The Futility Infielder
A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe
I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.
Friday, May 31, 2002
In addition to winning 288 games in the big leagues, Tommy John
is remembered as the guinea pig for a medical procedure which changed the game of baseball. In 1974, the 31-year old John underwent an elbow reconstruction procedure which was so successful that it allowed him to pitch another 14 years in the bigs--and at a higher level than before. The procedure has become so popular
among pitchers that it's routinely referred to as "Tommy John Surgery".
It ought to be enough for TJ to get his ticket punched
to the Hall fo Fame, but John, who's now the pitching coach for the AA Harrisburg Senators (Expos affiliate) will have to settle for a new kind of immortality. The AAA Charlotte Knights are giving away Tommy John Bobble Arm dolls
to the first 1500 fans at a game tonight in Charlotte. According to the press release
"'The doll, sponsored by Perry and Barron Orthopedics, whose head and left arm bobble, is a one-of-a-kind unique promotion designed by the Knights. It is the first bobble head doll to have another appendage that moves. The doll was created in the likeness of former Charlotte Radio Color Commentator and major league pitcher TOMMY JOHN. The bobble doll is wearing a New York Yankees uniform and is complete with the red scar that has become synonymous with the now famous "Tommy John surgery."
I think I've found my next eBay purchase. To borrow a quote from Homer Simpson
: "I have two questions: how much, and give it to me." This will have to tide me over until the Yanks brass sees fit to honor Luis Sojo with a unique doll of his own: the Bobble Chin.
* * * * *
And on the subject of completely ridiculous products you didn't know you needed (or didn't even know existed), here's another one: ESPN Fantasy Fishing
. I shit you not. There are not one, not two, but three different types, two for bass and one for walleye. From the description for the Fishing Challenge - B.A.S.S. Tour:
"Create your own five-man dream team from among the universe of professional anglers on the world's largest bass fishing circuit — the CITGO BASSMASTER Tournament Trail — then track their collective performance over the course of an actual four-day tournament. Score big and you could win valuable outdoor prizes and ESPN Fantasy Uber points. But if your anglers get skunked, you risk shame and humiliation on the weigh-in stage… not to mention a litany of trash talk from other fantasy players. Play for one tournament, or for the whole season. You're free to alter your roster as the season progresses. That way, if your franchise angler suddenly can't buy a bite, you can unload him like last year's Stinkbait."
First question: WHY? Second question: does it come with a fantasy beer cooler you need to keep stocked? Fantasy beer drinking... now there's a game some folks I know would be into...
Thursday, May 30, 2002
If you're reading this, you've probably noticed the relative infrequency of my posts lately as well as my bitching about how little time I've had to write here. As you would suspect, these two situations are not unrelated. For the past three months or so I've been engrossed in various phases of my two biggest projects of the year, both for the same client, the World Almanac Group. I'm the Creative Director for the World Almanac for Kids 2003
book, just as I was last year, designing and producing the cover and overseeing the production of a 336-page full-color book. I'm also designing the cover of the 2003 World Almanac and Book of Facts 2003
This year, significant portions of both processes overlapped considerably (especially when accompanied by the various promotional items which go along with each book) somewhat to the detriment of my sanity. We're not here to get into that; there's a baseball angle too. But before I explain it, I'd better back up a bit.
For several years, the graphic design studio where I work (Bill SMITH STUDIO
) has produced a children's version of the World Almanac
annual reference book. It's gone from being a rather dry, pulpy knockoff of the adult book to a splashy, bouncy, colorful affair, and as it's done so it's increased it sales. In the three years I've been involved, the book's popularity (New York Times Top Ten Bestseller) and increased competition have allowed us to spend more money, particularly on the cover. For a guy like me, that's like handing over the keys to the candy store.
And it's a kid-in-a-candy-store mentality I've taken into those covers, with regards to color, content, and even dimension. We use a special six-color printing process which lets us produce a broader range of bright colors than normal CMYK (four-color) printing--those candy oranges and greens--and we emboss it for texture. In addition to a handful of pictures which sample the book's content, we also put a celebrity on the cover, and under my regime, the celebrities have been athletes, ones that we hope will appeal to kids. For the 2002 version
, it was Venus Williams, and this year, Sammy Sosa.
