Results tagged ‘ Cliff Lee ’

Eduardo Nunez Of The Above

As I watched the replay of Eduardo Nunez’s 127th fielding chance of the season turn into his 11th error of the season (and open up the gates of hell for five unearned Toronto runs in the New York Yankees’ defensive inning of the second half), I was reminded of two virtually identical sentences about Nunez that were spoken, months apart, by two different Major League General Managers.

“As near as I can tell,” the first told me, “there are only two clubs who believe Nunez is anything more than a glorified utility infielder – the Yankees and Seattle.” The other said “I believe only two teams believe Nunez is more than a utilityman – maybe a Wilson Betemit. Seattle and the Yankees. And I’m not sure the Yankees really believe it.”

Both of these GM’s believed, but could not offer evidence about, the story that the Yankees and Mariners had agreed on a deal last summer of Cliff Lee for Jesus Montero and somebody, and then when M’s GM Jack Zduriencik demanded that the somebody be Nunez, Brian Cashman bailed out.

So if you’re Seattle, sometimes your best deals are indeed the ones the other GM isn’t sharp enough to take you up on, and take you to the cleaners with.

Nunez is not a major league infielder. There was a joke going around the Yankees earlier this year that he was on the roster entirely to make Derek Jeter look like a defensive all-star. Now the joke is, the Yankees feel they can trust all those whistling liners towards left that A.J. Burnett and Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and Sergio (“Who Am I? What Am I Doing Here?”) Mitre will surrender in the second half, to Eduardo Nunez and what was his .920 fielding average before #11 dribbled away tonight.

The GM who doubted that the Yankees really thought highly of Nunez said if I could see his scouting reports on Yank prospects and compare them to New York’s own I would assume there were 50 or so Yankee farmhands who had the same names as other, far lesser players. It is not atypical for teams to hype prospects – the trade market is now largely based on prospects – but it is awfully unusual to see a team actually begin to believe its inflated opinion of a minor leaguer.

Nunez already disproved theories that he might be a big league shortstop (91 chances, 9 errors). Now he’s working on third base. They’ve only experimented with him in the outfield and there might yet to be salvation there. He seems to have a viable bat, with a little pop, and a propensity to get very hot for very short periods of time. But if this is all he’s going to be, and they didn’t trade him and Montero for Cliff Lee, the Yankee front office is sillier than it seems even from the outside.

My goodness, as I was finishing this up, he just fumbled another one and just barely got the ball to second for the force (on a high throw). Which makes this headline laugh-out-loud funny.

Phils And Yankees: Not Their Year

CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.

Lee: Great – McGee: Lights Out

Notes from the Philadelphia-Tampa Bay exhibition in Clearwater: The Rays’ dance card wasn’t exactly full – no Longoria, Ramirez, Damon, not even Ben Zobrist. But Cliff Lee didn’t break a sweat over four innings this afternoon in Cleveland: no walks, two singles, five strikeouts (including two in his last inning)…the Rays are trying to manage expectations but if you had to name the guy who’d lead them in Saves this year, you could do worse than predicting rookie Jake McGee. McGee not only struck out Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez in consecutive at bats in the 5th, but Victorino was so fooled that he lost the bat and it helicoptered fast enough that in the on-deck circle, Ibanez hit the deck and the bat continued twenty rows into the crowd…as mentioned Manny Ramirez wasn’t in the house but the Rays are impressed with his apparent revitalization. It’s as if somebody got a wake-up call that his career will not last forever and he wants “Manny being Manny” to sound a little more positive than it has the past three seasons…one of the Phillies’ two biggest problems was underscored in the second and third innings. They collected six hits and got a wild pick-off throw into centerfield, but scored IMG_3077.jpgonly three runs, and two of those were on solo homers by Howard and Schneider…To the left -this is not much of a picture of Rays’ catcher Nevin Ashley, back in camp for a second straight year and 0-for-2 in relief of Kelly Shoppach in his bid to make it as the back-up receiver – but that’s not the point. The point is that he married a woman named Ashley, and she decided to follow tradition and identify herself by her husband’s name. She is Ashley Ashley…An image that will disturb Cubs’ fans, even though he did start with the Phillies. They had their new AAA manager coach third base today. Fella named Ryne Sandberg:
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And greetings from Florida from one of baseball’s best minds, and best guys, and somebody who was fortunate enough to visit with him:
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Chuck Tanner

