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Shut Out

 

Here’s the 2013 MLB preview over at SI.com. Nobody has the Red Sox making the playoffs and only Albert Chen has the Yanks making it.

Smoke Up, Johnny

Pack of butts is $12 if not more these days. It’s hard to believe.

Check out this photo gallery of jocks and their smokes over at SI.com.

On the Prowl

The Tigers are playing some great ball these days and are more than Justin Verlander. Over at SI.com, our man Cliff breaks it down:

The Detroit Tigers won their 11th straight game Tuesday night behind yet another gem from likely American League Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, who pushed his record to 23-5 with seven scoreless innings against the White Sox. What that winning streak proves, however, is that the Tigers are more than a one-man show. In fact, their success has had more to do with scoring runs than preventing them, a fact that has been overshadowed by Verlander’s award-worthy season.

The Tigers’ hot streak also stretches back much further than the last 11 games. Detroit has gone 29-11 (.725) over its last 40 games dating back to the beginning of August, the best record of any team in baseball over that time. Research has shown that coming into the playoffs hot is no guarantee of post-season success, but the Tiger’s aren’t just hot, they’re very good. Detroit possesses a potent offense, an emerging No. 2 starter to complement Verlander and a a bullpen that is anchored by closer Jose Valverde, who has yet to blow this season.

Who knows? Maybe the Tigers go to the Whirled Serious. One thing is for sure, though, Valverde will blow at least one game along the way.

Up Against It

Over at SI.com, our man Cliff takes a look at the Yankees’ aging roster:

The Yankees’ success over the last two decades was largely built around a core of home grown stars in Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada, but it’s clear that the end is nigh for each of them. Williams and Pettitte are retired, Posada is 39 and batting just .179 in the last year of his contract, Jeter is hitting a career-worst .255 as he approaches his 37th birthday and Rivera, though still pitching brilliantly, is 41 years old.

The decline of those players has brought attention to the advancing age and cost of the Yankees roster, which currently boasts five players who are at least 34 and earning eight-digit salaries and two other players earning annual salaries north of $20 million signed through or beyond their 34th birthdays. Setting aside Posada, who will turn 40 in August and is in the final year of his four-year, $52.4 million deal, here is a look at the six players the Yankees have signed through their age-34 season or beyond.

[Photo Credit: Ralph Gibson via This Isn't Happiness]

The Man

Over at SI.com I’ve got a 30-minute podcast interview George Vecsey about his new Stan Musial biography.

Dig it…(There is no direct hyperlink to the interview, just go to May, 2011 and you’ll find it there.)

Slugg Rock

Over at SI.com, our man Cliff takes a look at how the Award season will play out. AL MVP?

1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (1)

Season Stats: .328/.419/.624, 38 HRs, 126 RBIs

September has been Cabrera’s worst month this season by far, but his extraordinary consistency is starting to win out as he has heated back up over the last week and enters Monday night’s action with an active six-game hitting streak during which he has gone 9-for-23 with four home runs. Cabrera doesn’t do much outside of the batter’s box and plays for a team barely keeping its head above .500, but no other American Leaguer has produced at such an elite level so consistently throughout the 2010 season. Cabrera has also started all but six of the Tigers’ games this season.

2. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (3)

Season Stats: .318/.379/.532, 28 HRs, 105 RBIs

Hamilton has far and away the superior rate stats, but due to their disparate playing time, Cano leads the injured Rangers’ outfielder in RBIs, hits, runs, and walks (!), and is just one double and three home runs shy of Hamilton’s season totals. Give Cano additional credit for playing a far more challenging position, striking out fewer times in more than an hundred extra plate appearances, and for simple reliability (he has started all but three of the Yankees’ games this year), and he slips past the former frontrunner in this race.

True Believer

Part One of “The 10th Inning,” Ken Burn’s two-part follow up to “Baseball” aired on PBS last night. “The Bottom of the 10th” is tonight.

I reviewed the show for SI.com. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. The Yankee Dynasty is represented nicely though I’m sure most of you wanted more (and there’s no sugar-coating Ken’s allegiance to the Red Sox, though it should also be noted that co-writer, producer and director, Lynn Novick, is a Yankee fan). The focus is on the ’96 Yanks, not ’98, a fair choice in terms of drama, though they didn’t mention Frank Torre.

