Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Yankees 12, D-Rays 4

And so we end our game-by-game account of the season, and downshift in preparation for the playoffs.

For me, this will be the season that almost wasn't, least as far as I was concerned. I spent the better part of the summer either too ill to so much as change my cable provider to allow me to see more games, or else too disgusted with the play of the Yankees, or too preoccupied with other matters in my life.

Then--as with two weeks ago, in Boston--watching the Yankees was an ongoing feast of dread, either watching the worst happen, or worse, waiting for it. All last winter, Cashman and Torre worked to put together a bullpen that did not resemble a carnival sideshow. Viz, Bruny and Fansworth were set to be the three crucial pieces of the bullpen--really of the team--that had gone wanting since Tom Gordon's arm was Torre-ized in late 2004. (Flash's exhaustion was the one element against the Sox in the ALCS game they absolutely had to win: not Game Four, lost by a walk, a steal, and a seeing-eye hit; but Game Five, when the Yankees entered the eighth with a two-run lead and Gordon started throwing batting practice and Rivera, exhausted by Game Four's excesses, had to stay out.) In Torre's mind, Proctor was a luxury, a sort of spot-reliever to spell the others. When that plan went kaplow, when the Yankees were 21-29 on May 29th (coincidentally my birthday), it was clear something had to happen. The Yanks limped through June (A-Rod, Wang, Jeter, A-Rod, Georgie, A-Rod and Mo kept the Yankees alive), and then caught fire.

I knew Seattle would fade. A good indication is a deficit in run aggregation; Seattle was never better than even-Steven. But beating Detroit: that was something. (Come to think, they achieved in the regular season this year what they failed to do in the playoofs last year.) With Torre/Cashman's Plan A gone, and "Clemens saves the day" not really flying as Plan B, and with the Yankees unwilling to part with Philip Hughes for Mark Texeria (all while Buster Olney, who knows the Yanks as well as anyone, was screaming that Hughes-for-Texeria was something the Yanks absolutely had to do), something else had to happen.

Enter Joba.

No, not that easy. What happened first was that disappointments A, B, and C (Cano, Matsui, and Abreu) all started hitting right out of the break--basically on the same day, and didn't stop until recently. Then Damon got healthy. Then Giambi, then Menk, to the point where Torre has 11 players for 10 spots, and has to decide whether Matsui or Menk sits.

In the midst of all of this was Joba.

I was talking to Robbie-Boy last week, and we both agreed the difference between the Tigers and Yankees in last year's playoffs came down to one player: Zumya, with the C-note heater, someone who could get the ball to Jones with such ease that announcers actually sounded sorry for the Yankee hitters. Joba may go to the rotation next year, but this year, he is our Zumya.

And, of course, having long-ago (when the Yankees seemed out of it) planned a trip to Las Vegas to stretch into next week, I'm liable to miss Game One against the Angels or Indians. Way it goes. That kind of year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Devil Rays 8, Yankees 7 (10)

This has been one of the more exasperating summers for me. I tried to get with these Yankees early (they stunk); I tried in early June (I got married and distracted); tried to interest myself in June (pneumonial; could barely watch TV commericals without experiencing nausea); tried to get interested right around Clemens's return (about when they went south for the second time).

Then, after the Yankees caught fire after the All-Star game, the whole notion of switching to DirectTV to get the Yes Network, or--failing that--ordering MLB TV or whatever, became impossibly impossible, as I descended into neck pain so crippling it descended to my shoulders, down my arms, and numbed my fingertips.

So: bed for two more weeks, and what's this baseball you speak of?

Then: the back end of July. TWO hiring committees I'm chairing, and good-bye, 15 hours per day.

Then, August. Honeymoon.

Okay, back in town at the end of August, all set. Astro-Girl makes the requisite calls--DirecTV! YES Channel! Yes! And it counts!--and I stay home for work, awaiting a whole September of Yankee triumph . . .

Only the DirecTV guy never shows, and after three phone calls and about seventeen "For X, press Y" capers, I'm told there was no appointment, never an appointment, and the soonest appointment available is the tail end of October, long after all baseball would have moved to free cable or Fox . . .

. . . so I, with three weeks to go, sit back for the inevitable. And watch play-by-play on my computer.

Which brings me to this week. Champagne on ice, one victory remaining.

Was Igawa auditioning to replace the Rocket? No Joba, no Mo, No Pettitte-Wang-Moose tonight.

