A Defense Of Josh Beckett

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Josh Beckett is not the first person to take umbrage with the Boston media and fans upon his departure from town. The fans were mostly supportive of him during his 6 ¾ seasons as a member of the Red Sox and the team, aside from the last calendar year, was a legitimate championship contender every season. Beckett replied to the allegations that have hovered over him since the beer and chicken debacle and members of the indicted borgata known as the Red Sox organization began ratting each other out and blaming everyone but themselves for the team’s failures to get a lighter sentence in the court of public opinion. That extends from the top with John Henry, down to Larry Lucchino, through to Theo Epstein, Terry Francona, and the players.

Is Beckett as innocent as he portrays himself in this interview with Rob Bradford? Is he misunderstood? Does he have a justification for being upset at the way he was treated? Was he at fault for what happened from last September to his departure?

It’s a combination of all of the above.

Beckett is not a likable person. He puts forth the image of a bully who can’t walk away from an argument without getting the last word. Many times, when such a person gets the last word, he feels as if that’s a “victory” when it’s little more than the other party walking away because they don’t want to fight anymore.

He’s also been a fine pitcher from whom the Red Sox got, mostly, solid performances throughout his tenure. If he makes the argument in defense of the way he and the other starting pitchers behaved during their off days with the oft-repeated stories of beer, chicken and video games in the clubhouse by saying, “We were doing all of that stuff while the team was winning, so why was it an issue when they were losing?” it’s not an absurd assertion to make, but like the interview, he probably would’ve been better served to keep quiet about it or utter the politically correct, “I enjoyed my time in Boston. We had a lot of success and I made some mistakes that I’d like to do over. It ended badly, but I hope the fans and organization look back on my career there and see it positively.”

But that’s not Beckett.

Part of the negative portrayal of Beckett stems from him appearing as the prototypically arrogant and spoiled athlete who doesn’t see anything as his fault. It’s only a matter of time before he unloads on manager Bobby Valentine because he was “asked about it.” Whether he openly says it or implies it, he will somehow vindicate former manager Francona when Francona is as much at fault as to what went wrong in 2011 as anyone else. Compounding this fact is how Beckett’s behavior as the point man in the clubhouse activities, that he was out of shape, and pitched poorly was a significant factor in the Red Sox collapse and Francona’s subsequent dismissal. Francona let them do what they wanted as long as they played hard and won; the players betrayed Francona by not playing all that hard and by losing. A lack of discipline was seen as a catalyst to the fall, and they brought in someone who’s known for discipline. The holdover players didn’t want to be disciplined, refused to be disciplined and had to go. There’s no blaming Valentine for that.

The post-Red Sox unleashing from whispers inside the organization has been in place under this regime and under every regime. That it’s the Red Sox exacerbates the situation because it’s a circular entity of the media stoking the fans; the fans forcing the front office to try and maintain their success at any cost; and the players getting fat literally and figuratively. This type of thing happens in every organization, but it’s not as noticeable because it’s not the Red Sox.

Beckett’s interview is being cast as the whining of a malcontent who doesn’t understand what he did wrong. I see it as more of an innocence of someone who views things in black and white. To put it succinctly, Beckett’s statements sound as if he’s saying, “I pitched good for you, why do you hate me?” “We were always allowed to hang around the clubhouse on days we weren’t pitching and doing whatever, why is it a problem now?” “I’m in pretty much the same shape when I’m losing as I am when I’m winning.”

The underlying theme of most of the critiques against him are saying, “He just doesn’t get it.” But it’s not due to a lack of understanding or arrogance. It’s the end unto itself and it’s definitive: He just doesn’t get it. Period.

It’s neither intentional nor is it malicious. Similar to the earth rotating around the sun, it simply is.

Both sides need to walk away and move on. The Red Sox have to let it go; the media has to look toward whatever fate awaits the Red Sox; and Beckett has to utter clichés.

It’s not going to happen, but it’s what they all should do.

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What To Watch For Over The Final Month—American League

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First something that affects everyone

All the talk about the “extra” Wild Card has obscured the fact that it’s not exactly a playoff spot as much as it’s an invitation to play in a play-in game. Gone are the days when teams could coast toward the waning days even if they were close enough to the top of the division to make an all-out run for it. Teams that have won the Wild Card and went on to win the World Series have been numerous since the advent of the third tier of post-season series, but it’s no longer as easy as it once was and, like the team that loses the Super Bowl, few are going to remember the second Wild Card team once they’re bounced after 162+1.

The Yankees fade

The Yankees are staggering into September with their lead in the AL East down to 3 ½ games over the Orioles and 4 over the Rays. They’re playing both of those teams 10 straight times starting tomorrow night; they’re functioning a compromised starting rotation and a closer, Rafael Soriano, who is going to be needed heavily and has already been used extensively—he’s probably getting tired.

Mark Teixeira is out for an indefinite period with a calf strain and the imminent returns of Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte are suddenly being counted on to help right the ship. A-Rod is 37 and Pettitte 40. I don’t think the Yankees had it in mind that they’d be so reliant on these aging stars and Derek Jeter at this point in 2012, but they are.

Manager Joe Girardi is getting testy and GM Brian Cashman is scouring the bargain bins for the likes of Steve Pearce and Casey McGehee—4-A players from whom nothing is guaranteed.

The last, last, last, last thing the Yankees want is to have to push their veterans to make the playoffs late in September and possibly have to play a 1-game playoff after winning one of the Wild Card spots, but if they keep playing like this, that may be what they’re facing. Or they might get bounced entirely.

The Red Sox madhouse

They cleared out Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford in the massive trade to the Dodgers, but they’re going to lose close to 90 games. If the front office would like to keep Bobby Valentine, the way the club behaves—not plays, behaves—over the final month might be the determinative factor in that decision. Players with free agent options might choose to avoid the Red Sox because of the disarray.

One thing might save Valentine if it’s straddling the line between him keeping his job or being fired is how the club performs against the Yankees. They have six games remaining against one another including the last three games of the season in Yankee Stadium. If the Red Sox end the dismal 2012 campaign by severely harming or ending the Yankees post-season hopes, that would dull the pain of nearly everything that happened from September of 2011 onward.

The Blue Jays and John Farrell

I’m not understanding this love affair the Red Sox have with Farrell to the point that there’s talk that they might be willing to trade players to the Blue Jays to acquire their manager and install him in Boston. He hasn’t done a particularly good job in Toronto with injuries being presented as an excuse as to why the Blue Jays didn’t fulfill their expectations to be contenders.

It’s the same thing every year with the Blue Jays regardless of the manager, general manager, and players. Going back a decade, they’re “on the verge” of turning the corner and it’s one step forward, three steps back. Farrell is to blame for part of what’s gone wrong this season and the Blue Jays haven’t definitively stated that Farrell is off-limits to the Red Sox. They’re willing to consider letting their manager go to a team in their division? That tells me they might not be all that upset if he left. And the talk of the Red Sox trading Daniel Bard for him? Good grief!!!

