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Monthly Archives: January 2009

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News of the Day – 1/31/09

Let’s get this out of the way …

[poll id="4"]

And let’s have a little competition … over at ESPN:

“Super Pick’em” challenges you to answer a series of questions directly related to the Big Game. The questions range from which team will come out on top to how many touchdowns will the home team quarterback throw. The more you get right, the closer you are to the grand prize. It’s FREE to play.

Get in the action now:
http://games.espn.go.com/super/group?groupID=3380

Group: Bronx Banterers
Password: arod

OK … back to the really important stuff … ladies and gentlemen … “Author” Joe Torre!


  • Our fearless leader/book reader Alex Belth has a Q&A with Torre book “co-author” Tom Verducci over at SI.com.  It’s (of course) a must-read.  Well done sir!

(more…)

The Skinny

verdooch

Over at SI.com I talk to Tom Verducci about his new book with Joe Torre:

Question: One of my favorite parts of the book is David Cone winding George Steinbrenner up and making him crazy just to get a laugh. That wasn’t something you could imagine a player doing back in the Bronx Zoo days. How influential was Cone on those teams?

Verducci: We all have known how important Cone was to the success of the Yankees. But in reporting the book I gained an even greater appreciation for his role. He was the de facto captain before Derek Jeter. At every turn — whether it was keeping David Wells in check, counseling Chuck Knoblauch on his playoff gaffe against the Indians, stepping up during the key 1998 clubhouse meeting, knowing how to push the buttons of everybody from George Steinbrenner to Paul O’Neill — Cone was the single most influential player in that clubhouse. I was fascinated when Mussina talked so often about how much those teams missed Cone — and Mussina didn’t even play with Cone. But Cone was so important to those teams that Mussina understood it just by his absence. In fact, I view and structured Cone and Mussina as parallel characters in the book. Each emerges as a voice of the distinct micro-eras within the era: when the Yankees won and when they didn’t. Each has a profound ability to see beyond himself and understand team dynamics and the human condition. They also have the ability to smartly share such observations. That Mussina moved into Cone’s locker and place in the rotation immediately upon Cone leaving the Yankees only reinforces the sort of shared role they have in the book. I like to think of it as Cone and Mussina playing the Greek chorus — only not together, but Cone taking you through 2000, then leaving the stage and handing the role over to Mussina.

Dis O Dat?

Friday Night Edition.

The Original.

Or The Cover.

Damn, they both cook, don’t they?

This or That

Dandy Livingstone:

Or The Specials:

I’ll take Dandy but both versions are cool.

Book Marks the Spot

Books have always held an important place in my life. Not just reading them but owning them. I wouldn’t call my father an intellectual but I would call him bookish. My grandfather had a library and so did my dad. So do my aunts and uncles.

After my old man died, my brother and sister and I were faced with the daunting task of what to do with his library. My syblings took a few books but weren’t really interested in them. I felt a great responsibility to make sure that they would have a good home, even if most of them were donated to the local library.

It’s tempting to look at someone’s library as autobiography. You could certainly tell something about my old man by what books he had–he loved mystery novels, for example. On the other hand, he just didn’t throw things, especially books, away. So there were books that he had gotten as gifts that said nothing about him or his taste. It just said that he didn’t believe in tossing them away. And there were others that I knew he hadn’t cracked open in more than thirty years.

Still, his library still gave him comfort and a definition of sorts. I ended up taking just a few dozen for myself, most of them for sentimental reasons–his first edition copies of “The Boys of Summer” and “No Cheering in the Press Box,” Leo Rosten’s “Joys of Yiddish.” His books, which I had memorized and adored for so many years had actually become a burden.

But if someone’s library paints a misleading or limited portrait, there is still room for autobiography. Because there are little reminders inside the books for us to discover…

Last night, I was in bed and I picked up my dad’s copy of E.B. White’s book of essays. The book has been on my night table for a year and every time I try to get into it, I just can’t. I feel as if I am supposed to adore White considering how much I like clean, vigorous writing. So I decided to give it another go when a postcard fell out from the middle of the book.

It was a board of elections registration card from 1983 addressed to the first woman my dad dated seriously after my mom kicked him out of the house. I hadn’t thought about Kaye in a long time but lying in bed, a flood of memories came back to me.

She was roughly my dad’s age and had a bob of silver hair and wore big glasses. She had long, thin fingers and smoked More cigarettes, slim and brown. Kaye lived on 81st street just down the block from my grandparent’s apartment. She had some money though I don’t remember what she did for a living. Was she in publishing?

What I do recall is that she was sweet and gentle with us. She gave me a frank talk about sex one day, described what an orgasm was. She wasn’t provocative or clinical, but somewhere inbetween, and she left me feeling that an orgasm would be a terrific thing to have. On a shelf in her bedroom was an over-sized video cassette box for “The Devil in Ms. Jones.” I was a snoop in those days but for some reason I never had the nerve, or perhaps the opportunity, to sneak a look at it.

Kaye also had “Young Frankenstein” and my brother, sister and I watched that over and over. I remember watching Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” there often too. But our greatest discovery at her place was George Carlin’s record “FM/AM.” I’ll always remember Kaye for turning us on to him.

