Friday, June 29, 2007

Anything For A Win

It doesn’t count as a win, yet. It was a game that played out like so many that have slipped away this year: Get a lead, lose a lead, take back the lead and lose it again. But this was different. It was different because, with two on and no outs, Melky Cabrera slammed a double down the left field line. It drove in a run and set up an inning that ultimately turned a two run deficit into a two run lead.

But it isn’t over. Derek Jeter – who always delivers big hits – will be standing on second base when they pick up this game in 28 days. He will probably still be clapping because he knows as well as anyone that this may have been the inning that finally turned the season.

A game that will take nearly a month to finish certainly feels right after all this team has gone through. “Yeah,” said someone on the 2 train this morning. “I feel good, but not too good because it’s not over. I’ve got to sweat that one out for a month. I hope tonight’s game is shorter.”

They thought for a moment and added, “I don’t really care how long they take or how hard it rains. I’ll do anything for a win.”

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lights Out

The lights went out in the Bronx yesterday. They went out in Manhattan and Queens and Staten Island, too. The Mayor is telling everyone that this was just “a minor inconvenience.”

Of course, Michael Bloomberg wasn’t stuck on a train and he didn’t try and cross the street with no signals and he didn't have to walk home. “A minor inconvenience? Right…,” grumbled Jon from Highbridge.

We heard the same thing last year while a huge chunk of Queens sat with no power for more than a week. We’ll hear the same thing next week, next month and next year. Things like this are always a minor inconvenience for people like Bloomberg.

Those forced to live with the decisions of one more Mayor who has done nothing to improve the lives of the people in this city get a different view. They trudged out of sweltering subway tunnels and walked home so they wouldn’t miss the start of the Yankees game.

“I’ve got batteries in the radio,” Jon smiled. “A win tonight would make it all okay.”

A 4-to-0 loss is a minor inconvenience in a long baseball summer. The same can’t be said when the lights go out.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Moody

Scott Proctor was in a bad mood after last night’s loss.

He was quoted by Peter Abraham in the Journal News: “I let everybody down,” Proctor said in an expletive-filled interview. “It’s embarrassing.”

Tyler Kepner explained it this way in The New York Times: Proctor was moved to profanity in his postgame interview with the YES cameras rolling, something Yankees players almost never use.

Andy Pettitte seemed to capture the overall mood of the Yankees’ clubhouse: “It was just another miserable night for us.”

The Answers

You will come across just about everything if you watch this game long enough. Last night I finally heard Derek Jeter slipup. Someone asked if he could put his, “Finger on why this team is having trouble scoring runs?”

“Nope,” Jeter shot. “If anyone could put their finger on it then we would fix it.”

Apparently, Jeter is spending too much time working on his game and not enough perusing the 11,419,260 Web sites and blogs that have each fingered the Yankees problems and are providing answers.

Some of them range from trading everyone to forcing Joe Torre to suck down Red Bull in the dugout instead of sipping green tea.

How could Derek have missed it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Theory

Are you interested in how the Yankees can turn the season around? It seems like everyone with keyboard or a microphone has a theory, but making up your own is just as good.

If you watch the games, read the quotes and listen to the interviews you know as much as anyone else on this side of the fence.

Unless Joe Torre and Brian Cashman invite me to discuss the team over coffee and donuts at the Crown Diner, I’ll stick with what Derek Jeter said after Sunday’s loss in San Francisco: “Win, that’s pretty much it. I don’t have anything else for you. We have to win.”

Monday, June 25, 2007

Directions

It’s impossible to get lost in New York because someone will always tell you where to go.

“They think I’m gonna give up?” Javier shot across the 2 train. “I’m supposed to quit because some big month on the radio tells me to be realistic? Baseball is all about not being realistic and never giving up.

“A lot of people just don’t get it,” he continued. “Too much television, too much radio, too many video games and too much time in front of a computer have rotted their brains. Some suburban yuppie with a calculator is going to tell me how I’m supposed to feel about my team? That’ll be the day.”

