"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: December 2005

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Dem’s Fightin’ Woids

Nothing stirs up a good debate like discussing who belongs in the Hall of Fame. I’ve got a column over at SI.com about some of the best players not enshrined up in Cooperstown. Would you believe I had the nerve to go with Mex Hernandez over our own Donnie Baseball? Well, head on over and give it a look. Then come back and let the arguments begin!

Say No Go

According to George King in The New York Post, Alex Rodriguez will not participate in the WBC games for either the U.S. or the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez told King, in part:

“When faced with the decision to choose between my country, the United States of America, and my Dominican heritage, I decided that I will not dishonor either.”

Classic Rodriguez, not wanting to offend anyone. But honestly I couldn’t care less about about his reasoning. As far as I’m concerned the fewer Yankees playing in this cockamamie tournament the better. It’s not that I’m against the idea of the WBC in theory, but it feels almost inevitable that someone, somehow is going to get injured during the course of the games, and brother, I sure don’t want it to be anyone on the Yanks. Can you relate?

Torch Song

While Joe Torre vacations in Italy–he carried the Olympic torch for 400 yards in Florence yesterday–his first baseman Jason Giambi reached out to Nomar Garciaparra according to Sam Borden in The Daily News. Giambi and Garciaparra share the same agent. Nomar is said to have narrowed his choices down to four teams and is expected to make a decision shortly. Tyler Kepner reports that “if Garciaparra signs with the Yankees, he would probably receive a one-year contract with a base salary of $5 million or $6 million and incentives.”

The fellas over at NoMaas believe inking Nomar would be a steal for the Bombers. Here is how they envision him in pinstripes:

Give Sheffield 20 games at DH and stick Nomar in RF. Give Matsui 15 games at DH and stick him in LF. Give Giambi 50 games at DH and stick Nomar at first. Give Rodriguez 10 games off at DH and stick Nomar at third, Give Jeter 10 games off at SS and stick Nomar at short. Give Cano 10 games off and stick Nomar at second. That’s 115 games in the field.

I’m still skeptical that it’ll happen, but if Garciaparra comes to New York, it sure will be something to write about.

One Ringy-Dingy

So far Joe Torre is 1-3 in his recruiting phone calls this winter (Farnsworth, check; Giles, Eyre, nope). Torre told reporters yesterday that he had a general conversation with free agent Nomar Garciaparra. Newsday is reporting that Torre also spoke with Johnny Damon. I don’t expect either of ’em to end up in New York, do you?

Meanwhile, the Bombers aren’t thrilled about Chien-Ming Wang pitching the WBC this spring, but they may not have a cherce in the matter.

Brick City

As the Red Sox front office soap opera continues, all remains relatively quiet in the Bronx, where it is brick cold this morning. Oh, Brian Cashman, who maintains that he has no interest in dealing Carl Pavano, reportedly took in a meal with relief pitcher Julian Tavarez yesterday up in Washington Heights (insert snide remark here), but that’s not exactly a banner headline. What did make the back page of the New York Post today is a rumor that the Yankees have made an offer to free agent Nomar Garciaparra to play first base in New York. George King writes that the Bombers are one of several teams that have inquired about Nomar. Nothing more specific is available at this time. Meanwhile, Newsday’s Jon Heyman, who has a habit of writing about Scott Boras’ clients, reports that if Johnny Damon considers a four-year deal, the Yankees will be in the mix.

There has been no official word yet about Bernie Williams’ return next season, though I assume he’ll be the team’s fourth outfielder. In a recent chat over at Baseball Prospectus, Joe Sheehan opined:

As frustrating as it is to watch Williams play center field, I don’t think the team currently listing Bubba Crosby as its #1 center fielder has much room to complain about the marginal HoFer with fourth-outfielder skills wanting to stick around.

Evaluate Bernie against fourth outfielders and you’ll see that he can still help a team. If the money is right, he’d be a good fit for the Yankees next year, and for 20 or so other teams.

Phil Allard and Larry Mahnken see things differently.

Round the Web

Rich Lederer has been making the case for Bert Blyleven: Hall of Famer for some time now. He’s both committed and convincing. This year, he’s pulled out all the stops, hosting a Bert Blyleven Week over at The Baseball Analysts. Rich kicked it off yesterday while Rob Neyer guest stars today. Dayn Perry is up tomorrow. By the end of the week, you too will be persuaded–if you aren’t already–that Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Also, for a touching non-baseball story, please slide on over to Catfish Stew and dig the latest from our own Ken Arneson. A lyrical piece accompanied by some great images.

Plodding Along

Miguel Tejada kept pipe dreams warm from Boston to Chicago to Queens this weekend. (The Sox and Yanks have also reached out to Roger Clemens’ agents too.) After all, who wouldn’t love to add Miggy to their team? But for now, it’s just fodder, as the Orioles seem intent on keeping their star shortstop.

