"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: May 2010

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Curtain Call?

There’s a good piece by Tyler Kepner on Trevor Hoffman today in the Times:

“The hitters are going to let you know,” Hoffman said. “They’re talking awfully loud right now. But I still feel I have something in the tank.”

[Photo Credit: The Brewers Bar]

Taster’s Cherce

Ted Berg’s blog always has something for me every time I stop over. Yesterday, he posted a classic AP Photo of Hideki Irabu who was arrested for Second-Degree Awesomeness earlier this week (I don’t usually take delight in another person’s misery, even a public figure, but I’ve always felt warm-and-fuzzy for Irabu’s misadventures–he was the one true degenerate on a Yankee team filled with boy scouts).

Then came  a post about some of the craziest–nasty or delicious, you decide–food I’ve ever seen.

Check this out, from a joint called Ditch Plains:

Whoa, Daddy. That’s hectic, man. Or “Mad hectic,” as my wife would say.

Oy and vey.

[Photo Credit: Always Hungry]

Million Dollar Movie

Have you ever walked out of a movie? First time it happened to me was when my Old Man couldn’t stand Time Bandits and we left the theater–on 86th street near Lexington Ave–half-way through. I saw it again years later and didn’t think it was that bad. I just remember it being muddy and British.

We’ve all sat through movies we don’t like (I think my mom was trying poison me by taking me to see Chariots of Fire), but for me, a bad movie is always easier to take than say, bad theater. Heck, I’ve even sat through movies I hate just so I could get angry–Born on the Fourth of July, Thelma and Louise and The Crying Game come to mind. But I think the only other movie I’ve ever walked out on is Eyes Wide Shut. I went in not expecting much and hung with it for the first hour or so when I found it campy and unintentionally amusing. But finally it got so boring and pretentious that I happily walked out. And I didn’t feel ripped-off, I felt liberated.

So? What movies–if any–have you ever walked out on?

Beat of the Day

Yeah, she had it going on. And Ike was a superior talent even if he was a world-class louse.

[Picture from Wax Poetics]

Let’s Play One and a Half (and Win Two!)

The Yankees limped into this series, but it hasn’t mattered much; if the Twins didn’t have bad luck against the Yankees, they wouldn’t have no luck at all. Minnesota lost two one-run games in the space of an evening – the second half of last night’s suspended Scoreless Wonder, which ended up a 1-0 Yanks win thanks to Derek Jeter’s solo home run (and lead-preserving nifty defensive play), and then tonight’s 3-2 duel, which saw Andy Pettitte prevail over Francisco Liriano. Mariano Rivera saved both games, and if he didn’t quite radiate moonbeams and rose petals and ride off the field on a pegasus like he normally does, it was at least a step in the right direction.

I figured on the bullpen being a minefield today (as just getting through nine innings has proved plenty tough enough for those guys recently), but David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Mo staggered through to the end of the first game unscathed, and Andy Pettitte gave everyone a break tonight by throwing 72 of his 94 pitches for strikes — “attack-tastic,” as my friend put it — powering through eight relatively smooth innings with a little help from his good friend the DP grounder. Safe to say he’s showing no ill effects from his recent elbow issue (…well, safe to say, but I’m knocking on wood anyway, just in case). He hit a few speed bumps: in the first inning, when my guy Denard Span doubled, stole third, and was delivered to home plate by Joe Mauer; and in the seventh, with Delmon Young’s RBI double. Beyond that, though Pettitte allowed eight hits, he walked no one, struck out four, and was generally able to keep his anguished, muttered self-criticism on the mound to a minimum. When he induced Joe Mauer to hit into the Twins’ third DP of the night and end the eighth inning, his fist pump was downright Joba-esque.

With the Yankees still staging their community theater adaptation of Waiting For Godot, starring Mark Teixeira’s offense (“We are all born mad. Some remain so”), they patched together a few runs from the bottom of the lineup. In the fourth Francisco Cervelli went all speed-demon on the Twins, beat out a potential double play throw, and scored from first on Kevin “Strong Island” Russo’s double; Russo himself scored in the seventh inning when Brett Gardner tripled. (“Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!”).

Each team had two runs and eight hits when Nick Swisher came to the plate in the top of the ninth to face Jon Rauch and his neck tattoos. The third pitch of the at-bat was a ripe fastball, and we can only hope its violent death was quick and painless, as Swisher absolutely creamed it. It soared over the right field wall and gave them a 3-2 lead that they held onto, thanks to a much more Mariano-like Rivera appearance than we saw in the first game. Take a deep breath, the Yankees won another series.

Let’s Play One-and-a-Half!