Our discussion about who to put on the cover started the process off last November. Before presenting to the client, I polled my friends with a few suggestions, offering up Derek Jeter as my top choice (wide appeal to both boys and girls in the 9-12 age range, I argued), but willing to mount a case for any one of a number of ballplayers. Other names came up as well, both in our poll and in discussion with the client--A-Rod, Ichiro, and Barry Bonds, most prominently, and while I could come up with pros for each one, I could recite the snippy cons as well.
In both contexts, when the name Sammy Sosa came up the room seemingly lit up. Bonds may have been breaking records left and right last year, but Sosa's four straight monster years and the emergence of his public persona in that time have given him a much broader appeal, particularly among kids. And while I can't speak for my clients, fresh in my mind was the post-September 11 Major League Baseball promo with Sosa carrying the small American Flag around the bases after a home run--a resonant image from a sensitive time (the actual occasion was Sosa's 59th homer
on Sept. 28, the first home game the Cubs played after the attack). I didn't want to refer specifically to September 11 (I already got my fill of that last time around
), but I felt that a ballplayer who did his share of reaching out in the wake of such traumatic events was the kind of symbol we wanted (in that respect, Jeter, Mike Piazza, or John Franco would have made fine choices as well). It helped that I had a life-long Chicago Cubs fan sitting across the table from me when the deal went down.
So here it is, the cover
of the 2003 World Almanac for Kids,
starring Sammy Sosa. I'm quite proud of it and I look forward to seeing the printed product (the final pages of the book went to press last week). Sosa isn't the only baseball player prominently featured in the book; the famous Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card
will be on the book's inside front cover and within one of the chapters, and pictures of players like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds are also featured. And as for Bonds, he'll just have to settle for being on the preliminary version of the adult 2003 cover. Who knows if some other slugger will earn his way on by summer's end?
That the Kids
book went off to press means that I can breathe a huge sigh of relief, because suddenly I should get a large part of my life back, including more time to spend on this site. I've actually spent a fair amount of time *trying* to write here over the last three months, but short attention spans, inability to take long lunch breaks, and a fear of Monitor Tan have held me back like a sore hammy. But the one-post-a-week season ends today (and I thank my readers for checking in more often than that even in the face of my infrequency). Starting now, I'm back in the saddle again.
Wednesday, May 29, 2002
You can practically set your watch by it: Yankee centerfielder Bernie Williams is a notoriously slow starter, but inevitably, he reels off a sorching month which brings his stats to the level of the guy in the catalog
. With 13 hits in his last five games (including Tuesday night's action), Williams has put himself well above the magic mark:
PA AVG HR RBI OBP SLG OPS
April 108 .236 1 7 .367 .392 659
May 122 .377 9 24 .459 .725 1174
on 4/15 62 .180 0 1 .349 .200 549
on 5/14 163 .275 4 14 .384 .406 790
Total 230 .313 10 31 .416 .513 928
Williams is very consistent in the way he starts slow and heats up. Here are his month by month breakdowns by batting average and OPS:
1999 2000 2001 3 year Career
APR .291/ 644 .292/ 928 .200/ 644 .270/ 694 .268/ 785
MAY .367/ 995 .283/ 888 .264/ 757 .308/ 890 .308/ 923
JUN .364/1109 .386/1155 .450/1330 .400/1199 .347/1052
2000 was a slight anomaly in that Williams charged out of the gate pretty quickly, but even then, he turned it up a notch during an unstoppable June, like he always seems to do. What's also interesting is how Williams seems to go from slapping the ball around like a light-hittting shortstop (note the low OPS even with the respectable batting averages) to murdering it like a cleanup hitter. Williams's low points aren't completely awful, because he does tend to draw his walks even when he's not hitting well--when he was hitting .180, his OBP was still a respectable .349.
