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Monthly Archives: February 2008

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In their exhibition warmup for the exhibition season, the Yankees stomped the University of South Florida 11-4 in a game that wasn’t even as close as that score would suggest.


L – Johnny Damon (LF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
S – Jorge Posasa (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Shelley Duncan (DH)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)

Pitchers: Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Kei Igawa, Jeff Marquez, Alan Horne, Chase Wright

Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Nick Green (2B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (SS), Cody Ransom (3B), Austin Romine (C), Colin Curtis (RF), Austin Jackson (CF), Justin Christian (LF), Juan Miranda (DH)

Opposition: A college team using wood bats for the first time.

Big Hits: Jorge Posada went 2 for 4 with a double and a two-RBI triple. Colin Curtis went 1 for 3 with a double. Those were the only extra-base hits by the Yankees, who reached base 23 times but didn’t strike out all game. Melky Cabrera was 2 for 2 with a sac fly. Bobby Abreu was 1 for 1 with two walks.

Who Pitched Well: Everyone but Igawa. The other four Yankee pitchers combined for this line: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K, the lone hit against that group was a base hit up the middle off Kennedy. Marquez got all three of his outs on groundballs. Horne got his three on two grounders and a K. Kennedy got three outs on the ground, two by K, and just one in the air. Hughes struck out the first two batters he faced on a total of eight pitches. Ed Price says Hughes looked the sharpest of the Big Three.

Who Didn’t: Kei Igawa’s lone inning of work went: fly out, walk, wild pitch, walk, HBP, grand slam, K, K. Per Peter Abraham, pinch-hitter Eric Baumann, who hit the grand slam, had struck out in his only two previous at bats this season, “was also swinging a wood bat and missed the 2006 and 2007 seasons with a shoulder injury.” Pete also points out that the walk that started the USF rally was a five-pitch walk to the ninth-place hitter in a college lineup with the Yankees leading 9-0.

Nice Plays: Colin Curtis made a sliding catch in right to end Hughes’ inning of work.

Ouchies: Derek Jeter was hit near the left elbow with a pitch in the first inning, but stayed in the game and singled in his next at-bat.

More: Pete Abe’s play-by-play of the first 5 1/3 innings. Anthony McCarron (sitting in for Mark Feinsand) takes the action a few batters further up to the salami of Igawa (read from bottom up). Tyler Kepner reports these other recent finals of MLB vs. College action:

Red Sox 24, Boston College 0
Red Sox 15, Northeastern 0
Nationals 15, Georgetown 0
Cardinals 15, St. Louis U. 0
Pirates 5, Manatee C.C. 0
Braves 8, U. of Georgia 1

I’m tickled that the closest game was between the Pirates and a Community College. Nonetheless, four times as many runs were scored off Igawa in his one inning of work today than were scored by the college teams in the other 62 innings we’ve accounted for. Igawa should be proud. Finally, for trivia fans, Bryan Hoch has the lineup from the last game between the Yanks and USF.

Card Corner–Thurman Lee Munson


This is the first in a two-part series:

As Jorge Posada enters the beginning of what is assuredly his last major league contract, we will likely hear discussion of his ability to produce at an advanced age and various arguments concerning his candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Along the way, we will hear continued comparisons to Thurman Munson, the last great catcher the Yankees featured before Posada’s emergence. The Sabermetrically inclined have already chosen Posada, based on his power, his ability to draw walks, and his longevity. When looking at something as cut and dried as OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), there is indeed little argument that Posada has been superior to Munson.

Having seen both Munson and Posada play, I cannot say that I agree with that assessment. Of course, basing the argument on statistics like on-base percentage and slugging, I’m going to lose the debate. Yet, I do think that there a few players by which statistics don’t come close to giving us a complete and accurate picture of their abilities. Munson, I believe, is one of those rare players.

Munson (as seen in this 1978 Topps card, No. 60) was not the kind of player who fared well in any OPS debate. He didn’t draw enough walks, preferring a more aggressive style at the plate, predicated on swinging early in the count and putting the ball into play. Furthermore, he was not a slugger; he was a line-drive hitter who used the outfield gaps to his advantage. He did have a little bit of power, but that was usually negated by the Death Valley dimensions of Yankee Stadium in the 1970s. By a conservative estimate, Munson probably lost three to five home runs a season because of the ridiculous lengths to the left-center and center field walls at the Stadium. Unlike Dave Winfield, Munson didn’t have much influence in bringing those fences in to a more reasonable distance.

While Munson fell short in power and patience at the plate, he bettered Posada in every other aspect of the game. (I really don’t mean this as a detraction of Posada, who has been a terrific Yankee, but more as a favorable portrayal of Munson.) Those not old enough to have seen Munson play missed out on a special day-to-day performer.

As a hitter, Munson covered both the inside and outside of the strike zone, spraying hits from corner to corner. That helped him bat .300 or better five times, on his way to a lifetime batting average of .292. With his ability to take pitches to right field, he became a master at executing the hit-and-run, as good as anyone I’ve watched over the last 35 years. His hit-and-run prowess hallmarked his overall excellence as a situational hitter; adept at moving runners up with either a sacrifice bunt, a ground ball to the right side, or a deep fly ball, Munson became a managerial favorite, especially to an appreciative (and demanding) Billy Martin.

Munson was also an exceptional baserunner. Though he only had slightly above-average speed, he ran the bases with a kind of aggression rarely seen in catchers, regularly going from first to third and taking the extra base against weaker arms. All in all, Munson was a very good offensive player—not great, due to his lack of home run power, but a productive and important contributor to the Yankees’ mini-dynasty of the late seventies. Heck, he won the American League MVP in 1976, buttressed by seventh-place finishes in 1975 and 1977. Yet, it was on the defensive side of the field that Munson excelled to the point of brilliance. With a catlike middle-infield quickness that belied his infamous "Squatty Body" nickname, Munson blocked pitches, fielded bunts, and chased pop-ups with a mix of ferocity and swiftness. Pitchers loved to throw to him, in part because Munson called a game effortlessly, with an uncanny ability to put himself in synch with his pitcher’s preferences. Munson adapted well to each pitcher; in conversations on the mound and in the dugout, he treated some pitchers with a firm hand, others with a dose of humor, and still others with a more fatherly, sensitive approach. Given the ease with which he adjusted to each pitcher’s personality, it’s not surprising that he became the Yankees’ captain—their first since Lou Gehrig.

And then there was his throwing, which was a spectacle in and of itself. Due to a shoulder injury, Munson adopted a slinging sidearm style that no coach would ever teach a young catcher. By throwing from the side (and sometimes even lower), Munson managed a quicker release of the ball. Although wholly unorthodox, Munson’s sidearm slings became deadly accurate, as he tailed his throws just to the right of the second base bag.