Damnit finish this.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Yankees 4, Blue Jays 2

A Joba save, against the Joba rules, on a Joba birthday.

Only a matter of time.

Yankees 7, Blue Jays 5

There were rumors of "We want Joba" chants in the eighth today.

Joba, with his 0.42 ERA. (They say he's a starter next year, him and Moose and Pettitte and Hughes and Kennedy. No thought of him as the next Mo?)

Anyway . . . magic number goes to two.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Yankees 12, Blue Jays 11 (10)



Was on my way to watch the Trojans, so that's all I have.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Yankees 2, Birds 1

Another night of scoreboard-watching: tonight was the final evening in Astro-Girl's and my partial season-ticket package at Minute-Maid, and so I was able to watch Pettitte's start via white numerals painted on green wooden squares and slid, one at a time, into the slots in left field.

(The Astros-Brewers game was a microcosm of the Astros' dreary-except-for-two-or-three-players season. In answer to a Prince Fielder home run early, Carlos Lee homered in the fourth, a shot that clattered up on the train tracks high above the left-field Crawford Boxes, and hence us. We saw the rookie marvel, Hunter Pence, sac-fly home a run in the seventh to make it 4-2, 'Stros. Lidge--wasn't the suspense killing you?--surrendered the lead, giving up a two-run homer to a .230 lead-off man that landed two rows deep in the right-field bleachers and, in the process, resulted in Pence (lately moved to right) banging his head off the Chase sign and crumpling on the warning track. For a minute, nobody knew how bad things were; the wagon gate near the right-field foul pole swung open, and an electric flatbed, of the kind used for transporting immobilized players to an ambulance, was driven to the entrance. However, Pence, though shaken, remained in the game, long enough to drive in the game-winning hit in the tenth. Pence is what 'Stros fans take away from this season, he and a solid season from Lee. Everyone else the acquired or counted on to support the base of Oswalt, Berkman, Lee, and eventually Pence were either shockingly craptacular (Jason Jennings, Chris Burke, Mo Ensberg, Jason Lane), flat-out disappointing (Luke Scott, Mike Lamb), wildly inconsistent (Brad Lidge, Wandy Rodriguez), or closing out their careers (Biggio and Ausmus). It should be mentioned that, when things seemed at their lowest but the season was still barely salvageable, the team acquired Ty Wigginton, thus giving themselves, however briefly, four third basemen. Anyway, back to the Yankees.)

So: 1 1/2 down, 5 1/2 up.

Six in the loss column.

Bring on the Jays.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yankees 12, Birds 0

At which point the Yankees move to (loss column division) two down in the division, five up in the Wild Card.

Magic number for the playoffs:


Can we all exhale?

A few thoughts:

*Christ, just put Menk at first and forget about it. I'm not even talking about tonight's home run. The way the Angels (or, if luck holds, the Indians) hit, Torre's going to need somebody who can catch the goddamn ball if it's hit, and--please--if it's thrown to him.

What I have realized, these past few years, is that sports cable talking heads, supplied with notes from interns cribbing from other talking heads, is often as terribly wrongheaded as the opinion of some drunk in the bleachers--often worse. When the Astros signed Carlos Lee, all we heard was: big bat, piss-poor defense, DH playing left field, blah blah blah.

And so? Anyone who watched the Astros for a week would see the screamingly obvious: that Lee plays a perfectly adequate, and sometimes sparkling, defense--albeit in the league's smallest left field.

The opposite applies to Giambi. Every batted ball, every non-routine throw has become an adventure. Torre would be smart to go with his hands team--Damon in left, Menk at first--then bat either Giambi or Matsui at DH and put the other one as the world's most expensive pinch-hitter.

*Moose. Are we moving toward Wang and a Crosby, Stills, and Nash reunion (Pettitte, Rocket, and Moose) as the playoff rotation? Pettitte is in, Rocket if he can go, Moose if his next start resembles this last one. The problem is the Orioles are so god-awful you never know if you're actually playing well, but Moose's curve looked good tonight.

The smart move may be the above as the starters, Hughes and Kennedy for use at the first sign of trouble, then (of course) Rivera and Joba, plus Kardiac Kyle for the entertainment value. And? Given the Gong Show of relievers we were treated to this past Saturday, a nine-man staff might be advisable. Not really, but geez.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Yankees 8. Birds 5

. . . coupled with losses by Boston and Detroit, a good night.

