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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Subway Squawkers Scoop: Duke Lacrosse case expert weighs in on Selena Roberts' credibility

Virtually every sports reporter today commenting on Selena Roberts' "A-Rod" book prefaces his argument by talking about how reputable she is. But, as the Yankees Republic blog and others have noted, the former New York Times columnist didn't exactly cover herself in glory with the way she wrote about the Duke Lacrosse case.

Not only did Roberts opine about the falsely accused college athletes as if they were guilty, and compared them to drug dealers and gang members, but she never apologized for her comments after the players were exonerated.

Anyhow, I was wondering what one of the driving forces behind helping the Duke Lacrosse players get their reputation back thought about Roberts' book. So I reached out to him.

Blogger KC Johnson is a college professor whose meticulously researched and argued Durham-in-Wonderland site helped prove the players' innocence. He is also, along with law expert Stuart Taylor Jr., author of Until Proven Innocent, the definitive book about the Duke Lacrosse case.

In his blog, Johnson has criticized Roberts' smears against the players, and her later disingenousness about what she really wrote. Anyhow, here's what Johnson had to say on Roberts' book. I have included links to the columns he mentions.

In an email interview, the Durham-in-Wonderland blogger told me:
It seems to me that maintaining credibility is vital for any journalist. Roberts, of course, may very well be correct in her reporting about A-Rod. (Let's face it: A-Rod himself has no credibility, given that he outright lied to the nation in the Katie Couric interview.)

But based on what we saw from Roberts in the lacrosse case, nothing that she says or writes should be accepted unless it can be independently verified. After all, Roberts: (a) demonstrated a disregard for the truth (her March and April 2006 columns included factually inaccurate items that she has, to this day, refused to retract or correct); (b) made wild leaps of logic (linking the players' supposed guilt to a critique of campus culture--only to claim, in March 2007, that she had never made such a linkage); and (c) absurdly asserted in March 2008 that criticism of her reporting came about because "some segments of the Duke lacrosse crowd did not enjoy the scrutiny of their world."
Johnson, in his Durham-in-Wonderland blog, noted in 2007 what Roberts said back about the case at the time:
Roberts’ March 31, 2006 column asserted that “something happened March 13” that “threatens to belie [the players’] social standing as human beings.” Roberts compared the players’ behavior to that “of drug dealers and gang members engaged in an anti-snitch campaign.” She bizarrely called a search warrant a “reported court document.” She praised the “heartening” protests of the potbangers—people, it’s worth remembering, who carried signs reading “Castrate” and “Measure for Measure.” She falsely stated that none of the players “have come forward to reveal an eyewitness account.” She falsely contended that a “court document” described the accuser as “the victim of a hate crime.” She noted that the accuser was “reportedly treated at a hospital for vaginal and anal injuries consistent with sexual assault and rape.” The reports, alas, were false; no correction ever appeared.
Yet in 2008, after she had faced criticism for those words, she told The Big Lead site: "Basically, I wrote that a crime didn’t have to occur for us to inspect the irrefutable evidence of misogyny and race baiting that went on that night.. . . Obviously, some segments of the Duke lacrosse crowd did not enjoy the scrutiny of their world.”

Johnson wrote this after that interview appeared:
Can Roberts seriously claim that an average Times reader would take away from the quotes above a conviction that her column’s argument was based on a premise that “a crime didn’t have to occur”?
It's going to be interesting to see how Roberts spins the accusations and allegations in "A-Rod," given how she characterized - or is that mischaracterized? - her own columns on the Duke Lacrosse case.

Thanks to KC Johnson for graciously agreeing to talk to me.

What do you think? Leave us a comment!

Why A-Rod shouldn't worry too much about Selena Roberts' book

The big story today, of course, is that news of the details of Selena Roberts' book on Alex Rodriguez are out. The book contains all sorts of unflattering revelations on the superstar, ranging from him allegedly using steroids in high school, to tipping off the opposition on pitches, to only tipping 15% at Hooters.

But I'm not really concerned about the book hurting Alex Rodriguez or the Yankees long-term. Here's why:

* Nothing shocks with A-Rod anymore: Alex has already "shattered the Tyson Zone," as Bill Simmons wrote about him earlier this month, "when an athlete's life turns so bizarre you become numb to any twist in his story." Dude has already been publicly humiliated in every sort of way, some of which, like kissing himself in that Details photo shoot, he willingly agreed to. A-Rod is a really weird guy. We all know that already. No need to pick up a book to tell me that.

* What about the other 103?:
The biggest revelation of Roberts' career was her scoop this spring that A-Rod used steroids, along with the news there was a list of 104 players who tested positive for performance enhancing drug use in 2003. Yet neither she, nor anybody else in the media, ever bothered to reveal anything about the other players using steroids. It seems like such a double standard that even Curt Schilling, not exactly a fan of A-Rod, has called for the names to come out. Yet the names still haven't been revealed. Why is that?

* We already know he's a cheater:
Roberts' most shocking revelation - that A-Rod used steroids at all - already came out this spring. While it seems like hearing that Alex allegedly was juicing in high school - or as a Yankee - should be a stunner, I don't know if it will be, given that his legacy is already tainted. It's like if a wife catches her husband cheating, he says it was only with one woman, and then she later finds out that he did it with others. Nothing will shock as much as the first time. And, as the cliche goes, once a cheater, always a cheater, like the way that Joslyn Morse wasn't the only woman Alex cheated on with his wife.

* An athlete is an insatiable hedonist? You don't say!:
I found it amusing that Roberts' publisher is marketing the book promising breathless revelations about A-Rod's "insatiable hedonism" and "deviant personal life." Newsflash - many, many athletes cheat on their spouses. True, they might not be hooking up with high-profile stars like Madonna, but they're messing around. Is Roberts - or any other sportswriter - planning on writing about their extracurricular activities? Doubtful. Besides, Roberts is supposed to be a sportswriter. Why is she even delving into this gossipy material in the first place?

* 15% is a lousy tip?: Again, Roberts is a sportwriter, yet she's delving into Page Six material with this book's revelation that A-Rod was hated by Hooters girls for "only" tipping 15%. I mean, really. Writing about athletes' tipping, like how Scottie Pippen's nickname among waitstaff is Scottie Ain't Tippin', is standard stuff - for gossip writers, that is. Not for sportswriters. And A-Rod's tip, while not overly generous, isn't ridiculously cheap, either. I would question his judgment more in going to Hooters in the first place than the tip - their food is pretty weak - but that's me!

* A-Rod, an object of sympathy? It's possible!: Joe Torre's nasty book, "The Yankee Years," set out to make Alex the villain of the tome, with tons of petty comments and unflattering revelations. Yet the book is so mean-spirited, it only makes you feel sorry for Alex. That's what I think will happen with Selena Roberts' book on A-Rod. It's not just one-sided, it's a book that had its publication date pushed back to coincide with Alex's return from the disabled list. Even if you think A-Rod is a bad guy, is his life really worth all these negative pages?

* So much for the clubhouse code: While I don't think this book will ultimately hurt A-Rod - his legacy is damaged already - the one thing I do think can cause problems - at least temporarily - in the clubhouse is this: The book reveals that some of his own teammates cooperated with Roberts with some of the nastier revelations, like him being called "b*tch t*ts" in the clubhouse. It's bad enough that too many Yankee players who should know better - like Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada - cooperated with the Torre book. The fact that some of A-Rod's teammates cooperated with Roberts' book is pretty terrible. Tell me, how does telling tales about your teammate to a reporter help the team win? A-Rod is a paranoid guy, but just because he's paranoid doesn't mean that people - including his own teammates - aren't really out to get him!

* The Yanks need Alex more than ever:
For once in his life, A-Rod has good timing. Him being on the disabled list has reminded fans that, really, this team is better off with him than without him. Contrary to some journalists' suggestion that the Yanks would take off without that A-lbatross holding them down, the team has seemed sluggish and weak without A-Rod. For once, fans actually miss the guy. Instead of being treated like a pariah, I think A-Rod will get the biggest standing ovation of the year when he returns. And I think the overkill of this book could actually help him become, for once, an object of sympathy.

What do you think about A-Rod? Leave us a comment!

Wonder if Selena Roberts covered these shocking A-Rod food rumors

I was all set to write about last night's good game, when I heard about the stunning news that Alex Rodriguez only tips 15% at Hooters!

Yes, that is one of the shocking revelations in Selena Roberts' "A-Rod" book. I'm hoping she also gets to the bottom of the following food controversies surrounding Alex Rodriguez:

* Did he tell Joe Girardi to ban ice cream in the clubhouse last year, just because he knew it would get Mike Mussina angry?

* Has A-Rod always used a clean plate at the team's buffet line, or did he - shudder - use the same plate twice?

* Is it true that Derek Jeter uses chopsticks better, and that this was the real cause of their feud?

* Any truth to the rumor that he told Joe Torre green tea tastes like dishwater?

* And finally, will we get an answer to this burning question - does A-Rod cut spaghetti with a knife and fork?

What do you think? Leave us a comment!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Maybe Jerry Manuel needs a day off

When a player is pressing, especially in the late innings, one tool at the manager's disposal is to sit him down for a day - give him a chance to get a little rest and clear his head. David Wright is playing like he could use a day off. And now Jerry Manuel is managing as if he, too, could use a day off. How else to explain pinch-hitting Omir Santos for Ramon Castro with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning on a day when Castro already had two hits?

