Posts Tagged ‘Yankees’

If the Grandy Man Shirt Fits, Wear It

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The shirt

The shirt …

I’m wearing my Curtis Granderson shirt today. The Yankee shirt. Number 14. This is significant for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is why the heck a 75-year-old man is wearing a shirt bearing the name of any of today’s professional athletes.

It was a gift. Several years ago, my son, Zack, who has inherited my rooting interest in the Yankees and my mother’s desire to choose the perfect gift for whomever was on the receiving end, gave it to me for my birthday. (If my memory fails and it was Christmas, he will let me know.) It was … almost perfect. One size too small. A nice compliment, but that consigned Grandy to the bottom of the shirt drawer for … well, until now.

Now, I’m wearing it and, obviously, this is another significant reason for mentioning it. I’ve lost weight and gotten in better shape. Wearing the shirt actually makes me feel a little younger and a little stronger and who cares if it’s all in my head. My head can use all the positive vibes it can get these days. As I’ve mentioned before, I often turn to sports when the rest of the world is too much to face first thing in the morning.

… This seems like a good point to let the non- sports fans in on the conversation. Zack gave me the shirt because Granderson was my favorite Yankee at the time, and that was only partially because he’s a heck of a good ballplayer.

The man ...

The man …

Let’s get the ballplayer part out of the way first. Granderson, who now plays centerfield for the New York Mets (the Yankees should have never let him go), is a three-time All-Star. He has power and speed, being the rare major leaguer to have 20 home runs, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in the same year. He can bat leadoff or third, depending on the team’s need. He’s an excellent outfielder. A streaky hitter, he is also a clutch hitter and can carry a team when he’s on a hot streak, as he did for both the Yankees and Mets. He is a quiet leader in the clubhouse. He also strikes out a lot, but today that doesn’t seem to matter in baseball. It also makes him human.

None of that is why I have a Curtis Granderson shirt. Nor is it because I liked to hear Yankees’ radio announcer John Sterling sing, “Oh, the Grandy Man can” after every Granderson home run. If I wanted speed and power I could have gone for Mickey Mantle, who was at least in my age group. The truth is, as good as Granderson has been on the field, he has been spectacular off it. Indeed, his biography on Wikipedia talks as much about his community and charitable work as about his baseball exploits. You don’t find many athletes who come close to what he has done and continues to do out of uniform.

And who, by the way, are as well-spoken as he is. In fact, his ability to express himself served him well as an ambassador for Major League Baseball International, traveling  to England, Italy, the Netherlands, France, South Africa, China, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan to promote baseball.

There’s more. With a noticeable decline in the number of black athletes choosing baseball, he has worked with the African-American community to discuss the reasons. When signed to endorse products for Nike, Louisville Slugger and Rawlings, he asked them to donate money to his foundation or equipment to inner-city baseball programs rather than pay him. That foundation raises money for the education of inner-city children and Granderson has also written a children’s book, ‘’All You Can Be: Dream It, Draw It, Become It!,’’ which is illustrated by New York City public school students.

Too good to be true, right? Other players, counting their home runs and their Twitter followers, must resent this guy, right? Well, in 2009, the players chose him baseball’s man of the year for his community work and, in 2011, he was voted one of the friendliest players in the Major Leagues, according to a poll Sports Illustrated conducted of 290 players. One more thing. He.wears his socks high, the old-fashioned way (which I really like), to honor players from the Negro leagues.

And so what? you say.

And so, I say, in my ever more persistent effort to be aware of synchronicity in my life, that I was given my Granderson shirt to wear today because it would inevitably lead me to a place of positive thoughts, a place of hope and a bit of serenity.

There are, after all, Curtis Grandersons in all walks of life, accomplished, intelligent, articulate, modest, compassionate, generous and willing to lead the way. Some of them are even rich. (Granderson’s getting paid $15 million this year by the Mets.) I’d venture to say that any one of them who happened to magically appear behind a big desk in the Oval Office tomorrow would have the common sense to say, “Get Steve Bannon the hell out of here right now or you’re all fired!”

That’s what. They’re out there. We just have to dig their shirts out of the bottom of the drawer and start wearing them.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Back Page for Gary; Two Bits for 50 Cent

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Gary Sanchez ...future star?

Gary Sanchez …future star?

Back page stuff: Last week, I wrote about my need in this time of negative news to find a feel-good sports story, one worthy of the back page in a tabloid newspaper. The baseball gods must have read my plea and felt my angst.

They delivered Gary Sanchez, a gift to Yankee fans like myself, in particular, and baseball fans in general. Sanchez, 22, was liberated from the Yankees’ minor league affiliate in Scranton, Pa., as part of the major league’s club purge of aging veterans and infusion of young, potential stars.

Sanchez has been with the Yankees for two weeks and has been named American League player of the year both weeks. No rookie has ever earned that honor back-to-back, never mind in his first two weeks. In fact, the last time an American League player won the award in consecutive weeks was 18 years ago and that was an established star, Albert Belle of the Chicago White Sox.

Sanchez was installed as the Yankees’ starting catcher and immediately started hitting home runs, a Yankee tradition. He has not stopped hitting them yet. He has 11 home runs in 23 career games. No Yankee slugger got to that number that quickly and the Yankees’ roster of sluggers boasts such names as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle.

