December 27, 2006

96 Baseball Players Are Freaking the Hell Out Right Now

Brace yourselves, people:

The names and urine samples of about 100 Major League Baseball players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs three years ago can be used by government investigators in their probe of steroids in sports, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

These are samples from 2003, when baseball implemented "anonymous" testing (yeah, apparently they were just kidding about that part) to investigate the depths of the steroid problem; when 96 tests came back positive, they implemented stricter testing in '04. The numbers were well below the "50%" estimate of Jose Canseco, but they're hardly insignificant -- and keep in mind these tests were 1) announced months in advance, and 2) don't catch HGH.

Anyway, if these names are leaked, and at this point I can only assume they will be, it looks like we're all in for another bracing round of disillusionment. The information ought to help efforts to evaluate the true impact of steroids on the game, but I do worry that this whole thing is beginning to take on the air of a witch hunt.

Yeah... That Headline Is Unfortunate Now

So I have a piece in the Voice this week on the Rangers... when I filed it, last Thursday morning, they had just lost three games in a row after a five game winning streak; I took a relatively positive tack about how the team has regained respectability in the last two years.

Now, of course, they've lost SIX straight and are in full-on panic mode. Oops.

Still, I'm standing by it -- they're only three points out of first, and they still have a solid shot at making the playoffs, if not going very far. I mean... you know... assuming they ever win another game.

Okay, apologies to the 98% of you who don't care about hockey. Nate Silver over at Baseball Prospectus thinks the Yankees might want to hang on to Randy Johnson. Now, when the BP guys talk I listen, because they're smarter than me; but in this case I just can't see it. Whether or not a trade would mean that Barry Zito comes into play, I don't know; I say they should use any prospects they get back to make a play for Dontrelle Willis who, despite his recent troubles with the law, is an awesome pitcher with an outsize personality who would absolutely own New York. Plus, if he lived here... he could just take a cab home.

December 26, 2006

There Is A Santa Clause

According to various reports, the Yankees are talking to the Diamondbacks about trading Randy Johnson. This would be, if Brian Cashman can pull it of, a flat-out brilliant move. Johnson hasn't been terrible, just thoroughly mediocre; with all due respect to his remarkable Hall of Fame career, he's now 43 and coming off back surgery. And yeah, he had 17 wins last year, but that's a hugely misleading stat when you consider that Johnson LED THE MAJORS in run support, with 7.51. Even Sidney Ponson could have won his share with that kind of support. Johnson's not exactly spreading sunshine around the clubhouse, either. Some of the New York Giants beat writers have taken to calling Michael Strahan The Big Grumpy... man, I wish I'd thought of that phrase myself.

If the Yankees can get back just a few decent pitching prospects, this is the move of the year -- even if you have to kind of suspect that Johnson will come back to win the Cy Young out of spite.

Oh, and -- Happy Holidays, people.

(EDITED TO ADD: the Padres, Dodgers, and Angels are also said to be interested. I... don't understand. Does $16 million just not seem like much with the current salary explosion? Heck, as much as I mock him, I'd take Gil Meche and his $11 million over Johnson next year; he'll never be as good as Johnson can be, of course, but also his spine far less likely to burst into flames and explode on the mound.)

December 17, 2006

Please Don't Take My Melky Away

You know, looking at the issue rationally, I can see why the Yankees might want to trade Melky Cabrera. He's shaping up to be a very good all-around player, but it's hard to argue he should get playing time over Abreu, Damon, or Matsui, all of whom are superior hitters, and he's better than you need your fourth outfielder to be. His value is high after a surprising and exciting rookie year, and the Yankees need pitching, not offense.

That said, much of what I enjoy about baseball is not particularly rational. Watching Melky Cabrera emerge as a real major leaguer, getting better almost every game, was probably the single most enjoyable thing about last season. He made one spectacular catch and many very good ones, found his home run stroke, and played a major role in keeping the team afloat when two of their superstars went down (not to denigrate Terrence Long's many contributions, of course). So yeah, Mike Gonzalez could be useful. But come on. Can't they let me enjoy one lousy feel-good story?

Plus, if they do this, Robinson Cano is going cry. Seriously. Just don't.

[UPDATE: I have re-channeled my Knicks rant into a (hopefully) more coherent piece on the Voice website. Incidentally, I can't believe they just beat Utah in a great game. Never a dull moment, is there?]

December 14, 2006

Dare You To Say His Name Five Times in Front of a Mirror

According to Newsday, the Yankees are looking into Doug Mientkiewicz as part of a platoon (with Andy Phillips or maybe Josh Phelps) at first base. Several things about this: first, you know you've been paying too much attention to baseball when you can spell Mientkiewicz correctly on the first try. Second, the headline to this story provokes disturbing mental images: "Mientkiewicz's Leather Goods" sounds like the East Village's most terrifying sex shop.

Moving quickly on, I like this idea because Doug M., while not much of a hitter, plays very solid defense -- at least that's my recollection from watching him with the Sox several years ago. He's been injured a bunch the last few years, so it's hard to evaluate his numbers, and he is a risk. But if they can get him relatively cheap (whatever that means in this market) I think it makes sense. With the Yankees' lineup, they can afford to carry some glove guys; and Giambi, though to his credit he always wants to play the field, should probably be saved from himself.

Stay Classy, Greater Tampa Bay-St. Petersberg Area

The Devil Rays, now officially reeking of desperation, will play a series with the Texas Rangers next summer at Disney World. According to the article,

"We hope these games whet the appetite of fans from Central Florida and they'll take us up on our offer to come sample Rays baseball and our fan experience at Tropicana Field," Devil Rays president Matt Silverman said.

Hey, Matt, you know what might make fans take you up on your "offer to come sample Rays baseball"? WINNING MORE THAN 61 GAMES. Also, perhaps investing something beyond pocket change into your team, thereby attracting a pitcher more impressive than the mighty Casey Fossum, would be of some help. Given the team's status as a perpetual punchline, I'm amazed they even managed to draw 16,000 fans a game.

Last year at this time they were wondering if changing the name of the Devil Rays to something a little less Satanic might help attendance. For fuck's sake, it's been 10 years and the team has never even sniffed a winning record; get your heads out of your collective asses before your team is mercifully contracted.

Thank you.

P.S. FieldTurf sucks.

December 13, 2006

Much Ado Etc.

The Red Sox, Matsuzaka and Boras (does anyone else keep typing "Borat" by accident, or is that just me?) seem to have come to terms after all. Man... I knew I shouldn't have bought into the negotiating hype, and I held out for weeks, but last night I finally caved; I'm ashamed of myself. I will take revenge the only way I know how by refusing to ever, as long as I live, refer to Matsuzaka as "D-Mat," no matter how much Scott Boras wants me to.

If SI's Jon Heyman is right, it's in the neighborhood of $52 million for six years. We are now living in a world where my first thought when looking at those numbers is, "oh, that's reasonable."

Meanwhile, in thrilling Yankee news, the team didn't tender Aaron Guiel a contract by the non-tender deadline... I know it's hard, but try to contain your passionate feelings on the subject. Brian Cashman's been awfully quiet recently, hasn't he? Is this the part where we suddenly look around and go, "hey, why have all the birds stopped singing?" and then gasp in shock as they trade A-Rod, or something?

Alternately, perhaps Cashman's just been laughing too hard over Gil Meche's $55 million five year deal to use the telephone coherently.

December 11, 2006

Nick Greeen: NOT a Scott Boras Client

It may be good news for the Yankees, but I still don't like what appears to be the looming bungling of the Matsuzaka signing -- I can't stand Scott Boras, even when it's the Sox he's trying to screw over. Of course being unscrupulous, creepy, and manipulative is par for the course for an agent*, but he takes it to new levels, and often, I think, it's not even in his clients' best interests. Matsuzaka wants to pitch here, the Seibu Lions want him to pitch here, and the Red Sox are willing to pay him a lot of money to pitch here. I want to see that gyroball of his in HDTV at my neighborhood sports bar; and then I want Hideki Matsui to knock it out of Fenway. Why does this have to be so difficult?

As usual, Buster Olney has an insightful take on the Boras situation; I wholeheartedly agree. Ken Rosenthal at Fox says the deal will get done, but Peter Gammons does not seem so sure.

Meanwhile, Jack Curry's article in the Times yesterday focused on erstwhile Yankee back-up 3B Nick Green, who showed up at the Winter Meetings looking for work -- and on the same day as Barry Bonds, no less. Hey, say what you want about Green's offensive prowess, but there's absolutely no way the dude is on steroids; in fact the article almost makes you wish he would start juicing. First, his own agent is spouting the baseball version of "Attractive? Well, she's got a great personality":
“The one thing we wanted to get across is that Nick is obviously a very strong character guy,” O’Connell said. “Obviously, talent is No. 1 when teams are making decisions. But makeup is important, too, and that’s something we wanted to show teams about Nick.”

...“I’m not begging for a job,” Green said. “I didn’t want to seen as a guy just begging for a job.”
To add insult to injury, Green then went out to a nightclub with our old pal Jim Leyritz, where he was turned away for wearing sneakers. No, really. Will somebody please for the love of God hire this guy? I know he can't hit, but he can field, he comes cheap, and this is excruciating.

