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Books

Master of Shadows

Thebook 

Regular readers of this site know that I haven't been posting (or commenting) with quite the frequency as in the past, even with the Yanks on what has thus far been another magical run deep into the playoffs. I've been watching, you can be sure, but I've also been distracted, and for good reason: this week I've published my second book, Master of Shadows, which tells the story of the secret diplomatic career of the painter Peter Paul Rubens. Now I know the first reaction here is: what is a guy who writes about baseball doing writing about art? Well, I'd like to think we can enjoy both high culture and popular culture—I'm no snob. And I'd point out that my first book, Spalding's World Tour, in its own way, was about diplomacy as well, though of a different sort. If you read both books, and I hope you've read the first and will read the second, I think you'll find Albert Spalding and Peter Paul Rubens quite similar as individuals: a pair of orphans with enormous physical and intellectual gifts and savvy business instincts. If you enjoyed the first, I think you'll enjoy the second. Frankly, I think it's a better book. You can read much more about it on my other website. I will say it's an absolutely beautifully made book, so a perfect gift with the holidays looming. If you patronize this site, I hope you will support its proprietors! If you're so inclined, also please do join the Master of Shadows Facebook group for updates and news about events. 

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Today I Am A Man Yankee

Alex
Tex won the game, but the big story last night was A-Rod, who answered the clutch bell for the Yanks with his bottom of the ninth two-run dinger to tie it. I'm so glad, and not just for the win, but to finally put to rest the stupid A-Rod-can't-take-the-playoffs meme that has just dominated the press and blogosphere for years. So let's all just admit reality now. Alex is a stupendous player. Let me suggest that his past October foibles, always more exaggerated by the media, may have been statistical noise combined with excellent opposing pitching. But who really gives a crap? The Yanks are up 2-0 and whatever demons might have been are now surely eradicated. Thank goodness. Onward and upward.
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Bombers Away: Twins-Yanks ALDS Game II Gamer

Well today it's all about A.J. Was he worth the cabbage? We'll see. He throws to Jose Molina, so he's already giving away some offense. Yanks take full command of the series with a victory. Here's hoping they get it. Fire Away!

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No Excuses: Twins-Yanks ALDS Game I Gamer

It's time for the Bombers to put up or shut up, and no excuses. They come into tonight's ALDS with the best record in the game, well rested, and healthy. They've score on the order of 100 more runs than the Twinkies, who come in, one presumes, somewhat spent after last night's extended affair, and without their #2 offensive weapon. They have no "shut-down" starter to strike fear in the Yankee hit squad. The Bombers, indeed, have every advantage, and have already beaten this team 7 straight this season—a flukey number to be sure, but still indicative of their superiority. The Twins do have some dangerous players, beginning with MVP to-be Joe Mauer, so they should not be pushovers. If there's any serious concern it should be the back end of the Minnesota bullpen, which can shorten a game to 7 innings—of course, the Yanks can do that as well. This would not be a good series to enter the final innings trailing, but then we've seen the Yanks get over that hurdle all year. Alex. Joe. CC. Lots of folks on the Yankee bench with something to prove, and they can start RIGHT NOW. LETS GO YANKS! 

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Who’s Number 2?

Last year, after Dustin Pedroia won the MVP, I suggested on this site that he would be one of the more forgettable selections in history. That generated a lot of flack here, and I think unfairly, as I did not mean it as a knock on Pedroia, who deserved the award and who I think is a fine player, and I did not write out of any kind of sour grapes. It was merely to suggest he was an anomalous victor, and not someone who figured to list among the truly elite players who regularly compete for those crowns—the class that includes the A-Rods and Pujolses of the game. Pedroia's performance this year, let me suggest, demonstrates what I was talking about. Certainly, he had a fine season. But you could also make a very reasonable argument that his was not among the top 10—and almost certainly not in the top 5—seasons at his position this year. And 2b is hardly the most valuable position on the field. Let me reiterate that I'm not trying to knock Pedroia here. He's an excellent player. Who would I rather have, Pedroia or Cano? That's an awfully tough call. I sincerely hope we can have a calm discussion about this here, no flamethrowing. 

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Going Out on a High Note

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Yesterday was pretty ugly, but the Bombers took care of business today thanks to Alex Rodriguez and his crazy 7-rbi-in-1-inning performance. Probably best not the best idea to walk the bases loaded to face a guy who's already hit a three run shot in the same inning. Who will the Yanks face? The Tigers blew their big lead and will thus take on the Twins in a 1-game playoff for the privilege of coming to the Bronx. I know there's a lot of fear of Verlander and the Tigers, who knocked the Yanks out of the playoffs in 07, but watch out for those Twinkies, who have a run scoring differential of +51. The Tigers are -1. So maybe they're the fluke. Debate it here. 

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Congratulations Yankees: 2009 AL East Champs

Mo

Onward and upward.

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Blogosphere Shocker: PeteAbe to the Globe

That's right, Peter Abraham, author of LoHud's Yankee blog, is leaving that paper to cover the Red Sox for the Globe. A huge blow to Yankee fans and a boon to the Sox. We wish him the best.

