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Bob Raissman, as his wont, fired off a rant against the YES Network’s treatment of the Roger Clemens indictment. Here are the key passages:

Seriously though, why would the brainiacs running YES, or suits in the Yankees front office, offer Clemens a cloud of media cover by initially blacking out news of his indictment? Maybe they don’t want their voices discussing the possibility of Andy Pettitte having to testify at a Clemens trial. Or the fact that any other current Yankee who was around Clemens when he was with the club could be subpoenaed.

Beyond that, the franchise has distanced itself from the Rocket. He has no current value, marketing or otherwise, to the Yankees or Al Yank. Nonetheless, there’s still some affection. Kay’s “report” was sympathetic, his tone melancholy. Cue the weeping violin.

“I don’t know if he lied to Congress but I’ll tell you this, on a personal level I got along great with Roger Clemens. I liked him. I thought he was a great guy,” Kay said. “I know this is probably a difficult time. If he brought it on himself he’s going to have to suffer the consequences, but we’ll see how this plays out.”

Ken Singleton yanked on the same emotional thread, calling this Clemens thing a “sad situation.” Singleton warned: “Indictment is one thing, conviction is another.” Wow! That bit of keen insight should land Singleton an analyst gig on YES’ coverage of Clemens’ trial (anyone laughing yet?).

Maybe this is all just about a Rocket kind of love. How sweet. Kay again called the situation “sad” before saying that YES “will cover this story as it becomes pertinent along the way.”

Until Kay provides YES’ definition of “pertinent” or “along the way,” you’ve heard the last of Roger Clemens.

Raissman is dead wrong, as he so frequently is. The story is absolutely not pertinent to the YES broadcasts, and I am heartened to see that the network has largely ignored it. Until Andy Pettitte is called to testify or other current Yankees are implicated in some way, I see no reason for the broadcasters to discuss the legal issues of a former player. As Raissman so frequently notes and Kay often forgets, calling a game is different than a radio show, and the broadcasters should be focused on discussing topics relevant to the play on the field and the current club. If Andy Pettitte does become embroiled in the Clemens mess, I am certain that YES will cover the story, complete with discussions with the sideline reporter du jour. For now, as Kay noted, the story is not pertinent.

As for Raissman’s criticism of Singleton’s comments, I thought Kenny made an important point that usually gets lost in this sort of situation. Although the evidence seems to be stacked against him, Clemens has not yet been convicted of perjury. Kenny’s unwillingness to swallow the hasty judgments made in the court of public opinion should be lauded, rather than mocked. Considering that it is Raissman’s job to mock other members of the media, I am not surprised he took a less reasonable position.

Wednesday night’s game had that special feel that is typically reserved for playoff games, no-hit bids, and four hour affairs against Boston. Derek Jeter had notched two hits in his first 3 at bats, and came to the plate in the 7th inning with an opportunity to tie Lou Gehrig. He singled to right and tied the record, and the crowd erupted around him. In the 8th, the crowd roared as he batted with a chance to claim the record for himself, but worked a walk against the aptly named Grant Balfour. For those in the Stadium, it must have been an exceptionally thrilling moment. For those of us watching at home, it was a great experience that was slightly diminished by the incessant babbling of Michael Kay.

During both at-bats Kay assailed us with prepared statements, kitschy lines, and inane platitudes about the greatness of Derek Jeter. Once Jeter notched the tying hit, it became obvious that Kay had scripted his reaction, as he launched into a lengthy speech that drowned out the reaction of the crowd. There was nary a moment of silence from the booth during either at-bat, despite the fact that the crowd was excellent and could have done most of the relevant talking.

The mark of a great announcer is knowing when to let the ambient noise speak for the moment, rather than interfere by imposing their own narrative upon events. Michael Kay frequently fails in this regard, talking over the crowd when he should be describing the play and then letting the picture and the crowd speak for itself. With Jeter’s record breaking hit sure to come over the next few days, I have one request for Michael Kay: Please stop talking.

Neil Best recently interviewed Yankees radio voice John Sterling, and there were some interesting quotes:

In his 21st season as the Yankees’ voice, Sterling remains perhaps the most polarizing figure in New York sports media, a hot-button topic both loved and loathed – sometimes by the same people.

What does the man himself have to say about the phenomenon?

“What am I going to do?” he said, sitting in an auxiliary booth before Tuesday’s game. “The first time it happens in your life, it hurts. The second time, it hurts a little less.

“Now, after the 150,000th time, it hurts even less. So basically that’s it. It’s just a matter of pragmatism. Why bother? Why stew over that?”

