Sam is one of the excellent writers for LoHud, a must-read for Yankee fans.
- Who is ultimately to blame for Johnny Damon not being a Yankee?
Johnny Damon. You can blame Scott Boras as much as you want, but Damon is nobody's patsy - he made the calls on what he wanted out of this free agency and he thought he was worth more than the Yankees were offering. That's on him.
- If the season started tomorrow, who's the fifth starter?
I go with Hughes. Ideally, Hughes and Joba would both be starters but the Yankees have always been a here-and-now team so there's only one spot. Assuming both pitch decently in spring training, I'd give it to Hughes.
- If you could only re-sign one of Jeter and Mo, who would it be?
Wow - tough question. I guess I'd say Rivera, but only because I think it's more likely he'd end up accepting a contract that didn't have the potential to be difficult to handle on the back end. I'm just not sure what Derek Jeter at 40-plus years old is going to look like, and I have a feeling Jeter's going to want a deal that will take him into that neighborhood. With Rivera, I'm confident he'll still be good for two or three more years (which is likely to be the length of his next deal); can I say the same for the length of Jeter's next six seasons or so? I guess I could, but I have a lot less certainty about it. Ultimately, if I had to choose between the two of these guys I'd probably just tell Hank Steinbrenner that he had to make the call.
- Who was your baseball team growing up and why?
I know it's heresy, but I didn't really have a baseball team growing up. I was a big basketball/hockey guy as a kid (loved the Knicks and Rangers and still do), and soccer has always been my biggest passion. There's a particularly large international readership on the LoHud blog so my allegiance to Arsenal, which is a team in London, has been an occasional flashpoint. In terms of baseball, being picked to cover the Yankees at the Daily News pretty early in my career meant that I quickly came to appreciate certain players more than particular teams. I think any writer would tell you that's sort of a natural progression.
- What's the best and worst parts of being a beat writer for the Yankees?
True story: I remember when I first got the beat and was having a conversation with Bob Hohler, who used to cover the Red Sox for the Boston Globe. Before coming to sports, Bob had covered the White House and so I asked him which was more difficult: Covering baseball or the President of the United States? He looked at me like I was nuts. "Baseball," he said. "And it's not even close."
The hours required to do a baseball beat well - especially one like the Yankees - are just insane. Readers don't see a lot of the grinding, whether it's early-morning wake-up calls to get 6 am flights or the lonely drive home at 1 a.m. when you know you've got to be up early to start making calls. There's nothing like the competition in New York and now, in the age of Twitter and blogs and other social-media, the news-cycle really is non-stop. That can take its toll.
That said, there's nothing quite like the feeling of knowing so much about one particular team. As a general columnist now, I get to write about all the different sports but I always find a comfort in writing about the Yankees - even though I don't follow them as closely as I did when I was strictly a beat writer, they'll always be the team I keep more than just an eye on. Old habits die hard. That's why I'm glad to have the chance to keep writing about them with some frequency on the LoHud blog.
- What's your favorite personal anecdote about a Yankee player, coach or executive?
I don't know why, but for some reason this story about Phil Hughes has always been one of my favorites: When he was a new draftee in 2004, the Yankees invited Hughes to throw a bullpen for them before an interleague game at Dodger Stadium. Phil was giddy taking in the whole scene, everything from getting to work in the bullpen while Joe Torre and Mel Stottlemyre watched, to showering in the big league clubhouse with all the Yankees around. As he was getting dressed and preparing to head back out to the stands where he'd watch the game with his family (Hughes grew up in California), Jason Giambi - one of the few players I've ever known to put hair gel in BEFORE he goes out for a game - offered Hughes some of his mousse. Hughes happily accepted.
Fast forward a half hour, and Hughes arrives in the stands and meets his family. There is lots of proud hugging and back-slapping going on, and the mood is terrific ... until Hughes's mom, Dori, accidentally brushes her hand against Hughes's hair. "Mom, what are you doing???" Hughes says, freaking out. "That's Giambi gel! That's Giambi gel!"
According to Dori, it was like Hughes had planned to never wash his hair again.
Thanks to Sam for the time and the great answers.