Chris Christie, Mike Francesa and WFAN

Broadcasting, Politics, Uncategorized

chris-christieThe idea of WFAN in New York replacing Mike Francesa with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sparked the inevitable jokes about the weight of the two men; Christie’s dystopian political future; and the station’s desperation to find a recognizable name with sufficient girth to fit into the groove of Francesa’s chair as well as the one he legitimately created as an innovator in sports talk radio.

On the surface, the response is a justifiable “Chris Christie?!?”

But it does make sense.

First, it must be considered whether Francesa is simply rattling the coins in his empty can of Diet Coke for a better deal when the reality sets in that he’s serious about leaving.

That might make sense were it 10 years ago and his former partner Chris Russo had just departed. He had the station’s financial future in his hands and he easily could have raked them to get exactly what he wanted. Now? Maybe not. The arguments for it being real are obvious. He’s 63-years old; he’s been doing this for 30 years; he has young children; and, for the past decade, has been working alone for up to six days a week – a grueling 30 hours – on the radio.

It’s not easy.

He’s often ridiculed for his frequent vacations, especially over the summer, but with the above factors, he does have the right to take some time off and not have to explain himself to anyone, nor to be unjustly lambasted for it.

On the flipside, this might be a negotiation with him seeking a reduced schedule at the same or more money.

It might be a combination.

Every utterance of Francesa must be judged within the context of an ego-driven agenda. For him to say that Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts are even under consideration to replace him is more of a threat with the between-the-lines statement of “This is what you’re relegated to if and when I leave” attached to it. Of course it’s possible that WFAN would replace Francesa with Beningo and Roberts to predictably disastrous results, but the idea of Christie, with that alternative of Joe and Evan, gets better and better.

Is this a contract negotiation that Francesa is pushing to the hilt? He notoriously serves as his own representative which, after his parting with the YES Network, led to an ill-advised, terribly implemented union for his radio show to be simulcast on Fox Sports 1. He was preempted seemingly more often that he was on with complaints from fans in the Metropolitan area who see the preemptor – European Football – in the following way:

The negativity with Francesa for his arrogance, ignorance, sudden entry into political prognostication and more is justified. However, if the criticism goes beyond a pointed critique of tangible content and it enters a realm of mean-spiritedness for its own sake, then the target can express displeasure and have something done about it. This is where the WFAN morning show of Boomer and Carton steps over the line.

Francesa is certainly not above being criticized, but when the morning show is going into professional wrestling mode and generating “heat” when Francesa has no interest in taking part in the gag, Francesa has the right to protest. Francesa is one of the main reasons that sports talk radio in general and WFAN in particular has become as big as it has. It’s difficult to envision the station having achieved its level of success and relevance without Mike and the Mad Dog, his former show with Russo.

Mentioning Russo is vital because once the pair split, Francesa looked at several options to replace him and then chose to do the show alone. Perhaps that was the intent all along. But that hardly matters. To claim that Francesa is “lazy” or that his threats at retirement are a financial ploy is a mistake.

And for it to come from Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton?

Esiason’s ego is Betelgeuse next to Francesa’s Pluto only with fractional foundation for it. He’s little more than a retired jock broadcasting hack who received every opportunity to be a media star, failed, and ended up having to get up at 4 a.m. to have a job in radio and is another replaceable, faceless, ignorable entity on dull NFL pregame shows and weekly roundups.

Would anyone notice if he was dispatched into obscurity?

Carton is the “me tough” testimony to faux outrageousness.

So yes, Francesa can react when he’s mocked by that entity and expect the station bosses to stop it. Could the failure to step in with workable sanctions to make it stop be, in part, why he’s walking?

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Flaws aside, when he’s on his game and motivated, he still has the power to create compelling radio that few others can.

This is why Francesa still matters.

About how many broadcasters can it be said, “I wonder what ‘X’ will say about this?”

Francesa works alone. In the past, he has gone on crafted rants and tailored his positions to suit an end (see this absurd 2012 rant about the New York Mets). He has also backtracked on things he’s repeatedly said without so much as an acknowledgement, let alone a mea culpa. But the disappointment at Francesa being off this week and missing out on his take of the Randy Levine-Dellin Betances back and forth is legitimate because he still has “it” and we can’t help wondering what his position would be. This goes beyond the deflation when tuning in to WFAN at 1 p.m., not knowing that Joe and Evan are on in his stead, and hearing their moronic singalong with Francesa’s theme song that functions as an allegory to their vapid show.

WFAN will not get away with finding a “star” radio host from Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and expect him or her to seamlessly slide in to take over for Francesa. It won’t work. Nor will the concept of Joe and Evan being moved to Francesa’s slot – the show is unlistenable. Evan and Kim Jones? They could have sex on the air and not get a fraction of the attention or ratings Francesa does. Moving Boomer and Carton to the afternoon? Maybe they could get away with that, but their listeners and Francesa’s listeners are of a different breed making it a risk to ruin two different time slots instead of one.

The selection of Christie is so far outside the box and, apart from his appearances at Dallas Cowboys games as a guest of owner Jerry Jones and his known status as a Mets fan, there’s a limited amount of sports content linked to him so he’s not walking into the studio with any baggage – in that realm anyway. He’s guest hosted on Boomer and Carton with promising results.

The replacement must be based in the Metro area with a feisty combativeness and an interesting potential to say interesting stuff. Christie certainly has the voice, the personality and the interest in sports to make it work.

Francesa leaving can create a gaping chasm in the middle of the afternoon that literally and figuratively could only be replaced by someone as big as Francesa. Christie certainly fits in every aspect for it to work.

Joe Torre’s five-word method for dealing with Randy Levine

MLB, Uncategorized

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“Randy, shut the fuck up.”

This statement, related on page 203 of The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, undoubtedly echoes what those inside and outside the New York Yankees organization feel today about team president Randy Levine after his combination monologue and touchdown dance following the Yankees prevailing in their arbitration hearing with relief pitcher Dellin Betances sparking an angry response from Betances.

Much like the intricacies of the arbitration hearing itself and the Yankees’ position compared to Betances’s position, there’s no reason to relate exactly why Torre colorfully told Levine to shut up. These details are secondary to Levine himself, his undefined role, and his constant and clumsy attempts to insert himself into baseball operations for which he’s more qualified to be a lunatic caller to WFAN seeking to trade a package led by Chase Headley to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Mike Trout than an actual key decision maker in club construction.

Looking more like a midlevel functionary who should be nowhere near either a camera or a microphone and behaving like a professional wrestling manager when he does, calling Levine’s statement ill-advised neither does it justice nor encompasses the full scope of his egocentric attempt to insinuate himself into the story. His behavior took a tone indicative of the entire process being a personal affront to him. Judging by Levine’s reaction even after winning the case, there’s an unsaid expectation for Betances to fall to his knees and thank the Yankees for making the offer they did, even going so far as tell the club that he’d take less like the petrified tenement owner Don Roberto in The Godfather, Part II when he garnered information as to whom Vito Corleone actually was and the consequences for not acquiescing to Don Corleone’s offer he couldn’t refuse.

