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The 6-Man Rotation: Its Wisdom And Its Flaws

MLB

Had the Washington Nationals implemented a 6-man starting rotation in 2012, there’s a very real chance that they would have won the World Series that year. The predetermined innings limit on ace Stephen Strasburg that led to him being shut down in mid-September of that year could very easily have been avoided had the Nats taken the lesser of evils by implementing a 6-man starting rotation. They chose not to do that, sat a submissive Strasburg down, and lost in the National League Division Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.

There’s no guarantee that the Nats would have won that series with Strasburg. Ace pitchers are generally hit or miss when it comes to the post-season – just look at Clayton Kershaw. For the 2012 Nats, it was the bullpen that betrayed them as they were set to close it out. But having Strasburg made the Nats a better team and they didn’t have him not because he was injured, but because they were paranoid and they did something absurd to feed that paranoia and shield themselves from criticism in case he got hurt. That he’s never fulfilled that massive potential is a secondary negative to his career. The protection was, basically, useless.

In hindsight, the Nats still insist they did the “right” thing because admitting to anything less is seen, in the macho and stupid world of sports, as a sign of weakness. Then-manager Davey Johnson was out of the Earl Weaver school of managing and wanted nothing to do with babying his players, but was overruled on the matter. Suffice it to say that had Strasburg been available, Johnson would have been happy to have him on the mound for game 1 or 2 of that series.

Many pitchers dislike the 6-man rotation, but given the dueling agendas of front offices and on-field staff, there are few other options that make sense. Currently, there’s an ongoing debate as to what the New York Mets should do with their enviable surplus of starting pitching. Veteran Dillon Gee is the low man on the totem pole and had a conveniently-timed groin injury. Rafael Montero had a shoulder injury. These issues allowed the club to recall Noah Syndergaard slightly earlier than planned. Syndergaard has nothing more to prove in the minor leagues and has been dynamic in all aspects of the game since arriving in the majors, even hitting a tape-measure home run against the Philadelphia Phillies while tossing 7 1/3 scoreless innings in his Wednesday afternoon start.

They could send Syndergaard down, but he’s earned his position in the big leagues. The Mets would like to be rid of Gee, but don’t want to give him away. Clearly what the Mets are doing for the foreseeable future is giving extra and unwanted (from their perspective) rest to Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon while simultaneously showcasing Gee to try and get something of value for him when they trade him. It’s easy to say “just get him outta here,” but sometimes it makes sense to wait for teams to grow desperate as general manager Sandy Alderson did when he pried the Mets’ future second baseman Dilson Herrera and righty reliever Vic Black from the Pittsburgh Pirates for rejuvenated journeyman outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck. While it’s unlikely they’ll get anything of use for Gee, they might if they wait. The subpar deals that they can make now will still be there a month from now barring an injury or terrible performance.

Akin to the 6-man rotation, pitching once a week is the norm in Japan and it could be the change in scheduling that has negatively affected Masahiro Tanaka as he’s battling numerous injuries with the New York Yankees. In Japan, their workloads are heavier, but they get more rest. In North America, with all the medical expertise and studies that are used to decide how best to keep pitchers healthy, there are still an alarming number of injuries sabotaging these plans and schemes that look retrospectively ridiculous when the foundation of the decision was to keep them healthy and it’s not working.

Suffice it to say that the Mets five main starters want nothing to do with this arrangement, nor would there be any chance of a Strasburg-like shutdown of Harvey if the Mets are in playoff contention down the stretch. Both pitchers are represented by Scott Boras, but that’s about where the similarities end. Boras had a hand in the Strasburg shutdown with an eye toward the future contract his charge is set to command. If he had his choice with Harvey, he’d probably prefer the pitcher take a similarly acquiescent route as Strasburg did, listening to orders and acting like Boras’s brainless dummy, but that’s not going to happen. Strasburg meekly agreed to the shutdown, only resisting in a perfunctory fashion when he saw the public and professional backlash he faced for the perceived selfishness. If the Mets tried that with Harvey, he’d simply tell them that either they let him pitch or they trade him. No pitcher in baseball wants the playoff spotlight and accompanying attention that comes with it more than Harvey and he’s not going to shun that for the protective embrace that the innings limits are supposed to provide, but rarely do.