3 1/2 up, 3 1/2 down, if you know what I mean.

Hughes is alright; he's more next year's story than this year's.

Kardiac Kyle we take as read; he's not long for this team. It was a crime that Mo had to come in; as Robbie-Boy suggested, maybe we need some "Mo Rules" to accompany the "Joba Rules," since, even if the Yankees make the playoffs, there will be no serious quest for the ring without a rested and sharp Rivera.

Since 1996, 'tis ever been thus: Rivera and Jeter, the two indispensible Yankees, the two first-ballot Hall-of-Famers to (so far) play their entire careers with the Yankees, the first such since (drum roll) the sainted Mantle.

And? The unsung heroes of the second-half surge, to now, have been the tortured trio, Abreu-Cano-Matsui, who, in the second half of the season, proved their worthiness to belong in the same line-up at A-Rod, Jeter, and Georgie, the three batters who kept the bottom from falling out in May and June. ACM has slumped of late; they'll be needed not only in the playoffs, but to drag the rest of the squad across the finish line, ahead of Detroit and all that brilliant young pitching.

In a strange way, the return to health of Damon and Giambi has actually complicate matters; the best defensive outfield for the Yankees is Damon left, Melky center, Abreu right, with Matsui as DH. This forces Giambi to first--ugh--where it's a race to see if he drives in more runs than he allows.

Ugh, and ugh. Two weeks to go.

Yankees 4, Red Sox 3

It was odd that a Sunday-night rubber game match-up between the Red Sox and Yankees, Schilling v. Clemens, with the playoffs in the balance, ranked so low on the weekend's pecking order.

But I'll be honest:

1. To worry so much about USC in Lincoln, and then see the young backs and the all-universe defense vindicated so thoroughly, was euphoria that lasted straight through Sunday--into Monday, actually.

2. The curiousity factor vis-a-vis the Patriots (Are they really that good? Will distractions hurt the team? And what about the Chargers?) dominated my thoughts Sunday night.

3. I'm loving this Notre Dame thing. On the radio today, Rome pointed out that the Irish's next five opponents have a combined record of 13-1. 2-6? 1-7? Could happen.

4. Has anyone noticed that a) the Texans are 2-0, and b) Mario Williams has one more touchdown than Reggie Bush? Nobody hated the Williams pick more than me, but I won't turned down found money. Houston is supposed to be a football town, after all.

5. I'll confess: the Red Sox-Yankee game gave me the creeps, starting with its lead-up and continuing right to the finish, for all but a few minutes following Jeter's homer in the seventh. For one, since dominating the D-Backs in the 2001 World Series (he was set to be the winner in Game 7, and probably the MVP, and we all know what happened), Clemens has been just as likely to blow a showdown game such as this as come through. He was knocked around the 2002 playoffs versus the Angels. He was chased from Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS versus Boston (had he pitched well, Aaron Boone's heroics would not have been necessary), then chased from Game 4 of the World Series that year (you remember, retirement #1 of 15). With the Astros, he was chased from Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS with the World Series hanging in the balance, then lost his only World Series start the following year. In between there have been heroics (he could hardly claim his million-per-start salary otherwise), but they have hardly been the rule.

So, of course, Clemens pitches his ass off, hands over a 1-1 game to Joba, and Jeter provides a three-run homer . . . . at which time, of course, I grew sick with worry. No kidding: I could not watch the seventh and eighth; I had to content myself with watching Brady and the guys in the living room while trying to keep tabs on baseball by the yaw and pitch of Miller's narrative, supplemented by Fenway crowd noises.

4-1 became 4-2. Of course it did, and then over to Rivera . . . who did a fabulous imitation of one of his own set-up man, circa 2005-2006. Honestly, he's never looked less in control. When Papi came up--bases loaded, two outs, 4-3, needing only a single through the hole to take the game, the series, and basically the division, I figured a loss was a foregone conclusion, the only time I've ever felt that way about Rivera. Then, a pop-up.

The division is probably out of reach. But: 2 1/2 in the Wild Card, 3 in the loss column. Bring on the Birds.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

USC 49, Nebraska 31

What we think we know:

1. Some cliches are stupid.

What we heard throughout July and August was, "If you say you have eight tailbacks, what you're admitting is that you have no tailbacks."

Well . . . yes and no.

