Friday, November 17, 2006

Introducing the new A-Rod

Let’s see: a star player with phenomenal talent has a team pony up massive amounts of money to land him, thereby bolstering already huge expectations to nearly unachievable levels.

Where have I seen that before?

With the six billion yen hurled at the feet of the Seibu Lions by the Red Sox ($13 million more than the next highest bid) for the mere right to negotiate with the Japanese star, the Sox front office has unwittingly sent Matsuzaka down the road to becoming the next Alex Rodriguez.

I’m not saying it’s a sure thing he’ll end up the tattered mass of nerves that Alex is. I’m just saying the scenario has happened before, and let’s be honest—how many guys who have gotten massive contracts over the past ten years have really been worth every dime? I can really only name two—Curt Schilling and Derek Jeter.

Matsuzaka has a strong advantage over A-Rod though, in that he doesn’t speak a word of English. He can’t have his psyche shredded by talk radio or the likes of Dan Shaughnessey, because he can’t understand them.

The only place he’ll risk getting his ego bruised is at the park. I’m guessing boo means boo in any language.

Hell, in a nickname contest on, the leading moniker fans have chosen so far even bears an obvious similarity to Rodriguez’s: It’s D-Mat.

This guy might be doomed before ever pitching an inning. He’s got a lot going against him right from the start. There are more reasons that this is a bad decision than there are possible favorable outcomes. Let’s talk about a few negatives:

1. National League pitchers can’t even hack it in the American League. How’s a guy from another country going to fare? Japanese baseball has long been a graveyard where washed-up MLB hitters go to die. So say what you want about Matsuzaka’s success as MVP of the WBC. Freddy Garcia and Daniel Cabrera both went 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA in two starts in the WBC. The world’s best players, indeed.

2. It’s like putting a down payment on a house for someone else. $51 mil to talk to the guy, and what do they get for their investment? Three, maybe four years, if the talk is right about what Scott Boras wants for his new ace. After his contract is up, he’ll be a 29-year-old or so free agent in his prime. The next team to sign him will have to pay him more than the Sox contract will be, but they essentially get to waive the down payment. You better hope the Sox re-sign him. If they can't? On behalf of the Yankees organization, I’d like to thank Mr. Henry for his generosity.

3. Not just pressure. Worldwide pressure. Throwing this kind of money down on top of a lucrative contract gives the kid a lot of pressure in front of the fans in Boston. But he also has to deal with the pressure of a whole country. First, to the Japanese people who want to see him succeed because he’s their countryman and already a National Hero in Japan; and second, to the Japanese people who are genuinely ticked at him for contributing to the decline of the Japanese game, like Shigeo Nagashima, the defining player in Japanese baseball history. He called out the kid and said he was disappointed he wasn't staying in-country. That’s like Cal Ripken or Yogi Berra calling a guy a traitor. That’s got to mess with your head.

4. What happened to “preparing for the future”? Oh, the 2006 Red Sox season happened. But if you’re trying to tell me this was Theo’s call, you’re out of your mind. This was Larry, and it’s proof that the front office is again split. Of course, after Theo’s recent calls, this is probably a good thing for the Sox.

5. $51.1 to talk to a guy, but they couldn’t find $10 million for Damon to keep him for four more years? How much do you think Damon enjoyed watching Kevin Youkilis bat in the leadoff spot last year? No one knew Crisp would be that big of a flop, one so big his name was liberally thrown around before the trade deadline, only months into his Sox career. Seeing the money being thrown around for Matsuzaka is hilarious knowing the Sox didn’t think Damon was worth a measly $10 million. Maybe Damon will steadily decline, maybe he won’t, but is there any doubt he was worth the extra $10 mil? You should always pony up more for proven commodities. What’s really hilarious about this deal is the Sox weren’t willing to go higher for a proven commodity like Damon, but they’re willing to spend for an unproven one. Quality logic by the Sox front office.

6. This is a Yankees' move from the earlier part of this decade. After I did a double take at the amount, those were my exact words to my buddy Keith when he told me the news. Giambi, Sheffield, Mussina, Randy… all guys the Yankees tossed insane amounts of cash at just to win a championship, only to be upended by low-payroll teams like Arizona, Florida, Anaheim (twice) and now, Detroit. Matsuzaka might be worth every penny in the end, but I can’t say there isn’t a part of me that is glad the Yankees lost the bidding. It’s nice to be able to point the finger and laugh at another team for going beyond all rational reasoning. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t get you anything, except maybe a ticket to the playoffs. For the Sox and Yanks, that’s nothing special.

Of course, Matsuzaka could go on to become one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, and decades from now people could look back and consider the $51.1 million a brilliant move, even a “deal.”

Or maybe he will be the MVP of a World Series over the next four years, bringing Boston a title.

Because anything less than either of those, and he’d be falling short of expectations, right? From the moves the Sox are making to get him, it sure looks like that’s what they’re expecting.

And that means the fans will be too. And that is not good news for D-Mat, um, I mean, Matsuzaka.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Back to the good stuff

It’s Friday, and I have roughly an hour left in my workday. I just finished up a project (yes, I do actually do work at work) but there’s not enough time to really get into a new one. Plus, like I said, it’s Friday.

So I thought I'd write a bit. And while I don’t have a cohesive column to put forth, I thought I'd do a throwback to the original days of this blog when I would just throw out random observations at the end of every column.

