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Where the Buffalo Wings Roam

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“I dunno, all that red hair – there’s too much anger in this kid,” a scout murmured over my shoulder late one balmy Tampa afternoon, as I sprawled out in a post-speedball rictus across a rack of crumbling bleachers to watch a young hitter from a sun-torched diploma mill called Plant High School stroke doubles into the gap during batting practice. “It’s like watching the guillotine in 1789,” the scout said, “Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop.”

I’d been following the Carter campaign around Florida when Dave Hickey rang me up to tell me about a ball of Scottish fury who was giving high school pitchers across that whole moist, miserable swamp of a state fits, saying I better go watch the kid’s smooth inside-out swing before he wised up to the grind of the minors and went to Gainesville to play football and get a degree in marine biology instead. Dave was in his finding-beauty-in-the-everyday period back then, and I was skeptical. Plus, dragging myself 300 miles up from my hotel on South Beach to watch some kid who wasn’t even shaving yet splatter his old man’s 58-mile-per-hour BP fastballs around wasn’t exactly high on my list of good times. The thing was, despite all that searching, Dave wasn’t wrong about much back then, and he wasn’t wrong about the kid. The kid named Wade Boggs.

Years later, when time had taken some of the fire out of Wade’s red locks (and indeed, had taken most of my hair altogether) I would return to Florida and watch the boy-become-an-elder-statesman stroke his 3,000th hit out over that crushed-velvet prom dress of a field he played on during his last two years as a Tampa Bay Devil Ray. The ball crept over the right-field fence like a spry old burglar making one last score before hopping on his Indian and heading down to the Yucatan, and but for the rows of plastic seats arrayed in its path, it might have kept right on sailing clear over the Gulf and out to those distant Mexican shores – kept on going right out into legend, instead of into the hands of some pissant who probably put it up for sale on eBay. Vultures. At any rate, that homer stands as the most momentous base knock in the Devil Rays’ abbreviated history, and it's unlikely we'll see any similarly magical moments at that soap dish of a stadium again.

Now, Wade is packing up his milestones and entering the Hall, and it's hard to think of any player making the trek Upstate over the past few years that is more deserving. (Also, let's us pause to note that we all have something to be thankful for as Wade travels to Cooperstown wearing Red Sox. I don’t give a good god damn if Tampa was the man’s hometown – and it wasn’t anyway, Wade was from Omaha. There should never be anything called a Devil Ray even remotely near the Hall. Ever. Period.)

Most of you know the in-between parts to his story: Wade hacks his way though the minors like the slow, steady hand of a lumberjack clearing a pine forest, chewing on the New York Penn and the Carolina and the International Leagues like they were just another meal -- a 662-game, 35-course meal. Then one fine day Carney Lansford, old Carney, went down with a bad wheel, and Wade busted up and through at last to Boston, where none other than Sparky Anderson anointed him as “one of the best-looking hitters I’ve ever seen.” (Sparky wasn’t much of one for the gay bars, so you know his meaning was clear.)

Like all Red Sox, Wade made a mark for himself early in the annals of The Rivalry (for good or ill), recording the last out in Dave Righetti’s Independence Day no-hitter in '83. That might well have been the last time that Wade went oh-fer. Batting championships would follow, as would the shared, solitary heartbreak of 1986 and 25 guys in 25 cabs. There was the parallel development of Don Mattingly, Donnie Baseball, who, despite the whining of those sandwiched between the Bronx and the Battery, could never really carry Wade’s jock. Then Wade himself would shamble down south and bring a title to the toilet. I suspect that despite the joy he chose to show those South Bronx minions, Wade probably never felt quite right about riding around on the back of that mounted police, waving to the Big City crowds. There was an ache there, you could see it -- an ache that started stinging when that accursed grounder slithered through Billy Buckner’s spindly, broken-down legs. The ache has eased only on very rare occasions ever since, and then never for long.

So, that was the baseball, sure -- but there was also chicken, and lots of it. Jim Rice, who grew up deep enough in the South to be horrified at the very notion of boneless skinless chicken breasts, would dub Wade “Chicken Man,” and the name stuck between Red Sox Nation’s teeth like the skin on a buffalo wing. There was chicken before every game, dished out in exacting specifications of portion and duration, in a parade of poultry not seen in the Bay State since Miles Standish sat down to break bread with the Injuns. Very likely there was at least a thigh or two after the game, as well, if you grasp my meaning. It was the 80s, people, and excess was everywhere. Even if you were on the food stamps.

Chicken wasn’t the only routine that Wade embraced, however. In the field, he would take exactly one hundred and fifty ground balls before a game. No more, no less. He took his batting practice at precisely 5:17 p.m. and ran his sprints at 7:17. (Mercifully, Wade was well along the road to retirement by the time the 7:05 start, a sissified time to start a game anyway, become the national standard. Trains leave the station at 7:05. Men play baseball at 7:30. ) He drew some kind of Buddhist symbol in the dirt every time he went to bat -- or maybe it was Margo Adams’ initials, shit if I know. These were heavy freebasing days for me, and it took an Olympic effort for me to even endorse the occasional check from Jann.

