"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: December 2009

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Deck Us all with Boston Charlie


Merry Christmas, y’all. (Pictures and words from Walt Kelly.)


Beat of the Day

There were the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots and these dudes, the Golden Gate Quartet.

Niz, Briz.

News Update – 12/24/09

Today’s update is powered by a unique version of the “Hallelujah Chorus”

On his conference call with reporters, Vazquez acknowledged – for the first time, I think – that his problems for the Yankees in the second half of 2004 were related to shoulder fatigue. I had always been told that the Yankees suspected shoulder problems but ultimately concluded it was poor mechanics.

“My arm didn’t feel as good in the second half as it did in the first half,” Vazquez said, referring to a season that included an All-Star first half but a second-half implosion that included the fateful Game 7 against the Red Sox.

“It’s really the only time in my career that I felt a little bit that my arm wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I started getting treatment a little later than I should have. I never said anything, and I went out there every five days. I hate not being out there.”

While Cashman hasn’t been quite The Cash Man this time, the Yankees did take on the three years and $25.75 million remaining on Granderson’s contract and will pay Vazquez $11.5 million in 2010. That leads to the age-old question of whether the Yankees have an unlimited budget. “I do have a number I’m working under,” Cashman said. “We will be under that number.”

The Yankees seem determined to stay under $200 million, as even the sport’s most well-heeled franchise is sensitive to claims it bought the franchise’s 27th World Series title with last winter’s spending spree. Yet there are many people around baseball who believe owner Hal Steinbrenner will give Cashman the OK to go over the $200 million threshold to sign a premier free agent such as Matt Holliday or Jason Bay to fill the hole in left field created when they decided not to re-sign Damon last week.


Hot Air

 up in the air

Did you ever order a Coke and get a Diet Coke by accident? I have a sensitive palette and can’t abide diet soda. It tastes all wrong to me. That’s how I felt from the opening credits of Up in the Air, the new George Clooney vehicle. I just didn’t care for the taste. And I wanted to like it.

The movie looks good and features solid acting (Vera Farmiga is especially alluring) and there are a few winning light comedic scenes but I didn’t believe a minute of it, the rhythm, the dialogue, anything. The tone was off–not off-beat, just off. I thought it was cynical, self-satified, and phony. Not clever or funny but sour, a lemon. I know a lot of people have enjoyed it (it really spoke to Joe Pos, for instance). But for me, it simply didn’t taste right.

Beat of the Day

This one comes from the Mrs…

Hey Yo Tip What’s Wrong With Snails?

And You Can’t Beat that with a Stick Ball Bat

Following baseball these days–following anything in pop culture, really–can be dizzying. There is so much analysis and commentary from so many places that it is difficult to keep up with it all. I don’t Tweet which puts me behind the curve. But I read as much as I can, as quickly as I can point and click, so that opinions and facts are coming out of my ears. It is tough to tell the experts from the amateurs and vice versa.

Where do you turn?  Who is reliable? This probably depends on your bent. And while the volume can be overwhelming, the sheer amount of information that is available is impressive and often rewarding. It just requires time and the ability to filter the nuggets from the rubbish, which is easier said than done.

l find that Tyler Kepner is doing a great job of covering the Yankees for the New York Times. He mixes reporting (the quality that is most often missing from the blogosphere) and analysis especially well at the Bats blog. He isn’t the only one thriving these days, but his efforts stand-out. We’re lucky to have him on the beat but his talents have become broader than just a guy who covers the Yankees.

Chalk one up for the good guys.

Javy Been?

Javier Vazquez, 2005 ToppsI always thought Javier Vazquez got a raw deal in his one season as a Yankee. When he was traded, I wrote on my old blog that “the Yankees were giving up on a 29-year-old pitcher who had pitched like an ace for four and a half seasons because of a mere three months of poor pitching.” That his results with the Diamondbacks and the White Sox the next two seasons were underwhelming soothed my ire, but I still viewed him as a missed opportunity right up until the Yankees reacquired him from the Braves yesterday.

To be fair, Vazquez isn’t an ace, which was part of the problem in 2004. In his final four season with the Expos, Vazquez posted a 3.65 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and 3.91 K/BB, numbers that, coming from a 26-year-old pitcher, looked like the early work of a developing ace, which is exactly what Vazquez was acquired to be, arriving in the Bronx in the wake of the departures of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells. In the first half of the 2004 season, Vazquez came close, going 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and 2.97 K/BB, enough for him to make his first All-Star Team.

