Saturday, January 31, 2009

Book 'em, Joe! And R.I.P. Ingo

First, a little update on the girls. They're now a year and a half old. Ashley is fascinated by the Yankee logos on my cap and slippers. Rachel isn't, but, the other day, she pointed to the slippers, and said, "Shoe." And then she pointed to her head, and said, "Hat!" So she is at least aware of the connection. I was so proud of her -- partly for being smart, and partly for recognizing the interlocking NY.

I've tried to tell them, "Yankees, yay!" and to clap their hands, and to say, "Mets, no no no!" and wag their fingers like they do when the dog barks. So far, it needs work, but they're still toddlers. I have time.


Now, on to Joe Torre, and his book The Yankee Years, written with former Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, who also ghosted Joe's earlier book Chasing the Dream.

Now manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the former Yankee manager tells us that Alex Rodriguez is really insecure, gets called "A-Fraud" instead of "A-Rod," and doesn't like that he doesn't get the appreciation, from either teammates or fans, that Derek Jeter gets.

Next, Torre will tell us that dogs bite men, the sun rises in the east, and the Philadelphia Eagles are incapable of winning the Super Bowl. In other words, Joe, we already knew that!

Torre pulled few punches in that book. But the players he let loose on, with the exception of David Wells and Chuck Knoblauch, were post-2001 Yankees, who didn't produce World Championships for him. He didn't rip Derek Jeter, or Mariano Rivera, or Jorge Posada, or Andy Pettitte. Nor did he rip 1996-2001 Yankees like Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams or Tino Martinez, though he did suggest that Knoblauch was often distracted (which, let's face it, he was).

But some points need to be made to those who think he went too far.

* Has he revealed any facts that can be proven to be untrue? No. David Wells, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown and Kenny Lofton were all players who have been terrific for some teams, but have worn out their welcome with those teams, and with teams for whom they did not produce.

* Has he revealed any opinions that were not already widely shared? No. Alex Rodriguez was already believed to have the issues Torre mentioned, and the players above were already known as malcontents.

* Look at the players he's called out: Most are from after 2001, who did not help the Yankees win those 4 World Series. Two exceptions are Wells and Knoblauch. The Knoblauch situation could have been handled better, but it's worth noting that Wells was dumped by the Yankees twice: Even the success he brought them didn't seem to be worth the headaches he brought.

* As for "violating the sanctity of the clubhouse," that myth went out the window in 1970. Torre's not the first ex-Yankee to write a book that got those complaints: Former pitcher Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four, and the hue and cry was much bigger -- because it was the first time anybody had written anything close to such a candid look inside a big-league sports team. (Even if the 1969 Seattle Pilots were a first-year expansion team, barely major league quality, and their ballpark was a hastily expanded Triple-A park from the 1930s.)

As a Yankee Fan, I can forgive Wells his trespasses. Then again, I've never been around him on a daily basis, so I'm not one who has to make that decision.

Torre has the right to say the things he says, so long as they're true. The same is so of Wells. And we, the public, have the right to agree, or not; and, if not, to call them out on it.

I still like Wells. But if I have to choose, I'm going with Torre.


On Subway Squawkers, a terrific baseball-themed blog where I sometimes post comments, somebody commented on a blog entry about the Torre book story by writing, "Once again Uncle Mike doesn't get it. Its not about what he revealed. Its the fact that he preached one thing and did another. Of course he has a RIGHT to do the book but so did Wells and Torre ripped him for it. So explain to me how Torre could rip Wells for writing a book and not be a hypocrite by writing his own? If 'violating the sanctity of the clubhouse' went out in the 70s Torre shouldn't have been preaching in the 90s and on."

Ignoring the poor punctuation skills of this poster, whose true name I don't know (and don't care to know)... I "get it" plenty.

There's no hypocrisy here for Torre: He wrote a book, and Wells wrote a book; but the biggest problem with Wells' book is that it was bad, and sloppy, and Wells himself contradicted it and, at times, said he was misquoted in his own "autobiography."

Bottom line, Wells is the hypocrite here: If you're going to be an ass to someone, don't whine to the media when said person later appears to be acting like an ass to you.

As for what Joe Torre "preached," clearly, it didn't get through to Alex Rodriguez. As much as it nauseates me to admit that any Met, and Steve Phillips in particular, got something right, the former Met general manager turned ESPN talking head got it right: A-Rod will always be Mr. 24-and-1. By disappearing in 4 straight postseasons, A-Rod ruined things for his teammates, and ruined things for his manager.

