Friday, April 18, 2008

Manny Being Brushed Back: Quit Your Whining, Sox

The negatives from last night's game: Mike Mussina didn't have control, and he didn't have guts, and he may not have much more time. Manny Ramirez teeing off again. Falling behind 7-0. Letting that twerp Josh Beckett dominate, at least for a while. The Red Sox win, 7-5.

The positives from last night's game: Getting 5 runs late, which will usually be enough, if not last night. Proving once again that they can hit Jonathan Papelbon, as big a (expletive deleted) as Curt Schilling and Beckett, not to mention a few non-pitchers on the Sox. And Kyle Farnsworth, for the first time perhaps, justified his presence in the Yankee organization by coming in high and tight on Manny.

Coming inside on David Ortiz hasn't been necessary, since he's been hitting lousy to start the season. (His first after the Mitchell Report came out. And he's lost weight to go with points and power. Things that make you go, "Hmmmm... ")

And one more positive thing: While the Yanks are around .500, they're still in a better position than they were at this point in the last 3 seasons, when they still ended up making the Playoffs, and the American League appears not to be as loaded as it's been in the last few years, so another trip to the Playoffs -- as either the AL East Champions or the Wild Card -- still looks like a good bet. Not that baseball condones betting.

The pitch was close to Manny's head. Good thing it didn't hit him in the rear end. It might have caused brain damage.

Manny was a lot calmer about this one than about the head-high -- but over the plate -- pitch that Roger Clemens threw him in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS. But Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia was mad. Said Pedroia of Farnsworth, “He throws 100 mph. That’s career-ending if it hits him.”

I've seen enough of Farnsworth to know 2 things about him:

1. He's willing to hit guys.
2. He usually doesn't have the control necessary to do so.

Pedroia should shut his trap. I know he wasn't on the Sox roster when Pedro Martinez was, but Pedro (back then, anyway) could throw 97, and he aimed for batters' heads and hands, and didn't give a damn about their safety. He's a punk -- then, now, forever.

And there was postgame mention in certain media outlets that the Red Sox would be looking for revenge against the Yankees in the next series between them, in July.

Hold on: Boston hits A-Rod in the Wednesday game, purposefully or otherwise, and that's "part of the game." A defensible position, if not a palatable one. But Farnsworth comes up and in on Manny, not actually hitting him, and it's an unpardonable sin? An offense that must be avenged 3 months later?

As the great New York sportscaster Warner Wolf would say, "Come on, give us a break!"

If the Sox need Farnsworth's pitch to use as motivation for the July series, then we've already beaten them. In case they didn't notice, it's a Yankees-Red Sox series. If you need more motivation than beating your arch-rival, then you don't deserve to win.

The Red Sox have been throwing at Yankee hitters since a brawl at Yankee Stadium in June of the "Impossible Dream" season of 1967. Live by the sword, die by it. Not literally, but that hasn't stopped Sox pitchers from Jim Lonborg ("Gentleman Jim," my ass) to Bill Lee to Dick Drago to Roger Clemens the Pedro the Punk to Bronson Arroyo to Beckett from trying.

It's an ugly history, and when your team launches Pearl Harbor, don't go crying about fairness when we land on Guadalcanal.

There's no equivalent to Hiroshima -- at least, I hope not -- but come October, maybe September if the Sox can't make it to October, they will be signing the surrender on the deck of the Battleship Missouri.

(In all fairness, the 1967 beanball was out of character for Lonborg. As far as I can tell, he never threw another purpose pitch, and really was a good pitcher, and seems to have been a good guy. But that one time, whoa.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Winning Ugly Is Still Winning

Yankees 15, Red Sox 9. Another slugfest between the Bronx Bombers and the New England Idiots. (Hey, that's what they called themselves in 2004: "The Idiots." I report. You decide.)

I saw some of that game at Bubba Gump restaurant on Times Square. Four screens at the bar. One showing "Forrest Gump" -- while I was there, focusing on the Yankees' 1965 to 1975 dark age. Then there were the Mets, the Red Sox and the New York Rangers, the 3 sports teams I hate the most -- the order often depending on who's the most in the way at the time, and whose fans are being the most obnoxious. Didn't stop me from eating, though.

I wasn't happy about Chien-Ming Wang's Sinker of Doom not working. But it's gotta frustrate the Chowdaheads that their boys got 9 runs off the Yankees in our house -- and lost by a touchdown! (OK, we missed the extra point.)

A-Rod hit Number 522. Only 241 more to go. Passing Ted Williams and Willie McCovey, however, doesn't make him the greater legend. Then again, they never won a World Series, either -- but at least each won a Pennant, something A-Rod hasn't yet done.

LaTroy Hawkins switched to Number 22, and pitched very well. Giving up Number 21 was the right thing to do. Whatever the virtues of Roberto Clemente, in the New York Tri-State Area, Number 21 means Paul O'Neill. (Unless you think it means Cleon Jones.)

My grandmother, a Queens native who went from rooting for the Dodgers to rooting for the Mets, liked to say, "It's not how good you are when you're good, it's how good you are when you're bad."  In other words, if you can play badly and still find a way to win, you're going to be all right.

To put it another way: This ain't figure skating. There are no style points. Your home run still counts for as many runs as it drives in, no matter how you wear your uniform or your hair. (Lucky for the Sox.) And you don't get half a point added to your ERA if the music playing when you come in from the bullpen is bad. It's all about can you score more runs than the other team? If you do, that's all. "Winning ugly" is still winning.

I really hate the Rangers. I hate the Texas baseball team and that Glasgow soccer club just because of the New York hockey team. Talk about winning ugly. And that's just Jaromir Jagr and Sean Avery, soon to star in the video "2 Girls, No Cup!"

The Devils better win tomorrow night: Not just to stay alive, and push this awful series to a Game 6, but we cannot let those bastards clinch in our house! We must defend the Rock!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jackie Robinson: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Today is the anniversary of the major league debut of Jackie Robinson. On April 15, 1947, he played 1st base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in their home opener at Ebbets Field. Although he did not get a hit, he did reach base on an error, scored a run, and played errorless ball in the field. The Dodgers beat the Boston Braves, 5-3.

Yes, kiddies, a Major League Baseball team in Brooklyn, and a National League team in Boston. There was also an American League team in Philadelphia and another in St. Louis. And, for 60 years until Jackie arrived, there were no black players, and no Hispanic players who looked anything less than all-white.

There was also no artificial turf, no domed stadiums (retractable or otherwise), no fireworks-shooting scoreboards, and, until the next year, no teams had regular television broadcasts. In fact, it wasn't until Game 1 of that year's World Series that a Series game had been on TV.

September 30, 1947. That's another day that should be celebrated. You see, Jackie said that was the highlight of his career. It meant that he made it.

Yes, I know, he titled his autobiography I Never Had It Made. And if he were alive today (diabetes and heart trouble killed him at 53), he'd be the first to tell us that getting into a game, getting into a World Series game, playing for a World Champion in 1955, getting into the Hall of Fame, getting so many men of his race into the game, opening the door for Hispanic players and now Asian players... he'd tell us that it's still not enough.

But on that day, at Game 1 of the World Series, standing there on the foul line, hearing the National Anthem, knowing that he was on that line with his Dodger teammates, looking across at the opposing Pinstripers, at Yankee Stadium, preparing to play for the championship of the baseball world, it meant that he, and his teammates, had faced all the pressure, all the bigotry, all the questions, and had not only lasted, but thrived. It was victory on the field of play, and it was victory in the larger field called life.

