I’ve been trying to add my new book to my link lists, but it’s not letting me. I swear a semi-trained, incontinent monkey could do a better job running this place. Here are the links for my book Paul Lebowitz’s 2009 Baseball Guide on I-Universe.com and BN.com. And check out my website PaulLebowitz.com.
*Note: I’m posting this review here because I like Jane; you can check out the review and my other writings at PAULLEBOWITZ.COM.
Jane Heller has a rare combination of attributes that make her the perfect person to write a book like Confessions of a She-Fan: she’s a passionate Yankee fan; she actually knows the
game; she has a sense of humor; and she can write. What results is a
comic masterpiece which delves not only into the ups and downs of a
hard core fan, but how that adoration and obsessiveness affects their
What began as a frustrated joke about her struggling team became a book idea when it was published as an essay in the New York Times. The reaction was widespread and varied but was the genesis of the idea of a whole book centered around following the Yankees
at home and on the road through a chunk of the 2007 season. Blunted in
her attempts to gain access to the club through the arrogant and
condescending stonewalling of the Yankees front office, Jane is reduced
to following the team as an obsessed fan and—-along with her husband Michael (a man nonpareil in the category of having patience)—-culls
tickets from brokers; stays in various hotels; sits in (mostly)
horrible seats for the games; and ingests copious amounts of unhealthy
ballpark fare while dealing with the undomesticated creature known as
the baseball fan.
Regardless of the dismissive reactions of those in power in the Yankees
hierarchy as she tries to get some input from at least one player,
the love for her team remains. The Yankees organization should be
ashamed with the way they’re portrayed. The list of people for whom
Jane has the skills and the impetus to ruthlessly skewer (but doesn’t)
is vast and includes the following:
- Jason Zillo:
The club media relations director who, one would think, would be
interested in someone creating a caricature of the Yankees organization
as something other than the cold, monolithic and pompous organism that
they clearly are; not only did he refuse Jane press access, but he
wasn’t even professional enough to answer her Emails with anything
other than insulting form letters.
- Broadcastress Kim Jones: What position she’s in to be sending curt Emails at reasonable requests for brief moments of her valuable time is beyond me.
- Yankee Stadium Employees: It often appears that
the fans are in the middle of a ruthless dictatorship with the
nastiness, abusiveness and borderline physical violence they display
toward them, especially women.
involving the above mentioned culprits in the Yankees culture of
self-importance are mentioned because Jane’s love for the Yankees is
unwavering; she allows all these small inconveniences to pale in
comparison to the loyalty she shows as she follows her team into what
ended as another fruitless championship run. The number of people who
come out looking good is occasionally surprising. For example, John
Sterling is a kind, helpful, polite and charming man and there are
laugh out loud moments and historical, ironic anecdotes that will get
any long time baseball fan saying, “I remember when…” and inserting
their own fan confessions in to complete the thought. Such incidents
that affected mere were the following:
- Jane as a teen going to Yankee Stadium to try and meet players:
at Joe Pepitone during batting practice to get his attention (and
getting it) reminded me of the stories I heard of the randy Pepitone
following around and trying to pick up my mother a local Brooklyn bowling alley.
- Trying to chat up Al Leiter at the Toronto airport:
seems a bit reticent and impatient dealing with people he doesn’t know
as he delivers perfunctory responses to innocuous ****-chat, but I met
Al Leiter at a baseball card show when he was just coming up with the
Yankees in the late 80s and he was probably one of the most unpretentious players I’ve ever encountered, calling me by name and thanking me for asking for his autograph on his picture. (It still have it somewhere.)
- And of course, there are the ironically funny bits:
Waldman’s authoritative declaration that “Alex (Rodriguez) has never
done steroids”. The question how would she know isn’t even necessary
given the revelations of the past month.
Referring to Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez of the Angels as a “little
twerp” is no longer allowed since he’s now under the Mets fans’
protection (specifically mine).
Or the reference to getting soaking wet at the ballpark in Detroit—-“Still, my jeans are drenched and my sneakers are in a puddle of water and I am shivering”—-brought
me back to a night at Shea Stadium when my brilliant idea was for me
and my fiancee to stay in our seats and wait out the rain delay so
that, “the seats won’t be wet when the game starts”. (Served her right
for listening to me.)
