Sunday, April 30, 2006

Looking at it Half-Empty

Confusing week in Yankeeland, frustrating losses and decisive wins alternating. Today's game leaves things on the edge of a knife, the difference between a winning record on the week or .500.

The frustration comes from some really weak baseball on Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday, the Yanks lost 4-2 against the Devil Rays, may be be an all-time frustrating game.

(Brief digression, before I continue this rant. I've always wondered if its' just me that thinks the Tampa team's name is horrible; I was heartened by this exchange with La Chiquita as I watched Tuesday's game--"Who are they playing?" "The Devil Rays," "Really? That's really their name?" "Yep," "What the heck is that, anyway?" "It's a ray. It's like a manta," "What, did they run out of fish to name things after?")

Anyway, on Wednesday, the Yanks got 20 baserunners--14 walks, six hits. As you can tell by the score above, they only managed to produce two runs. I only got to see the tail end of this one in strobe fashion at the pool hall (awful experience all around, this week) and it seems like every inning the Yanks had a couple of people on base, and every inning the Rays got out of it. Chien Ming Wang pitched well, two runs in his seven innings of work, but he couldn't help the Yanks with their offensive futility. The Rays won the game in the 10th against Mariano Rivera, working his second inning. That in itself has sprouted a tempest in a teapot, from folks who don't seem to know much about baseball.

One random comment about the Yanks this season, which is applicable to Wednesday's game--this is a brutal baserunning squad. I haven't seen so many senseless run-downs in a season as I've seen from this team this April. Wasn't Larry Bowa supposed to beat the Yanks' runners into shape? Isn't that why he replaced the largely-inoffensive Luis Sojo?

Frustration on Friday was primarily about Jaret Wright. In terms of adjusted dollars, I wonder if Wright is a bigger bust than Pascual Perez, another fellow who signed a big-dollar deal with the Yanks despite a bum wing. Wright has been miserable, and his line on Friday--five innings, six hits, four walks, four runs, no strikeouts--has been pretty typical of his performance as a Yankee. Just awful.

Carl Pavano got more money than Wright, but Wright's the bigger bust. You couldn't really see Pavano's injuries coming, except in a TINSTAAPP-type way (TINSTAAPP stands for "There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect" which means that generally speaking pitchers, particularly young ones, get injured often enough that it's hard to rely on them). Wright sucked and was unhealthy for a number of years prior to pitching for the Leo Mazzone Braves in 2004, failed his medical exam when the Yanks signed him in December, 2004, and the Yanks signed him, anyway. That's just a class in mismanagement.

On Friday, the Yanks again had some chances against the Blue Jays, and they simply couldn't get things done. Aside from Wright, a lot of the blame has been doled out to Alex Rodriguez, who had a bad week.

Now, Alex has been hearing the boos at the Stadium, even though he didn't quite have the worst week among Yankee batters. He just hasn't looked good at the plate lately, and he's a frustrating guy to watch when he's not in sync.

After Wednesday's game, folks I spoke to were angry--out of all proportion to the Yanks' record. At the office, a title company rep who sometimes offers me tickets was simply livid, "...everyone trying to hit home runs..." he hissed. The Yanks took two out of three against the D-Rays, and are in a position to do the same to the Jays today. Sure, it's not dominance, but it's not last April.

Back later tonight or early tomorrow with the Week in Review.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Week In Review: Treading Water

Record for the Week: 3-2
Overall Record: 9-8

Story of the Week: Was there a story for last week? The Yanks battled the middle of the division, Toronto and Baltimore. Unlike last year, Baltimore isn't making exciting noises; for all the noise the Blue Jays made in the off-season, some of their improvements have not yet taken, and might not any time soon. A.J. Burnett is making a return trip to the DL, which is looking like a re-run of a few of Burnett's more frustrating seasons with the Marlins. Against this competition, the Yanks finished just above .500, losing what seemed to be a particularly winnable game on Friday. It's not the end of the world, but it's not much progress either, given that the Red Sox are 12-7, and Curt Schilling looks like his reconstructed ankle is all better now. On to the awards.

Player of the Week: A tie between Jason Giambi (.286/.500/1.000, 3 HR in 20 PA) and Derek Jeter (.471/.591/.824, 2 3B in 22 PA). Mike Mussina and Shawn Chacon did well in their respective starts this past week, winning easily--although Chacon's good start was paired with a poor relief outing.

Dregs of the Week: Anemic doesn't begin to describe Johnny Damon's efforts this past week: .136/.208/.136 in 24 PA. He still managed to play good defense, however. Not sure that Hideki Matsui can say the same, with a performance (.200/.273/.300, including the last out in Friday's game) that was rather feeble. Chien Ming Wang went from a good start last week, to being a source of concern again against the Orioles.

The C/P Ratio: STOP THE PRESSES! This week's Ratio was 1/11(!), bringing the overall C/P Ratio to 15/18. The good news is, that it seems that either a) Miguel Cairo is suffering from an injury which is keeping him out of action, b) Cairo drank the last of Joe Torre's green tea, and wouldn't go to the store to buy more, so he's in the dog house, or c) Torre has realized that with Carlos Pena in AAA last week, he needs to get a real idea of what Andy Phillips can do. The bad news is, Phillips only managed two singles and a walk in his 11 plate appearances--although Pena isn't doing much better (.200/.429/.267 in 21 PA) with the Clippers. Phillips isn't getting a fair shake, but he needs to do more with the opportunities he's been given, fair or not.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Ballpark, Finally

After both Brother J and I having to pass up on our tickets to Opening Day, our Sunday ticket plan finally kicked in for a matchup we could attend--today's matchup between the Yanks and the Orioles.

