Thursday, July 31, 2008


PUDGE RODRIGUEZ for Kyle Farnsworth? A year ago, this trade would have been a no-brainer for the New York Yankees.

But, right now, some fans are questioning the merits of the latest move by Yanks’ general manager Brian Cashman – and understandably so.

Farnsworth was the man Yankees fans used to love to hate. But in this “what have you done for me lately” sport, the Professor’s stock has never been higher.

The 6ft 4in gentle giant deserves credit for turning things around in the city with the harshest critics in baseball.

After two pretty ordinary years for the Yanks, he is actually their most-used reliever this season, giving up 43 hits and just 18 runs in 44.1 innings for a very respectable ERA of 3.65.

Farnsworth responded to the faith placed in him by Girardi, his former Chicago Clubs catcher, to become the go-to guy in the eighth inning when Joba Chamberlain was switched to the starting rotation.

That’s why both men had a tear in their eye yesterday when the surprise trade with the Detroit Tigers was confirmed.

But let’s keep it real. That Farnsworth had become more reliable was beyond question.

Not so reliable, however, that Girardi would leave him in with two men on and one out against the Boston Red Sox last week. 

Girardi had to call on Mariano Rivera for a five-out save and the nagging doubt about Farnsworth remained. Could he really get the best hitters out with the game hanging in the balance?

Need for a hitting catcher outweighed Farnsworth's improved form

In the end, Cashman and Girardi both felt the sacrifice was worth making to sign an All-Star catcher, even if it is only for two or three months. Like Rodriguez, Farnsworth is a free agent at the end of the season.

At 36 years of age, Pudge is not quite the force of old, but he’s still hitting .295 with 32 RBIs and five home runs.

That’s a lot better than José Molina (.226), signed as a back-up catcher by the Yanks but pressed into regular action to the season-ending shoulder injury to Jorge Posada.

Despite his defensive strengths and ability to throw runners out, Molina is hardly a finely tuned athlete. Cashman and Girardi clearly feel he is not up to the task of playing every day, especially down the stretch in a pennant race. No. 3 Chad Moeller can’t hit either.

The Yanks are now just one game behind the Boston Red Sox in the Wild Card standings, but they look to have by far the hardest schedule over the last two months.

No fewer than 10 of their remaining 55 games are against the Los Angeles Angels (67-40), currently the best team in baseball.

The Red Sox have lost their last eight games against the Angels but the good news for Terry Francona is that they don’t have to play them again in the regular season.

The Yanks have some tough road trips to come and with major question marks over their starting pitching, the one thing they’re going to have to do is hit from one through nine.

With Brian Bruney ready to return to a bullpen boosted by much-improved performers such as Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras, the Yanks feel they can cope without Farnsworth.

That’s why it took less than six hours for Cashman to agree to send him back to Detroit. At least he can leave New York with his head held high.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


GOLF, they say, is a rich man’s hobby. Well, it certainly is if you want to play the new public golf course in Pound Ridge on the eastern border of New York State and Connecticut.

Playing a full 18 holes at Pound Ridge Golf Club, which officially opened in July, will set you back a cool $235. The good news is that the cart is included.

Pound Ridge’s contours were carved out of the countryside by legendary golf course designer Pete Dye. Dye’s many creations across America include TPC at Sawgrass, Florida, and Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana.

I must confess, I’ve yet to play the par-72, 7,171-yard course. I can’t afford the down payment.

But having recently come out of golf retirement, I have discovered both the pleasure and frustration of playing in the Stamford CT area.

Providing you purchase a Resident Golf Permit for $30 at the start of the season, you don’t have to have pockets as deep as Tiger Woods.

If you’re willing to walk, the Green Fee is $23 at Sterling Farms and just $20 at E. Gaynor Brennan.

The problem is that these are the only two public courses serving a city with a population of around 125,000, not to mention the many who visit from the surrounding towns.

I soon discovered that if you want to play on the weekend, you need to plan in advance.

