Happy Thanksgiving!

roastturkey

Since I will be in transit today, then at a parade tomorrow morning before the afternoon feast, I wanted to wish everyone a happy, festive, and safe Thanksgiving.  I really love Thanksgiving and cannot stand that the recent enveloping of Thanksgiving by businesses craving the shopping sprees of Christmas buying has increasingly blurred what a great holiday Thanksgiving is (despite what Bill O’Felafel claims about the nonexistent “war on Christmas”).  This really is a time to give thanks, to be joyful and appreciative of what we have, to spend with family making merry, and to consider those of us unfortunately less fortunate.  These are tough times and they might well get worse economically.  Yet we all have much for which to be thankful–family, friends, the opportunity to get to know and converse with each other, and some things more basic–food, shelter, clothing, heat, water, a place to call home.  I am thankful for all these people and things, and for you, all the good readers here at The Heartland, who have done so much day in and day out to make this little place into so much, however humble its confines are.  Thanks to all of you.

Please enjoy the holiday and be thankful for whatever you like.  Please also consider the less fortunate in these trying times.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Published in: on November 26, 2008 at 12:47 pm  Comments (5)  

LA Times: Bidding War for Sabathia Imminent?

John Shabe of The Star-Ledger cites an LA Times story that the Angels might well be preparing to make a big offer to CC Sabathia.  Bill Shaikin, the LA Times reporter, said:

The Angels, unwilling to meet Mark Teixeira’s desire for a 10-year contract, are in discussions with CC Sabathia and could offer him a contract that approaches the $140-million bid extended to him by the New York Yankees.

The Angels appear reluctant to guarantee more than seven years in a contract for Teixeira, said a source familiar with the club’s thinking. They appear more likely at this time to pursue Sabathia, with an offer in the range of Johan Santana’s six-year, $137.5-million contract with the New York Mets.

Teixeira remains the Angels’ top priority — the club would sign him but does not want to miss out on Sabathia while waiting to see whether Teixeira’s asking price falls. The Angels are not believed to have made a formal offer to either player.

General Manager Tony Reagins said the club has not ruled out retaining Teixeira.

“We’ve had discussions about what the potential framework of a deal might be,” Reagins said. “At this time, I would say we still have interest at a high level. We understood going into this that it was going to take some time to accomplish.”

Given Sabathia’s expressed desire to stay on the West coast, this might hurt the Yankees a lot–to say nothing of Sabathia possibly going to a team in the Angels with whom the Yankees always struggle.  Remember Joel Sherman’s column the other day speculating about this in some form?  Wallace Matthews of Newsday has a different take, neither of which treats Sabathia’s becoming a Yankee as any kind of sure thing.  However, it is important to remember that all this is still early in the process, and the Yankees have deep pockets to muster to package an even bigger, more lucrative bid to Sabathia if necessary.  That may be a tactic for Sabathia in negotiations, and it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise if the Angels offered him a deal.  Moreno too has deep pockets and the propensity to dig into them.

Still, tell me that this news doesn’t worry you as Yankees fans at least a little bit.  It does me.

Published in: on November 25, 2008 at 12:58 pm  Comments (7)  

Oiling the Hinges for 2009

Two different articles, one from George A. King III of The New York Post and the other posted by Tyler Kepner at his “Bats” blog at The New York Times, convey optimism from GM Brian Cashman and hitting coach Kevin Long that the offense should be better from within.  King quotes Long as saying that Robinson Cano is working with a personal trainer to shed some weight, while Long has spent considerable time this off-season illustrating the importance of early-count patience to the second baseman.  I’m unsure what he’s conveying to Cano that didn’t take during the six-month season, but it might revolve around the additional weight of responsibility on him now that, in all likelihood, neither Giambi nor Abreu–both far more patient than Cano–are likely to return next season. From King:

“If he is going to be a third- or fifth-place hitter, which we need him to be, he has to learn about the strike zone and taking a lot more often than not,” Long said of Cano, who drew 26 walks last year. Only 11 players with at least 477 at-bats drew fewer walks than Cano.

