Monday, December 31, 2007

Holiday Hours

Jose prepared for the holiday at Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning.

“A large with cream and lots of sugar,” he said. “I’m gonna need all the help I can get.”

“You don’t have a restful holiday planned?” someone shot.

Everyone laughed.

Jose works all the time just like the rest of the neighborhood. In the summer he deals tickets and sells Yankee merchandise on River Avenue. During the winter he delivers piazzas and sandwiches and loaves of garlic bread and orders of french fries and mozzarella sticks all over the South Bronx.

“The joint has got special hours planned,” Jose explained. “We’re open all day and all night and all day tomorrow, too.

“I’ll be on the bicycle and running up and down stairs,” he continued. “After awhile, delivering a large piazza to a fifth-floor walkup will feel like carrying a bus up Everest.”

The summer is better.

“That’s when people come to me,” Jose said. “If you need good seats so close to the field that you scare Derek Jeter, I’ve got ‘em. And if you need a Yankee T-shirt or a hat or whatever, I’ve got that, too.”

He’ll just have sore feet tomorrow.

“But I’ll be that much closer to Opening Day,” Jose said. “And that’s a holiday I don’t mind working.”

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Nothing To Chance

Marcus is leaving nothing to chance with less than two days to go.

“I even switched hats,” he says pointing to the plastic derby that replaced the Yankee cap tucked in his pocket. “You gotta advertise the merchandise.”

Marcus is a street vendor and his merchandise changes with the season. He usually sells Yankee T-shirts and hats along 14th Street, but these days he’s working a table on Amsterdam Avenue that has everything to bring in the New Year.

There are black plastic top hats and derbies and even some green hats left over from St. Patrick’s Day. “I covered them with ‘Happy New Year’ stickers and people have been snatching ‘em up,” Marcus says.

There are also 2008 sunglasses that sparkle and others that flash. There are tote bags that glitter and T-shirts that glow. And there are horns and rattles and steel noise makers and paper streamers and confetti bombs.

“Business is very good,” he says. “People aren’t stopping with just a hat and maybe a noise maker. They want everything.

“And it doesn’t end at midnight,” Marcus continues. “I’ll be out here though New Year’s Day and people will still be buying. I think tourists like to take the stuff home as souvenirs.”

“Do you keep anything as a souvenir?” someone asks.

“Yeah, my rent money,” Marcus says as he puts on a pair of flashing sunglasses. “That’s why I leave nothing to chance.”

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Jolt

This was one winter Saturday morning that didn’t require a push out the door.

The day broke sunny and warm and the streets were packed. I felt like heading down River Avenue to see how ticket and T-shirt sales were going with Jose before walking to the players’ gate to talk with Henry and Javier.

And then nine innings when nothing else in the world matters.

Baseball gives the neighborhood focus and drive, but today we got a jolt from the weather.

It felt like a baseball afternoon in the Bronx. But it wasn’t.

Only 93 days to go.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Nothing For Granted

Rusty Hardin – the attorney defending Roger Clemens against claims that he used performance-enhancing drugs – seems to be fighting for more than just the honor of baseball’s greatest pitcher.

It sounds like he is fighting for truth and justice, too.

Scott Atlas, a prominent Houston lawyer, described Hardin in The New York Times:

“He outworks everybody. And primarily he does his own investigation, pursues every lead, doesn’t take anything for granted. I would say that is what really sets him apart from most lawyers. He will challenge every assumption people have to see what happened, and that’s what’s happening here.”

Pursuing every lead, never taking anything for granted and challenging every assumption is supposed to be the job of journalists. But they’ve shown little interested in any real investigation into George Mitchell’s report on steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

Most seem comfortable taking Bud Selig’s word that Mitchell is “an honorable man,” and that his work and findings are beyond reproach.

A few writers – Buster Olney, Murray Chass, Bill Madden and Dave Zirin – have pulled on some of the loose threads in the report, but there is still plenty of work to do.

Hardin’s reputation leads me to believe that he won’t quit until he gets all the answers.

I’m hopeful that his effort will push journalists to uncover some truth and maybe a bit of justice in this whole mess.

But I’ve seen too much, or should I say too little, from the media to take anything for granted these days.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Laugher

Sometimes you have to laugh. This morning was one of those times for Jon from Highbridge.

“How can you not laugh?” he says with a shrug. “The Bronx has the highest tax rate. That’s just perfect.”

It’s perfect in a uniquely American way that allows Major League Baseball to steamroll people like Jon and his wife and his seven-year-old son.

They live in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the poorest borough of New York City. Jon works two jobs – full-time on a warehouse loading dock and the rest of the time driving a taxi – and Christmas was his only day off this month.

Like every family in this neighborhood they scrape by and try to save a little money for baseball tickets in the summer.

That’s a little harder these days because the price of tickets went up.

“It’s going to make it tougher for us,” Jon admits.

But he doesn’t blame the Yankees.

“The Steinbrenners always give us a good team,” Jon says. “They are taxed for that and the first rule of taxes in this country is that they land on the poorest people.”

