"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Emma Span

Manny Being A Can Of Worms

An interesting and occasionally somewhat heated conversation broke out a few days ago on the post about Manny Ramirez retiring. Partly it was a debate as to whether Manny’s (non-debatable) hitting skills outweighed his sometimes lousy behavior on and/or off the field, and partly it was about whether Manny’s race had played a role in the way people viewed both his game and his personality. And although I hesitate to open that can of worms back up, it’s an interesting issue and certainly, I think, worth thinking about.

As if race weren’t complicated enough to discuss, the conversation is especially twisty here, since:

-At least some of Manny’s critics (in the media and in the stands – I’m not referring to anyone on this site) seemed to be influenced by his race, or at the very least wrote and talked about him, intentionally or not, with somewhat racially-charged language;

-And yet: there are COMPLETELY legitimate reasons to dislike aspects of Manny Ramirez’s game and public persona, which have nothing to do with his race.

-Then, too, sometimes race can color our view of things without us even realizing that it’s happening.

I feel confident that very few people have ever thought to themselves, “I really dislike that Manny Ramirez fellow because he’s Dominican.” That’s not really the question here. I’m referring more to things like, the narrative among some fans and media that portrays Manny as a naturally gifted hitter, almost a savant, who didn’t work hard at his craft or hone it, out of laziness or indifference, but was simply physically gifted in this one respect. Is that true? I don’t really know, but I will say that many of Ramirez’s teammates have repeatedly told reporters that the guy actually works very hard at hitting, and is, in that regard, quite disciplined.

Besides that, the view of non-white athletes as unintelligent savants is very old and not a little harmful. And yet! He didn’t look to me like a guy who worked hard on his fielding; and he made plays that a person who was paying attention to the game would just not make. Is that accurate? Or is my view of his being subconsciously influenced by that older and uglier narrative? Honestly, I don’t know, but I do think it’s worth asking the question.

That’s what I mean when I say it’s complicated. Note that just because some of Ramirez’s critics may have been influenced on some level by his race, that doesn’t mean that a whole grab-bag of  criticisms of Ramirez have no validity. Like I said, there are many reasons to dislike the guy – the steroids, the unreliability, the being on the Red Sox. The leading one, from my point of view, is that he apparently shoved an elderly man to the ground in a debate about reserved tickets. I don’t really see how that happens without him being a dick.

That said, I think it gets trickier with the criticism of his playing style. If I describe Ramirez’s fielding as lackadaisical — which I’m pretty sure I have, probably on this very blog–well, I just want to be sure that I know where that’s coming from.  No one sane can argue that he wasn’t a great hitter, and I think most of us will agree that the man’s not much of a fielder; the statistics, beautiful numbers that they are, will back us up on both counts. The reasons we assign for that, though, are murkier.

Something worth keeping an eye on, whatever conclusions you ultimately draw.

Everything Ends Badly…

… otherwise, it wouldn’t end. The Red Sox stopped their skid today, thanks mostly to an alarmingly poor performance from Phil Hughes in a sloppy game all around, with a 9-6 win.

The other ending? Manny Ramirez’s career. Baseball strangest superstar announced his retirement today, and in what is likely no coincidence, also reportedly tested positive for “a banned substance” during spring training. It was his second strike, and would’ve resulted in a 100-game suspension had he not won an appeal. Joel Sherman reports that he told the Rays he needed to leave for family-related issues. He wasn’t the most reliable guy, but for years on end he was amazing to watch. It’s a sad way to end such an impressive career, but maybe fitting too. Although I think it’s important to remember that we still have very little concrete evidence of how much performance- enhancers of the kind Manny may have taken actually impact performance. Will we ever know if he’d have been as great without them? If not, how do we figure out how to view him? I’m not as appalled by steroids as some fans and writers are, but I do hate the uncertainty it injects into certain players’ careers. I think I would still vote Ramirez into the Hall of Fame, but I doubt that a majority of writers will agree, and I can understand that point of view too.

Back to today’s game, although it’s one most Yankee fans won’t want to dwell on. Two games would be far too small a sample size to draw any dire conclusions about Phil Hughes… except his velocity drop is strange, and seems to me to indicate some sort of injury. Neither the Yankees nor Hughes has indicted any such thing, that’s just my instinct, because 24-year-old starters don’t typically just lose 3 or 4 mph off their fastball in the space of an offseason for no reason. So, yes, I am concerned.

Things started well enough for the Yankees, with Robinson Cano’s double plating Alex Rodriguez and Brett Gardner for an early lead. But it was clear from the start that Hughes didn’t have it; not only his velocity, but his control, as pitchers were flying across the middle of the plate. Dustin Pedroia homered in the first, and after the Yankees tacked on another run in the next inning – I should point out here that John Lackey was also awful for the Sox — Boston batted around, piling up 5 runs via death-by-singles for a 6-3 lead. Bartolo Colon came in for Hughes in the third and was actually quite effective, much to my surprise. But although the Yankees did eventually tie the game, with one run over each of the next three innings including an Alex Rodriguez homer, and Colon kept the Sox to one earned run over 4.1 innings, it wasn’t enough. Boone Logan was ineffective again in the 7th, the Sox made in 9-6, and the Yankees couldn’t muster anything much against Boston’s pen. So, the Red Sox are the owners of a shiny 1-6 record and we’ll try this again tomorrow.