Who is Randy Levine?

George Steinbrenner hired Levine due to Levine’s well-connected political position and that he was going to help the Yankees with the establishment of the YES Network and guide them through the labyrinth-like process of building a new Yankee Stadium. As far as baseball goes, he’s the epitome of “some guy” who happened to parlay various connections to place himself in a circumstance in which he had a forum to express these views without any understanding in a business or baseball sense as to what he’s talking about.

As evidenced by his statements related to Betances’s on-field performance, Levine remains suspended in the simplified statistics of two decades ago, equating the discredited save stat with a relief pitcher’s value. Since establishing himself as a big leaguer, few if any relief pitchers have been as dominant or valuable as Betances. Levine, with a blatantly vague understanding of how relief pitchers should be judged, takes the role at which the Yankees predominately deployed Betances and that he was not placed in situations that he would accrue negligible stats like saves and used it to denigrate one of the most valuable commodities that Yankees have.

This goes beyond Betances implying that he might rethink doing whatever manager Joe Girardi asks him to do for the sake of winning and his clear anger at what was said. Betances cannot be a free agent until after 2019, so the Yankees can shrug at any anger on the part of the pitcher. He’s essentially at their mercy. That said, if Betances was pitching when he wasn’t 100 percent to help the team and he’s being treated like an indentured servant, he’s more likely to take his own interests into consideration and save his bullets for the time at which he can get his lucrative long-term contract. Since he was such a late bloomer who was a starting pitcher in the minor leagues and didn’t establish himself as a big leaguer until he was moved to the bullpen at age 26, his window to make big money is limited. That foray into free agency after 2019 might be his one chance to get paid. Taking that into account was well within his rights before this. Now? He’s perfectly entitled to go all-in with being an independent contractor who is seeking to maximize his financial station.

To a man in the Yankees clubhouse and including the coaches and manager, you will be hard pressed to find one person who will disagree with one word that Betances said in response to Levine’s idiotic rant. For him to pitch on back-to-back days and do so for multiple innings after the Yankees had essentially punted the 2016 season by trading away Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran, he made a sacrifice that directly opposes his self-interest.

The question to ask is this: How much would Betances get on the open market if he was a 28-year-old free agent?

With his résumé and the combined contracts that lesser pitchers Brett Cecil, Mike Dunn and Brad Ziegler received (a combined $65.5 million over nine years), Levine is either ignorant of the reality of the market for relief pitchers or he is twisting reality to suit his position.

Betances isn’t trying to change any market. The market is what it is.

For Levine to again place himself at the center of a matter that has nothing whatsoever to do with him not only hurts the organization, but the cost could end up being far greater than that $2 million disparity with what Betances asked for and what the Yankees wanted to pay. Given his history and inexplicable arrogance, even if Levine understands this, it won’t matter. This is aggravation and attention the Yankees do not need, but to satisfy the craving Levine obviously has to be at the center of these stories, they’re getting it and will continue to do so until someone above him – the Steinbrenners – do as Torre did more than a decade ago and tell him to shut the fuck up with the power to make him do it and consequences if he doesn’t.

Knicks, Oakley and organizational estrangement

Basketball, MLB, NFL, Uncategorized

madison-square-gardenThe incident at Madison Square Garden in which former New York Knicks player and longtime fan favorite Charles Oakley was arrested for a confrontation with arena security has yielded a visceral reaction from fans and media members who see Oakley as the epitome of what the current Knicks are missing. As a player, he did the dirty work, protected his teammates and was the “lunch pail” guy – the ones no team or business in general can function successfully without and whose work is largely appreciated in every context but the stat sheet. Long since retired, Oakley does not have an official role with the organization.

Given their current plight with team president Phil Jackson viewed as a disinterested observer of a team he was tasked – and received a contract for close to $12 million annually – to rebuild and owner Jim Dolan’s perceived ineptitude, it’s no wonder that the anger is reaching explosive proportions.

Regardless of the negative views of Jackson and his commitment and Dolan and his competence, is Oakley to be granted the benefit of the doubt for his behavior when no one seems to know what the dispute was even about? There must be a separation between what a player might have represented to the organization in the past and what is good for business in the future.

Every sport has these uncomfortable situations of trying to respect the past, granting deference to those who played an integral role in it and doing what’s right for the organization in the present and future. Not all reach the level of embarrassment as Oakley and the Knicks, but they’re everywhere. Legacy jobs are often harmless as long as there’s no actual decision making involved with them, but when a person is given a role without the ability to function in it effectively, it’s like a virus.

Sandy Alderson’s New York Mets regime has faced passive aggressive criticism from former Mets stars Howard Johnson and Mookie Wilson among others for their abandonment of the team’s past, but the biggest name that has elicited an over the top reaction is Wally Backman. This in spite of the Mets giving Backman a job as a minor league manager when no one else would; in spite of him repeatedly angering Alderson and his lieutenants for going off the reservation, for self-promoting, and for being the last thing anyone wants in a minor league manager: visible. In September of 2016, Backman either left the organization of his own accord or was fired – it’s still fuzzy – smothering his supporters’ lingering hopes that he would be given a chance as, at a minimum, a coach on Terry Collins’s staff.

By now, it’s clear to anyone who can read between even the flimsiest of lines that Backman only lasted as long as he did with the Mets because of his popularity with the fans and that the Wilpons were protecting him from Alderson’s axe. There are still conspiracy theories speculating about the real genesis of Alderson’s issues with Backman and whether Backman has been blackballed or not.

The only thing we have to go on is what’s happened. With that, if Backman truly is the managerial genius his fans purport him to be, it only worsens the practical reality that no affiliated club will hire him in any capacity. That Backman, for lack of big league opportunities, needed to take a job in the Mexican League is conveniently ignored in the narrative of negativity that still surrounds the Mets even as they’ve won a pennant, made the playoffs as a wild card and are a favorite to contend for a World Series in 2017, all under Alderson and Collins.

Ozzie Smith was angry with the way Tony La Russa reduced his role in 1996 and basically forced him out when Smith wanted to keep playing after that season.

Smith is royalty with the Cardinals and was treated as such by Whitey Herzog and his successor Joe Torre. By the time La Russa arrived, he was unattached to the Cardinals’ past. The club had been declining for several years, sparking the hiring of La Russa to begin with. Was La Russa supposed to enter the 1996 season relying on a 41-year-old Smith who had batted .199 the previous year? Or should he have pinned his hopes on what Smith had been five years before to keep from angering fans who want to have a winning team but also want to continue treating their stars with blind loyalty?

In his lone year playing for La Russa, Smith had a solid comeback season showing a portion of his fielding genius and batting .282 in 82 games, sharing the job with Royce Clayton. Could he have maintained that over the course of the season at that age? Could La Russa bank on that? Deferring to the past has its place, but when there are substantive changes made, collateral damage is unavoidable. La Russa didn’t go to St. Louis to mess around with what was already there and had finished 19 games below .500 in 1995. Caught in the crossfire was Smith. He’s still bitter about it, but who can argue with the success the Cardinals had under La Russa? Now had the club been worse under La Russa than it was under the prior, old-school Cardinals front office or Clayton fallen flat on his face, then there would have been a larger contingent of angry fans and media members standing behind Smith just as Knicks fans are doing with Oakley.

