"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Miseducation of Alex Rodriguez


J. R. Moehringer on Alex Rodriguez:

PEOPLE HATE HIM. Boy, wow, do they hate him. At first they loved him, and then they were confused by him, and then they were irritated by him, and now they straight-up loathe.

More often than not, the mention of Alex Rodriguez in polite company triggers one of a spectrum of deeply conditioned responses. Pained ugh. Guttural groan. Exaggerated eye roll. Hundreds of baseball players have been caught using steroids, including some of the game’s best-known and most beloved names, but somehow Alex Rodriguez has become the steroid era’s Lord Voldemort. Ryan Braun? Won an MVP, got busted for steroids, twice, called the tester an anti-Semite, lied his testes off, made chumps of his best friends, including Aaron Rodgers, and still doesn’t inspire a scintilla of the ill will that follows Rodriguez around like a nuclear cloud.

Schadenfreude is part of the reason. Rodriguez was born with an embarrassment of physical riches — power, vision, energy, size, speed — and seemed designed specifically for immortality, as if assembled in some celestial workshop by baseball angels and the artists at Marvel Comics. He then had the annoyingly immense good fortune to come of age at the exact moment baseball contracts were primed to explode. Months after he was old enough to rent a car he signed a contract worth $252 million. Seven years later: another deal worth $275 million. Add to that windfall another $500 million worth of handsome, and people were just waiting. Fans will root for a megarich athlete who’s also ridiculously handsome (body by Rodin, skin like melted butterscotch, eyes of weaponized hazelness), but the minute he stumbles, just ask Tom Brady, they’ll stand in line to kick him in his spongy balls.

Rodriguez’s defenders (and employees) are quick to say: Sheesh, the guy didn’t murder anybody. But he did. A-Rod murdered Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod brutally kidnapped and replaced the virginal, bilingual, biracial boy wonder, the chubby-cheeked phenom with nothing but upside. A-Rod killed the radio star, and his fall from grace disrupted the whole symbology and mythopoesis of what it means to be a superhero athlete in modern America.

[Image Via: Mark Murphy]

Move On Up


The Dodgers are the first team to advance to the championship series. Over at ESPN, Howard Bryant has a long piece on the rebuilding of a once-proud franchise:

For Johnson, being in the ownership circle is new in baseball, but not new personally. Johnson sold both his equity stakes in Starbucks Coffee and in the Lakers at least in part to finance joining Guggenheim’s bid. Internally, Johnson did not want to be patronized, the athlete, especially the African-American athlete, who lends his name to a venture and then has little say in its operation. In one of his first meetings with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Johnson convinced the chain to remake its food menu at the Harlem restaurants because while the African-American clientele would purchase coffee like any other consumer, “Black people,” Johnson told Schultz, “don’t eat scones.” It was a small but shrewd example of the different lens Johnson brought to the table.

“I want to show these athletes and entertainers that we can be owners,” Johnson said. “Now, going in with Stan and Mark and Todd has been a great experience, but I want them to respect me, too. And the way you get that respect is to write a check. And not to say they wouldn’t if I didn’t, but the real respect comes from when you’ve got skin in the game. And that’s what it’s been for all my partnerships. Howard Schultz [said] if I didn’t write the check, he wasn’t going to do that deal with Starbucks. Go down the line. [Late Lakers owner] Dr. [Jerry] Buss told me, ‘Hey, I love you like a son, but you have to write a check.’

“When you have to write a $50 million check, you have to say, ‘OK, is the investment going to pay off? Is it the right move? Is it the right decision?’ ” Johnson said. “To me, your name is not enough. And I’ll say it because first of all I think that fans react different. The players act different. The players when they’re alone are saying, ‘What? Magic wrote a check?’ So they understand that, and it’s also different for me because I want to make sure I make it right, make sure it goes the way of our strategy. I want to be part of the strategy. I want to be a part of everything. I’ve never not written a check. I want to be invested in the deal. I want everyone to look at me as a real owner and not just some guy who put his name on it.”

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.

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.


Three Men and a Broadcast

"Mem'ries, like the corners of my mind..."

I missed it in all the hubbub about Brian Cashman’s holiday festiveness/long-awaited mental breakdown, but ESPN announced its replacements for Joe Morgan and Jon Miller yesterday: Bobby Valentine, Dan Shulman, and Orel Hershiser. As, you’ll recall, no fan of Morgan, I am cautiously optimistic.

