Saturday, October 31, 2009

For the Yankees, it's all up to A-Rod

So much for the theory that actress Kate Hudson is the key to Alex Rodriguez’s dramatically improved hitting in the 2009 postseason.

No, A-Rod’s romance with Hudson was not the reason the New York Yankees third baseman hit as well during the American League Division Series win over the Twins and the AL Championship Series triumph over the Angels as he did in a 30-home run, 100-RBI regular season.

If Hudson had had anything to do with A-Rod’s offensive exploits, then they wouldn’t have ended so abruptly in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series.

A-Rod reached a historic low by going 0-for-8 with six strikeouts against the Phillies at Yankee Stadium.

Never before had any player gone 0-for-8 with 6Ks in his first two World Series games.

Were George Steinbrenner still the megalomaniacal Yankees owner of old, he surely would have fired Hudson by now.

"Hey, Alex, what about that gal from 'Friends?'" Steinbrenner would have asked. "The blonde gal with the hair? What’s her name?"

"Jennifer Aniston," a Yankees minion would have responded.

"Yeah, that’s her," Steinbrenner would have said. "She’s always looking for a man. It’s kind of pitiful, really. How about if I pull Kate’s tickets and invite Jennifer for the rest of the World Series? Would that help you, Alex?"

Truth is, nobody but A-Rod can help himself out of this slump. No one can stop A-Rod from lunging at pitches out of the strike zone and getting himself out, as he had done in postseason games from 2004 ALCS through 2007.

The A-Rod who looked so "locked in," as today’s players say, with every at-bat against the Twins and Angels, the A-Rod who, to borrow another jock cliché, "let the game come to him," now looks confused as he takes fastballs down the middle and gives up on off-speed pitches that break over the plate.

Although the Yankees managed to beat Philadelphia 3-1 in Game 2 with nary a contribution from A-Rod, they simply cannot win this best-of-seven series without a hefty contribution from their cleanup hitter.

A-Rod hit .438 in the first two rounds of the postseason with 5 home runs and 12 RBI. That includes late-inning, game-tying homers in Games 2 and 3 against the Twins and Game 2 against the Angels.

Rodriguez tied a postseason record in the first two rounds, driving in runs in eight consecutive games. The Phillies haven't seen that player so far in the World Series.

Since there are no more than five games left, beginning with Game 3 tonight at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, A-Rod needs to put an indelible stamp on each game. He isn't being paid a major league-high $28 million this season for nothing.

And it’s not enough for people to point to Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard’s 0-for-4, four-strikeout horror show in Game 2 and say, "Both teams’ cleanup hitters are struggling."

Howard already has had a starring role in the series with two doubles in Philly’s 6-1 romp in Game 1.

A-Rod’s only impact on the series so far came when he failed to field Matt Stairs’s grounder, which gave the Phillies a short-lived 1-0 lead in Game 2.

While it’s true the Yankees have a lineup of All-Stars and former All-Stars, no player is as important to the team’s offense as A-Rod.

Remember how the Yankees, especially first baseman Mark Teixeira, floundered at the plate until A-Rod made his 2009 debut on May 8 in Baltimore — slugging a three-run homer on the first pitch he saw?

That was no accident. The Yankees have been the best team in Major League Baseball ever since.

But now, the Phillies have an edge in Games 3-5. That’s because the games will be played by National League roles.

No designated hitter. Hideki Matsui, who as the No. 5 hitter usually provides protection for A-Rod, will be on the bench while Yankees pitchers flail hopelessly at the plate.

To overcome that disadvantage, the Yankees need A-Rod to perform as he did against the Twins and Angels.

And neither Kate Hudson nor The Octomom will have anything to do with it. It is all up to A-Rod.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Black Sportswriter & Other Endangered Species

When I joined the New York Yankees beat in 1995, I became the first black sportswriter ever assigned to cover the Yankees full-time (spring training, regular season games, playoff games, home games, road games). I know that is mere trivia to some people, but it mattered to me. Yet at the same time, I didn’t accept congratulations because it was really an indictment of my profession.

I had done my homework on blacks in the sports media, and I learned about such men as Sam Lacy of the Baltimore Afro-American and Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier, pioneers who wrote for black-owned weekly newspapers.

Lacy and Smith wrote cogent columns that championed the cause for African-Americans in Major League Baseball before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

Smith helped find black families with whom Jackie and Rachel Robinson could stay in National League cities during an era in which racism precluded a black ballplayer from frequenting the same hotel or restaurant as his white teammates.

I recall the story of how Lacy had actually been barred from the press box at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field because of racism only to have several white sportswriters, including Dick Young, join him during the game on the press box roof in solidarity.

I knew I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to cover Major League Baseball games were it not for men like Lacy and Smith and Art Rust Jr. of the New York Amsterdam News (and later WNBC-TV in New York) and Chuck Johnson of USA Today and Larry Whiteside, a former Boston Red Sox beat writer for The Boston Globe.

Those men opened the door for me.

Nobody ever tried to bar me from the press box. The overt racism of the past is gone, but it’s still extremely rare to find a black beat writer in Major League Baseball.

Why? The overwhelming majority of sports editors at daily newspapers are white men and they tend not to assign blacks to cover baseball.

Why? Only those sports editors can answer that. And I know they have not done nearly enough soul searching to formulate a coherent response.

To this day black sportswriters at daily newspapers tend to be segregated into two sports: basketball and boxing.

Black athletes are predominant in both of those sports. But that alone does not explain why black sportswriters at daily papers are steered toward those two sports.

In the National Football League, roughly 70 percent of the players are black. But there aren’t many black football beat writers, either.

Why? Again, only those sports editors can answer that.

I honestly don’t believe any of this will change unless a white sports editor at a prominent daily newspaper does an Al Campanis — he publicly says or writes something so egregiously racist about the lack of racial diversity on the sports staffs of daily newspapers that it shames the industry into taking corrective action.

If I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath until that happens.

I never had a racial slur directed at me in a press box or anywhere else within a stadium. But once I began to travel outside New York to cover sports events, I sometimes encountered difficulty. The gatekeepers did not recognize my face, so my entering an out-of-town ballpark was not always a guarantee.

I have found over the years that men who are elderly and white often guard the press gate. And an inordinate number of those men are retired police officers or moonlighting police officers. And generally, their only significant contact with a black man has been as a “collar,” their suspect or detainee. So their antennae become activated, and their pulse probably quickens, when a black man approaches — even a harmless one like me with media credentials.

How do I know this?

Well, the vigor with which these men have sometimes challenged my right to enter a stadium compelled me to find out what they do or have done for a living.

Even after I began wearing my credentials (then a 2-1/4-inch x 3-1/2-inch card from the Baseball Writers Association of America and a credential for that series of games issued by the home team) in a pouch on a chain around my neck, press gate guards would give it a scrutiny far beyond that reserved for white reporters.

