Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
These are good times to be a Yanks fan or a Sox fan. May 2007 be another great year in the best rivalry in sports.
Sunday, December 31st, 2006
Ok, let’s play amateur GM. Say the pitching market explodes. Say you currently have the best pitcher on Earth on your roster. Say you know that you’ll never be able to afford him once he hits free agency. Say you get a call from the GM of the Red Sox or Yankees. Say they ask you "what would it take"?
So, what would it take? What could you get? What would they offer?
Saturday, December 30th, 2006
Peter Abraham hits this one right on the nose. Our government, in a prosecution that was politically contrived by John Ashcroft from the outset, is hoping to violate the legitimate privacy of a vast number of Major Leaguers in a move that is both grossly unjust and could set a catastrophic precedent applicable to every citizen, not just those who can hit or throw a ball. We’ve been fairly outspoken in our disdain for the use of PEDs on this site, and our distaste for Barry Bonds in particular is a matter of record. But the ends, in any case and in this one in particular, do not justify the means.
Let’s assume the Red Sox are prepared to go into camp without acquiring a proven closer. It’s not a good thing, but it’s worth remembering that the 2003 Sox started the season (by design) with no closer and came a Little short of the World Series after trading for one midseason, and the 2005 Sox made the playoffs despite having a barely effective closer all year long. So, let’s assume and hope one of the following emerges Papelbon-esque from Fort Myers (or, at the latest, Kansas City).
Here are your candidates:
Friday, December 29th, 2006
SF’s excellent post about Selena Roberts’ myth-perpetuating rant got it just right. Roberts, who continues to be one of my least favorite sports scribes (Lupica tops the list) for her continual negativity, decided that Johnson’s apparent trade request was an admission on his part that New York had gotten to him, that he couldn’t handle the pressure. In a two page column, Roberts waxed poetic about just how difficult it is for some people to make it in the unsympathetic hell hole that is New York City. Travis Bickle would have been proud. It would have helped Roberts’ case if she had actually provided detailed evidence to support her scared suburbanite’s view of the terrible city. Another thing that would have helped her is if she had bothered to investigate the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s request. Reading today’s Daily News I discovered this:
Johnson, who is coming off back surgery, did not request a trade, but the Yankees began discussions with other clubs after GM Brian Cashman called Johnson to offer condolences after Johnson’s older brother died recently. During the call, Johnson told the GM it was important to be close to his family.
This is the first time I’ve read anything about Johnson’s loss. I’ve read plenty of insinuations by Roberts and posters in the blogosphere (none of them here) that the Big Unit asked out because he couldn’t hack it. I guess I understand the reasoning that underlies such an assumption, but to me, it’s one of the things I most dislike about sports fandom. And I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it in the past. That is, I’m sure I have called into question a player’s fortitude or, more to the point, his manliness when I have been disappointed by his performance. In this case, with these details out, it would seem the height of cynicism to continue insisting that Johnson asked about a possible trade because he can’t handle the pressure of NYC. Perhaps I’m especially sensitive about this subject because of recent events in my life, but I feel Johnson is doing the "manly" thing in seeing if he can be near his family during this difficult time.
Thursday, December 28th, 2006
Barry Zito can now spend his off-time catching the surf at Mavericks, eating claypot chicken at the Slanted Door, and listening to beat poetry at City Lights. Just like last year. The Giants nab the over-rated lefty for massive bucks. Somewhere Omar Minaya just punched a telephone.
The real Scott Boras is back.
David Gassko has a piece up at the Hardball Times about which pitchers were especially lucky and which pitchers were unlucky in 2006. Using DIPS (Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics) and LIPS (Luck Independent Pitching Statistics), Gassko concludes that Chien-Ming Wang was the luckiest pitcher in 2006: "While Wang was worth 52 runs above replacement last year, he should have been worth about seven, according to LIPS, so Yankees fans should expect a big step backwards this year." At the same time, Randy Johnson, the pitcher so many Yankees fans are anxious to get rid of, was one of the unluckiest, and Gassko expects bigger things from him in 2007: "New York can legitimately expect an under-4.00 ERA from the Big Unit next season, which will make for a nice comeback after his 5.00 ERA in ‘06."
And that is not all, loyal readers of YFSF. Gassko also writes that Josh "The Most Overrated Human Being Ever!" Beckett actually was very unlucky this past season: "…the LIPS stats show that Beckett allowed many more home runs than we would have expected. Expect him to have a much better season next year."
