"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: October 2008

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Reaching Across the Aisle

Aside from the fact that most of the Series wasn’t particularly competitive, and that it involved teams I can muster only very tepid enthusiasm for or against, I had a problem getting into the Fall Classic this year simply because I’m deeply distracted – not just with work, or personal stuff, but with the *#&@ing election, with which I’ve been unhealthily obsessed for well over a year now.

Don’t get me wrong: if the Yankees or Mets had been in the Series, I would absolutely not have been so focused on silly stuff like a global economic crisis, and I would most likely have been checking baseball sites eight times a day instead of FiveThirtyEight.com (Baseball Prospectus writers: is there anything they can’t do?). As it is, it seems my baseball obsession has finally, temporarily, met its match.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk politics here; it seems no comment section is safe these days, and I myself completely lost my sense of humor on this topic weeks ago. But that’s why baseball’s more important to my mental health than ever. At a time when it sometimes seems like an innocuous remark about the weather can provoke partisan shrieking, it feels like one of the last safe havens.

In the office where I’m currently working, there’s an older man, who I’ll call Pete, a very friendly and affable guy, with whom I happen to disagree on virtually every conceivable political point. It was clear from my first day on the job a couple months back that, issues-wise, we were each more or less the other’s worst nightmare. There was, however, exactly one thing we had in common … campaign-finance reform! No, I’m kidding, you were right the first time: baseball.

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SHADOW GAMES: The Captain

Fat Paulie – who works as a super at a building on Gerard Avenue – can never decide how he feels about Halloween.

“I love the candy,” he admitted. “But I always eat too many of those little Snickers bars and get a gut ache. Then I swear not to make that mistake again.”

Fat Paulie made an even bigger mistake last year.

“I shoulda known better than to pour concrete on Halloween,” he said.

The sidewalk in front of his building was marked the next morning with: hand prints, initials, a “Joba Rules,” an “I love Derek Jeter,” and, of course, an “I (heart) Derek Jeter.”

“A little more concrete smoothed out most of that,” Fat Paulie said. “I left the Joba and Jeter stuff because I didn’t want the kids coming back and egging the windows.”

Fat Paulie knows the South Bronx.

“I started cleaning up and bagging trash at a building over on Jerome Avenue when I was a kid,” he explained. “They just called me Paulie back then, but that was a lot of Snickers bars ago.”

He patted his stomach and continued:

“I’m not pouring concrete this Halloween so the kids will probably paint something on the sidewalk. I’m betting on a big red heart with Derek Jeter in blue.

“That will be nice,” Fat Paulie went on. “Everyone knows how we feel about The Captain around here.”

News of the Day – 10/31/08

Only 106 days till pitchers and catchers report!

Here is what’s going on:

  • The Post’s George King and Bart Hubbuch state that several “industry sources” have the Yanks making a run at Manny Ramirez to fill the RF spot next season.
  • Yankee free agent filers, day 1: Abreu, Moeller, Pudge and Ponson (as per MLB.COM).
  • Take this trade rumor with a large grain of salt …. Ian Kennedy to the Rockies for Willy Taveras (from a site called bleacherreport.com, which doesn’t specify sources of the rumor)
  • MLB.COM has an article on everyone’s favorite ambidextrous pitcher, Pat Venditte. Venditte earned a Minor League Baseball Yearly award for Best Class A Short-Season Reliever.
  • Feel the desire to carve a Yankee pumpkin? Go here for the stencil.
  • Yankee prospect Humberto Sanchez is the lead writer for an MLB.COM blog following the progress of the Baby Bombers in the Arizona Fall League.
  • You may not be able to afford seats at the new stadium, but you can at least ogle the latest construction photos.
  • Lots of Bomber Birthdays today. Happy 45th birthday to one the Yankees drafted and let get away, the “Crime Dog” … Fred McGriff, and to one the Yankees acquired and should have let get away sooner … Matt Nokes. Mike Gallego turns 48 today. The immortal Paul Zuvella (who went 10 for 82 over two seasons with the Bombers) turns 50. The always humorous Mick the Quick (aka Mickey Rivers) hits the big 6-0.
  • On this date in 2001, a two-out, two-run home run by Tino Martinez in the bottom of the ninth ties Game 4 of the World Series, and Derek Jeter hits a home run in the bottom of the 10th, giving the Yanks a 3 – 2 victory over the D’backs.

