Thursday, December 13, 2007

Waiting on Mr. Mitchell

It's T-minus one hour before the George Mitchell steroid press conference. I swear, MLB must have scheduled this thing specifically to interfere with my writing schedule, since I'm on deadline for three different projects, two of them baseball. A few short-form reactions to recent news:

1) The Yanks Sign LaTroy Hawkins:

I'd have been much more psyched about this a few years ago than I am now. I'd always imagined LaTroy to be a strikeout guy, but if you look it up, he's pretty weak in that aspect, and getting worse. Still, with Joba in the rotation, Kyle Farnsworth being sucky and limited, and Luis Vizcaino leaving us for greener pastures, Joe Girardi is going to need a setup guy that he's comfortable going to in the eighth. I like the fact that this is only a one-year deal.

2) Carl Pavano asked to take a minor league deal:

This one was reported as a done deal over the weekend, before Can't Pitch Carl balked. The move would've allowed the Yanks to clear space on the 40-man, while somehow still getting insurance to pay for part of Pavano's salary, meanwhile Pavano would have had someplace to rehab. This made too much sense to ever happen. It would mean that Carl would have to do something that actually benefits the Yankees--can you imagine that? I swear, if this guy blew his brains out, the bullet would still manage to hit a vital member of the Yankees' team.

3) Yanks Say Good-bye to Andy Phillips, Darrell Rasner, Matt DeSalvo, T.J. Beam, and Bronson Sardinha:

Phillips was released just before the Rule 5 draft, to make room for Jose Molina. Rasner, Beam, DeSalvo, and Sardinha were non-tendered last night to make room for the Yanks' returning free agents. The only one of these that's a surprise is Sardinha, since it looked like the team was warming up to him last season, putting him on the playoff roster. The others were arms who'd been passed on the depth chart, and Phillips, who never showed the power he'd need to be a backup corner infield guy.

4) Kuhn to the Hall, Miller on the Outside Looking In

Marvin Miller should have gotten into the Hall of Fame when the Veteran's Committee vote was expanded to all living Hall-of-Famers a few years back. That group, dominated by the same veteran ballplayers who enjoyed big salaries and pensions as a result of Miller's advocacy on their behalf, couldn't get its act together to get the job done, one of the single greatest acts of ingratitude that you'll see, ever. This year, with the keys to the gates of Cooperstown given to baseball management types, Miller never stood a chance. That his nemesis, the late Commissioner Kuhn, was voted in while Miller was rejected was as direct a snub as you'll see.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Option B

"Beeeeeware the Pavano!"

A ghostly voice woke me in the night. The radiator in the bedroom was going full-blast, and I woke up in a sweat, as if I had a fever. Carl Pavano? Where?

After looking around and making sure that Can't Pitch Carl wasn't in the bedroom, threatening myself and La Chiquita with grievous bodily harm. I settled back down for some rest. What the heck was that about?

"Beware the Paavaaaaanoooooo!"

I woke back up, peeved. What Pavano? And why did the ghostly voice think that moaning out a different word in the sentence would make me more likely to heed its call? I mean, for the first time in three years, I was finally over my Pavano issues--Carl had his Tommy John surgery in June, and it seemed like the timing of that was so that the Yankees could ensure he'd never again pitch in a Yankee uniform (since even people with normal healing times usually take more than 15 months to come back from ligament replacement). The Yanks would keep him on the roster, get back whatever they could in insurance money, and then we could put one of the worst free agent signings ever behind us, forever.

"Beware the..."

I swear, if I found that ghostly voice I was gonna bust him upside the head. What damn...

Oh! And then I got it: this was about the Johan Santana non-deal.

The Yankees now swear up and down that they won't pursue Santana. After Hank Steinbrenner's ultimatum--the kind of peevish complaint guaranteed to inspire rebellion, if not veiled accusations of tampering--the Yankees and Twins were unable to settle on a third prospect in the great Santana hunt of 2007. The Bronx Bombers' main rivals (in this and seemingly everything else), the Red Sox, seem to have also struck out in the short term. The Yanks are saying all the right thing about sticking with their youth movement on the mound. But even if the Melky and Hughes for Santana deal is off the table, there's still danger lurking in the weeds.

It's Option B, better known as Oakland A's pitcher Danny Haren. Or as my mind has been thinking about him since the ghostly visitation...the Pavano.

I know that's not quite a fair comparison. Haren's a really good pitcher, who's been extraordinarily resilient over the last three years:

2005 Dan Haren 24 14 12 217 6.76 1.13 5.2
2006 Dan Haren 25 14 13 223 7.1 1.11 5.3
2007 Dan Haren 26 15 9 222.7 7.76 1.30 6.3

(Yes, I've written this blog for four years, and I still can't figure out how to make a table look good. Sorry.)

But then again, Pavano was also a pretty good pitcher in the couple of years before he choked us under a veil of tears joined the Yankees:

2003 Carl Pavano 27 12 13 201 5.96 1.02 5.2
2004 Carl Pavano 28 18 8 222.3 5.63 1.42 7

He was really good. He just wasn't the best available. That year, the offseason after the 2004 ALCS disaster, the best starter available was Pedro Martinez, late of the Red Sox. The Mets picked him up, and the Yankees settled for the next best thing, Pavano. There were things to commend Pavano over Martinez. Martinez had known health issues, and was older. If you'd asked who was the safer bet to receive a four-year deal, Pavano from ages 29-32 or Pedro from ages 33-36, you'd probably answer, the young guy without arm trouble. Still, even if Pedro doesn't pitch another inning at Shea, you'd have to say that the Mets got more mileage out of the $53 million they gave Martinez than the Yanks got out of the $40 million they gave Pavano.

Back to Haren. Billy Beane is a smart guy. He has a very good young pitcher, Haren, signed to a nice, below-market contract ($9.5 MM over the next two years, $6.75 MM club option for 2010). Why would he want to trade away a guy like this?

It's because of the market that Johan Santana has created. Santana isn't just a good pitcher, he's the best pitcher. A lot of people have supposedly been scared off by Santana's reported contract demands, but there's a hunger for what he brings to the table. He's not just a #1 pitcher, he's the #1 pitcher. The ace of aces. Only a handful of hurlers can claim to be in his company--Josh Beckett, Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Roy Oswalt, C.C. Sabathia, maybe Justin Verlander--and none of those guys have his performance record. Haren isn't part of that group, he's in the next group, which includes young guys like Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Chien Ming Wang, Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir, and a few others,* who are close to that elite level but just fall short, or haven't yet proven they can do it consistently enough to be one of those "once in a generation" type pitchers. Like Martinez, Clemens, and Randy Johnson were in their respective primes. Like Santana is now.

When a pitcher like Santana is available, guys you've long considered untouchable become...touchable. If you have to surrender a Phil Hughes, or Jon Lester, or Clay Buchholz, or Clayton Kershaw, you grit your teeth and do it. Those guys may have the potential to become the next Santana or Peavy or Beckett, but there's value in knowing that you have someone who's already made it to that level, who's survived grind of operating at as an ace year in and year out.

So if Beane is making Haren available, it's because he hopes to let the Twins do the hard work, loosening GM's fingers off their best prospects as everyone vies to get the best pitcher in baseball. And then, once everyone's gotten used to the idea that Hughes isn't untouchable, that Lester or Jacoby Ellsbury can be had, then Beane can sweep in and market Haren, as the best pitcher available not named Santana. And it's not that hard to talk yourself into this idea: Haren's pretty good, and his contract is small-market friendly, and for all I know he's super-kind to children and animals. But he's not Johan Santana--he's just the next best thing.

Forget Pavano, which is pretty much a fighting word in any Yankee fan's vocabulary. Last year, the best pitcher available was Daisuke Matsuzaka. The Yanks were outbid, handily, on the posting fee for the best talent out there, but they settled for Option B--Kei Igawa. Last year, the Yanks paid about $30 million (the posting fee plus Igawa-san's salary) for Dr. Kei to pitch more innings in the minors (77 1/3) than in the majors (67 2/3). Sometimes the best move is not to make a move at all.

[* NOTE: Before anyone complains about that list of second-tier #1 pitchers, I'm not counting guys who are on the wrong side of 30. Many of them--John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, A.J. Burnett, Roy Halladay--can be just as good as any of the guys I've listed, but likely wouldn't have the same trade value.]

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Emptying the Clip

I've got a bad feeling about this. No, I haven't heard any news about Johan Santana, but I did hear about the trade that the Yanks made yesterday--Tyler Clippard gets dealt to the hyperactive Washington Nationals (seriously, can we get Jim Bowden a sedative, or else just keep him away from sugar?) for righthanded reliever Jonathan Albaladejo. I might be overreacting, but I wonder if this is the first domino falling in a cycle where the Yanks unload a good deal of their cache of young pitchers.

Not that Albaladejo's an old man. He just turned 25, which makes him about 2 1/2 years older than Clippard. He turned in a nice 14 or so inning stint with Washington, and I've seen a Nationals blogger (Jon at the Nationals Report) say he has an "electric fastball and a tough makeup." I saw him in the Caribbean Series in February and wasn't impressed by his heat or his poise. Here's what I wrote at the time:
  • Jonathan Albaladejo is not as advanced as Castro. At 23 [sic], he’s only gotten as high as AA in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He’s 6’5” with a big frame. Sunday night it didn’t look like his fastball was as big as he is (my kingdom for a radar gun!). He got ahead in the count well enough, but showed a tendency to nibble afterward.
  • Two on, none out in the bottom of the first: Miguel Tejada got to a one ball, two strike count and then had a batting helmet crisis. After trying on every helmet in the Dominican dugout, Tejada came back to fill the count, which provoked a conference on the mound. Albaladejo looked so serious and tentative it was like he was playing chess with Death. Death won, Tejada walked, and another conference on the mound ensued.
Now, I'm not a scout, and you absolutely, positively should never base an opinion on seeing a player just once. For all I know, that was the worst game of his career. The thing is, before last season Clippard was a top-five prospect with the Yanks; while Albaladejo was picked up as a minor league free agent out of the Pirates organization last season. So, in short, the Yanks have surrendered something of value for a guy they could have picked up for free less than twelve months earlier. I'll miss Clippard, and hope I'm wrong about Albaladejo.

