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Monthly Archives: November 2010

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All The Guys Were Corny (but) The Girls Were Mad Fly

It’s like butter.

Shuffle on, now.

Beat of the Day

Been reading the Keif book. It’s fun (in small doses).

So is this:

Cashman, the Friendly Elf

Maybe its the stress of the Jeter negotiations.  Maybe its the pressure to add a front-line starter to the rotation.  Maybe its just a side of Brian Cashman we’ve never seen.  Whatever “it” is, the uncertainty and oddness of the off-season has taken another wacky turn, with news today that the Bombers’ GM will rappell down a building in an elf costume.

The Stamford Downtown Special Services District has announced Cashman will join this year’s Heights and Lights event as a celebrity guest elf, accompanying Santa Claus on a 22-floor rappel down the Landmark Building.

“Brian Cashman will be there with smiles and his Yankee jacket, rappelling,” said Sandy Goldstein, director of the DSSD.

This of course means that Cashman will cover more ground vertically than Jeter did horizontally during 2010.  I’m sure Cashman will point that out to Casey Close the next time they speak.

“Santa Claus is rarely unaccompanied in his acrobatic 350-foot descent down the side of the Landmark Building, a Stamford tradition. While the man in red is often escorted by the Grinch and Rudolph, this is the first time a member of the Yankees franchise is to take the plunge.”

Acrobatic?  Brian Cashman?  Its not like we’ve seen him deftly floating across the stage on “Dancing with the (Free Agent) Stars”.  Also, if they wanted the Grinch, I’m sure Cashman could have arranged for Hank Steinbrenner to be there.  As for Rudolph . . . no, you can’t come, Mr. Giuliani.

“Santa and Cashman will kick off the holiday season in Stamford Sunday, when they step off the Landmark building’s ledge at 4:30 p.m. Music performed by local students and a fireworks display will accompany the rappel.”

Please G-d, keep the fireworks display away from the rappelling Cashman.  If we’re going to lose our primary “rosterfarian” (they don’t eat shellfish or pork, but have been known to eat a free agent contract bust or two), let it be through the usual excuses like incompetence, paranoia or inappropriate office behavior.

“This is going to be a surprise for all,” Goldstein said. “Will he be an elf in Yankee clothing or a Yankee in elf clothing? You’ve got to come Sunday night to find out.”

Does it matter?  Its going to be Brian Cashman . . . as an elf . . . rappelling down a 22-story building!

(Image: etsy.com)

Bet Yer Bottom Dollar

Kevin Cook is going to be at the Corner Bookstore on the Upper East Side (93rd Street and Madison Ave) tonight at 6 p.m. talking about his new book:

I’m not going to be able to make it but I have the book and am about 50 pages in and recommend it highly. Cook is an engaging and lively writer and this trim book makes for a great holiday gift, no doubt.

Peep, don’t sleep.

Baseball Player Name of the Week

It was going to be Firpo Marberry. Not a lost Marx brother, but an old Senators pitcher, with a catchy nickname he earned by scowling like intimidating boxer Luis Angel Firpo. But then I scoped out his teammates… and I am compelled to award this week’s Player Name of the Week to an entire team:

The 1923 Washington Senators.

Featuring, in addition to Firpo, and to impressive but less excellently named players like Walter Johnson:

  • Muddy Ruel
  • Joe Judge
  • Ossie Bluege
  • Goose Goslin
  • Nemo Liebold
  • Rip Wade
  • Patsy Gharrity
  • Pinky Hargrave
  • Showboat Fisher
  • Doc Prothro
  • Skipper Friday
  • Clay Roe
  • Squire Potter

They just don’t build ’em like this anymore. It must’ve been like playing Walter Johnson and the Seven Dwarves. Doc! Pinky! Muddy!

The Unfair One

Tyler Kepner on Mariano Rivera:

Mariano Rivera, who turned 41 on Monday, has continued to defy age. Every year since turning 35, he has pitched fewer innings than he did the year before. Starting in 2004, Rivera’s innings have gone from 78 2/3 to 78 1/3 to 75 to 71 1/3 to 70 2/3 to 66 1/3 to 60.

Rivera pitches less often, but when he does pitch, he is basically as effective as always. He has stayed strong enough to dominate in the postseason, allowing just one run in 28 innings over the Yankees’ last four appearances.

…There are no comparable players to Rivera. The closest is Hoffman, the only pitcher with more career saves than Rivera’s 559. But Hoffman has had two seasons with an earned run average less than 2.00; Rivera has had 10. Rivera has logged more innings in fewer games, and the workload of roughly two extra seasons across all those Octobers.

Okay, we can now go back to fretting about Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Cliff Lee (for the record, I say the Yanks start the season with all three–four, including Rivera–on the roster).