Deja Vu All Over Again

The New York Giants Baseball Nostalgia Society met last night at the Church on 231st street and Kingsbridge Avenue. The group met in a big room, set up foling chairs and tables. Rich McCabe, a former Giant bat boy and guest speaker at the previous meeting (check out the video here), was back again, and he brought bats, autographed balls and jerseys. Not just Giant jerseys–Fernando’s road Dodger jersey, a Glenn Davis Astros number, Lonnie Smith’s road Braves joint.

It was cold as Richie spoke. In the hallway outside of the room, new tile was being put down and you could hear the buzzing of sanders. Somewhere else in the church, the organist was practicing–in fits and starts, which gave an unintentionally comic and sometimes surreal touch to the proceedings.

Richie delivered the same exact routine he had this summer. Almost to the word. He lost the returning members in almost no time and I felt bad for him. Only Bob Mayer looked completely content, grinning as if hearing the stories for the first time. But the bat boy schtick was all Richie had. He’s been repeating the same stories for years, he didn’t have anything to add. He could have talked about all of the jerseys but didn’t. After fifteen minutes, he realized he was bombing and said,” I’ll take questions, I don’t want to repeat myself.”

The next speaker was an old sports writer that I’ve never heard of, who had also spoken at the previous gathering. He looked like a George Price cartoon from the New Yorker and refused to use the microphone that was set up. “Unless you’re deaf, you’ll hear me.” But his low, gutteral voice was drowned-out by the organ and he too, in short order, lost the audience. Not that it seemed to bother him.

Richie sat a few feet away on the table with his autographed bats and balls. He was wearing a road Giants jersey, black pants and generic white sneakers. He had long arms which he folded in his lap. Richie hung his head, lost in thought, nodding and smiling reflexively when he heard a name from the past–Burleigh Grimes, Brick Yard Kennedy. He kicked his feet back and forth as the organ played and the old sports writer droned on, an old man who looked like a boy. The bat boy.

I was freezing by the time the sports writer finished. I chatted with some of the guys, inclduing Bill Kent, the ringleader of the group, who looked a little more like Art Carney circa Harry and Tonto than ever. He gave me a tip on a mail order cataloge (“cheapest place to buy clothes…in the country“). On the way out, I shook Bob Mayer’s hand. He seemed delighted by the speakers even though they repeated themselves. It brought him back, which is why he comes to the meetings in the first place. We laughed.

“Hey,” he said as we walked out of the church, “this meeting was like Deja Vu all over again. See you next time.”

In a Sentimental Mood

 

I visited my mother’s family in Belgium the summer I turned twelve and went to the seaside with my uncle, his girl and a bunch of their friends, all in their early twenties.  We were sitting on the boardwalk one grey, typically overcast afternoon and heard somebody playing the saxophone.  My uncle’s best friend, Beniot, a Germanic-looking guy with short, blond hair and round glasses that made him look like Thomas Dolby, began to cry.  He told me that the saxophone, the jazz saxophone, always made him cry.

Tonight I heard a guy playing the trumpet on the uptown platform of the 7th Avenue and thought about Beniot.  Dude was playing In a Sentimental Mood, slowly and beautifully, when I passed him by.  The sound of his horn made me want to cry.  But it wasn’t just that.  It was what he was playing.  That song, a standard that is almost unbearably melancholy when played right.  For close to a minute the sound drifted down the platform uniterrupted before being drowned-out by a passing downtown express train. 

Then my train arrived and I couldn’t hear the trumpet anymore.  But I could in my mind’s eye and I still felt like crying as I got on the train to come home.

 

This is my favorite version.  The Duke with John Coltrane.

Put A Bow On It

My World Series coverage comes to an end today with one final piece for SI.com, in which I list five things I took away from the 2008 fall classic.

