"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: February 2009

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Battles: Right Field

Xavier Nady Nick Swisher
Age (DOB) 30 (11/14/78) 28 (11/25/80)
Height – Wt 6’2″ – 215 6’0″ – 215
Bat/Throw R/R S/L
ML career (PA) .280/.335/.458 (2,434) .244/.354/.451 (2,512)
mL career (PA) .298/.362/.526 (1,591) .261/.379/.476 (1,392)

Unlike the center-field battle in which the prize is a full-time starting job with the loser likely to be banished to Triple-A, the far end of the bench, or perhaps even another organization, the battle between Swisher and Nady is simply over who will have the upper hand in right field. Regardless of the outcome this spring, both are likely to make more than 400 plate appearances this year.

That said, Nady, who was acquired at the trading deadline last year and finished the season as the Yankees’ left fielder, entered camp as Bobby Abreu’s successor in right field. It will be up to Nick Swisher, acquired in a November trade with the White Sox, to prove to Joe Girardi and his staff that he is the superior option for right field, which, truth be told, he is.

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Say No Go

Another season ticket holder horror story.  This one is from Jay Jaffe and she ain’t pretty.

Banter Fantasy Baseball Contest!

I am pleased to announce the first (hopefully annual) “Banter Battle” fantasy baseball league over at Yahoo! Sports.

It’ll be a 6×6 (the usual 10 categories, plus holds and OPS) non-keeper roto league, with a live draft to be held on Monday, March 23rd at 9:30 pm Eastern time.  (You can pre-rank your selections if you can’t be there live).

In order to join the league,  go to the game front page, click the “Sign Up Now” or “Get Another Team” button and follow the links to “Join a Custom League”. When prompted, enter the League ID# and password below.

League ID#: 112369
Password: cashman

Its free to play, and we won’t be playing for any $.  However, the winner will get his/her (user)name placed on the Banter sidebar for all to admire.

The only requirement we insist on is that you not abandon your team in the middle of the season.  So, serious replies only please.

Play ball!

News of the Day – 2/24/09

Today’s news is powered by a baseball-themed clip from Conan O’Brien’s final show:

Reporting to camp well ahead of pitchers and catchers, Posada has had plenty of time to work out the kinks. He is incrementally moving closer to getting behind the plate in a big league game, and he is still eyeing Opening Day on April 6 at Baltimore as the moment he will stick a few fingers down for CC Sabathia.

The 37-year-old made 15 throws from distances as far as 220 feet Sunday, drawing praise from Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who called it “substantially different than what I saw just four or five days ago.”

  • Ken Davidoff writes about Joe Girardi philosophy when it comes to making out line-ups:

Torre’s early Yankees teams, particularly those from 1996-99, carried amazing depth on the 25-man roster.

Joe Girardi, part of that depth on those clubs, knows he won’t be able to match that. But in crafting the lineup cards this season, an admittedly crucial one for him, he hopes to strike that magical balance among stability, variety and versatility.

“I prefer to have a set lineup. I think it works best,” Girardi said yesterday after a second straight relatively tranquil practice that was light on the A-Rod. “But sometimes, similar to some of the teams that I was on, you’re better if there’s some platoon situations, or your bench is extremely strong, or everyone’s in the mix, or everyone’s healthy. We just have to see how it shakes out.” …

… Girardi struggled to get a feel for when to start his players and when to rest them, a failing that came to life Aug. 11 in Minnesota, when he benched Johnny Damon (10-for-24 in the previous five games) against Twins starter Glen Perkins. Justin Christian led off and went 0-for-4, and the Yankees fell meekly, 4-0.

The Yankees used 130 lineups last year, and they used their Opening Day lineup – Damon in leftfield, Derek Jeter at shortstop, Bobby Abreu in rightfield, Alex Rodriguez at third base, Jason Giambi at first base, Robinson Cano at second base, Posada at catcher, Hideki Matsui at designated hitter and Melky Cabrera in centerfield – only on April 1.

  • Joe Girardi decided to cancel workouts Monday and instead organize a team “field trip” to a local pool hall.  Mariano Rivera turned out to be the best pool player of the bunch:

The idea hit Girardi in the early days of Spring Training, realizing that camp runs longer this year because of the World Baseball Classic and a day of respite might be welcome before exhibition games begin.

It would also be a good way for Girardi to better familiarize himself with the team.

“I think every year you’re here as a manager, you want to have more knowledge about your players and their personalities,” Girardi said. “You want to feel closer to your players. You want to bring a group together. It’s important that a group is united when they leave Spring Training.”

Looking for an event that could not be impacted by weather, Girardi originally considered renting out a bowling alley, but the idea of having his pitchers whipping 12-pound balls down the lanes dissuaded him.

The Yankees found a billiard hall that could accommodate a large group, and Girardi told the Yankees to book it for a few hours. The tournament was expected to last about 2 1/2 hours — until lunch — but Girardi acknowledged it might take longer, with no real pool sharks known to be on the roster.

[My take: The mental image I have of Sabathia leaning over the table to make a tough shot scares me a bit.]

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Battles: Center Field

With the Grapefruit League schedule kicking off on Wednesday, I wanted to take these last two day of inaction to take a look at the key position battles being waged in Yankee camp. I’ll start today with the most significant: the center-field battle between Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner.

First the tale of the tape:

  Melky Cabrera Brett Gardner
Age (DOB) 24 (8/11/84) 25 (8/24/85)
Height – Wt 5’11″ -  200 5’10″ – 180
Bat/Throw S/L L/L
ML career (PA) .268/.329/.374 (1,608) .228/.283/.299 (141)
mL career (PA) .296/.347/.420 (1,621) .291/.389/.385 (1,738)

Cabrera is theoretically the incumbent, but Gardner started in center in 12 of the Yankees’ last 15 games of 2008 after Cabrera effectively lost the center field job in early August. Cabrera made just five starts in center after August 3 and was even demoted to Triple-A for three weeks and recalled only after rosters expanded in September. In that sense, Gardner is the incumbent, but really, despite the large discrepancy in their major league service time, neither player entered camp with the upper hand in this battle.

