Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pressure on Cano growing each day

The pressure on Robinson Cano to fulfill his enormous potential is growing every day now that he doesn't have clutch players Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon hitting ahead of him in the New York Yankees lineup.

Cano is being talked about as a possible #5 hitter, but before he gets the important job of protecting Alex Rodriguez, he has to prove that he can hit in the clutch, something he has struggled with.

General Manager Brian Cashman, hitting coach Kevin Long and Tex have all been talking about Cano's MVP potential. But you wonder if that kind of talk will make Cano put too much pressure on himself, which could magnify his struggles. Worse, the talk could go to Cano's head and lead to a repeat of his previous behavior of not putting enough work in and just relying on his talent. Cano swears it won't. We'll see.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hope 5th starter fight stays clean

The battle for the fifth spot in the New York Yankees starting rotation is one of the few major questions about the team. Although several pitchers are up for the spot, it's generally portrayed as a battle between Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. Both have made clear that they want to be starters even though the loser has the consolation prize of being Mariano Rivera's set-up man (and perhaps his eventual successor). The fight gets in full gear when the exhibition season starts next week. Let's hope it's a clean fight.

Even though manager Joe Girardi said the players won't be judged until the baseball games start, the pitchers have made it clear that they are already in full competition mode. There's nothing wrong with a little competition, as long as it doesn't create a difficult situation when one of them loses the fight. I'm not saying that is definitely going to happen, but both players have engaged in immature behavior that could signal problems, whether it's the raucous celebrations by Joba after a strikeout or Hughes yelling at an umpire during his playoff struggles last year.

Joba and Hughes are young players at the start of what the Yankees hope will be long, successful careers in pinstripes. They have both shown flashes of greatness that validate the Yankees' commitment to them. Let's hope this 5th starter fight doesn't represent a step backward for either one of them.

Thanks to jcasabona via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sad double standard for women in sports

The controversy following the on-ice celebration of their gold medal victory by the Canadian women's hockey team highlights an ongoing double standard for women celebrating major sports victories. While their celebration may have gotten a little out of control, men celebrating in the same manner would not be subject to such criticism.

I don't condone underage drinking or silly antics like trying to commandeer arena equipment (if that actually even happened). But most of the negative comments circled around the fact that the women were drinking champagne publicly and pretending to smoke cigars, which no one would have had a problem with if they were men.

Mike Francesa weighed in at the start of his radio program yesterday and made clear that he didn't approve of their behavior, admitting that he was being old-fashioned. But Francesa, a long-time New York Yankees fan, would have had no problem with the same celebration by the Yankees. In fact, the Yankees had several on-field celebrations during their dynasty run in the late 1990s. I vividly remember the 1999 World Series with Derek Jeter spraying the fans with champagne, with a smiling New York city policeman looking on. So why can't the Canadian women celebrate the same way in an empty arena?

After a disappointing start to the Olympics for Canada, there was a lot of pressure on the women's hockey team to fulfill expectations and bring home a gold medal for a country in desperate need of some cheering up. So what if they went a little crazy with their celebration? It's only being criticized as embarrassing because it was a bunch of women. If it was the men's hockey team celebrating in the same way, it would be a non-story. It's a sad double standard.

Thanks to Jeff via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Phillips: Mets moves baffling

New York Mets fans are not the only ones puzzled by the team's decision making over the last few months. Steve Phillips, taking a break from talking about his sex addiction, questioned several offseason moves and spring training decisions made by team officials.

In terms of the offseason, the signing of Jason Bay was a baseball move the Mets needed to make, but Bay is not great defensively and can't be the centerpiece of the offense that the team expects because "he's not an aircraft carrier." The Mets should have signed other players to help their team, including Bengie Molina.

Phillips found their early spring training choices equally baffling, namely the decision to bat Jose Reyes third in a RBI position rather than a run-scoring spot. "I just don't understand it," Phillips said.

The only explanation Phillips could come up with was that Omar Minaya's hands were tied, with the team running out of money after signing Bay. He was sympathetic, noting that he encountered similar problems as the Mets general manager that were made worse by playing in the same city as the New York Yankees. While the expectations are the same for both teams, the Mets can't match their crosstown rivals in tradition and resources. "I think it's the toughest executive position in sports," Phillips said of the Mets GM job.

But as much sympathy as he has for Minaya and the Mets, their moves cast serious doubt on the team's ability to win 90 games this year, which they may need to do to compete with the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves. "I just don't see it happening," he said.

Thanks to Stadium08 via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Phillips gives insight into sex addiction

My first impulse when Steve Phillips began his interview with Mike Francesa was to turn off the television because I've always been skeptical of sex addiction. But I kept watching and I'm glad that I did because the former New York Mets general manager and television baseball analyst gave compelling insight into his behavior and that of other addicts.

Among the insights: sex addicts are egomaniacs, but also adopt a victim mentality that allows them to participate in such behavior; sex addiction can be triggered by traumatic childhood events; kids are becoming increasingly vulnerable to such addictions with pornographic material so readily available on the Internet; the meetings are important not only because they help connect addicts who are dealing with similar struggles, but they serve as a reminder of the pain that their disease inflicts on themselves and their loved ones.

"They say time heals all wounds," Phillips said. "I don't want it to heal all wounds. I need to remember the pain I inflicted."

I found it particularly interesting when Phillips said his addiction had nothing to do with his wife and that he would still be a sex addict even if he wasn't married because it helps explain something that I've wondered about with Tiger Woods: why a guy with a beautiful wife would cheat with so many women.

I'm not going to applaud Phillips for finally getting into rehab because I still have doubts about whether he really did it to take hold of the disease or to minimize the firestorm he created by having an inappropriate sexual relationship with an ESPN co-worker and try to gain his family's forgiveness. But by publicly talking about it, he helps the rest of us understand what people like him and Woods are thinking when they make such self-destructive decisions.

Hope ARod can repeat good behavior

After starting last year with an embarrassing admission of steroids use and a devastating hip injury, Alex Rodriguez returned to become an integral part of what ARod called a "magical" World Series championship for the New York Yankees. "Then it becomes an addiction," he said. "You want to just keep on winning."

For both ARod and the team's sake, let's hope ARod stays addicted to winning and nothing else. Equally as important, let's hope ARod manages to repeat his good behavior from the 2009 baseball season, which finally helped him gain acceptance after years of struggling to fit in. ARod himself outlined the formula for success: being honest while talking less, focusing on baseball, feeling more comfortable in the clubhouse after receiving support from his manager Joe Girardi and teammates. "That for me, brings a lot more enjoyment," he said.

A perfect example of ARod sticking to his new mantra came up during yesterday's press conference. He wisely did not repeat a mistake of the past: criticizing former pal Derek Jeter. When asked about Jeter's contract situation, ARod said Jeter was born to be a Yankee, that the team needs him, that he couldn't imagine the Yankee Captain playing anywhere else and he envisioned him remaining in pinstripes. A year ago, ARod could have easily put his foot in his mouth on that one. Not this year.

