As of this writing, it’s January 26, and Johnny Damon is in free agent limbo. To date, t’s been a bizarre soap opera of power plays, hasn’t it?
Here’s the brief chronicle of events:
* Scott Boras sets Damon’s “value” at $13 million a year and states Damon won’t sign for less than a three-year deal. The Yankees were amused.
* Brian Cashman, after pulling off the three-team stunner that brought the Yankees Curtis Granderson, counters with two years at $14. Boras is amused and counters at two-for-20.
* Hideki Matsui signs with the Angels Who-Claim-To-Be-From-LA-Only-To-Boost-Marketing-Efforts for one year at $6 million. The Yankees are amused and silently gloat that they might have assessed the market correctly.
* The Yankees raise eyebrows by signing Nick Johnson to a one-year, $5M deal to be the DH, and a week later, swinging Melky Cabrera to Atlanta in a package that brought Javier Vazquez back to the Yankees. Amusement reigned in the sense of irony the Vazquez acquisition represented; here is the man who gave up the home run to Damon that effectively cemented the worst postseason collapse – or greatest comeback, depending on your perspective – in baseball history. As Daffy Duck once said, “Ho ho. That’s rich. It is to laugh.”
So here it is now that Damon, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, has interest from the Oakland A’s (monetary value unknown). Meanwhile, Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees have $2 million left in their budget. Elsewhere, Marc Carig heard directly from the source that Damon expects to have a team within a week. If you believe Bill Madden, Damon overplayed his hand and the Yankees misjudged how much they need him.
That may seem dramatic. Michael Kay, on his afternoon show, discussed the Heyman and Olney reports. He wondered if the A’s are offering $5 million and the Yankees do in fact make a last-ditch, take-it-or-leave-it $2 million offer, will Damon swallow his pride, deal with the “emasculation” of an 85 percent pay cut and sign with the Yankees, or if he’ll take Oakland’s money, since that’s the best offer. Bonnie Bernstein opined that if Damon comes back, when he reports to Spring Training and is welcomed heartily, he’ll reclaim his status in the clubhouse. Kay wondered if the ego blow would be too much, noting that the Yankees management “keeps score” (Kay’s words), and would silently revel in their victory.
The Yankees have been known to wait until February to pull rabbits out of their hat. February is a week from now. There are still some pretty notable rabbits on the market. Judging from the flow of reports that surfaced over the last 24 hours, the Yankees might have smartly waited for the New York football season to officially end before breaking their silence.
One thing is certain: Brett Gardner will not be the Yankees’ starting left fielder in Spring Training. … Right?
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It’s been two weeks since Mark McGwire confirmed what many of us suspected for years. There has been rancor from old-time ball players (yawn). Cardinal fans have lauded McGwire’s “courage” (barf). Me? I immediately thought of my final exam in my Sport in Film and Literature class, senior year of college, and the final exam essay that involved kidnapping Pete Rose, taking him to Dyersville, Iowa, to the Field of Dreams, to testify in front of a tribunal headed by Bart Giamatti. Only the truth would have absolved him. Remorse and an apology that was not self-serving would have helped. I did not judge Pete Rose to be an honest man and thus did not absolve him; not of his sin to the game, but to himself.
This section of the column is not intended to make a moral judgment of McGwire. If you read between the lines of the Pete Rose statement above, you know exactly where I stand (HINT: it has nothing to do with him taking steroids). I watched the entire interview with Bob Costas and was riveted. I’ve never seen someone simultaneously be honest while believing his own b.s. and operate in a complete sense of denial. The one question Costas didn’t ask – and it’s not Costas’s nature to be confrontational in an interview, but he could have made an exception here – was, “You mean to tell me that you, as an elite athlete, who monitored your diet and all components of your health, didn’t know the names of the drugs you took, how much or how often? Do honestly expect anyone watching this to believe you?”
The job that Costas started, T.J. Quinn is in the process of finishing at ESPN. Well maybe not finishing, as this story will not go away any time soon. It’s only going to snowball. Curt Wenzlaff, a trainer who began working with McGwire in the late 1980s and supplied him with steroids, revealed the details of the cycle he crafted for McGwire: ½ cc of testosterone cypionate every three days; ½ cc of testosterone enanthate per week; and 1¼ cc Equipoise and Winstrol V every three days.
Quinn reports that Wenzlaff worked with 25 to 30 athletes across several sport disciplines. Wenzlaff, who avoided jail time after cooperating with the FBI in a steroid investigation in 1992, will write a book and name names, with details of the regimens.
The most telling quote, and one that is symptomatic of the ethical piece to this whole debate, is the last one from Wenzlaff in Quinn’s piece: “It’s one man’s opinion. I’m not here to sit and say he (McGwire) was wrong, but I can sit and tell you that I doubt it.”
I wonder if Shoeless Joe, Moonlight Graham, and John Kinsella would allow McGwire et al on the field in Dyersville.
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Finally, a story that has nothing to do with baseball, but another balled sport: Bowling. Yesterday, history was made, and the name of the person writing the chapter was not Manning, Brees, or Favre. It was Kulick. Kelly Kulick. The 31-year-old from Union, N.J. won the PBA Tournament of Champions, defeating Chris Barnes 265-195 in the final to become the first woman to win on the PBA Tour. The victory garnered her a two-year exemption on Tour, and will make her a focal subject of many sport sociology classes.
Kulick, knowing she was miked, said, “This is a great moment for women’s sports, and for sports in general,” before tossing her final shot, a ball that hit high on the head pin and carried nine pins. She was right. Bowling was the perfect sport for this to occur because the field and equipment specs, rules and competitive setting are gender-neutral. In golf, someone like Michelle Wie, who can hit it as far as many of the men, has played in numerous men’s tournaments and failed to make a cut. Annika Sorenstam, for all her greatness, barely missed the cut at Colonial when she tried to play with the men. Could she compete with them? Yes. Beat them straight up from the same tees? She beat many over those two days, but didn’t get enough breaks to stick for the weekend. It’s a different game. In tennis, perhaps the only other sport where the competitors are on equal footing, you would not see a man playing against a woman in singles in a match with higher stakes than a televised exhibition.
Kulick threw the ball slightly slower than her competitors, but the angle and line she played proved more effective than that of her opponents’. In her first match, the semifinal against Mika Koivuniemi, she did what any good competitor does: she took advantage of his mistakes en route tot he win. She dominated the final against Barnes and save for a 7-10 split on a pocket hit, could have been looking at a 300.
Maybe Babe Didriksen Zaharias could have done this in her time 75 years ago. Kelly Kulick is not a novelty and her victory shouldn’t be treated as such. At least it received prominent billing in ESPNEWS’s crawl. Hopefully her victory will resonate in our world longer than it did in the news cycle or the popular sporting landscape.
Until next time …
[photo credit: Rob Bennett for the New York Times]