The Yankees received their luxury-tax bill of $23.88 million a few days ago and their revenue-sharing tab will push the total over $100 million for the year.

That money is squeezed out of people in the Bronx and dumped into the pockets of billionaires like David Glass in Kansas City and Kevin McClatchy in Pittsburgh and, of course, Jeffrey Loria in Florida.

“That’s the way it is in America,” Jon says. “Tax the poor to fatten the rich. George Bush sells it and so does Bud Selig. We’re not dumb enough to buy it, but we have to take it if we want to support our baseball team.”

Sometimes you have to laugh or you would never stop crying.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Twisting Stories

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning were determined to wring some truth from a story that hangs heavy over the Bronx.

“I’ve never questioned someone’s word without a reason,” says Jon from Highbridge. “And Roger Clemens has never given me a reason to question anything.”

Everyone agrees.

“Newspapers and radio talk shows like to question Roger’s word because it makes a good story,” offers Javier from Walton Avenue. “Journalism used to be about getting the truth, but now it’s just about getting the juiciest story.”

“They’re parrots not journalists,” Jon says. “George Mitchell told them what to think and what to say and what to write. And, of course, Brian McNamee is like George ‘I can not tell a lie’ Washington.”

Everyone laughs.

“But now we know that even Washington lied,” Javier says. “It’s supposed to be media’s job to investigate the facts and not just give us their opinion of facts that someone else dumped in their lap.”

“Roger is the only one talking right now and he says the whole story is not true,” Jon adds. “Why doesn’t that count for anything?”

Javier chuckles.

“Because that’s not the way they want to twist the story.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


The sun was bright on the first Christmas Javier can remember.

“It woke me up,” he said on his 56th Christmas. “It was brighter than I had ever seen.”

Javier was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and figures he was about five years old for this story.

“I knew there would be gifts,” he said, “and all I wanted was baseball stuff. We used a broomstick bat and an old rubber ball. All the kids in the neighborhood played and I was one of the youngest.

“They always stuck me in the outfield,” Javier continued, “but I wanted to be a shortstop. I thought if I had a real baseball and maybe a new bat they would let me play where I wanted.

“We didn’t have a Christmas tree,” Javier went on. “My mother hung a stocking on a kitchen cupboard handle and when I came down for breakfast it was filled with a new ball and a glove. There was a new bat left on the table, too. I couldn’t believe it was all for me. I didn’t even eat because I went right out for a game.”

“Did they let you play where you wanted?” someone asked.

“Yeah,” Javier said with a smile. “I played shortstop and the sun was so bright.”

Monday, December 24, 2007


New York is in a rage today. It seems that everyone is rushing somewhere to buy something or sell something or give something or get something.

People in the Bronx don’t get too wrapped up in all this because they have lived through more than a few rages.

“I’m just trying to survive,” Jon says as he slides into a back booth at the Crown Diner. “A double shift for a taxi driver on Christmas Eve is rough duty.

“I just picked up a lady on Fifth Avenue,” he continues. “I loaded all her packages in the trunk and drove her home. I unload everything and helped her doorman get it all in the building. Then she stiffs me. I said, ‘The heck with this, I’m gonna grab some lunch.’”

A waitress takes his order on the fly.

“Coffee and a BLT with crispy fries,” Jon says. “Then I’ll need coffee and a couple of chocolate donuts to go.”

There’s not much time.

“I’ve gotta make this quick because there is still money to be made,” Jon says. “Fifth Avenue just isn’t the best place for a guy like me to grab a buck.

“I think people with the most tip the worst,” Jon continues. “Poor people understand, but they ride the subway and the bus. I’ll just have to make do with the rich people because I need rent money and grocery money and baseball-ticket money.”

Back to the rage.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Always Open

The Bronx is always open for baseball.

Even on a cold and rainy day the guys huddled around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart were hungry for some news.

“What’s up?” asked Jose who lives over on Gerard Avenue. “I mean other than the price of tickets.”

Everyone laughed.

Then Javier from Walton Avenue fired.

“I read that Ron Guidry wants to help out in Spring Training,” he said. “I hope that happens because Gator has always been a team-first guy. He was a starter when it was best for the team and he went to the bullpen when that was best. Even after being replaced as the pitching coach he still wants what’s best for the team. You can’t have enough guys like that around.

“He is also excited about all the great young pitchers we have,” Javier continued, “but he said we need to give them some time.”

“How long until pitchers and catchers report?” Jose asked.

“Fifty-two days,” Javier said.

“I hope that’s enough time,” Jose said.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Double Shift

Jon from Highbridge headed out early this morning.

“One more day closer to the end,” he said.

“The end of what?” someone asked.

“The seven-day workweek,” Jon snapped.

His edge comes from five days on a warehouse loading dock followed by weekends driving a taxi.

“It wears on you,” Jon admitted. “But I’ll feel better after breakfast.”

The Crown Diner at the corner of 161st Street and Gerard Avenue provided the day’s fuel.

