Saturday, October 8, 2011

Jesus Can Save 2012 Yankees

For the second straight year, the New York Yankees were eliminated from a postseason baseball series on an Alex Rodriguez strikeout.

At least A-Rod swung and missed to end Game 5 of the 2011 American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers. He didn't go down with his bat on his right shoulder, as he did to end the 2010 AL Championship Series against the Texas Rangers.

Still, there is no joy in Yankeeville. Once again, mighty A-Rod has struck out.

But it's time to stop bashing the 36-year-old Rodriguez. Yes, he made $30 million for the 2011 season and hit a measly .111 (2-for-18) in the ALDS. But he wasn't the only high-priced underachiever on the Yankees -- sportsworld's most profitable franchise with a net worth of $1.6 billion.

Derek Jeter, 37, failed too often in the clutch against the Tigers. Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, both 30, were downright awful against Detroit. And CC Sabathia, 30, was missing more than the periods in his name versus the Tigers. He lacked command of his fastball. And he allowed mediocre hitters like Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago to beat him in Game 3.

It's time for the Yankees to get younger and more athletic, and the key to that infusion is 21-year-old Jesus Montero (pictured left). A powerfully built right-handed hitter with a quick bat, Jesus needs to become a regular in 2012.

Jesus has the potential to become a Mike Piazza-type catcher -- a consistent offensive threat with adequate defensive skills. Russell Martin, 30, the incumbent catcher, is a .230 hitter. He simply doesn't provide enough offense to start 130 games in 2012.

But if the Yankees are insistent that Martin play regularly, then they need to bench Swisher (sorry, ladies) or refuse to pick up his option for 2012 and instead convert Jesus into a right fielder.

Right field is the easiest of the three outfield positions to play at Yankee Stadium, and Jesus has a strong-enough arm to make the transition.

After being called up from the minor leagues in September, Jesus was not overmatched against major league pitching. Indeed, he showed the maturity to hit outside pitches to right field with authority, and he handled fastballs inside like a veteran.

All Jesus needs is regular playing time to become a power-hitting threat in the middle of the Yankees' lineup -- exactly what A-Rod used to be.

And Jesus might just become the postseason clutch hitter that the Yankees need. In the last several years, we've learned that A-Rod, Teixeira, Swisher and the aging Jeter are not up to the task.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Enough About Weiner & His...You Know

Should a United States Congressman be able to keep his seat while undergoing treatment for a cybersexual addiction he didn't seem to know he had until indecent photos of himself got into the hands of his political enemies?

How I wish I had created that storyline for my next book! Sounds like a best-seller if ever there was one.

Unfortunately for Anthony Weiner--and his wife, Huma Abedin, and his political mentor, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York--the storyline is fact, not fiction, and it will likely strip Weiner of his power.

As of today, the liberal Weiner still represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens in the U.S. House of Representatives. But that may not be true for long, nor should it be true.

Weiner has neither the grace nor gravitas of a statesman. Otherwise, he would not have sent sexually explicit photos of himself to at least a half-dozen women. Nor would he have lied about it so aggressively for 10 days before being forced to come clean because his political enemies had found even more embarrassing photos.

In the days since his June 6 news conference, when he said he would not resign, we have learned that Weiner's wife is pregnant with their first child. The New York Times broke that story, probably acting on a leak from Weiner himself. The pregnancy angle made headlines on the same day a photo of Weiner's weiner was posted by radio shock jocks Opie and Anthony.

Although Weiner succeeded in changing the narrative for a while, he looks like an even worse husband and a more reprehensible person for sending nude photos and sexually explicit texts to women while his wife is pregnant.

Now, we hear that Weiner is in treatment for his cybersexual addiction (and, I would hope, his habitual lying). But, apparently, he wants to keep his $175,000-a-year job. And his access to the congressional gym, where he reportedly shot some of his nude and semi-nude photos.

