BL: For Yankees fans the 2008 season has not begun as they had hoped. The team has hovered around the .500 mark, endured costly injuries to two of their biggest offensive threats and witnessed horrible starts from their two young starters [Hughes & Kennedy]. Have you yet been surprised with their poor overall performance and the proverbial "lack of fire" demonstrated under Joe Girardi's stewardship? After all, this was supposed to be a more fiery ballclub than the teams we saw during the final years of Joe Torre's tenure, retaliation hit batsmen aside.
Graziano: I'm not surprised they've started slowly. The biggest question facing the Yankees going into spring training was starting pitching, and that remains their biggest question. Their lineup is very strong and will score a lot of runs, slow starts notwithstanding. Their bullpen has its flaws, but it's not perceptibly worse than anybody else's. The plain fact is, if they get enough starting pitching, they'll be fine, and if they don't, they'll probably miss the playoffs. Right now, Mussina and Rasner have been their best guys while Wang and Pettitte have been struggling and Joba is still morphing. They have reason to believe that quintet will get it done, but they need to put together some consistent turns through the rotation. As for "fire," the clubhouse seems pretty lively to me, and lately they've shown a lot more late-game spunk.
BL: As unbelievable as Joba Chamberlain has been in the setup role, doesn't it seem like they're wasting his talents if the starting pitchers aren't even able to carry a lead into the seventh or eighth inning for him to protect?Graziano: I agree that Joba should be a starter, and I think moving him to the rotation is the right move for the Yankees in 2008 and beyond.
BL: The Star Ledger sports section has always been my personal favorite daily to turn to, particularly for their coverage of MLB. With your recent foray into the blogging world what have you recognized within the online format when contrasted with the conventional newspaper form? Do you feel there is validity to the idea that blogging threatens to "dumb down" the content for both writers and readers, or do you believe there's space for it as a unique journalistic niche?
Graziano: There's no doubt there's space for it, but I do caution against calling it journalism. Sure, some blogging is journalism. But much of it is opinion and observation from people who don't go out and find out information. The blogging I do for the nj.com site is mostly journalistic, since it is generated from the reporting I do -- talking to baseball people in person at the park and on the phone to find out what's going on, how the game is played, etc. There is certainly some opinion in there, and we do try to have some fun, but I think in general there is a difference between "journalism," which I define as procuring and disseminating information, and blogging by people with no access to said information. Please understand, I do not look down on blogging or bloggers at all. I think there's a lot of brilliant stuff being done out there. Some of it qualifies as journalism, because it's based on research and reporting. But much of it is not, and therefore doesn't, for me, fall into that category. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would have said...
BL: As someone who's worked as a print reporter, is under the age of 30 and somehow still religiously reads (and hopes to someday be read) daily in the sports pages, I find myself extremely conflicted over the explosion of online media. Considering you are a veteran newsman who is neither Buzz Bissinger-like (thinks online writing is blasphemous) or completely cyber-reliant, what is your take on the rise of the blog machine?Graziano: If I can try to condense, so as not to be Bissinger-bashed, I enjoy blogs and I love the role they play in our society. I think some of the media-criticism blogs probably don't take into account what actually goes into the daily performing of our jobs, but turnabout is fair play. For years, we've critiqued ballplayers who think we don't fully appreciate how hard their jobs are.
BL: At least one Yankees beat writer has painted Alex Rodriguez as a socially perplexing interview subject who frequently just walks off or puts on headphones to signal the end of an interview. Do you notice an increasingly obvious disconnect between players, writers and, by extension, the fans or is the media microscope simply more keen and relentless on professional athletes than ever before?Graziano: There's no doubt there's a disconnect. We don't live in their world, and they don't live in ours. Some of them hate us and resent that we're there. Some of them understand why we're there and work hard at their end of the reporter-subject dynamic. Most are quite pleasant and accommodating, some aren't. Alex is generally very distant, but sometimes you can get him one-on-one and he'll be great. He obviously knows a lot about how the game is played, and when he's willing to share it, he can be a big help to your reporting.
BL: It seems some New York writers forget that though he may seem mute in comparison with his elder, louder brother Hank, Mr. Hal Steinbrenner actually has equal say in all Yankees matters. What is your take on the new direction of Yankees ownership? Does the "mellow versus macho" dynamic [Hal and Hank] smell like a recipe for disaster or are they just a great source of backpage copy?
Graziano: It certainly smells like trouble, and there does seem to already have been some behind-the-scenes head-butting between the two. For instance, Hank Steinbrenner said last week that he planned to talk to Cashman about a new contract. Hal said it wasn't true, then Hank went ahead and did it. I wonder, going forward, how the two will operate together. And I suspect that the unknown aspect of that is part of the reason Cashman is holding off on deciding whether he'll be back. If it looks like working for Hank/Hal will be as bad as or worse than working for their dad was, he might want to skedaddle. And I think it's too early to know for sure.
BL: You said earlier that this team's clubhouse has shown some fire of late. What sort of uncharacteristic behavior would the casual baseball fan be surprised to hear about the Yankees who are often portrayed as robotic, corporate, drones?
Graziano: The mustache thing, I guess. Mussina's quote board. I just get a different feel in there than I used to. I mean, fans like to talk about those Tino Martinez/Scott Brosius/Paul O'Neill teams playing with "fire," but that didn't translate to the clubhouse. That clubhouse was quiet, corporate and stuffy. This one is much looser in general, and a more comfortable place for us to do our jobs for sure. This is a more approachable, friendly group of players who seem to like each other a great deal. They've even come to tolerate Alex. [laughs]
Again, a big thanks goes out to Dan for taking time out of his hectic schedule to offer some knowledge and insight on the Yankees universe. And if you don't already, be sure to check out his work in the Ledger in print as well as online.BL: Finally, what do you tell the large segment of the Yankees fanbase who are contemplating a Brooklyn Bridge swan dive? Are the Bombers poised for their first quiet October since the strike year or will they take advantage of an underwhelming crop of American League contenders - Tigers, Mariners, etc. - and pull out a playoff berth?Graziano: I picked them to make the playoffs (and the Tigers to miss) before the season started. Personally, I'm thinking the Rays, A's, White Sox are all poised for a fall and the Yankees will play better. It won't be easy, and I have no way of knowing if they'll make it, but there's no way to rule them out. They've come back from worse, for sure.