Not every bullpen move will work out, nor every lineup change. But moves as bizarre as pinch-hitting for Castro with a player whose major league experience can be measured in days, coming on top of batting Gary Sheffield cleanup two days in a row, call into question Manuel's overall judgment.

Manuel did not lose this game - J.J. Putz did. There's no way of knowing what Castro would have done if he had the chance to bat in the ninth. Maybe Manuel is right that Castro would have had a poor chance against the Marlins' Matt Lindstrom. But if you are going to take Castro out, it needs to be for a lefty at least, not a righthanded rookie unaccustomed to pressure at-bats.

Santos hit a first-inning grand slam off of a struggling pitcher who probably had almost no idea who he was. That one hit does not elevate Santos to the player you want up when the game is on the line.

But Manuel has already shown that he can blow one homer out of proportion. Just because Sheffield reached a milestone with his only homer, Manuel treats him as if he is the Sheff of old. Last night, when the Marlins walked Carlos Beltran in the fifth with runners on second and third to face Sheffield, the Met announcers began talking about "picking your poison." But choosing between Beltran and Sheffield is like choosing between the food at Citi Field and the food at Shea. Sheffield struck out and is hitting .167, slightly below Beltran's .388.

Along with strategic moves, the manager is supposed to motivate his players. But while some players such as Santos see their hitting rewarded with playing time, others such as Daniel Murphy and Castro get the opposite treatment. You can bench Murphy for his fielding, but not if you are replacing him with Sheffield, another poor fielder who is now a much poorer hitter than Murphy.

Go play golf tomorrow, Jerry. Catch up on "Lost" or whatever TV show you like. Don't think about baseball. Clear your head and come back strong for the showdown in Philly.

Phil of the Future shows Yankees' future

Last night's game may only count as just one out of 162, but I still found it incredibly satisfying to watch. As Subway Squawkers reader Roger9 put it:
Finally, a night where we don't have to walk away in disgust. It all came together...young pitching, hitting...everything! Will it carry over and become infectious? Only time will tell.
Seeing Phil Hughes pitch so well was thrilling to watch. So was that 10-run inning! Loved seeing the look on Jose Molina's face after his grand slam - talk about looking happy to be there!

Finally, Phil of the Future ended up being Phil of the Present. And Mark Melancon looked pretty nifty as well. Oh, and A-Rod is getting closer to returning to the field. This is all great news for the Yankees, after a lousy week.

One question, though - what happened to Hughes' glasses? There was a whole to-do that he needed glasses last season. Is he wearing contacts now?

* * *

I was thinking some more about the Yankees lowering ticket prices. I have to say that I find it delicious to see the front office humiliated into doing this. Does that make me a bad person?

Here's the thing - Randy Levine and Lonn Trost had such hubris. They somehow thought that they could get away with charging literally thousands of dollars more for their top tickets than any other team. This, during the worst economic times since the Great Depression. Talk about out of touch.

Today's New York Times talks about why the prices were lowered:

“It was starting to hurt the overall brand,” said Donny Deutsch, chairman of Deutsch Inc., an advertising agency, when asked about the original pricing strategy. “People start asking whether you care about the fans.”

Yep. Why is it that most baseball teams, including top draws like the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs, noticed the economic climate six months ago, and instituted price freezes? Some teams, like the Giants, even lowered some of their prices this year.

Yet the Yanks kept on pushing their ridiculous ticket prices, acting like they were such great businessmen. They're not. It's not exactly surprising that the same front office who had between $300 and 500 million in cost overruns on the new stadium also butchered the ticket pricing. How is it that these folks get to keep their jobs?

While the ticket prices really should be lowered so that the average person can afford more of their seats, I do enjoy seeing Trost and Levine with egg on their faces. Heh.

What do you think? Leave us a comment!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Shocker: Yankees lower some ticket prices

The Yankees finally acknowledged the inevitable today. No matter how many ads they run, or real estate agents they pressed into service, they weren't going to sell those empty luxury seats at the prices the team wanted. So they've cut those ticket prices - in some cases up to 50% - of those seats originally priced from $325 to $2650. The team also offered free seats to those customers who have already bought luxury seats.

While the prices are still completely ridiculous - not to mention still higher than any other team in baseball - this is still a rather humiliating acknowledgment for the Yanks that they messed up on the ticket prices. But their math doesn't add up,which I'll explain in a sec.

Click for the press release
announcing the new ticket prices. A few things I noticed:

The statement came from Hal Steinbrenner, not Yankee president Randy Levine nor COO Lonn Trost. I don't think that's an accident. Levine has been a complete disaster on this topic, making things worse when he should have been making things better. I noticed Levine has been quiet since he took on soccer and gave their sport all sorts of free publicity. And Trost was the guy who said our prices are our prices and wouldn't move an inch on conceding they were too high.

The press release continues to spin the fantasy that these are "a small" number of seats:
“A few weeks ago I indicated that in light of the economy we would review the pricing of a small number of our premium locations at Yankee Stadium; specifically, our Suite Seats. I mentioned a small number of locations because in excess of 3.4 million seats, including 37,000 full season equivalents as well as approximately 85% of all our premium locations have already been sold. Yet, there are a few hundred Suite Seats in our premium locations that have not been sold on a full season basis.
The Yanks had claimed that the premium seats were, what, 4500 of the seats in the ballpark? If 85% were really sold, then that would mean that the Yanks had only 675 seats to fill. Tell me - do all those empty seats look like 675 to you?

Other prices still need to be marked down. Ross of the New Stadium Insider site has done a fantastic job of breaking all this stuff down. He discovered that, according to FanSnap.com, a site which tracks all the secondary ticket prices, there are a ton of seats available at StubHub and other sites. Here's what Ross wrote:
Doing math based on the rounded numbers of tickets available according to the site (which does not include all ticket brokers, or Craigs List), an average of 16,900 Yankee tickets are available on the secondary market for each game. In other words, 35% of the per-game inventory sold by the Yankees is now back on the market, presumably with the intent of making a profit. Even worse, ticket inventory for "premium" games such as the Red Sox and the Mets come in at over 20,000 tickets available.
These numbers are even worse, if you take the Yanks' word that they've already sold the equivalent of 37,000 full-season tickets. And, as Ross notes, there is no good way to sell these tix online at the last minute, so the seats end up going empty.

What happened was that too many fans bought season tickets with the notion of selling the ones they couldn't use online. But there are so many tickets available now on the secondary markets, these fans are taking a bath on the tickets.

There are also a lot of other overpriced seats that the Yanks should lower the prices on, like the Bleacher Cafe ($125 a game) and Mohegan Sun Sports Bar ($95 a game.) Both seats are basically a slightly upgraded version of the bleachers, with a huge pricetag.

Today's Yanks' ticket decrease is a start, but they still have a very long way to go to fix things for the average fan.

What do you think? Leave us a comment!

Is this Yankee team better with or without A-Rod?

I had a rough time sleeping last night - and it had nothing to do with the Yankees. Somebody rang my doorbell at 3 a.m. to let me know that my car alarm had accidentally gone off. Oh joy. So excuse me if I'm a little out of sorts. It took me hours to get back to bed.

Anyhow, maybe the Yanks are the ones who need a wakeup call of sorts. One thing Yankee fans have noticed as of late is how listless this team is. The Bombers seem to sleepwalk through games, like they did Sunday and Monday (although at least CC Sabathia looked sharper last night.)

After all, isn't the audacity of Jacoby Ellsbury getting away with stealing home evidence of a listless team? I heard Orel Hersheiser on Michael Kay yesterday basically accuse the Yanks of sleepwalking, and nobody disagreed with him.

But the question is, who is to blame? I'm getting a little tired of hearing about how the newer guys are at fault (that's basically the theme of Joe Torre's "The Yankee Years" - that and blaming A-Rod for everything!) Shouldn't the fault lay with the "leaders" in this clubhouse who still have not melded this team together?

One of the most destructive things, I think, is the whole so-called True Yankee notion. Do you ever hear Red Sox fans - or players - separate the current team into one-ring, two-ring, or no-rings guys? Or call certain players "True Red Sox"? Never.

Alex Rodriguez, of course, has gotten much of the blame for the Yankees' reversal of fortune in recent years, as well as for the clubhouse devolving into cliques. Interestingly enough, though, former Boston Globe writer Gordon Edes wrote a What-If on Alex Rodriguez for Big League Stew, over what would have happened if that Red Sox trade had gone through.

The big surprise is this: Edes suggests that not only would the Sox have still won two rings, but A-Rod would have been a beloved figure in Boston!

This year, for once, you can't blame A-Rod for this team looking so listless. Alex should be back within two weeks or so. And I think it's glaringly obvious that, goofy photo shoots and breaktaking lack of common sense aside, this team will be better off with him, contrary to what some sportswriters wrote this spring.

Like the writer who suggested the Yanks should have simply cut A-Rod. Yeah, that would have been a good move, for the Bombers to pay $300 million for Alex to play for somebody else!

Anyhow, the Yanks have done the whole gutty/gritty role player thing at third since Alex has been out. Hasn't exactly worked out too well, has it?

