"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: May 2008

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Dead Team Walking

Mike Mussina’s was the coin that flopped over tonight. After walking just three men in his last five starts, Mussina walked Brian Roberts to start tonight’s game. Moose then gave up two-out singles to Aubrey Huff and Kevin Millar to plate Roberts and put men on first and second. After that, he got of Luke Scott 1-2 and got Scott to ground to shortstop for what appeared to be an inning-ending groundout. Derek Jeter fielded the ball and looked to flip to Robinson Cano at second for the out, but Cano wasn’t on the bag. Instead, Jeter threw to first, but his throw was high and allowed Scott to reach safely, loading the bases for Ramon Hernandez. Mussina walked Hernandez on four pitches to force in a second Oriole run, then failed to retire any of the four men after him, finally being pulled with the score 7-0 Orioles and still just two outs in the first inning.

That thew a wet blanket on Alex Rodriguez’s return to the lineup. Rodriguez came through with a two-run homer into the Yankee bullpen in the sixth, but those were the only runs Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera allowed on the night as the Orioles cruised to a 12-2 win.

The only other action of note stemmed from a third-inning Cabrera pitch which tailed in on Derek Jeter and hit him on the outside of his left wrist. Jeter left the game immediately, and LaTroy Hawkins cleared the benches by throwing at Luke Scott with none on and two out in the sixth, but Jeter’s x-rays were negative, which means that other than a coming suspension for Hawkins, the lasting effects should be minimal. The lasting effects of the Yankees losing six of their last seven while averaging two runs per game remain the greater concern.

Baltimore Orioles Redux: Return of the Rod Edition

The Orioles have the fourth-best record in the American League, but have been outscored by their opponents on the season. They have won seven of their last nine, but lost nine of 11 before that. They have the third-best ERA+ in the league, but the fifth worst OPS+. They’re having fun, but it won’t last, though given the way the Yankees have been playing recently, it may last a little longer.

The good news for the Yankees is that they’ll have Alex Rodriguez back in the lineup tonight, which will fill one of the three gaping holes in their lineup. (Man, this sure looks a lot better, don’t it?)

Alex and pals will be facing Daniel Cabrera tonight. Cabrera has turned in seven straight quality starts, posting a 2.50 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over that stretch. Most impressively, his walk rate has been a strong 2.68 BB/9 during those seven starts and he has allowed just four home runs, this after walking nine men and allowing four homers in his first ten innings on the season. Opposing Cabrera is Mike Mussina, who has gone 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA with just three walks and two homers over his last five starts.

There are a lot of coins standing on their sides at the Stadium tonight. The question is which of them will tip over.


You Know Me


When I was a kid I received a copy of You Know Me Al from my uncle Sam Plummer, who was not really my uncle, but I thought of him as one all the same. The version I got was a collection of the You Know Me Al comic strips–it wasn’t until years later that I learned it was a book before it was a comic.  I loved the gift, not so much because I was especially taken with the strip, but because it combined comics and baseball and Sam was thoughtful enough to know that (a die-hard Cubs fan, Sam later introduced me to the records of Fats Waller).  Somewhere along the line I lost the book but a few years ago I saw a copy in a used bookstore. My heart skipped a beat and I nabbed it. For those of you who have never seen it, here’s a peak at a strip:




Stop Making Sense

Over at BP Unfiltered, David Laurila has a nifty Q&A with Brewers bench coach, Ted Simmons, who was one of the most vital figures in the Players Association back in the 1970s, and a near Hall of Fame catcher to boot.

Dig this:

DL: You played in the 1970s and 1980s. How different is the game now?

TS: The players are far more educated than they were when I first played. When I came up to the Cardinals in 1970, I had spent two years at the University of Michigan. Dal Maxvill had an electrical engineering degree from Washington University. We were really the only two, at least that I can recall, who had spent any time in a four-year institution. Today, almost all of these kids have formal educations — minimally at the junior college level. Almost all come from major educational backgrounds. That is the biggest change that exists in major league baseball with the players themselves. They’re far more educated and far more sophisticated; they’re a far different band of people.

DL: How does the game differ on the field?

TS: I think it has changed dramatically with the statistical analysis that’s come about and applied itself at the major league level and at the minor league level. You have a whole group of people who have identified, and recognized, statistical trends that are directly applicable to the field. Whether it’s offensively, pitching, or defensively, there are applications that exist now because of the ability to convey information quickly — things you can take on a daily basis and apply in a game. There’s no question that’s been the biggest change.

