Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Two to Beat You

Three-time Yankees manager Billy Martin was well-known for being bluntly honest—and by honest I mean John Rocker-style honesty, the kind that makes the subject of his discussion sue for libel. Some of his quotes still live on in Yankees lore, arguably the most famous being the time he shared his opinion of the Yankees owner and their egomaniacal slugger Reggie Jackson with the media. (Jackson’s ego was legendary, he referred to himself as “the straw that stirs the drink” and claimed no one could appreciate the “magnitude of me.”)

It was the 1978 season and the Yankees were being slaughtered by Boston in the standings. Steinbrenner threatened to trade his manager Martin to the White Sox—back when Managers were traded—and Martin quipped, “the two of them deserve each other—one’s a born liar [Jackson] and the other’s convicted [Steinbrenner].” (Steinbrenner had been convicted of illegal campaign contributions to Nixon.)

But if there was one thing Martin understood, it was baseball. Though other lines were spoken with his firebrand, alcohol-laced breath, he also left us with this little piece of strategy:

“When you score one run, they have to score two to beat you.”

On the surface, it evokes this reaction: duh. But when you think about it, Martin was stating a very important piece of strategy. It’s a slogan for playing “small ball,” namely, doing the little things to push runners across, like moving runners into scoring position with bunts and hit-and-runs, tactics rarely employed by American League teams like the Yankees and Red Sox.

Why bunt when every guy in your lineup can put the ball in some guy’s beer in the outfield stands? Why hit and run when you have guys capable of smacking doubles and triples every at bat?

So when I was watching the Yanks and Sox battle this weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder what Martin—who was killed on Christmas Day 1989 in a car accident—would have said about the games we just witnessed.

Friday, we had a 6-3 Yankees victory which saw the return of the comedy known as Send ‘em Home Sveum, as the Sox third base coach got two runners thrown out at home on consecutive plays. Not exactly “small ball,” hey Dale? At least he doesn’t have a moustache like first base coach Lynn Jones. That thing is so big, I think it could beat David Ortiz to second in a footrace.

Apparently Lynn had
terrier for dinner.

And Saturday, Martin’s theory got trashed like organized religion in the Da Vinci Code, as the Sox put the biggest beat-down on the Yankees in the history of the series, a 17 to 1 pounding that had me walking around all day Saturday night babbling how a 16-run loss and a 1-run loss looked the same in the standings while trying not to swallow my tongue. The beating was so bad at one point in the eighth that the scoreboard at The Stadium literally shorted out, going blank for a few seconds as the operator tried to keep up.

And Sunday night, on national TV, the two teams had five home runs in the first three innings, including a Papi Ortiz behemoth blast into the “black seats” 428 feet behind the center field wall. Ortiz is only the 18th player since The Stadium was renovated in 1978 to reach the deepest paht of tha ballpahk.

Plenty of National League teams still still employ Martin’s small ball tactics, but in a league where the pitcher stands as an “automatic rally killer” at the bottom of your order, it’s a necessary evil to drive in any men on base before he comes to bat. But there are teams in the AL like the Baltimore Orioles and the Minnesota Twins that still do things Little League style. Not every team has the power that the Yanks and Sox have, and they are forced to generate runs by methods other than mammoth deep shots.

But then again, neither of those teams have made it to the World Series since… well, since Paris Hilton was just her daddy’s mistake waiting to be made.

Eleven home runs in three games. 38 total runs in three games.

Small ball is dead. Long dead. Just like Billy Martin.

Observations from this weekend’s games:

• For this weekend’s Yanks/Sox series, it’s the first time in eight years that neither team was in first place in the division at the start of a series.Eight years. One word: dominance.

• Raise your hand if you still want Orlando Cabrera instead of Edgar Renteria. That’s what I thought.

• The Yankees starting pitching was like Red Bull to the slumping Sox hitters this weekend. Manny and Ortiz, who were batting an abysmal .230 and .278 before this weekend’s series, left New York on Sunday with respective averages of .256 and .298. That’s an escalation of twenty points in batting average for three games. Who said the Yankees starting pitching was coming around? Oh, that was me.

• Speaking of which… at some point I need to write a diatribe about the dangers of bringing National League pitchers into the American League. The Yankees have some kind of disease worse than George’s syphilis on Grey’s Anatomy when it comes to this… Javier Vazquez last year, Johnson, Wright, Pavano this year. All performing below their averages. And yet, you look at the Red Sox version, Matt Clement, and he’s a stellar 5-1. Why is nobody talking about the crossover factor? Roger Clemens is the best pitcher in baseball, and nobody is suggesting that his deflated ERA might have something to do with this? I’m not trying to take anything away from Roger, but... wait, yes I am. Not that I wouldn’t mind seeing him in pinstripes… just afraid what they’d have to give up to get him.

Funniest point in the weekend had to be a toss up between watching Johnny Damon pathetically sliding into Posada’s tag on Friday—Posada had enough time to learn English while waiting for him—and David Wells getting yanked in the bottom of the ninth with a 7-2 lead on Sunday. Wells had allowed 2 runs on 6 hits in 8.1 innings, and you’re not going to let him get the last two? Even Francona had his doubts that Wells would give up the ball, saying “I wasn’t sure he’d let me have it.” Of course, it was the 9th inning, so Wells had probably sobered up by then, or he would have let Francona have it, all right.

