April 2010

Jackie Robinson Night

FROM YANKEE STADIUM – Robinson Cano, named for Jackie Robinson, homers twice. Jackies widow, Rachel, appears at the ceremonies here tonight, and continues to defy age. She is elegant, beautiful, and moves with grace and confidence. She is 87 years old -you would be hard-pressed to believe she is even 60. The night, with everybody up to and including the umpires wearing Number 42, is perfect (or would be if it hadnt dropped 15 degrees in the fourth inning!).

Sad But True

Presented with no implication of racism, nor with any other comment.

American-born players of color, not of Hispanic descent:
2010 DODGERS (4): Garrett Anderson, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Cory Wade (DL).
1965 DODGERS (8): Willie Crawford, Tommy Davis, Willie Davis, Jim Gilliam, Lou Johnson, Nate Oliver, John Roseboro, Maury Wills.
1953 DODGERS (5): Joe Black, Roy Campanella, Gilliam, Don Newcombe (Military Service), Jackie Robinson.
1950 DODGERS (4): Dan Bankhead, Campanella, Newcombe, Robinson.
Happy Jackie Robinson Day.
(PS AT 2:25 PM EDT: To state what might not be instantly recalled: Russell Martin is Canadian. We can broaden the definition to include him but the point is unchanged)

Hayhurst And Miller

Bulletin news from the esteemed author and DL’d pitcher of the Toronto Blue Jays, Dirk Hayhurst. The Bullpen Gospels is no longer a cult classic. It is not only going to stay on the best-sellers’ list of The New York Times, it is going to move up on it. It is now considered the 15th best selling non-fiction paperback in the country.

See?

MARVIN MILLER AND THE HALL OF FAME
The venerable organizer of the first successful players’ association in sports turned 93 today and if there was justice, he would be starting to prepare his speech for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies over the summer.

As Joe Morgan so aptly noted on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, it is not just the players who should thank Miller for increasing rookie salaries from $8,000 to $400,000, and the top end of the equation from $100,000 to Eleventy Billion. The owners, despite doing everything possible to stop Miller before he started, then stop him while he was dismantling their plantations, then roll back his accomplishments, saw similar income explosions, and the growth of franchise values from a high then of around $12 million, to the fact that a couple of clubs are now worth a $1.6 billion.

That’s what the owners were fighting.

It is literally true that when Miller came to the MLBPA in 1966, the most expensive seat in any big league stadium was $3.50 or $4. The seat that now goes for a couple of grand in a luxury box, or for $1250 in the front row in the Bronx, was $4 – or less – before Marvin Miller almost single-handedly changed the nature of the business of the equation, and thus of the sport.

It can be rightly argued that fans don’t get to see players playing as long for one team as they used to (although I suspect a thorough study would indicate the change is a lot less than people think). They also don’t see many players spend their careers on the outside looking in, enslaved to one club literally forever, and never even getting to the post-season (Ernie Banks). The free agency that Miller rightfully won has not contributed to the small market/big market dilemma, it has only redefined it, and more importantly it has provided for the first time in the history of the game, the opportunity for less robust clubs to climb out of their holes through shrewd spending of the dollar (Cleveland in the ’90s, Tampa Bay today).

I don’t know what parallel there is to Marvin Miller among the players. I guess you’d have to start with Babe Ruth and double his longevity. Miller’s influence has been that strong. Was it painless? No. Was Ruth’s? The new game he created turned bunting, running, sacrificing, and hitting-and-running – and the men who excelled in them – into afterthoughts. It killed off John McGraw and “Inside Baseball” and for all we know led to the New York Giants moving out and the Dodgers going to LA, too.

