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Monthly Archives: November 2008

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SHADOW GAMES: Right On Time

Donnie Evans had a stroke four years ago when he was only 39. It left him with a dead arm, a pronounced limp and the ability to deal with a little bad timing.

“It looks like the boat from Staten Island just came in,” he said as the 1 train rolled into South Ferry. “I’ll give the crowd a few minutes to thin out. That makes it easier for everyone.”

Evans stood at the far end of the platform while the crush of people cleared. Then he headed for work with stiff, labored steps aided by a cane.

“I’m like a puppet with someone yanking my strings,” Evans said with a laugh. “I used to be embarrassed by how I walk, but that’s all behind me.”

Evans left a lot behind.

“I had to ditch the self-pity and take a hard look at myself,” Evans said. “It wasn’t easy, but I’m a better person because of it.”

He’s also better because of a single meeting with baseball legend Buck O’Neil.

“I talked to him at a Minor League game several years before I had the stroke,” Evans explained. “He packed so much kindness and wisdom into the few minutes we shared that it all came back to me when I hit my lowest point.

“Buck went through so much and never felt sorry for himself,” Evans continued. “I know our situations are different, but I’ve tried to face the rest of my life the same way he faced his: With honor and decency.”

O’Neil liked to say that he came along right on time.

Evans smiled and said:

“He sure did for me.”

News of the Day – 11/26/08

No turkeys here … just the news:

  • Tom Boorstein of SNY.TV gives us something to feel good about …. the Yankees bullpen depth going into 2009:

… The Yankees didn’t have any shortage of capable arms last season. No one except Mariano Rivera perfect, but most people in the ‘pen outside of LaTroy Hawkins had extended stretches of quality pitching. None of them appears to have been particularly lucky either.

(Girardi) didn’t have a true stud setup man a la Scot Shields of the mid-2000s or Rafael Betancourt of 2007. But he did have more than his share of guys who more than filler. By not relying on one or two arms exclusively — ahem, Joe Torre — Girardi discovered he had multiple trustworthy options warming up behind Monument Park. Yes, (Edwar) Ramirez had his rough stretches in which he gave up home run after home run, but Girardi didn’t bury him. He used him in some lower-leverage situations until he felt ready again to bring him in a big spot. He had a similar approach with Veras. He even stopped using (Kyle) Farnsworth, a personal favorite, during his struggles in April and May.

Want more good news about the bullpen? The Yankees have plenty of potential that wasn’t tapped in 2008. Humberto Sanchez brought over in the Gary Sheffield deal, has been plagued by injuries but has big-league stuff. Brian Bruney walks too many hitters. But if he harnesses his control and can turn in a full season — he missed a good portion of 2008 with a foot injury — he could be a nice middle reliever. Jonathan Albaladejo, whom the Yankees fleeced acquired from the Nationals in exchange for Tyler Clippard, will be coming off a shoulder injury but has a promising arm. And don’t forget Chris Britton, who has never gotten a true shot despite his more-than-capable performance at Triple-A and in brief Major League stints during the past two seasons.

  • The L.A. Times reports that the Angels, failing to gain any traction in re-signing Mark Teixeira, are now focusing on C.C. Sabathia:

The Angels appear reluctant to guarantee more than seven years in a contract for Teixeira, said a source familiar with the club’s thinking. They appear more likely at this time to pursue Sabathia, with an offer in the range of Johan Santana’s six-year, $137.5-million contract with the New York Mets.

Teixeira remains the Angels’ top priority — the club would sign him but does not want to miss out on Sabathia while waiting to see whether Teixeira’s asking price falls. The Angels are not believed to have made a formal offer to either player.

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One more last glance at the old Stadium

A Yankee-loving friend of mine reminded me of this great look behind the scenes of the old Stadium, in a March 2008 Times article from Tyler Kepner.

An excerpt:

Canó is only 25, but he felt the tug of history when he visited a storage room beside the Yankees’ batting cage two years ago. He was taken there by Reggie Jackson and Ray Negron, a Yankees adviser who featured the room in his children’s book, “The Boy of Steel.”

The room is used for repairs to the 55,000 or so seats in the stadium. It is cluttered with plastic seatbacks and wrought-iron frames. There are workbenches and boxes, and one of the pillars in the room is splotched with graffiti.

