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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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Great waste of time

Talk about a non-story. Wayne Gretzky might coach the Phoenix Coyotes.

Can someone tell me just what he is going to coach them to do? They clearly won’t be playing hockey next season. One could argue that there hasn’t been hockey in Phoenix for a few years anyway.

The NHL gets worse every day the lockout goes on. This is a sport that is now listed under Tennis and Women’s Basketball in the navigation of ESPN.com. A sport whose top headlines include news of Patrick Elias’ bout with hepatitis, breaking news about USA Hockey and U.S. Figure Skating executive directors resigning and finally news on how the NHLPA wants to block replacement players.

Block replacement players! As if they could do anymore to assure that hockey will never be played again in North America. Since the end of football season and because of my absolute refusal to watch NBA basketball, I have been stuck watching rodeos, NCAA baseball and even NASCAR over the weekends. I even watched the Masters in hopes of seeing someone check Tiger Woods as he got ready to putt in the playoff.

Meanwhile, Mike Milbury just returned from a scouting trip to China. Unless they can get Yao Ming in a trade for Alexei Yashin, the Isles might be better off if the NHL never returns.

Forget Giacomo, just call the Guru

Horses are beautifully strange creatures. Those who gamble on the horses are just strange.

So, for a brief 25 minutes on Tuesday, I was clinically strange. (This is different from my everyday life, where I’m 4 degrees before tap-dead-center strange.)

Many a horse race begins with the horse you picked starting off strong. Then that horse drops to the middle of the pack. Then, if you’re lucky, your horse makes a mad dash to line and wins the race by a length.

So, let me get this straight: Starts off strong, fades to virtual oblivion in the middle, then races to glory at the end. Hmmm, add in a six-day cocaine bender and we’ve got ourselves a VH1 “Behind the Music” special.

On this particular afternoon, I entered an OTB. I was there to cash in on the best bet from the eighth race at Belmont on Saturday.

A little recap for you horseheads out there: Saturday was the Kentucky Derby. I had gone to a different OTB with Papa La Monica. He’s retired these days, which is code for “Let’s go play the horses because I’ve got nothing else to do and my back hurts from playing golf yesterday.”

I played the chalk trifecta of Bellamy Road, Afleet Alex and Bandini. My horse luck is more Rodney Dangerfield in “Easy Money” and less Richard Dreyfuss in “Let it Ride.” But I’m an Ivy League graduate, so I decided to hedge my action and played along with the Guru. He liked Exit to Heaven. I like the Guru. So the bet seemed like a good fit.

Well, Exit to Heaven came in third for a nice $5.30 payout. It cost me $6 to bet across the board, so that’s a sweet 70-cent loss. Nice pick, pal.

Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon.

I was in the neighborhood of OTB so I went in to pick up my $5.30, which promptly became $5 after the OTB took its vig.

With time to kill, I decided to make my money work for me. It was time to reinvest that $5. But what the frig do I know about the horses? Nothing. However, I know a guy who knows more about horses than horses do. Yes, that’s right, I called the Guru.

I flipped through my recent calls database on my cell phone. (I had called the Guru for Derby help, but he didn’t pick up his phone. Plus, I doubt he would have given me Giacomo, even if he is the most Italian guy with a non-Italian last name I know.)

Guru picks up the phone. I’m sitting pretty now.

“Kid, what are you doing, kid?” he asked.

“I’m at OTB cashing in your monster best bet from Belmont on Saturday,” I answered. “What do you got for me today at Belmont?”

“It’s Tuesday, kid, they’re not running at Belmont,” he said.

Great, now I’m a bigger idiot than I was 12 seconds ago. But, I’ve known the Guru long enough for him to let it slide.

“It’s all out of town tracks today, kid.”

“Well, Guru, gimme something outta town.”

“Let’s go to Calder.”

“OK.”

“Kid, second race, we’re gonna go with an exacta box on 6 and 5.”

Hey, works for me. He tells me the name of the horses I’m about to wager my lunch and dinner on. I can’t understand what he said, more so because my cell phone cut off than because he starts every sentence with “Kid.”

I strolled to the window, dropped some cash on 5-6 in an exacta box. I feel like my dad. I feel like his dad. And I’m clearly the youngest person in here by at least 75 years.

I found the television showing the races at Calder and plopped myself down in a chair. Twelve minutes to post.

Five minutes.

Two minutes.

Race time.

Here’s comes the 6 horse, racing out. The 5 horse isn’t even on the screen. Great! Nice pick, Guru. My cell phone is open and I’m ready to call him up and tell him he’s a jerk and he owes me dinner. What’s the use in having a hookup if he leaves you hanging?

