Results tagged ‘ Joe Torre ’

Jim Thome And Other Friends

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA – He has checked out and gone home so the statute of respect towards fellow hotel guests has expired, I guess.

I arrive at my hotel here the other night and the place is spread out enough that they recommend that you let them throw on to a golf cart for transport to your room, not just your bags – but you. And we go about 20 yards in the darkness when a big, broad guy with short hair sort of steps in front of the cart and the bellman/driver says “excuse me” and the fellow turns around and sort of stares for a moment before saying “Oh! I’m sorry. I kinda froze there for a moment,” and with a genuine laugh, hops out of the way. And he looks really familiar and while I’m staring at him I realize he’s staring at me and our light bulbs go off simultaneously and as I say “stop the cart for a second,” he smiles.

Jim Thome.

“This is where I’m staying while I’m unsigned,” he says with another patented Jim Lunchpail Thome laugh. I say back to him “this is where I’m staying while I’m unsigned,” and we trade career anecdotes and I ask about the Yankees and he says “I doubt it.” And we try to figure out if we first met in 1993 or 1994 and he says he’s working out but otherwise he’s pretty much by the pool each day and I should try to find him when I get back from the ballpark each afternoon. And I joke about how I nearly made his latest free agency academic by running him over with a golf cart and we say good night.

And Thome, who is easily the most universally respected player in the game, is still unsigned despite Twins rumors and Yankees rumors and the reality that somebody should sign him with an idea of convincing him to manage them in a year’s time because the other players think he’s pretty much the epitome of professionalism and knowledge. I think he knows he can’t play in the field any more but that would still let him fit in at Yankee Stadium because lord knows almost none of them can field any more either.

Thome was how my Cactus League jaunt began but the amount of additional quality human beings whom I’ve known forever that I’ve again been able to spend time with exceeds all my previous spring training trips. In the Angels’ camp it was Mike Scioscia (28 years) and executive Tim Mead (28 more), and from their opponents the Reds, writer Hal McCoy (about 10). At the Mariners’ facility it was consultant – and should-be Hall of Famer Ted Simmons (33 years), and manager Eric Wedge (20 years) and our traditional greeting of “Happy Birthday” (we share one; he’s much younger), and the announcers Dave Sims (32 years; we both worked for Charley Steiner in the 1981-82 timeframe) and Rick Rizzs (12). Rick was nice enough to ask me to come on his broadcast for an inning. Then I found out it was after Bob Uecker of the Brewers (36 years) was going to come on for an inning and as I said to Rick on the air: “I thought you liked me.”

At Wednesday night’s Team USA exhibition I got to visit with manager Joe Torre (32 years) and first base coach – and another guy who is a no-brainer Cooperstown pick – Dale Murphy (30). And today in Glendale it was the Texas staff: manager Ron Washington (10), coach Dave Magadan (11) and coach Dave Anderson (30 years ago this month I interviewed him at Vero Beach when we thought he might be the next Dodger rookie-of-the-year – “boy were you wrong,” he said, again). Upstairs I had a great chat with Rick Monday, who I’ve known for 33 years as everything from a player to a World Series star to a rival sportscaster when he was on Channel 11 every night in LA at exactly the same time I was on Channel 5.

To top it off, of course, was my annual visit with Vin Scully. I readily admit that it took me nearly three years to screw up the courage to introduce myself to him – and I was on local tv in LA during all that time – and when I finally did he said he was relieved, because he thought I’d done something to offend him. I’m sure Vin is not the saint we all portray him as, but that’s really just a hunch because nothing I’ve ever seen him do suggests otherwise. The self-deprecation never ends; even today his first words after hello were “thank you.” I said you’re welcome and then asked him what I’d done. He said “thank you for writing that excellent and kind blog about the Piazza interview.”

Ohhh, yeah. That was nearly a month ago and that was what he wanted to talk about. We batted back and forth the singular personality that is Mike Piazza, but mostly he was talking about friendship and support, and I mentioned that this was the kind of loyalty his kindness and patience engendered, and that I knew I spoke for many when I said I felt like it was our job to fire the arrows when he was attacked – especially when it was as unjustified and as inexplicable as it was in poor Piazza’s self-destructive book. And then there were the usual friendship questions that I invariably suddenly realize are being asked and answered by the Babe Ruth or William Shakespeare of his field and I remember why it took me three years to stop shaking long enough to say hello back in 1988.

So I know Vin for 25 years now – and remember that this represents only about 40 percent of the time he’s been bringing you Dahhh-ger base-ball. And if you wonder how much of a self-starter you can be as you begin your 64th year at one job, Vin and I visited for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and then he had to pre-record something for his broadcast and when I looked back in his booth after that he had begun his daily ritual of scribbling and reviewing notes for the game ahead. The exhibition game. The exhibition game on a drowsy Thursday afternoon. The exhibition game three weeks before the season begins. And he would continue to do so for at least an hour.

Talk about a role model.

Later in the week here I’m going to formalize what shallow insights I’ve been able to glean from the games I’ve seen (hint: Billy Hamilton) but for now I’m thinking of everybody that Spring Training provides me the opportunity to see again, from Thome to Scully.