The book isn’t just about being a fan or about trying to get close to
one’s obsessions; but it’s about maintaining that loyalty no matter
what. The Yankees front office is rude? So what? The stadium personnel
are abusive? Big deal. The team isn’t completing their championship
The love of a team goes beyond what happens on the field; it’s more
than one incident involving people who, by accident of circumstance,
seem to believe that they’re irreplaceable and integral parts of what’s
been built in the Bronx over the past 100 years; it’s a fan who chooses
their loyalties and sticks with them, one way or the other; it’s the
endurance of the loved ones of those fans who tolerate their moods,
tantrums or fits of cussing because of people nicknamed Rocket, ARod,
Jeet and Georgie.
For Jane Heller, the mere prospect of divorcing the Yankees was nothing
more than a fit of pique and was never going to happen. It’s
understandable, but unfortunate because if she’s dedicated enough to
endure all of that and maintain her loyalty, we could use her with the
Mets; and while they may not have a $200 million payroll, at least the
stadium personnel are polite, and that’s not a bad place to start the
Joe Torre was on Mike’d Up with Mike Francesa this afternoon discussing his book, The Yankee Years. The interview itself wasn’t all that engaging, to be honest. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I miss Chris Russo. Here’s the link if anyone’s interested: Podcast of Torre Interview.
- The biggest problem with the Yankees and Joba Chamberlain:
This debate regarding Joba Chamberlain is going to go on until the Yankees make a definitive decision to put him either in the starting rotation or the bullpen and leave him in either place, and that’s the problem. They’re not making a definitive decision; there is dissent within the organization as to where Chamberlain is best suited and where his value is at his highest for the team; and the wishy-washy nature in which the Yankees are going about their usage of the young righty is only making things worse and creating debate as is currently underway and will continue to be so until someting iron clad is decided upon and stuck to no matter what.
If he’s going to be a starter, then make him a starter; none of this 80 pitch limit on one day; 85 the next day; 92 the day after. There should be no limits on innings other than what they’d do with a pitcher who they didn’t value as highly. What they’re doing with these stupid, nonsensical rules (with numbers that they’re pulling out of their behinds) is putting Chamberlain in a plastic bubble hoping that he doesn’t get hurt; and it’s not that they don’t want him to get hurt because they need him so badly; it appears as if they don’t want him to get hurt because they don’t want to be criticized. This is not the way to handle a young pitcher no matter what kind of data they’re producing for whichever sources.
My problem with the whole essence of the Joba Rules is that they’re tying their manager’s hands with these random edicts; they’re making this a continuing story where there shouldn’t be one; and they’re creating a mess and controversy when they don’t have to. Chamberlain is 23-years-old; he needs to pitch in whatever role they choose for him. If he’s a starter, no one’s telling them to let him throw 260 innings this year; if he’s pitching well and keeping himself and his arm in shape with the proper maintenance exercises and feeling healthy, there’s no reason that he shouldn’t be able to log 190-215 innings this year. If this were twenty years ago, would there even be this debate? No one’s telling the Yankees to let Chamberlain throw 150 pitches in a start; no one’s telling them to abuse Chamberlain’s young arm; but eventually the time is going to come that they’re going to have to stop being so overprotective, take the training wheels off and let him ride. The ambiguity is probably worse for Chamberlain than just letting him pitch would be.
Roger Clemens—-the pitcher that Chamberlain has most often been compared to in style, body-type and motion—-threw 254 innings at age 23 and won the Cy Young Award and the MVP as he almost led the Red Sox to a World Series win; and Clemens came out of a college program at the University of Texas under coach Cliff Gustafson in which a pitch count and babying the pitchers in the early 80s would’ve been laughable and met with a shower of tobacco juice as the theorist and his printouts of optimal pitch counts was chased from the field with a bat.
Nolan Ryan, at the age of 25, threw 284 innings; then at 26, he threw 326; and at 27, 332; and there weren’t pitch counts observed then either as Ryan was striking out 330+ batters year-after-year.
Tom Seaver, at age 23, threw 277 innings; then at 24, he threw 290 winning a Cy Young Award and leading the Mets to a World Series win.
Bret Saberhagen, at age 21, threw 235 innings, won the Cy Young Award and led the Royals to a World Series win. Saberhagen, at that age, was about 155 pounds (at most). He had a series of arm injuries throughout his career that he probably would’ve had if they’d treated him like the Yankees are treating Joba; but Saberhagen had two Cy Young Awards by the time he was 25; what will Joba have?