These are the options:

A) shutdown at X number of innings

B) ignore the research and let them pitch regardless of the workload

C) go with the 6-man rotation

Which is best?

The Nats and Strasburg are headed toward a parting of the ways after the 2016 season as his free agency beckons. They might trade him before that. His talent has been largely wasted at the time in his life when he should have been at the top of his game and pitching for his team in the playoffs. Other teams noticed how badly that situation was botched and are trying to find different ways to protect their young pitchers, adhere to medical recommendations, and still have them available for the entire season without blowing off the innings limits and placing themselves under the microscope for “abusing” their young arms. Some teams simply don’t care what others say and live by the old-school credo. That worked for the San Francisco Giants. The Mets aren’t doing that, but they don’t want to shut down their pitchers either. With all that in mind, the best option of all the questionable options is to go with a 6-man rotation for a few turns to naturally keep the innings down while trying to move Gee. They really don’t have any other viable choice.

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Dan Jennings represents a new threat to uniformed baseball people

MLB

Widespread bafflement and undisguised anger has simmered from the Miami Marlins’ stunning decision to replace fired manager Mike Redmond with general manager Dan Jennings. The results in Jennings’s first three games at the helm have mirrored what they were under Redmond with discombobulated losses and puzzlement as a team that many had considered a World Series contender looks closer to a club that’s heading for the number one pick in the 2016 draft. While owner Jeffrey Loria and his front office staff are loath to admit this sad fact – and probably won’t – it’s the flawed roster that’s the problem and not anything that the manager did or didn’t do.

That aside, Jennings put himself in this difficult situation by accepting the job. Uniformed baseball people have been anonymously expressing their dismay that the field is now being invaded by “suits.” While the Marlins situation is different from most other clubs in that there is a known quotient of dysfunction from the top down and has been for years, the Jennings hiring isn’t only offensive to those who have dedicated their life to the on-field, nuanced, “you can only learn by watching” portion of the game. It symbolizes the final infiltration of the last enclave in which players and “baseball people” held sacred and thought was safe.

To make matters worse, the Marlins aren’t even a pure sabermetrically-inclined team from whom this type of blurring of the lines of accepted propriety was possible or even likely. The Marlins under Loria are more Steinbrennerean than sabermetrican, lending credence to the idea that stat people are watching closely for the reaction to Jennings among the players, media and fans to see if they too can get away with a non-baseball person going down on the field and taking charge just as they’ve overtaken a large portion of big league front offices.

Uniformed baseball people accepted the new age front offices and statistical adherence not by choice, but out of necessity. These faceless, suit-clad front office people have no qualms about going into the clubhouse as if it too is their domain and they’re free to make “suggestions” to players, coaches and managers that are orders disguised as options. Now, with the Jennings foray down to the field, it might be making its way into the clubhouse completely.

The difference between uniformed personnel who work their way up through the minor league system as players, then coaches, then managers and finally find themselves on a big league staff or are actually in the manager’s office and those who are permeating baseball’s front offices today is that those who are in the front office have options for other forms of employment that will be just as, if not more, lucrative than being a GM or scouting director. Often, uniformed personnel can’t do anything else besides baseball. So it’s either accept the new reality or get a job at Wal-Mart. Another threat they have to parry is presenting itself and they’re resisting it.

The chipping away of the aura of the once insular and sacred realm of “baseball people” began with the widespread popularity and acceptance of the ludicrous stories in Moneyball. It blew up from there and is still multiplying like a disease meant to wipe out those who probably can’t formulate an algorithm, but have an innate sense of when their pitcher is out of gas. It’s easy to see why they’re chafing at Jennings being in uniform.