Around the second turn, the 6 horse is lagging, the 5 horse is taking a nap in the gate.

Around the third turn, here comes the 6 horse. The 5 horse seems to remember there is a race going on.

Down the stretch, it’s all about the 6 horse. And the 5 horse is making a Giacomo-like run on the outside.
At the finish, it’s . . . it’s . . . it’s the 6 horse in first and the 5 horse in second. Guru is off the hook.

I sat in my chair laughing my patoot off for about seven minutes. I felt great. I felt like a degenerate. I felt like I wasn’t alone.

An older gentleman asked me what was so funny? I kindly responded, “Kid, the Guru strikes again!”

And I still don't know the names of the horses. I don't even know where Calder Race Track is.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

So much for a relaxing night at the ballpark

As seems to be the case a lot lately in Central Islip, there was an unusual buzz in the air Tuesday night. It was about a lot more than just a rematch of last year's Atlantic League World Series against the Camden Riversharks.

It was about a man. A man who has become the object of such intense scrutiny and curiosity that it belies his otherwise modest and friendly surroundings. You know who I'm talking about -- you're probably sick of reading his name. It's John Rocker.

Sitting in the press box at Citibank Park, I saw Rocker's impact on the team from a unique perspective.

First and most obvious, there was the media presence. Newsday sent two reporters and a photographer. The Daily News sent a photographer and a reporter. Even the Newark (N.J.) Star Ledger sent a reporter. Had it been a normal May 10 ballgame, I may have been the only writer in the ballpark. But it's hard to feel normal when John Rocker's in town.

During the pre-game chatter that usually fills the press box with light banter and talk of the local Major League teams, one cameraman detailed his efforts to photograph Rocker during pre-game warm-ups:

"He came out of the bullpen and I stood on the first baseline. When he saw me, he kind of turned his back to me and walked like, sidesaddle, towards the dugout."

Someone cracked, "Did he do the Moonwalk?" That was the kind of night it was.

A palpable feeling of tense anticipation permeated the press box, and indeed the entire ballpark, until Rocker entered the game in the 7th inning. At that point, the media contingent let out a collective sigh of relief -- they had not made the trip for nothing -- and the fans rained down their emotions -- some cheers, some jeers -- with passion uncommon in the normally casual Citibank Park atmosphere.

After the game, too, Rocker's presence was felt. When the Ducks' public relations staff informed us that "John Rocker will not be available for comment tonight," my first reaction was not to feel surprised, even though we'd been told Rocker would talk if he pitched in last night's game. After all, this is a man who's had so much trouble dealing with the media, he hired his own publicist -- and even that hasn't keep him out of trouble.

I even felt a little sorry for the PR staff, which is proud of the affable environment they've constructed and must feel a strain from dealing with a headache the size of the state of Georgia.

"He's a very positive influence around here," Ducks skipper Don McCormack told us after the game (a noble effort from a manager who's just trying to help his pitcher win games and get back to the majors).

But hasn't Rocker's presence made things a little more tense these days?

"Not for those other guys," McCormack said, referring to Rocker's teammates.

They must be the only people who haven't noticed.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Going down with the ship

Most Yankees fans I talk to can hardly remember the last time they felt this badly about their team's fortunes. You would think it's been 111 years, not 11, since their team last missed the playoffs. Although, as good as they've been in the last decade, you can sort of understand why they'd feel that way.

All that winning has led to a much-deserved confidence/arrogance among Yankees fans that the team, as currently configured, will turn things around. But as I watched the Bombers go down to a third straight humiliating defeat against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays tonight, I got to thinking: What if they DON'T turn it around? Is this the end of the Yankee dynasty as we know it?

Invariably, when dynasties end, good people get hurt along with the bad. In much the same way, the Yankee cornerstones of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams could be enjoying their last few months together. Sometimes you have to throw out the apple to kill the worms.

So I decided to handicap the odds that various players and coaches will be traded, released, or fired by the Yankees before the end of the season, assuming the team continues to falter. All bets/parlays must be placed prior to May 31 and sent to Newsday.com, c/o Mike Casey, Assistant News Manager, 235 Pinelawn Rd. Melville, NY 11747. Hmmm. . . On second thought, that's probably not a smart idea. Just use these for "recreational" purposes, like the point spreads they print in the newspaper:

DEREK JETER: 999 to 1.
Jeter is a cornerstone in the truest sense of the word. Take him out of the mix, and the entire team would crumble. His trade value is astronomical, but the Yankees wouldn't dream of dealing him. Not only is he a leader and team captain, he's one of the few players who hasn't underperformed this season. And he's still the most marketable and popular Yankee.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ: 750 to 1.
Good luck getting rid of this guy. Sure, he's got great numbers. But he's also got a $500 bazillion contract and zero World Series rings. Even if the Yankees wanted to trade him (they don't), they wouldn't be able to find a team that could afford him.

