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Monthly Archives: February 2010

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Edwar, Yogi, and Me

The big news out of Yankee camp today is that Edwar Ramirez was designated for assignment to make room for Chan Ho Park. Ramirez was out of options and a long-shot at best for a spot on the Opening Day roster, so the Yankees were going to have to do something with him by the end of spring training. This takes care of that bit of business early.

The big news yesterday was that Joe Girardi has set his pitching rotation for the first week and a half of the exhibition schedule. Chad Jennings has the full details, and I’ve updated our sidebar with the first week’s action. CC Sabathia will start the second game to put him on schedule for the season opener. Barring injury or setback, the regular season rotation will start with CC followed by A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and then Javier Vazquez. Pettitte won’t pitch in a spring training game until March 12, but will throw a simulated game on March 7 to get his work in and stay on schedule while Gaudin and Sergio Mitre work in the actual game.

Programing note: I’ll be doing my annual live blog on Friday, covering the third game of the spring, which will feature both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, in that order, on the mound.

Shameless self-promotion: This afternoon at 3pm I will be appearing at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center for an extended Q&A with Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe, Kevin Goldstein, and Christina Kahrl to promote Baseball Prospectus 2010.

Man of the Moment

Because I just can’t get me enough of Jeff Bridges, here’s some more on the favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar next weekend…from Manohla Dargis in the Sunday Times:

In the early and mid 1970s he played a wide-eyed boxer, a sly con artist, a moonshiner turned car racer, a squealer turned suicide, a thief and a cattle rustler, working with veterans like John Huston (“Fat City” in 1972) and newcomers like Michael Cimino, who, for his 1974 debut, directed Mr. Bridges alongside Clint Eastwood in the crime story “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.” The critics had started to pay attention. “Sometimes, just on his own,” Pauline Kael wrote of his performance as a stock-car racer in “The Last American Hero” (1973), “Jeff Bridges is enough to make a picture worth seeing.” Notably, she also compared him to Robert De Niro, who was about to set fire to screens in Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.”

“He probably can’t do the outrageous explosive scenes that Robert De Niro brings off in ‘Mean Streets,’ ” she wrote. “But De Niro — a real winner — is best when he’s coming on and showing off. Jeff Bridges just moves into a role and lives in it — so deep in it that the little things seem to come straight from the character’s soul.”

I worked as an assistant film editor on The Big Lebowski which was cut on film and not a computer. During the shoot, our main responsibility in the cutting room was to mark-up the sound track and the picture and synch the footage that was shot the day before–these are called “rushes” or “dailies”, which would be screened for the directors later that day. We’d check the synch by screening the footage on a Steenbeck.

Watching Bridges work was a revelation–he simply was the Dude. Some actors need a bunch of takes before they really hit their stride but Bridges was that character, and in each take he gave a subtle variation on a line reading or a physical gesture. You could tell that he had a background in TV and film and not the theater. His approach and rhythm was different from most everyone else in the movie. He was so natural and extremely intelligent, providing the directors with all the material they’d need to piece together a winning performance.

Back to Dargis now, writing about Lebowski:

Whether shuffling around in a bathrobe or dropping a lighted joint in his lap, Mr. Bridges’s timing is brilliant. But it’s his ability to convey a profound, seemingly limitless sense of empathy that elevate the Dude beyond the usual Coen caricature. By facing every assault — repeated beatings, a friend’s death, the theft of a rug — with little more than an exclamation (“Man!”) and a toke, he and the Dude affirmed that an American hero doesn’t need a punch, just a punch line, something that Judd Apatow’s merry band of potheads know well.

In some respects “The Big Lebowski” was Mr. Bridges’s “Raging Bull,” a defining movie. He never established a long working relationship with a director as Mr. De Niro did with Martin Scorsese. Mr. Bridges has worked with significant filmmakers, just not necessarily in their finest hour. He has made questionable choices, but he has had a breadth of roles that should be the envy of most, and a depth few achieve. And he has staying power. It takes nothing away from his work in “Crazy Heart” to note that the film’s success and profile probably owe something to “Iron Man,” the 2008 blockbuster in which he pulled a Lex Luthor to play the villain and which gave him his highest-profile role in years. He was hilarious, absurd, necessary, and to watch him in that movie as well as in “Crazy Heart” is to be reminded yet again of how he abides.

