11th and Washington

11th and Washington: August 2005

Friday, August 26, 2005

An All-Star Game (or two) in Yankee Stadium's future?

Two weeks ago, the New York Post reported that MLB officials and the Yankees have discussed awarding the 2008 All-Star Game to Yankee Stadium. (Rumor is that one will count.) That's a great idea. Seriously, it's a fine way to cap off the historic site's long and storied history. It's something they should've done in 1991 or 1992 at Comiskey Park, where the first mid-summer exhibition was played.

But then, just a few days later, the New York Times cited a source who said MLB was also considering giving the Bronx the 2010 game at the new Yankee Stadium.

While it seems like an extension of the change in All-Star Game policy, I don't like that possibility. A few years ago, Bud Selig announced that the All-Star Game would no longer alternate between the National and American leagues each year because the Senior Circuit had so many new ballparks worth showcasing. Hence, the 2006 game will be played in Pittsburgh, to be followed by the 2007 game in San Francisco. With so many new NL parks opening up (by next year, that list will include St. Louis in addition to Arizona, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and San Diego), Selig said, they wouldn't be able to bring the game to some of the nicest and newest parks until 2018.

Not alternating leagues is fine, but I think they should at least focus on geographic regions, spreading the game out around the country each summer. From 2004 to 2007, it will have gone from Houston (South) to Detroit (Upper Midwest) to Pittsburgh (East) to San Francisco (West Coast) and then, potentially, to the East Coast in New York. The 2009 game should then go to San Diego, Arizona or St. Louis, but if it comes back to New York in 2010, it should be at the new Queens ballpark before the Bronx gets it again.

Furthermore, to me it just reeks of the rich getting richer. It's another example of how, even with the team in a three-team dogfight for the wild card entering play this weekend, Major League Baseball is comprised of the Yankees first and everybody else second.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, August 21, 2005

No matter the score, a perfect night in Brooklyn

I haven't visited every minor-league ballpark in the country. Far from it. I haven't even thoroughly researched them all, looking for photographs to see which are the most attractive, which fit into their neighborhoods the best. But I can't imagine any ballpark that fits its location more than Brooklyn's Keyspan Park.

My first visit to Coney Island came last July 3, when my friends Brad and Matt came with me from an afternoon Mets-Yankees game at Shea on a long subway odyssey down to the end of Brooklyn, where Surf Avenue runs along the amusement rides and the ballpark, all of which are nestled in right along the shoreline. When the three of us walked up the steps inside the front gate and turned the corner onto the concourse, the breeze off the Atlantic hit us like walking into a cool movie theater on a hot summer day. It was, indeed, like air conditioning.

The same effect cooled off Casey and me last night. We wandered down the right-field line to our seats in the bleachers, breathing the sea air and watching the red-and-gold clad Cyclones players warming up with sprints in the outfield. Faint sounds of a band on the beach behind us reached our ears during the quiet moments between public address announcements of Ironbirds batters or Brooklyn business promotions. While most of New York endured a hot and humid day, those of us who had come down to Coney Island had to endure less of one. A warm summer night, a cool breeze, a cold beer: It was the perfect setting for a baseball game.

In a setup like that, who cares what the score is? Many Brooklynites -- or Mets fans, like myself -- cared little for the final 5-0 score in favor of visiting Aberdeen. There were, certainly, some cries of exasperation when one Cyclone struck out by swinging at one pitch in the dirt and another at eye level, but without taking a formal survey, I'm sure the smiles outnumbered the puts by a healthy margin.

When Brooklyn built its ballpark, there was really only one place to put it, and that's where it rose. Trenton did the same thing with Waterfront Park along the Delaware River; Camden got it right with Campbell's Field at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Atlantic City, no doubt hamstrung by real estate rates along the boardwalk, couldn't build a ballpark on the beach, though in a perfect baseball universe, that's where it would stand. Instead, fans look out on a field with the casinos in the distance serving as a backdrop. A small airfield beyond the left-field fence provides the spectacle of helicopters and private planes taking off and landing rather than the cries of seagulls and children on the sand.

It's no wonder that most of Brooklyn's 30-plus-game home season sells out, or at least sees many games reduced to bleacher-only availability. Nor is it a surprise that the 66-year-old New York-Penn League chose Keyspan Park for the site of its inaugural all-star game, to be played on Tuesday.

It may just be the perfect place for a ballgame.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, August 20, 2005

No Short-age of good stories

It hasn't happened in the minors since 1961. The Pacific Coast League hasn't seen it since 1933. And the major leagues haven't experienced it since 1941. It's a .400 season, and Rick Short of the New Orleans Zephyrs is in pursuit.

