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Got something to say? Send it to Alex Belth

Alex Belth's Bronx Banter
March 21, 2003  



Aside from my duties as host of Bronx Banter, I have been working on a proposal to write a biography on Curt Flood for a Young Adult (i.e.: high school) audience. Needless to say, I’m pretty jacked up about it. The idea of writing a book for kids who will probably be reading it because it’s the easiest, most accessible, least painful choice for a book report, is good enough for me. But oddly enough, there isn’t much material available on Flood yet. This may come as a surprise, but there isn’t one major biography written about Flood. They are just getting around to Larry Doby. There is a lot of material dedicated to Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron has been acknowledged too. Clemente is covered. Even Dock Ellis and Minnie Minoso have books.

Yet Flood’s story screams out Baseball Behind the Music with the best of them. What gives?

Flood’s autobiography, “The Way it is,” is an illuminating but incomplete book; expressive, and insightful, but loose in terms of chronology. There is a mix of keen observation, and literary pretension that defines the book. But even the sermons are lively---and typical of the day. Flood comes across as the ideal 60s anti-hero. Not only is it is one of the better-written books by a jock, it’s good social history to boot.

The only downfall is that “The Way it is” was published in 1971, a year before Flood’s case was even heard by the Supreme Court. Flood is reported to have worked on a second book during the 1970s, but I have no idea what ever came of the project. I don’t know of any writing that substantially covers Flood’s life since 1972.

If there is anyone out there who does, do a brother a favor and let me know, cause I would find it invaluable.

So, I gotta a bunch of research to do, but I’m cool with that. I like investigating. Finding the story through people’s memories, digging.

Who better to talk about Curt Flood than Marvin Miller, now 86, the former Executive Director of the Player’s Association? There is an excellent chapter in Miller’s autobiography, “A Whole Different Ballgame,” on Flood, so I didn’t think he’d mind talking about him.

Miller was easy enough to get in touch with.

“He’s in the book, under Marvin J. Miller,” said the receptionist at the Player’s Association. 10 minutes later, I had scheduled an interview.

I didn’t really know what to expect from him, but with a little editorial help, I categorized my questions into 3 levels of importance for him, so as not to come off like a half-cocked jackass. I called him on the phone, in the mid morning, and braced myself for a sharp, bitter old man; I hoped to get a half an hour out of him even if he was a jerk. But Miller seemed subdued to me. He was nothing if not accommodating, and we ended up talking for a full hour.

It’s funny, but I've see the sarcastic edge, the anger, in Miller when I’ve read the transcribed text of this interview, but it didn’t come across when he was talking. He still had some bite, but at 86, even Marvin Miller’s hard-on-at-the-world just isn’t ain’t what she used to be, you know what I mean?

I wasn’t throwing anything but bp fatballs anyhow. I wasn’t trying to get his ire up. Nice and easy.

Here was my angle: I wanted to know how to tell Flood’s story to a kid in high school.

The following is an excerpt from the conversation I had with Miller, but it doesn’t include much of the stuff that is geared towards the kids. I’ve leave that stuff for the book. But I’m not trying to jerk you around; he talked long enough to cover a lot of ground.

Hope you enjoy.


(This interview took place on March 15, 2003, over the telephone, between my crib in the west Bronx and Miller’s apartment on the east side of Manhattan.)

Q: When did you first learn of Curt Flood's plan to sue baseball?

MM: My first knowledge of it was his telephone call from St. Louis, to our offices in New York. It came right after he had been notified that he had been traded. And I believe that his first notification had not come from the club, but a newspaperman, which was adding insult to injury.

[According to Flood’s biography “The Way it is,” Flood didn’t hear about the trade from a reporter, but from Jim Toomey, assistant to the Cardinals GM Bing Devine: a flunky. A pencil pusher. A zhlub. Sounds like newspaperman, though!]

Flood came to New York. But he did something first. He had a personal attorney in St. Louis for business matters. He had a portrait business; he was an accomplished artist. And for whatever reason, he had a personal attorney. He asked in the telephone call if he could bring him, and I said sure. So, that first meeting involved, Flood, his attorney [Allan H. Zerman], Richard Moss, the general counsel of the Player’s Association, and myself. We met for hours. For hours and hours. It started out in the office it continued as lunch in the hotel restaurant for pretty much the rest of the afternoon.

Q: Were you excited about a player of Flood’s stature taking on the owners? And did you think he had any chance of winning?

MM: Yeah, I think I was excited about the idea that somebody thought so seriously about the problem. But to answer your next question, no, I didn’t think he had a chance. I spent a good part of that day---and subsequent days and subsequent phone conversations---and explained to Curt Flood and his attorney why I thought the case could not be won. I thought it important to do that because he was risking a lot with this. I knew that it was almost certain that if a suit were filed that he would not be able to continue playing. I knew that he was no longer a 20 year old kid, but somebody who was going to be 31 or 32 at that point.

And that taking time off from playing while a case would wind it’s way through the courts meant almost certainly that he would not be able to regain his old form and play again. Much more than that, I thought that it was important for him to know all of the risks he was taking. Ending his career as a player was only one of them. I told him that I did not know what his ambitions after his player career were, whether it included being a manager or a scout. In other words, to stay in Major League Baseball.

I said, “If your ambition is running in that direction you have to know that the owners are very vindictive people. And they have long memories. They are not going to take kindly to a lawsuit, and I would be amazed if you were not blackballed from everything. That is part of what you have to understand.”

I also explained to him that I didn’t want to know anything but what I was about to say, but I wanted him to think about it. I said, “If there is anything in your life that you would rather not see on the front page of your local newspaper, then you shouldn’t go ahead with this.”

Because I would not put it past major league baseball to root out anything unpleasant in his life and release it. Even though I had asked him not to tell me about anything in his life, he told me anyway. He said, “Well, I do have a brother that is in jail for drug passage.”