It is important to remember that, throughout his 60-6 run dating back to 2002, Carroll has always had two wide receivers of at least All-Conference caliber: first Kareem Kelly and Mike Williams, then Williams and Kerry Colbert, then (for three seasons) Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. The young receivers may yet come untracked, but it was clear on Saturday night that Booty was out of sync with the kid wide-outs, and Carroll was left to say what he said last year against Arizona State: Screw it, let's just jam it down their throats. What helped in this endeavor was 1) a veteran, bad-ass O-line, and 2) enough tailbacks (Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, Stanley Havli, Chauncey Washington) to keep everyone fresh. Eight-point-two yards per carry, on the road, against the Blackshirts, was the entire story of the game.

However, if there is foreboding for the Trojans, it lies in their fallback "Screw it" reaction to Booty's passing problems. The two games USC lost last year both ended with one of Booty's passes being tipped. Oregon State was a folly of turnovers, but UCLA kept blowing USC off the line the entire game, stuffing the run, daring Booty to pass. If the Trojans have to come from behind in the second half, or if they come across a team that stacks the line and forces them to pass, there could be trouble. (Oregon, anyone?)

2. The West-Coast offense was what we thought it was! If you lack a straight-ahead banger at running back (Lavar Arrington), a quarterback who can turn the game into streetball (Aaron Rogers), or--best of all--a quarterback who doubles as a veer-option running back (COUGHvinceyoungCOUGH), the West Coast offense is the perfect plan to keep you in the game against the Trojans . . . for a half, and maybe a drive or two more. But that's it.

With SC sending six or seven on every play and the defensive backs playing behind the receivers, Sam Keller was free to dump the ball off again and again. This was the best news for USC. Regardless if a team is moving the ball against the Trojans, I always relax when its gains are in clumps of five- and six-yard out patterns. I relax, because no team (well, no college team) can play like that the entire game.

Pete Carroll is not the greatest of coaches. As an in-the-moment strategist, he is probably no better than average; even during Saturday's blowout, he couldn't help but look confused at times. In the Vince Bowl two years ago, his actions in and around the Trojans' two fourth-and-shorts were blunders of historic proportions. (In the first instance, he clearly didn't get the proper play or scheme or whatever called in, hence his sprinting to the 20-yard line and screaming at Leinart as the play clock wound down. In the second, Mack Brown smelled his Lendale-behind-left-tackle coming up the 405, and was ready for it, all while Reggie Bush stood on the sideline, hands on hips, not even employed as a decoy.)

But there are four things Carroll does well. First, he recruits like a mother, with full knowledge of how to push the program's strengths (consistent championship contention plus Southern California), while downplaying its deficiencies (a front-running fan base plus an ancient playing venue located in the ghetto). Second, because he recruits like a mother, he is able to light the proper fire under his players, who often fear losing their position if they don't perform in practice.

Third, away from the panic of the sideline and the play clock, in the relative calm of the locker room at half-time, he adjusts superbly.

Fourth, and most important, he has the best sense of any coach, non-Bill Parcells division, of how a football game lasts sixty minutes, and what that means. In 1990-91, Parcells won a Super Bowl he had no business winning, with maybe the worst quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, in Lombardi Trophy annals. (And understand, I am including Trent Dilfer.) With nothing by way of downfield passing, Parcells simply sent Ottis Anderson & Co. right, left, and center, eating up clock and assuming that the offense would score sometime, soon enough. Maybe. Meanwhile, the superb defense, LT and the rest, would keep the other team in check, force turnovers, play field position. This strategy worked--barely. With a consistent time-of-possession edge of ten minutes per game, the Giants won the NFC championship on a last-second field goal, and then the Super Bowl when the opponent's last-second field goal sailed wide right.

With Carroll, the practice is different, the principle the same: maximize the clock to your advantage. I've seen it dozens of times, no more than Saturday. Carroll's strategy has always been to as much as signal to the opposition, Go ahead, throw, throw, throw your quick outs . . . score your points . . . and wait for the third quarter, when your O-line is gasping for breath and we take over. In a lot of games, there is a point--the ten-minute mark of the third quarter--when the other team's offense hits the wall and simply flakes out. This is when sacks, fumbles, and interceptions pile up, and where Carroll earns his money.

