Saturday, February 10, 2007

Under new management

If you're at this page, you just learned about the imperfect world of Internet search engines.

We're under new management. You can read the Keyboard Quarterbacks at http://www.newsday.com/keyboard-quarterbacks.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Mets musings

Ponderings from behind the keyboard. . .

What's the over/under on Aaron Heilman taking a job in the Mets' starting rotation? My optimistic side hopes it's sooner rather than later, but my realistic side tells me the more time passes, the deeper he digs himself into the long reliever pigeon-hole. Every winning team needs a strong long-man, and Heilman certainly has looked the part, but his early-season success as a stopgap starter earned him the right to a few more starts.

Victor Zambrano and Kaz Ishii, no doubt, will continue their off-again, on-again adventures. Willie Randolph has already made it clear he's going to stick with those guys (and he sort of has to, based on whom they were traded for), so it may depend a lot more on injuries than it will on the performances of Ishii, Zambrano, or even Heliman himself. Over/under: July 15, two weeks before the trade deadline.

* * *


It's been a strange couple of months for the Mets' lineup, which seems to get hot and cold on almost daily basis. First, Cliff Floyd was hot. So was Doug Mientkiewicz, for about a week. Then Mike Piazza had a couple of "Piazza-like" games. Then Mike Cameron came back, and he got hot. Now David Wright is hot, although he's starting to cool slightly. Jose Reyes has had some terrific games, but almost as many clunkers.

Carlos Beltran is even harder to figure. As bizarre as this sounds, the one player to whom I can best compare him is Alex Rodriguez. He's got tremendous talent -- a transcendent five-tool player -- and has put up great (or, at least, very good) numbers, but for some reason hasn't found his place with the fans yet.

Fans always expect more from free agents who breeze into town with big hoopla (see: Giambi, Jason; Glavine, Tom). We're are never as forgiving to hired guns as are to homegrown stars like Derek Jeter or Reyes. However, I would be remiss not to go to bat for Beltran, who was booed after going 0-for-4 and leaving four runners in scoring position Tuesday night.

Beltran's defense has been the one key aspect that has gone, it seems, almost completely unnoticed. He's gotten a few ovations for strong throws from the outfield, but it's his intimidation factor that makes him an almost nightly force for baserunners to cope with.

Example: In Wednesday night's game, the Mets led 2-1 with two outs in the ninth inning. Pinch hitter Tony Clark singles, then Alex Cintron follows with a shot to center. Beltran fields the ball quickly and fires it in. Clark, the potential tying run, does not even try to advance to third. In that situation in any of the past, oh, 43 years, Clark is probably on third base.

I don't need to tell any knowledgeable fan the significance of keeping a tying run off third. It's good, fundamental, winning baseball. That's what Beltran brings to the Mets, and that's why he'll be a great influence to players like Reyes and Wright, who certainly have a lot to learn before they can ascend to the his stratospheric level.

* * *


Did a quick check of the All-Star voting yesterday and discovered the Mike Piazza was the leading vote-getter for NL catchers. Mike's a good man, but this only strengthens every argument against allowing fans to vote for All-Star selections. I suppose I shouldn't get so bent out of shape about it, since the MLB All-Star game is about the fans, after all, right?

But more than anything else, it's a popularity contest. Piazza, batting .249 with 6 home runs and 26 RBIs, is having, by anyone's valuation, the worst season of his career. I've never had problem with aging stars playing in All-Star Games, but at what point do you have to try to be fair to others who have earned the right to start the game?

I'm probably overreacting. But one last note before I move on: Two of the other top vote-getters at their positions -- Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen -- are currently injured and probably won't even play in the game. And Tino Martinez leads all AL first baseman by nearly 100,000 votes... *shrug*

* * *


Dae-Sung Koo is on his last legs with the Mets. There's no denying that now. Koo's struggles have brought about Omar Minaya's first real challenge of the 2005 season. He's got a surplus of starting pitching and outfielders, and no reliable lefty reliever anywhere in the system. How he molds and reshapes that group could have a significant impact on the rest of the season.

Check back on Newsday.com tomorrow afternoon, when I'll talk to Newsday's Dave Lennon about Minaya's plans for the team this summer, as well as some possible trade candidates at relief pitcher. Perhaps he can shed some light on the critical moves the Mets are bound to make over the next two months.

* * *


Speaking of lefty relievers, it seems that John Rocker has finally corrected the control problems that plagued him early in the season with the Long Island Ducks. But the Mets would never sign him, would they? Well, you'd be surprised. Stay tuned...