But another pillar is holy ground. Upon it is a rendering by the artist James Fiorentino, who has depicted three Yankees captains — Derek Jeter, Thurman Munson and Lou Gehrig, who is shown weeping.

Negron, who has worked for the Yankees since 1973, said Gehrig’s widow once told him the room was a refuge for her husband when a degenerative nerve disease was ravaging his body. When Gehrig needed privacy, he would retreat to that room. His wife would wait by a side door, just up a ramp beside the old bullpen, and take him home.

Nearby is a room with happier memories for a Yankees icon of a later generation. In the late 1970s and 1980s, only two people had keys to the room: the clubhouse manager, Jimmy Esposito; and the star pitcher Ron Guidry. It is where Guidry stored his drum set.

“I played the drums before I pitched to make my wrists strong,” Guidry said. “It was the storage room for when you had a day at the stadium — Hat Day, Bat Day, whatever it was, all the stuff would be in that room. It was a big room, and it made a left, and back there was just excess storage space. So I brought them in, and I usually would play them right before I went to pitch.”

Kepner also narrates a slide show of the old Stadium here.

Enjoy!

Musical Chairs: The Outfield and DH


The Yankees have a lot of parts that could use some fixin’. The team has decided to focus on the starting rotation despite the many young starting pitching prospects working their way up through the organization. Last week, I largely focused on first base, where the Yankees have a big hole and the free agent market offers the perfect player to fill it. During the 2008 season, two major areas of concern were second base and catcher, but the Yankees have very talented players signed to long-term contracts at each of those positions, both of which are very shallow in terms of the talent available league-wide. Third base is not broken, nor, for the moment is shortstop or the bullpen, but the Yankees’ outfield and designated hitter situation very much is.

Here are the players who started for the Yankees at the three outfield positions and DH last year:

Player Starts LF CF RF DH Stats OPS+
Bobby Abreu 152 - - 148 4 .296/.371/.471 120
Johnny Damon 133 75 33 - 25 .303/.375/.461 118
Melky Cabrera 112 1 109 2 - .249/.301/.341 68
Hideki Matsui 88 20 - 2 66 .294/.370/.424 108
Xavier Nady 58 45 - 6 7 .268/.320/.474 105
Brett Gardner 32 15 17 - - .228/.283/.299 53
Jason Giambi 26 - - - 26 .247/.418/.506 140*
Jorge Posada 15 - - - 15 .231/.365/.385 97*
Justin Christian 10 6 3 1 - .250/.320/.325 65
3 others 13 - - 3 10
Total LF 162 162 - - - .284/.349/.427 98*
Total CF 162 - 162 - - .261/.320/.391 89*
Total RF 162 - - 162 - .290/.362/.451 104*
Total DH 153 - - - 153 .282/.378/.461 118*

*adjusted for position

Center field was a disaster, the aggregate numbers at the position having been inflated slightly by Johnny Damon’s .294/.378/.529 line in 33 starts there. With Damon helping out in center and DH, the team’s performance in left field dipped below average. Designated hitter was also buoyed by Damon, but even moreso by the outstanding work of Jason Giambi, who has since departed as a free agent, as well as seven strong starts from Alex Rodriguez (.333/.414/.625). Meanwhile, Bobby Abreu, who started all but ten games in right field and kept that position in the black, has also headed off to find perhaps his final fortune as a free agent, leaving right field in the hands of Xavier Nady, whose .268/.320/.474 line as a Yankee was a far more accurate representation of his abilities than the .330/.383/.535 he hit in Pittsburgh over the first four months of the season. Last year, the average right fielder hit .276/.347/.451. Nady’s career line is .280/.335/.458, and he’s a sub-par defender.

Here are the Yankees’ other in-house options in the outfield:

Player Age* Level LF CF RF DH 2008 Stats OPS+
Johnny Damon 35 MLB 75 33 - 25 .303/.375/.461 118
Hideki Matsui 34 MLB 20 - 2 66 .294/.370/.424 108
Xavier Nady 30 MLB 45 - 88 8 .305/.357/.510 128
Nick Swisher 28 MLB 16 69 11 - .219/.332/.410 92
Melky Cabrera 24 MLB 1 109 2 - .249/.301/.341 68
Brett Gardner 25 AAA 20 71 - - .296/.414/.422 -
Justin Christian 29 AAA 44 19 3 1 .306/.357/.444 -
Shelley Duncan 29 AAA 3 - 21 17 .239/.365/.483 -
Austin Jackson 22 AA 2 111 - 17 .285/.354/.419 -
Colin Curtis 24 AA 92 23 1 14 .255/.329/.368 -

