"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: February 2010

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Art of the Night

Assemblage, by Kurt Schwitters (1919)

Taster’s Cherce

This will help you make these:

Captain Quote

Behind the Mask

Dig this inteview with Bronx Banter favorite, Perry Barber:

Beat of the Day

Another killer kut:

I Don’t Care to Belong to Any Club That Will Have Me as a Member

 

Peter Gammons is just the latest in a long line of baseball writers who believes that Marvin Miller deserves a place in Cooperstown.

All Growed Up

John Harper has a piece in the Daily News about Robinson Cano:

“If ever we had to count on Robinson Cano,” hitting coach Kevin Long said Tuesday, “it’s this year. That’s not a pressure statement, because I think he’s ready.

“He’s already a big part of our offense, but now we want him to be one of the elite guys in our lineup, where a pitcher says, ‘Man, I do not want to see this guy up here right now.’”

…”We chart chase percentages for each of our hitters, and Robby chased 11% of pitches out of the strike zone, which was the highest on the team. Most guys are around 5 or 6%. And Robby’s chases go up with runners in scoring position.”

If Cano has a good season, if he improves with runners on base, the Yanks sure are going to be tough. Meanwhile, over at Bats, Ben Shpigel writes about Cano’s fielding.

Exit Light

And with Mean Streets on the brain, here’s one of the great entrances in movie history.

Stones, Scorsese, DeNiro, ’nuff said:

Art of the Night

Ancient Sound, by Paul Klee (1925)

Taster’s Cherce

If I could only have one Italian cookbook, this’d be my cherce:

So you can make things like this:

Go Go Curry

According to a tweet by Joel Sherman, former New York Times baseball writer, Jack Curry has been hired by YES to be an analyst/columnist. Kudos to YES for landing the respected Curry.

Hip to be Square: You Could Look it Up

A few years ago I spent a lot of time at main branch of the New York public library on 42nd street and 5th Avenue. You know, the Big One, with the lions out front. I hit the microfilm room, looking for great old sports writing in the archives of the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Post, Sport and Inside Sports. Then I thought about The National Sports Daily, Frank DeFord’s classic, if short-lived newspaper.

My pal John Schulian suggested that I look up Dave Smith, a reference librarian who had been profiled in the New York Times. Schulian was and is a great fan of good writing and he told me that Johnette Howard, Peter Richmond and Charles Pierce, amongst others, became stars writing bonus pieces for The National. One of their editors was Rob Fleder, a man who cares deeply about good writing himself, who later had a great stint at Sports Illustrated.

So I met Dave Smith and he was a mensch. A guy who loves to help writers. He showed me his desk–lined with copies of books that he’d contributed to in some way or another. Dude gave me a copy of a book about people who write obituraries called The Dead Beat, by Marilyn Johnson, who, it just so happens, is married to Rob Fleder.

Small world, right? That’s how it goes, man. Especially in a library.

Johnson’s new book, This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians can Save us All, features Smith, who, unfortunately, officially retired last summer, though he still helps writers. Like her first book, this one is written in a breezy prose style that is compulsively readable. Johnson is a sharp reporter and her enthusiasm is contagious. Oh, and she is also very funny. Johnson adores librarians in all their various attitudes because, they are essential in making society work:

Librarians’ values are as sound as Girl Scouts’: truth, free speech, and universal literacy. And, like Scouts, they posses a quality that I think makes librarians invaluable and indispensable: they want to help. They want to help us. They want to be of service. And they’re not trying to sell us anything.

This book examines a wide-range of librarian culture–from old school dudes like Smith–to the younger generation of librarians who’ve fully embraced the digital world. I had no idea about how much libraries have changed over the past twenty years, but of course they had. Fortunately, Johnson has written a winning account of the scene.

