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

Books, MLB, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the logic he uses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book Review – Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius by Bill Pennington

Books, MLB

Which was Billy Martin?

Baseball wizard?

Scrappy, determined firebrand?

Two-fisted drinker and two-fisted puncher?

Egomaniacal, self-conscious, self-destructive innovator?

Generous and kind?

Religious and sorrowful?

Reckless womanizer?

Baiter of players, umpires, beat writers, front office folk, and owners?

All of the above?

The answers and more of what made Billy what he was are clear in Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius by Bill Pennington.

There’s no need to refer to him as “Martin” as would be generally appropriate in discussing a biography. His first name is all that is required to know who’s being referred to when discussing baseball from the 1950s when he became Casey Stengel’s pet, a post-season star and leader for the perennial champion New York Yankees and onward through time as he made his way as a nomadic and explosive journeyman player and manager from the late 1950s through to his death in 1989.

From a relatively destitute childhood in Oakland, gazing at the far off glory of Major League Baseball while brushing up against it with local big leaguers who still called the area home and Bay Area product, fellow Italian Joe DiMaggio, Billy was not to be denied. If he wasn’t going to be the prototypical bonus baby that big league clubs congregated around offering vast sums of money to sign with them, he’d force his way onto their radar with his hustle, intelligence, intensity and fearlessness.

Those same attributes carried him throughout a notoriously underrated big league playing career in which he was an irreplaceable cog for four pennant winners and three World Series champions.

Of course, Billy’s reputation from his childhood as someone who was ready and willing to stand up for himself – he’d taken boxing lessons as a youth – and a drinker and carouser are also imperative parts of the story that Pennington tells. These are integral to the character that grew to be larger than life and simultaneously sad and proud; pathetic and admirable. While Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford might have gotten into just as much mischief as Billy, it was always that “bad influence” Billy Martin who received the blame if things went wrong. This was evident in the Copacabana incident when, for once, it appeared that Billy was completely innocent but got the blame and a ticket out of New York anyway.

Once his playing career ended, he worked his way up through the ranks as a coach and manager who owners knew would probably help their teams win, but would also force them to fire him for an off-field incident that couldn’t be covered up with ambiguity or a quiet payoff.

No biography about Billy would be complete without discussing the fights. There were the famous ones with Jim Brewer, Dave Boswell, Ed Whitson, the marshmallow salesman, and the Twins’ traveling secretary to name just a few. Then there were the near-fights with Reggie Jackson and dozens of others in which Billy simply walked away because of the war of attrition having a reputation of a brawler relegated him to.

The dichotomy that was Billy Martin is clearly evident in the pages of Pennington’s book. One minute he would be buying drinks for an entire bar full of patrons and the next minute someone would say the wrong thing, make the wrong move and be lying on the floor contemplating an assault charge and a lawsuit against the famous big league manager whose fists were quicker than his temper and shattered the mental dam of hesitating for fear of long-term consequences that most of us have.

The battles with Reggie (another person for whom the first name is enough) take up a substantial part of the narrative with good reason. While it might be seen as a player and manager who didn’t get along and couldn’t stand the sight of each other, it goes deeper than that. Pennington indicates that one of the main reasons they didn’t get along is because they were basically the same personalities with an inevitable clash occurring not as a matter of circumstance, but as a matter of course. Both were egomaniacal, paranoid, self-loathing, self-loving, loud, and exhibited the diametrically opposed combination of being terrified and unafraid.

Billy’s dislike of Reggie was not linked to Reggie’s shortcomings as a player, but his unquenched desire to draw attention to himself at the expense of anyone who stood in his way – including the manager who wanted the credit for what the team accomplished. It certainly didn’t help that Reggie was signed against the wishes of Billy, who preferred Joe Rudi. Nor did the fact that Reggie walked into camp and immediately alienated the veteran working class, team-centric types like Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, and Sparky Lyle with whom Billy had bonded. Billy, considering himself the ultimate team man, was saddled with a player whose main function was to bask in the spotlight by any means necessary. Both men seemed to delight in garnering a reaction from the other and, in the end, perhaps needed one another to a degree that they would be loath to admit.

