Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Live From The Bronx

The city has been a bit boring. Last night, I stood outside my building and watched a lady from Pennsylvania try to park her fancy sports car. I wouldn’t call it fun, but it did kill 15 minutes.

Once a New Yorker in a big Buick convinced her that “you ain’t gonna get in there in a million years,” she moved on.

The man with the Buick took less than a minute to wedge his way in.

What am I going to do now?

Yankee tickets are going on sale.

“But we have season tickets,” my wife said. “One of the benefits is that you don’t need to stand in line.”

But I can’t always depend on people who don't know how to parallel park.

What I learned at Yankee Stadium today:

Twin Donuts has the best chocolate-glazed in the neighborhood. And the best coffee, too. But there was a petition circulated – it was actually a dirty piece of cardboard that was passed down the line – to rename the crème-filled, pastry with chocolate frosting: Yankee Cream.

It’s not a party until something gets broken.

George Steinbrenner is the best owner in baseball. He would never make poor fans pay for a railing that wasn’t strong enough to support the weight of a dozen men and one woman.

My friend Jose is the fastest deliveryman in the South Bronx, but even carried in an insolated container, which was apparently donated by a Dominos franchise, pizza gets cold when it’s 28 degrees.

Everyone believes that Jorge Posada is tough enough to stand in line for tickets, when it’s 28 degrees.

Mariano Rivera wouldn’t need to stand in line. We would let him drink coffee at Twin Donuts and bring him his tickets.

Derek Jeter can hang out at home and we’ll drop his tickets off later.

Everyone loves Bernie Williams.

At least one New York City police officer is far too sensitive.

My mother is correct. My smart mouth is going to get me in trouble one of these days.

A collection of Red Smith baseball columns isn't as valuable once it’s been dropped in a slushy puddle.

Rats don’t mind the snow.

A cold, wet newspaper can be pried from an unwilling hand. It will also burn.

George W. Bush may have been in the city today, but we didn’t see him waiting for tickets.

Many believe: “George W. Bush couldn’t find the Bronx on a dare.”

Most don’t think very highly of Mike Lupica either. In fact, one man from Jerome Avenue is convinced that Lupica “lives in a mansion in the suburbs and should stick to writing about suburban sports like mall walking, Wal-Mart shopping, golf and football.”

If they ever build a Wal-Mart in New York City, it would take less than 10 Yankee fans to bring it down, brick by brick.

Some people will always live in the past. Jimmy, who clearly came directly from 1977, doesn’t like today’s, kinder, gentler Yankee fans.

“Back in the day,” he begins, “if you came here wearing a Red Sox shirt, we would rip it off your back and burn it. What do they do today? Say something; maybe throw some popcorn or peanuts. Wimps.”

Back in the day, Jimmy stood in 15-foot snowdrifts for his tickets.

Pitchers and catchers don’t report for another 14 days.

What am I going to do now?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


I’m nursing a hangover.

Once you start reading Red Smith, you can’t stop.

I awoke to stacks of books around my bed: Out of the Red, The Best of Red Smith, No Cheering in the Press Box, To Absent Friends, The Red Smith Reader, Press Box: Red Smith's Favorite Sports Stories and Red Smith on Baseball: The Game’s Greatest Writer on the Game’s Greatest Years.

Tangled in the sheets was my favorite: Strawberries in the Wintertime. The perfect title for a cold night.

Smith covers: Enos Slaughter’s mad dash, Bill Bevens’ near no-hitter and Bobby Thomson’s home run.

He captures: Jackie, Stan The Man, Teddy Ballgame, Joe D., Campy, Yogi, Willie, Mickey and The Duke.

He paints: the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium in classic black and white.

He teaches: what you should take from the game.

"Sports is the real world," Smith writes. "The people we cover, they're suffering, living and dying, loving and trying to make their way through life just as bricklayers and politicians are."

Back to the stacks.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Sunday Blues

Sundays have been getting me down.

Once filled with so much promise – walks in the park, breakfast and fat newspapers – recent Sundays have found me shaking my head in disgust at those fat newspapers I love so much.

Over the last three weeks, Mike Lupica – the lead sports columnist at the Daily News – has pointlessly beaten up Roger Clemens – the greatest pitcher of his generation – once, and Barry Bonds – the greatest hitter of his generation – twice.

Lupica or someone at the Daily News must have noticed this, too. The second Bonds column was pulled in later editions and replaced with an equally pointless column about Joe Torre and Alex Rodriguez that looked to have taken all of 10 minutes to write.

