"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: February 2007

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Actual News

I’m putting my position battle posts on hold for a day seeing as there’s some actual news to report today. Of course, pitchers and catchers reported yesterday, but the big news (relatively speaking, of course) was that the Yankees added a pitcher and will be short one catcher in Tampa.

Jersey boy Ron Villone signed a minor league deal with the Yankees yesterday. Given his strong performance through mid-August of last year (2.23 ERA through Aug. 16), which eventually made him one of Joe Torre’s go-to relievers, his left-handedness, his ability to work multiple innings, and his overall veteran mojo, I expect he’ll have to have an exceptionally poor spring not to make the roster. If Villone makes the team, he’ll earn $2.5 million this season. That would leave just one undecided spot on the 25-man roster after the Yankees’ three position battles are settled. That spot will go to one of the organization’s young relievers, with righty Chris Britton being the most likely to travel north.

Also, Brian Cashman told the press yesterday that Raul Chavez, one of the non-roster invitees vying for the backup catcher spot, broke his left hand while playing winter ball and is still wearing a cast. That will likely end his chances of breaking camp as Jorge Posada’s back-up (I’ve been unable to turn up an estimate for Chavez’s return to action). I’ll have a post up tomorrow about the remaining candidates for that job.

Meanwhile, check out Anthony McCarron’s profile of righty first-base candidate Josh Phelps, as well as the more than 30 minutes of actual audio of Joe Torre and Brian Cashman on the first day of spring training over at Peter Abraham’s LoHud blog.

Who Got Da Props?

Mariano Rivera’s contract is up at the end of the season. In order for him to stay in New York, he wants the Yankees to show him some respect, i.e. buckets o cash. Somehow, in spite of the fact that Rivera is 37, I think the Yanks will find a way to come to accommodate his wishes. Murray Chass, Joel Sherman and John Harper weigh in with their thoughts.

Position Battles: Fifth Starter

If the right-handed first-baseman battle is unique among the Yankees’ three spring-training position battles because it’s the only one that features a head-to-head competition, the battle for fifth starter is unique because it’s the only one that has a clear favorite entering camp. Well, maybe “favorite” isn’t the right term to use. This is Crash Pavano we’re talking about, after all.

The top four spots in the Yankee rotation are set with Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, and Kei Igaway. If Mr. Glass is able to pitch with any level of effectiveness during spring training and manages to make it to Opening Day without slamming his finger in a door or cutting himself shaving, he’ll be the fifth starter. Not that the odds are very good of that happening, or that there’s much chance of him finishing the season with that job. If Pavano pitches well through April and May it’s almost a lock that he’ll be traded in June. The only variable there is the health of the rest of the rotation.

So while the fifth starter job is Pavano’s to lose, the competition in spring training will be no less compelling as a result. Here’s a quick look at the combatants:

mL career 2006
Name DOB IP ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Level IP ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
Philip Hughes 6/24/86 237 1/3 2.13 10.21 2.05 0.23 AA 116 2.25 10.71 2.48 0.39 .266
Jeff Karstens 9/24/82 522 2/3 3.67 7.43 2.29 0.72 MLB 42 2/3 3.80 3.37 2.32 1.27 .238
Darrell Rasner 1/13/81 520 3.44 6.87 2.39 0.52 MLB 20 1/3 4.43 4.87 2.21 0.89 .254
Humberto Sanchez 5/28/83 454 4.16 8.84 4.56 0.56 AAA 51 1/3 3.86 7.54 3.51 0.35 .327

The above chart does not include Tyler Clippard or the two starters obtained in the Randy Johnson trade, Russ Ohlendorf and Steven Jackson, because none of those three have thrown a single pitch above double-A. Of course, the same is true of Philip Hughes, who is far and away the best pitcher listed above. But then there are limits on Hughes’ participation here as well.