I love writing observations, because:

A.) They don’t take a lot of thought

B.) I have a short attention span and so do most people I know

C.) They don’t take a lot of thought

Observations can really be anything: random thoughts floating through that vast-spacelike organ between my ears; points ripped from email exchanges I’ve had this week with friends; things that may not mean anything to anyone but me. I apologize for that, but this is my blog after all. So deal.

Without further ado, here are (drum roll please) my observations for this week:

I love Derek Jeter. Every Yankee fan does. But ESPN’s Buster Olney is exactly right—Jeter needs to get his head out of his ass and start speaking up for A-Rod. Like Olney said, there’s no downside for Jeter. Plus, it will make him look less like the self-absorbed ass he’s starting to sound like in the media because he will stick up for everyone but A-Rod.

A-Rod’s not going to be traded, just like Manny won’t be. Why? For starters, there is only one scenario that you would trade these guys for: young, proven pitching. Aka, Verlander, Zumaya, Liriano and oh yeah the list stops right around there because there aren’t many guys who fit that description. And no team is going to trade young proven pitching. So amongst the 2,000 other reasons (hall of famers for .50 on the dollar, etc) it’s just not going to happen. Can we start talking about something else?

I’m deeply saddened by the end of the Drew Bledsoe era in Dallas. I mean, his presence alone pretty much guaranteed the Giants at least a split with the Boys every year. And you knew he’d work hard to keep the opposition in every game. I’m going to miss him playing hard for my Giants, for the Skins, and for the Eagles. He was a great addition to our teams.

Though, if the entire Tony Romo Era is anything like it started out, I’m also going to thoroughly enjoy him too. His mobility buys him time to complete more interceptions.

As bad as Dallas played, the Giants looked good during the highest rated television broadcast in cable history. Other than Eli being Eli (which I like to describe as “periods of brilliance surrounded by moments of sheer terror”) the team looks like its really coming together. Someone finally told the defense that the preseason is over and the scores actually matter now, which is good. Hopefully losing Arrington for the season and Osi being out a week won’t bite them in the arse too badly. I’m not going to go as far as saying I think the Giants can make the Super Bowl, but I think the Giants can probably make the Super Bowl.

I guess I have to say something about Tiki’s retirement. Here’s what I think: have you seen Brandon Jacobs run the ball? Seriously? The man is a hybrid between a Sherman Tank and an Indy Car. Shades of Christian Okoye, except with speed and agility. To use a popular Giants phrase, he’s Thunder and Lightening in the same guy. If he learns how to catch a ball, look out. I’m not saying he’s as good as Tiki, but I’m saying I like my chances with him. (As for Tiki, I can’t wait till he’s doing the Today Show five years from now and cracking uncomfortable jokes with Matt Lauer and Al Roker’s stapled stomach.)

I like beer. Really, that’s not news, but it’s almost the weekend, so I just thought I’d throw that out there.

If T.O. had actually committed suicide, would you really have been sad or would you have just acted like it?

I think the Red Sox are going to suck royally next year if they don’t make some moves for more bats and get some pitching. Seriously, I’m thinking like 70 wins. I’m not kidding. That bad.

I think Bill Simmons’ wife is getting to be funnier than he is.

Mike Mussina may not be on the Yanks next year, and please GOD let them trade Gary Sheffield. Everyone thinks Alex is clubhouse problem. But Gary is the original clubhouse malcontent on this team. Don’t forget that. He’s certainly not worth $13 million to play first base. You think it’s chance that the Yankees were playing better baseball when he was on the bench and the bats immediately went cold when he came back? Um, it wasn’t. He craps on the chemistry of that team worse than anyone else. He needs to go. As for Mike, hopefully they can restructure his deal and keep him as a #3 or 4.

I made a trade for Steve Smith for my fantasy team this past week. (Frank Gore, who I got for Chad Johnson.) I’m shaky excited for the rest of the season now. I mean, I know it’s not possible for a fantasy team to have a chemistry problem, but mine did. Seriously. One week Julius Jones would go off, but no one else, the next Ronnie Brown would have a decent game, but neither Jones brother would, etc. I was mired at .500. If my team were real, analysts would be talking about this trade and throwing around phrases like, “this is just the kickstart this team needed” and “there’s a palpable excitement brewing in this imaginary locker room.” Yes, I think about this stuff too much. I know.

Whatever happened to the discount airlines? JetBlue? Song? Ted? Remember, they were supposed to be a cheap alternative to the juggernaut airlines. Now JetBlue wants $703 dollars for a round trip from NYC to Long Beach. Seriously? Sure, we’re at war, there’s an oil crisis, I get it. But $703 just to fly across the country? I refuse to believe no one can come up with a way to have an actual discount airline. I’m talking $75 roundtrip to NYC from Boston. And I mean Logan to LaGuardia, not Manchester to Islip. Is that too much to ask? (That’s another annoying trend with airlines. Manchester is not a local Boston airport, and Islip should never be referred to as an NYC alternative. Islip might as well be in Rhode Island. Really, I want to take a $340 cab ride to the city.)

Instead of betting on outcomes of actual football games, I want to bet on stuff like, “Steve McNair will get hurt and Kyle Boller will come in and throw two deflections that will somehow go for touchdowns.” On second thought, it’s probably better we can’t because I’d throw half my salary on this stuff.

I keep reminding myself that the Tigers were a horrible team as little as three weeks ago. I suppose I have a slight confession to make: I haven’t been watching the World Series, at least not without interruption. Programs I’ve chosen over the WS: Studio 60, Heroes, Friday Night Lights, How I Met Your Mother, MNF, and Sunday Night Football. (Keep in mind I have a DVR and I could watch any of those at any time, but I consciously chose to watch them instead of watching the WS.) Which explains the all-time low ratings. I mean, if a guy like me doesn’t really care, how can an average sports fan?