And that’s the point.

Lupica – long considered the greatest sports columnist of his generation – clearly spends little time on his newspaper work these days. But, like Darryl Strawberry, he once had so much promise.

When Lupica was starting out at the New York Post, I thought he was going to be great, maybe another Red Smith. He developed his voice at the Daily News, and was at the top of his game when he went to The National Sports Daily, which tried to revolutionize sports journalism.

The revolution failed and somewhere on his way back to the Daily News, Lupica started to lose it. Not his voice or his talent, but his humanity. He no longer seems to care about the games, the players and the people they touch.

Maybe he’s too busy as a book author, radio guest and television personality.

But on Sundays I don’t need a celebrity, just a sports columnist.

I want my Red Smith.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Good Enough To Dream

Parking lot 15 will make a beautiful baseball field someday. But for now it’s just another patch of asphalt laid down for the benefit of people who don’t live in the Bronx. People around here don’t need parking lots or highways cutting through their neighborhood or cars clogging their streets.

They need quality housing, healthcare, education, transportation and nutrition. They need clean air, fresh water and parks. They need baseball fields where kids can dig for third on a ball in the gap and slide in a cloud of dust.

And they need a baseball academy. A place where kids can go every day and learn the game from the best coaches, on the best fields and with the best equipment.

We owe kids that. The Yankees owe them. Major League Baseball owes them. New York City owes them. This country owes them.

And lots of kids are owed, which is why these baseball academies should be in every Major League neighborhood and every Minor League neighborhood, too. There are academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and they should also be in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Columbia, Brazil and every other country in Latin America. There should be baseball academies all over Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia.

And we should start building them today.

Then, maybe someday, kids in the Bronx can dig for third and slide in a cloud of dust.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Parking Lot 15

It’s the bottom of the fourth inning on a cold afternoon in parking lot 15 at the corner River Avenue and East 165th Street. A drive to left center splits the outfielders. Standup double. There is nothing but standup doubles on this field because, well, it’s not a field. It’s a parking lot that’s filled with BMWs and SUVs on game days, but it’s the only place for the kids to play today.

It’s freezing and kids are playing baseball in the Bronx.

In a parking lot.

Macombs Dam Park – the home of the new Yankee Stadium – is a construction site and the baseball field across from the current Yankee Stadium has fencing up so the neighborhood kids won’t trample the grass.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t kill baseball. Thanks to kids who turn a parking lot into a field and the pair that’s using the handball court for a batting cage. Baseball is alive in the Bronx.

Imagine what a little help could do.

"We intend to invest serious man hours and money to make this work," Yankees’ President Randy Levine says. "There is a tremendous opportunity to grow the game off the field, as well as on the field."

He is, of course, speaking of the potential partnership between the Yankees and the Chinese Baseball Association that would send coaches, scouts, player development and training personnel to China in an effort that could lead to a Yankees’ baseball academy there.

"Anything we can do to provide the necessary tools and resources in an effort to speed up that process, it would be a benefit to us and to everybody in our industry," General Manager Brian Cashman says. "It’s exciting. There’s talent all over the world. It’s finding ways to access it. The next wave is clearly coming from China."

And parking lot 15?

-Information from The Associated Press was used in this post.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

That Smell

New York City awoke to the dead-of-winter. It’s that time before Spring Training when baseball is getting just close enough to smell. It smells like the freshly-oiled glove you slept with as a kid. Big game tomorrow.

But Opening Day isn’t tomorrow and you need to focus or you will loose your edge on the streets of New York where people only care about three sports: Baseball, Baseball and Baseball.

The coffee-cart guy scolds the man in front of me, “Of course Humberto Sanchez is on the 40-man roster, what planet do you live on?”


This is where baseball lives. Just because you can barely smell it, doesn’t mean you can be lazy. There are rosters to study, scouting reports to read and Willie Randolph is on the back page: New contract, good for him.

And the Yankees are going to China. Well, some executives are going to China for a visit that could eventually lead to a Yankees’ baseball academy there. New baseball academy, good for them.

How’s the Bronx baseball academy coming along?

“What Bronx baseball academy?” the coffee-cart guy snaps.


It’s cold today, but baseball is coming. I can smell it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Soul Of A Yankee Fan

Ryan Leli gave me the laugh I needed this morning.

