Friday, August 31, 2007

Can My Powers Be Harnessed For Good?

So, I just remembered that I wrote this paragraph a couple months ago, about Freddy Sez:

Freddy will never die. Or at least, he better not. I dread his passing almost as much as I dread Phil Rizutto's.

Yuck.

Happy Labor Day Everybody!

Bud Selig Sticks His Lovely Nose Where It Doesn't Belong


Sorry to turn your stomachs so close to a holiday weekend.

But...Bud Selig has decided it's his job to make recommendations (via Buster Olney) for who the Houston Astros hire as their manager.

Fuck the heck are you doing, Budsie? The commissioner is supposed to be an impartial authority, not some whiny douchebag urging his crony, Drayton McLane, to help fill the minority quota. And for Selig to say that Cecil Cooper has somehow earned the right to be retained as manager? How exactly, has he done that in his week on the job? Nothing against Cooper, maybe he does deserve the job. But Selig needs to mind his own muthafuckin' beeswax.

First, the inane draft slots, in which teams are "encouraged" to only spend so much money on any given draft pick (I'm pretty sure Brian Cashman and Dave Dombrowski have woken up with horse's heads in their bed recently), and now this. Maybe Bud Selig should focus on his actual job, and not try to run every team in baseball. Maybe then, baseball wouldn't be embroiled in a neverending farce of a steroids scandal, and some teams wouldn't be extorting taxpayers for millions of dollars to build new stadiums while other teams draw 15,000 per night. And maybe, for once, I could watch a game on Saturday afternoon that doesn't involve the fucking Cubs while I'm paying $170 for the fucking Extra Innings package.

Chicago is a Homer Town, Vol. I

That Chicago is a town full of homers who turn a blind eye to any possible negativity related to their sports teams is well known. Apparently, this idiotic optimism also extends to their broadcasters (Hawk and DJ don't count...they're not broadcasters. That title implies some degree of professionalism.)

This morning on WGN Radio, Cubs announcer Pat Hughes analyzed the N.L. Central race. In doing so, he declared that the Cubs and Cardinals "both have explosive lineups." The Cubs are 8th in the National League (a shitty league, by the by) with 607 runs scored, 120 runs behind league-leading Philly. The Cardinals are 13th with 576. Feel the electricity! XXXplosive!

Then, he pronounced that the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers are all "very good teams."

The Cubs are 68-64, good for the 12th best record in baseball. The Brewers are 66-67. The Cardinals are 64-66. A historic race between three all-time greats, indeed. Some might even call it legendary.

I'm Talkin' Willie, Joba and the Youk

For the record, I was incredibly close on the Post headline. They went with "Yankees Hit Sweep Spot." Right pun, wrong usage. Oh well, get 'em next time, champ.

Again for the record, I can't profess to know whether or not Joba Chamberlain was throwing at Kevin Youkilis. Given the control he's exhibited thus far, it seems extremely unlikely that two consecutive pitches would "slip" and end up a foot over Redbeard's head. But Joba did act shocked that he was being thrown out, and I doubt he's that good an actor.

Someone seems to have given Joba a checklist of ways to ingratiate himself with Yankees fans. Fix a decaying bullpen? Check. Dominate the American League with ridiculous sliders? Check. Reignite the Yanks/Sox rivalry by throwing at the head of one of Boston's most despicable players? Double check.

Whatever Joba's intent, the Yankees/Red Sox series in Fenway in a couple weeks now promises to be a circus of Clemens/Piazza proportions, especially if the Yankees can manage to gain a couple more games on them by then.

For their part, the Red Sox reacted like a bunch of juvenile hypocrites, conveniently forgetting how many Yankees have drilled by Boston's thugs over the past few years. They are shocked and outraged that someone would dare throw up and in in a game of baseball! Kevin Youkilis continued to play the part of a bad guy wrestler perfectly, giving his big, angry, post-match speech in the ring. He and Francona gave quotes that can only be described as vaguely threatening:

"If that young man is trying to get our attention, he did a very good job," Francona said.

"It will be interesting to see how that series plays out," Youkilis said.

It's better than even money that Josh Beckett will drill someone in Fenway in September. And if Roger Clemens pitches in that series, things will almost certainly escalate.

Honestly, I think this is a distraction the Yankees don't need right now. The Red Sox were on their heels; there was no reason to poke them with a stick. If Joba threw at Youkilis, I wish he would have thought twice before taking on that responsibility in his 12th big-league inning.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Yanks Have a Sweep Tooth!*

* Prediction for tomorrow's Post headline

The Yankees finished off a very satisfying sweep of Boston, beating them 5-0 behind a great outing from Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano's bat and more Joba. Same as it ever was.

The Yankees pull to within five of the Red Sox, but the A.L. East race is still over for all intents and purposes. These three games should put some doubts in their heads come October, though, if things break right.

Line of the week goes to Peter Abraham at LoHud, referring to Kevin Franchise being called out for running outside the baselines, then arguing up a storm: "Youkilis will have a nice career as a wrestling bad guy when he retires from baseball." So true, but not the kind of bad guy you love to root against, and secretly enjoy watching, like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin before he turned good. More like the kind of bad guy who you think is retarded, and makes you want to change the channel, like Doink the clown.

The fallout from Joba's ejection, and Torre's silly decision to bring him in for the ninth, will be interesting to watch unfold.

But for the rest of the day, let's just enjoy ourselves. The Yankees are in a pennant race, they swept Boston, fall's coming, and "Radio Nowhere" is available for free on iTunes. Good fucking times.

Wait...What?

Joba Chamberlain has been thrown out of the game for throwing two pitches high and tight to Kevin "Franchise" Youkilis. No warning was issued.

I can't see the game, thanks to the idiot schedulers, but John Sterling is suitably outraged. It seems asinine to me.

Maybe even Joba knew what an idiot Joe Torre was being, and decided to take himself out of the game so he can pitch Saturday.

Meanwhile, if Edwar Ramirez allows Youkilis to score, the run will be charged to Joba, ending his scoreless streak.

Fire Joe Torre This Second

Brian Cashman needs to make his way down to the Yankees dugout right now, before this game is over, and relieve Joe Torre of his duties. Don Mattingly can slide over from his seat on the bench, Joe Girardi can come down from the broadcast booth, Freddy Sez can take over. I don't care, but Torre needs to vacate the premises.

With a 5-0 lead in the ninth against the Red Sox, Torre sent Joba Chamberlain out for a second inning of work. Under the looming presence of the Joba Rules, Chamberlain now can't pitch again until Sunday. Torre apparently does not believe that one pitcher in his bullpen, other than Joba and Rivera, can record three outs before giving up five runs. Chris Britton and Edwar Ramirez should quit now, because they're not ever going to be used or trusted under this dark regime.

This is a ludicrous decision that puts the Yankees at a disadvantage this weekend. And in a tight Wild Card race, this team needs every advantage it can muster.

You Disappoint Me, Justin

Per Peter Abraham, Joba Chamberlain is getting his own entrance music at Yankee Stadium, which seems strange. I can't think of another non-closer in baseball history who had his own music. Certainly not Mariano Rivera in '96. And I know the kid seems like he's got a good head on his shoulders, and he seems like the real deal, talent-wise, but this certainly seems like a case of too much, too soon. Joba has pitched ten innings in the major leagues. Ten! It's fun to see the crowd go nuts when he comes in, sure, and the right song would certainly add to the moment, but this is a 21-year-old who might not even be eligible to win the Rooke of the Year until 2008.

More disturbing, though, is Joba's choice of entrance song: "Indian Outlaw," by Tim McGraw.

Umm....jigga what?

Leaving aside the social, cultural and political implications of a Native American entering to a song with lyrics like "You can find me in my wigwam/I'll be beatin' on my tom-tom/Pull out the pipe and smoke you some/Hey and pass it around," while 55,000 (mostly) white people cheer, the more important issue is that it's just a horrible song.

Pitchers become equated with the song to which they enter. Think of Rivera and "Enter Sandman," Trevor Hoffman and "Hell's Bells" or Mitch Williams (or Rick Vaughn) and "Wild Thing." I don't want this potential cornerstone of the Yankees franchise to be associated with Tim McGraw in any way. There's no accounting for the taste of near-teenagers from Nebraska, I guess, but come on!

Joba can do better, and Psycho Fan Incorporated is here to help. Some songs Joba should enter to, that would be eighty million times better than that redneck country song:

No Sleep Till Brooklyn/Beastie Boys
Badlands/Bruce Springsteen
Mother (live version only)/Danzig
I'm Shipping up to Boston/Dropkick Murphys (the irony would be delicious)
Phenomenon/LL Cool J
Right Next Door to Hell/Guns N' Roses
Big Poppa/Notorious B.I.G.
Last Exit/Pearl Jam
Glory of Love/Peter Cetera (wait, what?)
Another One Bites the Dust/Queen
Bulls on Parade/Rage Against the Machine

See how easy this is?