Get up early if you want to book a weekend round

The days of the Sunday night “lottery” at Sterling Farms may have gone but if you want to play at a reasonable hour on a Saturday or Sunday, you need to get up at 5am the week before to book it.

Tee time reservations can be made (by residents) up to seven days in advance via an automated telephone system, starting from 5am.

Surely, nobody in their right mind would wake up at that time to book a round of golf? Well, I did the other day…and couldn’t get through for 20 minutes.

For those requiring a little more sleep, you can book directly through the website from 6am onwards. But, by then, the most sought-after spots will have been filled.

To be fair to Sterling Farms, the course is in superb condition and is continually developing as they reinvest profits. Those profits must be pretty high judging by the number of vehicles in the car park. It’s full by 7am.

The last round I played took the best part of five hours. But as a hacker myself, perhaps I shouldn’t criticize the slow play of others. The only difference is that after two attempts, I pick up and move on to the next hole.

I’m told it’s easier to get a tee time at Brennan. Sadly, my intended debut there last Thursday was rained out.

So if you want to play golf and you live in the Stamford area, my best advice is either rise with the lark or take a day off during the week.

Failing that, you can take out a bank loan and head for the stockbroker belt in Pound Ridge. Apparently, you need plenty of balls to play there.

Monday, July 28, 2008


COULD MANNY RAMIREZ end up wearing pinstripes before his career is over? Unlikely perhaps. But impossible? Certainly not.

Ramirez’s declaration this weekend that he wouldn’t object to a trade from the Boston Red Sox was probably just Manny being Manny.

Of course, it had nothing to do with the fact that he is in the last season of an eight-year, $160 million contract. 

The Red Sox have an option to sign him for $20 million for 2009, and another $20 million for 2010.

Could he do better elsewhere? Possibly, but at 36, he’s probably looking for a little love and long-term security.

Ramirez’s relationship with the Red Sox has been turbulent. So it wasn’t exactly a bombshell when he told ESPN’s Spanish language station: “I’m tired of them. They’re tired of me.”

“If the Red Sox are a better team without Manny Ramirez, they should trade me. I will not object,” he reportedly said.


“I don’t have any preferences. I could choose a team that offers me the best conditions or one in the chase for the post-season. I don’t care where I play. I can even play in Iraq if need be. My job is to play baseball.”

Iraq might be the best place for a man with such an explosive personality. But, in the unlikely event of Boston letting him go, why not the Bronx?

After all, no man has produced as many big hits against the Yankees as Manny. He’s batting close to .500 against them in the last 10 games alone.

He was raised in the Washington Heights district of New York City and seems to be pretty good pals with the Yanks’ star man Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod even recorded a special message congratulating Manny on his 500th home run.

There’s precedence too of a big-name player leaving the Red Sox for their deadly rivals. Johnny Damon did just that in 2005. 

Despite the signing of Xavier Nady, the Yanks could do with a right-handed slugger and salary wouldn’t be a problem.

Two things, however, might prevent it happening. No team needs Manny more right now than the Red Sox, even with David Ortiz back in the line up.

And would Joe Girardi and the management team really want the hassle of dealing with the many moods of Manny?


DAVID ORTIZ and Manny Ramirez, so often the two thorns in the side of the New York Yankees, put a smile back on the faces of Boston Red Sox fans at Fenway Park last night. 

But despite their obvious relief at avoiding a three-game sweep, Sox supporters will be looking over their shoulder anxiously…because “the Evil Empire” is back!

Their 2-1 series victory means the Yanks are now just two games behind Boston and three adrift of American League East leaders the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sure, it was disappointing that they suffered their first defeat in nine games since the All Star break.

But to say the match-up of Jon Lester v Sidney Ponson favored Boston would be something of an understatement.

General manager Brian Cashman has already addressed two of the team’s major deficiencies by trading for a corner outfielder, Xavier Nady, and a left-hand reliever, Dámaso Marté, from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now he needs to sign another starter before Thursday’s deadline.