I cannot convey to you how frightening it was to be a frequent presence on a major league baseball field at the age of 17. Every player seemed to be about 30 feet tall, and every club official and stadium security officer seemed to be within 30 seconds of chucking me back into the stands, no matter how many credentials I might have had. And the team managers? Ralph Houk? Billy Martin? Earl Weaver? 


To see them approach was to feel the fight-or-flight instinct surge in my veins. And not in that empowering, life-affirming “fight” way, sadly.
I was a photographer, nominally working for the hobby magazine Mike Aronstein had inexplicably put me in charge of the year before, Collectors Quarterly. Certainly we had need of our own images of big league ballplayers, but in fact I was on an illicit mission to snap them for an upcoming second set of the “SSPC Pure Card” baseball cards Mike had published earlier in that year of 1976. I had written the backs for the first set, and another fellow had taken most of the photos for them, only it turned out he didn’t really have any ballpark credentials and was only on the field because he’d been a batboy and knew all of the cops at Shea Stadium and they just let him sneak in. When the leagues and the clubs and Topps and the courts Topps sued us in found out about that, he wasn’t going to again get to be on any fields for a long, long time.
So Mike had written the obligatory letter to the Yankees supplying copies of the magazine and asking them to give me, usually no more than once or twice a homestand, pre-game access to the field to take photos of the players. My instructions were simple: get anybody you can, especially guys in new uniforms. Action shots, candid shots, whatever – but you’ll also have to get some portraits. You’ll have to ask the players to pose for you.
Gulp.