Now, at first this didn't look like a matchup we would actually attend. It's been a rainy weekend in the Big Apple, and it showered pretty hard overnight from Saturday to Sunday. In the old days, this game wouldn't've been playable--Yankee Stadium used to flood pretty easily, and a rain like we had this weekend would've left standing puddles in the Stadium outfield the size of Lake Victoria.

A few years ago, they fixed the drainage under the field, making it relevant that the forecast called for the rain to stop right around game time, with "scattered showers" for the rest of the day. So, soggy or not, J and I trekked up to the Bronx armed with umbrellas and plastic sheeting for the seats.

Stepping into the Stadium, it seemed lots of people hadn't gotten the memo about Yankee Stadium's drainage system, or the forecast. The place was about half-empty, although tellingly, both bleachers were mostly full. How many empty seats you see in the bleachers is probably the best indicator of a game's paid attendance (48,000, at least a third of whom were cleverly disguised as blue plastic seats).

Our seats were in fair territory behind the rightfield fence. As we walked in--after the announced game time--Randy Johnson was still doing his long tossing in front of the gate to the bullpens. The sight of Randy made me worried, since he looked like something was very much wrong with him--after each throw, he was shaking his arm, as if trying to loosen up the shoulder. He walked slowly and uncomfortably. Between the Unit's discomfort and the bad weather I turned to J and said, "Why are they taking a chance, here? Why not start Jaret Wright? He's an animal anyway, who cares if he loses his soul?"

Nonetheless, Johnson was going to start the game. A quick National Anthem later (the flag was at half staff, likely in honor of the deaths of Acosta and Trejo in the Dominican Republic), we were ready to go: the battery of Johnson and Posada, Andy Phillips with a start at first against the lefty, Bruce Chen, and otherwise the lineup pretty much as you'd expect: Cano, Jeter and Alex Rodriguez filling out the infield, Matsui, Damon, and Sheffield from left to right in the outfield. Once the time for first pitch came, Johnson was transformed. He had back his usual windup--if with a slightly lower arm angle than usual, and from the start the gun had his fastball at 92-93 MPH. He struck out his first batter, center fielder Luis Terrero, setting him up with a slider that Terrero must've swung a foot over, followed by heat high and outside.

After Johnson retired the side in order, and the Yanks stranded Gary Sheffield in the bottom of the inning, Miguel Tejada guessed right on a pitch, popping it high down the right field line. From our vantage point, the ball looked to be going foul, foul, and then just curling in to hit the netting on the foul pole. One-nil O's.

Little did we know that that would be the Orioles only run of the day. Giambi took things in hand leading off the bottom of the second, with a line drive homer to right center. Afterward, the bottom of the lineup strung together three singles to give the Pinstripers a 2-1 lead. An inning later, the Yanks ran themselves out of the inning--Jeter getting picked off following a leadoff single, Gary Sheffield caught stealing after a single of his own. With a bizarre sense of equanimity, Melvin "Hands of Stone" Mora couldn't handle Alex Rodriguez's inning-ending grounder. This allowed Giambi another chance at Chen...with the same result as before. 4-1 Yanks.

The highlight of the fourth inning was Johnson's strikeout of Jay Gibbons, who comically swung through the slider so badly I almost expected him to screw his way into the dirt, like a Buggs Bunny cartoon. In the fifth, Jeter followed up a Damon infield single with a double, and Damon ultimately came around to score on an Alex Rodriguez sac fly. The Orioles were then bailed out of the inning by the Yankees second lineout double play of the game (a similar play had saved the O's in the second inning).

Now, by the fifth inning, a steady drizzle was falling, and there looked to be no let-up to the weather. I was looking for the inning to finish so that we could have an official game, while hiding my scorecard underneath my coat between pitches, so it wouldn't get soaked. The rain continued through the sixth inning, coming to an end during the home half of the frame. Once the seventh inning rolled around, the rain was replaced by the sun, suddenly and decisively burning its way through the cloud cover, and beating down on all us poor souls who were wearing layer upon layer of clothing for protection from the elements. As we stripped off our coats, the Yanks put together a rally, on a Derek Jeter single--on which Tejada made a great stop, followed by a horrible throw to the first base seats--a walk by Rodriguez, and an opposite field blast from Giambi to score the runners. That was all the scoring. The Unit went eight innings, throwing fewer than 100 pitches. Mariano Rivera came out and struggled a bit through the ninth. The Yanks take 2 of 3 from a division rival. A good time all around.


Tejada had all four of his team's hits on the afternoon. The only other Oriole to safely reach base was Chris Gomez.

Don't know why folks come to a Yankees-Orioles game wearing their Red Sox gear. I get the folks in their Orioles paraphenalia--they're present to back their team. In case the Sox Boys didn't notice, the Beantowners don't come to the Stadium for a few weeks, yet. Aside from perhaps being a show of support for "Fried Chicken Man" Kevin Millar, what's the message other than "I'm a big, fat jerk, who comes to someone else's ballpark to boo"?

Unintentional comedy in the third inning. Gary Sheffield is doing his foul ball thing, and Larry Bowa--so-called tough guy--keeps backing further and further away. He started off his usual 15 or so feet behind the coaches box, and gradually backed up until he was standing on the dirt track that surrounds the field, only a few feet in front of the bat boy's station. During this interlude, one foul sliced well over Bowa's head and into the stands, hitting some poor guy right in the ear. After the inning, they broadcast the "be alert about foul balls going into the stands" warning, the video now lead off by Johnny Damon, who had ad-libbed in the taped spot, "and if Gary Sheffield's at very careful."

