The past 10 days have seen an immense range of stories leapfrog to the forefront of New York sports fans’ collective consciousness. In no particular order, with some analysis and commentary mixed in…
• The Yankees slashed prices for the primo seats, an altruistic move that still leaves many of us thinking, “You know, you have your own network, and it’s on my cable system. I’ll contribute to your bottom line that way and I won’t feel like I got stabbed in the wallet.”
• Alex Rodriguez did everything necessary in extended spring training and returned to the lineup Friday. He punctuated the return with a home run on the first pitch he saw, thus fulfilling his job as the media-anointed savior of the team’s season. He proceeded to go 1-for-10 with two strikeouts in the remainder of the series, and perhaps fearing aggravating the hip injury, didn’t hustle down the line to run out a ground ball, thus reclaiming his role as the team’s most prominent punching bag.
• The Yankees lost two straight to the Red Sox at home and have lost the first five meetings of the season. (Sound the alarms! Head for the hills! There’s no way the Yankees can win the division without beating the Red Sox! Except that they can, and they have. In 2004, the Yankees went 1-6 in their first seven games against the BoSox, ended up losing the season series 8-11 and still finished 101-61 to win the American League East by three games.)
• Joba Chamberlain 1: His mother was arrested for allegedly selling crystal meth to an undercover officer. Following Chamberlain’s own brushes with the law during the offseason, it stood to reason that the tabloids attacked this story like starving coyotes. It’s remarkable that he was able to pitch at all given the negative attention he received.
• Joba Chamberlain 2: Flash back to Aug. 13, 2007. Chamberlain struck out Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff in a crucial late-inning at-bat to end the inning and in the heat of the moment pumped his fist in exultation. Yesterday, following a three-run home run in the first inning that gave the O’s a 3-1 lead, Huff mocked Chamberlain’s emotional outburst with his own fist pump, first while rounding first base, and again when crossing home plate. Apparently, Mr. Huff holds grudges. Thanks to the New York Daily News’s headline, “MOCKING BIRD” with a photo of the home-plate celebration, this story will have wings when Baltimore comes to the Bronx next week. Even better, as it currently stands, Chamberlain is due to start in the series finale on Thursday the 21st. Get ready for a rash of redux stories leading up to that game.
• Mariano Rivera surrendered back-to-back home runs for the first time in his career last Wednesday night, a clear signal that something is wrong. Maybe.
• The team as a whole. The Yankees are 15-16 through 31 games, and some rabid fans (the “Spoiled Set,” as Michael Kay likes to call them; the group of fans between ages 18-30 that only knows first-place finishes for the Yankees) are calling for Joe Girardi’s head. As in the above note on the Red Sox, some context is required. The Yankees’ records through 31 games this decade:
2000: 22-9 (finished 87-74, won AL East)
2001: 18-13 (finished 95-65, won AL East)
2002: 18-13 (finished 103-58, won AL East)
2003: 23-8 (finished 101-61, won AL East)
2004: 18-13 (finished 101-61, won AL East)
2005: 12-19 (finished 95-67, won AL East)
2006: 19-12 (finished 97-65, won AL East)
2007: 15-16 (finished 94-68, won AL Wild Card)
2008: 15-16 (finished 89-73, missed playoffs)
2009: 15-16 (finish TBD)
No one is going to make excuses for the team with the billion dollar stadium and the highest payroll, least of all your trusted scribes here at the Banter. Looking at the last three years — including 2009 — it should be noted that similar issues of injury, age, and woes throughout the pitching staff have befallen the Yankees.
But in the same way announcers like to tout the “baseball card theory” with players who get off to slow starts and end up reaching or eclipsing their career averages, it stands to reason that the Yankees will reach at least 90 wins despite their slow start and myriad problems. A closer examination of the above list reveals that the Yankees averaged 92.7 wins per season in the three years they reached the 31-game threshold at or below .500. That is a testament to the overall talent of the players, and to the manager. It may not have made a difference if Joe Girardi, Joe Torre, Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa or Lou Piniella was managing this team. Given everything, a 15-16 record might be the best this team could have achieved to this point. As Joe Auriemma wrote on YESNetwork.com last week, you are what your record says you are.
