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Tag Archives: Joe Girardi

(Baseball) Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend

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Hideki Matsui Reprint from Flickr

Hideki Matsui Reprint from Flickr (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following post was written with assistance from Daryl Hochheiser.

Here we are again, it’s that most wonderful time of year. The 2012 baseball season already started, but not in the U.S. In Japan, for reasons I cannot fathom, the Oakland A’s and Florida/Miami Marlins got the ball rolling. If anyone has any idea why these teams traveled halfway round the world to open the baseball season—and the A’s didn’t even take Matsui with them—please enlighten me via the Comment box.

As some readers know, I was born in the Bronx, where the two best features are a top-notch zoo and the New York Yankees, the team I love, watch, and write about the most. (Note to Red Sox fans and other Yankee haters: I erase all Yankee trash talk from my blog, so don’t even bother.) Living in Northern California, I also keep tabs on the SF Giants and Oakland A’s; and, since my son’s a fanatic Mets masochist, I follow the other New York team as well. Welcome to Dirty Laundry’s unique take on the 2012 season.

New York Yankees

For the first time in 17 years Jorge Posada won’t be squatting behind home plate. He won’t be in the locker room, and he won’t be coming up to bat. He’s probably on a beach somewhere with his wife and kids. Though Jorge’s leadership will undoubtedly be missed, the team will survive. The question is: will I? He was my favorite player, and my heart aches as I contemplate watching Yankee games without him. Meanwhile, my second favorite player showed up late for Spring training to announce he had big news, but maddeningly still hasn’t shared it; I and everyone else suspect that Mariano Rivera will be retiring at the end of this season. No longer can we relax during a close or winning game when they make it through the 8th, knowing that when The Sandman takes the mound in the 9th it’s a done deal. The next few years are gonna be tough on us Yankee fans, as the old guard retires one by one. Meanwhile, miracles do happen: providing a compensatory lift, Andy Pettitte is coming back to the mound! Incredible! It makes me wonder if the Yanks have  a revolving door; players are always coming back, either to play or coach or manage.

The biggest rivalry in baseball, Yankees v. Boston Red Sox, gets an infusion of yet more rancor this season with Bobby Valentine taking over as Red Sox coach. He jumped  into the fray 
immediately, saying he hates the Yankees now, and fondly recalled when retired Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek ‘‘beat up’’ Alex Rodriguez in 2004. If this is how it’s gonna be, the Yankees better hire a sarcastic witty writer to feed Girardi some snappy comebacks.

San Francisco Giants

What a time these guys have had. They win the World Series in 2010, are feted in maniacal style by a super-adoring city, they enter the 2011 season still on a high…and on May 26th, the Marlins* Scott Cousins slides home cleats first and rams himself directly into catcher Buster Posey, the team’s latest greatest asset, sending him to hospital with a broken bone in his left ankle and god knows what else, ensuring he can’t play for the rest of the season at least. I happened to have tickets to the next day’s game, and let me tell you, the place was like a funeral parlor. The regular lineup was replaced by the second-string (is that what it’s called?), and the air was literally heavy with despair. The Giants played listlessly and lost, and who could blame them?

But hey, Posey’s back! Being young and healthy, it’s possible he’s fully healed and recovered. I just hope he’s learned how to situate his body in such a way that when a runner’s heading home he isn’t directly in the line of fire. And I hope the guys can recapture some of their 2010 glory.

(*By the way, the Florida Marlins seem to have changed their name to the Miami Marlins. I can’t help but wonder if they’re pulling a Tampa Bay, those devils who transformed themselves 3 years ago with a simple name change. (See Tampa Bay story here.)

Update on Brian Stowe, victim of the vicious beating that occurred at Dodger Stadium after a game against the Giants: These guys have almost as intense a rivalry as their East Coast compatriots mentioned above, with a history that goes back to their days as NY teams. After many months in hospital, Stowe is home now, in a wheelchair, with severe memory loss and trouble speaking. Motivated by the incident, California is considering a law that would ban people with a violent history from attending sports events; they’re trying to figure out how to implement such a law, since anyone can buy someone else a ticket and they can slip in unnoticed. On top of having lousy security, the Dodgers were, until recently, in big financial trouble due to the owners’ divorce and the money battles that always go along with breakups. Last week, however, Magic Johnson and his company bought the team. We shall see what happens next…

The Giants home opener isn’t until  a week into the season, on—shudder—Friday the 13th.  At that time they’ll celebrate the 50th Anniversary of The World Series Team Of 1962; on hand will be Willie Mays, Don Larsen, Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey. The team itself is  130 years old, with 55 of them having been spent in SF.  On that day there’s bound to be a huge crowd, making it difficult to score free viewing in the Giants’ secret observation site. Now keep this under wraps: I don’t want mobs to overrun the place and ruin a good thing. To get to the secret site, just walk around behind the stadium, halfway down the boardwalk and the bay, and you can’t miss it. There’s usually a small crowd waiting to get into an enclosed area behind the fence at the outfield. Yes, it’s a long way from home plate, but you can practically reach out and pat an outfielder on the ass. Each viewer gets 3 innings before they have to make room for someone else. Sometimes there’s a guard around to hustle people along, but not always; still, people pretty much follow the honor system here. Of course, if nobody’s waiting, which is frequently the case, you can stay and watch the game as long as you want. Now sssh!…remember, this is a secret!

