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“No one needs a vacation more than the person who just had one.” –Unknown

I think this is just credited to “Unknown” because whoever actually said it was too embarrassed to publicly subscribe to it. It’s one of those sentiments that probably everybody can relate to, yet no one actually wants to. Not unlike this scene.

Anyways, so yeah, I’m back from vacation and I already need another one. There, I said it. Despite the popular opinion that I need to sleep more, I’m up writing Part III of Wrapping Up the Off-Season, in the middle of the night/early morning hours, partially because, well nothing makes me happier than writing about sports, but also partially because I’m applying the ill-advised wisdom of my college roommate: “Staying up all night makes tomorrow come less quickly.”

This could not be further from the truth for so many reasons, and yet the next couple of weeks leading up to Opening Day, are going to be like that scene in Labyrinth.

That fire gang can either provide enough activity to makes things entertaining interesting, or just drive you bonkers and give you a migraine. Just saying. HOWEVAH, I do have to fly out to San Fran first week of April…and opening day tix to Dbacks/SF are a whopping $16. Just saying, again.

I didn’t do a whole lot in the way of baseball while I was in Florida, only hit up one spring training game, that featured the Sux taking the Fish deep early and often. I want to be able to make insightful assessments of the talent I got to see from an arm’s length away, but you know how I feel about scrimmages/Minor League/anything other than a real ball game that counts in the standings.

They skew study results. Too many variables, not enough controls.

I think the only time that a player’s spring training performance really gave me pause was when I went down to Bradenton years ago to see a Pirates/Yanks game. Kei Igawa was pitching. I’m playing it kind of fast and loose with the word “pitching” since I don’t think he was throwing hard enough to break a lightbulb. He actually looked like he was some rando that brought in to toss out the first pitch of the game, and everyone cheers when it reaches the plate within a nebulously defined strike zone.

But instead of skipping back to his seat, the rando decides to pitch the whole game with the same pitch, retaining an intimidation factor akin to a French poodle.

But yeah, beyond that Kei Igawa auspicious start, I haven’t really put a whole lot of stock in the output of spring training. I will say that the Marlins’ defense make the Mets look like a well-oiled machine.

I will also say that Red Sux fans apparently only shed their souls come opening day, since in a stadium brimming with B hats, there was not a single rabid bark of antagonism directed towards me and my Yankee-hat bearing companion. None that I could hear anyway, chalk one up to genetic near-deafness!

Back to business, some thoughts on the last week or so, as my magic number* has dwindled down to 10.

*I think you can figure this one out.

Justin Chamberlain
Yeah, he’s back to Justin status. Maybe for good. He was released from the hospital a few days ago “with a positive prognosis.” I guess “positive” depends on who you ask. I’m not a huge Chamberlain fan, if I haven’t made that clear in the last few years of blogging.

I think he’s unteachable and fat. And if you’re going to be morbidly obese, then you better have the skillz with a z of CC or Prince. You can’t just accidentally gain weight, look like a rhinoceros, and then be all “what, this is me.” Mac from Always Sunny BARELY pulled that off, and he’s not making his millions on his ability to outplay professional athletes.

So Justin’s fat exacerbated the collapse on his ankle as he was jumping on a trampoline. He’s so f’n lucky his kid was with him, because there’s no way the brass would be so gentle with this situation if Justin was just bouncing up and down on his own, while he waited for the cornhole boards to get freed up at the rec center. (Pause?)

Somehow any Chamberlain story ALWAYS ends up morphing into a “bigger picture” story about the Yankees. Whether it’s his role in the pen, his run-ins with the law, or his shattered ankle, it manages to spin into a what-does-this-say-about-the-impenetrable-Yankees??

Ok, I’ll bite. It says our Yanks may actually get some peace and quiet about the not-going-anywhere sleeve-tugging about the But..but..what are we gonna do about Joba?? Is he healthy? Will he ever be consistent?? And how does this connect to the reliever vs starter decision?

Then again, I’m pretty sure there’s a replacement Gunga Din of Controversy Bearing, just waiting in the wings. (Segue!)

Poor kid. Yankee fans are ruthless. If he doesn’t get his fastball up to snuff in about a week, he’s going to be entering the worst possible arena of them all, which is a preemptively skeptical NY fan base and media.

You do not under any circumstances want to climb out of a whole of negative perception, regardless of whether than perception is warranted/rational. That’s just sound advice in general.

‘Sides, Pineda himself has assured us we have nothing to worry about, claiming that he does in fact have plenty of velocity, it just doesn’t show during Spring Training. Which calls to mind this guy.

And just makes me feel all-around more at ease. I knew Pineda would have a reasonable explanation!

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Pineda only let up 1 run in 5 innings in his last start. If he isn’t the next Joba-Justin Chamberlain, I don’t know what’s what.)