Meanwhile, in a bit of in-house intrigue, according to an ESPN report, the Yankees will not permit catcher Jorge Posada to play in the World Baseball Classic this spring. Steve Lombardi thinks this is fishy:

It’s a three week tournament being played the same time as Spring Training. I don’t see how it’s OK for Jeter, Cano and A-Rod to take on this work, but, it’s an extra hardship for Jorge.

Every once in a while I hear whispers about how some in the Yankees front office do not like Posada. I’m not sure why and/or over what. But, because I have heard this more than once, I have to wonder if this objection is a way to give Jorge some grief. If so, it’s a story that I hope gets told someday. It would be interesting to know.

I have to say that I’ve got very little interest in the WBC tournament. That could change, of course, but right now, I’m most concerned about a star player hurting themselves, and subsequently gumming-up the works for his Major League team as a result.

Is that Fine Enough for Your Ass?

With little to nothing cooking with the Yanks this weekend, please indulge me in remembering Richard Pryor. (And if you aren’t interested, that’s cool, check back tomorrow.)

“I’ve been trying to figure out the analogies to what Richard Pryor meant, and the closest I can come to is Miles Davis,” said Reginald Hudlin, the film and TV director and president of entertainment for Black Entertainment Television. “There’s music before Miles Davis, and there’s music after Miles Davis. And Richard Pryor is that same kind of person.

“Every new piece kind of transformed the game,” Hudlin said. “He was a culturally transcendent hero. His influence is bigger than black comedy; it’s bigger than comedy. He was a cultural giant.”
(L.A. Times)

Kudos to Mel Watkins at the New York Times for a fine obituary on Richard Pryor today.

Here are some of the highlights:

“Comedy,” [Pryor] said, “is when you are driving along and see a couple of dudes and one is in trouble with the others and he’s trying to talk his way out of it. You say, ‘Oh boy, they got him,’ and you laugh. I cannot tell jokes. My comedy is not comedy as society has defined it.”

On his mid-career change of direction:

“I made a lot of money being Bill Cosby,” he recalled, “but I was hiding my personality. I just wanted to be in show business so bad I didn’t care how. It started bothering me – I was being a robot comic, repeating the same lines, getting the same laughs for the same jokes. The repetition was killing me.”

…”There was a world of junkies and winos, pool hustlers and prostitutes, women and family screaming inside my head, trying to be heard. The longer I kept them bottled up, the harder they tried to escape. The pressure built till I went nuts.”

I like Watkins’ take on Pryor’s masterpiece:

Mr. Pryor probably reached the pinnacle of his career in 1979 with his first concert film, “Richard Pryor, Live in Concert,” a movie, filmed during an appearance in Long Beach, Calif., that more than a quarter of a century later remains the standard by which other movies of live comedy performances are judged.

The film, which was to inspire others to make their own comic performance movies, caught Mr. Pryor at peak form. He reflected often about his own tumultuous life, with monologues about a domestic quarrel in which he shot his wife’s car, the death of his pet monkeys and a near-fatal heart attack, which ended with: “I woke up in the ambulance, right? And there was nothin’ but white people starin’ at me. I say . . . I done died and wound up in the wrong heaven. Now I gotta listen to Lawrence Welk the rest of my days.”

I’m sure we’ll see a bunch of Pryor’s movies, and hopefully, “Live in Concert” pop up on cable in the coming weeks and months.

The Greatest

Richard Pryor, one of the most famous and influential comedians of them all, died today of a heart attack. He was 65. Pryor suffered from MS for years now. Considering the kind of hard living and abuse he put his body through over the course of time, the news of his passing doesn’t exactly come as a shock. Still, it is a sad moment because Pryor took the art of stand-up comedy and elevated it to a level of social commentary and personal vulnerability that few, if any, performers have ever reached. I think he the natural heir to Lenny Bruce, but he remains in a category of his own. In his prime, during the late 1970s, he was arguably the greatest comedian of all-time. All the black comedians who have come after him–Eddie Murphy, the Wayans brothers, Bernie Mac, Dave Chappelle, are in a sense, his children. He is to stand-up what Bob Dylan was to rock and roll.

After the crossover hit “Silver Streak,” and then his rousing concert film “Live in Concert,” Pryor became the first black actor to be the number one box office draw ever. It was capped off by his second feature with Gene Wilder, “Stir Crazy,” in 1980. But Pryor’s moment on top would be fleeting, as his struggles with cocaine overwhelmed him. In a free-basing accident not long after “Stir Crazy” had been released, Pryor set fire to himself, and in some ways, his career never recovered.

During his early days, in the mid 1960s, Pryor had made a name for himself on the talk show circut, essentially doing the kind of clean act that had made Bill Cosby a star. But by the end of the sixites, Pryor, like many other African Americans at the time, became increasingly politicized. He stopped doing his Cosby routine and went back to the drawing board. Over the next several years he developed a routine that was far more personal, and far more political. Pryor stopped doing jokes in the traditional sense and began acting out scenes and characters.

