"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: March 2005

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Cool Breeze

I had my first real good laugh of the baseball year tonight. It was just a small thing, but sometimes, well, it’s the little things that do it to you. Erstwhile Yankee first baseman Travis Lee–we hardly knew ye–was batting against Mike Mussina in the top of the fourth inning of the Yankees-Devil Rays exhibition game at Legends Field. I was only half-watching when Mussina delivered an 0-2 breaking ball that just missed the outside corner for strike three. Mussina glared in at the home plate ump. He came back with the same pitch, only this one was lower, and well out of the zone. Lee did not chase it. So Mussina comes back and floats a change-up around Lee’s eyes. Lee swung and missed and I instinctively started laughing. Anyone who has ever taken a Conan swing in whiffle ball could empathize with what Lee was thinking. How do you lay off such a pitch? And how do you have the chutzpah to throw it?

Emily didn’t get what was so funny. Man, baseball slapstick can be so obvious (the blooper reels they play between innings on the Jumbo Tron), and yet so subtle, the ultimate inside joke. I couldn’t help but immediately jump to the fantasy of Mussina getting a quality lefty like David Ortiz out on a bullcrap pitch like that sometime, oh, round October. Yeah, I’m about good and ready for the season to start. You?

Burning Down the House

The 1977 Yankees have been written about to death, but there is a new book which incorporates the Bronx Zoo antics of George, Billy, Reggie, Thurman and company, into the social dynamics of New York city during the Summer of Sam. “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Buring: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City,” by Jonathan Mahler received a mostly favorable review in the Times yesterday from William Grimes:

The city needed a win in the worst way. If the Bronx was burning, so were large swaths of Brooklyn, notably Bushwick, which had imploded in a frenzy of looting and arson when an electrical failure plunged the city into total darkness on July 13. All summer, a crazed killer dubbed Son of Sam had preyed on young couples in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. There were not enough firefighters or police officers to deal with either problem, because the city, virtually bankrupt, had laid off thousands of workers. There was an edge of desperation when New York fans chanted “Reg-gie, Reg-gie.”

Grimes is impressed with Mahler’s writing skill but doesn’t believe that the author’s themactic ambitions work in the end:

…In a last-ditch effort to tie up loose ends, Mr. Mahler anoints Mr. Koch, Mr. Murdoch, Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Jackson emblematic figures of the new New York. The idea is not nearly as compelling as the stories in which they have played pivotal roles, and which Mr. Mahler tells with such skill. In the end, the Yankees, however heroic, cannot carry the conceptual weight assigned to them. It’s probably better not to think too deeply about Mr. Jackson’s three home runs in Game 6. Just savor the moment.

In a very crazy year, oh, what a moment it was. I’m putting this one on my wish list for summer reading. Looks highly entertaining at the very least.

Jumping Ship

Jay Jaffe is an admitted fair-weather fan when it comes to the New York Yankees. Jaffe grew up in Utah rooting for the Dodger teams of the late 1970s, so it’s natural that he was no fan of the boys from the Bronx. But when he moved to New York city in 1996, Jaffe fell fell for Joe Torre’s Yanks. Jaffe then rooted for the Bombers during their recent glory years, but now, the affair appears to be over. What gives? Well, it mostly has to do with the way the Yankee front office has operated for the past several seasons. In a recent article for Baseball Prospectus, Jaffe writes:

It’s painfully clear the Yankee front office is, if not out of ideas, then at least at an impasse as to how to implement the ones they have with creativity and foresight. In this regard, the pesky Red Sox have not only surpassed them, they figure to hold a distinct advantage going forward. Nowhere was that more clear than last October’s LCS clash. Sox GM Theo Epstein and his charges created a big edge for themselves in constructing and deploying their roster, while the Yanks drastically misused theirs. Emblematic were Game Six’s flailings of Sierra and reserve first baseman Tony Clark–two aged hitters with more than a few holes in their swings–which occurred while reserve outfielder Kenny Lofton looked on from Torre’s doghouse. Can’t anyone here run this team?