Had this happened once or twice, I would have said no big deal. I wouldn’t even be telling you about it. But to be misidentified as a messenger or, worse, an intruder at major league ballparks in Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Oakland, Minneapolis, and Toronto, to name just a few cities, constituted something more insidious than a mere coincidence.

On a Yankees road trip to Minnesota, I sensed my colleagues’ skepticism about the frequency of my difficulty entering stadiums. So five of the eight regular beat writers assigned to cover the Yankees agreed one day to arrive at the Metrodome at the same time (we didn’t always travel from hotel to stadium together) and walk past the guard one by one. Each man would show his credentials to the guard and walk on by. I would go last.

Well, the New York Daily News, Newsday, The Record of Bergen County (New Jersey), and The Star-Ledger of Newark (New Jersey) all went inside without a hitch.

Then in walked the black guy from Gannett-Westchester Newspapers.

“Hey, hey!” the elderly white guard snapped while grabbing my right arm. “Where you goin’?”

My colleagues laughed. The guard clearly had not looked at my credentials at all. He looked only at my skin.

My face, usually a rich brown, probably turned crimson because I could feel it burning, more out of anger than embarrassment.

“He’s one of us,” the Daily News guy told the guard.

Those words seemed to satisfy the guard more than the official media credentials I had on a chain around my neck, no more than a few feet from his nose.

Unfair as this may sound, I still believe I could have walked into the Metrodome that day behind Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Albert DiSalvo and I would have been the one that guard grabbed for in anger.

It’s all about the hue . . . and the occasionally warped reaction that it engenders.

My colleagues never doubted me again, at least not on that issue. They urged me to complain to the Minnesota Twins organization.

That’s what I hoped they would say. Prior to that episode, I always considered the press gate slights part of the treacherous territory, and I honestly believed no team official would do anything about it unless there were eyewitnesses.

This time I had four. A Twins media relations man apologized. I accepted it and moved on.

That’s as bad as it got for me as a Major League Baseball beat writer, until my final days on the Yankees beat, which in the overall scheme of things, paled in comparison to what Messrs. Lacy and Smith had to bear.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pedro Martinez Still Calls The Yankees His Daddy

Ever have a hard time coming up with a title for some creative project – a book, a song, a painting? Or maybe a name for your small business?

Well, don’t worry about it. Just keep doing the work. That title or company name will soon come to you, often in a most unusual way.

Such was the case with my third book, Call the Yankees My Daddy.

And for that I have to thank Pedro Martinez, who is scheduled to start World Series Game 2 at Yankee Stadium tomorrow night.

The frustration that had long simmered inside Pedro Martinez finally came rushing to the surface on September 24, 2004. The one baseball team the future Hall of Fame pitcher could not dominate – the New York Yankees – had beaten him again on this night, for the second time in six days, leaving him at a loss to explain why.

In a small interview area at Boston’s Fenway Park, the right-hander tried to speak through the pain about those Yankees, the team against whom he failed to protect a 4-0 lead in the ultimate game of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.

Because of his failure that night, the Yankees, and not the Red Sox, advanced to the World Series. The Yankees had stung Martinez yet again.

Could the Dominican Diva find the words to express such anguish?

“What can I say?” he began with a shrug. “I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.”

Words that will always bring a smile to the face of a Yankee fan, including this one. I pledged allegiance to the Yankees decades ago, when they were as anguished as Martinez, an erstwhile dynasty left in ruin.

So frequent were the Yankee losses, so constant the teasing from others, including my own father and brother who rooted for other teams, that I could relate to Joe Hardy, the long-suffering fan from Damn Yankees, who sold his soul to the devil to see his team beat the Yankees and win the championship just once.

The only difference was I wanted to see the Yankees win just once.

Fortunately, without having to sell my soul, I saw the Yankees of the mid-1970s become champions again, and also-rans a decade later, and champions yet again in 1996 – this time with me in a front-row seat as a newspaper reporter covering their renaissance – and then a dynasty no more.

The Yankees have taken me on an emotional rollercoaster ride for decades, allowing me to experience a gamut of emotions – from the exultation of the overachieving 1996 team from which Major League Baseball’s last dynasty was spawned to the heartbreak of the 2004 team that squandered a 3-0 ALCS lead (to the Red Sox, of all teams) and ended up historic losers.

Yet there was never any doubt that I would come back for another ride. A baseball fan always does.

Baseball is the best friend that goes away every winter but returns right on time every spring.

Baseball is the constant that endures while so much of life changes.

Baseball is what formed an unbreakable bond between father and sons and between brothers in my Brooklyn, New York household.

And baseball became a needful diversion that helped me endure the losses of those closest to me. Baseball isn’t perfect, far from it, but thankfully it is always there.

Over the years I have spent more time with baseball and the Yankees than just about anything or anyone else, and I’ve learned quite a few things – about what’s good in the game and what isn’t, about myself and my family, about life and death.

Those are the things I share with readers in Call the Yankees My Daddy. But I don’t do it in chronological order, not in the typical way.

Instead, I share these things with you the way Lola, the temptress from Damn Yankees, might have done it: I’ll give you a little bit of this and a little bit of that, with an emphasis on the latter.

Oh, by the way, Yankees over Phillies in 6. And it will be fun to watch Pedro try to get my boys out tomorrow night.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Baseball Still Needs to be Saved

There are at least two things I have in common with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Both of us grew up in poor New York City neighborhoods, she in the South Bronx, me in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and both of us pledge allegiance to the American League Champion New York Yankees.

On the day, President Obama nominated Judge Sotomayor to become the first Latina (and third woman) to sit on America's highest court, he pointed out that many credit her with "saving baseball" because of her ruling in favor of the players’ union that effectively ended the 1995 strike.

Well, after watching the Yankees eliminate the Angels in the sixth game of the Yankees-Angels series two nights ago, it became abundantly clear that Major League Baseball still needs saving.

The pace of today's brand of baseball is tortoise-slow, with catchers visiting the mound to talk with hurlers after every other pitch, with managers or pitching coaches walking to the mound every inning, with batters stepping out of the box after every pitch to adjust their batting gloves or cross themselves or do whatever players a generation ago saw no need to do.

For these reasons, a sub-three hour game nowadays is a rarity. Yet there is no more than 15 minutes of real action in a Major League Baseball game.

Fifteen minutes. That's it.

It saddens me that so many kids today shun baseball. The only thing worse than playing baseball, the kids say, is watching baseball.

"Too slow," they say. "Too boring."

Baseball wasn’t too slow or too boring to my dad who used to put on his Sunday best to watch Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella and Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and the other former Negro League stars augment their greatness in the major leagues.

Nor was baseball slow or boring to me when I sat in Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium (the Mets’ former home) or in front of my TV.

But for much of today’s youth, baseball is "dull" and "tired."

Well, Major League Baseball has done this to itself. The length of a game over the past twenty years has expanded in direct proportion to the typical American’s waistline.

Baseball today has an obesity problem.

In the 1984 season the average major league game lasted 2 hours, 35 minutes. Two decades later the average game time was 2 hours, 53 minutes. Now, the average postseason game tops the three-hour mark.