The Tigers playoff run

Historically under Jim Leyland the Tigers haven’t done well when playing from ahead in the playoff race. In 2006, the came apart and blew the AL Central, but made the playoffs as the Wild Card and advanced all the way to the World Series. In 2009, they led their division by 7 games on September 6th, but were caught by the Twins and lost in a 1-game playoff. Maybe now that they’re chasing the White Sox in the division and the other Wild Card contenders, they’ll write a different story. Their schedule over the last month includes 20 games against the Indians, Royals, and Twins. If they don’t make the playoffs, it will be their own fault.

How far the Indians fall

The Indians have gone 5-25 since they were at .500 on July 27th. It’s not his fault, but manager Manny Acta could be in trouble. Sandy Alomar Jr. is on the coaching staff and will be in line for other managerial jobs after the season. Popular in Cleveland, the front office won’t want to let him leave and his hiring would gloss over the lack of money to do anything significant this winter to improve the roster for the short-term. If they’re seriously considering trading Shin-Soo Choo, it signals another rebuild; it doesn’t make sense to bring Acta back if that’s what they’re doing.

The Angels present and future

They’re 9 games behind the Rangers in the AL West, so they can pretty much forget about the division. They’re 3 games behind in the Wild Card race. With the chaos surrounding the Red Sox, it’s receded into the background how much of a disappointment the Angels have been. Manager Mike Scioscia is clearly not on the same page with GM Jerry Dipoto and owner Arte Moreno’s unwavering support and trust in his manager is dwindling. With 9 games against the Mariners and 3 against the Royals, plus head-to-head games with the Athletics, Tigers, and White Sox, there’s still time to get back into contention.

Barring a shocking run deep into the playoffs, I believe Scioscia and the Angels are going to part ways following the season, but they have the month of September to change that plot.

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Joel Sherman’s Hackdom Reaches New Lows Even For Him

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This is from the August 27th issue of The Weekly Standard and has to do with the plagiarism of Fareed Zakaria:

Plagiarism is not a crime in any legal code, but among people who make their living with words, there is no deeper offense. The plagiarist has not just stolen from the work of another writer; he has used it to disguise his own inadequacy. It is a symptom of laziness, to be sure; but above all, it’s a crime of arrogance.

If there are a series of words that appropriately describe New York Post baseball columnist Joel Sherman, “lazy,” “inadequate,” “arrogant,” and “plagiarist” come immediately to mind.

There’s no proving it beyond a shadow of a doubt, but the evidence is clear that in May of 2010, Sherman plagiarized me. You can decide for yourself by reading my posting from my old blogspot site here, dated May 22nd, 2010 and having to do with the Astros trying to trade Roy Oswalt; here’s Sherman’s posting on his NY Post Blog on May 25th.

What he wrote regarding then-Astros owner Drayton McLane, Scott Kazmir, Cliff Lee and the Phillies is nearly verbatim to what I wrote three days earlier. When I pointed it out in a subsequent posting here (scroll down to the section beginning with “Hmmmm,”) and challenged Sherman directly on Twitter, he responded by blocking me.

It’s typical.

The same Joel Sherman who writes with the tone of the tough Brooklyn street kid he portrays himself to be ran away when directly called on his transgressions. Sherman, who often writes of the “professionalism” exhibited by the New York Yankees—professionalism that he implied so “engaged” David Wright to the degree that Sherman suggested in this column from March of 2011 that Wright would do well to have a two-week “furlough” to see first-hand the professionalism of—are you ready?—the Yankees and Red Sox clubhouses. Yes. The Red Sox turned out to be so professional that they’ve come completely undone a year-and-a-half later amid infighting, blame, and entitlement. The Yankees’ myth of dignity and professionalism is part of the sale of the franchise as better than everyone else, bolstered by the constant harping on history and inherent self-importance from the YES Network, Michael Kay, Suzyn Waldman, Mike Francesa and anyone else who thinks they played an integral part in the Yankees’ success over the past two decades. George Steinbrenner is no longer the meddlesome buffoon he was in the 1980s, but a beloved patriarch whose attention to detail and conservative values laid the foundation for the juggernaut the Yankees have become.

Of course it’s nonsense.

I doubt Wright was “engaged” by anything. It’s more likely that he was just staring off into space and waiting for Sherman to slink off in another direction and leave him alone. The Yankees are the favored team of him and his newspaper, but in spite of all that professionalism oozing from the Yankees organization, it has yet to embed itself into Sherman. Either that or he doesn’t understand the concept well enough to indulge in it himself.

Or maybe he does and has accepted the fact that he hasn’t the capability to behave as a professional, so he chooses to adhere to the mandates of his editors and his own anti-Mets bias and write the sort of drivel that inevitably ends with anything and everything culminating in a clumsy indictment against the Mets regardless of what they do or don’t do. The latest was on Sunday when, as Craig Calcaterra summed it up here on Hardball Talk, the true losers in the massive blockbuster trade from last weekend between the Red Sox and Dodgers were…the Mets!!!

Obviously!!!!!

This is on the heels of Francesa’s deranged and scattershot ranting and raving session against the Mets days earlier.

The suggestion that the Mets would’ve been able to package Johan Santana and Jason Bay with Wright is so out-of-context and indicative of the media’s desire to torment the Mets that it’s not even worth discussing in a baseball sense. Josh Beckett, right now, is able to get on the mound and pitch and is making the same amount of money in 2013-2014 that Santana is due next year alone; Bay is a lost cause while Carl Crawford’s downfall hasn’t been a clear loss of skills as is the case with Bay, but because of injuries; I suppose Wright and Adrian Gonzalez are comparable, but the Mets are not going to trade Wright and alienate the remaining fans they have willing to come to games, buy merchandise and support the club for a collection of minor league prospects that may or may not make it. Aside from Sherman’s warped world, there’s no correlation between the trade the Red Sox and Dodgers made and the Mets.

This is not about the Mets in a direct criticism and blueprint for turning the ship around, but the Post’s gleeful use of the Mets as a perpetual target to accumulate webhits, spur discussion, and aggravate Mets’ fans. Sherman’s evangelical fervor and condescending hypocrisy is highlighted by his pure lack of ability to smoothly put into words an attack on the Mets that isn’t this transparent. Following the edicts of his editors in a “kill them all and let God sort them out” way, he’s unable to face the consequences and hides when called on his trash. Much like his conceited attempts to be the first to break the story of Cliff Lee’s trade to the Yankees (a trade that wasn’t completed and never came to pass) and his subsequent explanations of why he was wrong, he wasn’t really wrong because Mariners’ GM, Sherman’s “Truly Amazin’ Exec” Jack Zduriencik (dubbed as such in another attack on the Mets) had used shady practices to extract what he perceived to be a better deal for the Rangers and left the Yankees and their apologists angry and slighted.