“An egg sandwich on a roll, two chocolate donuts and a large coffee, cream and sugar please.”

Jon leaned against the counter as they bagged his order.

“It’s gonna be a long one,” he said. “There will be a lot of shoppers out, but if business is good I can go shopping myself.”

“You still have gifts to buy?” someone asked.

“No,” Jon said. “I will be shopping for Yankee tickets. Prices went up for next year so I’ll need to stash away a little extra. It should help that I’m working a double shift today and tomorrow and Monday.

“Yeah,” he sighed. “It’s really gonna be a long one. Throw in an extra chocolate donut, please.”

Friday, December 21, 2007

Our Game

There was a rumble of disgust around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning.

“What’s wrong with you guys?” Javier shot as he peeled the lid off his cup.

“The newspapers keep beating us down,” someone fired. “They think they’re better than us and better than Clemens and Pettitte and Tejada and Bonds, too.”

Javier shook his head.

“You can’t pay attention to judgments passed by people who’ve never done anything,” he said. “George Mitchell and Bud Selig and the people who write in the newspapers don’t know what things are really like. You think they’ve ever had coffee on the street with guys like us?”

Everyone laughed.

“They don’t have any idea what it’s like just trying to survive,” Javier said. “Don’t let any of them control how you feel about baseball or your team. The players get beat down the same way we do, but they aren’t going to quit and neither are we, right?”


“So whose game is it?” Javier asked.

“Our game.”

“Whose game?”

“Our game!”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nothing To Prove

Roger Clemens has nothing to prove.

He has 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts and seven Cy Young Awards and two World Series titles in 24 big-league seasons. And he pitched one of the finest postseason games in history against the Seattle Mariners in the 2000 American League Championship Series.

He is the greatest pitcher of his generation and probably the greatest of any generation.

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning hadn’t forgotten any of that.

“I’ll always remember that Seattle game,” says Javier. “I started watching it alone in my apartment and after the seventh inning I went down to the bodega on Gerard Avenue and found some guys that were listening on the radio. Roger was dominating and intimidating. It was incredible. I just couldn’t be alone for something like that.”

No one in this neighborhood is going to abandon Clemens because he was blacklisted by George Mitchell.

“We’ll always be behind Roger,” Javier says. “He was always there for us and he always gave his best. What else can you ask from a man?”

Some have taken his career and life apart in the last week.

“There ain’t much to say for people who run others down,” Javier says shaking his head. “I guess anyone can say anything about anybody, but that doesn’t make it right.

“Roger has already responded to the allegations in Mitchell’s report,” Javier continues. “He said he didn’t do any of it. People out there can believe whatever they want to believe, but Roger’s got nothing to prove around here.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Target

Fernando keeps his head down.

“I only talk to people I know,” he says, “and I try not to draw attention. I don’t want to be a target.”

He stood on a half-empty 2 train this morning.

“One time I was sitting and some guy started yelling at me,” Fernando explains. “He said ‘You people take everything: All the jobs, the seats on the train, everything. Get the hell out.’

“So I got out of there,” Fernando continues, “and I don’t sit anymore.”

Fernando survives as an invisible person in a country where everyone is supposed to be equal. He came to New York from Mexico and through Austin, St. Louis, Chicago and Philadelphia.

“I worked my way here because I heard there were lots of jobs in New York,” Fernando says.

There have been too many to count.

“I started in a restaurant washing dishes and making deliveries,” Fernando says. “Then I worked in a warehouse and a factory. But they closed and I took a job in a grocery store taking care of the flowers and vegetables. I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week and got paid $200.”

Things are better these days.

“I’m working two different construction jobs,” he says. “There’s lots of building going on and you can work every day if you want. I save some money and send the rest home to my family. Someday they’ll be able to come here, too.”

He is named after Fernando Valenzuela because he grew up in Etchohuaquila. His family listened on the radio to every game Valenzuela ever pitched and he used to dream of being a big leaguer.

“I’m a lefty like the great Fernando,” he says, “but I don’t have his stuff.”

He’s still a fan.

“I love the Yankees,” Fernando says. “Back home everyone knows the great Fernando and the great Yankees.

“I always tell my father to watch Andy Pettitte,” he continues. “I see the great Fernando in him.”

Men like Fernando are everything this county and this city are supposed to be about: honor and hard work and pride and determination and decency. But there are some who want to throw him out just like they want to throw out Pettitte and Roger Clemens.

“I hate what’s happening to them,” Fernando says. “They are great ballplayers and now they’re on a list because someone said something about them. And because some people want to judge them. That’s just not fair.”

Fair doesn’t have anything to do with it when you’re a target.

Fernando knows that better than most.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Passing Justice

Mariano Rivera has helped gain a bit justice for some of baseball’s toughest players. His new three-year, $45 million contract was officially announced yesterday, but its effects have been felt for weeks.

