The Pinstriped Curtain And The Little Gatekeeper

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

Drunk with power and taking quite literally his wide-ranging parameters, the Yankees czar/zealot/dictator of a media director Jason Zillo refused access to writer Michael Sokolove as Sokolove wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine about the natural, age-related decline of athletes with Derek Jeter at the center.

It’s a combination profile, statistical and historical analysis not of Jeter alone, but of athletes in general as they age.

What jumped out at me was the behavior of Zillo and the Napoleonic arrogance he shows in what apparently is perceived as all-encompassing power.

I was baffled when I read the following:

The prospect of this article did not sit well with the Yankees, or at least elements of its hierarchy. Jason Zillo, the team’s media director, would not grant me access to the Yankees’ clubhouse before games to do interviews. I have been a baseball beat writer, have written two baseball books and have routinely been granted clubhouse credentials for a quarter-century, as just about anyone connected to a reputable publication or broadcast outlet usually is. “We’re not interested in helping you, so why should I let you in?” Zillo said, before further explaining that he views his role as a “gatekeeper” against stories the Yankees would rather not see in print.

Hearkening back to Jane Heller‘s tongue-in-cheek book, Confessions of a She-Fan—which was a love-letter to the Yankees and was actually more about being a fan and how it affects one’s life—Zillo also refused Jane access to the club in any way; not even John Sterling was able to help her in her efforts to talk to the players for a book that was written in a comedic, fan-centric tone.

What is this?

Are the Yankees seriously trying to stifle the media like a paranoid carbon-copy of the Nixon Administration?

Jeter is the catalyst for unending debate; his game is being put into perspective as to whether it’s intangibles, performance, personality or all of the above that have created this mythic figure.

On one end of the spectrum, you have Michael Kay’s orgasmic verbal expulsions when Jeter grounds a single through the middle and the caller who told Mike Francesa that Jeter was going to do something “special” (whatever that means) before this season ends; on the other end are the media members like Rob Neyer who imply Jeter shouldn’t be playing at all, the fans who want to give his job to Eduardo Nunez or call him “Captain DP” among the more printable references in a family-friendly blog.

But this isn’t about Jeter; not about the wide-ranging reactions he receives as his skills diminish; it’s about Zillo and the Yankees (because they’re the entity Zillo represents) as he wallows in a self-created, all-encompassing power he believes he has and is in the process (a Brian Cashman word) of embarrassing the Yankees organization with his growing megalomania.

It’s despicable.

MLB should examine the “Zillo Policy” and step in to prevent these kinds of random refusals of access from happening again.

//

Advertisements

Riggleman Did The Nats A Favor

Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

As a manager Davey Johnson is far superior to Jim Riggleman.

Johnson himself has acted in ways that could be considered “insubordinate” when he almost invariably took the sides of his players in every dispute they had with upper management, but it was that personality trait that inspired such fierce loyalty to him.

He clashed with his bosses but never upped and resigned in a fit of pique.

Johnson is expected to take over as Nationals manager for tomorrow’s game. While they don’t have the goods to contend this season, their rebuilding project has taken a drastic step forward because of their new manager. Since his contract has been reported to extend to 2013, the Nationals are going to contend for a playoff spot in 2012.

For real.

When a manager hasn’t been in the trenches for as long as Johnson, there’s a chance he’s mellowed or lost a few critical inches from his managerial fastball, but given his ego, that’s unlikely.

Johnson’s a great manager.

Just ask him and he’ll tell you.

Discipline won’t be a problem either. Never afraid to mix it up with his players—physically if need be—Johnson will be respected. And if you think the fact that he’s 68-years-old will preclude him from getting into a confrontation if needed, you don’t know Davey Johnson.

This is a man who chose to take on the biggest and baddest men on his rosters—Darryl Strawberry with the Mets; Kevin Mitchell with the Reds; Bobby Bonilla with the Orioles.

He will not back down.

A deft handler of personalities and the media, this managerial hire makes the Nationals a whole lot better.

Riggleman ruined his own reputation and career with one capricious and outright stupid maneuver.

And he did the Nationals a gigantic favor.