Thanks for warning us, Johnny.

By the way, in the great Yankee Stadium Drinking Game, how many MGD's do you have to chug if Sheffield nails Bowa with one of those foul line drives?

We could call that one, "Pin the Tail on the Bowa."

I'll be back tomorrow with the week in review.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Off Day

Inspired by the Yanks' opponent of the last few days, I have a piece up at Baseball Prospectus. The obligatory taste:

When you don’t like a team’s chances of making the playoffs, the accusations of bias are a given. But when that team is Canada’s major league franchise, the claims of bias run toward nationality--we are accused of hating Canada.

The irony of such an accusation is that, here at Baseball Prospectus, we love Canadians, adoration that borders on worship. Hardly a Canadian has ever stepped into BP’s Palatial Headquarters without being crowded by supplicant statheads, shouting requests such as “Will you tell us what paradise is like?” or “Is it true that everyone has health care in Canada?” or the ever-popular “Canadian! Bless my child!”

You might ask, if we feel so strongly about Canadians, how can the Blue Jays only rank 12th on this week’s Hit List? How can such a poor showing be anything other than rank bias against our neighbors to the North? The answer is simple. While the Toronto franchise is technically Canadian, its players are not.

In other news, the Yanks lost two members of the family when GCL Yankees manager Oscar Acosta and Dominican Field Coordinator Humberto Trejo were killed in a car accident outside of Santo Domingo on Wednesday. Acosta had been a pitching coach of the Rangers and Cubs before taking the Rookie League managing job with the Yanks. Acosta was also pitching coach for the Yanks' Columbus team in the mid 90's. We send our condolences to both men's families in this awful, tragic time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Oh. Canada.

Hellish week at the office so far, meaning that all the Yankee action I've caught has been courtesy of Yankees Encore on the YES Network. As a result, my comments won't be terribly detailed, as watching a game on replay is always a bit harder than watching live--specially when you're a geek like me who can't resist finding out the score before I catch the game.

Yesterday, I picked up the action in the second inning, with the Yanks up, 4-3. Saw a lefty on the mound, and immediately thought--Johnson must've been scratched, and they've got either Matt Smith or Ron Villone picking up the spot start.

Yes, I saw the "41" on the pitcher's back. I saw that he was a tallish lefthander. But the windup, the pitching motion, the look of his pitches--I wouldn't have guessed it was Johnson until I saw a closeup of the Big Unit's scraggly mug.

Johnson had nothing, which immediately became evident as the Jays swatted him like a pinata. The claim is that he's not hurt, but I simply can't believe that--I mean, you're asking me to believe that after sixteen years of success, Johnson just decided to completely change the way he pitches, voluntarily?

The Yanks never recovered from the Unit's bad start, going on to lose, 10-5. There was a moment in the fourth inning which stood out, because I think it was the first time I started to "get" the Johnny Damon phenomenon. With Scott Proctor relieving Johnson, Vernon Wells hit a hard shot to right center, which Damon tracked down at full speed on the warning track. After the catch, Damon went on to slam head first into the thankfully-padded wall. It was just a violent collision, with Damon's head snapping back as he made contact with the wall.

The thing was, after he picked himself up, Damon had this grin on his face. The thought that came to my mind, in the most affectionate way possible, was "thank god he hit that wall head-first--otherwise, he might have damaged something vital."

Maybe you just had to be there.

By the way, for all I appreciate Damon's reaction, I'd like it if the pitchers would stop trying to kille the Yankee outfielders. The Blue Jays were hitting the ball on the screws all night, so Yankees were constantly and recklessly racing around the outfield trying to corral those hard-hit shots--it's dangerous, I tell you.


Watching the replay of today's game as I type. Mussina's a stark contrast to Johnson, in that his pitches and pitching style are entirely different than in his prime, but his mechanics and windup are all the same--he still does the deep bend from the waist when he's pitching from the stretch, he still holds his glove close to his body, for the most part he uses the same arm slot when he throws. Just that where he was once a power pitcher, now he's a pure junkballer. He's a guy with a half-dozen breaking pitches and changeups, each thrown at a variety of different speeds.

When he's on--and today, he was on--he is all about breaking up the batter's tempo, and moving his eye level. Mussina lives on no margin, every pitch he throws in the strike zone could be blasted into the next state (or, in yesterday's case, province), if the batter connects. But it's hard to make that kind of connection when the next pitch could be thrown anywhere from 62 to 85 miles per hour, and could feature any form of movement imaginable.

That said, I don't think Mussina sticks with this team after the season.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Week In Review: Thank Heaven for the Royals

Record for the Week: 4-2
Overall Record: 6-6

Without the Royals, the Yanks would have a 3-6 record--albeit all road games against expected contenders (the Twins, A's, and Angels). Still, eventually the Yanks have to start beating good teams if they're hoping to make it to October, much less make any noise when they get there. Not sure if there are many enduring lessons from today's game, aside from basic things like "bunting is bad," "Bernie Williams still looks done," and "this pitching staff is kind of scary--and not in a good way."

Player of the Week: Even with a DNP in Saturday's game, Jason Giambi was the best hitter on the Bombers' squad this week, batting .571/.684/.929 with 4 homers and 10 RBI on the week. On the pitching side, there's not much consistency over the week, other than a few scoreless appearances by Scott Proctor and Mike Myers.

Dregs of the Week: Tanyon Sturtze allowed three runs in one and two thirds innings, which sucks pretty bad; Jaret Wright faced an eight-hit barrage from the Twins on Saturday, allowing four runs (one unearned) in three innings.

