"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: January 2010

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David Copperfield’s Crap

Here’s just a few more Salinger links for you.

1)  The Heart of a Broken Story, Salinger’s first short story for Esquire (1941).  

2)  This Sandwich Has No Mayonaise, another Salinger short story for Esquire (1945).

3)  JD Salinger: The Man in the Glass House, a profile by Ron Rosenbaum.

5) Justice to JD Salinger, a defense of Salinger’s work by Janet Malcolm for the New York Review of Books.

6) Finally, a nice appreciation in the New Yorker (there are several tributes in the current issue) by Lillian Ross:

At one point during the more than half century of our friendship, J. D. Salinger told me he had an idea that someday, when “all the fiction had run out,” he might try to do something straight, “really factual, formally distinguishing myself from the Glass boys and Holden Caulfield and the other first-person narrators I’ve used.” It might be readable, maybe funny, he said, and “not just smell like a regular autobiography.” The main thing was that he would use straight facts and “thereby put off or stymie one or two vultures—freelancers or English-department scavengers—who might come around and bother the children and the family before the body is even cold.”

A single straight fact is that Salinger was one of a kind. His writing was his and his alone, and his way of life was only what he chose to follow. He never gave an inch to anything that came to him with what he called a “smell.” The older and crankier he got, the more convinced he was that in the end all writers get pretty much what’s coming to them: the destructive praise and flattery, the killing attention and appreciation. The trouble with all of us, he believed, is that when we were young we never knew anybody who could or would tell us any of the penalties of making it in the world on the usual terms: “I don’t mean just the pretty obvious penalties, I mean the ones that are just about unnoticeable and that do really lasting damage, the kind the world doesn’t even think of as damage.” He talked about how easily writers could become vain, complaining that they got puffed up by the same “authorities” who approved putting monosodium glutamate in baby food.

The Great One

Sixteen and counting… 

[Photo Credit: AFP]

Perfect Day

It was on this day in 1948 that J.D. Salinger’s first story was published in the New Yorker. A Perfect Day for Bananafish remains Salinger’s most famous single story, and the introduction to the Glass Family.

If you’ve never read it, here it is.

Anchorman

My old man used to drink with Roger Grimsby; I remember seeing Chuck Scarborough, taller and more athletic than I had imagined, waiting for the elevator at Lennox Hill hospital when I went to visit my grandfather. Anchormen and women are ubiquitous–they may change networks but they rarely go away–visual comfort food, local heroes.

There is a nice, long profile on Ernie Anastos in the Times today:

Someone walked by and said, “Hi, Ernie! It’s nice to see you in person,” to which he shouted back, “It’s nice to see you in person!”

The city will see plenty more of Mr. Anastos, who has been delivering New York’s news — on four different stations — since 1978. Last month, he signed a new three-year contract with WNYW, the Fox station in New York, to anchor the two nightly newscasts and develop shows for the station, for more than $1 million a year. The extension followed the spectacular gaffe, on Sept. 16, that added Mr. Anastos to that motley assortment known as YouTube sensations. While bantering with the weatherman during the 10 o’clock news, Mr. Anastos said, “Keep plucking that chicken,” except the verb sounded an awful lot like an obscenity. He apologized on the air the next night, but a catchphrase was born. Jon Stewart replayed the clip; David Letterman got a laugh.

…There are other anchormen who read the news in their “I’m reading the news” voice. That is Mr. Anastos’s voice. When he tells his viewers about the suspect in the Fort Hood shootings in Texas, and when he reads his book to a gymnasium full of children, and when he dials the tavern across from the studio to order a plate of cheeseburger sliders, and when he calls his wife of 41 years, Kelly, and thanks her for packing him a muffin — it is all the same voice. It is deep and clear and practically devoid of slang, and not known to traffic in vulgarity, which made his on-air flub all the more noticed. It is easy to believe that Mr. Anastos has never, ever thought about doing anything of the sort to a chicken.

In an industry that has morphed from “And that’s the way it is” to something more like “Oh no he didn’t!,” Mr. Anastos retains a gray formality behind the ever-sleeker anchor desks, a tone of gravity laced with warmth and aw-shucks one-liners.