(I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention how up in arms everyone suddenly is over dealing Montero for this Pineda clown. I sometimes think the whole “buy your team” attacks on the Yankees guides decision-making to small degree. Who cares if he’s a hot younger slugging pitcher? You can go to any cornfield in Nebraska and find a guy exactly like that one.

He’s a bargaining chip. I couldn’t care less they dealt him, but I could certainly care a great deal less-I couldn’t care more, really-about how we will hold on to the young’uns when, say, ROY HALLADAY is up for grabs, but will toss the boys into shipping crates when confronted with hopefuls.)

Fantasy Draft Season
Speaking of irrational decision making, there’s Fantasy Draft season, which means all MLB news has a fantasy slant, which can make journalism is either easy or tough—you know what your higher order thesis is, but how do you tie the Rangers inability to nail down their outfield or Bobby Valentine’s inability to nail down fundamental managerial decorum, to whom you should start on opening day.

Here’s what kills me about EVERY. SINGLE. PREVIEW. All the sleeper picks make me want to scratch up the newspaper like it’s kitty litter (and in that analogy, I would be a cat, presumably.) The thing with sleeper picks is that when there are millions of bloggers writing about their top secret insider scoop on the real gems of the season…there’s gonna be a lot of overlap.

This would actually be helpful to the reader, if the blogger cared at all about the reader, because then you’d see a consensus. You’d see corroborating opinions, and hence you wouldn’t have to rely on the out-on-a-limb predictions of a Joe Baseball Guru. The only “downside” would be that we’d have to stop calling them sleepers because no one would be sleeping on them.

This will never happen though since instead of contributing to this consensus, I see predictions that are so obviously trying to deviate from the “conventional” sleeper picks. Like, they’re making LEGIT sleeper picks.

Which is preposterous. Some of my favorite “no-really-he’s-gonna-light-it-up-this-year-just-watch” picks that I’ve seen: Younder Alonso, Brandon Belt, Bud Norris, Mike Moutsakas, Gaby Sanchez. I’m ok with sleeping through these draft rounds.

Did anyone else besides me just assume these guys were settling comfortably into “also-ran” status?
Jason Giambi
Manny Ramirez
Jaime Moyer
Omar Vizquel

Alright it’s 5am, and I’m due at a midtown hotel conference room in 2 hours, so I’ll “to be continued” this post. Part IIIb to follow with more spring training/Florida musings, including my Dad’s relationship with a squirrel.

Also: more on my fantasy draft, which a purposeful avoidance of predicting sleepers, as well as a purposeful endorsement of my buddy Ollie who is-no lie, no hyperbole- the best baseball analyst I know. And yeah, I may as well bite the bullet and blog about the AL East, as seen through my always completely objective, if not somewhat physically impaired, eyes. So far, all I'm sure of is that the Yankees are my favorite to win the whole thing.

These are 2 pieces about Andy Pettitte that I wrote when I covering the playoffs for the Village Voice. One of my all time favorite readers/Yankee fans is also one of Andy's all time greatest advocates, so these are for her. Cheers, Charmian!

From The Village Voice, October 19, 2009:

When you live by yourself, you can go hours without speaking. You don't realize it, but then sometimes you wake up on a Sunday after a baseball game and call your parents at noon only to discover you lost your voice.

Actually, "lost" isn't the right word. I know exactly where I left it...somewhere in the left field second tier of Yankee Stadium.

Game 3 of the ALCS is Monday at 4:13, so I'm figuring that it's a blessing in disguise that my voice is taking a personal day or 2. Because a day game means following the action at work. A day game means screaming and otherwise strident activity is prohibited.

(Unless I want to remove any lingering doubts about my emotional stability in the fall...)

After taking the first 2 of a 7-game series, the Yankees head out to Anaheim to face the Angels (who, for the record, are NOT in a must-win situation. Yet.) Saturday night's circus match-up left both teams exhausted, drained, and sluggish (which I think may have had something to do with the obscene number of errors put up.)

But it was the Yankees whose resource-depletion wasn't all for naught. Between both teams, 13 pitchers were used and 432 pitches thrown. I don't want to think about what would have happened if the game had to go another inning or two thus necessitating the need call upon our absolute final bullpen option, Chad Gaudin.

Let's hope the day and half of rest is enough for them to back up Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16) when he goes up against Jered Weaver (16-8, 3.75). I can't preview an Andy start without dedicating it to "WTCYC"...and of course, without mentioning that a win would set a record for pitcher with most postseason wins (16).

Andy P.

It was many and many a year ago,
In a borough by NYC,
There lived a pitcher who you may know,
By the name of Andy P.
And this pitcher he lived with no other thought,
Than to play for the team the Yankees.