//

Viewer Mail 6.24.2011

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

Norm writes RE Tiki Barber and Mike Francesa:

I missed the interview but from what it sounds like, Mike was just being classic Mike— a bully who delights in ‘asking the tough questions’ from weak people on the downside…you won’t see Mike interrogating someone who just won something or who have their lives in order…then Mike reverts to obsequious, fawning Mike.

You can hear the interview here.

Francesa was being very hard on Tiki. I’m not sure why.

A large amount of the Francesa-vitriol seems jealousy-related; part of it is agenda-driven; the rest comes from people like you and me who don’t tolerate the hypocrisy of savaging people until they’re on the show when he’s nothing but complimentary.

In a different category are the people he’s truly going after like Tiki Barber. If you remember the interviews with Rich Kotite, they were in fact worse than what he did to Tiki.

On the opposite end were the love-fests with Bill Parcells.

Why?

Because Parcells was a Francesa friend and ally.

One thing that I have to ask of Tiki is why he’s going on this public relations blitz in the first place. It’s as if Tiki’s ego is such that he can’t take the negative press about his personal life, departure from the Today Show and questionable decision to try to return to the NFL.

He doesn’t have to defend himself for coming back to football for whatever reason—financial or the difficult to believe “he still loves football” bit put forth by his agent.

What’s the point of turning himself into a media circus?

Tiki didn’t deserve to be browbeaten that way, but in a way it was his own fault for being so forthright with his story.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Jim Riggleman:

Totally agree. What was he thinking? Goes to show that it’s not just young and dumb NBA superstars (*ahem, LeBron*) making completely stupid choices regarding their careers. Who would’ve said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea, Jim.”? Seriously.

Much like Tiki, I have to see how Riggleman’s spinning the details to save his reputation. Apparently Riggleman’s trying to frame it as a matter of “principle” that he wanted the contract settled.

But what about the “principle” of living up to the contract he signed? Isn’t there a “principle” involved in that? Or is it a matter of convenience as he threw a tantrum after not getting his way?

He signed the contract to manage the Nationals because no one else was going to hire him.

The circumstances are similar now except now no one is going to hire him—period.

//

Jim Riggleman Shouldn’t Have Quit…

Draft, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

…he should’ve waited for the Nationals to fire him.

When the news first broke that Riggleman had resigned, it was obvious that it was contract-related. I immediately thought back to two similar situations in which managers wanted their status defined one way or the other and wound up issuing ultimatums that cost them their jobs.

Don Zimmer won a shocking NL East title in 1989 with the Cubs and was named Manager of the Year. In 1990, the Cubs fell to 77-85 and spent a lot of money that winter for outfielder George Bell, closer Dave Smith and starter Danny Jackson to join Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux, Andre Dawson, Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston for a club that was expected to contend.

Struggling at 18-19 and with Zimmer angry about his uncertain contract status, Zimmer was fired. Apart from a stint running the Yankees while Joe Torre was recovering from prostate cancer, Zimmer never managed in the big leagues again.

Charlie Manuel also wanted his contract addressed by the Indians in 2002.

Having won 181 games in 2000-2001 and making the playoffs once, Manuel had a case for an extension. But the Indians were transitioning from their years of contention. Mired in 3rd place with a 39-47 record and heading in a different direction, they fired Manuel.

In a sense, you can say that Zimmer was better off having been fired by the Cubs. Had he remained as their manager, would he have eventually become Torre’s right-hand man in the Yankees dugout during their dynasty? Doubtful. His lovable reputation belies the feisty and fearless competitor he’s always been; it was Zimmer’s public rebuking of George Steinbrenner that sowed the seeds of his Yankees departure.

Manuel got the Phillies job because he was an agreeable choice for their veterans. His personality—on the surface—is the opposite of the manager he replaced, the fiery and intense Larry Bowa. Manuel’s success as Phillies manager speaks for itself. He comes off as laid back until you cross him. That’s when you discover that Cholly’s in Charge.

In short, Zimmer and Manuel landed on their feet.

Riggleman won’t.

Resigning because his option for 2012 had yet to be exercised was an act of self-immolation from which there’s no recovery.

For all his faults as a GM, Mike Rizzo was under no obligation to deal with Riggleman’s contract now.

