"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: January 2008

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It’s funny the way things work sometimes. On this date last year my father died. January 15th also happens to be my brother Ben’s birthday. He turns 34 today, which also happens to be the day that his wife, Erin, is going to deliver their second child. Talk about the life cycle. They couldn’t have planned it to work out like this. I’m so happy for my brother, and I’m thinking about my pop. So, here’s raising a toast to the birth of my niece, and while I’m at it, I’ll spill a little iced coffee on the floor for the old man.

Yankee Panky #38: Roger Radar

I typically don’t like to use this space as a ranting pad, but I’ve been observing a lot of things in the past 10 days that have bothered me, and I need to get them off my chest. First, though, allow me to rewind to my last post. I appreciate all the compliments, critiques, criticisms and suggestions for this year’s installments of the Banter. I apologize up front for the sporadic nature of the posts. Starting this week, I’m resolving to make Mondays the regular Yankee Panky day, barring a crowded schedule on my part, or my esteemed colleagues Alex and Cliff pre-empting the column for Breaking News alerts.

As for this week’s post, though I’m a bit hopped up about the media finding little else to talk about except “Days of our Lidocaines,” starring Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee, I’ll be sure to keep it brief and free of vitriol.

On to the blog …

Goose Gossage finally received his due last week, having been elected to the Hall of Fame with 85.8 percent of the vote. I was a big Goose fan; he was the first true “stopper.” His legacy is that future managers sought pitchers like him for their teams to ensure victories both in the regular season and the postseason. That impact on the game makes him a Hall of Famer, in my opinion.

But Gossage’s induction stunk of something right away. It was as if the voting members of the Baseball Writers of Association of America cut him a break to continue their crusade to “uphold the game’s integrity” by not voting for alleged performance-enhancing drug users. I’m happy Gossage is in, but I’m sure there’s a faction of writers who got into Goose’s Flying V this year, conveniently forgetting that he should have gone in jointly with Bruce Sutter two years ago. As for Jim Rice, I actually agree with the vote and consider him to be equal to Don Mattingly; great career, not long enough of a period of dominance. Hall of Very Good, not Hall of Fame. That’s what’s great about this game, though, is that you can debate this stuff until you get laryngitis. The BBWAA does exactly what we do, except they can mark a ballot that leads to a player receiving a plaque and on it, looking like Han Solo frozen in carbonite.

Many of you wrote me asking about minor league bits and team news. It occurred to me that I’d like to see some of that from the beat writers right about now, since pitchers and catchers report in four weeks. The occasional “Yankees still eyeing Santana” headline was sprinkled in, but the baseball universe wants to see this Roger Clemens situation resolved. Like the run to Super Tuesday, this may be a daily grind until the Rocket appears before Congress.

The “60 Minutes” appearance was laughable. Mike Wallace went from esteemed reporter emeritus to giddy baseball fan in 60 seconds. Edge of Sports’s Dave Zirin has a solid recap of the interview here. Wally Matthews took some jabs at Clemens also. Say what you want about Matthews, but in last Thursday’s column I think he accurately stated what most of us believe. 

There’s a duality of stupid going on. On “Real Time with Bill Maher” Friday night, Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, who’s on the campaign trail, was asked about the media’s role in creating the candidates’ perceptions. His response, “You can send any s— up a flagpole and these people (the media) will f—ing salute.” He’s right. It’s a matter of media members presenting information without full facts. And we’re never going to know the full and complete truth, because there’s too much up for interpretation. The media are buying their subject’s garbage, and the majority of the public, it seems, fall in line like we live in some twisted version of Hamlin.

Reports have surfaced saying that other trainers disliked McNamee and didn’t consider him to be one of “their own.” Do we believe that? Should we? Brian McNamee knows exactly what went on between him and Clemens. So does the 354-game winner. When Clemens said, “Somebody’s got to tell the truth,” he was right. An erroneous report is released in the LA Times a year ago and we’re expected to exonerate Clemens. A tape of a vague, angry phone conversation between Clemens and McNamee is played and we’re supposed to choose sides.

Clemens hasn’t done anything to improve his standing in this case, or to sway public opinion to prove his innocence. The one thing the media has done well here is to allow the public to draw its own conclusions based on the reporting.

The only conclusion I’ve come to is that I want to read about baseball, not put Roger Clemens’ career into historical context because of the allegations against him.

Welcome to the 2008 season.

The Gambler’s Son

Not so long ago, a good friend of mine encouraged me to feel comfortable promoting myself. While it doesn’t come naturally for me, I figured, what the hell, I can talk about Pat Jordan’s writing all day long. The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan is coming out just before Opening Day. Each week until then, I’m going to pick one of Pat’s stories that can be found on-line and feature it in a post. Leading off is a fun piece he did a few years ago for the New York Times magazine on Daniel Negreanu, the all-star poker player (the story was featured in The Best American Sports Writing 2006, edited by Michael Lewis).

Card Stud (Originally published, May, 2005.)

Negreanu claims not to have much interest in money, except as a means of keeping score. After he won that $1.8 million at the Bellagio, he bought six videos and put the rest of the money in poker chips in a lockbox at the casino as if it were a bus-station locker. The chips are still there. The $1.1 million Negreanu won in Atlantic City was converted into $300,000 in cash and an $800,000 check. Back home in Las Vegas, he discovered that he left the check in his hotel room; the maid threw it out, and Negreanu had to fly back for another check. “I don’t believe much in banks,” he says. “Although I do have one bank account with not much in it, just a couple hundred thousand.” He also doesn’t believe in credit cards, or buying anything he can’t afford to pay cash for, which is why he always travels with a wad of $100 bills held together with an elastic band.