Short, a Washington Nationals farmhand, is just another feel-good story in the feel-good story of the Nationals' first season in D.C. He made his major-league debut earlier this season after 11 seasons in the minors. And now he's trying to join the likes of Aaron Pointer, Ox Eckhardt and Ted Williams.

With a 2-for-3, two-home run performance last night, Short's at .402 for the season with 17 games to go and enough at bats to qualify for the league batting title, a requirement he reached last night. He'll have a bit of a challenge in front of him -- as if hitting .400 weren't hard enough, he'll have to do it as the Zephyrs travel from New Orleans to Omaha (as they did last night), back to New Orleans, on to Oklahoma and then up to Iowa. All without a day off -- at least not a team day off; the Zephyrs play those 17 games in the next 17 days.

Aaron Pointer was the last minor-leaguer -- and therefore, the last player in affiliated ball -- to hit .400 when he batted .402 for the Salisbury Braves of the Western Carolina League in 1961. Though the history of minor-league baseball features several leagues with the same name that have no linear history, the WCL in 1980 became today's South Atlantic League. Pointer went on to reach the majors in 1963 and was part of the only all-rookie lineup in major-league history. He also had a few sisters who went on to a decent singing career.

Ox Eckhardt played for the San Francisco-based Mission Reds in 1933 when he hit the improbable .414. In 1928, the year before he first played in the Pacific Coast League, Eckhardt scored three touchdowns as a fullback for the New York Giants. He went on to a brief major-league career.

New Orleans plays at Omaha tonight as the Rick Short countdown continues.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, August 15, 2005

New York Yankees : Mr. Burns :: Red Sox : Lisa Simpson

Which Simpsons character best represents your favorite team?

You know that article started with the first team and character listed. Like the Yankees could be anyone but Monty Burns. It's how he ran the power plant's softball team.

Labels: ,

Say this for Gary Sheffield: He knows how to draw attention

I was a little behind on my reading last week (nevermind how far behind I was on my blogging the last two weeks...), so I only got to the once-famous, now-way-in-the-past New York magazine interview with Gary Sheffield. Forget about his comments about the leaders of the team and his own ability; Sheffield's always been an arrogant blowhard out to get what's best for Gary, and if that happens to help the team for which he plays, then good for them. I thought Stephen Rodrick's assessment of the Yankees themselves was an accurate yet often overlooked -- or ignored -- by those who talk about the Bombers:

Sheffield is also the Yankees’ most entertaining player. Maybe it’s the glut of world championships, maybe it’s the pressure to win still more, but Joe Torre’s troops play baseball with all the passion of the Hessians squaring off against the Continental Army. Whether it’s A-Rod’s or Jeter’s vacant eyes (illuminated only when the red light comes on) or the unrelenting march of night-of-the-living-dead pitchers, this is not a fun team to root for.

This may be the first article in a New York publication that didn't bow down and grovel before the majesty that is the New York Yankees. I'm not talking about the day-to-day coverage of the team, because those stories always look for the smallest chink in the veneer and focus on what wasn't working yesterday. The way I read it, Rodrick isn't talking about whether the team is winning or losing games; he's commenting on how they play, how they go about winning or losing games. And he's right. The Yankees never look like they're having fun out there.

The Mets may be maddening. They may lose games they should win and be so inconsistent that you figure if they could just put forth the same effort every night, they'd be a decidedly better team. They can dominate a game for all but two pitches, and walk off the field as 2-1 losers, like they did yesterday. But what makes the Mets so much fun for me to watch is when they do come back from a four-run deficit, when they do post a six-run inning to blow a game open. They do it with Jose Reyes sprinting first-to-third with his tongue hanging out. They do it with David Wright unable to hold back a smile after a stellar defensive play at third base. They do it with Pedro dancing in the sprinklers.

For some reason, Derek Jeter can take what would otherwise be an innocent display of emotion -- that little spring-loaded down-and-up fist pump that he does after an RBI double -- and make it appear choreographed rather than spontaneous. A-Rod will drive a ball to the gap and clap his hands while giving a little "Woo!" but what I take from that is not, "This game is fun!" It's more, "Add another notch to my stat sheet!"

I guess I'm just one of those fans who looks at the Yankees as 10 guys on the field, 10 all-stars, playing for themselves. The games that are really fun to watch are those made up of two teams, nine or 10 guys at a time putting the team first, playing to win.

And clearly, Gary Sheffield is right where he belongs.

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 01, 2005

Which part of Palmeiro's story do we believe?

I have to say I'm stunned. Shocked. Knock me over with a feather.