Sherman knows shady techniques well because he partakes in them on an everyday basis. He’s an annoying pest—Howie Spira without the nerve.

Those poor Yankees were done wrong. And those hideous Mets are “losers” because they failed to make a blockbuster trade that wasn’t available to them and wasn’t going to happen because they’re not trading Wright. Strangely, there was less of this vitriol when the Mets were playing well; when they had young players contributing significantly to their surprising first half of the season; when the Bernie Madoff lawsuit that was going to bankrupt the Wilpons was settled out of court.

Does it matter that GM Sandy Alderson—who Sherman continually pushed the Mets to hire—isn’t going to acquiesce to the media pressure as his predecessor Omar Minaya did? That it’s quite likely that Alderson has told the Wilpons that they’re going to have to take these public floggings for the club to be financially stable and a contender in 2014?

The team is rebuilding. This is what a rebuild looks like. They have financial problems, but spending available money to sign players who won’t help much to get the press off their backs, or making stupid trades to get down to the bare bones with unrecognizable players who will “someday” be part of the renaissance, aren’t going to fix the team, nor will it be salable for 2013 when Wright and R.A. Dickey are at least reasons for fans to come to the park.

Sherman exemplifies clumsy opportunism from a low-level sleaze who followed orders from management well enough to garner himself a column while using “sources” that may or may not exist, bad writing, and self-aggrandizement to put forth his agenda. That agenda is to hammer the Mets and whether the hammer is held from the wrong end and swung awkwardly and ineptly doesn’t matter, nor does the fact that all he succeeded in doing was whack himself in his own nether regions that are, judging by his behavior, quite small or even nonexistent.

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Booing The Yankees’ Closer

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The Yankees’ closer has brilliant across-the-board numbers.

He’s saved 33 games in 36 opportunities. He’s only allowed 2 homers in 52.2 innings pitched; has struck out 53, walked 17, given up 46 hits. He’s been reliable and borderline dominant. If you’re interested in advanced stats, his ERA+ is 207 and his WAR is 2.2.

No, I’m not talking about Mariano Rivera. I’m talking about Rafael Soriano.

The same pitcher who the GM Brian Cashman didn’t want and openly said he didn’t want; the same pitcher who was little more than an injury-prone, whining, complaining nuisance in his first season with the team; who refused to get with the Yankees’ program and surrendered the backbreaking homer to Delmon Young in the turning point game 3 of last season’s ALDS; who wasn’t designated as the replacement for Rivera until all other options had been exhausted, has been a key to the Yankees staying in first place and playoff position all season long.

Soriano was booed last night by Yankees’ “faithful” after allowing a 3-run homer (I repeat, the second homer he’s allowed all season) to Blue Jays’ outfielder Colby Rasmus to turn a 6-4 lead into a 7-6 deficit. The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the 9th when Derek Jeter homered, but lost it in the 11th.

Soriano blew the game, but did he deserve to be booed? Was it simple idiocy on the part of some fans or was it indicative of the problem among segments of the spoiled and greedy fanbase that there can never be failure of any kind. Success is expected and unappreciated; failure is a hanging offense. This is all symptomatic of the onrush to a logical conclusion built for failure: the concept that every player must be an All-Star; that the idea of a workmanlike and useful component can’t fill the shoes of greatness for even one month, one week, one game. How long before a CC Sabathia has his start pushed back because of flulike symptoms and the fans and media inundate the airwaves, web and print with demands to replace him—even for one game—with a star of commensurate magnitude?

It sounds ridiculous? Well, it’s not. Just look at the behaviors from last night. It’s inexplicable audacity for anyone to boo Soriano after the work he’s done not just on the mound, but in withstanding the pressure of replacing Rivera. The concept of “anyone could’ve done it”, which is a stat person’s lament, is ludicrous and selective in its application. The David Robertson as closer experiment was short-lived and the Yankees were retrospectively saved from the replacement “closer” blowing 3-5 more games before a move to Soriano was necessary. Had Joba Chamberlain been available at the time, he too would’ve been ahead of Soriano in the pecking order in spite of Soriano’s experience at doing the job.

Experience.

That’s far more important than stuff in being a successful closer. We can go on ad nauseam as to the true value of the guy who pitches the ninth inning and accumulates the watered down save stat, but it’s not as easy in practice as it is on paper. It’s a mentality that can’t be taught; can’t be drilled in; can’t be transferred to the faceless “PITCHER” as stat people imply. Robertson couldn’t do it and was far more valuable pitching the seventh and eighth innings than he would be in the ninth. But the succession of power dictated that Robertson, the set-up man, take over for Rivera as closer. How many times have we seen a good set-up man unable to pitch the ninth inning? It happens repeatedly. The Red Sox didn’t trust Daniel Bard as their new closer, in part, because he’d struggled in the role during the few save chances he’d had. That led to the trade of Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey; the installation of Alfredo Aceves as the closer; and Bard being made into a starter, failing, and now rapidly degenerating into a disaster in need of a full mental and physical makeover as he pitches in Triple A as a reliever.

Soriano has not only taken over for the best closer in history, but been a major reason why the Yankees are still in the position they’re in. Had Robertson not injured his oblique and stayed as the closer for another week, where would the Yankees be now? What would they have done? Would they have gone to Soriano for any reason other than not having a choice? Would they have tried to make a trade to get someone else? And how would that have worked?

The Yankees playoff spot is currently not guaranteed. There are 5 spots for 7 teams that are legitimate contenders and eight if you count the floundering Angels, which I do. Manager Joe Girardi also brought up an important point during his press conference yesterday when he said it’s imperative for the Yankees to win the division because the Wild Card spots, while having an extra entry point, are a one-game and out affair. There’s no longer an automatic waltz into a best 3 of 5 series against a division champion for winning the Wild Card. A playoff spot for the Wild Card teams are limited to one game, and in one game, anything can happen.

In the American League overall standings, The Yankees are 2 games behind the Rangers; have a 2 ½ game lead on the White Sox; a 3 ½ game lead on the Orioles and Athletics; a 4 game lead on the Rays; a 4 ½ game lead on the Tigers; and an 8 game lead on the Angels. One bad week and they could fall from second in the league to sixth. Easily. And without Soriano, they probably would be in that position.

Boo Soriano and diminish his accomplishments if you choose to, but understand how he’s saved the Yankees both literally and figuratively before doing so. He stepped into massive shoes and, for the most part, has filled them. Yankees’ fans should consider where they’d currently be without Soriano. That’s, of course, if they’re capable of being objective and comprehending that they don’t have a divine right to the playoffs and that not every player can be a megastar/future Hall of Famer. That greed is their undoing and could be the eventual undoing of the entire organization if they’re not careful, prudent, and smart.

Are they careful, prudent and smart? The fans booing and criticizing Soriano certainly aren’t and, as said before, that attitude spreads like a disease and is getting worse and worse, even incurable, by the day.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part IV—For The Teams, For the Players

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Let’s look at how this affects the teams and the players.

