If you ever needed a freeze frame on the volatility of closers, you’re seeing it in Washington right now. Joel Hanrahan lost the job quickly, but not as fast as Manny Acta’s closer-in-waiting Garrett Mock. Instead we are told to expect a committee consisting of Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells. Until next week when Joe Beimel will come off the disabled list and either “join the mix,” or supplant those co-closers. And don’t forget that a year ago today, Chad Cordero was still active and supposed to eventually swap jobs with his impermanent replacement Jon Rauch.
It is not just franchises in chaos that remind us of how, if all managers are interim, then all closers (except, perhaps, Mariano Rivera) are temporary. Since Bobby Cox returned to the helm in Atlanta in 1990, this has been the succession (and I’m deliberately ignoring a couple of “closers for a week” like Joe Hesketh).
1. Joe Boever, 1990
2. Mark Grant and Kent Mercker, 1990
3. Mercker and Juan Berenguer, 1991
4. Alejandro Pena, 1991-92
5. Jeff Reardon, 1992
6. Mike Stanton, 1993
7. Greg McMichael, 1994-95
8. Brad Clontz, 1995
9. Mark Wohlers, 1995-98
10. Kerry Ligtenberg, 1998
11. John Rocker, 1999
12. Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger, 2000
13. Rocker, 2000-01
14. Steve Karsay, 2001
15. John Smoltz, 2001-04
16. Danny Kolb, 2005
17. Chris Reitsma, 2005
18. Kyle Farnsworth, 2005
19. Reitsma, 2006
20. Ken Ray, 2006
21. Bob Wickman, 2006-07
22. Rafael Soriano, 2008
23. Manny Acosta, 2008
24. John Smoltz, 2008
25. Soriano, 2008
26. Mike Gonzalez, 2008-09
And they won stuff during that merry-go-round. Moreover, Gonzalez is formally Cox’s closer at the moment. Yet only last night did he pull out of a tie with Soriano for the team lead.
Well here’s the oldest time-waster by a blogger: ballplayers who look like actors. But I think three of these are new; certainly two of them are bizarre.
Khalil Greene and Sean Penn as Spicoli from “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” – observed first, I think, long before Greene made the majors.
But what about Rocco Baldelli of the Red Sox and the actor Aidan Quinn?
This one jumped off the scoreboard at the Mets-Nats game Saturday. The new official publicity photo of Adam Dunn, and Will Ferrell?
And my favorite, applying only when he has that lip-curl snarl while at bat, somewhat enhanced by the Yankee colors: Mark Teixeira and Little Steven Van Zandt in his “Sopranos” role of Silvio Dante?
MEANWHILE, WHAT I LOOK LIKE:
I have been pleading for a week for somebody to identify the “classical music” used by the Yankees during their otherwise tedious scoreboard “Great Subway Race.”
Did you know Danny Elfman was a famous 17th century classical composer?
I knew I’d heard it in the Pee Wee Herman movie. That’s because it’s part of the soundtrack of the Pee Wee Herman movie.
It’s “Breakfast Machine.”
Well thank goodness that’s over.
Firstly, I believe they may be, in no particular order, Russ Ohlendorf, Justin Maxwell, Micah Hoffpauir, and Jonathon Niese.
So that “Natinals” thing across Adam Dunn’s Washington uniform this past week?
Batting clean-up last night, Micah Hoffpauir of the Cubs
homered to erase Cincinnati’s only lead (off his rival Micah, Owings, no
less), walked, then lifted a sacrifice fly to put his team back in front.
“He’s going to get 350 at bats this year,” Lou Piniella told me as Hoffpauir’s
dominant spring training ended. “A little first, a little left, a little
right.” Lou being Lou, of course, after Hoffpauir showed what he could do with
those 350 at bats, he was due up with the bases loaded and a lefty reliever on
the mound. So Lou pinch-hit Reed Johnson for him, and Johnson promptly struck
Pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan never counts chickens in
advance, certainly not in Pittsburgh, but even in the middle of the spring he was
insistent he had been able to help Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf –
especially Karstens – with arm slots and release points. Are the last two
nights against Florida indicators that he was right, or just the odds breaking
against the Marlins?