That’s fifteen men who I’ve known for a total of 390 years. And every moment of that time, with every one of them, has been a privilege.

It’s been a pretty good trip, huh?

 

Updated: Mariano Rivera’s Torn ACL: The Luck Runs Out

Update Friday 5:45 EDT: Mariano Rivera answers one question, tweeting:

Thank you fans, friends and family for your prayers, well wishes and support. I will be ok. I will be back.

He also told reporters in Kansas City “I’m not going out like this.” The under-covered part of this story is not the torn ACL but the addition of the meniscus damage, which Rivera originally knew about, but the Yankees did not. Interestingly-timed piece in the New York Daily News.

Original Post:

(C) YES Network via Associated Press

At the risk of further turning major league baseball pitchers into the equivalents of the pampered and petrified thoroughbred race horses – don’t the Yankees have somebody to shag fly balls forMariano Rivera?

In considering the implications of his likely torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in his right knee, it is important to remember that since his days in the low minors, Rivera has included in his pre-game routine fairly vigorous pursuit of batting practice shots. But something then-manager Joe Torre said in 2006 is just as important. Somebody was looking at the Yankees’ lack of outfield depth and wondered if Derek Jeter might be an option in center, and Torre noted that while Jeter would survive there, the man on the team who was easily his best defensive center fielder was Rivera.

Torre’s observation was spoken seriously – Rivera has a great ability to read a fly ball, and is a terrific athlete – but it was not supposed to be taken seriously. But the New York newspapers did, and I actually called Torre to ask him about their extrapolations that this was a hint that Rivera was now somehow the greatest closer of all time and an emergency outfielder.

“Yes, he’s a great outfielder,” Torre said, “He’s always bugging me to let him play there in a game. But does anybody really think I’d be crazy enough to let him play in a game? What if he got hurt?”

Tonight we know the answer. After his pre-game injury sustained trying to chase down a fly off the bat of brand-new Yankee Jayson Nix, Rivera underwent an MRI, and after the Yankees’ 4-3 loss in Kansas City, manager Joe Girardi told reporters that the Royals’ team doctor said he thought the imaging indicated a torn ACL. Any tearing injury to that knee ligament would be severe enough to end Rivera’s season and, at his age, perhaps to his career. “If that’s the report,” Girardi told reporters in a media gaggle carried on the Yankee-owned YES network, “that’s about as bad as it gets.”

Did Rivera’s luck just run out? Did the luck of all pitchers just run out? Will they no longer be allowed to do anything unnecessary on the field? Girardi, whom the New York Times noted got the same ‘put me in coach’ pleading from Rivera as Torre had, thought not: “You can fall off a curb and get hurt. You have to allow him to be an athlete and be a baseball player and have fun out there. I’ve never seen Mo do anything recklessly, I’ve never seen Mo dive or try to rob a home run. It’s one of the way he exercises.”

But the disturbing, harrowing video of Rivera’s injury suggests he was in fact doing something that could be considered reckless, or at least slightly so. Just before his knee buckled, Rivera can be seen stretching his glove arm back over his body in a way he would not ordinarily do during a game, while simultaneously leaping. Can you trust pitchers not to jump, not to feel they have to catch that fly ball that’s just out of their grasp? Can you trust 42-year old future Hall of Famers not to?

Rivera told reporters in Kansas City that if he had to be injured, at least it happened while he was doing something he enjoyed. “Shagging, I love to do. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it again. No hesitation.” He confirmed that “it’s torn” and added a detail Girardi did not mention “meniscus also.” It’s unclear the extent of any injury to the meniscus. Rivera said he had no idea if he would pitch again.

But there is a responsibility to balance a player’s rituals and athleticism – and fun – and the inevitability of the clock running out. Decades ago, the Yankees moved Mickey Mantle from center to first base in hopes of preserving his knees and his career a season or two more. Even now Joe Mauer’s future – catcher, first baseman, or outfielder – is debated.

And with time, we reassess what a player should and should not be allowed to do. Jim Lonborg helped to pitch the “Impossible Dream” Boston Red Sox into the World Series, and won the 1967 Cy Young Award. That winter he tore up a leg while skiing, and soon player contracts began to be peppered with clauses prohibiting them from participating in dangerous sports. 26 years later, Texas Rangers’ manager Kevin Kennedy acceded to Jose Canseco’s wishes and let him throw 33 pitches in a blowout game against the Red Sox at Fenway. By the end of another incidence of letting a player do what he wanted, the blowout was in Canseco’s elbow and he would require Tommy John surgery. And just this past winter, the New York Mets made it clear that pitcher R.A. Dickey could go ahead with his plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but if he were injured, they would exercise their right to void his contract.

Girardi is right: Shagging flies has always been integral to Rivera’s pre-game routine, his exercise regimen, and his simple enjoyment of baseball. But that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do, nor the smart thing – just that nobody this good had previously sustained a potentially career-threatening injury. And Joe Torre’s rhetorical question about what would happen if Rivera were injured playing center underscores another essential element. If it had happened that way, it would at least have happened in a game, presumably for some vital or unavoidable reason, and not because a future Hall of Famer just had to throw himself off balance because his competitiveness demanded that he go all out to catch a batting practice fly ball.

