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Gammon-itcally Incorrect, II Peter Gammons
2003-01-06 09:41
by Mike Carminati

Gammon-itcally Incorrect, II

Peter Gammons talks to a lot of GMs. That's the only way that the article he wrote on Sunday attacking George Steinbrenner and the Yankees makes any sense. The Yankees have continued to spend this offseason while most teams have tried very hard to cut salary. GMs around the league have had to be creative. They have, for the first time, declined contracts to a number of players, whose services, in many cases, they still want to retain, just not at the old going rate. GMs have made trades to shift or share payroll among multiple teams. For the most part, these changes are demanded by the stringent payroll set by ownership.

And then there's George Steinbrenner, who continues to spend. He demands that his GM Brian Cashman grant no quarter in acquiring players that the team has targeted. "Why is he so special?" ask those GMs. "Why doesn't he have to cut payroll? I hope the Yankees fall flat on their face. Etc."

Gammons hobnobs with these man. As they say, in the vernacular of my white middle-class neighborhood, they're his peeps. And Gammons wanted to send some love out to the men who provide the fodder for his inane, anachronistic tripe. So he wrote this article.

Now to the substance of the article:

OK, they have between $75 million and $80 million invested in a pitching staff whose rotation's theme song is "Eight Days a Week." That's in contrast to the Kansas City Royals, whose highest paid pitcher is Jason Grimsley at $2 million per season, no one else in seven figures and not one starter on their current roster who won five (yes, five) games last season.

So the Royals let their ace leave to sign a $5 M-per contract with the Braves. They non-tendored Jeff Suppan. Those were the only two men to remain in the Royals' rotation all year in 2002. Now they have a rotation, for lack of a better word, with no one who won more than 4 games as a starter last year or won six games in his career (both Darrell Mays, also the only starter with more than one year of experience). Is Gammons saying that this is a good thing?

By the way, the first sentence above is Peter's fourth in a row that starts with "OK", but as we shall see later, my ninth-grade English teacher, Miss Foley, has much worse things to which to wrinkle her nose. At least here he divided his thoughts into sentences.

And, oh yes, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had every reason to be set off by Red Sox team president and CEO Larry Lucchino's ill-advised "Evil Empire" comments, although when George was done skewing Lucchino, he did his Dave Winfield, "you-didn't-hear-from-me routine" with his trusted New York media buddies in order to undermine Red Sox GM Theo Epstein by planting a story that Epstein broke a chair after Jose Contreras signed with the Yankees. That manager Georgina Lacayo of the Campo Real Hotel backed Epstein's story that it was a fabrication that he broke a chair never kept Steinbrenner from the Winfield routine, and he actually got someone to write that the action raised questions about Epstein's maturity.

And oh yes, this paragraph is just two sentences. Miss Foley is rolling over in her grave-she's not dead; it's just a fetish. First, by "skewing" I take it that Gammons means "skewering" meaning "to criticize or ridicule sharply and effectively" or perhaps "screwing", which needs no definition, but "skewing" means "to take an oblique course" or "to look askance". That was probably not what he meant. Next, I was taught in school that a sentence should convey a coherent idea, or words to that effect. The first sentence alone conveys thirty-seven ideas. They were scattershot and stillborn, but I count them. Peter, man, you need an editor. As far as the content, Steinbrenner and Luccino got into a rhymes-with-hissing match. That's a big surprise? Who cares?

Just watch Jeter take ground balls and do his work or run the bases or always throw to the right base.

And what? You'll realize how overrated he is? You'll fall for his doe-eyed punim? What, Peter? Finish your idea. Alright, I'll take it that we'll be impressed in some nebulous way. Peter, there has been enough statistical evidence over the years to the effect that a) Jeter has never been a great defensive shortstop and b) that his defense has worsened as he has aged. His offense has clearly declined. He is still a valuable player, but is George as his employer wrong to ask Jeter to respect the team curfew and to calm down a bit in general?

OK. OK. OK. They Yankees have a great team.

Three OK's followed by They Yankees, that's lovely.

They are going to win. George has bought the championship and they'd better damn well win.

Haven't we progressed beyond this simple-minded analysis? I mean, they have been saying it for decades, but are the Yankees the only ones who spend a lot of money? No, they spend a lot of money wisely and win. The Mets and Red Sox have spent a heap of dough lately and have not much to show for it.

All of which brings it down to this: what happens if their pitchers pitch in October as they did last October, when the Angels hit the New York pitching so brutally that if you took Anaheim's series OPS, it meant that every batter they sent up in that series was turned into the statistical equivalent of Jason Giambi by the Yankees pitchers?

