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Monthly Archives: December 2005

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I Got Five on it

Nerd Alert

Taking a holiday interlude from all things baseball for a minute, I was noodling around with the idea of top Five lists and came up with a bunch to share with you, just cause, well, I like to stimulate conversation, what can I say?

Five Great Stones Songs to Crank:

1. “Monkey Man” Scorsese was so cool to use it in “Good Fellas”
2. “Midnight Rambler”
3. “Stray Cat Blues”
4. “Doo, doo (Heatbreaker)” Organ riff is stupendous.
5. “Rocks Off” “The sunshine bores the daylights outta me…” Great moment.

“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” is pretty damn slammin’ too. I especially like the first three minutes.

Five Fun End Title Movie Sequences:

1. “Diner” Could listen to those dicks yenta-it-up all day…
2. “Liar, Liar” Carey is hilarious but Swoozie Kurtz gets the biggest laugh. To his credit, Carey is a good sport about it too.
3. “Cannonball Run” Classic, Burt and Dom schtick.
4. “Grumpy Old Men” Burgess Meredith steals the show with his “blue” material.
5. “Married to the Mob” At the very tail of the credits is a small scene, an epilogue of sorts, between Mathew Modine and Michelle Pfieffer. They dance together along the steps of a courthouse or a museum to a latin tune. She slowly moves backwards and he inches closer. Just as he gets to her, she backs into the handrailing, and quickly tumbles backwards. He lurches forward to grab her and just as he grabs her, she’s far back enough to smack her head and…freeze. They freeze the frame. And you’re just like, damn, no way that fall wasn’t going to hurt. But Pfieffer totally gave herself to the scene. Got to give her credit. Onions!

Five Great New York Movies (’70s, ’80s Edition)

1. “Dog Day Afternoon” Is Brooklyn in the house?
2. “Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3″ Every pastrami-on-rye-character actor in New York is in this movie. With Mathau in the lead, how can you go wrong?
3. “Tootsie” Not really thought of a New Yorkk movie but was in every way. Murray is a monster in the supporting role. It’s my favorite Dustin Hoffman performance.
4. “Annie Hall” Classic Woody, filmed all over the city.
5. “Moscow on the Hudson” One of Robin Williams’ best, from uptown to the lower east side, this is an over-looked New York flick.

Five Great Baseball References in non-Baseball Movies

1. “The Odd Couple” Oscar misses a triple play because Felix gets him on the phone asking some old wifey questions.
2. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Nicholson narrating Koufax pitching against the Yanks in the 1963 World Serious.
3. “Woman of the Year” Tracy takes Hepburn to a baseball game. Her interactiion with the fan sitting behind her is the highlight of the sequence.
4. “The Cameraman” Buster Keaton’s first movie for MGM. Keaton plays a cameraman who goes to Yankee Stadium one afternoon only to find that the team is out of town. So Keaton plays and imaginary game of baseball–pitcher to the hitter–and ends up swinging and circling the bases. It must have been filmed in 1927, and the footage looks great.
5. “In the Bedroom” I haven’t seen the whole movie, but I did see a sequence toward the end of the film where the father of the dead boy captures the boy’s killer, and is driving him in a car to a place where he plans to kill him. And as they drive there is a Red Sox game playign on the radio. They let the radio call go on and it adds a good deal of subtle–even comic–distraction to tension at hand.

Honorable Mention:

“Ferris Bueller” The classic chant. I was never really down with that chant, but it caught most everybody’s imagination for a minute there.

“Mystic River” Opening scene, dudes talking about Tiant and the Sox.

“The Bad Lieutenant” New York city sports radio talk show legend Chris Mad Dog Russo is the voice over during the opening credits and sports gambling–during a fictitious Mets season—plays a part throughout the movie. The Russo rant at the begining is a classic.

Five Great Jeff Bridges Movies

1. “The Last American Hero” The Junior Johnson story.
2. “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” Clint Eastwood buddy picture.
3. “Tucker” Failed Coppola epic.
4. “Cutter’s Way” Cult California art house movie, early 80s.
5. “American Heart” Gritty, disturbing drama with Edward Furlong.