In the meantime, pour some out for Manny, who was many things but certainly never dull.

Keep Me Hangin' On

It’s probably a little unfair to still be as wary as I am about AJ Burnett. Like his first start of the season, he pitched well enough, but I kept thinking it wasn’t the kind of dominating performance that would ease my mind about him; it still felt like things could’ve gone either way. They didn’t, though, and Burnett held things together, mixed his pitches well and didn’t implode when things went wrong. And at least, unlike the Mets’ Mike Pelfrey last night, he’s not actually gnawing on his own jersey between innings. That is never a good sign.

Burnett came out of the game having allowed 2 runs in 6 innings, with five hits, two walks and five strikeouts. No complaining about that, and I suspect he’s looking shakier to me – because of all my memories of last season – than he actually is. I guess that makes me the headcase in this situation.

Anyway, the Yankees offense was finally cooled a bit today in the early innings – by Francisco Liriano, which is nothing to be ashamed of – and when they broke through it was more on soft hits and base-by-base advancement than the fireworks we’ve seen in the early going this season. But hey, that’ll work too. Their first run came in the third, when Brett Gardner walked, stole second, advanced to third on Jeter’s groundout, and was sacrificed home by Nick Swisher. They added to that in the fourth, just after the Twins drew their only blood of the night from Burnett. Andruw Jones – who is looking better than I expected this season although a) that is not saying much and b) it is very early – doubled in Alex Rodriguez, Cano scored on Russel Martin’s groundout, and Gardner plated Jones with a well-placed soft little dunker.

In other news, Mark Teixeira did not his a three-run home run today. What gives, Mark?!

Things got tighter still in the seventh inning, when Joba Chamberlain allowed a run to make it 4-3 New York, helped by a rough Russel Martin throwing error. (Martin is not renowned as a defensive catcher, but he has at least played all-out so far, hurling himself over the Twins’ dugout railing in unsuccessful pursuit of a foul ball earlier in the game). The Yankees tried to add insurance in the bottom half of the inning – Nick Swisher took out Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka with a clean (… I think) but very hard slide trying to break up a double play, and the new Twin had to be helped off the field. The Bombers couldn’t get anyone across the plate, though, and I very much hope Nishioka’s injury isn’t serious. Swisher wasn’t really out of line, but still, that was some takeout and you hate to see someone get hurt like that, especially so early in the season.

Rafael Soriano, who you can bet your ass will be at his locker after today’s game, began the 8th walking Joe Mauer but got through the next three hitters with minimal fuss, and Mariano came in for the save with even, uh, minal-er fuss, as is his wont. 4-3 Yankees.

Also today, in the player name department: the Twins’ 6th inning was pitched by one “Jeff Manship.” He had an impressive 1-2-3 inning, but this does not change the fact that his name is Manship.

Finally: As of this writing, the Red Sox and Rays are both 0-6. That is just weird.

Baseball Player Name of the Week

There are quite a few excellent player names and nicknames involving “Bunny.” (Don’t ask how I got started on this). My favorites, in chronological order:

Bunny Brief, who played in 184 games over parts of 4 seasons from 1912 to 1917, and who was actually born Anthony John Grzeszkowski (neither Bunny-related, nor brief; discuss).

Bunny Fabrique, who played for the Brooklyn team (then the Robins) in 1916 and 1917, and who sounds from the name like a seductive French lingerie model.

Hugh “Bunny” High, onetime Yankee outfielder (1915-1918) and possibly the best player of the lot, though that’s not saying much – for some reason the real stars are rarely called “Bunny.”

And the last great baseball Bunny, Sylvester Bunny, who played in the minors from 1947 to 1948. Bunny has gone out of vogue as a name and a nickname since then, perhaps as players have gotten bigger and stronger and more intimidating when they told people to never ever call them Bunny.

There are also quite a few Ducks and Duckys, and one Delbert Duckworth, but I suppose that’s a post for another day.

Who Needs Pitching Anyway?

Anytime a pitcher has a season like A.J. Burnett did in 2010, you’re going to fret about him. Burnett’s performance tonight was somewhat reassuring, if short; but the guy’s recovering from a bad cold, and by the time he came out after five innings and 86 pitches (58 of them strikes),  having allowed three earned runs and struck out six, the Yankees had already put nine runs on the board. It was something he could build on. The Tigers chipped away later on, but even Luis Ayala could not quite give this one away, and the Yanks went on to a 10-6 win.

The Opening Day game was crisper, but today’s bludgeoning got the job done too. Brad Penny was fooling no one today. This was clear from the first inning, when Derek Jeter singled and advanced on a wild pitch, Mark Teixeira walked, A-Rod doubled, Cano singled, and Nick Swisher hit a sac fly to make it 3-0. In fact, Swisher would go on to be the only Yankee starter without at least one hit. The next big blow came the very next inning, on Mark Teixeira’s three-run homer — his second in two games. Guess those extra swings he took this spring worked out okay for him. It’s always fun to project trends from the first few games ahead into ludicrously impossible season numbers, so hey: Teixeira is on pace for 162 home runs and 486 RBIs!

