29 May 2009

Even the Los Angeles Dodgers' Pitchers Can Improve

Rob Neyer commented yesterday on the Dodgers' pitching staff and their general manager's efforts to improve on the (apparently) un-improvable:

The Dodgers could cruise to 90 wins and the division title without making a single move the rest of the season. They're that good and the rest of the division is that bad. But right now they've got one ace (Billingsley), two guys who are pretty good (Kershaw and Wolf) and a bunch of guys you wouldn't want within six miles of a postseason start. Not the way they're pitching lately, anyway. (I still have high hopes for McDonald, and Kuroda was solid last year.)
This was in response to an L.A. Times piece about Ned Colletti looking for pitching. Neyer's probably right about the Dodgers' quality relative to the rest of their sad division, though I'm as sure as Rob, and fortunately I have my own Sports Blog from which to pontificate.

For one thing, I'm not convinced that either the Padres or Diamondbacks' hitters can't get their act together and make this an interesting race. Both teams have several guys who are woefully underperforming for no obvious reason, and some of them are bound to find their stroke and bounce back.

Neither am I convinced that Casey Blake, Juan Pierre and Orlando Hudson will continue to hit anything like what they've done so far. Granted, Rafael Furcal and, to a lesser degree, Russel martin have been disappointing with the bats this year, but otherwise, the Dodgers are mostly flush with over-achievers. Yet again, the odds are not in their favor for that to continue.

But the most tenuous threads holding the Dodger fabric together weave through the pitching staff, especially the starters. In particular, counting on Randy Wolf to continue to be healthy and/or good for the rest of the year is a fairly dubious enterprise. He hasn't pitched 200 innings in a season since 2003, and from 2004-07 he averaged just 94 innings and 17 starts, with a combined record of 24-18, 4.62 ERA.

He managed to toss 190 innings in 2008, though his ERA in Houston and San Diego (4.30 combined) was a lot closer to his career mark (4.20) than this year's performance to date. The 2.84 ERA he's posted so far would be not only a run and a half below his career average (at age 32) but also almost half a run below his career best of 3.20, posted in 2002. Somehow that seems unlikely.

The reason for Wolf's unprecedented success is obvious. His BABIP this season is a ridiculously low .247, fully 50 points below the league average, and something over which Wolf has little if any control. So he's bound to regress some, and probably soon. That will leave the Dodgers with ONE pretty good option (Billingsley) and a lot of question marks:
  • Two talented but erratic youngsters (Clayton Kershaw and John McDonald),
  • a decent but injured veteran (Hiroki Kuroda),
  • three 30-something re-treads (Eric Milton, Jeff Weaver and Wolf, when he falters),
  • and an organizational soldier pressed into everyday service (Eric Stults).
I don't blame Colletti for trying to improve his pitching staff. Smart general managers can look at a team that's winning and see how it could be even better or might need improvement down the line. Guys like the White Sox' Ken Williams don't recognize good fortune when they see it, leave the roster alone, and end up in third place instead of first.

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22 May 2009

Projecting the Next 300 Game Winner(s)

In light of the Big Unit's chase for his 300th win, Joe Posnaski had a recent co-column for Sports Illustrated with Bill James and has just blogged his own piece on the nature (and unpredictability of) 300-game winners. Both are great stuff, full of well-written insights and clever commentary that most of us only dream of being able to produce. His point, in both cases, can be summed up in the one word that Joaquin Andujar gave us: Youneverknow.

More specifically, Joe says the one thing you can't know is whether a guy will win 300 games based on what he does in his 20's, and I have to agree with him there. We've seen too many guys who were just awesome in their 20's (Bert Blyleven, Jim Palmer, Robin Roberts) who didn't quite made it to 300, and others (Doc Gooden, Sandy Koufax, Dizzy Dean, Don Drysdale) who never got close.

Joe says you can tell better by what they do in their 30's, especially their late 30's, and illustrates the point with the careers of several pitchers who were great after their mid 30's:

So, it’s really impossible to predict. Randy Johnson only had 99 victories at age 31. Phil Niekro only had 97 victories at age 33. Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, Early Wynn … these guys did not look like great bets for 300 when they reached their mid-30s. But they won a lot of games late in their careers. Niekro, as a knuckleballer, just kept going and going and going. Perry had a late career renaissance — he won 21 games as a 39-year-old and 47 more after that. Warren Spahn won 20-games or more seven times after he turned 35. Randy Johnson was probably at his very best from age 35 to 40. And so on.
He's got a point, but I disagree that Ryan and Perry and Spahn and Wynn weren't good bets to make it to 300 by their mid 30's though. Each of them had about 200 wins by the end of their age 35 seasons, and all were above average workhorses, if not spectacular. That turns out to be a pretty good bet, actually.