Five Best Movies I Last Saw in the Theater

1. “The Squid and the Whale”
2. “Syriana”
3. “Good night, and Good Luck.”
4. “A History of Violence”
5. “Batman Begins”

I don’t know that any of them were great necessarily, but it just so happens that the last five movies that I’ve seen in the theater have all been worth the price of admission to me. They all had something going for them, enough for me to say they were worth the dough. And what more can you say?

It’s Official

The Yankees have signed utility infielder Miguel Cairo and relief pitcher Octavio Dotel to one-year deals.

According to Anthony McCarron in The Daily News, the Yankees worked the phones in order to land Dotel:

A deluge of calls may have been most effective in landing a lesser name – reliever Octavio Dotel. The Yankees, who reached an agreement with Dotel on a one-year deal worth $2.25 million last week, announced the contract yesterday, giving them what they hope is a second power arm along with Kyle Farnsworth to set up for Mariano Rivera.

There was a lot of competition for Dotel, so GM Brian Cashman said calls from first base coach Tony Pena, Torre and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson were exceptionally meaningful. “We had more people talk to him than anybody, to be honest, and it may have taken all of that because the competition on the player was so heavy and I had to drag my price up, too,” Cashman said.

Dotel is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Bombers hope he will be a critical part of their bullpen come the second half of the season.

Sinseriously









Lo and behold, there is a positive story about Alex Rodriguez in a New York paper this morning.  Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes:




He is a winner in nearly all the ways our society keeps score, notably in the areas of incredible riches and talent.  Nevertherless, he often feels as if he cannot win.  So his answers during a half-hour call are, as usual, long and full of insight.


…But almost all come with disclaimers that he is responding to questions because they have been asked…At this point, A-Rod recognizes his sincerity and motives are challenged enough that there is no such thing as a simple answer to a simple question.



Rodriguez is enthusiastic about the arrival of Johnny Damon.  “He fits our team like a glove.”  Furthermore, Sherman writes:




There is nothing cosmetic about A-Rod’s zeal during the conversation.  The AL MVP loves baseball.  Trust me, most players have no idea what transactions their own team have made.  Rodriguez is not only aware of every move of every club, but is able to contextualize it better than most GMs I speak to.  In some ways, A-Rod has the soul of nerd fantasy-league player.


It is interesting how loathed Rodriguez is for being “insincere.”  There is something intense going on with him–more than just his contract–that grates on people’s nerves.  For someone who can make the game look effortless in spite of all his hustle, perhaps fans are offended by how hard Rodriguez seems to try and do or say the right thing.  His game appears flawless but off-the-field, he comes across as hopeless at times, and many, sensing a chink in the armor, are ready to pounce.  Fans generally tolerate a star who is offensive or egotistical like Reggie Jackson (or a straight-up ditz like Manny Ramirez) because they are perceived to be honest.  Like them or not, they are accepted, sometimes embraced. 


Maybe all Rodriguez has to do is last: remain healthy and continue to play into his late thirties (being part of a championship team would certainly help) before the public at large truly accepts him–at which point he can have his Sally Fields moment.  But it’s odd for a guy who is bright, articulate, self-aware, and an incredibly hard-worker–everything we supposedly want in a player–to be so awkward in a sense.   Anyhow, say what you want about him, but along with Mike Piazza, he’s one of the few star players that you could actually sit down and talk baseball with.  That, in and of itself, is notable.

Taking Stock

So, the year is almost over.  Looking back at ’05, what were some of your favorite and least-favorite Yankee moments?

Welcome Back

Word has it that the Yankees will ink utility infielder  Miguel Cairo to a one-year deal this week.  Cairo was a popular role player with the Yanks–both in the clubhouse and with the fans.  He may have played over his head in 2004, but he should still be durable and useful off the bench for the Bombers in ’06.   

