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.”

Friday, November 30, 2007

Point Of View

Javier steps out of his building and looks across a sunny Walton Avenue.

“It’s gonna be a great day, isn’t it?”

“That depends,” shot Marcus who is sitting on the steps reading the newspaper.

“Depends on what?” Javier asks.

“Your point of view,” Marcus says. “About fifteen guys have been by here and all of them are nervous about this trade business.

“Some say we need Johan Santana,” he continues. “Others say we can’t give up all the young players. One guy almost punched me when I mentioned that one of the papers said Hughes and Kennedy and Melky might go in this deal.”

“The tales are getting pretty tall,” Javier says. “People are focused on every scrap of news because there are no games to watch.

“Some of them are so desperate that they’ll believe anything,” Javier goes on. “Everyone just needs to relax and let Cashman do his job. He’ll put together a winner.”

“You’re pretty confident,” Marcus says.

Javier smiles.

“It’s all in your point of view.”

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Regular Job

Mahamadou drags on the 2 train at 149th Street. He is loaded down with a folding table, six large boxes, a tarp, a plastic crate, an over-stuffed backpack and a radio roped around his neck.

“They’re the tools of the trade,” he says.

Selling merchandise along 14th Street is his trade.

“Yankee stuff mostly,” Mahamadou says with a smile. “T-shirts are a hot seller in the summer, but now I’ve got gloves and socks and winter hats and Yankee Stadium snow globes, too.

“Business is good,” he continues. “One person bought 20 snow globes yesterday.”

He came from Senegal about eight years ago and has carved out a spot in the city.

“It feels good to know where you’re going every morning,” Mahamadou explains. “Having a regular job is the best thing in the world.”

There’s some disappointment in the morning paper.

“I feel bad for Phil Hughes,” he says. “The newspapers talk about trading him like he is an old shoe or a snow globe.

“He’s a man with feelings,” Mahamadou continues. “And he doesn’t even know where he’ll be working tomorrow. That would scare me.”

He stuffs the paper in his backpack and drags off the train for another day on the job.

“I’m hoping to sell 20 more snow globes.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Art of Baseball

I was in a vulnerable position on the 2 train this morning.

Squeezed against a door in Penn Station during rush hour is one of the most dangerous spots in the city. There is always a stampede of people coming from the Long Island Railroad and you get pushed and pulled by men in suits and women in fur coats.

I was wedged between two suits by the time we started for 14th Street. The guy on my left was nice, for a suit, and he tried to give me some advice on following the Johan Santana trade rumors.

“You need to try and play the game as if you were a General Manager,” he said. “Look at the numbers and don’t be emotional about the deal.”

“Don’t be emotional?” I snapped. “Everything is emotional in the Bronx. It might be fun to ‘play GM’ in the suburbs, but baseball is serious business around here.”

“I’m just more analytical,” the suit said. “I prefer statistics and ‘The Art of the Deal.’”

“That’s interesting,” I said. “But I prefer ‘The Art of Baseball.’”

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Something Lost

Questions are being asked and opinions passed in front of Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning.

“What do you guys think of the Johan Santana trade talk?” asks Jon from Highbridge.

A tangle of voices builds and breaks before Javier from Walton Avenue is able to restore order.

“Hold on,” he says. “Let’s cut this debate down to size. Everyone agrees that Santana is one of the best pitchers in baseball, correct?”

Everyone nods.

“He’s a guy that can lead a staff for years, correct again?”

More nods.

“Now it gets tougher,” Javier continues. “You can’t get a player like that without giving something up. Who’s it gonna be?”

“Not Joba,” someone shoots.

“And I’d hate to lose Phil Hughes,” Jon says.

“Kennedy’s gonna be a good one, too,” someone offers.

“What about Melky?” Jon asks.

“No,” the group fires.

Javier reclaims the conversation.

“Very tough choices,” he says shaking his head. “With something gained there is always something lost.”

“Yeah,” the group mumbles. “Something lost.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

Broken Justice

Justice is hard to find and easy to lose and it usually gets broken in the fight.

That’s why Khiel Coppin was killed by the New York City Police Department in a hail of 20 bullets outside his Brooklyn home just under a year from the day that Sean Bell was killed in his Queens neighborhood by 50 more NYPD bullets which came seven years after Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times by the police outside his Bronx building.

Broken justice keeps killing and killing and killing.

It’s easy to blame the shooters, but this is more about brutal police policies than brutal police officers.

The real problem is with a Mayor and a Police Commissioner who have made no attempt to change a system that ended the lives of Coppin at 18 years, 20 bullets and Bell at 23 years, 50 bullets and Diallo at 23 years, 41 bullets.

New York State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith created a Legislative Task Force on Police Procedures in the wake of the Bell shooting. The goal was to establish better relations between the police and the neighborhoods they are supposed to protect.

The NYPD decided not to participate.

“This is not an attack against the Police Department,” Smith said yesterday after the Task Force’s final hearing. “This is a way of saying we want to help and we want better relations. But in order to have that you must communicate. That lack of communication is a little concerning.”

