Where’s my disco whistle?
Let’s Go Pi-Rates!
Well, that was fun.
For some of us, anyhow. Ned Yost escaped a curious pitching decision while the A’s disastrous second half ended in misery.
The rest of us we entertained.
[Photo Credit: AP]
The 2014 playoffs start tonight in Kansas City in a great match-up of gun-for-hire Ace pitchers: James Shields–Big Game was Worthy, remember–vs. sour ass Jon Lester. It’s likely the last game of one of those players’ careers with that their team–and even the winner is likely to split from his team via free agency as well. I don’t have a strong favorite in tonight’s game. Either way, I’m going to be rooting for the winner big time over the Angels. I’d like the see the A’s win more only because I like the idea of the ALDS being between divisional rivals. And it’d be pretty funny if the A’s pulled it out of their ass and got to the ALCS. So, let’s sit back and take it all in and be happy there’s still some baseball left–the best part, some might say. Should be fun. Let’s Go Base-ball! Picture by Bags.
Ivan Solotaroff spent much of the summer of 1988 hanging out in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium. It was a different time: The Bronx wasn’t hospitable to, well, anyone back then. This was before the Disneyfication of Manhattan, before Rudy Giuliani, before Brooklyn became a Mecca of gentrification. You could go to Yankee Stadium and buy a ticket almost any night, then go smoke a joint in all but the fanciest of box seats. It could be an unnerving place, but it was not without its charms, which Solotaroff captures in “The Regulars: 1,900 Years in Yankee Stadium.” The story originally ran in the fall of ’88 in the Village Voice, and appears here with the author’s permission and his postscript, in which he reveals his subsequent clashes with his editors both at the poker table and over what exactly constitutes “journalism.”
By Ivan Solotaroff
There’s an evil-looking man with a pencil mustache in the last row of Yankee Stadium’s right field bleachers, leaning back against a 50-foot-high CITIBANK IS YOUR BANK sign. Immaculate in his tan fedora, sky-blue leisure suit, glowing white T-shirt, and white patent-leather loafers, he snorts the end of a joint through a gold roach-clip as the Toronto Blue Jays take the field for the bottom of the second inning, then begins to twist his arms and hands and fingers in suave convulsions, his mouth stretching into unnatural shapes as he trains his magnetizing gaze on Jays right fielder Jesse Barfield, pacing the well-lit grass of right field 90 feet below. I’ve been watching this man for months now, casting his limp-wristed spell on every American League right fielder not born in the Dominican Republic, and I have learned to fear his power. Midway through this late-August Yankee homestand, I feel a tingle in the back of my skull every time he starts conjuring.
Teena, a paper-thin Hispanic woman known among the Regulars as the Secretary of Da Fence, sees the effect he’s having on me, and yells up at him to Cut That Voodoo Bullshit Out. “He isn’t no Yankee fan,” she assures me, tucking a loose blond curl back into her impromptu Mohawk. “Bullshit Voodoo Man. I show you what’s a Yankee fan.”
Teena gathers the wealth of gold chains on her neck, and her yellow ashtray eyes cross as she looks down to exhibit the ornaments to me: six variations of the Yankee logo in 14 or 16 karats; a small, diamond-studded baseball and bat, accompanying the word YANKEES; and the brightest is a solid-gold 31, for Yankee all-star right fielder Dave Winfield.
“I show you the biggest Yankee fan there is,” she says, taking my hand and leading me down to Row A to meet Chico, a happy 300-pounder in a cobalt-blue Yankee jacket with a homemade 31 sewn on the back. “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog” is blasting on the P.A., and Chico’s rocking out an imaginary bass guitar, all 10 fingers moving in spidery patterns. “He’s been in the papers lots,” says Teena. “Hasn’t you, Chico?”
“Bellevue,” Chico agrees, keeping good time on the bass. “New York’s hometown paper. Intensive care. Times Square. Fifteen years.” At Teena’s prodding, he reaches in the pocket of his Yankee jacket for a half-dozen Polaroids of himself and an equally large woman having sex in a living room furnished entirely in red velvet.
“Motherfucking co’sucker, Jesse Barfield, maricón,” Chico screams suddenly. He takes his Polaroids back and pivots on his heel with surprising agility to rock the entire stadium, yelling, “Jesse Jesse fuck you messy” until the inning begins.
In 1973, Rick Goldfarb was my classmate at the Bronx High School of Science, a studious, awkward kid no one knew much about, except that he had a good head for numbers and a job selling beer at the Stadium. Over the years he’s kept a CPA practice going on Allerton Avenue in the South Bronx, from January to April 15; from April 16 through October, he sells beer in the third base box seats for the first four innings, and from the fifth on, he’s “Cousin Brewski,” the sweetest and loudest guy out here.