“Live and Smoking” is a concert film of these transitional years, and the material is often unfunny, with Pryor and the audience not quite sure what to make of his new approach. They are still feeling each other out. Yet is a fascinating recording when you consider the heights he would soon achive with his best work: “That Nigger’s Crazy,” “Is it Something I Said?” and “Wanted: Live in Concert.”

The film critic Pauline Kael wrote in 1982:

When Chaplin began to talk onscreen, he used a cultivated voice and high-flown words, and became a deeply unfunny man; if he had found the street language to match his lowlife, tramp movements, he might have been something like Richard Pryor, who’s all of a piece–a master of lyrical obscenity. Pryor is the only great poet satirist among our comics. His lyricism seems to come out of his thin-skinned nature; he’s so empathic he’s all wired up. His 1979 film “Richard Pryor Live in Concert” was a cosummation of his years as an entertainer, and then some. He had a lifetime of matieral at his fingertips, and he seemed to go beyond himself. He personified objects, animals, people, the warring parts of his own body, even thougts in the heads of men and women–black, white, Oriental–and he seeemed possessed by the spirits he pulled out of himself. To those of us who thougt it was one of the greatest performances we’d ever seen or ever would see, his new one-man show “Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip” may be disappointing yet emotionally stirring.

Pryor was raw but what distinguished him was his vulnerability. It was this quality that helped make him a terrific actor. He was mostly in crappy movies, but he had a great turn in “Lady Sings the Blues” and later in Paul Schrader’s “Blue Collar.” Pryor was too unhinged to sustain a steady career in movies. He also did a great turn for a Lily Tomlin TV special in the late 70s and his short-lived NBC variety show has its moments and is now available on DVD.

I highly reccommend “Live in Concert” and the three albums I mentnioned above. (Rhino has an excellent compilation “And it’s Deep Too,” which features all of his classic routines–Black Ben the Blacksmith, Wino and the Junkie, as well as his incomperable storyteller, Mudbone.) I know them all by heart and think they display a kind of brilliance–both moving and threatening, compassionate and hiliarous–that is unique.

Considering all the pain that Pryor experienced in his life, I hope he is in a calmer, more peaceful place now. He was one of the true legends of our time.

White Out

The Bronx is covered in snow this morning. As I trooped my way to the subway, a heavy snow was falling and everything was white. But the subways were still running on time (word to the MTA). When I arrived at 50th street and Broadway, things had gotten wetter. Maybe the streets are just hotter in midtown. Regardless, the slush-a-thon was in full-effect. But the snow was still falling–big, fat, raggeded flakes, as if someone up there tore open a pillow and all the feathers were falling out on our heads. Traffic is moving slightly more cautiously than usual, but only slightly. The snow is lining the trees and it all looks lovely.

The winter meetings came to a conlusion in Dallas yesterday. After trading Tony Womack (and $900,000) to the Reds yesterday, the Yankees signed southpaw reliever Mike Myers to a two-year deal believed to be worth $2.4 million (SG, over at the Replacement Level Yankees Blog considers how effective Myers will be). Tyler Kepner suggests the Womack trade demonstrates Brain Cashman’s newfound control over things:

The deal symbolized the changes in the Yankees’ front-office hierarchy.

Discuss the Postseason General Manager Brian Cashman did not want to sign Womack last December, but the move was forced on him by the Tampa, Fla., headquarters of George Steinbrenner, the principal owner. This December, Cashman, asserting himself in the first winter of his new three-year contract, essentially dispatched with a spare part to add a veteran left-handed reliever.

…”Talking to Brian, it’s noticeable that when you ask him, ‘What about this, what about that?’ you get a much quicker response,” said Kevin Towers, the San Diego Padres’ general manager. “It doesn’t seem like you have to run it up two or three different flagpoles.”

Robinson Cano, who visited with cancer patients yesterday at Sloane-Kettering, said he’s happy that he’s still a Yankee:

“I don’t care, I just want to play every day…If it has to be center field, that’s OK,” Cano said with a smile at a midtown press conference to announce his endorsement deal [with Spalding]. “If they ask me, I’ll do it.”

Brain MacMillian links to a rumor that would send Sean Henn and Taynon Sturtze to the Phillies for center fielder Jason Michaels, while Steve Lombardi looks at what Bernie Williams’ 2006 could be like.

As expected, the Rocket rumors are keeping writers warm as they return east. In his latest column, Bob Klapisch writes:

A.J. Burnett said this week that Pavano is “miserable” pitching in New York, and has told a number of friends – including Burnett, his former teammate in Florida – he wants to be traded. Clemens’ presence would make Pavano expendable, assuming someone would actually pay $10 million for an injured sinkerballer with diminished velocity.

If Cashman can pull off a deal for Pavano, he deserves early consideration for Executive of the Year. But the Yankees clearly need a pitching response to the Red Sox and Blue Jays, both of whom are now stronger at the front of the rotation.

Clemens and Randy Johnson are obviously fragile fortysomethings, but The Rocket was arguably the National League’s best pitcher in 2005. If healthy, he would create a match for Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett, as well as Roy Halladay and Burnett.

