"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: November 2005

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Right On

George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck is an elegant-looking chronicle of CBS and Edward R. Murrow’s daring coverage of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the mid 1950s. Featuring a fine lead performance from David Strathairn, the narrative is terse and even-handed without being humorless. There is a sense of cool detachment in the storytelling that brought to mind All the President’s Men, but Robert Elswit’s black and white cinematography has a sensuality that suggests Bruce Weber’s lush documentary about Chet Baker, Let’s Get Lost. In fact, Clooney’s direction reminded me of something the late film critic Pauline Kael once wrote about Bob Fosse’s movie, Lenny:

Fosse has learned a phenomenal amount about film technique in a short time; Lenny is only his third movie (after Sweet Charity and Cabaret), and it’s a handsome piece of work. I don’t know of any other director who entered moviemaking so late in life and developed such technical proficiency…Lenny is…controlled and intelligent.

Clooney has the good sense to surround himself with top-notch professionals and this movie is an accomplished piece of filmmaking, a big leap forward from his first picture, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

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2005 Yankee Postmortem: Outfielders

You can read my contribution to the Baseball Analysts’ “What Went Wrong” series here. Meanwhile, on with the outfielders.

Overall AL Average: .268/.328/.424

Right Field

AL Average: .270/.332/.451

Gary Sheffield .291/.379/.512 (.302)

Sheffield has been an absolute masher for the Yankees in his first two seasons in pinstripes, but both years he’s suffered a fall-off in September. At first blanch those September swoons might appear to be evidence fatigue exacerbated by Sheffield’s age. Indeed, his production in 2005, though still placing him among the top hitters in the game, marks a continued decline from his fantastic 2003 season. On second glance, injuries appear to have played a role. After playing all of last season with a torn shoulder muscle, Sheffield simply wore down at the end of 2004. A pair of cortisone shots in that shoulder on September 19 helped him put up strong postseason numbers, but robbed him of his power for the remainder of the regular season. Looking at this year, one is tempted to point to the mysterious upper leg muscle pull Sheffield suffered while playing the field against the Devil Rays on September 7 as the cause for his September swoon, noting his lack of an extra base hit in 21 post-season at-bats as further evidence of the effects of the injury. In reality, after missing five games due to that injury, Sheffield hit a robust .299/.383/.545 over the remainder of the regular season. Rather, it was the six games prior to the thigh injury, a plain old slump in which he went 2 for 19, both hits being singles, that sunk his September numbers.

Despite the slight fall off in production from 2004, Sheffield finished second among American League right fielders in VORP in 2005 and a very close fourth among major league right fielders (behind Vlad, free agent Brian Giles and the still underrated Bobby Abreu). As an added bonus, after a dismal 5 for 11 performance on the bases in 2004, Sheffield rebounded by stealing 10 bases in 12 attempts in ’05.

Grade: A-

Center Field

AL Average: .268/.322/.407

Bernie Williams .249/.321/.367 (.242)

After what was actually one of his finest offensive seasons in 2002 (.333/.415/.493 – .312), Bernie appeared to take a step down to an inferior, but consistent level of production in 2003 and 2004 (something along the lines of .260/.360/.420 – .270). Alas, Bernie’s production fell off yet again in 2005 to the point where, after clearly not being able to field his position for the past several seasons, he could no longer hit well enough to carry it either. One would think that this fall off in production is what motivated the Yankees, ever the offensive-minded organization, to take desperate measures to get Bernie out of center field. Curiously, that was not the case. Instead it was Bernie’s defense that prompted the move,

In the seventh inning of a home game against the Blue Jays on May 1, Eric Hinske stood on third with one out when Gregg Zaun lifted a fly ball to shallow center. Charging, Bernie made the catch for the second out, but, suffering from an elbow injury, couldn’t even get his throw to the pitcher’s mound on the fly, allowing Hinske to tag up and score. It was then that Brian Cashman realized that, after ill-advisedly sending Bernie out to the middle pasture for the past several season, the time had come to send Bernie out to pasture somewhere else.