I said, “Well, there is something that is not publicly known and if you’d rather not have it publicly known then it’s something you have to consider, because it will become publicly known. So, Flood takes all of this in. A lot of what I’ve just mentioned did not happen in our first conversation, but before the case was filed, in subsequent conversations and so on. I felt it my responsibility to play devil’s advocate and then some, so Curt would understand all of the down side to this.

At one point I finally said, “You know wining the case would be a million to one shot. The Supreme Court has already ruled on this two times, and the court just doesn’t revere itself that often.” Major League baseball has always gotten the silk glove treatment by the court, by the congress, by presidents. Baseball is considered holy writ. And the courts look the way all the time with regard to baseball.

Q: Why is that?

MM: Well, because it’s holy writ. I mean, you don’t need any better example than the first Supreme Court case in 1922. Federal League v. Baseball. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a noted jurist, and a poet, wrote the most asinine decision you ever saw in a case that said that baseball was not covered by the anti-trust laws. Not because of anything it said in the law but because baseball was not an industry operating under inter-state commerce. This, about an industry that in the Major Leagues alone, involve travel across state lines from New York to Pennsylvania, to Ohio, to Massachusetts. Holmes, to his ever-lasting disgrace, wrote that baseball is an industry, that’s not an inter-state commerce, and it’s not even an industry. It’s a series of exhibitions he said. (Heh-heh) Exhibitions with millions of dollars changing hands. Such nonsense. If you ask me how a noted and able jurist ever gets himself to write an opinion like that for a unanimous court, (heh-heh), I just can’t explain it. Numerous court decisions after that, both on the Reserve Clause and all kinds of things effecting baseball, they never rule against baseball. At least in those days.

Q: Considering the long odds of the case, what did you hope to gain from the suit?

MM: Well, it wasn’t so much that I hoped to gain. Before our meetings were over I was convinced that Curt Flood was going ahead with this. Therefore, since I couldn’t stop it, my concern was to have the best foot forward, to get the best possible council for him, to prepare the best possible case, so that it would not result in causing further damage for court cases in the future. It was not a question of hoping to gain; it was a question of hoping to cut losses.

Q: Were you surprised that Flood v. Kuhn made it all the way to the Supreme Court?

MM: “Surprised” is a funny word. I did not know. As you probably know, it takes four Supreme Court justices to agree to hear a case. I had had some discussions about this with lawyers whom I respected. And there were differing opinions. I just did not know whether the court would accept it for argument. It was great when they did because it meant that at least four justices felt that there was some merit and it was worth the time of the Supreme Court to look into it.

Q: Even though the Flood case ended in failure, how much of an influence did it have on the advent of free agency at few years later?

MM: That is very hard to assess. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’ve always felt that it must have had some effect. If it did nothing else, it brought to the center of discussion the inequity of the Reserve Clause. The Reserve Clause had existed for a hundred years up to that point, but there was almost no discussion of it before the Flood case.

Writers who cover baseball never wrote about it. Almost nobody did. Here and there, there were people in academia who did write about it. Once in a while it would get mentioned at a seminar in a college group. But by and large, there was no publicity about it. I think what the Flood case did was to bring it font and center. It focused attention. I think it made a few people realize for the first time how bad that system was, how un-American if you will. To that extent Flood’s case made a positive contribution. I think it brought out to the players who also were in the category of not having really focused on it, because of something they had grown up with and had been told repeatedly that baseball would collapse without it, and all that nonsense.

It focused the attention of the players not just on the case itself but the arguments being made. In that sense it was an educational contribution. I think it educated the media, it educated the players, it educated the general public to a certain extent, it educated a few congress people here and there, it caught the attention of at least four justices of the Supreme Court, and it may have even reached some of the owners.

Q: It’s ironic that none of Flood’s peers managed to show up at his trial. Was that a bitter disappointment for either you or Flood?

MM: I think for Flood it was a bitter disappointment. I think for me it was a disappointment about myself. I had not made a concerted effort to get players to come. One of the reasons is that I was always cautious about exposing players to danger to their careers. I felt at that point and time that individual players coming to court, where there were owners and the commissioner and owner’s attorney’s also attending. I felt that kind of exposure was more dangerous than I wanted to recommend. Now you have to understand that we are still the early days of the union, we had not been tested by a strike yet. Our first strike was in 72. We still did not have the right to have grievances eventually heard by an impartial arbitrator.

Q: When did that change?

MM: In the 1970 basic agreement. But when Flood was traded and he made his mind up to sue baseball, it hadn’t been agreed to yet. Up till that point, if players were discharged, or discriminated against, you could grieve but it would eventually be heard by the commissioner of baseball who was an employee of the owners, who was paid by the owners.

Q: So the provision in the 1970 basic agreement that arranged for an impartial arbitrator was far more important to how free agency came about than Flood’s case.

MM: Oh, without any question. Because as you know, what eventually over-turned the Reserve Clause was a grievance heard by an impartial arbitrator in 1975, and without that having been gained in the contract, it would have been heard by the owner’s commissioner, who could tell you up till today, how he would have ruled.

Q: How did the owners over-look the provision?

MM: Like so many things, there is a mythology in baseball. One mythology is that baseball labor’s relations are the rockiest ever seen in any industry: strikes and lockouts every time a contract comes up. All of it untrue. All of it totally untrue. All of the important progress made in labor relations in baseball, all of it, from the first collective bargaining agreement, to the recognition of the union as the sole collective bargaining representative, from to a grievance procedure, to a grievance procedure with impartial arbitration, from salary arbitration to the free agency agreement: all were resolved without strikes. All of them. It’s amazing to me how revisionists can rule history.
It’s not just like this in baseball; it’s like this in a lot of things. But in baseball since I have first hand knowledge of it.