By the end of May I think I had screwed up the courage to ask a few guys to pose before each game. I remember Jim Colborn of the Brewers actually asking me what the magazine I claimed to represent was, and my promising him to send a copy to him, and then he kindly stood still for a few portraits. But by early June, I believe all my other conversations with the big leaguers consisted of “Pardon me, Mr. —-, may I get a couple of shots of you for Collectors Quarterly magazine?” followed by the answer “grunt” or “no” or “silence.”
Then the Oakland A’s came to town. It wasn’t official yet, but with Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman traded to Baltimore, Jim Hunter long since gone to New York, and Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, and Rollie Fingers on the block before the June 15 trade deadline, Oakland was already in its post-Championship Era. Still a forceful team that would nearly win the A.L. West that year, but truly in decline. They had their third manager in four years (and would, in fact, trade him that winter in one of owner Charles Finley’s desperate efforts to suck the value out of anybody who might want out of his rapidly collapsing club). We only had a photo of this manager in his previous uniform, and so of all the A’s, I approached him first to pose.
“Pardon me, Mr. Tanner, may I get a couple of shots of you for Collectors Quarterly magazine?”
Chuck Tanner beamed at me. “Of course you can, son.”
He stuck out his hand.
I had no idea what to do.
“I’m Chuck Tanner,” he said, both affably and sincerely. A faint bell dinged slowly in the back of my slow-moving mind. He’s shaking hands with you, dummy. I introduced myself.
“Very nice to meet you, Keith. What do you need me to do?”
I coughed out something about just standing there.
He laughed. “Can I smile?”
I laughed and snapped a few shots.
“I’m an amateur photographer,” he said, pleasantly.
I admitted I was too and suggested he could probably tell that.
He laughed again. “No, I wasn’t suggesting that. I’m just noticing you’re not using a flash but you’ve got me sort of side-saddle to the sun. If I move here it’ll probably come out better.”
This went on for several minutes. Not once did I get the impression that Chuck Tanner was trying to mock me or criticize me. He made it seem the most perfectly natural thing in the world for a major league baseball manager to take the time to give the most elemental of tips to a photographer, an hour or so before a ballgame. Then came something I couldn’t believe.
“Do you need me to get you any of my players so you can shoot them, Keith?”
You can guess how the rest of this went. Before I knew it, Dick Bosman and Paul Lindblad and Jim Todd were jogging in from shagging flies in the outfield to volunteer for my shaky camera lens. And as the old, beloved and lamented ritual of infield practice loomed and the media had to get off the field, Chuck Tanner walked back towards his dugout and stopped by and asked if I’d gotten everybody I needed. “Next time you’re back, find me first and I can get you anybody you want.”
I would meet Chuck Tanner again and again as the years went by. I was there as the reporter for UPI Radio as his Pirates won the 1979 National League Championship Series, and when I reminded him of how he had helped me at Yankee Stadium he either remembered it or did an amazing job pretending to, and then waved away security guards who tried to interrupt him while he gave a five-minute interview to the least important network radio reporter at the game. 
A year later, as I took the subway out to Shea Stadium to cover a Mets-Pirates game, I saw somebody who appeared to be Pittsburgh coach Alex Monchak sitting across from me, and then realized the guy to his left was clearly Kent Tekulve, and the fellow standing up holding on to the overhead bar sure looked like Tanner in a jacket and tie. I looked at him, he looked at me, and he suppressed a smile and brought his forefinger to his lips. 45 minutes later, on the field, he walked over and thanked me for not blowing their cover. “It’s so much faster to come out on the subway than the team bus,” he said. “The station is right next to our hotel and it’s really a nice ride, at least on the way out. Wait – you’re that radio photographer guy, aren’t you?”
Chuck Tanner, as you know, died yesterday at the age of 82. When he came back to the big leagues as manager of the White Sox in 1970 he was considered the best managing prospect in the minors. The Pirates thought enough of him to trade Manny Sanguillen to Oakland for him in the winter of 1976-77 (rendering those great shots I’d gotten of him – positioned per his excellent photographic advice – useless) and when the Pirates finally let him go, the Braves quickly snapped him up. He only made the post-season once, winning the World Series in 1979, so Pittsburgh will tell you he is a Hall of Famer anyway. 
And of course I would whole-heartedly agree. And I won’t even bother to address his credentials. May I have done once for somebody what he did for me, and countless others.
SPEAKING OF CARDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY:
Chuck Tanner would appreciate this, for the leavening of the sadness, and the continuity of the game, and the nostalgia – and the photography.
I have the privilege of showing you an uncut sheet of the 2011 Topps Heritage Baseball Refractors Series. The glossy metallic treatment causes the sheet to warp a little, but you should be able to live with it. Topps has done another superb job on recreat
ing the historical original, in this case the 1962 set: you’ll notice nearly all the Mets and Astros are capless (just as they were in ’62, for far different reasons) and the lettering and the posing is very precise. 
Of particular note, in Row 8, fourth from the left you’ll find a rather clunky airbrush job in which a Phillies’ cap is poorly painted onto Cliff Lee’s head. This is not a mistake, but more of a deliberate reference to a 1962 card of catcher Sammy White, who joined the Phils of that year just as those cards were going to press, and who appeared in a kind of reddish-pinkish artist’s charcoal colored hat in the same kind of purgatory-like blank environment Mr. Lee seems posed in.
There is one disturbing image – Row 3, third from the right. It’s the first Topps card, I believe, showing Don Mattingly in any uniform other than the Yankees. Not to say he doesn’t deserve it, it’s just that no matter how often I look at it, it doesn’t compute:
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Even Big Market Fans Have A Right To Kvetch, Too

I wonder sometimes if I am still living in the baseball city in which I was born.

At almost any point from my teen years to several months ago, the New York newspapers would by now have been calling for the dismissal of Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman, and the public shaming and court-martialing of the Wilpon family.

Instead I am reading a lot about how the Yankees will be “better balanced” without Cliff Lee; that they can get the bullpen depth they need instead, and a righty bat off the bench. Yes, having Sergio Mitre as your third starter and thus sinking to a record around .500 is about as balanced as you can get.

When the city isn’t making excuses for the Yanks’ impenetrable player acquisition strategy, it is commending new Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson as a great baseball man. So’s John McGraw, and what’s more, McGraw’s made just as many big moves this winter as Alderson has.