I honestly have no idea how many players you could find who exhibit such a demonstrable pattern as Bernie, but I suspect few are as pronounced in their trends (though if we looked at all of Williams's month-by-month breakdowns, the trend disappears). His slow starts do have their explanations. Last year, the declining health and eventual death of his father hung over his head early in the season, and this year's turnaround was spurred by cortisone shots into his weak shoulders.
But for all of his streaky months and slow starts, the marvel of Williams is his year-to-year consistency, your classic steady-like-Eddie Murray
ballplayer putting up carbon copies of the same great season. Clearly, he seems well on his way to another one. And look, it's almost June.
* * * * *
Speaking of Williams, if you live in New York you've probably seen print ads of him endorsing LASIK eye surgery, the corneal procedure which enables one to shed corrective lenses. Top-flight athletes like Greg Maddux and Tiger Woods have undergone the surgery, as has Williams, and Jeff Bagwell, to name a few. Woods and Maddux have claimed that the surgery improved their already-great games, but then like Williams, how are you really going to tell?
The procedure isn't without its risk. In yesterday's New York Daily News, an article about professional golfer Scott Hoch
sounded the alarm. Hoch, who had the surgery in January 2001 and went on to have a career year, winning two tournaments and earning $2.8 million, told reporters that during a March tournament he looked down at the ball and saw what seemed like "a TV set with bad reception" in one eye. A second operation failed to correct a ghost-like double vision, and Hoch complains that resulting depth perception problems give him trouble chipping and putting. Ugh.
As somebody who suffers from some pretty lousy vision, I've thought about LASIK, and I always figured I'd get around to it in a few years when the procedure became even more reliable. But right now I'm not so sure I'd even consider it, and it will be interesting to see if other professional athletes who share Hoch's plight start to appear.
* * * * *
Postscript on Bernie: 2-for-5 with a game-tying 2-run single in the 9th inning. Dare I say en fuego?
Wednesday, May 22, 2002
In the most baffling trade of the season so far, if not the decade, the Oakland A's shipped out Jeremy Giambi to the Philadelphia Phillies for futilityman John Mabry. Predictably, the move has drawn the ire not just of A's fans, but of statheads sympathetic to the A's cause and cognizant of Little G's qualities as a player. No, he's not as good as his brother, but guys who post .390 OBPs with moderate power don't exactly grow on trees. Over on Baseball Primer
, the news spread like wildfire, generating over 270 posts in the first two and a half hours after the news broke.
This trade is so lopsided it wouldn't pass muster in a fantasy league (such as the ESPN one I belong to, where I just lost one of my more productive hitters, which probably explains why I'm so outraged). But Major League Baseball doesn't have a "challenge" button for trades. A's GM Billy Beane, who has made his name by fleecing less astute GMs (read: Allard Baird) out of quality players like Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon and--whaddaya know--Jeremy Giambi--and turning freely available talent into useful commodities, clearly got fleeced here. Mabry is a 31-year old futilityman
who in 10 years has a chance to be 41. Very little power, lousy on-base skills, and a lifetime 63.00 ERA--Wade Boggs he ain't. There's absolutely no upside to be had here. Mabry will help the A's most by keeping the bench planks from warping.
The A's have officially raised the White Flag, not only with this trade but also with their actions over the last couple of days. They demoted highly-touted rookie first baseman Carlos Pena (another Mendoza Line Driver, not coincidently) based on a 4-for-37 May performance, as well as second baseman Frank Menechino and reliever Jeff Tam. They're struggling, clearly, but even so, the team's in no worse a hole than they were at this point last season. Of course, without a Giambi or two to lead the turnaround, they're probably sunk. John Mabry ain't gonna lead no second-half wild-card charge.
Much has been made over in the Primer thread about Little G being busted for carrying a considerable amount of marijuana
back in December. Perhaps Beane thinks or knows that Giambi is about to have even further legal difficulties, or that he's done something else which crossed the line. But short of Phillies GM Ed Wade possessing photos of Beane in a compromising position (how does last place in the AL West sound?), this makes no damn sense whatsoever. I'm as stumped as everybody else.