Take a breath, Peter. Here's another gratuitous run-on sentence with a dozen or so ill-formed ideas. Well, what will happen? Will George fire his whole rotation? Well, wasn't that his reaction this offseason? Oh, it wasn't? So what's your point. He criticized the pitching coach indirectly, is that it? So shouldn't he be less than pleased with the rotation's preparedness for the Angels series? Maybe he shouldn't do it in public, but that's George.

This Yankee team should be very good, but we don't know how private people like Jeter and Bernie Williams will take to the 50 member media entourage that will be following Hideki Matsui.

Jeter is private?!? My friend Mikealls him "Page 6" Derek. As far as the Godzilla media blitz annoying veteran Yankees, they have been the cynosure of the media capital of the world for a half-dozen years. Do you really think they'll be fazed by Matsui's entourage?

We don't know what kind of cross-culturalization support Contreras will have in what will be a very difficult lifestyle change.

I'm not sure that cross-culturation is a word, but I'll let it go. If any team should be able to help Contreras become acclimated, it's the Yankees. First, they (currently) have fellow Cuban defector Orlando Hernandez. Second, even if El Duque is gone before the season starts, the Yankees still retain the experience of acclimating him to the big leagues and to America in general. It seemed to go pretty smoothly with him anyway.

As good as they've been, the Yankees could easily have been knocked out in the first round of the postseason three straight years. In fact, in the first round over the last three years the Yanks are 7-7 against the A's (2000 and 2001) and Angels (2002).

First, these are pretty good teams. One won the World Series, and two could have very easily had they gotten past the Yankees. Second, the Yankees did not get knocked out in the first round for three straight years. But what if they had? The Braves have had their playoff difficulties, but you hear people like Gammons defending their approach. The point is, according to them, that they got to the playoffs. So why isn't that the point for the Yankees? Because expectations are higher for them? Isn't that to their credit? Being a Phillies fan, I know that complacency is a franchise killer.

Oakland could win it all this fall with their Big Three, or if Boston ever got in, they could as well if Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe are at full throttle ... and that's without thinking about Bartolo Colon, whom Expos GM Omar Minaya says "would make the Red Sox better than the Yankees on paper right now" because Boston arguably would have three of the AL East's four best starters, with Toronto's Roy Halladay being the fourth.

I don't know if I would take everything Minaya says about Colon at face value. Isn't he trying to trade Colon to the Sox? Isn't it in his best interest to say that Colon will make them better than the Yankees to entice them into the deal? Anyone can argue whatever they want about the best starters in the AL East, but the Yankees have the best pitcher of his era in Roger Clemens, a bunch of proven winners (Wells, Pettite, Mussina, and Hernandez), a young pitcher who many consider the best young arm in the division (Weaver), and the best pitcher from Cuba (Contreras). That's not bad. Their rotation, from 1 to 5, is the best in the division. Their lineup is the best in the division.

If Torre and Yankees GM Brian Cashman and senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman are allowed to do their work, the Yankees will be fine; they won four world championships on talent, character, logic and good management, not a madcap spending pattern that puts them 50 percent above the next highest spender.

Gammons acts like the Yankees were a small-market team. They have outspent teams for years, maybe not at this rate, but they have stuck to their approach while the rest of baseball has gone austere. Shouldn't they be commended for sticking to a winning formula? By the way, the baseball people were the ones making the bulk of those decisions, though George would put in his 2 cents from time to time. Basicallym that's what they are doing now. Also, Torre shouldn't be given as long a leash as he was given last year or he'll kill Posada and most of the staff by the end of September.

If the Yankees don't win, (George Steinbrenner) will fire a lot more little people and plant stories about (Joe) Torre and (Derek) Jeter and (Brian) Cashman and Mike Mussina. But in the end, if the Yankees don't win, it will be Steinbrenner who will be the laughingstock of the baseball world. What a shame. What a way to live. Or win.

A) This is all conjecture, and B) if a winning team fails to win, then heads roll: the GM's, the manager's, the players', and the little people's. As far as George had been for years, I don't think it's a sure thing that he will start bad-mouthing everyone in the organization, just because of a few comments last week after a relatively quiet-rhetoric-wise- offseason.

Now to Peter's "Why George just doesn't get it" points:

Why Cashman always wanted Darin Erstad, who led the Angels by sheer determination, enabling Angels manager Mike Scioscia to sell the notion of unselfishness because Erstad cares only about winning and proved it with his rocket homer off Giants reliever Tim Worrell in the eighth inning of World Series Game 6 (right around the time he broke his hand) that he can rise to any occasion. There is no statistic or dollar figure that applies to Erstad.

