Saturday, March 31, 2007

25 Thoughts On 25 Men

The Yankees are ready. Twenty-five men from 25 towns in six different countries will represent a city of immigrants. New York is home to everyone from everywhere and these are some thoughts on our guys.

Johnny Damon from Fort Riley, Kansas: We all love Mr. New York.

Derek Jeter from Pequannock, New Jersey: There aren’t words to describe what The Captain means to this team and this city.

Bobby Abreu from Maracay, Venezuela: He was born to hit third in this lineup.

Alex Rodriguez from New York, New York: His big right-handed bat is the key to the season.

Jason Giambi from West Covina, California: Possibly, the most dangerous hitter in this lineup. And that’s saying something.

Hideki Matsui from Kanazawa, Japan: A perfect baseball player.

Jorge Posada from Santurce, Puerto Rico: The team’s fire and its toughness.

Robinson Cano from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic: Could complete a double play with the D train barreling down on him.

Josh Phelps from Anchorage, Alaska: Has a chance to live up to all that promise.

Carl Pavano from New Britain, Connecticut: Opening Day at Yankee Stadium is the game he’s waited for his whole life.

Doug Mientkiewicz from Toledo, Ohio: Will hit plenty and can certainly pick it.

Melky Cabrera from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: His style and smile are infectious.

Miguel Cairo from Anaco, Venezuela: He’s always there for the team.

Wil Nieves from Caguas, Puerto Rico: Earned the right to backup one of the greats.

Mike Mussina from Williamsport, Pennsylvania: Has grown into the leader of this pitching staff.

Andy Pettitte from Baton Rouge, Louisiana: It’s good to have the big lefty back home.

Kei Igawa from Oarai, Japan: Had a good Spring Training and we’re looking forward to Friday night in the Bronx.

Darrell Rasner from Carson City, Nevada: Has a chance to stick around just like Chien-Ming Wang in 2005.

Sean Henn from Fort Worth, Texas: He’s a favorite of Yogi Berra and that should be good enough for anyone.

Mike Myers from Arlington Heights, Illinois: Gets big outs against the toughest hitters.

Brian Bruney from Astoria, Oregon: Like his attitude and love his fastball.

Luis Vizcaino from Bani, Dominican Republic: Will quickly become a fan favorite in the Bronx.

Scott Proctor from Stuart, Florida: Tough and edgy with a nasty hook.

Kyle Farnsworth from Wichita, Kansas: Coming in at 100 mph.

Mariano Rivera from Panama City, Panama: The closest thing to perfection we will ever see.

Friday, March 30, 2007

What About Jenny?

We’re not looking for a new Boss. We like the current one just fine, but since others are speculating on who will follow George Steinbrenner we thought we’d offer our $1.25, which will buy you coffee and a newspaper in the Bronx.

It was almost three years ago that Steinbrenner, speaking with a New York Times reporter, made this statement: “I admit it. I’ve always been a chauvinist.”

Far be it for us to disagree with The Boss, but we beg to differ.

Steinbrenner has always been an innovator and a groundbreaker. He single-handedly changed the salary structure in baseball, improved the economic outlook for every team, and generally upgraded the sport to what it is today.

Here are a few other things he’s done:

  • As owner of the Cleveland Pipers he hired the first black professional basketball coach John McLendon;
  • he hired Bob Watson, who became the first black General Manager in Major League Baseball to win a World Series;
  • he hired the first female Assistant General Manager Kim Ng;
  • he also hired the second, current Yankees’ Assistant General Manager Jean Afterman;
  • he hired the first (and still only) female Major League Baseball broadcaster Suzyn Waldman.

We bring this up because succession talk is all the rage in the Bronx. Steinbrenner’s daughter Jenny is divorcing Steve Swindal whom The Boss anointed his heir apparent to take over the team after he’s gone. In today’s sports world, a woman running a team is no longer news. In our larger society, women continue to break barriers and this nation may very well elect a female president next year.

That old Times story said “the outgoing Jenny Swindal, a business major in college, might be the best candidate in the family” to take over running the team.

Jenny, like her father, is community minded and serves on boards in Florida and at her alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. More than that, she is the one whose inner fire and desire to win match her father’s and the one who’s most knowledgeable about the game. She even worked briefly in public relations for the Yankees after college.

“Even if I wanted to move up in the organization, I would’ve never been allowed,” Jenny said in that Times story. “Not in this family.”

But we believe The Boss was essentially anointing his daughter to run the team by picking her husband.

Now we want The Boss to see a simple truth: Jenny is his rightful heir, the person who should run this team after him.