This battle is topsy-turvy in other ways. For example, the less experienced Gardner is the win-now player given his minor league promise of solid on-base numbers (.389 mL career OBP), excellent defense, and spectacular speed on the bases (153 minor league stolen bases at an 83% success rate, 13 for 14 on the bases in the majors). Meanwhile, the appeal of Cabrera, the experienced major leaguer, is his potential. Cabrera has shown flashes of power at the plate, particularly early last season when he slugged .505 with six homers through May 4. Cabrera is unlikely to ever develop into a serious home-run threat, but Gardner is a pure slap hitter, with just nine career home runs as a pro and an isolated slugging in the minors of just .094. Gardner seems unlikely to ever hit for much power, but there remains some hope that Cabrera, who is a year younger, may yet blossom into a complete hitter.

The problem is that Cabrera’s performance on the field has been heading in the opposite direction. Cabrera hit .280/.360/.391 as a rookie left fielder in 2006, displaying solid plate discipline for a 21-year-old as well as some doubles power (26 in 524 PA) and falling just short of a league-average performance overall. In 2007, however, his plate discipline melted away without a corresponding increase in power (.273/.327/.391), and last year, after that hot start, he simply stopped hitting, batting .235/.280/.286 from May 5 through the end of the season, a line worse than Gardner’s seemingly pathetic rookie showing.

Given that Gardner was just breaking into the majors last year, been reliably productive in the minors, and seemed to heat up at the end of last season, hitting .294/.333/.412 in 73 PA his second of two major league stints, there’s every reason to believe that Gardner will significantly improve on his overall major league line if given the chance this season, but given Cabrera’s steady regression, there are far fewer reasons to continue to believe in Melky. It’s not as though Melky does anything else better than Gardner. Melky can steal bases, but he might steal 15, while Gardner could easily steal more than 50 and lead the league if he starts every day, and he’ll do it at a higher success rate than Cabrera’s. Melky has shown flashes of brilliance in the field, but Gardner, thanks in part to his superior speed, is going to turn more balls into outs in center, just as he’s likely to make fewer outs at the plate.

According to Dave Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range, Melky was the best defensive left fielder in baseball in 2006 but has displayed merely average range in center over the last two years. Gardner did not play enough to register on Pinto’s major league-only system, but per Ultimate Zone Rating, Gardner’s defense in center was worth  9.1 runs to Melky’s pedestrian 0.6 last year, a remarkable stat given that Gardner played just 160 2/3 innings in center for the Yankees, while Melky played 973 2/3. Of course, the small sample warnings about Gardner’s major league statistics are particularly acute when it comes to fielding, both because he spent a significant chunk of his first major league stint in left, and because fielding stats are so suspect to start with. It would be cherry-picking to write off Gardner’s poor performance at the plate in the majors as a small sample while emphasizing his absurd advantage over Cabrera in UZR. That said, what I saw watching the games supported the statistics’ assertion that Gardner has the superior range in center. Cabrera still has the better arm, but not by as much as one might think;  Gardner recorded four assists in his 22 major league games in center, showing a strong and accurate throwing arm that opposing runners would be ill-advised to test.

So Melky’s case comes down to power and potential, and it seems unlikely that he has shown enough of either to outweigh Gardner’s advantages on the bases, in the field, and in getting on-base. Melky’s 2008 season cracked the lenses of the rose-colored glasses that looked at his first two seasons and saw shades of fellow switch-hitting center fielder Bernie Williams’ early-career struggles. Bernie didn’t really start to come on until his age-25 season, which would give Cabrera another year, but it’s hard now look at the stocky, stumbling Cabrera and see any resemblance to the fawn-like awkwardness of the blossoming Bernie.

Hitting coach Kevin Long seems to believe that he can get Gardner to hit with doubles power by increasing the involvement of Gardner’s lower body in his swing. If Gardner shows any signs of proving Long right this spring, the job should be his. The catch is that, due to Cabrera’s pennant-race demotion last year, Melky is now out of options, meaning the Yankees would have to either keep him on the 25-man roster as a fifth outfielder (a platoon with Gardner wouldn’t work–Melky hit just .213/.279/.299 against lefties last year and has hit just .251/.319/.329 against southpaws in his major league career, while Gardner actually had a reverse split in Triple-A last year), or expose him to waivers in an attempt to outright him to Scranton. The latter would almost surely result in Cabrera being claimed by another team. The Yankees avoided arbitration by signing Cabrera to a $1.4 million contract last month, which would seem to strongly indicate that the Yankees have no intention of divesting themselves of Cabrera, but as a fifth-outfielder, Cabrera would be  a drain on the roster and would stand little chance of restarting his development. Then again, perhaps that $1.4 million price tag is just enough to prevent the sort of team that might make a claim on Cabrera from doing so. If Cabrera can’t win the center field job in camp, that may be a chance the Yankees have to take, particularly with Austin Jackson headed for Triple-A already having already unseated Cabrera as the team’s Center Fielder of the Future.

News of the Day – 2/23/09

Let’s get right to it …

  • PeteAbe has a longer-length column on Joe Girardi “more personal approach” this season:

Girardi approached the Yankees last season like one of the industrial engineering assignments he undertook as a student at Northwestern. If he applied enough of his own hard work and logic to whatever issue came up, he would find the solution. But those pesky variables, other people, kept getting in the way. …

Eight days into his second spring training with the Yankees is not enough time to determine whether Girardi truly has changed the methods that led to the reconfiguration of his coaching staff, tension in the clubhouse, and a fractured relationship with the reporters who cover the team. But his reaction to the Rodriguez scandal reveals a man willing to change.

