April 2011

Yankees Hit “Send”

The relationship between the Yankees and their cash cow ticket-buyers, calm for nearly two years since the team did a 180 on the astonishing overpricing of 2009, may be strained anew.

The club tonight advised its season ticket holders that their addresses, phone and fax numbers, and club-related data, had been compromised – emailed to several hundred other season ticket holders.

Oops.

Dear Yankees Season Ticket Licensee:
We are writing to inform you about an accidental electronic distribution of information that you have previously supplied to the New York Yankees.
Monday evening, April 25, 2011 an employee of the Yankees sent an e-mail to several hundred Yankees Season Ticket Licensees.  The e-mail mistakenly attached an internal Yankees spreadsheet that listed the following information associated with your New York Yankees account:
  • Your name, and the address, phone number(s), fax number, and e-mail address that you previously provided to the Yankees
  • Your seat numbers, Yankees account number, Yankees account representative name, and the ticket package code associated with your account
NO OTHER INFORMATION WAS INCLUDED IN THE DOCUMENT THAT WAS ACCIDENTALLY ATTACHED TO THE APRIL 25th E-MAIL. THE DOCUMENT DID NOT INCLUDE ANY BIRTH DATES, SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS, CREDIT CARD DATA, BANKING DATA, OR ANY OTHER PERSONAL OR FINANCIAL INFORMATION.
Please note, immediately upon learning of the accidental attachment of the internal spreadsheet, remedial measures were undertaken so as to assure that a similar incident could not happen again.
The Yankees deeply regret this incident, and any inconvenience that it might cause.

What If Albert Were Really Hurt?

The early indications on the hamstring injury that caused Albert Pujols to exit early from the Sunday Night game against Cincinnati are mild and not dramatic.

But what if it were the other way around? What impact would a serious hamstring injury have not merely on the Cards’ extraordinary dependence on Pujols, but on what would shape up as the most extraordinary free agency since Alex Rodriguez left the Mariners in the winter of 2000?

What would happen to his $30 million dollar dreams if he didn’t play again this year? Or was hamstrung by the hamstring, or any of a hundred other calamities? Not wishing him any of these in the slightest, but that limp last night made the prospect of an injury that could cost a man $200,000,000 very real indeed.

I would guess the answer is no, but it is wonderful to speculate if the thought even crossed his mind when Pujols told reporters:

“I just felt a little tight, and I just pulled off. I think I prefer it tight than a blown-out hamstring, you know? It’s something that, I have to deal with it. It’s been rough here the last week or so with the rain and all that, and our bodies take a little beating.”

To say nothing, theoretically, of our wallets.

The Proverbial One Legged Butt Kicking Contest

Logan Morrison of the Florida Marlins (@LoMo on Twitter) and yours truly (@KeithOlbermann on Twitter) are both out with left foot injuries. His is a sprained arch plus ligament damage to the top of his foot. Mine is a stress fracture on the top of my foot. He’s in a hard cast till next week, on crutches; I’m in a soft cast, on a cane.

The outfielder who got off to such an outstanding start was one of my wisest acquisitions for my fantasy team, and I was honored to be able to thus name the squad in memory of his late father, as I named it last year after my late father.

Needless to say, with all these coincidences, naturally we have somehow managed to challenge each other to make the cliche come to life: the proverbial one-legged men in the butt-kicking contest. We have exchanged challenge photos:

To which Mr. Morrison has responded:Frankly, I’m betting on him. Better stance, far better balance, and the cast is a huge advantage over my surgical shoe.

One City, Three Games

So we know the New York Mets hosted a rain-out inspired doubleheader starting at 12:10 on April 13, 1997, and the New York Yankees hosted their own weather-induced twin bill beginning at 1:30 the same day.

We are also advised – thanks to research Buster Olney did for the New York Times back in ’97 – that the last year that the Dodgers, Giants, and Yanks shared New York there were no fewer than eight dueling doubleheaders.

