Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Would Firing Willie Randolph Make a Difference?

Today is the 30th Anniversary of my 1st live Major League Baseball game. It was May 27, 1978. It was a great day -- except for the result. The Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays were tied 1-1 going into the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium, but Billy Martin left Ed Figueroa in too long, and he ran out of gas, and the Yankees lost 4-1.

Willie Randolph played in that game, going 1-for-4 for the Yankees.

Just one week ago, the Mets are at a place where their fans, whom I call the Flushing Heathen, were thinking that a corner had been turned, and maybe things were going to be all right. While the Yankees are at a place where their fans were thinking all was lost, and that the last regular-season game at Yankee Stadium would be The Last Game.

One week. And, while the Yankees are by no means out of the woods, things are definitely looking up. While, over in the minds of Met fans (a place with considerable echo)...

So! The Mets are a bunch of overpaid, underachieving primadonnas.

So! Payroll is an issue with Met fans.

As a Yankee Fan, it's so good to see the cleat on the other foot for once!


There's a more sinister side to it: For those Met fans who want to blame more than just Willie Randolph's managing (for the moment, still a minority), they are also blaming general manager Omar Minaya's penchant for signing his fellow Hispanics.

It's worth pointing out that, for all our criticisms of Alex Rodriguez, such as, "He's no good when it counts the most," or, "We should get rid of him," or, "The A-Rod experiment is a failure," I've never seen one Yankee Fan add the word "Latin" or "Hispanic" or anything like that.

Robinson Cano started the season in an awful slump, but nobody used the fact that he's black and/or Hispanic against him.

Hideki Matsui has had his difficulties, but no one criticizes him while suggesting that his being Japanese or Asian is a part of the problem.

Jason Giambi can have all kinds of criticism thrown his way, but the fact that he's Italian doesn't seem to make any difference. In either direction: We don't see too many Italian Yankee Fans standing up and saying to leave him alone, so there is some objectivity.

This is not to say that Yankee Fans have been angelic in this regard. Up until 1955, many said they didn't need any "colored" or "Negro" players to win. And a lot of the early criticism against Reggie Jackson was racial in nature.

But Randolph, being criticized because he's black? The Mets, losing because of Hispanic players?
No, Willie's being criticized because of a perception that he's not managing well, that he's lost control of the team; the Mets are losing because they don't seem to care, that they're out of control.


Maybe it is time to let Randolph go. It is hardly all his fault that the Mets have been a .500 team for a full year now. The players have underachieved, and Minaya is the one who brought them in. The booing and general surliness that he's already getting in the homestand that began last night may eventually make the atmosphere at the William A. Shea Municipal Stadium almost poisonous.

If Willie is let go now, a clean break can be made. A new guy can be brought in with a fair shot at turning things around -- after all, we're only a third of the way through the season.  Willie won't be twisting in the wind anymore, and, who knows, the next major league managing vacancy might be his for the asking. After all, how many current managers have gotten into the postseason? Slightly more than half, 16 out of 30, and that list includes Willie -- but not, as yet, Joe Girardi. He'll get another shot somewhere.

In other words, as bad as it would feel, it could be a blessing in disguise. (Bringing to mind Winston Churchill's line that it would be very well disguised, but then, what did Winston know about baseball?)


But if Randolph is kicked to the Queens curb, the question becomes, "Will these players listen to anybody?" As in, will firing Randolph and bringing in somebody new make a bit of difference?

Last night, Jose Reyes did a very good Mike Piazza impersonation, hitting two home runs but making a fielding miscue that helped to do the Mets in.

But, hey, he'll get over it. After all, he's the best-fielding shortstop in New York, right? Right? (Wrong. Just like it was wrong when the Flushing Heathen said that about Rey Ordonez.)

Maybe the time has come to ask whether Reyes is part of the solution or part of the problem.

Minaya came with an answer to that question in regard to Lastings Milledge. So far, the results are unclear, as the Mets are no better off, but the Washington Nationals are not appreciably worse off.

Will he have the presence of mind to consider that maybe Reyes is not part of the solution, but part of the problem? Or Carlos Delgado, who was a great hitter and a very good fielder once, but is now washed up? Or Carlos Beltran, who has underachieved?

