Who is the more valuable Yankee since 1996: Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter?
[Drawing by Larry Roibal]
Who is the more valuable Yankee since 1996: Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter?
[Drawing by Larry Roibal]
Joe Posnanski talks about Heart and Derek Jeter. He also talks about hustle (grit and guttiness!) and all sorts of words full of integrity signifiying…? You tell me.
The word “value” has numerous definitions and interpretations. The noun form, per dictionary.com, has 15 listed meanings. The first several apply to some kind of monetary distinction.
But if we’re looking at value in terms of a baseball player and a certain annual regular season award that’s handed out in November, we need to looking at the adjective, or maybe even the verb. The best definition of the three verb lines that apply here: “to consider with respect to worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance.”
Because of the way the MVP vote is constructed, the discussion surrounding the debate comes down to a subjective analysis of who should be considered the most worthy, excellent, useful, and/or important player in the league. The miracle of modern technology has made taken the level of debate to new heights. Please to enjoy, for example, Tyler Kepner’s tweet on August 14, moments after Mark Teixeira’s tiebreaking home run at Safeco Field:
“By the way, this is probably obvious by now, but Teixeira’s the AL MVP. ‘No question,’ as Joe Torre would say.”
The statements themselves seemed innocuous. They were an impulse reaction to a great moment among many that Tex, ye of the 8-year, $180 million contract, has provided in Year 1 of the megadeal. That was until you followed the thread to catch the jibes about Tex’s negative Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and the running joke it’s become, and scoured the Net to read criticisms from Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski, and my esteemed former colleague Steven Goldman – although Goldman’s retort wasn’t immediately directed at Kepner.
The criticisms of Kepner, save for broader strokes from Goldman and JoePos in SI, read like they traded in the horses that were driving the Joe Mauer Bandwagon for rocket fuel.
Put bluntly, it was an all-out Internet war with Neyer wielding a sabermetric sword (yes, pun intended), Pos casting spells with his wizarding words, and Kepner responding with a gun that instead of bullets, fired the stick with the flag that reads, “BANG!”
What inspired this particular post? An essentially meaningless home run, hit well after midnight (back in New York). I mean, I’m sorry, but the Yankees aren’t exactly in the middle of a pennant race anymore. They’ve got a huge lead over the second-place Red Sox. And if the Red Sox should somehow mount a late charge, the Yankees have a huger lead over the Rangers for that other postseason berth. … Joe Mauer currently leads the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. I don’t suppose anyone’s forgotten this yet, but he’s a catcher. Teixeira’s a first baseman. Are we really supposed to go for a power-hitting first baseman again, even when there’s a better-hitting catcher playing for a competitive team?” Neyer went on to say that he’s worried the writers are conspiring to rob Mauer of what should be a third MVP award for him.
He continued his fact-based rant 48 hours later, saying, “You know what? Let’s just be honest. The argument for Teixeira is an argument for doing it the way it’s always been done. Teixeira is just another big RBI guy on a team with a great record. If he were a Twin and Mauer were a Yankee, Teixeira would hardly be an afterthought. Some of you are OK with that. I’m not.”
Six days later, Neyer felt compelled to write about convincing Pete Abe on Super Joe. The goal, apparently, is to not only campaign for Mauer for MVP, but to have him win unanimously.
OK … now to Mr. Pos:
Look, could you make a case for Mark Teixeira over Joe Mauer? Well, you could make a case for anything. You could say that Mauer missed the first month of the season — so Teixeira has about 120 more plate appearances. You could say that the Yankees are going to the playoffs and the Twins are not unless they make a late season rush that looks more and more unlikely. But it sure seems to me that we need to start jabbing holes in this Teixeira MVP thing before it becomes a fait accompli.
Joe Mauer is having a much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much better season than Mark Teixeira. I’m not sure I put enough muches in there. Mauer is on pace to win his THIRD batting title as a catcher — and no other American League catcher has ever won even one. He leads the league in on-base percentage AND slugging percentage, the two most important stats going, and the only catcher to ever do that in baseball history was … oh, wait, nobody. He throws out base runners and hits .395 with runners in scoring position (hits .457 with runners in scoring position and two outs) and even runs the bases well.