The spinning by Riggleman and his agent, Burton Rocks (Burton Rocks?) borders on the farcical. Riggleman said he didn’t issue an ultimatum, but if he didn’t issue an ultimatum, then why’d he leave so abruptly with the team streaking and playing well? Riggleman’s agent said his client “will manage again”. Unless said agent pulls a Moorad and purchases a club of his own and hires Riggleman, that’s not happening. Even Rocks might look at Riggleman and say, “Jim, you quit on the Nats.”

It was always known that Riggleman was a caretaker whose job it was to rein in an out-of-control clubhouse, enact club edicts on the use of Stephen Strasburg, deal with the media and be the “veteran baseball guy” to bridge the gap from rebuilding to contention.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Worst-case scenario, if he did a good job and was fired, he’d be in the mix for another big league job as manager. Now he won’t. Not only does it look terrible for him to throw this brand of tantrum, but there’s a very good chance of him being blackballed for this ill-advised, not-entirely-thought-out fit of pique.

In a lukewarm defense of Riggleman, there was never a clear mandate as to what the Nationals are; what his job description was.

Did they want to win immediately? The signings of players like Jayson Werth indicate that was the goal.

Did they want to develop young players with winning secondary? Letting Drew Storen close and the rules enacted to protect Strasburg (they worked really well) implied otherwise.

It’s difficult to function without a stated objective.

Had he let this play out and gotten fired, Riggleman would’ve been on the side of right and possibly gotten another managing job. He’s not a great manager, but he is a good baseball man and a respected person. There are worse managers in baseball than Jim Riggleman.

Being fired is better than detonating bridges and setting oneself on fire.

He had no leverage, but he did have the perception of fairness to support him.

This was a colossal blunder.

Riggleman wanted security and he sure got it.

He’s secure in the fact that he’s never going to manage in the big leagues again.

And he’s got no one to blame but himself and whoever gave him the lamebrained advice to quit.

//

Shielded

Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

The controversies surrounding the White Sox generally center around manager Ozzie Guillen because, well, because he’s Ozzie. The roster is the creation of GM Kenny Williams and he’s been shielded from criticism to a remarkable degree.

I’m wondering why.

Is it because he’s won a World Series?

Is it because he puts forth the image (which I believe) that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him or what he does?

Is it because of Ozzie?

Why?

If you look at the series of moves he’s made in recent years, many would be accurately described as mistakes—you could refer to some as disastrous.

They don’t have legitimate big league third baseman; Adam Dunn is eventually going to hit, but he’s been an expensive (4 years, $56 million) train wreck so far with a .175 BA, .637 OPS and 7 homers; Alex Rios‘s contract was taken off waivers from the Blue Jays and he’s been terrible this season too after rebounding in 2010—his deal has a guaranteed $38 million after this season; Edwin Jackson and Jake Peavy were acquired in trades for inexpensive young arms that included Daniel Hudson and Clayton Richard—arms with whom the White Sox would be better and cheaper in place of what they got.

This isn’t an indictment of Williams. I think he’s a terrific GM and agreed with all of the moves except for Peavy. I admire his deep-strike mentality in going after what he wants regardless of perception and consequences.

That doesn’t alter the fact that the White Sox are a $128 million mediocrity with rampant infighting among the manager and the GM.

That infighting has gone on forever and doesn’t affect the club in any significant way; the White Sox main troubles have come from the combination of a lack of offense from Dunn and Rios; the struggles/injuries of Jackson and Peavy; and from failing to close games they should’ve won early in the season.

I maintain that the White Sox as the best team in the AL Central; they’ll right the ship to get back into legitimate contention, but how did Williams turn to teflon? He deserves and should receive his share of the blame while things are still going poorly.

//

I Dunno Whys From Francesa vs Barber

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Players

Mike Francesa conducted a classic interview with former football star and mediocre broadcaster Tiki Barber yesterday on WFAN in New York. You can hear the entire interview here—CBS Audio; and the relevant (juicy) bit below.

It’s good to know that Francesa can still do a bit more than rant, rave and clumsily try and bolster pre-season predictions with self-justifying, after-the-fact “analysis”.