Story of the Week: Other than the Royals suck and the Twins don't? Maybe it's the small roster moves the Yanks made this week. The era of the third catcher comes to an end in the Bronx, as the Yanks got Wil Nieves through waivers, and have now designated Koyie Hill. If Hill makes it through waivers, the Yanks will have real depth at the catcher position--which doesn't mean they'd be able to replace Jorge Posada's production if Hip-Hip-Jorge had to hit the DL, but at least they wouldn't have to scramble just to fill a spot in case of an injury to Posada or even extreme suckitude by current backup catcher Kelly Stinett. Those moves made, the Yanks picked up a couple more castoffs from other organizations--first baseman Carlos Pena out of Detroit, and reliever Jesus Colome from the Devil Rays.

None of these moves are for world-beaters. Pena projects as a defensive replacement and competition for Bernie Williams for spot duty in the lineup. Nieves and Hill project as backup catchers, maybe. Colome may be damaged goods. But the impressive thing is the change in direction, where the Yanks are looking for freely available talent, and depth. Next thing you know, Brian Cashman might actually find a righthanded hitting backup for the outfield, without having to eat an eight figure contract. Wouldn't that be something?

The C/P Ratio: 9/5 this week, 14/7 overall. Miguel Cairo got two starts this week, including another start at first base. Phillips also got a start, which is progress--but only against the toughest lefthander in the majors, Johan Santana. The result? Three strikeouts, and Joe Torre's assurance that he gave Andy a fair chance, and the kid just didn't produce. Pena's acquisition could render the C/P Ratio moot, by eventually sending Phillips through waivers and (he hopes) out of the organization.


Just realized that I shorted Giambi on his Player of the Week numbers--the Giambino actually hit .571/.700/1.571 on the week. Some honorable mention should go to the boys at the top of the order--Damon and Jeter each scored seven runs on the week, Damon with a 1.054 OPS, Jetes with a .970 mark.

Another noteworthy performance, Dregs-wise, came courtesy of Bernie Williams. Bernie hit a truly empty .300 last week--6 for 20 with no extra base hits, and no walks, good for a .600 OPS.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Bad Feeling...

Here's a turning point for a game for you.

Bottom of the 8th, Mariano Rivera comes in and shuts the door on the Twins, who're down 5-4 and had a man on first. Mariano gets Shannon Stewart to tap into a 6-3 double play. Everything's good.

Then, in the top of the ninth, Johnny Damon draws a leadoff walk against Twins' phenom Francisco Liriano. That brings the Captain to the plate, and in comes, Juan Rincon, he of the steroid bust last year.

Rincon pitches out, then throws another ball to Jeter, as Damon steals second base. So Damon's in scoring position, with no outs; Jeter's got a 2-0 count; and yeah, Jeter's also 3-3 with a walk on the day.

So naturally, the Captain bunts Damon over to third.

Sometimes a bad move makes you curse, or throw your remote at the TV. This...astounding moment hit me like a sucker shot to the gut. I couldn't even process what happened, it was so surprising. And right then, the feeling struck me, they're going to lose this game.

Sheffield came up, almost lost his at bat early on when a pop-up hit a speaker in the Metrodome and went foul. Then the at bat took on an epic feel, as Sheffield fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch, with the YES crew (who, indeed, had praised the Captain's decision to give himself up prior to this at bat) throwing silly affirmations at Sheff like "you know, usually in this kind of situation, the longer the at bat goes, the more advantage to the batter" and "what's important is that these foul balls have given Sheffield a chance to get his timing down against Rincon." Then, on the 14th pitch of the at-bat, Sheffield whiffed.

Two outs, the advantage of moving Damon to third completely gone, Alex Rodriguez at the plate. No runs score.

Now, I know that the decision to bunt had nothing to do with the Yanks' failings--and the Twins' hard work--in the bottom of the ninth. Luis Castillo deserves a ton of credit for his Baltimore-shop base hit (hat tip to the ump who called the 2-2 pitch a ball). Joe Mauer deserves a ton of credit for his at bat against Rivera--and Hideki Matsui deserves a tongue-lashing for throwing to the wrong base, and allowing Mauer to go to second. Rivera deserves a ton of credit for masterful back-to-back strikeouts of ex-Yank Rondell White and Torii Hunter, and for (it looked to me) breaking Morneau's bat on the final pitch of the game (a blooper past Cano).

But back to Jeter's bunt. I don't know how that possibly makes sense to anyone. Want to stay out of the double play? Damon was already on second, and he's the fastest guy on the team, able to score on a single. Maybe Jeter's not swinging the bat well? He was 3-3, batting in a great hitter's count. Forget run expectation charts and all that stathead stuff--how is it a good baseball play to not even make Rincon throw Jeter a strike before letting him off the hook for that at-bat.

The Yanks' six sacrifice bunts so far this season lead the American League. This is an offense that was supposed to score 1,000 runs in 2006, which just leaves me scratching my head, and thinking that tonight's game could have, and should have, been won.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Grouchy Friday

All right. After some unnecessary Home Opener excitement, the Yanks swept the Royals, and headed out of town. Picked a good time, too, because they skipped out to the Midwest just as some Spring showers hit the area. Yesterday was a perfect baseball day. Today was a good day to stay indoors.

Despite the victories over the Missourians, I find myself in a testy mood. Part of it was Randy Johnson leaving the game after five yesterday--the words "shoulder stiffness" form a profanity in my household, even if the brain trust doesn't seem too concerned.