Soreness in his pitching shoulder limited Hughes to 86 1/3 innings in his first full professional season in 2005. Last year, the Yankees cautiously held the 20-year-old to 146 innings. This year his innings cap will be 180. If Hughes were to make the Yankees out of camp, the Yankees would have to keep Hughes on short leash in order to keep him from exceeding that total over the course of a full season. Last year Chien-Ming Wang and Randy Johnson lead the Yankees with 33 regular season starts. Spread across 33 games, 180 innings averages out to just 5.45 innings per game, and that doesn’t include potential postseason starts, which would consume the innings the Yankees might be able to save by skipping Hughes’ turn on the few occasions when scheduled off-days allow them to do so.

The Yankees are to be commended for their careful handling of Hughes. They’re doing all the right things regarding his workloads, and their impulse to have him start this season at triple-A is also a good one. True, Hughes could likely pitch effectively in the major leagues without a stint in triple-A, but there’s no harm in easing him into things. Starting him out in Scranton is an excellent way for them to insure that he won’t be extended beyond those 180 innings. Another is to using him sparingly out of the major league pen in the early months of the season as the Twins did with Francisco Liriano last year.

Let’s crunch some numbers here using 2006 AL innings-pitched and ERA leader Johan Santana and complete games leader C.C. Sabathia as examples of the best and most durable American League pitchers. Both Santana and Sabathia averaged about 6.88 innings pitched per start last year. Assuming , then, that Hughes will average no more than 6 2/3 innings per major league start, he could make 27 starts for the Yankees in 2007 before exceeding his limit. Of course, when you factor in a full postseason run, the Yankees could require close to 40 starts from their best pitchers, which leaves Hughes inactive for significant chunks of the season. There are three possible alternatives to simply letting Hughes pitch until he hits 180 innings and thus facing the heat of the pennant race and postseason without him.

If the Yankees let Hughes pitch on a strict innings limit in triple-A for the first couple of months of the season, then promote him in June they might only get 19 major league starts out of him between the regular and postseasons, but they’ll keep him active throughout the season. If the Yankees skip the fifth spot in the rotation every time the schedule allows them to in April and May, they’ll first need a fifth starter in June on the fifth of the month. To put Hughes on schedule for that start, the Yankees could make him the fifth man in the Scranton rotation. That would give him 11 starts in triple-A before his major league debut on June 5. If they then skip Hughes’ turn in the major league rotation whenever the scheduled off-days allow them to do so over the remainder of the season, Hughes would make 16 major league starts during the 2007 regular season. If they limit him to five innings in each of his 11 triple-A starts but otherwise let him loose in the majors (again assuming a maximum 6 2/3 innings pitched per start), he would finish the regular season with a maximum of 161 2/3 innings pitched between Scranton and New York. That would then allow him to make three postseason starts (say one in the ALDS and two in the ALCS) without meaningfully exceeding his 180-inning limit. If all of that goes according to plan and the Yankees find themselves in the World Series, I’m sure an extra two starts in pursuit of a World Championship would be perfectly acceptable.

Alternately, the Yankees could limit Hughes to side sessions in April, promote him directly to the major league rotation when the fifth spot comes due on May 5, and again skip his turn whenever the schedule allows. That would result in 24 major league starts in the regular season and a maximum of 160 innings pitched prior to the postseason.

A third option, and the one that I think would ultimately be most beneficial to both the team’s goals for 2007 and Hughes’ long term development, would be to pitch Hughes in regular rotation in the major leagues beginning on June 5 (that is not skipping his turn when off-days allow). That would result in 21 regular season major league starts totalling a maximum of 140 innings. That leaves 20 extra innings which Hughes could pitch out of the pen in April and May (or, alternately, four minor league starts with a five-inning limit, or even five minor league starts with a four-inning limit). Again, that would result in 160 regular season innings and leave him free to make three postseason starts within his 180-innings limit with the possibility of two more World Series starts if needed beyond that limit.

Each of those three scenarios assumes a level of success for both Hughes and the team that is not a foregone conclusion, but even in these best-case scenarios it’s clear that Hughes can’t be used as the fifth starter in April, and likely not in May either lest he be shut down in advance of the playoffs and possibly even before the divisional race is decided. The Yankees will need a fifth starter three times in April and four more times in May. If Pavano gets a splinter, the Yankees will need someone other than Hughes to take those turns. Even if Pavano is able to take the ball each time, the Yankees will need to use spring training to decide who they’ll turn to should the rotation spring a leak elsewhere.