As with all statistics, DIPS and LIPS are not the end-all and should be viewed with suspicion and applied according to your personal biases. For instance, Gassko is clearly wrong about Wang and Beckett (Wang transcends stats, he is a freaking pitching genius; Beckett is rated better than he actually is by a lot of reasonable people, I clearly understand this while everyone else is a bit crazy), but is probably right about Johnson (the numbers do not lie).
Another note on Johnson: After 2005, most Red Sox fans were not ready to count Curt Schilling out, even though he had posted a mid 5 ERA that season. Their reasoning (which eventually showed itself to be true) was that Schilling’s poor 2005 was, in large part, a result of his struggles with injuries. In the off-season, he recovered, and his 2006 was very good. At the end of the 2006 season, we find out that Johnson, for a large part of the year, was dealing with a back injury, which he recently had successful surgery for. Presumably before a trade occurs, the D-Back (or whatever team eventually gets him) will look at his medical records, do a physical and deem him ready to go for 2006. Otherwise, the trade isn’t happening. My point is that Johnson will probably be healthier in 2007 than he was in 2006, and he has a history of being a spectacular pitcher, actually a better pitcher than Schilling. Perhaps, I’m deluded, but I’m fully expecting a rebound by Johnson in 2007, and if that happens, he’s going to be a #1 or #2 pitcher. Maybe, the money we save will help the Yanks land a Clemens or Zito. But should we count on either possibility? And should we be excited about either pitcher? Why not let Johnson pitch out 2007 with us and get his salary off the books in 2008 when we can pursue Carlos Zambrano?
Bobby Murcer is having brain surgery today in Houston. We wish him a speedy recovery. Murcer has never been our favorite announcer, but by all accounts he’s a nice fellow, a hard worker, and the epitome of the Yankee tradition—the best part of it—despite the fact that he never won a ring with the team. Annointed, unfairly, as the heir apparent to his friend Mickey Mantle, he was unable to live up to the hype, though he had a fine career as a Yankee and elsewhere. For Yankee fans, his most memorable moment may be the walk-off dinger hit in the game immediately following the funeral of Thurman Munson, at which he gave the eulogy. His return and continued presence in the booth illustrate the “Yankee-for-life” ethos that is one of George Steinbrenner’s positive legacies. As an intern at Yankees Magazine in the 80s, I took an elevator ride with him up to the administrative level at the Stadium. He was wearing white pants and a green plaid jacket, and he went out of his way to greet every employee he passed, as if it were second nature. I suppose it was. I’d bet many of those folks, and people like them, are wishing him the best today. Us, too.
Who would seek to bail on New York before his contract was complete? Someone who doesn’t need the validation. Someone who realizes what Alex Rodriguez would never comprehend: New York is a mistake.
Of volatile moods and cranky outings, credit Johnson for enough grounded self-awareness to understand how New York’s two-year tolerance period works for those who arrive amid the pop of flashbulbs: one year for acclimation, one year for reclamation.
This is the margin of patience. It takes a special player or coach with a strong back for scrutiny to transition from a wide-eyed country mouse to a position in a rat race of expectations without losing his marbles.
Yesterday, Selena Roberts wrote about the cauldron that is New York Sports (Times Select). As a resident of the city and as someone who has spent 35 of my 38 years in either Boston or the Big Apple, I have some perspective on being a fan in two of the more notoriously rabid and difficult environments for professional athletes. I remember growing up listening to the "Sportshuddle" on Sunday nights, with Eddie, Mark, and Jim, and now spend selective moments listening to Mike and the Mad Dog or Michael Kay, though surely I do so with fingers pressed softly in my ears, just enough to mute the crazy opinions that come forth from both the hosts and callers on occasion. Roberts’ article got me thinking about the reality of New York (and Boston, which I know from my youth), and the reality of the "mistake" versus the perception of the "mistake". I believe that Roberts is wrong. New York is not a difficult place to play or work. It’s only difficult for certain types of people. And those types of people have difficulty everywhere, particularly if they aspire to perform at the top of their profession.
There are only a handful of athletes who have failed in high-profile circumstances in New York (I’ll get to Boston in a moment). Ed Whitson comes to mind.