For a brief time, my dad lived with her, and almost certainly took advantage of her, at least financially. But he was still battling the bottle and I don’t think they lasted more than a year-and-a-half before she kicked him out and ended it.

I was twelve when they dated. At that time I wanted nothing more in life than the chance to go see “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the famous midnight movie. I had the soundtrack, both from the film and the play. But my mom wasn’t about to let me go out in the middle of the night to watch transvestites sing. I was nothing if not persistant. I pleaded, carried on. Eventually, Kaye agreed to take me and my friend Mike to see it one Saturday night. I don’t remember why, if it was a secret from my mom or what.

We saw it at the old New Yorker theater on 88th street and Broadway. There was no floor show but they did show two animated shorts:

Bambi vs. Godzilla

and Lenny Bruce’s Thank You Mask Man.

Then, the moment we had been waiting for. Mike and I were not disappointed. Kaye was horrified. She wanted to leave after twenty minutes but we weren’t having it and to her credit she put up with us and the movie and we stayed for the entire show.

I never saw her again after she split with dad. The old man said that she had gotten into “Dyanetics” and was a kook. But I’ll always remember her as a nice lady who introduced us to some adult pleasures with enthusiasm and sensitivity.

And I’ve got her voting registration card to prove it.

News of the Day – 1/30/09

Roger Clemens … and liniment … (shudder) …

Here’s the news:

  • The News reports that Joe Torre and Randy Levine were not bosom buddies during the latter years of “The Yankee Years”:

Meanwhile, Torre seems to believe Levine had it in for him, going back to an organizational meeting in spring training of 2003. The meeting, which included several team executives, as well as Steinbrenner, was held in Tampa during spring training to discuss how David Wells should be punished for writing his book that had embarrassed the organization.

Steinbrenner wanted Torre to put Wells in the bullpen as punishment, which Torre said he wouldn’t do. Torre argued it was management’s role to punish Wells for such an off-the-field issue, but Steinbrenner repeatedly argued that it was Torre’s job to discipline the players.

“You know what, I’m sick and tired of this —,” Torre told Steinbrenner. “You keep pounding at me, pounding at me, pounding at me, and it bothers me. I probably shouldn’t tell you that, but it bothers me.”

At that point, according to the book, Levine, who was listening via speaker phone from New York, began to speak, but Torre quickly cut him off.

“Randy, shut the — up,” Torre said.

The meeting resumed after an awkward few seconds of silence, but years later Torre seems to think Levine held a grudge. “I found out Randy had been trying to get rid of me from that moment on,” Torre says in the book.

  • David Wells doesn’t seem too enamored with Mr. Torre either, reports the News:

Torre, who was critical of Wells when the pitcher published his book “Perfect I’m Not” while still a Yankee, remained critical in “The Yankee Years”, which he co-authored with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci.

“The difference between Kevin Brown and David Wells,” Torre says, “is that both make your life miserable, but David Wells meant to.”

Wells admitted to clashing with the manager, saying that Torre would often turn off his music in the clubhouse without ever asking him to turn it down. How’d Wells respond? He’d blast the music again and tell Torre, “If you got a problem, go in your office and shut the door.”

“I wasn’t there trying to make Joe’s life miserable, I was there trying to win,” added Wells, who used the loud music to pump himself up before games. “He fined me for wearing a Babe Ruth hat, that’s pretty shallow. I threw the money at him and said, ‘Go buy a pair of rims for your car.’”

(more…)

Vibration

This one is for Old Yank Fan. Something grimey n good.

Card Corner–Bump Wills

 

wills

Throughout the year, we’ll be spotlighting cards from the 1974, 1979, and 1984 seasons, with an emphasis on former Yankees, but an occasional reference to non-Bombers, too. In this week’s lid lifter, we’ll examine one of the most famous error cards in the history of baseball memorabilia.

In 1979, the Topps Company produced this iconic Bump Wills card, featuring the switch-hitting second baseman as a member of the Blue Jays, even though he was clearly wearing the uniform of the Rangers. In fact, the Rangers never traded Wills to the Blue Jays, not at any time before or during the 1979 season.

So what happened here? In 2002, former Topps president and baseball card icon Sy Berger visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown for a 50th anniversary celebration of Topps baseball cards, giving me the opportunity to ask him directly about the reasons behind the Wills “error.” According to Sy, he had received a call from a friend after the 1978 season, telling him that Wills was about to be traded from the Rangers to the Blue Jays as part of a major trade. Although the trade had yet to be announced, the friend assured Berger that it was a “done deal.” Convinced that he had a scoop and figuring that he could release an accurate and updated card ahead of the curve, Berger instructed his production people to attach the name “Blue Jays” to the bottom of the Wills card.

After producing the card during the winter of 1978, Topps issued it to the public in March of 1979, which was then the time that Topps typically released its cards. Unfortunately, like many trade discussions, the Bump Wills trade turned out to be nothing more than rumor. The Rangers kept their hard-hitting second baseman, who remained in Texas for three more seasons before finally being dealt—not to the Blue Jays, but to the Cubs—after the 1981 campaign.