While I can't help but feel that ARod will say or do something to stir up controversy, I hope I'm wrong.

Thanks to edogisgod via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jeter's baseball focus second to none

I marvel at Derek Jeter's ability to stay focused on what's most important to him (baseball, his family and his Turn 2 Foundation) without encountering a major controversy during his New York Yankees tenure. It's a noteworthy feat in a city where the media is always on the lookout for the next major story. Jeter refuses to help them in that quest.

Exhibit A: yesterday's press conference. Aside from stating that he wants to play for the Yankees for his entire career and that he wouldn't address his contract status again until the end of the season, the captain made it clear that he has put last year's World Series title in his rear-view mirror as the team seeks to repeat. As Jeter said, the Yankees haven't won anything in 2010.

Jeter's focus is particularly remarkable considering he is a single athlete in New York. I was talking to my two sisters about John Meyer's repulsive comments about his ex-girlfriends. I made the point that you would never catch Jeter saying anything either positive or negative about any of his current or former girlfriends. My two sisters, neither of whom are baseball fans, nodded in agreement.
That won't stop the media from trying to dig up something either personal or professional about the Yankee Captain. By refusing to publicly discuss such matters and keeping his focus on baseball, Jeter has taken the right approach, one that will serve him well as the media seeks to turn his contract status into an ongoing storyline this season. So even if he is truly bothered by the team's refusal to even consider an extension, we'll never know.

Thanks to Googie man via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jeter wants to be a Yankee for life

Derek Jeter wants to follow in the footsteps of fellow New York Yankees captains Lou Gehrig and Don Mattingly by playing his entire career in pinstripes. At his spring training press conference, Jeter clearly stated what Yankee fans and observers already know: that he has no desire to play for any other team but the Yankees.

"It's always been important, " Jeter said. "I've said that from Day One. This is the only organization I've ever wanted to play for and that is still true today. I was a Yankee fan growing up. This is where I want to be. I've never envisioned myself playing anywhere else and hopefully I won't have to."

Most baseball players heading into their walk year wouldn't admit publicly that they have no interest in playing for another team. But Jeter is smart enough to know that he doesn't really lose any leverage because the Yankees can't afford to even appear to be pushing him out the door or they would face a rebellion the likes of which they can't imagine.

In typical Jeter fashion, he also said he would not address his contract status again until the end of the season because it's unfair to his team, which is trying to repeat as World Series champions. That won't put an end to the speculation, but Jeter made it clear he won't be a willing participant.

Random Yankees thoughts

A bunch of New York Yankees fans are trying to preserve Gate 2 of the old Yankee stadium, vowing to sue after a city agency approved a plan to commemorate the old home without preserving the gate, which city officials argued could be costly. I would love to see as much of the old (and better) stadium's history preserved as possible, but in these tough economic times with the city struggling to pay its bills, there needs to be a balance between sentimentality and reality. I admire the fans' loyalty, but I think their efforts could be devoted to a more worthy cause.

* George Steinbrenner made a rare appearance at the spring training facility named for him. Steinbrenner's family fiercely guards his privacy and I completely agree that people shouldn't speculate about the health of the Boss. I'm just glad to see him whenever he makes an appearance. I sometimes miss the old days with the roaring Boss. No matter what you thought of him personally, he always made things very interesting. Yankees camp has gotten dull with Hal Steinbrenner in charge of the team.

* Per Major League Baseball's new policy, a notice was posted in the Yankee clubhouse telling players that they are not allowed to bring weapons into the facility, a noteworthy policy in the wake of the locker room incident with the Washington Wizards where basketball players tried to resolve a gambling dispute by drawing weapons. Given the Yankees history with performance-enhancing drugs, they need a drug policy reminder more than a weapons notice.

* Jorge Posada recently compared CC Sabathia to former Yankee pitcher and perfect game winner David Wells. Being a big lefty blessed with a durable arm is about the only thing CC and Boomer have in common. CC is a quiet, family guy while Boomer was beloved by Yankee fans, including me, for his beer-guzzling, feisty ways.

* Ben Affleck will reportedly direct and possibly star in a movie about the infamous wife swap of Yankees players Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich. Not surprising that a die-hard Boston Red Sox fans would want to dredge up one of the most shameful incidents in Yankees history, but I hope he doesn't sensationalize the story more than it already is.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thanks for 2003 ALCS Aaron Boone!

Former New York Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone announced his retirement yesterday. Boone is widely admired in baseball for coming back after undergoing open-heart surgery last year. But in New York, Boone will always be remembered fondly for the 2003 American League Championship Series.

After being benched in the playoffs due to his offensive struggles, Boone stepped to the plate in the 11th inning of Game 7 with the score tied at five and slammed one of the most memorable home runs in Yankees history, propelling the Yanks to the World Series.

One of the most enduring memories of that game is Mariano Rivera crouched on the pitcher's mound, overcome with emotion and exhaustion after pitching three scoreless innings. But Boone made that moment possible and for that he will always have the gratitude of Yankees fans. Best wishes, Aaron!

Thanks to chrisjnelson via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Steroid, HGH users should just come clean

Baseball's performance-enhancing drug problem just refuses to go away. The fresh start and turning of the page desperately desired by Bud Selig is just not happening, as more news of steroid and human growth hormone use continues to surface.

Eric Gagne, once a dominant closer with the Los Angeles Dodgers who had 84 consecutive saves, admitted that he used HGH to recover from a knee injury in 2005. Gagne's admission is not a surprise, considering he was named as a recipient of HGH in Senator George Mitchell's report on PED use in baseball. But the former Cy Young award winner's admission comes when he is trying to revive his baseball career after accepting a minor-league invite from the Dodgers.

Henry Aaron, the rightful home run king, welcomed Mark McGwire's admission of steroid use and said all players who used PEDs should come forward and admit it because they will quickly be forgiven. He pointed to Andy Pettitte's confession of HGH use and the fact that he was embraced by his New York Yankees teammates and by Yankees fans. Aaron and other baseball fans are a lot more forgiving than I am, but he's right about all the players needing to come forward. Baseball can't move on with these near-daily reminders of its shameful past.

Selig consistently argues that baseball has moved past its drug problem, but until Major League Baseball tests for all drugs, including HGH, it will never be able to fully transition to a drug-free era. He said last year baseball is spending millions to develop a HGH test that works. Hopefully, a HGH test effectively used by anti-doping agencies will truly give baseball the fresh start it needs.

Thanks to Brent & MariLynn's via Wikipedia for the photo.

Jorge, AJ bonding off to a good start

The lovefest between catcher Jorge Posada and wild righty AJ Burnett got off to a good start yesterday when Posada caught AJ's first bullpen session in spring training. Both men seem determined to put an end to the lingering controversy created by Burnett's apparent preference throwing to Jose Molina, a preference that forced Joe Girardi to bench Posada at the start of Burnett's playoff games.