There’s a ton on the Sox in “The Bottom of the 10th,” but Burns is never vicious–he doesn’t show the infamous slap play by Alex Rodriguez, for instance. I’d forgotten that David Ortiz won both Games 4 and 5 in ’04, man, totally blacked that out. This was the first time I’ve watched replays. Ortizzle’s name is noticeably missing from a list of stars associated with taking PEDS (Manny’s on it).

The baseball stuff is good. Plenty to debate, of course, but that’s fun part. Jonah Keri will be pleased that the ’94 Expos made the cut. I didn’t know from Mike Barnicle before watching the show and enjoyed his talking head interviews, even if they were ham-handed in spots. Then I read up on him and feel guilty for liking him so much.

But something felt off with the filmmaking. The Florentine films style—panning and fading over still photographs–is commonly known as “The Burns Effect.” I was talking to a friend recently who said, “How can you not jump the shark after you become a pre-set on iMovie?” I get his point but the Burns style doesn’t bother me because it works. You don’t look for every artist to be innovator, after all. I wouldn’t want Elmore Leonard to be anything but Elmore Leonard.

But I’m not sure that the Burns style  is ideally suited to journalism. Nothing is more frustating than the music. In “The 8th Inning” and “The 9th Inning,” Burns used period source music as a character in the story. But here, over and over again, I was distracted by the music selections. I thought they got in the way of the story. Most of the tracks aren’t bad pieces of music on their own, but they just don’t have much to do with the topic at hand. And they have nothing to do with what was on the radio at the time.

Burns does use James Brown and Tower of Power. This record from The Incredible Bongo Band opens the show:

P.E. and The Beastie Boys and the White Stripes are used but otherwise, there’s too much smooth jazz and strumming guitars, where songs like “Nothing Shocking,” by Jane’s Addiction or the Red Hot Chili Peppers version of “Higher Ground,” or any number of radio hits would have been interesting choices. There’s cool cuts from the Red Garland Trio and Wynton Marsalis, but Burns misses out on using Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” in the Mariano Rivera segment, an oversight than can only be excused by budget considerations And even when music choices work thematically like with David Bowie’s “Fame,” they are obvious, not to mention dated.

But that’s me. And I expect fireworks from Burns and company every time out. Still, “The 10th Inning” is certainly worth watching.

I’m curious to know what you think. Charlie Pierce weighed in this morning, and here is the Times’ review (which borders on being mean).

Oh, and over at Deadspin, dig this memoir piece I wrote about working for Burns back in the spring of 1994:

Ken got a kick out of turning people on to the things that moved him. When Willie Morris appeared in episode five of Baseball, talking about listening to games on the radio, I asked Ken who he was, and that was my introduction to Morris and his classic memoir, North Toward Home. I found a copy immediately and the book made a lasting impression on me. Ken was an avid music fan and hipped me to Lester Young and Booker T and the M.G.’s. During our car ride north, I tried to get him to dig some rap records — I remember playing him “Passin’ Me By” by the Pharcyde — but he couldn’t get past the lack of melody. Then, he took out a cassette and played what he called the best version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was Marvin Gaye, singing at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game, and Ken was right.

[Photo Credit: J. Parthum]

Whoa, No

Over at SI.com, Tim Marchman asks if the Tampa Bay Rays are unusually prone to being no-hit?

Tampa Bay’s hitters are good, but they have a flaw: They are, essentially, a take-and-rake lineup. The team rates fifth in the American League in on-base percentage, but fourth from the bottom in batting average. They lead the league in both walks and strikeouts as a percentage of plate appearances, and are fourth-worst in both groundball-to-flyball ratio and line drive percentage. Basically they draw walks, hit for extra bases and otherwise beat the ball into he ground, which is essentially what you would be looking for in a team especially liable to being dominated on a given afternoon.

Additionally, their home park is possibly the worst in baseball for the base hit. Tropicana Field has reduced base hits by about 11 percent compared to an average park this year; the Rays and their opponents have hit .256 away from Tampa Bay this year, but just .238 at the Trop. The only worse park for the base hit in the majors has been the Oakland Coliseum.