So…I’ve got an extra copy of This Book is Overdue! for the best library story you’ve got (you can leave it in the comments section below or shoot me an e-mail):

In the meantime, dig this excerpt from the book:

There are thousands of buildings lining the canyons of Manhattan, some more ornate than others; but I never saw one with a lobby floor like that at 260 Madison. Smith signed in with the guard and was barreling toward the elevator, but I lingered over the art beneath my feet: the two-dimensional globe in brass and Mediterranean blue, the Greek border. Decorating the hall upstairs, by the library, were eight display cases with little brass sculptures of dogs. Through the big glass double doors, a giant oil painting of a purebred something gazed prayerfully toward a beam of light; there was a guard or butler sitting at an ornate reception desk. Smith shambled past without a glance and we headed left through more doors and into the library of an English hunting lodge—anyway, that was the effect, a sense of gleaming order and privilege.

Behind the greeting desk, on which lay an old-fashioned guest book, glass cases displayed massive loving cups, including an oversized one for Pekingese; behind it, a photo of the cup with a Pekingese nestling inside. Presiding over one of the long tables was a glass case containing the skeleton of a midsized dog, and in the winter light streaming in the window he seemed to be looking down his bony jaw at the sole patron, a gentleman studying an old book of pedigrees. The skeleton was not that of any old dog, but of Belgrave Joe, a celebrity dog that died in 1888. We were in a shrine to The Dog, the dog of literature, journalism, and art; the dog of history; its purebred expression; its idealized state. There was no evidence of any wet, muddy, smelly, or mangy mongrels.

New York is full of these gems, little libraries and archives that capture a slice of the past and, in a disorderly and even chaotic world, organize the knowledge and art of, say, Louis Armstrong, or botanical gardens, or pornography (the Museum of Sex includes an unbelievable collection of pornography painstakingly collected and cataloged over the years by a Library of Congress librarian). The New York Society Library, a subscription library nestled in an Upper East Side townhouse, has a sweeping staircase and a beautiful old room for its old card catalog (“The members would never let me give this away,” its head librarian says). The fabulous Morgan Library and Museum, with its illuminated manuscripts and Rembrandt etchings, is three blocks down Madison. And … not complaining, but … here we were in the American Kennel Club Library.

The dog librarian was in her late fifties, with neatly cut graying hair and rimless glasses, a jeweled pin of a Scotty on her red boiled wool jacket. Barbara Kolb used to work in public relations for Good Housekeeping and Macy’s, but she never felt she fit in. She would go off to find some information she needed, and find all this other stuff, too. “I was always getting sidetracked.”

In thirteen years here, Kolb had organized the library, modernized its online catalog, and linked it to WorldCat, in between serving the information needs of the American Kennel Club and its magazine and stray members of the general public who wander in and ask about labradoodles or the Westminster Dog Show. Her kingdom is comprised of 18,000 volumes, more or less, some of them rare and irreplaceable, in seventeen languages—two thousand years of writing about dogs, including the only complete set of English Kennel Club magazine in the United States. Other libraries can be ruthless when it comes to their space, but “what’s a great policy in one library can be a horrible policy in another. People say, ‘Let’s weed the stacks!’ For the public library, maybe, but not for a research library.” Recently, Kolb had been collecting old children’s literature about dogs. “I’ve found some very good and rare dog books on eBay,” she said. “I keep my mouth shut and very quietly buy books for the library.” She showed me The Dog’s Dinner Party, the old tale of an eighteenth-century eccentric, an earl who habitually dined with his twelve dogs, assigning them each a footman who served them on silver plates. “You can get some bargains on eBay!”

I could live here, I thought. I could study dogs and help this lovely dog librarian …

“Come back anytime,” she said as I tore myself away, “though we’re crazy the week of the dog show!”

If you want to catch Johnson in person–and yeah, she’s worth the trip–she’ll be at the Barnes and Noble on 82nd street and Broadway tomorrow night at 7 pm.

Peep, don’t sleep.

Playing Favorites

Frank Lashes

How do you mend a broken heart? I don’t know a decent answer to that question, but after several decades my strategy has not deviated much from the one I formulated when I was 6: ignore the offending party as much as possible and try to get on with your life. Back in 1981, the original offending party was the Yankees, and following George’s decision to let Reggie trickle away following the season, I pretty much ignored them for the next 10 years or so – hat-tip to the Yanks for not being too interesting in those years.

