Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Johnny Damon Needs to Follow A-Rod's Lead

As a veteran observer of all things Yankee, I don’t believe reports that the team’s divorce from Johnny Damon is final.

General manager Brian Cashman says the Yankees won’t resign the 36-year-old outfielder because the club needs to get younger and more athletic and keep the 2010 payroll under $200 million.

I’m not buying it.

When has payroll mattered to the New York Yankees?

The Yanks have never cared about paying a luxury tax (not even this season’s $25 million tax) for exceeding baseball’s salary threshold as long as they’re getting maximum bang for their bucks.

And a 27th World Series championship certainly qualifies as money well-spent.

During the Steinbrenner Era, the Yankees have always tried to field the best team money can buy.

The Yankees can achieve that again in 2010 if Damon takes the initiative and follows a strategy already executed by Alex Rodriguez.

No, that doesn’t mean Damon should divorce his wife and date free-agent starlet Kate Hudson.

Instead, Damon should tell agent Scott Boras exactly what A-Rod told him after negotiations with the Yankees had been severed following the ’07 season:

Butt out.

If Damon himself tells Cashman and the Steinbrenner boys, Hank and Hal, that he wants to stay, then they’ll make a deal.

Boras, in typically nauseating fashion, alienated the Yankees by saying publicly the club should give Damon the kind of multi-year deal it gave catcher Jorge Posada at age 36 and relief ace Mariano Rivera at age 39 and will give shortstop Derek Jeter who turns 36 in June.

That is not going to happen. Nor should it happen.

Jeter, Rivera and Posada have become Yankee icons. Along with southpaw Andy Pettitte, they’re the only on-field links to the dynastic Yankee teams of the late 1990s-early 2000s.

Those players have earned special treatment.

Boras also used the media to tell the Yankees not to make an offer to Damon unless it’s a three-year deal.

The Yankees essentially told Boras to take a flying leap.

The Yankees then traded for former Tigers All-Star Curtis Granderson—at 29, a superior athlete and outfielder to Damon—and signed free agent Nick Johnson, an ex-Yankee whose on-base percentage is one of baseball’s best.

Damon should remind Boras that he works for the player, not the other way around.

The Yankees would offer Damon a two-year, $16-million deal if he wants it. I’ve followed this club long enough to know that.

A-Rod is a Yankee today—with a world championship on his resume, finally—because he personally told the club he wanted to stay and he muzzled Boras.

There may be more upfront money elsewhere for Damon, or even a three-year deal, but he wouldn’t be a Yankee. He wouldn’t be playing for the reigning world champions, the most celebrated franchise in professional sports, in the media capital of the world.

It can’t make more sense to Damon to finish his career with the White Sox, Orioles or Royals.

Would the Red Sox offer him a return to Beantown?

Maybe. But only to try to tweak the Yankees, the team that tweaked them when Damon signed his four-year, $52 million deal after the ’05 season.

But that move wouldn’t make sense for the Sox, who need to get younger and more athletic just like the Yankee team they’re now chasing.

Damon should want to be part of the 2010 Yankees, part of what would be one of baseball’s most potent lineups ever:

SS Derek Jeter

LF Johnny Damon

1B Mark Teixeira

3B Alex Rodriguez

C Jorge Posada

CF Curtis Granderson

2B Robinson Cano

RF Nick Swisher

DH Nick Johnson

You could quibble with the batting order. You could even bat Granderson ninth (if he’s not insulted), but this lineup coupled with the Yankees’ pitching staff would be favored to win another world championship.

Damon should want a piece of that action.

But first he needs to follow A-Rod’s lead and check his agent at the door.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Brother, Can You Spare a Calendar?

Remember when you didn’t have to buy a calendar?

The local businesses in your neighborhood, the ones you patronized all year, the businesspeople you knew on a first-name basis, used to give calendars as a thank-you for your patronage.

Well, that has gone the way of the free toaster or blender you used to get from the local bank for opening an account.