Relentlessly positive a year ago, Girardi has been measured in his support of Rodriguez – a position that reflects the mood of the team – while at the same time using the situation as a way to better connect to his players. The bridges that he vowed to build last fall are falling into place, plank by plank.

  • Steve Serby has a fluffy but fun Q&A with CC Sabathia, including this instant classic exchange:

Q: Why do you wear your hat cocked?

A: It feels straight to me when I have it on.

  • John Harper details the financial risks Andy Pettitte took in the off-season:

When all the haggling was finally done this winter, Andy Pettitte turned down $10 million and wound up signing for $5.5 million with incentives, which is the kind of deal you think would get an agent fired in most cases.

Pettitte says no, he has no problem with Randy Hendricks and no problem with his deal. He was determined to get the $12 million he thought he was worth, and in the end maybe he paid a price for playing his hand too boldly, but he insists it was worth it for the chance to prove the ugly finish to last season doesn’t mean he’s one step from being washed up.

“Hey, around July last year I thought I was going to win 20 games,” Pettitte was saying Saturday. “I felt that good. So don’t tell me that based on my last 11 or 12 starts I’m done. I had a shoulder problem.”

As it turns out, he’s essentially betting $4.5 million that he can stay healthy and reach the incentives that could get him to $12 million, and for a 36-year-old pitcher with a history of elbow injuries to go with last year’s shoulder problem, that’s a risky bet.

Wedged in among the dramatics of A-Rod, the stoic professionalism of Jeter and the quiet dignity of Mariano Rivera, Swisher sticks out like a lunatic in a library.

“Swish is very energetic, I’ll tell you that,” said a bemused Posada, who sits four lockers away, still close enough to feel the bass vibrations in his sternum. “He looks like he’s really enjoying being here.”

Think Jack Black with a first baseman’s mitt or Ozzy Osbourne with the ability to draw a walk, and you’ve got Swisher pegged.

And his high-energy pre-workout routine – a little air guitar, a little wrestling with the kids running around the clubhouse, some mosh pit writhing – was just a warm-up for his post-workout session. That’s when he spent an hour in the batting cage with hitting coach Kevin Long, honing his swing from both sides of the plate while shouting “Nobody else is working like this!” between hacks.

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And the Winner is…

Welp, tonight’s the night, if you care about this sort of thing. I don’t, but I do enjoy bagging on all the celebrities, goofin’ on all the pomp and whatnot.  I like being a contrarian and the almost certain prize for Heath Ledger, which he seemingly won before the latest Batman movie was released, is perfect to get me going.  I didn’t think he was so terrific in the role either.  He wasn’t bad, but, ah, anyhow, it’s something to talk smack about. 

So, who do you like to win the big awards?

Observations From Cooperstown–George King, Free Agents, and Ted Uhlaender

I love the New York Post’s sports section (if not the cartoons), but George King sometimes makes strange observations in his role as a beat writer for the Yankees. In last Sunday’s Post, King warned the Yankees not to commit Joba Chamberlain to the rotation because of the age of closer Mariano Rivera. “The Yankees… pray the end isn’t here [for Rivera],” King wrote on Sunday. “Because if they use Joba Chamberlain as a starter, there isn’t a closer candidate in the organization.” Well, I’m not so sure of that. Right off the top, I can think of three. Hard-throwing right-hander Mark Melancon (who reaches 97 miles per hour with his fastball) is generally ranked among the top ten prospects in the Yankee system and is scheduled to begin the season as closer at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, assuming he doesn’t claim one of the last spots in Joe Girardi’s bullpen. Then there’s the talented Humberto Sanchez, finally recovered from Tommy John surgery two years ago and likely to begin the season a step away at Triple-A. The Yankees also have right-hander Anthony Claggett, who dominated hitters at Double-A Trenton and might start the season in Scranton, too.

Without much doubt, closers are easier to find than quality starters, especially in the current Yankee farm system, where relievers are growing like the vines at Wrigley Field. That’s not to say that the Yankees will find anyone the equal of Rivera, who might just be the best reliever in major league history. Heck, unless the Yankees can find the next Dennis Eckersley, chances are that ANYBODY they choose will fall short of the great Rivera. But the Yankees clearly have promising options outside of Chamberlain—options that aren’t light years away. And they also have several short-term possibilities at the major league level, including Jose Veras, Brian Bruney, and Jonathan “Kerfeld” Albaladejo, the latter coming off a wondrous Winter League performance. So let’s not start this Joba-must-be-in-the-bullpen chorus just yet…

***

This has been a lousy free agent market for most players, but it may provide some unexpected benefits for the Yankees later this spring. A number of serviceable players remain unsigned—the master list includes Orlando Hudson, Orlando Cabrera, Garret Anderson, Ben Sheets, and Joe Beimel—some of whom could fill potential holes should the Yankees spring a few leaks in Tampa. For example, let’s say that something happens to Jorge Posada, that something being that his shoulder won’t allow him to catch. Brian Cashman has already missed opportunities on Henry Blanco and Gregg Zaun, but there could be an option in Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, who remains unsigned. I-Rod has a standing offer from the awful Astros, but reportedly is holding out hope that the Mets will show interest. Therein lies the problem; the Mets already have two healthy catchers in Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro. So if Rodriguez remains stubborn, he might still be available.

Then there’s the center field situation. If both Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner flop in the Grapefruit League, the Yankees could consider Jim Edmonds as a cheap alternative. Edmonds is a fragment of his former self and hits lefties about as well as Jim Spencer once did, but still plays an above-average center field. He hit well for the Cubs during the second half of 2008; the Yankees would do cartwheels over a repeat of that performance.

