"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: February 2005

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Breakin Bread (and Bacon) with Bill

Rich Lederer has the first of his three-part interview with Bill James up today over at The Baseball Analysts. Anyone who has an even passing interest in James is in for a treat. It’s not often that he gives long interviews, and, if the first part is any indication, Lederer’s work is bound go down as a classic. It could end up being the definitive Bill James interview. I’ll link the second two installments as they appear.

Say, Say, Say (What you Want…)

“He certainly has the right to say what he wants to say. But don’t get yourself thinking that you have to respond to it. You do what you want. I don’t tell guys what to do. I just tell them this is part of being here. He’s The Boss. It’s something they should have known before they got here, anyway. Any time he says something, it’s news.” Joe Torre on his Boss (Newsday)

As expected, there a more thoughts on Steinbrenner’s weekend outburst today. Here’s a good one from Murray Chass in the Times:

Steinbrenner’s outburst risked jeopardizing the dual support for Giambi by focusing even greater attention on him, if that’s possible. Giambi has enough pressure on him without Steinbrenner creating more.

“I shouldn’t have said it, but that’s how I feel,” Cashman said Steinbrenner told him. Maybe Steinbrenner has withdrawn so far into the background in the past year or two that he has forgotten the impact his words can have. Or, as always, he doesn’t care what impact his words have.

This time at least, he did not direct the words at one of his players. That left some room for humor. “Matsui said he wished he could speak better English,” Tellem said. “If he did, he could act as a marriage counselor for George and me.”

Speaking of the Boss, my good pal Repoz is what you’d call a classic-Steinbrenner-hater. It’s a label that he wears proudly. Growing up, Repoz fondly recalls the Mike Burke/CBS days, when he and his friends could move down to the good seats at the end of a game and actually shoot the breeze with Burke. Last Friday, Repoz sent me this bit from Burke’s 1984 autobiography:

I finally came across the Michael Burke book “Outrageous Good Fortune” from 1984 and I thought you would dig this little passage about the whole facade todo. During the planning stages of the The Yankee Stadium renovation, Burke was notified by architects, that the new Stadium could not support the facade without girders…so there could be no facade. Michael Burke wanted some of the facade to remain…somewhere.

From the book…Burke to the acrhitects…

“Then take it down and mount it around the perimeter wall behind the bleachers. We’ve got to preserve that characteristic somehow. Come back and
tell me you can do that.” They found a way.

Years later, long after I left the Yankees, I happened across a television interview with George Steinbrenner. The reporter asked him about preserving the facade, applauding the fact that it had been done. In response George
related how it came about. “You see, I was watching a game at the Stadium
one night in 1972, the last year in the old park. My good friend Cary Grant
was my guest. ‘George’, he said, ‘you’ve just got to keep that facade. It’s so characteristic of the Yankees.’ ‘OK, Cary,’ I said; ‘we’ll do it for you’ And we did.”

Oh, well.”

Alex…the book is chock full of anti-Stein material….a must read for those with that lovely trace of hatred still left in our soul.

The Don

Oh, and I liked this little bit buried in a Mets “notes” piece:

Willie Randolph called Joe Torre on Friday morning and got positive feedback from the Yankees’ skipper. “He said you guys have been nice to me,” Randolph said, referring to the media. “He said I’m doing okay. As long as I’m getting approval from the godfather, I’m all right.”

Boss Barks

Man, it was a decent Sunday for the sports pages in New York as they finally had some Boss George news to splash. Okay, it isn’t that interesting

True Blue

A couple of days ago, I was thinking about remarkable it is that we just don’t hear boo about our boy Hideki Matsui. Today, Joel Sherman has a really nice column on him:

Nothing changes at Legends Field for Matsui. He is still the most covered player on the most covered team. Whatever attention Randy Johnson is getting, or Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter, it pales when compared to Matsui.

…Under Joe Torre, the Yankees have wanted to portray a style that honors their heritage: Show up ready every day to play well, but never show up the opponent. Matsui embodies that as well as any player who was drafted and developed in the organization.

“You couldn’t ask for a better Yankee,” said Afterman, whose ties to Japan helped facilitate Matsui’s signing.

After improving offensively last season, and performing well in the playoffs, Matsui has become a fan favorite in New York. The Yankees are expected to try and work out an extension with Godzilla sometime this spring.