Clemens would give the Yankees a boost in the clubhouse, where he’s still popular two years since his departure. The Rocket stays in touch with Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, who e-mailed him advice about pitching to the White Sox during the World Series.

My hunch is that Clemens is done, and even if he isn’t, he won’t return to New York. But what do I know? Hope everyone in the tri-state area stays safe and enjoys the snow today.

Addition By Subtraction

The Yankees have officially announced the trade that will at long last send Tony Womack hurtling into the sun, or at least Cincinnati. It’s a minor deal, with the Yankees unloading an unwanted, unproductive player for a pair of minor leaguers, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a minor miracle.

Not only have the Reds agreed to take Womack and his $2 million salary off the Yankees hands for 2006, but they’ve sent, not one, but two able-bodied young men back to the Bronx for the privilege. Were these kids ticket takers or pretzel vendors (seriously, the Stadium is in dire need of more pretzel vendors, I can never get a pretzel without having to retreat into the concourses) it would have been a steal, but they can actually play baseball.

The lesser player, outfielder Ben Himes, is too old for his league, having failed to advance beyond A-ball at the age of 24. But he did hit .320/.372/.533 for Sarasota in the Florida State League last year. Himes is a fourth outfielder at best, but given that strong showing and the fact that he got a late start (he was drafted out of college in 2003), there’s no reason to write him off just yet.

Kevin Howard, meanwhile, was ranked by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America as the top player available in today’s Rule 5 draft. A 24-year-old, lefty-hitting second baseman who spent all of 2005 in double-A, Howard doesn’t have a whole lot of power, but gets his hits and knows how to draw a walk (his .296/.346/.428 line in Chattanooga last year is fairly representative of his abilities at the plate). Howard played 3B in college and returned there in October in the Arizona Fall League where he crushed to the tune of .409/.475/.557, winning the AFL batting crown. A left-handed hitter, Howard’s never had a great defensive reputation, but his offensive skills and ability to play multiple positions (it’s thought he could also be used in the outfield) could make him a useful utility player as soon as the latter half of this year, which means he’s probably already more valuable than Womack. Best of all, the Yankees got him without having to keep him on the 25-man roster all year.

That’s a hell of a take for a player who is almost guaranteed to cost the Reds both wins and a couple mil. Indeed, between this trade and the list of players not offered arbitration last night, the Yankees have drastically improved their ballclub in the last 15 hours simply by deleting deleterious players. Check out the dearly departed and their 2005 VORPs:

John Flaherty -9.6
Kevin Brown -9.5
Tony Womack -8.9
Darrell May -8.5
Tim Redding -5.4
Alan Embree -4.8
Matt Lawton -3.5
Ruben Sierra -2.3
Mark Bellhorn -1.0
Rey Sanchez -0.5
Mike Vento -0.5
Russ Johnson -0.3

No, those aren’t dashes, those are negative numbers. If the Yankees can replace those twelve men with replacement level players–the sort that can be acquired via the waiver wire or promoted from the minors–they stand to improve by nearly 55 runs in 2006, that’s five and a half wins. For example, John Flaherty’s replacement, Kelly Stinnett, had a VORP of 5.3 in 2005, that’s a net improvement of 14.9 runs, or a win and a half in the back-up catcher slot alone. Oh, Glorious Day!

Woe-No, Woe Yes

Tony Woemack, or Mo-wack, or whatever the heck you like to call him, has been shipped out of New York on the Davey Collins express to the Reds for a minor league player. CBS Sportsline reports that the player is Kevin Howard, a second baseman.

Hot Stove Strategery: The Arbitration Deadline and the Rule 5 Draft

One of the many reasons I love baseball more than any other sport is the strategy. Not that there isn’t strategy in other sports, but constant-action games such as basketball, hockey, soccer and tennis don’t provide moments of stasis in which the viewer can think along with the coach or the players. Football comes close, with the breaks between downs giving fans a chance to contemplate a run versus a pass, how to manage the clock, or what to do on forth down (which is why it’s my second favorite sport), but the playbooks are top secret and I can’t remember ever hearing a football fan scream in anguish “agh! They should have run a reverse there!” To oversimplify somewhat, it seems the only time football fans truly get to make the call is when the coach is deciding to kick or not to kick.

Baseball is different. The tuned in fan can call pitches, advise the batter on what to look for and whether or not to swing, position the fielders, send or hold the baserunners, get a reliever warmed up, make a pitching change or send in a pinch hitter or runner, issue an intentional walk, even choose where a fielder should throw a batted ball. It’s a game of constant contemplation, strategy, logic, discussion, and argument, which is exactly why it appeals so strongly to scholars and writers.

The offseason is no different. Take for example the events of last night and today. On their face, the arbitration deadline and the Rule 5 draft couldn’t be more boring, but when one considers the strategy involved in each, they suddenly become extremely compelling for the hardcore baseball fan.