Having reduced the candidates to Karstens, Rasner, and Sanchez, I’m going to further cull the field by eliminating Sanchez. Sanchez didn’t hit triple-A until the middle of last year and made just nine starts at that level before being shut down with tenderness in his pitching elbow. A highly touted prospect in his own right, though certainly not in Hughes’ class, Sanchez should also be handled with kid gloves this year in the hope that he can establish himself in triple-A, stay healthy, and emerge as a candidate for the 2008 rotation or, in a best-case scenario, down the stretch this year.

That leaves Karstens and Rasner, the two rotation patches that the Yankees used late last season. Although Karstens is the more familiar face due to his having made six starts last year to Rasner’s three, I’ve always been partial to Rasner. The stats above show why. While both men where rather fortunate on balls in play last year, Karstens was both more fortunate and significantly less likely to record a strikeout, a scary combination that could lead to a huge increase in hits and thus runs allowed this year. What’s more, Karstens has come by his nickname “Scary Fly Ball Guy” (props to Steven Goldman) honestly. Consider the home run rates above. Then consider that Karstens groundball-to-flyball rate last year was 0.67. While that came in a small sample, only one of the 80 major league pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last year had a more extreme fly-ball rate. By comparison, Rasner’s groundball-to-flyball rate, in an admittedly even smaller sample, was 1.13, which would have ranked him a more respectable 51st out of those 80 qualifiers. Karsten edges Rasner in the important category of minor league K/BB ratio, but Rasner edged Karstens in nearly every peripheral stat you can dig up from their major league stints last year and, frankly, I was more impressed with Rasner’s stuff and composure after seeing them both pitch last September. Still, just as Pavano would be keeping the fifth starter spot warm for Hughes, Rasner or Karstens will hopefully be doing no more than that. While Rasner may be a perfectly viable fifth starter, he’d be a significant downgrade from what’s expected of Wang, Moose, Pettitte, or Igawa, and the rest of the cookies Cashman collected this winter still need to bake a bit longer.

Position Battles: Right-Handed First Baseman

So it appears Pitchers and Catchers are even closer to reporting than I thought. Despite MLB listing Thursday, February 15, as the reporting date, it appears the actual date is February 13, tomorrow. Regardless, it’s time to get down to business here at the Banter. Today through Wednesday, I’ll look at the three main position battles that will be taking place in Yankee camp this spring. Then Thursday I’ll post my annual breakdown of Yankee Campers.

The Yankees have more decisions to make in camp this year than they have over the past few seasons. Setting aside the usual decisions regarding the 25th man on the roster or the last man in the bullpen, Joe Torre and his staff will have to choose on a right-handed first baseman to platoon with Doug Mientkiewicz, a back-up catcher, and a fifth starter. Today we’ll look a the team’s first-base situation.

The Yankees haven’t entered camp with a question mark in the starting line-up since 2004, when Aaron Boone’s torn ACL set up a third-base battle between the likes of Tyler Houston and Mike Lamb, which then shifted to second base when Alfonso Soriano was dealt to Texas for Alex Rodriguez. Enrique Wilson beat out Miguel Cairo at the keystone that spring, but Cairo—who, for all his shortcomings, was a clearly superior player to Wilson—overtook Wilson mid-season.

The Yankees’ won’t have the luxury of changing their mind at first-base this year. Doug Mientkiewicz enters camp as the established lefty-half of the proposed first-base platoon. Andy Phillips and Josh Phelps, meanwhile, are battling not only to be Mientkiewicz’s right-handed caddy, but for their Yankee careers. Phelps was claimed from the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft back in December. If the Yankees want to remove him from the 25-man roster at any point this season, they must offer him back to Baltimore. Phillips, meanwhile, is out of options and will have to be placed on waivers if he fails to make the Opening Day roster. The stakes is high.