In sunnier news, Project P46 turned out to be a rousing success. According to reports, Andy Pettitte is returning to the Bronx for one more go, and reportedly, the outpouring of fan support was one reason why. Thanks to Steve Lombardi for thinking it up, and thanks to everyone who participated.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Hank Ultimatum

It's been a year of ultimatums in the Yankees organization:

If you don't give us extensions before opening day, we'll become free agents!
--Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada to Brian Cashman

If you opt out, we won't re-sign you!
--Cashman to Alex Rodriguez

If you don't win the Division Series, you're history!
--George Steinbrenner to Joe Torre

Unless you start the bidding at $350 million over ten years, he's opting out!
--Scott Boras to the Yankees, re: Alex Rodriguez

If you don't offer me more than one year, I'm gone!
--Torre to the Yankee brain trust

Some of the ultimata (that's the alternate plural, per Websters) proved to be for real--Rivera and Posada did each dip a toe in free agency, although it doesn't look like they got serious with anyone but the Yanks; Torre did actually leave when the Yanks' one-year "paycut, with performance bonuses" deal turned out to be final--others less so. Despite the Old Boss's stern warning, Torre was offered a contract--albeit one designed to be rejected. Despite all the posturing by both sides of the A-Rod Opt-Out drama, Alex opted out, but (thanks to a little advice from the Oracle of Omaha) negotiated a deal to return for less than the promised $350 million. So for all the threats of definitive action, the record in 2007 has been a mixed bag.

Now, the latest ultimatum comes from Hank Steinbrenner to the Minnesota Twins. If he's to be believed, Johan Santana will be a Yankee tomorrow, or the Yanks won't trade for him, period. He claims that the Yanks have a fair offer on the table--reportedly Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, and one pick from the Yanks' column B of prospects (e.g., no Joba Chamberlain, no Ian Kennedy)--and that if a deal can't be worked out on Monday, the Yanks move on. In an unrelated, but connected story, Santana's told the Twins that he won't agree to be traded during the season, giving new Minnesota GM Bill Smith deadlines to deal with.

I've been shy about talking up the Yankees' pursuit of Santana because it's one of those situations that's all speculation, no news. If I had to give odds, I'd say they still favor Johan Santana starting the season as a Minnesota Twin--as I pointed out last week at Baseball Prospectus, two draft picks (which is what the Twins would get for losing Santana as a free agent) can be a pretty substantial return, often better than one gets from an ill-considered trade. All told, in situations like these, it's often true that no one knows anything, and you wind up wasting a lot of time for something that never comes to fruition.

Now, thanks to Hank layin' down the law, we're likely to have some news--real news--on this issue by Monday night...maybe.

As far as the deal on the table's fair. I'd be heartbroken to see Hughes go, and I'm a huge fan of the Melkman--despite the fact that he often has weeks where he looks like absolutely doesn't belong in the majors. Nonetheless, if the package is Hughes, Melky, and Chris Britton (or Alberto Gonzalez, or Juan Miranda) then I think you have to pull the trigger, not because Hughes and Melky are chickenfeed, but because it's Johan Friggin' Santana, the best pitcher in baseball over the last four years, a lefthanded stud who's still on the correct side of 30.

Keep in mind, I've never heard anybody refer to the alternative as "Danny Friggin' Haren." The first time that happens, it might not be a sign of admiration. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Aside from the Yankees' role in the Santana saga possibly coming to a head; the Hank Ultimatum is important as the final, definitive proclamation that Hank--not Hal, not any of the Steinbrenner sons-in-law--is the Boss, Part II. The Decider. The Big Cheese. Numero Uno Honcho.

Boss II is definitely doing a formidable impression of the elder Steinbrenner, complete with threats and bluster and hokey-sounding proclamations about what "the Yankees" should or should not do. Is Brian Cashman still involved in the Yanks' decision making? Heck, I need reassurance that Cashman's still alive. I halfway suspect that when Pete Abraham puts up audio from Cash's next presser at the winter meetings, the Yankees' GM is going to be mispronouncing words like someone in a hostage tape.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Of all the secular holidays, there probably isn't one that resonates with me as much as Thanksgiving. The proposition that we should dedicate time to be thankful for all the good things in the world is simple, elegant, and necessary. Tomorrow--as I am on just about every other day--I'll be thankful for La Chiquita, for my brothers, my parents (who are currently somewhere on the other side of the world), and my friends. I'll also be thankful for baseball, the fact that I get to write about it and get paid to do so, and to all of you who stop by here or Baseball Prospectus to see what I have to say.

Today, I'm going to single out a couple of things that I take for granted, but for which I'm grateful:

Thanks, Andy Pettitte:

I've been doing a bunch of research on Yankees rookies for Bombers Broadside 2008, and it's given me a big appreciation for how big a step it was when the farm system produced Andy Pettitte in 1995. It had been quite a while since the Yankees had groomed and kept an elite starting pitcher--arguably since Ron Guidry in 1976 (guys like Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, Bob Tewksbury and Al Leiter were all dealt away before getting established; Dave Righetti had been acquired as a high-level minor leaguer, so he wasn't really a product of the Yankee system).

Andy's given Yankee fans over 2,000 innings of excellent baseball in his career, and a ton of great memories. Last season, after a regrettable (but brief) separation, he returned to the Yankees and really was a rock in a sea of uncertainty. It's only fitting that we should thank him, and Steve Lombardi over at Was Watching has thought of a great way to do that, and ask Andy to come back for one more go-around. He calls it Project P46 (shades of Alex Rodriguez's Project A13 last season). I'll let him take it from here:

Here's an idea - where maybe Yankees fans can help the team's chances in 2008. Some time over the next 5 days (meaning over the long weekend where you should be able to find 15 minutes to get this done), why not send a card or note to Andy Pettitte? You can send it to:

Andy Pettitte
c/o Hendricks Sports Management LP
400 Randal Way Ste 106
Spring, TX 77388

Tell Andy that you're a Yankees fan. Offer best wishes for the holiday season and new year to him and his family. And, of course, tell him that you would be thrilled to see him be a big part of the Yankees season in 2008.

Maybe an outpouring of affection by Yankees fan would help sway Andy towards returning next season? At the worst, it wouldn't hurt.

Are you willing to try it? Also, if you think this is an interesting idea, please pass the word about it. Let's try and get over 100,000 cards and notes to Andy by the end of this month. Wouldn't that be something? But, you have to have one sent before you can have 100,000 sent - so, that means you have to send one...yourself.

Again, why not take 15 minutes between today and Sunday night and "pitch" in on Project P46?

So pass the word along, get some stamps, and let's get going!

Thanks for Local Theater:

Yeah, a lot of people are bummed out about the big Broadway Theater Strike that's shut down much of the Great White Way through this weekend's holiday. But hopefully, something good can come from the strike--not just making sure that a little bit more of the money from those high, high ticket prices trickles down to the men and women who make things run behind the scenes. Hopefully this is a good time for anyone who's in New York to discover that there's much, much, more theater off-Broadway than there is in the big production houses, and that it's just as much fun, and often a much better viewing experience.

Off-Broadway can be scary, with lots of off-putting "experimental" entries that--although I enjoy them greatly--might not be suitable for everyone's palate. Personally, my most reliable off-Broadway pick is Classic Stage Company. I just caught their presentation of Richard III this weekend, and it was fantastic. People are alternately intimidated by Shakespeare, or else consider his works to be old chestnuts. What pleases me about CSC's presentations of the Bard, led by lead actor Michael Cumpsty and director Brian Kullick (this time out, he's co-director with Cumpsty) is that they bring the text to place that's more human than either of those camps would expect.

While we often consider Shakespeare's language lofty and archaic, Cumpsty's line readings show us that it's the delivery that makes them seem so. At the same time, without changing the text (other than the cuts that are necessary to bring Shakespeare's second-longest play down under three hours) the Classic Stage troupe wrings all the comedy possible from one of the canon's bloodiest plays. And it isn't inappropriate, since Richard III is a very strange tragedy: usually, tragedies are about good people who are unable to overcome their flaws, and wind up ruined as a result. Richard starts the play, and he's already a villain. There's no indication that he ever was a good man, and he doesn't get any better as things go along. When the end comes, it's not tragic in the least--so it all kind of makes sense.

Anyway, it's very highly recommended, and it's running through December 9. Go see it, and if you're not in New York, I entreat you to find the group of people near where you are who are putting on a play, and give them some of your time. It's the least I can do, by way of thanks.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Few More Headlines

A few other random stories and thoughts:

This better be good: I stumbled on TBS the other day (Jerry Maguire was on. You got a problem with that?) and I see more of those Frank TV commercials. And the commercial says it premieres on Tuesday.


You mean Frank Caliendo's show hasn't aired yet? How is that possible? They carpet-bombed us during the playoffs just to wait, what, another month before releasing it?

How many 15- and 30-second spots have they aired for this show over the past six weeks? It's a half-hour show, so that's maybe 22 minutes of actual Frank TV per week. So the question is, when all is said and done, will we see more minutes of Frank TV than we've seen commercials?

The ballsiness of all this could be enough to back off my Frank TV ban. But at this point, there's so much hype behind this that the show better do more than just make people laugh. It better cure the common cold or something.

Yanks Sign Jose Molina to a 2-Year Deal: Not sure that there's anything else to say here. The Yanks have dumpster-dived for catching backups since the tandem behind the plate was Posada/Girardi. Molina's the best guy available--it's virtually guaranteed that any of the available players that are better than him (Lo Duca, Barrett, Yorvit Torrealba) are going to get starting jobs elsewhere--so a commitment was in order.

Gold Gloves Awarded, the Golden Child's Reign Ends: Derek Jeter's three-year reign as the AL's Gold Glove at shortstop ended. Orlando Cabrera got that spot, and it's not a horrible pick, although he's been such a whiner over the past few years--whining about Yankee fans, whining about the Mariners, whining about how no one gives him respect--that it's hard to feel happy for him. Based on the stats, he's a more worthy contender for best defensive shortstop than Jeter, but he probably wasn't as good as Tony Peña, Jr. in 2007.

Derek Jeter Accused of Not Paying Taxes: the State of New York. They're fighting Jeter's claim that he was a resident of Florida in 2001-2003, claiming that because he owns an apartment in Manhattan, and because the tabs were full of stories about hooking up with starlets in New York City's trendiest night spots. Of course, I oversimplify. Regardless, overall, it's not been a good off-season for the Captain.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Proof of Life

My head's been wrapped so deep in work that it's starting to feel like a hostage situation. I feel the need to post here more as proof to the proud few of you that still read this space that I'm still alive, and relatively well. If any of you need further proof, I can post a picture of myself with today's newspaper (the Times, sadly, which is La Chiquita's subscription).