Leli is the Mets fan that forged a press pass to get into the visiting clubhouse at Shea Stadium last season. The 18-year-old kid wanted to interview Mike Piazza and have a photo taken, but he was ejected from the clubhouse and then arrested a week later when he tried to return for a game against the Rockies.

He recently pleaded to second-degree criminal impersonation, was ordered to pay a fine and has to stay away from Mets home games, KeySpan Park in Brooklyn and the Mets’ spring training camp in Port St. Lucie for the next three years. According to The New York Times, Leli examined a reporter’s press pass in court and wrinkled his nose. “Not bad,” he said, “but mine was better.”

I’m not sure why Leli started following the Mets because he clearly has the soul of a Yankee fan. Smart, industrious and a knack for getting into trouble describes most of the people in my neighborhood and all the regulars in my section.

But even we have to wait outside the players’ gate.

You’ve got to admire the kid. But Mike Piazza? Leli needs to learn how to weigh risk versus reward. If you're going to take that kind of chance you've got to go for Derek Jeter.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Jose is taking a break from his winter job at a South Bronx pizza joint.

“It’s too cold,” he says. “Baseball season is better because I can stand outside and take care of business.”

Jose’s baseball business operates on a 50-foot stretch of River Avenue just outside Yankee Stadium.

“I’ve worked it for 10 years,” he says. “I had to fight to get it, but it’s mine.”

And he rules it with an iron fist.

“I ain’t gonna let anyone cut in,” Jose says. “There’s a bunch of us around and we stay out of each others way, most of the time.”

There is honor among scalpers.

“I’m a ticket broker,” he snaps. “I don’t make anyone do anything they don’t want. If you want tickets, I’ve got ‘em. If you don’t, keep walkin’.”

I thought of Jose when I heard that the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles were charging more for tickets when the Yankees come to town this year.

“Yeah,” he laughs, “that’s the way I do it, too. The Red Sox and Mets are my most expensive. You want ‘em, you gotta pay.”

The Rockies and Orioles are not the hottest tickets in the Bronx.

“I did okay the last time the Rockies were here because Bernie was going for his 2,000th hit,” he explains. “The Orioles used to be pretty good, but now they’re for the birds.”

Laughing at his own joke, Jose continues. “It doesn’t really matter who they are playing anymore. The Yankees are what people come to see.”

But life isn’t always perfect on River Avenue.

“The cops have grabbed me, maybe, five of six times,” he explains. “They always seem to get you early and your business is wrecked for that game. It sucks if it’s Red Sox, but what are you gonna do?”

What about Rockies CEO Charlie Monfort and Orioles Chairman of the Board and CEO Peter Angelos cutting in on his action?

“I don’t care what they do in Denver or Baltimore,” Jose says, “but they better stay off my corner.”

Monday, January 22, 2007

Field Of Legends

When you walk into the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, there is a huge room with life-sized bronze statues of some of baseball’s greatest players. They are at their positions on the field, but you are separated from them by chicken wire the same way they were separated from the Major Leagues.

The only way to step on the Field of Legends is to walk through the entire museum. That gives you plenty of time to make out your lineup card:

Leading off:
In centerfield, Cool Papa Bell from Starkville, Mississippi.
At second base, Ray Dandridge from Richmond, Virginia.
Playing first base, Buck Leonard from Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
Batting cleanup:
Catcher, Josh Gibson from Buena Vista, Georgia.
In rightfield, Oscar Charleston from Indianapolis, Indiana.
The designated hitter, Martin Dihigo from Matanzas, Cuba.
At third base, Judy Johnson from Snow Hill, Maryland.
Playing shortstop, Pop Lloyd from Palatka, Florida.
And rounding out the order:
In leftfield, Leon Day from Alexandria, Virginia.

And pitching, the greatest hurler ever, Satchel Paige from Mobile, Alabama.

Yeah, that’s a lineup.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Night At The Museum

Last Saturday night, Derek Jeter made his first trip to the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City.

He apologized for not making it sooner. “I’ve always intended to come,” Jeter said after receiving the Oscar Charleston Award for his MVP-type season. “I’m glad I finally made it. This is very impressive and it’s something everyone should take the opportunity to experience.”

I’ve always had this romantic vision of traveling through Negro League cities by bus. Starting here in New York – home of the New York Black Yankees, the New York Cubans, the Brooklyn Eagles, the Brooklyn Royal Giants, the New York Gorhams, the New York Harlem Stars, the New York Lincoln Giants and the Lincoln Stars – I would wind through cities like Newark, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago, Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Birmingham, St. Louis and then on to Kansas City, the home of the Monarchs.