She is the right owner for her father’s team and the best owner the fans could hope for.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hard Justice

I will start with a confession: I love Alex Rodriguez.

How could a New Yorker not adore a local kid who has grown into the greatest baseball player of his generation and maybe the greatest of any generation?

I’m not playing dumb. I know he’s not loved by all. I’ve heard the boos and read the blogs.

Now there’s a Web site – Project A13: The Anti-Boos Movement – that implores New Yorkers to support Rodriguez. The fan behind it wants justice, but that’s hard to find in this city.

It’s especially hard to find in Washington Heights where Rodriguez was born and in the South Bronx where he plays. These neighborhoods are tops in poverty and police presence. Many there lack decent housing, healthcare and education. If it rains too hard the subways flood. If it snows they can’t pick up the trash for a week. If it’s too cold the water mains break. If it’s too hot the electricity goes out.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Rodriguez draws the short straw in this city. People from his neighborhood pull it every day. They work the hardest jobs to try and make a decent life. They grind away for 20, 30, maybe 40 years before they realize nothing ever changes.

I went to three demonstrations to help change the police tactics that killed Sean Bell. One of them was a march down Fifth Avenue that was called “Shopping for Justice.” We didn’t find any.

Why should we expect justice to seep into Yankee Stadium? Those who suffer can’t afford to come unless they’re playing third base and those responsible sit in the best seats.

I confess to saving my boos for people who deserve them: Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg, Ray Kelly, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The guys around Juan Miguel’s coffee cart see the signs.

“They’re almost the same,” Javier says. “I mean, how much closer could you get?”

Fat bundles of the Daily News and the New York Post landed with a hollow thud on the Bronx sidewalk. Carl Pavano is on the back pages. One headline reads ‘I’m Ready’ the other ‘I Am Ready.’

“Yeah, you can’t get closer than that,” Lou agrees. “I think it means he’s ready.”

Everyone laughs. These are good days in the neighborhood. The winter grime has melted and Opening Day is coming fast.

Javier sucks in his cannonball gut and goes into a windup. Thwack. A perfect imitation of Pavano. On the follow-through he grabs his arm and then his back and finally clutches his chest. Everyone laughs, again.

“Naw,” he chuckles. “I believe in him. The kid’s ready.”

Michael stands at the edge of the group and can manage only a weak smile. He is still adjusting to the idea of life without Bernie Williams.

“You don’t think Bernie’s coming?” he asks the guys.

“No,” they snap. “How many times do we have to tell you?”

A regular around Yankee Stadium, Michael is – as always – in a suit and toting his ever-present Bible. The inside cover is signed by Williams.

“Bernie’s my friend,” he says softly. “What am I gonna do?”

“He’ll be around even if he’s not playing,” the guys, sensing he isn’t joking, try to reassure as he trudges off. “Don’t worry.”

Carl Pavano will start on Opening Day and Bernie Williams won’t.

Signs of the times.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Simple Game

I used to know everything, but I grew up.

The only thing I’m sure of these days is that I know next to nothing.

That realization forces you back to basics.

Hitters drive the ball up the middle.

Pitchers locate the fastball.

Fans locate the game.

Winter allows too much time to think and read. There are too many books and too many numbers and too many projections and too many predictions.

Some see baseball as art and others see it as science. It has been sketched as a metaphor and as a mathematical equation. It has been pulled and poked and shaped. But it can’t be changed.

Baseball is baseball.

It’s not about rivalries or rings or marketing or money.

It’s on the grass and in the sun and under the lights.

It’s about handing the ball to the starter and saying, “Go get ‘em.” It’s about writing nine names on a card and sticking it up with a wad of gum. It’s about digging and jumping and sliding. It’s about stealing bases and robbing home runs. It’s about throwing gas and taking hacks and the hidden-ball-trick.

And it’s always about winning.

It’s about you and your team and your scorecard and nine innings when nothing else matters.

Baseball is simple when you grow up.

Monday, March 26, 2007

View From The Bronx

Everything depends on your point of view.

Your week may be starting poorly, but someone has it worse.

A man delivering groceries asked, “Can you watch my stuff?”

“Sure, but I think your cart’s safe.”

“Hey, they stole my truck,” he snapped. “Not my hand-truck. The whole damn truck!”


Sure, we’re a little beat up right now.

First it was Andy Pettitte’s back and then it was Chien-Ming Wang’s hamstring and now it’s Jeff Karstens’s elbow.

Some fans get depressed and others get angry. None of them live in the Bronx. Those who are with this team day in and day out always hear the words of baseball’s great philosopher Mariano Rivera: “That’s baseball.”