Andy Pettitte takes the ball in Baltimore. The directions are simple. One game. One team. One win.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Extra

Some games hurt more than others. Anyone who says differently has never played.

I once caught 16 innings in a high-school game. I ended up 2 for 8 with an RBI and we lost 12 to 11. I’ll never forget the bus ride home. I was mad but didn’t scream, sad but didn’t cry and exhausted but didn’t sleep. I couldn’t imagine having the strength to play the next day.

But you don’t have to imagine when the coach yells out the lineup. I batted seventh and started at third base. We won 6 to 2. I don’t remember much else about the game, but I’ll never forget how we felt when it was over.

Every player can find the strength to win. I know the Yankees were dragging yesterday in San Francisco, but they’ll be ready to play today. They have to be.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Upside Down

Somehow it’s all gone wrong and the world has been turned upside down. That’s the only way to explain universal support for a system that allows the rich and powerful to pummel individuals with no questions asked.

Open a newspaper, turn on a radio or sit in front of a television and you will be told that Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa are bad guys. Mark McGwire, too.

A handful of players are being dragged down for years and years of problems that were clearly known and ignored by everyone. I expect the Commissioner and the owners to try and float that idea. I also expect the media to sink it. It is absolutely ridiculous to think that any individual or group of individuals is responsible for problems that were burned so deeply into the game.

But the media doesn’t take its job all that seriously anymore. They do not champion causes for individuals because The New York Times and the Daily News and ESPN and FOX are big businesses. They are drifting too far into the corporate world to do what’s desperately needed: Shine a light on corruption and injustice and don’t just aim it where the people in charge tell you to.

We’re lucky that some hurdles have already been cleared because Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood and Hank Aaron wouldn’t have much of a chance today.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Fix Is In

Bud Selig runs a confidence game. It’s also known as a con, a scam, a swindle, a grift, a bunko, a flim flam or the old double switch. Those who do it right – or is that wrong? – are masters of muddying the waters and dealing from the bottom of the deck.

Selig’s three-card-monte game runs over on Park Avenue. They play a more genteel style in that neighborhood, but the stakes are higher.

You don’t find the lady or follow the bee for a sawbuck around there. Selig deals United States Senators. In a 164 word, 3 paragraph statement issued yesterday, he referred to George Mitchell as “Senator Mitchell” four times.

George Mitchell is not a Untied States Senator. He has not been a Senator for more than 10 years. This probe into performance enhancing drugs in baseball is not a United States Senate Investigation. Despite his threats, Mitchell does not have the power to seek Congressional intervention any more than you or I.

Mitchell, like Selig, is just another bully on the block with a card up his sleeve.

They bullied Jason Giambi into talking and they think they can bully everyone into believing he is just “one of the bad apples.” They want you to believe that about Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield, too.

They used threats to make Giambi issue a statement that said in part: “I alone am responsible for my actions and I apologize to the Commissioner, the owners and the players for any suggestion that they were responsible for my behavior.”

That’s the Commissioner and the owners covering their backs and protecting their bank accounts, which is all Mitchell’s dog-and-pony show has ever been about.

Selig, Mitchell and the owners and going to walk off with all the money on the table at the end of the day and Giambi probably won’t be able to walk without pain when he’s 50.

Regardless of his salary, Giambi is the brick layer in this little drama. On his way home from work he was drawn into a game he can’t win.

Find the lady, follow the bee, watch the former Senator.

The fix is in.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

An American Tale

I took the long way to work today. I got off the 2 train at Chambers Street and headed east so I could cut down Broadway and find Sammy Sosa’s sidewalk marker:

October 17, 1998, Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs Baseball Player, Who Broke The Single Season Home Run Record.

Sosa owned the city that day. He cut a path through a sea of cheers and Dominican flags. How could anyone not love him? He plays with a hop and a pop and a smile. Even Mark McGwire, who hit more home runs than Sosa in 1998, loves the guy. “How could you not?” he shrugged.

