"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: February 2005

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People Get Ready

There is less than a week before pitchers and catchers report to Yankeeland, which means the puff pieces are about to begin. Hey, it’s better’n'nada, right? (Well, at least for a few weeks anyway.) While Pedro Martinez made headlines in New York today for reporting to camp early, several Yankee veterans, including including Mariano Rivera, Flash Gordon, Gary Sheffield, Tino Martinez, and Derek Jeter, are already working out at the Yankees minor league complex. Jetes and Alex Rodriguez may not be best friends any longer, but Jeter isn’t about to stoak any sort of feud with Rodriguez. They will be pitted against one another by the local press, but I doubt they’ll ever become another Reggie and Thurman. Never mind that soap opera anyhow. The Glimmer Twins will move to the sidelines in the next few days when Jason Giambi is expected to address the media for the first time since the end of the 2004 season. Man, talk about one uncomfortable situation. Yeesh.

A New Day

To the everlasting delight of Red Sox Nation, Yankee fans as well as Yankee players, are still haunted by the 2004 American League Championship Series. Recently, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield have spoken about how long this winter has been for them, licking those nasty wounds and all. The memory of the loss won’t go away for a long time, either. However, the sting will begin to ease some once the 2005 begins. Jorge Posada, for one, is eager to get going. According to the Daily News:

It was tough to swallow what we went through,” he said. “The sun has come up and we’ve got to go at it again this year. I’m excited about the moves we made, I’m excited about the rotation. I’m really, really happy with everything, but I’m going to miss Javy (Vazquez), we became really good friends. He was the one who went. It’s tough to see that.”

Which begs the question: Will Carl Pavano fare better or worse than Javier Vazquez did last year?

Toon Time

Peace to Repoz for linking these boss cartoons from Korean artist Choi Hoon. Here are your New York Yankees in action, past and present.

Fresh Direct

Winter is not my favorite season. But my trick is to get sick of it before everybody else does. That way when I turn the corner and start thinking in a spring-state-of-mind, it doesn’t bother me how much snow, or lousy weather we still have to endure. I’m ready. I’m ready for the buds to start showing on the trees, I’m ready to start seeing skirts, and some flesh move around the city again. I’m ready for rebirth, dog.

I usually make the move anywhere between late January and mid February, and this year, I made the transition this past weekend. The weather in New York was in the mid forties, and the sun was shinning. Em and I strolled through Central Park on Saturday and had the windows to our aparment cranked open the past two afternoons. I announced to her that winter is now dead to me. She that, “That’s fine, don’e forget your scarf.” No, no, it’s still winter, of course. But the switch went off inside me. I could smell a faint hint of spring, which means a faint small of dirt, which means…well, what else could it mean: baseball’s almost here. Truthfully, it’ll be hear before we know it as pitchers and catchers report to the camps around the major leagues next week.

Hot Dog.

The Yanks may have forgotten about brining Ramiro Mendoza back now that they have extended an invitation to the veteran southpaw Buddy Groom to jern the team in spring training. If he makes the squad, he’ll ink a one-year, $850,000 deal. Boy, if you could just turn the clock back three or four seasons, the Yankees would really have a powerhouse bullpen, with the likes of Felix Rodriguez, Steve Karsay, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Mike Stant Stanton, Groom, and of, course, Mariano Rivera holding down the fort. As it is, Groom gives the Yankees the left-handed specialist they lack. He may not be as impressive as Steve Kline, or the imposing B.J. Ryan, but he’s probably a step-up from Stanton.

Appreciating Alex

Steven Goldman has a fine appreciation of Alex Rodriguez, and the third baseman’s impressive 2004 campaign in the most recent edition of The Pinstriped Bible. Looking at the numbers, maybe Rodriguez didn’t have an off-season after all:

The funny thing about Rodriguez having something to prove is that in 2004 he was largely consistent with his own standards and probably turned in the best offensive/defensive season ever by a Yankees third baseman. The first thing to note is that Yankee Stadium is a much tougher hitter’s park than Ameriquest Field in Arlington. The park formerly known as The Ballpark in Arlington gifts right-handed hitters with a lot of home runs. Yankee Stadium doesn’t do much for hitters at all, other than giving a mild boost to left-handed home run hitters. Decades after the left field “Death Valley” has shrunken to what Bill James called “Life Support Valley,” the ballpark in the Bronx is still a pitcher’s best friend.