Then Vazquez’s shoulder began to ache (though he wouldn’t admit it until years later), and his season went off the rails. In the second half, he posted a 6.92 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and lost another strikeout per nine off his K rate while giving up 14 home runs in as many starts, or 1.6 HR/9, enough to earn him the derogatory nickname “Home Run Javy.” Things didn’t get better in his ALDS start against the Twins as he put the Yankees in a 5-1 hole that they nonetheless climbed out of thanks to Ruben Sierra’s game-tying homer in the eighth and Alex Rodriguez’s self-made run in the 11th inning. At that point, Joe Torre, who had put Vazquez on the All-Star team just three months earlier, pulled him from the ALCS rotation. Vazquez pitched in relief of Kevin Brown twice in that series, both times without much success. In the latter instance, he was brought into Game Seven with the bases loaded and gave up a first-pitch grand slam to Johnny Damon that drove the final nail in the 2004 Yankees’ coffin.

Leading up the trading deadline that season, the big rumor was that the Yankees were going to trade for Randy Johnson, but the Diamondbacks wanted Vazquez and the Yankees refused. After that brutal second half, the Yankees softened on their stance. In what might have been the last big player transaction motivated by George Steinbrenner, Vazquez was traded to Arizona with lefty Brad Halsey and catching prospect Dioner Navarro for Johnson.

The irony was that, over the next two seasons, Johnson and Vazquez were nearly identical in terms of results. Dig:

Johnson: 100 ERA+, 8.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 430 2/3 IP
Vazquez: 99 ERA+, 8.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 418 1/3 IP

Neither was an ace. Both maintained their good stuff, but a showed propensity to give up the long ball and a frustrating inconsistency. Vazquez spent the second of those two seasons as a member of the White Sox, having been obtained by the defending World Champions for past and future Yankee pitchers Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino (whom the Yankees acquired when they dealt Johnson back to the desert), and center field prospect Chris Young.

Vazquez shaved a run off his ERA in his second season in Chicago without a meaningful change in his overall performance, then gave most of that back in his third and final season on the South Side, after which he was dealt to the Braves with LOOGY Boone Logan for a quartet of prospects led by slugging catcher Tyler Flowers. The return to the weaker, non-DH league worked expected wonders for Vazquez as he posted career bests in ERA, WHIP, and his strikeout, homer, walk, and hit rates, garnering his first-ever Cy Young votes (he finished fourth).

Despite the variations in his results, Vazquez has actually proven to be one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball over the last decade. Aside from his lone Yankee season, when his struggles led to early exits leaving him at just 198 innings pitched for the year, Vazquez has thrown more than 200 innings every other year this decade and started 32 or more games in each of the last ten seasons, a streak unmatched in the majors. In those ten seasons, he has only twice had a K/9 below 8.0 (2004 again being one of the two exceptions) and has never walked as many as three men per nine innings over the course of a full season. Over those ten seasons, he has posted a 3.98 ERA (113 ERA+) with a 1.22 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.79 K/BB, and a fairly pedestrian 1.1 HR/9. Brought back to the Bronx not as a potential ace, but as an overqualified mid-rotation innings eater, he has a much greater chance of success, both because of the lowered expectations, and because of his additional five years of experience, maturity, and conditioning.

In essence, Vazquez is A.J. Burnett without the injury history or the excessive contract (Javy’s actually entering the final year of an extension he signed with the White Sox that pays him $11.5 million for 2010). Burnett trumps Vazquez in that he’s spent several years in the AL East and is more of a groundball pitcher, but again, Vazquez isn’t being asked to replace Burnett as the number-two. He’s merely being asked to give the Yankees quality starts from the third or fourth spot in the rotation, a task of which he should be perfectly capable.

Now the question is, did the Yankees give up too much for one year of an above-average innings eater with a fly-ball tendency that could be exposed in the new Yankee Stadium? Maybe, but probably not. The players being sent to Atlanta for Vazquez are Melky Cabrera, lefty reliever Mike Dunn, and teenage pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino.

Dunn was a fungible bullpen arm, ostensibly replaced by Boone Logan, who was again acquired with Vazquez. Not that Logan is any good. He’s basically a left-handed Kyle Farnsworth, but minus the effective slider and all those pesky strikeouts. Logan has a mid-90s fastball that’s straight and thus very hittable, a curve he rarely uses, and an unimpressive slider. The less we see of Logan in 2010 and beyond the better this trade will look. Fortunately, Logan still has an option remaining and can be stashed at Scranton. As for Dunn, he was nothing special. Besides, when was the last time the Yankees were burned by trading a theoretically promising relief pitcher, particularly one in his mid-20s with alarming minor league walk rates?

The key to the trade will be the future path of Vizcaino, who was just rated as the Yankees’ top pitching prospect by my man Kevin Goldstein over at Baseball Prospectus. Here’s Goldstein’s scouting report:

Vizcaino’s combination of stuff and refinement is rarely found in a teenager. His clean arm action leads to effortless 92-94 mph fastballs that get up to 97 when he reaches back for a bit more, while his smooth mechanics allow him to harness his pitches and pound the strike zone. His power curveball already grades out as big-league average with the projection of becoming a true wipeout offering. . . . Vizcaino’s ceiling tops that of any pitcher in the system, by a significant margin. It will take time, but the skills are there for him to become an All-Star starter.