With Rivera’s career potentially over, will teams try to curb their pitchers’ non-essential on-field activities? The answer may lie in another question: When Kendrys Morales of the Angels sustained a devastating fractured ankle during a team celebration after his walk off grand slam two years ago this month, didn’t we all assume we had seen the end of the ‘group jump’?

UPDATED: How Many Franconas Do They Think Are Out There?

Presumably the realization is just beginning to sink in now in Boston – and with the rumors that he’ll be the next one out the door, it must be sinking in at levels higher than Theo Epstein – that the Red Sox are now faced with a task far more daunting, and far more likely to result in disaster, than even playing their games in September turned out to be: Finding somebody to manage the team in 2012 who can merely do as well as Terry Francona did last month.

The Yankees-Tigers meeting in soggy New York over the weekend was filled with baseball people trying just to come up with somebody – anybody – who could handle the pressures of ownership, an intense fan base now driven crazier by eight years of entitlement feelings their ancestors hadn’t known since 1918, and the media. Throw in the startling recent comments by some Boston players and you can add in to the mix the fact that Tito apparently kept the lid on a team full of Prima Donnas and protected them against reality at every turn. Remember, in New York, if you are raised on the Yankees and you feel they have done you wrong, you can switch to the Mets (or more likely, vice versa). I know from my time living in Boston that there are people who proclaim themselves Red Sox fans who maintain a seething hatred – often kept below the surface – towards the franchise. I know of one who believes the team  shortened the lives of many of his male relatives. There are Red Sox fans who gain as much satisfaction from when there is turmoil as when there are titles. These folks can get bent out of shape very, very easily, and a surprisingly large number of them wind up with the area’s newspapers and radio stations.

After three days at Yankee Stadium, I didn’t hear one managerial suggestion that wasn’t fatally flawed. Worse yet, I didn’t hear one baseball person nominate somebody without saying that the nomination was fatally flawed. Some of the names have shown up at the bottom of a column by my old friend Gordon Edes. He writes mostly about Epstein’s future, but the last part focuses on five guys  supposedly already kicked around inside the cramped offices of Yawkey Way:

Among the names that have surfaced in internal discussions are Indians coach Sandy Alomar Jr., Rays coach Dave Martinez, Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, minor league manager Ryne Sandberg and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who has a mutual option to return to St. Louis.

There is also an assumption that DeMarlo Hale, the long-suffering bench coach for the Sox and the minor league manager of the year – in 1999 – will get an interview. The name “Joe Torre” has been thrown around, and despite the fact that he found his office job as dull as it sounded, I’m thinking this is highly unlikely. The name “Bobby Valentine” has been leaked, too – presumably by Bobby Valentine.

But let’s go with the bold print name there first. Tony LaRussa? Seriously? This man went ballistic at least twice this year facing the scrutiny of the St. Louis media. The St. Louis media is three writers and a guy from KMOX Radio. It’s hard to say for whom this would be a bigger disaster: the Red Sox, or LaRussa. As was agreed at Yankee Stadium when this name was floated (almost literally) there over the weekend: by June 1, a “Manager Tony LaRussa of the Boston Red Sox” would have fallen asleep at a traffic light in at least six different New England towns.

The next name would be Sandberg’s. Now let’s review what I wrote here last year at this time when Cubs fans were understandably clamoring for their old hero to assume the reins at Wrigley. The Cubs loved Ryno’s work ethic, his willingness to go back to Peoria and fight his way up the chain, but they saw nothing in his managerial skill set that even made him a rival to Mike Quade. When you are beloved in a town – irrationally, gigantically, statue-sized beloved – and you’re not a good enough candidate to edge out Mike Quade, you’re probably not a good big league skipper in the making. The Red Sox interviewed him a year ago for their AAA job at Pawtucket but before they made up their minds, he took the equivalent post with the Phillies. They seem to have a higher opinion of Sandberg, given his high-profile roles with the big club in Spring Training and again in September, but they’re not looking to retire Charlie Manuel any time soon, either. It could easily be that the Cub snub woke Sandberg up – and if that’s the case, the Sox would presumably be challenged for his services by several teams, and maybe even the Cubs again, now that new ownership is in full control.

Speaking of which, David Martinez and Sandy Alomar, Jr. are the front-runners for the White Sox job. Martinez, the Rays’ bench coach, was GM Kenny Williams’ teammate in Montreal 20 years ago and seems a cinch for the Chicago job unless something goes wrong. If it does, Alomar is a fine baseball man and as a player was a great calming influence on the high-strung Indians of the ’90s, and was just named bench coach for Cleveland. But each has a serious drawback: not only have they never managed in the majors, they’ve never even managed in the minors. How quickly would this start the Red Sox fans’ verbal riots in the event of a 4-10 start? What credibility would they carry among Prima Donna players? If Martinez has a particularly inspirational effect on the terrified Carl Crawford, that might be reason enough to overlook the inexperience, but I’m thinking the Red Sox are still stinging from the well-intentioned but disastrous decision to promote Joe Kerrigan to manager without any previous experience at any level.