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #49

Humility & Hubris

By Greg W. Prince

“I still don’t know why they asked me to do this commercial.”
—Marv Throneberry for Miller Lite

 

Alex Belth, apparently dizzy from inhaling Impetuous paint fumes, asked me to contribute a “classic-hater” perspective to this marvelous series of Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories. Nevertheless, despite my assigned role as the skunk that wanders into the wake — even an Irish wake — I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead. I, like many of you, know what it’s like to have the plug pulled on my ballpark against the wishes of its survivors.

I did, in fact, experience a very happy day at Yankee Stadium, my first game of five at Yankee Stadium. It was the only one the Yankees lost.

On Memorial Day 1986, I got a call from my friend Larry who used to be a Yankees fan before withdrawing from baseball altogether; he wasn’t really much of a sports fan in the first place, but the trade of Sparky Lyle to Texas drove him away for good. Anyway, he had been talking to another friend of ours, Adam, a genuine Yankees fan. There was nothing going on for either of them that day and they thought it might be fun to drive up to the Bronx from where we all lived on Long Island and see a game. They wanted to know if I wanted to go.

What a strange idea, I thought. I’d always held to a principled stand of never setting foot inside Yankee Stadium or anywhere the Yankees were playing. I refused to go on a day camp field trip in 1975 to Shea Stadium because it was for a Yankees game. At twelve years old, I was highly principled.

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My Style’s Tricky, Like Spelling Mississippi

‘Member this mid-Nineties Underground Posse cut?

Sadat, Large Pro, Puba, Finesse. ‘Nuff Said.

SHADOW GAMES: You Can Look It Up

I was reading a baseball story on the 2 train last night.

It was something I’d printed out from SI.com. Jon Heyman had plenty of good information on: CC Sabathia, Matt Holliday, Brian Cashman and Ken Griffey Jr. But I stalled halfway through a sentence somewhere around 14th Street.

“Writers have marveled at the language of…”

I had to get to a dictionary and look up: erudite.

er●u●dite ‘er-ə-dīt, ‘er-yə- adj. Characterized by great knowledge; learned or scholarly: an erudite professor; an erudite commentary.

I restarted from the beginning of Heyman’s sentence:

“Writers have marveled at the language of erudite Rays manager Joe Maddon, noting how he has used several multi-syllable college words correctly. His language does provide a nice contrast with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who hasn’t used many words correctly.”

I didn’t go to college. I guess that’s why I had to look up a multi-syllable word to understand that Heyman was taking a shot at me and a lot of other people, too.

He was clearly trying to embarrass Charlie Manuel, who is the manager of the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Heyman can look that up today.

I don’t like being talked down to. I’m guessing that Manuel doesn’t like it either because I don’t know anyone who does.

But FOX baseball broadcasters keep doing it and so do some baseball writers.

“You don’t need a college degree to love this game.”

That’s written on a wall in the Bronx. You can look it up.

News of the Day – 10/30/08

Warming up the Hot Stove to deal with the chilly weather …

  • The Post’s George King reports that Mike Mussina’s decision on retirement will probably come shortly, as his agent will be meeting with him at the end of this week.
  • King also reports that Arn Tellem, the agent for both Mussina and Jason Giambi, has mentioned that Giambi would like to be a Yankee in ’09, if the club wants him back.
  • Newsday’s Ken Davidoff opines that the Yankees are more concerned with landing a top-flight pitcher than securing Mark Teixeira. Davidoff also reports on some AFL reviews of Yankee prospects.
  • SI.COM has a pretty light-hearted interview with Derek Jeter. A few questions on how it feels to be out of the playoffs and other baseball issues. A lot of questions regarding his love life, his political affiliation and his preference in video games.
  • NY Post blogger Tim Bontemps gives us an update on how some of our guys are doing in the Arizona Fall League. Juan Miranda is tied for second in doubles (six), tied for third in triples (two), is seventh in slugging percentage (.643) and is seventh in OPS (1.071).
  • BP.COM has heard that the Brewers are leaning towards Ken Macha as their new manager, and that Willie Randolph will probably be heading to Colorado as a bench coach.
  • Happy 26th birthday to reliever Jonathan Albaladejo. A happy 46th birthday to Danny Tartabull and a happy 67th birthday to Jim Ray Hart.
  • On this date in 2001, President Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Game Three of the World Series. He was wearing a New York Fire Department windbreaker in honor of the heroes of the September 11th attacks.

