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Take It Like A Man

CC Sabathia, Francisco Cervelli, Joe Girardi

CC Sabathia heads to the dugout after giving up a 2-0 lead in the seventh. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

If a game happens and no one stays awake to watch it, did it actually happen? The answer, of course, is yes.

The start of Thursday’s game was delayed 3 hours and 27 minutes due to thunderstorms that ripped through the New York metropolitan area. The lone West Coast game in San Francisco started and finished before the Red Sox-Yankees series finale.

And if you thought a first-inning home run by Curtis Granderson, one that gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead, would be the start of a big night against Josh Beckett, you’d have thought wrong. Beckett, who entered the evening 2-0 against the Yankees this season, with 19 Ks and holding the Yankees to a .128 batting average against him through 14 innings, settled in and only allowed five more base runners (2 H, 2 HBP, 1 BB), and no one advanced beyond second base.

CC Sabathia, on the other hand, was an ace in his own right, but only through six innings. The turning point was a dumb-luck triple by Jed Lowrie to right field in the top of the seventh inning. The ball was scooting along the ground down the right field line, and Nick Swisher anticipated playing the carom. Instead, the ball stayed close to the ground and skidded, finding its way onto the metal below the padding of the wall and hydroplaned past Swisher and into the corner. Swisher fell down in the process. This mishap, all of which took about two seconds to develop, allowed David Ortiz, who led of the inning with a seemingly harmless single, to score.

At that point, you could sense the Red Sox’ attitude morph into a collective “We’ve got ‘em now.” And they did. When the carnage of the inning was completed, 11 men were sent to the plate, eight got hits, and seven scored. Ortiz alone had two hits, scored a run, and drove in two. Ballgame over. The outs were louder than some of the hits. The singles by Jason Varitek, Jacoby Ellsbury, and the bases-loaded single by Adrian Gonzalez that eventually sent Sabathia to the showers were seeing-eye singles. Bleeders. But they were better than anything the Yankees could muster against Beckett.

The good tidings the Yankees brought home following a 6-3 West Coast trip have officially been erased. A one-game lead is now a two-game deficit. The Yankees are 0-6 against the Red Sox at home this season, and 1-8 against them overall. A quarter of the Red Sox’ wins and a third of the Yankees’ losses have come against each other.

We could say, “This is setting up for the typical second-half surge against the Red Sox,” but doing so could be a mistake. This Yankees team has not hit well with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox have. (Thursday’s split was 7-for-15 for the Red Sox, 0-for-5 for the Yankees). The Yankees’ bullpen is in shambles, with the recent news of Joba Chamberlain’s season ending and the high likelihood of his requiring Tommy John surgery. The starting lineup only carries one hitter with a batting average above .275.

To paraphrase former NFL coach Dennis Green from one of the all-time greatest post-game press conferences, the Red Sox are who we thought they would be. What are the Yankees?

Bronx Banter Book Review: The ESPN Book

The much ballyhooed ESPN Book, “Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN” has been out for two weeks, and to no surprise, landed atop the New York Times Bestseller list for nonfiction. The writers, James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, spent the better part of two years interviewing dozens of current and former ESPN employees. The access they received and the candor they elicited from their interview subjects was unprecedented. In doing so, Miller and Shales trace the company’s history from its roots as an idea by Bill Rasmussen and his son Scott, mentioned on a drive from Connecticut to the Jersey Shore in the summer of 1978, to the monolith it has become.

Miller and Shales, who also wrote the oral account of Saturday Night Live, have structured this tome in a similar fashion to the SNL retrospective. The interviews and the quotes drive the narrative. Any reporting and interjections outside the context of quoted material appears in italics and helps to establish the next batch of interviews. The reported inserts serve a similar purpose Steinbeck’s interclary chapters in “The Grapes of Wrath.” The only difference — beyond the obvious that “The Grapes of Wrath” is fiction and the ESPN Book is nonfiction — is that unlike the interclary chapters, which are third-person omniscient accounts of similar situations that foreshadow what will happen to the Joads, Miller and Shales’ reporting does not pull the reader away from their interview subjects and personalities framing the storyline. This style made for a quick read. I wore out the touch screen on my iPad (via the Kindle app), ripping through the book in four days.

The blogosphere naturally pounced on the salacious accounts in the book, specifically descriptions of co-workers having sex in stairwells and utility closets, the raucousness of the holiday parties, the history of sexual harassment, and incidents of lewd conduct involving Gary Miller (arrested for allegedly urinating on a police officer in Cleveland) and Dana Jacobson (drinking vodka straight from the bottle at the “Mike and Mike” roast and making fun of Notre Dame’s Touchdown Jesus). But the book, as an oral history, is about much more than that.

If you think you will read this book and get a repeat of “The Big Show,” or get behind the scenes of SportsCenter, you’ll be disappointed. Yes, there is plenty of time spent on Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, what they did to elevate SportsCenter, and what the show has become since their respective departures. But this book is all about ESPN as a business venture, and how the people involved created a business model, a brand, cultivated a workplace culture, and framed how we as fans consume live sporting events and get our sports news. It’s about the leadership of Chet Simmons, then Roger Werner, then Steve Bornstein, George Bodenheimer, and the joint efforts of John Walsh, Mark Shapiro, and John Skipper.

The highlights are the details of the beginnings of the relationship when Getty Oil owned the company; how George Bodenheimer, the current CEO, rose to his position from being a driver when the company started. It was his idea of a dual revenue stream (cable companies paying them a share for subscriptions, plus advertising), that laid the foundation for the cash machine ESPN is today; the influence of Don Ohlmeyer, who has made more money from the company than any individual; and the inner workings of the last round of NFL negotiations, which brought Monday Night Football off of ABC and over to ESPN, and took the Sunday Night package to NBC. Charley Steiner, Bob Ley, Robin Roberts, George Grande, Gayle Gardner, Linda Cohn, John Saunders, and Jeremy Schaap all present themselves as the professionals they are. Chris Berman is, well, Chris Berman.

Among the lowlights are the rampant misspellings. Now, having contributed to, and co-edited books, I know this happens. I have a glaring typo in the first paragraph of my essay in the Baseball Prospectus 2007 annual that to this day kills me. Jim Miller even said on his appearance on Bill Simmons’ podcast last week that he was upset at the number of times he misspelled Jim Nantz’s name. (It appears about five or six times as “Nance”.) Beyond that, Stan Verrett, who anchors the late SportsCenter from LA, had his name misspelled. So did a few athletes, including former Denver Broncos defensive lineman Trevor Pryce. (It was spelled “Price”.) Also, not enough time was spent on ESPN.com’s effect on the Internet and how other sports websites do their daily bidding. Dozens of pages are devoted to ESPN Magazine—its creation, editorial philosophy, etc. ESPN.com’s little nook reveal that Steve Bornstein, who at the time was running the company, had one of the first-ever aol addresses, the purchases of Infoseek and Starwave helped build the infrastructure for the website, Bill Simmons hates being edited and Rick Reilly was not, in fact, traded for Dan Patrick. Too much time is spent on the Erin Andrews peephole incident, and nothing of the reaction she received when she went on Dancing with the Stars, wearing outfits that lead dudes to creep and peep in the first place. Too much time is also spent on Rush Limbaugh, and the three-man booth of Monday Night Football that involved Tony Kornheiser, Mike Tirico and first, Joe Theismann, then Ron Jaworski, and now Kornheiser’s replacement, Jon Gruden. Bottom line, with MNF the games sucked. At least they mentioned that trying to make chicken salad out of you-know-what was impossible given their schedule. Way too much time is spent on the ESPYs.

There are elements to the book for me that are personal. I interned on “Up Close” in 1999 when Gary Miller hosted the show, and my first job after graduating college was at ABC Sports as an assistant editor for their college football web operation. With those experiences etched in my brain, I had more than a passing interest in the book. It was odd to read direct quotes from people I know and worked with for a time in both instances. To learn that ESPN had planned to dissolve ABC Sports going back to the days when CapCities owned them both — as early as 1993 — was alarming. To learn that it was an inevitability following the Disney purchase, and as early as Super Bowl XXXIII, saddened me. I knew the plan and saw it happen beginning in the Summer of 2001. I saw industry veterans agonize over taking a buyout or fighting for their jobs. I saw my own boss decide which members of our eight-person team were going to stay and which were going to go in order to meet his headcount requirement. Had I known all this was in the offing when I interviewed for my job there, my entire career path may have been altered.

Similarly, the accounts from ABC folks, or ESPN people who were assigned to ABC, detailing how they were viewed as second-class citizens by the powers that be in Bristol stung a similar way. I remember in November 2001 interviewing for a beat position at ESPN.com. I had a feeling going into the interview that based on my experience at the time, I was a longshot, but I wanted the chance to interview with the editor-in-chief of ESPN.com — at the time, this was Neal Scarbrough, who ran ESPN the Magazine and has since had stops at AOL Sports, Wasserman Media and Comcast — and believed I had forged strong relationships with my Bristol-based colleagues to where I at least merited a look. As good as my interview was, and as much as I do believe they liked me, it wasn’t to be. Despite my being single at the time and willing to move to Bristol, I had the three letters attached to my resume that basically ruled me out. There were no other openings in Bristol, despite several months of inquiry. In February of ’02, I started at YES, where a host of other ABC refugees, including my former boss, landed.

