Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hardball: A Season in the Projects

Hardball: A Season in the Projects by Daniel Coyle.

If you need a baseball fix this winter, I heartily recommend Hardball. I found this gem on the discard shelf of my library, and picked it up for ten cents!

It chronicles a Little League team in Chicago's notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects during the summer of 1992. It's about more than just baseball, however. Author Daniel Coyle does an excellent job of weaving the personal lives with the baseball personas of the individual players. You get to know each player, his home life and personality, and how and why he came to join the team, the Kikuyus. The field is the players' escape from the reality of the projects' gang wars, murder, teen pregnancy, and broken families.

The book also discusses the politics that seep into the league, and the tension that arises between the original founder of the league (who is African-American and from Cabrini-Green), and the white coaches who volunteer their time to try and teach the kids baseball, as well as win their trust and friendship.

This is an old book, published in 1993. An excellent journalist, Coyle has since gone on to write a novel, and a book about Lance Armstrong, Lance Armstrong's War. You don't have to be a baseball fan to like Hardball. It's about society, and opportunity, and community. Pick it up.
A side note to Mr. Coyle: It's been nearly 15 years since you wrote this book. I'd love to see a follow-up, even if it's an article and not a full-length book. Where are the kids now? What are they doing? Who succeeded? Who succumbed to the lure of gang life? What has happened to the residents—and gangs—of Cabrini-Green, now that a new urban renewal is happening, and the old projects of the neighborhood are coming down?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jeter (the real) A.L. MVP

We don't need the baseball writers to tell us who the MVP is. Derek Jeter is the MVP.

Jeter is the definition of Most Valuable Player. He showed up everyday (154 games played), led on the field as the Captain, and was the glue that held the team together when many other players went down. Sheffield and Matsui were out for most of the year; Cano missed six weeks; Giambi played in September (but the month was a wash for him due to a wrist injury); and ARod had an inconsistent year (to put it nicely). These players are All-Stars, and Jeter was the rock when they were gone.

There was nothing Jeter didn't do. He won his third straight gold glove at shortstop, hit .343, had 214 hits, 118 runs, 39 doubles, 14 HRs, 97 RBI, 34 stolen bases, hit .381 with RISP (to Morneau's .323), made the All-Star team, won the A.L. Hank Aaron Award, and dated Jessica Biel (pictured below). What else was there to do? Pitch?

This is not a knock on Justin Morneau, who had an excellent season. But, come on. Watching Jeter play every game is a pleasure; he's a manager's dream. Fundamental, clutch, a leader, always busting his butt down the line. A team player. The definition of MVP.

Jeter had 12 first place votes, 14 second, 1 fourth, and one clown (Joe Cowley* of the Chicago Sun-Times. What games was he watching?) had him sixth. Justin Morneau had 15 firsts, 8 seconds, 3 thirds, and 2 fourths. Final tally: Justin Morneau 320, Derek Jeter 306.

Classy as always, Jeter released a statement:
"While I know that voting for these awards is primarily based on differing opinions and statistical debates, it's also part of what makes baseball such a great sport.

Having said that, I'm flattered and honored to have been considered for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. I want to congratulate Justin Morneau on this well-deserved honor. He is a special player, and I suspect this won't be the last time you will hear his name mentioned when awards are being passed out.

"You've heard me say it a thousand times, but winning the World Series for the New York Yankees continues to be my main focus. There is no individual award that can compare with a championship trophy, and I look forward to working towards that challenge again in 2007."

It's funny that he even needed to release this statement. What does that tell you? That he was expected to be the MVP.

*Cowley has no clue. He had the responsibility of an MVP vote, and didn't even know what Jeter did in the big 5 game sweep over the Red Sox? Holy cow. Listen to the whole interview here, if you can stomach it.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Say it aint So(riano)

Alfonso Soriano, in the uniform he should still be wearing

Alfonso Soriano is reportedly set to sign an 8-year $136 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. (That's $17 mil a year, folks.)

I always hoped he'd return to the Yankees. To me, he's like the girl who got away, and you always regret it. Sori is the real deal, as we all know. Not only did he join the exclusive 40-40 club this year, but he did it one better by making it 40-40-40 (homers, steals, doubles). Plus he threw in 95 RBI from mostly the lead-off spot, and 22 outfiled assists in his first season as an outfielder.

