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FROM THE Top STEP

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THE ON-DECK CIRCLE

HiddenBall: Greg W. Prince

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THE LEADOFF SPOT

Inside SNY:The Mets New Network

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Encorefor Bernie

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COVER STORY

And now, a word from the Editor In Chief of Gotham Baseball

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here's a few things that slam the baseball fan hard the first time each season they find themselves at the ballpark. First, there's the smell of freshly cut grass, mixed with the distant aroma of hot dogs. Next, there's the "thwack" sound as a baseball hits the sweet spot of the mitt and finally, the explosive sound, halfway between a rifle shot and a bone snapping, when a bat catches hold of one .

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For a moment and maybe a bit longer, these sounds and smells can be overwhelming, washing away a winter of questions without answers and watching other sports just to kill time between baseball seasons.

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EDITOR

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mike@gothambasebafl.com EXECUTIVE EDITOR:

Whether that first day in the sun comes during spring training or during those first few chilly days in New York (or elsewhere), it is like being shocked back to life, to remember in a moment again what it means to be alive. And maybe nowhere is that feeling more strongly felt than in New York, which boasts not one, but two real World Series contenders - two good teams that got a lot better in the off-season. In this issue, we give you a bit of a peek inside the keynote of the offseason, the Winter Meetings, to offer better insight as to how the business of baseball is run. But before we dive into the exunfinished business here at GB: our back and forward, rewarding ing who we think will move us know what you think should add next year. We also reflect on Mike - and Bernie Williams' deciYankees. They are two players who giant stage that is New York.

citement that is 2006, we have some annual awards issue, which both looks the best of 2005 while boldly predictto center stage in 2006. Let - and what other awards we

Piazza's tenure with the Mers' sion to continue his with the always seemed to come up big on the

You may notice a few changes around here: the absence of die Top 10 prospect list and minor league organization reports. Because of the often four- or moreweek delay between when this goes to the printer and you read it, we've found both to be woefully out of date. Both now appear on our Web site, www.gothambaseball. com and will do so monthly. In addition, there will be extra content - directly related to the stories in the magazine's - on our Web sire for each and every issue. For example, in addition to our up-close look at David Wright, we have stories about both the history of third basemen in New York, as well as a look at the many players who occupied that position for the Mets.

-Mike McGann

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he game has stopped. Of course it has. The top of the seventh is over. This is when we stand, when we've always stood. We stand and stretch. We sing something. "God Bless America." "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." "Lazy Mary." Anything will usually suffice. But today the game doesn't so much take a break as it shifts into park. We're not using the middle of this seventh inning to stretch as much as we are to stand and salute. Singing is superfluous. We're not here to beseech a Deity to do His best on behalf of our country. Sorry, America, you're on your own this particular Sunday afternoon. And we already know we're at a ballgame. Boy do we ever. It's the last ballgame Mike Piazza will play for the New York Mets. We know it without having it officially confirmed. Nobody wants to quite say it. Words like "almost certainly" are our insurance pol icies in case lightning strikes and the man who is in the closing minutes of his seven-year contract and the organization that is receiving the last of its $91 million worth from him

decide they might be as good together in the immediate future as they have been in the suddenly distant past. But we all know lightning isn't going to strike. We all know that this day, October 2, 2005, is Piazza and out. So we stand and salute. Mike. And only Mike. There's only one. We all know what's coming. The public address announcer tells us to direct our attention to the DiamondVision, but we're already watching. We understand that we are going to see what sports teams' NV squads produce when they want to acknowledge one of their own. They're going to playa montage of highlights. Mike Piazza's greatest hits, set to music. The song, as said before, doesn't matter. That's not why we're standing. We're standing for him, his accomplishments, our emotions and how both were inextricably enmeshed. Yet a career retrospective, no matter how well-intended or slickly produced, was almost inappropriate. Mike Piazza's talent and genius was not for giving us memories to look back

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on but moments to look forward to. If his era and its end needed a theme song, Carly Simon's "Anticipation" might have worked. When will Mike become a Met? What will he do when he does? How will he h and I e the pressure of a pennant r ace in New York? Can he

lead us into the playoffs? Can he get us to the World Series? What will he do next? There are no more nexts for Piazza now, but a nearly full stadium can dream, can't it? Stay right here, Mike. These are the good old days. Sure, we stand and salute the almost eight years that have led up to this moment. The greatest hits unfurl on DiamondVision. We know them by heart. We know he'll wander slightly dazed from LA. to Miami to out of the Mets dugout on May 23, 1998 and double off the Brewers' Jeff Juden. We know that he'll deliver us from a summer of Spehr, Castillo and Wllkins, some of the trivia answers who had been filling in for the injured and suddenly obsolete Todd Hundley. We know that down two with two out and two on, he will blast a ninth-inning homer of young, laser-throwing Billy Wagner in the Astrodome that will prop up a Wild Card bid a little longer than it deserved. We know that the following year he will own Roger Clemens and rent Ramiro Mendoza and make the Big Apple a two-team town again once and for all. We know that he will ache in his team's first postseason In eleven years but save most of his hurt for John Smoltz in the form of a liner over the right-centerfield fence

Gotham Baseball- Winter 2006

at a not-so-sacred Met burial ground in Atlanta, the centerpiece of a rally that highlights 1999's NLCS Game Six, perhaps the greatest League Championship Series game ever - a 10-9 win for the Braves but a triumph of the spirit for the Mets, one that doesn't feel as much like a loss as it should. We know that 2000 will be his best Met year, that he will make his case, as a battered and bruised catcher, for MVP, that he will cap one of this or any other club's most unlikely comebacks, against the dreaded Braves, by blitzing the first pitch Terry Mulholland throws him to left field and beyond. It's an eighth inning that starts with the Mets down 8-1 and ends with them in front 11-8, the three go-ahead runs on his say-so. We further know that he will become the Monster in this year's NLCS, as in the Monster who busts Out of the Cage (coach John Stearns' phrase) against the Cardinals, that he will pave the way for the likes ofTimo Perez and Jay Payton and Benny Agbayani to say they won a pennant. And we surely know that he will take the final mighty swing of the 2000 World Series. That it lands in the glove of the other team's centerfielder we know, too. We know of another game against archrival Atlanta on a night when sports rivalries are rendered irrelevant in this nation and in this city. We know it is September 21, 2001 and we know it is only ten days after September 11,2001 and we know this is the first baseball game in New York and we know that it's plenty, plenty weird to be at it let alone place any importance on it. But we know that by turning on a Steve Karsay pitch, he makes a baseball ganle seem more wonderful than anything could possibly seem given the circumstances. We know all that. We know a record, most h 0 m e


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catcher, is eventually set but we also know it doesn't come easy, that there are injuries and regime changes and lifestyle allegations and an uncomfortable, unwanted position switch and a decline that's all too evident to fight through. That stuff's not in the highlight montage, but we see it if we look hard enough. We also see the second half of 2005 and the man, ceding the cleanup spot in the batting order to a younger gun, quietly dropping to sixth and - whaddayaknow? reviving. He starts homering again right here at Shea, right after the All-Star break. A big one against the Braves. Then the Padres. Then the Dodgers. If he isn't his old self we know what he is is pretty damn special. We know he takes Sunny Kim to the most distant precincts of Shea, accounting for the 397th home run of his career, three nights earlier. We can watch most of that on DiamondVision, but really all we have to do is close our eyes and we can see again and again what one baseball player wrought upon one set of fans who had never had anyone quite like him before and weren't sure when they would have somebody like him again. The video ends. The man emerges. Mike Piazza steps out of the home dugout. He waves. He is applauded. He waves some more. He is cheered. He waves again. He is vocally and - this much is becoming obvious - endlessly worshipped. This goes on for...well, nobody was looking at a watch. Mike Piazza be used to the protracted attention, He has absorbed it steadily over eight years when trotting from home to home, This is different. This is 47,718 pairs of eyes fixed on him, not counting those of teammates and even that day's irrelevant opponents. Pairs of eyes and pairs of hands. The clapping doesn't stop. The chanting (a wishfully thought "One More Year!") comes in waves. The stands are just that. Seats are paid for, they just aren't being used. The seventh-inning stretch expands beyond its traditional parameters. The game is stuck in park. This isn't Cal Ripken taking a victory lap for passing Lou Gehrig. No record is being broken here. This is, technically speaking,

