Thursday, January 31, 2008

Above Freezing

Chambers Street smelled of fresh coffee and cinnamon donuts and diesel exhaust as Eduardo tried to keep his fruit warm this morning.

“The grapes will turn to mush if they freeze,” he explained. “And nobody wants brown bananas.”

The promise of a warmer afternoon was a long way off as Eduardo was setting up his produce cart before dawn.

“The trick is to survive until the sun hits,” he said. “As long as it’s clear and not too far below freezing you can make it through the day with a little luck.”

A large tarp helps, too.

“That’s the most important thing,” Eduardo said. “I spread the plastic over everything and then crawl under a corner with a little flashlight to read the newspapers.

“They aren’t too interesting because there isn’t much baseball news these days,” he continued. “I probably wouldn’t even bother if they didn’t help keep me warm later.”

A few fat tabloids between his feet and the cold cement make all the difference once the customers start coming.

“That’s why I always grab the free papers,” Eduardo said. “They make good insulation on days like this.”

There are a lot more of these days between him and spring.

“People talk about pitchers and catchers reporting to Tampa,” Eduardo said. “That’s fine, but I’m in New York so it doesn’t really help me.

“I’m looking forward to Opening Day at Yankee Stadium,” he continued. “That’s when things will get better around here. There will be more to read in the newspapers and I won’t have to worry as much about my fruit.”

Eduardo cracked a smile.

“At least I hope it’s above freezing that day.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Best

A gray rain swept up the street in gusts and forced the guys to huddle against Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning.

“Rain is the worst,” muttered Javier from Walton Avenue.

“Didn’t you say that cold was the worst just a few days ago?” asked Jon from Highbridge.

“Whatever you’re standing in is the worst,” shot Javier. “I’m standing in a puddle right now.”

Everyone laughed.

“Puddles don’t matter,” Jon fired. “We’ve got a very good baseball team getting ready for Spring Training. That’s what matters.”

Everyone nodded.

Javier raised his hands.

“You win.”

“We all win with the kids,” Jon said. “Hughes and Joba and Kennedy are like our own children. We couldn’t wait for them to get here and then we got to see them take their first steps in the big leagues. Now we’ll really get to watch them grow.”

The rain could not dampen that promise.

“This weather might be the worst,” Javier said, “but watching the kids play ball is the best.”


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Fastest Yankee

Min Jae Kim is the fastest delivery rider at the Kar Chinese Restaurant on Nassau Street.

That used to bother some of the other riders. One old guy, who now works at a place several blocks to the east, once yelled:

“You’re not even Chinese!”

“I think there was more to it,” Kim explains, “but I’m not fluent.

“I was the first Korean to work here so they weren’t sure about me,” Kim continues. “It took some time, but now we are great friends.”

Hours spent huddled on a cold sidewalk in Manhattan will break through any barriers.

“We’re all just workers,” Kim says. “They thought I was trying to show them up by being fast on a bicycle, but I’m just trying to do a good job.”

Some gifts helped to completely win over the others.

“I went to Yankee Stadium,” Kim explains. “They were giving away hats and I was able to pick up enough for everyone.

“That really made me one of the guys,” Kim continues. “We all wear Yankee hats so that makes us teammates.”

But they are still competitors.

“Yeah,” Kim says. “They would all love to beat me, but they can’t. I make the deliveries north of Chambers Street because nobody is faster.”

The other riders nod, but Zhe Huang issues a warning:

“You may be the fastest, but I’m getting faster so you’d better watch out.”

The others laugh and howl.

Kim winks and drops a challenge:

“To Fulton Street and back.”

They both turn their hats backwards.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Pitching In

Johnny Damon threw some light on the wars that no one seems to notice anymore.

He received the Joan Payson Award for community service in honor of his work for the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides assistance to soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m not that emotional of a person,” Damon said after Tony Odierno, an Iraq veteran who lost his arm, presented him with the award at last night’s New York Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner. “But for the freedom that we have, we all should pay more attention to people who go out there and fight for it.

“This was something that really needed to be addressed,” Damon continued. “I’m going to keep spreading the word. We’re going to make sure these guys come home and live normal lives and feel like they’re a part of our country still.”

Everyone should appreciate what Damon is doing. It’s what the rest of this country should have been doing all along.