By now, it’s become plainly obvious that I’ve used very few statistics in my praise of Munson. Let’s get to those. There was the high batting average, the three straight 100-RBI seasons from 1975 to ’77, the lusty .357 batting mark in six postseason series, the incredible number of games he caught during his peak years, and that’s about it. Most statistics don’t tell us much about the subtle skills—the defense, the baserunning, the situational hitting—that set Munson apart from American League catchers who weren’t named Carlton Fisk. If you saw Munson play, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you didn’t see him play, perhaps now you’ll have a little better understanding as to just how valuable Munson was to the Yankees of his era. In the next "Card Corner," I’ll discuss what it was like to attend the Yankees’ first game after Munson’s death.


Bruce Markusen, the author of Cooperstown Confidential for MLB.com, has written seven books on baseball. He can be reached via e-mail at bmarkusen@stny.rr.com.

All in the Family

Jonathan Mahler, author of The Bronx is Burning, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, has a long profile on the Steinbrenner clan in the latest issue of Play. It is a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the changes that have taken place in the Yankee organization over the past calendar year. Mahler paints Hank and Hal Steinbrenner as we’ve come to know them–good cop, bad cop. It is interesting that Hank rebelled against his father and yet often sounds a lot like The Boss. Witness this bit at the end of the piece:

“Red Sox Nation?” Hank says. “What a bunch of [expletive] that is. That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans. Go anywhere in America and you won’t see Red Sox hats and jackets, you’ll see Yankee hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.”

I agree with part of Hank Steinbrenner’s statement. I think Red Sox Nation is a pompous, self-aggrandizing term (though I’m guilty of using the phrase in this space numerous times over the years), one that has been pumped up by the Red Sox organization, many of their fans, as well as ESPN and other media outlets. But I’m not so sure that you don’t see Red Sox hats all over the country these days. The bandwagon is in full-effect (as is a Sox bashlash). What the Red Sox are not–and correct me if I’m wrong–is an international team. You’ll probably find more Yankee hats worldwide than that of any other sporting team. That doesn’t mean that there are so many actual Yankee fans out there, just that the Yankee hat is a symbol of New York and New York is an international city in a way that Boston is not.

Regardless, the quote from Hank made me think: What’s the over/under on how many cringe-worthy statements Hank Dog will make this year? I say it’ll be under a dozen, but there will be some doosies in there. Either way, I don’t entirely dislike Hank’s bluster because it is a reminder of his old man (man, I never thought I’d say that!).

Parsing Joe Girardi’s Lineup

The Yankees play their first full-squad game under Joe Girardi today in an exhibition against the University of South Florida. Among other things, this gives us our first glimpse of a Joe Girardi-penned Yankee lineup. Here’s how it looks:

L – Johnny Damon (LF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
S – Jorge Posasa (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Shelley Duncan (DH)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)

No real surprises there. In fact, one of the few things that can be gleaned from that lineup is that Girardi is indeed serious about giving Jason Giambi a shot to claim the first base job, thus opening DH up for Hideki Matsui full time. Notice that Matsui is absent from the above as he’s still rehabbing his knee. Once Matsui joins the action on or around March 9 (per the Star-Ledger‘s Ed Price), Girardi, who clearly prefers to alternate his righties and lefties throughout the order, will be forced to hit two lefties back-to-back.

The good news is that, other than Bobby Abreu, who is firmly ensconced between the two best right-handed hitters on the team, none of the Yankee lefties really struggle all that much against their own kind. Cano was largely neutralized by lefties in 2006, but last year he hit them better than righties (.328/.374/.490 v. L; .296/.344/.487 v. R). Damon hit lefties better than righties in 2006. Matsui absolutely crushed lefties back in 2005, doing most of his damage against them, and while Jason Giambi’s production does drop against lefties, he’s been so productive over the course of his career that he still has a career .855 OPS against portsiders.

In fact, if there’s one player on the team other than Abreu who might need to be kept away from lefties it’s Melky Cabrera, who has hit 13 of his 15 career home runs and all 10 of his major league triples against right-handed pitching (including one homer hit righty off a righty). Then again, if the idea is for Melky to make or break, forcing him to hit lefties might be a necessary part of the process.

Thus it may not matter how Girardi works Matsui into the lineup. Last year, Joe Torre hit him fifth with Giambi and Cano hitting seventh and eighth respectively. I’d like to see Cano hit higher in the order, possibly even serving as Alex Rodriguez’s protection, with Posada, Matsui, and Giambi to follow. If Girardi is willing to give up the ghost on alternating his lefties (though I generally approve of that strategy), a Posada-Cano-Matsui-Giambi order, despite it placing three consecutive lefties in front of Cabrera, might also be compelling.

Still, the lesson here is not to expect anything radical from Joe Girardi’s lineup construction. The top four seem set in stone and, honestly, until Cano proves himself worth of hitting third over the course of a full season, there’s no real reason to tinker with that structure. The Yankee offense is so potent and well-balanced that putting the hitters in order is an almost fool-proof exercise. The real trick is not how to order them, but how and when to rest them and whom to play in their stead on those occasions, and Girardi’s facility with that won’t become evident until the regular season is well underway.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the Yanks fair against USF today. According to Peter Abraham, the Red Sox swept a double-header against Boston College and Northeastern yesterday by a combined score of 39-0, drawing 27 walks in the process. It’s no wonder Tino told his old USF buddies to throw strikes today. Still, the Yankee starters will only play four or five innings and Kei Igawa is scheduled to pitch in the fifth, so I expect USF to fair a bit better than their Massachusetts counterparts.


All Pros

“I learned to write during the war. The material was so rich you had great opportunity. The trick was to under-write.

…”The writer should be invisible…Listen for the way each person speaks and get that down on paper.”

Bill “W.C.” Heinz

Two wonderful writers died yesterday, W.C. Heinz, 93, and Myron Cope, 79. Both had been sick for some time. Heinz, whose reputation as a pioneer of creative non-fiction has been championed over the past decade, may have been the more accomplished writer of the two, but Cope, who is most famous as the radio voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was a terrific takeout writer in his time (1950s and 60s) as well.

How big a deal was Heinz? The late David Halberstam was one of his greatest supporters. In the introduction to The Best American Sports Writing, 1991, Halberstam wrote:

“When I think of the early influences on me and many of my contemporaries, I think of men like [Red] Smith, [Jimmy] Cannon and [W.C.] Heinz. They were the writers who we as young boys turned to every day, and they were the ones experimenting with form . . . When I think of the pioneers of New Journalism, I think first of the trinity of my early heroes: Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon and Bill Heinz.”

Glenn Stout, who is the series editor of the Best American Sports books, wrote in an e-mail yesterday: “If I track back my career as a writer, part of it starts when I first read Langston Hughes, and part of it starts when I first read Jack Kerouac, and part of it starts when I first read Heinz in the old Best Sports Stories anthology and realized that sports writing could be literature, too.”

Allen Barra, also via e-mail, added: “He was The Great American Sportswriter. He never wrote in false hyperboles, never tried to be bigger than his subject. He’ll be read when people have stopped watching ESPN.”