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homage to a contract expiring. Something about this strikes Mike Piazza as too much. There is a game in progress. At least there has been. It is still the middle of the seventh. Nobody has called the rest of it off. Nobody would mind, but a catcher knows the rules. There is more baseball that needs to be played, 17 other players required to complete it. No, you can sense Piazza concluding, this isn't quite right. From in front of

finish pinning an eventual 11-3 loss on the Mets. C'mon Mike. You know better. We know better. Piazza gives up and gives in. He stops telling us to sit down. He waves a little longer. He soaks it in, makes it a part of him if he is at all human. It will be something that he can take with him into the cold of winter, into the not exactly warm waters of free agency, off to

the home dugout, where his presence is demanded over and over, he makes a gesture more familiar to overeager patrons in the first 20 minutes of a Bruce Springsteen concerts than at a simple baseball game between two teams playing out the 162nd strand of the string. He gestures downward with both hands. He raises and lowers them again. It could mean two things. 1) The 01' Wttynes World "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!" bit. But that would be ridiculous because Mike Piazza certainly has the presence of mind to understand - after eight Met seasons, 972 Met games, 220 Met home runs, 655 Met runs batted in and more momentous Met memories than any Met has ever made - he is worthy. 2) Bruce's classic "we're gonna be here for a long time, so siddown." True, we aren't scheduled to be here much longer, but like Springsteen, Piazza is at heart a working man. Why stay on your feet when you put down good money for that chair? For goodness sake, people, take your seats. You can't keep applauding me forever. Oh yeah? These 47,718 acolytes would do anything for Mike Piazza the afternoon of October 2, but they won't do that. We won't sit down. We won't go gently into that bottom of the seventh just so the Colorado Rockies can

San Diego for whom he will sign in January and to wherever life takes him after he's done being an active legend. An umpire at last declares "enough." There's nothing in Knotty Problems of Baseball that covers mass idolatry. Play ball. The fans, the Mets, the irrelevant opponents all sigh. Sure, Blue. Whatever you say. We sit. They play. The bottom of the seventh arrives and departs. Mike takes his position behind the plate to start the eighth and then abandons it before a pitch is thrown. Even though he is due an at-bat, the manager pulls him. Mike has only so much to give us, it is said, and it has surely been given. He waves, we applaud and he leaves. So do many of the 47,718. Even we could only stand and cheer his end for so long. . He will reappear on this field after the game to be interviewed and talk about how, wow, that was something else, and he will elicit one more burst of recognition. He will reappear on this field after that, most likely this coming August when his new team plays his old team. Somewhere along the way, he will come back to Shea Stadium or its successor as not just an ex-Met but as an ex-player, again to be loved and honored - as a Met Hall of Famer, as a Baseball Hall of Farner, as the last Met to wear 31. But he will never again be Mike Piazza who plays for the New York Mets.

Winter 2006


SNY President John Litner (left) with former Met Ron Darling, who will provide color commentary on Met broadcasts in 2006.

ore than four decades ago, the New York Mets introduced their M first-ever broadcast team, bringing together the trio of veteran sportScaster Lindsey Nelson, solid play-by-play man Bob Murphy and analyst Ralph Kiner to call games on WOR-TV and WABC radio. Each an eventual Hall of Farner, the three men wrote a special chapter in the hearts of Mets' fans during the 17 years they worked as a unit. For millions, Nelson, Murphy and Kiner defined what summer sounded like. Forty-four years later, a brand new network has introduced its trio of announcers in the hopes that it, too, will make some enduring broadcast history. With its first hires, SportsNer New York is indicating it could very well be en route to creating a lasting legacy of its own. When the New York Mets and their cable partners Comcast and Time Warner announced plans to introduce a new regional sports network to air Mets games and other sports programming, the media and team's fans alike began wondering what the new network would be called debating who would comprise the new broadcast team. On September 29, 2005, Sportsl-Iet New York and a spiffy SNY logo were unveiled by the three broadcast partners, but October would pass before management let on who would sit behind the SNY microphones. A guessing game ensued. Dave O'Brien and Ted Robinson, familiar voices to Mets fans from their recent tenures with WPIX and MSG, respectively, were considered possibilities, but their unwillingness to put other gigs aside and devote themselves solely to Mets casting ruled them out. It also sent a

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sign to Mets fans that this network would indeed put the Mets first. A far bolder statement was made in early November when SNY announced its choice for the marquee voice in the Met booth. It was none other than Gary Cohen, known and respected in Met circles for his work on the radio side. There was little speculation that the 17year play-by-play announcer would slide over to TV and some trepidation on the part of fans who had come to cherish the easy repartee between Cohen and partner Howie Rose on WFAN. But any loss where radio is concerned seems destined to benefit the fledgling television network. "I was able to learn from the best, listen from the best and watch the best," explains Curt Gowdy, Jr., vice president and executive producer of SNY. "In choosing Gary Cohen, I knew the greatest baseball announcers all come from radio and it's an easy transition for Gary to make here. There are some technical things he'll have to work out, but that's what spring training is for. "We're just thrilled that we have Gary Cohen - his voice, his knowledge of the game, his following here in the Metropolitan Area. It was a very quality hire for us and we're thrilled to have him." For SNY to succeed, it needs talent behind the scenes as well as on the air. That's where Gowdy and president John Litner come in. Litner had been serving as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the NHL when he was tabbed as the head man at SNY, part of an impressive resume that includes a line as senior VP of programming at ABC Sports, which is where he met Gowdy. The


www.gothambaseball.com son of the legendary broadcaster has made an impressive career for himself in his own right, winning 15 Emmy awards during 27 years at ABC Sports. "My friendship with John goes back to the decade or so we were at ABC Sports and I was running Wide World of Sports," Gowdy says. The chance to work with a friend combined with an opportunity "to start ~, up a regional sports network in this city, in this metropolitan area...to put my handprint on something" was too good for him to pass up. Cohen's appointment was greeted positively by those who cover sports media. And then it was back to wondering who would join him. No further announcement came forth from SNY until January. Several names were thrown around by the speculating class, mostly ex-Mets {David Cone, AI Leiter before he re-signed with the Yanks) and at least one ex-opponent (Braves announcer Don Sutton, never a real possibility). When the decision was made, two former and familiar players got the call to do the calls. One was not terribly surprising. Keith Hernandez, who won over Mets fans with his clutch hitting and phenomenal defense in the '80s, had been in and out of the Mets' cable booth for five years, gaining a following among viewers for his candor and ability to break down what each player on the field is thinking. It was expected he'd be offered a bigger role. For SNY, Hernandez will play lead analyst.

The other voice may not have come out of left field, but it belonged to a bit of a dark horse. Ron Darling, Mets starting pitcher from 1983 to 1991, moves up the Northeast Corridor from Washington, where he broadcast the Nationals' first season, to join Co hen and Hernandez ~ at SNY. "Theone thing that impressed both John and I aboutRon," rec0un ts Gowdy, "is that when he came in for our internal interview, which was a rather lengthy one, he showed us he was very focused and determined on doing this." A network that wants to brand itself as the TV home of the Mets (albeit not to the extent that YES is synonymous with the Yankees) could do worse than flank the team's longtime radio man with two members of the franchise's last championship team. "Bringing Ron back home," Gowdy says, was a step in that direction, but adding Darling was less about name and more about ability. "The first prerequisite was getting the best talent that was available to us," Gowdy emphasizes, noting the former All-Star righry is "at the point now in his career where's been away from the game a little bit ...and he's committing himself to it, he wants to excel at broadcasting. He's ready for it." Hernandez and Darling can count one im-

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portant fan right away: Cohen. "I was fortunate enough to have my broadcasting career overlap with the playing careers of both of these guys, so I've known them for a long, long time," says Cohen, who will surpass legendary Lindsey Nelson in length of service among Met announcers this year. "I've had a chance to talk baseball with them off the air on numerous occasions and I can honestly say that in my 17 years in the Major Leagues that I've never met two guys who talked more intelligently about the game. What I look forward to taking those conversations we've had off to the air into the broadcast booth." Another prospective fan of the new setup is Pete Lappin, one of the many Met followers Litner and Gowdy had in mind when they staffed the SNY booth. "Gary Cohen is one of the best I've ever heard," Lappin says. "He'll be terrific on TV He's an old-school broadcaster who does play-by-play as well as if not better than anyone in the business. I hope to hear him on Mets telecast for many years to come." While reserving judgment of Darling ("he seems OK; we'll see), Lappin is thrilled to be getting a full season of Keith Hernandez, someone who he believes brings "a very matter-of-fact style to the game. He's extremely knowledgeable and doesn't seem to mind telling it like it is. He reminds me of the old Tim McCarver before he developed an ego. Hernandez is going to be a breath of fresh air." Fresh air...the perfect kind for a new network with high hopes.