Negreanu has two basic rules for playing poker. First, maximize your best hand and minimize a mediocre hand. Too many novices play too many mediocre hands when not bluffing, which increases their chances of losing. Great players only play hands when they have “the nuts,” or unbeatable cards; otherwise they fold hand after hand. Second, play hours, not results. Negreanu sets a time limit for his play and sticks to it, whether he’s winning or losing. If he goes beyond his time limit, he risks playing “tired hands” when he is not sharp. (Before a tournament, Negreanu gives up alcohol and caffeine. “I do nothing, to numb my brain,” he says, “except watch poker film — just like an N.F.L. team before the Super Bowl.”)

Negreanu says that most great players are geniuses, then lists the kinds of genius they must have: 1) a thorough knowledge of poker; 2) a mathematical understanding of the probabilities of a card being dealt, given the cards visible; 3) a psychological understanding of an opponent; 4) an understanding of an opponent’s betting patterns — that is, how he bets with the nuts and how he bets when bluffing; and 5) the ability to read “tells,” or a player’s physical reactions to the cards he is dealt. Negreanu is a master at reading tells, although he claims it is an overrated gift, since only mediocre players have obvious tells. The best players, of course, have poker faces.

Negreanu says he can break down opponents’ hands into a range of 20 possibilities after two cards are dealt. After the next three cards are dealt, he says, he can narrow the possible hands to five, and after the last two cards are dealt, to two. “It’s not an exact science,” he admits, “but I can reduce the possibilities based on the cards showing, his betting pattern, tells, his personality and my pure instinct.”

Shulman, Card Player’s co-publisher, connects Negreanu’s success to his personality: “Daniel controls a table by getting everyone to talk and forget they’re playing for millions,” he told me. “He makes every game seem like a home game — you know, guys drinking beer and eating chips. They forget what’s happening. Plus, Daniel is the best at reading an opponent’s hands, as if their cards were transparent. He gets guys to play against him when he has a winning hand and gets them to fold when he has nothing. He’s the King of Bluffing. You know some guys can beat bad players and not good players, and some vice versa. Daniel does both.”

Beyond Negreanu’s knowledge and considerable intelligence, what makes him truly great is his aggressiveness in a game — his ruthlessness, some might say. He once bluffed his own girlfriend, also a professional poker player, out of a large pot at a tournament. “I bet with nothing,” he says, “and she folded. To rub it in, I showed her my hand. She was furious. She stormed into the bathroom, and we could hear her kicking the door, screaming, smashing stuff. When she came out she kicked me in the shin and said, ‘Take your own cab home.’” She is no longer his girlfriend.

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Roger and Albert

Wouldn’t it be really funny if Albert played Roger’s lawyer in real life?

I’m just sayin…

All the News that’s Fit to Link

ESPN has become the Super Friends for established sports writers. When ESPN comes calling, it’s virtually impossible for a writer to turn them down. There’s just too many greenbacks at stake, let alone creative freedom. T.J. Quinn, along with Howard Bryant and Rick Riley to name just a few, is now with the Worldwide Leader. Quinn has reported extensively about PEDs for the Daily News for years. This morning, he has a long Q&A up with Roger Clemens’ lawyer Rusty Hardin (the interview is a transcript for “Outside the Lines,” due to air this morning). I was first alerted to the piece by Repoz, one of the most trusted and reliable source of information links on the ‘Net, over at Baseball Think Factory. Repoz included Tangotiger to wonder if ESPN alters their transcripts.

All Goose All The Time

Having grown up with baseball in the 1970s, I have a strong appreciation for what a great relief ace can do when his talents are pushed to the limit. We call them "closers" today, but back in the day, "relief aces" or "firemen" often came into games in the seventh or eighth inning, and often with runners on base. They weren’t protected—or babied—the way that most closers are in the contemporary game. From 1978 to 1983, I was privileged to watch Goose Gossage up close and personal, as he simply dominated games for the Yankees from the seventh inning until their conclusion. Given how difficult it can be to register those final nine outs, the importance of Gossage to two different World Series teams became readily apparent. Furthermore, the inclusion of such relief aces in a place like the Hall of Fame became a necessity, as the burgeoning responsibility of relievers evolved throughout the 1970s and eighties. How can great relief aces, who play such a determining role over the final two to three innings of so many one and two-run games, possibly be excluded from representation in Cooperstown?

So it is with more than some small degree of satisfaction that I heard Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey announce on Tuesday afternoon that The Goose had finally earned election to the Hall—after eight failed attempts. I expected Gossage would finally receive the Cooperstown call in his ninth year of eligibility; the announcement that he had earned nearly 86 per cent of the vote nearly floored me. That represented a 14 per cent jump from last year’s tally, an almost unheard-of increase for a player in the year that he finally wins approval from the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Simply put, the Hall of Fame is a stronger place with a pitcher like Gossage. Then there are the peripherals. Harold Reynolds, a contemporary of The Goose, has already praised Gossage as being the kind of player eager to make minority teammates feel welcome in the clubhouse. Some white athletes remain aloof to black and Latino teammates, showing neither acceptance nor rejection of their presence in the game. That was not the case with Gossage, who was a well-liked teammate throughout his career. And then there is Goose’s colorful personality. Quick to the temper but always with a sense of humor about things, The Goose will state clearly how he feels. He’ll champion the causes of other Hall of Fame candidates he feels are worthy. Anything but corporate, Gossage will bring some homespun honesty and old-fashioned flair to the Hall’s membership. And that’s a good thing.