But there are a lot of Yankee fans - including many of our readers - who still don't like A-Rod.

So, I just want to know what Squawker readers think. Is this team better off with or without A-Rod? Leave us a comment!

Gary Sheffield, cleanup hitter?

The last couple of days in New York have brought Florida weather, the Florida Marlins and a lineup straight out of the Grapefruit League. How else to explain Gary Sheffield batting cleanup? Were the Mets' top hitters suddenly called back to the WBC?

Sheffield came into the game batting .136, 3 for 23 with one homer and one RBI. It was bad enough to have him in the lineup at all, much less replacing the injured Carlos Delgado in the cleanup spot.

David Wright has been slumping and was just moved down in the order, so one can understand why Manuel might not wanted to move him back up just yet. But Ryan Church was hitting .357 going into the game, with six hits in his last 12 at-bats, including one homer and five RBI.

Moreover, Church is a lefty and Marlins' pitcher Anibal Sanchez is a righty.

Sheffield did single in the first run and was later robbed of an extra-base hit. Maybe he is starting to come around. But he does not belong anywhere near the cleanup spot until he DOES come around, if he ever does. With that hit tonight, Sheffield is up to .154.

Meanwhile, Daniel Murphy pinch-hit a single to raise his average to .312. Yet the lefty Murphy was on the bench so the righty Sheffield could play.

Sheffield also made a horrendous error in the first inning when the ball glanced off his glove, but Murphy has made several horrible plays recently. Still, if the Mets are worried about Murphy's defense and willing to sacrifice his bat in a given game, they should give Jeremy Reed a start.

It should have been a good night for the Mets, winning 7-1 behind a strong performance by John Maine. Two out of the three starters after Johan Santana have now turned in good, winning performances. At least this week, the rotation is looking less like Johan and the Pips.

But Luis Castillo went down after Carlos Delgado got hurt the previous day, reminding us how many older players are on Omar Minaya's roster. Even if Sheffield greatly exceeds my low expectations, increased playing time will bring increased likelihood of injury. Did Omar learn anything from trying to make Moises Alou a cornerstone of the offense?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Oliver Perez: The most disturbing Pip

I've really got to use my imagination
To think of good reasons to keep on keepin' on
Got to make the best of a bad situation

Gladys Knight and the Pips


From Captain Kirk on a very early Star Trek episode to Niki in the first season of Heroes, science fiction is full of characters with personalities split between good and bad. When the bad half starts to take over, what's left of the good half begs to be locked up to prevent the bad half from causing any more damage.

So it's possible that what is left of Good Ollie is whispering to Jerry Manuel to confine him to the bullpen or Buffalo. But that presumes that anything is left of Good Ollie.

One month into his three-year, $36M deal, Perez is a lost cause, according to the Post's Joel Sherman, who compares the Mets' rotation of Johan Santana and pray for rain to Gladys Knight and the Pips. Sherman calls Oliver Perez the "most disturbing Pip" and says that Dan Warthen has shown to be no more able to solve Perez than Rick Peterson was.

I was in favor of re-signing Perez, and, while it does not look good now, I continue to defend the signing. It is only April, after all, way too early to declare the whole contract a failure. Last year, who would have thought that Luis Castillo's contract would have a chance of not being a disaster?

Even if you second-guess Omar Minaya for Perez' big contract, what should Minaya have done instead? As of now, one year of Randy Wolf would certainly be more palatable, but it's not as if Wolf is off to that great a start, either. As for Derek Lowe, there was no chance of him becoming one of Johan's Pips once he had a chance to catch that midnight train to a $60M deal in Georgia.

I'm still glad that, for once, Omar did not give a huge deal to a player in his mid-thirties. Time will tell how the Lowe deal works out.

As for Perez, Good Ollie has a habit of showing up against the Phillies. I doubt if his start in Philly will have Met fans singing "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," but at this point, I'd settle for "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)." Because one more meltdown, especially against the Phillies, and the Mets can replace "Sweet Caroline" with "Every One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)."

Some comforting (kind of) numbers about Yankees-Red Sox

Feeling like jumping off a bridge over the state of the Yankees? Take heart! Things might be as bad as it seems right now.

One of our Subway Squawkers readers pointed out that the Yankees doing terrible against the Red Sox in April is petty much standard operating procedure. But it doesn't mean that things won't get better. Here's the post (I wish the person had typed in a name so I would know who to credit! Updated - Squawker Reader Peggy found these numbers on the Sliding Into Home blog):
Before people leap off the GWB by the thousands, the Yanks are continuing a trend that hasn’t changed since 2004. They tend to play woefully bad against the Red Sox in April and May but eventually turn things around and reverse that trend.

Yanks vs. Red Sox in April and May:

First Half Record - 13-24 (.351)

2004: 1-6
2005: 4-5
2006: 3-4
2007: 3-6
2008: 2-3

Yanks vs. Red Sox from June through Sept:

Second Half Record - 35-22 (.614)

2004: 7-6
2005: 6-4
2006: 8-4
2007: 7-2
2008: 7-6

Anyone notice a pattern here?

They haven’t had a winning record against the Red Sox early in the season since 2004 and have not had a losing record against them in the second half.
Yeah, it was five years ago this weekend that the Yanks got swept in Fenway, a high-priced star (A-Rod) made his debut, and the NFL draft meant that a big name (Eli Manning) was coming to town. And despite that bad start, the Yanks won the division, and ended up being one inning away from sweeping the Sox before it all fell apart...and...where is that bridge again?

What do you think of the state of the Yankees? Leave us a comment!

Yankees have lost weekend at Fenway Park

So, what was the worst loss of these three Yankees-Red Sox games? Easy. Last night's. Because I have a feeling we're going to see that video of Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home a time or two this year, even more than we'll see the replays of Jason Bay's or Kevin Youkilis' homers. Especially since ESPN broadcast last night's game. Heck, we're going to see that replay more than Susan Boyle singing on "Britain's Got Talent"!

I do know I've officially decided that the ESPN broadcasters are worse than FOX. Joe Buck and nonwasher Tim McCarver are annoying, to be sure. But I've never heard either of them shriek the way Jon Miller did over Ellsbury stealing home. That was just flat-out embarrassing.

Miller, who is known for yelling "THE SPLITTER" about Curt Schilling, and pronouncing Carlos Beltran's last name as Bell-TRON, is simply horrible. His counterpart, (Should Be Fired) Joe Morgan, is no great shakes, either.

And if that weren't enough, they added Steve Phillips into the mix. Who, exactly, thinks this clown is any good? Steve had the gall to refer to his playing days during last night's broadcast. Dude, you make John Flaherty's career look like Johnny Bench's. Just stop.

Oh, and how is that noted Red Sox fan Peter Gammons gets to be part of the Yankees-Red Sox pre-game broadcast? How does that work, exactly? I thought journalists are supposed to be, you know, objective.

Back to the game. Who to blame for the steal? Is it Andy Pettitte's or Jorge Posada's fault, or both? This is usually the type of thing that gets blamed on A-Rod or something, instead of one of the "True Yankee" dynasty guys. (Quick joke - Q. How many True Yankees does it take to change a lightbulb? A. - Shut up, they've got four rings!)

Speaking of A-Rod, can Joe Girardi put in Ramiro Pena instead of Angel Berroa until Alex Rodriguez comes back? Berroa was terrible last night, making two errors. That is to be expected, though, since he has virtually no experience at third. Pena is a rookie, and he's not that experienced there as well, but he's worth more of a try, I think.

Anyhow, I'm kind of worn out after this lost weekend. At least Oliver Perez was the Bad Ollie again, so my writing partner Squawker Jon's taunting might be a little subdued!

What do you think? Leave us a comment!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

And then there's runs: Yankees lose home run derby game at Fenway

Yesterday, my car needed a jump start when I was about three miles away from Subway Squawkers headquarters. I had to pay a cabbie $15 to get my PT Cruiser going quickly so I could make it back home in time to watch the game.

I should have saved my money.

I would say that yesterday was the worst game of the year, but I think Friday is also a pretty good contender for that spot. In the first game, the Yanks seemed like they could actually escape with a win. In Saturday's game, once Jason Varitek hit the grand slam, I knew the Yankees would lose. Even though that hit didn't technically give the Sox the lead, it was just a matter of time. And I knew we were going to be in for a long, torturous afternoon.

Here's the thing - I've been tossing around in my mind a list of my Top 5 - or should that be Bottom 5? - least favorite current Red Sox. I had Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, and Dustin Pedroia as my unfab four, and was trying to decide between David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Dice-K, and Nick Green as No. 5. And wouldn't you know it? Varitek hit his grand slam right then and there, getting him a spot on my list. Oh joy.

The rest of the game seemed to go by in a blur, as these slugfests seem to do, with one Yankee pitcher after another getting beaten up, while the Yankee hitters would try to take back the lead. Even when the Yanks did go ahead, like in the seventh inning, I figured it would be short-lived. It was that kind of day.

I was kind of shocked to see Jonathan Papelbon throw 30 pitches in a game where his team had a five-run lead. That was the last senseless thing in a senseless day.

Wonder what A-Rod is thinking right now - not that he would have made much of a difference in this game, unless he could have thrown a shutout inning or two. Squawker reader Symphony sardonically referred to him in noting how "at least there are no 'distractions' and what is more important than that?" Heh.