Clearly, Weiner has not lost the arrogance that got him in trouble in the first place.

This is not a private matter between Weiner and his wife. It is a betrayal of the trust we must have for our elected representatives. We should not expect our politicians to be perfect. But we should expect them to have better things to do with their time than send lewd photos and raunchy texts to women. We should expect politicians to make better use of our tax dollars.

Without trust in our elected officials, democracy withers and dies. As long as Weiner remains in Congress, the media will continue to ignore the important issues that truly impact on the quality of our lives and over-publicize the salicious tale of a congressman's political implosion.

"Weiner-gate" will not go away until Weiner himself goes away.

Weiner should resign from Congress, get the help he so desperately needs and make it a priority to become a better husband and citizen. Assuming therapy is successful, he could run for his old congressional seat in 2012 (if it isn't eliminated through redistricting). That way, Weiner's constituents would have the final say on whether he is fit to represent them in Washington, D.C.

The rest of us have had enough of Weiner and the body parts he just could not keep to himself.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Slimmer CC Sabathia Means Business in 2011

Despite being the best pitcher on the most successful franchise in sports, CC Sabathia is underrated. The New York Yankees ace has won an American League-leading 40 baseball games the last two years while helping his team win the 2009 World Series. But each time, he got snubbed by voters for the Cy Young Award, which goes to the best pitcher in each major league. Cy Young voters seem to prefer pitchers who excel on lesser teams, as Sabathia did in 2007 when he won the award as a Cleveland Indian. The Yankees, with their major league-high $221 million payroll, are hardly underdogs. But Carsten Charles Sabathia — who prefers to be known as CC without the periods - seems determined to be more dominant in 2011 and beyond, whether he wins awards or not. During the winter break, the 6-foot-7 left-hander shed 25 pounds, from 315 to 290, he said, "by not eating Cap’n Crunch every day. I could eat a box at a time." Dropping that bad habit was smart. According to the product’s nutritional information, one box of the cereal contains 1,400 calories. Eating a boxful is equivalent to 10 tablespoons of sugar. Sabathia, 30, has also begun working with a personal trainer and a nutritionist. "This was just something to try to extend my career," he said. Sabathia, a four-time all-star, said he intends to lose more weight, which is fine with the Yankees because he has shown in two starts this season that he’s lost nothing off a fastball that consistently tops 90 miles per hour.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

NY Times Travels Pay-to-Read Route...Again

As an increasing number of people visit newspaper websites for their daily dose of information, they are forcing publishers to grapple with the metaphorical question, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times, is hopeful that his influential daily has found the solution to making money from the unique visitors to the newspaper's website who no longer buy the print product.

On March 17, the Times launched a metered pay-to-read system for its online readers in Canada. Eleven days later, the system went into effect for the rest of the Times's 20 million unique online readers worldwide.

The journalism industry and business analysts are watching closely. Newspapers sorely need to find a new revenue stream to compensate for advertising dollars lost to the Internet. Consumers can advertise goods and services for free on websites like Craigslist and eBay. That has had a devastating effect on print media. Since 2002, U.S. newspapers have suffered a 70 percent drop in advertising revenue--from $19.6 billion to $6 billion, according to Bloomberg Television.

The Times's pay-to-read system works as follows: A visitor to can access up to 20 articles, slideshows and videos for free each month. After that, the visitor will be charged on a sliding scale: $15 per month for web access and an iPad application; $20 per month for web access and an application for an iPad and other tablets; and $35 per month for access to all three platforms.

In a letter to Times readers, Sulzberger called the pay-to-read system "an investment in our future. It will allow us to develop new sources of revenue to strengthen our ability to continue our journalistic mission as well as undertake digital innovations that will enable us to provide you with high-quality journalism on whatever device you choose."

This is not the Times's first attempt at a pay-to-read model for its online visitors. Several years ago, the Times discontinued a program called TimesSelect, which offered most online content free but asked readers to pay to read its popular columnists such as Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman.