DL: Have you adapted well to the statistical revolution, or do you view yourself as more of an old-school baseball guy?

TS: I think that dinosaurs die hard, and they die fast. If one doesn’t take the best of the objective perspective, and the best of the subjective perspective, and incorporate the two into one place — however one has to do it — if you’re not prepared to do that, you’ll soon be out.

Simmons’ bit about dinosaurs brings to mind something that the Yankees have had me thinking about recently, the classic line from Annie Hall where Woody says, “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

You Talking Loud But You Ain’t Sayin’ Nuthin

Hank continues to talk.

How Not to Get Jerked (When You Do Hard Work)

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.”

Red Smith

That said, the back cover of today’s New York Post screams: “HERE COMES A-GOD! Alex returns tonight to save inept Yanks.”


You Could Look it Up

For those of you who live in the tri-state area, consider these upcoming dates at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center:

Bobby Murcer: Thursday, May 29th. 7:00-9:00 pm.

Graig Nettles, Ron Guidry and Don Mattingly: Sunday, June 8th. 3:00-5:00 pm.

Yogi himself: Thursday, June 12th. 6:00-8:00 pm.

Brother, Can You Spare Twenty Grand?

Here’s another reason to be sore today if you are a Yankee fan. Um, the prices next year at the new Stadium…well, check this out from Soxfan over at YFSF. It ain’t pretty.

Very Serious (Like a Peek Frean)

Portrait of the Blogger as a Young Boy with Baseball on the Brain:

Put me in coach…  


The Good Doctor

I was upset to read the news about Doc Ellis over the weekend. Ellis is critically ill. He was a lively character as a player and a good, hard-ass pitcher. After battling addiction for years, he’s spent most of his post-baseball career as a counselor. I can only hope he receives the treatment he needs before it is too late.

In the meantime, here is a great story of just how tough he was in his prime. The following excerpt is from “In the Country of Baseball,” written by Donald Hall.

In spring training 1974, Dock Ellis, felt that his Pirates had begun to loss some aggressiveness.

“You are scared of Cincinnati. That’s what I told my teammates. Every time we play Cincinnati, the hitters are on their ass.”

In 1970, ’71, and ’72, he says, the rest of the league was afraid of the Pirates. “They say, ‘Here come the big bad Pirates. They’re going to kick our ass!’ Like they give up. That’s what our team was starting to do. Cincinatti will bullshit with us and kick our ass and laugh at us. They’re the only team that talk about us like a dog. Whenever we play that team, everybody socializes with them.” In the past the roles had been revered. “When they ran over to us, we knew they were afraid of us. When I saw our team doing it, right then I say, ‘We gunna get down. We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherfuckers.'”


Getting Over It

"Come to bed, honey."

My wife’s voice was weak.  She was almost asleep.  I turned the TV off, picked up my cat and went to the bedroom.  I let out a big sigh and Em told me that she was sorry that the Yankees are causing me so much agita.  "Try and let it go, babe, it’s going to do you no good to stay upset about something you’ve got no control over.  You need your energy for the week." 

I’ve heard that line before and know it to be true.  This time, I didn’t fight it for too long and soon enough I was asleep.  It is more than slightly ridiculous to get furious over a ball club, right?

It was sunny and crisp this morning on my way to work.  I read the morning papers on the subway.  Johnny Damon said the game was "embarrassing."  I shoved the papers into my napsack and put on my headphones.  A young Spanish girl, all of six years old was sitting across from me, next to her mother.  The girls’ feet were three or four inches off the ground.  She wore pink sneakers, a power blue sweat suit and had a barette in her hair.  An i pod nano was in her little palm, little white plug headphones in her ears.  She had the most serious expression on her face and she mouthed the words to whatever she was listening to, nodding her head in an exaggerated motion.  I couldn’t help but laugh.  Not only because she was so intent, so committed to her schtick but because she reminded me of how preposterous I must look at times, snapping my neck to the beat, wearing my super-sized dorky headphones.  