Reading this book, I determined there is a wide subset of people who it is written for: ESPN employees and alumni, industry types, bloggers, media members, people interested in public relations and sports business, and sports video production. The diehard sports fan or casual viewer of ESPN likely will not care about 70 percent of the book’s content.

Keep that in mind if you’re thinking of spending $15 on it.

A Grand Finale

Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira finished what Curtis Granderson started. (Photo Credit / Michael Heiman - Getty Images)

Some of the Yankees’ most memorable moments at home over the past 15 years have occurred in the month of May. In 1998, David Wells’ perfect game against the Twins and the brawl against the Orioles sparked by Armando Benitez’s plunking of Tino Martinez took place May 17 and 19, respectively. In 2002, Jason Giambi’s 14th-inning game-winning grand slam in the rain, also against the Twins occurred on May 17.

Here we are in 2011. The Yankees had only won four home games this month. “Consistently inconsistent” would probably be the best description for their play. The pressing trend has been the team’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position. They were too reliant upon the home run.

Speaking of home runs, this series against the Blue Jays was billed as a duel between the Majors’ top two home run hitters: Jose Bautista of the Jays and Curtis Granderson of the Yankees. Bautista won Round 1 Monday night. Granderson won Round 2 on Tuesday. Granderson keyed the Yankees’ comeback from a 4-1 deficit with a leadoff double in the eighth inning, leading the “Thank you for taking Ricky Romero out of the game” charge. He later scored on Robinson Canó’s RBI double. With two outs in the ninth, Granderson singled to drive in Chris Dickerson, tying the game at 4-4. Minutes later, he scored the game-winning run on Mark Teixeira’s single.

Granderson went 4-for-5 on the night, bringing his current line to .275/.347/.618. He has been the Yankees’ best all-around player this season, and a top-5 player in the American League. Granderson remains second in home runs to Bautista, is fourth in RBI, second in runs scored, third in slugging percentage, and fourth in OPS.

The Yankees’ last four runs were all scored with two out. They went 4-for-6 with runners in scoring position over the last two innings, 4-for-4 with two out and runners in scoring position. This is the stuff that builds a team’s self-belief. Late-inning comebacks like this helped carry the team to a World Series title two years ago.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. We don’t yet know the identity of this Yankee team, or where they’re going to end up. For one night, here’s what we do know: Curtis Granderson’s efforts led to another pie at Yankee Stadium III. They made a winner out of CC Sabathia, who delivered the Yankees’ first complete game in 341 starts.

And they put the Yankees in first place.

If You Don't Have Anything Nice To Say …

Fred Wilpon

Mets owner Fred Wilpon

Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of Fred Wilpon in the New Yorker was published online yesterday. The profile, intended to help shed the belief that Wilpon was complicit in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and improve his reputation, did that, but it made news in a much different way. It showed that Wilpon has more than a little bit of George Steinbrenner in him. In print, he criticized three of his prized players: Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and David Wright. He even called his team “shitty.”

The Mets have not had a good seven months. Wait, let’s dial this back, they haven’t had a good go of it since September 2007. Most recently, however — the past seven months — their financial troubles have dominated the sports and news sections of the local papers, due in large part to the Wilpons’ victimization in the Madoff scandal, as Toobin dutifully reported. The Mets’ average home attendance this season is 28,565 (68.3 percent capacity), ranking them 14th in the Majors, according to the latest MLB Attendance Report.

The finances aside, the timing for this article, and the commentary therein, couldn’t be worse. The Mets just got blasted in the last two games of the Subway Series, having been outscored 16-6 by the Yankees. Furthermore, since the article was published on an off-day, the story’s shelf life was extended an extra 24 hours. Players, coaches, the manager Terry Collins, anyone involved with the organization, will have to answer questions about this for another day. Once again, the focus on the Mets has shifted off the field.

Yankee fans have seen this many times over the years with George Steinbrenner: Pick a Billy Martin hiring-firing episode; the Howard Spira investigation of Dave Winfield; the Don Mattingly mustache/mullet fiasco; Hideki Irabu is a “fat pussy toad;” the David Wells and Gary Sheffield negotiations. Hell, pick one. We came to expect stuff like this over the years with George, and then Hank filled the void, even if he was a pale comparison to his old man.

But for Wilpon, who as Toobin shows, is a diehard baseball fan, student of the game, and bleeds with every pitch, this behavior is stunning. Forget the fact that Wilpon’s assessments of Beltran, Reyes and Wright are sound. (Some have argued that Wright’s numbers are superstar-worthy. They’re not. Wright is a star, but winning an MVP and/or a World Series to elevates players to “superstar” status.) The Mets need all the good PR they can muster right now. Downgrading the left side of your infield, two players that define this generation of the Mets and their fans, is an invitation for Defcon 5 level Damage Control.

For those who haven’t seen excerpts or read Wilpon’s quotes yet, here they are.

First, on Beltran:

…There is the matter of the quality of the Mets teams. At one point, I mentioned to Wilpon the theory that the Mets might be cursed. He gave a sort of half laugh, and said, “You mean”—and then pantomimed a checked swing of the bat.

Any Mets fan (I am one) would understand the reference. The Mets took the 2006 National League Championship Series to a seventh game against the Cardinals. On October 19th, in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets were down, 3–1, the bases were loaded, and Carlos Beltran, the team’s star center fielder, came to the plate. With two outs and the count 0–2, the Cards’ pitcher, Adam Wainwright, threw a looping curveball on the outside corner. Beltran twitched, froze, and watched strike three.

Wilpon later said Beltran, who has been beset by knee injuries the past two seasons and has arguably been the Mets’ most consistent player in his return this season, is “65 to 70 percent of what he was.”

On Jose Reyes, the impending free agent and perhaps the Mets’ most tradeable asset:

“He’s a racehorse. … He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money. … He’s had everything wrong with him. He won’t get it.”

And finally, on David Wright, the face of the franchise:

“A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.”

Let’s take each of these individually.

Re: Beltran, Wilpon called himself a “schmuck” for giving the switch-hitting center fielder a 7-year, $119 million deal based on his breakout postseason in 2004 for the Houston Astros. Toobin didn’t mention this, but it’s interesting Beltran took that contract and thrust himself in the spotlight. The chronicles of Buster Olney and Tom Verducci revealed that Beltran wanted to be a Yankee so that 1) he could inherit the centerfield job from a declining Bernie Williams, a fellow Puerto Rican whom he idolized; and 2) given the superstar players and uber egos in the Yankee clubhouse, Beltran thought he could hide. The Yankees did not want him, though. Instead, they traded for Randy Johnson, and also signed Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, hoping to solidify a pitching staff that was reeling after blowing a 3-0 ALCS lead to the Boston Red Sox. (Sounds like a familiar refrain. “We need pitching, we’re not focused on position players.” More on this later.)

Wilpon’s astute observation that Beltran is 65-70 percent of the player he was in his prime, is lost amid the gesture mimicking the failed check swing. It was the nonverbal equivalent of calling Beltran “Mr. May.”

On Reyes, Wilpon made it clear he’s not going to pay the shortstop the big contract he’s seeking. Reyes’ value on the open market is yet to be determined; the most common number tossed about by reporters apparently in the know, and talkies projecting Reyes’ worth, is about $90-$100 million over a five- or six-year contract. Reyes is one of the most dynamic players in the game, but persistent injuries — his good health this season notwithstanding — and flakiness he has shown in the past still trails him. Some personalities on WFAN have suggested the Yankees may want him. General Manager Brian Cashman refuted this notion, telling Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts two weeks ago that the priority is pitching, not position players.

And David Wright … One can only think of the contentious negotiations of Derek Jeter’s contract over this past winter, Hank Steinbrenner’s comments about the palatial compound Jeter is building near Tampa, and the back and forth that played out in the tabloids.

Local writers — both beat folks and columnists — excoriated Wilpon for the way he publicly dumped on the faces of his franchise. Mike Pelfrey told the Times’ David Waldstein, “Maybe next spring when we have our media workshop, Fred can come and sit in.” (Thanks, Tyler Kepner, for the great tweet).

Defenders of Wilpon may argue, “He’s paying these guys millions of dollars. If he’s not getting the return, he’s justified in his criticism.” That’s one view, yes. But if you’re as hands-on and supportive an owner as Wilpon is reputed to be, instilling that support and confidence is of utmost importance. Public criticism of your players, especially when that’s not known to be part of your M.O., crosses a line and is viewed as a breach of trust. How are his players supposed to view him now? How much tougher has he made the jobs of his general manager, Sandy Alderson and the braintrust of J.P. Ricciardi and Paul De Podesta? After these comments, does he expect that free agents would even want to come to New York for the Mets? What kind of reference sell would current Mets players make? Now, probably a reference to the Phillies to see if they have a void.

The Daily News reported that Wright was the first to respond to Wilpon’s comments. In an e-mail, Wright demonstrated his maturity and professionalism, saying “Fred is a good man and is obviously going through some difficult times. There is nothing more productive that I can say at this point.”

Wright may or may not have read Robert Fulghum’s poem “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten,” but he ascribed to many of the tenets outlined in the text. Mr. Wilpon would be wise to adhere to the following:

Play fair.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Clean up your own mess.

Let’s see how many he follows through on in the coming days.