Room Service

The brightest moment out of Yankee camp yesterday was when Mike Stanton served a bp meatball to Bernie Williams, which was promptly crushed over the left field fence. Felix Rodriguez threw well, while Flash Gordon still hasn’t been able to entirely shake off his poor performance against the Red Sox last fall. Still, his manager thinks he’s a stand-up guy:

“He’s honest, and you can’t help but want to hug the guy.” – Joe Torre on Tom Gordon‘s admission that he was very anxious before pitching in Game 5 of ALCS last fall. (N.Y. Daily News)

Gone, But Not Forgotten

Finally, Bill Madden has a piece on Jon Lieber, the one who got away:

“To be honest,” Lieber was saying yesterday in the solitude of the clubhouse of the Phillies’ spring training complex, “I thought I’d be back, but there was always the chance they might decide otherwise. I guess that’s what happened. I have no hard feelings toward them. It was just business. I really appreciate everything they did for me. They stuck their necks out for me, gave me a chance when all the other clubs weren’t willing to go there. They committed to me for two years.”

But here’s the telling quote:

“In retrospect we probably should have picked up the option,” Yankee GM Brian Cashman said yesterday. “But who knew the market was going to explode the way it did?”

Straight-shooting from Cash.

Remember When?

My good pals Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith have launched a new baseball blog called, The Baseball Analysts. Anyone familiar with their work won’t be surprised to find that it is an excellent read. Rich has kicked off their first week with an entertaining three-part series (one, two and three) simply titled, “Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?” It’s terrific stuff.

N.Y. Puff’n'Stuff

Spring training means puff pieces galore for baseball fans. Sometimes it feels like fool’s gold: there are lots of stories, but none that are especially meaningful. Still, it’s better than nothing, and I ain’t complaining. Today gives news about Boss George, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Doug Glanville, Rey Sanchez, Ugie Urbina, Cookie Monster, Sammy Sosa, and Willie Randolph and his new-look Mets.

Defending Rodriguez

Here’s a little blurb from Sam Borden that appears in today’s Daily News:

[Bernie] Williams offered the first strong defense of A-Rod yesterday when asked for his reaction to the procession of Red Sox players who have bashed Rodriguez over the past week, calling him a “clown” and saying he wasn’t a “Yankee type.” Several Sox implied A-Rod wasn’t a true Yankee because he hadn’t been part of the championship teams of the late ’90s, but Williams said that was a silly sentiment.

“You have probably one of the greatest Yankees that ever wore this uniform, and that’s Cap (Don Mattingly), and who would argue that he’s not a true Yankee?” Williams said. “Still, he didn’t win a World Series here. I just don’t think that’s an accurate statement.”

Could this be Bernie’s last year with the Yanks? Will he possibly hang em up for good at the end of the year? According to Newsday:

“Some days I feel like I want to retire right at that moment, and some days I feel like I want to play another 10 years,” Williams said.

I’ve always imagined that Bernie is the kind of guy who will walk away from the game. I don’t think of him as someone who will be a coach or a broadcaster. But who knows? Maybe he wouldn’t mind playing for three or four more years as a part-time player. I don’t see it, but stranger things have happened.

Stop Making Sense

Rodriguez, Sheff, Giambi, The Big Unit, more from Trot Nixon…Thank goodness the Yanks have Joe Torre. His calming influence makes for what John Harper calls, “The Perfect Zoo Keeper”:

“We’re here to get in shape for the season,” Torre continued, “so whatever the distractions, let’s air them out here. Let’s get it out, get it over with – let’s deal with it. You don’t hide from it, you deal with it and move on.

“I’ve always done it this way, even before I was with the Yankees. Obviously I didn’t have as many talented people as I have now. Every year we get more high-profile people, but you find out that once they come in, they’re easy to talk to.

“That makes my job easier … talking, the basics, it’s common sense. As far as I know, anyway, it’s common sense.”

Capice?

The New Guys

And what about the newest members of the Bronx Bombers? Here’s Jayson Stark on Randy Johnson and Tyler Kepner on Jaret Wright.

The Good Guys

On the lighter side, Jack Curry had a nice, long piece covering Bernie Williams’ five-day tour of Venezuela and Colombia as U.S. cultural ambassador last week.