Another reason I bring him up is after this nightmare of a game, I literally had a nightmare about the Yankees when I went to sleep. In my dream, Scott Brosius came out of retirement to fill in the spot at third. And all the "true Yankee" fans were delirious in their insistence that Brosius should stay in that position over A-Rod, even though he's now 42 years old. Good grief.

All that, and Bea Arthur died, too. What a bad day. (Speaking of her, did you ever notice how the opening credits of "The Sopranos" are a ripoff of "Maude's" opening credits? Click here to see what I mean.)

What do you think? Leave us a comment.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fenway Park is a house of horrors for the Yankees

Last night could have been a gritty, gutty Yankee win against the Red Sox. Instead, it turned into a horror show. Let me count the ways.

Jason Bay. The name sounds like some beach resort from hell. And last night, the guy traded for Manny Ramirez had a Manny-esque moment, taking Mariano Rivera deep.

One Squawker reader/Red Sox fan teased me on Facebook after the game about my predictions for this weekend, noting that I forgot to write "Mariano will blow another save against the Sox." Ouch!

Oh, and to add insult to injury, Kevin Youkilis, who makes my Top 5 Least Favorite Current Red Sox list, moved to No. 1 with a bullet on said list when he won the game with a walkoff homer off Damaso Marte.

While both these things are awful, I also blame the Yankee hitting - or lack thereof - for the game's loss. You can't have the bases loaded with nobody out in the ninth and not score even one run. Unacceptable. Not to mention all the other missed scoring opportunities throughout the game.

If only Mark Teixeira had done something to shut up Jonathan Papelbon and his tiny mouth in extra innings. Incicdentally, the Sox fans' boos for Teixeira were pretty tepid - not only did Teixeira get booed worse in Baltimore, but Johnny Damon got more, well, enthusiastic boos when he came back to Fenway for the first time.

But geez, Fenway Park was full, with people sitting in the good seats, even those behind home plate. Imagine that. Too bad Yankee president Randy Levine is more concerned with throwing a hissy fit about what the soccer commissioner said than in getting our stadium's seats sold.

How bleak are things for the Yankees right now? Brian Cashman's postgame interview was like a M*A*S*H report or something. We heard about Brian Bruney's cranky elbow, as well as the announcements that Chien-Ming Wang (expected) and Cody Ransom (unexpected) are going on the DL.

It was bad enough hearing all this news, but what made it even worse was Cashman chewing gum while talking to reporters. Gum chewing while talking, especially when somebody is speaking in public, is a big pet peeve of mine. Dude, ditch the gum already!

The only bright moment in the postgame was when Michael Kay made some joke about knocking Tim McCarver and Joe Buck out so the Yankee broadcasters could do today's game. Which reminds me - when was the last time the Yanks had a good game on FOX? Let's hope it's today!

What do you think? Leave us a comment.

Ugly Betty, ugly mood at Citi Field

The booing began before Friday night's game, when "Ugly Betty" was taping a scene for their season finale. An actor from the show was filmed throwing out the first pitch as a blonde woman looked on. He had trouble reaching the plate, so the scene was filmed several times, each time to louder boos.

I was not sure if people were getting sick of hearing the PA system announce "It's fashion on the field!" at the start of each take or if they were hoping the guy could get it over the plate so he could be added to the rotation.

My second visit to Citi Field began an hour earlier, when my friend David and I arrived in hopes of beating the food lines at Taste of the City. Shake Shack was crowded, but not as insane as it would get before too long. Blue Smoke, though, had almost no line, so we picked up some of those great ribs and finished them off before going over to El Verano Taqueria, where there was also no line.

We tried to get all of our eating out of the way before the game to beat the lines and to avoid having to make the trip back and forth from our seats in the upper level behind third base. But the trip to our seats turned out to be a lot shorter than anticipated.

We were sitting in the front row of the 400 section. Last year, I had equivalent seats in the front row of the upper deck at Shea, but these seats were a lot closer to the field. Foul balls did not quite reach us, but they did come a lot closer. And Mr. Met shot a T-shirt over the section next to us.

During my trip to the new Yankee Stadium earlier in the week, walking the ramp from level to level seemed to take forever. But at Citi, a couple of staircases got you from the 300 level to the 400 level much more quickly.

If the phrase were not taken, I would suggest calling Citi Field the "Friendly Confines," especially compared to the new Yankee Stadium. Citi is big where it counts, in the wide concourses, but otherwise does offer fans a cozy place to watch a ballgame.

But not all fans harbored such warm feelings. The person sitting next to me was a season-ticket holder who asked me to call him "Joe Fan." Joe was unhappy with his seats because he said they had an obstructed view and had to lean forward for a clear view of the field.

I had heard that the front row of the promenade had obstructed views after I got the tickets. But my friend and I did not have to lean forward, though we probably sat a little straighter than usual. For me at least, these tickets were fine, especially since my seven-pack seats in the front row of the upper deck last year required you to lean forward so that the railings would not block the pitcher or catcher. And the front row of the Promenade level at Citi is a lot closer to the field than the front row of the upper deck was at Shea.

Based on my experience tonight with this particular seat, I would not avoid sitting in the front row of the 400 level for an individual game. But different people may have different experiences in this row.

I felt like I had to turn a lot more than usual to see the big scoreboard in right field, and then I realized it was because the seats were angled toward home plate. This might just be something one needs to get used to. I do like the idea of angling the seats that way. But people who want a better view of the scoreboard might want to sit on the third-base side.

Joe Fan's unhappiness with his seats was exacerbated by his unhappiness with the Mets, in particular their inability to hit with runners in scoring position. His mood did not improve when the Mets proceeded to go 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position.

Coincidentally, Gary Sheffield was 2 for 18 coming into the game. Sheffield went 1 for 3 to hike his average to .143. Fernando Tatis went 2 for 3 and both players had walks. I thought it was a bad idea to play both Sheffield and Tatis in the outfield at the same time, but it worked out tonight. I would like to point out, though, that Daniel Murphy and Ryan Church both got hits as pinch hitters and both have hit well enough to deserve to stay in the lineup with no more than one other player playing against lefty pitchers.

Joe Fan was not alone in his aggravation over the Mets' inability to hit in the clutch. When David Wright struck out with a man on third and one out in the third inning, the ballpark was filled with boos.

Wright's performance lately deserves some criticism, but boos? Loud boos? In April? I generally don't like to boo anyone on the home team. I couldn't even bring myself to boo Sheffield. The only thing I booed all night was "Sweet Caroline."

Good times may never seem so good, but the Mets did end their losing streak and Santana pitched a great game. Now if it could just rain for the next four days until he can pitch again.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Who will get plunked this weekend in Yankees-Red Sox?

I don't have time to do a full-scale list of fearless predictions for the first New York-Boston matchup this year. But I do have a few:

While David Ortiz did his best to inflame the Joba Chamberlain-Kevin Youkilis mutual unadmiration society thing going, and our friends at Surviving Grady think that Youk will beat somebody up, I disagree that there will be fireworks with that matchup. Too high profile. As even Red Sox fans noted in our comments section, Joba - and the Yanks - can't afford to have him miss any games. And Chamberlain wouldn't get any benefit of the doubt, given the history between the two.

But that doesn't mean that there won't be fireworks. I could see something charged happening with the A.J. Burnett-Josh Beckett matchup. Burnett's a tough guy, and Beckett, is well, shall we say, intense. I could see Burnett trying to make his bones by pitching inside to somebody. And Beckett doing his whole "defending the honor of the game" thing.

I also won't be surprised if Mark Teixeira gets plunked by somebody this weekend. I could also see Ortiz - finally - getting plunked after all these years.

And I don't care how poorly David Ortiz is hitting - he will hit at least one homer this weekend.

While I don't miss Manny Ramirez killing the Yankees, I do miss his personality. He was always good for something wacky!

I will predict that Dustin Pedroia will do something to annoy me, as he invariably does!

Final Prediction: Yankees win two of three games.

What do you think will happen this weekend? Leave us a comment!

Review: A Red Sox fan and a Yankee fan look at Bill Reynolds' '78'


In honor of this weekend's Yankees-Red Sox series, here's a look at Bill Reynolds' new book '78: The Boston Red Sox, A Historic Game, and a Divided City. Red Sox fan - and friend of the Squawkers - Bob Ekstrom and I have both read the book. Here's Bob's review. Scroll down to read my own review of the book.

From The Fens: A Look Back At '78

By Bob Ekstrom

So, what if Bucky Dent had flied out that fateful day back in 1978?

Well, for one thing we’d be able to say his full name without any FCC-mandated bleep in the middle of it. For another, those pointless Got Rings? shirts would all have less hardware on the left side and more on the right. Then too, Bill Reynolds would have never written his new book, ’78: The Boston Red Sox, A Historic Game, And A Divided City (New York: New American Library, 2009, 320 pages, $24.95).

Upon learning of ’78, it was as if the neurons conspired in mutiny down each arm and across my palms. There is just one memory that can ever be evoked by the pairing of these two digits; one author who could reincarnate its pain even in a day when Boston has shed its racial reputation and the footprint of Loserville has been plowed under by the parades that roll down the very streets where once only epithets and gnashing of teeth could be heard.