But ask the players of today, and the fans of today, and the owners of today, if they’d really like to go back to, say, the ’60s, before free agency. It cost less to get in. And each team and each player lived on the margins of financial collapse. Is it just a coincidence that the geographical chaos of the time ended four years before free agency began? Between 1953 and 1972, Boston became Milwaukee, St. Louis became Baltimore, Philadelphia became Kansas City, Brooklyn became Los Angeles, New York became San Francisco, Washington became Minnesota, Milwaukee became Atlanta, Kansas City became Oakland, Seattle became Milwaukee, and Washington became Texas. Cleveland nearly moved. Oakland. San Francisco. Cincinnati. The Cardinals were going to Dallas.

In the 38 years since, for all the other turmoil, one franchise has moved.

Marvin Miller is a Hall of Famer, and with the special elections afforded Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente as precedent, he should be sent to Cooperstown now, not later – now while he can still enjoy it, and now while we can still honor him.

Opening Day In Pictures

Flyovers, Steinbrenners, Bernie Williams ceremonial first pitches, Matsui’s Return – very nice events. 

For my money, the rolling ovation for Yankees’ trainer Gene Monahan was the highlight of Opening Day in the Bronx. He confirmed today that he was been receiving treatment for throat and neck cancer – the prognosis is reportedly good – and in fact he went directly from radiation this morning, to being the first member of the 2009 World Champions to be introduced at the ring ceremony.
He got a standing ovation – from the players. 

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You need to understand about Geno, who showed off the ring and his improved health to friends like Paul Simon (left). He began working for the Yankees while still in High School, as a spring training bat boy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A year after graduating he was the Fort Lauderdale Yanks’ trainer. That was in 1963. 
Ten years later he joined the big club and has been there ever since. Indeed, it is such a stretch that he has been the Yankees’ trainer in four different home ballparks: the original 1923 Stadium, Shea, the remodeled 1976 Stadium, and the new Yankee Stadium.
Gene was a Champ long before the team he trained became one, and his absence from spring training had cast a pall over the Yanks’ continuing celebration of the 2009 Championship. He is as much a part of the club as any player or any executive.
They certainly do continue to celebrate. The Hideki Matsui story was terrific, of course. You may have seen his inclusion (along with Jerry Hairston of the Padres, in civvies no less) in the ceremony, and the resultant group hug, mid-field. There was also a standing ovation during his first plate appearance.
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Sentiment only goes so far, of course. Matsui would pop-up, on the first pitch he’d ever seen in competition from his teammate of seven years, Mariano Rivera, to end the game.
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Also, a happy ending to a long-ago saga. In 1996, the late, great Bill Robinson, ex-outfielder for the Yanks, Phils and Pirates, invited me to spend a game with him as his bench coach as he managed the Reading Phillies of the Eastern League. In the seventh inning, two of my “teammates” barked at the home plate umpire’s call. Blue yelled “who said that?,” they both pointed at me, and I was ejected.
I went out and gave the ump a show. I told him he was obviously good enough to make the majors and when he did, I’d avenge myself on him. Well, guess who ump’d the plate today? The same man: Hunter Wendelstedt. Hadn’t seen him since. He spied me in the seats just before the first pitch and laughed, and later asked me to stop by the Umpires’ room where I was cordially welcomed by his crew chief Jerry Layne, and fellow crew members Dan Bellino and Mike Winters. I told the ejection story in the book Dan Patrick and I wrote about SportsCenter, and Hunter actually wants me to sign his copy – in exchange for which he gave me the hat depicted for the Umpire School run by he and his father Harry, the great former NL arbiter.
By the way, twice now Scott Rolen, who was with “us” on the R-Philies in 1996, has told me that the whole ejection set-up was the highlight of his year. Each time I’ve said to him “but that was the year you made your Major League debut.” Each time, Rolen has just deadpanned and replied “Like I said: highlight of my year.”
Hunter also noted – and it’s something for you to look for Thursday on Jackie Robinson day when all the players honor him by wearing number 42 – that the umps do the same.
Lastly, not to close on a sour note, but a few better cropped images of what’s left of the old Stadium. There is a reason for implosions (not a practical idea in a tight, old city setting like this one) and this slow-motion decline is that reason:
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Opening Day Trauma