That explains everything from bloops to blasts and bad hops to bad breaks. Mostly it says that you must have faith in the game.

Pettitte is fine, Wang is a quick healer and Karstens will bounce back.

If you don’t look ahead – Carl Pavano versus Scott Kazmir on Opening Day – you might get leveled by that stolen grocery truck barreling down the street.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


New Yorkers can hit anything: Fastballs, curveballs, knuckleballs, forkballs, sinkers, cutters, splitters and changeups.

We can handle the local even when we’re looking for the express.

After waiting for a 2 train, I heard a beautiful rendition of John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things on the 1. The song was interrupted at Chambers Street because of weekend construction.

It was a nice day for a walk.

It’s never nice to hear that Chien-Ming Wang has a hamstring strain, but we’ll get through this just like everything else.

Wang is a favorite around here because he can handle anything. He can give up a leadoff home run and put up zeros the rest of the way. He makes plays on line drives, hot shots and slow dribblers. If the bullpen is worn out, he’ll go nine or grab a save between starts. Back him into a corner with runners on base and he can throw a double play better than anyone.

His always-battle-never-rattle personality will be missed the first few weeks of the season, but we’ll be watching and waiting and winning.

This team is good. It’s good because of Wang and because of his example. He filled a rotation hole in April 2005 and never left. Robinson Cano came up a few days later and has done nothing but shine. Melky Cabrera was a perfect fit last year and Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner added to the rotation down the stretch.

Maybe the kids will stick around after Wang’s return and help make this team great.

Friday, March 23, 2007

To The Bank

Cubans are smart. They have one of the highest literacy rates in the world. They have universal healthcare, good cigars and great baseball players. But they clearly don’t know who they’re dealing with.

Yesterday, Cuban Olympic Committee president Jose Ramon Fernandez suggested that the World Baseball Classic should be run like some sort of democracy.

“We are firmly convinced that there should be a committee of participants,” he said. “And that the committee should choose a group to discuss the organization, the dates, the rules of elimination, the participants and everything else.”

Major League Baseball and its players’ association ran the first WBC with an iron fist. The Haves and the Have Mores set the dates, made the rules, decided who was allowed to play and collected the money.

They will surely keep a tight grip on the power.

Fernandez said Cuba is “worried” about the 2009 WBC tournament. They feel it should be organized “in a spirit where all participants have a voice and a vote.”

That one-voice-one-vote commie claptrap might play in Havana, but this is the United States of Wealth. The Have and the Have Mores will decide who votes.

Cubans clearly think this baseball tournament is about baseball.

The WBC is about money and power.

The people with the money have the power and the people with the power make the money.

You can take that to the bank.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Voice Of Reason

The voice of reason rides the 2 train before 7:00 a.m. He wears boots, jeans, a sweatshirt, a jacket, a hat, and gloves with no fingers. He sips coffee from a paper cup and reads the news. He speaks English and Spanish and Chinese and Arabic and Farsi and Korean and Urdu and Vietnamese and French.

He’s hard to find and easy to hear, but don’t be late. He surrenders the train to Wall-Street types for the morning rush.

Today, the voice of reason spoke about Alex Rodriguez.

“He didn't deserve this,” the voice said pointing to his newspapers. “It’s just another reason to put Alex on the back pages and make him look like a bad guy.”

The clause that allows Rodriguez to opt out of his contract after the season came up when Brian Cashman spoke to the media yesterday.

“It’s the same thing with Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and all the other guys,” Cashman said. “Alex has a significant contract he’s earned, and we hope he stays.

“We’re only worried about the ‘07 team,” Cashman continued. “He’s got a contract past ‘07, so that’s basically that. There's nothing more to read into it.”

“Exactly,” the voice of reason snapped. “We’ve got a season to play before it’s an issue. This is a very good team and Alex is a big part of it. What happens next year is the last thing I’m worried about.

“This should be the end of it,” the voice reasoned. “Alex’s next back page will be when he hits the game-winner on Opening Day.”

He took a sip of coffee and rolled his eyes back over the morning papers.

“You’ve gotta hand it to ‘em,” the voice said. “They know what will sell newspapers.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Scoring Is…

Scoring a baseball game is a habit, a poem, a pattern, and a record. It is the collected and the scribbled and the scrawled and the smudged and the smeared and the erased. Hundreds of names, numbers, lines, letters, marks, and symbols make art or a mess.

Only weirdos see the beauty.

Our eye for clutter comes from spending too much time watching, reading, talking, and thinking about baseball. The sense has been developed by picking up five different newspapers every morning and by staying away from things like cell phones and BlackBerrys and iPods.