“Do you have any 2010 calendars?” I ask the HSBC teller after cashing a check at my local branch in Yonkers, New York.

“Huh?” replies the teller who looks like she was born after the New York Mets’ last World Series title.

“I’ve had an account here for years,” I tell her. “You probably had a crush on Boyz II Men when I started banking here. You used to give out calendars every year.”

“Not me,” she says.

I think she actually thought I was referring to her specifically. So I thank her for attempting to answer my questions and I leave.

Is this the “new normal?”

I should no longer expect a calendar at the end of the year from the local bank, or dry cleaner, or insurance agent, or monolithic cable company, or grocer, or Chinese take-out joint?

Can they no longer afford that act of appreciation?

Or are we all still holding on by our fingernails and trying to survive the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression?

I’m afraid it’s the fingernail answer. Businesses now deem calendars an unnecessary expense.

I remember better days.

I grew up in a poor neighborhood. My brother and I used to go from store to store collecting calendars because that passed for entertainment in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn.

(Bed-Stuy is where Spike Lee filmed Do the Right Thing 20 years ago.)

Nobody was rich in Bed-Stuy, otherwise you didn’t live there. But every business gave you a calendar at the end of the year just for asking.

The pet store, even though my parents wouldn’t let us have any more pets after my brother and I put our turtles in the freezer overnight just to see what would happen.

The liquor store. Yeah, they gave us calendars as part of some program to nurture a new generation of bitter, oppressed, alcohol-dependent customers.

The shoe store, the bodega, the Laundromat, the 5- and 10-cent store (now the 99-cent store) and the layaway stores that suckered poor folks into making monthly payments totaling $1,000 for a $400 color TV.

I used to get calendars from all those places.

Not anymore.

My Allstate agent used to mail me a nice refrigerator-magnet calendar.

But what’s the line from that Neil Diamond song?

“Used to be’s don’t count anymore

“They just fall to the floor

“And you sweep them away.”

That I still remember lyrics from a Neil Diamond song may be part of the problem. I remember how much better things used to be and I haven’t adjusted yet to the new normal.

If I want a 2010 calendar, I’m just going to have to buy it myself…after January 1 when it’s 50-percent off and the only ones left in the stores will have those boring pictures of dogs, cats or polar bears.

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm Not Picky, Just Selective

Today, I went to see the new George Clooney movie, Up in the Air. But this isn’t about the movie, which I enjoyed, even though Clooney’s middle-aged commitment-averse character hits a little too close to home.

Instead, I’m writing about the personal drama that ensued before and after the movie.

I saw Up in the Air at the Clearview Cinema on 23rd & 8th in Manhattan. I could’ve seen the film closer to my Yonkers residence, but I like the three-story multiplex theater in Chelsea.

As a member of Cablevision’s Optimum Rewards program, I’m entitled to two free movie tickets on Tuesdays at any Clearview Cinema location. (Cablevision owns Clearview.)

This must be a well-known perk because an attractive, cocoa-skinned woman with long fake hair stood near the box office asking, “Anybody have an extra ticket?”

I was alone and OK with it (like the Clooney character, I would learn). I wasn’t looking to pick anybody up.

“Cocoa” looked to be in her twenties—young enough to be the daughter I don't yet have.

“I’ll get you a ticket,” I tell you. “What do you want to see?”

“What are you gonna see?” she asked a little too eagerly.

Up in the Air.”

“Me, too,” she said with a beauteous smile. “I saw on TV today that it got the most Academy Award nominations.”

“Golden Globe nominations.”

“Yeah. That’s what I said.”

“No, you said Academy Awards. The Golden Globes are different.”

“No, you didn’t hear me,” she insists. “I said Golden Globes.”

I’m not going to see her again, I sighed. So why belabor the point?

But then she says she wants to see the movie with me.

“It’s better to watch a movie with somebody,” she says with way too much emphasis on the last word.