For the Dodgers

The Dodgers are under new ownership and GM Ned Colletti got the nod to go for it now and boy, is he. After trading for Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton, he also claimed Cliff Lee on waivers only to see the Phillies pull him back. There’s a difference between “wanting” and being “willing to take”. Colletti wanted Adrian Gonzalez and was willing to take Josh Beckett in order to get it done. Lest anyone believe that the Dodgers weren’t serious about their willingness to take on heavy salary as Colletti claimed both Gonzalez and Beckett. Had a deal not been consummated, there was a real possibility that the Red Sox would simply have given Beckett to the Dodgers. Not so with Gonzalez. Carl Crawford will be in left field for the Dodgers at some point in 2013 replacing the rotating list of names that included Marcus Thames, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu and now the pending free agent Victorino, who most assuredly won’t be back with the Dodgers in 2013.

The Dodgers needed a power-hitting first baseman to replace the light-hitting James Loney; they went after Gonzalez several times when he was still with the Padres; and Beckett is an extra arm in the rotation with post-season success in his past. They have the money and the desire, nor did they give up their top prospects to get this done.

For the Red Sox

This is a housecleaning and fumigation.

Naturally, as is the case with this current Red Sox group, there was additional controversy when closer Alfredo Aceves threw a tantrum and stormed out of manager Bobby Valentine’s office after Andrew Bailey was used to close a game instead of Aceves. It was obscured by the magnitude of this trade, but was a symptom of what’s gone wrong in Boston not just since Valentine took over, but going back to last season. On that note, Aceves is not the long-term Red Sox closer. Bailey is. I don’t think anyone should get worked up over the happiness or unhappiness of a useful journeyman with a long history of injuries like Aceves.

Gonzalez was a bad fit in Boston. He’s quiet and religious and was reluctant to step to the forefront as a leader.

Crawford was miserable and injured.

Beckett had behaved like a spoiled rotten brat and a bully.

Whether the Red Sox are going to keep Valentine for the second year of his contract remains to be seen, but this trade was an admission that they couldn’t go forward with Valentine or anyone else and maintain the construction of the roster and the hierarchy of the clubhouse as it was. They cleared out $261 million and left themselves flexibility to alter the on-field product as much as the poisoned off-field perception that has exemplified their team since 2011.

Let’s say the Red Sox were unable to make a trade like this and they gave in to the complaints of the players regarding Valentine. Then what? What if they hired another manager and that manager irritated the veteran players in a different way. What if he was strategically inept; soft on discipline; unable to handle the media; or what if they just didn’t like him? Then what? Were they going to give the babies another pacifier and fire him too?

They could’ve stuck a mannequin in a Red Sox uniform at the corner of the dugout with the words NOT VALENTINE stitched across his shoulder blades and until those players found a mirror and chose to act and play like professionals, it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference this season or next.

They made a bold decision to cut ties with players who no longer wanted to be with the Red Sox or shouldn’t have been with the Red Sox in the first place. Now they can move on and start again.

Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a West Coast-type who will be much better off as the silent and powerful lineup partner to Matt Kemp. As gifted a player as he is, he does not want to be the vocal leader. But if he was truly behind the text message to Red Sox ownership complaining about Valentine, then he has to make a decision: either he wants to be a representative of the team and lead or he wants to sit in the background and be left alone and do his job. He can have one or the other, but not both.

Gonzalez will be playing for a kindred spirit in manager Don Mattingly. Gonzalez has been a key member of three separate teams that collapsed in September to blow playoff spots that should have been sewn up. Mattingly’s Yankees teams were forever in turmoil and didn’t turn the corner until Mattingly’s career and greatness were dismantled by injuries. Mattingly wasn’t a vocal leader either in spite of being the captain of the Yankees and when he tried to be, it came out as awkward.

Gonzalez will revert to the MVP-candidate he was with the Padres, back on the Coast he never should have left.

Josh Beckett

It wasn’t his behavior that was the biggest problem with the Red Sox. That’s saying a lot considering how out of shape he was; how unwilling he was to acknowledge any more than the tiniest bit of responsibility nor regret for the Red Sox coming apart under Terry Francona and his part in the debacle.

It was Beckett’s frequent injuries and rancid performances indicative of someone who was saying, “Get me outta here,” in multiple ways.

I’m not prepared to say that Beckett, with his declining velocity, doughy midsection, and injuries will be what the Dodgers want: a post-season performer and ace who loves the spotlight. In fact, I’d expect something close to what he was with the Red Sox for the rest of 2012 at least. Perhaps Kemp and Mattingly can convince Beckett to show up in shape in 2013, but it’s no guarantee.

Carl Crawford

He was terrible offensively. He was terrible defensively. He looked unhappy. And he was constantly injured.

Crawford was a true 5-tool player with the Rays who degenerated to nothing almost immediately upon pulling a Red Sox jersey over his shoulders. Another bad fit who was something of a redundancy with Jacoby Ellsbury already in the Red Sox outfield, Crawford couldn’t get used to the scrutiny that he never experienced in Tampa; and he couldn’t get the hang of the Green Monster.

Crawford’s struggles are one of the reasons that those who criticize Jim Rice as a bad defensive player as an absolutist declaration of his poor Hall of Fame credentials are leaving out facts as convenient to their argument. Rice was a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox meaning that he had to learn to play the quirks and angles of that wall. He did it as well as anyone and found himself on the outside looking in at the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t Dave Winfield defensively.

Crawford might eventually have learned to handle Boston and overcome his injuries to again become the player he was, but this opportunity was too good to pass up for the Red Sox.

As for the Dodgers, they’re getting a great player who can still be a great player once he’s healthy and happy in Southern California.

Nick Punto

Yeah. It’s Nick Punto. He can do some useful things here and there I guess.

James Loney

When Mattingly took over as Dodgers manager I was sure that he was going to exert the same pressure on Loney that Lou Piniella did on Mattingly to turn on the inside pitches and hit for more power. Mattingly did and became an MVP and megastar. Loney got worse under Mattingly.

He’s a first baseman who doesn’t hit for any power at all and is a short-term guest for the Red Sox as a free agent at the end of the season. The Red Sox might spin him off somewhere by August 31st.

Allen Webster

Webster is a right-handed starting pitcher who was picked by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. He’s put up solid numbers in the minors and, after having watched a YouTube clip of him appears to be a control-type righty with a mechanical, slightly across-his-body motion. Judging from that, he’s a back-of-the-rotation starter and not someone about whom anyone should get into a twist about surrendering…or acquiring.

Ivan de Jesus Jr.

The son of former big league shortstop Ivan de Jesus, De Jesus Jr was the 2nd round pick of the Dodgers in 2005. He’s 25 and was stagnating as a 4-A player. Perhaps he can be a useful utility player.