E-mail Mike Casey at michael.casey@newsday.com

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A fun year to be a Yankee fan

June 1, 2005. Fourth-place Yankees.

Wow! There are two sentences you never expected to hear in that order. At least in the post-1994 era, back when the Yankees were running away with American League before the strike delayed Don Mattingly’s first playoff appearance another year.

Speaking of 1995, didn’t the Yankees win 25 of their final 31 games that season to capture the AL wild card? Yes, I believe they did.

Ever since, Yankee fans developed a sense of playoff entitlement, never once considering that the team might struggle along the way.

Have a heart, people. Even the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls lost 10 games. And they had MJ, who cannot be compared with A-Rod, simply because baseball does not allow for one-man dominance the way basketball does.

The 2005 Yankees might just be the most exciting team since 1998. That team won every night and it was relatively new to see such domination. Following them in 1998 meant staring at the box score in amazement over another Yankee win and another six-game win streak and another Tino Martinez home run and another Paul O’Neill punching of a water cooler because he only went 3-for-4.

In the years afterward, the Yankees beating everyone up became passé. Sort of like when that new song you love hits the radio. You buy the single, listen to it 32 times in a week, then get tired of it.

That’s what the Yankees have done to baseball. Every year, they are the favorite to win. Every year, they add another few million to the payroll, making it that much harder to root for them.

And I’m a Yankee fan!!!!

But I remember the 1991 pitching rotation, which included Wade Taylor. ‘Nuff said.

I remember 1985, when the Yankees had to go into Toronto and sweep to win the AL East. They won the first game, lost the second, and then Phil Niekro earned his 300th win on the final day of the season.

That was exciting.

And so is 2005. Who knows what will happen? As Yankee fans, we must now monitor Baltimore, Boston and Toronto. And whoever thinks the Orioles and Blue Jays will falter, you may be right, but it’s June 1 and we’re still talking about them. No one expected that.

Now we don’t know what to expect. Kevin Brown could pitch a good game. Or, he could just pitch like Kevin Brown. We don’t know.

Randy Johnson might strike a few people out. He might even serve up three bombs. We don’t know.

A-Rod could hit three homers, or make three errors. We don’t know.

Which makes being a Yankee fan fun again. The Orioles and the Red Sox wrap up their three-game series on Wednesday. Yankee fans must hope against a sweep. That’s the best case scenario right now because there’s no sign of the Orioles slowing down. Not with that lineup. Plus, they’ve stunk up the joint something awful in recent years, so any little bit of success means a lot to hungry players.

The Red Sox aren’t going away, either, even if Curt Schilling doesn’t pitch again this season and Johnny Damon keeps running into walls. So long as the Yankees refuse to intentionally walk, pitch around or brush back David Ortiz, the Red Sox will remain a half-game ahead of the Yankees.

Every game from here on matters. They’re all important because, even though the Yankees won 16 of 18, they also lost 19 of 30.

It should make for an exciting summer. Unless, of course, you became a Yankee fan in October of 1996.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Random sporting thoughts

* Dwyane Wade is an extremely good basketball player.

* Dwyane Wade is an extremely amusing basketball player, what with that dunk at the end of the game to give the Heat a 92-86 win. Who cares about the sportsmanship aspect? The spread was 4 1/2. Wonder how the bookies felt about that dunk with one second left.

* Why do Yankees fans hate A-Rod? This is baffling. The man only leads the major leagues in home runs, RBIs and runs. Plus he's hitting .318. Why no love for this guy? We'll explore that next week.

* Michael Irvin on the big screen? "The Longest Yard" could immediately become a Top Ten classic. The Playmaker is second only to Screaming A. Smith as television's most amusing sports analyst.

* Some days, I wish I was a professional athlete. Not for the money, or the impressive address book or the amount of females at my disposal, but rather for the keen ability to commit crimes and get off with a slap on the wrist and a $538 fine.

* Today is one of those days.

* Spurs vs. Pistons would be the most unwatchable NBA Finals since television was invented. Average score: Spurs 19, Pistons 18.

* Jerry Rice is dangerously close to becoming football's answer to Evander Holyfield.

* Which is worse: Agonizing over ways in which the Knicks can mess up the draft or Watching the Knicks actually mess up the draft?

* Who will instigate the brawl this weekend between the Yankees and the Red Sox?

* Any chance Tom Glavine will beat the Braves once more before his contract expires?

* That was a rhetorical question.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

The Boss takes center stage

George Steinbrenner is a great owner of a great team that plays a great sport in a great stadium in a great city in front of great fans. He is a great Yankee.

