Tuesday, July 17, 2007
SHUT THE SHEFF UP
DETROIT – JULY 15, 2007
In the tranquil, warm, nighttime summer air, if you stand extra still, prick your ears up to the soft breeze, and believe with all that your heart can believe… some say you can hear him. Somewhere, to someone, at this very moment, Gary Sheffield is saying something idiotic.
In what seems to have become an occurrence as consistent as the tides Gary Sheffield is once again making headlines without using his bat or his glove, only his larger than life mouth. And once again, he has managed to make a complete fool of himself by contradicting himself as he so often has.
Last year, during his last season with the Yankees, Sheffield made the papers with his arrogant and absent-minded self-proclamation as the leader of the Yankee locker room. It seems that Gary with a microphone or camera in his face is a Gary that has no semblance of a man in touch with reality. His jaws begin flapping, his brain shuts down, and he begins spewing complete nonsense. Did he really believe that he, and not the long time captain Derek Jeter, was the leader of the bombers? He couldn't have, right? At least not all the time, right? Probably not, but with the media around Gary Sheffield becomes a selfish, irresponsible egomaniac with no regard for what he says so long as it gets him attention. And what happened the day immediately after the Jeter comments? An apology… well, sort of. A Gary Sheffield apology; which consists of little more than stuttering, uneasy contradictions of his earlier words, more often than not blamed on the media's misinterpretation.
This year, Sheffield seems to have shifted his anger from his being misunderstood; now he is angry on behalf of every black player in baseball (I wouldn't be shocked if more than a few of them were a bit uncomfortable with Sheffield speaking on their behalves). Sheffield decided he had uncovered the reason for the decline of African-American players in Major League baseball. After what I'm sure was months of finite research and well thought out argumentative preparation, Sheffield revealed his theory to the world at large: There are less black players in baseball because they are being replaced by Latinos, who are easier to control. Wow, if that's not profound then I don't know what is. I mean I have heard of fighting fire with fire, but fighting racism with racism? Could it work? Sheffield is actually claiming racism against blacks while simultaneously making the ridiculously racist comment that Latinos are "easy to control." These words were so asinine I assumed we had heard the worst of Sheffield for this year. Wrong.
Only a month after claiming racism throughout the league Sheffield was rewarded with an HBO interview with Andrea Kremer on the hit show Real Sports. Now allow me to remind you, Gary Sheffield is having a much better year on the field than anyone expected of him. He has been a huge pickup for the already talented Detroit Tigers and an undeniable factor in the MVP-type season his preceding hitter Magglio Ordonez is enjoying. He deserves some attention from the media, but he wasn't on HBO to talk about his season. He was, evidently, there to once again declare himself master of MLB race relations and to throw his former skipper Joe Torre into the fire.
During his Real Sports interview, Sheffield claims that the Yankees' veteran manager of 12 years "treats black players differently from white players." In his attacks Sheffield claimed Torre called him out in several meetings in front of the whole team, while he would take issue with his white players behind closed doors. A perplexed Andrea Kremer moved the interview along, only to find herself inevitably more confused. She asked Gary Sheffield if he was saying that Joe Torre was a racist, his answer, "No, I think that's just how they run things there." So let us get this straight Gary, Joe Torre is not a racist… he is just the captain of a very racist ship? He followed these comments with his genuine assurance, "I'm not making waves, I'm just telling it like it is." Oh but the moron waves were just getting started.
When asked about his former Yankee teammate Derek Jeter, whose mother is white and father is black, Sheffield said "Well, Jeter ain't all the way black." Astute observation Gary, but what exactly does that mean? Does that mean Joe Torre only called Jeter out in front of teammates half the time? Or was it that he would only confront Derek in his private office, but leave the door wide open? Surely Kremer would be able to gain clarification on these comments by pointing out that Sheffield's own son is the product of a mixed race marriage. "He's the same as Jeter," Sheffield pointed out, "I say the same thing about my son. He gets the same treatment." Wow. Martin Luther King, Jr. day must be quite the experience in the Sheffield house -- "Now son, I want to show you a documentary about an amazing man who helped the black community make advances in this country that most thought at the time were unimaginable… Hey, hey hold on there kid don't you let that proud smile grow too wide, after all you ain't all the way black."
In the end, after hearing every senseless word Gary Sheffield has to say, and after witnessing the media continually showing us this crap as though it holds any water in the realm of intelligence, I'm asking for two things. First, stop asking athletes what they think about anything aside from their respective sports. I don't want Terrell Owens opinion on gas prices or Roger Clemens' thoughts on the war in Iraq. Sure there are plenty of intelligent athletes out there who have a lot to say that really matters, but if I have to miss out on the few good arguments to avoid all of the heinous idiocy flowing freely from the rest of these self entitled dolts, then that is a sacrifice I am willing to make. Second, put a muzzle on Gary Sheffield. Stop the hot air from escaping this man and damaging the ozone layer completely beyond repair. Let him go up to the plate, swing the bat like a maniac, and hit the ball a mile. Just get him to shut the hell up.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
BRONX, NY – July 10, 2007
The 2007 Major League Baseball is officially half over. If things continue to play out the way they did over the first half the New York Yankees are halfway home… literally. At the pace they have played thus far the Yankees are looking like a non-factor in the playoff race and a prime candidate for a rare, early fall trip home.