He was a child and I was a child,
In this borough by NYC,
But he pitched with a fire that was hard to ignore,
The Yankees and Andy P.
With a spark that the bitter AL contenders,
Coveted our Andy P.

And this was the reason that long ago,
In this borough by NYC,
The Houston Astros stole him from us,
Our beautiful Andy P.
So that his southern kinsmen came,
And bore him away from me.
To shut him up in a NL club,
Far from the borough by NYC.

The agents, not half so happy with Yankees,
Went envying his pulchritude,
Yes! That was the reason (as all fans know,
In this borough by NYC),
That the Houston Astros came out of the south,
Wheeling and dealing our Andy P.

But our bond, it was stronger by far than the bond,
Of one on Houston's team,
Of one with Clemens' team.
And neither the roots in Texas's earth,
Or the pull of free agent trade,
Could ever dissever our boy from the Bronx,
Our beautiful Andy P.

For Frank never sings, without reminding us of rings,
Of the beautiful Andy P.
And his dynasty days, are coming back into play,
Our beautiful Andy P.
All his postseason nights, he continues to fight,
Our starter--Yanks' starter--an ace and our light.
In the home by NYC,
In the stadium near NYC...

Somewhere, Poe is rolling over in his grave right now. The ultimate indignity--a Boston native having his art spliced up into a Yankee ode. (Although, this guy probably has it worse...)

Hopefully our boy can continue the Yanks' postseason run on Monday. If nothing else, the weather conditions should a be a bit more comfortable. (I wonder if they would rather play in perfect weather on the road or freezing torrential downpour at home? I'm guessing the latter, but if someone asked me the same question, I'd rather watch the game from the bad guys' house. But then again, this could be the voiceless-achy-sore-quasi-sick-thanks-to-freezing-rain-for-3-innings part of me talking.)

The Yanks have a good chance to go up 3-0 depending on how well their pitching holds up. If Pettitte can go deep into the game, Girardi can take advantage of the fact Joba and Hughes were only lightly applied to Saturday's game. By the same token, the Yanks need to continue their erosion of Anaheim's starters, chasing them early so they can feast on their pen.

Weaver is hit or miss on the mound, but it almost seems like he's lately developed this aggressive assurance that makes him think he can attack batters with his 4-seamer. I'd love to see him "attack" the Yanks' 0-9-line with his innocuous low 90's heat.

The Angels' line-up is only batting .158 in the ALCS to New York's .288. Neither team has been particularly overpowering on offense, so this game may be the one where everyone resumes their true identity and bannishes these multi-error/hitless impostors. There's no rain to blame it on.

But never underestimate Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. As far as they're concerned, every ump call has been "blown," with each one altering the outcome of the game. Also, the World According to T-Mac contends that:

"Something doesn't look right with Mariano Rivera."
"The threat of a steal is worse than the steal itself."

Or my personal favorite, from Friday night's play at first:

"Torii Hunter had the best view of it, and he was sure he was safe!"

I think T-Mac would be better served to point fingers at Vladimir "King of the Menacing Stare Down" Guerrero, who is 2-for-11 in the series, having left 10 runners on base in the two games, while striking out four times.

Or, you know, I guess we could stick with his airtight logic. We could also have high school students score their own SAT exams.

Time to go up 3-0, Yanks. A-Rod did his part to exile the choker broken record. Now would be a good opportunity to do the same for the 2004 ALCS headache.


And from the October 24, 2009 Village Voice:

Ahhh, it feels good to be back in the Bronx. (I say that as if I was the one traveling across the country to play in Anaheim, but it's more like sympathy jetlag. It feels so good for the Yankees to be back.)

I may or may not have this same sunny disposition when I'm sitting in the left field bleachers in 3 hours, soaked to the bone, freezing, and packed like sardines in a hi-tech tin can, as we wait for the inevitable rain delay to run its course.

But patience isn't one of my strong suits, so given the choice of sitting through monsoon and getting the game in today, or postponing Game 6 of the ALCS til lovely Sunday afternoon...well, I'd just like to finish off the Angels as soon as possible. Do your worst, nature.


Well, uh, you got me this time, Nature. But I'll be back, I'll get you in the next round, Gadget!

Ok, well, a look at what's going down tomorrow night:

After losing 2 of 3 in Anaheim, the Yankees return to the Bronx where they need to win 1 of 2 in order to advance to the final showdown with the Phillies, who have been patiently waiting for their AL competition to be determined.

And after getting all decked out in my rain-resistant best, hopped up on adrenaline et al, I find out the game's cancelled.