By Bryan Hoch It seemed wrong that there was no picture-perfect moment for Bernie Williams, the way Paul O'Neill's tear-streaked eyes glistened in the Yankee Stadium lights during the 2001 World Series. Blame those pesky Angels for getting in the way; if the American League Championship Series had somehow wound up in the Bronx, certainly Yankees fans would have been able to give the 37-year-old centerfielder a fitting sendoff. ..if a send off had been in order. It turns out, it wasn't. Of course, Williams couldn't have known that during the fourth game of the ALDS when he spent what appeared to be his final moments in a Yankees uniform leaning on a dugout railing in Anaheim, glumly looking on as the 166th game of New York's season waned to a precious few outs. Come December, the Yankees and Bernie Williams would decide at least one more year together (at $l.5 million, or a tenth of the option picked up after the 2005 season) would be mutually beneficial, guaranteeing that the longest-tenured active Bomber would call nowhere but The Stadium home. Yet back in October, for the shy, modest soul

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with the immense talent from San Juan, there was something oddly fitting about the idea of Williams settling into the backdrop of the postseason atmosphere. Sure, he was an important piece of the picture, but rarely the featured act - Williams always performed on the big stage, of course, but seemed to look a touch out of his element under the searing spotlight. Those were probably the moments better dealt to Derek Jeter. Let him hit the home runs, execute the improbable Rips to the catcher, make the flamboyant plays. . Williams always preferred the role of quiet, steady performer. Perhaps that's why he looked to Joe Torre for acceptance when the Yankee Stadium crowd begged and pleaded in Game Four of the Angel series, trying to will No. 51 to the top路step for a curtain call following an eighth-inning Hyout to center. In Williams' grace, the fans had eventually come to see greatness. He'd been lavished with applause and entreaties during the Yankees'


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final home game of the year on September 25 against Toronto, back when it appeared probable, but not certain, that the Yankees would be heading to the playoffs. Now, the cheers rained down once more, a celebration of a Yankee career that began as a skinny 19-year-old in 1991 and now appeared to be ending after 2,060 games (including 135 in the playoffs), with Williams ranking as the all-time postseason leader in homers (22), games (118) and RBIs (80). "I know how (Paul) O'Neill must have felt," Williams said then. For much of the 2005 season, it was .--: the pink elephan t in the corner locker that most opted not to talk about. At age 37, the clock on Williams' Yankees career was quickly ticking toward midnight. He'd lost some of the spring in his step ,,patrolling the gaps, and appeared a touch slower at the plate. This campaign, in which he was burdened by a!' pair of sore shoulders, saw Williams produce just a .249 average and 12 home runs, his poorest offensive numbers since he was a rookie. It was understandable when Williams sometimes opted not to discuss his finer moments on the field in too much depth. They were coming farther apart now, and suddenly opinion was that his frame couldn't handle centerfield on a day-to-day basis, evidenced by the fact that 29 of Williams' 141 games in 2005 came as a designated hitter. With the Yankees roster riddled with DH candidates sych as Jason Giambi and Ruben Sierra, it was natural to wonder if the erstwhile Gold Glove centerhelder could claim a spot based on more than sentimentality. "It was a very challenging year for me, the ups and downs, being in different roles," Williams told the Associated Press. After the Yankees' season-ending loss in Anaheim, Williams was a bit distant and defiant concerning his future, initially declining interviews and refusing to acknowledge the idea that his last game in pinstripes might have been played. Who knew he was really playing prophet? While Johnny Damon would emerge during the free agent season as the Yankees' new centerfielder, the team also made room for Bernie. He will back up Damon, DH some more (Sierra is gone to Minnesota) and linger a little longer as a legend.

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The sight - even the thought - of Bernie Williams wearing another uniform remains unfathomable. Sure, there was that brief flirtation with the Boston Red Sox (can you picture that?) in the late '90s, but once the dust and offseason bickering cleared, there Williams was, back in Tampa for spring training, back in pinstripes. A seven-year, $87.5 million deal made it an easy decision for Williams to carryon,

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patrolling centerfield with the quiet dignity long associated with another great Yankee, Joe DiMaggio. "There's no question it's going to be an emotional time when that's the case, when he's not here anymore," Torre told reporters in advance of the inevitable. But Williams is more than the man who stood in centerfield as the Yankees went on that tear of four World Series titles in five seasons; more than the owner of the glove where Mike Piazza's fly ball went to die in 2000, ending the last Fall Classic that went in the Yankees' favor. Part of him still is and will always be the skinny, 17-year-old Bernabe Williams, who signed a contract on his birthday in 1986 and broke in "with the Yankees' Sarasota farm club. Somewhere beneath the heroic reverence that coines with wearing a Yankees uniform for 15 seasons, there exists a touch of the insecure side of Williams, the youngster who broke in with the Bombers in 1991 and listened as people wondered who'd be the better Williams for the Yankees, Bernie or Gerald. And so it continued over the past two seasons as the Yankees tried to replace their five-time All-Star with a cornucopia of baseball talents. First came Kenny Lofton, followed by a mostly befuddling mix-andmatch arrangement of Tony Womack, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera and Bubba Crosby. In the end, it's taken a Red Sox standout still in his prime (and the requisite boatload of cash) to finally dislodge Bernie Williams. Considering the run of greatness that was the cornerstone of the team's recent dynasty, thinking of the Yankees without Bernie Williams is a little like envisioning them without Jeter, without Jorge Posada. But it's not 2000 anymore, and if key performers like Andy Pettitre and Tino Martinez can be replaced, then it's only a matter of time before all-time great Yankee and part-time best-selling jazz guitarist Bernie Williams' encore ends, too. "I think the older I get," he told reporters after the Yankees were eliminated by the Angels, "the more I get to savor the moments that I have here."

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he hot, midday Florida sun beat down on a virtually empty ballpark. The humidity was so thick you could cut it with a chain saw, an oppressive heat that would eventually be lessened - a bit - by the usual afternoon thunderstorm. It is the kind of South Florida day that makes mere breathing a chore and movement a form of damp, sticky torture. People scurry from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office, store or home and don't linger in the thick, steamy, damp air. Most of the baseball players who called this boiling, modern ballpark home during the 2003 season were doing what most minor league ballplayers do during the day of night games - grabbing some sleep, doing laundry, eating or just enjoying some down time before heading to the park. But one player, the best player on a very good team that would go on to win the Florida State League title that year, wasn't satisfied. As he had the summer before in the heat of Columbia, S.c., and the summer before that in the heat of Kingsport, Tenn., he was taking extra ground balls at third base hours before the rest of the team was supposed to report for pregame warmups. One ground ball after another, sweat running off him in torrents, his cap, pulled down low over his eyes, the only protection from sun baking what was then known as Thomas J. White Stadium (now Tradition Field). After taking extra infield, he took dozens of extra swings in the cage, honing and refining his batting swing and eye. By the time he was done, his teammates were just wandering in, getting treatment for the various injuries caused by a long baseball season. A quick shower and change later, this relentless player joined them for more warmups and that night's game. It's a daily ritual that finally came to an abrupt end for David

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Wright - but may have led to his going from solid A prospect to rising star major league rookie in less than a year. Jim Duquette was the Mets' assistant general manager and farm director before replacing Steve Phillips in New York in June 2003. He and Guy Conte, now the big club's bullpen coach, had been puzzled over Wright's seemingly weak numbers playing at home since being drafted by the team in 2001. Duquette then found out about the pregame rituals - draining in any weather, murderous in Florida during baseball season - and put a stop to them right away. Wright's average rebounded in the final weeks of'03 and he led his team to the FSL title. "We sat down for about 30-45 minutes, and they asked me about my routine at home as opposed on the road," Wright says. "1 told them at home 1 was showing up really early, taking lot of extra swings, a lot of extra ground balls and on the road 1 was just doing regular batting practice and regular ground balls." Hearing that, Duquette put a quick stop to it. He had no interest in seeing his farm system's best prospect leave it on the field long before the national anthem. Wright says he's thankful, because his numbers exploded - but one gets a sense he wouldn't mind sneaking in for a little extra work when no one is looking, as evidenced at his showing up at the mini-camps which most veterans routinely skip. "It's fortunate that they caught that," Wright says. "But if I'm going to make a mistake, I'd rather make one working too hard than from the lack of work." Fresher without the pre-game marathons, Wright destroyed the pitching-rich Eastern League the next year, hitting .363 for two months in 2004 at AA Binghamton, N.Y. before geti:ing sent up for a brief stay in his hometown of AAA Norfolk, Va. - and finally the bigs on July 21, 2004. One month later, he was exchanging compliments with Barry


www.gothambaseball.com Bonds at third base in the middle of a MetsGiants slugfest in San Francisco ("keep swinging it" was Bonds' advice). One year later, he had established himself as the heir apparent to Mike Piazza as the people's choice at Shea Stadium, his defense improving by the week, his bat never letting down in the heat of a Flushing summer, his reputation as a rising star only growing. The early afternoon workouts may have stopped, but the drive and the passion, to not just to play in the Major Leagues, but to be among the best, never ceased. "He's my favorite player of all time who has com~ through the Mets' minor league system, Duquette, now general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, said of Wright w h i I e both were still with the Mets. "You have that thought that nobody can be that perfect,

but he's as close as they come." And while there might be players of greater talent in New York, and certainly ones with bigger numbers, no other player since Derek Jeter arrived with the Yankees in 1996 has shown the work ethic and drive to be the best. A 23-year-old, Wright has shown a rare combination of leadership skills, talent and desire to win seen infrequently in New York, and maybe only once before in Mets' history with a pitcher named Tom Seaver. Because of that, David Wright Gotham Baseball's 2006 Player of the Year. More than just the numbers Wright puts up his 2005 totals of27 homers, 102 RBI and a .306 average were very impressive, especially at the age of 23 - there is something about

the drive and nature of this young man that marks him as something special, someone destined for greatness and, not incidentally, someone who will once and for all end the 40-plus-year search his team has conducted for a third baseman to become THE third baseman. Both simple and straightforward and complex, smart and personable, Wright is a rariry...the whole package. He delivers in the clutch (an amazing .533 batting average with the bases loaded and an equally stunning .551 average with a runner on third and two out), but he's not a streaky hitter. In his worst full month in the Majors he hit .283. Read the reports on Wright and it's clear that scouts like his physical skills. But it's the mental ones - working pitch counts, making adjustments pitch-to-pitch - that leave them raving. More importantly on the big stage that is New York, Wright handles the media like a seasoned public relations pro, yet doesn't

