Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Colon, Garcia real Yankee MVPs

I know Curtis Granderson is getting a lot of well-deserved ink and talk as a Most Valuable Player candidate, but I would like to cast my vote for two guys on the New York Yankees whose best years were supposed to be behind them: Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

The starting rotation was supposed to be the Achilles’ heel of the Yankees, even before Phil Hughes went down with an injury. But Colon and Garcia have done a remarkable job of not only keeping the Yankees in games, but really dominating other baseball teams on the field. Colon’s stunning, manhandling of the Oakland Athletics yesterday was just the latest example of Colon and Garcia pitching the Yankees to the top of the American League East division.

The only reason they don’t have better win-loss records is that the Yankees offense has disappeared on them several times over the course of the 2011 baseball season. Case in point: Garcia’s fantastic start against the Mets should have ended up in the win column, but the hitters could not scrounge up enough runs to send him home with a victory.

But check out the way the team plays behind them, the confidence the Yankees have in both Colon and Garcia. The Yankees feel like they have a genuine chance to win each game that these guys start, no matter who the opponent is.

Colon and Garcia might not end up with as good ERA numbers as they have right now, but in the end all that will matter is that the true MVPs of the New York Yankees carried the team through a very rough patch early in their season on their way to a title.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Einhorn pact a bad deal for Wilpon, Mets

I couldn't help but wonder over the last two days why anyone would sink $200 million into a flailing baseball team without getting a say in running the ballclub? Now I know the answer.

David Einhorn is willing to make the $200 million investment in the New York Mets that owner Fred Wilpon needs to ride out the storm of the Bernie Madoff clawback lawsuit. But there apparently is a major catch. Einhorn will get about 33% of the team, but has the option to raise that stake to 60% in three years. And the only way Wilpon can stop him is by paying back the $200 million, but allowing him to retain his one-third share.

Is it a bad deal for Wilpon and his family? Absolutely. But, right now, Wilpon has no choice. He doesn’t want to sell his team or a stake in his profitable television network, which would expand the pool of potential investors. Wilpon desperately needs the cash and seems to be making the best deal he can with that metaphorical gun pointed at his head.

Wilpon may just be delaying the inevitable. He might be able to use Einhorn’s money to survive for the next few years, but he is going to have to bank on the Mets improving their on-field and financial performance enough to make the team profitable again. He’s going to have to pray that the trustee in the Madoff case fails in his effort to force Wilpon & Co to pay back the full principal of their Madoff investments. Too much has to go right for Wilpon for him to retain control of the Mets and nothing has gone right for him in the last week, let alone the last two years.

We may be getting a glimpse of the future majority owner of the Mets in Einhorn and we know nothing about the type of owner he would be. Is he going to be a Wilpon or George Steinbrenner type, willing to spend money on payroll in a quest for on-field success? Or is he going to hoard the money, cut payroll and just use the cache of owning a Major League Baseball team for his own purposes, screwing Mets fans in the process? We simply do not know and that could make this a very bad deal for the Mets.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mariano's remarkable feat worthy of praise

Mariano Rivera has spoiled us fans of the New York Yankees for a long time.

Mo is easy to root for not only because of his brilliance, but because of his modesty. He didn’t even really want to talk about what is truly a remarkable accomplishment: becoming the only pitcher in Major League Baseball history to appear in 1,000 games for the same team. That’s just unbelievable when you think about how difficult it is to pitch in that many games, especially for one team in an era of frequent trades and free agency.

I’m constantly reminded of how truly blessed and spoiled we are by Rivera when I watch other baseball teams play. I was at a Mets game with my good friend Scott a few weeks ago when Francisco Rodriguez came in to close out the 9th inning. Me being accustomed to watching Mo end games with less than 10 pitches, I started gathering my things for a quick exit. But that 9th inning lasted closer to 40 minutes than the 5 minutes it usually takes Mo to finish a game. I had a taste of what other fans have to deal with because guys not named Mariano Rivera are their closers.

Yankees fans will eventually feel that type of pain whenever Rivera decides to call it quits. Joba Chamberlain said Mo could pitch until he’s 50. Selfishly, I hope that he does because no one will ever be able to fill his legendary shoes.

A lot of attention has been paid to Derek Jeter’s pursuit of 3,000 hits, a magnificent accomplishment for another future Hall of Famer. But I hadn’t heard about Rivera’s feat until yesterday’s game. I was glad to see it got so much attention and love in the press today because it is truly a remarkable feat, one worthy of unending praise, just like the man himself.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Please no more CC Sabathia opt-out talk

Can we please table talk about CC Sabathia's opt-out clause?

Sure, the New York Yankees will have a major dilemma on their hands if their ace invokes the clause or, heaven forbid, actually decides to leave the Yankees since he’s already gotten his World Series ring. The Yankees will have to give him whatever he wants this offseason, namely a shiny new long-term contract at a higher average salary, perhaps more than the $26.2 million made by the second-highest paid player in baseball Vernon Wells. CC’s not getting Alex Rodriguez’s $32 million a year as I don’t think the Steinbrenners are dumb enough to make that mistake again. Then again, they were the ones who gave Rafael Soriano $35 million to be a set-up guy, over the strenuous objections of their general manager Brian Cashman.

