World Series: Yankee Stadium? Yawn!

jimmyNEW YORK—Jimmy has been out in full force since the playoffs began. JRoll? Haven’t seen him in a long time. Oh no, there’s nothing wrong with JRoll and he can be entertaining in a certain way from time to time. But Jimmy?

Who doesn’t love Jimmy?

I’m not sure who came up with it, but it fits perfectly—when dealing with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, there is Jimmy and then there is JRoll. They aren’t Jekyll and Hyde-styled split personalities or even alter egos where one guy is sweet and thoughtful and the other is downright evil. Nope, it’s nothing like that. It’s more like a mood.

Surliness and a condescending attitude is all JRoll. That’s usually reserved for the dog days of the regular season where there might be a hitting slump, losing streak or an error involved. It also might be an attempt to get attention, too, because there aren’t too many things that gets the media to take notice than a surly athlete who doesn’t want to talk about a ballgame.

Jimmy, of course, is entertaining as all get out. He’s quick witted, happy and insightful. He’ll engage anyone, recognizes the local guys who have been with him every day since that September call up in 2000 and is downright gracious. Jimmy usually makes an appearance when the stage gets bigger. He might take an oh-fer or make an error, but unlike the dog days, there is an image to uphold.

With all the notebooks and microphones lurking around during the playoffs, Jimmy gets around.

Yes, we love Jimmy.

And Jimmy loved us right back with a day of perfect, quotable nuggets before and after Game 2 from Yankee Stadium. The pre-game stuff was dropped into a story I wrote about Jimmy’s (sort of) head’s up play on a double play in Game 1 where he “accidentally” caught a little line drive instead of allowing it to bounce to turn a double play, as well as his penchant for making waves whenever he hits New York City.

However, there were a few items that got lost in the shuffle when Rollins was talking about playing shortstop in front of left fielder Raul Ibanez. Though Raul has been hampered with a torn ab muscle as well as a relative dearth of foot speed, Jimmy says the Phils’ new left fielder is a big upgrade over ex-Phillie Pat Burrell. No, he didn’t come out and say Burrell’s name or even put it out there like Burrell is/was a lousy outfielder, but then again he didn’t have to.

“There were less balls falling in the outfield, so that meant teams were getting extra outs on balls that should have been outs,” Rollins said. “They were turned into outs this year. Although we were looking for a right-handed bat in the off-season, just picking up a great hitter can’t be overlooked. And the season [Ibanez] had, the production, especially prior to him getting injured, the man was a superstar.”

However, the quotes that really took off despite being delivered in the wee hours of the morning (who doesn’t love the Internets? Readers and fans would have missed these before the proliferation of digital media) are the ones Rollins dropped regarding the fans at Yankee Stadium.

Apparently Rollins looked out into the two largest crowds in the short history of the latest incarnation of Yankee Stadium and yawned.

Didn’t they realize the Yankees were in the World Series?

Based on what Jimmy saw, apparently not. In fact, when asked if this year’s World Series felt anything like it did last year when the Phillies played the first two games in sterile, lifeless Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., Rollins said: “When we get back to Philly it will [feel like the World Series].”

Zing.

Apparently Rollins can’t tell the difference between Rays’ fans and Yankees fans. From my perspective, I guess that’s a dig at Rays’ fans because they were much. Much louder in the first two games of last year’s World Series than it was in corporate, tony Yankee Stadium.

There weren’t so many empty seats at Tropicana Field, either.

Occasionally it got loud during Game 2 on Thursday night, especially when the organist prodded the fans into the “Who’s your daddy?” chant directed at Pedro Martinez. But it was hardly an ear-splitting moment and the fans settled back into their soft, comfortable chairs quickly. Who knows, maybe they even went up to the high-end butcher shop for a roast beef sandwich or the farmer’s market on the concourse while awaiting the next pre-programmed fan reaction.

You know, like when some guy put on a straw hat and performed a silly dance to disco music in the eighth inning.

“What I thought it would be like compared to what this is like, I would have to say it’s completely different,” Rollins said before Game 2. “They had a legacy over there from the hallways, the monuments, everything. Here, it’s brand new. It’s a different ballpark.”

empty seatsRollins is right to say the new Yankee Stadium is nice, because it’s very nice. The food is delicious, there are lots of choices, the concourses are wide and it’s easy to get around. In the press box during the regular season, the food is by far the best in the Majors.

But so what. It’s not Yankee Stadium anymore. It’s the Disney version of Yankee Stadium. It’s like the high-rollers lounge at the airport. Sure it’s nice, but it has the personality of a really nice toilet seat. In fact, even when the fans were yelling at Pedro or any of the other Phillies players it sounded as if it were canned in from the P.A.

