And here’s Joe Pos on Pettitte.
[Illustration by Michael Marsicano]
“What was my first thought?” Perkins asks. “I guess it was that he’s got 40 home runs. … I mean, I knew exactly what the Yankees wanted to do. They’re down two, so they want to hit three solo home runs to win the game. That’s the way their team plays. I figured everyone would come to the plate looking to hit one out.
“With Granderson, he’s hit 40 home runs, and I’d bet that just about all 40 were pulled. So I’m thinking, he’s not going to get a pitch that he can pull. It’s fastballs away. But then, I’m not sure he will go chasing fastballs. So I think maybe I need to get in on him a little bit. Most of all, I want to get two strikes on him and then try to get him to hit a breaking ball the other way … or get it so he swings and misses.”
Perkins’ first pitch, a 95-mph two-seam fastball away, misses. “I know he’s not going to just take the first pitch,” Perkins says. “I can’t just get ahead with a first-pitch fastball. I threw a pretty good pitch, he laid off.”
Granderson then took a slider for a strike, and fouled off a 96-mph fastball for strike two. Perkins had his set-up. “I wanted to throw him a good slider, hopefully get him to chase.”
Perkins threw the slider and Granderson grounded out to shortstop for the first out. But Perkins was not happy with the pitch. “I got a little more of the plate than I liked with it,” he says. “I thought he got good wood on it. The ball sounded good coming off the bat. Maybe when you have 40 home runs, everything sounds loud off the bat. Anyway, Pedro [Florimon, the shortstop] made the play. I wouldn’t say I got lucky; Pedro didn’t have to make a great play. But I think I caught too much of the plate.”
[Photo Credit: East Lake Tumblr]
Check out Joe Posnanski’s appreciation of Miguel Cabrera over at Sports on Earth. Cabrera is in the running for the American League MVP. I don’t think he’s the best player in the league–and I generally feel the best player is the most valuable–because when you factor in base running and defense, Mike Trout is his superior.
But I think Cabrera will win the award (see 1996, Juan Gonzalez over Alex Rodriguez). He’s got the RBI and he’s been great for a long time now. This will like when Paul Newman won the Best Actor Oscar for The Color of Money, a lifetime achievement award. And even if you believe Trout is the MVP, you could do worse than Cabrera.
Whether he’s your MVP or not, he sure is a Load.
[Photo Credit: Robin Buckson/Detroit News]
Check out this considered and well-reported piece by Noam Cohen about Joe Posnanski’s forthcoming biography on the late Joe Paterno in the New York Times:
Mark Kriegel, a sports columnist who has written biographies of Joe Namath and Pete Maravich, was more expansive. “I believe to do a biography, you need to love your subject, but you have to balance that passion,” he said. “On some level you have to love your subject, you have to have the devotion to your subject’s flaws and virtues. You have to care enough to become obsessed with your subject’s flaws.”
Creating distance is important, too. “In some ways that was easier for me with Namath, who didn’t cooperate,” Kriegel said.
…David Garrow, a longtime history professor whose biography of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Bearing the Cross,” touched on King’s personal failings, said it was important to challenge your subject, even one as celebrated as King. “We are not in the business of being uplifting — that could be myth, but it ain’t history,” he said. “The lives of saints is not history, it’s myth. I think it is a far more powerfully inspiring story for readers to appreciate the inescapability of human imperfection than to spin myths.”
According to the article, Joe Pos received $750,000 from Simon & Schuster to write the book, scheduled to be published this fall. It is a short turnaround from the events of last year at Penn State. Is that enough time to do the subject justice? We know that Joe Pos is nothing if not prolific. I’m eager to see if he can pull it off.
[Photo Credit: Samuels]
I like this from a recent post by Joe Posnanski. Here’s his All Star team of players who failed to receive one vote for the Hall of Fame:
C: Darrell Porter
1B: Ken Singleton
2B: Robby Thompson
SS: Dick McAuliffe
3B: Bob Horner
OF: Jimmy Wynn
OF: Andy Van Slyke
OF: Roy White
DH: Hal McRae
P: Frank Tanana
P: Mark Langston
P: Steve Rogers
P: Sam McDowell
CL: Todd Worrell
Honorable mentions: Devon White, Amos Otis, Cecil Cooper, Garry Maddox, Joe Rudi, Boomer Scott.