Yeah, the Yankees are awful right now.  Let them be embarrassed by how poorly they are playing.  We don’t need to be embarrassed about anything.  Hey, we weren’t embarrassed to root for them when they were winning.  Doesn’t mean we have to be happy about what’s going on, but in the end, their performance doesn’t have much to do with us at all, does it?


Cella Dwellas

Mostly Dead…

The Yankees have not been getting hits with men are in scoring position.  They have not been scoring many runs, one of the telling differences between last year’s early-season slump and this year’s version.  When their ace pitcher is not on his game–Chien-Ming Wang was knocked around to the tune of seven runs–there is no way for them to win, even with the umpires helping them out with a huge missed call, negating a three-run home run by Carlos Delgado (who singled in a run instead).  The game was actually close enough until the eighth when the Mets busted it open, but given the way the Yankee offense has been going it didn’t feel close at all.  On consecutive plays in the top of the eighth, Bobby Abreu made poor throws to the plate and a 5-2 lead quickly became 7-2.  Jose Reyes’ three-run shot into the right-centerfield bleachers sealed it.  Oliver Perez, the Mets’ inconsistent left-hander, allowed only three hits in 7. 2/3 innings, the only damage coming from a two run-homer by Hideki Matsui.

Final Score: Mets 11, Yanks 2.     

So the Yanks are the winners of an abbreviated scrubway series–right now, they are worse than the Mets.  Their offense is worse, their record is worse, and, of course, they are in last place.  I wish I had something positive to say, but I don’t.  Okay, how about this?  At least we don’t have to watch this team play on Monday.  They’ve got the day off.  Alex Rodriguez is scheduled to rejoin the team on Tuesday night.  But even Rodriguez, the reigning AL MVP, won’t be enough to help save these pinestriped suckas all by himself.

It’s going to be a long season, boy.         


They say, in baseball, momentum is only as good the next day’s starting pitcher. The Yankees sure hope that’s true, as they have their ace, Chien-Ming Wang, on the hill tonight against lefty Oliver Perez, who has done his best to mimic Andy Pettitte’s season by posting a 2.49 ERA in his first four starts and a 6.98 ERA in his last four.

The Yankees seemed to have the momentum early in yesterday’s game. Andy Pettitte got his first six outs on five Ks and a pickoff, stranding a David Wright infield single in the process, then had a 1-2-3 third inning. Johnny Damon led of the bottom of the first against Johan Santana with a walk and came around to score on a towering home run down the left field line by Derek Jeter. With the Yanks up 2-0, Damon led off the bottom of the third with a single which was followed by a Bobby Abreu double into the gap in right field.

Yankee third-base coach Bobby Meacham waved Damon home on Abreu’s hit. With no outs and the heart of the order due up, starting with Jeter who had already homered, it was a questionable send at best and one that betrayed the Yankees’ desperate need for runs. Still, it took a perfect play to nail Damon at the plate. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. Ryan Church cut the ball off before it reached the warning track, spun, and fired to Luis Castillo, who relayed home to Brian Schneider. As if he had eyes in the back of his head, Schneider, in one motion, caught Castillo’s throw on a hop in front of the plate, turned, stuck out his left leg, and kicked Johnny Damon’s foot away just as Damon was sliding into the plate. An overhead replay showed that Schneider’s foot guided Damon’s around the tip of the plate. Damon never touched home, and Schneider applied the tag to the back of Damon’s leg as he slid by.

With that one play, the entire game changed. Abreu was stranded at second, and the Mets took the lead in the top of the fourth by scoring three runs against Pettitte on a series of dinks, dunks, and walks. It was only 3-2 Mets at that point, but the momentum had swung, and it never swung back. Pettitte gutted out six innings, throwing 116 pitches and coming away with a quality start and seven strikeouts, but Kyle Farnsworth came on in seventh to face the top of the Met order and gave up a home run to Jose Reyes, walked Church, and then gave up two-run jack to David Wright to make it 6-2 Mets. Farnsworth’s home run rate now stands at an eye-popping 2.7 HR/9.

Jason Giambi answered that outburst by leading off the bottom of the inning with a solo homer off Santana and Abreu added another solo shot off the Mets’ ace (whose 1.65 HR/9 this inning is ugly in and of itself) in the eighth, but Joba Chamberlain gave one of those runs back in the ninth following a Carlos Beltran triple, and the game ended with the Mets leading 7-4.

