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Category Archives: Billy Beane

A Month of Baseball

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In looking at the significant (to me, that is) baseball events of April 2012 as a diehard Yankee fan, I cannot resist calling attention to the plight of the Red Sox, who are hanging out down in the basement of the AL East Coast division. Another of my least favorite teams, the LA Angels, are moldering in the West Coast basement. That’s more shocking than the Sox, considering that the Angels landed Albert Pujols and pitcher CJ Wilson; WTF more do they need?

The New York Yankees

Unfortunately, the Yankees aren’t exactly flying high.

Pitching Problems: Back in November, just after the 2011 season ended, Joe Girardi, who apparently comes from the Don’t Worry Be Happy school of management, bragged to the media that he already had his pitching rotation for 2012. No problemo, amigos. Right away I knew we were in trouble: Yankee scouts weren’t out beating the bushes and fields, looking for new pitchers to replace Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett. Thus the inevitable came to pass: two of the starters, Hughes and Freddy Garcia, are inconsistent to the point of incompetence and, more importantly, loss. The good news is that we do have one ace (CC Sabathia), another pitcher who stands a chance of becoming one (Ivan Nova), high hopes with the new Hiroki Kuroda, and the soon-to-return Good Ol’ Reliable Andy Pettitte. It’s actually a lot of good news, and if I were managing I’d just rotate the four good guys and unceremoniously dump Hughes and Garcia. Why a team needs five starters anyway is a mystery to me; it’s pitcher pampering in the extreme.

I know every fan thinks they can manage better than the manager, but my frustration with Girardi is only now manifesting in that way. I’m just beginning to notice that one of his flaws is that he coddles the players. He was resting A-Rod and Jeter during the first week of play, rotating the DH between them and a few other older guys. Sometimes Girardi’s just plain clueless: for instance, everybody knows Mark Texeira doesn’t warm up to full capacity until after the first month, and probably won’t hit much of anything in April. In the meantime, Nick Swisher leads the league in extra-base hits. Logic says to move Swish ahead of Tex in the lineup right? This doesn’t seem to have occurred to Girardi. So we get situations like bases loaded with two outs, Tex at bat , he strikes out and strands the runners. Now, if Swish had been at that spot in the lineup…you get my drift.

After a month of baseball: The Yankees have a record of 13 wins, 9 losses and are in second place in the American League Eastern Division,  behind the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, who are tied for 1st place.

New York Mets

The Mets are playing like quintessential Mets. For instance, in Sunday’s game against The Colorado Rockies they were winning 5-0 until in 9th inning—yes, I said the ninth inning—when they allowed the Rockies to score exactly five—yes, I said 5—home runs to tie the game. They went into extra innings, going eleven total to win by a run. Yes, they did win it—but just look at what they had to put themselves through to do it! Typical Mets behavior.

And a bit of bad luck to boot: Pitcher Mike Pelfrey, it was announced today, needs Tommy John surgery, which puts him out of commission for the season, possibly longer.

After a month of baseball: The METS have 13 wins and 10 losses, and remain behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East Coast Division.

San Francisco Giants

The lovable Freak Tim Lincecum  had a lousy start for the first time in his career. In 5 starts he has 2 wins and 2 losses, and his ERA is a ghastly 5.74. Maybe now he knows what it feels like to live in Barry Zito’s skin. Speaking of Zito, in his first 2012 start he pitched a shutout! I hope he was as overjoyed as I was. He didn’t collapse after that, either: he won 2 and lost one. Keep it up, Barry! Maybe you’ll work your way back to your glory days. Buster Posey did: he’s blowing everyone away by playing just as great as he did last year, before he was crippled by that bone crunching crash at home plate.

After a month of baseball: the SF GIANTS have a record of 12 wins and 10 losses, and remain in 2nd  place in the National League Western Division, 3½  games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (who, by the way, appear to have gotten an injection of new life from Magic Johnson’s ownership).

Oakland Athletics

True Confession: I haven’t paid attention to the A’s at all this season. My enthusiasm for them was once high, but as players kept getting traded away, I steadily lost interest. I don’t know any of the players on the team anymore. I am relentlessly bitter towards Billy Beane for his ruthless management.  Maybe I’ll have more to say at the end of May, after I go to the Colisseum to watch them play my guys. For now, these are  the dry facts:

After a month of baseball the A’s have 11 wins and 13 losses, and are tied with the Seattle Mariners for 2nd place in the American League Western Division.