(I won't bash Beltran for butchering that play last night, though: As bad as that was, aesthetically, at least he still looks like he's trying to win. Question the execution, but not the desire.)

As much as I hate to agree with Mike Lupica of the Daily News, he's right: If the Mets will just "win some games," all this becomes a footnote.

At least until somebody films Queens Is Burning in 30 years! Ha!

But no one will film it if there's another unhappy ending, as every Met season has had since before we found out about Iran-contra.

After all, as entertaining as the 1962 Mets of Casey Stengel, clowning around the creaky old Polo Grounds, seemed to be in the works of Jimmy Breslin, Leonard Schecter, Roger Angell and others, nobody's ever made a movie about them.

And they were expected to be, if not historically bad, then at least as bad as most expansion teams.

It's when the Mets have fallen apart after being good, as in 1977 after 1969 and 1973, as in 1993 after 1986, and as in now after 2000 and 2006, that they've generated the sulfurous reaction from the Flushing "Faithful."

It's one thing to be "lovable losers" when you're expected to struggle.

It's another thing to underachieve when your team's owner has opened the vault, and the media has crowed about your talent.

The Mets are losers, and they are not lovable.

It's times like this that I thank God and my Grandpa that I became a Yankee Fan.

Sorry, Grandma (a Dodger-turned-Met fan), you didn't deserve this team!

Friday, May 23, 2008

A-Rod Economy? Or Manny Economy?

Economists deal in the theoretical, and in predictions.

They analyze the actual, and then, if the actual matches the theoretical they've chosen, they toot their own horns in mind-numbing newspaper columns and magazine articles. (I love Paul Krugman's willingness and ability to spell it out in the New York Times, but the guy isn't much of a writer and his style often does his cause no good.)

If the actual doesn't match the theoretical they've chosen, they simply say their theoretical was improperly applied, or circumstances outside the control of (choose based on your politics: the government, or the free market) interfered.

In the 1992 campaign, as the economy had flattened out and was crawling back up, at a pace far too slow to help most people, the elder George Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle kept talking about how well the stock market was doing and how low interest rates were.

Morons. Bill Clinton talked to people about their own economic situations, as they actually were, not as economists told them it should have been, and he listened, and he came up with possible solutions, and he proposed them to the people, and they elected him in a landslide, and he fixed the economy, making it better than ever.

The average American doesn't measure the economy by stats spouted by some economist liked by the President (whoever he may be at a given time). He measures it by, How much money is in my pocket? How much do I have in the bank? How much can I afford to put on my credit card? Can I afford to get sick, or care for a relative who does? Can I afford to make a repair on my house or my car? How much food is in my refrigerator and cabinets? Can I get that new pair of shoes this week? Can I buy a full tank of gas? Will I have to miss a payment on (whatever) this month?

Economists measure the economy by cold, hard statistics.

People measure the economy by cold, hard facts -- sometimes even colder and harder than the statistics.

Eddie Stanky was a baseball player and then a manager. He didn't believe in stats. He said, "If I stick one foot in an ice tray and another in an oven, according to a statistician, I should feel fine."

Broadcaster Vin Scully says, "Statistics are like lampposts. Use them for illumination. Not for support."

And somebody else -- was it Woody Allen? -- said, "Statistics are like bikinis: What they reveal can be great, but what they don't reveal is more important."

How does this apply to politics? Simple: Argue what you can. If your friends are telling you the economy is doing fine, and they have numbers to back up their opinion, tell people that. But if you see people every day telling you, "Mr./Mrs. Candidate, the people are hurting, we need someone to turn this economy around," then maybe you have the wrong friends, or friends who would be doing well in any economy.

Think of it as an A-Rod Economy: Yes, Alex Rodriguez puts up monster numbers, which he should, since he's the highest-paid athlete in the history of North American team sports.

But he's never won a Pennant, let alone a World Series, and his postseason performances have been horrible. People who can afford the price of a ticket maybe one time a season know that they're not getting an appropriate bang for their buck.

Case in point: On Tuesday night, A-Rod came off the disabled list and hit a home run against the Baltimore Orioles. At the moment he hit it, the Yankees were losing 10-0. In other words, nobody cared, regardless of what team they root for.