Right now, I firmly believe the best player in the American League is Jose Bautista. And, right now, he’s my MVP. There are plenty of good candidates who can catch him — and most of them are on teams in contention. The Red Sox have Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, both are having great years. One of my favorite players in the game, Curtis Granderson, is having a marvelous season for the Yankees. Ben Zobrist, one more time, is having the best year nobody’s noticing. Miguel Cabrera continues to slug. It’s difficult to compare pitchers and hitters, but Justin Verlander has been almost unhittable — at time actually unhittable — and others like C.C. Sabathia and the Angels pair of Dan Haren and Jered Weaver are pitching extremely well.
But, for me, it’s Bautista by two or three lengths heading into the home stretch. Somebody has to catch him. And, no offense to the quality of leadership or hustle or RBIs or wins or any other sort of unnoticed value, but they’re going to have to catch him with production I can see.
Agreed. Be interesting if Verlander makes a push, though.
The Montero Legend took a huge leap forward Monday night. Playing the remainder of a suspended game plus a full game in what amounted to a virtual doubleheader, the 21-year-old slugger exploded, going 5-for-8, blasting two homers, and knocking in seven runs. After a slow start, Montero’s up to .290/.349/.456 for the year. Although skeptics wonder whether he can handle the defensive rigors of catching in the big leagues, most believe he’ll be a great hitter.
… Posada has actually put together a half-decent season as a platoon guy (.249/.354/.453), after a disastrous start to the year. Despite Montero’s recent surge, Posada’s line against righties compares favorably with the kid’s overall numbers. The old man may not be quite dead yet.
So what to do? Montero’s tantalizing talent still has Yankees fans drooling to get a look at him — a chance they might get in September. If Montero succeeds, Posada might get left off the postseason roster, his days as a Yankee over for good. Whatever decision gets made, Yankees fans should hope it’s based on performance, not politics. You can get away with a sub-optimal roster when the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners are on the schedule. But in the postseason, you’d better bring your best 25 with you. Or else.
[Montero picture via Bronx Baseball Daily]
A Vanishing Art
By John Schulian
Somewhere along the line, human beings went out of fashion in America’s sports pages. You wouldn’t think it was possible, given that flesh-and-blood people play our games, but the tastemakers have deemed statistics and cockeyed opinion more important. There are exceptions, of course, like Joe Posnanski when he was pounding out a humanity-infused daily column that would have been a treasure in any era. And there are others who would love to craft character sketches and mood pieces, but realize that won’t put any biscuits on their table. And then there are the glory seekers who latch onto people only when they have a sob story to tell, because sob stories win prizes. But all the prizes tell me is that the writers who chase them so shamelessly are manipulative at best, hypocritical at worst. Forgotten are the small dramas that are played out every day in sports, and the people who inhabit them, and the artistic impulses they stir.
Over lunch, a friend who has just finished writing a non-fiction book about a boxer tells me he used a column of mine from 1980 as part of his research. The column opened with someone describing Joe Frazier’s manager, Yank Durham, in full flower as a hard ass. Frazier was about to fight Ron Stander, whom he could have beaten blindfolded, but Durham bitched loud and long about some TV lights he said were part of a plot to blind Smokin’ Joe. The people televising the fight pleaded innocent, but Durham refused to believe them. “That’s it,” he said. “We ain’t fightin’.” The TV people went into shock. So, for that matter, did Frazier. But Durham didn’t let up until the lights were taken down. That was how boxing worked then, and that’s how it works now. The guy with the biggest balls wins.
“Great column,” my friend said, “but you couldn’t write it today.”
I couldn’t write it because I used the tools of fiction – character, dialogue, dramatic tension – to depict a hard man in a hard business. I couldn’t write it because I populated the column with human beings, and I didn’t pass judgment on them. It was up to the reader to choose between Yank Durham and the TV people. I thought it was permissible for a columnist to do that. What did I know?
