Wednesday, May 27, 2009

FREE WANG; CURB CASHMAN

"What's the difference between Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman? When I talk to the Red Sox GM, I know I'm speaking to someone smarter than me; when I talk to his Yankees counterpart, I worry I'm not." --anonymous colleague of Selena Roberts

Brian Cashman, the GM only a Steinbrenner could love or a personality cult, revere. For every conspicuous eclat there corresponds the inexplicable and exasperating folly.

Witness the last year alone. He steals from Pirates but seizes the wrong bounty, returning with Nady and Marte instead of Bay. Meanwhile, the money he saves by replacing Abreu with Nady, he squanders on 3-years for Marte. He nets Swisher with ground bait. Yet to hook AJ Burnett, he goes ice fishing, wearing leaden boots and carrying golden lures. He scavenges amid the dross of Berroa and Tomko but won't spend a farthing for Ty Wigginton or Juan Cruz. He courts and seduces Sabathia and snares Teixiera by outflanking his eternal rival. Yet he relinquishes draft picks he could have retained had he offered Abreu the arbitration the ex-Yankee later confessed he would have refused. In 2006, his first two draft picks yield Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain; in 2008, they yield, quite literally, nothing-- Cole, a pitcher he can't sign and Bittle, a pitcher he doesn't want to.

The contradictions, half-measures, and lapses proliferate. To begin the 2009 season, Cashman's roster includes not a single long-reliever. 6 weeks later, it boasts three. One of whom just so happens to have been the orangization's best starter the previous three seasons. Raising, as such, the question: how do either the Yankees or Chien Ming Wang gain by interning him in the bullpen?

The team, certainly, doesn't. Because just as using Joba as a reliever wastes his talent -- and Cashman, despite the critics, is right; you don't waste pitchers with Chamberlain's potential and repertoire in the bullpen -- Chien Ming-Wang, by the same logic, doesn't belong there either. In fact, because Wang averages 4.0 K's/9 and 1.3 WHIP, in any role beyond mop-up, he may even pose a liability.

Yet Wang doesn't stand to benefit much from the role either. Again, witness the contradiction. If, as Girardi contends, pitching more, following his surgery, is necessary to strengthen Mariano's arm and bolster his velocity, then why would Chien Ming-Wang, recuperating from an injury that, likewise, has sapped his fastball and attenuated his sinker, profit from a long-reliever's role that, by definiton, consigns him to pitch less, to appear more sporadically if not also less frequently, and to compete for innings with two other pitchers who fulfill the identical role, Aceves and Tomko?

Why? Because in August 2007, when 39-year-old Mike Mussina was reeling, having suffered three consecutive batterings to the tune of a 19.00 ERA, a month's mental and physical respite partially restored him? Of course, a major injury and 9-month hiatus didn't account for Mussina's woes either. Moreover, Mussina never regained his velocity. He simply learned to pitch without it, slowing his breaking pitches and changeup to compensate. If the Yankees think Wang can emulate him, remake himself, and morph into a finesse pitcher, they're seriously deluding themselves.

DICE-K v. WANG: A STUDY IN CONTRASTS

Observe what the Red Sox did with Dice-K, by contrast, under circumstances similar, if not identical, to those the Yankees confronted with Wang. The difference, as usual, is instructive.

If you recall, Dice-K returned from the WBC with a "dead arm" after the Japanese team abused him. As a consequence, after his first two starts in April, he'd posted a 12.79 ERA and his fastball, which had averaged between 92mph and 94mph a start in '07 and '08, fell below 90. So, the Red Sox disabled him in mid-April and sent him for rehabilitation in AAA Pawtucket. In the meantime, they returned Masterson to the rotation and called up another starter, Michael Bowden, to replace Masterson's spot in the bullpen.

Then, they waited. They waited, patiently, for Dice-K's arm to recover, intent on exhausting every one of the 30 days available to them (the limit for major league players on minor league rehabilitation assignments.) After 3 starts in Pawtucket, Dice-K's velocity returned to its customary range in the mid-low 90's and the Red Sox activated him. He hardly has dominated since returning, but in his two starts since he certainly has fared better than he did in April. More importantly, his arm has recovered, and he's returned to the Red Sox rotation, where he only stands to improve.

