"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: April 2012

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Beast of the East?

Sheeeeeeeeeit, it’s your Baltimore Orioles (tied with the Rays).

1. Jeter SS
2. Granderson CF
3. Rodriguez DH
4. Cano 2B
5. Teixeira 1B
6. Ibanez RF
7. Chavez 3B
8. Martin C
9. Nunez LF

Plus Hiroki.

Never mind the upstarts:  Let’s Go Yank-ees!

 

Beat of the Day

 

Kool DJ Red Alert.

[Picture by the most-gifted Monowave]

Bronx Banter Interview: Robert Ward

Robert Ward is a novelist, journalist, and a screenwriter. He recently published, Renegades, a collection of his magazine work from the 1970′s and was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule for a chat.

Hope you enjoy. Dig in.

Bronx Banter: You were a novelist before you wrote journalism. How did you transition from writing fiction to doing non-fiction?

Robert Ward: My first novel Shedding Skin was really good and won the NEA Grant as one of the top novels of 1972 because I had lived it all. I had actually hitched around and gone to Haight-Ashbury and lived there and been idealistic and seen my ideals trashed. I’d suffered a nervous breakdown living that way, and was barely able to survive mentally. All of that material got into Shedding Skin. So it was lived experience not second hand stuff from a book. In short it was wild-exaggerated-for-comic effect-reportage. But the bottom line was it was real. You can’t twist and turn stuff unless you have it to begin with.

BB: The so-called New Journalism was in full swing by then.

RW: That’s right. I had done a little journalism work. In fact, I’d help start an underground newspaper with John Waters, Jack Hicks, Elia Katz, and Jack Walsh in Baltimore. It was called the Baltimore Free Press. My first piece for it was an interview with The Loving Spoonful, when they came to town. I was a huge fan of theirs and assumed they’d be happy guys, considering the many hits they’d had.

But I found them to be depressed and bummed-out because they hadn’t had a hit for I think it was like eight months. It was the first time I realized how fleeting rock n roll fame could be. They were unhappy and John Sebastian seemed really miserable. I wish I could have found that piece and included it. It taught me a lot. That getting out in the world and seeing things for yourself was really exciting.

BB: Getting you out of your head and in the insulated world of academia.

RW: Yeah, it was a lesson I didn’t learn well enough, because after I had published Shedding Skin and gotten married again, I found myself with two young boys–my second wife’s kids from her first marriage–and no money. Teaching was at least a little security but it was killing me. I knew I didn’t belong in it. When my second novel–which was supposed to be this Great Radical Tome that would fan the fires of revolution–failed miserably, I knew I had done what so many other writers of my generation had done. That was become an academic, a guy who never saw anything but pretended to know all about the world. I got drunk on campus and played the enfant terrible with a bunch of teenaged students. I had grown to hate myself for being such a phony, so I was determined to become a journalist like Tom Wolfe or Hunter Thompson and let the chips fall where they may. When my wife left me for this rock n roller dude I knew I had to re-invent myself or really go down the tubes. I got encouragement from Tom Wolfe when he came to campus and figured out a way to get the Geneva police to let me hang with them and did my first piece on them. From that moment on my career took off.

BB: What was it about Wolfe and Thompson, as opposed to Gay Talese, for instance, that turned you on?

RW: I was influenced by Wolfe and Thompson and also Terry Southern. But pretty soon I found my own voice, which was not so absurd as either Thompson or Southern, and less erudite and right-wing than Wolfe’s. I wanted to be funny and smart but also compassionate and risk feeling things for my subjects. I didn’t want it to be all outrage and jokes. And I was still basically a Lefty.

BB: That’s great you mentioned Terry Southern. Of the three guys you mentioned he’s the one who is least remembered now. Why do you think that is? He could have been the biggest influence of all three at the time.

RW: Terry was my hero, not for his journalism, but for his book The Magic Christian, which is still the funniest and hippest satire on American greed, show biz and hype ever. I loved his sensibility and shared it in a way. As a kid in college the crowd I ran with got into speaking only in clichés to people we didn’t dig. It was cruel and very funny for a while. The people we were talking to often didn’t realize it was going on. Of course it was very immature but hey, we did it mainly to people who were the big men on campus,  jerks. It was the arty students little revenge on them. They were the fifties people and the world was fast-changing. It was around then–my junior year–that I discovered The Magic Christian on a pile of remaindered books at E.J. Korvettes. A black hardback book with a pink pig on the cover. I picked it up and read the opening lines: “Grand Guy Guy Grand was, as he put it, on the go.” After reading a couple more cliché laden lines I had the great realization that this novel was going to be one of my favorite books of all time.

BB: I love when that happens.

RW: Certain books are like that. You need only look at their covers and read one or two lines and you know your whole life will be changed by them. The only other books I’ve read that put this astounding spell on me were Catcher in The Rye when I was fifteen and A Fan’s Notes in my 20′s. Anyway, I realized that this Terry Southern chap shared my love of the put-on and had a very similar sensibility as myself and my friends. The use of clichés, the feeling that the world was mad, but also this almost academic rigor in his sentences. Parodic 19th Century stuff. Perfect. I never actually used his riffs, but he helped me see into sham and the great hustle of pop culture. Later, in New York, we became friends and he was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. His bullshit detector was foolproof. That’s what I think we shared.

BB: That’s one thing about Wolfe and Thompson and Southern–their style seems loose at first almost improvisational which may explain why it appeals to younger readers but it actually takes a huge amount of discipline and rigor to pull it off. I remember the same being said about Robert Altman, that he produced casual-looking ensemble style but it took a ton of discipline to achieve it.

RW: Well, with Wolfe , Southern and Hunter Thompson their style and sense of humor is first what appealed to me. They all had the sense of how wild the world was, what an amazing parade of fools and heroes passed before us. I loved that about them. They really caught the unique quality of American life like no one else. But what people forget about Wolfe and Thompson was that they really knew their subjects inside and out. I took Tom Wolfe from Hobart College in Geneva to his plane in Rochester and he told me all about Jospeh Smith in upstate New York and the history of the Mormons. It was the same for whatever he wrote. He researched the subjects before he went out and interviewed them. I did the same thing with ex-Premier Ky of Vietnam. I spent three days in the library before I went out to California to interview him. Six hours a day. I wanted to know everything I could about him. Research made a huge difference. We were able to talk about people like Ellsworth Bunker, Johnson, Thieu and many others. When someone is relaxed and likes you they’ll tell you great stories and allow you to hang out with them. Going to a parents-teachers meeting with him was absolutely amazing. The twenty-something-year-old kids who were teaching his children were absolutely terrified of him. But he was as nice as he could be to them. I wouldn’t have gotten to go on that little every day journey with him if I hadn’t prepared. You can only get the casual, everyday stuff if you’ve really done your homework.