TimesSelect led to a significant decline in the online readership of Dowd and Friedman, both Pulitzer Prize winner. Friedman, who specializes in global economic issues, told New York magazine, TimesSelect cost him virtually all his readers in China, and he rarely traveled to any country outside the U.S. without hearing from people who stopped reading him after the TimesSelect pay wall was erected.

The Wall Street Journal, a staunch competitor of the Times owned by News Corporation, offers readers some of its online content for free while charging a subscription fee for other content. But the Times's metered pay-to-read system closely mirrors that of the Financial Times.

If the Times's new model succeeds, surely other U.S. newspapers will follow the lead of the daily known as "The Gray Lady."

The New York Times Media Group owns more than a dozen other daily newspapers, including two of the three largest-circulation dailies in New England: The Boston Globe and The Telegram & Gazette in Worcester. The Times Media Group also owns 17 percent of New England Sports Ventures, whose holdings include the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and New England Sports Network.

Perhaps the greatest risk to the Times' pay-to-read policy is readers could limit their use of Times content to 20 exposures a month and then go to other online news outlets that will remain free such as USA Today, Gannett's flagship newspaper, or such international news sources as Reuters, BBC, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph and Al-Jazeera.

However, The Times is banking on reader loyalty toward its brand. Sulzberger believes readers who don't consider other news sources as accurate, authoritative or reliable as the Times will not object to paying for the online version.

"As you have seen during this recent period of extraordinary global news, the Times is uniquely positioned to keep you informed," Sulzberger wrote to his readers. "The launching of our digital subscription model will help ensure that we can provide you with the high-quality journalism and substantive analysis that you have come to expect from the Times."

Time as well as Times readers will tell if he is right.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

TV or No TV? That is the Question

Having grown up during the television age, I have been genuinely surprised to meet people who say they don’t have a television in their home and don’t want one.

Not anymore.

Not after another weekend of sampling the vulgarity, coarseness and incivility that passes for entertainment on TV.

Indeed, if I was not a sports author and journalist who enjoys watching athletes, I would be accepting offers for my 25-inch set right now.

Channel-surfing last Saturday night while waiting for ESPN’s coverage of Australian Open tennis, I came upon “Harry’s Law,” an NBC series starring Oscar-winner Kathy Bates as a fired corporate lawyer who opens her own practice in a hardscrabble section of Cincinnati.

In this episode, Bates’s character, Harriet (nicknamed “Harry,” hence the title), tells an opposing attorney that a jury would be more inclined to rule for her client instead of his because, “You’re an a**hole.”

The obscenity was uttered so casually, so quickly, there would have been no time to cover the ears of a child who doesn’t deserve such an assault to the ears and senses.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no prude. I was a huge fan of “The Sopranos” during its six-season run on HBO. It was one of the best-acted, best-written shows in television history.

However, the profanity, nudity and whackings in Tony Soprano’s world were expected.

And HBO is a premium channel, so you know what you’re paying those extra dollars for.

But nobody watching NBC at 8:16pm on a Saturday night should expect to hear one character on a drama series call another “an a**hole.”

Whatever happened to the family hour? Remember when the networks told us the period from 8pm-9pm Mondays through Saturdays and 7pm-9pm on Sundays were reserved for family entertainment?

Has the concept of non-offensive, family-oriented nightly entertainment on over-the-air television become as antiquated as the rabbit-eared antenna?

Do TV network honchos really believe that only vulgarity sells? That only a show with characters saying crude things to each other can be “edgy” and “hip”?

Is that why Kathy Bates is allowed to speak from the gutter in prime time?

Is that why “stinks” has been replaced by “sucks” in commercials and on TV series?

Is that why Fox Sports commentator Terry Bradshaw could say “sc*mbags” on a Sunday afternoon football show earlier this month and face no consequences?

Is that why CBS now presents a prime-time sitcom called “S**t My Dad Says”?

