Monday, March 31, 2008

Rainout Photoblog

(Click on any of the pictures for a larger view.)

So, hearing a rumor that they'd be Opening the baseball season today (after opening it a couple of weeks ago in Japan, and again last night in the nation's capital) Brother J and I went up to the Bronx, in hopes that there would be a game going on...

Cool! Forewarned of the weather conditions, we were wrapped in many layers and sporting ponchos to keep the rain away. Anyway, as you approach the old ballpark in the Bronx these days, you can't help but have your eyes drawn to its replacement, across the street:

At the beginning of last season, this was nothing but an extremely organized set of girders. By October, it looked like an arena, albeit one covered with scaffolding. But now, much of the outer shell of the new Stadium (what you could actually call a facade) looks like a completed product.

Looking up, you can see the lights already installed, and perhaps a hint of the outfield wall frieze (what some incorrectly call the facade):

Perhaps the most interesting touch was the Derek Jeter billboard (actually, one of those cloth screens) that's been set up inside what will be the main entrance.

Having toured the outside, Brother J and I headed in, through what we call the veal fattening pens--the security corrals set up by the left field gate. No matter how I tried, I couldn't get this picture to load rightside-up.

After a lot of waiting, to get to an inconsistent concept of security (we were waved through, without a second look), we finally hit the inside of the House that Ruth Built:

As you can see, the tarp was out, umbrellas were in evidence, and folks other than ourselves were sporting ponchos. When we walked in, the precipitation was nothing more than a strong drizzle. Still, the word being bandied about by the PA announcer and by Yankees apparatchik Michael Kay and John Sterling was that the forecast was favorable, and that the game should start after an hour delay.

With nothing much to do, we went to the escalator area to peek into the new Stadium, where construction workers and random Parks Department folks with Department-issue umbrellas roamed the structure.

Meanwhile, the Yankee Faithful did everything in their power to stay dry and warm during the delay. For folks in the Upper Deck, that meant crowding the concourses up there. For the Bleacher Creatures (OK, faux creatures sitting in the left field bleachers for Opening Day) that meant taking to the slight bit of shelter offered by the bleacher's back wall:

Then, we got the ugly announcement:

Apparently, "evaluating our options" meant sending Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, and a third man I'm 70% sure was Reggie Jackson out to tour the right field line:

The crowd pleaded with them to play the game. It was barely raining, and the field was definitely playable.

However, our pleas fell on deaf ears.

After the game was called, Roy Halladay went out to get his throwing in. Earlier, AJ Burnett and Scott Downs had done a little light throwing. There hadn't been much sign of any Yankees players on the field, at least not while we were waiting.

Halladay had a coach standing in as a batter while he threw from flat ground. The coach didn't mime a swing, but with his legs he made the same weight shift a batter would while waiting for a pitch.

And that was as close to baseball as we got today. Soon, Stadium security was asking us to get moving, tossing us out into the throng trying to make it to the Subway. See you guys tomorrow night!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Baseball Eve

So, tomorrow it's all happening for real. Tomorrow, Yankee Stadium has its last Opening Day. Let's look at the squad that'll attend the beginning of the end at the House that Ruth Built:

Pitchers (12)

Starters (4)
Chien Ming Wang
Mike Mussina
Phil Hughes
Ian Kennedy

Wang gets tomorrow's start, which'll be a small-print bit in the history books. Seniority rather than outlook makes Mussina the Game Two starter. Having Mussina and Hughes back-to-back could be hard on the pitching staff, unless Hughes learns how to economize a little with his pitches, or Mussina gets effective enough to pitch deep into ballgames again. Pettitte starts the season off the roster, although has him as the starter for Friday's matchup against the Rays, even before IPK gets his first start of the year.

Relievers (8)

Mariano Rivera
Joba Chamberlain
LaTroy Hawkins
Kyle Farnsworth
Jonathan Alabadejo
Billy Traber
Brian Bruney
Ross Ohlendorf

One of the few decisions of the spring was "Joba Chamberlain: starter or reliever?" In the short term, the answer has come out reliever, but the idea is still to make him a starter, perhaps as soon as later on this season. I worry that he'll get stuck in the bullpen, particularly if an injury put Mariano out of action for an extended period of time, he could wind up the Yankee closer, and find it hard not to get pigeonholed a bullpen role afterward. One of these guys is likely gone when Pettitte returns, and since I've stacked them in rough pecking order, I'd have to say that Bruney or Ohlendorf, the last two relievers to make the roster, are the likeliest cuts. Three games is not a long time to make an impression. With a new manager in town, Kyle Farnsworth has disclaimed that the limitations once placed on his usage were his idea. It'll be interesting to see if Farnsie finally pitches worth a damn now that he's in his walk year.