So then there’s Mackanin. This is a solid baseball man who had two all-too brief stints as interim manager at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and never got the serious shot he deserved at either fulltime job. Mackanin knows his stuff, managed forever in the minors, and just turned 60 years old – which is a problem for the Boston position. Francona aged a century at the helm in Fenway, and he had already had an idea about the kind of media pressures he might face, from his unhappy years in Philadelphia.

So there are the problems. Terry Francona’s successor has to be a young, respected man, with a major league track record, an ability to hurdle the media, the fans, and the Prima Donnas. He has to have enough personality to get the benefit of the doubt from the fans, media, and players going in – but not so much that any of them feels he is overshadowing them. And he has to be an improvement on Francona.

Now who would that be? I kinda see a Bob Melvin type in here, but as the Mariners and Diamondbacks each discovered to their chagrin, there aren’t as many of him as they thought, either. The A’s smartly locked him in long-term after he very quietly did a superior job stopping the Oakland ship from sinking to the bottom of the sea this summer.

Anybody else?

Wait – I got it. Give him a month to recuperate and then see if this Francona guy will take the job.

Update: As tweeter Mike Mendez reminded my rain-addled brain: On Halloween night, 2005, Epstein resigned from the Red Sox and sneaked out of Fenway Park in a holiday Gorilla costume. Less than three months later, on January 19th, Epstein’s successor was named – and he got the added title of Vice President. Epstein’s successor was…Theo Epstein.

We Shall Not Forget (Provided You Pay)

For four years, MLB has exploited all the in-season holidays – Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day – plus on many occasions 9/11, by having all players wear special caps. Today, caps with an American flag patch stitched on the back, to the left of the inviolable MLB logo, were worn by all clubs and all players.

So, in New York, where in 2001 first the Mets and then the Yankees honored the fallen members of – and the heroic and selfless acts of – the New York Police Department, the New York Fire Department, New York EMS, Port Authority Police, New York Sanitation, and several others by wearing their caps during the games of the weeks after the attacks, Major League Baseball denied the Mets the opportunity to wear those caps again, just for tonight’s anniversary game, the only one being played within a thirty minute ride to the World Trade Center.

According to team Player Representative Josh Thole, the Mets players debated violating the dictum and wearing them anyway. Thole told reporters shortly thereafter that the league was adamant and it was a “no-go.” It is meaningful to realize that only three current Mets were even in the majors a decade ago: Miguel Batista, Willie Harris, and Jason Isringhausen. Evidently the Commissioner’s representative reminded them that the punishment – a heavy fine – would be meted out on ownership, not them (and for all we know, a major fine might cause this team to go out of business before noon tomorrow). For his part, David Wright wore a Police cap on the bench, but even he resisted the temptation to wear it on the field and incur the wrath of the Bean Counters in the Commissioner’s Office.

Those bloodless MLB individuals have been down this path before. Ten years ago, Bud Selig’s initially ruled the Mets and Yankees could not wear the caps during games. The Mets ignored the threat, and MLB decided to give them a pass for a game or two, and then the Mets kept wearing them, and MLB wisely backed off their nonsensical decision. Tonight’s ruling reminded everybody that at the moment of the nation’s greatest grief, MLB’s money-making instinct was unhindered by the blood and destruction and fear.

At least in 2001 the sport was smart enough to shut up. Not this year. MLB first blocked the Washington Nationals from wearing military caps in tribute after a disaster in Afghanistan last month. Then came this decision, complete with in the kind of stupidity that would make a megalomaniac proud: they blamed it on MLB Vice President Joe Torre, the native New Yorker who wore these caps at the end of the 2001 season. So if it hadn’t been shameful already, pinning it on Torre made it doubly shameful.

As an aside, I should note that I actually got a tweet from an idiot who wondered why I thought wearing the NYPD/NYFD/PAPD/EMS caps was somehow “patriotic.” It never crossed my mind. It has nothing to do with patriotism. 343 firefighters and paramedics died that day. 23 New York policemen did. And 47 from the Port Authority Police. This is about remembering them – and acknowledging what all those who survived did for this city and the wounds they still have. For me, as the grandson of a New York fireman, and the descendant of several others, and many NYPD and regional PD, this is something deeper than patriotism.

CitiField is, of course, ringed with commemorations and in particular the “We Shall Not Forget” logo placed in the ad right behind the batter’s box. And it has all been rendered utterly hollow because of the crassness of the decision about the NYPD/FD/EMS caps. If you still haven’t figured out why MLB is permitting this public relations disaster to happen; why Commissioner Bud Selig didn’t get on the phone and tell the Mets they could wear those caps right away and damn the consequences, the answer is to be found here.

In case you don’t want to follow the link, here’s your answer: this is available as of tonight directly from MLB for just $36.99.

I guess we should be happy it has an American flag, and that MLB just didn’t sell the space to the highest bidder.

