I was getting ready to write up an interview I conducted with Everyday Scott Proctor in the Yankees’ Tampa weight room, when a particular line of questioning raised a few serious issues that needed further investigation. An offhand remark about an item found on the floor next to Carl Pavano’s duffle bag had me thinking, and a roller coaster ride of intrigue ensued. Is Carl Pavano really Carl Pavano?
As we sat on the weight benches amidst sweat soaked towels and Yankee-logoed athletic gear, Scott Proctor and I discussed a number of things related to the upcoming season. He worked a rather large hand grip device to the point that his tendons and hand muscles looked positively Hulkish. It was in the middle of the interview that he looked down at the neighboring bench and picked up what looked like a credit card or driver’s license from the floor just next to Carl Pavano’s bag. Upon closer examination it was a membership to a German nightclub called “Blitz” in the name of Dietmar Falsch. Proctor just put it back on the bench, and raised an eyebrow. He mentioned something about asking the clubhouse attendants later, but we quickly got back into the conversation about tearing phone books in the offseason, and truck pulls. I only got to thinking a few days later, as I transcribed the recording of our conversation, about the odd nightclub card next to Glass Carl’s bag.
I decided to do some checking. I “Googled” the nightclub “Blitz” and found that the popular nightspot was a downtown Munich establishment, famous for its seedy clientele. The name “Dietmar Falsch” didn’t turn up much, and I almost let it go but there was this sinking feeling that something wasn’t quite kosher in Tampa. I decided to make a return trip to poke around a bit and see if my instincts were onto something. No one around the Yankees organization knew anything about Falsch, and Carl Pavano was away getting treatment on his injured foot. I would have to wait to ask him directly about the odd card by his belongings. I sat in the stands, taking in the sun and the action on the field, and found myself repeating the name Dietmar Falsch aloud to myself as I daydreamed. An old man sitting next to me, asked what I had said, and I obliged with the name.
The man in the neighboring seat was a retired German teacher from Cincinnati, Ohio. He introduced himself as Schmidt, and sat crooked and grey in his Legend’s Field seat. He squinted in the sun and mentioned that he’d been coming to Yankees camp for 24 years, since retiring to Florida. He shook his head and glared at Johnny Damon. “None of these guys could hold Dimaggio’s jock”, he remarked, “Except that Jeter, kid. Maybe.”
I nodded politely, and he continued, “What was that name you said? Falsch?”
I confirmed that I’d been thinking about a German name and that I must have said it aloud. I apologized for interrupting his enjoyment of the practice, but he pressed. “Falsch? Falsch? That’s no name, son. That’s German for “false”. Sounds like somebody’s been pullin’ your leg.” He cackled and continued on about Yogi Berra and the Mick. I couldn’t stop thinking about the name. Why would anyone carry around a nightclub card to a suspicious Munich drinking hole with a patently obvious alias like “false”? Something was up.
The next day, I was waiting by the clubhouse entrance to confront Carl Pavano and ask a few questions about the card I’d seen. A few players filed in and said, “Good morning”. Miguel Cairo, Jason Giambi, Josh Phelps, Jeff Karstens, Jorge Posada. The next thing I knew, Pavano was approaching in a “Hard Rock Café: Munich” t-shirt and Ray Bans. My brain was on fire. The t-shirt and the ID card were too much of a coincidence, and my chance was about to present itself to dig deeper. As soon as he was close enough to hear me, I said, “Morning Carl. Who’s Dietmar Falsch?”
The look on his face was unmistakable. His eyes were wide as saucers, even behind the Ray Bans. He veered to the left and then the right, before speeding past me into the clubhouse. There was fear in Carl Pavano’s heart, but I still was no closer to finding out the truth. My quest became even more difficult five minutes later as the Tampa security patrol came by to escort me off the premises. It seems that Mr. Falsch had made up a story about physical contact and profanity that had me on the outs with the people at Legends Field. There was work to do though. I knew I was onto something and I wasn’t going to let some minor setbacks at the stadium get in my way.
I made a phone call to Club Blitz in Munich to ask about their famous guest. Fortunately, the voice on the other end of the phone was able to speak English and sounded surprisingly pleasant. The woman confirmed that I’d reached Blitz, but was guarded when I began to ask questions about the place. The type of clientele that come through don’t take kindly to outside attention and it’s the business of the management to keep private the goings on inside. Quickly the tone of the conversation turned from cordial and professional to guarded and almost hostile. I had the feeling that my line of questioning was about to be received with a fast hangup, when I decided to blurt out, “Tell me anything about Dietmar Falsch.” There was silence. I repeated my request. More silence. Suddenly, the reply came. “You’ve made a mistake.” And with that she hung up.
Dead end. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected much out of the phone call, but I did learn that I was again onto something. This seemed bigger than I had at first guessed. Pavano was into something very secret and very dangerous, perhaps. I needed a good night’s rest to put this puzzle together, and with that I went to bed.
It was 4am when my phone rang. I was deep in the middle of a dream about being stranded on a desert island with Halle Berry and a lasagna when my slumber was broken. Damn. I love that dream. I picked up and said hello in a raspy, early morning voice. The other end was silent. I again said, “Hello.”
“Find Donald Babcock. The only reason I’m telling you this is he broke my heart.”
The phone went dead, but I knew exactly who had been on the other end of the phone. It was the woman from Blitz. That was no longer important though. I had my lead. Where to begin? There had to be a million Donald Babcocks in the world. How would I find the right one, and what would I ask him when I did manage to get in contact with him?
