January 2009

Faultless Joe

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Thirty years after Sparky Lyle and collaborator Peter Golenbock gave us the incisive “Bronx Zoo,” New York seems to be of the opinion that Joe Torre’s forthcoming book should be titled “Bronx Pooh,” given how it reportedly spoils his Yankee Years.

Please. The flash point of sneak peaks into the 477-page book (it will be released on Tuesday) has been Torre’s portrayal of Alex Rodriguez as an attention freak, someone who “needs people to make a fuss over him.”

You mean, someone prone to letting his agent announce that he is opting out of his contract during the final game of a World Series?

Gee, never saw that one coming.

The same media which mocked A-Rod’s duplicity and respected Torre’s candor now sure seems quick to label The Skip as a pariah.

That seems to happen a lot to people who leave The City. A suggestion for high-profile folks moving out: Leave backwards, without exposing your back. …

Oh, by the way — the Yankees have to start from scratch, but Torre’s postseason streak is alive at 13 (one more, and he ties Bobby Cox’s record). …

In retrospect, given the clubhouse contempt for Rodriguez of which GM Brian Cashman had to be aware, how amazing is it that the Yankees gave him a new 10-year contract after he had voided the old one? …

Scott Boras, on Nov. 12, two days before open-bidding commenced for Manny Ramirez: “Beginning Friday, I will begin, for the first time, taking serious offers.” That was a nice dig at the Dodgers’ opening bid of two years for $45 million but, 10 weeks later, Boras is still waiting.

So, naturally, he tells us yesterday that “the process has begun.” I’d love to give Dr. Cal Lightman, the Tim Roth character in Fox’s new “Lie to Me” series, five minutes in a closed room with all agents, one by one. …

Why Lou Piniella has to bat Alfonso Soriano leadoff: He’d be a rally-killer in the middle of the lineup; he’s always been allergic to runners on base. Soriano is a career .255 hitter with men in scoring position and last season hit .160 with men on third and two outs.

Such stats help explain his 270 career homers but only 705 RBIs, an amazing split. He is one of 28 historical players who have hit between 260 and 280 home runs; among the other 27, only Adam Dunn has a lower RBI total (a shameful 672 on 278 blasts) — which might help explain why he’s also still looking for a uni. …

And in case you were wondering of the current whereabouts of George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader whose name is on the report that brought baseball’s PED culture into the open — he’s visiting Cairo.

No, not Miguel — as Pres. Obama’s special Middle East envoy, Mitchell is on the first leg of an eight-day tour of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, France and Britain. Dude’s pretty important, and tells you why his report has so much credibility with the big boys of government. …


Take a year, take a chance

The free-agency bottleneck, in many cases, comes down to this: Most free agents are being offered one-year deals, but they (or their agents) continue to hold out for multi-year contracts.

Given a prevailing I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now attitude, that’s not surprising. But maybe these guys should start playing the baseball market as well as they play the game.
We’re in an economic downturn. Why would you want to accept a multi-year deal at depressed terms? Take one year, go out and produce — then get that multi-year contract in next winter’s hopefully-improved financial climate.
It’s a risk: Injury, diminishing skills (ears burning, Andruw?), increased competition can impact next year’s bargaining power. But the times say that it’s the players’ turn to take the bigger risk.
The risk an unprecedented number of them will take is “holding out” until the season is well under way. That’s fine with general managers who can get a 60-game read on their teams before deciding whether it’s prudent to sign a finishing piece.
Like Toronto’s J.P. Ricciardi, who feels that many of the players still on the market”have made enough money in the game where they can sit it out until the season begins and then get signed if a team has a need.”
Pet peeve (despite the business tone of the above item): References to the baseball “industry.” It’s not a steel mill, it’s a ballpark. Maybe we’re past the point of calling it just a “game,” but it’s still more amusement than work. …
Just wondering: Why is Tuesday the release day for all media? DVDs, CDs, books? Like Joe Torre’s now-much-anticipated tell-some, due to be released on Feb. 3, a Tuesday. …
Want to know why the Manny Ramirez camp is so adamant against accepting that two-year, $45 million deal from the Dodgers? Because Scott Boras promised the player much more in convincing him to get out of those two option years with the Red Sox — which were worth $40 million. …
Speaking of the Red Sox … there is a lot of speculation about the bleak economy’s affect on baseball, but the telltale sign will be whether Boston is able to continue its record sellout streak, at 469 games. And will there be a 4 million gate (both New York teams got there in 2008) for a fifth consecutive season? …

We remember A.J. Burnett dreaming out loud in June: ”If I’d have the opportunity to go to a place where baseball is breakfast, lunch and dinner, that would be awesome.” Well, he’s gone to a place where baseball is also brunch, midnight snack and religion. …

How did Tampa Bay become the Fatima of baseball — as in a site for miracles? First, the Rays. And now the Arizona Cardinals play a Super Bowl there. And isn’t it a case of the pot calling the kettle black for Rays manager Joe Maddon to say of the Cards, “For them to get to the Super Bowl, I don’t think that was really on anyone’s radar.”