The Kansas City Monarchs won eight Negro American League championships, four Negro National League titles and two Negro League World Series crowns. Their stars – Cool Papa Bell, Buck O'Neil, Jackie Robinson, Turkey Stearnes, Hilton Smith, Bullet Joe Rogan, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, Willard Brown and, of course, the great Satchel Paige – traveled mostly by bus. They crisscrossed the country playing baseball at the highest level.

The Negro Leagues Museum is a monument to greatness that wouldn’t have existed in a just society. That injustice left us with stories and legends of some of the finest baseball players ever.

Jeter is right. Everyone needs to experience that.

Friday, January 19, 2007

A Beautiful Mind

Mike Mussina was once asked, “What’s your favorite thing about pitching in New York?”

“Mariano Rivera,” he shot back.

My favorite Rivera moment happened in game seven of the 2001 World Series. As everyone knows, Rivera’s throwing error in the bottom of the ninth helped put the tying and winning runs on first and second with nobody out. Pinch hitter, Jay Bell dropped down a bunt and Rivera made a quick grab and forced the runner at third.

The rest of the game doesn’t matter. The moment he sprang off the mound and fired to third, will forever define Rivera in my mind. He was, as always, absolutely fearless. He uses all the right clichés after the game, but they don’t work on the field. You can’t just say it and know it; you must truly believe it. Rivera does. Mentally, he is the toughest player I have ever seen. Period.

Many call him the greatest closer ever, but he is arguably one of the greatest pitchers ever. Not for his riding four-seamer, darting two-seamer and exploding cutter, but for his mind.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Mariano Rivera is the last player in Major League baseball wearing 42. "The number was made famous by Jackie Robinson, and it's an honor to also wear it," Rivera always says.

Someday, 42 will be retired at Yankee Stadium. On a day for Rivera, I'm sure he will make a dedication to Robinson. No one has a kinder heart or a greater understanding.

"I am just a simple worker," Rivera likes to say. "I'm nothing without my teammates."

And they are nothing without you, 42.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Challenge

Yesterday, I ended with a quote from Jackie Robinson that was recalled by Hank Aaron. It doesn’t get better than that.

I once shook hands with Mickey Mantle and met Reggie Jackson on a sidewalk, but that quote is the closest I’ve come to greatness.

The greatness comes from Robinson’s humanity. "…I cannot as an individual rejoice in the good things I have been permitted to work for and learn while the humblest of my brothers is down in a deep hole hollering for help and not being heard."

The words have stayed with me and I believe they’re a challenge. Robinson would like that because he challenged everyone. He challenged his teammates. He challenged his competitors. He challenged his country. He challenged Hank Aaron. Most of all he challenged himself. It allowed him to achieve greatness and it made him old before his time. But the challenges kept coming. Only nine days before his death, Robinson challenged baseball to consider hiring one of the many qualified black managers.

He didn’t live to see it, but Robinson’s challenge helped make it happen. I’m sure he’d be proud of that. I’m just as sure he’d be disappointed with our society. The humblest of our brothers are still down in a deep hole hollering for help and not being heard.

That quote, which rings so true to Hank Aaron, is Jackie Robinson’s challenge to us all.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Hammer

It’s hard to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and not mention Hank Aaron. They covered a lot of the same ground. I’m sure Aaron would be embarrassed at being mentioned with one of the world’s great leaders, but his contributions should not be overlooked.

Aaron spoke out when it was hard, and in some cases dangerous, to do so. Most ballplayers are quiet on political and social issues, which is certainly understandable. There are enough challenges for a high-profile player without having to answer the types of questions even politicians try to avoid.

Players tend to take the lower-profile route of starting individual foundations. They do a lot of good, but have a hard time achieving the wide social change started by Jackie Robinson and continued by Aaron. This is not meant as a slight to all the other players who fought for justice from Rube Foster to Carlos Delgado. This is a celebration of Aaron, a man who has never liked to celebrate himself.

Even in his book, I Had A Hammer, Aaron defers to Robinson:

"I once read a quote from Jackie that speaks for me, too. He said, 'Life owes me nothing. Baseball owes me nothing. But I cannot as an individual rejoice in the good things I have been permitted to work for and learn while the humblest of my brothers is down in a deep hole hollering for help and not being heard.' All I can say to that is, Amen."