But too many people seem more concerned about tax cuts for the rich than the poorly equipped soldiers we send to fight and the substandard services we provide when they come home.

And no one outside their neighborhoods seems to care that nearly 100 kids from this city have already died in these wars that don’t look like they’ll ever end.

Isaac Cortes, who was killed by a roadside bomb in December, is one of those kids from the Bronx. He used to work at Yankee Stadium, but the pay wasn’t great and baseball season doesn’t last forever so he joined the army because there are no other good jobs around here.

Cortes’s grandmother said he enlisted because he wanted a better life. He never got that chance, but maybe others will if everyone starts pitching in like Johnny Damon.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Same View

Everyone goes looking for a different view once in awhile.

You walk streets that you don’t usually walk and ride trains that you don’t usually ride and get coffee at places that you don’t usually hang.

Mostly you just watch people playing ball in parks and parking lots and even in the streets.

Then you see two kids on the A train from Harlem. One is Derek Jeter and the other is Alex Rodriguez. They race to the end of the car and one slides into home with the winning run.

“Jeter always scores,” he says.

“Because A-Rod always drives him in,” says the other.

Then you grab a counter seat and order coffee and a guy yells over your shoulder.

“Two cheese dogs and an order of cheese fries.”

Then he whispers to the waitress.

“There are only 18 days until pitchers and catchers report.”

The view is always the same around here and that’s what you were looking for all along.

Eighteen days.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

On The Move

Moussa is always searching for the busiest place in the city. He needs to be just up the street or around the corner from there.

“You don’t want to draw too much attention,” he explains. “That brings the cops and then you’re out of business.”

Moussa’s business is handbags mostly, but he sells wallets, too. He moves everything on a small cart in a taped-up cardboard box. When a good spot is located he scoops up bundles of bags and quickly arranges them on the sidewalk over old bed sheets.

People flock like pigeons to a dropped hot dog roll if he’s chosen wisely.

“Times Square is the best place,” Moussa says. “But it’s also the most dangerous because there are cops everywhere.”

Moussa always worries about the cops because they’ve taken all his merchandise before. But these days he’s more worried than usual because his friend Mamadou was recently arrested working on Broadway at 46th Street.

“I’m afraid because nobody’s seen him since,” Moussa says. “I wish there was safer work for me.”

Baseball season is better.

“I cleanup after games at Yankee Stadium,” Moussa says. “It’s hard, but not risky. I look forward to it because I know I’m going home to my wife and baby after work.”

He can’t be sure of that tonight.

“I’ve just got to pick the right spot,” Moussa reasons, “and be ready to pack up and move fast if I see the cops.”

Friday, January 25, 2008

No Rats

The Bronx never forgets.

Because of that – and a few other things – the guys around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart weren’t ratting out Chuck Knoblauch this morning.

United States Marshals are trying to track down Knoblauch so they can serve him with a subpoena to appear at a deposition for The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“The Feds aren’t gonna find anything if they start poking around here,” says Javier from Walton Avenue. “I’m not saying that we know anything. But they wouldn’t get it out of us even if we did.”

Baseball loyalty is strong in this neighborhood and Knoblauch hit leadoff on four American League Pennant winners and three World Series Championship teams.

“Everyone remembers what Chuck did,” Javier says. “He played his heart out for us just like they all do. Maybe he’s not perfect, but he’s a Yankee and that means something around here.

“He just wants to be left alone,” Javier continues. “You can’t make a guy talk if he doesn’t want to. I’m sure he has his reasons for trying to avoid this mess and I’ll bet they’re a whole lot more honorable than anything on the other side.

“They may catch Chuck one of these days,” Javier says with a shrug, “but you can be sure that the rat won’t come from the Bronx.”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tough All Over

Shopping can be tough at the Yankee Deli-Grocery.

This Walton Avenue store has some of everything and not enough of anything. That makes it just like the rest of the Bronx. You could survive if it was the only place willing to extend credit, but survive is a broad term.

It’s really just a large room chopped into narrow passages that are stacked to the ceiling with canned soups, fruits, vegetables, sauces, cereals and peanut butter. There is bread, milk, juice, candy and tobacco, too. Up front are newspapers, wine, beer, soda and a counter where they make fresh sandwiches if you ask nicely.