If you think baseball’s steroid problem is under control, just remember that Jeff Suppan was the NLCS MVP and Kenny Rogers hasn’t allowed a run in 23 innings in the postseason. So, either all the hitters were on steroids and now aren’t, or all the pitchers are now on them.

I have a bit of a reputation for coming up with really good Halloween costumes. (One year, I was the Verizon guy, last year Ron Burgundy, complete with red suit, turtleneck, moustache and Channel Four Action news mike.) This year I had the perfect Halloween costume lined up. I mean, I was excited about it. I was going to wear a #12 Jets jersey over a turtleneck with jeans and my girlfriend Mary Kate (no sister named Ashley, sorry) was going to wear a yellow coat, put her hair up and carry an ESPN mike. That’s right, Joe Namath and Suzy Kolber. “I just wanna kiss you.” And then Bill Simmons had to go and list that in his column this week. (see link above) Damn him. Not only does he have my perfect job, but he’s also giving away my costume ideas. Plus, he’s getting schooled by his wife in football picks. He needs to pull a Tiki and retire in his prime.

Did I mention I like beer? Maybe I did.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Not in my Stadium: Rules for fan gimmicks

So the Mets went down in historic fashion, a game in which the worst pitching matchup in Game 7 history all but solidified the fact the National League is officially AAAA level ball. (And when the Tigers sweep next week, will anyone be surprised?)

But the biggest disappointment was not the game, but the Mets fans. I don’t really like the Mets, but I respect Mets fans. Mets fans are real fans, fans who know the game, respect the game, and respect the traditions of the game. They’re down-to-earth, salt-of-the-earth types. Guys you would shoot the shit with you if you sat next to them at the bar, and girls who wouldn’t mind sitting on the couch watching football with you on Sunday.

But the first cut FOX made to Shea last night showed nearly the entire stadium waving around towels like a bunch of mindless bums who couldn’t tell you the difference between a suicide squeeze and a sac fly. For a minute, I thought we were in Anaheim or Chavez Ravine. It looked like someplace where the majority of the fan base spends the year tanning in 80-degree weather, essentially making it impossible care about anything more serious than “I need a manicure” and “Is that Ben Stiller!? It IS Ben Stiller!!!”

I even laughed when I read the Sports Guy this morning—he had the same thought:

Hey, what about the Mets fans waving these white hankies? What is this, amateur hour? I thought the Mets had real baseball fans? I'd expect that crap at Tropicana Field or Chase Field, but not a place like Shea. Come on.

And it even came up with my friends Alana, a NYer (but Yankees fan) and Josh, a former NYer (and Mets fan) when we did our traditional morning after e-mail recap. Clearly, we were not the only ones who cared about this.

Alana was very opposed, but Josh didn’t mind, because “It looked cool on TV.” If I didn’t know Josh was a very good Mets fan I would question his integrity, but I’ll let that slip.

All this got me to thinking: what gimmicks or traditions are acceptable at what sporting venues? Are towels okay everywhere? Rally Monkeys? I think it’s time we got a ruling on this. What you are about to read is most definitely a work in progress, but I think this is an important topic if you give a crap about sports and have no work to do on a Friday.

I’m not quite sure how to characterize this, (By Stadium? By gimmick?) so I’m just going to set forth some ground rules for gimmicks and then maybe we can go from there. I’m not going to run down every gimmick, because there are sure to be some I’m not even aware of, but just set some guidelines.

Before you participate in a gimmick, such as towel waving, these are the questions you need to consider:

1.) Is the gimmick original to your stadium/fan base, or has the “statute of limitations” expired on it so long ago that no one really remembers where it started?

For example, towel waving is clearly indigenous to Pittsburgh, whose denizens have proudly waved the patented Terrible Towel for as long as I can remember. Now, I could be wrong, and this could have started elsewhere, but the point is that Pittsburgh fans took this idea, made it their own, even copyrighted it to the point that when you think about fans waving a towel Pittsburgh is what you think about. Therefore, unless you are in Pittsburgh rooting for a local Pittsburgh team, you should not be waving a towel.

By this rule, that also means other native traditions such as the cool octopus tossing in Detroit and the incredibly stupid rally monkey in Anaheim get grandfathered in. Which makes me think rule number 2 should be:

2.) Is the gimmick stupid and completely out of the blue?

Now, what on God’s Green Earth does a Monkey have to do with Baseball or Anaheim? Are the streets of Anaheim overrun with baseball-loving monkeys who eat bananas and discuss the merits of grass over Astroturf? I’ve never been there, but I’m guessing that’s not the case. I tried to find the origins of the Rally Monkey, but this was all I found on a random Web site not even worth linking to:

He was born by accident on June 6, 2000, at Edison Field during a game against the Giants. When the Angels trailed by six runs in the sixth inning, the video board operators showed a clip of a monkey jumping up and down with the words "Rally Monkey.

Right. So can we all agree that this: A.) Has nothing to do with baseball, and B.) Any gimmick that makes people bring stuffed animals to a baseball game is wrong. I think we can agree on that.

However, Octopus tossing? That’s permissible. Why? Because: A.) There’s a good reason for it B.) that’s just creative, C.) They toss real octopi, and D.) It’s just fun to say “octopi”.

Now, if the folks at Anaheim tossed live, crazed, shit-tossing monkeys on the field at Anaheim, I’d be all for the Rally Monkey. I’d probably move to Anaheim and buy season tickets. Or even if they tossed rotting monkey corpses. That would be interesting, if just to hear Joe Buck get indignant about it.