Tom Landry was unceremoniously fired by Jerry Jones in 1989 when Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys. When Jones made the clumsy and necessary decision and subsequently walked face first into a public relations buzz saw, no one on this or any other planet could have envisioned that less than three decades later, Jones would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to take his place among the sport’s luminaries along with Landry.

In retrospect, the same fans and media members who were outraged at the crude dispatching of Landry had been privately saying that the coach needed to go and a full overhaul was needed. Jones, in telling his predecessor Bum Bright that he was not buying the team unless he was able to replace Landry with Jimmy Johnson, was setting the conditions that many advocated but few had the guts to follow through upon. By the time the Cowboys’ rebuild was completed four years later and culminated with a Super Bowl (and two more in the next three years), no one cared whether Landry would acknowledge Jones or still felt embittered about his dismissal.

The insular nature of sports front offices is exactly what owners sought to get away from when they hired outsiders from other industries to take charge. Before that, a large percentage of former players who rose to upper level positions in a front office did so not because of competence or skill at the job they were hired to do, but as a form of patronage. That is no longer the case and invites a backlash. When Jeff Luhnow was hired to run the Houston Astros and gutted the place down to its exoskeleton, the on-field product was so hideous and former Astros stars so callously discarded that the response was inevitable: he had abandoned luminaries and made the product worse. The Astros are contenders now and the groundswell is largely muted even if the anger is still there.

Giving former star performers a ceremonial title is not done to grant them sway with the club. It’s a placating measure to engender goodwill with the fans and media. When that comes undone, incidents like the Knicks and Oakley exacerbate current problems and provide evidence of ongoing and unstoppable turmoil.

The issue for the Knicks is that they’re in such disarray that this type of incident involving a player who was a key component of their glory years will be magnified.

The Oakley incident can be viewed as the nadir of the Knicks under Jackson and Dolan based on nothing more than Oakley having been a favorite of the fans and the media during his playing career and representing a past that is so far in the rearview mirror that a large bulk of younger fans are unlikely to believe it even existed in the first place. It occurred directly on the heels of a typically cryptic Jackson tweet that seemed to disparage Carmelo Anthony and sent the team president and “Zen master” into familiar spin control only contributes to their perceived dysfunction. If the Knicks were riding high and this happened, the reaction would have been that Oakley needs to know his place. Since they’re not, it’s symbolic of that which ails the club.

Adhering to the past might be palatable, particularly when Oakley-type incidents take place, but there needs to be a separation between what’s happening within the organization and its outskirts even if they appear to be inextricably connected.

Are the Mets really blackballing Wally Backman?

MiLB, MLB, Uncategorized

backman-picWally Backman is asserting that the New York Mets in general and general manager Sandy Alderson in particular have blackballed him in an effort to prevent him from getting another job with a major league organization, something he has yet to do in any capacity since he left the Mets in September. With that the case, Backman accepted a position to manage Monclova in the Mexican League this season.

Backman alleges that he has inside information from a friend in the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office who informed him of what Alderson is doing. In addition, he disputes the “resigned” narrative that was presented at the time of his departure even though it was he who stated that he walked away.

Backman also claims that Jeff Wilpon “betrayed” him. This ignores the reality that it was Wilpon who essentially forced Alderson to accept Backman as a minor league manager for his entire tenure as GM. Had Alderson been granted his wishes from the start, Backman would not have played an upfront role in the organization, particularly not as the steward to the team’s best young players.

While Alderson is an easy scapegoat, what seems to have happened is that Backman, understandably, had grown weary of languishing in Triple A and wanted to be moved up to Terry Collins’s coaching staff and the Mets refused. Had the Mets been willing to do that, it would have happened after the 2015 season when bench coach Bob Geren departed for the same job with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Instead, Alderson chose Dick Scott. Again, after 2016 with Tim Teufel being removed from the coaching staff, the Mets selected Glenn Sherlock to serve as third base coach and catching coach.

There was no opening for Backman and one was not forthcoming. Yet his decision to leave was done in a typical Backman fit of pique without understanding that it was not the Mets holding him back, but holding him up by giving him a job when no one else would have. There’s no doubt that Backman is an intense competitor, a good and wizened baseball mind, and fearless enough that he might be exactly what a team in the need of a kick start could use. But there’s a reason no one will hire him whether it’s his past, his reputation as a loose cannon, or something else. This has nothing to do with the team that did give him a job, the Mets.

Is it possible that Alderson is bad-mouthing Backman to prevent him from getting a job with the implication that a successful run from Backman with another organization and a chance at managing in the big leagues could end up embarrassing the Mets?

Anything is possible. However, a better question to ask is whether it’s likely. The answer is no.

In what is expected to be his final season as the everyday GM before retiring, moving to a senior role, or doing something else entirely, Alderson certainly has better things to do at age 69 than to orchestrate a whisper campaign against Backman, whom he clearly considers a non-entity. The likelier scenario is that the other MLB teams know Backman’s history and there are behind-the-scenes reasons for which he’s not getting hired. If asked for a recommendation, Alderson’s not going to give him one. As a professional, Alderson would presumably give the positives and negatives of Backman and leave it there without going to the energy-sapping lengths to overtly interfere with a job offer from another team.

What this appears to be is Backman leaving the Mets and thinking his work with the organization for six years and his on-field success was sufficient to cover up the warts before gauging the job market and if he was a candidate for any open position in MLB or the affiliated minors. Since his on-field baseball credentials are good enough to get a job, his inability to do so creates the image that there’s something up, true or not.

With his statements against Alderson and the Mets, he didn’t do himself any favors. Like most of the problems Backman has had in his attempts to manage in the big leagues, they’re predominately of his own making and the blackball explanation is another diversionary tactic that few will, and should, believe.

Bobby Valentine as ambassador to Japan is no joke

MLB, Politics, Uncategorized

bobby-vThe news that former major league player and manager Bobby Valentine might be a candidate to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan under President-elect Donald J. Trump has yielded incredulity while ignoring the reality that he actually has credentials for the job.

Valentine can be described neatly in one simple word: polarizing. This new career opportunity only adds to that perception.

His supporters swear by him; his detractors swear at him.

He’s one of the most skillful strategic managers in baseball history, innovative and gutsy – just ask him and he’ll tell you. That’s part of the problem. His ego and nature as a hardliner has also made him one the most reviled people in the sport.

Through his baseball career, he’s garnered connections that have resulted in a wide array of unique endeavors. For example, Valentine claims to have invented the wrap sandwich in his Connecticut restaurant; he oversaw public safety in Stamford, CT in a cabinet post for the city’s mayor; and he’s a close friend of former President George W. Bush in spite of Bush having fired him as manager of the Texas Rangers.

