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Random, awkwardly integrated thoughts on the All-Star Game and George Steinbrenner

The National League's Matt Holliday, left, of the

The National League's Matt Holliday, left, of the St. Louis Cardinals, congratulates Marlon Byrd after both scored on a three-run double by Brian McCann, of the Atlanta Braves during the seventh inning of the MLB All-Star Game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. (July 13, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

 To kick off some awkwardly integrated, thoughts, when I woke up Friday - planning for a peaceful day, swimming with my son, before boarding a flight to John Wayne Airport - Cliff Lee was still a Mariner, and Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner were still alive.

It has been an active few days, to say the least. 

Anyway...

1. The National League finally won an All-Star Game, and while it was good to see a young star like Brian McCann deliver the big hit, the big topic afterwards became, "What the heck was Joe Girardi thinking, losing the game with Alex Rodriguez still available?"

That question became all the more glaring in the bottom of the ninth when the Cubs' Marlon Byrd fielded a John Buck flare on a bounce and fired the ball to the Dodgers' Rafael Furcal firing second. Because it appeared that Byrd might catch the ball on a fly, the slow-footed David Ortiz couldn't linger too far from the bag. Which is why A-Rod, even if he's not quite Brett Gardner out there, would've been a perfectly cromulent pinch runner for Big Papi.

Girardi's explanation? Um, it didn't make a whole lot of sense. The skipper said that, had Adrian Beltre had reached base, advancing Ortiz to second, then Ty Wigginton (by virtue of the new rule that one player per team can re-enter a game) and A-Rod would've pinch run for Beltre and Ortiz, respectively.

Beltre struck out, however. So...at that point, why not just pinch run A-Rod for Ortiz? I don't know. Girardi didn't seem to know. Neither did A-Rod. Although, if A-Rod was legitimately upset, he did a fine job of hiding it.

Tom Verducci reports this morning that A-Rod had a slightly sore right thumb, and that he was going to hit only in an emergency. As Verducci noted, that's not exactly the answer that Girardi gave when asked about A-Rod's health.

2. So why did the NL finally win? If you look at the pitchers they threw, you sure didn't have too many slouches in the group. Let's look at each pitcher and the average velocity of his fastball this season, as per FranGraphs: Ubaldo Jimenez (96.3), Josh Johnson (94.8), Hong-Chih Kuo (94.4), Heath Bell (94.0), Roy Halladay (92.6), Matt Capps (93.9), Adam Wainwright (91.0), Brian Wilson (96.1) and Jonathan Broxton (95.3).

If Halladay and Wainwright are the easiest guys you're facing from a velocity standpoint, it's probably going to be a long night for you, considering how much Halladay relies on his cutter and Wainwright his curveball.

3. David Wright quietly has performed very well in All-Star Games. After last night's 2-for-2 showing, he's 6-for-13 lifetime.

The reason I like Wright: When asked about those numbers, he shrugged, smiled and said, "Small sample."

4. I continue to enjoy the format of using the All-Star Game to determine homefield advantage in the World Series. Yes, I concede that it's illogical, and that, if you're going to do that, you should eliminate these rules about having one representative of each team and - as Verducci wrote - manage the game more seriously.

But I don't care. since 2003, when the format went into place, we've had seven of the eight games decided by one or two runs. Angel Stadium carried palpable tension last night , IMO - and thank goodness the AL fell behind, so we could see the the Rally Monkey.

5. George Steinbrenner. As I type, it's been roughly 17 hours since I learned of his massive heart attack, which turned very shortly into learning of his death. I'm still trying to process it.

For any Yankees reporter of the last 37 years, you speak of covering George as though you're a war reporter. That of course is offensive; George never killed anyone or put anyone in physical harm. Yet it does speak to how different it was from the rest of this job. Here are some of my favorite "war stories":

--On February 14, 2003, I received a phone call from Mrs. Insider with wonderful news: We were expecting. What was I doing at the time she called? Chasing George down a corridor at what was then called Legends Field (and is now George M. Steinbrenner Field). 

--I can recall my sense of satisfaction after George called me back and gave me some good rips of Hideki Irabu, or Roger Clemens, or Chuck Knoblauch, or Brian Cashman. I can recall how miserable I'd feel when I'd see that a rival newspaper got him while he didn't call me back.

I was intrigued, therefore, to read Tyler Kepner's great piece on Steinbrenner, in which he divulges that Steinbrenner took care of the New York Times for a few weeks in 2003, giving Tyler an interview nearly every day, to help the Times during the Jayson Blair mess. I remember that period vividly, how Steinbrenner kept calling the Times and I kept banging my head against the wall in frustration. Never would I have guessed the reasoning behind it.

--During the 2001 postseason, I reported that bullpen coach Tony Cloninger and hitting coach Gary Denbo were in trouble. As went the inner workings of the Yankees at the time, some team officials seized upon my story and showed it to Steinbrenner, and told The Boss that organizational pitching guru Billy Connors was my source. He wasn't, but these were enemies of Connors looking to bring him down.

The story was accurate - Cloninger and Denbo both lost their jobs after the playoffs ended - and in any case, I didn't think much more about it until I received a call that November or December.

It was Billy Connors. "Hey, do you think you could do a favor for me?" he asked. "The Boss thinks that I told you that stuff, and he's not letting me come in any of the meetings. Could you call him and let him know it wasn't me?"

I put in a few calls to Steinbrenner over that winter, and he never called me back. When I saw him the subsequent spring training, I managed to get him alone, and started to explain the whole situation. George cut me off.

"Don't worry about it," he said, smiling. "It's over." And indeed, just like that, Connors had been allowed back into the circle of trust. George's anger always subsided, eventually.

I reported extensively on some of the nonsense Steinbrenner inflicted upon his employees, and those were some of my favorite stories. But for whatever reason, I still found George to be highly amusing. And he never challenged anything I wrote.

The bottom line is, I'll miss covering him. Here's all of our Steinbrenner coverage.

Have a great day.

 

 

 

 

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