Compare Wang's trajectory. Like the Red Sox, the Yankees disable their pitcher after hitters bludgeon him in consecutive outing. On April 18th, they send Wang to the DL and dispatch him to Tampa for medical testing and rehabilitation. Three weeks later, they start him in Scranton. Yet in neither of his two starts, on May 12 and May 17, according to Chad Jennings, beat reporter for the Scranton Yankees did Wang's fastball or his sinker match their traditional speed, break, or potency. (Cashman's subsequent report concurred with Jennings' observation.)

Yet the Yankees, in a rash, myopic, and inexplicable blunder, promote Wang anyway before determining whether or not they need him. Scheduled to start in Scranton on May 21st, the Yankees cancel his start in AAA, recall him to New York, sqaunder the 10-15 days and 2-3 more starts the rehabilitation clock allowed, and assign him to the Yankees bullpen to wait for an emergency start that never materializes.

THE LIE OF NECESSITY

The Yankees Front-Office insists, nonetheless, that they didn't want to foreclose Wang from starting in Scranton. Cashman claims circumstance left no alternative. That after a blow to the knee sidelined Chamberlain in the 1st inning on May 21st and Aceves pitched 3.3 innings in relief, the organization had to cancel Wang's scheduled May 22nd start in Scranton, to activate him from the disabled list, and to prepare him to start on May 26th in case Chamberlain couldn't.

The Front-Office's logic here is so tortured, their reasoning, so porous, I don't know what's worse: asking us to believe their cant or entertaining the possibility that they do. Who, you ask, would start on May 26th then if Chamberlain could not? Is not the answer obvious? Aceves. He was a starter, after all, in Scranton. Moreover, after pitching 3.3 innings on May 21st in relief of Joba, Aceves wasn't available anyway until May 25th (when Girardi wasted him in the 9th inning of a blow out.) Ironically, Aceves ended up pitching on May 26th anyway, as a reliever, true, but in a game he just as easily could have started.

The Yankees didn't need Wang in the interim. Against the Phillies, Tomko already offered the Yankees the security of a long-reliever for outings like May 22nd, where Girardi used Wang for three innings instead. Once recalled, Robertson or Melancon, meanwhile, could have filled Tomko's role. (The other Bruney, once they disabled him.)

Alternatively, if the Yankees concluded over the weekend that Joba couldn't start on May 26th, they could have enlisted any number of starters from Scranton or Trenton-- Igawa, Fossum, Johnson, McCallister, or Kontos--for an single, isolated start. Instead, they've activated Wang, consuming a roster spot and consigning their fallen ace to languish and to atrophy in the bullpen-- of help neither to his team nor to himself.

WANG: THE LITTLE BOY WHO PLAYS COY
To recap Wang's season thus far. In his first three outings, the Yankees' erstwhile ace surrendered 23 earned runs and lasted a sum total of 6 innings.

  • April 8th vs. Baltimore -- 3.67 innings, 7 earned runs


  • April 13th vs. Tampa -- 1 inning, 8 earned runs


  • April 18th vs. Cleveland- 1.33 innings, 8 earned runs


  • Total = 6.0 IPs, 34.50 ERA, 4.83 WHIP

  • The woeful performance speaks for itself. Rarely does an established major league pitcher falter so abjectly, let alone a starter of Wang's caliber and accomplishments. What's especially remarkable about Wang unraveling is that while even great major league pitchers suffer the occasional beating or struggle through a period of the season, Wang, throughout his career, seemed immune from both the wretched outing or the prolonged rut.

    Whatever cliched stereotype captures the exact opposite of the "little-girl with the curl" personified Wang instead. Not when she's bad, she's very bad; when he's bad, he apologizes and quickly atones.

    Indeed, from 2005 and 2008, Wang made 95 starts for the Yankees. He yielded 7 or more runs in a sum total of 5 outings. FIVE! To compare, over the identical period, the Great Halliday yielded seven or more runs in THREE starts and Josh Beckett faltered as badly EIGHT times.