We traded this guy for ARod.

I just watched the YES Network DVD on the 100-year history of the Yankees, and was reminded how well Soriano hit in the clutch for the Yankees in 2001. In fact, his homerun in the 7th game of the World Series should have been the game winner, if not for those bloops and broken bat hits Arizona came up with in the bottom of the 9th. I believe he also got the game-winning hit in the 5th game to send the series back to Arizona.

So, yes, I'm still pining for Soriano. I'd love to see him in pinstripes again. Unfortunately, the Cubs are locking this guy up for a looong time.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Red Sox crack open wallet, dust flies out

The Boston Red Sox have won the rights to talk to much-hyped Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka with a $51.1 million bid. This is the same team that couldn't/didn't want to afford resigning Johnny Damon last year. But after this year's 3rd place finish, drastic measures are necessary. They have 30 days to work out a deal with DMat, or they get the money back.

But even if they sign him for, say 3 years 39 mil, or 5 years 60 mil, is he worth it? Let's take the 3 year estimate. With the bid, that would total 90 million dollars for 3 years spent on DMat. That's 30 million a year. What kind of numbers would he have to put up for the Sox to justify spending that kind of money, especially when they have a lot of other holes to fill? What will this do to the free agent market? Everyone desperately needs pitching and there aren't many available this off-season. Barry Zito is the biggest name out there. Somewhere he's laughing, knowing his price just went up many millions of dollars.

But back to DMat. If he is the real deal, and can anchor the Sox' staff for the next decade (he's just 26), than it will look like a good deal. Especially with Curt Schilling on his last leg (or should I say ankle?). Boston went out and got Pedro years ago, after mistakenly writing off and dumping Roger Clemens. And he worked out great, helping them to the championship in 2004. But there are no guarantees. DMat still has to come here and face real hitting, especially the longball American League brand. And Fenway's a shoebox. Let's see if he can adjust. Yankees fans still have the bitter memory of Hideki Irabu arriving to much fanfare, only to turn out to be a "fat pussy toad."

One good thing at least will come from this. Boston can't complain about the Yanks spending money anymore, can no longer call us the evil empire. They're on the verge of laying 100 mil on an unproven commodity.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Girardi back with YES

After a successful season managing the Florida Marlins, Joe Girardi will return to the YES Network. Girardi was fired by the Marlins after clashing with their crazy owner, Jeffrey Loria. (In one incident in 2006, Loria was relentlessly heckling an umpire from his seat behind homeplate. Girardi asked him to stop. Loria stormed from his seat and confronted Girardi in a 90-minute clubhouse meeting. "I preach to my players about not arguing with umpires, and this is not going to help us,"' Girardi said.)

Although there are other managerial openings in MLB (he was considered for the Washington Nationals spot), I'm sure Girardi wants to return to the Yankees to put himself in contention for Joe Torre's job. Torre's contract expires after the 2007 season.

Girardi was Torre's bench coach in 2005, the position Don Mattingly was recently promoted to after Lee Mazzilli's dismissal. Willie Randolph was also recently the bench coach, which is how the Yankees groom their coaches to be managers. If Torre does leave after this season, I have to believe Girardi would be on the short list of future managers.

Girardi will work 60 games as an analyst and team up with John Flaherty for a new show called "Behind the Plate."

Edit: Girardi was just named N.L. Manager of the Year for 2006. Congrats Joe!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sheff of the Past

The Yankees have traded Gary Sheffield to the Tigers for three prospects. With the addition of the younger Bobby Abreu mid-season to replace the injured Sheffield, the Yankees no longer needed Sheff's services in RF. It would have been nice if their firstbase experiment had worked out. Because now the Yankees need a right-handed hitting firstbaseman (since Jason Giambi is slotted to be the full time DH). The only righty power hitter in the lineup now is ARod, and we all know how great he hits in the clutch (wink, wink). So, we need another righty bopper and someone with a good glove to man 1B. Did someone say Nomar?