Dargis singles-out Cutter’s Way (pictured above) and that’s a movie worth watching if you’ve never seen it. Terrific-look. The only drag is watching John Heard chew-up the scenery, but otherwise, it’s a good movie.

Finally, my boy Joey La P, sent me a link to this interview with Bridges on KCRW.

Sunday Soul

Here’s something to get your day started right.


27 Down In The Valley (Stereo)

[photo credit: Soule Mama]

It’s Been a Long Cold Lonely Winter

There was slush on Thursday and snow on Friday, so much so that I got to leave work early. I walked through Central Park and the strangest thing happened. The grey-blue sky suddenly got light and yellow and the sun came out. Fat snow flakes continued to fall–a snow shower. I was close to Tavern on the Green and stopped walking to look in the sky.

I smiled. It is near now

Then, on Saturday afternoon, the wife and I were on our way uptown on the 1 train. A group of four men sang an old Motown song for the car. They finished before we arrived at the next stop when one of the guys stepped forward and addressed the passengers, “May I have your attention, please. Don’t you worry, have no fear, Spring will soon be here.”

I don’t care how much is snows now. Baseball, she’s a-coming…

[photo credit: Dan Peters]

Pleasantly Pickled

Speaking of drinking, here’s a scene from the cheeriest booze-soaked flick of them all:

Taster’s Cherce

I’m not a drinker but I’ve always liked the idea of a Bloody Mary.

Dig these cool variations

The Minister of Defense

Over at SI.com, Cliff takes a look at more off-season signings and how they might play out:

Mike Cameron, CF, Red Sox

The 2009 Red Sox’s dirty little secret was that, save for the perpetually underrated J.D. Drew (10.5 runs above average in right field per UZR), their outfield defense was a disaster. That Jason Bay was 13 runs below average in left field may not have been a huge surprise, but Jacoby Ellsbury, having finally taken over center field full time with Coco Crisp in Kansas City, was even worse. Ultimate Zone Rating listed Ellsbury as 18.6 runs below average in center, a shockingly poor performance for a young player known for his speed. Together Bay and Ellsbury cost the Red Sox three wins in the field, which is one reason why Bay was allowed to sign elsewhere and Mike Cameron was brought in to play center and push Ellsbury to left.
Cameron’s center field defense has been worth almost exactly a win for the Brewers in each of the last two seasons, while Ellsbury played 346 1/3 innings (less than a quarter of the time he spent in center last year) in left field in 2008 and was nearly a win above average in that brief time. Don’t expect that sort of brilliance from Ellsbury this year, but even if he is merely worth one win over a typical 1,200 innings, the Red Sox could experience a whopping five-win upgrade on defense alone. Some of that will be given back in the downgrade from Bay’s bat, which was worth five wins in 2009 according to VORP, to Cameron’s, which is typically worth roughly half of that, but that massive upgrade on defense keeps the Sox’s new outfield arrangement well above replacement, and well above their 2009 performance.

Estimated upgrade: 2.5 wins

Card Corner: Lee Guetterman

Just how bad were the Yankees in 1990? The pitching was atrocious, the offense was even worse, and the managers of the team were Bucky Dent and Carl “Stump” Merrill. When Lee Guetterman is your best player, that’s a pretty good sign that things have hit rock-bottom.

Yes, Lee Guetterman (pronounced Goo-ter-min) was just about the best thing the Yankees had going for them in 1990. An awkwardly tall left-hander with a bushy mustache, Guetterman did not fit the profile of a Yankee hero. He did not start a single contest and saved only a pair of games. But he did lead the staff with 11 wins, while posting a fine ERA of 3.39. Pitching in the inglorious role of middle relief, Guetterman gave the Yankees their most reliable innings of the season. “Throw him the Guetter Ball,” I would yell at the TV! Heck, he was even more effective than Dave Righetti, the Yankee closer who had forged a more famous reputation and a far better career than Guetterman.

Prior to 1990, Guetterman had been a journeyman, a failed prospect in the Seattle Mariners’ organization. He was best known for his height; at six feet, eight inches, the gangly Guetterman looked more like a small forward than a relief pitcher. When he made his debut for the Mariners in 1984, he actually became the third tallest pitcher in major league history.

Guetterman was big, but he didn’t throw hard. He instead relied on a sinking fastball and a deceptive delivery, featuring a pronounced leg lift. There must be something about tall left-handers and their inability to throw hard. Unlike Randy Johnson, who has been an exception to the rule, the tall southpaws I remember have been soft tossers, like Guetterman and former New York Met Eric Hillman, who was six-ten and couldn’t break glass either.