Thunder Storms in Balti'mo

The Yankees lineup slumps as a team and hits as a team. The slump: Wednesday night. Fourteen innings, fourteen singles, and a 1-for-14 effort with runners in scoring position was the epitome of the Yankees’ recent bout of anemia. The hits: Robinson Canó’s 2-RBI double in the 15th inning not only broke the singles brigade and the RISP issues, it was the beginning of an avalanche of offense.

Derek Jeter led off the game with a double, and Curtis Granderson followed with an RBI triple off the top of the right field wall. A productive out by Mark Teixeira had the game at 2-0 before some people realized the game had even started. Later in the inning, Brad Bergesen drilled Cano, walked Russell Martin on four pitches, threw a wild pitch and was forced to walk Jorge Posada to load the bases. Nick Swisher unloaded the bases with a double. 5-0 after a half inning. Score truck idling on Eutaw Street.

Ahead to the fourth inning, where Brett Gardner and Jeter hit back-to-back triples, and then Big Teix went yard. 9-0 and pray the rain held out. It did. The game was official. Tack-on runs in the fifth and sixth. Even Eduardo Nuñez belted a home run to cap the scoring.

The early barrage was more than enough for CC Sabathia, who was on auto-pilot from the get-go. About as economical as he gets: average of 14 pitches per inning through his 8 IP, and struck out nine. No walks. Seventy-seven percent of his pitches went for strikes.

As good as CC was, make no mistake, this game was about the offense. Up and down the lineup, it was like a huge exhalation. A channeling of several days of frustration. The Yankees did what they’re supposed to do: destroy bad pitching. And the timely hitting was there. Eight of 13 runs were scored with two outs. They went 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

This was the type of victory the Yankees needed. Now if they could only have this kind of effort against teams other than the Orioles…Wait, how about the Mets?

NOTES:
* Jorge Posada was in the field, at first base, and went 1-for-3 with an RBI, a run scored, and two walks. His long flyball out to center field in the eighth inning has him 0-for-25 vs. LHP this season. A great note on Posada, though, from YES Network’s Jack Curry, via Twitter: Since he asked out of the lineup Saturday, Posada has reached base in 7 of 9 plate appearances.

* Another beauty from Mr. Curry: Swisher had 4 RBI tonight. He had just 3 in his previous 17 games.

* When Sabathia was removed in favor of Amauri Sanit for the ninth inning, the Yankees extended their MLB record streak of consecutive games without a complete game to 337.

* Courtesy of Larry Koestler at YankeeAnalysts, the Yankees have never had their starting pitchers go 8 innings on consecutive nights. Sabathia and Bartolo Colon just did it.

Ain't No Sunshine When Yer Old

In November 2008, not long after Mike Mussina announced his retirement, I wrote a column about the concept of “dying at the right time.” In short, dying at the right time involves deciding to leave the game, or, “die” on your own terms. I commended Mussina for having the courage and self-awareness to know that after a 20-win season, ending his career was a better option than returning for another shot at a title, at age 40, with diminished stuff.

That column was written in the context of a well-thought, fully formulated decision that likely took weeks, maybe even months, to plan. Andy Pettitte weighed it several times and took a similar path after last season.

Longtime Banterer The Hawk had some great comments on the Mussina piece, including this one:

I appreciate tenacity, competitiveness and a never-say-die spirit in athletes far more than a sense of decorum or the good taste to retire without “embarrassing” themselves. I can’t say I believe this across the board but in general I love the guys who can’t let go, who’s desire to compete wins out over pride or legacy-building.

Do you love Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada now? Sure, their desire to compete — save for Saturday’s Posada drama — is unwavering, but do you want to continue watching them turn into Benjamin Button? We want to see the youthfulness and greatness demonstrated in the first 10-12 years of their careers, but the reality is that this season they are aging rapidly. We know it. They know it. They’re holding on. Barely.

Jeter gave us a glimmer of hope with his two-home-run effort in Texas. But watching him since then, even though he’s gotten hits and his march to 3,000 is going strong, he’s still hitting less than .260. His at-bats used to be filled with expectations of line drives to right field. Now the expectations are anemic groundballs to second base. Every out he makes is riddled with Tweets and jeers of “THREE MORE YEARS OF THIS!” We know. But who’s a better option? Eduardo Nuñez? We won’t touch the defensive range issue with Jeter.

Posada should have had the easiest route. He moved away from being the everyday catcher to designated hitter, but his pride, hubris, whatever, is preventing him from accepting the current role and producing. It’s not like Posada has forgotten how to hit; he still has a good eye and can draw a walk. He isn’t adjusting to seeing more sliders, and isn’t adjusting to channeling his entire focus into four or five individual at-bats.

Sometimes, the game lets you know when it’s your time. It did for Ken Griffey, Jr., last year. Jeter and Posada are on the brink.

Would you rather see them continue to try to recapture the magic of 3 or 5 years ago, at the risk of their efforts being a detriment to the team and their own legacies? Or would you rather see them accept their fates, recognize the end of their respective careers and act accordingly?

Georgie Juiced One

Jorge Posada was originally in the Yankees’ lineup for Saturday night’s game against the Red Sox. He was dropped to ninth in the order. Ken Rosenthal said during a 4th inning report on the FOX telecast that Posada was fine with this. “Posada said, ‘I put myself in this spot,’” Rosenthal said.

Apparently, he wasn’t fine. Seventy minutes before first pitch, Posada went into Joe Girardi’s office. There was an impromptu meeting. Words were exchanged between player and manager. Former teammates. The last two men to hold the everyday catching job prior to this season. After their meeting, Posada was removed from the lineup in favor of Andruw Jones.

And so it was that modern methods of information distribution took over.

“At 6 pm, Posada went to Girardi’s office and ‘asked to be removed’ from the DH slot batting ninth tonight. There is no injury.” … So read the initial tweet from YES’s Kim Jones.

Bob Klapisch had an incredible string: “Posada clearly miffed at batting ninth, against Red Sox, on national TV. No doubt angered Girardi singling him out over Tex and A-Rod.”

“Constant, underlying tension between Posada and Girardi finally boiled over …” Wait, what?!? This is getting good.

“Posada initially put blame on himself for lineup change, then took it out on Girardi. No justification for what he did.”

From Ken Davidoff: “For those who ask why Posada got dropped while Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira spared: Posada is more disposable than those guys.”

And there may be something to that. Jeter won’t be dropped in the lineup. Not now. Not when he’s suddenly figured it out at the plate and has his average up to .267 thanks to 14 hits in his last 10 games. Two weeks ago, he was the guy the Yankees needed to drop in the order. He was the guy who was done.

Now, it’s Posada. Such is life for the 39-year-old, who at .165/.272/.349, is officially the offensive scapegoat on a Yankees team that despite leading the American League in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, entered Saturday’s action with a team batting average of .252, .236 with runners in scoring position, and its best hitter at .285. Posada has looked lost. A player suffering through an identity crisis. Having had to make an abrupt switch from catching 130 games a year to being the team’s full-time designated hitter, Posada has not adjusted well. He’s been open about his struggles to stay mentally focused.

Jason Giambi used to say the same thing when he discussed his troubles hitting as a DH versus his success at the plate when was in the lineup as the first baseman. He’d discuss how it was easier for him to be in the moment; being in the field helped him take his mind off bad at-bats. He wasn’t looking for something to do between at-bats. He didn’t gripe when Joe Torre would drop him in the lineup, usually to 6th or 7th, in an effort to “hide” him. He knew it was a message.

Sherman tweeted that the best comparison he could make to the events that took place Saturday was July 1, 2004, when Nomar Garciaparra refused to suit up for the Red Sox in the epic extra-inning game at Yankee Stadium when Jeter famously tumbled into the stands snagging a Trot Nixon foul pop. He was traded a few weeks later. Word is that the Yankees, if Posada chooses not to play tomorrow, could investigate terminating Posada’s contract.

There was a ton of speculation, ranging from Posada being ready to announce his retirement, to Laura Posada saying the situation was injury-related (“back stiffness”). Jack Curry spoke to Posada’s father, who confirmed that his son was not retiring. Jorge Posada, Sr, said that his son should have played. Cashman, during that FOX interview, said he didn’t know what Posada’s future was, and didn’t want to comment on anything beyond the events of the 6 pm meeting beyond the fact that Posada’s removal from the lineup was not injury related.

We were, and are, left with a series of contradictions. From a baseball perspective, something had to be done, though. Posada was the subject of much talk on WFAN earlier today. During Evan Roberts’ midday show, several callers chimed in saying either, “Take him out of the lineup,” “Move him down in the lineup, because something has to be done eventually,” or “Why not put him behind the plate, have him catch a few games to see if that gets his head right?” Do anything to get him on track to help instill some confidence, which could cause a trickle-down effect in the lineup.

Roberts said, “When is eventually? May 15th? I think you have to give it until July.” We now know “eventually” was May 14th.

The postgame pressers were illuminating: Some highlights from Posada: He saw a chiropractor, said he had back stiffness from taking ground balls at first base and “used that as an excuse to not play.” He went into the manager’s office and said he needed a mental health day. Kim Jones pointedly asked if he was weighing a bigger decision, and he said, “No. I still want to be here. And I love playing for this organization.” KEY: Posada didn’t tell Girardi or Cashman about his back. When a reporter informed Posada that Cashman, during the game, said the situation was “not injury related,” Posada said, “I didn’t know he made a statement during the game. I don’t understand that. That’s the way he works now.”