That would be absolutely great if baseball today gave us 25 additional minutes of action per game. Instead, we get 25 extra minutes of inertia.

Why baseball officials, from Omissioner Bud Selig on down, have not solved this problem is beyond me.

Apparently, all Selig & Company care about are TV ratings. Yankees vs. Phillies should be a highly rated World Series. But that doesn't mean the games wouldn't be better, more exciting, more watchable were they played at a faster pace.

Umpires should enforce the rule that a pitcher has 20 seconds to deliver a pitch. Not 60 seconds. Twenty seconds.

And why don’t the umpires make the batter stay in the box until his at-bat is over? Just because a batter asks for time, or just assumes he can have time out by leaving the box, does not mean an umpire should grant the time out.

Invariably, during a crucial at-bat late in a game, either the pitcher will step off the rubber to stop the "action" or a batter will call time and step out of the box before every pitch!

One at-bat now can take as long as an entire half-inning used to take.

The seventh inning alone in Game 5 of the Yankees-Angels series took 45 minutes!

The irony is kids learn to play baseball by watching adults, but the adults in the majors today could learn much by watching how crisply the kids play.

The problem of baseball boredom is somewhat tolerable if you’re at home, remote control in hand, and can switch from one game to another after every pitch.

During the 2009 regular season, I did that more often than ever on days when the Yankees and Mets played simultaneously--not because I care about the Mets (I don’t), but because I’ve become exasperated by the snail-like pace of the Yankees game.

Perhaps, Justice Sotomayor can come to the rescue again...after our Yankees polish off the Phillies and become World Series champs for a record 27th time.

Perhaps she convince enough of her fellow justices to rule in favor of speeding up what used to be our national pastime before it dies of terminal ennui.

Because despite the wise Latina's ruling in 1995, the game she and I both love still needs to be saved.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Suzyn Waldman Makes Her Pitch on the Air

It was 2-1/2 hours before the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. Then-Yankees manager Joe Torre was in the dugout holding a pre-game press conference encircled by a rainbow coalition of three-dozen journalists, including Asians chronicling the exploits of Japanese left fielder Hideki Matsui, Latinos, blacks and whites.

Among those holding microphones, notepads and cameras were half a dozen women, including Suzyn Waldman, seated to Torre’s immediate right.

Two decades ago, Waldman would have been the only woman in such a crowd. But it is largely because of her success that other women have gained opportunities and acceptance in the male-dominated world of sports broadcasting.

“I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be part of this,” said Waldman, who debuted on sports-talk radio station WFAN in 1987 after a career in musical theatre, including a two-year run on Broadway in “Man of La Mancha.”

Since making her segue from theatre, Waldman has achieved many significant firsts for women sportscasters, but none more significant than her current role: She’s in her fifth season as a color commentator on Yankees’ radio broadcasts on WCBS (880-AM), something no woman had ever done for a Major League Baseball team.

Waldman’s ascension is at once a tribute to her ability and perseverance and an indictment of the broadcasting industry, considering that baseball was first heard on the radio August 5, 1921 on station KDKA in Pittsburgh, according to The Storytellers, a 1995 book on baseball broadcasters by Curt Smith.

“There is an understanding that women have been discriminated against in employment opportunities,” said Neal Pilson, a CBS Sports president for 14 years from the 1970s to the ‘90s. “There has certainly been a desire among women and those in decision-making positions to raise the glass ceiling.”

Waldman, 62, has done her best to shatter it.

While at WFAN, she created the position of Yankees’ radio beat reporter, allowing listeners to hear post-game quotes from players, managers, coaches and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner that they used to not get until the next day’s newspaper.

For this, she incurred the wrath of many sportswriters.

“I didn’t know the sportswriters weren’t talking to me,” Waldman said in a studio adjacent to the Yankees’ clubhouse.

“When I got into this business in middle age and found out that some people didn’t want me I got really angry. I spent a lot of years with people saying, ‘How does she know that? She never played.’ People have been picking me apart for 20 years, but I’m still here ‘cause I just had this feeling that no little girl should think there’s something she can’t do ‘cause she’s a girl.”

Waldman, a cancer survivor, is the recipient of numerous honors, including an International Radio Award for her reporting of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake during the World Series and the 1996 New York Sportscaster of the Year award.

Women for whom she has blazed a trail in sportscasting revere her.

Tina Cervasio, a sports reporter for Madison Square Garden Network, admitted to being too awed to approach Waldman during a chance meeting in midtown Manhattan.

“Instead of acting like a peer of hers I looked at Suzyn as a heroine,” said Cervasio, a Clifton, N.J., resident who has displayed Waldman-like persistence after out-of-town media outlets told her she sounded “too New York.”

Cervasio, 34, has made steady progress since graduating from the University of Maryland, working at cable stations on Long Island, Staten Island and Philadelphia and hosting an NFL studio show on Direct TV for two seasons.

She also did play-by-play of gymnastics and field reporting for Westwood One Radio at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Sports has been Cervasio's passion since attending the 1986 Rose Bowl. Her father, Joe Cervasio, played varsity football at Cornell.

“I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be,” said Cervasio, who once did daily drive-time reports for Shadow Traffic.

Where Cervasio would like to be is where ESPN’s Pam Ward is now: doing play-by-play of college football and basketball on a regular basis for a major network. No other woman currently holds such a position.

Ward could not be reached for this article.

“Most of the time women are competing for sports jobs against other women, whether it’s to work with a male anchor or as a sideline reporter,” said Deb Placey, an anchor for MSG Network.

Still, that’s far better than not being allowed to compete at all.

In addition to Cervasio and Kaufman, the list of women sportscasters includes Reischea Canidate of ESPN News, Pam Oliver of Fox, Erin Andrews, Lisa Salters and Heather Cox of ESPN, Tracy Wolfson of CBS, Andrea Kremer of NBC, Erica Herskowitz of WFAN and Kimberly Jones of the YES Network, who replaced Waldman on Yankees’ cable telecasts this season.

Monica Pellegrini did sports on WWOR-Channel 9 in New York for 9-1/2 years before switching to news in 2003.

Among ESPN’s roster of studio anchors and reporters are Linda Cohn, Cindy Brunson and Dana Jacobson. Women such as Cheryl Miller (basketball), Judy Rankin (golf) and Carol Lewis (track and field) have become analysts after their playing careers.

“I think women’s role in sports broadcasting and athletics has grown as a result of Title IX,” Pilson said, referring to the landmark federal legislation in 1972 that mandated increased opportunities for women.

“As women have achieved more experience in sports, they’ve attained more credibility and a greater acceptance from the public. People are accustomed now to hearing women experts on women’s sports events and seeing women as sideline reporters and on panel shows.”

Pilson, who hired Visser and Tafoya while at CBS, considers play-by-play—the describing of action as it happens, whether it’s painting word pictures on radio or providing captions on television—the last male bastion.