That’s not all. Sanchez is batting .398, driving in runs and throwing out would-be base stealers routinely with a cannon of an arm. He has energized a slumbering Yankee offense. His at bats have become must-see TV, or, in my case, must-hear radio. The other day, listening to the Yankee game on the car radio, I parked in the driveway at home as the Yankees were batting. Sanchez was due up next. I waited to hear what he would do. No way I was going to miss his at bat. He walked. He has been walked a lot, too, a sign of respect from pitchers who haven’t yet figured out how to get him out.

That will come, of course. The pace he has been on is impossible to maintain, but that’s what makes it back-page material. That’s what is at the heart of the appeal of sports — the wholly unexpected happening. Will he do it again? Oh my god, he did it again! The drama, the amazement, the shared joy of fan and player. The lure that first made me want to start the day by reading the paper from back to front,

The Yankees’ obviously had high hopes for Sanchez when they signed him to a $3 million bonus as a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic. But no one could have predicted what his first two full weeks as a major league player would be like. The hope, of course, is that he doesn’t flame out just as quickly as he ignited, but that he settles in and becomes maybe another one of those legendary Yankee catchers. The ones who provided plenty of back page material themselves. Yogi, Thurman, Elston, Jorge. … Gary?

Meanwhile, back in the front of the paper:

50 Cent ... two-bit star

50 Cent … two-bit star

When I read that the rapper 50 Cent was coming to Newburgh, a small city on the Hudson River that is struggling to regain its former glory, I had the same reaction as many other residents of the area: Newburgh? Really? He’s big time. Why’s he coming to Newburgh?

When I got the answer to that question, I had another question. Vodka? Really? He’s coming to Newburgh to shill vodka?

I have since asked myself numerous times whether my reaction to this appearance was somehow exaggerated or misplaced or unfair or even old-fashioned. I have decided that, in fact, my reaction was entirely appropriate and I can’t believe no one else has voiced it.

So … The idea that a world-famous black performer would come to Newburgh, a minority majority city that has had to battle drugs, gangs, drug-related shootings, crime in general, poverty, a sullied reputation and a revival effort that at times smells strongly of gentrification to sell, of all things, vodka in a company in which he is a shareholder struck me as ludicrous and incredibly tone deaf.

And talk about crass marketing. For a $40 bottle of vodka, a fan (more than 100 showed up at the liquor store) could get a bottle with 50 Cent’s signature. (I don’t know if he signs 50 in cursive.) For $240 — the price of a six-bottle case — one could get a photo with Mr. Cent. As far as I can tell, all the money stayed with 50. There were plenty of smiling faces. After two hours, he left, presumably to hawk his vodka at another liquor store.

This left a really bad taste in my mouth. Did he not know anything about Newburgh? Does he not remember his past in Queens? The drug-dealing as a teen. Being raised by his grandparents. Serving time in a juvenile detention facility. Being shot. Did he not have the sense even to say that any money collected from his appearance would go to efforts to fight drugs and alcoholism, to help after-school programs for children, to buy computers for the schools, to fund neighborhood cleanup programs, to promote cultural awareness programs, to help a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, to fund scholarships for talented students who might want to pursue a career in music? Pick one.

He doesn’t need the money. His appearance helped only the liquor store owner and the company that sells the vodka. They’re entitled to want to succeed. And 50 Cent is entitled to want to help make his shares in the company appreciate. But Newburgh deserved better. Be a source of inspiration for Pete’s sake, not a liquor salesman. You’re a star; act like one. Give a performance; raise money to promote revival of Newburgh beyond the waterfront.

On the same day as Mr. Cent hawked vodka, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also visited Newburgh to “unveil a new affordable housing program in which residents can take over properties at little to no cost and get money for renovations,” according to the local paper. Unfortunately, more people were aware of the vodka event than the housing event.

By the way, the name of the booze 50 Cent is pushing? Effen Vodka. Yeah, it’s not funny.

And so it went …

rjgaydos@gmail.com

And So it Went: A Sports Fan Desperately in Need of a Back Page

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Usain Bolt, enjoying himself

Usain Bolt … enjoying himself

I started reading newspapers from back to front pretty much when I started reading newspapers regularly. Eleven. Twelve. Little League age. I should back up a bit here and explain that in our house having a half dozen or so daily papers stacked on a chair at the end of the kitchen table was routine. My mother was an avid reader of newspapers, a fact which baffles me to this day because she virtually never discussed current events. She had to be the best-informed, least-opinionated person I’ve ever known. Kind of the opposite of what we have today.

At any rate, among those daily papers were two New York City tabloids, The New York Daily News and The New York Daily Mirror. For a boy whose life revolved around sports, they were required reading and sports, of course, was the back of the paper, starting with the back page. The papers had great reporters, columnists, photos, everything necessary to keep a blossoming Yankee fan from noticing that other Yankees — American GIs — were fighting in a war in Korea. An uncle among them.

As I grew older, my interests broadened, as did my appreciation of good writing. The pile of papers at the end of the table grew taller proportionally. What once consisted of The Bayonne Times, The Jersey Journal, The Newark Star-Ledger, The News and The MIrror, gradually expanded to at varying times include The Herald Tribune (my favorite), the Journal-American, The New York Post and occasionally even the World Telegram & Sun. If there was a sports section, I found it. If it wasn’t the back page, it was still the back of the paper. Fun and games. Batting averages and touchdown passes.

No war. No politics. No crime. No scandal. Plenty of time to read about that other stuff later in the day. It helped me ease into my day even as I began to realize there were other supposedly more important topics to read about. Sports was always an escape valve from the petty annoyances and major disappointments of the rest of life.