Girardi’s postgame press conference: Only two questions pertained to the game. Everything else was about Posada. The manager said the conversation was short, and that Posada told him “he needed a day.” He acknowledged Posada’s frustration at batting in the .100s, and how much of a struggle this season has been for him. He said that the situation was one that “we (the organization) would take care of.”

It wasn’t a good night for Girardi, aside from the Posada stuff. He was ejected in the 7th inning after arguing balls and strikes. His team lost its fourth straight game, this one by shutout, and went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Teixeira got just his first hit in 31 at-bats versus the Red Sox. Are we at rock bottom?

Will Posada be in the lineup for the series finale? Posada is 0-for-24 against LHP this season, and the Red Sox are sending Jon Lester to the mound. This could be another mental health day for Posada, who thinks he could play.

The “he said / he said / he said” will likely continue. Especially since Cashman spoke with reporters post-game, which led to the following quotes being tweeted by Davidoff:

“It’s disappointing. Georgie knew what I was going to say (during the game), as did his agents. … It’s a situation created by Georgie and it can be explained only by Georgie.”

Perhaps the most poignant message of the night came from Joel Sherman, via Twitter: “Hardest thing to do in management is handle fading stars as #Yankees finding out with Posada. Ego, history, fan loyalty etc complicates.”

The Yankees don’t need this right now, but unfortunately, that’s where we are. And they don’t need David Ortiz telling reporters that they’re doing Posada wrong. They need their pitchers to pitch better, their hitters, whether or not Posada is in the lineup, to start producing runs in clutch situations, all of which will lead to … duh, winning.

Won’t that solve all this b.s.?

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

The Score Truck’s lights … are shining bright … *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* … Deep in the Heart of Texas.

The Score Truck indeed bypassed Detroit and showed up in Texas. The good: In the first two games of the Yankees’ series in Arlington, they nearly doubled their output of the entire four-game set against the Tigers (9-5). The bad: On Saturday night, the Rangers’ Score Truck showed up too.

Rangers light up Bartolo Colón to take a 5-0 lead, Yankees rally to tie, Boone Logan doesn’t do the job against lefties Mitch Moreland and Chris Davis; Texas scores go-ahead run on a suicide squeeze and tacks on another, and the relief combination of Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver, who have the combined age of Yoda, kill any hope of another Yankee comeback.

That’s the quick and dirty. Diving into the game a bit more, some observations:

* Colón isn’t the power pitcher he once was. He can still throw 90-plus, but relies more now on movement and changing speeds — on his fastball. Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina were masters at fastball variation. But some nights are better than others. When Mussina had nights like this, Joe him as being “wild in the strike zone.” David Cone hinted as much with Colón, when after David Murphy’s solo home run, he noted that the home run pitch had “too much movement” and ended up too far out over the plate. This allowed Murphy to get his arms extended and pull it into the seats.

* Derek Jeter can hit the ball out of the infield, and hit the ball hard. Small sample size, yes, but nice to know it can still happen.

* The Yankees had another efficient night in terms of run / hit differential. Five runs on six hits, compared to seven runs on 13 hits for the Rangers. For the season, Yankees opponents have outscored their opponents 158-127, but have been out out-hit 265-249.

* If Boone Logan can’t serve the LOOGY function, and Lance Pendleton isn’t an option, then something has to give. His performance in the 10-inning loss to Minnesota at Yankee Stadium on April 6, led ESPN New York’s Rob Parker to include him among the “Bad Yankees.” Left-handed relief was also an issue two years ago, when the Yankees won the World Series, with Phil Coke was a combination LOOGY/Mike Stanton type. Coke yielded 10 home runs, six of them to lefties.

The Logan piece is significant because he couldn’t do what Colón did effectively in the third inning: put up a zero after the offense did him a solid. David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain cleaned up the mess Logan left, but the damage had already been done.

* Courtesy of Wally Matthews: Russell Martin made six outs in his four at-bats.

* Jorge Posada is now hitless in his last 13 at-bats, with 5 strikeouts. Overall, the 7-8-9 hitters were 0-for-9 Saturday with two walks and three strikeouts. The issue: there isn’t a better DH option. Andruw Jones is hitting .226, Jeter isn’t hitting for any power to merit his placement as a DH, even periodically. The Yankees will likely ride this out for as long as it takes and hope their big bats can come out of their funk.

As starting pitching goes, so goes the Yankees. Mr. Ace Man goes tomorrow. A 3-4 record on this road trip looks better than 2-5. It’d be nice to come back home still in first place. No better guy to have on the mound to give it a go.

Which Pitcher is the Story?


The story of the past week has been pitching, in a number of facets. But which pitcher was THE story? Let’s take a look at the items up for bid …

* Mariano Rivera blew two consecutive saves after converting his first seven save opportunities and looking as superhuman as ever. And he wasn’t booed, because these saves were a) blown on the road; and b) didn’t come against the Red Sox at home.

* Rafael Soriano, however, was booed, and deservedly so, during and after Tuesday’s 8th inning meltdown. Strong pieces at ESPN New York by Johnette Howard and the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Barbarisi on Soriano’s fragility.

* Phil Hughes went to the DL, tried to throw, his arm was a noodle, and now a mysterious shoulder ailment that may or may not be Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is being discussed as a possible diagnosis. Compression of either the nerves, artery or vein in the clavicle area signify TOS. One of the possible causes of the “repetitive trauma”. The pitching motion classifies as repetitive trauma. In more severe TOS cases, surgery is required. Former Yankee Kenny Rogers had surgery to repair TOS in 2001. He came back and pitched seven more seasons.

* Pedro Feliciano, it was great to meet you. Who is Lance Pendleton?

* Bartolo Colon, who many believed should have been in the rotation anyway based on his performance in Spring Training, replaced Hughes and tossed an 8-inning gem. Even more impressive was the consistency of his velocity: 95 in the early going, and 96 in the later innings. Is he the Yankees best pitcher right now, as Wally Matthews suggests? Maybe.

* Freddy Garcia, who pitches tonight, has a matching WHIP and ERA (0.69), and has allowed just 5 hits in 13 IP thus far.

* AJ Burnett may be the best story of all. He suffered a hard luck loss on Monday because the Yankees’ offense is ineffective against pitchers that a) they’ve never seen before; b) pitch like Mike Mussina in the 86-89 mph range, but change speeds and have movement on their pitches. Despite the team result, he may have pitched his best game of the season. The question, as it always is with Mr. Allan James Burnett, is consistency. Will he breathe out of the correct eyelids in May?

* Ivan Nova proved he may be able to get past five innings. Small sample size, yes. But still …

* And of course, there’s CC Sabathia. He’s the ace, the grinder, and the guy who more often than not, somehow makes the right pitch to wriggle out of jams. An ace isn’t always a dominant strikeout pitcher. The main job, keep the opposition off the scoreboard and give your offense a chance to support you. He did it Thursday, just as he did so many times the previous two seasons.

Of those guys, which story had the greatest impact? My vote is for Hughes, because of the trickle-down effect it’s caused in the rotation. If Colon and Garcia keep this up, they get the Aaron Small / Shawn Chacon Memorial “Surprise MVPs” Award.

Feel free to agree / disagree below, in Comments.

[Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP]

Yankee Panky: Follow the Tweeter(s)

The 2011 season marks the 10th season of baseball on the YES Network, and YESNetwork.com. I was there for the first five and remember the trials, tribulations, sweat, tears, conniptions and aneurysms that went into putting forth a top-flight product on a daily basis. Looking at where the overall coverage is now compared to 2002, the difference is like listening to a song in Mono and then flipping to Stereo.

Technology made my job easier, just as it has made the jobs of beat writers and columnists more efficient. Hardware, software and fiberoptic advances made it easier for scribes to file stories on deadline, fact-check, and ensure accuracy of quotes. Laptop computers, digital/tape recording devices, headphones, WiFi access to the Internet, and the Internet itself have helped reduce the latency that previously existed for the written word to reach fans. These products and services were available in 2002, but have become consistently better over time.

Due to the immediacy of the publication and distribution of information of all kinds, sports teams and leagues reacted accordingly. I don’t know what the current Social Media policies are for MLB, or the Press Box protocol for it. When I was covering games regularly, Social Media as we currently know it didn’t exist. If the Yankees had information to be released, they made it clear to both Mark Feinsand — who at the time was the Yankees.com beat man — and I that we could not publish the info to either Yankees.com or YESNetwork.com before the team OK’d it.

It was made clear that we were not allowed to break certain stories. (This most commonly occurred when players were named to the All-Star ballot or All-Star team, and other similar stories.) So, we would load the items into the system and wait for the go-ahead from Yankees’ PR staff. Twitter, Facebook, and other microblogging services must be a nightmare for team PR staffs looking to maintain a certain level of control over the flow of information.

In addition to the publication advances, informational sites like Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and tools like those available at Inside Edge, ESPN.com’s Gamecast and MLB.com’s GameDay do the heavy lifting, to where the writer can provide the originally intended core function: storytelling.