But really, what’s the point of speculating about Sabathia’s intentions in late May? Whether or not he invokes the opt-out clause will depend in large part to how he performs this year and there’s still more than four months left to the baseball season. Right now, he is 4-3 with an ERA of just over 3.00, solid numbers for sure, but hardly ace-like. Sabathia is a notoriously slow starter so I bet he would feel much more comfortable making a decision closer to the end of the baseball season then right now.

So let me make a plea for a moratorium on all CC out-opt talk, at least through the summer. I know it makes for a sexy story, but it’s just another distraction from more important issues that should be the focus of attention with the Yankees.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Wilpon owes his players an apology

I was in Las Vegas this weekend so I missed most of the Subway Series between the New York Yankees and the Mets, which the Yankees won by taking two out of three (although they really wasted Freddy Garcia's fine outing on Friday night). But I came back just in time to see the Mets really start to implode.

Mets owner Fred Wilpon was the subject of an extensive profile in the New Yorker magazine. Ostensibly, the story was about how Wilpon is dealing with the aftermath of the fraud perpetrated by Bernie Madoff and whether it might force him to sell the Mets outright rather than just a huge chunk of the team. But his negative comments about his own players have garnered the most attention, mostly because they were both shocking and ill advised.

It doesn’t matter that Wilpon happens to be right: that David Wright is a good player but not a superstar, that the often-injured Jose Reyes doesn’t deserve Carl Crawford money and that he overpaid for Carlos Beltran’s services. Sure, it’s his team and he can say whatever he wants, especially if he is unhappy with the way the team is performing. But it was unwise of Wilpon to focus so much negative attention on a team he really needs to do well without even acknowledging the fact that he is partially responsible for the cloud the Mets are playing under.

I wonder how Wilpon would feel if one of his players called him a lousy owner for his blind faith and trust in Madoff, which directly led to the team's current financial predicament and is partly responsible for the on-field mess. Given the perfect opportunity to bash his owner, Wright took the high road and basically wrote off Wilpon’s comments to stress. I admire the young Wright’s restraint, which I hope Wilpon is grateful for. I don’t think I would have been nearly as calm and thoughtful.

This New Yorker story seems like a poor attempt to spin Wilpon’s role in the Madoff mess more positively, but the owner really should be keeping as low a profile as possible as he tries to fight his way out of a hell partly of his own making. He really should apologize to his players not just for his thoughtless comments, but for the mess they are being forced to live with on a daily basis.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book provides backstory on nasty Jeter talks

I have to admit to being surprised by the level of vitriol thrown at Derek Jeter by members of the New York Yankees hierarchy during the last round of contract negotiations. I had mistakenly believed that Jeter and the Yankees would be able to resolve any differences quickly and quietly. Ian O’ Connor’s biography of Jeter gives some interesting context as to why the relationship deteriorated so thoroughly.

O' Connor’s book covers how a young Jeter asked George Steinbrenner through an intermediary to give him a five-year contract in early 1998. But Steinbrenner refused, telling Jeter that he did not want to take advantage of his young star, who was going to make much more money by waiting a few years. Steinbrenner probably regretted not taking Jeter up on the offer as he eventually had to spend $189 million to retain Jeter's services after the monster contract Alex Rodriguez received from the Texas Rangers.

But O'Connor makes it clear that the Yankees were unhappy that they were not rewarded for Steinbrenner's magnanimous gesture or their willingness to renew Jeter's early contracts at a higher value than they were obligated to during those negotiations. Brian Cashman in particular was peeved that the Yankees were not deemed eligible for a hometown discount despite their early gratitude, which explains his firm, but clumsy wielding of the hammer during Jeter's most recent contract talks.

The scars from the fight between Jeter and the Yankees are still visible, particularly in the Yankees’ anger over Jeter’s failure to defend the organization and criticize Jorge Posada over his recent antics. And as the book firmly established Jeter’s cold, unforgiving nature, it seems those scars will never be truly healed.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jeter bio humanizes Yankee Captain

Ian O' Connor said he wanted to humanize Derek Jeter in writing his now famous Jeter biography The Captain. I would say he succeeded, at least partially.

The book is a mostly positive recap of Jeter's career, much of it pretty well known. But there are some interesting and insightful tidbits mixed in about Jeter and his relationships with friends, family and fellow members of the New York Yankees. I'm going to cover some of them in the next few blog posts.

I found the first chapter to be one of the best chapters in the book because it delves into great detail about Jeter’s family, particularly his father Charles Jeter and grandfather Sonny Connors. It was mostly from Connors that Jeter developed his unimpeachable work ethic. But it was from his dad that Jeter got his baseball skills and I couldn’t help but wonder if Charles Jeter would have been the first big-league baseball player in the family if he hadn’t faced so many racial and other obstacles.

It was pretty funny to read that Jeter's obsession with Mariah Carey – and the book makes it clear it was an obsession – went even deeper than we realized with numerous former high school and minor league teammates recounting Jeter's plans to marry the singer and constant tuning in to her tunes. I'm sure Minka Kelly, Jeter's current girlfriend and the woman expected to be crowned princess of New York to Jeter's prince, is thrilled by these revelations.