Let me tell you what else I couldn’t write today. Once in a great while, I would do a column about duende, an Andalusian word that is best defined by example: Willie Mays had duende, Henry Aaron didn’t; the Rolling Stones had it, the Beatles didn’t. I was borrowing shamelessly from the late George Frazier, an eccentric general interest columnist who made his last stand at the Boston Globe with a red carnation in the lapel of his Brooks Brothers suit and a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald for every situation. I was following in the tradition that inspired many another columnist to borrow Jimmy Cannon’s pet gimmick, “Nobody asked me, but . . . ” You didn’t think Mike Lupica came up with “Shooting from the Lip” by himself, did you? He and I were indulging in what Hollywood likes to call “an homage” because it sounds so much better than “theft.”
Whatever, I had a fine time passing myself off as an arbiter of style in my duende columns. In fact, I would encourage today’s columnists to do the same, but my friend Randy Harvey, once an intrepid sports writer and now one of the top editors at the L.A. Times, says duende wouldn’t fly. The wounded look on my face when I hear his verdict seems to touch something deep inside him, though. “Okay,” Randy says, “I’d let you write duende once a week if your other three columns were on the Lakers.” Call me an ingrate, but that still doesn’t sound like such a great deal.
I’m the product of an era when a sports columnist was pretty much left to his own devices. Sometimes the news dictated what I wrote about, and sometimes there were subjects that just couldn’t be ignored whether I was interested in them or not. But the rest of the time, my column reflected who I was, for better or worse. When I wrote a sad one, it was because the subject touched my inner blues man. When I did a rip job, I was putting my mean streak on display. But never was I so infatuated with myself that I thought readers wanted a dose of my opinions every day. They were smart enough to figure out where I was coming from personally and politically without my beating them about the head and shoulders with the first person.
More than anything else, I wanted to write about the human condition, good or bad, happy or sad. The fact that the people I wrote about wore uniforms, had their names in headlines, and cashed big paychecks for their labors was mere coincidence. The important thing was to let my readers know that their heroes were people, too, not the remote gods who dwell in the parallel universe that exists today.
One of the beautiful things about newspaper work is that you never know whom you’re reaching, or what your words mean to them. There are letters to the editor and angry phone calls, of course, but there are also the personal notes that become small treasures. And one night at the Chicago Sun-Times, I heard the highest praise I ever received. It came from the cleaning lady who swept the floor and emptied the wastebaskets in the sports department. She had a bad eye and a balky hip that crabbed her stride, and she was there the day I started at the paper and probably long after I left it. I’d say hello to her, but I never wondered whether she read the paper or, if she did, made it as far as the sports section. But when she reached my corner of the office that night, she looked at me and said, “You got a lot of soul.”
I know I thanked her more than once. Other than that, everything is a blank. I’m only guessing when I say I think she liked a column I had written about Johnny Bratton, a former welterweight champion who was living on the street. But maybe the subject isn’t as important as the fact that this woman had seen something in my work that had nothing to do with winners and losers and everything to do with the forces that drove me.
Still, there were times I wasn’t aware of just how much of myself I was revealing in print. I’m thinking of one column in particular, written in 1983 about regrets and missed opportunities. It opened with my musings on the White Sox, who were very good that year, as I drove home from Wisconsin on a rainy late-summer night, and then it veered into personal territory I rarely visited. By the time I finished writing, I had quoted William Blake and Tom T. Hall and pretty much revealed myself to be a ball of confusion. I could feel the first rumblings of profound changes in my life, and change was a stranger to me.
A few days later, I ran into a documentary maker named Ken Solarz and the first thing he said was, “Man, you were really hurting.” Though he and I would later arrive in Hollywood at about the same time and become great friends, I barely knew Kenny then. But he was very perceptive. I was hurting. And it would only get worse.