Until then, I’m declaring the Rally Monkey dead. Moving on. Let’s discuss gimmicks that include fans dressing up:

3.) If there’s a general A.P.B. out that tells fans to dress up in a certain color, is that okay?

The quick answer here is: Yes. Absolutely. In fact, if you attend an important game, like a playoff game, and don’t wear your team color, everyone in your section has the right to one free punch in your face. However, there is one important thing to consider:

3B.) Is the color we’re dressing up in actually a team color?

I know, it sounds like a dumb question. But if you’re sports fan, you already know who I’m getting after here. Everyone in Miami, I hate to break it to you, but White is not a “team color.” It’s just not, unless you are Penn State. The White Out can get away with it, because their most popular uniforms are about 98% white. I’ll give them a pass, but White is actually not even a real color in the technical spectrum—white is a combination of every color. Every team in every sport has a white uniform, or a uniform that has white on it. White doesn’t count.

I couldn’t even find the Heat’s official team colors on the official website, which I should have expected from a Miami sports franchise. I had to go to Wikipedia—which is equivalent to getting your news from Geraldo—where I discovered the Heat’s colors are Red, Black, White and Yellow. First, that’s wrong, because no team should have four freaking colors. And also, because as we’ve discussed, white is not a team color, unless you’re Penn State. So Miami fans—and I use the term loosely—please dress in RED next time. Seriously, the rest of the sports world will have a lot more respect for you if you do. The general rule should be, whatever your team’s primary color is, that’s what you should dress in. It’s not hard, people.

And those rules are general enough that they should cover just about every gimmick out there, I think. I just want to close with one additional rule that I believe anyone who is actually a fan of sport and not just “there for entertainment or a fun night out” will appreciate.

4.)Under no circumstances, and I mean, none WHATSOEVER, should you ever, ever, EVER, touch a thunderstick, let alone bang two together.

Seriously, treat thundersticks like they have herpes. Don’t even touch them. Step on them and pop them. They are the curse of the true fan. The annoying kid behind you will bang them incessantly. The drunk girl will wave hers around and hit you in the head, or worse, knock over your beer. Some guy 10 rows back will inevitably toss his toward the court like a penile javelin—but the damn things don’t fly straight, so they’ll smack you in the face on the way down. Which or course will cause your friends to make fun of you for getting hit in the face with a giant inflatable dildo. I’m just saying, they’re evil.

But there’s a bigger problem with those things: Who gave you the right to take the easy way out as fans? When I was growing up, you wanted to make noise, you wanted to be loud, you wanted to support your team in a tight spot, you screamed. You clapped. You chanted. You banged on the chair in front of you. When that chump missed that free throw or that pitcher threw ball four, you felt like you were a part of the team because you earned that break. No easy outs here, kids. If you don’t leave the game hoarse, you didn’t do your job. People that use thundersticks aren’t fans. Thundersticks are below Rally Monkeys on the fanolutionary chain.

At least until we get some live monkeys chasing Vlad Guerrero around the outfield. Then the Rally Monkey moves up to the one spot.

Monday, October 09, 2006

It’s time.

There is a lot of speculation that the Yankees will fire Joe Torre. From the headline above, you can guess what I think about it.

The bottom line is, Joe didn’t get it done. I know it sounds insane to say that about a guy who holds four World Series rings, but it is the simple truth that the last of those rings came in 2000. That is an eternity ago in Yankee time.

Let’s think about Joe’s postseason results since 2000.

2001: The Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty as Buster Olney has now famously called it with his book of the same name. Torre was one inning away from a fifth ring, and maybe you can’t pin this one on him so much as you can give it to the Diamondbacks.

2002: First round loss to the Angels, 3 to 1. That, by any stretch of the imagination, is a failure.

2003: Lost in six games to the Florida Marlins in the World Series. Not a complete failure, but short of the ultimate goal.

2004: The greatest collapse in sports history to the team’s ultimate rival. This isn’t just failure, but failure on a historical level. And you have to think that most any other manager gets the boot after this. Torre’s past rings saved him here. I don’t want to use the phrase “A good manager would have prevented this” because Torre is an excellent manager, but that’s the general sentiment I’ve always had about that collapse.

2005: The Angels again, ALDS, in five.

2006: The Tigers, ALDS, in four. As you know.

The bottom line is Torre has consistently been given the tools other managers only dream about, and he has failed to make it out of the first round three of the last five years. He lost four straight to the team’s arch rival in the ALCS. Lost in the World Series twice. (And, we now forget, how close they came to losing in the 2003 ALCS.)

Unless you buy into Billy Beane’s Moneyball theory that “Whatever happens in the playoffs is complete luck” you have to agree that Joe Torre has failed in the postseason for the past six years.

And you can’t blame it on the players without the blame falling on the Manager’s head. That is the understood and accepted truth. There will be speculation that another manager (a feisty Pinella?) could have gotten production out of A-Rod. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. But the Yankees’ post-season failure has been occurring since before A-Rod donned pinstripes, and it continues after.

I’ll say it again: with the tools he has been given, you have to believe that not winning the World Series is a failure for these teams and therefore a failure for the team’s manager, Joe Torre.

And that’s why I say it’s time. Even if it hurts for me to say that. Bye, Joe.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

O Captain, Not a Captain

By now you’ve read the SI article on A-Rod and his struggles by Tom Verducci, probably one of the best pieces of sports insider reporting in the past five years. And if you haven’t, then you’ve heard the quotes on SportsCenter or on talk radio.