…As a fan, I look over this expensive Frankenstein knowing that it’s laden with superstars, even future Hall of Famers, a team projected by PECOTA to win 95 games, second-best in all of baseball, and likely to provide a good run in October. The Big Unit aside, however, this has the feel of déjà vû all over again. It’s not too difficult to imagine either Pavano or Wright as the next episode of Mystery Stottlemyre Theater, in which a previously effecive(ish) starter falls apart on the Yankee watch. Beyond that, it’s even less difficult to envision injury-induced collapses, major or minor, of a few older vets, the kind that can turn a 95-win wild-card team into an 87-win squad making tee times in October.

Jay isn’t the only member of Prospectus who is down on the Yankees. Joe Sheehan, a native New Yorker, and lifelong Yankee fan, has them missing the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

Bronx Banter Interview: Chuck Korr

Part One

One of the best books that I’ve come across in my research for the Curt Flood biography for teenagers that I’m currently working on, is a history of the Players Association by Chuck Korr, “The End of Baseball As We Knew It: The Players Union, 1960–1981.” Korr is a professor and sports historian at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His book on the union is the ideal companion to John Helmer’s “Lords of the Realm” (not to mention the “A Whole Different Ballgame,” by Marvin Miller and “Hardball,” by Bowie Kuhn). Now available in paperback, “The End of Baseball As We Knew It” won the Elysian Fields Quarterly’s Dave Moore Award as the best baseball book published in 2002 and was runner up for SABR Seymour Medal for the North American Society for Sport History’s award best sport history book of the year.

What distinguishes “The End of Baseball As We Knew It” is the fact that Korr had complete access to the Association’s papers and files. It is a remarkably well-documented work, a simply fantastic resource for anyone interested in the history of the union. But Korr wasn’t only interested in the Association’s point-of-view; his interviews with Judge Robert Cannon, who presided over the union before Miller entered the stage, as well as John Gaherin, the owners’ head negotiator during the Miller-Dick Moss years, give the book balance and depth. These two men, along with Frank Scott, who ran the Association on a part-time basis during the Fifties, are often overlooked. But they were key figures in baseball’s labor saga, and Korr makes sure to get their side of the story.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Korr, who is a generous and engaging guy. Here is the first part of our conversation. Enjoy.

Bronx Banter: How did you manage to get access to the records at the Association and how did that help form your book?

Chuck Korr: Ted Simmons read an article I’d written that analyzed how free agency and large salaries for professional athletes in the U. S. and Britain had changed the relationship between them and the fans. He sent a copy of the article to Don Fehr, who was interested in it. Maryanne Ellison Simmons (Ted’s wife and the founder of a very important magazine for wives in baseball, The Waiting Room) and Ted thought it was important to have a historian write about the union and suggested that I should look into the idea. I contacted Fehr and Marvin Miller and when both of them said they would make the records of the union available to me, I decided to set aside the work I was doing and see if it would be possible to write a history of the union. Fehr, Gene Orza, and Mark Belanger did everything possible to assist my work–they gave me an office space when I needed it and wrote letters to everyone whom I wanted to interview. Everyone involved with the union made a commitment to have no control over the final product. In fact, no one involved with the union saw any of the manuscript until after it had gone to the press for outside peer review.


Dirty Work

Does the New York Times have it in for the Yankees? The New York Post sure thinks so. Last Sunday, an editorial in the Times blasted the Yankees’ plans for a new stadium:

While a plan is still being negotiated, the team seems to be acting like a superstar free agent and asking for the moon. The team is reportedly expecting the city and state to pitch in $300 million to build, among other things, a parking garage that would be used mostly during games. That is wrong, and if the city intends to give the Yankees Macombs Dam Park for its new site, the team – not the taxpayers – should pay to replace that open space elsewhere. The Yankees can boast that they would pay for the stadium – about $750 million – but under new rules they can deduct capital costs from annual payments to the league, so they will hardly feel the pinch.

The Yankees have the richest franchise in the league, and they have played the better part of a century in a depressed area of the South Bronx without adding much to the neighborhood. There are plenty of ways the team can give back, including helping to build affordable housing, schools and retail space in the area. The Yankees should also preserve at least the facade of the beloved House That Ruth Built.

The Times owns a piece of the Boston Red Sox. Yankee president Randy Levine told the Post:

“Not only were the facts cited in the editorial incorrect, but the arguments are similar to those emanating from rival teams worried about a new stadium rising in The Bronx.”

…”Isn’t it amazing that the Times never mentions the tax enhancements it receives for its projects, including the new Times building, when they pass judgment on other transactions?” Levine said.