Since the last time we posted:

Jorge Posada Signs for 4 Years, $52 Million -- The rise of H&H Steinbrenner means that we're shifting from IOGM (It's Only George's Money) paradigm to the slightly more generic IOSM (It's Only Steinbrenner's Money). One way to look at it is, is paying $26 Million for Jorge Posada's age 38 and 39 seasons really a good idea? That's a daunting question, to which I can only answer: IOSM. But the real question is, what was the alternative? Yorvit Torrealba? Michael Barrett? Paul Lo Freakin' Duca? You've got to tip your hat to Hip, Hip Jorge! for having an A+ season in his walk year, at a time when there wasn't another viable soul on the market.

Yanks Offer Mariano $45 Million for 3 Years -- I'm less than overjoyed with the Yankees new policy of sharing their every negotiating thought with the press; divulging their contract offers to Joe Torre, Alex Rodriguez and now Mariano Rivera with a plaintive cry of "Look! We're offering these folks top dollar!" seems like some backstepping toward the bad old days when George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin used reporters the way other people used telephones. Still, this is a great deal for Rivera. Look at it this way: over the last five years, Mariano's averaged just under 75 innings per season. Paying him $15 million a year would likely be over $200,000 per inning, which is a pretty world-beating return for anyone this side of Carl Pavano. By way of comparison, Roger Clemens received $189K/inning this season, on his absurd contract. That's some nice coin.

Barry Bonds Indicted -- This is today's news. Obstruction of justice and perjury are the reported charges, which leaves out the most serious charge leveled against him, for tax evasion. Expect a number of articles tomorrow about how this is the worst thing to happen in baseball history. Fay Vincent has already gone on the record claiming that this is worse than Pete Rose's gambling and tax evasion, and possibly worse than the Black Sox scandal. That's crazy talk.

Barry Bonds's getting indicted--after three or four years' worth of grand juries to toll the statute of limitations for perjury--is a sad thing. But it's something distinct from baseball's (or Bonds's) steroids problem, in the same way that Rose's tax evasion conviction was distinct from his permanent suspension from baseball for gambling. If Rose's suspension had been for failing to pay his taxes--a serious legal offense, and one that no one could justify--then I'm 99% certain he'd be in the Hall of Fame today. Sports and the law work in parallel worlds; in the sports world, his biggest offense (betting on baseball, and on the Reds) could have been carried out legally, but it was more serious than his violation of the law. In the baseball world, it's established that gambling is a more serious offense than PED use--the proof is in the respective punishments (lifetime ban for gambling vs. 50 games for the first steroid offense, less for amphetamines) and the basic "shrug and nod" response that the whole thing is given in other sports, like football.

A side note: The thing I like about Mr. Vincent is how, even 15 years after being ousted as Commissioner of Baseball by Bud Selig, he still acts as if he were the Commissioner in Exile rather than just some guy who got fired. Rather than just publishing his memoirs and going away, he's establishing a shadow government. And until the tyranny of the Selig regime collapses, and Vincent is restored to his rightful place in MLB's Madison Avenue offices, he's available to talk the media--at all times--and second-guess everything that happens in the game from the sidelines. It's a pretty sweet gig, if you can get it.

Alex Rodriguez Resumes Negotiations with Yankees
-- In the time that it took me to write the foregoing, the Yanks and A-Rod have reportedly come to terms on a 10-year $275 million contract. The story's not mature, involving more than a little rumor-mongering that's keeping me from commenting at this time. be continued.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A-Rod: The High Price of Admission

Well, as I guess you've already heard by now, there were about one hundred and nineteen million reasons why Alex Rodriguez should be treated differently than Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. That's allegedly how far apart the two sides were when they were attempting to hook up for a meeting to keep Alex in pinstripes.

I don't know that I've ever heard of two parties starting off that far apart in a salary negotiation. Then again, there's only been one negotiation like this one in baseball history, and that happened the last time Rodriguez hit the free agent market.

However, I probably wouldn't be thrilled to see the Yanks make that kind of commitment to any player, under any circumstances, so I guess I'm not as torn up about the Yanks being unable to negotiate Alex under the circumstances he's created as I would have been otherwise.

Part of me would like for this to be the last time we talk about Rodriguez, but I have to be practical--I'll be doing team grades and tallying up the Player of the Week/Month awards, so obviously he'll figure highly in that, plus the MVP award, plus the hoo-ha that will come down the pike if he signs with one of the Yanks' many rivals.

But here's another practical consideration I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere: how long did it take for the Texas Rangers to grow fatigued of A-Rod's last contract? Let's say that Rodriguez does get his 10 years and $350 MM from some ballclub. How many teams will be able to sustain that level of expenditure throughout the life of the deal? Isn't it likely that three or four years down the line, someone will be looking to get out from under the crushing burden of the next Rodriguez contract, or Alex himself will be seeking a trade to get out from under a losing team?

And when that happens, who're they going to call? Which teams would be able to absorb $35 or more million per year in salary? It's a small list, and it's headed by the Yankees.

So while some media members and fans rush to burn those bridges and close the book on the A-Rod Era (and I'm sure that in the months to come they'll be joined by team execs and former teammates), I wouldn't be quite so fast on the trigger. While I doubt that A-Rod will don the pinstripes in 2008 or 2009, I wouldn't bet that he's forever done playing for the home team in the Bronx.


I'd forgotten that before the same World Series game when A-Rod made such a big splash by having his agent announce to the world that he was opting out of his contract, he'd snubbed the ceremony in which he was to receive the American League Hank Aaron Award from Hammerin' Hank himself. Now Alex (well, Boras) wants to make it clear that Alex is really sad that he was too busy to come to Game 4 (but not too busy to upstage baseball's premier event) and that he meant no offense to Aaron. Since Aaron's a pretty classy guy, he'll probably accept Rodriguez's half-assed non-apology and vague family commitment excuse.


The reported shake-up of the coaching staff for the Girardi era gives some interesting clues about the direction the team is taking. Where the last coaching staff was full of star power--guys with management experience coaching first (Tony Peña), third (Larry Bowa), and the bullpen (Joe Kerrigan); Yankee icons as bench (Don Mattingly) and pitching (Ron Guidry) coach--the rumored coaching squad is a bunch of no-names. The only returning members are hitting coach Kevin Long--who's reportedly getting a huge-for-a-coach three-year $1 million contract--and Peña. They'll be joined by a pair of ex-Yankees who scuffled in the majors--Bobby Meacham at third base and Dave Eiland at pitching coach--an organizational soldier sitting next to Girardi on the bench ("field coordinator" and advance guy Rob Thomson) and ex-Cub pitcher (and former Girardi associate) Mike Harkey in the bullpen.

This no-frills approach indicates a partnership between Girardi and Cashman, promoting some guys from within but also bringing in a few guys who coached for Girardi in Florida. It's hard to believe that anyone named "Steinbrenner" would have selected a staff with this little name recognition. The biggest announcement of this bunch is Eiland, who will be charged with the Yanks' pitchers of the future--Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and the like. Eiland has been a pitching coach for the Yanks in the minors (AAA last year) and his selection is hailed because he worked with the Yanks' blue-chippers on the farm. But methodical analysis by the always-insightful Cliff Corcoran indicates that Eiland's influence may be a bit overstated--for example, Kennedy and Chamberlain breezed past AAA this season, . Still, with once-coveted pitching coach Leo Mazzone available on the market, going with Eiland at this crucial juncture is a big statement about dealing with known quantities rather than big names from outside the organization.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

You Don't Say, Doctor?

Someone's befuddled as to why they can't get a sit-down with the Yankees. Quoth Scott Boras to the New York Post (h/t BB Primer):
"Intellectually, Alex is tying to understand the difference between his free agency and that of Mariano and Posada," Boras said by phone yesterday. "Alex Rodriguez has never said he does not want to be a Yankee. Filing for free agency doesn't mean that. Because Rivera and Posada are free agents doesn't mean they don't want to be Yankees."
Intellectually, you've got to be kidding me. By opting out of the contract--without negotiating--Alex Rodriguez effectively took somewhere between $21 to $30 million in money the Yanks were getting from the Rangers to help pay A-Rod's salary, and threw it in a shredder. He declared his opt-out during the World Series, and as the Yanks were preparing to announce their new manager, a move calculated to humiliate the franchise. That's how you're different from Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, big guy. Mariano Rivera waited until the Series was over, then came down to Tampa and took a meeting with the Yankees front office. Simple, respectful, classy.

Alex Rodriguez gained absolutely nothing by opting out of his contract this weekend. Because of the exclusive negotiating period that applies to all free agents, he and Boras aren't allowed to talk to teams other than the Yankees until November 12. Rodriguez's opt-out period would have coincided neatly with the period when he wasn't going to be on the open market, anyway. What did it cost him to wait? Nothing. The Yankees, on the other hand...

Was Alex obligated to negotiate an extension? No. Maybe he just wants to leave the Bronx--then the Yanks are doing the absolute right thing, not allowing Boras to use them in his bidding process. But the fact is, Rodriguez had a great opportunity to make it look like his concerns about the "uncertainty" surrounding the franchise were genuine. He could have insisted that he wanted Joe Torre to come back as manager, or he could have given his input about his preference for Mattingly or Girardi or Peña. He could have acted in good faith.

But the Yankees were clear about this for months: opting out--and costing the Yanks those millions of dollars--meant that the negotiations were over. It's not a hard concept to get, "intellectually." Alex is a smart guy, and that shouldn't be too hard for him to understand. I hope he doesn't hurt himself trying to wrap his mind around it.

Boras, meanwhile, is a really smart guy, who sadly is just being spectacularly dishonest. To paraphrase Mr. Blonde, "If he hadn't a done. What Brian Cashman told him not to do. This negotiation would still be alive." Boras is a guy who's constantly handing down ultimatums, so he should understand how they work.


All that said, Hank Steinbrenner is setting a world record for people who quickly make me want them to be extremely silent. I know we're only a couple of weeks into the Hank & Hal era, but I can't think of anyone ever doing this so effectively without being a telemarketer or a Scientologist.

Right now, he's not someone who's safe in a battle of wits with Scott Boras. If he's as intent to take up his father's mantle, he'd better show a better gift for gab, or else learn to issue his press releases through Howard Rubenstein.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Rock Bottom

So, the idea is that we could have a new Yankee manager by tomorrow, so let's look at the world that Joe Torre's successor will inherit.

The Boston Red Sox are the World Champions, for the second time since 1918. For the second time in the last four years, they've cut through the National League's representative like a bad Taco Bell burrito. The question about the Red Sox isn't whether they've got a great team or whether they deserve those championships, it's what the heck happened in 2005 and 2006? Seriously, what happened those two years? How on Earth did this freakish monster of a team fail to reach the World Series both years, much less fail to make the playoffs, last year?