In addition to being the only of these three decisions that the Yankees can’t change their minds about later, the righty first-baseman battle is also the only of the three that is a simple either/or matter with just two players vying for the position. Here’s a quick look at Phillips and Phelps:

Name DOB ML career (AB) mL career (AB) 2006 (AB-level)
Andy Phillips 3/6/77 .228/.266/.391 (294) .296/.363/.516 (2,530) .240/.281/.394 (246-MLB)
Josh Phelps 5/2/78 .268/.336/.473 (1,203) .288/.360/.524 (2,719) .308/.370/.532 (464-AAA)

It’s clear from their career minor league numbers that Phillips and Phelps are very similar hitters. Both are right-handed, of course, and generate their power with quick bats rather than excessive bulk. From those raw numbers, Phelps would seem to have a bit more power as well as a smidge more strike zone judgment (career mL isolated discipline of .072 to Phillips’ .067), but consider Phelps’ 2006 triple-A numbers above next to Phillips’ 2005 triple-A numbers of .300/.379/.573 in 300 at-bats, or Phillips’ 2004 triple-A stats of .318/.388/.569 in 434 at-bats. Phillips was 28 in 2005 just as Phelps was last year, and both were playing in the International League in similar home hitting environments in Toledo (Phelps) and Columbus (Phillips)—hitting environments that, in terms of raw park factors, are very similar to Yankee Stadium. Consider also Phillips’ superior career minor league K/BB rate: Phillips 1.85 K/BB, Phelps 2.57 K/BB.

Ultimately, what differentiates Phelps from Phillips is major league experience. Phillips, who played college ball at the University of Alabama, made his professional debut at age 22 and earned the Yankees’ Minor League Player of the Year award in his age-25 season, based primarily on a tremendous half season at double-A Norwich. Phelps, meanwhile, was drafted straight out of his Idaho high school, made his major league debut at age 22, and spent his age-25 season hitting .268/.358/.470 as the Blue Jays’ starting DH.

In addition to his late start, Phillips’ progress was derailed by an elbow injury suffered in the Arizona Fall League the autumn after his award winning 2002 season. That injury cost him most of 2003. Thus, instead of establishing himself in Columbus that year and challenging Cairo and Wilson for the open second base job in 2004 (originally a third baseman, Phillips played second base from 2001 to 2003), he was forced to reestablish himself in double-A that spring and was shifted back to third base where he was blocked by Alex Rodriguez. All of that, plus the fact that he was attempting to break into a much tougher lineup in the Bronx than Phelps was in Toronto, put him five years behind his rival’s pace. In terms of major league experience, Phelps’ age-22 to 24 seasons correspond to Phillips’ age-27 to 29 seasons:

Name (Age) G AB AVG/OBP/SLG
Phelps (22) 1 1 .000/.000/.000
Phillips (27) 5 8 .250/.250/.625
Phelps (23) 8 12 .000/.143/.000
Phillips (28) 27 40 .150/.171/.325
Phelps (24) 74 265 .309/.362/.562
Phillips (29) 110 246 .240/.281/.394

The obvious difference here being not only the five-year age gap, but the fact that Phelps hit when finally given the opportunity, while Phillips did not. Even Phelps’s worst major league season of more than 12 at-bats, his .251/.304/.450 performance in 371 at-bats split between Toronto and Cleveland in 2004, was clearly better than what Phillips did last year. Speaking of which, here are their career major league K/BB rates: Phillips 4.38 K/BB, Phelps 3.66 K/BB.

If this decision was based purely on the relative offensive merits of these two players, one would have to consider Phelps, who’s more than a year Phillips’ junior, the clear favorite despite the similarity of their minor league records and Phillips’ unfairly small major league sample.

However, offense is just part of the picture. All of the decisions the Yankees have made regarding first base this winter have been made with defense in mind, from declaring Jason Giambi a full-time designated hitter to signing Doug Mientkiewicz as the dominant half of an expected first-base platoon. Of course the jury’s still out on Mientkiewicz’s defensive abilities. He’s a thirtysomething coming off back surgery and the defensive metrics are mixed as to exactly how good he was even before the surgery. Baseball Prospectus’s Rate stats show Mientkiewicz experiencing a steady decline since 2002 with his defense being considerably blow average in each of the last two years. Then again, Dave Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range has Minky up among the elite at the position last year, as is his reputation. But regardless of whether or not Mientkiewicz is still an asset in the field, the message sent by the front office is clear: defense matters.