The latest Pedro Martinez story – about some vague interest
by the Angels – is probably overblown, to say the least. A National League
General Manager who was incorrectly rumored to be interested, said a month ago
that people sure were getting hopped up over him handcuffing the Dutch team –
during the first week of spring training – and not hitting 90 on the radar gun
as he did so.
So far this year Daniel Murphy has dropped a fly in left to
cost Johan Santana a game, and, last night, after getting picked off by Yadier
Molina, and then deciding that the only way to get past Molina at the plate was
not to slide but rather enact a dance move, managed to slide out from under a
crucial fly ball in St. Louis. The Mets are in awe of the youngster’s plate
discipline but after Murphy’s tight night, manager Jerry Manuel suggested he
needed to relax and admitted “I guess I’m a little concerned.”
Another Cubs note. If you’re wondering how they hope to keep
Rich Harden intact into the second half of the season, yes, they will occasionally
skip his starts or give him extra days off. Kind of like the Chien-Ming Wang
plan. Only without the euphemistic “tune-up in Florida.” And replacing him in
the rotation at some point, more likely with Phil Hughes than Ian Kennedy. But
Wang is just fine – there’s nothing to see here.
A last question. Does it seem to you like the Angels treat
Brandon Wood as if he owed them money? Like they let him up every once in
awhile so he can breathe, before they stick him back under the water?
By the way, the title of this post is facetious – it comes from an obscure reference in the movie “All About Eve.” No actual confidences were violated in the writing of this blog.
FAN OF THE DAY:
Hats off to Ben Erdel. As part of his big night at Yankee Stadium last night, Brett Gardner let one of his Louisville Sluggers fly into the stands. Mr. Erdel and a much younger gentleman both had their hands on the rare souvenir – although only the younger gentleman had just managed to avoid getting hit with the helicoptering bat. Mr. Erdel took the bat, took a few steps, and then thought better of it, and generously did the right thing.
The younger gentleman now has a singular thrill from his first Yankee homestand, exceeding his previous one – being my nephew.
Here is Nephew, Jacob Smith, far left, and his bat, which was not stolen by either Katy Tur or Maegen Carberry.
And here is Mr. Erdel, whose second prize is a blog posting (and a clear conscience, and one happy kid left in his wake). Thank you, Sir.
Don’t be fooled by that alarming statistic out of the new
Yankee Stadium, namely that the Indians and Yankees shattered the record for
the most homers hit in the first four games of a new big league park: 20,
compared to the 16 hit in the bandbox in Las Vegas back when the A’s had to
open up there.
Don’t be fooled. The problem is much worse.
That raw number excludes the two exhibition games the
Yankees played against the Cubs at the start of the month. That raw number
doesn’t address the bazooka-like quality at the new park, of any left-handed
hitter holding a bat. That raw number doesn’t address the variety of weather
conditions in which the homers have been hit.
Through circumstances unlikely to be repeated, I have thus far
attended all the events at the new facility, and thus I can not only
report on the 28 blasts that rocketed out of the place in the first six games,
I can testify to them. Let’s start by noting that 21 of them have exploded into
rightfield (and only a few have “just made it,” pretty much invalidating the
three- or four-foot shortening of the fence at some points, as compared to the
old Stadium). A 22nd was absolutely blasted by Jorge Posada to
dead-center (and it may be awhile before we see anybody do that again).