At any rate, the negotiation of the impartial arbitrator as the final point in the grievance procedure in the 1970 agreement was achieved through collective bargaining. Through discussion, through proposals, and counter-proposals, through argument.

Q: Did you have any idea how important this ruling would eventually be for the players in the future?

MM: I had a vision of how important it would be before I had it.


I think it was a victory for baseball. I know the owners would not agree with this. Anytime you enhance justice and human dignity, it’s an advantage for everybody concerned. I think the notion that a commissioner in baseball, who is recruited by the owners, whose powers are only what the owners will give him, who is paid only by the owners, who can be fired, and is fired at will by the owners, can not be an impartial individual whether it’s over a tiny grievance or a big grievance between the employees and the employer that pays them. It can’t be. It’s a conflict of interest that sticks out all over the place. Any time you get rid of a conflict of interest that it so glaring, you have done something that has enormous benefit to everybody involved.

Q: Flood’s legacy is often misconstrued. A lot the time I hear him referred to the first free agent, or the guy who started free agency, which isn’t the case at all.

MM: You are right; it wasn’t the case at all. The case lost, beyond appeals. Nothing concrete came of it other than the educational aspect that we talked about before. The union itself, which through the unity of it’s members, through the understanding of the members of what needed to be done, through the skills of people like Richard Moss, who was the general council, who argued the case, to the union’s successful effort to have both a grievance procedure and eventually impartial arbitration, all these factors and more, were responsible for the progress that was made.

Q: Why would Curt Flood’s story be meaningful for a high school kid growing up today?

MM: (Laughs) It’s hard to put myself in the place of a young boy today. It’s been a long time since I was a young boy. But I think Flood’s life, as an adult was admirable. People often talk about role models, about professional athletes as role models. I don’t necessarily accept that athletes are or should be role models. But when you find somebody like Flood who was not just a superb performer and great teammate---as all of his teammates from the St. Louis Cardinals will tell you, but as someone who thought about social problems, and about injustice and who was willing to sacrifice a great deal to try and change things. I think the integrity of a man like that is so impressive that it’s hard to describe.

Q: It puts Flood in Jackie Robinson’s company in terms of having a ton of guts.

MM: I will not run down Jackie Robinson’s contribution in any way…Robinson had to have great internal fortitude, great courage, great discretion, judgment, all of those things. Curt Flood too. But Flood was risking something. Risking a great deal. Robinson was being given an opportunity, and he did well. Earned it and then some. Flood already had it. And was a star player, making close to a top salary in the Major Leagues at the time. He clearly knew the risks---I learned this first hand, and took them anyway. I think you have to recognize that while the Robinson experience did eventually pave the way for black and Latin players to player in the major leagues, the terms under which they worked were not that great. In fact, they stunk. Truth be told, they were still the most exploited people in the country. And by that I mean, not that they were the poorest in the country. As an economist, I will tell you that exploitation means the difference between what your services are worth and what you get paid. With that definition, major league baseball players, including those who benefited from Jackie Robinson’s experience, were the most exploited people in the country. While Flood alone did not change that, he helped. The union changed all that, but Flood’s contribution was significant.

Q: Did you keep in touch with Flood when he left baseball? Did you ever run into him again?

MM: Well not exactly run into him, but I wrote a book that was published in 1991 called “A Whole Different Ballgame.” The publisher in conjunction with the publication of the book hosted a book party in New York here. I invited Curt Flood and Mrs. [Judy Pace] Flood. They came to New York. We had several meals together and we talked about old times together, and they attended the party and I was very glad to see them.

Q: There is a general impression that Flood that ended up a sour, resentful man. The martyr. Was he able to move on with his life outside of baseball, and get come to peace with his suit against MLB?

MM: That’s, that’s my impression of him. I don’t know if you know this or not but before he became ill, sometime in the mid 90s, Don Fehr---the present director of the Player’s Association invited Curt to attend a board meeting. I’ve forgotten where it was held, I wasn’t there, but all the reports agree that when Curt Flood walked into that room the board meeting was in progress, and the board meeting stopped, and there was a looong, loud, standing ovation.

3/21/2003 12:31:00 PM



Here is Aaron Gleeman's take on the Rondell White-Bubba Trammell trade. Like most observers, Gleeman thinks that the addition of Mark Phillips makes the deal a sound one for the Bombers:

I really like Mark Phillips. He's a big left-handed starter with awesome stuff. Baseball America ranked him as the #3 prospect in the San Diego system and I would agree with that ranking.

Phillips was San Diego's #1 pick (ninth overall) in the 2000 draft. He runs his fastball up there in the mid-90s and also works with a great curveball that one of my readers who has seen him pitch quite a bit once described to me as "disgustingly filthy," which is about the highest compliment you can give a pitcher.

The caveat for all pitching prospects is that they need to stay healthy (which Phillips has done) and show they can pitch at the upper-levels of the minors (which Phillips has not done). Still, as far as pitchers that haven't pitched at Double-A yet go, I like Phillips quite a bit.

He struck out 9.5 batters per 9 innings last year at Single-A. His control was pretty bad at times (5.7 BB/9), but I don't worry about that as much in a 21 year old pitcher. Mark Phillips is still a long way from the Major Leagues and may never get there, but he is potentially a #1 or #2 starter at the Major League level and has awesome stuff and good results in the minors so far.

Basically the Padres sold him and an extra season of Bubba Trammell to the Yankees for $5 million dollars. I'm just not sure I would have been willing to do the same.

3/21/2003 12:18:00 PM



Gulp hard, Yankee fans. Looks like we are in for another year of dominance from Boston Red Sox ace, Pedro Martinez. Gordon Edes reports in the Boston Globe that Pedro is good to go for opening day. Some Yankee fans may express skepticism about worrying too tough about Martinez as the Bombers have pretty much broken even against him since he's been in the league. All the same, it scares me, because I revere Pedro's greatness, and after all, he does pitch for the dreaded Sox.