I was impressed by Hershiser’s work in the shadow of Miller and Morgan last year; I thought that he brought some good solid analysis to the table, and with considerably less bluster than his co-hosts. As for Shulman, I know I must have watched games he’s called before, but I can’t really recall any distinct impressions of the man. Quick Googling reveals that he wears glasses and is Canadian, so clearly we can assume he’s smart and reasonable.

Meanwhile, my fondness for Bobby V turned to pure love the moment he pulled his Groucho glasses stunt, and what I read about his time in Japan a few years ago just reinforced that. Not to mention that, according to him, he invented the wrap sandwich, which should probably put him in the Hall of Fame just by itself. My only concern is that Valentine will dial it down too much on national TV – he never got too wacky or inventive on Baseball Tonight last year, holding back the full force of his personality. But if he can relax and let himself cut loose on camera, he’ll be great, a natural performer.

I only wish I had time to whip up a photoshop image of Shulman, Valentine, and Hershiser’s heads transferred onto the bodies of Ted Danson, Tom Selleck, and Steve Guttenberg. Get on that, please, internet.

Happy Trails, Joe

Margo Channing had her Eve Harrington. McMurphy had his Nurse Ratched. John McClane had his Hans Gruber.

Every protagonist needs a good villain… and we, the baseball geeks,  just lost an excellent foil in the form of one Joe “Fire Joe Morgan” Morgan.

I’m sure there are people out there — indeed, lots of people — who enjoyed Joe Morgan’s work as an announcer on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. But I don’t know many of them; I don’t think we read the same blogs. For years and years, even before I discovered Bill James and Baseball Prospectus and, of course, the great Fire Joe Morgan, I rolled my eyes at Morgan on Sunday nights. He was a great, great player and is by all accounts a smart man (also a Hall of Famer and the winner of every conceivable baseball award, as you may have heard him mention weekly for the last two decades), but he has the intellectual curiosity of a halibut. He had a pomposity and a petrified worldview that was impervious to questioning or new ideas. Among the writers I read often, Craig Calcaterra was the only one to offer a semi-defense, if you count “Morgan annoyed me, but never so much that I’d celebrate his departure. Mostly because, for as wrong as he could be at times, he was fairly easy to ignore” as a semi-defense. That Craig didn’t feel compelled to mute Morgan, merely tune him out, is the nicest thing I’ve read about the guy’s announcing in years.

Nietzsche wrote that “He who lives by fighting with an enemy has an interest in the preservation of that enemy’s life”. Of course, he also wrote “Out of damp and gloomy days, out of solitude, out of loveless words directed at us, conclusions grow up in us like fungus: one morning they are there, we know not how, and they gaze upon us, morose and gray.” So let’s not get too carried away with the Nietzsche, but I think that point’s well taken here. Everyone needs a good bad guy, and for baseball fans who were interested in sabermetrics and advanced stats and research (or at least respected those things), Morgan was perfectly cast. He was wealthy and famous and popular enough that you didn’t have to feel guilty about skewering him – not like some random beat writer, who you’d feel bad about ganging up on. And his counterarguments were not exactly reasoned and convincing, as can be seen in this immortal exchange he had with Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs more than five years ago now, recounted in a classic SF Weekly story:

[Craggs]:It seems that you almost take [the book] personally.

Joe:I took it personally because they had a personal thing about me saying Durham should’ve stolen second base in the game that they lost — he stayed at first base, and they hit three fly balls, and the A’s lose another fifth game.

[Craggs]: And that’s the chief reason you don’t even wanna read the book?

Joe:I don’t read books like that. I didn’t read Bill James’ book, and you said he was complimenting me. Why would I wanna read a book about a computer, that gives computer numbers?

[Craggs]:It’s not about a computer.

Joe: Well, I’m not reading the book, so I wouldn’t know.

I remember reading that story when it was published, and after that Joe Morgan wasn’t just another announcer I ignored or rolled my eyes at; he was the face of the enemy. Not in a personal sense; of course I have nothing against Joe Morgan, as a person, and wish him a long and happy life. But he had taken a stand against learning, or reading, or even having a conversation about new ideas, and he had done it in a particularly boneheaded way. He came to symbolize a way of thinking that drives me, and — judging by the comments here all season, every season — many of you right up the wall. But now that Morgan’s gotten the hook, who embodies what I want to argue against? Surely no one with as broad and loud a platform, so much money and influence, no one who will make it so much fun to play the righteous underdog. So yes, I think in a perverse way, I’m really going to miss Joe Morgan.