So, yeah, let’s hope momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. Let’s also hope that the 8:00 start time for tonight’s ESPN game will allow the predicted showers to blow through before game time.

Pitcher Perfect

Scrubway Serious, Take Two:

It rained all day and deep into the night on Friday in New York and the weaterman said it was going to keep a coming today.  However, the sun is out and it is a warm morning in New York.  Overcast, yeah, but it seems as if the Mets and Yankees will be able to get a game in this afternoon without a hitch.  Turns out this’ll just be a brief encounter between the two teams as last night’s game will be made up as part of a two-stadium double header in late June.  So, today gives an appealing match-up of southpaws: Johan Santana vs. Andy Pettitte.  The Yankees, of course, are well familiar with Santana.  They know how tough he can be, and with Alex Rodriguez’s return still a few days away, the team is still at a disadvantage against lefties.  Pettitte has pitched poorly in three of his last four outings.  Time for him to come through with an improved performance.   

Let’s Go Yan-Kees.



New York Mets

I’ll get to the Mets in a moment, but first, since I’ve been out of commission this week due to a business trip, here are some thoughts on what ails the Yankees . . .

First thing’s first, it’s not the bullpen, which has held opponents to a .233/.308/.343 line and posted a 3.30 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.67 K/9, and 2.28 K/BB, all despite being called on for the second-highest total of relief innings in the majors.

Second, the problems in the starting rotation are both obvious and in the process of being solved. Chien-Ming Wang has eight quality starts in nine tries, a 2.90 ERA, has spiked his K/9 to 5.80 (up from his career mark of 3.83 entering the season), and is averaging nearly 6 2/3 innings per start. Mike Mussina is 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA and just three walks in his last five starts. Darrell Rasner has two wins and two quality starts since being promoted from Scranton. Andy Pettitte was 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA over his first four starts, but is 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA over his last four. Chances are Pettitte and Mussina will meet in the middle somewhere, leaving Ian Kennedy, who aced his reboot start in triple-A and threw strikes in his return last night only to have those strikes hit hard, as the big question mark in the quintet.

As for the offense. Riddle me this, Batman: as of yesterday morning, the Yankees were fourth in the AL in adjusted OPS, and third in the AL in slugging, but a dismal tenth in runs scored per game. What gives?

Here’s my answer: too many outs. It’s the oldest trick in the sabermetric book; the most precious commodity in the game is each team’s allotment of 27 outs. Avoid making outs and you will score runs by default. In each of the last two seasons, the Yankees were first in the majors in on-base percentage (which is really just the inverse of a team’s rate of making outs) and first in runs scored per game. This year, the Yankees are ninth in the AL in OBP and tenth in the league in runs scored per game.

Yes, it’s that simple.

On-base percentages are dependent upon walks. While it’s true that walks rarely drive in runs, they put runners on base and keep innings alive, preventing those runners from being stranded. The Yankees were third in the AL in walks in each of the last two seasons. This year, they’re tenth in the league in free passes.

Tenth in walks. Ninth in OBP. Tenth in runs per game.

So don’t blame Jason Giambi and his .188 average. Giambi leads the team with 23 walks, which get him up to a solid .351 OBP. Don’t blame Hideki Matsui (not that you would seeing as he’s by far been the team’s best hitter this season). He leads the Yankees with a .399 OBP. Don’t blame Johnny Damon, who is second to Giambi with 19 walks and has a .348 OBP which is right around his career average.

Do blame the injuries to Jorge Posada (career .380 OBP) and Alex Rodriguez (career .388 OBP). Jose Molina has just two walks in 25 games and has been an automatic out since coming back from his hamstring injury (45 outs in 47 plate appearances, counting double plays). Morgan Ensberg, has made 45 outs in his last 58 PAs dating back to Rodriguez’s first game at DH.

Robinson Cano was another guilty party, but has gone .394/.412/.636 over his last nine games. Unfortunately, his buddy Melky Cabrera, who entered May with a .370 OBP, has taken Cano’s place by making 30 outs in 36 PA over those nine games. Together they add up to one valuable hitter and third automatic out in the lineup.

Oh, and there’s one other guy you can blame: Derek Jeter. Of the seven Yankees with 100 or more at-bats, Jeter is dead last in walks with just two-thirds of Cano’s second-worst total. Jeter’s .297 average is the second best mark on the team, but his .331 OBP is fifth among Yankee starters and 57 points below his career mark, which he matched or surpassed in each of the last three seasons. The good news there is that four of those six walks have come in the last 12 games. Still, even over that span Jeter’s PA/BB rate has been below his career mark.