It started with a four-year, $19 million deal for Scott Linebrink and then there was a four-year, $46 million contract for Francisco Cordero. There have also been deals for Troy Percival and Matt Herges and David Riske and Mike Timlin and LaTroy Hawkins.

Relief pitchers are gaining a small measure of economic justice this winter, in part, because the Yankees were pushed into record territory with their offer to Rivera. He deserves every penny, but this wasn’t just about him. This was also for players that work just as hard and endure just as much, but may never be the greatest closer in baseball.

Rivera owed this contract to every reliever that trudges in from the bullpen when they can barely lift their arm. He owed it to everyone that fights through injuries and surgeries and rehabs. And he owed to closers who have yet to be paid like Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Papelbon and Bobby Jenks and J.J. Putz and Joakim Soria and Manny Corpus.

Rivera stepped to the front of the room and demanded a cut of baseball’s $6.075 billion for men who are asked to warm up two or three times during a game and pitch four or five days straight.

It will be the job of players like Linebrink and Cordero and Percival and Herges and Riske and Timlin and Hawkins to carry on the fight.

They owe it to everyone that follows just like Rivera owed it to them.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Throwing Baseballs

In this country and plenty of other countries we show kids how to throw baseballs before we teach them to read books. And then we send them into the streets and backyards and schoolyards to throw and throw and throw some more.

If they throw enough and are lucky enough and tough enough they just might sign a contract to start somewhere like Jamestown or San Pedro de Macoris or Helena.

They might be one of two or three guys on the team that have a shot at the big leagues so they keep throwing and throwing and throwing. They work on a curveball and a changeup and a slider.

Their arm hurts, but the pitching coach tells them not to worry and the trainer rubs them down with stuff that feels like boiling tar.

They keep throwing and their arm keeps hurting. They don’t stop because they’ll be sent home and that would be a lot more painful.

But their fastball stops popping and their slider stops breaking and they end up in a MRI tube. Then a doctor cuts a tendon from their other arm or their leg and sews them back together like a rag doll. Or maybe they slice open their shoulder and scoop it out like they’re gutting a fish.

Then the ballplayer is alone for 12 months, 16 months, maybe two years rehabbing an arm that may never throw another pitch. All along they wonder what might happen to a life that has never known anything but throwing a baseball.

A few make it all the way back, but most are left with only the scars and the pain.

George Mitchell’s report on steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball mentioned all kinds of unnatural substances and warned about the harm they can do. Nowhere did it mention what the unnatural act of throwing a baseball can do to the human body.

Making people suffer isn’t a game. If there is nothing to help prevent and heal these injuries then Major League Baseball ought to be funding research into something that does.

Or maybe we should just stop showing kids how to throw baseballs.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hang Your Ethics

A lot of people are talking about ethics in baseball these days. Most of them are presidents and senators and commissioners and television reporters and newspaper writers.

None of them do much real work. They have never thrown a pitch in the big leagues or dislocated a finger sliding into second base or fouled a ball off their foot or played the outfield for weeks without a day off. And they have never had everything they’ve worked for threatened because their arm hurts.

The people who do the work and live with the pain are coming under fire from people who have never done much of anything.

George Mitchell and Bud Selig and George Bush and Mike Lupica and Henry Waxman can try to sell their phony ethics all they want. But people aren’t buying it around here.

Making your arm or your back or your shoulder stop hurting so you can keep doing your job is more about survival than ethics.

And that’s where Mitchell’s investigation on steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball should have started: With survival.

Mitchell had the resources to produce a report that could have remade the game for generations. He could have changed the way baseball operates from how it scouts talent and signs and develops players to how it interacts with young athletes in local communities.

Mitchell’s recommendations – which should have been the focus of this report – are all about crime and punishment. They involve investigations and violations and cooperation with law enforcement agencies and anonymous tip lines and tracking clubhouse packages and independent testing programs.

Dreaming up better ways to catch and punish people has never solved anything.

Mitchell’s job should have been to come up with solutions to these problems and not just slap a worthless 409-page bandage on them.

He should have started with the kids who play baseball on the streets in places like Santo Domingo and Caracas and he should have followed them through the system of academies that feed Major League Baseball with cheap labor.

He should have gone to baseball fields in the Crenshaw District and South Chicago and North Philadelphia and the Bronx.

He should have looked at NCAA college baseball programs were players are abused because schools have no financial stake in the kids and will kick them to the curb in four years anyway.

He should have gotten to know the struggles of journeyman and minor league players who hold onto the game with everything they’ve got because it’s the only chance they’ve got.

Struggling for survival in these systems is the root of drug problems in the game. Major League Baseball has profited off this for years and they owe something to the kids they pluck and the ones they cast aside, too.

Mitchell should have looked at the “whys” and the “hows to fix” instead of just making a list of crimes and punishments.

He should have questioned the length of Major League Baseball’s 162-game schedule and recommend that it be trimmed – to 154 games or maybe even 144 – to reduce the brutal physical and mental pounding that men take.

Baseball players do whatever they can to survive in systems they have little or no control over. They are not perfect, but they are tough and courageous and all of them do their best.

