Friday, May 19, 2006

Book Review: The Devil Wears Pinstripes


by Matt Sandler

On Wednesday night, the Yankees fell behind 9-0 to the Texas Rangers, but they stormed back to take the lead by the sixth inning. After blowing the lead and then seeing Mariano Rivera give up the go-ahead run in the ninth, they won on a walk-off home run by Jorge Posada. Yankee-haters and Yankee-lovers alike could see this win coming. It was a great game; too bad the spawns of Satan came out on the long side.

I wonder if Jim Caple was watching. Those of you cubicle-dwellers who spend as much time on the Internet at work as I do are probably familiar with his work from Page 2 on espn.com. He is also the author of a funny and highly readable book devoted to Yankee-hating: The Devil Wears Pinstripes: George Steinbrenner, the Satans of Swat, and the Curse of A-Rod (Plume, 2005).

The book recounts the history of all the evil things the Yankees have done throughout their history. Of course, the book gives ample weight of the sale of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees, but it reminds us that the term “The Curse of the Bambino” was not coined until decades later. It also recognizes that as much as many of us hate the team, we love to hold this hatred. Perhaps everyone has a certain reservoir of hatred that they carry around with them, and to expend it on something as ultimately meaningless as a baseball team is just a healthy outlet. Caple writes, “The reality is that as much as we all hate the Yankees, we need them. They are an integral part of baseball’s circle of life, making the game a richer, fuller and more entertaining sport.”

The book is full of several versions of alternate realities, including an unofficial Yankees timeline, including entries like this one for August 12, 2000: “History is made, play is halted and a special ceremony is held when the umpire calls a strike and Paul O’Neill doesn’t bitch about the call.” He also presents an alternate history that may have occurred if Boston had never sold Ruth to the Yankees, including the Cubs and the Red Sox being the dominant teams in baseball history.

Most of Caple’s wrath is directed at George Steinbrenner, a.k.a. “Darth Steinbrenner.” George must have taken some of his cues from some of the earlier Yankee bosses. There was the general manager who fired Casey Stengel after winning seven World Series and three additional American League pennants in a twelve-year span, simply because he had the audacity to lose the 1960 World Series to the Pirates.

Caple also gives obnoxious Yankee fans their due. He accurately criticizes the “bleacher creatures” for their outrageously crass behavior, which often seems laced with serious strains of self-loathing. Caple had the nerve to see a Yankee game from the bleachers, which he somehow survived without winding up with a prison sentence or a broken nose. He also provides a handy Yankee-fan-to-English translation guide (“Your father sucks!” translates as “You’re welcome.”)

One minor quibble with the book is its overemphasis on recent history, especially events during the Steinbrenner reign. Bill Mazeroski’s home run to end the 1960 World Series does not even make the top ten list of “The Ten Moments We [Yankee-Haters] Savor.” Caple also has some running jokes that wear out their welcome, including references to Steinbrenner’s contributions to the Nixon re-election campaign and gratuitous references to Derek Jeter’s sex life. Finally, although all characters from Yankee history should be fair game, there are some tasteless gibes at Mickey Mantle’s alcoholism and the demises of Thurman Munson and Billy Martin.

But of course those without sin should cast the first stone. I am guilty of what I consider a still-healthy level of Yankee hatred. I look forward to starting my third decade of Yankee-hating, and rooting for a team bus crash.

Matt Sandler's column, "The Critical Fan," appears alternate Fridays.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mets Pitching in Flux

by Scott Silversten

Ten minutes or 12 months, give or take an hour or a day.

While it surely was a remark that was never intended to become public, New York Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson’s declaration that he could “fix Victor Zambrano in 10 minutes” has been the type of statement a sports figure will never live down.

Now it’s anyone’s guess how long it will take to fix Zambrano.

As we meander towards the two-year anniversary of the trade that sent prized pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Mets will be without Zambrano for what is most likely a 12-month period after the righthander underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow earlier this week.

During the operation, Zambrano had bone spurs removed while doctors repaired a torn flexor tendon and torn ligament. His career is in jeopardy and the bizarre sight of Zambrano (1-2, 6.75 ERA) sprinting off the pitching mound following a second-inning strikeout on May 6 will at the very least be the last time he is seen on the playing field for quite some time.

While it is mostly unfair to cast blame when a player gets injured, this is also a circumstance in which several parties must share some of the fault for Zambrano’s situation. First is the pitcher himself, who has said in recent days that his arm had been bothering him, yet he failed to inform his coaches and manager.