The lack of speed didn’t dissuade the Yankees. After the 1987 season, the Yankees made a five-player deal with the Mariners. Cutting their losses on the disastrous Steve Trout experiment, the Yankees sent a package featuring the flaky left-hander and backup outfielder Henry Cotto to Seattle for a return of three young pitchers: Wade Taylor, Clay Parker, and Guetterman. The Yankees saw Guetterman as a candidate for long relief, or possibly the back end of their paper-thin rotation.

By 1990, the Yankees had no great expectations for Guetterman. He simply pitched well when called upon, inspiring more confidence from both Dent and Merrill, who summoned him repeatedly in the middle to late innings. They called on him 64 times for a total of 93 innings. That’s the kind of workload that few relievers undertake today, but the game was different 20 years ago. Back then, middle relievers often pitched two or three innings at a time, something that the rubber-armed Guetterman was fully capable of doing.


Late Night Memories

Back when, the WPIX late-night schedule after the 10 o’clock news was The Odd Couple, The Honeymooners, Star Trek and then the Twilight Zone.

The Odd Couple was a good show to fall asleep to…still love that opening:

Zip Zip:

Huh’oooh it can core a apple.

Art of the Night

Woman with Necklace (Studio Version), by Arshile Gorky (1936)

Beat of the Day Redux

Never too young to start diggin…

A young head hits the stacks under the watchful eye of Jared Boxx at Big City Records, where you can find records like this:

Taster’s Cherce

I don’t know about you, but a rich cup of hot chocolate would do me good today:

Say Werd.

Yankee Heritage

Over at River Avenue Blues, Ben Kabak has the latest on what the Parks Department has planned for the plot of land where the old Yankee Stadium sits.

[photo credit: Daniella Zalcman]

Beat of the Day

They’re playing baseball somewhere? Go figure that.

New York City got hit in the side of the face with a Junior Barnes slushball yesterday. I trooped around some on the Upper West Side and it was fugliosity, man. This morning the slush turned into snow. The eight flights of stairs that I walk down each day were so bad that I crouched down and made like a sled. I saw sofa abandoned sofa cushions on the way down–the neighbhorhood kids must have had fun last night. The rest of the sofa was at the bottom of the stairs–maybe they had too much fun.

Anyhow, it is a comedy show but New Yorkers are tough and many of us braved the elements and made it in to woik.

Here was my soundtrack:

Art of the Night

Breakfast in Bed, by Mary Cassatt (1897)

Taster’s Cherce

Eastward, Ha!  Enter The Cradle of Love.

Beat of the Day

For John Schulian, Jay Jaffe and Matt B:

Park Factor

I must admit, the Yankees caught me completely off guard when they signed Chan Ho Park Sunday night. I figured their bullpen was pretty much set with the loser of the fifth-starter battle between Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes working the eighth inning, Damaso Marte the lefty, David Robertson as the secondary righty, Alfredo Aceves and Chad Gaudin as long/swing men, and Mark Melancon hoping to make his way into the final spot and force the Yankees to bounce Sergio Mitre from the 40-man roster. So where does Park fit?

Toward the top. Park’s 2009 season doesn’t look that impressive on its face because he was awful in seven starts for the Phillies, but after moving to the bullpen, he posted a 2.52 ERA and struck out 52 men in 50 innings. Over the final three months of the season, that ERA shrank to 1.52. Park wasn’t as sharp in the postseason, but one could blame that on the hamstring pull that cost him a month and kept him out of the NLDS. In his career, Park has posted a 3.95 ERA in relief, nearly a half run better than his career mark as a starter, along with an 8.7 K/9. Indeed, though Park signed so late because he was hoping to catch on elsewhere as a starter, it has been his move to the bullpen over the past two seasons that has salvaged his career in his late 30s (he’ll be 37 in early June).

The first Korean-born major leaguer, Park emerged as the Dodgers’ second-best starter (behind Kevin Brown) around the turn of the millennium and hit the free agent market at the age of 28 with a 80-54 career record and a 3.80 career ERA. The Rangers, who had given Alex Rodriguez the biggest contract in major league history the previous year, signed Park to a five-year deal worth $65 million only to watch him completely fall apart.