Unfortunately, Cashman chose to replace Williams in the outfield with Tony Womack, which assured Bernie’s return to the starting line-up. A later attempt with 20-year-old Melky Cabrera in June lasted a mere six games, as did a mid-July stretch of starts by Bubba Crosby. Ultimately, the Yankees simply didn’t have anyone on hand who could clearly out-produce what remained of Bernie’s bat. It wasn’t until Crosby kicked off a hot streak at the plate with his first extra base hit of the season, a triple on September 11, that Joe Torre was able to find a reliable replacement for Williams in center. Meanwhile, in a curious turn of events, Bernie’s defense improved upon his return to center, continuing a trend back to league average that had stretched back to 2001, which was statistically his worst defensive season. Unfortunately, Bernie’s bat never did recover.

Grade: D+

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Decisions

Tony Pena is the new first base coach of the Yankees. The thought is with Pena aboard the Yankees will not trade Robinson Cano. While I like the idea of the Yankees having young players on the team, and was impressed at times with both Cano’s glove and his ability to hit line drives, his insouciant demeanor left me cold. Further, his lack of patience is a concern moving forward. Which is not to say that he won’t improve, but maybe now is the best time to move him. Over at the Pinstriped Blog, Steve Goldman agrees:

The Yankees seem to have come out of their organizational meetings firm in their resolve not to trade Cano. Gentlemen, start constructing our alternate Torii Hunter trade fantasies now. I actually see this as bad news, because the Yankees need their pitching prospects, and if Cano isn’t going, they are the most likely trade targets. Seeing Matt Desalvo and J. Brent Cox pitching for the Twins in August while the Yankees struggle to find Aaron Small 2006 would be extremely frustrating. Cano could develop into something good, but he’s not the kind of player who is indispensable.

I’ve read that the Blue Jays are eager to deal Orlando Hudson, who is not only likable but certainly an upgrade defensively. Meanwhile, the $64,000 question is who will play center field in the Bronx next year: Torii Hunter, Johnny Damon (please no), Juan Pierre (Lord no), Preston Wilson (yikes), Milton Bradley, Vernon Wells (slap me, I’m dreamin’), or someone out of the blue, like say, Jose Cruz Jr, Gary Matthews Jr, or even Bubba Crosby?

Relax Your Mind, Let Your Conscience Be Free

Emily and I were in bed last night and I was leafing through a picture book about Yankee History. At one point she asked, “Do you learn something new about baseball every day?” “Yeah, I suppose I do,” I said. I tried to think what I had learned that day. I had just been studying a photograph of Joe DiMaggio’s last home run, hit against the Giants in the Polo Grounds during the 1951 World Serious. The photograph, taken from behind home plate, gave me a different perspective of the Polo Grounds than I had ever experienced. I soaked in a new appreciation of a place I deeply desire to have actually visited.

Often, I’m not even aware of how much I’m learning, though of course I absorb new information constantly. But not only do most of us baseball nyerds learn something new about the game each day, we probably spend an inordinate amount of time daydreaming about it too. At least I know I do, especially as I’m drifting to sleep at night. Baseball is a year-round sport these days, still there are enough lulls in the off-season for us to indulge in our fantasies without the daily tension of wins and losses. This brings to mind one of my favorite Hot Stove passages:

There is a game of baseball that is not to be found in the schedules or the record books. It has no season, but it is best played in the winter, without the distraction of box scores and standings. This is the inner game, baseball in the mind, and there is no real fan who does not know it. It is a game of recollections, recapturings, and visions: Yet this is only the beginning, for baseball in the mind in not a mere yearning and returning. In time, this easy envisioning of restored players, winning hits, and famous rallies gives way to reconsiderations and reflections about the sport itself. By thinking about baseball like this, by playing it over and yet keeping it to ourselves, keeping it warm in a cold season, we begin to make discoveries. With luck, we may even penetrate some of its mysteries and learn once again how richly and variously the game can reward us.

Roger Angell, from “Baseball in the Mind”

Put Me in Coach

The Yankees coaching staff is rounding into shape. Yesterday, Lee Mazzilli was officially hired as Joe Torre’s bench coach. According to the New York Post, Luis Sojo has been offered the managerial job at Single A Tampa, as the Bombers prepare to announce that Tony Pena will be their new first base coach:

“It looks like I am going to be in Tampa and I will be happy [to be home],” Sojo told The Post from Venezuela yesterday. “I talked to [GM Brian Cashman yesterday] and they wanted to make a move, and what can you do. It’s something you can’t control.”