    Wang also rebounded each time in the next start. Not did he repeat the ignominy in consecutive outings. (The sole exception, of course, occurred when Cashman and Torre decided to pitch Wang on three days rest in Game 4 of the 2007 ALDS.)

    THE NEED FOR SPEED
    Wang has accrued a chorus of detractors over the years, nonetheless, because unlike the traditional ace, his career strikeout ratio per 9 innings is 4.0, on the low side. Furthermore, Wang stirs the doubters because he relies so greatly on a single, above average pitch, his sinker, otherwise known as the two-seam fastball (although minor variations differentiate the two).

    True, Wang probably qualifies as a sinkerball pitcher. Nonethless, Wang differs from the traditional prototype because his velocity exceeds theirs-- a distinction (in both senses) that explains much of the success he's enjoyed.

    Compare Wang's to the classic sinkerball pitcher, for example. As defined by the league's best Groundball to Flyball ratio from 2005 to 2008, Brandon Webb (3.24) and Derek Lowe (2.99) probably rank as the league's two foremost sinkerball specialists. (Wang's GO/AO ratio over the same period, by contrast, is 2.54 and has fallen, progressively, each season.)

    Wang throws considerably harder than both of them. Albeit, not in the manner you might expect. It's the speed of Wang's four-seam fastball, oddly, where the Yankee pitcher excels. To illustrate, I compare below the average velocity for Wang, Webb, and Lowe's sinker and their four-seam (regular) fastball, as Fangraph reports the figures for 2007 through 2009.


  • Wang sinker - 90.0 mph; fb-- 92.3 mph


  • Webb sinker - 88.9mph; fb-- 88.5 mph


  • Lowe sinker - 89.7 mph; fb-- 89.2 mph

    The additional 3-4 mph on Wang's four-seamer makes a big difference, especially when opposing hitters have to contend with his sinker as well. Which may explain, in addition, why Wang also throws his four-seam fastball with much greater frequency than either Webb or Lowe. According to fangraphs, between '07-'09, four-seamers account for 71% of Wang's total. By contrast, Webb and Lowe, respectively, throw their four-seamers 60% and 57% of the time.

    EXIT VELOCITY
    From the figures cited above, one would surmise that if the velocity of Wang's four-seam fastball-- i.e., 71% of the pitches he throws-- fell precipitously it would impact his performance adversely. And as fate would have it, through Wang's first 3 starts in 2009, this is precisely what transpired. Below is a velocity graph from Fangraph.com which charts both the velocity range and average speed of Wang's four-seam fastball during given starts over the last three years.

    (Note: the graphic below only depicts starts for which Pitch Fx readings were available. Each gray line indicates a distinct start; its end points marks the velocity range; the dot in the middle shows the average speed for all four-seamers thrown.)



    The chart illustrates both (i) the prominent deficit in velocity in the pitcher's first three starts and (ii) the marked contrast it counterposes to Wang's starts in 2oo7 and 2008.


  • Three distinct indices underscore the shortfall. In those first three gray lines of 2009, the velocity range narrows, its high point falls, and in each, his average velocity hovers at the low point to which it had dropped in any discrete, isolated start over the previous two seasons.

    Of course, the good news is the fourth line. It registers Wang's relief outing on May 22, 2008 against the Phillies. Here, the nadir to which his fastball's velocity plunges actuallly exceeds the average registered in each of his three 2009 starts.

    The flip side to which is an obvious caveat and a tacit qualification. Though Wang's three innings in relief almost match, in duration, his longest outing, thus far, as a starter, he entered in the 6th inning and consciously, in the role of reliever. Perhaps, his velocity rose merely because entering the game in the 7th inning, he could "air it out", as they say, knowing his appearance wouldn't exceed 3 innings. (A tie game would have enlisted Mo.)

    The qualification, actually, is two-fold. First, in his outing in relief, Wang yielded 2 earned runs, while his WHIP was a woeful 2.33, and only a remarkable Cano play behind 2nd base in the 8th inning to start a double play prevented Wang from yielidng more than a run. Second, and more ominous, is the danger that the improved velocity and performance will prompt the GM to conclude that Wang somehow stands to improve as his innings in relief rise. Not likely. If he's not used with greater frequency than twice a week, the likelihood only diminishes.