With the trade to Toronto falling through, Topps was left mildly embarrassed. Once Opening Day rolled around and Berger realized that no trade was going to take place, Topps decided to correct the error and release a revised and corrected card, this time showing the name “Rangers” at the bottom of the card. As a result, there are two 1979 Bump Wills cards in circulation. The corrected “Rangers” version is considered the more valuable, since fewer of those cards were produced, making it scarcer than the “Blue Jays” version. The only thing scarcer might be Berger’s relationship with his friend, who had clearly given him some misguided information and had ceased becoming a source of knowledge for the Topps Company.

Although Wills never played for the Yankees, he did have a rumored connection to the team in the early 1980s. After the 1982 season, several reports circulated that the Yankees were seriously considering a blockbuster trade that would have sent Willie Randolph to the Cubs for Billy Buckner. Such a move would have filled a major need at first base (where the Yankees realized that 33-year-old John Mayberry was over-the-hill), but would have created a large void at second base. According to one hot rumor that winter, the Yankees were prepared to replace the departed Randolph with the faster Wills, a free agent who had played out the final year of his contract with the Cubs. The additions of the two former Cubbies would have given the Yankees a hyperactive offensive infield of Buckner, Wills, Roy Smalley at shortstop and Graig Nettles at third base, but the reconfiguration would have created more than a few misadventures defensively. In addition to Smalley’s shortcomings, Wills’ range had started to diminish, while Buckner’s knees were beginning to give him trouble before they would undergo a complete breakdown in Beantown.

Despite the rumors, Wills never did make his way to the Bronx. Finding no offers to his liking from any major league team, including the Blue Jays, Wills took his talents to the Japanese Leagues. That didn’t stop Topps from producing another Wills card in 1983—one that had him right back in Chicago!

Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball and writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for MLB.com.

Grandmaster

Unlike many of my contemporaries, I did not grow up reading Bill James. I wasn’t familiar with James’ Baseball Abstracts until my cousin gave me his collection in 2002, but in many ways, Bill James is the Internet–the outsider, the guy writing in his basement, intellectually curious, irreverent, superior, caustic and funny. The guy who doesn’t have to actually face the athletes, who really doesn’t have any interest in talking to them.

There have been other writers who played a big part in influencing the current generation of baseball writers–from Tom Boswell and Peter Gammons to James’ protogee Rob Neyer and Bill Simmons.

BOOKS ROGER ANGELL

But for me, the early role model was Roger Angell because he was a writer and a fan. Here is Angell discussing his first baseball assignment for the New Yorker in the spring of 1962 (from a wonderful interview conducted by Jared Haynes “They Look Easy, But They’re Hard,” originally published in Writing on the Edge in 1993):

I was in my forties–I was forty-one–and I knew enough to know that I didn’t know a great deal about baseball, even though I was a true-blue fan. I’d followed baseball all my life. But I was wary of talking to players; I felt nervous about that.

…And also, although it was not a conscious plan, I wrote about myself, because I was a fan. It set a pattern for me. I am a fan, I refer to myself as a fan, and I report about my feelings as a fan, and nobody else, to my knowledge, does that. It’s not great thing, but those old restrictions on reporting seemed to say that you can’t put yourself in the piece and you can’t betray emotion. It’s funny, because most of the beat writers are just as much fans as the rest of us, or more so. If you sat up there and didn’t care about baseball in some personal way, it would be a deadly assingment, I think, year after year.

Angell is an editor first and a writer second. So who influenced his approach to writing about baseball?

A great model for me was Red Smith, who was a model for almost every sportswriter. The great thing about Red Smith was that he sounded like himself. His attitude about sports was always clear. He felt himself enormously lucky to be there in the pressbox. He was not in favor of glorifying the players too much–Godding up the players, in Stanley Woodward’s phrase. But was Red Smith in every line. You knew what he had read and what his influences were.

I don’t try to be a literate sportswriter; I try to be myself. It’s as simple as that. Everybody’s got to find what their voice is. You’ve got to end up sounding like yourself if you’re going to write in a way that’s going to reward you when you’re done. If you end up sounding like somebody else, you’re not going to be any good. You won’t get anywhere. Readers are smart. They will pick up whether the tone is genuine or not. Tone is the ultimate thing writers have to think about. You could write on a given subject–a ball game or a national crisis or a family crisis–in twenty or thirty different ways. You only have to pick what you want people to make of this.

Words to live by.  Angell has often said that writing and baseball may look easy but they are both extremely hard. I try to never forget this because neither gets easier with practice.  I can’t get away from the reality with writing because I do it regularly, but it’s more tempting to lose track of how hard it is to play the game.  

I’ll always be grateful to Angell for making this clear.  And for setting a wonderful example of the writer as fan.

News of the Day – 1/29/09

Powered by the treif that is the “Bacon Explosion“, here’s the news:

  • Tyler Kepner offers up more tidbits from the book, including this gem:

The Yankees should have talked to Tim Raines before signing Carl Pavano. Raines, the former Yankee who was coaching with the White Sox when Pavano signed, had played with Pavano in Montreal. During Pavano’s first Yankees season, Raines told Borzello: “He didn’t want to pitch except for the one year he was pitching for a contract. I’m telling you, he’s not going to pitch for you.”