So with The Goose’s place in Cooperstown firmly reserved for the final weekend in July (that’s when his induction will take place), let’s examine an eclectic set of hallmarks from Gossage’s well-traveled 22-year career.

*Gossage made his first leap to the major leagues in 1972—all the way from Class-A ball. Pitching for Appleton as a starter in 1971, went 18-2 with a 1.83 ERA Convinced that he had big league stuff and readiness, White Sox manager Chuck Tanner persuaded his bosses to call up the burly young right-hander in 1972. Gossage pitched well as a 20-year-old rookie, then experienced two minor league demotions and endured a move to the starting rotation (the brainchild of Paul Richards) before eventually emerging as a star reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1977.

*Contrary to what I had assumed for many years, Gossage’s nickname was not a play on his last name. During his early major league days with the White Sox, roommate Tom Bradley took note of Gossage’s unusual delivery and mechanics. "You look like a goose when you throw," said Bradley, whose own distinctive look was trademarked by ever-present sunglasses that he wore on the mound. The Chicago media latched on to Bradley’s observation, quickly tagging Gossage "Goose." The name caught on with a flourish. By the late 1970s, more people were calling him Goose than Rich. It certainly didn’t hurt that the name Goose Gossage had a lyrical flow to it.

*With the election of Gossage, there are now two "Gooses," or shall we say "Geese," in the Hall of Fame. The other is Goose Goslin, a hard-hitting lefty-swinging outfielder for the old Washington Senators.

*A number of articles written about Gossage since his election have claimed that he threw only one pitch—the fastball. That’s not exactly true. While the fastball became his primary modus operandi, Gossage did tinker with off-speed and breaking pitches. With the White Sox, Gossage learned to throw a change-up from pitching guru Johnny Sain. Later in his Yankee career, after his fastball had lost a mile or two, Gossage added a slider, which he threw occasionally as a way of giving opposing hitters a different wrinkle.

*When Gossage first joined the Yankees in 1978, he did not initially feature what would become his trademark Fu Manchu mustache. He later grew the mustache as a way of spiting George Steinbrenner, who hated his players to wear facial hair—at least anything beyond a normal mustache. The Goose and "The Boss" would develop a hate-hate relationship during Gossage’s six-year tenure in the Bronx. In one of the most famous recorded rants of all time, Gossage railed against Steinbrenner, repeatedly calling him "The Fat Man." Embarrassed by the publicity, Steinbrenner defended himself by saying that he was trying to lose weight. By the end of the 1983 season, the Gossage-Steinbrenner relationship had become exceedingly contentious. The Goose became so tired of Steinbrenner’s frequent criticisms of players that he left the Yankees as a free agent, citing The Boss as one of the primary reasons behind his departure for San Diego.

*During the course of his regular season career, Gossage saved 52 games in which he had to record at least seven outs. In other words, excluding any extra-inning games, Gossage compiled all of those saves by entering games in the seventh inning. (And that includes the famed 1978 tiebreaking game featuring one Bucky Dent.) By contrast, Trevor Hoffman has posted two saves of seven outs or more in his regular season career. Mariano Rivera has only one. Yes, the game has changed a little since the early 1980s.

*The Goose now has a mascot. During his Hall of Fame press conference on Tuesday, Gossage unveiled a ridiculous plastic goose wearing a Yankee helmet and a miniature Hall of Fame jersey. And that, folks, may be a case of "too much information" about The Goose, the latest entrant to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, none on Goose Gossage. He can be reached at bmark@telenet.net.

What’s Up, Chuck?

Former Yankee Chuck Knoblauch was tracked down by Thayer Evans in The New York Times:

“I have nothing to defend,” Knoblauch said. “I have nothing to hide at the same time.”

He described the Mitchell report as “crazy” and “interesting,” and added that what actually bothered him about being mentioned in the report is that “I’ve got nothing to do with any of that, I mean, any baseball.”

“And I don’t want anything to do with baseball,” he added.

…”Mad about it? No,” he said. “You know what? One of my strongest characteristics is not really caring what people think. I’m living my life. It’s not going to change my life one way or the other. You know, I’m not trying to get in the Hall of Fame. I got one vote though.”

Funny to think that when he was first traded to New York, Knoblauch looked as if he might have a Hall of Fame career.

Offseason Movie Review: Safe at Home

 

Movie: Safe At Home (1962)
Starring: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Bryan Russell, and William Frawley, with cameos from Ralph Houk and Whitey Ford.

Plot: Nine-year-old Hutch tries to impress his little league teammates by claiming he and his father are friends with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, then runs away to Spring Training to try and convince the Yankee superstars to attend his team’s awards banquet. Hijinx ensue, sort of.
Signature Quote: “Gosh! Gee!”