Now I, like any other Yankee faithful, have not begun waiving the white flag just yet. However, it is impossible to deny the odds that are stacked against them. Standing one game under .500 at the halfway mark the Yanks find themselves 10 games back in their division and 8.5 games out of the wild card race. The type of run that is necessary is the likes of which hasn't exactly been common in MLB history. Such a run for the wild card has been put together in recent years by the Astros, but the Yanks haven't done so since they captured the first ever wild card in the early '90's. With five teams ahead of them their chances to find October baseball through the wild card is looking slimmer every day. The only other option is to somehow come back and capture the division from the Red Sox. With the Sox running away with the best first-half record in baseball the Yankees will need a miracle run and then some, not unlike the one the Minnesota Twins put together last year. That's not exactly asking for a cup of sugar.
Facing the task of essentially having to win every series for the remainder of the year, the Yankees certainly need more than a few things to go their way. Come season's end, if all the cards have not fallen in the Yanks' direction their first absence from the playoffs since 1994 will prove to be an inevitability. Here is what needs to happen, on both sides of the ball, to spark a New York Yankee playoff run.
First thing's first… Alex, no letting up now. There is no telling just how lost the Yankees would be at this point in the year if it weren't for Alex Rodriguez putting up numbers like he's hitting twice in the order. 30 home runs and 86 RBIs in just half a year are ridiculous statistics, and they have allowed the Yankees to remain hovering around the .500 mark. Now if they're to have any chance to play this fall, A-Rod will need to continue playing like the beast he has been. His presence at the plate has been one of the few constants for the bombers this year as he has been at the center of every "get up and cheer" moment Yankee fans have experienced in this half season. Unless he can maintain the type of pace he has set thus far, it is unlikely there will be many more moments like that over the course of the summer.
While undoubtedly serving as the anchor, A-Rod hasn't been entirely alone on offense. Fellow All-Stars Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have also enjoyed stellar first halves at the dish, hitting .336 and .326 respectively. They too, like Rodriguez, will be asked to continue their hot hitting if the Yanks are to have a fighting chance. No one player can carry a team into the playoffs by himself, so this third of the lineup will have to share the duty of carrying the bulk of the load.
More important than maintenance however, are the changes that must occur in order for this team to survive. At least one more Yankee must find his way back to reliable offensive production. On a team with so many pitching issues, high run totals will need to be a constant in the second half. There were points this year where Robbie Cano, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu all enjoyed short-lived hot streaks at the plate, but none of them has emerged as the dependable hitter the Yankees so desperately need. With all of their averages falling at .275 and below, the Yanks have been unable to put together an every-day regular lineup. They are completely lacking that string of back to back hitters that should be feared. This inconsistency has resulted in intermittent holes in the lineup that disappear and reappear from day to day. It doesn't matter who steps up, but it is apparent that someone must. My vote goes for Steinbrenner allowing Johnny Damon to grow back the Jesus look and see where that takes us (prayer has never hurt in times like these).
With the state of the bullpen in constant question the onus will now fall squarely on the (mostly) very old backs of the Yankee starters. While their performance overall has seemed a tad better of late, the starting rotation has been by and large a disappointment in 2007.
Chien Ming Wang has remained the only pitcher yet to elicit a feeling in my stomach like I just stepped off a roller coaster with an empty six pack. As the only consistently reliable starter it is essential that he stays healthy. If he can continue to stave off the finger irritations that he has been dancing around and pitch long, solid outings the Yankees will have found their ace.
The real questions begin to form around the Yankee hurlers who are old enough to have fathered some of their own teammates. The exorbitantly expensive Roger Clemens had a bit of a rough start but seems to be rounding into shape. He has given the Yanks 8 innings in each of his past two starts and has looked brilliant. Of course, no one can expect that many innings out of a 44 year old every time out (no matter how big his paycheck is), but the Rocket needs to continue his trends of late and not decelerate as the year drags on.
Andy Pettitte made an early year bid for the black cat in the Yankee rotation while he pitched at least well enough to win in almost every single start, but seemed to only leave with a no-decision at best. Somehow the Yankee bats have coincidentally shut down each time he made his way to the hill, leaving him with a 4-6 record. Though he has undeniably been the victim of some misfortune, Pettitte has looked uncharacteristically shaky as of late and has been battered around in his past two starts. For the Yanks to win they need to hit for Andy, and Andy needs to make his recent slump a short one and return to his early season form.
Mike Mussina must also make a flash back to his old self. The starter who has been known throughout his career as a workhorse has been anything but. Over the course of the year Mussina has seen the same amount of starts as Wang, and yet has given the Yanks 26 fewer innings of work. When your bullpen has the worst strikeout to walk ratio in the league, you simply cannot afford to have starters dropping early in games.
As for the fifth starter, who knows who it will be? All that I ask is that Joe Torre get Kei Igawa out of there. He has proved himself to be slightly less effective than a batting practice pitcher and a sure loss unless the Yanks put 7 or more up on the board (Andy Pettitte might be up for the Cy Young is he had fallen ass backwards into the kind of run production Igawa has). If Darrell Rasner or Phil Hughes can return from injury and even be remotely effective it will be a huge step up.
In the end what the Bronx Bombers need is a miracle run. This miracle run requires not a slight stroke of good fortune, but a huge one. Not one minor adjustment, but many significant ones. Not one good month, but a few spectacular ones. The baseball media is right when they say the 2007 New York Yankees are in great danger of missing the playoffs. However, they should do themselves a favor and not count them out until it is a mathematical impossibility. These are, after all, the New York Yankees.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
LOOKING FOR SOME RELIEF
BRONX, NY – JUNE 25, 2007
Not since the South Central Louisiana State Mud Dogs lost their water boy-turned-star linebacker Bobby Boucher have these words so truly been spoken, but I believe it was Rob Schneider who so cleverly quipped: "Oh no, we suck again!"