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!

Still Here

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I’m Still Here….

As my idol Barbra Streisand sings, “Good times/bad times/sometimes a kick in the rear/but I’m here.” Just because I haven’t been recording my life for posterity doesn’t mean my life isnt still happening….or so I tell myself. I do wonder about that sometimes. In any case, since my last post – Labor Day! more than a month ago! – I finished ghosting Connecting With The IN Crowd, which was published with my name under the boss’s, so I guess I’m not a ghost anymore; I went to a Book Launch at the St. Francis Hotel with it and my novel  Halfway to the Stars; I started another ghost gig; made plans to go to Costa Rica next month; and, as always, watched the world go by.


Yankees Still Playing….

In the world of baseball/Yankees, Jeter made his 3000th hit, Rivera made his 600th save, Posada was publicly humiliated and just as publicly resurrected; pitchers had meltdowns and freeze-ups; and at this moment the Division Series are in progress. Moneyball hit the screen and I still haven’t seen it – I hope to today. Billy Beane now thinks he’s as hot as Brad Pitt, and on the basis of the movie he’s been making the rounds on the financial speaker circuit — which should tell you something about sabermetrics and his baseball philosophy. Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s can apparently rot in hell as far as he’s concerned. Time for a new manager? It was time for a new manager at least three years ago!

And The Kids Are In The Street!

We seem to be in the throes of revolution, and I don’t mean Arab Spring. Wall Street protests are spawning demonstrations all over the country. They’re finding their platforms as they gather, making it up as they go along. This is, I think, for real: first of all, Karl Marx said that capitalism would implode on itself when it was no longer working. Secondly, all my life I’ve heard that the way to foment revolution is to let things get so bad the country hits bottom. And finally, electing someone we thought would make a difference, then being bitterly betrayed by him, showed people it’s the system, not who’s in charge of it, that has to change. So here we are. I wonder if this movement is strong enough to go the distance, or if the government, media, and corporations will find a way to defeat it. So far, it’s still here.

They’re BAAAAAAAACK! The Boys of Summer: Baseball!

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Thursday is Opening Day, and the NY Yankees and Detroit Tigers start it all off in the morning. To inaugurate this year’s arrival of baseball, I went on Amazon last night and purchased a bunch of songs from High and Outside: The Baseball Project, Volumes I and II. Two full albums of original baseball songs – and the music is damned good! The lyrics, naturally, pertain to all things baseball: some, like “Fair Weather Fans” are general, some are about specific teams:  Minnesota Twins, “Don’t Call Them Twinkies,” or players: “Panda and the Freak” ; “Gratitude for Curt Flood” (Flood’s the guy to whom players owe their right of free agency and the big bucks they get now.) That song just about broke my heart, as did “Jackie’s Lament”:

If I ever get the chance I’ll let them know just how I feel
I’d like to speak my mind but that just wasn’t in the deal.
It’s never easy being first to walk down any road.
I’d trade the glory just to crawl out from this heavy load.

During this off-season television’s been showing an awful lot of  exhibition games; the Giants and A’s even played an exhibition series at home this week. While some fanatics, like my son Daryl, are thrilled by it, in my opinion it’s a bad idea. Part of the traditional baseball shtick is the off-season, during which we’re supposed to wait and complain. We whine for baseball, and when April rolls around we go crazy with joy. But if they keep on showing exhibition games, which they’re doing more and more of every year, it’ll change everything. In March it’ll be, ho-hum, another game down at Tropicana Fields? But House is on!

I’ll bet anything that even Rogers Hornsby would have agreed with me, he who said: People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring. That was probably an important ritual for him. The off-season blues have always been an integral part of baseball, and you know how baseball and its fans are: Tradition is everything.

It’s going to be an interesting season for me, and I’m curious to see how things turn out. Just as I’m getting into the SF Giants – and who isn’t this year? – my beloved Yankees are showing signs of slippage. Their latest bewildering move was to sign Eric Chavez. That’s Eric Chavez, a lifelong Athletic who, the past few seasons, was probably on the DL more than on the field.  Eric Chavez, whose manager, the infamous Billy Beane, swore he would never let Chavez go, and who typically only dumps a player when he thinks he’s on the decline. Someone in a Yankee chat room noted that they seem to be padding the bench with mediocrity, something that’s typical of  lesser, and less confident, teams, not something you’d expect from New York.