I discovered the existence of Safe at Home purely by accident a few months back, when I was, for reasons that now completely elude me, searching for information on Joe Pepitone. In an old Sports of the Times story, I came across an Arthur Daley account (sadly expensive now that "Times Select" no longer exists) of lighthearted batting-cage banter regarding Mantle and Maris’ upcoming movie premiere, and did a double-take -– Mantle and Maris starred in a movie? How come I’d never heard of it?

I can now report that this question has an easy answer: because it’s really, really bad. But it’s the middle of the offseason, and if I never hear the words “growth hormone” again it will be too soon, so I’ll sit through most any baseball movie right now. There are surprisingly few really excellent ones, anyway; Bull Durham and Bad News Bears, sure, but I’ve never been able to really get into Field of Dreams, and while I know I’m probably in the minority here I really, really can’t stand The Natural.

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The Future is Now

The IRT was all busted this morning so I took the express bus into Manhattan instead. Along the way, we passed by the two Yankee Stadiums on the Major Deegan. The night work lights were still on in the new park, though the sky behind it was already bright, the sun reflecting off the red and yellow cranes that stick up into the sky. I’ve always gotten a rush passing the Stadium on the Major D. The park practically sticks out onto the highway, like a big, round jaw. The new stadium receeds into the background, and isn’t nearly as dramatic. Still, it’s coming along, like it or not. Pretty soon, the final year at the old location will begin, and before you know it, it will be but a memory.

The guys over at River Ave. Blues have been diligently charting the progress of the new stadium. If you are interested, I suggest you stop by and pay them a visit.

Meanwhile, Hank Steinbrenner appears to be cooling on the idea of trading for Johan Santana. According to Peter Botte in the News:

“We went into this with me making the final baseball decisions and Hal more addressing the financial aspects of the company, but we both do everything,” Steinbrenner said yesterday in a phone interview. “We’re equal partners, but at this point, to tell you the truth, I’m leaning away from it anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Same thing with Brian, he’s another integral part of it, obviously, being the general manager, and one day he’s leaning to do it and the next day he’s not sure.

“But what it comes down to right now is giving up a lot (in a trade) and then having to do the big contract, as well. If (Santana) was just a free agent, we could just go ahead and do it. There’s a big difference this way. We have to sign him as if he’s a free agent, plus you have to give up major talent. That’s a tall order.”

…”I don’t know what he’d even want, or what they’d settle for. I don’t know. We obviously haven’t talked to him or his agent, so I have no idea,” Steinbrenner said. “But a six- or seven-year extension, no, I wouldn’t do that.”

Aaron Gleeman would rather the Twins get Phillip Hughes over Jacoby Ellsbury.

Yeah, Yeah, Now Check the Method

“You have to understand, back in 1972 you didn’t want to be part of the bullpen…It was looked upon as a junk pile of starters who could no longer start. But I feel fortunate to have been part of the entire evolution and the pioneering of relief pitching. Going to the bullpen was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I can’t even fathom having a career as a starter as I did as a reliever. For one thing, I didn’t like the four days off (between starts) and I loved the opportunity to come to the ballpark to pitch every night.”

—Goose Gossage
(Bill Madden, N.Y. Daily News)

I was talking about the relationship between art and science in sports the other day with a friend of mine, a dynamic, or tension, that I find fascinating. For instance, I understand why the role of the closer is over-stated. On the other hand, I firmly believe that some pitchers have the emotional and psychological temperament to close games while others don’t. Or, that some pitchers are better suited as starters.

The debate between traditional scouting methods and a more emperical approach was sparked by Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball a few years ago. While the distance between the two is said to be exaggerated, the pull between the old and new has existed for a long time in the game.

Jim McLaughlin, the first scouting director for the Baltimore Orioles (he later ran the scouting operations for the Cincinnati Reds), believed in a scientific approach to scouting way back in the ’50s. McLaughlin devised a chart called “The Whole Ball Player.” The chart consisted of a cirlce that was split in two. The top half of the chart reads:

Can Be Seen with Eye

Pitcher: arm strength, fast ball, curve ball, slider, other pitch, control

Infieder-Outfielder: arm strength, use of arm, speed, hands, fielding, range, hitting, power

Catcher: arm strength, use of arm, hands, receiving, hitting, power, speed

General for all Players: stamina, durability, anticipation, hustle, reflexes, size, coordination, agility, poise, instinct base running, eyesight

The bottom of the chart reads:

Can Not Be Seen with Eye

Attitude: desire, drive, willingness, hunger ambition, aggressiveness

Mental: intelligence, baseball sense, teachability, knowledge of game

Personality: improvement, consistency, maturity, adjustment, stability, temperament, disposition

Winner: stomach, heart, competitiveness, pride, confidence

Background: family, habit.

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How Do You Spell Relief?

Our man Goose got the nod.

Excellent.

Get Goose on the Horn, We’re Going to Hall-Con One

Even in defeat, Goose Gossage was fearsome. When Gossage gave up that long home run to George Brett in the 1980 playoffs, it wasn’t so much that he threw a horrible pitch, it was that Brett, coming off his .390 season, was great enough to turn on it and blast it into the upper deck.

I think Gossage will be elected to the Hall of Fame later today, possibly Jim Rice too. Murray Chass has a piece on the Goose in the Times. Yesterday, I did an article on Gossage for SI.com.

Goooooooooooooose.

