This week's column is dedicated to the loving memory of Clara Gottfried Jaffe (11/2/1912-8/1/2006), wife, mother, grandmother and so much more to three generations of baseball fans
My paternal grandmother -- the last of my surviving grandparents -- passed away in the early hours of Monday morning in Walla Walla, Washington. She was 93, and her death wasn't a surprise; my family had been bracing me for this inevitability for about a month. She'd been moved to the "maximum security" portion of her assisted living facility, had stopped taking her medication, and "wasn't really there." So it goes.
My grandmother led a remarkable life, and I spent a good deal of time on Monday revisiting that via a taped interview I did with her from 2003. She was born in 1912 in Buchach, Ukranian Galicia, a region that was at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but at the end of World War I became part of Poland. At that point, her family -- she was the only child -- took her to Vienna, where she grew up and got her education. She graduated from the University of Vienna School of Medicine in 1937, a year ahead of my grandfather, Bernard Jaffe.
Bernard, a graduate of the University of Maryland, had saved up money working as a pharmacist and hustling pool in Baltimore to attend medical school, a remarkable story in and of itself. Unable to afford the exorbitant cost of attending med school stateside and stymied by the quota system which limited the number of Jews, he managed to start his studies in -- of all places -- Hitler's Germany, at the University of Göttering. He didn't know German when he came over, but he learned the language by reading newspapers and walking the streets. He somehow managed to wrangle a ticket to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he saw Jesse Owens show up Hitler by winning four gold medals.
After a year at Göttering, he was advised to leave, and he transferred to the University of Vienna. The story goes that he met Clara (who was a year ahead of him) one Saturday night while she was studying for an exam in a coffee house; he was playing pool, saw and recognized her, and offered to walk her home. They married in Vienna on March 29, 1938, and with the situation there worsening vis-à-vis the Nazis, began planning their exit. When he finished his studies, Bernard didn't even wait around to receive his diploma; a classmate named Dr. Samuel Schoenberg picked it up along with his own, and escaped by walking over the Alps into Switzerland.
A cousin of Clara's father named Marcus Helitzer had come over to Austria to help her obtain a visa to travel to the U.S.; the visa was granted when he opened an American bank account in her name with $1,000. They booked passage on a ship and arrived in the U.S. on July 15, 1938. But Clara never saw her parents again. Her father, Lazar Gottfried, who worked in the wheat industry, was stuck in Romania when the Russians occupied it. Clara recalls that the last time she saw her dad, it was when he'd come home to spend Passover: "It was my intuition. I ran to the window, called his name, waved to him. He turned back and waved, and that was the last time we saw each other."
Declared an enemy alien, Lazar went into hiding, but was pinched when he got fed up with his confinement and went out for a pack of cigarettes. He is believed to have died in a labor camp. They managed to obtain a visa for her mother, Josephine Fenster Gottfried, and bought her a ticket on an Italian ship, but when Mussolini and Hitler strengthened their ties the ship's voyage was cancelled, and alternate plans fell through as well. She was still in Vienna during Kristalnacht, and was eventually sent to a concentration camp. She perished in the Holocaust, as did nearly all of my grandmother's relatives.
Stateside, my grandparents settled in New York City. Bernard got an internship at Brooklyn Lutheran Hospital (and continued his affair with the Dodgers, which had begun, so the story goes, when he saw Babe Herman get hit on the head with a fly ball). He lived on hospital grounds while Clara lived out on Long Island with the Helitzers, and they saw each other on weekends. She got a job working as the physician for a girls' camp in Liberty, NY, and soon earned enough money to get an apartment of her own on 86th street. He entered the Army Reserves in 1939, and she took over his internship, having passed her medical boards in April. She credits this to her partially photographic memory which allowed her to visualize and remember her texts.
When Clara completed her internship, Bernard asked her to join him down in Asheville, North Caroina, where he was the physician at a Civil Conservation Corps base. In those uncertain times, he wanted her to settle down. "I enjoyed medicine," she recalled. "I was good at it, I had a potential, I was pretty smart, and I had a good memory. But I was an old-fashioned girl in those days. Marriage came first, and when he could make a living, I decided I should follow him."