George M Steinbrenner (1930-2010)

I wrote an obituary on The Boss for Sports Illustrated.com:

George M. Steinbrenner III, the most visible, vilified and successful baseball owner of the free-agency era, died on Tuesday morning following a massive heart attack.

In his heyday he was known as many things — most notably, as a bad loser — but there is no denying that he made the Yankees into a winner. He was the shipbuilding magnate who bought the ball club for a relative pittance ($10 million in 1973) from CBS and restored the Yankee brand to its former glory. During his reign as owner, Steinbrenner’s Yankees won 11 American League pennants and seven world championships, more than any other team in that span. The franchise’s value soared into more than a billion as it became the staple product of its own cable network while still leading the big leagues in attendance year after year.

Along the way he exerted his will in an indomitable fashion, displaying legendary impatience and volatility. He bought out his 13 limited partners by the end of his first decade as owner, prompting John McMullen, who later owned the Houston Astros, to say, “Nothing is more limited than being a limited partner of George’s.” During his first 20 years with the Yankees, Steinbrenner hired and fired 21 managers, including Billy Martin five times. Before the 1982 season, Steinbrenner announced that manager Bob Lemon should feel secure in his job; Lemon was fired 14 games into the season. Two years later, Steinbrenner talked about his manager, Yogi Berra, before the season again and said “Yogi will be the manager the entire season, win or lose.” After 16 games, Berra was fired. He would not return to Yankee Stadium for 14 years.

…One former employee of the Yankees told Steinbrenner biographer Dick Schaap, “George Steinbrenner doesn’t want to be loved, and he doesn’t want to be hated, George Steinbrenner wants to be feared.”

“Sometimes,” Steinbrenner once told a reporter, “as much as I don’t want to — I have to inflict pain. But I also inflict some joy.”

There will never be another like him. It is somehow fitting that George died on the day of the All Star Game. The man always did have a nose for publicity, didn’t he?

Over at ESPN.com, the great Bill Nack gives his take.

X Marks the Spot

Over at SI.com Cliff takes a look at second-half X-factors who could decide playoff chases. First up, that man Joba:

On Tuesday night, Mariano Rivera announced that he’s going to skip the All-Star Game due to some minor injuries. Rivera has been pitching through the pain and doesn’t expect to go on the disabled list, but he’s unable to pitch more than one inning per appearance, and Yankee manager Joe Girardi has to be extra careful with the 40-year-old’s workload. That means Chamberlain, whose frustrating inconsistency has followed him back to the bullpen, will not only have to get out of his own jams, but could be called upon to close at points in the second half (he has already picked up two saves in the first half). While Rivera has been his usual dominant self thus far, the rest of the Yankee pen has been struggling, hurt, or both (see: Park, Chan Ho) for much of the season. Chamberlain dominated out of the pen before the Yankees moved him into the rotation in mid 2008 (1.32 ERA, 12.1 K/9 in 47 2/3 IP). In an AL East race in which the three best teams in baseball are separated by just three games and at least one will miss the playoffs entirely, Chamberlain needs to find that old consistency and fast to help ensure that the reigning world champions will be back in the playoffs to defend their title.

All American Man

Cliff checks in on the MVP races over at SI.com. Leading the AL? That man Morneau:

Last year, Joe Mauer led the American League in all three slash-stat categories (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging), led the majors in the first two and was a nearly unanimous selection for AL MVP. On Sunday morning, Mauer’s teammate Morneau was leading the AL in all three slash stats and the majors in the first two (Miguel Cabrera passed Morneau in slugging on Sunday). Morneau plays a position with a much higher average level of production and isn’t as highly regarded defensively as Mauer even there, but the slash-stat triple crown should be enough to guarantee a hitter the MVP award. To put the accomplishment in context: Mauer was the first American Leaguer to accomplish the feat since George Brett in 1980; only four NL hitters have pulled it off since Stan Musial did it in 1948, the most recent being Barry Bonds in 2004. I’d be surprised to see Morneau regain and maintain the lead in all three categories, but given how close he is to that accomplishment at this point in the season, he has to be the favorite for AL MVP.