Here’s a Game Thread for the conclusion of last night’s game and then for Liriano and Pettitte in the regularly-scheduled game. Red Sox are surging–time for the Yanks to get it in gear.

Let’s Go Score-Truck!

[Picture by Bags]

Afternoon Art

Day Dream, By Andrew Wyeth (1980)

Million Dollar Movie

One of Hackman’s better leading roles and probably Arthur Penn’s last very good movie. Featuring a young (and busty) Melanie Griffith:

Yeah, the movie is dated–it’s so Seventies–but hey, it’s Hackman, man. Most certainly worth watching.

Welcome Back

According to Mark Feinsand, the Yanks have re-signed Chad Gaudin. The Bombers need help in the bullpen as Alfredo Aceves had a set-back in his rehabilitation yesterday.

Taster’s Cherce

I was in the Village last night and needed something to tide me over…what better than a slice (or two)? So I hit Famous Joe’s, just off 6th Avenue, which moved locations from the corner of Carmine and Bleeker not too long ago to the middle of the block.

Joe’s is open late and has a wall filled with pictures of celebrities–Adam Sandler, Leo DiCaprio. It’s not my favorite slice in the city, but a representative one, indeed. You sure could do worse.

I took my slices and sat in the little park across the street along with many others who were enjoying their slice in the warm evening air.

[Photo Credit: LA Pizza,  Go Planit and Julie Lim]

The Sky she’s a Fallin’

Albert Pujols is human? How can we go on?

[Picture by Rachel Wilson]

Beat of the Day

Mornin’. Nice day out there. Never too early to shake it, so get to boppin’.

Come Back Tomorrow

The opening game of the Yankees’ first series at the new outdoor stadium in Minneapolis was suspended after the fifth inning Tuesday night due to the increased intensity of a storm that brought steady rain beginning in the bottom of the second inning. The game, which remained scoreless when lightening strikes and heavier rains forced the umpires to call out the tarp after the bottom of the fifth, will be made up at 4:05 central time, 5:05 eastern on Wednesday afternoon with the regularly scheduled game between the two teams to follow thirty minutes after the last out, or at 6:10 central/7:10 eastern, whichever is later. The rain delay and eventual suspension of the game was the first weather-related delay of a Twins home game since September 26, 1981, the Twins’ fifth-to-last game at their previous outdoor home, Metropolitan Stadium.

There was very little action in the first five innings as both starters, A.J. Burnett for the Yankees and Scott Baker for the Twins, were sharp, allowing just three hits and no runs. Burnett walked two but struck out five, while Baker walked just one and struck out just two but needed only 50 pitches to get through five innings.

The only batter to reach third base for either team was Denard Span, who led off the bottom of the first with a walk, stole second, and moved to third when Joe Mauer grounded out for the second out. He was stranded when Michael Cuddyer ground out to short after Burnett pitched carefully to Justin Morneau and walked him.

The only Yankee to reach second was Derek Jeter who led off the fourth with a single to center, then moved up on a walk to Brett Gardner, who had singled in the first and thus showed signs of breaking out of his slump by reaching base in both of his plate appearances. Jeter was stranded when a still-struggling Mark Teixeira, who erased Gardner in the first via a double play, popped out, Alex Rodriguez struck out, and Robinson Cano flied out.

Thanks to that double play off the bat of Teixeira, Baker faced the minimum through the first three innings. Burnett countered by retiring eight straight from the third through the fifth, a streak broken when Span took advantage of the soft ground by dropping down a two-out bunt base hit that stopped dead a quarter of the way up the third base line. Span then stole second again, but Burnett struck out Orlando Hudson to strand him. After that, the game was delayed for about an hour and a half before being suspended. No word on who will pitch for either team in the sixth inning tomorrow.

Minnesota Twins II: First Time Ever I Saw Your Place

If the regular season ended today, the Yankees and Twins would meet in the Division Series for the second year in a row and fourth time in the last eight years. This week’s three game set in Minneapolis, the Yankees’ first visit to the new Target Field, will conclude the season series between the two teams, but there’s a very good chance that they will meet again come October.

The Yankees took two of three from the Twins in the Bronx the weekend before last, but have gone 2-5 against the Red Sox, Rays, and Mets since. The Twins have gone 3-4, splitting a two-game set with the Blue Jays, dropping two games in Boston, then returning home to take two of three from the Brewers. The Twins scored 31 runs in the three wins, but just nine runs in the four losses.