Another attempt at justice is broken in the fight.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

For Justice

My memory of Sean Bell was taped to a brick wall on Liverpool Street in Queens. It was a picture of him in a baseball uniform. It was just a few days after he was killed by the New York City Police Department, but the photo was already wrinkled by the rain and cracked by the wind.

It has since turned to dust just like the justice we stood for and marched for and fought for in the following days and weeks.

We have seen lots of pictures in the past year. We have seen Bell with Nicole Paultre-Bell, who he was supposed to marry just a few hours after the police filled his car and the whole neighborhood with 50 bullets. We have seen him with his daughters Jada – who misses her father – and Jordyn – who wasn’t even old enough to remember him. We have seen him with his mother and father and his friends and his teammates.

We have seen everything, but justice for the brutal way he died.

Reverend Al Sharpton led a few hundred people in an overnight vigil to mark the anniversary of Bell‘s death. Sharpton is the only man who stands up for everyone in this city and it’s time for more of us to stand with him. Then maybe someday there are no more kids gunned down in the streets.

I will always carry the memory of Sean Bell the pitcher, who won 11 games with a 2.30 ERA and 97 strikeouts in his senior year at John Adams High School in Ozone Park.

And I will never forget the 50 bullets because there will be 50 more with another name on them if we don’t keep standing and marching and fighting for justice.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Here is what we know: Nothing.

There is absolutely nothing going on in the Bronx.

There is a lot coming – finalizing Alex Rodriguez’s contract and announcing those of Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Jose Molina – but that’s all for another day.

One more day of nothing between us and a new baseball season.

Friday, November 23, 2007

On The Floor

Jon showed up at Juan Carlos’s coffee cart looking a bit worn and tired this morning.

“What happened to you?” Javier asked.

“I was given a ‘Great Honor’ at Thanksgiving dinner,” Jon said.

“I don’t see a World Series ring and you aren’t carrying a trophy,” Javier said. “So what the heck was it?”

“I got to carve the turkey,” Jon said.

“That’s no big deal,” Javier scoffed.

“It is when you’ve never carved anything before,” Jon snapped. “They put me at the head of the table and nine hungry people were staring at me. I was a little nervous and I’d had a few beers and, well, the whole damn turkey ended up on the floor.”

“What did you do?” Javier asked.

Jon stood up extra straight and said, “I looked at them and said, “At least there’s only 86 days until pitchers and catchers report.

“We didn’t have any turkey,” he continued, “but everyone was on the floor laughing.”

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Javier from Walton Avenue peeled the lid off his morning coffee and asked the obvious question.

“What are you guys doing for dinner?”

Everyone laughed.

“I’m going to my in-laws,” said Jon from Highbridge. “Dry turkey, dry mashed potatoes, dry conversation, but plenty of beer.”

“Doesn’t the conversation pick up when everyone gets a few beers in them?” Javier asked.

“My father-in-law and I are the only ones who drink and we are quiet drunks,” Jon said. “That, at least, makes the day bearable.”

“There’s always a lot of trash after the big feast,” said Fat Paulie who works at a building on Gerard Avenue. “I gotta get it all bagged up. Thanksgiving dinner ain’t so pleasant the day after.”

“It ain’t all that pleasant the day of either,” Jon shot.

Everyone laughed at the obvious answer.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Weather

Javier from Walton Avenue didn’t say a word when he arrived at Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning.

“Are you sick?” someone asked.

“What, me?” Javier said weakly. “No, I’m just a little down I guess.”

“Down about what?” someone asked.

“The weather,” Javier said.

“What are you talking about?” someone shot. “It’s pretty nice for November.”

“That’s the problem,” Javier fired back. “I want it to get cold and snow and sleet so we can get it over with. I’m ready for Opening Day and winter won’t even get here.”

“So you like the way the team is coming together?”

“Oh yeah,” Javier howled. “In the last week we’ve gotten back our catcher and closer and cleanup hitter. Now if it would just get cold...”

“It’s always gotta be something with you,” someone said.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Most Deserving Player

Someday it will all be behind Alex Rodriguez: The MVPs and the home-run crowns and the game-winning hits and game-saving plays. Any rough spots will have been smoothed over by time and titles and he will be able to enjoy what it’s been like to be the greatest player in the only game that matters to this city.

Maybe then he can admire the view. Maybe.

It’s still about doing the job for now.

“I have some unfinished business in New York,” he recently told reporters.

There is always unfinished business with Rodriguez. That’s really the only way to explain his dedication.

“Nobody works harder than Alex,” Mariano Rivera once said. “Nobody.”

The awards haven’t changed that. Neither have the huge contracts. You get the feeling that a World Series wouldn’t change it either. It will always be about the next World Series for him.

That kind of drive makes a great baseball player, but it’s not an easy life. I hope Rodriguez can clear those expectations someday and enjoy his work.

Nobody deserves that more. Nobody.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I have seen Mariano Rivera do amazing things.

He once signed autographs for about 15 minutes outside Yankee Stadium while holding two of his children.