At home, Rodriguez hit a good-but-not-stunning .280/.365/.492. On the road he batted .293/.386/.534, which is what he had been doing in neutral parks all along. As a Ranger in 2003, he batted .282/.384/.577 on the road but bulked up to .314/.407/.652 at home. Yankee Stadium doesn’t do that for anyone. It’s the Joe DiMaggio story writ small.

The return of El Bruho?

According to Joel Sherman in the New York Post, the Yankees may offer Ramiro Mendoza a minor-league contract. What’s old is new again. Joe Girardi and Luis Sojo are part of Joe Torre’s coaching staff, and Tino Martinez and Mike Stanton are back with the team. Who is next?

Quick Six

Although I read Malcom Gladwell’s piece on the nature of choking in sports, I had not read his wildly popular first book, “The Tipping Point,” when I picked up his second effort, “Blink.” I didn’t get too far into “Blink” before I understood why Gladwell is so well-liked; he’s a gifted writer, with the rare ability to make complicated ideas approachable to the average reader. His prose is conversational and lively, his enthusiasm contageous. “Blink” examines when we should and should not trust our initial reactions. As Gladwell writes in the introduction:

“Blink” is concerned with the very smallest components of our everday lives–the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that spontaneously arise whenever we meet a new person or confront a complex situation or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. When it comes to the task of understanding ourselves and the world, I think we pay too much attention to…grand themes and too little to the particulars of those fleeting moments. But what would happen if we took our instincts seriously? What if we stopped scanning the horizon with our binoculars and began instead examining our own decision making and behavior through the most powerful of microscopes? I think that would change the way wars are fought, the kinds of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews ar conducted, and on and on. And if we were to combine all of those little changes, we would end up with a different and better world.

Gladwell has been criticized for being a populist and watering-down sophisticated ideas, but I think his greatest strength is engaging his readers and stimulating thought and conversation. At least that’s what “Blink” did for me. It just got my mind racing, making connections between improvisational acting and basketball*, casting actors in a movie and the dynamics of personal relationships. I loved it. I don’t know if it’s a perfect book, but it’s a great read, and it has served as a catalyst for lots of great conversation.

I wrote Gladwell, told him that I appreciate his book, and shared a story about how changes in the process of film editing relate to decision-making. I won’t lie, I also was just dying to ask him if he thought the Yankee playoff collapse last fall could be considered choking. He wrote back, told me he was a huge fan of “Moneyball,” and that he didn’t think the Yankees had choked. In fact, he suggested that baseball is not a sport that lends itself to choking in a team sense like football or basketball do. If Bernie Williams is slumping that won’t necessarily impact how Derek Jeter performs. (Individual situations like what happened to Steve Blass or Chuck Knoblauch are different.)

I thought it would be fun to ask Gladwell some questions as he’s a big sports fan. However, with his book tour in full swing, he’s simply too busy to sit down to do the kind of extensive interview I usually like to do here. So at the risk of being flip, here’s six quick questions I recently asked Gladwell (for a longer conversation with him, check out Rob Neyer’s 2002 interview). I figure it’s best to be somewhat timely, instead of holding off for months. I hope it encourages you to consider reading “Blink.” When things calm down some for Gladwell, I’d like to continue talking with him about sports, so if you’ve got any questions you’d like me to ask, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

BB: How did you come to write “Blink” and what is it about? Was it something that you had been mulling over for a long time?

MG: Blink is a book about what happens in the first seconds of any encounter. When you see someone for the first time, or hear a song for the first time, or have to make a decision in a blink of an eye, what happens? I got interested in the subject, weirdly enough, when I grew my hair out. I used to have short, respectable hair. Now I have a fairly wild afro, and the minute my hair changed my life changed as well. I started getting stopped by cops, and getting speeding tickets, and pulled out of airport security lines. Something was happening in that instant when people laid eyes on me that fundamentally changed the way I was perceived and treated by the world, and I wanted to understand what it was.