I went back to my first step and “Googled” Donald Babcock. The first listing was at IMDB, for a one time writer of the Fox sitcom Herman’s Head. I knew that had to be wrong, but I had nothing to go by. It struck me that a good place to start would be in the news. I clicked “News” at Google, but nothing popped up. Only on pure intuition, I decided to go into the New York Times archives to search for Babcock around the time the Yankees signed Pavano. Maybe there was a connection that could explain the mysterious set of circumstances unfolding around me. Bingo.
Donald Babcock’s name appeared in a New York Times obituary on June 29th, 2005. That’s two days after Carl Pavano’s last start for the Yankees. It was a longshot, but it seemed like a good place to start. I went to the Times offices and talked with an anonymous source there. The person owed me a few favors and I managed to get an address for the person who submitted the obit for Babcock. It was one Dorothy Babcock of Newark, New Jersey. I was on my way to Brick City to have a conversation with Dot.
I arrived at the address provided by my source. It was a faded green row home with a front porch that had seen better days. The gates on the doors and windows seemed rusty and I began to feel as though I might be putting myself unnecessarily in harms way for this story. As I walked up the steps to the house a little old lady opened the door and squinted angrily at me. “Get the Hell out of here or I’ll call the cops”, she warned.
I stopped walking and simply said, “I’m sorry to bother you ma’am, but I wonder if you could tell me about Donald. I was a friend of his.”
The old woman softened and looked quite sad. I began to regret my little ruse, and thought briefly about coming clean with her. That would have been a mistake, for what I learned at her home that afternoon brought the whole story together. Dorothy Babcock was a very sweet and generous woman. She offered me tea and asked me to sit on her couch. I took her up on her offer and enjoyed a nice hot cup of chamomile, seated on her plastic covered Davenport. She told a few stories about Donald Babcock, and the passing of his parents at a tragically young age. She talked of raising the boy on her own, and putting him through college. He was a little used long reliever at Mt. Hardy Junior College in Suffolk. I nodded and graciously accepted a second cup of tea as she told me the gruesome details of his fatal car accident. It seems that Donald had gone off a bridge one night into the river, and his car had been dredged up a week later. His body was never recovered. This was suspicious in and of itself, and I nearly leapt out of my seat when she showed me the picture of Donald, taken just days before his own untimely death.
As you can see, there was no mistaking what had happened. Somehow, Donald Babcock had acquired the identity of Carl Pavano and replaced him on the Yankees. It explained a lot about the lack of interest in pitching at the Major League level. If he could only hold out over the course of his contract with the Yankees, he could cash in the big bucks and live the fast life for a while. All he had to do was find a way to avoid exposing himself as a fraud. That’s why he was perpetually injured and slow to rehab. If only I could prove this theory conclusively.
As Dotty Babcock wrapped up her story about poor Donald, I asked her for a photo of the deceased to treasure his memory. She was kind enough to provide me with the portrait that had blown open the situation in the first place, and I raced back to Tampa to confront the imposter in pinstripes. Security had long since forgotten about my little run in with “Carl” and I managed to get access to the post-practice clubhouse for some interviews. I started slowly, by blending in with the crowd. I listened to Peter Abraham talk to Mike Mussina about working in the curveball more as he warmed up. I listened to a few questions for Kei Igawa about hot dogs and American animation. Johnny Damon played the air guitar and fell into a bewildered Chien Min Wang’s locker. Then, it was Pavano’s turn. After some routine questions about his condition and the progress on his foot rehab, I dove in.
“Carl, can you explain this photo?” I asked, holding out the striking image of Donald Babcock.
Pavano became enraged and threw a water bottle at me. He jumped from his stool and began to throw punches, but the press corps was in his way. A number of his teammates came over to the fracas to see what was happening, and the security staff flew in to break up the commotion. I shouted over the din, “I talked with Dorothy. I talked with your grandmother. You broke her heart Donald. Tell the truth!!!”
Pavano broke from his rage and said, “Granny? Leave Granny alone. She’s suffered enough.” The other writers were stunned. No one knew what was going on, and cameras flashed pictures of the now despondent face of Donald Babcock, aka Carl Pavano. The broken man slumped to the clubhouse floor and began to weep. I’m not sure when this story will appear in the tabloids, and I don’t know where they will eventually find the real Carl Pavano, but it will come out. I only hope that the real Carl Pavano will be able to contribute to the team in 2007. If he comes back, we could be tough. Certainly, tougher than we would have been with an imposter like Donald Babcock on the 40 man roster. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
I was getting ready to write up an interview I conducted with Everyday Scott Proctor in the Yankees’ Tampa weight room, when a particular line of questioning raised a few serious issues that needed further investigation. An offhand remark about an item found on the floor next to Carl Pavano’s duffle bag had me thinking, and a roller coaster ride of intrigue ensued. Is Carl Pavano really Carl Pavano?
Friday, February 23, 2007
I used to always misspell my friend Brian's name when I sent e-mails to him. Invariably, I would transpose the "i" and "a" in Brian, and call him "Brain". He didn't mind. I've found the same problem every time I write about the Yankees GM, so from this point forward I will call him "Brain" Cashman to avoid all the confusion. That is all.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
I don't get it. The revelation that Curt Schilling is going to go free agent after 2007 has people jumping at the idea that he may pull a Johnny Damon and head to the Bronx. It's been out there off and on lately with this announcement on the horizon.
Boston Dirt Dogs
Fox Sports Blog
I'm sure I've read this speculation a few other places recently, and even with Schilling's comments that he wouldn't head to New York, people have it in the back of their minds that when push comes to shove that the Yankees would love to stick it to the Sox by taking their "ace" and placing him deep in their rotation for 2008. I don't see it. Eveyone who talks about this issue is talking about it from Schilling's perspective and wondering aloud if he'd make the move. I think the route to the Bronx rests firmly in Brian Cashman's office, and were I to wager on the prospects of Mr. Bloody Sock being a member of the Bombers at any point in the future, I'd look at the odds somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 billion eternities:1 that he'd be elsewhere.