Yes, Amen.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Day

When the Cincinnati Reds hosted the Atlanta Braves on April 4, 1974, the game promised to be memorable. Cincinnati still held baseball’s traditional season opener and Hank Aaron was only one career home run behind Babe Ruth. It was also the sixth anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Aaron asked for a pregame tribute to the memory of Dr. King. His request for a moment of silence was denied. Aaron tied Ruth that afternoon with home run number 714.

Here, more than 30 years late, is a small tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Jeter Is Special

I won’t go into each of the 1,139,102 reasons why Derek Jeter is special. I’ll save them for the book.

I just want to repeat some comments he made last night at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, where Jeter was honored with the Oscar Charleston Award for his MVP-type season.

He took the opportunity to talk about his friend, Buck O’Neil.

"I was a rookie," Jeter recalled. "He went out of his way to introduce himself: 'You don't have to introduce yourself to me. You're Buck O'Neil.' I told him. He always treated me great.

"I'm going to remember him, because I met him on a personal level. But I think anytime you say something about a player, it's going to open people's eyes and they're going to want to learn more about him. That's the biggest tribute you can give him."

Jeter called O’Neil’s rejection for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame an injustice.

Standing up for a friend and trying to right an injustice:
Reason 1,139,103.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Hometown Heroes

I love hometowns, especially the hometowns of baseball players. Hank Aaron is from Mobile, Alabama, Mickey Mantle grew up in Commerce, Oklahoma, Cool Papa Bell was born in Starkville, Mississippi and Roberto Clemente came from Carolina, Puerto Rico. They are all places I have never been, but can see clearly in my mind.

I like running lineups through my head:

Leading off:
Number 18, Johnny Damon from Fort Riley, Kansas. Centerfield.
Number 2, Derek Jeter from Pequannock, New Jersey. Shortstop.
Number 53, Bobby Abreu from Aragua, Venezuela. Rightfield.
Batting cleanup:
Number 13, Alex Rodriguez from New York, New York. Third base.
Number 25, Jason Giambi from West Covina, California. Designated hitter.
Number 55, Hideki Matsui from Kanazawa, Japan. Leftfield.
Number 20, Jorge Posada from Santurce, Puerto Rico. Catcher.
Number 22, Robinson Cano from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. Second base.
And rounding out the order:
Number 12, Andy Phillips from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. First base.

Today’s starting pitcher, warming up in the bullpen:
Number 40, Chien-Ming Wang from Tainan, Taiwan.

Of, course, there is:
Andy Pettitte from Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Mike Mussina from Williamsport, Pennsylvania; Kei Igawa from Oarai, Japan; Melky Cabrera from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Doug Mientkiewicz from Toledo, Ohio; Brian Bruney from Astoria, Oregon; Mike Myers from Arlington Heights, Illinois; Scott Proctor from Stuart, Florida; Carl Pavano from New Britain, Connecticut; Will Nieves from San Juan, Puerto Rico; Kyle Farnsworth from Wichita, Kansas; Luis Vizcaino from Bani, Dominican Republic; Chris Britton from Hollywood, Florida; Josh Phelps from Anchorage, Alaska; Jeff Karstens from San Diego, California; Darrell Rasner from Carson City, Nevada; Humberto Sanchez from the Bronx, New York; Miguel Cairo from Anaco, Venezuela.

You can’t forget: Bernie Williams from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

And, finally, Mariano Rivera, from Panama City, Panama.

Yeah, I can see them all…

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Special Place

It was nice for Jeff Nelson to finish his career as a Yankee. The team signed him to a minor-league contract before he officially retired today.

It was also nice of Nelson to say, "I'd like to thank George Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, Joe Torre and the entire Yankees' family for allowing me to retire as a New York Yankee. I enjoyed a fulfilling 15-year Major League career, and each season brought experiences and friends that I will cherish forever. But being able to be a part of four World Championship teams with the Yankees, while playing in a place like Yankee Stadium in front of the greatest fans in the world – that time will always hold a special place in my heart."

Mine, too.

