Jul 13

Steinbrenner passes; his legacy endures.

“It was a beautiful thing to observe, all 36 oars working in unison.’’ – late Cardinals announcer Jack Buck quipping he had seen George Steinbrenner’s yacht.

It is a timeless quote about a timeless subject, George M. Steinbrenner, the demonstrative, cantankerous and blustery owner of the New York Yankees, who died today of a heart attack at age 80.

STEINBRENNER: Always King George

Buck’s comment has long been the perception of Steinbrenner by the public through screaming headlines and video and audio sound bites. The man was positively driven to win and it didn’t matter the cost in dollars or whom he stepped on. The Yankees would throw millions at players, and if they didn’t win Steinbrenner was ruthless in his handling of his managers and front office staff.

It was that way from the day he purchased the Yankees in 1973 for less than $10 million from CBS and said: “I won’t be active in the day-to-day operation of the Yankees. I’ll stick to building ships.’’

What he did was rebuilt the dynasty – twice.

By the time I started covering the Yankees in 1998, Steinbrenner’s legacy was well cemented in that he revived a struggling team and turned professional sports’ most revered franchise to a billion dollar empire.

The Yankees Brand is world-renowned and that is Steinbrenner’s legacy on the grand scale, but for me I’ll remember him like most beat reporters for the exhilarating paces he put us through.

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Jul 12

Update on first-half questions.

When pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 18, I posted five key questions the Mets faced heading into the season. Let’s revisit those questions at the All-Star break.

1) Question: What is this team’s attitude?

Assessment: By all accounts, it has been superb. There is a different chemistry in the Mets clubhouse than I have previously seen. The Mets have shown a remarkable resiliency to bounce back from adversity and Sunday’s win is just another example. There have been no issues about a lack of hustle, and no finger pointing. Both Jeff Francoeur and Angel Pagan said the right things about the prospect of reduced playing time as Carlos Beltran is about to be activated from the disabled list. The only sour note was, surprise, Oliver Perez’s refusal to accept a minor league assignment, instead, waiting for the disabled list to leave the roster to work on his issues.

2) Question: How healthy is this team?

Assessment: Injuries sabotaged the 2009 season, and injuries have cost Beltran and Daniel Murphy in the first half, and Jose Reyes for nearly a month. Beltran is due back to start the second half, but there’s no timetable for the return of Murphy, who reinjured his knee while on a rehab assignment. Murphy was playing second base at the time in preparation for a position change. After treating Reyes with kid gloves in the wake of his thyroid issue, the Mets rushed him back from an oblique injury, which he aggravated Saturday. There’s no telling how long he’ll be out. Luis Castillo is on the disabled list and his is another injury where the Mets tried to have him play through. Fortunately, his replacement, Ruben Tejada, has been more than filled the void. Reliever Kelvim Escobar, penciled in as a set-up man, is out for the year with a shoulder injury. The Mets are still trying to find an eighth-inning solution. Oliver Perez and John Maine are currently on the disabled list.

3) Question: What is the status of the three pitching questions, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine?

Assessment: Pelfrey made a point of saying he understood this trio represented a significant key to the Mets’ success this season. Perez and Maine are on the disabled list, but the team upgraded with R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi. Pelfrey was superb for much of the first half but has been going through a dead arm period and has been largely ineffective over his last five starts. Perez balked at a minor league assignment, but an injury was found that conveniently landed him on the disabled list. He has been sound, and somewhat effective, in his rehab assignment. Look for the Mets to activate him shortly after the break and send Takahashi back to the bullpen. There’s no timetable for Maine’s return.

4) Question: Who is fifth starter?

Assessment: Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, Nelson Figueroa and Hisanori Takahashi were in the mix in the spring, but Niese won the job and has been very good since coming off the disabled list. Niese has been so good that management tabbed him untouchable when Seattle asked for him in trade discussions surrounding Cliff Lee. Figueroa is now in Philadelphia, while Nieve is in the bullpen. Takahashi replaced Perez in the rotation and pitched well at first, but clearly showed he’s more valuable in the bullpen. The Mets are searching for a fifth starter in the trade market, as there are lingering questions about Perez and Maine.

5) Question: What is the make-up of the bullpen?

Assessment: Jenrry Mejia went north in the pen in an undefined role, but eventually went to the minor leagues to work on being a starter, when he was injured. Losing Escobar went a large part in opening the door for Mejia, who threw hard, but never grasped the eighth-inning role. Bobby Parnell, who appeared to wash you last year, now appears to be the arm having the inside track in the eighth inning to start the second half. Ryota Igarashi was the guy at one time, but pulled a hamstring and hasn’t been the same since. He’s now in the minor leagues. Nieve and Pedro Feliciano were over worked early, and still have heavy workloads. The distribution of work should be improved when Takahashi goes back to the bullpen.

Jul 11

Mets Chat Room; It’s Ace Time.

Game #88 vs. Braves.

This is what aces do, they lift a struggling team on top of their shoulders and carry them when times are dark and heavy.

The Mets conclude a surprising first half with a disappointing close this afternoon against the Atlanta Braves. The weekend began with the Mets three-games out of first. They now stand five games out fighting to keep from falling six back by the break.

After a rough stretch Santana back to pitching the shutdown way aces are supposed to and the way the Mets have always expected, with tenacity, guile and grit. Santana, a victim of poor run support for much of the first half, could have perhaps a dozen wins with any kind of offensive and bullpen help.

With the Mets’ sputtering this week, and scoring only two runs in this series, Santana can pretty much expect to do most of the heavy lifting today – as he usually does.

Jul 11

The Voice of God meets God

Bob Sheppard, the longtime Yankee Stadium PA announcer called the Voice of God for his dignified and resonate tones, has passed away at age 99.

You’ll hear stories the next few days about how he would race to the elevator after the final out of games at the Stadium. I’ll always remember how nice he treated me when I covered the Yankees; he me treated with respect and kindness, the way he treated all people.

Bob Sheppard is being remembered for his work today, but it should be noted he was a people person. Bob liked people, but people liked Bob. That’s the highest accolade you can give anybody.

Jul 11

Today’s lineup vs. Braves

REYES: Out of the lineup.

What do you know, Jose Reyes is out of the lineup this afternoon after aggravating his oblique injury. You saw this one coming a mile away.

It was just ridiculous to have pushed the envelope this way with one of your key players.

It might be too little, too late, but the next step with Reyes is to pull him from the All-Star Game. If he can’t help his team, he can’t help the National League.

Here’s today’s lineup:

Angel Pagan, CF

Alex Cora, 2B

David Wright, 3B

Ike Davis, 1B

Jeff Francoeur, RF

Chris Carter, LF

Rod Barajas, C

Ruben Tejada, 2B

Johan Santana, LP