There’s no pigeonholing Billy. For those who considered him a purely bad guy, they speak from experience. For those, like Rickey Henderson, who consider him a great, caring guy who was a catalyst to their careers because he believed in them when no one else did, they too speak from experience. Much is made of coaching “trees” and managerial strategies that are passed down from one to the other over the decades, but Billy’s lineage is clear in the work that Tony La Russa did in his Hall of Fame career as he learned to concern himself with what was best for the team and not care about the reaction. It’s also evident in the work of Buck Showalter, who Billy took under his wing as a young spring training coach in 1988 during Billy’s final go-round as Yankees’ manager as Showalter was starting his climb from minor league manager to his current status as one of baseball’s best tacticians.

Tactics were the foundation to what made Billy so great as a manager. He spotted weaknesses and exploited them. He was forever going for the deep strike with aggressiveness and tailored his decisions to what the players could do best and what rattled the opponents the the highest degree. On the same token, there was rarely a “tomorrow” with Billy. It was win today; do what’s fun today; get the girl today; go get drunk today; worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

That’s not the blueprint to having a long career.

A common question about him is whether or not his tactics would translate to the new era of mathematical formulas, all-powerful general managers, players with contracts paying them one-third of a billion dollars, a smothering media, know nothing “experts”, bloggers, Twitter and numerous other distractions that make the 1970s and 80s seem like the Sixth Century. The answer is as nuanced as Billy himself. He would likely have adapted to a certain degree while maintaining the principles he learned from in-the-trenches work as a student of the game, but he also would have detonated when the daily questions arose as to why he used X reliever instead of Y reliever; why he batted this player fourth when the numbers indicate that batter should be batting second; and why he decided that ordering a steal of home was a smart move given the low percentage of its success.

Add in a 20-something kid with a degree from Harvard who’d never picked up a baseball in his life walking into his office and telling him that the new algorithm the sabermetrics department developed wasn’t being implemented as he was instructed and it’s hard to see him adapting to the degree that he would have had to to survive. Then again, he never survived in any one place for very long anyway. There might not have been a difference between then and now.

That’s just on the field.

His behaviors away from the park were a source of trouble that he never fully reined in or even tried to tamp down. His turbulent off-field life would have set off thousands of YouTube views whether it was a bar brawl, a drunken escapade, a confrontation with a reporter, or an accusation from one of the multitudes of women he insatiably chased.

He managed for five different organizations and had five different tenures as George Steinbrenner’s field boss. He turned each and every one of those teams around. He also forced the management to fire him for reasons on and off the field. Had he not died, there absolutely would have been at least one more tenure as Yankees’ manager – the book out-and-out says so. Regardless of talent level, attitude and situations, he made winners of all of them with his aggressive style of play. There was also a willing trade-off that his employers made knowing that there was going to be an incident that would make it necessary for them to fire him. Had Billy thought ahead off the field as well as he did on the field, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But that wasn’t his style.

Billy’s son implies that the constant turmoil might have been intentional on the part of his father; that Billy knew he grew complacent if he was in any one place for too long; that he couldn’t live without the action. This can explain why, when so many – almost all – of his publicly known fights occurred when he was sitting and drinking in some bar, he continued going to bars. He went drinking the night he died in that car crash in upstate New York. In a dramatic sense of a story with an unavoidable and expected ending, the crash was the only way Billy’s life could possibly have concluded.

A person who put forethought into what could happen to his future if something were to occur and had even the barest sense of self-preservation would have stopped drinking and quit living life at ten times the speed of everyone else.

Not Billy.

He refused to conform in a similar manner to refusing to alter his managerial style when he knew he was fundamentally right. His competitiveness dictated that he never back down even if it was in his interests to do so. Therefore, he never backed down. It gained him almost everything he earned and it cost him even more. That said, if he had backed down, maybe he never would have made it in the first place. On some level, he knew that and acted accordingly. It made him and it broke him on every conceivable level and made him what he was: a man who couldn’t be placed into a single category not because he tried to be that way, but because he couldn’t be any other way and succeed in the way he did.

Teams Shouldn’t Follow the Red Sox Template

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Much to the chagrin of Scott Boras teams are increasingly shying away from overpaying for players they believe are the “last” piece of the puzzle and doling out $200 million contracts. This realization spurred Boras’s reaction to the Mets, Astros and Cubs steering clear of big money players, many of whom are his clients.