*on Opening Day 2009

The problem with this list is that the Yankees’ best outfielder (setting aside the career year Nady won’t repeat) is their oldest, while their youngest (from among those with major league experience) is their worst. As it stands now, the Yankees have a giant hole in center field, a rapidly aging DH coming off knee surgery who is no longer viable in the field (Matsui), an average-at-best right fielder, and a 35-year-old Johnny Damon in left with little on the way other than Austin Jackson, who just hit .246/.298/.377 in the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League and has yet to play above Double-A.

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SHADOW GAMES: Never Count an Old Man Out

Alessandro Candelaria smells of pipe tobacco, aftershave and perfect bacon. He wears brown shoes and white socks and black pants and a tan overcoat. His sharp-brimmed fedora marks him from another time, but he’s always looking ahead.

He asks a stranger on the subway platform for the time. It’s 6:45 a.m., he’s told.

“Where is that train?” he asks shaking his head. “I hate being late.”

Candelaria rode the 2 train to work for 53 years and now he rides it because old habits are hard to break.

Sometimes he finds a seat, but mostly he stands. He always holds a newspaper, but never reads. He likes to look at faces and remember what it’s like to work and worry and be miserable and alive.

“I never knew how much I enjoyed it,” Candelaria says. “People used to tell me that the climb is half the fun, but it’s really all the fun. I retired and got stuck with a bunch of old people who want to talk about old times.

“I want to talk about new times and this is where they’re happening,” he continues. “I’ll spot a guy reading the paper and ask, ‘What do you think of that damn mayor?’ Or I’ll see a guy in a Yankees hat and ask, ‘How do you think the team is coming together?’

“I’m already excited about baseball season,” Candelaria goes on. “And I want to talk about the young guys: Joba and Cano and Hughes and this kid Mark Melancon that I’ve heard so much about. Sometimes people stare at me like, ‘You probably aren’t even going to make to Opening Day old man.’”

Candelaria winks and smiles and tips his fedora.

“I’ll make it for sure,” he says. “I’ve got a couple of World Series left in me. Never count an old man out, especially one who stays young like me.”

News of the Day – 11/25/08

While pondering whether the Yanks can amend A-Rod’s contract to include a “no Madonna/Kabbalah” clause under the auspices of “the Player’s participation in certain other sports may impair or destroy his ability and skill as a baseball player”, I stopped long enough to give you this news:

  • Tyler Kepner of the Times spoke with Yanks hitting coach Kevin Long about Robinson Cano and A-Rod.  Long believes A-Rod’s slightly down year was due to personal issues, while Cano has fixed his swing and taken more responsibility for his conditioning.

On A-Rod:

“To say that what he went through in his personal life didn’t affect what he did on the baseball field, I think you’d be hard-pressed for it not to affect anything,” Long said. “But he seems to be moving forward and doing great. He sees his daughters all the time, and he seems to be doing O.K.”

“I can’t even imagine going through a divorce in the middle of a season and trying to compete at the highest level. He was able to do a good job, but there were days last year when you could just tell he had a lot on his mind. He’d be looking through you, and not completely focused like I’d seen him. You try to push that to the side for a couple of hours and do the best you can, but it’s easier said than done.”

On Cano:

Canó also made an important mechanical adjustment, scrapping the open stance he had lapsed into and reducing the movement before his swing. Long said he knew the swing would be in order when he visited Canó for six days during the week of Nov. 9, but he had no idea Canó would be in such good shape.

“He’s got a personal trainer, and he’s probably down to 10 or 11 percent body fat,” Long said. “This kid is focused, he’s determined. I’ve never seen him like this. His arms are cut, his stomach is cut. He’s doing hitting, throwing, agility work — and these workouts at night, I watched them, and they’re grueling. I told him I was so proud of him.”

Canó still needs better knowledge of the strike zone, Long said, and to work deeper counts.

