Monday, November 03, 2008

Still Here, Rock the Vote Edition

Yeah, one post for the entirety of October was pretty lame. All I can say in my defense is that I'm working on a super-secret project that I keep on assuring my wife, La Chiquita, will be worth it. With the Phillies beating the Rays last week, the world's undivided attention turns to our national elections, tomorrow. For those of you who've been waiting until the end of the baseball season to pay attention, my BP colleague Nate Silver has set up a site,, to catch you up. On the left side of this page you'll see the site's widget with its latest posts. It's politics done stathead style, so if you like the kind of baseball writing we (used to) sling around here, you'll love this.

Anyway, get informed and get to the polls. Regardless of who you vote for, get out there and vote.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why I'm Rooting for the Rays

I was talking to a fellow Yankee fan the other night, and we were discussing the ALCS. I mentioned that I was cheering for the Rays to win it all this year, and the answer I got back was "I hear you. I root for two teams: the Yankees and whoever is playing the Red Sox." It got me thinking, because that wasn't what I was feeling. The moment the Yankees were eliminated, my loyalties shifted to the Rays. It would have been that way if the Angels had beaten the Sox in the ALDS, and it'll continue to be that way if the Bostonians pull some of their 2004 voodoo to dig themselves out of the 3-1 hole they're in in this series. The Rays are the postseason for me now.

It's not that the other contenders to the crown don't have legitimate claims. The Phils have more history and longer-suffering fans. The Dodgers have Joe Torre, and all the warm feelings I have for him and his coaches, particularly (sigh) Donnie Baseball. The Red Sox have...well, my respect, at the very least. They're all good teams, and the Sox are possibly a great team. But my pick, for reasons more emotional than logical.

It's because they play in the toughest division in baseball. Because they've built their team intelligently, and a couple of my former Baseball Prospectus colleagues (Chaim Bloom and James Click) have helped them do it. Because their fans range from displaced Expos loyalists to Cubs fans who've been kicked in the cojones by their team a few too many times. Because, basically on a lark, I wrote an article in 2007 (which I mentioned in this space) about how the Rays could win it all, back when that prospect wasn't even a twinkle in PECOTA's eye. Now I want to see it become reality.

And because, with the Rays being a rising power in the AL East, the sooner they win it all, the sooner complacency and bad decision making will set in, hopefully derailing the whole venture before the Yanks spend the rest of the decade sucking their exhaust in the standings. Hey, just 'cause I'm on your side for one postseason, doesn't mean I'm not still a Yankee fan.


Sadly for Donnie Baseball, the Phils also hold a 3-1 lead in the NLCS against the Dodgers. Joe Torre's team had an excellent chance to even the series in Game Four, until Torre's uncertain management of the bullpen in the eighth inning opened the door for Charlie Manuel's squad. As manager of the Yankees, Torre was a good postseason bullpen manager, because he knew that he had one guy (Mariano Rivera) who was much better than everyone else in the 'pen, and possibly the whole staff. Torre was never afraid to extend Rivera to multiple innings, where needed, in pursuit of those World Series rings. In Monday's game, Torre had an opportunity where he probably should have used his closer Jonathan Broxton, the way he used Rivera back in the day. Instead, the Phils tied the game against setup man Cory Wade, and won the game on a two-run homer by the Power Hamster, Matt Stairs, against a closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-is-gone Broxton.

Again, while the Dodgers being in the playoffs while the Yanks cool their heels at home will invite comparisons between Torre and Joe Girardi, there should be caveats. Torre was always a better big picture manager than a strategic one: his big achievement as a Yankee was helping to professionalize the organization, so that things didn't degenerate into chaos the second that anyone experienced adversity. More importantly, the decision on who would manage the Yankees in 2008 was never really between Torre and Girardi. It was between Torre and Torre--whether to continue the then-current administration. Then, when the Yankees wouldn't come to terms with Torre, it was between Girardi and Mattingly (and a few other interviewees who never really seemed to be in the picture). So the question isn't whether Girardi is better than Torre--I doubt even Girardi himself would claim that to be the case--but whether Mattingly would have handled the Yankees better than Joe did. Given the personal problems that delayed the start of Donnie Baseball's coaching career with the Dodgers, the short-term answer was likely no. The long-term answer...I don't know. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mo' Cash, Less Problems

A sizable bit of the expected drama for this off-season went away today, with Yanks GM Brian Cashman re-signing with the team for three more years at the helm of the front office. Cashman, who'd had "complete authority" under his last agreement with George Steinbrenner, apparently was willing to live with Hank Steinbrenner's vision of an "advisory board"--either that, or the New Boss's vision was just a negotiating point. Still, it's good that the Yankees aren't out there looking for someone new to run the shop, since it's hard to imagine anyone stepping into Cash's role without missing a beat. Cashman's return is also good news for the Yankees' young players, who likely won't be freely available to anyone who has a superannuated marquee name.

In other soothing news, Will Carroll has the lowdown on Mariano Rivera's shoulder surgery over on Unfiltered. The procedure--called a Mumford procedure--isn't as scary as what we usually expect when we hear the words "Yankees' best pitcher to have shoulder surgery."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sweet and Sour

The Yankees ended the 2008 season with a doubleheader at Fenway after Saturday's rainout. In the early game, Mike Mussina finally bagged his 20th win in a season, capping a campaign that would have been worthy of the Comeback Player of the Year award, in any season where Cliff Lee's body wasn't possessed by aliens. The late game was a little more like the Yankees' season as a whole: a desperate struggle to beat a Boston team that hardly seemed to be trying to win, marked by a tough time scoring runs and some bad pitching by Darrell Rasner. A win, and a season-ending sweep of a Red Sox team that was clearly in tune-up mode for the final series, would have allowed the Pinstripers to finish their season with 90 wins and given us a small psychological boost going into a long, hard winter. But this wasn't really a season for feel-good endings, so the Red Sox nabbed with a walk-off tenth inning victory, the immortal Jonathan Van Every knocking in Alex Cora for the win.

For the first time since 1993, the Yankees season ended with the Yanks on the outside looking in at the postseason. In 1993 I'd just graduated college, a cell phone you could barely fit in a coat pocket was a cutting-edge luxury, and next to nobody had heard of the Internet. It's been a long wild ride for the Bronx faithful, and I'm grateful that it lasted this long. Looking, ahead, 2009 promises big changes. Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Bobby Abreu are free agents, Jason Giambi and Carl Pavano will be free agents if their options aren't picked up. In different ways, the Italian connection of Mussina, Giambi and Pavano have each been emblematic of the 21st Century Yanks. Mussina (like the Yanks) has been good but not great over the past eight years. Giambi has been simultaneously frustrating and underrated; despite all the steroid drama, there were only two real bad years out of the Giambino's seven in the Bronx. Pavano--well, he's been the symbol of how far the Yankees have fallen from the late 90s peak, an overpriced player whose name itself became a punchline.

We'll have October to watch everyone else play for the World Series title (can I hear a "Lets go Rays"? OK, maybe not...) and some months after to see how this particular Humpty Dumpty tries to put itself back together again. Will the Yanks stick with their homegrown players, despite a season that presented significant setbacks for each and every one of them? Should veteran warhorses like Mussina and Pettitte and Abreu return next season? Will CC Sabathia get fitted for a set of XXL pinstripes, and if so, will it be a mistake of Pavanoriffic proportions? Time will reveal all things, and we'll have time to discuss it, starting with September in Review tomorrow, and season reviews to follow.

Some odds and ends:

Schadenfreude is such a lonely word: For all the Lupica talk about how New York is now the Mets' town again, they finished with the exact same record as the Yankees, and they're now just as likely to win the World Series. I wasn't exactly rooting against the Flushing warriors, but given the way that Mets fans stunk up the joint during this year's Subway Series, I'm not exactly sad that the Phillies overtook them for the division title, again, and that the Brewers snuck past them to grab that Wild Card.

Joe vs. Joe: First of all, congratulations to Joe Torre, as well as his pinstripe alumni coaches--Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa, and Mariano Duncan--for making it to the playoffs in his first year managing the Dodgers. This is the type of news that's bound to set off all sorts of recriminations about how the Yankees would have been so much better if Torre, not Joe Girardi, had been at the helm for Yankee Stadium's final season. There's no way to tell, but let's get some perspective here, in the current Yankee manager's defense. First of all, the Dodgers won the weakest division in baseball, with a record five wins worse than the Yankees. Second, both managers had to deal with injuries--each lost his staff ace about 100 innings into the season--but the Dodgers got a historic second-half push from an extremely motivated Manny Ramirez, who hit almost .400 over the last two months of the season. Xavier Nady was nice, but not that nice. Third, Torre gave Juan Pierre 400 plate appearances, which is kind of as bad as giving Melky Cabrera 450 PA, just without the excuses of youth and defense. I wish Torre the best, and missed him (and Donnie Baseball) during the Stadium's swan song, but it really doesn't pay to look backwards.