And three days later, JoePos had this to offer: “Not to slam this MVP thing again, but we do realize that even forgetting all those kooky ‘advanced stats’ that seem to annoy people, even with Mauer missing a month of the season with injury — Mauer has now scored as many runs at Teixeira and he’s only 13 RBIs behind, and his batting average is 95 points higher. We do realize that the last seven days, while the Twins have been in desperate need of victories (and not getting many), Mauer is hitting .552 with three home runs and a .931 slugging percentage. And he’s probably the Gold Glove catcher.”
And finally, Goldman:
Unless Teixeira leads the league in home runs by a significant margin, or Mauer cools dramatically, it’s hard to see him emerging from the pack when his season is unremarkable by the standards of his position. Of the last 60 awards (both leagues), first basemen won only 11 times. No first baseman won without hitting .300 (I am treating the 1979 Keith Hernandez/Willie Stargell split like an honorary Academy Award for Pops). All but one, Mo Vaughn in 1995, were well over the .300 mark. An average of those 11 seasons comes to roughly .333/.428/.624, and many of them, like Don Mattingly and Keith Hernandez, both included in the 11, were fine defenders as well. Teixeira’s not having that kind of season.
Some harsh words in there. Kepner, following Posnanski’s initial commentary, issued a rebuttal at Bats, noting that “obvious” was a poor choice of words in his Tweet. In a way, he invited the storm and I thought he handled himself admirably among some respected, admired and talented industry heavyweights. I thought the degree to which he was made to be the piñata for “traditional baseball opinions” was a bit extreme. He’s entitled to his opinion, and opinions are subjective, just like the MVP vote.
Over the last ten months I’ve mentioned in this space numerous statistics on job losses and general cutbacks in the newspaper industry. As sites like Newspaper Death Watch continue to gain traction, and papers nationwide continue to scale back their sports operations and travel budgets, it’s important to get a feel for where the industry is for the people in the trenches, past and present.
I interviewed former Newsday Yankees beat writer Kat O’Brien on this topic three months ago and she revealed that one of the reasons she left was because she didn’t believe the medium was viable anymore.
Former longtime Yankees beat man and YESNetwork.com colleague Phil Pepe agreed, but limited his answer more specifically to baseball coverage.
“This is a problem that has been ongoing for a few years and seemed to have escalated during the current economic crisis,” he said. “Sad to admit it, but today because of the blanket coverage from radio, television and the Internet, newspapers are not as vital to the game’s well-being as they once were.”
With all that in mind, I still couldn’t help thinking that additional opinions needed to be sought. So I took the the e-mails and queried New York Times Yankees beat reporter Tyler Kepner, Gertrude Ederle biographer and editor of the Greatest American Sports Writing Series, Glenn Stout, Kansas City Star columnist and uber-blogger Joe Posnanski, Pepe and another of my ex-YES men, Al Iannazzone, who covers the New Jersey Nets for The Bergen Record.
As you’ll see, I asked each writer the same basic set of questions, including one standout from Banterer YankeeMama. The e-mails were exchanged over the course of several days in late April, hence the reason some of the material in the answers may seem dated.
I was impressed with everyone’s candor and genuine love for the craft of writing, and newspapers’ place — even now — as an outlet for that voice. Each recognized how technology has influenced the industry, and how a happy medium must be forged for bloggers, beat writers, newspapers and e-media to coexist. Money matters, however, skew the discussion.
On the topic of travel, Iannazzone said, “It’s mostly West Coast games because you’re not going to get them in the paper anyway. So it’s a way to save money wisely, I guess.” There were certain elements of the conversation that due to the sensitivity of the issue, Iannazzone would not divulge, but he did offer this nugget: “I know I traveled less this year than in my five years on the Nets.”