Josh Beckett turning into scrub last year was the cruelest form of false hope for Yankee fans. Think about it: if a new, young Yankees acquisition had the 2006 that Beckett had (5.01 ERA, big drop in strikeout rate in his shift to the harder league), what would happen to him? It's not a rhetorical question. It's almost exactly what happened to the Yanks with Javy Vazquez in 2004 (14-10, 4.91 ERA, K/9 dropped into the sixes). You turn up that kind of turkey of a season in pinstripes, they ship you off in disgrace, to a losing team, eat almost all the salary they spent giving you a huge contract extension when you were acquired, and get someone even more hyped and dump another salary extension on him. One crap season here means you're garbage, never to be trusted to win again. Don't like Vazquez? Look at Jose Contreras, or Jeff Weaver--same story.

You could argue that none of those guys was as good as Beckett, and you might be right. But then again, all of them--Contreras, Vazquez, even Weaver--have gotten rings over the last four years.

Well, Beckett had his one crap year in Fenway, and they didn't send him to the glue factory, didn't ship him off to Atlanta for John Smoltz, or somesuch. He stuck around, and this year, Beckett was everything that Boston was promised last year and then some. Effectively, he was the reason that the Red Sox season wasn't over when they were down 3-1 in the ALCS. Now he gets his second ring of the 21st Century.

But wait, it gets worse. The Red Sox are loaded with prospects; Beckett isn't going anywhere, and neither is David Ortiz. (Ortiz, by the way, doesn't turn 32 until next month. He's younger than both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. I shouldn't be surprised, but doesn't it feel like he's been plaguing us forever?) With Pedroia, Ellsbury, Youkilis, you have a relatively young, home-grown core to back Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. It's a damned nightmare.

The other challenge that the next Yankee manager faces going into next year, is that they have to face the Red Sox juggernaut without the presumptive AL MVP. Showing his usual impeccable timing, Scott Boras announced mid-game during Game 4 of the World Series that Alex Rodriguez has elected to opt out of his contract with the Yankees. Here's how Boras explained the decision:
"Alex's decision was one based on not knowing what his closer, his catcher and one of his statured pitchers was going to do," Boras said. "He really didn't want to make any decisions until he knew what they were doing."
Well, I wouldn't call Mariano Rivera "his" closer, or Jorge Posada "his" catcher. The possessives imply some sort of leadership on Alex's part that was never in evidence during his Yankee tenure. I'm not even sure what the hell a "statured pitcher" is, other than faint praise for Andy Pettitte. But it sure sounds like Alex made a decision, here, doesn't it? And that decision means, that if the Yankees hold to their word, A-Rod's career in pinstripes is over. Rodriguez has thrown out the Yanks' exclusive negotiating window (which could have stretched as far as ten days after the end of the World Series), and tossed away the millions the Rangers were going to pay the Yanks on his existing contract. Brian Cashman has said for months that if A-Rod opts out, they won't bid on him.

I hope they hold to their word. I'm sure that if the Yanks opened the vaults (say with 10 years and $300 million), Alex would return. Heck, it might even make sense, locking him up for the bonanza that'll come as he pursues Bonds's home run record, keeping him out of the hands of a league competitor like the Angels or the Red Sox, who could ride A-Rod to a period of dominance. I don't begrudge the man his money, or the fact that he's chosen to exercise a contractual right at a time when his leverage couldn't be any greater. I don't think it's greedy to demand to be paid what you're worth, or to have that determined by the market.

Nonetheless, if Alex Rodriguez is in the Yankee lineup come opening day, I will be there booing as hard as I can. Not really booing Alex--I've never been a big fan of that--but booing the Yankees organization. Because for all I accept Rodriguez's contractual rights, this announcement--opting out without so much as meeting with management, hearing an extension offer, or even allowing the Yankees to announce their new manager, first--was a giant wad of spit in the Yankee organization's face. If they come crawling back to sign Alex now, it would be just as humiliating as it would have been for Joe Torre if he had accepted the one-year contract the brain trust offered him.

It's demeaning. And if anyone in the Yankee organization, from the elder Steinbrenner on down, has any self-respect, it's a game they won't play. So screw you, Alex. I absolutely loved having you on this team, and I really wanted you to win a ring in pinstripes. I don't blame you for the fact that it didn't happen. But now you've opted out, so there's the door. Don't let it hit you on the way out.

The new Yankee manager will just have to do without you. I wish the new manager--be he Mattingly or Joe Girardi, as Sunday's rumors held--a lot of luck. He'll need it. I'd love to wish Alex good luck, too--but there's just too much..."uncertainty" about his status for me to do that.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Random Saturday Thoughts

So, now that the Red Sox have a commanding 2-0 lead in the World Series, and only the Rockies' Josh Fogg--Mr. Never-had-an-above-average ERA+ Josh Fogg--standing between them and a "mortal lock" 3-0 lead, I've found myself trying to adjust my mind to the fact that the Red Sox will now be two-time World Champions in the 21st Century.

Yeah, trust me, that's no fun.

I mean, part of me wants the Rockies to go down 3-0, then stage a miraculous comeback to sweep the last four games. Not only would that maximize my baseball-watching pleasure before the long, long would restore the universe's karmic balance. But you have to be realistic. I want the Rockies to be as good as they looked against the Padres, the Phillies and the D'backs this month (or, for that matter, as good as they were against the Yankees back in June), but those two games at Fenway gave the definite feeling that the Rockies spent October knocking around AAA teams, and now they're swooning at the prospect of facing down real competition.

This Red Sox lineup, with J.D. Drew finally hitting like someone who should be getting paid $14 million a year and with the addition of Jacoby Ellsbury as a latter-day Brett Butler, is simply murder--there's only one spot in the lineup where the team lets up, at all (that's when Julio Lugo has the bat in his hands). In contrast, the Rockies' best player, Matt Holliday, may have had his moment in this series when he was picked off first base in Game 2 (by the way, how disconcerting was it to see Holliday dive back into first with the same "drive my chin into the ground" dive he knocked himself out with at the end of the one-game playoff with San Diego?). Holliday's back-up guys in the lineup, Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe, have been picked apart by the Red Sox pitchers, much like Travis Hafner was in the ALCS. Maybe they just need a taste of home cookin' to get back on track, but then again, I kept expecting Hafner to break out against the Sox, and it never happened.

So there. I've just declared the Rockies dead again. Things worked out well enough the last time I did that.

World Series notes:

* Has there ever been a lamer World Series subplot than the Red Sox's "pirate ship" bullpen? Trust the Beantowners to turn their "we're so quirky" moment into a corporate tie-in for Disney. It's like they missed the FOX Network memo that they're pushing the Transformers this postseason, not the Pirates of the Caribbean Box Set.

* Free Taco Bell tacos for that a promise, or a threat?

* Win or lose, we may well remember this as the season that the Red Sox Nation saw (and embraced) the Yankees lifestyle. Earlier in the season, Bill Simmons got to marvel at the phenomenon of Red Sox fans taking over the Devil Rays' stadium; this postseason even normally dry and acerbic sources such as Soxaholics reporting a "cool certitude" while watching the playoffs. Welcome to our world--the taking over other people's houses thing is fun up until the point (like the Angels in 2002) when the team beats you behind a crew of newly-minted bandwagon fans. As for the certitude? Back when we had that Red Sox fans (among many, many others) dismissed it as "arrogance" and a sense of entitlement.

This is kind of like having a vegan ecologist acquaintance who dogs you about your SUV for a decade, talking about how you're killing the Earth and mocking you as a spendthrift. Then one day, out of the blue, they come home from a car dealership and they've traded in their Prius for an Escalade or the really big Hummer. "I kind of like the feeling of being up above the traffic," they say, by way of explanation, "and you have no idea how comfortable these leather-upholstered seats are!"

We know they're comfy, pal. Trust us, we know. Enjoy it while it lasts.

* Bud Selig willing, it looks like the Yankees will make Don Mattingly the manager on Monday. The Selig-willing part is assuming that the Rockies don't get swept...otherwise Monday won't be anything on the baseball schedule, and the Yanks will be free to announce away.

* Personally, I would have loved to see Tony Peña get the job. I know it was never in the cards, but I think that his positivity would've been a benefit following one of the most respected managers, ever. And I kind of prefer having someone who's not as associated with the Yankees, like Mattingly and Joe Girardi are. I love Don Mattingly, he's my idol from childhood, but as Torre's story shows us, managerial relationships never end well. I guess some part of me doesn't want to see Mattingly diminished in the management role. What if he sucks at the job? What if the Yankees start the season poorly? Sounds like a repeat of Yogi Berra in the making.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Six Things About Game 6

Quick and dirty on Cleveland/Boston Game 6:

1. Why does FOX continue make a player read his team's lineup? Julio Lugo looked like he was on a hostage video. He actually wound up reading his own name off the cue card!

2. This rooting for Boston thing, particularly with 38 on the mound, is for the birds. Schilling's caused my team so much pain that I keep forgetting that I'm supposed to want him to win, here. I catch myself hoping for the fly ball that hooked down around the foul pole to be called fair; for Kenny Lofton to make the catch on Pedroia's double; or for Schilling's ankle to start bleeding again.

3. What's really gotten Cleveland to this point is glovework, so it was surprising that some of their players, particularly Peralta, looked like they were playing tight on defense. For Jake Westbrook's sake, they'd better shake it off--he needs all the leather he can get behind him to be effective.

4. I'm happy at least that the big hit of the game goes to the most loathed (in Boston) Sox player of the Ortiz era, J.D. Drew. If Boston has to win, at least their good memories can be contaminated with achievements by a guy they don't like.

5. On the other hand, you can see why some people don't like Drew, even when he hits. When he got his third hit of the night, Drew didn't seem happy or fired up. He looked worried he might have forgotten to set TiVO to record Iron Chef America. It's a little unsettling.

6. Seems like Boston beat Carmona twice in this series using exactly the same approach the Indians used to beat up Chien Ming Wang in the ALDS--take lots of pitches early so the ump can see that the power sinker is missing the strike zone low, force him to throw up in the zone and over the plate just to get a strike. Then bask in the announcers repeatedly saying "...a bad night for the nineteen-game winner..."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The End of the Joe Torre Era

So in the end, the Yankees don't fire Joe Torre--instead, Torre leaves the Yankees. The rumor that the Yankees were looking at offering him a deal with a lower salary and big bonuses for playoff performance turned out to be true--the offer was apparently $5 Million, with $1 million bonuses for each postseason series win (i.e., a total of $6 MM for reaching the ALCS, $7 MM for reaching the World Series, and $8 MM for giving the Big Apple a victory parade downtown).

