March 19, 2009
New York State of Mind

(Aside: Due to their advertisement in Tradition Field, I am currently enjoying a Land Shark Lager. If you want a Corona without spending the extra two bucks for an import or just want to support Jimmy Buffett, I say go for it. Just let it be known, it’s not as good as a Corona especially if you’re like me and prefer your adult beverage without a lime. One last thing before we begin; here’s a fitting tune for the article.)

Per Joel Sherman (Post,) “[Frankie] will handle New York without a problem.”

Per Patrice Evans (NBC Sports,) “Despite his inconsistencies, Ollie has been a durable workhorse, and one who has proven he can handle the intense NYC media hotbox.”

Per Mark Feinsand (Daily News,) “Cashman said that a player’s ability to handle New York is something he takes into consideration, but it’s impossible to know how a player will fit with the Yankees until he’s already wearing the uniform.”

The theme from the aforementioned quotes is repeated every offseason in New York. When discussing either the Mets or the Yankees (or any New York City sports team for that matter,) pundits from television, print and the radio consider not only if a player has the ability to play the game but also the ability to handle New York™. I am among the fans that believe that baseball is unlike any other major sport in America. Unlike football where freshly drafted rookie can be among the best players in the league, baseball is more of a skill game that requires years of concentration and practice. Due to the latter, a player that “can’t handle pressure” is mostly eliminated sometime during his years of development. Of course, there are exceptions; but in general this is why I basically tune out the handle New York™ talk every year.

Cue Gordon Edes of Yahoo! Sports, to awaken me from my slumber. “[Frankie] was pitching for his country, but in a sense this was Francisco Rodriguez’s first audition as a member of the New York Mets… Less impressive was his postgame performance… Rodriguez told the Venezuelan media representative that he would not speak to reporters…”

Frankie would eventually be interviewed and answered why he didn’t want to speak to the reporters. Basically saying that he felt the Venezuelan team was slighted by reporters after their 15-6 loss to Team USA, but the real gem from Edes comes next:

“Slugger Magglio Ordonez was booed by the Venezuelan contingent here for his appearance at a rally supporting Venezuelan president’s Hugo Chavez’s winning campaign to abolish term limits, setting himself up for another six years in charge. But still, that would seem comparatively mild to what Rodriguez is liable to hear in Queens if the Mets stumble. The over-under on the first “K-Fraud” headline is Mother’s Day.”

My problem with the pressure of New York talk is two-fold. Edes brings up the first problem. This whole theory that players cannot handle intense media scrutiny, espically the intense New York media scrutiny, is perpetrated by the media, specifically the New York media itself. Maybe it’s only me, but doesn’t this come off as arrogant, chest-beating talk on the part of the media. Do they really think that Francisco is going to be on the mound, having just given up a tying run and thinking to himself, “If only I wasn’t thinking about what Bart Hubbuch wrote about in his blog for the Post.” I mean did Edes really just compare Venezuelans booing Maggs for supporting an alleged election rigger and expeller of Human Rights Watch to something Frank would have to deal with “if the Mets stumble?” I know we are passionate in New York, but give me a break; how self-important does that sound?

All that aside, my second and main gripe with this whole handling New York argument, is the fact that no evidence is ever, and I looked hard, presented in support. The media has repeated the theory so often that I hear/read regularly fans repeat this handle New York rhetoric. It seems to me that there are two players, represented by these streams of thought:

One player is good -> it’s wondered if he can handle New York -> he plays good -> he can handle New York.

Another player doesn’t play well in New York -> He couldn’t handle New York.

As Jim Bouton said (roughly,) “In baseball, just cause B follows A doesn’t mean A caused B.” I can recall three players that were hit with the “couldn’t handle New York” label, Roberto Alomar, Jeremy Burnitz, and, perhaps the biggest one, Jeff Weaver. Let’s quickly look at them case by case.

Robbie Baseball

Year     OPS+
2001     150
2002      89
2003      80
2004      81

Alomar’s debut with the Mets in ’02 was a huge disappointment but the dude just couldn’t play baseball anymore more than couldn’t deal with New York.