*

So much has been made of Jackie Robinson the pioneer, and rightly so. But Jackie Robinson the player has often been overlooked. As Thomas Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence, Let the facts be submitted to a candid world:

He was a good hitter: A lifetime batting average of .311, on-base .409, slugging .474, his OPS+ a strong 132 (meaning that his combined on-base and slugging percentage was 32 percent better than that of the average player), and only once in his 10 seasons (ironically, in 1955, the one year his team went all the way) did he have an OPS+ of less than 100, otherwise going from 107 to a peak of 154.

He never hit 20 home runs in a season (twice reaching 19 despite playing in Ebbets Field, a bandbox), and only once had more than 95 RBIs. But in 6 of his first 7 seasons (all but 1952), he had at least 30 doubles. And in 6 of his first 7 (all but 1950), he scored at least 100 runs and had at least 20 stolen bases.

This is the key to understanding Jackie's impact: Baserunning. My grandmother was from Queens and was a huge Dodger fan. Her all-time hero in baseball, and in life, was Jackie Robinson. She couldn't stop talking about him, especially his baserunning.

He'd dance off 1st, driving pitchers nuts. He'd steal 2nd, or unnerve them into a balk. Then he'd do one or the other to get to 3rd. Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers since 1950 and the last continuous link to their Brooklyn days, said he once saw Jackie get a hit, and then get the pitcher so nervous that he walked the next batter, sending Jackie to 2nd; watched Jackie jumping off 2nd, suggesting he might steal 3rd, and in his nervousness walked the next batter to load the bases; and then, knowing how often Jackie had stolen home plate -- it became his trademark, one that lasts to this day -- was so shaky that he walked the next batter to force in the run, and Jackie then calmly walked to the plate. Scully's been broadcasting for 59 seasons now, and he says he's never seen anybody else do that.

Jackie Robinson made baserunning -- not just the stolen base, but taking the extra base, or even the threat of the stolen or extra base -- a major weapon for the first time since Babe Ruth made baseball a homer-happy game. He changed how the game was played, not just by whom.

After him came the other aggressive black players like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson. After them came the "Go-Go White Sox" of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox -- one of the first true Hispanic stars, and a white Southerner who knew he wasn't big and strong, so he adapted his game so that he played it like the black stars. After that came Maury Wills, and then Lou Brock, and soon every team decided it needed a running game.

Jackie also won the 1st officially-awarded Rookie of the Year award, in 1947, and the National League's Most Valuable Player award in 1949. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, on the first ballot.

He went in with Bob Feller, the great Cleveland Indians pitcher, who also went in on the first ballot. They were the first players so honored since the first inductions in 1936. Feller had once said that, if he were white, with his qualifications and physical attributes -- Jackie was built like a football running back, which he was, and a very good one, at UCLA in 1939 and '40 -- he wouldn't even be considered "big league material." Feller has had to spend many an occasion over the last 60 years eating those words, and he now says he was proud to go into the Hall with Jackie.

Jackie collected 1,518 hits -- in just 10 seasons. And remember, he played from age 28 to age 37. He only had half a career. Even his "prime" was cut in half. Had baseball always been open to nonwhite players -- assuming he even would have played baseball, rather than football, or gone into another line of work had American race relations been better to the point where the Jackie Robinson we know hadn't been necessary -- he could have played a full career, 18 to 20 seasons, and gotten to 3,000 hits.

Would he be in the Hall of Fame, with the stats he actually had, if he were white, or if another man were the first black player since the 1880s? Maybe: He had some terrific seasons, won that MVP award, and in 8 of his 10 seasons, his team got to the last game of the season still eligible for the Pennant. He won 6 Pennants, but only the 1 World Series, as the 1949-56 Dodgers were one of the unluckiest teams in baseball history.

One of the great ironies of baseball is that many people credit Jackie's steal of home in Game 1 as the spark that led the Dodgers to finally beat the Yankees and finally win a World Series in 1955. But the Dodgers lost that game, and lost Game 2 as well. They then won 4 of the last 5, the first team ever to win a World Series after being down 2 games to none. Jackie's steal was a highlight, but it had very little to do with the Dodgers finally slaying the Pinstriped dragon. They won because they got great pitching from Johnny Podres and Clem Labine, 4 homers from Duke Snider, 2 more from Roy Campanella, key hits from the previously October-struggling Gil Hodges, and the benefit of Mickey Mantle being hurt and unable to contribute to the Yankees.

*

In March 1997, I won a radio contest, and got two tickets to the April 15 game at Shea Stadium between the Mets and the now-Los Angeles Dodgers. It was going to be Jackie Robinson Night, the 50th Anniversary of Jackie's debut. Naturally, I took my grandmother.

Rachel Robinson was there. So was President Bill Clinton. So was Commissioner Bud Selig, who announced that the Number 42 that Jackie wore for the Dodgers was being retired for all of baseball, with everyone still wearing it allowed to keep it until they retired. (Mariano Rivera of the Yankees is now the last one to do so.) Several of Jackie's surviving teammates were there, including Snider, Don Newcombe and Carl Erskine. I noticed that Pee Wee Reese wasn't there: He was battling cancer, and he died 2 years later.

On line for a hot dog later on, I saw one of the TVs showing a guy in the stands, who looked awfully familiar, but I couldn't quite recognize him. Maybe it was because he was older than I was used to seeing him in photographs. Maybe it was because he was wearing a Mets cap. Then he was identified as Sandy Koufax, whose first 2 years (1955 and '56) were Jackie's last 2. (Apparently, Koufax and the Dodger brass were at loggerheads at the time, and he was a high school classmate of Met owner Fred Wilpon's, thus willing to wear the Met cap.)

The Mets won the game, 5-2, and Grandma and I left Shea through Gate C, near the players' and press entrance. At one point we heard something, and turned around, and the Robinson family was leaving. Grandma was thrilled that she got that close to Rachel, who still heads the Jackie Robinson Foundation, now run by daughter Sharon.

It was the last major league game my grandmother ever went to. Although the Lakewood BlueClaws, a Single-A farm club of the Phillies, soon took up shop just 6 miles from her house, and she saw a few of their games, she never again schlepped up to New York, Philadelphia or anywhere else.

She would be pleased to know that she has a great-grandchild named Rachel, although my sister named her that for reasons that have nothing to do with baseball. (Update: Now that Ashley and Rachel are old enough to understand some of the things I tell them about baseball, and have learned about Jackie, they admire him, too, and Rachel likes that she shares the name with Mrs. Robinson.)

That last game, and the aftermath, was Jackie Robinson's final gift to my grandmother. But as long as baseball is played, and it's played by more than just white men, he is the gift that keeps on giving.

I just wish he'd been able to deliver it in person a while longer.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Not Quite a Lost Weekend, But Bad Enough

The Yanks won the first game at Fenway, and the last two were both winnable. But in both of those, Joe Girardi saw men on base, but one base open, and Manny Ramirez at bat, and pitched to Manny both times, rather than walking him intentionally, resulting in a double on Saturday afternoon and a single on Sunday night, totaling three RBIs, leading to turning a 2-1 lead into a 4-2 deficit and a 3-1 dropoff into 7-1.

At this rate, I'm gonna have to call him George W. Girardi.

Don't blame Mike Mussina and Phil Hughes: If the manager had let them walk Ramirez and prevent Manny from Being Manny, and pitched to Kevin Youkilis, it could have been very different. Sure, Youk could've gotten RBI hits, too, but it's not as likely as Manny doing it. Girardi lost these games.