You Disappoint Me, William

The dangers present when sportswriters veer off-track and discuss music, movies, politics and other pop-culture ephemera are immense and well chronicled.

In his always-informative "Under the Knife" column yesterday, Baseball Prospectus's Will Carroll had this quick note, apropos of nada: "I don't care, Radiohead's "The Bends" is still my favorite album of theirs. It just gets better and better."

There are four things wrong with this statement, none of which has to do with "The Bends" being Radiohead's best album (that's a true story).

1) These little throwaway comments in the "Notes" sections at the end of columns are a little too Larry King.
2) No one cares what Will Carroll's ranking of Radiohead albums is. No one's waiting with baited breath for today's column to see how Kid A stacks up. Shit like this is self-indulgent and annoying. That's what blogs are for.
3) "The Bends" does not, in fact, get "better and better." It has stayed exactly the same since it was first released in 1995.
4) Carroll starts the sentence with "I don't care..." which implies that he's responding to some current, hot-button ongoing debate on the topic. Maybe some frisky BP reader e-mailed Carroll, "Fuck you and all you Bends-heads, Will! "OK Computer" is the best thing Radiohead has ever done," and this was Carroll's response. But we don't know that.

Sportswriters everywhere, I implore you, admire Peter Gammons for what he's meant to the game of baseball, but do not emulate his off-topic tomfoolery.

Back in the Game

Phew. For a few weeks there, I was extremely concerned that the Earth had spun off into some parallel universe where Kyle Farnsworth was a good pitcher and everything was all licorice and sunbeams. I'm relieved today to learn that's not the case. Kyle Farnsworth still sucks, and apparently just had a run of good luck.

It's not even the two-run homer to Kevin Youkilis that bothers me. That stuff happens. It's the ensuing walk to Jason Varitek, putting the tying run on base. That was classic Farnsworth, not being aggressive, letting his emotions get the best of him. To the good fortune of Yankees fans everywhere, Joe Torre pulled the trigger at the right time and Mariano Rivera was his old dominant self.

Coupled with an Angels win in Seattle, the Yankees' victory over the BoSox pulls them into a tie for the Wild Card, one game back in the loss column. Where everything looked bleak and grim two days ago, suddenly there is hope in Yankeeland. This season has been full of tumultuous, unexpected swings, and this is another one.

The worst of the Yankees' schedule is over. They have four games left against Boston, three against Seattle, and then a lot of weak team (though Baltimore has been worrisome this year). Meanwhile, the Mariners have lost five in a row and have three miles of bad road ahead. The erstwhile home of Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson and ARod still has road games ahead against Detroit, Cleveland, Oakland, Anaheim and the Yanks.

I've been waiting all year for Seattle to show their true colors, and while I may have underestimated them a bit, I still don't think they're much more than a .500 team. Baseball Prospectus's adjusted standings has the Mariners at 66-64. Their PECOTA-adjusted playoff odds currently give the Yankees a 69 percent of reaching the post-season.

Of course, the way this year has gone, anything can still happen. But the Yankees' success against Boston this week, combined with the Mariners tumbling to Earth, has given them a shot again.

It's always nice to see Josh Beckett lose in Yankee Stadium, but he pitched well yesterday. The Yankees eked out a lot of lucky hits and infield singles, and Beckett prevented them from taking advantage of the opportunities that fate handed them. Roger Clemens actually looked shakier than Beckett, but managed to avoid giving up a hit until David Ortiz's monstrous home run in the sixth inning — a frightening reminder that we should still be very, very afraid of Papi.

Alex Rodriguez put another notch in his MVP belt with a solo home run in the seventh that ended up being the decider, as our esteemed leader would say.

The finale of this three-game set is being played today at 1 p.m. in the Bronx. I have no clue why they decided this would be a good time for a weekday afternoon game. I'll be listening at work on MLB radio. I find that listening to big games is more stressful than watching them. Something about not being able to see what's happening for myself, and being totally dependent on the (oft-incompetent) play-by-play man like a blind man relying on his dog.

At any rate, it's Wang vs. Schilling, a match-up that would seem to favor the Yankees.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I Answer Tom Verducci's Mail

In Tom Verducci's latest baseball mailbag, Jon DeMent from St. Cloud, Minn., writes in to say:

I get the feeling that the stats geeks would prefer not to play the games at all, just crank it through the computer, prove their point that Team A is best, and crown them champs, and then let the blogosphere and Internet argue it out, maybe use it for 10 or 12 more Top 10 lists. Maybe if y'all would put down the Bill James and actually watch a bleeping game you'd have a bleeping clue ... [The Diamondbacks and Mariners] play together, play smart, never give up an out, have exceptional closers, and win most of the games that they have a chance to win. It ain't rocket science; it's as old as when the only stats were wins, losses, batting average and ERA.

(For the record, Verducci handled his response fairly reasonably, especially given his predilection to mock and humiliate statheads.)

Well, Jon, thank you for your thought-out and reasoned argument. You must be the pride of St. Cloud. Or is that St. Olaf, because you're about as smart as Rose! OHH HO!!! SNAP!!!!

But seriously...you're a fucking moron.

You really nailed statheads. You got it exactly right. They have no interest in watching the actual game of baseball...probably because they are all so fat and nerdy that they could never play it themselves, and are bitterly jealous of those who can. No, they hate watching baseball. That's why they spend untold hours analyzing statistics to enhance the enjoyment all of us derive from the game.

Listen, hick (that "y'all" you throw in there betrays that you are probably not originally from St. Cloud): shut your bleeping mouth and don't talk about things you don't bleeping understand. K?

The sheer fear that Jon feels for things he can't comprehend oozes through his diatribe like Icy Hot oozing through Jake Peavy's porous jock. He hates the future, he hates change, he longs for the old-timey good ol' days when computers didn't control our hearts and only white people were allowed to play baseball.

What exactly is the difference between batting average and VORP or EQA? They're both ways of manipulating numbers in an attempt to tell us something about the quality of baseball players. True, the latter two stats are a bit more complicated mathematically, so perhaps people who don't understand Prosepctus/Jamesian stats hate them because it makes them feel inferior. At their heart, batting average and VORP are just facts. Neither lies, but neither tells the whole truth. The more of these ways of looking at raw data we have at our disposal, the more equipped we are to understand the game and its players. If you want to spend the rest of your life only looking at batting average and wins, go ahead; I'm sure you can still enjoy watching baseball that way. But some of us enjoy it a lot more when we attempt to understand what we're seeing, and learn that our eyes can be deceiving at times.

I would have loved to be around in 1884, when Henry Chadwick first derived batting average, so I could read the letter Jon Dement's great-great-grandfather wrote to the Backwoods Kentucky Sentinel:

I wish these stupid numbers-mongers would just stuff a sock in it! Not since German took possession of Cameroon have I been so outraged. This newfangled "batting average" I keep hearing about is horse manure. I don't want to have to do bleeping division when I'm watching my pastimes. That's bleeping bleep. Whatever happened to the good old days, when the only statistics that counted in baseball were the weight of a hitter's bat and the size of the pitcher's bleep?

And since when are Seattle and Arizona the darlings of stathead-hating purists everywhere? Arizona is winning because they've got good players. In fact, three BP writers picked them to win the World Series this year. And the Mariners have ridden a great closer and a ton of luck to their current record. Oh wait, I forgot, it can't be luck. It's because they can bunt well and they love each other a little more deeply than most teams.

Finally, just for you Jon, one of the blogosphere's infamous Top 10 lists!

Top 10 Things Jon Dement from St. Cloud is Wrong About:

1. The Mariners and Diamondbacks win because they play together.
2. The Mariners and Diamondbacks win because they never give up an out.
3. A time existed when the only stats were wins, losses, batting average and ERA.
4. Gravity? I don't feel no bleeping gravity, y'all. Bullbleep.
5. Derek Jeter is the best fielding shortstop in the American League because he won the Gold Glove last year.
6. The Twins aren't winning this year because proven veterans Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson were jettisoned from the rotation too soon, and that feisty little Nick Punto hasn't gotten enough at-bats.
7. 9/11 was a Jew conspiracy run by Photoshop and YouTube. The towers still stand.
8. Bill James hates children, and writes his books (or co-writes them with the robot from Short Circuit, to be totally accurate) to destroy their pure and innocent love of the game.
9. Porn was way better in the days of yore, with magazines and adult bookshops, before the Internet ruined everything.
10. David Eckstein was they key to the Cardinals' championship last year.