Consider: Sam Keller threw 54 passes and was sacked twice. That's 56 pass-blocking plays. The best piece of information I ever received about offensive line play was from Mike Wilbon, who offered this revelation: O-lines love to run block, and hate to pass block. Ideally, you want to let them go out and punch somebody in the mouth. Force an O-line to protect the pocket over and over, you'll have a dispirited, exhausted bunch by halftime. That condition, time after time, is what Carroll hopes for: attrition.

The opposition is at its strongest early. What the Trojans do is adjust well and finish well. An opponent's best chance is always the first 20 minutes of the game. It's not much. But they'd better take it.

3. If your starting line-up is being introduced by Reggie Bush, and the other guys are being introduced by Larry the Cable Guy, you're in good shape. Enough said.

4. The field will quickly take shape. Take a look at the Top Ten, all undefeated. In the coming weeks, LSU will play Florida, UT will play Oklahoma, USC will play Cal, and tOSU, Wisconsin and Penn State will engage in their own little Big Ten mosh pit.

I'll be watching.

Red Sox 10, Yankees 1

Sometimes the best comes early. Jeter's homer in the first--a towering shot to the blacked-out seats in center--was the high point of the afternoon.

The night before the game, I surmised to SunDevil Joe that, if nothing else, the match-up between Wang and Beckett would probably decide the Cy Young race. Now I'm sure of it. Wang was living on borrowed time even when sitting on a two-hitter; he consistently failed to find the strike zone with his sinker, and everything up was hammered.

The division would have been a nice prize.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Red Sox 10. Yanks 1

Gaaah. We wair for tomorrow.

The Wisdom of Tim McCarver

Today during the Red Sox-Yankees game:

"Catchers are the hardest hitters to pitch around, because they're the ones who call for pitches to pitch around hitters. So Posada will be looking for a curve ball, because that's what he'd call if he was catching him."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Yankees 8, Red Sox 7

We all saw it coming, didn't we?

Melky fires home to Georgie, nabs Papi by three strides. Oh, sure: the Yankees will win.

Posada doubles, Matsui triples him home. Giambi walked. 2-1 Red Sox, nobody out. Bingo: a big inning. Then, almost all at once, Cano strikes out, Melky hits into an inning-ending double play. Of course: missed opportunities. The Yanks are toast.

Bases loaded, Dice K gone. Jeter v. Timlin. Got 'em.

Jeter flails in the dirt. Game over, right?

Except, except . . .

Well, not much. In the eighth, 7-2 Red Sox, back-to-back homers from Giambi and Cano. 7-4, and why weren't these guys doing this with men. So in comes Papelbon . . .

Well, this was an interesting night. Oky torched, Papelbon torched, Gagne not even trusted. Dice K no longer the fair-haired boy.

October brims with possibilities.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Yankees 9, Blue Jays 2

Had to "watch" this one via the hand-operated scoreboard at Minute Maid. (The 'Stros beat the Cubs tonight, in 11. I love when the 'Stros beat the Cubs.)

On the way home, I heard about Georgie's 20th (he right now is third in the MVP race, behind, in ascending order, Magglio and you-know-who).

Detroit keeps hanging on, though, splitting today. Four games back.

Two-and-a-half weeks to go.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Ahhh, can't resist.

"The higher the monkey climb, the more he expose."

I suppose I feel bad for Britney, in a way that has nothing to do with my long-standing desire to do her. (The bald period kind of took care of that.) Britney's music was tolerably competent, given the standards of the middle-of-the-FM-dial crapola that is shoveled at us on a daily basis (in my car, I flip between Rome and Rush). Even her latest song--the pathetic lip-synch from last night--doesn't entirely stink.

Viewed from afar, I think Britney went the way of so many megacelebs: straight from nobody saying no to her to everybody dictating everything to her; from nobody objecting to thirty thousand dollar coffee runs to everyone around you saying, Here, take this, wear this, appear here, do this.

The prototype, of course, is Elvis. Not that Britney is Elvis, but: overweight, sweating, mailing it in, visibly barely caring. Sound familiar?

What would have helped her, some time ago, was a character similar to John Spencer's character on "The West Wing," the one guy who could say, Come down, you're making a fool of yourself. And then protect her when she needed it.

Will somebody please tell me

. . . what is the use of three people in the "Monday Night Football" booth if one of the most crucial plays of the game escapes not only their notice, but apparently that of their director, their producer, and their spotters?

Fourth quarter, MNF part II. Cardinals 17, 49ers 13. Cards' ball. About five minutes remain. Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea are on the same page. If the Cards score a touchdown, game over. If the Cards score a field goal, overtime, worst case (for them) scenario. If the Cards run the clock out, well, they run the clock out.