  • In a separate article, Kepner wonders if the Yanks have enough offense right now, assuming Cano bounces back and Matsui and Posada are healthy.  Kepner also offers up a projected lineup.
  • The A.J. Burnett sweepstakes still appears to have six ticket-holders, according to BaltimoreSun.com.  The six are the Orioles, Yanks, Red Sox, Phillies, Braves and Blue Jays.
  • Don’t worry about possibly seeing Odalis Perez in pinstripes next year.  MLBTradeRumors reports that the Yanks were one of three teams to make him an offer, but he’ll most likely sign a multi-year deal with the Nationals.

(more…)

Rainy Day Funk

Mornin.

Plan B

So what if the Yanks don’t land Sabathia or Lowe or even AJ Burnett?

Cliff Corcoran and Jay Jaffe look at some options. 

Dig.

SHADOW GAMES: Baseball on the Other Side

Winter is comfortably settled into the Bronx. So Javier piled on layers before heading down five flights to Walton Avenue and then over to the Grand Concourse for breakfast.

“I can take the cold,” Javier said, “but nothing can beat the boredom.”

The only hint of Opening Day in the neighborhood is the buzz of construction at the new Stadium.

“Maybe baseball seems so far away because we’re moving,” Javier reasoned. “I still think about games at the old place. I’ll get used to the new Stadium, but it will take some time.”

Javier snapped up his collar and tugged down his hat to keep off the cold.

“There is a lot more winter and even more boredom ahead,” he said. “But I’ll get through because there’s baseball on the other side.”

Remembering Yankee Stadium: Your Take

The Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory series will return next week as we come to the finish line. In the meantime, several readers have sent me their own lasting Stadium memories. I thought I’d share a few of them with you…

By Dina Colarossi

So here’s my Yankee Stadium memory. My apologies if this turns out a little overlong. A little bit of back story is required so that you can understand why this is my awesomest memory of the Stadium. Context is important!

I moved to Dallas in August 2003, based on my uncle’s promise that there were plenty of jobs and no winters. He was wrong on both counts. After a couple of months of being unemployed, I started bartending as a way to make some money. Like most newbies in a bar, I got stuck with the crappy weekend day shifts, serving beer to a bunch of old men in cowboy hats who weren’t so sure about this damn Yankee girl with a college degree and no babies. (I wish I were kidding about that.)

I had absolutely nothing in common with these guys (and a few ladies) who talked about nothing but guns, motorcycles, and the Cowboys. Good lord did they spend a lot of time talking about the Cowboys. Now, I hate football. I actively avoid football, and even more so the Cowboys. Hard to do in Texas. But, I did know an awful lot about this kid the Cowboys just signed who used to play baseball . It was a win-win situation. I got to babble on about Drew Henson and hype and blah, blah, blah, and the old men got the comfort in knowing that their bartender might be a Yankee, but at least she knew something about sports.

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News of the Day – 11/24/08

Don’t worry … none of this will be on the quiz.  Here’s the news …

  • At BP.com, John Perrotto has heard that the Red Sox will outbid everyone for Mark Teixeira, unless the total package goes over $200 million.  Perrotto also has this brief Mussina note:

In an informal poll of veteran baseball writers, it appears Mussina may not be a lock to get into the Hall of Fame when his name will first appear on the ballot in 2013. However, no eligible pitcher with a won-lost record of at least 117 games over .500 has ever been denied entry into Cooperstown.

  • Joel Sherman of the Post has this opinion attached to the Yanks’ dance with Sabathia:

The Yanks also have indicated they will put a time limit on their six-year, $140 million offer for Sabathia. But that is a worthless time limit. They said last year they would not re-sign Alex Rodriguez if he opted out, and then not only brought him back, but did so on a record contract. So their credibility on this issue is zero.

  • ESPN’s Buster Olney spoke with Sabathia about C.C.’s impending free agency a few times during the season, and came away with these impressions:

1. He fully appreciates the fact that no matter what decision he makes, he is never going to be able to spend the money he is about to earn.

2. Factors other than money could serve as tiebreakers in his decision. Maybe, in the end, it will be about remaining in his home state of California, if the Dodgers or Giants or Angels check in with a competitive offer. Maybe it will be about playing in the National League. Maybe it will be about heading to New York with a good friend who happens to be a pretty good basketball player, and taking a parallel path and commiserating and sharing the experience of shouldering enormous pressure and conquering New York.