The story is unfortunately drowning out the fact the Yankees clinched the AL East last night with a Red Sox loss to Minnesota.

But as for the story, I have a simple question:

When did Jason Giambi become the most likeable guy on the Yankees?

Apparently he was the only Yankee who was willing to confront A-Rod during his slump. He got in Alex’s face and challenged him. He made it clear that the Yankees needed him, needed him to get the big hits. He talked to Torre about putting an end to the skipper’s “coddling” of Rodriguez—and suggested that A-Rod was the type of guy who would respond better to tough love. And the manner in which Giambi did all that is very impressive. It was never accusatory or confrontational, but obviously done for A-Rod’s own good. “We’re behind you 100%” was how he began his challenge. Exactly the words Alex needed to hear before hearing the rest.

(Giambi would know about struggling. After his “admission” about steroids a couple years ago, Giambi played so awful that the Yankees tried to send him down to the minors. Giambi can understand exactly what A-Rod is going through, in terms of the media scrutiny, fan contempt, and self-doubt.)

But A-Rod is officially out of his slump now. And if Alex goes on to play a major part in a Yankees World Series Championship, Yankees fans everywhere can thank Giambi for it.

It was a class move by Giambi. It was an action that a captain takes.

And yes, that’s a direct shot at you know who.

Everyone knows Jeter and A-Rod have a cold relationship, and everyone knows why (See Esquire 2001).

But Jeter has let A-Rod struggle without so much as lifting a finger to talk to Alex or the media to offer the Yankees’ slugger an ounce of encouragement. He has left A-Rod out to dry, and done so in a painfully obvious way.

Jeter’s Godfather-esque “You’re dead to me” attitude is the exact polar opposite of the proper attitude a captain should have. The Yankees organization is all about class, and Derek Jeter—at least off the field—has been a disappointment to his honorary position this season.

That’s not to say Jeter hasn’t carried the Yankees this year and is not deserving of the MVP award he’ll likely win. He is, 100%. No doubt.

But Giambi’s earlier 100% statement isn’t as effective because you can’t help but feel that Derek wants A-Rod to fail, and even enjoys it just a little. If I’ve gotten anything out of the Verducci article and the resulting backwash, it’s a new viewpoint on Jeter. Apparently Derek is very well known for holding grudges, to the point where a Yankees’ staffer said, with Jeter, “…once you’re gone, you’re gone.”

Obviously that is not the attitude a captain should have. A Captain puts Team before Self. Even if you can’t stand a guy, if his play is hurting the team, it’s your job to sit him down. It’s your job to shake him loose. To stick up for him. And even though A-Rod thinks that’s not Derek’s way, it is—he’s done it before, for Chuck Knoblauch and even (here’s the kicker) Jason Giambi.

Jeter has left A-Rod out to dry on purpose. Some role model. Definitely not a Captain.

The thing here is, with Derek, not saying anything is as condemning as actually condemning Alex. That’s how much respect and power Derek has within the organization and the clubhouse, and rightfully so for all he’s accomplished. With the expanded rosters, there are lots of young guys in the Yankees clubhouse right now, and they take their lead from Derek.

I would think Derek would know it takes more than a .340 batting average and nearly a .400 BA with RISP to be a Captain. Leading by example doesn't stop once you leave the field. It's a 24-hour a day job.

That being said, I still have immense respect for Derek as a player. But my personal opinion of him has taken quite a hit.

Derek needs to be less the Godfather, and more a Captain.

He is and will remain the heart and soul of the Yankees. But for this season, the clubhouse MVP is Jason Giambi, in my book.

And should A-Rod come up with the big hits this postseason, I'll be interested to see what Derek's reaction—if any—will be.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The All-All-Star Team

Hideki Matsui returned from injury last week in his first games since that ugly injury against the Sox cut short his consecutive games streak. And now, Gary Sheffield will reportedly be cleared to play by this weekend.

At a wedding this weekend, someone asked me what would happen with Sheffield. Where do you put him with Matsui back and Abreu playing out of his gourd in right?

The rumor, I said, was that Sheffield would play first base. And last night, the rumors were confirmed when Sheff took fielding practice at first base. Sheffield began his career as a shortstop, and has almost 100 career starts at the position, as well as around 450 at third base. So the infield is not a complete unknown to him.

It also helps that the Yanks have a nine-time gold glove first baseman in the dugout. Donnie Baseball.

You probably could have read that on any website. But what no one (at least that I’ve seen) has said yet, is the historical implication of inserting Sheffield into this lineup.

Unless I am mistaken, this will be the first time in history a major league club will field an entire team comprised of All-Stars.

Take a look at the potential lineup as I think it will be set up:

Damon CF
Jeter SS
Abreu LF
Giambi DH
ARod 3B
Sheff 1B
Matsui RF
Posada C
Cano 2B

The first eight guys are obvious All-Stars, and Cano was elected to his first All-Star game this year, even if he didn’t play because of injury.

This lineup will make opposing pitchers want to commit hari-kari on the mound. Matsui, easily a 3- or 5-hitter on any other team, is batting 7th. You have a guy hitting .336 in the freakin 9-hole.

Even the Yankees could never claim that they had an All-All-Star lineup before. The 1927 Yanks didn’t. And the 1998 Yanks had an amazing seven All-Stars (Chad Curtis wasn’t, and Posada didn’t technically earn his first bid until 2000).

