Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: Yankees

Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee’s real name is Clifton, which is just fitting, somehow. It’s fitting that Clifton Phifer Lee pitched the best World Series game in six years, in the same spot as the last truly great one. In 2003, Josh Beckett put Yankees (and, to some degree, Red Sox) fans out of their misery with a nine strikeout, two-walk performance to give the Marlins the title. But for the fact that Lee pitched in Game 1, his game could be considered even better.

Beckett has always been the exemplar of rock-and-fire dominance when he’s on; he is the spiritual successor to fellow Texans Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Kerry Wood, whose superlative career only exists in the mind. Lee is something different. With the best control in baseball, he exerted totally casual dominance over the Yankees last night, making New Yankee Stadium his own and chasing any mystique and aura right out of the place. He could one lazy hit ball with complete nonchalance, not even looking at the glove as it plopped in, and snagged another one behind his back as it threaten to whiz past for what would have likely been another sequel-free Yankees hit. Even he had to laugh at that one.

The only time he wasn’t laughing or going about his business was the ninth inning, when shortstop Jimmy Rollins threw a ball into the stands, resulting in the Yankees’ only run. Lee was obviously miffed for a second, then went right back to chucking. Two pitches later, the camera panned back to Rollins, and now he was laughing, as if Lee was so dominant that the run he gifted them was its own sort of joke. It was that ridiculous to think the Yankees could score.

The Phillies had taken an early lead on a home run by Chase Utley that would have been an out in 29 of 30 professional baseball stadiums; lucky for him, he picked the right week to play in the Bronx. He followed that up with one that would have cleared the right-center field fences in all 30, and by the time Phil Hughes began the Yankees’ reliever death spiral in the eighth inning the result was never in doubt.

Still, it was a joy to watch. The Phillies had tried to acquire Blue Jays starting pitcher Roy Halladay before the trading deadline but had to “settle” for Lee, which is like “settling” for the second-best free steak dinner in the city. (Not that Lee was “free,” but for what they had to give up, close enough). Anyone who’s watched Halladay knows that he’s a grinder, a physical presence that wears down opponents. Lee just drops the hammer and goes. His delibery is the most consistent in the game today, and the results tell the story.

The best part about this, of course, is that it happened on the Yankees home turf. My only fear is that this Yankees squad draws strength from it. If they somehow lose to Pedro Martinez tonight—and if there’s any Lee hangover, or AJ Burnett pulls one of his Ricky Vaughn routines—they’d be down two games heading to Philadelphia. Normally, that would be good news, but this team has a decidedly 1996 feel about it: I think being against the wall is only going to make them stronger. There’s a long way to go in this series, even if the Phightin’s win tonight. It’s not my “I’ll believe the Yankees are dead when I see it” routine; it’s the “I’ll believe this team is dead when I see it.” There’s too much talent there to thinkt they couldn’t rip off four in a row against anyone. This is, however, a good start.

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The Series of the Whole World

The World Series is not named after the world. It’s named after the long-defunct New York World newspaper. It’s a good thing that it wasn’t the New York Crab or something similarly ridiculous, because otherwise it would be hard for us to conflate the results of up to seven baseball games with ruling the Earth. But as a good friend of mine reminds me: don’t take points off the board. The World Series it is, and you can make of it what you want.

Already, I’ve seen one of my friends from Chicago say he tuned out baseball a month ago, implying that what we’re doing out here, one local and three express train stops from where I’m typing, is a fancy little East Coast party in which “real America” has no interest. Well, “real America” can bite my b***s. Your teams had a chance to make it, but your teams sucked. Plus, the writer in question roots for the Cubs. Which is its own problem.

This World Series may be East Coast-centric, but it has the chance to be the best since the 2002 series, which pitted NoCal (Giants) vs. SoCal (Angels) in a Bonds-fueled fight to the finish. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about West Coast Bias then, but that’s because almost nobody watched. Anyone skipping this year’s game has the potential to miss a Fall Classic that lives up to that capital C.