“How are you? How are you? How are you?” he greets me from 10 rows away. “I’ll tell you everything you wanna know about the Regulars. They’re the best fans out here. Class. They know everything you wanna know. Teena’s got it all: the batting averages, all the ERA’s, all the Won and the Lost. Bob the Captain knows every word of the ‘Gang Bang Song,’ the ‘Get the Puck Out Song,’ ‘Syphilis,’ the ‘Alibi Song,’ all the fabulous songs. And over there’s Melle Mel. A big rap star [of Grandmaster Flash], one of the originals.“
Rick’s mouth widens into a horse grin as Melle begins leading the Regulars in a rendition of “Camptown Races,” lyrics modified to honor Chili Davis’s alleged anal-passive tendencies. “Famous? Melle?” Rick asks himself rhetorically. “Oh-h, is he famous! Sees everything going on out here, too. The others tend to drift a little. Frank’s out here every day, brings candy”—
Rick excuses himself to go to the first row to join the second verse
Jesse takes it up the ass
Jesse takes it up the ass
Oh, da-doo, da-day
then climbs back up the concrete steps, saying, “Where was I? Where was I? Where was I? Frank brings candy for the kids, Turkish Taffy sometimes. He’s got a heart of gold out here, do anything for anyone. If he knows you. We got business students from Clark University, summer interns from The Nation. There’s Buttonhead, sells all the different buttons—RED SOX SUCK, TIGERS SUCK, A’S SUCK, METS SUCK, STEINBRENNER SUCKS. And there’s Yankee Joints, sells what he sells. They’re here when it’s 100 degrees, when it’s 40. They brought in a huge plate of Spanish rice last week, chicken with chick peas, stuffed cabbages, all those greens with the good olive oil dripping off. Just one big heart of gold, getting old.”
I ask Rick how many years these people have been coming here, a question that brings out the accountant. “Figure, say, 100, 115 individuals total,” he calculates, surveying the 12 rows in front of us. “Then, maybe 20, say 17 years apiece, average. So you’re looking at what, maybe 1,900 years out here. But those are just numbers,” he says, waving an index finger. “You gotta figure in the human factor.”
The Yankees, 2-8 in their last 10 games, come into the fifth inning down by a familiar four-run count. Frank and his friend Ike are already ingesting their time-honored slump-remedy: Many Jumbo Beers. It only takes Don Mattingly’s lead-off single to left to make them crazed. After the obligatory four notes of the Hallelujah Chorus sound from the Stadium organ (echoed by Frank and Ike’s “O! the Mets suck!”), they get the first 12 rows up and pointing at Jesse Barfield:
U, G, L, Y
You ain’t go no alibi
P, A, P, A
We all know your papa’s gay
M, A, M, A,
We know how he got that way
The entire bleachers looking on, Melle Mel decides to create some game-changing noise. Flipping his night-game shades up, tightening the doo rag on his head, he spies a newcomer in a Hawaiian shirt. “BOOK HIM,” he commands, and the Regulars obey bynah-nah-nah-ing the “Hawaii Five-O” melody in the man’s face until, with a longing look at the blue seats of the loge level, he’s up on his bench and surfing it.
“If the Yankees are the best team in the world,” Melle yells above the roar of a 4 train passing 10 feet behind the bleachers, “say Yo-o.” Hundreds agreeing—and #31 himself stepping up to the plate, 375 feet away—Melle has a moment worthy of the Great Cause. “Let me hear it, one time, for my man, Mr. Da-a-a-a-ve Winfield.” “Dave, Dave, Dave,” a huge crowd chants as Winfield looks at a strike. They’re still chanting “Dave” as Winfield whiffs on a second pitch, looks at a third strike, then lopes indifferently back to the dugout.
“That’s the greatest number of all about this sport,” Rick explains when I mention that Winfield’s strikeout doesn’t seem to bother anyone. “You fail two out of every three times, 66 percent of your professional life, and out here you’re God’s gift.”
Statisticians of the great American game would do well to analyze Ali Ramirez, a tall, white-haired man who brings a cowbell to the games in a bowling-ball bag. A serious student of the game, Ali won’t ring his bell until he feels a Yankee hit. For the last few weeks, I’ve been getting goose bumps every time Ali stands and unsheathes his bell; with the Yankees down now by four runs and two outs, no one on in the bottom of the sixth, I suddenly understand why: I’ve been hearing this bell in the distance my entire life, behind Phil Rizzuto’s hypnotizing psalmodies on WPIX, and I’ve learned to expect a Holy Cow (Rizzuto’s unfailing ejaculation for Yankee home runs), or at least a single, every time Ali rings the bell.