I’m still not ready to put Cano in either of those spots since his plate discipline has been atrocious but, without Abreu and Giambi, expect Cano to be tried there at some point.  Right now, I’d rather see a healthy Matsui batting third, with Nady fifth and a healthy Posada sixth–and I’d settle for vice versa.  However, should Cano show some improved patience and given the likely holes left by Giambi and Abreu in the lineup, Cano could be in the top six, possibly higher. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Cano fifth to back up A-Rod and Nady sixth, which would also allow Girardi to construct a mixed lineup of lefties, righties, and switch hitters in Posada, Swisher and, if he ever gets his act together, Melky.  (I’m not holding my breath on that, honestly.  I’d slate Melky as the fourth outfielder behind Gardner.)  The Yanks want more from Cano and this is a real shot for him to mature as a hitter.  But I’m still uncertain that it will occur this season.  As of now, this would be the lineup I’d field, if all are healthy Opening Day:

  1. Damon LF
  2. Jeter SS
  3. Matsui DH
  4. A-Rod 3B
  5. Nady RF
  6. Posada C
  7. Cano 2B
  8. Swisher 1B
  9. Gardner CF

I still think Cano needs to earn hitting third or fifth.  He’s still young, he had a bad 2008, and needs to show the maturity to handle those vital spots without having them handed to him.  I am glad to see him showing an earnest commitment to off-season fitness, however.  It’s a good sign of maturity.

Kepner quotes Long as also asserting that the Yankees’ offense should be better from within since A-Rod was dealing with his divorce last season, and Cano was dealing with partying with Melky until all hours.  (Actually, that last part on Cano is from me and not Long but, given the concerns about Cano’s weight last season, I highly doubt that Long, Cashman, and others haven’t connected the dots on what helped cause that…)  With Posada and Matsui expected back and healthy, they feel that improving on the 789-run 2008 season, which was a drop-off of 179 runs from 2007, is likely.  It’s possible, but it’s also clear that much hinges on the healthy hinges of Posada (shoulder) and Matsui (knee)–not a given especially with their turning 38 and 35, respectively.  I’d love to see the Yankees’ offense rebound with a reinvigorated A-Rod (turning 34 next July) and Cano, and a healthy Posada, Matsui, and let’s not forget Jeter (turning 35 next June), leading the team to a 900-plus run season. However, given their respective ages and various injury issues, I’m starting to fear that should the Yankees enter 2009 with this lineup–filled with potential but fraught with peril–next season’s offense might at some point parallel last season’s starting pitching–injured and lacking an adequate contingency plan.

The team cannot afford to replicate that.

Published in: on November 25, 2008 at 10:27 am  Comments (4)  

Good Sunday Night Reading

I updated the link on the right for Alex Belth’s Bronx Banter, and there was a post from Belth yesterday well worth reading.  It discussed big magazine stories on sports profiles, and had a link to one that Gay Talese wrote for the July 1966 edition of Esquire on Joe DiMaggio.  It’s excellent, a sprawling piece on DiMaggio’s distinctly secluded life, following him from his San Francisco home to golf outings to Yankee Stadium to Reno’s, a local Frisco haunt of The Yankee Clipper’s.

I share Belth’s love of this style of journalism as well as the format of the “big piece” in various publications.  It’s what in part led me to more frequently read The New Yorker for the tenacious Seymour Hersh and Rolling Stone for the brilliant, neo-Gonzo Matt Taibbi–different in style from each other and Talese, to be sure, but both within the trajectory of the stand-alone, eloquent writing and journalism-as-plumbing that I love. Talese’s article illustrates a lot, including DiMaggio’s views on life, politics, and sexist dialogue all too common for the time, but also a side of DiMaggio that too few, not accidentally, have witnessed and chronicled. Give it a read.

Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 5:49 pm  Comments (5)  

What Waiting on the Big Man Might Mean

Joel Sherman of The New York Post has a typically good, informative column speculating that the waiting game that Sabathia is currently playing just might be a product of the Angels’ own negotiations with Mark Teixeira.  Sherman contends that it is possible that the Angels might become a player for Sabathia should they themselves convey an unwillingness to allow negotiations with Teixeira, represented by Scott Boras, to drag out as they did between Houston and another Boras client, CF Carlos Beltran, after Beltran’s monster 2004 run.  If so, Sherman opines that the Angels might issue an offer with a deadline to Teixeira and, if not met, could make a play for Sabathia should he not yet reach agreement with the Yankees.  The team might have contacted Scott Parker, Sabathia’s agent, counseling patience in accepting the Yankees’ offer based on such a stance on Teixeira.

Interestingly, Sherman wonders if less, and not more, than what the Yankees offered Sabathia (six years, $140 million) could possibly seal the deal for Sabathia, who has expressed the desire to stay out West and/or in the National League.  Sherman explores Santana’s six-year, $137.5 million contract with the Mets and argues that, since it’s loaded with deferrals, the present-day annual cost for Santana is about $2 million per year less than the $22.92 million average over the length of the contract.  Should the Angels offer Sabathia that amount sans deferrals, Sherman speculates, the Angels just might be able to successfully bid on him.  However, this scenario would depend on their possibly letting Teixeira go, thus hurting an offense that clearly thrived with him–except in October–and still needs him as the Angels have started to shed players such as Garret Anderson, who have aged but can still produce at a moderate clip.

If nothing else, it makes for fascinating hot-stove speculation as the offer sits.  A flip side of that scenario would be the availability of Teixeira and, though the Yankees have acquired Swisher and are probably loathe to add more payroll, passing up on Teixeira would stoke certain criticism from the Yankees’ fan base still craving a better offense than last year’s lackluster performance.  Another question would be, to what degree would the Yankees then become more interested in this year’s large pool of somewhat talented but rather risky free agent pitchers, such as Burnett (whose agent wants five years), Sheets, Lowe, Perez, and more? Not landing Sabathia might propel the Yankees into a grab-someone mode that resulted in the disastrous Igawa signing after the Red Sox outbid the Yankees and everyone else for the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka.  I would hope that if nothing else, the Igawa failure would serve as a cautionary tale for Cashman, Hal and the rest of the Yankees brass not to sign a risk just for the sake of signing someone.

This bears watching to see if Sherman, who has a good nose for the game and is well connected, might be right.

Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 2:32 pm  Comments (2)  

Yankees Young Pitchers Down the Road; Hal, Not Hank

Thanks to regular reader Mike F. for sending this very good piece from Cliff Corcoran of Bronx Banter along to me.  Corcoran makes a good case that the Yankees’ rotation, and to no small degree its bullpen, by 2011 may be primarily stocked with home-grown talent.  Check it out.

Thank goodness Dad has the good sense and foresight to see which of his two Steinbrenner sons is best equipped to run the Yankees organization.  Now that it’s been officially approved by MLB, congratulations Hal.  You’re the right guy for the job.  I’m so glad it isn’t that loudmouth, blustery frat-boy Hank the court jester.

Published in: on November 21, 2008 at 11:17 am  Comments (2)  

Moose, Yankees Make It Official

Pete Abe has the skinny from the Yankees, worth quoting in its entirety as per the Yankees:

Five-time All-Star Mike Mussina today announced his retirement from Baseball. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Mussina becomes the first pitcher to retire immediately following a 20-win season since Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax exited the game following his 27-9 campaign in 1966.

Mussina, 39, was a member of the Yankees pitching staff from 2001-08, compiling a record of 123-72 with a 3.88 ERA. Since signing with the Yankees as a free agent prior to the 2001 season, no other American League pitcher recorded more wins than Mussina. He struck out 1,278 batters in pinstripes, ranking sixth on the club’s all-time list. His 72 wins at Yankee Stadium were the third-most since 1976 when the facility was remodeled, behind Ron Guidry (99) and Andy Pettitte (95).