We can fake our way through the day, but weirdos can’t hide at the ballpark. It’s hard to go unnoticed with a pencil behind your ear and a scorecard under your arm. There’s a guy in my section who scores and does the New York Times crossword puzzle at the same time. He collects bottles and cans around Yankee Stadium after the games.

I’m not a collector. Once everything is completed and totaled and checked, I don’t mind giving away my scorecard to someone huddled around the players’ gate.

A couple of years ago, Ruben Sierra hit an extra-inning, game-winning sacrifice fly on the afternoon of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. He left the stadium with a huge smile and both hands raised to the cheers. I gave my scorecard to the man who yelled the loudest.

My Taiwanese friends love Chien-Ming Wang’s starts. They smile when I offer my scorecard.

I hope they see the beauty.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I’m still not sure if it was a question or a statement, but the tone was clearly angry.

“Who cares about Pete Rose…”

I decided to take it as a question.

“I care about Pete Rose.”

I didn’t always. I was disappointed with him after his ban for gambling and there was a time when I was angry, too.

But that anger has passed. How can you stay mad at a guy who played like that?

Barreling, diving, sliding, slashing and running like he was being chased by a pack of hungry wolves.

How could a player like that be expected to slip seamlessly into the shadows? Baseball exploited Rose’s compulsiveness and his competitive nature and then turned off the lights.

I’m sure he did his best. He certainly didn’t gamble for the money. He just wanted to play. To drive a ball in the gap and run the bases like he did at 21 and 31 and 41.

How could we not have compassion?

Rose belongs in baseball. You can debate his position, but not his place in the game.

Pete Rose, the perfect ballplayer, turned out to be anything but a perfect person. That makes him just like the rest of us, minus the perfect ballplayer stuff.

He deserves respect and a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He deserves forgiveness and all the support this game can give. And he deserves it now.

No one can rewrite history, but there is always time to correct injustice.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Tragedy Rose

“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald never wrote a truer line.

“Peter Edward Rose.”

Baseball never produced a truer player.

He wasn’t the fastest or the strongest or the slickest, but no one gave more to the game.

His accomplishments are staggering: baseball’s career leader in hits (4,256), singles (3,215), at-bats (14,053), and games played (3,562); National League Rookie of the Year, National League MVP, World Series MVP, two-time Gold Glover, three-time World Series Champion, three-time National League Batting Champion, and 17-time All-Star.

Rose was obsessive. Before bed as a child, he would take 100 swings from the left and 100 swings from the right. He rode his compulsions to the Major Leagues as Charlie Hustle.

Team owners made billions before kicking him to the curb. They say he compromised the integrity of the game and have denied him a rightful spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

That is the type of integrity you get from people who wallow in money from casino ads and lottery promotions. Last week, while Rose was on the radio coming clean about betting his team to win every night, the Minnesota Twins were announcing their new “Twins Scratch Game” lottery tickets.

Baseball’s treatment of Rose is disgraceful. For all his faults, he has remained truer to the game than any of those who stand against him.

It’s time for baseball to rewrite this tragedy.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Package

I received the package.

Barely two weeks out and my fat ticket book finally arrived. It takes a good chunk of time to check over two tickets for each of our 81 home games, but I can’t rest until it’s done. And it does kill one more night before Opening Day.

A booklet called New York Yankees: 2007 Ticket Information & Fan Guide was also in the package. I started flipping through it after the tickets were checked and stashed.

There’s not much useful information. Some descriptions and photographs of a bunch of fancy clubs and suites and a list of amenities that I don’t need.

There’s a feature on the new Yankee Stadium, which is pretty innocent until you turn to pages 34 and 35. On one page is a letter from the White House signed by George W. Bush. On the facing page is a photo from the groundbreaking ceremony that includes former New York State Governor George Pataki and current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Representation of three men who have launched a billion injustices against the Bronx.

The only hope is sandwiched in the middle of the photo, Baseball’s Great Populist George Steinbrenner. As long as he’s in charge, there’s a chance that this great remake of the neighborhood can turn out well for everyone.

More parks, better transportation, affordable housing, quality schools, bustling local businesses and a new Stadium.

That package – minus Bush, Pataki and Bloomberg – is scheduled to arrive in April 2009.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Baseball’s Great Populist

In the Bronx, a borough with so much blight, there has always been one great light: the New York Yankees. As long as George Steinbrenner has his way, it will remain.

