Friday, April 18, 2008

What's Cooking?

It's been a long week. The Yanks haven't had a breather in the 17 days since Opening Day, and won't get one until after this weekend's series in Baltimore is over. Then it'll be another two weeks before their next scheduled day off. You'd think that someone would have sabotaged the sprinkler system at one of the ballfields by now.

I don't have much to say about the team right now, other than they might not have the guns to hang with the Red Sox all summer in the Stadium's final hurrah. The Yanks are 7th in the league in runs scored, and have scored three or fewer runs in 8 of their 17 games so far. Robbie Cano, Jason Giambi, and Johnny Damon have struggled so far, and the young starters have combined to allow 22 runs in 22 1/3 innings.

I've been quiet this week because my computer's hard drive gave up the ghost, just after its warranty ended. Like many, I don't back up nearly as often as I should (this is particularly galling, since I'd set up a Time Capsule to handle La Chiquita's backups, but hadn't found the time to set it up for my own), so I lost a month's worth of data.

Anyway, the unscheduled downtime has given me the opportunity to catch up on my DVR'd TV watching (La Chiquita and I splitting her computer so that we'd each work during the other's downtime). Which means--since the WGA strike turned this into the weakest TV season in memory--Top Chef is probably the best thing on the tube right now, outside of baseball. I'll be posting a review of that later today.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Joba's Dad, Reprise

Sometimes life puts things in perspective, and it's not always a welcome thing. After all the artificial drama of this weekend's Yanks/Sox drama (buried t-shirts! injured Captain! struggling Papi! key rain delay!) news come out today that Harlan Chamberlain, Joba's dad, collapsed over the weekend and is in critical condition. His son has gone home to be with his dad, because--in a lesson we sometimes need to be reminded of--life is more important than baseball.

Our prayers are with Harlan Chamberlain for a swift and safe recovery.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Blame It On the Rain

Saturday's game was winnable. It was winnable in the sixth inning, when the Yanks' 2-1 lead--by the way, when is this team gonna start scoring?--was blown on a tactical gamble. Mike Mussina, who was sterling in his last start (six two-hit innings against the Rays), was having a fine afternoon through five, marred only by a Manny Ramirez homer. In the sixth, a one-out single and double had put men on second and third for the struggling David Ortiz, and the Moose, showing some old-school stuff, struck Ortiz out on four pitches. And then, with Manny coming to the plate, Joe Girardi held a conference on the mound. The question, of course, was whether to walk Ramirez.

According to Pete Abraham, Mussina told Girardi that Ramirez was the matchup he wanted, and Girardi went with his pitcher's call. Moose's first pitch was waist-high and caught too much of the plate--Manny (being Manny) ripped it for a double, and the lead.

Now, coming into today's game, Manny was 17 for his last 44 against Mussina, with four homers--that covers the period from 2003-2007, postseason included. Yes, it's a small sample, but after Manny belted one halfway to the moon in the fourth inning, maybe Girardi should have considered the matchup between Mussina's cerebral stuff-challenged pitching style and Ramirez's, um, not-so-cerebral hitting style an advantage for the batter.

Yeah, I know Mussina has lots of experience. Yes, he'd just gotten a big out against the Sox's other big bopper. And no, I don't blame Mussina for thinking he could get Ramirez out. He's an athlete--he has to believe he can get Ramirez out. Girardi isn't obligated to listen to Mussina, much less agree with him. This was the manager's bad call.

The Moose apparently felt he'd rather face Manny Ramirez than Kevin Youkilis, and that's exactly the way it worked out. Just not in a good way. One bad turn followed another, as the pitcher brought in to replace Mussina was Brian Bruney, the, what, eleventh? Maybe even twelfth man to make the pitching staff out of Spring Training. Youkilis hit a single, and now it was 4-2.