Oakland Athletics:

In Japan, The Seattle Mariners won the first game, and the A’s evened things out by winning the second. As I said above, Hideki Matsui, another of my favorite guys, was missing in action—he still hasn’t signed a contract with the A’s. If he’d been there, he would likely have gotten a hero’s welcome in his native country, where he was a star in high school and for the Yomiuri Giants. Matsui’s one of several former all-stars who’s still looking for work; others include Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Miguel Tejada, Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Felipe Lopez .

Miguel Tejada has said he wants to end his career where he started it, in Oakland, but so far the A’s haven’t responded. They do have one exciting new player: Manny Ramirez. He of the fabulous hits and hair is an Oakland A now; unfortunately, he can’t even begin playing until 50 games of his suspension go by, punishment for substance abuse.He will not be punished by anyone, however, for abusing his wife: since she won’t cooperate, domestic battery charges were dismissed.

On my mind is whether or not Billy Beane will stop compulsively trading away players every 5 minutes (see The Oakland A’s Diaspora). On everyone else’s mind, the big issue is the perennial question “Will they stay or will they go?” The A’s are always leaving Oakland for somewhere, anywhere, that’ll give them a decent stadium. Who can blame them, when they share the one they currently inhabit with the Raiders? I’d love it if the city would build one down by the water near Jack London Square, but I’m not holding my breath: Oakland can’t even buy textbooks for its schools, so building a stadium doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

New York Mets

To rectify problems with their new stadium, the Mets built a new wall closer to home plate. The wall was the least of their problems: the team was somehow mixed up with  Bernie Madoff, and on March 19th agreed to pay $162 Million to trustees of victims in the case.  As a result, their finances have been damaged, and they’ve had to slash payroll. Despite this, they’ll have new uniforms, bearing a patch for the late Gary Carter, who died of brain cancer on February 16th, and another patch marking the team’s 50th anniversary. By all accounts we shouldn’t expect too much out of the Mets this year. Those poor, long-suffering Mets fans!

Okay! Let’s PLAY BALL!

Yankee Collapse

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Blecch!

I’ve never seen the Yankees play so poorly. They stranded players — bases loaded — twice. A-Rod was dramatic, as usual, in his  fuck-ups. Mariano Rivera, the only reliable pitcher, did a 1-2-3 out 9th inning, but there was nothing there to save: the score was 3-2 Detroit. I’m so mad at them — I’m not even sad, don’t feel sorry for them, I’m just pissed off at the way they threw away the pennant and the chance to play in the

World Series. Joe Girardi made his usual idiotic choices; I can’t help wondering if George Steinbrenner would fire him, were he alive. Nobody talks about firing Girardi.

Most likely it was Posada‘s last game as a Yankee, probably in baseball altogether. When asked about it, he turned away to hide his tears.

I fell in love with the Tigers‘ manager, Jim Leyland, a cool and warm guy if you know what I mean; it’s all there in his eyes. Two years older than me, he smokes and defends it. Because of him I’m rooting for the Tigers to annihilate the Texas Rangers, owned by right-wing conservative Nolan Ryan, who’s pals with  George Bush. So at least there’s a team to care about; usually once the Yanks go so do I.

I got to see Moneyball at last. Very entertaining, but I hate it that audiences now think Billy Beane is some kind of hero. He isn’t. Just take one look at where the Oakland A‘s are today, and at what BB’s been doing on the side (lecturing to financial companies) and draw your own conclusions.

Also, while it’s true that the statistical method he used to choose players, sabermetrics, worked well for awhile and was adopted by other teams to a certain degree, Beane went way too far with it. Baseball is a game with heart, and done by the numbers it wouldn’t be the same. What kind of person bases the fate of players and teams on statistics? A cold person, IMO. In fact, I read that the movie producers put the storyline of his daughter in  just to humanize the guy.

So the Yankee season’s over, and soon the rest of baseball will be also. I just wish I’d had time to write more about it this year. As they say in the game: Wait’ll next year!