Catchers (2)

Jorge Posada
Jose Molina

No surprises here. The Yankees didn't have anyone in camp in a position to unseat Molina, or rather, Molina's 2-year contract. It may be impossible for Posada to match his 2007 performance--an A+ performance, in my view--but he's going to have to maintain his 2004-7 form to keep this offense moving.

Infielders (7)

Derek Jeter
Alex Rodriguez
Robinson Cano
Jason Giambi
Wilson Betemit
Shelley Duncan
Morgan Ensberg

The first three guys should, if healthy, play 150+ games each as the entrenched shortstop, third baseman, and second baseman, respectively. The last four will make a hash of playing first base, DHing, and backing up the infield and outfield. Ensberg was one of the other decisions of Spring Training, winning out over Jason Lane for the job of a second righthanded bat (after Duncan) to balance out this left-leaning lineup. Good job by the Yanks of going with longterm performance over Spring statistics in that decision (for much of the Grapefruit league, Lane was outhitting his former Astros teammate). Giambi, like Farnsworth, is playing for next season's payday. The ideal would be for him to start the majority of the games at first, some 100-120 games. We'll see about that.

Outfielders (4)
Johnny Damon
Melky Cabrera
Bobby Abreu
Hideki Matsui

Technically, Duncan's the fifth outfielder here. That works if you consider Damon a proper backup in center, I guess. Brett Gardner would probably have made the team if he was a righthanded hitter. We'll have to see how the newly-married Matsui adjusts to DHing regularly. That aside, everything here is a known quantity. The Yanks have to hope for continued growth from Cabrera and for Damon to perform the way he did in the second half last year.

Here's to a great season!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Enough a' Spring Already!

I haven't written anything about Spring Training so far, and I have to admit, I've felt a little bit disconnected from the whole Grapefruit League scene this off-season. As the amazing Emma Span pointed out at Bronx Banter today, Spring exhibition baseball is only just good enough to take the edge off your baseball addiction--methadone to the season's black tar heroin. This off-season, the winter leagues kept my baseball jones from getting too powerful, so I have had a hard time getting all that excited about exhibitions. The few innings I've seen here or there have been nice--I've missed the Yankees, and it's good to see them--but I'm saving my energy for the April to October grind.

It doesn't help that the signal-to-noise ratio down in Tampa has been, perhaps, at a historic low. There aren't that many interesting positional battles. There aren't many new acquisitions, for us to wonder how they'll fit in. The pitching staff whiz kids are here, but that story already got much of its play last August, September, and October. The local media can't seem to decide if Andy Pettitte's a louse for using HGH or a hero for ratting out Roger Clemens--they'll have to wait to see how he pitches during the season to decide how to treat him. It's made for a lot of unengaging coverage.

The meme this Spring seems to be about the Yanks losing that classy sheen they had under Joe Torre. Over the last two weeks, a home plate collision, a spiking, and a halfway decent brawl were decried as the end of civilization in Tampa. This week, there have already been two articles worrying about the Yanks' "slide into crassness" with Larry Brooks in the Post complaining about Joe Girardi allowing a pending-trial Jim Leyritz into the clubhouse; and Richard Justice licking his chops at the prospect of a return to the Bronx Zoo, with Hank Steinbrenner and Girardi playing the George/Billy Martin roles (hat tips to BTF for both links).

(An aside: This is one of those I don't understand--even if he's writing for the Sporting News, does anyone consider Richard Justice a national columnist? Why the heck should a Houston/National League guy be excited about the prospect of Hank Steinbrenner turning into his dad? Even more important, why should anyone care if he's excited? I guess that's the price of being the Yankees: everyone's all up in your business, even if they're in the NL Central.)

Mind you, Justice admits that it's not the Bronx Zoo yet, and that Cashman is still running the joint in the "boring/classy" way, but that doesn't stop him from breathlessly proclaiming that "You can't make up the stuff that's happened to the Yankees in the past six months."