Good friend Pedro Martinez knew that Zambrano’s elbow was “barking,” but also kept the news to himself. As did Darren Oliver, who said he went to the bullpen on that fateful Saturday afternoon already mentally prepared to enter the game early if Zambrano was forced to leave prematurely. Perhaps it was Oliver’s mental preparation that allowed him to enter one out into the second and out-pitch Atlanta starter Tim Hudson over four innings in a game the Mets eventually won.

Still, this may be a case of be careful what you wish for, because it just might come true.

Most supporters of the Mets wanted Zambrano removed from the rotation, soundly booing him whenever he was on the mound. Now the team is faced with a shortage of starters. And despite the early success, New York is not running away with the National League East any time soon.

Proving how long the baseball season truly is, not only does it appear the Mets will battle the Philadelphia Phillies for division supremacy throughout the summer, there are still 123 games to play before thoughts even turn to the postseason. 123!

The Mets bullpen has been terrific this season, with new closer Billy Wagner, set-up man Duaner Sanchez and converted starter Aaron Heilman helping propel the team to a 24-15 start and a first-place position in the NL East. However, it’s a long, LONG, hot summer, and there will eventually come a time when the Mets need starters to pitch deep into games to reduce the workload on the key bullpen cogs.

Martinez and Tom Glavine have been exceptional at the top of the rotation this season, but the former is 34 with a history of fragility, and the latter is 40 and has never been known for racking up high pitch counts.

After the big two, there are question marks. Steve Trachsel missed a majority of the 2005 campaign with back troubles and has an ERA just below 5.00 so far this season. Rookie Brian Bannister (2-0, 2.89 ERA) was erratic but effective before landing on the DL with a hamstring injury. Jose Lima, John Maine and Jeremi Gonzalez have also received starts, but it’s doubtful that General Manager Omar Minaya will stick with that trio for very long.

Barring a trade, the situation opens up two intriguing possibilities for Minaya. The first is the transfer of Heilman back to the rotation, a move Heilman has publicly campaigned for in recent months. He was a first-team All-American at Notre Dame who went 15-0 in 15 starts in his senior season and made 15 starts for the Mets before shifting to the bullpen.

However, a tried and true baseball axiom is that you never weaken one position to fix a problem elsewhere, and manager Willie Randolph has stated that he prefers to keep Heilman in the bullpen, where he can pitch more often (he had 46 relief appearances in 2005).

The other fascinating option is currently at Double-A Binghamton. A 6-7, 190-pound 22-year-old righthander, Michael Pelfrey was the ninth overall selection in the 2005 First-Year Player draft out of Wichita State. Pelfrey began the season at Single-A St. Lucie and was overpowering, striking out 26 and walking only two in 22 innings over four starts. Promoted to Binghamton on April 29, he has a 4.15 ERA with 24 strikeouts and nine walks in 21 2/3 innings against Eastern League competition.

Whether it’s Heilman or Pelfrey or a yet-to-be determined option, how the Mets decide to deal with the issues that are affecting the bottom 40% of their starting rotation will be a fascinating development to watch throughout the summer.

Summer? The first day of summer (June 21) is still a month away.

It truly is a long season.

Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

An Open Letter to Carlos Delgado

Dear Carlos,

I wanted to take this opportunity to express my thanks to you for making my husband so happy. Ever since you became a Met, you have been bringing joy to my favorite fanatic, Doug.

Each of your 13 home runs (so many of which seem to happen at just the right time, by the way) make Doug jump for joy and exclaim, "I love this guy!" Am I jealous of his feelings for you? Not at all...living with a Met fan over the past few years has been pretty sullen…you have given hope to Doug and made it a much more cheerful environment in the Silversten home.

Doug has invested a lot in you. As a top pick in the all-important Fantasy Baseball Draft, Doug counts on you to give his team power. When you crack the bat for a base hit, you are making Doug happy on two levels: reality and fantasy. He even advertises for Baseball For Thought on your B-Ref page. He wouldn’t do this unless he really likes you…and he really does.

Carlos, you seem like a great guy. I don’t know much about your baseball career or stats, but anyone who makes Doug’s face light up like that must be a pretty special person. Keep up the good work…you are making my life much easier. I don’t have to listen to the angry "my fantasy team sucks/the Mets suck" rant as long as you keep the hits coming. I get to see smiles and hear enthusiastic applause…it’s much more pleasant.

Once again, thanks.

Sincerely,

Sarah
"The Fanatic’s Wife"

"Wild Card Wednesdays" appears every Wednesday

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mets' Season in Haiku

by Alan Eliot

Metropolitans
oh am I addicted to
the orange and blue

1969
and then 1986
years that bring me joy

Many years later
annual disappointment
brings pessimism

Mo Vaughn, Bonilla
Scott Kazmir for Zambrano
how much can I take?