And Bob Klapisch recently caught up with Mariano Rivera to talk about how the 2004 ALCS may have effected his pysche:

To even suggest the Sox are in his head evokes a smile out of Rivera, who playfully says, “Come on, bro, no way. That’s not possible.”

That’s not a lie. That’s not a boast. Rivera is among the least neurotic players in the clubhouse, having made a permanent peace with the leadoff walk to Kevin Millar in the ninth inning of Game 4, ultimately costing the Bombers a chance to sweep the Sox.

But no one counted on Rivera walking Millar on a full-count fastball just inches inside. That started the Yankees on a downward spiral that turned into the most traumatic postseason collapse in baseball history.

Sitting at home days later, watching the Red Sox on TV in the World Series, Rivera said, “I asked myself, ‘What could we have done differently? What did I do wrong?’ It took me eight to 10 days to get over it. Then, I finally decided it wasn’t meant to be. Sometimes you just can’t explain it and you leave it at that.”

…”What’s the point of being angry at myself or at losing?” he said. “Life will go on. Baseball will go on. No one is supposed to succeed every time. I’ve always said, you learn more from failing than you do from winning.”

Roger Angell couldn’t have said it better himself.

And On and On and On

The Alex Rodriguez story continued over the weekend as various members of the World Champs (Millar, Arroyo and newcomer, Matt Mantei) had their say. Rodriguez spoke with reporters at Legends Field on Sunday and addressed some of what has been flying around of late. John Harper doesn’t think Rodriguez is helping himself any, but Murray Chass holds the media responsible for all of this mishigoss:

One player, Trot Nixon, ignited the game with negative comments about Rodriguez last week and atorrent of teammates have followed. But the teammates’ comments have not been unsolicited. They were at the urging of reporters eager to inflame the game to incendiary levels. They were all but handed a script.

Athletes have long accused reporters of creating stories, and, sadly, this is one of those instances. It has become one of the most distasteful instances I have witnessed in 45 years of covering baseball.

…This story has not seen its last chapter. Twenty-four position players will be in the Red Sox’ camp tomorrow. That’s 24 more players who can be asked about A-Rod.

No, make that 23. Kevin Millar showed up yesterday and was asked the obligatory question. It doesn’t matter what he said in response. Just that he was asked was predictable and ridiculous enough.

Joe Torre is from the old school, and bemoans the current in-your-face culture of self-promotion and disrespect:

“As a whole, there is a lack of respect. It’s unfortunate and I know that I speak for my generation, but it’s reality. I don’t know. It certainly is against the grain for me.”

“I would like to believe when we win as a team, you understand how tough it is to win and you respect the other team that tried to beat you. You have to understand there is somebody else trying to do the same thing you are.”

But Seriously

The trash-talking continues between members of the Red Sox and Alex Rodriguez. Though Rodriguez has yet to report to camp, and offer any comebacks himself, he doesn’t need to be around to draw attention to himself. This story is already old, but it’ll be a running theme to contend with all season long. In other backpage news, ol’ quotable himself, Boomer Wells, was talking to the Daily News yesterday:

“I’ve never had a good relationship with Joe, we’ve had a few run-ins, and Mel Stottlemyre, as well,” Wells added. “Mel’s probably the best pitching coach I’ve ever had, but when you have run-ins like that, it just leaves a sour taste. And who needs it? I can understand their point, and hopefully, they can understand mine.

“There’s no hard feelings one way or another. Life moves on and now I’m in a Boston uniform and it’s my job … to go out there and beat the Yankees.”

Curt Schilling likes to talk even more than Wells does. Here is his relatively tame latest take on Alex Rodriguez:

“I’m pretty sure that me not liking Alex Rodriguez is not a groundbreaking story. I’m sure there’s a lot of guys in the big leagues that don’t like each other. The comments came about because of play in the field last year. I never really thought it was nearly as big a deal as people have made it. I’m pretty sure Alex could care less whether I like him or not. I don’t need somebody not liking me to motivate me to play. The guy’s an MVP.”

That’s couldn’t care less, but pernt taken.

Chass Nails Yanks

Forgive me for not giving Murray Chass’ recent series of articles regarding how the Yankees handled Jason Giambi‘s contract more burn here. But for a thorough account and good analysis of it all, check out Jay Jaffe’s latest post.