This is before getting into his career as an athlete. One of the true multi-sport stars coming out of high school, he was also a competitor in ballroom dancing. The Los Angeles Dodgers selected him fifth overall in the 1969 amateur draft one selection after the New York Yankees picked Thurman Munson. It was with that organization that his greatness was predicted, his lifelong father-son relationship with Tommy Lasorda started, he became loathed by his teammates for that “teacher’s pet” persona, and injuries sabotaged his talent.

Once his playing career ended, he embarked on a coaching career that led to him being viewed as a wunderkind manager with the Rangers; he went to Japan when his didn’t get another opportunity for a big league job after his dismissal in Texas; and eventually landed with the New York Mets, winning a pennant, before he was fired in a power struggle with general manager Steve Phillips. Then there was the disastrous year as Boston Red Sox manager in which he is blamed for a litany of issues that fermented the year before under Theo Epstein and Terry Francona and whose stink manifested and grew poisonous while he was steering the damaged ship.

He’s certainly eclectic and has forged a number of relationships sparking a cauterized loyalty among friends and mocking and ridicule among enemies. There are many on both counts.

Without getting into politics and the inevitable battle lines that accompany it, the Trump administration appointing Valentine as ambassador to Japan might, on the surface, seem silly. In truth, it’s not. The tentacles connecting Valentine to all the players in this drama boost his qualifications to take the job. He speaks Japanese, understands the culture, is well-regarded in the country as the second American-born man to manage a Japanese team and the first to win a championship there. He’s an experienced public speaker and has managed a great number of diverse personalities in different settings than this ambassadorship where bureaucratic necessities will regulate the behaviors of underlings in a sharply different way to what he grew accustomed to in baseball.

As with all things Valentine, there’s a caveat to appointing him and it could potentially explode with one “Bobby V” moment. Putting on a fake mustache and glasses and returning to the dugout after having been ejected while managing the Mets; picking unnecessary fights with his star players Todd Hundley and Kevin Youkilis among others; courting outrage with the media for his condescending arrogance; and refusing to be flexible when it meant the difference between keeping his job and getting fired all validate his reputation that ranges from difficult to a ticking time-bomb.

Does he do it on purpose? Is it the nature of his personality to be difficult? Or is it a combination of the two?

In his baseball career, he was a tactician without tact. Should he take an ambassadorship to Japan too seriously, there’s the potential of an international incident.

But the job isn’t one that is designated to someone who has to save the world. The current ambassador to Japan is Caroline Kennedy – most famously known as the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy. It was basically her lineage that made her a candidate to get the job and she doesn’t speak Japanese. Why was her appointment acceptable when Valentine’s isn’t?

This is not a partisan issue. Every president doles sweetheart assignments to people who were big contributors or prominent supporters to the campaign as a form of reciprocity. The difference with Valentine is that in spite of his lack of skills as a diplomat in his baseball career, he has the qualifications for the job if it was advertised in an open job search and he applied for it. So what’s the joke?

Aroldis Chapman’s fastball eclipses principles on off-field conduct

MLB, NFL, Uncategorized

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The immediate reactions to Aroldis Chapman’s five-year, $86 million contract with the New York Yankees will fall into several categories. Some will be outraged that he’s become the highest paid relief pitcher in baseball history after his domestic violence suspension. Others will take the politically expeditious route saying that while they do not condone what he did, he has the right to work at market value. Still others won’t care a whit about the allegations as long as he lights up the radar gun and renders batters inert with his searing fastball that surpasses 100 miles-per-hour.

This is not to judge anyone who falls into those three categories or any other combination that emanate from so contentious an issue, but to state a reality that few want to acknowledge: regardless of what he’s done, as long as an athlete can perform on the field he’s going to get his money from somewhere.

The easy response regarding this particular case is to present a self-righteous polemic that the Yankees are a cold, corporate entity who care about nothing other than winning and do so with a contemptible worldview. The nuanced response is that had they not paid Chapman, someone else would have. In fact, several other teams would have.

Since there are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, the competition is growing fiercer, rules are in place to render the Yankees’ financial might as less of an advantage, and the organization is in the midst of a pseudo-rebuild that is placing them on the fringes – if that – of playoff contention, they have to make concessions they otherwise might not have had to make in the past. Rather than being an annual preseason favorite to win the World Series and the team players chose to join regardless of other suitors, the Yankees are among the rabble with multitude of holes and a “plan.” Part of that plan has involved an attempt at financial sanity and accepting that in order to take one step forward, they have to take two or three steps back resulting in four consecutive seasons of win totals in the mid-80s, one brief appearance in the postseason in which they were unceremoniously dispatched, and lost aura, ticket sales, memorabilia sales, and viewership on the YES Network. Suffice it to say that worrying about curing social ills such as Chapman being accused of domestic violence or the negative public relations they’ll get for signing him fall further and further down the list of worries.

Teams will express outrage over a domestic violence allegation commensurate with how the fans and media are reacting. Perhaps there’s a legitimate feeling of anger at what the player allegedly did, but the reality is that the bottom line will take precedence. If the player can help the billion dollar business maintain or increase its value and reach a higher level on the field, they’ll look beyond a great number of transgressions toward that end.

The talents that these athletes have is so narrow and difficult to find that there will always be multiple teams who will portray themselves as giving him a second chance in the American tradition, but in truth are simply looking out for their own interests.

The name Ray Rice is frequently mentioned in this context since he’s never been able to secure another job in the NFL following the disturbing video clip of him knocking his then-fiancée (now his wife) unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator. He was subsequently suspended by the NFL and released by the Baltimore Ravens. He hasn’t been with an NFL organization since. The incident is only part of the reason why this is the case.

The video itself, shown below, is so graphic and disturbing that it added a layer of difficulty to him getting another chance in the NFL.

Without it, maybe he’d have gotten another job. That’s a big maybe for the simple reason that his ability to play was in question. For a team to take a chance on Rice, they would need to have the willingness to withstand the P.R. hit, have the need at running back, and, most importantly, believe that Rice can still play well enough to help them. If he were 24-years-old having just led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, do you really believe that him slugging his fiancée would stop some team, somewhere from signing him? The Ravens might not even have cut him. But Rice committed his act at exactly the wrong time in his career and in the wrong place that there was a video of it to have his employer or another franchise look beyond it, formulate an excuse-laden and banal statement excoriating the act while expressing belief in the player’s remorse and that he’s in treatment as a justification to give him another chance. In 2013, he had the worst season of his career and appeared to be in decline. The Ravens might have cut him without the video simply because he could not help them any longer.

Contrast that with Chapman. If he’d blown out his elbow or his fastball suddenly disappeared, he’s signing a minor league contract with a zero-tolerance mandate that if he does anything untoward, he’s gone. Since he’s boosted his credentials even further by proving he could play in New York and helping the Chicago Cubs win the World Series, he’s gotten a contract that he’d get if he was as solid a citizen as Dale Murphy.

Athletes are not paid to be a shining example to the public. They’re paid to perform. If they can perform, a multitude of sins both public and private will be mitigated; if they can’t, they won’t. This is not condoning what they did, just expressing a truth that has gone unacknowledged and will continue to be so.