  • The News’ Mike Lupica on Hal Steinbrenner:

The best part of this is that Hal Steinbrenner can do it his own way now. He doesn’t have to do it with back pages and headlines and threats and being louder than New York City traffic, because everything we have seen from him so far indicates that it isn’t his style. Hal Steinbrenner, who was always going to be the guy in charge no matter what his older brother kept saying, who was quietly learning the business while his brother kept talking, can do it his own way and make his own way.

And because the Yankees are such a big deal around here and always will be, there is no reason to root against him, no reason to hope he does anything besides do things right, and with some style. This is good for the Yankees and good for baseball, which did not want Hank to be the one in charge.

  • The Times’ Alan Schwarz has a nice article on new Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu.  Wakamatsu has a Yankee connection … he was the Yanks 51st round pick in the 1984 draft  … the 839th (and last) man selected.  He decided to go back to school.  From the article:

According to the Web site baseball-reference.com, Wakamatsu is one of two players to reach the major leagues after being the draft’s Mr. Irrelevant. The other was Desi Wilson, the 1,490th overall pick in the 87th round in 1989 by the Astros.

Wakamatsu is also the second Mr. Irrelevant to become a major league manager. Matt Galante, who became the second member of the club in 1966, led the Astros for 27 games of the 1999 season when Larry Dierker had health problems.

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Yankee Panky: Mussina the Ballplayer Died at the Right Time

In my sophomore year of college, as part of my Sport Studies minor, I took a Philosophy of Sport class. The professor made us swear an oath to not divulge the nuances of the class, but out of courtesy — he was my advisor and mentor, and remains a good friend — I asked his permission to violate that oath for this column. Anyway, one of the tenets of the class was “dying at the right time.”

Roberto Clemente literally died following a serviceable 1972 season — his final hit was the 3,000th of his career, and he hit .323. Who knows? Had he lived, he may have been compelled to retire at age 37. However, to die at the right time, in sport philosophy parlance, means to have the self-confidence, self-assurance, and self-recognition to say it’s time to retire and move to the next phase of your life.

Still, few athletes “die” appropriately, or at least, in the way we discussed in class. Mark Harris demonstrates the concept brilliantly in his Henry Wiggen series, tracing the ballplayer from a talented kid who rises to the Majors in “The Southpaw,” to the staff ace who comes to grip with his selfish behavior in “Bang The Drum Slowly,” to the 38-year-old veteran in “It Looked Like Forever” who has problems with his “prostrate” and his fastball, but rejuvenates his career as a closer only to see it ended by a line drive hitting him in the head.

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SHADOW GAMES: The Boss

The Boss – George M. Steinbrenner III – has sometimes been too tough and too demanding and even too mean. He has also been the perfect Yankees owner you couldn’t help but love around here.

“Sure he’s made some mistakes,” said a man smoking outside Ball Park Lanes across from the old Yankee Stadium. “But he gave us some damn good baseball teams and a whole bunch of championships, too. He got us Reggie and Donnie and Gator and Goose and A-Rod and Mariano and Jeter. And now he’s building the new Stadium.”

The man took a last drag on his cigarette and tossed it to the curb.

“I’ve heard people bitch because they say we’re paying for that Stadium,” the man said. “Who cares? We pay for everything anyway and at least we can watch baseball at this place. Yeah, The Boss could’ve done a little better, but I still love the son of a bitch.”

There have been a lot of newspaper columns about The Boss since it was announced that his son Hal officially took control of the Yankees last week. They have written him as a good guy and as a bad guy and sometimes everything at once. They are all probably spot on. That makes The Boss just like the rest of us.

Some of the papers even ran a list of his highlights and lowlights as the owner of the Yankees. It was filled with championships and fines and suspensions, but they left a few things out.

The Boss hired Bob Watson, who became the first black General Manager in Major League Baseball to win a World Series.

He hired the first female Assistant General Manager Kim Ng and he also hired the second, current Yankees Assistant General Manager Jean Afterman.

He hired the first female Major League Baseball radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman.

Before buying the Yankees he hired John McLendon, the first black coach in professional basketball, to lead the Cleveland Pipers.

The Boss always wants to be first. He demands it and won’t accept anything less. How could you not love the guy?

News of the Day – 11/23/08

C’mon …. read this …. you know you want to …

  • LoHud’s Pete Abraham is taking a well-deserved vacation, but before doing so, lets us know he is now firmly in the “Mussina is a Hall of Famer” camp.