Indeed, Yankee Stadium is dead. Long live the new Yankee Stadium.

“I’ve watched a game at Yankee Stadium, a playoff game, just all the mystique that came with it. What I thought it would be like compared to what this is like, I would have to say it’s completely different,” Rollins said. “They had a legacy over there from the hallways, the monuments, everything. Here it’s brand new. It’s a different ballpark. It’s prettier, big ol’ jumbo screens everywhere. I would have to say it’s a lot different from what I would have expected it to have been.”

All things being equal, Rollins would rather be in Philadelphia.

“It’s really more of a different atmosphere at our ballpark, which is so loud and rowdy. I expected that when I came here, but I heard one big cheer, and that was on a home run. Other than that…”

Rollins just let the last sentence hang there with a little shrug of the shoulders.

Maybe the reason why the atmosphere is so much different at Citizens Bank Park compared to the traditional baseball cities like New York and Boston is because in Philly, the real, true baseball fans haven’t been priced out yet. There also is a solid college-aged crowd and enough standing-room tickets to keep the diehards coming out even in a tough economy.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Phillies are back in the World Series for a second straight season.

“It makes it a lot more fun because you know they’re your fans and how the sound can echo when they’re not your fans,” Rollins said. “We saw it in the NLCS.”

They’re waiting to see it in the World Series.

Sizing up the rotation now and later (a.k.a. Hamels for Halladay)

pedroWhile we’re waiting for the Angels and the Yankees to decide the American League champion, and as the Phillies take that last official day off, maybe we oughta play a little hypothetical…

You know, just for fun.

So let’s dive right in with the World Series starting rotation. We know—though not officially—Cliff Lee will pitch in Game 1. Chances are Lee will pitch in Game 4 and Game 7, too. After that, it kind of depends on which team the Phillies play. If it’s the Yankees, who wouldn’t want to see Pedro Martinez take the mound at Yankee Stadium? In fact, in the celebratory clubhouse after the Phillies, Pedro was lobbying/serenading pitching coach Rich Dubee about starting a game at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have to get there first, which is another story, but also Pedro has an ERA near 6 in his last handful of appearances in the playoffs against the Yankees. That’s where all that “Who’s your daddy” stuff came from.

Of course, Pedro pitched a two-hit, 12-strikeout gem against the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS, but that game was at Fenway Park. In Yankee Stadium during the playoffs, Pedro has 15 strikeouts and 14 hits in 13 1/3 innings of two starts. The Red Sox lost both of those starts with Pedro checking in with a 0-1 record and a 5.40 ERA.

The Yankees don’t play in that stadium anymore, though. It’s still standing there empty with overgrown grass and a crumbling interior while the Yankees and the city of New York argue over who gets to tear it down.

No, these days the Yankees have a new Yankee Stadium that cost more than a billion dollars to build, has cracks on the cement ramps that reportedly will cost millions of dollars to repair, and the best press-box food in the business.

So there’s that.

Even though it’s not the same place and Pedro pitches for the Phillies and not the Mets and Red Sox, the New York fans are still obsessed with the guy. If the TV Networks are going to ruin the organic nature of the game by forcing longer commercial breaks between innings, night games in November and Joe Buck upon us, couldn’t they mandate that Pedro pitch a game at Yankee Stadium?

Man, that would be fun, wouldn’t it?

“I don’t think you can go wrong with Pedro Martinez,” Brad Lidge said. “He’s such a big-game pitcher. And then when you see what he did against L.A., he’s pretty impressive.”

And oh yeah, Pedro wants it. He lives for the show and the drama. The Yankees in the World Series at Yankee Stadium? Oh yes, bring it on.

“That’s my home, did you know that? That’s where I live, you need to understand. The Yankees? Get your ticket, you’ll find out fast,” he said as champagne dripped off his face following the clincher over the Dodgers.

But does it make sense? With the DH and the American League-style of game in the AL park, the Phillies might be better served with Cole Hamels pitching in Game 2… or would they?

Numbers-wise, Hamels stinks in these playoffs. Six of the 20 hits he has allowed in his 14 2/3 innings have been homers, which is amazing when one considers that Hamels gave up zero homers in seven of his last regular-season starts and just seven total runs in five postseason starts in 2008.

Still, it’s interesting to wonder how different Hamels’ NLCS would have been if Chase Utley would have been able to make a good throw on a potential inning-ending double play in the fifth inning of Game 1 at Dodger Stadium. Hamels made the pitch he needed to get out of a jam.

