Results tagged ‘ Joe Torre ’

Your All-Star Controlled Scrimmage

Jayson Stark tweets that All-Star Managers Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel were told to pick one “multi-position” player to their teams, which explains, if not excuses, the ludicrous selections of Omar Infante of Atlanta and Ty Wigginton of Baltimore. 

They are not All-Stars. They do not play every day. They are a kind of baseball equivalent of Special Teams guys, and that’s okay if that’s the way you want the All-Star Game to devolve. But you have taken it from an All-Star Game in which the actual stars often used to play the entire game, to an All-Star exhibition in which the roster is framed around a fans’ popularity vote, to one in which it is further restricted by a requirement that each team have a representative, to an All-Star Controlled Scrimmage in which a few more of the precious discretionary roster spots are awarded based on very narrowly defined “success.”
“Multi-Position Players”? “Middle Relievers”? What next, “Pinch-Hitters”? “Top Rule 5 Picks”? I mean, you could legitimize the ludicrous talk of having The Strasburg pitch in the game seven starts into his career by making sure a place on each team was reserved for “Top Rookies Brought Up Late To Avoid Super Two Arbitration Status.” And when you get to that point – and we’re close enough as it is – just call the thing on Monday “The Home Run Hitting Contest,” and the thing on Tuesday “All-Star Pitching Warm-Ups and Batting Practice.”
To expand on the issue of Middle Relievers, I have no problem with them. When Joe Torre put Mike Stanton on the 2001 All-Star team, many howled, I did not. But they have to be having a season that is as proportionately good as any Closer or Starter. And I don’t think Matt Thornton of the White Sox or Evan Meek of the Pirates are close to the top. Thornton is not an embarrassing pick (another tweet today suggested a good MLB scout considered him one of baseball’s top ten relievers – though I’d argue that surely at least one of the Padres’ Mike Adams, Heath Bell, or Luke Gregerson deserves to be ahead of him on that last, as does Bard of Boston, and very possibly Kuo of the Dodgers).
But I went a little further into the selection of Meek and it is just indefensible. 
Meek has pitched brilliantly this season. Obviously leads in Pittsburgh are scarce, but not impossible: Octavio Dotel has as many Saves as Jonathan Papelbon and one more than Mariano Rivera. One can argue that an All-Star Reliever – like Evan Meek – is more valuable with the Pirates than he is with the Yankees because leads are such a precious thing. Yet though he has pitched 38 times this year, the Bucs have only used Meek twelve times when they were ahead, and only five other times when they were tied. 
He comes to the All-Star table with more than half of his statistics compiled in games already lost, or nearly so. Twelve appearances with a lead. Ten appearances with his team already losing by three runs or more. These just aren’t the circumstances in which the other nine All-Star relievers have had their mettle tested. That he has been spectacular in 21 meaningless games, and less so in 17 others, is a virtual disqualification for consideration. You’re a step up from factoring how well guys did in AAA this year, or on Rehab, or in the AFL last fall.
It is also discouraging to how Meek has fared in the middle relievers’ equivalent of “Close And Late”:
Twelve Meek Appearances With Lead:
Games Saved:                                1
Games Held:                                   5
Games Won:                                   1
Blown Saves:                                  5*
No Win, Hold, Save, or BS:              1
“Record”:                                  7*-5-1
   * Blown Save 4/13, received Win
Five Meek Appearances In Ties:
Games Won:                                   2
Games Lost:                                   2
No Won or Loss:                              1
“Record”:                                    2-2-1

Even giving him both statistics in that April 13th game against the Giants in which he inherited a runner in the sixth, then gave up a single and a groundout producing the tie run, and then becoming the pitcher of record in what was ultimately a Pittsburgh victory, Meek, “Close And Late,” is 9-7-2. It’s counted seventeen times, and he has failed on seven of those occasions, and only twice because he inherited a runner and let him score.

Not only that, but the Pirates seem to be using him ‘when it counts’ less frequently as the season has worn on. Seven of his first fourteen appearances came while Pittsburgh was ahead or tied, and eleven of his first twenty-one were. Only six of his last seventeen have been.
I know this reads as if I’m beating up on Evan Meek. I’m not. He’s got great natural gifts and after years of struggle, his dedication to his craft and his willingness to learn has made him a valued major leaguer. I understand about the jigsaw puzzle that is the All-Star Roster (if Andrew McCutchen is actually the Bucs’ All-Star – and he is – then Michael Bourn can’t go representing the Astros and suddenly you’re making Matt Lindstrom or Brandon Lyon an All-Star). It’s not personal (it actually startles me that Pittsburgh, in another rebuilding season, hasn’t worked him into more pressure situations; heck, I even had him on my rotisserie league team for a month earlier in the season, and I take that stuff way too seriously). But the statistics of how they are using him suggest that no matter how good he might look against an individual batter or even in an individual game, the Pirates use him as if he were the second or even third best middle reliever on their team.
And when the second or third best middle reliever on the worst team in the league is an All-Star, it’s no longer the All-Star Game.