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YANKEE STADIUM – For both the defending World Champions and the visiting Angels, the American League season in New York opens with traumas of different degree and seriousness. For the Yanks – particularly their employees and fans – comes the unexpected shock of seeing the old ballpark across the street in mid-destruction. It looks like the remains of a sunken ocean liner, and most of the heavy work has been done in the last week. “We stand here staring at it,” said a member of the team PR staff. “I was looking into my old office yesterday.” For the Angels the sadness is perhaps not as broad but certainly as pointed. This is the last stadium in which their late and beloved television announcer, my friend Rory Markas, broadcast. “We all thought about it,” said his ex-partner Terry Smith, “but none of us were prepared for it.”. Opening Day us supposed to signal renewal and hope in our sport, qualities that have seldom been as soothing as some of us here hope they are today.

They Like Ike – But Not That Much

Had to laugh over the weekend at the murmuring – even the predicting on line and on talk radio here in New York – that Ike Davis, the slugging son of the original set-up man of the Yankees, Ron Davis, would be imminently summoned to take over first base for the Mets.

Try June 7th. Or July 7th. Or September 7th.
Omar Minaya has made it very clear that with Daniel Murphy out, Mike Jacobs is getting his second chance to make a great first impression. He’ll be spelled at first against lefties by Fernando Tatis and maybe others, at least until Murphy is ready to return from injury. If Jacobs hasn’t cut it, Murphy will then get a reasonable chance to regain the job. We’re talking about, at minimum, a month of Jacobs and a month of Murphy before the Mets promote their latest phenom – and that presumes that both of them wash out, and that he doesn’t get flummoxed by his first taste of AAA.

In fact, righty-swinging Nick Evans, a potential platoon partner with Jacobs or Murphy, stands a much better chance of promotion – and sooner – than Davis.

If this weren’t transparently obvious, the debut dates of last year’s most hyped rookies is an indicator that “Super Two” status is of far more concern to most clubs than having freshmen come up early. There are always exceptions (Elvis Andrus, Jason Heyward) and surprises (nobody thought Andrew Bailey was a closer, let alone a ROTY candidate, when he opened the season with the A’s last year, and even when NL ROTY Chris Coghlan came up on May 8th he seemed an unlikely candidate for the award.
But here’s the calendar:

May 26: Fernando Martinez, Mets

June 4: Gordon Beckham, White Sox

June 4: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

June 7: Tommy Hanson, Braves

So for those of you holding your breath (or your roster spots in fantasy leagues) waiting for Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Craig Kimbrel, Drew Storen, and even Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman, hope you’re prepared for a few months of zeroes. Some teams – like the Nats last year with Jordan Zimmermann – can’t resist. And we saw how that turned out.

No Hits, No Jinx, No Humor, No Bobby

How many teams can see their ace carry a no-hitter into the 8th and still create a handful of controversies out of it?

