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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.

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Boys of October

Individual commitment to a group effort, that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.–Vince Lombardi

yankee-stadium

‘Tis October, a month that in years past filled me with panic and dread, as it signals the opening shot of “The Holidays.” Since I became a baseball fan, however, October means something entirely different to me: it means the post-season, when the Boys of Summer play for higher stakes. And this year my Yankees are on fire.

As of today, the only playoff berths still undecided are the National League Wild Card and the American League Central Division. The first looks like it’ll be the Colorado Rockies, while in the AL Central it’s either the Detroit Tigers or Minnesota Twins. I am personally rooting for Minnesota, because I dread a remake of the 2006 AL Division Series, in which Detroit’s pitchers decimated New York, despite one of “the best lineups in baseball history.” I really don’t want to see them have to face the formidable Justin Verlander again. As for the rest: in the American League playoffs it’s the LA Angels and the Boston Red Sox so far; in the National it’s the Phillies, Dodgers, and Cardinals.

One disappointment this year was the SF Giants. They duked it out right up until yesterday, when Colorado knocked them out of the Wild Card race. I was hoping to see a Yankee-Giant World Series, so I could watch three innings of each SF game from the hole in the Giants’ fence—by now a tradition, and perfectly legal.

The Mets were another sad story. Their best players started accumulating injuries back in June, and kept dropping like flies, until they were playing with a skeleton crew. Those poor Mets fans, the hardiest loyalists in all of baseball, were muttering “Next season” in August rather than the more usual month of September.

Joe Torre

Joe Torre

Without SF in the picture, I lust for a Yankee-Dodger face-off. Not only would the series be drenched in nostalgia—once upon a time every WS featured the NY Yankees versus the Brooklyn Dodgers—but Joe Torre, booted out of New York two seasons ago, is responsible for LA’s stunning season. I love baseball when it’s packed with dramatic narrative, and a Dodger-Yankee WS will be nothing if not dramatic.

The Yankees are more solid this year then they’ve been in almost a decade. Back then the team played sensationally and were a real band of brothers. This season they’re again playing well–and are again solidly bonded with one another. Finally, after five years, the dust beneath A-Rod’s cleats appears to be settling down. Out for surgery at the start of the season, his return was marked by a huge boost in team productivity, along with genuine and frequent expressions of appreciation by his fellow Yanks, something he noticed. “I can’t say enough about these 25 guys,” he told a reporter. “I’ve never been around a group of guys that have been so close and love each other so much.” He seems to have dropped his snotty airs and acts more like a regular guy: he doesn’t spend quite so much time admiring his own hits, and he even comes through in the clutch now and then—one sportswriter dubbed him, tongue-in-cheek, “Clutch Rodriguez.” The adorable Kate Hudson might be a positive influence on him.

85133511JM022_BOSTON_RED_SOThen there was the addition to the team of Nick Swisher and Mark Texeira. Unlike some players who freak out in New York, both these guys slipped into pinstripes as easily as Cinderella’s foot slid into the glass slipper. Texeira and A-Rod make for a one-two punch reminiscent of the long-ago Mantle-Maris magic. And Swisher, arguably one of the most amiable guys in baseball, came out of Oakland with his big heart and sense of humor intact; I’ll bet Swish is somewhat responsible for lightening the mood in the Bronx locker room. “You have to give these guys a lot of credit,” Swisher said, “for the way they have welcomed in guys.”

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Like regular buddies, the guys went on outings to concerts and other fun stuff together. According to pitcher CC Sabathia, “We have a lot of fun on and off the field. It’s a lot of fun when you can go out and play with guys that you really enjoy playing with.”

It just goes to show that group vibes have an affect on success or failure on the field. It’s almost self-evident, but it’s something that doesn’t seem to get talked about much. The Yankees are living proof that when guys care about one another, they watch each other’s backs. Another thing that happens on a solid team—if everyone’s playing well, no one individual feels the pressure to carry the whole team. If A-Rod strikes out with bases loaded, he knows Texeira’s coming up behind him.

billy-beaneThe principle works the other way too: when players fail to bond, their game suffers. We need only look to the Oakland A’s, coming in close to last place this season, for proof. I’ve ranted many times about Billy Beane’s management style, which is to trade off players as soon as they get too good, i.e., too expensive for Oakland’s budget. With the team constantly changing, fans like me become alienated–but more important, so do players. How can they form close friendships when every month someone disappears and a new guy takes his place? Interestingly, during this season the A’s remained pretty much intact—with the result that now, at the very end, they’re starting to win games. If somebody in that outfit would just restrain the Beanester during the off-season, the A’s might have a chance in 2010.

In the meantime…Go Yankees!

And–here’s a good blog on the same subject.

RiveraOnSIDamonJeter,ARod,GirardiJorge

On Baseball Commentators

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The other night, during a Red Sox/Oakland A’s game at Fenway Park, commentator Ray Fosse said something that made me positively livid. It’s not that unusual for sports commentators to get me crazy–they make idiotic statements all the time. Worse, they hog the mike and camera at the expense of the game. I mean, aren’t these guys supposed to call the game? Instead they yak, yak, yak, and most of it is pure drivel. The worst offenders are Joe Morgan and Jon Miller, who grandstand nonstop through nine or more innings.