Of course, by then, the Yankees already had a bad feeling about Pavano — team officials were startled to see him rudely rebuke his mother in April, using a mild curse word. Why? He was angry at his mother for wearing a Yankees’ NY in face paint on her cheek to the game.

  • Newsday’s Wallace Matthews has news of a potential “confidentiality agreement” that might be introduced into future Yankee contracts:

The Yankees are considering including a “non-disparagement clause” in future player and managerial contracts in order to prevent any more tell-all books such as “The Yankee Years,” co-written by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Yankee official said yesterday that some members of the front office staff already are required to sign a confidentiality agreement in order to protect “proprietary knowledge of our business model.” The proposed clause is intended to ensure that future books about the Yankees are “positive in tone,” and “do not breach the sanctity of our clubhouse.” …

The Mets are believed to have included similar clauses in their contracts with former manager Willie Randolph and former pitching coach Rick Peterson. Up to now, the Yankees never have included them in the contract of a player or manager.

  • Matthews also has some of the fallout from the book, from Yankee insiders:

But the fact that he chose to tell it at all, and in a way that Yankees insiders say is, well, unfaithful to the facts (a pack of lies,” one Yankee said) is why the Bronx is burning today.

“I think his ego’s gotten so big that he thinks he can do no wrong,” a Yankees source said. “And the Dodgers winning the division was the last straw. I think he truly believed he had the Midas touch, that he could do no wrong.”

Instead, Torre may have committed the one sin the Yankees find virtually impossible to forgive.

“The same thing he was so upset with Wells and Jose Canseco about, he did himself,” the source said. “He violated the sanctity of the organization, the sanctity of the clubhouse. He broke the trust we had in him.”

  • Tyler Kepner was also at Sacred Heart University on Tuesday night to hear Joba Chamberlain and the Sox Jon Lester address a group of students.  Chamberlain responded to a question about his DUI arrest as follows:

“It ain’t hard to make a phone call,” Chamberlain said. “It ain’t hard to give someone else the keys. As a man, you have to fess up when you do something wrong. A lot of people would run from it, and I would never, ever run from it.”

(more…)

Brothers Can’t Believe How the Skills Have Gotten

For Chyll Will and the whole neck-snappin’ Bronx Banter Crew:

Great Balls of Fire

Why is this man hot?

clemens_roid_rage-761624

(more…)

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

arod

I’ve read the Verducci-Torre book and have an article up at SI.com discussing, who else?  Alex Rodriguez:

Rodriguez takes up only a small portion of the narrative — the 22-page chapter devoted to him (“The Problem of Alex”) comes halfway through a book that is just shy of 500 pages. And while the tone of the chapter is often sharp, Verducci and Torre don’t simply rip Rodriguez. They admire that he was the hardest worker on the team, even if he was also a high-maintenance star. “Nobody works harder than Alex,” says Torre. “He’s a workaholic.”

Still, Rodriguez is held up as a symbol of the Yankees’ recent failure to win a World Series. He’s forever the un-Jeter, especially in the eyes of many Yankee fans.

“He may be the most underappreciated great baseball player in the history of the city,” says novelist Kevin Baker, who is currently writing a book about New York baseball. “Has any athlete ever kept as clean a nose in New York and gotten more flack? He hasn’t shot himself in a nightclub or turned over numerous cars like Babe Ruth or been accused of statutory rape like David Cone. [Jason] Giambi was forgiven for being a drug user. Rodriguez devotes himself to the game and the complaints never stop.”

News of the Day – 1/28/09

I write the posts that make the Banter sing
I write the posts of news and links to things
I write the posts that make the hot stoves fry
I write the posts, I write the posts

(yes, I’m a bit delirious … I blame it on Torre and Verducci)

Anyway … here’s the news:

  • The Times’ Jack Curry has some quotes from Torre on the initial reaction to the book:

“Knowing that my name is on it, I know I’m going to have to answer for it,” Torre said of the book’s contents.

Although Torre feels that betrayal is an inappropriate word to use to describe his feelings toward Cashman, there is no question that “The Yankee Years” leaves the impression that Torre was disappointed that Cashman was not a vocal supporter during the fateful “take-it-or-leave-it” contract meeting that Torre had with the Yankees after the 2007 postseason. …

… (But) Torre clearly felt Cashman could have done more. “There’s stuff in there where, from my angle, I looked at it one way and I’m sure, from his angle, he probably looked at it a different way,” Torre said in the telephone interview.

  • Over at ESPN, Buster Olney takes Torre to task for the quagmire of authorship of the book:

Those passages were based on Verducci’s reporting. They were written by Verducci. But it’s Torre’s book. And within the pages of this book with Torre’s name on it, some former colleagues are demeaned, and that was his choice. Verducci said in a radio interview on WFAN on Monday that all this is not really new, that everybody has known for years that Rodriguez has had difficulty assimilating with the Yankees’ veterans.