To put it simply, both these teams are bad-ass, and feature awesome and compelling baseball players. Even better, both teams deserve to be there. These have been the best teams over the course of the season, and they’ve pulled off the rarest of modern feats by turning April to September skill into October magic. These teams aren’t just happy to be here, nor did they expect to be. They went out there and kicked butt every day to get to this point.

In that sense, this Series has a distinctly retro feel, and not just because these teams are both more than 100 years old. This one harkens back to the days of AL winner vs. NL winner, stacked club vs. stacked club. Furthermore, you’ve got the historically best franchise against the defending champion, which makes for all sorts of compelling, if possibly silly, storylines. If Cliff Lee is nervous enough to be intimidated by the Yankee Stadium atmosphere, he’d probably have quit playing after A ball.

Lee is one of two midseason Philly acquisitions that pushes this series over the top. The other is Pedro Martinez. Lee and Pedro will start games 1 and 2 in Yankee Stadium. I’m a little worried about that second one. Here’s where nostalgia may work against the Phillies. The idea of Pedro pitching a World Series game in the Bronx is cool on the surface—but, like the Limericku, in practice it might be clunky. I see Mark Teixeira batting against Pedro and I can feel the fear in my stomach.

Alas, after that the pitching matchups turn in favor of the Phillies if pretty boy Cole Hamels can put it together. And if you thought this series was East Coast-centric now, wait until game four, which is scheduled to take place four hours after the Giants/Eagles game ends, across the parking lot. If there’s such thing as a New York/Philly rivalry, it is most usually most loudly demonstrated in Giants/Eagles. If you’re turned off by East Coast sports, this isn’t the day for you.

But you know what days will be? Games 5, 6, and possibly 7. At some point, this series is going to become good enough that any baseball fan won’t be able to afford to miss it. This is the real deal, and the type of World Series matchup we’ve waited for for almost a decade—a pairing worthy of the name.

Behold the World Series. Behold the Limericku.

We gather here tonight, on my couch, to observe the Festivus of the baseball season. The World Series begins in two days between the Yankees and the Phillies. With the talk of lawsuits and Met exasperation in the air, it’s time to break down this series, Bryan Joiner-style. That’s right: it’s time for the Limericku.

For those of you who don’t know about the Limericku, it’s a limerick with a haiku tucked into it. It’s the literary equivalent of a Morkie, the half-man, half-Yorkie dog like my brother owns: it doesn’t exist in nature, but we went and one-upped sh*t. William Shakespeare would be rolling over in his grave but only in sheer amazement.

Here are the haikus we’ll be using, written in a haste over some aged grape juice, following the traditional rules of haiku:

1

Yankees teem* in autumn

Against the halogen lights—

Crack toward victory

(* not a typo)

2

Philadelphia

Has owned its championship

For all the seasons

3

A new fall classic

Will end in less than two weeks

A title, bestowed

These are the building blocks. The foundations, if you will. (You will.) I have constructed Limericks around them, remembering that Limericks are meant to be flippant. Behold the Limerickii:

1

The Phillies think that they got’em

The Yankees teem in autumn

Against the halogen lights

Crack toward victory, they fight

And all the good players, they bought’em

2

The Mets fans moaned

‘Cuz Philadelphia has owned

Its championships for all

the seasons, from Fall

To Fall, the NL they’ve T-boned

3

With winter around the bend

A new fall classic will end

In less than two weeks

A title bestowed, a peak

For the team that next year will defend

Of course, if you removed the haikus from the limerickii you also get poems. And these poems also rule.

1

The Phillies think they got’em

They fight

And all the good players, they bought’em (Not entirely true, but not bad!)

2

The Mets fans moaned

From fall to fall

The NL they’ve T-boned (actually not that bad, if you consider the Mets a giant car wreck. Which they are.)

3

With winter around the bend

A peak for the team

That next year will defend (alright!)

I don’t know what else to tell you, except to remember where you were when the limericku was invented. You’ll be telling your kids. And remember that the World Series inspired it. I’m so happy that I invented a whole new way of communicating. If the Yankees win, I won’t be happy any more, but the Limericku will still exist. No matter what, we all win.