Let’s look at the arbitration deadline first. Teams had until midnight last night to offer arbitration to their eligible free agents or lose the ability to re-sign them until May 1, a full month into the 2006 season. Given that statement alone, one would be tempted to say that teams should always offer their free agents arbitration so as to keep their options open. But it’s not that simple.


Yanks Standing Still So Far

While Matt Cerrone is keeping steady tabs on all the hub bub down in Big D, our pal Steve Lombardi is killin’ it from the Yankees side of things. Head on over to Was Watching for the latest on Gary Matthews Jr (update: ESPN is reporting that Juan Pierre has been dealt to the Cubbies), Tony Womack, and players the Yanks could dangle as trade bait. Meanwhile, Brian MacMillian has a series of links detailing how the Bombers’ blue-chip prospect Eric Duncan won the MVP of the Arizona Fall League.

A bunch of things are brewing in Dallas. I caught ESPN last night and Peter Gammons expected a flurry of activity later today into tomorrow (winds light to variable). The question for us in the Bronx is will any of it involve the Yanks?

Word to Third

If the Yankees don’t offer Bernie Williams a new contract by midnight tonight, his career with the team will be over (they certainly have no plans to go to arbitration with him). Yankee general manager Brian Cashman will reportedly meet again with Williams’ agent Scott Boras today. If Williams were to return, it would presumably be in the kind of reserve role that Ruben Sierra has filled for the past several years. Mike Lupica, who is one of the Yankees’ most vocal critics, pays tribute to Williams today in the Daily News:

Nothing lasts forever. Joe DiMaggio limped away from center field at the Stadium at the age of 36, a year younger than Bernie is right now. Mickey Mantle limped away. If Williams leaves the Yankees today, he will leave in better shape than either one of them, even if he isn’t close to what he used to be. It doesn’t change that when you talk about all the center fielders in the history of the New York Yankees, there is DiMaggio, there is Mantle, there is Williams. It is not such a terrible way to run third.

You said it. Although the Yankees long expected great things from Williams, he was scrawny and a late-bloomer, and did not possess the kind of natural baseball instincts that Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter have. But when all was said and done, he was the team’s best offensive player during the team’s glory years (1996-00), and he put together a near Hall of Fame career. Not bad indeed.

Speaking of which, another unassuming but admirable player, John Olerud is retiring. Olerud was a wonderful first baseman and an excellent hitter. Alex Rodriguez has called him the best teammate he’s ever had. Olerud wasn’t a great player, but like Williams he was a very, very good one–one that you’d generally love to have on your team. Olerud had a reputation as a hard worker, but for a large man, he was remarkably fluid, from the way he played first, to his uncomplicated swing. In 17 big league seasons, Olerud had a lifetime .295 battting average, .398 on base percentage (1275 career walks to 1016 career whiffs), and .465 slugging percentage.

There was something serene, even removed about Olerud. He had a kind of quiet intensity that is easy to overlook. But I found that quality exceedingly appealing. Of course, he’ll probably be best remembered for wearing a batting helmet in the field, but I’ll always recall that far-away, but peaceful look he’d have on his face while sitting in the dugout. When I’d watch him like that I always wondered what he was thinking (he almost suggested a benign Travis Bickle at times). Sometimes, my brother once commented, he just looked content, like the wind blowing through his ears. Olerud seemed very comfortable in his own skin, so even though he gave the impression of being internal or distant, he always seemed so grounded and sure that it isn’t difficult to see why his teammates loved playing with him.

I loved how he embraced New York when he played for the Mets, even occasionally taking the 7 train to work. Hopefully, there will be some tributes to him around the ‘Net in the coming days. I’ll make a point of linking to them when they are up.

Day Two

Nomar in New York? Don’t hold your breath. Manny movin’ on? M’ehh, could be. One thing is for sure: A.J. Burnett is now a Toronto Blue Jay. It is a high-risk deal, what with his injury history and all, but the guy can bring it. Don’t know if he can pitch, but he’s got dynamite stuff. The AL East just got more interesting.

Matt Cerrone is doing a bang-up job of updating all the latest from Dallas over at Metsblog.com. Check him out (again and again).

Soup’s On!

As I type this, my commuter train is rolling slowly past Riverfront Stadium, the home of the Newark Bears. The field and stands are covered in a thin layer of snow. There are trucks on the field, likely carrying workers there to prevent the snow from killing the sod, and thus there are some lights on in the park that give the field a cozy yellow glow. During the summer I often roll past the stadium as the players are taking batting practice or even as a game is starting. From my seat in the train, I can see the scoreboard, though I usually don’t have my glasses on and thus can’t read the name of the Bears player at bat. A couple of years ago, I used to look through the crack in the wall between the left field corner and the stands along the third base line and catch a glimpse of Rickey himself in his purple pinstripes accessorized with dark shades, his elongated outfielder’s glove twitching at his thigh waiting to snatch a fly ball out of the air. Tonight, while the outfield wall remains covered in advertisements, the scoreboard is dark and there’s not single a blade of grass visible through the snow.