The Yankees got their first game action of the spring yesterday afternoon with a seven-inning intrasquad game. Pete Abraham posted the lineups, and play-by-play of the first 3 1/2 innings, as did Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. Hoch also posted the final tallies and pitching lines (compare them to Abraham’s accounting here).

It’s interesting to note that Girardi distributed the regulars between the two teams, whereas Joe Torre used to put them all on one squad (see last year’s lineups). Girardi had four of the Yankees’ expected regulars in each lineup. Hideki Matsui didn’t play, likely because he’s still rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee. Matsui also missed the 2006 intrasquad game due to his aching knee (which may be one of most insignificant facts I’ve ever cited on this blog).

Looking over those pitching lines, Sean Henn and Billy Traber, the top two contenders for the lefty spot in the pen, both had rough outings, with Henn having some obvious control problems. Mike Mussina threw 77 percent of his 30 pitches for strikes, but didn’t get the results he wanted. At least he has the excuse of having faced the starters, allowing hits to Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Morgan Ensberg. The fourth hit off Moose came when a would-be double-play ball from Jose Tabata took a wild bounce over the shortstop’s head. That drove in Mussina’s only earned run. He also allowed an unearned run in the first after an error by Brett Gardner in center field (overrunning Cano’s single) allowed Jeter to go to third and subsequently score on an out.

Moose wasn’t the only pitcher to pitch in bad luck as there were seven errors in the game (in addition to Gardner, the offending fielders were Justin Christian, Chris Woodward, Cody Ransom, Nick Green, Eduardo Nuñez, and Marcos Vechionacci, all but one of them playing for the “Gator” team). At the plate, Ensberg had the big day, picking up the only extra base hit of the contest (a double off Mark Melancon) and scoring three of the “Goose” team’s six runs.

In the third inning, righty reliever Scott Patterson was hit in the foot by a comebacker which ricocheted to shortstop for an inning-ending double play. Patterson walked gingerly off the field and has a contusion on his right ankle. In other aches-and-pains news, fellow righty reliever Scott Strickland has been shut down for a few days due to a swelling near his pitching elbow. I don’t expect either hurler to factor into the bullpen competition even if healthy.

The Yanks have a light workout today and will play an exhibition against the University of South Florida tomorrow before starting their official spring schedule against the Phillies on Saturday. The Yankees trio of young starters (Chamberlain, Kennedy and Hughes) are all scheduled to pitch tomorrow. The USF team is coached by Tino Martinez’s brother-in-law, and Tino was a volunteer assistant coach for them last year. Tino’s a special instructor for the Yanks this spring and, per the Daily News‘ Mark Feinsand, offered the USF staff some advice on how to be good hosts to the Yankees.

The Yankees rotation starting Saturday will be Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and Phil Hughes, with Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain pitching in tandem out of the five-spot. Tyler Kepner believes this is how the rotation will look to start the season, barring injury and pending a decision on the fifth spot, of course.


Presumed Innocent

In this week’s Voice, the always provocative Allen Barra weighs in on Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens (but mostly, Andy Pettitte):

Why hasn’t Andy Pettitte heard from MLB, and why hasn’t there been talk of a suspension? In his deposition to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Pettitte admitted that his father injected him with HGH in 2004. (And surely the most bizarre single piece of evidence to emerge during the entire hearing process is that Pettitte’s dad stuck a needle in his son’s ass.) In admitting this, Pettitte was in effect also admitting that he had lied to the Mitchell Commission—and thus to Major League Baseball—about the extent of his drug use.

Moreover, Pettitte was admitting to a crime. Though HGH wasn’t banned from baseball under the Basic Agreement existing at the time—it wouldn’t be added to the list of prohibited substances until 2005—it was and remains illegal unless prescribed for one of three rare diseases. Pettitte has clarified that he used HGH without a prescription. This means that he has admitted to the illegal use of HGH not once but twice, in 2002 and 2004. So where are MLB, the FDA, and the FBI?

It’s easy to see who doesn’t want to have this issue delved into: Pettitte, who stands to lose a one-year, $16 million contract with the Yankees, and the Yankees themselves. Having been snookered by Omar Minaya and the Mets in the Johan Santana deal, the pitching-hungry Yankees are desperate to hold onto Pettitte, the only capable left-hander on the staff. And there are other parties anxious for closure on the Pettitte story, namely commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball.

Allen’s a living, breathing, barroom argument waiting to happen. What do you make of his latest take?

Spring is the Air

It happens every year, just like the groundhog looking for his shadow, but it doesn’t always happen on the same date. Sometimes it comes and then goes away again for days or weeks. I look forward to it because I know it will always surprise me. One morning, usually in late February or early March, I’ll walk out of my apartment building and there it is, even in the heart of New York City–vague, ellusive, a mere hint, but it is there all the same: the smell of spring. I can’t exactly describe this smell, but mostly, it is the smell of dirt, of fresh soil, which brings with it the promise of the buds and flowers and all that good stuff coming back to life. I love the spring, it is my favorite season of the year. It means that green is coming back in our grey lives, it means the bountiful produce of summer is coming, it means that women shed their overcoats and we can see some flesh again (legs, legs, New York women have the best legs, and man, do they know how to use them).

But more than anything this smell means one vital thing: baseball.

I caught a hint of the smell this morning, a relatively mild, overcast day in Manhattan. I was half-asleep. Was I still dreaming? Maybe it was the rain from last night. Whatever, it makes the baseball season seem that much closer. For a wonderful look at the boys of spring, check out this picture gallery at the New York Times’ website. It features 16, evocative, very strong line-drawings by Robert Weaver, who kept a sketchbook for Sports Illustrated during a 1962 spring training visit.


Tyler Kepner has a piece on Phil Hughes’ blog today in the Times (I’m quoted in the story). Hughes started the blog last month and has been posting every couple of days, sometimes a number of times in a single day. One of the keys to good blogging is to keep things short and sweet and to update often. Hughes is off to a promising start. I’m curious to see how he maintains the site as the season rolls along. I’m sure if he keeps it up, his readership will continue to grow, no matter how he perfoms on the field.

I think the trend of athletes’ blogging is an interesting one. Fans have more access to information than ever before, yet emotionally, we often feel more detached from professional athletes than ever before too. Blogs provide an immediacy (the illusion of intimacy) that is hard to find, and certainly one that you are not likely to see in post-game interviews on TV. I believe it’s a way for jocks like Hughes to feel connected to his fans in a way that is safe, controlled.

Funny, this isn’t quite like Jim Brosnan or Jim Bouton exposing the secrets of the boys club. This is inviting us into the boys club. Sort of. It’s a PG version of the ballplayer’s life. It’s not the down and dirty stuff. Then again, Hughes wouldn’t be able to get away with exposing the secrets of the locker room, and I doubt that any active ballplayer would dare to be too candid in a blog, certainly not the way Bouton was in Ball Four. Now, when that happens, then we’ll really have something to talk about, right?

Oh, by the way, last week, EJ Fagan, over at Pending Pinstripes posted a very useful reference guide to the Yankees’ best prospects. Check it out when you can.