The New Kid, He's Got My Girl

For the last couple months, it seems that Brian Cashman has been on a campaign to win the hearts and minds of Yankees bloggers everywhere. He brought up Phil Hughes, he traded Scott Proctor to force Joe Torre to diversify the use of his bullpen, he rose the curtain on the Joba era; and now, just in the last two days, he's called up critical darling Chris Britton and given Mike Mussina's next start to Ian Kennedy.

Cashman has managed to swing the organization's philosophy nearly 180 degrees in the past year. The Yankees are now devoted to keeping their young players, protecting their assets, and even giving the kids a chance to play on the big club when Joe Torre's beloved veterans are stinking up the joint.

I couldn't be more thrilled that Kennedy is getting the start on Saturday. I have no way of knowing if he's ready for the big leagues yet, but at least he'll give the Yankees a fighting chance to win the game, something Mike Mussina simply cannot do at this point in his career.

Still, I feel bad for the Moose. I've never been a big fan, for reasons I got into yesterday, but right now he's a proud veteran coping with his own mortality, and he's being publicly humiliated. It's hard not to empathize with that.

Moreover, the AP story on the Kennedy call-up seems to take unusual glee in Mussina's plight. Aside from claiming Moose has been "shoved aside," the story calls him "cerebral and finicky," apropos of nothing. This is a supposedly objective news story, mind you, not an editorial or a blog entry.

I know I've taken to calling Mussina the finicky cat, but I'm not writing a fucking AP news story. What does his rumored reputation for having, uh, distinct preferences have to do with who's starting for the Yankees on Saturday? And I also don't like the use of the word cerebral, implying somehow that Mussina considers himself above the physical drudgery of the game because he operates on a higher plane. I know a lot of reporters don't like Mussina, but come on!

In honor of Mike Mussina and what he must be thinking, while praying Ian Kennedy gets the job done, take it away Rhett Miller:

The new kid, he’s got money
The money I deserve
He’s got the goods but he’s not good for his word
I should be rolling in it
I've been a working stiff
As for the justice no one knows where it went

I’m gonna toil away
Until my judgment day
I will be rewarded for the good things I did
Believe me every year
There is another one here
Don’t you see I used to be the new kid
I am sorry to say
You’ll get carried away
You will be replaced
You will be replaced
I tell you again
Don’t get too settled in
You will be replaced
You will be replaced

The new kid, he’s got my girl
The girl I used to have
He’s got the looks you know, got them from his dad
I should be kissing that girl
We should be so in love
There is no justice
There’s just dark stars above

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Daisuke?

During last night's 5-3 Yankees win over the Bostonians, Yanks analyst Joe Girardi made a telling comment after Daisuke Matsuzaka threw his famed gyroball to Johnny Damon:

"It looks a lot like a pitch Jim Mecir used to throw when he was here with the Yankees."

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

I'm sorry Will Carroll, but the gyroball is essentially a changeup. A lot of guys throw those. Or maybe a screwball. Not as many throw those, but still some.

I'm sure Boy Wonder Theo Epstein is thrilled to have a $103 million Jim Mecir on his roster for the next eleventy thousand years. That's three straight losses for Douche-K, during which he allowed 13 runs in 18.1 innings. Against playoff contenders, he's 6-5 with a 4.66 ERA. And this was supposed to be his best year, before the league really figured him out.

Meanwhile, the Halos beat Seattle, so the Yankees pull to within one game (two in the loss column) of the Wild Card lead, with the Tigers another two games back. The Yankees once again control their own destiny, so it's important they at least gain a split in these next two games against the Red Sox. Roger Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang both need to be better than they've been.

With one Johnny Damon home run, and two strong innings from Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees regained the momentum they lost on the road trip. It could be gone again by the end of the first inning tonight, so let's enjoy it while it's here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Mike Mussina Era

Moose thrive in cold temperatures, which makes sense given that Mike Mussina's relationship with Yankees fans has always been somewhere between chilly and Arctic.

At the age of 38, Mussina's time as a productive big-league pitcher appears finished. He has one year remaining on his contract, so the Yankees will give him every available opportunity to stay in the rotation in 2008. But his velocity and stuff have been in decline for several years, and a precipitous drop in K/9 this season indicates he can no longer make up for his declining physical skills with guile. After getting mercilessly pounded for three consecutive starts, Mussina seems resigned to the idea that he's about to get replaced. It's unlikely that he'll be a contributing member of the 2007 Yankees the rest of the way. No matter what happens next year, he'll never be an ace again, and I can't imagine he'll be as much as a league average pitcher either. A chapter closed last night in Detroit, if not the whole book.

The Yankees signed Mussina following a 2000 season that saw them faltering badly down the stretch, winning only 87 games, but recovering in time to win their third straight World Series. David Cone was on his way out the door after pitching egregiously poorly, and Denny Neagle was going with him. Brian Cashman and George Steinbrenner brought Mussina in on a six-year, $88.5 contract to anchor the staff for the foreseeable future, which is essentially what he did.

The definition of an ace is nebulous, and there aren't too many 1999-vintage Pedro Martinez stoppers floating around through baseball history. Some years, Mussina was the Yankees best pitcher. Others, he was second-best. He provided stability in a rotation that saw vast changes during his tenure. Ted Lily, Jeff Weaver, David Wells, Javier Vazquez, Jose Contreras, Kevin Brown, Esteban Loaiza, Jaret Wright, He Who Shall Not Be Named, Randy Johnson, Shawn Chacon and more have come and gone while Mussina has remained, easing into the stretch and bending awkwardly at the waist to check the runner on first.

As a Yankee, Mussina has gone 100-63, with a 3.96 ERA, a number inflated by this year's miseries. He's been very good, and very consistent. But he's never been great, never a legitimate Cy Young candidate, never been special. And for $88.5 million, Yankees fans wanted and expected him to be special. We could never accept him as a lower-tier ace or second option in a very good rotation.

Yankees fans never embraced Mussina because he wasn't what we wanted him to be. Sure, there were cheers when he pitched well, and occasional Moose calls with two strikes on the hitter, but there were many more shrugs, head shakes and sighs of disgust. It's true that Mussina never put up the 23-6, 2.75 season everyone wanted, but that's not the real reason he's not loved in New York.

Like many of the post-2001 Yankees, there's an air of ambivalence hovering about the relationship between Mussina and the fans. Much of this has to do with the widely mocked concept of "true Yankees." Mussina, along with Jason Giambi and many others, arrived in town just after an amazing run that produced magical moments and local heroes with stunning regularity. Every time you turned around, Scott Brosius was hitting a game-tying home run deep into the New York night, or Chad Curtis was becoming much, much more than just Chad Curtis. When the championships stopped, the magic seemed to cease as well, and the new breed of players bore the blame. I tend to side with those who think the very idea of a "true Yankee" ludicrous and hypocritical, but Mussina was never truly accepted into the club, wrong or right.

Beyond merely not winning a ring, though, Mussina never really seemed like one of us. Before he signed in New York, the media made much of his quiet nature, small-town proclivities and possible reluctance to come to the big city. When he eventually did sign, I wondered whether he was signing strictly for the money, agreeing to come to a place he didn't really want to be.

Yes, that's a ridiculous thing to think in this day and age of huge contracts and player movement. But I thought it nonetheless. I questioned his motives in ways that I never questioned David Cone's. I was naturally suspicious of Mussina from the start, and I know I wasn't alone.

Mussina's personality also didn't help matters. He quickly gained a reputation for being withdrawn, aloof, arrogant ("Who would they replace me with?")and sharp with reporters. And in New York, the media wields a powerful sword. When reporters hate a player, the public is likely to hate him soon enough. Michael Kay, in particular, has always done a very poor job of disguising his contempt for Mussina.

Reports leaked out of Baltimore and New York that Mussina begged out of games early, that he was unpopular with his teammates, that he had no heart. He faltered in several key post-season games (although his gutsy relief effort in Game 7 of 2003 is oft-forgotten).

I always got the sense that fans at Yankee Stadium cheered Mussina because they had to, not because they wanted to. He was ridiculed for his love of crossword puzzles and his Stanford degree.

We don't want our athletes to be smarter than us, because they're already physically gifted, so why should they get everything? If we think they're knuckle-dragging dolts, we can sleep a little better at night knowing that while they may have millions of dollars, adoring groupies and untold public glories, at least they can't fucking hold a candle to us at the Saturday Times puzzle. So morons like Manny Ramirez are celebrated while quick wits like Mussina are reviled. Our entire culture, in fact, is predicated on the idea that intelligence is not a virtue. It's why we know every detail of Michael Vick's dog-fighting operation but all we know about Steven Hawking is that he talks funny.