Do Yankees Fans Have Legal Rights?

One year ago last month I served as best man for my friend Mike’s wedding. He married Laura, despite the fact she is a Yankees fan. He is a Phillies fan. Today, this is a problem.

Facebook comments have already suggested that divorce proceedings are being discussed, and possessions are already being separated. The problem here is that Laura is a lawyer, and Mike is not. She has crafty advantages as they sort through their property. At particular issue is the dog, whose name is Brooklyn. They both want him.

Being on the side of things that are good, I decided to consult some other attorneys, who, also in the name of good, have volunteered to help Mr. Tepper, pro bono. Here is what I have learned.

• Being a Yankees fan is grounds for divorce in 49 of 50 states.

This is not altogether surprising. Anti-NYY sentiment dates back as far as the Magna Carta, and was written into the Declaraton of Independence (it’s the stuff in invisible ink, on the back). While marrying a Yankees fan is one of the freedoms permitted by our First Amendment, it wasn’t always clear that this was the case, and most states put some sort of Yankees divorce clause into their charters just to be sure. The only one that didn’t, interestingly enough, was Massachusetts. “If you marry one, it’s your own damn problem,” was written into the Commonweath of Massachusetts charter in 1629 after being devised on the Mayflower.

• The rights of Brooklyn shareholders

As a full-time resident of Brooklyn, it is within my legal rights in the State of New York to claim Brooklyn the Dog by eminent domain. Pennsylvania (as the couple is, it is important and overdue to note, based in Philadelphia) and New York have an extradition arrangement wherein if a judge were to approve my motion, the dog would have to be delivered to me within two (2) business days. The dog then becoming mine, I could give him to Mike and Mike alone, whereupon he could either withhold the dog until Mrs. Mike decided to renounce her Yankees fandom or moved more than 500 feet away, the standard distance applied by Pennsylvania law for those seeking to avoid Yankees fans.

• Superseding clauses

The kicker is that Laura actually has no rights to any possessions as a Yankees fan. While some declare the law to be “wildly unconstitutional” and upheld during only the “darkest hours on our Supreme Court,” McGonigle vs. McGonigle ruled that Yankees fans are inherently Treasonous against the American ideals of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness and as such are not entitled to hold U.S. property. They simply live among us, like UFOs that have taken the shape of humans, and are not protected by the Constitution. It is only by marrying Mike—a living, loving, breathing human being—that she is entitled to protection under our laws. Notable is that President George W. Bush attempted to overturn this law in the final days of his second term, only to have his deep unpopularity torpedo it. His successor, elected on a populist platform, announced during his Inauguration address that he would uphold the current law, drawing a rousing cheer from the millions on the Washington Mall. In subsequent months, despite harsh criticisms on literally every other front, right-wing critics such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have applauded Mr. Obama’s leadership on this issue.

In short, we see nothing to indicate that Mike has anything to worry about, in a legal sense. In a baseball sense, this is a hell of a series, but the games will be fleeting (and hopefully, given the strength of both teams, great for everyone). He has chosen the path of life and liberty, and is legally protected into the far future.

Blame Bradford Campeau-Laurion

The 2004 title wasn’t enough. The Red Sox humiliated the Yankees in the ALCS, won the World Series, and got the so-called monkey off their back. Still, Yankees fans brought the bravo. Instead of “1918” T-shirts, Bronx-ers parroted lines like, “There was no curse… you just sucked for 86 years” and “26 to 6… who’s counting?” Humbled they weren’t, even if they had become the historical standard for in-series futility. They were the Yankees. The ship would right itself.

In 2005, the status quo reigned. The Yankees and Sox both went out in the first round of the playoffs. The Yankees took their series to the seventh inning of game five; the Sox got swept.

In 2006, the Yankees crept back up to the top. The Red Sox finished third in the American League East, which drew chuckles around these parts. Sure, I was laughing when Kenny Rogers absolutely b*tched the Yankees in the playoffs, but there was a real concern that 2004 was just a fluke. A beautiful, miraculous, oh-my-God it happened fluke, but just a giant speedbump on the Yankees dominance train.