With a 123-72 record, he finished 51 games over .500 with the Yankees while going 66 games over .500 with Baltimore (147-81). According to Elias, he joins Randy Johnson as the only pitchers since 1900 to own a career record of at least 50 games over .500 with two different teams (Johnson was 130-74 with Seattle, 56 games over, and 118-62 with Arizona, 56 games over).

Mussina reached the 20-win plateau for the first time in his career in 2008, going 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA in 34 starts for the Yankees. At age 39, he became the oldest pitcher in Baseball history to record 20 wins in a season for the first time in his career, passing Jamie Moyer (20 wins in 2001 at age 38). He also became the Yankees’ first 20-game winner with an ERA lower than 3.40 since Ron Guidry went 22-6 with a 3.27 ERA in 1985.

In addition, Mussina earned his seventh career Rawlings Gold Glove Award in 2008 (also 1996-99, 2001 and 2003).

Mussina pitched 18 years in the Majors from 1991-2008, making 536 combined starts (537 appearances) with the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles and posting a 270-153 record with a 3.68 ERA and 2,813 strikeouts. Only three pitchers recorded more wins than Mussina during his time in the Major Leagues. He reached 15 wins in a season 11 times, including a career-high 20 victories in 2008, and placed in the top five in Cy Young Award voting six times in his career.

Pitching his entire career in the American League East Division, Mussina finished tied with Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes for 32nd place on Baseball’s all-time wins list after surpassing Jack Morris (254), Jim McCormick (265), Gus Weyhing (265), as well as Hall of Famers Bob Gibson (251), Carl Hubbell (253), Red Faber (254), Ted Lyons (260), Bob Feller (266), Eppa Rixey (266) and Jim Palmer (268) in the 2008 season.

Mussina’s .638 career winning percentage is sixth-best all-time among Major Leaguers with at least 500 career starts and ranked second among active pitchers (Randy Johnson-.648), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. His 2,813 strikeouts rank 19th on Baseball’s all-time list.

A native of Montoursville, Pa., Mussina retired as one of just 18 pitchers in Major League history to own a career record of at least 115 games over .500 (270-153). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, twelve of those pitchers are currently in the Hall of Fame, five are not eligible yet (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Mussina) and one only pitched in nine seasons (Bob Caruthers).

He is the only American League pitcher to record 17 consecutive seasons of 10-or-more wins (1992-2008) and only Walter Johnson (18) has more total seasons of double-digits wins than Mussina all-time among AL hurlers. According to Elias, only five other Major League pitchers have compiled a stretch of 17 straight seasons with at least 10 wins – Greg Maddux (20 yrs., 1988-2007), Cy Young (19, 1891-1909), Steve Carlton (18, 1967-84), Don Sutton (17, 1966-82) and Warren Spahn (17, 1947-63). Also according to Elias, Mussina is the only pitcher in AL history to make at least 24 starts in 17 consecutive seasons (1992-2008).

A master of control, Mussina walked only 785 batters in 3,562.2 career innings, averaging 1.98 walks/9.0IP. According to Elias, he is one of just three pitchers in AL history to toss at least 3,000.0 innings while holding opponents to fewer than
2.0 walks/9.0IP, joining Jack Quinn (1.96) and Cy Young (1.11).

Though he never won a World Series title, Mussina pitched in 23 playoff games (21 starts), going 7-8 with a 3.42 ERA. He twice appeared in the Fall Classic—both with the Yankees—in 2001 vs. Arizona and 2003 vs. Florida.

Originally drafted by Baltimore in the first round (20th overall) of the 1990 First-Year Player Draft, Mussina ranks second all-time among Orioles’ pitchers in strikeouts (1,535) and winning percentage (.645, 147-81), third in wins (147), fifth in games started (288) and sixth in innings pitched (2,009.2). His 218 strikeouts in 1997 established a new club record that was later broken by Erik Bedard in 2007 (221).