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DAVID~ WRIGHT Continued from Page 13 come off as a fake or phony rhe way some orhers have. .Beyond .his tangible on-field performance, the buddmg phenomenon of David Wright as icon is accumulating critical mass. Mets fans who otherwise roast everything and everybody on Internet bulletin boards only toast him when they post him. Spotted at one virtual garhering spot: the "All-Purpose David Wright Gets Some Love Thread." Teenage girls frequently update Web sites devoted to pictures of him in and out of uniform ... making promotional appearances, that is. Jina in Syracuse, for example, plastered her home page with shots of Wright visiting the New York Stock Exchange during the Mets -winter caravan "still looking drop dead gorgeous!" Thousands flocked to an online chat the Mets hosted in December to learn his likes (Cliff Floyd; no longer having to face Billy Wagner; rhe Virginia Tech Hokies; both Eva Longoria and Jessica Simpson) and dislikes (almost nothing). o. 5 has emerged as rhe numeral of choice on the MLB-licensed backs of Shea Stadium patrons who invest in replica jerseys and tees, displacing Piazza's 31 and challenged o~ly by Pedro.Mar~i,nez's 45. A greg arlous personality, David Wright even talks when on the From a marketing standpoint, Its a good bases In this case to then-National Vinny Castilla But when the time to ?e David Wright, according to Bran- ball is' in play, Wright is all business. . don Steiner, head of Steiner Sports Marketgoal was clear. He wouldn't play in the loing, a New Rochelle firm that boasts "rela- reigning New York baseball god among men. "It's been a while since I've fallen in like wirh cal Virginia Beach (Va.) American Legion tionships" with more rhan 5,000 athletes. a young player," the marketing maven admits. league because the quality of baseball wasn't "He's got the whole world in front of him," Steiner appraises. "He certainly makes you go, "Not to be disrespectful, but rhe last kid I saw good enough; he knew as early as age 15 he'd like this was No. 2 across town." Jeter is a need to play against the best to become one 'hmmm, how far can this kid go?'" When Steiner looks at Wright, he sees a marquee Steiner client but his stage presence of them. Wright competed in events such as the Area "young, snazzy bright star" who could be a is indisputable by anybody's reckoning. "I see spokesjock for everything from Gatorade to some similarities," Steiner allows. Like Jeter, Code games against the best high school juWright "knows how to handle himself and it's nior and senior ballplayers in the country. At MasterCard given the right circumstances. "His collectibles are already through the roof," important to him. You get rhe feeling this is Hickory High School in Chesapeake, Va., Steiner relates. To date, Wright's sole advertis- the beginning of a beautiful rhing - a player Wright put up silly numbers, (.544, 6 HR, ing appearance was in a regional print cam- and team coming into rheir own at the same 20 RBI, 35 runs scored with a l.018 slugging percentage in 23 games as a senior) and was paign for Glaceau's Perform Vitaminwater in time." So how does a kid come up at age 21 and Virginia's Player of the Year. 2005 (rhe company has not decided its plans play and act like a 1O-year veteran? Not surprisingly, the scouts and .recruiters for 2006), so he's certainly not overexposed. You have to want it bad, spend a lot of time were watching and drooling. A good kid, son Youth is on Wright's side, Steiner says, but of a police officer with good grades and good rhat also means one never knows what will thinking about it and work hard. While other happen. Though he sees no chinks in the rhird kids were playing Xbox or hanging out in talent, Wright was a dream recruit or draft baseman's armor, he remembers being very I~ternet chat rooms, David Allen Wright de- pick. It wasn't a matter of if he'd get drafted enthusiastic about Darryl Strawberry's mar- cided he wanted, very badly, to play in the to play pro ball, just a matter what round. ketability rwo decades ago, proving that you Majors. While a lot of kids decide that, few He'd grown up watching and dreaming about baseball - starting at old Met Park in Virnever can tell what will happen to a ballplayer are willing to put in the work to get it done. "He's a special player - a special person," ginia Beach and finally Harbor Park, once who also happens to be a human being. Mets' general manager Omar Minaya says. his hometown Tides' built a gorgeous new The other hurdle that might arise in getting "For Mets fans and baseball fans in general, stadium in downtown Norfolk - and made America to know David Wright better, Steiner advises, depends on 24 orher guys. "In the what ~ great guy to watch blossom and de- himself into rhe best high school player in rhe commonwealth of Virginia. sport of baseball," he says, "you do need your velop. Hard work seems to be hard-wired into Georgia Tech, among others, dangled a baseteam to win. In the ninrh inning wirh the biggest out of the game coming, you can't force Wright, as natural to him as breathing is to ball scholarship while the Mets picked him in normal people. And it may be that, as op- the sandwich round (just after-the first round) rhe ball to be hit to you." posed to his quick wrists or compact, fluid of the 2001 draft, a pick they received after Given Wright's likeabiliry, his "sizzle," his early success, his spot in a big market and his swing, that takes him from mere All-Star to losing pitcher Mike Hampton to free agency. College was tempting for Wright, an intelliteam's seemingly upward trajectory, Steiner local legend. Jump back a couple of years before Wright gent and rhoughtful guy, but signing with the is willing to compare the young Met third baseman to rhe veteran Yankee shortstop and was drafted by the Mers, and even then the Mets, the team he grew up cheering, offered

Continued on Page 24

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T

he 2005 season proved to be one of great success and prosperity for the Staten Island Yankees, again proving that victories are won on and off the field. The year culminated with the franchise's third New York-Penn League crown in the last five years, but that's not the onlyreason that they have been chosen GB's Organization of the Year. It starts upstairs, as owner Stan Getzler, his wife Phyllis and son Josh - the group that bought the Watertown Indians, the franchise's precursor - run the club and its facility with a precision and attention to detail that is tough to match at the big league level, least of all in the minors. Have a problem while you're at the park? Take it up with Mr. Getzler, who is always available in his seat behind home plate. That's called accountability .. General Manager Jane Rogers has also been with the team since its inception in 1999, progressing from office manager to assistant general manager to her current title during that time. As the liaison between the front office and team's manager and coaches, she's probably got the hardest job in the minor leagues. Their efforts have created a successful, fun-to-watch, pleasure-towitness baseball experience that is hard to top. Assistant GM Gary Perrone, who worked in the Brooklyn Cyclones front office the year the team won a share of the NYPL title in 2001, says the team winning the title in his first season in Staten Island is something he'll never forget. "This year was simply amazing," Perrone said when it was allover. "Just the way everything happened this year, you just knew it was going to result in something special. And it did." Enter the players, a group of kids that changes every year but seems to find a way to win NYPL pennants the way the parent club has been known to collect World Series trophies. These Baby Bombers played hard in 2005, giving their paying customers a good show every time they stepped onto the lush grass of Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George. "This was the kind of team that energized everyone around them," Staten Island Yankee manager Andy Stankiewicz said. "It was easy to get excited about each and every game." "Exciting" is the most appropriate way to describe the 2005 SI Yankee season, as the team's penchant for late-inning rallies was a recurring theme. Even in the team's title-winning contest, it took a Reegie Corona RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, scoring New York's own Joe Burke, to win the crown. '2:1";