The trick is that Vizcaino won’t turn 20 until next November and has yet to pitch in a full-season league. I’m not saying he’s not going to fulfill his potential, but he’s so far away that he’s more of a dream than a reality right now. The odds seem just as good that the Yankees traded him at the peak of his value than that he will turn into the pitcher he’s projected to be. Still, there’s a legitimate risk that the Yankees just gave up a young home grown ace for a year of Javy Vazquez.


Grace Under Pressure


One year ago today, Todd Drew wrote his final post for Bronx Banter (and for all I know it was the last thing he ever wrote, period). The next day he went into the hospital. He never made it out. We miss him terribly at the Banter though his spirit lives on. I’m sure he’d relish all the Hot Stove activity, all the kibbitzing, all the passion.

So here’s raising a toast in his honor. Spill a little on the ground, and enjoy a moment of silence to remember out dear friend.

Here is his final post, which is grace under pressure if I’ve ever seen it:

SHADOW GAMES: Baseball and Me

By Todd Drew

I went to a baseball game after my father’s funeral. I also went to one after finding out about my mother’s brain cancer.

It was selfish and heartless. I felt guilty before and embarrassed after, but for nine innings I felt only the game. That’s the way it’s always been between baseball and me.

It was my friend when I didn’t have any others. And it has always been there to talk or listen or simply to watch.

Baseball helps me forget and it makes me remember. That’s why it was exactly what I needed on the worst days of my life.

But there were no games when a doctor told me that I had cancer. The neighborhood was out of baseball on that cold November day. No one was playing at Franz Sigel Park or John Mullaly Park. And there wasn’t even a game of catch in Joyce Kilmer Park. The last game at the old Yankee Stadium was long gone and Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium was long off.

So I went home and wished for one of those summer days when I was a kid and my mother would send me to the ballpark with a paper sack stuffed with her famous tuna-fish sandwiches. That was back when you could slip through a delivery gate with the beer kegs and watch batting practice. And it was always okay to come home late with a beat-up scorecard and popcorn stuck between your teeth.

The doctor told me that tomorrow’s surgery and chemotherapy treatment might keep me in the hospital for 10 days.

“At least it’s December,” I said. “There aren’t any ballgames to miss.”

And I will be ready to slip through a delivery gate with the beer kegs when the new Yankee Stadium opens. I’ll watch batting practice with one of my mother’s famous tuna-fish sandwiches and come home late with a beat-up scorecard and popcorn stuck between my teeth.

Cancer can’t change the way it will always be between baseball and me.

Feels like 2003 All Over Again


First Nick Johnson. Is Javier Vazquez next?

Update: Yes, with LOOGY Boone Logan for Melky, LHP Michael Dunn, and pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino. So who goes to the bullpen? Joba or Hughes? And does this mean Granderson’s in left with Gardner in center, or is there one more big move on the way?

Update: With Arodys Vizcaino in the deal, does your opinion of the trade change?

Update: Fangraphs thinks both teams win here.

Who Is It?

Twitter is all, um, atwitter with word that the Yankees are on the verge of trading for a Mystery Pitcher. We know it’s not Aaron Harang, believe it’s not Carlos Zambrano, and the Daily NewsMark Fiensand says “it’s not a salary dump.” So, who is it, and what are they giving up to get him?

Say No Go


You won’t get the chance to kick Jason Marquis around, ya snot-nosed punks.

Beat of the Day

Since we hail from the Bronx, it is high time we served-up some Boogie Down Productions.

Here’s a classic from the second BDP record:

Fresh! For ’88, You Suckas!

Click here for the original sample from Stanley Turrentine.

The Other Voice of God


Dig this terrific Aretha mix by Oliver Wang.

Rolling Stone

The movie Crazy Heart is dedicated to a musician, the late Stephen Burton. My pal John Schulian, an avid country music fan, e-mailed me this weekend about Burton:

Bruton was one of those classic Texas guys. His daddy, Sumpter Bruton, owned the best jazz record shop in Fort Worth. Bruton himself settled in Austin and played guitar and mandolin in bands that backed Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver. Only late in life did he gain confidence in his own singing and songwriting, and he wrote some great damn songs. I’ll send you my favorite from youtube. Every Sunday night he and a bunch of other great Austin musicians got together at the Saxon Pub and played in a band called the Resentments. Yeah, I’ve got a T-shirt and all the albums they put out as a result of popular demand. Bruton was a good guy. I met him a couple times between sets while he was hanging around outside having a smoke — and there, I suppose, is the bad habit that killed him. But he kept picking until the end, working on Kristofferson’s last album and helping Burnett with the Crazy Heart score.