Over at SI, Joe Pos has a piece about Adam Dunn, “The Least Exciting Player Ever.” In it, he mentions former Yankee, Bobby Abreu:
I’m not talking about winning and losing here. I’m not talking about value. I’m talking about excitement. And that’s something different. I’ve often written that Bobby Abreu is the MBGPIBH — Most Boring Good Player In Baseball History. I have immense respect for what he has accomplished as a player, what he continues to accomplish. The guy has a lifetime .400 on-base percentage (and a .400 on-base percentage this year). He’s had two 30-30 seasons. He’s won a Gold Glove, and he really seemed to be an excellent fielder in his younger days. He has scored and driven in 100 five times. I’m assuming he has 21 more home runs in him (though his power has dwindled to almost nothing) and that will make him only the eighth member of the 300-homer, 300-stolen base club. I don’t want to get into it here because this post is already drifting, but it seems every couple of weeks I have a discussion with a friend about Abreu’s Hall of Fame case. I think he’s making a case. I also think he’s headed for the Hall of Not Famous Enough.
Abreu, though, is an agonizing player to watch, at least for me. His at-bats feel like audits. They just go on and on, an endless stream of near strikes called for balls, good pitches spoiled, swings and misses, more near pitches called for balls — he’s doing exactly what he SHOULD be doing. Abreu controls the batter’s box as few ever have. He is an artist at the plate, but an artist in the way that a good auto mechanic is an artist. I admire what he does. I appreciate the value of it. But I wish they would give me a magazine or something to read while he does it.
Excellence and excitement don’t always mix. In Abreu’s case, his lack of flair or visceral artistry will hurt his case for greatness. His artistry is there, as Pos notes, but it is not dynamic. He is a fine player, better than fine, a winning player, but he never put the asses in the seats. But I liked watching him more than Pos does. What makes him different than Hideki Matsui? That Godzilla hit more home runs?
There are thrilling players who have style to burn who aren’t nearly as accomplished as a guy like Abreu or Matsui. Sometimes, you can’t have it all. At least Bobby’s got good teeth and a nice smile.
Paul Splittorff, more than anybody I have ever known, refused to live in the past. He had a wonderful past to live in. He won 166 games as a pitcher in the big leagues — he still holds the Royals record for most pitching victories and will own it for years to come. He twice beat the Yankees in the playoffs, enough to be called a “Yankee Killer” for a time (though, as he would say, he had a losing record against the Yankees). He pitched in the World Series. He struck out Reggie Jackson 23 times in his life. Carl Yastrzemski, Al Kaline, Henry Aaron, Billy Williams and Frank Robinson hit a combined .146 against him. He never said much about any of that. He did mention, now and again, that Dick Allen owned him. But only if you asked.
The point is that he had a full life to relive. If that was my life, I would bore people to tears with the stories. Here’s what Paul Splittorff did in the second part of his life: He broadcast sports. He called high school sports. He called college sports. And he called the Kansas City Royals. He worked on his rhythms. He worked on the silences too. He eliminated the stutters, the hesitations, the ums and ers that pepper talk for the rest of us. He became exactly what he was as a pitcher: A professional. That was important to him. Splitt never wanted anything given to him. He could not tolerate the thought that he was an ex-ballplayer in the booth. That word, “ex,” was an abomination to him. He never wanted to be seen as an “ex” anything. If you were living as an ex, you were not living in real time.
Sad news, indeed. Sounds like Splittorff was a good man.
Good times over at Pitchers and Poets where they are hosting a 1990s First Basemen Week:
I wrote a brief memory of Kevin Maas.
Missed it by that much…
Last Sunday evening, I was at work, editing down the AP obituary of Duke Snider to a word count that would fit our available space. There was one sentence that caught my attention, and I debated for a moment whether I should cut it, because I thought it was unclear:
Snider hit at least 40 homers in five straight seasons and led the NL in total bases three times. He never won an MVP award, although a voting error may have cost him the prize in 1955. He lost to Campanella by a very narrow margin – it later turned out an ill voter left Snider off the ballot, supposedly by mistake.
There are a few things that are odd there – why mention that the voter was ill? Do we not have his name, and why not? Why “supposedly” by mistake? Didn’t anyone ask?
Anyway, I decided to leave it in, after confirming the loose outline of events on Wikipedia – which said, at the time (it has since been amended), that a BBWAA writer in the hospital had mistakenly put Campanella down twice, in first and fifth place, when he’d meant to put Snider in one of those spots. If he had, Snider would have won the MVP. That still seemed odd (again, why mention the hospital? Did he die later and they couldn’t ask him? Then why not say that?), but fine. I finished editing it down, ate a sandwich and went on to other work.