Two more were fluke jobs against the Cubs by Cody Ransom to
the corner in left. One actually struck the pole. Judging by body language
alone, Ransom’s freak bases-clearing double in the 8th Inning Sunday
against Cleveland certainly appeared to Ransom, and probably to leftfielder
Shin-Soo Choo, as a ball that was curving into the stands, foul, by twenty feet
or more. Choo only sauntered toward the corner. Ransom didn’t even follow the
ball and was staring at the broken bat handle in his hands. From my seat I get
a full view of the third base foul line, from the plate to the wall. I know
that I looked down, convinced the ball was foul, in the seats, and by a lot.
Only four traditional in-the-seats homers were hit to left in the first two exhibitions and four regular season games.
For all the air-gun blasts of Mark Teixeira, Ransom’s
hitting patterns may be the best clue so far as to what’s going on here. There
seems to be a jet stream, left to right, at all times. I speculated here
earlier that it is probably a fabrication of the open-to-the-air ring in the
Upper Deck combined with the open-to-the-air entrances at street level in the
corners, from which the playing field is visible. I think it was bad enough
Sunday that it blew Ransom’s ball, left to right, and fair. I think it’s been bad
enough this month to blow several balls already heading to right, far deeper
than physics should’ve allowed.
This does not discount another juiced ball theory (although
this theory must be incredibly flexible, to explain why juiced balls being hit
to LF aren’t pushing through the wind) and presumably the Posada homer Sunday
would’ve been a clear case of interference, or maybe just a ball caught at the
fence, if the new Stadium measurement was precisely the same as the old one).
It should also be noted, as it was noted here, that as early as the middle of
the Yankees’ first workout in the place on April 2, righty batters like Xavier
Nady were pointing to the seeming jet stream, and trying to go the opposite way
in batting practice. Thus it would seem that the wind currents are either the
only explanation, or, far and away, the most important one.
The question becomes, as Lou Piniella posited it after his
first experience with a wind that scared him as much as the gusts of Wrigley:
“Will it change when the weather does?” Obviously the vagaries of the climate
in April are not equivalent to the contrast between any April day and August.
But of the first six dates here, none have been identical. Review them with me
1. Cubs-Yankees, Friday April 3: Left-handed hitters Cano
and Matsui take left-hander Ted Lilly deep in consecutive innings. Ransom hits
the LF foul pole off Lilly in the 4th. It’s a night game, the air
heavy and dank, 56 degrees and falling, and it rains starting in the 3rd
2. Cubs-Yankees, Saturday April 4: It’s now a 1 PM start,
colder, drier, much windier. Alfonso Soriano hits the hardest ball yet to LF
off Andy Pettitte. Then Jeter goes the opposite way off Rich Harden in the 3rd,
and Teixeira touches him in consecutive innings for homers to RF that looked
like the Mets’ Party Patrol shooting t-shirts into the stands. Ransom hits the
fifth homer of the blustery afternoon into the LF corner off Chad Gaudin.
3. Indians-Yankees, Thursday April 16. It’s a beautiful,
sunny day with no excessive wind. 56 degrees – at least ten degrees warmer than
the second Cubs game -† and it
feels warmer still. This time Posada (batting righty) takes Cliff Lee over the
wall in center. Damaso Marte gives up blasts to Sizemore (RF) and Martinez (LF).
4. Indians-Yankees, Friday April 17. Now it’s warmer still,
63 at game time. In a 6-5 game, six homers are hit, all into various distant
locales in right, including two by righthanded batters (DeRosa and Jeter).
5. Indians-Yankees, Saturday April 18. Again the temperature
jumps around ten degrees and it’s a preview of summer. We start later in the
afternoon (3:43 EDT) and there are no fewer than eight homers, six to dead
Right and another by DeRosa to Right/Right-Center. Counting the exhibitions, we
are already up to 25 homers in five games here.
6. Indians-Yankees, Sunday April 19. Now the weather
plummets. It’s 17 degrees cooler at game time and a breezy wind makes it feel
colder. And we still get three more homers, two to rightfield.
So basically at this point we have five different kinds of
weather conditions (six if you think Thursday and Friday are radically
different) and the only pattern, based on very skimpy evidence, is that we
might be seeing homers rise as temperatures do.