The move from the pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium to the homer-happy Ballpark at Arlington did him no favors , but one could have seen that coming (Park’s home ERA during his Dodger years was 3.19, but his road ERA was 4.72). More alarmingly, after averaging 213 2/3 innings a year in his last five seasons in L.A., Park suddenly couldn’t stay healthy.

A hamstring injury limited Park to 25 starts in 2002, and that was the most he would make in any one season for the Rangers. Meanwhile, while his 6.84 home ERA that season would prove to be sadly typical. Park made just 23 more starts for the Rangers over the next two seasons combined due to a back injury which surely contributed to his 5.96 ERA in those outings. Park’s contract quickly proved to be a major albatross for the Rangers, leading some to speculate that it was part of the team’s motivation for shipping Rodriguez to the Bronx in February 2004.

Park finally stayed healthy in 2005 but was no more effective. When the trading deadline came, the soon-to-be-NL-West-champion Padres, perhaps wagering on the effects of their new pitchers’ haven, Petco, took Park and $13 million of his 2006 salary off the Rangers’ hands for the remains of Phil Nevin. Despite the friendlier home environment, Park’s struggles continued. He posted a 5.91 ERA down the stretch in ’05, and made just 21 starts in ’06, missing time when it was discovered that he suffered from an intestinal defect known as Meckel’s diverticulum. When able to pitch, he posted a 5.45 ERA on the road.

With his contract finally expired, Park didn’t find an employer for 2007 until Valentine’s Day. He signed with the Mets, but failed to make the team out of spring training and wound up making just one appearance for the big club, giving up seven runs in four innings in a late-April spot start before being released. The Astros signed him to a minor-league deal, but declined to call him up as he posted a 6.21 ERA and allowed 18 home runs in 15 starts for Triple-A Round Rock of the Pacific Coast League.

Seemingly out of chances, Park went home again in 2008, catching on with the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee on a minor league deal. Having made just five relief appearances over the previous ten seasons, Park made the Dodgers as a reliever and pitched well out of the pen (3.84 ERA), well enough, at least, for the Phillies, who beat Park’s Dodgers in the NLCS in ’08, to sign him to a $2.5 million deal and bring him in as a fifth-starter candidate the next spring.

As stated above, Park was a disaster as a starter for the Phillies, but he continued to gain momentum as a reliever suggesting that, after six years in the wilderness, he has finally found away to recapture the major league success he had in his twenties, doing so in a hitter-friendly home park, no less.

Despite that success, Park isn’t going to take the eighth-inning job away from the fifth-starter loser, but he could well bounce Robertson down a rung. His presence also all but guarantees that Sergio Mitre will not make the roster, which is worth Park’s $1.2 million salary alone. Park, despite his struggles in the Phillies rotation, also gives the Yankees another potential swing man should Gaudin or Aceves, the former of whom is on a non-guaranteed contract like Mitre and the latter of whom has options remaining, struggle. If Park struggles and Melancon continues to dominate at Triple-A, the $1.2 million the Yankees owe Park is small enough that they could eat the remainder.

Ultimately what Park gives the team is another option, one that had a fair amount of success working out of the pen for playoff teams in each of the last two seasons and thus brings a fair amount of upside to the table, but who also came cheap enough to be discarded if he fails to realize that upside, which means there’s very little downside to the deal. Well done.

A Fine Mess: I’m a Mook? What’s a Mook?

William Faulkner on the origins of The Sound and the Fury, one of his most acclaimed novels:

It began with a mental picture. I didn’t realize at the time it was symbolical. The picture was of the muddy seat of a little girl’s drawers in a pear tree, where she could see through a window where her grandmother’s funeral was taking place and report what was happening to her brothers on the ground below. By the time I explained who they were and what they were doing and how her pants got muddy, I realized it would be impossible to get all of it into a short story and that it would have to be a book. And then I realized the symbolism of the soiled pants, and that image was replaced by the one of the fatherless and motherless girls climbing down the rainpipe to escape from the only home she had, where she had never been offered love or affection or understanding.

I had already begun to tell the story through the eyes of the idiot child, since I felt that it would be more effective as told by someone capable only of knowing what happened, but not why. I saw that I had not told the story that time. I tried to tell it again, the same story through the eyes of another brother. That was still not it. I told it for a third time through the eyes of the third brother. That was still not it. I tried to gather the pieces together and fill in the gaps by making myself the spokesman. It was still not complete, not until fifteen years after the book was published, when I wrote as an appendix to another book the final effort to get the story told and off my mind, so that I myself could have some peace from it. It’s the book I feel tenderest towards. I couldn’t leave it alone, and I never could tell it right, though I tried hard and would like to try again, though I’d probably fail again.