Sandy Alderson has assembled a super-Moneyball team over in Queens and is being showered with praise, and Morgan’s only real anti-SABR peer, former New York Times columnist Murray Chass, is off in a basement somewhere writing a blog that he furiously insists is not a blog. Who am I supposed to yell at on my TV screen now?

Of course, as was pointed out to me last night, we’ll always have Buck and McCarver. I have no doubt they will outlive us all.

Yankee Panky: The Tao of Pooh-vano

There was so much hype about Carl Pavano facing the Yankees. The tabloids ate it up, and Suzyn Waldman, as far back as the Texas series, said, “If there’s any justice, C.C. Sabathia will pitch against Carl Pavano in Cleveland.”

Sabathia and Pavano both pitched, but not against each other. Sabathia faced his No. 2 two years ago, Fausto Carmona, on Saturday, while Pavano squared off against Phil Hughes, which may have been a more intriguing matchup considering Pavano’s history with the Yankees and his five victories in May, and Hughes’ stellar outing in Texas and continued effort to stay in the rotation.

As I was listening to the game on the radio (another Sunday spent driving), I got to thinking about the myriad options the local editors and writers had for the game. Would Pavano be the lead? Would I make Phil Hughes’ mediocre start coupled by Chien-Ming Wang’s three scoreless innings of relief the lead, playing up the intrigue of Wang’s possible return to the rotation? Poor umpiring was a theme of the day. Where would that fit in? Are all these topics combined into one or do you do take one story as your base and go with the others as supplemental pieces?

I probably would have made Pavano the focus of the game story and made Hughes/Wang a featured supplement, tying in the early note that Andy Pettitte expects to be ready to start on Wednesday. How would you have presented Sunday’s game? Thinking of the broadest audience possible, how would you have set up your Yankees section as an editor? How would you have attacked the game if you were on-site? It’s two different thought processes. I’m curious to get your thoughts.

An examination of the eight local papers covering the Yankees revealed the following:

NY TIMES: Jack Curry had Pavano leading but alluded to the Hughes/Wang situation, melding everything into a tidy recap with analysis and historical context. Typical goods from Mr. Curry.

NEWSDAY: Three individual stories from Erik Boland, who’s now off the Jets beat and has replaced Kat O’Brien: Hughes/Wang leading, a Pavano piece tied with notes, and a short piece on Gardner’s failure to steal.

NY POST: As of this writing, only George King’s recap had been posted. Interesting to see that he focused on the bullpen, specifically Coke and David Robertson. (Had I been reporting, that would have been the angle I took with the game recap.)

NY DAILY NEWS: Mark Feinsand tied everything together, but it looked and read strangely like an AP wire story.

JOURNAL NEWS: No full game recap posted, but Pete Abe gives more in about 200 words on a blog than most other scribes do in 800.

STAR LEDGER: Marc Carig copied off Erik Boland’s paper in that he had individual stories on Gardner and Wang/Hughes, But he had a couple of other tidbits: 1) His recap was short and had additional bulletpointed notes. I thought this was an interesting format. It reminded me of an anchor calling highlights and then reading key notes off the scoreboard graphic. 2) He had a full feature on Phil Coke and his blaming the umpire’s call on the 3-2 pitch to Trevor Crowe. Check out the last paragraph. Looks like he copied off Pete Abe’s paper, too.

BERGEN RECORD: Only one story on the game from Pete Caldera, but boy does he know how to write a lead paragraph.

HARTFORD COURANT: Associated Press recap. Not much to say except this paper is an example of what’s happening in the industry. Dom Amore’s words are missed.

And this just in … on the “Inside Pitch” segment of the midnight ET edition of Baseball Tonight, Karl Ravech and Peter Gammons said the Yankees were the best team in baseball. This revelation comes hours after the ESPN ticker read “Pavano dominates Yankees” in the first half of its description of the game. I’m not sure what to make of this. I know Ravech, my fellow Ithaca College alum, is as good as it gets, but when Gammons agrees, I get concerned.

I’d say the best team is the team with the best record, and the team that’s playing most consistently on a daily basis. That team is being managed by Joe Torre.

Yankee Panky: Less Is Mo?