Why on Earth would the Yankees even want Curt Schilling. I'm honestly not trying to denigrate the man because I dislike him (I do). I just don't know how signing Curt Schilling at 41 years old, with a weight problem, and a recent history of late season shakiness, to a contract of $13 million would fit. That's what he said he'd settle for, but I have to think that's a dumb investment for the Yankees. Someone like the Dodgers would pay him that money. Someone like the Rangers might even take a flyer on Schilling, but the Yankees 2008 rotation will probably look like this:
You have Pavano under contract through next season, and Humberto Sanchez potentially waiting for a shot. You have Tyler Clippard looking for an opening as well. The latter two pitchers are on minor league deals. How does a $13 million, 41 year old, fatty fit into the Cashman plan? The short answer is, he doesn't. It silly speculation, and a lot of Red Sox Nation paranoia. Curt Schilling will be somewhere in 2008, but it won't be anywhere in the vicinity of New York City.
One COH note. I haven't had much time to put up photos or artwork recently, but I plan to get that all back up and going soon. It takes a little time to put even a simple piece together, which is never usually a problem, but everything I've written lately has been at my desk at work. Sitting here wasting time with text is a bit easier to disguise than a giant, monitor-sized likeness of Curt Schilling eating Tokyo, so you get the idea.....
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
You see no confession, no case
Then my boy started illin',talkin' and tellin'
Son of a bitch-he was a snitch
Ice-T (the "Power" album, 1988)
I loathe to write about this actually. The drama of the competition is far more interesting to me than the drama of the personalities. I suppose at heart I prefer the Derek Jeter, colorless backdrop to the sport than the alternative. I may be in the minority in that respect, but it's the way I feel. It's not to say that I want all the players to be drab interviews, and never get a peek inside their lives. I think the background of the characters in this vast narrative are part of what makes athletic competition interesting year round. The human drama is the fuel behind the data. I think the part of this plotline that I detest is the soap opera quality of it. It reeks of reality television, which reeks of junior high school pettiness. This is clearly only one man's opinion, but I don't believe I'm on an island here.
Is it surprising to anyone that Jeter isn't A-Rod's biggest fan? Hasn't this been the story since the Esquire article, and since Alex joined Derek on the Yankees? What's new about this story? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The only thing that is new about this story is the reaction that A-Rod had to juvenile prodding conducted by the tabloid press corps. Their standards are so low, and their brand of journalism is so base and puerile, that it's hardly worth reading anymore. That is, unless you love soap operas and baseless speculation. I'll take a short detour on this for a second to make my point.
I used to read the New York Post as a younger man. I liked the layout of the sports section. I liked the idea that guys like Peter Vescey had inside info and were respected enough to be afforded NBC's Studio chair during the NBA pre-game show. Score one for NY. As the years progressed, and I got a stronger sense of the lack of integrity that the entire tabloid displayed across the board, I began to sour on the whole thing. I still read Vescey because he was a little acerbic and he seemed to know something that you and I didn't. I quickly found this to be false as well, and my whole belief system about sports coverage began to crumble. Vescey was no more an insider than I, whatever he wants you to think. Nothing he ever writes in his column ever comes true. The information that his sources feed him about trades in the works and so on are never accurate and are designed to take clever little shots at athletes in an effort to titillate and sell papers. I don't blame him though. It works, and I believed at one time that it was worth my 25 or 50 cents every day.
Bloggers, fortunately, provide an escape from the cycle of pettiness. We aren't out there to sell papers, although "hits" are as important to us as circulation. Yes, you can find a good amount of bubble gum to chew on in the blogosphere as well, and there's nothing wrong with that. The vast majority of what I see from the well respected Yankees blogging community is of top quality, even when it's covering the trivial. The A-Rod story is born of the tabloids, and is sustained by the tabloids, and as a Yankee blogger I have a choice to make. Do I write about this "story"? It's out there and it's being talked about. If I don't write about it, my work is incomplete in telling the story of the 2007 season. If I do write about it, I join the chorus of people keeping the nonsense at the forefront of the conversation. I become a tool of the tabloids in driving their soap opera. You can see what I've chosen here, by the content and length of this post.
The thing is, I hate it. I don't want to write about it. I have a choice, and I've made my choice, butI think this rant is an annoncement of sorts. It's an announcement that Canyon of Heroes will do its best to stay above the fray. I'm waking up to the role that we, as bloggers, have in either replacing or outdoing the tabloids, or helping them do their dirtywork. The A-Rod/Jeter story is a fabrication of the worst kind. Journalism is driving this story instead of covering it. I won't be a part of it, if I can at all help it. Just as Alex and Derek have done, I will refrain from addressing this plotline from here on. It will go on with or without me, but I choose to be the gatekeeper of my own writing in this regard. Drama has a place at COH, but not this kind of artificial drama.
I'm in A-Rod's corner. I'm in Jeter's corner. When the bell rings, we'll all come out swinging together, the players from the batter's box and me from behind my keyboard. Go Yankees.
Monday, February 19, 2007
This is one of the longest break ups in history. It's understandable, but it's unnecessary in many ways. Bernie doesn't want to quit the Yankees and his teammates want him around. Torre desperately wants him around. Even the fans want to see Bernie, but it seems that everyone but Bernie understands that he is past his playing days in pinstripes. It's not even a question of whether he could play or not. He can clearly still play at some level. He has enough left in his tank to play for 2 or 3 more seasons if the right situation was available, but that situation is absolutely not with the Yankees. It's probably not with any other competitive team either.