But a new GM
comes to town and promises
a winning franchise

In 2005
non-Pedro acquisitions
are all total busts

Beltran, Mientkiewicz
Cairo or Kaz Matsui;
holes in the lineup

In the off-season
Omar Minaya builds for
strong 2006

Hoping that this year
we take the division from
the Atlanta Braves

And lo and behold!
we are 21-9
confidence is high

However, fans note
that in spite of our record
we are in trouble

Unnecessary
starting pitching depletion
starts to really hurt

Jae Seo and Benson?
you've got to be kidding me
Omar is on crack

Need to start some scrubs.
Uh-oh, Bannister is hurt
Maine lasted one game

Victor Zambrano
can't fix him in 10 minutes
out for the season

Trachsel, in spite of
clean bill of health and new back
pitches like grandma

Oh god! Fill the hole!
He couldn't make the roster
but now- Lima time!

In spite of hot wife
More than one earned-run per inning
what about Heilman?

Aaron Heilman is
not a lights-out reliever.
Mets pretend he is

"Vital" for bullpen-
considering AA
prospects over him

Bullpen is solid
but Wagner quite hittable
with his three blown saves

21-9,
now 23-14
only one game up

It's a long season
of course I understand this
but it's hard to win

When 2 of 5 games
you almost plan for a loss
hope for the big bats!

And sure, Delgado
is ripping apart the league
David Wright is god

Xavier Nady
with .538 slugging
is a nice surprise

Beltran producing
1 HR per 10 AB
sky-high OPS

Reyes- 15 walks!
LoDuca with 3 HR
had 6 all last year

Must stay positive...
Floyd under Mendoza line...
but swings the bat well!

Unfortunately

Phillies are gaining on us
13 of 14

One thing that I've learned-
never rule out Atlanta,
this year no different

With all the chaos
now afflicting the pitching,
I sincerely hope

They won't trade Milledge
for one-year Rent-a-Zito
or even Willis

That's just what we need
deplete the farm even more
Florida loves us

Pelfrey's stuff is sick
keep Billy Beane away or
he'll be wearing green

Mets will now scramble.
What to say? Hope for the best
gotta "deal with it"

As a lifelong fan
this is the way it will be
will stick by my team

Ya gotta believe
ya gotta believe, I say
ya gotta believe

Alan Eliot's column, "The Stories We Tell", appears alternate Tuesdays

Monday, May 15, 2006

Memo to Yankee Fans: Deal with it

by Doug Silversten

When Cubs' superstar first baseman Derrek Lee went down last month after breaking two bones in his wrist, it was certainly a tough break for a franchise known for tough breaks. However, tough breaks happen, and they are making due with a hodge-podge solution. Todd Walker has seen the majority of starts at first base, and such superstars as Jerry Hairston Jr., John Mabry and Neifi Perez have received addtional at-bats. The Cubs, and their fans, dealt with it.

When the A's ace Rich Harden went on the DL on April 28th with a torn muscle in his back, the A's once promising season abruptly took a turn for the worse. A's General Manager Billy Beane did all he could, and looked for a solution within. His answer? Brad Halsey. Yes, THE Brad Halsey. The A's sucked it up and are hoping for some quality starts from a mediocre replacement for their staff ace. The A's, and their fans, dealt with it.

In the past two weeks, the Yankees certainly have had their share of tough breaks. First Gary Sheffield went on the D.L. with a sprained wrist. Then, on this past Thursday, Hideki Matsui fractured his left wrist and may miss the entire season. For Yankee fans, certainly a devastating blow. By bringing up Melky Cabrera, the Yankees dealt with it. On the other hand, Yankee fans...went nuts.

Trade for Bobby Abreu! Go get Ken Griffey Jr! Resurrect Mickey Mantle!

STOP THE INSANITY!

Injuries happen. Deal with it. Every team has injuries, but only Yankee fans seem to think it is their right to replace injured stars with other superstars.

Injuries hurt because you are supposed to be forced to replace the injured with someone inferior. Yankee fans don't get this concept. I mean, Bobby Abreu? No offense to Hideki Matsui, who is a fine ballplayer, but Bobby Abreu is better in just about every facet of the game than Matsui. When Randy Johnson finally gets put on the D.L. due to a phantom injury called "general suckiness," Yankee fans are going to demand a trade for Johan Santana.

It doesn't work that way. It shouldn't work that way. Yankee fans need to learn that taking on other team's high salaried stars isn't always the answer. Your payroll is already embarassingly high. If you can't win by spending $200 million, or about $80 million more than your nearest competitor, than shame on you. I don't care how many injuries you sustain.

Deal with it.

Doug Silversten's column "The Big Picture" appears alternate Mondays.
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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