Penny left after 4.1 innings and what is, for now, a 16.62 ERA. He got pulled after a Cano double and a Posada walk, with one out, but Russel Martin’s subsequent three-run homer off of Brad Martin gave Penny his 6th, 7th and 8th earned runs. Martin is wasting no time ingratiating himself, is he? Given the generally low expectations people had for him and how quickly he’s started contributing, I imagine he’s storing up quite a bit of fan goodwill for the season.

As for Burnett, he started strong with a one-two-three first, and got through the second scoreless despite a double (to Miguel Cabrera, so fair enough) and a wild pitch. In the third he allowed an Austin Jackson solo home run, then cruised through the fourth, but hit a wall and frayed in the fifth: three straight singles and a walk before he managed to get out of it, with two runs in. He said after the game that he’s been feeling lousy and ran out of stamina, so good for him for fighting through to the end of the inning. A respectable start, and I assume Girardi wanted to get him out of there on a positive note, in line for the win. I won’t argue with that.

Thursday we got the A-bullpen: Joba, Soriano, Mo. Today was more the JV squad. Dave Robertson got through an inning, and then Luis Ayala (who I predict is not long for this team) took care of two innings, but gave up two runs in the 8th (on a Victor Martinez home run) to make it 10-5 Yanks. Boone Logan [obligatory beard-link] was next up, and he got himself into a little bit of a scrape: a walk, a single, a groundout, and a run-scoring throwing error by Eduardo Nunez, which… Eduardo: do you think you’re on the team for your bat? C’mon kid. Anyway, the tying run still wasn’t on base, but at this point Girardi decided not to mess around even a little, and summoned Mariano Rivera to face Miguel Cabrera for the last out. One ground ball out later, and the Yanks are 2-0 in 2011.

I have many serious doubts about the Yankee rotation, but that offense is nothing to sneeze at, and I expect it’ll win them a healthy number of games no matter which sacrificial lamb of a fifth starter gets tied to the mound.

At Long Last Love

After the long  winter we just had, I would have watched the game happy as a clam (well, a slightly grumpy clam) even if the Yanks had been blown out of the water. Instead, C.C. Sabathia pushed through a cold and slightly awkward start, the Yankees wore down Justin Verlander, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson put in early bids for their bounceback years, and the Yanks started 2011 with a nice 6-3 win over the Tigers.

The game began with the soothing routine of Opening Day traditions – the introduction of both teams (which made me miss Bob Sheppard, suddenly and sharply – I especially wanted to hear him say “Luis Ayala”), the fighter-jet flyover – I heard them on their way back here in Brooklyn – and a first pitch thrown out by Mike Mussina, who is now literally an Old Graybeard, three years into his retirement. His pitch, if you were wondering, was a little high but reached the plate free and easy. I miss him too.

For his part, Sabathia wasn’t in his full-on dominant ace mode, but he fought through to a quality start. A bases-loaded sac fly to Jhonny Peralta got the Tigers on the board in the second, a Brandon Inge single scored Miguel Cabrera to make it 3-2 in the 4th, and messy inning that included a Robbie Cano error and a number of lucky bounces tied the game an inning later. The Yankees kept tacking on, though, while their pen shut Detroit down. If the Yankees are going to win a lot of games this year, I imagine this will be a familiar pattern.

There were lots of good signs today. The lineup at a whole showed the usual Yankee patience. The bullpen was just about perfect, including Joba and pricey newbie Rafael Soriano, and of course Mo – now rockin’ the high socks – was Mo. A-Rod hit a long double that might well have been a homer with different weather. Russell “Hustle” Martin singled, stole third, and later reached on a throwing error and scored on a short sac fly, good to see from a guy who was criticized by many, including himself, for his lack of focus in LA at times.

Granderson made at least three excellent plays in center, including a diving catch in the 1st and an over-the-shoulder beauty in the ninth, and I was wincing for his oblique but he seems to have come through just fine. Add to that his 7th-inning go-ahead home run, and he wins the game ball. Incidentally, the homer he hit in the 7th – a long one to the same are as mark Teixeria’s – was off Phil Coke, who was part of the trade that brought him here last year, and is now taking full advantage of the Tigers’ facial hair and grooming policies.

Fun fact: According to Ken Singleton, Brett Gardner invited Kevin Long over for Thanksgiving dinner this past year. Long had plans with his own family so couldn’t go, but: awww.

Welcome back, everyone.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow


I question the wisdom of having Opening Day on a Thursday at 1 pm, when most people can’t watch it. But, since I’ll be working from home tomorrow, I don’t question it too hard – the sooner the better. The Knicks suck, I don’t have a horse in the NCAA tournament, football is all horrifying brain injuries and labor disputes. GET HERE ALREADY, BASEBALL.