We've been over and over it during the Winter and it continues into the Spring as well. Reading about this everyday is enough to tug at the old heartstrings, because he is an icon and such a soft spoken man. He's a gentleman in a sport which is often marked by it's crass underbelly. In the end, it seems that Bernie is like the boyfriend or girlfriend that can't take your gentle hint that it's over. It's better if you shout at him and tell him he's a loser and to take a hike. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, and give me back my keys. But, you still love him, so you can't bring yourself to do it.
Most of Bernie's ratios over the last 4 years have remained the same as his career numbers. Any dips in those figures are neither make nor break. When I looked at his BB/PA ratio, for example, I found that his entire career from 1991-2002 featured a .120 ratio, while the last 4 substandard seasons only saw a dip to .111, which is a difference of 4 walks over 500 PAs. The same research shows that he loses about 2 home runs per 500 PAs, at his current production. Ground out/Fly out is also hardly changed. How is it that his batting line looks so hideous? It's fairly easy, actually.
Bernie can't hit anymore. He has especially lost his ability to hit right handed pitching. His average prior to 2003 was a very nice .308, but has been .263 over the last 4 seasons, 539 games, 1911 ABs, and 2180 PAs. That dip is .045 and looks to be a major factor in his inability to get on base. The walk rate is similar, so the hitting must be the culprit. His OBP from 2003-2006 has dipped to around .337 from a previous mark of about .398 from 1991-2002. That's .061, of which .045 comes from his batting average. I suppose the rest can be attributed to those 4 walks per 500 PAs that he's lost over the same period of time. We all know that his shoulder and knees have contributed to his crippled and embarrassing fielding, but they are also responsible for the deterioration we see in his batting. He can't turn on pitches anymore, and even when he does the slugging shows he's lost the pop.
In the first cross section of play, 1991-2002, Bernie slugged a fair .498 to go with his near .400 OBP. For a centerfielder that's a very nice output. In the last 4 seasons, he's only produced a .412 SLG to go along with his .337 OBP, which computes to a .749 OPS....again over 1911 ABs and 2180 PAs. In 2006, 10 players hit between .735 and .750 OPS. They are as follows:
Of this list, 7 are middle infielders. David Bell is a third baseman. Jay Payton and Francoeur are both outfielders. Payton has hardly been able to hold a steady job in the Majors in his career and Francoeur posted a simply hideous .298 OBP to go with his decent power numbers. This small sample size is enough to demonstrate why there's no room for Bernie Williams on the Yankees. The guys who qualify statistically, and match up with Bernie's production all play middle infield. On a club with a $175 million payroll, and plenty of options, there isn't room for a guy who hits like a middle infielder from the outfield, but is so bad defensively that he actually may cost you games out there.
So, it's absolutely breaking my heart BW, but consider this a Canyon of Heroes "take a hike". I don't want to break up with you, but we both know it's time. Take the hint. Go find someone who appreciates you for the fine guitar player you are. *sniffle* Get out. *sob*
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Bud Selig is looking to solidify his tenure as Commissioner with a reputation for being tough on rules-breakers. It took him the better part of his time in the job to do anything but garner criticism for a lot of awkward moves, and lack of moves like the All Star tie of several years ago. In recent times, our fine commish has dedicated himself (under Federal pressure) to toughening the penalties for PED users and the like. His legacy has been teetering dangerously on the precipice of the steroid era for allowing the worst imaginable sin against the game since the 1919 White Sox to grow on his watch.
The latest announcement by the Major League office regarding the enforcement of on-field rules is perhaps another Giuliani-esque move to be the no-nonsense, tough on crime, commissioner of our national pass time. Lets take a look at the "new" things in store for players and organizations in 2007.
1. Tie games which are postponed will be picked up where they left off.
This is a no-brainer. As I understand it, this means that a game which is resumed on a future date will start where the delay began, say in the 7th inning, and the record of the prior play will count. Up until now, the game would be completely replayed from the start and the 3 homer effort that one lucky guy put up would be wiped out. Not anymore. Good decision.
2. Time between pitches
The time between pitches, when no one is on base, has been reduced from 20 seconds to 12. This is a great idea, but the enforcement of it will be very tough. How does it work when a pitcher and catcher can't seem to get together? Will the ump be a hard-ass and award a ball? Can you imagine the on field fights that will emerge if that happens? It's a bit like the 3-second rule in basketball. It's not always enforced 100%, but those games when it is get very tedious. A lot of angry players, coaches, and fans. The flow of the game is actually worse when on-field judges get too involved. Where does this rule begin and end? Supposedly this has worked very well in the minor leagues for several years, so we'll keep an eye on it.
3. One foot in the batter's box
This is the Bernie Williams rule, and one more reason why he probably is better off calling it a career. Unless there are game-related reasons to step out, a batter must keep one foot in the box throughout his at bat. This should also pose an interesting new set of circumstances on games. It will almost certainly make for some interesting photographic moments with players striking various one-footed poses. How many times will we see Derek Jeter step out to "clean sand out of his eyes" in 2007?
4. Ball doctoring
This is the "game play" version of the steroids issue. Any scuffing, rosin, or whatever else pitchers try to do with the ball is out. 10 game suspension for violators. Kenny Rogers would certainly have missed the rest of the playoffs had the umpire followed his brown hand from the Yankees series. It will be interesting to see if anyone gets nailed for this in 2007. I expect it will be a very serious issue in the media and among the players if anyone is caught "brown-handed".
5. Official scoring
This is very interesting to me. "Defensive indifference", for example, will have a broader definition this year, with more latitude for scorers to use their judgement about game situation when awarding stolen bases late in games, when no one covers the bag. If I can get my hands on the complete revisions of "Rule 10" regarding official scoring, I'll post it here.