Tonight I’m taking the train a few stops past my usual departure point because my mom has invited Becky and me over for dinner. In about an hour or so I’ll be stuffing my face with roast beef and brown gravy, home made mashed potatoes, biscuits and something green (to create the illusion of a healthy meal). Nothing like home cookin’ on a snowy winter’s day to compensate for the sight of a ballpark in hibernation.

Fortunately, while the fields on which they play may be in mid-winter slumber, the teams themselves are keeping busy by cooking up a feast of their own. Be they collecting hard-throwing nuts or coveting a choice cut of meat, the hot stove has come to a boil. I think it’s about time I sink my teeth into this offseason’s first few courses.

Soup’s On!


What’s the Latest, Greatest?

Because of the Internet, fans don’t have to wait for the evening news or the morning papers to catch the latest sport updates. That’s especially helpful now with the winter meetings underway and fans from coast to coast all gibbed up like Bevis on a sugar fix. Buster Olney’s blog will be essential reading for those of you who subscribe to ESPN’s Insider, while Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci will keep us up-to-date. I’m sure Joe Sheehan and Will Carroll will have the dish for Baseball Prospectus as well. Regionally, make sure to tune in to WFAN to catch Sweeny Murti’s reports, and head on over here for the Journal News’ Pete Abraham’s daily log.

Dealmakers Do Dallas

The Mets made another trade with the Flordia Marlins over the weekend, acquiring catcher Paul LaDuca. While the Yankees weren’t up to much–the most notable news involved a Daily News report detailing how the organization lost money in 2005–they figure to be one of the many teams involved in the flurry of activity this week at the winter meetings in Dallas. Will Manny get his Christmas present and wind up in California? Will Barry Zito leave Oakland? Will the Yankees trade for Juan Pierre? Let the rumors begin!

Agony and Ecstacy: From Reggie to Eddie Lee

Earlier this year, Steven Goldman, and my co-host here at Bronx Banter, Cliff Corcoran characterized last off-season as “the worst in Yankee history.” When I later pressed them on their methodology they confessed that they hadn’t actually done a thorough comparison. Now, educated guesses coming from the likes of these two sure ain’t nothing to sneeze at. And while I don’t necessarily doubt that last year could have been the worst Yankee off-season, I want to know exactly how much worse it was than say, the 1981-82 off season, or the ’82-83 debacle, and why. Goldman plans to take up the conversation this winter over at the Pinstriped Bible. (To be reasonable, I think it’s better to ask what has been the worst off-seasons since George Steinbrenner has owned the team; as Goldman has already mentioned, we should not count the Collusion winters of the mid-eighties.)

While I’m not attempting to answer the question myself in this space, perhaps you guys have some suggestions of your own; feel free to leave ’em in the comments section below. More to the point, this topic brings to mind some of the worst free agent signings in team history. Certainly, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and Tony Womack are among the most dubious dealsthe team has ever made–particularly because they prevented the Bombers from inking Carlos Beltran, a move that continues to haunt the organization this winter. (Should Pavano, and Womack go in the “Bad” category, or the flat-out “Ugly” one?)

Anyhow, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the best and worst Yankee free agent signings. This is an informal list–and I’m going to skip over those free agents like Bernie Williams who were re-signed by the team (as well as all amateur free agent signings). Tell me what you think, and feel free to add to the list. I tried to get all of the contract information right, but if I’ve made any mistakes, please, I’m here to be corrected.

The Best

Catfish Hunter (December, 1974: five-years, $3.35 million)

Hunter’s best season for New York came in 1975, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise because that was the team’s second (and final) year playing home games at Shea Stadium. Man, talk about the Yankeeography we’ll never see. I was too young to remember those years, but heck, I’ve rarely even seen still photographs from that time. If there was enough material, “The Yankees in Queens” would make a good documentary or book, or even just article.

Reggie Jackson (December, 1976: five-years, $3.5 million)

It was sometimes difficult for us to comprehend “the magnitude of me,” that was Reginald Martinez Jackson. Or just vexing. The man whose sole pal on the ’77 team was reserve, reserve catcher Fran Healy, wasn’t ever going to win any popularity contests in the Yankee locker room, but while in New York, he produced. His best season came in 1980.

Dave Winfield (December, 1980: ten-years, $23 million)

Winfield was unfairly dubbed “Mr. May” by George Steinbrenner in 1985. But Winfield was a tremendous player in New York and had the numbers to show for it. He was also just a marvel to watch–those long arms and legs. I remember him making a habit of robbing home runs that were sure to go over the left field fence. It was like he was sitting under the basket waiting to gold tend. His arm wasn’t half bad neither, and man could he ever pick up speed as he rounded first base. Hit more hard line drives than any Yankee right-hander until Gary Sheffield.

Goose Gossage (November, 1977: six-years, $2.75 million)

One of the handful of great relief pitchers of ’em all, Gossage was a force to be reckoned with during his years in New York. Possibly the best relief pitcher signing in history. Somehow is not a Hall of Famer…yet.