Here’s what’s new about it: The stories are in a book authored by Joe Torre. This is hardly a new concept. The fact that former first lady Nancy Reagan could be difficult was hardly a new concept, but when Ronald Reagan’s former chief of staff, Don Regan, published a book detailing that, well, it became a very big deal. The suggestion that the run-up to the Iraq war included misinformation was something posed by many reporters — but it became something very different when posited in a book by former White House spokesman Scott McClellan. The book is in Torre’s name. Says right there on the cover. By Joe Torre and Tom Verducci.

  • The News has some second-hand A-Rod reactions to the book:

A-Rod also told people that nothing Torre could say would be more revealing of how he felt about his player than the act of batting him eighth in the lineup in Game 4 of the 2006 playoff series with the Tigers.

“Alex was really hurt by that,” one friend of A-Rod’s said Monday. “He believed that Torre did that to embarrass him and he knew then what Torre thought of him.

“So anything that comes out now wouldn’t compare to that. He’s just surprised that Torre would talk about these kinds of things because he always told the players the clubhouse and the bond with teammates was sacred, and not to be broken this way.”

(more…)

Adieu

John Updike, one America’s most celebrated authors of the post War period, died today.  He was 76.  Here is his lasting contribution to baseball literature, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu:

Whenever Williams appeared at the plate—pounding the dirt from his cleats, gouging a pit in the batter’s box with his left foot, wringing resin out of the bat handle with his vehement grip, switching the stick at the pitcher with an electric ferocity—it was like having a familiar Leonardo appear in a shuffle of Saturday Evening Post covers. This man, you realized—and here, perhaps, was the difference, greater than the difference in gifts—really intended to hit the ball. In the third inning, he hoisted a high fly to deep center. In the fifth, we thought he had it; he smacked the ball hard and high into the heart of his power zone, but the deep right field in Fenway and the heavy air and a casual east wind defeated him. The ball died. Al Pilarcik leaned his back against the big “380″ painted on the right-field wall and caught it. On another day, in another park, it would have been gone. (After the game, Williams said, “I didn’t think I could hit one any harder than that. The conditions weren’t good.”)

The afternoon grew so glowering that in the sixth inning the arc lights were turned on—always a wan sight in the daytime, like the burning headlights of a funeral procession. Aided by the gloom, Fisher was slicing through the Sox rookies, and Williams did not come to bat in the seventh. He was second up in the eighth. This was almost certainly his last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us—stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment. At last, the umpire signalled for Fisher to pitch; with the other players, he had been frozen in position. Only Williams had moved during the ovation, switching his bat impatiently, ignoring everything except his cherished task.

Andy Makes Five

It sure took them long enough, but the Yankees finally came to terms with Andy Pettitte yesterday, re-signing the veteran lefty to a one-year deal with a base salary of $5.5 million and incentives that could make the deal worth as much as $12 million. With that, the Yankees have the final piece of their 2009 rotation in place. Here’s a quick look at the Yankees’ projected starting five along with my thoroughly un-scientific innings and ERA projections for each pitcher:

Pitcher Proj. IP Proj. ERA
CC Sabathia (L) 230 3.20
Chien-Ming Wang 200 4.00
A.J. Burnett 170 4.40
Andy Pettitte (L) 215 4.20
Joba Chamberlain 160 2.90

Quibble with those projections however you want, but consider what they add up to: 975 innings of a 3.73 ERA. Last year the collected Yankee starters–that is every pitcher who started for the team all year, not just the top five–combined for just 898 1/3 innings and a 4.58 ERA. Meanwhile, team that got the best performance out of it’s starting pitchers in 2008 was the Toronto Blue Jays, whose starters combined for 1,012 2/3 innings of a 3.72 ERA. Given that, the Yankees could have the best rotation in baseball even with that underwhelming performance from A.J. Burnett, average performances from Pettitte and Wang, and the limit placed on Chamberlain’s innings total. The catch is that their two top rivals for baseball’s best rotation are the Rays (with David Price taking over for Edwin Jackson) and Red Sox.

Note that I expect Chamberlain, not Pettitte, to be the Yankees’ fifth starter because of the limit the Yankees will need to place on his innings. Chamberlain threw 100 1/3 innings last year. Tom Verducci’s Rule of 30 would suggest a cap of 130 innings this year, but I expect the Yankees’ cap to be around 150 frames, and for Chamberlain to surpass that slighly due to a solid performance. The one remaining flaw in Chamberlain’s game is an inefficiency stemming from his being both a strikeout pitcher and one who walked 3.5 men per nine innings last year. That inneficiency will likely limit him to an average of six innings per start (which is exactly what he averaged in the nine starts prior to his shoulder injury last year). At that rate, he could make 26 starts this year and still have thrown just 156 innings. If the Yankees keep him in the fifth spot and use the odd off-day to skip his turn, he should come in right on target.