Is there anything worse than sitting through rain delays? ("Stepping in dog shit," deadpans my dad. Uh, touche.) Last Saturday, my buddy asserted that he'd be ok with sitting through a storm as long as he knew it was going to end in a walk-off win. Well, yeah, I'd be ok with sitting through the director's cut of Sex and the City, a ballet, war, and 108 degree heat while wearing a wool turtleneck...if I knew it was going to end in a win.

Is is for the best? Probably. I mean, I have to now do laundry tonight, since I consider an article of clothing dirty the second it leaves the drawer, and I have to wear the same Good Luck Outfit tomorrow. The trials and tribulations of being an OCD freak during the playoffs.

Well here's what the game was going to look like tonight (as it will tomorrow, only sans the miserable buckets pouring down on the field)...

The Yanks send postseason vet Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16) up to face Joe Saunders (16-7, 4.60). Once again, we're all mired in do-or-die pitching tautologies. "If goes to Game 7, then Lackey pitches against CC, but if we win Game 7 then we're CC-less for Wednesday..." etc etc.

These are immaterial and perhaps made sense in Games 1 and 2, but in the tail end of the second most important series of the year, we're playing every game like there's no tomorrow. (Actually, from the looks of the sky right now, there actually may not be a tomorrow. To quote from my mom, "Tsk..some poor girl is getting married today..." And some poor fiance is missing the game.)

I'll be back tomorrow with more game insights before I head to the stadium, but for now, here's a little Andy Pettitte music to soften the cruel blow of a baseball-less evening:

I remember all my life
Rainin' down as cold as ice
Shadows of the ghosts,
An ace on a mound
Pitchin' in the night
The night goes into

Extras, just another game
Other Yank fans feel the same,
Lookin' in their eyes
I see a memory
We feel it coming
How happy you made me, oh Andy!

Well, you came and you pitched without walkin'
And you gave us the win, Oh Andy!
Well, you deal and you whiff without balking,
And I need you today. Oh, Andy!

I'm standing on the edge of clinch,
One more win, you're gold in a pinch,
Caught up in a world of pennant chasing,
The title in our grasp
And nothin' is rhyming, oh Andy!

Well, you pitched and you blanked all the batters,
When we gave you the nod, oh Andy!
And the postseason win record shattered,
And I need you today, oh Andy!

Last game's all done,
We face the Game 6,
Cheering the close out,
The World Series is calling, oh Andy!

Well, you pitched and you came through as always,
And we knew you'd do so, oh Andy,
Well you pitched without ceasing to amaze,
And I need you today, oh Andy!

If it weren't for Facebook, I wouldn't know any current events whatsoever. Not that I know anything about them NOW, but at least with Facebook, I know they exist. Like something called Kony. Prop 8. Sopa. I still have no idea what these things are, but I know they incense pretty much everyone. (Which is why I don't bother learning what they are. Who wants to be mad?)

Whitney Houston. Amy Whinehouse. Michael Jackson. Farrah Fawcett.
Kris (7:28:53 PM): michael jackson died??

Laur (7:29:28 PM): yes. and farrah fawcet :(

Kris (7:30:19 PM): whos that

Laur (7:31:15 PM): the former sec of defense

Kris (7:32:41 PM): ha i was way off i thought she was woody allens daughter

Kris (7:59:01 PM): thats not true

Yeah, so when Andy Pettite anounced he was coming back, it was a race to see who could break the news first. But since send me emails pretty much 12 times a day, they get the nod for being the first to let me know that our boy #46 is back in the fray.

And when I went out last night everywhere I looked there was someone primed to assert his feelings on the subject. Probably my favorite part about having lived in the same neighborhood in the upper east side for so many years is the fact I can walk into a bar and know most of the people there and as such our fervor about the Yankees--good or bad--becomes a pooled body of fever pitch.

It is difficult, however, to share some of their enthusiasm about this. 7 starters seems a bit excessive. And from what I understand and from what I've read on the subject, this decision was brought on by the wistful envy of watching the team play in Tampa. He misses playing.

Understandable. Who wouldn't? Who goes to alumni weekend in college and thinks, "Thank God I'm done with THIS part of my life"? No one. (Or you wouldn't have gone back to visit in the first place.) Who looks at 5 year olds playing in the sandbox and thinks, "Life is so much easier now that I don't have to worry about getting sand in my bellybutton."

No one.

It's normal, but it doesn't mean you should necessarily entertain these whims. I mean, there's a reason the bouncer shot me down after I waited on line for a good 15 minutes at a street fair's giant inflatable castle thing last year. I'm too old to be jumping in that thing, and I could hurt myself or hurt one of the kids.

I hope Andy doesn't hurt anything, but unless we win the World Series this year, he's not going to have the beautiful swan song of leaving after the '09 championship.

I will concede that this is nothing like Posada leaving, who was clearly held together by paper and string by the time he took himself out of the mix. He left not a moment too soon, and in terms of the bittersweetness of it, I'd parse it at 15% bitter, 85% sweet.