The offer meant he would remain the highest-paid manager in the game, with a chance at making even more than the $7.5 MM he made in 2007. Still, a pay cut is a pay cut, and Torre can't have looked forward to answering questions every day of the 2008 season about being a "lame duck" manager. He'd be stalked all season by reports of getting fired, and the best he could look forward to is a repeat of this "Tampa Conclave" business next fall/winter. So it's all over, now.

The thing that I'm saddest about is that Torre isn't signed to some sort of services contract that will keep him with the Yankees for the rest of his life. I really was hoping that Torre wouldn't wear anyone else's uniform in his career, but it seems like Joe still wants to manage. If Tony La Russa leaves, Torre's a very natural fit in St. Louis, where he managed "before he was a genius" (as someone once said of Casey Stengel) and where he was a broadcaster when the Yankees made the call for him to replace Buck Showalter. The Cards are known by some as the "Yankees of the NL," they have perhaps the best player in baseball (Albert Pujols), and are likely to continue to be contenders. Other natural landing places with good, established teams--Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles--all feature skippers with long-term contracts, whose jobs aren't in peril. Of course, if there isn't a managerial slot for Joe right now, he could return to the broadcast booth until something opens up. As we saw this post-season, TBS could probably use his help on the national broadcast.

At any rate, it's unlikely that he'll make more (per year) on his next contract than he would have on the one the Yanks just offered him. Reportedly, the next-highest paid baseball manager is Lou Piniella at $3.5 MM per season. You have to think that cash was a relatively small part of the decision.

Now that Joe's out of the picture, who's our next Yankee manager? Let's look at the candidates:
Don Mattingly -- Pros: One of the best-loved Yankees ever, has experience with the New York media, spent the last year learning at the Master's knee as bench coach. Cons: Has never managed a team before, on any level; low-key leadership style may be too low-key.

Joe Girardi -- Pros: Was NL manager of the year every year he's managed; led the Marlins to unlikely level of competitiveness last year with a very young team after a huge fire sale; likely more of a combative type than Torre or Mattingly. Cons: Was fired after his one year managing the Marlins; fought with ownership, to the point of showing up the owner in public; said to be uptight and controlling; questions about his handling of young pitchers.

Tony La Russa -- Pros: Experienced winner; probably brings pitching coach Dave Duncan with him; had media eating out of his hand in St. Louis, Oakland; four-time Manager of the Year (AL '88, '83, '92; NL 2002). Cons: Seems to believe own press clippings; tends to be center of attention wherever he manages, eclipsing front office and ownership; DUI last off-season; outsider to the Yankee org.

Larry Bowa -- Pros: The ultimate red-ass; would bring a very different management style from Torre's to the table; 2001 NL Manager of the Year. Cons: Has never managed a team to a first-place finish in the majors; seemed to do poorly under pressure in Philly; contentious relationship with players.

Tony Peña -- Pros: AL Manager of the Year in 2003; outspoken leadership style and optimistic outlook. Cons: Like Bowa, has never managed a team to first; managed in a very small media market; left KC amid personal scandal.

Bobby Valentine -- Pros: Manager with playoff experience; has worked in New York before; knows Japan; tactics guy. Cons: Never finished first; erratic behavior; contentious media experience.
There are probably other contenders out there--Larry Dierker is someone I always think should have gotten a second chance, Davey Johnson's a saber-favorite, Chris Chamblis and Don Baylor have experience with the franchise--but I think the guys above are the ones most likely to get the call. Mattingly's the odds-on favorite--as someone (Brother J, I think) said "Donnie Baseball didn't leave Indiana to be a coach." But am I the only one that's leery of having a first-timer take the biggest management job in baseball? Sure, he'll be equipped with likely the best coaching crew money can buy (likely including Bowa and Peña), and he'll have the game's most costly payroll, but this is a hard, unforgiving job. The reports (since denied by Mattingly's agent) that Donnie himself believes he might not be ready are...disturbing.

Of the rest, they're all qualified applicants. I'd hate to see La Russa come here, something about him just rubs me the wrong way, but I'm sure he could do the job. Valentine would be...interesting. Definitely a big change from Torre, maybe the most tactics-oriented Yankee manager since Billy Martin. I'd love to see Peña get another managing job. Bowa would probably give us one of the more interesting seasons in recent history, but might not be a long-term solution. Girardi seems like the a good compromise between Mattingly's inexperience and the expertise of the various greybeards on the coaching staff and elsewhere, but he suffered some character assassination in Florida, and that would likely follow him to the Yankees job.

The one thing that Joe Torre reminds us, even as he leaves, is that you can never be sure who the next great Yankee manager will be. No one was tagging Torre as a can't-miss managerial prospect when he was hired in 1995. He went from "Clueless Joe" to a near-certain Hall of Famer in just a few short years. You never can tell. Could be that Mattingly will be a genius at this job. Could be that La Russa would fall apart doing it...or he could somehow turn into a hometown favorite. The only thing's certain is that the next Yankee manager has some huge shoes to fill. I wish him luck.

Getting back to the now-former Yankee manager, how do you thank someone who's given so much to your team? The biggest thing that Torre brought to the Yankees was blissful silence from the owner, and great mastery of the press. Having been on the other side of the mike, Torre understood the importance of candor with the press, but also he got how important it was to keep some things behind closed doors. You didn't hear much at all about any feuds with players or Steinbrenner. That's part of the reason that Torre being quoted in Verducci's A-Rod attack article last season was so shocking, as was his batting Rodriguez eighth in the Division Series against Detroit. I'm glad that they didn't fire him last year, because this season--the comeback from 21-29 to the playoffs--was largely redemption from how the 2006 season ended.

So let's try this: thank you, Joe. You did things with this team that I never imagined possible, and brought joy into the lives of millions of fans. You showed tremendous class and grace under pressure every day. I wish you and your family great happiness, and I hope that some day, you'll come back to the Yankee organization in some capacity. Until that day, I'll cheer for whatever team you helm, against everyone but the Yankees. Vaya con dios.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 2: Black Smoke, No Yankee Manager

It's a wild scene down in Tampa/St. Peter'sburg Square, where Yankee fans, bloggers, and press are all huddled together, watching the chimney of the Yankee compound, all hoping for the white smoke that will indicate that the Conclave has selected the next Yankee Manager...

As you can see from the picture on the left, Wednesday, the smoke was black. Or, as Howard Rubenstein put it (courtesy of Pete Abe's LoHud Blog):

Statement from Howard J. Rubenstein, spokesman for The New York Yankees:

“The Yankees have completed their discussions today. No decisions have been made concerning Joe Torre. The discussions will continue.”

The conclave will reconvene tomorrow. For those of you unfamiliar with the selection process that gets us a new Yankee manager, here is a quick refresher, courtesy of Wikipedia:

The election of the Yankees Manager almost always takes place in the Tampa Compound, in a sequestered meeting called a "conclave" (so called because the front office electors are theoretically locked in, cum clave, until they elect a new manager). The ballots are distributed and each front office elector writes the name of his choice on it and pledges aloud that he is voting for "one whom under God I think ought to be elected" before folding and depositing his vote on a plate atop a large chalice placed on the altar. The plate is then used to drop the ballot into the chalice, making it difficult for any elector to insert multiple ballots. Before being read, the number of ballots are counted while still folded; if the total number of ballots does not match the number of electors, the ballots are burned unopened and a new vote is held. Otherwise, each ballot is read aloud by the presiding Traveling Secretary, who pierces the ballot with a needle and thread, stringing all the ballots together and tying the ends of the thread to ensure accuracy and honesty. Balloting continues until a manager is elected by a two-thirds majority, or until George Steinbrenner gets sick of the whole thing, whichever happens sooner.

The ballots from an unsuccessful vote are burned along with a chemical compound in order to produce black smoke, or fumata nera. (Traditionally, wet straw was used to help create the black smoke, but a number of "false alarms" in past conclaves have brought about this concession to modern chemistry.) When a vote is successful, the ballots are burned alone, sending white smoke (fumata bianca) through the chimney and announcing to the world the election of a new Yankee Manager.

The General Manager then asks the manager-elect two solemn questions. First he asks, "Do you freely accept your election?" If he replies with the word "Accepto", his reign as Yankee Manager begins at that precise instinctive instant, not at the inauguration ceremony several days afterward. The GM then asks, "By what name shall you be called?" The new manager then announces the regnal name he has chosen for himself.

The new manager is led through the "Door of Tears" to the clubhouse in which three sets of white home uniforms (immantatio) await: small, medium, and large. Donning the appropriate uniform and reemerging into the dugout, the Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations then announces from a balcony over Legend's Field the following proclamation: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum! Habemus Procurator! ("I announce to you a great joy! We have a manager!"). He then announces the new manager's Christian name along with the new name he has adopted as his regnal name.
The question of the next Yankee manager's regnal name is often as intriguing as the identity of the Yankee manager himself. Under Steinbrenner's 1974 encyclical, even a returning Yankee manager must select a regnal name, so if Torre is retained he would rule as Josefus IV or VI (we're bad with Roman numerals). Rumor has it that should Joe Girardi get the call he would likely select the name of Yogi IV--heedless of the short, unsuccessful reign of Yogi III (only 16 games!) . Many are pleading with Girardi to consider to at least dilute the Yogi tradition with another name--perhaps become Buck Yogi I ("All the rigidity of Buck, but with the catcherliness of Yogi," one well-placed Yankee commented). If Don Mattingly is elected, he is said to be considering Miller Citricus I, a name invoking the wisdom of Miller Huggins and the bright acidity of Bob Lemon.

Of course, even though he is still under contract to the Cardinals, Tony La Russa has taken the liberty of announcing what his regnal name would be: Tony La Russa. "I think it would be a bit graceless of me to interfere with perfection."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Best Story in Baseball

Now that Scott Raab and I are done (apparently, for the moment) trying to determine which one of us is the bigger douchebag. Let's talk about the National League, where the Rockies, making sure that TBS doesn't come anywhere close to making their money back on their big baseball contract, just completed its second sweep this month. Between both Division Series and the NLCS, TBS got one game over the minimum.