''I'm not quite sure how hard I was throwing,'' Martinez said, ''but from the first day I pitched on the side, I felt more strength and flexibility, and I've had pretty good command of everything. That's something weird compared to last year.''

This time last year Martinez was still feeling his way back from a partially torn right rotator cuff.

''I'm a lot more relaxed, I'm very comfortable with myself,'' Martinez said, echoing a theme he has sounded all spring.

3/21/2003 07:56:00 AM



Sterling Hitchcock, who is being showcased by Yankees this spring, pitched against the Phillies yesterday for what he said was more scouts and writers than fans.

"I think there's less writing on the wall in Harlem right now than the chance of me getting to pitch in New York. That's the main thing: it's been too long since I've been out there competing to not want to go back and pitch every fifth day."

It isn't a matter of if Hitchcock will be traded, but when.

Hitchcock's agent, Tommy Tanzer, is confident the Yankees will make another good deal.

"If he does half as good a job trading Sterling as he did trading Rondell White, it's pretty special," Tanzer said, referring to General Manager Brian Cashman. "He has several choices. The Rondell trade tells me he's either going to get value or he's not going to do it."

Meanwhile, after another strong outing last night, the writing on the wall says that David Cone is the front runner for the number 5 spot in the Mets starting rotation.

"With each time out I legitimize this a little more," Cone said. "I think the most encouraging part about it is even in my last outing in Mexico when I gave it up, I still felt like I made progress and strides in arm strength. Each start I've gotten a little stronger. I probably had my best velocity of the spring tonight."

Speaking of writing on the (bathroom) wall, former Met Rey Ordonez had a little sumthin, sumthin to say about Robbie Alomar as the Mets met the Devil Rays yesterday. It's nothing much to speak of, just Rey Rey sounding off, Robbie acting like the diplomat, and the two squarshin any bad blood. Just a day in the life, right?

3/21/2003 07:12:00 AM

March 20, 2003  


Geoff Young, who writes "Ducksnorts", a blog dedicated to the Padres has a good post today regarding the Bubba-Ro trade.


Christian Ruzich, the Cub Reporter, has an excellent post featuring one of Baseball Prospectus' head writers, Will Carroll. Both Carroll and Ruzich are top notch, and this post is well worth perusing.


Jose Contreras had another impressive outing yesterday after starting the spring with a thud, pitching 5 2/3 innings and striking out 8, in the Yankees 4-1 win over the Indians.

Jayson Stark covers the difficulties Cuban pitchers have had coming to the States in his latest column over at ESPN:

"At this point," says Mike Arbuckle, the Phillies' assistant GM for scouting and player development, "we'd have to think twice about making a large commitment to a Cuban pitcher, just because we're concerned about the track record. Maybe El Duque was what he was advertised to be -- at least in the short term. But by and large, none of these guys has reached the ceiling he was advertised to have."

..."I think a mystique has developed around these guys," Arbuckle says. "They're coming from Cuba, this great and mysterious place that is supposed to have a mother lode of talent. And because of that, we've tended to overevaluate them. We've been seeing them compete on a daily basis against lesser-ability players. ... But you never know how a guy is going to react when he has to go, day-in and day-out, against guys with more ability than he has."

..."After spending their whole lives eating on $10 a month," Arbuckle says, "a lot of these guys feel they've already reached the end of the rainbow just by getting here -- to a situation where there are good meals on the table every day, a nice place to live and a little money in their pocket. It's hard for them to comprehend that this is really just their starting point. When you're coming from nothing, it's easy for other things to become your priority."

3/20/2003 01:05:00 PM



Tyler Kepner reports in The New York Times today that pitching prospect Mark Phillips made the deal that sent Rondell White to the Padres and brought Bubba Trammell to New York viable.

"The key component in this deal, for us, is Mark Phillips," General Manager Brian Cashman said. "That's not to put any extra pressure on him, but adding an extra power arm to our system was important."

..."He's a guy they asked about; we didn't offer him," Kevin Towers, the Padres' general manager, said. "I think he's got a chance to be a front-end-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. It's going to take a while, because he's a high school draft choice and he hasn't pitched out of A ball. What's kept him behind some of our other guys is command, but he has an above-average fastball and breaking ball, and he has size."

As for Bubba, well, couldn't every team use a Bubba? Trammell is set to make $2.5 million this year, and $4.75 million in 2004 (White is due to recieve $5 million this season). There is a $250,000 buyout of Bubba's contract next year, which was covered by the Padres.

"Trammell's pretty much a standard, average player," one National League advance scout said. "He doesn't run real good, doesn't throw real good. He's got some power. He's just a nice, steady major league player with no outstanding tools, yet he kind of maximizes what he has."

David Pinto thinks that the inclusion of Mark Phillips could make this trade a steal for the Bombers in the long run.


Charlie Nobles had a puff piece on Tony Clark in The Times yesterday.

The good people over at Baseball Primer have their 2003 Mets Preview. It was written by Chris Dial and can be best characterized as cautiously optimistic.

Tom Glavine was brought over from the Braves to be an ace. He’s 37, and everyone, including me, has said he couldn’t keep it up forever. Well, Braves fans always chuckled. Of course, now they are the ones predicting his collapse. Funny how that works. I look forward to Bobby Cox getting run for complaining about Glavine’s wide strike zone.

There is a report in the Boston Globe today that says that 3B Shea Hillenbrand will be staying put, after all.

The Red Sox youth movement continued, when 26-year old Peter Woodfork was named the new director of baseball operations/assistant director of player develpment earlier this week.

Woodfork is a native New Englander, who met Theo Epstein when the Sox GM was working for the San Diego organization.