Meanwhile, with Pettitte having now rounded out the rotation, Phil Hughes and Alfredo Aceves become replacement starters rather than potential fifth-starters. That’s good news for the Yankees as there’s a decent chance that at least one of the pitchers in the chart above will wind up throwing as many as 100 innings less than I’ve projected for him due to injury. Aceves is a classic sixth starter, a crafty, junkballing righty who relies heavily on his defense and staying one pitch ahead of the hitter. In scout speak, Aceves has great pitchability, but not much stuff. He’s not far removed from the pitcher he’s replacing in the organization, Darrell Rasner, and is thus better suited as a replacement than one of the organization’s top five starters.

Hughes, of course, is still a top prospect, but even before Pettitte signed, I felt that Hughes needed to start the year in Triple-A and spend a couple of months just getting his legs under him and his confidence up so that he could return to the majors with some momentum rather than start the year trying once again to prove he deserved to break camp with the big club. Remember, Hughes has made just two major league starts since last April, and while he was excellent in the second of those two, essentially beating A.J. Burnett head-to-head (though Jose Veras wound up with the win), it came in late September against a long-since eliminated Blue Jays team. Hughes developed a strong cut fastball while rehabbing his broken rib last year and pitched well, if inconsistently, in the Arizona Fall League. With Pettitte in place, Phil can now build on those two developments at Triple-A in the hope of becoming a mid-season injury replacement (I didn’t write “for Burnett,” but I thought it) and forcing Joe Girardi to make a tough decision in the second half. Remember, Hughes won’t be 23 until last June. He still has plenty of time to make the transition from Triple-A to the majors.

While I’m on the topic, I might as well address Ian Kennedy. I don’t think Kennedy, who is a year and a half Hughes’ senior, was ever going to be in the picture for the big league rotation this spring. He did enough to discourage Girardi and the team last year that he wasn’t even brought back as a September call-up. Kennedy needs to spend the year at Scranton letting his pitching do the talking and hoping for a chance to make his case for the 2010 rotation in September. The good news on Kennedy is that he supposedly found a new way to throw his curve after working with Scranton pitching coach Rafael Chaves last year and dominated the Puerto Rican winter league with the pitch. Kennedy’s big problem last year was his refusal/inability to use his curve in his major league stints, making him a very hittable two-pitch fastball/changeup pitcher without much heat on his heater and a resulting tendency to shy away from contact. If the improvement in his curve proves sustainable, he may well revive his prospect status, making the A.J. Burnett contract all the more regrettable for expensively clogging up the rotation.

Still, taking the short-term view, it’s hard to complain about the Yankees’ top five starters entering the season. The Yankees haven’t had an Opening Day rotation this strong since they were making annual trips to the World Series. They’ve paid a lot for the priviledge, but it just might pay off.

News of the Day – 1/27/09

To paraphrase a good song, “Ghost writers . . . in . . . the . . . skyyyyy!”

To quote another good song …

May I have your attention please?
May I have your attention please?
Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
I repeat, will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
We’re gonna have a problem here.

Here’s the news, linked/reported entirely by me, in the first person:

  • It looks like the Yanks won’t have to resort to Jason Johnson or Freddy Garcia as a possible fifth starter … Pettitte is a Yankee again:

Andy Pettitte and the New York Yankees agreed Monday to a $5.5 million, one-year contract that brings the left-hander back to New York.

Pettitte can make an additional $6.5 million on performance bonuses and bonuses based on time on the active roster.

“There was never another team brought up,” Pettitte said during a conference call. “I wanted to come back to the Yankees.”

[My take: If Andy has recovered from his physical ailments of late '08, the Yanks rotation could be the best in the AL East.  Welcome back Andy ... you put us through a lot these past few weeks, but we'll see you soon!]

  • Here is MLB.com’s coverage of the Pettitte agreement.
  • PeteAbe of LoHud steps us to the plate with his assessment of the Torre/Verducci (or is it Verducci/Torre?)  book:

Now we have Torre, the man who restored the luster to a faded powerhouse, prostituting himself for the sake of a book and another few million.

… Torre clearly traded some secrets for money. Nobody wanted to read another warm tale about his brother in surgery or Don Zimmer cracking jokes, so Joe and Tom Verducci threw a few players and team executives into the fire. Verducci is an elegant writer and a terrific reporter. The book will be compelling and 100 percent true.

But that’s not really the point. We wanted Bernie Williams Day at the old Stadium. You’d like to see that old warhorse Clemens in Tampa teaching Phil Hughes how to bust somebody inside. And many Yankee fans would weep at the sight of Torre getting his number retired, fat tears running down his face again as Mo, Jorgie, Tino, Paulie and the Captain gather around. …

It just never ends well. Maybe it’s the money that saps them of their dignity. For others it’s the attention or the lifestyle. But our heroes so rarely walk away at the right time. They kick and scream and claw.

[My take: Verducci states its a third person account not just of Joe Torre but of the entire organization during the Torre years.  If so, why have Torre on the cover and give him top billing (or any billing for that matter).  If much of the meat of the book comes from Torre’s recollections, then how it can it NOT be a Torre “expose”?  Why title a book something as non-descript and generic as “The Yankee Years” unless it dealt specifically with one particular person’s “Years”.   If Torre is indeed the “mass” around which the Yankee universe “spun” for a 12-year period, why not call it “The Torre Years in Yankeeland” or something more descriptive and … dare I say it … truthful.