HIDEKI MATSUI: 750 to 1.
Matsui has been the Yankees' most reliable offensive player the past two seasons. He plays good defense and is a solid citizen. He never complains and he hits well in the clutch. No reason the Yanks would ever part with him, unless George Steinbrenner fired Cashman and replaced him with George Costanza.

MARIANO RIVERA: 500 to 1.
The Yankees wouldn't really considering trading Mariano, would they? No, probably not. But if -- and it's a big if -- he continues his recent run of mortality, and the Yankees drop out of the playoff race, someone desperate for a proven postseason closer could float a very appealing offer the Yankees' way. The deal would have to include someone the Yanks felt strongly could become their next great closer, though, and those guys just don't come along every day.

CARL PAVANO: 500 to 1.
The Yanks would be nuts to trade him. They've got him under contract through 2008 and he's practically a teenager (29) by Yankee standards. He's one of the few guys on this team who has a chance to still be in his prime three years from now. They'll keep him.

GARY SHEFFIELD: 400 to 1.
He's played very well and he makes a lot of money. That means two things: 1) The Yanks don't want to trade him. 2) The Yanks would have a tough time trading him. The only variable is if the team takes a serious nosedive and he pulls a "Milwaukee Brewer," mailing it in and becoming a clubhouse nuisance. But so far, so good.

RANDY JOHNSON: 250 to 1.
Ironic that he said he would only go to the Yankees because they gave him the best chance to win a World Series, isn't it? Steinbrenner paid a small fortune to acquire him, and he's got him under contract through next year. Johnson actually wouldn't make bad trade bait, but the Yankees have way too much invested in him to ever give him up. He'll stay in pinstripes.

BERNIE WILLIAMS 200 to 1.
Your natural inclination is to think Bernie is safe. He's won four rings. He's still immensely popular. But he's also in the last year of his contract. The Yankees would never resort to the embarrassment of releasing him, but they might consider trading him if a team desperate for a good switch-hitting pinch hitter comes knocking in July. Emphasis on might.

TINO MARTINEZ 150 to 1.
Tino is well-liked and respected in the Yankee clubhouse. But there's no reason to keep him around at his age if it's not going to be as a leader on a young or playoff-bound team. He could draw interest at the trade deadline from the Cardinals, Braves, or Angels as a solid lefty pinch-hitter or defensive replacement off the bench.

JASON GIAMBI: 100 to 1.
The Yankees would love -- love -- to unload this guy. But he's still owed about three Michael Jackson settlement's worth of money, which means a buyout is out of the question. If he ever got hot, which isn't likely to happen, Cashman would shop him all over town. Maybe they'd find someone dumb enough to take him. Is Kevin Malone still general managing somewhere?

JOE TORRE: 75 to 1.
It amazes me how many Yankees fans want him fired. It isn't that he's done such a great job with this particular installment of Bronx Bombers -- it's that I don't know who could do any better. Who exactly would the fans prefer to coach this bunch of indifferent moneygrabbers? The drill sergeant from "Full Metal Jacket?" Jimmy Doogan from "League of Their Own?"

Joe has never enjoyed a fully harmonious relationship with Gen. Steinbrenner, which means he could stand before the firing squad if this $200 million whale goes in the tank.

MIKE MUSSINA: 60 to 1.
Fight it all you want. The fact is Mike Mussina makes $19 million and has a 4.50 ERA. He's been decent as a Yankee, but not outstanding. His high price tag and reputation for being a snobbish clubhouse presence make him a fairly unattractive player to dangle as trade bait. However, his past credentials and detachment from the hearts and minds of the Yankee fan leave him as their most tradable starting pitcher.

JORGE POSADA: 40 to 1.
All the conditions are right for Posada to become the first member of the Yankee nucleus to leave town. He makes a somewhat manageable $11 million. He's played on championship teams, which increases his trade value. At 33, teams may believe he's still got a couple of productive years left in him. He's underachieved this season, but if you think teams won't overpay for a power-hitting, switch-hitting catcher at the trade deadline, see Nurse Ratched at the asylum.

