Settling Scores with MLB At Bat

MLB At BatOne of my favorite uses for my increasingly useful iPad is to keep current with The New York Yankees, an activity made possible — and enjoyable — with the outstanding MLB At Bat app. For baseball fans like myself who have canceled their cable service and therefore have little access to regular gameday broadcasts, paying just a fraction of the cost of a ballpark ticket once for an app that gives this kind of access for the full season is a bargain: it offers of course a full box score, an excellent complement of statistics, play-by-play summaries, radio simulcasting and, most importantly for me, a healthy trove of after-the-fact video.

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Watching Yankees Spending

New York YankeesLast Wednesday The New York Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies to win their twenty-seventh World Series. After a nine year title drought, the victory predictably thrilled Yankees fans like myself while also re-igniting the old complaint that the franchise is a bully in the baseball market, that the team uses an obscenely resourceful payroll to effectively and unfairly buy championships.

Actually, the pilot light for that particular criticism never goes out, whether the team has won or lost its most recent bid for the World Series (or even when they make no post-season appearance at all, as happened in 2008). For almost a decade, the Yankees have consistently maintained the highest payroll in Major League Baseball while failing to bring home a World Series title, and during that time the grousing took the form of ridicule. What Yankees fans heard then was: “See? You Yankees can’t buy championships, even with all of your money.” What we hear today is: “See? You Yankees just buy championships with all of your money.”

This is not a coherent line of argument, but then again it would be naïve to look for any motivation here other than envy, because the logic at work is so suspect. It’s pretty safe to say that a good number of those who hate the Yankees because of their payroll are unabashed capitalists, too; they’d be very unlikely to begrudge the fact that the highest valued, best performing organization in any given market also led that market. That’s not just capitalism, it’s the way capitalism is practiced in America.

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The Cost of Unchanging Seasons

New York YankeesWhether it’s illogical, delusional or arrogant, fans of the New York Yankees (including me) expect to see the team win the World Series every year. So it’s frustrating when, as happened on Monday night, they come up head-scratchingly short, losing this time in a first-round series against the Cleveland Indians by three games to one.

Year after year, Yankee management spends exorbitantly to assemble a roster of some of the most formidable, on-paper talent available. So to watch that talent expire ignobly in October while swinging aimlessly, pitching stalely, and shuffling across the field in an exhausted, uninspired pantomime of their regular season selves… well, relative to their payroll and their expected potential, it’s frustrating, to say the least. (Though more than a few of you out there, I’m sure, take some delight in it!)

Though each team that’s beaten them in Octobers past rightfully earned their victories it’s hard to deny there’s something fundamentally wrong about the Yankees’ approach. I won’t pretend to have definitive answers to what ails them (or to whether manager Joe Torre should go, or whether third baseman Alex Rodriguez should stay), but there is something I’ve noticed that strikes me as inherently troublesome: the Yankees have an untenably high cost of change.

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Damn Yankees Broadcasters

Let’s stick with television a bit longer. As a New York Yankees fan, I watch a fair number of televised games on George Steinbrenner’s otherwise unimpressive YES Network. Part of watching those games means grinning and bearing my way through the commentary of regular team broadcast voice Michael Kay, whose gift for inaccurate, specious and scowl-inducing narration deserves a designation of its own among the many, many things that annoy me. Like nails on a chalkboard.

So I’ve been wondering if there’s a good reason why we can’t have alternative game commentary via the Interweb? Why shouldn’t Major League Baseball — or any professional sports league — let anyone who wants to provide a commentary track for any given game — using the same basic digital audio tools that hundreds of people are using to create podcasts already — do so easily?

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Three Things I’m Late On

Round-up time. If only each day was a few hours longer than twenty-four, I wouldn’t be so behind in posting these three items. If only!

First, I was lucky enough to be sitting about fifteen rows back from the third base line at Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon when Alex Rodriguez hit that game-winning grand slam against the Baltimore Orioles — in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and two strikes. I acknowledge that even an event as unique as that is flirting the edge of what readers of this weblog are generally interested in, but I just wanted to say it was one of the coolest, most exhilarating things I’ve ever seen.

As it happened, my Saturday turned out to be a great day for seats at live events. Later that evening my girlfriend and I had front-row seats to see “Jack Goes Boating,” a two-act production from Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz’s LAByrith Theater Company — both actors appeared in it as well. It’s currently in its original run right now at The Public Theater in downtown Manhattan. Even if it’s not a groundbreaking entertainment, John Ortiz’s confident, commanding and highly watchable performance reaffirmed my contention that he’s currently the best kept secret going in the world of acting.

Finally, I’m very, very late to the party on this one: Wow, have you seen “The Shield”? I’d completely missed this FX Network original series until now, but it’s unbelievably good. Oh, and while we’re talking television, one more thing… Sci-Fi Network’s Battlestar Galactica is the most overrated television show ever.

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Fall Ball

Though I follow it passionately, I don’t write a lot about baseball here. This is mostly owing to the fact that, in contrast to those others in the blogosphere who write both more eloquently and/or more precisely about the subject, I generally feel that anything I have to offer runs along the lines of ‘blowing smoke out of my ass.’ I came late and unexpectedly to this passion, and while I have a lot of opinions about it, I feel much more like a student of the game than a sage expert.

Which is why I hesitated, really, to write about the Yankees’s 6-0 loss last night to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. They’re down in this five-game set now, 2-1, and they must win the next two games or summarize another season as a dismally oversold failure.

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The City in Seventy-Seven

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is BurningIf ever there was a perfect summer book for me, it’s Jonathan Mahler’s “Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx Is Burning,” which I finished last week. It’s a completely absorbing tale of New York in 1977, when the city was besieged by fiscal crisis, arson, serial murders, blackouts and divisive politics, a time when New York seemed literally on the brink of a final, catastrophic end. Through meticulous research and a masterful feat of narrative contrivance, Mahler posits that year’s Yankees ballclub — itself stricken with internal strife between the erratic paranoia of manager Billy Martin and the outsized ego of new addition Reggie Jackson — as a metaphor for the city’s troubles, and uses the team’s progression over the course of the year to tell profound, fascinating stories about baseball and an iteration of New York that, in its very character, is almost unrecognizable from its twenty-first century self. New York, politics and baseball — what’s not to like?

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The Reading (and Waiting) List

Bel CantoIt’s not often that I read fiction anymore, unfortunately. I blame this on a schedule that imposes unhealthy restrictions on leisure reading in general and also the ‘always on’ nature of my home internet connection, which beckons me to read more and more blogs when I should be spending the evening on the couch with a good book. From time to time I’ll make a concerted effort to read something in ink and paper format, but more often than not, I’m drawn to non-fiction.

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