A Modest (Moot) Proposal

So Adrian Beltre is going to cost the Texas Rangers $16 million a year for six years, and Derek Jeter is going to cost the New York Yankees $17 million a year for three years (maybe more).

Did the Yankees ever consider the financial madness, or the lack of quality control, that represents? Or, to phrase it more correctly, how many times will they be forced to think about it in the next three years, as Jeter continues his descent from impact player to easily-jammed to liability to living statue?
If it seems asinine to consider asking Alex Rodriguez to move back to shortstop after seven years at third base, it certainly isn’t much more so than is expecting Jeter to suddenly regain the range that deteriorated so noticeably last year, or to do that and be a productive shortstop on his 40th birthday.
All greatness comes to an end, and usually a year or two later, so does all sentimentality. The Yankees released Babe Ruth in 1934. They forced Yogi Berra into the manager’s office in 1963 and fired him in 1964. They dumped Casey Stengel days after his 10th World Series in a dozen years in the uniform. They let Reggie walk. They cut The Scooter on Old Timers’ Day. They marginalized and then released Bernie Williams in 2006. They cashiered Joe Torre.
If you are horrified by the thought of the Yankees simply throwing away Jeter, how horrified are you by the image of seeing him benched for Ramiro Pena or Cesar Izturis or somebody while the 2012 Yankees are chasing Toronto for third place behind the Sox and Rays, and you’re sitting there thinking “they could’ve had Adrian Beltre for a million less?”

Piniella, New Managers; More Fun With Minor Leaguers

It is a little unnerving to consider a baseball world without Lou Piniella – he’s been part of the major leagues, either as prominent prospect, trade chip, rookie of the year, grizzled veteran, coach manager, general manager, or broadcaster, almost continually since he didn’t make the Washington Senators out of spring training in 1964. 
Besides the obvious about Lou, you should consider that he was traded four times before he got his first major league hit, had the principles to honor a symbolic work stoppage in 1969 even though he had only ten big league games under his belt, was perhaps the most notorious arguer among the active players of his time, and managed to have a knock-down, drag-out fight with his ace reliever (Rob Dibble) while at least one tv news camera captured it, in the Cincinnati clubhouse.
I think Piniella would have happily managed until he was 80 if he had a bunch of guys like Dibble – nuts as he was – who cared enough to take a swing at him. There is a certain irony to the mindset that his retirement today in Chicago was just the capper to a season that saw Carlos Zambrano detonate, again. I got the impression that Zambrano was the least of Lou’s problems, and that Piniella had a lot to do with the attempts to resuscitate Zambrano’s status with the Cubs.
It was all the other guys with whom he’d had it.
SO WHO’S NEXT?
It’ll be Ryne Sandberg. The new ownership can’t resist, and nobody can argue Sandberg would be getting the job just for his name. He’s worked his way from the bottom up in the Cubs’ system, a rare thing for a Hall of Famer to do.
There has been a lot of new information about 2010 job vacancies flying around baseball’s seamy underbelly of rumor. I have now heard “Joe Torre, Mets” and “Ted Simmons, Mariners,” several times each, and the two old St. Louis teammates would be superb choices. In New York, where Jerry Manuel has done the best he could, the Torre situation is intriguing and disturbing. The club has financially hamstrung its executives ever since ownership got leveled in the Madoff scandal, so it’s hard to believe they could pay anything approaching the five million dollars Torre’ss getting from the Dodgers these days, unless Oliver Perez retires to a monastery.
As to Simmons, he’s the should-be-Hall-of-Fame catcher from the Cardinals and Brewers, and it is forgotten now because he had to leave the position so prematurely because of health issues, but he was one of the up-and-coming General Managers, in Pittsburgh in the early ’90s. More lately he’s been a valued bench coach at Milwaukee and San Diego and would, at the age of 62, be an unlikely, but inspired choice as a rookie manager next year.
SPEAKING OF MANAGERS:
We go back to this well – or perhaps it’s better described as “this bottomless pit” – of the prominent baseball figures of today, as they appeared on minor league baseball cards as recently as 1990 and as long ago as 1975.
In this edition, three of the 2010 managerial changes are fully represented in the bush league cards of 1987 and 1990. Most of what we’ll see is from the panoramic, 2,000+ card set issued, one team at a time, by the ProCards company.
And we’ll do these in chronological (well, 2010 chronological) order. Let’s start in Kansas City:
The former manager of the Royals, then a prospect in A-ball for the Indians, no longer has the job but still has the mustache. The new manager of the Royals (right), no longer has the mustache, but has long since stopped having to deal with his given name and goes exclusively by Ned. He, of course, had already been a major league receiver for the Brewers and Braves and would shortly begin his coaching and skippering career.
The wayback machine now takes us to the prom pictures of the two men involved in the managerial drama of the Marlins:
87FGonzalez.jpg
87RodriguezE.jpg
Fredi Gonzalez was in AA-ball in the Yankee system in 1987 and Edwin Rodriguez a notch further up in the Padres’ chain, long before one left the Florida dugout and the other entered it earlier this year. Have to say the years have treated them both pretty well. Rodriguez looks a little like the current president in the Las Vegas pose.
One side note here. In going through prospects to replace the current big league managers, I suggested that the Marlins might off Fredi and he would thus move to the top of the possibilities to succeed Bob Cox in Atlanta.
But back to our fun, and the most recent change, in Seattle:
87Wakamatsu.jpg
90Brown.jpg
I’m pretty sure it’s the angle of the photography at Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League in 1987 that makes it look like ex-Mariners’ manager Don Wakamatsu is trying to hit with a souvenir bat. Interestingly, his successor, Daren Brown, already had something of a manager’s stare-down in just his second season as a pro, at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 1990.
We have plenty more of these to go through, everything from GM’s to ex-GM’s to popular announcers, to superstars and possible Hall of Famers. I can be bribed into not sharing them, by the parties depicted, and you birds know who you are.