This week’s briefing begins with a note from WFAN’s Richard Neer. As I drove home from the golf course Sunday, Neer was entertaining a call from a Mets fan, who in typical Mets fan form – actually, he was calm – ranted about Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran and how the Mets’ core players don’t play smart, and they don’t play hard.

Neer poo-pooed the call, saying – and I paraphrase – that Mets fans are looking for things to get upset about while the team is in first place. Mets fans can’t exist unless there’s something to kvetch about. Well, those calls are even more heated now, since the team from Queens changed its logo from “METS” to “BEARS,” and replaced their names with the “Chico’s Bail Bonds” sponsorship patch.

It got me thinking, though, about the legitimacy of the recent Mariano Rivera arguments that have pervaded local and national Yankee telecasts. Are fans and media alike looking for a negative amidst the best positive streak the Yankees have had this season? Or is it valid that due to his age, Rivera 1) should not pitch more than one inning when called upon, and 2) should not pitch on consecutive days?

My answer to both questions is no. I’m actually surprised the Rivera argument is the focus, when he remains the most consistent pitcher on the Yankees’ staff. From a relief pitching standpoint, who is more reliable? Who has been able to consistently throw Strike One? Phil Coke has, sometimes. So has Alfredo Aceves. Jose Veras? Edwar “Leave off the ‘d’ for ‘Don’t you know I’m throwing a changeup with two strikes’ Ramirez? Brett “I gave up Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run in ’98 and now I’m a Yankee” Tomko? Not so much.

Yes, Joe Girardi has to be mindful of Rivera’s age and use him wisely. Take Monday night, for example. Rivera had logged three innings and thrown 44 pitches over the previous two games. He had not pitched three consecutive days all season and was given the night off. A wise move by Girardi, and with a big lead, his decision seemed validated. That was, of course, until the ninth inning, when the ESPN team of Chris Berman and Orel Hershiser strained as Coke struggled to a “save” to complete the series sweep of the Twins. Intermittently, ESPN cameras cut away to Rivera sitting in the bullpen with his jacket on, looking like he wanted to warm up and get in there if necessary. Poor Phil Coke. At least he didn’t have to endure Berman’s incessant references to “Coke Classic,” “New Coke,” and anything other beverage jokes he could come up with. And he did secure the victory, much to the chagrin of the headline writers of the Post and Daily News, who were probably salivating at the chance of plastering “PHIL CHOKE” on the back page.

Wednesday night, Michael Kay lamented Rivera’s eighth-inning entrance both during the game and in the post-game analysis. Kay’s main beef was that someone else should have pitched the ninth inning, especially after the Yankees blew the game open with six runs in the bottom of the eighth. Rivera threw four pitches in the eighth and needed 10 to get three outs in the ninth. He also yielded his fifth home run of the season.

Kay used those last two points to validate his argument, which upon reading over again, still seems weak, and here’s why: Recent history has shown that the guys who were available – Veras, Ramirez, Tomko, and Jonathan Albaladejo – could not be counted on to get three outs and hold an eight-run lead. Kim Jones didn’t ask why Rivera pitched the ninth on Wednesday, and if it was asked later on, Girardi’s answers will be column fodder for Thursday’s rags.

My opinion: Girardi made the right move. As I’ve written in this space before, and reviewed many times when Steven Goldman’s columns passed my edits, sometimes a save occurs in the eighth inning. This game against the Orioles was one of those times. Leaving him in to pitch the ninth: why not? Isn’t that partly why he’s getting paid upwards of $15 million? What about the possibility that Rivera asked to pitch the ninth? Having been his former catcher, isn’t it possible that Girardi believes that Rivera knows his body better than anyone and that maybe he left the decision to the future Hall of Famer?

Looking at Rivera’s profile, his 2009 workload is being carefully planned, primarily based on pitch count. Wednesday was only the third time all season River was asked to get more than three outs in an appearance – it just so happened that it was the second time in his last three games. And he was pitching on two days’ rest, so he was fresh. Rivera averaged 30 pitches in the two four-out or more appearances. He threw just 14 on Wednesday.

If you were the Yankees manager, how would you handle Rivera? I would likely do the same thing Girardi’s doing. Oh, and under no circumstances, ever, would I have Tomko warming when I need to get one batter out in the ninth inning.

“When the misses are in the same spots (up and in to lefties and up and away to righties) and no adjustments are made, you have to wonder if anything’s going on between the ears.”
— Orel Hershiser, during Phil Coke’s ninth-inning struggles Monday

Until next week …

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