Yankee Panky # 43: Feature Presentations

It’s that time of the year where baseball starts to lead the back pages because there’s nothing else worth noting in New York, thanks to the area’s winter sports teams hovering between anonymity (Devils), mediocrity (Rangers and Islanders), or suckdom (Knicks and Nets). So with snow on the ground, it’s the media’s function to get fans even more excited about the baseball season, which is now five weeks away.

The two weeks before the Grapefruit League schedule starts can be a hit or miss in terms of feature writing. At times, it appears as if writers are trying to create stories that aren’t really there. Sometimes, there’s value in the features.

Of all the papers, the Post, in my opinion, had the best combination of team or roster related stories and human interest features. The two primary guys, George King and Joel Sherman, arguably do the most digging and find the most creative angles for their stories. The Times does a good job of this also. The big reason: they throw in minor league stories and look beyond the obvious. For example, Sherman’s story on Mark Melancon, who the Yankees drafted in 2006 along with Joba Chamberlain, gives us one of those “who to watch for” pieces at the perfect time of year. Great, we’ll file the name Mark Melancon. Keeping with the Chamberlain theme, Joe Lapointe’s feature on Joba’s role in enlivening the clubhouse is the ever-popular clubhouse chemistry feature, yet cleverly, he never mentions the two words consecutively in the piece. Lapointe’s story on how Joe Girardi plans to rotate Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon is one that will be monitored for the entire year.

When games start, you’ll see the gamut of stories about players in the system and any potential surprises that arise, such as Bubba Crosby and Enrique Wilson in 2004.

What I’ve found interesting to date is that Chien-Ming Wang is already being touted as the Opening Day starter. A done deal before we even reach March. Joe Torre was always coy about this announcement, even if he knew how he was going to line up his arms. He typically would not divulge this information until the second or third week in March, and only then would he arrange the starters toward the season opener.

The other game that’s fun to play: read as many of the papers as you can and see who has stories different than their competitors. There’s a lot of that to go around in the Spring, because there’s just so much to cover, and only so much space to devote to full-length features.


For every article praising Alex Rodriguez’s talent, there are another three that give the impression that the press is out to tear him down. Rodriguez exaggerated last week about how many drug tests he was administered during the 2007 season, which hurts his credibility. Today, the big news, at least in the Post (I consider this story interesting, but not lead-worthy), is the note that A-Rod’s mental toughness could slip without Larry Bowa and Mike Borzello in the clubhouse to kick his butt. Is he that co-dependent? Is that a story that could have waited until mid-April or May, if he got off to a slow start and the writers then clamored for reasons why? What do you think?


Kudos to Derek Jeter for taking a stand on HGH testing and saying that blood tests, despite it having to be collectively bargained, is the best and preferred way for the league to operate its drug testing platform. Jeter’s position differs from many of his teammates, according to Mark Feinsand of the Daily News. It’ll be interesting to see how the philosophical differences play out as this story progresses, because as we all know, it’s not going away.

Until next week …

The Stuff of Legend

We won’t know until years from now, but I wonder how history will treat the sluggers of the past twenty years? Or, how home run hitters from the 60s-80s will look in comparison? Which players will be forgotten? Who will be re-discovered? I got to mulling this over recently after reading Laughing on the Outside, John Schulian’s wonderful piece on Josh Gibson (SI, June, 2000):

We know just enough about Josh Gibson to now forget him. It’s a perverse kind of progress, a strange step up from the days when the mention of his name drew blank looks. He has been a Hall of Fame catcher since 1972, so that’s a start. And you can always remind people that he got the Ken Burns treatment and public television, or that he was a character in an HBO movie, or that he inspired Negro leagues memorabilia harding back to his old ball club, the Homestead Grays. Any of it will do to jog memories. Josh Gibson, sure. Hit all those home runs, didn’t he? Then he’s gone once more,gone as soon as he’s remembered.

Gibson died at 35, of “booze and dope and busted dreams,” just a few months before Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby entered the major leagues:

Whatever pain he died with lives on in the Negro leaguers who played with him, against him, and maybe even for him if they were fortunate enough to walk where he never could. “I almost hate to talk about Josh,” says Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who jumped from the Negro Leagues to the New York Giants in 1949. “It makes me sad, for one thing, on account of he didn’t get to play in the major leagues. Then, when you tell people how great he was, they think you’re exaggerating.”

But that’s what greatness is: an exaggeration. Of talent, of charisma, of the acts that live long after the athletes we deem legendary have shuffled of the mortal coil. So it is with Gibson, who opened Irvin’s eyes in 1937 by hitting a grounder so hard that it knocked the shortstop who caught it backward. Then there was the night in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, when Gibson bashed a homer and the mayor stopped the game until the ball was found, because he’d never seen one hit that far. “I played with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron,” Irvin says. “They were tremendous players, but they were no Josh Gibson.”

This is no different from Roy Campenella telling one and all that the couldn’t carry Gibson’s mitt. Or Walter Johnson arguing that Gibson was better than Bill Dickey in the days when Dickey was the benchmark for catchers. Or Dizzy Dean, a true son of the South, wishing his St. Louis Cardinals would sign Gibson–and Satchel Paige–so they could wrap up the pennant by the Fourth of July and go fishing until World Series time. Irvin, with his proclamation, leaves himself no wiggle-room He doesn’t just count Gibson among the game’s greats; he ranks him first.

If you could go back in time, what player(s) would you most want to see? Gibson is up there for me, Satch too, as well as Pete Reiser, Dick Allen, Walter Johnson, Stan Musial and Yogi Berra (to name just a few).

Kid Dyn-o-mite

Joba Chamberlain’s rookie debut in pinstripes was as exciting as any we’ve seen in recent years. Last week, Pete Abraham said Chamberlain came into camp looking, if not exactly svelte, then certainly fit. Joe Lapointe has a piece on Joba today in the Times, with this nice lede:

Joba Chamberlain recently tried to involve his fellow pitcher Mike Mussina in some postpractice recreation in the Yankees’ clubhouse.

Addressing Mussina by his nickname, Moose, Chamberlain asked if he wanted to join in playing video games. No, the 39-year-old Mussina told the 22-year-old Chamberlain; he does not play video games.

Want to watch me play video games? Chamberlain asked. No thanks, Mussina said. Well, Chamberlain continued, would Mussina like to play Ping-Pong? Without answering, Mussina kept walking out the door and turned left down the corridor.

So Chamberlain added in a loud voice, “Hey, is the hearing the first thing to go when you get old?”

Suddenly, Mussina reappeared in the doorway and replied, “I hear everything!” in a way that made Chamberlain smile and onlookers chuckle. It was one of those Joba moments that have helped to enliven what for years had been one of baseball’s most dour clubhouses, where young players always knew their place.

I think this could be a fun year, I really do.