Published in: on November 20, 2008 at 12:39 pm  Comments (4)  

Moose Follow-Up

For some invaluable beat writers’ perspectives on Mike Mussina, be sure to check out what Pete Abraham, Tyler Kepner, Dan Graziano, and Mark Feinsand wrote.  They’re all excellent and they reveal much about the guy, how grounded and workmanlike he was–a pro, and not full of himself.  I’d also highly recommend Mike Sommer’s additional and terrific exploration into Mussina’s career numbers.  785 walks in 18 seasons?  A Joke.

Oh yeah, and for the hundredth time, he’ll be a Hall of Famer.

[Edit: I just read this gem from Joel Sherman of The New York Post on Mussina.  Well worth reading.]

Published in: on November 20, 2008 at 11:06 am  Comments (1)  

ESPN: Mussina to Retire

Jayson Stark of ESPN is reporting that, according to “a baseball source with knowledge of the situation,” Mike Mussina has decided to retire from baseball.  I noticed that the New York Yankees official site, quoting Ken Rosenthal from FoxSports.com, has reported the same news.  It was expected, and I honestly didn’t want the Yankees to re-sign him for the three years Mussina would have wanted to play to shoot for 300, but I can’t help feeling pangs of sadness about this.  He was a terrific pitcher, adapting to changing conditions by honing his off-speed stuff after many, including myself, said his best days were behind him.  I am proud to have eaten crow about that this year.  I am equally proud to have seen his brilliant, four-hit stint on April 23 in Chicago, when he baffled the White Sox to turn around his struggles versus (primarily) Ramirez and the Red Sox to post the only 20-win season of his career.

Moose, we won’t forget you. Thanks for being a terrific Yankee pitcher, for some excellent games, for smart and sometimes smart-ass interviews, and for an underestimated toughness.  To think that Mussina was able to bounce back and put behind him his getting clocked with a Sandy Alomar line drive flush in the face, just above the right eye–something Herb Score understandably couldn’t shake–makes everything Mussina did after it happened May 14, 1998 even more impressive.

The Hall of Fame countdown begins, or certainly should.

Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 6:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Mussina to Play, to Hall, or to the Memory Hole?

Thanks to regular reader Mike F. for sending along this Tyler Kepner article in The New York Times about Mike Mussina’s impending decision to play or retire, which he is expected to make by the end of this week.  While he is expected to retire, Mussina just might return.  Given the Yankees’ likely reluctance to award him a three-year deal, since he would want to play for three to strive for 300 wins, it begs the question of where, if anywhere, Mussina would get a fairly long commitment given his age–he turns 40 in less than a month.

Kepner’s piece quotes various people giving their perspective on Mussina’s chances for the Hall of Fame should he retire after 2008, which I believe he will (though I’m frequently wrong on predictions).  I’ve written before that I consider Mussina a Hall of Fame worthy pitcher–270-153, 3.68 career ERA, career WHIP of 1.192, 2,813 K’s.  While the majority of those writers asked by Kepner, and answering either yes or no, said they’d vote him in, there is a fair amount of indecision among writers about his being in the Hall, in no small amount based on comparisons with his contemporaries.  For example, Dave Sheinin of The Washington Post said that Mussina “falls short of this standard” because he counts several other pitchers of his era as more dominant–Randy Johnson, Pedro, Maddux, Clemens, and Glavine, while adding Smoltz and Schilling as two more possibilities.

That is hard to dispute based on 20-win seasons, strikeout totals, and World Series rings–no small considerations.  But I have a different take on this assessment for Mr. Sheinin.  Is there a certain quota of dominant pitchers an era must have? Mussina was pretty dominant in his prime and over time, striking out 7.9 per 9 innings over his career and being highly regarded as a pitcher throughout, including when the Yankees plucked Mussina the plum before the 2001 season.  Also, as Kepner points out, Mussina has a higher career winning percentage (.638) than all but five other pitchers–Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Clemens, Lefty Grove, and Johnson–with at least 270 wins.  I’d say that’s pretty dominant, and by the way better than Schilling (216-146 = .597), Smoltz (210-147 = .588, though Smoltz went 6-8 in four seasons as an excellent reliever, and relievers can earn losses over short outings and against precious few batters), Glavine (305-203 = .600 and Glavine had 5 20-win seasons), and Maddux (355-227 = .610).