I was on the borderline until a few months ago until a conversation with Johnny Damon convinced me. Johnny brought up the point that Mussina spent his entire career in the American League East and faced eight teams that won the World Series (Blue Jays 1992-93, Yankees ‘96, 1998-2000, Red Sox 2004, ‘07).

“It’s different for a pitcher pitching in this division,” Damon said. “The schedule isn’t balanced. A guy like Moose, he was facing a great offensive team every other time he pitched.”

I also looked at Baseball Reference.com, which has a good Hall of Fame gauge for every player based on some Bill James research.

The “Gray Ink” test gives a player points on based on where he finishes in the top 10 in his league in ERA, wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, win-loss percentage, saves, complete games, walks per nine innings and hits per nine innings.

Moose has 244 such points. The average Hall of Fame pitcher has 185. Based on his career statistics, Mussina compares favorably to guys like Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Curt Schilling and Carl Hubbell.

  • The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers poses a question …. what if none of the pitching trinity of Lowe, Burnett and Sabathia end up wearing pinstripes in 2009?:

That would be the ultimate low blow to the Yankees’ self-esteem and would leave manager Joe Girardi wondering how he’s going to fill the 200 innings he got from Mike Mussina …  It might force general manager Brian Cashman to stop trying to get Andy Pettitte to take a pay cut. And it could happen.

It’s easy to think of players as the ultimate mercenaries, but the highest offer doesn’t guarantee a deal. Remember when the late Syd Thrift said he felt like he was offering “Confederate money” when free agents wouldn’t come to Baltimore under any terms?

No one is suggesting the Yankees have slipped as badly as the Orioles under Peter Angelos, but it’s not a slam dunk that they are going to be able to money-whip Sabathia, Burnett or Lowe.

  • The Post’s George King sort of answers Rogers’ question … the Yanks will just try and outscore everyone again:

If the Yankees don’t bag two of the top three free agent pitchers, they aren’t going to deposit the money back into the Steinbrenner family vault or throw a financial lifeline to America’s mismanaged auto industry.

They will attempt to add muscle to a lineup that is expected to lose Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi and hope to slug their way back into the postseason.

According to a person familiar with the club’s thinking, if only one of the pitchers from the free agent pool of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe sign with the Yanks, they are set to be aggressive with switch-hitting free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira.

  • Commercial break! Five …. five season … five season too loooong: Anthony McCarron of the News reports that the A.J. Burnett probably won’t find the Yankees willing to go five years:

The Yankees are on an all-out pitching blitz, but A.J. Burnett’s desire for a five-year contract has bogged down the Bombers’ pursuit of the righthander, according to a baseball executive familiar with the team’s thinking.

The Yankees, who made a six-year, $140 million offer to CC Sabathia last week and planned to make an offer to Burnett shortly thereafter, have not made a formal proposal to the pitcher and likely won’t as long as he insists on a five-year pact.

The Yanks and Burnett’s agent, Darek Braunecker, are “talking parameters,” according to the executive. “But right now they are saying five-year offers. The Yankees are not ready to go to five years.”

  • McCarron also notes there has been no contact between the Bombers and Bobby Abreu.  It appears to be the end of Abreu’s time in pinstripes, unless he accepts arbitration.

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George Swine, the Night Manager: Personal Friend of Mine

Quilty gives Humpy a hard time…

For what it’s worth I think Peter Sellers’ performance in Lolita is every bit as good as his turn in Dr. Strangeglove.

The Classics

I’ve been thinking about great magazine profiles recently, about the golden age of sports writing.  I love long-form magazine work, bonus pieces, take-out pieces, whatever you want to call them. 

Here is one of the finest, Gay Talese’s Esquire article on Joe DiMaggio, The Silent Season of a Hero (July, 1966):

Joe DiMaggio lives with his widowed sister, Marie, in a tan stone house on a quiet residential street not far from Fisherman’s Wharf. He bought the house almost 30 years ago for his parents, and after their deaths he lived there with Marilyn Monroe. Now it is cared for by Marie, a slim and handsome dark-eyed woman who has an apartment on the second floor, Joe on the third. There are some baseball trophies and plaques in the small room off DiMaggio’s bedroom, and on his dresser are photographs of Marilyn Monroe, and in the living room downstairs is a small painting of her that DiMaggio likes very much; it reveals only her face and shoulders and she is wearing a wide-brimmed sun hat, and there is a soft, sweet smile on her lips, an innocent curiosity about her that is the way he saw her and the way he wanted her to be seen by others – a simple girl, “a warm, big-hearted girl,” he once described her, “that everybody took advantage of.”