Jerry Sands

Given the proliferation of statistics, there’s an idea that a player like Sands needs little more than a chance to play and he’ll replicate his massive minor league power numbers with a different organization. Sands has been a big-time power hitter in the minors for the Dodgers (functioning in the light air of Albuquerque) and never gotten a legitimate chance to play in the big leagues.

Think about this for a second. The Dodgers have had a gaping hole in left field going back years and refused to give Sands a chance to play. Doesn’t it make sense that the Dodgers would know more about Sands than some guy studying Sands’s stats and determining that “all he needs is a chance”?

He’s big and he’s righty. Maybe he can benefit from the close proximity of the Green Monster.

Rubby De La Rosa

The Dominican righty is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has put up big strikeout numbers in the minors. The 23-year-old is poised and polished and has a clean motion. Of all the prospects sent to the Red Sox, the one with the highest upside is De La Rosa.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part III—Ned Colletti’s Style On A Larger Scale

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Because Frank McCourt is gone and the Dodgers have a new ownership that’s going all, all, all out to win by taking on massive contracts, players whose reputations had diminished to nothing, and the injured, it’s seen as a change in strategy from the past. Those who believe this nonsense are parachuting in with a perception based on nothing since they don’t know the history and didn’t bother to engage in the simple act of fact-checking of Ned Colletti’s tenure as Dodgers’ GM.

Even when he was functioning under the disarray of McCourt, he was free with money and prospects operating under the mandated parameters from ownership. If the Dodgers were straddling the line of contender and also-ran, he erred on the side of aggression and brought in veteran players to try and win. You can read about Colletti’s trades here. The difference between then and now is that he has more flexibility to take on money. He exercised that flexibility by agreeing to this gigantic trade with the Red Sox in which the Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto for James Loney, Allen Webster, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Jerry Sands and Rubby De La Rosa.

It’s indicative of Colletti’s style and is not a simplistic “take veterans and take money for young players and ignore the future.” If you examine Colletti’s past, he’s never given up any prospects that are regrettable and would be redone if he had the opportunity.

To get Casey Blake, he gave up Carlos Santana, but apart from that he’s never given up anything of note. He was ripped for giving up Santana in that deal’s immediate aftermath, but Santana is a poor defensive catcher whose future is likely to be first base—at first base, he’s a replaceable part. Blake played well for the Dodgers for 2 ½ of the 3 ½ years he spent with them.

In the trades he made and offered to improve the club this year, Dodgers’ top prospect Zach Lee was off the table. It’s a hallmark of Colletti’s limits in trading. He won’t give up the entire house, but will give up what he feels he can replace.

If Colletti claimed Beckett to put an exclamation point on his seriousness in wanting to get Gonzalez, then it was a prescient tactical decision to get them. Beckett was getting through waivers and so was Gonzalez, but Colletti identified what he wanted and took steps to get them. He got the go-ahead from ownership to add this kind of payroll ($261 million to his team) and pulled the trigger. The Red Sox might’ve turned down an offer for Gonzalez alone, but if the Dodgers would take both Beckett and Crawford? They didn’t have a choice but to do it.

It’s safe to expect Gonzalez to be happier and more productive as a background personality and mid-lineup star; for Beckett to keep his mouth shut and behave more professionally (I think); and for Crawford to be relieved to be out of Boston and, once healthy, to return to something reasonably close to his Rays days in 2013 and beyond.

If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, and Andre Ethier are with the club as the foundation for the future and they have a supporting cast locked in as well.

Colletti’s more baseball-savvy than he’s given credit for and in spite of these risky financial and personnel moves, it was more than him agreeing to take the money in a desperate deep strike and spending spree as if he just won the lottery which, with the new ownership, he kinda did.

You can read Part I here and Part II here.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part II—The Red Sox Alter Their Reality

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Judging by their actions in recent years of chasing championships at the expense of sanity and common sense and the magnitude of the contracts on their ledger, the conventional wisdom was that the Red Sox would keep the players they had and move forward. They would patch the holes with tape, placate the whiny veterans by changing managers, and concede to having a team in 2013 that was barely distinguishable from the 2011-2012 squads that embarrassed themselves, their organization and their fanbase with unprofessional, self-centered, obnoxious, and disinterested behaviors and hope that they’d somehow take advantage of the second Wild Card to make a playoff run.

Of course there wasn’t going to be a playoff run. When a team collapses amid turmoil and doesn’t drastically change the personnel, it has one way to go: down. That Larry Lucchino was reveling in the departure of Theo Epstein and that he once again held certain sway over the personnel only sped the decline. No one knew who was in charge; what strategies were being deployed; whether the inmates were running the asylum and their disdain for manager Bobby Valentine would predicate a managerial change because it’s easier to hire a new manager than it is to try and get rid of massive contracts for declining players.

Easier.

That’s been the hallmark of the Red Sox behaviors and player acquisitions since the winter of 2006-2007. It worked in 2007 as they won a second World Series. In 2008, they made it to game 7 of the ALCS. In 2009, they won 95 games but were bounced in 3 straight games by an Angels team that was running on emotion from the death of Nick Adenhart and having had enough of being a punching bag for the Red Sox.

In 2010, they maintained that grinding, gutty persona that had brought them the first championship and had down-and-dirty players who you’d have to kill to make them quit like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia leading them on the field even though they didn’t make the playoffs; they won 89 games with rampant injuries and a patchwork lineup as their template of on base percentage, power and pitching was still intact, coupled with the steady guidance of manager Terry Francona.

In 2011, they morphed completely into a mirror image of that which they despised more than anything—the Yankees. They spent, spent, spent to fill their holes by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford to join with the remaining star-caliber players. So blinded by the splashy acquisitions, the Red Sox were ludicrously compared to the 1927 Yankees. They started poorly, righted the ship, then collapsed in September amid more injuries—expected occurrences with a veteran roster in the age of drug testing and banned amphetamines—and to make matters worse acted as if they didn’t care. Off the field, the players didn’t like each other, were not cohesive, and behaved as if their playoff spot was a divine right because they were expected to be so good; because the backs of their baseball cards were so gaudy.

We know what happened. Amid chicken, beer, and arrogance, the season came apart at the seams in September of 2011. Following the exodus of Francona and Epstein came the contretemps, blame, pure absence of accountability, the power vacuum and grasping for control. This led to the hiring of Valentine, the players squawking, more injuries, dysfunction and a team that was unlikable on and off the field, one that didn’t understand what it was that made them good nor what it was that made them bad.

Gonzalez is a star player who, in retrospect, was a bad fit for Boston and the poisoned Red Sox culture. As a quiet, subdued, religious person, he constantly appeared uncomfortable as the center of attention. As the star player on not one, not two, but three teams that have collapsed out of playoff spots and one who referenced “God’s plan” when the Red Sox were bounced last September, it was clear that the acquisition had been a mistake. Gonzalez is not a leader, nor is he made to be the “man”. He’s a great player as long as there’s a David Ortiz, a Youkilis, a Pedroia to take the brunt of the media scrutiny. When the media comes to him to ask what happens, he’ll paw at the floor with his foot and utter clichés and religious invocations long enough until the reporter just wanders off. But they’re not going to wander off in Boston as they did in San Diego or as they will in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Matt Kemp is the out-front star and the media will leave Gonzalez alone in a way they never would have in Boston. In a way, Gonzalez exemplifies what the Red Sox have become.