Steinbrenner Stadium Illustrated:
I earlier noted the one major architectural anomaly in the new
place and finally got a decent shot at it. All the other deck facings at each
tier are absolutely symmetrical except this one:
Yep. The official Steinbrenner Box – although he has not yet
been seen in the perch that guarantees occupants are actually about ten feet
“closer” than anybody else. This is to say nothing of the direct view provided
into the Yankee dugout, which can be used to stare daggers at Joe Girardi.
Baseball Photo Of The Week:
Courtesy my friend T.S. O’Connell at Sports Collectors Digest:†Nothing less than a photo of the front display at a
Woolworth’s store, apparently in the New York metropolitan area, in the spring
of 1952. He has figured out what would today be the estimated value of what
seems to be 231 unopened, pristine boxes of 1952 Topps Baseball Cards. He has
apparently not even included the value of two partial uncut sheets hanging in
the window, one of which shows a Warren Spahn card, and the other both an Enos
Slaughter and a Duke Snider.
Gaps In My Education:
This is driving me more nuts than usual. I abhor things like
“The Great Yankee Subway Race” – not on any kind of “purity” level, but simply
because people sit there and think there is some legitimacy to the competition
when it’s only an animation. Stories abound of a foolish Yankee employee of the
past who actually thought the outcome was performance-based, or somehow
randomly-generated, and who actually wagered on the outcome, not knowing that
his opponent could simply call up his friend in Scoreboard Operations and say
“Make sure the B-Train wins tonight.” Also, the “B” is the local version of the
“D” train – how could it ever win? And at many times of day the “D” terminates
two stops before The Stadium. Maddening, I tells ya.
But what I want to know is: what is the name of the piece of
classical music which serves as the soundtrack for the “race.” I may have known
it once, but that brain cell is long since hors-de-combat. Anybody know?
T.S. Eliot wrote it, in an utterly different context:
Two new major league ballparks, opening in the same city, in the same week. Hard to believe, never to be duplicated.
New York (American) opens 0-2 against what it likes to think is its weakest divisional foe. Sabathia’s ERA is 12.46 and is, by nearly five runs, the best among the starters, and Wang got two-thirds of his outs on the ground and still got torched. Oh, and Teixeira’s 1-for-9.
(Much of this post is based on a script written for tonight’s television show)
My mother passed away Saturday night.
This remembrance is not going to be a medical history – though lord knows Mom was the world’s foremost authority on her own health. Nor is it going to consist of me telling you she was the proverbial saint; although I can hear her saying: “go ahead; I‘m not going to disagree with you.Who’s going to contradict you?“ It is not going to be a full biography – suffice to say she was a gifted pre-school teacher and a legendary authority on opera and, somewhere, she is going to be genuinely disappointed that I didn’t get Placido Domingo to sing at the memorial service.I thought instead it was best to focus on something for which she became, and remained, pretty famous, literally until the day she died.
My mother was one of the best-known baseball fans in this country. She attended Yankees from 1934 through 2004, and she watched or listened to every one she didn’t go to, up until last month. My guess is, she went to at least 1500 of them, most in Box 47E in the suddenly “old” Yankee Stadium.
As recently as March 13th, Mets Manager Jerry Manuel came over to me before his team’s exhibition game against the Tigers in Lakeland, Florida, and asked me how she was. He was the fifth or sixth active baseball figure to do so, this year. They have averaged at least one or two a month, for nearly a decade. Last Saturday afternoon, not six hours before Mom died, a New York Yankees executive made reference to that which had made Mom famous in the ballparks.
And trust me: Mom loved being famous in the ballparks.
Even if that fame had to be achieved in the way it was, on June 17th, 2000, when the sudden, and growing, inability of the ill-fortuned second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to make any kind of throw, easy or hard, to first base, culminated in him picking up a squib off the bat of Greg Norton of the White Sox and throwing it not back towards first, but, instead, off the roof of the Yankees’ dugout where it picked up a little reverse english and smacked my mother right in the bridge of her glasses.