Tommy John (November, 1978: four-years, $1.42 million)

Next to Guidry, my favorite Yankee starting pitcher as a kid. I was right-handed but tried to immitate his laconic delivery all the time during whiffle ball. Won 43 games in his first two seasons in New York (’79, ’80). Sinker, sinker, sinker: slow, slower, slowest.

Don Baylor (December, 1982, four-years, $3.37 million)

The veteran slugger was steady and productive during his years in New York. Loved his imposing stance at the plate. Short, compact swing for a big guy.

Phil Niekro (January, 1984: two-years, $1.1 million)

Won 16 games twice for the Bombers, when he was 45 and 46-years young. (Actually, I was told by an older guy recently that that term is endlessly annoying. “There are three stages in a man’s life,” he told me. “Youth, middle age, and ‘Gee, you look terrific.'”) Niekro won his 300th game on the last day of the 1985 season against the Blue Jays in Toronto. It would be his final game for the Yanks.

El Duque Hernandez (March, 1998: four-years, $6.6 million)

Just as 1998 didn’t seem like it could get any better for the Yanks, in swooped the modern baseball version of Yul Brenner, the Bombers’ International Man of Mystery. Hernandez distinguished himself as a playoff performer, and his Game 4 performance against the Indians in ’98 may well have been the most crucial game of the year for the Yanks.

Mike Stanley (January, 1992: four-years, $2.3 million)

I suppose Joe Girardi, the man who would replace Stanley, could fit nicely here too. Stanley was the superior offensive player, and had some fine seasons in New York, where he was a great fan favorite.

Jimmy Key (December, 1992: four-years, $16.8 million)

A key aquisition–along with trading Roberto Kelly for Paul O’Neill, and signing Wade Boggs–in rebuilding the Yankees. Key had stellar seasons in 1993 (18-6, 3.00 ERA in 236 innings) and ’94 (17-4, 3.27 ERA in 168 innings). Pitched for the World Championshiop team in ’96. Was not re-signed after that, and moved to Baltimore, whose free agent southpaw, David Wells, inked with the Yanks.

Mike Stanton (December, 1996: four-years, $5.5 million)

Solid southpaw out of the bullpen for the Yankees, Stanton had an especially good post-seaason career, with a 2.10 ERA in 55.7 innings (21 walks, 47 Ks).

David Wells (December, 1996: three-years, $13.5 million)

The man who loved the Yankees so much that he actually wore one of Babe Ruth’s old caps (which he had won in an auction) during a live game (at least for an inning or so before a not-so-pleased Joe Torre told him to remove it). Wells loved playing in New York, and the fans loved him back. Pitched very well in 1997 and 1998, especially ’98.

Hideki Matsui (December, 2002: three-years, $21 million)

The most famous athlete in Japan didn’t have too much difficulty adapting to the Major Leagues. While he’s no superstar in the states, he’s been a reliable player in every sense of the word. He’s not spectacular, but he’s durable and solid. His good fundamentals help cover his inadequacies as a fielder. Curiously though, he has the ability to look like a Little Leaguer out there too.

The Bad

Don Gullett (November, 1976: six-years, $2 million)

Injuries were the key in making Gullett an expensive flop in New York.

Rawly Eastwick (December, 1977: five-years, $1.1 million)

Ah, we hardly knew ye. Lasted less than three months in the Bronx.

Dave Collins (December, 1981: 3-years, $2.475 million) The point man in George’s doomed speed experiment, Collins was lost in New York. According to “Damn Yankees, ” Collins asked reporter Moss Klein, “Why do they want me hear?” There’s no role for me here. This is the craziest team I’ve ever seen.”

Collins urged Klein to ask manager Bob Lemon about what was going on.

“I guess he’s gonna play somewhere,” Lemon said. “Will he be traded? You got me, Meat. They don’t tell me what’s going on here. I’m just the manager.”

Collins was traded in the off-season. Steinbrenner, in his haste to dump him, also included minor league prospect Fred McGriff in the deal. Ouch.

Steve Kemp (December, 1982: five-years, $5.5 million)

An overachieving, huslting kind of ball player, you would have thought Bill Martin would have loved him. But the Yankees had a logjam of talent to play in the outfield in ’83, and when Kemp tried to play through injuries, his performance suffered. He was KO’d by a freak batting practice accident late in the season. 1984 was even worse and he was shipped to the Pirates that winter. He played in only 92 games in ’85, and then a handful more in 86 and then a couple in ’88 for the Rangers before calling it quits.

Kenny Rogers (December, 1995: 4-years, $20 million)

Rogers pitched like a head case in New York, and lost the faith of manager Joe Torre. By the time the team won the World Series in ’96, Rogers had been buried. I’ll never forget watching the victory parade and seeing Rogers on top of one of the floats, waving his cowboy hat like Slim Pickens about to ride the Bomb into oblivion. That cracked me up. I thought that it was cool that he was enjoying himself so thoroughly considering how little he had contributed.