There’s no threat of the pure sabermetric front offices or even sabermetrically-leaning front offices having their current baseball bosses go down on the field as happened with the Marlins and Jennings. You won’t see Jeff Luhnow, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Brian Cashman or any of the other GMs who are stats-obsessed pulling on a uniform to run the team on the field. But is it possible that there’s a group of 20-somethings making a load of money in the stock market looking to buy a team with it in their minds to be the next subject of a book by having a non-baseball guy go on the field and win a World Series? The ego and arrogance that has led to the transformation of an endeavor that was once meant to be a plaything – a sports franchise – into a big business in which non-athletes can become sports celebrities. It’s treated as such. It provides a spotlight that these Masters of the Universe wouldn’t get by being mentioned on Bloomberg as a CEO with a $150 million bonus and a mansion in the Hamptons.

This is why the Marlins and Jennings could have unintended consequences throughout baseball. The Marlins are being deservedly ridiculed for what they’ve done. Jennings is a baseball guy, so It’s not “ridiculous” in the context of Bill Veeck’s midget Eddie Gaedel or Ted Turner going down on the field to manage the Atlanta Braves. It is, however, an intrusion into what the uniformed people felt was their domain. If one team does it, another team might do it. That’s what the uniformed people are rightfully afraid of more than they are offended by the Marlins’ breach of accepted protocol.

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The Marlins way

MLB

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria finally gave in and did what he’s clearly wanted to do by firing manager Mike Redmond. My prediction was off by two-and-a-half weeks.

Let’s not treat Redmond as a victim here. Yes, he got caught in an Oliver Stone-conspiracy style of triangulation of crossfire between the demanding owner, the roster that was thought to be better than it actually is, and the fact that he is, at best, an average manager. He didn’t do a particularly good job, doesn’t have the resume to say that he should have been given more time, and the team is floundering. High expectations can cost a manager his job and if the expectations are reasonable, then the firing is deserved. Unreasonable expectations will get a manager fired, but that doesn’t mean that the firing isn’t justified.

These ambiguities can be viewed as unfair, but they’re part of the landscape when choosing managing a baseball team as a vocation.

When a manager takes a job offered by Loria, it’s not hard to predict how it’s going to end. Like Al Davis with the Oakland Raiders, the manager/head coach is a supporting character in the drama. That said, many clubs in sports treat their field bosses as disposable entities and have been far more callous about it than Loria, doing so with the tacit protection of a starstruck gallery of supporters and media factions invested in selling a myth.

Billy Beane – considered a “genius” – has gone through four managers in his time. Some were fired for cause; others were fired just because he felt like firing them; others were tossed overboard with Beane blaming the media, not the manager, for his failings. Theo Epstein fired both Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria and was given a widespread pass for it from the same people who are unloading on Loria now. Because Epstein got the so-called “best” manager in baseball Joe Maddon, his tactics are somehow more honorable because there’s a reason behind them rather than emanating from Loria’s reflexive response to fire the easiest target: the manager.

It’s partisan nonsense hidden behind analysis and excuses.

Loria is an easy target because he’s the one who was investigated by the SEC, hoodwinked the State of Florida into building him a new stadium, was slapped on the wrist by Major League Baseball for pocketing revenue-sharing money, and fires his manager when things don’t go the way he thinks they should. This is how he does business and he’s successful at it. Who’s to say he’s wrong?

Redmond joins an eclectic group of past victims buried in the body orchard of Loria’s impatience, petulance, anger and blameworthiness that includes respected GM Larry Beinfest; one of the best current managers in baseball Joe Girardi; an underrated baseball lifer Jack McKeon; the mediocre Fredi Gonzalez; the missing in action Edwin Rodriguez; and the magnet for self-inflicted, intentionally-created controversy Ozzie Guillen.

With the daylong speculation as to where Loria was going to go to replace Redmond, the names that popped up included Dusty Baker, Jeff Conine, Wally Backman, and Bo Porter. In a tactical move seemingly designed to surprise, general manager Dan Jennings will take over in the dugout. Jennings has been a respected scout and front office man, but has never managed or coached at the professional level.