The Art of Fiction is Dead

All due respect to Red Smith, of course. It’s hard to be shocked these days, so I won’t say that I was shocked exactly listening to the audio of a 17-minute conversation between Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee recorded last Friday night, but my mouth was agape, I’ll tell you that. You can’t make this stuff up. And it’s all out in the open for everyone to hear and see. David Mamet, eat your heart out. Man, this is pathetic. McNamee sounds like a broken man and Clemens sounds positively deluded. Me think thou doest protest too much, Roger.

(shaking my head)…whoa…

In other news, here’s hoping our man Goose Gossage gets the call tomorrow.

Finally, Baseball America lists the Yankees top ten prospects.

Goose Loves Dick

Goose Gossage on Dick Allen:

I had the priviledge of playing with so many great players, but Dick Allen was the best player I ever played with.

In ’72, it was the greatest year I’ve ever seen a player have. I would have loved to have seen him if he just set his mind to, “I’m going to put up numbers.” The numbers would have been staggering. But if we had a four-or five-run lead, it was like, “Hey, boys, I’m out of here, you’ve got to take it on in from here. You guys can hold them from here.”

He’d take himself out if we had a big lead, so every RBI he had that year was serious damage. There was no padding. Defensively, he was unbelievable. And running the bases. To this day, I have never seen anyone that could run the bases like he did. He was phenomenal.

The shots that I saw him hit throughout all the ballparks in the American League.

And what a great guy. He took me under his wing. What a wonderful guy. There was never an ounce of phoniness in Dick. What you see is what you get. He was his own man and he still is. I saw him recently, and to this day I still love the guy.
From Phil Pepe

For what it is worth, I think Allen was a better hitter than Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Dave Parker or Jim Rice.

And the Winner Is…

Here’s my latest piece for Variety. It’s about genre films and the Oscars:

So what genres play best when it comes to Oscar?

“The Academy favors a genre called the earnest drama,” film historian David Thomson says. “(The members) want to be taken seriously. That has always been their besetting sin. Their decisions are a reflection of the Academy itself. They are always a little ashamed that they are sitting on a huge moneymaking business. They don’t want to be as vulgar as that, so they search for something to lend them dignity.”

The floor is open. Clemens on “60 Minutes.” The evolving role of Brian Cashman. Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say, y’all?

Friends (How Many of us Have Them?)

The ones you can depend on.

Pat Jordan has a column on friendship, Mike Wallace, Roger Clemens, Brain McNamee, Tom Seaver, and, of course, himself, over at The Baseball Analysts today:

I had a chance to become friends with Mr. Clemens in 2001, when I interviewed him for a profile in the New York Times Sunday magazine. But, alas, our friendship did not take. Despite the fact that I, like Mr. Wallace, felt I too had been objective in my profile, Mr. Clemens did not concur. In fact, he called me up after the story appeared and berated me over the telephone. When I asked him what he didn’t like about the story, he said, “I didn’t read it.” I responded, “Then how do you know you don’t like it?” He said he was told by his “friend,” and the co-author of one of Mr. Clemens’ books, Peter Gammons, the ESPN-TV analyst, that he should hate it. In fact, Mr. Clemens hated my profile so fervently that he had me banned from the Yankees’ clubhouse during the years he remained with the team.

I would later learn that one of the many things Mr. Clemens hated about my profile of him was my description of his fawning relationship at the time with his friend Mr. McNamee, who lived in the pool house of Mr. Clemens’ Houston estate. On the first day I interviewed Mr. Clemens in Houston I had dinner with him and Mr. McNamee at the most exclusive steak house in Houston. The bill was for over $400, which I paid. Mr. Clemens said, “I’ll get you tomorrow.” The next day he bought me a taco at a Mexican Restaurant. But the point of my profile of Mr. Clemens was less about his parsimoniousness than it was his strange relationship with Mr. McNamee. During the dinner at the steakhouse Mr. Clemens asked Mr. McNamee for his permission to have a steak (McNamee nodded) and a baked potato (McNamee nodded again, but added a caveat, “Only dry.”). The same scenario played itself out at the Mexican Restaurant. Clemens pointed to an item on the menu and Mr. McNamee either nodded, or shook his head, no.

During the three days I followed Mr. Clemens around Houston, he seemed like a child beholden to the whims of the sour, suspicious, and taciturn McNamee. It seemed as if Mr. Clemens would not do anything to his body, or ingest anything into it that Mr. McNamee hadn’t approved. I found it strange that, at 38, Mr. Clemens still had to have someone dictate his diet and workout regimen down to the minutest detail at this late stage of his illustrious career. In fact, Mr. Clemens’ devotion to Mr. McNamee’s diet and workout routine seemed almost like a spiritual quest that must not be impeded. When Mr. Clemens and Mr. McNamee went on a long run one day and they came across another runner, lying on the ground, in the throes of a heart attack, they called for help. When Mr. Clemens related that story to me, he ended it by saying, “We were having a good run, too.”

I also found it strange that, at 38, Clemens had the energy of a teenager. Clemens’ workouts lasted 10 hours a day with only breaks for lunch and dinner. They began at 9 a.m. under McNamee’s watchful eyes, with light weight-lifting for an hour, then an hour run, then a trip into Clemens’ own personal gym, where he did a few hours of calisthenics, wind sprints, and throwing before going to lunch. After lunch, Clemens and McNamee went to an exclusive Houston men’s gym (Clemens told me that President Bush worked out there), where Clemens pedaled a stationary bike for an hour and then performed a heavy weight-lifting routine for another hour. Then after dinner at home, Clemens worked out again until 9 or 10 in the evening.