Inside joke warning!!! For the people I was watching the game with in New Hampshire this Sunday: if there are ten people on a boat playing drinking games, and one of them is convinced the world is flat and the other nine are unable to convince him otherwise, what percentage of them are drunk? [Seriously, though, if there is an experienced mathematician reading this, please contact me wrbeard@hotmail.com. I have a math problem I need to solve once and for all: can you have more than 100% of anything? (On another note, I want to thank Wendy, Bob and Colin and the NH crew for their hospitality! I got to watch Sunday’s game outside in woods on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee sitting around a campfire. A perfect Memorial Day weekend night.)]

• Another note on David Wells: Before Sunday’s game, he reportedly sold his number 3 jersey that he had been wearing in honor of Babe Ruth to Edgar Renteria, who had worn the number his whole career, for an undisclosed amount of money that Renteria termed as, “a lot.” Just like Jackie Robinson, the Babe’s number needs to be retired for all of Baseball. Has any player besides Robinson done more for baseball than Ruth? Then again, he was also a womanizing alcoholic prick, according to legend. So maybe that won’t happen. But I’d sure love to see that number 3 up there on the Fenway façade.

• Red Sox hitting may have been unstoppable this weekend, but Alex Rodriguez had the best on base percentage of the weekend. The Sox didn’t retire him until the fourth inning of the third game. He drew four walks and had three hits in the series. Of course, I would have liked fewer walks and more hits, but you take what the pitcher gives you.

• With a save on Friday against his arch-nemeses, (plural form, are you impressed?) Mariano Rivera is back. Of course, that would imply that he actually went away. Mariano hasn’t blown a save since the last one against the Sox in April. Of course, back then no one was talking about the fact that he didn’t pitch a single pitch in Spring Training. And that’s all they can talk about now. Let me remind you about the first entry I ever wrote in this column: Greatest. Closer. Ever.

• Where were Posada, Tino, Giambi, and Cano on Sunday? What was Torre thinking? If they need off days, they had one Monday, and then if they still need more time, you’re playing the Kansas City Royals for three games, the holders of the worst record in Baseball. That’s as hard of a choice as choosing between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer at a wedding with ugly bridesmaids.

• Speaking of off days, my friend Meghan pointed out that the Sox are in a stretch of 20 consecutive days of games, if you include the Hall of Fame Game. When will David Wells find time for drinking?

• A quick story: I’m walking my friend’s dog on the Comm Ave mall yesterday afternoon—my friend was a little too, how do you say, “post-inebriated” to do it herself. So I’m walking her Jack Russell Terrier “Freddie” near Mass Ave (think the dog from The Mask), when I notice this lanky punk walking toward me with a little pug dog. He’s only a couple inches taller than me, and after my Memorial Day weekend binge of beer and burgers, I definitely outweigh him. This guy is wearing baggy athletic shorts and a fleece pullover, a ratty Sox cap, and his nappy-ass hair is hanging down from it. I didn’t think much of him until I got a little closer. He was chatting on his cell, but he looked up at me as our paths crossed, and I gave him a respective nod. He gave me the “what’s up” nod back, and we both kept walking. Four hours later, Bronson Arroyo was on the mound getting the crap shelled out of him by Orioles, giving up seven runs in three innings of work. I’d like to think I had something to do with that, making him give a Yanks fan a “what’s up.” Yeah, what’s up is your ERA, Bronson.

I’ll be at Fenway for Wednesday’s game against the Orioles, so look for some observations on the AL East’s leading team. Even after last night’s pummeling, I still refuse to believe that they’re the real deal. And yes, I’m pre-judging them in the same way I’d pre-judge a redneck on Springer. We’re at the 50-game mark and the O’s—as you can tell by the nifty standings box in the right column—have a four game lead over the Sox, Yanks, and Jays as of today. But even ESPN’s SportsNation doesn’t think the O’s are for real. Take the poll yourself.

• Longtime Red Sox Spanish broadcast announcer J.P. Villaman was killed in a car accident Monday morning. Villaman was among the first Spanish announcers to broadcast Major League Baseball. I actually listened to Villaman for a game one time when I couldn’t get the regular radio broadcast in. Let’s just say I was out of my league in trying to understand his Spanish, but his enthusiasm for the game could transcend any language barrier.

• And last, but not least, let’s take a moment to remember why we all had an extra day off yesterday. A sincere thank you from me to all of the men and women who have served our country—and still do so today. Without you, there is no United States of America, and certainly no American Pasttime. May we never take you for granted.

Up Next:
Sox vs. Orioles, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, 1:05 p.m. Thursday.
Yanks vs. Royals, 8:10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday.

• Congrats to Tim Harvey, who correctly guessed that the movie reference in last week's column was Bull Durham. Thanks for all the responses. Tim wins... his name mentioned here. I have to get a little harder with my questions...

Bill Beard is an independent writer who is giving 0% of his attention to his real job today. He can be reached by expert mathematicians for debate at wrbeard@hotmail.com

Monday, May 23, 2005

Don't Mess with a Winning Streak

I’ve received a couple emails from loyal readers (read: Mom) wondering why I haven’t updated the column recently. Maybe you think I’m lazy. Or maybe I’ve been too drunk to type. Any other time, I might agree with your assessment. But there’s actually been a much better reason:

The Yankees were on a 10-game winning streak.

To quote a Top 5 Sports Movie of All Time, “You don’t mess with a winning streak.” You think it wasn’t killing me to sit here and watch the Yanks come to form and rip off ten in row, and not write about it? You think I couldn’t wait to lash out at all the doubters, the ones who quipped that the Ice Age might be upon us? (Oh, wait, that was me.) You think I couldn’t wait to talk about the Yanks winning their last four series (after not winning one all year?

