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.

Monday, May 30, 2005


The Honeymoon Is Over

The newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Jaffe are back from their spectacular honeymoon in Florence and Venice, Italy. We had a wonderful time; the weather -- 70-80 degrees and sunny during the day, with nary a drop of rain to dampen our spirits -- was perfect, the food -- at least in Florence -- was amazing, the wine flowed freely, the accommodations were outstanding, and even the dollar, which has been more or less getting its ass kicked since the advent of the euro, was about 10 percent stronger than on our Paris/London trip last summer.

But by the eighth day of our ten-day trip, our sightseeing -- at a more hectic pace than we'd promised ourselves -- began to take its toll. The churches, piazzas, crucifixion frescoes, and Madonnas-with-child began to blur together, the chintzy glassware, high prices (screw the 100 euro gondola rides that are "mandatory" for such romantic-themed trips; we couldn't be bothered) and tourist traps grated on our nerves, the Venetian canals and confusing maze of alleys drained our mental energy. When Mrs. Jaffe's stunning blue eyes began to well up with tears as she told me she needed a vacation from our vacation, I knew there was no shame in my secret yearning for the grid and the grit of New York City.

More than anything besides orderly street numbering, I missed baseball, subsisting at best on a thin gruel of two-day-old line scores in the International Herald Tribune. I missed my electronic conduit to the game, my Internet pals who make following the bouncing balls so much fun. Keeping a very low profile, I checked my email a couple of times, mostly to prevent my inbox from overflowing with junk mail, dropped by this site to read the kind words my visitors had left, skimmed Under the Knife, Bronx Banter, and Dodger Thoughts for quick fixes on the sly. And I yearned for the time I could kick back on the couch with a cold brew and a ballgame, whether to watch the surging Yankees or the struggling Dodgers, those two teams having reversed course since the point at which I went into turbo-wedding mode.

I've been saying for the past ten years that you know you live in the right place when you look forward to coming home from a vacation, and in my case that rings true even for a milestone event such as my honeymoon. With my return, the circus that has dominated my life for the past year is leaving town, and while I'm grateful that such a momentous occasion is now in the rearview (and perhaps a bit sad that I won't be so much a center of attention for awhile -- how else can I get a hundred and sixty people, not to mention a three-piece band, to humor my vocalized rendition of "Ring of Fire"?), I'll now have considerably more energy to devote to my writing and the rest of my work. I've got a slew of projects -- for Futility Infielder, Baseball Prospectus, and beyond -- that have been back-burnered for too long and I'm excited to dig in.

One of the advantages of traveling abroad is the opportunity to step back from the everyday mindset one falls into as a citizen of the U.S. As I explored the cradle of the Renaissance, I was reminded of how often our dearly held beliefs turn out to look ridiculous, even malevolently so, years or centuries later when new discoveries are made and the light of reason and truth outshines those Dark-Aged dogmas. There are a host of political parallels I could offer, particularly in this polarized environment, but there's plenty to which that applies even in the baseball sphere. I'm looking forward to spreading a bit of that good light around.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Best. Wedding. Ever.

Our wedding at the Milwaukee Art Museum on Sunday, May 15 was a smashing success. As we're embarking on the honeymoon in about five hours, there's simply no time to do it justice with words except to say that it was every bit as beautiful and special as we had imagined it. When we weren't choking back tears at how moved we were, we were grinning ear to ear. My bride, Andra, was stunning, the venue was spectacular, the food was great, the guests were amazing. Towards the end of the night I even got up and belted out a rendition of "Ring of Fire" with the band.

One picture, a thousand words:

I'll return to my usual blogging sometime Memorial Day weekend.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Now It Can Be Told (an encore presentation)

As I write this, I'm only a couple of hours away from departing for Milwaukee and the beginning of my wedding festivities, starting with a marriage license appointment this afternoon. Since it will be awhile before I get to post anything else here, I've decided to re-run what I wrote upon my engagement to Andra last summer. The following was originally published on August 2, 2004, three days after I popped the question.

Thursday was already shaping up to be a banner day by the time I walked out the door. Not only was I hotly anticipating the publication of my latest piece at Baseball Prospectus, in a matter of a few minutes I'd come up with another blog entry that ended up getting linked via Baseball Primer's Clutch Hits Baseball Think Factory's Newsblog. But all of that was small potatoes compared to what came later in the day.