I Want Tanta the Indian (to perform an unnatural act)

The first time I ever saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show was at the old New Yorker movie theater, which was on 88th street and Broadway. Before the show started, here was my introduction to Lenny Bruce:

Brrrrr Stick ‘Em

 Chang?

It’s another brick cold day in the Rotten Apple. Time to start daydreaming about Florida and Arizona and the warmth of spring training. Cabin Fever is setting in, although the Mrs and I are troopin’ downtown this morning to do a couple few things.

Good day for some tasty eats and Netlix, eh?

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

The City Never Sleeps that’s What Sinatra Sang

[Photo Credit: Boris Miller]

No Phonies Allowed

A few weeks before I began my junior year of high school I was in Belgium visiting my grandparents. I stayed in the attic room where I daydreamed about the girl who lived across the street and all the other Belgian women who customarily sunbathed without a bikini top. 

I listened to BBC serials on the radio and read French comic books and sometimes opened the door to the storage room that occupied the other half of the attic and went inside and poked around the dusty old furniture and suitcases hunting for treasure. I once found an old copy of Oui magazine (For the Man of the World), an offshoot of Playboy, I think, which led me to believe there was more pornography waiting to be discovered. I was wrong.

I spent mornings there, sleeping late, and afternoons too, after lunch, when my grandparents took their naps. This is where I first read The Catcher in the Rye and I remember the warm sun coming through the skylight onto my bed as I tore through J.D. Salinger’s most famous book. I liked the idea of reading it, though I became impatient at times and skimmed over passages. But it was the right time and place. I got it. When I returned home, I read his three other books and liked Nine Stories best. Franny and Zooey made me feel grown-up (plus, the Glass family lived on the Upper West Side); the last one lost me.

I have not revisited Salinger’s work since, during which time I’ve met as many people who were turned off by him as those who love him. But I got to thinking about him this morning when I read his obit in the Times:

In the fall of 1953 he befriended some local teenagers and allowed one of them to interview him for what he assumed would be an article on the high school page of a local paper, The Claremont Daily Eagle. The article appeared instead as a feature on the editorial page, and Mr. Salinger felt so betrayed that he broke off with the teenagers and built a six-and-a-half-foot fence around his property.

He seldom spoke to the press again, except in 1974 when, trying to fend off the unauthorized publication of his uncollected stories, he told a reporter from The Times: “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”

And yet the more he sought privacy, the more famous he became, especially after his appearance on the cover of Time in 1961. For years it was a sort of journalistic sport for newspapers and magazines to send reporters to New Hampshire in hopes of a sighting. As a young man Mr. Salinger had a long, melancholy face and deep soulful eyes, but now, in the few photographs that surfaced, he looked gaunt and gray, like someone in an El Greco painting. He spent more time and energy avoiding the world, it was sometimes said, than most people do in embracing it, and his elusiveness only added to the mythology growing up around him.

Depending on one’s point of view, he was either a crackpot or the American Tolstoy, who had turned silence itself into his most eloquent work of art. Some believed he was publishing under an assumed name, and for a while in the late 1970s, William Wharton, author of “Birdy,” was rumored to be Mr. Salinger, writing under another name, until it turned out that William Wharton was instead a pen name for the writer Albert du Aime.

He was an odd bird, no doubt. Gifted writer though.

The Times also has a piece about why The Catcher in the Rye was never made into a movie.

Card Corner: Matt Nokes

Back in the late 1980s when I worked in radio, my broadcast partner Danny Clinkscale was asked by a caller about the possibility of the Yankees acquiring a left-handed hitting catcher. Danny wasn’t optimistic. “Finding a left-handed hitting catcher is like finding the Rosetta Stone,” he said, using a rather creative analogy, while extinguishing the dream of the hopeful caller.

With those words firmly planted in my mind, I remember hearing the news that came in the middle of the 1990 season. The Yankees had acquired Matt Nokes, who only three years earlier had hit 32 home runs as a rookie catcher for the Tigers. In the midst of an otherwise disastrous season, I was ecstatic that the Yankees had acquired a left-handed hitting catcher of such prominence and relative youth.