Last night Sosa hit his 600th home run. It was an opposite-field drive to right centerfield in Arlington, Texas, against the Chicago Cubs.

A man bent down on Broadway this morning and patted the sidewalk that marked Sosa’s day. “He’s a good man. I’m happy for him.”

Sosa still makes New York smile. The man who trails only Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays in home runs, speaks to the best qualities of this immigrant city. He is a hero of the people and should be carried down Broadway again when his career is finally over.

That probably won’t happen because a lot has changed since 1998. Sosa has been dragged down by people who never hit a baseball or lived his life.

He has been called before a House Government Reform Committee and now George Mitchell’s investigation on steroids in baseball has requested his medical records. These are all people who have served a government that helps further economic policies to impoverish countries like the Dominican Republic where Sosa was raised, learned to play baseball and seldom had enough to eat.

That twisted irony is an American tradition that people like Sosa have fought forever. His friends may not be the wealthy and powerful that always seem to get their way, but there are more of us.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

An Honest Man

There is a lot of talk about Jason Giambi these days.

Because Giambi talked too much, Bud Selig is trying to make him talk to George Mitchell.

Don’t expect this to lead anywhere. Selig and Mitchell are just covering their backs. They had this all ironed out before Giambi went and wrecked everything by telling USA Today:

“I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up – players, ownership, everybody – and said: ‘We made a mistake.’

“We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward… Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it.”

You can place Selig at the top of the list of people who didn’t want to talk about it. He has always been more interested in polishing his legacy as the man who “Brought the game back to its proper place,” than doing any meaningful work.

Selig has a high opinion of himself, but history will paint the true picture. The twisted thread will wind through collusion and a team owner acting as Commissioner and the strong-armed tactics that led to a devastating work stoppage and the sorted loans and the ownership transfer and the eventual sale of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Selig would have been out of baseball years ago if there was a true Commissioner protecting the integrity of the game. Instead, he barks orders from behind a false legacy built on the backs of players like Cal Ripken Jr. and Barry Bonds and Tony Gwynn and Derek Jeter and Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. and Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.

Giambi’s quote moved us closer to ridding baseball of dangerous drugs. It also moved us closer to exposing the people responsible. That’s what really worries Selig and Mitchell and that’s why the Commissioner’s Office continues to leak confidential drug tests and threats of suspension to intimidate players and the union.

They decided long before this investigation started where the blame would land and they will stop at nothing to reach their predetermined conclusions.

They just didn’t count on an honest man mucking it up with some straight talk.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Blogs And Street Corners

Blogs are poor excuses for street corners.

I was reminded of that by my friend Javier. “Some of you bloggers are worse than (Mike) Lupica,” he said standing outside the market near the corner of Gerard Avenue and 157th Street. “At least Lupica comes to the ballpark, sometimes.”

I countered: “But blogs can create discussion.”

“That’s a good thing,” Javier agreed, “but what kind of discussion is it? It seems to be mostly people without much courage. You know, a bunch of internet tough guys that want to tell everyone how smart they are.

“That’s not discussion,” he continued. “It’s more like yelling or horn honking. Most of the people that comment on blogs probably drive cars and would turn into my crosswalk and honk because they think they’re more important than me. And of course they’d never get out of their car in my neighborhood.

“They beat up on A-Rod and Jason (Giambi) and Joe Torre,” Javier went on. “No one beats on those guys out here. If you don’t have the guts to discuss it on the street then you shouldn’t write it online.”

Words to blog by.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Magic

The kids on Gerard Avenue uncapped a fire hydrant yesterday. It cooled a hot afternoon and the arriving Yankee Stadium crowd provided the cover needed to elude the police long enough for proper enjoyment.

There was a thick river flowing down 157th Street before lookouts signaled that the cops were moving in. Summer traditions never change because kids never change. That gives the neighborhood its magic.

Johnny Damon worked some magic a couple of hours later when he walked along the dugout steps and flipped a cup of water in the air. Cubans believe that will make it rain runs. I don’t know if Damon is aware of that, but Orlando Hernandez certainly is and it worked against him on Sunday night.