But, as that same movie says, “If you think you’re winning because you’re breathing out of your eyelids, or wearing women’s underwear, or not having sex, or not updating your column, well, dammit, you are!” Or something like that.

I wasn’t going to be the one to end the winning streak. There’s nothing that makes fortune turn on a team or player faster than some hotshot announcer or writer opening their big mouth. In fact, Tim McCarver has made a career out of perfecting the “announcer’s jinx.” He didn’t end the streak, but he did contribute to the Yanks being toppled on Saturday on national TV. As if we needed more proof that he was the spawn of Satan, he pulled his magic when Mets relief pitcher [insert Korean first name neither Buck or McCarver could pronounce] Koo stepped to the plate against Randy Johnson, maybe the greatest lefty every to toe the rubber. (The Yanks were playing at Shea, hence the pitcher hitting.) When Koo stepped into the box, McCarver unleashed this gem:

“You have to feel bad for Koo. He’s never been so overmatched in his life. He has absolutely zero chance of getting a hit right here.”

So of course no one in the television audience was at all surprised when Koo took the next pitch and hammered it a good 100 feet over Bernie Williams’ head in deep center field for a double. Koo could have probably had a triple, but I think he couldn’t even believe what he had done. And Williams, who was playing in, recovered well for a guy who has been carrying a stack of bricks in his back pocket all season and got the ball in quickly.

The Yanks lost that one, but they’ve ripped off 12 of their last fourteen, pushing them two games over .500 and contributing to the bottom lines of psychologists all over the Boston area. It’s been a rough early go this year for yours truly, as if it wasn’t enough that the Yanks fell to the Sox in the Greatest Collapse in Sports History last year.

As I stated in this space earlier, as much as I contemplated the coming of the next Ice Age, I still made the prediction that the Yanks would win first place, and the Sox would come in second. Suddenly I’ve gone from looking like McCarver to looking like Nostradamus. Okay, maybe it's not that bold. Even I will concede that predicting the Yankees will win the division is like predicting that “this year, Israelis and Palestinians will not get along.”

In the meantime, the Sox and Orioles have been playing .500 baseball, both teams going 5 and 5 in their last 10. After the worst April for the Yanks in 13 years, the fact that they’re only 5.5 games out of first and 2.5 behind the Sox has to impress… absolutely no one, because these are the Yankees we’re talking about.

No one has any doubts that Brian Roberts will test positive for steroids and the Orioles pitching will live up to their expectations (namely, sucking) and the Yanks and Sox will be left to battle it out down the road. In the meantime, the Yanks and Sox will go head to head this weekend, in what will prove to be a vital series for the standings, because after this weekend's games the Sox head to Baltimore for four straight with the league leaders, while the Yanks head to Kansas City for three straight wins… er, I mean games.

Theoretically, the Yanks could be in first place by the end of next week. Are you ready for that?

I didn’t think so.

Observations from the past two weeks:

• The only thing more shocking than Koo’s double in that game was what took place on the next play. Jose Reyes bunted, trying to move Koo to third. Posada, who has a hard time catching pitches, let alone fielding, picked up the bunt down the first base line and fired it to first. Koo moved to third. The pitcher, who runs the bases once a millennia, pulled the most alert base running move of the season, and noticed that no one was covering home. Technically, home plate would be A-Rod’s responsibility (with Jeter covering third) because Posada went up the line for the bunt. Koo raced home, sliding in against a diving Posada, who—replay showed—tagged him out, but the umpire called him safe. Quite frankly, he deserved it. The Yanks went on to lose 7-1.

• I'm supposed to say something about Pedro Martinez here. Well, all I can say is that he pitched a damn good game on Sunday against the Yanks. He even drove in two runs by accident, when A-Rod flubbed a slow grounder he hit. But he was certainly on with game. His line: 7IP, 4H, 1ER, 1BB, 6K. He even left the game in line for the win. But unfortunately, Pedro forgot that he plays for the Mets, and Willie Randolph pulled a bizarro Grady Little as the bullpen blew the game in the 8th. Pure entertainment for Red Sox and Yankees fans alike.

Red Sox fans have to be ecstatic about what they’ve seen from David Wells. Okay, that was sarcasm. But seriously, they have to be ecstatic about what they’ve seen from Matt Clement. In 10 appearances this year, he’s 5-0, including a complete game gem filed in business-like fashion yesterday. He struck out seven and gave up only two runs to a very good Braves team to help the Sox take the series. With Schilling being injured and David Wells being fat and out of shape even more than usual, Clement has become the ace of the Sox staff.

Speaking of Schilling… let me be the first to break it to you: he’s gone for the season. Get used to it. The man had his tendon stapled to his bone last postseason. Seriously. Done for the season. Which of course means he’ll be starting Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yanks.

• Red Sox fans will find it out this weekend: Alex Rodriguez is back to being the best player hitter scoring threat in baseball. With seven errors at third this year and an average hovering around .300, I can’t call him the best player in baseball anymore. But he does lead the league in HR (14) RBI (43) and Runs Scored (37). At about the 40-game mark, that puts him on pace for roughly 56 HR, 172 RBI and 148 Runs Scored. If he does that, he can slap as many balls as he wants, I don’t care.