Joe Torre Is Not An Un-Person

I unreservedly like Tim McCarver’s work. I have compared his analysis before the last pitch of the 2001 World Series to Mazeroski’s home run to win the 1960 World Series. For all his stylizing and odd constructions, I’ve found his game analysis, especially his “first guessing,” to be almost universally insightful and correct.
But he’s dead wrong about this Joe Torre stuff. And not just for the unfortunate imagery he used during Saturday’s broadcast from Yankee Stadium at the end of the sad week in which both Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner died. Tim is wrong on the facts.

“You remember some of those despotic leaders in World War II, primarily in Russia and Germany, where they used to take those pictures that they had taken of former generals who were no longer alive, they had shot ‘em. They would airbrush the pictures, and airbrushed the generals out of the pictures. In a sense, that’s what the Yankees have done with Joe Torre. They have airbrushed his legacy. I mean, there’s no sign of Joe Torre at the Stadium. And that’s ridiculous. I don’t understand it.”

McCarver has apologized for the imagery (you hate the Yankees? Fine. The “rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel” is stern enough, we don’t have to bring Hitler and Stalin into this). But he sticks to the contention that the Yankees have “airbrushed” Torre from their history and should have retired his number by now.

Let’s address the number first. Torre has been gone for only two-and-a-half seasons. Nobody else has been assigned his old uniform number 6. In examining the retirements, the Yankees have shelved fifteen numbers representing sixteen players (both Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey wore number 8). Mariano Rivera’s 42 will be automatically retired upon his departure from the Bronx, in keeping with the baseball-wide retirement of the number to honor Jackie Robinson in 1997 (and doubtless Rivera will get his own ceremony since he’s clearly earned it).

Fourteen of the sixteen honorees were, at the time of their uniform retirements, either still working for the Yankees, out of baseball, or deceased. When Casey Stengel’s number 37 was put away for good in 1970, it had been a decade since he had last managed the Yankees and half of one since he had last managed the Mets. He still had a largely ceremonial vice presidency with the Mets and still suited up for short stints during spring training. Berra was managing the Mets when the number he and Dickey was retired in 1972. By then Yogi, too, had been away from the Yankees for a long time – eight years.

There is some logic in delaying, especially for individuals still living. I found what is in retrospect a hilarious blog post from September, 2007, declaring that the Yankees would “surely” be one of three teams to retire the number of a veteran player: Roger Clemens. Yeah, and don’t call me Surely.

Thumbnail image for IMG_0183.jpg Clearly the Yankees are honoring Torre by not handing his old number to anybody else. But has he been under-represented in terms of imagery at the new Stadium? McCarver acknowledged he saw some photos of his old friend in the park and did had not meant for the “airbrushed” imagery to be taken literally.

Turns out there are 21 photos of Torre on display at the new Stadium. One of them is just Joe and Steinbrenner, giant-sized, at one of the park’s street entrances. I saw a couple of others of note tonight in the Bronx, in my first visit since McCarver’s remarks. This would be the entrance to Suite Number 6 down the first base line. The motif is pretty straight forward for each suite – a series of photos of the Yankees who wore each number, even a list of them in the alcove just outside the door. And the pride of place in terms of photography goes to the odd image you see at the left. In fact, let’s get a little closer and see just who that particular Number 6 happens to be: IMG_0184.jpg


I’m not sure who that is with him, but that would be Joe Torre on the left. And the idea that he is somehow being dissed by being shown back-to-the-camera denies the purpose of the photograph: each suite emphasizes the Yankees who have worn that number. 

Off point, no, I do not believe there is a Suite 91 featuring nothing but photos of Alfredo Aceves.

Now, the image above is a small, untitled photo, correct? Doesn’t emphasize Torre’s vast contributions to the remarkable streak of four titles in five years? Try this, from the main concourse of the stadium, behind the ground level seats, down the left field line.

IMG_0189.JPG

Prime location? Two beer stands and a men’s room?

Each Yankee championship team is remembered with a three-photo display. It starts with 1923 in the farthest corner of Right Field and then moves chronologically back towards the plate and out to Left. And who are the guys in the farthest right panel?

IMG_0188.jpg

That’s right: the late George Steinbrenner, Rudolf Giuliani, and dressed for a very cold parade day from 2000, Joe Torre. 