Andy, however, was not showing those same signs of rackety age. He was brilliant in the World Series--not in a young fireball kind of way, but in a seasoned aplomb with classic talent kind of way.

Maybe I don't know enough about the whole story, but you tell me Andy's returning to the rotation, and unless he's returning with a mechanical arm and with the benefit of that Death Becomes Her treatment, my first reaction is that you're gonna have to leave the table at some point. And it's better to do so when you haven't lost your distinctive graces.

Which is why I'm going to reprint an article I wrote after the Phillies won the World Series a few years back, when Moyer was wrestling with whether to retire or not.  You know how many times I hear in the girls' bathroom of a bar "I don't know, do you think I should text him?" Like, a million times. And the answer is always the same: "No."

Just as their dismissal of this advice is always the same. Like Oscar Wilde said, "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it." But if you have to ask if you should text him, and if you have to question your return from retirement, maybe it's not the best idea to move ahead with it.

The Bleacher Report article from October 31, 2008:

If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”—Orson Welles

My dad tells this story of his friend’s big night at the craps table in Vegas. It was one of those scenes that generally doesn’t exist in reality—the casino’s population all concentrated around this one table, my dad’s friend spurred on by the rallying cries of everyone around him.

He was holding court, throwing more and more colored chips on every space of felt left on the table, which at that point looked like the streets of New Orleans at the height of Mardi Gras. The story is legendary, as the entire table was up thousands of dollars.

The thing with craps that I never understood is the feverish disappointment when the hero tossing dice inevitably rolls a seven and everyone craps out. What did everyone think was going to happen? What if he leaves the table when he was still hot and setting the world afire? Would we nod understandably or reproach his cowardice?

An athlete like Jamie Moyer, for example, can either watch his team record the final out to capture their first World Series title in 28 years, get all his teammates to write down their email addresses so he can stay in touch, and drop off his 2008 World Series Champion uniform at the dry cleaners before heading home to watch “The Shield” on DVR.

Or he could parlay the glory of capturing a title into next season, and maybe for as many seasons as it takes him to rack up another 54 W’s. Maybe October 29, 2008 handed Moyer the ideal opportunity to cash out his chips. But it also could have reinforced everything he loved about the sport, enough to make him let his winnings ride.

At 46 years old, Moyer is teetering on the brink of Kevin Brown-status. Although I can’t speak with any authority (barely an educated guess, really) on what’s going through Moyer’s mind right now, the issue of whether to return next season most likely is making some kind of cameo.

To assist him, I’ve sifted through some case studies on athlete retirement and unretirement, assigning each impressive instance of career waffling with a highly coveted award to commemorate it.

The winners are…

The Britney Spears “Gimme More” Award for Juggernaut Comeback that Flatlined at Mediocrity

Michael Jordan. He should have stopped after comeback No.1, when he shed he minor league baseball pipe dreams in favor of leading the Bulls to 3 straight titles. Did anyone think anything good was going to come out of comeback No.2? Seriously. Besides the Wizards, anyway.

The Melvin Udall Redoing his Kiss to Waitress Carol at End of “As Good As It Gets” Award for Leaving Retirement to Finish Career the Way He Wanted To

George Foreman. Came back from second retirement to reclaim the heavyweight title at age 45, the one he had lost to Ali 20 years earlier. “I know I can do better!”

The Bill Clinton’s Second Term Award for Unretiring only to become Mired in Controversy and Scandal

Roger Clemens. Ugh. Told us all he was retiring after the 2003 season. Then the back page of New York papers were reading “What an Astro!” I don’t even know how many times he announced retirement since then. A lot, though. He comes back to the Yankees, pitches about as well as Aaron Heilman, and then becomes the center of a media steroids circus. And throws in some adultery charges for good measure.

The Michael Myers Award for Continually Resurfacing to Torture the Sports World

Jose Canseco. I used to love this guy, too. My first baseball hat was an Oakland A’s hat. Now look at him. He’d have been better off skipping the Juiced tell-all and just going straight to center square of Hollywood Squares. If I were an active player, I’d live in fear my name would be the one that the peg landed on when Canseco did his daily spin of the Steroid Accusation Wheel.

The Michael J. Fox Award for Unretiring with Flying Colors After Medical Hardship

Mario Lemieux. Retired because of lymphoma, then later returned to re-establish his dominance, netting the second highest number of goals that year. Also saved the Penguins from bankruptcy and now remains the team’s principle owner.