And we know that on September 1, 1890, during the last desperate month of the worst year in baseball history – the season the players walked out on the owners of the two established leagues to found their own circuit (with disastrous attendance consequences) – the National League Brooklyn Bridegrooms pulled a harrowing stunt – a triple header against Pittsburgh (and they swept them).

But we do not know is when New York fans (or fans in anybother multi-team city) were last afforded the chance they are given today. The Mets began their doubleheader against the Rockies at 12:12 and have vaguely scheduled the nightcap fir 3:40 PM. The Yankees have their night game against Baltimore scheduled in the Bronx for about 7:10. With the slothfulness of play these days, to
say nothing of rush hour traffic, it seems unlikely anybody could see
all nine innings of all three games – but you can get pretty close.
And it surely will be your last chance for awhile!

2011 Previews: N.L. West

We have yet to reach the two-week mark of the season so I suppose a preview is not utterly absurd. It is often useful to watch one of the teams in person that you thought might be good, before going out on a limb for them. Just watched the Rockies spit out consecutive infield errors and some dilatory work in the rightfield corner here in New York in one inning, and I don’t need to see any more.

Arizona: Buster Olney’s ESPN “insider” column noted, accurately, that Manny Ramirez’s next-to-last round of PED use in Los Angeles may have altered the careers of then-Diamondbacks Manager Bob Melvin and General Manager Josh Byrnes. When the juiced-up Manny led the Dodgers past the Snakes in ’08, it led to Byrnes firing Melvin in ’09, and then the team firing Byrnes in ’10. In fact Manny may have caused Arizona to screw up its whole franchise: they’re down to starting Gerardo Parra, Melvin Mora, Russell Branyan, and (at least for a time) Willie Bloomquist. The rotation actually has a little spark, particularly in Daniel Hudson, and it is possible closer J.J. Putz might not injure himself this year. But this team isn’t going anywhere. Thanks, Manny.

Colorado: there is much to revel in here but the fundamentals are not among them. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are joys to behold (and they nearly collided in the 8th inning tonight – that could’ve been $237,750,000 down the tubes – Tulo sometimes forgets he’s not alone out there), Ubaldo Jimenez is a staff ace if not necessarily the victory-machine he seemed to be last spring, and Dexter Fowler may yet be a star. But the rest of this club is pretty pedestrian and none of its cusp talent in the minors is yet ready to contribute.

Los Angeles: The Dodgers seem gradually to be back towards the ’60s all-pitching and defense teams. The Loney/Uribe/Furcal/Blake infield might be the least menacing quartet in the game and if the Dodgers are satisfied with Tony Gwynn, Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons and, for all I know, Sweet Lou Johnson in left, they are the only ones. Given that contention requires Don Mattingly to succeed in his first shot at managing anywhere and Matt Kemp doesn’t freak out and Jonathan Broxton doesn’t blow up and the McCourt Divorce doesn’t get worse, I’m not optimistic. Three out of four, sure. All of them?

San Diego: In insulting the Dodger infield I forgot the Padres: Brad Hawpe, Jorge Cantu, Orlando Hudson, Jason Bartlett, and Chase Headley. Fortunately the outfield is just as weak and the Pods’ main power threat might be Kyle Blanks, who has been on the disabled list for a year. Sadly, gifted skipper Buddy Black’s shining moment was before the collapse last year. Now, A-Gone is; the rotation has vanished; and all that is left is a bullpen from which they must trade at least Heath Bell just in hopes of restocking the fridge. This could be a truly grim year.

San Francisco: The Giants would have to screw up – and badly – to not repeat in this division. Brian Sabean would have to do the exact opposite of what he did last year and trade away key components and I’m not betting on it. But I must say this: the Giants are rapidly becoming one of the most disliked teams in baseball – and not just because of the silly boastfulness of the ring ceremony and the rest. No World Championship team has ever been feted by fans who have been worse winners than have the 2010 Giants. I mean Red Sox Nation didn’t gloat this much like this after ’04. It’s understandable that a franchise that saw that much frustration and even peril might continue to celebrate for years to come, but there is a reason they coined the phrase “act like you’ve been there before.”