After two weeks of spectacular baseball the Yankees do, in fact, suck again. Going 3 and 6 in their last nine outings they are once again a sub .500 team. They have relinquished second place in the American League East to the exceptionally mediocre Toronto Blue Jays, and have (for the umpteenth time) allowed the Red Sox to push their division lead back to double digits. Clearly, something needs to change. The Bombers have proven they have enough ability and talent to go on hot streaks like few other teams in the league, but they have also proven their glaring inability to maintain those high levels of play. At least on one side of the ball.
Time and time again this Yankee squad has been exploited by the weakest aspect of their game, pitching. The Yankee hurlers have firmly established themselves as the Achilles heel of the team, and unless something drastically changes for them soon, they may prove to be the downfall. At this point, even if the Yankees go on several more miracle runs this year and manage to eke their way into the playoffs, sending their current rotation of "fire-ballers" to the hill they would be easily bounced in the first round. I, for one, do not want to spend the entire season praying for the Yankees only to watch them face a far superior rotation in a first round foregone conclusion. So why not shake it up? And I, of course, have some suggestions.
First order of business: Go after Mark Buehrle. Where are the Yankees amidst all the White Sox trade talks? They have yet to even be mentioned as a possible destination for the reliable left hander. And yet, they are front and center as one of the top candidates to acquire Texas Rangers hard hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira. Now don't get me wrong, I (like any other sane Yankee fan) would love to see a young All-Star like Teixeira land in pinstripes. But the question remains, is he really what we need? Why are the Yankees brass focusing on adding more offensive firepower in a season where that is the only thing they have not been lacking? Teixeira is a hot commodity, and any team would be lucky to pick him up, but this team needs pitching. Don't trade for him with the hopes that rookie Phil Hughes will return to save the day. Hughes is young, inexperienced and far too important of a future resource that could be ruined if he re-injures himself. Mark Buehrle is an attainable, veteran starter who has averaged 7 innings per appearance this year in Chicago. In a season where a Yankee starter seeing his way into the sixth inning is about as common as Larry King posing for a centerfold, why are we not frantic over Buehrle? Brian Cashman should be chasing this guy with a bottle of chloroform and a net. By the way, the team being mentioned most often in the rumors surrounding Mark Buehrle… the Boston Red Sox. Yeah, that should make them easier to catch.
Second order of business: Scrap the middle relief rotation. Half of the Yankees long relievers have been next to useless. Only Scott Proctor, Brian Bruney, and Mike Myers have been occasionally effective, and still none of them have exactly been the model of reliability. Luis Vizcaino, who looked like a huge pickup early in the year, has now walked 27 batters in 37 innings and racked up an atrocious 5.35 ERA. And he is only one of three Yankee relievers to achieve the magical 5 mark. Ron Villone has managed a 5.25 ERA in his limited time on the mound. Why Villone is still even in this conversation is beyond me. He looks older than pitching coach Ron Guidry and has given up at least one run in 7 out of 12 innings he's appeared (Guidry could probably out pitch him at this point too). And then there is Kyle Farnsworth. I don't even want to get started on Kyle Farnsworth. There is a simple solution to this problem; Kyle Farnsworth should be taken out to pasture and shot. How a guy with a 100mph fastball manages to get hit like a peso-filled piñata on Cinco de Mayo will never be within reasonable understanding. Stop using these pitchers. Trade them, sit them, send them down, kill them, it really doesn't matter how they do it; the Yankees need to simply stop using these scrubs.
Third, and final, order of business: Replace them with one of the five-hundred starters you have used this year. Why not take some of the Yankees' intermittent 5th starters (who should be replaced by Buehrle anyway) and use them to bolster the middle relief? Rookie Tyler Clippard has shown flashes of brilliance and a curveball-changeup combination that can keep even the most solid hitters off balance (see: Jose Reyes swinging about ten feet too early). It wouldn't be hard to imagine that he might flourish in shorter appearances. Matt DeSalvo has shown (if nothing else) the ability to draw fly ball outs, a quality asset to bring out of the pen. And Kei Igawa… well Kei Igawa hasn't shown much of anything. All I know is I'd feel a lot more comfortable knowing we only need him to string together two or three outs rather than relying on him for 18. Sure, none of these young pitchers has been bred to be a reliever, but this could be just what the Yankees need. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and having 44 year old Roger Clemens make his first regular-season relief appearance in 23 years (I was a fetus the last time he came out of the bullpen) sure seems like a sign of desperate times.
Whatever the Yankees organization decides to do about their recent troubles one thing is certain; the "ride it out and we'll be fine" mentality is losing credibility fast. With each solid game that is thrown away by poor pitching the Yankees are being pushed to initiate change rather than just hope for it. The events of this 2007 season have proven this beyond any doubt, this Yankee team is not a team of destiny, or luck, or good fortune. It is time to make something happen.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
AM I A YANKEE YET?BRONX, NY – JUNE 18, 2007
The photographers hounded him, the writers disparaged him, and worst of all his own fans booed him. Yes, New York was every bit as unforgiving as Alex Rodriguez thought it might be.
A-Rod could have gone anywhere else in the country and been treated like royalty, but he wanted to be a Yankee. He could have remained a short stop, where he had been better than anyone else in the league, but he wanted to be a Yankee. He could have headed north to Boston and been heralded as their personal Jesus (although Johnny Damon was making quite a case for that name) and been the one to save them from the dreaded curse, but he wanted to be a Yankee. Alex Rodriguez chose the only town where the fans just might try to run the best player in the league out of town, just so he could be a Yankee.