Of the Core Four, Posada’s going to be full-time DH, and he ran the games; Andy’s gone; Jeter had to battle for a few pennies; Rivera’s always homesick. Am I worried ? Indeed I am. I’m glad I now have the Giants  – but don’t call me a Fair Weather Fan: My heart still belongs to the New York Yankees. It’d take a lot to change that.

Hot Stove in The Wintertime

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Baseball with clock to represent a "curre...

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Yanks Lose Lee

Cliff Lee either has more integrity than most baseball players, or he’s a doofus; I have a feeling it’s the former. Lee did what few baseball players ever do: he turned down more money and the chance to be a New York Yankee in favor of returning to the Phillies, the team he loves.

The Yanks made no bones about wanting Lee, and it would’ve been a great acquisition, considering that last season’s pitching rotation of CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte, and JJ Burnett contributed to a dismal post-season. Sabathia’s an ace pitcher, and Andy’s as reliable as ever – but both had their off days in 2010, while Hughes and Burnett, especially the latter, stank. Which is not to say the rest of the team were much better: except for Robinson Cano, who was almost the league’s MVP of the year, they were a sad sight. Still, you know what they say: good pitching wins the game. And 2010 was the Year of the Pitcher, when other teams’ aces pulled off some astounding feats.

That’s why Brian Cashman’s attitude about losing Lee is so baffling – and so maddening.  “I really don’t think we’ve got a lot of holes,” he said, referring to the rotation. “We’ve got one of the best in the league in CC. We’ve got a kid who won 18 games for us last year in Phil Hughes. And I really believe that A.J. Burnett is going to bounce back for us next year.”

Groan. That inane mantra about Burnett was repeated endlessly last year, to no avail. The Cash Man’s remarks are sour grapes and, worse, they reek of laziness. I was under the assumption that the Yankees’ top priority during the off season would be to resolve their pitching problem. I wonder if they’re pursuing anyone else now that Lee rejected them.  I also wonder what the ineffectual Girardi thinks of the situation. I get the sense that the whole staff is lackadaisical. Which leads me to what’s really on my mind vis-a-vis the NY Yankees: George’s departure into the ether. Clichés are so true:  You don’t miss your water till the well runs dry and You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.

If King George was still around, it’s quite possible the Yankees would have snagged Lee. Someone would have persuaded him to say yes, either his good friend Sabathia, or Cashman, or Girardi, or the scouts who do this sort of thing. While they offered Lee the usual mega-bucks, money, as was proven here once more, is not everything, not even when it comes to the Yankees. When George Steinbrenner wanted a player, by god, he got him.  He pushed and pressed and flogged everyone until they sweat their balls off and the deed was done.

Unfortunately, George’s heirs, Hal and Hank, don’t seem to give a damn. Nor do they have the vaguest notion as to how their father did what he did. Those negotiations with Derek Jeter, for instance, were downright shameful, and I am seriously concerned about the future of the team. Will the House that Ruth Built and the team that George maintained come undone over the next few years? To quote the kid in Angels in the Outfield, Hey, it could happen.

SF Giants Rule

Meanwhile, I’m lucky to have other baseball pleasures to keep me from a Yankee-induced meltdown. These pleasures are closer to home – to my current home, that is, not my heart-home in the Bronx. In the Bay Area I’m smack dab in the middle of the place that in 2010 witnessed one of the most dramatic World Series in the history of the game. Up until now, though I swear I tried, I just couldn’t get into the Giants. Couldn’t stand Barry Bonds, yet once he left, the team lacked charisma. I’ve been in love with Barry Zito for years, but his Giants performance has brought mostly heartache. For a few years I followed the A’s, but with Billy Beane relentlessly decimating the team, I couldn’t stick it out; it was too gut-wrenching to watch players leave every other week.

And then along came the 2010 Giants, suddenly making headlines in September. I perked up, tuned in, and saw charisma to spare. I don’t have to tell anyone what a thrilling WS it was, or how much fun these guys were, or how the city went insane with joy. I watched one WS game from a café near the stadium, and another third of a game from the back fence where you’re allowed to stand for up to three innings. Thus, I was among the crazy partying crowds – and nobody knows how to party like San Francisco. When it was all over, I realized that in 2011 I’ll actually have a home team to root for! I’ve purchased tickets to one Giants game and now I’m waiting for a friend who knows someone who knows someone who sells her season tickets at face value.