The Yanks received three young righthanders from the Tigers organization:
Humberto Sanchez, a big 23 year-old 6-foot-6 starter who throws 97MPH. He was a combined 10-6 last season with a 2.53 ERA in Triple-A and Double-A. GM Brian Cashman said, "Sanchez obviously has a lot of potential. He has a lot of ability and we're planning on him going to spring training and hopefully take a lot of steps forward. We look at him as a long-term asset that hopefully we can cash in as early as '07."

Kevin Whelan, 22, was 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA and 27 saves in Class A ball last year.

Anthony Claggett, 22, was 7-2 with an 0.91 ERA and 14 saves also in Class A ball last year.

Sheffield signed a two year extension with Detroit through 2009 with an assurance he won't have to play 1B. After all the ripping of the Yanks Sheffield has done in the last week, he tried to go out on good terms: "I've always said I want to go out on my terms and they allowed me to do that, and I thank them for that."

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Big Bam Review

The Big Bam by Leigh Montville.

How do you go about writing a biography of one of the most famous and beloved people in American history? How do you convey what he accomplished, the exalted status Ruth attained? It's a tall task for a biographer. Leigh Montville was up for the job.

Babe Ruth was—and still is—larger than life. And it wasn't just hype and good PR. He earned it with his bat, his personality, his full throttle attack on life. He lived like a rock star thirty years before rock n' roll was even born. Montville does the job of conveying this by placing the reader squarely in Ruth's time. And not by over-describing the settings, or the fashion of the day. But with the little things, like the Babe getting a speeding ticking for doing 27 MPH! Or showing what went on during the train rides the Yankees took when they traveled to other American League cities. Or describing news events of the day, like Charles Lindbergh's successful flight across the Atlantic, and the crash of the stock market in 1929.

All the familiar territory is also covered: the Babe's time at St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys as a kid, coming up to the Red Sox as a pitcher at age 19, his trade to the Yankees, his homeruns, his called shot in the '32 World Series, his relationship with Lou Gehrig, his off-season barnstorming tours, his two marriages, his baseball tours around the world, his exit from baseball, his retirement, and eventually his death from cancer.

Ruth's personality, too, comes through, and not just the cartoon image many of us are familiar with: the over-eating, the over-drinking, the many women. His love of life, his sense of humor, his rebelliousness, and his heart also all come through. Ruth wasn't a phony. He was real. One classic moment in the book was a reprint of an interview with poet Carl Sandburg. Sandburg was out to knock Ruth down a peg, show how uneducated Ruth was. But it backfired. Ruth was a ballplayer—a great one—and never pretended to be anything more. He was a big kid who pulled himself up from nothing and conquered the world with his bat. That's why he was loved.

My only complaint (and this goes for many other baseball biographies): Why on earth wouldn't you print the career stats of the player at the end of the book? I had to keep looking on the internet when I wanted to see Ruth's stats. Hopefully they'll add it to the paperback version.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

All-time Yankees Team By Position

As voted by ME!

26-time World Champions

Reading the Babe Ruth bio got me considering what an all-time Yankees team would be. I've seen lists like this before, but was never satisfied because weird exceptions were made, like putting Mickey Mantle in leftfield, even though he played center. I'm going to keep it real. No Mantle in left. No Mantle as DH either. My DH has to have actually DH'd in his career. Here are my choices:

C Yogi Berra* [HOF, 3 MVPs]
1B Lou Gehrig [HOF, 2 MVPs, Triple Crown 1934]
2B Tony Lazzeri [HOF, 7 100 RBI seasons, 7 pennants, 5 WS wins]
3B Alex Rodriguez** [2 MVPs, 10-time All-Star]
SS Derek Jeter ['96 ROY, MVP 2000 WS and All-Star game, 7-time All-Star]
LF Dave Winfield [HOF, 7 gold gloves, 12-time All-Star, 1833 RBI]
CF Joe DiMaggio [HOF, 56-game hitting streak, 13-time All-Star, 3 MVPs]
RF Babe Ruth [HOF, 714 career homeruns]
DH Reggie Jackson [HOF, 14-time All-Star]