• Of course, Brian Roberts is on pace for 44 HR, 132 RBI, and 144 Runs Scored. Which is why stats are as misleading as a CIA report on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. (And no, I will not stop hating on Brian Roberts. If I have to personally plant the Cream or the Clear in his locker, I’ll do it, because he has to be juicing.)

• In the I’ve said it 1,000 times category: there is no better 3-4 combo in baseball than Ortiz-Ramirez. Even though the Dominican Duo have been experiencing a “down” season, they always seem to get the big hits when it counts, including Manny’s 2-run blast yesterday to keep Clement undefeated.

• I’ve been a huge proponent of Interleague Play ever since it started, namely because it allows for matchups fans have always wanted to see. And Baseball finally got it right this year, allowing inter-city and local rivalries to take place this weekend. Of course, that made for some great series, only one of which ended up in a sweep (Texas over Houston). Other matchups of note: Cubs-White Sox (Sox won 2); San Fran-Oakland (Oak); St. Louis-KC (STL); Cleveland-Cincy (Cleveland); and of course, Yanks-Mets (Yanks)

• And in the newest inter-city rivalry, the Los Angeles Angels of Anehiem of the State of California of the United States of America of the Planet Earth of the Milky Way beat the LA Dodgers 2 out of 3.

• Today, the Red Sox play in the traditional Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown, NY at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The game is an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers. If you think this game is pointless, you couldn’t be farther off the mark. Though we have events like the All-Star Game and the World Series, the Hall of Fame Game is meant to be a “true celebration of the game.” The beauty of it is that it is an exhibition. There is no hype, no mass media coverage—the game is not televised—no discussion of million dollar contracts, no $6 beers, no egos and the final score doesn’t matter. It gives the players a chance to appreciate the fact that they are playing America’s Pasttime for a living, and gives the fans in attendance a chance to appreciate the beauty of the game in its most pure form. In these days, I think that’s more important than ever.

• And for a day, I’ll have something in common with Manny, Ortiz, and all of the players who have played in the 58 previous Hall of Fame Games: I’ve played on Doubleday Field. I only played one year of baseball in High School, in the 9th grade, but easily my most memorable game was the day we visited Cooperstown High and played on that historic field. Knowing all the teams and players that had played there, and the importance of the Field in baseball lore, to this day I can remember my first impression of it: it was small. Doubleday is wide open, unlike any other Major League park I’ve been to. There are no colossus of risers and skyscraping stands surrounding the green grass, no causeways and concourses winding for seeming miles, and certainly no seats for 55,000 fans. It resembles the corn-covered dirt paths of an Iowa Field of Dreams more closely than it does bastions of baseball like Fenway or Yankee Stadium. But make no mistake—as a 14 year old kid, when you toe that beautiful orange-brown clay and walk through that greenest of grass, you feel a magic that rivals any park. M. Kristin Connolly echoes my sentiment exactly:

Throughout every summer over the last six-plus decades, teams from all over the world have played on Doubleday Field. Thousands of people have forged their own tie to baseball history, whether they knew it or not. For those who love baseball and appreciate the grand history of America's game, there is no other park in existence that can compare to historic Doubleday Field.

• Just to brag, because this is my column and I can do whatever I want, that one game was also my “Moonlight Graham” game—my best ever. I went 3-4 with two singles, a double and one RBI. I also had three putouts while playing third, including a backhand grab over the bag that is still so vivid to me I can feel the ball snapping into the glove—not to mention my surprise that it was there. If memory serves, we lost the game, but my memory serves about as well as a stoned hippie in a busy Starbucks, so your guess is as good as mine. I can remember my line from 9th grade, but not what I had for dinner last night.

Sox at Yankees this weekend! Of course there will be multiple observations for you to look forward to.

Bill Beard is an independent writer who went 3 of 4 with a double on Doubleday Field and won’t let anyone forget it, even though he wouldn’t be surprised to find out that was his only double of the season. He can be reached to wax poetic about his glory days at wrbeard@hotmail.com.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Red Sox End the World

September in Boston always brings a lot of questions. The Yanks and Sox are usually vying for playoff position, and the Red Sox have so much pull with the Boston newspapers that a close game the night before could move September 11th to page 2.

Before last year’s tragic Yankees playoff collapse—also known as the Greatest Choke in Sports History (copyright 2004 Major League Baseball)—I would almost always get asked by some optimistic Red Sox fan, “What do you think would happen if the Red Sox won the World Series?” Until last year, it was a loaded question, like asking me what I would do if Mary Kate and Ashley wanted to come over for “playtime.” It simply wasn’t going to happen. And my answer likely mimicked that of Yankees fans all over creation:

“I think the world would end.”

Looking back now, I’m wondering how far off this apocryphal proclamation has been. Let’s examine key indicators that have occurred since that fateful night last October. I think… the end of the world may not be far off.

The two most shocking indicators:

1.)A Tsunami triggered by an earthquake kills 278,000 people in the Indian Ocean-—with thousands still missing--marking one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the world. The Tsunami occurred on December 26th, which is best known as the day after Christmas. But that number also has another meaning: the Yankees had won 26 World Championships since “the Curse” started.

2.)On April 2, 2005, Pope John Paul II died. The most recognizable figure in the world was also one of the longest reigning popes in the history of the Church. He led millions of Catholics for exactly… 26 years.

And you always thought God was a Yankees fan. Admittedly, those numeric coincidences are frightening. But here are some indicators that the Rapture is upon us that scare me even more:

3.)On November 2, 2004, George Bush gets re-elected.