Good luck, Luis. Something tells me you’ll be back someday.

Clock Strikes Twelve

According to the Associated Press, Matt Lawton was suspended by Major League Baseball today for violating the league’s steroids policy. Lawton, who has always struck me as an aimable man, had a forgettable run for the Yankees this past summer.

A Small, Great Thing

“Something in my gut reacted at the moment. Something about what? The unfairness of it? The injustice of it? I don’t know.”
Pee Wee Reese

A statue of Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Jackie Robinson was unveiled yesterday in Brooklyn commemmorating one of baseball’s most touching moments. Reese was a mensch in the truest sense of the word. Veteran baseball scribes Vic Ziegel and Ira Berkow report.

Aftermath

As Yankee executives meet today again to discuss the team’s Hot Stove agenda, Theo Epstein is scheduled to address the media and detail why he’s decided to leave the Red Sox. Be sure and check out Bill Simmons’ take, as well as Christina Kahrl’s piece too (subscription required). As noted in our comments section yesterday, Steven Goldman hit the nail on the head in the latest edition of The Pinstriped Bible:

Before casting aspersions on anyone else’s evil empire, make sure your own house is in order. This is the lesson to be drawn from the departure of Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox. As they have so many times, the Red Sox have handed the Yankees an unearned victory.

…The Boston contretemps makes for a pointed contrast to the way that George Steinbrenner was able to focus these last few weeks and understand that his management structure had become unstructured, his general manager unmanned, his manager isolated, tired, and nervous. Rather than bringing in his baleful broom (1978 Lou Piniella model), he reshuffled the deck and put things into a rational order. Whether things stay that way is anyone’s guess — given history, probably not — but as long as the order is maintained through the winter, when all the important decisions are made, it won’t matter as much if things become disordered in May. The important thing was, whatever his disagreements with Joe Torre and Brian Cashman, whatever the Tampa Grumblers were whispering in his ear, the owner was able to put those things aside and weigh whether Cashman and Torre were employees worth retaining. Deciding in the affirmative, Steinbrenner committed himself to making it work.

And this from Joel Sherman’s column today in the Post:

“The Red Sox are in utter chaos right now, a GM said in what felt like a summation. “The Red Sox have chased the Yankees for so long, and now they have caught them, they are as chaotic as the Yankees.”

…”We had the appearance of complete chaos aft the 1995 season, when Buck [Showalter] left, and Stick [Gene Michael] was re-assigned, and we made a bunch of unpopular moves,” [Brian] Cashman said. “And from those ashes something else rose in 1996 (a world championship). So we need to be very cautious. Boston lost a great executive in Theo, but that ownership group already has shown what it is capable of by hiring Theo. For the Yankees to take advantage, we better soley concentrate on our problems.”

Heating Up

The Yankee coaching staff just got a bit hotter as the team officially announced Larry Bowa as its new third base coach. Tony Pena is expected to replace Luis Sojo at first, and Ron Guidry is the front-runner to become the new pitching coach (with Joe Kerrigan operating out of the bullpen). It is anticipated that Lee Maz will be Joe Torre’s bench coach as well.

As reported yesterday, Derek Jeter has won his second consecutive Gold Glove. He is the only Yankee to win nab one this year.

Know When to Fold ‘Em

Alex Rodriguez may not be the Michael Jordan of baseball but evidentally he just might share MJ’s fondness for gambling, at least poker.

I Gotta Rock

Trick

When the season ended part of me secretly wished that Joe Torre would tell George Steinbrenner to go to hell, and walk away from the Yankee job on his own terms. It didn’t happen and I’m happy that Torre is still around. He knows what he’s in for and he’s a big boy. But apparently the prospect of working for Larry Lucchino for another three years was more than Theo Epstein was ready to endure. In a suprising turn of events Epstein turned down the Red Sox three-year offer to remain as the general manager of the ballclub. In effect, Epstein is saying that he isn’t willing to put-up with his mentor Lucchino anymore (This article by Dan Shaughnessy has been cited as the straw that broke the camel’s back for Epstein.) Good for him. He walks away from Boston with the world as his oyster. He’ll forever be a hero in New England and now has his pick of job opportunities. I’m sure the Sox will find a decent GM, but for the moment there is no buffer between Sox fans and Boston’s version of the Boss, Larry Lucchino.