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m the begIn mg of the season, it was vious that Staten Island had a wmmg combination. Strong leadership fro m ankiewicz and his field staff combined with consistent hitting from their offense and accurate pitching from both starters and relievers night in and night out resulted in the 2005 NYPL championship. The 2005 season marked Andy Stankiewicz's second season as the manager of the Baby Bombers. Stankiewicz also managed the team in 2003, a season that did not match the end result of2005. In fact, the club that year couldn't buy a win, as Staten Island never made make it out oflast place. Stankie reversed that outcome this past campaign, doing a good enough job to earn one of the managerial slots in the New York Penn League's first annual All-Star Game. Hitting Coach Rob Ducey, whose expertise turned the Staten Island lineup into a true weapon, holds the same sentiment for the team as well: "Win, lose, or draw they put in the effort and go about their business the best way they can". On every team there are always a few players who make themselves known to everyone through their ability, passion and dedication. The Staten Island Yankees are no exception. In fact, those terms could be used to describe every player. But there were still several breakout performances. Outfielder and leadoff man Brett Gardner, a 22-year-old native of Holly Hill, S.c., ended the season leading the team with 19 stolen bases and 39 walks. "[He's] done a nice job here." said Stankiewicz of Gardner, who wound up with a .284 batting average and an on-base percentage of .377. Slugging first baseman Kyle Larsen was also a force with the bat. When he steps to the plate, the opposing team sees a man who stands 6'-5" and weighs 235 pounds. Not only is his stature intimidating, but his hitting makes the opposition take notice as well. The 22-yearold out of Sammamish, Wash. ended his 2005 season with a .308 batting average, 49 RBI and 6 home runs, leading the team, as well as the starting first baseman in the 2005 NYPL All-Star game. His hitting philosophy is quite simple, "Just try to get something and hit it hard - just hit it hard wherever it goes it goes," said Larsen. Not all the Yankee contributions were found in the box scores. Players like catcher Joe Burke, a 21-year-old born and bred in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn, may not have posted numbers like TIt,


some of his teammates, but he showed the determination and passion that being a Yankee requires. He may have ended his season with a .220 batting average but he had the distinction of pinch-running for P.J. Pilittere in the last game of the NYPL championship. Burke ended up advancing on a fielder's choice and later scored on a sac fly that tied the game. He later singled and scored the Yanks' Brett Gardner, sliding into third against Brooklyn, sparked the winning run that gave the team's offense - he stole 19 bases and walked 39 times as Staten Yankees their third cham- Island's lead-off hitter. pionship in the last five seasons. The most notable reliever in the Yankee able to continue into the playoffs with the Burke picked up his work ethic and skill rotation was closer Josh Schmidt. Nicksame ease and control. In the both rounds as apart of the St. John's Red Storm base- named "The Undertaker" for his ability of the playoffs the Yankees swept the Wilball program and his dedication to the to lay waste to just about every batter he liamsport Crosscutters and the Auburn game can be seen whether he is playing or encountered, the 23-year-old from Sierra Doubledays, respectively. not, "I was working my butt off to get back Madre, California not only had the best As if a league championship wasn't in the lineup and be a part of this." ERA (0.27) and the most saves (13) on enough, Staten Island was able to reclaim Staten Island would not have ended up the Yankees but he was also named Rolaids bragging rights as they beat the Brooklyn where it did without its talented pitching Relief Man of the Year for the NYPL, an Cyclones in the annual "Battle of the Borstaff, one that made leads hold up on a award given annually to the circuit's best re- oughs." The Yanks bested the Cyclones in regular basis. lief pitcher. Schmidt, another 2005 NYPL head-to-head matchups 7-5 and finished Starter David Seccombe ended the 2005 All-Star, is the second Staten Island Yankee 12 games ahead of the 'Clones. season with a 2.15 ERA, ranking him to be honored with the award. Schmidt In Staten Island, getting these players to fourth in the league, in 71 innings of was also honored by being named Reliever the next level is important. But they're still work. The 23-year-old from Las Vegas led of the Year by Minor League Baseball. the Yankees and they strive for perfection. the team in innings pitched and the league The Baby Bombers did not seem like they Just ask Stankie. He played in the Bronx. as well as wins with an 8-2 record. See- would be a team that would end the season "People talk about player development combe, like his manager, was also honored with a dominating 52-24 record consid- versus winning," the manager explained. by being named the starting pitcher for ering their up-and-down start in the first "Well, we work for an organization, you the American League affiliarei-in the 2005 week of play. But in early July, the team know, [and] an owner who's not very paNYPL All-Star game. â&#x20AC;˘ went on a nine-game winning streak and tient. He doesn't want his teams to lose When the middle innings rolled around, never looked back. It was apparent that whether it be this team, whether it be Gulf pitching coach Mike Thurman turned to these Yankees would be the team to beat Coas~ league team, or the New York Yanhis trustworthy relief pitchers. Cory Stuart in 2005 from that point on; another ninekees. finished the season with an unfathomable game winning streak in mid-August left An All-Star manager, four All-Star play0.83 ERA and 7 saves in 22 appearances. little doubt that the Yankees would control ers, a Reliever of the Year, the best record in The 23-year-old from Vancouver pitched a the McNamara Division and the league. the league, a championship and now Gototal of 32.2 innings and gave up only one After cruising through the regular season tham Baseball's Organization of the Year. home run in the course of the season. virtually unchallenged, Staten Island was That's gotta satisfy even The Boss.

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Minor Awards, Ma·or Ac ievements Gotham Baseball recognizes the best from the Yankee and Met systems in" 2005.

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of the Year: Cabrera, Yankees

One of die more exciting, all-around prospects in all of baseball. Cabrera has all the tools and brings substance and style to his stats. The 21-year old enjoyed a solid season in the Eastern League for Double-A Trenton in 2005, hitting .275 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs, stealing 11 bases and doubling 22 times in 106 games. In 26 contests with Triple-A Columbus, he hit .248 with three homers, 17 RBIs and two steals. He also enjoyed a very solid season in winter ball, hitting .315 (35-for111) with six doubles, two triples, 18 RBI, seven stolen bases and had a .376 on-base percentage in 40 games.

Hitter of the Year: Mike Jacobs, Mets The kid from Chula Vista, Ca. gets the nod for top hitting honors after hitting .321 with 25 homers and 93 RBI at Binghamton this past season. At the time of his promotion to New York, the 24-year-old ranked first among Eastern Leaguers in RBI (93) and doubles (37), tied for second in HRs (25) and fourth in hitting (.321). After 11 HRs in 100 ABs with the Mets, he went to Florida in the Carlos Delgado deal.

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Pitcher of the Year: ~o~~!a~s~"~~~ ~o!!!! ~n~~~Ogressmg repertoire of breaking pitches put him ahead of every pitcher we've seen in either organization this past year. Even with his season being shortened by shoulder tendonitis, his makeup and physical gifts are just the icing on the cake after his brilliant 7-1 record with a 1.97 ERA in 12 starts for Single-A Charleston.

layer to Watch: ustin Christian, Yankees es, he's 25, but after watching the way this kid plays the game er finally getting his chance, something tells us his amazing eed and overall game gets him to the Bronx in some form or ashion pretty soon. He completed his first full pro season hiting a combined .303 between Charleston and Tampa, belting 2 doubles, six triples, 11 home runs, and 55 stolen bases in 2 attempts. He also hit .367 with runners in scoring position. actor in his ability to play several positions - second base, ird base, and all three outfield positions - he's a player to atch.

Manager of the Year: Ken Oberkfell, Mets Despite being passed over for an interview for the Major League job that eventually went to Willie Randolph, and beingrassed over for a major league coaching job as well, Oberkfel managed the Tides to a 79-65 record in 2005, as Norfolk won the International League South Division tide by 14 games over the Durham Bulls. Under Oberkfell's guidance, 21 players played for both the Tides and Mets in 2005, as Norfolk advanced to the semifinals of the Governors' Cup playoffs for the first time since 2001. The 2005 season was Oberkfell's fifth with the Mets organization, and the fourth straight season in which he has reached the postseason. His ability to continue winning with an ever-changing core of players, his handling of the various pitching staffs and his ability to get similar results from prospects and veterans alike earns significant praise.


Mets General Manager . Omar Minaya is surrounded by the throng of media at baseball Winter Meetings.

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t just short of 2 a.m., a security guard pushed through the crowd at the lobby bar of the Wyndham Anatole Hotel in Dallas, trying in vain to herd people back to their rooms - and mostly to just get them to be quiet, so the people in rooms surrounding the atrium might have some small chance of getting sleep. Packed with media and baseball people ranging from famous general managers and Hall of Famers to career minor leaguers hoping for a coaching gig somewhere, for five days that lobby bar served as the town square for baseball during its Winter Meetings. It was crammed every night from nine until two, and would have stayed packed far later had the hotel allowed it. For a few days every year, baseball's annual Winter Meetings serve as the epicenter of the sport - part trade show, part class reunion, part high-stakes poker game, part job fair - and everyone there is looking for something. Some seek front office or broadcasting jobs. Others search out pitching depth. Some just want a decent story and to not get an angry call from her or her editor about being beaten on a trade. A few, away from the spouse and kids for the first time in weeks (and it would be rude to name names) are there to gaze, maybe graze a bit upon the opposite sex... and are spectacularly unsubtle in doing so. People do get jobs through the Winter Meetings. Jeff Nelson, the much-traveled reliever, was seen wandering the lobby, working the room, hoping to find a new team. It worked: he signed a minor league deal with St. Louis and got an invitation to spring training. Hundreds of other job seekers found new gigs, either in the lobby or at the annual job fair, a very busy part of the affair. For the baseball people at the meetings, this December oasis is either an excuse to cut loose and have a little fun and maybe find new employment - or a sentence of five days in the bunker, trading phone calls. For the media, well, it is best described by one New York daily beat writer thus: "Five days in hell." Another New York daily beat writer looked, after only two days, like the loser in one of those reality TV shows, seemingly begging to be voted off the island. For every jaded baseball or media person who swears he or she hates it, you still see eyes bulge when a Hall of Farner wanders