Joe Posnanski, on the other hand, wondered about some of those same things and then started digging. That response is one of the reasons why he is – for my money, and a lot of other people’s – the best sports writer going at the moment. He doesn’t simply accept things at face value. I also take his ensuing post on the subject as a good lesson about following up when something seems off. If a story doesn’t make sense, there’s probably a different story behind it – I should listen to those instincts and, more than that, follow up on them. (And also, for the love of god, never rely on Wikipedia. I know this – and I never do when I’m writing or reporting – but I often use it as something of a fact checker. Nine times out of 10 it’s accurate, but for anything work-related or important, that’s not good enough).
You should go read Posnanski’s whole post, but the general thrust is:
Here’s is what the box says happened: There was indeed a writer who put Roy Campanella first and also sixth on his ballot, just like Feller said. Whether this was done by a writer who was sick and/or from Philadelphia is not made clear, and is probably not important. The BBWAA could have invalidated the ballot, and that must have been considered. But they did not. And they also did not just give Campanella the top spot and erase the fifth spot.
What they did was this: They moved everybody below No. 5 up a spot — six to five, seven to six, and so on. And for the bottom spot they inserted, yep, our favorite Philadelphia relief pitcher Jack Meyer.
There’s more to it than that and plenty of context, but I don’t want to quote too much of Posnanski’s post – I want you to go read it.
I also want to see if we can’t get “a hospitalized BBWAA writer” to catch on as a description of something a little fishy. E.g., “Joba says the weight he added is all muscle? Yeah, I dunno, that sounds a little like a hospitalized BBWAA writer to me.”
Well, I keep trying to write a Cliff Lee post and the latest news keeps changing. Yesterday the reported rumor, which remains unconfirmed, was that two “mystery teams,” not the Yankees or Rangers, were willing to offer a seven year contract. This seems hard to swallow, however, since at that point the Yankees hadn’t even been given the chance to make an official offer. Today, we heard that New York may be plotting a six-year, $140-150 million offer, which sounds to me much more probable, but also like the outer edge of reasonableness. By now they may well have made it. And in his Winter Meetings press conference today, Joe Girardi called Lee “everything you want” and described him as “important” to the Yankees’ plans.
I wouldn’t be too upset if the Yanks miss out on Lee – as Cliff Corcoran and others have pointed out this offseason, there’s very good reason to be wary of signing a pitcher like Lee to a big, long term contract. It would help the Yankees next year but likely trip them up by 2015, if not sooner. And while I would love to watch Cliff Lee pitch every five days, because the man is an artist, I just don’t know that it will justify the long-term price.
Anyway, the absolute latest news is that Lee’s agent is leaving the winter meetings (with the cryptic words “We’re going somewhere.” Right. I hope he meant “we’re getting somewhere,” but that’s only slightly more illuminating). So nobody knows anything yet.
UPDATE: The Yankees did indeed make an offer today, widely reported as six years and in the neighborhood of $140 million. I’ll be curious to see if there really was any “mystery team” out there willing to go seven years.
Well, this is just too much fun. Joe Pos lists 32-great calls.
I’ve got a nomination for one of the worst calls–Tom Seaver, Howard Cosell, and Keith Jackson botching Reggie’s third dinger.
There’s nothing left really to say about his greatness. We all know the story. He throws that cutter precisely where he wants, it turns left just as it gets to the plate, and there has never been anyone quite like him.
Still, watching him break four bats on Wednesday night — I’m pretty sure he broke Denard Span’s bat when getting the last out of the eighth, then broke Orlando Hudson’s bat, Joe Mauer’s bat and Jim Thome’s bat in the ninth — was another awe-inspiring reminder. He clearly does not throw as hard as he once did. Teams have broken him down on video for more than a decade. We all KNOW exactly what he’s going to do. And still, major league hitters come up, they swing at his cutter, the ball breaks in two inches more than they expected, they break their bat. In Las Vegas, I’ve seen David Copperfield make a car appear out of thin air, and I’ve seen Lance Burton duel someone in a costume who turns out to be Lance Burton. I’m sure I could watch those tricks 50 times and never figure out how they are done. I’m sure I could watch those tricks 100 times and never figure out how they’re done.