Target Field has been a happy home for the Twinks thus far as they are 14-7 (.667) at home against just 12-11 on the road. Here are the runs-scored splits for the Twins and their opponents at and away from Target Field:

@MIN: Twins 5.43 R/G; Opp 3.67 R/G; total: 9.10 R/G
Road: Twins 4.60 R/G; Opp 4.39 R/G; total: 8.99 R/G

Baseball-Reference’s park factors list Target Field as a slight hitter’s park (103/102). The total runs per game numbers above, which lack any adjustment for strength of opposition or road park factors, seem to agree with that.

The only change the Twins have made since the Yankees last saw them is that they called up Trevor Plouffe and installed him at shortstop. Plouffe was the Twins’ first round pick in 2004, but he isn’t a great defender and has hit just .259/.321/.391 in the minors. He’s simply a place-holder for the injured J.J. Hardy (wrist), who could return during this series.

Tonight A.J. Burnett, who has pitched poorly in two of his last three starts, the exception being a quality start against the Twins in which he walked four and got a no-decision, goes up against Scott Baker. Baker was the losing pitcher in that game against Burnett despite striking out nine Yankees in six innings against just one walk.

Baker actually left that game with a 4-3 lead in the seventh, but he bequeathed a couple of runners to his bullpen, both of whom scored on Alex Rodriguez’s grand slam off Matt Guerrier later that inning. That game, with those two runners added to Baker’s tally, was the only one of his four starts in May in which he allowed more than three runs. On the month, he has averaged more than 6 2/3 innings per starts and has struck out 27 men in 27 innings against just four walks.

With Baker starting tonight, Francisco Liriano starting Wednesday, and Javy Vazquez testing out his bruised finger on Thursday, all in a ballpark that has been very friendly to its new tenants, the Yankees will be hard pressed to pull out of their current skid this week.


Howzit Goin’? Not S’Good

When I last checked in with this feature, prior to the Yankees last visit to Fenway Park, the Yankees were 19-8, just one game out of first place, and had lost just one series on the season. Since then, they’ve gone 7-10, lost three more series and split a fourth, and fallen a full six games behind the Rays. The upside is that they’re still in second place in the American League East and are tied with the Twins for the second-best record in the AL.

The Yankees arrive in Minnesota tonight in the midst of their first full-blown slump of the season. Over their last 15 games they are 5-10, and they have won just one of their last six contests. Prior to Sunday’s game, Joe Girardi identified a “multitude of problems” that have contributed to the team’s woes, including starting pitching, the bullpen, and clutch hitting. To my eye, the last of those has been less damaging than the first two.

The Yankees’ one win in their last six games came in the game in which they scored the fewest runs, their 2-1 victory over the Mets on Friday. In the five losses over that stretch, the Yankees have scored an average of five runs per game, well above the league average of 4.52, but have allowed an average of 7.2. That’s on the pitching.

When I last checked in, the Yankees were 18-4 in games started by the top four men in their rotation (CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes). Since then, Sabathia has made just one quality start in four appearances, posting a 5.96 ERA, A.J. Burnett has posted an 8.15 ERA in three starts, Phil Hughes has given up nine runs in 10 2/3 innings over his last two starts, and Andy Pettitte had his first bad start of the season, giving up seven runs (six earned) in five innings against the Rays. In the ten games covered in that last sentence, the Yankees have gone 2-8. Six of those losses can be blamed entirely on the starting pitching, while both wins can be credited to the offense, with the bullpen sharing credit on one.

Meanwhile, Javy Vazquez has made two quality starts in as many attempts posting a 1.35 ERA and this line: 13 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 13 K. However, Javy was twice skipped over for Sergio Mitre, who pitched well for a spot-starter, but took the loss in his first start after giving up four runs (three earned) in 4 1/3 innings. That’s an seventh loss that can be blamed on starting pitching.

Of the remaining three losses from the Yankees’ 7-10 stretch, one was the fault of the offense, which failed to score a run for Javy Vazquez in Detroit as the Tigers won 2-0. The other two can be hung on the bullpen. Those two losses came in a three-game stretch a week ago during which Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera both got hit hard in back-t0-back outings.

Chamberlain has made one appearance since then, but it was a dominant one in which he struck out three men in 1 2/3 perfect innings, stranding two inherited runners to boot. Rivera has also made just one appearance since then, but he again gave up a run on a pair of hits, though he still escaped with the save in a 2-1 Yankee win over the Mets. Still, I’m not concerned about those two long-term.

Yes, the Yankees have some hitters who are struggling, specifically two- and three-spot hitters Brett Gardner (1-for-18 with just one walk), and Mark Teixeira (3-for-25), but Teixeira singled in his last two at-bats, and the lineup is slowly returning to health with Curtis Granderson looking good in his rehab assignment with Scranton and likely to be activated when the team returns home to face the Indians this weekend.

