in the lead-off position. Hopefully, that won’t last for more than a few months. Why? Ahh, I’ve got to go back to my man, Goldman, who addressed the Womack question sharply a few days ago. A Pinstriped Bible reader asked:

Why are you so down on Tony Womack? Cairo did have a good year, but he is an average player. What Womack has that Cairo does not, apart from speed, is that uncanny ability to make things happen. Flash. There is a dynamic quality to his game that isn’t always registered in the scorecard. Some players just have that, and Womack, albeit his shortcomings, seems to make the “highlights” more so than other players of his ilk. The Yankees, with their powerful lineup, can afford to lose a tad of steadiness in the hopes that Womack produces when it really counts.

Goldman: Womack canít hit. Period. He does not make things happen. He makes them unhappen. To make things happen a player has to reach base. Womack canít do that. The quality of his game is registered in the scorecard every day. The reason the “dynamic quality” escapes the scorecard is because it isnít there.

Didnít anyone watch the World Series? The 2004 baseball season? There is a reason that the team with Mark Bellhorn beat the team with Miguel Cairo. There is a reason that the team with Mark Bellhorn beat the team with Tony Womack. Iím down on Womack because heís among the ten most useless players in the game.

Not much gray area there.

Sleeper, anyone?

Okay. Sticking with the bullpen, who will be the surprise contributor in 2005: Scott Proctor, Brett Prinz, or Colter Bean? Bean, was recently named co-Columbus Clipper of the Year:

Colter Bean came out of the Clippers bullpen 53 times, posting a 9-3 record with a 2.29 ERA, striking out 109 in just 82.2 innings. The sidearming right-hander originally signed as a free agent with the Yankees out of Auburn University in 2000. He was selected by Boston in the Rule V draft in December 2003, but was returned to the Yankees before the 2004 season started. In two seasons with Columbus, Bean has a 13-5 record with 5 saves and a 2.55 ERA. Colter had an outstanding 4.7 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Steven Goldman has been raving about Bean for the longest.

No Justice, No Peace

According to the New York Post, the YES Network is considering David Justice as a possible replacement for Joe Girardi. Say it ain’t so, dude. The article goes on to say that Sweeny Murti is the leading candidate to replace Suzyn Waldman. I sure hope he gets it. He’s paid his dues and deserves a shot.

The Best and the Brightest

Chris Snow profiles four of Theo Epstein’s, bright, young employees today in the Boston Globe. The future is now.

Setting Up

What can we expect from the Yankees’ right-handed bullpen trio of Steve Karsay, Felix Rodriguez and Paul Quantrill this year?

Beginning of the End?

Omar Minaya is set to meet with free agent Carlos Delgado today. Delgado will get together with the Marlins and Rangers later this week, but according to Dayn Perry, it behooves the Mets to ink the Puerto Rican slugger. Perry delineates a recipe for Met success in a recent column for Fox. Ever the Yankee fan, here’s the bit that struck me:

Minaya’s work this off-season in tandem with the Yankees’ largely clueless additions have positioned the Mets to be the New York team for seasons to come.

The signings of Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Tony Womack and even Ruben Sierra have been heavily criticized this winter. Some have argued that the Yankees would have been better off with Carlos Beltran and Javier Vazquez than Randy Johnson and Pavano (and Bernie Williams).

Just how close are the Yankees to falling off their perch as Kings of New York? There has been talk every year for the past four or five seasons that this will finally the year that the Bombers dip. They are too old, their farm system is barren. Personally, I expect that they’ll eventually fall off. It just seems like the natural order of things, despite of the team’s imposing payroll. Whether it is this year, 2007 or beyond, I can’t say. They are still team stacked with talent. I don’t know if their off-season has been a bust, but it’s discouraging that other teams seem to be smarter than the Yankees these days. What do you think? Are the Yankees one serious-injury-to-Jorge Posada-away from missing the playoffs? Would Carlos Delgado make the Mets serious contenders? Which one of these?

Something Old, Something New

With the sale of the Brewers now complete, George Steinbrenner is officially the senior-ranking owner in baseball. Murray Chass has an appreciation, of sorts, today in the Times:

I thought longevity might prompt Steinbrenner to do an interview for this historic development, as he did seven years ago on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his purchase. But a request through his publicist, the ubiquitous Howard Rubenstein, elicited no telephone conversation, only remarks delivered through Rubenstein.

…I was, in a way, disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to George directly. I haven’t always enjoyed talking to him; in his talking days, he too often had a forum to make outrageous statements. But now that he infrequently talks to reporters, it would be good to be able to have a chat every now and then – mostly then. But now would have been preferable.

Even baseball people, however, have noticed that Steinbrenner is more invisible than visible these days, more silent than verbose. It’s as if the Yankees have constructed a shelter around him. People in baseball talk about it and wonder if he has a health problem that he is hiding.

I’ve been fixated with what will happen to the Yankees once Steinbrenner passes on–or becomes mentally or physically unable to run the team–for some time now. He’s the only Yankee owner I’ve ever known, and for most of my life I’ve considered him a bully and a bore. But he’s also financed six World Serious winners. Love him or hate him, for better or for worse, we’ve grown accustomed to his face.

Coming Soon?

All-Baseball.com’s prospect expert, Bryan Smith profiles the best young talent in the country over at Wait Til Next Year. Here is what he has to say about a couple of Yankee hopefuls:

Melky Cabrera- OF- New York Yankees- 20

I have never made it a secret of my obsession with Melky Cabrera, dating back to his days with Battle Creek earlier this past season. To me, heís been the Yankees second-best prospect for months, with or without Pudgito. His numbers show the general trend of what happens to a player when he moves up the ladder, but in no way would I call his FSL performance a drop-off. His ISO rose to .150, probably park-related, and really a drop in average was the only poor sign. You have to love a player with a K% (K/AB) under 20, and he was at 13.5 in the Midwest League, and 17.7 in Tampa. Both, for such a young player, to fare this well in full-season ball is quite the accomplishment. Heís a few walks away from being a clone of Bernie Williams at the same age, so that should get all you Bombers fans salivating. Given the problem in centerfield and Duncanís block, I really see no player in this organization thatís more likely to stay with New York other than Cabrera.