The word along Gerard Avenue is that the magic was turned on El Duque. He will always be a favorite in the Bronx and we wish him well since we won’t meet again until the World Series.

But all the stops will be pulled if we meet on a cool October night.

Truth

Truth can be hard to find, but a plain one stares from every game between the Yankees and Mets: These match-ups bring far too many people in the ballpark that know nothing about baseball.

Six Major League Baseball games – three in the Bronx and three in Queens – are blurred by a made up rivalry that has done little more than make some rich people richer and angry people angrier.

Everyone in the neighborhood is happy that this yearly sideshow is finished.

Now, let’s play baseball.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What Would Tony Say?

I was taught early on that the other team is, well, the other team and your only interest should be to beat them. But much like Willie Mays quietly applauding Joe DiMaggio’s home run in the 1951 World Series, I found myself clapping for Tony Clark – an Arizona Diamondback – as he walked out of Yankee Stadium yesterday.

Clark was sharply dressed in a brown suit and stopped to sign a few autographs before climbing on the bus. His Yankee career was quick – 106 games in 2004 – and his numbers – .221 with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs – weren’t huge, but he meant a lot to this team, his teammates and the people in this neighborhood.

The mood around here rides on our baseball team and 2004 – like all baseball seasons – had plenty of ups and downs. Clark was always a calming voice. After tough losses I used to find myself hoping they would interview him. He could put a positive spin on even the most disappointing defeats.

“Everything’s going to be fine,” he would say. “We just need to tighten it up. We’re having better at-bats and the hits will come. Now, we’ll sleep fast and get back after it tomorrow.”

Short, sweet and full of clich├ęs. It may not have been exciting for reporters, but it was perfect for fans.

Even now, I’ll ask myself: “What would Tony say?”

“You need to keep the same attitude whether you’re on a winning streak or a losing streak. This is a difficult game and it’s always changing. All you can do is play ‘em hard and see where you end up.”

Tony Clark will make a great manager someday.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Promise

Each day offers promise, but there seems to be a bit extra when you plan to spend more time at the ballpark than at work.

Thursday afternoon baseball is sweet. High behind the plate you can glimpse the South Bronx grinding along while – for nine innings – the game below is all that matters. There is always work to do, but nothing should get in the way of a baseball break.

It is a comforting reminder of what we can be. Think of a world where each day is like this for everyone.

That should be our goal and our promise.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

As Advertised

Last night came as advertised at Yankee Stadium.

National League Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb was good, but American League Cy Young Award runner-up Chien-Ming Wang was better.

The Yankees capitalized on an error and jumped out to an early lead. Wang – with the help of Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera – did the rest.

Draw it up, box it up, wrap it up, and sell it: As Advertised.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Where’s Roger Kahn?

After a tumultuous week that had Gary Sheffield defending comments he made in the current GQ, William Rhoden wrote an interesting and even-handed column in Saturday’s New York Times. The piece featured quotes from Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations, which helped make Sheffield’s case that the popularity of Latino players is largely part of an economic imperative that makes them more appealing than African American players.

“The reason that the academies were put there is basically economic,” Solomon told Rhoden. “When a major league team develops a player in Latin America, that player is not subject to baseball’s draft. When a club builds an academy in the Dominican Republic and signs a bunch of players, those players belong to that club and they can sign all those players.”

Rhoden wrapped up his column with this: Gary Sheffield, baseball’s bull in a china shop, has indelicately brought attention to a delicate subject.

Rhoden may have been hoping for a bit too much from some.

Yesterday, Jon Heyman countered on SportsIllustrated.com:

“When you see Major League Baseball putting academies in other countries, obviously that throws up a red flag,” Sheffield told GQ. “You wonder why they ain’t going up in our neighborhood. Bottom line, what I see, I talk about… I see it over and over. If anybody can show me I’m wrong, then show me.”