There are plenty of other stories out there about stewardesses and Penthouse and snorting lines off the nubile young posteriors of various Yawkey heiresses. Those, too, were good times, but times perhaps best left at the door of this august chamber, here in the beautiful rolling hills of New York State. Besides, I have probably already gone on too long. I thank you for your patience. We all thank Wade for his ever dependable if quiet greatness.

Hunter S. Thompson is the author of Fear and Loating on the Campaign Trail, among many other books. He died earlier this year at the age of 67.

Where Is the Love for Lima Time?

The editors of Yard Work should be ashamed of themselves. All this talk about the King of the Tacos – and no Jose Lima?

Maybe you haven't been paying attention to the Kansas City Royals, but as far as tacos go, it's Lima Time, baby! I'm up to 22, third in the league...and no respect from you. Where is the love, E$PN? You are all dogs' hindquarters and should be shot in the street for denying the glory that is Lima Time.

Oliver Perez, one of these so-called "finalists," does not care about becoming King of the Tacos. All he wants to do is trim his little girl beard into ever more elaborate shapes. But me, Jose Lima? I care about tacos.

When I was a young boy growing up in Santiago, I could only dream of a guaranteed job at Taco Bell. I am not like those privileged sissy Americans. Every day I would eat the Quisqueyano food, and think to myself, "What if there was a way to combine grilled chicken, shredded cheese, refried beans, ground beef, and sour cream within a deep-fried double-decker taco shell? What if I could then order cinnamon twists or a Choco-Taco?"

Maybe you should try living in Kansas City, E$PN. These burnt ends – they are not fit for starving livestock or Paul DePodesta. But every day, while I drive to the stadium, I stop at Taco Bell and I return to the dreamland of little Jose, fielding grounders in the modest little cockfighting ring of my father.

To finally retire from baseball and embark upon a career at Taco Bell would be the culmination of a lifelong ambition, E$PN. Have you tried the new CrunchWrap Supreme? It is poetry. Spicy ground beef, melted cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream, nestled within the warm embrace of both a soft tortilla and a crunchy tostada shell, all lovingly grilled to create a masterpiece of portable cuisine.

I know a thing or two about itches, E$PN. When you have an itch, you must scratch it. And no soothing unguent can cure me of the fever I feel deep inside - the fever of beisbol, yes, but also the desire to spread the good name of Yum! Brands International far and wide. What must I do? Perhaps I shall enlist my wife to help me write taco-specific new lyrics for a patriotic song to sing at a future Royals game or Taco Bell store opening. Perhaps then the world shall pay attention. Glory, glory, enchirito!


Autry's War Follow-Up: An Interview With Don Delillo


Editor's Note: The opening chapter to novelist Don Delillo's Underworld might be the greatest thing ever written about the game. And with books such as Libra, which tackled the plot to assassinate Kennedy, under his belt, he was the perfect person to discuss the story's larger implications. Delillo graciously agreed to sit down with Yard Work to talk about it.

Yard Work: How should Sy Hersh's piece change the way we look at baseball?

Don Delillo: In 1955, Ray Kroc opened the first "franchised" McDonald's. In 1955, Elvis Presley became a star. There are histories within histories, connections of the subconscious that follow to the grave or grill. In Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, these strands are connected like telephone wire; those are places unafraid of subtext or the supernatural. But in America, where the distance holds us together, there are never hidden meanings — it's God's way and the highway. That's it.

It has always been American's Americans who have perpetuated its greatest crimes. For love of country and money, they have exploited the cubbyholes of capitalism. And these men know those intricacies because their ancestors — the slave drivers and merchant ship captains and plantation owners — wrote them, and there is a gene passed along those lines whose sole purpose is to manipulate the lower classes. And make no mistake: we are all the lower classes.

YW: Were you surprised to learn that a conspiracy so deep could exist in baseball?

DD: Society is a conspiracy. Marriage is a conspiracy. You can never reveal everything — we are unaware of so much about ourselves. Some are attuned to the unsaid, others only the obvious. To know both is to be an artist, and to be an artist is to be a narcissist. What Freud meant to say but didn't is that there are conspiracies even within the self. The id, ego and superego are in collusion; toward what, we will never know. And death — death is the biggest conspiracy of all. There are infinite dead somewhere, and we like to think of them as omnipresent and omniscient, but what if there is death after death? There is a religion of death, and it worships at gravestones on full moons, when the heavens open their gates and breathe down upon us. It is the religion of life that has ruined us. Its god is greed, and the men who run baseball are its bishops, pastors and rabbis. There can never be surprises, only minor revelations of what was already known.