The individual Q&A’s are highlighted below:
One of the reasons I enjoy reading Joe Posnanski’s blog is because he relishes talking about sports the way fans do. He takes bar room topics, often in list form, and riffs, with reason and humor and a sense of fun. Who was the best so-and-so, what was the greatest such-and-such. The enthusiasm he shows for this kind of banter is what makes Pos so appealing–and he’s as well-liked a sports writer as I’ve ever met. The sabr-numbers crowd dig him and the mainstream guys like him too.
I was in Pos-mode the other day when I read Chris Ballard’s SI cover story on LeBron James. King James is only 24, a man-child, physical-mental freak of historically great proportions. The guy is twenty someodd pounds shy of 300, for crying out loud. I had no idea he was that big. And he’s so fast. He could play strong safety in the NFL.
Along with Kobe Bryant, James is the greatest player in the game and he’s only getting better. So I thought, when we talk about the greatest basketball players in the post-Jordan Era, it’s got to be Shaq, who you can’t really compare with Jordan because of the position; Kobe, who has won three titles and is certainly great, but not at Jordan’s level, especially off the court in terms of mainstream popularity and influence; and James.
Of course the league has been filled with other iconic players since Jordan level, including Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, but not ones whose appeal crossed over to a wider audience. They are just hall of famers in the game. Nobody has reached the level Jordan attained. Jordan followed the greatestness of Magic and Bird seemlessly and he brought it to a crescendo that was peerless.
I thought about guys on that level—Jordan and Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth—as I read an old GQ article by the novelist William Kennedy. In 1956, Kennedy was a kid reporter working for the Albany-Times Union when he interviewed Louis Armstrong, who was in town for a gig. Kennedy went up to his hotel room and talked with him for an hour and a half. He wrote a short nothing piece on it for the paper but saved his notes.
My awe and reverence for Louis continued to grow through the ensuing years, and somewhere in the late 1970s I conducted an after-dinner poll as to who was the most valuable person who had ever lived, and Satchmo won, with five votes. William Faulkner got four, Michangelo three, Beethoven, Muhammad Ali and Tolstoy two each, and Dostoyevsky and Busby Berkeley one each.
…He was a giant in his youth: the first major soloist in jazz, the man to whom every last jazz, swing, modern jazz and rock musician after hism has been and is indebted, some via the grand-larceny route. Music has changed radically since the seminal days of jazz, but Satchmo’s achievement has not been diminished. No one has superseded him in jazz eminence the way Crosby superseded Jolson and Sinatra superseded Crosby and the Beatles superseded Elvis, and I will never know who or what really superseded the Beatles.
Who else, in sports, in the arts, in popular culture, is on this level?
Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring. Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.
Of course Greg Maddux is retiring tenth on the all-time strikeout list (3371). Still, when I think back on Maddux in twenty, thirty years from now, my guess is what I’ll remember the most about him is a dinky ground ball to second base. That was the signature out of his prime, a crappy grounder, a squibber that rolled harmlessly to a waiting infielder. Or maybe a little jam shot pop-fly. Or yeah, even a strikeout, the late-breaking fastball tailing back over the plate leaving hitters with their asses out, hands up and bats still on their shoulder.
In his prime, you rarely saw good swings or heard solid contact against Maddux.
There will be a host of tributes to Maddux this week. Here are the early birds.
I never presumed to think with Maddux or have a deeper understanding of why he was so good. I just loved watching him pitch, loved the whole scene, loved seeing the frustration batters would show, loved the way umpires over the course of a game became willing co-coconspirators, loved the way catchers would just let the ball tumble into the glove without moving, loved the way Maddux would fidget when he didn’t have all of his stuff working, loved it all. He was Mozart, I was Salieri, and no I couldn’t reproduce it, no I couldn’t get close to it, but I felt like I could hear the music.
Over at SI.com, Tom Verducci writes:
The magic show is over. I dislike absolutes, but of this I am sure: Greg Maddux is the most fascinating interview, the smartest baseball player and the most highly formed baseball player I have encountered in 27 years covering major league baseball. There is no one alive who ever practiced the craft of pitching better than Maddux.