Mitchell let them down because he didn’t have the courage to ask the tough questions of $6.075-billion industry.

He felt it was better to cut into lives than the profits.

Hang your phony ethics on that.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Selling Injustice

George Mitchell was selling his report again yesterday. He talked to reporters and posed for pictures on the 27th floor of his Manhattan law firm, DLA Piper. There he could comfortably look down on people the same way he’s always looked down on people: With arrogant disdain.

Arrogance carried Mitchell a long way. He parlayed stints as a United States Attorney and a Federal Judge and a United States Senator into corporate positions that made him millions.

But arrogance isn’t going to carry him through what he did in this report about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Not even “The Great and Honorable George Mitchell” can sell 409 pages of gossip, hearsay, innuendo, book passages and newspaper articles as any kind of meaningful investigation.

Not even he can explain away blacklisting men with little or no evidence.

But there he was playing the cheap-salesman role yesterday and reporters ate it up with a spoon in DLA Piper’s conference room.

Not everyone is that easy.

You can only sell 409 pages of nothing for so long.

Sooner or later people are going to want to know why Brian Roberts was named here. Then maybe people will ask why this great investigator was unable to locate David Justice – who spent all summer on television broadcasting Yankee games – for a second interview.

And then people will look at the interviews that fell in Mitchell’s lap courtesy of criminal investigations. Everyone can then consider exactly how credible a man facing a jail sentence is if giving the “right answers” gets him less time.

And then people will start to get outraged that 86 men were blacklisted by the arrogance of one.

Mitchell did prove a few things here: He is lazy and sloppy and irresponsible and maybe incompetent.

He also assured that there will be one criminal coming out of this investigation. His name is on the cover of the report: George J. Mitchell.

He may be shielded by Major League Baseball which is in turn shielded by an anti-trust exemption.

But history judges everyone and it’s not kind to people who have done the things that Mitchell has.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Dishonorable Man

George Mitchell gave his people what they wanted: Blood.

He ripped into baseball players because they aren’t worth much in his world. Most of them started out at the bottom and the poor have never meant anything to Mitchell. They are just the people he stepped on to become what he is today: A watchdog for a bunch of wealthy baseball owners.

It really wasn’t a new assignment because he has always served the rich. He served them as a United States Attorney and a Federal Judge and a United States Senator. The wealthiest few percent have always been his top priority.

That made him the perfect man to protect the owners and attack the players.

Mitchell spent yesterday afternoon selling his 409-page report about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball as an “independent investigation.” But there was really no investigation involved.

Mitchell spent most of his time reading and referencing other people’s work. He read newspaper articles and he read Juiced by Jose Canseco and Game of Shadows by Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada and Juicing the Game by Howard Bryant and he even read Gary Sheffield’s book Inside Power.

He should have read Away Games by Marcos Breton and Jose Luis Villegas. It’s the story of Miguel Tejada’s journey through baseball’s Dominican and minor league meat grinder.

Mitchell would have read about a young Tejada enslaved by a system that he enabled as a Senator and exploited as a team executive.

That book would have given him a glimpse of what Major League Baseball really does in the Dominican.

He would have seen 50 players at every academy fighting for their spots so they could keep eating three-meals-a-day for the first time in their lives. And he would have seen them battle for only a handful of opportunities to come to the United States and start at the bottom of the minor leagues.

He would have seen kids willing to do anything for an edge because baseball was their only chance at a decent life. And he would have seen thousands of them discarded like yesterday’s trash.

But Mitchell didn’t investigate the Dominican academy system as one of the roots of the drug problem in baseball. That’s because the owners – the people Mitchell was paid to protect – run and profit from that system and its endless supply of cheap labor.

So Mitchell stood on a stage yesterday and blacklisted Tejada. And he did it with a straight face.

Bud Selig has been selling him as “an honorable man,” but Mitchell presented a report that protected the rich and bloodied the poor and he did it all for money.

That makes George Mitchell the most dishonorable man in the world.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


George Mitchell released a report today. It is more than 400 pages and took almost two years and $20 million to complete.

It was supposed to be a broad and comprehensive examination of dangerous drugs in baseball, but all it did was protect the wealthiest men in the room.

This was always about taking down the players and the trainers and the Union and making sure the owners didn’t get anything on their shoes.

Mission Accomplished.

Mitchell covered the owner’s backs and bank accounts and turned this into a sideshow of blacklisted players. Senator Joe McCarthy would be proud.

Why do any serious work or invest any serious thought that might actually get to the root of the problem when a juicy list of names is all you need to exploit the situation?

And Mitchell knows all about exploitation.

As a member of the United States Senate, Mitchell helped further trade agreements and foreign policy initiatives that impoverish countries like the Dominican Republic. Those policies have ensured an endless stream of cheap labor for Major League Baseball. Mitchell now exploits that cheap labor in his position as a Director for the Boston Red Sox.