As Jack Clark steps up to the plate, Ali hammers out an eight-beat salsa rhythm, which is echoed by a drumming on the free seats by the Regulars that I can feel, 10 rows up, through my tailbone. He follows with a 16-count, then ends with a steady beat that gets a deafening ” Ay-oh” chant. It’s broken by an unmistakable crack of Clark’s bat, and a flurry of kids heading to the empty right-field grandstands, where Clark’s 370-foot homer soon lands 20 rows deep.
“The Gods have spoken,” yells Melle Mel, up on his seat and salaaming. “Prai-ai-se A-A-Ali!” Almost everyone in the bleachers obeys, a moving sight—350 people bowing in a wave to this quiet man wearing a barber’s shirt, cradling his bell and drumstick, already evaluating Don Slaught’s stance at the plate.
Apparently it’s rally time, for Ali rings out another eight-count. Before he can start his 16′s, another long-ball crack gets the entire bleachers on its feet. I look up in the klieg-lit sky over right field and see a baseball coming at me, then under my seat for my first baseman’s glove to catch it, then back up in time to see the ball falling in the trough penning the bleachers apart from the rest of the stadium—50 feet from Clark’s homer, and 15 feet to the left of the man with the bell.
Ali, ignoring the pleas of the Regulars, zips up his bowling ball bag as Gary Ward strikes out to end the inning. The timeless nature of baseball wafts over me like car exhaust as it dawns on me that I haven’t had a first-basemen’s glove for 20 years. Twenty rows up, the Voodoo Man is striking an Edith Piaf pose against the Citibank sign after his exertions.
By the seventh inning, timelessness has given way to insoluble tedium, and I organize a small press conference in the top rows with some of the Regulars: Bob Greco, machinist from Bergen County, and Captain of the Bleachers; Frank Herrera, a college baseball umpire with a major stutter, who talks endlessly about whom he’s willing to beat up for the Yankees; and a strange man named Big Bird, who seems to have an obsession with Australia: Tonight, he’s telling me about the difficulties of sending videos of the 1978 World Series to Melbourne. “He was there six weeks, six years ago,” Bob explains. “Still fuckin’ talkin’ about it.”
The Yankees seem to have fallen into the lull. Though they ended the sixth down only two runs, the Angels have pounded relief pitchers John Candelaria and Steve Shields for four runs. For Bob, Frank, and Big Bird, however, watching a routine single drop in the hole between Ward and Winfield for extra bases, it’s clearly not an important failure. “If you came here every day, you’d just get used to it,” Bob says as Teena climbs the steps to tell me to tell the world that every Yankee reliever makes her puke. “And you would grow to like it out here. You would see how it’s like the family unit. You yell a bunch of shit, 50 people yell out with you. Get into a fight, you got a hundred backers. Plus, you can see everything from out here. Call balls and strikes. You can see inside the dugouts ….”
“Tell him about the time we gave you a birthday cake,” Frank interrupts. “You were all choked up and shit.”
“Time out,” Bob says. “I wanna tell him about training camp in Lauderdale. So, I’m down there with Kevin and George, couple the Regulars—.”
“Tell him about the cake, you fuckin’ dick,” says Frank.
“Time out, Frankie. We’re driving from the hotel to the ball park, half an hour, 45 minutes maybe, looking at all these maps. After four days, we realize we’re half a mile from the stadium.”
Bob sees Frank standing up with a look of terminal displeasure, and decides to tell me about the cake: “So I’m out here one night and they’re singing, ‘Happy Birthday.’ They got a cake, so I sing with ‘em. But when they get to the ‘Happy Birthday, dear…’ part, they’re like, singing my name.’”
Bob pauses, to let the mystery sink in. “It’s my 32nd birthday. The cake’s got my name on it, too. It’s probably like the biggest thrill of my life.”
The Blue Jays take the field for the bottom of the seventh, and Frank and Bob ask me if I’ve heard their “Mickey Mouse” cover:
M, I, C
See you real soo-oo-n
K, E, Y. Why-y-y?
‘Cause we don’t give a fuck about you
“I love that one,” says Frankie. “And, first time I heard the ‘Gang Bang,’ I was on the floor.” He stands up, glares at the air an inch above his head and five feet in front, and screams, “The Yankees suck what?” then begins punching the air. Bob shakes his head and finishes telling me about Lauderdale.
“So we get some pictures, the three of us with Dave, meet some other New Yorkers in the hotel—they weren’t there for the training, they were on some other business. The biggest thrill was with Dave. What else is new?”
“Do you guys know him?”