Just watching Clemens work out over a day exhausted me. I wondered where he found the energy to sustain such a maniacal pace when I, at a similar age 20 years before, had been unable to work out for more than a few hours a day without being drained. At the time I interviewed Clemens, I was training for an amateur body building contest and, like Clemens, I adhered to a strict diet and a strenuous weight-lifting and calisthenics routine. But nothing I did at 41 compared to the 10 hours-a-day routine McNamee put Clemens through.

Jordan’s New York Times magazine piece on Clemens, “Roger Clemens Refuses to Grow Up” is featured in The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan. The Mike Wallace-Clemens interview will appear tonight on “60 Minutes.”

I’m Serious

Are the Yankees really interested in making a deal for Johan Santana? According to the New York Post:

“I’m still leaning towards doing it,” Hank Steinbrenner told the Associated Press.

“There’s others leaning not to do it. There are some others that are leaning to do it also. Disagreements within the organization. Nothing major, but just different opinions. I’ve changed my opinion a couple times.”

…”I always told [Cashman], ‘I’m going to make the final decisions because when you’re the owner you should,’ ” Steinbrenner said. “He is the general manager, and he has the right to talk me out of it.”

Tyler Kepner had a good piece on the power structure of the organization in the Times yesterday:

Hank’s brother, Hal Steinbrenner, is just as powerful as a successor to their father, the principal owner George Steinbrenner, who is essentially retired. Hal Steinbrenner’s primary responsibility is to oversee the Yankees’ finances, and he is reluctant to add another huge contract.

According to several people who have spoken to the brothers recently, that is the crux of the debate in the organization over whether to trade for Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins. Both Steinbrenners want the team to keep winning. Hal Steinbrenner would try to do it with the existing payroll of roughly $200 million. Hank is more inclined to add Santana, largely to keep him away from the rival Boston Red Sox.

Meanwhile, in super serious business, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Chuck Knoblauch have all been asked to testify in front of a congressional committee on January 16th. This renders tomorrow’s 60 Minutes Wallace-Clemens interview virtually meaningless. The stage is now set for the big boys. And, behind-the-scenes, this must be a real pickle for pals Clemens and Pettitte. It’s one thing for Clemens to stick to his story, even in front of congress, but under oath, after having sworn on a bible, will Pettitte tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Yeesh. Is it hot in here or is it just me?

Goose Gossage, Hall of Famer? Yes!

 

 I sometimes refer to the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) as "masters of the obvious" when it comes to the Hall of Fame elections. Last year, the BBWAA voted in automatic, slam-dunk selections like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, even with misguided writers submitting blank ballots for self-righteous reasons. Yet, when it comes to subtler selections, players who weren’t iconic figures but were still dominant stars for extended periods of time, the Baseball Writers haven’t shown a similar aptitude.

The writers have a chance to rectify that situation this Tuesday, when the results of the 2008 election will be announced in New York City. (Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, will you be attending the press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria?) The litmus test will be provided by Rich "Goose" Gossage (as seen in this odd 1978 Topps card), who has been on the ballot for eight years and has never received more than the 71 per cent of the vote he picked up in 2007. The Goose was the most egregious omission on the 2007 ballot—an omission that serves as a black mark against the writers’ voting patterns in recent years. To me, it’s patently obvious that Gossage, who led the league in saves three times and finished second two other times, belongs in the Hall of Fame. Here are a few reasons why:

*For nine straight years, Gossage posted ERA’s of 2.90 or less. That’s right, from 1977 to 1985, Gossage didn’t have even one season with an ERA as high as 3.00. That’s a pretty long level of peak performances, without any bleak seasons to break up the string. Some of his ERAs were eye-popping during that stretch: 1.62, 2.01, and an unfathomable 0.77 in the strike year of 1981. And it’s not like he did that pitching as a situational reliever or in a one-inning, ninth inning, comfort role; he logged large numbers of innings during that time, far more than typical closers do in the current-day game.

*In recent years, Sabermetric research has shown the value of pitchers who can strike out large numbers of batters, thereby putting less pressure on the fielders behind them, reducing the element of bad luck base hits, and preventing baserunners from coming home on sacrifice flies. Well, Gossage was a Sabermetric dream in this respect, reaching 100-strikeout totals five different times as a reliever and matching Rollie Fingers’ career total. Bruce Sutter achieved that only three times. When it came to the pure power of the fastball, no relief ace of the 1970s could match The Goose.

*Gossage was an absolute workhorse. Unlike the fashionable pitching trends of today, which require one inning per night from a closer, Gossage often pitched the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings in recording saves. Four times in his career, he accumulated 100 or more innings while pitching out of the bullpen. Pitching for the 1978 World Champion Yankees, Gossage pitched more innings than either Jim "Catfish" Hunter or Jim Beattie, the team’s fourth and fifth starters. How many closers in today’s game log more innings than their teams’ No. 4 starters?

*Except for his legendary tangles with George Brett, Gossage was a superior reliever in the postseason. He generally excelled with the Yankees, but did struggle in his lone postseason showing with San Diego. Still, even with the problems he had facing Kirk Gibson, Goose put up terrific October numbers. Over a span of eight postseason series, he posted a 2.87 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 31 innings. He did his best postseason pitching in the World Series, with an ERA of 2.63 in 13 innings.