More Loss

Another Yankee great, Gil McDougald, has passed away.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

I Am Serious. And Don’t Call Me Shirley.

Rest in Peace, Leslie Nielsen. You know what? This was the first movie that popped into my head when I heard the news:

He gave us many a laugh, didn’t he?

The Fella With the Celebrated Swing

Jane Leavy’s Mickey Mantle biography, which I finished over the holiday weekend, is nothing if not meticulously fair. It features a staggering amount of reporting. Leavy talked to anyone and everyone alive with anything to say about The Mick, and includes all available sides of every story. (Sometimes this can be almost excessive – she expends quite a bit of time and effort, and nearly 20 pages, tracking down the then-teenager who found the ball Mantle hit out of Griffith Stadium in 1953, in an effort to find out just how far the home run had really traveled). The result is a careful and detailed character study that manages to describe all Mantle’s many glories without lionizing him, and all his many faults without demonizing him — no easy feat in either case.

Leavy (who was interviewed by our own Hank Waddles just a few weeks ago) grew up idolizing Mantle; I never got to see him play. I think my earliest real memory of him has to do with my father’s surprised reaction to Mantle’s openness and honesty about his alcoholism and stint at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1994. Leavy’s book details decades of Mantle’s uncontrolled debauchery and downward spiral, which dragged in teammates and friends and lovers and, most upsetting, his entire family. But it also does a good job of explaining why, despite all of that, he was still so beloved, not just by fans but by almost all of those same teammates and friends and lovers and family, no matter how severely he hurt them. She also digs up some new information about possible childhood sexual abuse that, while deeply uncomfortable to contemplate, could explain some of the facets of Mantle that hadn’t previously made much sense.

Fans and columnists today often decry modern players’ lack of privacy, but I can’t help wondering what effect that level of scrutiny might have had on the Mick. Maybe it would have ended his career – then again, maybe it would have saved him decades of suffering; maybe it would have saved his life. Mantle was publicly drunk and inappropriate quite literally hundreds if not thousands of times over his career; the Yankees did nothing more than scold and fine him and the papers never reported it. Today, the tabloids would feast on that kind of story, but at the same time I have to believe that the Yankees or Major League Baseball would’ve pressured him into getting help sooner.

Given all the Jeter-contract shenanigans over the holiday weekend, I couldn’t help drawing some comparisons between Yankee superstars — Mantle held out for better contracts from the Yankees multiple times, and was villainized by reporters and fans as greedy, though the parallels are hardly exact since Derek Jeter made more per base hit last season than Mantle ever got paid in a year. Mantle of course ended up a proud lifelong Yankee and, something I didn’t know, was buried in pinstripes (I still haven’t decided if that’s touching or unsettling; both I suppose). Jeter is as controlled and buttoned-down and sophisticated as Mantle was raw and out of control, although I suppose it’s quite possible that, as with Mantle’s fans back then, we simply don’t know him as well as we think we do.

On that note, I wanted to share one revealing  Jeter-related passage from the book that cracked  me up:

On a flawless spring training day in 2006, arms folded over a slight pinstriped paunch, Reggie Jackson turned away from tracking the flight of one hundred batting-practice hacks to consider the question of Mickey Mantle and white-skin privilege. Forty-five minutes into Jackson’s disquisition, Derek Jeter jogged over to find out what was holding Mr. October’s attention. “We’re just talking about how Mantle would have been remembered if he was black,” Jackson said.

Jeter, a post-racial hero who has perfected the art of public speaking without saying anything at all, executed the patented mid-air pirouette usually reserved for hard-hit balls in the hole and headed in the opposite direction.

They’re Playing Our Song

There is a lovely piece by Matt Zoller Seitz over at Salon about the music and movies he shared with his wife, who died at 35:

I’m listening to Jen’s favorite album, Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks,” as I write this, for the first time since 2006…

When I met Jen, I respected but didn’t like Dylan. She could quote the lyrics to many of his best-known songs the way a preacher quotes the Bible. The first time she put on “Blood on the Tracks” in her dorm room — on the evening of our first date, after eating Chinese food and then going to see “Eat a Bowl of Tea,” a film I have not yet revisited — she moseyed around the room singing along with the first song on the album, “Tangled Up in Blue.”

When she saw me trying not to wince, she said, “What, you don’t like this?”

“I like his lyrics, but I’m not sure they’re as deep as people say, and I don’t like his voice,” I said. “He can’t sing. He sounds like a Muppet.”

“You don’t listen to Dylan because you want to rate his technique or pick out holes in his argument or figure out what the message is,” she said, caressing the air with her piano hands. “It’s about the words he uses and how he sings them, and the rhythm. It’s him saying, ‘All right, let’s go here now,’ and you saying, ‘OK, fine, let’s.’ He’s just a guy with a guitar talking to you. Bob Dylan can sing. He just doesn’t sing the way you think a singer is supposed to sound. The title isn’t about a train. The tracks are the album tracks. He’s spilling his blood here.”