At 6:30, my girlfriend Andra came home with the exciting news that she had been approved for a major promotion at work, an event which had been in the offing for several weeks and which at one stage found her the focal point of a nice little bidding war. After passing her background check and signing the appropriate paperwork, she's officially the Graphics Manager at Hanes New Ventures Causal Wear, a mere three years after dropping the curtain on a career in film production, and it's something of which she's deservedly proud.

Andra wanted to take me out to dinner to celebrate, but I had made even bigger plans, and dinner was only a part of them. I'd spent all day sweating over those plans. In some way, I'd been waiting my entire life for them. My vision of the evening was going to trump hers, and for that I would make no apology.

At 8 PM, Andra walked out onto the lower roofdeck of our apartment, freshly showered after a quick swim, greeted by the sight of two wine glasses, a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, a plate of cheese and crackers, and a boyfriend grinning like a cat who'd just eaten a canary. She smiled at me and said something along the lines of, "Just what are you up to?"

I answered by pulling a small velvet box out of my pocket. "Honey, will you marry me?" I smiled, looking right into the beautiful blue eyes which had melted my cold, broken heart some three-and-a-half years ago. I showed her the diamond ring I had designed with the help of our friend Danielle, based on some preliminary specifications from Andra -- she had known this was all coming, she just had no idea when. "Of course," she replied, hugging me for an eternity before we shared a long, passionate kiss.

I don't even think she'd looked at the ring yet. Finally, after our smooch, she looked at it, a stunning concoction that had taken my breath away earlier that day upon picking it up from the jeweler, a 1-carat emerald cut centered around 40 tiny little diamonds embedded in a detailed platinum band. "It's perfect," she smiled, and kissed me for even longer than before.

• • •

As I'm fond of saying, the events inside a two-week period in the fall of 2000 are the reason for this site's existence. On October 26, in Shea Stadium, a frumpy but amiable reserve infielder named Luis Sojo delivered a single which drove in the World Series-clinching run for the New York Yankees and made Sojo a minor celebrity. Two days later, still quite heavy-hearted from a recent breakup, I went to a Halloween party in Brooklyn. Sweating quite a bit beneath a yellow Devo radiation suit, I chatted for the better part of an hour with the pink-wigged pal of my friend Brandi, who had invited us both along.

Six days after that party, on November 3, my pal Nick and I went to the Bradlee's on Union Square to meet Jim Bouton, the author of Ball Four, my all-time favorite book. Bouton was doing a signing to promote the 30th anniversary edition of his classic diary, and as the first to arrive, we had the honor and pleasure of talking to Jim about the book, baseball, and life in general for 45 minutes. Jim even listened intently to my still-unpublished treatise, "Graphic Design as a Form of Pitching."

Still abuzz after our conversation, Nick and I went for a Thai dinner and then headed for a quick drink before our scheduled connection with our friend Julie. We stumbled into a bar called Scratcher, and to our surprise, there was Julie, along with Brandi and the other gal from the Halloween party, this time wearing a winter cap instead of a pink wig. We sat down, and I somehow ended up next to that gal (whose name I couldn't quite remember) and ended up talking with her for hours. She listened to me blather about Bouton and Ball Four, and as it turned out, she knew a bit about baseball herself, having grown up in a rabid sports-fan family with a brother who'd worked for the Milwaukee Brewers and once got to be Bernie Brewer. She knew about Stormin' Gorman Thomas and Harvey's Wallbangers, and had even helped to film a series of Brewer promos starring Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Bob Uecker. We talked of several other things -- consumerism and capitalism, butter burgers and cheese curds, film and graphic design -- but much of the conversation revolved around baseball.

We left the bar together that night, much to the amazement of our friends. And except for a brief time-out early on, we've been together ever since. Last April, we moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the East Village, and besides the occasional dispute over the division of labor as it pertained to the bathroom's upkeep, it's been a dream come true, more laughs and hugs and fantastic meals and good times than I could have hoped.

• • •

To say that this blog would not be possible without the love and support of my gal Andra is a gross understatement, something on the order of saying, "Babe Ruth played baseball for the Yankees." This blog, this website, this whole enchilada of sharing my unquenchable passion for the game with thousands of readers each week would be downright inconceivable. Back when our relationship was in its shaky infancy, Andra was the one who pushed me to start doing this, who gave me the space to follow my muse, and who showed me how being true to that muse and investing in myself made me somebody that she could love all the more. For that I am eternally, incredibly, staggeringly grateful.