I’m still waiting for the “Joba Chamberlain is a Tommy John pitchuh!!!” bellow. But for now, we’ve got Tiki.

Rather than rehash the interview, I have a series of “I dunno whys” to toss into the air.

Let’s take a look.

I dunno why Barber’s agent, Mark Leipselter was on the line.

Nor do I know why Lepselter talks with a deep Brooklyn accent; I could swear he said “aks” when he meant to say “ask”.

Lepselter’s presence on the call put Barber and Francesa on adversarial ground and there was no need for it. That he kept jumping in to protect his client is part of his job, but all it did was antagonize Francesa. Barber could’ve handled himself without his agent; it’s not like he’s been accused of a crime and needed to be shielded from self-incrimination.

I dunno why Francesa was so shady in his allegations.

It may or may not be true that Francesa has spoken to people at NBC who ripped Barber on his way out the door, but to reference “people I’ve spoken to” and to say “I know all of them” was weak and typical.

It’s not as if Francesa has a sterling history of providing the full context of these adolescently embellished stories he tells.

Barber was right—it was a cowardly and cheap. What could Barber say to defend himself from invisible people who were criticizing him? Nothing.

As for Francesa saying Barber was “fired”, there’s a difference between not having one’s contract renewed and being fired. It can be traced to semantics, but there is a difference.

I dunno why Tiki’s broadcasting career didn’t work.

I never watched Tiki Barber on the Today Show, but I can say that when a former player is as heavily-promoted and allowed to step into a job such as that, he’s got to be perfect and he’s got to bring in the viewers.

I couldn’t help but think back to Boomer Esiason’s much ballyhooed exit from the football field to the Monday Night Football booth. When Boomer was interviewed during the waning days of his playing career—I remember one in particular with NBC’s Len Berman—there was always a session of “tell Boomer how great he’ll be as a broadcaster”; Boomer would sit there with a grin on his face and knowing nod that, while saying “thank you”, he actually meant “tell me something I don’t already know”.

Boomer was a train wreck on MNF and Al Michaels loathed him; Boomer blamed everyone but the man he should’ve blamed—Boomer—because he wasn’t good. Period.

I dunno why there’s a reluctance to tell the truth.

I haven’t seen the HBO piece that spurred this blitz of spin-doctoring on the part of Barber and his agent, but from what I can gather Barber appeared depressed about his current circumstances.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that if he’s having personal problems with finances and relationships. If he has to return to football because of money, so what? Would that be such a terrible thing to say? This whole, “I love football and wanna come back” at age 36 is a bit farfetched.

No, it’s a lot farfetched.

The pure honesty would’ve played better with the public and made Francesa look bad in his aggression.

Barber’s agent should’ve known that.

It was a skillful collateral attack from Francesa, great radio and a bit sad that Barber was reduced to essentially groveling and trying to parry shots for which there was no effective counter.

Barber would’ve been better served to go on the radio—sans agent—told his story and been done with it. It probably wouldn’t have been as engaging, but would’ve served the initial purpose.

Barber and his agent are undoubtedly trying to frame this positively as we speak, but there’s little that can be done now short of retrospectives and making the best of a bad, embarrassing situation.

Barber and his agent botched this terribly.

//

Ike’s Ankle—The Bright Side

Games, Management, Media, Players

Mets first baseman Ike Davis‘s injured ankle has shown no improvement. Although it keeps being repeated that he’s “out of the boot”, it’s seemingly ignored that he’s out of the boot because the boot isn’t doing his injury any good.

The dreaded words “microfracture surgery” are being mentioned.

The procedure is well known to beleaguered Mets fans because there was the endless debate as to whether Carlos Beltran needed to have it done before he had the team-unsanctioned clean-up on his injured knee right before spring training in 2010.

Microfracture surgery doesn’t always work.

Grady Sizemore of the Indians had it last year and hasn’t been anywhere close to what he was from 2005-2009.

On the bright side for the Mets and Davis are the factors that Sizemore and Beltran were center fielders who could run; Davis is a first baseman and it would be all but impossible for him to come back much slower than he was before no matter what condition his ankle is in.

This is simple bad luck for the Mets.