Woodfork, 26, graduated from Harvard in 1999 with a degree in psychology. He comes to the Red Sox from the office of Major League Baseball, where he worked for two years in the labor relations department.

He is expected to spend a large portion of his time working on contract issues. Woodfork will also assist Ben Cherington, director of player development and special assistant to general manager Theo Epstein, in day-to-day baseball operations.

[Woodfork] said working on salaries and contracts will take up at least 50 percent of his time, with the rest being spent helping the front office in the player development area.

"It will be a good division of where players fit in salary-wise, and development-wise," he said.

At 26, Woodfork is only two years younger than Epstein was when he was appointed the team's general manager last year. And he certainly wants to advance in the baseball business - and perhaps even become a general manager himself.

"I think everyone's overall goal is to get to the top," he said. "Everyone wants to get there, and someday I hope to get there."

If nothing else, the Sox have cornered the market on the Sabermetric Sammy Glick's of the world.

Mugs Scherer, who operates the "Mugs' Thoughts on Baseball," blog, has a variety of interests, but his main focus is the Toronto Blue Jays. Here is his take on the signings of stud-outfielder Vernon Wells, and 2002's AL Rookie of the Year, 3B Erick Hinske a few days ago.

Finally, Jay Jaffe, the futility infielder, has a follow-up column on the Dodgers. Jaffe is currently making the rounds in spring training, and I eagerly look forward to his report next week.

3/20/2003 07:24:00 AM

March 19, 2003  


It just wasn't meant to be for Rondell White and the Yanks. White, a good-natured guy who had a tough year with the Bombers last season, and who wanted dearly to excell with the Yanks, was traded this afternoon to the Padres for Bubba Trammell and minor-league pitcher Mark Phillips, San Diego's first-round pick in the 2000 draft (Phillips was 9th overall), according to Lee Sinns.

I asked my cousin Gabe, the Mets fan what he makes of the deal. Here is what he said:

For one thing, it makes the Yankees's roster that much more similar to the 2000 Mets'. The Yankees also got a minor leaguer, a highly drafted pitcher, and rightly so: when healthy, White's a better hitter than Trammell, someone who can hit third (on a bad team) as opposed to someone who should hit sixth or seventh (but would have hit fourth on SD). I think, also, Trammell is more accustomed to and better suited for coming off the bench.

I assume that it's a trade initiated by San Diego. They've been trying to upgrade slightly to give their lame line-up some sense of respectability.

More in the a.m...

3/19/2003 02:43:00 PM



The A's-Mariners season opener, which was to have taken place in Japan, has been cancelled. ESPN's Jim Caple thinks MLB made the right move.


Two of ESPN's big guns, Peter Gammons and Rob Neyer give their take on the Miguel Tejada situation.

According to Gammons:

Anyone who follows baseball knew months ago that this would happen and that Oakland's aim will be to sign Eric Chavez, a potential Hall of Famer and potential free agent at the end of next season. Oakland lost Jason Giambi and went from 102 to 103 wins in the season after he left. They begin this season projected to be the best team in baseball.

Former No. 1 pick Bobby Crosby has had a great spring, which projects him into the potential successor category to Tejada -- although that's way down the line. And at the end of the year, it is shortstop free agent heaven, with Tejada, Rich Aurilia and the best Matsui from Japan -- Kaz -- on the market.

Neyer adds:

Is the sky falling in Oakland? In 2001, with Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen on the roster, the A's won 102 games. In 2002, with Giambi, Damon, and Isringhausen earning $25 million -- for other teams -- the A's won 103 games.

Are the A's going to win 105 games in 2004, with Tejada finally making enough dough to provide for his family?

No, probably not. But anybody who thinks that losing Tejada spells disaster for the Athletics probably hasn't been paying much attention to the standings.

I would be remiss if I didn't direct the reader to the Elephants in Oakland webpage for more expert 411 on Tejada and the A's.


All winter long, the Red Sox have been shopping Shea Hillenbrand, while the Yankees are looking to move Rondell White and Sterling Hitchcock. As spring training draws to a close, the rumor mill has heated up again.

According to Lee Sinns:

3) According to the Boston Herald, the Redsox have intensified trade talks
for 3B Shea Hillenbrand, with the Cubs being the frontrunner, and the
Redsox having their eyes on P Juan Cruz. On the other hand, several reports
from Chicago indicate Hillenbrand to the Cubs isn't on the front burner.

4) The trade talks between the Yankees and Padres, involving Yankees OF
Rondell White, and maybe also Sterling Hitchcock, and Padres OF Bubba
Trammell have reportedly intensified. According to the Newark Star Ledger,
the Yankees would like the Padres to add P Brian Lawrence into a deal.


Yankee reliever Steve Karsay will not start the season with the ballclub, and it's not looking too good for El Duque either.

Meanwhile, Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe, who had a terrific season last year, continues to struggle this spring.


There is a good article in the Times today about our boy Soriano. Both Juan Samuel and Sparky Anderson had nothing but rave reviews for the Yankees' diminutive slugger.

"I didn't realize how big he was," [Anderson] said. "That's a big boy, with a tremendous body. I guarantee he's got no body fat on him. That's all him.

"He sets in there with those quick hands, and that bat — he's got a big old war club! I tell you what, if this young man don't get hurt and can play 15, 16 years, I promise you this: You're going to have to sit down and address the second basemen, who was the best."

The biggest knock on Soriano is his lack of patience offensively. Mickey Rivers didn't walk either, but Mick the Quick never had pop in his bat like Sori does.

"I don't think about taking pitches," Soriano said. "I want to stay like I am. I feel good like I am now, aggressive at home plate. I don't want to change."

..."When I tried to be patient, I was getting jammed a lot because I wasn't ready to hit all the time," he said. "I was in the take-take-take mode instead of thinking hit-hit-hit and take after you identify the pitch. Some guys learn to lay off bad pitches by being aggressive."