Seriously, I’m a baseball fan who happens to be a Yankee customer, and I did not have an irrational rooting interest in whether or not Lee ended up in the Bronx. But between the Yanks’ two failures to get him, and the sudden signing of Russell Martin, I’m very dubious about the chain of logic in the front office – if any.

As I recall, the trade with Seattle for Lee fell through last summer because Brian Cashman refused to part with both catching prospect Jesus Montero and shortstop prospect Eduardo Nunez. Nunez, of course, later came up to New York and showed he might survive as a utilityman but right now doesn’t come close to being even a reliable .250 hitter. I have heard two completely conflicting sets of information about Montero: the first that he is the Super Prospect: an influential catcher in all aspects of the job, and a potent bat. The second is that he has not grown either as a defender, handler of pitchers, or check on baserunners, and that his swing has more than one hole.

In 25 years of carefully watching scouting reports, when they conflict this much, I’ve never seen the positive ones prove correct. More over, it is clear that the real catching prospect in the Yankee system is young Gary Sanchez, who cut across rookie ball and at Staten Island like lightning this summer.

And now mix Russell Martin into the recipe. And the re-signed Derek Jeter, with the loose plan that he’ll play shortstop for another two years, by which time Jorge Posada will have presumably retired and Jeter can slide over to become a 39-year old DH without any measurable power.

So Montero has no role in 2010 and Nunez won’t be thought of for a job (one he probably can’t handle anyway) until 2012? And they are in New York and Cliff Lee is not? And even assuming the statistics, the history, the precedent, and the hands of time are wrong about Jeter and Cashman is right – nobody is yelling at Yankee management? Even though there are no prominent pitchers to trade for (and don’t say “Felix Hernandez” – he has a no-trade deal and the Yankees are reportedly on the no-way list)?

And the Mets of this winter make the Yankees of this winter look like the Red Sox of this winter. When you are operating in the nation’s largest community, and your team is without a single nearly-ready position prospect, and you still haven’t bitten the bullet on Luis Castillo and Ollie Perez, and you insist there are no economic restrictions on your personnel budget, and your top free agent signees are two guys dropped by the Pirates, surely some member of the Enraged Fourth Estate that has made this city the cuss-filled territory it is today should be demanding that the team either get on the stick or let the fans in for free.

It would be nice to dismiss this as the ranting of a big market fan with a sense of entitlement and a terrible fear he is finally facing his comeuppance. But face it, in the smaller markets, when the ownership misleads you and puts an inferior product on the field, they do not have the further gall to charge you $100 a ticket in the upper deck. 

Off A Cliff

With Carl Crawford already under the Red Sox Christmas Tree, Jayson Werth inexplicably paid as if he’d had the durability of a lesser Albert Pujols, the Yankees having tied themselves to an aging shortstop well on his way to batting 7th, and the Mets having deftly acknowledged without admitting that their biggest free agent signing this winter will probably be D.J. Carrasco, nearly all the baseball questions I’m getting are about Cliff Lee.