Posada and Burnett both insisted that they were looking forward to working together. Burnett did admit there were communication problems during rough starts last year, but said he wants to throw the ball to Posada. Jorge said they have both moved on and that he loves catching AJ.

But it's easy to bond in spring training when the baseball games don't mean anything. The real test comes during a critical start against the Boston Red Sox. Will the two men figure out a way to work together to tame the Red Sox bats? Or will Burnett again show his frustration with Posada after that August meltdown in Fenway Park last year? We'll know soon.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Damon bitter about end of Yankee career

The start of a baseball player's time with a new team is supposed to be a happy occasion. But Johnny Damon could not help but let his bitterness at the end of his New York Yankees career come to the surface.

At a press conference to announce his signing with the Detroit Tigers, Damon tried to put the best spin on his move by saying Detroit was the team he wanted to sign with after it became clear he wouldn't return to the Bronx. But Damon couldn't help taking a few shots at his former team by saying that unlike his last press conference upon switching teams (to the Yankees from the Boston Red Sox), he felt like he actually belonged in Detroit. He also lamented the team's desire for him to take a pay cut after a solid regular season and playoff performance and his active recruitment of other players.

But Damon shares some responsibility here, which I think deep down he knows. He acknowledged yesterday that he and agent Scott Boras told Brian Cashman not to bother offering less than $13 million a year, a serious miscalculation. He tried to pull an Alex Rodriguez-like move by personally calling owner Hal Steinbrenner to try to negotiate a deal, but it was too late.

Damon's ego was bruised by these negotiations and he's lashing out. But really he should just focus on moving on, just like the Yankees did.

Thanks to OneTwo1 via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Manny being a typical Manny pain

It's a famous phrase in baseball: Manny being Manny. It's also a major copout.

The phrase is meant to explain and excuse the curious behavior of outfielder Manny Ramirez. But how do you explain his latest comments? He starts spring training for the Los Angeles Dodgers announcing that this would be his last year with the team. Why would you even start the year with that kind of negative talk? It makes no sense. People will say it's just Manny being Manny. I say it's just Manny being a typical pain in the butt.

Manny has been a major distraction for the Dodgers, with a contentious, drawn-out contract negotiation and a bust and 50-game ban for steroid use last year. He also single-handedly renewed interest in baseball in Los Angeles. He's been both a blessing and curse for Joe Torre, who's used to such distractions from his time with the New York Yankees.
You would think Manny would just want to keep his head down, have a typical Manny year and hit the free agent market on a high note. Instead, he reminds us once again why the Boston Red Sox were so determined to get rid of him despite his power and importance to the team. Just stop talking, Manny!
Thanks to shgmom56 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Chan Ho Park low risk for Yankees

I guess Brian Cashman hasn't run out of money yet. News that he is about to sign Chan Ho Park is a welcome surprise. According to reports, it's a one-year, $1.2 million deal with another $300,000 in possible incentives. Despite his injury history, it's a good, low-risk baseball move for the New York Yankees.

The well-traveled Park will be a solid addition to a crowded bullpen headed by Mariano Rivera. Joe Girardi will have a nice problem on his hands, figuring out who makes the bullpen roster and in what capacity, with the biggest unknown being who will set up Mo. Park pitched well for the Philadelphia Phillies in the pen last year, posting a 2.52 ERA in the regular season and giving up no runs in the World Series against the Yankees.
Park reportedly chose the Yankees over the Chicago Cubs so it's a good move for him too. He pitched in his first World Series with the Phillies last year and has a great chance to make a consecutive appearance and get that elusive ring.
Thanks to shgmom56 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mo's rules for baseball also good for life

So we finally know what makes Mariano Rivera so great, aside from his brilliant cutter. He has a list of rules that he strictly follows to keep himself in great shape for baseball. His rules are not only good for baseball, they're good for life.

Take Rule #1, for example. Get your rest. Mo says eight hours of sleep a night is critical. I couldn't agree more. Anytime I get less than that I feel cranky and tired. I'm always amazed at people who don't need more than four or five hours, wondering how they get through the day without falling over. I much prefer Mo's approach.

Mariano should be a Weight Watchers spokesman. The folks at WW would love Rules #2, 3 and 4, which emphasize eating the right foods, exercising regularly and avoiding the empty calories of alcohol. Is there a better role model for people who want to keep themselves in shape than Mo?

The last few rules really define who Mariano is as a person. He preaches respect and making time for others. And he practices what he preaches, eagerly sharing his knowledge not just with the young pitchers with the New York Yankees, but even opposing stars like Roy "Doc" Halladay. That's a true mark of his greatness, that he doesn't feel the need to guard what makes him special.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Time to fix Posada-Burnett catching problems

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Jorge Posada will catch AJ Burnett during spring training games in anticipation of regularly catching the wild righty during the regular season. It's a good plan.

It's high time that Burnett be weaned off this personal catcher routine. I know he had problems with Posada and pitched better when being caught by Jose Molina. I even advocated that Molina catch him during the baseball playoffs last year, given the high stakes. But it's a new year and Molina is no longer a Yankee so it's the perfect time for Jorge and AJ to get to know each other and get a rhythm going.

Posada seems genuinely excited about catching Burnett after feeling the sting of having to sit at the start of his turns in the postseason rotation. But the catcher, known for his fiery personality, is going to have to make a real attempt to understand his pitchers' needs. And that goes beyond Burnett, who wasn't the only pitcher to have a problem with Posada.
But the focus will be on Jorge and AJ. Let's hope for the Yankees sake those two can finally start seeing eye to eye.

Thanks to ShortstopVM and Googie man via en.Wikipedia for the photos.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Johnny Damon's puzzling choices

I'm happy Johnny Damon finally found a new job, accepting an $8 million offer to play baseball for the Detroit Tigers this year. But he's made some strange decisions during this round of free agency.

Here's what I find so bizarre. If Damon ultimately was willing to accept $8 million from the Tigers for one year, why couldn't he accept $14 million over two years from the New York Yankees? Did he and agent Scott Boras simply overplay their hand, thinking Damon could get the money and years he wanted with another team? Or did he find the Yankees offer so insulting that he just couldn't accept it? Granted, it was a drastic pay cut, but it was two years guaranteed, which would have kept Damon from having to go through the free-agent circus again in 10 months.

The $8 million doesn't make much sense from the Tigers perspective either, especially considering they just traded the younger, more versatile and cheaper Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. It seems like they overpaid, probably out of fear they would lose Damon to another team. But the Chicago White Sox openly withdrew their offer on Friday so who were they really competing with? Boras is known for creating a mirage of competition for his players where none exist. But with spring training starting, the Tigers probably could have shown a little more patience and gotten Damon for a better price. Very strange indeed.