Maybe that’s why sports reporters always seemed to be so content, regardless of what was happening in the world. They got to go to a sporting event free, write a story about and do it over again the next day. And get paid for it. Sweet. I had a brief taste of this in my journalism career as a sports editor in upstate New York for a year or so. The heaviest weight the world put on my shoulders was how to play Mark Spitz’s record haul of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. As fate would have it, I worked for a tabloid, so I splashed a big picture of Spitz, his medals and the headline, “The Magnificent Seven.” I thought it was as good as any of the New York City tabs could do.

Later, as editorial page editor at a different upstate paper for 23 years, I wound up writing about all the other stuff. Stuff I still write about today when I feel the inspiration, which of late has been difficult to come by. All of which is a long way of saying that, while I still turn to the sports page to start my day today, it’s not nearly the same. First of all, on the Internet there is no back page. More to the point, the sports pages are no longer a sanctuary from the social problems of the day.

One of the biggest sports stories recently was the “retirement” of Alex Rodriguez from the New York Yankees. A-Rod got $27 million to go away. You don’t have to honor your contract for next year, Alex; take the money with our blessings. Rodriguez, of course, was a central figure in baseball’s steroids scandal. He was suspended for a year for cheating. Why he felt the need to cheat is beyond me since he was regarded as one of the best players in baseball without enhancing his performance with drugs. Instead of marveling at his skills, which is, after all, what sports is all about, fans are left to wonder how much his statistics were inflated by steroids.

I watched a movie recently, “The Program,” which details the lengths to which Lance Armstrong (If ever there was a name for a sports hero, that was it) went to win the Tour de France — seven times. Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer, apparently knew he was good, but not good enough, to win the legendary cycling race, so he signed on for a regimented doping program from the outset, recruiting teammates for the lying and cheating that brought him fame and fortune and ultimate disgrace. He made the front page.

It’s not just drugs. Last week, a kicker for the New York Giants was suspended for one game because of an old domestic violence complaint by his ex-wife. One game. The National Football League has been plagued with domestic violence complaints for several years and has yet to figure out a consistent policy on dealing with them. Then again, the NFL also had trouble figuring out how to penalize teams that deflate the footballs.

Of course, the biggest sporting event of the year has been the Olympics in beautiful Brazil, with its polluted waters, corrupt government, and economic problems. The event began with the Russian track team being banned because of a government-sponsored doping program. It featured a medal-winning American swimmer, Ryan Lochte, claiming he and some teammates were robbed at gunpoint in Rio, when they actually had gotten drunk and trashed a service station bathroom.

This was all back page stuff, but hardly a diversion from the travails of the day. Hardly uplifting of the human spirit, as the Olympics likes to present itself.

But then … there was also Michael Phelps, still swimming despite two DUI arrests, and his record haul of medals. Also: the other USA swimmers, male and female; the women gymnasts; the basketball team; Yusra Mardini, the Syrian refugee who swam as part of an Olympic Refugee team; the female runners who collided, fell down, helped each other up and finished the race. Literally uplifting.

Finally, there is the face of this Olympics, at least for me: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt blurring to victory for the third time in the 100-meter dash, permanently retiring the title of “Fastest Human Alive.” Bolt actually took the time in a qualifying race for the 100-meters to glance back to see if anyone was gaining on him. No one was. He smiled. Wow! Now that’s a back page.

Bolt won three golds. Of course, the Twitterverse could not avoid the question of the day: What drugs do you think he’s on?

And so it went.

Dedicated to: Jimmy Breslin, Jimmy Cannon and Jim Murray.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

For Little Leaguers, No. 2 was No. 1

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter

Confession: As coach of my son’s Little League team, I used my responsibility as uniform distributor to make sure that Zack got the number he wanted. Number 2.

Yeah, it’s the number probably 90 percent of the kids wanted, but I never felt guilty about it because: (a) the smaller kids got the lower numbers and Zack had a delayed growth spurt and (b) c’mon, what dad wouldn’t do what he could to help his son got Derek Jeter’s uniform number?

For those who may have been on another planet, Jeter is retiring after 20 years as a New York Yankee. This is his last week as a major league baseball player. The season has been a continuous homage to his career and, more significantly, to the professional, dignified manner in which he has lived it. Number 2 has been Number 1 when it comes to athletes as role models.

Some people (not Yankee fans) have complained that the Jeter Love Train has been a bit much this year, with tributes paid to him in every ballpark the Yankees visited. I can understand that, but when the commissioner of the league says he’s proud that Jeter has been the face of baseball for a decade or more, I think it’s important. There has been no hint of scandal attached to Jeter for his 20 years with the Yankees. No steroids. No arrests. No trash-talking or posturing.

And, by the way, only five players (Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker) have compiled more hits (3,460 and counting) than Jeter. He happens to have been a hell of a ballplayer. Clutch hits. Clutch plays in the field. Mr. November. The Captain. Five World Series rings. Mr. Consistency. More games at shortstop than anyone else. Never played another position. He is a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer and any baseball writer who doesn’t vote for him should have his voting privileges rescinded.

Jeter managed all this in the toughest market and media center in baseball — New York City. Funny thing though, while he qualifies as an all-time great and conceding that playing with the Yankees has helped burnish his image, Jeter doesn’t even make the list of top five Yankees of all time in my opinion. That would be Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. Still, being number six to that group is no small thing and it’s hard to imagine anyone breaking in to that Top Six club.

