Tag Archive | "Alex Rodriguez"

We Walk Together Forever

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Last night, the New York Yankees won the World Series for the 27th time in their storied history, defeating the Philadelphia Phillies who had won it the previous season for just the second time in the team’s 126 years of existence.  The Series was a study in contrasts.  The Yankees were making their 40th World Series appearance; the Phillies only their sixth.  The Yankees are considered the winningest franchise in professional sports; the Phillies have a history of adversity and have lost more games than any team in the annals of the grand old game – having eclipsed 10,000 losses as a franchise in 2008.


To have been a lifelong Philadelphia Phillies’ fan is to know heartbreak and, as much as it should have, last night’s defeat at the hands of the Yankees did nothing to dispel my feelings of joy at the achievements of both the 2008 and 2009 editions of my favorite sports team.  My love affair with the Phillies and baseball began in 1964.  That was the season that the upstart Phillies led the National League for virtually the entire season, only to squander a six and one-half game lead during a late-season ten game losing streak and finish one game behind the Saint Louis Cardinals in their quest for a National League pennant.


That was also the season that I realized that my grandfather was a big fan of the team.  At ten years old, I knew nothing of the team’s history of prior failures.  I only knew of the team’s current success.  As my extended family gathered for Sunday dinner at my grandparents home, I heard my grandfather talk hopefully about the Phillies and their prospects.  He regaled us with stories about the “Whiz Kids,” the 1950 Phillies’ team that won the pennant only to lose the World Series in four straight games to the mighty New York Yankees.


With all of the optimism about the spring and summer performance of that 1964 Phillies team, I also perceived a sense of foreboding, of imminent doom, among my grandfather and others.  Much older than I, they had probably lived through the promise of seasons past only to have been severely disappointed.  Yet, as the season wore on, even the skeptics began to believe that 1964 would be the Phillies’ year.


In retrospect, the team’s collapse in the final days of that season vindicated the belief of many that the team’s performance that season was “too good to be true.”  In subsequent seasons, the team returned to its losing ways and did not surface as a pennant contender until the late 70’s.  In 1977, my grandfather passed away having never seen his beloved Phillies win a World Series.


And so, as Tug McGraw recorded the last out of the 1980 World Series, amidst the bedlam and jubilation of a franchise and city that had at long last reached baseball’s promised land, I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather and how happy he would have been to have witnessed it.  And then, I thought to myself that he probably was enjoying it, in Heaven.


It should come as no great surprise that sports, being a part of life, can offer us valuable life lessons.  It can instill in us the value of hard work and persistence, of setting common goals, of shared experiences, and perhaps most significantly, of mutual respect and teamwork.  As the members of the Philadelphia Flyers arrived in the locker room before game six of the 1974 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they saw scrawled on a blackboard a quotation from their coach, Fred Shero.  It said “Win together today and we walk together forever.”  Winning the Cup that night, the players on that Flyers’ team still “walk together” in their memories and those of the witnesses to that event.


Last season, the Phillies blessed their fans with a World Series Championship; last night, the Yankees did the same for their faithful both in the new Yankee Stadium and watching at home.  Each team accomplished something that they and their fans, no doubt, will remember for as long as they live and perhaps beyond.  And yet, the achievement would have been meaningless and impossible without the collective efforts of all involved.


While talent plays a significant part, there is also an undeniable chemistry that separates the champions from the also-rans.  In 2008 during the post-Series revelry, I was struck by the genuine sense of camaraderie and affection displayed for one another by the victorious Phillies’ players; particularly, the homegrown players including Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, and Brett Myers.  Last night was no different.  From the Yankees core four of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera to newer additions including Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and C.C. Sabathia to Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and the younger Yankees, you could sense their connection and deep mutual respect.  Clearly, these unspoken, invisible bonds helped propel them in their quest.


As in sports, so in life.  The bonds that we create shape our lives, provide us opportunities for achievement, and contribute to our levels of happiness and personal fulfillment.  If life is a series of interconnected experiences, then shared experiences form the fabric from which the tapestry of our civilization is created.  And so, while we should associate with those whom we love, we should also learn to love those with whom we associate.  In that way, we can form bonds fostering mutual respect and collective achievement in all avenues of our lives.


Last season, I basked in the glow of satisfaction in which all Phillies’ fans, my departed grandfather included, participated.  This season, I am certain, Yankees’ fans feel much the same way.  The members of those championships teams are now indelibly linked in the minds and hearts of sports fans everywhere.


Yet, each of us – in perhaps less highly publicized ways – can experience the profound triumph and satisfaction felt by members of sports championship teams.  Tomorrow holds the promise of shared experiences with family members, friends, and associates – both old and new, as well as the potential for collective achievement permitting yet another group, in their own time and place, to “walk together forever.”

Joe Torre: The Yankee Years

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Joe Torre The Yankee Years

Wandering through my local library on a recent visit, I stumbled upon “The Yankee Years” by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci.  A lifelong Phillies’ fan with an anti-New York sports team bias, I am probably among the least likely candidates to read a book like this one.  Yet, as an enthusiastic baseball fan (it is my favorite sport) who has admired Joe Torre as well as Derek Jeter and some of the other Yankee players, I felt a strange compulsion to peruse it.


With Torre as their field manager, the Yankees won four World Series in his first five years with the club and made the playoffs 12 years in a row.  If this fate were to befall my beloved Phillies, I would certainly want to read any book written about such a golden era.   Taking the book from its shelf, I sat down to browse through the 704 pages (large print edition) and see if I considered it worthy of taking home with me.  Then, I spied these two paragraphs on Page 270:


“That’s why the role of research in baseball is not to get the pitcher to throw faster,”  Flesig said, ”but to lower the risk of injury.”