“Yeah, we know him. Not personally, on a social level, but he sees us on the street, he knows, ‘Yeah, the Bleachers.’ We give him a plaque last year, congratulating him for his sixth consecutive year hitting 100 RBIs. He didn’t do it, he ended up with 97, but we give him the plaque anyway.”
“I met Dave once,” says Frankie.
“Time out, Frankie. So we’re down there, waiting by the gate for Dave to come out. There’s a couple guys there, had their kids or something, and we ask, ‘Dave come out yet?’ And they’re like, ‘Don’t waste your breath, Dave don’t stop for nobody.’ So he comes out, and the three of us are like, ‘Dave, Dave, Dave.’ Big smile. He’s like, ‘What the fuck are you guys doing down here?’ signing autographs. He remembers the plaque. Suddenly”—Bob pauses to savor the irony—”the guys with the kids are like, ‘Hey, we’re with these guys.’ That was like the biggest thrill of my life.”
Frankie looks hurt. “I thought it was the cake.”
“Nah, that was the biggest thrill of my life out here,” Bob corrects him, standing up and brushing off his pants as he heads down to Row A. “Talk to the man, Frankie. He’ll make you famous.”
Against the backdrop of the “Get the Puck Out Song” and the “Gang Bang Song” (a series of knock-knock jokes ranging from “Eisenhower”/”Eisenhower Who?”/”Eisenhower late for the Gang Bang” to “Gladiator”/”… before the Gang Bang”), I listen to half an hour of Frankie’s fantasy life. It’s a familiar fantasy to anyone growing up in New York: being outnumbered and having the numbers to escalate.
“I would never suggest,” he begins, “for anyone to come out to the bleachers and to hit one of the Regulars. I would not suggest that. And I would never suggest what happened here, one time, when Yankee Joints got his bag taken by some guy. He asked for it back, and five guys stood up in his face, at him. So I walked over there, and, like, 50 guys jumped up behind me, it was like a wave. I tried to explain to these guys, I got, like, 50 guys behind me, and every last one of them’s willing to hit you. They don’t need no reason.”
I ask if there are a lot of fights out here. “This dude says, ‘Whenever there’s a fight, I never see you anywhere. Why?’ Why-y? You ain’t looking in the right place,” Frank answers. He seems convinced that it was me who asked the question. “If you ever see a fight,” he says, poking my chest hard, “look under the pile. Under the pile. That’s where you’ll find me. Under the fucking pile. But, like, if, like, this guy”—Frankie points to a fan two rows back—”like, if this guy were to hit Bob or Ike or Cousin Brewski, it would be suicide. And if I stood up in … his face”—Frank points to the same fan—”and said, ‘You gonna hit me, you gonna fucking hit me?’ I swear, 20 people will come behind me.”
Frank looks at the guy suspiciously, then tells me how five enormous security guards came to the bleachers for him one day last summer. “Now, that is the most idiotic thing in the world I have ever heard. If you got 2,000 fans and 3,000 guards, then maybe, maybe you could talk. But if you got five guards, I don’t care what size they are, I’ll throw 20 midgets on you to kick your ass. But they don’t think that way over there in Security.”
I ask Frank how he came to be an umpire.
“I was playing football and I got hurt bad. I could still move around and holler, but I couldn’t ever play again. I was going home, and the bus driver asked me did I want to umpire little-league ball with him. And I enjoyed it, a lot. See, what happened was, my first game, I threw the manager out. And I said, ‘Damn, I’m 13 and I just threw this 40-year-old man out.’ So, I grew up and went to umpiring school in San Bernardino. I do college now, and the Dominican Leagues in the winter. With a little luck, I’ll make it to the majors.”
Frank looks down at the field, where the Yankees have just gone down three straight, then over at the Regulars, who are singing “Syphilis.” “One day,” he nods his head, “I’ll be umping at the Stadium, and I would have to make a close call against this team.”
Frank continues nodding his head. “See, I know that would happen,” he adds with conviction, “And the Regulars would nail me. I know that. Fuck them. I call them like I see them. And I will be a Yankee fan till the day I die. I know that.”
A 4 train rumbles overhead, and Frankie starts thinking about something, shaking his head and moving his lips with a repeated, unspoken sentence. “Everywhere I go,” he finally says it. “Everywhere I go till the day I die.”
He stands up and looks down at the first rows. “Like, I was on the subway,” he says, “wearing my cap. And this guy’s wearing a Mets cap: ‘You should get a better cap.’ Get a better cap?! What?” Frankie takes his black Yankee cap off his head and pounds it into shape. “When you win as many World Championships as the Yankees,” he tells me. “When you win as many pennants. When you win as many division championships, as many World Series as this franchise, in its history, then you come back and see me.” Frank screws his cap back on his head, shoots me a hate-look, then heads down the steps to join the Regulars. “And I’ll meet you on this train,” he yells up at me, “3,000 years from now.”