It could take “another 10 to 15 years,” he said, for any woman to attain the play-by-play stardom of Marv Albert, Dick Enberg or Al Michaels.

“It probably will take longer in a sport like pro football,” Pilson said, “where women don’t play the game and the audience is 75 percent men.”

Coincidentally, Edward Placey, ESPN’s coordinating producer of college football and the man who assigned Ward to play-by-play, is married to the thirty-something Deb Placey of MSG.

Not long ago, audiences were not used to hearing a woman report the news. But now, particularly on local TV, anchorwomen are commonplace. While women sportscasters expect to see a similar evolution, their critics have hardly gone away.

“I’ve had plenty of guys come up to me and quiz me on sports,” said Pellegrini, 42, a petite blonde who lives in Hoboken, N.J.

“But I find that women viewers are more critical of women. I don’t know why. I once got a letter from a woman that said, ‘We don’t watch you on sports because we hate your hair. Don’t you own a comb?’”

Cervasio agreed that women are often the harshest critics.

“The female viewer may not know football,” she said, “but if you mispronounce a word or if they don’t like your voice or if you interrupt your broadcast partner, that’s what a woman may criticize you for.

“Viewers have to learn to accept us. Even with Suzyn doing the Yankees, a lot of people aren’t going to want to hear her talk about Mariano Rivera throwing his cutter.”

Apparently, some sports fans don’t want to hear Waldman say anything. Her nasally voice bears the accent of her hometown, Boston. It is not a typical broadcaster’s voice.

A poster identified as Sue once wrote on the Yankees fans' Web site Bronx Banter, “One thing I don’t want is Suzyn in the booth. What a joke!”

Waldman has endured criticism of her voice and allegiance to the New York teams she covers.

She first rooted for the Red Sox at Fenway Park and the Celtics at Boston Garden in the 1950s. But she has hosted Knicks’ pre- and post-game radio shows—the first woman ever to do so—and has become so synonymous with the Yankees that some call her “a homer.”

Yet it is Waldman’s radio partner, John Sterling, who punctuates every New York victory with “Yankees win! Th-uh-uh-uh Yan-kees win!”

Waldman has never taken her allegiance to that extreme. But when it comes to taking initiative, she may have no peer.

After then-Red Sox broadcaster Ken Coleman told her a New York station would soon become America’s first with an all-sports format, she made an audition tape, drove it to Queens, N.Y., and got the job despite having no broadcasting experience.

Waldman became WFAN’s first on-air voice July 1, 1987.

“I knew I had to leave theatre because the music was changing,” she said. “Sports was the only other thing that I had a passion about.”

The passion still burned in 1996 while she underwent treatment for breast cancer.

Doctors told her she’d have to forego broadcasting for six months. Instead, she worked virtually every game of the Yankees’ world championship season.

The Yankees made sure Waldman had a refrigerator in her hotel room to store medication.

“I had a wig on, I didn’t have any hair and I never felt well,” she said. “I’d never go to lunch. I’d stay in the hotel and do my shots. My favorite story from that time involved [former Yankees coach] Willie Randolph.

“I interviewed him in the dugout and I just felt this…I didn’t know if I was going to pass out or throw up or whatever. I sat down and Willie sat down with me and just kept talking, like it was the most natural thing in the world. The night the Yankees won the World Series, [pitcher] Jimmy Key said, ‘Suzyn, this is for you too. You’re part of this.’”

Waldman, who lives in the Westchester County town of Croton-on-Hudson, joined the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network in 2002. But what should have been a dream job became nightmarish.

YES hired her to do pre- and post-game reporting all season and play-by-play of 30 games. But YES yanked her off play-by-play after just six games.

“It was publicly humiliating; every time I’d go to another city people would talk about it,” she said. “The people at YES felt that only former players should do analysis, so if I wanted to work I had to do play-by-play. I knew I wasn’t good.”

About her current role on radio, Waldman said, “This job is as comfortable as I’ve ever been. I can bring the reporting element to the broadcast. I can say, ‘This is what [Derek] Jeter was trying to do because he told me before the game…’”

A sampling of fans at Yankee Stadium had overwhelmingly positive reviews for Waldman.

“It’s a difficult thing that she’s doing because that’s a male occupation, but she knows her stuff,” said Guy Paul, 54, of Bud Lake.

“She’s excellent,” said Reymundo Diaz, 44, of Manchester, Conn. “When the Yanks are bad, she says it. When they’re good, she says it. There’s no crap from her.”

But Pilson, the former CBS Sports president, is more critical.

“If I were her producer, I’d say, ‘Suzyn, tell us what you think is going to happen. Tell us why that just happened,’” he said. “I’m just looking for more analysis. It’s more of a production issue to get her to grow her commentary.”

“That’s probably a valid point,” Waldman said with a nod.

Then, sounding like a woman immune to criticism, she added with a high-pitched laugh, “What are critics going to do to me? I went through a whole baseball season with cancer. If somebody doesn’t like me, what do I care?”

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Angels' Best Hope: Joe Girardi

Although the odds may be against the Angels overcoming a 3-1 deficit and snatching the American League pennant from the New York Yankees, Los Angeles can take solace in three things:

• Just two years ago, the Boston Red Sox rallied from being down 1-3 to defeat the Cleveland Indians in the AL Championship Series in seven games;

• In 2004, the Yankees became the first team in baseball history to choke away a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series when they lost to the Red Sox. Five key members of the 2009 Yankees (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui and Mariano Rivera) played on the infamous ’04 club; and

• Joe Girardi will manage the rest of the series for the Yankees.

Girardi (a.k.a. Captain Hook) could lose this series for the Yankees by himself. It is only because he has so much talent to work with — the best team money can buy — that a harsher light has not been shone upon his anal, wrongheaded managerial style.

In Game 3 of the ALCS, Girardi blew through relief pitchers the way a chain-smoker goes through a pack of cigarettes, allowing the Angels to win 5-4 in 11 innings.

Should the Yankees lose this series, Girardi will be remembered, if not vilified by Yankees fans, for removing David Robertson with two out and nobody on in the bottom of the 11th in Game 3 only to have Alfredo Aceves allow a single and game-winning double to the next two batters.

Never before in postseason history, which dates back to 1917, had a team lost a game in extra innings after a manager replaced a pitcher with two out and nobody on base in an inning.

As Casey Stengel, a truly great Yankees manager, used to say, "You could look it up."

Girardi made the needless decision to put Freddy Guzman on the ALCS roster instead of Eric Hinske (who played in the last two World Series with the Red Sox and Rays, respectively).

Then, as if to justify that personnel decision, Girardi took A-Rod, the most dominant player in the postseason, out of Game 5 for pinch-runner Guzman with the Yankees trailing 7-6 in the top of the ninth.

What, A-Rod, who has run the bases swiftly and superbly the entire postseason, even stealing bases against the Twins and Angels, had suddenly forgotten how to run?

Only Captain Hook would inject himself into a postseason game in this way.

If the George Steinbrenner of old were still in charge, Girardi would have been called onto the owner's carpet a long time ago.