I’ll repeat myself here. I’m a fan and friend of Tim McCarver’s, and Joe Torre is my oldest baseball friend. I’ve even worked with them both. And I know the Yankees could have done better by Joe, and his exit was unceremonious and poorly-handled by the club. I would also argue that the Yankees are the most self-important, overly-serious franchise in overtly pro sports (I can think of about 27 college programs that would at least give them a run for their money).

But Timmy was just wrong, in style and in substance. Neither literally nor figuratively have the Yankees excised, erased, airbrushed nor Memory-Hole’d Joe Torre. Doubtless the day will come soon, perhaps even while he’s still managing elsewhere, that they will formally retire the number and give him the big ceremony he deserves. To see a conspiracy in the fact that the day has yet to come is, at best, to overreact.

A Little More On George

The most surprising part of my interview with Joe Torre tonight was his revelation – which he had first mentioned at his late afternoon news conference at Dodger Stadium – that he spoke to George Steinbrenner on July 4th to wish him a happy birthday. They had, evidently, a fairly long conversation, and that fact underscores a quality about Steinbrenner’s penultimate illness which lent it the makings of something akin to a Greek Tragedy.

Unlike most mental impairment diseases, whatever afflicted Steinbrenner from around the time he fainted at Otto Graham’s 2003 funeral, was utterly intermittent. He could be lucid and fiery at one moment, and almost incapacitated the next, and then back again. In Spring Training of 2009, as an example, I sat with David Cone during a Yankees’ exhibition game at the park in Tampa that had just been renamed in Steinbrenner’s honor. As we left the press box we found our exit path blocked, because Mr. Steinbrenner was leaving, by wheelchair. When Cone spied him, he sighed, and said “I have to try to say hello to him; he hasn’t recognized me the last few times.” 
The next thing I heard was “Of course I recognize you, David. Jesus! Could we have used you pitching out there today! The way they knocked our kids around. You look like you’re still in shape, will you pitch tomorrow? Good to see you!” And then, “Hey, Keith, good to see you too!” A month later I saw them carrying him, prostrate and blank-eyed, in and out of golf carts and elevators, for the opening of the new Yankee Stadium.
Back to Torre. He was fearless about suggesting the sad truth of Steinbrenner’s life: that he was never satisfied, and ultimately may not have been happy. Clearly there were moments of joy, but as Joe observed at his news conference, and as Ken Burns repeated on the show, even the triumphs were followed with the almost obsessive attempt to continue, or repeat, or exceed, usually beginning the moment the champagne stains had dried in the locker room.
Still, of course, the memories come flooding back. I recounted tonight how, during the near-riot in the infamous Phantom Tag Game in the American League Championship Series of 1999, our Fox game producers ordered me as field reporter onto the field and in front of our third base camera, and Fenway Park security just as quickly ordered me off the field and into the box: “You sit in that seat there, or I’ll eject you from the yahd.” I sat down, adrenalin pumping, and heard a voice to my left. “Hi Keith! Some night!” It was Steinbrenner. They had put me in – of all places – his box. He agreed to do an interview with me at game’s end (“if we live”) but warned me he wouldn’t say anything interesting. I asked him only one question and all he said was that Boston manager Jimy Williams had “incited the crowd” and thus made himself the story.
One more favorite encounter, one George never knew about. I was 22 and working as part of my future ESPN co-conspirator Charley Steiner’s three-man sports staff at the RKO Radio Network (Charley was the boss, I was the weekend sportscaster, and John “Chief” Martin – now ESPN’s crack radio honcho for MLB and NBA broadcasts, was the producer). The dreadful, dismal 1981 baseball strike was in its umpteenth day and news was drying up. Suddenly a story broke that a bunch of owners had reached a similar stage of hatred of the impasse and had decided to try to talk Commissioner Bowie Kuhn into a palace coup against the hardline owners who had forced the walkout. Nobody was even sure exactly who the owners were. All we knew was that the insurrectionaries were going to meet with Kuhn.
All Charley knew was that he wanted to be there and scoop everybody in the process. He called John and me in, to work the phones from late morning until we could tell him when and where the meeting was scheduled. Nothing worked. We called everybody we knew, and a lot of people we didn’t, and at one point I actually suggested to John that we might as well just start dialing any ten digit combinations at random and asking whoever answered if they knew anything about the meeting. 
Around 10 PM, I gave up and walked home from Times Square to my tiny apartment at 55th Street and 2nd Avenue. Since I had spent the day making these pointless calls, I hadn’t eaten, and thus my ramble took me just slightly off my normal route. I wound up at a pizza parlor on the Northwest corner of 55th and 3rd, instead of my usual Southeast corner. Thus, pizza box in hand, and my RKO Radio Network and Motorcycle Gang Black Vinyl Jacket on my back, I crossed the intersection onto the Northeast side, right past the venerable New York bar, P.J. Clarke’s.
Suddenly the side door to Clarke’s opened and out bounded who else but George Steinbrenner, headed to a limo parked on 55th. I was too far away and too generic in his estimation to get to him to ask him if he knew anything about the Kuhn meeting, and was silently damning both my luck and anonymity. Suddenly he wheeled around and yelled back to the still-open door. “Hey, Eddie!” A balding figure peeked out from the light of the doorway. It was Edward Bennett Williams, the famed attorney and then-owner of the Baltimore Orioles. “Eddie! When the hell are you and I and Chiles having that meeting with Bowie tomorrow?”
I slammed myself against the wall of Clarke’s so neither of them would see me, nor the big red words “RADIO NETWORK” on the back of my jacket. Williams answered calmly. “Bowie’s apartment, George, 10:30.” He even gave the address. Steinbrenner merrily waved good night and jumped into the limo. I ran to my apartment building, balancing the pizza box as I did, and phoned John at the office.
“The meeting is at Bowie Kuhn’s apartment,” I began, with fake calm. “10:30 tomorrow morning. I know Steinbrenner will be there, and Edward Bennett Williams, and Eddie Chiles from Texas.” John, who to my knowledge has not otherwise been both silent and awake since some time in the late 1950’s, was dumbfounded. Mixed with a series of original and appreciative expletives, he asked me how I could have possibly found out.
“Oh,” I replied with an air of sophistication I’m sure I didn’t come close to carrying off. “I ran into Steinbrenner at Clarke’s.”