How about this for a Jeff Bridges Film Festival?

The Last Picture Show
Fat City
The Last American Hero
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
Cutter’s Way
The Fabulous Baker Boys
The Fisher King
American Heart
The Big Lebowski
Crazy Heart

News Update – 12/21/09

Today’s update is powered by some classic LL Cool J:

Damon has only himself to blame. Here’s a guy who has made $97.2 million in his career and for an extra $6 million he sacrificed happiness and contentment and all the other perks associated with playing for a world champion team in New York. If he really wanted to stay a Yankee, he should’ve told Boras: “Go shop around for a three-year offer, but at the end of the day just make sure I’m still wearing pinstripes.” Instead, he drank the Boras Kool-Aid and came out looking like just another baseball mercenary. Happy trails, Johnny.

Schpick n Schpan

I love gibberish.

That Name Again is Mr. Plow


We had a decent snow storm in New York last night, so I was up early this morning digging out Emily’s car. Which felt good because I was looking for a way to make up for being a schmuck about countless other things around the house (can you actually say that your wife is a nag if you are a lazy dope who turns her into one?) My neighbor Louie was out there too. His wife’s car looked ready to run a race. “I was out here at five a.m.,” he said.

Louie worked for an insurance company located in the Twin Towers but was at a doctor’s appointment that fateful Tuesday morning. He lost all of his co-workers, more than 500 in all. He says he hasn’t been the same since. He isn’t as lively as before. But he got married to a nurse, a great gal named Bee (half-Mexican, half Puerto Rican, Louie calls her a “Chicarican”). Louie has had a tough time finding work ever since but his pension kicks in starting in February. He wants to have us over to celebrate.

Meanwhile, he’s a great neighbor, always looking for a way to help, looking to keep useful. He gave me some rock salt this morning as I was digging out my wife’s car and then we went over to the cafe to pick up breakfast.




Uh, this can’t be a comfortable development.

Too Late

According to Tyler Kepner in the Times:

[Johnny] Damon said in a text message Friday that the Yankees had offered two years and $14 million, while he had offered to return for two years and $20 million. That was true, a Yankees official confirmed, but by then, the Yankees and Johnson had nearly finished their deal and it was too late to turn back.

The official, who was granted anonymity because the Johnson deal has not been announced, said that Damon’s agent, Scott Boras, wanted a two-year, $26 million deal when he spoke with General Manager Brian Cashman on Wednesday.

In a telephone interview, though, Boras said the Yankees did not begin negotiations with him until Thursday at 4 p.m., when they proposed the two-year, $14 million offer. Boras said he soon countered at two years and $20 million, and Cashman rejected it.

Why didn’t they want Damon back at two-years, $20 million?

Not sure I’m understanding the Yankees’ thinking here.

Poor Lonesome Cowboy


I went to see Crazy Heart last night and was not disappointed. It is a good, unaffected movie that provides satisfying pleasures, notably getting to watch Jeff Bridges in the lead role. He’s a great American actor and he’s in top form here. It is a story that we’ve seen countless times–it made me think of the Verdict and the Wrestler, but without the tension–but while it is familiar it doesn’t feel stale. It also isn’t self-consciously “small.” The tone feels spot-on (and so does the music), slack, just like Bad Blake (Bridges).

The photography is excellent, and the director, Scott Cooper, cuts between tight shots of Bridges on stage–you feel as if you are in his whiskers–and long shots of the big open sky in the southwest. Bridges carries the movie with grace. He doesn’t make a false step, and the supporting cast of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall are outstanding too. I don’t think Gyllenhaal has ever been lovelier–she’s radiant. She comes to interview Bad Blake in his hotel room and he says something about how she makes the rest of the room look ugly, and he’s right. She blushes and he says he can’t remember the last time he’d seen somebody blush and that feels so right too.

Farrell plays Bridges’ former protoge who is now a big star. The filmmakers and Farrell display admirable restraint in his scenes which would have been easy to turn into a satire. He plays a cheese-ball pop singer and he sounds like one too, but he isn’t ridiculed for it, lending his scenes on stage with Bridges depth and subtlety. Actually, that is what the movie really offers, some nice, subtle moments. Actors at the top of their game, working together, nothing showy. Duvall shows up half-way through and threatens to ruin the continuity because he’s “Robert Duvall.” But he slides right into the story, and he’s crackles. His scenes with Bridges are wonderful, especially the one where they go fishing together (I love the camera move in that scene as well).

The ending doesn’t really work, but it didn’t disturb my enjoyment much. The pleasures this movie offers might be humble but they are sustaining.

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