Now what is the first thing anyone will say after reading that paragraph?... "A-Rod came to New York for the money!" What is the hang up that everyone has with this guy's paycheck? Newsflash, Rodriguez was plenty rich before he came to New York and would have continued to be so regardless of where he signed. Sure "Pay-Rod" is making a fat $252 million while in the Bronx, but is that a reason to hate him? Is it really A-Rod's fault that he is the best overall player the game has seen in years? Or that the best you can do is go 2 for 4 in your Sunday beer-league game? I can't sit through an entire game in Yankee Stadium without hearing some moron shout out an asinine comment like "Well he better hit walk-offs, we're paying him enough." First of all, let me clarify that the guy decked out in Yankee gear who never has anything positive to say is not exactly a part of "we." Second of all, since when does money delegate performance? If an athlete's paycheck had any direct correlation to their performance than Mo Vaughn would still be anchoring first base over at Shea, Eli Manning wouldn't be able to overthrow 6'8" receivers and Stephon Marbury's paycheck would be roughly equivalent to what it costs to buy a pair of his shoes.
So just what exactly does Alex Rodriguez have to do to live up to his massive paycheck? How can he become a "true Yankee"? While his first season in New York wasn't spectacular the team enjoyed great success with his addition to the lineup, only to lose in record fashion to the hated Red Sox in the playoffs. True, but from what I remember that was an entire team that collapsed, not one new third baseman. In just his second season in pinstripes he won the regular season American League MVP. His third season saw Alex putting up mediocre numbers: batting .290 with 35 home runs and 121 RBIs. Those are "mediocre" numbers that most Major Leaguers would sell their first born child for (maybe it's stats like that in a so-called off year that have earned him that disproportionate bank account). At the close of 2006, A-Rod looked desperate for the approval of the city that has thus far shunned him, but he just couldn't get it. After all, he wasn't living up to their expectations.
Welcome to 2007, a year that has left much to be desired as far as the Yankees are concerned. But who has been the team's backbone? Who has carried them to many wins they may not otherwise have gotten? Who is the one player who can be most credited with keeping them afloat in the playoff race? Alex Rodriguez. Through 67 games this year he is hitting .315 and has blasted 27 home runs, which is more than 1/3 of all of the Bombers bombs. He has also racked up 73 RBIs, only 11 less than the two next best Yankees combined. As for defense, he's gone his last 31 games without an error at third base. And with a little more than a week left to go, A-Rod is a mere 85,000 ballots away from becoming the first player in Major League history to garner over 2 million All-Star votes.
So will any of this be enough? When the 2007 season comes to an end will the Yankee fans finally consider him one of their own? It seems that it could go either way. If the Yanks make the necessary push and find their way into the playoffs this could easily go down as one of the most legendary performances in Yankee history. And if they don't? Well the fan reaction could very well make this A-Rod's last season in pinstripes. If he chooses to opt out of his contract and feels he's not wanted here he may just be done with it. And as he walks out of town with an even bigger bag of money under his arm, wondering what more he could have done, some jerk in a wife-beater with a fat gut and a gold Yankees NY chain entangled in his robust chest hair will yell out; "Good riddance A-Fraud, you couldn't even get us to the playoffs!"
Thursday, June 14, 2007
SHADES OF BASEBALL
BRONX, NY – JUNE 12, 2007
Smiles in the Bronx. Fans wielding their hats and jerseys proudly. George Steinbrenner losing that "near murder" look in his eye. That's right kids it's finally here… Yankees baseball.
The Bronx Bombers are riding a season best six game winning streak and have taken 9 of their last 11. They've jumped Toronto and Baltimore into second place in the division. They've cut Boston's first place lead back to single digits. They have even made it so John Sterling insisting "they're not out of it yet" no longer reeks of apologist desperation. For the moment, it looks like the Yankees may be back.
Skipper Joe Torre attributes the streak to a new found "looseness" amongst the players. If looseness is the cause of the recent spectacular play the Yanks must have been feeling tighter than a Simon Cowell t-shirt early in the season. Regardless, they look like a completely different team these days. They look like the Yankees the rest of the league should fear, the Yankees they always have.
Bobby Abreu is filling the 3-hole in the line-up with a whole new man; namely one who doesn't swing the bat like a blind little leaguer. Since the start of the month Abreu has raised his batting average from a laughable .228 to a respectable .272. Overall it is still poor by Abreu's standards but it looks like a sure sign that he's headed in the right direction. In the last 12 days he has ridden a 10 game hit streak to six doubles, nine RBIs and 10 walks, posting an astounding .500 average over the stretch. He has also re-established himself as the lynch pin of the Yankee line-up. When Abreu was at his worst and dropped to the 8th spot in the order the bombers simply lacked the ability to get in a rhythm offensively, no matter how well Jeter, Posada, or A-Rod was hitting.
Speaking of Alex Rodriguez, he looks like April reincarnated. After coming out of the gate like a bull that was kicked in the bean bag, Rodriguez had a sub-par May (although any month would pale as a follow up to his mammoth April). While not hitting exceptionally poor during the month A-Rod did endure a few cold streaks, posting only 11 RBI for the month, and it seemed that he had finally come down to earth. Well, not quite. The hot June sun seems to have revived Krypton's only child and returned him to his early-season form. With the month not even half over he has seven more RBIs than he did in all of May and has raised his batting average back to .304. He now sits high atop the league lead in home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage.
While Abreu and Rodriguez have been huge during this streak, the Yanks sudden resurgence can be attributed to others as well. The unwavering consistency of Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada (who, incidentally, also leads the league with two hilarious SportsCenter commercials this year) has held the offense together in even the worst games. The scrappy utility infielder Miguel Cairo has admirably filled the defensive void left at first base by the injured Doug Meintkeiwicz, and has proved to be far more effective at the plate than the starter. Robby Cano is looking more like the confident hitter he was last year with each passing game while Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Melky Cabrera (who has also been playing a spectacular center field) all seem to be clicking at the plate as well.