..."I don't even mess with him," Manager Joe Torre said. "He's a natural athlete. He'll learn, just from experience. He'll get better."

Maybe, but Anderson was excited enough to tell Torre his impressions. Watching Soriano made Anderson's day.

"I'm so glad I saw him in person," he said. "On television, you just can't get the same thing. I told Joe, `This is such a treat.' I don't care if you're the manager of the other team, it's a treat to see somebody like that. If you're a fan today and you're going to spend your money, spend your money to see someone like him. It's worth it."

I'm not exactly sure what to expect from Soriano this year, but I agree that he's exciting to watch and well worth the price of admission.

3/19/2003 12:45:00 PM



Just when you thought that the Piazza-Mota bean brawl incident was over, Prince Pedro Martinez chimes in with his expert analysis. Martinez told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci:

"Maybe [Piazza] he felt like he had to show off his testosterone," Martinez said. "But this may be more embarrassing than the one before. Why do you go after skinny Guillermo Mota in spring training and do nothing to Roger Clemens in the World Series?"

Asked if Piazza should have retaliated against Clemens, Martinez said, "I would not appreciate a guy picking up a bat and throwing it behind my butt. You have to do something then. Instead, [Piazza] goes after Mota. ... I'm not taking Mota's side for throwing at somebody in a spring training game. There's a time for everything."

Sure, you are taking Mota's side Pedro. Let's call it like it is. With all due respect to Martinez's intelligence and charm, there are times when he comes off sounding like a pompous putz.

But while I am sympathetic to Piazza in this instance, I think that most hitters are over-sensitive these days, and most pitchers simply do not know how to pitch inside anymore. Who is to blame? I'm not entirely sure. It doesn't help when MLB and the umpires don't allow the players to police themselves.

Yankee manager Joe Torre, told Verducci:

"There is no game awareness anymore. Anytime a pitcher misses up and in, the batter likes to think the guy is throwing at him. I once had a guy---not with the Yankeess---charge the mound when he was hit with the bases loaded."

Back to the old days, here is Stan Williams (Dodgers pitcher from 1958-62) talking about Vlad Guerror's manager, Frank Robinson in “We Played the Game: 65 Players Remember Baseball’s Greatest Era: 1947-1964,” edited by Danny Peary.

I never really cared for Frank Robinson, but I had a great respect for his talent and determination. No one was more mentally tough than him. If you knocked him on his ass three times in a row and came anywhere near the plate the fourth time, he’d hit it a country mile. You didn’t want to wake him up. But it was hard not to because he stood right on the plate and leaned over, so you had no choice but to pitch him in. There was always a good chance you’d knock him down. Then he became more dangerous.

Perhaps my favortie bean ball story involves the volatile Dock Ellis, when he was pitching for the Pirates in the 1970s. The following excerpt is from "In the Country of Baseball," written by Ellis with Donald Hall.

In spring training 1974, Dock Ellis, felt that the Pirates had begun to loss some aggressiveness.

“’You are scared of Cincinnati.’ That’s what I told my teammates…Every time we play Cincinnati, the hitters are on their ass.”

In 1970, ’71, and ’72, he says, the rest of the league was afraid of the Pirates. “they say, ‘Here come the big bad Pirates. They’re going to kick our ass!’ Like they give up. That’s what our team was starting to do…Cincinatti will bullshit with us and kick our ass and laugh at us. They’re the only team that talk about us like a dog. Whenever we play that team, everybody socializes with them.” In the past the roles had been revered. “When they ran over to us, we knew they were afraid of us. When I saw our team doing it, right then I say, ‘We gunna get down. We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherfuckers.’”

Sure enough, on May 1st, the Reds came to Pittsburgh and Dock Ellis was pitching.

He told catcher Manny Sanguillen in the pre-game meeting, “Don’t even give me no signal. Just try and catch the ball. If you can’t catch it, forget it.”

Taking his usual warm-up pitches, Dock noticed Pete Rose standing at one side of the batter’s box, leaning on his bat, studying his delivery. On his next-to-last warm-up, Dock let fly at Rose and almost hit him.

A distant early warning.

In fact, he had considered not hitting Pete Rose at all. He and Rose are friends, but of course friendship, as the commissioner of baseball would insist, must never prevent even-handed treatment. No, Dock had considered not hitting Pete Rose because Rose would take it so well…”He’s going to charge first base, and make it look like nothing.” Having weighed the whole matter, Dock decided to hit him anyway.

“The first pitch to Pete Rose was directly toward his head,” as Dock expresses it, “not actually to hit him, “ but as “the message, to let him know that he was going to get hit. More or less to press his lips. I knew if I could get close to the head that I could get them in the body. Because they’re looking to protect their head, they’ll give me the body.” The next pitch was behind him. “the next one, I hit him in the side.”

Pete Rose’s response was even more devastating than Dock had anticipated. He smiled. Then he picked the ball up, where it had falled beside him, and gently, underhanded, tossed it back to Dock. Then he lit for first as if trying out fro the Olympics.

As Dock says, with huge approval, “You have to be good, to be a hot dog.”

…As Rose bent down to pick up the ball, he had exchanged a word with Joe Morgan who was batting next…Morgan taunted Rose, “He doesn’t like you anyway. You’re a white guy.”

Dock hit Morgan in the kidneys with his first pitch.

By this time, both benches were agog. It was Mayday on May Day. The Pirates realized that Dock was doing what he said he would do. The Reds were watching him do it. “I looked over on the bench, they were all with their eyes wide and their mouths wide open, like, ‘I don’t believe it!’

“The next batter was [Dan] Driessen. I threw a ball to him. High and inside. The next one, I hit him in the back.”