“In the past 25 years, 20 out of the 30 major league teams have built new stadiums. Except for two, they all got public subsidies,” Levine told us. “All we are asking for is infrastructure. Is the New York Times paying for the streets and subways around their building? Of course not.”

Fight, fight.

Since You’ve Gone

Even though he was roughed up in a minor league outing yesterday, Randy Johnson and the rest of the Yankees look relatively copasetic as spring training draws to a close. While there are new additions on both the Sox and the Bombers, many familiar faces are returning this season: Jeter, Posada, Bernie, Sheffield, Rodriguez, Matsui are still here, as are Damon, Bellhorn, Manny, Varitek, Nixon, and Millar. The clean-cut Yanks vs. the Dirt Bomb Sox. It will be interesting to see how the new guys figure into the rivalry. (It’s a drag that Edgar Renteria is on Boston, cause I’ve always enjoyed rooting for that dude.) Boomer Wells is a beauty fit, that’s for sure. Clement, Miller, Pavano and Wright change the look of the rotations, not to mention Mr. Johnson, of course.

But you know what’s got me bugged out? The Red Sox without Pedro. He’s been the most important player on their team since he arrived from Montreal in the late 1990s. With all due respect to Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro was the biggest star in Boston. Every series against New York, the talk revolved around Martinez: when was he pitching, was he healthy? The feeling was always that the Sox just had to win the game he started. I’m not saying the team is better or worse without him, just marketedly different. Life without Pedro will take some time getting used to.

Oh, and for those of you who are superstitious, SI has picked New York to win the Serious this year. That’s bound to bring a sigh of relief to many card-carrying members of Red Sox Nation. If you believe in that sort of thing, that is.

Something to Remember

A day after he was plunked on the left knee by a David Bush pitch, Tony Womack appears to be okay, at least physically. He’s still peeved about the beaning though. His teammates weren’t too pleased about it at the time either. Something to look out for when the Yanks face Bush again during the season.

Bing! Crosby

Hallelujah, Joe Torre got it right. The twenty-fifth man on the Yankee roster is . . . Bubba Crosby! Congratulations, Bubba. Allow me to suggest you wear a pare of dungarees under your uniform pants to avoid getting splinters in your bum.

Okay, maybe that’s not fair, but getting Bubba on the roster, which is great, is only half the battle. The other half is getting Torre to rest Bernie once or twice a week and–rather than moving Matsui into center and starting Sierra in left, a possibility that seems to intrigue the Yankee skipper a little too much for my liking–start Bubba in his place.

Torre had several conflicting quotes today about the likelihood of this happening. The most promising was this:

“This guy [Crosby] may be a regular in a part-time situation, where he may play 2-3 games here or there”

More troubling was this:

“He can steal a base, and that’s probably where he’ll be utilized more times than not. We don’t pinch-hit for many people, but we do have a couple of guys you’d pinch-run for. In that regard, he’s a bonus for us.”

And of course the ever-present:

“We do have options if we want Ruben to get some playing time, we can put Ruben in left field and move Matsui to center. [Matsui] is so good at what he does, that won’t be a concern if that’s the way we decide to do it.”


Ducks in a Row

According to the Associated Press, Joe Torre has set the Yankee rotation. Of course there was no mystery about which five pitchers would comprise the rotation, and Randy Johnson had already been named the Opening Night (what is this Broadway?) starter, but with three off days in the first two weeks, the Yankees have decided to skip their fifth starter until April 15. The question was, who is the fifth starter? The answer: Jaret Wright.

Here’s how the Yankee rotation is expected to shake out over the first two weeks:

4/3 v Bos: Johnson (Opening Night)
4/4 off day
4/5 v Bos: Pavano
4/6 v Bos: Mussina
4/7 off day
4/8 v Bal: Brown
4/9 v Bal: Johnson
4/10 v Bal: Pavano
4/11 @ Bos: Mussina (Fenway Opener)
4/12 off day
4/13 @ Bos: Brown
4/14 @ Bos: Johnson
4/15 @ Bal: Wright

Which would set the order from there forward as: Johnson, Wright, Pavano, Mussina, Brown.


Meet the Mets

The place to be for Met fans is the newly-formed MetsGeek.com, which has a roster of eight writers, including Jeremy Heit and Matt Gelb. Andrew Hintz has a good interview with veteran New York sportswiter, Bob Klapisch up today. I like this exchange:

MetsGeek.com: …Who’s the best interview on the Mets?