Yes, the bombers offense looks to be in top form. As for the pitching, it has been the question mark all year but the Yankee hurlers are finally doing well enough to help the red hot offense keep its leads. Roger Clemens made his debut on Saturday against the Pirates and looked solid. While he did labor through a few innings he had little trouble overall posting 7 strikeouts and giving up 3 runs. The following day the bullpen looked (dare I say) reliable when four relievers combined for 5 1/3 scoreless innings after replacing rookie Tyler Clippard. Most importantly perhaps, closer Mariano Rivera is beginning to come around as well. Just when I thought they were going to change his entrance song from "Enter Sandman" to "Hit Me Baby, One More Time," Mo is showing the form Yankee fans are accustomed to and hasn't given up a run in his last 8 ½ innings pitched.
The Yankees as a team have made a turn and showed me some things in June that I haven't seen from them so far this year. They are arguing bad calls voraciously, hustling in the field and on the base paths, manning the batters box with confidence, and even laughing and cheering in the dugout. When I was just about ready to give up on the 2007 season these Yankees showed me they actually have some heart. And whoever deserves the most credit for the turnaround isn't what matters, because I can finally say without a hint of sarcasm: "We ain't dead yet."
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
BAD LUCK BOMBERS
BOSTON, MA – JUNE 2, 2007
Down 12.5 games to the hated Red Sox on Saturday, the Yankees seemed poised to take their second win in a row in Beantown, and glimmers of hope finally began to shine in my eyes. That is until my hopes were run over by Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. Yet another bruise on the battered bodies of my beloved bombers (got to love alliteration).
On a bobbled double play ball Yankees first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz leaned back into position to take the throw on a hop, instead he took Lowell's knee right to the side of his head. Now as much as I wish I could blame him, Mike Lowell did absolutely nothing wrong. He hustled down the line just as he should have. Doug Mientkiewicz was not a victim of a vicious play; he was simply another victim of the recently terrible New York Yankee luck.
The first baseman suffered a concussion, a cervical sprain, and a fractured wrist. I have fallen out of a moving car and sustained less injury. And we're talking about baseball, a supposedly non-contact sport. Well, tell that to the dent in Mientkiewicz's brain.
So why did this freak play occur? Because each time the 2007 Yankees take 1 step forward they inevitably take about 5 steps back. It seems there is nothing the bombers can do to gain ground on their rivals. Of course, plenty of their struggles can be plain and simply blamed on their poor play. But I defy any fan to deny the black cat that seems to be lurking in the Yankee locker room. Allow me to elaborate:
Chien Ming Wang
In a year where hamstring injuries spread throughout the team like herpes through a frat party, the Yankees were forced to start their season without their ace on the hill. Going into the year it was clear that the Yanks biggest issue was going to be their pitching; losing Wang off the bat was just salt in the wound. Minus Wang they started the season 5-6 (although at this point I'd consider selling a kidney for a 5-6 stretch).
Needs no explanation. Also I refuse to type too much for fear of getting injured even talking about him.
A broken fibula. Honestly? Do I really need to say anything else? Again, this is baseball. This injury would be understandable if a coked up Lawrence Taylor emerged from the dugout and gave him the Joe Theisman treatment. As funny as that may have been though, it wasn't the case. Karstens was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, on the mound. I have seen plenty of line drives hit back at pitchers that did plenty of damage. But a broken leg? That is just mean. Especially with Karstens looking like he may be this year's Aaron Small, proving himself to be the most improbably reliable starter, this injury was extra painful.
There he was, the savior. The phenom who was here to toss no hitters and save the season. Hughes looked exactly like my expectations had told me he would that night… for 7 innings. It's too bad he picked the wrong year to break out. Before I could crack too wide of a smile Hughes would limp off the field to join half of the Yankees roster and all of my hopes and dreams in the intensive care unit.
Now it may be hard to argue that the injury to the first baseman will affect the team as much as the others have, but it just might. While he was hitting only .224 and drove in only 16 RBI's, he had been masterful in the field. Mientkiewicz had been as reliable defensively as any first baseman in the league. He showed heart and hustle that some teammates seemed to lack (I won't name any names but I'm pointing to right field). I also find it hard to believe that having Mientkiewicz, his high school friend and teammate, in the locker room hasn't helped account for Alex Rodriguez's seemingly more relaxed and confident demeanor (not to mention inspiring his fashionable new high-sock look).
I guess the real question here is just how much worse can it get? How much longer will we be able to say "it's still early" or "we're not dead yet" and really believe it? Just how much more bad luck can the 2007 New York Yankees have? If I had to guess, I would say keep your chin up Yankee fans, it can only go uphill from here. I've got to go though, have to make it to the emergency press conference. Roger Clemens just tweaked his groin…
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
PITCHERS AND HITTERS: UNITE IN HARMONY
BRONX, NY—MAY 15, 2007
Don't look now folks but the New York Yankees are 2 games under .500…. see, I told you not to look.
After a much needed off day the Yankees find themselves staring at one of their most difficult, and arguably the most important stretch of games they will face this year. It is only May 15th. We are barely more than a month into this season and we're already looking at a possible make or break situation for the Yankees. Captain Derek Jeter addressed the media in his usual cool and collected manner, "We've got 100-something games left. The sky ain't falling yet." Sure, Derek. It is one thing to say that for the media's sake, but even he must be thinking about what these two weeks could really mean to the Yanks.