I read this passage almost twenty years ago and am still fascinated by it. The idea that Faulkner created an enduring work of art and yet felt that he failed is amazing. Can a great work of art be a failure? Why not? Nothing is ever that simple. Apocalypse Now comes to mind as a brilliant movie that is also a mess. So does Raging Bull.

Martin Scorsese once said, “Raging Bull is a about a man who loses everything and then regains it spiritually.” Based on this statement, I think the movie fails as a story because I don’t think that DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta ever reaches that kind of grace, or I don’t think it was conveyed by the filmmakers in a convincing way. That said, if this is a failure, sign me up! Because Raging Bull features some of the most hypnotic, brilliant filmmaking–especially the editing and the sound editing–of any American movie. It is often very funny, though on some level, it is also turgid and humorless.

Raging Bull was DeNiro’s pet project. He had to talk Scorsese into making it and they, in turn, had to talk Paul Schrader (who wrote Taxi Driver) into revising the script. In the book, Martin Scorsese: A Journey, the director talked about what hooked him into the project:

The motive became to achieve an understanding of a self-destructive lifestyle–of a person who was destructive to the people around him and to himself–who finally eased up on himself and on those other people, and somehow made peace with life.

I used Raging Bull as a kind of rehabilitation, thinking all the time it was pretty much my last picture in L.A., or America.

It’s not really a boxing movie. It’s about Scorsese saving his own life and finding some kind of redemptive thread in LaMotta’s story. It’s about DeNiro getting so deep inside of a character–Scorsese said that he played LaMotta like a brick wall–it didn’t matter how much of a creep the character was, there was a sliver of humanity there and that was worth exploring. It is about the obsessions of both men.

Which brings me back to Faulkner, in a letter written to the editor Malcolm Cowley in November of 1944:

As regards any specific book, I’m trying primarily to tell a story, in the most effective way I can think of, the most moving, the most exhaustive. But I think even that is incidental to what I am trying to do, taking my output (the course of it) as a whole. I am telling the same story over and over, which is myself and the world…I’m trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period. I’m still trying to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead. I don’t know how to do it. All I know to do is to keep trying in a new way. I’m inclined to think that my material, the South, is not very important to me. I just happen to know it, and don’t have time in one life to learn another one and write at the same time. Though the one I know is probably as good as another, life is a phenomenon but not a novelty, the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing everywhere and man stinks the same stink no matter where in time.

Scorsese was an emotional mess when he made Raging Bull. I think that comes across in the movie. It is a stunning work, brilliant and flawed.

For a good behind-the-scenes take, check out this long Vanity Fair piece by Richard Schickel.

News Update – 2/25/10

This update is powered by an amazing mathematician:

. . . If he stays healthy, Rodriguez, who turns 35 in July, is an overwhelming favorite to shatter Barry Bonds’s career record of 762 home runs. Sometime near the 2011 All-Star Game break, Jeter, who currently has 2,747 hits, is projected to get his 3,000th.

. . . Only eight players have amassed more than 3,400, and only five have reached the 3,500 mark, beginning with Tris Speaker at 3,514.

Whether ranking in the top five will mean something to Jeter and motivate him to keep playing remains to be seen.  . . .

Rodriguez, meanwhile, begins this season with 583 home runs and should surpass 600 sometime in late June or early July, reach 700 in 2013 and overtake Bonds in late 2015 or early 2016, when he will be 40 years old.

. . . The most crucial variable is health. Rodriguez missed 38 games last season following hip surgery. Jeter is a remarkably durable player — he has played at least 148 games in all but one of his 14 full seasons — but shortstop is a demanding position. If he continues to play there and perform at a high level, he would buck the trend.

“It’d be tough,” said Curtis Granderson, the Yankees’ new center fielder. “But it’d kind of be like Ken Griffey Jr. Everybody in here who’s a baseball fan knows Ken Griffey Jr. as a Seattle Mariner. Then he goes to Cincinnati and Chicago and back to Seattle. Jeter’s definitely in that category. If Ken Griffey can move teams, you never know.”


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