The Elizabeth Berkley in “Showgirls” Award for Bold Comeback that Ended in Humiliation

Muhammad Ali. Comeback No.1: Marked by the epic Joe Frazier fights. Comeback No.2: Came back only to be handed his ass and dignity back to him by Larry Holmes

The J.D. Salinger Award for Consistent Success With Every Re-emergence

Phil Jackson. Called it a day in 1998 after topping off the second of the Bulls two three-peats. Returned to the game a year later to coach the Lakers, taking them to their own three-peat before calling it quits again. Returned to the Lakers the following year and brought them to the Finals two years after that.

The Paul McCartney Award for Playing Well After His Body Had All But Given Up, Making Fans Collectively Plead at the TV to Just Put Himself Out of His Misery

Patrick Ewing. By the end of a dominant career with the Knicks, he was dragging his leg around like Kathy Bates had had a go at it. He had been tough, formidable, and obscenely talented. His fans could recognize he was physically done and just wanted to fast-forward to the number-retiring ceremony.

The Bill Cosby Award for Retiring and Unretiring With Immunity on Account of Good Guy Status Combined with Lifetime Achievement

Lance Armstrong. Good for him. He beat cancer. He won the Tour-de-France a record-breaking seven times. But tread lightly, buddy. They’re gunning for you.

The ESPN Sports Guy Bill Simmons Award for Converting Innocuous Charm into Self-Important Irritation so That Fans Gave Up Hoping He’d Retire and Just Flat Out Ignored Him

Curt Schilling. Please go away. Please, please, please. Or at least get fitted for one of those metal plates that Beetlejuice threw over Geena Davis’s mouth to keep her from talking.

The “Sister Act” Award for Unretiring to Coach A Bunch of Unguided Misfits into Glory

Bill Parcells. After spinning the mess of the Giants into three division titles and an 8-3 playoff record, Parcells retired.

Comeback No.1: Coaxed out of retirement. Within two years, led New England to first playoff appearance in eight years, then three years later led them to first Super Bowl. Left to coach Jets and similarly whipped them into shape.

Comeback No.2: Was lured out of retirement again to coach Cowboys who were coming off three straight seasons of 5-11 play. Led ‘Boys to three winning seasons.

Comeback No.3: Unretired for the ultimate challenge—the Miami Dolphins. Good luck.

The "Sopranos" Series Finale Award for "Wait, what? THAT'S how it ended?" Retirement

Barry Sanders. After 10 years playing for Detroit, he decided it was time to retire. And by retire, I mean fax a letter to hometown newspaper announcing he was done. One of the best running backs in NFL history, he left with 15,269 rushing yards, 2,921 receiving yards, and 109 touchdowns (99 rushing and 10 receiving)—just inches from breaking the all-time rushing record.

It’s a little like how my dad will stay up with me to watch an extra-innings game. And then in the 16th inning, with bases loaded and two outs, he’ll get up and announce he’s going to bed.

The Samuel L. Jackson in “Snakes on a Plane” Award for future HOF-er Joining a Comedic Mess

Brett Favre. After retiring in 2008, Favre unretired only to discover he was persona non grata in Green Bay. He got traded to the New York Jets who, as per usual, straddle the fine line between fortifying momentum and frantic disarray.

The New Kids on the Block Award for “This is gotta be a joke, right?” Improbable Return that Still Makes My Head Spin

Ricky Williams. Retired because it was easier than having someone else pee in a cup for him every time he got randomly drug tested. Unretired and apologized profusely to all his fans…only to fail drug test No.29,108 less than a year later. This back and forth of reinstatement-drug policy violation went on for the better part of a decade. And now he’s back on the Dolphins. Hey, why not?

“The Bob Newhart Show” Series Finale Award for The Ultimate All-Time Retirement Swan Song

Michael Strahan. After the Giants won the Super Bowl, I remember saying to my friend Rob, “I’m scared that I’ll be at the altar of my own wedding someday and think, ‘Yeah, still not even close to as happy as I was on February 3, 2008.’” I couldn’t even fathom a situation that could manufacture the same degree of euphoria I felt that night. And I have to assume Michael Strahan felt the same way when he announced his retirement shortly thereafter.

* * *

I can’t presume to know what goes on in Jamie Moyer’s head or any other athlete who’s confronted with the issue of retirement. The only thing I can compare it to is when I’ll go to the park and shoot the old b-ball around.

Of course, after about an hour of this, my arms are about as strong as the inflated tubemen outside a car dealership. So it’s really anyone’s guess where the ball’s gonna land.

That’s around when I start saying to myself, “Ok, hit this three and then call it a day.” (Which soon becomes, “ok, just bank in this layup…”) Eventually, I’ll hit some nothing-but-net beauty, and instead of making good on all my deals with myself, I’m overly encouraged by this one shot and mistakenly think I’ve hit my stride.

The only thing I’ve ever hit is a number of deadened nerve endings from forcing my body to toss up what now feels like a watermelon.