YW: What impact did Gene Autry's efforts have on the game?

DD: He was a fraud. It was an empire built on the decayed flesh of beasts that he lacked the courage to kill himself. And so he sang ditties about the frontier to reassure our children that they were right to be carnivores, that they should always consume. He wrote capitalism's scores of the 20th century, odes to lust and destruction, two impulses that inevitably draw toward casualty. If it wasn't Autry it would have been someone else: John Wayne, Jim Morrison, Tom Cruise. There will always be another parasite to take that place. It's the one thing capitalism produces with minimal effort, its greatest export.

YW: Should the people involved in this plot who are still in baseball be punished?

DD: By whom? We are all complicit. There are no innocents. We crack peanut shells and stomp our feet. We study the numbers in search of epiphany. We follow the standings as if they judged our own self-worth. New York's greatest economic boom coincided with a remarkable Yankee run — which is responsible for which? There is no purity in baseball. There never was and never will be. "Purity" only exists in America as a consumable quality: drugs, milk, children. Those things are pure, and those are commodities. This is no coincidence.

And who would punish them? The only possible solution would be to somehow extricate money from the entire enterprise — an impossible task for sure. What is left is Little League, skinned knees sliding into home plate and sunflower seeds dotting dugout floors. This is what we want to see when we watch the Major Leagues, but it's a simulacrum of the worst sort, because those Little Leaguers dream of becoming their imitators — not vice versa. We are already being punished. Go Red Sox.

Autry's War (Part Five)

By Seymour Hersh
Click to read part one
Click to read part two
Click to read part three
Click to read part four
Click to read follow-up interview with Don Delillo

Gene Autry's Cowboy Code:

1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
3. He must always tell the truth.
4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6. He must help people in distress.
7. He must be a good worker.
8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation's laws.
10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

As devious as it might have been, Autry's secret agreement with the owners of the Cleveland Indians, San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos did not infringe on any of the rules of his beloved Cowboy Code. In fact, Autry often justified the pact with Cowboy Code No. 6, say associates of his from the early '80s.

"At heart, Gene believed his actions to be altruistic," says one former California Angels executive. "When [Major League Baseball] came down hard on him during [the 1981 labor stoppage], Gene was honestly confused. He couldn't understand why anyone would be upset."

But Gene's view was a minority opinion. As St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog told reporters around that time, "Before long, you can look for some teams to go bankrupt, like the Minnesota Twins. The Twins and some other clubs just can't afford to compete for salaries the way things are set up. I think the bankruptcies will start in two or three years."

Like many uninformed forecasts, Herzog's was found faulty by the slow march of history, but it's important to recognize the sentiment that prevailed in baseball at the time, just as it did recently with the "contraction" fiasco brought about by current Commissioner Bud Selig. The sky was falling — on everyone but the Angels, Expos, Indians and Padres, that is.

Yet in terms of the Autry pact, the most that ever came out of the 1981 stoppage was a stern talking-to by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. In July of 1981, Kuhn called Autry, Nick Mileti, Charles Bronfman and Ray Kroc to his office and asked them if they were sharing revenue, which was against baseball rules at the time. All but Autry denied the charge; the Angels owner simply demurred, and somehow he escaped the meeting without answering the question, say sources familiar with the meeting. Short of a long and public investigation that could upset the uneasy peace that was beginning to prevail between players and owners, Kuhn had little recourse, and took the men at their word.

Autry was so shaken by the meeting that he implored the other three owners to nix the agreement. "This has gotten to be too much," he wrote to Mileti several days after the meet. "We have to stop this before it gets out of hand. If that hasn't happened already." While Mileti sympathized with Autry's doubts, he couldn't turn his back on the profits they were making. "I understand, Gene," he wrote in reply, "but there is just so much at steak [sp] here. Without our pact, you'd have to sell the Angels, and I can't allow that to happen." Mileti's letter convinced Autry to remain in the group, but his interest and influence would never be the same.

Ray Kroc, who made untold millions through his McDonald's franchise, responded to the meeting very differently. "[Kohn] has no power over us," he told Mileti according to sources in the Padres front office. "Screw that guy. We do what we want." While Bronfman and Mileti didn't share Kroc's hard-line stance, the restaurateur (to be generous) had made himself the leader of the pact in the wake of the Kuhn meeting. For better or worse, Bronfman and Mileti were hitching their wagons to Kroc.

Over the following two years, Kroc became more and more aggressive about courting new teams to join the pact. He had taken to fondly calling the group "McBaseball" to friends and associates within the Padres organization. As time went on, actual baseball became secondary to "McBaseball," as Kroc approached the game the same way he had the food industry: with strong-arm tactics and a showman's flair.