If you look at the 17 pitchers (including Randy) who've won 300+ games since 1900, 14 of them (82%) had about 200 wins (Perry had 198) and an ERA+ of 110 or better by the end of their age 35 seasons. The other three are Johnson and Niekro, two guys who had to take half a career to learn how to pitch, and the ironically named Early Wynn, who got his 300th and final Win in July of his age 43 season.

  • Johnson had so much potential, so he was always going to get his chances. Lefties who throw 100 mph don't grow on trees, you know. But he also had so many control problems that he didn't have his first decent season until 1990, when he was already 26.

  • Niekro, a knuckleballer, did not make it to the majors until he was 25, and did not have a productive season until he was 28, again because of control problems, although obviously for different reasons.

  • Wynn was basically a better than average innings eater who lucked into playing for the Indians in the 50's and later the White Sox, both during their peaks. Good teams will get a lot of wins for a pitcher who provides a lot of innings.

  • These three are the exceptions, though, not the rules. You can certainly look at Wynn and Randy and Niekro and say "Youneverknow", and that's true, but it doesn't give us any kind of hint at what we might know, down the line. For that, you have to look at correlations. What do the guys who win 300 games have in common, earlier in their careers, and how likely are they to go on to win 300 games?

    As I mentioned, excluding the guys who thrived in the late 1800's, there are 17 pitchers who have won or will win 300+ games. As of their mid 30's, i.e. after their age 35 season, 14 of these had at least 195 Wins and an adjusted ERA at least 10% better than the league. Eighty-two percent is a pretty high correlation, though it should be noted that 41 pitchers meet those requirements, and only 14 of those have made the 300 mark. Still, 14 out of 41 is 34%, better than one in three odds.

    At the moment, Andy Pettitte is the only pitcher in baseball who meets these criteria, and giving him one in three odds to win 300 games sounds just about right to me. That may be a little too generous, given that he probably can't survive long if he loses any more off his fastball.

    Andy had 201 Wins and a 118 ERA+ after that age-35 season, i.e. 2007, and currently has 219 Wins and an ERA+ of 116, though the trend is of course not in his favor there. But it's not out of the question for him to keep posting approximately 200-inning seasons with a roughly league average ERA, winning about 15 games per year, since the Yankees will always have good hitters.

    The next step down would be Roys Halladay and Oswalt, plus Mark Buehrle, each of whom had or has at least 125 Wins and an ERA+ of 120 or better through (or in) their age 31 seasons. The Chicago White Sox Schedule is filled with themlikes of the Royals and Tigers, so Buehrle especially should get his shot at racking up the necessary wins. Tim Hudson also met those criteria, but his injury will hamper his chances severely. Johan Santana, only 30 and with 114 Wins already, will likely join them by the end of 2009, as will C.C. Sabathia, who needs only 4 wins to reach 125 and is only 28.

    Eight of the 17 pitchers to win 300 games since 1900 met those criteria at one point, though so did 29 other pitchers who never got to 300. Eight in 40 is 5-to-1 odds, so there's a decent chance that one of the six (C.C., Buehrle, Hudson, Santana and the two Roys) will eventually make the 300 mark. None of them has better than a 20% chance, but as a group there's a good chance that one of them is the next 300-game winner. We just don't know which one, yet.

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    19 May 2009

    Why the Yankees Dominate the Minnesota Twins

    The Yankees completed a four game home sweep of the Minnesota Twins last night, stretching their current winning streak to six games, four of which were won by only one run. This improves the Yankees' overall record to 21-17, bringing the team within 4.5 games of the Blue Jays for first place in the American League East division.

    A brief look back at the four games:

    Friday - Yankees 5, Twins 4: In a game started by two youngsters of whom much is expected, Phil Hughes and Felipe Liriano were both gone by the end of the sixth inning, leaving the game to be decided by the bullpens. Justin Morneau hit two homers and Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer each hit one, as did the scrappy Brett Gardner, his second in two days. This one was an inside-the-park job, though, more his game than the one he hit in Toronto the night before.

    Down 4-1 in the 6th, the Yankees scored a run in the 7th and then three more in the bottom of the ninth, the last two on a walk-off, bases-loaded, two-out single by Melky Cabrera, who's gone a long way toward redeeming himself from both his horrid 2008 season and my skepticism of his value to the team. Twins closer Joe Nathan took the loss, while the Yankees' best reliever never left the bullpen, which came in handy for...