KEVIN BROWN: 20 to 1
Forget about a trade. This guy is about as untradable as a 1992 Fleer Kim Batiste rookie card. He's a multi-million dollar albatross around the Yankees' neck. The only way they'll get rid of him is if the Boss takes a big bite out of the $15.7 million Brown's owed and swallows hard. As bad as he's been, and as disliked as he's reported to be in the clubhouse, it's not hard to believe that will happen.

TONY WOMACK: 10 to 1
He can still hit, he can still run, and he's not bad defensively. He wants to play for a winning team. If the Yanks freefall, Womack will be among the first to go. He's extremely marketable at $2 million, and he'd make a good trade deadline addition for any club looking to bolster a playoff-bound lineup.

BRIAN CASHMAN: 3 to 1
Brian is an upfront, honest guy. That's hard to come by in New York. But he's made one bad move too many, and he'll be the first to go if the house of cards falls. You might argue that many of the poorest moves he's made (Giambi, Brown, failing to re-sign Andy Pettite) were orchestrated by the Boss himself. Fair or not, he's going to take the blame. That how things work in Steinbrenner's world.

  • Comments? E-mail me at michael.casey@newsday.com
  • Wednesday, May 04, 2005

    Rockin' out with the Ducks


    Watch my video intro


    Bottom of the third inning. Time to trot out toward the Ducks bullpen in right field and see what's happening.

    By now, the alcohol should start taking its effect on those consuming such beverages at Citibank Park. I can only imagine what a bunch of rowdy Long Islanders will yell at a defenseless John Rocker sitting in the bullpen watching his team play. I'm thinking it's somewhere between typical Yankee Stadium chants from the bleachers and what John Rocker said six years ago to make John Rocker become, well, John Rocker.

    I've been looking forward to this study on human psyche/stupidity for a few days and could barely sleep Tuesday night after hearing of his spat with a fan in Atlantic City earlier that day.

    Damn! He's not even out here.

    This is disappointing.

    Shut down for four days with what the Ducks officially called a "dead arm," Rocker was nowhere to be found. I'm quite upset. Rocker is the one we (CIRCLE BEST ANSWER) curious/crazy/degenerate people pay to see. Rocker is the one that brought the reporters. The New York Post, New York Daily News and Westchester Journal News traveled to little ol' Central Islip for an independent Atlantic League baseball game. To a town in Suffolk County that may as well be home to Donald Duck or Kevin Duckworth, let alone the Long Island Ducks, for all these news outlets care.

    And I'm probably the only one of the card-carrying sports media horde willing to go rogue and string together these four words in this powerful order: John Rocker is awesome.

    Yeah, I said it.

    You're probably ready to dye my hair purple and throw me on the No. 7 train for a few hours right about now. Please don't. Here's why.

    Rocker spoke his mind. Though I don't agree with his assessment of the people who ride the No. 7 subway, I admire him for saying what he thought. He may have insulted every New Yorker, but in a world where athletes speak for hours without ever saying anything, his honest emotion was refreshing. Immature and primitive, but refreshing.

    Then again, that was six years ago, and everyone deserves a second chance. Think about how many of us wouldn't be where we are if not for second chances. If Hockey friend Zamboni hadn't stepped in for Jersey friend Tiny to give me the Heimlich maneuver hours before Game 2 of the 1998 World Series, I'd have choked on my barbecue chicken sandwich and missed Tino Martinez's grand slam off San Diego's Mark Langston. I'd also be dead.

    But enough of Johnny Rock, at least for now. You can read about him at http://www.newsday.com/sports. With Rocker nowhere in sight, it's time to appreciate some of the other treats offered at a Long Island Ducks game at Citibank Park. Let's take a walk and see what's available to the 6,000-plus fans who spend their 7, 9 or 10 bucks per ticket:

    * Dominick's, the official sausage of the Long Island Ducks.
    Any sports team that has an official sausage company deserves respect.

    * A chance to see former Yankee greats.
    Who could forget the immortal Donovan Osborne? Or the once indispensable Todd Erdos? And what if the Yankees had held on to almost-an-All-Star Chris Latham?

    * Pete Rose Jr.
    Haven't seen a guy getting by on name recognition like this since Eddie Murphy in "A Distinguished Gentleman."

    * $2.75 sodas.
    Or, if you want to splurge for the souvenir Ducks cup -- and, frankly, who wouldn't? -- it'll cost you a whopping $3. For those counting at home, that's cheaper than it costs to use an ATM at a bank that's not yours.