The Yanks have been riding their luck with Ponson and Darrell Rasner at the back end of their rotation…and their luck ran out last night.

Now Cashman needs to sign starting pitcher

Ponson, who had made the most of the 41 runs the Yanks offense scored during his first four starts, was found out by the better hitters.

Don’t be fooled by his 6-2 record. His ERA for the Yankees is 6.08 and while he has done okay as a stopgap measure, he was never going to be a long-term solution.

That’s why Cashman is talking to the Seattle Mariners about left-hander Jarrod Washburn, who is 5-9 for a team that’s 39-65.

Washburn has an ERA of 4.5 and while he wouldn’t be my first choice, he knows how to pitch in the American League and would certainly be an upgrade on Ponson and Rasner.

While we wait and see what develops, the Yanks will attempt to bounce back against the Baltimore Orioles at the Stadium tonight (7.05pm) when Mike Mussina goes for his 14th win of the year.

One streak has ended but another is still going. The Yanks have won their last 10 home games and a four-game series against the last-placed Orioles would appear to give them every opportunity to keep the run going.

Just one note of caution…they have already lost two of the three series they’ve played against Baltimore, proving once again that you can never take anything for granted in baseball.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


NO HIDEKI MATSUI. No Chien-Ming Wang. No Phil Hughes. No Ian Kennedy. Now, no Jorge Posada. 

The New York Yankees have only been able to field their No. 1 line-up on a handful of occasions this season yet, remarkably, they are managing to apply pressure on both the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox at the top of the American League East standings.

When you consider that Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon have all spent time on the Disabled List this season, and that Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi contributed next to nothing for the first two months, I don’t think the word “remarkable” is an overstatement.

This amount of injury problems would cripple most teams, even a club with the resources of the New York Yankees.

Yet a four-game winning streak since the All Star break has put the Yanks within four-and-a-half games of the lead in the AL East and just three games out in Wild Card standings.

It’s been a tough start to life as boss in the Bronx for Joe Girardi. He and his coaching staff deserve credit for papering over the many cracks.

So how have they done it?

The five-man starting rotation was slated to be Wang, Andy Pettitte, Hughes, Kennedy and Mussina.

Mussina performing well above expectations

Mussina was supposed to be the No. 4 or No. 5 starter yet he has turned out to be the ace in the pack, recovering from a 1-3 start to go 12-6, more than anyone of sane mind could have hoped for.

The Yanks, for the moment at least, are managing to ride their luck with Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner at the back end of the rotation.

Ponson, in particular, has enjoyed amazing run support – 41 in his four starts – and, to his credit, has managed to work out of some jams. His performance in last night’s 12-4 win over the Minnesota Twins was probably his best to date.

As it turned out, Joba Chamberlain’s switch from the bullpen to the rotation was essential. The fear was that the Yanks would suffer in the later innings of close games.

Yet the much-maligned Kyle Farnsworth has not allowed a run in his last nine appearances, justifying the faith Girardi has placed in him as his 8th inning guy.

The Yankees are second in the AL in terms of relief pitchers used; yet not one appears in the top 15 for innings pitched.

With Mariano Rivera enjoying one of his best ever seasons (he only seems shaky when the game is tied), the Yanks’ pitching has been rock solid given the circumstances.

The hitting hasn’t been quite so good. They have scored three runs or less in 43 of their 99 games.

Molina proves capable deputy behind the plate

Hardly surprisingly, A-Rod hasn’t managed to repeat last year’s achievements, and a niggling shoulder injury has denied the Yanks Posada’s batting and catching power.

José Molina has done a fantastic job for a man only supposed to play once every five days. He has a great percentage throwing out runners. But the one thing he can’t do is replace Posada’s run production.

With Cano and Melky Cabrera both struggling in the first half of the season, the Yanks did well to reach the All Star break five games over .500.

Now they’re at a season-high nine games over and with a three-game series coming up against the Red Sox this weekend, in a position to mount yet another second-half charge for the pennant.