There is also a rack near the door with underwear – for men and women – and pantyhose in case of a run or if someone is planning a bank heist.

But no one would steal from this place because that would ruin your credit and leave you no place to get a baloney sandwich with mustard.

“Lots of mustard,” Javier tells the guy. “I like the brown spicy kind.”

He glances around the store.

“I’ll be right back,” Javier says. “I need to pick up a few things.”

He turns sideways, sucks in his gut and moves between the shelves where he grabs a bottle of hot sauce, a jar of peppers, a can of beans and a bag of potato chips.

Dumping everything on the counter he says, “Put it on my tab.”

The blank stare forces him to his wallet.

“Man,” Javier says. “Things are tough all over.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Crime To Be Poor

Just about everything is illegal these days.

Fat Paulie – who works at a building on Gerard Avenue – was on the 2 train this morning telling how the system took down his friend Carl.

Carl is a South Bronx guy who gets by on odd jobs that he usually picks up because he happens to have an old delivery van. The van came to him through a roommate who couldn’t make rent one month because he had to go away for three to five years.

“That van is the only thing Carl ever owned,” Fat Paulie explained. “And it’s the only way he ever made a living.”

But Carl lost the van and his living and was fined because of Local Law Number 50 of 2007 that was signed by Mayor Bloomberg in October. The law allows the city to seize vehicles and write tickets for up to $5,000 for “the unlawful removal of recyclables.”

Carl’s crime was picking up old bed frames and pipes that were dragged to the curb with the trash. He was planning to haul it to a scrap yard in Queens to hustle up extra money for his bleacher seats at Yankee Stadium.

“Carl borrowed some money to pay his ticket bill (which was due on January 11),” Fat Paulie said. “He was just trying to get even.”

But he got busted by undercover Sanitation Police Officers.

“It was right in front of my building,” Fat Paulie said. “I told the cops that it was okay for him to take the stuff, but they said it was some sort of crackdown.”

Beautiful. New York City is cracking down on people who pick up garbage.

“I didn’t understand at first,” Fat Paulie said. “But now I’ve got it figured out: They made it a crime to be poor since rich people don’t pick up trash.”

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

King For A Day

Earl’s feet were sore and swollen this morning, but it’s the best he’s felt in a long time.

“I almost forgot what it’s like to be alive,” he explains. “It’s the feeling I got as a kid when I’d play ball all day. And then I fought for civil rights and sometimes we would march all day. It wasn’t easy, but it felt good because we were going somewhere.”

Things changed.

“I just got old,” Earl says. “There’s a certain comfort that comes with age, but even an old man can’t get too comfortable.”

Dr. Martin Luther King gave him his edge back.

“I’ve been reading a lot of his speeches lately,” Earl says. “I always do in the weeks before the holiday, but this was different. Maybe it’s because I feel like his dream is slipping away.”

So he marched again.

“I felt like I needed to get out and talk to people,” Earl explains. “It hurts to think that we are losing ground because too many people gave up too much to let that happen. I met with different groups of kids and told them that they need to pick this up and carry on.

“There’s still so much injustice in the world,” Earl continues. “It’s not going away by itself and it’s not something you can fix with just one day a year.”

This could be a new beginning.

Earl smiles:

“I sure hope so.”

Monday, January 21, 2008

Picture That

Randall Washington has only two pictures in his apartment near Yankee Stadium. One is of his mother, who raised him in a tiny place on East 167th Street, and the other is of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who he never knew.

“I didn’t really understand what Dr. King meant when I was a kid,” Washington admits. “I remember my mother crying when he was killed and all the trouble in the streets, but I was too young to know what was lost.”

His mother never forgot.

“She always had a picture of him,” Washington says. “I took it when we cleaned out the place after she died.

“It used to hang over a table that had a little statue of Jesus on it,” he continues. “I thought he was some sort saint, but Momma told me he was just a man.”

A man who achieved great things.

“Absolutely,” Washington says. “But his greatness came from convincing others that they had worth and that regular people could find justice if they worked together.

“Too many people seem to have forgotten that,” he continues. “Now, regular people are fighting over silly things like immigration. I even hear words like ‘illegal’ attached to human beings.

“I think Dr. King would be very disappointed in what we’ve become,” Washington goes on. “He wanted everyone to understand that all people are equally important.”