The publicity photographs emphasizing her sex appeal often offend him, and a memorable moment for Billy Wilder, who directed her in The Seven-Year Itch, occurred when he spotted DiMaggio in a large crowd of people gathered on Lexington Avenue in New York to watch a scene in which Marilyn, standing over a subway grating to cool herself, had her skirts blown high by a sudden wind blow. “What the hell is going on here?” DiMaggio was overheard to have said in the crowd, and Wilder recalled, “I shall never forget the look of death on Joe’s face.”

He was then 39, she was 27. They had been married in January of that year, 1954, despite disharmony in temperament and time; he was tired of publicity, she was thriving on it; he was intolerant of tardiness, she was always late. During their honeymoon in Tokyo an American general had introduced himself and asked if, as a patriotic gesture, she would visit the troops in Korea. She looked at Joe. “It’s your honeymoon,” he said, shrugging, “go ahead if you want to.”

She appeared on 10 occasions before 100,000 servicemen, and when she returned, she said, “It was so wonderful, Joe. You never heard such cheering.”

“Yes, I have,” he said.

It’s brick cold here in New York this weekend. Curl up with this one if you’ve never read it before. It’s terrific.

SHADOW GAMES: Big Tippers

Marvin Blain used to get weekends off.

“That was back when times were good,” he explained. “The money flowed and some of it trickled down to me. Now there isn’t much left.”

Blain shines shoes so it has always come in singles anyway.

“I’ve got a regular spot downtown,” he said. “I get a lot of Wall Street types on the way to big meetings. They’re probably the same people who spent all the money and left the rest of us with the bills.”

Blain laughed and then continued:

“They used to be big tippers, but most of them have turned into tightwads. I had a guy try to give me a fifty dollar bill after a shine a few weeks ago. I told him I couldn’t change that and he said, ‘I’ll pay you tomorrow.’ I’m still waiting for it.”

So Blain rides the 2 train from the Bronx into Manhattan on Saturdays and sometimes even on Sundays looking for a little extra cash.

“I work the tourists checking out the Stock Exchange,” Blain said. “I shine for a buck, pop my rag and really give ‘em a show. I’m as smooth as Derek Jeter.”

Blain smiled and tugged on the bill of his Yankees cap.

“That’s a guy whose shoes I’d shine for free,” Blain said. “I’d have Derek’s spikes looking better than new. I’d come to the Stadium and clean ‘em up every day. Then they might let me stay and watch the game without a ticket. That would help until the big tippers come back.”

News of the Day – 11/22/08

Hal Steinbrenner told me to warn you there is a deadline to read this news …

  • MLB.com’s Barry Bloom has an update on construction at the new stadium:

The sod is now in waiting, completely planted in October. This week, a bulldozer turned over the infield dirt and a landscaper trimmed the infield grass with an old-fashioned power mower.

Overall, construction is about 90 percent complete, down now to the trim and the finishes. Almost all of the dark blue seats have been installed, save for the lower-deck club seats and the Legend boxes located down the foul lines.

  • Bryan Hoch of MLB.com has some quotes from Mussina and Cashman on Moose’s chances for the Hall:

“I think that’s an argument that people are going to have opinions on both sides,” Mussina said. “There’s some nice things that I’ve been able to do. There’s both sides to the argument. My numbers match up well with guys that are in the Hall of Fame, and of course there are guys that have better numbers than mine.

“I think I’ve done as much as I’m capable of doing at the level I want to do it at. If it creates a good argument, then that’s all the better.”

“There’s no question in my mind he’s a Hall of Famer,” Cashman said. “What he’s done in the period of the steroid era, unfortunately, in the American League East — I don’t care what that record is. Some people say 300 wins is an automatic plateau.

“What he did to get 270 total wins, with all those things combined — in a division where the Red Sox and Yankees have been slugging it out … [in] the toughest division in baseball for at least a decade — I just think it has been spectacular for the length and consistency. He’s one of the all-timers.”