…I will miss watching him pitch. In his prime, Maddux never received enough credit for the quality of his stuff. Too many people equate power with stuff, but Maddux’s fastball, at least back when he was throwing 90 mph, had ridiculous movement — late, large movement. Think about this: he dominated hitters with no splitter and a curveball that was no better than high-school quality.
That’s how good were his fastball and changeup. It wasn’t just location.
Here is Verducci’s 1995 feature profile on Maddux for SI.
I sat down with Joe Posnanski, the author of a new book on Buck O’Neil, The Soul of Baseball, recently to talk about all things Buck. (In turn, he interviewed me about all things Yankees at his new blog.) Here is our chat. Hope y’all enjoy.
BB: Buck became a celebrity after appearing in Ken Burns’ PBS series. What did he do for the previous twenty years? Was the PBS thing really life-altering for him?
Pos: There’s no doubt it changed his life. He was a scout in the ’70s and ’80s — mostly for the Cubs, but later for the Kansas City Royals — and he told most of the same stories. He carried himself in the same way. It’s just that people really didn’t listen to him much then. I’ve heard a long interview with Buck from the early 1980s, it was just the Buck people heard a decade later. You can hear all the same joy and optimism and love in his voice. It took Ken Burns to really hear that voice and bring it to America. And it was never the same for Buck after that. Suddenly, he was in demand — an overnight success at 82, he said.
As for what kept him going in those dry years — well, I would say part of it was always baseball. He loved scouting. He was involved with the Hall of Fame veteran’s committee; Buck was such a driving force in getting so many Negro Leaguers into the Hall. But there was more to it. If I had a key question in this book, it was exactly this question: “Buck, how did you keep from being bitter?” There’s no easy answer for that. Some people just have a gift for loving life.
BB: I was so moved by Buck’s reaction to not being elected into the Hall of Fame. Obviously, he was hurt by it, but he recovered–at least on the surface–faster than those around him. Then he told you, “Son, what is my life about?” It wasn’t about the glory, it was about the giving.
Pos: That’s exactly right. It was so vivid to see the way Buck responded to the Hall of Fame. So many of the other things Buck overcame in his life — not being able to attend Sarasota High School, not being given the chance to play or manage in the Major Leagues, on and on — were just concepts in my mind. But here was something I saw first hand, and I know Buck was disappointed that he did not get elected into the Hall of Fame. But he recovered, I think, on the surface and beneath. That’s what his life was all about. You move beyond bitterness and disappointment. You embrace life.
BB: You know the famous Satchel Page line about not looking back. Do you think that applied to Buck at all? Do you think he ever had reflective moments of sorrow or anger but just dismissed them and kept moving ahead?
Pos: I can’t see how he could be human and not have those reflective moments of sorrow and anger. He dealt with so much injustice in his life … the worst of America in the 20th Century. But I can tell you this, I was pretty close to him for this book. I mean, you travel a year with someone, and you see them in all sorts of moods. I never saw things back up on him. He was a very spiritual man. And he gained so much from his contact with people. Anytime he seemed to need a burst of energy, he would go up to a stranger and just start talking.
BB: Buck really did need people as much as they needed him, didn’t he? I love the story about him taking a break during a hot day, and finding a young boy to talk to, and by the end of their chat, he was revitalized.
Pos: There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Buck’s connection to people is what kept him so alive and so hopeful about the world through 94-plus years. There is a constant theme in this book, I think. Whenever Buck felt a little tired, a little down — a little bit “old,” you could say — he would find someone to connect with. Sometimes, like in the chapter you mention, it was a child. Other times it was woman in a red dress or a man in an art gallery or a couple kissing in an airport. He never talked about these things — it wasn’t like he said, “Hey, I need to go talk to some strangers now.” He just did it. And it was always amazing to me the way he seemed reborn after connecting with someone.