That’s no more than is expected. After all, we’re talking about the New York Yankees, a club that has won 26 Championships.

Only time will tell whether they can maintain their current form up until the end of September.

But given some of the strange faces we’re seeing on a daily basis – Brett Gardner, Justin Christian and David Robertson to name but three – Yankees fans should be ecstatic just to be in contention. 

Sunday, July 20, 2008


THE LEPRECHAUNS were out in force but there was no fairy tale ending to the 137th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

Irishman Padraig Harrington, who became the first European to retain the Claret Jug for 102 years, is one of the most popular players on the professional golf circuit.

However, most neutrals were rooting for a 53-year-old Australian – Greg Norman – who, remarkably, took a two-shot lead into the final round.

Norman, still on his honeymoon after marrying former tennis great Chris Evert last month, was supposed to be yesterday’s man.

Yet here he was with a real chance of winning his third Open, 15 years after he last won the tournament at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent, England.

Sadly, it was not to be. Norman could only manage a bogey-strewn 77 against Harrington’s superb 69, which gave him victory over Englishman Ian Poulter by four shots.

His five-wood approach to the 17th green, which landed less than six feet from the pin and set up an eagle putt, was the shot of the Championship. Even the absent Tiger Woods would have struggled to match that one.

Norman: "To say I'm disappointed is an understatement."

But while Irish eyes were smiling, neither Norman nor his new bride could hide their obvious disappointment.

He might have started the week with no expectations. But despite his attempt to downplay his chances going into the final round, you could tell he really believed he could win.

Victory would have gone a long way to erasing some of the many heartbreaking defeats he had to endure during his prime.

The Great White Shark finished runner-up in The Masters three times, most notably when he blew a six-shot lead in the final round to Nick Faldo in 1996. He was also second twice in both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

No man who has won a Major, let alone two, can be called a choker. But it’s fair to say that Norman’s ability merited more.

“It was a good week. Am I disappointed? Of course I’m disappointed. That would be an understatement,” he said. “I'm not as disappointed as I was in the 80s and the 90s, that's for sure. It's a different disappointment.

"When you put yourself in a position, you've got the lead, of course you want to close the deal; there's no question about that. But at the same time you've got to take a little stock of the situation, and again reality."

Harrington, himself, admitted that a wrist injury, which nearly forced him to withdraw from the Open, actually worked in his favor.

Wrist injury took pressure off the defending champion

“In hindsight, the fact that I didn’t have to play three practice rounds meant that I was fresh for the battle ahead, and it was a battle on the weekend,” said the 36-year-old father of two.

“Maybe having a wrist injury also took a bit of the stress and pressure off me. It was a good distraction.”

What a contrast to last year at Carnoustie when a double bogey at the last meant he had to endure a four-hole play-off with Sergio Garcia before lifting the Claret Jug.

“I knew my game was there. Once I got my drive away at 18 I knew I’d won it. It was an enjoyable 18th hole this time,” he added.

“Very few people have won back-to-back Majors. Winning a second sets you apart. There are a lot less people in the club.”

While Harrington headed home to celebrate, Norman journeyed to Scotland, where he will compete in this week’s Senior Open Championship.

Victory at Royal Troon was always going to be a more realistic target. But even if he achieves it, it won’t be quite be the same.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


ALEX RODRIGUEZ isn’t the current American League MVP due to his brain power. But, for once, A-Rod made a smart move at Yankee Stadium last night. He left early.

Taken out of the All Star game in the fifth inning by AL manager Terry Francona, Rodriguez had better things to do than hang around until 1.37am to congratulate Michael Young on his winning sacrifice fly.

An occasion that started with a tumultuous fanfare ended in a damp squib with most of the 55,632 fans, some of whom had paid $725 for the privilege of being there, either on their way home or already in bed.

Nobody could have predicted that the game would go 15 innings, but Major League Baseball and host broadcaster FOX must take the blame for some bleary eyes this morning.

To say the opening ceremony was a massive case of overkill is an understatement.