Jeremy Burnitz

That same year, easy going Burnitz was criticized for not being able to handle the pressure. He ended up hitting (the term “hitting” used loosely) .215/.311/.365. That offseason he must taken some confidence juice because he hit .274/.344/.581 before being dealt to the Dodgers for Victor Diaz among others.

Jeff Weaver

Age       IP     ERA+
22       164       89
23       200      108
24       229      104
25       200      123
26       159       73
27       220      102
28       224       97
29       172       78
30       146       70

Weaver’s terrible year with the Yankees at age 26 combined with a return to mediocrity two years following leaving New York is probably the strongest evidence for the theory. But the fact that he pitched well when he came over in a midseason trade during his age-25 year is ignored and the fact that his terrible age-26 season is probably more attributable to a heavy workload in his past. In addition, Weaver was pretty overrated in the first place.

Look, I love New York and find it to be the best place to live in the world. It’s a city full of variety and options. I recognize that there are more writers in this city and more people taking pictures. I just don’t see any evidence that there are professional baseball players that play worse under these conditions. I can see someone’s life being much different than if they were in Kansas City, but once a player crosses the chalk lines, I don’t see a difference in performance.

I’ve been wrong before, maybe I’m forgetting someone or missing something, I’m interested in what you guys think, just be prepared to present actual numbers if you make a bold claim. (Example: A-Rod can’t handle New York, look at the Madonna scandal. Response: The scandal started July 1st, A-Rod hit .337/.413/.621 for the month.)

10 Responses to “New York State of Mind”

  1. Comment posted by Ed in Westchester, waiting for Opening Day on March 19, 2009 at 9:04 am (#939034)

    Joe – I agree, the media in this case makes something out of nothing.

    Of course, they overlook their primary role in:

    1. Bringing the idea to the forefront MONTHS before the season starts.

    2. Jumping on the first slightest thing to say “see, we told you so”.

    Is it possible that some players wilt under the pressure? Sure. But some of the results are manufactured to make it fit.

  2. Comment posted by stel og stem on March 19, 2009 at 10:55 am (#939166)

    I agree mostly with this article. I also think there is a ton of inherent hypocrisy of the media types who say “He can’t handle the NY media” and then go on and write the types of awful, unsubstantiated, inane, unnecessary and incendiary (those are fun words to say together) articles which cause the NY media to be difficult to handle.

  3. Comment posted by Ramon on March 19, 2009 at 12:19 pm (#939256)

    Joe, if I were you I wouldn’t touch the Venezuela/Chavez/Ordonez issue as it was peripheral to your argument about the NYC media. Fans booing an athlete during a game for his support of a controversial political figure is a touchy practice to explore–especially when that athlete is representing his country. If I were to go out with a mass of my lefty buddies and boo Rogers Clemens during the first WBC for being a vocal Republican supporter of George W. Bush’s policies while he was representing the USA, the media would skewer us and rightly so for obvious reasons. So I think the issue is a lot more complex and multi-sided than you left it as.

    Also, I wouldn’t cite the two sources you used to make your insinuation about Chavez’s alleged election rigging and expelling of human rights groups. The first source regarding voter fraud, is an extensive study co-authored by Mark Weisbrot (one of Chavez’s most vocal supporters in the progressive US media) actually arguing that such allegations are as unfounded and contrived as anything John McCain accused ACORN of doing on the behalf of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. The second source, a NYT review article written by two members of Human Rights Watch, is tainted by the fact the very research they were conducting during this trip was for a September 2008 report investigating a decade of Chavez policies in Venezuela that was almost immediately ripped apart over 100 Latin Americanist scholars on the basis of its flimsy evidence for sweeping generalizations, unsubstantiated allegations, and unfair application of standards. As someone who is training as a specialist on the region, I can honestly say they are not very good sources to use–especially in such an offhand manner.

    Otherwise, I felt your column was a very thoughtful and well-argued piece regarding the implicit biases of the NYC sports media.