As (bad) luck would have it, Hamels gave up a homer to Manny Ramirez a couple of pitches after the botched double play.

So what do we have other than Cliff Lee in Game 1 and Pedro and Hamels in one of the next pair of games? Well, there’s Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ who both will start the World Series in the bullpen. If needed, one of those guys could get a start in the series but that probably depends on the opponent.

In 15 career games against the Angels Blanton is 3-7 with a 3.48 ERA and two complete games. In four career starts against the Yankees, Blanton is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA.

Happ has never faced the Angels, but in his first start of the season in 2009 at the new Yankee Stadium, he gave up a pair of runs on four hits in six innings.

cole_hamelsMeanwhile, both the Yankees and the Angels hit .286 against lefties this season, though the Yankees’ lefty hitters were significantly better against lefty pitchers.

Still, it’s worth noting that the debate seems to be using Hamels in either Game 2 of Game 3 and whether he’s ready to face the Yankees lefties in Yankee Stadium. But as long as we’re throwing things out there, how about this:

Would you trade Cole Hamels this off-season? Oh, not for just anyone because good pitchers have tough seasons all the time. Hamels is only 25 and his best days are clearly ahead of him—why else would the Phillies have signed him to a $20 million deal last winter?

But the Phillies will be a contender for the World Series again next year, too, and there were times when the starting rotation lacked consistency. Certainly Hamels was one of the biggest culprits in that regard.

So here it is: Let’s say the Blue Jays come back to the Phillies looking to move Roy Halladay, who is headed into the final year of his contract…

Would you send Hamels to the Blue Jays for Halladay? Would that be the one pitcher the Phillies could trade away Hamels for?

Hey, nothing is going on (as far as we know), but think about it—Hamels for Halladay?

Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay at the top of the rotation followed by J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez and Joe Blanton… that could work, right?

Charlie: ‘We took over Yankee Stadium’

Rays Phillies BaseballCharlie Manuel held court today. Oh sure, he holds court every day around 4ish where he engages the writing press until there is nothing left to talk about. Sometimes this lasts for a few minutes. Other times, it goes on and on and on.

Today was one of those days where it went on and on and on.

There was plenty to talk about. The Phillies are in first place despite some slumps and ineffectiveness, which always makes the ballclub more interesting. But even more interesting is the fact that the Phillies are in first place even though they aren’t pitching particularly well, nor are they playing all that well at home, either.

But what really made Manuel’s daily tête-à-tête go extra long today was the presence of the TV camera for The Charlie Manuel Show.

Oh yeah, they put the cameras on us for a change.

Yeah, not good. It made one think, “Who let the bridge trolls out?”

Yet with the camera from The Charlie Manuel Show recording the powwow, Charlie Manuel brought out the really good stuff. How good? Check out this little nugget…

When talking about the Phillies fans, Manuel says he noticed how well they traveled to see the team on the road. That was especially the case last weekend at Yankee Stadium.

“Yeah. You know when I came to that conclusion? When we took over Yankee Stadium on Sunday. We did. We were louder than they were. We took over Yankee Stadium. We were talking about that on the bus coming home.”

Actually, Manuel says the fans can really get after him and the team a little more. No sense letting the team get all fat and happy because it won the World Series last year.

If they want to boo, then they ought to boo.

“Our fans are still really into everything. They fill our ballpark up and they stay,” Charlie said. “I notice sometimes if fans are near our dugout and talking to our players, they always want to talk about last year. That’s good. I want them to keep coming to the games. But I want the fans to start telling them they want to win this year, too. Of course they love us and everything, but maybe they should get on them a little bit.”

There you go folks, come on out and keep the home team accountable. Let them have it… why not? Charlie wants you to.

The MVP and the shrine

Baring a collapse of Mets-like proportions, the Phillies will be in the playoffs for a second year in a row. It will be the first time the Phillies made the post-season in consecutive years since 1980-81 and if history is about to repeat itself, we are in 1977 of the second golden age of Phillies baseball.

Maybe soon the new general manager will find this club its Pete Rose.

Nevertheless, with winning come the personal accolades from the old media groups that give out the awards. Obviously, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins took home the MVP award the last two seasons, and Charlie Manuel should be in the mix for manager of the year this season, while Brad Lidge will likely get a Cy Young Award vote or two.

But as the Phillies surge on to October, it’s Howard and his chances for another MVP Award that has the pundits chirping. This month Howard has batted .379 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 18 games. He also has reached base safely in 26 of the last 27 games and leads the Majors in homers (46) and RBIs (141) by a wide margin.