That’s where MLB had to step in. According to Solomon
[the same Jimmy Lee Solomon quoted by Rhoden in the Times], MLB just put up a $10 million baseball facility in Compton, Calif. called the Urban Youth Academy, complete with four fields and a 12,500-square foot clubhouse on a 10-acre plot.

Not only that, but Solomon said that the Atlanta Braves put up an academy in Atlanta with the financial backing of Chipper Jones, Mike Hampton, Brian Jordan and John Smoltz. In addition, a site is being selected in Washington, D.C., the Phillies are building an academy in Philly, the Red Sox in Boston and the Astros in Houston.

Plus, MLB has run the RBI program since 1991, with 165,000 of 200,000 of its young ballplayers playing in the U.S. And there’s more. The Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a joint venture from MLB and the Players Association, has targeted $10 million in grants to aid baseball in inner cities and impoverished areas.

Solomon said: “If Gary had taken the time to call the office, he could have said, ‘That’s not enough. But not to get the facts ... well, that’s unfortunate.”

Those facts show Major League Baseball’s efforts are sorely lacking. Two academies, a couple of programs and a few plans and promises is not nearly enough for a multi-billion dollar industry in a country of more than 300 million people.

Sheffield is the only one willing to speak out against these injustices and aside from Rhoden’s column, he has been vilified for his courage and candor.

What changed with Solomon between the time he spoke with Rhoden and then Heyman? And how do two writers, working with essentially the same subject, produce two completely different stories?

This incident capsulated many of the injustices that cut through our society and too often go ignored because anyone who dares speak out is quickly labeled and their points are never examined or investigated.

Jackie Robinson’s story was chronicled by baseball writers who knew the social significance of the story and refused to be put off by labels and vague generalizations.

Where’s Roger Kahn when you need him?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Monday Points

One point cuts through all the talk in the Bronx. The Yankees are going to chase everyone down and win this thing.

“How else should I feel?” shrugged Raul from Walton Avenue. “The guys are playing well, they are working their way up in the standings and there are still more than 100 games left. It’s going to be a fun summer.”

It was a fun weekend in the Bronx against the Pirates and we learned a few things:

Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are as tough as they come.

Doug Mientkiewicz, who is having his broken wrist surgically pinned to cut his recovery time, is pretty tough, too.

This team is a lot better now that Roger Clemens is back.

I can’t seem to find any of the people who wanted to trade Bobby Abreu a couple of weeks ago.

Alex Rodriguez is the biggest right-handed bat in baseball.

Jason Giambi was on the field signing autographs yesterday. He was introduced on “Jason Giambi Bat Day” and received a big welcome from the fans. Bud Selig would receive a much different reception if he ever dared to come to the Bronx.

Derek Jeter is always the leader of this team.

Johnny Damon is fitting in nicely as the designated hitter.

No one plays the game with more joy than Melky Cabrera.

Yeah, it’s going to be a fun summer and that’s the only point that really matters.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Weekender

There is nothing better than a Bronx baseball weekend. Pettitte, Rocket and Clippard. It’s great to have the guys back home.

But Friday is the beginning of the week for a lot of people. If no one worked weekends the trains wouldn’t run and the ballpark wouldn’t open. The trash would pile up and there would be no one to sell newspapers and make burritos.

I tip my hat to those who make our weekends better.

2,000 And Counting

Everyone is ready to pass judgment when symbols and statistics collide with history.

We saw that last night as Joe Torre became only the tenth manager to win 2,000 games. Numbers like that are impossible to ignore, but Torre still takes more than his share of criticism. Sports talk radio and baseball blogs allow people who have never set foot on a Major League field to snipe at one of the games’ brightest minds.

Some complain about his in-game strategy, but no one can question his record. He has been a stabilizing force for nearly 12 years on a team and in a city where more than a couple of seasons will earn a manager iron-man status.

Torre is the perfect man for a difficult job. He deals with the media better than anyone and has a good working relationship with a demanding owner. He is the calming presence that leads this team, but he is not – as many believe – a passive manager. He deals with his players as individuals and challenges, comforts, and scolds as necessary.