If You Didn’t You Wouldn’t Be in Here

As we wait around for what Banterite Sliced Bread calls the Schlubway Serious

When I turned 30, my dear friend Alan made me a great mix cd, stacked with soul records from 1971, the year I was born.  "I Know You Got Soul," "Mr. Big Stuff," "Spanish Harlem,"  "Do the Funky Penguin,"  "A Natural Man," and one of my all-time favorite cuts, "Family Affair" are all featured.  (For my 40th, maybe he’ll make me a mix of the best rock n roll songs from that year. What would those records be?)  Here is the cover art for the cd, including a card Alan made of me with my old moniker Al Dente (the back cover of the cd, looks like the back of an old card, but instead of stats, you get the track listing; it includes the tidbit, "Alex loves records," taken from an old Alex Johnson card).  The picture of me was actually taken by Alan in Gravesend, Brooklyn in 1999.  I’m wearing a t-shirt that my boy Javier brought back from the Dominican for me, "Sammy’s 61," celebrating Sosa’s monster 1998 season.  The cup in my right hand is from Nathan’s on Coney Island.

Can you name all the cards–even the bits and pieces–in this collage?

Observations From Cooperstown–Don’t Call Him Four Eyes

Yankee reliever Edwar Ramirez doesn’t look the part of a major leaguer. He’s listed as six feet, three inches tall and 160 pounds, but appears more like 140 pounds with lead weights attached to his ankles. In some ways, he looks like a Latino version of Kent Tekulve, who was often confused with scarecrows during his hey day in the 1970s. And then there are those funky looking glasses that Ramirez wears. Or are they goggles, something like what Chris Sabo used to wear with the Reds? Perhaps we should call them "gloggles."

Ramirez is only the latest in a long line of players to bring eyeglasses and other forms of optical wear to the forefront. The tradition dates all the way back to the professional game’s roots some two centuries ago. The first major leaguer to wear glasses during a major league game was 19th century workhorse Will "Woop-La" White, who completed 394 out of 401 starts in his career. (I wonder what his pitch counts were like.) In 1877, White wore a pair of eyeglasses for the Boston Red Sox Stockings, who were then a National League franchise. After White finished donning the spectacles for Boston, no other major leaguer would sport glasses for another 38 years. In 1915, pitcher Lee "Specs" Meadows cracked the 20th century glasses barrier with the Cardinals. Like White, Meadows was a very good pitcher, a winner of 188 games over a 15-year career.


The Sorrow and the Pity

Ian Kennedy was filled with big talk before his recent start in Triple A. Last night, he felt there was improvement in his return outing for the Yankees but the results were not splendid–five runs in five innings. The Yankee offense, dubbed “the Dead Bat Society” by N.Y. Post writer George King, mustered just two runs as the Rays won the game (5-2) and the series and sent the uninspired Bronx Bummers into last place. Scott Kazmir, fresh off a three-year extension, got the win.

Things aren’t much rosier in Queens as the Mets lost an agonizing 1-0 game yesterday afternoon (and three of four to the lowly Washington Nats). Mike Pelfry had a no hitter going into the seventh inning; Carlos Beltran got doubled off third base to end it in the ninth. After the game, outspoken closer Billy Wagner let rip in the direction of one Carlos Delgado. According to Adam Rubin in the Daily News:

“Someone tell me why the — you’re talking to the closer. I didn’t even play. They’re over there, not being interviewed.”

Wagner paused for dramatic effect. Then, in a scene reminiscent of last year’s Paul Lo Duca comments, minus the racial overtones, the closer sarcastically added: “I got it. They’re gone. —ing shocker.”

The forecast calls for steady rain today and then thunderstorms tomorrow. Maybe both teams could use an old-fashioned rainout. The way they’ve been been going recalls the title of Jimmy Breslin’s famous account of the ’62 Mets, Can’t Anybody Here Play this Game? Just goes to show, a collective $300+ million don’t buy what it used to.


IPK vs. Kaz.  Come on split.

The Other Reggie

Again, apropos of nothing, but man, he was pretty damn good, huh?

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