Good and Very Bad

There was some good this week:
The Yankees held media events to officially announce the additions of Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa. Brian Cashman continued to add young pitchers when the Randy Johnson trade was finalized. Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

There was also some very bad:
Bobby Murcer learned that a brain tumor removed last month was malignant. I can’t find the right words to properly express my support for a truly kind and honest man so I will defer to George Steinbrenner, who said it perfectly. "Bobby Murcer represents the spirit of the Yankees... He has true grit, is a fighter and our entire Yankee organization offers our prayers to him and his family for a big win in this battle."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Art And Science

If you don’t have a copy of Tony Gwynn’s book, The Art of Hitting, turn off your computer and get one. It is the perfect complement to Ted Williams’ The Science of Hitting. Gwynn wore out a copy of The Science as a young hitter learning his trade. Williams wrote the Foreword to The Art.

Anyone, who ever tried to hit a baseball probably owns both. My copy of The Science has underlined sections and notes in the margins. It is also covered with dirt, pine tar and tobacco juice from spending years in a bag with my catcher’s equipment.

Gwynn’s book came out in 1998, long after my high-school baseball career ended. I still read it cover-to-cover. It’s not often you get the chance to learn from a master craftsman.

One of the greatest conversations on the art and science of hitting included Gwynn and Williams (hosted by Bob Costas). They talked about the hit and run and driving in a run from third with less than two outs. Williams told Gwynn how pitchers tried to pitch him and how to handle the ball inside. It was incredible stuff.

A conversation I’d love to hear is between Gwynn and El Duque. The smartest hitter and the smartest pitcher. Bring plenty of tape.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Thank You

Tony Gwynn starts his book, The Art of Hitting, with a quote.

“I don’t like to compare myself to hitters of the past because people always start talking about eras –‘Gwynn’s got to face four different pitchers in a game’ – all that stuff. Forget all that. It’s still the game of baseball. When I’m dead and gone, all that will be left is the numbers They won’t remember how much heart a person had, or how consistent he was, they’ll just look at the numbers. And the numbers will tell them that I won eight batting titles; that I tied Honus Wagner for winning the most The numbers will tell them that Wagner was a .345 lifetime hitter, and that I am a .340 (he finished at .338) lifetime hitter. So who was better? Honus Wagner. That’s how it will be judged.”

If the voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America had judged by the numbers: Gwynn, Cal Ripken and Mark McGwire would be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Only Gwynn and Ripken made it. “I thought all three of us had a chance to get in,” Gwynn said yesterday.

“The fact that Mark didn’t get in, I think it’s more of people making a statement about the Congressional hearings than it is what he was able to do on the baseball field,” Gwynn continued. “I don’t mind saying I think he’s a Hall of Famer. I do.”

Gwynn has 3,141 hits, won eight batting titles and hit .338 over 20 years. On the day he was honored with election to the Hall of Fame, he stood up for another person. He said McGwire “dominated an era.” Of the speculation that the era included some players who used performance-enhancing drugs, Gwynn said “All you all knew. We knew. Players knew. Owners knew. Everybody knew. And we didn’t say anything about it.”

Yesterday, Gwynn said something. He spoke for a man who couldn’t speak for himself.

Thank you, Tony Gwynn, Hall of Famer.


There are so many reasons why the exclusion of Mark McGwire from this year’s National Baseball Hall of Fame class is an injustice, but I’m sure every voting member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America did their best. Everyone does their best, right?

McGwire’s best allowed him to play baseball at the highest level, to be a son, a husband, a father, a teammate and a caring person. It allowed him to do a lot of good for a lot of people. From helping young ballplayers with their swings to his tireless effort in helping abused children through the Mark McGwire Foundation, he has been nothing but an exemplary human being.

We can all say that, right?

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Hall Of Famer

Few handled injustice better than Hall of Famer Buck Leonard. The Homestead Grays’ first baseman was one of the greatest players in baseball, but was never allowed to play in the Major Leagues.

Leonard was a thoughtful, modest person, who celebrated his years in the Negro Leagues rather than becoming embittered. His words show what it means to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"I was in Cooperstown the day Satchel Paige was inducted (1971), and I stayed awake almost all that night thinking about it. It's something you never had any dream you'd ever see. Like men walking on the moon. I always wanted to go up there to Cooperstown. You felt like you had a reason, because it's the home of baseball, but you didn't have a special reason. We never thought we'd get in the Hall of Fame. We thought the way we were playing was the way it was going to continue. I never had any dream it would come. But that night I felt like I was part of it at last."

On August 7, 1972, Leonard joined Paige in the Hall of Fame:

"Sometimes we baseball players think our greatest thrill comes from something we do on the baseball field. But my greatest thrill did not come from a homerun that I hit nor a catch that I made or stealing a base. I ought not to have said that, maybe. But anyway, my greatest thrill came from what somebody did for me. And that was to select me for the Baseball Hall of Fame."