Finally, non-baseball-related thoughts on MSG's 50 Greatest Moments show, which between the Knicks and the Rangers I've seen altogether too many promos for: first, Matthew Modine's new mustache makes him look like a child molester; and second, if I hear that Tyrone Wells Dream Like New York song one more fucking time, I'm either going to embark on a brutal murderous rampage or download it from iTunes. I honestly don't know which.

*Full disclosure: I used to work at a talent agency and, yes, I'm still bitter.

Update: Soxaholix quite rightly points out that while everyone assumes Boras is responsible for masterminding this mess, there's no particular reason to assume Matsuzaka himself isn't behind him every step of the way.

Like Shooting Mysteriously Injured Fish in a Barrell

Per Newsday,

"The Cardinals have asked to view Carl Pavano's expansive medical records, according to a report in yesterday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch".

Why do you think the Cardinals requested those records?

  • A) A good laugh.
  • B) Cost-effective paperweight.
  • C) Walt Jocketty lost a drunken bet at the winter meetings.
  • D) They made Jeff Weaver into a World Series star, and it went right to their heads.
  • E) They made Jeff Weaver into a World Series star, and now they plan to use that same secret DNA-altering alien laser technology on Pavano as well.
Okay, okay. I can already see this is going to be a problem, so I promise to limit the number of Pavano jokes to no more than one a week in the future. In the meantime, however... vote now!

December 10, 2006

The South Bronx Never Looked So Good

No wonder Andy Pettitte fled Houston: he was afraid outfielder Luke Scott was going to blow his brains out.

Choice quotes from the ESPN article on athletes and their little friends (hat tip to Can’t Stop the Bleeding, which got to these first):

"An athlete gets paid a lot of money," he said. "And someone who is after that, a thief, a mugger or someone who steals from people, they are taking a chance with the law that if they get caught, they are going to jail or face some other problem."

With a broad smile, he added, "In my case, you are going to get shot."

"Last year, we had a lot of people come in from New Orleans to Houston shortly after Hurrican Katrina. There were a lot of people walking the streets. I knew my surroundings. I wasn't in that good of a part of town and it was 1 o'clock in the morning," Scott said. "I was by myself and no one was around. I just took my gun and put it right there."

Scott lifted his shirt to reveal his handgun tucked down the front of his pants, the handle slightly visible.

"I saw this guy about 30 feet away. I'm just watching him, minding my own business and, as he approached me, I said, 'Can I help you with something?' Just like that."

Reenacting the incident, Scott demonstrated how he lifted his shirt to reveal his Glock.

Okay then! When the Astros visit the Mets this season, I'm staying indoors.

December 07, 2006

Let the Acid Flashbacks Commence

The Mets have chosen HoJo over Rickey Henderson as their new first base coach, selfishly prioritizing actual coaching ability over entertainment value. Bastards.

However, I'm much consoled by the news that Andy Pettitte is coming back to the Yankees. !!!. I'm going to try and be rational about this -- he's older, he's had persistent elbow troubles -- but, basically, WHOOOOHOOOOOOO! It may not be logical to expect Pettite to lead the Yanks back to playoff respectability, but I can't help it. I always liked him, and was sorry to see him go; god knows he's preferable to Ted Lily, as we all found out the hard way. And don't get me started about Gil Meche. In any case, it's only a one year deal (with a player option for the second), so the Yankees are unlikely to rue the decision for too long. Refreshing, isn't it?

The downside of this, of course, is that we can all expect to spend much of the season wallowing in memories. At some point, the team is going to have to find a new identity for itself, with the vast majority of those late-90s teams already gone. But... maybe not just this instant. Anyone for Game 5 of the 1996 World Series on Yankee Classics?

December 05, 2006

The Best News I've Heard All Week

From a note at the bottom of a NY Post article:

Minaya confirmed Rickey Henderson could be a candidate for the Mets' first base coaching job.

If there is a God, this will happen.

December 01, 2006

You, Sir, Are No Kenesaw Mountain Landis

First, for those of you who are interested in basketball, I have an article on the Knicks in this week's Village Voice.

In baseball news... Bud Selig is retiring! Well, okay, not for three more years. But still! Guess we'll all have plenty of time to summarize his Reign of Blandness in the years to come; I find myself oddly reluctant to give him credit for things, even when he deserves it, as with the Wild Card and revenue sharing. More on this later... perhaps in 2008. God, I get bored just thinking about writing about him.

Better news: Tom Glavine's returning to the Mets. I was surprised when he didn't re-sign right away, but he was tempted by the Braves because he lives in Atlanta and wanted to spend more time with his family. Which is all very admirable, but... man, we're talking about a team that can't sell out their ballpark during the playoffs. Blech. (Okay, I've never liked the Braves. It's not especially rational: they made some arrogant remarks before the '96 series, and then there was John Rocker. That's not really enough reason to dislike an entire team for a decade, but what can I say; I just don't like the look of them. Plus the Tomahawk Chop creeps me the fuck out).

Bernie Williams may or may not be back this year (again). It's a strange situation with Bernie -- in 2005 everyone thought he was done; the fans applauded his every at-bat and chanted his name. But... then he came back. And he had a very solid year under the circumstances, especially if you try very hard not to think about his fielding. He got an ovation and a hit during the last game of the regular season, which he also managed; that was nice, but still, it didn't feel final, and he didn't get to play at all during the fiasco against the Tigers. I want closure, and I always love watching Williams play (again, we're going to pretend there's no fielding involved here), but at the same time, saying goodbye to a player for three full years is just exhausting.

I just heard someone on SportsCenter speculate that a Manny Ramirez trade might eventually result in Barry Bonds coming to Boston. Whaaa? I assume they were just talking out of their ass (sadly I was in the kitchen and didn't see who it was), because that would be a disaster of epic proportions. Barry Bonds + the Boston media = felony assault charges. I am therefore all for it, but I would be way beyond stunned if it happened.

The Yankees announced they're raising their ticket prices next year. Also, the sun will rise tomorrow morning in the East.

November 29, 2006

ONLY $26 Million?! Pshaw.

As first reported by the seemingly infallible Buster Olney, the Yankees have won the rights to negotiate with this year’s other posted Japanese pitcher, Kei Igawa, with $26,000,194 bid. (194 is the number of strikeouts Igawa recorded this year, which is… kind of oddly whimsical for a major financial negotiation, huh?). Regardless, the Yanks have the Red Sox to thank for making $26 million suddenly seem like a totally reasonable amount of money to pay for NEGOTIATING RIGHTS. I know very little about Igawa; the consensus online seems to be that he’s certainly worth a shot, but not someone you'd count on to save the rotation. Still, given the choice between Igawa, Ted Lily or Gil Mesh, I’d take a flyer on the Hanshin Tigers ace. Cliff Corcoran at Bronx Banter has a good in-depth look at Igawa; he compares his career numbers to Matsuzaka’s and finds that they’re really not all that different. Hmmm. Also, Yanksfan vs Soxfan has vital YouTube footage of Igawa... trying to fly a toy helicopter? Sweet. I'm sold.

It’s been discussed too much already, so I'll keep this quick: the AL MVP was not a logical choice. I probably would have gone with Mauer or Santana, though there's a very strong case to be made for Jeter too. Oh well -- I'm sure he'll struggle on somehow.

Speaking of divisive awards voting, the Hall of Fame ballots are out, and there are some tough calls this year, Mark McGwire being the most obvious. I think I’d probably vote for him, though not without reservations. Remember that when he played, MLB had no rule against steroids – which is a gaping, gaping oversight, but there you are. Besides which, I think you have to take into account more than just numbers with the HOF – a player’s impact on the culture of the game (though many would probably disagree with me here) is also an issue. McGwire was absolutely the face of baseball in the 90s. I mean, he broke Roger Maris' record; it doesn’t seem like such a good thing now, but he did, and it was amazing, and proving exactly how much of that was due to steroids and how much wasn't is currently impossible. That's also why I’d consider Don Mattingly -- he doesn’t have the numbers (stupid back problems!), but because of his impact, totally dominating New York baseball in the 80s, you have to at least think about it... though after you thought about it, you probably couldn’t vote for him. Okay, fine. I'd really, really want to though.

Meanwhile, I absolutely cannot understand why the Mets are letting Chad Bradford sign with the Orioles. That guy kicks all kinds of ass. I just assumed he was going to re-sign with the Mets; if he was really available, the Yankees should have been all over him. $10 million for three years is very reasonable for a 32-year-old reliever this good -- or it is in the current insane marketplace, anyway.

And by the way, WasWatching has this handy chart detailing Manny Ramirez’s performance against the Yankees since his arrival in Boston. Please... please... please trade him. Please? Seriously, is Manny dismembering prostitutes in the locker room, or what? Why are they even considering this? We just must not know the full story.

November 20, 2006

UPDATE: Apparently the Earth Has Been Moving Around the Sun This Entire Time

Felt the need to update yesterday’s post because… holy fuck, Soriano is thirty?!? Already?!? But wasn’t his rookie year just… oh… wait, I guess it was seven years ago. Damn, that makes me feel old. This is like when you realize your friends’ younger siblings, who you still think of as gawky teens, are all over 21 now.

Anyway, this would seem to make Soriano’s lengthy contract look a bit less solid than I thought yesterday. Just thought I should add that, because in my head Sori is perpetually 24, but in life, not so much.

Also, an alert hockey fan emails to point out that what I saw on MSG the other day was NOT Jaromir Jagr getting his teeth knocked out… it was his FAKE teeth that were knocked out. His real ones, of course, having been knocked out years before. Again: Ah, hockey.