Overview: 1. San Francisco, 2. Los Angeles, 3. Colorado, 4. San Diego, 5. Arizona. I don’t think this is much of a race. he only ones who are.

National League: I like the Marlins for the wild card, drawing (and being quartered by) the Giants. Braves over the Reds in the other, Braves over the Giants in the NLDS. Red Sox over the Braves in the World Series – yes, I’m sticking with that although the Tampa Bay prediction looks weak with the injury to Longoria having deranged their batting order (I like Sam Fuld but I do not think he is your 2011 AL MVP).

 

Manny No Longer Being Manny

Oh, the wags at CitiField wagged, if only life worked like this. The cop catches you speeding or breaking or entering and you say “Never mind. I’ll just take The Manny Ramirez and retire.”

In fact it sometimes does work that way (ask onetime Vice President Spiro Agnew). And now apparently – and apparently not to the surprise of everybody in the Tampa Bay Rays organization – Manny has been caught doing something in violation of the drug testing policy and has simply retired rather than face the consequences.

Apparently it wasn’t misconduct that worried the Rays in spring training. Quite the opposite. This was Super Cooperative Manny, volunteering for those long cross-Florida bus trips and willing to play left field or pinch hit or whatever. Seemed too good to be true to some.

And it was.

As to what drug this was, the three leading guesses are Formaldehyde, Botox, or the preservative they put in cookie dough.

DH, 1B, and LF duties will now be shared by some combination of Dan Johnson, Casey Kotchman, Johnny Damon, and Sam Fuld.

2011 Previews: N.L. Central

Wow do I not like this division. Cursed franchises, overrated also-rans, clubs that could be competitive but their owners keep the damn Luxury Tax money instead of investing it in a pitcher or two. My first brainstorming on this division produced no winner – and with the biggest division in the sport, this is highly unlikely. Let’s try it again:

Chicago: Love Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner – and one of these guys is already gone, and I fear for a long time. Another one of them still may not get daily work (although the first base thing is a good idea). It is impossible to tell after a century of this crap if the Cubbies’ curse is explained by the fact that they obtain overrated players at maximum cost (Kosuke Fukudome) or it is explained by the fact that they continue to play overrated players at maximum cost (Kosuke Fukudome). For crying out loud, Colvin/Byrd/Soriano is a decent outfield – have Fukudome go out and take tickets at the gate and just admit y’all screwed up. Losing Cashner and Randy Wells is not necessarily fatal but it doesn’t help and barring a Jeff Samardzija renaissance there is nothing to hope for or with (see Kosuke Fukudome).

Cincinnati: This is where I point out that I picked this team last year – and for exactly the same reason I hesitate to pick them this year: starting pitching. The depth that made them obvious to me has been squandered: Sam LeCure is somehow the fifth starter (and this is while the flatlining Johnny Cueto is out) and Aroldis Chapman is wasted as a set-up man. I think the line-up is weaker this year with the switch at shortstop, and I would not bet my division on Scott Rolen going through a second consecutive season uninjured. Also, if you have a premier prospect like Yonder Alonso blocked at both of his possible positions, wouldn’t you move him – at least for a prospect at a position you need some depth in, like shortstop? The Reds may win this thing but it won’t be because they’re a playoff-worthy team.

Houston: There are five positional starters (everybody but the outfield), at least one starting pitcher, and an entire bullpen that might not be able to compete for their current jobs on any other big league team. That would be a major, major problem.

Milwaukee: OK, here’s my issue: Zack Greinke doesn’t do well under pressure. The Brewers traded for him to become their number one starter on the premise that he would lead them to the division championship. This doesn’t add up – not at the expense of swapping one of the game’s rangiest shortstops (Alcides Escobar) for one of the game’s most statue-like shortstops (Yuniesky Betancourt). And this fact doesn’t even address Greinke’s injury. I’m also a little worried about the outfield mix. Just because Carlos Gomez is disastrously laid back, and Nyjer Morgan is disastrously hyper, that does not mean they will somehow balance each other out.