Quick Plug

I dont generally do this, but if you want to pop over from the All-Star Game, Ill be joined by Joe Torre and Ken Burns to recall and reflect upon the life and death of George Steinbrenner – the two segments will begin about 40 minutes past the hour on Countdown.

George Steinbrenner, 1930-2010

I mean this with no disrespect and with no touch of humor: Only George Steinbrenner could pass away on the morning of – and thus overshadow – baseball’s All-Star Game.

To my knowledge, and I had known him since I was fourteen, and interviewed him as long ago as 1980, he only did one thing in his entire, extraordinary life that was below the radar. His commitment to charity was personal and private and the likelihood is that even at this hour we only know its barest outline. This was the kind of man who would read of a high school somewhere in this country without enough books and within the week they’d somehow have them, and usually anonymously. 
For all his flaws, I think the basic dichotomy of his life was between the Steinbrenner who screamed at you for not getting the job done even if there were 143 extenuating circumstances, and the Steinbrenner who screamed at you for not getting the job done and then made the realization himself that there were 143 extenuating circumstances and tried to resolve all of them for you.
These elements would clash in his most famous baseball relationships: with Billy Martin, with Reggie Jackson, with the media, with the Yankees as an entity. The endless firings and rehirings of the tragic, self-destructive Martin were ultimately about Steinbrenner’s belief he could somehow redeem the man. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden were attractive to him as free agents because if they paid off he could thumb his nose at the Mets, but the second and third chances he gave them both were because he came to feel fatherly about them.
I’m skipping much of his influence on the game here. You know it already: when he bought the New York franchise it was so moribund that, as Bill Madden recently revealed in his superb biography of Steinbrenner, part of the purchase deal was that the purchase price be artificially inflated to make it look as if CBS wasn’t selling at a loss. 38 years later the franchise is worth more than a billion dollars. Steinbrenner’s spending on free agents started that ball rolling – in retrospect they were conservative, logical, savvy steps. He changed the sport, and while we can wax nostalgic for what it was in 1971, the fact is that attendance and the interest in the game have grown astronomically for the very reasons he was hated by some: he raised salaries, raised ticket prices, raised television fees – and raised baseball.
Perhaps alone among reporters, I never had cross words with him. I was still startled to find out that after the 1992 baseball expansion draft, he wrote a gushing fan letter to our bosses at ESPN about our coverage of the event. In 2000 the two people who rushed to contact me about my mother after she was hit by a Chuck Knoblauch throw, were Joe Torre and Steinbrenner. In 2003, I was standing in the back of a news conference for Jeff Weaver on the day of his arrival in New York when I felt a tap on my shoulder and a whisper in his ear. “Keith, how’s he doing?” It was Steinbrenner. Incredibly, nobody noticed he was there. My favorite moment with George was also the saddest. By happenstance I was in the press box on the day in 2005 when President Clinton came to the Stadium to accept a check from Steinbrenner for the money the Yankees raised (there’s the charitable instinct again) for tsunami relief. The two of them sent Yankees’ president Randy Levine out to get me, and I was startled to spend two innings with them, saying almost nothing as George rolled out every single encounter we had had over the years (“I’ve known this young man since he was – how old were you? Thirteen? Fourteen? And he did the funniest piece on me firing managers for The Times and he was there when I broke down when we won at Shea five years ago, and this young man’s mother was the one – How is your mother?”).
He knew all of it as if it had been his job to know all of it. But the sadness came in the quick realization that the recollection was punctuated by him addressing me as “this young man” (I was 46), because you could see him reach for my name, and not be able to find it. Whatever deterioration of his faculties had begun a few years earlier was beginning to take its toll in a heartbreaking, inconsistent, up-and-down, struggle to the end. And the end came this morning, with a legacy mixed between the best and worst of man’s instinct, but consistent always in its quality of being larger-than-life.
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