Okay, so baseball is a sport steeped in tradition, a sport that doesn’t forget its heroes. But how many times do we have to pay tribute to the greats of the game?

I’m all for variety and I liked the idea of introducing the current players alongside the past masters of their positions.

Late start, late finish leaves baseball fans bleary-eyed

But by the time the wax model of George Steinbrenner had been driven around the ground, it was nearly 9pm before the main event got underway.

The game itself was an anti-climax. Nothing happened until the fifth inning and the pitchers dominated the hitters.

The entrance of Mariano Rivera, with one man out in the ninth inning, briefly stirred the crowd – and the script was set up perfectly when he induced a double play and then pitched a scoreless 10th.

With the bases load and nobody out in the bottom of the 10th, “The Sandman” was going to be the winner of the 79th All Star game. Sadly, it was not to be. His teammates blew it and the game went on…and on…and on.

Jonathan Papelbon, along with the other Boston Red Sox players, was predictably subjected to the Bronx Cheers.

But by the end of the night, or rather the early hours of the morning, nobody much cared what player from which team ended the show.

Neither did A-Rod. He’d had enough time to listen to the entire Madonna collection.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


JOSH HAMILTON gave thanks to the Lord for his appearance in the State Farm Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium last night.

Whether God was quite so pleased to have his peace disturbed by some of Hamilton’s towering fly balls is a matter of conjecture!

The Texas Rangers’ center fielder may not have actually won the competition. But with apologies to Minnesota’s Justin Morneau, his was the name on everyone’s lips leaving the Stadium after a very special night.

Hamilton’s 28 home runs in the first round eclipsed Bobby Abreu’s record of 24 and was a truly astonishing effort.

I don’t care how softly the ball is being tossed, you try hitting 13 straight homers, some of them over 500 feet.

Hamilton is having a phenomenal season for the Rangers. At the All Star break, he’s already hit 21 homers and has 95 RBIs.

You might think the Cincinnati Reds are kicking themselves for trading him to Texas last December, but one of the players they got in return just happens to be starting pitcher Edinson Vólquez.

Vólquez, like Hamilton, has been one of the finds of the season, going 12-3 with an ERA of just 2.29. So this was a trade that, for once, delighted both parties.

Let’s hope Hamilton doesn’t suffer from Abreu syndrome. Abreu’s home-run hitting markedly declined after his efforts in the 2005 Derby.

Who needs A-Rod after Hamilton's heroics?

Some players, notably the New York Yankees’ home run king Alex Rodriguez, repeatedly turn down invitations to compete because they feel it has a lasting and damaging effect on their swing.

Fortunately, Hamilton didn’t seem bothered by the consequences last night. He just let it rip – much to the delight of the fans.

The 27-year-old, the first overall pick in the 1999 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, is a reformed character.

He turned to God to help him overcome addictions to both alcohol and drugs that blighted his early career. He didn’t play baseball at all from 2002 to 2006 after several unsuccessful attempts at rehab.

After a tortuous struggle, he finally managed to clean up his act when his grandmother confronted him.

He says he has been substance-free since October, 2005. That would appear to be the case as he is tested at least three times a week by Major League Baseball.

Hamilton is not shy to tell his story or share his faith. His appearances at the plate in Texas are accompanied by the song “Saved The Day”, performed by contemporary Christian rock group Phillips, Craig & Dean.

With the sport’s superstars turning their back on the Home Run Derby, Josh certainly saved the day at Yankee Stadium.

Monday, July 14, 2008


FOUR MONTHS AGO, Brett Favre announced his retirement from Pro Football and the Green Bay Packers at a tearful press conference.

At the time, there was no reason to doubt the sincerity of one of the game’s all-time great quarterbacks and a true warrior of the sport.

Now, it seems, they might have been crocodile tears. Favre has reversed his decision to retire and wants to play at least one more season, for or against the team he represented for 16 seasons.

One of the most decisive players you could ever wish to watch, Favre’s indecision off the field has put the Packers in a difficult position, to say the least.