Given their current circumstances, it really doesn’t make much difference one way or the other for the team’s fortunes; it’d be nice to have Davis gaining more experience by playing, but in the grand scheme of things the injury—even if it keeps him out for the season—isn’t as bad as some will portray it as being.

//

Was McCourt A Mistake? ‘Twas

Books, Games, Management, Media, Players

Commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball would be much happier had the only Frank McCourt they ever heard of was the late author of the books Angela’s Ashes and the sequel ‘Tis.

The embarrassments and legal fights as to whom is going to control the Los Angeles Dodgers—one of the game’s historic franchises in an imperative market—is going on-and-on.

Baseball has rejected McCourt’s latest attempt to stabilize the club finances with a loan from Fox. You can read the details of the whole mess and McCourt’s lawyer’s reaction here on ESPN.com.

The bottom line is this: even if McCourt had Warren Buffett advising him with a comprehensive plan for restructuring the debt; new growth avenues; guaranteed earnings; and common-sense principles, the deal would still be rejected.

It was Buffett who soothed the fissure between the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez after A-Rod’s infamous 2007 World Series contract opt-out.

He couldn’t fix the McCourt-MLB fight to the death. It’s over.

Baseball wants to be rid of McCourt and they’re doing it in a legal, slick and smart fashion by miring him in court proceedings, exhausting both his resources and resolve until they run dry and are hoping he’ll go away because he has no other choice.

If McCourt sues, it’ll be still another obstacle to his divorce settlement with wife Jamie that was contingent on the Fox deal; it will exponentially increase the astronomical legal bills on top of what he’s already accumulated.

It’s a war of attrition that McCourt can’t win because he’s running out of options, time and money.

Baseball wants McCourt out as Dodgers owner.

And they’re going to get what they want. Soon.

//

Dirt For Sale

Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Players

And used jockstraps, game uniforms, gloves, spikes, bases, hats, empty eye-black tubes, wooden shards from broken bats and all sorts of other worthless bits of junk disguised and packaged as “memorabilia”.

In today’s NY Times you can read about Steiner Sports preparing for Derek Jeter‘s historic 3000th career hit by selling the dirt from Yankee Stadium presumably from everywhere he steps on the night in question.

It’s a distraction to the game to be sure, but when it comes to money that hardly matters. It’s not about collecting a piece of history, it’s about hawking and creating value where there once was none and having customers dumb enough to pay for it.

It’s a form of genius to take something obvious and turn it into a moneymaking bonanza. Wayne Huizenga did just that with his trash collecting (everyone has trash), movie rentals (people like watching movies), and auto dealerships (people—especially in Florida—need to drive).

It’s another form of genius to craft something out of nothing and make money with it.

Selling ballpark dirt is even more brilliant because they’re selling, well, they’re selling dirt and packaging it as a collectible.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Or so the saying goes.

But what’s selling dirt?

It’s the selling of…dirt.

It’s absurdly clever to sell it.

And embarrassingly idiotic to buy it.

//

A Crafted Issue

Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

It goes on and on with Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox and has since he started the job.

His penchant for making wild statements and splashy headlines has earned him the reputation as the epitome of the loose cannon, but he’s still there.

He’s clashed with his boss, GM Kenny Williams, but he’s still there.

He’s gotten fined, had his job threatened and done things that would’ve gotten a large chunk of baseball managers fired.

But he’s still there.

Now Guillen said he went to speak to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf about his long-term status with the club and “didn’t like what he heard”.

What that means is anyone’s guess.

Does he want an extension past 2012? Does he want to go to Florida to manage the Marlins or pursue another job? Does he want to broadcast and share his fractured and relentlessly entertaining brand of English with the viewing public?

Or perhaps he’d like to run his website full-time.

And if you check his website, read the blog postings and compare them to his unintelligible (and hilarious) tweets on Twitter, Ozzie ain’t writin’ the English version of the blog postings. In fairness, he says “here it is in English” when he tweets a new one is up, so he’s not claiming to write the English version.

But it’s still funny.

I don’t understand the saber-rattling about his job with the White Sox.

If they don’t want him, they’ll fire him or let him leave. He’s not operating on the final year of his deal. Apart from the media and Guillen continually bringing it up, why is it even an issue?

//