Mostly, when I look at Jeter’s career, I’m impressed with how quietly he went about his job, how almost routine he made the anything-but-routine appear. I don’t know how humble one can be when millions of fans shower you with praise every day for a year, when TV commercials extol your nice-guyness. Of course, Jeter has made hundreds of millions of dollars from baseball and those product endorsements. But that’s the world we live in and he has managed to carry it off with a sense of grace and dignity. You don’t hear those words used much around athletes these days.

Not to belabor what is really only repetitive, I felt an obligation to publicly thank Derek Jeter for showing youngsters how to go about whatever they do in life with a sense of purpose, responsibility, dedication, modesty, focus and respect for others. For showing them how to be grateful for the gifts they may have. That he also played baseball much better than most others was icing on the cake.

So here’s to Number 2. That number will be retired by the Yankees this year, which means a new generation of young ballplayers will have to find another number to demand. And a new group of dads will try to make it happen.

The Joy of Baseball in Spring

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

Well, the baseball season has opened, and already on Thursday the Mets (the team I root for) were behind by two games in the NL East standings. The Yankees were playing .500 ball and were tied for first place in the AL East with Tampa Bay and Toronto. It seems a good time to reflect on my recent baseball experience.

I’ve always wanted to attend spring training, but this was the first year I managed it. I would have gone to Port St. Lucie, where the Mets train, but I have a sister in the Clearwater/Tampa/St. Pete area, and I wanted to see her, too. My sister’s condo turned out to be five minutes from the Phillies training site in Clearwater, and I saw two games there, one against the Braves and one with the Yankees. I also drove five miles to Dunedin to see the Toronto Blue Jays camp, and watched them play the Tampa Bay Rays.

The thing I realized about spring training is that it doesn’t matter who wins.

Nobody really cares. Not the players, not the managers, not even the spectators. Tie games are usually ended after nine innings. And when you take away the tension about who’s ahead, something else emerges. It’s a relaxed camaraderie in the stands. More attention is paid to the sparkling plays – the incredible catches against the wall, the diving catches in the infield, the home run hit over the wall and onto the berm where young children are picnicking with their parents.

There is the smell of buttered popcorn and beer and hotdogs. There is a certain background crowd noise at a baseball stadium that I haven’t heard elsewhere. It’s kind of a steady hum, a soothing “white noise.” And the vast stretches of green, now Astro Turf even in Florida, and speaking, “summer, summer, summer.” It was March but in Florida it was already summer. Spring training is quintessential summer.

I saw a few things I’d never seen before. For example, just as at big league ballparks, the walls of the stadium are padded panels that players can bang against without hurting themselves too much. In one game, a batter hit the ball sharply to the wall, and it disappeared. Nobody could figure out what happened. The two closest fielders were scratching their heads and there was muttering in the stands. It turned out the ball found a path between the panels, never to be recovered. They played it as a ground-rule double.

I loved the Phillie Phanatic and wished the Mets had a decent mascot. The Fanatic goes around the field and stirs up the fans with his dancing and good-natured taunting of the opposition players. Mets fans and Phillies fans generally don’t like each other, and it was instructive to sit with a bunch of folks from Philadelphia and see how their feelings about baseball were just like mine.

I liked the experience of seeing a game with a Canadian team in Florida. At the stadium in Dunedin, they sang “O Canada” at the start of the game. The vendors ply you with Labatt instead of Bud. The crowds were full of folks from Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver, all willing to tell you their winter stories.

I would happily replace the regular season with six months of spring training. Nobody talked about drugs or salaries or trades or whether the franchise will survive.

It was just a game. As Roger Angell said, “The Summer Game.”

 

 

Why Cheat When You Don’t Have To?

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

Alex Rodriguez ... why?

Alex Rodriguez … why?

I woke up the other morning with a tantalizing thought: Why do people who don’t have to cheat, cheat? I later posed the question to some friends and much of this column is the result of one such conversation.

It seems I had been dreaming about Alex Rodriguez and all the other steroid/performance-enhancing drug users in major league baseball, but apparently mostly about A-Rod, given the question that greeted my morning. Among other things, this tells me I have had it with the juicers. Especially A-Rod.

I’m a lifetime baseball fan, grew up playing it, loving it. Framed baseball cards of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle share a spot on my bedroom wall. Willie was the best, in my view, Mickey second best, probably because he wrecked his legs early in his career. Mickey was a well-known juicer, but it was booze, not steroids he ingested. No way it improved his performance on the field.

They did not cheat. Alex Rodriguez came to the majors leagues at 19. Many touted him as a can’t miss superstar. He did not disappoint. His numbers — baseball, if anything, is a game that reveres numbers — started good and  steadily improved. If he stayed healthy, baseball people started to say, he would surpass all the batting records of Ruth and Aaron. Just keep doing what he was doing, and stay healthy.

A-Rod hasn’t been healthy the past couple of years with the Yankees. His body seems to be breaking down, a symptom of, among other things, steroid abuse. So I asked myself: Why? He was already the highest paid player in the game, with a guaranteed contract worth close to $300 million. Surely, even in an era of more, more, more, money could not be the goal. He was regarded by many, if not most, as the best in the game. He would assuredly be the game’s all-time homerun hitter if he stayed healthy. Why would he feel the need to cheat?