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  5. Comment posted by Joe Sokolowski on March 19, 2009 at 12:50 pm (#939277)

    You bring up a lot of good points and I was very interested reading your post. I just wanted to make clear that I was not making any kind of judgment about the fans that booed Maggie or the entire issue at all, I was showing that Edes stated the Venezuela issue would be nothing compared to what KRod would have to deal with if the Mets lost a couple of games. As you stated, the Venezuela issue is very touchy, complex and multi-sided, for a reporter to compare that to the Mets losing a couple games out of the gate is irresponsible reporting and just arrogant. That is why I brought up the issue.

    In addition, while I am very interested in world news, I am not a specialist at all. I just wanted to make clear that I didn’t insinuate Chavez did these things (I did add alleged) I just wanted to briefly touch on the subject so that the readers would see how arrogant/stupid Edes article was. I used these sources as they were freely available and, seemed to me, to give two different opinions of the issue, but again, I’m not an expert. If you would like to email me some recommended reading regarding Chavez, I would appreciate it.

  6. Comment posted by Ramon on March 19, 2009 at 12:58 pm (#939282)

    Joe, I misunderstood you intentions. I apologize for that error and I appreciate your clarification on the afformentioned points regarding the Venezuela/Chavez/Ordonez issue.

    As I stated, I thought the article was very good and do hope you continue to expose the hypocrisy, inconsistencies and logical fallacies spewed out by the NYC media machine.

    As for sources, I can hyperlink an exchange I referenced before between HRW and the 100+ Latin Americanists who criticized their report on Venezuela. Here it is:

  7. Comment posted by Dave in Spain on March 19, 2009 at 1:35 pm (#939301)

    Ed Whitson?

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  9. Comment posted by Joe Sokolowski on March 19, 2009 at 1:50 pm (#939324)

    Ed Whitson looks pretty bad looking at standard stats and got rode out of town (Getting into a fight with a beloved manager will do that to you) but basically was unlucky, look at these numbers.
    1982 Cle……..259………3.92
    1983 SD………269………4.76
    1984 SD………277………3.49
    1985 NYY…….337………3.97
    1986 NYY/SD.340………4.57
    1987 SD………266………4.81
    1988 SD………286………3.37
    1989 SD………252………3.69
    Had his 85 and 86 BABIP been closer to average, I’m guessing reporters and fans would say he could handle NY.

  10. Comment posted by JamesSC on March 19, 2009 at 3:11 pm (#939410)

    But Joe, how can you miss good ol’ Kenny Rogers in that list :)

    In general I agree with your article that the whole “handling NY” thing is overrated and is generally a much lesser component to their ability then their talent, injuries, and age for example.

    However, to ignore someone’s mental situation as a part of the game is silly to me as well. I agree that this whole thing is blown out of proportion by the very people that make it such an issue in the first place, but at the same time for a game where we both believe the following to be true:

    I am among the fans that believe that baseball is unlike any other major sport in America. Unlike football where freshly drafted rookie can be among the best players in the league, baseball is more of a skill game that requires years of concentration and practice

    That it would be wrong to go to far the other way and presume that the issues that come with playing in NY (increased Media scrutiney, rather “vocal” fan base, one of the most involved baseball towns in America) can and will have an affect on their performance “between the lines”. I don’t think K-Rod is going to blow a save and be thinking about the press or anything like that, but there have certainly been players that have not “played up to their all” after facing the negative reaction from fans/media in NY and feeling disgruntled about their situation.

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  12. Comment posted by TLC on March 19, 2009 at 9:48 pm (#939642)

    or Danny Graves……

    We all know that was the elephant in the room

  13. Comment posted by dogcatcher on March 19, 2009 at 9:52 pm (#939644)

    Im going to take a slightly different approach…not sure players can take the pressure or not, but the fans here and elsewhere I imagine, carry things a bit too far.

    It is a game, its fun to get into. I remember after 9/11 how people all said they would never forget, and keep perspective. Well that didnt last very long

    I get upset when are players fail, do stupid things, lose etc…but the things these players are subjected to in this town are sumetimes beyond comprehension