Joe, a year ago, not even Doppler could pick up your Rays.

Insomniac’s Ball

As a kid, I’d often leap out of bed in the morning, excited by the dawning day’s possibilities. Now that same anticipation at times keeps me from even sleeping.

In any case, the sheep have left the barn. So … 
SAY it ain’t so, Jack: Addressing the other day the likelihood of bringing back Ken Griffey Jr. so he could close the circle and end his career in Seattle, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said, “I don’t want to make any move based on sentiment.”

Wow. Sentiment has always been as big a part of baseball as red stitching. It brought Hank Aaron back to Milwaukee, Don Sutton to the Dodgers, Pete Rose to the Reds,  Eddie Murray to the O’s and on and on.

Without sentiment, it’s just tiddlywinks on the lawn. … 

NEVER mind Jose Canseco vs. Danny Bonaduce (Freak Show vs. Game Show; Bonaduce briefly was a host on GSN ). Give me Jeff Kent vs. Barry Bonds in the ring. There’s a pay-per-view I’d spring for. …

ROGER Clemens: Such a poignant, precipitous fall from grace. I’d love to be a fly on his wall to get the real read on how he feels about the whole spiral. Then again, maybe not — I’d hate to be taken out by such a ridiculous weapon as a flyswatter. … 

THE NATS will be really catching some ZZs if, as GM Jim Bowden suggested the other day, 22-year-old righty Jordan Zimmermann is ready for The Show. Zimmerman (Ryan) and Zimmermann? Maybe they could also hire Don Zimmer.

Bowden could be right:  In two seasons as a pro, Zimmermann has gradually climbed the ladder with a record of 15-5 and the icing of a 1.14 ERA.

GENERAL manager: Got to be the easiest job in the world, with so many people offering their help. How did GMs get along before blogs, anyway?

BILL JAMES: The “Nutrition Facts” requirement on the box of baseball. I just want to enjoy my cereal, don’t need to know the atomic composition of those Cheerios. … 

GIVE me an outfield of Garret Anderson, Bobby  Abreu and Manny Ramirez — all still hawking on the free-agent market — and I’d take my chances in any division. … 

AND NOW for something completely different, check out this page, Tracy Ringolsby’s favorite. Just don’t hold it against me. I was young and living in Hollywood, where I thought you couldn’t even get a driver’s license without making at least one movie.

Hey, maybe that’s what keeps me awake?!…

IN TRUTH, I did try for two. Wrote a baseball screenplay which went nowhere, perhaps because the best thing about it was the title: Diamonds — A Love Affair with Balls. …

Hard of Hearing: The Long Good-bye

FEBRUARY 1 will be a big day in Phoenix. The Super Bowl? Nah. Baseball’s arbitration hearings will kick off that day and, though small in number relative to the long list of players eligible for arbitration, the process profoundly impacts the game.

Ever wonder why it’s called a “hearing”? I think it’s because the player sitting in that room can’t believe what he’s hearing. His game is ripped apart by club reps out to convince the three arbitrators that he only deserves the team offer, not his request. It’s not a place for the thin-skinned and insecure.
After a few hours on that rack, most players can’t wait to flee to another place where they can feel more appreciated. Nothing like free agency to turn on the love, as suitors talk their ears off. Of the 14 players who have had to go through a hearing the last four years and eventually reached free agency, 13 abandoned the team that had to testify against him — win or lose.The ony exception, Oliver Perez, seems to be fighting against re-signing with the Mets, over whom he actually scored a hearing decision a year ago.
ryanhoward.jpgClubs do realize the stakes, a lesson that took a while to learn. Nowadays, hearings run about 5-7 a year. Through the first two decades of a process that began in 1974, there were typically dozens of hearings every year, peaking with 35 in 1986.
RYAN HOWARD is the Donald Trump of the current arbitration group, with his $18 million request. For the reasons cited above, I expect the Phillies to be very eager to avoid another hearing with him. For one thing, the club’s $14 million offer sets up a perfect midpoint for a compromise agreement. For another, the Phils learned in losing their 2008 hearing to Howard that their one argument — his record strikeout numbers — has no weight in this era. Not with nine of the top 14 all-time single-season strikeout totals having come since 2000.
KANSAS STATE: I hereby nominate the Wildcats as the official college basketball team of MLB. Most of the time, the guys on the floor are Colon (Luis), Sutton (Dominique), Kent (Darren), Samuel (Jamar) and Clemente (Denis). … 
JEFF KENT: I’ll miss seeing him, both on the field and in the clubhouse. He was a genuine throwback. He’ll now have the time to perfect those wheelies on his motorcycle.
JAY MCGWIRE: Gee, I guess we now get why he’s estranged from brother Mark. 
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