While unusual, this is not completely unheard of in today’s game. Former Marlins manager John Boles didn’t play professionally. Nor did former Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Trembley. Their results when managing were poor and while there was limited talent on the teams they managed, it’s naïve and ignorant to dismiss their lack of professional playing experienced as irrelevant.

Playing for a year or two as a low-level minor leaguer with zero chance of making it any further than the bottom rung or professional baseball shouldn’t add any more credibility than someone who worked his way up through the minors. But that ignores the macho, testosterone-fueled nature of baseball.

Hiring Jennings might craft greater organizational continuity between the field staff, president of baseball operations Michael Hill, and, naturally, Loria. Some are questioning the decision, but Loria has – intentionally or not – shielded himself from criticism by a large portion of the viewing public by doing what the stat people say should be done more often and ignore the “experience” factor when making a decision on whom the manager should be. They can’t critique it in anything more than a nitpicky fashion because doing so inadvertently chips away at their own belief system and its tenets.

Jennings might think that since he’s been a longtime confidant and is a trusted member of Loria’s baseball operations staff that he’s safe. If this was a short-term attempt on the part of Loria and Jennings to get a close look at what’s happening on the field and in the clubhouse, then it makes sense on all ends. That may yet be the case. The Marlins run their club differently than other teams do in which the general manager is the ultimate face of the franchise and runs the club on a day-to-day basis. The Marlins have Hill, Loria’s stepson David Samson, Jennings, and Loria himself taking part in how the team is run with numerous advisers and kibitzers jockeying for position. In theory, Jennings can do what he was doing as the GM and still manage the team.

The players are the keys here. They didn’t hate Redmond, so his departure won’t be viewed with a sense of relief. There’s a very real possibility that the team really isn’t much better than a .500 team, so it won’t matter who the manager is unless structural changes to the roster are made. Players, being the entitled, blame-shifting, “nothing’s my fault” entities that they are, will look at Jennings and raise an eyebrow if (when) he simply looks out of place in uniform. Ostensibly, Jennings is the players’ “boss,” but in sports that’s largely meaningless unless the owner himself is taking over the team. Sharing an office with a boss is uncomfortable no matter how good a person is at his or her job; no matter how secure within the terms of employment he or she is. The idea that the “boss” is with them 24/7, watching, judging assessing, scrutinizing is awkward.

The players are the ones with the power and the larger paychecks. They’re the ones who should be blamed, but rarely are. Now Jennings is on the field. Undoubtedly, given the flawed nature of the Marlins’ roster, he’ll learn the same thing that Redmond did: there’s not much he can do to fix it unless the players play better. The biggest problem with this team stems from the thought that they were going to be a World Series contender when they are, in reality, a mediocre team who can make the playoffs if everything goes right. Since it didn’t go right, it cost Redmond his job and put this odd chain of events in motion.

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The Yankees’ conundrum

MLB

The New York Yankees have so far defied most “expert” predictions (including my own) as to their fate this season. A 21-13 record is far better than even the most optimistic fans and media shills could have hoped for. The question is whether or not they can maintain it as currently constructed and, if not, what they have to do to bolster their current roster.

Objectively, it’s difficult to see the Yankee sustaining this current method of running games and winning. If they continue down this road, the bullpen is going to be shot by July. What they can do is bring in reinforcements to bolster the bullpen and starting rotation. But how? In the past, the Yankees would have worried about today today and figured they could buy whatever they needed on the market in the winter. That’s no longer the case.

There are internal options if they hold their fire and resist the temptation to misread the situation, panic and again abandon any plans they formulated. They can wait out Masahiro Tanaka’s return and hope that the injury issues – that have now extended into something totally different from his partially torn UCL – will recede into the background and he can be effective. They can wait for Ivan Nova. They can hope that the warmer weather rejuvenates CC Sabathia who, in spite of his record, has actually been relatively effective, albeit unlucky.

The Yankees have the prospects to get Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies, but that might not be the wisest decision. It would be a repeat of what the Yankees did in the past and put them on the treadmill they’ve been on over the past several years with aging players, bloated contracts, and limited prospects in the minors.