“Don’t your arms get tired?” someone asked.

“No,” he said with a smile. “Do yours?”

Everyone laughed and the greatest closer ever kept signing.

Rivera puts everyone else first: His family, his friends, his teammates and even a bunch of people that wait around to watch him walk out of Yankee Stadium.

“Thanks for signing,” someone said that day.

“Thanks for being here,” he said.

Rivera has been at the end of every big win for a dozen years. He got the final out in three-consecutive World Series and pitched three shutout innings to win the 2003 American League Pennant. He saved Roger Clemens’s 300th win and Andy Pettitte’s 200th.

“I wouldn’t want anyone else closing out my games,” Pettitte said after that milestone victory. “He’s absolutely amazing.”

Rivera has saved everyone’s bacon about a millions times, but he never wants to talk about that.

“I am just a simple worker,” Rivera likes to say. “I’m nothing without my teammates.”

And they are nothing without you.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not Right

The word on the streets is that Mariano Rivera is going to accept the Yankees’ contract offer.

If that’s true, it’s good news for people on these streets: Baseball’s most dominant closer will stay in the Bronx where he is beloved.

But it’s also bad news for people on these streets: The greatest pitcher in this team’s history was allowed to be bullied by some of the richest men in the world.

Major League Baseball owners, as they always seem to do, turned the system inside out and upside down to make sure they got what they wanted.

They scolded the Yankees for giving Jorge Posada a four-year deal and banded together to make sure they didn’t do the same for Rivera. Then, in an amazing slight-of-hand, they were able to publicly label Rivera an “ingrate” who wasn’t satisfied with a “more than generous” three-year, $45 million offer from a group of fat cats sitting on $6.075 billion from just this year.

People who use numbers to calculate a man’s worth will tell you why standing on the three-year offer was a “prudent business, humm, I mean, baseball decision.”

People on these streets will tell you why it wasn’t right.

The negotiations should have been between our team – the team we support with the pennies that trickle down from the wealthy that run this game and this country – and our player – the man we have cheered and supported from day one.

But the wealthy consider people on the streets even less than the great Mariano Rivera. They fleece him and then use him to fleece us. They make sure the money flows to the top one way or another.

Ultimately, Rivera will sign this deal for his teammates and for the people on these streets who fill Yankee Stadium.

It may be good news for us, but that doesn’t make it right.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


The bargaining table is a bit crowded these days. Mariano Rivera and his agent Fern Cuza are sitting across from Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner, but there are also 29 other owners looking over their shoulders.

According to reports, the Yankees have been “admonished” and “chastised” by baseball executives for offering Rivera the three-year, $45 million deal that is currently on the table.

Rivera and Cuza are clearly outnumbered because the Major League Baseball Players Association seems unwilling to challenge the owners on anything from leaking players’ personal medical records to this type of outright collusion.

That’s really too bad because Rivera’s contract isn’t just about what he’ll be paid for the next three years or four years. It’s about what Francisco Cordero will be paid this year, too. And it’s about what Francisco Rodriguez might be paid next year. It’s also about Jonathan Papelbon and Bobby Jenks and J.J. Putz and Joakim Soria and Manny Corpus and every other reliever that trudges in from the bullpen when they can barely lift their arm.

This is about economic justice for players that work just as hard and endure just as much, but may never be the greatest closer in baseball. Rivera owes them this fight.

There’s talk that Rivera is unhappy with the Yankees for not adding another year to their offer, but he has to understand that he’s not dealing with the Yankees anymore. This is a negotiation between him and the Baseball Industrial Complex.

The richest men in the room have laid down the law and they expect the son of the Panamanian fisherman to bow. Rivera apparently didn’t get that message and if there is any justice in the world he will deliver one of his own.

Cutter, up and in.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Major League Baseball owners have no decency, no shame, and lots of money.

Commissioner Bud Selig is trumpeting the fact that baseball’s revenues climbed to a record $6.075 billion this year.

“As I told the clubs, we’re on a great high here,” Selig said at the recent owners’ meetings in Naples, Florida.

Apparently, the first rule of being “on a great high” is to make sure everyone stays in line.

According to Mark Feinsand’s story in today’s Daily News, the Yankees are taking heat for their three-year, $45 million contract offer to Mariano Rivera.

Feinsand reported that the deal drew criticism from Major League Baseball executives in charge of monitoring salaries and payrolls, as sources said that Yankee executives Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine were admonished during the owners’ meetings for drastically upping the market for relievers.

Hank Steinbrenner commented to The New York Times on Rivera’s contract situation:

“They haven’t rejected it outright, as far as I know,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s pretty much known that they’re seeking a fourth year, or more [money] for three years.

“I want him back, and that’s why the offer is as high as it is,” Steinbrenner continued. “We don’t have to change anything. Everyone in baseball knows it’s a great offer; we’ve even gotten a couple of complaints about it.”

Those complaints – which clearly constitute collusion – basically ended negotiations between the Yankees and Rivera. The Yankees can’t up their offer even if they wanted to and Rivera can’t shop his services to other teams because it is those teams that are criticizing the Yankees’ current offer.