With a little help from A-Rod turning back into the A-Rod of 2005 and '06, leaving a bunch of ducks on the pond. This is not why George Steinbrenner pays you the big bucks, Alex!

Come to think of it, hardly anybody is hitting!

I'm not ready to hang the manager. Let the Flushing Heathen call a good man with substandard players "Witless Willie" and call for his head. I'll give Girardi a chance to get us out of this.

On the other hand, the Yank pitchers are pitching inside to Manny. It's not intimidating him at all -- maybe Manny's too dumb to grasp the concept of intimidation -- but it might be sending a message to those schmucks.

And David Ortiz is batting .071, and wasn't even put in the lineup for the Sunday game! Have we finally solved Big Papi?

Or maybe... maybe he was taking steroids and finally stopped. Can that be it? Of course it can. Would Bud Selig and his pals in Red Sox management ever admit it if it was true? Is the Pope Hasidic?

(UPDATE: We found out on July 30, 2009 that both Papi and Manny failed steroid tests in 2003. Neither were disciplined for it, although Manny was essentially run out of baseball for failing a later test.)

*

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Heidi Bowl, when NBC turned away from the last minute of an AFL game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders, with the Jets leading 32-29 at the Oakland Coliseum, because it was 7:00 Eastern Time and they'd been promoting a TV-movie version of Heidi as a big family-entertainment package, and they didn't want to disappoint the kids. Then the Raiders scored a touchdown, and the Jets fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Raiders scored another touchdown to win, 43-32.

And the NBC switchboard nearly blew up with angry callers who missed all that action.  Those two teams would meet again in the AFL Championship Game at Shea Stadium, and the Jets won, 27-23, on their way to winning Super Bowl III.

Something similar happened with Saturday's rain-delayed Yanks-Sox game. The Yanks were down to their last out, and it was Robinson Cano, who hasn't hit a lick yet this season, so Fox could be pretty sure Cano wouldn't do anything, and they had a contract to show an event of the Non-Athletic Spectacle Centered Around Rednecks, and they'd already asked the NASCAR officials to delay the start of the race a little bit, and they had, and Fox did go on to apologize for cutting away.

I don't care what kind of contract Fox had with NASCAR: You do not ever turn your cameras off the last minute of an event to switch to the first minute of an event. You especially do not switch from the National Pastime and the greatest rivalry in all of sports to go to a bunch of guys driving around in circles surrounded by 200,000 people getting drunk and hoping for a crash.

To paraphrase George Carlin (a Yankee Fan), Auto racing is not a sport. It's driving. It's turning left. You might as well call driving to work a sport. You might as well call riding the subway a sport. At least on the subway, you have the chance to... I won't use Carlin's words... tackle somebody.

(Note: This was before I decided it was okay to use profanity in my blog.)

Derek Jeter might be coming back, but Jorge Posada is still hurt, backup catcher Jose Molina (one of the few Yankees who is hitting so far) is hurt, and we've lost Joba Chamberlain due to his father's illness -- apparently very serious, so it could be for a while.

The Yankees are 6-7. In last place. On the other hand, they're only a game and a half out. And they're still in better shape than the Mets, who aren't hitting, aren't fielding well, are missing Pedro Martinez for who-knows-how-long, and do not have anything resembling a reliable bullpen.

*

The Devils looked horrible again Friday night, in Game 2 in Newark. And the referees didn't help. But in Game 3 at the Garden, they fought hard -- figuratively and literally -- and John Madden won it in overtime.

The Devils trail 2 games to 1, and are still alive. Win Wednesday night, and they're back in business.

But I'm not holding my breath. You need more than one good game in a row to win in the Playoffs. A lot more.

Between the Bronx Bombers and the Newark...

I gotta come up with a new name for the former Meadowlands Marauders. The Prudential Center is on Newark's Broad Street, but the name "Broad Street Bullies" is taken.

(UPDATE: I eventually went with "Mulberry Street Marauders.")

Uncle Mike is not happy. I mean, less so than usual.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Teams I Love to Hate

(NOTE: I wrote this before the 2012 NHL Eastern Conference Finals, the 2013 World Series, and Super Bowls XLIX and LI. If I were to do this again, I may have to rearrange some of these.)

The Yankees took Game 1 of this series at Fenway, 4-1, as Chien-Ming Wang nearly pitched a no-hitter, and the Yankees got runs where they could.

Game 2 is Mike Mussina against Super Punk himself, Josh Beckett. Moose better have something. If he does, and we can wait Beckett out, I like our chances.

Update: The Yankees now say the story of a Red Sox T-shirt being buried beneath the concrete in the visitors' clubhouse at "the new Yankee Stadium" isn't true.

Now that I think about it, so what if it is? All that means is that the rest of the American League will walk all over the Red Sox. If that happens on the field, the Sox will be so far back in the standings that it won't matter what they do against the Yankees. It'll be like 1996 all over again.

All the "Evil Empire" stuff is wearing thin. After all, most of us hear those words and think "Soviet Union," not "Darth Vader." Besides, the Red Sox have shown themselves to be the ones on the Dark Side.

And how stupid is it? Sox fans hate the Yankees for spending so much money. Why would they compare the biggest capitalist in North American sports to a Communist country?

Yes, the Red Sox, their organization, and their fans are stupid. But are they the team that I hate the most?

After two disgraceful performances by the Devils, at home, against their arch-rivals, in the Playoffs -- this could be a sweep -- it only makes me hate the Rangers more.

But do I hate either of those teams more than I hate the Mets? Or my high school's arch-rivals?

I decided to quantify it, with a sorta-scientific rating system. I decided to leave out the high school rivals, since hardly anybody who might read this would care about "the Purple Bastards" anyway.

Here are the parameters:

* Is the team a rival, or the arch-rival, of my favorite team in that sport?

* Have they gotten in the way of my favorite team in that sport winning a championship?

* Have they inflicted a particularly painful loss on us?

* Are they smug? Corollary: Are they sanctimonious? Yeah, I know, this could also apply to the Yankees.

* Are their fans a bunch of schmucks?

* How often do I have to face these schmucks? This automatically "favors" local teams opposed to my own, although some teams' fans tend to travel well, while others pick up bandwagon fans. But looking at their ugly caps, T-shirts, jackets, etc. is one thing: Having to hear it from them is another. So I'm counting this one twice.

* Have I hated them for a long time?

* Has the current group of players, coaching staff, management or fans given me any reason to think less of them than their on-field performance may have earned?

* Is there a historical reason to hate them? As in, something they've done so bad (affecting my team or not) that gives reason to hate them 20, 50, even 100 years later?

* How important is the sport? For baseball, I decided to boost the scores by 25 percent; pro football, 20 percent; the NHL, since the home-State team still matters while the home-State NBA team won't even be in the home State in (we think) 3 years, 15 percent; the NBA, 10 percent; college football, 7 percent; and college basketball, 5 percent.

In the end, though, only one amateur team made the Top 10. If I'd had to include opponents of my old high school, there would have been at least 2 more, and one of these would likely have challenged for the top spot.

So here are the rankings. In the end, it was very close. The top 4 were separated by 4.25 points. The top 3, by 2.5. The top 2, but a quarter of a point.

10. New York Knicks. I have a confession to make: I may be the last person who cares about the Knicks-Nets matchup, at least until it actually does move to become an intracity affair. It's not even really a rivalry.