Then came 2007. The Red Sox won the AL East and won the World Series. They could compete with the Yankees on a decade-long basis. Good. But the cycle wasn’t fully complete. The Yankees still made the playoffs. They didn’t get to feel what it was like to sit at home in October, watching an octet of other teams compete for their trophy. They hadn’t seen the bottom.

And then, last year, it happened. In the farewell season to The Stadium, it was hoped that the Yankees would close it with a bang and title number 27. Instead, their playoff chances were done by September 27. Now they were the third place team, the second-class team, the funniest team money could buy. They were finally just another team, and it was glorious.

Unfortunately for all of us, they had sown the seeds of their resurrection. They just didn’t know it. In a September game, they kicked out a fan for attempting to pee during God Bless America. That man’s name is Bradford Campeau-Laurion. Bradford Campeau-Laurion is a Red Sox fan. And Bradford-Campeau Laurion is a bastard. You see, we finally had everything that we wanted. And then he had to go and ask for more.

Campeau-Laurion contended that the Yankees had violated his first amendment rights by preventing his tinkle, and sought to have them apologize and end the policy. Sure, he was completely legally right and was right to challenge the policy, but that’s hardly the point: Campeau-Laurion taunted the beast. “Look,” God said, “What else do you want? You’re not even asking for money. I gave you everything you wanted, and you want more. Remember everything I did for you to get you out of this mess. I think you’re being greedy.”

Campeau-Laurion was taken aback. “I don’t think I’m—”

“SILENCE!” God said. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

While He was judging , the Yankees signed CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. A-Rod got called out to the point where he stopped caring about what other people thought of him, and simply cared about hitting a baseball. The Yankees finished a stadium with a 150-foot right field porch, and hit approximately 75 home runs in April.

I’m not saying God is all “Go Yankees!” They’re in the World Series now, and I doubt God has a preference between them and the Phillies. But something changed this year, and I refuse to believe it’s a long-overdue balancing of the scales. No, I believe other forces are at work. Campeau-Laurion won his lawsuit in May, getting his lawyer’s fees paid for and a small, unsolicited payout from the city. The Yankees also agreed to forever allow peeing during God Bless America. Unfortunately, that includes during the World Series, too. Ergo, Brad’s fault.

I hope you’re happy.

A-Rod

I’ve probably written more about Alex Rodriguez than I have about any other athlete (last winter’s entry here). He has been everything a sportswriter could ask for: outgoing, vain, naive, foolish, and a hundred other celebrity adjectives. He’s been proud of all of them, even as his on-the-field performance—you know, his job—has suffered at the times it’s needed most. The stats tell part of the story. Until this year, he has been ordinary in the playoffs: not as bad as his critics say, but nothing befitting one of the best players in the game. Three years ago, he was benched against the Detroit Tigers when he was supposed to be carrying the Yankees past an inferior team. At the beginning of this year, he was outed as an incurable narcissist and steroid user in a book by Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts. It was the best thing that could have happened to him.

For years, A-Rod had been embarassing himself in increasingly ridiculous ways, and this March, the bubble finally burst. Short of being convicted of any sort of crime, the public’s love affair with the A-Rod foibles was over. People like intrigue, but they don’t cheaters (or what they consider cheaters, at any rate). So A-Rod fell into the background like only he could: he stopped talking, and started dating Kate Hudson. Only in A-Rod-Land can you start dating Goldie Hawn’s daughter and somehow become less interesting, but that’s exactly what happened.

Instead of being the incurable narcissist with the cerebral, psychologist wife whom he tried to please, he started a frivolous relationship with someone who actually appeared to like him. For all A-Rod’s popularity, he has always seemed very alone, trying to fill the significant gaps in his life with newspaper headlines and the plaudits of the baseball aristocracy. His bizarre fascination with cooler-than-thou Derek Jeter was odd, unsurprising evidence of this.