    Saturday - Yankees 6, Twins 4
    (11 innings): Nick Blackburn and Joba Chamberlain started, and each pitched reasonably well, but again the bullpens would decide matters in the end. Morneau and Mauer each homered off Joba, and Mark Teixeira hit a three-run jack in the third, his 8th of the year and drove in his 4th run of the game with a game-tying single in the bottom of the 8th to make it 4-4.

    Bucking standard closer procedure, manager Joe Girardi brought in a well rested Mariano Rivera in the tied 9th inning, and he threw two scoreless innings to keep the game going. Without their own closer (who had thrown 27 pitches the night before, his fourth consecutive day of work) the Twins were forced to turn the ball over to journeyman lefty Craig Breslow, who walked Teixeira and then allowed a walk-off homer to Alex Rodriguez, his first hit in the new Yankee Stadium.

    Sunday - Yankees 3, Twins 2: On the anniversary of David Wells' perfect game against the Twins in 1998, this game was appropriately a pitching duel that remained scoreless until the 7th inning. Twins' starter Kevin Slowey provided the best pitching line of the day, going 7.2 innings with eight strikeouts, no walks, and only two runs allowed. Yankees' starter A.J. Burnett walked six and needed 123 pitches to get through 6.2 innings, again leaving the game in the bullpen's capable hands.

    Alex Rodriguez hit another homer, a solo shot off Slowey in the 7th. A double and two sacrifices tied the game at 2-2. Jonathan Albaladejo pitched out of trouble in the 7th and then back into it in the 8th, whereupon journeyman batting practice pitcher Brett Tomko rose up from the ashes to get two outs with the bases loaded and preserve the tie.

    Girardi brought in Rivera in the tied 9th inning again, and was not disappointed as he pitched a scoreless inning. Alfredo Aceves kept the Twins at bay in the top of the 10th, which allowed Johnny Damon's one-out solo homer in the bottom half of the inning, for the Yankees' third straight walk-off win.

    Monday - Yankees 7, Twins 6: Andy Pettitte pitched 6.2 innings allowing 12 hits, one walk and four earned runs in the only game of the series in which either starting pitcher got a decision. Twins starter Glen Perkins got only two outs and allowed six earned runs in the worst start of his career, and has not had a Quality Start since April 19th. On the plus side, R.A. Dickey provided 4.1 innings of scoreless relief as he continues his comeback as a knuckleballer.

    Mark Teixiera homered from both sides of the plate and A-Rod smacked his third bomb in three games, back-to-back with Teixiera in the first. Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span each homered for the Twins, the latter coming in the 8th off Edwar Ramirez. He and Phil Coke made the game interesting in the late innings, allowing the Twins to come within a run before finally capping the game and the sweep with a grounder to second base.

    Overall, the Yankees were not exactly dominant in the series, winning the four games by a total of five runs, three of them in their last at bat. But their starters were mostly solid, the offense scored just enough and the bullpen posted a 3.07 ERA in almost 15 innings of work.

    Winning close games in your last at-bat is not a recipe for long-term success, however, as anyone who knows anything about sports odds will tell you. The Yankees have actually been outscored over the season despite their winning record. Most of that is die to the 22-4 drubbing they received at the hands of the Tribe last month, but even removing that game puts them only slightly in the black.

    Amazingly, the Yankees have dominated the Twins in this millennium, winning 40 out of 58 contests in the regular season, plus six of eight in the postseason, for an overall record of 46-20 since 2001. This is the second best winning percentage they have against any team in the AL in that span, behind only the dismal Kansas City Royals.

    They do have higher winning percentages against some NL teams in Interleague play, though these are only in a handful of games. Oddly enough the Yankees' worst winning percentage is against the Reds, to whom they have dropped four of six contests. Fortunately they only occasionaly play a series in the Cincinnati Reds schedule.

    Regardless, the Yankees' continued success against the Twins is quite remarkable. You'd expect that the team with the best overall record in this century would do well against the lowly Royals, who have been the worst team of the 2000's, who have had only one winning record (83-79) in the last decade and a half. No surprise there.

    But the Twins? They've got the 7th best record in all of baseball in that time, a .543 winning percentage in spite of their small payroll. They've had four playoff appearances in the last eight years, two Cy Young awards, an MVP award, a catcher who wins batting titles, a continuing influx of young pitching talent...so how are they so terrible against the Yankees?