On a separate note, Kei Igawa plays "shogi" in the Yankees locker room, learned to say, "What's up?", and likes hot dogs. I love this guy already. Matsuzaka may be the superior baseball player, but Igawa is by far the most interesting player in pinstriped this year. Looking forward to whatever little slice of heaven he comes up with next.....(Plus Posada says his control is uncanny. Jorge also says Hughes is a Major Leaguer right now, and is even better this camp than last year when he compared him to Rocket. Oh baby!)
Thursday, February 15, 2007
I don't consider any of the items coming out of Tampa "news", but I am a Yankees blogger, so I suppose I will offer my comments on the goings on down South.
1. Steve Swindal's DUI
This is silly. It's criminal, and I agree with Steve's take on the situation over at Was Watching. I think DUI is a hard crime to forgive completely when the consequences are so potentially devastating, and doubly unforgivable when the person involved is as filthy rich as the Yankees managing general partner. Get a cab.
2. Moose's comments on Pavano
It's hard to like Carl Pavano. It's hard to defend Pavano. I'll try for one second before piling on. The guy is at camp and, by all accounts, he's been working hard to be ready for the 2007 season. He deserves a crack at rebuilding his teammates confidence in him, not to mention the fans. However, he seems to be in complete denial about how people perceive him. He doesn't believe that he has any image problems, and he doesn't see any problems with his teammates. I know that the atmosphere of the team both in the media, and I'm sure in the locker room, can't have escaped his attention. Classic denial. Mussina calls him out in the press a bit, and I think it's a good swift kick in the ass to let him know that he has to try harder to rebuild his standing around the team. Whether he cares or not is another question. I hope he pitches well for a month or two and find his way to Colorado.
3. The Spring uniforms
The white panel on the jersey is okay. Whatever. I own a Matsui batting practice jersey with his name on the back, so I believe there's a place for some non-traditional merchandise. I think all of us have gotten used to the pink Yankees hats for the ladies, and the rainbow assortment of Yankees attire for the fashionistas. Not my cup of tea, but whatever. The hat is stupid. What good is it to add white piping all over the already perfect Yankees cap. Different colors are where I think I draw the line. The "new" hat looks like a pastry experiment gone wrong. In the end, it hardly matters to me as long as none of it ever sees the playing field at Yankee Stadium. The day the Yankees compromise their on-field product for trendiness is the day I throw eggs and tomatoes at whoever the GM is at the time. On a side note, does anyone remember the hideous MLB attempt at "future" uniforms to go along with the idea of "throwbacks"? I seem to remember that the Yankees were the only team to decline participation, but there may have been a handful of others. Ouch.
Let Mariano use the press to negotiate. The Yankees aren't going to let him go anywhere, and I find it hard to believe he would go anywhere of his own accord. It's nearly unfathomable that Mo would suddenly drop off the face of the Earth in 2007, prompting the team to forgo signing him for 2008 and beyond. Mo will pitch his last contract with the Yankees, and appear in the new Stadium. All the talk right now is buying him a few hundred thousand extra dollars on whatever deal he gets next year. That's all.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
A few appetizers before I get to the meat:
1. Mariano Rivera ain't going anywhere. I don't even want to write about it, to be honest, because it's a load of crap designed to sell papers. Nuff said.
2. Ron Villone on a minor league deal gets a Spring Training invite. Hmmm. Okay. Not a bad gamble. We know what we're getting, and if he can earn a spot, it comes cheap. I don't trust him in a big spot, but hopefully it will never come to that with the amount of late-innings guys we have to choose from now.
3. A Pavano sighting, actually throwing a baseball, means very little to me. When he's on the mound at Yankee Stadium in July, we'll talk. I expect the worst, although I think he might surprise people who have completely written him off. He's probably a league average 5th starter in the AL. We have better on the farm at cheaper prices. Maybe a good Spring and a healthy April and May will help Cashman to move him. (Has any guy in recent memory been less wanted?)
Now for the meat....and you thought I meant Pavano.....
Carlos Zambrano is telling people that the Cubs have to pony up Zito money before the season starts or he's going FA when 2007 comes to an end. The Cubs should make that move, if they're smart, but my gut tells me they won't. It's bound to set up an awkward situation around the trade deadline. Unless the Cubs are head and shoulders above the rest of their division, they risk missing the playoffs, and getting nothing for Zambrano. The likely scenario is that the team will keep him, make their run, and whatever happens bite the bullet when he hits the open market. They probably believe he prefers to stay in Chicago, and that they can match any contract offer that comes up in the offseason. The risk in that thinking is, if he is annoyed that the Cubs short-changed him on this year, he'll make an obscene gesture in their direction and sign with another club. You'd better believe that Zito money (and then some) will be waiting for Zambrano in New York, the South-side of Chicago, LA, Texas, and a handful of other places too.
You can bet that the Yankees, Mets, White Sox, Red Sox, Orioles, Angels, Dodgers, Rangers, Cardinals, and for all I know the rest of the teams in the sport are formulating plans to acquire Zambrano should he fail to get his money by Opening Day. It's useless to speculate who would offer the most money, but the number of team that would be involved would be staggering and his decision could well shift the fortunes of an entire division or league. He's that kind of impact pitcher, and they don't hit the free agents waters very often anymore. I've been saying for a long time that the Yankees should be the biggest shark in the sea if there's blood in the water. Johan Santana is the ultimate prize, but there's a lot of time and logistics in front of any conversation about the Minnesota ace. Zambrano is a now conversation.