That’s a Diss



No, not Godzilla Matsui’s decision not to play in the upcoming WBC games, but the Murray Chass’ characterization of Bernie Williams this morning in an article about Yankee centerfielders:




Williams was the center fielder in the second halves of 1991 and 1992, then took over the position through last season, when he surpassed Mantle to become the Yankee with the most games played in center – 1,828 to 1,745.


Still, as important as longevity and popularity may be, they don’t earn Williams a place in the line of royal succession.


Williams has been a solid player – he hit better than .300 for eight consecutive seasons – and he contributed significantly to the Yankees’ postseason successes. But he was not the Gold Glove outfielder he was voted to be from 1997 to 2000, and he was not a dominant hitter in the American League.



Williams was never a great fielder but he was the Yankees’ best offensive player during their 1996-01 championship run (you could look it up).  Of course, he’s not as great as DiMaggio or Mantle, but he’s a boderline Hall of Fame candidate at worst.  Other than Ken Griffey Jr and Jim Edmonds, who has been a better center fielder than Williams over the last 10-15 years (and yeah, Andruw Jones was a great fielder but he hasn’t even been close to Williams as an offensive player)? 

What’d You Git?

So, did everybody get what they wanted (anyone score a GI Joe with the Kung-Fu grip)? Or at least one thing that they really wanted? My favorite present is a cookbook, Alfred Portale’s “Simple Pleasures.” But the best gift was being able to enjoy the day with my gal Emily–our fourth holidaze season together–and the rest of my fam, including my two snot-nosed, adorable nephews, Lucas and Eoin. Man, childrens is a beautiful thing.

Hope everyone had a great day, whether you celebrated Christmas or kicked off the eight days of Chanukah.

Have Yourself a Messy little Christmas…

Following-up on the story I did a few days ago celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Andy Messersmith/Dave McNally/Peter Seitz decision, here is the transcipt of a conversation I had about the topic with the former executive director of the Players Association, Marvin Miller, early last week:

A Chat with Marvin Miller

Bronx Banter: When did you first become aware that Andy Messersmith might be the case you were looking for to challenge the reserve clause?

Marvin Miller: We always kept one eye on newspaper clips about players who had not signed contracts, or so-called ‘hold outs’, and usually follow along to see what would happen. Somewhere during the season, I don’t remember exactly when, I began to have conversations with Andy. Mostly asking where his negotiations with the Dodgers and O’Malley stood. And you know, things happen and his answers weren’t always the same because there’d be developments in their negotiations. I think somewhere around the late part of the season I’d had a rather crucial conversation by telephone. I think he had called me. And because he’s an upfront guy, he called me because he said that O’Malley and the Dodgers had met his salary proposals. And he just wanted me to know that the only thing that stood in the way at the moment was his feeling that he would have liked to have finished his career with the Dodgers and he therefore wanted a no-trade provision that so far the Dodgers refused to give to him. And he was a little disturbed because they were giving him different reasons. Like Busch…he-heh, first it’s weapons of mass destruction, and then it’s connection with Al-Qaeda, and then it’s, ‘Oh, I forgot, it’s not really any of those things. It’s because we wanted Democracy over there.’ Well, he was getting those kind of answers about why they couldn’t give him a no-trade clause.

But he said, you know, negotiations change things and he wanted me to know that if they met all of his proposals including the no trade clause, he would feel honor-bound to sign. And I understood. He had made proposals in good faith and if they were going to meet them, I agreed with them. After that happened I discussed the matter with Richard Moss and we knew that McNally was really in the same category even though he wasn’t playing anymore. He had left the team in the early part of the season because he wasn’t happy with his own pitching, nor was he happy with the Montreal management. So, after discussing it with Rick I decided to call Dave McNally and I did. And I explained the situation to him in some detail. McNally was a bright man and understood things about the union and before I could elucidate on what I was proposing to him he said, ‘OK, you think I ought to be part of this grievance in case Messersmith signs.’ And I said, yeah I do because I think the basis for this is important and since you have decided that you are not going to play anymore anyway, it didn’t matter to you. And he said, ‘Well, if you think I can help, you got it, okay.’ And that’s Dave became part of the Messersmith/McNally grievance.