I went on record yesterday as predicting the Yanks to finish a respectable 3rd in the AL East, though I’m not as pessimistic as that may sound; I expect them to be a good, competitive team, just maybe not quite good and competitive enough. On the plus side, I also have C.C. Sabathia and Robinson Cano in the top three for Cy Young and MVP, respectively. I think it’ll be an entertaining season, which is what I mostly care about,

Things I’m most looking forward to:

  • Mariano Rivera. The one Yankee who is never overhyped, just that damn good.
  • Curtis Granderson. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought into all the fuss about his improved swing at the end of last season (small sample size and all), but I did, and I’m looking for a big season from him this year. Even if that doesn’t happen, the guy is extremely likable, so he should be fun to root for.
  • Robbie Cano. I don’t know if he’ll keep getting better – and that would be a lot to ask for since he’s already plenty good enough – but this is the first year, I think, that going in I’ve considered Cano to be a real first-tier star and not just a talented and promising youngster. A good second baseman who’s also a legit middle-of-the-lineup masher is a precious thing.
  • A healthy A-Rod in, possibly, one of the last years he’s young enough to make that contract seem like a good one. I don’t think he’ll be bad or anything, going forward – just a bit diminished with age (and aren’t we all?). I know better than to read anything into spring training numbers, but let’s just say it looks like Rodriguez is feeling pretty good right now. And that makes me rub my hands together like an old movie villain.
  • Brett Gardner. I keep waiting for him to crash back to earth… but maybe he won’t? Is he actually this good? How much more does he need to show before I start believing it?

There are also, of course, a few things I have a bad feeling about:

  • Ivan Nova. See, I’m not including Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon here, because everyone expects a fifth starter to be lousy. But Nova is in a position where, if he can’t give the team at least a solidly mediocre start, those losses are going to hurt. I think Nova could be solid in a relief role but that six good innings from him on a regular basis is too much to ask for; but the thing that gives me hope here is that he’s only 24 and threw well at AAA last year. Still, I miss Pettitte already.
  • Catcher/Backup catcher. Gustavo Molina is such an incredibly awful hitter that we will all rejoice when Francisco Cervelli turns up again, hopefully in a month or so. But then we will remember that – much as I like the guy’s effort and energy and persona – he can’t hit either, except as compared to Molina. That’s fine and dandy for a BUC, but meanwhile, Russell Martin is no Jorge Posada – not with the bat and, so far in his career at least, not with the work ethic. We’ve all been spoiled by watching a borderline Hall of Famer catch the last decade-plus, and I think we’re about to realize just how much.
  • Joba. For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

This was a long damn winter. Good, bad, whatever, bring on the baseball. And if, like me, Little Orphan Annie isn’t really your style, try this:

2011 New York Yankees, Assemble

Well, the Yankees pretty much have their team together now — yesterday they crossed most of their t’s and dotted the bulk of their i’s.

Eric Chavez? In.

Edward Nunez? More reluctantly in.

Austin Romine and The Jesus? Minors, AA and AAA respectively.

Gustavo Molina? In, and may god have mercy on your soul.

Mark Prior? To A-ball, for the weather.

Romulo Sanchez? Sold to a Japanese team.

Ronnie Belliard? Fed to the sarlacc.

Things will change, of course, especially this year. I don’t know which of Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova will spend all season with the Yankees, but I very much doubt it will be all three. And this Molina situation (that’s what I insist on calling it – “this Molina situation” or “this Molina issue”) is very much temporary. I really like the Eric Chavez signing, and I like that Edward Nunez will not, barring disaster, see much playing time. The core of the Yankees is another story althogher  – we’ll get a lot of C.C. Sabathia and Robbie Cano and so forth, with just a soupçon of Colon. If you will.

Still: the Yankees’ fringes are quite fringe-y this year, aren’t they? I suppose not much more than usual – but having the two rotation spots to plug up somehow rather than the standard one does give the roster a bit of a different feel.

I’m guessing this won’t be a popular choice in these here parts, but in my preseason picks for Baseball Prospectus and The Daily, I had the Red Sox winning the division and the Rays getting the Wild Card, with the Yankees coming in a respectable third. I could easily be wrong, of course – I very often am  – and I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if the Yanks finished better than that. I don’t think they’ll be a bad team, by any stretch – it’s just that the AL East is so tough, and looking at the Yanks’ pitching, I don’t see it being enough.

I’m sure looking forward to finding out, though.

Beware of Molinas, Part 17: The Molina Is Coming From INSIDE THE HOUSE!

While no formal announcement has been made, it sounds like Gustavo Molina will probably start the year as the Yanks’ backup catcher. He’s not one of those Molinas, but he is a catching Molina (it’s not just about blood) and I am therefore wary. The Yankees would have some valid reasons for choosing him: Montero and Romine aren’t ready behind the plate and would be better served by playing every day, and Molina is an excellent defensive catcher.

In fact I’ve never seen Molina play – but you know how I know he’s an excellent defensive catcher? Because, in his major league career, he has hit .122/.158/.146 with zero home runs and an OPS+ of -19. Yeah. They’re not keeping him around for his bat.

Of course, his “major league career” is only 23 games and 45 plate appearances over four years. If you look at his minor league numbers, over 11 seasons, they are significantly better — but still pretty lousy. I never expected to miss Francisco Cervelli so very much. But it’s spring, and a new season, and a time of optimism and hope generally, so who knows? Maybe Molina will guide Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett to success while improving his batting average to something crazy like .200. Stranger things have happened. Probably.

Then again if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times… beware of Molinas, dammit.

Baseball Player Name of the Week

I got a DM on Twitter today from a respectable print journalist who, in the course of researching Brett Gardner, came across one of his baseball-reference player comps named:

Johnny Dickshot.

