"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: March 2012

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Finally

Coach Cal’s Kentucky Wildcats vs. Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals is the first game. Ohio State vs. Kansas comes next.

Knicks host the Cavs tonight and there is bad news to report. Jeremy Lin has a torn meniscus and needs surgery. Frank Isola reports that Lin will be out six weeks.

Bringing it All Back Home

Here’s an excerpt from Colum McCann’s “Damn Yankees” essay:

I have been in New York for 18 years. Every time I have gone to Yankee Stadium with my two sons and my daughter, I am somehow brought back to my boyhood. Perhaps it is because baseball is so very different from anything I grew up with.

The subway journey out. The hustlers, the bustlers, the bored cops. The jostle at the turnstiles. Up the ramps. Through the shadows. The huge swell of diamond green. The crackle. The billboards. The slight air of the unreal. The guilt when standing for another nation’s national anthem. The hot dogs. The bad beer. The catcalls. Siddown. Shaddup. Fuhgeddaboudit.

Learning baseball is learning to love what is left behind also. The world drifts away for a few hours. We can rediscover what it means to be lost. The world is full, once again, of surprise. We go back to who we were.

I slipped into America via baseball. The language intrigued me. The squeeze plays, the fungoes, the bean balls, the curveballs, the steals. The showboating. The pageantry. The lyrical cursing that unfolded across the bleachers.

[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News]

Saturdazed Soul

Comforting sounds on a gray and chilly day:

[Photo Credit: g-rass]

Aie

A sore shoulder could be what’s been ailing Michael Pineda. David Waldstein has more in the Times.

Good thing for the Yanks they’ve got plenty of arms to fill out the starting rotation.

[Photo Credit: Ron Antonelli, N.Y. Daily News]

Friday Night Funski

Michael Pineda starts for the Yanks tonight. Game is on YES.

Plus, Knicks play the Hawks.

Happy Sports.

Taster’s Cherce

Saveur gives us many ways to prepare artichokes.

[Photo Credit: Pinch My Salt]

Million Dollar Movie

From the not so wonderful “College.” Still, it’s Buster:

Morning Art

“Movie Poster” by Walker Evans (1930)

Evaluate, Don’t Hyperventilate

The Yankees approach the new season with questions surrounding the starting rotation. That’s no surprise, we’ve been talking about those shortcomings ever since Javier Vazquez became the least welcome sequel after Staying Alive (tough choice, lots of terrible sequels).

The surprise is that the Yankees have too many starters now. But once again, they’re having a very hard time finding five of them that are ready to be effective come opening day.  Here’s a take on the problem from John Harper in Daily News. 

The stats in spring training may be meaningless, but as Phil Hughes demonstrated last year, if you are not ready to answer the bell once the games count, you will get obliterated. So I hope Joe Girardi learned that lesson and will leave behind anyone that can’t cut it.

What if that means leaving Michael Pineda behind? If he’s going to get lit up like Hughes last year, then it’s for the best. But I will have a much happier time this spring if Michael Pineda is pitching well for the Yankees. Revisiting the Montero deal ad nauseum is inevitible, but it won’t be upsetting if Pineda delivers something  positive right away.

What’s your rotation now? What’s your rotation once Pettitte is back?

Now: CC, Kuroda, Pineda, Hughes, Nova

Then: Pettitte replaces Nova

If Nova is pitching better than Hughes, that can be amended.

Beat of the Day

Eyes Wide Open.

[Photo Credit: Elevated Encouragement]

New York Minute

After three or four years of avoiding the arduous climb whenever possible, I now usually take the stairs at 215th St and Broadway when I have a choice. There are 110 of ‘em so it’s a challenge, but a welcome one after desk-jockeying all day.

2010.

1915.

This picture from 1916, taken from the East side of Broadway gives you a better idea of the climb.

What challenges do look forward to on your walks about town? Which ones do you avoid? I know I try to avoid the subway on treks of less than twenty blocks, though I’ll train it for less than ten in the rain.

 

Photos via myinwood.net & placematters.net

An American Original

Here’s Mike Downey’s review of Paul Dickson’s new Bill Veeck biography:

My first reaction when a copy of Paul Dickson’s new biography, “Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick,” lands in my lap is to be curious if justice has been done to him, before turning a single page. I touch base with Mike Veeck, the great man’s son http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-ca-bill-veeck-20120401,0,4034572.story(a man of a few radical and wonderfully ridiculous notions of his own), to inquire if the descendants approve. “We’ve read it and enjoyed the easy flow and the research,” Mike replies. “Mr. Dickson has won me over with his gentle prose.”

Nice first pitch. So into the bio I go, wondering if there’s a chance in heck that this can be a proper bookend to one of the best of all sports books, “Veeck as in Wreck,” the long-ago collaboration of Ed Linn with his subject that established Veeck as a man who held nothing back, denigrating his own contemporaries in such a way that owners such as Gene Autry and Charles O. Finley were appalled by him.