I can understand why other, lesser, players might have felt they needed to use steroids or other substances to improve their performances. Major league ballplayers are paid extremely well. Overpaid, in truth. Bigger numbers bring bigger paychecks. So a Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire had plenty to gain by cheating. Players of lesser skills could guarantee a career in the majors, well-paid and pampered, so long as they could live with themselves and the knowledge that they were cheating and most of their teammates were not.

Now, understanding why players cheat is not the same as condoning it. Those who used steroids or growth hormones have created an indelible stain on the game. They have left a cloud of doubt over every player who has followed the rules (and who, incidentally, said nothing about the cheaters for many years, thereby enabling the abuse.) The juicers have also made a shambles of the game’s reverence for numbers. Whose numbers count? Whose are juiced? The questions are not so easily answered today.

Back to A-Rod. The questions continued. What was his motivation when, as he has admitted, he took steroids a few years ago when he played for Texas? Did he really not use them in ensuing years? Why should we believe him? Was he using performance-enhancing drugs in recent years with the Yankees — as has been charged — because his body was breaking down from previous steroid use? There’s the Catch-22. Abuse of steroids will break a body down and an athlete expected to perform at the highest level might feel the need to take more steroids to try to “repair” his body.

Did A-Rod do this? I don’t know, but I suspect he did. If so, it’s a self-destructive cycle he created himself. Like drug addicts, perhaps, he (and others) grew to like the way they felt on steroids and didn’t have the confidence any longer to play without using some drug. Without cheating.

The ego is a fragile thing. It can ignore reality. (You’re the best player; just do what you do naturally and you’ll be OK.). It can create intense pressure. (The fans will only love you if you continue to be the best every day.) It can buckle under pressure, as A-Rod did in so many post-season series. (Don’t fail; don’t fail; they’ll know you’re a fraud.) A self-fulfilling prophecy.

I toy with these thoughts because, as I said, I have trouble understanding what Rodriguez had to gain by cheating. He had the talent, the money, the fame and the superstar name. Yes, he obviously has always had an intense interest in maintaining a certain image of himself. In fact, it has seemed throughout his career that it has always been about him and his accomplishments. He’s never been regarded as a great teammate.

So maybe it’s that simple. Alex Rodriguez cheated because he has always been more interested in appearing to be the best, rather just doing his best. He either doubted he could live up to the designation, or just didn’t care what he did to make sure people continued to think of him that way. He was totally wrapped up in himself, yet never totally believed in himself. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon, even in superstars. None of it in any way justifies what he has done.

And what he has done is make a sham of a game I used to love. Yes, there are still superstars whose names remain untainted by the steroids users. A-Rod has two such teammates on the Yankees in Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki. But you know, because of the juicers, there will be some people who doubt that even those two, future hall-of-famers never used something a little extra to improve their play. That’s  they never cheated.

I’m not losing any sleep over this and I still enjoy baseball. I just want A-Rod to go away and for Major League Baseball to finally be serious about ending the juicing. And no, I will not put a framed Alex Rodriguez card on my wall. I don’t even want one.

bob@zestoforange.com

Mariano Rivera Saves the Night (for Me)

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

Mariano Rivera waves to crowd at All-Star Game.

Mariano Rivera waves to crowd at All-Star Game.

I started the practice, which soon became a habit, in my early teens. When I picked up the morning paper (my mother religiously bought four or five papers daily) I always turned to the back page first, the sports page of one of New York city’s two tabloids, the Daily News and the Mirror.

At first, this was because that’s where my interests were. As I grew older, it was because I found it to be a gentler way, if you will, to enter into the daily fray. It was sports, after all, fun and games. Nothing life and death or depressing there. For some time, I felt guilty about this habit, feeling I should be paying attention to the front of the paper and all the “important” news. The bad news. The annoying news. The depressing news. The infuriating news. But then I found out that other seemingly bright, responsible people started their daily newspaper the same way — on the sports page. So I stopped beating myself up over it.

There’s no back page where I get much of my news today, on the Internet, but Tuesday night I found myself turning figuratively to the back page of Facebook. The social media site’s front pages, if you will, screamed with anger, hatred, bigotry and ignorance prompted by the not guilty verdict on George Zimmerman. Then there was Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, people shooting people everywhere, bees still in a death spiral, people being denied food stamps while millionaire farmers got subsidies, American citizens being spied on by their government, which is owned by a small group of very rich people, children and animals being abused, politicians arguing about abortion and sex instead of creating jobs, Brits still wondering how horse meat got in their hamburgers, chemical companies controlling our food supply, and the Republican Party solidifying its identity as the racist reaction to the nation’s first black president.

In exhaustion, I turned to sports, to baseball’s All Star Game. To Mariano Rivera, an oasis of inspiration, reassurance and dignity in a world gone seemingly mad for the moment.

Dignity is not a word often used in connection with sports figures these days, what with steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs eroding trust in the athletes and alcohol and drug-connected behavior making respect difficult to bestow.

But Rivera, “Mo” to legions of spoiled Yankee fans, has always been the model of dignified behavior. No hint of cheating. No scandal. No bad-mouthing opponents. Just consistent excellence and humility.

That he also turned out to be the best ever at what he does on a baseball field, makes him all the more special. If you’re a front-of-the-paper reader, Rivera is a “closer,” the pitcher brought in at the end of a game your team is winning, to shut down the other team, lest it have any ideas about rallying to win. Over the years, the mere sound of Metallica‘s “Enter Sandman” playing on the Yankee Stadium public address system and the sight of Rivera jogging in from the bullpen, became enough to silence opponents’ bats before he threw a pitch. No one has saved more games than the slender Panamanian and Tuesday night he appeared in Major League Baseball’s All Star Game for the last time.