Who's the Evil What Now?

Okay, let’s catch up…

-After their $51.1 million (!) bid on Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Red Sox don’t get to yell about the Yankees’ spending anymore, which is nice. On the other hand, if this guy is as good as he’s supposed to be, they won’t even want to. I hope Baseball Prospectus is wrong for once.

-Hey… Barry! Man, you’re looking just great! What is it -- have you been working out? Did you change your hair? Get over here, you!

-Mussina’s reasonable two-year deal should be announced next week. Good. Two years and $22.5 million might sound like a lot, but then you realize that Carl Pavano made $20 million over the last two years, as I’m sure Moose’s agent pointed out. Thanks again, Carl!

-Alfonso Soriano is signing with the Cubs. He's obviously a teriffic hitter, but unless they get some pitching, I’m not sure they’re really “instant contenders”; then again, if Peter Gammons is saying it, there's a very good chance it's true. Anyway, this should finally put an end to all those Rodriguez-to-the-Cubs rumors.

-“Citifield”… oh, dear. Chalk one up for the Yanks in the PR battle for the hearts and minds of New Yorkers. Mets fans seem to be taking the wise perspective that the extra $20 million (!) a year this brings can buy them some serious talent, and this is true, but still… it’s the principle of the thing. Of course, whether the Yankes will stay strong or not on their new Stadium remains to be seen.

-The Mets are on the verge of signing Moises Alou. This is a low-risk one-year deal, but the guy is 40; with Glavine, if he comes back, also 40, Jose Valentin (37), Julio Franco (48 years young) and El Duque (god only knows; recently signed for two more years), they’re getting a little on the Centrum Silver side. Still, I suppose they have enough youngsters – Wright, Reyes, Chavez, Maine, et al – to balance it out. This is probably it for Cliff Floyd with the Mets, which is too bad: when he was healthy, which granted wasn't often enough, he was very good, and he seems like an awfully nice guy. Not to mention a great quote.

-I’ve been paying more attention to hockey recently, and I happened to flip over to MSG the other day just in time to see Jaromir Jagr’s teeth get knocked out. Yeaargh! This didn’t even make headlines, by the way, and he only left the game for a few minutes. Ah, hockey. Good times!

November 13, 2006

"Humbert-Oh! Humbert-Oh!," For Example

Adios, Sheff. I already miss the dysfunction. Sheffield is 38 and coming off a rough wrist injury, but does anybody doubt he'll hit the crap out of the ball for Detroit next year? Still, there's nothing wrong with an outfield involving Damon/Matsui/Abreu/Melky, and the Yankees need young pitching more than anything. If just one of the three prospects they traded for ends up as a solid #2 or even #3 starting pitcher, this will have been another shrewd Cashman trade. Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett: good baseball names all. If Sanchez makes it, do we get to see the Post making Lolita puns on the back page? I can dream.

And I was about to post the following graph when I saw the news about Jaret Wright:

“And now, apparently, the Yanks are about to wash their hands of Jaret Wright. I’m torn about this: he was disappointing and often incredibly frustrating to watch, but he had these flashes of talent and grit that made me think he could be worth holding onto. And getting traded to a division rival is sort of insulting – not to mention possibly unwise, since Baltimore, though fairly miserable last year, has a ton of promising young pitchers and a solid offense. Depends on who they get for him, of course.”

The answer? Chris Britton, a young right-handed reliever with good but unspectacular stats last season, who looks… how to put this… like the love child of Sir Sidney Ponson and... oh, I don't know. He's portly, okay? But he was fairly effective last year, so I’ll reserve judgment. I know the Yanks made the deal because they would have had to buy out Wright’s $7 million contract for $4 million anyway just to release him, but poor Jaret Wright: he got traded to a division rival for a reliever. Ouch. Great deal for the Orioles, though.

Still no news on Matsuzaka, but rumors are flying – the Seibu Lions are taking their time announcing the winning bidder. Supposedly the Red Sox may have won out with a massive bid of around $38 million (again – that’s just to negotiate), but it's not confirmed. I wouldn't have been terribly worried about this yesterday, but today I saw that Baseball Prospectus attempted to translate his numbers from Japan, and concluded that he could produce stats in America similar to Roger Clemens, of all people. Oh, and also comparable? Roy Halladay, Brandon Webb, Chris Carpenter, Jason Schmidt, Josh Beckett, Pedro Martinez, Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson. Umm.... AIIIIIIEEEEEEE!

Finally, good luck to Bubba Crosby, who has signed with the Reds. He’s like David Eckstein... except he's a little taller... and can't hit. But, you know, otherwise. I'll always remember him for the great walk-off homer he hit against the Orioles down the stretch in 2005 -- you could see him struggling between sheer joy and utter disbelief all the way around the bases.

Oh -- and the Mets might name their new stadium “CitiField”?! Ugh! Don't do it, Wilpons. William Alfred Shea is turning in his grave.

November 09, 2006

Bronson Arroyo Prepares For Inevitable 2016 Post-Retirement Reality Show

The Yankees bid an enormous amount of money today (up to $20 million per Bob Klapisch), simply for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka. Good lord. I don’t like this posting process at all; the expectations are going to be so enormous that there's going to be a massive letdown if he isn't Cy Young good, and quickly. Based on his career numbers, that might be a safe assumption -- if it were easy to predict how Japanese stats transition to the Major Leagues. But talk to Kaz Matsui about that. Baseball is unpredictable enough under more controlled circumstances, as the Yankees' last five or six years of pitching acquisitions demonstrate nicely. Aaron Small? 10-0. Carl Pavano? Insert joke here.

On a tangentially related note, in a story that achieved surprisingly little media attention, the Major League All-Stars swept Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball in five games. The US roster included David Wright and Jose Reyes, Ryan Howard, John Maine, Mike Myers, Joe Nathan, Bronson Arroyo, Scott Shields, Chase Utley, Lyle Overbay, Joe Mauer and Jermaine Dye. I actually would have like to watch those games (though not quite enough to buy MLB.TV’s off-season package), but I realize I’m probably in a minority there.

They only have a few short clips online for free–-but, for the brave of heart, Bronson Arroyo has a video diary of the event on Who the hell thought this was going to be a good idea? He charmingly refers to the “midget beds” in the hotel room and staggers through a truly painful rendition of “Wonderwall” on Japan MTV. Less masochistic fans might just enjoy the pictures of Reyes looking like he just got a new puppy for Christmas (following his game 5 walk-off homer), a nice little pick-me-up for the dark winter days ahead. Also, the team got 140,000,000 Yen in prize money for their win. I could easily find out what this comes out to in U.S. dollars, but I kind of enjoy not knowing whether it's $93.00 or half a billion.

Gary Sheffield… oh, you know, the usual.

And I’m late on this, but the Mets’ Guillermo Mota tested positive for steroids last week. Credit Mota for apologizing straight-up and not trying to pass it off on some teammate’s mystery pills or a faulty test, but it’s a sad day when you find yourself admiring players for admitting to their steroid use. Sluggers get all the attention, but second-tier players and middle relievers were using too, and still are; we'll probably never know what the impact of all this has been. And so I am going to continue to try to think about it as little as possible.

And in other dismaying news, the A's are moving to Fremont. Where? Exactly. It’s hard to believe such a successful and entertaining team can’t find enough fans. My longtime fantasy is for a team to move to Brooklyn... which I realize will never, ever happen, but come on: Fremont? Why, what was wrong with Piscataway?

November 01, 2006

Gyroball Pitch

Well, now that we’ve all gotten over the thrills and chills of the World Series (har), it’s time for infuriatingly vague and premature trade rumors.

First of all, is Barry Bonds insane? Well, I mean, yes, obviously he is, but does he really expect anyone to pay $14 million for him next year? He’s old, he’s injury prone, he’s moody and manipulative, and he’s the poster boy for steroids, tax fraud, and girlfriend-threatening. Then again, though I can’t imagine either New York team would be interested, at least he’d serve to distract everyone from Alex Rodriguez. “Tonight on SportsCenter: A-Rod is still mired in a 1-for-19 slump –- but first, Barry Bonds has been arrested for assaulting Chris “Mad Dog” Russo with a baseball bat on live television! Coming up next.”

Anyway. I always loved watching Soriano play back when he was on the Yanks -- sure, he swung at everything in the borough, but he did it with a lot of flair -- and I think he'd do well with the Mets, but they really need pitching, not offense (despite what their last seven games of the season might lead you to believe). I’m very intrigued by Matsuzaka for the Yankees, but it’s so risky – it's very hard to accurately predict how pitching stats will translate from the Japanese league (*cough* Hideki Irabu *cough*). Still, I'd welcome anyone who threw a gyroball. I might have to change the name of this blog.

Okay, this is the last time I’m going to say this, I promise—but here’s one for the road: JEFF WEAVER?!?!

There. It's out of my system. Let us never speak of this again.