Brief Political Digression: Friday's presidential debate looked like a draw from here--each candidate seemed to do best in the areas they were expected to have trouble. McCain managed to dominate the conversation during the section of the debate that was on the economy, dragging the discussion to comfortable terrain where he could talk more about earmarks and spending than market regulation. Obama didn't back down during the foreign policy section of the debate, despite McCain's constant digs at his lack of experience and supposed naivete. The absolute worst line of the entire debate, from McCain: "I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict." So the key to victory is avoiding failure? Thanks for the tip...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

At BP: The Last of the Last

Here's a taste from my article up at Baseball Prospectus on the final game at Yankee Stadium (sadly, it's a pay article on BP's system):
Another neat gimmick that fell short in the execution was the Yankee Stadium countdown clock, which I mentioned in my piece on the Yankee Stadium home opener. The idea was that in the fifth inning of each home game, once the game became "official" a special guest would turn a crank, and the number of games left at Yankee Stadium would be reduced by one on a special scoreboard. Throughout the season, people registered disappointment with this because the "special guests" were often not terribly special or particularly associated with Yankee baseball. Often the person turning the crank would be an obscure executive from Met Life, the promotion's sponsor. In the middle of the fifth inning of Yankee Stadium's last game, Yankees announcer Michael Kay shows up on the big screen, spouts some doubletalk about how there can be no final game at Yankee Stadium, because Yankee Stadium is forever, then he turns the crank, making the special countdown scoreboard go from one to—I kid you not—"Forever." Two observations on this come to mind: first, thanks for the season-long voyage toward innumeracy, you've managed to make us all dumber; and second, with the Stadium packed with VIPs, at least a half-dozen of them Hall of Famers, Michael frickin' Kay was the person selected to turn that crank? Really?
Also at BP (but this time, free), Brother Joe got to share some of his feelings about the closing of the Cathedral:

Of course, you cannot praise 85 years of baseball players in one sitting. It’s too much to handle, there are too many greats to name at once, especially given the franchise we’re talking about here. Even the video clips seemed to miss a handful of significant players, and there was only so much time and space to have Yankee greats be announced and trot out to their positions. It was left to us to fill in the gaps.

So you let loose for Hideki Matsui, and hope that Rickey Henderson can hear you yell. A chant of "Paul O’Neill" fills the air, and in your heart you want Dave Winfield to feel the love as well. The crowd goes wild for Derek Jeter, and you just know that Scooter is hearing the echo, tucking into a cannoli and smiling. You can’t cheer them all, so you cheer the one out loud and the rest in your heart, the ones who are there, the ones who live in your memory, and the ones who set the stage for your memories, the heroes you know by stat lines and stories and grainy black-and-white footage. You cheer, and when you try to chant, your voice catches and you realize this is all hitting you a little harder than you thought. The video board shows Chris Chambliss hitting a huge home run, and you realize this is the only chance you’ve had to cheer your first favorite player in more than 20 years, and you do just that, standing out among a crowd of people with no understanding of why the short guy is so excited.

As promised, some more pics:

Brother Joe wasn't sitting with us for the Stadium's swan song, but he did come by to visit during the pregame. After the game, we stood outside the Stadium (by the manure-smelling Gate 2) talking about the day, the game, the monolith next door, soon to be our team's new home. Joe (a brother from another mother) and my actual brother Jeff are the two living people most responsible for me taking my love of the Yankees above the level of casual fan, and it meant a lot to me that the three of us were outside the Stadium together as they closed the shutters on the public entrance. "If I had a press pass, I'd see day break in there," Joe said. Amen.

Brother J and I (he's on the left and I'm on the right) at the end of the game. After one of our fellow Sunday plan holders took the pic, I noticed that we were out of focus, but the Stadium wasn't (he'd wanted to make sure we got the scoreboard in the background). My brother and I agreed that, on this night in particular, the focus should be on the Stadium, so we decided not to re-take the shot. I think it puts things in perspective.

You can find more of my photos from in this Picasa album, which I'll be updating with more pics soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Zero Games Left: The End of Yankee Stadium

My brother J and I saw off the Cathedral in style yesterday, spending about eleven hours there en route to the Yanks' 7-3 win over the Orioles, the last Yankee win on the plot of land they've called home since 1923.

It was a bittersweet day, more celebration than wake for the defunct arena. I'll have more thoughts on it later on today at Baseball Prospectus, and there will be more pictures and discussion here on the blog once I've gotten some rest. Until then, just know I feel very lucky to have spent a very special day at the Stadium.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

18 and Over?

The Yankees, having no real shot at the postseason themselves, tried to help out the Twins by taking three out of four from the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox, but the Twinkies spit the bit by getting swept in Cleveland. Tonight's game featured good performances by two Yankees whose contracts are up when the season's over--Mike Mussina, who registered his 18th win of the season with a strong six-inning effort, and Bobby Abreu, who clouted a pair of big homers against former Yankee Javy Vazquez. Abreu wound up with six RBI, and Mussina cruised after escaping a big jam in the first inning, and allowing only one run on two hits and two walks. Moose's win keeps the possibility of his first 20-win season alive. It'll be a tough road to get here--he'd have to beat the Blue Jays and Red Sox, on the road--but at least it's a chance.

Meanwhile, the weather's been nice for Yankee Stadium's last week. Yesterday, I was in Riverside Park, where the local tweens were showing off their sk8er boi skillz. Hopefully, the good weather will hold up for the Yanks and Orioles to send out the Stadium in style this weekend. One way or another, I'll see you in the Bronx Sunday night.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Eight Games Left: Record-Setter

I didn't get to Sunday's matchup with the Rays; my Brother J and his wife did, however, and they got to witness some history:

(Hat tip to J for the camera work. Click on the image for a larger view.)

Congrats to the Captain on his torrid 9-hit weekend, and for matching Lou Gehrig's all-time Yankee Stadium hits record. Jeter now has all week to better the mark, one that will be a permanent part of the record books with the Cathedral closing its doors. The record-matching hit was a majestic homer off the Rays phenom, lefty David Price. The game also featured a first-inning grand slam by A-Rod, additional fireworks by Jason Giambi, and some slick defense by Brett Gardner in center. Can't Pitch Carl pitched well enough for his third win of the season, although his high-eighties cheese doesn't really tempt anyone to pick up the option on his contract. After some shoddy work by Jose Veras with a four-run lead, Mariano Rivera got a one-out save in the ninth to step into a tie for second place on the all-time saves list.

On the other side of things, Robinson Cano got benched mid-game by Joe Girardi, for failing to hustle on a hit deflected off Giambi's glove. Some would say that the benching is a long time coming, in a season where Cano will be lucky to finish with a .300 OBP, and where the adjective most often applied to him has been "lackadaisical." That's not one of the good English words, Robbie.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Dead Team Walking

No sooner do the Yanks show signs of life against one of the best teams in the majors, the Tampa Bay Rays, than they give those gains back against the worst team in the AL. You could excuse the Yanks poor performance against Brandon Morrow on Friday--the youngster, making his first major league start after spending a season and a half in the pen, was throwing bullets. But Sunday, the starter had a much lesser pedigree--Ryan Feierabend is no one's idea of a world beater, but he kept the Yanks to just two solo homers. Mike Mussina, going for win number 18, spit the bit with some longball action of his own, allowing Adrian Beltre and Jose Lopez to go deep against him. A second homer, against Jose Veras, gave Lopez a career day, and the Yanks are kicked into fourth place in the AL East.

Things aren't going to get easier, with the Yanks in Anaheim to play the team with the best record in baseball. Ugh.


By the way, I'm holding a chat over on the Baseball Prospectus web site at 1:00 PM, Eastern. Everyone's invited to join in and ask some questions. The link to the chat session is here. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Catching Up: The Fall of Melky Cabrera

After a season in which Melky Cabrera brought numbers (.242/.296/.337) more appropriate to a 1970s shortstop than a 21st Century outfielder to the mix, the Melk-man was finally sent down to the minors, just four days after his 24th birthday. From June 8 to August 13, Melky had hit only .202/.256/.269, with just 8 extra base hits in 209 PA. Many have taken the opportunity to rewrite history, claiming that Cabrera never belonged in the majors, and saying they wouldn't be surprised if he never makes it back. Others have pointed to the celebrated friendship between Melky and another disappointing youngster, Robinson Cano, as an unhealthy situation that's made both players complacent and altogether too party-minded. Any which way, it's hard to tell if this demotion will just be an obstacle, or if it's the beginning of the end for a popular player.

Melky's demotion left a hole in the Yankee defense. For all his struggles with the bat, Cabrera's been an above-average fielder in center. Shifting Johnny Damon to center, and inserting Xavier Nady in left, is a huge net loss for the Yankee defense. Only days before he became a full-time center fielder again, Damon was bragging about how much he loved DHing--not a great sign, for a player the Yanks acquired for his flycatching ability. Nady, who I'd remembered as a decent defender from his time with the Mets, looks utterly unnatural in left field--his routes to balls make late-era Bernie Williams look efficient and instinctive, his arm is awful. Even though the Yankees could likely use him as a late-inning defensive replacement, if nothing else, the Yanks didn't recall Cabrera with the expanded rosters on September 1--a sign that the demotion may be punitive, as well as performance-related.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Month in Review: August 2008

Record for the Month: 13-15, 135 RS, 148 RA
Overall: 72-64, 651 RS, 619 RA

Game of the Month: August 3, 2008--Yankees 14, Angels 9 Probably the wildest game of the year, with the Yanks digging a 5-0 hole for themselves early, clawing their way back against John Lackey and taking an 8-5 lead in the bottom of the seventh, thanks to some shabby defense by the Halos, then losing the lead on a Mark Texeira grand slam against Edwar Ramirez, then taking the lead again with a six-run, three error eighth inning. The whole game was just a tradeoff of haymakers between what looked like two of the best teams in the league. As the month wore on, the Yanks showed that they're not really in the Angels' class this year. Other candidates: the Yanks' comeback against the Red Sox to avert a sweep on Thursday was pretty big, but it was canceled out by the comeback loss to the Jays on Saturday. In some ways, both of those games were emblematic of the month as a whole.