He got his first position in Hot Springs, NC, outside of Asheville. When the Reserves called him up for active duty, he failed his physical. The story goes that he'd been playing tennis (he was a hell of an athlete, and was said to have been offered a pro baseball contract by the Washington Senators) and not having a car, had to run several miles to the offices. When he arrived, he was sweating profusely. The doctor asked if this happened often, and when he said yes, the doctor feared he had a cyst. He was turned down for active duty and sent to Augusta to train for the Veterans Adminstration hospital. There, my father was born in 1941.
They bounced around -- the life of an Army doctor -- and finally settled in the farming town of Walla Walla, Washington in 1944; they had another son, Bob, in 1946. While my grandmother adapted to life as a homemaker, m grandfather made his practice as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor), and practiced at the VA hospital there until his retirement in 1973. Upon leaving the VA grounds, they bought a house at 1966 Scarpelli, and lived out the rest of his life there; he passed away in November 2000.
I spent many a wonderful summer day with my grandparents, who came to be known as Nan and Pop. They would come down to Salt Lake City, and after a visit of about a week, they'd drive us back to Walla Walla; he'd do the whole thing in one 12-hour day, and we'd stop for dinner at Sizzler about an hour or so outside of town. We'd stay in Walla Walla, sometimes for as long as three weeks, then my parents would meet us there or we'd rendezvous at a family reunion on the Oregon coast or at the Black Butte Ranch near Sisters, Oregon.
While at my grandparents' house, my brother and I were in baseball immersion camp. Pop found time to play with us every day, pitching from behind home plate as we'd smack balls, five a turn, into a backstop where one rung meant a single, two a double, three a triple, and over the backstop a home run. We'd also play catch in his endless backyard; he'd throw long balls and we'd chase after them, laying out for "spectacular catches," the name we gave that particular drill. We'd play in his huge garden; while he would spend endless hours picking enormous raspberries (which Nan would turn into delicious jams), we'd throw the various fallen fruits and vegetables into an oversized barrel of dirt and compost which we called "elephant stew." In the evening we'd watch baseball on his new-fangled cable TV system, which included the fledgling ESPN station. Nan was just as much a part of those endless summer days, feeding us, taking us to the swimming pool or to rendezvous with her friends' grandchildren, indulging us with shopping trips for toys and baseball cards, joining us on the golf course (though when I grew frustrated with the game, I usurped her cart-driving duties), and making sure we spent time reading. Both of my grandparents were avid readers and firm believers in intellectual pursuits.
In retrospect, I realize how lucky my brother and I were to share so much time with my grandparents; my cousins, who are five and seven years younger and lived much closer in Seattle, didn't get the same mass quantity of quality time, didn't know them in the same way. I've written before about Pop's impact on my love of baseball and the Dodgers, but Nan figures into the story as well. I inherited her near-photographic memory, and it's served me well in my baseball fandom when it comes to remembering stats or recalling where I read something.
Pop's hearing seriously declined in the last decade of his life and he never really adjusted to wearing a hearing aid, often turning the damn thing off and missing out on a lot of conversation. The same thing eventually happened to Nan, I think, but she retained her mental acuity well into her nineties, and up until a couple years ago, we could still carry on a lengthy conversation. She was a sharp, funny woman, with a strong sense of what was right and wrong in the world.
Pop had always discouraged Nan from talking much about her life before coming to the U.S. because it would upset her so, and it wasn't until his passing that we finally got the full story of their escape from Vienna and the fate of her parents. She had come down to Salt Lake over Labor Day weekend when I was there, and at some point, said she wanted to "tell it all." I didn't give her much chance to reconsider, running out to buy a microcassette recorder even when I had two sitting in my desk drawer back in New York City. I interviewed her for about an hour, and while we occasionally had to pause for some chronological corrections from my dad, we got her amazing story in about as much detail as we ever would. I'm incredibly grateful for that, and extremely proud that she was able to pass it on -- even moreso as I prepare to say goodbye to her.