What I am hearing is not very specific and not very highly-sourced, but it is consistent: I get the impression that the Yankees are not optimistic that they are going to sign him. 
Even before Lee went into his self-imposed exile of no fixed length, the answers the Yankees were getting from him directly and indirectly, in Arkansas and merely from it, were not encouraging. Lee just isn’t a New York guy. This is not said insultingly, and is in fact part of the reason the vibe seems so strong: He just doesn’t seem capable of giving the generic incomplete truths required of a guy trying to leverage a team he doesn’t really want to play for. 
You can imagine the drill: the Yankees come calling and they say it’d be great to have you on our side and you say “Wow, the New York Yankees. Every kid dreams of what it must be like to pitch for the New York Yankees!” This sounds, at worst, noncommittal. You can say it and mean you’re interested, or you can say it and mean that you dreamt of it when you were a kid and then you grew up and started playing baseball for a living and you realized it would never work for you in a million years. I mean, only once in my three decades in my business have I had to fire an intern and I told the guy just because it didn’t work out that was no reason for him to get screwed out of his college credit. I answered every question of his school evaluation form honestly. I remember writing something like “he now understands exactly what is required of somebody seeking a career in broadcasting.” By this I meant “he understands this because he completely failed at it,” but I didn’t write that. The school advised me the guy got a B+.
The “Not A New York Guy” thing is an essential test. Ed Whitson didn’t listen to the voice telling him not to come here. Mike Hampton heard it from the Missus and got out after a year. It’s very possible A.J. Burnett just began to hear it in Year Two. It’s obvious that Greg Maddux heard it from the beginning and listened and will go to the Hall of Fame as a result. It just isn’t for everybody, and I say this having been born here lived all but about ten years of my life here or nearby. I still mutter under my breath at New Yorkers and contemplate evacuating to higher ground, on average about once a week.
Anyway, back to Lee. Jack Curry of YES Network tweeted yesterday that he’d heard of Yankee “skepticism” about signing the lefthander. This morning, the New York Daily News reported that the Yanks’ offer had been driven up, at least in terms of years, by a previously unreported seven-year bid by the Red Sox, which would explain the constant rumors of the last few weeks that there was a third “mystery” team in the hunt besides New York and Texas.
Put all this together and it would seem this in fact might be a one-team race, and that the month might end the way it began, with the Yankees’ nominal third starter being a choice between Ivan Nova and Burnett, and the team getting a very nice school evaluation and a B+.

The Josh Hamilton-Bengie Molina Series

They could – and did – give the trophies to other guys, but let’s face it, if you’re a fan of the Phillies, or the ’09 Yankees, or the ’10 Giants, you know that the World Series MVP last year was Damaso Marte, and the NLCS MVP this year was Javier Lopez.

Simply put, for whatever degree of offensive incompetence the Phillies didn’t create themselves, Lopez did it for them. He pitched in all six games and faced Chase Utley and Ryan Howard each time. And they were 1-for-12 off him, completely mesmerized by his left-handed sidearming.
Josh Hamilton faced him this year, went 0-for-1. He faced him three times in 2008, went 1-for-3 with a double.
Past performance, as they say, is not a guarantee of future results, but even if Lopez continues his hot streak (and remember his ERA for the Red Sox in ’09 was 9.46), Hamilton just isn’t as easily dominated by lefthanders. If his ALCS home run details don’t tell you that (Game One: Sabathia; Game Three: Pettitte; Game Four: Logan — all LHP, plus a fourth game off Sergio Mitre in garbage time), just check out his 2010 splits:
                                    AB    HR     RBI     AVG    SLG
At Home Vs LHP           82       5       13     .305     .524
On Road Vs LHP           84       3       10     .238     .393
Overall Vs RHP           352      24      77      .401     .716
That last one is thrown in there for the edification of Brian Wilson. Josh Hamilton hit .401 against right-handed pitching this year.
This underscores the Giants’ obvious problem: Hamilton is the only essential lefthanded bat in the Texas line-up. These are not the Phillies. The bats who surround him, particularly Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, and Vladimir Guerrero, are all righties. The other lefties in the Texas lineup are fungible.
In short, unlike the Phillies, the Rangers are not going to whiff themselves out of big innings by virtue of their power being suffocated by a same-side sidearmer. 
The other salient issue of this Series is Bengie Molina. We are in new territory here. Never before did the catcher for one of the World Series teams open the season catching for the other World Series team. Pressed about this in interviews, Molina has been taciturn, almost blank, insisting he doesn’t think it’s much of an advantage. I think Benjie wants us to believe that, but if for no other reason than the Giants have to completely rejigger the pitch signals and any lingering dugout-to-coach or coach-to-hitter signals, he will inconvenience San Francisco mightily.
For my money, the kind of scouting Molina can offer on San Francisco pitching is the kind of information for which teams scramble at this time of year. The Yankees’ National League scouting under the supervision of Stick Michael was so startlingly good that during the ’99 Classic it seemed as if few Yankee fielders had to step more than a foot or two to field or grab a ball, so well did the Yankees know what and where the Braves would hit it. My guess is Molina can provide that – only in real time, on the field – for all of the Giants’ pitchers (and imagine during his own at bats, his familiarity with their pitch qualities, selections and patterns).
The most recent vague comparison to this unique situation would probably be Ted Simmons, who moved from the 1980 Cardinals to the 1981 Brewers, then wound up facing his old team in the ’82 Series. Simmons caught Game One and the Brewers pounded his old St. Louis battery-mate Bob Forsch 10-0 (with Simba hitting a homer). They faced Forsch again in Game Five and beat him up for six runs in five-and-two-thirds. In the other starts they lost to John Stuper (a 1982 rookie Simmons had never caught) and Joaquin Andujar (who joined St. Louis half a year after Simmons was traded). In the other Milwaukee victory, the Brewers were largely stymied by Dave LaPoint (one earned run). He had gone from Milwaukee to St. Louis in the Simmons trade.
For these two reasons alone (we haven’t even mentioned Cliff Lee) I like the Rangers and fast: five or six games.
Just for the record, Molina will join very, very select company when he appears against the Giants in Game One. Only Lonnie Smith, who started 1985 with the Cardinals and then played against them for the Royals in the Classic, has previously pulled off the both-teams stunt. The year before, reliever Sid Monge went from the Padres to the Tigers but did not pitch in the post-season for Detroit. Of all the MLB-issued media guides to all the World Series I’ve covered, the one I cannot find is 1984, so I can’t check my memory that Monge was indeed eligible but just wasn’t used.
If not, he falls into a slightly larger club: playing for both Series teams in one year, but not being eligible for the Classic. Jack Kramer (1951 Giants and Yankees), Johnny Schmitz (1952 Dodgers and Yankees), Jim Bruske (1998 Padres and Yankees), and Chris Ray (2010 Rangers and Giants) are on that list, and if you want to stretch it, so is catcher Eddie Tucker of the 1995 Indians, who wound up the property of the Braves the same year but never playing for them.
So there.