When Reggie retired in 1987, I found myself oddly un-tethered from any team or player’s fortunes and my rooting interest free to land anywhere in the MLB. I initially gravitated towards the awesomeness of Don Mattingly, but I was too gun shy to submit myself to the Yanks again. Their whole non-Donnie situation reeked of flailing disappointment. I admired him dearly, but wished he played for another team. I also quickly got into and out of the Mets, like an aborted flirtation with cocaine, heard it might be fun, but the tragic warning signs were everywhere.

(more…)

Art of the Night

The Strand, Kevin McGoff

I went to school and painted with this kid. Really dig his new stuff.

Beat of the Day

Dig this smokin’ groove. Sounds like something out of Mean Streets:

Taster’s Cherce

It was getting late, well past lunch, and I still hadn’t eaten anything. The sun was out yesterday but it was cold. I got off the subway on 231st street and walked due west to the barber shop. On the way, I passed Sam’s Pizza, a hole-in-the-wall in Kingsbridge.

I’m not a pizza groupie but I probably eat it as a stand-by more than any other street food. Sometimes, it’s just the perfect food–enough to satiate your hunger but not enough to make you full. I walked into the place and that New York City pizza smell enveloped me (who knows, maybe you get the same smell in Philly too). I can’t explain what the smell is exactly, but I know it when I smell it–it is the scent that immediately authenticates a pizzeria in this city.

Iniside, the place was small with no-frills. The front window was big, and opened during the summer; a gumball machine rested on the counter as you walked in. A kid was standing at the counter eating a slice and a thin but strong-looking man worked behind it. The soda fountain had an “Out of Order” sign on it. There were a few tables in the back, the walls covered in fake wood. An old Coca Cola sign hung on the back wall.

I ordered a slice. Three short, round-faced, Spanish kids came in and each ordered a slice too. A fat woman and her daughter ordered a pie. The pizza man moved deliberately. He smiled and had some charming words for the women. Otherwise he was, if not sullen, blank.

The slice was good, thin at the tip and then doughy–but not too doughy–at the crust. I soaked the grease with cheese, garlic powder and hot pepper flakes. Before I finished it I ordered another one. The pizza man was making a fresh pie. He clapped his hands clean of flower, took my bill with the tips of his fingers, and gave me change. I asked him if he always worked alone. He said that he did.

“Wow, that’s a lot of work, bro.”

“I got no choice,” he said without self-pity, just resignation.

I ate the second slice. The kid next to me ate too and didn’t say anything. The three Spanish kids stood in the back, talking softly. The mother and her daughter waited in silence. It was warm. My stomach felt warm too, which was comforting because the wind cut through me when I walked out of the door.

[photo credit: dM: nyc]

Camp Classic

The Yankees enter camp this year as the defending world champions for the first time since 2001. That year, they made it all the way back to the seventh game of the World Series. The 2010 Yankees stand a very good chance of also repeating as AL Champions, but they’ll have to fight off a vastly improved Red Sox team to do so. The Yankees didn’t sit on their laurels this offseason. As they did with Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu a year ago, they let two popular and productive but aging players leave as free agents in 36-year-old Johnny Damon and soon-to-be-36-year-old Hideki Matsui, replaced them with younger players in soon-to-be-29-year-old Curtis Granderson and the fragile Nick Johnson (31), and made a big addition to their rotation to boot, adding Javier Vazquez via trade with the Braves. Granderson and prodigal sons Johnson and Vazquez are joined by fourth outfielder Randy Winn and right-hander Chan Ho Park as the big new additions to this year’s club, but there are still a couple of spots up for grabs on the Opening Day roster, a huge battle to be waged between the team’s top two young arms for the fifth spot in the rotation, and the lingering question of how playing time will be distributed among Granderson, Winn, and Brett Gardner in left and center field. Those battles will be the primary focus of my coverage in the coming six weeks, but for now let’s take a look at the other unfamiliar faces you’re likely to see in camp this spring.