4.)On November 27, 2004, Fiona Apple calls a press conference during which she offers a tear-filled confession that yesterday she “ate a turkey and fluff sandwich.”

5.)On January 18, 2005, American Idol debuts for a fourth season.

6.)On January 28, 2005, during his State of the Union address, George Bush announces that, once “the acne on the face of Iraq” is cleared up, he’s going to “start slapping Syria like a red-headed stepchild.”

7.)On March 17, 2005, Congress subpoenas prominent baseball players for questioning on steroids, because “If the Red Sox won the World Series, someone has to be cheating.”

8.)On March 25, 2005, Britney Spears announces she has been impregnated by Satan, who is preparing for the second coming of Johnny Damon by unleashing his own son on mankind.

9.)Similar to a vision of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Johnny Damon appearing in a Milton hospital window two years ago, a man visiting the Smithsonian spots a “devil-like” face in the blood stain on Curt Schilling’s sock. George Steinbrenner immediately trades Derek Jeter to the Smithsonian for the sock and an exhibit to be named later, and starts the sock at shortstop on Opening Day.

And the top indicator that the Red Sox have triggered the apocalypse:

10.)The Yankees aren’t in first place.

If you need me, Mary Kate, Ashley and I will be in the bomb shelter.

Some quick observations on random baseball things:

Manny Ramirez has been hit in the head twice in two games. Absolutely brutal shots. But my question is this: what’s he doing putting his head in the way of fastballs? The first one was a legit bad pitch, but yesterday, Manny was so freaked out by the previous day’s shot—a routine inside pitch, numbers high, that wouldn’t have remotely him had he stayed calm—he contorted his body so badly in an attempt to get out of the way that he actually put his head in line with the ball. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt, but in truth this has been a long time coming for Manny. You rarely, if ever, see anyone throw up and in on him (or Ortiz, for that manner) with the possible exception of the Devil Rays. Maybe it’s because everyone knows Manny is Gary Sheffield’s twin brother, both a wrong word away from turning into Mike Tyson and biting off someone’s ear.

If you need proof, I’ll remind you of Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, the famous game where Pedro Martinez invented the sport of Zimmer Tossing (“fun for all ages!”). After Pedro tossed one at Karim Garcia’s head, Roger Clemens tossed a high fastball to Manny… which was nowhere near his head. Now you can argue that the tensions were high, and that both teams had been warned. But everyone in the park knew that pitch was nowhere near Manny’s head, including Clemens, maybe the best guy in the history of the sport at backing up batters. Manny flipped, yelling at the ump to “Throw that [mother-something] out of the game!” Of course, a minute later, a distance of 2.1 meters was registered in the first-ever Zimmer Toss.

My point is that Manny—arguably the best pure hitter in the game after Ichiro—acts like a privileged child at the plate. I’m curious to see him stand in now that he’s got his bell rung a few times.

• I’m proud to announce the Grand Opening of Hideki Matsui’s English as a Second Language School for Athletes. After going 6 for his last 50 (and if you haven’t noticed, ending my “Hideki Matsui for MVP watch”) he ripped an RBI single three nights ago. He told an announcer, “I [expletive for sex] suck,” and said to skip Torre, “I really hit the [expletive for excrement] out of that one.” It appears his English is coming along nicely!

• The Yankees starters: Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, and Randy Johnson have all gone 7 innings or more over the weekend, and each starter has come away with the win. This also marks the first time all season the Yankees have won 3 in a row. It took them 33 games. That’s the latest into a season for that mark since 1925, when it happened on their 95th game, en route to a 69-85 season, when they finished 28 games behind Boston.

• Of course, Carl Pavano had to go and shatter that momentum by giving up nine runs in four innings yesterday. Only 5 were earned, courtesy of a sweet error by A-Rod, but still.

• Crazy enough, the Yankees still won the game, 13-9. There were eight home runs (four by Seattle, four by NY). Apparently it was “Home Run Ball Giveaway day” at the Stadium.

• Tino Martinez needs to be signed to a lifetime honorary contract as a Yankee. He’s homered in five straight games, and seven of his last eight starts. Is there any guy more happy to be playing in New York right now? I guess a season in Tampa Bay is all it takes to remind you how good you had it.

• In reference to Tino, all I have to say is, “Giambi who?”

• Okay, I’ll talk about it. The Yankees want Giambi to accept a stint in the minors until he finds his swing or gets desperate enough to get back on steroids. Giambi can—and has—refused, because the MLB players association has a deal with the MLB that players who have played five consecutive seasons in the majors can refuse to be sent down. This leaves the Yankees three options: 1. Buy out his contract, a 7 year, $100 million deal that has about $79 million remaining; 2. Trade him (it’s easy to ship a guy who’s hitting .192 and is on pace for 30 RBI for the season; 3. Let him rot down to a skeleton on the bench. Option 3 takes a valuable roster space, option 2 is unlikely, and option 1 is insane, proving that unless you’re signing God or Derek Jeter, no contract should ever exceed 4 years.

• The Red Sox have hit two walk-off home runs in the past two nights. Perhaps I should have moved this up into the “signs that the world is ending” section. Or I could move it into the “irony that Keith Foulke was in the other dugout” section.

• Lawrence Peter Berra turns 80 today. Better known for his wit than his baseball, if you’ve ever said, “It ain’t over till it’s over” you’ve quoted Yogi. That said, he’s also appeared in more World Series games than any other player, making an astounding 10 final rounds in his 14 year career, all with the Yankees. He also caught the only perfect game in World Series history, tossed by Don Larsen in 1956.