So long, Nan, and thank you for all of the wonderful years you gave us. We love you and will miss you, and we'll always remember you.
Nothing to say but WOW as to the Yankees' acquisition of Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle from the Phillies for four Yankee minor leaguers, none of them top-shelf,, the most familiar of which are C.J. Henry, the team's #1 pick in 2005, and 27-year-old LOOGY Matt Smith, who hadn't allowed a run in 12 innings while riding the Columbus shuttle eleventeen times. For whatever his power outage -- he hasn't homered since June 13 and has just eight on the year -- Abreu carries a career .412 OBP (31 points higher than Bernie Williams, the man whose at-bats he'll be usurping in the short term). That will fit in marvelously with the Yankee offense, no matter what kind of logjam it creates when (if?) Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield return (the latter can kiss his chances of having his option picked up by the Yanks goodbye, but that's a story for another day).
The real slam dunk for the Yanks is that they dodged having to pick up Abreu's $16 million option for 2008, something Abreu's agent said would likely be necessary to waive his no-trade clause. The Phillies bought out Abreu's no-trade for the meager sum of $1.5 million, with the understanding that the Yanks aren't picking up the option and will instead pay his $2 million buyout. Pennies on the dollar, kids.
The other major facet of this trade is that no matter how mediocre Cory Lidle is (and he's the dictionary definition), he's replacing a four-headed hydra of Sidney Ponson, Shawn Chacon, Kris Wilson, and Aaron Small who allowed 38 runs in 30 innings over eight starts in June and July. That's less than four innings a start, a lot of mopup for a bullpen that's often had to turn to whichever of these guys hadn't already blown them out of the game, with similarly harrowing results.
A few quick takes from my Baseball Prospectus colleagues with whom I've been discussing this deal over the past day:
• Nate Silver ran through various permutations matching up several teams with the potential acquisitions of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and Abreu to see which ones improved which team's Postseason Odds the most (nice visuals of the day-by-day Odds change by a BP fan here). Conclusion: the Yanks' addition of Abreu was a 14.2% upgrade -- the largest bump possible of the 21 scenarios he evaluated (he neglected to include Texas, whose chances with Lee must have jumped 10-12 percent) and that's without considering the effect of Lidle.
Similarly, the rotation finally has a fifth man who doesn't automatically make you wonder who's available for a multi-inning middle-relief gig. Consider the combined performances of Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, Aaron Small and Kris Wilson:
That's three games that Chacon provided that most teams with a normal offense can win, none since May 6. Now, admittedly, I'm fudging something with Lidle, in that I'm counting two more quality starts than other sources, but that's because he lost two quality starts in the seventh inning, after he'd already given the Phillies the standard six innings while allowing three or fewer runs. (I refer to those as Blown Quality Starts, or BQS, probably my first and only contribution to the universe's statistical alphabet soup.) So, to give Lidle his due, the man has pitched winnable ballgames in two-thirds of his starts despite having a hitters' park as his home, and despite having to pitch 13 of his 21 starts in said bandbox. Now, even if he's "just" a six-inning starter, and even if he's just a 75-pitch starter, he's giving his team outings they can work with to win. Sure, he'll have to face the DH instead of the pitcher's slot, and he'll probably also have to face the Yankees' tough opponents in the East. Even so, he won't be pitching in Philadelphia. As long as somebody gives Joe Torre a good set of instructions on how to operate his shiny pre-owned fifth starter, the Yankees have themselves a major upgrade in the rotation that's almost as significant as Abreu will be in the lineup.
My WAG? The Yankees probably just added four wins in the final 60 games, with Lidle probably being every bit as responsible for that as Abreu. That's not just an upgrade, that's a massive difference, and a reflection on what's being replaced. This doesn't simply help the Yankees keep up with the competition, they now have a much better shot at winning not merely the wild card, but their own division, and they can better withstand an injury in either their rotation or lineup than before.