Sons Hank and Hal Steinbrenner don't know baseball well enough to see how ridiculously bizarre many of Girardi's moves have been.

Strangely enough, it would have been fitting for the Yankees to lose Game 5 by 8-7 (instead of 7-6) with Guzman scoring the tying run on a bases loaded walk in the 9th (something A-Rod could have done) and the Angels scoring the winning run in extra innings because the Yanks got no offense and inferior defense from A-Rod's replacement at third base, Jerry Hairston.

Only Captain Hook would yank A-Rod for Guzman and Hairston.

Only Captain Hook would yank Johnny Damon from left field and insert Hairston with Angels on first and third and one out in the 10th in Game 3 because Hairston has a slightly better throwing arm.

(And it is only slightly better. Hairston’s throws do not invite comparisons to Jesse Barfield.)

If the Yankees don't win the World Series, or even get there, Girardi will be the reason.

Charlie Manuel may sound like a country bumpkin from West Virginia, which he is, but the Philadelphia Phillies manager is smart enough not to take Ryan Howard out of a game for a pinch-runner.

The Yankees remain the favorites to meet Philadelphia next week in the Fall Classic because Game 6 of the ALCS, and a possible Game 7, will be at Yankee Stadium.

But the Angels still have a prayer, whenever the guy managing the Yankees decides to lay his hands upon the series.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Seeing the Yankees through Pinstriped Glasses

Since the New York Yankees are a great team again, a team on the cusp of a record 27th World Series championship, I am eager to hand out this year’s Penny Crone Award.

Never heard of Penny Crone?!

When I served as a Yankees beat reporter for Gannett a decade ago, Crone worked as a general assignment reporter on Channel 5, New York’s Fox network affiliate.

Those of us on the Yankees beat would never see Crone until the postseason, which was an annual rite of autumn for Joe Torre’s teams.

Crone, then a fifty-something bleached blonde with a voice that sounded as if she gargled with Drano, would sweep through the media workroom every day wearing a Yankees cap, on her way into the clubhouse or the stands to do the kind of fawning, pompom-waving "news" pieces for which local stations have become infamous.

While doing her stand-ups at the old Yankee Stadium, Crone wearing her Yankees cap was never heard on Channel 5 discussing the team without saying "we" or "us."

As in, "If we beat the Braves tonight, we’ll win our second World Series in a row and the third in four years. And does anybody hear think Atlanta’s gonna beat us?"

To which a crowd of onlookers, just thrilled to be on TV, shouted "Noooo!"

Anyone who thought New Yorkers were too sophisticated for such blatant shilling needed only to see and hear Crone. Come playoff time, she saw the world through pinstriped glasses.

Crone’s Yankees reports became memorable because when it came to sucking up to all things Yankees, she had no peer.

Alas, Crone continued to age. And once her face clearly revealed a woman in her sixties, Channel 5 decided to, in sports parlance, put her on waivers.

Other, much younger women and men have tried to take up the gauntlet. And if the Yankees finish off the Angels and advance to the World Series against the Phillies, a new Yankees media mascot is bound to emerge.

(I’ve got my eyes on Megan Glaros of Channel 2.)

One more thing: Any sports reporter who does not know that the Yankees have a fight song — and that the music from the Yankees’ fight song is heard before and after every Yankees broadcast on WCBS Radio — should not be working in the metropolitan New York market.

Scott Stanford is a hack, someone better suited to do sports reports in Kansas. Yet he draws paychecks from two local media outlets: Channel 5/Channel 9 (both owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation) and WCBS Radio.

At 8:15 this morning, Stanford opined on WCBS that the Yankees would have trouble matching up with the Phillies because "the Yankees don’t have a fight song." He then played an excerpt from the Phillies' fight song.

Here, for Stanford and other ignorant New York media types, are the lyrics to the Yankees' fight song, "Here Come the Yankees":

Here come the Yankees
Let’s get behind and cheer the Yankees
They’re gonna learn to fear the Yankees
Everyone knows they play to win ’cause they’re the New York Yankees
Show ’em today why you’re the Yankees
No other way when you’re the Yankees
Whaddaya say we win a brand new ballgame
We’re gonna shout when ya powder the ball
We’re gonna scream, "Put it over the wall!"
The other team’s gonna know what it means to play the
We love the Yankees
Shout it out loud
We love the Yankees
We’re really proud of our Yankees
And we’re gonna win today.

Stanford is so bad he makes me wistful for Penny Crone.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Captain Hook Sinks Yankees in Game 3

Because the New York Yankees’ 5-4 loss to Los Angeles on Monday was their first defeat of the 2009 postseason, the manic over-managing of Joe Girardi has not received the national attention it deserves.

It should now.

There was no bigger culprit in the 11-inning loss Monday at Angel Stadium than Girardi.

If the Yankees lose this best-of-seven American League Championship Series to the Angels despite having the superior talent, graduate schools of business will be able to offer a new elective: Micromanaging a $200 Million Payroll to Defeat.

Girardi, in his second season as Yankees manager, has earned a dubious nickname — Captain Hook — for his rapid removal of pitchers throughout the postseason.

Captain Hook’s decision to replace right-hander David Robertson with righty Alfredo Aceves with two out and nobody on in the 11th inning Monday was the final, head-scratching affront to Yankees fans.

Aceves promptly blew the game, allowing a hard single up the middle to Howie Kendrick and a booming run-scoring double off the left field fence to Jeff Mathis.

"We thought Ace [Aceves] was a better matchup against Kendrick and that’s why we made the move," said Girardi, who actually made the move by himself. "It didn’t work."

During action in the ALCS, Fox network cameras often show Girardi with his back to the field poring through the pages of a large notebook containing computer printouts of head-to-head matchups — Yankees pitchers vs. Angels hitters and Yankees hitters vs. Angels pitchers.

Captain Hook would be better off just sitting down and watching the game.

The computer printouts to which Girardi has become enslaved show that Kendrick had faced neither Robertson nor Aceves more than a half-dozen times, hence there was not really enough of a statistical sample upon which to make the kind of decision that could lose a game for your team.

Kendrick was 1-for-2 against Robertson, a strikeout and a bloop single. And Girardi yanked Robertson? And that's how the Yankees lost a playoff game?


Before the fateful ending, Mariano Rivera channeled his inner Houdini and pitched out of a 1st-and-3rd, nobody-out jam in the 10th, an inning he should have started.

Instead, Captain Hook started Phil Hughes in the 10th, even though Hughes had pitched in the eighth and the ninth and had not pitched in relief in three innings in the same game all season.

In the eighth, Girardi replaced southpaw reliever Damaso Marte with southpaw reliever Phil Coke on consecutive batters.

Being a slave to computer printouts compelled Girardi to burn through both of his bullpen lefties before the ninth inning in a playoff game. Incredible.

Trusting your talent and putting good people in position to succeed is a tenet of sound management, in sports as well as the corporate world.