Wednesday, May 15, 2002
The Rocky Mountain News ran a nice where-are-they-now
piece on former Colorado Rockies first baseman Jay Gainer on Monday. Gainer, as you may or may not have read elsewhere on this site
, homered on his first major league pitch in 1993. That was as good as it got for him in his six weeks in the bigs, but nine years later, Gainer's still in the game, and he's still got the bug. Having gone to Taiwan, Mexico, Italy and the independent Northern League to play professionally, the 35-year-old is headed back to the Allentown Ambassadors of the Northern League for another season as their DH. He's taking night college classes and volunteer-coaching high-school baseball as well. Good for him.
Reading up on Gainer, I decided that it was time to catch up with the various other Jays I wrote about over the winter. So here goes...
--Payback for scoring the winning run in Game Seven of the World Series? I don't have a voodoo doll, really. Bell has yet to play in the majors this season due to a torn calf muscle and a setback suffered five games into a AAA rehab assignment. The Snakes seem to be making do with Juinor Spivey (.326 AVG/.401 OBP/.515 SLG) at second base just fine. I've seen the wood in Bell's future, and it's pine.
--Retirement seems to be treating Buhner well. He hammed it up
as a part-time coach for for the Mariners this spring. On the second night of the regular season, the M's held an emotional night in his honor
. "Bone" has also been doing some work with the Mariners' broadcast team and figures to stay around the game in some capacity or another.
(.237/0 HR/8 RBI/.314 OBP/.342 SLG/646 OPS)--Back from a knee injury after missing all of 2001, Canizaro is more or less holding down second base for the Twins in unspectacular fashion while Luis Rivas is hurt. His stats aren't exactly lighting up the Metrodome, but the Twins remain in first place, so he can't be hurting them too badly.
(.281/9 HR/16 RBI/.349 OBP/.541 SLG/890 OPS)--The Orioles clearly have an emerging star here. Gibbons ranks sixth in the league in homers, his walk rate is improving, his strikeouts are down, and he hasn't embarassed himself in right field. A few more astute roster moves like the one which plucked him from Toronto might give the Orioles some hope at respectability. The Jays sure could sure use this Jay.
(.240/4 HR/12 RBI/.292 OBP/.397 SLG/689 OPS)--It's a crying shame that my namesake in closest proximity is one of the most useless ballplayers to be found anywhere. Since a solid rookie season, he's become only slightly less of a drag on the Met offense than having a second Rey Ordonez, but that's only part of the problem. The guy plays ball like his head is packed with nothing but sand. I don't think I've seen a player exhibit worse instincts and get by for so long. Payton's strike zone still stretches from the Hudson River to international waters, and I swear I've seen him swing at pitches that bounced. Earlier this season I watched a play where he took off from first base on a deep fly ball, assuming that it wouldn't be caught. Realizing that it was as he barrelled around second, he made a U-turn back to first without retouching second and was called out. Uh, you can't do that, fella.
Last week, when I went to a ballgame at Shea, I kept pretty quiet except when Payton came to bat. But I gave him a few "You suck!" catcalls and the like, trying to feel at home. Payton responded to my taunts by getting three of the Mets five hits, driving in their only run and stealing a base as well. I go to one more game at Shea this year, so if he's looking to me for good luck, well, good frickin' luck....Over the weekend, Payton was singled out by Mets GM Steve Phillips in a team meeting for thinking more of himself
than the team, so maybe he's not long for the Big Apple. I'm not sure this guy could make it as a fourth outfielder in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, or Tampa Bay, but I can't wait to find out.
- One of fifty or sixty pitchers Texas has stashed on the disabled list, Powell has yet to pitch this season due to a finger injury. He's supposed to begin a rehab assignment next week, and will be back in the bigs in June at the earliest.
(0-0, 6.75 ERA) After getting a non-roster invitation to spring training with the Yanks, he surpised the team with a strong spring and made the Opening Day roster thanks to Ramiro Mendoza's injury. But he pitched only twice before being sent down to Columbus, where he's been effective in relief. Given the fragility of the Yanks' pithcers of late, he may well be back in pinstripes before the season is over.