BB: One of my favorite pieces in the book is a memoir story about your grandfather and the strip clubs in Baltimore. It reminded me of a scene out of the movie Diner. How did Baltimore shape you?

“My Dinner with Barry”

RW: Baltimore is a tough town, a very loyal town, a town of small neighborhoods in which people know one another all their lives. At least it was that way when I grew up. It formed my consciousness. You had a rough kind of wise guy humor there, and growing up my friends and I laughed at anything that scared us. But the really tough thing about the place was that there was just about no place to go if you wanted to be a writer. That’s why I had so little confidence when I grew up. My dad used to laugh at my desires to be a writer. Mainly because he was a failed painter. He had talent and was very artistic and a sensitive guy. Very smart. But there was no outlet for a working class kid like him and there was very little for me. I used to try and write and he’d look at me and say, “Mister Hemingway. You think you’re going to be a big writer. Well, you’ll learn pal. You’ll learn like I learned. Nobody wants you. Nobody is waiting for you, Mister Hemingway!” How I hated those words.

BB: I have an uncle who grew up in South Ozone Park in Queens and they used to rag on him for wanting to be a painter. “Hey, Freddy the Artist.” Like he was a clown.

RW: Maybe my father did me a favor because I would scream back at him: “I AM GOING TO BE A WRITER AND NOTHING YOU CAN SAY WILL STOP ME!” Man, I hated him in those days, he never took up for me. I was busted by the cops once for speeding, and I called the cop a fascist. They made me come down to the Chief of Police’s office with my old man. I thought he’d speak up for me, you know say something like “He’s really a good boy, officer.” Instead he said, right in front of me, “He’s a rebellious boy officer and always has been. I don’t know what to do with him. He won’t listen to me or his mother. He’s just no good.” The Chief suggested they lock me up for a week to see if that would get me straightened out and my father didn’t say anything at all in my behalf. I just sat there totally freaked out.  I knew they couldn’t really lock me up for a traffic ticket and a wise crack. They let me go with a warning. The cop told my father “If he ever gives you anymore trouble Mister Ward call me and we’ll lock him up for a while.” Then we left. In the car going home I screamed at him. I was crying, “You sold me out to that cop. You didn’t even stand up for me, you cowardly bastard.” I jumped out of the car on the way home at a red light and just wandered around on the streets for hours until my friend Hicks got home and then stayed on his couch for a month.

BB: How long did the rift last?

RW: A while. But later in life we made up and he admitted he had been too tough on me, that he had been a lousy dad. I found out about things his dad had done to him. It was a sad story. I knew I had to get out of Baltimore or I’d drown there. But in many ways I loved the city, loved the Orioles, the Colts, my buddies and our wild, drunken car rides. But you could see very early–and I saw it in my own family–that no one who wanted to be a writer from my class of people was going to get anywhere in that town.

BB: How did you find support or the confidence to become a writer in spite of that?

RW: It took my years to find myself and my own way but I found people who helped me. Some in academia and some–most of them–in New York. Editors and other writers who told me I was talented and couldn’t do enough to help me. People call New York a heartless place but they don’t know anything about it. No place was ever better to me. If you have talent in New York and want to work you’ll succeed. Same in LA. There are rough people in both places but if you’re tough enough and want to work, you’ll make it.

BB: Did you grow up reading Mencken? And did you follow your contemporaries from Baltimore, reporters like Mark Kram, a fellow blue collar guy, or Frank Deford, who was not so blue collar?

RW: Mark Kram wrote obits for New Times. I knew him a little. Good dude. I never read Frank Deford. Never met him. He was older than me. I loved Mencken to death. And still recall his great essay “Why Baltimore Is Superior to New York.” He said that basically it was better because people in Baltimore were your friends whether you were successful or not but in New York once you lost your mojo no one would talk to you anymore. I didn’t find this to be true but it informed my life when I got to New York. I met various con artists and hustlers there. And was, for the most part, not all that surprised because of Mencken.

BB: When you started doing pieces for the New Times, and then even later when you profiled celebrities, did you have a hard word count?

RW: There was sometimes a word count. “We need about three thousand words on this one.” But if I got great stuff they would always try to fit it in. New Times was the best at that. But so was Sport, GQ, Rolling Stone. These were real writers’ magazines. When I think back on it, I can’t believe how lucky I was to work for mags that cared about the writers, and made them the stars of the magazine world.

BB: One of the most notable differences between magazine pieces then and now is that writer’s were given far more space back then.

RW: There is nothing out there now like this. Maybe Harper’s and the New Yorker. But the other mags have all become pretty much promotional organs for the stars of entertainment. That’s because the publicists control the scene now. If you’re a little mean, from their point of view, to one of their clients, say Tom Cruise, the PR firms will make sure you never get access to any of their other clients. It’s a form of censorship. And a very effective one. Of course you can say whatever the hell you want on the internet but that’s not reportage. People who blog and trash public figures rarely have any access to them. And most of them aren’t real writers either. Merely having a snarky opinion isn’t writing.

BB: Can you talk a little bit about the New Times another magazine that is not well remembered by younger generations.

RW: New Times was a new magazine in the early 70′s. It was started by Jon Larsen, whose father was a journalist with Life, and in fact the Larson School of Journalism was named after him at Harvard. Also Frank Rich, David Hollander, and it was owned by George Hirsch. It was a bi-weekly magazine with really good writing in it. Larry L. King, one of my favorite writers from Willie Morris’ Harper’s in the sixties, and Robert Sam Anson, the intrepid war reporter from Harvard, was there as well. It wasn’t as counter cultural as Rolling Stone, but very political. I’d say it was a cross pollination of The Voice, Rolling Stone and Esquire. Later when they brought on John Lombardi from Rolling Stone as an editor it attracted some wilder writers like Lucian Truscott, who did great work for them. It never quite found its true identity, however. Not quite Time, not quite Stone. Eventually, as circulation dropped Hirsch sold it and started a new magazine called Runner. He told me later that one of the problems with New Times was that the ad guys would work their asses off to get say a Xerox account and then Larsen would publish some investigative piece on them which would, of course, infuriate Xerox and make them cancel their contract. But for me it was a showcase. They gave me as much space as I wanted and I loved working with everyone there. I’m still close pals with most of the guys I worked with there.

BB: The first non-fiction story you wrote was about the police in Geneva, the college town where you taught. It also brought your first brush with consequences. What did you learn right off the bat about the impact you’re reporting might have on a subject and did that effect how you approached doing stories moving forward?