One owner reluctant to play "McBaseball" remembers how aggressive Kroc could be. "Ray and his people had been calling me over and over," he remembers, "and sending me color TVs, bicycles, even a bunch of French fries. But I just wouldn't budge... Ray got more insistent as time went on, until late one night I get a knock on my door at home. I answer it to find [the owner's team's mascot] hanging from a noose in my front lawn, and the damned San Diego Chicken was setting it on fire. I wanted to call the cops, but I didn't know how far Ray would go."

The rumor mills abound with other stories of Kroc's hostile behavior, but he still managed to rope the Philadelphia Phillies into the cabal in 1983, and was close to bringing in the Baltimore Orioles later that year. But Kroc died in January, 1984, and the deal was left unfinished.

When Kroc's "reign of terror," as a baseball executive called it in a conversation with me, ended, the intimidation tactics stopped overnight. It was once more a gentleman's game, and the Orioles deal was completed in 1984, the Milwaukee Brewers in 1986, the Cincinnati Reds in 1988, the Kansas City Royals in 1989, the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1990, the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates in 1991 and the Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins and San Francisco Giants in 1993. It was no longer about statistics (though all who entered the pact agreed that they would not allow a pitcher to win twenty games out of respect to Autry, a decision that was calamitous for Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina). It was about money.

In 1994, Major League Baseball went on strike. At baseball's helm was acting Commissioner Bud Selig, the longtime owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, who had joined the Autry pact in 1986. Selig had been a proponent of a salary cap in the '80s, and made it his mission as commissioner to bring it into being. Yet members of the cabal were staunchly opposed because Selig's proposal would bring about league-wide revenue sharing, thereby ending the biggest advantage the group enjoyed. The two sides reached an impasse, putting the players and fans squarely in the middle. But when Selig threatened to go public with the group's entire history, they finally backed down. With that, the strike was over and Autry's war was lost.

Four years later, Gene Autry would die, on October 2, 1998. He was buried a hero, an All-American Cowboy. Four years after his death, his beloved Angels would win their first World Series title — and without a twenty-game winner either.

After the strike ended, the members of Autry's pact scattered to the winds like the former Soviet Union territories. The bond that they once held was gone. But at Autry's funeral, they gathered again to reflect on his life and their group, which had consumed his last thirty years. Never again, they each vowed, would one of their hurlers win twenty games. Autry would win after all.

Seymour Hersh, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of several best-selling books.

Rank Index -- NL West

Good afternoon sports fans, and welcome to another edition of the Rank Index right here at Yard Work. We're heading into the home stretch of the 2005 season: a time when pennant races heat up and the games really start to count. With the trade deadline just around the corner, it's time to think about the Yankees, Red Sox, and all the other teams who are gunning for the playoffs. So let's take a closer look at one of baseball's most intruiging and competitive divisions -- the NL West.


San Diego Padres -- As long as Jake Peavy continues working his magic on the mound, with Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko slamming balls out of NL ballparks, the Padres remain the team to beat in the West. They've proven that they're the class of the division by holding off the Diamondbacks and Dodgers for most of the season, and until they're dethroned, they earn top grade. A+

Arizona Diamondbacks -- They've shown remarkable character in 2005 by rebounding from 110 losses to pennant contender in only one year. Only fourteen seasons ago, the Braves accomplished the exact same feat -- and they haven't finished out of first place ever since! Could this be an omen of things to come for the 2001 World Champs? A

Los Angeles Dodgers -- After winning the division in 2004, they added former MVP Jeff Kent and 2004 playoff hero Derek Lowe. They haven't let injuries to Eric Gagne and J.D. Drew get them down, and with Brad Penny and taco king Jeff Weaver filling out the rotation, the Dodgers can be counted on for big things down the stretch. Plus, you can never, ever, underestimate a defending champ. A

San Francisco Giants -- Despite a season of turmoil, with superstars Barry Bonds and Jason Schmidt missing significant playing time due to injuries, the Giants are a mere 1.5 games behind defending champs Los Angeles. The Giants find a way to be in the thick of things every year, and with one of the smartest managers in the game in Felipe Alou, expect to see the Giants causing trouble in the NL West this September. A

Colorado Rockies -- Clint Barmes was looking like a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year before his tragic staircase injury. Nonetheless, things are looking up for the Rockies thanks to the resurgence of Todd Helton and the inspired pitching of young Jeff Francis. Imagine the hang time that newcomer Eric Byrnes will get on his diving catches in the thin air of Denver! A-.

AJ Burnett -- He's the name on everybody's lips, and has been for weeks. Even the Dodgers don't have the glitz to compete with the Hollywood-esque exposure that Burnett has received from fans, players, and managers throughout the game of baseball. The Giants might be able to upstage him if Bonds were to return this season, but barring that, it's top grades all the way for Burnett's meteoric rise. A+

Kabir's Korner: The Paradox of Livan.