That should just about sum up the Steinbrenner installment of "Centerstage" on YES that aired this past Sunday. Steinbrenner said the word "great" 4.2 million times in the 90-minute show. Upon further review, that number could grow.

If you've never seen "Centerstage" before, Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay sits down for a one-on-one interview with famous people. The show is usually 60 minutes and it's taped in front of a studio audience which gets to ask questions in the latter part of the broadcast. It's actually a fairly decent piece of original programming on YES. Not great, but not bad, either.

These days, Steinbrenner rarely says more than a few sentences on his own. Most of his outlandish comments that we love to hear and read come in the form of statements released through his spokesman Howard Rubenstein. Basically, Rubenstein is to Steinbrenner as the mask is to Darth Vader.

So, for YES to land this interview was pretty impressive. Granted it's Steinbrenner's network and Steinbrenner's team and Steinbrenner's world, but he still had to agree to the interview. Of course, there were no hardball questions but the average fan doesn't care about that anyway. Kay served up a few softball questions that had you wondering if YES interrupted the interview to bring us another showing of Javier Vazquez pitching to Johnny Damon in Game 7.

When Steinbrenner wasn't using "great" like it was the world's preeminent adjective, he was answering Kay's questions and only answering Kay's questions. Very little elaboration on Steinbrenner's part. Just a lot of "How did that feel?" followed by "It felt great." That kind of stuff. At one point, you start to feel bad for Kay. Then, a commercial cuts in and any sympathy is washed away by advertisements.

The curt answers and the quick questioning afterward to avoid dead air created a choppy sequence of editing. There were times I wondered if Kay and Steinbrenner were in the same room. For a moment, I thought I was watching the scene in "Heat" where Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro are talking in the coffee shop. The editing in that scene gives the appearance that they are the same table talking, yet Pacino and DeNiro are never on screen at the same time.

Steinbrenner did offer a little insight into his psyche for those who don't anything about him. He yapped about how important winning is and how it's the only thing. Uh oh! I just used the verb yapped, which never has a positive connotation. Remind me to have someone else start my car for the next few days.

He laughed a bit, almost cried a bit, too. He went on about how he loved all these Yankees and how they were all great competitors, great men, great Yankees. Not too much on Howard Spira, Richard Nixon, Mr. May.

It was an interesting interview to watch. Not the best, but certainly better than anything Magic Johnson ever did on his late-night talk show back in the day.

Even with the boisterous Boss taking center stage for this show, Gary Sheffield won the award for Best Line.

In a clip from his appearance on "Centerstage" last year, Sheffield discussed his meeting with Steinbrenner as a free agent. "I told him he can bring in the greatest player in the game, but I'm still gonna be the best player on this team," Sheffield said, give or take a word. (Note: Not trying to pull a Mitch Albom here, but I just don't remember every single word from the quote, but that was the gist of it.)

That's a great line for a great player to drop on a great owner of a great team before signing a great contract.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Top Gun Golf

Every golfer has an Iceman hole once in a while. I have an Iceman hole once every nine holes.

You may not even know what an Iceman hole is. Let me learns you a bit here. The Iceman hole takes its name from Val Kilmer’s character in the 1980s classic “Top Gun.”

Kilmer’s call sign was “Iceman.” In the target-rich environment known as the bar, Goose (Anthony Edwards) explains to Maverick (Tom Cruise) how Iceman got his nickname.

“It’s the way he flies,” Goose said. “Ice cold. No mistakes. Wears you down. After enough time, you just get bored and frustrated, you do something stupid, and he's got you.

Starting to make sense now, isn’t it? How many times did you break a 9-iron over knee because you should have hit the 6-iron instead? How many times did you birdie the 4th hole, then hit driver 14 feet, top your 3-iron another 37 feet, shank the 4-iron onto the wrong fairway, chip into the trees, chip over the green, chip back over the green, chip onto the green and then three-putt on the 5th hole?

That, my friends, is an Iceman hole. That, my friends, is “Top Gun Golf.”

Footnote necessity: Lawyer friends Steve and Tim coined the phrase in golf terms.

I went ballistic on the fifth hole at Overpeck County Golf Course in Fort Lee, N.J., last Friday. It’s a seemingly average 418-yard, par 4.

I shank my drive to start the hole. I do that often, so I’ve had many Iceman holes. But practice makes perfect, so I have a better save percentage than Armando Benitez. Not exactly the best person to compare myself with, but after an approximate 126-yard drive, I’ll take what I can get right now.

Time for the trusty 3-iron. I hit “I’m not a player, I just crush a lot” shot and I’m back in the game.