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…2,722…2,723…

Dj

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Jumping the Gun

Last night Derek Jeter tied Lou Gehrig as the all-time Yankee hit leader, a fact of which you are no doubt well aware unless you are entirely unconscious, as the NY press, and especially the YES network, have made an endless to-do over the landmark achievement. God love them, I know everyone needs to sell ads, especially the papers. But here's a question: Isn't everyone jumping the gun? Shouldn't the big celebration be reserved for his next hit, when he actually breaks the record and becomes soul title holder? Are we supposed to do the hype all over again? His trophy case is going to be pretty silly. "Here's ball 2,171. Here's ball 2,172." Doesn't that just detract from the significance of the record? I know we live in a society that adores hero-worship, and MLB and YES are happy to provide, as it helps move seats and merch, but do we really need to celebrate every major accomplishment twice? We remember Hank Aaron's 715th and Roger Maris's 61st. Those were the big ones. So me, I'm glad Jeter is tied with Gehrig but I'll hold most of my applause until he's in front. It won't be long.

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Is David Cone Baseball’s Best Analyst?

In January of 2008, when we learned that Cone would be joining the YES booth, this is what we wrote:

the job seems a natural for him. As a player and de facto team spokesman, Cone's candor and essential even-handedness was something all sensible fans appreciated. He had an intuitive grasp of the "game" between media and athlete—he understood what each of those parties needed to practice their professions—and was gifted in satisfying all parties without resorting to the constant stream of cliches we expect from both sides of that equation. Cone was also the Yankees player rep, and so should give fans a more nuanced picture of the relations between union and ownership, and what they've begot. Don't expect a firebrand. Just a bit of honesty. Welcome back.


Some athletes have trouble making the switch to the booth comfortably (see: Paul O'Neill), but not Cone. By late April, he already seemed at home, as we noted:

His voice is thin and his face a bit sallow. He both sounds and looks like someone's kid brother. But the Yanks have never had a more perceptive analyst. The intelligence he demonstrated on the mound has translated directly to the air. Listening to him deconstruct a pitcher's delivery or a batter's weakness has been fascinating; his eye for the telling detail is spot-on, and he's never been self-serving about his own accomplishments, though he's given ample opportunity in that regard. He's shown himself well aware and open-minded about sabermetric thinking. So, yes, he's got analytical skills. But what sets him apart from other broadcasters is his engaging, quirky, oddly charismatic personality. Over the first month of the season, he's exhibited the same presence on-air that Yankee fans remember from his days playing with the club: honest but positive, authoritative but slyly humorous. 


Listening to Cone hold-up Michael Kay in Toronto this past weekend, I'm prepared to answer my titular question and state that Cone is now the premier color man in the game, or at the very least on a par with the absolute best in the business. He does exceptional preparation work, freely uses advanced metrics, and has an eye for telling details that an ordinary fan (or his broadcast partner) might easily miss. He's terrific when it comes to deconstructing a play or discussing tactics (even if one is not always in alignment with him.) He knows the business of the game as well as anyone, and he is able to both be critical and honest while also in sympathy with the players on the field. Mainly, and above all, he's likable—relentlessly optimistic, a natural leader who knows just how to tweek his partners—and makes the game a joy. Those skills were on full display this weekend, in an essentially meaningless series against a scuffling team. Cone made watching a pleasure, despite the circumstances. It's nice to have him back.


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Fat Headed

In case you haven't heard, Rawlings has introduced a new batting helmet, the S100, that can withstand a 100 mph impact from a baseball. It will be available to MLB players shortly (and mandatory for MiLB players next year), and is slightly larger than the current models, with a kind of lacrosse-helmet look to it. There's already been some blowback from players who think it makes them look dorky. (Mark Teixeira passed.) Let me suggest that MLB and the MLBPA should make the new helmets mandatory, and if they don't, each team should do so for all players they have under contract. A player KIA from a beanball—and it's only a matter of time before it happens again—would be both tragic and a disaster for the sport. From a purely mercenary point of view, I'd certainly want my $180 million new first baseman protected to the max. David Wright, of the Mets, is already out for the season after a beaning. As a parent, you want the pros setting the best possible example. Sometimes, in design, function trumps aesthetics. This is one of those times. 

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Congratulations Derek Jeter, All-Time Shortstop Hit Leader

Dj1
A truly extraordinary, historic accomplishment. Hats off to the Captain, who's quietly having yet another MVP-caliber season. 
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History

The Curious Architecture of Albert Spalding

Mieras

Over on my personal website, I put up a short piece on the wacky architecture of Albert Spalding, baseball's greatest impresario. Yep, that's his house. 
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Sox Gamers/Postmortems Yanks Gamers/Postmortems

Take that, Red Sox Touré

08yankeesG.337

Alex ends a marathon with one very clutch regular season home run. Until tomorrow….

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Baseball Historian Frederick Ivor-Campbell, Dead at 73

It is with great sadness that we report the death of the baseball historian Frederick Ivor-Campbell, who was killed in an automobile accident this past Friday. He was a kind man and a serious scholar of the game—a winner of SABR's Davids Award, the organization's highest honor. His death is a loss to all those who care about the sport.