Greg Maddux threw 245 innings at age 22 and set the standard for excellence and durability, occasionally throwing 160 pitches in a game. Maddux was a high draft pick; why wasn’t he babied like Chamberlain? The argument could be made that pitchers like Saberhagen and Maddux needed to be babied because they were so small, but Saberhagen was dominant and Maddux was one of the best pitchers in history.
So the Yankees are coming up with all of this data that states how Chamberlain should be used; but why are so many pitchers getting hurt today when guys like Clemens, Seaver, et al managed such long and predominately healthy careers? Is the data helping or hurting the pitchers of today?
None of this has anything to do with anything other than the fear and organizational wavering of where to put Chamberlain. Now that they have a full starting rotation, they have an excuse to put Chamberlain back into the bullpen for this year at least. There’s no reason for that to define his career and no reason to continue with the company line that this is what’s best for the pitcher because no one can know what’s best for the pitcher until after the fact. All that can be determined now is what’s best for the team and what’s best for the team would be to use Chamberlain as a set-up man for Rivera and let him pitch without restrictions; and if they’re not going to do that, they should let him start and stop babying him because this whole story has gotten tiresome and will continue until someone with gut
s in the Yankee organization says, “we’re gonna let the kid pitch and if he gets hurt, he gets hurt; those are the breaks”. Then they’ll be able to move forward and worry about winning rather than worrying about whether Chamberlain should be allowed to throw 70 pitches in 60 degree weather; 74 in cloudy, but warm weather; 67 in overcast and threatening rain; 90 if it’s a beautiful spring day, or some other random crap to the silly nonsense that’s being spit out by Brian Cashman’s computer.
- Hot Stove reading list—-Joe Torre’s, yes; Kirk Radomski’s, no:
I’m not discussing Joe Torre’s book until I actually read the entire context, but given what’s being said, I’ll say this: Torre was probably hurt and offended by the way his contribution to what the Yankees accomplished during his reign was diminished by George Steinbrenner among others. The way he was treated as he left put a bad taste in his mouth, he’s probably heard the disparaging comments about him emanating from the Yankee organization and he wanted his version of events on record. The only way to truly judge the book is going to be if Torre tries to make himself out to be “Saint Joe” as he’s occasionally portrayed by some; or if he’s completely honest about his mistakes.
In mentioning mistakes, I’m not talking about the bugs in Cleveland or batting Alex Rodriguez eighth in the playoffs; I’m talking about his advocating the signing of Albert Belle to replace the supposedly departing Bernie Williams after the 1998 season; I’m talking about how he battered certain relief pitchers to the point where their arms would fall off and they’d be out of gas by September and October. If Torre’s honest about his flaws, then it’s going to be easier to take him seriously with his reflections on life as the manager of the Yankees during their dynasty of the late 90s; if not, it’ll be just as self-serving as certain people are saying it is without having read anything other than what’s been printed in the papers.
Kirk Radomski’s book is receiving widespread ridicule and denials are being issued all over the place regarding the apparent inaccuracies therein. This book was one of opportunity and Radomski either has a poor memory, a bad ghostwriter, a “don’t ask/don’t tell” editor or all three. If I had to guess what happened from start to finish with this book is that the publisher wanted to get it out as quickly as possible and strike with a few high-profile names and allegations to get some people to buy the book out of a morbid curiosity and naive gullibility in what Radomski is quoted as having said about players like Dwight Gooden and David Justice.*
*Interestingly, while checking Radomski’s book on Amazon.com, there are two versions available; one published by Hudson Street Press and the other by Kindle. Did they mean Kindle or “kindling” as if it should be used to stoke a fire?
Radomski says he took urine tests for Gooden, which Gooden vehemently denied with a somewhat clever retort of, “I’ve done enough wrong on my own, I don’t want to get blamed for something I didn’t do”; and David Justice, whom Radomski claims to have dropped off at the airport and handed a load of PEDs, an allegation about which Justice was almost apoplectic and so insistent in his denials that it’s hard not to believe that he’s telling the truth.
Of course it’s possible that Radomski is remembering incidents that actually happened and is just recalling them out of order, but with all of these players coming out and issuing such strong denials, it’s hard to take Radomski’s book seriously. If I had to guess, I’d say that Radomski got an advance of around $25-50 grand for the book and the ghostwriter and editors took what he said and ran with it not knowing whether or not it was true and purposely not digging too deeply for fear of not being able to print what Radomski was saying.