    All of which only further serves to remind me how much I'd like to trust in Brian Cashman's judgment but don't.

    Friday, May 15, 2009

    THE PAST THAT NEVER DIES: 2009's FIRST QUARTER REPORT:

    "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety..." Anthony and Cleopatra
    "As full of grief as age; wretched in both..."-- King Lear


    The season dies an ignominious death. An august, hallowed Stadium closes. Autopsies ensue.

    Management confers; the Front-Office re-evaluates. A new regimen looms.

    Coaches are dismissed. Old players depart, without ceremony. New players enter, with fanfare. Fans gush. Rivals complain. Critics hector and whine. Suddenly, yesterday's disappointment evaporates and tomorrow's expectations soar.

    Finally, Spring arrives, and hope abounds as a grand new Coliseum opens. Columnists evoke the Golden Age. Pundits foresee a dynasty resurrected. Executives congratulate their own triumph.

    Only then, they play the games. And the results? The results, inexplicably, exasperate and disappoint. Despite the dramatic changes, Despite the lavish expenditures, Despite the giddy confidence, the outcome on the Diamond somehow doesn't differ from last year or for that matter, the year before.

    On May 15, 2009, the Yankees stand at 17-17. If you hear an eerily familiar ring in it, you haven't succumbed deja vu, just the recurrence of an unpleasant memory. For something like it has happened before-- twice in fact. Last year, through 34 games, the Yankees were 17-17, and in '07, the team was a nearly identical 16-18.

    What explains the Sisyphean fortune of an organization that with all its financial might, pushed the Rock of Fate up the hill only to see it return whence it came.

    New York Post columnist Joel Sherman attributes it "to beautiful karmic justice," the fruits of building a "$1.5 billion temple to exclusion and greed." (New York Post, May 14, 2009). Sherman, it seems, fantasizes a Jobian world in which God visits injury on the prosperous for the sin of having too much money. In March, Sherman wrote of Alex Rodriguez after doctors diagnosed his hip injury, "“His insatiable needs and greeds... Phil Helmuth at his side, Warren Buffet involved in his contract negotiations, Madonna in his bed... has blown up [on him].”-- "Alex Has Time to Get Hip" Sherman, NY Post, March 6, 2009. (To which one might add an author's note, "And, conversely, Mike Lupica in my columns." Albeit, with comparatively more coherent and lucid prose-- hardly the most dazzling accomplishment considering the prototype.)

    (The irony, of course, is that for all his criticism of Yankee elitism, Sherman's theodicy bespeaks the ressentiment of the Boston Brahmin. From Yawkey to Henry, Red Sox ownership has sought to impose upon baseball the manner and ethos of the Mayflower Yacht Club-- turning it into some patrician clique where modesty, forbearance, and genteel bon homie prevails and the brash upstart and impudent noveau-riche know their place. May the Landsdowne Gentry kindly eat cake. )

    No, the Yankees' recurring lackluster starts isn't owed to supernatural causes, karmic or Calvinist. What links the 2007, 2008, and 2009 Yankees and largely explains their lackluster starts is the common trait between them-- the frailty that has endured notwithstanding the brand new free-agents, the revamped and replenished roster, the deeper, fortified rotation. In a word, their age.

    In 2007, the Yankee roster averaged 30.7 years of age. In 2008, it was 31.4. In 2009, it's 3o.4. The average age of their lineup has varied even less: 30.6, 31.3, 30.3, respectively. And age's greatest handicap, as the Yankees Disabled List for the months of April and May the last three seasons dramatically illustrates, is its vulnerability to injury.

    In 2008, injuries disabled A-Rod, Jeter, Posada, Bruney, and the Yankees' prospective third starter, Phil Hughes, in April and May. (Matsui joined the walking wounded in late June.)

    In 2009, injuries, again, have sidelined A-Rod, Jeter, Posada, Bruney, and the Yankees' prospective third starter, Wang, in April and May. (Nady, Molina, Marte, Matsui, and Coke have joined this year's walking wounded besides.)