Further clouding those questions is the fact that it is Torre, not Verducci, doing the book tour (at least per the publisher’s website).

Also, why would a seemingly classy guy like Torre consent to writing (or merely contributing to?) this book while he is still managing in the Majors?  I know the Yanks won’t be facing the Dodgers this year (unless its 1978 World Series deja vu), but why talk about active players, coaches, management, etc. of a former employer while you still interact with them to some extent?  This isn’t like an autobiographical  “come with me as I recount the great season we had last year” book.  Nor is it a sportswriter penning a “a season of  team X’s complete and utter failure” book.

Something just doesn’t seem right about the “need” for this book at this particular time.  Maybe it IS all about the Benjamins.]

  • Richard Sandomir of the Times does an excellent job examining the morass of the “Verducci/Torre” book paradox, as follows:

Torre is cast as the leading character in Tom Verducci’s narrative — not as “I or me,” but in the third person as “Torre.” This isn’t Norman Mailer playing with alter egos like “Aquarius,” but a device that lets Torre recede now and then …

If the structure is not confusing (Torre’s quotations are all over the place), readers may occasionally wonder: what did Torre say that does not appear in quotation marks? When, if ever, did Torre (or Verducci) mute the manager’s strongest views to let other characters voice them? When Verducci asserts that some Yankees called Alex Rodriguez “A-Fraud” (which you don’t doubt because of Verducci’s great reputation), is Torre’s concurrence implicit in more tempered assessments?

(more…)

Home Cookin

Andy’s coming back.  And it ain’t for $10 million, though it could reach up to $12 million.  Pete Abe has the details.

andy

News of the Day – 1/26/09

Everyday I write the book (and I’m NOT Joe Torre) … here’s the news:

  • Joe Torre has been a busy man, apparently.  As you’ve read this past weekend, he’s got a tell-all book about his 12 seasons with the Yanks coming out next week.
  • ESPN reports that though Torre supposedly has some unkind things to say about Brian Cashman, Cashman seems to be alright:

When reached by ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney on Sunday, Cashman said that he had spoken to Torre by phone. He said that the manager told him to wait for the book to come out, that they are friends and will always be friends.

“Joe was a great manager for us,” Cashman said. “I’m glad he called me. I’m very comfortable with my relationship with him.”

  • Michael Schmidt of the Times covers the release of the book, and it seems that A-Rod is going to have the spotlight shone on him again come Spring Training:

The book quotes Mike Borzello, a former Yankees bullpen catcher who is described as a “close friend” of Rodriguez’s, and says that Borzello was constantly having to boost Rodriguez’s ego because he felt that he was competing with Derek Jeter for attention.

“It doesn’t help,” Borzello said, referring to Rodriguez’s awkward relationship with Jeter. “You would rather that the stars are in the same place, pulling together, but I don’t think it affected the other players. It just affected the feel in the clubhouse.”

Borzello added that he used to tell Rodriguez all the time that Rodriguez was coming to the stadium and trying to get everyone to look at him, but that they were already looking at him: “You’re Alex Rodriguez. I don’t understand that.”

  • Torre is going to be in the metro area touting the book.
  • The Times has an article on Tim Raines, who will be the new manager of the Newark Bears, and on the state of the team and league it plays in:

Raines …  adds a splash of celebrity to the Bears, but he has been given a mandate to assemble a winning team.

If the Bears win, Wankmiller contends, they will draw more fans. By his reckoning, the refurbished corporate suites, virtually empty last year, will become more popular for entertaining, and the Bears could sell more advertising.

But there is a long way to go. According to the league, the Bears drew only 181,240 fans last season, seventh in the league. Their average crowd of 2,746 was about half the size of the average at Somerset Patriots games in Bridgewater. (The Patriots, the league champs last season, are managed by another ex-Yankee, Sparky Lyle.)

“We think baseball can work here,” said Joe Klein, a former big-league general manager and the executive director of the Atlantic League, whose offices are in Camden. “We’re confident people will come to games. Maybe people at first will come to games because of Tim Raines, but that’s O.K.”

  • Also in the Times, Harvey Araton laments the lengthy timetable for the demolition of the old Stadium, which puts the neighborhood’s needs on the back burner:

“That’s going take at least two years because the city’s priority is the Yankees, not the neighborhood,” said Joyce Hogi, a member of the Community Board 4 parks committee.

She and her colleagues fought a long, losing battle of preservation best evidenced by two stadiums at the expense of cherished parkland, to be replaced here and there and on terms mostly beneficial to a private enterprise already worth in excess of $1 billion. All while the old and the new stand side by side, towering over what is commonly called the nation’s poorest Congressional district like some supersize baseball mall.

(more…)

Yankee Panky: Slow Goings, Until Now

If you’re hungry for action on the Hot Stove, mid-January is a time that will leave you starving. There’s plenty of analysis of the Yankees’ 40-man roster and prospects in the trades. Locally, the stories have revolved around the Yankees’ pursuit or non-pursuit of Manny Ramirez and Ben Sheets, the arbitration roundup, the list of players representing their respective countries in the World Baseball Classic in March, the team’s move to the new Stadium, and the politics of how the Stadium’s construction was financed.