But the book makes clear that Jeter can be quite cold, distrustful and quick to freeze people out of his life for any reason. Of course, we knew something about this from his falling out with Alex Rodriguez over the infamous Esquire article. But that was understandable considering his then-pal publicly dissed him. What I found most revealing is that Jeter reserved the same treatment for friends or teammates that he felt slighted him in much smaller and less public ways. One of the most insightful quotes in the book comes from Jeter’s former minor league teammate R.D. Long who says he still senses Jeter’s distrust despite their long friendship. I bet that quote is going to earn him a one-way ticket to Jeter’s doghouse.

The major hole in the narrative comes from O' Connor's inability to secure the cooperation of Jeter and other key figures in the book such as Alex Rodriguez and Joe Torre. I would have loved to get ARod's response to O' Connor's contention that ARod was happy about the nasty contract negotiations between Jeter and the Yankees. Likewise, I would have appreciated hearing Torre’s response to getting caught in a lie when Brian Cashman realized that the then-Yankees manager never approached Jeter about a possible position change even though Torre told Cashman that Jeter wanted to stay put. I have to give O' Connor a pass on not getting Jeter's views on these and other topics because even if Jeter had agreed to the lengthy sit-down that the writer asked for, there's no way he would have reignited the Jeter/ARod cold war or ever say a bad word about the man he viewed as his baseball father.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ownership dilemmas continue to haunt baseball

Bud Selig is going to have a heck of a problem deciding who should own baseball teams over the last 18 months of his tenure as commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Just when you thought baseball might finally have a relatively smooth ownership transition on its hands, now comes word that the company of Jim Crane, the proposed new owner of the Houston Astros, was once accused by federal regulators of despicable treatment in the employment of women and minorities. It's unclear how much truth there was to these allegations, but they will make it hard for Selig and baseball owners to welcome Crane into their fraternity. Selig has been a vocal advocate of racial/gender parity in the front offices of baseball and it would be hypocritical of him to approve an owner accused of such heinous discrimination. And on this particular issue, I think Selig genuinely always tries to do the right thing and would cringe at the notion of selling one of his baseball teams to someone who expresses blatantly racist and sexist views.

At least Selig appears to be getting an assist in trying to rid baseball and the Los Angeles Dodgers of Frank McCourt from Jamie McCourt, who apparently will ask for a forced sale of the team as part of her divorce proceedings. Selig has already taken control of the team's operations and may be forced to formally take control of and sell the team if McCourt has trouble making payroll at the end of May, as rumored. The commissioner is already probably compiling a short list of possible owners of the Dodgers, looking for someone with a better profile than McCourt or Crane.

Add to this the ongoing mess in New York as the Mets seek a minority owner and it seems ownership dilemmas will continue to haunt Selig through his expected retirement at the end of next year. But if he can place these teams with competent, credible owners, he can go out on a high note.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Soriano will be bigger pariah than Posada

Rafael Soriano is going to end up being a much bigger pariah in the New York Yankees clubhouse than Jorge Posada.

It's probably a good thing that Soriano was sent back to New York and put on the disabled list because it would have been very uncomfortable for him to walk into the Yankees clubhouse after he publicly blamed the hitters for the Yankees’ recent struggles. It was probably worse when he went on to say that he wasn’t at all upset about missing crucial games against the Boston Red Sox because the Yankees were always playing the 8th inning behind in the score. In fact, the treatment by his teammates probably would have been downright hostile.

The Posada situation is garnering all the headlines and attention from the media because of his long tenure with the Yankees and the fact that the dispute brought to the surface underlying tensions between the organization, including Joe Girardi, and core Yankees like Posada and Derek Jeter. But I think Soriano's comments are just as bad as what Posada did. I don’t doubt that Soriano could be legitimately hurt (it would certainly explain why he’s been so terrible this year). But to not even pretend he was disappointed not to pitch in the heated rivalry with the Red Sox speaks volumes about his character (or lack thereof).

It doesn’t matter that Soriano had a legitimate point about the Yankees offense. The media can say things like that, we bloggers can say things like that, but teammates are not supposed to break that inner code that says you don’t criticize a fellow player in public. The fact that Girardi even hinted at irritation about Soriano's remarks is a good indicator that the reliever broke the rules.

The reliever doesn't have anywhere near Posada's cache of good will to allow him to overcome such unwise comments. I don’t think his teammates will excuse Posada’s quitting on the team, but he can probably repair any damage he caused with enough time. But the Yankee hitters are unlikely to forget what Soriano said about them. Perhaps any hurt or anger they feel will have abated, at least slightly, by the time he comes back, but I seriously doubt it.

The fans will be even less forgiving considering he went to the DL already pitching poorly amid escalating doubts about his heart. I hope Soriano doesn't expect the same standing ovation that Posada received from the Yankees faithful Sunday night whenever he comes off the DL. He’s more likely to receive an equally loud, enthusiastic series of boos.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Posada mess is the gift that keeps on giving

This Jorge Posada mess is the gift that keeps on giving.

Just when the confusion over Saturday night’s dispute seemed to be clearing up, now we learn that a frustrated Posada reportedly wanted off the New York Yankees entirely, not just out of the Yankees lineup. This was followed by a report that Posada refused to catch a game during spring training, which the Yankees designated hitter adamantly denied.