Steinbrenner understands it’s the power of the people – 4,248,067 fans came to Yankee Stadium in 2006 – that allows the Yankees to compete under Major League Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement. This unjust system taxes the poor people of New York for the benefit of some of the world’s wealthiest men.

This Billionaire Boys’ Club makes sure our money flows into the pockets of people like Kansas City Royals owner David Glass, a former CEO of Wal-Mart.

Baseball is a capitalist venture in the rest of the country, but in the Bronx it is a gift to the people. There are millions of reasons to be a Yankee fan, but the most practical is that many of us couldn’t afford to be a fan anywhere else.

The price of my season tickets has not gone up in years. I’m in the Tier, but right behind home plate. People in my section call it the best poor-person’s seat in baseball. The only reason we can afford 81 games is because Steinbrenner refuses to pass on the cost of baseball’s Support-A-Billionaire program.

When we get our post-season tickets, which are controlled and priced by Major League Baseball, we get an honest look at Steinbrenner’s dedication to common Yankee fans.

George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees are everything that’s right about baseball. David Glass and the Kansas City Royals are everything that’s wrong.

How some people have been convinced of the opposite is one of society’s great magic tricks. The Billionaire Boys’ Club can really shovel it. Actually, they even make poor people do their shoveling.

But Baseball’s Great Populist protects us in the Bronx.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pavano v. Morrissey

This argument is in the interest of justice.

I have volunteered to represent Carl Pavano.

Michael Morrissey’s case is stated in his new book: The Pride And The Pressure: A Season Inside The New York Yankee Fishbowl.

I realize the evidence is stacked against my client. There are the injuries and the poor decisions and even some unflattering testimony from teammates.

Carl is certainly guilty of mistakes and of being human. But he is not guilty of all the accusations in this book.

Morrissey begins Chapter Fourteen: Pavano, with a clubhouse story from mid-February 2006. It revolves around a joke Pavano made about Dick Cheney’s infamous hunting accident where he blasted his friend with a shotgun after apparently mistaking him for a quail.

While reading a newspaper, Pavano said, “What’s this country coming to when there’s such a furor over congressmen shooting citizens?”

“You idiot,” former teammate Tanyon Sturtze laughed. “He’s the vice president.”

“I knew that,” Pavano said.

Morrissey tells this story to try and embarrass Pavano and offers, “Pavano revealed himself as a fool.”

What does this little anecdote really tell us? Nothing.

Maybe it proves that Pavano didn’t know Cheney is the vice president or maybe it proves Sturtze and Morrissey didn’t know he was a congressman.

Morrissey also writes, “Nobody around the Yankees pegged Pavano as an intellectual. He’d never attended college and spent his off-field life dating gorgeous women and/or driving fast cars (a combination that would end his 2006 season), so he wasn’t exactly someone with high-minded pursuits.”

This statement says more about Morrissey than it does Pavano.

A person’s intelligence isn’t tied to a college degree. Education – like all things in the country – is roped tightly to economics: rich people can afford to go to college and poor people can’t. The Bronx is the poorest borough in New York City and the people who live there have the lowest level of education. Simple.

In his book, Morrissey took a few quotes, stories and unsubstantiated innuendo and dropped a blanket indictment on Carl Pavano’s character.

There could be some truth, but there is certainly no justice.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Moving Target

It’s hard to pick out a moving target.

Carl Pavano. Alex Rodriguez. Bernie Williams. Mariano Rivera. Derek Jeter. Mike Mussina. Carl Pavano. Alex Rodriguez. Carl Pavano…

I fell asleep reading Chapter Fourteen and woke up feeling violated and confused.

Violated because they got me twice. I drop three bucks on newspapers every morning, but last night I couldn’t resist Michael Morrissey’s new book – $25.96 with tax – The Pride And The Pressure: A Season Inside The New York Yankee Fishbowl.

Confused because after skipping ahead to Chapter Fourteen: Pavano, I woke up to find Alex Rodriguez on the back pages of my newspapers.

I should have read Chapter Sixteen: Jeter/A-Rod.

The world of 24-hour baseball broadcasts and blogs moves pretty fast for an old newspaper guy.

I can’t imagine what it’s like for Alex. Sure, he’s an easy target. He is the best player in the game, maybe the best player ever, and he’s paid like it. Maybe he even brings some of this on himself. He makes mistakes. He doesn't always get his points across clearly. He is flawed.

I am flawed. I’ve made, at least, 103 mistakes today and often babble endlessly without ever making a point. There isn’t enough paper on this planet to detail all my mental and emotional troubles and quirks. Maybe that’s why I love Alex Rodriguez.