Even if they resist the temptation to get Hamels, they’re going to need help. They’re not getting enough length from their starting pitching and as long as they’re treating Nathan Eovaldi as if he’s a combination of a work-in-progress who they’re trying to develop and a reincarnation of the untrustworthy Javier Vazquez in Vazquez’s ill-advised and poorly considered second tenure in the Bronx, he can’t be trusted. They have to closely monitor Tanaka if/when he returns. They’re dealing with the aging star Sabathia. Nova is returning from Tommy John surgery and can’t be expected to provide significant depth. Adam Warren is showing that he is probably better suited to the bullpen. Chris Capuano is on the way back, but he’s mediocre at best.

They can improve the bullpen from within by using Warren. Jacob Lindgren is expected to be in the Bronx sooner rather than later. They could use one of their younger pitchers whose future is as a starter. But will they want to run the risk of repeating what they did with Joba Chamberlain with Luis Severino and let him be a weapon out of the bullpen with the understanding that no matter how dominant he might be that he’s going to go back to the starting rotation next year? Much of what happened with Chamberlain was the Yankees’ own fault. While they might proclaim that Severino’s future and Chamberlain’s past will have no bearing on their plans, it will be a looming if unacknowledged concern that the same thing could happen with a debate bordering on pending violence as to whether he should start or relieve.

That bullpen has been battered by manager Joe Girardi early in the season. Faced with the dueling necessities of trying to win and develop/protect their starting pitchers, he’s used his relievers to a degree that is indicative of his training as Joe Torre’s catcher and former bench coach. Already Chris Martin is injured. David Carpenter has been predictably bad. Every key short reliever in the Yankees’ bullpen has appeared in at least 13 games. The most important components – Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller – have been pushed remarkably hard for so early a point in the season. That cannot continue if they want any of those relievers to be effective in August and September.

Then there are the bats.

Alex Rodriguez, as good as he’s been, is still about to turn 40 and has a lengthy injury history if you completely ignore his PED use. Given his past, it cannot be ignored that he’s been busted for PED use so many times and lied about it even more. There are those who will believe anything A-Rod says; others who won’t believe anything he says; and those who will believe that he can’t possibly be stupid enough to get caught again.

Anything’s possible. With his age, it’s silly to believe that he’ll remain healthy and fresh all season even with the Yankees giving him periodic and strategic days off. He’s always be a threat due to his baseball intelligence, but he can’t keep this up.

Carlos Beltran has shown signs of life over the past few days, but he’s a testament to how baseball players aged pre-PED use – they inevitably become declining shells of their former selves when they reach their late-30s. There will be brief bursts of prior glory, but expecting that to continue is delusional.

Mark Teixeira is enjoying a renaissance, but he’s 35.

Chase Headley will undoubtedly hit better. Didi Gregorius remains a complete unknown with the reasonable expectation that he’s going to hit like Mark Belanger for the entire season. They need a second baseman as Stephen Drew is a weak stopgap.

Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have gone above-and-beyond the call of duty, but both have been injury-prone and cannot continue this production.

Once everyone falls back to what they really are, the Yankees will have to make some additions from somewhere.

This is where the Yankees’ conundrum arises. Do they trade some of their prospects for veteran help to try and win a weak and wounded division? Do they hold onto the players they want to keep instead of acquiring a veteran arm or bat? Much like the dilemma they faced as they phased out Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, this is a different “damned if we do/damned if we don’t” circumstance. They had to play Jeter to placate the fans even though his bat and glove warranted him being benched. They were lucky with Rivera in that he was effective through to the end, but even if he wasn’t, they still would have had to keep him in the closer’s role whether he deserved it or not. In this situation, they’ve closed the vault and adhered to a certain plan rather than spend money to fill holes with other players who were eventually going to create the same holes they have now. To make matters worse, if this team gets into the playoffs, that bullpen combination of Betances and Miller gives them a chance to do damage once they’re there, but if they burn out Betances and Miller to get there how much will they have left in October (or August)? And what about the subsequent years that could be physically mortgaged in a similar way to the Yankees’ financial mortgaging for players like Beltran, Brian McCann, Sabathia, and even, to a degree, Tanaka?