Girardi, however, does not inspire confidence in his pitchers because he yanks them at the first sign of trouble, or, as in the Robertson-for-Aceves switch, because he fears there might be trouble.

In Games 2 and 3 of the Division Series against Minnesota, Girardi went through pitchers the way a chain-smoker goes through a pack of Marlboros. He inexplicably gave starter Andy Pettitte the hook in the eighth inning after just 81 pitches with a 2-1 lead in Game 3.

Because the Yankees swept the Division Series, Girardi escaped scrutiny.

Were it not for late-inning, game-tying home runs by Alex Rodriguez and baserunning blunders by Twins players Carlos Gomez in Game 2 and Nick Punto in Game 3, Minnesota could have won Game 2 and would have tied the score in Game 3.

The Yankees now lead the ALCS two games to one. But the work of Girardi has shown that if the Yanks are to win a record 27th World Series title, they will do so in spite of their manager, not because of him.

Captain Hook has the privilege of managing the best baseball team money can buy. All he can do at this point is screw it up.

In Game 3, he did.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Fall of the Major League Umpire

Nobody knows who’s going to win the 2009 World Series. But it is clear two weeks into the postseason who the biggest losers are: major league baseball umpires.

It has become painfully obvious that umpires can no longer call the plays in big-league games without more assistance from video replay technology.

Such technology is now used to determine disputed home run calls. Now, that same technology should be utilized to determine if a batted ball lands fair or foul, or if a player is safe or out.

There have been so many embarrassing blown calls, that it’s increasingly likely the World Series may be decided not by brilliant pitching (e.g., Orel Hershiser of the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers), or phenomenal defense (e.g., Brooks Robinson of the 1971 Baltimore Orioles), or awe-inspiring hitting (e.g., Reggie Jackson of the 1978 New York Yankees), but rather by an umpire error.

In the fifth inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, Derek Jeter was called out at first base when replays clearly showed the Yankees shortstop had beaten the throw. Instead of the Yankees having runners on 1st and 3rd with one out, they had a runner on third with two out.

Big difference.

In the 10th inning of the same game, the Yankees had the winning run on second base because an umpire ruled Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar missed the bag on an apparent double play. Replays showed Aybar's foot brushed the bag.

Fortunately, the Yankees did not win the game because of an umpire’s misjudgment. But they could have.

Minnesota Twins fans remain convinced their team would have beaten the Yankees in Game 2 of the American League Division Series had left field umpire Phil Cuzzi not called foul an obvious leadoff double by Joe Mauer.

That Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, the Twins’ next two batters, followed with base hits only added to Minnesota’s misery.

Umpire CB Bucknor personally blew three calls at first base in the opener of the Angels-Boston Red Sox A.L. Division Series.

Umpires missed three calls on the bases in Game 1 of the Philadelphia Phillies-Colorado Rockies National League Division Series.

And the Phillies’ winning rally in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the series was aided by an umpire’s mistake that put Chase Utley on base on a ball that had first hit his leg.

When viewers at home, watching frame-by-frame replays from multiple angles, are getting a better look at crucial plays than the umpires on the field, there’s a big problem.

Here’s a solution that should be implemented on Opening Day 2010:

Major League Baseball should assign a Booth Umpire to every game. The Booth Umpire will be the final arbiter on close plays on the bases, disputed home runs or whether a ball landed fair or foul.

The Booth Umpire would have the same access to frame-by-frame replays from multiple angles as TV viewers.

The Booth Umpire can buzz the home plate umpire whenever he wants to review a call, or the crew chief can ask the Booth Umpire — undoubtedly after being prompted by a team’s angry manager — to review a close call.

The argument against increased use of video replay technology is that baseball games would take too long. Well, games are already too long. The most important thing is to get the calls right.

Ball-and-strike calls would not be subject to replays. And it should not take long to decide if a ball was fair or foul, or if a runner was safe or out.

For baseball to do nothing at a time when umpires’ mistakes threaten to overshadow the excellence of the players and the excitement of the games would be the biggest error of all.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Coming soon to baseball: Mr. November

Los Angeles Angels players looked like they would rather have been anywhere else Friday night except at Yankee Stadium shivering in the Bronx chill during Game 1 of baseball’s American League Championship series.

With temperatures in the mid-30s, the New York Yankees didn’t look too comfortable either, despite their 4-1 victory.

Left fielder Johnny Damon was among the Yankees players wearing ear flaps under his cap, and Dominican-born second baseman Robinson Cano donned a wool mask that covered everything but his eyes.

In weather conditions unfit for furry animals, Major League Baseball is staging its most important games of the year.


But you could see this coming during the past few decades, as television’s money and influence over the erstwhile national pastime grew stronger and baseball’s resistance to it continued to weaken.

The best-of-seven-game Yankees-Angels series began on October 16. When more sensible folks ran big-league baseball, the entire season would have been over by October 16.

Need proof? Don Larsen’s perfect game—the only one in World Series history—gave the Yankees a 2-0 victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 8, 1956.

Larsen’s gem occurred in Game 5, a game played in afternoon sunlight. The Yankees won the Fall Classic three days later.

Weekday afternoon World Series games are a thing of the past. So, unfortunately, will be the Fall Classic.

If the 2009 World Series goes the distance, then Games 5, 6, and 7 will be played in November. The Winter Classic would end on November 4.

The only other time a World Series ended in November was in 2001, when the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the Yankees in seven games. That year, the terrorist attacks on 9-11 pushed the baseball season back one week.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter became the first player to win a World Series game in November, with a home run that decided Game 5.

Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, another Yankees great, was so well-known for his postseason heroics that he became "Mr. October."

Now, “Mr. November” will be a title bestowed annually upon a player who, aided by long johns, gloves, a ski mask and a hot water bottle, generates enough body heat to deliver a game-winning performance.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Baseball team owners and the players association could negotiate a deal to shave one week off the regular season and go back to a 154-game schedule, which had been the norm until the early 1960s.

Furthermore, players and owners could tweak the schedule to allow more doubleheaders (virtually a thing of the past) to ensure that the regular season ends on the final Sunday in September.

Then, the three playoff rounds could be completed by the week before Halloween, instead of the week after.

Yes, baseball would have to leave some television money on the table—an act that baseball owners obviously consider tantamount to blasphemy—but the sacrifice would ensure that the season’s most important games are not played in the worst weather conditions, as they are now.

A National League Division Series game in Denver last week was postponed because of snow and bitter cold.

I covered the 1997 World Series between the Indians and Florida Marlins in which the three games in Cleveland were played amid snow flurries.

We have seen the future of postseason baseball, and it’s f-f-f-freezin’!

It is a future that will include the annual crowning of a “Mr. November” as well as the distinct possibility that players will be scratched from the biggest games of the year because of frostbite.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sports Fans (Bleep)!

It is harder than ever to enjoy a sports event in America these days, even if you’re not there in person.