It’s interesting because when I first heard Cashman’s Fox interview, I thought he was alluding to Posada announcing his retirement from baseball. That thought sent me scrambling for more information. It seemed very credible to me, given Posada’s proud nature, that he wouldn’t want to continue to play baseball if he could not play at a high level. I also find it highly believable that Posada, amid his frustration over his deteriorating relationship with Joe Girardi, expressed a desire to quit completely. I find it more difficult to believe that Posada would refuse to catch, even if it was just for a day or two in spring training. Knowing how much Jorge loved being a catcher, and probably still thinks of himself as one, it’s hard to fathom that he would turn down any opportunity to prove that he could still catch.

Girardi strangely suggested that the whole incident could bring the team closer together. I seriously doubt that as the Yankees have already lost three games since the Posada news first broke and quitting is not exactly the way a player endears himself to his teammates. I bet that outside of Derek Jeter, no other teammate is willing to go to bat for Posada, even if they don't express any unhappiness publicly.

What the Posada incident does do is distract from the very real problems that the Yankees are facing: leaks in their previously overachieving starting rotation, an inexplicable lack of run production and a bullpen that is overworked to the point of exhaustion. Not one player has been able to step up and put the team on his back to carry it to one victory, let alone a winning streak that rights the ship.

I suppose the Yankees should be somewhat grateful that Posada’s outburst has taken some of the heat off the team’s losing ways. But they had better find some answers quickly because the Posada-related distractions have to run out at some point.

Jeter strikes back at the Evil Empire

Apparently, the New York Yankees weren’t as impressed as I was with the way Derek Jeter handled the whole mess involving Jorge Posada.

Buster Olney broke a very interesting story about how the Yankees are pissed off at Jeter for not calling out Posada for quitting on the team. Even though he is the captain, the Yankees were probably delusional to expect Jeter to criticize his good pal, just as it was completely unrealistic for Brian Cashman to expect Jeter to jump at the chance to defend Alex Rodriguez a few years ago when he was getting hammered by Yankee fans for his failures in the clutch.

But the Yankees have no one to blame but themselves for their deteriorating relationship with Jeter. They let it get to the point where Jeter felt no need to defend the organization and its handling of the Posada situation. It started with the unnecessarily acrimonious contract negotiations (led by Cashman’s “go test the market” challenge), kept going with Hank Steinbrenner’s ill-conceived mansions dig and now culminates with the Posada situation. Perhaps Steinbrenner is making an attempt at reconciliation (more likely he is in spin mode) when he insists the Yankees are not upset with the captain for backing Posada.

Even the fact that the Yankees let a story leak about them being angry with Jeter speaks to their bad judgment and role in the declining relationship with their captain. If they were really that upset with Jeter, why didn’t Cashman or someone else in the Yankee hierarchy pull him aside and ask him what he was thinking? They know Jeter is an ultra private person—why do they continue to insist on publicly embarrassing him?

I said back when all the Jeter contract stuff was percolating that Jeter would never forgive and forget, that some way he would figure out a way to make the Yankees pay for mistreating him (not by paying him a lower salary, but by making him seem like just another greedy ballplayer in the press). It looks like the payback may be starting now, with Jeter striking back at the Evil Empire.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Posada puts good pal Jeter in a tough spot

Jorge Posada’s tantrum put his good pal Derek Jeter in a tough spot, but Jeter, as usual, managed to defuse what could have been a disastrous situation.

Jeter is the captain of the New York Yankees so he has an obligation to the team that he has loved since he was a child. Of course, that would put him in the very uncomfortable position of being forced to comment on his long-time friend’s deplorable act of pulling himself out of the Yankees lineup. But as Jeter said, Posada is like a brother and Jeter is a family guy first so there was no way he was going to publicly condemn Posada, even if Jeter thought he was wrong. Jeter might have had some strong words for him in private, but we will probably never know.

What makes Jeter’s tight-rope walking exercise more amazing is that he would never personally ask out of a game. Jeter won’t even acknowledge that he is injured when he’s in a physical pain so the notion of him taking a mental day off is unimaginable. As much as he said he understood that Posada needed a day, I don’t think it’s something that Jeter can truly relate to because he never wants out of the lineup, no matter how bad things get.

I continue to marvel at Jeter’s poise and even-keeled nature. He managed to explain Posada’s behavior without it seeming like he was excusing it. He managed to deflect the endless questions about Posada’s tantrum without criticizing his long-time friend. I just started reading Ian O’Connor’s Jeter biography The Captain (will post a review as soon as I finish while vacationing this weekend) and I’ve also read Jeter’s book The Life You Imagine. But the book I really want to read is the parenting book that should be written by Charles and Dorothy Jeter explaining exactly how they raised such a composed, confident human being.

It is that poise that allowed Jeter to navigate an incredibly tricky situation, one that his good friend put him in. I would imagine Posada regrets putting Jeter in that spot and is grateful that his pal didn’t throw him under the bus.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Posada wise to apologize for his bad behavior

Jorge Posada is right. Everyone has a bad day once in a while. But his bad day happened in front of the baseball world and Posada wisely apologized for his deplorable behavior.