Player of the Month: It's hard to give this to Mariano Rivera in a month where he had two losses and a blown save--although, otherwise, he was his normal, stellar self (6 Sv, 1.88 ERA in 14 1/3 innings). But who are the other candidates? Jason Giambi led the team in HR (8) and RBI (22) and had some clutch hits, but didn't hit or get on base too well overall (.232/.327/.524 for the month). Derek Jeter hit well for average last month but showed no power (.345/.382/.402), Bobby Abreu was better (.342/.405/.421) but not by too much. By default, the best offensive performance for August goes to Xavier Nady, who impressed with the bat (.308/.351/.523, 6 HR, 19 RBI), even if his glove has been suspect. With that in mind, the month's honors go Mike Mussina, (3-0, 2.93 in 6 starts). He's on pace for his most starts since 2001, and would be only 3 games away from the magic 20 game plateau if the bullpen hadn't blown the game in his start against the Twins. Pretty neat, considering that at this point last year he'd been booted from the rotation for Ian Kennedy, and most everyone (including me) thought there was a fork sticking out of him.

Dregs of the Month: In his first month in Pinstripes, Ivan Rodriguez (.196/.250/.321 in 56 AB) was almost outhit by the man he was putatively replacing as the Yankees' backstop, Jose Molina (.222/.239/.400 in 45 AB). That's some kind of awful. Speaking of awful, Melky Cabrera (.115/.148/.115) finally played his way off the Yankees' roster, losing his spot intermittently to Brett Gardner and Justin Christian prior to the Xavier Nady trade. I'll talk about this more in a Catching Up, but it speaks volumes that when the September 1 callups were announced, Melky was left in AAA to help Scranton in the International League playoffs. Even though Melky was hitting .333 in AAA, he showed absolutely no power, and between the two levels, in 83 at bats, Melky only had two extra base hits (both doubles) all month.

Speaking of the Nady trade, Damaso Marte has been almost as big a disappointment in August as Pudge has been, allowing a 7.71 ERA in the month (and perhaps being injured, per Pete Abe). Dave Robertson (8.81 ERA) also had a month to forget in the bullpen, and Edwar Ramirez returned to his Three True Outcomes ways (3 HR, 4 BB, 13 K in 11 2/3 innings, good for a 6.73 ERA). Girardi leaned pretty hard on the bullpen all month long.

Story of the Month: Since 1996, when the Yankees almost blew their division lead with a 13-17 month, August has been very good to the New York Yankees. They've had a winning record every year since, and with the exception of 2001--where the Yanks squeaked by with a 15-14 mark--the month has tended to be a difference maker--while their opponents hit the doldroms in the dog days, the Yanks surge ahead on the depth of talent a ginormous payroll can buy. The month's 13-15 finish in August 2008 is the result of the Yanks taking beatdowns from some of the best teams in the league (2-4 against the Angels, 1-2 against the Red Sox and Twins) while not making up the difference against some teams that weren't quite of that quality (2-2 against the Rangers, 2-4 against the Blue Jays). As I mentioned this morning, this isn't going to get any easier--the Yanks have 13 games against division-leading opponents in September, plus three games against the Red Sox.

Around Yankeeland, an eerie level of acceptance has set in: this just isn't our year. Much of this season has been a wait for the Pinstriped surge that never arrived--that 18-9 month that declares that your team's a contender, or at least a real threat if it came down to a short series. Indeed, every Yankee team since 1996 has had at least one month where they had single-digit losses. Even if the Yanks were to keep up that streak with a 17-9 September, the Red Sox would have to go 10-16 (and the Twins would have to go 12-13) for the Yankee Stadium's swan song to continue into October. People aren't even dreaming about that possibility. Some, like Hank Steinbrenner, have already started to look ahead to this winter's free agent market.

Looking Ahead: Derek Jeter comes into September needing 45 hits in 28 games to reach 200 for the season. The most hits Jeter has ever had in a month is 50, which took him 32 games in August 1998. The next most was 44 hits, which Jeter has managed twice in his career. The ten hits that he stands away from Lou Gerhig's all-time Yankee Stadium mark is much more manageable, given that there are 10 home games left. If the Yanks stay in rotation, Mike Mussina's remaining starts this season would fall against the Rays, Mariners, Rays, White Sox, Jays, and Red Sox, a pretty tough schedule. He needs wins in four of those starts to become a 20-game winner for the first time in his career.

Ten Games Left: Sun Baked

The afternoon sun beat down mercilessly on the left field stands on Sunday, just as the unrelenting Roy Halladay beat down on the Yankees' batters. The rubber game of the series snapped the wrong way for the Yankees, leaving the team cooked as it goes on a ten-game road stand, seven games behind the Red Sox and two and a half games behind the Minnesota Twins, and leaving me with a nasty sunburn.

The day had a nostalgic tinge to it. Sunday afternoons have been my main experience of Yankee Stadium, ever since I got my first weekend ticket plan as a teenager. Rather than taking the train straight to the Stadium, I got off in Manhattan and walked across the Macombs Dam Bridge--one of my typical routes to and from the Stadium when I lived uptown and had all the time in the world.

As you can tell by the sign, the MDB is a draw bridge, which was a big curiosity for me when I was younger. I remember a number of times waiting to pass across, but I don't think I was ever actually on the span when the draw bridge bell started to ring.

Anyway, the walk to the park wasn't the only thing that brought back memories of the old days--the game itself did, as well. The Yanks needed Good Andy Pettitte to show up and counter Halladay pitch-for-pitch. But Bad Andy walked the first batter of the game, Marco Frickin' Scutaro. Scutaro came around to score, and before Halladay took the mound, the Yanks were down 3-0, thanks in part for Xavier Nady butchering a fly ball in left field. In the second inning, Scott Rolen--batting 8th against a lefty--roped a solo homer to make the score 4-0. Solo homers in the fourth and the sixth provided the tease, bringing it just close enough to make things frustrating, but again, the 7th inning brought things to a boil. Just like Saturday's game, Girardi tried to sneak one more inning out of his starter. Just like in Saturday's game, Pettitte stuck around too long, allowing three straight hits and another run. Finally, the score got to 6-2, Jays, where it would remain.

There are 26 games left in the season. Only 10 of those are home games, and their opponents' weighted winning percentage is .545. With no games left against the Twins and only three against the Red Sox, they don't just have to play out of their minds in September to make the playoffs, they need help from the opposition. It's a damn tall order.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Catching Up: Tell No One

Yes, it's in French, and yes, it has subtitles. Don't let those things scare you away from Tell No One, a film that has at its heart a very American sensibility, as betrayed by its taut chase scenes and the English pop tunes that dot the soundtrack. The story, based on an American novel, is simple: a doctor (Francois Cluzet) and his wife go skinny dipping in a country lake; they are attacked and the wife dies. Years later, the doctor receives a mysterious email, featuring a video of a woman who looks like his wife. As the doctor's obsession with getting to the heart of the mystery grows, unknown forces fixate on him, and on the unidentified person who is sending the messages.

Cluzet, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a slightly younger Dustin Hoffman, sells us on the obsession without losing our sympathy. Kristin Scott Thomas and Gilles Lellouche stand out as two friends who stand by him even as it looks like he's going over the bend. Even though the story is a bit convoluted--OK, more than a bit--this is a fine opportunity to get credit for taking your date to a foreign arthouse film, that happens to be, in most respects, a commercial American film. A very good commercial American film. Highly recommended.

Movies: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

If you read the Scott Tobias's interview with Woody Allen, you'll find out that Vicky Cristina Barcelona was basically a situation where the financing came in search of a project. He was asked if he would make a movie in Barcelona if someone else picked up the freight, and he said "sure." To fit the bill, he confected a fairly simple story of two American twentysomethings on holiday in an exotic European city. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) is the uptight one, who craves stability and is set to marry a dullish but moneyed man; Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) is the artistic one, who's a little more adventurous, but is never happy with her creations or her relationships. We know all this a few minutes in because an omniscient narrator tells us, which is a bit of a problem with the movie. We're sometimes told things we could easily have been shown, or worse, told things, then have those same things explained through dialog by the characters on screen, then--in addition--the same things are shown to us in flashback.

Vicky and Cristina meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a painter whose explosive relationship with his ex-wife made waves in the Barcelona art scene years before. Bardem, who starts off playing a stock role of the tall dark stranger who challenges the Americans to live life to the fullest, reminds us that before he stole Pete Rose's haircut to play death incarnate in No Country for Old Men, he was considered more sexy than scary. In their first meeting, he propositions both Vicky and Cristina, simultaneously, to go away with him for a romantic getaway. He delivers his lines of seduction in such a way that even as we're rolling our eyes at the corniness, we understand why a girl would go with him.

Even with Bardem's considerable talents, the story to this point is pretty rote, and as the focus falls more on Cristina than Vicky, you might find yourself checking your watch. But then Penelope Cruz shows up as Juan Antonio's ex, Maria Elena, and saves Woody's movie. Cruz doesn't just give the best female performance I've seen all year, but Maria Elena may be the most interesting female character in any Woody Allen movie. She sweeps through her scenes, all rage and manic energy, buoyed by the twin qualities of being as mad as a hatter and of always being right. She's part muse, part oracle, part raving psychotic.

While not everything in the film rises to the level of Bardem and Cruz's strange relationship, the acting--with one exception--is extremely fine. Hall, who'd previously played Christian Bale's wife in The Prestige, is a discovery; she holds her own given the most Woody-like dialog, but also shows great ambiguity torn between exotic Barcelona and her not-so-exotic fiance (well played by Chris Messina). Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn are great in small roles as Vicky and Cristina's hosts in Spain. Um, who does that leave?

Oh. Johansson. She might be the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, but her acting is weak enough that it's even commented on in the movie itself. This is the second time Woody has cast Scarlett as a less-than-convincing actress--maybe this is a clue? She's not as wooden here as she was in Match Point, but limits of her skills, plus a role that could best be described as the "vaguely dissatisfied girl" make her stick out in an outstanding cast. Regardless, this film rates a pretty strong recommended.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Game 135: Painful

There are bad ways to lose; we've seen some of them this season. But I'm not sure that any loss so far has hurt as much as this one did. This was a game the Yanks needed, and had, and just let slip away.