Sure, I know many Empire subjects must think Red Sox Nation has acquired immunity to the horrors of 31 years past. Indeed, 2004 and 2007 are each ruby slippers we need only click together to be safe again. But this is Bill Reynolds at his peak as he paints a story so vivid in its portrayal of Boston as bastions of racism and loser baseball that you forget there’s a way out. As the ski instructor explained, my evasive reflexes were inhibited by my fixation on the advancing fence that ultimately put me in the snow.

Fixated on the crash that was ’78, I never did click those slippers and Reynolds put me in the snow.

I spent a weekend in freefall as a 14-game lead boiled down to a winner-take-all playoff. Reynolds sparingly delves into the regular season and only through flashback. His campaign begins on its final day. What follows is a chronicle of how the sixties’ counterculture shaped the game of the seventies and forced Boston to look hard at its racial proclivities, all built around an account of the game that would decide the American League East.

But even in this one game, Reynolds works like a modern Bob Gibson with great pace and efficiency. This helps him avoid the pitfalls of play-by-play, yet being the ace that he is Reynolds bears down in pivotal moments such as with Yastrzemski’s homer off Guidry and the classic Torrez vs. Dent confrontation, taking you into the minds of the players.

Soon enough, I was sitting at the park staring at a 5-4 deficit with two out in the ninth, wondering if the Sox would ever win it in my lifetime. A few pages later, I was again that high-strung college kid who dashed to the cafeteria as soon as Yaz’s popup landed in Nettles’ glove just so I could chew-and-screw a quick meal before the swarm of Yankees fans that infested campus could descend and spoil my appetite for a good Salisbury steak.

But this story has another vein, and if I found myself uprooted in my own regression like some farmhouse in a Kansas tornado, there were others swirling past my blown-out windows for whom 1978 means an entirely different pain. The pain of misplaced youth, of hometown shame, of innocence robbed by the busing riots of the 1970s when children were pieces shuffled across Boston’s civic chessboard. Community leaders vowing to protect their neighborhoods; blacks asking for an equal opportunity to compete; and ethnic enclaves betrayed by the white flight of two-toilet émigrés to the burbs: each had skin in court-mandated school integration, no matter its color. ’78 is as much their chronicle as it was the epitaph of my World Series dream.

I have said that Red Sox Nation could not have handled Reynolds’ account before 2004, but even the passage of so much time does not make everything digestible. I’m more keenly aware now that the perception of race, which at times can be a card of convenience dealt to a bad hand, is more than an apparition. It is grounded in some very real events that occurred not so very long ago. Nonetheless, I take comfort from The Hub’s triumph over its own narrow-mindedness, even in a day when tolerance for diversity was not what it is today.

Time is also the distance by which I can put the 1978 baseball season in perspective, and I now see this epic collapse for what it was. The Sox never were as good as their 62-28 high water mark that year, nor the Yankees as mediocre as their 48-42 record on that infamous July 19th. Talent deficiency was the real thorn in Boston’s paw then, even if the Bambino’s spirit can be blamed for twisting it a little by allowing the lead to climb to 14 games.

Similarly, Mike Torrez was never going to hold the Yankees to one hit that October day, nor was Bucky Dent going to fly out, no matter how hard Yaz pounded a fist into his glove. Torrez was too inconsistent, and the wall just too damn close. Spirits were not controlling the outcome; their fiendish hand came in providing false hope then dashing it by the most tantalizing of margins.

It seemed only fitting that the bottom of the ninth – much like the bottom of the eighth - should find Boston putting the tying and winning runs on base with only one away and soon-to-be MVP Jim Rice stepping up. But Reynolds masterfully captures the entire season – indeed, the franchise to that point – with Rice’s swing:

He sent a drive to right center, out to where Piniella had been fighting the sun all afternoon, but this time Piniella saw it all the way, and it nestled into his glove right in front of the warning track. It had been a ball that seemed to have a chance to go out when it had left Rice’s bat, as though aided along by the thunderous roar of the crowd, until it simply didn’t have enough legs. And in many ways it would come to define Rice’s career with the Red Sox, as unfair as that is. Great players come and go, eventually slip away into the mists of time. Great moments get remembered forever. This had been one of those chances. But it hadn’t happened.

Two outs.

Yaz coming to the plate.

Just the thought of that still makes me crave a good Salisbury steak. I thank you for that memory, Mr. Reynolds.

* * *

From NYC: Remembering '78 also brings up memories of '04

By Lisa Swan

For my Red Sox friend, Bob Ekstrom, '78: The Boston Red Sox, A Historic Game, and a Divided City' reminded him of heartbreaking times rooting for his team. For myself, it reminded me of a time when the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry may have been heated, and the teams may have battled, but the Yankees invariably triumphed. Good times for Yankee fans, not so good times for Sox fans.

"78" is like a Boston version of "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning" combined with Richard Bradley's "The Greatest Game." And it helped me understand what was going on in and around Fenway Park during those years.

You get the big picture of what was happening in Boston during that era, and how the busing battle had torn the city apart. Although I've never been to Boston, I felt I understood the city's history better after reading "78." Reynolds also does a good job of showing that 1978 season from the Sox's perspective.

We'll most likely never see a game like that again, due to the wild card system, which also adds to the legend of the Bucky Dent game.

"78" may have brought back teeth-grinding memories of Red Sox heartbreak for my Red Sox friend, but at least he could be comforted by positive thoughts of Boston's triumphs in this decade. For me - not so much.

Everything is reversed now - the Sox has the fans telling their Yankee counterparts to "count the rings," while the Yankee fans are still bitter about 2004 and chanting "Boston Sucks" when they're not even playing that team.

And reading about the way Don Zimmer mismanaged the '78 Red Sox down the stretch, most notably by burying Bill Lee due to personal animosity, reminded me of the way Joe Torre mismanaged the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

But at least the Sox players didn't seem to go into that one-game playoff expecting to lose, the way the Yanks did for the 2004 ALCS Game 7, according to Joe Torre's "The Yankee Years."

One of the things that struck me in "78" was a photo of George Steinbrenner, the picture of magnanimity in triumph, going into the Red Sox clubhouse to shake Carlton Fisk's hand. Reggie Jackson also went into the Boston clubhouse that day after the game, and told the Sox, "We should both be champions." Carl Yastrzemski told him to "Win it all." You really get the sense how much the two teams respected each other.

The postgame Yankee-Red Sox contacts after the 2004 ALCS don't have the same resonance. The Yankees let the Red Sox celebrate on their field for what seemed like hours. Then, instead of Terry Francona or one of the Red Sox owners approaching the Yanks, Joe Torre called Francona and Tim Wakefield to congratulate them.

In '78, after the Yanks won that game, Don Zimmer cried for the first time in his baseball life. Most of his team did as well. That game haunted every Red Sox. When Zimmer drove to his Florida home that off-season, he spent the ride second-guessing himself not just for that game, but for the season.

In '04, Joe Torre told George Steinbrenner after his team suffered the worst collapse in baseball history, "Boss, I feel bad, I'm sorry it happened. But you can't lose any sleep over this. I wish I could sit there and tell you I wish I had done something different."

"78" ends on this note. Thirty years after the 1978 season, nine members of the '78 Yankees and nine members of the '78 Red Sox faced off in a baseball game in Scranton, PA. Bill Reynolds' description of the game made me sad I missed seeing it.

But it made me wonder if, in 2034, we will see the '04 Sox and the '04 Yankees face off? If so, I hope the Yanks decide to bunt on Curt Schilling this time around.

What do you think? Leave us a comment!

How the new Yankee Stadium is like 'Young Frankenstein' on Broadway

For the last year, we've been hearing justification for the higher Yankee Stadium ticket prices by people comparing the experience to going to a Broadway show.

One problem with that analogy, as the New York Post's Phil Mushnick notes, is that "you can't script games or pre-determine their value, not when there are blowouts, two-hour rain delays and when the raise-the-ticket-prices anabolic sluggers are intentionally walked."

Unfortunately for the Yanks, as Wallace Matthews and Richard Bradley have written, the new Stadium does resemble a Broadway show - "Young Frankenstein." And no, that's not exactly a compliment.

"The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein" - the musical's official title - opened in November 2007. Following in the footsteps of Brooks' smash "The Producers," the show was expected to be a monster hit (no pun intended.) But it didn't quite work out that way.

A year later, when the show's producers announced it was closing, the news "an unusual guilty glee among theater people," according to the New York Times. Why such schadenfreude? From the article:
“Young Frankenstein” committed a sin that many in the theater apparently found particularly hard to forgive: arrogance.
Here's what the producers of the show did to tick off the theater community:
  • Ditched the St. James Theater, where "The Producers," the show's predecessor, had run, in favor of the Hilton Theater,
  • Instituted premium pricing before the show even opened, with good seats costing as much as $450,
  • Limited group sales to 50 per show (most group ticket sales are above 250),
  • Refused to reveal weekly box office numbers, something that is standard in the theater industry,
  • And had an attitude of entitlement, and as the Times put it, "excessive hubris."
The show's producers did eventually lower ticket prices, and worked more with group sales, but by then, the damage was done, the buzz was bad among the theater community, and "Young Frankenstein" had to close.