Anyone that thinks he doesn’t bring enough energy to the field hasn’t been paying attention. When it’s time to yell, Torre can raise the roof with the best of them.

His players love him and so do the fans that live and die with every pitch. Strategy can always be questioned, but the measure of a man is his final record. Torre is at 2,000 wins and counting.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Easy Target

Jason Giambi is an easy target.

He’s a trusting, decent, flawed person – which makes him just like the rest of us – who has no chance against a mean, vindictive mob led by Bud Selig.

Thankfully, teammates have his back.

“You’re getting punished for doing an interview and talking,” Mike Myers told the Daily News. “If this is the precedent that’s going to be set – that if you do an interview and speak out against Major League Baseball, we’re going to slap you on the wrists and say ‘Cooperate with (George) Mitchell and if we don’t like your answers, we’re going to punish you even worse’ – I think it’s a joke.”

Selig’s threat to suspend and/or fine Giambi for comments he made to a reporter if he doesn’t cooperate with Mitchell’s investigation sounds more like a back-alley shakedown.

“Bud thinks he can do whatever he wants,” said Mike Mussina.

The people with money and power always do.

It’s time for the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) to show Selig and Mitchell and the team owners that no one should be able to coerce testimony with threats.

Giambi may be an easy target, but the MLBPA and its membership are not. If Selig wanted to know how far he could push the players, I think he just found out.

Now he should prepare for the big push back.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Heart Of The Matter

Gary Sheffield cut to the heart of the matter and was quickly cut down.

His comments in the new GQ have been twisted, dissected and turned around. He has been called everything from a loudmouth to a racist.

“I called it years ago,” Sheffield said in the magazine. “What I called is that you’re going to see more black faces, but there ain’t no English going to be coming out. ... [It's about] being able to tell [Latin players] what to do – being able to control them.”

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen clarified:

“It’s not that they can control us; maybe when we come to this country, we’re hungry,” Guillen said. “We’re trying to survive. Those guys sign for $500,000 or $1 million and they’re made. We have a couple of dollars. You can sign one African American player for the price of 30 Latin players.”

Yes, control is at the heart of the matter: Financial control.

Major League Baseball is an American corporation and like all American corporations it craves exploitable commodities. As Guillen points out, Latin players are a huge pool of cheap labor.

That’s the real issue Major League Baseball doesn’t want anyone talking about. Pitting African Americans against Latin Americans is the easiest way to gloss over baseball’s sweatshop operation. If the workers squabble amongst themselves they won’t fight Bud Selig and the team owners who are exploiting all of them.

“When you see Major League Baseball putting academies in other countries, obviously that throws up a red flag,” Sheffield said yesterday. “You wonder why they ain’t going up in our neighborhood. Bottom line, what I see, I talk about. I see it over and over. If anybody can show me I’m wrong, then show me.”

Sheffield is right. Teams don’t have academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela because they care about the people in those countries. They have them because the can develop and sign players cheaply.

And they are always looking for new pools of cheap labor, which is why we’re hearing so much about China these days. It’s never about growing baseball. It’s always about growing wealth.

Sheffield – with some help from Guillen – cut to the heart of it, but people at the top don’t want anyone talking about issues that could cut into the bottom line.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Clete

So many memories of Clete Boyer come in 5x7 and 8x10. They are glossy black and white and grainy color. Some images flicker across a screen: a drive to Boyer’s left, great stop, from his knees to Bobby Richardson and on to Joe Pepitone. 5-4-3 double play.

These are most of my memories because I wasn’t lucky enough to see Boyer play, but they weren’t my first thoughts when I heard he died yesterday at 70.

I remember Boyer coaching third base for the Columbus Clippers in 2002. They were in Syracuse during the heat of the summer and he was in the midst of trying to mold Drew Henson into a Major League third baseman.

Boyer’s legs were bothering him by then and his jog was slow, but he still did the job.