With a relaxed, simmed down A-Rod tearing up everything he sees at the plate, the rapport between him and Jeter has mellowed significantly. Every time something happens that’s good for the Yankees, it’s the two of them clapping and hollering on in lockstep. That is, unless it’s another one of A-Rod’s home runs. Then it’s only Jeter, clapping away on the top step for a teammate he finally respects.

It’s hard to talk about A-Rod without talking about Jeter, and I suspect that Jeter realizes how much he needs Rodriguez these days. Jeter is still a great player, playing at a Hall of Fame level, but the needy, nervy A-Rod threatens to suck the life out of a Yankees team with brutal efficiency. It’s possible and likely that the Yankees’ new additions have kept the clubhouse “loose,” and with Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia working their magic, A-Rod feels like he’s just part of the club of elites instead of bearing the weight of the Yankees season on his shoulders. If Jeter was impervious before, maybe he was oblivious to how much the toll took not on Rodriguez, but the team as a whole. For the first time, it appears they genuinely like each other.

Make no mistake: if the Yankees win this title, it will be A-Rod’s World Series. Jeter will get “one for the thumb,” but the talk will all be about Rodriguez. He’s done so much to lead them there so far it’s almost inspiring to think that he might be able to keep it up. Just as Barry Bonds transcended his October woes to turn in a signature postseason, it appears A-Rod is going the same. The difference is that Bonds did it through methods that ultimately made him a villain (and perhaps not incidentally, he lost). A-Rod did it the other way: by finally becoming the good guy.

Booze, Baseball and True Love

You’re not going to believe this, but after yesterday’s blotto football-and-supermarket session, I’ve been in a lot of pain today (I’m writing this Monday night instead of Tuesday morning). I did however, interview a major league baseball player at work today, so I had that going, which is nice. Now I’m full of vegetable samosas that I apparently bought yesterday.

And now some words on the baseball playoffs, I guess.

The only thing I do not want to happen this year is for the Yankees to sweep through the ALCS and World Series without much competition, stomping to a 1998-2000-style championship. I obviously don’t mean “sweep” in the traditional sports sense here, but one win does not a series make for the Angels, or, far more importantly, for me.

In the National League, I avoided paying attention until about thirty minutes ago. I’ve followed the action until now but haven’t really watched it, for fear of gorging myself on meaningless baseball. It was just: if the Yankees were going to romp whomever they played, the NL playoffs were something of a Bataan Death March. Given that I’m increasingly interested in Game 4, I guess that the Yankees loss has at least given me hope. Audacious, I know.

The Red Sox lost eight days ago, and during game two of the Yankees/Angels series—the so-called “classic” that lasted 13 innings—I turned it off after 11, realizing that I knew the outcome ahead of time, and that I hated both teams. But that realization was also a result of a day of booziness, and I realize that when I’ve had a couple and watch the Yankees, I’m immediately transported back to their glory years, expecting the worst. It’s a terrible way to live. In the light of day, it’s not so bad. My liver is excited for more of these “days” of not pounding back whatever’s put in front of me, as is my brain, my stomach, and everyone but my readers, really. You guys love some drunk posts, don’t you?

While we’re talking NL playoffs, a quick note on these Phillies. I’ve never seen a fanbase so dead-set on a repeat title that they have basically disowned their championship. I mean, they haven’t really, but they’re not using it as a hammer. They want this. For all the deserved teasing of Philly sports fans, there isn’t a much healthier attitude to have than to seize the moment. The only Boston team of the decade that inspired this attitude was last year’s Celtics, who were derailed by Kevin Garnett’s injury from what now appears to have been a very winnable title. Even when the Patriots did win back-to-back Super Bowls, they seemed inevitable, and the Sox’ 2007 campaign fell flat… but the Yankees won the playoffs. We don’t even need to discuss the hangover from 2004.

Like Celtics fans last year, Phillies fans are embracing the idea that the windows to win titles are small, especially in a sport as fickle as baseball. It’s one thing to put together good players, and it’s another to have championship teams. The alchemy between the two is mysterious and possibly apocryphal, but Philadelphians know they’ve got something good. Hell, they’ve waited long enough, they ought to know it when they see it. It’s kind of like true love, I guess.