Passed a Diving Jeter

It’s the story that won’t go away: Derek Jeter’s fielding. Jeter’s glove work has been a topic of conversation for the better part of five years now. He is getting older so we can reasonably assume that his fielding will continue to slip. This is no great crime, of course. Unless, the guy playing next to you is, or at least, was, better suited to the position The main bone of contention has been that while some have viewed Jeter as a great defensive player, others, looking at the numbers, say, “You have got to be kidding me.”

In today’s paper, Joel Sherman gets tot he heart of the matter:

This is not just one set of Ivy League academics calling Jeter the majors’ worst fielding shortstop. Just about every respected baseball statistician who has publicized results reveals Jeter is, at best, among the poorest defensive shortstops in the game.

You can attack methodology; you can say no perfect formula has yet been devised to encapsulate all the elements – positioning, speed of the hit ball, field conditions – into a single defensive statistic. However, these metrics keep evolving in sophistication. And Jeter keeps faring poorly in nearly every study year after year. Do you think there is a conspiracy? Do you think statisticians en masse have covertly met and made their quest to soil Jeter’s glovely reputation?

“This study has been done a zillion times and the same conclusion is reached every time,” an AL official said. “What do you think that means?”

For Jeter devotees, it means assailing the geeks. But as an AL executive said, “this isn’t geeks vs. jocks. This is myth vs. reality.” In reality, most baseball officials laugh off the three Gold Gloves Jeter won from 2004-06 in the way they do the four Bernie Williams won as having more to do with offense, fame and winning than with actual defense.

I understand why Jeter did not move from shortstop to second or third when Alex Rodriguez arrived in New York. It is Jeter’s will and his ego that made him into a great player. I don’t even blame him for not wanting to move. However, it would have clearly been the best move for the team, so I take Jeter’s reputation as the ultimate team player with a grain of salt. Jeter’s fielding is an old story around these parts, but it is one that likely won’t go away until the time comes when he finally moves to another position.

Observations From Cooperstown–The Trifecta

As I impatiently wait for some sign of spring, I’m thinking about a former Yankee broadcaster, a front office man, and the need for feedback. So let’s try to address all three topics in the latest musings from the home of baseball…

Earlier this week, the Hall of Fame announced the winner of its Ford C. Frick Award, which is given annually to an outstanding baseball broadcaster. Once again, the Frick committee bypassed the man who should have been an obvious selection years ago. He’s someone that most Yankee fans are familiar with, either from his days as a player or for his more recent work for the MSG Network. While I’m not old enough to have seen Tony Kubek play, I can safely so that no one among the broadcasting set has helped me learn as much as he did.

Other than highlights and clips featured on ESPN, I’ve heard very little of the broadcasting done by this year’s Frick winner, Dave Niehaus. I know that he’s extremely popular with Mariners fans, an absolute institution in the Great Northwest. Based on most media reports I’ve read, he’s also very deserving of the award. But I just don’t see how he should receive this award before Kubek, at least based on their resumes.

Niehaus has worked almost exclusively as a play-by-play announcer. Kubek has done extensive amounts of both play-by-play and color commentary. Niehaus has worked only as a local broadcaster, first for the Angels and then for the Mariners, beginning with their birth in 1977. Kubek has worked as both a local broadcaster, for the Yankees and Blue Jays, and at the network level as the lead analyst for NBC. Niehaus has never announced a World Series or an All-Star Game. Kubek has broadcast a slew of World Series games and All-Star games throughout a career that dates back to the mid-1960s. Niehaus is best known for the catch phrase, "My, oh my." Kubek is best known for being analytical and thought provoking during his broadcasts. Again, I don’t mean to demean Niehaus. He deserves this award—just not ahead of Kubek.

As a broadcaster, Kubek has filled almost every role, beginning with those live interviews he used to conduct in the stands during World Series broadcasts. Articulate enough to describe game action and insightful enough to analyze what we were seeing, few ex-athletes or professional broadcasters have been able to match Kubek’s versatile skills in the booth. All the while, Kubek established one of the best-known work ethics in the announcing game, exhaustively researching player backgrounds and tendencies prior to each game or series and always venturing into the clubhouse to find an elusive insider angle.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about Kubek is this: I learned something new about baseball almost every game that I heard him work, whether it was the importance of the bench and the bullpen or a coherent definition of a secondary lead. As much as Tony was a broadcaster of the game, he was also a teacher, and that wasn’t easy with students like myself who thought they knew everything about the National Pastime.

For many fans who read about baseball on the Internet, Bill James was their guru. For me, it was Tony Kubek.


A baseball genius died on Tuesday; sadly, few people seemed to take notice.

When Bob Howsam joined the front office of the Cincinnati Reds in 1967, the franchise was mired in non-contention. In fact, the Reds had won nothing tangible since 1961, the year of their last pennant, and no world championships dating back to 1940. By the time that Howsam stepped down as the Reds’ chief executive and team president in 1978, the team had won six division titles, four pennants, and two world championships within the span of a dozen seasons. As the primary architect of the "Big Red Machine," Howsam made the Reds relevant for the better part of the 1970s.

Howsam resuscitated the Reds’ franchise by using a two-tiered approach. He simultaneously rebuilt Cincinnati’s farm system while also executing a series of shrewd trades, some of the blockbuster variety and some that failed to create a ripple at the time. The restocking of the farm system laid the foundation for Reds success; the trades provided finishing touches to what would become a mini-dynasty.

Unsuccessful in his two-year stint as the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals (though he did pull off the steal that brought Orlando Cepeda to town), Howsam completely reversed the course of his career in Cincinnati. Under his leadership, the Reds drafted and developed young pitchers like Don Gullett, Gary Nolan, and Wayne Simpson, who all became major contributors to the 1970 National League championship team. Howsam then oversaw the draft selections of Dave Concepcion and Ken Griffey, Sr., who became important supplements to the Big Red Machine of the mid-seventies. With Gullett, Concepcion and Griffey all playing vital roles, the Reds advanced to the World Series in 1972, 1975, and 1976, winning world titles the latter two seasons.

Yet, it was at the trading table where Howsam displayed the height of his brilliance. In 1971, he pulled off two deals that sealed Cincinnati’s fortunes as a future world champion. The first one came in May, producing few headlines with its announcement. Knowing that Concepcion would fill the shortstop role for years to come, Howsam peddled light-hitting infielder Frank Duffy and an obscure minor league pitcher named Vern Geishert to the San Francisco Giants for spare outfielder George Foster. (Frank Duffy for George Foster? That became a running joke throughout the 1970s.) Facing a logjam of outfielders in San Francisco, Foster would eventually become the Reds’ everyday left fielder, one of the league’s top right-handed power sources, and the 1977 National League MVP.

Then came Howsam’s master stroke during the 1971 winter meetings. With his lineup leaning too heavily to the right and the Reds’ defense shaky in spots, Howsam dealt Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Jimmy Stewart to the Houston Astros for Joe Morgan, Denis Menke, Cesar Geronimo, Ed Armbrister, and Jack Billingham. In one fell swoop, Howsam improved the Reds defensively at three infield positions (with the new configuration moving Tony Perez from third base to first base), found a new center fielder in Gold Glover Geronimo, and bolstered the starting rotation with Billingham. Most critically, Howsam obtained one of the greatest players of the seventies in Morgan, who would win two MVP awards while adding speed, range, on-base percentage, and a left-handed bat to the Cincinnati equation. That trade, engineered by Howsam, remains one of the most significant in major league history.