But Mariano Rivera has pitched 1,150 innings in the big leagues. He has pitched another 135 or so postseason innings. He has faced almost 900 different big league hitters. And this same trick, precisely this same trick, works almost every time. The Twins may or may not be good enough to come back in this series. They will obviously need to beat up on the Yankees’ second-string starting pitchers, and try to hold their own against this relentless Yankees offense. What they do know is this: They ain’t going to win it in the ninth inning. Mariano Rivera turns 41 next month. He is aging just like the rest of us. But for one more year, it sure looks like nobody is going to beat the Yankees in the ninth inning.
What Vincent Edward Scully first came to Los Angeles to broadcast Dodgers baseball games in 1958, he worried because he could not find the essence of the city. The center. The heart. He was 30 years old, and he had some clear ideas about what it took to call a baseball game. He thought it was important that the hometown baseball announcer know the hometown. So, he kept looking for this PLACE. That’s was how his mind worked then. There had to be a place. Back in New York, there was always a place.
Vin Scully heard life in New York City rhythms then — well, he had grown up in New York. He went to school in New York. He had worked with Red Barber in New York. And in New York there’s always a place, doesn’t matter if it’s Brooklyn or the Bronx, Harlem or Greenwich Village, Manhattan or Queens. There’s a place you go, where people gather, where decisions are made, where the energy pulses, where everything starts.
“In New York, for me, it was Toots Shor’s,” he says. That was the restaurant, of course, there on 51st street between 5th and 6th Avenues but closer to 6th. That was where things were always going on, where Vin could feel the city’s vibrations, its power. He might see Joe DiMaggio sitting with Marilyn Monroe. He might catch Frank Sinatra talking a little boxing. He might catch a glimpse or Ernest Hemingway or see Jackie Gleason hold court or see Judy Garland sitting in a corner. More than anything, though, he might hear what was happening in his town, what mattered, and Vin Scullly needed to know these things. He felt sure they made him a better baseball announcer.
Ichiro’s singles percentage is higher than Ozzie Smith’s. It’s higher than Jason Kendall’s (yes, it is). It’s higher than that of Luis Aparicio, Bert Campaneris, Bill Buckner and Kenny Lofton. It’s not the all-time mark — other very good hitters such as Richie Ashburn, Stuffy McInnis and Lloyd Waner have higher singles percentages. But in fact, those are probably the ONLY three good hitters who have higher singles percentages — maybe Maury Wills, depending on how good a hitter you think he was.
So, what’s wrong with a single? Nothing. But it ain’t a double. Ichiro’s .430 slugging percentage is certainly low for a .331 hitter, especially in today’s big-hitting era. Jef Cirillo slugged .430. Hal Morris slugged .433.
So, mainly what Ichiro gives you are lots of singles — line drives, hard grounders up the middle, bloops, bleeders through the infield, high-choppers. Are these aesthetically pleasing? Absolutely. Are these valuable? You bet. Are these more valuable than walks? Yes, of course, well, somewhat. But do a barrage of singles without many walks put Ichiro in the luxury line of hitters with Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera or Josh Hamilton or Robinson Cano or those sorts of guys?
I’d have to say no.
Future Hall of Famer and all-around Nice Guy Jim Thome is profiled by Joe Posnanski this week in SI. Dig in.
You know the deal. Jeter’s contract with the Yankees is up at the end of the year. Both sides understand that they HAVE no choice but to work out a deal. The Yankees cannot possibly let perhaps the most beloved Yankee of them all go somewhere else and get his 3,000th hit and retire to another place’s cheers and under another team’s cap. Can’t happen. And Derek Jeter cannot possibly go play for the Rockies or the Brewers or the Red Sox or the Mets, it’s simply unimaginable for the man who still has the voice of Bob Sheppard introduce him. Can’t happen.
So the Yankees have to keep him, and Jeter has to stay, and both sides fully understand. But it is also becoming more and more clear by the day that Derek Jeter is declining pretty rapidly as a player.