The Ken Burns Cat Out Of The PBS Bag

PBS has officially announced details of Ken Burns’ update to his 1994 PBS “Baseball” documentary, including the (cough) interesting (ahem) line-up (cut to the second paragraph) of interviewees:

Ken Burns’ “The Tenth Inning,” the follow-up to his nine-part 1994 “Baseball” documentary, finally will air on PBS Sept. 28-29, the final weekend of the regular season for Major League Baseball.

Roger Angell, John Thorn, George Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Bob Costas return for “Tenth,” and are joined by new interviewees Keith Olbermann, Joe Torre, Pedro Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki.

If you have a long memory, you may recall that Ken and I did not see eye-to-eye on the original series, which was to me a great sadness because I had so enjoyed his “The Civil War” (I watch it at least annually, usually twice a year). I had no desire to make any public criticism of it but was kind of asked to by ESPN when USA Today came asking the network for one of it’s baseball historians to address the series.
Happily, that is a long time ago and Ken and I have since become good friends. He’s been a guest on tv with me several times and did me the honor of letting me see a rough cut of the “Tenth Inning” supplement. It’s exceptional, retains his distinctive style and pace despite the greater availability of video, it’s historically perfect, and as always with his series (Shelby Foote in “The Civil War,” the late Buck O’Neil in the original “Baseball,” and all of the principals in his epic of WWII, “The War”), it will make stars out of some of the interviewees. For my money, ESPN’s Howard Bryant might be the breakout guy of the new production. My MSNBC colleague Mike Barnicle is terrific too. The most fascinating thing for the fan: Pedro Martinez at his reflective best, candid and moving, and a few memorable clips from the first sit-down interview I’ve ever seen with Ichiro. It’s in Japanese, it’s worth it, and he’s thoughtful, proud, and funny.
Me? I’ll do but it was a bad hair day.

2010 Forecasts: NL West


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? And why was the other guy you got in the trade a starter who
won his first major league start on September 1, 2007 – and hasn’t pitched well
since? Ian Kennedy’s rep in New York was as a guy who didn’t seem to want the
ball, and even if that was wildly untrue, there has to be some reason he went
from untouchable to throw-in in two years. On these two starters the
Diamondbacks’ season depends; they will get another acey season out of Dan
Haren and might even get a comeback from Brandon Webb, but if both
Jackson and Kennedy don’t produce,
there is nothing (Billy Buckner, Brian Augenstein, Rodrigo Lopez) for A.J.
Hinch to fall back on, and a truly potent line-up will have wasted a lot of
slugging.

COLORADO’s
line-up is so productive that it has come to this: if Todd Helton suddenly
decided to return to football (at age 37, for some reason) and they had to move
Brad Hawpe back to first base and go with some kind of Seth Smith/Ryan
Spilborghs combo, there would probably be no noticeable fall-off. There is no
reason to suspect that Jorge De La Rosa’s 2009, nor Jason Hammel’s second-half,
were flukes, and thus the Rockies offer rotational depth behind Jimenez and
Cook, and they have enough in the bullpen to back-fill for an injured Huston
Street without mentioning the dreaded words “Manny Corpas.” Franklin Morales
might just steal the job from him if Street is gone too long. This is a
well-rounded, deep team, and Troy Tulowitzki, batting clean-up, may reassert
himself this year on the path to being one of the league’s top ten hitters.

In LOS
ANGELES or anywhere else, I would trust Joe Torre with my wallet or my vote or
my house keys. But I think he’s in for a dreadful year. If anybody can get a
Number One starter kind of season out of Vicente Padilla, it’d be Joe; I’d
still bet it’s likelier that Padilla will achieve that rarest of feats – pitch
the opener and
wind
up being unconditionally released in the same season. My memory of Padilla is
him taking a no-hitter into the middle innings at Shea Stadium, and
sportswriters from two cities, in two languages, rooting against him because he
was surly in both English and Spanish. More over, what’s the message to Chad
Billingsley? Clayton Kershaw? What’s the message to Dodger fans that your fifth
starter battle involved both perpetual retreads named Ortiz? A great bullpen
cannot stay such if it has to start getting ready in the fifth inning, every
day. And the line-up is hardly as good as it looks. The Dodgers cannot get a full
season out of Ronnie Belliard, haven’t gotten one out of Blake DeWitt. They may
have burned out Russell Martin. And 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.