That’s bad news for Phelps. Phillips’ defensive stats from 2006 largely echo Mientkiewicz’s. Rate has him a tick below Minky, while Pinto ranks him between Nick Johnson and Kevin Youkilis, comfortably above average. Despite his struggles at the plate, Phillips’ defense made a strong impression on Joe Torre last year. Andy can also fill in at third-base and play second and the outfield corners in a pinch—all of which he’s done for the Yankees over the last two seasons. That gives him extra value coming off the bench, which he’d be doing in the majority of the Yankees’ games. Phelps, meanwhile, is generally regarded as a defensive zero. A disaster as a catcher, Phelps has been limited to DH and first base since the age of 24 and has played in the field in just 31 of his 342 major league games since, a mere 9 percent. If that’s not a damning indictment of his defensive abilities, I don’t know what is. By comparison, Phillips has played the field in 91.5 percent of his 142 major league. In raw numbers, Phillips has played defense in more than four times as many major league games as Phelps despite appearing in just two-fifths as many major league games total.

The good news for Phelps is that his Rate stats, while poor and burdened by impossibly small samples, show an improvement trend that suggests that he may have needed a few seasons to learn his new position. Still, I expect that Phillips—who has the added advantage of being a familiar face who seemed to be popular in the Yankee clubhouse last year—will have the inside track to the right-handed first baseman’s job as spring training begins. I also expect that, while both players will have to hit in order to win the job, Phelps’ defense will be watched very closely by Torre and his coaches. If Phelps crushes the ball, but makes a few ugly plays around the bag, he just might be headed back to Baltimore. After all, if the Yankees were willing to field a first-baseman with an iron glove they could have skipped signing Mientkiewicz, kept Giambi and his persistant positional splits in the field, put Hideki Matsui at DH, started the defensively superior Melky Cabrera in left, and given Minky’s roster spot to Bernie williams or, better yet, Aaron Guiel or Kevin Thompson.

And Now, the End is Near

“I think if they wanted me, they would have signed me already,” said Williams, who has spent 16 seasons with the Yankees, the only team he has played for. “The option to go to spring training and see what happened — I don’t think at this moment it is something I want to consider.”

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, reached by telephone Friday night, said there was no space for Williams.

“We love and respect Bernie, but with the dynamic of our roster, there’s not a spot,” Cashman said. “We had a lot of conversations with him. I understand that he doesn’t want to accept a minor league deal.”
(N.Y. Times)

Saying good-bye is never easy. Bernie Williams is one of my very favorite Yankees of them all. It’s funny, how we love our favorites for different reasons. I love Bernie because I never thought he would become such an accomplished player (and look at him, he’s a borderline Hall of Famer). Not bad for a skinny kid who was picked-on, and often looked lost when he first arrived in the Bronx. I’m as proud of him as I have ever been of any Yankee. Regardless of whether or not he has any real value left for the team, I will miss watching him play dearly.

Hank Bauer

R.I.P.

Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain

Here is an excerpt of Ken Auletta’s profile on Howard Rubenstein, which appears in this week’s New Yorker:

Rubenstein’s signature client in recent years has been George Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees. For decades, Steinbrenner—the Boss, as he loved to be called—did not hesitate, when the spirit moved him, to ridicule his players and abuse his managers. He once called the pitcher Hideki Irabu “a fat pussy” toad and paid a professional gambler to dig up dirt on the outfielder Dave Winfield, and he had fired a succession of managers. Until recently, Steinbrenner was, like [Donald] Trump, one of the city’s sacred monsters, capable of saying almost anything. Then he vanished, and in his stead were ghostly anodyne quotes attributed, of course, to his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein. When the Yankees had a losing streak, Steinbrenner now said, though his spokesman, that he was “disappointed,” or even, “I have tremendous faith in my players, my manager, and the leadership of the team.” Requests for interviews with Steinbrenner, so often granted in the past, were now invariably denied. “Rubenstein is good at coming up with irrelevant, obfuscating responses,” the Times’ longtime baseball columnist Murray Chass wrote. “For instance, when asked about a year ago if Steinbrenner had sustained a medical setback, Rubenstein responded, ‘George lifts weights every day.’”