Yankees v. Posada: Tossing The Catcher

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It began last season, although we didn’t realize just what was beginning, when A.J. Burnett demanded his own personal catcher, saying he couldn’t work with 15-year veteran Jorge Posada. At the end of the season, we were told Jorge wouldn’t be catching at all in 2011 but would be in the lineup as DH. Alarming as this was, we still didn’t get what was happening. It is only now, after Posada’s been benched, apparently forever, that it’s become eminently clear: the Yankee super structure is trying to get rid of him. Is this any way to treat a player who’s been with the organization 15 years, one of the “Core Four” who played together longer than any other teammates in any sport, a catcher who’s run the games, the locker room and the team almost as much as the Captain? You bet your ass it isn’t!

The general public became aware  something strange was brewing a few months ago, when Jorge pulled himself from the lineup rather than bat ninth, which must’ve felt like the ultimate humiliation — plus who knows what preceded that move by Joe Girardi? Suddenly the media was all over the story of Posada v. Yankees. Everyone had something to say, my favorite comment, as I wrote, being the one made by Red Sox DH David Ortiz, which was, in part,  “You’re going to tell me that Posada can’t catch a game out there? Come on, man…that is a good hitter. I don’t care what anybody says.

Since then, Posada’s been making a huge effort to contribute to the team, but, unfortunately, his efforts haven’t borne much fruit: in 90 games this season, he’s hitting .230, as compared to his career .273 mark. A few days ago manager Joe Girardi informed Posada he is no longer the DH player. From now on, it’s likely that Eric Chavez will be DH against right-handed pitchers, and Andruw Jones against lefties. Chavez, himself a veteran, feels awkward being in this position: “I’m not trying to replace anyone or anything like that,” he said. “I’ll just do whatever they need me to do.”

No doubt it’s withdrawal from catching that’s to blame for Posada’s poor performance…but people like Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner don’t give a shit about reasons, they care about one thing only: WINning. (Actually, they care only for money, but in baseball it amounts to the same thing.)

Even if it is time for Posada to leave, the Yankees could and should be doing it in a much classier way, instead of behaving even worse than they did when Joe Torre got the boot.  Their biggest rival, the Red Sox, treat their own a lot better: When Mike Lowell left them last year, he was celebrated with Mike Lowell Day and other sentimental rituals. Jason Varitek, who’ll be leaving after this season, is still catching a few games, and serving as consultant to the newbies. I don’t recall any big ceremonies when the most recent long-time Yankees, Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez, left, but at least they weren’t mistreated. Then again, Bernie Williams simply disappeared, with rumors buzzing.

They could have let Posada catch a few games this season; I don’t believe he’s suddenly incapable of it. Instead, he sits on the bench looking miserable. My heart breaks for him–and so do many others. Here are a few comments  from around the Internet.

From ESPN Online by Stephen A. Smith : Humiliated but not humbled, the veteran should take the high road — unlike the Yankees…Now it’s up to Posada to remind them of how it should be done.It’s up to Posada to point out all the maneuvers that have been used against him and to elocute the classless way this organization has acted toward him at times. It’s up to Posada, the catcher with 270 career homers and a lifetime .273 batting average, to remind the Yankees that he wasn’t just a spectator during those four World Series championships.

From the Wall Street Journal by Daniel Barbarisi: It is the lowest moment in a humbling season for the 39-year-old Posada, as he was stripped of his catcher’s job, then removed as DH against left-handed pitchers, and now, finally, taken out of the starting lineup completely.

From Mass. Live.com, by Ron ChimelisRed Sox fans should take no delight in the sad farewell of Jorge Posada…Joe Girardi has said he knew he might be in charge when the day came that the team’s resident icons would hit the wall erected by Father Time. For Posada, it has come with a vengeance. 

His last two months will be spent on the bench, and no matter what anyone says, a player cannot lead a team from there.

This is significant, because for as much leadership as Derek Jeter has given the Yankees, Posada has been at least as much his team’s heart and soul, and maybe more.The Yankees will go on, but they are losing something of value. 

So are those of us who love baseball and the men who represent it well, no matter what uniform they wear.

Saying goodbye is never easy, and some people are worse at it than others. Still, there’s no excuse for what the Yankees are doing. Right now I’m watching them bury the Anaheim Angels, but I’m less than jubilant. Every so often the camera zeroes in on Posada, sitting alone on the bench with his teammates out in the field, his face wearing an expression of defeat. I hope, as one writer above suggested, he decides to walk away before they do any worse to him.

Jorge Posada is my favorite ball player. I’m not so sure I’ll remain a Yankee fan once he’s gone, if how I feel watching this game is any indication.  I’ll have to kiss my hometown boys goodbye, and take the last leap West: after 23 years in the Bay Area I’ll finally become a Giants fan.