Steve Sax [EDIT - Chuck Knoblauch] and Mackey Sasser lost their abilities to throw manning second base and catcher. There are more, but I am not a scholar of New York history like others, and I’ll refrain from going further. But I do believe that the number of implosions is far smaller than the myth that Selena Roberts would have us believe. Roberts picks out Randy Johnson for his current willingness to engage the idea of returning to Arizona. But is Johnson a good example of New York shredding the psyche of an impressionable young tyro? Or is New York simply circumstantial in this case? Johnson came to New York a 41-year-old aging veteran with a championship ring, chronic back problems, and no knee cartilage. His performance, while somewhat disappointing to Yankees fans, is hardly inexplicable. Attributing it to the pressures of playing in the Bronx is giving far too much credit to the city, in this poster’s opinion, to the fans of the team and the press for being merciless and irrational. As this site demonstrates, many Yankees fans are hardly that. The press, well, that’s a different story. But the press, like the fans, is varied. And professional athletes are usually pretty good at ignoring the press or treating it with disdain, which would, to me, temper their impact.
As for Boston, I don’t remember growing up in a heated cauldron of public opinion. Granted, Boston has always been a big sports town, with two newspapers and plenty of verbose scribes. But when I was little (or, littler!), the Sox were pretty good, the Celtics had come off an historic run of greatness and fallen into a terrible slump (thanks, John Y. Brown!), only to re-emerge with Larry Bird. The Patriots were perennially disappointing (and hosed by the refs, let us not forget), and the Bruins were only a few years from the Bobby Orr era, so people were pretty forgiving. The sports press has always had it’s Ryan and Massarotti-types, but back then I remember Shaughnessy as a beat writer and Gammons wrote the Sunday Globe columns. Conceivably I have blocked out the nastiness of the press or it was just not as bad as it is now. Either way, my perception of Boston as a sports town (or, more specifically, as a Sox town) was not as it is portrayed today, of fans foaming at the mouth for the next (or first in a long-while) title, harsh to players (like Edgar Renteria in recent times), who just can’t hack it in the hot climes of the Fens. We had nothing but disdain for Jack Clark, but who in their right mind in San Francisco, or Milwaukee, or Detroit wouldn’t have had disdain for Jack Clark based on what he signed for, said, and then did? That’s just being a fan, not being a Bostonian. The same goes for New York and New York fans.
Selena Roberts’ column, in my opinion, perpetuates the myth of New York (and, by my own extension, Boston) and the myth of the harsh sports town. Certainly New Yorkers expect a great deal. Certainly Bostonians expect a great deal. Certainly the press is an ever-present entity in both towns that can’t be dismissed. But I do not believe that Randy Johnson has been crushed by the city, emotionally hobbled by the "mistake" of arriving in my adopted metropolis. There are rare athletes who are destroyed by environments like this. I challenge Selena Roberts and others here to name more than Eric Lindros or Ron Dayne (Lindros came with chronic knee problems, Dayne with questionable talent), to substantiate what I believe to be a fallacy, that New York ruins hugely talented athletes on ascent or at their peaks. New York (or Boston) ruining mediocrities or ex-superstars is nothing special. Even for special cities.
Let us begin by stating categorically that our Matsuzaka/Igawa Haiku Competition has surpassed our every expectation, in terms of resonse and genius. It was great fun, we hope you will agree, and now the results are in, the scores have been tabulated, verified, authenticated, and approved. But before we announce the winners, first let us offer a big YFSF thanks to our esteemed jury—Will Leitch, Paul Lukas, and Dan Shanoff. Their task was a difficult one, and for making it so you can pat yourselves on the back. In the very appropriate words of Lukas, “It was like choosing between Joe D. and Teddy Ballgame in ’41!” Indeed. So a thank you and a hearty congratulations to everyone who entered. Okay. Now on to the winners:
The Bash-o Prize (first place): Yanks Fan in Boston
hub’s opening day
signs read: “we love daisuke”
manny asks, “who’s that?”
The Blue Jay Prize (second place): John
Sox fans on WEEI
Hari kari next
The Iron Chef Prize (third place): Spidey
Dice-K’s tummy growls…
too thick and milky! Chowdah
Honorable Mention (sorry no prizes)
Special YFSF Citation for Excellence: Whatever
Big move by Theo
Daisuke delivers. Yes? No?
Gorilla suit waits.
The Red Dragon of
high Nation expectations
Special YFSF Citation for Excellence II: Rob
D-Mat is to Hub
As Hideki is to Bronx?
Not Godzilla, Toad.
The Proprietor’s Cup: SF & Attackgerbil (tie)
durgin park welcomes
but dice balks at the rudeness
baked beans not sushi
Curt looks, sees no red
the cameras are elsewhere
Dice grabs the spotlight
Grass in Fenway mourns,
“John can’t afford turf builder,
bankroll lost to Dice!”