• The release date for Selena Roberts’ biography on Alex Rodriguez was jumped to last Monday, May 4. The local broadcasters had a field day with the reviews (more on this below).
The combination of all those stories led to information and sensory overload. The dead horse couldn’t have been beaten any more, on any story. The question I tried to answer in examining all of this was: Which story was covered the best?
The winner: the Selena Roberts A-Rod book fallout. Taking a panoramic view — I can’t examine this with a magnifying glass since I haven’t read the book yet — the analysis not only of the book but of Roberts’ journalism was excellent. It got me thinking that the New York media are at their best when they attempt to discredit someone.
An invasive round of questioning regarded the issue of pitch tipping. To wit: On his interview with Roberts, SNY’s Gary Apple rightly asked who her sources were regarding incidents she documented during A-Rod’s time in Texas. Roberts answered, “They’re people who would know. Obviously I can’t tell you who they were. … They were people (with the Rangers) who saw him every day.” Apple followed by asking if she was as confident in the pitch tipping story as she was in A-Rod’s steroid usage. She said, “Absolutely.” Apple asked the tough questions and Roberts volleyed them right back, a theme throughout her New York junket.
Perhaps the most contentious interview came last Monday on WFAN, when Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton questioned Roberts’ overall credibility based on her coverage of the Duke Lacrosse case when she was a New York Times columnist. The morning duo agreed that Roberts covered the Duke case in a one-sided manner (DISCLAIMER: That is not my opinion; I am recounting the Boomer and Carton opinion), but while Esiason couldn’t get past that, Carton believed Roberts was the authority on A-Rod’s steroid usage, based on her February report in Sports Illustrated.
The additional details of the book angered the hosts. Esiason asked about the purpose of the book, and Carton asked her if she had “an axe to grind” with Rodriguez and was seeking to get wealthy based on the book’s salacious contents. Both grilled Roberts on the pitch tipping and asked if the other acts — wearing a Yankee hat into a strip club and tipping 15% at Hooter’s — were worth inclusion. All were valid questions, and Roberts, to her credit, defended herself without getting defensive. She even took the high road, giving Esiason and Carton credit for making good points, when the hosts weren’t necessarily as willing to give her points. Esiason, his words dripping with sarcasm, remarked, “Maybe Alex Rodriguez will read this book and take something out of it to turn his life around.” Roberts’ response: “You know, that’s a great point.” Esiason cut her off before she could finish the sentence and said, “Let’s not get crazy there, Selena.” Was the condescension necessary?
On the national front, Allen Barra’s review at Salon.com, which Diane Firstman excerpted in this space on Saturday, was spot-on in terms of his analysis of her knowledge base of PEDs, advanced stats, and standard operating procedure of the players’ union. All are subjects which Roberts should have researched in depth, especially if they enhanced the message she was trying to send through the book.
The Bob Costas MLB Network interview did little but leave one to wonder why MLB would devote an hour program to a book that, on the surface, destroys the legacy of one of its greatest players (prior to his steroid usage).
Roberts’ SI colleague Tom Verducci, himself the author of a controversial Yankee book that took Alex Rodriguez to task, predictably defended her protection of anonymous sources.
There was one hole for me in all the coverage: there was, in some cases, an overt gender bias in the analysis. In particular, the Esiason-Carton interview at times reeked of a “she’s a woman and shouldn’t be allowed in the locker room” tone. If we’re looking to get answers and call out your interview subject’s credibility, presenting your own agenda during the process does nothing to enhance your own credibility.
And why did no reporter, writer, or talkie comment on Girardi’s statement of “I don’t understand why anyone would write a book like that?” Girardi has an engineering degree from Northwestern. He played arguably the most intellectual position on the baseball field during his career. He is a smart man, yet he made himself sound like a simpleton. Worse, Girardi painted Roberts in a dark light without having read the book or talking to Roberts to get the full story.
Do you agree or disagree with the assessments above? Which story was the preeminent story of the past two weeks? Are you tired of all of it? Which was covered the best and why? Your feedback is respected and appreciated.
Until next week …