• The Red Sox are coming down hard on drunken and disorderly conduct at Fenway Park. Now, you’ll only be allowed to punch one Yankee fan per game.

• In honor of the Yankees 5 game win streak, I am not doing any work today.

Bill Beard is an independent writer who is going to get canned from his actual paying job if he keeps this up. You can contact him to offer him a job at wrbeard@hotmail.com

Monday, May 09, 2005

Wake Me When They Lose

People who know me know that basketball-not baseball-is my favorite sport. I play weekly (coming off a game in which yours truly dropped 7 three pointers on a hapless zone D, thank you very much) and I'll never win an Employee of the Month during March unless my boss wins my March Madness pool.

Recently, I've received quite a few emails (okay, two) inquiring why I haven't said anything about the NBA playoffs. With the Celts confirming everything I think about the NBA and taking an early exit stage left, I thought I'd give those people an answer:

I'm not watching.

I didn't see more than five minutes of any Celts game this series. And I'm not the only one. My friends are almost all sports fans to varying degrees. Living in Boston, everyone loves baseball, and with the Pats success, football has been tre chic, to use an expression that I don't understand. But I cannot, for the life of me, think of a single person, repeat, not one single person that I would describe as "a huge NBA fan."

It's okay Paul...
we don't care either.

When your sport's best storyline is that its two biggest superstars hate each other, and one of those two spent all of last season earning more frequent flyer miles to appear in court instead of on the court, you might have a problem. When your "Air" Apparent plays on a team so bad it doesn't even make the playoffs, you might have a problem.

But those aren't the real reasons the NBA has sucked all the fun out of basketball. The real reason is simple: the games are boring.

Basketball, in it's purest form, may be the ultimate team sport. When executed correcty, to quote The Best Sports Movie of All Time, you have "five individuals moving as one..." And it's somewhere between there and victory where sport transforms into poetry.

There was a time when the NBA was my favorite league, and the games were my favorite to watch. I loved my Yankees as a child, loved watching Willie Randolph work the two-bag, Rickey Henderson tear up the basepaths, Donnie Baseball and big Dave Winfield swing the pine. But Isiah was my Hero, the man I emulated. It was his jersey number that I asked for at the start of every school basketball season. I remember being heartbroken when I joined the JV team as a freshman, settling for 12 because a sophomore wore 11.

Now the NBA is a punchline is a Kobe Bryant joke. I can't say that I even have a favorite team anymore. I certainly don't have a favorite player. And this, to me, a diehard fan of the sport of Basketball, is tragedy.

But I won't sit here and cry on my keyboard. Instead, let me tell you why the games are boring. I have about 40 reasons, but you'll have to settle for my top 3:

1.) The "Leon" Mentality. If a stranger came up to me and said "Michael Jordan is the Greatest Athlete of All Time" I would probably have a new friend. But even when Jordan was playing, there was a shift taking place that, in many ways, would change the structure of the sport: dependence on Star Power. While MJ was making the game glorious to watch, he was also destroying it. His ability, and the six championships he brought to Chicago, gave General Managers all around basketball the formula that every team now follows to a T. Get one superstar, and surround him with Role Players. Get a three-point shooter (Paxon); a guy who can rebound and play D (Rodman); a decent low post threat (Horace Grant); a decent second scoring option (Pippen); and a competent center (pick one). The problem with this, is that it makes for exceptionally boring games. Offenses (with the exception of the Suns, maybe) are now built around "getting the ball to the Man." And I don't care how exciting the player is, it is plain boring to watch even a guy with Iverson's talent hoist 40 shots in a game. It's boring to watch a team constantly clear out one side of the court so their Guy can drive by or post up some other hapless millionaire who everyone in the building knows has zero chance. There's no drama in that, and TNT should be ashamed for carrying the NBA with that slogan. Superstars, while fun to watch for their talent, make for boring offense. Which leads me to my second point...

2.) The Demise of Passing as an Art Form. When Magic had the ball, he was the only guy in the building who knew where it was going. Stockton could thread a needle like Brett Fav-rah. And even further back, no one could destroy a D with a flick of his wrist like the Cous, the true innovater of this beautiful Art Form. Dunks are impressive, but nothing can make 15,000 people make an O face like the perfect pass. When Stockton retired, so did Passing as an Art Form. Sure, there are still some exciting passes on Sportscenter from time to time, but name me a single player who makes the highlight reel consistently for feeding his teammates the ball. Jason Kidd? Much more of a scorer than a passer. Jason Williams? He gets no respect from me, especially after last week's episode of "Locker Room Drama" where he took a reporter's pen away from him because he didn't like what the guy had to say. Steve Nash? Not enough flash. Magic did it with such grace--and surprise--that you see replays of him more in Slo-Mo than you do in real time, because the human brain isn't fast enough to appreciate his game.

3.) The Bling. Vince Carter admitted openly that he was not exterting himself while stationed in Canadian limbo. I'm amazed at how many people are surprised by this. Is there any sport where you see athletes dog it as much as the NBA? Talk about collecting your paycheck and going home. Does any sport use the term "he's in a contract year" more than Pro Basketball? You dog it on the Football Field and someone will put you on your ass. You dog it at the plate and you'll be striking out more than Mark Bellhorn. (Unless you're Manny Ramiriez.) You dog it on the Ice and you'll be kissing plexiglass. Have you seen an NBA superstar play I-want-to-know-what-flavor-chewing-gum-he-is style D lately? Me neither.