Little did I know that the Matty Nokes of 1990 was not quite the same as the rookie phenom of 1987. American League pitchers began to realize that Nokes could kill low fastballs, but struggled against curveballs. On a broader level, just about everybody’s offensive numbers received a bump in 1987, not because of steroid use but because of something that appeared to be going on with the manufacturing of baseballs. Nokes would never hit 32 home runs again; in fact, he would never come close, achieving a high of 24 home runs for the Yankees in 1991. He also lacked patience at the plate, a heightened concern for a player who usually batted in the .250 to .260 range That’s not to say that Nokes was a bad offensive player. He hit with real power for the Yankees in 1990 and ‘91, putting together a series of multiple-home run games during the latter campaign. (For what it’s worth, Nokes could hit a low fastball like few hitters I’ve ever seen, sometimes falling to one knee to golf a pitch off his shoe tops.) He just wasn’t the second coming of Lance Parrish or Bill Freehan, as some Tiger fans had been led to believe during the summer of ‘87.

Even more significant problems with Nokes could be found on the other side of the ball. When it came to the defensive skills required of a catcher, Nokes came up short just about everywhere. He moved stiffly behind the plate, making him a liability on pitches in the dirt. He didn’t throw well, hampered by bad mechanics and lackluster arm strength. And just to complete the trifecta, he had little understanding of how to call a game. Yankee pitchers didn’t like to throw to Nokes any more than Tiger pitchers had during his first three major league seasons.

To their credit, the Yankees didn’t give up on Nokes. They hired former big league catcher Marc Hill as their bullpen coach, assigning him the responsibility of working with Nokes one-on-one. A onetime catcher with the Giants, Cardinals and White Sox, Hill had developed a reputation for two attributes: strong defensive fundamentals and a joy of eating. The second attribute didn’t figure to help Nokes much, but the first one fit Yankee needs to a tee.

Working with Nokes on a day-by-day basis, the oversized Hill, who was fondly nicknamed “Booter” by former teammate Willie McCovey, helped the novice catcher improve his mobility behind the plate, his throwing mechanics, and his pitch-calling acumen. Anyone who watched the Yankees faithfully that season–as I did that long, scorching summer–could see the improvement in Nokes by July and August. He had become a passable defensive catcher, which coupled with his offensive firepower, made him one of the few assets during an otherwise dismal season.

So how did the Yankees reward Hill after the season? They fired him, of course. Citing nebulous deficiencies in other areas of his coaching, the Yankees considered those issues more important than his success with his No. 1 reclamation project. Predictable results ensued. The following season, Nokes fell back into all of his bad defensive habits and resumed being a liability behind the plate. His offensive play also fell off, perhaps a by-product of his defensive woes.

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Beat of the Day

Brought to you by Matt B:

Hideki Matsui and the Loss of (My) Revenue

Hideki Matsui was my meal ticket.  This may smack of metaphor, but it’s almost literally true: every time Matsui homered, the curry shop/Matsui Shrine nearby my office handed me a coupon good for a $2 discount on a future meal. He helped put hundreds of dollars in my pockets over the years – in July 2007 I cleared over $20 bucks just by scheduling my curry fix to coincide exclusively with Godzilla’s crazy dinger binge. Other periods were not so lucrative.

His lengthy injury bouts took a toll on my bank account (pack a lunch? never!) but even a few months on the DL had not prepared me to contemplate a Matsui-less (ergo curry-for-more) future. Based on the resurgent 2009 campaign topped off with the two pillars of Yankee immortality, the World Series Championship and MVP, and the lack of superior options, I assumed Hideki Matsui would collect his ring in pinstripes.  And another $50 bucks or so would be in play for me in 2010.

Brian Cashman assumed no such thing. Matsui was either not in his plans for 2010 or he was such a low priority that the Angels could snap him up with some lip service about the outfield and a reasonable 1 year contract.  But whereas Matsui’s water logged knees may have been deemed too risky, Nick Johnson’s taffy tendons and balsa wood bones apparently pass muster. Matsui must have some grim future knee-cap disintegration scheduled to finish second to Nick “the wrist” Johnson in a reliability ranking.

