"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: December 2006

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‘Til Tuesday

Ain’t nothing happening until then. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of rumors flying about. Here is the latest from SI.com, The East Valley Tribune, Bergan Record, Times, Post and the News.

It was another great year to be a Yankee fan. Although the Bombers’ season ended with a whimper against the Tigers, there were a lot of great moments during the season to keep us warm at night. Cliff and I had a great time writing about it all and sharing the season with you. Looking forward to more good stuff in the year to come. Here’s wishing you and yours the best for a safe and happy New Year.

All Good

Apparently, Bobby Murcer’s surgery was a success. Meanwhile, Bill Madden and Anthony McCarron report that the Yankees are closing in on a deal for The Big Unit. They also note that the Bombers are interested in Minky as a first baseman, and Mark Loretta as a utility infielder.

Bye Bye Barry

Barry Zito signed with the Giants for many years and much money. No No New York.

Murcer in the Hospital

Bobby Murcer is having surgery today. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier this week. Our best wishes go out to Murcer and his family.

Big Doings?

More on The Big Unit. Joel Sherman doesn’t think trading Johnson will have any impact on the Yankees’ interest in Barry Zito. Jon Heyman has a different take:

After ignoring Zito for weeks, the Yankees suddenly are thinking about the advantages of youth and durability, two of Zito’s strengths. Perhaps another new glance at Andy Pettitte’s MRI scared them straight.

…One person close to Zito’s father said he believes that, just as was true in the case of another former Oakland star Jason Giambi, the father Joe Zito would like his son to play for the Yankees. Joe Zito and George Steinbrenner have several acquaintances in common. Beyond that, Zito told the San Francisco Chronicle he most wants to go to a place that aims to win multiple titles. That sounds like the Yankees, too.

The person who knows Zito’s father and family speculated, “If the Yankees want him, they can have him.”

There seems to be some urgency to the Johnson talks, a quick timetable that fits into this headline-grabbing two-step scenario, as well. The Yankees would like to complete a Johnson deal by New Year’s Day, presumably to give them ample opportunity to find a replacement. Zito, who’s expected to start seriously sorting through his offers after Jan. 1, is the only logical replacement, a left-hander with a Cy Young award on his resume.

Both Steven Goldman and Dayn Perry think trading Johnson is the right move. Here’s Goldman:

As for what the Yankees might get out of the Diamondbacks or another trading partner, it almost doesn’t matter…Moving Johnson is an all-win scenario for the Yankees. As Branch Rickey said, it’s better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late. By definition, 43 years old is a year too late. If the Yankees can use the deal to fill outstanding needs like reserve catcher or utility infielder, so much the better. The possibilities created by his absence are almost limitless.

Ring a ding, ding.

Left Over?

For the past two months a good friend of mine keeps asking me why the Yankees won’t go after Barry Zito. I’ve long stopped trying to give him an answer, but if the Bombers do end up moving Randy Johnson, Zito might become a very real possibility.

Silent Night

“Many people just believe that I can’t get sick, or they refuse to accept the fact that my body gets tired like everyone else. Well, I do sometimes, but there are so many people who depend on me for inspiration and support that if I wanted to get sick or slow down…I just can’t. I just can’t afford to slow down.”
James Brown

James Brown’s body finally gave in and he died today of pneumonia at the age of 73. It is safe to say that there will never be another one like him. Brown was a legendary performer and one of the most influencial musicians of the past fifty years.

Unlike nearly everyone else in the greater soul community for whom the success of any soul artist was another rung up the ladder…James Brown was a Solo Man who forged ahead on his own, who, far from negotiating any kind of compromise solution to reach a broader audience, demanded that that very audience sit up and listen to what he had to say. There is no question he was ill mannered in his insistence, and that he was resented for it. Solomon Burke dismissed him as not a proper soul singer at all, and his own all-black band referred to him privately as “that greasy nigger,” but he was not to be denied. Long after Ray Charles had left the parochial world of sould and Sam Cooke was on the verge of Las Vegas bookings and Hollywood success, James Brown alone, a contemporary of both Charles and Cooke, was still out there toiling in the vineyards, singing self-created music that increasingly left both the idea of accommodation and the old tired formulations of r&b behind. Perhaps this is why he was called ‘our number one black poet’ by LeRoi Jones and hailed in 1969 as possibly ‘the most important black man in America’ by Look magazine (as well as gaining attention from SNCC leaders Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown). His music reached out with revolutionary fervor to a New Breed audience of blacks and whites. It was a militant culturally as any Black Panter political manifesto, without ever abandoning the past or its original audience. For James Brown remained firmly rooted in a sense of self and a sense of tradition that Black America had not always known that it had.

Peter Guralnick from, “Sweet Soul Music”

The Godfather of Soul is gone. Rest in Peace. Then get up off that thing, and shake your ass. It’s what the old man would want.