The reason the Knicks are on this list at all is because of 2 people. One is Pat Riley, who as Knicks coach in the 1990s went against his Laker achievements in the 1980s and emphasized rough play. If the late 1980s, early 1990s Detroit Pistons' "Motor City Bad Boys" were the Bruins of basketball (with apologies to UCLA), then the 1990s Knicks were the Flyers -- without the World Championships.

And Riley's tactics -- and, to be fair, Piston coach Chuck Daly's as well -- got copied by the rest of the league, so that 102-100 games began to fade away and 82-76 games became more common. This meant that there were two types of NBA games in the 1990s: Games with Michael Jordan, and games with lousy offense.

The other reason to hate the Knicks is John Starks. For a brief time, 1992 to 1994, it was a real rivalry, as the Nets had plenty of talent, too. Derrick Coleman. Kenny Anderson. Drazen Petrovic. Really good players. Perhaps as much talent on the court as the Knicks. Perhaps the most talent the Net franchise had ever had, including the ABA Championship teams of 1974 and '76.

Then, in a nationally-televised game midway through the '93 season, Anderson was going to the basket, and Starks clotheslined him. A pro "wrestling" move. Anderson landed hard on his arm and broke his wrist. Out for the season. The Nets still won the game, but became rather ordinary for the rest of the season. They faced the Knicks in the first round of the Playoffs and, in a best-of-five, got knocked out in four. Right after that, Petro was killed in a car crash.

The franchise was never the same: Anderson never fully recovered from his injury, and bounced from team to team; Coleman became a lazy, moody whiner who had to be dumped in 1995 after he was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, "Waaaaaaaah!"; and the Nets' former disease of moronic draft picks returned, including Yinka Dare and Ed O'Bannon. They made the Playoffs again in '94, but not again until 2002, and in the intervening 7 seasons were as bad as a basketball team could be.

Now, Starks didn't cause all of that -- it's not a "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" situation -- but he was still a jackass who ruined the best season the team was having since it entered the NBA 17 years earlier, and nobody -- outside of Houston Rockets fans -- was more pleased than I was when he turned out to be the goat of Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

And Knick fans still talk about Starks' dunk over Jordan? Excuse me, but who won 6 titles and who won none? You think Met fans still talk about Mike Piazza's homers off Roger Clemens? Well, actually, they do, but they're stupid. As you'll see later on in this list.

The current Knick management, led by James Dolan and Isiah Thomas, also boosts their rating. On the other hand, it also makes me sympathize with their fans somewhat. Whatever the Knicks organization or players have done, the fans have usually been good, and they don't deserve this crap. So I dropped the Knicks down to Number 10. As time passes, and I revise this list, I may remove them altogether.

9. Oakland Raiders. Actually, with my rating system, the Raiders ended up Number 6. But they really haven't done all that much in a generation. One trip to the Super Bowl, and one other trip to the AFC Title Game, since they won Super Bowl XVIII, which was 24 years ago.

Al Davis' thumbing his nose at authority, pissing off first Northern and then Southern California, acting as if the rules don't apply to him or his players, except when the rules support him and oppose his players, encouragement of dirty play from Ben Davidson in the Sixties to Jack Tatum in the Seventies, Lyle Alzado in the Eighties and Bill Romanowski in the Nineties, and several Raiders dying young because he looked the other way on steroids, to say nothing of the fans, who look like biker gangs from a postapocalyptic "fantasy" film such as the Mad Max series...

But do I really hate the Raiders more than the teams that ended up 10, 9, 8 and 7 on this list -- the Flyers, Knicks, Celtics and Penn State, respectively? No. But then, I don't root for a team in whose way the Raiders have frequently gotten: The Jets, the Miami Dolphins, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Denver Broncos, the San Diego Chargers, and their metro-area neighbors, first the San Francisco 49ers, then the Los Angeles Rams, now the 49ers again.

But it also shows something that the Raiders have pissed off that many teams' fans. So I tweaked the ratings system to keep the Raiders in the Top 10, but not halfway up it. And if they don't like that, then they can take these ratings and shove them halfway up their asses.

8. Philadelphia Flyers. The Broad Street Bullies aren't just relatively close (their arena, named the Wachovia Center this year but that's already its fourth name in 12 years, is just 65 miles from my home base), but they glamorized violence in the 1970s. They, not any team back in the 1942 to 1967 "Original Six" era, not any team before that, not even the Big Bad Boston Bruins earlier in the 1970s, did as much to give hockey an image as a sport where fighting is not only allowed, but encouraged.

Also... Black and orange? It doesn't look good on those preppies at Princeton, and it doesn't look good on the Broad Street Bozos.

7. Boston Celtics. They probably wouldn't make the Top 10 if it wasn't for their great regular season, which has made people pay serious attention to the Celtics for the first time in a generation and brought all the fair-weather fans out of their spider-holes.

A year ago, nobody in New England would admit there were any teams besides the Red Sox, the Patriots and UConn basketball. Now, suddenly, they're all saying the Celts will win Title 17. I smell a choke. It may not happen until they face the Detroit Pistons in the East Finals, but the C's won't make it. (UPDATE: I was wrong, they did.)

6. Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions, football edition. This is the only amateur team to make the list, and it's all because of one person: Joe Paterno. Known in "Happy Valley" as Joe Pa and Saint Joseph. Known on this blog as Ratface.

He's a wonderful human being who donated to the university library? Don't give me that: Al Capone gave to charity. So does Rupert Murdoch. So does another truly evil Pennsylvanian, Richard Mellon Scaife. Paterno's acolytes claim he does it with class. But in the 1990s and 2000s, he's shielded a few players accused of various crimes, who've gotten off because he's their -- pardon me -- character witness.

And to top it off, he's a Republican. A big donor to right-wing candidates. And yet, when his son ran for Congress as a Republican, he got his clock cleaned at the polls. Which goes to show one thing. I'm not certain whether that one thing is that politics trumps sports or that Central Pennsylvania voters are capable of separating the achievements of the father from the record of the son, as New Jersey voters did in a Senate election, dumping Republican State Senator Tom Kean Jr., who wouldn't have even gotten the nomination had his father not been former Governor Tom Kean Sr. But it shows that the lionization of Paterno has its limits.

When he finally retires... or is forced out by a Penn State administration growing a spine... or, most likely, dies in office... will the Nittany Lions still be on this list? It may be moot, since Ol' Ratface may outlive us all, including me.

(UPDATE: No one could have foreseen how Paterno's reign in Happy Valley would end. No one, that is, except Jerry Sandusky. And he probably thought Paterno would find a way to save him. In the end, Paterno couldn't even save himself.)

5. Los Angeles Dodgers. In Brooklyn, they were a lovable, successful though often disappointing team. A team of nobility, with Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Don Newcombe. Dem Bums. In Los Angeles, they're just bums.

Walter O'Malley is one of the great villains in the history of sports. (See December 2007: "Walter O'Malley Does NOT Belong In the Baseball Hall of Fame.") Don Drysdale was a headhunting punk. Tommy Lasorda was (and, still alive at this writing, probably still is) a pompous gasbag. News flash, Tommy: There is no Big Dodger in the Sky. God is a Yankee Fan. Steve Garvey was pushed on us as Mr. Perfect, and it turned out he was far from it.

That the Dodgers are this high on the list is due to 3 reasons: The move, screwing Brooklyn, now 50 years old; the networks pushing them on us as "America's Team," the way the NFL did with the Dallas Cowboys, even though the Dodgers themselves, at the least, had enough class to not use the term; and the 1981 World Series. If the Yankees had won that one, the Dodgers would still be on this list, but in the 2nd half, not the 1st.