Bases loaded, no outs. Tony Perez, Cincinnati first baseman, came to bat. He did not dig in. “There was no way I could hit him. He was running. The first one I threw behind him, over his head, up against the screen, but it came back off the glass, and they didn’t advance. I threw behind him because he was backing up, but then he stepped in front of the ball. The next three pitches, he was running…I walked him.” A run came in. “The next hitter was Johnny Bench. I tried to deck him twice. I threw at his jaw, and he moved. I threw at the back of his head, and he moved.”

With two balls and no strikes on Johnny Bench---eleven pitches gone: three hit batsmen, one walk, one run, and now two balls---[manager, Danny} Murtaugh approached the mound. “He came out as if to say, ‘What’s wrong? Can’t find the plate?’” Dock was suspicious that his manager really knew what he was doing. “No,” said Dock, “I must have Blass-itis.” (I was genuine wildness—not throwing at batters---that had destroyed Steve Blass the year before.)

“He looked at me hard,” Dock remembers. “He said, ‘I’m going to bring another guy in.’ So I just walked off the mound.”

How would Bob Watson rule on that one? Suspend Dock for 137 games and cut off his coke supply?


3/19/2003 10:10:00 AM

March 18, 2003  


Here are some things that went down over the past 5 days, which may be of some interest...

Both Mike Piazza and Guillermo Mota were suspended for 5 games as a result of their run-in last week. Vlad gets 3 games for throwing bolo's, and Piazza gets 5 for intent. Something is fishy here, Bob Watson.

Theo Epstein, the Red Sox new general manager continues to be accessible and articulate. We'll see how he handles things come September, but it's my feeling that the Red Sox will have a lot to cheer about this year.

Yankee pitcher, Jose Contreras got off the shnide late last week with an impressive outing against the less-than-impressive Devil Rays.

Meanwhile, it looks as if Yankee reliever Steve Karsay, may start the season on the DL. No suprise there.

Aaron Gleeman has an excellent analysis of the Jack Cust-Chris Richards trade between the Rockies and the O's, as well as the Kenny Rogers signing by the Twins.

Steve Goldman, author of the Pinstriped Bible, likes to move as far as the Orioles are concerned:

The acquisition of Jack Cust by the Orioles on Tuesday was a strong move by that team, the first good deal they've made in literally years. Although Cust is likely never going to be more than a 1B/DH, and the O's already have a surfeit of that kind of player, for once they're ahead of the development curve instead of behind. Cust is just 24, a baby for an Orioles organization that has liked its roster so crusty that Boog's ribs have been more tender than their players.

Cust has real power, and will take a walk. He's also going to strike out. A lot. Perhaps too much -- Cust looked as if he was swinging with his eyes closed during a September audition in the bigs. Even so, he has the potential to combine with Jay Gibbons to give the O's two lefty power threats, something they haven't had in quite some time. The trick for Mike Hargrove will be finding him playing time amidst the wreckage of David Segui, Jeff Conine, Marty Cordova, and other relics of the days when steam engines puffed their way across the lonesome prairie. No matter what happens, this is still a red letter day. The Orioles have acquired a genuine, bona fide, prospect.

Jay Jaffe, the futility infielder has a terrific piece on the L.A. Dodgers and the all-mighty dollar that is worth checking out too.

Lastly, the much maligned Jayson Stark filed this article on Vlad Guerrero last week, in which he examines the possibilites of where Vlad may end up next season. Guerrero will obviously be wooed by big money teams like the Yankees and Mets, but I wouldn't be suprised if he takes less money to stay with the Expos, no matter where they wind up next year.

"I don't know what the personality of this guy is," said one NL executive. "I don't know what his personality is because he's such a quiet kid. And I don't know what his personality is because he plays in Montreal. To be honest, there's really not much that any of us know about him, except for his ability."

They don't call Vlad "the Mute" for nothing.

"Montreal is the perfect place for him," said Expos third-base coach Manny Acta. "He doesn't care if people ever talk about him. He wants no attention. In Montreal, he can walk down St. Catherine Street, and some people don't even know who he is. He enjoys that. He enjoys being just another guy in the community."

"I've been fortunate enough to be around some pretty good players," Minaya said. "Sammy Sosa. Juan Gonzalez. I know all those guys. And this is one of the simplest guys I've been around."

Which isn't to say that Vlad is dumb. He's just a good ol' country boy. He looks little bit like a goat after all, albeit a very strong goat. (He acts like a goat sometimes too, which may explain why he was caught stealing 20 times last season.)

What makes Guerrero an oddity is that he doesn't crave the money or fame that a player of his caliber usually commands.

Guerrero grew up in almost incomprehensible poverty, in Nizao, Bani, in the Dominican Republic. For most of the great Dominican players, baseball has been the chauffeur that whisked them off to a better, ritzier, more comfortable life. Yet Guerrero continues to live on the same street where he grew up.

"This winter, I went to visit him," Acta said, "with Alfonso Soriano and another friend. I thought we'd have to search to find him. Instead, we found him sitting in the middle of the park there, with all the shoe shiners and the mojo concho (scooter riders) and all the people in the park.

"We spent the afternoon with him, and during the afternoon, there must have been 10 people who came looking for him, with problems, looking for money, people coming up with prescriptions and asking if he could help fill them.

"Imagine how hard that is, to stay that simple. But he's so humble, so down to earth. He doesn't want to separate himself from his roots. A lot of big stars move away. They get big places so nobody bothers them. He's not like that. He wants to stay with the people he grew up with."

As tantalizing an option as Guerrero would be for the Yankees, or the Red Sox, I fear that tampering with his little cocoon could effect his game. Maybe I'm not giving him enough credit. Anyone who can put up the numbers he does should be able to do it anywhere, right? I'd like to think so, but it would be a pity if Vlad signed a mega-deal and then faltered. Heck, Vlad is the Bizarro A-Rod, after all.

It would only be in keeping with his personality for him to do something completely different. (Maybe he'll sign with the Padres.)