Return Policy

Ed Price reports that the Yankees and Diamondbacks are talking turkey about sending Randy Johnson back to Arizona. ESPN the Magazine confirms the rumor. Ho Ho Ho.

Happy, Merry, Everythang

Hey guys. Just dropping in on Christmas Eve to wish you and yours the happiest of holidays. My old man’s family is Jewish, while my Ma is Catholic, so I’ve always celebrated both Chanukah and Christmas, the ‘ol double-dip if you will. Anyhow, no matter what you celebrate, I hope you enjoy the holiday madness. Let me know what you get. I asked for GI Joe with the Kung-Fu grip. Actually, Em and I already exchanged presents, and I got some cool kitchen stuff as well a dvd set of “Freaks and Geeks.” Whoopee.

Couple Things

The Yankees have officially signed Juan Miranda. Plus, here’s Murray Chass on the team’s finances.

Andy’s Home in Time for Christmas

Okay, so like Flav once said, I ain’t got nuthin for ya, man. So here’s something cheap. Andy’s back, does that mean that Roger is not far behind? It’ll either be the Bronx or Boston for Clemens, wouldn’t you think? He’s already had a farewell tour as a Yankee and as an Astro, it makes sense that he’d return to the Sox, provided they need him.

Stocking Stuffers

While the Yanks put the final touches on Kei Igawa’s contract, and continue to hunt around for a first baseman, here are a couple of few things for ya:

Murray Chass on the Yankees and gambling; Pat Jordan on Lenny Dyktra’s third career; Tim Marchman on the Yankees’ off-seaspon thus far, and Steven Goldman on Richie Sexton. Lastly, Bart Clareman conducted a Q&A with me about the nature of the Met-Yankee rivalry. Pop over and check it out if you have a minute. Otherwise, happy holidaze to you are yours.

Melk the Halls

The big rumor swirling around the Yanks this weekend involves sending Melky Cabrera away and getting a good left-handed reliever in return. I don’t figure that Melky is long for New York. I really enjoyed watching him last year; his enthusiasm is infectious. I hope he becomes a good big league ball player. That said, I’m not sold on him becoming a great player, and if the Yankees can improve their team by trading him, I’d be all for it, in spite of the fact that I like the kid. What do y’all think about this proposed deal? Mike Gonzalez worth moving the Melk Man for?

Meanwhile, when was the last time that Alex Rodriguez said something provocative and was completely ignored?

Going, Going…

I remember when Tower Records first opened in New York. Must have been the early-to-mid eighties. Their first store was on Broadway near NYU. Eventually, they opened a second store just north of Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side. I remember buying 45s there when I was in middle school. (Woody Allen bumps into Diane Wiest in uptown store near the end of “Hannah and Her Sisters.”) Well, Tower went bankrupt a few months ago and all merchandise was 60% when I passed by store last Friday. There wasn’t much left–a clerk told me they’ve been clearing house for two months already–but that didn’t stop me from digging around anyhow.

One of the things I found and figured I’d take a chance on is a documentary about minor league baseball called “A Player To Be Named Later.” I had never heard of it. The movie follows the 2001 Indianapolis Indians, the Brewers’ triple A team. Marco Scutaro is the most famous player featured in this crisp, well-made, and unsentimental look at life in the minor leagues. It’s kind of like the baseball version of “Hoop Dreams.” It may not actually reveal anything that you might not already know about how difficult it is to make the majors, but it presents the information in a compelling, understated manner. There are some terrific interviews, particularly with the ballplayers’ wives. The scene where manager Wendell Kim tells Scutaro that he is not getting called up to the big leagues is wrenching. The moment is so awkward and Kim is so inarticulate, yet it is not unusual.

If you run across it, it’s certainly worth taking a look at. I was pleasantly surprised. I’m always moaning about how few good baseball movies there are; even though this is a documentary, this would make my list of baseball movies that won’t make you nauteous.

Big Doings in Beantown

While the Sox finally landed their man from Japan (a baby-faced killer if there ever was one), the Yanks are considering a minor deal for pitcher Joel Pineiro. And what about Bernie?

I Never Got To Make A Good Guiel Pun

The Yankees declined to tender Aaron Guiel a contract yesterday, making the outfielder-cum-first baseman a free agent. Guiel was the only player the Yankees had to make a decision on at yesterday’s non-tender deadline.

Assuming Jason Giambi will get most of his at-bats as a DH, dropping Guiel from the roster leaves the Yankees without a lefty first baseman to platoon with the winner of the Phelps-Phillips battle set to take place in spring training. Not that Phelps and Phillips are exceptionally disadvantaged against their fellow righties. Phillips has actually done most of his damage in the majors against righties. Twenty-three of Andy’s 27 extra base hits and more than two-thirds of his walks have come against rightes despite his having less than twice as many plate appearances against righties as against lefties. Phelps, meanwhile, has a career .257/.325/.460 line against righties, which, by trading some OBP for slugging, is almost exactly league average. That’s not great, but it’s permissible, especially when he hits .293/.357/.500 against lefties and earns the league minimum.