The description of a hale and vigorous Steinbrenner did not correspond with what reporters believe to be reality. They saw a frail man of seventy-six slowly getting into his car at Yankee Stadium; they saw Steinbrenner seemingly dazed by the summer heat at the ground-breaking for the new Yankee Stadium. One reporter who covers the Yankees, and who does not want to risk his access, told me, “I’ve know George for thirty years, and on the elevator he sometimes doesn’t recognize me.” He added, “How has Rubenstein helped him? The statements are a joke. He makes George look like some cartoon version of the cartoon version he used to be.”

One could argue that Rubenstein has helped to turn Steinbrenner into a more benign and even sympathetic figure. But mainly he has shielded an aging man from public view with a series of ventriloquisms and, at best, half truths. Richard Sandomir, who writes about television sports of the Times, said that he has not been able to speak with Steinbrenner for about three years. “All my conversations are with Rubenstein,” Sandomir said. “I like Howard a lot…But few of his quotes match George’s personality. Is he taming him, or just creating a new George? No one knows.”

When I asked to talk with Steinbrenner in person or on the telephones, his assistant, Judith Wells, e-mailed me, saying, “Speaking from personal experience, Mr. Steinbrenner becomes a wee bit impatient on the telephone and he will spend a lot more time reflecting if he can respond via the written word.” Two weeks later, I received a personal letter signed by Steinbrenner. I had asked for an example of good advice that Rubenstein had given, and he wrote, “Perhaps the best advice that he’s given me is to stay ‘compose’ and say ‘les.’” How did he feel about the suggestions that he was enfeebled and that Rubenstein was inventing a new Steinbrenner? “Not very positively.” I have no idea if that was authentic Steinbrenner or pure Rubenstein. Rubenstein, for his part, insists that he told the truth when he said that Steinbrenner was lifting weights: “It’s true. Next time you’re here, I’ll put you on the phone and you’ll hear him breaking.”

I’ve long thought that the biggest pending story for the Yankees is what life will be like after Steinbrenner. But, as the events of the past year have shown, that transition is already taking place. Maybe it won’t be as big an event as I once imagined.

Winning Never Gets Old, Losing is Never Easy

Anthony McCarron has a piece on Derek Jeter in the News today:

Jeter resumed baseball activities three weeks ago for the first time since the end of the season. It’s a way to put the disappointment in the past.

“It takes a long time to get over it. That’s what people don’t realize,” Jeter said as several Yankee prospects took batting practice nearby. “It’s a whole year you’ve played. The worst phrase in all of sports is saying, ‘Ah, get them next year.’ Well, next year is another 12 months. It’s not like you’re going to have the opportunity to play forever.

“Every year that goes by is one less year on your career, so it takes awhile to get over it. But that’s what makes spring training so fun. Everyone starts over.”

Jeter admits that it would be odd not playing with Bernie Williams anymore.

Also in the News, a feature on Yankee youngster Dellin Betances.

One Week

One week to go until Pitchers and Catchers. As reported yesterday via LoHud, Jorge Posada and Kei Igawa are already in Tampa. MLB.com adds Derek Jeter, Miguel Cairo, center field prospect Brett Gardner and fifth starter hopefuls Jeff Karstens, Humberto Sanchez, Tyler Clippard, and Phil Hughes. Hey, that’s enough for a pick-up team!