The game was still winnable, though. The Yanks brought the score within one in the seventh inning. That rally stalled out when Jose Molina--who had to bat because the Yanks aren't carrying a third catcher and Jorge Posada is still injured--struck out against Manny DelCarmen with the tying run on second base. The Yanks rallied again in the eighth, against Hideki Okajima, when the Yanks got two men on with two outs, and Alex Rodriguez coming to the plate. This time, it was Terry Francona who seemed caught off-balance by the turn of events--the two baserunners came over the space of just five pitches--and closer Jon Papelbon was rushed into the game. The tide was turning...

...and then, as Papelbon warmed up to face A-Rod, the rain came. The umps made a judgment call to put the tarp on the field rather than let the inning go one more batter--a call that looked kind of stupid when the rain died down immediately after the tarp was rolled out, and seemed to stay okay for at least 15 minutes before the rain started in earnest, for matbe two hours. Maybe someone who was in Beantown can tell me that this was a monsoon, but it just didn't look that way on the tube.

Now, maybe the result would have been the same had Alex gotten to face Papelbon at 6:20, rather than 8:30. But because of the delay, Papelbon got to warm up again (a couple of times) in a leisurely fashion, rather than with the sense of urgency they had when he was first called into the game. Meanwhile, Rodriguez had to sit in what's reputedly the smallest, crappiest visitor's clubhouse in baseball, getting cold and thinking about the at-bat. When his opportunity finally did come, it was a three-pitch strikeout, and the epic poem "Alex Rodriguez Chokes in the Clutch" had a new verse or two.

Papelbon's pitches were nasty, but Alex has to get tired of saying "you just have to tip your cap to the pitcher..." Now Phil Hughes takes the mound tomorrow hoping to salvage a series win.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Crumbling Cornerstones

We knew there would be times like these. Heck, I wrote a chapter in Bombers Broadside 2007 (and updated it for the 2008 edition) which pretty much said there would be times like these. Three of the Yankees' home-grown cornerstone players--two of whom they just re-signed to huge contracts this off-season--are getting up there in age. They're at the age when players, particularly those who play the more demanding up-the-middle positions, start to break down.

Right now, it looks like like Derek Jeter's might be going on the DL. Alberto Gonzalez (the one whom, to our knowledge, does not condone torture) was in Kansas City (per PeteAbe) in anticipation of getting called up, because of Jeter's high quadriceps strain. The injury's not considered serious, but as Will Carroll points out at BP, the fact that it's near the groin means it might linger like groin injuries tend to do.

The more serious injury could belong to Jorge Posada. Jorge's been laboring with a "stiff" shoulder for about a week; given a start behind the plate in yesterday's loss to the Royals (with Joey Gathright, KC is a bad place to be if you're a catcher who can't throw) Jorge had to exit the game after six. There's something unintentionally scary in the description Posada gave Kat O'Brien of how the shoulder feels "dead, like you've got no strength." On the worst-case scenario, that description sounds a little like the "my shoulder got the wind knocked out of it" feeling Jay Jaffe once described when he tore his labrum. If Posada were to have a SLAP tear, that's surgery and a whole lot of lost time, perhaps even a lost season. So if you're a Yankee fan, this is a good time to keep your fingers crossed, or do whatever else it is you do when you need good luck.

While Gonzalez isn't a good replacement for Jeter, the Yanks have options. Wilson Betemit can stand in at short for the time being, and if the Captain's absence were to be prolonged, Girardi could see if Alex Rodriguez still has what it takes to play short, while having Betemit and Morgan Ensberg share the hot corner. Losing Posada means more Jose Molina, which, looking at the backups over the previous half-dozen years, could definitely be worse. But then Molina's backup is Chad Moeller, who isn't anyone's idea of a good time.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The 21 Project/Non-Baseball Ramblings

I'll admit, I haven't been too optimistic about the prospect of LaTroy Hawkins in pinstripes, and his performance Friday's game has me desperately hoping I'm wrong about him. Mini-Moose (and sadly, I don't mean that nickname in a good way right now) nibbled and got shelled (4 BB and 6 runs in 2 1/3 IP); then, after a four-run third inning rally and 4 2/3 sterling innings of relief by Jonathan Alabadejo, Ross Ohlendorf, and Billy Traber, the Hawk came in and coughed up six runs of his own, and couldn't even get out of the inning.