All of this is to say I will miss Matsui. He was a terrific Yankee and, probably because he lacked a readily accessible English-speaking public persona, I created a very favorable one for him. I’ll miss his unorthodox bail-out hitting approach that seemed to preclude anything but a foul ball to the first base side and abandoned the outside corner as scorched earth, but remarkably produced a heckuva lot more variety than that.  And by opening up his front side so early, he got a good look at left-handed release points and smushed them accordingly.

His booming extra base hits in Game 6 of the latest World Series were fantastic representations of his pull-power skill, but it was the opposite field single that was the key hit of the game for me . That 2 out, 2 strike, “getting the job done” liner dulled the razor edge of the game to something less dangerous.  While in the stands for an interleague game versus the Cubs in 2005,  I watched him size up the loogy summoned to preserve a slim Chicago lead and I knew Matsui was taking him deep.

And yet after 7 years as a Yankee, my lasting visual memory of him is going to be from his very first year here.  In Game 7 of the ALCS, Matsui bested a tiring Pedro Martinez during the Yankees epic 8th inning comeback. While I can still picture his ringing double, the indelible image from that inning is not his sweet swing. It’s his celebratory jump and spin after scoring the tying run. Millions of eyes found the spot where Posada’s bloop was going to land and then swung in unison toward home plate to see Matsui tie the game. We all jumped up together.

Go Go Curry plans to follow Matsui to Anaheim with a new branch (the Manhattan location will stay open, phew, but will they continue to celebrate his Angel homers here in New York? It’s a little unseemly, no?)  So will some fans, advertisers and some ticket sales to be sure. Even still, the Yankees coffers figure to be full. But what of their stature in Japan? Matsui grew up dreaming of being a Yankee - an advantage in the initial courtship. Future generations of Japanese stars may dream of Boston and Seattle before the Bronx – especially if the emerging consesus of Matsui’s departure harbors the specter of Yankee disrespect. This is only temporary and in the evolution of Japanese player movement, possibly meaningless, but there’s no need to hasten the Yankees decline in prestige by treating a national hero shabbily.  I hope they treated him well right to the end and he gets the send-off he deserves.

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On the Move

Our old pal Jon Weisman, that one-man blogging machine, is packing up Dodger Thoughts and going from the L.A. Times to ESPN.COM/L.A.

Huzzah for Jon, who in my opinion is peerless as a blogger.

Beat of the Day

It snowed this morning in New York and the temperature is dropping…

Just Don’t Call Them Winnie and Goose

One reason I’ve been rather silent of late is that there’s been jack all going on with the Yankees. The debate over left field never really moved me. To me it was obvious: put Granderson in left, Gardner in center, and enjoy the big defensive upgrade without losing anything on offense versus Damon and Melky. Still, with Johnny Damon still unsigned and Curtis Granderson well known for his struggles against left-handed pitching, there was grist for the mill. That ended yesterday, when the Yankees signed Randy Winn to a one-year deal for the $2 million that they had previously stated was all that remained of their budget for the 2010 season. Winn’s intended role on the 2010 Yankees will be a veteran bench bat, insurance against Gardner struggling, and a possible righty-swinging caddy for Granderson provided Winn can bounce back from what Jay Jaffe reported on twitter was the worst single season righty-vs-lefty split on record (.158/.184/.200 in 125 plate appearances).

Winn will be 36 in June, which doesn’t bode well for a big rebound, but on his career the switch-hitting Winn’s splits are very close to even, so some correction seems a given. Jaffe also posted Winn’s PECOTA projection from the upcoming Baseball Prospectus 2010, which is a mildly more encouraging .270/.333/.380 (.252 EqA). Does that line look familiar to you? Here’s a hint: the departed switch-hitting member of the 2009 Yankees’ starting outfield has a career .269/.331/.385 line.