It’s more apparent what this deal does for the Yankees: it scares the hell out of the Red Sox. Set aside Abreu’s power outage and Lidle’s averageness, and consider the playing time the two will be assuming. Aaron Guiel (.214/.290/.536) and Andy Phillips (.242/.276/.406) will be sitting down so that Abreu’s .277/.427/.434 can play, with Bernie Williams (.280/.326/.428) losing some playing time now and the rest when Hideki Matsui returns. It’s 100-150 points of OBP; if Abreu doesn’t hit another homer and plays right field like Jim Leyland after two packs, he’s still worth two wins between now and October.
It breaks my heart to say this—I’m the guy who calls the 1996-2000 Yankees not the “Derek Jeter” teams but the “Bernie Williams” ones—but Williams isn’t a useful player any longer, recent hot streak notwithstanding. I was wrong about his career path; if you look in the BP annuals, you’ll see frequent references to how Williams could add power late in his career, especially once he left center field. That never happened; Williams just dropped off at 34 and then again at 36, and he’s now not even an adequate extra outfielder. Objectively, Guiel—with lefty sock and good corner defense—has more on-field value to this team. That’s not how it will play out, but it’s a damning criticism of the player Williams is today.
...All through July, I stood to the idea that the Yankees wouldn’t be able to make a major acquisition because Brian Cashman was committed to keeping Philip Hughes and Jose Tabata in the organization. Without those guys as chips, I didn’t see the Yankees as having enough to acquire a player like Abreu, especially with teams like the Dodgers and Angels, with deep farm systems, on the prowl. Well, Cashman did it, and he didn’t even trade away the next group of guys, like Steven White or Eric Duncan. Instead, he leveraged the Yankees’ cash reserves and negotiated a terrific deal for his team, one that should make them a favorite to reach the playoffs for the 12th straight season.
• • •
Meanwhile, held over from Friday due to the Floyd Landis doping scandal is my latest piece at the New York Sun, which examines the MVP races as the season's 2/3 mark approaches, using BP's Wins Above Replacement Player and Win Expectancy metrics to sort out the real impact players. The conclusion? In the NL, it's Albert Pujols (7.7 WARP and a league best 6.81 Wins Added), with Carlos Beltran (6.9 WARP prior to yesterday's grand slam -- his third of the month -- and a distant 10th at 2.48 Wins Added) and Brandon Webb -- that's right, a pitcher -- at 6.7 WARP and 5.78 Wins Added (via Support Neutral Lineup Adjusted Value Above Replacement, the awkwardly-named pitching counterpart). In the AL, it's the year of the pitcher:
n the AL, the MVP award is up for grabs, and if WARP rankings are taken to heart, the field is dominated by pitching. Hurlers on contenders occupy six of the top seven spots; the Twins' Francisco Liriano (7.4) and Johan Santana (7.3) lead the pack, followed by Boston's Jonathan Papelbon (6.6), who like Liriano is a rookie.Leading the WARP chase among hitters is Cleveland's Grady Sizemore (6.0), but with the Indians — a hip preseason pick to win the AL Central after a near-miss last year — now 12 games under .500 and 25.5 out, he doesn't belong in this MVP discussion. A hair behind him is among hitters is the Twins' Joe Mauer (5.9). He's hitting .371/.443/.525, topping the league in batting average and helping his team charge into the Wild-Card picture with a 42–19 record since May 19. Not coincidentally, that date marks when Liriano, who leads the league in ERA at 1.96, entered the rotation.
...No MVP discussion is complete without Boston's David Ortiz, who leads the majors with 35 homers thanks to a spree of 17 in his last 36 games. Ortiz, runner-up to Alex Rodriguez in last year's MVP voting, weighs in at an unremarkable 4.6 WARP; as a DH, he's not adding any defensive value. But true to his reputation as a clutch hitter, he leads the AL in Win Expectancy Added with 4.15, well ahead of closest pursuers Jeter (3.40) and Dye (3.28), not to mention Mauer (2.53). Pitchers Papelbon (5.86) and Santana (5.27) trump that total, however, as do fellow hurlers Justin Verlander (5.22 from yet another rookie) and Roy Halladay (4.65).
You can check the rest of the piece here (PDF). I'll have more commentary on deadline deals tomorrow; for now, the Hit List awaits.