The breakdown came with the Yankees up 6-2, and Joe Girardi trying to squeeze one last inning--the seventh--out of Darrell Rasner. With no outs and a man on first, Rasner got a double play ball to Robinson Cano, who tried an awkward lateral-flip move that skittered away from Derek Jeter. The runner wound up taking third, which was left empty when Alex Rodriguez came out to back up the play. The Blue Jays would score three times in the inning, then take the lead the following inning touching up three pitchers--Brian Bruney, who pitched well given bases loaded and no outs in the seventh; Damaso Marte, who may or may not still be hurt; and Edwar Ramirez, who's had a brutal August.

The Yanks had their chances to strike back, particularly when the Yanks got two men on in the ninth inning with no outs for Alex Rodriguez. Alex hit into a DP, keeping up the bizarre record that Brother Joe noted in his Friday column: A-Rod only has 3 RBI all season after the seventh inning. The box score would short Rodriguez some credit here--the ball was hit extremely hard down the third base line, and it took a great reaction play by Jose Bautista to turn a 5-unassisted-3 double killing. Still, an out's an out, and it's been a week of boo-birds for the highest paid man in the baseball business (well, the baseball-playing business, at least).

Anyway, I'll be in the crowd tomorrow to cheer the team in the rubber game of the series. It's my next-to-last ticket to the Stadium, and Brother Joe (that's Sheehan, for those of you who didn't check out the linked article) will be my guest in box 342. Hope to see some of you there.


Hopefully, the "Catching Up" posts will continue tomorrow, along with the day's Game Story later on in the evening.

In other news, Jay Mariotti, of TV, radio, and, until recently, of the Chicago Sun-Times, has long been a mystery to me. I've never met anyone who would cop to being a fan of his, and every time I've read or heard his work, I've wondered how he could be so popular. Is it just that he doesn't write baseball well? Is he a crackerjack at other sports? Maybe people just like when a guy with a mullet condescends to them?

As a writer, his columns give off such powerful pretension, it's as if he can't believe he has to write about anything so trivial as sports. He tends to put himself at the center of the story, as when Ozzie Guillen hurled a sexual slur at him. Although Guillen's words were unacceptable, Mariotti's reaction was so over-the-top that it made you wonder if Guillen had outed him, rather than just insulting him (apparently, he hadn't).

Anyway, this comes up because of Roger Ebert's open letter to Mariotti, on the issue of his leaving the Sun-Times. It's great when a writer as good as Ebert takes the gloves off to take someone to the woodshed, and defend something he loves (in this case, the newspaper business).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Catching Up: Iron Man

No, not Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken, the movie. Had every reason to think it would suck: I was thoroughly unimpressed by the trailer; the director, while a nice enough actor, was no one's idea of an A-lister; and the character is, in terms of public recognition, a second-string type. Tony Stark doesn't command the mindshare that SpiderMan, or the Hulk, or the X-Men do. Still, it was a nice surprise, near perfect for its intended purpose. The film is accessible, brisk and fun, and Robert Downey Jr. does a great job of both having a good time with the role, and leveraging his own history as a troubled but extremely talented person to bring to life the genius inventor who builds a suit of armor with which to fight evil. Like his summer superhero competition, Bruce Wayne, Stark is a multimillionaire (billionaire?) crimefighter. But unlike Wayne, he isn't pretending to drink too much and womanize as a cover for his crimefighting activities--he's actually drinking and womanizing, as well as inventing things, running a Fortune 500 company, and, um, fighting crime. Oscar winner Gwynneth Paltrow and multiple-Oscar nominee Jeff Bridges do fine work as Stark's assistant/love interest and mentor/enemy; Terrence Howard (another Academy Award nominee) is a bit wasted in a rote "responsible best friend" role.

Catching Up: Bye-Bye Manny

The Red Sox give up Manny Ramirez (OF) and cash to the Dodgers, get Jason Bay (OF), the Pirates get a refugee raft of prospects.

Beyond X, Marte, and Pudge, the good news of the July trade deadline was Manny Ramirez heading off to Joe Torre's Dodgers, and out of the Yankee's lives barring an extremely unlikely World Series confrontation. The Sox had a million reasons to make this trade: Ramirez had gone into a modified version of Derek Bell's Operation Shutdown, his demands were completely unreasonable, Bay's younger, a better defender, and under contract for next year at a bargain price. The trade made sense for them. But.

Bay, for all his good qualities, is closer to the JD Drew/Mike Lowell level of player than the David Ortiz/Manny Ramirez level. The former are really good players, who can hurt you in a tight spot. The latter were forces of nature who who filled Yankee fans with terror when the game went into the late innings. So I'm glad to see Manny being Manny in Chavez Ravine, rather than in the AL East, if only for the remainder of this season.

Catching Up: Pudge for Blockhead Kyle

Yanks get Ivan Rodriguez (C), give Kyle Farnsworth (RHP) to the Tigers.

This trade was basically obligatory once Jorge Posada elected to have shoulder surgery, and Jose Molina (.581 OPS when the trade was made) made it abundantly clear that his bat wasn't ready for prime time. Cashman was basically waiting for two years for Farnsworth to have an effective six-week stretch so that he could send Blockhead Kyle away; he got it (Kyle had a 2.25 ERA and 18 Ks in 16 innings from June 11 to the date of the trade) and now Kyle's gone. Considering the number of times the club contemplated giving him away or releasing him, getting a major league player--much less one that fit the club's needs--in return was pure gravy. Could they have done better than Pudge Rodriguez behind the plate? He's basically a better version of Molina, not a complementary player. But you can't beat the price: any of the catchers who were better fits (guys like Greg Zaun or Jarrod Saltamacchia) would have cost the Yanks prospects, and meant that Kyle remained on the roster. We wouldn't want that, would we?

Catching Up: The Nady/Marte Trade

Yanks give: Jose Tabata (OF), Ross Ohlendorf (RHP), Jeff Karstens (RHP), and Dan McCutchen (RHP). Yanks get: Xavier Nady (OF), Damaso Marte (LHP)

The Yankees dealt Jose Tabata at the rock-bottom of his value, after a bad season in AA and a host of disciplinary problems that had resulted in suspensions; the Pirates dealt Nady at the absolute top of his value (the X-man was leading the Pirates in EqA at the time of the trade). The fact that this trade comes out looking pretty even is a minor miracle--the Yanks had been in need of a righthanded outfielder and a lefty reliever for quite a while, and aside from Tabata, the Pittsburgh package is pretty low-ceiling. Folks love Ohlendorf's stuff, but it didn't translate to results this year or last. Karsten's looked pretty good over the past month in the steel city, but that's an illusion created by an incredibly low batting average on balls in play (.218 BABIP). The Yanks just need to keep Nady's career season in perspective--sure, he could be a Luis Gonzalez or Raul Ibanez-style late bloomer, but do you really want to bet on it?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Notes from a Baltimore Sweep

The Can't Pitch Carl Experience--I had a bit of criticism to levy on the Yanks' broadcast team over on BP: Unfiltered this morning, over a bit of medical misinformation. Here's a taste:

I was watching last night’s Carl Pavano start–his third Major League start in the last three years–on replay, when, in the first inning, the YES Network broadcast team hit upon a huge pet peeve. They were explaining Tommy John surgery to the audience, and Ken Singleton claimed that pitchers throw harder after the elbow reconstruction surgery because “they use a tendon that is actually stronger than the ligament that was replaced.”

I don’t mean to single Singleton out–he’s a quality broadcaster, and often the voice of reason in the Yankees‘ booth–but the myth that Tommy John surgery turns pitchers into supermen is a bit dangerous. Technically, what Singleton said was right: the tendon is better than the ligament being replaced (or overlaid), but only because the ulnar collateral ligament that requires surgery as a result of being torn or ruptured, while the replacement tendon is intact.
As for the start itself, Pavano's pitching line (1 walk and 5 strikeouts in 5 innings) belied the lack of command he showed (2 hit batters, lots of deep counts). This is normal for guys coming back from Tommy John surgery, particularly those who come back relatively quickly (Pavano's surgery was about 14 months ago, if I recall correctly). Of course, if he's able to be effective past this first start, that just raises stakes as to when he'll get hurt again. Will it be tomorrow? The second inning of his next scheduled start, against the Blue Jays? How can you keep Can't Pitch Carl's fragile body protected from the cold, harsh world. Bubble wrap? Styrofoam packing peanuts?

On to Today's Game--It says a lot that after today's game, despite all the injury concerns and questions, Pavano's likely passed Darrell Rasner on the rotation depth chart. Since May, Rasner hasn't had any luck at all trying to string a pair of quality starts together. The wounded look on his face when Girardi pulled him in the fourth was brutal.

Pornstache Wars--What exactly is the mustache look that O's firstbaseman Kevin Millar is going for? Is it Oliver Hardy? Hitler?

Sometimes I Wonder if This is On the Up and Up--Yesterday's YES promos were touting Robinson Cano against the Orioles today. There didn't seem to be much reason for this: he doesn't hit particularly well at Camden Yards, or against the Orioles. Wasn't on a hot streak either. But in today's game, he clouts four hits, including two doubles and a go-ahead solo homer. Weird, huh?

Catching Up

The season has been slipping away, both from me in terms of the blog and from the Yankees in terms of their hopes of sending the House that Ruth Built to its great slumber in October rather than in September. The former couldn't be helped--I have some seismic changes going on in my life that made regular posting pretty hard to manage. The latter? They say luck is the residue of design, and there's been a lot of criticism of the design Brian Cashman brought into this season. Everyone knew the path the Yanks chose--leaning on a trio of young pitchers and a lineup larded with elder statesmen--was risky, but it was also part of a larger plan by which the Yankees rebuild from within. Sadly, larger plans don't carry much weight in the Yankees' universe; at least, no one wants to hear the excuse that we can't win now because we want to set up to win in the future. In those terms, this season is likely a bust.