Thanks to Googie Man via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mariano says all the right things

Mariano Rivera is not doing anything to disrupt the peace and tranquility of spring training for the New York Yankees. Mo refused to turn his contract situation or his post-baseball plans into an issue, disappointing sports writers who seem quite desperate for a controversial story.

Mo answered questions about his potential free agency by declaring that he has a contract for this year and that he's not worried about the future. He did make it clear that he will continue to pitch as long as he still has his stuff and that he feels he can dominate (is anyone going to argue with that after the 2009 playoffs?). That's the most important news for Yankees fans and for the team, which has so far failed to groom Mo's successor. I expect that to be a focus after Joe Girardi & Co. decide who will be the fifth starter.

Mo is wise not to make an issue of the contract situation. He doesn't need to fight a public relations war with the Yankees because the fans and media will do that for him. All he has to do is remain quiet and keep pitching like he does and he will get what he wants in the 2010 offseason, namely a contract that will allow him to retire and enter the Hall of Fame as a Yankee.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Girardi's job should not be an issue

Without the security provided by a long-term contract, Joe Girardi's job status will quickly become a major issue if the New York Yankees have trouble winning baseball games early in the season. But Hank Steinbrenner sought to put a quick end to any speculation that Girardi's lame-duck position means he has to repeat his World Series championship to keep his job.

While making it clear that winning the World Series always remains the goal, Steinbrenner flatly answered no when asked if Girardi has to win it all again. He said that Girardi was both his and general manager Brian Cashman's choice and that his manager proved them right last year. Girardi himself seems unconcerned about his contract and why should he be? He won the World Series last year and he's already been fired once as a manager so I'm sure he's not worried about losing his job.

The media right now are more focused on the contracts of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. But I think the lack of a contract for Girardi has the potential to be a bigger distraction. Hopefully the Yankees get off to a good start and this becomes a non-issue.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Can Javy Vazquez reward Yankees faith?

I have my doubts about Javier Vazquez given his previous collapse in the pinstripes. But I hope I'm wrong.

Media reports describe Vazquez as excited and thrilled to be back with the New York Yankees. He seems ready to redeem himself for the disappearing act in the second half of 2004 and his horrendous playoff performance. And he is getting a lot of support from the Yankees organization, from Brian Cashman who made the trade to get him back to the Bronx, to Joe Girardi who praised him as more than a fourth starter, to Jorge Posada who noted that he was a strong contender for the National League Cy Young award last year.

Is it enough to have the support of your manager, general manager and teammates? Vazquez better hope so because Yankee fans will be all over him at the first sign of faltering. Vazquez has no margin for error given that his worst moment came in a series that allowed the Boston Red Sox to step over the Yanks on their way to their first World Series in 86 years. There will be no honeymoon period so let's hope Vazquez has the stuff and guts to reward the Yankees faith.

Thanks to Kevin.Ward via Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Yankees should hope for a quiet spring

A few columns have emerged lamenting the lack of controversy at the start of spring training camp for the New York Yankees. After years of scandals and disruptions, a quiet spring training completely focused on baseball is exactly what the Yankees should be hoping for. It would allow the players to concentrate on defending their title.

Controversies have been a hallmark of Yankees spring training camps for many years, but none were bigger than the mess at this time last year. The Yankees had to deal with the fallout from Sports Illustrated's scoop on Alex Rodriguez's steroids use as a member of the Texas Rangers, culminating in that disastrous, embarrassing, painful to watch press conference. The mess took the shine away from what should have been a wonderful spring training with new players CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira coming into the Yankees family.

Even Yankee Captain Derek Jeter is not immune to spring training chaos, having to answer questions after owner George Steinbrenner criticized his party habits and about his relationship with ARod after the trade that brought him to the Yankees.
The media is already trying to turn the lack of negotiations on new pacts for Jeter and Mariano Rivera into the major controversy of this spring training. But unless one of them says something inflammatory (highly unlikely), the noise should quiet down.

Yankees lucky to have career players

MLB Network's Hot Stove show did a fantastic segment on baseball players who have played their entire careers with one team, focusing on veterans with more than 10 years in the big leagues. I knew it was a very small number of players, but I was shocked to learn that it was only 12, or 1.6% of baseball players in 2009. Only 12!

The New York Yankees are lucky to have three of those 12 career players: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. But as Tom Verducci pointed out, the Yankees are one of the few teams that could afford to keep such talented players for so long, with their combined contracts totaling $49.1 million.

Despite swirling controversy over the upcoming expiration of their contracts, Verducci predicted that Jeter and Mo would retire as Yankees and enter the Baseball Hall of Fame as part of that group of 25% of players that go in playing for one team. He also put Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves on that list, which makes sense with the popular Chipper nearing the end of his career, as well as Ichiro Suzuki, who is an icon in Seattle.

His most interesting and potentially wrong pick was catcher Joe Mauer, a young star who would have his choice of teams in the 2010 offseason as a free agent. But I hope Verducci's right because that means Minnesota was able to sign him to a long-term deal and he can follow in the footsteps of the great Kirby Puckett and go into the Hall after a long and successful career only playing for the Twins.

But Verducci notably did not have Albert Pujols on his list of players that he predicted would go into the Hall after finishing their entire careers with one team. He blamed economics for that, concerned about the St. Louis Cardinals' ability to sign the superstar to a long-term deal. I hope he's wrong about that one and Albert stays with the Cardinals, and more importantly, in the National League!

What will CC Sabathia do for an encore?

In his first year pitching for the New York Yankees, CC Sabathia won 19 regular season games, went 3-1 in the playoffs (receiving the American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player award) and won his first World Series title. What will he do for an encore? Win 20 games, perhaps?

For CC, the focus is clearly on winning another title. Some baseball players get complacent after having so much success in their first year with a team. Not CC. And not the Yankees.

Sabathia made it clear that if he ever struggles with motivation, he just has to look across his locker room at the Core Four (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte) to find it again. His fellow starter Pettitte is the perfect example. He could have easily chosen to retire after winning his fifth World Series title, especially after he played such a critical role in the team's successful 3-man playoff rotation. No one would have held that against him. But he chose to put himself through another grueling spring training and regular season to repeat the feat.
So consider Sabathia plenty motivated, a good sign for the Yanks, who will need their ace to lead them to another title.

Thanks to chris.ptacek via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wang couldn't do better than the Nats?

Teams were generally eager to overbid for starters coming off injury-plagued seasons during this offseason($10 million from the Oakland A's for Ben Sheets, are you kidding, me?). That's why I find it hard to believe that former Yankee ace Chien-Ming Wang couldn't do better than $2 million from the Washington Nationals, a team most famous for a misspelling of its name on its baseball uniforms last year. Perhaps teams are concerned that he won't be ready until the second half of the season.
If all it took was $2 million, why isn't he still with the Yankees? I know the team didn't want to risk him getting a massive raise in arbitration and that's completely understandable. But did they not make an offer to him after non-tendering him? And if Brian Cashman & Co. did make an offer, did Wang refuse it?