Andra is the one who told me it was acceptable to come home from a hard day's work in front of one computer and sit down in front of another one, crunching through numbers and clicking through links until I found something I wanted to share with the tens, hundreds, or thousands of eyeballs who might read what I thought about baseball on a given day. She's the one who suggested we go back to Milwaukee for the 2002 All-Star Game, and she's the one who demanded I tell Alex Belth "yes" in response to his invitation to attend the Winter Meetings in New Orleans.

Our relationship, of course, goes far beyond her support of my writing. We've gone through our ups and downs against the backdrop of major career changes, supporting each other emotionally and financially without ever looking back to wonder if we'd made the wrong moves. We've endured the terror of our city under siege, realizing that what mattered most to us was the other's safety and well-being. We've gone to the Louvre to appreciate the classic works of European art, and we've run around our little apartment like demented, giggling four-year-olds. We've enjoyed aquavit and pickled herring at fine restaurants as well as hot dogs and beer at no fewer than six ballparks. And we're only getting started.

For whatever predictions I may offer here -- the Yanks will win, the Tigers Pirates Devil Rays Diamondbacks will lose, and Enrique Wilson will never hit big-league pitching well enough to carry Luis Sojo's jockstrap -- I don't know what the future holds any more than you do. But I know I'll have Andra by my side, loving me with as much passion as I love her, and for that I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Hit and Run

This week's Prospectus Hit List, now in play at BP, has a new leader atop the rankings. The Chicago White Sox have stormed to the number one spot on the strength of a 24-7 record founded on surprisingly good starting pitching (including a couple of last year's Yankees) and excellent defense (a majors-leading Defensive Efficiency Ratio of .726). The Dodgers have leveled off down at number seven, though they've had the nice developments of getting Hee Seop Choi and Jason Phillips involved in the offense, and a makeshift bullpen that's passed nearly every test in the absence of closer Eric Gagne. The Yankees have inched up to number 20 thanks to an opportune visit from the punchless A's (slugging .339 and last in the bigs in Equivalent Average).

Since the big shakeup, the Yankee defense, while remaining the worst in baseball, has raised its DER by 10 points to a still-pathetic .661 -- a figure that if it held would be the worst in all of baseball since 1972. The Mel Stottlemyre-must-go meme I wrote about ten days ago gained some traction in the mainstream media, with George Steinbrenner firing volleys at the embattled Yankee pitching coach and Joe Torre loyally standing by his man. Steven Goldman and I had planned a back-and-forth volley at his Pinstriped Blog, but events seem to be getting in the way of that taking place in a timely fashion.

The main event standing in the way of that (and the reason for the relative scarcity of my postings here lately) is my impending wedding, which is this coming Sunday, May 15 to the lovely Ms. Andra Laine Hardt at the spectacular Milwaukee Art Museum. We leave for Milwaukee on Wednesday morning and while I might check in now and again over my morning coffee from Milwaukee, chances are I'll be a bit scarce between now and the return from my honeymoon (Florence and Venice, Italy) on May 29. I haven't done too much thinking about that trip, but I'm excited for the wedding weekend -- bringing together so many friends and family members -- with absolutely no reservations about moving forward into the next phase of my life with Andra. We've been a couple for four and a half years, living together for the past two, and we've been though our share of ups and downs, our bonds growing stronger and closer through it all.

I'll have at least one more post before I head out....

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


It Gets Late Early Out There

Anyone banking on a quick turnaround by the Yankees after their shakeup got some sobering news on Tuesday, not that they shouldn't have seen it coming. With the new Bernie Wiliams-free lineup taking the field behind him, Kevin Brown once again soiled his diaper early against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, allowing six runs in the first inning, and the Yanks lost, 11-4 to drop their record to 11-16. Meet the new dross, same as the old dross.

Brown has now allowed 12 first-inning runs in his four starts (and four in the second inning of one start), putting the Yanks into the position of being blown out early. Worse, over his last nine starts since making his hand into a maraca (including the postseason, where he cost the team its season by taking the ball in Game Seven when he was physically unfit to do so), he looks as cooked as a pot roast in a burning whorehouse, to borrow a wonderful phrase from my BP colleague Jim Baker. Brown has pitched 39 innings over those nine starts to the tune of a 8.08 ERA, a record of 1-7, and a batting average on balls in play of .395, a figure which has more to do with his leaving balls up in the strike zone where they can be smashed for line drives than a particularly shoddy defense behind him.