The American League East itself is putting the Yankees in a position that, barring a monumental collapse or spate of injuries, they’ll have a chance to win the division. Right now, it could be a division that takes 84 wins. That falls right into what the Yankees have been over the past several years and what their reality is now. Considering the preseason flaws, this undoubtedly comes as a pleasant surprise to the front office. As much as they said they liked this team, there was a tactical diminishing of the previously lofty expectations of World Series or bust with ambiguous phrasing that essentially said, “If everything goes right…” It’s May and everything has gone right resulting in a 21-13 record and first place.

That can be as negative as positive because it might lead Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to order GM Brian Cashman to do something stupid through misinterpreting what they currently are. Cashman won’t want to do it and could convince the front office that it’s preferable to get a Scott Kazmir, Aaron Harang, Mike Leake, Kyle Lohse, John Axford, or Tyler Clippard for far less in terms of players and financial commitment than it will cost to get Hamels.

However, if it’s late July, the bullpen is fading and the starting rotation is faltering, he might not have a choice. He might be ordered to take Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon or some other combination of pricey players Cashman doesn’t want and the Yankees don’t need in the short or long-term. That would undo all the good things they did this past winter in a similar fashion to them abandoning the $189 million goal for the retrospectively poor spending spree they embarked upon in the winter of 2013-2014 that made them older, more expensive and, overall, worse than they would have been if they’d held to their financial line and shown some patience.

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Tom Brady, cheating, the NFL, and the American way

MLB, NFL

The decision by the NFL investigators that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Bradyprobably” cheated is a line-straddling concession similar to a civil court case in which the criteria is that the issue at hand “more likely than not” occurred. They don’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, so Brady still has plausible deniability even though he seems to have lied when he said he had nothing to do with the amount of air in the footballs for the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The important question isn’t whether or not he did it and if his legacy and the fourth Super Bowl he and the Patriots just won is tarnished. Nor is it whether or not he’s guilty. The important question is whether or not this is a scandal compromising the game’s competitiveness or an integral part of the game.

Cheating in sports has always been a nuanced and indefinable. Some believe that all is fair. It’s fine if there’s a certain of cheating going on as long as no one’s life is put at risk because of it and the integrity of the competition isn’t compromised by an intentional attempt to lose. If gamesmanship occurs, it’s generally perceived as acceptable in the context of professional competition. Most sports aren’t combat-related where an incident such as what happened between Luis Resto and his trainer Panama Lewis as padding was removed from Resto’s gloves and he battered Billy Collins, Jr. Lewis and Resto went to jail and Collins spiraled downward until he committed suicide. Resto later admitted that not only were the gloves tampered with, but his hand wraps were soaked in Plaster of Paris. That was criminality, not competitive gamesmanship. There’s a certain level of trust that competitors won’t go as far as Resto and Lewis did and cause severe injury even in a sport like boxing where injury is the defined intent. Although it’s a violent sport, Resto and Lewis went beyond negligible propriety of head butts, elbows and other acts that are generally accepted as part of the terrain in boxing.

Where does that put football, baseball and other sports? Is there a line between Brady (probably) having had the footballs deflated and a clever offensive lineman holding on every single play and getting away with it? What about in baseball were little tricks are used in every game – most of which are not within the confines of the rules – to gain an advantage? Gaylord Perry wrote a book called, “Me and the Spitter” based on his reliance of a career-saving spitball. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Don Drysdale pitched 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in 1968 and it was only stopped when he was caught and warned without being sanctioned for throwing a spitball. Mike Scott salvaged a dying career with a scuffball. No one cared. It was shrugged off.

In some cases, the league itself takes part in the “cheating” by allowing it to go on or tacitly encouraging it for the greater good. Major League Baseball easily falls into this category with the performance enhancing drug explosion. To imply that no one in MLB’s regulatory body was aware that players were not having a career renaissance based on hard work is the combination of naïve and idiotic.