Approaching my ball, lying 2, I noticed there’s a big ol’ weeping willow tree about 30 yards in front of me. A true golf stud would pull out the wedge and chip over the tree and plunk it on the green from 75 yards out. That was my first thought. Then I realized I’m not a true golf stud.

So, I turn toward my bag. Hurricane friend Fletcher asks what I’m doing. In true “Top Gun Golf” fashion, I say, “I’m too close for missiles. I’m switching to guns.”

Translation: I’m going to take out a low iron and punch it low under the tree and onto the green.
“You’re going ballistic?” Hurricane friend Fletcher said.

My 4-iron strikes the ball . . . and the ball does a fly-by of the green at over 400 knots. Not good. I walked around to the far side of the green and chip on . . . and off the green. Potential Iceman hole alert! Potential Iceman hole alert!

I walked passed Hurricane friend Fletcher, who politely tells me “Slider, you stink!”

Enter Maverick, who saves Iceman by chipping on the green and one-putting for the double bogey. For many a golfer, that’s not good. For me, that’s expected.

After About-to-be-lawyer friend Schatzie shanked his 12th straight drive, Hurricane friend Fletcher asked, “If you had to play in a charity golf tournament, would you want Schatzie with you?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t know,” I responded.

The 413-yard par-4 15th hole wore me down. I got frustrated. I did something stupid. Ditton on the 454-yard par-5 17th hole

We’ll begin in tee box, the birthplace of many an Iceman hole. Time to hit driver. Time for the ball to start off along the right side of the 15th fairway, then put the blinker on and wind up on the far end of the 14th fairway. Vanilla Ice alert! Vanilla Ice alert! Check out the hook while my Big Bertha revolves it.

I followed that with a monster 5-iron that faded slightly at the end, hit a tree branch and fell straight to the ground. Cue up the spiked hair and a volleyball scene because this has Iceman written all over it. Next shot has a brook in front of it that doesn’t really factor into my shot, except for that nice slab of concrete they call the wall of a foot bridge. Whammo!

My nice pitching wedge hugged the ground like a caterpillar and goes slamming off the front side of concrete. In any other world, the ball would have gone screaming back at my face and popped my eye out. But these must have been Mr. Tipton’s Laws of Physics at work here because the ball went left. Way left.

The ball settled next to a tree on the far side of the 14th tee box, some 60 yards left of the green. But, hey, I was pin-high. I lodged my patoot against the tree and launched what looked like a nice shot. Oops, too long. Chip onto the green. Two-putt. Seven. Triple bogey. Iceman.

On to the 17th, which featured a 53-foot swinging-bunt single for a drive, a nice long iron, a bad long iron, a “Caught in a jet wash” short iron, a crash-and-burn wedge and a “You’ve lost that loving feeling” putt that lipped out. Double bogey.

That’s Top Gun Golf.

The plaque for those shooting over 100 is downstairs in the ladies room. I’ll be downstairs if you need me.

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

We must be in the front row

Row A at Yankee Stadium means when Luis Sojo coached third base, "Oooooh, he's so close, it's like i'm having a cup of coffee with him in the kitchen," Mama La Monica said.

Row A at Yankee Stadium means when $252 million Alex Rodriguez made the first of his two errors Wednesday afternoon and got yelled at by fans, "This is like going into IBM and yelling at the chairman," Papa La Monica said.

Row A at Yankee Stadium means when Alex Rodriguez made the second of his two errors Wednesday afternoon, he had no choice but to hear one fan yell out, "Pagliarulo would've made that play."

I was that fan. Life in the front row is pretty cool. Not that I'm an A-Rod hater, but he made two huge mistakes and had to be called out on it by a fan who knows what it's like to sit in the upper deck's Row U (that's pretty much above the lights) and Row W (that is pretty much on the moon) for a game.

But this was Row A. Time to capitalize on the opportunity.

Papa La Monica scored tickets along the third-base line for Wednesday's game. It was Papa La Monica's birthday, too, making it even more fun.

Ever watch a game on television and say to yourself "How did those people get those seats?" when the cameras pan around the first few rows. These were those seats. We were those people.

This was a Bob Uecker commercial come to life. Whoa! We really must be in the front row.

Mama La Monica, excited enough to be within the same zip code as Derek Jeter, even waved and yelled out to Skippy, the left-field ball boy.

In this gated community, (OK, it was chained off but in a stadium built in 1923, you take what you can get), the seats are cushioned. Typically, I have to bring my own patoot-softening device.