This is Rivera’s farewell tour year. He is retiring at age 43 with more saves than anyone else. He has been given warm welcomes, been treated with admiration and respect, in every visiting team’s ballpark on the Yankees’ last visit. He has also asked to have an informal meeting with employees of each team on his last visit — to thank them for what they do. Ushers, security guards, grounds crew members, cleaning crew members, office workers have had a chance to chat with the Yankees’ new goodwill ambassador.  At the All Star game being played in the new stadium of the New York Mets, the Yankees’ crosstown rival, Rivera received a standing ovation from every fan and all-star in attendance. It lasted 90 seconds and the rest of his team did not take the field in the eighth inning until the ovation was over, leaving him alone on the pitcher’s mound to soak up the love. Then he retired the three batters he faced and his work was done.

The official “save” would go to Joe Nathan, who pitched the ninth inning, but Mo saved the night for me on Facebook. It’s not that I ignore the other stuff, the issues and causes and injustices of the world. In fact, it’s what I usually write about. I have had a career, in fact, writing about man’s incredible capacity for stupidity and cruelty. But I have always appreciated a standing ovation for a Pavarotti, a Perlman, a Fonteyn, a Streep. The best of the best.

Sports figures used to be looked upon as role models, people you could point out to your children and say, “That’s the way to behave.’’ Those role models are hard to come by today. Ironically, Rivera has had a teammate throughout his career who also fills the bill, Derek Jeter. They have spoiled Yankee fans for a long time and when they finally go, both will be missed.

But Tuesday was Rivera’s night, in Queens and on Facebook, and for that, I am grateful. I will return soon enough to writing about greed, arrogance, ignorance and bigotry and the need to fight against all of it, but for one night it was a relief to witness excellence, elegance, admiration, dignity and mutual respect. Thanks for the save, Mo.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

In Covering Mets, the Times Drops Ball

Friday, July 12th, 2013

 By Michael Kaufman

I’ve known for a long time that The New York Times often falls short of its boastful claim to provide readers with “all the news that’s fit to print.” The Times has dropped the ball on any number of important issues over the years, including such weighty issues as the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But it has also dropped the ball on less weighty, but nonetheless irksome, matters, exemplified by its biased coverage of New York’s two major league baseball teams. And frankly, I’m sick of it.

Wednesday afternoon the Mets completed a three-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants, defending World Series champions and a contender for first place in the National League West. It was the 16th win in the last 25 games for the Mets and was especially noteworthy for the outstanding pitching of rookie right-handed hurler Zack Wheeler. Marlon Byrd, who hit a grand-slam home run in Tuesday’s game, hit a two-run homer Wednesday. The 35-year-old veteran outfielder has been a key contributor to the recent success of the team, with his glove and fine throwing arm as well the bat.

Another veteran, Omar Quintanilla, has been making spectacular plays at shortstop since taking over for the injured Ruben Tejada, and has also delivered a number of clutch hits with men on base (though none Wednesday). So what was the headline Thursday in the Times article about Wednesday’s game? “In Managing Harvey’s Innings, the Mets Make an All-Star Allowance.” Huh? The first 16 paragraphs of the article dealt with a topic that had already been widely discussed for days, namely that the Mets planned to rest their All-Star pitcher Matt Harvey during the final games before the All-Star Game, presumably in the hope that he would be named starting pitcher for the National League in the game Tuesday night at Citi Field. This is certainly an interesting topic and I have my own thoughts about it too—but it is not what I want to be reading about for the first 16 paragraphs of an article about Wednesday’s game by beat writer Andrew Keh. Even the Times Herald-Record, which hasn’t assigned beat writers to the Yankees and Mets for years (and which also has a long history of favoring the Yankees) got it right in their headline above a workmanlike article produced by the Associated Press: “Clean sweep for Zack, Mets, Wheeler mows down Giants.”

The Times’ bias against the Mets has been blatant all year.  Both the Yankees and Mets opened the season at home April 1. The Mets won their game against the San Diego Padres by a score of 11-2.  The Yankees lost to the Boston Red Sox, 8-2. The next day, the Times article about the Mets game was about a third the size of the article about the Yankees game. And, as noted in an email from Tad Richards (poet, director of Opus 40, and Mets fan) “It’s mostly about what a terrible team the Mets are and they can’t expect to have too many days like this. Instead of writing about what Cowgill and Byrd did in the game, they wrote about what they did last year. And, well, I could go on and on, but ‘Bleep the New York Times’ covers it.” (Only he didn’t say “Bleep.”)

Tad’s email, sent to a small cadre of Mets fans scattered across the country, drew unanimous agreement. After the Mets swept a four-game series from the Yankees in May, it was Tad’s daughter Caitlin who wrote, “Why can’t we get any respect?  We just swept the Yankees for the first time in history, we played four great games, yet the Times articles are making excuses for the Yankees rather than applauding the achievements of the Mets. They were amazing. Let them have their moment.” Peter Jones agreed, noting, “The Times treats the Mets as if they were from Boston.” To which Tad added, “More like as if they were from Poughkeepsie.”

But I think Jon Richards, Tad’s brother (film critic, cartoonist for Huffington Post, and co-author of Nick and Jake) who may have said it best: “The Times sees the Yankees as the pinstriped Lords of Wall Street, and the Mets as the poor outerborough slobs who lose their house even if they’re paid up on their mortgage.”