The proof of goodness is usually in the details, so it becomes clear right off the bat that Dickson has written an authoritative work. It does take on a bit of a term-paper feel in part, since Dickson did need to rely heavily on anecdotes of old, Veeck being deceased for 26 years and therefore unavailable for beery, cheery late-night chats. But the stories are well documented and well told, so Veeck, like his kin, likely would approve.

I’m down.

Color By Numbers: Untapped Power

At the beginning of March, Dodgers’ first baseman James Loney talked confidently about being a legitimate candidate for the batting title in 2012. Considering how many people view him as a disappointment, not to mention he has never even hit over .300 in a qualified season, Loney’s optimism was intriguing to say the least. So, last week, I took a look at other batting champions who had never hit .300 before their 28th birthday and, not surprising, discovered very few.

Before writing about Loney’s pursuit of a batting crown, I hadn’t given the first baseman much thought. However, while listening to Vin Scully broadcast a recent Dodgers’ spring training game, the left handed hitter was thrust to the forefront once again. During the game, Scully relayed a story about adjustments Loney had made that the lefty believed would allow him to hit for more power…even as many as 30 home runs this season. Once again, for a player who had never hit more than 15, Loney seemed guilty of wishful thinking.

Career Home Run Leaders Among Late Bloomers*

 *Includes players with at least 2,000 PAs before their age-28 season who hit 75 or fewer homers.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Since 1901, 685 players (including Loney) with at least 2,000 plate appearances hit 75 or fewer home runs before their age-28 season.  From this group, only 31 went on to hit more than 200 home runs in their entire career. Going one step further, only seven batters from this segment hit more than 200 long balls without having recorded more than 15 homers in a season during this timeframe. In other words, if Loney does turn on the power, it will qualify as a historical achievement.

Career Home Run Leaders Among Even Later Bloomers*

*Includes players with at least 2,000 PAs before their age-28 season who hit 75 or fewer homers and never more than 15 in any one season.
Source: baseball-reference.com

To be fair, Loney only implied that he could hit 30 home runs in a season. However, even this accomplishment would go against the tide of history because only 27 players (in 50 seasons) from the group of 685 defined above wound up having their first 30 home run season after turning 28. What’s more, most of those hitters gradually worked their up to 30 home runs, whereas Loney would have to double his output in order to reach that level in 2012.

Late Bloomers* Who Had First 30 Home Run Season at Age-28

*Players with at least 2,000 PAs and no more than 75 homers before their age-28 season.
Source: baseball-reference.com

The list above includes three players who offer Loney some immediate hope. For most of his Yankees’ career, Bob Meusel was a productive, but often overlooked member of Murders’ Row. That’s what happens when you play alongside Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. By their standards, Meusel wasn’t really a power hitter, but in reality, his more modest totals were still good enough to rank among the league leaders. In 1925, when Gehrig was just breaking in and Babe Ruth was suffering from “the bellyache heard around the round”, Meusel finally was the top dog. That season, the left fielder belted 33 homers to lead the league. It would be the highest total of his career and only his second season with more than 16.

With bulging biceps exposed by his trademark sleeveless uniform, Ted Kluszewski became synonymous with power. And yet, Big Klu was a late convert to the long ball. In 2,723 plate appearances before turning 28, the muscular first baseman only had 74 home runs, or only seven more than Loney. Over the next four years, however, he hit 171, including 40 or more in three consecutive seasons. During that span, no one hit more home runs than Kluszewski, but thanks in large part to several nagging injuries, the slugger’s power quickly dissipated as he combined to hit only 34 home runs in his last five seasons.

Garrett Anderson vs. James Loney, Pre Age-28 Seasons

Source: baseball-reference.com

Before turning 28, Garrett Anderson’s statistics were very similar to Loney’s. So, if the pattern holds, the Dodgers’ first baseman just might be in line for a breakout power season. In 2000, Anderson, who had only once hit more than 16 homers (21 in 1999), belted 35 long balls, beginning a four-year stretch in which he flirted with that plateau in each season. Considering the similarities, maybe the Dodgers can just go ahead and pencil in more power from first base?

If Los Angeles has a little patience, the real poster boy for late power is Steve Finley. Before entering his age-31 season, the left handed centerfielder had only 47 home runs in nearly 4,000 plate appearances. Then, all of a sudden, he flipped the switch. Not only did Finley belt 30 long balls as a 31-year old in 1996, but he maintained his power over the remainder of his career.

At the rate he is going, James Loney will enter the season convinced he can win the triple crown. Has he made a believer out of you? I am still skeptical, but for the first time, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Loney’s pursuit of history.