Posada walked into Joe Girardi’s office to say how sorry he was for pulling himself from such a critical baseball game against the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees designated hitter seems genuinely embarrassed about what he did and was very emotional in talking about how he let down his teammates and his fans.

“It was just one of those days you regret,” he said.

I’ll bet he does. It seems clear now that Posada was completely at fault for instigating the nasty dispute with Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees, especially since he admitted that his supposed stiff back wasn’t paining him enough to keep him out of the lineup. What Posada did is considered unforgiveable by many of his baseball colleagues, but his Yankee teammates will likely rally around him, at least publicly.

The Yankees made a gesture of good will in announcing that they would not discipline Posada for his act of insubordination, even though they had every right to do so. But the Yankees will never forgive and forget and they will find an indirect way to punish Posada. They will no longer be so concerned with his feelings the next time they decide to bench him or put him in the 9th spot in the lineup in a big game. Or maybe they will wait until after he retires and really make him wait before they honor him with a well-deserved spot in Monument Park.

I won’t have such lingering bad feelings against Posada. He’s never been my favorite Yankee because of his volatile temperament, which I feel has gotten the Yankees into unnecessary trouble at times. But I’ve always appreciated his talents on the field and his obvious leadership in the clubhouse. I hate that he let this happen, but can’t say that I’m surprised he did. At least Posada was smart enough to quickly apologize. Now it’s time to move on.

Need more answers on Posada-Yankees fight

It’s hard to have an opinion on who is right and who is wrong in the dispute between Jorge Posada and the New York Yankees because I’m still not sure what’s going on.

After watching Friday night’s loss in person at the stadium, I tuned in to Fox yesterday to watch a baseball game between the Yankees and the hated Red Sox. All I saw was the game become secondary to the brewing controversy between Posada and the Yankees. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver talked vaguely about the dispute simply because they didn’t know what the heck was going on and Brian Cashman did an interview with Fox that raised more questions than answers.

Was Posada so upset at being demoted to the 9th spot in the lineup on national television that he begged out of a game against the Yankees’ bitter rivals? Did he fake an injury to cover up that he was just upset about the demotion? It sure seems that way since Cashman told Fox that there was no injury issue. Was Posada right to be that upset that Cashman spoke about the situation – without giving any real information – during the middle of the game? Anyone who reads my blog knows that I think Cashman is talking way too much these days, but was it the complete etiquette breach that Posada implied?

One thing I don’t want is Laura Posada giving injury reports on her husband. Sure, he probably mentioned to her that he had a stiff back, but if it was such a problem that he couldn’t play, why didn’t he mention it to his manager Joe Girardi, his general manager Cashman or one of his excellent trainers?

I can’t say that I’m at all surprised that this happened. Posada is a proud man, which is part of what has made him a great ballplayer and part of what makes him a hothead. He doesn’t have anywhere near the tact that allows his good friend Derek Jeter to deflect and minimize controversies. With the fiery Posada, things always seem to explode.

I’m starting to feel really bad for Girardi. He’s going to have to make some tough decisions about Posada and Jeter, although he seems to have come out of his slump. (There are no tough decisions to make about Mariano Rivera, other than making sure he gets enough rest, as he continues his awe-inspiring domination of opposing hitters). Girardi has to manage these delicate relationships under the glare of the New York media spotlight. The Yankees manager doesn’t have the best relationship with the media and he was obviously frustrated and bewildered yesterday and that came across in his press conference. He had to walk a fine line because he didn’t want to embarrass his player and he really didn’t have any answers.

I feel the same way. I really hope we get some answers today because I’m at a loss to explain how a game with the Yankees’ bitter rival became a footnote.

Friday, May 13, 2011

NY Times story raises more questions than answers

I've read through the New York Times story on Bartolo Colon's medical treatment several times, but I’m still struggling to understand the point the newspaper was trying to make.

Colon is one of the feel-good stories in baseball this year, saving the New York Yankees rotation after the loss of Phil Hughes to the disabled list, and pitching brilliantly for the most part. So I’m not surprised that a story has come out of nowhere that questions the medical procedure that obviously helped him regain the fastball that once made him one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.

The New York Times does not flat-out accuse Colon of using human growth hormone or accuse his doctor of injecting him with HGH, which has been banned by baseball. But it’s not clear to me why the newspaper expended so much effort to write about the stem cell procedure if there was no HGH use involved. Is this type of treatment illegal, unethical or against the rules of baseball if it does not involve HGH? Would Colon be subject to discipline by Major League Baseball for using the procedure if it did not involve performance-enhancing drugs?

I didn’t get any answers from the Times piece, other than a general reference to athletes getting sophisticated blood treatments from doctors that often use HGH in their practices. The story seems to want to make a connection between Colon’s treatment and the use of PEDs, but clearly had no evidence to substantiate an HGH charge.

The most interesting revelation in the story is that MLB is now investigating the procedure, likely to see if HGH was involved. But that inquiry only came after baseball was recently alerted by Brian Cashman and the Yankees, who were informed of the procedure by Colon’s agent after the Times started asking questions. That makes me wonder why Colon and his agent never bothered to tell the Yankees about the procedure before he signed, but that doesn’t mean the treatment was illegal. It could be that Colon and his agent didn’t want to give the Yankees a reason not to sign him. An unethical omission perhaps but did it violate any rules? (Can’t tell from reading this story, but the Times had a follow-up piece addressing that issue).