Contrast that with Manny Ramirez, who might just be the dumbest great player in baseball history. (He hasn't exactly gone out of his way to dispel that perception.) He's certainly one of the most ridiculous-looking players ever. (Oddly, as a Cleveland Indian he shaved his head, but as a Boston Red Sock he looks like he can't make up his mind between Hippie and Rastafarian.)

But his playing, which will soon result in his 500th career home run (a milestone A-Rod surpassed last season), has led to his teams winning 4 Pennants and 2 World Series, in one of which he was named Most Valuable Player. "Winning Ugly" is still winning.

What would you rather live in: An A-Rod economy, in which a few rich guys get richer, and whether anyone else does well wouldn't matter? Or a Manny Being Manny economy, in which, no matter how much some people complain about how it looks, everybody on the team ultimately benefits?

I'm a Yankee Fan. I despise the Red Sox. And I wouldn't want Manny on my team, because he's too unpredictable. You never know when one of his homers is going to get canceled out by a baserunning or fielding blunder, and you never know when he's not gonna show up at all.

But I'd rather have a Manny economy than an A-Rod economy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Ballad of Kyle Farnsworth

To the tune of "Salt of the Earth," by the Rolling Stones:

Let's drink to the hard-throwing pitcher.
Let's drink to the worst one on Earth.
Let's drink to he who makes us kvetchers.
Let's drink to old Kyle Farnsworth.

Say a prayer for the poor Yankee catcher.
Spare a thought for his backbreaking work.
Say a prayer for this wild-pitcher snatcher
who must catch for this gopher-ball jerk.

And when I search a faceless crowd
a swirling mass of Pinstriped blue and white
they don't look real to me.
In fact, they look so strained.

Kicked is ass of the guy with the glower.
To save his life, this guy can't find the plate.
He can throw a hundred miles an hour
but result is some pitching we hate.

Spare a thought for upset Joe Girardi.
Manager who brought him in the game.
Patience long, disposition is hardy.
Soon he'll see, Farnsworth brings us such shame.

And when I look in the faceless crowd
a swirling mass of Pinstriped blue and white
They don't look real to me.
And don't they look so strained?

Let's drink to the high-paying Yank fans
who think October's their right-of-birth.
Spare a thought for their pitcher's big tank, man.
Let's drink to old Kyle Farnsworth.

Let's hope the Yanks get new relievers
who will bring us some October mirth.
Kyle just can't make me a believer.
Makes me drink, 'cause he's not a darn's worth.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Now It IS Worse: Changes Must Be Made

First, on Friday night, a rainout. Then, on Saturday afternoon, Andy Pettitte doesn't have it, and the Yankees cannot get enough runs against a Johan Santana who pitched like considerably less than the all-time great that Met fans trumpeted him as. Now, on Sunday night, Chien-Ming Wang's Sinker of Doom doesn't work, the bullpen gets shelled, the Yankees let Oliver Perez embarrass them, and we lose 11-2.

This is the first time in the 12-year Interleague experiment that The Other Team has taken two games of a series at Yankee Stadium.

That was the most disgusting display of baseball ineptitude in the history of the grand old ballpark.

Against the Red Sox in June 1967, getting pounded by bats, beanballs and fists? Understandable, considering how bad the Yankees were at the time.

Against the Blue Jays in May 1978, the first game I ever saw live, blown in the 9th against a second-year expansion team? Well, it was only 4-1.

Against the Indians in September 2004, 22-0? The Yanks took the next 2 from the Tribe, making it all but meaningless.

Against the Sox in October 2004, the end of the Curse? As hideous as that was, at least they were trying, however poorly, and it wasn't against a .500 team as the Mets have been for almost a year now.

This? Bad enough it was against The Other Team. But it wasn't even the drubbing. It was the weakness. It was like in Major League, when Bob Uecker looks at his scorebook, and says, "That's all we got, one goddamn hit?" This was 3 hits, against Oliver Perez (Oliver Freakin' Perez?!?), and the Met bullpen. When they bring in Scott Schoenweiss, they're pretty sure they can hold a 9-run lead.

This is the New York Yankees. No opponent's lead should ever be safe.

They didn't even sufficiently respond when they got a gift on Carlos Delgado's "foul ball." Yes, Matsui hit a 2-run homer, but they could have at least tied it up that inning. Instead, they got no closer than 4-2, and it ended 11-2.