Bob Howsam died on Tuesday at the age of 89, a victim of heart failure. Since he was overshadowed by so many great components of the Big Red Machine—a machine that he helped construct—very few people outside of Cincinnati paid much attention to his passing. Hopefully that will change one day, when Howsam takes his deserving place in the plaque gallery at Baseball’s Hall of Fame.


It’s been just about one year since I started writing these columns for Baseball Toaster. Given that time frame, it’s overdue for me to solicit some feedback from our regular readers. Of the features that we do regularly—"Card Corner," "Pastime Passings," "Observations from Cooperstown," "Rumor Mills"—what do you like to read the most? What could you do without? Are there any additional features that you’d like to see done here? Would you like to hear more about Cooperstown and the inner workings of the Hall of Fame? Do you prefer the content that is directly related to the Yankees, or do you want material that represents a change of pace from the usual conversation?

Feel free to post feedback here, or to send me an e-mail at bmarkusen@stny.rr.com. And, as always, thanks for reading and taking the time to provide us with input.

Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com. He, his wife Sue, and their daughter Madeline live in Cooperstown, just a short drive from the Hall of Fame.

Wrapping Up Week One

Spring training is officially one week old, but since I posted my look at the 69 players the Yankees have in camp this year, the sum total of our commentary on the goings on in Tampa has been Alex’s post of Andy Pettitte’s opening statement from his press conference on Monday. Why? Two reasons: 1) there’s been no news, and 2) Peter Abraham has it covered.

The back-page stories thus far have been Andy Pettitte’s late arrival due to his stopover in Washington, DC to give a deposition about the contents of the Mitchell Report, and Alex Rodriguez sticking his foot in his mouth regarding how often he was drug tested last year. Both stories are dead. Pettitte reported on Monday, four day’s late with the team’s permission, and is already on a normal pace. Rodriguez just misspoke, and I think the media and fans are finally getting used to the fact that he has a tendency to say the wrong thing and learning to ignore it when he does.

Otherwise it’s the usual business. Joe Girardi’s focus early on appears to be on conditioning and fundamentals. On the first day of camp, he told his pitchers, “Take care of your bodies. You can’t make the team today, or tomorrow, or the next day, so take it slow and make sure you get your arm strength before you start trying to impress people.” According to Pete, Girardi has been more active on the field than Torre, going from spot to spot to observe his players up close, but has been relatively hands-off thus far, letting his coaches coach while taking extensive notes.

The one big change in camp this year appears to be an increase in running, with Girardi having the players working on stamina where Torre used to have them do more sprinting. Both Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have joked to the media about their dislike for the increased running. Alex Rodriguez, a workout junkie, kinda likes it. Pete Abe wisely points out that the running has less to do with Girardi than new strength and conditioning coach Dana Cavalea, who replaced Marty Miller after the rash of hamstring injuries the Yankees suffered early last year (apparently because they weren’t doing enough running).

Speaking of workouts, as per the usual spring training script, most of the news in week one was about who has come to camp in great shape, though Abraham attributes some of that to Girardi’s having explicitly told his players to do so. The Yankee list includes Johnny Damon, who came into camp last year a bit heavy and has something to prove after a season in which he was slowed by a variety of injuries and terrible in the first half, Bobby Abreu, who also has something to prove after his terrible start to last season and is in the walk year of his contract, Jason Giambi, who was injured and unproductive last year and is likely in his walk year as well as the Yanks are sure to buyout his option at year’s end, Derek Jeter, who may finally be accepting the fact that things won’t come quite as easy to him as age starts to catch up to him, and Joba Chamberlain, who seems to have put the conditioning concerns that allowed him to slip to the Yanks in the 2006 draft behind him.

In addition to those guys arriving in great shape, Pete Abe said that Mike Mussina, another veteran in his walk year with something to prove after a poor 2007, and Phil Hughes, who lost a lot of time to injury last year, have arrived with a “sense of purpose.” I’m not sure what that really means, but Abraham did follow up by reporting on strong bullpen outings from both of them. Hughes and Chamberlain have also been seen working out with Andy Pettitte doing a reduced version of the Roger Clemens workout which, for all of the wisecracks that can be made given the Mitchell Report fallout, is no joke. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com has more encouraging news on Hughes.

The exception to all of this appears to be Kei Igawa. According to Abraham, the player nicknamed “Quest” because of his affinity for running (or was it his affinity for video games?), is “the only Yankee who looks like he spent the winter on the couch . . . He’s so behind in running drills it’s like he’s carrying his translator.” No comment.

The reporters have developed the habit of asking Girardi at the end of each day if everyone is healthy. Thus far the only issue has been some back spasms suffered by center field prospect Austin Jackson, though they didn’t seem to be of any particular concern. Abraham reported that Kyle Farsworth survived a staph infection in his leg in January and that Hideki Matsui, despite reports that his surgically repaired knee was bothering him, is moving smoothy during drills and showing no ill-effects.

Giardi has said that Chamberlain and Igawa will both be in the competition for the rotation, that he hopes to get Johnny Damon 600 at-bats as the team’s primary left fielder, and suggested that Bobby Abreu will remain in his customary number-three spot in the lineup. Legends Field has been renamed after George Steinbrenner, an appropriate and deserved honor. Morgan Ensberg is wearing number 21, ending the unofficial retirement of Paul O’Neill’s former number.

And that’s about it. Pete’s blog is essential reading for some of his great slice-of-life observances, which lend color to a fairly mundane part of the season. Among the highlights thus far have been notes on the clubhouse attendants’ disrespect for Carl Pavano, Sean Henn needling Andrew Brackman about his the college basketball career, Mike Mussina’s interior decorating, the wild fielding drills Toñy Pena puts his catchers through, Kevin Long filling Larry Bowa’s shoes as a friend to Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano, or Tino Martinez, who is in camp as an instructor for the first time, learning how to hit fungoes. Also, check out this shot of Derek Jeter messing up Andy Pettitte’s official photo.

In the meantime, no news is good news.

Ol’ Man Winter am Still Here

It’s snowing, really snowing, here in New York this morning. Here are a couple of few things to get you going:

Gary Sheff on Joe G:

“I think Girardi will do great,” the former Yankee told The Post yesterday at Tigertown. “I’m not saying that he’s better than Joe (Torre), he’s just different. He’s an X and O guy, that is something I’ve stressed and I believe. When a guy is smart about the game, you can never trick him, you can never fool him. He’s always prepared and he puts his players in the right spot. It’s up to you to succeed. You either do or you don’t.