Jivatma is the personal soul,
the other is God, Paramatma.
What is the difference between them?
Look inside, Livan, look inside.

You are a workhorse, it's true,
but what merit accrues to such hard work?
Innings Pitched will not redeem you,
will not help you find the bliss of Sahaj.

Livan, do not ignore Earth's simple gifts,
stretched like pearls on strings before you:
the J.J. Hardys of this world, who shrink
your Earned Runs Average -- they are all maya.

Similarly: to chase success
in your team's first year in Columbia's District
is also maya, illusion;
a waltz for shadow puppets!

Do not hold press conferences, Livan,
do not threaten worlds with Operation Shutdown.
Instead, Livan, look inside,
treasure the jewels you already possess.

If strikeouts come to you, let them come,
accept the bounty of the goddess Sita.
But groundball outs are also good,
keep that ratio down, that will also please Shiva.

And if, o warrior!, you give up long gappers
(even though you hurl in a pitcher's paradise),
do not lash out in anger when yanked.
That, too, is maya, and must be avoided.

Above all else, honour your mechanics,
that is the breath of breath that forms the world!
No more lame histrionics, Livan!
Go forth, shatter the idols! Live free of fear!

Kabir was a 15th century Indian mystic and seer, and a huge fan of the National League. His baseball poetry is available in a new translation by Vijay Chaganta.


Autry's War (Part Four)

By Seymour Hersh
Click to read part one
Click to read part two
Click to read part three

From 1975-1978, the California Angels and Cleveland Indians maintained their protest against Major League Baseball: no pitcher reached twenty wins, and the antagonistic relationship with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn continued to sour. But Angels owner Gene Autry and Indians owner Nick Mileti began to realize that their protest was no more than a gesture, and that their battle was one of little consequence, even within their own organizations. It seemed that the whole project was about to be dismissed as the rich man's folly that it really was.

But then Gene Autry went bust.

Autry made most of his money from cowboy records, the Westerns he starred in and the beef industry, which funded many of his projects and also kept him on retainer as an unofficial spokesman for big-business ranching. But the late '70s, which saw a resurgence of "urban" culture like disco, were not kind to Autry's portfolio, and suddenly he was in dire financial straits — so much so, that it seemed he might even have to sell his beloved Angels.

Sources within Autry's inner circle say that for weeks he agonized over what could be done. It wasn't just the money; pride was at stake, too. Feeling up against the wall, Autry finally made a phone call to his friend Mileti, and asked for a loan. Mileti, who had no closer friend in the game, immediately said yes, he would do whatever Autry asked.

Rather than a simple loan, Mileti and Autry agreed to a longer term deal that could help both financially. The agreement they reached is now commonly referred to as "revenue sharing," but at the time it was a somewhat novel idea, especially within the sports world. The deal worked like this: revenue that each team made over a certain amount would be added to a joint fund, and then that amount would be divided between the two teams. Not only would it keep Autry afloat, but it would similarly help Mileti should he fall upon tough times as well. The one drawback to this deal, however, was obvious: should both teams have simultaneous down years, there would be no relief.

Autry and Mileti began to court other owners to join their pact to combat this one flaw. New owners who joined would receive 20% of the fund, with Autry and Mileti each receiving 40%. For each new team that an owner brought in, that owner would receive an additional 5%. And no matter how many teams joined, Autry and Mileti would never receive less than 30% of the money, and no other owner could exceed that amount. (Several sources suggested that the idea originated with Jackie Autry, Gene's wife, who was an active member of cosmetics agency Mary Kay, which used a similar scheme. Others theorized that some of Mileti's alleged mafia ties could have inspired the idea.)

With those parameters in place, the two men began to recruit new members. They made house calls on various owners, making their pitches with charts, diagrams and Cuban cigars, one owner who rebuffed their overtures remembers.

"Gene came in to my office smiling like a used car salesman, a big pinkie ring gleaming on his hand," he remembers. "He had some assistant with him, who unloaded an easel and some pie charts showing the money I could make if I signed up with them. I told him that I thought the idea was foolish, and asked him if Bowie [Kuhn] knew what he was up to. Gene just laughed and continued with his pitch. He called me many times after that to follow-up. It just didn't feel right to me."

Others, however, were more intrigued by the idea; most notably new San Diego Padres owner Ray Kroc, who made his fortune by founding the McDonald's franchise, and Montreal Expos owner Charles Bronfman, who owned Seagrams whiskey. Both men quickly signed up with Autry and Mileti, and saw their profits soar in the ensuing years as a result. And, in a curious throwback to the agreement's childish beginnings, Kroc and Bronfman both agreed to prevent any of their pitchers from winning twenty games as a subtle insult to Commissioner Kuhn.

Through 1981, Autry, Mileti, Kroc and Bronfman were making enormous sums of money. They were sharing information on how to squeeze every last dollar out of their franchises and prospering in the resulting revenues. They had a tight network among and within their organizations, and the quartet was happy counting its blessings — and profits.