October 27, 2006

Revenge of the Flyover States, Game 4

I like watching David Eckstein play. I always have, even when he was on the Angels, a team I viscerally loath. But - and this has been bothering me for a few days now – as much as we can all agree that hustle is a good thing… very admirable in general, certainly nothing wrong with it … is it really necessary to sprint to first base on a walk? Really? We’re not talking about a grounder or a popup, a play on which there could possibly be an error by the defense, allowing a heads-up baserunner to reach safely. We’re talking about a walk. One base. Automatically. You can’t stretch a walk. I mean, there’s hustle and then there’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Meanwhile, we might as well all go home, because God is obviously rooting for the Cardinals -- they got roughly an entire season's worth of breaks all in one night in Game 4, while the Tigers stumbled, tripped, and threw balls away left and right. Literally. This game could hardly have been uglier for Tigers fans (or Yankees fans who couldn’t stop thinking “THESE schmucks shut down one of the greatest offenses of all time?”), and although it was exciting in the sense that it was decided in the late innings, this was not what you’d call good baseball. It looks like the 83-game winners are on the brink; take deep breaths and repeat the helpful mantra “small sample size, small sample size, small sample size, small sample size.”

And speaking of God and the Cardinals, Jeff Suppan appeared in a Missouri TV ad during the game last night for an anti-stem-cell group called Missourians Against Human Cloning. I don’t want to get political here – I don’t like politics in my sports -- but come on: it should be possible to oppose stem cell research on moral or religious grounds, without trying to scare dumb people into thinking allowing it would “make cloning a Constitutional right.” Besides, I think maybe they're being too hard on cloning. Who doesn’t like the idea of a pitching rotation full of Chien-Ming Wangs? I'd say the Yankees should look into this, but I suspect they already have.

October 26, 2006

The Mystique of Placido Polanco

My first instinct was to make fun of Placido Polanco for his supremely silly-looking head sock, but the more I think about it, the more I realize you just have to respect him for having the balls to wear it. He’s apparently decided that keeping his ears warm is worth risking the mockery of millions, and honestly, we should all be so secure and self-confident. Now if only he could get a hit…

So yet another game was rained out, and the Cardinals held onto their 2-1 lead in the Series. I still haven’t had much luck trying to make myself care, though at least Chris Carpenter was fun to watch. In his interview afterwards he was so excited, and talking so fast, that it sounded like the recording had been sped up. But except for Game 7 of the NLCS (Endy!), this just hasn’t been an especially memorable postseason -- there’ve been some excellent performances, of course, and some tense moments, but a lot of sloppiness too, and a lot of flat games. Or, very possibly, I'm just bitter because I don't have a team to root for. Every time Bonderman and Suppan appear on TV I start twitching.

Meanwhile, in a truly stunning development... Gary Sheffield is upset about something! He doesn't want the Yankees to exercise his $13 million option just to trade him, in which case, he says, "there's going to be a problem." I actually find Sheffield's outbursts refreshing -- most athletes are far too image-conscious to be that honest ("Y'all think you know what I'm going to do, but you don't. Nobody knows. That's the mystique of me," he said earlier this summer). But, of course, the problem with being honest while bitching about your $13 million-a-year contract is that it makes you look like a complete dick. I think Sheffield has actually done very well by the Yankees, this year's injury aside, and I hope he ends up someplace he wants to go, where they appreciate his considerable talents... but there's just not a logical place for him on next year's team. I'll miss the bat waggle, and the sight of rich corporate ticketholders frantically diving for cover when he launches a foul ball into the third base seats, but... all I want for Christmas this year is pitching. Please?

Finally, my last playoff article (sniff), about the NLCS, is out in this week's Village Voice.

October 23, 2006

Well, I Guess That's One Explanation...

I didn’t watch all of Game 1, but I’m struggling to accept the fact that the Cardinals beat up on Justin Verlander, who so completely baffled the Yankees. Then to add insult to injury we have last night's game, not a fun one for New York baseball fans. A Weaver-Rogers World Series match-up? Fabulous. Hide the sharp objects and rat poison.

Things took an intriguing twist, though, when it was revealed that Kenny Rogers had some sort of “foreign substance” on his pitching hand. Wow. You almost have to admire the chutzpah of anyone with the nerve to doctor a ball in the middle of the World Series, while surrounded by high-definition cameras and subjected to an unsurpassed level of scrutiny. It now looks as if he had this “clump of dirt” on his hand during all three series, including that game against the Yankees... yep, I'm torn between grudging admiration and uncontrollable rage.

In Rogers’ defense (you have no idea how much it pains me to type those words), he continued to pitch extremely well after washing his hands.

UPDATE: They asked La Russa about this at the televised press conference today, and his answer could not have been longer or more rambling. The upshot seems to be that La Russa knew Rogers was using pine tar but, rather than disrupt the game and mar the Series by officially making accusations, he decided to just “get it fixed and play the game.” That's pretty admirable, actually.

Strange man, La Russa. He got “personally offended” when some one asked him if he avoided causing a fuss out of respect for Leyland. “If somebody seriously accused me of that I would get very upset and confrontational,” he said, totally deadpan and emotionless.

Finally someone asked him if he thought it might have just been dirt. Loooooong pause... chuckle... "it didn't look like dirt."

Leyland declined to comment. Fucking Kenny Rogers, man. Un-fucking-believable.

October 21, 2006

Yadier Molina vs. Kenny Rogers. Kill Me.

Yikes. I still haven’t fully recovered from Game 7. That was the definition of a heartbreaker – so excruciatingly close… how do you get a catch like that from Endy Chavez and still not win? Given the situation, that has to be the best catch I’ve ever seen in my life. Even the jaded auxiliary press box crowd jumped up and applauded, and that is not a common sight. Also: Yadier Molina? Seriously? I’m not going to the World Series because of Yadier Molina? I’m going to hold a grudge on this for a long, long time.

This leaves me in a precarious position for the World Series, as the two teams playing both crushed my hopes just a few weeks apart. Obviously you have to watch, though, because after that it’s 4 months of baseball withdrawal. I’d have to say that while I don’t much care what happens, I’m rooting for the Tigers, mainly because I like Jim Leyland; not enough managers smoke in the dugout these days. I do, however, want to see the Cardinals pound the hell out of Kenny Rogers. Badly.

And yes, I realize I’m getting dangerously close to baseball bigamy here. I keep telling myself I was only rooting for the Mets because I wanted to keep covering the playoffs… but these feelings are something I’m going to have to sort out this winter, possibly in therapy. The Mets just sort of happened to me; I had a little crush and then before I knew it, things got out of hand -- soon I found myself lying to the Yankees, coming home late at night and sneaking out to Shea at lunch... Anyway, aside from the moral and ethical issues, the downside of rooting for two teams was made painfully clear to me this year when they both lost, in very different but equally painful ways. I'm in a fragile, emotionally confused state right now. The Nets had better be nice to me this year.

October 18, 2006

I Do NOT Want To See A Jeff Weaver/ Kenny Rogers Pitching Duel

So Lou Piniella is now officially managing the Cubs. I think he’s got some good qualities as a manager, but I’m not a big fan of Sweet Lou, ever since watching a clip of his ugly locker room fight with Rob Dibble back when he was manager of the Reds. Sadly, the YouTube overlords seem to have removed it, but Piniella really goes after the guy, screaming “you don’t want to be treated like a man!” Unfortunately for everyone involved here, I think the Cubs may have more serious problems than a lack of machismo.

Naturally, this has set off rumors that A-Rod will therefore be traded to the Cubs, where he could be reunited with his old Mariners manager and, apparently, surrogate father-figure (was Lou Piniella really the best father figure he could find? What, Randy Johnson wasn’t volatile and crazy enough?). I don't think this is going to happen (SI's John Heyman explains why), and from a baseball perspective it would be a big mistake. It’s hard to say at this point how much of the Rodriguez-doesn’t-fit-in stuff is a blown out of proportion media creation and how much is true, but he’s still one of the best players in the game. That gets said all the time, but I’m not sure people really hear it. Look at the guy's numbers again -- I still do a double-take. He did flop in the playoffs, no doubt, but so did most of his teammates; so did the As. The common factor there, of course, is the Tigers’ pitching. So unless the Yankees can get a truly top-of-the-line young starting pitcher in exchange – and I’m not at all convinced that Carlos Zambrano would be enough – they’re not going to come out on top here. Not having to deal with the endless soap opera that A-Rod's stay in New York has devolved into might make it almost worth a bad trade… but not quite, I think.

The Mets, meanwhile, are in some trouble – facing elimination tonight with John Maine going against Chris Carpenter. (Glavine wasn’t bad yesterday but Jeff Weaver, of all people, outpitched him. What the hell? The last few postseasons have seen a who’s-who of mediocre Yankee castoffs suddenly turn in ace performances; at this rate I expect to see Carl Pavano throw a no-hitter to outduel a stellar Ted Lilly in the 2009 Series). And if the Mets manage to win tonight, they’ll have another elimination game tomorrow in which TBD will face Jeff Suppan: Steve Trachsel’s Game 3 start was so appalling it was blocked by my V-Chip, Darren Oliver is a long reliever for a reason (last start: 2004), and Oliver Perez is enough of a gamble on full rest. I think the Mets are unquestionably a better team than the Cardinals when at full strength, and not by a small margin -- but when a team loses two of its starting pitchers less than a week before the playoffs, well, suddenly you need a lot of luck. I’m off to Shea now, rabbit’s foot in tow.

October 14, 2006

Will Somebody With Photoshop Please Put Valentin's Mustache on David Wright's Face For Me?