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into the lobby bar - as happened this past December when Tony Perez stopped by to say "hi." Tommy Lasorda was mobbed when he cruised in for a glass of wine. New Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was the star of the moment when he and his entire coaching staff showed up for a bit of libation and chat just after midnight. You can see the jaded types try to contain themselves, effect a "no-big-deal" expression on their faces - but you watch their eyes track someone, maybe a childhood hero, as he walks across the room. For many, the inner eight-year-old lurks close to the surface. After a couple of gin & tonics, it emerges and the lobby becomes a near orgy of backslaps, handshakes, hugs and laughter, as stars, nobodies and the media mix in one giant cauldron of alcohol-lubricated soup. And while the real work of trading for and signing players goes on in private suites and the press room - and both depend on keeping fresh cell phone batteries - the main bar is like the midway of the Winter Meetings, where even the reclusive sorts, at least in terms of the meetings, such as Yankees' general manager Brian Cashman, feel obligated to appear, as he did the third night of the meetings. Mets' GM Omar Minaya made the rounds a night earlier, to say hello, press the flesh and show his face. And while the lobby is the social center, each team sets up a command post, a suite or two, to meet, discuss trade proposals; chat with agents and stay out of the limelight. Most of the media stay hunkered down in the press room - a giant ballroom with work areas and a large press conference area. It is there that deals are announced and a steady stream of press conferences are held; a dozen .or so managers, including the Mets' Willie Randolph, had 30-minute events. This helps feed the media frenzy. The "media opportunities" are there to give the print and broadcast journalists something to do besides swap trade rumors and they go on and on. Events like the press conferences convened to hype matters on Major League Baseball's agenda like the World Baseball Classic or a free agent signing (say that of A.J. Burnett by the Blue Jays), are informative but rote. The potential interest and controversy quotient rises a bit during the manager sit-arounds, but most


www.gothambaseball.com skippers are savvy enough to avoid saying anything of substance. There were exceptions in Dallas, though. The Twins' Ron Gardenhire, Toronto's John Gibbons and Tampa Bay's Maddon, in particular, were funny, straightforward and relaxed in their sessions. Maddon, brimming with excitement at getting his first managing job at the major league level was refreshingly honest. Maddon, 51, was the ultimate bench coach, sitting for years next to someone else, providing wise counsel while waiting for the "right time" to accept a managerial post. He is the ultimate mix of old school -Tommy Lasorda powerful, albeit with a "Detroit" haircut and shockingly hip retro glasses (think 1955 Wisconsin) - but he's also a numberscruncher who studies players' tendencies on his Apple PowerBook. Madden's definitely not Charlie Dressen, the Brooklyn manager who declared proudly, "I ain't never read a book." "Have you read Blink yet?" he asked, grinning at the slightly confused media types, many of whom hadn't read anything more challenging lately than a room service menu. "Man, that's really a great book. I like the new one by Nelson DeMille, too." Making The Deal ... Or Not Of course the main reason the media gather at the Winter Meetings are trades and free agent signings. The teams and general managers take it seriously, often planning their strategy out weeks in advance, sometimes just to send the right message at the big event, even if no deals are made. "It actually starts weeks before then for some guys," one baseball official told Gotham Baseball on condition of anonymity. "Flurries of calls, media leaks, agent phone calls, calls from other GMs for 'advice' ... other guys could give a [damn],

GB's own Mark Healey questions Blue Jays' manager John Gibbons during a Q&A session.

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Yes, kids, it really is a trade show, too, where minor league teams can shop for anything from new mascots to soda cups.

like [Angels GM Bill] Stoneman. He kill the negotiation immediately. If the hates the media, hates to travel and hates deal gets dissected in the press for a day all of the bull that goes along with [the or so (like Kris Benson to the Royals) maybe Team B gets a better offer for its meetings]. top prospect from somewhere else, and "He'd just as soon stay home." could still try to get the win-now guy at The official went on to say that that "every GM has a different way of doing a cheaper price. The media, kept at bay with the press business ... and being active at the Meetings isn't the only way to get things ac- room dog-and-pony show until needed, is an integral part of the trade process, complished. "Most guys use the meetings to get in- working a bid like a vast eBay, helping formation for use later in the season, be- teams to getting better bids for their cause most teams aren't sure what they're players. "In any event, any general manager who going to be able to do money-wise until bemoans the media and their 'goddamned after the ne;:vyear. That's how the rumors rumor mills' is a hypocrite, because they get started. That's a far cry from the average fan's all do it to a certain extent, and in some instances, are helped by [some] media's probable perception of the meetings -a big, smoke-filled room filled with GMs attention to detail," the anonymous baseball official explains. gathering in small groups and clumps, "Are there some idiots out there that wheeling and dealing. The truth is more like a Wall Street hostile corporate take- print trash to sell papers? Sure," he says. over - complete with law- "But most people would be surprised yers and accountants figurabout how many deals are discussed and turned down, or left on the burner being all the angles. Though the bar is the great room of cause the person forgot to send back a the Winter Meetings, the final 'no' e-mail, and it gets out." real business gets done beThe Hardest Working Guys hind closed doors. Let's say Team A wants New York's media may have the toughTeam B's best prospect in a est jobs around. The Yankees are fairly deal for a win-now guy they sphinx-like and rarely leak - unless they want to trade, but they aren't mean to. The Mers, who used to leak only slightly more than the Titanic after willing to pay the contract of the player they're trying .it played tag with the iceberg, are now to dump. Team B will leak shut up tight as a drum, unless Minaya the proposed deal to begin wants to send a message. That silence raises the stakes and makes the negotiation terms (dethe battle to break stories that much pending on the other GM in the deal), rather than tell tougher for the local media. Even radio the other team "no deal" off guys like .WFAN's Sweeny Murti, with the bat, because it would good reason considered one of the nicest

Continued on Page 25 GothamBaseball- Winter 2006

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Changes Make The Atlantic League A Better Place 'Vlh~n

he helped found the Atlantic League nine years ago, league CEO and Long Island Ducks principal owner, Frank Boulton wanted a product that would provide inexpensive entertainment for families in the baseball-crazed Northeast Corridor. Needless to say, it has been a success. Over its years, the Atlantic League has become one of the premier independent leagues in the nation and houses one of the top minor league draws, the Ducks, a team that has filled its stadium to l04-pemmt capacity since opening its doors in 2000. But the smart businessman is not restiog OIl his laurels. In November, Boulton die ua Pride to the Can-Am

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c:ojoyaI ua, '"Boulton, who is a lIIDMAity owner of the Pride, says. "It's a good bascbaII city, but it's the smallest of our cities. So it s a better fu for the Can-Am League. With Brockron, orth Shore and Worchester as commutes, ashua would fit into the Can-Am League." The move also marks the return of the Road Warrior format after fielding eight permanent teams last season. Having a developmental team in the league, which plays no home games, is only a temporary move because the CEO says the league is looking to place franchises in Southern Maryland and York, Pa. in the "very near future". Also on the docket are locations in West- hard to argue with the man, since he esti- country," Boulton said. ''A lot of business chester and Bergen counties, but those ex- mated 30 players returned to Major League doors can be opened by this group and this pansions will be further down the line. Baseball after .spending time in the Atlantic is a very strong ownership group." Even with the talk of growth, Boulton is League, including Chris Widger, who won He is also keeping an eye on this situation weary of oversaturating a good thing. the World Series with the White Sox last with the Nassau Coliseum, where Sterling "The plan is to field eight of the strongest season after spending 2004 with the CamEquities - Mets' owner Fred Wilpon's real teams we have and look for new markets for den Riversharks. estate company - is bidding to renovate us that will give us smart growth," he exBecause of the top competition the Atlanthe land and move a minor league team in. plains. "I don't "see us ever getting tic League offers, Boulton is not concerned On paper it could be a blow to the Ducks, larger than 12 teams, be- with lower levels of organized baseball be- who have a stronghold on Long Island. cause our level of play ing eliminated, since it will not affect his "[Right now], it's just a newspaper article," m a k e s us a boutique association. Boulton believes. "The Ducks have sold league, and out for six years in a row and the Ducks will But keeping we want t 0 . iStable teams continue to do what the Ducks do. But, we Success story: Chris keep the I eve I will see about the future." lis a priority, Widger went from the of playas h igh At this time, as the 2006 season approach~o .the other Atlantic City Surf in as we possib I y major move es, the CEO is pleased with his current 2004 to the champion can." this past off- . product. White Sox in 2005 L. It's "I look at a league that is in good shape lII••••• II•••••• ~'Season was 'the sale of and entertaining people," he thought. "We Bluefish to a group headed up by former will probably do a couple of million fans this coming year and that's all good." Bridgeport owners Mary-Jane Foster and Jack McGregor. ~ "They have assembled a group of baseball Joe McDonald is Publisher of NYSportsDay. loving people in Fairfield County, which com and a regular contributor to Gotham is one of the wealthiest counties in the Baseball. .