Pittsburgh: Like Baltimore or Toronto, the line-up here is surprisingly solid and has an extremely high ceiling, and if a starting rotation were somehow delivered straight from the sky, the Pirates would be competitive. Unlike the O’s and Jays, unfortunately, there’s no group of top prospects at AAA to even provide identities for these new starters. For the Bucs these would have to be the winners of Lucky Fan Contests (I’m not buying Kevin Correia even at 2-0, although James McDonald might make a believer out of me). As suggested, this is very unfortunate because I think Andrew McCutchen is already one of the league’s bright lights and Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker looked, this spring, like they were on the verge of joining him.

St. Louis: Worst double-play combination in baseball. Hard to believe that an arrogantly, condescendingly, fundamental-thumping manager like Tony LaRussa would have actually broken camp with Schumaker and Theriot. Get them out of there and Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene in and shoot for third place, or a shot at the title if the Brewers and Reds are both consumed by injuries. The irony here is that the Wainwright injury will probably reveal Kyle McClellan as one of the better new starters in the National League. It will also reveal that he was the linchpin in the bullpen and it will not hold up in his absence.

Overview: OK, 1. Cincinnati, 2. Milwaukee, 3. St. Louis, 4. Pittsburgh, 5. Chicago, 6. Houston (the big space in the division is between third and fourth).

 

2011 Previews: N.L. East

Let’s see if we can get through the rest of the divisions before the All-Star break…

Atlanta: I am not sold on the idea that Freddie Freeman is ready (yet), lord knows what they do when Chipper Jones breaks down, and I have some doubts about the set-up men in the bullpen. But the rest of this team is solid, The Ted has long been Dan Uggla’s favorite ballpark to hit in, and I like the starting depth with Mike Minor already pressed into service for the injured Jair Jurrjens. Hope if you play fantasy ball you were not misled by Fredi Gonzalez’s insistence he would be giving Jonny Venters a share of the closer’s job; Craig Kimbrel will soon be regarded as one of baseball’s bests. If you were to pick one team not widely believed to be a division winner to pick as a division winner, it’d be this one.

Florida: If Mike Stanton is healthy and the bullpen doesn’t fall apart, this is another contender. Power is down with the trade of Uggla, but up with the acquisition of John Buck and the maturation of Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez. The three younger players already mentioned, plus Chris Coghlan, join Hanley Ramirez as five of the highest-ceiling hitters in the league and there are scenarios in which they all reach their apogees simultaneously and the Marlins crush the division. I don’t think that’s likely and I don’t think a Leo Nunez/Clay Hensley/Mike Dunn bullpen is going to get them very far, but it might be enough to put them into Wild Card consideration.

New York: This might not be as bad as it seems, and Terry Collins might be just the right guy to get the maximum out of Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and David Wright, and the giant franchise disaster that is the Madoff Lawsuit might not distract from whatever is done on the field. But that’s a lot of mights – and we haven’t even gotten around to what might be the implications of having to play a Rule V draftee at second base, and having built a set-up staff exclusively out of guys released by other teams, and being stuck dragging around an injury-prone leftfielder for another three years whose fly ball arcs end at the warning track and was only signed because ownership insisted.

Philadelphia: If everybody had been healthy, they still would’ve been overrated. Win all the divisions you want – eventually an unreliable closer will cost you too much to survive it. Now he’s hurt, and his heir presumptive is so incapable of stepping up that his manager and general manager have publicly expressed their doubts about him. There’s the outfield, already a problem spot before Domonic Brown was hurt (Raul Ibanez is its power – he hit 16 homers last year). And most disastrous of all, deranging everything from the infield defense to the entire batting order, is the combination injury/enigma of Chase Utley. I’ll repeat what I wrote here in my Fantasy Notes last week: everything I heard from everybody I know connected to the Phillies says that Utley’s options are season-ending knee surgery, or virtually-season-ending rehab. Either way, offensively the Phillies are reduced to Ryan Howard with very little line-up protection, the hustle and skill of Shane Victorino, and lord-knows-what from Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies are not contenders. Oh yeah – nice rotation. Unfortunately it’s like living in a mansion with no furniture.