First, is the 25-man roster as I expect it will be constructed on Opening Day:

1B – Mark Teixeira (S)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Nick Swisher (S)
CF/LF – Curtis Granderson (L)
LF/CF – Brett Gardner (L)
DH – Nick Johnson (L)

Bench:

OF – Randy Winn (S)
OF – Marcus Thames (R)
IF – Ramiro Peña (S)
C – Francisco Cervelli (R)

Rotation:

L – CC Sabathia
R – A.J. Burnett
L – Andy Pettitte
R – Javier Vazquez
R – Joba Chamberlain/Phil Hughes

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Joba Chamberlain/Phil Hughes
L – Damaso Marte
R – Chan Ho Park
R – David Robertson
R – Alfredo Aceves
R – Chad Gaudin

Gaudin may have to fend off some challengers for his spot, though his contract and solid performance down the stretch last year favors him strongly. Thames and Peña, however, will have a bigger fight on their hands as Peña has a few legitimate challengers in camp and Thames arrives as a non-roster player. Including those three, here are the 45 players in camp looking to make their case for one of the final roster spots. They are:

40-man roster hitters (7):

OF – Jamie Hoffmann (R)

The Yankees traded Brian Bruney to the Washington Nationals in December in return for the rights to the first pick in the Rule 5 draft. With that pick, the Yanks had Washington take Hoffmann, a big, 25-year-old right fielder out of the Dodgers’ system who made his major league debut in late May of last year but was designated for assignment in September. Bruney was traded before the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson, but the Rule 5 draft occurred after the Granderson trade, and Granderson’s past struggles against left-handed pitching are likely why the Yankees decided to choose the righty-hitting outfielder Hoffmann. That puts Hoffmann in direct competition with Marcus Thames and a few others for the roster spot sure to be devoted to a right-handed outfielder.

An undrafted free-agent out of a Minnesota high school, Hoffmann has a power build (6-foot-3, 235 lbs), but hasn’t shown much power at the plate, slugging just .401 on his minor league career with an isolated power of just 118 (for comparison’s sake, Melky Cabrera’s major league career ISO is 116) and a career-high homer total of just 11, set across three levels last year. Hoffmann will take his walks and steal some bases, but he’s not particularly efficient at the latter (68 percent success rate in his minor league career) and doesn’t draw enough of the former to make on-base percentage the focus of his offensive game (his career mark is .355). He has a solid defensive reputation, and has played all three pastures, but his experience in center is limited (81 games career) and he’s spent just 13 games in left, all of them in 2007. Hoffmann did hit .308/.432/.542 against lefties in Triple-A last year, but that performance was completely unprecedented as he’d had a reverse split the previous four years. The Yankees would have been better off using the Rule 5 pick on a compelling arm for the last spot in the bullpen, such as Cleveland’s Yohan Piño. Hoffmann seems destined to be offered back to L.A.

IF – Ramiro Peña (S)

Peña surprised everyone by making the Opening Day roster last year despite never playing a game above Double-A, and thanks to the injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Cody Ransom, he held on to that roster spot clean through the end of June, when he was pushed to Triple-A by Ransom’s return and the acquisition of Eric Hinske. Peña is a strong fielder, a natural shortstop who can also play second and third and filled in at all three for the Yankees last year. Unfortunately, he is also a dud at the plate. A career .255/.315/.320 hitter in the minors, he hit right around those marks in Scranton after finally making his Triple-A debut last July. He hit .287 for the Yankees, but with just five walks and eight extra-base hits in 121 plate appearances and his .340 average on balls in play suggests that his solid batting average was largely luck. The Yankees like the 24-year-old Peña and had him play some center field while in Scranton in order to make him a true utility player, but he enters camp having played just seven games in the outfield. It will be interesting to see if he gets any work in the pastures in Florida. He is the favorite for the utility infield spot, but only because of his incumbency and the shortcomings of his competition.