"Well, it depends on the 'somebody,'" I say.

“I really hate to see movies by myself.”

“Then why didn’t you come here with somebody?” I ask.

“What are the chances of two ladies getting free movie tickets?” she answers as if my question made no sense. “You gotta do this by yourself if you wanna get in.”

So, she’s done this before. I just happen to be the benefactor this week.

OK, I thought. Why not? Watching a movie with a young woman is something I’d want to do with my daughter if I had one.

Interesting that in Up in the Air, Clooney develops a friendship with a woman half his age. (I promise not to give away any other movie details.)

On the first of two long escalators that take us to the third level, she tells me she likes my name because it’s different.

She also tells me her name: Allison. I tell her it’s a pretty name because I think that’s what I’m expected to say.

Allison didn’t talk too much during the movie—a major plus with me. I don’t go to see movies in predominantly black neighborhoods anymore because of all the idle chatter from the audience, and the frequent scent of marijuana smoke. (I grew up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. The 'hood. I know of what I write.)

“They’re gonna get together,” Allison whispers about Clooney and the young woman, referring to a carnal get-together.

“I don’t think so,” I tell her.

(I won’t tell you who was right.)

“Older men are such gentlemen,” she says, stroking my right hand. “Why can’t y’all be like that when you’re our age?”

I hate stereotypes. Some men in their 20s are perfect gentlemen. I used to be one. But I usually got overlooked by women in their 20s who only had eyes for bad boys.

When I told Allison that, she just shrugged and looked back at the screen.

So where am I going with this?

I’ll let you know.

Friday, December 11, 2009

When Will Tiger Woods Return? Late March

Tiger Woods, the world’s first billionaire athlete and golf’s Player of the Year (in more ways than one), is taking an indefinite leave from the sport, presumably to try to save his marriage and get his mind right.

How long will he be away?

My response is one borrowed from the Baptist church in which I was reared:

“How long? Not long.”

I believe Tiger will return to the pro tour at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, March 25-28, 2010, in Orlando, near his home in Windermere, Florida.

Not only is the Palmer Invitational played in Tiger’s backyard, it is also staged on a course he loves.

How much does Tiger love Arnie’s tournament? He’s won it six times, including each of the last two years.

On the Palmer Invitational Web site, it says, “Watch Tiger Woods defend his title at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando.

We know Tiger isn’t talking publicly to anyone these days—not even to a former journalist-turned-TV icon named Oprah—but don’t think Tiger would allow Palmer, one of his golfing idols, to use his name to sell tickets for the 2010 event without giving a tacit commitment to appear.

Playing in Arnie’s tournament makes perfect sense for Tiger because it comes two weeks before The Masters, the first Grand Slam event of 2010.

Tiger would be doing the legendary Palmer a favor by making his 2010 debut in Orlando. TV ratings and box-office revenue would go through the roof. His return would be the world’s biggest sports story that week. And it would also return the spotlight to Palmer, golf’s first TV star in the 1950s.

Tiger could then spend the next two weeks fine-tuning his game for The Masters, April 8-11, at the Augusta National Country Club.

Tiger is first and foremost a golfer. That is what made him great.

Not his personality. Not his charisma. Not even his supposed sexual voracity despite what we’ve heard from the publicity-seeking women identified as his “alleged mistresses.”

Tiger became a legend, a sought-after pitchman and a billionaire at the tender age of 33 because of his prowess in golf.

And what motivates Tiger is the chance to break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Grand Slam titles.

Tiger has 14. And, remember, he did not win a major in 2009.

(Given what we know now about his serial adultery, it is easy to see why he failed to win a major.)

It’s impossible for me to believe that Tiger would now take an entire year off, no matter how much he may want to repair his marriage.

A champion athlete does not sit out a year during the prime of his career unless he is forced to, as was Muhammad Ali after being stripped of his world heavyweight title and prevented from boxing for 3-1/2 years during the 1960s.

Although Ali recaptured the heavyweight crown twice after his return, he was never as great again.