    * Speaking of franks, how about the $3.25 hot dog, and $3.75 jumbo dog.
    Sure, it's not the 3 for $3 deal on the service road of the L.I.E., but they taste extremely good and you don't have to stop on the service road of the L.I.E.

    * $4.75 beers, $5.50 if you're a serious drinker.
    About the best deal imbibers will ever come across at a sporting event, at least until one team develops the guts to offer "Rollback Prices" night.

    * The concession stands workers who appreciate a great movie quote dropped in the course of everyday life.
    "We're not making any more jumbo hot dogs. They didn't even tell us," one young fella said.
    "Maybe they didn't come up there and tell you," I responded in proper Goodfellas format. "No more shines."

    * The Rafael Palmiero lookalike sitting in Section 212.
    Not sure if he's a season-ticket holder, but I bet he can put it over the 325-foot sign in right field quite a few times.

    * The fans.
    Half of them don't even know a baseball game is going on.

    * The stats.
    They appear meaningless to most in attendance, which is rather refreshing in an obscure way.

    * The games.
    No, not the game. Out by the Ducks' bullpen, they have a game where fans can throw a strike, or a ball, and get clocked on the radar gun. The true beauty of this game is that the clock is not visible. Would-be hurlers are told their speed. C'mon Ducks. You're defending champions and sell out the park nearly every game. Splurge for the display. Is Joe Torre in charge of this game? (For the record, in 10 minutes of viewing, I thought Tom Glavine was pitching. That's how many strikes weren't thrown.)

    * The games, part deux.
    Plenty of kids lined up to take part in radar. Plenty of parents walking around drinking drinks their children will have to wait until the next decade begins to purchase legally. Yes, I hear you begging, so here's my question: Who's driving home?

    * The ninth inning.
    In the Atlantic League, no game is over until the final out. Some of the strangest things have occurred while watching Ducks games.

    * Free junk.
    72 home games, 54 promotional giveaways. And six fireworks nights. Not too shabby.

    * John Rocker.
    Johnny Rock will rise again!

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    Tuesday, May 03, 2005

    The Boss and Bellamy Road

    One stable boasts a champion in waiting. The other stable is full of financial champions and just a sprinkle of true champions.

    So what would happen if George Steinbrenner, the 74-year-old owner of early Kentucky Derby favorite Bellamy Road and the underachieving New York Yankees, gets confused? What if he has a “senior moment” this week and starts barking out final-authority orders to the wrong people?

    Some things we might see:

    1) There he is, waiting on the final turn at Churchill Downs, Luis “Send ’em home” Sojo, waving Bellamy Road around to the finish line.
    Anticipated result: Bellamy Road finishes out of the money, just like every Yankee runner that gets thrown out at the plate by 15 feet with Sojo coaching third.

    2) No way? Way! Steinbrenner finally sends Kevin Brown out to posture.
    Anticipated result: Brown winds up in your next bottle of Elmer’s glue.

    3) Bellamy Road faltering at the finish line and Brian Cashman having to answer to the Boss.
    Anticipated result: Steinbrenner buys the Derby winner and races him at the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

    4) Bellamy Road’s jockey makes a bad move and gets pinned in along the rail.
    Anticipated result: The jockey gets dealt to the Newark Bears and is hit by a John Rocker fastball in the eighth inning. Before the end of the ninth inning, Rocker is signed by the Yankees.

    5) New centerfielder Hideki Matsui makes three errors this week.
    Anticipated result: (TURN ON BOB SHEPPARD VOICE) “Ladies and gentlemen. Batting second, playing centerfield, Bellamy Road.” (TURN OFF BOB SHEPPARD VOICE)

    6) Bernie Williams does not play the rest of the week.
    Anticipated result: Williams is put out to pasture.

    Oops, that one already happened. My bad.

    7) Bellamy Road jockey’s whipping mechanics get all out of whack.
    Anticipated result: Organizational pitching guru Billy Connors is called in to fix the situation.
    Anticipated ripple effect: Javier Vazquez and Jeff Weaver win big on a High Fly-Don’t Get Mad exacta.

    8) Bellamy Road wins the Derby.
    Anticipated result: “He’s a true Yankee.”

    9) The Tampa office and New York office of the Yankees meet to hammer out issues.
    Anticipated result: Nick Zito becomes the new pitching coach and Bob Baffert the new third-base coach. Joe Torre retires to wash the horses in the stable and Sojo becomes a rider.

    10) Mariano Rivera blows an easy save on Saturday.
    Anticipated result: Joe Pesci, reprising his scene from the movie "Easy Money," sprints onto the field and jumps on Rivera.

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