That’s right, Randy Winn is Melky Cabrera, just a decade older and on the wrong side of his production curve. Melky is the better defensive center fielder and has a much stronger arm (Winn will evoke plenty of Johnny Damon references when he flings the ball back to the infield with that wet noodle hanging off his right shoulder), however Winn is better basestealer (over the last four years Melky had 44 steals at 76 percent, Winn had 66 at 81 percent), and is a much better defensive corner outfielder (save for the arm, of course). For what it’s worth, the Braves will pay Melky $3.1 million for the 2010 season having settled prior to arbitration.

So Winn is a veteran with range in the corners, speed on the bases, and something between average and replacement-level production at the plate? Sounds like a fourth outfielder to me. If not for his age, I’d say Winn has a bit more upside than that. He can play center passably, and on his career has been a near perfect league-average hitter (.286/.344/.418, 99 OPS+, .267 EqA). If he has a bit of a dead-cat bounce in the Bronx, he’ll go from being a typical bench player to something of an asset. Then again, if he doesn’t and Gardner struggles or an injury hits the outfield, the Yankees will have to start scrambling for Plan C, which might not be lefty-hitting Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffmann if Winn takes his spot on the 25-man roster.

To recap: *shrug*, as long as he doesn’t start too often . . .

In other outfield news, the Yankees traded minor league infielder Mitchell Hilligoss to the Rangers for former Phillies center-field prospect Greg Golson, who had been designated for assignment. Hilligoss was an appropriate token player for a DFA trade, a college shortstop taken in the third-round in 2006 who quickly moved to third, failed to hit in High-A each of the last two years, will be 25 in June, and played more first base than short or third in 2009.

Golson is now on the 40-man roster, but has options remaining. Former Rangers scout Frank Piliere described Golson as a tremendous athlete with elite speed, a strong arm, good range afield, and solid character, but something of a mess at the plate. Golson’s minor league stats back that up. Drafted out of an Austin, Texas high school with the 21st overall pick in 2004, Golson has swiped 140 bases at 79 percent in 5 1/2 pro seasons and shown a bit of pop, topping out at 15 homers between High-A and Double-A at age 21, but his swing and plate discipline are a disaster. He has struck out 737 times in 634 minor league games against just 148 unintentional walks, a K/BB ratio of nearly 5:1.

Golson is still just 24 and has a small taste of the majors and a year of Triple-A under his belt, so there’s some hope that if the Yankees can fix his approach at the plate, his athleticism could yield immediate results. That’s a huge “if,” but it seems worth the 40-man spot at least for a few months to find out if he can be fixed, particularly given that he is a righty-hitting center fielder. He’s certainly an upgrade on Freddy Guzman, though that’s an absurdly low standard.

With Winn, Golson, and Hoffmann behind intended starters Granderson, Swisher, and Gardner, the Yankees now have six outfielders on their 40-man roster. They’re done save for an non-roster offer to a righty outfield bat (with ex-Rays Rocco Baldelli and Jonny Gomes and ex-Yank Marcus Thames among the names being tossed around). Barring injury, Gardner will start, Winn will start the season on the bench, and Golson will start in Austin Jackson’s place in Scranton. All that remains is for the team to make a decision on keeping Hoffmann, which if they do bring in an experienced righty NRI, they likely won’t.

Pitchers and catchers report three weeks from today.

News Update – 1/28/10

This update is powered by a trip in the Wayback Machine, to a commercial for Compaq computers, with John Cleese:

  • As you probably know by now, the Yanks will be adding free agent Randy Winn to their roster.  But they might not be done hunting for outfielders:

The Post also reported that the Yankees could be closing in on a Minor League contract with (Rocco) Baldelli, which would pit him against roster hopefuls like Rule 5 Draft selection Jamie Hoffmann and speedster Greg Golson, acquired on Tuesday from the Rangers for a Minor Leaguer.

. . . “That’s something that we’ll discuss as we get down to Spring Training,” (Joe) Girardi said. “You kind of wait to see what’s going to happen here, if we do sign another bat and another outfielder, and how that really adjusts everyone’s playing time.

“I’m not really locked into anything. We’re going to do whatever makes our team the best, but until we have that full team, it’s kind of hard to make that decision.”

. . . “When you look at our outfield, right field is the short porch, and left and center are the areas to cover ground,” Girardi said. “I think wherever we put either one of them, they’re going to cover a lot of ground when they’re out there.