Well, at least the Mets-Cardinals series doesn’t look like it’s going to be boring. Both teams won the game they were supposed to win – the Mets behind Glavine, their most reliable starter by well over a mile, and the Cardinals behind Chris Carpenter, though in fact he didn’t pitch very well; the Mets bullpen had an uncharacteristic bout of mediocrity. It was a messy game, but there were a few pretty moments – Delgado’s homers, excellent at-bats from Eckstein and Pujols and Spezio, patented Reyes-brand baserunning. The Mets seemed to take the rough ending more or less in stride, though you could argue it was the first truly meaningful loss they’ve had in months. Kind of amazing, when you think about it.

They’ll now start Steve Trachsel and Oliver Perez and cross their fingers that one of them comes up big; the Cards will do the same with Suppan and Anthony Reyes. I have a good, though utterly baseless, feeling about Perez, but in any event they’ll have Glavine again for Game 5. I do realize that Jeff Weaver somehow suddenly went from five or so years of “having a lot of potential” to actually being good, but I still don’t trust it... all I know is that somehow, all of this is Kenny Rogers’ fault.

In other news, it seems as though Albert Pujols can be a bit of a jerk (with the media, anyway; doesn’t mean anything as far as his personal life goes). I’m sorry to hear it, because you want Pujols to be a larger-than-life figure, really the embodiment of hitting -- and instead he gets snippy, shoves his chair, and pouts that Tom Glavine wasn’t actually good (uh, Albert? Yes, he was). Hey, if I were one of the best players in the game and went hitless in the playoffs, and then had to talk about it with 50 strangers, I’d probably be pissy too, but still… you want more from him. This is precisely the way I thought I’d be disillusioned by professional athletes when I first went into a locker room, and I think it’s a testament to the Mets (and the Yanks, too) that it really hasn't been like that so far.

And now, I am very happy to reintroduce a favorite feature on this blog… yes, it’s

MUSTACHE WATCH 06!: Okay, it’s not technically a mustache, but somebody needs to talk to Scott Spezio about the bright red thing on his chin. I didn’t want to go here, but if we're going to be honest it can only be described as a landing strip. Scott: this is a family game, little kids are watching, and somebody is going to complain to the FCC (Hey, who wants to explain to the Parents Television Council what a landing strip is? Not it!).

As to Jose Valentin’s renowned facial hair: you just keep on keepin’ on, my friend.

Finally, I realize I never linked to my second Village Voice article. Oops.

October 11, 2006

Saracasm Postponed, Rescheduled for Friday

I found out about the plane crash on the Upper East Side right before I left for Shea (in fact, my ride had to go cover it); when I first heard that Cory Lidle was the pilot I just assumed it must be a strange false rumor. It’s incredibly random and, obviously, incredibly sad -- you don’t need me to tell you that, but it would still be weird not to say it. I didn’t know Lidle at all, of course, but I did talk to him briefly with other reporters several times in the Yankee clubhouse over the last few weeks, and he seemed like a very nice guy in those brief interactions. I was struck by how small he was – not much taller than me – and how articulate; he liked chess and there was always a board set up near his locker. There’s obviously not much to say here, and certainly nothing funny.

MLB called tonight’s game, which is probably for the best, even aside from the ghastly weather. Everyone knows everyone in baseball, especially with free agency -- Lidle played for seven different teams -- and a lot of the players seemed shaken up. Poor Mets fans, they’re just never going to get the headlines to themselves... at this rate, tomorrow there’ll probably be tornadoes or a rain of frogs or something.

BREAKING NEWS: Torre Scratches Nose, Blinks, Clings to Shreds of Dignity

It’s Championship Series time! As the Twins take on the Yankees in the ALCS, I predict… oh wait, that’s right. I’m not making playoff predictions anymore.

So, as I’m sure you’ve heard unless you’ve been asleep for the last 24 hours, in which case I’m jealous, it’s official: Joe Torre’s back with the Yankees next year. I think this is a good thing, but man, if that’s what was gonna happen we all just could have skipped the last three days of screeching speculation, huh? At the risk of sounding na├»ve, I’m a bit taken aback by the sudden vitriol unleashed on Torre. Not that there aren’t plenty of valid reasons to argue that it’s time for a new manager (to say nothing of some serious roster changes, but with contracts as they are, that'll be tough), but some of the articles that came out this week were hitting pretty low – particularly given that no one voiced any of these criticisms until it looked like he was gone. I mean, hey, no one’s a bigger fan of negativity than me, but I still found the bloodthirstiness a little disconcerting. I guess that’s just the nature of the beast.

Anyway. Mets fans are pissed that the Torre saga is stealing their playoff headlines, and they have a point. I was at Shea today for the workout day, and the Mets are in a pretty damn good mood; it's kind of infectious. I still don’t know if confidence and/or chemistry actually matter in terms of helping a team win, but if they do those guys are in good shape. Still – everyone agrees the lesson from the recent… thing that happened in Detroit… is that pitching is, indeed, everything. Right? In which case, I'd worry that the Mets may run into some trouble; not so much with St. Louis, outside of Carpenter, but in the World Series, if they get there.

Then again, everything seems to be going right for them right now – and you need some breaks, just ask the ’96 Yankees, or the ’86 Mets for that matter – so maybe they’ll find a way. No predictions though! You hear me, baseball gods? I’m just idly speculating! Nothing to see here!

October 08, 2006

Well, THAT Went Well

“They outplayed us, they outpitched us – there’s not much else you can say,” said Joe Torre after tonight’s game. I’m sure sportswriters across the country will think of something, but I guess that’s it in a nutshell.

Tomorrow’s Daily News, according to ESPN, reports that Joe Torre is going to be fired. I have to admit he didn’t make any dazzling managerial moves in this postseason, and I can see that sometimes things just need to be shaken up, but it’s still sad, if true. I’ve got some very happy memories involving that guy tearing up on the field in October. He also seems like a genuinely thoughtful, pleasant guy, willing to take time to make everyone feel comfortable -- in fact, I can’t recall hearing even one story about him really treating anyone badly, which is truly remarkable for someone whose boss is George Steinbrenner, given the way shit generally rolls downhill. In any case, it'd be the end of an era.

For those of you looking to be cheered up, I have several suggestions. First, many thanks to the commenter who called Jeremy Bonderman’s striking resemblance to Alice the Goon, from the Popeye cartoons. Good eye, my friend - that's the nose right there. Second, courtesy of Bronx Banterer Alex Belth, check out this sound clip of Earl Weaver, legendary manager of the Baltimore Orioles in the 70s and 80s, on the “Manager’s Corner” radio show. Weaver was known for his strategizing, growing tomato plants in the outfield, and being… you know… “colorful”. Not to be missed. As a bonus, here’s Tommy Lasorda on throwing at hitters.

The Mets swept the Dodgers today, which is great for me because I get to go to home NLCS games, but it's also nice because they're just such a fun team. I know rooting for the Mets goes very much against the grain for Yankee fans, and may be downright impossible, but hey – go ahead and watch them play in the next round, and if you find that you aren’t exactly hoping for them to lose, I promise I won’t tell anyone... though you might not want to do it in public, because we're about to take a whole lot of crap from Mets fans. If any of them give you a hard time, I recommend bringing this up.

October 07, 2006

So He CAN Pitch In The Postseason... He Just Hates New York

Damn. Kenny Rogers? Kenny Rogers?!?! Okay… I’m really, REALLY not making any more predictions.

No one, including the fans, seemed too concerned after yesterday’s loss, but today’s seems like an absolute disaster – that’s a five-game series for you. Gotta give Rogers credit, he pitched a genuinely great game, and his curveball looked like it was defying several laws of physics; but it’s still surprising that the Yankees couldn’t scrape up even one run. They weren’t their usual patient selves, swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, and there was a marked absence of small ball – no stolen bases, no fly balls to advance the runner, just one good (but failed) attempt by Abreu to bunt his way on. With their big sluggers back, they’re looking like a better version of last year’s team; extremely powerful, but inflexible. Which is not to suggest that Terrence Long should be on the playoff roster or anything, but... maybe it's time for some Melky?

Jaret Wright goes up against Jeremy Bonderman in the elimination game tomorrow. The Yankees still have a very decent chance of getting to Game 5, but I'd feel a lot more comfortable with Chien-Ming Wang going on three days’ rest. That’s never been Joe Torre’s style though -- Wang didn’t even fly to the Detroit with the team -- and in his post-game conference, he said he wouldn’t want to “mess with [Wang's] future.” Fair enough, and Torre obviously knows a lot more than I do about the dangers going tomorrow would pose to Wang’s long-term health, but still, if Jaret Wright has one of his patented meltdowns, it’s going to be hard not to wonder what might have been.

After the game, Rogers talked about his stint in New York: “For my time being there, I don't understand New York as much as some other people, but I would think that they would appreciate the effort that people give. Not always the results that you want,” he said. Um… nice thought, Kenny, but no. I have an ex-boss who’ll be happy to enlighten you on that score. But hey, remember that time last year you assaulted a cameraman for no reason? Good effort!

Okay, so I'm a little bitter. But hopefully a couple of beers and a little sleep will allow me to forgive Kenny Rogers. And focus on the important things, like like trying to figure out which cartoon character it is that Jeremy Bonderman reminds me of.

Any ideas?

October 05, 2006

When I Have A "Police Escort" It Usually Means I'm Being Arrested

So I just got home around midnight from the rain delay in the Bronx. I was pissed that I rushed up there from Shea for no reason, but that’s nothing compared to many of the other sportswriters, who had to reschedule their flights and hotels at the last minute, not to mention submit stories on deadline with no game to write about. When I got off the subway it was a near monsoon, so I guess they made the right decision, though I can introduce you to about 50,000 drunk, pissed off ticket holders who might disagree.