SP Ron Guidry L [3-time 20 game winner, '78 Cy Young, 4-time All-Star]
SP Whitey Ford L [HOF, 2-time 20 game winner, '61 Cy Young, .690 career winning pct., 8-time All-Star]
SP Herb Pennock L [HOF, 2-time 20 game winner]
SP Red Ruffing R [HOF, 4-time 20 game winner, 6-time All-Star]
SP Jack Chesbro R [HOF, 41-game winner in 1904, career 2.68 ERA]

Closer Mariano Rivera [8-time All-Star, '99 WS MVP, 413 SVs, post season-34 SVs, 0.80 ERA]

Manager Casey Stengel [HOF, 10 pennants, 7 World Championships]

*Tough choice. Bill Dickey had a great career, and was part of the '27 Murderers' Row Yankees, for which he hit .322. He was on 8 pennant winners and 7 WS winners. But Berra won 14 pennants, 10 World Series, and 3 MVPs.

**I originally had Graig Nettles pencilled in for thirdbase. ARod has only played three seasons for the Yanks, hasn't been too productive in the post season, and hasn't been consistent in the field. Nettles, on the other hand, could turn a game around with his glove (see Game 3 of '78 WS), led the A.L. in homers in '76, hit 390 career HRs, and was the captain of the team for a while. But ARod will challenge most career hitting records before he's through.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sosa Eyes Return

Sosa takes one off the helmet

Sammy Sosa, 12 homeruns shy of 600, has put the word out that he wants to play in 2007. He sat out all of 2006, after rejecting a $500,000 offer from the Washington Nationals. He felt he deserved more money, even though his 2005 season with the Baltimore Orioles was total crap: .221 with 14 homers. If he really wants to play again, he better be prepared to check his ego at the door and settle for a low base salary. He's got two things working against him: 1) he's 37 and a long way from his glory days of '98, 2) MLB has a steroid policy now.

Still, if he really wants to play, he'll find some club that'll take a chance on him. It's not unreasonable to think he can pop 20-25 homers as a DH/part-time OFer in a cozy ball park like Fenway.

McGwire, where are you? You only need 17 HRs to reach 600. Maybe you and Sammy can get a two-fer special on that HGH and re-live 1998.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

N.L. Gold Glove Awards

Greg Maddux won his record-tying 16th Gold Glove
(tying Jim Kaat and Brroks Robinson)

C - Brad Ausmus, Houston Astros (3rd overall)
1B - Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals (1st)
2B - Orlando Hudson, Arizona Diamondbacks (2nd)
3B - Scott Rolen, St. Louis Cardinals (7th)
SS - Omar Vizquel, S.F. Giants (11th)
OF - Andruw Jones, Atlanta Braves (9th)
OF - Carlos Beltran, N.Y. Mets (1st)
OF - Mike Cameron, San Diego Padres (3rd)
P - Greg Maddux, Chicago Cubs/L.A. Dodgers (16th-ties all-time record)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Jeter Wins 3rd Consecutive Gold Glove

The post-season awards have begun. The winners of the A.L. Gold Glove awards for fielding excellence were announced on Thursday. The winners:

C - Ivan Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers (12th overall)
1B - Mark Teixeira, Texas Rangers (2nd)
2B - Mark Grudzielanek, Kansas City Royals (1st)
3B - Eric Chavez, Oakland Athletics (6th)
SS - Derek Jeter, New York Yankees (3rd)
OF - Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners (6th)
OF - Torii Hunter, Minnesota Twins (6th)
OF - Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays (3rd)
P - Kenny "Pine Tar" Rogers, Detroit Tigers (5th)

The N.L. will announce their winners on Friday.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Babe

We all know the Babe was the greatest hitter of all time. But you may have forgotten he was one of the best pitchers of his day when he first came up to the Red Sox. He even out-dueled the legendary fireballer Walter Johnson several times.

Check out some of these pitching stats:
1915 18-8, 2.44 ERA, 16 CG, 112K, 217 IN, 1 SHO
1916 23-12, 1.75 ERA, 23 CG, 170K, 323 IN, 9 SHO
1917 24-13, 2.01 ERA, 35 CG, 128K, 326 IN, 6 SHO
1918 13-7, 2.22 ERA, 18 CG, 40K, 166 IN, 1 SHO

For his career he was 94-46, with a 2.28 ERA!

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