Chuck was in the middle of losing his beloved father at that time and though I thought I “got” what that meant to him, I didn’t really understand it until today as I wrote this, and struggled to find the right keys, let alone the right words.
In any event, for three days in 2000, Mom was on one or both of the covers, of The New York Post and The New York Daily News and Newsday. She was somewhere in every newspaper in America.
And all this happened, while I was the host of the Game of the Week, for Fox. Literally sitting in a studio in Los Angeles, watching a bank of monitors with a different game on every monitor and recognizing instantly what must have happened (based on a lifetime of knowing the camera angles in the ballpark in which I grew up). I said, maybe too matter-of-factly, “that probably hit my mother.” The crew laughed and I repeated it. More laughs. Then the next shot was of an older woman being led up the aisle towards an aid station – my mother.
I actually got to do a highlight cut-in for the broadcast by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver of a game at Dodger Stadium, and said, as I remember it: “Chuck Knoblauch’s throwing problem is getting personal. He picks up Greg Norton’s grounder, bounces it off the dugout roof and hits… my mother. I’ve talked to Mom, she’s fine, she’ll be back out there tomorrow. Joe? Tim?“
The next week we pre-taped an interview, me in our L.A. studios and Mom in my childhood home (the photo of her above is from that conversation, and my thanks to my old boss at Fox Sports, David Hill, for letting me re-run the interview tonight on tv). I concluded it by noting my status as a memorabilia collector and asked her if she’d give me the baseball with which she was hit. She said I could bid on it like anybody else. For the rest of the year, any time Fox broadcast a game from Yankee Stadium, Mom got on tv. We even talked about her during the World Series broadcasts that fall, during which began the ritual that continues still: players - players who were at the game, players who only heard about the game, players of all kind – ask me about my Mom.
Since the day it happened, I’ve been told Chuck Knoblauch has been mortified by it. Chuck: give yourself a break.You made her famous. She loved it. She couldn’t have been happier if they had let her pinch-hit for you.
A full circle, that is.
It was my mother who was the fan in our family. My Dad likes the game enough, but the Yankees traded his favorite player and he’s still mad at them. This happened late in 1948. But it was Mom who introduced me to the game, and in my teenaged years when we went nearly every day, it was she who trundled me and my sister to the ballpark. It was on her tv that I came to love the sport, and by her side that I began to understand it. And, sitting next to her, that I began to understand that I was not going to be any damn good playing it and if I wanted “in” – maybe I’d better try talking about it.
Thus was born a career, the results of which you see now. At least half of the ham comes from her – she was an aspiring ballerina – and when I keep talking and talking – for good or for ill – that’s pretty much all her. What I don’t have evidence of, are the thousand hours she spent driving me to and from school so I could work on the newspaper or announce the hockey game. In retrospect it’s obvious she was – to adapt a phrase — a Media Mom.
It was the proverbial “sudden illness” – in the best of senses: She had no apparent symptoms until two weeks ago; she was not severely afflicted until ten days ago; the treatment she received lessened her pain; and she never awakened and thus never had to hear – nor did any of us have to say - you have terminal cancer. I’m not going to end with a harangue about how you need to go see your doctor (because not feeling so bad does not mean you aren’t sick) though you should keep that in mind. Knowing that those who have watched or read my work have always overwhelmed me with their support, and how personally they take all this – if you are so inclined, instead of flowers or cards, make a donation to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, or St Jude’s Hospital, they do such important work there.
Marie Olbermann is survived by her husband - my Dad, by my sister Jen and her husband, and their two kids, Jacob and Eve – Mom’s grandchildren. She’s survived by her cousins Robert and Bill Schlumbohm, and their families; by just about everybody in baseball… and… by me.
Good night, Mom, and good luck.