Michael Jordan was not quite the same either after 1-1/2 years away from basketball to play minor-league baseball, his three additional NBA titles notwithstanding.

I have never met Tiger, but through his public statements he has always impressed me as a student of sports history.

Hence, there is no way he stay away from the sport he loves for a full year and allow his skills to atrophy, thereby ceding the world No. 1 ranking to, say, Phil Mickelson and endangering his chances of breaking Nicklaus’s record.

Take away all of Tiger’s non-golf endorsement deals and he’ll live.

But take away golf for an extended period and Tiger would not be able to function.

So like the azaleas in full bloom on Amen Corner at Augusta National, Tiger will be back in the spring, and we will not be able to take our eyes off him.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tiger Woods & His $exy Logo$

Tiger Woods should be damaged goods.

But he’s really not.

And he won’t be unless we find out he has fathered enough cubs outside of marriage to give former NFL running back Travis Henry (nine kids by nine different women) a run for his money.

Such transgressions would not be so easily explained on

We thought we knew Tiger, but we didn’t.

Just days ago, we learned there’s something he loves almost as much as golf:

Cocktail waitresses.

Especially if, like, they sound like they come from, uh, ya know, The Valley.

We have also learned there’s something Tiger loves even more than cocktail waitresses and nearly as much as golf:

Corporate logos.

That’s why a man whose public image was as counterfeit as a three-dollar bill, or a Fox News “exclusive,” continued to sign on the dotted line as a pitchman.

It hardly seems to matter that news of his adulterous romps only gets worse. A British cocktail waitress is set to tell her story of “Shagging with Tiger” in a Fleet Street tabloid tomorrow.

If she's telling the truth, that would bring the number of Tiger’s extramarital affairs to four in case you’ve lost count.

Nevertheless, six of Tiger’s 10 corporate sponsors have issued statements of love and support.

The six are Nike, PepsiCo (makers of Gatorade), Gillette, EA (computer games), Net Jets (luxury jets) and TLC (laser vision eye care).

Tiger’s other sponsors—AT&T, Accenture (business consultancy), Tag Heuer (watches) and Upper Deck (sports cards and memorabilia)—are laying low, at least for now.

Hence, Tiger is batting .600 in the corporate game.

Soon, he’ll be back to batting 1.000.

Tiger gets $100 million a year from endorsements alone.


Either Tiger’s corporate sponsors believe an association with him is still good for business, or each is afraid a competitor would quickly sign him.

I suspect it’s the latter.

Tiger is as closely associated with Nike as any athlete since Michael Jordan, and thanks to Tiger, Nike Golf is an enormously successful brand.

Since Tiger is still young—he turns 34 on December 30—and could conceivably win on the PGA Tour into his late 40s, then begin a successful run on the over-50 Champions Tour, Nike would be insane to drop him.

If Nike dumps Tiger, a competitor would sign him to a multi-year deal in less time than it takes to read this sentence.

If PepsiCo says, “Tiger, we’re through,” Coca-Cola would say, “Hello, handsome.”

If Gillette says, “Tiger, you disgust me,” S.C. Johnson & Co. (makers of Edge shaving gel), would swoon, “Oh, Tiger, what a gorgeous face you have!”

Corporations will still line up to have a relationship with Tiger, his character flaws notwithstanding.


He’s the best in the world at what he does…on a golf course.

Now keep in mind, this has nothing to do with whether Tiger Woods, the pitchman, actually moves products other than those associated with golf.

American Express and Buick actually ended their affairs with Tiger in 2007, but only after enough focus groups told them they didn’t believe Tiger really drove a Buick or needed an AmEx card.

Tiger’s other non-golf sponsors know the same thing about their products. Yet they still adore him.

Truth is they can’t resist him.

That’s why Tiger has oodles of hush money and revised pre-nup money to throw around these days.

It’s all because of his most ardent lovers—the ones with the sexy logos.