Philadelphia Freedom

Last Time On “The 2008 World Series” . . .

Philadelphia fans had to figure something would go wrong Monday night, though I doubt even they could have anticipated the first suspended postseason game in major league history. The Phillies got within ten outs of their second world championship in Game 5, only to have the Rays tie the game with two outs in the top of the sixth and the umpires call for the tarp after the third out of that frame, after which it rained for 36 hours.

Prior to the 2007 season, Baseball adopted a rule stating that any tie game that is called after becoming official (five innings) would simply be suspended and resumed from the stopping point at a later date just as if it had experience any other extended rain delay. That is what the Rays and Phillies will do tonight, resuming Game 5 in the bottom of the sixth inning at 8:37pm. My preview of what I’m calling Game 5 1/2 is up on SI.com.

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Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #48

By John C. McGinley (as told to Alex Belth)

I’m spit-balling with you but my favorite memories of Yankee Stadium came from a period of time when everyone I knew was an unemployed actor. I’m from New York originally. I was born in St Vincent’s in the Village and lived in Peter Stuyvesant Town until I was ten. Then my parents moved to the suburbs in Jersey but later I went to NYU and then lived on Perry and Bleecker for close to twenty years before I finally came out here in ’91. I got out of NYC to 84 and for the next five years, everyone I knew was unemployed actors. You’d get an off-Broadway play, or a day job on a soap, but mostly it was a grind, it was a struggle.

I loved to go up to the Bronx on an afternoon and catch a game. I’d go up to a day game at 161 and find all the other unemployed actors. Some guys would go to Shea but I never rooted for the Mets until Willie became their manager a few years ago and then I loved them.

The Yankees were terrible then. It wasn’t like today, getting a ticket was no sweat even if you were dead broke. Seats weren’t hard to come by. If a scalper was eating a scalper ticket sandwich two innings into the game, you could get it on the cheap. The scalper would have to eat it by that time. So we’d start up in the cheap seats and then move down. Most of us brought our own booze in with us, everybody brought what they needed. There would only be something like 12,000 people in the Stadium on a weekday afternoon. The ushers would let you down by the dugout because they were unemployed actors too.

The one thing that was understood was that nobody asked each other what they were doing. Cause the answer was, you’re doing nothing. You’re going to a Yankee game cause the phone’s not ringing. There were no cell phones in those days so guys would get up during the game and go use a payphone to call their machine to see if anyone on the planet would give them a job. And then you’d go back and watch the game for three hours and get lost in it and be happy.

We’d bust each other’s humps and argue and see who could memorize the most statistics. Tommy Sizemore had a photographic memory that was not dissimilar to Bob Costas’s ability to recall stats and facts. I was so pathetic I’d bring Roger Angell books up. I read his stuff in the New Yorker and his collections. Halberstam’s writing in the Summer of ’49 and especially The Teammates. I’m a sucker for baseball writing because the game lends itself to poetic prose. Some people think it’s too much but I think it’s great. So we’d talk about baseball and be having a good time.

I loved Yankee Stadium because of the colors and the smells and the potential for anything to happen in the bottom of the ninth. Baseball dictates that you can always come back and even in those years when the team was awful anything could happen. It was the perfect place to be for a young, unemployed actor. Things just seemed unlimited. Day games are from God. They are the greatest.

John C. McGinley plays Dr. Perry Cox on NBC’s Scrubs.

New Digs

My wife Emily and I painted our apartment a few months back.  When we got to the bedroom, we chose a pale green.  “Green is a tricky color,” my mother said, and sure enough when we stared slapping it on the walls, we realized we had made a mistake. 

Lesson: Never buy a color called “Impetuous.”  So we tried another shade of green, which we liked…until the sun went down and our room turned into something out of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. 