Is this what CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, WB and UPN think they have to do to compete with the brain-numbing boorishness of shows like “Jersey Shore,” which continues to set ratings records on MTV?

Much of television today resembles a warped game of limbo in which the overriding question is, “How low can you go?”

Low enough to compel many viewers to become far more discerning about what they watch and when—or join the growing ranks of those who use a television only to watch DVDs while ignoring network shows altogether.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Indomitable Mariano Rivera

With Trevor Hoffman announcing his retirement from baseball this week, Mariano Rivera stands ready to take possession of the only significant record for relief pitchers that he does not currently hold.

Hoffman, who ended his career with the Milwaukee Brewers, retired with 601 career saves.

Rivera, the New York Yankees relief ace since 1997, has 559 saves, only 42 behind Hoffman.

The number 42 is particularly significant for Rivera. He is the only player in the major leagues still wearing No. 42.

Jackie Robinson was baseball’s most famous No. 42. Major League Baseball officially retired the number on April 15, 1997 — the 50th anniversary of Robinson becoming the majors’ first black player with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Players who already wore No. 42 during the 1997 season were allowed to keep the number until they retired. Rivera is the only such player left.

Rivera has worn No. 42 with such distinction that he, like Robinson, will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer someday.

No relief pitcher in the history of baseball has been better than Rivera. Here’s a point-by-point comparison between Rivera and Hoffman:

Rivera: 41
Hoffman: 43

Major League Baseball seasons:
Rivera: 16
Hoffman: 18

Regular season saves:
Rivera: 559
Hoffman: 601

Regular season games:
Rivera: 978
Hoffman: 1035

Regular season ERA:
Rivera: 2.23
Hoffman: 2.87

All-Star appearances:
Rivera: 8
Hoffman: 7

Postseason saves:
Rivera: 42
Hoffman: 4

Postseason games:
Rivera: 94
Hoffman: 12

Postseason ERA:
Rivera: 0.71
Hoffman: 3.46

World Series championships:
Rivera: 5
Hoffman: 0

As the numbers clearly show, Rivera has been far superior to Hoffman in postseason games, when the stakes are highest and the pressure and media scrutiny are the greatest.

Only once did Rivera and Hoffman go head-to-head in the postseason. In the 1998 World Series, Rivera’s Yankees swept Hoffman’s San Diego Padres. Hoffman went 0-1 with one blown save and a 9.00 ERA while Rivera was perfect, saving all three games in which he appeared without allowing a run.

And Rivera is equally impressive off the field.

Growing up the son of a fisherman in La Chorrera, Panama, Rivera learned at an early age the value of hard work, religious faith and giving back to others.

Yet he remains humble, hard-working and altruistic despite the phenomenal success he has enjoyed as a Yankees reliever since 1995.

(When the Yankees won the 1996 World Series, Rivera excelled as John Wetteland’s set-up man. Rivera became the closer a year later.)

Married and the father of three sons, Rivera has helped finance the construction of an elementary school, a church and computer centers in his native country.

This winter, Rivera has delivered Christmas gifts to children in Bronx, NY, where the Yankees play their home games, and Panama. He does this without seeking publicity.

But his many contributions on the mound have been impossible to conceal.

Rivera dominates hitters with a devastating fastball that seems to grow teeth and bore in on hitters, often turning their bats into firewood. The fastball, along with his mental toughness and resilience, has set Rivera apart.

"I think the key to be successful in the closer role is to learn how to bounce back after the blown save or the losing circumstance," Rivera says. "Learn to come back from that and put that behind you."

Rivera overcame adversity in his first season as the Yankees’ relief ace. With the Yankees just four outs from winning the 1997 American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, Rivera gave up a game-tying home run to Sandy Alomar Jr. Cleveland went on to win the game and the series.

Rather than be haunted by that failure, Rivera came back stronger. He helped the Yankees win the next three World Series — and did not allow an earned run in any of his 18 postseason appearances in 1998 and ’99.