It's not so much that Rafael Palmeiro tested positive a banned substance under MLB's new drug policy, it's that so many people are being so damn quick to crucify him for it. To be clear, I agree that this is a blow to his career and his accomplishments. Furthermore, perhaps most importantly, he certainly could answer a lot of questions — and perhaps clear his name a little bit — if he elaborated on his comments that he "never knowingly took steroids" and that he would love to explain what he tested positive for and why he took whatever it was he took, but he won't by saying he can't.

To read Scott Miller's column, you'd think Miller himself walked in on Palmeiro holding the needle. Buster Olney calls for Palmeiro to explain himself and at least tosses in the conditional "might" before saying his Congressional testimony in March does not appear to have been truthful. The fact of the matter is, we don't know what Palmeiro tested positive for, and we don't know that he was telling anything but the truth before Congress. Apparently, such details were not passed on to Miller. It bothers me when journalists are so quick to get their opinion out there, eager to inflate their reputation with strong words and a definitive stance. It's a tired, repeated refrain (just take a look at any conservative site with regard to the war in Iraq) that the media is so quick to report on the negative and overlook the positive, but it seems not to be restricted to world politics. (And how much does the internet play a role? Would some of these columns look any different if they weren't rushed "to post" less than six hours after the announcement?)

In my opinion, I think MLB rushed into this policy because it wanted to save face. It had ignored the problem for so long, but now that Congress was getting involved, it had to do something. Almost as soon as the details were announced, they were criticized.

To this day, I wonder if the players have been provided with a definitive list of what will cause their urine sample to come back positive when tested under baseball's drug policy. Torii Hunter was initially scared to drink Red Bull and I wonder if he's received any assurances that it's OK. Senator Joe Biden (Democrat of Delaware) issued a statement in January saying, "The new testing system sounds better than the flimsy one they had before. But the penalties are weak and it is still unclear what substances will be banned under this new agreement." And in the NFL, they had already learned that some banned substances are not clear on the labels of the supplements they take.

Back to Palmeiro. If it weren't for Jose Canseco's book, I don't think Raffy would have been among the usual suspects with regard to steroids. To me, his career just doesn't scream "steroid user." His home run output never had the jump that, say, Barry Bonds' did when he suddenly hit 73 after never reaching 50 before (or since). He increased his 1992 total of 23 by 15 in 1993, an impressive bump, but not a suspicious one to me. He was 28 that season, too, and how many baseball men will tell you that strong arms and quick wrists that produce lots of line drives and doubles can turn into home runs with a minor adjustment that puts a little more loft on the ball? Sure, it doesn't help Raffy's case that the 37 home runs came in the year after Jose Canseco arrived (I'm not going to ignore a fact just to prove my point), but again, it's not like there were no other possible explanations for the power boost.

Palmeiro played five years in Baltimore — somewhat seen as a welcoming park for the left-handed hitters — and then returned to Texas and its new hitters haven. He was solid and consistent, as are the hitters on his comparable players list. Nothing but reliable Hall of Famers there.

I don't think Palmeiro's stupid. I don't think the combination of his lawyers, agent and wife are, either. Even if he had done something he shouldn't have in the past, before his appearance before Congress, how could he put himself in such a position to be caught like this? Seriously, do you think a man who has continued to work with Congress, participating in a conference call just a few weeks ago, would accept that invitation while knowingly breaking the rules at the same time?

Last summer in Houston, I stood in a conference room at Minute Maid Park with every living member of the 500 home run club. Steroids had again become a hot topic to the point where that night on Baseball Tonight, I watched Karl Ravech interview Mark McGwire, a conversation that must have happened either moments before or after the press conference I attended. Each hitter had a table to which he went after the initial introduction and camera crews and print reporters alike approached the players as they needed. Aside from the great Willie Mays and the outspoken Reggie Jackson, the players who drew the biggest crowds — and, in the instances I dropped in and heard bits of conversation as I made sure I stopped at each table, fielded the steroids questions — were Bonds, Sammy Sosa and McGwire, the players who then, as now, have drawn the most suspicion.

Among the most accessible tables were those of Ken Griffey Jr. and Palmeiro. In fact, some of Bonds' overflow spilled into Griffey's space. In my mind, I still tend to think of Palmeiro as part of that group, the one that included Mike Schmidt, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey and Frank Robinson; not the group of Bonds, Sosa, McGwire. I'm sure Palmeiro is guilty of something; I don't think he's a patsy, I don't think he's being set up by MLB. There's no conspiracy. But I do wonder if we'll ever know the truth, if every suspended player who says he never took anything more than a supplement will be vindicated or exposed.

While I'm not going to go off half-cocked and absurdly say Palmeiro lied in front of Congress when there is absolutely no such proof to support that accusation, I do wonder just what part of his story I should believe. Unfortunately, I don't think Raffy will ever tell us, for sure.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,