4. Dallas Cowboys. I have a DVD about the Philadelphia Eagles, and on it, WIP morning-show host Angelo Cataldi says, "I've seen it. I've seen fathers come up to me in these pregame shows in the tent outside the Vet. And they've got kids three, four, five years old, and these kids know, like, six words. And two of them, taught to them by their fathers, are, 'Dallas Sucks!'"

Then the next clip is Cataldi, doing the pregame show from a tent outside Veterans Stadium, starting that very chant!

But there are more people who hate the Cowboys than, probably, any other U.S.-based sports team except the Yankees. And the Cowboys haven't won as often. OK, they've won a lot, but not nearly as often in the postseason.

What makes fans from East Rutherford to South Philly to D.C. to Green Bay to Candlestick Point all hate one team this much? It's the "America's Team" stuff. It's the hypocrisy of being called "God's Team" while the self-righteous Tom Landry overlooks his players' drug use and other crimes. It's CBS showing them so much in the Seventies and Eighties that they were nicknamed the Cowboys Broadcasting System. (Much as NBC is now called the Notredame Broadcasting Company.)

It's fair-weather fans in rotten-weather cities switching to the Cowboys when their hometown team falls apart. It's oil. It's insurance. It's banking, all big industries in Dallas. It's radical right-wing politics, from oilman H.L. Hunt bankrolling the John Birch Society to the Dallas Morning News printing a "WANTED" for "treason" poster for JFK the morning before he was killed there to Dick Armey leading the Republican hate-the-poor crusade of the mid-1990s.

All this thrives in Dallas, to the point where the rest of Texas hates them, too. Houston? Austin? San Antonio? Even those cities will yell, "DALLAS SUCKS!" It's not all because of the Cowboys, but it's a pretty good reason for it!

3. Boston Red Sox. If the Yankees and Red Sox were playing in the same city, like the Dodgers and Giants used to, and were playing each other umpteen times a season instead of the few games the Yanks and Mets play a season, they'd be Number 1.

And while there were a lot of fans who really had waited for a long time, and whose standard for defeat was 1986, 1978, 1975, 1967, even 1949, '48 and '46, rather than these Chowdaheads who may have been in junior high in 1999 and high school or college in 2003, and made drunken spectacles of themselves in 2004 and did not deserve their titles, no Sox fan deserved 2007.

And the management and players are low-class as well, trying to claim for themselves the benefits of being "favorites" and the benefits of being "underdogs" as well, while whining about the drawbacks of both. Yeah, I know, David Ortiz is a good guy. Oh, really? Then why doesn't he tell his teammates to knock off the purpose pitches? And the fight-picking? And the stupid dancing? And why doesn't he tell Manny Ramirez to grow up? Well, that last one may be a lost cause.

But there's plenty of reason to hate the Red Sox. Even if you're not a Yankee Fan.

2. New York Rangers. RANGERS SUCK.

Yeah, this is due to the proximity not just to me but, even closer (though the move to Newark makes it a little longer) to the Devils. But most of it is due not even to the difficulty the Devils have had beating the Rangers in the Playoffs -- losing in seven games in 1992 and '94, and in five games in '97, before finally sweeping the Broadway Boozehounds in 2006, now down 0-2 in 2008 -- but to the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.

Ol' Lex Luthor, on the verge of becoming the most spectacularly failed athlete in New York Tri-State Area history, down 3 games to 2 with Game 6 on opposing ice, guarantees a win. Even Joe Namath, guaranteeing victory in Super Bowl III a quarter of a century earlier, wasn't under that kind of pressure.

You'd think that, after Messier scored 2 goals, the Devils would try hitting him, slamming him into the boards. Instead, they let him score a 3rd goal. Then came Game 7, and Stephane Matteau became to area hockey what Bobby Thomson is to area baseball. That hurt. A lot.

Since then, the Devils have won 3 Stanley Cups (including the year after that heartbreak, proving their character), and have been a threat to win it every season, while the Rangers have made the Conference Finals only once (thanks to the Devils' disappearing act in '97) and have wasted millions of dollars.

But the current Rangers, who've already flopped badly in 2006 and '07, have plenty of guys worth the hate. Jaromir Jagr. Sean Avery, a cheap-shotter extraordinaire and maybe the most hated player in the game. And ex-Devil, now traitor, Scott Gomez. If there's one thing Devils and Islanders fans agree on, it's this: RANGERS SUCK!

And speaking of the Isles, Ranger fans better stop with the Denis Potvin thing. Even the victim, Ulf Nilsson, said it was a clean hit. Potvin wasn't suspended, or fined, or even penalized, and the Rangers were never going to win that Cup anyway. It was 1979, and the Montreal Canadiens were just too good. So grow up.

1. New York Mets. The most obnoxious fans of all, and they have not earned it. Not by a long shot. 

New York is not "a National League town" -- as if that's something to aspire to! The Mets have bought their chokes as much as the Yanks have "bought their championships." The Mets' chokes have been worse than anything that's happened to the Yankees. The '86 Mets would've been pounded by the Yankees of '27, '36, '53, '61, '78 or '98. And in the one matchup that mattered most, the 2000 World Series, the Yanks won in five, clinching at Shea Stadium.

And yet, as the despised, ridiculed, but that-time-right John Rocker put it, "How many times do you have to beat a team before its fans shut up?" I still don't know, Johnny boy.

He also said, "I would say the majority of Mets fans aren't even humans. They're more like Neanderthals." I think Rocker owes Neanderthals an apology. After all, "26 > 2" and "1 > 0" -- meaning the 2000 Series -- is so easy to figure out, a caveman could do it. But not a Met fan. Not one of the Flushing Heathen.

It's not so much that the Mets are the team I've hated longer than any other. It's that their fans are the fans who've ticked me off the most. And for what? Do 1969 and 1986 really mean more than all the Yankees have accomplished? Only a moron would think so.

They have a right to love their team. But until their team can beat the Yankees in a World Series, their team will always be Number 1 on this list, Number 2 in New York baseball; they will never "take over New York" (or New Jersey); and they have nothing to say. Anything one of the Flushing Heathen can say is moot, because when they had the chance they'd been wishing, hoping, even praying for since 1962, when they finally got it in 2000, the result was clear, and cannot be reversed: "Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!"

That's the real reason to build a new ballpark and get out of Shea: So Met fans can go to a ballpark where their team can play ball on a field where the team they hate more than I hate the Mets has never won a World Series.

Not that they'll ever win a World Series at Citi Field. The Curse of Kevin Mitchell lives.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Steinbrenner Coliseum: Is It Cursed?

The Hundred Year War resumes, with a story that some fiend dropped a Red Sox T-shirt under the concrete floor of the visitors' clubhouse at the George M. Steinbrenner Memorial Coliseum -- which some people are erroneously calling "the new Yankee Stadium."

Some people are saying this is Boston's final revenge on the Yankees, a permanent "curse" that will last as long as the House That George Built stands.

Baloney. This is baseball, and nothing is ever final. (Except the Mets being Number 2 in New York. By the way, Reyes was out last night.)

If there is a "Boston revenge" on the Yankees intended to be a "new curse," it's that Mayor Bloomberg, a.k.a. Massachusetts Mike, was the man who worked with King George III to get the new stadium built, and thus saw to it that the one and only Yankee Stadium will be demolished. If I were a Red Sox fan, I'd want Bloomberg to be President.