More DL Posts on Posada:

We Stand Behind Jorge
The Beauty of Love: Book Review
Posada Hits Grand Slam
Adding Insult to Injury
Posada: Perfect
The Man Behind the Plate
Vote for Jorge!

Good God! I didn’t realize I’d written so much about him. Ya think he’s my favorite player? Is this excessive?!

We Stand Behind Jorge

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Yankee catchers: Martin, Posada, Cervelli

If you’re a Yankee fan, or even just a casual observer of baseball, then you heard about this weekend’s dustup, which the media upgraded to a tornado, surrounding Jorge Posada.  Briefly, Posada arrived at the stadium Saturday to find he was batting ninth, and one hour before game time told Manager Joe Girardi he was unable to play, for reasons left murkily undefined. This story, however, actually began at the end of last season, when Posada was told he’d be relieved of his catching duties and become the Designated Hitter for 2011. At 39, he’d been showing signs of slippage.

The Yankee’s Number One catcher since 1995, Posada is one of the Core Four, who, along with Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera, are the only group of athletes in any sport in history to have played together on the same team for 16 consecutive seasons. (Pettitte missed three of those seasons with the Yankees while playing for his hometown Houston Astros from 2004 through ’06.) They have won five world championships together.

Pettitte recently retired, and over the course of the next few years, the other three will inevitably follow suit, making this a sad and bumpy transitional time for them, the team, and their fans. Anyone with the least bit of emotional intelligence would expect problems to arise and try to minimize the damage. Joe Torre, for instance, would certainly have anticipated the challenge, and managed it with grace. So would almost every woman I know. Unfortunately, Brian Cashman, the Steinbrenner kids, and Joe Girardi don’t get high points for emotional intelligence.

I don’t know what goes on in the back rooms of baseball, but I’d wager a hefty bet that they don’t weigh in psychological fallout when making big decisions. The cruel mistake here was in yanking Jorge from behind the plate all at once, when his attachment to being a catcher is fierce; even physiologically speaking, it must be enmeshed in the marrow of his bones after all these years. He should have been gently weaned by being allowed to catch a few games this year. Because psychological fallout wasn’t taken into consideration, it’s now affecting team performance — borne out by the disheartening Red Sox weekend sweep.

After Jorge took himself out of Saturday’s game and sat down in the dugout looking suicidal, Laura Posada tweeted the world that Jorge had been complaining of a bad back, and, oh, by the way, ”he loves being a Yankee.” My previously high esteem for Ms. Posada, based on how she’s dealing with the challenges of raising a disabled child, immediately sagged: unless Jorge asked her to do it, which I doubt, her intervention made him look bad. He never said he had back troubles, in fact, he admitted a need to “clear my head.” The little woman’s interjections – and she became “the little woman” the minute she insinuated herself into the situation – fanned the flames of nonstop media speculations that went on relentlessly for the next 24 hours.

Not surprisingly, Red Sox fans could hardly contain themselves, expressing their joy in nasty comments all over the Internet. They should’ve taken a cue from their favorite player, David Ortiz (Big Papi), their own Designated Hitter:

“I’m going to tell you what I think. They’re doing that guy wrong. They’re doing him wrong. You know why? Because that guy, he is legendary right there in that organization. And dude, DHing [stinks]…from what I heard, they told him from the very beginning that you’re not even going to catch bullpens, that straight up starts messing with your head. You’re going to tell me that Posada can’t catch a game out there? Come on, man. Now, I got used to this because I got no choice, but I can imagine how hard it has to be for him. This is a guy that is a good hitter. I don’t care what anybody says.”

With those heartfelt, humane words Big Papi just entered into my small circle of favorite players. Smart, insightful, and respectful, he has more compassion in his big toe than many so-called Yankee fans, of the younger persuasion no doubt, who are calling for Posada’s retirement, ‘dissing his age, performance slippage, and “diva” behavior.

That was Saturday. At Sunday night’s game, true Yankee fans proved their loyalty with a sign reading, “We Stand Behind Jorge.” The “Bleacher Creatures,” a bunch of guys who at every game do roll call of on-field players only, made an exception for Jorge: After finishing their attendance check with A-Rod, they chanted “Jorge, Jorge” and got an appreciative wave back from his place in the dugout. In the eighth inning Posada was sent in to pinch-hit for Andruw Jones, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. He drew a walk against Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard, who later said, “I think that’s pretty cool that they’re sstanding behind him, but I still wanted to get him out.”

When the 2011 season opened, the Yankees charged the gates, bats blazing, and until a week ago were firing on all cylinders, at first place in the division. But their performance has steadily diminished, and a few days ago Tampa Bay leap-frogged right over them. Posada’s at-bat average was under .150, as opposed to his lifetime average of  .273, with a high of .338 in 2007. Still,  I didn’t realize it had been affecting the whole team. This weekend it became obvious that it has.