Dickshot played mostly for Pittsburgh and the White Sox in the 30s and 40s. To make matters worse, Johnny’s nickname was “Ugly”. So, yes, Ugly Dickshot. I do like that apparently I am the person you get in touch with when you find a player with Dick in his name. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Rotation Issues: SOLVED!

… in all seriousness, while I doubt Millwood will help the Yankees or anyone else much this season, this is one of those can’t-hurt deals.

Yankees Roundup

One week til opening day, kids.

First of all: My dream last night involved Luis Castillo as a malevolent Warwick-Davis style Leprechaun. Should I be concerned? I think probably so.

The big news today is actually not quite news yet, but it does seem likely: reading the tea leaves, it looks as though the Yankees are going to go with Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia as their fourth and fifth starters, with Colon possibly in the bullpen as a long reliever. While I’m annoyed because all those Colon jokes I had ready are less relevant now, if this is the way the team goes, I think it makes sense. Colon had a much better spring, but we’ve all seen over the years that spring training stats mean very little – and if you look back over the much-larger sample size of a few years, Garcia is clearly the safer, more reliable bet. From Girardi’s comments in that NY Post article, it sounds like he was the strong favorite before spring training even started. Keep in mind that nothing is official yet. But it’s almost like Colon didn’t have a clear… oh, never mind.

Meanwhile, via Hardball Talk, Buck Showalter got a bit catty towards the Yankees and Red Sox in an interview with Men’s Journal, which I presume is one of those “let’s fire up the team” efforts (although: Men’s Journal? Is that really the place?). I have to say, however, that his criticism of Derek Jeter, while uncalled for, was not inaccurate:

“The first time we went to Yankee Stadium, I screamed at Derek Jeter from the dugout. Our guys are thinking, ‘Wow, he’s screaming at Jeter.’ Well, he’s always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets – and yes, he [ticks] me off.”

Well, yeah… Jeter TOTALLY does do that. It doesn’t bother me at all – he’s trying to get the call and get on base and more power to him. But, yes, I think we’ve all seen a ball cross over the inner corner of the plate as Jeter leaps back as though it were about to nail him in the hip. I can see where if you were an opposing pitcher or manager, this particular move from Captain Intangibles might drive you a little nuts. Personally I appreciate the effort.

Finally, Don Zimmer is extremely old. You knew that. I however did not know that now, in his 63rd consecutive year in professional baseball, Zim is likely just a year away from tying Connie Mack for what is – so far as anyone can figure –  the longer straight baseball career ever. Like so many other managers and coaches, Zimmer left the Yankees on bad terms thanks to clashes with George Steinbrenner, but I’ll always have fond memories of him perched next to Torre during all those World Series wins. What’s particularly nifty is that fans from seven different decades have their own fond memories of him.

Remember the helmet? That’s the first thing I always think of when I think of Don Zimmer.

The Catch

Photo from The Star-Ledger

After all the playing time he got this spring, I figured Jesus Montero was likely to start the season with the Yankees while Francisco Cervelli (you remember him) was on the DL. But the Daily News talked to Brian Cashman and, well, it doesn’t sound like that’s the case:

“He hasn’t played well recently,” Cashman said after watching Montero catch in Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Orioles. “He’s better than what he’s shown recently, catching-wise.

“He’s been struggling with the bat, and I don’t know if it’s cause-and-effect. I just know that last year he didn’t start catching well (in Triple-A) until he started hitting. And from June on, both went through the roof.”

I’d say this continues Cashman’s offseason pattern of being just a liiiiiittle bit too honest with the media; but if the Yankees were planning on having Montero start with the major league team, this wouldn’t seem to be a particularly helpful thing to say. Austin Romine may be better defensively but he has even less experience than Montero, and Gustavo Molina was an afterthought to even Cervelli, so to me this says that Montero must REALLY not be able to catch, at least not yet. Which is what most non-Yankee scouts and prospect experts have been saying all along, after all.

The team now has a few more eggs in the Russell Martin basket than I would personally be comfortable with. And while I have to assume they have reasons for not having Posada catch even a single game this spring, I don’t feel like I really know what those reasons are. Not that Jorge is any defensive whiz himself, of course, but after all he was their catcher as recently as October. (Concussion concerns would be an absolutely valid justification, but the Yankees haven’t confirmed that as their reasoning).

No easy answers here, apparently. What would you do? What Would Jesus (Montero) Do?

What Was That About Oliver Perez?

Right on cue…

It only makes sense for the Yankees to discuss Perez – they need pitching, and are probably discussing just about everyone who’s available – but I also sincerely doubt it’ll go any farther than casual discussion, given how miserable his last few years have been, and that his velocity is way down on top of everything else (and he never was a control guy). Of course even if they did it would be a relatively low-risk major-league minimum signing… but… [shudder]. Presumably Cashman’s lack of enthusiasm is on account of his functional human brain. But I’m confident this won’t come close to happening, so let’s all shake off that mental image and try to feel warm again.