These are all questions I would love to see answered. Maybe someone will ask Cashman about it when spring training officially starts tomorrow.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Curtis a happy new Yankee camper

Curtis Granderson is so happy to be joining the New York Yankees that he doesn't care where he plays or hits in the lineup. The new Yankee outfielder will play a key role in two of the biggest decisions Joe Girardi will make this spring: who plays center and left field and who hits second in the lineup behind Derek Jeter and ahead of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.

Granderson's comfort in making a change in either his position or the lineup will be a major factor in Girardi's decision making. But Granderson seems determined to make the decision as easy as possible for his new manager by being as low maintenance as possible. He repeatedly stated that he would be OK with a move to left field, reminding people that he hasn't always been a center fielder. Granderson also said he doesn't care where he hits in the lineup. Classic non-diva attitude, which is important for a new guy on a team that just won the World Series.

But he did reiterate a point he made in his introductory press conference a few months ago, that he is not a home run hitter despite hitting 30 homers last season. Granderson seems to be trying to lower expectations that the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium will automatically translate into an Albert Pujols-like power surge. Don't worry about that, Curtis. Just try to get better hitting those lefties!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Worst moves of baseball offseason

This was an easier list to compile because several teams made questionable decisions, starting with the New York Yankees cross-town rivals:

1) Mets strange offseason moves: Under tremendous pressure to redeem themselves after a lost 2009 season, the Mets made a good move signing Jason Bay to the deal they wanted rather than on his terms. But everything fell apart after that. Defying conventional wisdom, catcher Bengie Molina dissed the Mets to resign with the San Francisco Giants. But the most embarrassing, head-scratching move was the Carlos Beltran surgery debacle. Getting into a nasty, public dispute with one of your best players is unwise and a true reflection of the behind-the-scenes dysfunctionality that prevented the Mets from really fixing their ballclub.

2) The Yankees letting both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui walk: Yes, Brian Cashman fulfilled his stated desire to get younger, but he did so by letting two clutch performers who perfectly fit their roles with the team walk away. He didn't even put up a fight to keep Matsui, signing another injury-plagued player, Nick Johnson, to replace him without saving much money. Damon is going to end up signing with another team for about the same dollars he could have gotten from the Yanks so that's partly on him and Scott Boras, but the team could have been a little more flexible in those negotiations. I just hope Johnson and Curtis Granderson can fill those big shoes.

3) Phillies trading Cliff Lee: When I heard the Phils got Roy Halladay, I thought they would be unbeatable, until I heard they gave up Lee as part of the multi-team trade to get him. They cited a need to replenish their minor league system, but I think they blew a major chance to dominate the National League for the next five years. Lee was incredible during the 2009 playoffs and will make a nice free-agent target for the Yankees, unless Seattle locks him up first.

Thanks to Wknight94 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Best moves of baseball offseason

With spring training starting this week, it's time to examine the best and worst moves of what can only be described as a slow and steady offseason.

1) Teams locking up young players: Whether it was King Felix Hernandez in Seattle or Justin Verlander in Detroit, teams (with the notable exception of the San Francisco Giants and Tim Lincecum) were determined to secure their young stars to long-term deals that will take them through at least part of their prime years. A big prize of the 2010 free-agent class, Joe Mauer, may soon be off the market if the Minnesota Twins can finally get him to sign on the dotted line. Bad news for the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but great news for smaller-market teams and the game of baseball.

2) Phillies get Roy "Doc" Halladay: Not only did the National League champs get the best pitcher in baseball, they managed to convince him to forgo free agency and sign a much-cheaper deal than he could have gotten in the 2010 offseason. In return, Halladay got to sign with a major contender and fulfilled his wish of playing for a team with a spring training camp close to his offseason home. We finally found a player who meant it when he said money was not his most important consideration.
3) Signing proven veterans: There were a couple of solid moves made by teams in the offseason, namely Seattle signing Chone Figgins to pair up with Ichiro at the top of the lineup, Boston getting John Lackey to solidify its rotation and Anaheim signing Hideki Matsui to replace Vlad as their designated hitter. But I wouldn't qualify any of them as game changers.
Worst moves to follow shortly in a separate post.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Francisco Cervelli's time is now

Francisco Cervelli stepped up for the New York Yankees in a big way last year when both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina went down with injuries within a week. His fantastic baseball performance was surprising and very welcome, hitting nearly .300 and earning raves from a pitching staff where some members quietly grumbled about Posada's catching ability. Now let's see what Cervelli can do with his chance to shine as Posada's backup.

The pressure on Cervelli is going to be tremendous this year, especially with superprospect Jesus Montero waiting in the wings. Montero is already getting a lot of ink, with a profile in the Daily News this weekend. But Montero is only 20 years old and probably needs at least another year or two in the minor leagues. This is Cervelli's time to show what he can do in the big leagues.

He is lucky to have a former big-league backstop in Joe Girardi as his manager. Girardi taught Posada a lot of what he knows about catching and can do the same for Cervelli. Plus, Girardi is going to be patient with the youngster and will do his best to deflect any pressure. But ultimately it will be up to Cervelli to show last year was no fluke. I'll be rooting for him.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Gardner deserves fair shot at starting spot

Days before baseball pitchers and catchers are due to report, Brett Gardner is already down in Tampa working in the batting cage and preparing for a tough battle for a starting job in the New York Yankees outfield.

Although Joe Girardi likes his speed and defense, Gardner is not a sure thing to win a spot in either center or left field. The Yankees proved that with the decision to bring in not just Randy Winn, but Marcus Thames late in the process. Typical Yankees mentality: they didn't want to spend the money necessary to retain Johnny Damon, but didn't quite trust Gardner to fill the spot so they brought in reinforcements.

Girardi said Winn will have a shot at winning the starting spot. But given his youth and skills, Gardner has to be given a legitimate shot to win and keep the starting spot. The Yankees have more than enough offense in that lineup and could use more balance on the defensive side. Plus, the speedy Gardner on base, hitting from presumably the 9th spot, ahead of Derek Jeter could turn the lineup over quite effectively.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Olympic officials cruel to blame victim

Olympic officials do not want the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili to overshadow the Winter Olympic games in Vancouver, but their "blame-the-victim" mentality is just cruel.

In the third paragraph of their official statement, Olympic officials heartlessly blamed Kumaritashvili for failing to correct a late exit from a curve. It's a tasteless stance to take mere hours after the athlete's death. Even if he did make a mistake, it should not have been fatal. Moreover, Kumaritashvili wasn't the only athlete to have trouble with the track and that should have been an indication that there were major problems that should have been dealt with.