Finally, the Yankees could take a run at Juan Cruz if they decide their bullpen needs another veteran. A beefier version of Domingo Jean (remember him?), the razor-thin Cruz excels in the seventh and eighth inning but has a history of blowing up in save situations. As long as Rivera remains capable, Cruz wouldn’t have to worry about pitching in many of those situations in pinstripes.

***

Former major league outfielder and onetime Yankee scout Ted Uhlaender died earlier this month at the age of 68, the victim of a heart attack. Cruelly, his passing came only one day after he’d received some encouraging news in his ongoing battle against multiple myeloma. A fleet-footed outfielder who played a nifty center field in the late 1960s, Uhlaender started his career with the Twins before being included in the deal that sent future Yankee Graig Nettles to the Indians. He saw his career fall off abruptly by 1972, but not before he made a cameo appearance in the World Series for Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

After a brief stint as a minor league manager, Uhlaender opted to go into private business. He returned to the game in 1989, joining the Yankees as a minor league coach before becoming the team’s advance scout in 1994 and ’95. He prepared in-depth reports on upcoming opponents for Buck Showalter and his staff. Those reports paid some dividends in ’95, as the Yankees claimed their first playoff berth in 14 years.

A few years ago, I met Uhlaender in spring training, where he was working as a coach with the Indians. As I asked him if he would be willing to answer some questions about the ’72 World Series, I noticed his face; he had that stern, sandpaper look of a hardened baseball veteran. Though I was intimidated at first, Uhlaender answered all of my questions, calmly and without fanfare. He was a pro, a characterization that was confirmed for me when I read Tracy Ringolsby’s touching tribute to him last week. Like the late John Vukovich and Pat Dobson, Uhlaender was a hard-working baseball lifer whose hard-edged appearance only masked a deep love of the game. As with Vuk and Dobber, we’ll miss a solid guy like Uhlaender.

News of the Day – 2/21/09

Its Saturday morning … you wanna sleep late … but your cat has other ideas …

Important note!
I would rather not (further) play into the MSM’s fixation with the A-Rod PED story. I don’t want to help feed the “let’s hunt down every possible angle til we tear down Rodriguez” monster, so from here on, I will only post a PED-related A-Rod story if it has a direct result on his playing status (ex. he needs to miss a game to speak to Congress). Otherwise, I’m gonna let it slide.  This has Alex Belth’s blessing.  I hope you understand.

Now, back to the news:

  • David Ortiz admires Mark Teixeira, and his fortunate timing contract-wise:

“Everybody needed a player like him at the time and the market was wide open. He walked into a situation that was perfect for him, and on top of it he was a very good player. Everybody who performs at that level wants to be put in that situation.” …

Under his previous deal, (Ortiz) could have potentially hit the free agent market at the age of 31.

But in the first month of the 2006 season Ortiz chose to sign a four-year, $52 million extension with a team option for 2011. …

“Teixeira was 28 years-old. In a few years I’ll be 35. It’s a totally different situation,” Ortiz said. “They know what you deserve and you go from there. But I’ll tell you what, if I was 28 I would be thinking like that.

“The market (when he signed his deal) wasn’t like it is now. It wasn’t close to what it is now. The year after I signed my deal the market exploded with the big television deal. I know it will be hard to get that kind of money a few years from now. I haven’t really sat down and thought about it. All my focus is about doing my thing. You work, try to get better every day for a reason. I’m not planning to go anywhere.”

Damon, 35, and Nady, 30, told FOXSports.com on Friday morning that their finances are frozen because of money they have with a Stanford company.

On Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission froze all assets of three entities — Stanford International Bank, Stanford Group Co., and Stanford Capital Management — all managed by Robert Allen Stanford. Those were the only three entities whose assets were frozen, according to the SEC filing.

“I can’t pay bills right now,” Damon said at the Yankees’ spring training facility in Tampa. “That started on Tuesday. I had to pay a trainer for working out during the offseason. I told him, ‘Just hold on for a little bit and hopefully all this stuff gets resolved.’”

Nady faces similar concerns.

“I’m affected in some ways. I have the same (advisor) as Johnny,” Nady said. “He said I didn’t have money with Stanford (investments). But all my credit card accounts are frozen right now because of that situation. I’m trying to get an apartment in New York. I can’t put a credit card down to hold it.”

[My take: Maybe Nady should see if A-Rod's apartment is still up for sale (vacant)?]

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Why I Root for Alex Rodriguez

It’s been said that the biggest problem with American men is that we are forever stuck in adolescence. Sometimes my wife will look at me and ask, “What are you thinking?” I’ll saying, “Nothing,” and if she presses, most of the time I’ll confess, “I was thinking about El Duque’s wind-up.” And that is the truth. I day dream about sports, especially baseball, all the time.

The reason that I’ve enjoyed rooting for Alex Rodriguez goes even further back–it is infantile and all about my relationship with my father. My dad was not a mediocre man. He was exceptionally bright, charming, and exuded self-confidence. At one time, he had the world on a string, he was a comer. But it crumbled and so did he. He was a dreamer who dreamed big, grandiose dreams. It wasn’t enough to start small and eventually succeed. It had to be boffo from the start.

In the end, he was a failure in his professional life. He drank himself out of a marriage. He talked the talk, but he fell down a lot.

On the other hand, my mother walked the walk in life. If my dad was Reggie Jackson, home run or strike out, my mother was Willie Randolph or Don Mattingly or Derek Jeter. Hard-working, earnest, competitive, tough. She was very much a heroine. Not without her own flaws and problems of course, but she took care of my brother and sister and me, and thrived professionally when she could have fallen apart.

Still, her success always underscored my father’s failure. And as a kid, my dad was my hero. I wanted to believe his promises, needed to believe that he’d eventually come through. Defended him when it seemed that everyone in our family, and in the world, was against him.