Hideki Irabu (May, 1997: four-years, $12.8 million, plus $8.5 million signing bonus–not to mention the $3 million they paid the Padres for the rights to negotiate with Irabu in the first place)

One of my favorite Yankee misfits of ’em all. The Golden Boy team of the Joe Torre era needed at least one screwjob and “Boo Boo” Irabu fit the bill. He looked like a combination of Jackie Gleason and a Japanese Elvis impersonator. Had a horrible disposition on the mound. If he would miss with his pitches in the first inning or so, he’d get so upset with the umpires, that he’d act like a spoiled kid and say, “Fine, if that’s how you are going to call them, I’m going to keep pitching just off the plate.” Best Yankee moment came against the Blue Jays at the stadium. After a Yankee batter had been plunked, Irabu retaliated and hit a Toronto batter. When the hitter didn’t make a move to the mound, Irabu charged the plate, and the benches cleared. All I can remember is Mike Stanton holding Irabu back around home plate. Stanton couldn’t help but smile.

Jose Contreras (December, 2002: four-years, $32 million)

Pitched unevenly for a year-and-a-half in New York. Would vary between unhittable and unbearable. The Red Sox just feasted on him during this period. Traded for a half a season of Esteban Loiza. Of course, Contreras finally got his act together in the second half of this season, and was the ace pitcher for the World Champion Chicago White Sox. He pitched brilliantly in the post-season.

Jack Clark (January, 1988: 3-years, $5.5 million)

Ding-Dong, Collusion’s Dead, says George. Clark, a big lug if there ever was one, thought he’d have a better time of it in the Bronx than in St. Louis. He didn’t. Probably a huge mistake to leave Whitey Herog so soon. Clark did hit 27 dingers for the Bombers in ’88 but was traded in the fall to the Padres.

Ed Whitson (Fall, 1984: 5-years, $4.4 million)

Famous for hating pitching in New York. Actually, really famous for getting into a brawl (which was really two seperate fights) with manager Billy Martin. Whitson was declared the winner by TKO.

Steve Karsay (Fall, 2001: four-years, $22.25 milion)

A high-priced set-up man, Karsay had a good season for New York in 2002. After that, the Queens-native was ravaged by injuries and amounted to an expensive bust.

Pascual Perez (November, 1989: 3-years, $5.7 million)

A fitting symbol of the Yankees’ bottoming-out in the late eighties, early nineties. Perez, who came with a big mouth and lots of controversy, wound up pitching less than 90 innings over two years before it was all over for him.

Danny Tartabull (January, 1992: five-years, $25.5 million)

A relatively erodite player who enjoyed Broadway shows, it might be unfair to categorize Tartabull as a disaster. His numbers were decent for the Yanks, but they weren’t superstar stats. He was the last of the Jesse Barfield/Mel Hall era, as the Yankees moved into the Buck Showalter/Stick Michael/Joe Torre era.

Of course there are other notable signings that didn’t make the cut, but maybe you’d have ’em up there. I didn’t include Mike Mussina or Jason Giambi. Perhaps that is unfair to Mussina who has been excellent if expensive for New York. When healthy, Giambi has been pretty good too. But oh, you remember some of these other cats: Mike Gallego, Joe Girardi, Steve Sax, Rudy May, Luis Tiant, John Candelaria, Tony Fernandez, Bob Shirley, Ken Griffey Sr., Wade Boggs, Steve Farr, Gary Ward, Mariano Duncan, Steve Howe, Jon Lieber, Rondell White, Dave LaRoche, and Al Holland.

The “P” is Still Free

In my first effort for SI.com (which appeared yesterday afternoon), I detail ten landmark free agent signings. It was a chore widdling the choices down to ten, but with a little help from pals like Maury Brown, Rich Lederer and Steve Treder, I felt like I was able to put together a representative list.

I’m sure we all can all throw out some memorable free agent deals over the years, both good and bad. How about Larry Hisle, Bruce Sutter, Bill Campbell, Mo Vaughn, Bobby Bonilla, Darren Dreifort, Chan Ho Park, and Manny Ramirez for starters? Oh, there are too many juicy ones to count. However, in trying to keep the piece as succinct and punchy as possible, there was naturally a lot of good stuff that didn’t get mentioned. For instance, Reggie Jackson may be the most celebrated deal that helped put a good team over the top, but Pete Rose’s four-year, $3.2 million deal (which, at the tender old age of 37 made him the highest-paid player in the game) in 1978, and Kirk Gibson’s three-year, $4.5 million contract with the Dodgers in 1988, also fit nicely into that category.

George Steinbrenner and Angels’ owner Gene Autry were two owners who embraced free agency with open arms. Remember those Angels teams of the late seventies and early eighties? One of the more interesting developments occured when Lyman Bostock, a promising young center fielder, was lured away from the Twins by Autry to play in California. Bostock hit .150 in April of ’78 with the Angels and was so distraught that he went to Autry and offered to give back his salary for the month. Autry wouldn’t hear of it.


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