Players who started as desperate kids at Major League Baseball run academies in the Dominican were named today. Mitchell got guys like Miguel Tejada and Jose Guillen coming and going. And the former Senator figured out how he could make money on all of it.

Mitchell has always been an opportunistic bully and he has used his influence to amass a huge personal fortune. Along the way he made people in Maine poorer and people in the United States poorer and people around the world poorer. He now makes the game of baseball poorer.

Mitchell and the owners are, of course, richer because guys like that always walk away with all the money. The players they blacklisted probably won’t be able to walk without pain when they’re 60.

The injustice of this whole sorry episode is hard to get a handle on. Pull one of a thousand threads and it tumbles out: corruption, exploitation, intimidation, and money, money, money.

George Mitchell blacklisted a lot of decent men in a report today.

Yeah, Senator McCarthy would be proud.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Deciding Vote

Mike Harrison rode the 2 train downtown from Burke Avenue this morning. He is a dock builder working on the west side of Manhattan these days.

“The job is a little tougher in the winter,” he explained, “but there are plenty of people worse off than me.”

He opened his jacket to show off the logo on his sweatshirt: Dockbuilders Local Union 1456.

“I owe them everything,” Harrison said. “My family eats and has a place to live and can go to the doctor all because of Local 1456.

“I’ve been on the other side and it wasn’t good,” he continued. “I worked a lot of non-union construction jobs when I was younger. Lousy pay, no benefits and it was dangerous because those builders cut every corner.”

Someone asked him about Marvin Miller being cut out of the Hall of Fame.

“I think it’s embarrassing for baseball,” Harrison said. “But the people pulling the strings don’t care about that. They set up a crooked committee to keep him out. It’s really the same thing that unions face every day. The government and the media sell out the workers because they represent the interests of the wealthy.”

Harrison pulled a newspaper clipping from his pocket that included a picture of Miller and Reggie Jackson.

“I cut this out last week because it made me think of how long it’s been since there was a labor leader who really meant something.

“The strength of the Major League Baseball Players Association helped this whole country,” Harrison continued. “They improved the bargaining position of every union and that raised wages and benefits for all of us.

“If that doesn’t get you into the Hall of Fame then this should,” Harrison said pointing back to the newspaper clipping and a highlighted quote from Hank Aaron:

“Marvin Miller is as important to the history of baseball as Jackie Robinson.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Marvin Miller built the Major League Baseball Players Association on solidarity.

Former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent showed some last week after Miller was passed over for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Excluding Marvin is a travesty,” Vincent said. “I have no intention of being there (for the induction ceremony) next summer.”

Players should follow that lead and use the power of collective bargaining that Miller helped them gain.

A players’ boycott of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony would do more than just achieve a measure of justice for Miller. It would also serve to educate current players about the ongoing struggles of organized labor.

Baseball players need to understand that the MLBPA has improved their lives and that labor unions have improved the lives of every worker in this country. They also need to understand that the MLBPA – like all unions – needs to move forward and grow.

The Union needs to make a strong push to raise minimum salaries and trim the number of years that teams can control players before arbitration and free agency under the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. And they need to expand into the minor leagues to raise salaries and offer pensions and benefits to every player that signs a professional contract.

The Professional Baseball Players Association – representing players at every level – would be a fine monument to Miller’s work.

I’m sure he would gladly pass up the Hall of Fame to address the first rank-and-file meeting of the expanded Union.

“The key to our success,” he would say, “is solidarity.”

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Divide

Eduardo and Enrique prepared for a cold day on a Chambers Street construction job by sharing a newspaper on the 2 train this morning.

“It looks like the Yankees have signed LaTroy Hawkins,” Eduardo whispered to his friend.

“Great,” Enrique said. “I’ve always liked him.”

“Lousy deal,” snapped a man in a suit. “A pitcher like that isn’t worth the money.”

Eduardo and Enrique lowered their eyes into the divide between those who believe in baseball players and those who believe in baseball numbers.

Hawkins’s numbers through a dozen Major League seasons can cut any way you want, but his story cuts straight to the heart.

He grew up watching the steel mills close in Gary, Indiana. He found his way out because of a fastball that was good enough to close games in the big leagues. His brother, Ronald, only made it as far as a federal penitentiary in Milan, Michigan. He’s serving 27-years for carjacking because that was the best job available for a guy without a fastball in a dead steel town.

Guys like Eduardo and Enrique know all about surviving on the best job available and maybe that’s why they believe in Hawkins more than most. They believe that a man tough enough to make it this far will thrive in the world’s best baseball city.

“Don’t let that fancy guy bother you,” Eduardo told his friend as they turned their collars up and headed into a cold mist on Chambers Street. “Hawkins still throws hard and he’s really learned how to use his breaking stuff. He’ll be great here”

“Yeah,” Enrique agreed. “You can count on that.”

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Line Games

Javier from Walton Avenue had something on his mind and he wouldn‘t be put off.