They insist they wanted Favre back. But when the man who led the Packers to the Super Bowl title in 1996 declined their overtures, they understandably had to move on.

Now committed to starting the season with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, it appears there is no room for Favre. However, they don’t want to release him either and why should they?

Green Bay Packers in "no-win" situation

It was 38-year-old Favre who decided to call time on his career. Now the Packers find themselves in a no-win situation.

If they relent and let Favre return, they risk damaging the long-term future of the franchise, not to mention Rodgers’ development.

If they release Favre, then see him have a successful season playing for another team, they are sure to displease the Cheeseheads for letting a legend go.

Packers' fans are split right down the middle on the issue. According to a poll on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s web site, 47.2 percent want him to play next season and 46.5 percent want him to stay retired. Just 6.3 percent would be happy to see him playing for another team.

Ted Thompson, Green Bay’s general manager, called the situation “gut-wrenching.” “We understand where the fans are coming from. This is a hot-button issue that surpasses anything I’ve ever gone through.”

Favre, of course, should have thought of all this before playing on the public’s emotions.

He’s acting like a spoiled child who wants to have his cake and eat it. And he’s in grave danger of tarnishing his saintly image within the sport.

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METS FANS believe in their team again after a nine-game winning streak. Yankees supporters can only hope for a similar run following the All-Star break to get them into contention.

Belief and hope. There’s a big difference between the two. A few weeks ago, there was little belief at either Shea or Yankee Stadium.

How things have changed over in Queens. The doom and gloom at the end of the Willie Randolph era have given way to a new energy and optimism under Jerry Manuel.

The Mets (51-44) already have one ace in Johan Santana. They could have another now the penny has dropped with Mike Pelfrey.

Palfrey, who started the year with six losses in eight decisions, pitched another shutout last night to record his eighth victory of the year. 

Suddenly, the Mets have a starting rotation to be feared. And with Wright, Beltran and Delgado finding the seats with their bats, the Mets now look like the World Series contenders I, for one, predicted before the start of the season.

They go into the All-Star break just half a game behind the Philadelphia Phillies. Who’d have thunk it a month ago?

Let’s keep things in perspective. Their last six wins have come against two of the worst teams in baseball – the San Francisco Minnows and Colorado Rocky – but then the Mets were losing to similar opposition under Randolph.

While things are buzzing again at Shea, the mood is distinctly somber over at Yankee Stadium – scene of this week’s All-Star festivities.

According to Derek Jeter, the Yanks (5045) are playing well, they just keep coming up against lights out pitching.

Well Derek, I think it’s time for a new pair of glasses to replace the rose-tinted spectacles you’re currently wearing.

The Yanks are NOT playing well and apart from a good road trip to Oakland and Houston, have been stop-start all season.

Yankees offense has been spluttering all season

Their much-vaunted offence has managed only 436 runs in 95 games. Six teams in the American League have done better than that. They have scored two runs or less in 33 of those games.

We’re not talking about the second half now. The Yanks have 67 games in which to overcome a six-game deficit on the Boston Red Sox and five and a half on the Tampa Bay Rays.

They can count themselves lucky that the Rays have hit their bad patch earlier than expected. A seven-game losing streak has kept the Yanks in contention.

Historically, the Yanks are a second-half team. They were in a worse position last year and still made the play-offs.

But unless general manager Brian Cashman makes a major trade, which looks increasingly unlikely, the resources at manager Joe Girardi’s disposal look pretty thin.

Girardi can only hope that his hitters hit with more consistency in the next two months. They won’t do that with Brett Gardner, Justin Christian, Wilson Betemit and Chad Moeller playing regularly.

Girardi better hope Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon return shortly; he better hope Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy are back pitching again by early September; he better hope that Jorge Posada can catch; he better hope there are no more injuries.

That’s a lot to hope for. But, unlike the Mets, hope is all Yankees fans have to cling to at the moment.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


JASON GIAMBI is hoping his 70’s style mustache and renewed popularity will earn him a late invite to the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium next week. Barry Bonds can’t find a Major League Baseball club that will take him. 