Over the next 12 games the Yankees will face off against both the Mets and the Red Sox. Two series that also happen to be sandwiched by a couple of teams that have notoriously given the bombers a hard time; the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of the northern LA region of Anaheim (whatever they're called now, they have consistently pestered the Yanks over the past few seasons). These dozen contests will almost certainly prove to be the ultimate early year gut check for the '07 Yankees. In the end, no matter how much any of them are putting on the "stay positive" show for the cameras, they are all well aware that a continuance of their recent trends could leave them in hole too deep to climb out of.
The Red Sox are thoroughly whipping the Yankees in the AL East standings. Now looking back at the Yanks from 8.5 games ahead and already winning their season series, the Sox don't need much more help to run away with the division. The last thing the Yankees can afford is to help them pad their lead.
While across town, the Mets are thoroughly whipping the Yanks in New York street cred. As far as this young season goes, no one would even bat an eye at the question of who the better New York team is, they hail from Queens (come on bombers, you've got to represent the boogie-down a little better than that). The Mets have undoubtedly played themselves into the spot of favorite for the upcoming subway series, and the last thing a reeling team needs is a shellacking at the hands of their consistently inferior cross-town rivals.
The strange thing about this Yankees club is that in spite of their enormous amounts of talent they keep finding ways to lose. Early on the onus was clearly on the backs of the pitching staff. Between the completely battered starting rotation and a bullpen that never met a lead they couldn't blow, the pitching was all that was wrong with the Yankees. Now, just as the pitching staff seems to be coming around and forming something resembling a respectable rotation, the Yankees offense has all but disappeared.
After their first solid home stand of the year, the Yankees hit the road and apparently forgot their bats (note to the equipment manager: get out before the Boss uses you as his next scapegoat). The offense that only last year was being compared to the famous "Murderer's Row" lineup has looked a lot more like "Mow 'em down Row." Aside from Jeter and Jorge Posada (who sit in first and second atop the league in batting average), the Yankees have looked completely lost at the plate when their pitchers have finally found their place on the mound. It seems odd that a team which is in the top five in four major offensive categories would be held to two runs or less in three of their last four games, but that's exactly what they've done (against the Felix-less Mariners no less). The steadfast shortstop and catcher have been the only bright spots in a lineup that has come up empty at the worst possible times: Robinson Cano, 9 for his last 63. Bobby Abreu, 2 for 22. Jason Giambi, 0 for 18. And the invincible April man A-Rod now in a 2 for 17 funk.
So for those who say that baseball isn't a true team sport, here is your proof. The New York Yankees are a club bursting at the seams with talent on both sides of the ball, but with half of them showing up the results have been mediocre at best. As long as the monster offense is accompanied by horrendous pitching they will continue to lose. As long as the gritty, unexpectedly reliable pitching is accompanied by a complete lack of run production they will continue to lose. Baseball is in fact a team sport, and these 2007 Yankees are a fine club.
No team in the league has a shot of beating the Mets or BoSox if they're only firing on half of their cylinders. These are complete teams, and you had better be a complete team if you want to hang around long enough to face them in October. So keep you're eyes closed tight and your fingers crossed Yankees fans, because if your squad doesn't become a team over these next 12 games, the sky may very well be falling.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
REVOLUTION OF THE 10 MAN ROTATIONBRONX, NY – May 8, 2007
In a bold move the New York Yankees have initiated the first major alteration to baseball strategy in decades… the ten man pitching rotation. Only time will tell if this intrepid move pays off.
The injury riddled Yanks staff has shuffled in more men than a strip club in a desperate effort to avoid sending GM Brian Cashman to the mound for an emergency start. In their mad scramble the Yankees have become the first team in baseball history to use 10 different starters in their first 30 games. Is this desperation? No, no Yankee fans, it's innovation. They also became the first team since the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys to start 6 rookies in only 30 games. But fear not New York faithful, for nothing says impending championship like an Alleghenys reference.
Sure, the events of this still young season may look bleak to some, but it is essential that we look forward to where we are headed from here. Despite the bumps in the road thus far, the future is bright for these Yanks. First off, help has finally arrived in the form of a 45 year old with frosted tips. True, this could be the season that Roger Clemens aging body breaks down from "The Rocket" into the "The Wrinkle." Then again, there is always the chance he is his dominant self and that the drop-off doesn't happen until next year (when the Yanks have inevitably re-signed him for a 1 year, Gross National Product of Switzerland contract).
And let us not forget the rookies. For the most part these young upstarts have given the Yankees solid, efficient innings. Recounting the rookie starts, aside from the 4 dinger tragedy served up by Chase Wright, these most youthful of Yanks have showed an extravagant amount of promise. Far more promise, in fact, than the wily veterans who have inevitably blown their leads (with most sincere apologies to Matt DeSalvo), and riddled their records with no-decisions. Some might say this could be damaging to the young athletes' psyches, but then some might say it builds character. Speaking of character, we cannot ignore the poise of the most impressive rookie of the bunch, Philip Hughes. His impeccable form stirs the memories of a young Roger Clemens (when Clemens was 50 pounds lighter and didn't have a haircut like Pasey Witter from Dawson's Creek). Hughes showed absolutely filthy talent before pulling his hamstring in his bid for a no-hitter. And with a new strength and conditioning coach arriving in town it is safe to assume Hughes will be able to take his next no-hit effort into at least the 8th inning, before the '07 Yankees injury curse ends his career when his eyeball is punctured by an errant Bronx pigeon. Still, manager Joe Torre would likely start a Philip Hughes with no depth perception over imported Japanese rookie Kei Igawa. The ridiculously poor man's Dice-K was recently sent down to the minors after proving himself sufficiently useless as a Yankee starter. Although to his credit, he did offer up some solid "relief" innings after Jeff Karstens' leg cracked like a peanut shell.