I haven't written the Yankees off--after seeing what the Rockies (and, conversely, the Mets) did last season, writing anyone with an over .500 record in August seems silly--but the hope that the Yanks will pass the Sox (both Red and White) and Twins for the Wild Card is coming out of my heart, not my head. My head sees the lower than 5% chance on the Playoff Odds Report and gives a shrug and a sigh.

In the meantime, as far as the blog goes, I'm relaunching things for the stretch run. We'll be fiddling with new looks for the WTDB, new links, and for the immediate future, very short entries (fewer than 200 words each) to catch us up on the various and sundry topics I missed over the last month.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sometimes You Win and You Still Lose

Bobby Murcer is dead.

I knew him as a voice, first and foremost. As a player, he occupied a strange ground in Yankee history. He was the best player on the team in the early seventies--a dubious distinction--then was traded for Bobby Bonds in '74 and missed the championship seasons of 1977 and '78. He returned in 1979, just weeks before the death of his best friend on the team, Thurman Munson. Munson's death provided the one game performance for which he's best remembered by Yankee fans, as the day of Munson's funeral the Yankees came back from Ohio to play the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, and Murcer led a comeback, knocking in all five of the Yankees' runs in a 5-4 victory.

Murcer made it to the playoffs with the Yankees in 1980 and '81, but by then he was more of a role player, and he only got 14 plate appearances in the two playoff series, with one hit, two walks, and no rings. When he retired in 1983, the organization quickly moved him to the Yankee broadcast booth, where he stayed for the most part until his health made it impossible to return. Murcer was diagnosed with brain cancer in late 2006, but was successfully treated and was back in the broadcast booth by the following Opening Day. We cheered Murcer's victory over cancer that day, but all triumphs over death are temporary. Sixteen months later, he's gone.

My condolences go out to his family, and to Yankee fans everywhere. We'll miss him very much.

Monday, July 07, 2008

34 Games Left: Sunday Night Lights

During Friday's Independence Day game, at some point shortly after the the Sox took a 6-3 lead en route to a 6-4 victory, a friend emailed me with a one-sentence note:
Why are there so many Red Sox fans at this game?
There are many answers to this question. As I've complained before, a mind-boggling number of Yankee "fans" can think of nothing better to do with their tickets than to bring a Red Sox fan to the Stadium, to cheer against their team. Corporate ticketholders seem to love giving their tickets to fans of whichever opposing team is in town, and online services like StubHub have made scalping tickets safe and sanitary for any New Englander who wants to make the drive down I-95. Moreover, the Red Sox seem to have attracted a fan base with no connection whatsoever to New England, composed of Dominicans who come out to honor Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and others who jumped on the bandwagon circa 2004, adopting the Boston "B" as their non-conformist symbol for hatred of the Yankees, and/or New York in general. All told, that makes for a lot of people in the stands to chant "Youuuuuk" when Boston's whiny firstbaseman comes to the plate.

The simpler answer to my friend's question is that the Red Sox fans, from wherever and however they got into the Stadium, came to preside over a funeral. A funeral for the Yankees. They'd come into town on Thursday like they owned the place--they absolutely beat down Andy Pettitte and Jon Lester held the Yankees lineup impotent--and on Friday, the roll continued behind Josh Beckett. The Yankees, losers of five of their last six, actually fell behind Baltimore into fourth place at the end of action on Friday.

Since Wang went down, I've been coming to terms with the thought that this isn't the Yankees' year. Not that I've given up, but the twists that it would take for the Yankees to overtake the Rays and Red Sox--much less perform well in the playoffs--seem to range toward the improbable. Everyone knew that this was a risky season, with the Yanks counting on their young players rather than making yet another move for a top-shelf talent like Johan Santana. That young talent has largely disappointed, with Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy on the shelf with injuries (and before they were injured, they were ineffective); Robinson Cano having a half-season to forget, and Melky Cabrera openly making some of us question whether he belongs in the major leagues.

So I was bracing myself for a Boston sweep, or three-out-of-four on the upside. Then, on Saturday, there was a nice surprise from Mike Mussina--he picked the Red Sox apart with precision pitching and chutzpah, and the Yankees barely survived some ninth-inning trouble for Mariano Rivera. Still, coming to the Stadium for last night's Joba Chamberlain-Tim Wakefield matchup, I wasn't optimistic--sure, Joba's probably the best thing the Yanks have going this season, but he hasn't faced an offense like Boston's as a starter.

Again, tonight proved a pleasant surprise. Joba pumping mid-90s heat at the opposition wasn't surprising, but the Red Sox pounding those balls into the ground was, a little (it shouldn't have been, given that Chamberlain recently induced 10 or more grounders against the Astros and Pirates as well). Chamberlain was excellent outside of the fifth inning, which went 38 pitches long and featured control trouble. I was glad that they let Joba pitch himself out of the mess, despite the fact that he looked fatigued as the inning wore on.

Robinson Cano's seventh-inning triple, which tied the game, was another pleasant surprise, and Kyle Farnsworth making it through the eighth inning without giving the Red Sox the lead was outright shocking. The biggest, and most surprising moment in the game came in the ninth. The Red Sox got a runner to third base with two outs, and Manny Ramirez, who'd spent the game on the bench, came to the plate to face Mariano Rivera. I expected an intentional walk, to face rookie Jacoby Ellsbury rather than the most dangerous batter on the team. Rivera had other ideas, and took down the dreadlocked slugger with a perfect, three-pitch strikeout. Ramirez never took the bat off his shoulder.

At that point, things stopped being surprising. There was a palpable feeling that the worm had turned. The crowd in the left field stands stayed on their feet for the bottom of the ninth, expecting that one of the trio of Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, and Jorge Posada would send us home with a bang. It didn't happen, but then the top of the Red Sox lineup didn't find much to do with Rivera in his second inning of work. When Robinson Cano singled to start the inning, blood was in the water, a sac bunt and a Wilson Betemit whiff later, the game was in the hands of rookie Brett Gardner, who's concluding his first week in the majors. Against Jon Papelbon, the rookie hanged in there, fouling off Papelbon's big fastballs en route to a eight-pitch groundball single up the middle. Welcome to the Show, kid. Thanks for rescuing our week.

  • In the second inning, Alex Rodriguez tied Mickey Mantle on the All-Time home run list, thwacking a Wakefield knuckler down the left field line. Rodriguez had a hard week, with rumors of an affair with Madonna following rumors that his wife had fled to Paris, to be with Lenny Kravitz, in turn followed by the official announcement, tonight before the game, that his wife will seek a divorce.
  • I'm perplexed by Madonna's role as the catalyst that set this chain of events in motion. I remember Madonna at her peak, in the 80's: the photos of her published in Penthouse and Playboy were perhaps the most anticipated thing in the history of published nudity. She was attached or rumored to be attached to dozens of prominent figures of the day, from JFK, Jr. to Jose Canseco and Warren Beatty. But with over-exposure, her reputation as a sex symbol began to wear thin, and it outright died, in my opinion, with her performance in the Basic Instinct rip-off Body of Evidence. The movie cast her as a dangerous sexpot, in a cast that included quality performers like Willem DaFoe, Joe Mantegna, Frank Langella and Julianne Moore. She was hamstrung by an awful, awful script, but it was just shocking that Madonna couldn't manage to convince anyone that she was seductive, or even terribly desirable, in the role. Her coming back from motherhood and marriage to bust up A-Rod's marriage is a bit like if Don Mattingly came out of retirement today and went on to win the batting title.
  • Girardi got booted from the game in the sixth, for arguing balls and strikes right before the Gardner single that set up the Yankees' second run of the night. The guy in front of me remarked "He [Girardi] is the only one in that dugout with any fire." Tough judgment, given that Jeter and Posada are in that dugout, too, but I'm not sure I disagree.
  • Words of encouragement to Kyle Farnsworth: "Kyle! Pretend that Mike Lowell is a beautiful five-point buck. Or six points, whatever. Just take him out!"

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Month in Review: June 2008

Ed. Note: It's taken me a while to do this month-in-review, and no matter what happens today and tomorrow night, this has been a week to forget in Yankeeland. I'll put aside July for the moment, concentrate on June, and we'll talk about the current crisis shortly.

Record for the Month
: 16-12, 137 RS, 114 RA
Overall: 44-39, 386 RS, 366 RA, 3rd Place 6.5 games behind the Rays

Game of the Month: June 27 at Mets. If you'd asked me the most unlikely combination to come through with a combined shutout in pinstripes this season, Sidney Ponson/Kyle FarnsworthJose Veras/Kei Igawa would have been pretty close to the top. Then consider the circumstances: at Shea in the nightcap of a two-borough doubleheader, after Carlos Delgado and the Mets creamolished them at the Stadium in the early game, and facing Pedro Martinez? Raise your hand if you called a Yankee shutout under those circumstances. I thought not.

Player of the Month: Mariano Rivera's numbers look close to getting him a third straight Player of the Month nod, but one loss, and another game where the offense bailed him out, means that we're not quite there. I'll be a bit of a hypocrite by giving Jose Veras part credit by posting 13 innings of 1.98 ERA in June--worse numbers than Rivera, but then, the expectations were much lower. I was kind of dumbfounded by Girardi's affection for Veras earlier in the season, but if he keeps on performing like this, we might just have the player the Yanks thought they were getting in Kyle Farnsworth. Joba Chamberlain made strides in his conversion project, leaving his amazing strikeout rate in the bullpen, but still keeping a 5 to 1 K/Walk ratio, and a 1.80 ERA for the month. Jason Giambi (.305/.430/.585) and Johnny Damon (.363/.425/.441) also get part credits--two players who came into this season on the brink, and are now the team's core performers. But the Player of the Month is Alex Rodriguez, who hit the ball a bit (.366/.455/.693, team-leading 9 HR, 24 Runs, 23 RBI) in his first healthy month of the season.