In football, Brady’s success is part of the problem with this latest scandal. If it was discovered that Jay Cutler had a certain, rule-bending way he wanted his footballs prepared, he’d be the target of ridicule on talk radio, social media, mainstream media and in bars. “Heh, heh, heh. Better figure out a new way to keep your balls so they don’t end up in the hands of the other team, Jay. Heh, heh, heh.”

But it’s not a player who’s viewed as a sad sack loser like Cutler. It’s Brady. The winningest of the winners. The guy who married perhaps the most famous supermodel in the world. The guy who has the life many aspire to and didn’t have it handed to him as the first overall pick in the draft, anointed since birth. He was an afterthought sixth round draft pick who worked, studied, trained and made himself into one of the best quarterbacks in history.

The idea is that this taints Brady’s career in an exponential way because it’s not the first time that there have been allegations and proof of chicanery on the part of the Bill Belichick/Brady Patriots. Given the times they’ve been caught, logic dictates that there are probably twenty other incidents in which they’ve bent or outright broken the rules and gotten away with it. Back to the Cutler analogy, is it because the Patriots cheat more than other teams or is it because they’re simply better at football? This is in line with the PED use in baseball. Barry Bonds broke records and had the best years of his career at a time when he should have been in steady decline based on age and physical breakdown. Obviously, it was because of the drugs. But he was also better than the other players who were also using the same drugs. Doesn’t that, in a bizarre way, level the playing field back to how it was when everyone was clean?

Belichick and owner Bob Kraft have not been implicated in “deflategate.” Who knows whether or not either were aware of this? It’s doubtful that Kraft is so involved in the micromanagement of his team that he’d be aware of it, especially when he’s got someone so competent as Belichick as his football CEO. As for Belichick, it appears to be an intentional, “I can always say I didn’t know if I really didn’t know, but kinda knew” method of management that is far more common in successful companies that most are willing to admit.

Belichick’s managerial style is like that of any all-powerful dictator. The leader in a sustained dictatorship has a method with his generals and subordinates: if it works, great; if it doesn’t, you take the fall. Naturally, that won’t apply to Brady while he’s still of use to Belichick. But there will be others tossed overboard because they’re disposable. After all their years together and the amount of trust that Belichick puts in Brady as the conduit from the coach’s brain to the on-field game plan implementation, the quarterback presumably has autonomy to do whatever he needs to do including certain activities that push the envelope of the rules.

To settle the issue of how much the football is to be inflated and to satisfy the public, expect there to be a boxing-style pregame check by representatives of the opposing team similar to a boxer’s gloves being examined and marked. There will either be a range in which the balls can be inflated and deflated or the NFL will simply say, these are the balls; this is how much they’re inflated; deal with it. Brady will probably be fined heavily and suspended for a game or two. That will be it.

The NFL allowed this to happen. Do you believe the NFL became the powerful entity it is by following all the rules? They had their players as indentured servants until 25 years ago when nominal free agency came into being. Apart from the public image and financial ramifications, they still don’t really care about the players’ physical, emotional and mental condition in the aftermath of their careers as they’re addicted to painkillers, unable to walk and are wandering around with brain damage and no money to pay for treatment.

The NFL itself is very effective at theoretically promoting one code of conduct to satisfy its customers and quiet the media while bowing to expediency in practice. Like the domestic violence issue in which the NFL only took steps to dispense punishments that are deemed appropriate after a video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée unconscious surfaced and they spun their own tale similar to Brady’s that they didn’t know anything about anything, they acted when they had no other choice. It was a business decision, not because it’s the right thing to do.

If Roger Goodell and the NFL are worried about this latest issue with the Patriots, it’s only because they want the fans to believe that the sport is on the up-and-up; that gamblers (who the sport won’t acknowledge either) are wagering fairly; and that the business dictates they act.