As for the latter innings, they have provided the most pressing issue for the boys in pinstripes, their "relief" pitching. The only thing the Yanks bullpen has been able to relieve the team of is the crushing pressure of having to bat with a lead. Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Myers have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is possible, in spite of having some of the nastiest stuff in the league, to get smacked around like a graffiti artist in Singapore. However, let's not overlook their decent ERA's thanks to the fact that they are, for the most part, giving up everyone else's runs (All-Star Game here we come!). Scott Proctor has made his mark by earning a 4 game suspension for doling out his own form of vigilante justice. However, the rest could allow him to eventually pitch an entire inning without giving up a hit. And then there is Mo. Old reliable. The rock solid reliever who can always be counted on in a jam. What can you say about the Sandman that hasn't already been said? Maybe that he earned this nickname because his current ERA, hovering around 8, is the same exact number of hours expert physicians recommend for a quality night's rest (hardly a coincidence).
But I digress. As I said, we mustn't look back. Let us look ahead to the future; to all of the leads Roger Clemens will unavoidably watch disappear moments after he is pulled from the game, to Philip Hughes building us up only to break our fragile fan hearts again, to Kei Igawa's thriving career as a dominant single-A middle reliever, and most of all to the completely revamped bullpen we have come August after Steinbrenner has buried all of the current fire-ballers under the foundation of the new Yankee Stadium. In times of great difficulty we as fans must always forge ahead, and above all, remain positive… after all, these are the New York Yankees.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
HOW ABOUT SOME APRIL DISMAY?BRONX, NY – APRIL 30, 2007
How about this for a headline?
Yanks Drop 9th Out of 10. As a dismal April came to a close this was plastered all over New York newspapers. Yes, the mighty New York Yankees ended the month looking up in awe at the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from their seat in the AL East cellar.
How about these for statistics?
The Yankees pitching staff yielded the third worst ERA in the league at 5.02. The franchise set a major league record by going through more pitchers than a bar on St. Patty's day, using at least 5 different arms in 10 straight games. The Yanks also managed to lose 12 games where they scored 4 or more runs by giving up 5 or more in 17 out of 23 games.
How about this for a durable roster?
Mike Mussina/ Chien Ming Wang/ Hideki Matsui- Evidently traded their hamstrings in the off-seasonJohnny Damon- Strained calf/ ailing backJorge Posada- Bruised thumbDerek Jeter- Bruised thighJeff Karstens- Fractured fibula (people get hit by cars and don't fracture their fibulas)Carl Pavano- Suffering from being Carl PavanoAlex Rodriguez- Kryptonite… wait, what?
How about this for one man show?
That's right. The Yankee who New Yorkers unofficially dubbed Pay-Rod, A-Fraud, and many other words that can't be printed in major circulation is now officially the team's savior. Anchoring their still stellar offense A-Rod had one of the most monster starts in the history of the game. His 14 home runs and 35 RBI could have single handedly given most teams as many wins as the Yanks managed to compile. But somehow the Yanks have managed to ride the wave of this extraordinary streak right into last place.
How about the boss?
And where is George Steinbrenner during all of this? Well let's just thank our lucky stars for A-Rod or we may have been talking the boss down from the ledge of the stadium façade. In an unusually docile statement he referred to the start as "clearly unacceptable" but backed Manager Joe Torre with "confidence that he can turn it around." Has the boss really settled down? Or is it just the calm before the crazy-storm? At this point we can't count out injuries costing both Ron Guidry and Torre their coaching jobs…only to be re-signed as pitcher and catcher respectively.
The bottom line is this; Steinbrenner has been noticeably close to losing it over the past few seasons. This could very well be the straw that breaks the angry, senile old camel's back. If the Yankees aren't legitimately in the playoff race by the All-Star break the boss may officially lose his mind. The pressure to win year in and year out in New Year could push him right into the insanity he has always teetered dangerously close to.
So pre-order your San Juan Yankees gear now folks, because it could very well go south from here.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Greg Oden: Fraud.ATLANTA, GA – APRIL 4, 2007
Scandal. It has plagued the world of sports as far back as the invention of the games go. Well I hope you're sitting down, because I have stumbled across a scandal that will shake the sports world to its very core. Forget the shrunken package of the man breathing down the neck of baseball's most heralded record. Never mind that the NFL is amassing more arrests than the average third world country. You can even ignore the fact that cricket coaches are getting choked out like they're P.J. Carlesimo. A new and worse epidemic has reared its ugly head in the world of college basketball.
With the remnants of the point shaving scandals of the past all but disintegrated, a new form of cheating has emerged: year shaving.
While staying in Atlanta for this year's Final Four I had the privilege of interviewing some of the nation's top players. However, I missed out on arguably the tournaments most compelling figure, Greg Oden. This 19 year-old phenom is a near lock for the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft and was set to be the main focus for my article. However, on the morning I was supposed to interview him I rushed downstairs only to find an empty room. To my dismay he had already left for practice, but what I found was far more intriguing than any interview. Because the door to the now vacant room was open, I took the liberty of stepping in to check out the amenities the players get to enjoy. There wasn't much there, just your average run-of-the-mill hotel room. There was one oddity though, a discarded box of "Just For Men" hair gel in the receptacle in the bathroom. I asked myself what use two 19 year olds could possibly have for a gel that old men use to get rid of gray hair?