Oh, and did I mention you can bring Melky Cabrera off the bench if you need him? Not that you'd pinch hit for any of these guys.
Who needs pitching anyway? This is a seven or eight run-per-game lineup. Best of all, it’s also capable of playing small ball if it needs to, with Damon, Jeter, Abreu, Sheffield and A-Rod all legitimate base-stealing threats.

This lineup would absolutely decimate a team like the Tigers in a five-game series. Now the Yanks just need the Twins to overtake the Tigers so the Yanks don't have to face Santana in the ALDS. Twins are obviously the better team right now.

I’m looking forward to this lineup coming together by the end of the season. As for next year and Sheffield’s $13M option, let’s leave that to the offseason to sort itself out. But for now, I’m just looking forward to this lineup taking the field. And I’m not going to even hesitate to say it:

Best. Lineup. Ever.

I Will Now Place Sharp Objects in My Ear: Worst Sports Broadcasters

With the AL East being an anticlimactic non-story and with two-plus weeks until the playoffs start, I really had a hard time deciding what to write for this column. I could tout “Jeter for MVP” but with the Red Sox collapse (read: Ortiz being “disqualified” by association) that also seems like a non-story. Plus, I’d rather not turn this column into a script you would hear on any sports radio show.

Then I lucked out and got the following email from my friend Alana, a Yankees season ticket holder:

Just have to share this because it’s pretty pathetic…

I just got an automated message on my cell phone from none other than…John Sterling. He thanked me for my patronage this year as a ticket holder and oh yes…reminded me to pay my invoice for post season tickets. Pathetic…I love my team, but that was just ridiculous!

For those of you who don’t know John Sterling, he’s the Yankees radio play-by-play guy, famous for his signature game-winning call. It’s the one where he says “The Yankees Win” twice in a row, with the second time sounding like he’s having an epileptic fit. Don’t get me wrong, I like Sterling. I hear him, I think baseball. Can’t replace that feeling.

But that email launched a debate about which broadcaster you’d most like to have leave you an automated message, and hands down we decided that it would be Tim McCarver. Not because we like him, but because you can only imagine the comedy of the message he’d leave:

On behalf of The New Jersey Yankees, owner George Steinburner and Captain Dave Righetti, this is Tim McCarver, and I’d just like thank you for your playtronage this year. We're excited for the 2007 playoffs to start, and we hope you'll join us at Ebbets Field in Octuber when the Giants begin their postseason run.

And now with football having (finally!) kicked off, that debate kicked off a larger discussion of how horrible sports announcers have become. It seems like they’re handing out gigs to anyone.

Did you remotely make a name for yourself playing a pro sport? Come sit in our broadcast booth. Just think out loud, it doesn’t really matter what you say. We’re just going to use your name to promote our broadcast, the rest is really irrelevant. Feel free to contradict yourself regularly and use phrases like “back in my day” to date yourself while belittling the current generation of athletes. The announcers are so bad these days, you really can’t be any worse than the hacks out there. Oh, and talk a lot about steroids, because we don’t think people are sick of that yet…

Because this is Barstool sports, I’ve decided to give you some fodder to discuss amongst your friends (assuming you have some) while sitting at the bar. Who are today’s worst announcers? Guys you can’t stand, the ones who make you cringe when they say obvious things like, “They had better go for it here” when it’s 4th and 1 and your team is trailing by 20 with 2:00 minutes to play? I’ve decided to systematically tear apart most of the well-known broadcast teams from baseball and football. It’s totally throw-away column, I know. But I had fun doing it and that’s what really counts here.

These guys are chosen at random and not ranked (it would be rude to hand out negative numbers) and could be booth guys or pre-game show guys or even SportsCenter guys. Like I just said, random. I left out a lot of guys I enjoy, like Orel Hershiser, who is probably the best baseball color guy out there right now; and Tino Martinez, who I just can’t say anything bad about because he’s Tino Martinez.

Just the guy, and my thoughts on his performance. Take this column to the bar with you and start the discussion. (And if you actually do that, start a MySpace page or something and try to make some friends, okay?)

Tim McCarver: Probably the most infuriating broadcaster currently on air. Commonly puts players in the game who retired 10 years ago, like referring to a base hit by David Ortiz as "a nice rip by Mo Vaughn." (He actually did this. Seriously.) I’m convinced those random kids the Sox have announce batters during the 8th inning at Fenway could do better.

John Madden: I’m pretty sure he’s insane. Talks about football a lot, but never actually comments on the game being played right in front of him. I’m still scarred from a Cowboys game about 10 years ago where he discussed—at length—Leon Lett’s butt sweat, complete with close-ups from the FOX crackpot camera crew. Jarring stuff. I think Madden should be fired and replaced by his video game self.

Al Michaels: Okay, I could think of bad things to say about Al Michaels, but I’m not going to do it. If I say anything bad about Al Michaels—the man who made the greatest call in the history of sports in 1980—the sports gods will systematically dismantle all of my favorite sports teams, make all my bets go bad, and break all of my fantasy running back’s legs. He’s like a Sports Broadcasting Jesus. I’m not going there.

Joe Theisman: Incapable of criticizing anyone at all. Brett Favre could throw 10 interceptions in a game and Theisman would say, "Boy, he really wants to win this one, you have to admire his competitvity." (And yes, he would also say, "competitivity")

Mike Tirico: A fellow ‘Cuse grad and I like his play-by-play. But he should have considered radio. Just saying.

Tony Kornheiser: Funny and down to earth, but I'm pretty sure he saw his first football game in person in Washington a couple weeks ago.

Joe Castiglione: GETS OVER EXCITED FOR DEEP HIGH DRIVES WAAAAY BACK... to the shortstop for the second out.