It was a fun game at Shea today, though. I’ve never seen anything like that double play at the plate in the second inning. About four older writers sitting near me immediately exclaimed, “just like that ’85 game when Carlton Fisk tagged Bobby Meacham and Dale Berra!”; I of course thought of Major League. And I had absolutely no idea how the fuck to score that thing (9-4-2 double play, if you’re curious). The best part was that Lo Duca had no idea the second runner was coming home -- and seriously, why was he? -- until John Maine, backing up behind the plate, yelled and pointed, which means J.D. Drew very nearly stole home… sort of. I think. Regarless, it was awesome.

Meanwhile, is it just me, is or has Vernon Wells been very good so far on Baseball Tonight? The guy is smooth. It pains me to say this, but there’s no getting around it: Tino Martinez, despite having many excellent qualities as a player and teammate, did not excel in this role. Oh hey, and speaking of not excelling, I saw Steve Phillips, everyone's favorite Baseball Tonight analyst, at Shea today; he sort of popped out from behind a corner and scared the hell out of me. I find it a little surprising that they have him broadcasting Mets games, given his history there - you have to hope he interviews Omar Minaya at some point. That won't be awkward at all.

In other Signature ESPN Personality news, Joe Morgan got a police escort from Shea to Yankee Stadium to make sure he got to the game on time. Think about that next time you read about crime in the South Bronx. Tomorrow I’ll be back at the Stadium in the morning, then head back to Shea for the night game; I kind of want to go to Staten Island at some point just so I can say I’ve hit all five boroughs in the same day, but I suppose there won’t be time.

October 04, 2006

No Matter How Hard You Try, You Just Can't Make A Decent Pun On The Name "Jeter"

First of all, I've got an article about the Yankees and Mets in this week's Village Voice; check it out if you're either interested or bored at work. I spent much of the last two weeks at Shea and Yankee Stadium, which explains the less-frequent-than-usual posting, though things should get less crazy this weekend when both teams go on the road. Tomorrow I'm going to both Division Series games, which should be both totally awesome and completely exhausting.

The Yankees did pretty much exactly what they were supposed to do tonight, and Derek Jeter was, of course, 5 for 5 with a home run. So the guy's not a fascinating quote... but what the hell, he's certainly not boring on the field. Even if I never have any kids, I'll still be telling other people's grandchildren about watching him play. Tomorrow, Mike Mussina takes on Justin Verlander in a game made even more important by the fact that Randy Johnson and his disintegrating spine are pitching Game 3. Though, granted, they'll be pitching against Kenny Rogers, who in previous postseason starts on a New York stage has... what's the opposite of "shined"? "Sucked away all available light like a gaping black hole"? The Mets, meanwhile, will be starting... somebody. Yes, a member of their pitching staff will definitely take the mound tomorrow. Hey, if they win, and they still very well might, it'll be a great story.

I'll have much more on all of this soon, but now, it's 3 AM and I have to be in beautiful Flushing around noon tomorrow. Good night and good luck.

October 03, 2006

God Still Hates the Mets (Isn't There Something in the Bible About Calves?)

My ability to destroy everything I touch (or in this case, just mention) persists, as Willie Randolph announced earlier today that El Duque is down for an unclear amount of time with a calf injury -- last I heard, it might just be a cramp, but it might be something more serious; they took him for an MRI. The Mets are getting more underdog-ish by the day, but hey, they probably feel more comfortable in that role anyway. I really hope this isn't the beginning of some kind of Curse of the Eephus. Though if it is, maybe I can get a book deal out of it.

And illustrating precisely why one in general, and I in particular, really shouldn't try to predict playoffs, ever, no matter how tempted you may be, the A's beat Johan "demigod" Santana in the Metrodome this afternoon, though he pitched very well. Huh.

I'm at Yankee Stadium for the game tonight, and it looks like it's going to be fun. Asked yesterday why he thought he'd been picked for game 1, Chien-Ming Wang said, in one of the longest sentences I've heard him utter thus far, "keep pitching good games." I like that guy's style.

October 02, 2006

"Hey Coney, Why Don't YOU Have A Dance?"

First of all, Orlando Hernandez threw an eephus pitch in Friday night’s Mets game, to the Braves’ large pinch hitter Daryle Ward. Result: biiiiiiig swing and a total miss, causing much amusement and reminiscing among the Mets announcers and making El Duque the official mascot of this website. Man, I hope he pulls that out in the playoffs.

The Twins pulled off an absolutely insane comeback to win the AL Central over the Tigers today, which is great news not only for anyone who loves a great sports story, but for the Yankees. Twins fans are going to be talking about this year until they’re drooling into their nursing home pillows, and a lot longer than that if you happen to believe in an afterlife. First of all, awesome, and second, I told you -- not about the Twins, though I was pulling for them, but about how you just can’t be too impressed by a team whose putative ace is Kenny Rogers. The Detroit GM could have asked any New Yorker over the age of, say, 17 about this, and saved himself a lot of trouble and money. And I know there’s no better way to make yourself look like an idiot than to try and predict a short playoff series… so I’m not going to start now, I guess… but, honestly, I will be flat-out stunned if the Tigers beat the Yankees. Anything can happen, sure, of course, but you’ll have to scrape my jaw off the floor with a spatula.

Beyond that, I have no clue, but I’ve got to say, The Twins are trailing acres of magic pixie dust right now. Brad Radke is a lunatic, but in a really impressive way: he pitched most of the year with a torn labrum (all you need to know is it’s in the shoulder, and it sounds painful) because he planned to retire at the end of the season; now he’s also pitching, and pitching pretty well, with a still-healing fractured shoulder. Meanwhile, Johan Santana hasn’t lost a game at home this year… at all. Which is one of those stats that normally would sound a lot more significant than it actually is, what with wins not being a very accurate means of evaluating a pitcher -- but in this case, he's just that good.

In the NL, I once again find myself struggling to stay awake every time the Padres are on my TV screen for more than 20 seconds or so. I don’t know what it is about that team, but I’ve always been utterly unable to care about them one way or the other, or even pay attention. The 1998 World Series was fun for me, but objectively, it was fairly boring baseball, because that Padres team was vastly, cosmically, overmatched. I do retain fond memories of David Wells (because really, if you can live that lifestyle, and still have an excellent career, and pitch a perfect game, you’re kind of my hero), but beyond that… I don’t know, am I missing something? Come to think of it, in my entire life I don’t think I’ve ever even met a Padres fan. The Dodgers are certainly a more interesting team, but if there’s any justice in this world the Mets will flatten them like pancakes, Pedro be damned. And finally, after the last few weeks, it’s hard to feel that the Cardinals actually deserve to be in the playoffs at all; but they do have Albert Pujols, and if anyone can win three games more or less single-handedly you’d have to assume it’s him.

As for the Yankees’ latest, and last, meaningless regular season game, it was great to see Bernie Williams get that two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth, pinch-hit double today (not to mention manage). Not only because you had to be happy for him, but because potentially, he could do some damage in that role in the playoffs. Bernie Williams may not be Bernie Williams anymore, but he’s still Bernie Williams, if you know what I mean.

September 26, 2006

That's Just Big Papi Being Bi-- Uh, Intentionally Walked

I’ve spent much of the last week at Shea Stadium now, and I’ve just gotta say, that’s a bunch of likeable guys they’ve got over there.

Neither they nor the Yankees have played especially well since clinching, but, of course, it doesn’t matter – unless you believe that momentum is important for heading into the postseason, and idea that seems logical but which, as far as I can tell, statistical analysis doesn’t support (if it is true, meet your 2006 World Series Champions, the Minnesota Twins). Still, it’s good that the Yankees snapped out of their mini-slump tonight, with a ridiculous 20 hits, and won 16-1. It seems wrong to score 12 runs against a team, especially a young and piteous one like the Rays, and then throw Mariano Rivera at them in the seventh, doesn’t it? I know they need to get Mo tuned up for the playoffs, and Tampa killed them over the weekend, but it’s still sort of mean, like beating a smaller guy up and then inviting Mike Tyson to come over and take a shot just to study his technique.

The bad news is that Randy Johnson’s back has been giving him trouble and he’s been scratched from his next start. Uh-oh. There’s no guarantee he wouldn’t utterly implode in the playoffs anyway, of course (as he did last year, though he came through later with a stellar if futile relief outing), but as uneven as he’s been, he still inspires more confidence in a crucial playoff game than Cory Lidle or Darrell Rasner.

Besides which, I don’t think I like this Sheffield-at-first-base experiment. The playoffs are not the time to screw with your defense. According to the mad geniuses at Baseball Prospectus -- a pay site, I’m afraid -- strong defense is one of the few accurate predictors of a team’s postseason success (along with power pitching, which I’m afraid bodes ill for the Yanks, and a good closer, which... well, yeah). I’m not smart enough to check their math, unfortunately, but they make a convincing case. Andy Phillips and Craig Wilson aren’t extraordinary defenders, but they’re solid, and with Damon, Jeter, Rodriguez, Cano, Abreu, Posada, Matsui, and, assuming he’s healthy, Giambi, offense shouldn’t be the Yankees’ biggest concern. Sheffield hasn’t done a horrible job; he has the fundamental skill, he seems determined, and I don’t doubt that eventually he could become a decent first baseman, but two weeks isn’t exactly a lot of time to learn a new position. And just think about what a sick bat he’d be to have on the bench -- remember the impact Daryl Strawberry had in that role for the Yanks back in the day? -- and imagine how terrifying it would be for an opposing pitcher expecting, say, Aaron Guiel or Miguel Cairo to suddenly find himself face to face with Sheff’s bat-waggle.