Wait til we put the pictures back, then it will look better.  Emily gave in.  The thought of re-painting was worse than living in a Fun House.  And eventually, with the pictures back on the wall, it did start to feel like home. 

The new site here doesn’t feel like home yet.  It has that new car vibe.  The technology is new, there are two new contributors, and a bunch of issues to address–the archives, the comment section, the links.  It has been overwhelming.  Exciting, but strange and new. 

I’m amped about where we are headed.  I just wanted to let you know, that I empathize with some of your reactions to the change and appreciate all of the feedback you’ve provided.  It’s going to take a minute, and things will continue to be tweaked over the next couple of months, but we’re working on it, and you aren’t alone in getting used to the new digs. 

Thanks for coming back.

SHADOW GAMES: Dangerous Business

Gordon Whiten – a 64-year-old janitor from the Bronx – always catches the 2 train at Jackson Avenue before 6:00 a.m. There’s usually enough room on the last car for him to stretch out, drink his coffee and read the newspaper.

This morning he hoisted his cup and made a toast:

“I know this is dangerous business, but old habits are hard to break.”

Whiten took a big swig and explained:

“If the cops catch me drinking coffee on the train I’m going down for sure. I’ve seen people get tickets for just holding an empty cup. But the coppers ain’t usually out this early so I’m gonna keep going.”

Whiten is headed downtown to the same job he’s had for 45 years.

“They call me a Maintenance Engineer nowadays,” he said, “but that’s just a fancy name. Being a janitor isn’t the greatest job, but having any job is pretty good.”

There was a time when he hoped for more.

“I wanted to be a ballplayer just like every kid does,” Whiten admitted. “I still think about it sometimes when I’m at Yankee Stadium or watching on television.”

He laughed to himself and then continued:

“It’s an old man’s dream now, but any kind of dream can be dangerous business.”

Whiten took another gulp of coffee and went back to his newspaper.

News of the Day – 10/29/08

Happy Humpday … here now the news!

  • MLB.COM’s Anthony DiComo has some big news from the mouth of Brian Cashman:
  1. Chien-Ming Wang got a thumbs up from the doctors after a pain-free bullpen session Monday.
  2. He wouldn’t comment on whether the Yanks would discipline Joba Chamberlain for his recent DUI incident.
  3. He isn’t counting on Mussina returning for 2009, at least at this point.
  • ESPN reports that Willie Randolph denied a report stating he was interested in a coaching job with the Nats. Randolph is being considered for the managerial position in Milwaukee. (Thanks to Baseball Musings for the link)
  • USA Today has a piece penned by Gary Thorne detailing the issue of tax-exempt bonds being used to finance new stadiums (Mets, Yanks, Nets). It is noted that teams are getting “interest-free loans” through the issuance of tax-exempt federal bonds for construction of the stadiums and allowing them to pay them back in place of taxes. However, as of Friday, the IRS revised their regulations to prevent future deals where tax-free bonds could be used in this manner to avoid taxes.
  • Over at SI.COM, Jon Heyman has some tasty Yankee tidbits:
  1. If you believe Jimmy Rollins (a good friend of C.C. Sabathia), the Yankees will end up the winner of the Sabathia Sweepstakes.
  2. Matt Holliday intrigues the Yanks, but they are wary of his home/road splits.
  3. One of the reasons Brian Cashman stayed with the Bombers was because Pat Gillick warned him to avoid the Mariners opening at all costs.
  • Happy 33rd birthday to former Yankee (and Banter punchline) Karim Garcia. Also, a happy 49th b-day to the cannon-armed (and once traded for Banter fave Al Leiter) Jesse Barfield.

Going Out On Top?

Mike Mussina hasn’t told the Yankees yet if he wants to play next year. At least, no one’s telling if he has. Baseball puts a moratorium on such announcements during the World Series (even if Scott Boras doesn’t comply), but rumor has it he’s leaning toward retirement. I, for one, would love to have Mussina come back for a variety of reasons stretching from his actual performance, to his influence on the Yankees’ young starters, to the likely brevity of his contract, to my own selfish need to hear some legitimately introspective and wickedly sarcastic postgame comments every five days.