A lot of people don't like Carlos Zambrano. His walk-rate is ugly. The thing about this pitcher though, is that he gets a ton of groundballs. He also has allowed the following batting line against him for his career and in 2006 (OPS+ in parentheses):
Career .224/.318/.344 (133)
2006 .208/.316/.351 (136)
This is a pitcher who will turn 26 in June, and has been pitching to a ridiculous stat line in the #6 highest rated park factor in baseball. For comparison, Yankee Stadium has the 27th rated park factor. If you adjust his NL numbers to the AL, and then re-adjust for the Yankee Stadium PF, you probably would see about the same stat line in pinstripes. He's a plus strikeout guy, AND a plus groundball guy in the same package. He got the lowly Cubs 16 wins last season, garnering an unusually high 5.97 runs per game of support from Dusty Baker's "unclogged bases", but looking at Unit, Mussina, and Wang last year we see that each got more than 6.30 runs per outing with Johnson at 7.50! The conversation for Zambrano in pinstripes starts at 16 wins and ends at whatever 6.50 runs of support would get you with a 3.30 ERA. (Assuming a decision every 9 innings pitches, and a 215 inning season, Pythagorean Expectations would have Zambrano at 19-4).
That's just the tip of the iceberg. The playoffs are where it really counts. The main reason for the Yankees to splash on this player, outside their own direct benefit, is that their AL rivals will all be in on the war. The Red Sox and Blue Jays figure to be aggressive, and that could tip the balance of the division in either team's favor. The Yanks have the young arms to impact the division long term, but they also have plenty of old guys who are nearing the end. They need to replace them with top quality, and as I've said, it doesn't come around often. When Mussina and Pettitte are done in 2 years, the Yankees will have internal options to fill their spots, but nothing in the way of guaranteed results. If it's not Zambrano, and Santana is still a question mark, then who? If the Red Sox replace Schilling or Wakefield with Zambrano, for example, they would have Zambrano, Matsuzaka, Papelbon, and Beckett for years and years to come. Ouch.
There is only one certainty should the Cubs fail to lure Zambrano to an extension. CZ is going to be a VERY wealthy man when it's all said and done. Can you say $20 million per?
Sunday, February 11, 2007
I am proud to present to you another addition to the Canyon of Heroes Monument Park. I started this feature during the early days of Spring last year with the induction of Bernie Williams as its first member. In principle, the players in Monument Park should be retired, and I believe my feelings last season were clear that Bernie would be entering retirement after 2006. That's still up in the air, but the induction was deserved, however long Bernie tries to hang on.
My second addition was my childhood hero, Reginald Martinez Jackson. Reggie was and is larger than life to me, and he may remain as my all-time favorite player unless someone comes along and can somehow overwhelm me with awe. I don't believe that's possible at this stage of my life, but I'd like to think a future Yankee will give that a shot. Today is the official beginning of the 2007 Canyon of Heroes blogging cycle. The sense that pitchers and catchers will soon be working hard in preparation for a long season ahead, adds life to the blogosphere, where news fillers and meaningless speculation are all there is between the Winter Meetings and now.
Today it is my honor to induct David Brian Cone as the 3rd member of the Canyon of Heroes Monument Park. I can't explain exactly what first attracted me to Cone. He was a New York Met in the days when the Yankees were second class citizens on the New York baseball scene. It was 1987, the Mets had just won the World Series, and the Yankees were starting a 45-year old Tommy John, 37-year old Ron Guidry, Rick Rhoden, and Richard Dotson, John Candelaria, and a young Al Leiter. The lineup featured a few great regulars like Mattingly, Winfield, and Randolph, although Willie had an awful year. Rickey Henderson swiped 92 bases, but the quality of baseball that defined Yankees tradition was sadly in absentia. The rest of the team was made up of names like Rafael Santana, Don Slaught, Jack Clark, and Joel Skinner, and Gary Ward. Nothing to be excited about in Yankeeland.
The Mets spent the end of the 1980s on top of the baseball world. 1988 saw a team of resurgent Mets dashing towards another World Series title, with 20-game winner David Cone at the helm, Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, and Sid Fernandez dominating on a nightly basis, and the familiar cast of of characters presenting a formidable lineup. In retrospect, it's easy to see why that team was better than the Yankees, and it wasn't hitting, despite the impression you might have. Granted the pitchers hit in the NL, but the 1988 Mets and Yankees have suprisingly similar batting lines. The Yankees scored 772 runs, while batting .263/.333/.395 and the Mets managed .256/.324/.396, scoring 703 runs. The Yankees team OPS+ was 105, while the Mets put up a 117 team OPS+. It was pitching then, just as it is now, that separates the great teams from the mediocre. A 25-year old David Cone had stamped his imprint on New York, despite some of the rather seedy things that were being reported about the Mets of that era. There were drugs, alcohol, and rape allegations. The team hated each other, and the strong personalities that made up the Mets of that time were doomed to face their own personal demons in one way or another down the road.
Entering college in the Fall of 1989, I was down on the Yankees and settled for a lukewarm support for the crosstown rival Mets. My second team has always been the Oakland A's, so the '89 Earthquake Series was still fresh in my mind. Anything to distract me from the state of the Yankees and provide a little baseball entertainment. In fact, I always loved Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. Their personal problems were difficult for me to see, as it was also very tough to watch Lawrence Taylor. As Rick James says, "Cocaine's a helluva drug." David Cone had something. He had a kind of calm on the mound that attracted me to him right away. Whatever chaos was going on in the clubhouse and off the field, Cone was always ice when he was pitching. His calm and creativity allowed him to pitch out of jams, and keep hitters guessing at all times. More often than not, he made them guess wrong.