New York City is flawed, too. The sidewalks are cracked and the buildings are crowded and the trains are smelly and there are millions of people who made the mistake of being born poor, just like Alex was 31 years ago in Washington Heights. Maybe that’s why most of the poor people who walk those cracked sidewalks and live in those crowded buildings and ride those smelly trains love Alex Rodriguez.

Maybe we’re not as polished as the callers and the bloggers and the people who park themselves in front of their wide-screen televisions.

Or maybe we just understand what it’s like to be a moving target.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chances Are

The Bronx is built on second chances. And third chances and fourth chances and fifth chances. You get as many as you have fingers and toes. As many as you can stomach. As many as you need.

You don’t run out of chances until you run out of breath and Carl Pavano was breathing fine in his second start of the spring. That makes the Bronx smile no matter what they are saying or writing or blogging in the rest of the world.

They don’t joke about chances around here. Pavano is certainly more Southern Connecticut than South Bronx, but the neighborhood is open to everyone.

Pavano is often discussed over coffee and donuts at the Crown Diner.

“I was excited when we got the kid,” Javier explains. “So he’s been banged up and had some troubles, who hasn’t? I hope he comes back and shuts ‘em up.”

Pavano has a chance to put the injuries and jokes behind him.

“We need him to be big for us,” Javier says. “There ain’t any hard feelings because people like us got no time for hard feelings. We need him to be good and if he ain’t, we need him to come back the next time and be good. He’s just gotta keep at it.”

Baseball in New York has nothing to do with Midtown or the media or the money. It’s about the chance to do something in front of people who know how tough it can be.

“Nothing’s easy,” Javier says. “If big-league pitchin’ was as simple as some people think, I’d be in the rotation instead driving a cab.”

Pavano’s chances are better.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Once In A Lifetime

It had been almost four days, but the smell still hung on Woodycrest Avenue. The sickening sooty air stuck in your nose long after you turned the corner and put the burned building behind you.

A fire that killed 10 New Yorkers, nine of them children, punched a hole in the middle of the block that has reached across the neighborhood and the city and the state.

It brought the Mayor and the Governor to the Bronx, but nothing could ease the suffering. The people around Yankee Stadium were doing their best just to get through.

“The game is a nice break,” said the crowd watching at Ball Park Lanes on Sunday, “but it doesn’t change anything.”

Even the easy flow of Spring Training couldn’t cut it.

“Maybe time will make us feel better,” they said. “By Opening Day we might be back to normal, but that block of Woodycrest will never be the same.”

Hope crept into the room when Jose Tabata – the youngest Yankee – hit a ninth-inning home run to pull within one. “He is really something,” they all agreed. “What a swing. What power. What potential. Kids like that come along once in a lifetime.”

Every kid is once in a lifetime.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Grief never ends.

We were slapped with that when six-year-old Hassing Soumare died.

The Woodycrest Avenue fire has now claimed 10.

The Yankees are preparing for Opening Day and have reached out to help the families.

It is all appreciated, but 10 of our neighbors are dead.

The Bronx is grieving.


George Steinbrenner is baseball’s greatest owner.

To say otherwise, isn’t even making good conversation. To say otherwise in the Bronx, will probably get you punched.

For all the griping and grumbling that has passed between the Bronx and The Boss, we know him as baseball’s greatest neighbor.

“The horrible tragedy in the Bronx which has resulted in the loss of life of nine of our neighbors has touched our hearts and those of all New Yorkers,” Steinbrenner said. “The New York Yankees have tremendous sympathy for the families and friends of those who have lost their lives or have been injured. We hope that by paying for the funerals our assistance will be able to ease some of their burden.”

We don’t say it enough, but we are thankful for neighbors like George Steinbrenner.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Silent Streets

The Bronx was alive on Wednesday night. Even from Tampa, the Yankees can brighten this neighborhood. Andy Pettitte pitched well and Mariano Rivera was perfect, again. There was a ninth-inning rally and some tenth-inning drama. Even a Spring Training tie can make you smile in March.

Then everything went wrong. A fire started just a few blocks from Yankee Stadium. Nine people died at 1022 Woodycrest Avenue, eight of them children. They were the face of the neighborhood. New Americans who were everything we should all be: strong, happy, caring, courageous.

They were:

Forty-two-year-old mother:
Fatoumata Soumare

Seven-month-old twins:
Harouma Soumare
Sisi Soumare

Djibril Soumare

Bilaly Magassa

Djama Magassa

Abudubary Magassa

Mahamadou Magassa

Bandiougou Magassa

Newspapers have invested thousands of words.

This neighborhood has none.

There is only grief.