The United States didn’t become the world power it is by following rules that hinder achieving that end. The NFL sells itself as an American institution. Tom Brady is considered the All-American boy. They sure are. The underlying reality might not be the conveniently salable storyline, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

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Ron Roenicke’s firing was out of convenience

MLB

It’s not Ron Roenicke’s fault that the Milwaukee Brewers are 7-18, but if he’s absolved of the blame when the team plays poorly, nor does he deserve credit for the division title the team won in his first year as manager. In examining the circumstances that resulted in his ouster, Roenicke was fired out of convenience.

In defense of Roenicke, the manager’s job is smack in the center of the spotlight when things go poorly; when players underperform; when injuries happen and it’s mostly in a negative light. The Brewers have good players whose numbers have been consistent year-in/year-out. They’ve gotten off to a terrible start and it cost Roenicke his job. What he could have done about it is a mystery. Veteran players have their own pace and are, generally, left alone by the manager. If they don’t perform, what’s the manager to do?

Validating the decision to make a change, the Brewers can still save the season making it reasonable to jettison him now before the deficit is too deep to overcome. It’s early enough that there’s a lesser chance of the veterans pulling the “screw this” card, going through the motions to get the season over with.

Roenicke’s replacement, Craig Counsell, was a grinder as a player and has made the rounds as a front office executive, potential hitting coach and manager. He’s on the same page with general manager Doug Melvin and will evaluate what’s currently on the roster from inside the clubhouse to determine whether this can be salvaged or it’s time to clean house. They have players other teams would want including Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Matt Garza, Francisco Rodriguez, and Kyle Lohse. Or they could look at the parity-laden state of baseball today and wait to see if the change ignites the team and they can jump back into the race. It’s happened before.

Bob Nightengale said on Twitter that owner Mark Attanasio lost patience. In truth, Attanasio, while an engaged owner, is not an overt meddler on a level with Jeffrey Loria. He spurred the mid-September firing of Ned Yost in 2008 when it was clear that the Brewers’ season was spiraling out of control. Dale Sveum calmed the ship, ended the swirling speculation regarding Yost, and screeched to a halt the panic that was engulfing the team to get them to the playoffs. While it might have been unfair not to let Yost complete the rebuild he oversaw, those Brewers had traded for CC Sabathia and were in pure go-for-it mode. They made a decision to save the season and in spite of losing in the NLDS to the Philadelphia Phillies, it worked.

The Brewers knew what they were getting when they hired Roenicke. Managers tend to mimic those they’ve worked for and with. As a branch of the Mike Scioscia/Tom Lasorda managing tree, Roenicke ran the club in a strategically similar fashion to Scioscia and Lasorda. He wanted innings from his starters; had a defined manner in which he used his relievers; and he favored an inside baseball, old-school National League-style of play.

Unfortunately for him, he’s missing fundamental aspects of those two mentors and it contributed to his downfall. Without the foul mouth and outgoing personality of Lasorda and the stoic, fatherly intimidation of Scioscia, when the club began to unravel, there wasn’t much for Roenicke to do other than hope that his players’ talent would revert to normal.

Roenicke wasn’t the in-your-face type. If he ran in and flipped the food table, ripped players in the media, or cussed out reporters like Bryan Price, it would have been a transparent attempt to do something different. It might have been perceived as the unhinged, “the pressure is getting to me” response of a man who knows he’s on borrowed time. Roenicke didn’t do any of that. He stayed the same when they were winning and losing and it’s an admirable, honorable way to go down – one that might get him another managing job, eventually.

While Roenicke made strange maneuvers as a manager and was more of an empty uniform sitting at the end of the dugout than an inspirational leader, he still had a mid-market club with payroll limitations finish over .500 in three of his four full seasons including that one playoff appearance. He was in trouble last season after the Brewers’ fast start and collapse down the stretch. They brought him back. Like this horrid first month, there’s an ongoing, mirror-image exaggeration as to what the team was in 2014 and is in 2015. They weren’t that good a year ago when, at this time, they were 21-11 and they’re not as bad as 7-18 today. Roenicke was replaceable, so they replaced him. In part, it was Roenicke’s lack of pretense that did him in.