"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: June 2008

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Keep it Rollin’

Yo, I just wanted a chance to post a picture of Kent Tekulve, a name that I couldn’t pronounce for the life of me when I was a kid. 

Let’s Go Moose!

Pen and Tell Us

Over at BP, Kevin Goldstein has the lowdown on which Yankee farm hands could replace Joba as Mo’s set-up guy. In order of “prospecty goodness”:

Marc Melancon: Someone didn’t give Melancon the note about Tommy John survivors having problems getting their control back. In 54 innings this year, the former University of Arizona star has walked just 10, while limiting opposing batters to a .209 batting average. Both his sinking fastball and his hard curve rate as plus pitches, and with the way he’s throwing at Double-A (1.57 ERA in 11 games), he could be in line for a September look.

David Robertson: As a small righty, Robertson doesn’t pass the scouting sniff test, but he keeps getting hitters out, easing concerns about his height. In over 130 innings as a pro, he’s yet to give up a home run, and in 28 appearances between Double- and Triple-A this year, he has a 1.74 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings. With a low-90s fastball and outstanding slider, Robertson may not have Melancon’s upside, but he might get the call sooner.

J. Brent Cox: Like Melancon, Cox missed all of last year due to reconstructive elbow surgery, and like Melancon he’s impressed people upon his return. Spread across three levels and now at Triple-A, Cox has posted a 1.38 ERA in 22 games. The one knock against him is that he doesn’t miss many bats (only 13 in 26 innings), but he makes up for it by inducing a good number of groundballs.

If You Can’t Walk the Walk Don’t Talk the Talk

After the first game of the inter-city double header tomorrow, Lo-Hud columnist Sam Borden is going to troop from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to Shea out in Flushing, Queens. It’s a ten mile hike. Sam has set-up a donation page at The American Cancer Society. Yesterday, in an e-mail, he wrote “This isn’t something The Journal News is involved with or affiliated with, which is why I’m not publicizing it on the paper’s web site. It’s just something I think is important, and am hoping to get as many people to know about it as possible.” So, yo, good cause here, peoples. If I didn’t have to work tomorrow and wasn’t still gimpy with a bad ankle, it’s just the kind of thing I’d love to join. Regardless, I’ll post Sam’s write-up on Saturday.

Thank You.

Yer Welcome.

The Lumber Company

(… title courtesy of Alex Belth, thus sparing you all from the truly repugnant Joba-related puns I’d been planning. You owe him more thanks than you’ll ever know).

I missed Tuesday night’s game, which was apparently for the best. On Wednesday, by contrast, the Yankees were able to meet the goal Joe Girardi set for them during his pre-game interview: “to not stink." Indeed, the team smelled like lilacs and Driven during their 10-0 cruise past the Pirates.

Joba! I’m sure eventually we’ll all settle down and get used to Chamberlain pitching every fifth game, but the bloom’s not off the rose yet. Plus “Joba!” is still super fun to say. He was excellent last night, throwing 6.2 controlled innings of 7 K, 1 BB, 0 R ball and earning his first official win (though the Yankees won the last three games he started, too).

For the most part, Chamberlain dominated. He got in a bit of a jam in the second inning, with two runners on and no out, but both had reached base on relatively soft base hits, and Chamberlain followed with a strikeout and a fly out. Jack Wilson then stroked a hit to short right field, but Pirates third base coach Tony Beasley made the puzzling decision to send Ryan Doumit – who, remember, is a catcher – home from second, even though Abreu was already picking up the ball as Doumit rounded third. (Third base coach: one of those thankless jobs where, if people actually know your name, it means you’ve screwed something up). Abreu’s throw home was good, and Jorge Posada stood there waiting for Doumit for so long that he would’ve had time to plant a small spice garden next to the batter’s box if he’d felt like it. Inning over, and that’s about as sticky as things ever got.

As for the offense, the Yankees picked away at Zach Duke until he was removed for a pinch-hitter after five innings, at which point they unloaded on the Pirates relievers. Whether this was a “the bats are waking up!” moment or a “the Pirates’ bullpen is terrible!” moment, I’m not entirely sure.

The scoring began in the first, when Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu scored on a Jason Giambi groundout – helped out by an error on Pirates’ shortstop Jack Wilson, the victim of an aggressive (though clean) Alex Rodriguez slide into second. The (newly darkened!) Porn ‘Stache of Doom struck again in the third, scoring Jeter, who had his best game in many moons: three hits, two of them doubles. On top of that, he eked out a hard-earned walk in the sixth that set the stage for the game’s biggest blast, a three-run Bobby Abreu homer that broke the game open. Robinson Cano homered, too, and had three hits total; every starter had at least one, except Chamberlain, and even he did his part offensively.