Matsui Comes to Oakland

But the Grand Slam came yesterday, when Hideki Matsui, ex-Yankee and the sexiest Godzilla from Japan, with his dimpled smile and twitching shoulders, signed with the Oakland A’s as DH. Now I have to buy some A’s tickets (I usually go see them once a year when they play the Yankees). All the Bay Bridge games are a must. I don’t know how I’ll afford to support my baseball habit with this sudden embarrassment of riches; but I’ll also be able to see the games on local TV, something I don’t get to do as a Yankee fan. It’s going to be  busy baseball season. Only 105 days till it starts!

The Oakland A’s Diaspora

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Yesterday The Oakland A’s traded pitcher Joe Blanton to Philadelphia in exchange for three minor leaguers. Blanton , 27, was 5-12 with a 4.96 ERA. He was Oakland’s Opening Day starter in March against the Boston Red Sox in Tokyo. Although Blanton won 14 games last year, he’s underachieved in 2008, his fifth big league season.

General Manager Billy Beane, who just last week sent another pitcher, Rich Harden, to the Cubs, says it’s all part of a process begun last winter, “ to build a foundation and put together a group of players” who would last a long time,” but anyone who follows the A’s knows that these trades are typical: if an A gets to the point where he’s showing signs of slippage, he’s gone. That’s a cruel way of putting it, and Beane isn’t really cruel, he’s just following a philosophy that Michael Lewis named Moneyball, and explained in his book of the same name. More or less invented by Beane, Moneyball rests on the theory that players peak just before they descend. His solution is to trade off a player the minute he peaks, in anticipation of his imminent downward slide. The upshot is that Oakland players come and go with the frequency of guests at a roadside motel.

Apparently the system worked well for awhile–the team went a long way on a short budget for several years. But now it doesn’t seem to be helping the A’s, and it never worked for fans like me, who get attached to players, only to have them disappear from one game to the next.

I love the A’s: they’re a historically laid back, scrappy club whose players have a genuinely good time on the field, and their spirit is infectious. Still, I find it hard to get excited over a bunch of guys I don’t know: from one season to the next—hell, from one week to the next—the lineup can become almost completely unfamiliar.

It’s like switching schools every year, or worse, mid-term. Just as you settle in and make friends, you’re faced with a whole new group of kids. Call me sentimental, but I miss bygone players. I miss Nick Swisher and Miguel Tejada. I miss Milton Bradley
and Eric Byrnes and Marco Scutaro. I miss the way the pitching trio of Zito, Hudson, and Mulder used to kid around. I miss the little celebratory dance Swish and Bradley did after one of them scored, and I miss seeing Byrnesie go crashing against the wall, hanging onto the ball for dear life. Because the A’s are such a laid back club, I worry when one of the boys gets sent off to a team that’s more uptight. (I’m not naming names, but everyone knows how much I worry about Zito.) So whenever I get a chance to see one of them in their new digs, I like to check him out, see how he’s doing. It’s one of the things I like about the All-Star Game, the chance to see players who’ve been traded from teams I regularly watch.

Because most A’s players inevitably move on, former teammates are scattered throughout Major League Baseball, and form a kind of brotherhood, bonded by the experience of having played together in Oaktown. You can see it when they meet on first or second base. When the Yankees come to Oakland, Johnny Damon gets loudly cheered. Same goes for Miguel Tejada, and most of the other guys. Because it’s a distinct phenomenon, I’ve come to view the scattering of A’s as a diaspora. I know, I know: that word is normally used in a heavier context, to refer to the dispersal of the Jewish people—and, in recent years, to Africans. But the dictionary definition of diaspora is a dispersion of an originally homogenous group, so it does apply.

These days, whenever an ex-A shows up in Arizona or DC or Toronto, I think, A member of the diaspora, with a special feeling in my heart. I recognize these guys as A’s first, and the team they play for now only a temporary home. Hell, look at Frank Thomas, who left the A’s for Toronto, only to get kicked out and come back home, happy as a pig in shit.

It just goes to show: you can take the player out of Oakland, but you can’t take Oakland out of the player.November 19, 2010: The movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, is due out next year. Billy Beane never looked so good! I’m really eager to see what kind of POV it presents.

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