Captain Jeter, Jorge’s best friend, said,  “He’s a brother — we’ve been together a long time. If I thought he did something wrong, I’d be the first one to tell him.” Jeter himself is none too dazzling this season: his average is 260, and if I never see another groundout from him I still will have seen too many. Someone pointed out that Jeter is playing under circumstances similar to Posada, with retirement on the horizon, yet he’s not acting like a “pouty diva.” But if Jeter isn’t showing any emotional wear and tear, it’s probably because he’s not quite as attached to being a shortstop as Posada is to catching. Besides, Posada’s nature is that of a highly sensitive person; it’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Catching is, in my opinion, one of the hardest jobs in baseball. The physical position alone is enough to kill you. And this is the guy who tells the pitcher what to throw and when: he’s key to the progression and outcome of the game. I’ve always admired catchers, even more than pitchers, and Jorge Posada is my favorite player. He’s not glamorous like Jeter or A-Rod, not flashy or adventurous or given to grandstanding. He is in fact anything but a diva.  My affinity for him deepened even further when he and Laura had a son with craniosynostosis. Having been through a similar experience myself, I read their book and wrote them a letter in response, enclosing my own book on the subject, Perfectly Normal.

I’m fully confident that Posada will emerge from all this with his dignity intact. Losing his place and identity as a catcher is a significantly big deal, but it is, after all, neither the most difficult nor the most painful life experience that Jorge Posada has ever faced.

Other Yankee Notes

Friday night’s game with the Red Sox was the 2,048th time the rivals faced each other on the field.

The Yankees have made 26 errors this season, one of the highest in MLB. In a typical sloppy move, the ball came dribbling down the field heading straight for A-Rod, who casually bent over, his mind obviously somewhere else, and let it roll past his glove and through his legs while the hitter took first base.

The Yankees’ team average is .292, with only Eric Chavez and Felix Nunoz batting over 300.

Will Eric Chavez turn out to be this year’s Nick Johnson? You might not remember Nick, so brief was his tenure last season, when he hurt his wrist in May and stayed out the rest of the season. Chavez, who came over from the A’s this year, promptly pulled something or other and is on the DL. Having spent his last few Athletic seasons on the list, I don’t expect to see him again at Yankee Stadium.

Pitching: Yankees have a pitching problem for at least the third consecutive year. With the exception of C.C. Sabathia, none of the starters are completely reliable. Bartolo Colon, as well as A.J. Burnett, is inconsistent, and he’s also one of those maddeningly S-L-O pitchers who lengthen the game – as if it needs lengthening! – with long pauses between pitches. Worse, however, is that Colon frequently wears a blank face, giving the impression he’s not completely there. Phil Hughes is on the DL. Meanwhile, Girardi lets all of them stay in the game well beyond the bounds of decent performance. I guess he’s busy deciding who’s going to catch…uh oh, don’t get me started again!

Let’s hope for better news next week!

 

Yankees v. Rangers Game 3

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Mariano Rivera

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

I don’t usually rant and rave publicly during baseball games, but then, I’ve never been as violently pissed off during a game as I am now. Texas Rangers scored 2 in the first inning, nobody’s scored since then on either team. Theoretically the Yankees might’ve caught up, even in the 9th inning–except that in the top of the 9th Manager Joe Girardi didn’t being in closing pitcher Mariano Rivera, who would’ve shut them down, and the Rangers scored another 4 runs….and are still swinging. Why didn’t he bring in Rivera? WTF knows? I never know why Girardi does anything he does. I just wish George Steinbrenner were still alive and came down to the field and fired Joe right now on the spot. Girardi doesn’t seem to give a shit if his team wins or loses.

The score is 7-0.

Yesterday I wrote a song about Girardi with the line, “Won’t You Please Go to Chicago, Joe Girardi.” The Cubs want him to come manage them, let him go. I’ll pay his fare.

The score is  8-0.

Is Joe enjoying watching this massacre? Where is Mariano?

At last, the top of the inning’s over.

Next Day: Jane Heller says much the same thing, only much more calmly and eloquently.

Baseball Miscellany (with focus on the usual team)

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A-Rod Hits 600

Three years to the day that Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run, he became the seventh player in Major League history to hit 600 home runs in his career. It happened at Yankee Stadium in the 3rd inning off pitcher Shaun Marcum of the Toronto Blue Jays, after a stressful two-week stretch during which A-Rod made over 40 trips to the plate, hitting nothing while the fans stood, screamed, and flashed their cameras in his eyes. I for one am vastly relieved – though I confess I was somewhat hurt that he did it during a game I wasn’t watching; before then I was convinced Alex was waiting for me to witness his delivery. Oh well…at least now he can get on with just playing the game he plays so well.