I was at Shea for the Village Voice during the 2006 playoffs and I remember being so impressed by how well Perez and John Maine handled being abruptly thrust into the high pressure spotlight of the playoff rotation. Perez started two games in the NLCS, and ended up giving up 6 runs over 11 2-3 innings with seven Ks and one walk – not spectacular, but solid under the circumstances. For a little while there it really seemed like Omar Minaya had stolen him from Pittsburgh. Anyway, I have no strong sense of Perez’s personality; he’s been villified unfairly because of the contract and his poor performance,  but that’s baseball, and then maybe a bit fairly for his refusal to help the Mets by agreeing to a minor league assignment last season. But regardless it must be very hard for men like him and Maine to have so much potential fail to develop, whether because of health or simply the ever-shifting difficulty of the game. And yes, I bet $12 million a year takes the edge off, but there’s no way it’s not still painful.

Having now expressed the requisite empathy, I’ll just reiterate that this man should not be allowed within 200 feet of the Yankees.

Scapegoats Head Soup

Brace yourselves.

Today the Mets finally released Oliver Perez, and there was much rejoicing.  Perez, who was heading into his third year of a horrid contract, and two and a half years as a punchline about the recent Mets administrations’ ineptitude, joins fellow scapegoat Luis Castillo, who was released Friday and promptly picked up by the Phillies (whose fantastic pitching staff will have to hope the grounders they induce avoid second base). Both Castillo and Perez were the targets of intense fan dislike, which was thoroughly earned from a baseball perspective though not from a personal one. Castillo was often accused of being sulky or half-assed when, in fact, he simply had no working knees. Neither he nor Perez can be blamed for taking the ludicrous contracts Omar Minaya offered them, but you also can’t blame Mets fans for their palpable relief at no longer having to watch those two.

Anyway, certain players on certain teams are destined to be the butt of jokes, the target of fans’ unhappiness. I bring this up because the Yankees are primed to have a few of those this year. Though there is obviously a major difference in that none of these new players have especially large or unreasonable contracts –and so shouldn’t garner the level of contempt that Perez of Castillo did — don’t wait too long to get your Colon jokes ready. When you have three real major league starters and are just hoping to get by in the last two rotations spots, you’re going to have some clunkers. Clunkers are an enjoyable part of the game too, though, if you can bring the right expectations and attitude to it. I know as someone writing about the games, I am grateful to Tony Womack and Sir Sidney Ponson for the material.

This has been coming since that fateful week Cliff Lee decided to head to Phillie and Andy Pettitte decided to saty in Texas. The Yankees haven’t named their 4 or 5 starters yet, less than two weeks before the season starts, but if I had to guess I’d say we’re looking at Ivan Nova and Bartolo Colon, who seem to have  the edge over Sergio Mitre and Freddy Garcia. And there’s no way those two will stay in those spots all season, so there’s more to come. Once in a while you get an Aaron Small or Gustavo Chacin – sometimes you even get both at once! – but mostly you don’t. And that’s okay. Even the Yankees have to make due with baseball’s scrap heap sometimes.

I’m reminded of a tale from some baseball book or other that I was reading, years ago, about minor league life. A coach was described who would always console struggling players with comforting words along the lines of, “Relax, kid, don’t blame yourself – blame the dopey scout who signed you”. Yes, it’s important not to make things unduly personal. The Yanks are going to deal with some clunkers this year, no way arund it. But if we approach this in the right spirit I think we can have some fun.

So, what do you think – who will we be making agonized jokes about come June?

"Reasons to Watch"

I’m working on an MLB season preview right now for one of my other gigs, and as part of that I need to have three “Reasons to Watch” for every team. For some, they’re easy to come up with (How will Albert Pujols do in his walk year? Can the Phillies rotation possibly meet epectations?), and in other cases more challenging (the Pirates. Can I say “masochism”?). But for me, it actually may have been trickiest coming up with reasons for the Yankees. It was sort of a forest-for-the-trees effect: I follow them closely enough that things like their 4th- and 5th-rotation slot battles are items of major interest, but I have to remember that the average baseball fan and even the casual yankee fan probably does not give much of a damn wither the 5th starter is Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon or your aunt Sally. For me, just about everything is a reason to watch: I want to see if Robinson Cano can keept up last year’s torrid pace, if Mark Teixeira can avoid his usual lousy April, if A-Rod’s improved hip leads to another monster season from him, I want to see Mariano Rivera because few things in our imperfect world are so reliably lovely. In fact, I ended up picking for my list Derek Jeter’s upcoming 3,000th hit, which is probably one of the few things that is not really a reason to watch for me. Or, rather, I do want to see Jeter hit 3,000, but I’m dreading the accompanying media hype, which I’m afraid will make the whole run-up to the event itself more or less unbearable.

I think in the end I’ll go with Jeter’s 3,000th hit, Jesus Montero, and Mariano. But I was curious to see what other people would have gone with. If you had to pick three “Reasons to Watch” the Yanks this season, what would they be?


You know I’m very fond of the Mets, but this, their St. Patty’s Day hat design, is the creepiest thing seen on a baseball field since Dandy, the aborted Yankees mascot of the 80s:

Shudder. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone – now RUN FOR YOUR LIVES before Mr. Leprechaun Met comes to kill you for stealing his pot o’ gold.

[Insert Bernie Madoff joke here].