As Don Vaccaro, chief executive of TicketNetwork.com, a ticket resale company, told the Times this:
“If they would have started off with a lower price in the beginning, the show would have had legs.

“The word of mouth wasn’t that bad, but when they hyped it up so much, everybody was disappointed. Word of mouth isn’t created by wealthy people buying $250 and $450 tickets, it is created by the theater community and other people.”

Sound familiar?

What do you think? Leave us a comment.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mets getting September results in April

Last year, the Mets lost nine of their last 15 games to blow the division. This year, the Mets have lost nine of their first 15 games.

It's way too early to talk about blowing the division, especially when the Mets are only half a game behind Philly and one game behind Atlanta. (Sorry, Marlin fans, I never worry about Florida until the end of the season when they rise up and knock the Mets out of the playoffs.)

Losing nine of 15 in the middle of the year is no big deal. It's bad in September, though not as bad as the 12 of 17 to close out 2007. Losing nine of 15 to start the year probably is not that big a deal, either, but until the Mets turn it around, there is always a fear that this is the real team.

Surely the rotation is not so bad that Livan Hernandez can see his ERA rise to 7.31 and still have the second-best ERA among starters. (It would have been third-best had the Mets kept Nelson Figueroa. Now the Mets are talking about a front-office meeting to discuss the pitching staff. Maybe they should have had that meeting before letting Figueroa go.)

One or more of Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine may end up with disappointing seasons, but not with ERAs over 7, barring injury. They have track records much better than that.

Hernandez, however, did have an ERA of 6.05 last season, following an ERA of 4.93 in 2007 and 4.83 in 2006. So expectations for him should be lower.

The Mets finally face a lefty Friday, so Manuel is talking about starting both Gary Sheffield and Fernando Tatis in the outfield. Apparently, he is not sure who would play where, since neither is a good outfielder.

Opposing pitcher Scott Olsen has made three starts and has an ERA of 9.00. He has a lifetime 1-5 record against the Mets with a 4.74 ERA.

Sheffield went o for 5 today and is now hitting .111 (2 for 18, with four walks). So shaking things up by putting him in the lineup is a questionable move. Tatis at least did well last year so he has a recent track record of success.

If Manuel starts both Sheffield and Tatis, then he is starting to panic. With Johan Santana on the mound, the Mets need defense, not more hitting. Especially when the hitters are not likely to be as productive as the ones you are benching.

I do not buy the notion that Santana's games are that much more important because the rest of the rotation is floundering. Santana can win every one of his games and the Mets will have fewer wins than the '62 Mets if other starters don't step up.

But the Mets could really use a win Friday night.

That's rich! David Ortiz gripes about Joba Chamberlain going after Kevin Youkilis

Just in time for this weekend's Yankee-Red Sox series, controversy is a-brewing. David Ortiz is quoted in today's New York Post issuing a warning of sorts to Joba Chamberlain, Friday night's pitcher for the Yanks:
David Ortiz yesterday said the talented right-hander should avoid using Kevin Youkilis' head as a bull's-eye.

"None of that, man -- just play the game the way it's supposed to be, and that's about it," Ortiz said, referring to Chamberlain.

"This is a guy, as good as he is, the next step for him will be to earn respect from everybody in the league. He's not a bad guy, but when things like that happen, people get the wrong idea."

Hmmm. Perhaps Ortiz should have a talk with Josh Beckett about how to play the game the right way. If you'll remember, last week Beckett celebrated Easter Sunday last week by:

1) Taking forever in a Red Sox-Angels game to throw a pitch,

2) Getting irritated when Bobby Abreu called for time,

3) Throwing the ball inches above Abreu's head,

4) Storming off the mound and walking towards home plate to argue when the usually unflappable Abreu took offense,

5) Getting to stay in the game despite all this, when Angels who argued with him were thrown out,

6) Griping that anybody would read anything untoward into what he did,

7) Suggesting the Angels' angry reaction had to do with the death of Nick Adenhart,

8) Complaining over getting disciplined at all, even when his six-game suspension was reduced to five games.

Then again, I'm quite sure that Big Papi has had a stern talk with the Big Twit - Beckett - about just playing the game ''the way it's supposed to be," right? After all, "when things like that happen," like at that Easter Sunday game, "people get the wrong idea."

What do you think? Leave us a comment!

Knuckleheaded fan may have cost Yankees three runs

I hope that the Yankee "fan" who interfered with Johnny Damon's attempted catch of Kurt Suzuki's home run ball yesterday was thrown out of the game. True, the umpires didn't rule that it was fan interference, but Yankee fans should know better. Especially given that the guy was a grown man, and not an overeager kid like Jeffrey Maier.

That guy irritated the heck out of me for several reasons:
  • He was interfering with a Yankee trying to do his job
  • He was so pleased at acting like a dope
  • And then, when he realized he may not have done something so good, he threw the home run ball back!
When I talked about Jorge Posada's home run in Sunday's game, I expressed concern about the Stadium's new design, where fans can interfere with the game much more easily:
As for Posada's homer, it seems that the Yankees are asking for trouble with having the fans so close to the outfield wall in this new park. It worked out this time, but what happens when, say, a Red Sox fan interferes with a Yankee trying to catch a ball?
Or when a dopey Yankee fan interferes with a Yankee trying to catch a ball. What a clown.

* * *

That idiot fan is lucky that the Yankees won yesterday, and that after 14 innings, his silly move was an afterthought. But he wasn't the only person in the ballpark to do something wrongheaded:
  • What was up with that play where Derek Jeter threw to home, when Jorge Posada was covering first?
  • Or when Johnny Damon insisted that he got the ball instead of letting Derek Jeter catch it, only for Damon to drop the ball?
  • Why is CC Sabathia laboring so much on the mound?
  • And how could the Yankees claim with a straight face that over 43K people were at the game?

On a more positive note, how about Jose Veras' stellar pitching performance? And Melky Cabrera hitting two homers in the game?

It may have been a sloppy, painful game to watch, but at least the Yankees won. Even if there were about 500 people in the ballpark when it was over!

What do you think? Leave us a comment!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Luis Castillo - All-Star?

Mentioning Luis Castillo and the All-Star Game in the same sentence sounds like another Bud Selig marketing ploy gone wrong:

This year, the league that loses the All-Star Game must have Luis Castillo on their All-Star team the following year!

But Mets.com, seizing on one of the Mets' few bright spots a little too eagerly, has decided that it is time to ramp up the All-Star vote for the Mets' number 8 hitter:

And now fans have a new opportunity to show their own support, by voting Castillo for the National League All-Star team at the 2009 Midsummer Classic on July 14 at Busch Stadium.

Sure, Castillo was hitting .400 going into tonight's game, but the season is only two weeks old! What if Daniel Murphy goes two weeks without an error - should we start touting him for a Gold Glove? Is it also time to start talking about Omar Minaya as Executive of the Year for his foresight in signing Castillo to a four-year deal?

Castillo's off to a nice start, especially compared to what was expected of him, but so far, all he has done is secure his place in the starting lineup with the possibility of moving up from the eighth spot to the two hole, at least when Murphy is on the bench.

And it's not as if Castillo is clearly having the best season so far by an NL second baseman. Going into tonight's game, here are Castillo's stats compared to perennial All-Star Chase Utley.

Castillo: BA .400, R 4, HR 0, RBI 6, SB 0
Utley: BA .372, R 12, HR 4, RBI 12, SB 2

Even with his fast start, Castillo doesn't come close to Utley. Castillo also lags well behind this NL second baseman:

BA .393, R 14, HR 2, RBI 8, SB 4

But mets.com wouldn't expect to you vote for that second baseman, since the Mets already voted against him in the offseason, when they had the chance to sign Orlando Hudson.

***

After tonight's dreary game, Jerry Manuel did admit that it was not too soon for a big lineup change and that he plans to flip Carlos Beltran and David Wright in Thursday's game. Glad to see Jerry making a move to try to shake things up. So far, even Mets.com has not been touting him as Manager of the Year.

My thoughts on the new Yankee Stadium

So Squawker Jon and I visited Yankee Stadium last night. The new ballpark reminded me of seeing a Hollywood actress of a certain age who has had some work done. She looks like she used to in her heyday, but different at the same time, thanks to Botox, Restalyne, and facelifts.

The new Yankee is like the old one, but with lots of plastic surgery. In some parts it looks better; in others, it looks worse.

Here are my thoughts on the Stadium, in a variety of categories:

Design

The outside looks great, although Squawker Jon thought the big Johnny Damon photo looked more like Oliver Perez. And while much of the stadium looks like the old one, like the field itself, and the outfield walls, the interior is different.

Great Hall aside, in many parts of the new Stadium, the inside is actually uglier than the old Stadium. A dingy-looking off-white/grey cinderblock "style" predominates. It's very industrial and sterile. And what's up with all the pipes? It looks terrible. It's all like the "before" on a TV design show. If only Oprah could send "Knock, Knock, It's Nate" Berkus to fix things!

And the ramps are not only uglier than the old ballpark, but they seem to take much longer to get up to even one level than before. As the Mets Police blog noted, they look like something you'd see in a NYC public school.

For $1.5 billion, I was expecting awe. Instead, I felt like I was late for class.