Will I watch the NBA Finals? Of course. Sport is sport and I'm a sucker. But I won't enjoy it, I can promise you that.

Observations on this past week's Yankees and Sox games:

The Yankees lost a series to Tampa Bay. And I have never uttered that sentence before. That's how bad it has been in the Brox. The men in pinstripes are eight games out of first, and I'm ten feet from a psychiatrist's chair.

But, I think the team is starting to come around. We've had two very well pitched games against Oakland this weekend, not allowing a run in either one. Mussina pitched well on Saturday, in a complete game shutout and Kevin Brown worked his way out of two bases-loaded jams during seven strong scoreless innings on Sunday. The Big Unit goes against Seattle tonight, and if he comes away with a win, well, look out AL East, here come the Bombers. (I'm going to ignore the fact that Oakland and Seattle aren't very good at all, thanks.)

On a sad note, the Sox Organization lost a family member in Bernie Logue, who apparently fell to his death from the sixth floor of the Government Center parking garage after attending the Celtics-Pacers Game 7 on Saturday with several members of the Red Sox team. Logue was the team's chef, and authorities are investigating the accident.

If you're a fan of people making asses of themselves (and who isn't?) you have to love Johnny Damon. The self-proclaimed idiot revealed he is contemplating retirement after this season. Give a guy a non-speaking movie role and his own episode of MTV Cribs and he thinks he's a superstar. I get tingly thinking about him retiring, not only so he hurts the Sox, but also because he'll drop off the radar faster than Buddy Holly's plane. Baseball's most prevalent long-haired idiot needs to realize that he's famous because he plays baseball. Without that, he's just a long-haired idiot.

On a personal note, I just want to say that the MLB Extra Innings package is a thing of beauty exceeded only by a lime green hatchback. The downside of it, though, is that you don't get to choose what team's broadcast you get to watch. I had to watch the Tampa Bay broadcast twice last week, which was amusing because the announcers were the most surprised of everyone when their team was pounding the Yankees. "Hey that was a nice play there, I didn't know he could do that" was uttered about thirty times. If the Yanks weren't giving up 22 runs in two consecutive games, I may have been laughing.

Another problem with the package is that I'm no longer forced to watch Sox games instead of Yankees games so there will be less of me ripping on Bellhorn and Manny than I'd like. Which is probably fine with most of you.

Completely unrelated, Giacamo won the Kentucky Derby in a three-horse photo finish, one of the most exciting races I've ever seen. Bellamy Road, Steinbrenner's horse, who finised seventh, will be appearing in Kindergartens all over the country before the week is out. Giacamo (pronounced Jockamo) is named after Sting's son. As if calling himself Sting wasn't funny enough (Hi, I'm a verb in the present tense), he had to go and screw up his son's life. This is what happens when you can afford designer drugs.

Up this week:
Sox vs. Oakland
Yankees vs. Seattle

Bill Beard is an independent writer who has found his jumpshot again. He can be reached for an NBA lottery pick at wrbeard@hotmail.com.

Monday, May 02, 2005

An Alternate Universe

"Is he black? Does he live underwater?"

I... I don't know what happened...

I went to bed last October, and all was right with the world. The sky was blue, America was at war with someone, and the Yankees had vanquished the Sox the previous year to capture the American League pennant.

Now, I live in a world where the Sox are World Champions, the White Sox are the best team in baseball, the Orioles are in first place, and the Yankees are in a death grip battle with Tampa Bay, only two games out... of last place.

At what point did I step through a rip in the time-space continuum into Bizarro World?

Sure, my life as a fan over the past several years has been a little strange. I'm wearing the wrong color jersey to my local MLB park. I'm getting pelted with beachballs, called names, and having my sexuality questioned in my home field. But I always had these two bastions to fall back on:

1.) The Yankees are the best team in baseball.
2.) When it counts, the Yankees will always beat the Red Sox.

Now, I perhaps could have survived with point 2 being challenged. But if one falls by the wayside, where do I go from there?

The answer is: I go back to being a regular fan.

Let's face it. Yankees fans are spoiled. Sure, we haven't always won. But we have won more than anyone else over the past 30 years. We've finished in first place in the AL East for seven consecutive seasons, watching the Sox in our rearview mirror for six of them, as they posted more consecutive second place finishes to the same team in the history of sports.

With the Yanks first losing April in 12 years, I can't help wondering if I'm heading for another Ice Age. Baseball, like life, is cyclical. What goes around comes around. And boy, do the Yankees have it coming.

But is that realistic? No.

I don't think the Yankees will finish fourth in the division. I still think they'll win it. I think Baltimore's pitching will tail off and the aliens that have kidnapped Brian Roberts and replaced him with some superhuman freak will return the Baltimore two-bagger back to earth. I think the Yankees pitching will come on, or the Yankees hitting will come on, or even more realistically, both will come on. I think the Sox will be average, good enough to have the Yankees put them in the rearview for a record seventh time, giving the Yankees their eigth-consecutive division title.

Last year, the Yankees started 9-11 through their first twenty games. This year, they were 9-11 through their first 20 games. Last year, they ripped off 23 consecutive victories at that point, roaring into first even without Derek Jeter, who had dislocated his shoulder in Toronto on Opening Day.