This piece was my way of hiding out for the summer of, I believe, 1988. Nothing good going on, a piece already published in the Village Voice sports section, so I got my second journalistic “assignment”: the months of July and August in the cauldron of the old Yankee Stadium’s right-field bleachers. I didn’t get to file receipts for most of the games, as they would’ve come to more than the commission. The Voice paid 10 cents a word until you got a contract, so I probably got $400 or so for the piece.
It didn’t matter. It was very well received at the Voice—a rare chance for that excruciatingly politically correct rag to publish sexism, racism, and homophobia to comic effect. Crucially, it got me into their monthly poker game as well, and they were terrible players. That amortized those unclaimed receipts several times over.
It wasn’t all good, however. The managing editor kept kvelling one game—it was getting embarrassing. When he said, “I’d love to read your fiction sometime,” I didn’t think twice, and said, “You just did.” The story’s set over one game—at 4,000 words or so, there wasn’t space for more, and I had two whole months to squeeze in. My reputation as a “piper” continues to this day, which is fine by me. I believe that all journalism is fiction. If it’s any good. And fuck them anyway.
But I did get read the riot act from my best friend at the time, who’s gay, as well as another act read (luckily before sending the story in), from another best friend, who objected to an original draft which incorporated Frankie’s stuttering. It read very funny, but it was cruel; I understood that fully only when I later learned that Frankie had passed away.
I tried to find a copy of the original story online just now, of course hopeless: Like Elvis Costello sang, “Yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish-and-chip paper.” But it did lead me to Phil Bondy’s Bleacher Creatures, written after his summer spent with the Regulars, 15 years later. I was amused, would be the kind word, that he didn’t so much as reference the earlier article, as his title was lifted from the title my story ran under: That was a creation of the Voice‘s sports editor, and I didn’t much care for the inhumanity of the subjects it conveyed. If anything, I objected, they were human, all too human. When that didn’t fly, I did manage to get a bitch-slap of a title past a different Voice sports editor a decade later: on Mark Gastineau’s pugilistic career, which I entitled “Superhuman, All Too Superhuman.”
[Photo Credit: Don Rice via Lover of Beauty]
At 2:00 p.m. yesterday, David Price was at Tropicana Field throwing. I saw footage of it last night and wondered if he was out there out of routine or to say farewell to the only professional team he’s ever played for. According to Marc Topkin:
Price has been pitching for weeks knowing a trade was possible. But he had hoped, even Thursday, when he went to play golf and swung by the Trop for a workout, that it wasn’t going to happen.
“It’s tough to put into words,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “There’s absolute sadness. This is where I’ve been the last seven years. I love the guys, I love being here. It’s different.”
I also saw a clip of Austin Jackson being called off the field in the middle of an inning, hugging teammates in the dugout. Four-and-a-half years with the Tigers and goodbye. Then I saw this article linked over at Hardball Talk.
Yeah, I know this is just business–it’s Chinatown, Jake–but I couldn’t help but feel for the sense of loss these men–and their former teammates, not to mention fans–were experiencing.
Must feel unreal.
[Photo Credit: Yash Dravid via It's a Long Season]
Lester and Gomes to the A’s for Cespedes. Billy Beane going all in. Sounds like a good deal for the Sox, too.
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]
[Photo Credit: John Weiss]
Everyone makes mistakes. One of mine is that it took me a long time to appreciate Buehrle, and not just because every time he pitched for the White Sox, I had to listen to Hawk Harrelson sing his praises. I mean, Buehrle was drafted in the 38th round out of some college no one had heard of,2 he almost never hit 90 on the radar gun, and he didn’t strike anyone out. Sure, he reached the major leagues just 14 months after he signed as a draft-and-follow in 1999, but he was never a top prospect. He wasn’t much of a prospect, period. During his first full season in the majors, I fixated on his mere 126 strikeouts in 221 innings far more than on his 16-8 record, 3.29 ERA, or AL-leading 1.066 WHIP. He was a junk-tossing left-hander, and those guys always get figured out eventually.
Only, Buehrle hasn’t gotten figured out, and he’s currently helping fuel the Toronto Blue Jays’ playoff hopes. Despite pitching in arguably the AL’s best home run park for hitters for most of his career, he’s produced only one bad season: 2006, the sole year when his ERA+ dropped below 100 and, conveniently if less meaningfully, the only year when he finished with a losing record. He’s been consistently above average without ever being elite. He’s earned a single Cy Young vote just once, in 2005, and the category in which he’s most often led the league is hits allowed, four times.