Bob Klapisch: The best interview on the Mets right now, when he feels like it: Mike Piazza. He’s a very thoughtful, opinionated guy. He’s intelligent, and well-read, he’s well-spoken and can fill up your notebook on subjects besides baseball, but you need to catch Mike on a good day and that’s not very often. Usually he’s not even at his locker, he just doesn’t want to go through the whole interview process so he’ll just hide out in the player’s lounge or the trainer’s room and will make a point of avoiding reporters. Even the days when he is at his locker it’s hit or miss as to whether or not he feels like talking. The most consistent, polite and thoughtful guy is probably Tom Glavine. David Wright is such a nice guy that it’s unbelievable I mean, I hope he never changes. He’s the type of guy that you’d want to be friends with, that’s how open and honest and accommodating he is, you always feel like you’re welcome at his locker.

MetsGeek.com: Best interview in baseball?

Bob Klapisch: Overall, the best interview in baseball, in my career, is David Cone. I’d say the New York Met David Cone, by the time he got to the Yankees he had changed a little bit and he had gotten caught up in that Yankee corporate thing, where you need to be careful what you say. That philosophy tends to pervade everywhere, top to bottom in the organization, and it acts as a filter to how they answer even the most mundane question. So even David was influenced by that by the time he was at Yankee Stadium, but as a Met you couldn’t find a more honest guy to tell you exactly what he was thinking all the time, regardless of how controversial, and I will miss him.

Count Down to Ecstacy

It is gray, raining, and chilly in New York. Emily and I took a long walk yesterday down affluent Fieldston road and though there were several clumps of snow still littered around, we also saw a few fuzzy buds on the trees as well as batches of purple and yellow crocus’ popping up. On the first warm day of the year, I’ll generally be able to smell baseball, mixed in with the dirt and the blooming cherry trees. That didn’t happen this weekend, but you can feel it coming. Each morning, there is more and more activity from the little birdies outside of our window, chirping and buzzing around.

It’s hard to believe that in a week from now, we’ll be recapping Opening Night. It sure has been one long, hard winter for us Yankee fans. And yet, once again, there is so much to look forward to this year. I know that I’m ready to go, although I’d be lying if I said I was stoaked about seeing the Red Sox this early in the season. I understand why it makes sense, but couldn’t we just ease into it a lil’ bit? The last few years I’ve wondered why the schedule-makers don’t have the Yanks and Sox start and finish the season against each other annually. This year, they’ve finally gotten around to it. But I don’t relish the hoopla this early. It feels like too much, too soon. But considering the WWF nature of this rivalry I suppose it is fitting. So for the first couple of weeks we’ll be all jacked up. Things could be a lot worse.

Put Him In, Coach

With less than a week left before opening day, the battle to make the Yankee roster is intensifying. Most of the heat is on who will back up Bernie Williams in center, as that’s generally assumed to be the only open spot on the Yankees 25-man roster. Of course it’s not really that simple.

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, here’s an update on the cuts the Yankees have made in the past ten days.


All-Baseball AL East Preview

I’m just a dirty preview whore. Two days after participating in the Baseball Analysts’ roundtable on the AL East, I’ve provided the Yankee entry in All-Baseball’s AL East preview, which is now up on the main page over there.

In these previews I’ve been allowing my homerism to show through by picking the Yankees to win the division. At Baseball Analysts I was outnumbered three to one on that subject, but logic seems to win the day at All-Baseball, where Evan Brunell‘s Red Sox entry (written independently) confirms my belief that the Yankees remain the team to beat in the East. Check it out.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “why the hell doesn’t he write something for Bronx Banter.” Well, the good news is that I’ve turned in the book, so starting this weekend, I should be in full effect in this space. What’s more, next week is Preview Week (TM) here at Baseball Toaster. We’ll have a different set of predictions for you each day next week on the main page, so be sure to stop by for that. Opening Night at the Stadium is one week from Sunday. All systems go!

A Small, Good Thing

“I love baseball. You know, it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just very beautiful to watch.” (Woody Allen as Leonard Zelig)

Such was the case for the Yankees yesterday, when, in a meaningless game, everything seemed right with the world. Randy Johnson had his best performance of the spring, dominating the Atlanta Braves for six innings; Mariano Rivera threw another scoreless inning with ease; and the offense, led by Alex Rodriguez, Tino Martinez, Jason Giambi, and Derek Jeter, pounded out twelve runs.