Sean McAdam, while leaning toward a “yes” vote for Mussina should he retire now, compared him to Don Sutton, while Joe Posnanski of The Kansas City Star, quoted in Kepner’s fine piece, realized that Mussina’s numbers “were as similar to Juan Marichal’s as they are.”  Sutton pitched for 23 seasons, amassing a 324-256 record, only one 20-win season (winning 21 in 1976), a 3.26 ERA, 3,574 strikeouts but no 200+ strikeout season after 1973 after compiling five 200+ strikeout seasons from 1966-1973.  Sutton threw 178 complete games in his career and was very durable, but Mussina was consistently better in terms of having winning seasons with a better winning percentage.  Mussina also started out better than Sutton, who went 83-85 in his first six seasons from age 21-26, while Mussina–who pitched at Stanford and began with the Orioles at 22–went 90-41 in his first six seasons from age 22-27.  Mussina was better earlier while also like Sutton in that each was good well into their late 30s.

But the overall figures, as Posnanski said, also compare to Marichal’s.  Though Marichal won 20 games six times and was more dominant in his prime than Mussina, look at these:

243-142, 2.89 ERA, 2,303 K’s, 1.101 WHIP in 15 seasons.  While Marichal tapered off significantly in his last four seasons due to arm injuries, going only 22-33 from 1972-1975, he averaged a win per season more than Mussina.  But Mussina also maintained a higher strikeout per season mark (156.3 to 153.2 for Marichal).  Marichal, by the way, never won a World Series either.

Here is something else to consider.  Mussina’s numbers are actually relatively similar to Greg Maddux’s.  Though Maddux has more wins and strikeouts, a lower ERA, won a World Series and won the Cy Young in four straight seasons–most of those over and above the “magic numbers” pundits use to evaluate Hall of Fame worthiness–consider this: in only six of his 18 seasons has Mussina lost ten or more games.  In Maddux’s first 18 seasons, he had nine seasons with double-digit losses, spending 11 of those 18 with perennial playoff team Atlanta (4 double-digit loss seasons) and the rest with the Cubs (5 double-digit loss seasons).  What was Maddux’s record in his first 18 seasons?  289-163 (.639), 2,765 strikeouts. Mussina: 270-153 (.638), 2,813 strikeouts, in a much tougher hitting league, ahem.  Do people define dominance too much by accoutrements and reputation, and not enough by establishing head-to-head criteria?  Possibly, especially in this case.  Additionally, note the players to whom one is comparing Mussina–Maddux (a sure first-ballot Hall of Fame pitcher), Sutton and Marichal–in the Hall of Fame.  With all, one can draw some form of similarity to Mussina.  That alone should indicate his worthiness for enshrinement.

I think part of the problem is the ephemeral, subjective criteria that various gatekeepers to the Hall of Fame use in evaluating the greatness of players.  I also think that those entrusted with Hall of Fame votes, in addition to being at times petty and parochial, simply overvalue the flashy, especially with statistics for hitters and awards, and subsequently overlook the obvious.  Greatness can mean and encompass a lot, including tremendous and at times isolated feats on grand stages.  To me, greatness also fundamentally means consistent excellence.  That has been Mussina’s career–including a 3.42 postseason ERA (with a 7-9 record) that bests his career ERA of 3.68.  It would be a shame if Mussina’s Hall of Fame fate were allowed to flutter in the breeze while pundits acting as gatekeepers, with varying qualifications to make such judgments, navel-gazed and overlooked just how terrific, how consistently very good, Mussina has been over 18 seasons.

Mussina should be in the Hall of Fame.  Period.

Published in: on November 18, 2008 at 10:24 am  Comments (16)  
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