- Back in April, two writers for the Baltimore City Paper came up with the All-Time All-Useless Orioles team
(and people said *I* was wasting *my* time...). Tibbs was named to the starting rotation, in the company of Sid Fernandez, Rocky Coppinger, Doug Drabek, and Don Larsen. "... [T]hat 5-0 year was a statistical blip. Back on the mound in '90, he went 2-7 for the O's, with a 5.68 ERA--running his career mark in Baltimore to 11-22. It's tempting to say that Tibbs was never the same pitcher after he got rotator-cuff surgery. Actually, he was. Exactly the same." Ouch.
(0-0, 1.04 ERA) - Has pitched well but very sparingly (17.1 innings) for the Giants. Clearly, they are onto something.
Monday, May 13, 2002
Busy, Busy, Busy
The big project which has been keeping me from devoting very much time to this site is about two (grueling) weeks away from completion. More on that in the near future (there's a baseball angle there, naturally). In the meantime, I did manage to write up my first game of the season. It's here
Wednesday, May 08, 2002
Last night my friend and co-worker Lillie (and her husband) treated me (and my girlfriend) to Field Box seats at Shea Stadium for a Mets-Giants game. Thus I finally got to see Barry Bonds play in person. Bonds had a pretty quiet night, walking unintentionally on four straight pitches in the first, popping out to lead off the third, walking intentionally with men on second and third in the fourth. If he could have taken the Fifth in the sixth, we might all have been on a roll, but as it was, he flew out to leftfield instead. Reliever Kane Davis struck him out to end the eighth, one of four consecutive strikeouts Davis recorded (David Bell, Rich Aurilia, Bonds, and Jeff Kent, a pretty decent bunch) as the brightest spot for the Mets this night as they lost 5-1. Once again, I seem to be jinxing the home team.
Mo Vaughn had the other big Mets highlight, making a diving stop of a Tsuyoshi Shinjo smash in the fifth inning. I didn't know the big fella could move like that. But either Vaughn's in better shape than I thought or Barry Bonds is bigger than advertised; seeing the two of them standing side-by-side at relatively close range (as when Bonds walked) they looked alarmingly similar despite a listed difference of 40-50 lbs (Bonds is listed at 190 lbs on baseball-reference.com
, 228 on ESPN.com
; Vaughn is 230 on baseball-reference.com
, 275 on ESPN
Speaking of Vaughn, Nick and I spent the last couple of days laughing at his expense. The New York Times beat writer for the Mets, Rafael Hermoso, made a big issue of how Vaughn has discovered his new bats were heavier than their usual 36 ounces; apparently he switched from ash bats to maple, a denser wood. Hermoso, every bit the rocket scientist as the rusty slugger, broke the same startling revelation in three... diffferent... articles...
spread out over three days. What follows is our email exchange:
Jay: Man, it took Mo Vaughn a month to figure out his bats were too heavy, and since changing back he's gone an astounding 1-for-6? That guy's some kind of genius. When the Over/Under on his HR output gets down to 17, put me down for 2 Large on the Over, and throw in another dime for Sideshow Mel...
Nick: Funnier still is the fact that...
"Vaughn said he planned to weigh each of his bats this week to determine which ones were 36 ounces."
Which doesn't make much sense, considering....
"It included two dozen 36-ounce bats and four batting practice bats, which weighed 38 to 40 ounces and which Moyer said were labeled MV42BP."
"Vaughn's model, named the MV42 for his initials and uniform number, is a 36-inch, 36-ounce bat. Old Hickory gave it a special ebony finish."
Jay: Clearly he's got the whole department working on this one.
Nick: You'd think that at his age, he's want to avoid pulling a George Scott, and move to something lighter than a 36 oz bat.
Jay: I don't think he's gotten around to reading The Big Book of Big-Assed Sluggers, specifically the George Scott chapter about bat speed. Probably left it at the Foxy Lady a few years ago...