With the Yankee rotation already in a patched-up state with rookie Chien Ming-Wong subbing for injured Jaret Wright for the foreseeable future and fellow rookie Sean Henn taking Randy Johnson's start today, the team's lack of depth in that department is suddenly glaringly obvious. With no El Duques rehabbing in Columbus or Sterling Hitchcocks biding their time in the pen (not that that scenario worked out so well), they have little margin for error. With Brown bearing a $15 milllion price tag, the durability of a Fabergé egg, and a disposition only slightly sunnier than Joe Stalin after an all-night vodka binge, they have no takers for his services and few options but to either let him pitch, force him to rehab in Tampa, or sink the cost.

Steven Goldman suggested to the BP internal mailing list that a trade to the Mets for Tom Glavine might make sense as a salary dump for the Flushing franchise (Brown comes off the books this winter, while Glavine's got another year). While I think the Yankees would take a random bucket of putrefying roadkill procured by Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel if it would get Brown further from their sight, Glavine and his low K/high ball-in-play rates are just what the doctor ordered -- if that doctor is named Kervorkian. Pass. My personal preference would be to hack off either two or seven of Brown's fingers, as it worked for his namesake, Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown roughly a century ago. I suspect the line of fans who would be willing to perform such radical surgery on Brown would circle Yankee Stadium several times.

The Yankees' record is now 11-16, and while based on their track records there's enough talent on hand to turn it around, the news is bleak when one studies the probabilities for success of teams in that position. A couple of years ago Rany Jazayerli of Baseball Prospectus studied the season-opening records of nearly seventy years' worth of teams and found that the die is cast very early on.

Keeping in mind that the baseline for this period was at 15.2 percent of the teams in the study making the playoffs (that's my calculation, not Rany's), after 10 games, a team with a 4-6 record such as the Yanks held has an expected winning percentage of just .484 for the rest of the year and a mere 5.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. At 20 games, the chances of an 9-11 geam of making the playoffs are the same, 5.2 percent. At 30, a point three games down the road, here are the expected winning percentages for the rest of the year and the playoff odds for the various combinations of records open to the Yanks:
        EWP   Playoff
14-16 .494 5.0%
13-17 .473 2.2%
12-18 .469 1.8%
11-19 .438 1.5%
To borrow a line from Yogi Berra, it gets late early out there; one month into the season, it's pretty much win-or-else time for the Yanks according to this logic. Of course, the Yankees are not just any team, they're a team which has won over 100 games three straight times. In his further research Jazayerli found that there is actually a quantifiable relationship between a team's previous records and their predicted one from an early-season start:

P = .1557 + (.4517 * X1) + (.1401 * X2) + (.0968 * X3)

where P is the projected record, X1 is last year's winning pct., X2 is two years ago, X3 three years ago. Then the final winning percentage, Y, is

Y = P + ((S-P) * (.0415 + (.0096 * G)))

where S is the team's current winning percentage and G is their number of games played. Run the numbers for the Yankees and you get a predicted winning percentage coming into the season of just .587 (since even the best teams tend to regress to the mean) and based on their current record, an even less rosy .533 for the year, which projects to 86-76 and in all likelihood a lonely October in the Bronx, followed by several crucifixions.

Here's Goldman, from his latest Pinstriped Bible:
The saying, "better late than never," isn't always true. At times, especially when it comes to aging baseball players, the proper answer is "on time or you might as well not bother." The calendar turned to May and what had been obvious for more than a year finally dawned on the Yankees. They had an aging team, one where several positions were in need of urgent fixes. For years, strong production at defensive positions — center field, shortstop, and catcher — had sustained the offense despite often subpar performances from the traditional power spots. Bernie Williams had been in decline for a number of years. His glove quit long before his bat did, but after 2002 both had been in question. Rather than pursue the obvious solution, one that was clearly within the team's financial boundaries as the winter began, the team went in other directions. Months later, they are still paying for that decision.

As has been noted by several commentators, including this author in Tuesday's New York Sun, very few teams have come back from a start as bad as 10-15 and made the playoffs. Barring a truly impressive winning streak followed by a period of sustained, consistent winning, the story of this season has very likely been written. This will be forever known as "The Year The Yankees Chose Not To Make An Offer To Carlos Beltran."