Drop a Gem on ‘Em

During the 1990s, the most influencial Hip Hop show in New York, and possibly the world, was The Stretch Armstrong Show, which featured Strech and Bobbito Garcia (originally, Kurious Jorge was the house MC). The show aired on Thursday nights from 1-5am, and I was one of many fans who waited up half the night with my finger on the pause button of my tapedeck waiting to record the latest gems. When the show folded, Bobbito went on to write a seminal book about New York City Sneaker Culture, and currently works for MSG, covering the Knicks. I hadn’t heard about Stretch for a minute, but was recently hipped to his blog. There are some cherce downloads, including the legendary Busy Bee v. Kool Moe Dee battle from the early ’80s. For those in the know, now you know…

Big Audio Dynamite

Multi-media time, folks. Check out frequent Bronx Banter commenter and author of Canyon of Heroes and Matsuzaka Watch and proud new papa Mike Plugh as he discusses the Red Sox’s new ace on Baseball Prospectus Radio. Also, check out Matsuzaka Watch for Mike’s counter interview with BP Radio host Will Carroll and a pretty bad-ass Matsuzaka/Red Sox-themed Japanese beer commercial.

Another audio hit for you iPod owners out there, and a bit of shameless semi-self promotion, check out this podcast with Newsday‘s David Lennon and the Daily News‘s Roger Rubin, authors of The Great New York Sports Debate, a book I had a part in editing (more like a cameo, but a part nonetheless).

While we’re on the interview tip, check out this Sports Illustrated piece with Baseball-Reference’s Sean Forman (hat tip to Dodger Thoughts for the link). The new features on B-Ref that incorportate Retrosheet’s box score data are tremendous, if you haven’t full explored the splits and game logs and other additional features added this winter, be sure to take the time to do so.

As for actual Yankee-related news, the best I can do right now is this item on Mel Stottlemyre joining the Diamondbacks as an organizational pitching instructor, which also points out that Goose Gossage will be in Yankee camp as instructor for the first time in a few seasons, neither of which is really new information. Speaking of Yankee camp, Jorge Posada and Kei Igawa are already there, according to Peter Abraham. Man, I can almost taste the hot dogs . . .

News-free News

Cory Lidle’s back in the news as the National Transportation Safety Board has released the details of its investigation into his fatal small plane crash. Unfortunately, they have been unable to determine whether Lidle or his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, who was also killed in the accident, was actually flying the plane when it crashed, which leaves Lidle’s family in a lurch regarding a $1.05 million accidental death benefit. In fact, there’s very little new information in this AP story whatsoever. What they have determined is that the ban on small planes flying below 1,100 feet over the East River enacted after Lidle’s accident should be made permanent, but even that is merely a recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In other news, the Associated Press noticed that Jorge Posada’s contract is up after this year and that he doesn’t yet have an extension. I’m sure he’ll get one in time. The only other Yankees playing on multi-year deals whose contracts expire after this season are Mike Myers and Joe Torre, and Mariano Rivera, who is playing out his option this year. Bobby Abreu and Andy Pettitte have options for 2008. This season could change a lot, but I expect extensions for Jorge and Mo and Abreu’s option to get picked up. Myers won’t be back. As for Joe and Andy . . . difficult to see, always in motion is future.

Ten Days

Football is my second favorite sport after baseball, and the stretch between the Super Bowl and Opening Day has always felt like a long, dreary, entertainment-free wasteland to me. I can’t force myself to care about college sports, so March Madness leaves me flat (even though I finished second in the only NCAA bracket pool I ever entered), and the selection of movies this time of year is the absolute pits, especially once the Oscars pass and the re-released contenders looking to build buzz disappear from the theaters. Of course, some of that has changed since I started blogging, as the need to cover spring training involves me in those games even though precious few of them are aired even on the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network, which tends to stick to the Yankees’ home games, and none of them count. Of course, the day we all look forward to all winter is Pitchers and Catchers, which is just ten days away, but really that’s a whole lot of nothing. There are no games to watch until March arrives and all the reports prior to then are all the same sort of empty optimism that occurs every year. Heck, we’ve already heard that from Crash Pavano. (Incidentally, Pavano is technically not on the 60-day DL, but he’ll be listed that way on the sidebar until he throws in his second spring training game. In the words of our president, “Fool me once, shame on . . . shame on you . . . you fool me . . . you can’t get fooled again.”)