More on Manny and the Sox (good band name): Gordan Edes wrote a harsh piece in the Globe calling for Boston to trade him. I’ve said this before, but I still think they’d be crazy to do it, unless they got Hafner or Pujols in return, which they won't. Listen, Miguel Tejada is a great player and all, but he’s no replacement for probably one of the 15 or 20 best hitters of all time, however irritating his flakiness and semi-fake-seeming injuries might be. I assume Edes knows vastly more than I do about what’s really going on with the Red Sox, so maybe Manny really is bringing the team down -- maybe they do need him out of there. But they’ll never be able to get equal value for him in a trade, offense-wise.

It all comes down to whether or not you believe team chemistry has a real impact on winning, something the Mets have made me think about recently as well. The answer, as far as I can tell, is “sort of.” More on this another time.

September 21, 2006

Because, Not To Go All John Rocker On You, The 7 Train Is Flawed

My apologies for the long delay between posts. I’ve been busy –in part, in fact, because I’ve been at Shea Stadium the last few days, working on a freelance story for the Village Voice. Much more to come about that in a couple of weeks, I hope. But in the meantime, I’ll do better… because your life was empty and joyless these last five days, wasn’t it? It felt like the sun had gone behind a cloud, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

So it’s official: the Yankees clinched! Okay, so maybe that didn’t deserve an exclamation point -- not only has it been inevitable for the last few weeks, but they were on the road and, in fact, lost their game against the Blue Jays; they clinched when the Sox lost to the ever-more-impressive Twins. If the Yankees had started three rookies in a row in early August I would’ve had to be medicated, whereas now it’s merely an interesting look at new arms (Rasner being the only one who inspires any real confidence).

Still, it’s impossible to watch the ensuing good cheer without grinning. People watched the Mets’ joyful and truly raucous celebration Monday night (featuring cigars, fire hoses, oceans of booze, signs, and goggles, and lacking only a ride on a police horse) and contrasted it with the Yankees’ imagined restraint, saying Joe Torre’s team wouldn’t bother exuberantly partying over a mere division title, their ninth in a row after all and only what everyone expected; but hey, they looked pretty happy to me. Appropriately enough it was the young guys -- Melky, Cano and company -- who really seemed to go all out, jumping up and down and yelling cheerfully, presumably as a continuation of their master plan to make me feel increasingly stupid for having taken French in high school.

Meanwhile, there’s a fresh controversy regarding Tom Verducci’s SI piece about that third baseman, but as no felonies or bizarre illicit affairs are involved I’m afraid it doesn’t meet my criteria for discussion. Though I have to say, it’s actually a very well-written article, and much more interesting than much of the tabloid hostility that blanketed the city this summer. Somebody needs to get Richard Ben Cramer on this guy's biography... but not for at least 10 years, at which point I might be able to care again.

All in all, it’s been a remarkably stress-free few weeks for New York baseball. You can fret all you want about the Mets’ sudden inability to hit left-handers or Jason Giambi's wrist, but at this point everyone's just waiting for the real action to start. The challenge will be playing out the last few games without anyone getting injured or falling asleep on camera. Of course anything might happen in the first few weeks of October, but what the hell -- all the usual disclaimers aside, I smell a subway series. And it smells much better than the actual subway.

September 15, 2006

To Hell With the Purity of the Game: Left Field, Left-Center, Right-Center, Right

The Yankees finished their sweep of the Devil Rays tonight using a selection of rookie pitchers (Darrell Rasner looked good enough to eat) and an outfield of Bernie Williams, Kevin Thompson, and Aaron Guiel. This is where normally I might make a crack about the Rays, but honestly, I don’t have the stomach for it anymore. Hideki Matsui is back and has gone 5 for 10 in his three games since coming off the DL; I could only be happier if he would grow a mustache (work your magic, Sal Fasano!). Or if Bud Selig would create a new fourth outfield position for Melky Cabrera to play.

But with an 11.5 game lead and barely more than two weeks left to play, the drama is long gone from the AL East; the Central is where the action is (and the cluster of mediocre teams in the NL fighting for the chance to be swept by the Mets, but whatever). On that note, there’s good but strange news about Twins rookie phenom Francisco Liriano: he returned from the DL yesterday only to leave the game with renewed elbow pain, and everybody thought he was out for the year – Ron Gardenhire looked like he was about to cry in the postgame interview, and you can’t blame him – but the MRI shows no damage. He may still be out for the season, though, which is too bad and an ill omen for the Twins, because as terrific as Johan Santana is, he’s only one man. Well, maybe one and a half. Just look at those beautiful stats… they’re so shiny…

I was poking around today when, with a shock of realization, it suddenly became clear to me why the Orioles are so hopeless right now: former Mets GM Jim Duquette is their VP of baseball operations. Of course – how did I not know this? I can’t believe I didn’t sense his presence the last time the Yanks were in Baltimore; the plague of locusts should have been a tip-off. “Cautious optimism” is how Duquette describes the vibe at Camden Yards these days. Really? I would have described it as “empty.”

Finally, Jim Kaat retired as an announcer after tonight’s game. He was my favorite, and I’ll miss him – it’s not so much what he says, I realize, though I generally find him intelligent and reasonable, as it is a visceral response to the tone of his voice.

MUSTACHE WATCH 06: No ‘stache news to report, but I did discover today that after “eephus,” the most popular Google search that brings people to this site is “giambi mustache.” Seriously. Clearly there is an underserved market out there for information about baseball player facial hair.

September 12, 2006

So Then David Was All, Like, Johnny Likes Me Better Than You, And Derek Was Like, No Way, He SO Does Not...

Randy Johnson was not at his best (perhaps because he's FORTY-THREE damn years old), but the Yankees staged a comeback win last night against the motley collection of misfits that the Orioles insist on referring to as their bullpen. And Joe Torre is now third on the Yanks' all-time manager wins list with 1,068, behind only Casey Stengle and Joe McCarthy, which is kind of staggering when you think about it; even if you don't think Torre had too much to do with some those wins, you still have to be impressed by his sheer longevity.

There’s been much discussion in the last few days about David Ortiz, who rather cattily explained to ESPN why he thinks he should win the MVP award, arguing that a team’s position in the standings shouldn’t be a factor. Not to take anything away from Ortiz -- he’s undoubtedly a great hitter, and indeed is the only baseball player I’ve ever had appear in a recurring nightmare -- but as I was just saying on Sunday, if the standings don’t matter, then the MVP should probably go to Travis Hafner or Ortiz’s own teammate, Manny Ramirez. If not Johan Santana. Regarding Jeter, Ortiz says:

"Don't get me wrong -- he's a great player, having a great season, but he's got a lot of guys in that lineup… Top to bottom, you've got a guy who can hurt you. Come hit in this lineup, see how good you can be.”

Well. I bet that went over well in the Red Sox clubhouse. He has a valid point, of course, but this is nevertheless the kind of observation that, if you’re Ortiz, you should probably keep to yourself. Jeter’s response to all this was classically boring, except for the last line, which I do believe is a bit of a zinger:

"I don't have to do it in his lineup... I'm not thinking about winning the MVP. I'm just thinking about winning the division. No one's focus here is on individual awards. We've got something to play for."

Then, of course, they ran and asked Johnny Damon what he thought. Can somebody please explain to me how the tone of this conversation differs from one you might overhear in a randomly selected middle school cafeteria? It might be unfair to criticize Ortiz, though: I bet he was going to say, “I don’t care about individual awards, I just want to help my team,” but found that Jeter had finally had that phrase officially trademarked.

MUSTACHE WATCH ’06 – SON OF MUSTACHE WATCH: Back by popular demand! Randy Johnson, having realized the error of his ways, is re-growing his signature lip fur. At least I think he is. There’s something on his face, anyway, so for his sake, let’s all hope it’s facial hair.

September 10, 2006

I’m Back. And My Doctor Has Cleared Me To Hit Off A Tee.

I caught today’s Yankee game on the radio while driving down from the Cape. According to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, the Orioles rookie starter, Hayden Penn, is just 21 and entered the game with a major league ERA, this season, of 108. That’s right: 108. The Yankees won.

Meanwhile, the days are getting shorter and the kids are back in school, which means it must be time for incessant debate about this year’s MVPs. I’d like to join in, but the MVP strikes me as a particularly ill-defined award. The Cy Young goes to the best pitcher: simple enough, even if opinions will vary on who it is in a given year. But what exactly do we mean by most valuable player? If it were just the best hitter, that would be one thing (probably Travis Hafner or Manny Ramirez in the AL this year); but pitchers are eligible too, and “valuable” seems to imply the player who helped his team the most – which is why most sportswriters/ESPN drones don’t seem to think Hafner stands a snowflake’s chance in Hell, with the Indians currently 17 games back. (Why Ramirez has barely been so much as mentioned, even when the Sox were going strong, is more puzzling to me… unless it’s because of all his trade requests and other antics, which seems petty. If the Sox ever do trade Manny, I think his precise value will become clear very, very quickly).