Curt’s nightmare comes true,
Killed, looted in Everquest
by Kei, buffed dark elf.
So there you have it. The contest is over. But don’t think we’re just going to leave you high and dry. If you’re like us, you’ve grown a need for a daily dose of Dice-K haiku action. And so—thanks to the technical wizardry of the Gerb—we present you with:
With so many stories about athletes gone bad, here’s one about Big Papi’s big heart — and how he’s helping make little hearts get better.
Ortiz, looking stylish in a black sports jacket, red shirt, red
shoes, designer sunglasses, and turquoise earrings, first visited a
packed room with sick kids. It will be the intensive care unit when it
is finished. There he signed the oversized $200,000 check.
"Hopefully everything keeps going and the children get
better," he said. "Everything is looking good and I see a lot of happy
faces out there. God bless you guys."
Then he visited Diana’s room.
was frightened at first, he’s so big," said Diana. "But he was very
nice. Afterward I felt so wonderful. He resembles the poor people, the
real people. I’ll be grateful forever. I’ll pray every day that he hits
more home runs."
When Big Papi kissed her twice, her eyes lit up brighter than the lights of Estadio Quisqueya, where the local stars play.
She said it was the first time she was kissed by a boy. A very big boy.
Monday, December 25th, 2006
This is the time of year for returns, so the news from ESPN.com that the Yanks are looking to ship the Unit back to Arizona is at least seasonally appropriate. The Yanks are supposedly looking to get back 3 players, don’t want to pay Randy’s salary, and may be getting Scott Linebrink from SD as part of a three-way deal (and note that Kevin Towers has worked with Cash before). For all our complaints, the Unit had a fairly productive 2006, at least according to the numbers, and if he’s healthy after surgery, well…..okay, he’s 43 and not the sweetest guy on the planet. Anyway, we’ll see what happens, right?
A very merry Christmas to all in YFSF land. Haiku competition results will be posted shortly. In the meantime, and in the spirit of the season, we present you with this 1951 speech by Jackie Robinson, from Edward R. Murrow’s “This I Believe” series. The sentiment seems as relevant as ever:
At the beginning of the World Series of 1947, I experienced a completely new emotion, when the national anthem was played. This time, I thought, it is being played for me, as much as for anyone else. This is organized major league baseball, and I am standing here with all the others; and everything that takes place includes me. About a year later, I went to Atlanta, Georgia, to play in an exhibition game. On the field, for the first time in Atlanta, there were Negroes and whites. Other Negroes, besides me. And I thought: What I have always believed has come to be. And what is it that I have always believed? First, that imperfections are human. But that wherever human beings were given room to breathe and time to think, those imperfections would disappear, no matter how slowly. I do not believe that we have found or even approached perfection. That is not necessarily in the scheme of human events. Handicaps, stumbling blocks, prejudices–all of these are imperfect. Yet, they have to be reckoned with because they are in the scheme of human events. Whatever obstacles I found made me fight all the harder. But it would have been impossible for me to fight at all, except that I was sustained by the personal and deep-rooted belief that my fight had a chance. It had a chance because it took place in a free society. Not once was I forced to face and fight an immovable object. Not once was the situation so cast-iron rigid that I had no chance at all. Free minds and human hearts were at work all around me; and so there was the probability of improvement. I look at my children now and know that I must still prepare them to meet obstacles and prejudices. But I can tell them, too, that they will never face some of these prejudices because other people have gone before them. And to myself I can say that, because progress is unalterable, many of today’s dogmas will have vanished by the time they grow into adults. I can say to my children: There is a chance for you. No guarantee, but a chance. And this chance has come to be, because there is nothing static with free people. There is no Middle Ages logic so strong that it can stop the human tide from flowing forward. I do not believe that every person, in every walk of life, can succeed in spite of any handicap. That would be perfection. But I do believe–and with every fiber in me–that what I was able to attain came to be because we put behind us (no matter how slowly) the dogmas of the past: to discover the truth of today, and perhaps find the greatness of tomorrow. I believe in the human race. I believe in the warm heart. I believe in man’s integrity. I believe in the goodness of a free society. And I believe that the society can remain good only as long as we are willing to fight for it–and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist. My fight was against the barriers that kept Negroes out of baseball. This was the area where I found imperfection, and where I was best able to fight. And I fought because I knew it was not doomed to be a losing fight. It couldn’t be a losing fight–not when it took place in a free society. And, in the largest sense, I believe that what I did was done for me–and that my faith in God sustained me in my fight. And that what was done for me must and will be done for others.