A-Rod leads the league in HR, and is second in RBI. Pavano has been pitching well, despite his bullpen giving up the ghost and letting the bases clear after he bequeathed them a bases-loaded no out jam Sunday. Sheffield is being his “If we were in a dark alley, you’d run the other way” self at the plate. Buddy Groom--yes, Buddy Groom--has been stellar out of the bullpen. Our new call up, Wang (supposedly pronounced Wong, which takes all the fun out of it) pitched well on Saturday.

So let's not push the panic button just yet.

But if the Ice Age cometh? I'm ready. I've survived it before. I can again.

Observations from last week in baseball:

• So I caved. I forked over the $160 and bought MLB extra innings last Friday. It was my tax refund gift to myself. I got home from work on Friday, eager to catch the 7:05 start of Yankees-Toronto, a marquee matchup of Johnson-Halladay, a nearly perfect way to spend a Friday night in. I eagerly turned the TV on and checked the schedule. 7:05: New York Mets @ Washington. 7:05: Kansas City @ Cleveland. 7:35: Florida @ Philadelphia… Wait. No Yankees game. So I call Comcast and ask what the deal is. Apparently, certain home games are blacked out due to “contractual obligations,” the technical term for "Screwing the Consumer." So after I placed a fist-sized hole in my living room drywall, I figured I could watch the Cubs-Astros game, a duel between two 300-game winners, Clemens and Maddux. Guess what happened? Blacked out. I ended up watching a re-run of Gone in 60 seconds and was in bed by 11. Who’s a loser? This guy.

• Come to think of it, that game being blacked out was like buying a lobster dinner at a restaurant, and the waitress coming back with an empty plate, and telling you, “here’s your lobster” when clearly there is no lobster on the plate. And just to rub it in, they still give you the check.

• I did manage to catch Sunday’s Toronto-NYY matchup. Pavano, as I mentioned, pitched well. But our bullpen, billed by many to be the best in baseball this year, is, well, not.

• I’ve yet to mention anything about A-Rod’s 3-HR, 10 RBI game last week. Dear Lord. How many players in the game are capable of this? Three? Four? With a solo shot the next night, he completed the Home Run Cycle. Solo, Two-run, Three-run, Grand Slam, in two days. Has anyone ever done this? Ever? Where is my closet of stat monkeys?

The Captain approves.

• To show that NYY fans are hurting this year, they gave A-Rod a standing ovation after his RBI single in the 8th gave him 10 on the night … after booing him the previous night. My friend Alana, a New Yorker and a Yankees season-ticket holder, is going to start a petition for a “boo-free” section, just like there is a “alcohol-free” section. Alana, I’ll sign.

• Apparently, the Red Sox not only have Jesus playing centerfield, but they also have God pitching every five days. Curt Schilling knows everything about everything. Has a guy ever gone from Hero to Idiot so fast? And I don’t mean that in the fun Johnny Damon sense. Why does he feel the need to give an opinion on everything? Has being called before Congress to testify ever gone to someone’s head like it’s gone to Schilling’s? Did he honestly think that Pinella told those guys to throw at Ortiz’s head? Does anyone think that Brazelton needed to be told to throw at Ortiz? Throwing a fastball at someone's head can end their career, but it's okay if you punch them in the face? Please. They throw at you, you throw at them. That’s how it works. Schilling should know that, but I forgot, he’s infallible, he’s never thrown at anyone’s head. Right. Grow up.

• And if you need proof that, yet again, the Red Sox have no idea how to act as World Champs… do you think the Yankees of the late 90s wasted time or energy brawling with a last place team? I don’t think so.

Schilling and Wells both on the DL. Who had one month in the injury pool?

• In other news, George Steinbrenner will be attending this Saturday’s Kentucky Derby to watch his horse, Bellamy Road, compete in the 131st Annual. The horse is trained by Nick Zito, is one of only 17 trainers to train two or more Kentucky Derby winners. The horse is owned by Steinbrenner’s Kinsman Stables, which is run by Hank, his son, and is also partially owned by Yankees manager Joe Torre. Want job security? Win a bunch of World Series and then go in with the Boss on a horse.

Joe explains the finer points of horse
ownership to Sheffied.

• The Kentucky Derby by they way, is billed as the "Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" and is just that, every year. I love it. Maybe the best sporting "event" outside of the Major 4. Plus, of you needed a clincher... it's legal to gamble on it.

• Last but not least: Serious props to my buddy Kevin Wall, who appeared on ESPN2’s sports trivia game show, Stump the Schwab. Proving in Schilling-like style that “He’s forgotten more about sports than I ever knew” Kevin made it past the first round in easy fashion, before falling to a freakshow contestant who knew way too much about women’s tennis. Kevin was impressive, answering questions like he was the Schwab. The only one I think I could have bested Wall on was “Name the 16 Yankees who have had their number retired.” It was a knock-out round, where you give a name until you can’t come up with one, passing to your opponent after every right answer. Kevin was on national TV, so he was under considerably more pressure, but here’s my go at that question:

Maris, Mantle, Munson, Martin, Babe, Guidry, Jackson, Berra, Ford, Stengel, Mattingly, Dickey, Howard, Rizzuto…

That’s all I got… let’s see how I did… holy crap, I left off DiMaggio and Gehrig. How do I get Bill Dickey but I can’t remember Joey D? Somebody slap me in public. Nice job Kevin. Way to represent the Cuse!

That’s all for now. Time to go do some actual work.

Next up:
Yanks @ Rays, 7:05
Sox @ Detroit, 7:05

Bill Beard is an independent writer who isn't putting his winter coat away just yet. You can reach him for praise or ridicule at wrbeard@hotmail.com.