Granderson’s return, along with Nick Swisher’s return to action in the Mets series, will put the Yankee outfield back at full strength and allow Marcus Thames and Juan Miranda to settle into a platoon at designated hitter, and Randy Winn to return to his role as a speed-and-defense sub.

Despite being ravaged by injuries (Jorge Posada remains out with a broken foot and Nick Johnson could be lost for the season) and having several late-inning rallies have fall just short, the offense is not the problem. It is, after all, putting together those late-inning rallies in the first place. Rather it’s the need for those rallies, created by poor performances from the starting pitchers, that has been the problem.

I’m not terribly concerned about that either. Phil Hughes was due for some correction, but he has only had two bad starts, and the last against the Mets wasn’t that bad as he struck out seven men in 5 2/3 innings and allowed just four runs, one on the last pitch he threw. CC Sabathia had an unusually strong April, so his May struggles just feel like compensation for that. I have no doubts that he’ll dominate in the second half as he always does. Andy Pettitte has only had one bad outing, and he earned it with his best start to a season ever. Javy Vazquez and A.J. Burnett still have some proving to do, but Vazquez is well on his way and Burnett has always been inconsistent, so he’s not pitching out of character.

It’s not been a lot of fun to watch, but the Yankees recent skid hasn’t hurt them that much and doesn’t seem likely to continue much longer. But as for how it’s going . . . meh, it’s been better.

Beats of the Day

Since the Yanks are are in Twin Cities, how about a couple of joints?

This one, like Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” is a sure-shot record, guaranteed to get the ladies jigglin’.

And here’s the Art of Noise cover featuring Tom Jones:

A Sticky Situation

Lincoln Mitchell asks the question: Does Derek Jeter have anything left?

If Jeter continues to hit so poorly, the short term rational decision for the Yankees to make would be to offer Jeter a far smaller contract after this year, but there is a certain myopia in that as well. The Yankee mystique may be nonsense, but it is lucrative nonsense; and Jeter represents a big part of that mystique. Keeping Jeter in pinstripes for his entire career therefore takes on a measure of import beyond simply immediate baseball questions. Jeter, the greatest Yankee since Mickey Mantle, is expected to join Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and a small handful of others as all-time great players, which will also probably include Mariano Rivera, who spent their entire careers with the Yankees. If this does not happen, many casual fans will be angry with the team, but if the only way to do this is by overpaying for a poor fielding backup infielder, the Yankees will have no good options.

The dilemma exists for Jeter as well. He is worth more to the Yankees than to other teams, but he also benefits from spending his whole career with the Yankees. This suggests that there is ample economic space for the Yankees and Jeter to come to an agreement. The baseball questions, however, are not so simple. Jeter has carefully created an image for himself as the consummate team player, but this will be rapidly undermined if he spends the last part of his career chasing milestones and records while collecting a big paycheck while hurting his team. Moreover, if the Yankees feel compelled to play Jeter due to his fame and big contract from 2011-2013, despite what may be seriously declining offensive skills, the team will be weaker for it.

(Thanks to Primer for the link.)

[Photo Credit: Boston Sports Pulse]

Million Dollar Movie

Double Features. Remember them? They’ve practically disappeared from the cultural landscape, just like double-headers. I used to go see double features at the old Regency Theater which was on 67th street and Broadway. It was a revival house that played old Hollywood movies. Had a balcony and everything.

Saw twin bills of Marilyn (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch) and Bogart (High Sierra, The Roaring Twenties) and Buster Keaton (Sherlock Jr, Seven Chances) and and the Marx Brothers (Duck Soup, Animal Crackers) there.

When I was 12, I visited my mother’s family in Belgium for the summer. My uncle and his girlfriend took me to the seaside for a few days and I’ll never forget seeing the movie posters for Mad Max II (which was renamed The Road Warrior over here). Raiders was out too but Mad Max II looked like something different altogether, something menacing and sinister.

I eventually saw both Mad Max and The Road Warrior many times on videotape and then on cable. Both movies still scare the bejesus out of me in that way you get scared as a kid, ‘specially if I see them late at night. They are corny in a fantastic way but also filmed in such a tense and seemingly credible manner that I get the willies every time.

Taster’s Cherce

…We need the eggs…

O’Neals’ restaurant, formerly The Ginger Man–my old man’s watering hole–is closing at the end of June. O’Neals’ has been a presence on west 64th street for close to fifty years. This comes as sad news for the neighbhorhood. It also hits close to home for me as Mike O’Neal is a family friend.