In his book’s aftermath with accusations and lawsuits, the façade is torn from Lenny Dykstra

Books, MLB, Uncategorized

There’s a difference between a book review and the individual(s) behind the book. When reviewing a book, it’s a necessity to take any information that is coming from outside sources – even the author – and push it to the side in order to stick to the goal itself and read and analyze what the book and, by extension, the author says.

This is not the same as providing what amounts to an opinion piece – bolstered by facts – to gauge how truthful and accurate the book is and if there’s an agenda at play.

Such is the case with my review of “House of Nails” by Lenny Dykstra and my underlying opinion of Dykstra based on perception and facts from multiple sources that, to be blunt, are inherently more credible than Dykstra himself. That list includes newspaper articles in The New York Times, televised profiles such as Bernie Goldberg’s interview (discussed here on Deadspin) with a muttering, incoherent Dykstra on HBO’s Real Sports, and having read the book “Nailed!” by Christopher Frankie about his life working with Dykstra right up until Dykstra was arrested.

There are multiple sources that come across with greater transparency and less of a modus operandi than that which Dykstra presents his “everyone’s against me and nothing’s my fault” tome that starts off as, at the very least, a somewhat interesting biography of a unique character, and then veers off into a tattered combination of shaky self-defense and shady infomercial.

The aftermath falls directly in line with what precipitated Dykstra’s momentous fall in the first place. Rather than be happy he’s out of jail, make some money with the book and perhaps try to find a quiet, baseball-related job where he can stay out of trouble, he’s taking his return to fame as an opportunity to get back in the game of high finance and rebuild that wealth he squandered by doing the same things he did before.

It doesn’t take a psychic to see where this is going to end up.

Naturally, as the apparent truth comes out and the lawsuits fly, Dykstra himself admits to having a husband and wife editing team work on the book with him. The person who ran Dykstra’s social media campaign is suing him for non-payment. Veteran writer and sports book collaborator Peter Golenbock was helping Dykstra before he was fired and has chosen not to sue, but readily states that Dykstra used the chapter titles that Golenbock wrote.

Is this evidence of Dykstra lying for profit? Is he shading the truth harmlessly? Or is he trapped in the ambiguity of being a salesman who’s promoting his goods? Would Dykstra himself know the difference?

The Twitter account is indicative of the jaundiced view we should have of Dykstra. From the time it cropped up to being book promotion, there was something off about it. Considering how Dykstra comes across when speaking, does anyone truly believe that he would not just have the patience to tweet, but would do so in a way that was not only remarkably free of typos, but was also grammatically correct?

I called this one not long after he (or, more accurately, his social media manager) started the account:

The book is an exercise in self-justification with the sprinkled in wink-and-nod of him knowing that some of the things he did might not have been moral, but he was living the high-life with private planes, drug parties with celebrities, harems full of women and antics that would have made the hardest of the hard core partiers beg off at the debauchery.

We don’t see Dykstra as a stooped, slurring, sometimes incomprehensible and furtive ex-convict who’s telling stories and pushing products that we know in our heart-of-hearts are probably half-true and moderately effective at best. We want to believe Dykstra because the story is a fascinating tale of determination and unheard of achievement in spite of the obstacles that he he faced. We want to view him as a testimony to the value of fearlessness. We want to believe that someone of such modest upbringing, limited talent and lack of business experience was able to accumulate vast wealth and do so legitimately.

The reality is that he probably didn’t. The baseball career, even with the steroids, was real; the car wash business was a smart investment that he and his partners and employees made into a success. After that, who knows what’s real and what’s not? Did Jim Cramer use Dykstra for his stock-picking acuity, or was he latching onto an entertaining cohort for use on his show? It’s been widely stated that Cramer is a brilliant financial mind and also a WWE-style carnival barker. So do we believe the cogent Cramer who shakes his head and shrugs at Dykstra for overleaping, or the Cramer who was mentioned by Dykstra as a stalwart supporter of his financial skills?

Dykstra’s reaction to any and all negative reviews as well as legal actions that are being taken against him – with justifications from the pursuers that seem all too consistent and real with Dykstra’s history – is indicative that the author’s real self is showing as he’s called to answer for his behaviors. The star lust with the testimonials from luminaries like Stephen King and Jack Nicholson as well as the quotes from and defenses issued by the author of such vilified figures as Lance Armstrong and Donald Trump is evidence that Dykstra is acting the same way and doing the same things that sparked and hastened his downfall.

As this article in The New York Times illustrates, the “little people” don’t matter in Dykstra’s world. That includes people who worked and sacrificed for him to whom he replies “<Bleep> them” amid accusations of them of trying to “steal” his money. It includes family members. It includes former friends. Anyone who requests money for services rendered or to receive repayment on a loan is “stealing” from him the money “he” made and is graciously giving them. Using their credit cards to rack up massive bills to fund his lifestyle isn’t seen as wrong since, in Dykstra’s mind, they wouldn’t have had the credit line in the first place had he not “given” them money – money they worked for.

This is the logic he uses.

Everything about Dykstra has the earmarks of a scam artist and, like the “great, new, never before seen” invention on TV, we don’t want to think that we’re being taken advantage of by a crafty sales pitch.

He’s convincing. He’s aggressive. He doesn’t take no for an answer and keeps hammering and pushing until he gets what he’s after. On one level, that’s how he made it to the top of the baseball world and acquired all the money and toys he did; on the other, it’s also how he spiraled to the depths with blistering speed.

Did Dykstra work hard to achieve everything he did? Absolutely. Did he stomp on others along the way? Obviously. In its aftermath, the book comes across as a vanity project that just happened to be salable enough that a publisher wanted it.

Dykstra is not stupid. Some of his ideas such as the car washes with the baseball-related themes and even the glossy magazine “Players Club” were good ideas. He just doesn’t worry about consequences for what doesn’t work. And he doesn’t let professionals do what professionals, by definition, are expected to do and flesh out the ideas, making them streamlined, financially solvent and workable.

The lawsuits and allegations are eerily reminiscent to what he was inundated with prior to his arrest. Being sued is often a side cost of doing business for even the most successful companies. However, with Dykstra, the lawsuits are endemic in that he can’t do business without being sued.

The new, post-prison Dykstra wrote the book, explained his side of the story, and got predominately positive reviews for the book itself. It is entertaining. Now he’s getting sued; now he’s reacting badly with embarrassing Facebook videos to reply to criticism he receives; now he’s reverting to the Dykstra who was portrayed in articles, interviews and legal filings as someone who cannot take any responsibility for that which is, all or in part, his doing. The new Dykstra isn’t really new at all.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review

Movies, Uncategorized

Batman v. Superman poster

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has all the ingredients at its disposal to be a classic blockbuster while appealing to hard core comic book geeks, fans of a good story regardless of its subject matter, technophiles, and appreciators of talented actors dedicating themselves to a project and delivering nuanced performances. Ultimately, it misses the mark not because it’s a “bad” film – it’s not – but because dueling agendas conspired to cram so many different aspects into the story that the actors are constrained by a paucity of narrative and the indecisiveness and lack of conviction for the film’s director Zack Snyder.