Between then and now, all that’s left is Bernie Williams’ decision on the Yankees’ offer of a minor league contract and non-roster invite to spring training. The latest is that he’s leaning toward accepting with the idea that he’d retire if he doesn’t make the team. That sounds reasonable enough, though I worry that would leave the final decision in Joe Torre’s hands, and I can just see Joe finding a way to squeeze Bernie onto the roster should he have a few good spring at-bats. In other roster news, Matt DeSalvo, who was designated for assignment to make room for Miguel Cairo on the 40-man roster, cleared waivers and has accepted a non-roster invite of his own.

In the meantime, here’s a fluff piece on Joe Girardi, who will rejoin the YES team this year as well as co-host a show called “Behind the Plate” with John Flaherty, and some fluff on former Mets prospect and new Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. Lastly, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith coaching in the Super Bowl prompts a less than encouraging look at baseball’s hiring practices.

The Big One

Congrats to Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and the Colts. Not a terrible game, though I’m sure it was maddening for Chicago fans. I loved the fact that the weather had an impact. Manning won the big one. Good for him. Also, I thought Prince killed at halftime. A lot of lesser performers would have wilted under the conditions, but I think they were ideally suited to his sense of drama and theater. He made the most of it; nice guitar work too.

Stupid Bowl Sundaze

I was a devoted football fan from about 1979-87. I rooted for the Cowboys during their declining years and, locally, for the Jets, during their typical Jets years (some promise, much frustration). My favorite players were Tony Dorsett and Tony Hill, Wesley Walker and Kenny Easley (the AFC’s answer to Ronnie Lott). The greatest game I ever watched was the Chargers-Dolphins playoff overtime game, a week before the most painful game I ever experienced—”The Catch.” I would religiously get together with friends growing up, play a big game of pick-up football on Super Bowl Sunday, no matter how cold. Then we’d go to one of our houses to watch the (usually lousy) game.

I don’t care much for football anymore, though I will watch games during the season. It’s hard for me to make it all the way through one though (I get bored so easily), and I don’t know many of the players and coaches in the sport. Still, I was thinking the other day, that I’ve watched every Super Bowl since 1979. Haven’t missed one. To my mind, the first one I saw is still the best, in terms of sheer excitement and great plays: Super Bowl XIV between the upstart Rams and the powerhouse Steelers, Jack Youngblood playing the game with a broken leg, Vince Ferregamo almost pulling off a Joe Nameth, John Stallworth’s brilliant receptions, Jack Lambert’s game-ending interception. After that, Super Bowl XXIII (49ners over Bengals) was incredible, as were XXV (Giants v. Bills), and Super Bowl XXXIV (Rams over Titans). Recently, the Patriots have played in two damn good games too.

So, will you guys be munching away, watching the game, or at least the commercials, later this evening? I’m rooting for the Colts, but wouldn’t be terribly upset if the Bears won (so long as Manning has a good game in defeat). Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say?

“I Want Some Man Meat”

Carl Pavano spoke with the media yesterday.

Linkin’ Around

Couple of few tidbits:

Tim Marchman on Phillip Hughes; Steve Lombardi on the best seasons ever by a Yankee shortstop (peace to Repoz for the heads up); also, there are a bunch of good new Yankee blogs out there–two of the best are Yankees for Justice, and Bronx Liaison. Oh, and Sweeny Murti is going to blog about the Yanks this season over at WFAN’s site. He won’t really get rolling for a couple of weeks, but that’s one to keep an eye on.

Me and My Shadow

Every so often on my way to work on the IRT, I’m on the train with a real cut-up of a conductor. He’s a cheery guy who likes to make many announcements. “Good morning New York, we’re doing Fridays today, not Mondays, not Thursdays, this is Friday.” Some people smile, others roll their eyes. The man is nothing if not persistent. Today, he offered this gem. “Today is February second, Manhattan. Since we don’t have any ground hogs in New York this is what we are going to do: If you see two rats, we’re in for a long winter, if you see one rat, then we’re going to have an early spring.” That got some laughs in my car. Then I overheard a high school kid tell his friend, “I saw ten rats the other day.” Watch the closing doors.

We Ain’t Got Nuthin’ For Ya Man

Mel Stottlemyre will not be at spring training in Tampa with the Yankees this year. Speaking of Mel, just where would you guys place him on a list of the greatest starting pitchers in team history?

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