Which is why I’ve been drawn to rooting for Rodriguez. It’s about wishing for greatness to be realized. And not just solid, dependable greatness like Jeter, but fantastic, over-the-top, all-time greatness.

I came to accept my father, warts and all, as best as I could. By the time I was in my Thirties, I became my own man and didn’t need him to be a hero anymore. And since he’s been dead, I think about him with more compassion than I ever could when he was alive.

But baseball is different. It brings out the kid in us who yearns for heroes. I may know intellectually that ball players, like other entertainers, are not necessarily admirable human beings, but that doesn’t matter.

I figure things are going to continue to get worse for Rodriguez because he’s like a beautiful-looking version of the hapless Charlie Brown. Today we find out that the drug he got in D.R. was illegal. There will be more mishegoss to follow, I’m certain.

But even if Rodriguez isn’t a guy I’d want to hang out with, or to know personally, that doesn’t prevent the little kid in me from wanting him to make good, just like the kid in me hoped for my old man to strike it rich and fulfill his great potential.

News of the Day – 2/20/09

Powered by it just being Friday, here’s the news:

  • BP.com’s Christina Kahrl runs down the worst free-agent contracts of the off-season, and bestows the “worst” upon A.J. Burnett’s deal:

… why spend $16.5 million per year for the next five on a pitcher with Burnett’s spotty track record? Well, because you can, I suppose, and because somebody else you’re competing with might, but is investing this kind of money in a pitcher coming off of just his second full season in a big-league rotation in ten in The Show really where you want to wind up? Between Burnett’s repeated problems with durability and consistency over the course of his career, the money alone for this kind of length was nuts. Add in that young pitching is the organization’s great strength—Phil Hughes representing just the front end of the wave—and short-term deals like Pettitte’s incentive-driven one-year contract look entirely sensible as an adaptation to the market and the team’s immediate win-now needs; Burnett’s deal, by comparison, does not.

  • BP.com also trots out their first 2009 iteration of their Playoff Odds report, and pegs the Yanks as having a 32.1% chance of winning the East and a 24.5% chance of nabbing the wild card.  Their resulting 56.5% chance of making the post-season ranks a comfortable 2nd behind the BoSox in the AL.
  • If you care ….they’ve tracked down A-Rod’s cousin.

[My take: This song seems appropriate.]

  • Buster Olney reports that the Yanks and Padres are each interested in the services of a 32-year-old Mexican League pitcher named Walter Silva.
  • MLB.com explores the Yankees interest in players from China.
  • It appears that the Yankee lineup will run Tex/A-Rod in the 3/4 slots.
  • ESPN.com reports that Boss George and Bernie Williams each showed up at camp Thursday.  Here’s what was said about Steinbrenner:

Steinbrenner arrived at about 10 a.m., was brought from the parking lot to Steinbrenner Field in a golf cart, then was transferred to a wheelchair near a bank of elevators before going up to his office. The 78-year-old has been increasingly frail in recent years.

[My take: I was almost taken aback when I read about the wheelchair.  I mean ... we all know he's on the decline ... but I still think of George as bluster and braggadocio.]

  • No surprise here … Hank Steinbrenner doesn’t think much of John Henry’s call for a salary cap:

“Along with a few other teams, we’re basically baseball’s stimulus package,” Steinbrenner told The Associated Press. …

The Yankees, according to AP, paid about $110 million in revenue sharing and luxury tax last season — the latter a penalty for having a payroll beyond an agreed-upon dollar figure between owners and the players union.

“As long as we’re doing that and giving all this money to other teams in revenue sharing, a staggering amount, we should be able to spend on salaries what we want to,” Steinbrenner said. “Because of revenue sharing and because of the popularity nationwide, the Yankees are critical to baseball.”

(more…)

Card Corner–Hank Aaron (Part Two)

aaron2

Hank Aaron has made news on several counts this month. He turned 75 years of age, attracting scores of celebrities to a birthday party held for him in his native Georgia. The Hall of Fame has announced that it will open the “Hank Aaron Records Room” this spring. Additionally, Aaron has commented publicly on Barry Bonds, taking the high road in saying that the ex-Giants slugger should be considered the all-time home run king in spite of mounting evidence that he used steroids during his days in San Francisco.

Thirty five years ago, Aaron completed his own assault on the home run mark. Steroids were not an issue at the time, but reports of death threats and some unfavorable comparisons to Babe Ruth filled the newspapers. In spite of those roadblocks, Aaron remained poised as he stood on the edge of rewriting the game’s record book.

On Monday night, April 8, Aaron and the Braves hosted the Dodgers at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta. Given the grand possibilities of the evening, NBC Television decided to provide a special broadcast of the game, even though the network did not feature regular Monday night telecasts at the time. Moments before Braves right-hander Ron Reed threw the game’s first pitch, National League umpire Lee Weyer took a look at the crowd of 53,755 fans, a record for the ballpark, and remarked, “I’m glad I’m here. History might be made tonight.”

Braves manager Eddie Mathews inserted Aaron, his left fielder and former teammate, into the cleanup spot, behind Darrell Evans and ahead of Dusty Baker. In the bottom of the first, veteran left-hander Al Downing, a former Yankee and a onetime 20-game winner, took to the mound for the Dodgers. He immediately produced a sense of disappointment for the capacity crowd, as he retired Ralph “The Roadrunner” Garr, Mike Lum, and Evans on three consecutive groundouts. Any record-breaking theater would have to wait until the second inning, at the earliest.