Robinson Cano- 2B- New York Yankees- 22

For some reason Iíve always had an internal bias with Cano, though one particular Yanks fan that reads this site has made that notion a hard one to keep. Well, so have his numbers. He really showed his dominance over Navarro as a player this year, looking better than Dioner in both Trenton and Columbus. His performance in AAA was far less than dazzling, but even a .144 ISO has to be respected given his youth and his position. While the Yankees signed Tony Womack to a two-year, $4 million deal this winter, they could have done far worse than have handed Cano the job. I donít see his ceiling ever being over an .800 OPS, with a line looking like .280/.340/.420 probably about what type of player he can be. Looking at this position across the league, thatís a commodity that many teams would like to buy.

Bryan does a terrific job. Go check it out.

Flipping It

Jon Weisman and I got some great responses to our pieces last week about baseball cards. As luck would have it, Hank Waddles wrote post about the same subject the day before Jon and I posted ours, over at Broken Cowboy. Worth a look. Lastly, following up on yesterday’s entry, be sure and read SG’s piece on Jason Giambi over at Replacement Level Yankees blog.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

There are many questions concerning the 2005 Yankees: Will Randy Johnson stay healthy, how will Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright perform, will Alex Rodriguez have a more productive season? And that’s just for starters. But the biggest mystery, the $64,000 question, as it were, is what can we expect from Jason Giambi? On Saturday, Jack Curry reported that the Yankees are prepared for Giambi to play first base and DH this year. In addition:

Arn Tellem, Giambi’s agent, said yesterday that Giambi intended to meet with reporters in February before he goes to spring training. Tellem added that Giambi had begun two-a-day workouts and described him as working out intensely in preparation for the 2005 season.

“His spirits are very good, Tellem said in a telephone interview. “He’s feeling the best he has in a long time. He’s very determined to come back and show everybody he’s the quality player he’s always been.”

I hope that Giambi comes back and plays well. He’s going to have some kind of cloud hanging over his head–the media attention and the abuse he’ll hear on the road should be relentless–but I don’t think it will bother his teammates too much. Both Joe Torre and Brian Cashman have left Giambi messages this winter. He hasn’t returned their calls. I can understand why Giambi hasn’t spoken with the media, but I don’t get why he would’t return Joe Torre’s call. What’s up with that? I don’t get it.

New and Improved?

The players and owners agreed on a new drug policy yesterday. It isn’t especially strict, as they still won’t test for amphetamines (greenies) or human growth hormone. But for now, the newspaper pundits seem to be appeased. True to form, Marvin Miller, is less than impressed.

A Small, Good Thing

Every so often on my morning commute through Washington Heights I see a small family consisting of a mother and a father and their two sons get on the train. The boys must be six and seven respectively. They both have round faces that seem even chubbier by their round glasses. They wear navy blue overcoats, and the required Catholic School attire: gray pants, white shirt, and a tie. The mother and father, who look to be in their early forties, are always well dressed and, if not formal, at least neat and proper. The father, who seems like a strict disciplinarian, will lovingly lean down and comb one of his son’s hair to the side. When the boys leave the train with their mother at 86th street, the father waves goodbye to them, and continues to smile and look for them after the train has begun to pull out of the station.

I’ve made eye contact with the father on several occasions, nodding to him and smiling as he dotes on his boys. On one occasion I told him how nice it was to see a father being so affectionate with his children. Anyhow, I saw the family this morning, while I was reading the rags. I didn’t make any contact with them, I observed them from 181rst street down to 86th. At 110th street, the younger son pulled out a small stack of playing cards that were held together by an old rubber band. He removed the band and looked at the top card. Then he open the stack to the middle and proceeded to flip through them using his left hand to slide the cards from left to right. The gesture really brought me back. I wonder who teaches kids to sort through cards that way, I thought. Duh. His older brother, of course.

I started to remember how important baseball cards were to me when I was seven, eight years old. Never mind that this boy was looking at Pokemon cards. I’m sure that baseball cards don’t dominate the card market for kids any longer. But that doesn’t matter so much in the long run. The cards are still held together by an old rubber band, and carried in close to the vest. The fact that the cards are graphic and contain crucial information makes them vital to a young boy.

I wonder how kids trade Pokemon cards. Do they flip them or what? I used to collect baseball cards–Topps cards–but never cared for them particularly well. (I’ve saved them, and have the good ones in a plastic sleeve, but the cards are all bent and busted around the edges.) I flipped them all sorts of ways–I used to love flicking them against a wall–and enjoyed buying packs and getting doubles and triples of lousy players in the search for a Reggie Jackson or Pete Rose All-Star card. (Loved that awful gum too and the smell it gave to the entire pack.) Some kids would buy an entire set, which they would keep in mint condition, but that never appealed to me. I liked to play with my cards. I treasured the statistics on the back of the cards and the dopey facts they’d revealed about a player.

What about you? Were baseball cards an important part of your childhood? Do you still see kids flipping and trading them? I started collecting cards in earnest during the 1979 season, but have a bunch from 1977 and 1978 too. I was actively involved with them through the 1984-85 seasons, when comic books took over. Anyone got a favorite year? I especially loved the 1978 cards and there were a couple of years in the early-mid seventies that were great-looking too.

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