And the streets are silent.

Thursday, March 8, 2007


“For when the one great scorer comes to write against your name, he marks not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.”
–Grantland Rice, New York Herald-Tribune

My scorecard is a mess.

Who is catching for the Reds?

Number 67, Ryan Jorgensen. Got it.

I am watching television and have a radio to my ear, but it’s still hard to keep up.

I’m out of shape. Winter has made me soft.

Last night’s 10-inning tie was a good start for me and for Andy Pettitte. But long-distance baseball is such a tease. The game is played on a field. Not a screen. But you take what you can get in March.

I use the Bob Carpenter fan-model scorebook at home: 100 games.

It works well, but I’ve always wanted to design my own. I’ve taken more than a few stabs since my grandmother taught me to score.

I’ve sketched my designs in notebooks and done test models in PageMaker and QuarkXPress, but I’ve never gotten it just right. Books don’t work at the Stadium because they get old fast. Sweat, beer, mustard and whatever makes your feet stick to the floor are not things you want to carry around all summer.

Scorecards should be disposable like newspapers and free like, well, nothing in this country. But my scorecard will be free.

When finished, it will be called Steal This Scorecard in honor of Abbie Hoffman.

Score one for the people.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

No Worries

Chien-Ming Wang is a hard man.

Hard to predict.

Hard to evaluate.

Hard to beat.

Hardest to hit.

“Sometimes it’s impossible to get the ball in the air,” Vernon Wells once said. “You have a man on first with a chance to do something and you go to the plate saying, ‘Don’t hit into a double play.’ Then bam: 6-4-3.”

Wang is a hard-throwing example of every pitching cliché: Keep the ball down, throw strikes, trust your stuff, don’t try to control the past, and always focus on your next pitch.

His narrow focus is the key.

I remember the night Wang made me a believer.

Grady Sizemore led off a rainy night at Yankee Stadium with a home run. By the time it landed in the seats, Wang was already asking for a new ball.

He gave up two more runs, worked into the seventh inning and got his sixth Major League victory.

When reporters later asked if it was discouraging to surrender an early lead he deadpanned, “No. I need to face the next hitter.”

That was the last time I worried about Wang. Some pitchers rattle easier than others. Wang doesn’t rattle. Ever. He controls the game by controlling himself.

When Sizemore launched a lead-off home run yesterday in Winter Haven, I thought back to the rainy night at Yankee Stadium.

“I need to face the next hitter.”

No worries.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Magnitude Of Mariano

How important can the third inning of a Spring Training game be?

Try a simple experiment.

Recall how you felt on June 2, 2006. If you need a little help, that was the day after Mariano Rivera had back spasms while tying his shoes.

My memory is eerily clear. I sat in coffee shop staring at a heaping plate of eggs, rice and beans. I remember the newspaper stories that detailed how Rivera walked gingerly out of the clubhouse and how Mike Myers had to carry his bag.

I felt sick.

So how important can the third inning of a Spring Training game be?

It is most important when Rivera is making his first spring appearance.

Thousands of New Yorkers broke away from work and gathered around televisions.

“He looks good,” everyone said.

Rivera threw 13 pitches and struck out two in a perfect inning. The last out came on a bouncer back to the mound that he easily grabbed and tossed to first.

“Yes, very good,” they smiled.

It’s not that people didn’t care about the pitchers that followed – Steven Jackson, Chris Britton, Tyler Clippard, Scott Proctor and Ron Villone – or about Bronson Sardinha hitting a two-run homer to win the game. It’s just that everyone cares a lot for Rivera and understands his importance.

“We ain’t goin’ anywhere without him,” a man said.

And we know we're lucky to have him.

Roger Clemens once challenged a group of reporters. “Any of you can pick your two favorite superheroes and I’ll put Rivera up against both of them.”

Batman and Superman against Rivera? No contest.

That’s how important the third inning of a Spring Training game can be.

Monday, March 5, 2007


Mike Myers exists in a strange purgatory, neither damned by his limitations nor delivered by his abilities. He is condemned to baseball’s netherworld, where most of the attention he gets is a bit unflattering.

“Facing one batter a game is good work if you can get it.”

“The Yankees are carrying 11-and-a-half pitchers.”

And, of course, they tag him with the cutesy title: LOOGY. For the record, that’s (L)eft-handed (O)ne (O)ut (G)u(Y).

But Myers is taking an unusually heavy beating this spring. It seems that every time you open a newspaper, turn on a radio or read a blog he is being blamed for something.