Later, he added, “You’d like everyone to like you, but I don’t think it’s possible.”
{snip}
The most frequent complaint is his anticipating of plays, often wrongly. There even is a blog dedicated to him under the banner, “It is high, it is far, it is . . . caught.”

Valid criticism? “Yes, very much so,” Sterling said. Yet he made no apologies…..

“There are people who broadcast play-by-play who do it behind, so they’re never wrong,” Sterling said. “If that’s a knock, that I try to be ahead of the play, well, maybe it’s like ‘A-bomb from A-Rod.’ I can find a hundred people who hate it, then I can find a thousand people who like it.”

At times, though, Sterling misjudges so spectacularly that it appears he is having trouble seeing the ball. Is his eyesight an issue? “No, no,” he said.

Sterling also takes an unconventional, uneven approach to mundane parts of the job, such as updating the score and describing action.

“Look, you always want to improve, always want to get better,” he said. “When you get knocked for saying something wrong, I mean, I do something wrong every game! Are you kidding? You’re speaking extemporaneously for four hours.”

I happen to like Sterling, although his mistakes do grate on my nerves. I find that his cadence and voice raise the excitement level late in games, and would not trade that for someone a bit more accurate. However, I do understand the complaint about his weakness in describing the game sometimes, and thought of a solution.

I am not the biggest Michael Kay fan, being that I think he does too much talking for television. Sometimes, the picture should do the talking, and Kay never allows for that. Hmm, so we have a TV guy who taks too much and a radio guy who is not great with description. Why not flip them? As a commenter at BBTF noted:

I heard Michael Kay do the play-by-play for Sunday night’s Red Sox/Yankees game for ESPN Radio, and he was fantastic. He filled the dead time with details on the field, the way you would hope a broadcaster would. He described the uniforms, the batting stances, facial expressions, postures, everything you could want to visualize what was going on.

Kay’s hyper-descriptiveness would play better on the radio, while Sterling’s lack of description would be mitigated if you could actually see the play. Flipping them would play directly into their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. What do you think?

From Bruce Jenkins:

At the height of Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the home-run records, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow made lively, enthusiastic calls on the Giants’ network. They always loved Bonds as a ballplayer. They knew that whatever the extent of his plunge into steroids, it didn’t tarnish his reputation as one of the greatest and most entertaining hitters of all time. Most of the Giants’ fans knew this, as well, and they cheered their hearts out whenever he went deep. Kuiper’s home-run calls, in particular, go down with the most inspiring of modern-day broadcasting.
It seems this didn’t go over too well in other cities. Kay, who anchors the Yankees’ telecasts, ripped Krukow and Kuiper in a public forum for getting so excited over a steroid guy. Steiner, part of the Dodgers’ radio team, made some equally rude comments (off the air), establishing himself as a real high-and-mighty beacon of integrity.
Except it doesn’t work that way. Alex Rodriguez opened the season in disgrace after the steroid-related embarrassment of spring training, but that didn’t stop Kay from going nuts when A-Rod slugged his first home run. Presto — instant hypocrite!

I am throughly unsurprised that a member of the media would be hypocritical regarding this issue. Many writers and other media types have done this dance before, ripping players when it was convenient while lionizing them when that was the more profitable course of action. Here is what I wrote on the issue in February:

The hand wringing in the media is designed to distract us from one simple fact that the Olney’s and Verducci’s of the world desperately want us to ignore. Those guys were in the Yankee clubhouse in the late 90’s all the time. They criticize GM’s for not knowing what was going on in terms of baseball’s drug culture, yet they spent more time around these players than anyone but the managers and trainers. How did they miss what was going on?

The answer is quite simple, and is so damning as to pretty much disqualify any moral haranguing that you read from any reporter who worked during that era. They did not miss it, they just chose to ignore it. Home runs were good for the game that they cover and love, and they did not want to be whistle blowers. Whistle blowers are left on the outside looking in at all the fun, and the media members loved being insiders, loved being in on the grand party that was major league baseball at the turn of the century. Why turn Mark McGwire in when it will cost you his trust and your access to other players? So they just turned the other way while the players flaunted their use. In 1998, when someone asked McGwire about the andro in his locker, the writers skewered him for digging into someone else’s business. Now those same writers applaud when one of their colleagues procures sealed evidence of a supposedly anonymous drug test. The double standard and disingenuous nature of their actions make their moral proclamations “in the defense of the game” seem ridiculous. Suddenly you find it vitally important to defend the game? Where was that moral imperative as the players were bulking up around you?