Oh, by the way, did I mention this is Loney’s contract year? Ironically, if the Dodgers first baseman does have the breakout season he is predicting, it could mean the end of his days in Los Angeles, especially with teammate Andre Ethier also headed for free agency. Almost 10 years ago, the Dodgers faced a similar situation when Adrian Beltre parlayed a career season into a big free agent contract with another team. The Dodgers were wise to let Beltre go back then, but this time around, a big season from Loney might compel the new ownership group to keep him. In that respect, a lot more than just history is riding on Loney’s 2012 season…millions of dollars are at stake as well.

Beat of the Day

[Photo Credit: Brian W Ferry]

Taster’s Cherce

It’s a little early for snap peas but dig this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Let’s Make a Deal

Here’s another excerpt from “Damn Yankees.” Over at Deadspin, check out Dan Okrent’s piece on the famous Peterson Kekich wife swap:

In the late 1970s, on my very first assignment as a baseball writer, I found myself in the press box at the Yankees’ spring training home in Fort Lauderdale. On one side of me sat Murray Chass of the New York Times, fairly early in his own career as the most prolific and most boring baseball writer in the paper’s (maybe any paper’s) history. On the other side my seatmate was Maury Allen of the New York Post.

It was only an exhibition game, but I had never been paid to watch baseball before, and even the cramped little press box in Lauderdale seemed like some sort of heaven to me. I gurgled something about this being my first professional gig as a sportswriter, and Chass looked at me briefly, emitted a noise composed entirely of consonants, and went back to his crossword puzzle. Allen was friendlier. He introduced himself, shook my hand, wished me luck, and spent the first couple innings chatting amiably about his life as a sportswriter. Around the top of the third, he paused in mid-anecdote, looked at the field briefly, and tapped a pencil on the arm of his chair. “I love everything about the job,” he said, “except the fucking games.” Then he got up and left.

It would be cheap to contradict the defenseless Allen, who died in 2010, and point out that his role in what was almost precisely a fucking game may have been the most exciting moment in his career. In the summer of 1972, the biggest trade in Yankees history originated at a party at Allen’s house in Westchester County, when pitcher Mike Kekich drove home with the wife of pitcher Fritz Peterson, and Peterson drove home with Mrs. Kekich.

Morning Art

Drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci

The Magic Number

Guess who moved up in the batting order?

Peter Kerasotis has the story in the Times.

Here’s more Yankees notes from the Post on GrandyFreddyJoba, Hiroki,Swish and Cust.

 

New York Minute

A subway train retirement village at 215th St.

Shall We Dance?

Kudos to the Grantland’s “Director’s Cut” series for reprinting this gem by the late Paul Hemphill (may he not be soon forgotten).

Here is “How Jacksonville Earned its Credit Card” (from Sport, June 1970):

It must have been the fall of 1962 when I first met Joe Williams. Most newspapermen, at one point or another, succumb to the illusion of public relations — thinking it is the rainbow leading to money and class and peace of mind — and I had just quit writing sports to become the sports publicist at Florida State University. It was football season all of a sudden and I was buried in brochures and 8-by-10 glossies and travel arrangements when Bud Kennedy, the FSU basketball coach, walked in one day and introduced Joe Williams as the new freshman basketball coach. Even then Williams was not the kind to make dazzling impressions. He was quiet and pleasant, tall and hunched over, a man in his late twenties, who grinned out of the side of his mouth and looked up at you, in spite of being 6-foot-4, through bushy black eyebrows. He was, it seems, sort of a part-time coach while doing graduate study or something.7 Florida State was just beginning to flex its muscles in football then, and so Bud Kennedy (who died recently) and assistant coach Hugh Durham (now the head basketball coach at FSU) and, by all means, Joe Williams sort of hovered about like extra men at a picnic softball game.

Joe did have a beautiful young bride named Dale, whom he had met while he was coaching high-school basketball in Jacksonville.8 But she was the only outwardly outstanding thing about Joe Williams, and they lived in what sounded like a fishing-camp cabin in the swamps outside Tallahassee, and I suppose I had his picture taken for the basketball brochure and I suppose the freshman team played out its season. I just don’t know. I went back to newspapering very shortly, and Joe took an assistant coaching job at Furman University, both of us roughly the same age, both of us just looking for a home, and we went separate ways without looking back.9

Jacksonville’s basketball program was, in those days during the early sixties, almost nonexistent. I had seen them play, against teams like Tampa and Valdosta State and Mercer, and it was a twilight zone of dark and airy gyms, small crowds, travel-by-car and intramural offenses. There was a line in the papers about Joe Williams leaving Furman in 1964 to become head basketball coach at Jacksonville University,10 not the most exciting announcement but at least news about an acquaintance. Jacksonville, you could find out if you bought a Jacksonville paper, got progressively worse — from 15-11 to 8-17 in Joe’s first three seasons — and people like me who had known him however vaguely were wondering whatever in the world possessed him to take a job like that.

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