Can a day honoring a man who stood for peace and justice begin to change things?

“I believe it can,” Washington says. “But the best way to honor Dr. King is to remember his lesson: That together we can achieve things that no single person ever could.”

Maybe that picture becomes a bit clearer today.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Beat The Cold

Gerald can’t get away from the cold. He tries to dodge the wind by pasting himself against a building at the corner of Fulton Street and Broadway. Not much help. Then he edges his way into the sun that’s starting to angle up the block. No difference.

“The sun can’t even beat this,” he finally admits. “I guess I’m not getting any help today.”

Not that he ever expects much. It’s still dark when Gerald leaves his Tremont Avenue apartment lugging an over-stuffed backpack and pulling a cart loaded with a folding table, half-a-dozen large boxes and a plastic tarp.

He takes the D train to West 4th Street and then grabs the A train to Fulton where he has set up every morning for more than 15 years.

“Business is best during the week,” he says. “But I wouldn’t make my rent if I wasn’t selling on the weekends, too.”

He sells mostly hats and scarves and gloves and sweatshirts these days, but T-shirts are his biggest seller in the summer.

“That’s what the tourists want,” Gerald explains. “They all need one that says something about September 11th and they want anything that says Yankees.”

Gerald had to set up down Fulton Street for the World Series parades that passed his corner, but business was still good.

“Those were the best days I’ve ever had,” he says with smile.

He was on his corner the morning of September 11, 2001.

“That was the worst day,” Gerald says. “I don’t like to talk about it, but people ask all the time because I’m right here.”

And he’ll be there today and tomorrow and everyday.

“Through rain and sleet and snow…”

Gerald pauses and then says:

“None of it would be that bad if I could just find a way to beat the cold.”

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Words To Live By

The Crown Diner – like most people in the Bronx – has more than one alias. Ask for the Crown Restaurant, Crown Donuts or just the Crown and you’ll end up in the same place.

Maybe that’s why everyone eventually finds a seat where it always smells like mop water and fresh donuts and perfectly-cooked bacon.

“I come for the cheese,” explained Javier from Walton Avenue. “It’s always a three-cheese omelet for breakfast and a grilled-cheese sandwich for lunch and a cheeseburger for dinner.”

“It’s too bad you can’t pitch like you can eat,” snapped Jon from Highbridge. “Then we would all be eating prime rib.”

The guys sitting at the counter laughed.

“You think that’s funny?” asked Javier. “None of you would have had the guts to step in against me. I threw high cheese back in the day.”

No one doubts anything said at the Crown and that’s taken very seriously.

“I’m sorry to get out of line,” said Jon. “I was just kidding.”

“That’s nothing to kid about,” said Javier. “Never question a man’s word or his fastball.”

Those are words to live by in any place.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Jason arrives at Juan Carlos’s coffee cart about the same time as everyone else, but he’s headed in a different direction.

He works third shift – 11:00 pm until 7:30 am – at a warehouse in Hunts Point and stops for coffee on his way home while the rest of the guys are getting ready for a new day.

“My life runs in reverse,” Jason explained. “It’s not perfect, but you take what you can get when you need a job.”

There are advantages.

“The guys are always a little envious in the morning,” Jason said. “I get to sleep while they have to work.

“They would feel differently if we ran into each other at the other end of the day,” he continued. “Riding the train to work with a bunch of people going out to eat or to meet friends is depressing. Sometimes I feel like it’s all passing me by.”

It’s better in the summer.

“The job doesn’t really cut into baseball,” Jason said. “I can punch in on time after most night games and weekends are no problem. The summer afternoon games during the week are my favorites. I buy a lemon ice when it’s hot and sit in the park afterwards.”

But this perk may be the best.

“We listen to the west-coast games at work,” Jason said. “The guys around the coffee cart in the morning don’t usually make it all the way through a late game so I get to fill them in.”

Jason smiled.

“Then I go home and sleep and they’re all jealous.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Problem

If anyone has a problem with Miguel Tejada then they have a problem with me, too.

That’s because I read Away Games by Marcos Breton and Jose Luis Villegas. It’s the story of Tejada’s journey from the Dominican Republic to the minors and on to big leagues.