“If Gardy is in left, he’s going to cover a lot of ground and that’s going to be helpful. Our field is built to where you want your left fielder and your center fielder to cover a lot of ground.”

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Winn Share

Randy Winn is headed to the Bronx, according to Joel Sherman.

Head of the Class

 

Has there been a more complete American actor in the past forty years than Gene Hackman? He may not be the most sexy or daring movie star but I think he’s got more range than DeNiro, Pacino, Beatty, Hoffman or even Duvall. Which is not to put those guys down. I’m not knocking Nicholson either. And you know how much I adore Bridges, who is almost twenty years younger than Hackman.

But to me, Gene Hackman is the Spency Tracy of his generation. He’s Everyman, and I’m hard-pressed to recall too many performances where he wasn’t believable. (I was talking recently with a friend about actors who are only as good as their directors or their material and this doesn’t apply to Hackman, who made a career of being better than his material.)

Did you know that Hackman turns 80 in three days? And that he’s effectively retired as an actor? I didn’t until I read this nice appreciation of Hackman by Jeremy McCarter in the current issue of Newsweek:

One reason why we haven’t valued Hackman properly is a slur that’s been flung at him since the ’60s: character actor. But Gene Hackman is not a “character actor.” He’s a great actor, full stop. (He’s only a “character actor” in the way that Jackson Pollock is a “painting painter.”) Hollywood’s habitual bias toward pretty leading men slights the actors who have the range to play all sorts of roles. This, surely, is Hackman’s greatest distinction. Good ol’ boy Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde. Comically diabolical Lex Luthor in Superman. The blind hermit in Young Frankenstein. The coach in Hoosiers. Saintly cowboys, panicky astronauts, philandering steelworkers, several kinds of president … Like every actor, he had some misfires, and there’s no denying that he signed on for some seriously regrettable films. But this side of Meryl Streep—which is to say, here among the mortals—it’s hard to think of a contemporary American actor who could convince you he was born to play so many far-flung roles.

Every year, the Oscars teach us to rate performances like these by how deftly an actor incorporates funny voices and prostheses. Hackman, to his credit, rarely went there. If you put his many characters side by side, their real marvel is how limited a set of tools he used to play them: save for a couple of Southern accents and the occasional porkpie hat, he relied on only the raw material of his voice and body. As Popeye Doyle, the volcanic, superextroverted cop in The French Connection, he pulled out all the stops, ranting and shouting and raising hell. Three years later, he did the opposite, pulling himself inward to play Harry Caul, the meticulous, introspective eavesdropper in The Conversation. When you’ve seen one transformation, the other looks doubly impressive.

Hackman played the romantic lead in All Night Long, an odd movie that is like a goofier, and less-self-aware version of American Beauty, and he was winning in Twice in a Lifetime too. His light comic touch was wonderful in The Birdcage. And one of my favorite Hackman leading roles was in Arthur Penn’s ’70s drama Night Moves.

He may be overlooked in some quarters. But not here.

[Photo Credit: Joran van der Sloot]

Dark Harbor

The new production of Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” was enthusiastically reviewed by Ben Brantley in the New York Times earlier this week:

Even more than with “Death of a Salesman,” Miller used “Bridge” to sell his theory that true tragic heroes may well emerge from the common run of contemporary lives. So eager was he to make the point that he even included a one-man Greek chorus, an Italian-born lawyer named Alfieri (here played by Michael Cristofer), who speaks loftily about the grandeur of the story’s “bloody course” of incestuous longings and fatal consequences.

Perhaps Miller felt that plays, like classical heroes, required tragic flaws, and thus provided one for “Bridge” in the form of the long-winded Alfieri. This drama needs no annotator or apologist if it’s acted with the naturalistic refinement — and accumulation of revelatory detail — found in this interpretation.