Nothing these days, however, is only what it is — not even home runs, and certainly not Major League Baseball. Alex’s record-breaking homer has raised a host of questions about legacy and Hall of Fame representation in the era of steroids, an era that is hopefully passing if not over. Mike and Mike in the Morning devoted a goodly portion of the show to these questions, possibly breaking their record for time spent on baseball as opposed to basketball and especially their beloved football. They wondered if these numbers even matter anymore, and if A-Rod’s admission of steroid use detracts from his accomplishment. An interesting aside: nobody gets as riled up over drug use in other sports the way they do when a baseball player uses. Lance Armstrong, for instance, is forgiven because of his work fighting cancer. The Mikes pointed out that it’s because Americans don’t care about Armstrong’s sport, or about any sport the way they do about baseball. It’s supposed to represent Mom, the flag, and apple pie.

Well, maybe it’s time to cut baseball’s umbilical cord and free the sport from this heavy symbolic burden. I sure wouldn’t mind. We could begin by doing away with Kate Smith singing God Bless America at the 7th inning stretch.

Not that this would entirely erase the brouhaha that ensues every time a player is caught doing drugs. In A-Rod’s case, as soon as the news leaked he called a press conference and admitted it was true. You can do a lot of sleazy shit, but if you own up to it instead of lying, the way Barry Bonds continues to do, the subject gets dropped a lot faster.

Even so, the stigma remains. Alex Rodriguez is considered by many to be the best baseball player in history – and yet, according to sports columnist Buster Olney, analyst for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and a Hall of Fame voter, most of the other 575 voting sportswriters will never vote for any player who was involved w/ drugs. This includes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom continue to vociferously deny drug use, and a host of other players who clearly belong in the Hall of Fame.

In some quarters, there is a presumption that time will soften the baseball writers’ attitude … It won’t happen in our lifetimes, however, unless there is a dramatic alteration to the voting procedures.

It’s a twisted situation. As many sports analysts point out, it’s not as if players in past eras were pure as the driven snow; amphetamines were once the drug of choice. Given what players physically endure in the course of a season, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that they’d take something just to get through it. Unfortunately, Hall of Fame voters are as screwed up and confused as the rest of our culture when it comes to drug use and abuse. And the games go on….

Joe Girardi, Manager

I’m not one of those people who scream, “kill the ump” every time something happens on the field that I don’t like. I’m more apt to shout to the tv screen, “Hello! Earth to Girardi! Wake up Joe, it’s time to change the pitcher!” Rarely does he listen.

I don’t know WTF he listens to, if anyone, when he’s making some of his warped decisions in the lineup or pitching. Last Sunday the Yankees lost to their chief contenders because of the lineup; it was so obvious that for once I wasn’t alone in blaming Girardi. He kept A-Rod, Brett Gardner, and Mark Texeira out of the game until the late innings.

“The New York Yankees’ 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday was one of the few that was lost at the posting of the lineup cards.” wrote ESPN’s Wallace Matthews.

“Joe Girardi… is always concerned about resting his horses and somehow — on this day, in this game, against this team at this point in the season — chose to rest three of them.”

This wasn’t the first time Gerardi screwed up. I don’t have one of those photographic baseball memories like a lot of men seem to, so I don’t have instant recall of specific games and managerial decisions, but they happen frequently, more than when Joe Torre was managing. (In my opinion, the big mistakes of this season, tho not Girardi’s fault, were  dumping Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui – but that’s a whole other blog.) I don’t even think Derek Jeter should be leading off. When he was second in the lineup and Damon preceded him, Jeter benefited from the way Damon wore out the pitcher; and if Damon got on first base, Jeter would ground out and move the runner forward. Now he just grounds out, period.

It’s extremely frustrating to watch a ball game go down the tubes and know it didn’t have to happen. If my analyses are wrong, I’m caught in  a kind of syndrome, like “Monday morning quarterbacking.”  I begin to understand George Steinbrenner‘s frustration and his maniacal treatment of his managers. I wonder what he’d say about Girardi’s management?

Good News For Oaktown

It looks like the A’s won’t be running off to San Jose any time soon: it turns out that the land they’d designated for a new stadium is owned by AT&T, and they’re not planning to give it up. Fremont was wiped off the boards as a location some time ago: seems the residents want a nearby stadium, but NIMBY. Could the A’s end up staying in Oakland? Mayor Ron Dellums has proposed building a stadium near Jack London Square, a perfect location. The A’s would end up playing in a place on a par with the Giants’, easy to get to and cooled by bay breezes. Dellums, who’s done almost nothing during his time in office, could redeem himself by masterminding a plan before he leaves office. As the billboards used to say, It wouldn’t be Oklnd without the A’s.

