"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Write Way and the Wrong Way

I generally try to avoid commenting on the mainstream sports media, in part because I rarely bother to read, watch or listen to it. I get all I need from the outstanding community of bloggers of which I’m privileged to be a part and independent on-line powerhouses such as Baseball Prospectus. MLB.com gives me the quotes and news of a roster move or a change in the rotation and ESPN.com is useful for their stats and pitch-by-pitch data, but neither offer much in the way of useful commentary (though ESPN boasts some top columnists). The daily papers are generally worse than redundant.

Still, sometimes when things take an unexpected turn, I like to breeze through the dailies, or dial on over to WFAN to find out how the mainstream is presenting things. In doing so today, I happened upon a pair of articles in The Star-Ledger that are fairly unexceptional on their own, but are fascinating taken together.

For one reason or another, Star-Ledger staffers Ed Price and Dan Graziano have tackled the exact same topic in today’s paper. That topic is, of course: “what is wrong with the Yankees and how can they fix it?” What’s fascinating is not only that the paper would run two articles on the same exact topic in the same day’s paper, but that the quality of the two articles would be so divergent.

Price does a fine, if somewhat unsubstantial, job, mixing comments from the players and coaches with analysis of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the offense, starting rotation and bullpen (though he doesn’t comment on the team’s cellar-dwelling defense). Price notices that Womack doesn’t produce well enough for a corner outfield spot, that Jason Giambi has been hitting for high average recently but still lacks that extra-base stroke, that Chien-Ming Wang is “the team’s most consistent starter,” and that Joe Torre is abusing Gordon and Sturtze, but also realizes that fixing any of these problems will be tremendously difficult as the Yankees aren’t in position to make a trade without opening up another hole, leading Price to a Hans Brinker analogy that produces the somewhat unintentionally comic conclusion that, “the Yankees have too many holes and not enough fingers” (true in so many ways).

Graziano‘s piece recognizes may of the same problems, but his solutions form a litany of idiocy. Graziano takes the team by position, rather than breaking it in to the three large chunks Price addresses. He starts off well enough at catcher, suggesting that Jorge Posada would benefit from more days off as he approaches his 34th birthday and that when given the day off from catching he should remain in the line-up as the DH. All very true, though Graziano doesn’t bother to comment on the fact that that would force John Flaherty into the line-up in place of Giambi or Bernie Williams.

Then he flies off the rails. Dismissing Giambi as a first baseman despite the fact that Jason has not caused any problems on defense in recent memory, he suggests the Yankees pick up the Brewers Lyle Overbay without even contemplating what the Yankees have that the Brewers would want in return (answer: nothing). In his next breath he supports keeping Robinson Cano around as the Second Baseman of the Future (points for him there), so apparently the Yankees can get Overbay without trading Cano. He rants against Alex Rodriguez, one of the few truly productive hitters on this team thus far this season, suggesting he “start working on helping make a difference on the field,” as if Rodriguez has ever done anything else (criticize his performance if you want, but not his effort). Graziano also recognizes that Womack can’t hold is own with the bat in left, but then suggests the Yankees pick up “Cincinnati’s Austin Kearns, Florida’s Juan Encarnacion or even Pittsburgh’s Matt Lawton,” compounding the idiocy of suggesting the Yankees pick up Overbay (again, how are they supposed to acquire these players?), in addition to ignoring the fact that Encarnacion is playing way over his head this season and has a career OBP lower than Womack’s.

Suggesting the Yankees drop Hideki Matsui in the order (smart), he proposes a line-up with Robinson Cano leading off (incredibly stupid given his sub-Womackian OBP). Recognizing Gary Sheffield’s poor defense, he suggests Sheffield get more games at DH, without suggesting who should play right field when he does (he also suggests breaking Matsui’s consecutive games streak, which is fine by me, but again, if Matsui sits, who takes his place in the outfield?). He then writes off Giambi and Williams at DH in favor of Ruben Sierra (no thank you), but fails to mention the starts at that position that he just gave to Posada and Sheffield.

The kicker comes when he suggests trading Chien-Ming Wang for . . . wait for it . . . a starting pitcher. As if Wang could possibly draw a pitcher as valuable as he already is. Graziano explains his logic with, “Wang will get hit harder the second time through the league, and his trade value is as high as it’s going to get right now.” It’s exactly this sort of thinking that landed Brad Halsey in Arizona. As if to reveal the Kool-Aid stains on his teeth, he later mentions Halsey as a player the Yankees wish they still had, but writes, “had they known he was ready to be a big-league starter, he could have brought back more.” How about not trading him at all? In addition to which, Halsey looked ready to me, maybe not as ready as he’s proven to be in purple pinstripes, but the problem here is not being addressed. The Yankees can’t recognize young talent, even when it matches Pedro Martinez pitch for pitch.

Identifying Torre’s use issues in the bullpen Graziano suggests the Yankees “talk the Pirates into trading Jose Mesa, or the Mariners into trading Eddie Guardado. And call up Scott Proctor or Colter Bean.” So now the Yankees are trading for Overbay, an outfielder, and another team’s closer without giving up Cano or Wang, who is being traded for another starting pitcher. I’d like to see how they’d pull that one off (check that, no I wouldn’t). Also, if Graziano were to look at the Clippers’ statistics, he’d see that Jason Anderson has by far been the best triple-A reliever in the Yankee system this year. Bean has fallen off since his major league debut. As for Proctor, that ship has sailed. I’m also entertained by this: “Reliable veteran arms . . . must replace the worn-out arms of Mike Stanton, Paul Quantrill, and Buddy Groom.” Which, to me, reads like “tap water won’t get that stain out, you should try mineral water.”