Traversing the thin line of integrating superhero stories into the real world is a difficult task that has confounded Snyder before in Watchmen. Perhaps he learned a few lessons from that film’s ultimate underachievement from an admittedly promising idea, but Watchmen was not as well-known to the public at large as are Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor and the Justice League with their backstories ingrained prominently in the public discourse. Nor did it have the entire future of a franchise riding on its success or failure.

The sense of realism has to be adapted to suit the holes that will be in the story if one wants to look for them. Either it’s the real world or it’s not. If it’s going to be set in the real world, then there are certain facts that have to be altered to accommodate that. Superman v. Batman is not as clumsy, unwieldy, preachy and ridiculous as Watchmen, but it’s clear that Snyder is still unable to decide exactly what he’s trying to say, how closely he wants to adhere to the genesis of the characters, and what demands he and the writers acquiesced to in a “go along to get along” manner for the sake of commercialism.

Superman/Clark Kent is sufficiently vulnerable and confused as to his place in a world that is not his own. Batman/Bruce Wayne is well into his career as a crime fighter and wedged in with being unable to stop while wondering whether or not his actions have helped or hurt. The introspection of both as to what Superman should do and if Batman has wasted his energies or even made things worse could have been explored as they move through their lives in parallel lines that eventually intersect in large part due to their upbringings and circumstances.

The freshness of the idea in taking a younger actor like Jesse Eisenberg and casting him as Lex Luthor could have been a master stroke designed for the modern world in which the film is set. In the nascent stages of preproduction and casting decisions were being made, the usual interpretation of the character lent itself to it being a middle-aged corporate titan who saw the appearance of a being from another world as both an opportunity for himself and an affront to his own accomplishments as an all-powerful human who saw his life’s work decimated by this thing that did little more than appear and was, by accident of circumstance, accorded the power to rule should he choose to. That meant that the story would follow previous film incarnations of Luthor with Bryan Cranston the one most prominently mentioned to play it. This was a repeat of the same concept of Luthor that led to the casting of Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey in the role in prior film incarnations.

Eisenberg is the Luthor for a new generation. A Mark Zuckerberg-like tech genius who has achieved everything one could reasonably expect to achieve in life, he is seemingly haunted by his past – simplistically explained by an abusive father – and a brain that is operating on a level so far above everyone else that he simply does not know what to do next. He has every reason to be satisfied in life, but he’s not. Rather than being a Zuckerberg turned evil, he comes across as a Martin Shkreli-clone: a brat who has no respect for anyone or anything and will eventually face the consequences for that oblivious arrogance. In a comedic sense, the character devolves into something close to Scott Evil from Austin Powers instead of a fully-developed and layered badness that is as ingrained as Batman and Superman rather than him being bad and not having a single viable reason for it.

It’s not the fault of Eisenberg that his Luthor makes so little sense. Major plot lines were haphazardly tossed in like a paella in which the chicken is undercooked and the seafood is three weeks old. Eisenberg’s Luthor is manic and rudderless, unsure where to point his energies and acerbic tongue. He doesn’t seem to know what it is he exactly wants. The idea of a young Luthor is new and interesting, but with that comes immaturity and a lack of focus that is inherent in the character and was not present in Hackman or Spacey’s interpretation, nor would it have been an issue had Cranston been cast as a classic Luthor.

Whereas the older, wiser and more calculating Luthor subtly nudges the two heroes into a confrontation with neither knowing they’re being callously manipulated, the younger Luthor is afflicted with the impetuousness of youth and the “I want it NOW!!!” attitude that accompanies a level of wealth at which everyone bends to his will.

The suspension of belief goes too far in reconciling with Luthor who, by some inexplicable amount of self-control, was able to tamp down on his desire to commit mass murder and build a billion dollar company before age thirty until his derangement detonates. His plans and schemes are just as difficult to believe. The creation of Doomsday was not the initial goal, but a backup plan.

Doomsday was a backup plan only set into motion when Batman steals Luthor’s cache of Kryptonite and, rather than steal it with some semblance of ambiguity as to who took it, he leaves a mini Batarang as a method of taunting Luthor, confessing, or condescendingly informing audience members who took the stuff.

As the story moves along, the question continually arises as to what it is and what it’s supposed to be. Without coming up with story alternatives as to what they “should” have done, the fundamental differences between Batman/Wayne and Superman/Kent are such that they could easily have been adapted to today’s world and a film could have been made exploring the dichotomy as to how their characters and philosophies have been molded.

The alien Kent was raised in a conservative, middle-American enclave in Kansas – on a farm no less – by caring parents who created a family unit and successfully sought to instill in their adopted son a belief that people are inherently good and helping is not a right that he can take or leave at his whim, but a duty because he has the ability to be a force of good.

Wayne’s story has never deviated from its initial intent. He grew up as a wealthy city-dweller with liberal parents who’d spread their wealth to those less fortunate and sought – as Superman does – to do the conventionally “right” thing only to be randomly murdered by one of the same criminals their liberalism and sense of fairness allowed to roam the streets and do what it is criminals do: commit crimes. This lesson was never lost on young Wayne as, during the day, he maintained his father’s generosity and legacy and, at night, brutalized criminals who violated his own sense of justice that emanated from that one minute in his life in which his idyllic landscape was ripped from him in a senseless act of random violence. Batman’s violence is just as random in that he decides, unilaterally, who deserves it and who doesn’t.

These characterizations put Superman and Batman on an inevitable collision course. This is something the movie explored and inexplicably abandoned.

Simultaneously borrowing heavily from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in which the ultimate face off is not about Batman and Superman fighting for its own sake, but because their sensibilities were always so different that the eventual conflict was unavoidable, the movie goes halfway in fleshing out the disagreement in tactics that put the two on opposite sides.

There are so many unnecessary distractions and plot deviations that look like they were tossed in at the behest of upper-tier executives and it hampers the film. Was it necessary to see an extended montage of Bruce Wayne training for his fight with Superman? The amount of weight he has chained to himself as he does chin-ups will be irrelevant when it comes to that battle. It’s Superman. If Batman’s going to beat him it won’t matter if he can lift 500 pounds, but if his gadgets work and he’s been able to effectively synthesize the Kryptonite he stole. It was a vanity shot from Snyder and nothing more than needless filler right out of the Sylvester Stallone “look how ripped I am” days of Rocky IV and Rambo II.

One scene during the Batman-Superman fight is unintentionally symbolic as they end up in a public bathroom and Batman picks up a sink and uses it to batter Superman. The “kitchen sink” analogy is apropos as they threw everything in there including the kitchen sink because there was a commercial need to sacrifice continuity and common sense for the good of the other, forthcoming films in the burgeoning DC Universe including Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Justice League Part I and II and perhaps new standalone Batman and Superman films.

Unlike The Dark Knight Returns, there’s no clear explanation as to why they’re fighting in the first place. Nor does the end fight have any link to why Superman and Batman were eying one another as enemies.