Another part of it was the greeting I got this morning, when I picked up the newspaper. La Chiquita subscribes to the New York Times, so most mornings on my way out the door, I stop in our vestibule, pick the sports section out of the newspaper, and leave the rest of it there for her to pick up when she comes downstairs.

This morning, I spotted a Yankee story on the front page of the Metro section, so I grabbed that, as well. I should have known better. The story was entitled "Yankee Fans Only a Brewer Could Love." I really didn't know what to expect--a story about a microbrewery in the Bronx?

Um, no. Here's how the story begins:
FOR the planned new Yankee Stadium, attention has focused mostly on concerns like gobbled-up parkland, parking garages, a Metro-North station and team spending in the Bronx. One matter has not been raised, not in public anyway, but it does seem worth mentioning.

It is called jail. How many holding cells will the new ballpark have to contain the hopelessly oafish fans who will inevitably be arrested through the course of the baseball season?
So I wonder, what this all about? Did some incident occur at the stadium during the homestand? No. What happened is that last October, the author of the story, Clyde Haberman, wrote a piece entitled "Throw Out the Bums...In the Stands." (To give you an idea of the author's balanced take, here's what can be seen of the article, from outside the Times Select iron curtain: "NOW that their season is over, the New York Yankees are likely to shop for new players over the winter, and may even (gasp!) seek a new manager to take over from the estimable Joseph Paul Torre. What they really should look for are new fans.") Turns out that Haberman's fan-baiting from last year spawned some email--presumably also from last year--which the author thought would be good for an easy column, plus or minus a month from Opening Day.

Now, Haberman's a hack. Even before he decided to talk trash about Yankee fans, I had no patience for his "stylings," which are a lot like a those of a comedy club burnout whose act is so weak, he spends all his time insulting the audience to make up for it.

Back to the article, which goes on to lambaste Yankee fans--and, save for a one-off mention of Fenway, only Yankee fans--for their "loutish" behavior. With no recent incidents for Haberman to talk about, obviously he'd give us some facts--y'know, statistics about fan arrests, or something of that sort--to back up his argument, right?

Wrong again. After all, who needs facts when you can simply quote anecdotal evidence from the self-declared smartest people in the world, the Newspaper of Record's readers?
Overwhelmingly, readers who weighed in agreed that the Yankees, their security guards and the New York Police Department could all be doing more to rein in the unpleasant number of fans who believe that ballgames are where you go to get royally plastered, scream obscenities, pick fights and yell at women to take their tops off.

"I have traveled with my kids to Baltimore, Boston, Shea, both fields in Chicago and San Francisco, and we go to baseball games frequently," wrote Arthur Lowenstein, a lawyer who lives in Hastings-on-Hudson. "In my experience, there is no park anywhere that is as bad as Yankee Stadium in terms of safety and security."

Now, this Mr. Lowenstein is such a ballpark security expert, that one of the exemplars of stadium security he chooses--U.S. Cellular Field--has twice in the last four years been the scene of fans trying to beat up on-field personnel. Don't remember that happening at Yankee Stadium. But then again, maybe Mr. Lowenstein felt he and his children were safe in Chicago, since, after all, they were in the stands, and not on the field.

Anyway, my initial reaction to Haberman's article was one which he would probably use as an example of Yankee fans' "lack of civility." I believe it's a little something the vice-president said to a member of congress last year. Then, when I was a bit calmer, I mused as to the sheer number of Yankee fans who must have, at some point, taken liberties with his mom to give him such a jaundiced and prejudicial view of the Pinstriped Faithful, as a whole.

But seriously, whenever a columnist argues about the need for "civility" at any sports arena, it's a fixed ballgame. It calls on anyone disagreeing with the columnist's view to argue against civility, and inspires some less-than-objective comments in agreement (for example a "New Jersey restauranteur" quoted in the article seems to mind Yankee fans, as a concept, more than he decries any specific behavior of theirs).

Yes, the Stadium can be a tough place to take kids. The fans are loud, often mean, and sometimes drunk. There are, however, a few things you can do about it:

Know Where You're Sitting: If you want to keep your kids (or even your adults) away from drunken "loutish" behavior, there are alcohol-prohibited areas in the Stadium. Take advantage of them. If you see someone drinking in a section where they shouldn't get security--which is plentiful at the Stadium, and much more cooperative than they were in the late 80's or early 90's, when Stadium security actually was horrible.

Know Who They're Playing
: Matchups against the Mets and Red Sox are not family-friendly. Then again, neither are Dodgers-Giants games. At least I've never heard of anyone getting shot after a Yanks/Sox or Mets game, which is more than we can say for Giants/Dodgers.

Leave the Chip on Your Shoulder at the Door
: Even in Yankee Stadium, courtesy begets courtesy. A lot of visitors and commuters to New York seem to think that as far as politeness goes, New York City is the Wild West. Folks who are devoted to "please" and "thank you" in their home communities cast that off when they get to the Big Apple. Instead, they choose to drop f-bombs on anyone and everyone who gets in their way, because "that's the way things are
done here." When these folks enter Yankee Stadium, they magnify that attitude by a factor of fifty.

If you're cheering for the visiting team at any arena, be smart. Have a sense of humor when your team is down, and don't gloat too much when your team's ahead. Approach potential confrontations from the point of view of someone who is extremely outnumbered.

I'm not saying this as anything profound. It's common sense, and nothing that should be too difficult if you're actually a devotee of "civility." If your aims are somewhat less lofty--say, wanting to put "entitled" Yankee fans in their place--obviously, you should expect to meet some hostility in return.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Something Missing...