    At Yankee Stadium (either of them) it's even worse. At the Metrodome the Twins are actually somewhat respectable, with only a 13-16 record agains tthe Yankees, but in New York? The Yankees are 24-5 at home against the Twins since their last World Series victory, including a current stretch of eight in a row going back to July 2007. The Twins have not won a series against the Yankees in New York since 2001, and in one stretch went two whole seasons (2002-2003) without winning any games at all against the Yankees, losing 13 straight.

    And there really isn't any explanation for it. The Yankees have generally been a better team than the Twins in the last eight seasons and change, but that much better? No, of course not. The Yankees tend to play better at home, just like most teams, but again, not that much better. Maybe it's just a combination of being slightly overmatched and slightly intimidated by the big crowds in New York.

    Maybe it's the Yankees' propensity for hitting homers combined with the Twins' inability to prevent them. In the last eight years, the Yankees have never finished worse than 4th in the AL in home runs hit, while the Twins have only once finished better than 8th in the AL in homers allowed. Interestingly, they usually do much better than that in ERA, finishing no worse than 7th each of the last eight seasons, with an average of less than 5th.

    But it seems they have kept the team ERA down mostly by avoiding walks, and therefore extra baserunners when they allow all those home runs. The Twins have finished in the first or second in fewest walks allowed each of the last eight years, with the exception of 2002, when they were 3rd. The Yankees, however, generally have fairly patient hitters, having been in the top three in drawing walks seven of the last nine seasons, including 2009. That puts a damper on the Twins' strategy perhaps, and lets the Yankees in the door. And so when the inevitable homers are allowed, the Yankees get more bang for their buck than most other teams do, since they tend to have more runners on base.

    But it's really the homers that are killing the Twins. Indeed, the Twins have allowed 90 home runs to the Yankees in the 58 games they've played since 2001, a rate of 1.55 HR/game, slightly above the Yankees' overall rate of 1.34/game in the past eight years and change. Twins pitchers, accustomed to allowing about 1.1 homers per game, must find the Yankees quite a shock. Too bad for the Yankees they only get to play them a few times a year.

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    18 May 2009

    More Yankees Ticket Shenanigans

    In these harsh economic times, I have to wonder why the Yankees think this view is worth $85 per ticket.

    They call it the "Batter's Eye View" because the seats are in the Bleachers Cafe, above the batter's eye, i.e. the background against which the hitter at the plate sees the incoming pitches. In the old Yankee Stadium, this was a large area of old bleachers that were painted flat black, but these days, there is a cafe there with tinted glass windows, and the Yankees decided to charge people for the privilege of sitting in that cafe.

    These are perhaps not unlike the rooftop seats across Waveland Avenue in Chicago, behind Wrigley Field. Except in that case, the Cubs found a way to make a profit off their neighbor's real estate, and so it's no longer possible to watch every game in the Chicago Cubs schedule for free anymore. The Yankees did them one better, and just incorporated the restaurant (and the lousy view) into the ballpark.

    The Yankees, like most of the rest of MLB, have been having some trouble selling tickets, with attendance down over 100,000 from last year's pace to date. They lowered prices on some of the most expensive tickets in the house, but those were so preposterously overpriced to begin with that even some of the new prices are pretty ridiculous. Wow, two seats near the dugout for only $2,500? Yeah, I guess I don't need that used car after all.

    But this may be the shadiest and most ridiculous ploy yet. An email I received from the Yankees today offered a special promotion on these seats in the cafe above and behind center field, which nominally cost $125 each. The seats in the sports bar just below this are $90 each. No free food. No free drinks. Just seats. And these about as far from the action as you can get without actually leaving the Stadium.

    By contrast, bleacher seats cost just $14 each, and have about the same view (unless you're stuck here).

    That's right folks, for almost ten times the price of a bleacher seat, you get...shade. And air conditioning. But wait! Not ten times, not nine times, not even eight or seven times...but for a limited time only, thanks to MasterCard, you can get these seats, with their horrible view of almost everything except the center fielder's back, for just over SIX times the cost of a bleacher ticket (plus TicketMaster fees)! Yay!

    The email promo offers you a $40 "discount" on the seats in the cafe for this week's games, i.e. Monday through Thursday nights, which brings them down to just over $90 per seat, with fees. All of these games start at 7:05 PM, so the shade probably isn't necessary. And, since it's supposed to be nice all week, the air conditioning probably isn't needed either.