There are always nits to pick with TV coverage, but TBS brought two things to the table this off-season that I'll cherish. The first is the lack of stupid sound effects, particularly whenever a run scores. I did a double-take the first time a run scored in the NLDS and there was no stupid digital sound effect. And then there was the TBS Hot Corner, a simulcast (delayed about a minute off live) of the game, presented online with studio commentators. There were two teams, one out of TBS's studios in Atlanta (sadly, despite the presence of a pair of lovely young ladies on that panel, it had all the energy of the 3:00-4:00 AM shift at a telethon) and another out of New York, featuring the guys from Vinny Micucci and John Marzano, along with, as special guests, a couple of my homeboys, Will Carroll and Joe Sheehan.

The MLB crew was really an alternate view of what baseball coverage could be--minimal narration of the game action, a freewheeling discussion that was simultaneously smart and casual. It was a bit like a baseball version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It took a while to get used to, mainly because you're abandoning a large television to watch a small screen, split in four views--one a fixed camera view of the pitcher and catcher, another the studio, a third showing the pitch tracker, and a fourth aimed at one of the dugouts. It's hard to go from HD to the little screen. And because of that Atlanta crew.

Still, in a day and age where where I find myself muting the TV more often than listening to the on-air voices's nice to have alternatives. One thing that this has reminded me is that, for all the technological changes we've seen in baseball broadcasts--HD, super slow-mo, pitch tracking--the human part of the broadcast has remained more or less the same, not all that much different from the way the game was (and still is) presented on radio. One guy describes the action, another tells stories and gives insights during lulls in the action. There's merit to the method, but it couldn't possibly be the only way to do a sports broadcast. And now we know it isn't. I wish we were getting more Hot Corner, but TBS is exiting the stage, and FOX hasn't picked up the concept.


As for the game itself, there was a moment that reminded exactly why the Rockies' NLCS victory was so exciting. The Rockies had just taken a 6-1 lead in the fourth, and the feeling was completely that the game had been broken open.

When exactly did we start considering a five-run lead at Coors Field a safe? Just now, within the last month or so. For the past ten years, even when the team was relatively successful, that five-run lead was as nail-bitingly tense as a two-run lead in most other parks. Some of the change is probably the humidor--but the improvement of this team is amazing.

Over in the AL, being a Red Sox fan for a series still isn't quite working out for me. I like Matsuzaka, but he doesn't look like the same pitcher he was at mid-season, and you have to wonder if he's totally gassed. Jake Westbrook, meanwhile, chewed the Sox up, letting them beat balls into the ground for the great infield crew behind him to gobble up. Cleveland's up 2-1 now, which puts a big weight on Tim Wakefield's shoulders.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Responses, an Apology, and GBA

Usually, I try not to write while upset. I make a habit of setting the post aside, and not pressing the "publish" button until I've had some time to think about it calmly. I didn't do that the other day when ranting about Scott Raab's douchetastic playoff blog post at Esquire.

Nonetheless, the only words from that last post that I regret writing were the final three: stay classy, Cleveland. It was a jab directed at the author of the Esquire blog (proclaimed by Esquire to be an Indians fan, and self-identified in the blog entry I quoted as a Clevelander) that maligned the whole city for the words of one of its supporters. There was no good reason to drag the city of Cleveland into the conversation--for all I know, they're the nicest people on earth--and I apologize for doing so.

As for the rest: look, I understand that many reasonable people have objections to patriotic displays of any sort. They consider flag-waving to be jingoistic and anti-intellectual; some object to anything that puts the words "God" and "America" in the same sentence; many also consider that patriotic displays are an overt endorsement of the current administration's actions in Iraq and elsewhere. There's also the phenomenon of Yankee Stadium security not letting attendees leave their seats during God Bless America (although I've never experienced this phenomenon myself, it's been reported so widely that I believe it to be true), which is a practice that I can't defend, in any way.

While I understand and respect those objections, I'll admit that I like the God Bless America break. Everywhere else in American public life, it feels like every effort is being made to make us forget that there is a war going on, and that Americans are killing and dying on our behalf. I like that when you go to Yankee Stadium, the war is acknowledged, and they take a moment to pay tribute. Having watched a few games with servicemen, they don't seem to consider the "patriotic ritual" cynical or dishonest. It also isn't a bit of window dressing for the playoffs or national broadcasts--they consistently do this every home game of the season.

As much as I respect the political reasons to oppose the seventh inning ritual at Yankee Stadium, the idea that it's some sort of hardship--a premeditated hardship--to visiting pitchers is bunk. Even though Tynan started singing GBA at Yankee Stadium in 2001, the whining didn't start until 2003, when the Yanks scored three runs against the Twins in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 2 of the Division Series. In that game, we're supposed to believe that the long layoff caused Brad Radke to hit Nick Johnson with a pitch to lead off the inning. After that, the Yanks got a couple of singles and an error against LaTroy Hawkins--also, somehow, Dr. Tynan's fault, even though Hawkins was in the bullpen during the seventh inning stretch.

Now, no one had complained about the deleterious effect of GBA prior to 2003, because the Yanks didn't score any bottom-of-the-seventh runs in 2001 and 2002. And the cause has been resurrected as an excuse whenever the Yankees score a run in the bottom of the seventh of a playoff game. In Cleveland's Game 4 win this year, the Yanks scored in the seventh--an Alex Rodriguez homer, not like that ever happens--and on cue, Mr. Raab started crying about how it's a horrifying shame that the Yankees are allowed to compromise the game by putting on the GBA show, yadda yadda yadda.

But is there really any negative effect? I sat down with BB-Reference and did some back-of-the-envelope calculations (literally--they're scribbled on my Time Warner cable bill). Since 2001, the Yankees have scored 140 runs in 283 innings at home--0.495 runs per inning. In the 7th inning of those 32 games, guess how many runs the Yankees have scored? Fifteen (or 0.469 per inning)--a hair less than you'd expect from the overall numbers. It's a small sample, but you'd think that we'd see some run-scoring boost from the supposedly intentional, pitcher-freezing delay.

Unless, of course, the delay is irrelevant. As I mentioned before, baseball isn't a game of fixed time limits. It's not like the pitchers take the field every 10 minutes on the dot, and a six minute delay will throw off that rhythm. In an AL ballpark, there's nothing for the pitcher to do but sit from the time he ends an inning until he's called upon to warm up again. That could be five minutes, or it could be twenty--it all depends on the team's bats and there's just no telling. So it kind of makes sense that pitchers would be no more or less effective after listening to three minutes of Ronan Tynan than they would in any other inning. They're just that resilient.

A number of the respondents to my rant, both here and elsewhere, called me a sore loser. Mind you, I've stated (before any of this) that Cleveland was the superior team, and that the midges weren't any kind of excuse for losing a playoff game. While conspiracy theories abound on this last point, I think they're BS. It's one of those things that happens--like rain and bad umpiring--and you just have to deal with it.

But if I'm a sore loser for mentioning the bugs in passing, how is it not poor sportsmanship to whine about GBA at Yankee Stadium, when there's no indication that it negatively impacts play on the field? How sporting is it to imply that GBA, as sung by Tynan, is gamesmanship rather than a sincere tribute?


So, now that that is out of the way, how's the whole rooting-for-the-Red-Sox thing going? I'll admit, it's pretty tough. As a Dominican, I find it easy to pull for David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez--just like in 2004, that's just a brutal hill to get over in the lineup--but it's a little harder to wish good things for Chipmunk Face Beckett and ol' 38 It'll probably be easier to cheer Matsuzaka on the mound on Monday, when the series resumes.

Buried news item from Friday: the Baltimore Orioles, in a typical bit of crackerjack management, fired pitching coach Leo Mazzone. I guess it must have been awkward for O's manager Dave Trembley to have a guy on his coaching staff who came to Baltimore specifically to work with Trembley's predecessor, Sam Perlozzo. Regardless of the circumstances--and Leo's poor results with the O's pitching staff--you have to think that Mazzone might factor in to all of the managerial intrigue surrounding the Yanks this week. Mazzone was coveted for the job as Joe Torre's pitching coach when he left the Braves two years ago, and could still fit in there (no offense to Ron Guidry) if the Yanks decide they still want to retain Torre's services. If the Yankees wanted to hire Mattingly as the new manager, the decision might be easier if the Yanks had a veteran pitching coach to pair with the newby manager, such as Mazzone. Any way you cut it, I'd be surprised if Mazzone isn't getting a lot of phone calls from the 813 area code this week.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

For Special Accomplishment in the Field of Douchebaggery

I knew that, in light of the Yankees' elimination, some folks would get to have a bit too much fun with it. This profanity-laced playoff blog from Esquire Magazine (Hat Tip to Repoz at Primer) gets points for being extra classy:

Scott Raab: Why Bud Selig lets the Yankees turn the 7th-inning stretch into a faux-patriotic ritual -- not so incidentally forcing the opposing pitcher to wait an extra five or so minutes while the microcephalic Ronan Tynan quavers his meandering way through "God Bless America" -- is a mystery. No other team or town pulls this sort of crap. It's no tribute to America -- it's a tribute to George Steinbrenner's sense of entitlement and his monomania, and it's a disgrace to the game.

If another team pulled this on the Yankees, Steinbrenner would raise hell, and he'd be absolutely right to do so. And if the Yanks' pitchers could miss bats the way Tynan misses notes, the Yanks might've had a prayer against the Tribe.

And that's all the gloating I intend to do. There are Clevelanders like Steinbrenner -- whose idea of manhood is bullyragging, boasting, and buying respect -- but most of us know that sportsmanship means winning and losing with as much dignity, perspective, and grace as one can muster.

In other words, f**k the motherf**king Yankees. In their house. With Paul Byrd. With Joe Borowski. With Rudy Giuliani in his precious little VIP box. With Rocket pouting, feet up in the trainer's table's stirrups, as the team gynecologist pries apart his Hall of Fame labia. With the d**kweed Michael Kay babbling about how the Yankees are the better team.

Right. It was the gnats. It was A-Rod. It was Bruce Froemming. It simply isn't possible that the better team wasn't the Yankees, because that simply can't be true in Bombersworld. Just count the ringzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Bye-bye, you sorry bastards. Oh, and God bless America.

You know, we Yankee fans can get to taking ourselves too seriously, so we're fair game (more on this in a second, though). Rudy Giuliani is running for president as a New York Republican, which in this day and age, is like hanging a "kick me" sign on your back. He can take the heat. Michael Kay and Roger Clemens can also defend themselves. George Steinbrenner? Not so much so, anymore, but he's got a mountain of money, and I'm sure he can have Howard Rubenstein write you a stinging press release as a rebuke.

It's when you decide to disrespect Ronan Tynan that I get riled up.