If I multiply that sentiment by about infinity, I can begin to come to terms with athletes who refuse to give up the game, who won’t just throw in their cards, tip the dealer, and leave.

Deciding when to leave the table is about as critical decision as there is. It’s looking at the Jager shot on the bar after five hours of drinking, knowing that it could either make or break you.

It’s a decision that forces the athlete to consider who exactly he’s playing for: himself or the fan who financially supports him. Whose opinion is more compelling? We rally around our heroes and pride in their successes, as if we have a degree of equity in their glory, in exchange for the high price of emotional investment.

So when they crash, our anger is palpable, draining, and unforgiving. But how far can they take us, or will they take us? And what’s worse—when our heroes abandon us by choosing to retire…or when they stay at the party too long and go from star karaoke singer to the clingy, helpless drunk?

These aging heroes may not even consider what unretirement will potentially do to their legacy. They’ve seen their images go every which way in the course of their careers, so the threat of it being tarnished is eclipsed by the draw of once again suiting up.

Why do we return to our alma maters for alumni weekend? How often do you pass a little league game and think what you wouldn’t give to be the one playing instead of the one on the other side of the fence.

The vise grip of competition keeps us clamped to the table so securely that the win/loss chip count isn’t as important. When my dad comes back from poker night, he’s not giving us the rundown of how up or down he went. He’s going a mile a minute on his buddies Reilly and Danny and Harold and Dorey. He’s swearing off the game or singing its praises. He’s just happy.

So maybe when it comes to retirement, the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Leave the table too early, and you’ll always feel cheated. Leave too late—well, at least you’ll have the stories.

Everyone’s gotta crap out eventually. Except my dad’s friend in Vegas, who actually was escorted from the casino before his legendary roll ended…once cameras caught him urinating in the cup ledge. No one could figure out why he didn’t just use the nearby bathroom, until he explained it:

“You NEVER leave the table when you’re hot.”

Stay tuned for Part III of Wrapping Up the Off-Season, when I hit sunny Florida for spring training next week...

You outgrow almost EVERYTHING. Clothes. The intense desire to lose teeth. The legit disinterest in romance. But, just as I still delight in eating a sleeve of Mallomars for breakfast just as much as I did when I was 5, I also have the same complete inability to wrap my head around time continuums. And I'm not talking about time in a Stephen Hawking, crazy dimensional kind of way.

I'm talking about the time of attitude that was rampant when I was coaching youth soccer. I would trek up to the field (the old Yankee Stadium parking lot) every Saturday morning at 8am, and just pray and pray that today wouldn't be the day that everyone decided to show up at once. "Is today....Jimmy Shakar day?" style.

Because I just flat out couldn't handle taking someone out of the game. The only time someone would willingly leave the field is if he got thirsty. But, I swear, if his shoe was filling up with blood and the soccer ball had lodged itself in the kid's GI tract, telling said boy "Ok, let's just sit out for a minute while someone else gets a chance to play" was the same thing as saying, "THIS IS THE END OF SOCCER FOR YOU AS WE KNOW IT."

Nothing NOTHING exists beyond the immediate moment. So trying to convince an 8-year-old that the benching is only temporary and is not some kind of Russian Roulette game I like to play, was like trying to convince my dad to evacuate Long Beach during Hurricane Irene. "I'm not leaving. I have a flashlight. End of story."

My point is that you like to think that after 20, 30 years you get a handle on the whole "foresight" thing. The "patience" thing. But right now, with the Yankees' first game a month away, it may as well be 4 months away. It feels like it's never going to get here, and while I rejoice like an newborn rhino, when Pitchers and Catchers Day rolls around, I think these spring training games are making the wait even more tortuous.

It's like being on a 6 hour flight and then landing only to have the pilot static and uh his way through a "we're going to be taxi-ing here for a little bit folks, keep your seat belts on" heartbreaker. You're there. You can throw a stone at the airport. But all you can do is sit there and be patient and wait for another 30 minutes, after you've already weathered an expanse of time 12 times longer than that. But it's different when you're so close because I can see it, but it's not really what I'm after.

I'm after April 6.

The first time the Yanks are really back.

And then April 13.

The first time the Yanks are REALLY back.

And in the meantime? In these remaining days of wait? I'm watching baseball.

And licking my chops. (Pause?)

And realizing that this year is going to be a circus. I know, I know. Spring Training doesn't mean anything. WELL IT DOES TO ME.

Since I'm categorically averse to (and I think incapable of) writing any kind of lucid analysis on off season story lines that I'm barely invested in, here's a topline of what's jumped to the forefront. (I'm sorry, I've just never been able to stir myself up in a tither about prospects who no one has ever seen play in a Major League Game, so farm league reports have never really been in my wheelhouse.)