  • Some thoughts on the formal passing of the torch from Boss George to Hal:
    • A mixed bag of sentiment from Mike Vaccaro of the Post and Wallace Matthews of Newsday
    • The Post also offers up a timeline of important Boss George events
    • You may need a flame-resistant suit to read Steve Jacobson’s article, entitled “Steinbrenner was a bully with a fat wallet
  • Some amazing Boss George era numbers generated on the blog of Jayson Stark at the ESPN Insider site:

“I wonder how much money this man has spent over the years in the name of winning? And here’s the answer: More than $2.3 billion. That’s how much the Boss has plowed into his payroll in his 36 seasons of running this show. Yep, that number was $2.3 billion …  Unfortunately, I couldn’t calculate the exact amount, since payroll information isn’t readily available before the dawn of the free-agent era in 1976. But since ’76, the Yankees’ payrolls have totaled $2,323,246,829. And since payrolls before ’76 rarely got much higher than $1 million, it’s safe to assume the final total for The Boss Years will check in somewhere around $2.326 billion.  … The Yankees have had the highest payroll in baseball for 10 straight seasons, 12 of the last 13, 17 of the last 25 and, in all, 21 of the 33 seasons in the free-agent era. Only twice in those 33 seasons have the Yankees not ranked in the top five payrolls in the sport — in 1991 (eighth) and ’92 (sixth). Other than those two seasons, there were only three years they ranked lower than second — 1976 (fouth), 1990 (fifth) and 1993 (third). Since the last time the Yankees won a World Series, in 2000, they’ve pumped more than $1.5 billion ($1,529,599,822) into their payrolls in a quest to win again.”

  • Congrats to Tim Raines on being named manager of the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League, as per ESPN.
  • Happy 35th birthday to Ricky Ledee, who managed to amass more than 2,000 ABs despite hitting .243/.325/.412.  That may explain why he played for seven different teams (including both NY squads).  His best day for the Yankees may have been June 29, 2000, when he was included in a trade for David Justice.

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Don’t Call it a Comeback

 

Over at SNY, Tom Boorstein takes a look at Robbie Cano:

Cano has always relied on a high batting average. Let his 2008 serve as a reminder to those who scoff at the value of walks. Batting averages fluctuate much more from season to season than on-base percentages. Some people — Joe DiMaggio and Ichiro Suzuki for instance — rely on a consistently unusually high batting average to provide upper-tier offense. (Of course, Ichiro isn’t half the player DiMaggio was. Just look at the power, but that’s a story for another day.) Others — Garret Anderson for example — get way too much praise for their ability to hit for a high average. Those players do so at the expense of their patience. And when the hits don’t fall, those players lose almost all their value.

This is why hitting streaks are overrated. Yes, it takes skill to get base hits. But patient hitters don’t usually end up with long streaks. That’s because their walks cut down on their chances to get hits.

What does that have to do with Cano and 2009? He needs to make sure his on-base percentage is more than 50 points higher than his average. Everyone worries about changing a hitter’s approach. “He’s aggressive,” coaches and announcers will say. “We like that.” What teams should like is “productive.” Aggressive is just a euphemism for impatient.

Cano’s average should return to a more respectable level next season. But unless it soars well over .300, he’s not going to be much more than an average hitter. At second base, that’s still worth something, but the Yankees’ aging lineup needs the few youngsters like Cano to step it up.

Card Corner–Tim Foli

Earlier this week, the minor league Syracuse Chiefs announced that Tim Foli would serve as the team’s manager in 2009. Foli has been the Nationals’ Triple-A manager for three of the last four seasons, but this will be his first go-round here in central New York, with Syracuse now acting as the home of Washington’s top affiliate.

If you remember Tim Foli as a Yankee, give yourself a pat on the back; you are a true Yankee diehard. Considering that Foli spent all of one undistinguished summer in pinstripes, and that his one season here coincided with a down time in franchise history, your memory of Foli shows your sharpness when it comes to all things Yankees.

During the 1983 winter meetings, the Yankees announced that they had acquired Foli from the California Angels at the expense of a minor league reliever named Curt Kaufman and some cash. Foli was coming off an unspectacular season in which he had hit .252 with two home runs. The move made little sense, considering the crowd that the Yankees had already assembled at shortstop: veteran Roy Smalley, top prospect Bobby Meacham, and former top prospect Andre Robertson. I’m not sure why the Yankees thought Foli was better than any of the present alternatives. He couldn’t hit nearly as well as Smalley, didn’t have the range or speed of Meacham, and lacked Robertson’s defensive reputation.

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