So it’s take-it-or-leave-it for the greatest relief pitcher ever.

It’s take-it-or-leave-it for the son of the Panamanian fisherman, who now knows what it’s like to swim with the sharks.

It’s take-it-or-leave-it from 30 men who think $6.075 billion isn’t nearly enough.

Major League Baseball owners have lots of money these days and they wield even more power. They are a monopoly with an anti-trust exemption that can openly collude against the great Mariano Rivera.

Their arrogance knows no bounds.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Scene

It’s coming down to this scene:

Scott Boras sits in a waiting room as a receptionist eyes him suspiciously. He is wearing a blue suit and his hands are folded neatly on his old leather briefcase. A clock ticks.

He glances at the photos hanging on the wood-paneled walls: Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Elston Howard, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry, General Patton…”

General Patton?

Boras’s eyes circle the walls again. And then again. He tugs at his collar and focuses on a large door at the end of the room. The clock ticks. And ticks. He mops his brow.

He leans in as voices come from behind the door. It bursts open and out comes George, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner along with Brian Cashman and Alex Rodriguez. They are all laughing and smoking long cigars.

GEORGE: “They’re good aren’t they? These are the kind Castro smokes. I’ve got a guy that gets ‘em for me.”

ALEX: “Very nice, Boss.”

Boras clears his throat.

ALEX: “Oh, Scott, I’m glad you’re here. Can you look over this contract? We’re going to grab some lunch.”

GEORGE: “You like pancakes big guy? The IHOP down the street does a banana-walnut thing that melts in your mouth.”

ALEX: “I love pancakes.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Like sweat and pain, anonymity comes with the job. It really doesn’t matter that he spends half his life behind a mask. He wouldn’t get noticed anyway. It will always be about Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera or Hideki Matsui or Johnny Damon or maybe just another Alex Rodriguez rumor.

But Jorge Posada – the toughest ballplayer in the world – doesn’t seem to mind the background.

He came out of Yankee Stadium one day last year with his son. The crowd gathered around the players’ gate yelled: “Jorge!”

Jorge, the best catcher in baseball, gave his usual quick smile and wave and kept walking. Jorge, the 7-year-old son of the best catcher in baseball, stopped to face the crowd, flashed a toothy grin and waved both hands.

The crowd let out another: “Jorge!”

The best catcher in baseball spun around and laughed before pleading with his son to hurry. “We’re gonna be late for dinner...”

Up went another: “Jorge!”

The younger Posada kept waving as his father scooped him up.

It was just another day in the background for the best catcher in baseball.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Union Made

Javier from Walton Avenue tugged my elbow on the 2 train this morning.

“I’ve been reading your blog,” he said. “You support the union more than the union supports the union.”

“Someone has to stand up for the workers,” I said. “The media likes to paint the billionaires as the heroes and the workers as the villains these days.”

“That’s because billionaires own the newspapers and the television stations,” Javier said. “They get people looking in the other direction and then they can pick their pockets.”

Javier felt for his wallet.

“They ain’t got mine,” he said. “You always gotta keep your guard up.”

That’s an old habit with me. My father was a union man and he taught me that organized labor is the only path to economic justice.

The Major League Baseball Players Association leads that fight for ballplayers, but their work extends to everyone.

Throughout history, unions haven’t just raised wages and benefits for members. They’ve raised them for every worker.

That’s what the billionaires don’t what you thinking about.

Quick, check your wallet.

Monday, November 12, 2007

One For All

Alex Rodriguez has been through this before. Management tried to drive a wedge between him and the Major League Baseball Players Association prior to the 2004 season.

Back then, it was about devaluing his contract to facilitate a trade from Texas to Boston. Rodriguez may have wanted out of Texas, but he stood by the MLBPA:

“I am willing to restructure my contract,” Rodriguez said, “but only within the guidelines prescribed by union officials. I recognize the principle involved, and fully support the need to protect the interests of my fellow players.”

Now, management is trying to drive another wedge – this time between Rodriguez and the other players – by selling the union’s collusion concerns as a move to protect only him.

The MLBPA doesn’t represent Rodriguez. Scott Boras does. The MLBPA represents the collective interest of all players and Rodriguez clearly believes in that.

I’ve heard Rodriguez mention that Wall Street is his favorite movie. I always figured we liked the same things about the story: Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) as the bad guy and Carl Fox (Martin Sheen) as the good guy.

The key moment in the film comes when Gekko lays out his plan to buy the Bluestar airline with assurances that he will receive union concessions:

CARL FOX: “I came into Egypt a Pharaoh who did not know.”

GORDON GEKKO: “I beg your pardon, is that a proverb?”

CARL FOX: “No, a prophecy. The rich have been doing it to the poor since the beginning of time. The only difference between the Pyramids and the Empire State Building is that the Egyptians didn’t allow labor unions. I know what this guy is all about: greed. He don’t give a damn about Bluestar or the unions. He’s in and out for the buck and he don’t take prisoners.”