Andy Pettitte recorded his 10th win of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday. Roger Clemens has reportedly been forced to sell his Bentley to pay mounting legal costs.

Such is the fall out from the great baseball steroids scandal.

The “good guys” who admitted the error of their ways have been given a pardon by both the fans and the League. The “bad guys” who protested their innocence and hid behind a shield of self-righteousness are no longer welcome among the fold it would seem.

There are plenty of teams in need of a left-handed power hit – the Arizona Diamondbacks being the perfect example. Who better to fill the role than the man who holds the MLB home run record with 762?

All free agent Bonds will cost is money. But he comes with baggage, not to mention the media circus.

The 43-year-old faces charges of perjury and obstruction of justice following his testimony in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) investigation.

Bonds, apparently, is desperate to get back in the game. With the trading deadline now three weeks away, it will be interesting to see whether any club is desperate enough to take him. For the moment, the risk outweighs the reward.

In stark contrast to Bonds, Giambi is enjoying a renaissance year in the Bronx.

Jason Giambi's popularity has never been higher

Not so long ago, rumor had it that the New York Yankees were looking for ways to terminate his seven-year, $120 million contract due to his admission that he took performance-enhancing drugs.

After a slow start to the season that prompted him to grow his now famous mustache, Giambi is among the American League’s leading home run hitters with 18 and there is talk about him coming back for another year.

The official Yankees website is leading a campaign to Support the ‘Stache’ and win “The Giambino” the final place in the AL All-Star team. 

Many of the players, along with thousands of Yankees fans, wore novelty mustaches at The Stadium yesterday in support of their team-mate.

At a time when Bonds is the forgotten man of baseball, Giambi’s popularity has never been higher. It almost brings a tear to your eye.

“It’s really a humbling experience, to think of everything I’ve gone through and the things that I’ve battled back from – to have that closeness again with the fans in special,” he said.

Even the boos that greeted Giambi’s appearance at the plate during away games seem to have dissipated. 

His fellow Yankee Pettitte has also been embraced by the fans and the steroid revelations in the Mitchell report forgotten.

To quote from the bible, be sure your sin will find you out. How Bonds and Clemens must be wishing they had come clean now.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


IS THE ROGER FEDERER ERA in tennis over and can he truly be regarded as the greatest player of all time?

These are just two of the questions raised by Federer’s five-set loss against Rafael Nadal in an epic Wimbledon final.

Nadal is the nemesis to Federer’s domination of tennis. He has won 12 of their 18 meetings and the damage he inflicted in the final of the French Open, and now Wimbledon, could be lasting.

The swashbuckling Spaniard simply destroyed the Swiss on the clay court of Roland Garros last month.

That he was then able to end Federer’s 65-match winning run on grass suggests that tennis could soon have a new number one.

Suddenly, Federer’s aura of invincibility is gone. And now that Nadal has proved he can win on a court other than clay, Federer faces a real challenge to win his fifth successive US Open (August 25-September 7) and defend his one remaining Grand Slam title.

Federer is still only 26, yet in tennis terms, he’s almost in the twilight of his career. Nadal is four years younger and riding the crest of a wave.

Nadal now the rising star of men's tennis

The first man since Bjorn Borg to win the French Open and Wimbledon titles back to back, Nadal’s star is in the ascendancy while Federer’s could be on the wane.

It may be premature to write-off a man who has won no fewer than 12 Grand Slam titles, but passing Pete Sampras’s record of 14 may not be the formality it seemed at the start of the year.

Three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker believes there has been a shift in the balance of power.

Writing on the BBC website, Becker said: “The rankings may still have Federer as number one but it’s only a matter of time before Nadal takes over.

“Losing to Nadal at Wimbledon is a serious blow to Roger. He’s never been in that kind of situation and I’m curious to see how he handles this summer.

“He wants to go to the Olympics and defend his US Open crown and we’ll see his true character.