Based on those numbers Howard has to be a shoo-in, right?

“Those numbers speak for themselves,” Manuel said. “You can say whatever you want to say, he’s the best run producer in the league. He has the RBIs and he has the homers.”

Well… not so fast. Howard also has the strikeouts with 194 – just five shy of the all-time record he set last season. Then there is the matter of that .247 batting average, heightened, of course, by an April in which he hit .168 and the fact that Howard did not crack the Mendoza Line until late May. Plus, Howard’s slugging percentage is just .534, which is 10th best in the National League, an indicator that he just isn’t getting enough hits…

Other than home runs, obviously.

Still, Howard is a top candidate for the award with Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Carlos Delgado and Manny Ramirez, all of whom have better all-around stats than the slugging Phillie.

But so what? Howard has clearly been the straw that stirs the Phillies, just as he was in 2006 and Rollins was in 2007. If the MVP trend remains as an award for the player who is the catalyst on a contending team, Howard’s September just might have put him over the top regardless of the batting average and the strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the last time two players for the same team won three MVP Awards in a row was when Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds  did it for the Giants from 2000 to 2004. Before that, Joe Morgan and George Foster won it for the Reds from 1975 to 1977.

In the American League, the last time such a feat occurred was when Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard won the MVP from 1960 to 1963 for the Yankees.

***
Speaking of the Yankees, click on any web site out there for any number of laments about the final game of Yankee Stadium set for tonight. As cynical I am about such things, it is significant day not just in the history of baseball, but also for America. After all, more than just being a mere baseball park Yankee Stadium is/was a tourist destination and a true image of Americana.

In fact, the first time I ever went to New York City, the one thing I wanted to see more than anything else was Yankee Stadium.

I actually didn’t get inside the place until 1989 when I took a solo, post-high-school graduation road trip through the Northeast. Just for the occasion, I popped in a cassette of Lou Reed’s New York, which played as I crossed from Manhattan into the South Bronx.

The Yankees won that day when Randy Velarde led off the ninth with a triple and Wayne Tolleson singled him home. Who would have known that the Yankees had just six wins left in them before George Steinbrenner decided to give his manager Dallas Green the axe?

Nevertheless, I wasn’t ready for the hardcore vibe of the Stadium the first time I visited the place mostly because the first few games I ever attended were at The Vet and Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. Baseball is a much more serious endeavor when played at Yankee Stadium, just as I imagine any event would be. In fact, watching a baseball game in Yankee Stadium is probably the same significance as watching the Declaration of Independence be signed at Independence Hall.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to get back to The Stadium a few more times as a fan and another time for work where I had a long pre- and post-game chat with Scott Rolen before taking a solo tour of the entire playing field, clubhouses, bullpens, Memorial Park and anywhere else all by myself. To leave, I walked through left field and up a ramp in some dirty and forgotten corner of the building and to the subway platform bound for Grand Central Station.

Oddly, every trip to Yankee Stadium always felt like the first one – that hardcore vibe never waned.

So it all ends for Yankee Stadium tonight. Next year the new $1.3 billion new Yankee Stadium will open just across the street from the old shrine. Frankly, those old buildings struggle to keep up in our new age, though there is a troubling trend that has developed in the new places in that regular folks quickly get priced out.

The best thing about baseball when it was played in places like The Vet and Memorial Stadium was that it was egalitarian. People of modest means and families could afford to attend a bunch of games a year.

But like the glory days of Yankee Stadium, those days are long gone.


Doesn’t that sound better than drudging up 1964 every time a team chokes away a late-season lead?

(Late) Morning appreciation

CusackThere is a line in the movie High Fidelity (it’s probably in the book, too) where John Cusack’s character, Rob, defends the highly refined tastes of he and his pals Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso) by declaring that they are “professional appreciators.”

Isn’t that a nice sentiment? An appreciator… that’s like a fan only better. An appreciator accepts the effort and understands nuance. They search for the sublime and revel in it whether it’s a tiny strummed chord of a guitar, an understated sense of style or an unspoken acknowledgment.

It’s kind of like that scene in Pulp Fiction where Winston Wolf turns and gives Jimmy a quick nod after the first sip of coffee that was crassly called the “gourmet [bleep]” by Jules.

I’ve always believed that the success of something like “American Idol” was because Americans, generally, are not appreciators. Instead, we enjoy watching the failure of others. We enjoy feeling like we are better than others and laugh at people when they put themselves out for public consumption and fail.

That combined with spiraling, out-of-control credit card debt, low-brow culture and all-you-can-eat buffets are what Americans do better than almost anyone else.