Absolutely unacceptable.

Time for some changes.

A-Rod coming back on Tuesday isn't enough, especially since he might be a little tentative for a while. Will even Posada coming back be enough?

Dave Eiland must go. He is as good a pitching coach as he was a pitcher, which is to say unacceptable. And who, exactly, is the hitting instructor? Kevin Long? I'm guessing it's Claude Rains. Get it? "The Invisible Man." Either that, or, as Rains said in "Casablanca," his heart "is my least vulnerable spot."

Kyle Farnsworth must go. Now. Immediately! And so must Ross Ohlendorf. Where'd this guy get his invitation to the major leagues, as the prize in a Cracker Jack box?

Can't blame this one on Jason Giambi, but I think he has to go as well.

Jose Molina needs to go. Chad Moeller is no worse in calling a game, and roughly equal with the bat. I'd rather have him until Posada gets back. Molina couldn't do squat -- figuratively or literally -- against the Mets. Unlike, say, his brother Yadier. (Speaking of whom, as bad as he made Aaron Heilman look on that drizzly night at Shea, Farnsworth looks worse than Heilman ever has.)

So the time has come to ask: Was Joe Girardi the right hire? Or should he be targeted for termination?

None of this is up to me. It's up to Hank Steinbrenner. Well, if this was up to George in the 1980s, we'd be seeing the headline "BILLY'S BACK!" by the time the Yanks took the field in the next game Tuesday night.

The other day, a Met fan offered me a trade: Randolph for Girardi. I wouldn't take it then.

Now? In the words of the immortal Jack Benny, "I'm thinking it over!"

(UPDATE: If you had told me at this time that Giambi would leave the Yankees at the end of the year, I would have been grateful. But if you had told me he would still be playing in the majors 6 years later, I never would have believed it.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Could Be Worse: We Could Be the Mets

Wow, a whole month -- OK, 30 days -- without a new entry. For the few of you reading this, I apologize.

How have things changed since then? Mike Mussina has returned to pitching well. (Because he's not pitching to Manny Being Manny, perhaps?) Andy Pettitte is pitching better. Chien-Ming Wang has been a staff anchor, if not a genuine ace. (Must a pitcher have a blazing fastball to be an "ace"?) And Darrell Rasner, at least through two games, has been a big help. Mariano Rivera remains the best. Joba Chamberlain has earned the right to pump his fist anytime he wants. (Shut up, David Dellucci: If you'd shown that kind of passion as a Yankee, you might still be a Yankee.) Even Kyle Farnsworth, who gave up yet another gopher ball in my first live game of the season (a loss to the Detroit Tigers), has been unusually effective. The hitting is a little better. Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano and even Jason Giambi have improved. Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera have hit well all along.

So has Derek Jeter, who picked up his 2,400th career hit, leaving him 600 short of the magic number 3,000, and just 321 short of Lou Gehrig's team record. (Babe Ruth had 2,873 hits, a season ahead of Gehrig's 2,721, but not all of those were for the Yankees. Paul Waner, Dave Winfield and Wade Boggs are members of the 3,000 Hit Club who played for the Yankees, but no player has gotten Number 3,000 as a Yankee. Jeter and A-Rod, who's got about 2,275 as I write this, have good shots at it.)

On the other hand, the hitting isn't that much better. Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are hurt. Philip Hughes is hurt and may be out for the season. Ian Kennedy has nothing. Kei Igawa is now officially a blunder. Jose Molina is an excellent defensive catcher, and has even gotten some clutch hits, but he cannot call a game or handle young pitchers; missing Posada hurts even more in that way as it does when we need his potent bat. And Jonathan Albaledejo, who looked so good for a couple of weeks, is also hurt.

And yet... Despite all the injuries, the Yankees are just two games under .500, about where they were at this point in each of the last three years, and they made the Playoffs every time, despite the Boston Red Sox being a powerful team. And the Sox are not especially powerful at the moment. The Yankees are really just one good week -- or one bad week by the Sox -- away from being in good shape. And A-Rod and Posada will soon start their rehab games, so if we can just get their bats back in the lineup, and the other hitters can hold the fort until then, the Yankees will be back in business.