(No, I wouldn't. Even if I were so sick in the head as to be a Red Sox fan, I hope I'd still have enough heart to be a Democrat, and Bloomberg is a Republican, whether he says it's officially so or not.)

Moving out of the House That Ruth Built? You think you saw a "Curse of the Bambino" before? It was never the Babe that cursed the Sox. If there ever really was a curse, he's not the one who laid it on.

But move out of his house? The Big Fella is pissed. He just might see to it that the Yankees never win another World Series until the Steinbrenner family sells the team.

"Owning the Yankees is like owning the Mona Lisa," George Steinbrenner has said many times. If that's so, why are you tearing down the Louvre?

No, he's not moving the team, like Walter O'Malley (Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles), Bob Irsay (Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis), Bob Short (Minneapolis Lakers to Los Angeles AND Washington Senators to Dallas to become Texas Rangers) and Norm Green, a.k.a. Norm Greed (Minnesota North Stars to Dallas Stars), the Mount Rushmore of sports carpetbagging.

But notice! In the 1995-96 season, the Boston Celtics moved from the Boston Garden to the next-door FleetCenter, now renamed the TD Banknorth Garden; and the Montreal Canadiens moved from the Montreal Forum to the Molson Centre, now the Bell Centre.

In 49 years at the Gahden, the Celtics won 16 NBA Championships -- at the time of the move, the Lakers were second-best with six. In their first 12 seasons at the new building, they've only reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals once. (That was in 2003, when they had that incredible comeback against the New Jersey Nets in Game 3, and the Nets then won the next two games and won the East.) Yes, I know, they've clinched the regular-season best record this season, but that's the regular season, not the Playoffs. But they've still never even gotten to the round of 4 in their new building, and only to the round of 8 once. Since then, the Lakers have won a seventh, eighth and ninth NBA Title. If you count their Minneapolis years (and you shouldn't), that's 14 Titles, only two behind the C's.

In 72 years at the Forum, the Canadiens won 22 Stanley Cups -- plus two before that. In their first 11 seasons at the new building (one fewer than the Celtics because of the 2004-05 lockout), they've only reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals once. (That was in 2002, losing to the Carolina Hurricanes.) Yes, I know, they've got the second seed in this year's Eastern Conference Playoffs. But, like the Celtics, they've still never even gotten to the round of 4 in their new building, and only to the round of 8 once.

Nearly all of the Celtics' legends are still alive; of the players whose numbers are retired, only the most-recently honored, Reggie Lewis, Number 35, is dead. So there were no "ghosts" that needed to make the short walk next door. Whereas the Canadiens had many dead legends, and "the Ghosts of the Forum" apparently didn't make the one-mile trip from the Forum to Centre-Bell.

Contrast that with the team that has won the most NFL Championships: Instead of building a new place, or moving to a new city entirely, the Green Bay Packers renovated Lambeau Field, keeping their 12 titles in the same place.

You can look out on the field at Yankee Stadium, and you can still see Babe Ruth in right field, Lou Gehrig at first base, Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle in center field, Thurman Munson behind the plate, Catfish Hunter on the mound. You can also see Frank Gifford running for a touchdown, Jou Louis knocking out Max Schmeling, and two (soon to be three) Popes delivering Mass. You can't see that at the new place.

Anyway, the Yanks-Sox blood feud resumes tonight in the Back Bay, with both teams having struggled to open the season. Cliche time: In this rivalry, you can throw out the records. (Often, one team or the other would like to.)

Wang against Buchholz. The Sinker of Doom vs. last year's flash-in-the-pan no-hitter. Prediction: Yanks 6, Sox 4.

(UPDATE: The Celtics won the NBA title in 2008. The Yankees won the World Series in 2009. Canadiens, you're on the clock!)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sympathy for the Designated Hitter

"Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste." -- the Rolling Stones

OK, so my favorite athlete of all time, occasional designated hitter Reggie Jackson, wasn't actually the Devil, contrary to the opinions of many Red Sox and Mets fans, but I don't give a damn what they think.

Reggie was, however, and remains, a man of wealth and taste -- and there's not many people who peaked in popularity in the 1970s about whom it can be said they were people of taste.

The designated hitter, or "DH," has been used in the American League since 1973, and hated by the National League and its fans ever since. DH-haters have come up with many reasons why they hate it.

These people are morons.

They may be pretty smart when it comes to other subjects, but when it comes to the DH, they are freakin' morons.

Let me explain it, and preface it by saying that, yes, I am a Yankee Fan, and therefore I prefer the American League. However, when you consider that more of the teams that I don't like (due to various tussles with the Yankees) are in the American League, I might actually be more disposed to listen to the National League's arguments.

I have listened. I have considered. I have rejected. I came, I saw, and now I shall conquer. To wit:

On the ridiculous "strategy" argument: "Managing in the American League is much more difficult for that reason. In the National League, my situation is dictated for me. If I'm behind in the game, I've got to pinch-hit. I've got to take my pitcher out. In the American League, you have to zero in. You have to know exactly when to take them out of there. In the National League, that's done for you." -- Jim Leyland, current manager of the Detroit Tigers. One of only 4 managers to win Pennants in both leagues.

Not to mention, that prior to 1990 or so, when managers messed things up by making umpteen pitching changes in a game (a.k.a. the Great LaRussification), the DH thus allowed more pitchers to pitch complete games, thus saving your bullpen.

On the "pitchers can throw at guys without fear" argument: "The DH took away the fear of retribution by a pitcher who knowingly threw at a hitter, and allowed the umpire to control the game, instead of the 'unwritten rule' in baseball that left it up to the players to decide when action should be taken." -- Frank Quilici, player-manager for the Twins when the DH came in.

Also, plenty of pitchers were headhunters in the pre-DH days, including Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Early Wynn, Allie Reynolds and Sal Maglie. The thought of getting plunked themselves didn't stop them.

And Pedro Martinez hit guys on purpose with the Dodgers and Expos, and now that he's back with the Mets -- when he pitches at all, that is -- he remains the same punk he has always been.

Even Roger Clemens, in his first game at Shea after the Piazza broken-bat incident, stood in there like a man and let Shawn Estes try to throw at him -- and miss -- and hit a double, though he went on to lose the game.

Let's not forget that there's no reason a pitcher whose teammate got hit has to wait for the other team's pitcher to come up. Say Josh Beckett of the Red Sox hits Derek Jeter of the Yankees on purpose. (I know, you've really gotta use your imagination here.) Does this mean the Yankee pitcher has to wait for Beckett to come to the plate -- which will never happen as long as he stays in the AL? Of course not. "You hit my captain, I hit yours." Take that, Jason Varitek. Or, "You hit my marquee player, I hit yours." Take that, David Ortiz. And if the Sox get angry about it, bring it the hell on, and we'll see who's man enough and who's just Manny.

On the "not a complete player" argument: "Any DH can field any position better than any pitcher can hit." -- Steve Lyons. The former outfielder and Fox Sports baseball analyst may have been nicknamed "Psycho," but he's right.

On the "old guys" and "injured guys" argument: Only a fool would rather see a pitcher batting .125 come to the plate instead of a 38-year-old injured fat man batting .225. Anybody who wants to see a pitcher come to the plate is accepting worse than mediocrity: He's accepting inadequacy. And anybody who will accept inadequacy has no credibility.

Every time I see a big-league pitcher come to the plate and strike out, I think, "Hey, (team owner's name)! Pay me a million bucks a year, and I'll play every 5 days and bat .125!"

On the "nine players on a team, not ten" argument: This one is really stupid. It's actually 25 players on a team.