Now, I'm not a professional athlete. But I am a professional graphic designer, and I'm on an intimate basis with the tools of my trade: computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, etc. Having done this for more or less ten years, I'm fairly attuned to even the most minute variations in my equipment's performance. I can tell you which keys stick on which keyboard of the four computers I spend significant time at each day, when my mouse has a coat of gunk on the rollers, when two graphic items on a page are misaligned by one half a point (1/144th of an inch), and when our Fiery color printer is printing 5% too much magenta. Granted, I don't do all of this in front of 50,000 screaming fans a night, but it seems astounding to me that Mo Vaughn isn't as in tune with his instruments as I am with mine. Isn't that why they pay him the big bucks?
• • • • •
Caught a bit of the Yanks-Devil Rays game tonight. For the fourth time this season, Alfonso Soriano led off the game with a home run, putting him only 76 behind Rickey Henderson for his career. Right now Soriano is not only the Yanks most exciting player, but also their leader in batting average, home runs, runs, RBI, hits, doubles, total bases (about 50% more than his next closest teammate, Jason Giambi), slugging percentage, and OPS. He's at .349 AVG / 8 HR / 24 RBI and .377 OBP / .630 SLG / 1007 OPS. This just in: he's good. Yes, he's walked only 6 times, and that's up against 36 strikeouts, but if he's on pace to walk only 29 times, that also means he's on pace to hit 19 leadoff homers and 38 overall. You can go complain to the sabermetric police, but I'll take that ratio.
Taking a closer look at Soriano's splits
reveals some pretty amazing stuff (yes, these are only 20 AB samples in most cases, but so what):
AVG OBP SLG OPS
0-0 count: .600 / .600 / 1.100 / 1700 (connecting on the first pitch)
0-1 count: .400 / .400 / .750 / 1250 (wow!)
After 0-1: .256 / .274 / .476 / 750 (this is still pretty good)
1-0 count: .500 / .462 / 1.083 / 1545 (pow!)
After 1-0: .409 / .460 / .705 / 1165
Adding them up, if he's connecting on 0-0, 0-1, or 1-0, he's 26-for-52 with 6 doubles and 6 homers, giving him a line of .500/.491/.962 (higher AVG than OBP due to one sac). Anybody still thinking of messing with his approach right now is nuts, because whatever he's doing is clearly working. Wow.
• • • • •
As the Yanks were beating the hapless Rays (handing them their 13th straight loss), Roger Clemens earned his 285th win, passing Ferguson Jenkins on the all-time list and moving into a tie with the original switch-pitcher, Tony Mullane (see below). When Ken Singleton was talking about Mullane, I felt like he could have been reading off of this page; he mentioned that Mullane didn't wear a glove and talked about the American Association as a major league, and he also referred to Greg Harris and Cal McLish. Seems like I anticiapted a timely topic.
By the way, I cited Mullane with 284 wins via baseball-reference, but my MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia lists him at 285, as did the YES broadcast, and CNN/SI pegs him at 287. Weird. Regardless of how long the late Mullane is able to hang with Clemens, the Rocket will be passing a few more pretty good names over the next three wins: Robin Roberts (286), Bert Blyleven (287), and Tommy John (288). WIth his six Cy Youngs, Clemens has the hardware on those three, but I wouldn't object to any of them in my rotation.
Monday, May 06, 2002
You know something's been a long time a-coming when you have to summon up the glory days of Mike Jerzembeck
(lifetime ERA: 12.79) to date it. But this past week was the first since the dog days of the 1998 season--after the Yanks had already clinched the AL East--that I've been to Yankee Stadium twice in one week and watched the Yanks lose both games.
That's three full seasons (and change) of 10-15 games a year without having to endure a double dose of frustration. I know, I know, you're weeping for me, just like you did after Game Seven; it's so hard being a Yankee fan sometimes. But let's face it: none of us who pays hard-earned cash to go to a ballgame want to see our team lose in our presence; twice in one week is enough to start asking some hard questions. Hey, for $80 bucks in New York City, you can probably find torture that's a lot more fun.