I always liked Joe Lefebvre, too. We all have our faults. By the way, the bulk of this paragraph is a run-on sentence of tangentially-at best-related ideas. I think that Gammons is saying that we should overlook Erstad's actual production because he hustles. We shouldn't notice that in 2002 he had a .313 on-base percentage, nor that he had 27 walks in 625 at-bats, nor that his OPS was 12% below the adjusted average. Those are irrelevant. He wins. That's why his Angels have been over .500 in only four of his seven seasons. We should ignore the fact that he had a dropoff since his last productive season (2000) of 15 homers, 37 walks, 11 doubles, 22 runs, 27 RBI, 123 total bases, 72 batting average points, nearly 100 OBP points, and 150 slugging percentage points. We shouldn't notice that he created twice as many runs in 80 more plate appearances that year than in 2002. We also shouldn't notice that Erstad has had very poor seasons, three of the last four years in fact. OK, I'll ignore it. He's a winner, just like Jeter.

David Eckstein proved that grit, intelligence, instincts and energy are more important than name.

What about talent? Eckstein's a nice player, but he is far from a superstar. Besides I thought John Wayne had already taught us the meaning of true grit, pilgrim.

John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez proved that sometimes you have to provide room for the season to evolve, and that talent will often beat experience.

Rodriguez didn't evolve. He had 5 innings in the regular season. He threw the ball past everyone he faced, and the Angels exploited a loophole in the rules to get him on the playoff roster. Lackey was pressed into duty mid-season because of Scott Schoeneweis' ineffectiveness.

The pure, unexpected joy of winning is more fun and more condusive to winning than the weight of unlimited expectation.

First, conducive is spelled with a c, Peter. C'mon ESPN can afford a spell checker. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings in arrows of 40 years of outrageous futility to win it all one year or to take arms against a sea of teams year after year and by opposing generally beat them? That is the question.

Players do make huge improvements from year to year, as evidenced by Scott Spiezio and Adam Kennedy.

How about Soriano's development last year? It took Bernie Williams a few years to be a productive player and about seven to attain his current level. The Yankees were similarly patient with Posada and Jeter. They are allowing Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera to develop. They allowed David Wells to grow in both of his tours of duty. They have been willing to sign international players and allow them to develop in the majors. Kennedy is a good young player who should be developing now (like Soriano). Spiezio at first base was a dumb gamble that worked last year. But it was a career year after a whole lot of mediocrity before that. Players also have sharp declines from year to year after a career year, as will be evidenced by Spiezio in 2003.

That scouting and development matter, in Anaheim's case, the foundation laid by Bill Bavasi and Bob Fontaine, Jr.

Wait a second, the Yankees have developed more than their fair share of talent. They have had the scouting to separate the Zack Wheat from the Chet Chadbourne. They have had the money to retain the best and the know-how to trade the dreck for valuable players. They have also been scouting international players pretty well (Soriano, Hernandez, Contreras, Matsui, etc.).

That sometimes ownership is wise to allow baseball folks to run the baseball operation, and ownership run the theme parks and networks.

Yep, that's exactly what George has been doing while the Yankees have had their dynastic run. What's your piont?

Few teams ever enjoyed winning more than the 2002 Angels. Even if the Yankees sweep the 2003 World Series in four games, they or their fans will never experience what the Angels experienced.

Maybe that's because the Yankees have never gone 40 years without a championship and it's been decades since their first one. I know from my Phillies upbringing and my Yankee ogling as an adult that it is more enjoyable to win often every year than to have one championship amid years of futility. The championship season only lasts so long.

Lastly, in his screed regarding Jose Canseco's Hall-of-Fame credentials at the bottom of the article he writes that Canseco:

uttered the memorable statement that "the problem with the Oakland A's is that they care too much about winning,"

Isn't this basically Gammons knock on the George and Yankees? They just win at all costs. I guess Canseco is bad so his utterances are just chock full of evil so there's the difference.

It's a shame to see Peter Gammons nowadays. It's like going to your high-school reunion, running into the class stud, and discovering that he's bald and overweight (which I did). He used to be the best, the best baseball writer/analyst around, say, twenty years ago. Now there's very little analysis in his work, and I can no longer consider him a writer, maybe one with eighth-grade skills. I guess insider and executives' drinking buddy are titles he has yet to embrace fully.

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