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DAVID WRIGHT Continued from Page 14 the quickest route to the Majors and the best opportunity to prove himself He signed right away and was off to Kingsport to start the road to the big leagues. "I had that goal - I wanted to play in the big leagues," Wright says. "I grew up going to some major league and Triple-A games and I could just remember saying 'this is what I want to do.' And getting a chance to do this, it's funny - because you think that when you get to the Major Leagues, that's the big goal, but there's so much more that you can do in a game, there's so much. "You're never complacent." And as he had as a high school r kid , Wright was willing to out w 0 r k virtually anyone when

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started his professional career. Eve n when Jim Duquette put an end to the extracurricular activities, Wright continued to hone in on the mental aspects of the game. Instead of standing around in awe of big-league players, he talked to them about the sport. "Baseball is a game of making adjustments," Wright believes. "I'm slowly learning to make those. I was talking to a couple of the veteran guys, and they said the good players make adjustments between games, the great players make adjustments between at-bats and the really special players make adjustments between pitches. I think that's something that has really stuck with me." Interestingly, scouts picked up on Wright's ability to make adjustments on the By, something he continues to improve on while playing at the highest level of is profession. He seems to regard it as no big deal, but if you talk to scouts, they can go on for hours about stud hitting prospects who couldn't make the adjustments Wright makes in an at-bat during their entire careers. "I'm getting a chance to slowly understand that concept and really trying to make quicker adjustments," he explains, downplaying his own unusual abilities. "You have a bad swing - step out, take a deep breath and really refocus. I think that is really the important thing." Again, underplaying his own hard work and intelligence, Wright credits the culture of the

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Mets as being key in his early and rapid development as a hitter. "I'm really fortunate, I came up in this organization, 1came up with the New York Mets," he marvels. "1 got to pick Mike Piazza's brain. I got a chance to pick Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, these great players. So, I'm one step ahead of the game that a lot of younger players don't get on a lot of small-market teams that don't have these kind of players to pick their brains." It's not false modesty, though. Rather, think of the kid-genius who credits his success to having a good local library - he appears to earnestly believe what he says. But it's important to point out how many other players have come through the system - and currently are in the Mets' system with nearly equal talent but an inability to learn - who haven't emerged as anywhere near the player Wright has become and may become in the coming years. Virtually all players coming up have someone to talk hitting with - even the lowly Royals have guys like George Brett around to teach. But for every Wright or Piazza, who was rutored at a young age by Ted Williams, hundreds, maybe thousands of players skip this schooling, quite sure they can handle the big leagues. Most end up either out of baseball, or with careers that just don't turn out they should have. Wright, unlike many modern players who grow up with an excessive opinion of themselves, is very thankful for everything he has and goes beyond just hard work to show it. In 2005, he created The David Wright Foundation to aid in the fight against multiple sclerosis, a muscle disease that impairs as many as 500,000 Americans between the age 15 and 60. "We started it in the middle of last year," Wright says. "A very close friend of mine,

Winter 2006

one of my agents- but he's more than that, he's like family to me, he almost raised me in the minor leagues, he's always been there for me good and bad - his wife was diagnosed with MS. So I wanted to do something in his honor." The David Wright Foundation raised more than $100,000 for MS research after its first event, and Wright says more will happen this year. Like the game, it's something he plans to keep working on. Besides the foundation, Wright continues to live a fairly quiet life. He bought his younger brother an Xbox 360 for Christmas and spent a bit of time during the offseason trying to master it. Plus, he's taken up bowling and golÂŁ although he's quick to note he's far from mastering either. But none of those things keeps Wright from keeping one thing at center stage - baseball. Despite his youth, he seems to recognize there's so much more he can accomplish and do to become a better player - something he seems to have always known. "I knew that I wanted to play baseball," Wright says. "Did 1 know it was going to work out this way? Absolutely not." And he still isn't taking it for granted. Unlike to many young athletes who seem more obsessed with getting ESPN highlights (as irony would have it, Wright's amazing barehanded catch in San Diego was named the top Baseball Tonight highlight of 2005) or making sure their "ride" is properly tricked out, Wright gets regular doses of reality. It keeps him grounded and reminds him of what really matter. In the off-season, he goes home. Not just back to Chesapeake, Va., but home as in mom and dad's house. No fancy "crib" with a bunch of hangers-on telling him how wonderful he is 24/7. Just his mom, Elisa, and dad, Rhon, the police captain - and three

eFast Plastic - Willie Ball is Back eThey Always Turn Two - Two brothers from


.gothambaseball.com younger brothers, more likely to wrestle with him than kiss his big-league butt, It's a reset away from the glamour and sparkle of New York. It is also a reminder - Major League son or not - that the Wrights live a fairly unremarkable life: getting up to go to work, cleaning the house... so-called normal stuff. David Wright gets a quick regrounding the second he walks in the door and a reminder how lucky he is. "This is what I love to do," he says. "I know when I'm home during the winter I get to see my parents wake up at 6, 7 in the morning and go work a 9-to-5 job. And I see what I get to do for a living and I see I'm getting a chance to play baseball, getting a chance to not only play baseball, but on the highest level, New York baseball. Youjust can't beat it."

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on the Web!

A look back at 2005, the year in New York baseball and what it could mean to 2006. Also, the history of third base in New York, plus breaking news of coverage of the whole New York Baseball scene. www.gothambaseball.com

Swap Meet! Continued from Page 21 guys in the media pool, could be seen working the rooms hard for information. That also means working the other 28 teams for information about what the ew York teams are up to, something far less crucial even a decade ago. The stress, even well after deadline, was evident on the faces of the New York beat writers, worried some Internet site (including one of the team sites owned by Major League Baseball) would break some trade story, causing an editor to spout "creative euphemisms" involving unlikely forms of procreation. A few others - who shall go unnamed - enjoying the security of using the u.s. Postal Manual as their career bible, were seen hanging out at the piano bar rather than working. All of them seem happiest at the airport afterward - relief at having survived another Winter Meetings clear in their faces.

Achingly Familiar Still, except for the details, the Winter Meetings are a lot like other trade shows, simply a reason for a given industry to come together and get deals done. Al-

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though one of the most widely covered shows in the U.S., it's pretty tiny compared to the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, now the biggest trade show in the country. When it comes down to it, baseball, like marketing plasma-screen TVs or selling iPods, is a business. The difference though, is when the guy who invented the DVD walks down the hall at the electronics show, people don't walk into walls while staring at him. And let's be honest - no cable network is dying to air Electronics Tonight with the latest rumors of what Sony is up to. No one grows up dreaming of being the guy who markets the next great TV remote. Even the other major sports lack the passion or the cachet that baseball's Winter Meetings engender. That means five days of fury like no other. This year, baseball will convene at Walt Disney World. Most of the contours won't change much from what took place in Dallas, and most of the men and women there won't leave the headquarters hotel to go become one with The Mouse. But that won't matter - because everyone knows the real action happens at the hotel bar. At the Winter Meetings, it's the most magical place on Earth.

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The GB Quiz: 1. In 1974, the Mets traded ace relie er Tug McGraw, Don Hahn and Dave Schneck to Philadelphia. Name two of the three players New York received. 2. In 1969, the Yankees traded 1B Joe Pepitone to the Astros. Who did Houston send back? 3. How did the Mets get Brooklyn's own John Franco in 1989? 4. In 1995, the Yankees obtained 1B Tino Martinez, P Jeff Nelson, and minor league P Jim Mecir from the Mariners. New York gave up two players, name one of them. 5. Who did the Mets give up to get 3B Howard Johnson from the Detroit Tigers?

THE

YORK

GAME

eal With It 9. Yho was involved in the first trade ever betweefl the Yankees and Mets that involves a major league player? Hint: the trade came in 1987. 10. In 1956, the Dodgers traded Jackie Robinson to the hated Giants. For who? 11. In 1980, outfielder Dave Winfield became the highest-paid player in baseball when he signed a 10-year contract with the New York Yankees. How much was the contract worth? 12. In 1974, George Steinbrenner signed this pitcher to a 5-year contract worth a reported $3.75 million. This was triple the salary of any other Major League player at the time. Who was he?

6. Name the former Yankee third baseman who later became American League president.

13. Name the two lefthanders in the last Mets-Yankees trade.

7. In 1966, five years after breaking Babe Ruth's record, the Yankees traded OF Roger Maris to the Cardinals. For who?

14. In a September 27 loss at Baltimore, Bernie Williams recorded the 2,215th hit of his career, surpassing Joe DiMaggio (2,214) for fourth place on the Yankees' all-time list. Who is still ahead of him?

8. In 1984, the Mets added a major piece of their 1986 World Series team, Expos catcher Gary Carter. Name two of the four players the Mets sent to Montreal.