In 1981, however, word got out about their agreement within baseball. None were sure how, and none could be certain of how much was known. But the 1981 labor stoppage, which halted the season for 50 days, was a direct result of their private pact. Word of Autry and Mileti's earlier visits to a number of front offices had long circulated the grapevine, but no one had paid much attention to the seemingly outlandish rumors. As revenues for other teams began to wane in 1980 and salaries increased due to free agency, however, the coupling of those rumors with Autry's newfound wealth made some owners more than suspicious — they were downright irate.

(Continued in part five)

Seymour Hersh, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of several best-selling books.

Bleep Bleep - July 25th


Oh yeah, I loved hearing Ron Gardenhire give it right back to those umps Lee Elia style. That was some great old-school no-sh*t-taking stuff. You *ss jockeys probably think Major League managers have it easy - they just slap on some stirrups, make a lineup, tell their coaches to coach, and run out to the mound once in a while to pull some sh*twit that couldn't find the plate if he was the f*cking plate. Well, here's a NEWSFLASH for you, Rudy - managing is probably the hardest f*cking thing a guy could do. You gotta wrestle with 27 (or 26 - whatever) multi-million dollar egos every single day, on the field, off the field, every g*ddamn place. You gotta shower w/ these f*cks, you gotta eat w/ these f*cks, you gotta listen to these f*cks while they whine about getting sued by some 14-year-old's parents for statutory, you gotta listen to these f*cks yak up their lunch because the blow they bought was actually cut-up drywall, blah blah blah. Buncha p*ssies. Just take your 0-fer and get the f*ck outta my g*ddamn office, me and Jim Beam are trying to actually get some f*cking work done.

Then you gotta play footsie with the f*cking press, a bunch of cupcake-kissing fat campers asking their stupid sh*t questions like, "What'd you think about losing 10-0 to a Sally League team?" or "How'd you feel when Cormier walked the bases loaded three times in a row?" or "Why the hell are you giving that f*ckwit David Bell any playing time?" And the radio and TV guys, holy sh*t they're dumb. I could have a better conversation with a ham sandwich than with those see-Spot-run tards. And don't think the brains get bigger when you go national. You heard Morgan & Miller, right? Watching them wipe each other's *sses is like watching Jessica Biel do something that doesn't involve wearing a bikini. (Her trying to take down a super-smart plane - yeah, that’s real. Lemme know when you get a role in the next Bond flick as Einstein's daughter, babe. And the talking, not so much - please figure out what T&A stands for sometime this f*cking year.)

But, man, umpires are the d*ck in my popcorn that just makes me so happy I'm done with that nonsense. I spent way too much time watching these fat, cross-eyed, lazy no-good dinks treat the strike zone like a game of Twister. Half the time, the f*cking thing's shaped like a fractal or some Pollock bullsh*t, and the pitcher's just left guessing where the ump wants it. Play Peek-A-Boo on your own f*cking time, sped. And those f*cking stupid strike calls - what, you got a chicken bone stuck in your throat, Gregg? You want me to get the Jaws of Life so we can do the Heimlich on your tubby ass? SAY THE MOTHERF*CKING WORD ALREADY. None of this "hoo-wah" Scent of a Woman shit. You ain't going for the g*ddamn Oscar, so just say the f*cking word you Crisco-licking mancow. The only thing worse than those halfwits behind the f*cking plate are the specially abled clowns out in the field. If I got a nickel for every time some blue f*cked up a call at a base, I'd be rich enough to own the f*cking Yankees ten times over.

And they're so f*cking tough, what with their posing like they're gonna be in the next f*cking Tom Emanski video, and their big pads hiding their f*cking saggy tits, and their f*cking showboating. I love it when some blue decides to start acting like he's the show. Gardenhire had that f*ckwit dead to rights - it's the umps that want the spotlight. Hell, when I managed, I just wanted to get the f*cking game over with so I could kick back w/ some hooch and get the f*ck away from all the bullsh*t. But these guys, they're just f*cking washed-up high-school prettyboys that want to get some airtime, so they strut around like f*cking flamingos tossing guys out and showing up guys that can actually walk up a flight of stairs w/out needing an iron lung and getting in my face because I called that dimwit Durwood on that bullsh*t strike call because f*ck if you're going to call sh*t at the shoetops a strike, then let's call the game and go play catch with the 1st graders because you clearly don't want to see anyone actually hit the f*cking ball. Yeah, that's right, I told you to go f*cking play on the balance beam, you squat little sh*t. Yeah, f*ck you, too - at least I can see my feet when I stand up. Say hi to Princess Leia when you f*ck back to your home planet, Jabba.