On Wednesday, May 1
, in the company of a co-worker, my pal Nick, and my girlfriend Andra, I watched the Yanks lose to the A's, 4-1. Listless Mike Mussina gave up three early runs to the A's, including Jermaine Dye's first homer of the year. Meanwhile, Erik Hiljus and--yaaaaaawn--five other A's pitchers confounded the Yankee hitters, limiting them to five hits and one run while striking out eleven Yanks. Drag.
The following Saturday, May 4, out with my brother for our sixth annual Mariners-Yanks epic slugfest
(17 runs per game, averaging 3:52), I suffered through a much more torturous afternoon. The Yanks staked themselves to an early 5-0 lead on the strength of a three-run jack by Jorge Posada and a two-run shot by Alfonso Soriano. The Mariners chipped away one run at a time, launching four solo homers off of Orlando Hernandez during his sevn-inning stint. But it was the Yankee bullpen which really let things get out of hand.
Mike Stanton and Steve "Belly-Itcher" Karsay joined forces to allow the tying run in the eighth inning, thanks to Karsay's wild pitch during a long at bat by Jeff Cirillo. Mariano Rivera delivered the coup de grâce
. In a performance eerily reminiscent of Game Seven of last year's World Series, Rivera made two glaring mental mistakes which left him no margin for error, and a bloop single into centerfield destroyed an otherwise pleasant day.
With the game tied 5-5, Joe Torre elected not to open the ninth inning with Rivera on the mound. But when Karsay allowed a single to Desi Relaford, Torre changed his mind and summoned his closer. Mariner catcher Ben Davis then went right at Rivera's Achilles heel; he bunted. Mariano fielded the ball cleanly, but instead of throwing to first to get the easy out, he dubiously elected to try nabbing the speedy Relaford. His throw pulled Derek Jeter off the bag, and all runners were safe. I started to get a sick feeling in my stomach that had nothing to do with the hot dog and beer I'd consumed. Hadn't we seen this before?
Luis Ugueto followed Davis by bunting as well, down the third base line. Robin Ventura barehanded the ball and boldly fired to second to force Davis, with Relaford advancing to third and Ugueto safe at first. With one out now, the Yanks elected to intenionally walk Ichiro Suzuki, loading the bases for the hot Cirillo, who had homered earlier in the day as well as the night before. Cirillo broke the tie with a bloop single, keeping the bases loaded. Bad enough, but then came Ruben Sierra, the M's hottest hitter.
Swinging mightily but coming up nearly empty, Sierra topped a ball which sputtered down the third base line, when Rivera was hit with yet another brain cramp. The Yankee pitcher, who with every fielding attempt looks less like a star athlete and more like a deer caught in the headlights, pointed to Posada to field the bunt. Posada, dutifully covering home because the force play was on, pointed right back at Rivera. By the time this ugly exchange ended, Ugueto had slid past the befuddled battery and the bases were still loaded.
John Olerud then ended all suspense by singling in two more runs to make the score 9-5. At that point, I dropped my scorebook and threw my hands in the air in disgust. If I hadn't considered the five-year-old boy dressed head-to-toe in Yankee garb sitting next to me, I'd have made Redd Foxx blush with the blue streak I ached to curse (I'm not exactly kid-friendly in these moments). Instead I slammed my cap to the ground, picked it up, and beat a hasty retreat out of the Stadium.
These Yanks have disappointed me on occasion before, but they've never disgusted me the way they did on Saturday. Somebody better start drilling Rivera's fielding responsibilities into his thick head, or the whispers that the Yankee closer is still reeling from the World Series will become a roar.
As for Mike Jerzembeck, there's a story worth telling, and not just because he was Saturday's spelling bee question ("G-E-R...") on the Jumbotron. The 1998 season was the first in which my little group of friends got together on a partial season ticket package--15 games, two seats, split between five people. Lacking the foresight to see that the Yanks would tear up the AL, we spread our tickets out rather evenly, reserving some for late-season games with division rivals. When the Yanks clinched at an absurdly early date (September 9), we took it as one more mark of a great team, but some of the starch was taken out of the rest of our scheduled games. With no recourse to trade in the tickets, we soldiered onward.