RW: “The Yawn Patrol.” That really shook me up, the cops harassed me slightly after that, but I never let it bother me. I was determined to take the journalism life seriously and rather than scare me off, it made me excited to know that my words could have a real effect in the real world. I was sorry that I’d made the cops life uncomfortable for a while but it was the truth. That line about the girl’s legs and their walks…walks with money behind them…said it all. The class gulf between the kids they protected and their own lives. What I learned was that if a piece is really good it’s going to sting somebody and they might come after you. But if you let that stop you, you shouldn’t be in the game.

BB: I like that your go-to line with subjects was that you were there to “set the record straight.” Can you talk about why this worked as a way to relax them?

RW: The beauty of the new journalism was that they’d tell you to write a piece on say Larry Flynt but there was no word count at all. They left it to the writer’s judgment. I spent a week with Flynt and got stuff that was totally outrageous. No one had ever really hung out with him before. When he asked me if the review was going to be negative or positive I answered, “I’m here to set the record straight.” To my mind this meant whatever I find I’m writing, unless you specifically tell me it’s off the record. I don’t know what Larry made of what I said. But he did mention how he thought of his life as a Horatio Alger story. “Poor Boy From The Back-Woods Makes Good.” He never actually said he wanted me to write the story that way. But it’s probably what he expected. But I had already told him why I was there. “To set the record straight.” And what great stuff I got for the record.

BB: He was the gift that kept giving.

RW: I sent the 10,000 words into New Times and they couldn’t believe it. They ran the whole damned thing, pretty much as I wrote it. That was so exciting. I mean I had barely started in my career and here was a cover piece. Plus, we asked Flynt to pose with his Blow Up Sex Dolls on the cover of the magazine and he did it. He had no idea what the piece said inside. Of course, when the piece came out he was shocked. Which I thought was pretty funny since he spent all his time shocking the bourgeois liberals and Bible Belters with his outrageous sex and outhouse humor. Eventually, he got over it and offered me the editorship of Hustler! I turned it down but my buddy Paul Krassner took the gig. Think he lasted about a year.

BB: I can’t believe that Flynt was taken aback by your piece. Did that just show his own naiveté at having a writer follow him around for a week?

RW: What you’re forgetting is I was the very first guy to do an in-depth, hang-out piece with Flynt. He was completely naive and thought–I think–that I would have the same attitude that he had about his life and career. But I never promised him anything. Anyway, he never let anyone get close to him again. Look at any other piece on him and you’ll never see that kind of access. Later, after he had forgiven me he asked me to do a documentary on him. I said I was willing to do it but I had to have control over the final cut. He wouldn’t go for that, so it never happened. But I remember when we met to discuss it in New York. He looked at me and said, “There he is: The Truth Teller!” Said with both admiration and disgust.

BB: And yet your more frightening episode was with the country singer David Allen Coe.

RW: Yes, the confrontation with Coe’s biker friends was super scary. They moved in on me in his room and there was no appealing to him because he was passed out on the bed with a girl sort of draped over him. One of them had a knife and cut away part of my leather jacket I was wearing. I remained fairly cool headed, kept my voice even, as I said, “You guys got the wrong writer. I have never written anything about Coe before. They thought I was the writer who had written a piece saying he wasn’t a murderer, that his story about how he’d been put in prison for murder but sung to the warden and gotten a pardon was all bullshit. Actually, a woman writer whose name I can’t recall now wrote the piece for Rolling Stone. Which is what his manager said when he came walking into the room. Jesus, what a nightmare. The guy took me into the next room and told me that he was sorry for the biker’s mis-treatment of me. “Come back when we tour the East Coast next year and you’ll see that we’re not like that.” Right, yeah, see you guys then.

BB: And yet your editor wished you had gotten stabbed because it would have made a better story.

RW: My editor Jon Larsen’s response was his idea of a joke. Sort of. He actually kind of meant it. It wasn’t enough to take one for the team. He wanted me to bleed for the team! I forgave him though and we’re still pals. WASP humor. He did a lot for me, gave me all the space I wanted and was a champion of my career.

BB: Another piece I really liked was the portrait of Leroy Neiman. The guy seemed so insecure, wrapped up in his celebrity–pissed that the art world didn’t take him seriously while the masses made him rich. He seemed like a character that Warhol himself could have invented but without irony or seemingly a sense of humor about himself.

RW: Looking back I think I was a little hard on Neiman. He was a pretty good guy, though he had a ridiculous king sized ego, marching around Jets stadium and waving to his fans. He did lack a sense of humor about himself and he was insecure. But you know what–he was a hell of a sketch artist and he was really good at illustrating sports heroes and other entertainers. Maybe I should have given him more credit. But he wanted to be taken seriously as a great artist like Picasso, and that just wasn’t going to happen. Still, he might be remembered as a great illustrator. People certainly love his work. And he was right about one thing: The establishment in the art world is snobby and nasty, and to tell you the truth I’ve never been a great Andy Warhol fan.

BB: Warhol was a bullshit artist.

RW: He was hip and cool and all that but I never loved his soup cans or his paintings of celebs. How much brains did it take to do what he did? But nobody ever parodied him. Why is that? Afraid if you laughed at Andy you wouldn’t be cool?

BB: He beat them to the punch.

RW: Well, I never dug him or his scene filled with drag queens and other non-talents and would have loved to have done a piece on him with all of his affectations. Leroy said so many self aggrandizing things it was kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. But it is a funny piece…

BB: Your most famous magazine story might be the profile you did on Reggie Jackson for Sport. Did you know you had gold when you spoke to Reggie in the bar during spring training?

RW: Oh, yes. I couldn’t quite believe how poetic he was. But this goes along with my theory of bragging and poetry. For the average male in the world today the one place where they really become poetic is when they’re cursing someone out, or bragging about how great they are. Over the years I’ve heard the most creative use of language in these arenas. But Reggie went beyond the call of metaphorical duty. “I’m the straw that stirs the drink. Thurman Munson thinks he can stir it but he can only stir it bad. I’m the guy who puts the meat in the seats.” On and on and on…When he left the bar I just sat there reading my notes and saying, “Thank you, Jesus!”

BB: In the postscript to your story on Clint Eastwood you write about a reporter’s nightmare—your tape recorder not working. Did you tape record the Reggie interview?

RW: I didn’t use tape much at all because I was afraid something would happen to the machine. Just like it did with Clint. I had a perfect memory and let people talk, then scribbled down what they said when we were eating or having a drink. Obviously you can’t write as fast as someone talks, but I never missed a word.

BB: I know Reggie has denied saying the “Straw that stirs the drink” line. Why do you think, all these years later, he still disputes it so hotly?