And oh no blue took a foul ball off his arm that's too bad boo f*cking hoo. Try taking a one-hopper IN THE THROAT, Fatty. Hell, try actually doing anything that involves you getting any exercise that doesn't involve wrapping your fat yap around a meatball grinder. Those jerks probably go on the DL after taking a sh*t. That QuesTec stuff is a step in the right direction, and I don't care what those pansy-*ss pretty boys say about it. Yeah, that's right, Schilling, you f*cking hobbit motherf*cker. Go beat up another f*cking drive-thru speaker because you can't throw a f*cking strike. How you like being some f*ckwit CLOSER, you fat little b*tch? Can't wait to see what you color your socks this year - "oooh, he's a gamer because he's BLEEDING." Riiiiight. And I'm Mel F*cking Gibson. He wasn't pitching like sh*t because he was hurt - he was pitching like sh*t because he was staying up late w/ his fat little D&D buddies trying to kill some dumbsh*t dragon, and the Red Sox made up all that garbage about the sutures and the sock and that bullsh*t.

But, hey, it worked, right? Way to go, Slap-Rod - getting paid more than G*d, and you can't hit some bullsh*t 70 MPH fastball from some carpal-tunneled walleyed computer geek. Go lift some more weights and get s'more therapy, you frilly little skidmark. "Oh boo hoo I can't handle the pressure! I have too much money, and all these guys lust after my hot body! I can't take it any more! Oh boo hoo hoo!" Chr*st. I've seen 3-year-olds w/ more composure than that sissy. No wonder baseball's in the sh*tter - the so-called best hitter ever is a roid freak, the so-called best pitcher plays f*cking Q-Bert all day, and the so-called best all-around player is a no-hit limp-wristed b*tch that'd rather talk about his feelings than win a ballgame or GET A F*CKING HIT WITH RUNNERS ON BASE. Yay another solo homer for King of the Sh*theads - here's another million dollars, thanks for sucking! F*ck this sh*t. Gimme a real sport like curling or ping pong instead of this *ss-grabbing jockitch crap.

Oh, sh*t - all that's left in the fridge is Levy's f*cking Zima. And the packy's in this f*cking state close at like 3 PM. G*ddamn it. Excuse the f*ck out of me while I go suck down some f*cking witch hazel.


Trading Barbs

By Chuck LaMar
Special to E$PN.com

It's never been easy being a General Manager in the major leagues. Fans and sports journalists eye every move you make with a jeweler's scrutiny, looking for the tiniest imperfection or flaw. And once they find that flaw, they start booing at the ballpark, or printing ad-hominem assaults in the local paper, and the town turns into a monster movie mob scene. Nowadays, with 24-hour sports coverage, internet fantasy leagues, and amateur fan sites and weblogs, everyone's a critic, and it's sometimes hard to hear yourself think or talk over all the racket. That said, it's sweet vindication when a player you acquire helps your team win a ball game, and it makes all the ruckus and hardship worthwhile.

I think it's fair to say that, out of any baseball general manager currently working , I've been villified the most. What folks don't understand is that I've probably had a tougher job that most. Let me just state a fact - Tampa Bay isn't a lucrative market like Boston or New York, or even Minnesota. It's tough to get fans to come out to the games, regardless of whether the team's winning or losing. Most folks in Tampa Bay are real old, and don't get out that often. The rest of the folks are young, sure, but they're transient, visiting on vacation or business, and they don't have time to stop by Tropicana Field to see the D-Rays play their gutsy brand of baseball. Those are two strikes that make it hard to swing away when it comes time to acquire players and wheel and deal, never mind acquiring the state of the art equipment or personnel that other teams can easily afford.

Not to cry poverty, but I'm actually typing this on an old IBM PS/2 my secretary / head scout / Director of Player Personnel found in the kitchen dumpster while taking out the trash. And this is the GOOD computer - I think Mr. Naimoli is still waiting for his C-64 to finish booting. After I type this up and save it to disk, I'm going to have to walk to the nearest Kinko's to get this printed out, and that's a long walk. Meanwhile, a team like the Oakland A's can afford to have Billy Beane take his fancy WiFi laptop into the stadium bathroom and pound out a couple thousand words about Joe Morgan, while 15 MIT interns drink cans of Coca Cola Zero and crunch numbers and look for the next overweight superstar. The only running water we have is in the player's locker room. Like I said, I don't want to sound like I'm whining or ungrateful, but running a major league franchise is hard work.

This is why Tampa Bay needs to be extra careful when making personnel moves. Whoever compared negotiating with me to tending to 'a root canal without the nerve gas' was very astute. General managing is a lot like dental surgery - if you're not careful and exact, you could do more harm than good. Tampa Bay can't just spend money haphazardly and bank on just one player. We can't just send players up and down like yo-yos. We have to think about the future as well as the present in every transaction we make. People are anonymously quoted as saying that I'm asking for the moon for Danys Baez. What I would say back to these people (if I knew who they were) is that asking for anything less than the moon for a player of Danys' quality would be an insult to him, to me, and to this organization.