Second down and long. Leinart gets Fitzgerald open on a swing pass. Fitzgerald, not the stupidest receiver in NFL history, sees open field in front of him and runs toward the first-down marker. Anticipating a tackle, he leaps toward a space of ground past the stick, and lands on the ground in first-down territory . . . only his momentum slides him out of bounds before he's touched, the last thing he wants.

Now: the crucial point. The timekeeper, unclear as to the nature of the tackle, allows the clock to run. Leinart, content to let the clock run until next pancake Sunday, leisurely calls the play and trots to the line. Suddenly, a whistle. No, since Fitzgerald was out of bounds, the clock needed to have stopped. Extra thirty seconds.

Well, all right. We reset the clock.

But here was the crucial point. As all of this was going on, None of the three announcers in the booth made a single comment as to why the clock was being re-set. Instead, Mike & Mike seemed more interested in Mike Ditka's collegiate experience at (Larry Fitzgerald's!) Pitt, how Ditka planned to be dentist, and oh, how funny is that?

Good Lord. Where has the competence gone?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Yankees 6, Royals 3

So: four games up, three weeks to go.

Detroit was always the worry.

A-Rod. Wang.

Politics, the way it used to be

My foray into paid political journalism lasted all of four days: specifically, the four days of the disastrous 1992 Republican Convention in the Houston Astrodome, the convention that (more because of how it was spun than what actually was said) basically sealed the next four (and, because the hapless Bob Dole was next in line, eight) years in the white house for Bill Clinton.

I was hired by an Illinois news service to file reports from the floor: reports dealing with the convention as a whole, and those dealing with delegates and concerns of DuPage County, the ultra-conservative suburb located to the west of Chicago, the service area of my employers.

In those (for me, anyway) pre-internet, pre-email days, when non-prestigious reporters were disallowed from parking their cars in the Astrodome parking lot (we had to drive to Rice University, park near the football field, board a bus, take the bus to the Dome, then take it back to Rice when the work was done), my work day took on an odd pace. I would stay at the Dome until the last speeches, take the bus to my car, drive home, type out my copy until I collapsed onto my keyboard. Then I would wake up at nine, drive to a Kinko's, fax my report, go home to bed for a few hours, then start the process over again.

All of this, for sixty-three dollars an article. Plus another ten for a sidebar.

It was very clear: I had been hired since, as a Houston resident, the news service would not have to pay for a hotel room. Or a per diem. (I once found myself, at the cash register in the food court, directly behind Morton Kondracke. "Like your work," I told him. "Well, thank you very much," he said, with a smile and a nod.) Then I forked over an overlarge amount for my cheeseburger and Coke.

But . . . I loved it. I loved sitting in press row, listening to political reporters laughing out loud at Pat Buchanan's rousing speech, then retreating to the press room to write, "divisive," "dangerous," "racist," and so on. I loved seeing Ronald Reagan in person, delivering the last major speech of his life. I loved discovering the hopelessness of Phil Graham's Presidential aspirations. During Graham's speech, I called the hotel room of Henry Hyde, the Congressman who represented most of the news service's readers. I had hoped, at best, to leave a message with his voice mail. When he answered his own phone in his own hotel room, I was startled . . . and apologetic. With Graham's keynote speech going on on the monitor above my head, I told the Congressman that, so as not to interrupt his viewing of the keynote speech, I could call again later.

"No, no," Congressman Hyde said. "We can talk now." And he gave me a splendid ten minutes, as Senator Graham went on. And on. When we hung up, I had my sixty-three dollars in hand. And Phil Graham was finished as a national political force.

That one taste with journalism, politics, and power left me wondering what I missed by throwing myself into the world of higher education. I used to have my regrets.

No more.

What we are approaching should be the greatest (at least, the most entertaining) politcal nominating process since 1952, or maybe 1920.

It is said that this election will be the first since 1952 in which neither a sitting President nor Vice-President is running. This would, it is assumed, take in Harry Truman, who in 1952 received some bad news in New Hampshire and withdrew (much as LBJ, sixteen years later, would similarly withdraw, over a war that had no ending).

The real blank slate is 1920, the year in which Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge ran against James M. Cox and a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy named Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, had won the war. but such was Americans' revulsion to anything international that Harding, with his promise of "a return to normalcy," swept the election.