I also find it hard to believe that law enforcement officials could have conducted and completed a thorough investigation less than a day after the terrible tragedy. It seems more like an attempt to deflect blame. It is cruel and disrespectful of the pain and suffering being faced by his family, friends and fellow Georgian athletes.

I hope Olympic officials right the wrong and properly acknowledge some responsibility for the tragedy. But I suspect it will be a cold day in hell before they do.

Thanks to Tabercil via Wikipedia for the photo.

Get well soon Gene Monahan

This is one of those days when we really understand that as much as we love baseball, it's not the most important thing in the world. Gene Monahan, the long-time trainer for the New York Yankees, will miss spring training and perhaps part of the regular season due to an undisclosed illness.

Monahan has been a Yankees staple since the early 1960s, working in their minor league system before serving as head trainer for the big club. He has been involved in the care and treatment of every major injury Yankee players have faced, including the horrific shoulder dislocation suffered by Yankee Captain Derek Jeter at the start of the 2003 season. He is a legend in his profession, gaining entrance into the New York State Athletic Trainers' Association Hall of Fame in 2007.

My only hope is that Monahan takes care of himself and completely recovers well from whatever illness he is suffering from. Get well soon, Gene.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

All is forgiven for Big Hurt, White Sox

In a sign that all is forgiven between Frank Thomas, best known as the "Big Hurt", and the Chicago White Sox after a bitter parting, the team announced it would retire his #35 in August. It's a smart, classy move.

"When you become an icon in a city, there's never a sweet way to say goodbye," Thomas said in an interview on MLB Network's Hot Stove show. "There are no hard feelings. We patched things up, we really have."

Thomas will undoubtedly enter the Baseball Hall of Fame with a White Sox cap when he becomes eligible for the first time in 2014. "I would love to be part of that elite class, God willing," Thomas said. "I think my resume speaks for itself."

He's absolutely right. He's a sure-fire, first-ballot inductee and we don't have very many of those anymore. It's going to be a great summer in 2014 with him and Tom Glavine heading the class.

Thanks to BCS National Championship via Wikipedia for the photo.

No one can replace Captain Jeter

The New York Post published a story this morning about the New York Yankees supposedly pursuing Cuban shortstop Adeinis Hechavarria to replace Derek Jeter. Good luck with that, Yanks!
Let's start with the team's decidedly mixed record signing Cuban players. The Yankees struck gold with Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, but Jose Contreras and other Cuban players were noteworthy only for their underwhelming performances in pinstripes.

Jeter's toughness is one of the reasons he's lasted so long at shortstop. It's a mental and physical toughness that would be difficult to replace. In an interview with Mike Francesa yesterday, former Yankees manager Joe Torre talked about how he truly never knew whether Jeter was hurt or healthy because of the shortstop's refusal to even discuss the issue with Torre and the trainers, let alone allow injuries to prevent him from playing. But Torre speculated Jeter may have finally been healthy all last year. "He looked like he willed himself to have that kind of season," he said.
The biggest problem is that whoever they hire to play shortstop after Jeter is going to be living under the strain of his tremendous shadow. The one person in baseball I would least want to be is the guy who has to replace Mariano Rivera as the Yankees closer, followed closely by the guy who has to play short after Jeter. Imagine try to live up to the regular season and playoff heroics of Captain Jeter. Talk about pressure.

I question the timing of this article, with the story emerging after a week of being bombarded with news of the non-negotiations for a new contract for the Yankee Captain. The timing seems more than coincidental. But if the team is trying to smooth the path for a Jeter transition off of short or assert that they are preparing for life without him, they'd better be careful because these things have a tendency to backfire.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Heartbreaking start to Winter Olympics

The 2010 Winter Olympics got off to a heartbreaking start with the accidental death of 21-year old luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. In all honesty, I knew nothing about the young athlete before today and luge is not a sport I follow, but that doesn't make his death any less tragic.

My heart goes out to the athletes from the Republic of Georgia. After all the chaos caused by the brutal conflict with Russia in 2008, these athletes likely represented a new hope for the country. For that to end even before the Winter Games officially start is just cruel. His family and friends must be in terrible pain right now, especially since he, like all the Olympic athletes, worked so hard to get to Vancouver.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Georgian athletes and Kumaritashvili's family.

Girardi has tough calls to make

With spring training only a few days away, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi is focused on some of the tough calls he will have to make. In an interview with Mike Francesa, Girardi highlighted three key decisions: who plays center and left field, who bats second and fifth in the line-up, and who will be the Yankees fifth starter.
"We feel good about the pieces," Girardi said, referring to the acquisitions of Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, Randy Winn and Javier Vazquez. "It's just that we have to assemble them the right way."
Girardi did not commit to Brett Gardner being a full-time outfielder, saying Winn will compete for a starting position. He also said he is open to alternating the lineup so that Granderson hits second versus righthanders while Johnson bats second against lefties.
Interestingly, Girardi also said that both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes could end up in the bullpen. The battle for the fifth spot has been thought to be between the homegrown youngsters, but Girardi sounds like he's willing to give Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre a genuine shot at the spot. The manager hopes to make a decision by March 25 to give the guys who don't end up as a starter time to adjust to their bullpen roles.

Thanks to SFC Richard Guzman, USAREC via Wikipedia for the photo.

Giants wise to reach deal with Lincecum

The San Francisco Giants wisely avoided fighting a losing arbitration battle with ace Tim Lincecum, settling on a two-year deal reportedly worth about $23 million. My only question: why did it take so long?

The team was thisclose to going to battle with the best young pitcher in baseball, a fight they would have lost to the tune of $13 million. But by dragging things out, they risked alienating their superstar, a two-time Cy Young winner they should be building a team around. I hope for the Giants sake that's not the case.

Thanks to SD Dirk via Wikipedia for the photo.

Bye Thomas! Big Hurt retires

Boy, the Baseball Hall of Fame is going to be really crowded in a few years. Since the start of the new year, several sure-fire hall of famers have announced their retirement. The latest is Frank Thomas, best known as the "Big Hurt."

Thomas was one of the most dangerous sluggers in baseball. The numbers are impressive: .301 batting average, 521 home runs, 2,468 hits and 1,704 ribbies. He won back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player awards and was selected for the All-Star team five times.

Thomas was often a controversial figure, never hesitating to speak his mind, even if that meant criticizing his bosses. He won his only World Series title with the Chicago White Sox in 2005, but had a bitter parting with them before signing with the Oakland Athletics. But that honesty came in handy as Thomas was one of the few players openly advocating for drug testing during the steroid era while other clean colleagues simply looked the other way.
There's no denying his greatness. Hall of Fame, here comes the Big Hurt.

Thanks to Ken N via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bye Glavine! Another lefty great retires

First Randy Johnson, now Tom Glavine. Baseball lost another great lefty pitcher to retirement when Glavine announced he would hang up his spikes after a long and successful career.