Why the Ledger felt the need to run both of these pieces is beyond me. But to me the contrast between the two is illustrative of what I hope is a shift toward the more thoughtful reporting of writers such as Price. I don’t know much about either writer and a quick call to the Ledger‘s sports section resulted only in my being told that “they’re both veteran writers.” Still, I was compelled by the contrast. Is anyone out there more familiar with these two?

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1 rbj   ~  Jun 8, 2005 12:14 pm

1.  So Graziano (any relation to Rocky?) wants Jason, Bernie and Tino to ride the pine? Tino can be a late inning defensive replacement (but if you're going to get a 1b'er, shouldn't he be able to field), the other two are left as PH'ers. Bizarre?
Jason at least is showing some signs of life, though please hit to the opposite field.

2 sabo   ~  Jun 8, 2005 1:31 pm

2.  While we're at it, can we talk the Rangers into trade Teixeira? I'm sure that will fly too.

3 Knuckles   ~  Jun 8, 2005 1:36 pm

3.  Great post Cliff.
I read that Star-Ledger dreck this morning, and I don't know what makes my head hurt worse- the way the Yanks have been playing lately, or reading the people who cover them.

I'm like you in that I'm increasingly spending less time reading the major outlets and more at sites like this one, BP, Hardball Times (a little), RLYW, Was Watching, etc. (And Soxaholix for laughs and sheer creativity)

On the other end of the media spectrum (full audience participation) I can't even bear to read some of the posts on NYYfans anymore. (We should trade for Sheets! Why didn't we sign Johan Santana in the offseason?) Etc etc etc.

4 blue   ~  Jun 8, 2005 2:37 pm

4.  off topic, but did you see that Polanco was traded to the Tigers for Urbina?

5 Jay Jaffe   ~  Jun 8, 2005 2:42 pm

5.  Cliff -- I read the first part of that Graziano piece, but when I saw the solution was "get Overbay" with no real explanation how that would happen, I decided it wasn't even worth clicking to the next page. I see that it got worse. Cano in the leadoff spot? Wow...

6 Knuckles   ~  Jun 8, 2005 2:43 pm

6.  Blue,
This is one of those times where you wish baseball was like the Old West, and we could stick up PHI-DET in the middle of the exchange, grab both players, and gallop off, leaving them in a cloud of dust with Stanton and Womack.

7 JohnnyC   ~  Jun 8, 2005 3:10 pm

7.  Frankly, guys, expecting anything resembling rational thought from a sportswriter is a longshot. Always was, always will be that way. Howard Cosell correctly opined that sports was the toy department of journalism. Even some of the high profile guys in the business couldn't reason their way out of a paper bag even if you spotted them a pair of scissors. I know Alex and Jay will agree with me that it's not only the sports section that suffers from severe lack of brain cells.

8 singledd   ~  Jun 8, 2005 3:40 pm

8.  I hate gratuitous compliments, but for what it's worth, the writings of AB and CC here, J. Jaffe and Larry M. are so much better then mainstream media (MM), I have all but stopped reading anything but these blogs. (And the ESPN site is beginning to charge, via "Insider", for most of the content on their site, because I guess their 1/2 screen ads don't genrate enough cash).

As I told Alex, these Blogs will be the mainstream sports media of the near future. Their writings are far more in depth, analytical and perceptive then the MM.
I guess this is because the Bloggers are also fans. It seems to me that most MM pieces are just to fill space. Even Gammons is falling down with 'insightful' pieces like 'the Giants can still make the post season without Bonds' (ha)!

As far as the team, I think what you see is what we have. We will make some small changes, but we don't have enough to give to get much. I still think we have an excellent team... but whatever the reason, these guys simply are playing so poorly as a team as not to be believed, and the FO is failing is many supportive aspects (scouting, coaching, etc). Even Torre is making moves that don't seem to make sense.

It's like the whole team is depressed, and defeated before they take the field. Hell, 5-10 mil/year is good money, post season or not. There is no gel. no glue, no umph in this team. I don't know why. It's not the personel per se.... something is just wrong with the whole show, that transcends individual performances.

9 Will Carroll   ~  Jun 8, 2005 7:24 pm

9.  Brilliant piece, Cliff. It's this kind of thinking that's leading to more mainstream thinking. (You know I like the call at the end!)

10 Crank   ~  Jun 9, 2005 10:29 am

10.  The stupidity of a very large proportion of professional sportswriters is breathtaking.

11 brockdc   ~  Jun 9, 2005 7:45 pm

11.  Like Shelly Duvall's character says in "Annie Hall," when referring to having sex with Woody Allen (hope I didn't just spoil anyone's dinner), That article was a "Kafka-esque experience."

I'm in complete agreement with singledd. It's all about the blogs, ya'll.

When are some people (and by "some people" I mean the mainstream sports media) going to grasp that Christmas is over for the Yanks? Gone are the days when we could just make out our must-have lists every July and November and then run out and trade for or sign whomever the hell we want.

The key words for this coming trade deadline are shrewdness and restraint. I almost wrote that entire last sentence without laughing out loud.

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