The fight itself is misrepresented in the advertising campaign to appear longer than it is and for a different reason than what is portrayed. The script is, in part, responsible for that with its vacillation in answering the question of why. Initially, it appears that Superman is disgusted by Batman’s flouting of the law and violation of constitutional principles that all men have rights no matter what they’ve done or are accused of doing. Batman scoffs at Superman’s naïveté and his sheer and unavoidable inability to have a grasp on how humans function when they don’t have the ability to fly, move mountains, saved their loved ones as the child Wayne could not, or do whatever they want based on a sheer accident of birth and environment.

That foundation for the fight recedes into the background not because the two are facing a common threat, but because the reason morphs from a philosophical divide to a Luthor scheme to get the two to fight to destroy Superman.

There are a series of whys and whats that cannot be reconciled.

Why is Wonder Woman there in the first place and why is she interfering with what Wayne/Batman is trying to do if she had long ago abandoned humanity after her experiences in World War I – reportedly where the Wonder Woman film is set?

Why was she leaving only to decide to jump in when the Doomsday crisis looked set to destroy the entire planet?

Does Superman no longer see Batman as a threat to the American ideal once the two meet and come to an uneasy truce for the good of the masses?

Does Batman trust Superman when, before, he felt he was a threat to humankind that had to be preemptively destroyed?

Why is Luthor doing this? What’s his primary motivation, if he has one?

There are many more than this and it’s not nitpicking, it’s legitimate.

Interspersing social commentary into a story that, when dissected, could never happen in the world as we know it is a difficult strategy to take and the movie, trapped in its own excesses and corporate requirements fails to achieve it because the social commentary is abandoned in favor of special effects and settling the matter when it’s not actually settled.

When compared to the Marvel Universe, what’s missing here is more than story. The lightheartedness to take some of the edgy nature off the subject matter of life, death and how to counteract power and threats is noticeably absent. There are few moments of irony and no laughs as there are in every Marvel film. The darkness engulfs Batman v. Superman and its story is not able to bring it enough light to make it acceptable.

When there are great characters, there’s no need to tie them up. Great material is the fundamental basis for great work. Essentially, what Snyder did is akin to hiring James Taylor to sing and putting his voice into the same technical apparatus that makes the odious singing voices of Jennifer Lopez and Paula Abdul less objectionable. If this is what you were going to do, why bother? If the studio suits were looking at the script – as they appear to have done – and said, “Wait. Where’s Wonder Woman?” “We need more explosions and outer space and chase scenes and gunfights!!” where was Snyder, the in-the-trenches producers and the writers to say, “This won’t work. In fact, it’s gonna damage the brand”?

The actors are being unfairly castigated. Unlike many actors who have done superhero films for no reason other than the paycheck and the inevitable profile increase that comes with a massive blockbuster, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons are all onboard in inhabiting the characters and seem to enjoy what they’re doing. The material is such that they too are hamstrung just as Snyder seemed to be by what was required to be the jumping off point for subsequent films. Because of that, they made something that had the money, the star power, the automatic fan base and the storylines to make something spectacular and sadly isn’t.

For a movie to be disappointing, it does not have to be classified as “bad.” And that’s where Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice ends up. It’s watchable and enjoyable, but is ultimately disappointing because all the puzzle pieces were in place for it to be special and they were bashed together for the sake of outside requirements when the first tenet of any creative endeavor – a point – was ignored and all the participants were victimized as a result.

506px-Mike_Scioscia

The Angels’ structure was doomed to fail

MLB

Combine an old-school entrenched manager, a new-school stat-based general manager, and a meddlesome owner and you have the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Angels’ situation finally blew up this week after 3 ½ years of dysfunction and disagreement between the direction in which GM Jerry Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia, and owner Arte Moreno wanted the club to go. In 2014, those fissures and diametrically opposed philosophies were glossed over by a misleading 98-win season and American League West title – the Angels’ first playoff appearance since 2009. They were unceremoniously swept away by the Kansas City Royals before they had the chance to enjoy their resurgence. While on the surface the rocky start to the relationship between Dipoto and Scioscia appeared to have stabilized with Moreno making clear than neither was going anywhere, the dueling belief systems were too much to overcome and Dipoto walked.

As the Angels struggled amid significant changes to the roster, were hovering around .500 and falling further and further behind the division-leading Houston Astros, Dipoto’s frustration with the on-field staff overtly ignoring the detailed statistical analysis and recommendations that were prepared reached a climax as he went to the clubhouse and addressed the issue to the manager, coaching staff and players. It did not go well. Rather than welcome the GM into the clubhouse, he was treated as an unwanted interloper undermining the manager and making unwelcome decrees.

This is a cultural issue more than disagreements regarding strategy. The old school that held sway as recently as ten years ago did not want the GM walking into the clubhouse and telling the manager and players, straight out, what he wanted. In today’s culture, such an instance is not only common, but expected. The days of the manager being left to run the team on the field as he sees fit are all but over in just about every venue except for Anaheim. And this is the problem.

Nowhere but in Anaheim does the manager have the power that Scioscia does. Bolstered by a 10-year contract and the (mostly) unwavering support of the owner, Scioscia has a backchannel to complain to the owner that has all but disappeared with the retirements of the likes of Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella and Tony La Russa. Managers without a resume to pull such an end-around will get fired as Bo Porter did by the Astros in late 2014.

The mistake Moreno has made is not in allowing Scioscia that power, nor was it in hiring Dipoto. The mistake was that he kept Scioscia in place and allowed him to retain the power while hiring a GM whose philosophy was so diametrically opposed to the manager’s. There’s a misplaced belief that putting high-quality people together in the same room and telling them to work together will somehow yield a positive result. As has been proven repeatedly, that is not the case. Because they couldn’t get on the same page does not imply that either man was wrong. The fact that Dipoto and Scioscia were not able to reach a détente in spite of Moreno’s attempts to placate both does not mean that any one person is responsible. Moreno’s intentions were good; Dipoto and Scioscia are smart baseball men; and the three could not work together if the team wasn’t streaking towards winning 100 games and cruising to the division title.

Scioscia wasn’t going anywhere and Dipoto knew it. Dipoto comes from conflicting experiences that collided with his realities. As a former player, he knew that there were certain lines that players, coaches and managers didn’t want crossed by upper management. As a front office executive, he also knew he would not be doing his job were he not to address issues that he felt were hindering the club. Going into the clubhouse might have been done out of frustration with the enough’s enough tone that if the manager and the team were not going to be receptive to his ideas, then he’d simply give them what he had and hope they used it. Once the reaction was so profoundly negative and quickly degenerated into a confrontation, he threw his hands up in the air and quit. Everyone has their breaking point at which they say, “I can’t work like this.” For Dipoto to react negatively to essentially being attacked in the clubhouse is thoroughly understandable for someone who’d been hired to do a job and was not being allowed to do it in the way he was trained.