He walked to the front of the line at Juan Carlos’s coffee cart and stared at his friend Jon from Highbridge. Jon was in the middle of a conversation with Fat Pauline who works at a building on Gerard Avenue, but his words grew jumpy as Javier’s look intensified.

Finally, Jon stopped.

“What do you want?” Jon asked.

“Pitching,” Javier deadpanned.

“Everyone wants pitching,” Jon said. “What makes you so special?”

“I just want to talk about pitching,” Javier said.

“We can go to the park and talk about pitching,” Jon promised. “Just let me get my coffee.”

“I’ll take a regular, no sugar,” Javier said.

“Yeah, right.”

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Waiting Moment

Some moments come right on time and others take a lifetime.

Mike Mussina has pitched a lifetime in the Major Leagues and he has the numbers to prove it: 250 wins and 2,663 strikeouts.

He is the greatest pitcher never to have a moment.

There have been plenty of great games.

He threw seven shutout innings against Oakland in the 2001 American League Division Series, but people remember Derek Jeter’s “flip play” saving the game.

Game seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series against Boston was saved by Mussina’s three innings of brilliant relief, but it turned out to be Aaron Boone’s night.

Mussina has won 18 games in a season three times. And he’s won 19 games twice. But he’s never won 20. And there hasn’t been a Cy Young Award either. The timing was never quite right.

He was one out from a perfect game, too. But, well, you know the story.

Mussina turns 39 today and there are people who think his time has passed. They wonder if he could be pushed out of a rotation that includes: Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

It won’t happen because Mussina always finds a way to get better. When he lost something off his fastball, he adapted. When hitters figured out his breaking stuff, he overcame. It wasn’t always pretty because while Mussina is one of the smartest pitchers in the game, he is also one of the most stubborn.

That stubbornness got him into plenty of jams with umpires and it probably made him throw pitches he didn’t want to. But now it’s pushing him forward.

Mussina is already working this winter because that’s what stubborn, 39-year-old pitchers have to do.

He knows exactly how he won every one of those 250 games and how he came up big against Oakland and Boston and everyone else. He may be a different pitcher these days, but he’ll figure it out because he always does.

His moment is still waiting. It has to be.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Behold The Power

The winter meetings move to the Crown Diner when it’s too cold to stand around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart.

“Behold the power of heat,” says Javier from Walton Avenue as he flops into a back booth.

“Isn’t it the power of cheese?” asks Jon from Highbridge.

“That depends on who’s bringing it,” Javier shoots.

“What about Joba?” Jon fires.

“That’s heat and cheese,” Javier says with a smile.

“Yeah,” Jon says. “Joba has it all. I bought a magazine today just because he’s on the cover. ESPN is saying he’s NEXT.”

“Joba is already here,” Javier says. “If he can carry his stuff into the rotation we’re all gonna have a lot of fun this summer.

“I heard he was signing autographs in Times Square and doing a radio show in Grand Central this week,” Javier continued. “That kid has the chance to be huge in this city.”

“Coffee for you guys?” the waitress asks.

“Yes,” Javier says, “and a grilled cheese.”

“Me, too.”

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Better Life

Isaac Cortes from the Bronx was shipped to Iraq three months ago. His grandmother said he enlisted in the army because he wanted a better life. A roadside bomb took his life last week.

Going halfway around the world to fight a war was Cortes’s best opportunity because there are no good jobs left anywhere in this country.

He had worked at a long line of seasonal trades since high school: an amusement park ride operator, a golf caddie and finally a security guard at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankee job was his favorite. The pay wasn’t great, but it was close to home and he really enjoyed the games. But the baseball season finished and it was off to Fort Benning for basic training and then Baghdad and then back to the Bronx in a box.

They buried him yesterday – the sixtieth New York City kid to die in Iraq – and no one outside the neighborhood seemed to notice.

And not enough people seem to care that they will keep sending kids home like this as long as dying is the best living we can offer our children.

Cortes deserved a shot at a better life. Everyone does.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Promise Kept

Phil Hughes is still a Yankee. So is Melky Cabrera. Ian Kennedy is, too. Austin Jackson, who made it all the way to Scranton this year, stayed a Yankee as well. And Alan Horne – the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year – is also still a Yankee.

That’s good news in the Bronx.

“I’m glad we’re committed to the kids,” says Javier from Walton Avenue. “It’s exciting to think about adding a pitcher like Johan Santana, but that means giving something up.

“Hughes feels like one of my own children,” Javier continues. “I heard about him and read about him and then got to see his first steps in the big leagues. I want to watch him grow.”

There is a lot of promise in the neighborhood these days.

“It feels like the young guys are lining up at the door,” Javier says. “Hughes, Joba and Kennedy are here and there’s a new wave of talent coming behind them.

“You can’t have too many good young ballplayers,” he says. “I just hope they all get to stay Yankees.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tear It Down

Tear down the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Take it apart brick by brick if it’s not going to include Marvin Miller. Use those bricks to build something more useful, like housing for exploited workers.