Beckett had worn out his welcome in every single aspect. Apart from a rubbernecking at a car crash, “let’s hear what this idiot has to say”, John Rocker-style curiosity, we’ll wait for Beckett to unleash on Boston, on Valentine, on the media, on everyone. The one saving grace he’ll have is if the change in venue reverts him back to the solid pitcher he once was and, the Dodgers hope, a post-season ace.

Crawford is a good guy and, when he’s healthy, a terrific all-around player. He, like Gonzalez, was ill-suited for Boston, tried too hard and got hurt. Also like Gonzalez, he doesn’t need to be the center of attention.

The Red Sox played checkbook, brainless rotisserie baseball in the winter of 2011-2012, drew accolades from all quarters for their aggression but abandoned what it was that helped them build an annual championship contender using intelligence, numbers and good old fashioned instinct, continuity (will this guy fit in Boston?), and scouting acumen.

They became the Red Sox of the 1990s or the Yankees of the 1980s and it showed on and off the field.

The Red Sox had two choices: move forward with the players and the immovable contracts, fire Valentine, give the toy to the tantrum-throwing baby that had become the club’s roster and shut it up, or do what they did. They were lucky that the Dodgers have a new ownership that is willing to do something this lunatic; that in order to get Gonzalez (who they claimed on waivers), the Dodgers were willing to take on both Beckett (who they claimed on waivers as well), and the injured Crawford. They were also lucky that the no-trade clauses in the contracts of Crawford and Beckett weren’t hindrances because they wanted to get out of Boston just as desperately as the Red Sox wanted to be rid of them.

The amount of money the Red Sox cleared—$261 million after this season—will allow them to sign players who will fit into what Valentine wants (if they keep him); who will act as if they’re there to play baseball and not bully the front office due to contractual obligations, veteran status, and threats; to re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury and, rather than chase the same stars as the Yankees and overpay to do it just to keep up and one-up, will go back to doing it the way they did it between 2000 and 2010. Most importantly is the off-field dynamic. Red Sox fans cheered for these players wearing Red Sox uniforms, but they didn’t like them—they were unlikable. I’ll discuss the prospects they got in the trade in an upcoming posting, but the players they got are secondary to the message that was sent loudly and clearly with the players they got rid of.

Now they can freshen the polluted air of the attitude of Beckett, the reticence of Gonzalez, and the injuries and desire to depart of Crawford. They sent the message to the players that regardless of how much they complain, they’re not going to decide who the manager is. They got rid of Francona through their actions; they’re not going to get rid of Valentine through holding their breath until they turn blue.

The Red Sox front office could’ve accepted their future, looked at those onerous contracts, shrugged and moved on, keeping on doing the same things and praying for a different result. They didn’t. When the Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti claimed Gonzalez and Beckett and called to discuss a deal, they didn’t pull the players back and say, “Forget it.” They listened and they acted. They’re more likable, have money available to change the roster and the culture, and have stuck to a principle that looked to have been abandoned and was part of the rise of the Red Sox from for the decade prior to 2011—if you don’t like it here and don’t want to be here, we’ll accommodate you and find people who do.

They’re a better team and, more importantly, a better organization for not bowing to expediency and accepting reality. They changed it. Rightly or wrongly, successfully or unsuccessfully, at least they can look into the mirror. And at least when they look, they’ll no longer see the Yankees.

Self-respect is important too.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part I—Bobby Valentine’s Future

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I’ll function under the assumption that this deal will go through. The reporters are saying it’s kindasorta done; then not done; then done; then maybe done; then prematurely done; then done. They’re trying not to pull a Joel Sherman, vintage 2010, when he reported that Cliff Lee will be a Yankee (we’re still waiting), so the Dodgers-Red Sox trade could conceivably come apart. But it sounds as if everyone is motivated to make this happen. I’m moving forward as such.

The Dodgers-Red Sox trade reportedly goes as follows:

The Dodgers get: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, RHP Josh Beckett, LF Carl Crawford, and INF Nick Punto

The Red Sox get: 1B James Loney, RHP Allen Webster, INF Ivan De Jesus Jr., OF Jerry Sands, and RHP Rubby De La Rosa

Let’s take a look at its repercussions for teams, players, and people in separate postings and start with Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.

This is a good sign for Valentine that he’s going to survive in his job and get the beginning of next season to see if the newly reconstructed roster responds to him. After this week’s firing of Bob McClure, he’ll have his own pitching coach (Bob Apodaca); he’ll have players over whom he has some power and, as a direct result, they’ll keep their mouths shut; and he’ll have say-so in the formulation of the on-field personnel.

This trade looks to be a tacit admission on the part of the Red Sox front office that they put Valentine in a terrible position with Terry Francona’s players, a group of arrogant and well-paid would-be or former stars who had the paycheck and history to ignore not only Valentine, but Francona, GM Ben Cherington, and CEO Larry Lucchino as well. It’s a bad sign when the ostensible bosses go up to a player like Josh Beckett and have to ask him to behave like a professional without knowing what kind of response they’re going to get.

You can’t go half-in with Valentine. He was straitjacketed upon getting the job and the roster and media were waiting for Valentine to say or do the wrong thing to jump all over him. If a team is hiring Bobby Valentine, they should expect to get Bobby Valentine and let him be Bobby Valentine. If the intention was for Valentine to come in and right the ship as it was without making significant changes to the personnel, then the Red Sox shouldn’t be surprised at what happened; that Kevin Youkilis had to go; that Beckett had to go; that they needed new players who were more pliable to Valentine’s style and couldn’t run to management and cry because of Valentine, begging for him to be replaced. Those who were complaining should’ve thought of this before they behaved unprofessionally under Francona.

In a sense, I understand what the Red Sox were thinking when they hired Valentine in replacing the laid back Francona. In looking at the contract situations of the players they had, there was no way to get rid of them and simultaneously bring back players who could help them contend and more in 2012. They tried a different voice and hoped the players who undermined Francona would be shamed and embarrassed by what they did.

They weren’t.

They took a different strategy of exerting their will with Valentine than they did with Francona and achieved identical results except they’re the ones who are being cleared out. Instead of blatant disrespect and poor work ethic, hoping that talent would win out in 2011, they tried horrible body language, whisper campaigns and outright whining to daddy in 2012.

It’s difficult to distinguish the five months of 2012 from that fateful month of September in 2011. Combined, they set in motion the chain-of-events that culminated in this trade.