Nice Package

Okay, enough clowning around with the Red Sox…at least for the next five minutes. Yeesh, Alex Rodriguez isn’t even due to report to the team until the weekend. Meanwhile, his teammates seem content to let him fight this war with Boston by himself. The big news for the Yankees is the arrival of The Big Unit, who was in camp yesterday, working out, and talking with reporters. Kevin Brown, was there too, and he told Newsday he’s worked hard to cure the back injuries which hampered his performance for the entire 2004 season.

Camps Begin, Sox Still Don’t Like Rodriguez

Hey, guess what? The Red Sox really don’t like Alex Rodriguez. Yesterday, Trot Nixon told the Associated Press:

When people ask me about the Yankees, I tell them about (Derek) Jeter and Bernie Williams and (Jorge) Posada. I don’t tell them about Rodriguez. … He can’t stand up to Jeter in my book or Bernie Williams or Posada.”

There’s more. Nothing shocking, just more fuel to the fire. Nixon thinks Rodriguez is a phoney, pure and simple. John Harper wonders what the point of harping about Rodriguez is:

Question to Nixon: Why do you care whether A-Rod is a true Yankee? If you’re worried so much about the Yankees, worry about Randy Johnson, and pray that as a lefthanded hitter, Terry Francona doesn’t make you face him.

The Sox as a team don’t just seem to hate A-Rod, going back to the fight with Jason Varitek last year and then the infamous slap at Bronson Arroyo‘s glove in the playoffs; they seem positively obsessed with the guy.

But why are they talking about him in February? Shouldn’t they be happy just to bask in the glory of their historic championship? If you didn’t know better you’d swear the Sox actually lost again last year, and all their talk about A-Rod is just a sign of their frustration.

Rodriguez has replaced Clemens as the man everyone loves to hate on the Yankees. Harper likens him to Pedro Martinez. So, how many games do the Sox and Yanks have to play against each other this season before there is another fight? And is there any question but that Rodriguez will be in the middle of it?

Somthing is in the air

It was horrible, cold, blustery and rainy yesterday in New York. But this morning, the boids is chirping, the sun is out and it is supposed to get up to the mid-fifties this afternoon. Knowing that our favorite ballplayers are begining to report to their respective training camps, all I can think about it Biz Markie singing, “It’s Spring Again.”

While Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada”, and newcomer Carl “The Italian Stallion” Pavano settle in to their spring rituals, the Yankees eye talking contract extension with Hideki Matsui sometime before the season begins.

The Ol’ Goat Gets Bullish

Yankees come and Yankees go, but one thing remains the same: Bernie Williams is still the teams’ centerfielder. Now, if you look at his defensive statistics over the past four seasons, or if you’ve simply watched the games, it’s clear that he isn’t a defensive asset any longer. Regardless, he’s still my favorite Yankee (Mariano Rivera is number two). And Bernie, bless him, isn’t ready to conceed to old age just yet. According to a bit in the Daily News:

The Yankees’ center fielder bristled at talk of retirement at a clinic for young players in Venezuela, saying his experience will help carry him through despite a decline in some of his physical talents.

“I’m still not thinking about retirement,” the 36-year-old told The Associated Press. “I’m going to play as long as my physical abilities allow me to. I still feel very good physically.”

Or as George King notes in a mini-Yankee preview:

Extremely prideful, Williams is bent on proving he can still play at a high level.

You go, you old goat, you.

Check Your Local Listings…

Steroids is the talk of the town in baseball these days. Jose Canseco’s new book has generated an expected amount of controversy. Later this year, Boston Herald columnist Howard Bryant will release a book about baseball in “the juiced era.” Will Carroll has his own book on performance-enhancing drugs due out this spring. 60 Minutes is featuring a profile on Canseco this coming Sunday, and according to Cliff Corcoran, Bryant will appear in the segment. Be sure to check out for it.

Well, What Did You Expect?

Jason Giambi addressed the media yesterday at Yankee Stadium and, in case you haven’t heard yet, apologized for his behavior without specifically admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs. Tyler Kepner has a good write-up of the strange scene this morning in the New York Times. Joe Torre and Brian Cashman sat next to Giambi as he answered questions from reporters. Cashman told the Times:

“The biggest thing that I’ll be watching is not what takes place on the field,” General Manager Brian Cashman said. “It’s how he handles the process. It’s going to be a journey, and it’s going to be a long journey. Today will not end it. He knows that and we know that.”