Ultimately, the writers are just as culpable in creating the steroids morass that has engulfed the sport as anyone else. They only took heed once players like Canseco and Caminiti forced the issue out into the open. So spare me the moral indignation from the sports writers, as they are bemoaning the very situation that they helped create.

Hypocrisy is the name of the game when it comes to the steroid story. It has become difficult to read anything on the issue with a straight face, as writers have the audacity to suddenly decide that they are the protectors of the moral fabric of baseball after letting the issue stay untouched for many years. Michael Kay should be making dramatic home run calls when Alex hits one out, as that is his job. However, he needs to realize that he cannot separate announcer Kay from talk show host Kay, and needs to be consistent from one role to the next. Otherwise, he is no better than those that he criticizes.

Chemistry is an issue that seems to stir up a lot of discord among sports fans, particularly those that are inclined to focus on statistics and objective data to reach conclusions about sports. Personally, I believe that as fans, it is very hard for us to make judgements on this kind of stuff, one way or another. If everybody who plays the game seems to think that closing takes a special skill and chemistry does matter to teams, who am I to dispute that when we are really talking about the psychology of the game? Meaning, if people in the game believe things that fly in the face of objective fact, I can argue with that and call them stupid all I want. But when talking about the psychology of the game and the clubhouse, I think that fans come to the debate with a distinct disadvantage of not being in the clubhouse and not having the relevant information. All we can do is look in from the outside, with our noses pressed against the glass, and try to guess at the psychological aspects of the game.

That being said, it seems clear, from the words of the players, that this year’s Yankee team has excellent chemistry. from Mark Feinsand:

Shaving cream pies. Loud music in the clubhouse. Championship wresting belts. The New York Yankees may not be quite the Idiots that resided in Boston five years ago, but they’ve certainly become a looser, more fun team to be around. Especially after winning seven straight.
Wednesday, the entire roster will assemble in the bowels of Yankee Stadium for a Kangaroo Court, a long-standing tradition in baseball that allows teammates to put each other on trial for a variety of reasons. Court will be in session at 3:15 p.m. sharp (late arrivals will be fined $100, no exceptions), with Judge Mariano Rivera presiding over the hearings.
CC Sabathia said he’s had a Kangaroo Court on every team he’s ever been on, but in my nine years covering the Yankees, I can’t remember hearing of one taking place. That’s not to say it hasn’t, but it certainly hasn’t been quite as public as this one, which was advertised by a sign hanging on the front door of the clubhouse.
Such is life for these Yankees, who have shed their businesslike image for that of an actual major-league team, complete with pranks, practical jokes and – dare we say it – camaraderie.

Of course, winning breeds good chemistry, but Pete Abraham said on multiple occasions prior to this streak that this was a closer knit group of Yankees than he had ever seen. This team is having fun and coming together. Which means someone has to complain about it. Enter Michael Kay.

I missed his show, but the accounts that I have been getting say that he was complaining about the pies that AJ Burnett has been throwing in the faces of the players notching walk-off hits. Apparently fun is not “The Yankee Way,” and the Yankees need to act “like they have been there before.” Let me begin by pointing out, as I have on many occasions, that this idea of respect and honor as “The Yankee Way” is a crock. The professional atmosphere has never been about class and always been about money. Prior to the advent of free agency, players signed with the Yankees counting on their playoff checks. In fact, some took lower initial offers, knowing that they would usually be bringing home a World Series share as well. The veterans, very protective of their bonuses, did not condone any behavior that would cost them their money. The focus on professionalism was always about the bottom line. The Yankee Way, if we must use the term, is about winning. Period.

In regard to Michael Kay’s no fun rule, is it really so bad to see the players coming together in celebration of a regular season win? For some sanity on the issue, I shockingly turn to Suzyn Waldman:

I’ve been either covering or broadcasting Yankees games for 23 years…and until this weekend, I’ve never seen a Yankees player get hit in the face with a whipped cream pie. Now, 4 of them in a few days…Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera , Alex Rodriguez and yesterday Johnny Damon. They are the brain child of AJ Burnett, who keeps his supply in the video room right off the Yankees dugout steps.

I think a few of the “core” players in that Yankees clubhouse were a little stunned when the first pie went into Brett Gardner’s face, but it was Mariano Rivera, an ultimate “core” player who told a dejected AJ Burnett yesterday, who was sitting in the clubhouse after being taken out of the game to “get out there….get that pie ready, man, you can’t change karma!”