Washington: It is yet to be explained why this franchise yoked itself to Jayson Werth. He’s a fine component for a contending team. He is not a franchise player, and has been evidenced by where they’re hitting him, the Lerners inexplicably invested $126,000,000 in a number two hitter. Here’s a young team with exciting young players like Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond (though they should switch defensive positions) and Jordan Zimmermann and Wilson Ramos (and maybe Drew Storen) – and even a young superstar in Ryan Zimmerman. Why not invest that money in Zimmerman? I know he’s locked up through 2013, but 2014 is when Bryce Harper is probably going to hit 67 homers while Stephen Strasburg wins 24 games. Or if you really feel like spending money on veterans, make them bargain buys like Adam LaRoche, or at least make them pitchers to relieve the despair created by some of those who will toe the slab in the Capitol this year.

Overview: I liked the Braves before Utley got hurt. I still do. I will take them: 1. Atlanta, 2. Florida, 3. Philadelphia, 4. New York, 5. Washington (Washington could vault into 4th if things go really sour in Queens). I think the Marlins and Phillies are Wild Card prospects but I’m not sure yet.

The Creepiest Stat I’ve Ever Researched

Even as the Minnesota Twins continued to succumb to their weird allergy here at Yankee Stadium (they’ve now lost 31 of their last 37 here, counting playoffs), Derek Jeter went 0-for-4 and the creepiest stat of all time just got a little worse.

I will state at the outset that those who interpret what’s being done as tribute have my full respect when they so claim. But, personally, I flinch every time I hear the voice of the late Bob Sheppard introduce Jeter, and my reaction is not unlike that of the late comedian Bill Hicks when he first saw a posthumous public service announcement featuring actor Yul Brynner: “What the heck is this guy selling?”

I thought the world of Mr. Sheppard, who extended kindness and support to me from the day I finally screwed up the courage to introduce myself to him. He did not undervalue his place in sports, but he had fun with it. When in 2004 I was researching the then-unknown identity of his predecessor (it was Yankees’ public relations director Arthur “Red” Patterson) I asked him if he had any earthy clue who it might have been, he said without batting an eyelash, “Methuselah!” Merely because I asked him, Bob spent fifteen minutes before the first game of the 1998 World Series with Tony Gwynn. Tony had said that one of the highlights of being in the Series again was the chance to hear Bob introduce him. I got Bob to record that introduction on a disk for me to present to Tony as a gift. Nobody who asked Bob for a favor – or the inevitable voicemail/answering machine message – was denied. I know one of Bob’s sons and have found him to be just as much a gentleman as his father, and I was privileged to get frequent updates on Bob’s health from Chris. I hosted the 2000 Subway World Series on Fox, and the thing became real to me when I wrapped up the pre-game show that it was my greatest honor to introduce him on the PA. When I would get to work the PA at Old Timers’ Day each July I was fully aware at every moment that I was on Bob’s PA.

I get it. I revered Bob Sheppard and I revere his memory daily. But the post-mortem introductions of Jeter have, I think, become disturbing.

And now there’s this to consider: Since Bob Sheppard died last July 11 and the tribute to the absent and beloved Public Address Voice of Yankee Stadium became instead a memorial, Derek Jeter is hitting just .263 here with one homer, 10 RBI, a .338 On Base Percentage and a .349 Slugging Percentage in 43 games. There are various dates and causes to assign to Jeter’s midseason eclipse last year but Mr. Sheppard’s passing is not exactly a random one – which makes the stat all the creepier. As of that sad day, Jeter had had 161 home at bats. Thereafter he had…exactly the same number: 161 home at bats. But in the first half of his home 2010 season Jeter was batting .316, with six homers, an On Base of .380 and a Slugging of .472.

Would it all turn around if Jeter had Sheppard’s successor Paul Olden announce his name, too? No, of course not. It would just be a little less…creepy.