Just when you think team success needs to be taken into account, though, you remember that the Yankees’ third baseman won the MVP in 2003 with his team, then the Rangers, in dead last place. If your team does that badly, how valuable can you really be? Or, rather, does it actually matter that your team is 17 games out instead of 27? I’m having a surprising amount of trouble finding the official guidelines for this award, but I’ll investigate further tomorrow and see if they shed any light. In any case, it looks like the AL MVP will probably go to Derek Jeter or Jermaine Dye -- who are both having great years, whether or not they deserve this particular accolade, so I can’t get too worked up about the injustice.

Personally, my vote would have gone to Giambi’s mustache, but I don’t think it has enough at-bats to qualify. My second choice, though, would be Johan Santana, who has been mind-bogglingly awesome all season.

September 07, 2006

Elegy For a Mustache

Greetings from the Wellfleet public library. I have neither internet access nor cable TV where I'm staying, which means I’m nice and relaxed but have only a very, very sketchy idea of what’s going on. But it seems that, in sum, Randy Johnson and Jorge Posada are heating up, Hideki Matsui is on his way back, and the Royals still pretty much suck. Is that about right?

I was sorry to see that Doug Mientkiewicz is injured, because for a while there the Royals’ infield was a real Festival of Consonants. “Grudzielanek to Mientkiewicz for the force”… not exactly “Tinkers to Evers to Chance,” is it? The Royals also have a relief pitcher named Ambiorix. Awesome. He’s like a long-lost Asterix character.

While the local Boston news resolutely refuses to show me even 30 seconds’ worth of Yankees highlights, or even tell me the score, they did show a quick, sweet clip of Anibal Sanchez’s no-hitter for the Marlins last night; it was only his 13th major league start. It’s really remarkable how well the Marlins are doing this year, given that their most established player is probably Dontrelle Willis, and I’m not even sure he can drink legally yet. I hope they win the Wild Card -- it would be a great story, and they're only three games back from the Padres, about whom I have a lifelong inability to care.

Meanwhile, the Mets did indeed exorcise some Braves demons yesterday, thanks in part to New York’s best (okay, fine, only) Jewish pro athlete. Thank you, Shawn Green, for making my grandfather very proud.

MUSTACHE WATCH ’06: It’s a sad day here at Mustache Watch. Jason Giambi has finally shaved off the porn ‘stache. I admit that I was appalled at first, but I now believe that reaction was born out of ignorance and fear; the moustache worked hard every day, and slowly, it earned my respect -- yes, and even my affection. In other words, it grew on me... though not, thank Christ, literally. Our thoughts are with Giambi and his family at this difficult time, and out of respect for what his mustache accomplished in its too-short time among us, this feature will be suspended until future notice.

September 04, 2006

The Horror, the Horror (Also, the Royals)

The Yankees had a nice easy win yesterday; as much as I like the Twins, they seem to be skidding, and if they don't get Liriano back in the very near future, I fear for their playoff chances. Darrell Rasner pitched an excellent game in his first Yankee start, but this has been happening a lot recently -- unknown, lousy, or aging pitchers often throw like aces in their Yankee debuts; I give you Brad Halsey, Al Leiter, Sidney Ponson, and Aaron Small, just off the top of my head, but I know there've been many more. I hereby dub this The Ponson Effect. Meanwhile, the third baseman... yeah, he's back.

The Mets yesterday managed to lose, 2-1, a game in which they only allowed the Astros one hit. Ah, I do miss El Duque. They'll take on the Braves tonight, and though they’ve already proven they can beat them this year, it’s still fascinating to watch a team exorcise its demons on live television. That game promises to hold more interest than tonight’s Yanks-Royals match-up, however fun it is to watch Chien-Ming Wang pitch. The problem with the Royals is that when a good team beats them, it’s unimpressive, while if they lose it’s embarrassing (well, okay -- that’s one of the problems with the Royals). They did just take two of three from the Twins and White Sox, however, so at least we can expect them to put up a fight.

I’ll be on vacation tomorrow through Sunday, September 10th – into the heart of darkness, or at least Red Sox territory, on Cape Cod. I will blog as my sporadic access to wifi allows. In previous years I wore Yankees shirts to the beach just to be difficult, but this month the combination of the Sox falling nine games behind, Ortiz’s heart scare, and, most of all, rookie pitcher John Lester’s awful diagnosis of lymphoma (fortunately a treatable form, it sounds like) have sucked all the fun out of the rivalry. Horribly selfish of them, really.

Meanwhile, here’s one more reason to dislike Kenny Lofton, his relatively poor performance for the Yankees aside: I was flipping past the YES network this afternoon, and caught the tail end of Jim Abbott’s 1993 no-hitter against the Indians. This is a game that, if you try to describe it to people who weren’t following baseball at the time, they will absolutely refuse to believe it really happened. Anyway, I tuned in at the beginning of the ninth inning, in which Lofton led off -- and tried to bunt his way on base. Now, I understand that he was just trying do his job and get his team some baserunners, especially since it was still a close game... and I can respect that, I really can… but, dude. The man has one hand. Swing the fucking bat.

Mustache Watch ’06: While I missed most of yesterday’s game, I’m told that Craig Wilson seems to have shaved as well (many thanks to my loyal readers, on whom I rely for these kinds of hot tips). The tide seems to be turning, though Jason Giambi still stands like a rock. Please don't hesitate to shoot me an email, or post a comment, if there are any new developments in my absence.

September 02, 2006

Talk About Impaired Judgement... Where Are That Girl's Friends?!

These games with the Twins were supposed to be another possible playoff preview, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way; Cory Lidle against Carlos Silva last night was probably the marquee pitching match-up of the weekend. Today’s game featured Scott Baker and Jeff Karstens, and while Karstens seems like a promising young pitcher, if you see him starting a game in the postseason it will mean that something has gone horribly wrong. He actually pitched extremely well, but Baker, with his 6.55 ERA and 3-7 record, temporarily morphed into Walter Johnson (nifty trick, that), and the Yanks lost the rain-shortened game 6-1.

Jim Kaat and Al Leiter are the best announcing team the Yankees have fielded for a while, both smart (about baseball, anyway), reasonable, and affable. When Leiter’s in the booth, I can’t help remembering that classic photo of him apparently playing beer pong with a bunch of random college kids, originally posted on the sleazy yet enticing gossip site On the DL -- though of course, it only makes me like him more. Stars: they’re just like Us!

Unfortunately, while trying to find that link, I inadvertently stumbled onto this decidedly disconcerting picture of our old friend Sir Sidney Ponson, which is forcing me to seriously consider swearing off alcohol forever.

Meanwhile, In a battle of ineffective ex-Yankee pitchers, Jeff Weaver took on Shawn Chacon in today’s Cardinals-Pirates game. I was about to make a snarky comment about how, according to the rules, one team would nevertheless have to win, but I see the final score was 1-0 Pittsburgh. Well, fine. Never mind then.

Mustache Watch ‘06: One mustache falls, and another rises to take its place. Ron Villone’s lip-caterpillar is no more (perhaps when he got back from the Yankees’ recent road trip he had a little chat with his wife). Bullpen newcomer Brian Bruney’s, however, is coming along nicely.

August 31, 2006

He Has Great Numbers Against Right-Handed Cameramen, Though

Randy Johnson and the third baseman seemed to rediscover their old selves today, and the Yanks beat the Tigers 6-4, winning a second series against, supposedly, the best team in baseball. There’s no denying that much of the Tigers’ pitching staff is terrific, but I think the main reason I can’t take them as seriously as I should is that the putative ace of their staff is Kenny Rogers.

If there’s one thing Yankees and Mets fans can agree on, it’s that Kenny Rogers is an incompetent dickwad. Despite his best efforts, the Yankees were able to overcome his presence on their team in 1996, but the Mets weren’t so lucky. I remember the last game of the 1999 NLCS very clearly: it was my freshman year of college, and one of my good friends was a passionate, die-hard Mets fan. I watched the game with him and his roommates, a terrifying nail-biter coming just one day after a truly epic, draining and exhilarating 15-inning walk-off Mets win. That season the Braves were at their most arrogant and obnoxious (and anti-New York), and it was hard not to root for them to go down. The Mets fell behind 7-3 but fought back -- Mike Piazza tied it up with a dramatic home run, and the game looked like it was going to go on forever, until, of course, in the 11th inning, Kenny Rogers came in and… walked in the Braves’ winning run.

It was one of the worst losses I’ve ever seen, the kind that, if it happens to your team, can change you forever. Rogers’ stats in New York don’t seem that bad at first glance, but his postseason numbers are chilling: zero wins, three losses, 32 hits and 16 walks in just over 20 innings pitched, and an ERA of 8.85. Good luck with that, Detroit. I’d rather start El Duque’s arthritic 65-year-old second cousin in a playoff game.

Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera has soreness in his pitching arm, although he saved the game today without too many problems. Sounds like it’s nothing serious, but just hearing “Rivera” and “MRI” in the same sentence makes an 8-game lead seem suddenly very small.

Mustache Watch ’06: Randy Johnson has shaved off his distinctive facial hair as well (in case you were wondering: no, it doesn’t help). They’re dropping like flies.

Interesting note on the Newsday beat writers' blog: Pavano declined to apologize to his teammates, something even grouchy jackass Kevin Brown did after punching a wall and breaking his hand. Damn – if you need etiquette tips from Kevin Brown, you have serious problems.