It hardly matters; there’s one thing that can be said about both books within a reasonable certainty: Torre’s book is going to sell very well, and Radomski’s isn’t. That has to do with subject matter and the storyteller. People want to know what happened in the Yankee clubhouse during The Torre Years; I think people have had just about enough of Kirk Radomski and won’t want to spend anymore time reading about what he was doing, truthfully or not.
Jeff Pearlman became famous for his Sports Illustrated interview with John Rocker and the subsequent “it was all your fault” confrontation instigated by Rocker the next year. Since then, Pearlman has taken to writing books about subjects that are not only interesting to fans of the actual relevant sports, but delve deeply into what was really going on behind the scenes on and off the field. First he wrote The Bad Guys Won! about the 1986 New York Mets; then Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero; now he provides an inside account of what went on with the flamboyant, three-time Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s in Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty.
Simultaneously beloved and reviled, the Dallas Cowboys unilaterally took the mantle of “America’s Team” under public relations wizard Tex Schramm in the 1960s and 70s. Led by a character straight out of a Western with his intelligence, football knowledge, piety and charm, coach Tom Landry formulated a consistent contender year-after-year. In the 80s, the Cowboys collapsed and were purchased by a somewhat cartoonish oilman named Jerry Jones, who along with the true football genius Jimmy Johnson, rebuilt the Cowboys into a title contender on the field; a cash cow off the field; and, similarly to the old Cowboys, hedonists nonpareil. The difference was that the Cowboys of Schramm and Landry were able to maintain the facade of clean-living All-American boys, while the Jones Cowboys couldn’t care less about their image as long as the players showed up on Sunday ready to play.
The problem with success, as stated neatly in the film American Gangster, is that it has enemies. Some come from without; others within. The rest of the NFL generally hated the Cowboys and their holier-than-thou attitude during the Schramm/Landry years; and hated Jones even more for his desperation to garner attention and credit for himself, as well as boatloads of money—-and he was notoriously successful on both counts.
As the team grew from a 1-15 disaster in Jones/Johnson’s first season into a title contender within three years, the “who gets the credit?” game began to be played behind the scenes. According to the book, it was Johnson, above all, who built the team into the machine that it became with his keen eye for talent and strict (yet flexible when it came to the star players) disciplinary codes. The book relates how this desire for credit and circumstances (the implementation of the NFL salary cap just when the Cowboys were poised to win four of five straight Super Bowls) combined to unravel what had been built just as quickly as it was constructed.
The duality of the cast of characters and their public personas is more complicated than the perception of good guy vs bad guy and is related in the book in the following ways with the following people who helped build, then destroy, what those Cowboys were:
- Jerry Jones:
It’s a function of one’s personality to have the courage to try and make a load of money and not care about the consequences of failure. How does one go about being an oilman anyway? How does he know where to drill? And what happens if he fails? Jones was so intent on striking it rich, that he searched and searched and finally hit the mother lode of oil. While some are content to have the security of having a job and a paycheck every two weeks, others are seeking the contentment of having their own jet and owning a football team while wielding a load of power.
Jones is a smart man, there’s no question, but is he a football man? The details in the book indicate that the answer is no. After the quest for credit became too much of a war, Jones forced Johnson out and took over as the team’s architect and began the process of running them into the ditch. His fantasies of becoming another version of Oakland Raiders legendary boss Al Davis and running the entire franchise didn’t ring true as Jones went off to earn his money while Johnson—-his college teammate at the University of Arkansas—-went about the task of climbing up the coaching ladder and learning how to spot and mold a football player along the way.
The lax disciplinary procedures, win at all costs, and “look the other way” attitude of player behavior contributed mightily to the team’s downfall. Jones’s running of the team’s draft was almost embarrassingly bad. Trusting his own self-inflated ego for selecting players, Jones helped to dwindle the team’s talent pool as much, if not more than the salary cap did; while Johnson created a pipeline to replace departing veterans through his deft manipulation of the draft, Jones’s picks barely, if at all, contributed. Jones’s selection of a washed up college coach in Barry Switzer to replace Johnson not only antagonized his quarterback, Troy Aikman, but gave the other players carte blanche to behave however they wanted and it eventually ruined the team.
It says something for Jones’s lack of hypocrisy that he was chasing women with the same fervor that his players were, but not much for his control of the team. (It must be disturbing beyond words for a 60-something-year-old man with clownish facial surgery and a hairpiece to be saying things to women such as: “Give me five minutes with you and I’ll take you to heaven.”) Note: Having a lot of money and power is conducive to saying things such as this to women and not having a drink thrown in your face.