    Sure, the bizarre parallels invites superstitious associations. But the stark truth is that three of the four players on whose health the Yankees' fortune depends because the organization cannot replace their production -- Rivera, Posada, and A-Rod-- will be 34 or older by season's end. And all the conditioning in the world can't arrest the aging process nor can it immunize them from injury. Indeed, barring the sudden emergence in the organization of worthy successors, this Achilles Heel will imperil their championship aspirations for the foreseeable future.

    IGNORE THAT INJURED HITTER BEHIND THE CURTAIN
    Wait, the skeptic demurs, the 2009 Yankees, through 33 games, have scored 181 runs (5.48 per game) which is 4th in the AL. Meanwhile, they've allowed 200 runs (6.6 per game) which places them at 14th, dead last in the AL. How then can injuries to A-Rod and Posada, among other less critical players, inform why the Yankees have languished in April and May of 2009?

    Well, the two American league teams who rank 1st and 2nd in Runs Scored happen to be the two teams leading the Yankees in AL East standings at present, the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.

    Leave aside Toronto for a moment however. Indeed, truth be told, what distinguishes the Red Sox and Yankees at the moment isn't Runs Scored but Runs Allowed. (Boston ranks third in the AL in runs scored and excels the Yankees 5.68 to 5.48 in average runs per game.) Nonetheless, the 3.5 games that separates them is owed largely to the full less run per game their pitching has allowed-- the Red Sox's average 5.2 RA (10th in the AL) to the Yankees' 6.06 RA (14th, dead last).

    This returns us, however, to the 4th indispensable Yankee, I alluded to above. The appreciation due him notwithstanding, the Yankee season no longer rises and falls on Derek Jeter, not anymore. No, the 4th indispensable Yankee is the one easiest to take for granted-- Chien Ming-Wang.

    What, you say, Heresy! Get Thee to the Stake and Await Thy Doom: Wang isn't even the team's Number #1 starter! CC Sabbathia now is.

    Sure, every available index-- from the inning totals Sabathia has averaged, to the ERA he has posted in Cleveland, to the Cy Young Award he won--suggests he can be the Yankees' premiere starter, their pillar, their ace. But he hasn't fulfilled that role just yet, not entirely and only the gauntlet of the full season will determine, definitively, whether CC can claim the mantle.

    Regardless, the AL East is not the NL Central. CC alone, accordingly, is not enough. For their duel with Boston, the Yankees will require a second.

    IF WANG BE DONE, THE HEAVENS MAY FALL
    Recall the enigma with which we began-- why the Yankees stand 17-17-- and where it led-- to the 14th and last place the Yankees occupy in the AL in Runs Allowed. To appreciate the importance of Wang, consider the following hypothetical. How would the Yankees have fared thus far had Wang been Wang?

    That is, replace Wang's three wretched 2009 outings and Hughes' checkered three with the average performance Wang's career statistics would lead one to extrapolate over six starts. Suddenly, the gap between New York and Boston narrows considerably.

    In 6 combined starts in 2009, Hughes and Wang pitched 17.67 innings and surrendered 34 earned runs, totalling an ERA of 17.32.

    By contrast Wang's historical statistics would project him throwing 38.76 innings over 6 starts (6.48 IP per start) and yielding 18 earned runs, the total his 4.09 ERA would predict.

    This significance for the Yankees' Runs Allowed is two-fold.

    1) First, over the 17.67 innings Injured Wang and Phil Hughes actually pitched, a hypothetical Healthy Wang would have cost the Yankees 16 less runs. The saving doesn't end there however.

    2) For over the 21.1 of the innings-- see above 38.76 IPs [Hypothetical Wang]- 17.67 IPs[Injured Wang+Hughes]-- that the Yankees bullpen had to absorb after Girardi removed Injured Wang and Phil Hughes (approximately the next 3.5 innings per game afterward)-- during those 21.1 innings a healthy Wang would have pitched instead, the Yankees bullpen yielded another 20 runs.

    Accordingly, in 2009, had a healthy Wang pitched and merely matched his career averages in ERA and in Inning Pitched, the Yankees, through 33 games, would have surrendered no more than 184 runs and perhaps, as few as 170 runs.