Even storytelling has gotten a facelift. Perhaps no single entity has affected the craft like Twitter. Many of the writers’ handles are affiliated with their employers, so they are easily identifiable. Follow them during games, you can time the tweets of key plays and events to when they appear in GameDay or Gamecast. In a way, it’s replaced the “running” game story that was once a staple of the beat writer’s portfolio.

Some beat reporters use Twitter in a unique and innovative way. For example, Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger makes it part of his modus operandi to Tweet quotes from certain players as they’re drafting their recaps. Maybe those quotes will appear in their stories, maybe they won’t. But the preview gives you the reader a definite reason to check. I’m amazed at the level of multitasking these men and women can endure.

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Just Joshing Us


CC Sabathia vs. Josh Beckett was billed to be a pitcher’s duel. In terms of score, it was a pitcher’s duel. But it wasn’t a “classic duel” in the way Clemens-Pedro May 28, 2000 was, where two strikeout masters overpowered hitters from the outset. Sabathia bent, but didn’t break, while Beckett was as dominant as he perhaps has ever been.

Sabathia had his B game, maybe his C game. His final line was an alphanumeric dream: 5 2/3 IP, 9 H, R, ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 118 pitches, 69 strikes. But as he’s done so often in his two Yankee seasons, Sabathia demonstrated an ability to make big pitches to get outs at crucial times. He allowed 13 baserunners but only one crossed home plate.

Beckett, on the other hand looked like the 20-year-old who led the Florida Marlins to a 2003 title, yielding just two hits and striking out 10. Beckett effectively mixed a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, and his wicked curveball to keep the Yankees off balance, and off the scoresheet. He tossed eight shutout innings and retired the last 14 batters he faced. Jonathan Papelbon came on and retired the side in order in the 9th.

Given Beckett’s mastery and the Red Sox leaving 16 men on base, the Yankees were fortunate to lose by only a 4-0 margin.

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Yankee Panky: It Didn't Take Long …

… for the new Yankees to make an impact, both on the field and in the media.

Case #1: Russell Martin has proven, at least through one week, to be the kind of stopgap pickup the Yankees needed in order to transition Jorge Posada to the Designated Hitter role, and allow Jesus Montero to develop further in the minor leagues. He’s shown a deftness at handling the pitching staff — in particular AJ Burnett — and is hitting well enough to give opponents pause when reaching the 8th or 9th spot in the batting order.

[And on a side note (Emma Span will appreciate this), am I the only one relieved that the Yankees don’t put their players’ last names on their jerseys? The Dodgers, like the Red Sox, do not embroider last names their home whites but do so for their road greys, and the “J Martin” on Russell Martin’s #55 always confused me until I reviewed his profile page on Baseball Reference. He did it starting in the 2009 World Baseball Classic to honor his mother’s maiden name, Jeanson, and then carried that through to the Dodgers. Here, no last name on the jersey, no confusion.]

Case #2: Rafael Soriano. There were reported warnings over the winter about Soriano’s volatile personality, but take that with a grain of salt, since the Yankees have employed award winners in that category like Raul Mondesi, Jeff Weaver and Kevin Brown, to name a few. After Soriano’s first blown hold — I’m waiting for that stat to become a boxscore staple — he pulled a Boomer Wells and left the ballpark Monday without talking to the media. He apologized the next day, but that kind of behavior, in New York especially, is like throwing live bait into a shark tank. Fans allowed Wells to get away with it because at least there was a track record of success with the Yankees: a perfect game, World Series titles, etc. Soriano had one strong setup outing for Mariano Rivera to that point.

Perhaps he got squeezed a bit on the calling of balls and strikes. Some umps will do that. Own up to the fact that you didn’t make the pitches, be accountable and man up. Talking to the media is part of a professional athlete’s job, same as going down to the clubhouse to speak to players and coaches after the game is part of a reporter’s job. Soriano placed more of a focus on himself and extended the news cycle for really, two more days, due to Wednesday’s rainout. Until he proves otherwise, questions abound whether he’ll ditch the media again after another implosion in the future.

It’s right for reporters and columnists to draw that conclusion. Soriano brought it on himself.

IN OTHER NEWS…

* Congratulations to friend of the Banter Larry Koestler, whose insightful post at YankeeAnalysts on Phil Hughes’ cutter landed him a guest spot on ESPN.com’s SweetSpot podcast, with Eric Karabell and Keith Law.

Let’s see what happens with that pitch against the winless Red Sox.

* Mark Teixeira is a 3-run homer machine.

* Strange-but-true stat: AJ Burnett is 7-0 in April since becoming a Yankee. Not that that means much, considering he was winless in both June and August last year. Just an interesting nugget. Thursday’s win put him over .500 (25-24) as a Yankee.

* The rainout pushed Freddy Garcia’s season debut to Friday, April 15.

* In case you missed it, Derek Jeter passed Rogers Hornsby on the all-time hit list and is now 69 hits from 3,000.

Yankee Panky: Oblique Outlook

Dictionary.com lists 13 definitions for the adjective form of the word oblique. As it pertains to anatomy, oblique muscles are those that run at an angle, as opposed to transversely (horizontally) or longitudinally (vertically). In the abdominal wall, the obliques are the muscles that form the side cut of a six-pack. They’re the love handles.

Synonyms, as listed within the aforementioned link, include “indirect,” “covert,” or “veiled.” But oblique strains have directly, overtly and obviously affected the Yankees this Spring, with Greg Golson, Sergio Mitre, Joba Chamberlain and now Curtis Granderson all falling victim to the injury. Granderson’s injury may put his Opening Day availability in question. This is no surprise, given that recovery time ranges from 10 days up to 3 weeks, depending on the severity of the strain.

Chamberlain missed 10 days. He returned to action Tuesday and was throwing 95 miles per hour. Golson also returned Tuesday, after missing 15 days of action. Mitre, meanwhile, was making his first appearance since March 14. MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, in a mid-afternoon post Tuesday, reported that Mitre thought he had a roster spot secured when he arrived in Tampa 6 weeks ago. Tuesday’s start, Mitre’s first since he suffered his oblique strain, may be giving the Yankees pause about adding him to the 25-man roster. The following quotes are priceless.

First, Mitre is confidently unsure:

“I don’t look at it as a setback. I’m hoping they don’t base everything off of one spring start. If that’s the case, then we’ll see what happens, but I don’t think that’s the case — at least toward me. They know I can get people out and they know they can rely on me, I hope.”

Let’s examine this: two home runs yielded, a sinker that didn’t sink, Nova and Colon basically acting in full carpe diem mode. But this wasn’t a setback. Fans have little to no confidence that he can get anyone out. The numbers over the past two seasons prove as much. Plus, he wears the accursed No. 45. From Steve Balboni to Cecil Fielder to Chili Davis to (gulp) Carl Pavano, that number never helped anyone in a Yankee uniform over the last 25 years. And yet I digress …

More from Mitre:

“I don’t think there should be any reason why not. If I still have to worry about that, then I’m probably not doing something right.”

(Insert laugh track here)

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Slaves … TO the Game or FOR the Game?

Mr. Greene, my 8th Grade Social Studies teacher, posted a message on the blackboard on the first day of classes:

If you don’t know the answer to a question, bluff by speaking the word, “economics.” More often than not, you’ll be right.

Heady stuff to tell a bunch of 12-14-year-old kids who had little idea how the world works. I mention Mr. Greene’s message because it was written in the context of the first unit that year: The Civil War, and the major causes of it. Slavery, the major cause of the War that began 150 years ago this year, is certainly a cultural issue. At its core, however, it is — and was — an economic issue.

The slavery analogy has been made to describe the economic, racial and cultural divide in professional sports since the late 19th Century and the immediate aftermath of Jim Crow and Plessy v. Ferguson. Adrian Peterson’s use of the word, uttered in an interview to Yahoo! Sports, is news because, as Dave Zirin wrote, “he went there.” A black athlete making a slavery analogy, in a sport with white owners, is drawing heavy criticism from mostly white media media members. We’re still having this discussion? The cast is different but the colors are the same? The NFLPA, led by a dynamic black man in DeMaurice Smith, has hinted at exactly what Peterson said. He just didn’t use the word.

The three lead plaintiffs in the class-action suit against the NFL — Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning — may agree with the slavery analogy, but by virtue of their pigmentation, couldn’t dare use it. What level of criticism would they receive?

In my Sport Sociology studies in college, racism, along with gender equity, were the two most frequent issues discussed. The seminar my senior year was devoted to the topic, specifically in the sport of boxing.

I’m not of the mindset that someone making millions of dollars has no right to use the term “slave.” I am of the mindset that the rampant criticism for his word choice is undeserved. Peterson, like Brady, Brees and Manning is one of the most visible players in the NFL. Maybe not necessarily in that order, Peterson, Brady, Brees and Manning are the top four picks in most Fantasy drafts. Why shouldn’t he present his viewpoint?

Zirin’s full article can be found here. If you’re interested in sport history and culture, it’s a good read. His mentions of Curt Flood, whose struggles against the Reserve Clause were profiled by Alex Belth profiled in a 2006 biography, Stepping Up, are poignant and insightful.

As for the discussion of slavery, it still exists in this country; just not in the form that it once did. Context rules. Do you believe Peterson’s comment was taken out of context? Is the comment more socioeconomic or sociocultural?

One thing is certain: the debate is not going to end any time soon.