Anyway, it could be worse. The Yankees could be where the Mets are.

Met fans want Willie Randolph fired. Of course. The Mets have been a .500 ballclub over the last 150 or so games, and it can't be the players' fault.

After all, the Mets have Jose Reyes, the most exciting player in baseball, the best shortstop in baseball -- certainly, the best shortstop in New York. (No, they're not just talking about his fielding.) They have David Wright, the most valuable player -- note the lower-case letters -- in the National League in each of the last two seasons. (If you don't count October '06 and September '07, that is.) They have Carlos Beltran, New York's best center fielder since Willie Mays. ('Scuse me while I roll my eyes.) And they have Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey, a better prospect than either Hughes or Kennedy, in their rotation. And now, to the best team in baseball -- at least, the best team in New York -- they have added the world's greatest pitcher, Johan Santana!

No, it can't possibly be the Met players' fault that they've been a .500 team for roughly a full year now. It must be the manager. It must be "Witless Willie."

Right now, the Mets have a slightly better record than the Yankees. Which team's fans are panicking?

Yankee Fans know their team has been through tough times before and has reached the Playoffs. Met fans, the Flushing Heathen, are used to their team choking, used to their team playing like garbage. They're idiots, but they do have the experience to know that seasons like 1962, 1977, 1982, 1993 and 2003 are much more common than years like 1969, 1973, 1986, 2000 and 2006. And that finishes like 1973, 1988, 1999, 2006 and 2007 are more common than finishes like 1969 and 1986.

But not this time. "Ya Gotta Believe." "Always Believe." "The Magic Is Back." The players are too good to be a .500 team. It can't be the players' fault. It just can't be.

So "Fire Witless Willie!"

Like I said: Idiots.

So here we are, in a new "Subway Series." (The phrase made some sense starting in 1997. But since October 2000, it has sounded so stupid.)

Game 1, supposed to be Rasner vs. Santana -- after Rasner pitched both of his earlier starts on the same day as Santana and pitched better both times -- was washed out by rain. So what should have been Game 2, today, becomes Game 1, and keeps that matchup.

Then there's the Mets' closer, whose late-season screwups have now hurt three teams: The 1997, '98, '99 and 2001 Houston Astros (lost in the Division Series all four times); the 2004 and '05 Philadelphia Phillies (missed the Playoffs by two games both times), and the 2006 and '07 Mets.

Billy Wagner is a hero. He wants his teammates to be men, not mice. He called them out Thursday, after the hitters didn't back up Pelfrey, who took a no-hitter into the 7th, and the Mets still lost 1-0 to the Washington Nationals -- a team usually known as The Lowly Washington Nationals, but they ain't so lowly when playing the Mess. Wagner asked the press, "Why are you talking to the f---ing closer? I didn't even play today! Go talk to them! Oh, that's right, they're gone. Big f---ing shock." While his talent level has dropped, he still speaks the truth.

Billy Wagner is also a fool. What kind of a moron wears a New England Patriots cap? Knowing that the Pats are a bunch of unrepentant cheaters? And wearing it in the City (OK, the metro area) with the most reason to hate the Pats? And, on top of it all, in the City (metro area) that taught the Pats a big freakin' lesson in the Super Bowl? A close win, nonetheless a total humiliation. Come on, Wags, call guys out when you must, but don't do it while wearing a Cheatriots cap!

Anyway, Wagner, a man of some individual accomplishments (over 300 career saves) but not a big team player, has given the Mets a Cher-slap: "Snap out of it!" Of course, he's still more accomplished than any of them, with the exception of Pedro the Punk, and where is he? Rehabbing his shoulder. Even if he was there, would he take up a leadership role? Has he ever?

These teams came into this "Subway Series" both underachieving. Yet Yankee Fans are cautiously optimistic, while the Flushing Heathen are foaming at the mouth calling for "that Yankee," Willie Randolph, to get fired, because it couldn't possibly be the fault of the players that Willie didn't put together. Or Omar Minaya, the genius general manager who did put them together.

So what are we talking about for today's game? Either Darrell Rasner outpitches Johan Santana again, or Santana pitches great, and the Mutts' bullpen turns out to be just the jumpstart the Yankee offense needs.

The Curse of Kevin Mitchell lives.