To those of you who say “Act like you’ve been there before” or “That’s not the Yankee way!”….I say to you…, well, most of these guys have NOT been there before, and how’s that “Yankee Way” worked for the past 7 years? A little life is needed in there…if a pie in the face on a walkoff win is what does it…so what? Add to that the gold WWB (or WWF…whatever it is now) belt being passed around to the star of the day. It belongs to Johnny Damon and the belt was a gift from AJ Burnett’s two little sons…

Hey, if it is alright for Mariano Rivera, it is fine by me, and it should certainly be fine for Michael Kay. Sometimes I think people forget that this is a game. Over the weekend, the Yankees reminded some of us of the fact.

Break movie

Apr 142009

Nick Swisher pitched the 8th inning yesterday, and struck out Gabe Kapler while surviving the inning without allowing a run. He also smiled while on the mound, and saved the ball that he used to strike out Kapler. Apparently he broke some of the Unwritten Commandments of MLB, where fun is not allowed and honor and respect always rule the day.

Jorge Posada was not amused, stating that:

“No one was laughing,” he said when asked about Swisher’s performance. “Today was embarrassing.”
That was obvious. The question is whether it was revealing of what lies ahead for the Yankees. They wanted to send a message to the defending AL champs that life in their division would return to normal this year, and instead they were trailing 9-0 after two innings, not only getting mugged but looking outclassed in every way.

(I added that second sentence to show how badly John Harper overreacted to yesterday’s loss). Posada, on the other hand, was justified in his displeasure, as the team got rocked and it is within his rights to expect people to react as he does to losses. That being said, I doubt Swish asked to pitch, and just took one for the team. When he actually succeeded on the mound, it was perfectly reasonable for him to be a bit excited.

Conversely, people like Michael Kay and Peter Gammons need to lighten up. I do not have direct quotes because they said these things on the air, but I will try and paraphrase. Kay said that it was an embarrassing day for the Yankees, and that Swisher was showing up the Rays and Kapler by saving the ball. Considering that the Rays announcers did not share that sentiment, I doubt that the Rays took any umbrage with Swisher being on the hill. Gammons added some drivel about Kapler being twice as respected inside baseball than Swisher, as if that had anything to do with last night’s events. The media needs to lighten up. Ultimately, these guys play a children’s game, and it is alright to laugh a bit in a 15-5 game with an outfielder pitching. Fans hate to see players laughing during losses, because they want the players to be as devastated as they are. However, in a situation like last night, where the fans were laughing as well, let the players yuk it up. It is nice to see that they still enjoy the game.

Alex Rodriguez recently did an interview with YES Network’s Michael Kay, and had a few very interesting things to say:

Alex Rodriguez believes the other 103 positive tests from Major League Baseball’s 2003 survey program should remain anonymous, the Yankees slugger told the YES Network in an interview to be aired Tuesday….

“This is really about my mistake,” Rodriguez told Kay. “You know, many nights I fell asleep thinking about who I can blame, and this guy, or that guy. And when I woke up I kept coming back to the same person; it’s me. I mean, there’s no one to blame. I hope those 103 names never come out…..”

The recent revelations are certainly the most prominent items in what has been a tumultuous five-plus year stay in New York for Rodriguez. Asked by Kay if Rodriguez worries that people do not like him, Rodriguez said that he has “given up on that.”

“It’s just the way it is,” Rodriguez said. “I mean, look, I feel like right now, that, not too many people like me, so I’ve given up on that. As long as my teammates like me, and they respect me, and my two daughters love their daddy, I’m going to go out and do the very best I can. Look, I really screwed up, and for that I’m sorry. I’m just happy to be playing baseball again.”

The quote that is getting the most attention is the first part of the cited piece, as many find it notable that Alex feels that those names should remain secret. Although the release may help ease the spotlight off of Rodriguez and onto other star players on the list, A-Rod seems to have no problem with taking one for the team and I commend him for that.

However, for Yankee fans, the notable portion of the quote is the second half. Many believed that some of Alex’s struggles in New York, particularly those in the big spots, stemmed from his obsession with being loved. He put so much pressure on himself to be a likeable, championship winning mega-star that it caused him to choke in difficult situations. It is refreshing to see that Alex has finally come to terms with the fact that he is not destined to be a player respected by the fans of the opposition, nor is he likely to become a fan favorite in New York. His status as the most highly compensated player in the sport has seen to that, and his acceptance of that fact should lead to a more relaxed ballplayer. Hopefully this new found mental peace will pay off in the form of important hits in the postseason. His reputation could certainly use that sort of publicity.