It still may not work with Valentine, but now he can quit the charade of skating around the problems that he presumably knew were there when he took over and he can be unfettered Bobby V. If he goes down, it’ll be his way. If that doesn’t work, so be it.

Valentine would tell you the same thing.

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Francesa’s Mets Rant Was Preplanned And Absurd

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It took two losses to light the fire under Mike Francesa that exploded with a comical rant against the Mets? Two losses from 24 hours earlier when he had as guests both Mets’ manager Terry Collins and General Manager Sandy Alderson that led to this “passionate” and “angry” fit of screaming? Was this the playoffs? Did the Mets, playing the Rockies needing one win in four games to secure a spot in the playoffs, lose all four games?

No.

It was four games played by two also-ran teams that are looking ahead toward 2013. So why this faux outrage? And why didn’t Francesa address these concerns with the Mets braintrust when he had them on the show? Instead of screaming in their faces, he acted as he always does when Alderson is a guest: like a cowering Marine recruit or fresh out of law school attorney talking to a combat veteran and experienced, Ivy League-educated partner at his firm. He was servile and bottom line intimidated by Alderson because every word Alderson says to him is underscored with the unsaid, “You don’t know anything and you’re a baseball idiot.”

On a day when the Yankees lead in the American League East was cut to 2 ½ games by the onrushing Rays and after Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi had a public meltdown of his own telling a heckler in Chicago to “shut up,” Francesa decided (and it was preplanned despite any allusions to the contrary) to unleash with both barrels on the Mets organization.

I CAN SIT HERE AND TYPE IN ALL CAPS AND ACT ENRAGED AT THE LACK OF BASEBALL SENSE AND POST-ALL-STAR-BREAK TUMBLE THE METS HAVE TAKEN!!!! I CAN TRY TO ACCUMULATE LISTENERS, WEBHITS WITH MY SCREAMING!!!!

But what good does it do? It would be transparent and stupid, drawing attention for the wrong reasons with a short-term burst and no legitimacy.

Francesa, the same man who said for a month that manager Collins deserved a contract extension without bothering to check or have it checked what Collins’s contract situation was (the Mets exercised Collins’s 2013 option last September), now compares Collins to one of Francesa’s favorite targets from years gone by, former Jets’ coach Rich Kotite?

How’s that work? He went from deserving a guarantee of employment to the blackest mark on a Jets franchise that has blocks of black like a partially declassified government document?

Like the callers who wait on hold for an eternity for the opportunity to “discuss” sports with the “knowledgeable” hosts on any sport-talk show, there was plenty of shouting to “do something” with no viable suggestions of precisely what should be done. What would he like them to do? All he did was reference runs scored, their record since the break, ridicule the young pitchers without knowing one thing about them, and tear into Collins.

Where’s the solution?

Could he come up with one?

In the act, Francesa sounds like a fool on the verge of a stroke. What makes it worse is that it’s fake.

The one thing Mets fans and personnel don’t need to hear is how bad the team is from those who had predicted that this same roster was going to lose somewhere between 90 and 110 games. Those same people who were strangely silent when the Mets were playing solid baseball and were one of the surprise stories of the first half of the season. All of a sudden, those silent voices—Francesa, Joel Sherman, Michael Kay—are going to pop up like the weasels that they are and pick at the bones with ego-propping exhortations of how “right” they were. But where were they back then? Were they waiting for the bottom to drop out “knowing” this would happen or were they simply hoping it would to boost their own poorly-disguised agendas?

It’s easier for Francesa to sit by like the lonely girl at the school dance hoping someone will pay attention to him and, when no one does, to strip off all his clothes and cause a humiliating scene that people are going to talk about—and ridicule—in its aftermath than to intelligently retort what the GM himself said to him directly the day before.

Are the Mets supposed to spend money they don’t have in the middle of a rebuild to keep the media off their backs when it’s been known since Alderson took over that the entire organization from top-to-bottom needed a total reconstruction? Which players did he want? No answer is given.

He wants them to spend money as if that’s the end-all/be-all of formulating a winning team after having watched the Yankees of the 1980s toss money at the wall, change managers and general managers and placate the fans with name players in free agency and trades that did little more than speed their descent to the depths. Did spending money help the Red Sox this season? The Angels? The Marlins? The Tigers? The Phillies?

In one breath he says something to the tune of “nobody knows with bullpens,” and in the next, he wants them to spend money on said bullpen. They did that and it hasn’t worked. Did he want Heath Bell? Jonathan Papelbon? Rafael Soriano was essentially useless to the Yankees until Mariano Rivera got hurt, now everyone’s in love with Soriano because he’s doing a job that he can do, a job that the Yankees only gave him because their designated replacement for Rivera, David Robertson, got hurt and looked like he needed to rush to the toilet when he was pitching the ninth inning instead of the eighth.

I didn’t hear one predictably negative word from Francesa about David Wright while Wright was carrying the team and playing like an MVP candidate in the first half, but now Wright’s not Evan Longoria; he’s not a player that can carry a team; he’s not a “superstar”. But why didn’t he say it then? Was he waiting until the inevitable slump?

Francesa doesn’t know the plan of Alderson, but when this primal scream started, did Francesa have a plan behind the shouting? If so, he’s got it hidden as well as he accuses the Mets of hiding their plan. The Mets do have a plan and it’s obvious, albeit unpopular: wait until the expensive contracts expire; wait until the financial circumstances of the Wilpons improve; take the lumps; and spend for 2014. They won’t say it, but it is what it is. It’s a rebuild. That’s what happens in a rebuild, like it or not.

If Francesa were an actual inside baseball person and walked into the clubhouse like a raving lunatic, he’d be ostracized similarly to former Mets’ employee Tony Bernazard who was fired due to his decision to do exactly what Francesa did yesterday with a bunch of minor leaguers.

It was embarrassing, but would be acceptable if he simply came up with a viable solution!

But he didn’t.

Instead, he referenced sore spots in New York sports and said things that would twist the knife to anyone who was the object of said vitriol by saying the words, “Rich Kotite”.

It’s indicative of the Francesa mentality that the replacement for Kotite was Francesa’s friend Bill Parcells and upon the hiring of Parcells the Jets went from clueless to Francesa’s team to the point that he wore a Jets pullover during his show.

The Jets are back to being on his hit list. Their GM Mike Tannenbaum worked with Parcells and the reference of “Mr. T” has gone from a term of endearment to a clean curse. Coach Rex Ryan has brought on much of the animosity himself with his blatantly arrogant, bloviating statements of perceived greatness that doesn’t exist on or off the field. In fact, Rex Ryan’s team is taking the mirror image of his father Buddy Ryan’s teams as they had a short burst of success after the new coach took charge with the lax discipline and player love for the coach, and is now coming undone as a direct result of the reasons that the players wanted to play for the Ryans. Francesa will turn his attention to them soon. Judging from their disarray, the Jets are well on the way to a truly disappointing season, one in which the rest of football would see as a piled on comeuppance worse than what they got from the Giants’ Super Bowl victory.