RW: Reggie is super competitive and he hates to this day that I got him dead to rights. But he admitted it to Pete Axthelm in Newsweek right after he said it all. Axthelm asked him if he really said all that stuff and he said, “Ward caught me off guard.” Later, he changed it to the “took me out of context,” to which Munson is reported to have said, “For twelve fucking pages?” Then, even later, he decided he never said any of it. The next stance he might take is that he was never there at all and I never spoke to him. Then maybe he could go a step farther and say he doesn’t even exist. Who knows?

BB: I doubt he’d go that far. Reggie had a flair for hype. Genius may be too strong. That’s a word, “genius”, that is tossed around all too flippantly but I was drawn to how you used it, with great sincerity, in describing Pete Maravich.

RW: Pete Maravich was a true athletic genius. What he could do with a basketball was so amazing you had to see it three or four times to believe it. I mean running full-tilt down a court, bouncing a ball off of your instep cross court to a guy waiting under the basket? Unreal. Punching the ball with your forearm while looking the other way and making a totally accurate pass, heading the ball into the basket ten times in a row. He would do this stuff in practice and the other players would just stop and stare at him open mouthed. I feel privileged to have known and hung out with him. And then consider he did all this with one less arterial system in his body than we are supposed to have. His whole career was a miracle because most kids who are born with his heart problems are dead before they are sixteen.

BB: People tend to remember him as someone who was tortured and didn’t achieve as much as he could have but it was incredible what he accomplished considering his health problems.

RW: As a journalist you’re always on the lookout for a good story, but sometimes you run into someone who is just freaking miraculous. That was Pete. Even Magic Johnson said so. But again, he made it look easy because he practiced six or seven hours a day as a kid. Every day. He worked out all of these ball exercises and did them religiously day after day after day. He was sweet natured too. I said, “Pete I just can’t believe the stuff you do.” He said, in this really sincere voice, “Robert, you could do all of them too if you went home and practiced two or three hours a day. I mean really. Try it!”

Hearing that made me want to give him a hug. I mean it was like being told, by Einstein, “Honestly, Bob you could have come up with Theory of Relativity if you’d just worked a little harder at your physics lessons. Go home. Read a couple more science books and you’ll see what I mean” The guy was sincere and a great teacher. If he had lived he would have been a wonderful coach, because he wasn’t only talented, he was kind and patient as well.

BB: What are the general differences between writing about actors and athletes?

RW: Well, they have a lot on common. Both athletics and acting is about timing. You need to do things just right. If you’re running through the two hole on the line you need to wait for your block just long enough and then go. Same with delivering lines. You need to have the right timing when you start speaking, when you move your hand to pick up the cigarette, or answer the phone. It has to be done the same way over and over and over again. Amateur actors, for example, can’t sustain a performance because they don’t stay in character with their bodies. It’s not about just saying lines. You have to turn your body just so, pick up the magazine just so…on the third line of the speech. You have to move your mouth just so, your eyes have to squint or not squint just so. Comparably, as a wide receiver you have to make your break at the fifteen yard line every time, not the fifteen and a half yard line. You have to wait for the block as you run through the line, you have to make the back cut after the pulling guard has hit the linebacker not before. In basketball you have to get to your spot on the floor at the right moment, not a second later or a second earlier. In baseball you have to hit to the opposite field if the ball is outside. You have to play every batter differently in the field. You have to time your hitting, time your throw to second. Physical timing is imperative in both sports.

BB: That’s so true and yet people rarely comment on the physicality that goes into acting.

RW: Yeah, and athletes tend to become pretty good actors. Obviously there is sensitivity to acting, to saying lines that most jocks don’t have. Just as there are physical attributes actors don’t have when they want to play sports. Ever look at actors? They are small boned for the most part and short. They have thin legs and waists. Look at a baseball player on any team. Big thick thighs, big wrists…some of them, like pitchers, big waists. But almost all power hitters have big trunks. Reggie had huge legs, thighs. That’s where they get their power from.

BB: But isn’t there a difference between the mental makeup of actors and jocks?

RW: Actors are much more vulnerable and insecure than athletes. They worry a lot and feel, I think, that acting isn’t a manly profession. There’s a saying actors have: “To be an actor you have to be twice the woman, and half the man.” Only a tough woman can make it because it’s so tough. But for a man to do it…well, it’s seen by actors as being a kind of feminine profession. Pretending. Not very manly. Men should be building bridges, flying planes, shooting guns. Actors only pretend to do these things, so it makes them feel insecure and I think there’s still some shame in the profession. Brando used to say that all the time. I think writers feel the same thing. As a rule, both actors and writers would rather be John Elway than Hemingway. Because athletes risk physical damage, have to have physical courage. Actors and writers need courage too, though. It’s tough being a writer. No one knows how tough until they try it. It takes a kind of courage not many people will ever realize to face a white page of paper and know you have to fill it up with new, brilliant stuff that people may read and hate or laugh at. I’ve had scripts I’ve written for TV balled up and thrown back at me with absolute hatred. It took courage to go back into my room, knowing I was two seconds away from being fired or strangling my boss and just cool down and start over again. It takes courage to act in a movie and risk people thinking you are awful. Few people can either act or write well, and it takes a lot of courage to do either one as your life’s work.

RW: In those days before publicists did you find that your subjects were almost always cooperative? Or did that depend on the person’s personality? Can you recall profiling anyone who was reticent and difficult to draw out?

RW: I did a piece on Robert Duvall which was impossible. He wouldn’t say anything at all. He didn’t trust me and as a result I had to go back again and again to talk to him and I still got next to nothing. When the piece came out in Rolling Stone I heard from a friend who knew him. He said that Duvall thought I tried to make him look stupid. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. I thought he was quite bright but he didn’t say enough for me to get a very good piece.

BB: It sounds as if Duvall made his bed, determined to be unhappy no matter what you wrote. I know he wanted to strangle Pauline Kael for her review of Tender Mercies. He wouldn’t be alone. But I liked how Clint Eastwood was more objective about her critique of Dirty Harry–he understood the hype in her take. And it sounds as if Eastwood was the opposite of Duvall.

RW: Clint Eastwood was anxious to have the younger, hipper audience catch on to him. In fact, most of them were starting to get it, so we were only a little way ahead of the curve. He was famous for short interviews and I was told if you asked the wrong question he would get surly and toss you out. In fact he was friendly, courteous and very well spoken. He knew what he was doing on the screen and he understood that there was a comic side to his performance, but it had to be done completely straight. As he said to me, “If you winked or let the audience know you knew it was funny, it wouldn’t work.”