UPDATE: Jimmy Rollins.

Writings on other sites

I wrote a very thorough and, in retrospect, early Sports Guy-esque column evaluating whether the Yankees front-office family compared more favorably to that of The Godfather or Arrested Development over here.

I also had a good Republican/Democrat give and take with a friend of mine in the comments to this post.

Santana Talk

Until he goes somewhere, I’ll more or less refrain from commenting on all the rumors that are out there, but needless to say I like this one. It sounds like the Red Sox and Yankees are going toe-to-toe again. About time.

This does bring up the uglier side of baseball, to some people, as these are the two teams that really don’t need to get better. My brother was excited by the Red Sox’ World Series victory, but he wasn’t all that surprised. His response was, “Yeah, but they spent a lot of money on players.” Which is true. The casual fan, these things can be offputting.

I am not the casual fan.

George Vecsey And The Yankees Character Assassination Machine

The Yankees character assassination machine continues. Just when you thought the lackeys of this organization couldn’t be any more embarrassingly myopic, George Vecsey writes an article entitled “Yanks Should Treat Rodriguez the Way He Treated Them.” The absolutely phony premise of the article — that A-Rod hurt the Yankees’ feelings, so the Yankees should move on — belies the fact that the Yankees are a particularly ruthless baseball organization. When things are going well, the plaudits never stop, from inside the organization and out. When they’re not, the Yankees are quick to point the blame at the players or coaches for underperforming, making sure to emphasize that losing is a character defect, not a side-effect of giving one’s best in gamesmanship and coming up short.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what Michael Kay, the Yankees television broadcaster, had to say about Joe Torre on Torre’s way out of town:

There are things about Joe Torre, if I wanted to come out and say, would show how cold and calculated he really is… Joe Torre is for Joe Torre. … The graveyard of Yankees coaches is loaded with bones of coaches Joe Torre did nothing about.

Is that so, Michael? Well, that’s just a classy move on your part. Joe Torre hurt your feelings by leaving the Yankees, so you need to start completely unfounded rumors to tarnish the four-time World Champion manager. Well, done! You should be proud of yourself.

Now Vecsey somehow tries to similarly indict Rodriguez, basically saying A-Rod should have expressed fealty to the Yankees by not attempting to maximize his value on the open market. That A-Rod’s ploy didn’t work is irrelevant: baseball is a business, the Yankees are in the business of winning, and A-Rod gives any team a great, great chance of winning. That’s why he’s going to command money no matter where he goes, even back to New York. The Yankees haven’t forgotten his 54 home runs, even if Vecsey has. He writes:

He is an enigmatic figure in their clubhouse, clearly not a player who improves his team.

Such an embarrassing quote is worthy of his equally embarrassing brother. Calling A-Rod a player “not a player who improves his team” is possibly the most unbelievably stupid statement I have read in The New York Times.

In fairness, he probably means “in the clubhouse,” but A-Rod’s job is to play baseball, not rah-rah his teammates. Mike Mussina never gets called out for his surly ways, but he’s not the iconoclast that A-Rod is. A-Rod wants to be the best player ever and the biggest name ever, and the Yankees fancy themselves the greatest organization and biggest name in sports, and both are ruthless in search of their goals. As I’ve written before, it’s a match made in heaven. How is this not obvious? To make the claim, as Vecsey, Kay and others have, that certain players are big enough to hurt the Yankees’ feelings is to undercut the entire foundation on which the Yankees empire stands. That notion is that the Yankees are so big that no one can touch them, even the Red Sox, in wake of two titles in four years. Remember Hank Steinbrenner? He said that the Red Sox “would never be the Yankees,” even after the titles. And he’s right. You’ll notice that he’s not saying anything any more. He knows he can win with A-Rod, and win the negotiation, and others will do the dirty work. And he will win the negotiation. Why? Because the Yankees always win in the end. Admitting A-Rod hurt their feelings would make them losers, and that’s not what this organization is all about, is it, George?