Since Tynan's a physician as well as a world-renowned singer, I'm sure he has a better idea what "microcephalic" means than Scott Raab does. I'm also sure that despite those accomplishments, and the fact that Dr. Tynan was a paralympian (as a double amputee) whose world records from the 1980s still stand, Scott Raab is really well-placed to denigrate him, since Raab wrote "that Alex Rodriguez article"--six freakin' years ago--and is still bragging about it.

I get that fans of every other team in baseball feel this air of superiority over us Yankee fans. After all, they're all people of high character, built by rooting for teams who sometimes--heck, often--don't have any chance of making the playoffs. Meanwhile, we fans of the Bronx Bombers are all entitled, rude, profane front-runners--universally guilty of poor sportsmanship--who consider World Series rings to be our birthright.

I mean, we must be lousy people. We support a "faux patriotic ritual"--which obviously can't be sincere, since we're all cold blooded bastards with no conscience--that is slyly calculated to make "the opposing pitcher wait an extra five or so minutes," for the nefarious purpose of ... what, exactly? I mean, it's not like baseball innings have fixed time limits, or like the Yanks scored a ton of runs in the 7th inning this year, preying on "cold" pitchers. So what's the unsportsmanlike advantage the Yankees are taking, exactly?

It's funny how some of these "superior" sports fans--nope, no sense of entitlement or unsporting attitudes there!--show their superiority over us through displays of mean, vicious name-calling and cursing. Oh, and insulting a guy who's suffered more adversity in his life than a 59-year World Series championship drought, yet nonetheless has managed greater accomplishments than simply "inspired a hissy fit between two pro athletes (six years ago)."

In yesterday's blog I said I was rooting for an Indian-Rockies World Series. The Indians--midges aside--seemed like a quality team, whose winning would make a great story, and I had absolutely no reason to wish them anything but the best after they vanquished the Yankees. But now--even though it hurts my heart to say it--I'm pulling for the Red Sox in the ALCS, and after that, for whoever wins the National League.

You see, the Cleveland Indians haven't won in Scott Raab's lifetime--and suddenly that seems like a grand idea. A fine tradition, one that should remain unbroken, at least for the remainder of his lifetime. Stay classy, Cleveland!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

ALDS Game 4: If This is Goodbye

The last time the season ended on such an unsettled note was 2003. The warhorses of the Yankee starting rotation--Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, David Wells--were heading for the door, leaving only Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera to anchor the pitching staff.

Those were uncertain times. But they were nothing like this. At least in 2003, the Yanks made it to the World Series, got one last memorable smackdown in against the Sox before their World Series drought finally ended. This time, the accomplishment is nowhere near as much--squeaking into the playoffs as the Wild Card, then losing, badly, to a team we thumped like a rented pinball machine during the regular season. And the potential losses to the roster cut much deeper: Mariano. Hip hip Jorge. Joe Torre. Alex the MV friggin' P. And, as an afterthought, Clemens and possibly Pettitte all over again.

The first three names are the very heart of your team. The fourth, for all the complaining we do (and in this series and particularly last night's game, the complaining wasn't out of line) is the team's muscle. And the last two are old, perhaps unreliable arms--but they're the old, unreliable arms that got us to the playoffs in the first place.

We'll come back to this, in a moment. First, let's talk about the game.

It wasn't an old, unreliable arm that killed the Yankees last night, it was a young, suddenly-unreliable one. Last night's game followed the pattern of every decisive playoff game since the 2004 ALCS: shaky starter takes the mound, digs a quick hole, gets the early hook in favor of another iffy starter, then the slow, painful march proceeds toward elimination.

It's a tried and true formula. You could just about say that it works every time.

The scary part about this is that it was Wang--the rock of the rotation, winner of six of his last eight in the regular season--who crumbled like a day-old cookie against the Tribe. The vaunted (by me) home-field advantage didn't avail him worth a damn. Sure, there was a spate of lousy calls against the Yanks in this game, but that's just excuses. The truth is, the Indians teed off on Wang like they knew every single pitch that was coming. Sure, it didn't help that Wang started violently overthrowing all his pitches, but the fact is, he got hit early and often, and the Yanks never really got into either of the games he started. I wonder if a 19.02 ERA is the worst ERA by a major Yankee player, ever.

At the same time, much like in Game 1, the Yanks had early chances when they could have used to turn the momentum in their favor, but they never materialized. To put it another way, Alex Rodriguez never made them material. Alex struck out twice on six pitches against Paul "86 MPH fastball" Byrd. Byrd blew that weak-ass cheese past Alex with two men on in the first. I defend the guy up and down the block, but he just killed me in those early innings. By the time that he and Cano did their solo shots, it was too damn late. Even with Joe Borowski on the mound in the ninth--a bad idea for the Indians, I don't care how many saves he had this year--I couldn't get excited. The team had rolled over and died already, and as Abreu went yard and Posada drove one long and foul, I just felt like I was getting jerked around.

And then the season was finally over.

I'm proud of this team. Honest, I am. They were dead on June 1, and came back to life, put a scare in a few people. Alex, so damn vulnerable once the short series start, put on the show of my lifetime at Yankee Stadium this season. We got to chant for Joba, I got to cheer Rocket's return, and Phil Hughes did have that beautiful moment in Sunday's game. Robbie Cano socked more homers than anyone ever figured for him, and Jorge Posada probably had his best season overall. Good surprises like Ian Kennedy and Shelly Duncan were just a little more memorable than the Kei Igawas and Brian Bruneys.

Along the way, I think we forgot what this Yankee team was: underdogs. And while many regard it as romantic to be the underdog (to the point of the inventing underdogs even where they don't really exist) usually it just means you get beat by a superior team. Which is what happened here.

What happens from here? We have all winter to talk about it now, but my first impression is: I think Torre goes, for sure, and Clemens retires. Part of me would like to think that what happens with Posada, Rivera, and Pettitte had something to do with the fates of Torre and Clemens--as free agents, both Rivera and Posada could make their loyalty to the Yankee skipper a negotiation issue--but I think all three will be back. What Alex Rodriguez and Scott Boras will do is anybody's guess. Nothing would surprise me: not a ten-year extension with a cut of the new Stadium's concessions, nor Alex going to Anaheim and Tom Hicks kicking back to Boras a cut of the $30 million the Texas Rangers would save if Alex opts out.

Here's hoping that Colorado beats Cleveland in the World Series!

Monday, October 08, 2007

ALDS Game 3: Changing of the Guard

The scene in the top of the third inning last night was something so cliche that it'd probably be rejected by novelists Mitch Albom or Mike Lupica, or even the sports films department at Disney. Roger Clemens, the future Hall of Fame warhorse, likely ending his career as a player on a strikeout. Embattled manager Joe Torre (conveniently embattled before the game by George Steinbrenner) taking the ball from the injured oldest Yankee, and handing it to the youngest Yankee, Phil Hughes. Hughes running into trouble at the start (a double that allowed the baserunner he inherited from Clemens to score), then bearing down to win the game and help avoid the sweep.

Backtracking a bit, Brother T and I got into the Stadium just as the air force flyover was going on, paused for a moment at the Loge level to see Tino Martinez throw out the first pitch, and got to our seats in Tier 31 just in time to see Clemens finish his warm-up pitches before the top of the first.

It was obvious the Rocket didn't have it, right from the start. His velocity was weak (85 MPH on the Stadium gun seemed rather generous to me) and his control wasn't there. Still, I'm convinced he would have had a scoreless inning in the first if not for Jeter's error (yeah, I know the official scorer had a different opinion, but even a decent throw gets the runner, there). Nixon's homer disappeared into the deck under us, so that we couldn't see if it left the park--much as Damon's homer would, later--but it was a no-doubter. Roger seemed unable to put batters away after getting ahead in the count, and the Tribe seemed locked in to hold off of the splitter/forkball.

It wasn't obvious if Clemens' hammies were bothering from my viewpoint far overhead. While he was on the mound, he didn't visibly limp or do any of the familiar motions you see when a pitcher is fighting leg discomfort. Over on TBS's Hot Corner Will Carroll noted that the Rocket was wincing and grunting while warming up (I didn't have a data feed at the ballpark, I heard about this later), but the only time it really looked like there was something wrong was the last pitch, which the Rocket seemed to overstride painfully. And that was it.

As he walked off the mound, a few knuckleheads were booing. Applause to counteract that shameful display came in a split second after, although some in my section cheered half-heartedly, and things definitely got stronger when Phil the Phenom started his jog in from the pen. All night, the crowd didn't really have the energy I've experienced in past playoffs, overall.

Back to Clemens, remembering how excited the Stadium crowd was when they made the live announcement that he was coming to the club's rescue back in May, it was a sour way end to things, if this is it for Roger's 2007, or his career. I (and I have no inside knowledge) think that last night's game is both. Regardless of whether the Yanks advance beyond this round, Clemens can't be counted upon in his current state. Personally, I hope that this is the moment that finally convinces Clemens to hang them up for good--he could convince himself that it was just his hamstring that ruined the end of the season, but he should remember the lost velocity on his fastball that plagued him all season, the lack of dominance, even when he threw well. This way, at least he goes out on a strikeout. Watching him pitch last night, I'm not sure there's another strikeout left in that arm, period.

Hughes was a complete change from the Rocket on the mound. The Franchise was throwing in the 93-94 MPH range, and he kept Cleveland guessing between the fastball and that hammer of a curve. The only problem he had--and this has been consistent all season--is that he wasn't terribly efficient with his pitches, throwing 63 in 3 2/3 innings of work. He was shaky enough in the sixth that Joe Torre was warming up Joba Chamberlain after the first batter. This proved to be a costly decision, because Joba warmed up hard and I think that (under one of the old Joba Rules) Torre felt the need to bring him into the game even after the Yankee lead had ballooned to six. Joba worked hard for 38 pitches in the seventh and eighth, an effort which should keep him out of Game 4. I don't blame Torre for calling on Rivera with the four-run lead, but two innings for Joba leaves no one in the bullpen that I would trust to get the game from Wang to Rivera tonight. What's fresh? Blockhead Kyle? Burnt-out Vizcaino?

On the other side of the ball, Johnny Damon's homer was like a defibrillator charge to the Yankees' offense. After a first half that had me wishing him elsewhere, Damon's really proven to be an essential element of this ballclub. Being able to play left, rather than just DH, helps. Derek Jeter owes Damon a bottle of whatever the former Capt. Caveman drinks, since his 3 for 4, four RBI performance overshadowed an awful game by the Captain. Somehow, I think that if the Yankees' season ends at this level, Sunday's 2 for 4 from Alex Rodriguez will be overshadowed by a lack of RBIs. But Jeter and Posada, neither of whom have hit in this series, will continue to get a pass.