As for what else is out there, here are the career splits vs. righties of Phelps and the remaining free agent lefty-hitting first basemen:

Ryan Klesko 35 .292/.385/.548 (.310) 4032
Carlos Peña 28 .250/.346/.467 (.272) 1184
Darin Erstad 32 .293/.349/.422 (.263) 3643
Doug Mientkiewicz 32 .271/.359/.400 (.262) 2110
Josh Phelps 28 .257/.325/.460 (.261) 803
Aaron Guiel 34 .257/.331/.436 (.258) 725
John Mabry 36 .264/.324/.414 (.249) 2801

The only players there that would represent a meaningful improvement over Phelps are Peña, to a very small degree, and Klesko. We’ve already seen that Phelps and Peña are alarmingly similar hitters. So if Phelps is good enough from the right side, it would make a certain amount of sense to give Peña a second chance to make the team in the spring.

Klesko, meanwhile, is a curious case. Despite the way he dominates the chart above, he missed nearly all of 2006 following shoulder surgery after suffering an alarming power outage in 2005. One line of thought attributes the power outage to the shoulder problems that have theoretically been fixed by the surgery, which could suggest a surprising up-tick in production for 2007. Another is that after that weak showing in ’05 and what amounts to a year off at age 35, the Ryan Kelsko who put up that .310 career GPA against righties may be gone forever.

Another interesting angle on Klesko is that he has actually spent the majority of his career playing left field. That’s a good thing in terms of the position flexibilty the Yankees might require in order to carry what amounts to a third first baseman, but is also a concern as Klesko was actually the Padres starting left fielder in 2004 and 2005, meaning he hasn’t been a regular first baseman since 2003. In addition to that, he’s never been considered a good fielder at either position, where as the reports on Peña have at the very least been conflicted, meaning someone out there thinks he’s a strong gloveman.

Still, as the two combined for 37 major league at-bats in 2006 (33 of which were Peña’s), both players should come cheap enough that it would be worth a gamble to bring them to camp. As it stands now, their roster spot would likely otherwise go to Bernie Williams. Consider:

12 pitchers (5 starters, 7 relievers)
9 starters (including, for our purposes here, the righty half of the 1B platoon)
3 bench spots used on Melky, utility infielder and back-up catcher

That’s 24 men. There’s one spot left for another bench bat, and a left first baseman, preferably with some outfield experience, seems like the best way to use it. I can’t see Bernie learning first base and he’s essentially a righty bat at this point. There haven’t even been whispers about moving Hideki Matsui to first base (which actually would open up a job for Bernie as he could be a righty bench bat/outfielder behind lefties Damon and Abreu and switch-hitter Cabrera). Best I can tell, Juan Miranda won’t see the big leagues this year prior to expanded rosters, if at all. It would seem that, baring a trade, Klesko and Peña are the only remaining options. Though to be completely honest, I wouldn’t complain if the Yankees brought Guiel back. Having a lefty bench bat with some pop, some patience and the ability to play first and all three outfield positions isn’t a bad consolation prize, even if the pop and patience isn’t quite up to the standards of the other two.

Left Over

According to George King, the Yankees and Red Sox are both interested in Pittsburgh reliever, Mike Gonzalez, a southpaw. Boston has its hands full as they work on signing D. Matsuzaka this week, a deal that despite all of the posturing, I expect will get done.

Miranda Rights

ESPN deportes is reporting that the Yankees have signed 23-year-old Cuban defectee Juan Miranda to a four year contract worth $4 million. Miranda is a lefty-hitting outfielder/first baseman with some pop. Miranda, who was on the 2001 Cuban national team (he would have been 18 at the time if his given age is correct), defected to the Dominican Republic in early 2004 and has since become a Dominican citizen. This is pretty much everything I can find on this guy, who will likely spend 2007 in the minors even though his contract requires that he be placed on the 40-man roster.