He’s led the league in hits allowed four times because he throws a lot of innings, and because he gives up a lot of contact. And he gives up a lot of contact because the one thing he does not do is miss bats. After getting called up midseason in 2000, Buehrle struck out 37 batters in 51.1 innings, a ratio a tick higher than the league average at the time. He’s posted a below-average strikeout rate every season since, and has struck out 150 batters just once in his career.
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]
Jeter’s final All Star Game.
[Pictures Via: It's a Long Season]
Slide on over to SB Nation Longform and check out Joe DePaolo’s profile of Mariano Rivera III:
The father is here to cheer on his 20-year-old son — a redshirt sophomore for the Gaels. Listed on the Iona roster as Mariano Rivera, the son’s legal name is actually Mariano Rivera III (although most everybody, including dad, refers to him as “Jr.”). Beyond the name and the fact that they both pitch, there are other similarities between the two. There are also many differences, one of which is that the son is a starter — at least while he is in college. “He’s too good to be a reliever at this level,” says Iona head coach Pat Carey.
That’s an assessment the scouts seem to agree with. After Rivera records the third out, the men put down their radar guns and dutifully record the pitch in their notebooks. They offer no expression, but can’t help but to have been impressed by what they’ve seen so far. This is a good lineup that Rivera has set aside in the first, all via strikeout. Seton Hall’s high-powered offense entered the contest averaging 7.8 runs per game. That offense has helped propel them to a 16-4 record and the No. 19 spot in ESPN’s unofficial power rankings going into today’s game. Iona, which plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, seldom plays a team of this caliber. It is a rare chance for the scouts to see what Rivera can do against a lineup with some punch.
As he makes his way back to the dugout, he avoids eye contact with the scouts, but he is fully aware of their presence.
“Twenty something scouts,” he says. “Most scouts ever in my life. Obviously, it’s in the back of my mind.”
Rivera takes a seat and grabs as much solitude as he can in the cramped Iona dugout. This is hardly out of character for him. Rivera is well liked among this group, and treated like just one of the guys. He is close friends with some teammates, but he tends to set himself apart, and sits alone between innings.
[Photo Credit: Holly Tonini]
Connie Marrero, a chunky right-hander from Cuba with a windmill delivery and a wicked curveball, was nearly 39 years old when he reached the major leagues with the 1950 Washington Senators.
He went on to become an All-Star in his second season, when he threw a one-hitter against the Philadelphia Athletics, and he won 39 games in five seasons with lackluster Senator teams.
When he died on Wednesday in Havana at 102, two days short of his 103rd birthday, Marrero was the oldest former major leaguer. But his time with the Senators was only one chapter of a long career in which he became a cherished figure in Cuban baseball.
[Photo Credit: Al Fenn/Time Life Pictures via Getty Images]
I don’t know about you, but I was getting tired of alternating beat-downs with the other team; teams like the Red Sox and then the Angels beating and then being beaten by football scores, it just makes for bad Feng Shui. So for the second and third game of this series, the Angels and Yankees agreed to rehearse a couple of taught dramas for the Broadway crowd, hijacking the fricken Rally Monkey with some fancy organ grinding of their own. And grinding would be an apropos description of what The Notorious Tanaka did during the game; it was strange, yet gratifying how he managed to do his thing for 6-1/3 innings while the Yanks continued to struggle against unheralded pitchers.
Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t bad. In the first inning all his outs were by strikeouts, all swinging; an impressive feat considering whom he was facing. Sure, Trout continued to show his Professional Hitter side with a first pitch single after the leadoff strikeout, but then Pujols struck out behind him, and following a Howie Kendricks walk, Aybar struck out. But the Yanks for their part decided to make Garret Richards almost equally intriguing by striking out or otherwise doing practically nothing against him. Richards, who was averaging five walks per nine innings was giving nothing away to Tanaka, who by the second time through the lineup was now starting to get hit. When he wasn’t getting hit, he was doing something that by now could be considered very odd: he was giving up walks. Seriously, up until tonight he’d only given up two walks in total. The fourth inning was especially troublesome because he loaded the bases after a leadoff double with a HBP and a walk before the Angels pushed a run across with a fielder’s choice. Tanaka was still striking people out, but it seemed different; a lot of pitches and a lot of foul balls added to the feeling that he wasn’t dominating. Nervous business, what with G. Richards looking more like vintage J.R. Richards.