As a kid from Kansas City, and a former Omaha farmhand, Cone had made his way to the biggest stage and made the big city fall in love with him. It's not easy to make it in New York, but he proved to be whatever breed it is that thrives under the spotlight. It was a tragedy that he chose to leave the opt for KC again after hitting free agency in 1993, apologies to the good fans of that market. The Royals must have looked quite attractive to Cone as he was embroiled in a lot of difficult things in his life. The Mets had traded him to the Blue Jays, where he helped to win the 1992 World Series. His ties to the big stage had been severed, and I suppose it made sense to go home for a lot of reasons. Coney won the Cy Young at the age of 31, while pitching on the 3rd place Royals. The rotation featured Tom Gordon, Kevin Appier, and Mark Gubicza among others. It seems a waste in retrospect, but I'd be interested in hearing Cone's feelings about that time in his life, looking back now.
In April of 1995, Cone was traded by the Kansas City Royals to the Toronto Blue Jays for Chris Stynes, and minor leaguers David Sinnes, and Tony Medrano. Talk about gratitude. What a historically stupid move that was, looking at it today. Even more puzzling was the trading deadline deal that the Blue Jays pulled off with New York sending Cone forward into glory for Marty Janzen, and minor leaguers Jason Jarvis and Mike Gordon. A whirlwind ride, made David Cone a Yankee. The Jays got nothing in return for sending their division rival an ace pitcher that would help them to win 4 World Series championships.
For me, it was a thrill to know that a pitcher who I had long admired on other ballclubs would be fronting the rotation for the Yankees. It was a bold move that defined that era of Yankees baseball. Finally, someone was putting a team on the field that made some sense. Jimmy Key, a young Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera (before he was Mariano Rivera) were all emerging as important pieces to the Yankees puzzle, and David Cone was the frontman. It wasn't only the quality of player that was being added to the roster, but the feeling that each player's personality brought to the Stadium night in and night out. People love Scott Brosius for a lot of strange reasons, but mine is clear. It was the way he made you feel calm about anything that happened over at third. I hated the double plays that he constantly hit into, but he was steady. That's a very important thing for people to remember about the Yankees of that era. Yes, they won championships. Yes, they were very good. They were also focused and cool. In a time when the Yankees were evolving beyond the mediocre and rudderless franchise they'd become, the steel of Paul O'Neill, Brosius, Andy Pettitte, David Key, and David Cone was crucial to our healing as fans. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams brought that attitude to the park with them as well, making the Yankees a team to respect.
In my opinion, while many people attribute the change in the Bombers to Paul O'Neill or Jimmy Key, for me, it was David Cone. When he put on the pinstripes, I knew the team was going to be different. Over the course of his 6 seasons in the Bronx, Cone put up the following ERA+ numbers:
It was tough to see Cone fall off the table in 2000 and then head to the Red Sox for 2001. It made no sense to me to see this player I'd followed so closely die on the mound and then seek resurrection in Boston. It just seemed wrong. I suppose it's hard for any of us to criticize an athlete for hanging on too long. I'm sure all of us would do the same thing. For the fan, it's tough. You never want to see Michael Jordan play for the Washington Wizards. You never want to see Bernie Williams unable to take the hint. Cone did what many great players do. He tried to cling to his craft a little past the time that his body would allow it.
In the end, the titles and the restoration of Yankee glory are in large part thanks to the contributions of David Cone. Not only did he pitch well, but he made it fun to be a Yankee fan again. There was a humor about David that made him easy to like, serious on the mound, but more carefree in street clothes. I recall he did a series of commercials to promote Yankees broadcasts, where he appeared with some guys who were Yankees super fans. If my memory serves me correctly, one commercial featured Cone in a public toilet, where one of these fans came over to help him "shake the dew off the lilly." If I could find it at YouTube, I'd post it here. The signature moment for Cone in his years in the Bronx is easy to put a finger on. His perfect game was, in many ways, a cherry on the sundae. On July 18, 1999, in an interleague game against the lowly Expos, cone made history, falling to his knees and grasping his head in disbelief. Where Boomer looked the part of the rotund little boy, basking in his moment, Cone was humbled and genuinely awed by his own accomplishment. Both of those games will not soon be forgotten by Yankee fans of this generation, but Cone's was the more satisfying for me.
So, in appreciation of his efforts for the New York Yankees, and for his part in restoring the rightful place of the Bombers at the top of the baseball world, I hereby induct David Cone to the Canyon of Heroes Monument Park. (found at the bottom of the linkroll in the right margin).
The discussion around the Yankeesphere the last couple of days has been the situation of Bernie Williams. It's quite simple. He's old. He can't field. He isn't a very good hitter against left handed pitching. The Yankees want him to retire, but he's hanging on. The Yankees want to give him a graceful way out so they offered him a minor league deal and a Spring Training invite. Bernie declined and now everyone wonders what it means, if it's right, and what happens next.
In my opinion, the Yankees have done Bernie due diligence. Over the last two years the Yanks have done right by the aged center fielder, to allow him his chance at retiring gracefully. They feted him as he finished his 6th consecutive season making over $12 million, despite his 81 OPS+ in 2005. They gave him a last shot at a title by signing him to a $1.5 million one-year deal, and he delivered a fair 2006, to the tune of a 101 OPS+. The problem is, anytime he was in the field, he was a train wreck. Not only a bad player, or an occasionally ineffective player, but an absolute bomb. Just think back to the time he allowed David Ortiz second on a routine ball hit in front of him. His FRAA last season in center was -6. His EQA was a league average .260 and if you believe in PECOTA forecasts, you can expect a .255 EQA and a -5 FRAA for him in 2007 to go along with a batting line of .258/.320/.388!
I love Bernie Williams. He was the first player I inducted into my COH Monument Park. At this point, if he's unwilling to play on the Yankees' terms, I wish him the best of luck. 2 years ago I would have been up in arms if someone had told me that Bernie Williams would be forced to play out the end of his career in a different uniform, but the way things have worked out in the end, I think it's a real possibility. I don't know who would take him, but I'm sure someone would give him a spot to win. I don't believe, in 2007, that the Yankees are the team. If he ends up in a different uniform, I wish him the best of luck. I would hate to see it, but he's earned the right to do whatever his heart tells him is the best for BW. So have the Yankees after their generous one year deal in 2006. We're at a crossroads.