2011 Previews: A.L. West

Let’s check in first on “Signal-gate”…he’s baaack…

Brett Weber, the Yankees’ coaching assistant, was nowhere to be found Saturday after my little tweeted photo of him giving hand signals to Alex Rodriguez in the on-deck circle landed in the Commissioner’s Office. But for Sunday’s finale against Detroit, the former minor league pitcher was had returned to the third row back of the plate at Yankee Stadium. I didn’t stare at him – when I don’t give away my seats to Make-A-Wish I am there to watch the game - but I saw no signals today and only one player (Rodriguez) even looked fleetingly in his direction. MLB reportedly accepted the Yankees’ explanation that he was only indicating pitch speed on Opening Day because the team’s stadium scoreboard gun was busted.

That indeed explains Opening Day. It does not explain a different series of signals directed by Weber to Yankee on-deck hitters last year (especially Rodriguez). (By the way – and barring more developments, I promise to leave this trivial incident alone, but if you’d like to read a reasoned, calm blog about the response to it, here you go).

Now, having picked the Red Sox and Twins, and the Rays for the Wild Card (that’s right, they’re 1-and-8 among them – with only 477 left to play), let’s finish off the A.L. predictions:

Los Angeles: This once dynamic team is rapidly falling back into the ranks of The Dullest Place On Earth Angels of the ’80s and ’90s. There are two brilliant starters in Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, and a brilliant outfield (although if you’re going to add a gigantic salary, you reach for Vernon Wells?). But until Kendrys Morales comes back there is nothing else to distinguish this team, except for the shocking inadequacy of the bullpen (who knew Brian Fuentes could have meant so much?). I mean, even The Rally Monkey seems to have outlived his usefulness.

Oakland: Every season has a boutique, insiders’ favorite, and this year it’s the A’s. And I don’t see it. Mind you, I love this rotation and in particular Gio Gonzalez, but I am not impressed by a batting order that has allegedly been improved by adding David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, and Hideki Matsui at 3-4-5. You cannot win every game 3-2.

Seattle: And you especially can’t win them 0-2. There is a scenario in which Erik Bedard ransoms his talent from the depths of injury, and the rookie Michael Pineda blossoms, and the two of them and Doug Fister form a rotation with King Felix that puts Oakland’s to shame. But, even then, whence the offense? Ryan Langerhans is starting in centerfield. Ryan Langerhans has a lifetime .228 batting average and is just four years removed from batting .167 over 210 at bats with three different teams. Tom Wilhelmsen has made the bullpen after five years off, bartending.

Texas: Here is the most under-reported statistic of the 2010-11 off-season. The Rangers lost a pitcher who made exactly 20 starts for them, won 7, and lost 8 – and they were then promptly declared rudderless and hopeless for 2011. I am not suggesting that that is what Cliff Lee would’ve done for Texas this year (4-6 in the regular season, 2-0 in the Division Series, 1-0 in the ALCS, 0-2 in the World Series) but that is exactly what he did for them last year. Ten separate Texas pitchers won as many as Lee did for them during the regular season of 2010, including Dustin Nippert. Would things have been better for them if they’d re-signed him? Yes. You know what else would help? A farm full of Nolan Ryan clones. I’m sorry, there are no other significant downgrades here from a team that absolutely beat up the Rays in the ALDS and the Yankees in the ALCS and should’ve given the Giants a far better fight in the Series, and the additions of Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli make a potent line-up even moreso. I don’t see them being challenged – unless Josh Hamilton breaks in half.

OVERVIEW: 1. Texas, 2. Oakland (distant), 3. Los Angeles (a good run for 3rd), 4. Seattle (not as bad as last year). The Lee panic and the Lee reality are two different things. You want to worry in Texas? What exactly would happen without Hamilton?

LEAGUE OVERVIEW: Gotta stick with Boston, which if I’m right about the Rays and the Card (although with Evan Longoria out, I very easily may not be), would presumably draw the third-place record which I am guessing is Minnesota’s. Thus it’s Texas-Tampa again and I like Texas this time, with the Red Sox finally stopping them in the ALCS.

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