BB: McNally was your insurance run.

MM: Yes, and we were frank with him and he understood it. He had been a player rep at Baltimore.

BB: With Brooks Robinson?

MM: No, this was before Robinson was a rep, this was in the early days of the Players Association. Early days after I came.

BB: So you were familiar with him when you approached him in this case.

MM: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

BB: What kind of a man was he

MM: I think he was a man of great integrity. Bright. I’m trying to remember the circumstances…he became player rep…he had been, if I remember correctly the alternate player rep. When their second baseman–who was the player rep got traded?

BB: Davey Johnson.

MM: Right. Traded to Atlanta?

BB: Yes.

MM: And that’s how McNally became player rep. And I don’t think he was a player rep for a long time, I’ve forgotten the circumstances of when it was…Andy was, well, Andy was Andy. Andy was a very serious guy. He has a good sense of ethical principles. He called me and wanted me to understand if he did sign it was because he felt honor-bound to do so. I go back a little further with Andy than that. Are you familiar with the Alex Johnson case? Well, Andy was with the Angels at the time that the Johnson case came up, and he was, according to Alex, one of the few players on the Angels at that time that was at all sympathetic with the things he was going through. He said he hadn’t known Messersmith particularly well but Andy went out of this way to talk with him and sympathize with him and discuss the whole thing. So I knew about that too, and I just think he was a great guy.

BB: Though they might be different I can’t help but notice the similarities between Messersmith and a guy like Curt Flood, both thoughtful, sensitive guys.

MM: Right, that’s true.

BB: Okay, before I let you go, I have to get your take on what has transpired in the last year between the Players Association and MLB.

MM: Well, it’s almost like we’re in a different country and a different century from that. The actions, and what’s going on…It’s interesting that you bring up the steroids thing in the same breath as Messersmith/McNally because the approach of the union in each case could not have been more different. The Messersmith/McNally period was one of great principle. And I include Flood in that, and I include Catfish Hunter in that—

BB: And Ted Simmons…

MM: And Ted Simmons, and all of them. I think that there was a greater tendency to understand what the relationship with the owner was.

BB: Is that because the players of that generation never knew anything but the reserve system and were involved in the fight for players rights, where as the modern player has come after the boon, when they don’t know anything but the rights that the previous generation fought for.

MM: It’s an interesting theory and I don’t have any facts on that, but it’s I agree that that’s a possibility. I have said a number of times now that I’m not trying to minimize the problem because it’s a problem that I did not have, but one that Don Fehr has had to wrestle with. Staring a few years back, I forget exactly when, Don has not had a single player in the union who had any major league playing experience before the union. Not one.

BB: Do you remember the last to go?

MM: (laughing) I don’t. But in my time, there was no such thing. Sure there was turnover, there were some that were leaving and rookies coming up all the time, but

BB: There was the consistency. Now, it’s a different generation.

MM: Yes. And I don’t minimize that problem. To have a membership that doesn’t fully understand what the union had meant and does mean. There is a terrible problem.

BB: So you feel real disappointment when you think about the union these days?

MM: I do.

BB: Have you expressed that to Don Fehr?

MM: I have, but I don’t go around lecturing him either. He knows how I feel.

Johnny Be Good

There was a press conference at Yankee Stadium yesterday welcoming Johnny Damon to the Bronx. The day before, Damon got a new look at a chi-chi hair salon in Manhattan. I wouldn’t exactly call it a buzz cut, but when in Manhattan…Damon’s hair is still very stylized, he’s still sporting the trendy (for ballplayers, anyway) side burns–though he did get a shave. With his cutsie wife standing by his side, a bottle of evian in his hand, I couldn’t tell who is prettier: Damon or his old lady. Not for nothing, but the Bombers have some kind of Tiger Beat Beefcake at the top of the order, with Damon followed by Jeter and Rodriguez.