Daryl @ A's game
But back to Fosse. The camera panned in on an A’s fan, a guy wearing the green and gold cap right there in the middle of Bosox Nation. Fosse and his sidekick laughed heartily, and Fosse said, “These Red Sox fans are so knowledgeable, they understand. It doesn’t bother them at all.” He paused, then added, “Of course, you couldn’t wear a Red Sox cap to Yankee Stadium.”

Hello? WTF are you talking about, Fosse? Red Sox fans have been known to bash in Yankee heads, beneath a cap or not. And what’s this “knowledgeable” crap? Everyone knows that New York baseball fans are the most knowledgeable fans on the planet. And I have seen Red Sox fans behave like two-year-olds. Personally, I wouldn’t go to Fenway in Yankee gear: I’d be taking my life in my hands.

Most of these commentators got the job by dint of being ex-ball players with pleasant voices. They’re playing journalism, without even attempting an appearance of objectivity.

I sent Fosse an email stating these sentiments. I’ll let you know if he responds.

Joe Morgan and Jon Miller

Joe Morgan and Jon Miller

Jon Miller and Joe Morgan

Interleague Weekend

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This weekend Major League Baseball finished up Interleague play for the season. Where I live, geographically, we had the Bay Bridge Series. Where I live, emotionally, there was the Subway Series. Results from coast to coast were mixed.

The Yankees and Mets got an early start on Friday with a makeup game at Shea. Then they hopped onto their respective buses and headed over to the Bronx for the first game of the regularly scheduled series. They alternated Saturday and Sunday as well—since both teams are moving into new digs next year, this was the last time they’ll ever play one another in the old stadiums (stadia?).

Here’s how the scoring went:
Game 1: Mets 4, Yankees 1
Game 2: Yankees 9, Mets 0
Game 3: Yankees 3, Mets 2
Game 4: Mets 3, Yankees 1

Consistent they are NOT. Andy Pettitte pitched six innings in Game 2 (good story comparing pitching in 1968 to now), picking up his ninth win. This was against the mighty Johan Santana, AND after waiting through an hour’s rain delay. They don’t call him veteran for nothing. In Sunday’s game—the only one televised for my viewing pleasure—Mets pitcher Oliver Perez annihilated my guys—or, as another blogger put it, “Perez, not Steinbrenner, owns the Yankees.”

That quote comes from a witty, conversational, lovingly detailed blog I heard about on NPR Saturday.
Rarely am I as impressed by a baseball blog as I am by this one—he writes about the aspects of baseball that interest me most, and he even sort of writes the way I do. For instance, yesterday, when Mets closer Billy Wagner came out in the ninth, fans held up signs welcoming “The Sandman.” That just happens to be Yankee closer Mariano Rivera’s moniker, and I, naturally, went ballistic. Here’s what the man they call The Blogfather had to say about it:

That Billy Wagner comes out to Enter Sandman is a travesty. If this were wrestling, Mo would sneak up behind him and crack a folding chair over his head. Then when David Wright tried to retaliate, Kyle Farnsworth would put him in the Cobra Clutch.

(The Real Sandman)

Love it!

Three thousand miles across the continent, over on my side of the country that is, the SF Giants and Oakland Athletics confronted each other once again. Thank the Baseball Gods and Goddesses, they let Barry Zito off the hook; he didn’t have to face his old team for another humiliating outing. In the first game Oakland beat SF 1-4, but on Saturday the Giants shut out the A’s 1-0, and they got carried away on Sunday, winning 11-1.

Yankees Grand Slam Grand Style

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Last night the New York Yankees hit their stride. In the sixth inning with the Oakland A’s leading 1-0, Hideki Matsui celebrated his 34th birthday in grand style and hit a home run with the bases loaded (video). It was the fifth Grand Slam of Matsui’s career. The Yankees took the rubber game of their three-game series with Oakland, 4-1.

“Birthday boy,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do on your birthday, isn’t it?”

Besides delivering the thrill of a Grand Slam, the team performed the way we expect the Yankees to perform. Andy Pettitte pitched a full eight innings, limiting Oakland to one run and snapping a two-start winless string. Pettitte had allowed 14 earned runs over his last 14 2/3 innings coming into Thursday’s game, but was a different pitcher last night. Then in the ninth, the flawless Mariano Rivera came in and did his thing, pitching a scoreless inning for his 18th save.

The win places the Yankees, once again this season, one game above the .500 mark, at 34-33.

This is the way I like to see my guys. This was the Yankees at their best.

It’s a relief to welcome back Jorge Posada, who came off the disabled list last week and resumed as ace catcher and hot bat. Some guys, upon learning I’m into baseball, immediately assume it’s all about ogling muscular athletes in tight uniforms. I don’t dismiss the importance of that–but I blow away their sexist assumptions when I tell them that Jorge’s my favorite player. Hardly a sex symbol, Posada’s earned my respect with his dedication to the team and the game. He’s got the second best catcher’s record in Major League Baseball, and the best catcher’s batting average. He’s also a sweet, all-around nice guy. And as Derek Jeter jokingly noted, a healthy Posada means a louder clubhouse. “Jorge really takes control of the pitching staff,” Jeter said. Whoa! How many other players can make such a claim!?