By The Beard Of Hercules; New 113-Year Old Baseball Cards

The most telling observations off Twitter yesterday: The colored-in beard sticking out from Brian Wilson of the Giants makes him look either like Bluto from Popeye or Bill Murray playing Hercules (“That boulder is too large. I could lift a smaller one”) on Saturday Night Live.


Absolutely fitting news from college football. Brian Jordan did color on a telecast of the Memphis-Southern Mississippi game yesterday. He spent the baseball season doing color on the telecasts of the AAA Gwinnett Braves, and a handful of broadcasts for the big league club. The former two-sport player is now a two-sport announcer.

My review of Jane Leavy‘s marvelous Mickey Mantle biography is now online at the Sunday New York Times Book Review. However, if you go to the editors’ notes in the front you will read a story about me, but apparently featuring an illustration meant to look like British Foreign Secretary William Hague if he had glasses and a little hair.
Impressive, no, that in three games of League Championship play we have already seen CC Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, and Roy Halladay, and none of them have been sharp enough to write home to Mother about. Doesn’t exactly set the bar high for Cliff Lee tomorrow night in New York.
Finally, if you want to try to understand some of the joy of antique baseball cards, consider late breaking news from the first comprehensive set ever issued, the 1887-1890 sets put out by Old Judge Cigarettes. 512 players were shown, in well over 2000 different poses (New York Giants outfielder Mike Dorgan had 17 different), with an almost incalculable number of caption and team variations, in transcendent photographs in which baseballs were often hung by string from the ceiling of the photographer’s studio.
And two new variations were discovered yesterday. 