Dipoto isn’t some outsider who went to a well-regarded university and decided that he’d like to work in baseball. This adds another layer to the complicated nature of his time with the Angels. He could be classified as a stat-guy, but he’s also a stat-guy who had an eight-year career in the Majors. He’s not some guy in a suit walking into the clubhouse, sticking a chew of dip into his lower lip, talking in clubhouse vernacular and eliciting “look at this poser” eye rolls.

Like the separation between church and state, Scioscia wants the lines between the manager’s office and the front office to be adhered to. He has transferred his known catching skills from being the best plate-blocker of the 1980s into his protectionist nature of his territory as a manager. Moreno did nothing other than smooth the egos to try and keep the front office and on-field staff working together.

In the final analysis, did Dipoto need to keep the job in the sense that he is not going to get hired elsewhere as Ruben Amaro Jr. won’t once the Philadelphia Phillies dismiss him? The answer is no. He’ll get another chance to be a GM. Dipoto is respected inside baseball. The circumstances he walked into are understood as having been untenable. Most importantly, he’s worked with a large proportion of the baseball community that is now making the bulk of the decisions as baseball bosses and is choosing whom to hire and fire. The Angels were probably the worst place for Dipoto to go given the unprecedented power the manager has and what Dipoto’s beliefs as to what the GM’s job are. Short of Moreno openly choosing one or the other by firing either Dipoto or Scioscia, Dipoto resigned. It was the only way this forced marriage could end.

334px-Ryne_Sandberg

Sandberg would have been better off staying with the Cubs

MLB

In retrospect, perhaps Ryne Sandberg would have been better off having fought harder for the job managing the Chicago Cubs a year after he’d left the organization. To dispel the notion that Sandberg left the Cubs after Theo Epstein took over as team president, the fact is that Sandberg had departed the previous year when he was passed over for the job as manager in favor of Mike Quade. Quade had replaced Lou Piniella when Piniella resigned in August of 2010.

Having paid his dues as a minor league manager, learning his craft and the organization’s prospects rather than stepping off the field and using his Hall of Fame career and credentials as a Cubs hero to force his way onto the big league staff and, eventually, as manager, Sandberg did it organically and was still bypassed based on a misinterpreted strong finish by the Cubs under Quade. In his first year after leaving the Cubs, as he was managing the Philadelphia Phillies Triple A club in Lehigh Valley, the 2011 Cubs – like the 2015 Phillies – were in the midst of the last throes of a relatively successful run they had under Piniella and general manager Jim Hendry. They had come apart and needed the radical overhaul that Epstein was prepared to undertake.

It’s not often that a former star player like Sandberg will shun the airs that accompany such lofty status and show the willingness to go down to the low minor leagues, ride buses great distances, essentially do everything in running the club and do so in the interests of making the same primordial climb as a manager that he did as a player to get to the big leagues. Sandberg could have avoided that. He could have launched a public relations blitz, coerced friendly reporters with an agenda into supporting him, and subtly planted the seed within the fan base that the former Cubs superstar was the man to resurrect the declining franchise while there was still time to do so.

He didn’t. Since he started his professional career and had his first cup of coffee in the Majors with the Phillies, there was a linear aspect to him joining that organization. Again, he did not shoehorn his way onto then-manager Charlie Manuel’s staff as an interloping manager-in-waiting. That came later and had little to do with Sandberg. At the time, the Phillies, like the Cubs of 2009 to 2011, were plummeting from a star-laden contender into an ancient and crumbling structure that had to be detonated.

After he joined the Phillies coaching staff as the third base coach in 2013, it was no secret that he would eventually be the next manager when and if Manuel was dismissed or pushed into retirement. With the team floundering, Manuel still showed no interest in walking away by his own volition and he was fired so Sandberg could watch the club from the manager’s chair for the remainder of the season and get a gauge on what he wanted to do.

What he saw was a team of insolent, declining veterans who had grown complacent and too accustomed to the mostly hands-off approach of Manuel. Sandberg focused on the fundamentals, tried to discipline the likes of Jimmy Rollins, and tamp down on the country club atmosphere and eye rolls of “we’ve won here and we know what we’re doing” even if the team was no longer winning and the “knowing what they’re doing” included being lax and arrogant.

Getting the job managing the Cubs when Epstein took over as team president would have put forth the impression that team ownership was heavily influencing the new baseball czar in a way that was reminiscent of the situation Epstein had just escaped in Boston as the GM of the Red Sox and even if Sandberg had pushed for it, it probably was not going to happen. But, in retrospect, Sandberg’s focus on fundamentals and knowledge of the Cubs farm system at the time – particularly Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney, among others – could have benefited the Cubs in the first two seasons under Epstein as Epstein’s hand-picked manager, Dale Sveum, was fired largely because of the lack of adherence to the basics and failures in development of those particular young players.

Given how he was willing to work his way up the ladder as a minor league manager, Sandberg would likely have adapted as necessary and followed the organizational plan when it came to on-field strategies of the new front office. And how much worse could he have done than Sveum, who took the job expecting to be allowed to deal with the inevitable 95-to-100-loss seasons as the Cubs tanked to accrue high draft picks and was still fired?

For managers, the situation has to be right, the front office has to be agreeable, and the players have to be willing to listen. The key is to get the players to do what the manager wants them to do without the players acting as if they’re doing the manager a favor by doing it. The manager who gets his way is seen as a keeper while the manager who doesn’t is on the way out. Looking at Sandberg’s time as Phillies manager, is there really a giant difference between his perceived cluelessness and that of current Cubs manager Joe Maddon in his first two seasons as manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays? Maddon has become the embodiment of pretentiousness, believing and furthering the media hype of being the “best” manager in baseball when he was, in reality, along for a great ride with a smart and lucky front office in Tampa as they starting winning with him running the club. The Cubs hired him as they too are on the precipice of title contention and he will get credit for it whether he deserves it or not. His career could easily have gone the way of Sveum and Sandberg had Tampa not been as patient and understanding of the circumstances.

Sandberg did not do a good job as Phillies manager, but he did do a good job as a minor league manager with the Cubs. He was overmatched in the big leagues, but did well with the youngsters in the minors. Taking someone who was good at one thing and putting him in an entirely different circumstance without a commitment is dooming him to failure. After trying to discipline the players, there was a sense of “what do you want me to do?” from Sandberg when the players didn’t follow his instructions and openly challenged his authority. When the front office didn’t make the decision to get rid of those players who were defying the manager and, in fact, enabled the insubordination, they extinguished any chance Sandberg had at success.

The situation he inherited was terrible with an organization that mortgaged the future for the present and whose present was burning down to its embers and cooling like a dying star. It is eerily reminiscent to the fading players he had to deal with in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Rollins, Cliff Lee, Carlos Ruiz and Jonathan Papelbon. He got caught up in that mudslide in the same way he got swallowed up when the Cubs were in transition. Now, as the Phillies are also on the verge of sweeping changes with Andy MacPhail widely reported as the next baseball boss, Sandberg walked off the cliff before they could push him. He was in a no-win situation and, unsurprisingly, he didn’t. With the Cubs, it might have been different had he chosen to stay with an organization that, while ruthless, has a more logical tack than the bottomed out Phillies.