    Using James' Pythagorean Theorem expectation (Rs^2/RS^2 + RA^2= Win %), we can deduce that with a healthy Wang pitched the Yankees would have won between 1.5 and 3 more games, the difference between undifferentiated mediocrity (.485 baseball) and post-season contention (.560 baseball) and at present, the distance between Boston and New York in the standings.

    Or consider Wang's importance this way. Assume for the sake of argument, for a moment, that Sabathia realizes his full potential in Pinstripes, and in 2009, CC manages to duplicate Mike Mussina's performance in 2008, amassing a 3.37 ERA over 200+ innings. One ace merely would have replaced another. Then what? Remember what derailed the Yankees in 2008? Once injuries claimed, in succession, the two best starters behind Mussina, Wang and Chamberlain, the Yankees season, effectively, ended. On August 4, 2008, Chamberlain's final start in Texas, the Yankees were 5.5 games behind the Rays and 2.5 games behind the Red Sox. By months end, they'd fallen to 12 games out of 1st, and 7 behind the Red Sox.

    And if not Wang, whom? Would any Yankee fan care to bet that A.J. Burnett can replace the innings totals, the consistent quality starts, the reprieve for the bullpen and ballast for the rotation that Wang reliably conferred. As for Andy Pettitte, was last year the aberration or the omen? Meanwhile, the Yankees, wisely, have excluded Joba from the second's role, a priori. On his current pace, his inning cap is likely to expire sometime in August.

    At this writing, Wang is poised to start on Sunday, May 17th for AAA Scranton and rumors abound that it will be his last in the minors. I hope not-- not if Wang's velocity continues to stall at 90-92 mph, 3-5 mph lower than he typically throws. To appreciate how precipitous the decline in Wang's velocity, witness the following chart I copied from Fangraph.Com. By plotting his fastball's velocity through 2007, 2008, and 2009, the graph dramatically illustrates 2009's deviation from his prior two years-- the range contracts, the apex and nadir fall.



    Nothing could harm Wang's confidence, recovery, and season-- and with it, the Yankees' fortunes-- more than his returning prematurely only to endure another battering.

    Wang's velocity compensates for his sinker's occasional habit of moving laterally instead of dropping vertically; it also enables his slider and change up to deceive hitter by changing speeds. Without it, Wang is no more formidable or reliable than Sidney Ponson. And without Wang, the 2009 Yankees are no more formidable than the 2008 incarnation and no less liable to recapitulate the latter's fate through its first 34 games as through its final 128.

    Sunday, May 3, 2009

    INVESTIGATING THE INVESTIGATORS: Ms. Roberts' Profession

    “Tell them that God bids us do good for evil: And thus I clothe my naked villainy with old odd ends stolen out of holy writ; and seem a saint, when most I play the devil.” – Richard, III

    So who is Selena Roberts? With Joel Sherman of the New York Post and John Heyman of Sports Illustrated extolling the New York Times’ former sports columnist, respectively, as an “excellent reporter” and the “best [in fact], I’ve ever worked with,” curiosity mounted. I felt compelled to observe first-hand-- well, almost first-hand anyway-- the "Many Lives" of the reporter who can reduce her notoriously cynical colleagues to "hero-worship" (to borrow one of the tropes Heyman himself employs to describe fans indifferent to players' steroid use).

    I’d already read and scrutinized her work (See “Selena’s Poison Pen,” April 21, 2009). But still, I wondered, who was the real woman behind it? And how did she become the veritable A-Rod of the New York press? Why does she inspire such fierce loyalty? Where do all the rapt acolytes come from?

    So to find out, The Yankees Republic dispatched its own investigative reporter, Peter Fallow, to Westport Connecticut, where the Hall of Fame journalist resides, to answer these questions and to capture Selena Roberts in her multiple guises and manifold lives.

    Fallow, recently, filed this report.


    SELENA KEEPS STORE
    Beneath the facade of the muckraking journalism, Selena Roberts conceals her lust for vengeance and will to power. In the name of exposing the sports world’s misogyny and corruption, she channels her inner Dickens -- a personality comprised of two parts Miss Havisham and one part Fagin.