It grates Francesa that Alderson won’t kowtow to him and calmly, coolly answers his questions with logic and intelligence rather than stammering and return fire. The Jets steer clear of Francesa’s show for the most part. That Alderson isn’t going to hide or act capriciously to take the heat off of his organization or his bosses and make a desperate mistake that Omar Minaya’s operation made with signing Jason Bay or that the Red Sox, Phillies, Tigers, Yankees and Angels made in tossing money at their problems feeds into Francesa’s feelings of inadequacy because he can’t bully this new Mets regime with his spewing and attempts to foment a revolution among the fanbase.

If the Mets hire a “Francesa-approved” manager (since Collins has lost said approval), would he then refrain from this type of hate speech? Or if the players—and it’s the players, not the manager—aren’t good enough to compete, would they be on the burner?

Minaya was never treated in this way because everyone liked him and, occasionally, felt sorry for him as it was so easy to get him flustered and repetitive due to his desire to be everyone’s friend and his difficulties with the intricacies of the English language. Francesa wasn’t Minaya’s friend. It was another tactic to have his voice heard and, perhaps, listened to in a reactive fashion. “Francesa’s on our case and getting the fans after us, so we’d better do something.” It’s a blatant and transparent altering of strategy that Alderson, with his Marine training and legal background, is going to see right through and roundly ignore.

The Mets themselves were surprised by their early season vault into contention. They knew that the team was going to have a hard time competing unless Johan Santana came back strong; unless Wright had an MVP season; unless R.A. Dickey was a solid, mid-rotation starter; unless the young players Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole, Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis stepped forward; and unless the revamped bullpen performed. It just so happened that in the first half of the season, much of that (aside from the bullpen) and more happened. Suddenly the Mets were a feel-good story who couldn’t be criticized specifically because they were operating under constraints of a rebuild and the lack of money available to buy players—players who would’ve done more harm than good in the long-term had they bought them.

Once the players came back to earth, injuries mounted and hot streaks ended, the team came undone. But how can anyone scream about it when nothing was expected in the first place? That they played as well as they did given the difficulty of the National League East and the hindrances and negativity surrounding the club is a minor miracle.

This is an explanation of why the team’s come apart as it has. It’s not yelling and screaming. It’s just fact. Facts are what Francesa was unable to coherently provide yesterday. The session was designed to exert his will on the franchise when they don’t care what he says and don’t think much of his baseball-intelligence to begin with. In the past, the Mets played defense with Francesa; now they just treat him as a North Korea-style agitator that has to be paid attention to in a “watch him” sort of way, but has limited weapons to deploy and doesn’t want to push too far because if Alderson truly decides to tell Francesa what he thinks of him, he’ll be left publicly cowering instead of validating the still deniable underlying fear he has of the Mets’ GM.

If Alderson fires back, Francesa won’t have a response because yesterday’s bellowing was the one weapon he has left. It was noisy and little else.

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The Skip Bayless, ESPN, Derek Jeter PED “Controversy”

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Let’s just say for a moment that a veteran, workmanlike shortstop named Jerry Deter was enjoying an unprecedented career renaissance and was playing in an all-around fashion at age 38 that he did at 28 after two years of noticeable and statistical decline. Deter, no star and certainly not a denizen of hot nightclubs, name restaurants and totem of fans, would be under scrutiny from all corners wondering how he did it.

Would he be under suspicion of using drugs to facilitate that comeback? Would he be accused outright? And would there be this righteous indignation for simply asking the question?

On a day when veteran righty pitcher Bartolo Colon, enjoying a career comeback of his own, was suspended for 50 games for failing a PED test, ESPN broadcaster Skip Bayless stirred the pot by suggesting that Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter is a possible example of a player who has rejuvenated his career in a similar fashion by using PEDs. There was a response of anger from Jeter fans who, by and large, don’t like Bayless to begin with or even know who he is. Jeter was asked about it and replied in with a prototypical Jeter head shake and trademark coolness. What’s lost in the story is that Bayless didn’t accuse Jeter of anything. All he did was ask the question as exhibited in the quote below:

“I am not saying he uses a thing,” Bayless said. “I have no idea. But within the confines of his sport, it is fair for all of us, in fact you are remiss, if you don’t at least think about this.”

The “How dare you question Derek!!!” dynamic is all tied in with what Bayless was trying to do. Jeter is still the smoothest guy in the place who’s equally at home with a roomful of grandmothers and old-school baseball men as he is in a nightclub surrounded by adoring women; the man who honors his mother and father but still has the sly smile of someone who knows something you don’t and may have just done something you’d like to do; who could craft a life in politics after his Hall of Fame baseball career; who plays every game like it will be his last and doesn’t comprehend those who don’t follow suit; and has had the ability to navigate and deflect controversy with a deft flick of his wrist and an easy sincerity that Alex Rodriguez was never able to muster. He didn’t start sweating or have the shifty, darting eyes of one who’s trying to hide something when asked about Bayless. No one would believe him capable of using PEDs; nor would they think he’d tear down everything he built in the interest of having a few memory lane years of what he once was.

I would be shocked if Jeter was caught using anything stronger than painkillers that have been okayed by MLB. But in this day and age when players are reverting to the bygone era when time was the great equalizer and players can’t perform as well or better at age 38 as they did at 28, is it crazy to wonder? No.

ESPN is at the point where they don’t care what their personalities say as long as it generates buzz, drives ratings and conversation. The main thing is not to get sued and Bayless didn’t say anything worthy of getting sued. With information available at the click of a button, the days of loyalty to one particular writer, broadcaster or website are over. Readers click randomly and haphazardly with a small percentage regularly searching for one particular thing. ESPN writes and discusses that which begets webhits and target the right demographics. This, in turn, allows them to sell advertising based on those factors. And they’re not alone. People want to read about Tim Tebow, Bryce Harper, Lolo Jones, and Tom Brady on a daily basis, so you’ll see stories about those people whether they’re warranted on that day or not; then there’s legitimate news such as Roger Clemens’s return to the mound, and the failed tests of Colon and Melky Cabrera.

The only evidence against Jeter is this sudden return to his glory days. Jeter’s never been one to complain about injuries nor has he used them as an excuse when he’s not playing up to his lofty baseline. There’s never been a statement of, “Oh, by the way, I was playing on a tender hamstring; badly twisted ankle; achy shoulder…” He just plays. Jeter could be healthy again after an unknown malady; he could be on a hot streak; or he could be doing something he shouldn’t be doing. We don’t know.

It would be a stupid thing to do after all these years and a shortsighted choice to make—a line that Jeter would not cross—but is it a fair question to ask as all players are under suspicion? Yes.

And there are peripheral reasons that Bayless did this because I don’t think even he believes, as I don’t, that Jeter is guilty of anything at all other than playing well at an advanced age for a baseball player.

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