For better or for worse, more after Game 4.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

ALDS Game 2: Plagued!

The Count of Monte Kenny continued his campaign of revenge against the Bronx Bombers, scoring the winning run in extra innings to bring the team to the brink of elimination. He got a ton of help from Fausto Carmona, who tamed the Yanks' bats through nine innings, himself, in turn, with help from a swarm of gnats.

The gnats--a palpable cloud of whitish mosquito-type bugs--also contributed to defusing the Yanks' secret weapon Joba Chamberlain, against whom the Tribe scored in the eighth. Brother Kenny, who I saw performing after the game was over, was livid that the umps didn't interrupt the game when the players' visibility was compromised. Me, I'm wondering if they have hives of these things hiding in tunnels under Jacob's Field, ready to be unleashed if the team's in trouble. Certainly, Cleveland's players looked a lot less bothered than the Yanks did.

Still, October's about performance, not excuses. The Yankees are down 0-2 because they haven't gotten on track, offensively. And time's running out. They've been in holes like this before--against Oakland in 2001, most notably--and they've let 2-0 DS leads slip away (in 1995). It's possible to come back, but this team hasn't shown that they have what it takes. For all the good stuff they did down the stretch, the team still has a whiff of the team that stunk up the joint in May to them.

I'll be there tomorrow, hoping the Bombers can force a Game 4.

Friday, October 05, 2007

ALDS Game 1: The Wrath of Kenny

If you'd have told me that the Yanks would get 10 baserunners against CC Sabathia, in five innings, I'd have said the Yanks win the game.

But then, I didn't count on the ghost.

I mean, that must be it, right? Because I remember the 2004 playoffs, when the Yankees could have used some help from a player like Kenny Lofton. And even though Lofton himself was listed on the Yanks' playoff roster, it was as if the veteran speedster didn't exist. Afterward, people kept acting as if Lofton were still...y'know, with us, but it all sounded like so much malarkey. Sure, there were rumors--Kenny Lofton's playing for the Phillies, Lofton's out in L.A., he's replacing Gary Matthews, Jr. in Texas--but it was a lot like people still seeing Elvis. Sure, it's hard to let go of a guy like Kenny Lofton, but I always thought it was just people being unable to face reality.

But in tonight's game--and I know this sounds crazy--I could have sworn I saw him, too. After all that time, after Joe Torre buried him alive on the Yankees' roster so many years ago, after we all thought that he was gone...there he was, singling in the first inning, knocking in a pair of runs. Could it be true?

I mean, I always thought that those UPS ads--you know, the ones where he's traded to New York, and Chicago, and Japan--were just a bit of macabre humor. But in the fifth, there he was, singling, knocking in another run, stealing a base. I couldn't believe it. It was like the Count of Monte Cristo--Lofton had come back from the dead, to get his revenge on Torre and the Yankees.

I'm still holding out hope, but it's been a lousy 48 hours. Aside from the vengeful apparition in Cleveland, we had Josh Beckett looking just shy of unhittable against the Angels. The Yanks are down 1-0 in a five game series against a team that doesn't resemble the fellows they rolled six straight during the season. This might not be a kind October, at all.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

September in Review: Bonanza!

Record for the Month: 19-8, 178 RS, 128 RA

Player of the Month: It's hard not to give it to the guy who had 10 homers and 31 RBIs for the month, team-leading totals, each...yeah, what the heck, why not? Alex Rodriguez (.362/.470/.723) wins his third Player of the Month for 2007 (he previously won April and June). But he gets to share the award, thanks to an obscure rule I made up for Jorge Posada in June--"[y]ou hit close to .400 for a period of 31 days, then you get to be the Player of the Month." Turns out Jorge hit .395/.511/.632--albeit in 22 games--capping the best season by a Yankee catcher, per VORP, since 1959. In the honorable mentions, Doug Mientkiewicz (.429/.510/.619 in 42 AB) took advantage of Jason Giambi's failings to make the Giambino (.164/.370/.309) a $19 million pinch-hitter. Among the pitchers, honorable mentions go out to Phil Hughes (3-0, 2.73 ERA in 29 2/3 IP), Joba Chamberlain (10 apperanaces, 2-0, 0.77, 17 K), Chien Ming Wang (3-1, 3.27 ERA), Ian Kennedy (1.89 ERA), and Mike Mussina (3-0, 3.49 ERA).

Dregs of the Month: How bad can you be and still keep your job? Melky Cabrera will find out on Friday, when the Yanks face a righthanded pitcher. If Johnny Damon's in center field against Fausto Carmona, Melky will find himself demoted to platoon status based on a horrible September (.180/.236/.280). If Melky isn't down, it's only because Giambi (crappy performance listed above) didn't make a strong enough argument to get into the DH slot, but Hideki Matsui helped make the decision interesting by hitting (.183/.343/.346). Honorable mentions go to bullpen-mates Edwar Ramirez (11.17 ERA) and Luis Vizcaino (10.13 ERA). Three True Outcomes Ramirez got almost unprecedented chances to be a part of the bullpen picture from Joe Torre, and he coughed 'em up like a hairball. Meanwhile, Vizcaino has either morphed back into the sucktastic guy he was at the beginning of the season, or Torre has worn his arm down like the brakes on a gypsy cab. Either way, it's a concern since he's the #3 reliever in the Yankee pen--you have to have a worse September than this for Blockhead Kyle (6.75 ERA in September) to trump you--this does not bode well.

Story of the Month: I'll hold off on this until tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Week in Review: Deuces Wild

Week 26: September 24-30, 2007

Record for the Week: 4-3, 52 RS, 40 RA
Overall: 94-68, AL Wild Card; finished 2 games behind Boston in the AL East

The Breakdown:

09/24 -- Toronto 4, Yankees 1
The Jesse Litsch Experience neutralizes the Yankee offense. Detroit wins, to stay in the picture.

09/25 -- Yankees 6, Tampa Bay 7
The team survives five innings of control-impaired Kei Igawa (no runs, two hits, five walks), only to get butchered when Edwar Ramirez and Brian Bruney take over in the sixth. Alex Rodriguez grand slam squandered when Bruney surrenders a grand slam of his own to something called Jorge Velandia.

09/26 -- Yankees 12, Tampa Bay 4
Chien Ming Wang gets his 19th win, Cano ropes in five RBI.

09/27 -- Yankees 3, Tampa Bay 1
A little more like we thought it would be--Phil Hughes ends his regular season on a high note, outdueling Scott Kazmir in Tampa. If he's on the postseason roster--and they really don't have enough talent available for him not to be--I hope someone reminds Torre of how much better he performed on the road than at home. Joba Chamberlain helps out, and more importantly pitches on back-to-back days. With the super-extended playoff schedule, that means that he should be available a whole lot over the next month.

09/28 -- Yankees 9, Baltimore 10
Sobering game of the week. Mike Mussina makes like the previous three starts never happened, getting lit up for six runs on 11 hits in five innings, but it's another Yankee oldster, Mariano Rivera, who kills the Yanks' chances of winning in the ninth inning. Alex Rodriguez's 54th homer is wasted.

09/29 -- Yankees 11, Baltimore 10
Bronson Sardinha gets his first major league RBI, opening the flood gates in a 10-run fourth inning. Good thing, too, 'cause Andy Pettitte ends the season on a sour note, allowing nine runs in five innings and driving his ERA for the season above 4.00.

09/30 -- Yankees 10, Baltimore 4
The Yankees finish the season with a CB-radio send off score.

Player of the Week: Play it again, Alex. That's Rodriguez with the .389/.542/.778 week, and 10 RBI. Derek Jeter (.409/.417/.818), Johnny Damon (.481/.481/.704) and Shelley Duncan (.308/.400/.615) are other batsmen who helped themselves this final week of the season. Among the pitchers, Phil Hughes and Jose Veras deserve honorable mentions.

Dregs of the Week: This is a Melky Cabrera specialty, I guess, the lost week. All week long, what the Melkman contributed with a bat was two walks, a single, and a double, good for .095/.167/.143.On the pitching side, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Mariano RIvera were serious disappointments.

Story of the Week: Clincher week was kind of a dud--fortunately, Torre agreed with the conventional wisdom about trying to catch the division leaders, and spent the week testing and prodding his troops to see who makes the playoff roster. An odd, unconfirmed, story has Bronson Sardinha making the cut, which is both curious and strange. The bullpen is just a guessing game at this point--so I won't guess, and will wait to comment until after the official annoucement comes down.

Now, I know it sounds snotty to say that clinching a playoff berth isn't exciting--it is, specially after what the team went through early in the season. But I'm ambivalent about the Wild Card. To me, the only thing the Yankees really won last week was the chance to try and win next week and onward through the month. I'm thankful we're here--it was a fun and bumpy ride--but the Wild Card isn't a "something". I'm not alone in feeling this--I recently had some correspondence with a Rockies fan who disapproved of the idea of buying Wild Card merchandise or the franchise hauling up a "2007 NL Wild Card" banner. Considering that this guy's team just pulled off a miraculous September charge for the postseason, what excuse do Yankee fans have?

The real story of last week wasn't in Yankeeland, it was in Flushing, where Mets fans lived out a baseball nightmare over the last couple of weeks. It was amazing how the idea of a season-ending meltdown took hold so early in New York's imagination, and proliferated like a virus. I know right now I should be a big ol' jerk of a Yankee fan and let the schadenfreude fly--Mets fans certainly seemed inclined this way at mid-season, when they were flying high and the Bombers were mired near .500. But I can't. It's horrible what happened to them, and ugly. The Phillies played amazing baseball, and showed a lot of heart, but the Mets didn't lose the division against the Phillies--they lost it by being unable to handle the Nationals, and the Marlins, in the last week of the season.

Willie Randolph didn't deserve this. While he's looked fundamentally unhappy the entire time he's managed this team--I remember Willie as a smiling type during his playing days--in managing this team down the stretch, he did the only thing he could do: remain true to himself. You can't play the role of the screaming lunatic in September, not after spending the last two-plus years as the calm, sullen guy who doesn't raise his voice. It doesn't ring true.

Earlier in the year, I said that if the Yanks fired Joe Torre, it was change for change's sake. Torre, after all, was the same guy that he'd been all along, brought the same things to the table that he did when he was hailed as a genius--it just wasn't working, just then. The same thinking applies to Randolph. Anyone who wants him fired now better have wanted him fired last season, better have argued against the extension the Wilpons gave him. 'Cause he's the same guy now that he was then.

Back later in the week with more movie reviews, and September in Review.