To use the "nine players" argument, that means that not only will you only be able to play the same nine players every day, but can you imagine every pitcher going the entire game? He can't be relieved, since "A baseball team has only nine players!"

And what about the next day? "Batting 9th, the shortstop, Number 35, Mike Mussina, Number 35. And pitching, number 2, Derek Jeter, Number 2." Tomorrow, A-Rod pitches. The next day, Jason Giambi. It's only 9 players, remember?

On the "purity" argument: What about artificial turf? The NL started it with the Astrodome in 1965. From 1982 to '92, and again in '98 and the first half of '99, the AL had 4 out of 14 parks with artificial turf, their all-time peak. From 1971 to '78, the NL had the plastic stuff in 7 of 12 parks. More than half.

True, the NL was the first to eliminate the plastic stuff completely, when the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals; while the AL, following the opening of the new Minnesota park in 2010, will still have it in the retractable roof of Toronto and the permanent roof of Tampa Bay (assuming the Rays aren't moved). But the AL isn't the league whose fans were screaming "Purity!" The NL was, and was more than half-plastic in the peak years of DH-hatred.

But, hey, if you really want to have baseball the way it was meant to be played, why stop with junking the DH?

Let's have "real baseball." No artificial turf. No domes. No lights. No electric scoreboards. No foreign-born players. No non-white players. No major league teams south of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers, none west of the Mississippi River except for St. Louis. A distance of just 50 feet from the pitcher's mound to home plate. And only underhand pitching.

In fact, let's bring back the reserve clause. No, let's go back further than that: Let's have only amateur baseball. No pay. And when a player gets hurt, no X-rays. No antibiotics. No whirlpools. No anesthetic. Let's use pre-Civil War medicine. After all, we want baseball to remain pure, don't we?

As the great New York sportscaster Warner Wolf would say, "Come on, give me a break!"

Of course, nobody would want all that. This doesn't quite go all the way back to prehistoric times, but figuring out that changing the above -- including the adoption of the DH -- is so easy, a caveman could do it.

Why, even a Met fan... Well, maybe not. Met fans defy the theory of evolution, anyway.

The DH is good. The DH is right. The DH works. The arguments against it do not. Welcome to the 21st Century. Baseball is a great game, perhaps now more than ever.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Real Joba Rules

So on Opening Night, Joba Chamberlain, who had been a Chicago White Sox fan growing up in Nebraska – I have no problem with that, although I’ve usually thought of the Cornhusker State as Kansas City Royals territory – faces Frank Thomas, now in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform, but the best power hitter the ChiSox have ever had, and maybe their best hitter period except for Shoeless Joe Jackson.

It’s the 8th inning, the Yankees are up by a run, and this guy’s got over 500 home runs and 2 MVP Awards. He’s about to turn 40, but he’s very much still a force with a bat. And he looks mean. (Every interview I’ve ever seen of him seems to suggest a decent and intelligent man, but he looks every bit as mean in the batter’s box as the kindly Mariano Rivera looks on a pitcher’s mound.)

Heck, his nickname is The Big Hurt, one of the most intimidating nicknames in baseball history, and one of the best nicknames in sports in my lifetime.

Joba strikes him out to end the inning. And he pumps his fist. (And Mariano gets the last 3 outs for the Yankee win.)

And, oy vey, the outcry! How dare this young Yankee punk express joy at striking out a childhood hero! Frank’s a Hall-of-Famer in waiting! Joba’s just a kid with barely 30 major league innings under his belt!

Here we go again, the Yankee Doodle Double Standard. The other 29 teams can do it and it's "youthful exuberance." A Yankee does it, and it's "arrogance," and we have to worry about the opposing team being offended.

Which is sort of like Democrats being afraid of questioning Republicans on their military strategy, since they'll call us "unpatriotic." They do that anyway, so let's get over it.

Here is a Muppet News Flash: The other teams are already offended by our history of championships and our money and our packed Stadium. It's time to start saying, "You're offended by us? Do we look like we give a damn? You don't like what we do, there's a way to stick it to us: Beat us. It's been known to happen. So do it -- if you can."

Here are the real Joba Rules:

1. Joba Chamberlain, help us win baseball games. Do that, and you will not only get a 2008 World Series ring, you will become the next "greatest closer in baseball."

2. Joba, don't listen to what people connected with other teams or rooting for them think. They don't pay your salary. They don't cheer you in your home park. We do. Please us, as you already have a few times, not them.

3. Joe Girardi, you are the manager. Pitch Joba as you see fit. It's easier to do that with a reliever than a starter, anyway. And remember: Every pitch thrown by Joba is a pitch not thrown by Kyle Farnsworth.

4. Brian Cashman, you are the general manager. Joba does not work for you. Shut up and let him pitch.

5. Hank Steinbrenner, you are the operator, if not the actual franchise owner. Your job is to run the business operations of the franchise. Joe Girardi works for you, but the players work for Girardi. If you're nervous about the way Girardi uses Joba, tough. Your father worried about the way Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage and Mariano Rivera were used, but it worked. Trust your manager. That's why you hired him.

And finally...

6. Yankee Fans, just a reminder of a rule you're already following: Give Joba the chance to be the new bridge to Mariano and eventually the next Mariano. You'll be fine, and I suspect so will he.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Couldn't Happen to a Better Guy

Suppose you're walking down the street, and you see somebody coming at you. You don't know what his intentions are, but he looks mad. He gets closer, and you see he's an old man. You also see that he does not have a weapon in his hand. He's no more armed than you are.

What do you do?

I don't know about you, but I'd try to stop him. "Whoa, easy does it, mister." If that doesn't work, or if there's no time, I'd put my hands up and stop him at his shoulders. The least possible chance for harm is the way to go.

What I would not do is grab him by the head and throw him to the ground.

That would be assault. It could also get me charged with attempted murder.

I wouldn't do that, and I hope you wouldn't, either.

Unless, of course, you're the ace pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, and the old man is a Yankee coach, and he used to be a Sox manager, and he blew a Pennant race (or you think it was his fault), and the incident happens at Fenway Park, and you know that the Commissioner of Baseball has your back, so that not only won't you be fined or suspended, but the old man will be forced to apologize for daring to enter your precious personal space.

Don Zimmer was protecting the Yankee players that Pedro Martinez was throwing at.

Zimmer knows, because, 50 years earlier, as a player, he'd been hit in the head -- by all accounts, accidentally -- and was knocked unconscious for 2 weeks, with no one sure if he'd live or die, and requiring 2 surgical procedures on his head. That was in Triple-A ball.

A couple of years later, in the majors, with the Brooklyn Dodgers -- Zim is the last person connected with either the Brooklyn Dodgers or the New York Giants, let alone person who actually played for one of them, still officially employed by a major league club -- Zim was hit in the head again, believed to be another unintentional pitch, and had to leave the game.

So Zim is particularly sensitive to such things. To his credit, in all the years he managed in the majors (first in 1972 with San Diego, last in 1999 with the Yankees while Joe Torre was being treated for cancer), he appears to have never ordered a pitcher to hit a batter.

So he was right to run at Pedro and tell him off.

Pedro was wrong to grab Zim, then 72, by the head, and throw him to the ground.

Pedro Martinez belongs in an institution in the State of New York. Not the Baseball Hall of Fame. Not Shea. More like Attica. Maybe Creedmoor.

Bob Gibson, who also racked up over 3,000 career strikeouts and wore Number 45, said, "I hardly ever threw at a batter. But, if I did, I made sure I hit him."