Murray Chass writes:

The Red Sox had wanted to re-sign Damon, but John Henry, the principal owner, said this week that they weren’t prepared to pay him $13 million a year, which is what the Yankees gave him for four years. To hear Damon tell it, though, the Red Sox might not have lured him back even if they had matched the Yankees’ offer.

Asked if he had been influenced by the Red Sox front-office shuffling and the player exodus, he said, “It’s something I definitely thought about, but what really opened my eyes was their first initial offer a month after the season.”

In the Daily News, John Harper opines:

That may sound simplistic, and as Damon, the self-proclaimed “idiot,” is the first to admit, he is not a deep thinker. But as he pointed out indirectly, part of having fun as a team is coming to grips with the responsibility of dealing with the media – a task the Yankees liken to prison detail.

“We made everyone (in Boston) realize they had a responsibility,” Damon said. “I made myself very accessible to the media.”

There is a fine line in the clubhouse in that regard. Often players who give too much time to the media are judged and resented by teammates as self-promoters, but Damon has an innocence about him – in addition to a well-earned reputation as a gamer – that made him as popular with his Red Sox teammates as he was with the fans in Boston.

Yes, it seems that everybody likes Johnny Damon, and it wasn’t hard to see why yesterday, as he handled the big-event press conference with an ease and friendliness that clearly wasn’t staged. He played to the media, rubbing his hairless chin while asking how everyone liked his new look. He responded to the blinding flash of cameras in his face by saying, “Thank you, and obviously, keep on snapping away.”

The reaction to the Damon signing has been mixed. Regardless, the Yankees have a new center fielder, just in time for Christmas. This has been a very active off-season, and there will continue to be changes around and about before Opening Day rolls around. Anyhow, hope everyone enjoys and/or survives the holidays with their loved and/or related ones.

Book It, Bucko

Anyone need a last-minute baseball book ideas for the holidays? Looking back on 2005, there are some good ones to choose from. Our pals Will Carroll, Jon Weisman and Steve Lombardi all released books. I also liked Howard Bryant’s “Juicing the Game,” Baseball Prospectus’ “Mind Game,” Steven Goldman’s “Forging Genius,” “The Hardball Times: Baseball Annual, 2006″ (which features an article on the ’05 Yanks by yours truly), Stephen Borelli’s “How About That!,” “The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers,” and Matthew McGough’s “Bat Boy.” I didn’t get around to reading Jerry Crasnick’s “Lisense to Deal,” but it looked like an engaging read too. In addition, Alan Schwarz’s “The Numbers Game,” and Buser Olney’s book about the Yankees were both released in paperback.

I never got a chance to write a review of McGough’s charming memoior of being a bat boy for the Yankees in the early nineties, but that wasn’t because I didn’t like it. I thought it was very well-realized, and think it’s an ideal holiday gift for fans of any age. (As an aside, I love the memoir genre. Two other classic coming-of-age books if you haven’t read them are Willie Morris’ “North Toward Home,” and Nat Hentoff’s “Boston Boy.” )

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A Fine Mess

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Messersmith/McNally ruling that would mark the end of the reserve clause and initiate the begining of the free agency era. I’ve got a piece commemorating the anniversary over at SI.com.

While Dave McNally, whose role in the affair is often over-looked, retired, Andy Messersmith was granted free agency. Though he ultimately signed a 3-year, $1 million deal with Ted Turner to play for the Braves, he almost became a Yankee.

“Messersmith, of course, almost played for the Yankees. If he had, though, he would have played under an agreement that, in part, would have been illegal.

The illegal portion of the agreement Messersmith nearly signed was a side letter the Yankees didn’t intend to include with the uniform player’s contract that was to be filed with the American League office. It covered two points, one dealing with the pitcher’s dress and grooming, the other with an agreement under which the Yankees, at George Steinbrenner’s suggestion, would have received 40 percent of all fees Messersmith would have earned for advertising and commercial endorsements.

The side agreement, illegal under baseball law, was part of the evidence introduced earlier this month in the two day hearing held before Commissioner Bowie Kuhn into the disputed between the Yankees and Messersmith…”

Murray Chass, New York Times. April 25, 1976.