Treat

In a move that is bound to infuriate as many as it pleases, the New York Post reports that Derek Jeter will be awarded the Gold Glove for the second consecutive year later today. While I don’t think that Alex Rodriguez is the best fielding third baseman in the league yet, Jeter can give Rodriguez an assist for his new piece of hardware. It’s not a coincidence that Jeter’s fielding improved once Rodriguez arrived at the hot corner, allowing Jeter to cheat more up-the-middle. I don’t put too much stock in the Gold Gloves–heck, Bernie won four of them, and Yankee fans are well aware of Raffey’s 28-game winner in 1999–but I’m amused at how upset some fans will get over Jeter’s selection. Good for you, Jetes: keep giving ‘em something to riff about. But as Cliff mentioned in the previous post, Jeter’s fielding has indeed improved. He might have won the award based on reputation but he wasn’t an awful choice either.

The Yankees’ organizational meetings commence today here in New York where it is unseasonably warm and gorgeous (whatta day to take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge or hang out in Central Park). The first order of business for the Bombers will be to re-sign Godzilla Matsui. They’ve got two weeks to get it done. Something tells me that they will.

2005 Yankee Postmortem: Catchers and Infielders

This should all be self explanitory. My goal is to post the outfielders and designated hitters tomorrow, the starting pitchers on Thursday and the relief pitchers on Friday. We’ll see how that goes. While reviewing the below, it might be helpful to keep in mind that the average American Leaguer hit .268/.328/.424 (AVG/OBP/SLG).

Catchers

AL Average: .257/.313/.393

Jorge Posada .262/.352/.430 (.272 EQA)

Jorge Posada turned 33 last August, a dangerous age for a catcher, but because he entered the 2005 season coming off two of his three best offensive seasons (2000 being the third), the prevailing thought was that, as an infielder converted to catching at the age of 20 and brought along slowly in the majors (he caught less than 40 games in the majors prior to his 26th birthday), Posada had more miles left on him than the typical 33-year-old catcher. Emboldened by this logic, the Yankees shipped Dioner Navarro, one of the top catching prospects in the game to Arizona in the Randy Johnson deal despite the fact that Navarro’s progress through the Yankees’ farm system synched up perfectly with what would otherwise have been Posada’s expected decline and the expiration of Jorge’s current contract.

Absent a future at the position (bounced to Los Angeles by the Diamondbacks, Navarro posted a .263 EQA as the Dodgers’ everyday catcher over final two months of the season), the Yankees watched as their 33-year-old backstop struggled at the plate for the bulk of the 2005 season. Despite hot streaks in May and September (.326 and .298 GPA’s respectively), Posada finished the year with his lowest marks across the board (AVG, OBP, SLG, EQA) since he assumed the full-time catching job in 2000.

That said, he was still comfortably above average for his position. In fact, he had the fourth best offensive season by a catcher in baseball, behind only his AL counterparts in Boston, Cleveland and Minnesota, and easily out-produced the best NL backstop (the Cubs’ Michael Barrett). Meanwhile, he had one of his best defensive seasons. In addition to allowing just eight passed balls (just one more than his career low, including his part-time 1997-99 seasons), and throwing out a hair more than 30 percent of attempting base stealers (a pinch better than his career rate), Jorge Posada finally learned to block the plate, a development I covered in detail in the bullet points at the end of this post.

Grade: B+

John Flaherty .165/.206/.252 (.149)

After catching Randy Johnson’s best start to that point in the season on June 11 in St. Louis, Flaherty was installed as the Big Diva’s personal receiver, proceeding to cost the Yankees a half a win over the course of the season due to lack of production at the plate. Flaherty’s collapse (believe it or not, his uncharacteristic slugging over the past two seasons–.461 between 2003 and 2004–was good for an extra win each year for the Yanks) would have made for the perfect opportunity for Navarro to step into the back-up job much like Posada did in 1997 after Jim Leyritz’s departure. Instead the Yankees’ third string catcher was Wil Nieves, who doesn’t do anything well at the plate and didn’t show up in the Bronx until September, when he took four hitless at-bats, all as an in-game replacement.

Grade: F

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