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One of the most-collected parts of the series is a subset of 16 players from the original New York Mets of the then-major league American Association. The cards were put out early in 1887, when the Mets played on Staten Island, more or less exactly where the current ballpark for the Yankees’ affiliate now stands. The fellow who owned the then-private Staten Island Ferry bought the club and put up a ballpark next to his Wild West show and outdoor theater in hopes of drumming up business to Staten Island. It didn’t work and the Mets wound up moving to Kansas City in 1888.
The players are all inexplicably shown wearing the same kind (maybe even just the same one) spotted cravat tie and are thus known as “Spotted Ties.” The card shown here is of Mets’ first baseman Dave Orr, one of the few sluggers of the time and a genuine Hall of Fame candidate despite a career cut short by a stroke after just eight seasons. 
At left is the Orr card depicted in the masterful The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Company compiled by Joe Gonsowski, Richard Masson, and my friend Jay Miller, which shows every known pose of every known player (a vendor is referenced here at Rob Lifson’s blog). For all everybody knew, this was the  
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way all Dave Orr Spotted Ties looked. 
Then Jay emailed me yesterday to say that a minor variation had been noticed in the card of Mets’ catcher Charlie Reipschlager (identified on the card and in the box scores of the day as “Ripslager”). It was simply how the name “Ripslager” was lettered across his uniform. It was clear that it had been re-done for some reason, possibly owing to the mechanical process by which the original photographs of the players were re-photographed using the big box cameras of the day, to creete one large photograph from which the sheets of cards were printed.
in any event, Jay suggested I should check the Ripslager card in my collection (and the other “Spotted Ties”) for the variation. I didn’t have the two different versions of the catcher, but lo and behold, there are at least two different versions of Orr. This second card on the left shows a larger, bolder identification, the letters nearly touching the tie, and far more spread out. 
The change may be difficult to see, so a picture of the two cards side-by-side is shown below. Intuition suggests there may be similar lettering variations on all of the Spotted Ties. It’s impossible to say if one kind is more valuable than the others (the most expensive Spotted Tie depicts Steve Behel, an early Jewish player). But the variations should not have come as a surprise. An entirel
y new pose of Jim Tyng (inventor of the catcher’s mask) was discovered just last year, not long after we had all realized that the “only” card of Baltimore manager Billy Barnie was actually two different photos, taken within seconds of each other, and showed only a slight change in where his gaze was directed, and a previously unknown player, Whitey Gibson, was only unearthed in 1980. And thus the charm of collecting: we’re still getting new cards, 113 years after Goodwin & Co. first made them.
OldJudgeOrrs.jpg

Rangers Run Past Yankees?

Whether or not his team actually beats the New York Yankees, I have to start this by standing up and applauding Ron Washington’s primary gamble.

He has in large part been forced into it by the reality of the fifth game against Tampa Bay, but there were other options and he chose the one in which unless the ALCS goes seven, he will only start Cliff Lee once. This means that one of the three key figures in this series will be not Lee, but C.J. Wilson.
Thus a lefthander will start Game One against the Yankees, and another one would start Game Seven, and because they are so scheduled, they would also each start a game in Yankee Stadium. Lefties in Yankee Stadium – your best bet to beat them. Provided they are good lefthanders.
The Yankees’ switch-hitters are all more powerful against righthanders. Their lefthand bats (Cano, Gardner, and Granderson) tend towards bad splits against southpaws. And Alex Rodriguez has mysteriously lost much of his punch against lefties (he hit .214 against them during the regular season). 
But is Wilson a good lefthander, or a bad one? Consider what the seven susceptible Yankee bats (Cano, Gardner, Granderson, Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, Teixeira) did against the Twins’ southpaws:
Versus All Minnesota LHP                  11-39  .282  two 2B, two 3B
Versus Fuentes & Mijares                     1-7   .143
Versus Duensing & Liriano                  10-32  .313

Admittedly it’s a small sample (two starts and five relief appearances) but there are some indicators. Though Marcus Thames tattooed Brian Duensing for a home run, none of the Yankee Seven hit a long ball off any of the lefties, even though Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, and Teixeira all batted righty against them.