I guess Justice doesn't have much of an imagination. What happened in the last six months? Losing in the ALDS? That happened in 2006 and 2005; it's old hat. Joe Torre walking away rather than taking an insulting contract offer? Torre came to the Yanks when exactly that happened with Buck Showalter after the 1995 season. The Yanks not landing the big trade for a franchise pitcher? That was Curt Schilling back in 2003. Heck, it was Randy Johnson for half his career--and just look at how happy he made us when he finally got here. Nope, can't make any of that stuff up.

We're a week away from baseball's false start--the pair of Boston/Oakland games in Japan-- two Sundays away from ESPN's Opening Night, and just shy of two weeks away from the real deal, with the Yanks hosting the Blue Jays on Yankee Stadium's final Opening Day. One way or another--send the cathedral out on a winning or losing note--it figures to be a bittersweet season. And I can't wait for it to start.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How to Hail a Cab in New York, Part I

I've been thinking about doing this for a while--cab etiquette is one of the great mysteries of New York, and I think the whole world could use a refresher--but the whole thing was catalyzed when I couldn't come up with a quick and easy mnemonic for my brother-in-law to explain how he was to know if a cab was available or not. Now, it was a joke--we'd just had a great meal at Prune in NoHo, and he was asking me to come up with something in meter that rhymed--but I figure that just 'cause I suck at poetry doesn't mean that I can't create a handy, dandy guide to hailing a cab in the Big Apple.

So I'll start with the first question: how do you know if a cab's available?

Let's start with the basics. As anyone who's seen an American movie in the last sixty or so years knows, New York taxis--at least the ones you can hail on the street--are yellow. Let's have a picture:

Modified from a photo by msspider66 on Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.

So here we have a good sample of the species. The red circle points out the part you'll want to pay attention to when you're hailing a cab on a rainy day in Manhattan. It's the rooflight, the thing that tells you whether or not the taxi's available. Taking a closer look:

Photo by mokolabs on Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.

You'll see the rooflight is split in three parts. In the middle, you'll have the cab's medallion number--four digits, mixing letters and numbers. On the sides, you have the off duty lights, helpfully marked "Off Duty." When the middle section is lit, the cab is empty; when it's dark--as it is on the rooflight above, the cab has a fare and is unavailable. Below, you'll see what a cab looks like when just that middle section is lit:

Photo by wallyg on Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.

From a distance, it looks like a short bar of light in the middle of the roof console. When you hail a cab like this, it should stop, pick you up, and take you wherever you want within the five boroughs. If it doesn't, it means that either the driver didn't see you, or you've been the victim of racial profiling. Man, I wish that was a joke.

However, don't rush to curse the cab driver as a racist just because a cab that had some lights on passed you by. If all the lights on the rooflight are on, you're not likely to get picked up, either. It looks like this:

Modified from a photo by magnus* on Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.

As you can see, the middle number is lit, but so are the "Off Duty" lights marked by the pointers. From a distance, this looks like a single, long bar of light, which can be hard to distinguish from the light of an on-duty unoccupied cab. When all the lights are on it means that even though there isn't a passenger in the cab, the driver isn't looking to pick up a fare, and they'll typically ignore anyone trying to hail them. This is usually because it's the end of the driver's shift, and they're headed home or back to the taxi company where another driver is waiting to start the next shift. When all the lights are on, the cab isn't supposed to be picking up passengers, but sometimes drivers will stop and roll down their window to ask you where you want to go--they're hoping to grab one last fare before ending their shift.

Depending on whether there are other available cabs around, this practice can be a great blessing or a big nuisance. Unlike when they're on duty, the cabbie isn't obligated to pick you up or take you anywhere, so if you're not going the cabbie's way (toward his home and/or base) or if he just doesn't like the look of you, the cab's doors will remain locked (to keep you out) and the cabbie will drive away. When that happens, all they've accomplished by stopping in front of you is to waste your time and block you off from on-duty taxis who would be obligated to take you where you want to go--it's very frustrating. But if you're making a short trip or headed in the right direction (Houston Street and Hell's Kitchen are popular destinations during shift changes, because there are taxi companies located there) an off-duty cab can be a godsend.

The final way you can find the rooflight signifies that a cab is occupied and off-duty. Then the two "Off-Duty" lights are on, but the middle section is dark. Looks like this:

Photo by faz the persian on Flickr. Used under the Creative Commons License.