There are 30 Gordon Gekkos in baseball and Alex Rodriguez isn’t one of them. Owners will always try to distort the issues, but baseball players are just trade unionists.

Don’t be fooled by the numbers, the battle between management and labor is the same for ballplayers as it is for sheet-metal workers and stagehands and transit workers and screenwriters.

Rodriguez understands that. The rest of us should, too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


The owners played the card up their sleeve when the Major League Baseball Players Association mentioned collusion a few days ago. That card, of course, would have everyone believe that this is all about one player.

The owners love to play the one-bad-apple game. Barry Bonds was the bad apple of the steroid era and now they want to make Alex Rodriguez the bad apple of the greedy-player era. If everyone is kicking the bad apples they won’t pay attention to what’s really going on, which, right now, is clearly collusion.

In this morning’s Daily News, Mike Lupica was selling bad apples for the owners the same way Dick Cheney sells wars for the White House.

Lupica and the owners want everyone to believe that Alex Rodriguez is the only reason that the Major League Baseball Players Association is raising concerns about collusion. They want everyone to forget the meeting in Orlando last week where every Major League general manager unburdened themselves of their off-season plans like some sort of Alcoholics Anonymous for GMs.

But there was nothing anonymous about the plans and the players discussed. There will be well over 100 free agents this year and this affects every one of them. It affects free agents next year, too. And it affects free agents the year after that and the year after that and the year after that, which is to say: it affects everyone.

Collusion isn’t a joke. What happened to Major League Baseball in 1980s was the biggest fix in the history of sports. A bunch of rich baseball owners gathered in a room and decided who was going to win and who was going to lose and how they were going to make money on all of it.

Those were good days to be a baseball owner and bad days to be a baseball player or fan. The owners and their lapdogs in the media would love to return to those days. They believe wealth should always remain in the hands of the wealthiest.

The rest of us aren’t buying their game no mater how many cards they have up their sleeve.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Time To Fight

The Major League Baseball Players Association has been ducking high fastballs for years. They’ve signed consecutive Collective Bargaining Agreements that have significantly weakened the players’ position and Major League Baseball officials has been allowed to bully players and leak confidential medical tests and records to the media without much resistance.

I understand that Don Fehr and Gene Orza have done their best in an anti-labor climate. I know that unions need to pick their battles carefully in this society that is currently awash in conservative, Right Wing sentiment.

I also know when it’s time to stop politicking and start fighting. That time came when 30 general managers gathered in Orlando this past week and told each other their plans for the off-season and their team’s needs and what players might be available in trades.

There’s a clause in the collective bargaining agreement that says clubs shall not act in concert with other clubs and players shall not act in concert with other players.

The Orlando meeting – which featured every club acting in concert with every other club – was the grand slam of collusion.

Eventually it had to come to this because bullies don’t stop pushing until someone pushes back. It’s time for the Major League Baseball Players Association to make Bud Selig duck for a change.

Fastball, up and in.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Collusion Is Back

If it looks like collusion and sounds like collusion and acts like collusion, then isn’t it collusion?

Major League Baseball has pulled out this old reliable weapon against the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Baseball used collusion in the 1980s and they have, of course, wanted to break the Union from day one. Just about every business that deals with organized labor wants to “break the union,” but most aren’t as open with their assaults.

What baseball’s general managers did at their, now famous, group session this past week in Orlando clearly crossed the line of collusion.

If gathering every general manager in a room and asking them to tell the group their plans for the off-season and their team’s needs and what players might be available in trades isn't collusion, then what is?

The more Major League Baseball executives and general managers try to pass this off as some innocent exchange of information, the guiltier they look.

Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president for labor relations told Murray Chass of The New York Times:

“Conversations about specific players, given the history of the industry, would be more problematic, but that didn’t happen. I know for a fact that there was no discussion about specific players.”

Boston general manager Theo Epstein, who co-chaired the event with Florida’s Larry Beinfest, told USA Today a different story:

“It’s increased our efficiency tremendously and has saved us a lot of time. Some teams are specific; others are more guarded…”

So were specifics discussed or not?

According to Chass, Epstein was quoted as telling the group he is trying to resign Mike Lowell, the Red Sox free-agent third baseman.

That sounds pretty specific, especially if you are Mike Lowell.

The collusion case in the 1980s was settled without anyone admitting a violation of the clause that says clubs shall not act in concert with other clubs and players shall not act in concert with other players.

It doesn’t look like this case will be wrapped up as neatly.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


There are plenty of questions in the Bronx.

“Questions are fine,” says Javier. “It means we are moving forward with building a better baseball team.”

Not everyone in the group gathered along Gerard Avenue agrees.

“We gotta start signing some players,” someone shoots. “What’s going on with Mariano and Posada? And now we have to wait on Pettitte and we don’t know who’s playing third and we need to add some bullpen arms and, and…”

“Is that all you got?” Javier fires back.

Everyone laughs.

Javier continues.

“There wouldn’t be any questions if we had the same team as last year and that didn’t end well. I think it’s better to have questions because that means you’ll get answers.”