But then we learned something else about Tanaka in the process: he really doesn’t give up. He must have realized that his other stuff wasn’t working as well as we’ve quickly grown accustomed to, so he did something subtle that I can’t get my finger on, but whatever he did, he was getting outs. He was still striking batters out, but those seemed like an afterthought to the fact that he was getting batters out at the right time. The defense came to back him up too, turning in routine ground-outs and fly-outs (or at least making them look routine). If he gave up a triple, he struck out the next batter to end the inning. Tanaka’s control was kinda iffy, he threw a lot more in fewer innings, but he somehow got the outs when he needed them. The lineup managed to push across a run with a walk to Teixiera, who came around to score after a Brian Roberts double and a Ichiro ground-out.
Then he gave up a homer to David Freese, the hero of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals Champeenchip, who was until then mired in an ugly slump with intermittent playing time. The way the Yanks were not hitting at that moment, you may have gotten the sense that this might be the moment Tanaka experiences his first loss in more or less two years. Yes, it has to happen, but why against Mike Scioscia and the Angels? Ugh.. after Tanaka retired the side, the Yanks failed to score, leaving Tanaka set up for a loss. Perhaps Girardi felt bad and wanted to give Tanaka another chance to win by sending him out for the seventh, but by this time he was already hovering near 100 pitches, so after Collin Cowgill struck out, Joe took him right back out in favor of Adam Warren. Masahiro Tanaka: 6.1 innings, 5 hits (though it seemed like more), 4 walks (hmm…), 2 earned runs (huh…), and 11 strikeouts (how about that), leaving down one run.
Yet, all was apparently not lost and Warren picked up a little magic from somewhere, because after giving up another single to Trout, he got Pujols to ground into a double play and hold the line. Next thing you know, bang, zoom! Teix hit one out and the score was tied. Yay Tanaka wasn’t gonna lose! if nothing else, you had to feel good about that. Back in the game, now let’s get some more uhp, fergeddit, fly-outs and a pop-out and no more runs. But you did get the sense that Richards was returning to norm, so strikeouts could soon turn into striking a hot iron. Warren, now tasked with holding the line and perhaps getting a win, did his part in retiring the side in order, so the Yanks tried again in the eighth…
Then the funniest thing happened: Scioscia trotted out a reliever. Soon he trotted out another. Then another. Then another and another… no, not really, but it was bad enough. See, what Scioscia already knew and hoped wouldn’t happen, and what we came to realize was that his bullpen was not very good at holding leads. Not very good at all, which was another oddity with the pitching tonight. I’m not used to seeing a bad Angels bullpen, so I was surprised when the first reliever Michael Kohn walked Ellsbury , because yunnow, he’s Ellsbury and walking him is like giving up a double. Kohn might’ve thought the same thing, because he spent more time stepping off and/or throwing to first than he did pitching to Jeter, who eventually struck out. But then he walked Beltran, which made Scioscia nervous and he brought in Nick Morande, who managed to throw the ball to everyone sitting behind home plate except catcher Chris Iannetta (though one was called a passed ball and Iannetta really wasn’t having a good game anyway); first Ellsbury and Beltran moved up, then Ellsbury scored, giving the Yanks the lead. Brian McCann then gave a nifty solo scene with a HBP that was more by than hit; so convincing that the umps took a whole intermission to review the play and ultimately put him on first. Welp, time to send in the understudy, and that was Kevin Jepsen, who managed to secure a double play from our Soriano with an ug… well, sub-optimal at bat.
That brought us to what was potentially the last act, and the our new divo David The Hamma’ Roberston came to close out the show. Down went Stewart, in keeping with the theme of the night with the ubiquitous strikeout. But Iannetta walked, and his understudy John McDonald replaced him at first. J.B. Shuck managed to jive him over to second, and then… duh-duh-duhhhh our old friend Raul Ibañez came up for Cowgill. Raul, though his average was quite low, was certainly capable of driving in a run or two as he had done 15 times beforehand. This was indeed a scary moment, because if you lost him, you had to face the Deadly Duo, starring Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Robertson threw and Raul looked at strike one. Another pitch and it was called a ball??? WTF BLUE!!! You might also be thinking at this point, “nail him down… please!” The pitch, and Raul fouled it off. Do it for Warren, he held it down and deserved to win it. Do it Tanaka, he wasn’t himself tonight or what we’ve already come to expect of him, but dammit he deserved something for it. Do it because you can’t stand the Angels and particularly you can’t stand Mike Scioscia. And do it for the ones who stuck it out this long to see the win. The Yanks haven’t had a lot of luck with close games like this over the past few years, so yeah… nail it down. The pitch… a half-swing. Did he go?
It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t look right, didn’t feel right, just didn’t seem right. But yunnow what? It tasted like chicken. Yanks win 3-2.