Thinking I clearly must have had the wrong room, I headed down to the main desk to investigate. The young man working the desk informed me that I had in fact been in the wrong room. He excitedly recounted to me how he had registered that room for basketball legend Bill Russell, and now had his autograph on the bill. Strange, I thought, as a sports reporter I figured I would have been aware of Russell's presence at the tournament. I asked to see the bill and to my surprise, the room had for some reason been charged to the University of Ohio State. The wheels in my head began turning. Why would OSU shell out for Bill Russell's room? And how could it be that I had not seen someone as famous as Bill Russell for the entire weekend? Come to think of it, I hadn't seen or heard anything about him in some time.
I sat in the hotel bar mulling over a few theories. Maybe Russell was there as a guest of Ohio State. But why? He had spent his college days all the way across the country in San Francisco. Throwing back drink after drink I struggled to put anything together that made sense. It wasn't until a pre-game highlight show came on that it all finally made sense. As they reeled through dunk after dunk and stat after stat of Greg Oden, Jay Bilas made the comment that finally opened my eyes… "I know it's been said, but it is just hard to believe this kid is only 19."
Suddenly it came to me in a flash of light. It IS hard to believe, because Greg Oden is not 19 years old. Greg Oden is a fake! He is no more real than the tooth fairy (sorry kids). Greg Oden is none other than basketball legend Bill Russell.
Take the blinders off America. It has been right in front of us all this time and somehow we have all managed to completely miss it. Is there really any rational part of you that looks at Greg Oden and actually believes he is a kid? Denial is useless. You can see it all coming together as you read each successive word on this page. The ugly pieces of this puzzle are combining to paint the picture of the biggest farce the sports world has ever seen.
Think back on this year's NCAA tournament. I don't have enough fingers on my hands to count the amount of times I heard an analyst make mention of Oden looking tired. Like Jim Nantz recalling images of Wilt Chamberlain when Oden would fail to make it past half court on offense (Not Wilt, but you're not far off Jim). Of course he is tired. Your legs would be a bit weary too if you had already spent 1956-1969 dominating the hardwood. And what are the only other negatives you ever hear about Greg Oden? "He is too laid back"… maybe he is afraid of throwing out his back. Or "he doesn't seem to have that killer instinct"… well, few Great Grandfathers do.
I know what you're thinking, "amusing, but impossible." But is it really? What does any great imposter need? A solid strategy along with a well thought out disguise that is still simple enough to not arouse suspicion… thank you Danny Almonte and Superman. In the wake of the little league age scandal what if Bill Russell saw opportunity? Danny Almonte's extra years of experience (and his driver's license) made him far superior to his competition. Many thought Russell retired too early, what if this solidified a desire in him to get back in the game? And what if after stumbling across the old Superman movie on TNT he realized just how simple it was to fool the masses? With the help of some coloring gel (undoubtedly introduced to him by former opponent and current moustache paint peddler Walt "Clyde" Frazier) and a simple uniform change he discovered how to conjure up his own inner Clark Kent? Doesn't seem so impossible now does it?
The jig is up Russell. This must stop now. Year shaving is wrong (although come to think of it shaving probably isn't the appropriate word for this). You can't just tarnish the innocence of what many consider the year's greatest sporting event because you miss the game. You simply cannot be allowed to be the first player to be an NBA lottery pick twice. I'm begging you Bill, come clean. Do the right thing. Do what all of the other retired players do, become a shitty commentator (like fellow Bill, Walton).
Friday, April 06, 2007
20 PREDICTIONS FOR THE 2007 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL SEASON
1) Alex Rodriguez will not hit a single home run that a Yankee fan can't find a negative in.
2) The Marlins will lead their division at the All-Star break. Followed shortly after by the announcement of their intentions to fire the head coach and dump the entire infield at season's end.
3) Bronson Arroyo will add yet another notch to his "Hair-dos of N'Sync" belt.
4) Manny Ramirez will have a career year up until demanding a mid-season trade, then disappearing into the Green Monster for a bathroom break… never to be seen again.
5) Lou Piniella will free up cap room by ripping off Mark Prior's arm and beating Kerry Wood to death with it.
6) Mike Piazza, now a DH, will use his extra time in the dugout to write his memoirs about being a gay man in Major League Baseball. Tim Hardaway will no longer attend his annual barbecues.
7) The gyro-ball will live up to its hype when Daisuke Matsuzaka takes the mound with a wiffle ball.
8) The Washington Nationals will lose 110 games… their citizenship will be revoked.
9) Jose Contreras will defect back to Cuba to escape the tyranny and intolerance of Ozzie Guillen.
10) Pedro Martinez will publicly say at least 10 things that make absolutely no sense.
11) After striking out for the fourth time in one game Dmitri Young will bite his bat in half.
12) Hideki Matsui will re-injure his wrist when he trips over one of his ear lobes tracking down a fly ball.
13) A freak accident will take the life of Julio Franco when a splintered bat severs his body in two. The rings in his midsection will reveal he was 703 years old.
14) Despite his flashy red Diamondbacks gear Randy Johnson will still look like an emu.
15) Gil Meche will literally laugh all the way to the bank each time he cashes a paycheck.
16) Sammy Sosa will be suspended for 15 games when an umpire notices the bat he is using is aluminum. In the post game press conference he conveniently forgets English and stammers out something about putting on a show in batting practice.
17) Ken Griffey Jr. will pull a hamstring when he steps on a sunflower seed in the dugout.
18) In order to compete with Grady Sizemore's "Grady's Ladies" and regain their status as the league heartthrobs, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will create their own fan section: the "DJ/A-Rod Hoe Squad."
19) A mischievous equipment manager will remove the 'S' from Albert Pujols' jersey in an attempt to see how many times Cardinals commentators will say poo-hole on the air.
20) While on an inter-league road trip to Seattle, Barry Bonds will be caught with his pants down sitting atop the 605 foot tall Space Needle.