Japan's Baseball Teams Debate When To Start Their Season

The Eagles' home field in Sendai, via japanesebaseballstadiums.com

I read on Hardball Talk this morning that Japan’s baseball league, the NPB, is trying to decide when to start their season, which was originally scheduled for March 25th. Per the Yakyu Baka blog, it sounds as if the Central League wants to start on time, while the Pacific League wants to postpone the games, and they haven’t yet been able to reach an agreement. Exhibition games have already been canceled; The Rakuten Golden Eagles’ stadium in Sendai, near the epicenter of the earthquake, is obviously not ready for games, and neither is the Chiba Lotte Marines’, which sustained liquification under its parking lot and plumbing damage. The Eagles’ future is uncertain in many ways, and night games could be tricky all over the country, since the government has asked everyone to conserve electricity whenever possible.

Obviously, this is hardly Japan’s biggest concern right now. I’ve felt a little weird writing about silly baseball stuff all week with everything that’s happening there; but that’s my job, and it’s not like anything I write can help anyway. Anyway, this news seems like an opportunity to acknowledge, again, that while we will certainly continue to write about Kyle Farnsworth, we at the Banter are still very much thinking about Japan.

The only thing from my own baseball life that I can think to compare the NPB’s situation to is September 11th, and the tragedy in Japan is on a larger scale than even that, particularly considering the ongoing nuclear emergency (which is terrifying to read about). I don’t think there is necessarily a right or wrong answer as to when to start the season. There is nothing wrong with waiting, out of either respect or just practical necessity, to say nothing of safety concerns. That said, I know I felt just a little bit better on September 17th in 2001 when baseball came back, and a little bit better yet on the 21st when it came back to New York (and yes, that Mike Piazza home run made me cry). Maybe, in Japan, this is one of those times when all the emotion people invest in the game can pay off in some larger way… then again, maybe not. Players and front office personnel in Japan are torn, and they would know better than I do.

Rays Update: Hair, Catwalks, and Kyle Farnsworth With A Crossbow

These days, the Rays are the Yankees’ rivals every bit as much as the Red Sox are. So in the know-your-enemy spirit, and given all the renewed Rays interest sparked by friend-of-the-Banter Jonah Keri’s new book “The Extra 2%,” I figured I’d gather up some recent developments down in Tampa.


First of all, Rays manager Joe Maddon is awesome. I’m sorry, but he is. I loved his golf pants efforts last season, and he’s still in full support of his players getting goofy with their personal appearance:

I might have preferred to get an “almost” in there before the “wherever,” but I applaud the sentiment. Although I think we’ve all seen by now that ballplayers hardly need much encouragement to grow fantastically horrible facial hair.

Last season, Maddon complained when the Trop’s bizarre house rules cost the Rays a run, after a pop-up hit one of those oddly placed catwalks and went for a single–saying the team needed “a real baseball field.” He subsequently apologized to the injured party via Twitter:

“most recent whine was my getting on Trop roof, have since apologized to said roof and r now on much better terms, maybe best ever…”   RaysJoeMaddon

Now, the Trop’s bizarre, byzantine ground rules are changing… or, rather, changing back to what they were before last fall’s Division Series. TampaBay.com explains, sort of:

At the request of Major League Baseball, the 2011 regular season ground rules pertaining to the catwalks at Tropicana Field will revert back to the language that was used during 2010 regular season. Tropicana Field’s ground rules were changed prior to the 2010 American League Division Series. 2011 Tropicana Field Ground Rules.

– Ball lodging on, under or in the bullpen seating area: OUT OF PLAY. A ball is deemed to be lodged when it goes in or behind equipment or seating or, in the umpire’s judgment, is deemed otherwise unplayable.
– Ball enters the bullpen seating area and rebounds out of the seating area: IN PLAY.
– Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over fair territory:
– Batted ball that strikes either of the lower two catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory: HOME RUN.
– Batted ball that is not judged a home run and remains on a catwalk, light or suspended object: TWO BASES.
– Batted ball that is not judged a home run and strikes a catwalk, light or suspended object in fair territory shall be judged fair or foul in relation to where it strikes the ground or is touched by a fielder. If caught by fielder, batter is out and runners advance at own risk.
– Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over foul territory: DEAD BALL
Previous rule:
– Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over fair territory:
– Batted ball that strikes either of the lower two catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory:
– Batted ball that strikes either of the upper catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory: DEAD BALL and the pitch does not count. Any declaration of an Infield Fly after the hit shall be nullified.

You know what, Maddon was right the first time: that team does need to get themselves a real ballpark. Damn.

Finally, a Marc Topkin profile of our old frenemy and current devilish Ray Kyle Fransworth last week turned up several facts about the man of which I was not aware:

  • He lives in the Disney owned and operated town of Celebration, Florida.
  • He is a non-practicing Mormon.
  • He has been sober for the last two years, after some hard drinking in his younger days.

The article’s overall tone is generally one of “oh look, he’s not actually that terrifying, he bakes holiday cookies!” but it undercuts that point with details like this:

Farnsworth’s 2003 technically perfect pursuit, tackle and takedown, plus subsequent pummeling, of Reds pitcher Paul Wilson — captured in photographs and still-popular video — remains his greatest hit, though a similar 2005 tussle with Royals reliever Jeremy Affeldt is close.

“He went crazy wanting to fight everyone,” said Affeldt, now with the Giants. “I’ve been in the weight room with him after that working out, and there’s no bitterness. It’s like it never happened. Kind of weird.”