The extra bit of salt in the wounds was that Hawkins made this craptastic appearance wearing Paul O'Neill's old number, 21. No Yankee had worn the number since O'Neill retired, but Hawkins wanted it because it was Roberto Clemente's number. Supposedly, Hawkins can't comprehend why Yankee fans would mind him wearing O'Neill's number.

Now, the natural reaction from fans will be to help him comprehend by booing him whenever he takes the mound. If he keeps performing like this, that'll be an easy choice. But here's an idea: what if, instead of making Hawkins's life miserable, we just asked him nicely to pick a new number? I'm thinking of something on the level of Steve Lombardi's Project P46, just rather than trying to convince a beloved Yankee to return to the fold, we'd be asking a new Yankee to respect the 0ur feelings about about a team favorite, and give up his uniform number.

It's pretty easy. Get a card, postcard, or regular letter stationery. Write LaTroy a pleasant note, explaining what Paul O'Neill meant to you, and why you think no one else should wear that uniform number for the Yankees, ever again. Ask him nicely to give it up, and maybe even suggest another uni number he'd enjoy. Affix a stamp and mail your letter/card to:

LaTroy Hawkins
Yankee Stadium
161st Street and River Avenue
Bronx, NY 10451

If you want to get some extra credit, you can also try to ensure that no one else ever wears O'Neill's #21 on Yankee pinstripes again. You can do this by buying a couple of extra postcards and letting higher-up members of the Yankee organization know that you think the Yankees should retire uniform number 21, in honor of O'Neill and/or Clemente. While I think that Paulie O is enough reason all by himself for the number to be retired, the fact that it's also Clemente's number makes it an absolute no-brainer: retiring the number would be special not just to all those fans of the late-90s Yankees, but also to loads of Hispanic fans throughout baseball. Many forget that the same segregation that kept African Americans out of MLB until 1947 also kept dark-skinned Latinos from playing. Clemente was the Latino Jackie Robinson; and honoring him is a way that the Yankees could be ahead of the curve. Anyway, you can write a note explaining why you feel the Yanks should retire #21 to Brian Cashman, at the same address as Hawkins, above, or you can just send your complaint straight to the top:

Hank Steinbrenner
George M. Steinbrenner Field
1 Steinbrenner Drive
Tampa, FL 33614

I suspect that you could also address a letter to Hank's brother/co-managing partner Harold Steinbrenner at the same Tampa address. If you want to learn more about the overall effort to have Clemente's #21 retired throughout Major League Baseball, you can visit


Speaking of 21, I hadn't previously mentioned here my experience sitting in for Joe Sheehan at the AL Tout Wars draft. Tout Wars is an expert fantasy baseball league, in which all the participants are pretty much fantasy baseball professionals. The AL Tout league had been the subject of a bestselling book called Fantasyland, and this year, was the subject of a documentary by the same name. If you want to know what the draft was like, you can read my column on it over at Baseball Prospectus. Just don't needle me too much on the fact that the player I spent 10% of Sheehan's budget on, Mariners reliever J.J. Putz, just got injured and is likely to miss close to two months of the season. I hear that often enough from Joe.

Anyway, after the draft, the participants and a few others went out to a restaurant to socialize, which was tremendous fun. I always enjoy hanging with a crowd that knows more about baseball than I do, and it was great to hear behind-the-scenes stuff about how's Gamecast system works, and anecdotes about the Atlanta Braves, and that kind of cool stuff.

At one point in the evening, one of my fellow-drafters sheepishly confessed that he's a big devotee of blackjack, and that he counts cards in Vegas. Which was funny, since the guy was sitting about five feet away from perhaps the most famous card-counter in the country, Protrade founder Jeff Ma, who was going to participate in one of the other Tout Wars drafts the following day. Ma was the main subject of a bestselling book about an MIT card-counting team, Bringing Down the House, which had just been turned into a movie, 21. As of last weekend, 21 was the top movie in the country. Small world.