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The inference, I think, is not a very complicated one. The entire Yankee line-up save for Jeter and Thames are stymied by effective lefties and merely slowed down a little by bad ones. We can pretty well guess to which category Cliff Lee belongs (although the second time the Yankees faced him in the World Series last year they beat him up for five runs, even in defeat). The question is, which kind is Wilson (the guess is: the good and improving kind). The indeterminable is whether either of the Rangers’ righties steal a win against New York, which would obviously reduce the Texas reliance on their former closer and their mid-season acquisition.
I described Wilson as one of the three key figures in this series. Given that Manager Washington tipped his hand against the Rays, the other two are Francisco Cervelli and Jorge Posada. The Rangers were the runningest team in the first round, and they are now facing the team with the fewest caught-stealings in the major leagues in 2010. Cervelli, Chad Moeller, Posada and the Yankee pitching staff stopped just 23 out of 155 would-be thieves during the year.
Minnesota didn’t try to swipe one bag in its cameo against the Yankees. Texas tried seven (and succeeded six times) against Tampa. Rays’ catchers had nailed 25 percent of runners during the season. The Yanks only caught 15 percent.
I think you see where Washington is going with this. Try to at least slow the “Susceptible Seven” down with Wilson and Lee, to say nothing of Darren Oliver in relief. But much more impressively, run the Yankees crazy. Five Rangers stole 14 or more during the regular season, Josh Hamilton had eight, and Jeff Francoeur had eight while with the Mets.
The Rangers may literally steal this series. I think the Yankees are utterly unprepared for this kind of onslaught, and if you think there’s a Plan B about swapping Cervelli in for the decreasingly mobile Posada, think again. Posada may have only caught 13 of 85 bandits, but Cervelli only got nine out of 64.
As suggested here when New York swept a series which I thought they’d lose, the Yankees are vampires. Manage passively against them as Ron Gardenhire did, let them up off the mat for a second, and you lose. But Ron Washington has already shown an absolute unwillingness to sit back, and that aggressivenes won him Game Five against Tampa. Take the chance with me. Rangers win, and might just get to hold Mr. Lee back to start Game One of the World Series.

Back-patting

A month in, some predictions I made here that I’m very happy about:

 Joel Pineiro might have been the off-season’s most overrated signing… 


Pineiro: 2-3, 5.76 ERA.

…just for good measure, Cliff Lee is not only hurt – he has the most nagging and unpredictable of injuries for a baseball player, ‘something in the abdomen.’

First appearance coincides with first discussion of his next team. Yikes.

What’s the psychological saw about repeating the same unsuccessful action with confidence that this time it will succeed? The Brewers are confident Dave Bush, Doug Davis, and Manny Parra and/or Jeff Suppan constitute three-fifths of a pitching staff.

Bush, Davis and Suppan are 1-6. Parra hasn’t started – yet – but he’s 0-1.

Here’s a silly little question for ARIZONA about Edwin Jackson. If he’s good enough for you to have given up on Max Scherzer, why is he pitching for his third team in as many seasons? 

1-3, 8.07.

Manny Being Just Manny (No PEDs) is a just slightly better offensive force than, say, Mark DeRosa. The McCourt Divorce may be a lot more interesting than the 2010 Dodgers, and a lot less painful to watch.

Your 2010 Dodgers, 11-14.

Matt Capps is likelier to be fine in Washington than Octavio Dotel is in Pittsburgh (he can’t get lefties out!)

The above may be an ultimate no-contest before June 1. Neal Huntington’s statement about the Pirates’ closer situation is the reason most people usually say “without equivocation.” The question about Evan Meek’s ascent seems to be only when (ok, a little bit “how” – like “how do the Pirates explain they wasted 99% of their free agent budget on an 8th inning guy?”)

Andruw Jones, Francisco Liriano, Fausto Carmona and even Eric Chavez are your seasonal comebacks…

Not bad, huh? I mean you even have to give partial credit because it’s May 2 and Chavez isn’t hurt yet.

Wow does BALTIMORE not have pitching…

Actually they’ve been a little better than that.

…keep the Ortiz thought in the back of your mind. What if the second half of ’09 was the aberration, not the first half? Will the Sox have to bench him? And if so, could the twists and turns of fate find them suddenly grateful that they had been unable to trade Mike Lowell?

We’ve already seen this play out in one direction, it may now be reversing – but long term this will not end happily for Big Papi.

I think Tampa ends up with the best record…This time I like the Rays to win the Series, five years after other owners seriously murmured about moving them or contracting them…


So far so good. Notice I have left out the prediction about Ike Davis not coming up before June 1. Or May 1. I’ll still stop now, I’ve strained something batting myself on the back.

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