Unfortunately, rumor has Mussina leaning in the other direction. Indeed, at the conclusion of Living on the Black, John Feinstein’s plodding account of Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine’s 2007 seasons, Mussina, speaking at the conclusion of his rough 2007 season, sounds convinced that 2008 would be his last year:

“I’m not going to be one of these players who announces his retirement five different times. But right now, I don’t see myself pitching after this year. I’m not going to be close enough to three hundred [wins], even if I have a good year, that I’m going to want to come back for at least two more years and, realistically, three more years.

“In 2006, I pitched about as well as I could have hoped to pitch, and I won fifteen games. If I win fifteen games a year–stay healthy, pitch well, all of that–for the next three years, I would still be five wins short of three hundred, and I’d be forty-two years old. What’s more, my older son will be a teenager by then, and my younger one is only a few years behind. I don’t want to come home just when they’re saying, ‘See ya, Dad.’

“I’ve had a good career. I’m lucky to be in a position that whenever I retire, I don’t have to do anything. I can pick and choose what I want to do or what I don’t want to do. If I have a great year, that might make it harder to walk away. But my plan right now is to walk away, and when the calls come the next spring from teams desperate for pitching, my answer–even if I’m tempted–will be no.”

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We Took Some Pictures of the Native Girls But they Weren’t Developed

But we’re going back again in a couple of weeks…

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #47

By Will Leitch

(Writer’s Note: I wrote this piece in October 2003, right after Aaron Boone hit his epic home run to briefly stave off the impending Red Sox juggernaut. Five years later, I’m a little embarrassed by it. It betrays a New York newbie’s naivete and dopey slack-jawedness about this strange new city in which he found himself. But I still thought about this story’s Jerry every time I went to Yankee Stadium, and, all told, I still think about him a little every time I ever go to a game anywhere.)

Thanks to the glory of blind Internet luck, I scored tickets to Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, for the blood feud between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. My seats were in the right field bleachers, notoriously the most profane, obnoxious and uproarious section in Yankee Stadium, probably in all of baseball.

Manhattan interlopers like myself, and outsiders who only know what they see on HBO, have a distorted view of what the people of New York City are like. They see glammed up urbanites in high heels and Prada sunglasses, sipping martinis and staying out until 4 a.m. They see artists, they see writers, they see stockbrokers, they see the fast living, non-stop, run run run lifestyle, the one that embodies Manhattan, the one that makes everyone want to come here, and they think that’s what life is like in New York. And for a certain, tiny-but-endlessly-self-promotional section of the population, I suppose it is.

But the real New York can be found in right field of the Yankee Stadium bleachers.

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SHADOW GAMES: Empty

There is an empty building on Walton Avenue in the Bronx. Four families were living there just last week, but they’re gone now and no one is sure exactly where they went.

Some may be staying with relatives in Astoria and others might be with friends in Washington Heights. It’s said that a few are already on their way back to Mali in Western Africa.

One of the men stood on the sidewalk and cursed the building when the bank was closing in. His family and his brother’s family along with two others had put nearly 10 years into a down payment. They drove cabs and worked construction and delivered pizzas and on Saturday and Sunday mornings they waited along Third Avenue for a van to take them to work at a warehouse in Red Hook or a fruit farm Upstate.

They moved into their home four years ago and thought it was forever, but time ran out just like it has for so many other families. They left in the middle of the night and piled what they couldn’t carry – several boxes of books, four chairs, two tables, a lamp and an old mattress – at the curb.

Two boys from the neighborhood found a use for the mattress.

“You try to block the plate,” one of the boys yelled from up the street.

The other boy turned his hat backwards and crouched in front of the mattress. A collision was avoided when the catcher stepped aside and swiped a tag.

“Safe!” the runner shouted as he slid across the mattress.

“I tagged you,” the catcher shot.

No one was going to win this argument. And no family feels safe on Walton Avenue or anywhere else these days.

[Photo Via It's a Long Season]

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