What really impressed me is when I asked him about critics who had assumed he didn’t know what he was doing, that he was just lucky. He said that he had chosen his hat and his old jeans and the serape he wore in the man With No Name Westerns with Leone. He brought them with him from America. He knew exactly the effect he was creating. The squint, the cigar, the clothes were all Clint’s ideas not wardrobe’s. That’s part of acting too, your look. People forget that. Think of the show I worked on, Miami Vice. Without the look of the show it’s just another cop show. These are things the average movie critic doesn’t even comment on. Clint was generous and civil and even did the interview with me over again when my tape recorder failed! I thought I would get fifteen minutes and I ended up with three hours of tape. He’s a great guy.

BB: How surprised were you that Lee Marvin turned out to be so agreeable to interview?

RW: Lee Marvin completely fooled me. I always assumed he would be some lout like the louts he played so well. But he was the exact opposite. He was dressed in a beautiful Italian suit, and was friendly and, at first, rather formal. But after a couple of drinks we became good buddies. He loved to tell stories of his drinking days, and he loved fishing, hanging out in the desert, listening to jazz. He also made a musical, “Paint Your Wagon,” as did Bob Mitchum.

BB: I dug the no-nonsense professionalism of Mitchum. Especially his comment about De Niro:

I was on the set with De Niro, The Last Tycoon, and he takes forty minutes to get ready for a scene in his trailer. Ray Milland was in the movie, and he gets all upset. He asks Gage Zazan how come we didn’t get that much time, and Kazan says, ‘Hey, look, you guys don’t need time like that. Come on, just say your lines, I got enough problems with him.’ The thing is, it’s a hell of a lot more work, and I don’t see overall where the films are any better, really. You tell me.”

How was Mitchum like Marvin if at all?

RW: In Mitchum’s case it wasn’t a musical but he did write and sing the lead song “Thunder Road,” which was a hit in the fifties. They both were tough guys who had big hearts. I didn’t know Mitchum as well, but Lee was kind and loved his old friends, especially Woody Strode, his partner in “The Professionals” and other films. He was so kind. When we went out to the Palm for dinner he was besieged by autograph seekers and he insisted they get my signature too, telling them, “This guy is a great writer. You’ll be happy you have his autograph some day.” You can’t get much nicer than that. He called me at four in the morning to tell me how much he loved my novel Red Baker. “Hello, this is your book reviewer from Tucson. One hell of a book, Bobby.” That was the kind of a guy he was.

BB: Was there anyone you wanted to profile that you never had the chance to get to?

RW: I would have loved to interview Johnny Unitas, who eventually became a friend of mine. He was my childhood hero, and when the horrible Irsays moved the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night I wrote a piece in GQ on how much the old Colts meant to me and everyone else I knew growing up in Baltimore in the fifties.

Johnny and Alex Hawkins called me up to thank me for it! I was so moved I could barely talk. And when Johnny died I sat at my computer and wept like a baby. I’m not ashamed of it, as many other guys I knew in those days had the exact same reaction. We loved him like no other athlete. He was exactly what you wanted your heroes to be like, on the field and off. Ask any of the old Colts who are left and they’ll say the same thing. A wonderful, caring and also very amusing guy. Had a great sense of humor. And more guts and heart than any player I’ve ever seen. He was the very best of the old Baltimore too. A guy who was kind to everyone and never stiffed his fans. You could go to his old place The Golden Arm on the York Road and have drinks with him. Imagine doing that with any of the well known quarterbacks today. They all have bodyguards and live in gaited prisons. The fact that he once threw me a pass when I was twelve and then said, “Good hands” when I caught. It’s a memory I’ve cherished all my life.

BB: Were there any pieces that were tough not to include in Renegades?

RW: I wish I’d included a humorous take on the Orioles losing to the Pirates in the World Series. It was really funny and one of my best short pieces, but I couldn’t find it. And there was a profile I did on Rip Torn for American Film but I couldn’t find it until the damned thing was put to bed.

“Payday”

BB: I had a subscription to American Film as a kid. I remember that one.

RW: Rip is the best. One night Rip, Margot Kidder, the mad novelist James Crumley and myself went to Chez Jay’s in Santa Monica. We’d all had too much to drink and we got into a pirate contest. That is “who could do the best Arrrrgghhhh!” I did one, ok but modest. Crumley did a better one. Then Rip did one that we were sure no one could beat. It was the Arghhh to end all Arghhhh’s. And loud. Like the whole joint stopped eating to hear it.

Finally, Margot, not to be outdone by no men, stood on the freaking table, looked out across the joint and ARRRRRGHED her ass off. I’ve never heard another Argggggh to top it. The whole restaurant applauded her and they bought us free drinks. That’s Rip. That’s Margot. Thank God they never got together. There would have been a new H Bomb.

 

Renegades is available on Amazon. And be sure to check out Robert Ward’s website.

[Photo Credit: portrait of David Allen Coe via Berrystop100; painting of Clint Eastwood by Jim Blanchard]

Reggie Jackson in No-Man’s Land

 

“Reggie Jackson in No-Man’s Land” is Robert Ward’s celebrated bonus piece on Mr. October. You may have heard of it. Caused a stir when it appeared in the June 1977 issue of Sport. The story is featured in Ward’s entertaining new collection Renegades and is reprinted here for the first time on-line.

Dig in.

By Robert Ward

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Picture This

This week we’re featuring the work of the painter Dave Choate.

Check out his site to enjoy more of his work. It’s good stuff.

Taster’s Cherce

Because it’s a sandwich that never gets old. Thanks to the good people at Serious Eats and Food 52.

[Photo Credit: Sarah Shatz]

New York Minute

 

I sat in the barber’s chair yesterday morning and heard a father talk to his young son. The boy was maybe five-years-old. They were behind me and I couldn’t see them.

The father said, “Punch me here, right here in the face. You don’t want to? It’s okay, right here.” He laughed and I heard him show the boy how to make a fist. “You hit with your knuckles. Like this.”

While my barber changed the blade on his straight razor I half-turned and saw the father, a fat guy with a doughy face. My barber then used the razor along my neck and I heard the father say, “Do you want me to give you a beatin’?” It wasn’t said in anger but in a soft, kind voice. My barber put the razor down and I half-turned again and saw the father’s arm around the boy. He pulled his son close and kissed him on the head.

“After we’re done here I’ll get you that fire engine.”

[Photo Credit: Matt Wilson]

Morning Art

Dig the fantastic work

of Francis Wolff

…over at Everyday I Show. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in some time.