Glavine posted a 305-203 career record with a 3.54 and 2,607 strikeouts. He won the National League Cy Young award twice and was named to the All-Star team 10 times. He won 20 games five times, a remarkable feat in this baseball era.

Having passed the magic 300-win mark, Glavine's Hall of Fame credentials are certain. He and Johnson will make a helluva inductee class. He will go in with an Atlanta Braves cap as he won his only World Series championship with the team, but he did win that 300th game during his roller coaster tenure with the New York Mets.

I'm glad to hear Glavine isn't planning to walk away from baseball, taking a front-office job with the Braves. He was one of the smartest pitchers in baseball and a genuinely good guy. I hope he takes the opportunity to share his gift with the young pitchers who will follow in his footsteps.

Thanks to Jimmyack205 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Jeter focused on baseball not contract

Someday soon, perhaps as early as next week, Derek Jeter will address the media horde to answer questions about his contract situation. The captain of the New York Yankees has already started working out at the team complex in Tampa, focusing on getting ready for the upcoming baseball season. But the Yankees beat reporters have already shown that they consider the expiration of his contract and the refusal of Brian Cashman & Co. to start negotiations on a new one until after the season to be the main non-baseball storyline of spring training.

Of course, they won't get any help sensationalizing the story from Jeter. When that press conference does occur, here's what he is likely to say publicly: that focusing on winning another title is more important than his contract, that he has no problem waiting until the offseason, that the non-negotiations won't be a distraction. I wonder if deep down Jeter is at all annoyed by the Yankees insistence on waiting if for no other reason than he has to answer questions about it. But given how fiercely he guards his privacy, we won't know for sure whether Jeter is bothered by the refusal to negotiate.

Jeter is not the only one who will have to answer these questions. Mariano Rivera will be asked about his contract situation when pitchers and catchers report next week. I imagine he and Jeter will say the same thing: that they are fine with waiting.

In terms of expiring contracts, the real issue is manager Joe Girardi. If the Yanks get off to a bad start, Girardi will be bombarded daily with questions about his job security. Unfair to say the least, given that he just managed a World Series winning team, but that's the way things go in New York.

Yankees can help fans get in shape

It was great to see Curtis Granderson sign on to the "Let's Move" campaign headed by First Lady Michelle Obama and focused on addressing the childhood obesity epidemic. With nearly one-third of American children overweight or obese, the time to start tackling this problem is now.

The New York Yankees can play a role in addressing obesity by offering healthier snacks and foods at Yankee Stadium. Getting exercise at the stadium is not a problem if you take the hike up the ramps to the top levels where the lower-priced seats are located. But burgers, hot dogs and beer are still the norm and kids can get their fill of cotton candy and ice cream at the stadium. What I'd like to see is more of an emphasis on healthy foods and snacks: grilled chicken salads, fruit cups, low-fat popcorn, yogurts.

This is a very personal issue to me as I struggled with my weight for many years. Before I joined Weight Watchers four years ago, I weighed nearly 200 pounds. But WW taught me how to eat right and exercise regularly. Within eight months, I lost 55 pounds and have kept it off ever since.
But it's not always easy, especially in places like Yankee Stadium where fatty foods dominate. That's why I'm hoping the Yankees take this opportunity to offer their fans healthier food options. They might be surprised at how well they do.

Thanks to Joyce N. Boghosian, White House photographer, via Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yanks can't play hardball with Jeter

If the New York Yankees were surprised by the outpouring of anger and disappointment with the team's inability to re-sign Johnny Damon, can you imagine what the reaction will be if they try to play hardball during contract negotiations with Derek Jeter? I can picture it now: furious phone calls to radio shows, mass ticket cancellations, ugly spin in the newspapers. I hope the Yanks don't let it get that far.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post argued that Jeter's pride will make reaching a new baseball pact tough. I think he has a point in the sense that Jeter won't be willing to take a pay cut the way the team wanted Damon to accept a lower salary. Jeter will also want to show everyone that last year was no fluke in terms of his improved defense, which will be important as his eventual move off shortstop could become a major point of contention between the two sides. But Jeter is beloved by Yankee fans, particularly for his playoff heroics. Unless Jeter has a year where both his defense and offense completely disappear, I don't think he has anything left to prove to the team or to the fans.

Not to keep harping on the Damon negotiations, but the Yankees had an advantage because they were dealing with superagent Scott Boras, who is known for getting his players outlandish deals. So they could spin stories in the press about Damon and Boras misreading the market and asking for too much money and it was believable. There is no similar bad guy in a Jeter scenario with agent Casey Close. If the Yanks want the fans and the media on their side this time, they will have to take their chances publicly criticizing Jeter. Good luck with that.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yanks want surplus of outfield options

Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman will have no shortage of options when choosing their starting outfielders during spring training. Nick Swisher is set as the right fielder while Curtis Granderson is guaranteed an outfield spot, although it's still uncertain whether he will start in center or left. But several outfielders will fight for the last spot.
Marcus Thames has returned to the New York Yankees family after agreeing to a $900,000 minor league deal. He made quite a splash in his first go-around with the Yankees, hitting a home run against Randy Johnson in his first major league at-bat and getting a curtain call in front of the Yankee faithful.
Randy Winn finalized his $1.1 million deal with the Yankees, where he will likely be the back-up to Brett Gardner, who is the early favorite for the last outfield spot due to his youth and speed. One thing that bothers me about his deal is the $900,000 in potential incentives he can earn. Some players get extra motivation from such clauses, but they can become a distraction if a player gets frustrated by not getting the at-bats he needs to qualify for the bonuses. I hope that doesn't become a problem with Winn.

Thanks to Philpottm via Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Jeter, ARod on the outs again?

I normally don't pay much attention to gossip columns, knowing their propensity to exaggerate and fudge the facts. But an item in the New York Daily News' Gatecrasher column caught my attention. The story claimed that Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez avoided each other at not one, but two parties during Super Bowl weekend. If there's any truth to this story, it's a real cause for concern.

The tension between Jeter and ARod was palpable in the New York Yankees clubhouse ever since ARod was traded to the Yankees. In their book the Yankee Years, Joe Torre and Tom Verducci described the impact the frosty relationship between the two players had on the rest of the baseball team, creating a vast divide that only healed with the influx of new, untarnished players like Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira.

ARod obviously was at fault in starting the rift, saying things that he never should have said about anyone, especially a friend, to a national magazine writer. But Jeter played a role in dragging out the animosity. I'm not saying Jeter should just forgive and forget, but you have to find a way to get along with your co-workers, even the ones you don't like.

In an interview with Harold Reynolds on MLB Network last week, Jeter said he was extremely happy that ARod got the proverbial monkey off his back with his monster playoff run. "The better Alex plays, the better our team is," he said. "He's a vital part of our team. He had one of those postseasons to remember."