One would hope that the forthcoming election would at least be entertaining. Rudy, McCain, Romney, Hillary, Obama. Great fun.

But the truncated primary schedule?

A year's worth of build-up. Over in ten weeks.

I miss the good old days.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Yankees 11, Royals 5

Was thinking tonight of "The Bronx is Burning," especially of one great performance:

Oliver Platt as the Boss: Platt's performance was one that improved as the series went along, culminating in the wild last few days of the 1977 World Series. These, remember, were the days in which 1) the Yankees took a 3-1 Series lead over the Dodgers; 2) Reggie hit a meaningless home run in Game 5, after Don Sutton essentially telegraphed a fastball with a 10-3 Doger lead; 3) various news reports indicated that Reggie would refuse to report in '78 if Billy were the manager; 4) Steinbrenner, in response to the media reports, giving Billy a two-year extension; 5) Reggie's performance in Game 6: three swings, three home runs, four runs scored; four homers in four consecutive swings of the bat, an event unprecedented in the history of the sport.

Whenever I watch a re-creation of something on film, I'm always left asking, But what about X? What about Y? "The Bronx is Burning" came as close as any historical movie I've known to deal with X and with Y; it seemed to anticipate my next piece of knowledge and seize upon it. What was dramatized better than anything was Billy Martin's managerial genius in the closing weeks of the season and into the playoffs and finally the series: his benching of Reggie in the final game of the playoffs (leading to Reggie's crucial pinch-hit against Doug Bird in the eighth inning, the move Billy waited 2 1/2 hours to make); then his handling a pitching staff that was reduced to three pitchers (not three starters, three pitchers), Guidry, Torrez, and Lyle--who from Game 2 of the ALCS onward together won the seven games necessary to win the trophy with the little flags, Guidry winning two, Torrez two, Lyle three.

Oliver Platt, if it's possible of an actor in an eight-episode series, grew into Steinbrenner as he went along, culminating in his re-creation of Steinbrenner's interview with Howard Cosell before Game 6, his minute-long list of platitudes for Cosell before saying, "Now, as to your question . . ." On point, manifestly.


A-Rod, two more homers. Will Boras ask for 35 million?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Yankees 3, Royals 2

The most important game of the year? Maybe.

Detroit played Seattle. Whoever won would be two games back if the Yankees lost.

But they won.

As been said: A-Rod has long since wrapped up the MVP. But Posada is second. Again.

And this, too: Chamberlain, Melky, Cano, Hughes . . . and Kennedy.

All of a sudden, I like the team's future.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Yankees 10, Mariners 2

Today, Irish Trojan guestblogger Josh Rubin positively gloats about A-Rod's injury in last night's game.

Third Baseman for the Bronx B*stards hurts his ankle and had to leave yesterday's game (me: a 13-3 victory, mind you) against Seattle. Also leaving the game due to injury was their pitcher Wang, who now is tied with a MLB-leading 17 wins on the season.

Pardon my Boston sensibilities while I snigger at the loss (at least temporarily) of two of the B*stards' key players. ::snigger::

Snigger away, Rubin.

Oh. And tonight?

A-Rod: 2 for 3, 2 homers, 3 RBI, one walk.

Yankees 10, Mariners 2.

Thank you very much. Next case.

Yankees 13, Mariners 3

Posada, yes. But Wang. This is what staff aces are paid to do.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Anbar equals Gettysburg

For the past two years, I've been operating with the assumption that the battle for Baghdad was one of the consequential battles in history: our Ilium, our Marathon, our Hastings, our Agincourt, our Saratoga, our Waterloo, our San Jacinto, our Gettysburg, our Midway, our Normandy, our Inchon, our (and here the narrative darkens) Tet.

Growing up, and beyond, I've thrilled to the stories of my favorites: to Agincourt, in which Henry V's "band of brothers" defeated a French contingent five times its size; to Saratoga, in which the brilliance of Benedict Arnold crushed General Burgoyne's British contingent heading south from Canada--a victory that assured, at a minimum, Colonial home rule (afterwards King George III sued for peace, at any terms except outright independence); to Waterloo, which was won, the Duke of Wellington said, on the playing fields of Eton; to San Jacinto, in which Sam Houston, no dummy when it came to military history--and knowing that Santa Anna viewed himself as the Latin Napolean--played the part of Wellington, and, as Wellington had with Napolean at Waterloo, lured Santa Anna into a trap under the pretense of running for his life. In the 11th grade I gave a report on Gettysburg, the Tet of its time, the battle that destroyed the Confederacy as an offensive fighting force (all of Lee's battles for the final months of the war would be defensive), but, played out with the communication technology of a hundred years later, might have prodded the Walter Cronkite of his time to declare the war unwinnable.