    *

    Past the Wine Cellar, Cohen’s Fashion Optics, Starbucks and the picturesque shops arrayed along Westport Connecticut’s Post Rd., a lone shabby, ramshackle sign, painted in mottled white, obtrudes. Its discolored, eroding typeface; its cracked, weather-beaten awninb; and the seedy shop inside is the one blight amid the posh d├ęcor otherwise characteristic of Main Street in one of New England’s affluent, late-sipping suburbs.

    The name of the store is “Selena’s Sportswear”. But the motto inscribed on the awning perhaps describes, more precisely, what its owner sells. It reads: “Enter and Ye Shall See the High and Mighty Fall… and Rejoice.”

    Yet the ravaged storefront and the tattered and stained bridal dress visible through the front window tell only half the story. The missing details neighboring proprietors, nonetheless, are all too eager to add. They speak of broken sewage pipes, of roach and vermin infestations, and of the faint stench of sulfur. More ominous still, they allude to moral transgressions, grave and sinister.

    “Selena’s Sewer, I call it,” said Murray Rosen, the owner of Westport Kosher Meat. “You know, we been trying to get rid of that farschtinkener hovel for years. But we can’t because our alta cocker mayor kisses Miss New York Times’ rear. Yeah, they think she’s a big deal up here. Like one rag is better than the next. What, Charmin wipes your ass cleaner than Scott.”

    Across the street the Palace of Panache’s chief interior designer Hayden Brown echoed Rosen’s distaste for the Post Rd.’s notorious blemish. “Look, what the woman does inside her store is her business. But outside affects everyone. And worse than the dirty storefront is that disgusting, old dress she displays in the window. It’s Sporting Goods store; what’s it doing there?”

    "She must have lost her virginity in it,” Ms. Brown’s young male assistant snickered. “And cheap, too— with that big book advance, she can’t spring for a cleaning woman? Uch.”

    Yet when Ms. Brown was asked to clarify what she meant by “what the woman does inside,” she refused to elaborate. All she’d allow was, “Let’s put it this way. My husband played football at Auburn. I know a thing or two about Selena Roberts that it wouldn’t be lady-like for me to repeat.”

    One of Ms. Brown’s customers harbored fewer reservations. “Come on, everybody knows what goes on inside that store,” she said, “Ask any of those kids outside with the hoodies and dirt bikes; they’ll tell you.”


    MISS HAVISHAM'S PROFESSION
    They did, indeed.

    An examination of Selena’s business creates the portrait of an author driven to publish a book on Alex Rodriguez as a “branding tool” to enlarge her public profile and to advance her social mission. No, she doesn’t exactly bear the singularly vindictive motive of a woman scorned, but the Miss Havisham caricature holds sway in Westport’s business community for a reason.

    Two weeks later, on a balmy, resplendent Saturday afternoon in April, Post Street bustled with young couples running errands, taking kids out for lunch, or indulging in a little idle window-shopping while basking in the sunshine.

    Selena’s Sportswear, oddly, hadn’t opened as yet for business. At one-thirty p.m. steel security gates fixed with padlocks still curtained the door and windows and veiled the interior from view. A motley group of prepubescent boys, along with a single slightly younger, androgynous girl, nonetheless circled the store continuously on BMX racing bikes, as though waiting for a parent to arrive.

    “When does the store open?” I asked.

    “Who wanna know?” the shortest among them replied.

    “Oh, just a customer looking for some new golf clothes.”

    “Yo, P., he look in a white dress, yo.”

    P. and company erupted in laughter.

    “Do you guys know when the store opens?”

    “When Momma feel like, yo. You feel me?” Apparently, Roberts had nurtured her brood in the art of loyalty.

    In ten years of available public documents, Selena’s Sportswear reported no less than a $50,000 loss every year. Accounting for depreciation and a one-time, paltry charitable contribution of $5.00 in 2006, paid to the Duke University chapter of “Take Back the Night,” Selena’s Sportswear has lost just shy of a million dollars over the last decade.