The book is a glimpse at what Major League Baseball really does to kids in the Dominican. It shows 50 players at every academy fighting for a spot so that they can keep eating three-meals-a-day for the first time in their lives.

It details their struggle for only a handful of opportunities to come to the United States and start at the bottom of the minor leagues.

Baseball is the only chance most of these kids have at a decent life, and thousands of them are discarded by the system like yesterday’s trash.

Tejada didn’t overcome all that to be pushed around by privileged men who have never had to overcome anything.

So if Henry Waxman and Tom Davis have a problem with Miguel Tejada then they have a problem with me, too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Punch Line

Yesterday turned out to be one of those times when you just had to laugh.

Henry Waxman, the chairman of The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, announced that he and Tom Davis were sending Attorney General Michael Mukasey a five-page letter that said Miguel Tejada knowingly made false statements to the committee’s staff back in 2005.

Beautiful. Absolutely marvelous.

A couple of Congressmen dropping the hammer on a guy like Tejada is high comedy if you’re into that sick, perverted humor that seems to go over well in Washington.

Congress never gave Tejada a second thought when they were helping U.S. businesses profit from the poverty he grew up in. And it certainly didn’t bother Congress that Tejada and millions of other children around the world were and are malnourished because of the policies they set.

Major League Baseball teams don’t have any use for poverty stricken, malnourished kids that can’t hit bombs and throw bullets so Tejada did his best to survive in a system that was stacked against him.

Now Congressmen – the very people that stacked the system – are questioning Tejada’s honor and integrity?

If you didn’t laugh, you might go to Washington and punch Waxman and Davis right in the nose.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Worst Of It

Maybe this is the worst of it.

At least that’s what the guys huddled around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart were hoping for this morning.

“They say you have to hit the bottom before you can start back up again,” said Javier from Walton Avenue. “I hope this is the turning point because the winter is starting to drag me down.”

Everyone agreed.

“I was excited about the guys who are already throwing in Tampa,” admitted Jon from Highbridge. “But that only takes you so far.

“It should be time to play ball,” Jon continued, “but Spring Training and Opening Day still seem like they are a long way off.”

“Chin up,” ordered Javier. “This is the worst of it. It has to be…”

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Bright Side

It was a good day to look on the bright side.

“Yesterday was about as perfect as you can hope for in January,” said Javier from Walton Avenue. “I sat in the park and the sun was nice.”

The guys around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart were now fighting a damp chill that rolled in overnight.

“I heard that Phil Hughes is already throwing in Tampa,” said Javier as he dug for warmth in his pockets. “Just knowing that someone is throwing a baseball makes me feel better.”

Humberto Sanchez and Andrew Brackman are also in Tampa.

“Close your eyes and you can almost see them,” said Javier. “Three kids throwing baseballs the way none of us ever could.”

Everyone nodded.

Then Jon from Highbridge piped up.

“The grass is green and the sun is shining and the gloves are popping.”

And that’s as bright as it gets on a cold day in the Bronx.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Day Off

“I really need this day off,” says Jon from Highbridge.

“Lou Gehrig never needed a day off,” shoots Javier from Walton Avenue. “Neither did Cal Ripken or Miguel Tejada until he broke his wrist last year.”

“Well,” Jon says. “I’m not any of those guys.”

Javier looks down at his own cannonball gut.

“Neither of us are one of those guys,” Javier admits. “I think a day off sounds just fine.”


Saturday, January 12, 2008

News Day

Marco sat in the newsstand with his eyes closed and a hand holding his chin. He started work at 5:00 am with the same three hours of sleep he gets every night.

After closing around midnight he rides the D train to Tremont Avenue. Sometimes he stops for something to eat or maybe a drink, but it’s usually straight to bed because morning comes early around here.

“Saturdays are the worst,” Marco says. “It’s really two days in one. It starts slowly because there aren’t as many people going to work, but business is pretty steady through the morning.”

Then it begins again.

“Sunday sections start coming in the afternoon,” Marco says. “We usually have everything to assemble the Early Editions between 6:00 and 7:00 pm.

“People want them as soon as they’re ready,” he continues. “There’s always a line. I’m a little surprised by the rush for newspapers because there really isn’t anything good: bombings and dead soldiers and cops killing kids for nothing and homes getting foreclosed on and people losing their jobs.”