BB: You’ve got such an elastic mind, illustrating an intellectual concept with a wide variety of examples, from car salesman to food testers to scientists to musicians and improvisational actors. What draws you to using such an eclectic group of characters?

MG: Iím always interested in making the ideas Iím writing about seem relevant, and the best way to do that, I think, is to look for as many different manifestations of that idea as possible. So if I can explain something about what happened during the Diallo shooting by talking about autism (as I do in Blink) I think it helps to make the ideas seem more real.

BB: Youíve obviously got a knack for seeing things as others donít. Where does that come from? Did you grow up reading a particular writer or writers who did the same thing?

MG: I’m not sure where that comes from. It might be that Iím very accustomed to being an outsider. I’m the immigrant son of immigrant parents. I’m bi-racial. I’m left-handed. I’m only person to have grown up in Canada who neither skates nor swims. I suppose if you were to put all that together, you’d come up with the psychological portrait of someone who sees the world through a slightly different lens than others.

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Here Comes the Fun

Has anyone else noticed that it is getting lighter, earlier these days? I haven’t had to turn on the light this week as I’m getting dressed in the morning. Hot dog. We’re just a precious few weeks away from spring training, and Yankee star-power is already rearing its fabulous head. Here’s the latest on Yogi Berra, The Big Unit, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. For a report on how the other half lives, check out the latest from Cliff Corcoran.

7,000 Clams

With spring training still weeks away, many fans are still catching up on their baseball literature. If fiction interests you, consider Lee Irby’s new novel, “7,000 Clams,”, a crime story about a bootlegger that features none other than the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth. I recently asked Irby, a history professor at Eckerd College, what drew him to writing the book.

Irby: One day at the library, I was doing research on what I thought would be a scholarly piece on the history of baseball in St. Petersburg. I decided it would be fun to delve into what the Yankees were up to when they hit town for the first time in 1925. In the St Pete Times I saw an article that mentioned Babe Ruth getting sued for $7,700 (I changed it to 7,000) by some bookies in NYC. The same story appeared in the New York Times; no Ruth bios mentioned it (that I found). I kept digging. During spring training in 1925, Ruth’s wife Helen came down to save the marriage (it didn’t work, they separated right after). He was drinking like a fish, sleeping around, and got pretty sick (he nearly died after he left spring training–The Belly Ache Heard Round the World). I figured all of that would work in a novel. I am a huge baseball fan. My father was a Yankees fan from the sticks of Virginia because my uncle, Red Irby, played shortstop in the Yankees farm system in the 1950s (he got to Triple A; he was good). Red, though, blew out his knee, drank and caroused, and yelled at his managers. Career over. Mine never got started. I loved the sport but couldn’t play it well.

BB: What kind of license did you take with the Ruth legend?

Irby: Very little, I hope. I tried to capture him, his spirit and his appetites, the best I could. I wanted a complete picture, warts and all. He was generous and selfish, larger than life and strangely childish. I followed him around through the St Pete Times. Everywhere he goes in my book, he went in real life during March 1925. The book climaxes at the running of the Babe Ruth Cup at Derby Lanes Dog Track. For his voice, I relied on his own book, Babe Ruth’s Own Book on Baseball, that was ghost written but probably from interviews with him. That helped with his cadence. It is a suspenseful tale that I imagined men and women would both like–I tried to put in everything but the kitchen sink. I spent four years writing it because I wanted the book to be well constructed. The plot twists and turns like a mystery; there is history for those who like it; a love story; hit men sent by Al Capone; and the Babe. I used slang from the Twenties so there are almost no “curse” words. I slaved over the details and sweated everything. The editor who bought the book at Doubleday, Jason Kaufman, was the editor for The Da Vinci Code, so I felt pretty good about my efforts. Lucky for me, Jason is a big Yankees and baseball fan.

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