I’m sure the 2007 inductees will be proud to join him.

Monday, January 8, 2007


After following the story about the bonuses received by Wall Street executives like Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and John J. Mack of Morgan Stanley, I have concluded that Alexander E. Rodriguez of the New York Yankees is woefully underpaid.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Let’s Play Two Or Three

Saturday makes me feel young. Sometimes, when the Yankees are home and I get to the Stadium early enough to have coffee over batting practice, the world seems almost perfect. Like when I was a kid and every day was Saturday.

I was lucky enough to grow up across the street from a schoolyard that had four baseball fields. During the summer there were eight teams and we played one game in the morning, ate a free lunch in the school cafeteria and played another game in the afternoon. There were always enough guys to make two teams and play a third game before dark.

Today, should be that kind of day in New York. It’s over 60 degrees and I should be at the Stadium. On the walk home I should be able to stop in the park and watch a neighborhood game. The type of game that meant so much when I was 10-years-old.

They are actually playing that game in Washington Heights at Highbridge Park.

Gotta go...

Friday, January 5, 2007

The Rocket

There is a lot to like about a trade that brings the Yankees: even more young pitchers in Ross Ohlendorf and Steven Jackson, a solid Major League reliever in Luis Vizcaino, and a young shortstop in Alberto Gonzalez. The most intriguing part of the deal is that it could lead to acquiring the greatest pitcher of his generation, and maybe the greatest pitcher of any generation in Roger Clemens.

I don’t know where Clemens pitches or even if he pitches this year. I do know that if he wants to pitch, I want him on my team. I don’t care if he is 44, 54 or 64. If he agrees to come, he will do the job. On the mound there is no give, no quit and no fear in that man. Yeah, I want him back on my team.

I was hanging around the player’s gate after Clemens won his last regular-season game in 2003. He came over and signed some autographs and I remember thinking, “This is as close as I’ll ever get to greatness.”

Now, maybe, I’ll get another chance.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

My Season In Fantasy Baseball

I was pulled into the world of make-believe baseball a few years ago. I had always been tempted because the Fantasy Baseball magazines are the first to hit the newsstands in January. I’m a sucker for anything with a baseball player and would probably even buy a golf magazine if it had a picture of Derek Jeter.

When I could resist no more, I bought all the Fantasy magazines and guides. I joined a league, studied the rules, prepared for the draft and locked myself in an epic struggle with other pretend GMs. I was very confident in my team. I thought I had the best ballplayers, but still finished seventh in a 12-team league.

The interesting thing was, I did have the best ballplayers. I had a strong rotation, a great bullpen and an offense that had all the tools. The problem was, they didn’t necessarily have the tools and the numbers to win in Fantasy Baseball.

Doug Mientkiewicz won’t be on many Fantasy teams this year, but I do think he can work nicely in the Yankees’ first-base equation. He is a tough ballplayer and, although numbers are very important in player evaluation, the games are still won on the field and in the hearts and minds of those who play.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Hall of Fame Ballot Blog (Condensed Edition)

A Hall of Fame pre-election story is the right of every baseball writer, right? Each member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) – as well as every Blogger on the planet – is guaranteed one day each year when they can bang out a story stating what everyone that has been paying attention already knows.

I am not a member of the BBWAA or even a writer for that matter, but I can look at this year’s ballot and pick out the Hall of Famers: Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr., Mark McGwire, Rich Gossage, Jack Morris, Andre Dawson and Jim Rice.

If you ask why? You haven’t been paying attention.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

One Team. One Mission.

Before Opening Day 2006 – which, for some reason, was played at night in Oakland – the Yankees were given T-shirts that read: “One Team. One Mission.” on the back. The front had the NY logo superimposed over the number 27.

The only positive of defeat is that the shirt still works. The team didn’t issue the one I’m wearing. It was bought off a table on River Avenue. The words and design are slightly different, but the message is clear: One Team. One Mission. That is the mantra of everyone in baseball. It is what bonds us with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and every baseball nut in the upper deck that also feels like part of the team.

It is why we invest in season tickets instead of our 401K, why we save vacation time for Opening Day and weekday afternoon games, why we get to work an hour early so we can leave in time to get our scorecard filled out before the first pitch. Most of all, it’s why nothing else matters for nine innings.

One Team. One Mission. Forever.