And there aren’t even box scores on these winter days.

“Baseball helps break up the bad stuff,” Marco says. “But the newspaper columnists’ all-consuming quest to smear players is getting kinda old.

“I’m glad Spring Training starts soon,” he continues. “Printing a newspaper without any baseball scores is a waste of time as far as I’m concerned, but I gotta sell all of them.”

And soon there will be a line for the Early Editions.

“I gotta get to work.”

Friday, January 11, 2008


Henry fingered the ballplayer coming out of Yankee Stadium.

“Hey, it’s Tim Raines Jr.!”

It was September of 2003 and Raines Jr. was just a few days into his second stint with the Baltimore Orioles. He came over to the crowd gathered around the players’ gate with a big smile and started signing scorecards and anything else shoved his way. But he kept looking for the person who called his name.

“Where’s my friend?” Raines Jr. asked.

When the crowd finally shuffled Henry close to the front he repeated:

“Hey, it’s Tim Raines Jr.!”

They shook hands and Henry melted to the back so others could get close.

Henry knows everyone and everyone knows him. He has greeted generations of baseball players in the Bronx.

“Did you see Tim Raines Jr.?” he asked no one in particular. “I know his dad, too.”

Tim Raines Sr. had a brilliant Major League career and should have been voted into the Hall of Fame earlier this week. Raines Jr. is still working to make a permanent mark in the big leagues.

They will always be the same to Henry.

“That was great,” Henry said to anyone who would listen. “He came over and shook my hand just like his dad.”

Complements don’t come any better than that.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Tim Raines was the best player on the Hall-of-Fame ballot this year, but that was lost on most of the voters.

I’ve heard people say it’s because Raines was lost for a good chunk of his career in the now defunct baseball outpost of Montreal. Others say it’s because he was overshadowed by the greatest leadoff hitter ever, Rickey Henderson. There are even some who suggest that he lost votes because of a stint in a drug rehab center back in 1982.

“It’s his past catching up with him,” said one voting member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Beautiful. It’s injustice that finally catches Raines.

On a baseball field nothing could catch him. He stole bases at will and stretched doubles into triples with such ease that you expected him to go all the way home.

Now he has to sit at home and wait for a call from the Hall of Fame. It might come next year or the year after that or maybe the year after that. But who really knows?

They say election to the Hall of Fame is the greatest honor for a ballplayer, but that’s not why Raines raced through 23 big-league seasons piling up stolen-base crowns and World Championships and All-Star appearances and a batting title. He played, like everyone does, for his teammates and for the fans.

Part of his legacy now has to wait on a far less honorable bunch.

Maybe that’s the price everyone has to pay these days. Rich Gossage had to wait nine years before claiming his rightful place in Cooperstown. Jim Rice and Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris and Mark McGwire are still waiting.

Injustice can catch anyone.

Even a guy as fast as Tim Raines.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Street Debate

Street debates are edgy and passionate and you have to carry all the statistics, “right up here,” said Javier tapping his head.

Javier stood on the Grand Concourse and fired the first shot:

“Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs. The Hall-of-Fame debate begins and ends right there.”

But this debate wasn’t decided in the Bronx.

“The decision makers play by their own rules,” said Javier. “They don’t care about the game.”

If the voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America judged his game then McGwire would have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame a year ago along with Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.

“I thought all three of us had a chance to get in,” Gwynn said last year. “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. I don’t mind saying I think he’s a Hall of Famer. I do.”

Not enough voters agreed and McGwire received less than 25 percent again this year. Gwynn said that McGwire, “dominated an era.” So what does it say about the Hall of Fame if he is not included?

“It ain’t worth much,” said Javier.

And this is only the beginning. In the coming years a group of self-appointed baseball experts will determine whether the Hall of Fame is relevant or not.

If you believe the bluster, the voters may exclude: Barry Bonds – the greatest offensive player ever – Roger Clemens – the greatest pitcher ever – Sammy Sosa – who is already one of only five players to hit more than 600 home runs – and Rafael Palmeiro – who is one of only four players with over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

If that happens, “The baseball writers should rip down all the plaques,” said Javier. “Maybe they can turn the Hall of Fame into a country club and put a golf course out back. It sure won’t be about baseball anymore.”