Brother J and I had tickets to the home opener. In the way of such things, I had work, he had work--it just didn't work out.

We missed a heck of a ballgame. The Royals almost made me eat my "interlocking N-Y" cap over that "get healthy" crack I made on Sunday. Still, the Captain bailed us out, hitting a big homer in the bottom of the 8th that helped turn a 7-4 deficit into a 9-7 victory in the Bronx. I'm hoping that Brother T, who was actually at the game, can drop by for some guest-host time to fill you in on the details.

Meanwhile, J and I weren't the only ones who missed the game. Bob Sheppard, the fellow we Yankee fans modestly call The Voice of God, missed the opener with a hip injury. It's his first missed opener in 54 or so years, so I guess we can comp him a day off. Here's to a quick recovery for Mr. Sheppard, and some kindness and patience for his fill-in, Jim Hall, who now has to deal with the most spoiled fans on the face of the Earth--P.A. announcer-wise, at least.


In Jamaica, I once saw a man take action from little kids on "racing crabs." It was a perfectly realized gambling operation, except the kids didn't know enough about betting yet to make the fellow give them odds.

Not that I'm much of a gambling man, but I'd put my money on Octavio Dotel (controversial Tommy John surgery last season) coming back before Carl Pavano (myriad mystery maladies, including bad shoulder, bad back, bad ass, and possibly shot nerves).

Looking at the AL East, none of the teams look like they currently have the team they'll finish the year with. The Yanks are at least one starting pitcher off--they could get relief help from Dotel, Ramiro Mendoza, and/or Colter Bean (if he wasn't in the Torre Doghouse, along with Andy Phillips), but the #2 starter this team needs probably isn't on the 40 man roster. The Red Sox will probably need help in the pen (Craig Hansen coming) and in the infield (Dustin Pedroia and Hee Seop Choi on their way). The Blue Jays will probably need help in the outfield, starting rotation and bullpen. The Orioles need relief pitching, help at first base and possibly right field. The Devil Rays need to make room for their incoming stars, BJ Upton and Delmon Young.

The thing that worries me is that of all those teams, the Yanks have the least to deal from. The most reasonable contract on the team probably belongs to Jorge Posada--but there's no one in the minors to replace Jorge. What the Yanks could deal is broken down starting pitchers, and mid-level minor leaguers.

This worries me.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Yankees Week In Review: Unbalanced Attack

One week into the 2006 season, the Bombers stand at two-and-four, salvaging a win in the last game of the California swing, defeating the Angels, 10-1. So, in the Yanks' two wins they scored 25 runs, crushing the titular aces of their opponents' starting pitching corps: Barry Zito in Oakland, Big Bartolo Colon in Los Angeles of Anaheim. That's twelve and a half runs per game. In the four losses bracketed by those two wins, the Yankees scored a total of ten runs--that's two and a half runs per game.

That doesn't mean anything, yet. It feels a little bit like last year, but it is only one week's worth of data, and the Yanks were facing the two powerhouse teams of the West. Things should get better, quickly, as the Pinstripers receive a nice big helping of Kansas City Royals for their home opening series in the Bronx.

Player of the Week: Hideki Matsui posted a .400/.444/.800 week, slamming three homers in 27 plate appearances, leading the Yanks in homers and OPS. Still, it was a close call, since Matsui's defense in the early going has been pretty scary--you see it most clearly when we look at Marco Scutaro's game-winning hit on Tuesday. Other candidates are Alex Rodriguez (.320/.393/.560, 2 HR) and Derek Jeter (.348/.464/.565, but a big error in Wednesday's game), and on the pitching side of the ledger, Randy Johnson (1-1, 2.44 ERA, 11K in 15 IP).

Dregs of the Week: Given all the stuff that went on in Scott Proctor's family over the last week-plus, he gets a pass. Shawn Chacon's start against the Angels belied research over at Baseball Prospectus by Marc Normandin (in the Yankees' Notebook slot usually used by yours truly) which shows that Chacon is less of a collapse risk than most projection systems indicate. Still, four runs in less than five innings is not the end of the world, yet. By default, then, Dreg of the Week honors go to Bernie Williams.

Bernie posted a .222/.300/.278 line in 20 plate appearances this week, starting four out of six games. I'm one of Bernie's biggest fans, and I have been since he was in the minors. Still, when I did my HACKING MASS team this week, and for some reason Bernie (along with some other projected DHs) was listed as a firstbaseman...I put him on the team. I worry that maybe this makes me a bad person.

Story of the Week: Mariano Rivera only gets into one game in Week One, which unless there's something wrong with Mariano that we don't know about, is an indictment of the "closer" usage pattern all on its own. The Yanks played two one-run losses, but because the Yanks were on the road, the closer could not be summoned.

The C/P Ratio: Stands at 5/2, which I think speaks for itself.

Wondering what the heck am I talking about? The C/P Ratio is the proportion of plate appearances given to Miguel Cairo relative to those given to Andy Phillips. This week, Cairo got five plate apperances, with a start at first base today against Colon(?!?), while Phillips got to be a defensive substitute in two blowout wins. The only position player to have fewer plate appearances on the roster is the third catcher platoon of Wil Nieves and Koyie Hill (the former was sent down in favor of the latter this week). That's where Phillips ranks in the big scheme of things.