Dregs of the Month: Darrell Rasner's magical pixie dust ran out (1-5, 6.47 ERA in June), which is a shame, but also just the way the cookie crumbles. Freaky fluke Aaron Small seasons are freaky flukes for a reason: they very rarely happen. Before the season, if someone told you Rasner would have a 4.42 ERA at the end of June, you'd probably think that was about right, maybe a little low. Luckily for Rasner, his poor performance is completely blown away by Melky Cabrera's (.206/.289/.255). Melky's in the middle of the worst offensive stretch by a Yankee regular since Tony Womack back in 2005, he's posted a .565 OPS over the last two months. As Womack shows, there's only so long that you can perform at that level and keep your job. Melky's been fortunate as his slump continued, the Yankees' outfield depth took a hit with the loss of HIdeki Matsui. Otherwise, I can't imagine that the Yankees would let him work his issues out on the major league level, rather than setting him up with a restorative trip to Scranton, no matter how good his defense is.

Story of the Month: If there was one injury the Yankees couldn't afford this season, it would have to have been any injury to Chien Ming Wang. Wang's absence, plus that of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, puts a superhuman weight on the shoulders of the rotation's old warhorses, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte. Unless both pitchers perform to the top of their expectations, the Yanks have little hope of catching the Red Sox or Rays. The Matsui injury leaves the roster pretty thin--now Girardi has an excuse to carry three catchers, as he did for most of the month. I'm sure Chad Moeller's 12 PA last month were totally worth it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

42 Games Left: Sweep Aversion

After rampaging through the Astros and Padres, it looked like a shot of interleague play was just what the doctor ordered for the Yanks. But the Cincinatti Reds, dead last in the NL Central, provided a roadblock, with potential All-Star Edinson Volquez breaking up the team's seven-game winning streak on Friday night--allowing only two runs in seven innings of work wasting a pretty decent Mike Mussina outing. Then Darryl Thompson did Volquez one better, leading a five-pitcher shutout of the Bombers on Saturday. Again, the Yankee offense--this time joined by a porous bullpen--helped waste Dan Giese's fine effort in his first start in Pinstripes.

So coming to the ballpark yesterday, the Yanks were in a tight spot, a fun romp through a weak NL schedule suddenly turning into a must-win situation to stop a three-game losing streak at home. Sunday's starter, Johnny Cueto, is someone I think will be better than Thompson or Volquez in the long term. Physically, he reminds me a little of a young Tom Gordon--short but long-armed--just with a better assortment of pitches.

True to that promise, Cueto was a surgeon against the Pinstripers for four innings yesterday, allowing just a couple of Bobby Abreu singles, and a hit by pitch against six strikeouts. He was hitting spots with a 95 MPH fastball and his breaking stuff was darting in and out of the strike zone. Fortunately, Andy Pettitte was just as fine for the Yanks, working his way out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the fourth. It was a gutty performance, with the veteran lefty having a classic eight-pitch confrontation with one of the top rookies in the NL, BP's #1 prospect, Jay Bruce, to close out the inning.

The forecast had said thunderstorms, which kept some of the, shall we say, less intrepid elements from coming to the Stadium. My brother T, who signed on as my wingman on the late side, got to the ballpark extremely late--he missed Pettitte's fourth-inning drama, if I recall correctly. He also brought a dark and foreboding cloud to the ballpark with him: up until that point it had been pretty nice weather. Still, his timing was perfect. He arrived, the Yanks rallied to score a run off Cueto on a Jason Giambi single, a Hip-Hip-Jorge! double and a Robinson Cano sac fly. Pettitte worked a clean top of the sixth, interrupted a couple of times by huge dust clouds kicked up by the incoming high winds. Then the skies opened up in the most discrete and tidy rain delay I've ever experienced: maybe 20 minutes of hard rain and thunder--just enough time for a bathroom break and a short search for snacks among the Stadium's concession stands--then a short period of light rain, and about 20 minutes of cleanup. The crowd was oddly complacent, during the delay--someone asked me if the game was official, as if asking for permission to go home, and it did seem that the crowd was thinner after the tarp was removed from the field than it had been when it was put on.

When the game resumed, it was no longer fireballing Johnny Cueto on the mound for the Reds, but Gary Majewski, the centerpiece of the Austin Kearns trade a few years back, who almost immediately came up lame after joining the Cincy ballclub. The Yanks staged a second rally against Majewski and former Rockies reliever Jeremy Affeldt, capped by an opposite field double by Jason Giambi, and an RBI single for Posada that ran the score to 4-0.

At that time, I abandoned my perch in the left field Main boxes, to meet up with Jay Jaffe by his seats in the upper deck. Jay'd run into Rob Neyer and some friends during the rain delay, so he invited me to visit, now that the crowd had thinned out and his section had a fair number of empty seats in. It's from there that I watched the game to its conclusion, made a little bit too exciting by a couple of singles off of Mariano Rivera in the ninth. Good win for the Yanks to take on the road to Pittsburgh, en route to a rematch with the Willie Randolph-less Mets.
Even though both of these teams have struggled, to some extent, the Yankees would be well advised not to take either of them for granted--after all, they just lost 2 of 3 to the Reds.


Two issues came up in discussion after I joined Jay's party in the upper deck, and I fear both made me look like a New York fanboy rube. First, talked about the "Tell Big Papi Where to Hit a Homer" at the Home Run Derby promotion. There's next to no chance that this promotion will come off, thanks to David Ortiz's wrist injury, but now that my credential application for the ASG has been rejected, can I just say that this was one of the dumbest ideas, ever? Maybe I'm mis-remembering (as Roger Clemens would put it) but I don't think that Major League Baseball built too many promotions around Yankees ballplayers the last time the All Star Game was at Fenway. No, as I remember it, that game was all about Red Sox history, Ted Williams coming out in his motorized scooter, that sort of stuff. Featuring a Red Sox player in the last All Star Game at Yankee Stadium is a bit like inviting your fiancee's ex-boyfriend to your wedding, then letting him have the first dance with the bride. I know MLB promotes the living daylights out of "the Rivalry" but seriously--is this where attention should be at this event? Does that make sense?

Regardless of my feelings about the promotion, I'm pretty sure that if I'm in attendance at David Ortiz's last game--or even just his last game at Yankee Stadium--I will cheer for him. The same goes Manny Ramirez, or Curt Schilling: regardless of their status as "enemies" who've killed the Pinstripers repeatedly over the years, at some point you've got to get beyond that and just be a baseball fan. And as a baseball fan, it'd be pretty damn small of one not to acknowledge the accomplishments that any those guys have had, the mark they've left on baseball history.

Just the same, the cheers caught in my throat when it was time to recognize Ken Griffey on what is likely to be his last game at Yankee Stadium. Junior likely ended his Stadium career yesterday with a homer, the six hundred and first of his career, and it came in a perfect spot (from a Yankees perspective): a solo shot in the late innings of a game in which the Yanks were comfortably ahead. But I just couldn't bring myself to cheer a guy who's spent so much of his career venting vitriol at the Yankees franchise and fans. I don't mind an opposing player beating the Yanks on the field--after all, that's their job--and Griffey certainly put the knife in the Yanks a few times, most notably in the 1995 ALDS. But for his entire career he's carried a chip on his shoulder against the franchise, apparently because Billy Martin yelled at him when he was a kid. Griffey may not have noticed, but Billy died quite a while ago--the same year that Junior made his major league debut, in fact. You'd think that the adult thing to do would be to let go of the insult at some point, but in interviews this weekend, Griffey was surprisingly graceless. Rather than fondly recall any of the 18 homers he'd hit in the Cathedral, his response to a question about his time spent at Yankee Stadium was "My favorite Yankee Stadium memory? It's leaving Yankee Stadium...For us [the Reds], it's a trip we have to make, not something to look forward to."

For most of his career, I found myself wishing that I liked Ken Griffey Jr. more--the same way some people wish they enjoyed classical music. After all, he was one of the most important players of the 90s. It looks like I'll have to go on wishing. I only managed a half-hearted golf clap for Griffey's homer, and if that makes me a bad fan, then so be it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


I was cooped up in the New York Public Library today during the game, working on an upcoming project that has yet to be announced. I was happy to be indoors out of the heat, but sad to be missing the game--until I checked the score online, and saw the Yanks were down 10-6 in the seventh inning. That's life, these days, I guess. We saw on Friday--when the Yanks' late-inning comeback hopes were stifled by Joakim Soria--that the reason that comebacks like the one the Yankees engineered on Thursday are so special, is because they don't happen every day.

But can comebacks happen every other day? The next time I checked the scores, the Yanks had won the game 12-11. I excitedly clicked through to check out the game story at, and I got this headline:

Pettitte, Yankees scorched by Royals

Had I misunderstood the score? The story was 350 or so words long, and started like so:
If the heat wasn't making the Yankees uncomfortable -- game-time temperatures soared into the 90s -- then the outcome certainly was. For most of Saturday afternoon's game against the Royals, the Yankees either possessed the lead or possessed a chance. But neither possession helped them to win.

Jose Guillen hit a tie-breaking grand slam off Andy Pettitte, and the Yankees fell, 10-8, to the Royals at Yankee Stadium. It was their fifth loss in seven games.