But these line items are:

Bobby Valentine

What an idiot. Seriously. The Yank-Sox rivalry is really fresh material. And putting your stake in the ground, establishing yourself firmly in opposition to the Yankees, is an ingenius way of rallying the fans and creating instant loyalty. If they were cartoon high schoolers, then yes, this would have been a brilliant PR move.

Maybe it's the fact that I've never really been able to hear his name without picturing "Teen Beat" magazine, but the evidence is really mounting against Bobby Valentine's legitimacy. I think the triteness of his comments irked me more than the comments themselves. It's like a new stand-up act at a comedy club that opens his bit with "So what's up with Sarah Palin? Dumb, right?"

AJ Burnett.


I don't know who I feel worse for, him or the Pirates. I can only imagine how the Pirates feel, since I know all too well that feeling of making the token "WHOA. REALLY?" move during a fantasy draft. Or even mid-season. Like Jason Giambi or something. Who picks up Jason Giambi? Someone does, because the feeling of acting like you totally saw it coming (should he do something remotely good) is worth more.

You're really pulling for him, for that chance to bask in your own brilliance. And then he gets some kind of annoying ass quasi-injury that puts him day to day, and you never know what the hell his status is, whether you should drop him and cut your losses or hold out, because fantasy players almost always reward that kind of loyalty with a huge payoff.

Sweet Christ, AJ. I guess we gotta give him credit for his determination, and come on, can you really fault him for trying to iron out the trouble-spots in his game before the season started? Think of how many more quality starts he would have had last year if his bunting had just been up to snuff. It makes sense that that would be at the top of his "To Fix" list. And by "makes sense," I mean it makes sense to someone who has historically demonstrated an inability to accurately gauge situations:

(From June 27, 2010):

A.J. Burnett's struggles on the mound continued with his shortest outing of the season. The right-hander (6-7) gave up six runs and six hits in three-plus innings, walked six and struck out five. He's 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA in his past five starts.

"My command got away from me in the third. I had it early. I had unbelievable stuff. I had velocity, I had movement and I had a good hook," he said. "What it comes down to right now is the fact that I have to relax a little bit and have some fun out there. But it's hard to do right now."

(No joke, I was ust about to say "I like where his head's at," but then got lost in thought about the near certainty of someone interpreting a line like this as "So now you're saying you like putting people's heads into baseballs. Nice. Real nice.")

The Mets

Is it possible that the Mets, a bigger joke than any other team in the league, have landed on "Maybe if we really accentuate each element of our ludicrous nadir of disarray, we're bound to imitate the fate of Hollywood's Cleveland Indians" as a viable course of action? Ok, actually that's not fair. I'm not even talking about the players, just the idiots at the helm who are mired in a Madoff-related lawsuit.

Which, to Scott Boras, seemed like the perfect time to chip in his few cents:

Boras: Big markets pay up or change owners
Asked about the Mets slashing payroll, Scott Boras said big market teams should spend their money.

My first question is, WHO? Who exactly asked Boras for his thoughts on the Mets slashing payroll? Who thought "I'd like to hear Boras weigh in because it's important we put the question to bed on what side of the fence he's really on."

So, yes, to be clear. Boras thinks his players need more money.

(You know how morbidly obese people shouldn't be assholes? Because they run the risk of someone retailiating with the below-the-belt, "Ok, you took it too far, so now I gotta point it out: you're a buffalo"? So given that mentality, why isn't Wilpon just looking blankly at Boros and saying all that, except replace "You're a bufflo" with "Oliver Perez.")

AL Predictions

So far I've heard how the Royals are gonna be the team to beat in the AL, along with Toronto giving the AL East a run for their money. Also, the Orioles are getting screwed with the toughest opening 6 weeks of schedule, in the whole American League. (I love when people start raising eyebrows at professional sports schedules. It's not like they're sticking the Orioles with games that start at 3am. They're sticking them with other baseball teams.)

So, yeah, these are all great predictions that make me think some of the ESPN writers compose their stories like they're just updating their facebook status or something.

Where heads are at

Yanks beat University of South Florida in an exhibition game, 11-0. Which seemed...excessive. But, what can you do? Our minor leaguers were keeping them to 4 hits, it's not like a basketball game where you just stop running up and down the court. I guess there's no mercy in the Yankees dojo. All business.

Conversely, there's talk about how Papelbon won't be allowed to use "Shipping Up to Boston" when he's coming out of the Phillies' bullpen. The Red Sox (or their esteemed house band of Dropkick Murphies, anyways) are focusing on all the most important things.

Not unlike when I first moved into my apartment, and my mom looks around at the completely empty space, and says, "You know what you need to get? A paper towel holder."

Part II to come...

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