Ten years ago, the Moneyball “way” was seen as how every team should go about running their organization; then the big money strategy reared its head when the Yankees spent their way back to a World Series title in 2009; and the Red Sox are now seen as the new method to revitalizing a floundering franchise. The fact is there is no specific template that must be followed to guarantee success. There have been teams that spent and won; there have been teams that have spent and lost. There have been teams that were lucky, smart or lucky and smart. Nothing guarantees anything unless the pieces are already in place.

The 2013 Red Sox had everything click all at once. They already had a solid foundation with Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury. They were presented with the gift of financial freedom when the Dodgers took the contracts of Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez off their hands. Bobby Valentine’s disastrous season allowed general manager Ben Cherington to run the team essentially the way he wanted without interference from Larry Lucchino. John Farrell was the right manager for them.

To think that there wasn’t a significant amount of luck in what the Red Sox accomplished in 2013 is a fantasy. Where would they have been had they not lost both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and stumbled into Koji Uehara becoming a dominant closer? Could it have been foreseen that the Blue Jays would be such a disaster? That the Yankees would have the number of key injuries they had and not spend their way out of trouble?

The players on whom the Red Sox spent their money and who had success were circumstantial.

Mike Napoli agreed to a 3-year, $39 million contract before his degenerative hip became an issue and they got him for one season. He stayed healthy all year.

Shane Victorino was viewed as on the downside of his career and they made made a drastic move in what was interpreted as an overpay of three years and $39 million. He was able to produce while spending the vast portion of the second half unable to switch hit and batting right-handed exclusively.

Uehara was signed to be a set-up man and the Red Sox were reluctant to name him their closer even when they had no one left to do the job.

Jose Iglesias – who can’t hit – did hit well enough to put forth the impression that he could hit and they were able to turn him into Jake Peavy.

The injury-prone Stephen Drew stayed relatively healthy, played sound defense and hit with a little pop. The only reason the Red Sox got him on a one-year contract was because he wanted to replenish his value for free agency and he did.

Is there a team out there now who have that same confluence of events working for them to make copying the Red Sox a viable strategy? You’ll hear media members and talk show callers asking why their hometown team can’t do it like the Red Sox did. Are there the players out on the market who will take short-term contracts and have the issues – injuries, off-years, misplaced roles – that put them in the same category as the players the Red Sox signed?

Teams can try to copy the Red Sox and it won’t work. Just as the Red Sox succeeded because everything fell into place, the team that copies them might fail because things falling into place just right doesn’t happen very often. Following another club’s strategy makes sense if it’s able to be copied. What the Red Sox did isn’t, making it a mistake to try.




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The Dodgers and Keeping Mattingly

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The Dodgers have yet to make it official, but reports state that the club is planning to bring Don Mattingly back as manager in 2014. In what would normally be an automatic move for a manager whose team won the division and a playoff series, it was in doubt as to whether Mattingly was going to return due to strategies that even have some players complaining about them. If the team goes on to win the World Series, obviously they won’t make a change. If they make it to the World Series, it’s exceedingly difficult to fire the manager no matter how poor an on-field job he’s perceived to have done. But if they lose this NLCS (they’re currently trailing 3 games to 2), are they right to look at their payroll, roster and expectations and say another manager would be a better option?

In sports, it’s not unprecedented for a manager to be fired even after he had what could only be described as a “successful” season or run. Winning a championship doesn’t necessarily imply managerial excellence. Bob Brenly won a World Series with the Diamondbacks, won 98 games and a division title the next season and hasn’t gotten close to getting another managerial job since because he’s not viewed as a good manager. Cito Gaston won two World Series with the Blue Jays, was fired four years later and didn’t get another managing job until the Blue Jays rehired him.

Dodgers part owner Magic Johnson is no stranger to coaching controversies and getting the boss fired if he didn’t agree with his philosophy. In the 1979-1980 NBA season, Paul Westhead won an NBA championship for the Lakers with the rookie Johnson leading the way. They won 54 games in 1980-81 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. In 1981-82, the team was 7-4 when Johnson – unhappy with the strategies employed by Westhead – helped usher him out the door to be replaced by Pat Riley. The Lakers won another title that year. If the players are complaining, the one person in the Dodgers organization who’ll be receptive is Johnson.