People, get ready.

On the Mend

There are puff pieces in the local papers this morning on Alex Rodriguez and Tony Womack. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter is scheduled to take batting practice today, but Bernie Williams is still aching. Unfortunately, this is something we are all too familiar with. It can’t be much fun for ol’ Bernie either:

“It seems to be a pattern with me, I guess,” Williams said. “I figure there’s nothing I can do about it. It just seems funny that every year something happens that throws my normal spring training pattern off.”

…”Bernie works hard. It’s just been tough,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “He has had some problems in spring training, but I think since he had the problems with the shoulders where he had the surgery, I think he’s gotten into a mode where he’s doing what he has to do in the off-season, and he did that again this off-season.” (Newark Star-Ledger)

Traditionally, it takes Bernie a few months to settle into a good groove. But considering his advanced age, you’ve got to wonder when his body will turn on him for good.


Mariano Rivera pitched a three-up, three-down, six-pitch inning last night in the Yankees’ 5-1 win over the Phillies. Oh whatta relief it is. Not only did Rivera look sharp, but Paul Quantrill pitched a scoreless inning as well. Jaret Wright started and tossed six shut out frames himself. In all, it was a good night for the Bomber’s pitching. Hot dog.

Baseball Analysts’ AL East Preview

As I inch closer to the land of the living, you can check out my thoughts on how the AL East is shaping up over at Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith’s Baseball Analysts.

Rich and Bryan are doing what they call “two-on-two” conversations to preview each division, pitting two bloggers covering two different teams in the division “against” the site’s charming hosts in a roundtable discussion that covers every team in the division (the Toaster’s own, Alex “Cub Town” Ciepley was part of the NL Central discussion, as was Jon “Dodger Thoughts” Weisman for the NL West).

In the AL East edition, Patrick “Sully” Sullivan from The House that Dewey Built (a frequent Bronx Banter commenter) and I go head-to-head (and two-on-two) with Rich and Bryan. Enjoy!

Against the Grain

The Yankees have been heavily criticized by the sabermetric community this winter for signing Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. But alas, Ken Rosenthal thinks that Pavano and Wright are the key to their season. Not only that, but as much as it may pain him, Rosenthal is picking the Bronx Bombers to win it all. Go figure.

Coming Soon…

According to Howard Byrant in today’s Boston Herald, David Wells will start on Opening Night in the Bronx versus Randy Johnson and the Yanks. However, Curt Schilling is looked sharp in an intrasquad game yesterday:

“I felt very good…I thought I threw the ball with a lot more velocity. A lot more balls felt normal.

“I guess you could call it a breakthrough day in that I didn’t have any issues, but the big thing is seeing how I bounce back.”

There will be plenty of time for Schilling and Johnson to hook up this year. Plus, Boomer generally gets up for a big game. Regardless, there will be plenty to write about with him on the mound in New York against his former team. Whatever happens, it most likely won’t be dull.

Now There’s Something You Don’t See Every Day

Emily and I caught a good portion of the Yankees exhibition game against the Tribe last night. In his third at bat, Jason Giambi laced a long fly ball to deep left field. It sliced behind the left fielder and bounced on the warning track. Meanwhile, Giambi who was running hard out of the box, was storming around second, headed for third…I started yelling as he beat the throw for a triple. I turned to Em and said, “You’d better store that in your memory bank, cause we are not likely to see that again this year…or maybe ever.” Giambi scored on Ruben Sierra’s single through the left side, and was greeted by smiles all around from the Yankee bench. Rich Lederer–who wrote a fine piece on the late Dick “Monster” Radatz this past weekend–was watching too, 3,000 miles away from the Bronx, in Long Beach, California. He thinks the Giambi’s feat was significant for a couple of reasons, belly laughs aside:

1. Giambi has only had eight three baggers in his entire career and not a one since 2002.

2. Jason actually ran hard and with enthusiasm, and he ran better than I can recall since joining the Yankees. His knees don’t appear to be bothering him like they have in the past.

Giambi’s hair is also longer than I can remember it being since he joined the team. I know it won’t ever get as long as it was in Oakland, but as far as I’m concerned, the longer the better.


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