After impatiently watching the Dodgers go down in the top of the second, Atlanta fans anticipated the first head-to-head matchup of the night. Leading off against Downing, Aaron drew a walk. He came home to score on a double by Baker, assisted by Bill Buckner’s error in left field. Interestingly, when Aaron touched home plate, he broke Willie Mays’ record for the most runs scored in National League history, a record almost entirely overlooked in the midst of media and fan attention surrounding Hank’s home run pursuit. (The connection between Aaron and Mays has become especially noteworthy because of the growing rivalry that has developed between the two men. Each summer, Hall of Fame officials are careful to sit Aaron and Mays apart from each other during the annual induction ceremony.)

Atlanta fans, however, had little interest in watching Aaron score a run after a walk. They wanted the run to come via the home run and were unhappy that Downing did not give Aaron a pitch to hit. After all, most fans were not only anticipating the possibility of a record being broken, but nervous as well. There was no guarantee that “The Hammer” would deliver that night; yet many fans had tickets only to that game.

In the fourth inning, Aaron came to bat again. With the Braves trailing 3-1, two men out and a runner on first, Aaron patiently watched Downing’s first pitch, a change-up in the dirt. Ball one. Now behind in the count, Downing threw Aaron a slider. The pitch was low, but down the middle, perhaps a strike if he let it go. Aaron did not. Using his classic top-hand swing and follow-through, Aaron lifted the pitch deep toward left-center field. The ball had only moderate height, typical of Aaron, who rarely hit towering fly balls. As the ball carried, left fielder Bill Buckner and center fielder Jimmy “The Toy Cannon” Wynn raced in the direction of the warning track, converging just a few feet from the outfield wall. Placing his arms on top of the wall, Buckner tried to prop himself higher, above the boundary of the fence. Young and spry at this early stage of his career, Buckner saw his valiant attempt fall well short. Both Billy Buck and The Cannon watched the ball land in the glove of relief pitcher Tom House, who was standing in Atlanta’s bullpen.

Two overly enthusiastic fans accompanied Aaron on his tour around the bases. Security forces must have cringed at the site of the intruders, but they carried neither weapons nor ill intentions. (They would, however, have to spend a memorable night in an Atlanta jail before eventually becoming friends with the new home run king.) By the time Aaron had reached home plate, his entourage of followers and well-wishers numbered nearly a dozen, mostly Braves’ teammates and coaches. Aaron’s swarm of notable teammates included Baker (who had been kneeling in the on-deck circle), future Mets manager Dave Johnson, and Frank Tepedino, a former Yankee who would gain fame in later years for his role as a New York City fireman during the tragic day of September 11.

The umpires temporarily halted the game, allowing for an understated on-field ceremony that lasted a modest 11 minutes. During the proceedings, Aaron spoke to the crowd at Fulton County Stadium. “I’m happy it’s over,” Aaron said of his grueling chase of Ruth’s record, once thought unreachable by baseball historians. “Now I can consider myself one of the best. Maybe not the best because a lot of great ones have played this game—[Joe] DiMaggio, Mays, Jackie Robinson… but I think I can fit in there somewhere.”

Even 35 years later, few fans would argue with Aaron’s humble assessment.

Bruce Markusen, who once had the privilege of interviewing Henry Aaron, writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for MLB.com.

As I Lay Dying: The Anatomy of a Failed Minor League Career

mccarthy_matthew1

It’s that time of year again, time for the new crop of baseball books to hit the shelves.  The Joe Torre/Tom Verducci book made a splash several weeks ago, and Selena Robert’s forthcoming biography of Alex Rodriguez is sure to make the best-seller list when it comes out in mid-April.  But there are a bunch of other interesting titles set to drop this spring as well, including “As I See ‘Em,” Bruce Weber’s book about professional umpires; “Heart of the Game,” S.L. Price’s account of Mike Coolbaugh, the minor league coach who was killed by a foul ball in 2007, and “Odd Man Out,” Matt McCarthy’s evocative and entertaining look back on his brief minor league career with the Angels.

McCarthy pitched at Yale, played for a year with the Angels, and then moved on to a career in medicine.  He’s now an intern at Columbia Pres uptown, just a stones throw from where the New York Highlanders once played.

Last week, Sports Illustrated ran a long excerpt from “Odd Man Out”, and on March 3rd at 6:00 p.m., Matt will  be at The Corner Bookstore (1313 Madison Avenue at 93rd street) to talk about the book.  I was fortunate enough to get together with Matt recently and talk about his life in professional baseball.

Enjoy.

BB: John Ed Bradley wrote a terrific memoir about playing football at LSU called “It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium.” His experience might have been unique, but he describes the bond between his teammates almost like something soldiers feel. But I don’t get that same sense of being a team in baseball, even in college. Did you?

MM: Minor league baseball is a unique environment. It’s hard to be a good teammate when your primary goal is to leave the team- to be promoted to a higher level. And I was as guilty as anyone. If I pitched two scoreless innings and our team lost, I was relatively happy. No one makes the big leagues solely because they were on a winning minor league team. College baseball couldn’t be more different. We rooted for each other and still do. I still get a dozen texts every time Craig Breslow (my teammate at Yale who now pitches for the Twins) gets a big strikeout.

BB: Can you talk about the arrested development of the clubhouse culture. How do boys become men in that world?

MM: See: Kotchman, Tom. The Angels are very fortunate to have Kotchman. He could easily be a big league manager but instead he’s chosen to coach a rookie ball team. He’s able to influence players who’ve just signed very large (and very small) contracts and instill in them a culture of winning and for that the franchise owes him a large debt of gratitude. I don’t know if there are many guys like him still around, but I hope there are. That lucky charm of his- a large black dildo with two baseballs glued to the base- is something I’ll never forget. And the same is true of his Andrew Dice Clay impression. I’ve been out of baseball for six years and I still think about the Dice Man. He’s mentioned in recent interviews that he’s planning to retire from coaching sometime soon to become a full time scout. As I say in the book, I hope he reconsiders.

