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Yankee Collapse

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!

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Still Here

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.

IMHO: Baseball Recap 2008

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.

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.