Mussina has deserved better from Yankees fans. He's deserved better from me. I've been known to have troubling relationships with even the most beloved of Yankees, so I might not be the star to hitch your wagon to. I wish I didn't have such a negative view of Mussina. I wish I could just appreciate his almost greatness, his Don Sutton-y performances and his barbed one-liners. But I can't. I'll never get past all the negative associations with Mussina, most of which are probably undeserved.

Even today, it's hard to blame Mussina for his recent performances and quotes. He's getting old, and he's having trouble dealing with it. I'm not too fucking happy about it either.

In some ways, Mussina is a symbol for everything that's happened to the Yankees since Luis Gonzalez's blooper floated menacingly over Derek Jeter's head. He's overpaid, he's not particularly admired, he's had brushes with greatness but never quite achieved it. He's not Andy Pettitte. He's not Paul O'Neill. He's not Bernie Williams. And he seems to have run out of time to change that.

Update: Some good times to look back upon in these dark days.

16-0

Well, I woke up this morning to discover that it really happened. The Yankees wrapped up a 2-5 road trip filled with close, painful losses by losing painfully and not close. The Tigers humiliated New York 16-0, and may have prematurely ended Mike Mussina's season (career?). More on the decaying moose later.

The Yankee bats could do no right against Justin Verlander, and all the good that came from last weekend's series win over Detroit was undone. Sean Henn was torn apart in 2 2/3 innings, and we will likely never see him in pinstripes again. Although, Joe Torre seems to "trust" him, so who knows?

Anaheim helped the Yankees by beating Seattle, so the Yanks still trail the Mariners by three in the loss column, with Detroit breathing down their necks. It's not over, but if Boston wins two of three, it might be. After going on an improbable roll against bad teams, the Yankees have once again looked mediocre against legitimate competition, going 6-8 against the Tigers, Angels and an Orioles squad playing decent baseball. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have been annihilating the same bad teams the Yankees got fat on, so it will be interesting to see how they fare against a real big league team.

The Yankees' starting pitching has completely let them down, and in particular Roger Clemens and Phil Hughes haven't lived up to expectations. But Wang has struggled too, and Mussina...well, we know all about what he's been up to. The starting pitching wasn't particularly great even while they were winning, but it was masked by a historically hot offense and a resurgent bullpen. Now that the bats have cooled down, the pitching has been exposed. And I really wish they'd close the trenchcoat again, because I don't like what I'm seeing.

Looks like Ken Tremendous was right after all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

USA Today is on a Roll

In light of their recent published drivel about the Red Sox marrying the Statue of Liberty and raising little patriots together, you might think the multi-colored lady that is USA Today would take a few days off from printing sheer idiocy about the sport of baseball. You might be wrong.

With no trace of irony or dissent, today's bright red sports section features an article about the excitement of the current Wild Card races, and, for good measure, adds a sidebar about how proud Bud Selig is of the Wild Card:

"Well, I'm very proud with what's going on now. Here we are, down to the last five weeks of the season, and we're going to have wild-card races that are legendary."

Yes, Bud, there's so much of which to be proud. The six divisions and Wild Card races are going swimmingly. Nothing to see here. Move along. In related news, the U.S. occupation of Iraq is problem-free and we have been widely accepted as liberators.

The only thing legendary about the pennant races this year is the sheer number of dreadful teams in contention. Teams that have no business anywhere within sniffing distance of the post-season.

To wit: The San Diego Padres lead the N.L. Wild Card chase by three games, despite not having one great (or even very good) hitter in their lineup. The Cincinnati Reds, at 60-70, are only 6.5 games out of first place. Last year's disgrace of a World Series champion, the St. Louis Cardinals, are again locked in a tight race despite being on pace for even less than the 83 wins they managed a season ago.

And those legendary Wild Card races Selig is getting so erect for (sorry for the mental image)? An overachieving Seattle team and a flawed Yankees squad fighting it out down the stretch doesn't really seem the stuff of legends. Neither does the Padres and Phillies trying to figure out who sucks less.

The Wild Card definitely has its advantages, one of which is that a lot more fans have a lot more hope later in the season. But for Selig to pretend that it's flawless is silly, self-serving hype. The new playoff system, combined with the commissioner's push for parity, has resulted in one entire league not having a great team for the last five years. The National League is so bad right now that it's an embarrassment to baseball. Who cares if crappy teams are in contention for the playoffs? Who wants to see a Reds-Dodgers best-of-five anyway?

If the old divisional system were still in place, the Red Sox would still be running away with the A.L. East, but the Angels and Mariners would be locked in a tight race for the West, with something actually at stake because the loser would go home.

Every word out of Bud Selig's mouth is intended to make us think he's done a great job. He hasn't.

Congratulations, America, You Can Have Them

Last week, USA Today came out with an asinine article claiming that the Boston Red Sox have usurped the Yankees as "America's Team" because they outdraw New York on the road. Now, the logic behind this claim has been widely discredited elsewhere. Fuzzy math, and all that.

But the very premise of the article is inherently flawed. It's a strawman argument, because the Yankees were never, ever considered "America's Team." The Atlanta Braves call themselves by that moniker, because they were on the Superstation before cable TV became popular. But in reality, no baseball team is universally loved enough to merit that nickname. Especially the Yankees.

The Yankees have as many, or more, fans than any other team, due to their location, success and tradition. However, they are also far and away the most hated franchise in sports, drawing disgust, ire and jealousy everywhere from Queens to the Bible Belt. No team that roundly hated can rightly call themselves America's anything.

Now, sportswriting is a difficult and tedious profession, and finding new things to write about daily or weekly can be a challenge. As a result, newspapers and sportscasts are filled with stories about nothing that prove nothing. This is one of those stories.

That being said, if people want to crown the Red Sox America's Team, I say we'll yield the throne happily and willingly.

For, let's not forget, this is an America that made Wild Hogs the number one movie at the box office. An America that (kind of) elected George W. Bush not once, but twice. An America that waits with baited breath to see which luminaries will appear on season three of Dancing With the Stars. An America that currently houses one out of every 32 adults in prison. An America that loves NASCAR. An America that allows Arrested Development and Veronica Mars to wither away into early cancellation while Two and a Half Men and NCIS enjoy long, fruitful lives. An America that impeaches presidents for lying about blow jobs but not for lying about the basis for war. An America that enjoys the musical stylings of Maroon 5, Fall Out Boy and Fergie. An America that allowed Crash to be named Best Picture. An America that is quickly becoming a vast wasteland of urban sprawl, Ruby Tuesday's and Linens 'n' Things. An America that, for some inexplicable reason, enjoys the NFL more than Major League Baseball. An America that has featured a professional wrestler and action star as governors. An America that wants to build a wall to keep brown people from other countries out. An America that sustained the worst ever attack on its own soil and then allowed the perpetrators to go free. An America that thinks Jay Leno is funny. An America that...um, let's just say that I could go on for a while.

So Boston Red Sox, meet America. America, this is the BoSox. You guys are fucking perfect for each other.

Time (Clock of the Heart)

The Yankees have now lost three games they easily could have won on this road trip, after falling to Le Tigre 5-4 yesterday. Phil Hughes was roughed up early, but recovered nicely. Unfortunately, the Yankees bats couldn't do anything against the Tigers middle relief. Sound familiar? By the time Joel Zumaya came in and looked dominant, it was lights out.

Seattle gave the Yankees a brief reprieve by losing to woeful Texas, but the Yankees need a win out of Mike Mussina today, which seems like a tall order given his recent track record. Oh, and there's that little matter of the three games against Boston this week...

The A.L. East race is over (and probably has been since June, given the insanely easy second-half schedule of the Red Sox), but the Wild Card is still within reach if the Yankees can stay within a couple games over the next four days.

A lot is riding on Mike Mussina today, so let's hope that the finicky cat has had his ideal amount of rest and that his pre-game meal was cooked at the appropriate temperatures. It's getting late early in Yankeeland, and this team needs some wins.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Yankees vs. Tigers, Game 1

The Yankees need a win tonight, with Boston having swept a double-header, and Seattle leading. Quite frankly, then need to win the next three games of this series, with Mike Mussina's finicky specter looming in the fourth. Here we go, after four hours of rain delay:

Update: For the second time in a week, Sean Henn was allowed to lose a game in extra innings. Chris Britton, and the rest of us, can only wonder why.

Awful bullpen management by Joe Torre, who saw 4 of his 5 first relievers pitch effectively, and saw fit to bring none of them back for a second inning (and the 5th was Mariano Rivera).