SAN DIEGO
might catch lightning in a bottle, if Mat Latos and Kyle Blanks and Nick
Hundley get off to explosive starts and there is no need to unload Heath Bell
and Adrian Gonzalez. If not, you’re looking at Aaron Cunningham and Chase
Headley as the three and four hitters, and Mike Adams or Luke Gregerson
closing. Watch, hope; rent, don’t buy.

I don’t
much like SAN FRANCISCO’s outfield (maybe they should have given John Bowker’s
spring training resurgence more attention), and their third best all-around
player might spend most of the season backing up Bengie Molina, but that’s some
pitching staff Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti have to play with. After Lincecum,
Cain, Sanchez, and Zito, I think Todd Wellemeyer is a stop-gap and Kevin
Pucetas (or maybe Madison Bumgarner – and who ever went faster from prospect to suspect?) will eventually claim the fifth spot. The
bullpen has gone from wobbly to outstanding in two years (Dan Runzler might eventually make Brian Wilson expendable; more likely he’ll just make he and Jeremy Affeldt the top pair of left-handed set-up men in the league). I’d be happier if they’d invested in an
actual outfielder instead of Aubrey Huff, put DeRosa at third, and Sandoval at
first. But if Colorado falters, this is the West’s best bet.

PREDICTIONS:
Colorado in a runaway, unless the Giants put everything together early. The
Dodgers finish third, just ahead of the Diamondbacks – unless the Padres blossom early as mentioned above and
don’t trade everybody, in which case the three teams will place within a few games of each other.

TOMORROW NIGHT: The National League Central.

So How Is George Steinbrenner?

It was the (only sometimes) unspoken question always in the background for the first season of the new Yankee Stadium, and it increasingly became the undertone as the post-season accelerated.

Even this afternoon, as the minions of the nation’s media capital tried to out-do each other with more and more speculative coverage of the victory parade, a reporter who has been on the radio here for nearly half a century insisted that the highlight of the day would be the “emotional moment” when Steinbrenner accepted his key to the city. A less-senior and far more skeptical colleague asked if this was actually going to happen. The veteran’s answer: “It’s right here in the program for the ceremony!”

This is, of course, the impression the Yankees continue to give: that all is not necessarily well with their venerable owner, but that he’s still frequently involved. There was even a very sad effort just last Saturday by The New York Post to palm off a series of e-mailed answers from infamous mega-flak Howard Rubinstein as an “exclusive interview” with George Steinbrenner. To paraphrase Churchill, the answers contained every cliche except “prepare to meet thy maker,” and “employees must wash hands.”

I have seen The Boss, with whom I have had a surprisingly warm and even conspiratorial relationship since I was a teenager, only twice this year, and the information gleaned from each encounter was directly self-contradictory. In March, David Cone and I were leaving the press box at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa when the place was frozen by security – it was George on his way out and they cleared the route for him. He was in a wheelchair and looked just this side of robust – twinkly-eyed and neither gaunt nor puffy. Cone whispered that he just had to say hello, and hoped he’d get a hello back.

This is what I heard:

Cone: (mumbled greeting)

Steinbrenner: Of course I know it’s you, David. Jesus! We could’ve used you pitching out there today. Who were those kids? Are any of them ready?

So much for Cone’s fear (and mine – to this day I think of George less for the chaos of the ’70s and ’80s and more for the letter he wrote to ESPN management praising my work on the 1992 Expansion Draft, in which I roundly criticized how his team handled the non-protection of its younger prospects, or the day he spent twenty minutes recounting to Bill Clinton, of all people, virtually every encounter he and I had had since 1973, right down to the story of my mother getting hit by the Knoblauch ball and refusing to ever go back to Shea Stadium even though the Yanks were playing World Series games there).

But just weeks later, during another lockdown, I saw Steinbrenner carted through the bowels of the new ballpark in the Bronx and lifted – not helped, but moved by a guy at each end – into a wheelchair.

Over the last few years, as his health has gotten intermittent, the volume of even rumors and whispers around the Bronx about how he is has declined. When the Yankees traded for Jeff Weaver, Steinbrenner poked his head in to the press conference and asked me “What do you think? How clear-headed does he sound? Is he going to be able to handle this?” – prescient questions, as it proved. A year later I was told that everybody knew there were “awareness problems” but that to my source’s knowledge, nobody in the Yankee organization had ever heard a diagnosis, a prognosis, or even a vaguely medical-sounding term. A year after that, when he recited our history to Clinton, his memory was so sharp as to include some stories that I had forgotten – but each time he tried to say my name, all he could come up with was “uhh… this young man.” After the 2007 season, there is no question that, to some degree great or small, he was behind the nightmarish, take-it-or-leave-it dethroning of Joe Torre as manager.

