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by Alex Ciepley
It's been a common enough scenario this baseball season.
scene: Ciepley at his work desk in the morning, groggy and a bit grumpy.
The phone rings.
Ciepley (picking up): Helloooo...
Belth: Yo dawg, what's going on?
Ciepley (still groggy. it's 9:30 am!): Not much.
Belth (softly, a confession): Dude, they're killin' me. The Yankees suck.
The New York Yankees have had a disappointing season so far. This is normally a cause for great celebration, but my joy at their failures has been tempered a bit in recent years. I'm a New Yorker now, after all, and as a New Yorker you get to know and like a lot of Yankee fans. It isn't much fun to throw Hate the Bronx Bombers parties when all the guests are gloomy Jeter fans. In particular, the season's been less than kind to my friend and Bronx Banter scribe Alex Belth, and it's phooey to see your pal bummed.
But while my public displays of vitriol are going by the wayside, I'm not becoming too much of a softy regarding the Yankees. They're still Enemy Number One in my baseball book, and I'm eagerly anticipating heading to the Bronx tonight with Belth and his brother to witness Zambrano tearing the Pinstripers a new one.
In anticipation of this weekend's lovefest between the Cubs and Yanks, I asked Alex a few questions about the squad he follows:
Ciepley: Tell me how much the Yankees suck this year. Then answer me this: How much is it getting you down?
Belth: The Yanks suck pretty bad. They will be good enough to hang around but will suck enough not to make the playoffs. And yeah, it's bummed me out plenty. I've anticipated them falling off for years now, but that still doesn't make it much fun when it's finally happening.
But at this point, the worst is really over. I mean, I don't see them reaching the postseason, so my expectations are low. The thing of it is--and this has been analyzed thoroughly by guys like my partner Cliff Corcoran, Steven Goldman, Joe Sheehan, Jay Jaffe and Derek Jacques--the Yankees had a very poor offseason, and they are now paying for their mistakes.
Unfortunately, there is only so much satisfaction I can derive from saying "I told you so." I still like a lot of the guys on the team personally and that helps. But you know what? In the big picture, even if they do suck this year--and even for several years to come--they won't suck as much as some teams, and hell, they've been so great for so long now, I figure it's just part of how things work. What goes up has to come down.
Ciepley: You know I think A-Rod's a little b*tch. I know you think he's the bomb. What is it that you like most about his game?
Belth: It's funny, but I'm not crazy about him personally either. And I can totally see why some people hate him. In New York, he's unfairly compared to Jeter. Rodriguez is Winfield to Jeter's Mattingly. He's the better all-around player, but he'll never win any popularity contests. Recently, a friend of mine said that Rodriguez is like a professional wrestler that was cast as a good guy, but he's actually better suited as a good guy turned bad guy.
What I like most about him is that he's a great player and does everything well. He's got a cannon of an arm though he's far from a gold glove third baseman; he looks like a fat ass but can steal bases and is an excellent base runner. And he does strike out a bunch, but he's just a flat-out terrific hitter. I think what I enjoy most about his game is his swing. It's so fluid and seemingly effortless. The ball really jumps off of his bat in a way that is special.
Sheffield is more exciting to watch. His swings are violent and dynamic, the guy is completely visceral. He punishes the ball. Rodriguez is almost like a machine--and I think that's why so many people find him boring. His swing is easy, almost perfect. The fact that the ball carries so well for him seems almost unfair. He's an easy guy to dislike and in a way a hard guy to love. But with very few exeptions (Curt Schilling), I root for greatness, no matter what team a player is on. Rodriguez is no exception.
Ciepley: The Moose is my favorite Yankee by a mile, dumbass squatting-in-the-stretch and all. Who's your favorite among the current Cubs?
Belth: I'd have to say Maddux, easily. He comes across as such an appealing, unpretentious guy. I love reading interviews with him where he talks about pitching. It's a shame that Maddux and Mussina aren't pitching against each other this weekend. Aesthetically, that would be just a dream match up. Obviously, Mussina isn't in the same class, and both pitchers are past their prime. But when they are on, they change speeds and locate the ball so well, they are a joy to watch. However, their margin for error is that much smaller and when they are off, they get muderalized right quick.
Otherwise, I know he's Mr. Cub right now, but Derrek Lee seems like a good guy. I read the Sports Illustrated piece on him this week and he's one of those humble, hard-working guys that would have fit right in on the early Torre Yankee teams.
Ciepley: Last year, your gal pal Emily was all about Tony The Turtle Clark. Who's got Em all hot and bothered this year?
Belth: Nobody has replaced T. Clark for Em. Sure, she'll root for anyone who is an underdog--that's why she was drawn to Clark in the first place. That, and the fact that she thinks he's a class act all the way. So Em pulls for Bubba Crosby whenever he's up from Columbus for a minute. She feels badly for guys when they do poorly, like Giambi and Womack of late, but that doesn't mean she's got the hots for them. She likes Posada and Matsui and Ruben Sierra, but she isn't turned on by any of 'em especially this year.
I will tell you one thing, though. We had front row seats right in front of third base earlier this season and were right up close to these guys. And Em was really impressed with Rodriguez. Yeah, she found him attractive, but more than that she said she just responded to his energy. He gave off very powerful vibes she said. The beauty part about it was that she didn't mention this to me for weeks and half-hated herself for thinking it in the first place. She hates being attracted to the guy everyone else likes, but she couldn't help herself.
Ciepley: What's your prediction for this series?
Belth: I'll say the Yanks will win two of three. Either way, I doubt either team will sweep. Derrek Lee should put one out by the monuments, and Todd Walker or Jeromy Burnitz will hit one in the upper deck in right. Otherwise, I don't have much of a gut feeling one way or the other. I'm interested to see the wild man Zambrano pitch. You'll know early on if Mussina has got it on Sunday. No matter what happens, I know I'll have your wise-cracking ass to contend with. You'll be chirping about how much the Yanks suck, but even more about how much the Cubs suck, whether they win or lose. It's a no-win situation for a self-depricating bastard like me. Oh, well. May the suckiest team suck.