From his newsletter this morning:

Many of you know all the many manifestations we have had over the years, originally the Ginger Man, we got good reviews and we expanded. Soon we broke through the wall into the Liberty Warehouse and opened the Liberty Ice Cream Parlor, We later turned this room into “the Grill Room”, do you remember the beautiful fireplace? Little by little our original home, a renovated garage, became the site of a new building we moved all operations into the warehouse.

In 2001 The Liberty Warehouse was sold and the old owners went belly up. The strict foreclosure that followed terminated our lease with many years to go.l

A buyer turned up and made the building a condo. At this point we considered calling it quits but we held out and negotiated a new lease. We waited 21 months to reopen. Meanwhile the building had been gutted. We rebuild saving many of our treasures and lovingly making a home for them in the new space.

We came back seven years ago, bigger and better than ever. I think the new place is beautiful and we also build a modern new kitchen which make the food even better.

But along with all the building came “new debt”. At first we did well but when Lincoln Center cut back on their programs and the “world wide recession” up we started to loose ground. It has come to that point where we have to admit “We bit off more than we can chew”. So rather than further increasing our debt we have made the painful and heart wrenching decision to close.

Mike and his brother Patrick also used to own O’Neals’ Ballon which was directly across from Lincoln Center. The final scene in Annie Hall was shot there:

Shook Ones Part II

There was an interesting piece not too long ago in the New York Times by David Brooks about the Upper West Side in the 1970s:

We’re familiar with talk about how Vietnam permanently shaped the baby boomers. But if you grew up in or near an American city in the 1970s, you grew up with crime (and divorce), and this disorder was bound to leave a permanent mark. It was bound to shape the people, now in their 40s and early-50s, reaching the pinnacles of power.

It has clearly influenced parenting. The people who grew up afraid to go in parks at night now supervise their own children with fanatical attention, even though crime rates have plummeted. It’s as if they’re responding to the sense of menace they felt while young, not the actual conditions of today.

The crime wave killed off the hippie movement. The hippies celebrated disorder, mayhem and the whole Dionysian personal agenda. By the 1970s, the menacing results of that agenda were all around. The crime wave made it hard to think that social problems would be solved strictly by changing the material circumstances. Shiny new public housing blocks replaced rancid old tenements, but in some cases the disorder actually got worse.

Growing up in and around the Upper West Side in the ’70s and 1980s, I remember being afraid all the time of getting jumped. Getting mugged was something that happened to everyone, just like getting your car broken into if you parked it…well, anywhere, but especially Riverside Drive. I was taught to have my keys out, in my hand, a block away from home, and I was used to getting half-crazed, hard looks from people on the street…on every block, every day.

When I walked from my grandparents apartment on 81st street (between Central Park West and Columbus) and Broadway, I knew which blocks to stay on, and which sides of the blocks too. Amsterdam Avenue was not to be taken lightly.

Brooks references two other pieces in his column. The first, Life in New York, Then and Now, was written by John Podhoretz (son of Norman Podhoretz) in Commentary:

Nostalgia can be a treacherous mistress, because she glamorizes the past and downgrades the present in a way that threatens to make them both intolerable. Since I live only a mile from where I was born and raised, with only slight changes to the visual landscape, I find myself constantly under nostalgia’s threat. An indifferent French restaurant occupies the space that once housed the record store where I bought my first 45 rpm disc of the Cowsills singing the title song from Hair, and standing in front of it I split into two, the 49-year-old in the present and the seven-year-old in the past crossing its portal with a little brown paper bag in hand, excited beyond measure to get its contents home to place the needle on the 45’s ridge and watch it slide into the first groove, the sound of the scratches giving way to the opening blast of the Cowsills’ five-part harmony. In the same way, standing on a Thursday evening in front of the building in which I was born and raised, I am suddenly in the hazy light of an early Sunday morning at the age of six and managing for the first time to right the bicycle from which the training wheels had lately been removed and then wobbling my way down the block and around the corner and around the second corner and then around the third—and slamming the bike into a toddler who was wobbling his way forward in front of his building.

That memory is itself almost certainly a conflation of two moments that occurred months apart, but in retrospect, they blend high exhilaration and low shame, an almost perfect distillation of the bipolarity of childhood feeling. That is the ambiguous power of nostalgia, as the jagged recollection of hitting a tiny child with a bicycle still has the power to catch like a rusted nail four decades later and open a fresh wound.

The second piece, Gentrification and Its Discontents by Benjamin Schwarz in The Atlantic, is also worth checking out. It’ s not about the Upper West Side, but it is about old New York vs. contemporary New York.

[Photo Credit: Bruce Barone]

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