Tigers 9, Yankees 6. The Yanks are now (again) in legitimate jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1993. A truly gut-wrenching, miserable defeat.

Top 11th: I guess I'll sign off now. No point in writing about a game I can't see. Fuck this noise.

Bottom 10th: HOLY FUCK. DirecTV just decided to cut off coverage of the game. I'm really glad I paid $170 dollars for the fucking Extra Innings package so I could miss the end of one of the most important games of the year. Go fuck yourself, DirecTV and MLB. For realsies.

Somehow, Rivera got out of the jam. Not sure how, BECAUSE I CAN'T WATCH THE FUCKING GAME. Ha, I was just about to say that one of the only advantages of being a Yankees fan trapped in Chicago is that it's only 2 a.m. here now instead of 3 a.m. But, on the flip side, I can no longer watch the rest of the game that I waited four hours for, then watched for another four hours.

Bottom 10th: Ordonez leads off with a double. This game's probably over. Rivera has not looked like himself lately. Guys are getting really good swings against him.

Carlos Guillen gets Ordonez over. I feel sick.

Top 10th: With two outs and no one on, Joe Torre neglects to pinch-hit Jason Giambi for Andy Phillips against Rodney, with no lefties remaining in the Tigers' pen. Not sure of the reasoning behind that choice. Maybe Giambi was spotted text-messaging Chris Britton earlier.

Rivera's on his way in. Let's hope his shaky outings are behind him, so he justifies Torre's (correct) decision to being him into a tie game on the road.

Bottom 9th: Joe Torre, amazingly, is making the Jeff Weaver mistake again. Mariano Rivera wastes away in the bullpen while a lesser pitcher throws in a they-score-we-go-home scenario. Torre is utterly incapable of learning from his mistakes, and that's why it's high time he goes. Whether or not this works out, it's the wrong move.

Wow...more awful calls by Davidson, but Vizcaino survives. I can't believe Rivera didn't even come in to pitch to Sean Casey with the winning run on second base. To extras we go.

Top 9th: Here comes Rodney.

Bob Davidson represents everything people hate about umpires. He's had a dreadful, inconsistent game behind home plate, with a wildly fluctuating strike zone that's drawn eye rolls and arguments from both teams. Now, in the 9th, he was blatantly inflammatory to Jorge Posada when Posada questioned one of his more egregious calls. After yet another bad call, Davidson tossed Posada. Umpires like Davidson are a plague; they're filled with pride and desperate to make the game about them, playing fast and loose with their authority like methed-up mall security guards.

Meanwhile, Rodney sported an impressive change-up in striking out Jeter, ARod and Posada consecutively.

Bottom 8th: Uh oh. Kyle Farnsworth is standing on the mound. Hold me.

[cartoony double-take]. Umm...that was a really solid inning by Farnsie. I'm really confused.

Top 8th: A missed opportunity. For the second time this game, Joe Torre goes with good ole-timey, logically unsound National League baseball. With Cano on first and no out, Andy Phillips bunted, despite the fact that he's one of the Yankees' hottest hitters, and the next two hitters were lefties due to face a lefty. Needless to say, it didn't work out.

Torre also screwed up pulling Shelley Duncan for defensive reasons the inning before he was due up. Putting Abreu in this early gave Jim Leyland much greater bullpen flexibility, and it paid off, as he still has Fernando Rodney and the ridiculously ugly Joel Zumaya left in the tank.

Bottom 7th: Here comes Joba. I would have gone with Edwar for two.

Easy 1-2-3 inning for Joba. Interesting decision coming up: If Joba comes back out, he won't be available again until Monday, per the Great and Holy Decrees of Joba, which are carved into two large stone tablets. And he likely won't have an impact Monday, because Mike Mussina is going to give up 80 kajillion runs. But if he doesn't come back, who the hell comes in? The Yankees aren't set up well for a long game here, if it stays tied. Roger Clemens didn't help, only getting through 5 innings, and Torre didn't help by hooking Edwar so quickly.

Top 7th: I really hate Michael Kay's fake laugh when his partner says something funny and he feels obliged to show his appreciation: "Ha HA HA!"

The Tigers have managed to get through the meat of the Yankees' lineup the past two innings with a couple middling middle relievers, saving their big guns for later. That doesn't bode well for the Bombers. Meanwhile, Jason Grilli reacts like a psycho after getting out of the inning unscathed, pumping his fists and screaming all the way back to the dugout. Which reminds me...

Bottom 6th: Ramirez comes through with a scoreless inning. It will be interesting to see how Torre handles the bullpen from this point forward. And by "interesting" I mean "frightening." Posada made another Richard Stabone, double-clutching the throw on a pitchout trying to catch Cameron Maybin stealing second base.

Top 6th: Michael Kay simply will not get off his soapbox about how wrong it was for this game to be played tonight. He went so far as to call the decision "unconscionable," because the poor children of Detroit had to wait around at a ballpark for so long waiting for the game to start (Kay compared the fans to hostages), and had to stay up past their bedtime. I admit there's a certain "screw-the-fan" element to rainout decisions like this (like everything else MLB does), but I think more often than not, teams keep fans around even when they know the game will be called, desperate for every drop of beer money. Furthermore, when a pennant race is involved, I'd much rather see the game played whenever possible, to avoid late-season double-headers that screw up pitching staffs for days or weeks. But Kay wants us to THINK OF THE CHILDREN. Who I guarantee would rather be at the ballpark then in bed.

Here comes Edwar Ramirez with another opportunity to lose Joe Torre's trust forever.

Bottom 5th: Finally, Clemens restores some order to the game, and holds the Tigers where they are.

Meanwhile, in Houston, the Pirates ended a 15-inning stalemate with a five-run explosion in the 15th, behind an Adam LaRoche home run. What percentage of the players in that game still cared who won by the time the 15th inning rolled around? And which Astro slipped Travis Driskill the cash to cough it up? I bet Mike Lamb had a hot date.

Top 5th: The Yankees tie the game on RBI hits from Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui. Matsui's hit rescued Posada from a potentially critical base-running gaffe, as Jorgie stopped at second base on what clearly should have been a triple, and with one out no less. To make matters worse, the skies have re-opened over the Motor City, so if the Yankees hadn't tied it this inning, they would have been vulnerable to a rain-shortened loss. H-Mats picked up his teammate with a clutch single to left. We'll see if Rocket can settle down, given yet another chance.

Bottom 4th: This has become a dreadful outing for Roger Clemens. Curtis Granderson is eating him alive, and the Tigres lead 6-3. If the Yankees can't come back, they will fall four games behind the Mariners in the Wild Card race with 34 games left. And their fate will no longer be in their own hands.

Top 4th: Johnny Damon puts the proverbial tough AB on Andrew Miller, but ends it waving meekly at a breaking ball away for strike three. The good news: Andrew Miller's at 84 pitches. The bad news: Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya say hello.

Bottom 3rd: Can't sugarcoat it: Roger Clemens is letting the Yankees down in a big way right now. I don't think this is what they had in mind when they were wining and dining him this spring. Tigers string a couple hits together to take a 4-3 lead.

As Curtis Granderson was fouling off a bunch of pitches, Michael Kay remarked, "Granderson is really putting together a tough at-bat here." I think announcers are contractually obligated to say that whenever a hitter fouls off at least four pitches in a row. Why can't it be the other way around? Maybe Roger Clemens was putting a tough at-bat on Granderson, preventing him from getting a hit. Of course, Granderson ended up tripling, so maybe there's something to the adage.

Top 3rd: Well, that wasn't a ground ball. ARod sees your two-run shot, Mags. Try to gain ground in the MVP race at your own peril. 3-2 Yanks.

It's to the Yankees' advantage that this game is played tonight, because a double-header later in the weekend would mean at least two games in which Joba can't pitch, per the dreaded Joba Rules.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Chad Cordero entered the 9th inning with a 5-1 lead for Washington. Final score: 6-5 Colorado. Number of batters Cordero retired: 0. Brilliant move by Jim Bowden not trading Cordero while he still had some value. In related news, brilliant move by Jim Bowden not trading Alfonso Soriano while he was still his property. In related news, brilliant move by Jim Bowden not trading Dmitri Young while...

Bottom 2nd: The Rocket settles down for a 1-2-3 inning. This Tigers lineup is utterly toothless without Gary Sheffield. There's no excuse for the Yankees not to win this series. IF they don't, they probably don't deserve to make the playoffs anyway.

Top 2nd:
The Yankees get one back, but Andrew Miller is generating a lot of ground balls, and the Bombers look a bit flat. To be fair, some of these guys are pretty old, and it's well past their bedtimes. Time to reach for the leaded coffee pot, guys.