That would be a fitting monument to Miller who once said, “Baseball players were the most exploited group of workers I had ever seen (back in 1965). They were even more exploited than Cesar Chavez’s farm workers.”

As the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Miller helped bring a measure of justice to the monopoly that team owners enjoyed for more than 80 years.

With the help of men like Curt Flood, he tore up the reserve clause that bound players to their teams forever. And the game has flourished under collective bargaining agreements that now include minimum salaries, arbitration and free agency.

The new executives committee that Miller faced in this Hall of Fame vote was clearly assembled to make him pay for the all justice he achieved. The group was stacked against him with seven of the 12 members being management figures, owners and executives.

Former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn – who was elected to the Hall of Fame yesterday by the same committee that snubbed Miller – once predicted Armageddon for the game by saying free agency, “Would mean the loss to bankruptcy of the entire American League as well as several teams in the National League.”

Current Commissioner Bud Selig recently trumpeted the fact that baseball’s revenues climbed to a record $6.075 billion this year by saying, “As I told the clubs, we’re on a great high here.”

Miller’s vision for the game was clear. Kuhn’s clearly was not. But Kuhn is in and Miller is out.

If that’s justice in the Hall of Fame: Tear it down.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Big Lefty

The word on the streets is that Andy Pettitte is back.

“The streets speak only the truth,” says Javier from Walton Avenue.

And so does the big lefty.

“He has said all along that he would retire or pitch for the Yankees,” Javier continues. “I’m just so happy that he decided to come back. This news sure did brighten up a Monday. I hope the rest of the week is this strong.”

Pettitte certainly strengthens the rotation.

“He’s such a tough competitor,” Javier says. “I love to watch him pitch because he always gives you everything he’s got. I’ve seen just about every start he’s ever made and it’s gonna be fun to watch a bunch more.”

Yeah, the big lefty is back.

Favorite Son

Hank Steinbrenner is already a favorite in the Bronx. Maybe it’s because he reminds people of his father or maybe it’s because he just might end up being even better.

“George will always be The Boss,” said Javier from Walton Avenue as he polished off a grilled cheese sandwich at the Crown Diner on 161st Street. “But I think Hank is going to be really good for the Yankees.

“He’s smart and I think he learned a lot from his father’s mistakes,” Javier continued. “Time will be the true test, but so far I really like him.”

Everyone at the busy lunch counter seemed to agree.

“Hank wants to win just like his father does,” said Jon from Highbridge. “That’s all you can ask from an owner. There aren’t too many like that and we’ve been lucky to have one for more than 30 years.”

Javier smiled and nodded.

“We are lucky that George came along,” he said. “And we’re lucky he gave us Hank, too.”

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Bang The Drum

The wealthy had their say in the Daily News today. They always seem to have their say because money can buy just about anything these days.

Newspapers used to stand for something in this city, but those days are long gone. The pages once filled by Red Smith and Jimmy Breslin are now clogged by Mike Lupica, who shamelessly bangs the drum for the wealthy who control our game and our city and our country.

Lupica used today’s column to sell George Mitchell and his baseball drug investigation to New York the same way FOX News sells George Bush and his tax cuts for the rich to America. The truth doesn’t matter and neither do the facts. That makes Lupica the perfect man to defend the man who defends those who have the money.

And the money is what this is all about. That’s why Bud Selig picked Mitchell to lead this little dog-and-pony show in the first place.

Mitchell is a longtime member of the old-boys club and he takes his defense of the wealthy very seriously. Jason Giambi found that out the hard way this summer when he said:

“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.”

Giambi’s statement moved us closer to ridding baseball of dangerous drugs and exposing those responsible. Since that is the last thing Selig and Mitchell want, they quickly leaked a confidential amphetamines test and threatened to suspend Giambi if he didn’t meet with Mitchell and promise never to talk to anyone else about who’s to blame.

If Mitchell was honestly interested in placing the blame where it belongs then his report would simply say: Everyone.

Owners, players, managers, coaches, trainers, general managers, the media and the fans are responsible. This belongs to all of us.

But Mitchell has spent millions to concoct a story that will protect the owner’s backs and bank accounts.

And Lupica – a millionaire sportswriter – is there to protect Mitchell.

Millionaires protecting millionaires protecting billionaires.

It was only fitting that Lupica wrapped up today’s column by banging the drum for his old buddy Don Imus.

As Jimmy Breslin would say: Beautiful. Absolutely marvelous.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Ready To Play

Cold weather should be expected these days, but the morning bite still surprised some that gathered outside a bodega on Gerard Avenue this morning.

“It feels like winter is just about here,” said Jon from Highbridge. “I knew it was heading in our direction, but I didn’t think it would get here this fast.”

“Well,” someone said. “It is December after all.”

“Is it really?” Jon laughed. “That kinda snuck up on me. But at least it means we are finally getting somewhere. First the holidays and then the New Year and then baseball will be on top of us again.”

“It seems like baseball stays on top of us,” someone said. “There is trade talk every day.”

“But that’s just talk,” Jon scoffed. “I’m ready to play.”