But no, the box score was pretty clear--the Yankees won. Johnny Damon had six hits, including the game winner. He had four RBI, and Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada each hit homers. Obviously, someone had let an early version of Anthony DiComo's game story--before Damon tied the game at 10-10 in the eighth inning, before Mariano Rivera gave up the lead on a David DeJesus homer, and before Posada tied the game again with his homer, setting the stage for Damon's walk-off hit--get up on the front page. A couple of hours later, his real story was up on the site, talking about the "rather ugly maple bat" Damon used to match the Yankee record for most hits in a ballgame. The headline was amended to "Damon, Yankees Scorch Royals." It's a nice piece--check it out, just remember that it could have come out much differently.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Comeback: A Pornstache Story

I've been running around like a lunatic the last few days, tending to a lot of real-life developments. So it wasn't surprising that I was walking through midtown today, and when I passed a bar I was completely clueless that the Yanks were playing an afternoon game. And losing, 7-6.

The score held until I could get to a bar myself, over on the far west side of what used to be known as Hell's Kitchen. It's been a while since I saw a game in a bar--fortunately, it's like riding a bike, you never really forget how. The patrons were really into it, which was mildly surprising for a weekday before 5PM. During the Yanks' tease of a rally in the eighth, there were audible gasps when Brad Wilkerson (Brad Wilkerson?) caught Johnny Damon's gapper. And the disappointment and restlessness were palpable when Blockhead Kyle pitched himself into trouble and put the team one more run in the hole in the top of the ninth.

But then our Co-Player of the Month of May, the master of the Pornstache himself, Jason Giambi, came up to the plate against B.J. Ryan (there's a certain Beavis and Butthead symmetry to the pornstache facing B.J. with the game on the line). As it turns out, Giambi abused Ryan for a three-run, walkoff upper deck shot. I said before the season that with his Yankees contract finally coming to an end, the Giambino would be motivated to perform in 2008, and (at least where the bat's concerned) that prediction seems to be bearing fruit.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Month in Review: May 2008

Record for the Month: 14-12, RS: 124, RA: 119

Player of the Month: The bats came alive this month, none more than the one belonging to Jason Giambi. Giambi's porn-stache makes him look like some bizarre refugee from the 70s, but if he continues to hit like he did in May (.315/.446/.644, team-leading 6HR and 14 RBI), he can walk around wearing a feather boa for all that Yankee fans will care. Hideki Matsui followed up strong on his good April, hitting .350/.409/.480 last month with 13 RBI and a team-leading 21 runs scored; Bobby Abreu also got hot with the bat (.330/.407/.570, 14 exta-base hits), although his fielding this month has been ghastly.

Giambi, however, has to share player of the month honors with a couple of pitchers. Mariano Rivera repeats his player-of-the-month honors from April, with an 0.64 ERA and 7 saves, and Darrell Rasner (3-1, 1.80 ERA in May), who came out this month throwing his middling fastball and decent slider around as if he had the heat of Nolan Ryan and the breaking ball of Ron Guidry. Sadly for Rasner, the season didn't end May 31: he got raked in his first start of June. Honorable mentions on the pitching staff go out to Edwar Ramirez (one run allowed in 11 2/3 May innings) and Mike Mussina (5-1, 3.72 ERA).

Dregs of the Month: Three players--Chad Moeller, Morgan Ensberg, and Alberto Gonzalez--combined for 82 AB in May, without a single extra-base hit. That's how the Yanks are rolling for depth right now. Ensberg was DFA'd in June, likely meaning that the Yanks threw away $1.75 million on a guy who barely got a chance to play. Shelley Duncan (.163/.213/.256), Jose Molina (.207/.230/.276), and Melky Cabrera (.234/.270/.319) also contributed to the team's unbalanced "Stars 'n' Scrubs" lineup. On the pitching side, it was a bad month to be a young Yankee, not named Joba. Phil Hughes went on the DL, Ian Kennedy sucked a bunch (0-1, 6.27 ERA in 4 starts) and then joined him, and Ross Ohlendorf--a guy who could move up, seeing how the Yanks will now be relying on Blockhead Kyle and Latroy Hawkins to get them from the starters to Rivera--was all over the place (6.94 ERA on the month, with four good outings and three awful ones). Oh, and Kei Igawa's name might as well be Pavano, right now. What are the odds he'll make another start in Pinstripes?

Story of the Month: actually happening this month. A down-in-the-mouth Yankees congregation turns its lonely eyes to Joba Chamberlain, tonight, hoping that the beginning of his career as a starter helps get us over the disappointments of this season. Ask Mets fans about how young starters can make your year (see 1986) or break your heart (see Generation K).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Don't Call It a Comeback

Anyone who didn't think the Orioles would claw their way back for the win, the minute they saw LaTroy Hawkins on the mound, raise your hand. Anybody but Joe Girardi have their hands down? Didn't think so.

It was really looking better for the Yanks last week, but it only took two games for the Orioles to derail that optimism and send the Bombers back to the AL East cellar. The Yanks lost on Memorial Day despite Darrell Rasner continuing his Aaron Small impression, and again last night after the Yanks had 4-0 and 8-4 leads. Hawkins figured in both losses, though Ian Kennedy gets some partial credit for once again taxing the bullpen with a 3 inning start. Why was Joba Chamberlain paired in a tandem with Mike Mussina rather than Moose's shorter pitch-alike, Kennedy? The way Kennedy was seldom able to go even halfway into a regulation game, you think it would have been a natural situation to allow Joba to stretch out his arm in anticipation of becoming a starter again.

That's all academic now. Kennedy has joined Phil Hughes on the DL, and Joba may well wind up pitching in that slot, anyway. The season is frustrating again, just when things were starting to look up.


I got to catch Sunday's game in the Boogie Down Bronx with my Dad, the first game he's been to in a few years. Dad's largely a sports non-combatant--the only real reason he cares about baseball is because he knows that the game has a profound effect on me and my brothers' moods--but he enjoyed the Yanks' comeback greatly, and seemed to be having a pretty good time even before the Mariners' bullpen coughed the game up n the eighth inning.

Up until then, things looked pretty grim. Chien Ming Wang had a second straight start where his control was off, and the team's defense was spotty behind him as well. Jarrod Washburn, a guy who'd been as hard to hit as a tee-ball this season, provided six innings of really solid work--this was something we saw on occasion last season, as well, and it follows the pattern of the Yanks being unable to hit any starter that throws lefthanded (with the nine-run outburst against Erik Bedard on Friday perhaps serving as the exception that proves the rule). As was the case last week, the Yanks looked constantly on the verge of breaking out against Washburn, but they could never quite fire up the engines all at once.

Luckily for the Yanks, the Mariners are a brutally bad team. Their excellent bullpen performance last year, the one that gave them that nifty record in one-run games, hasn't held up this season. The Mariners pen--thanks in part to the trade that sent George Sherrill to the Orioles, and in part to the simple volatility of relief performance in general--is currently below replacement level in WXRL, and the pitching staff as a whole is below replacement level by VORP.

So the Mariners' eighth inning meltdown wasn't a surprise--except to the extent that seeing the Yankee offense perform is sometimes surprising, these days. Bobby Abreu's at bat against Arthur Rhodes reminded me of the Rhodes-David Justice matchup in a long ago ALCS, and JJ Putz's freak fall/bad throw later in the inning was just the kind of play that happens to a team when they're going bad. It's a fluke, but good teams hang in there to capitalize on those flukes.

The question is, are the 2008 Yankees a good team?


After I criticized Girardi for not coming out to argue the wrong side of the Subway Series Delgado home run call, the skipper seems to have gotten the memo that he should be a little more expressive in his support of the club. Last Thursday, he threw a classic, Piniella-style fit over a strikeout call on Jason Giambi, a good enough tantrum to earn him a suspension. In last night's game, he was all over the umpiring crew for continuing the game in the ninth, when it was raining so hard that Hideki Matsui was having all sorts of trouble seeing the ball and gripping the bat. Girardi was 1 for 2 on the arguments (wrong on Giambi, and right about the rain). But a little theatrics--specially if they're heartfelt--can really help keep your keister off the hot seat when the team is underperforming.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Well, I've certainly had better times at the Stadium. For three innings, it was a brilliant game. The Yanks were getting on base against Oliver Perez, working the count, driving the Little Unit (as Perez was once known) into high pitch counts and what should have been an early shower. The Yanks hadn't been able to capitalize on the baserunners, but it felt like they were on the verge of breaking through. Chien Ming Wang, Sunday night's starter, looked sharp, retiring the first nine in order, delivering first pitch strikes, and generally being as efficient as Oliver was wasteful. I know it was too damn early to start thinking this way, but I started to imagine the emails I'd send to the various people who stood me up for this game (citing the late start, rainy forecast, and other exigents as excuses not to come to the old ballpark) if Something Special happened.

Then it all fell apart so suddenly, it was like a slap to the face. Wang lost the strike zone, falling behind hitters early. Jose Reyes responded with the game's first hit, a double, but was erased on some poor baserunning and a heads-up play by Wang on a comebacker fielder's choice. But just when it looked like things were getting back to normal, the Yankee defense deserted Wang. Alberto Gonzalez, who'd already muffed a pop-up for an error, allowed a ball to go under his glove for a single. After a walk, Jason Giambi made a nice stop at first, but instead of making sure to get an out, he threw poorly to Jeter at second, drawing the Captain off the bag. Everybody safe. Then another single by Moises Alou, and the score was 3-0.