Cashman is trying to go young. He's trying to go cheaper. Some may disagree with the way he's gone about it, and some may question the roster moves he's made in the process. I'm not one of those people. What the Yankees are doing today makes all the sense in the world. It just hurts to see it end this way. We'll be waiting for you on Bernie Williams Day #51. See you then.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
There's no player I'm more excited about than Dellin Betances. I'll do a feature of some kind on him later this year, but the Daily News' Ian Begley has written up a little pre-Spring Training piece on his commitment to excellence. Give it a read.
Just to remind you. This is a 6'9" Brooklyn product that has transformed himself in under a year from a raw high school talent with a power fastball, to a semi-sophisticated pitcher with a variety of plus pitches, and 20 pounds of extra power behind his 96 mph+ fastball. He's a repeatable pitching motion and a little mound experience from bursting onto the Major League scene, and I'm betting that going into the 2009 season, he will be the top prospect in the minor leagues.
Last year we heard Jorge Posada and Jason Giambi comparing Phil Hughes to Roger Clemens. I wonder what kind of impression Betances is going to have on campers in 2007.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
The debut of Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka in his new uniform took place recently in Japan via the magic of the Asahi Super Dry television campaign. The commercial has become well known thanks to the magic of YouTube, and I posted it myself over at Matsuzaka Watch. The wave of Red Sox related imagery that I've seen in Japan since his signing has been steady and powerful as the best rivalry in sports makes its mark in Japan.
Recently, I was shocked to see a Hideki Matsui commercial in the same style. Thank God. I was beginning to think that Godzilla had been drummed into history, with the new toy on the shelf. Matsui is an experienced and beloved pitchman himself. His ads tend to be very different than the Ichiro fare that regularly airs. Ichiro's image is "cool", while Matsui is perceived in a much softer and more refined way. He often pitches for vegetable juice, home building companies, and the like. Ichiro pitches for NTT fiber optic service, energy drinks, and that kind of thing. We've now seen Matsuzaka air ads for Japan's #1 importer, Toyota Motors, as well as Asahi Super Dry.
I've managed to track down a way for people in the US to see the Matsui ad, after finding nothing on YouTube. You can head directly to the Asahi Super Dry webpage, and click the logo you see here, on the left side in the center of the page:
The screen that follows is a large format graphic of Matsui and Matsuzaka in their MLB unis (as seen at the head of this post). Click either of them to view their ads. I think you'll appreciate the ads if you haven't seen them, especially the end of the Matsui version, featuring his now famous "slide and stomp" highlight from the playoffs. Enjoy.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
An update on my last item....
I appeared with Will Carroll on BP Radio, talking about Matsuzaka and Japanese baseball in general. Head over and give it a listen. You can click here to head to the BP Radio homepage, and here to listen to the audio file directly. Thanks for your support.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
I've just wrapped up a piece at Matsuzaka Watch, which of course is now a Red Sox slanted blog, but you may be interested to head over and give it a read. I sat down with Baseball Prospectus' Will Carrol (via Skype) to discuss Matsuzaka, pitch counts, abuse, and the mythical gyroball. He made some very interesting points, and we mulled over some questions that are still on our minds about this player that we've simultaneously tracked over the last 3 or 4 years. Our interest in Matsuzaka has finally converged in a special conversation available to "Matsuzaka Watch Premium Subscribers"......which means it's free for everyone with a computer, internet access, and proficiency in the English language. Enjoy.
Friday, February 02, 2007
Just a few random thoughts to chew on today....I'm working on a piece over at Matsuzaka Watch that will be up this weekend. Yup, still committed to that blog despite the Red Sox affiliation. Love the player. The piece is a talk I had with Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus. I did a BP Radio interview with him that should be available for a listen in the next few days. Keep an eye out.
First Yankees point...I'm tempted to start listing the Yankees rotation as:
I wrote a while back that I thought Rocket would opt for Fenway to go full circle, and even gave another comfy run in Houston a thought. I've come all the way back to feeling next to certain that he will be a Yankee in June. All the reasons have been talked about over and over and over, but I think what sold me was the appearance he made recently where he flashed his Yankees championship ring. It was probably a calculated move to get the Red Sox to absolutely go berserk with a contract, but it also makes me believe he's serious about coming to the Bronx. Clemens may be a selfish opportunist in a lot of ways, but I think the years he played in pinstripes and the friendships he has with Torre, Jeter, and maybe Cash Money mean enough to him to pass on a cheap ploy like that. His appearance at St. John's also seemed very much a hint. He talked around all the questions, but the atmosphere was telling. I'm going with the above rotation as my prediction for 2007. Clemens will pass the torch to Hughes.
Cash and company have been over here in Japan the last few days. They have been on tv in the news, and talked with the good folks at Hanshin that brought us Kei Igawa. I'm not sure exactly what's been on their agenda here, unlike the crystal clear meetings they had in China. I suspect they are looking to make some relationships with the people at NPB to keep the advantage in the market here. Not sure exactly what that means, but they're up to something.
Spring Training is just underway in Japan. All the cameras are out in force getting their feel good pieces in the can. The two free agents certain to head to the Majors next season are Koji Uehara of the Giants (see: Uehara Watch) and Kosuke Fukudome (soon to be a profile at Baseball Japan). By the way, that's FOO-koo-doh-may, not the more colorful word you may imagine. I should be writing quite a bit this weekend. My goal is the Matsuzaka Watch piece and the Fukudome profile, so head over and have a read. See you on the flip.