Jay Busbee over at Yahoo! Sports put together a list of the 50 worst announcers in sports. Always a contentious topic, the article has gotten 2654 comments to date, with plenty of suggestions for additions to the list. Quite frankly, announcers in the media saturation age have become so overanalyzed by columnists like Mushnick and Raissman that it is difficult for anyone to look good. They spend an inordinate amount of their time speaking to the public, and that just means they will eventually say something stupid or make a mistake. Whereas in the past, those mistakes would go largely unnoticed, today they are placed onto YouTube within minutes.

Regardless of my opinion on the issue, the Yankees’ TV and radio play by play men were both recognized as being among the worst at their professions. WCBS Radio’s John Sterling came in at number 17, with the caption reading “Catch-phrases flop to the ground like beached marlin; “Thaaaaaa Yankees win!” is the worst victory cry ever.” I disagree with this assessment of Sterling, as I find him entertaining when the game is on the line. While I find his frequent mistakes irksome and feel that many of his catchphrases are over the top for an April game against the Royals, I cannot deny that his antics get me excited in the 7th inning of a big game against Boston. People who do not like his victory cry probably do not like the fact that it means that the Yankees won the game. One of the indelible moments of the 2003 ALCS was Charlie Steiner and Sterling teaming up on “Thaaaa Yankeeees Wiiin” after Aaron Boone sent the team to the World Series. Is he overly emotional, repetitive, and prone to error? Certainly. But is he entertaining? Always, and that is what I want from an announcer. Just as an aside, I can tell you from experience that his antics bring children closer to the game, as I frequently hear children who may otherwise be disinterested mimicking his calls. For a sport that has lost many younger followers to flashier games that lend themselves better to minute to minute excitement, this is a factor that cannot be overstated.

Yes Network’s Michael Kay came in at 49 on the list, a ranking I vehemently disagree with . Kay is awful, and he should be much higher up. He never adjusted to the switch from the radio to TV, and is therefore overly descriptive and talks at moments that should speak for themselves. Furthermore, he is obviously trying to be unbiased, and overcompensates by showing more excitement upon success by the opposition than when good fortune strikes the Yankees. Thankfully, the Yes Network has a team of about 75 announcers, so there are games in which we do not have to listen to Mr. Kay even if we do not mute the television.

Just to question the credibility of the list, Mike Francesa checks in at 32. Being that Francesa is not an announcer outside of the few gimmicky instances in which he called games with his former partner, this just seems like an uncalled for potshot at Mike due to his notoriety. Also, Gus Johnson is on the list, which is patently ridiculous. Gus is so awesome that they need to create a new word that denotes someone being even more awesome than awesome, and use that word to describe him.

How do you feel about the Yankee announcers?

Joe Torre’s book seems to be getting a lot of people embroiled in controversy. The latest to be ripped by media personalities (if you consider Michael Kay a personality) is Mike Mussina, for the comments that he made about Mariano RIvera in Joe Torre’s book. From Mike “Tiny” Lupica:

“We were up 3-0 and Mo (Rivera) came in again with the lead and lost it. He lost it again. As great as he is, and it’s amazing what he does, if you start the evaluation again since I got here, he has accomplished nothing in comparison to what he accomplished in the four years before. He blew the World Series in ’01. He lost the Boston series. He didn’t lose it himself but we had a chance to win in the ninth and sweep them, and he doesn’t do it there.”
The tone here isn’t angry, the way the tone of this book isn’t angry, despite the coverage it has gotten. These are tough opinions, but honest ones.
“I know you look at everything (Rivera’s) done and it’s been awesome,” Mussina continues. “I’ll admit that. But it hadn’t been the same in those couple of years. That’s what I remember about the ’04 series.”

Moose has always been a blunt speaker, and he certainly does not pull any punches here. The statement that he makes is true. If Rivera pitches in the postseasons of 2001 and 2004 like he did in the dynasty years (ie. perfectly), players like Giambi, Mussina, and A-Rod would have a title. Those teams reached the ninth inning with a chance to hand the ball to Mo and win or go to the World Series, and Mo did not come through. Nobody is perfect, and imperfections from a closer are usually amplified due to their dramatically flipping the outcome of the game. Mariano still remains the greatest closer and possibly postseason pitcher of all time, and Moose never questions that. In regard to the veracity of the comments, Moose is entirely safe from criticism.

The real question is, regardless of whether the comments were true, should they have been made? Not everything that is true needs to be said in public, particularly when we consider the supposed sanctity of the teammate relationship. Ultimately, Moose probably should have kept his mouth shut, but Mariano is going to be the one to determine whether the comments were inappropriate. Knowing Mo, he will likely defuse the situation by agreeing with Mussina’s assessment, and another Torre book/Radio blowhard created controversy will dissipate.

What do you think? Was Moose right? Should he have made those comments?

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