Torre owes A-Rod, and Yankee Fans, no apologies for telling us what we already suspected: A-Rod is this generation's Ted Williams, with the exception (Red Sox fans, take note) that, in the opposite of Ted, A-Rod got MVP awards that he didn't deserve. (It's "Most Valuable Player," not "Most Outstanding Player.")

Torre didn't "betray" anything. I'm pleased that the Daily News interviewed Bouton on the subject, just a day after I cited him in the aforementioned blog. (Things like this are why the News is my favorite newspaper.)

Bouton is right: If you don't want people to write a book that calls you a jerk, don't be one! Even though Bouton himself his hardly innocent in this regard, but that just makes his point all the more. And you know what? He was able to shrug it off. Can A-Rod?

Remember the scene in the final episode of The Bronx Is Burning, where Billy Martin (played by John Turturro) and Yogi Berra (Joe Grifasi) are driving around, talking about the World Series they're in (1977)? Yogi asks Billy if he thinks about leaving baseball altogether. Billy says, "No. Do you?" Yogi says, "Wouldn't be the end of my life." And Billy says, "Well, it would be the end of mine." And both proved themselves right.

A few months ago, when Subway Squawkers was still affiliated with the Daily News, I wondered about Manny Ramirez. What's going to happen to this million-dollar talent with the five-cent head once he can't play anymore?

Maybe A-Rod's head isn't 5 cents, or two bits (25 cents), or $1.98, or any other small amount you want to mention, but it's plenty messed up -- hardly all his own doing, but some of it is. And when the day comes that he can no longer hit the curveball in April through September, let alone October; or in innings 1 through 6, let alone 7, 8 and 9; or with the bases empty, let alone with men on (hopefully, you've noticed a pattern here)... what's he going to become?

Is he going to be like Reggie Jackson or Tom Seaver, having built a life outside his game, where he can be offered a position with an organization, and take it or leave it?

Or is he going to wind up like Joe Namath, drinking the time away, fooling around with bad-news women, doing some bad acting (figuratively and literally), and telling the 2030 version of Suzy Kolber, "I couldn't care less that the Yankees are strugg-a-ling, I just want to kiss you"? (Namath appears to have straightened out his life since then.)

Or maybe he'll write his own book. More likely, he'll get someone to write it for him. I'm not even sure A-Rod can read. One thing he's never been able to read is the writing on the wall.

One well-placed single, or even walk, at certain points in October of 2004, '05, '06 or '07, and Torre's book would be very different -- or maybe he wouldn't have written it at all, as he'd still be the Yankee manager, and wouldn't be out in L.A. proving that there really is a Curse of Donnie Baseball (which, in such a scenario, would've been gone, instead of having been proven in 2 separate cities, in 2 separate leagues, and with 2 separate franchises).

Joe Torre proved himself time and time again. The burden of proof is on Alex Rodriguez. Alex, you wanna make Torre look bad for saying what he said in the book? Then you have a chance that David Wells will never have again: Win a World Series.

Until then, just be glad that Torre has more class than Shaquille O'Neal did with Kobe Bryant, and won't say, "Alex, tell me how my ass taste!" (In other words, you just kissed it. Never mind that Shaq was right, as Joe appears to be.)


Ingemar Johansson died yesterday at the age of 76. In 1956, the native of Gothenburg, Sweden won the European heavyweight boxing championship. On June 26, 1959, with his powerful fists he'd nicknamed "Toonder" (in his Swedish-accented English, his right hand) and "Lightning" (his left), he knocked Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson down 7 times in the 3rd round, mostly with his right hand, before referee Ruby Goldstein finally stopped the fight. It should have been stopped after the 3rd, at most.

"Ingo" had made himself the new Heavyweight Champion of the World. It was the last heavyweight title fight at the pre-renovation original Yankee Stadium.

A year later, at the Polo Grounds, Floyd took the title back, knocking "Ingo" out in the 5th round, hitting him so hard that, after he hit the ground, his leg twitched for a few seconds. At first, Floyd thought he'd killed him.

They fought for a 3rd time a year later in Miami Beach, and this one was rough. Floyd knocked Ingo out in the 6th round. They fought 3 times, and they went a total of 14 rounds -- not reaching the traditional 15 rounds for a single fight, combined.

They became friends afterward, and remained so until Floyd died in 2006. Now, Ingo is dead as well. He remains the last white man, and the last native of the European continent, to be the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World.

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