Andy Phillips continues his hot (singles) hitting with an RBI hit to right. Must be nice for him to relax, knowing he's getting regular playing time. Alas, a dark cloud's on the horizon.

Watching these games, I often get the sense that Al Leiter hates Michael Kay. There's a tone of thingly disguised condescension in a lot of what he says. Wonder if Al's as excited about the new Springsteen track as I am.

Bottom 1st: The Yankees need a big game from Roger Clemens, and he puts them behind the old eight-ball early. Magglio Ordonez gains some ground in the MVP race with a two-run bomb.

Top 1st: WHY why why why would Joe Torre call for a double steal with two on, one out, and the best hitter in the American League at the plate? Lunacy.

Did They Learn This From a Pie Chart?

Much, much more on this to come next week.

35

Coming out of a day off to clear their heads after another clusterfuck in The O.C., the Yankees have 35 remaining games in the 2007 season. They are 5 games behind Boston in the A.L. East, and 3 games behind Seattle in the loss column for the Wild Card.

35 games left to determine if this furious late summer comeback was worth it, or if the grave was dug in the spring. To start, four against Detroit, in Motown.

Can Joba keep it up?
Can Phil Hughes find some consistency?
Will ARod seal the MVP with a clutch stretch run?
Is Mike Mussina legally brain-dead?
How many of the 35 will Joe Torre blow?
Is Big Mo healthy?
Can Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera regain what they've lost over the last couple weeks?
Can the Yankees successfully hide Kyle Farnsworth from big-game action?
Will Wang end his string of flaccid starts?
Can Bobby Abreu continue to hustle and take extra bases?
Will Shelley Duncan shatter someone's ulna?
Is there magic in the night?

We're about to find out. Come on, Yankees. It's been 4 years since we've seen any real ghosts in the Bronx, and you'll only be in that ballpark for another 13 months. Let's do this.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Thank You, Andy

Last night's was, as my dad and Michael Kay would say, a YUGE win for the Yankees. They avoided a sweep in Disneyland, and pulled to within 1.5 games of Seattle and 5 games of Boston.

Andy Pettitte pitched like 1999 Andy Pettitte, and nothing feels better than when he can roll back the clock and make you forget for an inning or two all about that detour in Houston. If he were only 15 pounds lighter, the illusion would be complete.

Joba chipped in for yet another three-strikeout inning, but Big Mo struggled again in the 9th. I'm still not convinced he's healthy. He just doesn't look like himself, and not in the it's-April-and-he-hasn't-gotten-enough-work-in way.

The Yankees' bats got to John Lackey after a while, an impressive accomplishment, and then sealed the deal against the inexplicably struggling Scott Shields.

Now, a useful day off because it means Joba can pitch again in the next game, then Detroit for 4 and Boston for 3. The next week is going to answer a lot of questions. I'd be thrilled with a 5-2 record over these next two series, no matter how it comes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Little Gem of Idiocy

During Monday night's Angels-Yankees game, Anaheim play-by-play man Steve Physioc mentioned that Derek Jeter was the only Yankees shortstop to ever win a Gold Glove. Noting the recent passing of Phil Rizzuto, Physioc felt obliged to point out that Scooter was great defensively, but just not quite as good as Jeter.

He failed to say that the only reason Rizzuto never won a Gold Glove is that the Gold Glove awards were established in 1957, the year after Scooter retired.

Physioc also listed other Yankees shortstops, like Frank Crosetti, who were good defenders, but not at the level of Captain Intangibles, the best Yankees defensive shortstop ever. "He's truly a master," Physioc said of Jetes.

Now, I tend to defend Jeter's defensive skills, but COME ON.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Anaheim Disaster

Random thoughts during the repulsive bludgeoning by the Angels tonight:
  • Nobody acts like a bigger dick on the mound when they're not getting calls than Mike Mussina. In the same vein, nobody reacts worse to not getting calls.
  • What do Joe Torre and Ron Guidry have against trips to the mound? They're like basketball coaches who wait two minutes too long to call a time-out. The damage is already done and it's too late to change the momentum.
  • Instead of glaring angrily at Bobby Abreu for not getting out of the way, maybe Melky Cabrera should have gotten the ball back into the infield sooner.
  • The Yankees' defense has been inadequate in this series, led by Robinson Cano yesterday and Melky today.
  • There's no doubt that Derek Jeter has lost half a step. Or more. His steals are off and he's hitting into double plays that would have just been fielder's choices a couple years ago. I'm curious to see what his Baseball Prospectus Speed rating will be next year. With diminishing power and speed, Jetes might have turned the corner in the wrong direction.
  • Lefty Yankees' hitters have tremendous problems with right-handers who throw a two-seam fastball inside that tails back over the inside corner. Bobby Abreu, Jorge Posada, Melky Cabrera, Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon all seem fooled and helpless whenever this pitch is thrown.
  • Mike Mussina seems like a defenseless animal on the mound more often that not this year. And given his lack of ability to work through anything less than optimal conditions, his days are numbered.
  • I don't ever want to see Ron Villone in a Yankees uniform again. What he did tonight was sickening. The Angels are not a patient team, yet the Yankees can't get them to swing the bats. Meanwhile, the Yankees are using valuable pitchers like Edwar Ramirez just to get them through the game. What a joke.
  • Sean Henn makes me miss Brian Bruney. And Ramiro Mendoza. And John Habyan. And Alfonso Pulido. Sorry, Sean, I like you, but you can't get anyone out.
  • I'm going to go throw up now.

Am I Too Late? Am I Too Late?

Tell you that I love you/Now they've carried you away

Steven Goldman raised a frightening point yesterday, one that might become much scarier over the next week: What if the Yankees are too late?

What if they spent a couple weeks too many playing like the Blue Jays? What if there's nothing they can do now to dig themselves out of the trap they built for themselves earlier in the season? What if their fate was decided by those dreary first three months of the season, and no hot streak or mea culpa trade can save them?

These are horrible questions to face, in part because they tie into larger issues of destiny, luck and self-determination. Did that math test I failed junior year irrevocably change my career path? Am I doomed to forever be unhappy because Lois broke up with me after finding me in bed with her AIDS-ridden pet howler monkey?

Unfortunately, there's no coming back from some mistakes. Maybe the Yankees can overcome their current 3-game deficit in the loss column for the Wild Card. But maybe they can't. Maybe they'll be 6 games out after Anaheim, Detroit and Boston are done with them. And if that's the case, it won't be the September Yankees who are to blame. It will be the May Yankees.

More specifically, it will be May Joe Torre and May Brian Cashman. When it became apparent that this team had needs, they weren't addressed with anything even resembling immediacy. Crippling weaknesses were ignored for months with a neglect bordering on the criminal. Players slump: it happens, and no one can be blamed for that. It's not anyone's fault that Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano hit like aborted fetuses until July.

But it is someone's fault when holes that were obvious in January remained obvious in March, April, May and June. This team never had a first baseman. They never had a backup catcher. The bullpen was always a quagmire with too few options for a manager who used them poorly.

Yet Miguel Cairo kept playing first base. Luis Vizcaino and Kyle Farnsworth kept blowing games, and were given ample opportunities to do so. A rotting corpse fell apart bone by bone while attempting to spell Jorge Posada.

Finally, more than half-way through the season, the Yankees' brass got proactive. Young players were brought into the mix and some notable failures were expelled. Injuries and trades forced Joe Torre to manage outside his comfort zone. And the team finally played up to expectations. Who knows...maybe if Joba Chamberlain had been brought up June 1, that would have been the difference between 91 and 94 wins. Maybe if Andy Phillips and Wilson Betemit had begun sharing first-base duties three weeks earlier, the Yankees would be in front of Seattle right now.

It didn't happen that way. And now it might be too late. There might not be enough oxygen left in the tank, or enough intangibles left in the Captain. If they do fall short, if they do fail, we'll all know why, and that's the hardest part. It was all so avoidable.

Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard

Rally monkeys, thunder sticks and fans who don't know when to cheer until the scoreboard instructs them. Yep, we're back in Southern California.

Last night's 7-6 loss to the Angels was a brutal punch in the stomach. You can't call it a must-win on August 20, but when both Boston and Seattle had won earlier in the day, the game took on added importance, especially given the pitching matchups for the rest of this series, and Boston's cream-puff schedule.

The Yankees' offense didn't do enough against Dustin Moseley, and paid for the price for it eventually. The bullpen faltered badly as well, with Luis Vizcaino looking awful, Kyle Farnsworth returning to form and Sean Henn being Sean Henn. This game illustrated that on days when Joba can't pitch, the underbelly of the bullpen is still awfully weak and exploitable.