Jon Sterling: Wishes he had a way to know which games “THE YANKEES WIN, TTHHHAAAHHAAAHHHAAA Yankees win” so he wouldn't have to do the other ones.

Suzyn Waldman (Yanks radio color): In my friend Alana's own words, "I'm for women's rights and all that, but come on."

Jon Kruk: Bitter and humorous, which I like, but he constantly waffles on his picks. Mmm... waffles.

Jerry Remy: Along with Hershiser, in my opinion he’s one of the best color man out there now, if only for the color his thick accent and his wonderful wardrobe from Eastern Clothing of Watertown bring to the table.

Don Orsillo: No human being has ever needed a color commentator as badly as Don Orsillo. I mean, ever. Does he pay Remy to follow him around to everyday places like the grocery store? I need to know.

Chris Berman: The Brett Favre of broadcasting.

Tony Saragusa: Dumb, fat people are the reason we invented reality TV, okay?

Joe Morgan: We know he played baseball and all, but it wouldn't hurt for him to watch a game once in awhile. At least read the rosters before the broadcast, and remember this is 2006.

Jon Miller: Where’s Joe Morgan? Where’s Joe Morgan? Good, there he is. I got nervous for a minute. Joe, please don’t ever take a piss break without telling me again. Okay? Can I go with you next time? Please Joe? Please? Who loves you? Jonny does. That’s who.

Stu Scott: Is he looking at the camera? Is he? Wait. No. Maybe? Yes. Crap, I can't tell.

Terry, Howie and Jimmy: Howie carried Milford High. He carried Villanova. He carried the Raiders defense. Some things never change.

Troy Aikman: When Dan Morgan retires, FOX had better team him with Troy so we can set a record for “Most Head Trauma in a Single Booth.” I’m guessing it would be in the neighborhood of 20 concussions combined.

Steve Phillips: Normally you hire guys who had successful careers.

Every female sideline reporter: Unless every interview contains a drunken Joe Namath, can we just get commentary from the cheerleaders and get it over with? Better yet, can they give us commentary in the form of interpretive dance? Please?

Mike Irvin: This column doesn’t exist, because I didn’t go to THE U!

Joe Buck: Content with running his father's name into the ground; petrified by the mere sight of Randy Moss; between the football and the baseball and the pre-game shows and the post-game shows and the Holiday Inn commercials, I’ve had about all I can stand. Joe Buck must be stopped. In fact, this October, do you think it would be possible for the FOX MLB playoff booth to have a little “accident”? Can someone who knows people who knows people arrange this? Sports fans everywhere would be eternally grateful.

That’s all I got for now. And just because I really couldn’t go a whole column without commenting on the Red Sox/Yankees four-games-in-two-days series and the last Rivalry meeting of 2006:

Did you see that catch Coco made?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Terrorists Stole My Birthday

The morning of September 11, 2001, began for me like many of the previous 80 or so had — roused from an alcohol-induced sleep by a non-natural occurrence, in this case, a phone call.

I had been sleeping and drinking and sleeping a lot around that time. What many people now forget now is the “economic downswing” largely attributed to the events of 9/11 were well underway by the summer of 2001. My two-year career as a copywriter for a prominent Boston direct marketing agency had been cut short by mass layoffs in June. Low man on the totem poll, that sort of thing. With a decent severance, I had decided to turn the summer into a long vacation — hence the sleeping late and drinking much.

When my cell phone chirped me into consciousness on that morning, I already knew who the caller was and what they had called to say.

I was right on one count. It was my mother. I was so very wrong on what she would say:

“Turn on the TV, we’re being bombed.”

She may dispute those exact words now, but I remember them vividly, more than I remember anything anyone has ever said to me before 10 o’clock in the morning. I turned on the TV without responding and like everyone else, began to watch our new world take shape.

It was just after 9 a.m. on the East Coast when I clicked it on, barely minutes after United Airlines flight 175 from Boston flew into the south tower of the World Trade Center. My mother, a teacher in an upstate New York high school, had been slightly misinformed — like many of us in those early minutes — as to what exactly had happened in the city. Understandable. Like many of the preconceptions we had before that day, human beings purposefully dive-bombing an airliner into a building wasn’t even on my mom’s mental radar. But as we watched and as we talked it became very clear that this involved something much more sinister and complicated than a bomb.

It was a good twenty minutes of heavy conversation before my mother spoke the phrase I thought she had called to say:

“Happy Birthday”

Half-listening, I muttered a simple reply, “Thanks.” At that moment I didn’t care about my transition from age 23 to age 24. It was insignificant. There was a much bigger transition taking place right in front of me.

We were all growing older that day.

Very unemployed and with nothing else to do, I glued myself to the TV, flipping between channels in search of the latest information. With everyone knowing I was out of work — and therefore with 24/7 access to a TV and the internet, and with nothing else to worry about — I began to field phone calls from friends and relatives, becoming a point person of sorts. From my mother: “Who do we know in New York?”; Friends from home: “Where is Mark, have you heard from him?”; From a former coworker in the Prudential Tower in Boston in a harried voice: “They’re evacuating us; I have to go, call you back.”

In the confusion that followed, many of the callers forgot it was my birthday. I didn’t mind. I really had, too.

As the workday (if anyone did any work on that day) wound down, I was reminded that a casual birthday gathering had been slated for the evening at a local bar just outside the city. I sent an email around to the invitees; I still wanted to go. Between the tears and the anger, I needed a drink.