I had wondered if “Bridge” really needed another revival. New York saw a first-rate production only a dozen years ago, directed by Michael Mayer, with Anthony LaPaglia, Allison Janney and the young Brittany Murphy (who died at 32 last year). But this latest incarnation makes the case that certain plays, like certain operas, are rich enough to be revisited as often and as long as there are performers with strong, original voices and fresh insights.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Nathan Ward, whose book, “Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront,” will be published later this year, has an interesting column about the play’s orgins:

About a year after Miller’s death in February 2005, and a few months before Longhi passed away, I happened to interview the lawyer about the old waterfront. Unlike his “portly” stage likeness Alfieri, Longhi was, at 90, a tall, trim and elegant man. Sitting in his Manhattan law office on lower Broadway, he recalled how his friend Miller, who lived in picturesque Brooklyn Heights in the late ’40s, “often thought about that mysterious world of the Brooklyn Italian waterfront. . . . But he being an intellectual, who’s gonna talk to him? Nobody.” In his autobiography, “Timebends,” Miller remembered wondering, on his daily walks, about “the sinister waterfront world of gangster-ridden unions, assassinations, beatings, bodies thrown into the lovely bay at night.” But, he was forced to admit, “I could never penetrate the permanent reign of quiet terror on the waterfront hardly three blocks from my peaceful apartment.”

…Miller first heard the story that became “A View From the Bridge” while on a trip with Longhi to Sicily in 1948. “Longhi mentioned a story . . . of a longshoreman who had ratted to the Immigration Bureau on two brothers,” Miller wrote, “his own relatives, illegal immigrants who were living in his very home, in order to break an engagement between one of them and his niece.” Longhi told me, “it happened to my client . . . who turned to me and said, ‘I’m going to kill so-and-so,’ and then it turned out that I figured he must be in love with the kid. And I told this story to Miller and he said, ‘What an opera!’”

No one would mistake Red Hook or Columbia Street today for the place whose tough waterfront culture so shocked Miller in the late ’40s. But the last time I was down there, I saw a throwback to Eddie’s world, an aspect of New York dock life that never completely dies: Up on the Waterfront Commission building there was a new banner advertising a special crime-tips number that read: “HAD ENOUGH? Theft, corruption, and organized crime cost the port millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.” One side of the street may sell New Zealand meat pies and feature a French backyard bistro, but the ragged side of his old neighborhood Eddie Carbone would know at a glance.

Beat of the Day

Blues week continues…

The 2009 Yankees: Grading the Hitters

So, the Yankees won the World Series last year, the first time they’ve done so in the seven postseasons since I started blogging about them, and I didn’t write a single word in acknowledgment of that fact. In fact, I haven’t made any attempt to look back a the 2009 Yankees at all thus far. Blame the World Baseball Classic. The WBC delayed the start of the 2009 regular season, pushing the World Series into November, and when the Yankees finally wrapped up number 27, I had to attend to commitments to Sports Illustrated and Baseball Prospectus that ran right into the holidays (baby’s first Christmas!). Before I knew it, it was 2010. I figured I had missed the boat by that point, but with the NFL playoffs on hold for two weeks in anticipation of the Colts-Saints Super Bowl, and Pitchers and Catchers still more than three weeks away, now seems like as good a time as any to look back at 2009 before we move forward with 2010. I’ll start with the obvious: letter grades for the 2009 team, which will serve as both the follow-up to my mid-season grades, and something of a preface to my annual “campers” post, which typically skips over the players who are assured roster spots. Hitters today, pitchers and the manager tomorrow.

Mark Teixeira, 1B

54.7 VORP, -3.7 UZR
.292/.383/.565,  39 HR, 122 RBI, 103 R, 43 2B, 344 TB

Misguided calls for Teixeira to earn the American League Most Valuable Player award put me in the odd position of arguing against a player I actively campaigned for last fall, despite the fact that he was having exactly the sort of season I hoped and expected he would. Removed from the absurd suggestion that he was more valuable than Joe Mauer last year, I don’t have a single bad thing to say about Teixeira. He finished in the top ten in the league in VORP, tied his career-best OPS+, and his counting stats across the board were near perfect matches for his career averages per 162 games. He led the AL in home runs (tied with Carlos Peña), RBIs, and total bases, and won what I thought was a deserved Gold Glove (UZR’s shortcomings in evaluating first-base defense lead me to trust my eyes rather than that stat in this case).