For once, Joe Torre did the right thing, bringing Mariano Rivera into a tie game on the road. Unfortunately, Mo's been a little tired lately and could only go one inning. My only argument with Torre in this game (other than using Farnsworth at all) is that I wouldn't have let Hughes come out to start the 7th. He struggled badly with his command all game, and looked gassed. It might not have made any difference, though, as poorly as the bullpen performed.

The Yankees need to split these next two games, or they could quickly find themselves back in a hole, on the outside looking in for both playoff spots.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Time to Start Hating Seattle Again?

Oh God...good fucking point.

What if the season came down to that? On a related note, when are the Mariners going to revert to form and start playing like the Mariners? They're just not any good...right?

Gone Hollywood

Well, despite an impressive weekend series against Detroit, I woke up with a familiar, sick feeling in my gut. For the Yankees are on the West Coast, and specifically in Anaheim, where good things never seem to happen. Moreover, the pitching matchups don't favor the Bombers.

The best matchup is probably tonight, when Phil Hughes takes on Dustin Moseley. Hughes has been impressive on the road (0.73 ERA, 0.65 WHIP), while Moseley just isn't very good (1.40 WHIP, 1.55 K/BB). Even when the odds seem to favor the Yankees though, the Angels have been a consistent bugaboo since that infernal 2002 Divisional Series.

Then, things take a turn for the worse. Mike Mussina, who misses the warm comforts of mediocrity, and Andy Pettitte take on Cy Young candidates Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey. Hughes might turn into something great (please God, please), but right now the Yankees don't have a starting pitcher as good as Lackey or Escobar. Or Josh Beckett. Or C.C. Sabathia. Or Johan Santana. With Chien-Ming Wang struggling badly, the Yankees don't have an ace, which will be a problem this week.

The Yankees and Angels usually only play six games a year. So why I am so sick of Mike Scioscia's smug face?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Monsieur Gagne Meets Mr. Schilling

Psycho Fan Inc. has obtained an exclusive transcript of Eric Gagne's first visit to the Boston clubhouse, after the Red Sox acquired him from Texas at the trading deadline. Here's what transpired:

INT. - CLUBHOUSE - DAY
CURT SCHILLING has set up his customary podium in the center of the Red Sox clubhouse, and is orating with great force, might and bluster. Several players listen attentively. Others wander around the clubhouse wearing headphones.

CURT
...and THAT'S WHY we need a Constitutional Amendment banning poor people from public parks and federal buildings, AND why we need a new, more special Hall of Fame for when I get elected on the first ballot. God bless you.
DUSTIN PEDROIA, sitting cross-legged in front of the podium with COCO CRISP and KYLE SNIDER, puts down his pen and notepad and applauds rapturously.

DUSTIN
Bravo, Mr. Schilling, sir. Bravo!
CURT
Thank you, Dustin. I hope we've all learned a little something here today. What's this?
ERIC GAGNE strolls in the clubhouse, whistling a merry tune, carrying an equipment bag.

ERIC
Hello everyone. I am Monsieur Gagne, I am...how you say?...pleased to meet you. I come from the great land of Quebec, via the barren desert of Arlington, Texas. I am tres happy to be here in your fine city of Bos-ton.
CURT
Who is this clown and what's wrong with his voice?
TIM WAKEFIELD
That's Eric Gagne, Curt. He's our new stud relief pitcher, and that's a French accent. Eric's French-Canadian.
ERIC
C'est vrai.
Curt knocks his podium to the ground with loud clatter, and races across the clubhouse. He grabs Gagne by the shirt collar and pins him up against the clubhouse wall.

CURT
Listen, Frenchy, we don't need your kind here.
ERIC
Mais monsieur, I am not French. I am a proud French-Canadian. Allez les Nordiques! Oui?
CURT
I don't care what you are, Pepe Le Peu. Get your cowardly, art-loving derriere out of our American locker room!
TIM
Curt...Curt...let him go. He's going to be helping our team a lot.
CURT
Shut up, you pinko knuckleballer. Try throwing a God-fearing American fastball, then get back to me.
ERIC
Please, let me go.
CURT
(fake sobs)
Oh...boo hoo...please...please let me go. TYPICAL FUCKING FRENCHMAN. You pussy...is that what you guys said during World War II to the Nazis? Please, sirs, let us go?
ERIC
Actually, I am from Canada, I must point out again...
CURT
And is that what you said when we asked you to help get that evildoer Saddam Hussein out of power? Thanks for your help fighting terrorism, Jacques Cousteau.
ERIC
I must admit, I do not agree with your American crusade in Iraq. Ze cost in human life is not worth...

CURT
THAT'S WHAT I FUCKING THOUGHT.
Curt punches Eric in the stomach, and Eric doubles over in pain. Tim and MIKE LOWELL try to restrain Curt, but he breaks free of their grasp, runs to his locker and grabs his large American flag. He runs back to Eric, still doubled over, and bashes the flag over his head, breaking the wooden pole in half. DAISUKE MATSUZAKA tries to pull Curt away, but Curt turns and stabs him in the arm with the shard of the flagpole.

CURT
That's for Pearl Harbor, asshole.
Curt kicks Daisuke in the balls.

DAISUKE
性交
CURT
And that's for not accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior, like I asked you to in spring training.
TIM
Please Curt, this has to stop. You're decimating our pitching staff for the stretch run.
CURT
Well, I guess there is one thing that could calm me down.
TIM
Oh, no. Right here, in front of everyone?
Curt gives Daisuke an Indian burn.

TIM
OK, OK!!
Tim races to the clubhouse phone and calls THEO EPSTEIN.

TIM
Theo, you better get down here. Schilling needs some...uh...attention.
Theo sprints from his office upstairs to the clubhouse. He surveys the damage.

THEO
I'm here, everything's going to be OK. Calm down everybody.
Theo walks up to Curt and gently caresses his cheek.

THEO
Curt, remember how I convinced you to come to Boston in the first place? That one special Thanksgiving? AMERICAN Thanksgiving, that is, not that jacked up Canadian version.
CURT
I remember, T.
Theo drops to his knees in front of Curt, and slowly unzips his pants.

CURT
God bless America.

FADE OUT


Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Barbarian at the Bullpen Gate

Lost amid this week's sadness, and the two tough losses in the past two days, was the fact that the Yankees pulled out a fantastic win on Monday night. Led by the heroics of a certain hero and leader of men, the Yankees rallied to win a game after Mariano Rivera blew a save. Most impressively, they won the game in the bottom of the ninth while Kyle Farnsworth stood in the bullpen, warmed up and ready to enter, and subsequently lose, the game. Ending the game with Farnsworth hovering, mere steps away from the pitching mound, was a narrow escape. Some similar phenomena:
  • Awakening from a coma as the doctor is reaching to pull the plug, and the bony hand of the grim reaper is reaching for your supple throat.
  • Having your dog break his leash and run away, but you manage to catch up to him just as he's about to trespass on Michael Vick's property.
  • You're fighting Ivan Drago in an exhibition match, and though he's pummeling you, your corner man is smart enough to throw in the towel just before the Russian lands the death blow.
  • R. Kelly is getting ready to urinate on your daughter, but he realizes he's a little dehydrated
  • Joe Torre calls the bullpen to bring Scott Proctor into a 12-0 game, but is informed that Proctor's been traded. Frustrated that he can't add further wear and tear to Proctor's withered right arm, Torre kicks Edwar Ramirez in the teeth.
  • Sofia Coppola is about to star in, and ruin, The Godfather III. Luckily, she grows ill at the last moment and Winina Ryder is forced to step in. Oh, wait...
  • Curt Schilling is about to pitch a no-hitter, which will ensure he never, ever shuts his yap again. Two outs in the ninth, when Shannon Stewart steps to the plate...
  • The evil Marwan is about to detonate a nuclear device in Los Angeles, and WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME. Jack Bauer finds out about the plot at the last possible moment.
  • The greedy Yankees ownership plans to open a new, ugly Yankee Stadium to increase luxury-box revenue. Fans revolt, and the proposal is voted down by a narrow margin. Oh, wait...

Kyle Farnsworth: valued member of the Yankees community.

Baltimorons or Huckleberries?

As Baltimore leaves town after winning some meaningless games (for them), and after the Yankees honored the great Phil Rizzuto during Tuesday night's game, this tale seems particularly appropriate.

In 1994, mere days before the strike that ended up cancelling the World Series and ruining Don Mattingly's best chance to win a title, the Yankees honored Phil Rizzuto at the Stadium for his election to Cooperstown.

The Yankees were playing the Orioles, over whom they held a comfortable lead in the A.L. East. The Yankees were fielding their best team in years, and the Orioles were a good, solid second-place club, led by Mike Mussina, Cal Ripken Jr., and a couple of guys who have never taken steroids: Raffy Palmeiro and Brady Anderson.

