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My pal Alex Belth wrote a terrific literary piece on Ray Negron, entitled "Inside Man: A Bronx Tale." Although he published it as a Bronx Banter exclusive, the four-part series could have easily appeared in the New York Times Magazine or the New Yorker. It is that good.
Negron has been with the Yankees off and on for more than 30 years. He started as a batboy in the early 1970s and worked his way up to special advisor to George Steinbrenner. As Belth wrote, "Negron has done everything from shine the players' shoes and collect their dirty jockstraps, to bring them food from their favorite restaurants and park their cars. He has been an agent, an actor, an advisor, and a liaison; a confidant, a sounding board and a whipping boy to some of the biggest egos in the game. He is whatever he needs to be."
Here is an excerpt from the story, which was written last summer:
Ray is philosophical about his future with the Yankees. "Let's face facts, I'm not going to be with the Yankees forever, so I'm trying to find a niche for myself. Look, the Boss has told me that as long as he's here, I'd always be a Yankee, and that's all I can go by. George is here, I'm a Yankee, and that's the bottom line. Someday, he might not be here—or I may not be here—then the new people, the new regime might say, 'Okay, that's enough, get him outta here.' And I've come to grips with that."
Due to the unedited quotes, the timely article, which comes complete with photos and illustrations, is recommended for mature audiences. Hurry over to Bronx Banter and read about Negron, Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson (who Ray nudged out of the dugout for a curtain call after the slugger hit his third consecutive home run in the deciding game of the 1977 World Series), Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and much more.
Troy Tulowitzki and the Colorado Rockies are close to signing a six-year, $30 million deal. If completed, it would be the "largest extension ever given to a major league player with less than two years experience," eclipsing the six-year, $23.45 million contract Grady Sizemore inked with the Cleveland Indians in 2006.
Tulowitzki (.291/.359/.479) slugged 24 HR while driving in 99 runs and scoring 104 times. He placed second (behind Ryan Braun) in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting and should have won a Gold Glove for his outstanding fielding. He topped all shortstops in fielding percentage (.987) and ranked first at his position in Jon Dewan's Plus/Minus fielding ratings.
My former partner Bryan Smith recently brought to my attention a scouting report I gave in a One on One: Amateur Hour conversation between us in May 2005.
Tulowitzki is the real deal. I wouldn't hesitate taking him number one in the draft. He is that good. Everybody knows the comparisons to Bobby Crosby. He's got the size, a powerful arm, a good glove, 4.2 speed, and plus power. What might not be so well known is that Troy also has the energy, enthusiasm, and leadership skills reminiscent of Miguel Tejada. This is a guy who could make it to the majors by September 2006 and has as good a shot at being named Rookie of the Year in 2007 as anybody.
Dayn Perry, who has contributed a couple of guest columns at Baseball Analysts, wrote an excellent essay (Re-Writing the Rules) at the Chicago Sports Weekly.
Despite the protestations of mainstream writers to the contrary, they have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that a hitter can be valuable without flashing a light-tower stroke. These scribes will whine that fans and the league have made a fetish out of the home run, but then cast more ballots for the inferior Jim Rice than they do for Raines. All too often, we’re subjected to generational spats over whether the Moneyball approach to offense (i.e., waiting for your pitch and hitting it out of the park when you see it) is better than the traditionalist’s beloved “small ball” game (bunts, hit-and-run, stealing bases, being aggressive at the plate). We know that the former leads to more runs, but it’s odd that the shrillest advocates of the latter would abandon Raines, who played the small-ball way better than almost anyone else. Somehow, though, they’ve turned their backs on him.
Lastly, I was interviewed by the Mets Net Radio a week ago Saturday. Host John Strubel and I talked about the Hall of Fame results, Bert Blyleven, and the voting process. The show was archived and can be accessed here. You can also right click and save it as a podcast. I'm second up if you want to skip ahead. My segment runs about 15 minutes, from about the 15:00 mark to 30:00.
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So, apparently, power matters to the writers except when they’re grouchy over the fact that bloggers/Web-based writers/stat geeks/kids on their lawns happen to like power.
Got it? It all raises the possibility that they don’t believe their own words. The truth is that Raines is a Hall-of-Fame caliber player regardless of how you think the game should be played. That he’s been so inexcusably dismissed by the writers speaks to the flawed nature of the process. Fans, however, are free to recognize Raines as one of the greats regardless of whether or not he ever gets the Cooperstown imprimatur.
As for the writers, we’ll leave them with their rank inconsistencies and their extra-large helpings of cognitive dissonance.
Update: Jeff Albert, who was a guest columnist and contributing writer to this site in 2006 and 2007, recently was hired by the St. Louis Cardinals as the organization's batting coach at Batavia (A) of the New York-Penn League. Here is an excerpt from the "Cardinals announce Minor League field staffs" press release:
Jeff Albert has been hired as hitting coach at Batavia. Albert played collegiate baseball at the Division 3 and Division 1 levels, with a couple of stops among independent professional teams. He began working on instruction and strength and conditioning with high school, college and professional players shortly thereafter and is owner and operator of swingtraining.net, which is a site dedicated to baseball training and analysis.
Best wishes to Jeff, who is weeks away from graduating with a Master's in Exercise Science at Louisiana Tech. He will report to the team's minor league spring training facility in Jupiter, Florida on March 1. Congratulations!
Late Add: Peter Gammons, who makes "no bones about (his) strong feelings about the human element," wrote a thoughtful piece about the exploration of cyberspace as it relates to politics and sports.
Pure numbers cannot do justice to character and drive and energy. They cannot measure the impact Robin Yount had on teamates when he ran down the first-base line at the same breakneck speed (one scout had nearly 90 Yount games in a six- or seven-year period and claimed he never got Yount faster than 3.9 seconds, or slower than 4.0). Mariano Rivera, Josh Beckett and David Wright are what they are because of who they are.
Stat lines cannot quantify work habits, the ability to learn, emotional stability, etc., but they are important guidelines by which to remind us that, in the end, performance counts.
Gammons identifies Jack Morris, George Brett, David Ortiz, and Derek Jeter as examples of players who "transcended the human elements that so alter the sport." He adds, "But those are parts of a greater landscape of arguments." Peter admits that "we all know more about baseball because of the proliferation of creative thought" and lists The Baseball Analysts among approximately a dozen general baseball sites he enjoys, as well as another 15 team-specific sites "club officials read."