That the Yankees could be one of the few teams that could turn it around is reason enough to stay tuned. Certainly their record of the past few years argues that there are untapped resources here. Still, the battle will be fought day to day, with every game counting. The Yankees will need to be honest with themselves in a way that they haven't been in years. The end of the Bernie Williams era is only the first step. The moves announced after Monday's game are not guaranteed to have much of an impact. That's not to say they're not worth trying, but to expect a sudden turnaround would be premature.
We'll know a lot more about these Yankees in the next week, but right now it's shaping up to be a long summer with an unhappy ending for this team.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Shuffling the Deck

This week's Hit List is up at Baseball Prospectus, with the Marlins retaking the top spot, followed by the surprising Orioles and then the Dodgers, who spent two weeks at number one. The Yankees, who continue to struggle, are down at number 23 after finishing with their first losing April record since 1991, back when Bernie Williams was a rookie. For the week, Alex Rodriguez hit .429/.520/1.190 with 5 homers, while the rest of the Yanks managed a punchless .233/.297/.301 line with one homer, and scored as many runs on A-Rod's big night (12) as they did in the other five games all week. Pathetic.

I was at Sunday's debacle and watched the Yanks blow a 6-3 lead, courtesy of their inability to put batters away. The Blue Jays pounded out 16 hits while the Yanks could manage only three strikeouts. Reliever Paul Quantrill, who came on with the bases loaded and nobody out in the sixth, let two batters escape 0-2 counts to reach base, keying a bases-clearing rally from which the Yanks never recovered. Mike Stanton gave up another pair of runs thanks in part to the Jays' aggressive baserunning on Williams. Ol' Chicken Arm, never a good thrower in the best of times, is suffering from tendinitis in his right elbow as well as his chronic shoulder woes, and for his part is pretty candid about his condition: "It's not an issue with throwing. ... I could never really throw. It's not keeping me from playing. ... I can play. I'm just trying to play through it."

Williams' struggles in the field and at the plate (.247/.324/.312) are part of a larger set of woes that hasn't gone unnoticed by Yankee brass, and after last night's game the hammer dropped. Today's New York Times reveals that big changes are coming as of Tuesday night's game: Williams is out as the regular centerfielder, with leftfielder Hideki Matsui sliding over to the position he played in Japan. Moving to left is second baseman Tony Womack, who's never played the position but has 125 games in rightfield, most of them in 1999. Replacing Womack at second base is Robinson Cano, a 22-year old prospect who's hitting .333/.368/.574 at Triple-A Columbus.

The Yanks will also make some moves on the pitching front. Reliever Steve Karsay, who's thrown a total of 12.2 innings over the past two-plus seasons, will be designated for assignment, meaning he's going to be waived, likely claimed, and then traded for a delicious combination of peanuts and bubblegum, with the Yanks footing about $6 million worth of damage and whoever acquires him paying only the prorated minimum. That move is to make room for reliever Tanyon Sturtze, who comes off of the disabled list later this week. Sturtze won't arrive in time to take a spot start for Randy Johnson, who tweaked his groin (no jokes, please) in his last start and will be held out of Wednesday's game. Instead that role will go to 24-year-old Double-A lefty Sean Henn, who's 2-1 with an 0.71 ERA thus far, and it means that, for at least one turn, the Yanks now have two rookies (including Chien Ming-Wang, who was solid in his debut on Saturday) replacing very expensive cogs in the rotation in Johnson and Jaret Wright.

These moves are a lot to digest, even for those of us who saw this coming with the Yankees' poorly conceived offseason moves, particularly their failure to sign 28-year-old Carlos Beltran to ease Williams out of centerfield. The kicker is that even after eschewing Beltran, the Yanks failed miserably at coming up with a workable Plan B. They traded last year's "heir apparent" centerfielder, Kenny Lofton (who's actually older than Wiliams), to the Phillies for Felix Rodriguez (who's either languishing in their crowded bullpen or else already in the Federal Witness Protection program, having pitched only one-third of an inning in the last nine days) and the only other centerfelder on the roster (besides Matsui) is Bubba Crosby, who hit .151/.196/.302 in limited duty last year.

Basically, the thrust of these moves is to:

• limit the damage playing time of Williams, Jason Giambi (.224/.395/.373), Tino Martinez (.239/.338/.358), and eventually Ruben Sierra (.269/.296/.692 -- all of those hits for extra bases) in that they can field only one DH and one first baseman. Players like Gary Sheffield (who struggled through shoulder problems last year and who's earned the nickname of "Magellan" for his circuitous routes to flyballs) and Jorge Posada might be nice to keep fresh in the DH spot once in awhile as well, but the Yanks now have the deepest DH slot in the league and no real backup rightfielder, since Crosby's really around as part of the Make-a-Wish foundation and should be limited to pinch-running duty and fetching Bernie herbal tea at best.