Oh, and Monument Park is a joke now. While we didn't get to go in, we had a good view of it from our seats. But most of the fans in the ballpark can't even see it - it really is more like Monument Cave. Or maybe it's like the last scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," where you see the warehouse filled with crates filled with treasures.

And there are these really ugly cinderblocks - dark grey this time - in Monument Park. Also, everything looks plopped together. The whole thing reminded me more of Monument Garage Sale than anything else.

The hundred-million-dollar, 101-foot video screen is phenomenal to look at, though, even if they did dumb down the scoreboard games. They had the numbers game featuring Mark Teixeira's number minus Derek Jeter's number equals whose number. Are you kidding me? I did like the match game video thingy more - instead of photos of the players, it's set up like "The Brady Bunch," with the Yankees moving around and looking at each other.

The Mohegan Sun Sports Bar not only is unappealing to look at, it also killed the fans' views in those bleacher sections. I did like the way people gathered to watch the game at the top of that monstrosity, though, where the food stands are - they seemed to be having lots of fun.

Atmosphere

The good news is that we got $60 Main Outfield seats in the new Stadium for $12 each. The bad news is that these seats are really worth about $20 or $30. $60 is way too much for them, which is why our section was only about 2/3 full.

But at least the fans where we were sitting, in the main outfield section by left field, were pretty enthusiastic. They cheered Johnny Damon so much after his homer that Damon did that finger-point thingy in left field back at us. Nick Swisher got huge cheers as well just for, well, being Nick! Good stuff. Not sure how the whole ballpark sounded on TV, but our section was at least paying attention to the game, and stayed until the end.

Not so good was that I heard several "Boston sucks" chants throughout the ballpark. As longtime readers know, I always mock Red Sox and Met fans for chanting "Yankees suck" when the Bombers aren't even in the stadium. I hate to see Yankee fans doing the same thing, when it's not a Yankee-Red Sox game.

While our section wasn't full, it looked jam-packed compared to the expensive field-level seats. My guess is that maybe 35-40% of those seats were full. You get the feel of being at a spring training game or something. Those empty seats are another ballpark monument - to greed, that is.

On the other hand, the grandstand and bleachers looked pretty packed. It really is the Titanic effect, where the poorer fans are huddled together, and the rich people are in the lap of luxury.

Oh, and all that floor-to-ceiling glass for the fancy restaurants really bugs me. I felt like I was like Stella Dallas standing outside Tavern on the Green, with my nose pressed up against the glass.

All that catering to the rich people, but, as the Fack Youk blog put it, the upper crust are just not that into the Yanks, given how few of them are actually showing up!

Speaking of which, perhaps the Yankees could hire Baghdad Bob to read the attendance figures for each game. Because the Yanks' "official" attendance of 42,065 for last night's game is about as credible as something that the former Iraqi Information Minister would say. At best, there were 35,000, and it probably was more like 32,000.

Food

On the one hand, there are many more food stands, with tons of variety On the other hand, the food is way overpriced, even for a ballpark, and what we had wasn't all that, given the price. The Lobel's steak sandwich was perfectly fine, but for $15 I expected a sublime experience, which I did not get. And the garlic fries were a complete waste of time for $9.

Compare and contract with Citi Field's food. Their tacos, shack burgers, and ribs were not just delicious, they were all under $10. And their beer is not only cheaper, but there are many more varieties. Yankee Stadium did have a Beers of the World type stand, where we got a good, albeit pricey, Blue Moon Ale, but there is no signage for the stand. Also, there were a lot of closed food stands already at the ballpark - not a good sign.

The difference, in a nutshell, between the food fare in both ballparks is this. Both ballparks went after name brands to provide their food options. But Yankee Stadium went for places known more for atmosphere than for good food, like Hard Rock Cafe, Johnny Rocket's, Moe's, and Brother Jimmy's. Citi Field picked chefs, like Danny Meyer, Floyd Cardoz, and Dave Pasternack, whose restaurants are known for great food and great value. No wonder the food at a Mets game is so much better.

And I still don't get the mystique of watching the Lobel's butchers at work. Maybe rich people have staff who do their shopping for them, so they don't actually get to see a butcher slice meat, but for the rest of us, we can go to any grocery store and see the same show. What's next, we have a windowed exhibit with that overpriced Stadium sod where we can watch grass grow? Sheesh.

Service

This is one area that is much better than at the old ballpark. The employees there are much nicer, and much more helpful, than they ever were at the old Yankee Stadium. And security is much easier to go through - the lines zip by very quickly. Also, the food lines move pretty fast. And there are no bathroom lines. Yay!

Overall Experience

Jon and I had a good time, and we didn't hate the new ballpark, but it's not quite home either. And I don't understand why a $1.5 billion stadium could have so much of an uninspired design in so many places. The money must have gone to amenities and design for the rich people's suites or something.

The Stadium still needs some work, like better colors, more photos of Yankee memories, and an increased emphasis on the regular fan as opposed to the corporate fatcat. Maybe the atmosphere in the park would have been fine two years ago when the economy was bopping along, but the Stadium's outrageous prices, and the ballpark's exclusionary attitude, are already out of date. Most of this stuff is fixable, but the question is whether the Yankee management has the will to do so. And unfortunately, at the present time, they don't seem to have the will to fix a thing. Bummer.

What do you think of the new Yankee Stadium? Leave us a comment!

Met fan at new Yankee Stadium

Squawker Lisa and I made our first trip to Yankee Stadium tonight. The new Stadium is a much nicer version of the old one, which is both good and bad.

It's good if you're a fan of Yankee tradition and wanted to see the Stadium upgraded with wider concourses, wider seats, better food and a dazzling video screen. I also liked the manually-operated scoreboards on the outfield walls.

But by sticking so closely to the original design, the stadium did not seem as new and exciting as Citi Field did to me. The drab colors in the concourses and on the ramps created a bureaucratic feel. And I saw what the Mets meant when they insisted that they had built a ballpark, not a stadium. I still think the Mets should have had more seats, but they certainly do have a more intimate place to play.

The concourses did feature some photos of great Yankee teams. Imagine something like that in a team's ballpark! But Monument Park did seem to be following the Mets' approach to team history. From our seats in left field, we were able to look down and see what appeared to be a warehouse crowded with retired numbers and plaques. The numbers at least need to be back on the wall as they were at the old Stadium or at least someplace more visible.

Past the rightfield wall, there were painted pennants commemorated each of the Yankees' world championships. This display also seemed tucked away.

On the other hand, the cartons for carrying your concessions all said "26 and counting." But for all I know, that could refer to the number of Yankees implicated in performance-enhancing drug scandals.

Speaking of which, some people in our section chanted "steroids" when Jason Giambi came to bat in his return to New York. I'll bet they weren't doing that last year when he was on their team. Most people did seem to cheer Giambi, who was batting third, but there were no cheers for the next batter, Matt Holliday. So the former Yankee gets cheers, but nothing for the future Yankee.

Citi Field beats Yankee Stadium when it comes to food, at least based on what we sampled. The Lobel's steak sandwich was very good, though for $15 it had better be. You certainly got a lot of meat for your money, but maybe they should offer a version 2/3 the size for ten bucks, which is what those four sensational ribs cost at Blue Smoke in Citi Field.

Then again, Yankee Stadium is not about keeping the costs down. The other thing we wanted to try were the garlic fries, which I do not recommend. For $9, I got a larger order of average fries with a lot of garlic on them. I thought $7.50 was high for fries when I got the Belgian fries at Box Frites at Citi Field, but those fries were great.

We did not try any other food, but on future trips I want to check out a burger at Johnny Rockets and a sandwich at Mike's Deli. I almost did a double-take when I saw someone eating sushi, but then we came upon a nice-looking sushi storefront, so we might have to check that out as well.

One of the oddest sights we saw was a sign on the back of each seat that said "BE ALERT FOR BATS AND/OR BALLS." In fact, a bat did fly into the stands near home plate. But we were not sitting behind home plate. (Actually, not many people were sitting there, with those prices.) We were sitting in left field, in fair territory. So while a ball might come our way, it hardly seems likely that the outfield crowd should have to watch out for bats. But that sign was on the back of every seat in our section.

One tradition the Yankees retained but did not upgrade was the Kate Smith singing "God Bless America." For $1.3 billion, I expected a lot more than the same scratchy old recording. Something like a hologram of Kate floating over centerfield. Then she could glide over the infield and settle into one of those empty seats behind home plate.

I don't know if this is standard with the Yankees, but the team took the field to Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer." It's an odd choice to use a song about aging to introduce a team with such an old lineup.

Or maybe the Yankees are just trying to tweak Met ownership by using a song whose title is also that of a famous book about the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Murphy Shuffle

I went to the new Yankee Stadium tonight for the first time, and the best part of my evening was that I missed almost all of the Met game.

Squawker Lisa has suggested that the Mets bring back "The Curly Shuffle" to replace "Sweet Caroline" in the eighth inning. In the eighth inning of tonight's game, it seemed as if the Mets were trying to do their own version of the Three Stooges - Carlos Beltran failing to slide and being out at the plate followed by Daniel Murphy slipping and flailing as the ball sailed over his head.

All that was missing after the Murphy misadventure was for Beltran to come over, say "What's the matter with you?" and slap him in the head.