On that day and the ones that followed, there were essentially two types of people (other than those directly affected by the tragedy). There were the people that wanted nothing more than to go home and hide under the comfort and security of their bedsheets and shut out a suddenly evil and unpredictable world. And then there were the people that wanted to be around other people, needed to be around other people; needed someone to look them in the eye, and without even saying it, tell them that we’d all be okay. Comfort in numbers.

Many people declined the invite, including my girlfriend at the time, which—probably because I had so much emotion swirling inside of me — somewhat enraged me, causing an already tenuous relationship to end shortly thereafter. But a few friends and a couple of my then-roommates were on the same page as I was. Comfort in numbers.

We went to a small local bar — not the venue we had planned, as it didn’t have televisions — and had a few pints. The bar, surprisingly and not at the same time, was packed. Crowded. But quiet. We were listening. Listening for updates. Listening to the President react. Waited for him to say who did this. Wanted him to tell us it would all be okay. On that day, everyone was a fan of George W.

During the evening, from time to time, a friend would wish me a happy birthday with raised eyebrows and a half-smile, as if to say “I’m sorry”. That was the first time I’d heard it said like that. Not the last.

Five years later we stand here, still a powerful nation and — contrary to the outlook on that dreary morning — still very much okay.

A lot of people have personal ties to that day. Many lost loved ones. Others had close calls. Everyone has a story. (Goodbye Challenger, goodbye Berlin Wall, welcome to our new generational benchmark.)

My mother has made an annual tradition of begging me to write about my personal tie to that day. Not that I lost a loved one (I didn’t and don’t know anyone who did) or had a close call. I told her writing about that day would be selfish; bitching about the fact that something as insignificant as my birthday coincides with the worst attack on American soil in history could only be construed by others as selfish. Because it is. Feeling bad about that is selfish. How would a woman who lost her husband that day feel when they read about my insignificant story?

I still haven’t really dealt with the events of 9/11. Or maybe I have, I don’t know. (How do you know?) Because I still cry every year on that day, and sometimes even at the mention of it. I try to watch the reading of the names at Ground Zero each year, but never last more than 20 minutes. I even DVR’ed an HBO documentary on the Yankees’ World Series run post-9/11 and was a weeping mess for the duration. (And I still get teary every time Kate Smith or the Irish Tenor croons God Bless America.) I don’t know if I’ll ever put it behind me. And all that has nothing to do with my birthday.

But this year, I decided it’s time to be selfish, if only for two thousand words or so. Let me tell you how the fucking terrorists stole my birthday.

You’d be amazed how many times in the course of a year — in the course of polite conversation with strangers or acquaintances — you get asked when your birthday is. Normally, you’d be happy to answer. You’d say, “June 25th” and people would nod and smile. I say, “September 11th,” and people respond, almost universally, with that same wince — like someone pinched them — and a muted “I’m sorry.”

I tell them it’s okay, that I really don’t mind, that it could have been a lot worse. I make the brightside joke that I received more birthday cards in 2002 than I ever had before (true). Then I quickly change the subject before the conversation gets depressing. (It’s possible to “never forget” without letting an innocuous conversation make someone cry.)

It’s gotten to the point where I want to lie and say my birthday is September 10th, just to avoid it for everyone’s sake. Honestly, I used to love my birthday. It coincided with the fall, my favorite season, and the changing of the leaves in the scenic Mohawk Valley; it was the start of school, always exciting for the dorky kid I was; it was even a cool number, 911. But that was before 911 was a number that dialed heroes, and before it was a number synonymous with very real death and destruction.

Often, when I think about my birthday, I think about the babies who were born on that actual day, the ones who will walk around with birth certificates and driver’s licenses and passports with 09/11/01 on them. The Children of 9/11. Branded by a day on the Gregorian Calendar. Every day for the rest of their lives they’ll be inexorably tied to tragedy. Their birthdays will likely never be a celebration of life among the general public like everybody else’s birthday, but only a remembrance of horrible, painful death and sadness.

Want to know what that’s like? Well, a friend of mine summed it up in a simple response via email this year: “Too many moments of silence to really rock out and celebrate. Let’s do it another day.”

I hope the parents of the Children of 9/11 don’t let it be like that. I hope their parents are the need-to-be-around-other-people types. I hope they throw big parties on their kids’ birthdays, on the actual day, with loud bands and loud music and clowns and hayrides, real Americana/Norman Rockwell affairs. I hope they’re obnoxious about it. I hope those Children of 9/11 shatter every moment of silence with shrieks of joy as they hurriedly tear open their painstakingly-wrapped presents. I hope they can be heard at Ground Zero and the Pentagon and Shanksville.

Because at some point (but maybe not yet) September 11th needs to become a celebration of life and freedom and heroes, rather than a day to dwell on pain and suffering and death. We’re still here. We’re still okay. Yes, we lost people. Yes, there’s war. But every person dies, and there’s always been a war.

And we’ve always kept the kids from that. Sure, it’s too late for us. Too late for me and my birthday. I’m okay with that. But it’s not too late for the kids. Not for their birthdays.

The Children of 9/11 turned five this year. They’re getting old enough to understand.

Let them live. Let them be kids. When asked, let them say with a smile, “My birthday is September 11th — what’s yours?” and not think twice about it.

And let their contemporaries respond without wincing. Life, as an American, should be like that. The little happinesses.

For us, we can never forget, and rightly we shouldn’t. I’m willing to take a pass on my birthday.

But as for them, the Children of 9/11? I hope they get their day, with birthday cakes and candles and presents. And I hope they never think twice about how the world changed on the day they were born.