[Photo Credit: Zimbio.com]

Those Who Can't…Try Anyway, and Write About It

A pitfall of being a sportswriter, broadcaster, or reporter, particularly if you cover a particular team for any length of time, is that you have to swallow your fandom to perpetuate the myth of objectivity. A perk to the job is the tremendous, unprecedented level of access granted.

Those thoughts crossed my mind when I posted the following to my Facebook status last Wednesday night:

I might be the luckiest sports fan ever: I’ve had the chance to play pickup hoops at Pauley Pavilion, walk on the field and be in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. I’ve gotten to meet my childhood broadcasting idols, Chris Berman and Marv Albert. Tonight, I got to live my ultimate childhood dream: play ice hockey at Nassau Coliseum.

I’ve now viewed games at the Coliseum as a fan in the 100, 200, and 300 sections; attended games in the Owner’s Suite; sat rinkside as the Public Address announcer, and played ice hockey on the same 200×85 surface on which my all-time favorite, Mike Bossy, scored so many of his 658 career goals (573 regular season, 85 playoffs). This wasn’t Paper Lion or Tom Verducci joining the Toronto Blue Jays for a brief turn in Spring Training four years ago. Far from it. The occasion was a partnership celebration between my company and the NHL, with whom we’ve been partnered for four seasons now.

Will Weiss

Will, in the roller hockey pants and orange jersey, preparing for a draw.

Emotions ran high for those of us who grew up idolizing those Islander teams. We stood at the blue lines for the National Anthem, looked up at the rafters to see the many banners highlighting the Patrick Division, Wales and Campbell Conference titles, and of course, the four Stanley Cup championships (which easily could have been 6, if not for the Rangers and Oilers). Then, the retired numbers of Potvin, Bossy, Smith, Trottier, Gillies and Nystrom caught our gazes. Then the Hall of Fame banner. Every second was a “How cool is THIS” moment.

(I wonder if guys like Tyler Kepner, Bob Klapisch, Mark Feinsand et al have those same feelings when they play at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park to do the Boston vs. New York writers games every year.)

The last time I felt that kind of rush was April 5, 2002, when I covered my first Yankee game for YES. It was the Yankees’ home opener. The feeling I got when I walked from the clubhouse to the tunnel leading to the dugout, eventually emerging and then stepping onto the field, I couldn’t comprehend how anyone, not even grown men making the millions of dollars they do, could ever take that for granted.

Looking out from behind the batting cage down the lines, the short porch didn’t seem so short. I wondered how, with a wood bat, someone could turn on a 95 mile-per-hour fastball and deliver it into those seats. I gained a greater appreciation for what professional baseball players do on a daily basis.

The same was true here. Having played hockey (street, dek, roller and at various points, ice), I knew how physically taxing the sport was. But certain items that I thought would be true turned out just the opposite. The rink didn’t seem that large. The puck was surprisingly light. The boards had more give than expected. In the heat of the game, I didn’t notice the people in the stands (yes, people were there). If they were heckling, I couldn’t hear them. My senses were too attuned to what was going on in front of me, and making sure I didn’t embarrass myself in front of my bosses, either through my skating, or by letting my competitive intensity boil over.

I had three real good scoring chances, one in each period. The best one came on my first shift of the second period. I took a nice feed off the boards just before the blue line and sped up the right wing a 3-on-1 break. My first inclination was to pass, but my two linemates were too deep to accept a cross-ice feed. The lone defenseman gave me lots of room to skate. So, I kept my feet moving and fired a wrist shot from about 20 feet out, just before the faceoff dot. It was ticketed for the top corner, glove side, but the goalie made a strong save. In retrospect, I had more room and could have gotten deeper and made a move. But who knows if I would have gotten the shot off?

Will Weiss

The postgame handshake. Still one of the coolest things about hockey.

My team won, 5-2. I was on the ice for two goals — one for my team, one for the opponent. I won the majority of my faceoffs and drew a penalty. It was the most fun I’ve had playing anything since the first and only gig I had with a band nine years ago.

Ultimately, though, I understood how difficult it is to be a professional athlete. It’s a job that literally beats you up. The physical and mental conditioning required is staggering. There’s a reason so few people in the world do it. The simple answer: Because they can.

For a night, though, it was a rush to walk a few steps and skate a few strides in the same arena.

Season Effective Disorder

Three weeks into Yankees Spring Training, and we’ve learned this: New York is a Basketball town. Alex has written about this, and I remember Sweeny Murti talking about covering the Yankees while the Knicks made their run to the 1994 Finals. It’s true. The Knicks are the sleeping giant, and now with Carmelo Anthony, they will own the back pages unless something either major or catastrophic happens in Yankeeland.

This is actually a good thing, because Spring Training for the Yankees is basically a time suck. While it’s great to see baseball — hell, grass — after being battered with snow and sub-freezing temperatures for the better part of the last two months, doesn’t seem as cool when the biggest questions year after year are who the 5th man in the rotation will be, and who the 24th and 25th man on the roster will be.

Obvious storylines have been played up like they’re original concepts. For example:

* Derek Jeter reported to spring training and in his press conference intent to prove that last year was an anomaly and that the man who is above statistics is actually going to try to enjoy the moment when he reaches 3,000 hits this summer. In a year or two, he might need a position change.

Snore.

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Plagiarism, Perception and Reality

In a story that received a good bit of attention in the blogosphere, ESPNEWS anchor Will Selva was suspended indefinitely on Dec. 30 for plagiarism. He had introduced a story on the air about the Los Angeles Lakers, using the words of Orange County Register columnist Kevin Ding as his own, without attributing the source.

Ding called Selva out, an investigation followed, and the Worldwide Leader took swift and decisive action.

Selva apologized in a statement:

“I made a horrible mistake and I’m deeply sorry. I did not live up to my high standards or ESPN’s. I sincerely apologize for my sloppiness, especially to Kevin Ding, viewers and colleagues. In my 15 years in broadcast journalism, nothing like this has ever happened and I will make every effort to ensure it won’t happen again.”

Sounds sincere and contrite. But do you believe Selva? Suspended after it was proved he was a fraud, how can we believe “nothing like this has ever happened” before? Why should we? Because Selva’s statement is written, are we simply jumping to conclusions? Are we interpreting his tone correctly? If he was an anchor with more name recognition, would we be more inclined to believe him? Whatever the case, Selva is going to have a hard time recovering from this incident. An incident that could have been avoided if he simply said, “Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register said it best in his Sunday column…”.

Look no further than Mike Barnicle, Jayson Blair, and Judith Miller to see how the combination of plagiarism and fabricating stories has affected writers’ careers. Barnicle continued to work, and four years ago signed on as a columnist at the Boston Herald. Blair got a book deal soon after his flap at the New York Times. Miller, whose reporting on weapons of mass destruction was found to be inaccurate and worse, false, and later served jail time for her refusing to testify before a grand jury in the Valerie Plame case, has recently landed at the Conservative magazine and website Newsmax as a columnist.

Those scribes got second chances. Does Selva’s situation merit one?

The journalist in me says no. There isn’t any circumstance that should result in his reinstatement. Selva violated the most basic principle of the craft and he should be fired, not suspended. The empathic side of me, however, says yes, but that second chance isn’t deserved. It has to be earned, like a series of trials it takes to regain trust in a friend, lover or spouse who breached trust in some way.

Plagiarism is dangerous territory. I know from personal experience. I wrote a column in this space during the 2009 season where I analyzed how different beat writers were covering the same game. My goal was to show how different writers from different papers see the game through different prisms to ultimately craft similar stories. Now, I know from being in press boxes that while the writers sit in close quarters, no one is looking over anyone’s shoulder with that look that says, “Hey, what did you put down for Number 3?” Every writer is in his or her own zone, headphones in to check accuracy of quotes on the recorder, scrambling like hell to make deadline. The chorus of clickety-clacking on laptop keyboards tells you as much. Invariably, by pure coincidence, angles will be similar, certain quotes or sections of quotes will be similar, and in some cases, even certain phrases and word choices describing the action will be either similar or exact. Again, this is pure coincidence. And it’s rare that it happens.

It just so happened that in my analysis, I noticed an exact phrase appearing in different game stories from two writers representing two different papers. In jest, I wrote that one of the writers “copied off (the other writer’s) paper.” It was a regrettable choice of words on my part, and I wish like hell I could take it back. But if there’s one thing I learned in my Intro to Communication Theory class during my freshman year of college, it’s that communication of any kind is irreversible. I went for the laugh with the “copied off his paper” line; maybe I got it, maybe I didn’t. What I got was an e-mail in my personal inbox the next morning from one of the writers. I did not anticipate the content of the note, and I was stunned.

Point blank, the writer asked me if I was accusing him of plagiarism, and if I was, I’d better be ready to prove it.

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2010 Redux

The holidays are a great time to reflect on the year gone by. The solitude that accompanies shoveling out your driveway and cursing the plow and Mother Nature allows for ample time to put the pieces in place for some of those reflections.

With that in mind, 2010 brought those of us in the Yankee Universe some joy, but mostly heartache. Here’s a quick recap of some of the stories, headlines, and cyberlines that made the year.

STORY OF THE YEAR

I had a tough time narrowing this one down. Thus, I broke it down into three sections, for the three stories that encapsulated the Yankee year.