Murphy could then reply to Beltran, "You didn't slide," but Beltran could retort, "You were also out at the plate (slap), you also fell down in the fifth (slap) and you got picked off (slap)."

Unfortunately, there's not much funny about a 6-7 record and a team that has been mediocre so far, blowing yet another early big lead, this time 4-0.

In Oliver Perez' first full year with the Mets, his ERA was 3.56. In his second year, it was 4.22. Add those two and you get 7.78. After tonight's game, Perez' ERA is 7.80.

My number theorist friend David will be pleased to know that I somehow remember that, in a Fibonacci sequence, each number is the sum of the previous two numbers. If Perez' ERA becomes a Fibonacci sequence during his three-year deal, his ERAs for the next three years will be 7.78, 12.00, 19.78.

One more year in that sequence and Perez will be closing in on Chien-Ming Wang's current ERA of 34.50!

And now Omar Minaya has signed Wily Mo Pena, who hit .205 last year before being released by the worst team in baseball, the Nationals. Is this the best way to come to the Mets these days - hit for a pitiful average and get released? Is the outfield doomed to become this year's version of the rotation circus that featured the likes of Jose Lima?

Even the Murphy Shuffle would be better than that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jason Giambi: Straight shooter? Not so fast

Jason Giambi's mouth has gotten him in the news lately. First he compared the new Yankee Stadium to the Titanic (although he claims he meant it as a compliment!)

Now he is making headlines for an interview with GQ (hat tip to Was Watching.) In the article, Jason talks about his time in New York, and about his teammates' quirks, including A-Rod's neuroses and Roger Clemens' weirdness.

Nate Penn, author of the piece, asks him about the depiction of him in Joe Torre and Tom Verducci's "The Yankee Years." Then he asks Giambi whether he agrees with David Wells that the book "violates the clubhouse code of confidentiality." Giambi's response:
I think it’s tough. I wouldn’t do it. But at the same time, it’s hard to pick which one is Verducci and which one is Torre, you know what I’m saying? They wrote it together. I think it would be very unfair to put a judgment on it until I definitely knew who said what. I have better things to worry about.
He wouldn't do it? Really? Then why did he cooperate with "The Yankee Years", then? He is directly quoted in the book, and Tom Verducci thanked him in the acknowledgements section for his cooperation. Besides, given that cooperation, wouldn't he be able to assess the book well enough to put a judgment on it?

So yeah, that statement is a little disingenuous out of Giambi. Especially given what Jason did to violate the clubhouse code with working with Verducci (and Torre!) on that Sports Illustrated "Lonely Yankee" cover story. Or did he think that revealing to Verducci about how he told Torre to "stop coddling A-Rod" was a good thing?

Besides, after reading in "The Yankee Years" about all of the nasty things Torre did and said to undermine Alex, from snotty, petty comments, to not inviting him to the Safe at Home Dinner, I have to wonder, when did Joe ever start coddling Alex?

Speaking of the Lonely Yankee, in "The Yankee Years," Verducci and Torre don't mention that SI cover story and how it sent A-Rod into a slump in September of 2006, just before the playoffs. Given their contempt for Alex, you'd think they would have been proud of that!

As for Giambi, I like him, and I appreciated his outsized personality and his big hits with the Yankees. And, by nearly all accounts, I hear he's a good guy and very fan-friendly. I just think it would have been nice if the reporter had asked him about his involvement with "The Yankee Years."

At any rate, Squawker Jon and I will get to see Jason Giambi's return to Yankee Stadium tonight. I'm predicting at least one homer for Jason.

What do you think? Leave us a comment!

My review of 'The Rocket That Fell to Earth'

Jeff Pearlman's new book on Roger Clemens, "The Rocket That Fell to Earth," succeeds in doing the impossible. He manages to make Clemens seem a little bit likeable. Or at least understandable. That's no small achievement.

Longtime Squawker readers know how much I can't stand Clemens. I consider him an embarrassment not just to the pinstripes, but to our shared alma mater, the University of Texas. I was furious when he was spotted on the UT sidelines with Derek Jeter last fall - I'm still wondering why the heck Jeter was posing for pictures with him, and why the Longhorns even let Clemens in the stadium!

Yet despite my distaste for Clemens, I found myself so engrossed by "The Rocket That Fell to Earth" that I stayed up late three nights in a row reading the book. At times I even (shudder) found myself impressed with Clemens. And I would think to myself, maybe he wasn't as terrible as I thought. Then I'd read something dopey Roger did, and be reminded of what a jerk he could be. But after reading this book, I felt like I "got" Clemens in a way I didn't before.

I knew that Clemens wasn't a native Texan, but I didn't realize that, as Pearlman reveals, he lived in Ohio for most of his childhood, and wasn't exactly a born superstar (he split starts with a girl on his Little league team!) I also didn't know the sad saga of Clemens' brother Randy, who, for better or worse, made Roger into the Rocket.

There's also the salacious stuff, like Clemens' affair with Mindy McCready (although Pearlman says that she was 17, not 15, when she hooked up with Roger, and that she lied to him about her age.) Not-so-shockingly, it was Brian McNamee who instigated revealing the story. The book also shows that contrary to what Clemens claimed before Congress, he had a long-standing friendship with Jose Canseco.

And I knew from Roger's appearance on Michael Kay's "CenterStage" that he liked Charlize Theron. But I didn't realize how much of a thing Clemens had for her until this book - he reportedly tried to hit on her, to no avail.

But "The Rocket That Fell to Earth," is more about figuring out what makes Clemens tick than being a scandalfest.

It also is a balanced book. For example, Pearlman talks about how many good things Clemens did, without any fanfare, to help sick children. (Clemens was a Hall of Famer when it came to compassion for such situations).

I think Clemens saw himself as a Texas gunslinger type, but the person he ended up reminding me of after reading this book is somebody a bit more neurotic:

* Clemens frequently said dopey things to the media, was reckless with his personal life, often seemed clueless in the clubhouse, was completely self-absorbed, and had a reputation for choking when the pressure was on. He also did irrational things on the field, like throwing a bat at Mike Piazza (the book, of course, talks about Piazza's other issues.)

* On a more positive note, Clemens was known for his work ethic right from the beginning. And he would have been a Hall of Famer on his clean numbers, but may have ruined his chances for good by reportedly using performance-enhancing drugs.

Yeah, believe it or not, Clemens reminded me a lot of Alex Rodriguez!

If there is any flaw in "The Rocket That Fell to Earth," it's that it's unfortunate that Clemens' recent teammates were unwilling to share anecdotes about him, the way his '80s Red Sox teammates were. But that's the way these things work; in 10-15 years, I'm sure these players will be flapping their gums about the Rocket!

Pearlman, known to Mets fans as author of "The Bad Guys Won," is a very entertaining writer. Put it this way - I hated the Dallas Cowboys with a passion when I lived in Texas, yet I found Pearlman's "Boys Will Be Boys" book on the '90s Cowboys to be one of the top five sports books I ever read. And my Cowboy fan brother enjoyed it just as much as I did.

While "The Rocket That Fell to Earth" isn't as much of a page-turner as "Boys Will Be Boys" was, it's still a fascinating read, even if you don't care about Roger Clemens.

For more info on the book, click here.

How I got two main-level Yankee tickets for $12 each

Squawker Jon and I were all set to take in our first game at the new Yankee Stadium last night, but rain messed with our plans. I guess we can say we were a part of the first rainout at the New Yankee Stadium, though. Whoopee.

It was a bad day all around, between the rain, and Subway Squawkers being snubbed - yet again - for a Pulitzer Prize. Bummer.

Anyhow, as Jon and I still wanted to be part of the first night game at the NYS, I decided yesterday to try to get tickets for Tuesday night's game. Not only was I very successful, but I also got to see exactly how desperate the Yanks are to unload tickets!

Tuesday's game against Oakland is one of the Yankees' discount nights, with $5 grandstand seats. I called Ticketmaster to see if any of those seats were available, but they were all gone.

However, when I asked the agent to find me the cheapest available tickets, he actually found me a good deal. He offered me two Main tickets in left field (the light green tix on the Yankees ticket map) which were - get this - marked down in price!

Instead of paying $55 each ($60 each on the day of the game) for these tickets, the Ticketmaster guy offered me two of those tickets for a total of $62 for both, including service charges.

Now that's a deal. I've never had somebody at Ticketmaster ever give me a discount on anything, and this was a really good one - it was even better than a two-for-one offer.

But I turned this incredible deal down, because I found an even better deal on StubHub.

I found similar tickets on StubHub to the one I was offered via Ticketmaster. But these ducats were only $12 each, plus service charges. So it worked out to $34 for two tickets. Granted, the season ticket holder selling this ticket most likely paid $45 for each ticket, and not $55 or $60, but it's still a considerable discount from face value.

Now, I realize Yankees-Oakland doesn't have quite the same cachet of, say, Yankees-Red Sox, but this is only the fifth game in the new ballpark, and, as noted above, it is the first night game. Plus, the game marks the first time Jason Giambi is back in town.

And while these tickets are in a better place than I can usually afford, they're not exactly the best seats in the house. But if the Yanks are apparently having a hard time moving these ducats, I just don't see how they're going to be able to move their three-and-four figure seats, without quietly marking them down as well. It's going to be interesting to watch what happens next.

What do you think? Leave us a comment!