Working Stiff

 

Pat Jordan profiles Samuel L. Jackson in the New York Times magazine:

He is on location as much as nine months a year — “I love being on the road,” he said — and the first thing he does in a new town is look for the black community. Sometimes people say, “You’re it.” Sometimes they direct him to black restaurants, music bars or, most important, public golf courses. He plays alone or with strangers. One day in Memphis, he joined a group of 12 black policemen who were about to tee off. One cop said: “Hey, man, you’re Samuel L. Jackson. I like your movies. Now here’s the game. We play for a little something.” Jackson smiled, recalling that game. “Before I know it, I got 16 bets with 12 guys,” he said. “I can’t be thinking, Hey, I’m Samuel L. Jackson. I gotta be thinking of those 16 bets.” (He won 10 of them.)

Jackson told me he has never had an unpleasant experience in public like a lot of actors have who go out in public with bodyguards. “I walk the streets, take the train, it’s real simple. Some actors create their own mythology.” He assumed a self-pitying voice: “Oh, I’m so famous I can’t go places, because I created this mythology that I’m so famous I can’t go places.”

…He goes to theaters where his movies are playing and sits among the audience “to see myself up there.” His “Pulp Fiction” co-star, John Travolta, told me: “Actors go see themselves be someone else because being yourself in real life is not that interesting. I don’t think I’m entertaining.” But Jackson disagreed. “John’s a genuine gentle soul. I love John to death.” Then, speaking in a falsetto, he mocked actors who say, “Oh, I can’t watch myself on screen, it’s too personal.” He dropped the falsetto and began to fulminate like Jules, in ways that can’t be reprinted here. How could anyone expect someone else to pay $12.50 to watch him on screen if he couldn’t watch himself?

 

Observations From Cooperstown: Memories of Moose

Moose Skowron looked like a character out of “Moon Mullins.” Or in a more contemporary sense, he had the appearance of a secondary character in “The Simpsons.” With his lantern jaw, thick jowls, and military crew cut, he possessed the look of a man who could put his fist through your chest and pull your heart out.

Appearances are often deceiving, and they were exactly that with Skowron, who died at 81 on Friday after a battle with lung cancer. Oh, he could be gruff and curt on the outside, but once you opened a conversation with him, you discovered a down-to-earth guy who enjoyed telling stories from his days with the Yankees. And when you’ve played with characters like Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford, or managed for one-of-a-kind legends like Casey Stengel, you’ve got good material to work with.

There were other deceptions with Skowron. Like many fans, I always assumed that Skowron’s nickname came from his size, his power, and his brute physical strength. He was six feet, two inches, 200 pounds, with much of frame wrapped in muscle. Well, the true origins of his nickname had nothing to do with his physical dimensions. When Skowron was a boy, his grandfather gave him an impromptu haircut, which made the youngster look like the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Skowron’s friends called him “Mussolini,” and the family adapted by changing the nickname to “Moose.” By the time he was playing major league ball, everyone was calling him Moose. One of the few exceptions was the Topps Card Company, which always listed him as “Bill Skowron” on his cards.

After signing with the Yankees in 1950, the organization tried him as an outfielder and third baseman, before realizing he lacked the athletic agility needed of those positions. He moved to first base, where he was blocked by players like Johnny Mize and Joe Collins. He finally landed in the Bronx in 1954, when he platooned with Collins, before becoming an everyday player by the late 1950s.

How good was Skowron in his prime? Well, he was very good. From 1957 to 1961, he averaged 20 home runs a season while qualifying for five consecutive American League All-Star teams. During that stretch, he twice slugged better than .500; he also received some support for American League MVP on two occasions.

As a right-handed power hitter, the old Yankee Stadium was hardly made to order for Skowron. But he adapted, developing a power stroke that targeted right-center and right fields, where the dimensions were far more favorable for hitting the long ball. Skowron’s right-handed hitting presence was importance, given that most of their power hitters hit from the left side (including Roger Maris, Berra and the switch-hitting Mantle.) If opposing teams loaded up on left-handed pitching, Skowron could make them pay.

Skowron really had only two flaws in his game. A classic free swinger and bad ball hitter, Skowron could sometimes hit pitches up his eyes, but he could also flail away at other pitches outside of the strike zone. Since he didn’t walk much, his on-base percentage suffered. Skowron’s other weakness involved his health; he simply could not avoid injuries. One time, he hurt his back while lifting an air conditioner. On another occasion, he tore a muscle in his thigh. There were broken bones, too, including a fractured arm that resulted from an on-field collision. With such injuries forcing him to miss chunks of games at a time, he often played 120 to 130 games a season, instead of the 150 to 160 that he would have preferred.

The 1961 season provided contrasts and quandaries for Skowron. On the down side, his slugging percentage and his on-base percentage fell. More favorably, he hit a personal-best 28 home runs while playing in a career-high 150 games. Batting out of the sixth and seventh hole, Skowron provided protection for the middle-of-the-order thumpers, a group that included Maris, Mantle, and Berra.

As he often did, Skowron elevated his play in the World Series. In the 1961 Classic against the Reds, Yet, it was in the 1961 World Series. In five games against the upstart Reds, Skowron slugged .529 with one home run and five RBIs, reached base 45 per cent of the time, and hit a robust .353. Then again, Moose was almost always good in the Series. In 133 at-bats stretched over eight World Series appearances, Skowron hit eight home runs and slugged .519. In Game Seven situations alone, the Moose hit three home runs. If you believe in the existence of clutch, and I do, then Skowron belongs near the top of that list.

Skowron put up another good season in 1962, but his age and the presence of a young player in the system changed his status within the organization. Believing that Joe Pepitone was headed toward superstardom, the Yankees decided to trade Skowron that winter. They sent him to the Dodgers in exchange for Stan Williams, an intimidating veteran reliever who liked to throw pitches up and in as part of his quest for strikeouts.

In some ways, Skowron could not have been traded to a less ideal situation. Newly built Dodger Stadium, which had replaced the Los Angeles Coliseum as the Dodgers’ home, had a ridiculously high mound and outfield measurements that did not favor sluggers like Skowron. He also had to face a new set of pitchers in the National League; outside of World Series competition, Moose had little familiarity with senior circuit pitching. To make matters worse, Skowron did not play first base every day, instead platooning with Ron Fairly. Moose hit a miserable .203 and ripped only three home runs in well under 300 plate appearances.

To the surprise of many, Skowron still had something left for the World Series. Playing against his former Yankee mates, he swatted a home run and batted .385 to help the Dodgers to a four-game Series sweep.

World Series heroics aside, the Dodgers questioned whether Skowron had much left. So they sold him to the Washington Senators. He hit well during a half-season in the Capital City, but when the team fell out of contention, he was sent packing to the White Sox in a mid-season trade. Skowron hit well over the next season and a half, but slumped badly in 1966 before closing out his career in ’67.