BB: Some of your teammates busted your chops about coming from Yale and assumed that you had a privileged life set up for yourself as a fallback in case baseball didn’t work. While they were wrong about you being on any kind of gravy train, you did have another career to turn to. How aware were you of that while you played?

MM: When you’re on the bottom rung of the minor league ladder, you can’t help but be aware of how expendable you are. That life after baseball is not just a possibility, but a reality. I was surrounded by guys who were coming to that realization and it was interesting to see how they responded. The realization came to me rather quickly- the first pitch I threw as a professional resulted in a bases-clearing double. I’m not sure if I ever recovered.

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News of the Day – 2/19/09

Today’s news is powered by a classic baseball cartoon (goodness knows we could all use a laugh right about now) …

  • BP.com’s Joe Sheehan points out the media frenzy and the unfairness towards A-Rod’s actions:

The reaction to Rodriguez’s press conference has been at best apathetic, and at worst, critical. His demeanor, his word choice, his expressions, his inflections have all been picked apart, and he’s been given no credit for the details he provided. There’s an assumption that he’s being deceptive, duplicitous, and insincere. Whether this stems from the dislike so many people have for this very insecure man, the dislike of his agent, or the general disdain for the successful and wealthy—let’s face it, sports coverage has devolved into thinly disguised class warfare—this most open moment has been dismissed, and Rodriguez has been given no credit for providing it.

Contrast that with the reaction to the press conference at which the Chargers’ Shawne Merriman openly discussed his… oh, wait, that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because the NFL doesn’t have a vested interest in making its players look bad to gain the upper hand in an unending war against its own product. The NFL would never sustain a story like that through multiple news cycles, never allow PED use to overwhelm the story of training camps opening, never contribute to speculation that its game and its stars were somehow less than because of their behavior.

The other day, Bud Selig whined that he shouldn’t be held responsible for the so-called “steroid era,” claiming that he wanted to talk about the problem as far back as 1995. As I’ve mentioned, Selig has flipped on this issue a few times, sometimes claiming to have been fighting it for a while, sometimes claiming he didn’t know there was a problem. …

  • Steven Goldman of Pinstriped Bible finished up with this thought after viewing the news conference:

Of course, none of these concerns go to the bottom line, which, as A-Rod correctly pointed out, is that he had his best season in 2007, and there has been a testing regimen in place for a few years now, one that seems to have been successful in nailing quite a few players. There remains little evidence that steroids do much more for ballplayers than build muscle, or that Rodriguez’s numbers were affected in any significant way. He remains one of the best ballplayers in the business and also one of the hardest to like. From the point of view of winning pennants, one out of two ain’t bad.

  • Jayson Stark gets some interesting comments about the whole A-Rod deal from the one and only Mike Schmidt:

… when Schmidt was asked directly if he thought he’d have gotten caught up in trying performance-enhancing drugs had they been part of his era, he answered: “Most likely. Why not?”

“A term that I think has been overused a lot, especially by Alex, is ‘culture’ — culture of the era he played in,” Schmidt said. “We had a culture when I played. There was a culture in the era when Babe Ruth played. And in the ’60s, there was a culture. It’s just that way in life. And apparently — I wasn’t involved, but from hearing everybody — that was the culture of the ’90s and the early 2000s. The temptation had to be tremendous to the young men playing major league baseball back then.”

But when he was asked if he thought that being “young and stupid” was an acceptable explanation for what A-Rod did, Schmidt said: “Young and stupid may be better [when you're] 12, 13, 14, as opposed to 23, 4, 5 and 6.”

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Captain Quote

Yankee Panky: Lie to Me

A couple of items to attend to before getting into the article:
1) Thank you for the well-wishes in the BB community following my last post. My daughter was born Thursday, February 5, at 8:32 a.m. EST. She has a tremendous set of lungs and long fingers. I think she’s going to be a singer-songwriter, maybe a prodigy like Alicia Keys.
2) Cliff, Alex and Diane have done a kickass job here following the A-Rod story and keeping everything strong.
3) I’m back on schedule now. Welcome to Spring Training!

________________________________________

I’ve been watching Tim Roth’s new show on FOX, “Lie To Me.” The premise: Roth, as Dr. Lightman, heads a private company that assists in federal criminal cases, using scientific studies in body language and facial expressions to determine whether a suspect is lying. At various points in an episode, still photos of Sarah Palin, O.J. Simpson, etc., are shown to demonstrate how in real life, facial expressions can communicate emotion and in turn, veracity or falsehood of statements.
Far-fetched? Depends on your point of view. Provocative? Certainly.
In the three weeks since the show premiered, the A-Rod situation has blown up, and I’ve begun thinking about the show more and more, and yesterday’s press conference gave a perfect opportunity to role play and try to apply some of the science to breaking down what was a brilliantly staged spectacle.
“Hard to Believe” was the headline on ESPN.com. It’s a great headline because of the many ways it can be interpreted. Hard to believe A-Rod was being honest? Jayson Stark thinks so, as illustrated below in Diane Firstman’s excerpt. Hard to believe A-Rod read his statements so stiffly, as if he’d never rehearsed them? Hard to believe that he never mentioned the word “steroids” at all? Hard to believe that when asked if he considered what he did to be cheating, he dodged the answer and didn’t say anything definitive? (More on this later.) Hard to believe that he’s still trying to pull the “young and naïve” argument on us, and that he’s blaming his curiosity on not receiving higher education? Hard to believe he sold out his cousin? Hard to believe that he’s the scapegoat of the 104 players who tested positive in 2003? Hard to believe that Gene Orza of the MLBPA sold him out? Hard to believe that Bud Selig doesn’t want to take accountability for the state of the game breaking down, resurrecting itself, and breaking down again on his watch? Hard to believe A-Rod had no clue what Jamie Moyer said earlier this week? Hard to believe that this wasn’t a classic case of the media putting an athlete on a pedestal only to tear him down after learning of his transgressions? Hard to believe that a few callers dialed into Mike Francesa’s show and Michael Kay’s show yesterday afternoon buying into the Bill Madden theory that the Yankees should eat the remaining $270 million of his contract?