“I’d just like to hear a few,” someone says.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007


News comes in papers and on the radio and sometimes it scrolls across the bottom of television screens. Promise comes in the wind.

It has swirled into the Bronx from places like Mission Viejo, California and Lincoln, Nebraska and Huntington Beach, California.

“I love the kids,” says Jon from Highbridge. “They have cannons for right arms and all the talent in the world.”

Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy are the talk of the neighborhood even as newspaper columns and radio shows and blogs buzz with plans to trade them.

“I don’t want them going anywhere,” Jon explains. “I know it can happen, but I hope we get the chance to see them grow.”

And there’s more on the way.

“Humberto Sanchez,” Jon smiles. “He’s a Bronx kid and I can’t wait to see him. I know he’s recovering from surgery, but he might be able to help later in the year. And wouldn’t it be something if he had a chance to start the first Opening Day in the new Stadium?”

Now that’s promise.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Javier pulled his hat low against the rain as he walked along Walton Avenue.

“It’s gonna be a lousy day,” someone said.

“It’s not so bad,” Javier smiled. “There are less than five months until Opening Day.”

“But who’s gonna start?” someone asked. “Pettitte might not be back.”

“You never know what’s gonna happen in baseball,” Javier shrugged. “I think Pettitte will be back, but we’ll be ready to play either way.

“That’s the only thing that really matters,” he continued. “Give me a team of tough, talented ballplayers and I can make it through just about anything.”

Even a rainy morning in the Bronx.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What A Waste

Javier from Walton Avenue admitted some regret to the group gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning.

“I didn’t do anything special with my extra hour,” he said. “It feels like such a waste since there wasn’t even a ballgame.”

“They take that hour away in the spring,” someone said.

“They can have it back right now,” Javier laughed. “Why would anyone need an extra hour in November?”

“I heard that is saves energy,” someone said.

“How much energy do any of us use?” Javier shrugged. “The whole thing is probably just some scam that bunch of rich people cooked up.”

“Yeah,” someone said. “It’s probably like when our lights went out and the CEO of Con Ed gets a raise and a pat on the back from the Mayor.”

Javier shook his head and wrapped it up.

“What a waste.”

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Weekends in this neighborhood are a bit empty these days. The streets are full, but time slogs along without much happening.

“Things do feel kinda dead,” Javier admits. “I guess everyone’s just killing time until we find out what comes next.”

“So what comes next?” someone asks.

“Something will come along,” Javier says. “I just hope it doesn’t take too much longer. We could all use some Yankee news.”


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Time Piece

I always lose track of time in November.

There really isn’t anything going on that demands precision timing. Pitchers and catchers don’t report for 103 days and Opening Day is too far away to see.

A clock certainly isn’t needed to track the minutes.

I’ll just put my head down and grind through the next few months.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Gotta Love ‘em

“Everyone makes mistakes,” Fat Paulie says as he looks at a big one on Gerard Avenue. “I should have known better than to pour concrete on Halloween.”

The sidewalk in front of his building is marked with hand prints, initials, a “Joba Rules,” an “I love Derek Jeter,” and, of course, an “I (heart) Derek Jeter.”

“Those wacky kids,” Fat Paulie laughs. “You gotta love ‘em.”

Fat Paulie has worked his whole life in the South Bronx.

“I started cleaning up and bagging trash at a building over on Jerome,” he explains. “They just called me Paulie back then, but that was a bunch of donuts ago.”

Fat Paulie moves a little slower these days, but he still gets the job done.

“A little concrete will smooth out most of this,” he says looking at the sidewalk. “I’ll leave the Joba and Jeter stuff because I don’t want the kids egging my windows.

“You really do gotta love ‘em.”

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Box Score

I hope Mike Lupica checked his line in the box score this morning.

They can be fun to look at after a good day and Lupica had a very good Wednesday. Two columns in The Daily News: A decent one on Joe Torre going to Los Angeles and a solid, two-RBI single on Brian Cashman.

1 AB - 1 R - 1 H - 2 RBI - 1 BB.

The Cashman column – Man Taming The Bronx Zoo – may not have been groundbreaking journalism, but it was a glimpse of what Lupica once was and could be again.

It all came down to one great quote from the Yankee General Manager:

“I don’t give a s--- about how the decisions I’m making might impact me. Just how those decisions impact the New York Yankees. I’m not here to keep my job. I’m not here to save my job. I’m here to do my job.”

Jimmy Breslin once revealed the secret of journalism:

“You’ve got to chase, chase, chase, and chase. And then you might find something that really gives the reader a lift and a jolt. That guarantees they’ll come back tomorrow and that’s the f---in’ ballgame.”

Lupica played a good ballgame yesterday.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Baseball Is Back

Sometimes you’ve just got to be honest with yourself.

It took me a few days, but I’ve finally accepted the fact that I’m thrilled with my baseball team. It didn’t make much sense at first – losing our manager and our cleanup hitter – but now it’s clear.

I’m happy and excited because we have a ballclub and not a drama club.