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

 

Dog Pee, the DH and Willie Mays

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Willie Mays, "the catch," 1954 World Series, the Polo Grounds.

By Bob Gaydos

I wasn’t planning to write for the Zest blog this week because I had other stuff on my mind and nothing about which I felt a need to expound. That wasn’t good enough for my fellow Zester, Mike Kaufman.

He felt a need to call me out in a column he wrote — he actually did two of them — on whether it’s OK to let your dog pee on a neighbor’s mailbox post. Really. Even did a poll on it. Since I thought this question was covered by the “do unto others” credo by which we all aspire to live, I ignored it. But he insisted. Yes or no, Bob, pee or no pee. Exasperated, I answered: No pee! No pee! Never let your dog pee on my or anybody else’s mailbox post! Yucch.

But the pee question turned out to be a straw dog. Mike, a former sports writer, was really calling me out on the designated hitter in baseball, which I had supported in one of my previous posts. At the end of his dog pee column, he added: “NOTE TO BOB GAYDOS: Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees was the American League’s first designated hitter on Opening Day 1973. Thirty years later he expressed regrets: ‘I screwed up the game of baseball. Baseball needed a jolt of offense for attendance, so they decided on the DH. I never thought it would last this long.’ If even Blomberg can recant, it is not too late for you, Bob. Please come to your senses. Come home to the real game of baseball.”

First of all, Ron Blomberg is one of those Old Timers Day “Oh yeah, he was a Yankee, too“ guys. He had a couple of decent years and faded fast. He was never big enough to screw up the Yankees, let alone the whole game of baseball.

But Blomberg and Kaufman miss the point. There is simply no going back to anything. Baseball has evolved over the years, becoming more attuned to what fans like, which is more offense. It’s why they lowered the pitching mound. Sure, everyone can appreciate a good pitching matchup and no-hitters are special. But a whole season of teams batting .256 facing each other and watching opposing pitchers avoid number eight hitters with .230 averages to get at a pitcher who is an almost sure out is not fun. Nor does it necessarily win games. Good pitching always trumps all else. But when all else is equal, the teams that can hit — and that means mostly American League teams with designated hitters — will prevail. Look at the inter-league games records. The American League destroys the National League

I don‘t know what happens to pitchers when they leave high school. Until then they are usually the best players all around on all their teams. That means they could hit, too. But even before the DH, major league pitchers were no longer feared hitters. Players can’t bunt anymore. It’s a disgrace. The hit and run is almost obsolete. Baseball went bonkers with steroids for a while, and everyone was a home run threat. Now, things are back to seeming normalcy, but next year teams are going to play teams in the other league every day. That’s not fair to American League teams whose pitchers will have to bat. National League teams will gladly find a guy on the bench to add some punch to their anemic lineups.

The point is, the players union will never give up the jobs and the fans who see the DH every day will never go back to so-called “real baseball.” Not that long ago, baseball players used to leave their gloves on the field and wearing a batting helmet was unknown. But once upon a time, in the 1860s, nobody (not even the catcher) wore a glove, the ball was pitched underhanded from 45-feet from home plate, the ball could be caught on a bounce or on the fly for an out and you couldn’t overrun first base. In addition, foul balls were not strikes and if the umpire, standing to the side of the batter, didn’t happen to see the pitch, it didn’t count.

Now, that’s old time baseball, too, and they still play it in Cape May County, N.J., Michael, if you’re interested. For a whole season, I’m sticking with the current version.

* * *

While I’m at it, I might as well take care of all the dog-eared baseball questions. In response to my own poll (“Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?”), my colleague Jeffrey Page responded: “Bob, What about the Question of the Eternal Triangle: Mantle? Mays? Snider? My heart says Duke. My head says Willie. Mantle? He was pretty good, too.”

OMG, Brooklyn, get over yourself. Yes, New York City had the three best center fielders in baseball in the 1950s, but the Duke was always number three and you know that in your head, if not your heart. Mantle could have been the best ever but he drank like a fish and wrecked his leg and was still an all-time great and notches above Snider. But Willie Mays had it all, including a flair for the dramatic. I watched him rain triples and chase down fly balls all around the Polo Grounds and my head and heart have never doubted his preeminence. Best ever. Willie, Mickey and the Duke. 1,2,3.

* * *

Which brings me back to Michael and his dog pee. The most fascinating thing about his poll to me is that, of the 10 people who replied, four apparently said let your dog go wherever, whenever. I want their names, Michael. I don’t have a dog, but I have a friend who has three and they’re looking for new fields of dreams.

 bob@zestoforange.com

 

How Can Anyone Be a Mets Fan?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Fred Wilpon

Fred Wilpon, the man who messed up the Mets

By Bob Gaydos

OK, I have avoided writing about this topic for years because I didn’t want to have to deal with the whining, delusional comments that pass for rational argument among Mets fans. But honestly, I don’t get it. I don’t get how anyone can be a Mets fan.

As far as I can tell, being a Mets fan these days consists of being willing to root for a boring team made up of mediocre major leaguers, rookies who never ripen, and established major league stars who are always hurt. But more than that, it’s fans caring about some of these mediocre players and talking about them as if they are ever going to be good major league players that baffles me. You know, like Joe Beningo and his kid sidekick, Evan, on WFAN or that noontime kid on ESPN Radio.