A few years later I heard him speak in Cooperstown and asked about working with Henson.

“The Yankees needed me,” he said. “I’d do anything for them because they did everything for me.”

A crowd gathered around after he spoke and a man wearing a Boston hat asked him a question. Boyer grabbed the hat and flipped it into the corner.

“You can’t wear that near me,” Boyer deadpanned.

The crowd laughed.

Boyer smiled, but didn’t laugh.

Moose Skowron remembered him as “a good teammate and a good guy.”

I agree.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Forgotten

Alex Rodriguez makes a great New York hero. He was born in Washington Heights and raised by a single mother to become the greatest baseball player of his generation and maybe the greatest of any generation.

The headline writers went to work the instant his ninth-inning home run gave the Yankees a lead. He is the back-page hero today. It is well deserved for so many reasons, but the biggest for me is that my rainy walk to work was made a lot brighter just thinking about how good he must have felt rounding the bases.

I also thought about the forgotten heroes and forgotten plays that were washed away by A-Rod’s blast:

Melky Cabrera’s great catch in the right-centerfield gap to lead off the third inning.

Hideki Matsui digging Dustin Pedroia’s double out of the corner, hitting Jeter with a quick throw and Posada’s great block and tag to get Julio Lugo at the plate.

Robinson Cano’s slick fielding and bullet triple to drive in the tying run in the eighth.

Bobby Abreu’s game-saving catch.

Luis Vizcaino, Kyle Farnsworth and Brian Bruney doing the job in front of Mariano Rivera.

This team makes a great New York hero when it plays like that.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Hard Lesson

Robinson Cano was clipped by the D train yesterday. It took the form of Mike Lowell and blazed by in the fourth inning.

Cano completed the double play, but ended up on the ground. Base runners should never allow their teammates to be doubled up, but most no longer slam into fielders trying to tag them, which is why Cano sat stunned on the infield grass.

Cano won’t make that mistake again. He learns fast and next time will be prepared just as Lowell was.

The first rule of baseball is: Use anything and everything to gain an advantage and expect the other team to do the same.

It can be a hard lesson, but it’s one that sticks with you.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Signature Address

Chien-Ming Wang lives at 643 Double Play Alley, Apartment 4A. It’s a cozy one-bedroom in a five-story walkup in Highbridge and Brian Bruney just moved in next door.

Wang battled into the sixth inning last night with the help of two big double plays. Derek Jeter started both, but he saved his best for Bruney in the seventh inning when he stabbed a bouncer up the middle and flipped to Robinson Cano, who could make a strong throw if the D train was barreling down on him at second base.

6-4-3. Beautiful.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Another World

“I guess some people really don’t understand,” Luis Perez shrugged. “How could anyone get upset about a baseball player trying to win a game?

“It’s bizarre.”

Perez – like so many people in New York – comes from another world.

“Sometimes it seems like everything has been turned upside down,” he said. “People are nice on the ball field and mean off it. Some of the people criticizing A-Rod for distracting a fielder would swindle me out of my pension or evict me from my home to make a buck.”

Perez has coached baseball in New York for more than 40 years. “Once I had a mother ask: ‘Why don’t you just let the boys run around and have fun?’ I told her, ‘My job is to teach them how to play baseball. Playing well and winning are fun.’ She wasn’t happy.

“If I was a chess teacher, would it be okay to let the kids throw the pieces around if they thought that was fun? Baseball takes skill and work and thought. When you put that all together you get a great player like A-Rod.”

Alex Rodriguez also comes from another world.

“The things A-Rod does on the field, especially the little things, come from playing and playing and playing,” Perez said. “Not as many kids do that anymore. Too many of them have fancy uniforms, but only play a few times a week.

“It’s fun to watch A-Rod and Jeter and Posada and Cano because I know they’ll find a way to win,” Perez went on. “A-Rod used something on Wednesday that he probably learned on some old field when he was 12 years old.

“How could anyone not love that?”