*One could make an argument that Gossage was the best reliever of the 1970s. Only Hall of Famers Fingers and Sutter can really take their rightful places in that argument. Is there not room in the Hall for a third reliever from the decade that introduced a spectacular level of relief pitching, a decade that included standouts like Bill Campbell, Gene Garber, John Hiller, Dave LaRoche, Sparky Lyle, Mike Marshall, Tug McGraw, and Kent Tekulve?

In my mind, Gossage was at least the second-best reliever of that era, just behind Fingers and perhaps the equal of Fingers. Gossage enjoyed a longer peak than Sutter, and also had the longer career. It’s still not clear to me why Sutter is in the Hall of Fame—and Gossage is not.

Hopefully the writers will rectify this inconsistency in 2008. History favors Gossage; any player who has received as much as 71 per cent of the vote from the writers has eventually breached the 75 per cent barrier. It will be very close, with Gossage likely to finish somewhere in the 73 to 77 per cent range, but I have a feeling that it will happen this time around. And the Hall will be a better place with The Goose nesting in Cooperstown during the final weekend in July.

 

Bruce Markusen is the author of "Cooperstown Confidential" at MLB.com and has written seven books on baseball.

I’m Ready for my Close Up

Been enjoying poking my nose through my baseball library and selecting some cherce quotes, so here’s another one for ya. This one if from Foul Ball: Five Years in the American League, by Alison Gordon, who covered the Blue Jays from 1979-83. Gordon describes herself as “a socialist, feminist, hedonist with roots in the sixties, a woman who had marched against the bomb, done drugs, and never, ever even wanted to date the head jock at school, had nothing in common with these children of Ozzie and Harriet, locked in a fifties timewarp.” Some combination, huh? I enjoyed her take on Mr. October:

Undeniably a star with an extraordinary sense of the moment, Jackson was one of the most fascinating, but unpleasant, characters I encountered in baseball. It’s only a fluke I feel that way. There were some reporters I respect whom he liked and who assured me that Jackson was a sensitive and intelligent man, unfairly at the mercy of the sharks that surrounded him. It could be. I wouldn’t know because he thought I had a fin on my back, too. He was a bit like Billy Martin in that way. If you encountered either one on a good day you came away thinking he was a prince. On a bad day there were jerks. I never hit a good day with either one.

Had I not been a print reporter it would have been a different matter. Jackson loved television interviewers once the camera was turned on because this was an image he could control. He was wonderful in front of the cameras, self-effacing and God-fearing, all “Hi, Mom” and five-dollar words. Out of their range, he was completely unpredictable.

Being a reporter from the boonies didn’t help either. What importance could a reporter from Toronto have in the world of baseball, for heaven’s sake? I wasn’t Peter Gammons of the Boston Globe or Tom Boswell of the Washington Post, so why bother? I didn’t cover the Yankees or the Angels when he played for those teams. I wasn’t in the inner circle.

On the fringe, I wastched as he manipulated my colleagues, who practically tugged their forelocks in deference. He sighed at what he considered dumb questions while winking at the reporters who covered him daily, exempting them from his scorn. They ate it up. Then he would turn and snarl at the offender, asking him exactly what he meant by his question. He reduced the meek to jelly and enjoyed it. It made me ashamed of my profession to be reduced to acting a role in Jackson’ drama of the moment. The man was only a ballplayer, after all, whatever inflated importance he placed on it, and not that great a ballplayer either, day in and day out.

That these men are perceived to be more important than doctors or scientists or firemen or teachers, on the evidence of what they are paid, struck me often, but the disproportion never seemed greater than when I dealt with Jackson. Here was a supreme egotist with one skill, the ability to hit a baseball out of any park in the major leagues when the game was on the line, and for that he was deified by the fans…He exemplified none of the greater virtues of sport, team play and sportsmanship, but he was a greater hero than those who did.

And yet there was another side to him. He was kind to young players, dispensing bits of himself to star-struck rookies and making them feel at home on his turf. Once, in 1979, in Toronto, he was walked by Phil Huffman. He yelled at the young pitcher all the way to first base, accusing him of not having the guts to throw him a pitch he could hit. Huffman, cocky himself, yelled right back. A week later, in New York, in the last game Huffman would pitch in the major leagues, in his eighteenth loss of the season, Huffman struck Jackson out. When the game was over and Huffman was packing up his stuff, the clubhouse attendant walked up to him at his locker and handed him a baseball. It was inscribed “To Phil—I admire your toughness. Reggie Jackson.”

I admired the gesture, which meant a lot to Huffman, but I also saw it as an extraordinarily condescending thing to do to a player who was, after all, a fellow major leaguer, not a beseeching twelve-year-old fan. But I’m sure that baseball now holds a place of pride among Huffman’s souvenirs.

(more…)

Yankee Panky # 37: Onward Into 2008

The year has turned, and that means in six weeks, pitchers and catchers report and all will be right in the world again, as long as no MLBers are using needles or ingesting growth hormones to pad their stats and subsequently, their bank accounts.

For this entry, I’d like to take a break from the negativity that has pervaded coverage this offseason and turn this blog over to you, since this column is as much yours as it is mine. I also appreciate the feedback and want to give you, the readers, what you want.

In looking at ideas for tweaking this year’s installment, I ask you, what changes, if any, would you like me to make? One thing I’d like to do is be more consistent with the Yankees vs. Mets backpage counter during the season. I’ll also try to incorporate more links when applicable.