    The normal price for these seats is $125! Where else but Yankee Stadium would you be expected to shell out more than a hundred bucks for such a terrible view?

    You know how department stores sometimes offer you "free" stuff to promote things, and to get you to spend money there? They'll offer, say, a watch or a pouch full of cosmetics "with a $50 value" if you spend $100. Except the watch or the cosmetics can't actually be bought in their store or anyone else's. It's produced and packaged expressly for this promotion, so they can say it's got a value of damn near anything they want, because you have no way to prove otherwise.

    So you spend your $100.37 to get your watch "with a $50 value", but when you look at it more closely you realize that the watch is made in some sweatshop, has a cheap plastic strap, a cheap digital timepiece, and a cheap plastic fastener. And you're pretty sure you got one nicer than this from a bubble gum machine once. Or the dollar store, you forget which.

    Anyway, that's what this promo is like. If you go to the Yankees website and look at their seating and pricing page, they don't list a price for these seats. You have to check the special page for these tickets, because they're being discounted so much that their nominal value has little real meaning.

    While you can buy these tickets at full price, I suspect that most of them get sold at a discount, sponsored by a different company each week, probably. They call the view "one of the most unique in the stadium" which of course is true of any seat in the stadium, strictly speaking. Then they jack up the price to unreasonable levels and give you a "discount" so you feel like you're getting a bargain.

    On the other hand, the Cubs and the Rays offer similar seats in their parks, so maybe I'm just missing something here. Whatever it is, at those prices, I think I'll keep on missing it, thanks.

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    08 May 2009

    Book Review: The Yankee Years, by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci

    As the field manager of the New York Yankees from 1996 to 2007, Joe Torre epitomized class and dignity on the baseball field, so it's fitting that even his book's title and cover are classy. A simple title, with no ridiculous subtitle that's four times as long as the title itself. The authors should really be listed as Tom Verducci with Joe Torre, as it's clear that Verducci does the writing in this relationship, and that Torre is mostly there to narrate and provide quotes.

    The front cover is graced by a simple, dim picture of Torre in the corridor at Yankee Stadium, en route to the locker room, his well known number six on his back, shoulders slumped a bit with age and all the years of turmoil in Yankeeland, but still proud and determined.

    The back cover shows him being carried off the the field by his players, presumably after the 1998 World Series, waving to the crowd, recent tears still wetting his deep set eyes. The photo, a little out of focus, hints at the fleeting nature of this one-of-a-kind run in Yankee history, this one-of-a-kind manager's tenure there, and suggests that perhaps there was more to Torre and those great Yankee teams than we knew.

    And there certainly was.

    Not that this is a tell-all book. For one thing, Torre has too much class to dish out juicy details of other people's personal lives, or compromise people's standing in the game, or otherwise make a quick buck at the expense of others. There's no shortage of interesting anecdotes or good quotes, both from Torre and others, but this is not a ground-breaking tome like Ball Four was 40 years ago.

    Verducci starts the book with the story of how Joe became the Yankees manager, the idea that he was the Yankees' fourth choice, and that even after he was hired, there were rumors that George Steinbrenner was still trying to convince Buck Showalter to return. What a way to start a new job, right?

    From there he moves on to how Torre helped inspire a work ethic, a "desperation to win" in those players in the late 1990's, how he got them to play ball the right way and to work at winning, every day. His young shortstop, Derek Jeter, was a big part of that, leading by example right from the start, teaching everyone around him how to play baseball the Yankee Way, how to carry yourself, how to act, and how not to. Torre and Jeter naturally became very good friends, and Jeter earned the respect due a team captain even before he bore the official title.

    The following paragraph, about the famous "Flip Play" in the 2000 playoffs against the Oakland A's, demonstrates both Jeter's amazing baseball instincts and Verducci's writing prowess:

    "Jeter made a play that only could have been made by a player with supreme
    alertness, the mental computing power to quickly crunch the advanced baseball
    calculus needed to process the trajectory and speed of Spencer's throw and the
    speed and location of a runner behind his back, and the athletic and
    improvisational skills to actually find a way to get the ball home on time and
    on target while running in a direction opposite to the plate."

    OK, so it's kind of a run-on sentence, and he lays it on a little thick, but it's still solid, informative, colorful writing that paints the picture he wants. Besides this, the run-on nature of the sentence conveys the urgency of the play much better than more traditional punctuation choices would have.