2B – Kevin Russo (R)

If the Yankees want a utility infielder who can hit, Russo might be their man. Over the past two seasons, at Double-A and Triple-A, the 25-year-old Russo hit .318/.379/.424. There’s no power there (he has just 12 home runs in 1,299 minor league plate appearances), but he’s a .300 hitter on his minor league career and, unlike Peña, will take his walks. The catch is that Russo is a second baseman who can spot at third but has played just six games at shortstop as a pro. That’s what kept him in Triple-A last year and is likely to do so again this year.

IF – Reegie Corona (S)

Given Russo’s defensive limitations, this 23-year-old Venezuelan is the camper most likely to challenge Peña for the utility infield spot. Corona was the second overall pick in the 2008 Rule 5 draft, but was returned by the Mariners. Primarily a second baseman, he has played 242 games at shortstop in the minors and spotted at third, first, and even saw some time in the outfield in the Sally League in 2006. Peña is the better fielder of the two, but Coronoa has the upper hand at the plate due to his ability to draw walks. Reegie walked 65 times against 70 strikeouts between Double- and Triple-A last year, and while his .338 career minor league on-base percentage isn’t particularly thrilling, it’s 76 points above his .262 batting average, which is an above-average Isolated Discipline. Over the past four seasons, his OBP has been exactly one point above or below .346. Corona will have to flash that ability to get on base in camp as it’s really his only advantage over Peña. Reegie didn’t hit in his short Triple-A debut late last year, and he has no power (.342 career slugging percentage).

SS – Eduardo Nuñez (R)

The 22-year-old Nuñez has always seemed like the junior version of Peña, a skinny, Latin shortstop who is slick afield and inept at the plate. A career .271/.313/.366 hitter in the minors, Nuñez appeared to have a breakout with the bat in his Double-A debut last year, but, like Peña’s major league debut, it was mostly batting average (.322/.349/.433). Nuñez does have more power than Peña and Corona, but that’s like being the warmest city in Canada. He can also play second and third, but he has no real shot at the major league roster with such a similar player ahead of him on the depth chart.

1B – Juan Miranda (L)

Miranda is a decent hitter, but his .280/.366/.474 career line, which properly represents his skills, is below average for a first baseman, and as a lefty, he’s not what the Yankees are looking for this spring, though circumstances could make him valuable later in the season. He’ll be 27 in late April and is entering the final year of the four-year major league contract he signed after defecting from Cuba in 2006. That contract might seem like a bust, but it only cost the team $2.07 million, and Miranda has hit .368/.435/.579 in his two major league cups of coffee (23 PA). If Miranda has a couple of hot months as an injury replacement for Nick Johnson this year, the Yankees will have gotten their money’s worth.

CF – Greg Golson (R)

Acquired from the Rangers last month for punchless minor league infielder Mitch Hilligoss, Golson, a former Phillies prospect, is a toolsy center fielder with a brutal plate approach that the Yankees are hoping they can fix. Still just 24, Golson is a solid fielder with a strong arm, tremendous speed, and a bit of pop, but he has struck out 737 times in 634 minor league games against just 148 unintentional walks, a K/BB ratio of nearly 5:1. He’s not in camp to battle for a roster spot. He’s here so the Yankees can get a good look at him, and because he’s on the 40-man roster.

(more…)

News Update – 2/22/10

This update is brought to you by Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards:

Posada caught Vazquez for the first time in more than five years during a bullpen session Sunday.

“I asked him if he remembered the way I pitched,” Vazquez said.

Vazquez, originally scheduled to throw Wednesday, wanted to get in a 30-pitch session because it had been too long (about 10 days) since he last threw, in Puerto Rico.

Like other starters pitching their first session, Vazquez threw only fastballs and changeups. Soon, he will add in a slider that he did not throw during his first tour with the Yankees. Posada said what impressed him most is how Vazquez has adjusted over the years. He specifically mentioned his two best off-speed pitches, his changeup and curve, and how he has a much better feel for increasing and decreasing the velocity of those pitches.

(more…)

Delicious Art of the Night

Cakes, by Wayne Thiebaud (1963)

Now, Ain’t That Nice?

Dig this killer koolness:

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