Alex Rodriguez, already in the headlines, thinks that Derek Jeter will win the AL MVP this year. According to George King in the Post:

“I think Jeter is going to have an MVP season, that’s my prediction for the year,” Rodriguez said. “And I think Bobby is going to have a monster year.”

…”I think he is in great shape and he did some great things this winter with his workouts,” Rodriguez said. “I am very excited for him.”

Jeter left Legends Field before he could react to Rodriguez’s prediction. A day before, he spoke about what he did differently this offseason.

“I switched up a little bit,” Jeter said of his workouts. “I focused on agility, legs, first step and lateral movement. I really made some adjustments. I feel a lot quicker and I am moving around a lot better.”

Over at BP, Joe Sheehan believes that Damon in left, Matsui at DH, and Giambo at first is the way to go:

Once you start with the premise that Cabrera has to be the everyday center fielder, the rest of the dominoes fall naturally. Left unsaid, of course, is that Damon, Matsui, and Giambi are all signed to contracts that are unmovable, and there’s no stomach for releasing any of them. In fairness, none of the deals are excruciating; the Damon deal has predictably looked worse two years in than it did on the day it was signed. The two years left on Matsui’s contract are a tough call—his production, from a DH, isn’t special, and he’s not as durable as he was three years ago.

Joe Girardi will have options on a daily basis, of course. When a Chien-Ming Wang starts, you can sacrifice some outfield defense, using Damon in center and Matsui in left. Ensberg or Duncan should make the roster as a righty bat, someone Girardi can also use at first base or DH. Ensberg’s OBP, past track record, and ability to fake playing third base or shortstop all make him the better option in that role. Given the age and recent histories of these players, the Yankees could actually use a fifth outfielder on the roster, although it’s unclear if a 12-man pitching staff will allow for that. Oddly, while Brett Gardner is never going to develop into an everyday player, the skill set he currently possesses would make him an asset in that job right now.

Joe Girardi’s true test isn’t the position players, but the pitching staff, where he’ll be challenged to contend in a tough division under crushing expectations while also developing three very good young pitchers. It is good to see, however, that he has alighted on the right answer to an early question. For a manager we really don’t know very much about, every decision carries a little extra weight this spring.

There are a lot of questions about the Yanks this year–the offense, while still potent, is a year older, the defense isn’t strong, and who knows about the starting pitching (I, for one, think that Andy Pettitte is going to have a rough go of it). Still, I’m really excited to watch this team, aren’t you?

Blogging (It’s Not Just for Kids Anymore)

Even the pros do it, and do it well. Witness Buster Olney’s blog or Rob Neyer’s joint over at ESPN. Or, more recently Joe Posnanski, who has taken to the medium like a fish to water. We can add SI.com’s Jake Luft to the mix now that he’s got his own site, Luft on Deck. Stop by and check out today’s post on Hank Steinbrenner (and props to Jake for including George Carlin in the piece).

In brief…check out this CNBC link of Joe Torre talking about George Steinbrenner (the full interview airs Monday at 9p/12a ET on CNBC).

Joel Sherman can’t help it. He still likes Andy Pettitte. Also, the Post has put up a sizable excerpt from Sherman’s informative book, Birth of a Dynasty. It’s the chapter on Pettitte. If you haven’t read Sherman’s book, check the excerpt out.

Finally, over at YES, Steven Goldman has a non-baseball related interview up with the musician Dan Zanes.

The Write Stuff

Over at Yankees for Justice, Todd Drew writes about going to see Jimmy Breslin speak at the Barnes and Noble on 66th street, across the street from Lincoln Center, and just a few blocks north from where bar-restaurants like The Ginger Man and Saloon and O’Neal’s Ballon used to stand (bars where guys like Breslin, and my father, drank):

“Would you be a newspaperman if you were just starting out today?” I ask.

“That’s a good one,” he says. “The game’s changed and there’s probably no room for a guy like me.”

He pauses for a moment and then really gets rolling.

“Pick up any newspaper in the morning,” Breslin says. “Count the words in the lead sentences. There will be at least 25 in all of them: Guaranteed. The writers just want to tell you how many degrees they have from this college or that university.

“Steinbeck would use 12 words in the first sentence,” he continues. “Mailer 15 words. Hemingway five. That’s because they had respect for their readers. It may sound like I’m being hard on colleges and that’s because I am. None of them have any idea how to teach people to write. They have wrecked the business.”

The business has certainly changed. And it is still changing. Here is Frank Deford, who along with Dan Jenkins was the most celebrated of the old Sports Illustrated writers, in an on-line interview:

Given the flux in the whole journalism industry, I’d be presumptuous to advise any young student quite what to do. It’s too fluid right now. All I could safely say is that if you have talent, you will succeed, but in what venue I have no idea. You got to be quick on your feet now and be instinctive in choosing the right journalistic path for you. And then it will probably require a switch somewhere down the road.

Nothing stays the same–the nature of business, art, the city. But that shouldn’t stop us from appreciating the great tradition of newspaper and magazine writing. The Star-Ledger has a wonderful, eight-part tribute to Jerry Izenberg’s 55 years in the business. Video clips are included along with Izenberg’s memory pieces. In the second installment, he talks about his mentor, Stanley Woodward, the famed sports editor for the New York Herald Tribune. (Woodward wrote a wonderful memoir, Paper Tiger, introduced by John Schulian. Roger Kahn devotes an entire chapter to Woodward in his recent memoir, Into My Own.)

Also, in case you missed it when it ran late last summer, here is Mark Kram’s poignant memoir piece about his father, also Mark Kram. The elder Kram was a gifted but troubled star writer for SI in the sixtes and seventies–his piece on the “Thrilla in Manilla” is widely anthologized:

What I remember now is his back, the way it dampened with an enlarging oval of perspiration as he sat with his big shoulders crouched over the typewriter. Steeped in piles of newspapers and assorted coffee cups corroded with tobacco ash, he labored amid a drifting cloud of pipe smoke in Room 2072 wrapping up a piece on the National Marbles Tournament, which would later be included in The Norton Reader. I remember him chasing away a young woman that day who’d come early for his copy. Even at 17 I had to laugh, because he used every second allotted to him by a deadline, be it an hour or weeks. He’d get up, jam his pipe into his pocket, and pace, up this corridor, down the other, light his pipe and end up back at his office, where his typewriter remained with the same piece of paper in it on which 12 words had been written. His editor Pat Ryan refers to this as “stall walking” — what jittery thoroughbreds do to calm down – but eventually that sweat and tobacco paid off in prose that was like slipping into a velvet boxing robe.