I’d say Americans do sports and sports fandom better than any nation in the world, too, but that would just be crass jingoism. The fact is that most of the world has caught up with us in athletics, but then again I usually just base this notion on how well the U.S. team performs in Olympic basketball. Charles Barkley said prior to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona that the U.S. can play basketball and drop bombs better than any country in the world. Sadly, I don’t Sir Chuck’s boast holds up any more.

But it appears as if Charles is singlehandedly proving the buffet theory.

Nevertheless, the rest of the world has seen our version of football and baseball and, frankly, they aren’t very impressed. American Football, as it’s called everywhere else, appears to be the one sport that captures no imagination whatsoever. They all have their own football and all the ancillary stuff that go along with it, thank you very much. In fact, a good old soccer hooligan makes the standard 700-level Eagles’ fan look like a choirgirl.

Certain soccer fans actually are detained at the border when attempting to enter most foreign countries. The fear is that if soccer fans go to, say, Belgium, an international incident could occur, leaders will stop talking to one another and the Euro will drop lower than the dollar.

All that for what? Soccer?

Meanwhile, certain Eagles fans are sometimes prevented from purchasing more than two $8 beers at a concession stand at the Linc. As a result, Joe Banner won’t be able to make the numbers work on the spreadsheet and the team won’t be able to afford that much-needed wide receiver.

So drink up, folks, but do it with a certain decorum. That means when you are sitting at the tax-payer funded football stadium, compress your opera hat and put away the monocle before attempting to dry heave on the patron in front of you.

After all, we are a society and the team needs that special receiver with the ability to dig out passes thrown to the shoe tops.

But you know what else we can do better than anyone else? We can wax on about baseball. Yes, it’s true. It’s also true that there are companies that exist solely to produce that saccharine sweet baseball-as-a-metaphor-for-life bullbleep. You know, that NPR/Field of Dreams tripe about ghosts walking out of the corn or holding your dad’s hand as you walk into Fenway or something like that. Man, it just makes me want to throw up.

implosionWhy, you ask (or even if you didn’t I’m going to write it anyway)? Perhaps it’s because the reality of life has made a bigger impression than the fairy tale. For instance, my first exposure to baseball came at Veterans Stadium and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. At the Vet the design was so bad that nearly every seat in the house sucked. I can remember walking in there for the first time in 1976 and thinking that we’d be better off watching the game at home on TV – at least then I’d be able to see what the players looked like. At least then I wouldn’t have some jackass spill beer down my back as I nursed a nose bleed brought on from the altitude of the crappy seats.

Or in Baltimore, a neighborhood stadium with sardine-styled parking, National Bohemian beer ads everywhere, and drunk cab driver on the dugout leading the cheers for the weeded crowd that needed to yank out the ganja one last time so that the he would be numb for when the police billy clubs rained down on him after being tackled for running out on the field.

You’re crazy if you think going to places like that doesn’t have an affect on a kid prone to over-thinking everything.

Even now it seems as if baseball is personified by odd behavior. Like Billy Wagner exposing himself after being asked about throwing a slider or Brett Myers just being Brett Myers.

The truth is I prefer the reality to the produced fairy tales. I appreciate it. Just like the put on part – you know, the crap about how time starts on Opening Day – the truth is so different from real life. Accepted behavior and norms are pulverized with a fungo and no one goes to jail for it.

Who doesn’t appreciate that?

So let’s wax on…

A few years ago the Vet was closed and mercifully blown up. Personally, I think the park got off easy. I would have preferred torture instead of implosion, but it all worked out in the end. Nevertheless, Yankee Stadium is closing at the end of this season and already the odes are hitting the ether. Here, Tyler Kepner of The New York Times gets into the off-limits areas of The Stadium.

Ron Guidry played the drums before taking the mound? Cool.

Meanwhile, The Times has a whole page for Stadium stories.

Also in New York, former Phillie (and all-around solid dude) Nelson Figueroa’s Quixotic or Coste-ian (yes) journey across the globe to find work as a baseball could end with a gig in the Mets’ bullpen. If Figgy doesn’t start the season at Shea, it could be New Orleans, which, obviously, is better than Taiwan.

Finally, CBS college hoops announcer Billy Packer doesn’t care much for… well, anything. Especially sports.
***
Top 5 songs mentioned or heard in High Fidelity
Suspect Device – Stiff Little Fingers
Janie JonesThe Clash
Let’s Get It On – Barry Jive & The Uptown Five
Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam – The Vaselines
Walking on Sunshine – Katrina & The Waves