Growing up in Southern California, I was always struck by how few Angel fans I came across. A big part of this, of course, was the winning tradition the Dodgers had established, appearing in the World Series in 1974, ’77, and ’78 before winning it in 1981. In recent years the Angels have made inroads with increased on-field success, an ambitious marketing campaign, and a handful of flashy (if misguided) free agent signings. It also doesn’t hurt that the future of their franchise (Mike Trout) is everyone’s Golden Child, while the Dodgers’ phenom (Yasiel Puig) is more of a Problem Child.
Even so, this has always felt like Dodger Territory, and now the New York Times confirms that with the coolest interactive map you’ll ever see. Gleaning info from Facebook, researchers examined baseball team preferences in every zip code in the nation, and the result is fascinating. Two things jump out: one, the famous Munson-Nixon line separating Yankee Universe and Red Sox Nation is a bit farther east into Connecticut than previously thought; and two, there are Yankee and Red Sox fans EVERYWHERE.
I saw these two dudes on the train last night on my way home from work. They’re juniors in high school and were returning from a game–which their team won. Good kids, smart kids, very sharp about baseball. They let me take their picture.
It reminded me of when I played ball in high school, coming home after a game, my uniform muddy, the sweat dried to my body, my head still caught up in the plays of the game, maybe a ball I’d hit well, of course preoccupied with things I hadn’t done well, a ball I booted in the field, a fat pitch I swung through.
The buds are on the trees now in New York. That, and the dirt on these kids’ uniforms, is a reminder that winter is over.
His number one protégé is Justin Smoak — a young player who gives you the sense that he has played forever, but just short of his potential. Critics wonder when he will put it all together. He has power, he switch-hits, he can field, he has a good sense of the strike zone. Cano won him over from the start, and he made it clear to Smoak that he would be demanding more from him.
Cano broke out the Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long’s book on pregame ritual. He shares the same drills with his new teammates, making everyone accountable and providing access to tips that helped him year in and year out. And he is continuing his reputation of playing every single day, just as he did in New York, acknowledging that “ironmen” can teach lessons by showing it, not just talking it.
As Smoak described it, “I always knew what I needed to do, but with Cano here, I see it getting done.” Cano has actualized possibility. He personifies the hopes and goals of a team that has been counted out, and he’s made it real for players who have had the talent, but just needed to make it tangible.
In many ways, that may be another way to honor a legacy: to pass it on and prove that it can work in another environment. It is a way to celebrate it on a larger scale, to show that the lessons are applicable in other clubhouses, in new cultures. I would imagine Kevin Long or any hitting coach would be happy to know his drills help all players because they embody a universal truth. The ultimate compliment to a teacher.
[Photo Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images]
Greg Hanlon is talented reporter and writer. His latest story is for Sports on Earth. It is about former Yankee Chad Curtis:
Chad Curtis didn’t tell his lawyer that he’s doing this interview, he admits with a sly smile. Obviously, she’d be angry, because he’s appealing his conviction, and talking to a reporter is likely not in his best interests. But Curtis is still upset that he didn’t get to take the stand at his trial. He sees himself as a man for whom telling the truth trumps calculated self-interest.
That’s why, he believes, he has sat in prison since October on a seven-to-15-year conviction for molesting three teenage girls at the rural Michigan high school where he volunteered. He says he could have taken a misdemeanor plea, served a year and a half in county, and been home with his wife and six kids by now. But he’s an innocent man in his own mind, so he couldn’t bring himself to swear on the Bible — which he quotes frequently and encyclopedically during our two-hour interview at the Harrison Correctional Facility — and admit to a crime he didn’t commit.
As a major league baseball player, he wore a bracelet that said, “What would Jesus do?” Now that he’s a prisoner, he tells me, “Jesus lived the perfect life, and that got him crucified.” By this, he means there’s historical precedent for the harsh judgments of human beings to be 180 degrees wrong, and that he’s in good company.
He asks if I’m familiar with the show Pretty Little Liars. He says he prays daily for his teenage accusers, all of whom had similar athletic builds and All-American good looks. He says all he was doing in that locked, windowless, dungeon-like training room was helping those girls recover from sports injuries. He says he took the same all-out approach to treating sports injuries as he did to playing baseball — “whether it was running into an outfield wall or breaking up a double play.”
As for why the girls thought otherwise, and accused him of touching their rear ends, breasts and, in one case, genitals, he doesn’t want to speculate: “I’ve been really discouraged by how often and how wrong people have assumed my motivations, so I’ll extend them that same courtesy,” he says.
He doesn’t mention that not a single boy testified to having gone down to the trainer’s room for similar treatment.
Don’t miss this one. It’s really strong.
[Photo Via MLive]