This state is only relevant to you when you happen to be near a cab that's letting out its passengers. When an on-duty cab lets off its passengers near you, it's pretty much an invitation to take a ride--just remember that, no matter how ugly the weather is outside, you need to let the passengers get out before you enter the cab. (This sounds like common sense, but if you live in New York long enough, someone will eventually jump into the back seat while you're trying to calculate how much of a tip to leave, guaranteed.) But if a taxi's dropping off a fare and has its off-duty light on, it's almost impossible to change the driver's mind, no matter how persuasive you think you are.

So, as per my brother-in-law's challenge, I will try to reduce this to rhyming couplets:

Short light--you're good as gold;
No lights--you're stuck in the cold;
Long light--you'll have to beg and plead;
Two lights--you're screwed, indeed.

Hey! Stop that. I warned you I suck at poetry.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Good News, Links, and Tonight's Meetup

It's already been an eventful spring down in Tampa , with all eyes watching the Yanks' pitching young 'uns like hawks. Protective mother hawks. But the best news of the spring has been the negative biopsy Bobby Murcer received this week, showing that what some thought could have been a recurrence of his brain cancer was actually scar tissue. Surviving cancer is a day-by-day thing, but I'm glad to hear that we'll have the chance to enjoy some more days with Bobby. You can't ask for much better than that.

Anyway, I'll be at the Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue tonight at 6:00 (150 Fifth Avenue, & 18th Street). Being on a panel with Joe Sheehan, Steve Goldman and Jay Jaffe means being guaranteed that no one will ask you a question, but I'll fight to get my cuts in anyway. The tour will also take us (minus Goldman) to Long Island on Saturday, with an appearance at the Border's Book Store in Westbury, located at 1260 Old Country Road. That'll be at 2:00 PM. Next week (the 15th), I'll be in Rockaway, New Jersey with Steve, I'll update you on the time and place later on.

A few quick hits:

The rap on Representative Anthony Weiner, like his political mentor, Chuck Shumer, is that it's very dangerous to get between him and a TV camera, ever. He's also one of the more partisan politicos you'll find, which is one reason I hope his plea to the Attorney General, not to waste further federal resources on Roger Clemens finds a sympathetic audience. I'm on the record saying that Congress had no justification trying to sort Clemens's and Brian McNamee's dirty laundry in the first place; the investigation requested by the Oversight Committee is pouring more money after the initial bad investment of time and funds.

For BP subscribers, a couple of fresh Yankees links: Will Carroll's Team Health Report, and Kevin Goldstein's Organizational Rankings, which lists the Pinstripers as the #6 organization in the game.

I also had a quick take on Moneyball and the retirement of Jeremy Brown for Prospectus Toolbox earlier this week. Here's a taste:

The news that Jeremy Brown was hanging up his spikes due to "personal issues" made more of a stir last week than you'd expect from the retirement of a 28-year-old catcher who's spent the last two years in Triple-A. Our prospects expert, Kevin Goldstein, gave Brown an extremely evenhanded send-off over on Unfiltered; others have been less charitable, invoking imaginary choruses of scouts cheering the end of Brown's career. At least, I hope the cheering is imaginary: it'd take a Grinch-sized heart to rejoice in the end of someone's big-league dreams, unless their name is, say, Ben Christensen. The reason that Brown is the focus of such attention and schadenfreude is because the A's drafted him in the first round of the 2002 draft—an overdraft which, by itself, wouldn't be that noteworthy—and because Michael Lewis wrote a best-selling book which hailed Brown's selection as the bellwether of a new way of doing business, which the author dubbed "Moneyball" in the book of the same name. Apparently, those celebrating Brown's retirement are marking the occasion as the death of Moneyball acumen—a festive wake, with dancing and ironic toasts.

Now, Brown never asked to be the Luke Skywalker of a sabermetric revolution. He was a guy who was already going to face a fair amount of hazing in the minors because his body was not quite one that Calvin Klein would put on a billboard. After Moneyball was published, not only was he much more famous than the average 35th overall pick, the negative aspects of his physique were cataloged in the book for ease of heckling. Saddling him with the additional burden of representing the A's organizational philosophy—as interpreted by Lewis—was never particularly fair. However, five years removed from the book's initial release, it is a reasonable time to look back at the 2002 draft, and at the A's organization in general, and ask: is Moneyball really dead?