In this oh-so-chic section, you get served. Typically, I have to go rent the movie.

A Stadium employee runs around with some sort of Palm Pilot situation and takes your order. Menus are available, stuck in the cup holder. Cup holder? Cup holder! Typically, I have to bring a safe to the Stadium to store my $5 souvenir cup of soda under my seat so I don't have to worry about Coke-soaked peanut shells and soda-saturated sneakers.

In this posh part, the only people sitting in front of you are the corporate clowns that paid a lot of money to sit in the seats that were installed several years ago so that corporate clowns could pay a lot of money to sit the seats. Most of these fans bought an unlimited-ride Metrocard on the bandwagon.

Since that's a man-made hazard and therefore not part of the original infrastructure of the Stadium, it can't change the fact that we're sitting in Row A and they're not.

(Note: When those corporate clowns left after the 7th inning - how predictable! - Papa La Monica and I jumped down to their seats. It's a pretty cool view.)

Having chair service is an interesting experience for a family that used to save enough coupons from the Dellwood milk cartons just to get four free seats in the upper deck. The Stadium accepts credit cards down there in Row A, so I had to charge something while sitting down there in Row A if for no other reason than I could charge something while sitting down there in Row A.

But, I also had to get up and buy something from the concession stand. Mama La Monica wondered why. Two reasons:

1) I never forget where I came from, which is somewhere in the tier reserved section (that's the upper part of the upper deck).

2) I wanted the security guy to stop me trying to come back to my seat so I could show him my ticket, drop a Lil Jon/Chappelle "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?" on him, and then walk past all those other lettered rows and resume my game-watching from the comfortable position of Row f-bombing A!

The game began and I offered my obligatory "What's up, guy?" to A-Rod, Jeter and Sojo. More importantly, I know they heard me. That makes four Yankees to hear my signature line (sure, it's stolen from Nicky Eyes in "Goodfellas," but I'm more famous than the actor who played him, so it's mine now). Gary Sheffield was the first, back when I got booed at Yankee Stadium. So far, I've received zero responses. Not even a complimentary "Howyuzdoin?"

Oh well. I can live with that. I'm in Row A.

Brother La Monica joked before we left for the game that he was taking all the money from his accounts and betting it on the Mariners. This seemed a smart play, considering Papa La Monica is better known as Frankie Mush when it comes to Yankees games. He's 0-2 this season, and roughly 2-35 since we started going to games as a family in the early 1980s. One of those two losses this season was the Mariano Rivera five-run ninth inning against the Red Sox. Mama La Monica had no choice but to go 0-2 this year, as well.

Case in point: In the early 1990s (or maybe it was the late 1980s, we're not quite sure anymore), Papa La Monica had to work in San Francisco for a few summer months. The Yankees were on a West Coast trip and went 10-1. The one game they lost was the Oakland. Yep, he was there. Frankie Mush!

I clearly inherited his genes. I was 0-2 this season, with those losses being a blowout by Baltimore and a Randy Johnson loss to Tampa Bay before Randy Johnson remembered he was Randy Johnson and not Randy Jackson, dog.

So, the La Monica family was 0-4, and clearly the betting parlors didn't know we were going to the game because the Yankees were still favored.

When the Mariners scored five runs in the first, we had no choice to laugh and blame Frankie Mush. So much for my theory of two negatives becoming a positive.

But, this was Row A, so let the game last 12 hours. I don't care. Boss friend Jon was kind enough to let me come to work late, but I had to add in a "Work on the laptop during the car ride home" clause for the commissioner to approve the trade.

Brother La Monica was telephoned with one out in the first inning and the Yankees trailing 5-0. He simply couldn't believe it. Well, he could believe it, which is why he couldn't believe. Such stark reality can appear imaginary when it happens live.

The Yankees rallied back for the 5-5 tie in the bottom of the first. Brother La Monica was telephoned. The Mariners took a 9-6 lead. Brother La Monica was telephoned. The Yankees tied it at 9. Brother La Monica was telephoned. The Yankees took a 12-9 lead. Brother La Monica was telephoned.

That Tino Martinez homered to tie it at 9 meant Mama La Monica made the right decision in wearing her new Tino Martinez shirt. She considered rocking the Jeter home jersey, but "Tino's doing good, so I had to wear my new shirt."

Can't argue with Mama La Monica, even if Mother's Day already passed.

The Yankees won, 13-9. We reversed the curse!

No more Frankie Mush. Well, at least for one afternoon.

Row A means the next time I go to a game at the Stadium, I'll be back with the steerage. Row A means it was definitely worth it.

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