    For evident reasons, Selena doesn’t talk “biz” because Selena’s Sportswear doesn’t sell goods for profit. Commerce isn't its purpose at all. To the contrary, Selena’s Sportswear is a store “front,” quite literally. The commodity it trades is ideology; The service it peddles is indoctrination.

    “That yo phat ride, man?” the short white kid called P. Honey asked.

    I nodded.

    “Yo, that pretty far driving for golf shirts. They run out in New York,” he snickered. The bicycles came to an abrupt halt as P. Honey gestured toward the Empire State plates.

    “Yo, this a reporter or some shit, 'mon, boys, we outtie,” P. Honey announced and the troops fell in line with one notable exception.

    Incredulous, she rode over to examine the car in its entirety and within seconds, to her consternation and outrage, glimpsed the incriminating bumper sticker—the telltale interlocking N.Y.

    “You’re… You’re a Yankee fan,” she spluttered, her eyes welling with tears. “Can’t you people leave her alone? Why don’t you stop persecuting her?”

    “Sister Souljah,” P. Honey shouted, “Give it a rest. We outta here.”

    “You don’t understand. You don’t know how great Selena is. You don’t care. You want to destroy her.

    “Ever since I was little, my parents forced me to play tennis, to practice six hours every day. All they ever talked about was how I had this gift I had to use to become a professional tennis player. Tennis this, and Tennis that. They never asked whether I liked the sport, whether I wanted to play professional tennis, whether I could handle the sacrifice. I wasn’t even allowed to question it. They turned me into a nine-year-old freak, no friends, no education, no interests-- nothing but tennis.

    Then one day, I lost this match and couldn’t leave the Court afterward. I sat there, catatonic, for three hours. My parents, they didn’t care. They left me there to stew. But Selena saw me; she comforted me; she rescued me. She told me how stupid sports are. How it's just a game; it doesn't mean anything. She told me how selfish and vain and shallow athletes are.”

    “Enough,” P.Honey persisted, trying to stop her.

    “Selena told us all about her years covering professional sports in New York, the Yankees, in particular. She let us know how crass and stupid baseball players are. She told us all the dirty, vile things they say in the locker room. How they cheat on their wives and then abandon them. How they really hate women, all women. She taught us how athletes like A-Rod care only about money and fame and success. And she told us how deluded and psychotic you fans are that cheer for and defend them. How you act like animals in ballparks. How…”

    “Estelle, shut the FUCK UP, now!!!” P.Honey yelled, threw down his bike, grabbed her handlebars, and pulled her and her bicycle away, but not before this pitiable, precocious, tormented little girl vented her last, eloquent gasp of rage.

    “Don’t you get it: I AM SELENA!!”

    Indeed, few experiences compare to the humbling meted out by a nine-year-old girl when she illuminates the truth staring you in the face but couldn't see.

    Yes, poor Estelle, fated to nurse the vicarious grudges of a woman kept from the altar who longs, above all, to be on stage.

    For Ms. Roberts’ question of Alex Rodriguez “Will A-Rod ever worry about what’s beneath the moneymaking veneer? Or will he forever be Mr. Potter in pinstripes?” begs the converse, as well.

    That is, Will Selena Havisham ever probe beneath her veil of resentment? Will the spotlight she steals from A-Rod requite old grievances and bind ancient wounds; will the fifteen minutes of fame Miss Selena Havisham gains by destroying A-Rod's already battered reputation enable her, finally, to shed the soiled dress, to exhaust the poison pen and to leave her vindictive scorn behind.

    **********************************

    Whatever truth the foregoing story reveals, it, of course, contains not a kernel of fact (not unlike Selena Roberts’ columns.) As I understand it, Fallows' purpose, instead, was two-fold (i) to parody the agitprop the “excellent reporter” published in the New York Times on December 7, 2007, titled “A-Rod’s Properties and Charity Suggest Some Stinginess” and (ii) to mirror the facile and reductive caricature that informs Roberts' work and by all indications, her Manichean worldview. (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/07/sports/baseball/07roberts.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Potter&st=nyt)

    As such, the story you have read above consists solely of an exercise in imaginative speculation. Any resemblance it bears to reality is purely coincidental.