Said Beane (Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s), ”At some point what’s really going to happen is we are all going to employ actuaries, like insurance companies.  In some ways we have now become pseudo actuaries.  You may hire actuaries in your office to figure out the probability of injuries occurring, given the amount of money you’re putting in.  Biomechanics is certainly a fascinating area to explore.  One pitcher can be both the riskiest and the best investment we make.  It makes sense to explore why.” 


An actuary myself beginning my 36th year in the profession, I was now hooked and, even more intriguingly, experienced an epiphany:  Could the paragraph above be the reason Billy Beane was the Keynote Speaker at the Society of Actuaries Convention in October of 2008?  These thoughts and my borrowing of the book were the commencement of what turned out to be five enjoyable evenings of sports reading.


When this book was first published, controversy swirled about several items relating to Yankee players’ perceptions regarding the acquisition of superstar Alex Rodriguez.  Nicknamed A-Rod, Rodriguez was allegedly referred to in a mocking manner as “A-Fraud” by some of his new Yankee teammates.  Additionally, the book indicates that it was a widely reiterated clubhouse joke that A-Rod’s preoccupation with perennial Yankee team leader and fan favorite Derek Jeter was similar to the obsession of one female for her roommate in the movie “Single White Female.” 


With those exceptions, there is very little to foment controversy in the book.  It does, however, provide an interesting perspective on the Yankees organization during those years from Torre’s point of view.  Co-author Tom Verducci does a nice job expanding upon various subjects, including the use of steroids and human growth hormone in baseball.


Some of the highlights of this book were as follows:


The outstanding overview that Tom Verducci provides on the subject of steroids in baseball.  It begins with the courage of Texas Ranger pitcher and player representative Rick Helling.  At the 1998 winter meeting of the Executive Board of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Mr. Helling told the attendees that “steroid use by ballplayers had grown rampant and was corrupting the game.”  Unfortunately, Rick was “swimming against the tide” and he was basically ignored.  The blatant disregard by the Players Association of Helling’s claims, however, did not end the controversy, as it rages on to this day.


A well-publicized incident between David Wells and a fan.   On Saturday, September 7, 2002, at approximately 5:30 AM, a heckling fan punched Yankee pitcher David Wells in the mouth at a local diner, knocking out two front teeth.  When Torre asked Wells about the time of the incident Wells lied, apparently forgetting about the 911 call (the details of which are a matter of public record) he made at 5:49 AM.  Torre said, “I always want to believe my players, but he just out and out lied.”  Wells was a very good pitcher who continually pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be a Yankee. 


The Yankees 2007 first round play-off series (best of five) with the Cleveland Indians.  Torre would usually give a motivational speech to the players before the start of a big series.  After a conversation with Bill Belichick, Super Bowl Championship Head Coach of the New England Patriots, Torre decided to heed Belichick’s advice and do something to loosen up his players instead.  He asked his good friend, Billy Crystal (a big Yankee fan) to put a bit together to show the team.  The DVD was played for the team on the workout day before Game One.  The players loved it, but General Manager Brian Cashman didn’t think it was funny.  Torre said, “Cash would have liked a motivational video.  I’ve been in the postseason so often that I can’t see the point in bringing up expectations.  You don’t have to remind guys.  I think I got to the point, whether it was because of my own situation and being criticized, or whether I felt there was a lot of tension in the playoffs anyway based on the expectations, we should keep it light and airy.”  The Yankees ended up losing this series and it was the end of the Torre era.


Torre’s accusation that Yankee officials secretly waged a media campaign against him.  Torre indicated that Yankee team officials were giving questions to Yes network reporter Kim Jones “designed to corner Torre or put him in an unfavorable light.” This is a claim that I personally find hard to believe.  Kim Jones is an excellent reporter who can clearly develop her own questions.  It is, moreover, a reporter’s job to ask probing questions.  In this instance, Torre’s accusations appear a bit paranoid to this reader.


All things considered, I think that this book, while not a classic, is good sports reading for any baseball fan, especially Yankee fans.  So, accept this as a strong recommendation to read this book from a Phillies’ fan who enjoyed both Joe Torre’s opinions and the excellent writing of Tom Verducci. 

It Used to Be a Game

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David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez

The top story in the sports world on July 31, 2009 was that Red Sox slugger David Ortiz tested positive for the use of performance enhancing drugs … in 2003!  Such a disclosure begs the question:  what was the second most significant sports “news” story of the day?


Following similar revelations regarding baseball superstars Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettit, Alex Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez to name a few, the news of Ortiz’s positive test results comes as no real surprise.  To all but the most naïve of onlookers, it has become apparent that the use of steroids, human growth hormone, and other performance enhancers has been rampant in Major League Baseball for more than a decade … and not only by the sport’s highest profile players!


For those of us who grew up regarding baseball as our National Pastime, who romanticized the game and its participants, it is time to face the stark realization that Major League Baseball, as it has been constituted for quite some time now, is neither game nor sport – but business.  And in business, the participants will seek to gain an edge over their competitors by whatever means possible, regardless of its ethicality.


That some of the sport’s most accomplished, highly compensated players chose to seek a pharmacological performance edge demonstrates that whatever our vocation and level of competency, we are all basically insecure in our own abilities.  Rationalizing, as I’m sure many of them did, that “everyone was doing it” and they “needed to keep pace,” they have permanently tarnished the sport that brought them fame, glory, and wealth.


As a fan, I can never again, as I did in my youth, believe in the integrity of the sport or the purity of athletic competition.  I will not regard with reverence Major League Baseball’s “hallowed” career records, nor see its greatest athletes as anything more nor less than entertainers in “pinstripes.”  I will, however, always long for the day when baseball was just a game.

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