“I’m convinced he can win Wimbledon again and I wouldn’t be surprised if the two met again in the final.”

What happens in the next two years or so will determine Federer’s legacy.

Some say that without winning the French Open – he has lost the last three finals – Federer cannot be regarded as the greatest. That accolade can only be bestowed on a player capable of winning on any surface.

By winning his fifth and most significant Grand Slam title, Nadal has thrown down the gauntlet. Now we’ll see whether Federer picks it up.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


ARE THE YANKEES done for the year? It may only be the start of July, but the chances of them winning the division – or even the wild card – are looking increasingly unlikely.

On the evidence of the first half of the season, only a blind optimist could see the Yanks (44-40) catching the Tampa Bay Rays (51-32) and the Boston Red Sox (50-36).

They went into the current nine-game homestand knowing 5-4 wouldn’t really be good enough.

Now, after successive one-run reverses against the Texas Rangers, they are in real danger of dropping out of the pennant race completely before the All-Star break.

Even if Sidney Ponson saves them from a sweep against his former team tonight, they’re going to be under enormous pressure to win the following series against the Red Sox, then the Rays.

Even if the surging Rays cool off in August and September, the Yanks will have to play .700 baseball or better for the rest of the year.

Even though they did it last year, there are plenty of good reasons to doubt that they can do it again.

Rays, Red Sox setting a scorching pace

For a start, they only had Boston to contend with in the American League East. They didn’t have three pitchers on the DL, their catcher wasn’t playing with a shoulder injury that will require surgery in the winter and their bats weren’t quite as silent as they are now.

They also had the calming influence of Joe Torre at the helm. Torre had seen it all before. His successor, Joe Girardi, is already showing signs of feeling the strain.

His decision not to bunt with a runner on first and no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning last night was baffling to say the least.

You could perhaps have understood it had A-Rod been coming to the plate. But, no, it was Melky Cabrera, who had not managed a hit in his previous 18 at bats.

Cabrera took two strikes before hitting into a double play and the Bronx cheers could be heard above the sounds of New York, New York.

That whole inning was symptomatic of the Yankees’ problems this season. They haven’t been able to come up with a big hit when they’ve needed one.

The pride and the power usually associated with the pinstripes have been sadly lacking. Even when they’ve managed to paper over the cracks in their pitching, the hitters haven’t been able to do the job they are handsomely paid for.

Tampa payroll a fifth of the Yanks

It’s hard to believe the current team was built on a payroll in excess of $200 million (compared to Tampa Bay’s $43 million).

Forecast to score between 900 and 950 runs this season, they have managed just 388 in 84 games so far. Even the Baltimore Orioles have hit more home runs (90 against the Yanks’ 83).

Jason Giambi has accounted for 17 of those but has now had around 40 at bats since going deep.

It’s going to cost the Yankees a lot to bring him back next year and after his slow start, you have to question whether he’s worth it.

In Giambi, Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, the Yanks have too many aging players whose careers are heading in the wrong direction. That's not including Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, who both signed new, long-term deals last winter.

Matsui has the best on-base percentage of any Yankee (.404) and he is being sorely missed in the middle of the order.

The bottom of the line-up has been nothing short of disastrous. Robinson Canó (.245 average) is an out waiting to happen. He has taken a massive step backwards this year. His stance looks awkward and his technique suspect.

Back-up catcher José Molina (.228) was not signed for his batting and Cabrera (.240) has not turned into the every day player the Yanks had hoped for.

The trouble is they need his arm in the outfield – he’s the only one who can throw – but they also need more production from him at the plate.

The Yanks don’t have a good bench and their pitching problems have been well documented. Chien-Mien Wang might not be back until September and Phil Hughes has yet to start throwing.

It all adds up to a scenario unimaginable at the start of the season. Unless the Yanks turn it around against the Red Sox and Rays later this week, they should be a selling club rather than a buyer when trading starts in earnest.

It will be time to clear the decks … and start planning for 2009.