I hope he means it. The last thing that a team with such amazing chemistry in 2009 needs is another spat between two of its biggest stars. It would only hurt the Yankees' quest to repeat.

Thanks to Keith Allison for the photos.

New Orleans haunted no more after big win

As a long-time fan of the city of New Orleans (I go there every couple of years for Halloween), I was beyond thrilled to see the Saints pull off the upset against the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl last night. I had a feeling going into the game that the Saints would win despite having to beat the great Peyton Manning. I just felt that after years of struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Big Easy was overdue for an iconic moment to wash away the sadness of that catastrophe. I wish I was on Bourbon Street last night to participate in that wondrous celebration.

Aside from the big win for the Crescent City, I was happy that it turned out to be such a fantastic football game. Really it was a very clean game: few penalties, not a lot of mistakes. Garrett Hartley kept the Saints in it early with his precision kicking. Quarterback Drew Brees threw a helluva game, was named Most Valuable Player and brought thousands of people to tears hugging and kissing his young son in the midst of the joyful, chaotic on-field celebration as the boy tried to grab the confetti raining down on him and his dad.

But the big winner is obviously the city of New Orleans. Haunted no more, the city finally banishes its Katrina demons.

Thanks to Gonk via Wikipedia for the photo

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tiger most powerful athlete despite scandal

Bloomberg BusinessWeek just came out with its Power 100 2010 list ranking the top athletes in the world. Tiger Woods was #1 despite the massive sex scandal late last year. He won't be #1 next year after the major hit to his public reputation and marriage, his leave of absence from golf and the fleeing of his advertisers. It will be interesting to see how many spots he falls, if he even makes the list at all.

I was surprised Derek Jeter was only #33 on the list. Jeter is the most visible player for the New York Yankees, the most recognized baseball team in the world. But athletes in individual sports such as golf took most of the top spots while the National Football League and National Basketball Association outranked Major League Baseball at the team sports level. Albert Pujols is the top ranked player for baseball in the #4 slot.

Jeter may be only #33 on the list, but his likeability is second to none in Yankee land. Perhaps he gets hurt by the backlash against the Yankees free-spending ways.

But as the magazine notes, Captain Clutch had a fantastic season that ended with his fifth championship. He probably moves up the list next year.

Thanks to KOknockout920 via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hope Damon finds job before music stops

Johnny Damon and Scott Boras may have overplayed their hand in contract negotiations with the New York Yankees, while the team was inflexible with a player who was a key part of their 2009 World Series championship. But Damon doesn't deserve to be without a chair when the music stops.

Boras can talk all he wants about still being in negotiations with several baseball teams for Damon's services. But it's February 6 and the list of teams with available outfield spots is dwindling with the start of spring training less than two weeks away. I hope Damon finds a job soon. It won't be for the money and years he wanted, but it's better than being unemployed.

Thanks to Ken N and Mattingly23 via Wikipedia for the photo.

ARod 500th HR not worth much

The ball Alex Rodriguez hit for his 500th home run just sold for $103,579. I'm surprised it got that much.

Hitting 500 home runs is not the achievement that it used to be, given the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. And ARod's numbers are tainted because of his acknowledged steroid use for several years of his career with the Texas Rangers.

ARod is likely to break Barry Bond's home run record (762) in a New York Yankees uniform. But it's a moment I won't be celebrating. Unlike Derek Jeter topping Lou Gehrig for the all-time Yankees hits record, I will take no pleasure watching ARod break that home run record. That home run will always remind me of the damage ARod and other players have done to the game of baseball.

Thanks to Googie man via en. Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Can Girardi make the right moves?

I hope Joe Girardi had a good rest this offseason. He's going to need it. Three months after winning his first World Series title as a manager, the pressure to win another will be tremendous. And it starts as soon as he steps off the plane in Florida for spring training.

There are two major baseball decisions he will need to make. The first and most important is deciding who will be the fifth starter for the New York Yankees. The competition is mostly between Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, with Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre in the mix. This won't be Girardi's decision alone as Brian Cashman & Co. will weigh in. But Girardi is going to be closest to the action so he may cast the deciding vote.

The Yankees manager will also have to settle who plays center field and who plays left. Given Girardi is a pitching and defense guy, my money is on Brett Gardner in center with Curtis Granderson in left.

Girardi made some good moves in spring training last year that helped the Yankees win, namely flipping Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon in the lineup. Can Girardi find that Midas touch again? We'll know soon.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Jeter's value beyond dollars and cents

Hank Steinbrenner is focused on the New York Yankees repeating their 2009 World Series championship. But Jr. Boss knows there is a potential storm brewing next offseason: the expiration of Yankees Captain Derek Jeter's contract.

How do you calculate Jeter's value in terms of dollars and cents? That's a tough one. Jeter's in the final year of a 10-year, $189 million contract. Looking strictly at stats, some observers would conclude that he's not worth that kind of money. But let's look at those stats: .317 career batting average, 2,747 hits, 1,574 runs, 224 home runs and 1,068 ribbies. He was the 1996 Rookie of the Year, a 10-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner. And, of course, the only number that really counts: 5, as in five world championships.

But Jeter's value has never been about just stats. It's no coincidence that the Yankees started winning titles again when Jeter took over at shortstop. He and Mariano Rivera were the heart and soul of the most recent Yankees dynasty. And they have a strong chance of starting a new one, surrounded by good, young players such as Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. But it always starts with Jeter's leadership. Take that out of the Yankees and there's no way they do as well.

Maybe I'm naive, but I don't believe Jeter would ever leave the Yankees nor do I believe the team would ever allow him to leave. The brass can strong arm other players as much as they want, but try to pull the same with Jeter and Mo and they risk a mass rebellion. I think Jeter will be reasonable in his contract demands. I don't know what his request would be, but I would guess a four or five-year deal at about $20-$22 million per year. That's a lot of money, but given his value to the Yanks, it's a steal.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Jr Boss ready for Yankees repeat

Hank Steinbrenner is ready for the start of spring training baseball, which he considers a mere formality in the quest for a repeat championship for the New York Yankees. As Yankee Captain Derek Jeter said Wednesday, the mantra for the Bronx Bombers does not change: win it all or the season is a failure.

Steinbrenner thinks the offseason moves made by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman (trading for Curtis Granderson and Javy Vazquez) have improved the team. I would quibble with that notion on the Vazquez end, but he may be right. The Yankees did fulfill Cashman's stated desire to get younger and more flexible. They managed to revamp their roster in a cost-effective way, a goal of Hank's brother Hal after years of what he sees as out-of-control spending by the real Boss: George Steinbrenner.

Yet, I think Jr. Boss & Co. are underestimating the impact of losing both Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, good guys with clutch bats. The brass is counting on Granderson and Nick Johnson to fill that void both in the lineup and the clubhouse. We'll see if they have the goods to do it.