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 winter...it 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 America...is 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 Pitches.com 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 MLB.com 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 MLB.tv 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 chatter...it'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 Pitches.com. 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.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Movie Review: Once

Let's just get the negatives out of the way up front. If you'd told me that my favorite movie this year would a) be less than 90 minutes long, b) feature non-professional actors, and c) be a musical...well, I'd a told you that you were nuts.

But nonetheless, that is the case. Somehow this movie doesn't have me thinking of eighty-someodd minutes as short, but rather slender, compact, or even lean. The acting isn't amateurish, it's earnest, or better said, heartfelt. And it isn't a musical, but rather...um, no, it is a musical.

The musical is a powerful genre. I live in a city that has an entire industry dedicated to it on the stage, and recent year-end award nominations and wins for Dreamgirls and Chicago show that it's still viable on the big screen. But it's tricky. Done right, music and film form a feedback loop, where love for one increases appreciation for the other. But if any of the elements go wrong, it's a disaster. Spending time with lackluster music is no fun, no matter how dynamic the characters are or how splendid the visuals (I haven't seen Dreamgirls, nor would I see Hairspray, because the songs don't really get me where I live). But at the same time, we're looking for more than a music video--the film musical has to be a good movie, too. Look at the recent failures of two revered hit musicals, Rent and the Producers, to find an audience at the multiplex.

The genre also operates under the handicap that we're not really buying the primary conceit of the genre--that is, that Olivia Newton-John just looks out at the night sky and spontaneously belts out "Hopelessly Devoted," with full, invisible orchestral accompaniment. It's no coincidence that few of the musicals you see these days are set in the present. There just seems to be an extreme disconnect between the world of spontaneous singing and our world full of cell phones and ipods.

Once works because it creates that world, a place where you can believe that sometimes people sing interchangeably with speaking. It's a world where music is so highly valued that you steal from a child's piggy bank to get batteries for a CD player, or walk into a loan officer's office armed with nothing but a second-hand suit and a tape recorder, all so you can pursue the dream of making music. It's a world where girl (Marketa Irglova) meets boy (Glen Hansard) not because of some contrived meet-cute situation, but because she's intrigued with his sidewalk performances of original songs; and where the girl (the lead characters are not given names) doesn't really catch boy's attention until he sees her spidery fingers dancing on a piano keyboard--but when he does, it's a love-at-first-sight moment. It turns out they make sweet music together--but since both of them have long-distance attachments, the question is, will they get to make (ahem) sweet music together?

Hansard and Irglova aren't really professional actors (he'd had a small part in the other famous Irish music movie, the Commitments; she's apparently a complete novice) but they're both professional musicians. Musicians acting can be jarring--even the good ones, like David Bowie, tend to stick out like a sore thumb in a cast of "real" actors. Director John Carney protects both his leads well, by not giving them too many scenes head-to-head with real actors. Bill Hodnet does some nice work as Hansard's dad, but most of the other roles are portrayed by untrained actors, whose naturalistic performances meld well with Hansard and Irglova's.

But just as musicians can rarely duplicate the nuances of acting, actors rarely get music performance right on film. At its best, you have movies where the actors do a beautiful job of mimicking a famous performer's movements or even their voice, but you put that next to Prince doing his thing in Purple Rain, or Hansard singing his heart out on a street corner in this movie, and it's not too hard to tell the real thing from the counterfeits. It's the musical performances that make this movie--the music is good enough that it was downloading from iTunes within ten minutes of my getting home.

Very highly recommended.