They go on and on about a team that has tanked at the end of the year for a decade, whose legitimate star pitcher may not pitch this year, whose star outfielder and shortstop have been hurt more than they’ve been healthy for two years and whose star third baseman, who literally broke his back playing for them, has spells where he literally couldn’t hit the ball if it was the size of a grapefruit.

All the rest is gruel. Plus, the owner of the team, Fred Wilpon, lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and can’t spend money to get better players, so he’s going to have to trade his few blue chips for some young, potential stars. And we know how well that’s worked out recently. Wilpon has stayed quietly in the background most of the time, letting his general managers and managers talk about the team to the working press, which in the Mets’ case also contains a disproportionate quota of wanna-believers whose memories don’t go back past the 1990s.

But Wilpon sat down last month with a talented reporter from the New Yorker, a publication with no rooting interest save selling more magazines. The story that resulted told about Wilpon’s rags-to-riches story in real estate and his being snookered by Madoff. He and Madoff says that’s what happened; a trustee for other big losers say Wilpon knew what was going on. But that’s another story. Wilpon also made some comments in the New Yorker about his team and star players that has Mets nation in a tizzy. Here’s how it was reported in the Sporting News (also a non-rooting publication):

“The comments were made on April 20 while Wilpon watched a 4-3 loss to the Astros with the reporter, so don’t blame him for coming across more as fan than executive. Jose Reyes, whose contract is up after the season, had led off with a single and stolen second when Wilpon told the New Yorker, ‘He’s a racehorse. He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money (a seven-year $142 million contract). He won’t get it.’

“When David Wright hit, Wilpon said: ‘A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.’

“About Carlos Beltran, given a seven-year, $119 million deal by the Mets, Wilpon took a shot at himself as well as his player: ‘We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one (2004 playoff) series. He’s 65 to 70 per cent of what he was.’

“Finally, the magazine sums up what Wilpon thought about the Mets at the time when Ike Davis stepped in. ‘Good hitter,’ Wilpon said. ‘(Cruddy) team-good hitter.’ ”

Only he didn’t say cruddy.

Now, any Mets fan who can utter the words Armando Benitez with a proper sneer, knows that Wilpon’s assessments are right on. But the whining is that he didn’t have to say it publicly. Oh, please. He’s owned the team for 30 years. He remembers when they were a star-studded, scrappy bunch of all-stars, even if many of the fans don’t. He also knows he hasn’t delivered that kind of team nearly as often as he should have, what with playing in the biggest market in the country and making tons of money because of it.

Wilpon and his baseball staff have let Mets fans down year after year by failing to draft or trade for good, never mind star, players, by running a wreck of a medical staff that has seen star after star go down year after year, passing it off as being “snake-bitten,” and by being unbelievably inept in public relations. (They made manager Willie Randolph fly to the West Coast so they could fire him in the middle of the night.)

Mets fan know that they have to trade Beltran for some young player(s). Ditto Reyes. Wilpon is trying to sell a huge hunk of the team just to keep operating, for Pete’s sake. And he was absolutely right about Wright. Nice kid. Trouble throwing to first base. The thing is, Mets fans know all this and jabber about it on talk radio for hours (or at least when Joe and Evan are on), but for some reason the guy who pays the players’ salaries is not supposed to talk about it.

His saying it publicly doesn’t change anything. They will play for their next big contracts, wherever they may be and fans will talk about Ike Davis as if he’s the second coming of Keith Hernandez. Keith’s in the TV booth now with Ron Darling, who may still be better than anyone in the Mets’ starting five.

I have digressed all over the place because, as I said, I don’t get it. Yes, of course, I’m a Yankee fan, and have been for about 60 years. Mets fans, I am told, hate the Yankees and Yankee fans. Yankee fans don’t care. We have enough to do wondering why Brett Gardner is still in the major leagues and when Derek Jeter (who was supposedly washed up two weeks go) will get his 3,000th hit.

Yankee fans are used to a team owner talking publicly about star players. No, it was not always useful, but George Steinbrenner also poured tens of millions of dollars back into his team every year to try to keep it a winner, or at the very least, fun to watch. Many Mets fans I know are still hung up on the Brooklyn Dodgers, who also lost to the Yankees a lot, but who at least were always fun to watch and had lots of star players. I think these older Mets fans think Yankee fans are condescending. I don’t think so. I think Yankee fans just really don’t care about the Mets because lately it’s the same old story — they can’t seem to get out of their own way. (Personally, I loved the ‘69 World Series and bringing Willie Mays back for a curtain call. In the ’86 World Series, I rooted for the Mets. Of course, they did beat the Boston Red Sox.)

I also think Mets fans think that the true test of a fan is whether he or she is willing to suffer stoically and endlessly through lean times with the team. Again, just listen to the radio shows. But the Yankees didn’t win much in the ‘60s or ‘80s. The thing is, they never stopped trying and they were hardly ever boring. They set the bar high and, yes, they paid well to reach it. They still do. That’s why Yankee fans get upset when the team doesn’t play up to expectations (like losing Friday to a Mets knuckleballer). It may be easier to be a Yankee fan than a Met fan, but it’s much harder to be a Yankee player than a Mets player. Because it’s what they’ve done, their fans expect the Yankees to win. Not always, but usually. There is nothing wrong with winning. It’s why they keep score.

* * *

OK, Mets fans, you get your say in the comment box below, or e-mail me. Why do you do what you do? Of course, any Yankee fan who wants to chime in is welcome as well.

bob@zestoforange.com