Firstly, the question about pulling CC Sabathia out of the game at the end of the inning whether he had the no-hitter going or not, was academic. It assumes that with his rising pitch count, Sabathia was going to throw 10 to 25 more pitches without losing enough on them to give up a hit (which obviously he did anyway). Secondly, why on earth did Joe Girardi say anything about it – it had already happened and all he could possibly do was deflate Sabathia after a thrilling day and great game. Thirdly, no, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver did not cause Sabathia to lose the no-hitter by saying the word “no-hitter” 224 times. I have a tape of the famous 1969 Tom Seaver game where he lost a perfect game in the ninth courtesy an obscure Cubs’ utilityman named Jimmy Qualls. The Mets’ radio announcers meticulously avoided ever saying “no-hitter” – and he still lost it.
MOCK COURT:
Remember my speculation last week that there was something wrong with the baseballs? The covers were too slick, or the stitches too high, or something that was causing pitchers and fielders to have trouble with gripping it, and led to them sailing it, sometimes as hilariously as Carlos Zambrano? Garrett Mock of the Nationals complained about it Friday night, and Mets’ scout Bob Melvin mentioned to me yesterday that he’d seen and heard about it too.
HAYHURST PANNED:
“In spite of the cover blurbs from well-known baseball personalities trumpeting how howlingly funny the book (The Bullpen Gospels) is,” writes Chaz Scoggins of the paper in Lowell, Mass., “I found it tolerably droll. ‘Ball Four,’ now that was hilarious.”
This must be taken in context. Years ago, Mr. Scoggins thought it would be really hilarious to invite me to host the annual Boston baseball writers’ dinner – without telling me that I was going to have to personally present an award to another baseball figure with whom I was having a very public feud (who, me?). This was a variation of the original plan in which I was to merely introduce whoever was to present the award. I found out as we all walked out to the dais. “Surprise!,” Scoggins said to me (conveniently the other figure skipped, possibly because he’d found out I was presenting). So, in short, Mr. Scoggins does not have an adult sense of humor.
GRATUITOUS BOBBY COX TRIBUTE:

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Thought this might be a treat. Three seldom-seen items from the collection, pertaining to the soon-to-retire skipper of the Braves, dating from the opposite end of his career. In fact, they all are from a time before I knew Bob. We met in Spring Training of 1978 – if you can believe that – when I was the most fledgling reporter imaginable, and he gave me a very cordial and respectful interview even though I was, in short, a moron. This first image is from his two-year career in the Yankee infield, as the starting third baseman for much of 1968, and then as a utility guy in 1969. It’s an unused photo from the files of the Topps Company and is theirs, please, with copyright and everything. He’s younger, but you can see he already looks like the manager he was to become.
Below is a card from a beautiful set from Venezuela and the once dominant winter league there, in 1967-68. Kind of formal with the third baseman’s first name.
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Coxy’s ascent to management was far more rapid in Venezuela than the U.S. By the winter of 1974-75, the card of Mr. Cox of the Lara Cardenales showed him as the manager. Maybe more importantly, it showed him as…Roberto?
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Reyes And Ruth And (T.) Rex

Fascinating to watch Jose Reyes, out nearly a year, so rusty and nervous that he stutter-stepped towards a grounder early in the Mets-Nats game Saturday afternoon, and barely made it in time to the bag on a 2-4 doubleplay. Yet by the 8th inning he was barehanding a grounder, and in the 9th, leading an abortive rally on an otherwise frustrating day for the Queens faithful.

Jenrry Mejia pitched the 9th – first time I’ve seen him in person – and it was evident why the Mets succumbed to the temptation to keep him. He cannot throw a fastball that does not move, and some of them drop so alarmingly out of the strike zone that he just vaguely evokes the cutter of Mariano Rivera.
And he signs…
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Now a redux from last night. Messed around with that pose next to the odd shot of Babe Ruth hanging in the Yankees’ midtown Suite Display:
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And the “Walking The Dinosaur” promotion in Chicago (I know it’s not a T. Rex). You have a caption for this? (“Jamie Moyer’s high school pitching coach throws out first pitch” ?)
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CSN CHICAGO VIA MLB NETWORK

Willie Harris Owns The Mets

Was Willie Harris of the Nationals insulted as a child by Mr. Met? For the umpteenth time he beat them on a game-saving catch with the bases loaded and two out in the ninth. Harris entered the game in the 7th for an injured Ryan Zimmerman (hamstring) and moved out to left just in time to kill the New Yorkers. Again.

Zimmerman?

Here at CitiField: Ryan Zimmerman replaced at third base by Willie Harris in the 7th. No injury obvious, certainly not a defensive decision. Not odder than Willy Taveras having driven in all four Washington runs (previous career high: two) and just missing a three-run homer.

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