Kuhn would declare the deal void, paving the way for Ted Turner. But after a difficult 1976, and an injury-riddled ’77, Turner shipped Messersmith to the Yankees.

Here is what Sparky Lyle had to say about it. From his book, “The Bronx Zoo”:

Monday, March 6 (1978):

I got myself worked up so much that I finally went in to talk to George. I told him, “You bought Messsersmith’s contract from Atlanta from $333,333. The man has just had an arm operation, you don’t know whether he can throw, and if he can throw, you don’t know whether he can make our pitching staff, it’s the final year of his contract, and next year he’ll be a free agent again.” I said, “I’ll be a son of a bitch if after performing like I have for you since you’ve taken over this ball club and after you give him double the money I’m making, I don’t get what he’s making.” In baseball, owners and general managers are always telling players that how valuable you are to the ball club is determined by how you perform and how many years you’re with the club. But then a new guy is signed, and none of that crap matters.

And then, a few weeks later:

Thursday, March 16:

All spring Andy Messersmith had been pitching real well, super for a guy who had just had his elbow operated on. His fastball was moving, he had good control, and it was looking like George’s gamble might have paid off, until today. We were playing the White Sox in an exhibition game, and in the fourth inning, Ralph Garr hit a grounder to Cliff, who was playing first. Andy ran to cover the bag, and when Cliff threw behind him, Andy fell trying to reach back for the ball. He fell hard on his shoulder, and now doctors think it might be separated. He may miss the rest of the season.

Messersmith would start five games for the Yanks, going 0-3 (and allowing seven dingers), in a total of 22 innings. But he was hurt for the majority of the season and was released in November. Messersmith ironically ended his career the following year with the Dodgers, the team he never wanted to leave in the first place. But he only pitched in 62 innings was was cut at the end of August.

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Damon Server

After reading through the comments to the last two posts on the Damon signing, I felt the need to generate a new post in response to the many misconceptions that are being tossed around:

To begin with, George Steinbrenner isn’t spending his money. He’s spending the Yankees’ money. There are many major league owners who are richer than Steinbrenner, but no major league teams that generate more revenue. That said, when the Yankees expenses increase, it does come out of the fans’ pockets. In addition to the cost of concessions at the Stadium, consider the fact that ticket prices have gone up each of the last two years as the Yankees have slipped into the red.

All of which is proof that the luxury tax is working. Since the new basic agreement went into effect in 2003, the Yankees have exceeded the luxury tax threshold each year and in 2005 paid more than $30 million in luxury tax alone. In 2006, they’ll owe forty cents on every dollar they spend above $136.5 million. As of this morning, Hardball Dollars estimates the Yankees’ 2006 payroll at $186.2 million. That figure does not include the league-minimum salaries of Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Phillips or Bubba Crosby, nor does it include the still-undetermined arbitration awards due to Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small. Chacon earned $2.35 million in ’05 and finished strong. Let’s round him up to $4 million. Small earned the league minimum, but went 10-0, so let’s give him $1 million (both are likely lowball estimates). Wang, Phillips and Crosby make up another million. So that’s a $192.2 million payroll, $55.7 million more than the tax threshold, meaning the Yankees already owe $22.28 million in luxury tax. Any further additions, such as a designated hitter, will actually cost the Yankees 40 percent more than the actual 2006 salaries of those players.

Also, for those counting the big salaries that have come off the books, don’t forget that Jason Giambi and Randy Johnson will earn a combined $8 million more in 2006 than they did in 2005.

At any rate, for readers such as Debris to pin the Damon signing, or any other, on the Yankees’ “economic advantage” over the Red Sox is simply absurd. Now that the Red Sox are bouncing around in John Henry’s deep pockets and the Yankees are cutting payroll, that advantage no longer exists.

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…Two Bits!

One week ago today, our pal Murray, a long-time Bronx Banter reader wrote, “I consider a transit strike in New York more likely than Johnny Planet of the Apes signing with the Yankees.”

2-2, whatta ya say? All praise Murray the Sage!