Teixeira’s postseason batting line was unimpressive, but he nonetheless made his impact with a few big hits (most notably his game-winning home run in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS) and his glove, the latter of which played a major roll in bases-loaded, no-out escape acts by David Robertson and Mariano Rivera in the ALDS and ALCS, respectively.

A

Robinson Cano, 2B

50.3 VORP, -5.2 UZR
.320/.352/.520, 25 HR, 85 RBI, 103 R, 48 2B, 331 TB

The Yankees’ improvement from an 89-win team that missed the playoffs in 2008 to a 103-win team that won the World Series in 2009 had two sources. One was the big offseason acquisitions of Teixeira, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Nick Swisher, but the other, the rebounds by 2008 disappointments including Cano, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes, and even Derek Jeter, was far more significant. Mark Teixeira was roughly a three-win improvement over Jason Giambi (+24.5 VORP rounded up for his glove, using 10 runs ~ 1 win), but Robinson Cano was almost a five-win improvement over the 2008 version of himself (+43.8 VORP again rounded up for some improvement in the field). Cano didn’t merely bounce back; at age 26, he had his finest season yet, setting career highs in games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, homers, total bases, and VORP and posting his best major league K/BB ratio (2.1). Cano’s UZR above looks problematic, but he was at -8.0 in 2008, and those who watched him all season thought he was solidly above average.

Whatever you make of Cano’s fielding, he did have one major hole in his game in 2009. Cano hit .376/.407/.609 with the bases empty, but just .207/.242/.332 with men in scoring position. He also struggled in the postseason, hitting just .193/.266/.281. Still, he had the third best VORP total among major league second basemen behind future Hall of Famer Chase Utley and ’09 fluke Ben Zobrist, so it’s hard to complain too much about the details.

A

Derek Jeter, SS

72.8 VORP, 6.6 UZR
.334/.406/.465, 18 HR, 107 R, 30 SB (86%)

If the Yankees had a legitimate MVP candidate in 2009 it was Jeter, who finished fourth in the majors in VORP trailing only Mauer in the AL (albeit by 18.2 runs). To put it simply, Jeter’s 2009 season was one of the best seasons in the career of a legitimate first-ballot Hall of Famer. Depending on how much emphasis you place on his defense (or which statistic you use to evaluate it), 2009 might have been Jeter’s second-best season ever behind only his otherworldly 1999 (103.9 VORP), though I’m tempted to rank it behind his 2006 campaign as well. In addition to setting a career high in UZR (a stat which only dates back to 2002), Jeter posted a career best K/BB ratio (1.25) in 2009, both of which suggest that it was hard work rather than good fortune which improved Jeter’s performance in 2009. As we await the annual barrage of reports of players reporting to camp “in the best shape of his life,” it’s worth noting that conditioning can make a difference.

A+

Alex Rodriguez, 3B

52.3 VORP, -8.6 UZR
.286/.402/.532, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 14 SB (88%)

Before he could even get into a spring training game, Alex Rodriguez was outed as a former steroid user and diagnosed with a torn hip labrum that required surgery. Things could only get better, and boy did they. Rodriguez returned in early May and homered on the first pitch he saw, and though his batting average struggled a bit early on and the surgically repaired hip hindered him in the field, Rodriguez was undiminished at the plate. Then came the postseason. Rodriguez hit .363/.414/.648 in the first 100 postseason plate appearances of his career, but his .143/.314/.214 mark in the next 70 gave him an undeserved reputation as a choker. No more. Rodriguez hit .365/.500/.800 as he led the Yankees to the title with one of the great postseason performances of all time. His biggest hits were home runs that tied up Games 2 of the ALDS and ALCS in the bottom of the ninth and 11th innings, respectively, and a key RBI double with two outs in the bottom of the ninth as the Yankees rallied against Brad Lidge in Game Four of the World Series, but there were many more as he connected for six homers and drove in 18 runs in total, the latter falling just one RBI shy of the record for a single postseason. Add those postseason totals to his regular season line in place of his missing April, and his totals swell to .294/.413/.560 with 36 homers, 118 RBIs, and 92 walks.

A

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