1) George Steinbrenner’s death: Mr. Steinbrenner’s health had been in question almost from the moment he collapsed at Otto Graham’s funeral in 2003. His death nine days after turning 80 was a huge loss for the organization, and a huge loss for baseball. It cast a pall over the rest of the season, but strangely, not in the way that Mickey Mantle’s death in 1995 or Joe DiMaggio’s death in ’99 did.

The coverage centered around the typical elements: his purchase of the team from CBS and the return on investment, the seven championships won during his ownership tenure, the managerial changes, the bombast, the Dave Winfield investigation, his suspension, his return, and lastly, how sons Hank and Hal — mainly Hal, now — will fill the void.

Had Bob Sheppard not died two days before Mr. Steinbrenner, I wonder if this wouldn’t have been a bigger story.

2) Whiff Lee: The Yankees almost had Cliff Lee twice in the 2010 calendar year. On July 9, the Yankees and Mariners had a deal in place that would have had Lee switching dugouts at Safeco Field, but it fell through due to the Mariners’ rejection of a couple of Yankee prospects included in the deal. In the offseason, the consensus, especially after Lee’s playoff domination, was that the Yankees and Rangers would get into a bidding war for Lee’s services, but that the Yankees’ dollars would prevail over the Rangers’ proximity and Texas’s lack of a state income tax. That was, until all hell broke loose and and he signed a 5-year, $120 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on Dec. 15. All I can hear is Lee, in the voice of Mr. Garrison from South Park, launching into “Merry F—ing Christmas” as an ode to Yankees and Rangers fans far and wide. Context is a little different than what Mr. Garrison was going for, but the tone is similar.

Jayson Stark had a tremendous column on how the deal went down. This column ignited the conspiracy theorist in me. Why didn’t the New York media pick up on this and start throwing around theories that Lee, his agent Darek Braunecker, and the Phillies had concocted this evil, sinister plan a year ago, much like LeBron James and Chris Bosh discussed joining the Miami Heat as far back as the 2008 Beijing Olympics? The answer to that last question is that it would have been poor journalism. However, for a provocative column, that would have gotten a few readers riled up.

The lesson, apparently, not everyone wants to play in New York. But the Yankees re-signed Sergio Mitre and picked up Pedro Feliciano, who should be good for about 95 appearances next season. And Alfredo Aceves is due back, so they’re all set.

Gulp.

Adding insult to injury: the Red Sox are now fully staffed, and stacked. They’ve traded for Adrian Gonzalez, signed Carl Crawford, and fortified their bullpen with Bobby Jenks’s man-boobs and Dan Wheeler, leaving the Yankees reeling like Rocky Balboa in the first fight with Clubber Lang. Not good times for Mr. Brian Cashman. Not good times at all.

3) Derek Jeter’s Contract Drama: The non-story that was a story because people get paid to write about this stuff, and we’re the suckers that buy the papers, listen to the talk shows and read the blogs, tweets, etc. The Jeter Contract story makes this list because it fits the criterion of a story of the year. It dragged out the whole damn year.

Honorable Mention: Colin Cowherd’s FUBAR reasoning behind AJ Burnett’s struggles.

THE SIGN OF THE YEAR THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS NEAR

Sometimes you can take stock in radio interviews, sometimes you can’t. Three weeks ago, I was driving to the mall on a Saturday, and I happened upon Jody Mac interviewing Wally Matthews on 1050 ESPN New York. Matthews was recounting a conversation he had with Brian Cashman in the wake of the Cliff Lee debacle. Matthews said, “One of the last things I said to him was, ‘Please tell me you’re not considering Carl Pavano.’” To which Cashman replied, “I’m not ruling anything out.”

Imagine this: Sabathia, Hughes, Burnett, Pavano, Chamberlain.

After losing out on Lee, Greinke, and Brandon Webb, who knows what will happen in the next few months? The last time Cashman said he was prepared to go into the season with what we have, it was the 2004 offseason, and he was referring to Bubba Crosby as the Yankees’ center fielder. Less than a week later, he signed Johnny Damon. The only thing that will appease fans at this point is pulling off some kind of miracle trade with Seattle that will bring Felix Hernandez to the Bronx.

BEST YANKEE BOOK THAT’S NOT REALLY A YANKEE BOOK

It actually came out in 2008, and I don’t know how I didn’t hear about this until I received it as a Christmas gift from my mom. “Babe Ruth: Remembering the Bambino in Stories, Photos & Memorabilia” by Julia Ruth Stevens, his daughter, is a fantastic coffee-table book. I’ve already spent a couple of hours just looking at the pictures and some of the pull-out replica pieces of memorabilia, including tickets from the 1922 World Series.

As much as I love the iPad, books like these make a sound argument for Traditional Media.

GAME OF THE YEAR

September 14, 2010, Yankees 8, Rays 7 (11 innings).

I know I’ll get some groans over this one. (What, no Game 1 of the ALCS?) But this game had everything: lead changes, clutch hitting, clutch defense, and a surprise ending. Jorge Posada’s home run that led off the 11th inning hit the restaurant in center field at the Trop. It left his bat like it was shot of a Howitzer. If it didn’t hit the restaurant it would have traveled another 50-75 feet easy, as writers on the scene confirmed the ball had barely begun its descent when it made contact with the plexiglass.

In the bottom half, Carl Crawford led off with a single and failed to tag to second on a deep fly ball to center by Evan Longoria, a shot that even Mariano Rivera thought was gone when it left the bat. Crawford subsequently stole second and tried to tag on a shallow fly ball to right field by Matt Joyce. Why Crawford was trying to advance to third is still unknown, but Greg Golson, flat-footed, gunned him down at third to end the game. Just a fantastic play. For me, it was the most exciting game of the year.

And yes, we were contractually obligated to throw a game-related Award into the mix.

(more…)

Behind the Mic

Being a broadcaster has been a dream of mine going back to childhood. Perhaps I’ve mentioned it here and there in four years’ worth of columns here at the Banter. From hosting a college football audio chat show with Terry Bowden — now, this would be equivalent to a podcast — to doing web-specific video and actual TV fill-in work for Chris Shearn while at YES, to doing guest spots here on Bronx Banter TV and other SNY blog bits, I’ve been fortunate to have had a wide range of on-air experience, even though being on the air wasn’t the sole focus of any job I’ve had. It was a nice diversion.

Back in college, I did play-by-play, color commentary, anchoring and reporting for about a dozen Ithaca College and Cornell sports for Ithaca College television and radio. The best experience, though, was the five months I spent in Los Angeles as public address announcer for UCLA Baseball. I was lucky enough to announce every home at-bat for Chase Utley and Garrett Atkins that season, as well as visiting at-bats from Mark Teixeira (Georgia Tech), Xavier Nady (Cal), Eric Munson (USC), David Parrish (Michigan), and Joe Borchard (Stanford); and pitchers Justin Wayne and Jeremy Guthrie (Stanford), Kirk Saarloos (Cal State Fullerton) and the inimitable Barry Zito (USC). All the while, I had Bob Sheppard on my mind as the singular person to emulate for doing public address for baseball.

SHAMELESS BOOK PLUG ALERT: It’s probably worth noting that my entry in the Lasting Yankee Stadium Memories compilation is about a chance meeting with Sheppard.

On Dec. 2, I was awarded another break on the announcing front. I’ve been doing corporate voiceover work at my current job, which also provides a connection to the New York Islanders, perhaps my favorite team of all the teams for whom I hold an allegiance. I attended games for years as a kid while my uncle had season tickets in Section 310, Row O. I still have the ticket stub and promo giveaway from January 2, 1986, when Denis Potvin was honored for breaking Bobby Orr’s record for points by a defenseman. That night, Mike Bossy scored his 500th goal. I was there the night Bossy’s number 22 was retired. April 24, 2002, Game 4 versus the Maple Leafs, the night of the Shawn Bates game-winning penalty shot goal, was one of the first dates for my wife and I.

I auditioned for the backup public address gig earlier this year and am on standby for any of the 41 home games this season. My debut came this past Thursday against perhaps the team I hate the most as a fan on any level, in any sport: the New York Rangers.

I was nervous. I was excited. I was afraid I would unload a “The Rangers Suck” over an open microphone when the organist played “The Chicken Dance” and Islander fans at the arena invariably launch that chant during the break in the music. Sitting rinkside among the off-ice officials, being credentialed, I had to put my fandom away for an evening, as I had to do for so many years covering the Yankees.

Hockey is much different than baseball, and it has nothing to do with the differences in the playing surfaces. The pace of the game is much faster. The regular-season affair was way faster than the intrasquad scrimmage I worked 2 1/2 months ago for my audition. More than anything, though, the role itself is different. The PA Announcer doesn’t effect a hockey game like he does a baseball game. For example, player changes happen on the fly. It’s not as if the coach needs to wait for the PA Announcer to announce a player into the game in order to make a strategic move. The role is more of an MC, an in-arena host. You’re the voice of the arena, and as part of the Game Event staff, responsible for providing the atmosphere that shapes the fan’s experience at the venue.

With that said, there are similarities to the role between sports: There’s no margin for error with the reading. You can’t operate under the assumption that people can’t hear you or worse, aren’t listening. The timing has to be spot-on. There’s a game event rundown and an outline of what’s happening and when — all stuff within the flow of the game that doesn’t happen on the field or the ice — that requires precise execution. Communication between the Game Operations staff and the PA Announcer, which like a television production takes place via closed-circuit headset/intercom, has to be frequent, clear and concise. If you can’t compartmentalize, you’re doomed.