At the plate, Joba takes just the kind of swings you’d expect him to: full speed ahead, aiming for the fences, to the near-hysterical amusement of the Yankees bench. I was briefly concerned that Jeter and Posada were going to pull something, they were laughing so hard. Chamberlain did work a walk his first time up, however, then laid down a nice bunt his next time up, and finally got some good wood on the ball in the sixth, though he hit it straight to the right fielder. When his flare was caught Joba strode off the field all serious and poker faced, until he got a few feet from the dugout, at which point he could no longer suppress a massive, infectious grin.

He finished his night in with two outs in the seventh inning, not quite able to close it out before his pitch count climbed to 114 (76 of them strikes); but Ross Ohlendorf finished the frame for him, and Jose Veras preserved both the win and the shutout in the ninth.

Finally, much has been written about the 1960 World Series, but I recently happened across a nice piece of writing about the 1927 Series between the Yanks and the Pirates. This was one hell of an overmatch; that ’27 New York team, as I’m sure most of you know, won 110 games and is widely considered one of the most dominant ever. It’s by Frank Graham, who covered the team for the old New York Sun, and I found it in an old book called Press Box: Red Smith’s Favorite Sports Stories. (Which has a few gems, in case you’re wondering, but an awful lot of pieces on boxing and horse racing, neither of which I’m very invested in unless I have money on the line). Here’s Graham on the day the Yanks arrived in Pittsburgh, and took batting practice before the first game:

In the stand the Waner brothers, great ballplayers in their own right but little men, stood talking with Ken Smith, New York Mirror reporter, as the Yankees slugged the ball. Ruth hit one over the fence in center field, Gehrig hit one high in the seats in right field. Meusel hit one over the fence in left field. Lloyd turned to Paul.

"Jesus," he said fervently. "They’re big guys!"

Paul shook his head. The Waners walked out. Most of their teammates followed them. They had seen enough. It is undoubtedly true that right there the Yankees won the Series. Before a ball had been pitched in competition, they had convinced the Pirates that theirs was a losing cause.

And, later in the article, with the Yanks up two games to none and back in New York:

…a newspaperman in a cab with Lazzeri and three other players said:

"If you fellows don’t wind this Series up in these next two games, I’ll shoot you."

And Lazzeri said: "If we don’t beat these bums four in a row, you can shoot me first."

The other players nodded. That’s the way everybody on the ball club felt.

Here’s my question: who would win a Series between the 1927 and 1998 Yankees? I’m inclined to think that modern athletes — bigger, fitter, stronger, possibly injecting cattle hormones — will generally win out, but how do you bet against Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at their absolute peaks, plus a staff of Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, and the fabulously named Urban Shocker? Discuss.

Stop: Joba Time

Yanks need a lift from their young gun.  I expect the offense will get the led out too.

Let’s Go Yan-Kees!

Diggin’ in the Crates Vol 1

I don’t have as many records as I once did.  It’s what happens when you live in a small space and have a life long habit of collecting more stuff.  In with the baseball books, out with the records, you know how it goes.  I’ve sold some vinyl, and put the majority of them my collection storage, leaving me with just a couple of hundred at the crib.  I don’t know if there is a story behind every record I own, at least not a good story, but there usually is a fond memory, so I figure I’d start a new series, highlighting a piece of wax each week.

First up is the dancehall classic Bam Bam performed by Sister Nancy:

It’s been sampled to death, but my favorite treatment is “Just Hangin’ Out” from Main Source’s debut album. 

Back before re-issues flooded the market about a decade ago, you actually had to hunt around for records.  This one wasn’t that hard to find but it took me a minute.  When I found it, the store clerk, a Dub afficiando, sniffed at me.  “That isn’t even the best track on the record.”  Maybe not.  There are a few other good joints.  But none as memorable as “Bam, Bam.”  Least not for my money.



Flunk Me, Flunk You

HBO is planning a retrospective.  Peep, don’t sleep.

Jay Jaffe is pretty funny too.



Johnny Damon is hurting. According to the Post, he could be headed to the DL. Pete Abe says Hideki Matsui won’t be playing the outfield anytime soon.