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

I’ve almost finished the best baseball book I’ve ever read: Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love With the New York Yankees by Jane Heller. It’s funny, very personal, and totally reflects my own passion for the team. I know I should never promise to write something I might end up not having time for, but it is my intent to blog a full review of She-Fan soon.

IMHO: Baseball Recap 2008

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I was too busy during the last half of baseball season to post much about it. Now that it’s ended with the Philadelphia Phillies as the 2008 champions (big boring thud) it’s time for a summation, from my own unique, limited, and peculiar point of view—which, of course, is focused primarily on the New York Yankees.

It’s been a dismal season in my corner of the baseball world, beginning with the goings-on in the Bronx. The Yankees don’t make excuses for themselves, and nobody else allows them to – but hey, let’s be real: these guys had a lot to contend with this year. Change of management. Change in owners’ leadership (if you can call what Hank Steinbrenner did ‘leadership’). And more injuries of key players than any team should ever have to deal with. The dugout was like the ER at Bellevue.

Early in the season, on June 15th, their Number One starting pitcher, Chien-Ming Wang, sprained his right foot running bases in a 13-0 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Wang was considered the Major Leagues’ winningest pitcher since the beginning of the 2006 season; his injury, said Manager Joe Girardi, was “a manager’s worst nightmare.” Pitcher Mike Mussina noted, “American League pitchers are at the most risk, because we don’t hit and we don’t run the bases. When you get four or five at-bats a year at the most, and you happen to get on base once or twice, you never know. We run in a straight line most of the time. Turning corners, we just don’t do it that often.”

Another of Wang’s pitching brothers, Andy Pettite, said Wang was “irreplaceable” – and he was. At this point nobody knew the extent of his injuries; they expected he’d be back on the mound within weeks. Wang did not play all season.

After Wang fell, a series of new starting pitchers suffered a series of injuries; it was like the mound was cursed. The only one to rise above the melee was Mussina, who had one of the best seasons of his career. Without Moose, the Yankees would have come out with an even worse record.

Next to collapse was Hideki Matsui’s knee; he too was on the DL most of the season. Then, my favorite player, catcher Jorge Posada, who hadn’t spent a single day of his career on the DL, required shoulder surgery that put him out of commission for the year (and may have ended his catching career for good). The Yankees got Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez to fill in behind the batter, but his hitting performance wasn’t much to write home about. And Posada has always been an important leader on this team. How many teams could have done even as well as the Yankees did under these circumstances? Not many, IMHO.

Then there was all the weird crap surrounding both the new owner/leader and the new manager. In any situation this would be a difficult transition, but with Joe Torre being so well-liked, correction, well-loved, surely a lot of emotions were floating around the locker room. Hank Steinbrenner attended something like two games all season. Can you imagine Papa George being that disconnected? Why don’t the Steinbrenner kids sell the team if that’s their level of interest? Oh, yeah: they like the money.

Shortly after exiting the stadium after the second game he attended, Steinbrenner told reporters, “They have to start hitting. Injuries or no injuries, they’ve got to be more consistent.”

GM Brian Cashman responded: “It’s certainly something that is hard to watch. We’re losing right now and we’re better than this.”

Girardi was an even worse disaster, again, IMHO. Most people seemed to want to give him the benefit of the doubt in his first year; even the media wasn’t that hard on him. But in the privacy of my armchair I shouted and cursed at his erratic and unnecessary line-up changes (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), particularly his compulsion to shuffle the deck any time a left-handed pitcher came to the mound. He was evasive and even dishonest about revealing the extent of players’ injuries. And he apparently wasn’t much of a communicator: somewhere I read that Girardi would walk through the locker room with his head and eyes down, not saying a word to any of the players. Again—can you imagine Joe #1 avoiding his boys? The big tragedy was that this was their last season in the old stadium: not a very fond farewell. No playoffs for the first time since 1993.

As if the Yankee situation wasn’t enough for me to bear, my local Bay Area teams did even worse than usual. Billy Beane kept selling off whoever was left of the old Oakland A’s—at least anyone I knew or cared about. I don’t know if his grand plan is to have a solid team in place by next year, or if he’ll go right on “rebuilding” through yet another lost season, but the whole Billy Beane/Moneyball system makes me sick. Beane spends more time “rebuilding” than letting a team cohere enough to play one decent season. It’s a sad way to play baseball, again, IMHO. (One positive for the A’s, though: Frank Thomas got kicked out of Toronto and came home to Oakland, where he was welcomed with open arms.)