Since he often pitches to just one left-handed batter, there are those who think the Yankees would be better off with:
A: Bernie Williams.
B: Brian Bruney.
C: Kevin Thompson.
D: Anyone, but Mike Myers.

Many are leaning toward D since the Phillies knocked Myers around yesterday. But there are a few things to consider:
A: Myers has proven over 11 Major League seasons that he can handle tough lefties.
B: This is Spring Training and he is facing mostly right-handed hitters.
C: All the great numbers that Yankee right-handed relievers have against left-handed hitters were not compiled against David Ortiz.
D: Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew, Lyle Overbay, Nick Markakis, Aubrey Huff, Jay Gibbons, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, David Dellucci, Sean Casey, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teahen, Garret Anderson, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Eric Chavez, Mark Kotsay, Ichiro Suzuki, Raul Ibanez, Hank Blalock, Frank Catalanotto, Jim Thome…

There are 28 days to toss around numbers and theories because with Opening Day on the line, Myers will throw a 2-2 slider that will twist Carl Crawford in a knot.

Just another day in purgatory.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Blogging Philosophy

Like almost everyone else in the world, I have a blog.

If you don’t have one yet, picture a child – mine is just over two months old – smiling one minute and crying the next, but always demanding attention.

It started innocently with what they call push-button publishing. I filled out an online form, picked a name and was thrust into heavy responsibility.

I try to raise my blog differently. I fill it with what I know and love: mostly baseball and social justice; but I may mix in: law, chess, poetry, jazz, ballet, art, books, music, history, yoga, and anything else I find interesting.

People interest me most and you will find a lot of them here. The mood of the Yankee Stadium neighborhood rises and falls with the team and you will always get a sense of their feelings.

I’ve been working on my blogging philosophy and have decided that it will be an unending process.

I will start with these very incomplete thoughts on leftfield blogging:

Be true to your name. Yankees For Justice is a salute to the most honest voice in American politics. He has signed several books for me: “Ralph Nader, For Justice.” Incidentally, his baseball hero is Lou Gehrig.

Remember that baseball is a very difficult game.

Always support your team.

Remember that games are won and lost in the hearts and minds of those who play.

Always blog with intelligence and creativity.

Remember that while statistics can be useful, they aren’t very interesting. (Note: I have made a friend promise to shoot me if I ever post charts or graphs.)

Write and live the truth.

Remember that the American Civil Liberties Union is on the right side of every fight.

Always act in kindness.

Remember that every game is decided on one moment. And it could come on the first pitch or the last.

Most of all, remember that blogging is what you make it.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Inside And Out

Yankee Stadium is always the same inside and out.

Day in and day out.

It is full of laborers and scalpers and ballplayers and hookers and dealers.

They are mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and sons and daughters.

They are dreamers and schemers.

The forgotten and forgiven.

The ordinary and extraordinary.

They make their way as waitresses and dishwashers and sluggers and masons and carpenters and base stealers and factory workers and gardeners and pitchers and electricians and utility players and doormen and cooks and cops and crooks.

They hustle along cracked sidewalks and sit on hard benches and ride crowded trains.

They are surrounded by broken glass and chipped concrete and peeling paint and wrinkled tin and trash heaps and empty lots.

They smell of old cigars and stale beer and urine and sweat and roasted meat and perfect French fries.

On summer days and nights when the trains and streets rumble and groan and scream and rattle they are one. It is a single human flow that oozes through the narrow halls and up to the light.

Where Yankee Stadium is always the same inside and out.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

New Bronx City

The Bronx is building.

The Bronx is beatifying.

The Bronx is blooming.

The Bronx is Bloomberging.

The Mayor of New York has launched a campaign to lure 50 million tourists a year. He hired a Madison Avenue marketing agency to convince the world that the city is not too costly or too dirty or too dangerous.

News like this never used to reach the Bronx. No matter how they spun Madison Avenue, the poorest borough in the city was always too dirty and too dangerous.

But things are changing. Over four million people came to Yankee Stadium and they don’t want them scared off by our grime and crime.

It starts with a new awning at the Yankee Deli-Grocery, then a reconstructed underpass on East 161st Street, and eventually a whole new Stadium.

Tourists, it seems, want a ball yard that is equal parts shopping mall and theme park.

They call it Heaven in the suburbs.

We call it Hell in the Bronx.

We love our intimidating old Stadium. We like our rats big, our passages narrow, our stairs treacherous, and our seats steep enough to make first-timers queasy.

But we are losing that edge. Suburban hipsters will soon stroll leisurely along friendly concourses lined with cute little shops before walking up wide aisles to spill stuff on our scorecards.

The Bronx is really burning.