Shave and a Haircut

While we were busy yesterday fretting over possible non-tenders such as Corey Patterson, Russell Branyan (both of whom were tendered after all), and Hee Seop Choi (who was re-signed by the Dodgers), Brian Cashman was cooking up a much tastier treat. Never mind Jason Michaels, Johnny Damon is coming to the Bronx. Get that barber’s chair ready.

Pending a physical and the hammering out of a few details, the Yankees will pay Damon $52 million over the next four years. My initial two bits:

  • That’s the exact same deal the Yankees gave to Hideki Matsui, who is just seven months Damon’s junior.
  • Damon will be 35 when his contract expires, which is how old Bernie Williams was in 2004.
  • Damon’s home/road splits have been striking during his four years with the Red Sox. Fenway has added some thirty points to his batting average, but negatively effected his power:

    2005 Home: .334/.391/.440 – .106 ISP
    2005 Road: .298/.342/.438 – .140 ISP

    2002-2004 Home: .318/.388/.448 – .130 ISP
    2002-2004 Road: .278/.340/.433 – .155 ISP

    As nearly all of Damon’s home runs are shots pulled down the right field line, expect Damon’s power numbers to improve as a result of the move from Fenway to Yankee Stadium.

  • Not only have the Yankees just added one of the five best center fielders in the game, but they’ve subtracted that same player from their closest rivals, sending that gaping hole in center to Boston in exchange for Damon. Jesus Caveman was worth 5.5 wins to the Red Sox last year according to WARP. That’s an eleven-win swing in the division as the result of a single move.
  • Say what you want about the likelihood of Damon remaining above average in his age 35 season, this 2006 Yankee line-up is mighty impressive:

    R – Derek Jeter (SS)
    L – Johnny Damon (CF)
    R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
    L – Jason Giambi (1B)
    R – Gary Sheffield (RF)
    L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
    S – Jorge Posada (C)
    L – Robinson Cano (2B)
    R – Andy Phillips (DH)

    Now if the Yankees were to sign Mike Piazza and bump Phillips to the bench . . .

Cleaning House

As I write this, Becky is furiously wrapping gifts after a long day of holiday shopping. I myself finished (and started) my shopping yesterday, though I still have to do my wrapping and send out my half of the cards. At work, our accounts department is besieged by requests from authors desperate to get their checks before the new year for tax purposes, and the rest of us are working to tie up loose ends before before the office shuts down (or the transit system does, whichever comes first).

Things are no different in Yankeeland as the past two days have brought a pair of deadlines forcing certain personnel moves. Yesterday was the deadline for free agents offered arbitration to decline or accept their team’s offer. As expected, all three players the Yankees offered arbitration–Bernie Williams, Al Leiter and Ramiro Mendoza–declined. Mendoza, who would have had very little to gain by accepting arbitration coming off a year of injury rehab played under a minor-league contract, signed another minor league deal with the Yankees and will again be a non-roster invitee to spring training in 2006. Unlike last year when he was unable to play until August, however, Mendoza will be expected to compete for the final spot in the bullpen this upcoming spring.

That Leiter and Williams declined arbitration is much more significant news for the Yankees. Even though both were likely offered arbitration with the understanding that they would decline it, had either had a last-second change of heart, the Yankees would have been on the hook for a multi-million dollar one-year deal with a player with very little chance of earning such a salary (given the 20 percent maximum pay cut, Leiter would have been guaranteed a minimum of $5.6 million for 2006, Williams $9.6 million). With Williams and Leiter having declined arbitration, the Yankees now have until January 8 to re-sign either if they so desire, otherwise they will lose the right to sign them until May 1.