And we haven’t even talked about Pete Rose, who the commissioner continues to deny eligibility.

“Pete Rose has 4,256 hits,” Javier said. “The Hall-of-Fame debate begins and ends right there.”

But none of these debates will be won on the street.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

One Of Us

This morning was warm enough to remind the neighborhood of spring and the promise of better days. But the guys around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart couldn’t get past Roger Clemens.

“It hurt to watch that press conference yesterday,” said Javier from Walton Avenue. “Roger is frustrated because he doesn’t think people are giving him the benefit of the doubt. But that’s just because he’s listening to the wrong people.”

Everyone nodded.

“I hear nothing but support,” offered Jon from Highbridge. “At least, until I pick up a newspaper or turn on the television or radio.”

The view is different from this neighborhood.

“We know something about what he’s going through,” said Javier. “We’re close to the bottom and get stepped on all the time. They sell our parks and there’s no money for schools or libraries and the power goes out and the trains don’t run and the cops hassle us because they don’t like the way we look.”

Unfairness is a way of life around here and plenty of other places, too.

“If Roger wants to see his support he needs to come to the poor neighborhoods,” said Jon. “His last few weeks are what we live with every day.”

Clemens is closer to the South Bronx than he ever was on the mound at Yankee Stadium.

Javier shrugged.

“He’s really one of us now.”

Monday, January 7, 2008

An Ounce Of Decency

People were buzzing on the 2 train this morning about Roger Clemens’s interview on 60 Minutes.

Earl Combs from Harlem watched the interview, read the newspapers, listened to all the conversations and was ready to announce his decision.

“I absolutely believe Roger,” Combs said. “The only way a person could have watched last night and not believed him is if that’s what they wanted all along.”

Combs has seen this before.

“The whole sorry business makes me think about Josh Gibson,” he explained. “My father used to tell me about a home run Gibson hit clear out of Yankee Stadium and a million more stories about him being the best hitter ever.”

But others sometimes tell a different story.

“I’ve heard lots of picking at his career,” Combs said. “They say that the records aren’t accurate and that he did it in backwater ballparks and that it wasn’t against Major League pitchers…

“None of that was his fault,” Combs shot. “I know how upset I get so I can’t even imagine how frustrating it was for Gibson and every other Negro League player to listen to that kind of stuff and not have the chance to prove it wrong.”

Clemens is getting a small taste of that kind of frustration.

“It may not be exactly the same thing,” Combs said, “but it feels way too familiar. The world is demanding that Clemens prove something that can’t be proven. Why should Roger have to defend his career because other players may have used steroids and because someone said something about him?

“He’s the greatest pitcher ever,” Combs continued. “To question that without any proof is frustrating for anyone with an ounce of decency.”

Sunday, January 6, 2008

One Of These Days

John Rodriguez signed a minor-league contract with Tampa Bay on Friday.

It was reported on a single line under transactions in the sports section. But there was a time when people around here thought this kid would make headlines.

Rodriguez signed with the Yankees out of Louis D. Brandeis High School in Manhattan after an open tryout. Back then it looked like he might make it all the way to Yankee Stadium one day.

Sometimes a ballplayer stays on course, but usually they get stuck at the back of the bus as their life cuts through every minor-league town.

Rodriguez did time in Greensboro and Tampa and Norwich and Columbus before his Yankee dreams died. Then he moved on to Buffalo and Memphis before he got a chance with the St. Louis Cardinals.

He won the World Series with the Cardinals in 2006 and they even started calling him J-Rod. But nothing lasts in baseball and he was back in Memphis last year when a knee injury knocked him out in July.

He spent most of this winter with the Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan Winter League and now he’s with a new organization just a couple of weeks from his 30th birthday.

It starts with a minor-league contract that might take him all the way to the big leagues with Tampa Bay and maybe even to Yankee Stadium one of these days.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Next Stone

They keep throwing stones at Roger Clemens.

Journalists dared him to respond to the allegations made in George Mitchell’s report on steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

Clemens said they weren’t true in a statement and in a video that was posted on his Web site.

Next the media challenged Clemens to answer their questions.

He started with Mike Wallace on a 60 Minutes show that will be broadcast tomorrow and then he’ll hold an open press conference on Monday.

Now they are saying that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will get Clemens later this month.