The Best Ever?

fens

Over at SI.com, Kevin Armstrong has a glowing profile of the Boston Globe’s glory days covering sports in the 1970s. It is a snap shot of a lost era and the piece comes at a good time, with the newspaper industry in peril. 

The Globe featured such talents as Bud Collins, Ray Fitzgerald, Leigh Montville, Leslie Visser, Bob Ryan and Peter Gammons. Armstrong details how Ryan and Gammons, both locals, were sports-mad, how they were enthusiastic, competitive reporters, and how, in some cases, they had cozy relationships with the teams they covered–Gammons shagged flies with the Red Sox and even “held a locker in the Sox clubhouse.”

Talk about a time gone by.

Yet the article left me feeling unsettled.  For instance, Armstrong writes, “The pieces all came together in 1975. As politicians tip-toed around Boston’s tinderbox of busing-related racial issues, the Globe prepared for an unprecedented run.”  According to Howard Bryant’s book about racism and Boston sports, Shut Out, the Globe did plenty of tip-toeing around racial issues as well. Armstrong writes about Will McDonough, “a tough-talking Irishman,” with affection, but does not call into question McDonough’s attitudes on race (detailed here in an article by Glenn Stout).  “McDonough wrote for all fan bases,” reports Armstrong. I don’t know if the brothers from Roxbury would agree.

But my biggest gripe with the piece is the lack of historical context. If the Globe was, as Armstrong contends, arguably the best sports department ever–and perhaps it was–who else is in the conversation? For some perspective, I e-mailed John Schulian, a former sports columnist with an encyclopedic knowledge of the great newspaper sports departments.

Here is Schulians’s reply: 

Call me a cranky old man if you must, but I think the piece is missing something very important — the names of all the great sports sections that are legitimate challengers to the Globe’s alleged omnipotence. Where’s Stanley Woodward’s New York Herald Tribune? What about the two glorious eras that the L.A. Times enjoyed? What about the wars in Philadelphia between the Bulletin and the Daily News? Just for the hell of it, I might even throw in Newsday when Jack Mann was preaching anarchy on Long Island and the irreverent New York Post of the Sixties and Seventies. And what, pray tell, about the staff that Blackie Sherrod put together at the Fort Worth Press when Eisenhower was in the White House?

If those sections don’t get at least a tip of the hat, Mr. Armstrong has written in a vacuum. Worse yet, he has failed to provide some much needed perspective. The Globe was splendid, all right, but part of the reason it scaled the heights it did was because it was pushed by the competition, in Boston and nationally.

I loved the Globe that Mr. Armstrong extols at marathon length, and I’m an enthusiastic admirer of any number of its writers for both their intrepid reporting and dextrous prose. But I think it’s fair to say that none of them ever matched the Herald Trib’s Red Smith and Joe Palmer word for word. (If Woodward had succeeded in hiring John Lardner to write a column, too, it would have put this best-section-ever nonsense to rest for eternity.) The rest of the roster wasn’t bad, either: Jess Abramson on boxing and track and field and college football, and Tommy Holmes on baseball, and Al Laney writing features, and the boss, Stanley Woodward, kicking ass whenever he found time to write a column. Roger Kahn, Jerry Izenberg, Jack Mann and Pete Axthelm came along later, as if the Trib’s literary needed more gloss. Think they could play in the same league as the Globe? I do.

There must be a lot of old Philly guys who think they could have held their own in that fight, too. At the Bulletin 30 and 40 and — it doesn’t seem possible — 50 years ago, you had true giants like Sandy Grady and George Kiseda working wonders with the language and investing their stories with social consciousness. Every kid the Bulletin hired learned by their example, from Ray Didinger and Mark Heisler to Alan Richman, Jim Barniak and Joe McGinniss. They had to hustle, though, because Larry Merchant was sports editor at the Daily News and he was bent on giving the paper a reputation for more than stories about pretty girls cut in half on vacant lots. He brought Grady and Kiseda to Philly, saw them defect to the Bulletin and responded by hiring away Bill Conlin. He found Stan Hochman in San Bernadino. And he had a beautiful madman named Jack McKinney writing boxing. By the time Merchant decamped for New York in the mid-Sixites, he had established a tradition that would last for decades more. Think of this, if you will: When I worked at the Daily News, from 1984 to 1986, my fellow columnists were Hochman, Didinger and Mark Whicker — any one of us by himself would have been enough for most papers –  and we had Conlin on baseball, Hoops Weiss on college basketball, Phil Jasner on the 76ers, Jay Greenburg on the Flyers and Paul Domowitch on the Eagles. When the subject of the Globe came up, we always said they had the best Sunday section going. But that was only because we didn’t publish on Sundays. The other six days of the week, we thought we were as good as anybody. Yes, even the Globe.