Word has it that the Yankees are still trying to bang out a one-year deal with Williams, with $2 million being the currently rumored price tag. That would be a $10 million pay cut for Bernie, but would also be a half-million more than Ruben Sierra earned last year to fill the same role. Sierra was not only useless as a part-time DH/pinch-hitter in 2005 (posting a WARP2 of zero), but was overpaid even by the standards of his 2004 season (Tony Clark, who had an almost perfectly identical 2004 to Sierra’s, but with the added advantage of being able to contribute on defense, signed for half as much with Arizona prior to 2005). Bernie posted a .255 EQA last year (compared to the .262 mark posted by Sierra in 2004) and has suffered a steep decline in two of his last three seasons. There is no reason to believe that he will be able to contribute anything more than the occasional pinch-hit walk to the Yankees in 2006. Much as it pains me to say so, and not just because it might get me stabbed by the woman wielding scissors to my left, I do not think the Yankees should resign Bernie Williams at any price.

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Monday Mush

Man, Monday mornings round this time of year seem to be the worst for baseball news. The papers are replete with football scores and basketball and hockey news. For a true baseball nyerd, you just pray there are some scraps for us. On my crowded subway ride into Manhattan this morning I saw an older Spanish man standing a few feet away, a rolled up newspaper in his back pocket. There was a photograph of a baseball player swinging a bat on back page of the paper. I couldn’t tell who the player was (I could only see from the waist down), or what team he played for. But what did that matter? It was nice to see something, anything related to baseball. And it was a comfort to know that for some papers (i.e., the Latin ones), baseball is year-round back page news.

Today gives bubkus in New York, the bubkus being Nomar and the Dodgers, Paul Lo Duca and the Mets, and the Yankees’ interest in taking a chance on injured relief pitcher Octavio Dotel.

And That’s That

ESPN reports this morning that Nomar Gaciaparra will sign with the Dodgers:

Garciaparra, who still needs to take a physical and finalize contract details, will likely play first base for the Dodgers. The deal has a base salary of $6 million and could be worth as much as $8 million, the New York Post reported.

Phone calls from Joe Torre and Jason Giambi proved fruitless for the Yanks, as it appears that home is where the heart is for Nomar.

To Live (or Die) in L.A.

Though he has yet to make a decision, ESPN reports that Nomar Garciaparra is leaning towards accepting a one-year deal to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Our Dodger voice at Baseball Toaster, Jon Weisman, doesn’t think Nomar would be desirable option to play first base in L.A. next year.

I Come from Criminal People

His humor was so much larger than the comedy today. Today’s comedy is all about divisiveness. But as edgy and scathing and biting as he was, he was never oppresive. The laughter came from that interior recognition.

…Richard was okay not being on top of it all. Pain, sweetness, rage–when he came on stage, you felt his essence. there are some people who are just…open. And he was open.

Lily Tomlin

Just a few last thoughts on Richard Pryor, who passed away last weekend. There was a nice appreciation of the legendary comedian by Jesse McKinley in the Times earlier this week (I don’t have the link but it appeared in Tuesday’s paper), and Jerry Seinfeld of all people had some insightful comments:

Jerry Seinfeld, for example, who worked the same clubs as Mr. Pryor in the late 1970′s and early 80′s, said he distinctly recalled nights when Mr. Pryor would “walk the room,” comedian lingo for driving patrons out into the streets.

“I remember people talking, saying Richard bombed last night,” Mr. Seinfeld said. “Guys with reputations like that, they stay to the tried and true. You risk a little bit, but Richard risked everything all the time. He was the ultimate bullfighter on stage. He never let his instinct for self-preservation get in the way.”

…”He started with what he knew and brought you to it,” Mr. Seinfeld said. “He made you fall in love with him. And he did it so that you would relate to things you didn’t think you could relate to.”

Pryor hosted an early Saturday Night Live and it remains one of the show’s best broadcasts.

“The truth was an incredibly hot commodity in 1974-75,” said [SNL creator, Lorne] Michaels, who watched as Mr. Pryor did two long monologues that night, exactly 30 years ago today. “The distrust of authority was at its absolute peak, with Watergate and the war, and he caught the wave.”

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The More the Leftier

The Yankees traded minor leaguer Ben Julinel to the Marlins in exchange for left-handed relief pitcher, Ron Villone. This is the sixth time Villone has been traded and the ninth team he’s been on since he broke into the Majors in 1995.

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