With all this in mind, the countdown to pitchers and catchers reporting has become more prevalent.

Speaking of pitchers, are the Yankees going back to the well with Andy Pettitte? That appears to be the case, according to MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch and Pete Caldera of the Bergen Record.

If Pettitte truly wants to be in a Yankee uniform when the new stadium opens in April, he’ll swallow his pride and assume some accountability for the salary-based standoff. If he reads the reports of who the Yankees have vying for the fifth starter spot, he’ll see that he’s a better option than the unproven – or mediocre, depending on your perspective – law firm of Hughes, Kennedy, Aceves, Coke & Johnson. If the reports are true that the Yankees still prefer him over that quintet, then Pettitte has even more incentive to re-engage in discussions, and compromise with Brian Cashman.

This situation is different than 2003, when the Yankees’ concern about Pettitte’s arm led them to shy away from negotiating with him. Pettitte then signed with the Astros and made the Yankees look good when a forearm injury limited him to just 15 starts in ‘04.

The Pettitte saga has been a recurring topic in this space all winter also, and judging from the comments, I’d estimate it’s about 70-30 against Pettitte returning. From a baseball sense, though, if he and the Yankees agreed to a one-year deal in the $11-$12 million range as opposed to the $10-$10.5MM number, would you be opposed? I wouldn’t, especially if it meant 12-15 wins from the No. 5 spot. The possibility of his ascension to the fourth spot can’t be discounted, either; Joba Chamberlain could go down with an injury or be moved to the bullpen at some point.

For the next three weeks, this is the story to watch.

As for off-field news, per the New York Post and the Daily News, the next eight days leading up to the Feb. 3 release of Tom Verducci’s book “The Yankee Years,” with Joe Torre, are sure to be laced with all the venom, vitriol and public betrayal worthy of an Aaron Spelling drama. The revelation that Alex Rodriguez was fragile, narcissistic, had a “Single White Female”-level obsession with Derek Jeter, and had a clubhouse attendant run errands for him is not news. Torre crying foul on the character of GM Brian Cashman, who was long considered to be Torre’s greatest supporter in the wake of Hurricane Steinbrenner, is a surprise.

In the book, Torre states that Cashman’s public advocacy during the contract negotiations that followed the 2007 season was a façade. As The News’s Bill Madden reported:

According to a source familiar with the book, Torre does not step out of character. He simply recites the facts as he saw them and does not unfairly disparage the Yankees.

On SportsCenter Sunday morning, Buster Olney corroborated Madden’s assessment and confirmed that it is public record that the one-year offer the Yankees made was due to Cashman’s influence. A clip of Torre’s farewell press conference from Oct. 19, 2007, was run to illustrate the point that Torre and Cashman worked together to hammer out a deal. Olney also noted that in Torre’s first book, “Chasing the Dream: My Lifelong Journey to the World Series,” published in 1998, the ex-manager expressed dismay at the way the Steinbrenners viewed him. Right or wrong, Torre’s sensitivity to Steinbrenner criticism was the backdrop for much of his Yankee tenure.

Torre did have protection, though, and not only in the way of Cashman. I’ve thought that ever since Steve Swindal’s DUI arrest and fall from grace from the Steinbrenner family in February of ‘07, that Torre’s departure was imminent. I was in Tampa five years ago when Torre negotiated a three-year extension. At the ensuing press conference, Torre said that a meeting with Swindal helped get it done. I came away from that presser with the impression that amid the internal battle for power, as long as Swindal and Cashman were there, then Torre was “safe.” When Swindal literally and figuratively drove himself away, an “every man for himself” scenario developed.

I’ve had conversations on this topic with a few Bronx Banter colleagues, and I’m of the opinion that if Cashman did in fact betray Torre, it was to save his own job. Following the ’07 playoff debacle, it was clear that when it came to Torre and Cashman and their places with the organization in 2008, one or both of them would be gone. Cashman pulled a classic SYA move.

Torre pulled a classic move also: blasting his former employer in order to spike book sales. Does he have a right to be bitter? Perhaps. Was Chris Russo correct in his assessment of Torre, that the Yankee money kept him in New York for 12 years? Maybe. We may never know.

To that point,  judging from the excerpts I’ve read of the Verducci book, and from the strong comments in Alex Belth’s earlier post in this space, all parties involved have their own version of the truth. I believe the truth lies somewhere between Torre, Cashman, Verducci and select members of the Yankees’ front office. Torre will say his peace on “Late Show with David Letterman” on the book’s release date. Cashman will likely comment this week. For his role as the messenger, Verducci will have to answer for himself at some point, maybe on one of his stints on MLB Network.

We as fans, as usual, will be left to draw conclusions and take sides.

_________________________

PROGRAM NOTE: Yankee Panky is on baby watch. I’m in the Red Zone, as my wife is due with our first child any day now. My next post will take place when I settle in at home following the birth.

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