September 13, 1998, like most weekend games at Yankee Stadium, came with a giveaway, in this case a useful one--a Yankees backpack, courstesy of Modell's Sporting Goods. Reasonable compensation for Nick and I having to watch a rather lackadaisical team lose to the Toronto Blue Jays on this afternoon, at least. Our seats were next to a pair of bearded gentlemen wearing yarmulkes--Orthodox Jews, by my measure. Sometime after the seventh-inning stretch, the two men took leave of their seats, gathering all of their belongings except for their backpacks and disappearing, seemingly for the afternoon. About a half-hour later, a sunburned, middle-aged man with a moustache inquired about the ownership of said backpacks.
"They're not ours," I told the guy, eying my own. "I think they're up for grabs."
The man was delighted. "Great! I got two little nephews who're gonna be real happy. Thanks, guy!" I waved my hand and told him not to mention it.
Of course a short while later, our neighbors returned. Instantly noticing the backpacks were missing, they queried us. As I started to open my mouth, Nick gave me a sharp elbow jab. "We didn't see anything," he said, and I authenticated Nick's explanation with my own shake of the head. "Didn't see," I echoed dutifully. The shorter of the two men turned to the other and said, "Aw man, I had my phone book in there and everything..."
I bit my lip and concealed my complicity in the matter for the rest of the afternoon, saving a guilty laugh for the subway home. Hey, if they'd asked us to watch their stuff, this never would have happened. Besides, who disappears for a half-hour AFTER the seventh-inning stretch?
On Tuesday, September 15
, Nick and I returned to the ballpark for a game against the Red Sox. I was proudly sporting my brand-new Yankee backpack. Ironically enough, we spotted the two Orthodox Jews a few rows away (sans backpack, of course); they did us the favor of not noticing our presence. But we were all party to another lousy performance by the Yanks. On this day, Jerzembeck, a 26-year-old righty who'd spent most of the season at Columbus, made his first major-league start and was rocked by the Red Sox, giving up five runs in 2.1 innings; they ended up losing 9-4. Searching for an explanation for even the most inconsequential defeat, Nick and I determined that as a result of or our misdeeds, my backpack was full of bad mojo and would bring misfortune to the Yanks if I ever brought it to the Stadium again.
I still have that backpack, and I use it regularly. But I wouldn't be caught dead at the ballpark with it. I know a curse when I see one.
Speaking of ballparks and backpacks, the current security policy at Yankee Stadium leaves something to be desired, particularly with regards to umbrellas. On Tuesday, Nick and his stepfather, Dr. Stuart Rose, attended a wet game at Yankee Stadium. Dr. Rose asked me to pass this along to publicize the Stadium's idiocy:
We went to the Yanks-Oakland game last night, with our umbrellas in case of rain. We were told no umbrellas allowed inside the stadium because of "security." I am all for increasing the public's safety, but this policy is absurd. There is no terrorist, or other threat from an umbrella. Of course, I could have been carrying a gun or a knife, but nobody checked for those, just took away our death-dealing brollies. Of course it did rain, giving the Yankee concessions a great market for their ponchos, and inconvenience and discomfort for us. When we left the stadium, it only got worse. In an incredible display of arrogance and disdain for the fans, we had to search for our umbrellas among piles of them left in heaps on the floor. This is intolerable. No business, except perhaps a monopoly, would treat its customers this way! The Yankee organization should be ashamed!
I agree with Dr. Rose; this is pretty ridiculous. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any link on the Yanks' website to register a complaint or even to find a written explanation of their security policy. I do know, based on my experience, that coolers, backpacks, and large bags aren't permitted in Yankee Stadium--your best bet is a purse or an easily-searched (or ditched) plastic bag. On the positive side, I did read
that ticketholders for that rain-delayed game are entitled to redeem their tickets for those to any game with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from May 14-16. Now that I think of it, that's not very nice either...
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