There are fewer such reports these days, and not even that level of source information. There’s a lot to be said against George Steinbrenner and lord knows I’ve said much of it. But something made me feel very sad today at that Yankee ceremony: contrary to what it said “right here on the program for the ceremony!,” The Boss was indeed not there to accept the keys to the city.

 

Some Mets Afraid Of Ghosts

I hate ghosts. They’re spooky. And I don’t respond well to spooky behavior.

                — Amy Poehler as “Maxine Walken,” Saturday Night Live, 2008



It is beyond tempting to give names to any of the three players involved, but as the New York Mets prepared for their road trip beginning in Milwaukee, those guys – and maybe more – are worried about ghosts.
The Mets are staying at the venerable Pfister Hotel and once again the 106-year old landmark has been cited as a place in which rooms might be booked by Supernatural Expedia. The local legend is that it’s one of the hotel’s founders, well-dressed and amiably, if somewhat transparently, still greeting guests from a perch on the 9th floor.
Cardinals’ infielder Brendan Ryan told a local television reporter that he sensed something from another world in his room at the Pfister: “It was more like a moving light that kind of passed through the room. It was very strange. The room got a little bit chillier. Strange things. Strange things.”
This is from a guy who has had to participate in the Bat-The-Pitcher-8th deal, so he knows his strange.
One non-believing Met has been egging on two of his teammates. One is a rookie who seems a little vulnerable to suggestion (and should really wonder if he isn’t being set-up for a Tim Hudson/Moe Drabowsky level of sophisticated practical joke while at the Pfister). The other is veteran whom the provocateur claims is seriously contemplating staying at another hotel and seems to have convinced himself he’d rather take his chances at Jack Nicholson’s place from The Shining.

Before you observe that the Mets should be more worried about trying to find the ghost of their offense, just in terms of the Pfister, there should be more practical concerns. The hotel was the scene of the most infamous fights in modern baseball history, which has twice been described to me with the phrase “Wild West Saloon Brawl.” The perpetrators were the 1974 Yankees, arriving in Milwaukee on September 30 for the end of the season with a slim chance to reclaim the lead in the A.L. East. Instead, backup catcher Rick Dempsey and backup utilityman Bill Sudakis, already jabbing on the plane, both tried to get through the Pfister’s revolving front door.
The breaking of the logjam at the door seemed to propel the two men into each other. The next thing that amazed on-lookers knew, furniture and players were flying around the lobby (the New York Times elegantly called it “brief but violent”). At least one vintage lamp was used like a javelin, and one version of the story has a chair being launched, either by Dempsey or Sudakis. Dempsey later told me that he knew if Sudakis, or somebody, didn’t stop him, he was going to kill Sudakis with his bare hands.
Unfortunately, the late Bobby Murcer decided he had to break it up with his bare hands. Murcer, a month away from being traded to the Giants for Bobby Bonds, also broke his pinky in the process and had to be scratched from the do-or-die game the next night. His replacement in rightfield, Lou Piniella, backed away from a tweener fly ball in the 7th, costing the Yankees the lead, in a game they would lose in extra innings – and in the process, be eliminated.
There should be at least a plaque in the Pfister about that. And if there really is a ghost, it should be of the 1974 Yankees’ post-season hopes.
YES, YOU WALK JETER TO PITCH TO MARIANO RIVERA, BUT:

As various announcers kept insisting with jaws agape that with runners at first and second, two out, Derek Jeter up, Mariano Rivera on deck, Yankees 3, Mets 2, top nine, that the Mets were insane to have Francisco Rodriguez pitch – even cautiously – to Jeter, two thoughts occurred to me:
1) What exactly would you do to K-Rod in the event Rivera got his bat on the ball and blooped a single somewhere, or worked out a bases-loaded walk (as he did)?, and…
2) Did anybody remember Joe Torre’s assessment of his outfield a few years back? That based on pure athleticism, his second most-gifted centerfielder would be Derek Jeter, and his first most-gifted centerfielder would be… Mariano Rivera?
EXTRAORDINARY IMAGE OF THE WEEK:

Jerry Manuel, whose obvious humanity earns him the respect and affection of virtually all who are privileged to know him, still can produce an occasional howler of a blooper.
On both Friday and Saturday, he insisted to the media that he was comfortable playing Ryan Church in center “because he’s played it in JFK.” We all assumed he meant RFK in Washington, because center at JFK Airport is around 18,000 square yards and has planes in it.
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