Later on? Had Midway been taken by the opposition, the Japanese would have been able to run 24-hour bombing raids on Hawaii. Normandy we take as read. And I hold a special place in my heart for the story of MacArthur sweeping ashore at Inchon, helped by historically (and expected) high tides, the better to help the servicemen breach the city's high walls--and, in the process, and despite how badly things turned out in the end, assure a free South Korea.

This is how I pictured Baghdad. No matter the blunders (and there have been many), no matter the losses (and there have been many) this is the fight these men and women have to win. This is the battle upon which our whole extended fight against the forces of inhumanity hinges. And the whole world is watching.

Except . . . . except now that I read this, I have another notion.


Anbar is our Gettysburg, our Tet. It is the point at which the counter-offensive must be turned back, or not.

What happens here will affect the next twenty years.

Mariners 9, Yankees 1

The cliche reads, "This was the sort of game Clemens was brought in to win."

Yeah, go get your MRI. Good thing your wife dropped that call of yours. Sheesh.

Maybe he's done.

Thus leaving us, should the Rocket absent the scene, leaving us with Wang, Pettitte, Hughes, Kennedy, and . . . and . . .

Igawa, anyone?


Pavano maybe?

Reactivate the Gator?

Dig up Herb Pennock?

Mike Nifong: guilty of contempt, sentenced to one night in jail

Details here.

I stopped spending a lot of time on the Duke Rape Hoax this spring, after it became clear the three lacrosse players would go free, in part because 1) nothing anyone did could add to the superb work of KC Johnson's Durham in Wonderland, and 2) my forthcoming wedding was consuming every second of my spare time.

The sentence seems abrurdly light, considering the wreckage Nifong wrought on three innocent lives. But a statute is a statute.

With Nifong--like rumpot Otis in "The Andy Griffith Show"--scheduled to spend Friday night in the clink (presumably he won't be allowed to lock himself in his cell), it appears the criminal aspect of the case is over.

All that is left is for the three defendants to reach a settlement with the city of Durham. And then sue Nifong. For everything he has or will ever have.

Finally, this, too, deserves repeating:

The world of information, justice, and public opinion, in the age of the internet, is a far different place than anyone could have expected. This started with Dan Rather's forged memos, and one CBS executive's memorable question: "Who cares about some guy in his pajamas sitting in his living room?" Everyone soon found out; Rather's memos probably cost John Kerry the election.

It is well to remember the great child sexual abuse hoaxes of the middle- and late-1980s, during which demonstrably innocent people were thrown into jail on the flimsiest of evidence--much of it implausible, much of it physically impossible. In the most notorius of these, The McMartin Pre-school Hoax, Ray Buckey spent five years imprisoned without bail awaiting trial before the case collapsed of its own absurdity.

It took years of work by a cadre of tenacious journalists from either end of the political spectrum (most notably Claudia Rosset of The Wall Street Journal and a small group of reporters from The Village Voice) to topple the entire apparatus of lies and improper assumptions of the whole (it deserves to be called) movement. (Does anyone remember the button reading "Kids Don't Lie"--they don't? Ever?) With the benefit of instant commmunication, and the ability of the next KC Johnson to communicate with anyone with a laptop and a link), it will be interesting to see how quickly the next McMartin-style farce will be exposed.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

D-Rays 8, Yankees 2

A bomb-out by Pettitte, but no matter. Mariners, 1 tomorrow. This is the season.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

USC 38, Idaho 10

So. What do we know?

1. The Trojans will go as far as their defense takes them. The offense is like one of those all-star rock bands brought together for benefit concerts: a lot of noise, some brilliance, but limited cohesion. I will take it as read that Carroll and Sarkesian held back much of the offensive gam plan for Nebraska. But Booty will have to play better, and the kids--McKnight, Hazelton--will have to grow up fast.

What else? Nothing else.

Yankees 9, D-Rays 6

Well, Joba's suspension comes to an end with no ill effects.

Leaving aide what happens tomorrow: Seattle next week. There's your season.