• find out whether they can get lucky with Cano, who's a very limited prospect. BP's PECOTA system projects him at .254/.297/.389, with enough upside to be a legitimate major-leaguer... when he's 24 (a weighted mean EQA of .256 for 2007, with .260 being league-average).

• turn YES into the Tony Womack Channel. Womack seems like an amenable sort, but he's got a surgically rebuilt throwing arm, and as a cornerman, his bat is just one more spot where the Yankee offense will lose ground. The Yanks would do better to limit his exposure as well, rather than turning him into the fulcrum of these moves.

Back at the winter meetings in Anaheim, Joe Sheehan kept harping that the Yanks would be below average offensively at four positions -- second base, centerfield, DH, and first base -- and these moves touch every one of those positions; with the slight upgrades at CF and DH, the Yanks are at best treading water at second (where Womack is hitting a rather empty .282/.330/.329), and receding in left.

But I don't think this will do a great job of solving the Yanks biggest problem, which is their wheezing outfield defense. The team's Defensive Efficiency Ratio, the percentage of balls in play that they turn into outs, stands at .651, the worst in the major leagues by a staggering 20 points, and a good 44 points below league average. Looked at another way, that's the difference between a .305 hitter and a .350 hitter, and it's a cost of having a pitching staff that can't dominate hitters, as I complained in relation to pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre last week.

It's been suggested by some that the Yanks would have been better off simply swapping Williams and Matsui in the field, but I'm skeptical that would solve anything. Leftfield in Yankee Stadium is abnormally large, and it requires the ability to cover almost as much ground as centerifeld does in most parks. Add to that the requirements of Williams to learn to track balls (never his strong suit) which are coming at him with more of a spin -- severely hooking or slicing rather than hit more or less straight -- and to manage the foul line and wall and for Matsui to hurdle the language barrier with two outfielders instead of one, and you've got a potentially harrowing situation that brings to mind an air traffic controller strike. Here's what injury expert Will Carroll had to say on BP's internal mailing list:
The oddball thing is that the Yankees did drill quite a bit with Matsui in CF during spring training. That's not unusual, he was the clear backup. What's going to be the interesting part is that he'll have Womack on one side, who doesn't have any experience that I can tell. There's a significant short term increase in injury risk on a position move, usually due to change in conditions. Given the walls and locations in Yankee are pretty safe in left, the rest of the possibilities lie in miscommunication leading to collision. Womack taking out Matsui, Jeter or Rodriguez would lie directly in the middle of comedy and tragedy.
Yikes. While it's not entirely clear whether this whole scenario will take or whether it's an intermediate stage preceding a more major trade (the Mets' Mike Cameron, currently on the DL and former Yankee prospect Wily Mo Pena, now fighting for time in a crowded Cincy outfield, are two names often mentioned), the move out of centerfield for Williams marks the passing of an era, and for his part, he's handling the demotion with dignity and grace, saying, "At this point, all everyone wants is for us to win games. Pride ... all that stuff ... that's out the window. My job now becomes to make myself available to play." True class.

In case anybody's wondering, Bernie does have a legit Hall of Fame case according to the JAWS system, with a career WARP of 100.4, a peak of 46.8 and an overall score of 73.6. That's a few points below the average Hall centerfielder (108.8/46.5/77.6) based on career length, but with four World Series rings and the pinstripe legacy behind him, he's probably got enough juice to get in.

Back to the Yankees, this team, as I've harped before, was poorly constructed in the offseason, but its cracks are showing up even more quickly than even I would have suspected. It might be a bit early to haul out the title of a recent book as a punchline diagnosis -- Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning -- but it's clear that change is in the air up at 161st Street. I hope it's not too late, but with the Orioles off to a hot 17-8 start and leading the AL East, the dawn of a new era -- one with the Yanks making tee times in October -- may be upon us.

• • •

I finally received my copy of The Juice yesterday. In honor of it, I raised a bottle of my favorite baseball-themed performance-enhancing beverage, Brooklyn Pennant Ale '55, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the sole Brooklyn Dodgers championship and is part of a great line of beers from a great local brewery. According to the packaging, $1 from every case will be donatied by the brewery towards a mayoral fund to build a monument to Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese out at Coney Island. I'm flying the flag.


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