Yankees by the Numbers

Updated Sept. 27, 2007 and Sept. 18, 2009

This is a rainy day post I’ve wanted to do for years. Thanks to the tremendous YankeeNumbers.com, and in the spirit of Jon Weisman’s recent All-Time Dodger Alphabet Team, I’m pleased to present the Yankees by the Numbers. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

A quick bit of history before I begin: though often credited as such, the Yankees were not the first major league team to wear numbers. The Indians wore numbers on their left sleeves for several weeks in 1916, but abandoned the practice after another brief period of use in 1917. The 1923 Cardinals were the next to try, the numbers again appearing on the players’ left sleeves, but quickly removed them because the players were “embarrassed.” Both the Indians and the Yankees were set to begin the 1929 season with numbers on their backs, but a rainout in the Bronx gave the Indians the precedent. Still, the 1929 Yankees were, along with the Indians, the first team to wear numbers for a full season. Here’s where the legend synchs back up with reality. Those 1929 Yankees wore numbers that corresponded with what was likely their opening day line-up, thus the original single digits were:

1 – Earl Combs (CF)
2 – Mark Koenig (3B)
3 – Babe Ruth (RF)
4 – Lou Gehrig (1B)
5 – Bob Meusel (LF)
6 – Tony Lazzeri (2B)
7 – Leo Durocher (SS)
8 – Johnny Grabowski (C)

Catchers Benny Bengough and rookie Bill Dickey wore numbers 9 and 10 (Dickey won the starting job that year and took Grabowski’s #8 in 1930). Top pitchers Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt and George Pipgras wore numbers 11, 12 and 14 (the Yankees skipped #13 for the usual reasons).

Enjoy . . .


An Early Holiday Treat

Have you ever started reading a book or watching a movie and been convinced after ten pages or ten minutes that you are going to absolutely love the book or movie in question for a long time? I remember when I first watched “The Long Goodbye” on video, I literally stopped the tape after about ten minutes and rewound it to the begining. I had to pinch myself. Is this really as good as it seems to be? I got that feeling again the other night as I finally got down to reading Arnold Hano’s classic “A Day in the Bleachers.” After six or seven pages, I just knew this was a book that I was going to adore. Hano was thirty-two years old when he attended Game One of the 1954 World Serious. He went to the Polo Grounds and sat in the bleachers. He didn’t intend to write a book about it–oh, perhaps a magazine piece-but not a book. For the most part, baseball books weren’t written for adults back in 1954, they were almost exclusively written for kids. But several weeks after the Serious, Hano had a brisk, tidy account of the game made famous by a catch (and throw) by Willie Mays.

The book is a stunt but Hano manages to pull it off with a simple, unpretenteous writing style. He is clever and funny too, but what I most respond to is the directness of his language and the sharpness of his reporting. Anyhow, I’m not nearly done with it–who knows, maybe it doesn’t hold up the whole time—but so far I’m enjoying it thoroughly. (I just love it when you’ve heard good things about a book for years and when you finally get down to reading it, it does not disappoint.)

Here is an excerpt I thought you guys might enjoy:

…A Yankee fan is a complacent ignorant fat cat. He knows nothing about baseball except that the Yankees will win the pennant and the World Series more often than they won’t and that a home run is the only gesture of any worth in the entire game. They have been fed on victory and on great dull stars such as Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, and even these men they do not appreciate. They know that DiMaggio could hit the ball often and for great distances and that he could make marvelous plays in the outfield, but they never knew that he was one of the very best baserunners in the American League.

I remember seeing DiMaggio hit a ground ball past the shortstop in an unimportant game on afternoon several years back. As the ball rolled into left-centerfield, the two outfielders converged on it. DiMaggio rounded first and as I glanced at him, something caught in my throat. He looked more like a great deer than a human, running lightly on his toes, head and neck stretched out, nostrils seemingly quivering, eyes searching for whatever it was he had to know. And then when the center fielder decided it was to be his play rather than the left fielder’s, a routine play of gathering up the ball and returning it to the infield, DiMaggio made his move. He dashed–no, strode is the better word–he strode for second, long-legged and sure, and the centerfielder, in a sudden flurry of activity, a man upset because the unconventional was being done, threw in a hurry to second base, but a scant fraction of a second too late.

It was not a game-winning effort in itself–the Yankees won, 0-1–but it was symbolic of the skill of Yankee players of that time. DiMaggio had hit an ordinary single. But because it was so ordinary, the left fielder–the man moving in on the ball and toward second base at the same time–did not make the play that he should have made, and the center fielder had to cut in front of him, moving away from second base as he picked up the ball. It was just this very thing DiMaggio sensed might happen, and he was prepared to act if it did.

But the remarkable thing is that nobody cheered. Nobody. Not a single soul in the entire ball park. Oh, yes, they cheered the blow. As soon as the ball was hit they yelled, and when it rolled past the shortstop they increased the yell for now it was surely a hit. But by the time the outfielder picked up the ball, they were silent, absolutely dead silent. It was a display of mass ignorance that I have never seen equaled in a ball park. I have never gone back to the Yankee Stadium since that day.

I think some of what Hano says still holds true today, though I’m pretty sure if Jeter–or anyone else, for that matter–pulled off a move like that in the Bronx, Yankee fans would pour on the applause. Regardless, this is the kind of observation you can find all over Hano’s small book, a perfect gift for the holidays.

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