- Jimmy Johnson:
The talent evaluator who found the players that built the foundation of the dynasty; weeded out those that either couldn’t help him win or wouldn’t get with the program; hired qualified coaches to run the facets of the team; and kept the players out of the headlines for most everything except their exploits on the field (how important this aspect of his job was wouldn’t be known until the players ran amok under Switzer. Had Jones not had Johnson to build the organization back up again, it’s not hard to guess what would have happened.
- Barry Switzer:
It’s a bad sign for disciplinary procedures when the head coach is habitually late for meetings and arrives reeking of alcohol; doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea what he’s doing; despises and undermines the Hall of Fame quarterback publicly and privately, and vice versa; and allows the players to behave any way they want without consequences. A trained (or not-so-trained) monkey could’ve won 24 games in Switzer’s first two seasons and a Super Bowl in the second by just standing on the sideline, wearing a headset, waving his arms and jumping up and down once in a while (kinda like Switzer did).
One has to wonder about the self-esteem and/or sanity of scouting director Larry Lacewell, who left his job as an assistant to Switzer at Oklahoma University after he found out that Switzer was fooling around with Lacewell’s wife and agreed with Jones to hire Switzer to replace Johnson. How a guy can still be married to the same wife and be hanging around team functions with Switzer is beyond me. Didn’t the image of Switzer climbing on top of his wife preclude him from anything other than some act of vengeance? This to me isn’t turning the other cheek and forgiving; this is being a fool.
- Troy Aikman:
Aikman was the quarterback who saw his dream of annual on-field domination torn apart as his nemesis Switzer took over the team. Whereas under Johnson he was able to concentrate on quarterbacking the team, upon Switzer’s arrival, Aikman also found himself as the dispenser of as much discipline as one player could mete out to another. This is not helpful to winning and organization.
- Michael Irvin:
It’s fascinating how a guy can have his fun with women and drugs, women and alcohol, women and football, and women and women and then suddenly get hit with a bolt from the blue and “understand” how what they were doing was wrong and apologize to the family and friends he’s hurt with his behaviors as he desires—-and receives—-induction into pro football’s Hall of Fame.
Irvin is about as despicable a human being you’ll run across while not being incarcerated (which he almost was numerous times for drug busts and for once nearly killing a teammate with a pair of scissors for not allowing Irvin to cut in front of him to get a haircut—-Irvin must’ve figured that he’d cut his teammate literally for the transgression) and still be worshipped by fans who have no interest in anything other than how many catches he has on Sunday. That being said, there is something to admire in a man who had, by most accounts, only limited ability and worked, worked, worked (to the point of throwing up) to become said Hall of Famer and Super Bowl champion. If the lurid details of Irvin’s sexual appetites (with which he infected the whole team to a stunning degree) are to anyone’s taste, then this book is worth purchasing even if you don’t even know what a football is.
- Emmitt Smith:
Smith won praise as a courageous and selfless team player who wanted to score touchdowns and win games for his teammates as he behaved himself off the field. The truth is that Smith was more of a prima donna than just about anyone on the team and as things really spun out of control, he exerted his power to make as much money as humanly possible for himself without any concern for the team. Much of his “aww, shucks” persona was for PR purposes only.
- Charles Haley:
For a big, tough football player, Haley got beaten up a awful lot whenever someone got tired of his abuse. Every story of every fight ended with Haley getting brutally beaten. Haley’s most famous attribute and activity had nothing to do with football. Suffice it to say that he had a natural gift that had nothing to do with strength or footspeed and he didn’t hesitate to display and utilize it at every opportunity for his own amusement—-in team meetings; on the bus; on the plane—-anywhere and everywhere.
These stories and many others (in far greater detail) of the behaviors that are prevalent around the NFL (although probably not to the extreme degree of the Cowboys) are in this book and it’s just about a guarantee that anyone who picks it up is going to read the entire text within two days. Pearlman cites hundreds of sources in piecing together the goings on of that Cowboys team that could have been remembered for being the best ever, but will instead be remembered for what might have been (that’s sort of in the same vein that the 1986 Mets and Barry Bonds found themselves as well). Written with a unique style, savvy football knowledge and wry sense of humor, Boys Will Be Boys is required reading not just for the stories of football and sociopathic debauchery, but as a cautionary tale of a life without consequences and trading one’s principles for short-term glory.