This reminds me a bit of the story that the Times ran during the 2008 presidential campaign about John McCain’s interactions with a female lobbyist, which seemed to imply that he had an affair with the woman, but could not flat-out say that because it had no proof. Here, the Times has no proof that Colon or his doctors used HGH in the treatment, but seems to imply some wrongdoing.

This story raises more questions than answers and as a journalist I have no patience for it. If they had proof that Colon used HGH or that his doctor treated him with HGH, that’s a story I want to read. But I don’t want to see a story full of insinuations.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

End of an era as Monahan calls it quits

The New York Yankees will lose one of their most beloved members when Gene Monahan calls it quits.

Monahan, who will retire at the end of this baseball season, has been the one constant in the Yankees universe over the last five decades, even through the George Steinbrenner era when no one was safe. How Monahan managed to survive the Boss I’ll never know. Perhaps it has to do with the steadiness and selflessness that has earned him the respect and love of most of the hundreds of baseball players that have walked into the Yankees clubhouse during his tenure.

I’ll never forget Opening Day 2010 at Yankee Stadium. That game was memorable for me for a number of reasons: it was the first game I was attending with my brother John since we were kids; the Yankees were raising the World Series championship banner. A number of great on-the-field moments happened even before the baseball game, including the loud thank you and good-bye greeting Hideki Matsui received as a member of the visiting Los Angeles Angels.

But my favorite moment of the pre-game ceremony was Monahan walking out to receive his ring from Joe Girardi, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford and receiving a thunderous, extended standing ovation from the Yankees’ faithful, a moment that reduced Monahan to tears. The thunderous applause was given to a great man battling cancer, but was really about the nearly 50 years of devoted service Monahan has given to the Yankees, and by extension, their fans.

After giving so much, Monahan has decided it’s time to go home. It's truly the end of an era.

Godspeed, Geno!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Super Spy Steinbrenner fascinating even in death

George Steinbrenner: Super Spy! Who knew?

Just kidding. I’m not at all surprised by the extent of Steinbrenner's willingness to cooperate with government investigations. Steinbrenner, born on the 4th of July, held himself out as the ultimate patriot, starting the tradition of singing God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch at Yankee Stadium after the 9/11 attacks, a tradition that continues at the new ballpark.

It comes as no shock to me that he would jump at the chance to demonstrate his patriotism, particularly since it helped grease the wheels for his eventual pardon by President Ronald Reagan for making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election effort.

It is also no surprise that Steinbrenner blamed his conviction on bad legal advice. Steinbrenner was always eager to get credit when things went well on the baseball field, but quick to assign blame to others for any screw-ups, real or imagined. It’s easy to understand why he would do the same to explain away the legal mess he had gotten himself into. But Bill Madden's biography details how Steinbrenner really had no one to blame but himself, not just because he was breaking the law, but because he disregarded advice on how to avoid getting caught, namely keeping his contributions under the level that would trigger scrutiny.

Federal authorities were wise to use Steinbrenner in their efforts, not just because he was a willing partner, but because Steinbrenner was an excellent liar, which in many ways made him perfect for these types of undercover operations.

These documents just reiterate the great paradox that is the late owner of the New York Yankees. He could be generous, helpful and patriotic just as easily as he could be manipulative, disingenuous or dishonest. That’s part of what makes him such a fascinating figure, even in death.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Derek Jeter calms all fears, just for a day

Everyone in the New York Yankees universe can breathe a little easier. Derek Jeter's power made a surprise appearance in Texas, proof that it has not left him completely. But is yesterday's 4-hit, 2-home run performance a sign of more good things to come or an anomaly?

Are you an optimist? Joe Girardi sure is, at least publicly, so he is very happy about Jeter’s day. He’s been praising Jeter’s hard hit balls and predicting a breakout for several days now. So Girardi believes the Yankees Captain still has something left in the tank. And they are plenty of signs that he’s right like Jeter’s solid play at shortstop, including a terrific defensive game on Friday chock full of signature Jeter plays that showed he still has some skills, despite what the stat geeks say.

But if you’re a pessimist, you’re probably thinking that Jeter was overdue for a good game, one that even the worst baseball players occasionally have. You’re probably very anxious to see what happens with Jeter on Tuesday when the Yankees return to the stadium for a few warm-up games against the Kansas City Royals before they take on their embattled rival the Boston Red Sox and division foe Tampa Bay Rays.

I choose to be an optimist. Jeter's confidence has never wavered although he has seemed frustrated at times. A day like yesterday can be all the proof that he needs to remind himself that he is just as good as he ever was. A couple of more games like that and all this Jeter chatter could even fade into the background, a distant memory that we can laugh about come October.

Jeter managed to calm fears for a day. But the media and fans will not rest until they see him repeat his positive performance several more times. Then they’ll go worry about someone else.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How deep do baseball's problems run?

On the surface, things look pretty good for Major League Baseball. The early 2011 season has been full of great surprises (go Cleveland! Boston sucks!) and the continued return of pitching dominance to the game that has already produced two no-hitters. So, of course, now is the time to worry about baseball’s future.