Joe Torre added that Giambi will be the biggest question mark facing the team this spring:

“The effort will obviously be there,” Torre said of Giambi. “But I think we’re all curious to see how he’s going to recover from what he went through. He certainly looks healthier than he did last year.”

…”He’s going to have to understand that even in his home ballpark, on a regular basis, he may not get the response he wants to get,” Torre said. “I think he has to be tougher. In being human, there’s only so much you can do to say, ‘I understand,’ and go on about your business. It’s something he’s going to have to condition himself to do. But when he looks around, he’s going to see a lot of support.”

As Murray Chass reports, regardless of what Giambi says or does not say, it is highly unlikely that the Yankees will ever be able void his contract:

A person with knowledge of the contract said that before they signed off on Giambi’s seven-year, $120 million deal, the Yankees acquiesced to his request and removed all references to steroids from the guarantee language routinely included in contracts.

The Yankees were not innocents in this matter. They didn’t say to themselves: Delete references to steroid use? Well, all right if you insist, but why would you want us to do that?

They wanted Giambi badly enough that they relinquished the right to suspend him or stop payment on the contract or terminate the contract or convert it into a nonguaranteed contract if he was found to use steroids. No other words were deleted from that paragraph of the contract, the person said.

Mike Lupica, Bob Klapisch and Dave Anderson were less than impressed with Giambi’s performance. Tim Marchman, however, has a slightly different take:

It’s hard to tell exactly how Giambi let down the press. I’m a member of the press; I’m not offended or disappointed or surprised by his drug use. He didn’t harm me in any way.

If anyone has harmed the press, it’s been the press, which offered nothing more than innuendo as ballplayers swelled grotesquely in the 1990s. Our job is to cover baseball; the job of a ballplayer is to play it. Players owe writers nothing but the common decency and respect any person owes another. If Jason Giambi can avoid disappointment when I put whiskey in my body, I can avoid disappointment when he puts testosterone in his.

…The accounts Giambi has to settle are with his own conscience and his fellow athletes – not with you, not with me, and not with George Steinbrenner. These are not matters for press conferences, and it’s unfortunate that the Yankees would trot the man out in a deeply silly attempt to pre-empt what will be a richly deserved storm of bad publicity for their organization.

In speaking yesterday, Giambi has already done more than he needs to do. It speaks well of him. Apologies are at best more than the rest of us really need, and at worst more than we deserve.

For Giambi, it was an understandably uncomfortable start to his season. There is also little doubt that it will get worse for him before it gets better. The route to salvation, at least as far as he and the Yankees are concerned, lies in how he performs on the field.

Jason Giambi: This is Your Life

Jason Giambi will meet with the local media today at Yankee Stadium. According to Tyler Kepner, the event is being carefully orchestrated by the Yankees (and will not be televised live):

Late yesterday, the Yankees announced that [the press conference] would be at Yankee Stadium, with strict ground rules. They have invited each newspaper that regularly covers the team to send no more than two reporters.

Giambi will meet with the print media in one location, and Cashman and Torre may be in the room with him. After that meeting, Giambi will speak with television reporters in a separate room.

Does this mean Giambi will be contrite and offer some sort of public apology? Local columnists Mike Lupica and Mike Vaccaro hope that is the case. No matter what he says, or how delicately the Yankees handle the proceedings, Giambi is still going to face a torrent of national media attention once he reports to spring training.

Tino Martinez, who according to Buster Olney’s recent book “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty,” used to be a master clubhouse motivator, told the Daily News that Giambi’s teammates will be behind him:

“Hopefully, he says he’s healthy and he’s feeling good,” Martinez said. “He’s a great hitter. He’s got a great eye and he still has the ability to put up big numbers. I don’t know what he’s going to say, but I know the guys on the team are ready to get him over here and get going and get the first couple of days out of the way because I’m sure those are going to be the hardest, with the media and stuff.

“He’ll be accepted just fine by the team. He played with these guys last year; they know him. The thing about it is, because of all the controversy, people don’t really realize he’s a great guy off the field and in the clubhouse as well. I’m sure everybody is pulling for him. I know I am. I want him to get back and have a great season, because I want to win a championship again and obviously he can help us.”

It’s like Martinez never left.

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