There was a knock on the door — a roommate returning a book. Jen moved to answer it, touching my shoulder as she passed.

“Just clear your head and listen to the music,” she said, “and see what happens.”

[Photo Credit: Nathan Makan]

Mo-Vin On Up

Banter Birthday wishes go out to . . .

The greatest relief pitcher in history . . . Mariano Rivera (turns 41 today):

And the greatest play-by-play announcer in baseball history . . . Vin Scully (turns 83 today):

[Images: Wikipedia.org]

Taster’s Cherce

Dig this most wonderful piece on the roots of the Deli over at Saveur.

[Photo Credit: Bags]

I Read the News Today (Oh, Boy)

All the links that’s fit to click.

I’d like to see a scoop columnist reality show, maybe with Jon Heyman or Ken Rosenthal or even a young guy, the rookie, trying to make a splash. See all the furious texting and waiting by the phone. Think we could pitch it? One day, a guy has a source saying such-and-such; the next day, another guy has a different source saying the first guy with the first source is full of it.

Meanwhile, I’m as big a sucker for baseball gossip as the next fan, refreshing the top sites like MLB Trade Rumors and Hardball Talk, numerous times each day.

With that said, here’s Mike Axisa’s week-in-review for the week that was over at MLB Trade Rumors. 

Over at River Ave Blues, Joe P comments on a pair of minor league signings.

It’s About the Money, Stupid examines the Yankees budget.

At the Yankeeist, Mike Jaggers-Radolf looks at some of the Yankees’ recent big contracts.

Finally, William reviews past contract talks between Derek Jeter and the Yankees, as well as the 2010 Yankees’ bargains and busts.

So Long, Thanks for the Fish

Javier Vazquez has signed a one-year deal to pitch for the Florida Marlins.

No hard feelings. I always liked Javy, it just never worked out for him in the Bronx.

[Photo Credit: Picture of the Day]

You Could Look it Up

The main branch of the New York Public Library, another reason New York is so fresh.

Dig this tribute to vintage Curt Teich linen postcards over at The Selvedge Yard.

The Big Chill

It ain’t cool in New York today, it’s cold. Here’s the latest from Michael Schmidt, the man who never sleeps:

Derek Jeter and The Bubble

Anybody see the 30 Rock episode a few years ago where Liz Lemon suddenly realizes that her doctor boyfriend, played by Jon Hamm, is lacking numerous common-sense everyday skills, but has coasted through life protected from this knowledge by “The Bubble” of his good looks and charm?

I always figured Derek Jeter for something of a PR genius. Almost never a lick of bad press or a public misstep; I assumed he’d worked hard at image maintenance and reaped the rewards. But now it occurs to me: was that really due to skill and intent on Jeter’s part? Or is it possible that, instead, being that he’s Derek Jeter, things have simply fallen into place for him along the way?

See where I’m going with this?

Honestly, I don’t think the Jeter negotiations have gotten all that “nasty” or “ugly” yet, despite the headlines; nothing much worse than “I find their stance baffling” has actually been said thus far, and if you’ve never worked extensively with agents, then trust me, that’s nowhere near their standard for nasty. Still, things could certainly be going smoother, and for the first time in a long time — maybe ever — Jeter seems to be making some tone-deaf and… well, for lack of a better word, baffling public miscalculations.

Unlike Jon Hamm’s Dr. Drew Baird, Jeter is in fact talented and good at his job, and he’s certainly no publicity naïf, either. But I do wonder now if circumstance, and Jeter’s very Jeter-ness, conspired to give him an aura of selflessness, or at least business- and PR-savvy, that he didn’t really do much to earn.

Of course this is only relevant in a contract year, and once Jeter and the Yankees have found some sort of compromise and put this behind him, we can all go back to criticizing Jeter’s defense again and, hopefully, praising his hitting technique. There is nothing remarkable about a team and a star athlete playing hardball in the press (see Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth, for starters). It is only remarkable in this case because we’ve come to expect an ineffable smoothness from Jeter — and now, looking back, I wonder if that may have been in our heads more than it was his actions.

As we saw in 30 Rock, it can be dangerous to pop The Bubble (“Careful, Lemon. You wake a sleepwalker, you risk getting urinated on“). On the plus side it seems safe to assume that whatever happens, unlike Dr. Drew, at least The Captain won’t end up with two hook hands.

(Whether he’ll play shortstop as if he did, though, is another question.)