Note to Phillips: whatever you've done to tick Joe Torre off (welsh on a bet, or make a pass at his wife, perhaps?), apologize. Please. Just to see if it works.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Review: Thank You for Smoking

In 1998, Aaron Eckhart broke onto the scene hard with a role in playwright Neil Labute's directorial debut, In the Company of Men. Eckhart's character, a sociopathic, backstabbing, son of a bitch known only as "Chad," was one of the best villains of the past twenty years--a smiling liar capable of romancing a deaf office worker, and in the exact same tone, mocking her voice in the very next scene. It was a scene-stealing, stand-up-and-take-notice role.

A star is born, right? Not so fast. For some reason, in LaBute's follow-up film, Your Friends and Neighbors, Eckhart didn't get to reprise the role of the sleek predator--instead, he was cast as the onanistic, overweight sap in a larger ensemble piece. While the abrupt shift in character type showed that Eckhart had range, it pretty much doomed the film. With Jason Patric doing a far more typical rendition of the bad guy role, Your Friends... didn't have any charisma to counterbalance the ugliness of LaBute's characters and script. From there he went on to a series of well-received supporting roles, before earning lead roles in flops such as Possession, The Core, and Suspect Zero.

So now, after more than seven years spent trying to break through (again) Eckhart has finally found a vehicle worthy of his talents--as the lead in Thank You for Smoking, director Jason Reitman's adaptation of Christopher Buckley's satirical novel. In the movie, Eckhart is Nick Naylor, mouthpiece for the Tobacco industry. Nick's a bit like what you suspect Chad would be, if he had a soul. Like Chad, Nick is armed with limitless self-confidence and not so much of a conscience. However, Nick isn't malicious--even though he proudly points out to his alcohol and firearms lobbyist friends that his product has the highest death toll--he's just a guy who likes to argue, and influence people, and get paid for it.

In the movie, we follow Nick as he runs errands for Big Tobacco--appearing on talk shows, delivering bribes, and jousting with a Vermont Senator (William H. Macy) who wants all cigarette packs labeled "poison" with a skull and crossbones--while balancing his time as a divorced dad with a young son (Cameron Bright).

Reitman keeps the pace brisk, relentlessly cutting from scene to scene rather than allowing a joke or situation to run past the point where it's humorous. The result is a comedy with relatively few big laughs, but a constant stream of smaller ones. While this approach leaves some of the scenes feeling like they never reached their full comedic potential, the most common crime in 21st century comedies is the tendency to beat any functional gag to death--tune into Saturday Night Live any given weekend if you want to see examples.

Eckhart's supporting cast is excellent, particularly Rob Lowe as an Ovitz-like Hollywood agent, and Maria Bello and David Koechner as Nick's fellow "merchants of death." Bright does a nice, if creepy job as the apple that hasn't fallen far from the tree, but Tom Cruise's baby-momma (Katie Holmes) is a bit over her head as a supposed sexpot reporter.

But really, Thank You for Smoking is Eckhart's show, and he makes the film worth watching. In the hands of many actors, including most of today's leading men, Nick would be a one-dimensional cartoon character, over-played for laughs. Eckhart makes Nick human, without ever letting the story fall into the pit of sentimentality. I heartily recommend the movie.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Channel Surfing

All over the place now, "inspired" by Chien Ming Wang's outing against the A's:

The first five innings of tonight's game have straddled the Exhiliration/Exasperation Line (the Ex-Ex Line, as we like to call it). The first three innings featured the Yanks scoring quick, decisive runs via the longball. The next two innings featured Wang giving back the lead as slowly as possible. To some extent, I appreciate the methodical nature of Wang's efforts, as he did mitigate the damage of the ten baserunners he allowed in his four and two-thirds innings. Also, it should be noted that Wang was victimized by a fourth-inning error by Jeter.

Still, Wang's pace when things are going wrong is agonizing. It's Trachsel-like. Speeding him up a bit should be one of Ron Guidry's priorities this season.

Speaking of Mets, I caught a bit of ther game with the Nats prior to the Yankee game starting. I'll go to the bullet points, here:
  • I was going to mention this the other day, but the Mets' new helmets are absurd. They've got this two-tone stylized thing going on that makes the boy's heads look like they were ripped out of an Astro-Boy cartoon.
  • Anderson Hernandez has got an amazing glove. A shame that in the same game where he made a great diving play on a blooper to the outfield, he also swung the bat like he was Stevie Wonder.
  • Not a Met, but still an item of interest--Ryan Zimmerman looks like the real deal. Given that the Mets have a stud at third in David Wright, you could be looking at the next generation of Hot Corner stars in the NL East.
  • Yeah, Wagner had Enter Sandman first. I'm biased, but I think that Mariano's done it more justice. I think they should settle this on the field, with a simple bet: whoever posts the most saves keeps the theme song, and gets to pick the other guy's new theme song.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Pinstripers Oaklanding

Opening Day opened and closed, leaving the Bombers one win richer in Oakland. The Yanks victory was of the blowout variety, with the Yanks slapping Barry Zito like a redheaded stepchild in the second inning, to the tune of seven runs, including a grand slam by A-Rod. The Unit managed to keep the affair from becoming suspenseful by allowing only five hits over his seven innings of work, and the only run on a solo jack by the Big Hurt. In all, it was good for a 15-2 win over the top team in Baseball Prospectus's preseason Hit List.

I feel bashful writing about this, since last night's game was covered up the wazoo. Over at BP, they ran a roundtable on last night's game, as well as the afternoon matchup between the Mets and Los Nationales. Home sick (yeah, still) I watched both games but didn't get my chat on with the BP boys (tough to do witty banter when you're slipping in and out of consciousness).