That competitiveness and machismo thread runs through everything he does: high-intensity workouts, martial arts training, marksmanship, paint ball and his beloved hunting, as he switched from gun to crossbow five years ago to make it more challenging as he pursues deer, turkey and hogs on his 2,500-acre plot in Georgia that is his favorite getaway.

Sober cookie-baking Disney mormon or not, the image of Kyle Farnsworth running after a hog with a frigging crossbow is quite a vivid one.

Eddie Gaedel's Great-Nephew Plays Ball

Bill Veeck’s Veeck as in Wreck is one of my favorite baseball books, and one of my favorite passages is his hilarious, delighted description of the time he sent little person Eddie Gaedel up to bat as a publicity stunt. Obviously, the idea of exploiting a little person for entertainment sits less a bit less well with us these days, and there are a few parts of the story that make me cringe. But Veeck’s account is without malice – he is simply thrilled to be getting around baseball’s rules and upsetting the game’s more stuffy, self-serious types. There’s an excerpt online, and you should click as fast as your fingers can manage to read the whole thing if you haven’t already, but here’s the setup:

Eddie came to us in a moment of desperation. Not his desperation, ours. After a month or so in St. Louis, we were looking around desperately for a way to draw a few people into the ball park, it being perfectly clear by that time that the ball club wasn’t going to do it unaided. The best bet seemed to be to call upon the resources of our radio sponsors, Falstaff Brewery. For although Falstaff only broadcast our games locally, they had distributors and dealers all over the state.

It happened that 1951 was the Fiftieth Anniversary of the American League, an event the league was exploiting with its usual burst of inspiration by sewing special emblems on the uniforms of all the players. It seemed to me that a birthday party was clearly called for. It seemed to me, further, that if I could throw a party to celebrate the birthdays of both the American League and Falstaff Brewery, the sponsors would be getting a nice little tie-in and we would have their distributors and dealers hustling tickets for us all over the state. Nobody at Falstaff’s seemed to know exactly when their birthday was, but that was no great problem. If we couldn’t prove it fell on the day we chose, neither could anyone prove that it didn’t. The day we chose was a Sunday doubleheader against the last-place Detroit Tigers, a struggle which did not threaten to set the pulses of the city beating madly. Rudie Schaffer, the Browns’ business manager, and I met with the Falstaff people—Mr. Griesedieck Sr., the head of the company, Bud and Joe Griesedieck and their various department heads—to romance our project. “In addition to the regular party, the acts and so on,” I told Bud, “I’ll do something for you that I have never done before. Something so original and spectacular that it will get you national publicity.”

Naturally, they pressed me for details. Naturally, I had to tell them that much as I hated to hold out on them, my idea was so explosive I could not afford to take the slightest chance of a leak.

The Falstaff people, romantics all, went for it. They were so anxious to find out what I was going to do that they could hardly bear to wait out the two weeks. I was rather anxious to find out what I was going to do, too. The real reason I had not been willing to let them in on my top-secret plan was that I didn’t have any plan.

What can I do, I asked myself, that is so spectacular that no one will be able to say he had seen it before? The answer was perfectly obvious. I would send a midget up to bat.

Actually, the idea of using a midget had been kicking around in my head all my life. I have frequently been accused of stealing the idea from a James Thurber short story, “You Could Look It Up.” Sheer libel. I didn’t steal the idea from Thurber, I stole it from John J. McGraw.

As Veeck had hoped, Gaedel’s strike zone was “just about visible to the naked eye.”

In the second game, we started Frank Saucier in place of our regular center fielder, Jim Delsing. This is the only part of the gag I’ve ever felt bad about. Saucier was a great kid whom I had personally talked back into the game when I bought the Browns. Everything went wrong for Frank, and all he has to show for his great promise is that he was the only guy a midget ever batted for.

For as we came up for our half of the first inning, Eddie Gaedel emerged from the dugout waving three little bats. “For the Browns,” said Bernie Ebert over the loudspeaker system, “number one-eighth, Eddie Gaedel, batting for Saucier.”

Suddenly, the whole park came alive. Suddenly, my honored guests sat upright in their seats. Suddenly, the sun was shining. Eddie Hurley, the umpire behind the plate, took one look at Gaedel and started toward our bench. “Hey,” he shouted out to Taylor, “what’s going on here?”

Zack came out with a sheaf of papers. He showed Hurley Gaedel’s contract. He showed him the telegram to headquarters, duly promulgated with a time stamp. He even showed him a copy of our active list to prove that we did have room to add another player.

Hurley returned to home plate, shooed away the photographers who had rushed out to take Eddie’s picture and motioned the midget into the batter’s box. The place went wild. Bobby Cain, the Detroit pitcher, and Bob Swift, their catcher, had been standing peacefully for about 15 minutes, thinking unsolemn thoughts about that jerk Veeck and his gags. I will never forget the look of utter disbelief that came over Cain’s face as he finally realized that this was for real.

I learned today (through Keith Law) that Gaedel’s great-nephew Kyle Gaedele is a 6’4″  junior outfielder at Valparaiso University. This made my day significantly brighter. He hit .373 last year and led the conference in hits and total bases, and while I don’t know what that really means in the “Horizon League,” it sounds pretty good to me. I wish Bill Veeck was around to sign the kid, because you know he wouldn’t hesitate for a second.

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