High on the list of worries for Bud Selig & Co. has to be the notable attendance decline across baseball. It could be a fluke caused by the terrible weather that has already cost the New York Yankees three baseball games early in the season. But I wonder if the economic recession has led to a permanent sea change, with people forced to root for their favorite baseball teams from the comfort of their homes rather than the ballpark.

I’ve become addicted to using Stubhub to get ridiculously cheap tickets (like seeing a Mets game with my good friend Scott for $4 per ticket this week), but now that the company is getting a lot of ink I expect the good deals to become more difficult to find. However, Stubhub is creating a major problem for baseball because savvy fans are going to the Web site to purchase tickets rather than paying full price at the box office.

Then, of course, is the disastrous nightmare involving the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who happen to be playing each other on the field this weekend, but are really in a tight competition for the title of most-messed up franchise in baseball. The Mets seem to be getting closer to finding a buyer for a minority stake in the team, but they will be embroiled in the Bernie Madoff litigation for years. The fight between MLB and Frank McCourt for control of the Dodgers is getting more contentious by the day and will undoubtedly result in a nasty court fight.

But really the biggest concern is the upcoming labor negotiations between MLB and the Players' Union this offseason. Selig is going to try to take a hard line on many issues, including more severe punishment for bad behavior such as drunk driving and steroid abuse. The use of performance-enhancing drugs once again surfaced this week with concerns that the current system is still too weak and I’m sure Selig is determined to limit the damage the steroid era did to his reputation and legacy. And I haven’t even mentioned major issues such as revenue sharing (bound to be controversial as the union is upset by smaller franchises pocketing the money rather than spending it on payroll) and a potential playoff expansion (which some players already have quite vocally objected to).

So the mirage is that baseball is in great shape, but there are numerous problems bubbling beneath the surface that will explode into the limelight later this year. For Selig & Co, there won’t be a dull moment in 2011 as they try to find the right solutions.

Thanks to the US Air Force via Wikipedia for the photo.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Random baseball thoughts

The accusations flying back and forth between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League Baseball are starting to get nasty. Frank McCourt might not be able to pay his players in the second half of May, which he is blaming on Bud Selig's refusal to allow him to accept a loan from Fox. In response, MLB is blaming years of mismanagement by McCourt for the Dodgers' precarious financial condition. Selig is probably right, but I don't know how he plans to keep the Dodgers going long enough to force McCourt out the door and find a new owner that can straighten out this financial mess.

Bravo to baseball for planning to seek more power to discipline players for off-the-field incidents. The news comes after yet another player, Shin-Soo Choo of the Cleveland Indians, was arrested for driving while intoxicated, the 6th baseball player to face such charges this year. If I was Selig & Co., I would insist on a provision that allows MLB to suspend a player for drinking and driving and similar incidents. Maybe then these players will finally get the message that DUIs are dangerous, not just for themselves, but for everyone who has the misfortunate to cross their paths while they are under the influence. The union will fight this, but in truth it’s better for their players’ health and might keep them from accidently killing someone

Glad to see MLB moved quickly to suspend Roger McDowell for two weeks following his despicable comments and conduct at a recent game. Baseball was right to recognize that this was a major public relations disaster and this type of behavior, if unpunished, could alienate some fans and keep them away from the ballpark. Let’s face it, with baseball in a tight competition for the limited attention of the nation’s (and the world’s) sports fans, that type of homophobic behavior cannot be tolerated. I thought the two-week suspension was just the right length although I do also think the Atlanta Braves would be right to fire him if that’s what they decide to do. Hopefully, that sensitivity training will take, but for a guy McDowell’s age, I doubt it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Random Yankee thoughts

You know Derek Jeter is in trouble when even the uncritical sportswriters of the New York Times start writing about his lack of power. It's a legitimate concern. I can't help wondering when the real Derek Jeter will show up. I hope it's soon because it's becoming painful to watch him flail in situations he used to master: runners on base and the New York Yankees needing some runs. Jeter's confidence remains intact although I'm starting to worry that might not be a good thing if he can't see what the rest of us are seeing.

• Brian Cashman is getting some well deserved kudos for his offseason collection of so-called "has-beens" after being rejected by primary target Cliff Lee. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have been godsends for the Yankees starting rotation, Eric Chavez has been terrific every time he’s been in the lineup and Andruw Jones has been a nice fourth outfielder. What's not being said as much (and should be) is that Cashman seems to have also been absolutely right about Rafael Soriano. Cashman didn’t want to spend that much money on a set-up guy, particularly one with questions about his attitude and work ethic. He was overruled by the Steinbrenners, who by the early looks of it will come to regret that decision. If the rest of Soriano’s season plays out like the first month, the Yankees will be stuck with him as the opt-out clause of his contract belongs to him alone.

• Rumors of an Andy Pettitte comeback seem to be just that at this point, but it’s a bit annoying that they are surfacing so early into this season. Pettitte made it clear that he will absolutely not pitch in 2011 so I guess we have to take him at his word. We can dream about a possible return in 2012 in the offseason. By the way, the only reason I know about the rumors is that my Andy Pettitte Google alert is still on. Can’t seem to turn it off. Maybe somewhere deep down inside, I really want to see him on a mound again this year.