Now, despite the box office success, the reviews haven't been kind to 21. Not having seen it yet, I can't comment on whether they have the film pegged right or wrong. The one thing I will say is that the movie seems to have bothered the New York Times's Manohla Dargis enough that she invented a new term for her review:
Ben ogles the chintzy glamour and the chesty blondes spilling out of their dresses, and the movie does exactly the same. He particularly likes it when his skinny school crush, Jill, clambers aboard and offers him a lap job, for which I hope the young actress Kate Bosworth was well compensated. Like everything else in “21,” Jill can be bought for the right price, as of course can Ben and, by extension, us.
Now, Dargis is a great reviewer; but if you're going to be judgmental and snarky, you need to get your terminology right. If you google the term "lap job" you get a bunch of references to people overclocking computer processors. Since Bosworth's supposed to be playing an MIT genius/nerd, this might not be out of character. But that wouldn't explain Dargis's comment that Bosworth's character "can be bought." Obviously, Dargis thinks that a "lap job" is more than just trying to give the boy she likes a more efficient heat sink.

I've, um, heard of lap dances. As someone who tries to keep up with the language of perversity, I'm also familiar with various fine, intimate terms ending in --job, which I won't enumerate since this is a family blog. However, among what Padma Lakshmi would call the "Job Family of Products" I've never heard of the lap job. Is it new? The whole thing sounds like the scene in 40 Year Old Virgin where Steve Carrell tries, and fails, to describe what a woman's breast feels like.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Opening Da--, erm, Night was all you could ask for in a ballgame and in a start to Joe Girardi's career as Yankee manager. I wrote the experience up for Baseball Prospectus (subscriber article); here's the requisite taste:

The big story of the night was the historic final Opening Day of the House That Ruth Built, one of a litany of lasts that will run at least through September 21 against the Orioles (the Yankees' final scheduled regular season home game) and perhaps be stretched even farther should the Bronx Bombers manage to make it to the playoffs for the 14th straight year. We can look forward to these "historic" markers growing increasingly absurd as the year wears on, with broadcasters encouraging fans to catch the historic final midweek series against the Rays in July, and in August alerting us to Carl Pavano's historic final trip to the Yankee Stadium Trainers' Room. (I can almost hear Suzyn Waldman reverently running down the historic implications of the latter event: "Should Pavano somehow stay with the Yankees next year, and need a cortisone shot, or a rub down, or a precautionary X-Ray, it will be at the new Yankee Stadium.")

Of course, there will be an audience for all the sentimentality that's being unleashed with the Stadium's send-off. In a sport that conscientiously markets itself on its past and its traditions, the Yankees trade most effectively in nostalgia. Possibly the greatest achievement of the Yankees' nostalgia machine is the perceived continuity between the building that Colonel Ruppert built in 1923 to house Babe Ruth's bat and the current Yankee Stadium. The 1976 "renovation" was more of a gut-and-rebuild job than a simple sprucing up of the structure. Just about every significant detail of the building--its dimensions, the playing field, the seats, the scoreboard--was altered, resulting in an arena that doesn't fit in with the great classic ballparks like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, but doesn't quite have the plastic uniformity of the cookie-cutter parks of the '60s and '70s, either. Although many still admire its timeless look, Yankee Stadium II (as we sometimes like to call the post-1976 structure) shares little with the original other than its address.

Across the street, the new new Yankee Stadium looks a bit like the Death Star, circa Return of the Jedi, enough so that I half-expect it to sprout a laser cannon and vaporize the present stadium sometime after the last pitch of the 2008 season is thrown. Its still-under-construction exterior shell self-consciously recalls the original structure, but the ballpark within will be thoroughly modern and built from scratch-there's no longer any plausible deniability that this isn't a break with history. Talking to fans around the ballpark, the recurring theme was anxiety about the new ballpark. Will they be able to afford tickets? Will they be near the other regular ticket plan holders in their section? Will the new Stadium be the same kind of place the old one was?

I know some of the rest of you had to be there...after all, the place was packed. How do you feel about the the last Opening Day at the old ballpark?