Resources are limited here in Tampa Bay, and they have to be exploited to the fullest. When the Mets came calling about Victor Zambrano, this is what I had in mind during negotiations. They were looking to acquire a rotational workhorse for a (sadly unsuccessful) playoff run, a guy that can throw a lot of pitches and give you a chance to win more often than not. And I made sure they paid accordingly for such a high-quality player. The fact that other teams this year don't see eye-to-eye with me regarding Baez doesn't mean I'm going to back down and capitulate to some sub-par offer just because it's the only one out there. It's this tenacity and stubbornness in the face of seemingly impossible odds that's my greatest strength, my ability to stay the course and follow through on a plan of action. Of course, some folks feel differently.

Nitpicky critics often like to point out that I grabbed Bobby Abreu from the Astros during the 1998 expansion draft, and then thoughtlessly flipped him to the Phillies for infielder Kevin Stocker. Now, of course, anyone would love to have a player like Bobby Abreu on their team, and he would have looked great in sea foam green, stealing bases and hitting home runs. But do you realize how much it would have cost Tampa Bay to keep Bobby Abreu around? Like I said, the future matters as much as the present when the team's success going forward is at stake.

In 2000, Abreu's salary increased by almost 800% to nearly 3 million dollars. This year, he's making over 13 million dollars. That's almost 1/3rd the payroll for this year's team! If we kept him around for even his first year of arbitration, he would've cost the team a lot of money. Never mind the pressure from the fans and the newspapers begging us to keep him around. If we sign him and he busts, we have lots of egg on our face and hell to pay with any number of people; if we sign him and he does well, then there's pressure to pay him even more money next year, which just starts the whole process over again. By trading him away, I saved the Tampa Bay organization the time and effort (and capital) that would have been spent agonizing over this issue over the course of Abreu's long and productive career. It's the same situation I faced when dealing with players like Dmitri Young, Jeff Johnson, and even Jose Guillen - do I want these players to develop and thrive and cost this team millions of dollars, or do I want to trade them (while the organization's investment in them is minimal) and acquire more cost-effective players?

It's these moves that allowed the Devil Rays to take their one shot at glory at the turn of the 20th century. Yes, I took a gamble by acquiring high-priced players like Vinny Castilla and Greg Vaughn and Jose Canseco and Juan Guzman and Wilson Alvarez, but I thought it was a risk worth taking. I invested the future moneys saved through the Abreu and Young transactions in the present, at a time where other teams like the Yankees and Red Sox looked weak. (There's no way anyone could have predicted that the Yankees would follow a 114-win season with another divisional championship and World Series.) As nice as it would be to say that general management in baseball is an exact science, the fact is that there are many things that can't be controlled. How am I to know that those players listed previously would all turn out to be unmitigated disasters? How am I to know that highly-touted prospects like Josh Hamilton and Dewon Brazelton would turn out to be headcases? How am I to know that Ben Grieve was done as a slugger at such a young age? This off-season, we took a chance on Josh Phelps, and it didn't work out. Meanwhile, there are moves involving productive D-Ray players like Julio Lugo or Alex Gonzalez that barely get the ink they truly deserve.

There's only so much information out there, and once that information's been viewed and reviewed and rereviewed to the point that the ditto ink smears, and once the film reel begins to snap against the projector, it really comes down to a flip of the coin. Sometimes that coin lands on tails 15 times in a row, and sometimes it lands on heads 15 times in a row. That doesn't mean you stop flipping the coin. For every Bobby Abreu you let slip through your fingers, there are ten Travis Lees or Jason Tyners waiting to pick up that slack. It's a chance you have to take when you're a general manager.

I said this a couple of years ago, and I continue to stand behind this: "The only thing that keeps this organization from being recognized as one of the finest in baseball is wins and losses at the major-league level." We have a young nucleus of great players beginning to mature and thrive. With young hitters like Carl Crawford, Johnny Gomes, and Jorge Cantu being brought along by veteran sluggers Aubrey Huff and Travis Lee, Tampa Bay has one of the most feared line-ups in all of baseball. And a pitching staff anchored by Scott Kazmir (acquired via trade, in case you forgot) could go a long way. But there are more decisions to be made, as arbitration years pile up, salaries escalate, and the need to win a championship grows stronger. Whenever critics wonder when Tampa Bay is going to wake up and actually field a winning team, I take a step back from the ticker tape machine and tell myself that this quest for success isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. Only the runners that know how and when to exert themselves will cross the finish line as champions. It took the Boston Red Sox 86 years to figure out how to become World Series champions. The Cubs haven't won anything in an even longer stretch. I'm only on year 8. I'd like to think I'm ahead of the curve.

Chuck LaMar is the senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.