I suggest that the Yankees spend some of the cash they are saving from a slightly declining payroll to install better security systems so that they don’t expose us ridiculously loyal fans to the possibility of identity theft again.

• Made me really sad last week to see lawyers fighting about what caused the tragic death of Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle. It must be heart-wrenching for his family to have to relive that nightmare. I wish the Yankees had advanced farther in the 2006 playoffs because he might still be alive if they had been more successful.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Key Three Yankees happy for their city

For the "Key Three" of the New York Yankees, the death of Osama Bin Laden brought back memories of the worst day in the life of the city they have grown to love.

Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, now the Key Three after the retirement of Andy Pettitte, are the only members of the New York Yankees who were on the team on September 11, 2001. They all expressed both shock and satisfaction that the monster that perpetrated the death of thousands of people that horrible day was finally found and punished for the pain he caused.

For Posada, that day represents tremendous fear for more than just the terrorist attacks. His son Jorge Jr. was undergoing a delicate and dangerous operation for a rare brain condition. Posada seems to have mixed emotions from that day, happy that the operation to save his son was successful, but terribly sad about the pain and the loss felt by so many other families.

Jeter was unusually expansive about Bin Laden’s death, expressing happiness at the welcome news. The captain never gives any hints of his political leanings, firmly believing those issues are private and fiercely guarding his thoughts. But his openness reflects the fact that the death of Bin Laden is not about politics, it’s about justice.

Justice was the word Rivera used to describe his thoughts about Bin Laden’s death. Rivera, Jeter and Posada all hoped that the news would finally bring some peace to the families of the victims and the city that rallied around the Yankees that postseason.

For me, that World Series loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks was the most painful Yankees loss, much more so than the four-game comeback by the Boston Red Sox, because I had so much emotionally invested in the Yankees after the 9/11 attacks. But during that World Series, the Yankees brought a lot of joy to a city that desperately needed it.

Thanks to wallyg (Wally Gobetz) via Flickr for the photo.

Hughes passes health test with flying colors

Thankfully, Phil Hughes is not suffering from a dangerous health condition. Now it's time to figure out what's really wrong with him.

I was truly worried that the tests would come back positive for thoracic outlet syndrome, something I’d never heard of until last week, but apparently not an uncommon condition among Major League Baseball pitchers. But to the great relief of his manager Joe Girardi, who openly admitted to being scared for his young pitcher, Hughes passed all the tests with flying colors. I’m sure Hughes is relieved to get a clean bill of health and be able to focus on baseball, but he’s probably more confused than ever.

The only downside of the tests coming back positive is that we now have no clue what’s happening with Hughes. At least TOS would have been an explanation for his troubles. It now seems that the original “dead arm” diagnosis was accurate and it’s a matter of strengthening his arm. But is it something that Hughes can recover from with a little rest and conditioning exercises? Or did the New York Yankees’ handling of his workload last year mess him up completely, the way it messed up Joba Chamberlain?

I certainly hope not. The kid is tough and talented so I believe he will bounce back and be better than ever. Only time will tell for sure. But Hughes is healthy and for him and the Yankees, that’s the best and most important news.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Baseball, real life come together for 1 night

It was a typical Sunday evening for me, enjoying ESPN's Sunday night telecast and wondering if the New York Mets had it in them to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies’ vaunted rotation, when the announcers broke in with news that Osama Bin Laden was killed in a firefight by US forces. My first reaction was shock and disbelief, switching the channel over to ABC and CNN to make sure what I was hearing was correct before turning back to the baseball game just in time to hear the heart-warming USA chants fill the ballpark.

I pride myself on not being a hateful person, but Bin Laden is the one person for whom I truly have hatred in my heart. I remember walking up Broadway toward my office on September 11, 2001, enjoying the spectacularly beautiful day and gleefully planning to convince my friends/coworkers to play hooky with me when the sky all of a sudden went black. I’ll never forget the fear I felt that day, wondering if they were all OK, especially my coworkers located in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center and a friend/colleague who I knew was on a flight to San Francisco that morning. I did not know the fate of many of them until the next day, but thankfully, we didn’t lose anybody. Unfortunately, many people we spoke to and interacted with daily lost their lives. Bin Laden’s death doesn’t bring any of them back, of course, but at least he has finally paid with his life for the pain he has caused.

I guess that explains the flood of tears that I just couldn’t stop last night, tears that are still flowing as I write this today. Tears of joy and relief that the monster was finally brought to justice and can no longer continue his murderous ways. Tears of sorrow for the victims of 9/11 and for their families who still live with inhumane amounts of pain as the rest of us moved on from that horrific day. Tears of gratitude to President Obama and the brave soldiers who finally put an end to the madman who has haunted our country for the last 10 years.

I was so focused on one of the baseball rivals of the New York Yankees last night that I briefly forgot that we have real enemies that we should be worried about. But that's the beauty of baseball and other sports. They allow us to forget, just for a short time, all the very real problems that we have. For at least one night, baseball and real life came together in the best way.

Thanks to UpstateNYer via Wikipedia for the photo montage.