Take Game 1 of baseball’s National League Championship Series. It’s the bottom of the fifth inning. The Los Angeles Dodgers trail the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1, but the Dodgers have a rally brewing: Runners on 1st and 3rd, 1 out, and Andre Ethier, one of the team’s best hitters, at the plate.

The sellout crowd of 56,000 at Dodger Stadium begins to chant.

They’re not chanting, "We Want A Hit." I guess that would be too 1970s of them.

And they’re not chanting, "Let’s Go Dod-gers!"

Instead, the chant I hear with unmistakable clarity from my television set is, "Phil-lies Suck! Phil-lies Suck!"

Such creepiness, such classless behavior from antisocial sports fans has, unfortunately, become the norm rather than the exception.

I live in New York and often attend baseball games at Yankee Stadium, where I am more likely to hear "Boston Sucks!" (even if the Red Sox are not the visiting team) than a chant of encouragement for the Yankees.

Whenever an opposing team’s player hits a home run at Yankee Stadium, boorish fans begin yelling, "Throw it back!"

The supposed logic behind this is a home run ball hit by the "enemy" is not worth keeping. Chicago Cubs fans at Wrigley Field began this strange ritual many years ago.

Those Cubs fans are known as "Bleacher Bums." But those Bums are Boy Scouts compared to what I’ve seen at Yankee Stadium.

One fan I saw at Yankee Stadium caught an "enemy" home run ball and didn’t want to throw it back onto the field. He gave the ball to his son.

"It’s my son’s first game," the father said proudly.

"Ass-hole! Ass-hole!" the fans chanted.

"Throw the fuckin’ ball back!" one guy yelled. "Buy him a fuckin’ ball!"

"Ass-hole! Ass-hole!" the chant continued.

The boy, who looked to be about six, began to cry. The father said something to his son. Then they got up and left the section.

The obscene chant followed father and son all the way to the exit.

When you can’t give your son a baseball you caught during a game without being aurally assaulted by people seated around you, something is wrong.

When you need to cover your child’s ears, or your own, because 50,000 people are chanting, "Bull-shit! Bull-shit!" in response to a call, something is wrong.

At a sports event, you are more likely to hear negative chants than positive ones. You are more likely to see antisocial behavior than good behavior.

And the American media, of which I am a part, actually encourages this.

While watching a sports event on television, think about how often you see people with angry, contorted faces screaming into the camera — often, these are young men with faces painted and shirts off.

Television has provided a forum, and a stamp of approval, to these louts, while, unconscionably, encouraging fans in other cities to act the same way, because acting like a jerk is how you get on television.

Foul-mouthed, foul-smelling people whom you would never want seated next to you on a bus or train are the people we’ve become accustomed to seeing in close-ups on televised sports events.

At halftime of New York Jets football games, young female fans were encouraged by male louts to go topless in the concourse.

Many women compiled. Police finally put an end to this odious display last year.

Now it is time to put an end to oligarchy. Mobs should not rule at sports events.

Here are three solutions:

(1) TV sports directors must stop putting the most brain-addled, antisocial fans on camera during events. Bob Fishman of CBS Sports is one director who doesn’t. His peers should follow his example.

(2) Tickets should be confiscated from fans who behave obscenely at events. Such language should be printed on the backs of tickets, and a public address announcement should precede each event. Granted, what constitutes obscene behavior is subject to different interpretations. But here’s my rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t want someone to do it or say it in your home, then you shouldn’t do it or say it in at a public event, particularly one attended by children.

(3) There should be family-friendly sections at all sports events; an island of civility must exist amid what has often become a public cesspool.

Attending a sports event used to be a welcome diversion from the pressure and stress of everyday life.

No more. Now, it has become yet another example of how life in America has changed for the worse.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Yankees Exorcise Ghosts of Playoff Failures Past

When I covered the New York Yankees for Gannett Newspapers in the 1990s, the club treated an American League Division Series clinching as no big deal.

The goal was always higher: World Series or bust.

Although the 2009 Yankees are saying much the same publicly, their Division Series sweep of the Minnesota Twins was a big deal.

Very big.

Because these Yankees — from general manager Brian Cashman to manager Joe Girardi to the game’s highest-paid player Alex Rodriguez to veteran shortstop Derek Jeter to this year’s big free-agent acquisitions CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira — had much to prove.

A decade of postseason failure had turned the Yankees into an expensive baseball team of underachievers, much like the teams assembled by owner George Steinbrenner that missed the playoffs every year between 1982 and ’94.

The Yankees reached a crossroads in 2008 after finishing third in the AL East behind the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox. Questions abounded:

Had the Yankees erred by making Joe Torre an offer he could refuse, prompting the popular manager’s move to Los Angeles, where he has guided the Dodgers to two straight National League Championship Series?

Was Girardi, fired after one year as Florida Marlins manager, really the best man for the Yankees job?

Was Rodriguez on the decline after his spring-training outing as a drug cheat and subsequent hip deterioration (a possible result of repeated injections)?

Had Jeter so lost his range that he had become a defensive liability?

Could Sabathia and Burnett, with no previous postseason success, be counted on to win in New York?

The Yankees silenced those doubters in their Division Series sweep. Teixeira delivered the game-winning homer in the 11th inning in Game 2.

Jorge Posada, the gritty 38-year-old catcher, shook off a pride-wounding benching in Game 2 (because he and Burnett don’t mesh) to hit the game-winning homer in Game 3.

And then there’s A-Rod, a lightning rod for controversy in past years who has become bland in his interactions with the media and clutch on the field.

Before the Division Series, A-Rod in the playoffs had been 0-for-his-last-27 with runners on base and 0-for-29 with runners in scoring position and had just one RBI in 59 previous at-bats.

But Kate Hudson’s beau erupted against Minnesota, hitting .455 with 2 homers and five RBI, including a game-tying, two-run homer off Joe Nathan in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2 and a game-tying solo homer off Carl Pavano in the seventh inning of Game 3.

(If the Yanks win it all, does Kate get a ring. . .from A-Rod or the club?)

The Yankees’ pitching was superb. And the Yanks were far better on defense and in situational hitting than the Twins.

Despite Girardi’s penchant for pulling his pitchers too quickly, this Yankees team has the look of eagles. No longer does it resemble a postseason club in need of the Heimlich Maneuver.

There is still much work to be done. The Yankees don’t need to be reminded of how they have fared since winning their last world championship in 2000 against the Mets. But here’s the rundown anyway:

2001: Lost to Arizona Diamondbacks in World Series
2002: Lost to Anaheim Angels in Division Series
2003: Lost to Florida Marlins in World Series
2004: Lost to Boston Red Sox in League Championship Series
2005: Lost to Anaheim Angels in Division Series
2006: Lost to Detroit Tigers in Division Series
2007: Lost to Cleveland Indians in Division Series
2008: Failed to make playoffs
2009: ?

The Angels will be a formidable foe in the ALCS. So will the National League champion in the World Series. But the Yankees look like the class of Major League Baseball. Now it is up to them to continue to prove it.

Will "Mad Men" Get Real?