The Awful Truth

Bottom Line:

“The whole game bothered me, we stunk, we stunk,” Girardi said. “We keep putting [runners] out there. We have to turn it around because we are missing opportunities. We had a lot of opportunities. The defense didn’t help us, the pitching didn’t help us and the runners in scoring position …”

…”I don’t think he needed to express that,” said Alex Rodriguez, who went 0-for-5 and hitless in two at-bats with runners in scoring position. “We all were upset.”
(N.Y. Post)

The Bad News Bears Go to PNC


Have Bats, Will Travel

Due to a quirk in our schedule, Cliff isn’t available to present his usual series preview tonight (he’ll miss the Subway Serious too, but will be back for the Rangers). I’m not going to even front and try to do what he does so well. But I can tell you that I’m really looking forward to watching this series, and not only because the Yankees should be able to handle the Pirates. No, it’s more because PNC ballpark is one of the most breath-taking Stadiums in the country. At least it is on TV. Which means it’ll be three times dope on HD-TV.

The cityscape beyond the center field wall is a tremendous sight. I’ve never been but a few years ago they held some kind of throwback night where they turned off the electric scoreboard and the booming soundtrack. They only effects that night came from the organist. I can’t recall wanting to be at a non-Yankee game more in recent years. Another time, during Rickey Henderson’s final year with the Mets, the legend was thrown out attempting to steal second base. As he trotted off the field, the organist played "The Old Gray Mare." Now, that’s old-timey style.

So, instead of our regular preview, let me direct you over to our good pal Pete Abe, who has the starting line-ups, pitching match-ups as well as a couple of roster moves (we have a new face in left tonight).

Ain’t nuthin else much to say ‘cept the obvious:

Let’s Go Yan-Kees.

The Sweet Sound of Summer

Lovely piece by John Branch in the Times the other day about an 89-year old organist Lambert Bartak.  Worth a click.  Man, baseball organists are a beautiful thing, no?

Switch my Pitch Up

I’m a sucker for oral histories.  I just love ’em.  They are the kinds of books you can pick-up and put-down at your leisure.  And they don’t have to be perfect in order to stimulate convesation, debate, and get the old juices flowing.  Change Up: An Oral History of 8 Key Events that Shaped Modern Baseball, by Larry Burke and Pete Foranatele is a fine addition to your baseball library. You can argue about the chapter selection, which is half the fun, but that’d really be missing the point, because it is what is in the chapters that’s winning.

Here is Thomas Boswell on the one-of-a-kind shortstop, Cal Ripken, Jr.

Everyone on Earth saw that he was a prototypical third baseman except for one person: Earl Weaver.  Only Weaver had the imagination to see that Bobby Bonner needed to go and that Ripken would work as a shortstop.  I was covering the team then as the daily beat writer and there is no question that this was 100 percent Earl Weaver against universal indifference or mild hostility to the idea from everybody else in baseball.  Nobody else though Cal Ripken could play shortstop.  Period.  Anybody who says differently wasn’t there and is wrong.

I guess we can credit Weaver for helping pave the way for Jeter and Rodriguez. 

In a wonderful chapter on the Latino Wave, here’s Luis Tiant:

I don’t go to my country for 46 years.  I want to go before I die to see my country, to see some of my family, if they’re still alive.  I haven’t had contact with them for a long time.  My aunts–I think, I know I have a couple of aunts still alive.  One time I was on a cruise ship over there in Key West.  You can see Cuba right there.  It was so close you could see the cars and the people.  It makes you sad.  You’re that close and you can’t go to your country.  Forty-six years here is a long time.  You say the number easy, but it’s a long time, a lot of days and nights.  A lot of Latino players from the other countries, like two weeks before the season was over they all talk and laugh, "I’m going to go back to my country and go to Christmas and eat and party every day."  And, I sit down there and listen to them, and they’re happy.  All of these lucky guys.  They can go back to their countries, and I don’t know when I’m going to go.  It’s amazing.  It’s a real bad feeling.  You have to do what you have to do.

For a more detailed look at baseball in Cuba, check out Michael Lewis’ long piece for Vanity Fair.

Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep, Yeah

I like driving enough.  I got my permit at sixteen like everyone else in the suburbs.  But I’ve never owned a car, never cared to, and have never had anything but a passing interest in them.  I live in a city where you don’t need a car–though that never stopped my old man, one of the true Manhattan crackpots who prefer having a car (he knew the alternate side of the street laws better than he knew the Passover Haggadah).  As a kid, I loved saying the word "Volvo," and could recognize the boxy cars easily.  Everyone loved a VW bug.  But my favorite American car was a Cadillac.  And only becacuse I liked the how the tail lights looked.  