Yet, there was much more to Skowron than on-the-field highlights and accomplishments. He made news off the field, sometimes in frivolous ways and sometimes through embarrassing situations. Let’s consider a couple of episodes from the 1960s:

*During the 1963 season, Skowron and several other Dodgers made a guest appearance on the TV show, “Mr. Ed.” Skowron, catcher John Roseboro, center fielder Willie Davis, and Hall of Fame left-hander Sandy Koufax played themselves. In the main plotline of “Leo Durocher meets Mr. Ed,” the talking horse gives batting tips to Durocher, who was billed as the Dodgers’ manager even though he was actually a coach under Walter Alston. Durocher is supposed to relay the tips to a slumping Skowron. Moose and the other Dodgers then watch in amazement as Mr. Ed completes an inside-the-park home run against Koufax. (In a complete aside, Durocher also appeared on an episode of “The Munsters,” and was once again mentioned as the Dodgers’ skipper. Either Alston wanted nothing to do with Hollywood, or someone was trying to send him the message that Durocher was the real Dodgers manager.)

*While training with the Dodgers in Vero Beach, Florida, he decided to make a surprise trip to see his wife at their home in Hilldale, New Jersey. When he arrived at the house, Skowron found his wife in bed with another man. Infuriated by the surprise discovery, Skowron proceeded to pummel his unwanted guest. Shortly thereafter, Skowron was charged with assault, though many were sympathetic to his situation.

Skowron had better long-term success with other relationships, particularly his fellow Yankees. Beloved in the Yankee clubhouse, Moose became especially close friends with Hank Bauer, a rough-and tumble character in his own right. They often made public appearances together, including numerous visits to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend signings. I remember meeting Skowron and Bauer back in the late 1980s, while I was still working in sports talk radio. They were signing at a table outside one of the many card shops on Main Street. I wanted to interview the two of them, but I was intimidated by Bauer’s raspy voice and Skowron’s rugged appearance. Feeling like a rookie cub reporter, I settled for making a few innocuous remarks to the two ex-Bombers.

It remains one of my regrets. I never did have another chance to interview either Skowron or Bauer. That was a real mistake on my part, losing out on the opportunity to have a real chat with Skowron, one of the game’s great storytellers.

If there is any consolation, some of Skowron’s stories can be found on You Tube, and in the many books that serve as oral histories of the Yankee franchise. This was a guy who was good friends with Mantle and Berra, a guy who knew Whitey Ford, a man who played with Maris, a guy who dealt with the idiosyncrasies of Casey Stengel. Skowron was a man worth listening to, a link to an era that was long ago, but an era that we always want to re-visit.

Moose was a man that we’ll miss.

Bruce Markusen is co-author of the newly revised edition of the book, Yankee World Series memories.

(Photo Credit: Washington Post; Alex Belth.)

[Editor's Note: Bruce will be on leave for the foreseeable future while he works on a book. We'll miss his weekly posts and he will drop in occasionally with a Card Corner piece. Meanwhile, we wish him good luck with his project and thank him for being the man.]

Speed the Plow

Check out this considered and well-reported piece by Noam Cohen about Joe Posnanski’s forthcoming biography on the late Joe Paterno in the New York Times:

Mark Kriegel, a sports columnist who has written biographies of Joe Namath and Pete Maravich, was more expansive. “I believe to do a biography, you need to love your subject, but you have to balance that passion,” he said. “On some level you have to love your subject, you have to have the devotion to your subject’s flaws and virtues. You have to care enough to become obsessed with your subject’s flaws.”

Creating distance is important, too. “In some ways that was easier for me with Namath, who didn’t cooperate,” Kriegel said.

…David Garrow, a longtime history professor whose biography of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Bearing the Cross,” touched on King’s personal failings, said it was important to challenge your subject, even one as celebrated as King. “We are not in the business of being uplifting — that could be myth, but it ain’t history,” he said. “The lives of saints is not history, it’s myth. I think it is a far more powerfully inspiring story for readers to appreciate the inescapability of human imperfection than to spin myths.”

According to the article, Joe Pos received $750,000 from Simon & Schuster to write the book, scheduled to be published this fall. It is a short turnaround from the events of last year at Penn State. Is that enough time to do the subject justice? We know that Joe Pos is nothing if not prolific. I’m eager to see if he can pull it off.

[Photo Credit: Samuels]

Made to Order

Okay so it wasn’t perfect. The Yankees left 634 men on base and made the game closer than it felt. It felt as if the Yanks were comfortably ahead all afternoon long though they were not. The crowd was subdued, drinking in a sunny and crisp day in the Bronx. But hey, perfection is overrated.

The Yanks scored three runs against Matt Scherzer who had more than a couple of reasons to beef with the home plate umpire Rob Drake on the count of a strike zone the size of a tick’s tuchas. On several occasions not only was Scherzer and his catcher fooled by a called third strike, the Yankee hitter looked caught out there too.

Still, the Yanks scored enough to win on two of the weakest RBI’s you’ll ever see from Alex Rodriguez (if an RBI can ever be weak), a sacrifice fly from Robinson Cano and solo homers from Curtis Granderson and Andruw Jones.

Granderson’s ball was almost caught by Austin Jackson who made a terrific effort.

C.C. Sabathia pitched a fine game, going eight innings. David Robertson pitched a scoreless ninth.

Final Score: Yanks 6, Tigers 2.

The only drag, other than all the runners that the Yanks left on base, came when Nick Swisher left the game with a hamstring injury. It was diagnosed as a low grade strain. After the game, Joe Girardi said Swisher will miss a few days but not go on the disabled list. A relief, for sure.

[Photo Credit: Orion Falls; Seth Wenig/AP]

Recipe for Success: C.C.+The Score Truck=Sunday Gravy

C’mon fellas. Make us happy.

Derek Jeter SS

Curtis Granderson CF

Alex Rodriguez 3B

Robinson Cano 2B

Mark Teixeira 1B

Nick Swisher RF

Raul Ibanez LF

Eric Chavez DH

Chris Stewart C

A call-up and Freddy to the pen. Notes from the one and only Chad Jennings.

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Via: Food Addict]

A Hollow Feeling

Is the shortened season to blame for the injuries to Derek Rose and Iman Shumpert? Mike Wilbon thinks so.

[Photo Credit: Kelly Sullivan]

Sundazed Soul

Sundazed groove.

[Photo Credit: Picoose]

Freddy’s Dead (No Shit Henry)

Freddy Garcia almost made it through two whole innings today and gave up six runs in the process. His ship, it be a-sinkin’. The Yanks never recovered. It was a mostly listless day for the home team. They couldn’t do anything against the rookie Drew Smyly who pitched damn well.