There’s a lot of ground to cover both in traditional and non-traditional media when it comes to covering the Yankees. Who gets it right? Who does it best or worst? Who does the best job of providing both pertinent information that you can’t get anywhere else, and also serving as the eyes and ears of the fan? What can the traditional types learn from the bloggers and vice versa? Read the Dick Young piece that Alex Belth referenced further down on the page. Do we want our media to have that much influence on affecting the way teams do business? Is that right? With big corporations owning the outlets, is there an alternative? (It can’t be a "Rollerball" environment already). These are the questions I try to answer on a weekly basis; you all were a tremendous help — even when you were ripping me — in 2007. I’m continually impressed at the intelligent commentary that this and every other column spawns on the Banter.

As many of you know, I covered the Yankees from 2002-2006 for YESNetwork.com. The site and the network are not off-limits, but because I still have ties and many colleagues there, I need to be sensitive to any and all YES references. And as I said in my introduction last year, I will not bash my former colleagues on the beat, but I will be critical. To me, that means not automatically accepting what’s put in front of me as truth. I ask questions, analyze and look at the broader scope.

So now it’s your turn. Thank you for making me feel welcome here in 2007, and keep the suggestions coming in ’08.

Until next week …

Young at Heart

Red Smith is often considered the greatest sports columnist of them all. He came to New York after the second World War to work for Stanley Woodward at the Herald Tribune. Later, he moved to the Times. Unlike Dick Young, Smith found himself becoming less reactionary as he grew older, which is notable when you consider their respective takes of the changing nature of the game during the Marvin Miller Era. Here is Smith, from a 1972 interview in Jerome Holtzman’s classic oral history, No Cheering from the Press Box:

Unlike the normal pattern, I know I have grown more liberal as I’ve grown older. I have become more convinced that there is room for improvement in the world. I seem to be finding this a much less pretty world than it seemed when I was younger, and I feel things should be done about it and sports are part of this world. Maybe I’m sounding too damn profound or maybe I’m taking bows when I shouldn’t. I truly don’t know. But I do know I am more liberal and probably one of the reasons is that I married not only Phyllis, who is younger and more of today than I was, but I married five stepchildren who are very much of the current generation. They are very good friends and very articulate, and I think that this association has helped me to have a younger and fresher view.

My sympathies almost always have been on the side of the underdog, or the guy I think is the underdog. There was a time when I was more inclined to go along with the establishment. It may be because I’m no longer traveling with a baseball club and no longer exposed to the establishment day in and day out. I supported the players this past season when they went on that historic thirteen-day strike. No that I do a column, I can stand there, a little removed, and look at what the Charlie Finleys and Bowie Kuhns are doing.

When I first heard about Marvin Miller—the players’ man—I didn’t hear anything favorable. I heard complaints from owners and club executives about how these ball players were putting themselves into the hands of a bloody labor organizer, a steel mill guy. I remember hearing one player, Dick Groat, saying he was in Pittsburgh and how he saw some of the results of union operations and that he wasn’t in favor of it. He voted against employing Miller, as some other ball players did.

Then I began to hear that Miller is a pretty smart guy, seems like a nice guy. The owners and the hierarchy, like the league presidents and such, were beginning to be very discreet in their remarks about Marvin. I had never met him until the winter baseball meetings in Mexico City, in 1968. I introduced myself. Since then, when there has been a newsworthy dispute in baseball—and there have been a lot of them—I have found I get straighter answers from Marvin than from anyone else I know in baseball. I have yet to find any trace of evidence that he’s ever told me an untruth.

There have been times when he has said, “I think I had better not talk about that now,” which is understandable. I don’t doubt for a moment that he knows he’s talking for publication and he’s going to tell me what he thinks will look good on his side of the argument. But as far as I know, it’s the absolute truth. More honest than most.

I chose this quote not because I think being liberal makes a person morally superior, but as a counterpoint to Young’s attitudes. Now, here is another meaty quote, and something that is still relevant today:

I won’t deny that the heavy majority of sportswriters, myself included, have been and still are guilty of puffing up the people they write about. I remember one time when Stanley Woodward, my beloved leader, was on the point of sending me a wire during spring training, saying, “Will you stop Godding up those ball players?” I didn’t realize what I had been doing. I thought I had been writing pleasant little spring training columns about ball players.

If we’ve made heroes out of them, and we have, then we must also lay a whole set of false values at the doorsteps of historians and biographers. Not only has the athlete been blown up larger than life, but so have the politicians and celebrities in all fields, including rock singers and movie stars.

When you go through Westminster Abbey you’ll find that excepting for that little Poets’ Corner almost all of the statues and memorials are to killers. To generals and admirals who won battles, whose specialty was human slaughter. I don’t think they’re such glorious heroes.

I’ve tried not to exaggerate the glory of athletes. I’d rather, if I could, preserve a sense of proportion, to write about them as excellent ball players, first-rate players. But I’m sure I have contributed to false values—as Stanley Woodward said, “Godding up those ball players.”

I know I “God up” ball players. It’s hard not to when you are a fan (see Roger Angell). It seems as if the sporting press–who are not, first and foremost, fans–puff the jocks up, only to delight in tearing them down. But that holds true for our entire celebrity culture, not just the sports department. What Smith talked about is just accelerated, heightened now.

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