    For Torre's part, of course, teaching a bunch of guys how to win consistently is a lot easier when you've got so much talent with which to work. Teams that include Jeter, Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, David Cone, David Wells, Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera and others ought to win all the time. Right?

    But even at that, they never seemed to consider themselves entitled, never rubbed it in their opponents' faces, never took winning for granted. As Billy Beane said,

    "And one thing about getting beat by the Yankees: They did it with class. It was
    as if they beat you in rented tuxedos." (p. 51)

    Torre also addresses some of the controversies of that era, specifically the steroid issue and how it affected the Yankees' clubhouse. Because Tom Verducci is really the one writing this, he can paint a picture of the era with broader strokes than Torre could have by himself. He discusses the happenings in baseball as a whole, how records were falling both left (homers) and right (attendance), how everyone was making money, and how nobody took the issue of performance enhancing drugs too seriously.

    Though I don't remember ever having heard of this at the time, apparently former Texas Rangers pitcher Rick Helling was one of the first to blow the whistle on the steroid issue, at a players' union meeting in 1998. He challenged his fellow players to crack down on PEDs, to help make sure the game was played the right way, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He repeatedly stated that, at least in his opinion, the increasing prevalence of steroids in baseball was forcing some otherwise clean players to consider using PEDs themselves, just to remain competitive.

    Which of course was exactly what was happening. Unfortunately, Verducci includes three nearly identical quotes from Helling on the same page to make this point, despite the fact that they read like a skipping record. And Major League Baseball and the MLBPA ignored Helling and others who were sounding the PED alarm at the time, and we all know how that turned out.

    For his part, Verducci states, Torre was innocent of the whole thing. "You had two guys from New York doing all the talking in the Mitchell Report. That's why you have more information on New York players."

    "Steroids?" Verducci asks, innocently, "He [Torre] knew nothing about them. He never saw them." Torre indicates that he didn't want to go probing, uninvited, into the players' lives, and so he never asked those questions, presumably content that whatever they were doing was working, and decided to leave "well enough" alone.

    You can believe that if you want to, and it's Torre's privilege to present himself how he wants to in his own book, but he and Verducci must take the baseball watching public for fools if they think many of us are buying that explanation. Even if it is true, it makes Torre out to be a little too naive, a little too "hands-off" to truly be an effective manager. The players would never respect and follow someone they thought could be so easily duped.

    The book contains a great many anecdotes about the normally private and confidential rituals of the clubhouse, including this gem about Roger Clemens' pre-game preparation:
    Clemens lost himself in his usual pregame preparation. which typically began with cranking the whirlpool to its hottest possible temperature. "He'd come out looking like a lobster," trainer Steve Donahue said. Then Donahue would rub the hottest possible liniment on his testicles. "He'd start snorting like a bull," the trainer said. "That's when he was ready to pitch." (p. 132)
    Listen, I'm as open minded as the next guy, but if I never have to read another story about one man rubbing liniment on another man's balls as long as I live, it will be too soon. Some things just shouldn't be shared, OK? Like balls.

    In addition to all the material from Torre, Verducci mines a wealth of information from bullpen catcher Mike Borzello, pitcher Mike Mussina, and several other players to whom Torre was close. He discusses the ways in which George Steinbrenner would try to micromanage and manipulate people, how different people on Steinbrnner's staff, such as Randy Levine or George's sons, behaved toward Torre, how Brian Cashman, in the end, chose to cover his own ass rather than go to bat for Torre.

    He also relates not a small number of stories on Torre's dealings with different players. He talks about how Gary Sheffield's efforts on the field varied with his mood, how David Wells was constantly causing trouble of one kind or another, and how the Yankees were warned about Carl Pavano:

    "Tim Raines told me, 'Pavano? He's never going to pitch for you. Forget it.' Borzello said. I said, "What?" He said, 'The guy didn't want to pitch in Montreal. There was always something wrong with him. In Florida, same thing. He didn't want to pitch except for the one year he was pitching for a contract. I'm telling you, he's not going to pitch for you." (p. 319)

    The Yankee Years, while not entirely chocked full of these kinds of tidbits, certainly has no shortage of them either, plenty to make the chapters interesting. There's not much earth-shattering stuff here, not any really, but there's plenty of inside gossip and other information that we all wish we could have known at the time.

    We all know the baseball side of things. What happened is in the record books for all to see. But a book like this offers us some rare insight into the reasons for why things happened or didn't happen, at least in one manager's opinion. The Yankee Years is a worthwhile read for this reason and more, for Yankees fans and Torre fans and anyone who rooted against them all those years.

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