NEW

15. Mike Piazza hit 220 home runs as a Met, placing him second on the team's all-time list. Who is first?

a) Dave Kingman b) Howard Johnson c) Darryl Strawberry d) George Foster 16. In 1974, The BBWAA elected two former Yankee teammates to the Hall of Fame. They were ...? a) Yogi Berra and Lefty Gomez b) Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford c) Earl Combs and Waite Hoyt d) Tony Lazzeri and Bill Dickey 17. David Wright was a first-round sandwich pick for the Mets in the 2001 amateur draft. Who was drafted ahead of him with the regular first-round pick? 18. Name the teams Reggie Jackson played for prior to and after his five years with the New York Yankees. 19. What year did the New York Giants football team switch its home games to Yankee Stadium from the Polo Grounds? 20. In 1949, the New York Giants signed their first black players. Name one of them. Hint, only one of those two Negro Leaguers made it to the majors and eventually to the Hall of Fame. Answers on Page 29

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Winter 2006

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1. OF Del Unser, C John Stearns and P Mac Scarce 2. 1B Curt Blefary 3. The Mets traded reliever Randy Myers to the Reds for Franco. 4. The Yankees gave up P Sterling Hitchcock and 3B Russ Davis. 5. P Walt Terrell 6. In 1983, Dr. Bobby Brown was elected president of the AL. 7. 3B Charlie Smith 8. SS Hubie Brooks, C Mike Fitzgerald, OF Herm Winningham and P Floyd Youmans 9. The Mets sent SS Rafael Santana and a minor leaguer to the Yankees for C Phil Lombardi and minor leaguers Darren Reed and Steve Frey. 10. P Dick Littlefield and $35,000; Robinson retired rather than accept the trade. 11. $15 million 12. RHP Catfish Hunter; Hunter won 40 games over the next two seasons before suffering arm trouble. 13. The Mets traded Mike Stanton for Felix Heredia on December 3, 2004. 14. Lou Gehrig 2,721; Babe Ruth 2,518; Mickey Mantle 2,415 15. c) Darryl Strawberry (252) 16. b) Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford; Mantle became only the seventh player to make it in his first try. 17. RHP Aaron Heilman 18. Jackson played for Baltimore in 1976, where he led the league in slugging for the third time of his career. He signed a four-year contract with the California Angels for nearly $1 million per year in 1982. 19. 1956 20. Hall of Fame OF Monte Irvin and P Ford Smith

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Then and Now, Winter Brings More than Ice "Peopleask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. " -Rogers Hornsby

T

oo bad the Rajah isn't around anymore, 'cause he'd find out that the Pastime is a year-round sport these days, especially in Gotham. While sports fans from other cities are discussing offensive guards on the waiver wire, substitution patterns by Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan or bemoaning the rule changes of the "new" NHL, Big Apple fanatics are spending their time on the only game that really matters to them. lust ask that guy David Wright what he thinks of the Gotham faithful. "In my mind, the New York baseball fans are the best fans in the world. They really do care about the team and they care about baseball, and they want to see baseball played the right way." See, even the Kid from Virginia gets it. \Vhether it is tracking down trade rumors during me WImer Meetings, weighing the cost/benefits of signing me big free agent, or wailing at me loss of some young prospect in me Rule 5 Draft, ew York sports enrhusiasts are baseball bonkers. That's prerry damned great for us, so thanks for being as loony as we are. This winter has been typical of what base-

December 11, 1959: Yankees get Roger Maris, along Joe DeMaestri and Kent Hadley from the Kansas City Athletics for Don Larsen, Hank Bauer, Norm Siebern and Marv Throneberry (yes, that Marv Throneberry). December 15, 1967: Mets get Tommie Agee and AI Weis from the Chicago White Sox for Tommy Davis, Jack Fisher, Billy Wynne and Buddy Booker. D e cember 10, 1984:

Mets get Gary Carter from the Montreal Expos to the New York Mets for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans. Big move, little move, little move, big move. Every deal a GM makes can impact a roster's chances of winning 100 games or losing 100. Just ask Steve Phillips, who spent the winter of 2000 believing he had made the necessary adjustments to return to the World Series. Instead, his (or ownership's) approach to filling the VOId left. ~y NLCS MVP Mike Hampton (Kevin Appier) and an inability or unwillingness - to address a complete lack of offensive firepower (Alex Rodriguez), cost the club dearly. Passing on A-Rod meant the Mets offense would depend on Mike Piazza, who somehow ball winters ave become in New York. delivered a .300/36/94 season with no help Yankees steal Johnny Damon from the hat- . whatsoever. Edgardo Alfonzo (.243/17/49), Robin Ventura (.237/21/61) and Todd Zeile ed Red Sox; deal minor leaguers for south(.266/10/62) were dreadful, and the outpaw swingman Ron Villone; take a chance field...well, the "starting" outfield of Timo on once-dominant setup man Octavio Dorel, Perez, Jay Payton and Benny Agbayani comand sign hard-throwing Kyle Farnsworth. Mets nab closer Billy Wagner from the Phil- bined for 19 home runs and 83 RBIs. The lies; deal for slugging first baseman Carlos starters weren't much better, as Appier, AI Delgado; and add Duaner Sanchez and Jorge Leiter and Steve Trachsel each had 11 wins to share the "lead". The result was an 82-80 reJulio to the bullpen. The time to debate these and other moves cord, fashioned mostly by a late-season surge (Yanks retain Bernie Williams, Mets replace fueled largely by the machinations of skipper Mike Piazza with Paul Lo Duca) will be Bobby Valentine and the play of supersubs later in the season, because now, on paper, Tsuyoshi Shinjo and DeSI Relaford (who, the above all appear to be sound decisions. were shipped off in the offseason by ESPN Only time will tell if they will compare to Insider Pfiillips for Shawn Estes). The Mets the warm memories of winters past, where haven't made the postseason since. The Yankees weren't exactly bumbleproof BRILLIANT acquisitions like these were in moves they've made in winters past. Case made: in point, the incredibly bad reaction to the December 11, 1975: Yankees get Willie 1981 World Series loss to the Dodgers, Randolph, along with Ken Brett and Dock Ellis from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Doc Me- which fueled Reggie Jackson's exit to free agency in favor of signing Ken Griffey, Sr., dich.

30

Gotham Baseball-

Winter 2006

who would hit exactly one more homer in four full seasons with the Yankees than the 39 Reggie hit in his first year in Anaheim. Trading the useful (and later valuable) Bill Caudill, who would save 88 games over the next three seasons, for Shane Rawley (who was never useful or valuable) was worse. But the worst was yet to come. In what could be described as the dimmest move in the history of the Yankee franchise, the Yankees signed Dave Collins to a then top-of-the-market three-year $2.25 million deal. After bragging to the New York press that he would steal "90 bases," he stole just 13 in 1982 and hit .253. It would be his only full year in pinstripes, and after the season, he was traded with minor le~guer Fred MeGriff (yes, that Fred McGritt) for the stupendous package of Dale Murray and Tom Dodd. The result was 79-83, the Yankees' first losing season since 1973, and the start of a 13-season playoff drought. This coming season may depend greatly on the players procured by New York' GMs Cashman and Minaya, but it is the individuals acquired in the winter of 2004 who may tell the tale of2006, namely the Mets' Carlos Beltran and the Yankees' Carl Pavano. The 30-year old Pavano, came to the Yankees with high expectations, signing a fouryear, $40 million contract after gOlllg 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA for Florida in 2004. But he went 4-6 with a 4.77 ERA in 17 starts before shutting it down June 27 with a shoulder injury that took almost two months to diagnose. "We have high hopes for Carl," Cashman said recently. ''We didn't see the real Carl Pavano. We saw a guy who was trying to get there, but he was hurt. He wasn't able to show us the real Carl Pavano. Everyone, every day, has to reaffirm their past in this game, try to get back to what they've done before." There were similar hopes that Beltran, he of the unbelievable 2004 postseason for the Astros, would help jumpstart a punchless Mets offense. However, Beltran's first season in Gotham was a brutal one, not nearly living up to the $119 million contract the Mers gave him. He went just .266/16/78 endured a bad hamstring injury that took away his speed - he stole just 17 bases after SWIping 41 in each of his prior two seasons - and a horrific collision with Mike Cameron in August took away whatever little chance he had to have a strong end to the season. But like Pavano, Beltran says he's confident he'll bounce right back. "[This] will De a better year," said Beltran, speaking on a conference call in January. "I've been training hard in Puerto Rico, doing everything I can to be ready for spring training in the 2006 season." So is Gotham Baseball, folks. If the aforementioned Mets and Yankees winter moves bring success or a lack thereof, we'll be here to tell you about it. Who knows, maybe Mike Jacobs becomes the next McGriff, or Damon goes from the Passion to the Whimper. Eit:her way, come next winter, we'll be having this conversation ~ain. I'll bring the coffee, you bring the cannolis. Mark Healey is Executive Editor of Gotham Baseball

Gotham Baseball Winter 2006  

David Wright, the 2005 Player of the Year, a look at what really happens at the Winter Meetings, a farewell to Bernie Williams, and a tribut...

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