The stones will keep flying no matter what Clemens says or where he says it.

The media decided to take him down the moment it leaked that his name was mentioned in Mitchell’s report. Why bother questioning and investigating anything or even reading the report? The truth never mattered and neither did the facts. Hitting the target was the only priority.

No one even considered that Clemens might be innocent.

And what if he is?

What if this public stoning of Roger Clemens – baseball’s greatest pitcher – is based on one person’s lie?

What if the man they are working so hard to convict is actually innocent?

Everyone should consider that before throwing the next stone.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Between The Lines

Everyone is trying to read between the lines these days.

They are already analyzing the excerpts of Roger Clemens’s interview on 60 Minutes that will be broadcast on Sunday. And for weeks they have been trying to decode statements and uncover the strategies of the attorneys for Clemens and his accuser, Brian McNamee.

But there’s no evidence between the lines so one man’s word against another is how this will be decided.

There are some who believe Clemens and some who don’t.

There’s not much chance of changing anyone’s opinion because most were formed long before McNamee named Clemens in George Mitchell’s report on steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

Those opinions may have grown from the erroneous story that the Los Angeles Times published last year or from the shattered bat he once threw in Mike Piazza’s direction or maybe it’s just because Clemens wore a baseball uniform that someone didn’t like.

That’s why justice never stands a chance in the court of public opinion.

But why should we expect justice in a country that can’t even provide people with decent housing or healthcare or nutrition or education? And fairness seems too much to ask from a society that brands human beings as illegal and allows racial profiling and torture and secret prisons and capital punishment.

Roger Clemens – the greatest pitcher of his generation and probably the greatest of any generation – is caught in the same type of unjust system that grinds up the poor every day.

That irony is about the only thing you can pull from between the lines.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Keeping Score

Javier from Walton Avenue was trying to keep score this morning.

“What’s everyone having?” he asked the group as they squeezed into a booth at the Crown Diner.


“We’re gonna have to order something,” he said. “Do you think they’re just giving this heat away?”

Everyone was still settling in after the bitter cold drove them from Juan Carlos’s coffee cart, but Jon from Highbridge studied the menu quickly and said:

“I might have eggs. Or maybe pancakes. And I also like the waffles.”

“It sounds like you’re debating the Johan Santana trade,” Javier said. “Do you want Santana or Phil Hughes and Melky? And what about Ian Kennedy?”

Everyone laughed.

“Okay,” Jon shot. “I’ll have the pancakes. And I’ll stick with Hughes and Melky and Kennedy, too.”

Score that.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sit And Take It

Juan Gonzalez had the details in the Daily News this morning:

The parking garages for the new Yankee Stadium – to be paid for with a $237 million tax-exempt bond offered by the city – won’t return the benefits originally promised to taxpayers.

The newspaper billed it as a “$tadium $ubsidy $hocker.” But no one should be shocked that a project worth millions to a handful of wealthy men will be subsidized by millions of New York’s poorest people.

Everyone in this neighborhood saw it coming in 2006 when they turned Macombs Dam Park – the home of the new Yankee Stadium – into a construction site that has since gobbled up the baseball fields and basketball courts across from the current Yankee Stadium, too.

We see it coming every day on trucks that belch diesel exhaust and we’ll see it summer after summer on streets clogged with BMWs and SUVs that push asthma rates higher and higher around here.

But this is no more shocking than the waste-treatment plant that always ends up in the South Bronx or the bus depot that always ends up in Harlem or the garbage-transfer station that ends up in every poor neighborhood.

This system is manipulated by wealthy bullies and the poor are easy to push around because they don’t have the resources to fight back.

The new Yankee Stadium didn’t have to hurt this neighborhood, but we knew it would. We knew a long time ago that the rich people would win and the rest of us would lose.

We now plan to do the only thing that poor people are allowed to do: sit and take it.

And we always knew that we wouldn’t be sitting in a park.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Silent City

There is nothing more peaceful than New York City just a few hours into a New Year.

The silence brings promise and it makes you believe that anything is possible. It lets you know that last year was good and this year will be even better. It assures you that baseball is just around the corner. And it guarantees that your team is always your team and that’s all that really matters.

The new baseball year opens in 90 days.

This neighborhood is ready to break the silence right now.