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News of the Day – 2/18/09

Today’s news is brought to you by someone who knows how to properly admit the truth about his taking PEDs:

(I’m not gonna inundate you with A-Rod news conference links, because Alex and Cliff have done and will continue to provide related content.  But here are a couple to tide you over …)

  • PeteAbe provides the text of Rodriguez’s opening statement (via the AP).
  • Jayson Stark points out the inconsistencies in A-Rod’s answers to Gammons’ questions, and what he said at the news conference.  For example:

Nine days ago, A-Rod didn’t know what kind of drug (or drugs) he was taking — even though he says he took it for three years.

Now, nine days later, he knows it was something called “Boli.” Which, best we can tell, is another name for Primobolan, the exact drug he was asked point-blank by Gammons whether he had taken.

Nine days ago, there wasn’t one word uttered about any mysterious cousins who were procuring this stuff and helping him inject it. …

Nine days ago, A-Rod was implying that whatever he was taking, he was buying it down at the mall …

Now, he’s admitting his cousin was the one doing the purchasing. And although he continued to say this drug was bought “over the counter,” we now know that counter was located in the Dominican Republic …

Nine days ago, there was no mention of any other “substances.” But on Tuesday, Rodriguez admitted to ESPN’s Hannah Storm that he also used to take Ripped Fuel, which was later banned — at least in its original ephedra-based form — by both baseball and the FDA.

And nine days ago, Rodriguez was angrily accusing universally respected Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts of “stalking” him. Now, it turns out, he just had a “misunderstanding of the facts.” So never mind.

Now let me ask you: Would a man whose mission was simply to tell the truth do that much zigzagging in a nine-day span? Sorry. That’s tough to accept.

[My take: Alex should have taken one more injection ... truth serum.]

  • Alan Schwarz of the Times blogged the A-Rod news conference, and had this to say at the end of it:

Rodriguez has said, in many different ways, “I’m ready to get this behind me.”….

I have my own personal Pete Rose Rule, named after the Hit King who denied he bet on baseball for (something like) 14 years before finally admitting it and saying, in effect, “It’s good to get this off my chest, and it’s time to move on.” Seems to me that if you admit to something after lying about it for 14 years, you get 14 years before others let you “move on.”

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Meet the Press

Part One of Alex Rodriguez’s afternoon press conference (video from SNY):

And, Part Two:

Did It Help?

Alex and Diane have done such a great job covering the Alex Rodriguez fiasco that I’ve been loathe to chime in with my, largely identical, reactions, but in light of Rodriguez’s confession to Peter Gammons last week, I wanted to take a look at the seasons during which Rodriguez admitted he had experimented with banned substances to see what impact, if any, those substances had on his on-field performance. The result was an article published over at SI.com at the end of last week.

Spoiler alert:

. . . if he is indeed telling the truth about his drug use being limited to his three years in Texas, the only noticeable benefit that Rodriguez derived from his experimentations with banned substances was his ability to play 485 of the Rangers’ 486 games during his three years with the club. That’s no small thing. There are some who believe that the most undervalued statistic in baseball is games played. It’s irrefutable that Rodriguez’s ability to take the field every day as a Ranger enabled him to put up the remarkable counting stats he compiled in a Texas uniform, chief among them his 57 home runs in 2002. Still, there’s no evidence that the drugs made him any more powerful, and significant evidence that his rate of production actually declined during what he claims were his doping years.

Meanwhile, feel free to use this post as a disussion thread for Alex Rodriguez’s Tampa press conference set to begin at 1:30 pm today.

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News of the Day – 2/17/09

Today’s news is powered by a younger, more innocent Alex Rodriguez, as seen in this video:

  • Jayson Stark takes us behind the scenes of the soon-to-be circus atmosphere of A-Rod’s news conference:

Have I mentioned that Mark Teixeira pulled into this clubhouse for the first time Monday? If you’re wondering, he was 8½ minutes into his first chat with the media before he got a single question fired at him that WASN’T A-Rod-related.

Later on, the manager plopped into a chair in his office for his daily dose of press banter. The conversation with Joe Girardi lasted 14 minutes. I timed it.

He took one question about his overpopulated outfield, and another about whether he expected all of his players to report on time. EVERY other question was about his third baseman.

So think about how much Girardi and that talented little $200 million baseball team of his can’t wait for this melodrama to be over. Hey, good luck on that.

But at least the manager has that part figured out. Asked Monday if there was a “danger” that this story might linger after A-Rod leaves the witness stand — er, news conference — Girardi never blinked.

“Obviously, I think it’s going to linger,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a press conference [Tuesday] and then it’s just going to disappear.”

  • ESPN ombusman LeAnne Schrieber takes a hard look at her network’s Gammons/A-Rod coverage.

My own assessment is that Gammons asked the hard questions — Did you take steroids? For how long? Where did you get them? Did you lie to Katie Couric? — but that after getting Rodriguez’s opening admission of guilt, he did not press hard enough when Rodriguez gave evasive or self-serving answers to the what/where/when/why questions. I also think Gammons’ lack of follow-up was attributable, in large part, to his genuine sympathetic engagement in the human drama of what the viewer somewhat cynically called “Rodriguez’s first step toward personal redemption.”

  • SI’s Jerry Crasnick rates the Yankees OF situation as one of the top 9 position battles to be settled this Spring:

Johnny Damon, whose 118 OPS+ a year ago tied the best single-season mark of his career, will get the bulk of the left field at-bats, which leaves Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher in the mix in right and Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner competing for time in center.

(more…)

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