The good news? Well, Dave Phelps was solid in three innings of relief, Nick Swisher hit two solo homers (one from either side of the plate), and Curtis Granderson hit a solo shot himself. But even three runs against that pant load Valverde wasn’t enough. Eric Chavez, pinch-hitting, represented the tying run with Raul Ibanez on second, two outs in the ninth. Got under an 0-2 pitch, a flat slider, a pitch to hit. It went as far as the warning track for the third out.

Sombitch.

Something will be done about Garcia who is currently putting out the fire with gasoline. In the meantime, chalk this one up to a No Shit Henry loss.

Final Score: Tigers 7, Yanks 5.

Nothing to see here.

Go away. Come back tomorrow. We’ll be here.

[Images via Tom MannionAnais the Mermaid;

In the Mix

Today gives the first round of the NBA playoffs, including your New York Knicks at the Miami Heat.

Later this afternoon we’ve got Yanks and Tigers at the Stadium.

Derek Jeter DH
Nick Swisher RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Curtis Granderson CF
Andruw Jones LF
Russell Martin C
Eduardo Nunez SS

Hoping to get something, anything, out of Fab Five Freddy.

Have at it.

Let’s Go Yank-ees! (and Knicks and Rangers.)

[Photo Credit: Thealanka]

Saturdazed Soul

Listening pleasure while you’re doing the chores. A half-an-hour of Wes in Holland.

[Featured Image via Life in 35mm; Painting by Alex Belth: gouache on paper, 1997]

Wild Ending in the Bronx

In last year’s ALDS the Yankees touched up Justin Verlander but lost the game anyway when CC Sabathia blew the lead and Rafael Soriano gave up the winning homer. Tonight’s game spun out in unpleasantly familiar fashion as the Yankees got to Verlander for five extra-base hits and five runs in six innings but Ivan Nova couldn’t make it stand up. Nova was the one starting pitcher that had not submitted a stinker yet this season, but that’s history now.

After five pedestrian innings, Russell Martin presented Nova a surprise lead with a two-run homer off Verlander headed into the sixth. Nova proceeded to back up pedestrian with pus. The Tigers teed off on everything he threw, and the lead was gone in three batters – the big blow a booming double by Austin Jackson. Boone Logan came in and lost a battle to Prince Fielder and the inning ended with Detroit up two, 6-4.

The Yankees bounced back, scratching a run in the seventh and clawing another in the eighth. In between, Joe Girardi got run out of the game for arguing balls and strikes. The umpiring was another unpleasant reminder of the 2011 ALDS.

The stellar Yankee bullpen stepped up to hold the line, the highlight being Mariano’s vintage ninth inning. He broke three bats and struck out a guy looking while touching 93 mph on multiple pitches. In his first few outings, Mariano’s cutter wasn’t moving that much. Now it’s biting like a January wind.

In the ninth inning, the Tigers sent out a flame thrower named Brayan Villareal. He threw the ball so hard and with so much movement that one suspected he’d have trouble throwing three strikes before he threw four balls. He ran the count full to Russell Martin but coaxed a grounder to second. Derek Jeter worked a walk (and ended his fifteen game hitting streak in the process) and when ball four to Curtis Granderson skipped off Mike Avila’s shin guard, he was in motion and made it all the way to third. That brought up Alex Rodriguez, who locked in today with three hits, one of them a homer off Verlander, and his only out three feet short of the center-field wall.

Alex looked very dangerous up there and I was sure he was going to drive in the winning run as he tracked Villareal’s offerings into Avila’s glove. After two balls, Villareal’s third pitch sailed away from Avila. The catcher desperately stabbed his glove at the pitch but he couldn’t snag it. The ball rolled away towards the Yankee dugout. I started celebrating, but when the camera cut to Jeter straining down the line, he was not nearly as close to home plate as he should have been. It looked like he was running in mud and Jeter slid just as the ball arrived. Villareal dropped the ball, but Jeter was safe anyway. The Yankees made a winner of Mariano, 7-6.

Turns out Jeter got a poor read on the passed ball and if it wasn’t for Alex Rodriguez urging him to run, he wouldn’t have made it. Great game for Alex all the way around. And a great win for the Yankees after a few days full of bad news. This is exactly the kind of game the Yanks did not win in last year’s ALDS. Hopefully they’ll have one or two in the bag next time they get there.

I’ve been stewing about Pineda’s injury and Montero’s absence since I heard the news yesterday. Since the trade can’t be undone, it’s wasted energy on my part to continue to be upset about this. But before I let go completely, I want to write now what I was unable to articulate when the trade was made.

It was a dumb trade because the Yankees gave up cost controlled talent with ‘x’ risk attached to acquire cost controlled with ‘y’ risk attached, where ‘y’ was clearly greater than ‘x.’ This is an equation that a desperate team might follow, but not a perennial contender with deep pockets. The Yankees were better served keeping their own cost controlled offensive talent and using their financial might to acquire pitching, which is inherently more risky.

The Yankees chose to ignore all of CJ Wilson, Yu Darvish and Edwin Jackson when they were available. Those guys would have all been risky and expensive acquisitions but if they sucked or got injured, ala Igawa or Pavano, they could go get somebody else. They can spend money over and over again. They can only trade Jesus Montero once. I know that Pineda was more attractive than the expensive free agents because of his age and restricted salary, but that’s not a concern the Yankees should have had at the forefront of their decision making. They walked a tightrope when they could have paid to pave a road.

Let’s not forget the Yankees have to buy offense in the very near future. All the savings they were going to get from Pineda’s presence in the rotation were going to be spent filling second base, two outfield spots, catcher, and third base / DH. Why not just keep Montero and save that money? Why is money saved in the rotation any better than money saved in the lineup? Now of course, there will be no savings from Pineda as the Yankees will have to buy pitching to replace him as well.

It’s a classic case of being too cute for no reason. Even if you liked Pineda better than Montero, surely you liked Darvish and Montero better than Pineda and Ibanez. This is a roster equivalent of Girardi’s first inning intentional walk. If everything worked out, he looks like a smart guy. But he brought catastrophic outcomes into play that did not exist before the walk. By trading away the less risky Montero and acquiring the inherently risky Pineda, the Yankees brought into play a scenario where they get neither Pineda nor Montero and have to pay a shit load of money to replace them both.

I feel bad for the dude. Hope he rehabs and pitches well for the Yankees some day. And I’ll just leave it at that.

 

Photos by Mila Zinkova and AP/Bill Kostroun

 

 

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