Consistency on the field and off has been a major reason for Rivera’s success. He doesn’t just kill time in the bullpen and wait to be called upon in the late innings. He remains a student of the game.

"Watch the game, pay attention to the hitters and once I do that I have some kind of idea on how to attack them," he says.

Yankees fans have come to expect satisfaction whenever Rivera emerges from the bullpen at Yankee Stadium to the tune of Metallica’s "Enter Sandman." And Rivera rarely disappoints.

Rivera, who recently signed a two-year contract worth $15 million a season, has averaged 35 saves a year during his career. That means sometime during the 2012 season, he should surpass Hoffman and become baseball’s all-time leader in saves.

Rivera is already baseball’s greatest relief pitcher ever. But after he breaks Hoffman’s record, there won’t be any doubt.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ron Franklin, you will be missed

If you are the type of sports fan who just watches the game without paying any mind to who is broadcasting it, then you probably heard of Ron Franklin for the first time this week.

ESPN fired Franklin today for comments he made to colleague Jeannine Edwards at a production meeting before the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta last Friday.

Reportedly, Franklin referred to Edwards as "Sweetcakes" during a discussion unrelated to football. When she rightfully objected, he called her "asshole."

That may be all most people care to know about this story.

But there is more to be said about an excellent play-by-play announcer who should not have lost his gig because of one high-profile mistake.

I have never met Franklin and probably never will. But I will miss hearing him on ESPN's coverage of college football and college basketball.

Franklin's college hoops partner, Fran Fraschilla, is someone I used to cover for Gannett Newspapers when Fraschilla coached at Manhattan College. Fraschilla and Franklin made an excellent team on Big 12 Conference games.

The Franklin-Fraschilla duo gave us no hype, no screaming, a few deadpan jokes and plenty of substance. They were consistently a good listen.

With a Texas twang, Franklin's booming voice easily cuts through crowd noise. Hence, he never screams at his audience. He knows football and hoops, and has an understated play-by-play style in the Ray Scott/Jack Buck tradition.

In today's era of screaming boyish chatterboxes in the play-by-play chair, people like Franklin are valued by sports fans like me.

Did I know Franklin was capable of obscene, sexist comments? No.

Did he deserve to be suspended? Yes.

Did I think he would be fired? Never.

At age 68, Franklin may never get another network gig, which has more to do with the way the business of sports television has changed than with any perceptible decline in his skills.

Considering that Vin Scully is in his 80s and still going strong as the voice of the Dodgers, Franklin might have been able to go another 10 years on ESPN had the network allowed it.

Franklin, who was a star sportscaster in Texas before joining ESPN 25 years ago, may decide to go local again. If that's the case, I hope to find one of his games on satellite sometime soon.

Finally, on the subject of what may have triggered Franklin's ugly comments toward Edwards, I say this not to try to excuse the inexcusable but to make this point: The ESPN of today--with sideline reporters as eye candy on football games despite the ladies' glaring lack of football knowledge--bears little resemblance to what ESPN used to be.

Franklin, I suspect, resented having to share air time with someone who lacked the credentials to be on a football telecast, someone with whom he never had to work back in the day.

Sideline reporters on ESPN, women such as Edwards, Erin Andrews, Heather Cox and Lisa Salters, add absolutely nothing to a game telecast.

Sideline reporters on football games are so irrelevant that CBS does not even use them on its NFL telecasts, and nobody misses them.

Eye candy disguised as sideline reporters exist, as former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson once told me, to give guys something pretty to look at.

Well, I don't need any more candy.

For me, the game is enough and it always will be.

I suspect Ron Franklin, a play-by-play man from the old school, felt the same way.

Hence, it did not take much for him to snap.

It's just too bad Franklin did not complain from a seat at the hotel bar like everyone else who strongly dislikes what the hyperbolic, shallow, always-be-selling ESPN has become.