The Yanks caught a break when the umps reversed a really bad home run call (from my seats in Section 342, one thing you do get a pretty good view of is the left field foul pole--no way that was a homer), but the beating just continued, until the Mets had batted around and the Yanks were lucky it was only 4-0. Hideki Matsui cut that lead in half with a 2-run jack in the bottom half of the inning, and when the Yankees had a man on third and one out in the fifth, it looked like the game was still manageable. That runner--Jose Molina, who'd reached on a double--was stranded, and the Yankees wouldn't have another hit all night. The gap started growing again on a Ryan Church homer, and got completely out of hand with the Mets' 6-run eighth inning. Those of us who stayed past the eighth got treated to Mets fans acting like they owned our house, having fairly uncontested chants of "Lets Go Mets" all the way to the subways, and generally acting as if their team hadn't come into the Stadium with their manager on the verge of getting fired, or, for that matter, as if their team hadn't choked their way out of the playoffs last September despite a huge lead.

In the end, the Yanks were playing so lifelessly that there wasn't much to do other than grin and take it. It was a little bit easier to grin since the more obnoxious Mets fans are like the cast of misfits out of a Mad Max movie, and not terribly good at rubbing it in. Near my section, we had a tubby guy with a cowbell and a bunch of (poorly) handmade signs. His devastating witticisms included chanting "1986" (not a lot of bragging to remind us that the last time your team won a championship was over 21 years ago, and against our hated rivals), leading a chant for Endy Chavez, and then, chanting--for himself--"Cowbell Guy! Cowbell Guy!" Even a Mets fan seated behind me was disgusted: "This guy's a fake. I'm a season ticket holder at Shea, and I've never seen him before."

There was some entertainment value to be drawn from heckling their amateur hour attempts to make us feel bad. Another member of the Mets' freak show--an older lady who looked like a run-down, foul-mouthed Doris Kearns Goodwin--installed herself in our section late in the game, the better to talk smack. A quick reminder of the Mets' follies last September led her into a foaming-at-the-mouth rant against the Phillies: "The Phillies suck. Ryan Howard is a piece of s***, and Jimmy Rollins is a piece of s***."

"Well, that s*** beat you, didn't it?"

She moved away after that, to sit closer to Tubby Cowbell Guy. But despite the amusement that the Mets fans provided, this was a dispiriting loss. This Yankee team isn't right, not by a long stretch. They're completely hapless against lefties (4-9, .637 OPS against southpaws), and it didn't help that the Yanks started five lefties against Perez, who had a .459 OPS allowed to lefties this season. It didn't help that Shelly Duncan and Morgan Ensberg sat this game out, which begs the question: if they're not going to play against Oliver Perez, why are they on the team? It doesn't help that the Attorney General hasn't shown any of the glove magic that's supposed to make up for his weak bat. It doesn't help that after impressing with five homers in April, Melky Cabrera's come back with a .190/.230/.293 May. Mike Mussina is now the guy charged with ending the Yankee losing streak on Tuesday.

  • Ryan Church's 9 homers would lead the Yankees.
  • The Yanks' latest "get fired up" montage is from the movie 300. The whole concept behind these montages is kinda cheesy--they should have stopped after the montage from Rocky II. Do these people know that the Greeks all die in that movie?
  • Maybe I just didn't catch it from my vantage point in left field main, but it didn't look like Joe Girardi came out to argue the fourth inning home run call. I understand that he's emulating Joe Torre, but it's strange that there's a call that could crack the game wide open, and he's letting his players argue with the umps, without his support.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Today, I go to my local coffee shop to buy tea--don't ask me why. Now, I'm more of a coffee guy than a tea guy, so I have no idea what I'm doing ordering loose tea--anything beyond packets of Twinings or Bigelow (like you get at the supermarket) is out of my league. The woman I'm dealing with at the counter is obviously a coffee person too, so I'm getting no help. I very tentatively ordered a quarter pound of Darjeeling something or other, and after she measures it out, she hands me off to a guy with tattoos at one of the registers.

"That'll be $5.88, champ," the tat guy says. It's a bit familiar of him to have a nickname for me--I don't come to this coffee shop that often, and I'm hardly a regular. I have singles, so I count out the bills to hand to him.

"Here's your change, champ." There's a definite sneer to the way he says it. I don't get it. Did I do something wrong? Was I rude? No. Maybe I made a stupid choice with the tea--mispronounced it, or it's some vile concoction that they've never found anyone fool enough to order?

I wave off a plastic bag for the tea, and walk out to my next errand. It's about two blocks later that I realize what the guy was going on about. The cap I'm wearing is the one with the "2000 World Champions" patch on the side. I actually don't like the look of the patch on the side of the head, but other fitted lid shrank a bit, and this one still fits like a charm.

So what was the tat man's deal? I tend to think Red Sox fan whenever someone is randomly rude to me--horrible prejudice, I know, but it seems to be the way that the demonstrative Sox fan living in New York City rolls. But then I remembered that it's Subway Series time again, and that maybe he was a disaffected Mets fan, still mourning the loss of the 2000 Series. Given the timing, he might have thought I was wearing the cap just to rub the rhubarb of any Mets fans I might meet. His reaction would be somewhat reasonable, even if it's still rude.

Win or lose this weekend's series, at least I know now what I'm wearing the next time I go to buy coffee.


Before the season, over at BP, I predicted that "the first Mets/Yankees game that Johan Santana starts" would be the season's game to watch. Santana now being a Met after spending much of the winter pursued by the Yankees--a decision the Yankee brass went back and forth on, very publicly--this wasn't exactly a courageous call. Little did I know that general timing (and a Friday rainout) would make this game even more momentous. We have a split on the players who were rumored to be headed to Minnie if Santana were coming to the Bronx: Melky's showing imroving power, but Phil Hughes is hurt and Ian Kennedy is ineffective. Both New York teams limped onto the Subway, and rumors were rampant coming into the series that Willie Randolph's job hangs by a thread in Flushing. And in the first inning, that thread was looking a bit frayed--the Captain took Johan deep with Damon on base to give the Pinstripers a 2-0 lead.

But that was as good as things would get on the day. The Mets got three runs in six innings off of Andy Pettitte, who again alternated an effective start with a bad one. The YES Network guys praised Kyle Farnsworth as he was coming into the game, which was a certain jinx, which drove things out of control. In the ninth, the Yanks brought the tying run to the plate without any outs--but it still didn't feel like the result of the game was in any doubt. 7-4 final.

The thing that killed me--that's been killing the Yanks all season, really--was the pair of six-pitch innings the Yanks handed Santana in the middle of the game. It seems like this team just isn't dedicated to working the count the way previous Yankees squads have. Part of that is just what happens when you replace Jorge Posada with the Moel-lina tandem, and A-Rod with some combination of Morgan Ensberg and the Attorney General. But those understudies only account for one of those innings, but what about the other one? Why is this All-Star offense puttering around?

It's only May, but it's getting late, early. Anyway, here's hoping tomorrow night's game doesn't get rained out.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Required Reading

Anyone who's read this blog knows that I'm a huge fan of Bronx Banter. I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time with Alex Belth on Monday, as well as his fellow Banterer extraordinaire, Emma Span, my Baseball Prospectus friends Joe Sheehan, Jay Jaffe and Steve Goldman, and Kevin Baker, who is one of the contributors to the Anatomy of Baseball compilation.

It was a great joy being at a table where I was clearly the worst-read person there. At one point we basically became a baseball version of the McLoughlin Group, going around the table for opinions on books, the end of Yankee Stadium, Joe Girardi's shaky start as Yankee manager, Will Leitch (and sports blogging along with him) getting pilloried on Bob Costas Now.

Speaking of books (and Bronx Banter), I got to participate in Alex's Essential Baseball Books project, nominating my top ten books. I restricted myself to non-fiction works, and worked off the top of my head (sadly, my apartment doesn't have space for all my books, so there were a few favorites, like Ball Four, that I missed solely because they're in storage rather than on my bookshelf). You can find the Essentials series at these links: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

From Part III, here's my tardy list:

Bill James, Politics of Glory -- Wonderful exercise in applied sabermetrics: James takes a dash of numbers, a huge dollop of historical research, and systematically ticks off the problems with baseball's most revered institution.

Steve Goldman, Forging Genius -- Has all the things you'd expect in a bio--fun anecdotes, character sketches, historical details--and throws in a strong dose of logic on top of it, to explain how Casey Stengel became the guy that led the Yankees to all those pennants. I suspect it would be interesting to read this back-to-back with the next book, because the authors' styles are so different.

David Halberstam, Summer of '49 -- It's like the movie Apollo 13: even if you know exactly how the 1949 pennant race ended, you still probably won't be immune to the suspense that Halberstam builds up in this book. Essential read for Yankee fans.

Alan Schwarz, The Numbers Game -- Great history of the game, told through the eyes of statheads from era to era.

Bill James, Historical Baseball Abstract -- It's a bit like Disneyland, huge and easy to get lost in. There are maybe three great books' worth of work in there.

Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Between the Numbers -- Excellent primer on a broad range of stathead topics.

Michael Lewis, Moneyball -- Cliche? Maybe. A bit dated, just five years after it was published? Sure. Doesn't matter. Moneyball drags you into the collective mind of a MLB front office better than any book I've ever read.

Peter Gollenbock and Sparky Lyle, The Bronx Zoo -- Sentimental pick. I was still a kid with illusions to shatter when I read Gollenbock's story of what really happened with the 1978 World Champs. You never get your innocence back.

William Goldman and Mike Lupica, Wait Till Next Year -- Can you remember when Mike Lupica actually liked baseball? I think this book was the beginning of the end of that. The NFL and NBA, peek in here, but Goldman (of Princess Bride fame) and Lupica mainly focus on the 1987 Mets with a decent side helping of Yankees stories. The essential parts for baseball fans are Goldman's humor, and Lupica's glimpses into how sports journalism works.

Rob Neyer and Bill James, The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers -- Probably the most unique baseball reference book out there--I mean, how many times do you think of a pitcher, but can't quite remember all the pitches he threw, or what his best pitch was?

More book talk later, I hope