The stuff within the game, that’s actually the easiest part. There’s no time to think. It’s action-reaction. You have to pay attention at all times. In fact, the part I was least worried about heading into the Islander-Ranger whirlwind was the game itself: announcing goals, penalties, times of each, video replays, timeouts, etc. Having watched hockey since I was 5, I’m comfortable with the French-Canadian, Russian and European names that pervade NHL rosters.

There wasn’t room to create my own style for the first gig. Referring back to my baseball experience, I couldn’t draw on the subdued style of Sheppard. I couldn’t draw on John Condon from Madison Square Garden or John Mason, who has made “Deeeee-troit Baaaas-ket-ball” a household piece to the experience at the Palace of Auburn Hills. I drew mostly from the current PA Announcer, Roger Luce. He’s got a deeper, richer voice than me, but his delivery isn’t that much different from what he does every morning on WBAB here on Long Island. He’s just a solid pro. I wasn’t out to copy anyone, but to just be myself. I wanted to bring enthusiasm to the game, feeding off the energy that only a Rangers-Islanders game can provide.

The one thing that was said to me prior to the game — in a sarcastic tone, but dead serious — was “Don’t screw it up.” Did I make mistakes? Yes. But they weren’t glaring. After 25 years of training, I’m rarely uncomfortable behind a microphone. I validated myself, which above all else, was my goal. After watching a recording of the game, I know exactly where I need to improve if given the opportunity to do it again. I’ve already worked on some templates to standardize a few things to help my in-game performance.

The road probably wasn’t easy for Sheppard, Condon, Mason, or Luce, either. Sheppard was a linguistics teacher. Condon, in addition to his PA duties for the Knicks, was the boxing publicist at the Garden before becoming president of boxing at MSG in 1979. Mason and Luce are radio personalities, with distinctive and familiar voices to their fans. Like Condon, I’m fortunate to work in a place that provides a direct line into the organization. It’s a great diversion that keeps up my broadcasting chops, much like writing this column allows me a forum to maintain my writing chops. I can only thank the gentlemen mentioned in this column for giving me a canvas.

Thursday, Dec. 2 was a tremendous escape. More than anything, it was an opportunity to be a part of my favorite team. And it was a blast.

Generation Gap in CYA Mode

Greetings from Kansas City! Home to great barbecue, baseball history (the Negro League Hall of Fame), and my grandmother’s all-time favorite golfer, Tom Watson. Wednesday evening, after Roy Halladay was unanimously chosen the NL Cy Young Award winner, I was perusing the net, digesting the commentary and scrounging for material, when our good friend Repoz over at BaseballThinkFactory posted a link on Facebook.  I had to click.

It was, in the irony of all ironies, a blog post from the irascible, former New York Times baseball columnist Murray Chass. In a textbook anti-stats, antediluvian rant that may as well define “generation gap,” Chass claimed that Hernandez winning the AL Cy Young Award would be, among other things, a sign of the “Dark Side” taking over, and that this was the “wrong year for Hernandez.”

Well it looks like the BBWAA just became a sith.

Thursday, Felix Hernandez, winner of just 13 games, took the 2010 crown. Until Hernandez, 16 victories was the floor for starting pitchers to have won the award in a non-interrupted season (David Cone set that mark in the strike-shortened 1994 season). Lefties David Price and CC Cabathia, who combined for 40 victories, finished second and third, respectively.

Hernandez’s Cy Young was seen as a triumph for the sabermetricians; the “stat nyerds,” as Alex Belth noted in his hilariously titled post. The blog at Baseball Reference called it a “great day for stat geeks like us,” adding that it “goes to show you how little Wins and Losses mean as an individual pitcher stat (despite being, obviously, the most important team stat).” At Baseball Musings, David Pinto wrote, “With this vote, and last year’s awards, the wins column seems to be out of style in choosing the top spot. That’s a great stride forward for the BBWAA.”

Tyler Kepner stated in his post over at Bats that you didn’t need advanced metrics to make the case for Hernandez.

You don’t have to look up the meaning of Base-Out Runs Saved or Win Probability Added or anything like that. The stats that on the backs of baseball cards for decades make the case quite well.

And he’s right. Hernandez led the major leagues in ERA, led the AL in innings pitched, batting average against, and was second in strikeouts. He was last in the league in run support. Even Price agreed with the voting.

From tampabay.com:

“I feel like they got it right,” he said on a conference call. “I feel Felix deserved it.”

Price said he considers ERA the most important stat, and had no issue with Hernandez, who led the majors with a 2.27 mark, winning the award despite a 13-12 record.

Indeed, the pattern is similar to last year, when Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum claimed the AL and NL prizes. Greinke led the majors in ERA, led the AL in WHIP, was second in the AL in strikeouts, and had the benefit of Hernandez and Sabathia splitting the vote. In the NL, Tim Lincecum was a 15-game winner but he led the NL in strikeouts and led the majors in K/9, and had the benefit of St. Louis Cardinal teammates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright splitting the vote.

In fact, one can argue that Hernandez’s 2009 season was better than 2010. He was tied for the AL lead in wins with Sabathia (19), led the league in hits per nine innings and win-loss percentage, was second in ERA, third in WHIP, and fourth in strikeouts. Last year, his teammate helped him enough offensively to boost his win-loss record.

More from Kepner …

Over the course of a career, won-lost record is important, because luck generally evens out over time. But in the framework of a season, 34 starts or so, it’s not always revealing. Too many variables beyond a pitcher’s control can mess it up. Hernandez had 12 starts in which he allowed two earned runs or fewer and did not win. Price had five starts like that. Sabathia had three. Hernandez pitched in front of the worst A.L. offense of the designated-hitter era. That’s not his fault. That’s bad luck.

Speaking of luck, Chass recounted Steve Carlton’s Triple Crown season in 1972, when Lefty won 27 games for a Phillie team that won just 59. Luck wasn’t involved. Carlton was that good. Chass was trying to illustrate the premise that “great pitchers find ways to win games.” He also referenced Roy Halladay’s subscription to that philosophy. Kepner and others quoted Halladay similarly. But in Carlton’s case, he made 41 starts that year, pitched on a four-man rotation, completed 30 games, pitched more than 300 innings — it’s silly to even bring that season, as magnificent as it was, into the discussion. You can’t compare the two.

Later in the column, Chass criticized his former colleague, Kepner, and his former employer, for delving into highbrow intellect to add further context to the Paper of Record’s baseball coverage. Kepner committed an egregious act — using the Total Zone Total Fielding metric — to argue why Derek Jeter should not have won the Gold Glove, despite his making the fewest errors of any shortstop in baseball. This incited the elder’s ire.

The Times has increasingly used statistically-based columns, often at the expense, I believe, of the kind of baseball coverage it used to emphasize. But Kepner’s use of “Total Zone Total Fielding” was the clincher, demonstrating that the Times has gone over to the dark side.

Kepner, the Times’ national baseball writer, used the statistic in reporting that metric men were critical of the selection of Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ shortstop, as the Gold Glove shortstop. The Total Zone formula, Kepner wrote, rates Jeter 59th, or last, among major league shortstops.

“‘Within an hour of Tuesday’s announcement of the American League Gold Glove awards,’” he wrote as he planted both feet firmly on the dark side, “editors at Baseball-Reference.com summed up the general reaction to Derek Jeter’s latest victory at shortstop: ‘We can’t believe it either,’ a notation briefly on the site said.”

The game is more specialized. It’s data driven. Statistics don’t tell the entire story, but they help to put the story into perspective. This movement, which has evolved off the field since Bill James ascended to prominence and has gained more traction over the last 15 years, is not going away. On the field, managers like Earl Weaver and Tony LaRussa were pioneers in how the game is managed today, helping feed the depth of analysis that exists.

There is a place for some of Chass’s arguments. To say “great pitchers find a way to win games” is callous. But highlighting Carlton’s season the way he did allows us to cross-check Baseball Reference, Retrosheet, Baseball Almanac et al and use the stats to compare pitchers from the different eras. What the stats tell us, and the sabermetricians will agree, is that the truly great players, even with the advanced metrics, would have been great no matter when they played.

The fact that writers like Kepner, and Jayson Stark and Peter Gammons before him continue credit those sites and help bring them to the fore is a good thing for baseball fans. If reporters are supposed to be our eyes and ears — and they still can be — what better way to prove it than to show us that they visit the same websites we do to get information? Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus has a BBWAA card, after years of fighting for it. That group, a group with I was proud to call colleagues for two of the annuals, was part of the “basement bloggers” that Murray Chass-tised a few years back. Now they’re mainstream and didn’t have to sell out to get there. And by the way, Mr. Chass should note that the CEO of that enterprise is the same brain behind 538.com, which changed the way elections were covered two years ago. It’s now a leading political blog under the New York Times umbrella. Numbers feed words.

This progression is healthy. Tradition can still be strong. But it should be put in context with the modernization of the game. Even Tevye, the protagonist in “Fiddler on the Roof,” came to accept that the traditions he held dear were changing and he needed to adapt.

With that post, Chass showed he’s rooted in “tradition” and is past the point of adapting.

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