The Daily News ran a cover yesterday that said: Bronx Zoo II. It sold a few newspapers, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. The Zoo is gone. It’s headed for Disneyland or Disney World or The City by the Bay or someplace else that’s a million miles from this neighborhood.

The Yankees – from the Steinbrenner family to Brian Cashman to Joe Girardi – have a clear direction and it’s all about building the best team.

Baseball is back in the Bronx and it feels good.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I like Hank Steinbrenner.

I like everything he says. I like the way he and his brother, Hal, are helping their father run the Yankees. I like the way he relies on baseball people to make baseball decisions. Mostly, I like the pride he’s shown in this team.

“We’re the Yankees,” Hank told reporters yesterday when asked about the direction of the team. “We’ll always be the Yankees. We are going to contend for a championship...”

The Steinbrenner family has always been committed to this baseball team and they expect the same from everyone.

“My example is Derek Jeter,” Hank continued yesterday. “He has wanted to play for the Yankees all his life, and he understands what this team is all about. That’s what we want.”

That kind of pride makes me feel good about counting on Hank Steinbrenner the same way I’ve always counted on his father.

Yeah, I like the man.

Monday, October 29, 2007


They wore secondhand coats over sweatshirts with hats pulled low against the cold. Malik sat in the middle of the group on the 2 train and pulled the collar of an old Yankee jacket tight around his neck.

“You need layers to work construction on a day like this,” Malik explained. “I’ve got this coat and a sweatshirt and a heavy sweater and a T-shirt.”

But he didn’t have enough to protect him from the news that Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract.

“It really hurts,” he admitted. “I loved him and wanted him to stay. I thought a guy from Washington Heights would want to be here.”

The group nodded in agreement.

“It’s been a rough couple of weeks,” Malik continued. “First Torre goes and now A-Rod. I hope this storm breaks soon.”

Sunday, October 28, 2007

First Question

The end is coming.

“It can’t come soon enough,” says Javier outside a bodega on Gerard Avenue. “Every day there’s new speculation about which guy is going to get the job.”

Who will be the next Yankee manager – Don Mattingly, Joe Girardi or Tony Pena – has been the only question asked in this neighborhood for more than a week.

“It’s one baseball story I’m actually tired of talking about,” says Javier. “There isn’t a bad choice so all the debates just seem pointless.”

And there’s plenty of pressing business.

“We need to sign our cleanup hitter (Alex Rodriguez), our catcher (Jorge Posada), our closer (Mariano Rivera) and make sure the big lefty (Andy Pettitte) is coming back, too,” Javier explains. “And don’t forget about picking up Bobby Abreu’s contract option.

“There’s plenty of questions,” continues Javier. “So let’s answer this one and move on.”

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sit And Wait

I’ve finally accepted that things are going to stay quiet today.

The talk is that the Yankees will name a new manager on Monday. There’s also a rumor that they want to sit down with Alex Rodriguez and discuss a contract extension.

Around here we can just sit and wait.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Local Support

All baseball is local.

They can make rules that define when it’s okay for a team to make news. They can film commercials and talk up the World Series, but baseball will always be local.

There’s nothing more local than the Crown Diner at the corner of East 161st Street and Gerard Avenue.

“I heard we can’t announce our manager until after the World Series,” Jon says between bites of his BLT.

“Yeah,” Javier says. “I read that Hank Steinbrenner said ‘we will obviously honor the wishes of the commissioner.’”

Jon laughs. “The commissioner, huh? How many tickets does he buy?”

“The commissioner wants you to care about the World Series,” Javier explains.

“I care about my baseball team,” Jon says. “I care so damn much that I spend every spare nickel on it. They never have any trouble taking my money and now they want to tell me what to care about, too.”

“I just want to know who’s managing my team and what we’re doing to get ready for next year,” Jon continues. “Is that too much to ask?”

Apparently, it is.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Great Day

The air clouded with opinions and cigar smoke has cleared a bit.

“I think it’s the rain,” says Jon from Highbridge.

The group huddled around a Grand Concourse newsstand seems content to wait out the storm.

“We should have a new manager by tomorrow,” Jon reasons. “It’s not an easy choice, but we’re going to get a winner no matter what.”

“I still think Pena is the best man,” says Javier from Walton Avenue.

“Are you still on the codfish salad?” Jon asks.

“That’s not the only thing,” Javier says. “I love what he said in the paper: ‘Any time you talk about baseball, it’s a great day.’

“You can’t put it any better than that.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Someone finally took a stand in the Bronx.

“I think Tony Pena should manage the Yankees,” said Javier from Walton Avenue.

“But you liked Mattingly yesterday,” someone said.

“I was thinking about it last night,” Javier said. “I really like ‘The Tony Pena’ at El Nuevo Caridad.”

“The codfish salad from that joint in Washington Heights?” someone asked.

“Yeah,” Javier smiled. “It’s my favorite.”

“So you’re backing a manager because of codfish salad?” someone laughed.