I have a general memory of being a kid leaving my grandparents apartment at night.  As we waited for my father to pull the car around, we waited under the canopy of 15 West 81st street, across the street from the Hayden Planetarium and the Museum of Natural History, I looked at the bright red and yellow lights moving up and down the street.  I was usually half-asleep.  I remember being captivated by tail lights on the Caddy’s.  They weren’t the usual, blocky lights, they were sleek slits of lights, standing erect. 

My other favorite car was the plump, old Citroen’s, which I saw often during visits to my mother’s family in Belgium.  They really did it for me.

Any of you guys care about cars? 

If so, which ones float yer boat?

Chew on This

Derek Jeter is the leading vote-getter in the American League for the All-Star Game. He’s the guy you want to build a team around, he’s the most overrated player in the game. He’s a future Hall of Famer, yet Jeter has struggled through much of the first half of the season. Mark Feinsand has a good piece on the Yankee captain in the News today:

Jeter won’t even offer a guess at the reason for his declining numbers, but Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long has his own theory.

“I can tell you that he probably lost 30-35 points in his average due to his hand injury, but he’d never admit that,” Long said. “His swing wasn’t the same, he was favoring it and he got into some problems when it came to staying behind the baseball, which has always been his strength. He still contributed and helped us in other ways, but his hitting suffered.”

…Jeter began expanding his strike zone, swinging at pitches on the corners or off the plate. As Long watched those bad habits, he knew something wasn’t right.

“How much damage can you do with a pitch that’s (a foot) off the plate?” Long said. “Since he’s been healthy, he’s had to get out of some of those bad habits, and now he’s starting to put a little something together.”

Meanwhile, in the New York Sun, Steven Goldman explains why the Yanks should move Melky Cabrera:

The reason the Yankees can deal their starting center fielder for need without opening up another hole is the performance of prospect Brett Gardner at Triple-A Scranton. The speedy center fielder is currently batting .292/.408/.436 with 10 doubles, nine triples, three home runs, and 52 walks in 73 games. He has also stolen 29 bases in 37 attempts. Gardner, 24, will not be an impact player in the major leagues. However, given his patience, a .275 batting average, and his ability to run balls down with his speed, he should be at least as productive as Cabrera and provide a better on-base threat at the bottom of the order, creating more opportunities for Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and the top of the lineup.

Finally, could the end be near for Mike and the Angry Puppy? Say it ain’t so.

Seriously Funny

For more than ten years I’ve talked about records, record labels, record producers, rare 45 b-sides and comedians with my dear friend Alan who knows more about records and record history than anyone I know, and it’s not even close.  When we see each other, we usually go right into an old Carlin routine, or a Lenny Bruce sketch, or Bugs Bunny riff.  Alan was the first guy I thought of this morning. When he got into work and saw the red light on his phone, he knew who the message was from


Wino Time, Bing-Bong, Five Minutes Past the Big Hour of Five O’Clock

 I couldn’t resist.

Here’s my beard.
Ain’t it wierd?
Don’t be sceered,
Just a beard.

Card Corner–Mike Paxton



Yes, I know what you’re thinking: A dreaded Red Sock. (Or is it Red Sox?) But there is method to my folly. After all, this card comes from Topps’ 1978 set, the favorite set of Bronx Banter chieftain Alex Belth. And it is an intriguing card because of its rather surreal appearance.

Over the years, Topps has airbrushed logos and uniform colors on countless cards, but during the seventies and eighties it was pretty rare for the company to use anything but actual photographs of players on the cards. In this case, we find an example of a card that seemingly had no photograph, only an apparent drawing, from the cap and the uniform to the player’s face, neck, and hair.

So who is Mike Paxton and why was a picture of him drawn onto his 1978 Topps rookie card (No. 216), rather than photographed? Well, I could answer the first question easily enough, but the second query remained a bit of a mystery. An ordinary player, Mike Paxton is probably best remembered for being included in the trade that sent Dennis Eckersley from the Indians to the Red Sox; in the deal, Eckersley and backup catcher Fred Kendall went to Boston in exchange for Paxton, veteran right-hander Rick Wise, third baseman Ted Cox, and catcher Bo Diaz. Prior to the trade, Paxton had risen through the Red Sox’ farm system in the mid-1970s, emerging as one of their better pitching prospects despite the lack of an overpowering fastball. As a rookie in 1977, Paxton made an immediate impact, winning 10 of 15 decisions as a sometime starter and reliever. Standing only 5’11" and sporting a lower body nearly as bowlegged as Bucky Dent, Paxton compensated for a lack of velocity with tenacity and a willingness to throw inside that earned him the nickname, "Bulldog."