Card Corner: Tom Underwood, 1953-2010

If you’re a fan from my generation, you face constant reminders that you’re approaching the unwanted status of “elder statesman.” Players that we remember watching are leaving us all too fast. Willie Davis died in the spring. So did Jim Bibby and Mike Cuellar. Earlier this month, former catcher-outfielder Ed Kirkpatrick passed away. And then came the news of the death of a former Yankee, Tom Underwood.

Tommy Underwood was hardly a household name to Yankee fans. He pitched only a season and a half in New York, back in 1980 and ‘81. But if you’re my age, 45 or older, then you likely have a distinct memory of Underwood. Whenever I hear his name, two words come immediately to mind: stylish left-hander. Underwood had one of those seamlessly smooth deliveries that I loved to imitate as a young boy growing up in Westchester County. He also liked to work fast, which made him doubly fun to watch.

I also remember Underwood for being part of an unusual starting rotation. In 1980, the Yankees featured four left-handed starters; in addition to Underwood, they had staff ace Ron Guidry, followed by Tommy John and the underrated Rudy May. (Luis Tiant was the lone right-hander.) As I recall, that’s the last time that a major league team had four fulltime lefty starters. The New York media made a huge deal of it at the time, and not for favorable reasons. Some writers said the Yankees were too left-handed–a strange complaint for a team playing at Yankee Stadium–and kept pushing for the Yankees to trade one of the left-handers for a competent righty. At the time, I bought into the theory, but in retrospect, it seems somewhat silly. If you have four good pitchers like Guidry, John, May, and Underwood, who cares if they all happen to be left-handed? In today’s game, most teams would kill to have two good lefties, not to mention a quartet of southpaws.

At one time, it appeared Underwood would blossom into stardom. Originally a top prospect in the Phillies’ system, Underwood made the Topps’ all-rookie team in 1975. He pitched even more effectively in 1976, but then fell into the pattern of inconsistency that plagued his career. After a bad start to the 1977 season, the Phillies sent him to the Cardinals as part of the package for speedy outfielder Bake McBride. The Cards soon sent him packing to the expansion Blue Jays for Pete Vuckovich. Underwood led Toronto in strikeouts two years running, but his periodic wildness frustrated the Blue Jays’ brass. That’s why they decided to include the 26-year-old southpaw in the trade that also brought Rick Cerone to the Yankees for Chris Chambliss and two prospects.

It didn’t take long for Underwood to impress Yankee fans with his fast pitching pace, his silky delivery, and his live fastball, which seemed to sneak up on hitters. He also had a nasty slider; on days that he could throw it for strikes, he became nearly unhittable. Emerging as a highly effective No. 4 starter behind Guidry, John, and May, Underwood won 13 games for Dick Howser’s 1980 Yankees. I thought that kind of performance would be a springboard to greater success–the kind of success the Phillies had once foreseen–but Underwood started the 1981 season flatly. With Dave Righetti now ready to join the rotation, the Yankees decided to make a move. Trading Underwood at the valley of his value, the Yankees foolishly included him with Jim Spencer in a package for the underachieving Dave “The Rave” Revering.

After pitching as a swingman during the second half of the 1981 season, Underwood put together his most effective season in 1982. Again splitting his time between the bullpen and the rotation, Underwood forged a career best ERA of 3.29, won ten games, and saved seven others for Billy Martin, who liked his versatility and willingness to pitch in any role.

Underwood’s performance slipped in 1983, which happened to coincide with the end of his contract. Although still only 29, the talented lefty drew little interest on the free agent market; he signed a one-year contract with the Orioles. At the end of one lackluster season in the Baltimore bullpen, Underwood drew his release. And then– nothing. Underwood, all of thirty years old, saw his major league career come to an end.

I’m not sure why Underwood’s career ended so abruptly. In retrospect, it’s shocking that a left-hander with his talent did not pitch past his 30th birthday, not when we see some lefties stick around till their early forties simply because they happen to be lefties.

Much like Underwood’s pitching career, his life ended at a young age. Underwood died on Monday at 56, the victim of a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. Like too many of his baseball brethren from the 1970s and eighties, he left us way too soon.

Yet, Tom Underwood succeeded in making an impression on this Yankee fan. He left me with some good memories, for which I am grateful. In the end, I guess that’s all we can ask from our ballplayers.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.

Gonna Do Just What I Please

It is cold and dark and rainy in New York on Black Friday. Looking to shop?

Why not start with a Bronx Banter book, complete with a kick-ass Steely Dan reference from our man Cliff.

Turkish Delights

There’s always time to dip away on Thanksgiving. Watch the game, go online, sleep. Here’s some sticky You Tube treats, for the one you love.

Michael Keaton’s big screen debut:

Don Juan DiMarco:

The great Selma Diamond:

Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris lay it on the only the way they knew how: thick.

I Spy:

Two pals…

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