“The little things can make a big difference in a close ballgame,” Javier explained. “I think Mattingly and Girardi would be great too, but codfish salad gives Pena the edge with me.”

“It’s not much of a stand,” someone said, “but I guess it’s something.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Marcus always finds a seat on the 2 train.

“It’s easy when you have to be in early,” he explains. “I used to get to go in later, but the trains were so crowded. I’m much more comfortable with this trip.”

He’s certainly more comfortable than the men – Joe Girardi, Don Mattingly and Tony Pena – interviewing to be the next manager of the New York Yankees.

“I haven’t had to interview for a job in a long time,” Marcus says. “I feel for guys having to go through that.

“They would all be great managing this team,” he continues. “I can’t even say I have a favorite, but when it’s over I hope they can all get a seat in our dugout.”

It’s a comfortable thought.

Monday, October 22, 2007


This week’s agenda was sketched out on the 2 train:

“Getting a new manager is the first priority,” said Jon from Highbridge. “After that, we can move ahead with the rest of the coaching staff and the free agents.”

“You talk like you’re gonna have something to do with it,” said Edwin from Harlem. “Are you The Boss’s long lost son?”

The rest of the guys laughed, but Jon didn’t see the humor.

“I do my part,” he shot. “All the tickets and shirts and hats and scorecards I buy are part of what makes this team competitive every year. The other part is having an owner who invests my money in baseball instead of putting it in his pocket.”

The group nods in agreement.

“I’ve got a good deal with The Boss,” Jon continues. “I can trust him with my money because he always does his absolute best to put a winning team on the field.”

“So you are kinda like family,” Edwin offered.

“Yeah,” Jon said. “I guess I am.”

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Something More

Javier took control of the conversation on an autumn day in the park.

“They can’t explain how we feel on television or in a newspaper,” he told the group gathered around his bench.

“But everyone believes the stories,” someone said.

“Why do you care what anyone else believes?” Javier snapped. “This is our home and our baseball team.

“Things change all the time,” Javier continued. “We get new neighbors and they always bring something more.

“Plenty of people can’t understand that,” he goes on. “They want everything to stay the same and they want everyone to look the same and dress the same and talk the same.”

Change is what makes this city and will remake it again and again.

“Other places stand still,” Javier explains, “but we keep moving. Joe Torre moves out and someone else will move in.”

And they’ll bring something more because they always do.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


The newspapers are full of Joe Torre explaining why he had to walk away from the Yankees.

Javier is explaining why the rest of us never could.

“We’re all Yankee lifers around here,” he says. “Joe Torre was great for this team and I’m sorry he’s gone. But this is our home and our team and we’re not going anywhere.

“We don’t have choices,” Javier continues. “We work hard jobs for little money and we are Yankees.”

Lifers all the way.

Friday, October 19, 2007


I’ll start with a confession: I love Joe Torre. I love his style and his calm and his passion. I am taken by the heart and talent that made him a great ballplayer and the determination and skill that made him the finest manager of his generation and maybe the finest of any generation.

Someday, there will be a Joe Torre Day at Yankee Stadium. No one else will ever wear the number 6 and he will go into the Hall of Fame as a New York Yankee. He’s earned all the credit and all the memories.

I’ll finish with another confession: I think it’s time to move on. Torre knows it. The Yankees know it, too. There’s nothing to fault and no one to blame. This is just how baseball goes sometimes.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Long Way Off

Henry is at Yankee Stadium today.

This isn’t exactly news because he’s always there, but people in this neighborhood will take what they can get these days.

“Brian Cashman came in early,” Henry says. “I haven’t seen any players because they’re all gone for the winter.”

Henry is not at his best because more than five months stand between him and the next game.

“I’m not sure of the exact date,” Henry says, “but Opening Day is a long way off.”

Henry will run through the schedule like lines of poetry once it’s released. He’ll have the answers if you need to know who the Yankees are playing on April 17 or July 10 or September 14 or any other day.

He can also tell you Derek Jeter’s batting average and Mariano Rivera’s saves total and Chien-Ming Wang’s ERA and Alex Rodriguez’s career home runs.

He’d like to talk some real baseball, but there isn’t much to say.

“It’s all a long way off.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Park Summit

The Bronx news wire is full of cracks and there can be delays if, say, someone stops for coffee and donuts.

“Where have you been?” Javier shouts.

“I had to get us breakfast,” Jon says. “I got the newspapers, too.”

He unloads everything on a bench in Joyce Kilmer Park.

“Here’s your black coffee,” Jon says as he sorts through the bags. “There are two chocolate donuts and I got a couple of bagels, too. I’ll load up the cream cheese if you read the baseball.”

Javier digs through the papers.

“Not much here,” he says. “They had a meeting, but there were no decisions.”

“What would you do?”

“That’s easy,” Javier begins. “Get Joe squared away on a two or three-year deal with the idea that he moves into the front office when it’s finished. Donnie can slide in as manager after that. Then wrap up A-Rod, Mariano, Jorge, Abreu, Molina and Mientkiewicz.”

“What else?” Jon demands.

“Wait for spring.”