More significantly, the soft-spoken Paxton was—and presumably still is—deeply religious, a devout Baptist and a member of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes. Initially, I thought that explained why his image was drawn and not photographed for the 1978 Topps card. Although I hadn’t been able to verify this through any written documentation, I had heard it speculated that Paxton and another pitcher, Seattle Mariners left-hander Rick Jones (who was featured on a 1977 Topps card), didn’t want to be photographed on their cards for religious reasons. Topps has always negotiated its contracts with players on an individual basis, so it seemed possible that Paxton and Jones specifically made the request for drawings, and not photographs, on their cards. While the religious interpretation seemed like as good a reason as any in explaining why a photograph wouldn’t be used at a time when photos of players were in large supply, it didn’t explain why Paxton’s two subsequent Topps cards (1979 and ’80) featured photographs and not drawings. Thus, the mystery continued.

As it turned out, religious reasons had nothing to do with the "drawings" on the Mike Paxton and Rick Jones cards. There existed a much simpler explanation, which I received from former Yankee public relations man Marty Appel, who has also done public relations work for Topps over the years. Appel says that it was simply a case of Topps not having color photographs for either player. As a result, Topps took a couple of black-and-white photos and "colorized" them, giving them the effect of looking like drawings. So technically this card does feature a photograph, though it has been given the Ted Turner treatment.

Yes, sometimes there are easy answers to seemingly complex mysteries; you simply have to know whom to ask.

Bruce Markusen writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLBlogs at MLB.com.

Tell Us a Story

When it comes down to it, the story is the thing. Whether we are talking about one of the great comics like George Carlin, or a great movie, a magazine article or blog entry, we are attracted to stories and to storytellers. Baseball of course is replete with wonderful stories, some true, some not. (As Rob Neyer explores in his new book, sometimes the truth can only get in the way of a good story.)

Has anyone ever read Prophet of the Sandlots, Mark Winegardner’s gem of a book about travelling with Tony Lucadello, one of the most successful scouts in big league history? If you haven’t, there aren’t many baseball books I’d recommend more. Lucadello signed a ton of guys, including Jim Brosnan, Alex Johnson, Toby Harrah, Larry Hisle, Fergie Jenkins and Mike Schmidt. Like many scouts, he was a great storyteller. Here is a scene, featuring Carl Loewenstine, one of Lucadello’s protogees:

Though Carl is in his late thirties, with a drawl, a bushy red mustache, a chaw of tobacco, a Dodgers World Series ring, and friends in the country-music business, he has more in common with his mentor than appearances suggest.  After Tony secured him the full-time job with the Phillies in 1979, Carl was first assigned to the Deep South.  As we sat in an unheated press box in rain-soaked Dayton watching mediocre playes flail about on a muddy field, Carl started telling stories.  The best involved a quaest into deepest bayou country on the trail of a huge high-school dropout with a blazing fastball, no shoes, a drinking problem, and a pregnant twelve-year-old girl friend.  Carl ended up signing the kid, whose can’t-miss fastball couldn’t save him when he left his minor league team in Oklahoma to rob a bank, tryingo to get enough money for the girl friend to buy her own house.

I asked why baseball has always been such fertile territory for stories and storytellers. My theory is that ball players, coaches, and scouts have so much time to kill that those who can tell the best, funniest, most ornate stories are naturally the most popular, which helps them stay in baseball, which allows them to amass and embellish more stories.  Carl nodded, spat, and said maybe so.  "My own theory on that," he said, "is that every player in major league baseball has overcome the odds.  Only a tiny fraction of the players who are stars in high school or college ever get signed.  Then, probably only one in two hundred of those players make it to the majors.  Then, only about half of the those players stay around long enough to say so. Of the ones who do, most are out of the game in five or six years.  Your players who make it, really make it, are one in several million.  Everybody’s a long shot.  But there’s always that chance.  And that’s the great equalizer, the thing you’ll find in most every real baseball story.”

Ah, to be able to hang with the likes of grouchy old’ Don Zimmer for a spell. Or Joe Torre. David Cone might offer some good ones as the season rolls along, and I bet Giambi’s got more than few good stories to tell, dont’ ya think?

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