But there is no record of Gibson ever hitting a man in the head -- on purpose or otherwise. He wanted to intimidate, not to cause injury.

That cannot be said of some other great pitchers.

Don Drysdale: "If one of our guys gets hit, two of yours do; if two of ours, four of yours."

Allie Reynolds: "I wouldn't hit a guy in the head. I'd hit him in the ribs. Really cause him pain." He also once hit a guy with a 3-and-0 count: "If I'm gonna put you on base, I might as well hurt you."

Early Wynn, when asked if his willingness to hit batters meant he would hit his own mother if she stepped in against him: "I'd have to. Mom could really hit the curveball." At least he had a sense of humor about it.

Sal Maglie: "(unprintable)."

But most pitchers don't aim for the head. Maglie did. That's why he was known as the Barber: His pitches close to a batter's face were "close shaves."

But Gibson never went for the head, and neither did Drysdale, and neither did Wynn -- all Hall-of-Famers. Neither did Reynolds, who often had Hall of Fame numbers, just not enough of them due to the way Casey Stengel handled him and a back injury that shortened his career. (He'd invested in oil in his native Oklahoma, so, unlike a lot of players, he could afford to retire and not play through a painful injury. It probably saved him a lot of pain, but it may also have cost him a World Series ring or two and election to Cooperstown.)

Those guys didn't aim for the head, or for the hands, which can also end a player's career, or at least his season. Pedro Martinez does. Present tense, because we can't be sure his career is over, or that, if he does pitch again (at the moment, it looks like he will), he'll shape up and stop that crap.

I rarely agree with the New York Post, but the day after the Pedro-Zim incident, their back page carried the headline "FENWAY PUNK." I've been calling the son of a bitch "Pedro the Punk" ever since.

When he became a Met, the Met fans, known on this blog as the Flushing Heathen, were sure that he was going to lead them to a World Championship.

2005: Failed to make the Playoffs. Can Pedro be blamed for that? No, because the Mets weren't good enough with him, let alone without him.

2006: Pedro got hurt and missed the Playoffs, and the Mets lost Game 7 of the NLCS on a home run to Yadier Molina, and had the tying runs on and the Pennant-winning run at the plate in hard-hitting Carlos Beltran, and he never took the bat off his shoulder and took a called third strike to blow the Pennant. Can Pedro be blamed for that failure to win the Pennant? Not really: The Mets had their chances to win that game.

2007: Pedro is hurt again, and misses most of the season, and the Mets blow a 7-game Division lead with 17 to play and missed the Playoffs completely, the most embarrassing collapse in New York sports history. Can Pedro be blamed for that? Yes: One win by Pedro in a game the Mets would otherwise have lost, and they'd have been in the Playoffs; two, and they'd have been Division Champions; and once you're in the Playoffs, anything can happen, something that has worked to the Mets' advantage (1969, '73 NLCS, '86, '99 NLDS, 2000 NLDS & NLCS) and to their disadvantage (1973 World Series, '88, '99 NLCS, 2000 World Series, '06 NLCS).

Now, Pedro has a hamstring injury, and is expected to be out for all of April and most of May.

Can the Mets afford to have a hole in their rotation for 6 weeks, maybe more?

Could they afford it last season?

Met fans, of course, will never blame Pedro for screwing them up. They never admit that their own players simply aren't good enough. After all, they have to believe they have the best team in baseball, the best team in New York. "Ya Gotta Believe."

Believe this: The majority of Met fans are deluded, and a good chunk of those are just plain morons.

There are good people who are Met fans, including a few who post blogs that are pro-Met but don't take shots at other teams. (I know, where's the fun in that?) But most of the ones who post pro-Met/anti-Yankee blogs go further in their vitriol than I do, loaded with profanity and R-rated stuff. Most of the Sheaheads who call in to WFAN are goofballs who think that Roger Clemens actually threw a broken bat at Mike Piazza, and that all the Yankees were on steroids and none of the Mets were and that the Mets really did beat the Yankees fair and square in the 2000 World Series.

These people think Clemens is scum and Pedro is a wonderful person.

Clemens is truly rotten, and I'm glad he's no longer in baseball, particularly that he's no longer in Pinstripes. (Sorry, Suzyn Waldman.)

But for all the things he's done, he never tried to kill a 72-year-old man.

Pedro Martinez did. He's a felon. He belongs in jail.

And now it's possible that his injury will deny the Mets another trip to the postseason.

Met fans won't blame him. But if they did, it couldn't happen to a better guy.

I mean, we're not talking about Steve Bartman here. Or Bill Buckner. Or even Aaron Heilman: The Mets should've wrapped that series up sooner, before he had the chance to give up the Yadier Molina homer.

Those were innocent mistakes.

Pedro is not innocent.

And when he finally leaves the game for good -- for very good -- I hope the Mets will retire Number 45.

For John Franco. A terrific pitcher. And a good human being -- and a Met Pennant winner. The first, Pedro also has been. The second, he will never be. The third is looking less and less likely.

And he bears as much blame for that as anyone in the organization.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Last Yankee Stadium Opener: Textbook

The last Opening Day at the one and only Yankee Stadium we the fans ever wanted. It was textbook.

Reggie Jackson, my guy, threw out the ceremonial first ball.

Chien-Ming Wang threw 6 strong innings. The Sinker of Doom showed no ill effects from a poor Playoff performance last October.

Melky Cabrera made "Holy Cow!" catches on back-to-back plays, and hit a Yankee Stadium "short porch" home run to right field.

Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter got RBI hits, and Hideki Matsui, well, it wasn't pretty, but it got the winning run home.

Joba Chamberlain pitched a scoreless 7th and 8th, in the latter ringing up Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt is a future Hall-of-Famer, but any more pitches like that one and he might want to hang 'em up now and just wait his 5 years. (UPDATE: He did retire after the season, and was elected in his 1st year of eligiblility.)

Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless 9th.

Yankees 3, Toronto Blue Jays 2. One and oh.

*

As for the Mets... Johan Santana looked good, not great, in their opener. They beat the Florida Marlins. As noted Flushing resident Archie Bunker would've said, "Well, whoop-de-doo!" But, considering their fiasco of last September, beating the Marlins is a big deal for the Mutts.

And then, tonight... Pedro the Punk got rocked, and then he got hurt.

Gee. I wonder who could possibly have predicted that one. How about... me.

I've been saying since 2003 or so that you never know when Pedro Martinez is going to throw his last pitch of the season, his last pitch for his current team, or the last pitch of his career. Now, the Mess will have to get by without him, and for how long? Those hamstrings can be, quite literally, a pain in the ass, and bother you long after they should.

Met manager Willie Randolph should know: As the Yankee 2nd baseman in the Eighties, he hurt his 'string a couple of times and tried to come back too soon, with unfortunate results.

As usual, there's been plenty of big talk from the Flushing Heathen.

As usual, they're telling those of us who actually understand baseball that the Mets are going all the way.

And, as usual, the Mets are going all the way down the drain.

Unless, of course, The Great and Powerful Santana is going to win all the games he would have won and all the games Pedro would have won.

Maybe he will: 15 games.

Met fans: They're as dumb as John Rocker said they were. Just because we all wanted to kill that messenger doesn't mean the message was wrong.

As for the Yankees... the Red Sox are a game behind in the AILC, the All-Important Loss Column.

It's good to be a fan of the Number 1 team.

Now, if we can just get LaTroy Hawkins to understand that, as great as Roberto Clemente was, around here nobody wears Number 21, because it belongs to Paul O'Neill...