Then there are the San Francisco Giants, who had another dreadful season, even without the distraction of the Barry Bonds Traveling Circus – and also, needless to say, without the benefit of the Barry Bonds Home Run Derby. Watching Barry Zito pitch during the first half of the season was unbearable; eventually I stopped tuning in altogether. Manager Bruce Bochy demoted Zito to the bullpen after Zito’s worst performance of the season, a three-inning, eight-run outing in a 10-1 loss to Cincinnati. That dropped Zito’s record to a Major League-worst of 0-6. His ERA was 7.53. Pitching out of the bullpen was quite an adjustment for Zito, since all but one of his 262 lifetime Major League appearances was as a starter. He only remained in the pen through one rotation, and by the end of the season he’d rebounded, finishing with a 3.76 ERA in his last eight starts. The seven-year, $126 million contract the Giants gave Zito in 2006 intensifies the scrutiny he lives under – which, IMHO, is the primary cause of his whole meltdown. He knows that observers will continue to view him skeptically next year as well. One difference that will help him, he said, is that he can’t sink any lower than he did early this season.

“I think I pretty much got to rock bottom this year,” Zito said. “I know what that’s like. So I won’t even worry about it.”

Giants closer Brian Wilson, a noted workout-aholic, plans to spend the offseason at Zito’s Los Angeles home, to help him in his workouts. Zito, who practices yoga and meditation, also plans to exercise mentally by writing in his journal, which he has kept since he was 18.

Around the leagues, fewer home runs were hit than in recent sesons, surely a result of everyone flushing their steroids down the toilet. This is from InterSports Wire:

You don’t need to be a statistician in order to figure out major league baseball players hit fewer home runs this year. As a matter of fact, this downward trend started during the 2006 seasons when former New York Met clubhouse boy and drug dealer Kirk Radomski was pinched by the feds, taken out of circulation and turned state’s evidence.

The top 10 home run hitters in the American and National Leagues accounted for about 15% fewer home runs this year than they did in 2006. It isn’t drug testing or bigger stadiums, and you don’t have to go back 15 years to establish this trend. Guys have hit fewer homers because their supply of human growth hormone and steroids has dried up since the Balco Labs and Radomski busts. Since MLB doesn’t employ any testing measures that can detect HGH use, you can’t point to the league’s testing vigilance as the reason for the power drop off. You can point to the increased attention being paid to the drug trafficking trade and the drying up of sources for these drugs as the reason for the power outage.

Meanwhile, steroid use in football made a brief headline appearance last week, about which nobody, in or out of sports, seems to give a shit. Why the disparity? ( InterSports has a good story on this subject).

The one bright light of the year was the huge number of hits to my post about the Tampa Bay Rays’ name change. Nearly every day twenty or thirty people Googled “Tampa Bay name change” or words to that effect, and were delivered to my cyber door. I assumed, and I hope, that some of them stuck around to read more of my posts. Thus I felt somewhat bonded with the Rays, and was glad when they made it to the Series—although to be honest, I’d earlier hoped for a Dodger-Red Sox shootout. with LA the ultimate victors, so as to vindicate both Joe Torre and Manny Ramirez in one fell swoop. The Dodgers, I thought, would in some convoluted way stand in for New York this year. Crazy as that seems, apparently I wasn’t the only New Yorker to feel this way: back in Brooklyn they held Dodger playoff parties, serving pastrami sandwiches and egg creams. (Note: My sister and I recently confessed to one another that, as kids, we thought the World Series was an annual ritual created and intended for the Yankee and Dodger teams only.)

When the Dodgers tanked I readjusted yet again, only to see the Rays go down in an ignominious five games. I never warmed up to the Phillies; there’s something about the red teams that makes me think of the red states. Seriously, it seems that every team I dislike wears a red uniform: Red Sox, Angels, Braves, Indians (we all know how I feel about them and their lovely logo). My favorite teams, on the other hand, wear blue: Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Rays…and then there are the Oakland A’s, lovable whack jobs in neon green and yellow.

Last but not least in my litany of seasonal whining: the closing ceremonies for Yankee Stadium were, of course, poignant: nobody does sentimental ritual the way baseball does sentimental ritual. But they were marred, IMHO, by the lack of any reference whatsoever to either Joe Torre or Roger Clemens. It’s like living in Orwell’s 1984, or in the Stalinist Soviet Union, where people are simply erased from history. Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees for thirteen years, and Roger Clemens, who pitched for them something like eight, have become personae non grata.

My son has a countdown clock alerting us to the time of the next Opening Day. As of this moment there are 156 days, 14 hours and 30 minutes until Opening Day 2009. In the meantime, we’ll be renting baseball movies. Stay tuned for reviews that will be, no doubt, as shamelessly subjective as this recap.

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