Also, Bill Simmons did a diary of Red Sox-Rangers tilt Monday afternoon, followed with a diary of Yanks/A's that night. Now, what is it that makes Red Sox fans do this? Sure, it's a chance to call Yankees players infantile names (and, if you're Simmons, to get paid for it), but how many Yankees bloggers (not big, influential columnists now, just bloggers) go out of their way to watch and document a Red Sox game, which has no bearing on their team?

It's like an ex-girlfriend who is very conspicuously dating someone new, yet obsessively knows every detail of your private life she can get her hands on. I thought you'd be over this by now. You've got your rings, now get your own identity to go with them.

I'm not going to go into the "there is no rivalry" riff, since that died in 2004 (maybe even 2003). When the teams are playing each other, I'll happily admit that it does mean more than your typical tilt against the Royals or Devil Rays. But given that the Yanks are stuck playing about 12% of their schedule against the Red Sox, I really don't care to see the Beantowners in their 143 other regular season games. I don't need to "check on the rivalry" during the few weeks of the season that don't feature a Yanks/Red Sox series.

Complaints aside, Simmons' piece is pretty funny.

A few notes on tonight's game:

Mike Myers is a one-trick pony (hey guys, it's coming belt-high or lower, and off a corner!). Still, it's a pretty neat trick.

Jeez, I'd forgotten how much Street's fastball moves. I pity the ump that has to figure out if that thing darted through the strike zone.

Man, they play shallow on Cano. On a fly to not-so-deep center field, Kotsay had to do some bigtime backpedalling to make the catch.

WHYWHYWHY is Scott Proctor in a tie game? Scott Walkamatic Proctor! Walks the first batter, of course! WHY!

I mean, yesterday the Yanks were up by fourteen runs. That was Scott Proctor Time! Not the tie game, when the next opposition run wins the game!

It'd kill Farnsworth to come out for one more inning? What about Sturtze? Why on Earth is Jaret Wright on the roster?

Sac bunt, intentional walk (why bother?), and a long double later, it's over. Four batters, twelve pitches, three strikes. The Proctor will see you now.

Bad, bad, stupid loss. Mussina gave the Yanks more than expected tonight. The Yanks got enough guys on base against Rich Harden and the A's bullpen (fifteen baserunners). Men in scoring position in each of the last three innings. They just couldn't convert. This game goes into the file of anyone who hates Alex Rodriguez--two hits and a run scored, but five men left on base, strikeouts with runners in scoring position in the first and seventh innings, getting caught off first base in the third inning. An ugly performance.

As much as I like Alex, as great a player as he is, people pitch to him. It's not like Ortiz, or Bonds, or Manny Ramirez, or Albert Pujols, where in big spots, you can see the pitcher saying "Where the heck am I going to pitch this guy?" and suddenly every pitcher becomes a nibbler, trying to stay away from the guy's power. Heck, Frank Thomas--a guy the A's picked up on liquidation sale--gets that type of respect from Mussina in the sixth.

I haven't seen anyone do that for Rodriguez as a Yankee. Pitchers seem to sweat Sheffield's at bats more than Alex's. Back-to-back reigning MVP, and there's still room for improvement.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Opening It Up

This weekend fetured some pretty mild weather in the Big Apple, meaning, as the night follows the day, that I was due to get sick. After spending about 38 of my 48 weekend hours sleeping, my eyes fluttered open just in time to catch Opening Night, Indians at White Sox. A few thoughts:

I'm not a big fan of Opening Night (as opposed to Opening Day), as it is, but if you're going to insist on it, do something smart. For example, make the night opener a West Coast affair, or put it somewhere south, where there is some hope of good weather. Tonight's opener was delayed by rain, and looked pretty cold, to boot. Sure, those fans that stuck around looked like they were real diehards, but they also looked like they might require hospitalization on Monday morning.

Good introductions. America, Brian Anderson. Brian, this is America. Brian's the guy that made Aaron Rowand expendable, in a move which ultimately netted the Sox Jim Thome. Brian went 2-3 with a walk, a double, and two RBI in the White Sox 10-4 win. It's a nice way to say hello.

During the rain delay, La Chiquita and I found ourselves getting sucked in to AMC's presentation of the Godfather. It was quite a reminder of how powerful this film is, that after just about every scene, La Chiquita would gush "What a great scene!"

It's like, "Yeah, it's the Godfather."

What strikes me are the little flaws in the movie. At one point in the iconic scene where James Caan is beating on Carlo Rizzo, there's an obviously missed punch--the camera's at such an angle that the only way that the actors could have maintained the illusion would have been by Caan actually giving the actor playing Rizzo a shiner. I like the fact that that stayed in, that through a number of director's cuts and special editions, Francis Ford Coppola never went back to take that error off the books.

(I wish all edits could be so kind. Watching the Godfather with commercials, and edited for TV, was pretty weird. The strangest part of the edit was overdubs not only for truly salty language, but for the word "banging" and sicilian cursewords. That's extra effort in censorship!)

Most anticipated first pitch of tomorrow's openers will come in the bottom of the first, with Cris Carpenter dealing to Jimmy Rollins. Rollins hit in 36 consecutive games last season, a streak which he hopes to continue for at least 20 more games to reach Joe Dimaggio's record. While I don't think Rollins will take down the Yankee Clipper, I'd be more than happy to see Rollins hit in nine more, erasing Pete Rose's NL record.

Season predictions, Blink-style--virtually no forethought has been put into this:


Red Sox
Blue Jays
Devil Rays


White Sox
Twins (WC)



AL Cy Young: J. Santana
AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez
AL Rookie: Brian Anderson


Phillies (WC)





NL Cy Young: Roy Oswalt
NL MVP: Albert Pujols
NL Rookie: Ryan Zimmerman