I’m new to “Mad Men.” I still have not seen the first two seasons of the Emmy Award-winning series, but I intend to after I watch every episode of season three.

Like most people, I’m not a regular viewer of the cable channel AMC on which “Mad Men” appears each Sunday night. In fact, were it not for an article in New York magazine this summer that extolled the virtues of “Mad Men,” I would not have even known the show existed.

But now I click off Sunday Night Football every week from 10-11 to find out what’s going on with Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Betty, Peggy, Vincent the snake with the choir boy face, Sal the closeted gay, curvaceous Joan Holloway and the rest of the “Mad Men” cast.

“Mad Men” is extremely well-written and well-acted and the male characters are particularly well-drawn.

Could we find out more about the female characters? Yes.

Could the show be a bit faster-paced? Maybe.

But the 1960s were a slower-paced, more innocent decade than the present one. So the deliberate pacing of “Mad Men” seems evocative of the era.

Still, I did not go gaga over this show about 1960s Madison Avenue ad men and their lives and loves until this past Sunday.

Why? Because no previous episode really connected with me strongly as an African-American man.

That all changed with three scenes in last Sunday’s episode, which is set in 1963. Both scenes indicate clearly that “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner is ready to show us how the tumultuous 1960s impacted his characters.

The big question now is how far will he go?

In the first of those scenes, Draper is in his car along with his daughter’s teacher (who is about to become his mistress), and they’re listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

(Why would they be listening to that speech on a car radio at night when the speech was delivered during the day? Oh, well. I’m willing to allow Weiner that bit of artistic license.)

In the second scene, Draper’s wife, Betty, ostensibly holding a fund-raiser at her home for liberal Republican presidential aspirant Nelson Rockefeller—although the event was a ruse to spend time with her own secret lover—chats with two lady friends about American racism, Southern-style.

“As far as I’m concerned, the South is still in the 18th Century,” one lady says as Betty nods in agreement.

And in the third and most hopeful scene, the Drapers’ African-American maid, Carla, is in the kitchen doing housework while listening to radio coverage of the funeral service for four African-American girls killed in the racist bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Just as Betty Draper enters the kitchen, Carla immediately shuts off the radio. The scene beautifully illustrates without dialogue the stark differences in social standing and socioeconomic status between the two women.

Carla needs her job. She can’t have Betty thinking she’s one of those uppity Negroes who would head South at the drop of the hat to protest and agitate.

Carla’s ability to make a living depends on her staying in the good graces of the Drapers.

That explains why Carla merely simmered rather than explode earlier in season three when Betty’s father wrongly accused her of stealing.

But in the climax to the kitchen scene, Betty tells Carla, “You don’t have to turn off the radio. You can listen to your program if you want to.”

Now we know Betty and Don are at least sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans facing systemic oppression at home.

But do the Drapers, who live in suburban Westchester County, truly understand the depth of that oppression?

Is it even possible for the Drapers to be more than sympathetic?

And what about Carla? Who is she? What about her family and friends? Where does she live?

What is Carla thinking about her existence as a working-class, middle-aged American woman working as a maid for a white, upper-class family?

We know this can’t be the American Dream for Carla or her peers.

Here’s hoping that Weiner will develop Carla as a full-bodied, multi-dimensional character, which is still rare for an African-American on a weekly television series—even a series set in 2009.

Maybe Weiner won’t go there. Maybe he can’t. Maybe I’m expecting too much from him.

After all, “Mad Men” has won the last two Emmy Awards for Best Drama without having one significant African-American character. Weiner may not want to stray too far from the thriving artistic territory he has tilled.

But I hope Weiner is daring enough, and wise enough, to mine the rich dramatic possibilities of a television series that contrasts the role of 1960s New York ad men with the rapidly changing country in which those characters reside.

The NFL Should Give Limbaugh Bum's Rush

It is refreshing to see so many African-American pro football players stand up for something socially relevant.

Players such as Bart Scott of the Jets and Mathias Kiwanuka and Antonio Pierce of the Giants spoke out forcefully this week against the possibility of race-baiting broadcaster Rush Limbaugh owning a piece of the St. Louis Rams.

Scott, Kiwanuka and Pierce all described Limbaugh as the racial antagonist he is, as someone whose presence as a minority franchise owner would be deeply offensive in a league where 70 percent of the players—and more than 90 percent of the starting players—are African-Americans.

Pierce strongly suggested that a Rams team partly owned by Limbaugh could become the NFL equivalent of Three Mile Island to African-American players—free agents would not sign to play in St. Louis, and those currently on the team would be eager to leave.

In this instance, African-American NFL players did not wait for the head of their players’ association, attorney DeMaurice Smith (also an African-American), to speak out against the Limbaugh proposal.

The players made their objection emphatically and cogently clear.

A country that elected its first African-American president 11 months ago should not have as a part-owner of a franchise in the country’s most popular sports league a man who said he hopes that president fails.

Why would the NFL want to do business with a guttersnipe like Limbaugh, who once wrote on his own Web site that an NFL game reminded him of a fight between Crips and Bloods without weapons?

Limbaugh obviously sees nothing wrong with being a member of the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, Florida—a club that has never had an African-American member.

Even Sammy Davis Jr. and the white member who invited him were once escorted out of the Everglades Club, according to Florida’s New Times.

NFL teams make money. Truckloads of money.

That is the only reason Limbaugh would want to get a piece of the action. He certainly has never shown any regard for the kinds of people whose blood, sweat and talent on the field generates all that income for NFL franchise owners.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay says he would not vote in favor of Limbaugh’s ownership group. (Seventy-five percent of NFL franchise owners, or 24 of 32, would have to vote in favor of Limbaugh.)

Limbaugh routinely uses his three-hour weekday radio show to perpetuate despicable lies such as the one about a white boy beaten by black kids on a school bus while other black kids yelled, “Right on!”

“Well, it could have happened,” was the lame reply from those who enjoy visiting Limbaugh’s toxic island of a radio show five days a week.

Obviously, Limbaugh makes those people warm, fuzzy and nostalgic for the racially oppressive America they once knew—the one where a wise Latina named Sonia Sotomayor could never have dreamed of sitting on the United States Supreme Court, and an African-American named Barack Obama could never have dreamed of having the power to appoint her.

So the Limbaugh crowd believes the lies he tells about school bus beatings, and cheerily sings along to “Barack, the Magic Negro” (set to the tune of “Puff, the Magic Dragon”) for this is the America they remember.

Limbaugh does not like to see African-Americans ascend to high-profile positions, such as U.S. president or quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles.

This is why Limbaugh called Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb “overrated” several years ago and assailed other media members for engaging in “social engineering” by turning McNabb into a star.

Limbaugh served up this rubbish as an NFL commentator for ESPN, a position for which he was never qualified and from which he resigned.

Does the NFL really want to wallow in the gutter with Limbaugh again?

Even if it does, African-American players have made it known that they stand ready to give Limbaugh exactly what he deserves—the bum’s rush.