Forgive me for rattling on this way, but I want to make sure Mr. Armstrong realizes that history is littered with sports sections that could have given the Globe a run for its reputation. They didn’t always have a lot of money for travel, and they didn’t always have staffs that were two deep, but they were smart and inventive and indefatigable. They were also good. Think of how Jack Mann wove Newsday a world-class staff out of old-timers like Bob Waters, the boozy, eloquent boxing writer, and hot young kids like George Vecsey and Steve Jacobson. (Tony Kornheiser came later — and he was something special.) They were so good that Newsweek did a feature on them at a time when most managing editors were almost ashamed to admit their papers had sports sections. At the New York Post, meanwhile, Milton Gross — called “the Eleanor Roosevelt of the sports pages” by the Village Voice’s Joe Flaherty — was always catching a ride home with Floyd Patterson or Don Newcombe after they’d lost ingloriously. Leonard Shecter wrote a vinegary column, and when he moved in, Merchant took his place. Paul Zimmerman covered pro football and Vic Ziegel covered baseball and boxing and wrote slyly funny columns. Even Murray Kempton came down from Olympus to write a classic piece about Sal Maglie after he’d been done in by Don Larsen’s perfect game.

Meanwhile, out in the hinterlands, there were more sports sections catching fire. In Fort Worth, Blackie Sherrod found three kids — Dan Jenkins, Bud Shrake and Gary Cartwright — who were as irreverent as they were gifted and he turned them loose on the world. There was a fourth, Jerre Todd, who is said to have been every bit their equal, but he left the business to make a fortune in advertising. So it goes. But remember this: On a lot of days, the best writer in the joint was still Sherrod.

I can understand, however, why his Press gets forgotten. Hell, there was hardly anybody buying it when it was in business. Not so the L.A. Times, which had two eras in which it could hold its own against any sports section in the business. Indeed, it was the only one that had the space and manpower and budget to compete with the Globe. The Times’ first golden era was in the Seventies when Jim Murray was at the height of his powers as a columnist. But there was lots more to read after you finished his 900-word epistle, great long rambling stories by Jeff Prugh and Dwight Chapin and Ron Rapoport and solid beat reporting by Mal Florence and Ross Newhan and Ted Green. Hard as it is to believe, the Times was even better in its second dalliance with glory. Get a load of the talent they had in the Eighties: Rick Reilly, Richard Hoffer, Mike Littwin, Alan Greenburg, Randy Harvey, Mark Heisler, Scott Ostler, Bill Christine and . . . I know I’m forgetting somebody. Talk about an abundance of talent. When Reilly left for Sports Illustrated, the Times went out and hired Mike Downey, who was as good a columnist as there was. And the section never missed a beat.

You know what? I haven’t mentioned the Washington Post and the reign of George Solomon. I know George wouldn’t appreciate that. I was there in his early days as sports editor, when he was getting it past repeated ass-kickings by the Washington Daily News (Jack Mann again, and Andy Beyer) and the Washington Star (my old friend David Israel was its rowdy young columnist). George could wear you out with his boundless energy, but damn, did he have a great eye for talent. Not just prize imports like Kornheiser, Dave Kindred and Michael Wilbon, but discoveries like Tom Boswell and David Remnick and John Ed Bradley. And, really, how many other sports editors can say that the editor of the New Yorker once covered boxing for them?

Certainly nobody at the Boston Globe.

For another take on the history of sports writing, check out this piece, originally written for GQ, by Alan Richman.

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