"He needs comfort and familiarity," said an agent who represents several Expos. "He would best be served by staying with the club and its new owners. Clearly, new owners will want to keep their marquee player. If the new owners have the capital to invest in the purchase of a club, then they will likely factor in the cost of keeping one of the game's best players and, undoubtedly, their greatest asset.

"Washington is not much different in size than Montreal," the agent said. "Whatever the differences, being with the same guys and friends will make the transition easier for him."

3/18/2003 12:31:00 PM



The irrespressible Tug McGraw was diagnosed with brain cancer over the weekend and is scheduled to have surgery today. Bill Madden had an article on the 58-year old McGraw over the weekend in the Daily News, which included a recent conversation:

McGraw: "These kids today never heard of the people I used. For instance, my Bo Derek fastball - the one that had a nice tail to it - I'd have to rename Jennifer Lopez for them to understand it. And I know for sure they'd never get the Peggy Lee (Is that all there is?) changeup."

One can only surmise the John Jameson fastball, named after McGraw's favorite Irish whiskey ("because it was my best shot, always straight"), would be lost on today's generation of pitchers, too. The pitch for which he was most noted, however, was his screwball, an offshoot of the Bo Derek fastball.

"I learned it from (former Yankee) Ralph Terry when I was in the Florida instructional league with the Mets in 1966," McGraw said. "Terry was an instructor for them and he told me 'with the natural tail on your fastball you should try the screwball.' He named his screwball "Scroogie" and later authored a syndicated comic book with a character of the same name.

3/18/2003 07:22:00 AM



Here is Lee Sinns’ take on Oakland’s decision not to sign their shortstop, reigning AL MVP, Miggy Tejada to a long-term contract:

A's owner Steve Schott says the team isn't going to offer SS Miguel Tejada a longterm contract. Tejada's eligible for free agency after the season and would reportedly like an 8-10 year contract.

Excellent move by the A's. Let Tejada test the open market and then see what his pricetag is going to be.

The odds are good that someone is going to overpay because the BBWAA chose to give an award to him. Then, let the other team overpay, publicly cry about it, privately pop the champagne corks about not being that team and then take the amount you would have been willing to spend on Tejada and go get some players who you can pay based on legitimate performance issues and not hype.

Or, maybe Tejada won't find what he wants in the open market and will return at a reasonable rate.

If they lose him, it's not like they'd be losing a Jason Giambi. If Giambi averages 10 RCAA a month, that would be his worst year since his 60 RCAA in 1999. Tejada has 10 RCAA--for his entire career.

Tejada's coming off a 21 RCAA season. If he doubles that--Giambi hasn't had a season that "low" since 31 in 1998.

Jason Giambi, however, did have a reaction to Schott’s move.

"I thought," Giambi said, "the whole reason they let me go was to use that money to sign all their younger players. What gives? What kind of a message does letting Tejada go send to a guy like 'Chav' (third baseman Eric Chavez, who hit 34 homers last year and is coming up on free agency after next season)?"

…"I thought that was what this whole new labor deal with the revenue sharing was all about," said Giambi, "so the small market teams could afford to keep their best players? Well, I guess we know what that's all about. They wouldn't even make (Tejada) an offer. So much for your fan base."

Another former Oakland player, Johnny Damon--never shy in expressing his opinion--- weighed in with his two cents too:

''I think it's probably collusion,'' Damon said, uttering a word that causes major league owners to see red, especially in the aftermath of the proven cases of collusion in the late '80s that cost owners more than $280 million in damages. ''It's one of those things where they're saying not too many teams can afford to go out and sign Tejada, that there might be just a couple of teams that can do it -- maybe the Mets, maybe the Dodgers.

''I think they are trying to get Tejada in that corner, because they know he wants to play there, to make him think that maybe there will be no team out there for him in free agency.

''There are a lot of different stories teams use with free agents. That's one of them.''

3/18/2003 07:03:00 AM

March 17, 2003  


Here is Lee Sinns’ take on Oakland’s decision not to sign their shortstop, reigning AL MVP, Miggy Tejada to a long-term contract:

Jason Giambi, however did have a reaction to Schott’s move.

…"I thought that was what this whole new labor deal with the revenue sharing was all about," said Giambi, "so the small market teams could afford to keep their best players? Well, I guess we know what that's all about. They wouldn't even make (Tejada) an offer. So much for your fan base."

Another former Oakland player, Johnny Damon--never shy in expressing his opinion--- weighed in with his two cents too:

3/17/2003 10:02:00 AM

March 16, 2003  


Emily successfully pulled through 6 1/2 hours of surgery on Thursday, and is recovering slowly but surely at Lennox Hill, on the Upper East Side. As I mentioned last week, Emily suffers from Chrones. This was her 9th operation since 1996. This latest round dealt with problems caused by an infection that was a result of her last surgery, and the doctor’s appear to have remedy the situation.

Damn, but my girl is a fighter. She’s a real bulldog, making it through like a trooper, though she has been doped up pretty good since the operation. I’ve been with her every day and I gotta admit, it tears me up to see her in so much pain. Truthfully, she hasn’t felt much of it, but you can see just how enervated her body is from the procedure, and just how progressive the recovery process is going to be.

I haven’t had much time to dwell on baseball during the past couple of days, but every once in a while I’ve tried to let the idea that the I’ll be able to watch the Yankees this year really sink in.

I still can’t believe it. Part of me doesn’t want to believe it until I see the damn channel pop up on my TV at home. Call me superstitious, but it’s hard to trust anyone from either Cablevision or the YES Network after all we’ve been through with these schnooks.

Still, the thought of not being dependent on Sterling and Steiner is enough to keep me warm until the flowers start blooming in a couple of weeks.

For Realah, Magilla.

3/16/2003 08:26:00 AM

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