Rizzuto came out on the field before the game to a thunderous ovation from fans who recognized his enshrinement was long overdue. Everyone in attendance was given a print of a Leroy Neiman painting of Scooter in action. It was a truly a warm, magical day.

Um...except for the upper deck section in which my friends and I were sitting. A couple rows ahead of us sat three Orioles fans who heckled and crowed throughout the game because the Orioles were winning. They conveniently ignored the fact that there team was 7 games out of first place with a month and a half (supposedly) remaining in the season.

These three men were loud, obnoxious, arrogant assholes, and not your typical ballpark assholes, either. They were middle-aged, clearly well-to-do, and dressed in shorts and sandals, a horrible hybrid of yuppies and dorks. If cell phones had been prevalent in 1994, they would surely have been on theirs the entire time, talking golf with buddies and calling the wife to make sure she had made reservations at the Hard Rock Cafe. I hated them immediately and violently.

Sometime in the middle of the game, after much bad-natured taunting between these douches and all the Yankees fans within shouting distance, one of them stood up, turned to face the crowd, held up the Leroy Nieman print of the Scooter...and tore it in half.

There were gasps. Then, there were obscenities. Loud, angry obscenities. The term "Baltimorons" was bandied about. But, being the peace-loving Yankees fans were are, no physical harm came to the douches, and they sat back down in peace.

Now, while all this was going on, the gentleman sitting immediately to my left grew increasingly agitated. He was a large fellow, on the wrong side of 300 pounds, and he was wearing a tank top. An attractive young lady sat directly behind him, and often throughout the game reached her hand down and under his tank top to massage his right nipple and bulbous man-breast.

As the game wound down, my friends and I remained incensed at the Baltimorons and their sacrilege (seriously, go ahead and root for the visiting team, shout whatever you want, but show some fucking respect in someone else's ballpark). So, as soon as the game ended, we persuaded the large man to my left to pour his full cup of beer over the head of the douche who ripped up the picture. He did just that, to rapturous applause.

And that's how we honored Phil Rizzuto that day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

You OK, Big Mo?

That's three consecutive outings in which Mariano Rivera has given up at least a run, as the Orioles beat the Yankees 6-3 behind Erik Bedard. It might be time for his annual late-season trip to the 15-day DL. Let's hope not. For once, Joe Torre did the right thing and used his best available pitcher in a tie game, and he was rewarded with negative reinforcement.

The biggest bright spot to come from today's game is Edwar Ramirez's 2.1 innings of 3-K, scoreless relief. He's essentially forcing Joe Torre to take him seriously. And Farnsie stayed on the bench where he belongs.

Shelley Duncan-excitement aside (that was a classic "Holy Cow!" moment if ever there was one), at least Boston lost too, so the Yankees don't lose any ground in the A.L. East. Baltimore has been a huge problem for the Yankees this year, and their pitchers produced 17 straight scoreless innings against the white-hot Yankees' lineup.

A Cannoli-Filled Sendoff

Yesterday, I either wanted to write 50,000 words about Phil Rizzuto or none. This was my compromise.

Let's check around and see how some other folks handled the loss of an icon:

Steve Lombardi named his blog after one of Scooter's idiosyncrasies, and Was Watching shares some personal memories of Mr. Rizzuto, as Derek Jeter calls him.

Bronx Banter enjoyed YES's coverage of Rizzuto, which I found somewhat lacking, considering the wealth of clips at their disposal. I also thought Yogi Berra was clearly in pain during his half-inning in the booth, and we would have all been better served if Yogi had been given a few days to process the loss before speaking about it publicly. And I'd much rather hear Bill White reminiscing about The Scooter than the self-aggrandizing Michael Kay.

Bleeding Pinstripes recalls the days when Scooter and the other Yankees' announcers would switch back and forth between TV and radio during the same game.

Heartland Pinstripes justifiably calls out the douches who sponsor Rizzuto's Baseball Reference page. And no, I won't link to that page.

Ugh. All this reminiscing not only makes me sad that Scooter passed away, it's made me sad that I'm not 10 years old anymore, listening to him during games.

Back to Business

With a heavy heart, we get back to business as usual here at Psycho Fan World Headquarters, which means commenting on last night's 12-0 shellacking by the Orioles.

Luckily, there's not a whole lot to say. Jeff Karstens got waxed, and his days as a major leaguer appear to be dwindling. Jim Brower shouldn't be on this team while Brian Bruney, Chris Britton and Edwar Ramirez draw breath. The same could be said for Farnsie Farnsworth, who once again managed to pitch a scoreless inning in a situation that meant absolutely nothing.

The offense was too impatient against a pitcher as wild as Daniel Cabrera, although with the way they've been swinging it's hard to blame them. Now, the Yankees must be tough lefty Erik Bedard to win the series. Luckily, the Phil and Joba show is ready to go again.

Meanwhile, Boston got a big comeback win to extend their lead to nine games, and Seattle lost to Minnesota, allowing the Yankees to remain tied for the Wild Card lead. We'll write last night off to the team and crowd having no energy following what happened earlier in the day.

Big game tonight.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

White, You Huckleberry..

"Bum cheese on rye with ham and prosciutto
Got more Louie than Phillip Rizzuto"
--Beastie Boys

I was born in 1975, the same month that Carlton Fisk hit his famous home run. At that point, Phil Rizzuto was already 18 years into his fabled broadcasting career calling Yankees games for radio and television.

For me, like so many other Yankees fans who came of age after 1957, Phil Rizzuto was the Yankees. More than Don Mattingly, more than Billy Martin, more than George Steinbrenner, more than Guidry, and Pags, and Boggs, and Rags, and Jeter and O'Neill, The Scooter represented what being a Yankees fan meant.

Other than grainy highlight videos, I never got to watch Rizzuto play, although by all accounts he was the original Captain Intangibles. So I only know him by his broadcasting. Which means I feel like I know him as well as my own grandfather. His rambling personal anecdotes during boring stretches of games introduced me to his wife, Cora, his kids and his grandchildren, not to mention Rosie from Newark who is turning 87 today.

Watching baseball has never been quite the same since Scooter retired following the 1996 season. No one else can match his combination of passion, charm and humor. Those who try fall miserably short. Those who don't try come across like bland robot announcers, endlessly reciting the same statistics and analyses.

Rizzuto had an effortless chemistry with every broadcaster he ever partnered with. He and Bill White were like an old, bickering married couple sitting at the next table over at dinner, except you wanted to join them and listen to their stories (at least until Rizzuto left before dessert to beat the traffic). His presence and cajoling allowed Bobby Murcer to loosen up in the booth, and he even drew some drops of personality from Tom Seaver, who has never been as likable since. Scooter would endlessly razz newcomer Rick Cerone, until the former catcher lost his facade of professionalism and broke down into gales of hearty Italian laughter.

Sure, Scooter rooted for the Yankees, but he was never a dick about it. He was the anti-Hawk Harrelson. It wasn't for show, he was a New York kid, and you could tell he genuinely lived and died with the team, even long after his playing days were over. Maybe if I was a fan of another team watching the games, the homerism would have pissed me off. But I was a Yankees fan, so I loved it.

(And while we're talking about other broadcasters, Harry Caray can fuck himself and go die all over again with his claim that he originated "Holy Cow!" Rizzuto says he was using that expression all his life, and I believe him. Scooter earned my trust. He brazenly admitted on air when he wasn't paying attention or when he was leaving early to get over the bridge. Harry Caray was a slurring drunk, so it stands to reason he was a liar also.)

Rizzuto had so many idiosyncrasies as a broadcaster, they're impossible to list or count. He loved cannoli, this we know. And he grew to love Seinfeld in his later years, often recounting the exploits of Kramer and Newman on-air after watching the re-runs in syndication.

1996 was Rizzuto's last year on the air, and the first year of a budding new Yankees dynasty. Scooter had a blatant crush on Derek Jeter, often commenting on the amusing facial expressions and tics of his heir apparent. Like Jeter, Rizzuto did all the little things right on the field, and stood as the centerpiece of a team for the ages.

Being a Yankees fan means having a lot of heroes. And being a Yankees fan means watching a lot of heroes die. Thurman Munson went suddenly, tragically, inexplicably. Billy Martin went like he lived, drunk and violent, poignant and sad. Mickey Mantle went before his time, after treating his body like a punching bag for too many years. Joe Dimaggio went with grace, solitary and resolute to the end. But nothing's ever been sadder than saying goodbye to the Scooter.

Phil Rizzuto's left early to get over the bridge one last time. Fuck, I'm going to miss him.