Managing editor Andre Laguerre unlatched whatever raw abilities Dad possessed. The legendary Frenchman did not care if he had been to Georgia for three years or even three hours; in fact, a “Letter from the Publisher” in March, 1968 played up the phony telegram he concocted at The Sun as the act of a resourceful imagination. Laguerre divined in him a deep reservoir of moody sensitivities that could swell into uncommonly seductive prose. That became abundantly clear as his work developed in the ensuing years in an array of sharply observed pieces, none better than his 1973 profile of the forgotten Negro League star Cool Papa Bell called “No Place in the Shade.” That story begins: “In the language of jazz, the word gig is an evening of work: sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, take the gig as it comes, for who knows when the next will be. It means bread and butter first, but a whole lot of things have always seemed to ride with the word: drifting blue light, the bouquet of leftover drinks, spells of odd dialogue and most of all a sense of pain and limbo. For more than anything the word means black, down-and-out-black, leavin’-home black, gonna-find-me-a-place-in-the-shade black.” Dad would come to think of that piece as his finest effort at SI.

But it would be his work on the boxing beat that would bring him acclaim. Down through the years, few in that Ruyonesque galaxy of unrepentant rogues were spared the sharp point of his critical lance, including Ali, his entourage, the new Madison Square Garden, and rival promoters Bob Arum and Don King. “Boxing is a world of freebooters,” says Mort Sharnik, who covered boxing with Dad at SI. “And in that realm Mark was looked upon with much apprehension.” And yet as cynical as Dad could be, I think Sharnik is on to something when he says that he was oddly naïve. “Whenever you told him something, he would draw on his pipe and cock his eye in this skeptical way,” says Sharnik. “But a true cynic would not have allowed himself to be drawn in by some of the questionable characters Mark did. In that way there was always some rube in him.”

Speaking of the old days, Bob Ryan edited The Best of Sport a few years ago, a good introduction to guys like Arnold Hano, Myron Cope and Ed Linn.

If you like that sort of thing…

Be Like Mike

I knew Santino was going to have to go through all this . . . but I never wanted this for you. I work my whole life, I don’t apologize, to take care of my family, and I refused to be a fool dancing on the strings held by all of those big shots. That’s my life, I don’t apologize for that, but I always thought that, when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings.

In his introduction to the first major interview conducted with Hal Steinbrenner in roughly 20 years, GQ staff writer Nate Penn positions the younger Hal as the Michael Corleone to older brother Hank’s Sonny:

During their first, busy off-season, Hank, 50, emerged as a sort of Sonny Corleone figure, impetuous and impudent, throwing down gauntlets left and right. . . . His outspokenness—on subjects ranging from A-Rod to Joe Torre to a possible trade for ace Johan Santana—led many to assume he was running the team, but behind the scenes the chain of command was a work in progress. “They indicated that now Hank is the baseball person,” a baffled Scott Boras tells me during the first, ill-fated round of A-Rod negotiations, “yet they had me talk with Hal.” . . . Throughout, Hal, 38, remained, like Michael Corleone, in the shadows—subtle, wary of media, a private family man.

The interview is a must-read throughout. In the key sections, Hal explains his vision for how decisions will be made by the team moving forward:

I’m going to sound like a military-school guy, but I’m a big believer in chain of command. Under George, I think a lot of people felt like George was going to make the decision, no matter what, and they just didn’t make many decisions. The direction that we’re moving toward is more along the lines of how I think an efficient corporation should run. It doesn’t mean I’m right, but that’s my take. I don’t want to have to be here twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, analyzing every single piece of information that comes across the desk and feeling like I need to make decisions that other people are perfectly capable of making.

We understand this is New York. We understand winning is expected. We want to win. Even if that wasn’t the case, we would want to win; that’s just the way we are. But I think we’re both more introverted and more analytical. We tend to want to take time to come up with a solution to a problem, as opposed to making a seat-of-the-pants–type decision. And I think that showed in some of these off-season signings. Some people didn’t understand why we took so long to decide this or to decide that, but we want to get it right. . . . What’s been determined is that this is a family business, and if we’re both gonna be involved, it has to be an equal thing, and we both need to be involved with all major decisions, whether it’s the stadium, big expenditures, or [the unconsummated trade for Johan] Santana, for instance.

That sort of measured, analytical approach which trusts the expertise of the people hired to make decisions rather than second-guesses or haphazardly overrides them is good news for Yankee fans, as is Hal’s attitude toward the team’s home grown pitchers. Continuing from above:

It’s well publicized in New York that [Hanks and I] didn’t agree on that deal. My concerns were economical and financial, and I’m not gonna get into those, but I also had baseball concerns. I didn’t want to get rid of these kids! Boy, the last time we had three young pitchers like Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, I couldn’t even tell you. [Never -CJC]

The Super Bowl this year was unbelievable, and the one thought I took away really has a lot to do with us this year, with these three young pitchers. Eli struggled a bit his first couple years. I think New York fans might realize now that if you give a young kid time, great things can happen.

Sounds familiar. Elsewhere, Hal confirms the perceived split between his strengths and those of his brother: “My background in grad school [Hal earned an MBA in 1994] led me to do certain things, like finance, that weren’t his strong points. Hank always loved the baseball operations and knew the statistics for every player. We each had our strengths.”

He also confirmed that his close involvement in the team really only dates back about 12 months, and Hank’s even less: “I obviously became considerably more involved at a somewhat dramatic pace when Steve [Swindal], my sister’s ex-husband, left [in February of 2007]. A couple months after that, I think Hank realized I could use some help.”


Long Gone

Considering the fact that there are so few good baseball movies, it’s inexcusable that Long Gone, a made-for-HBO baseball movie from the mid eighties (1987 to be exact, the year before Bull Durham was released) is not available on DVD. It isn’t a great movie, but it is a very good one, one that offers numerous satisfactions, particularly the performances by William Peterson (Stud Cantrell), Virginia Madsen (Dixie Lee Boxx) and Durmot Mulroney (Jamie Donn Weeks), who have rarely, if ever, been as good. In a wonderful bit of casting, William Gibson and Teller play the father and son ownership team of a low-minor league team in the 1950s (these two alone make the movie worth watching.)

The script is based on the short, but lively baseball novel by the veteran journalist and Hank Williams biographer, Paul Hemphill. The screenplay isn’t as sharp as the book. Subplots involving a black player posing as a Latino, and a young player knocking up a local girl, as well as the standard big-game finish, are weak points, but the movie retains the inherent charms of the book all the same. The locker-room scenes here are looser and more vulgar than the ones in Bull Durham (though they aren’t as lewd as the ones in Slap Shot).

Jack Nicholson was reportedly interested in playing Stud Cantrell for years. It’s too bad he didn’t make the movie because it would have been great to see Nicholson play a ballplayer when he could still get away with it. (Something tells me he’d be far more belevable than DeNiro was in Bang the Drum Slowly.) That said, Peterson is more than credible, and he’s got that same, over-the-hill spark that made Paul Newman so winning in Slap Shot. Moreover, the role of Cantrell was a welcome departure from the heavy roles Peterson played in To Live and Die in L.A. and Manhunter.

Unfortunately, HBO has not aired the movie in years and, again, it is not available on DVD. The only way to see it is on an old VHS tape. Perhaps one day, HBO will decide to re-run it. I don’t know why they wouldn’t. It’s a little gem. Not the great baseball movie that we know can (and will) be made one day, but still, a very appealing one.


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