As for GM Ned Colletti and CEO Stan Kasten, they’re experienced baseball men who are well aware of Mattingly’s pluses and minuses. If they equate his ability to keep the players playing hard for him and that the ship didn’t sink while the team was struggling early in the summer as more important than negligible strategic choices, then they should keep Mattingly. If they want someone with a better strategic resume, a more iron-fisted disciplinarian style to rein in Yasiel Puig and who will command respect in the clubhouse, perhaps they should consider bringing back the manager who should never have been fired from the Dodgers in the first place, Jim Tracy. Or they could hire Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker or anyone who has more experience than Mattingly does and they’ll know what they’re getting with the star power the Dodgers want.

While hockey is run far differently than any other sport with coaches often fired almost immediately after the season starts as happened with the Flyers and Peter Laviolette last week, there might be a lesson the Dodgers can take from Devils boss Lou Lamoriello.

Lamoriello is entrenched in his job and built the Devils up from nothing to become one of the dominant teams in hockey for a vast portion of his tenure. While accumulating three Stanley Cups and two other finals appearances, he’s hired, fired and rehired coaches 19 times, twice taking the job himself. He has fired coaches right before the playoffs have started and fired coaches who won Stanley Cups for him. If he believes a change is needed, he makes that change. He doesn’t give a reason because he doesn’t feel as if he needs to give a reason and it’s not due to a bloated ego and public persona as has been seen in baseball with the managerial changes made by Athletics GM Billy Beane.

Beane’s managerial changes were based on him and the image that was cultivated through the creative non-fiction of Moneyball that: A) the manager doesn’t matter; and B) he’s an all-knowing, unassailable genius for whom every move is a testament to ingenuity.

He pushed Art Howe out the door in favor of Ken Macha. Macha got the Athletics further than any of Beane’s other managers with an ALCS appearance in 2006 and Beane fired him too. He hired his “best friend” Bob Geren and kept him on through years and years of win totals in the mid-70s, then only fired him because of the attention that his job status was receiving – not because he’d done a poor job. He hired a highly qualified manager who knows how to run his club on and off the field in Bob Melvin and, lo and behold, Beane’s genius returned with back-to-back division titles. Melvin has lost in the first round in those two division-winning seasons and hasn’t been fired. Yet.

There’s a difference. Lamoriello hires and fires for a team reason. Beane did it to shield himself. Lamoriello gets away with it because of the hardware. Beane gets away with it because of a book.

So what’s it to be with the Dodgers? Will Colletti’s loyalty, Kasten’s slow trigger or Magic’s understanding of player concerns win out? They could exercise Mattingly’s contract for 2014 with the intention of making a change if they team gets off to another slow start. Or they could just fire him and bring in a new manager.

Worrying about how it’s going to “look” is a mistake. If they don’t trust Mattingly as manager, then he shouldn’t be the manager. If they’re willing to accept his strategic fumblings because the players overcame adversity, then they should keep him. The best interests of the club are more important and need to take precedence. Make the commitment to Mattingly with all his baggage or make him disappear. It’s one or the other.




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(Over) Reactions To The Phillies’ Firing Of Charlie Manuel

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Considering what I wrote in my preseason book, the Phillies’ decision to fire Charlie Manuel and replace him with Ryne Sandberg should come as no surprise:

Manuel will either resign or be fired (my money’s on a firing because he won’t resign) during the season to pave the way for Sandberg.

It happened yesterday and the responses from fans, media members and players ranged from “Manuel deserved better,” to an attack on general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., to shock and outrage, to the assertion that Manuel should have been allowed to finish out the season.

In a fictional utopia, I suppose there are arguments to be made for all of the above. In reality, even with its perceived brutality, the decision makes sense. Let’s look at the participants:

Charlie Manuel

Let’s not turn Manuel into a blameless 69-year-old man who is being forced out of a job he wants to continue doing. The same logic that says Manuel isn’t to blame for the Phillies’ 53-68 record also nullifies the credit he receives for the five division championships and 2008 World Series.

Which is it? One, the other or both?

Manuel did a good job with the Phillies and his main attributes were corralling a roomful of egos and not taking crap. The players knew he was in charge and, for the most part aside from Jimmy Rollins, played hard for him day-in, day-out. That said, independent of Manuel’s substantial accomplishments as their manager and as a baseball man in general, he’s 69-years-old and the Phillies are set to undergo a retooling.

Did it make sense to move forward for another day with Manuel when it’s been known for a year that, barring a World Series win, he wasn’t going to be back in 2014? When Sandberg had the heir apparent moniker attached to him from the time he joined the Phillies as their Triple A manager? When the Phillies were 21 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East and 15 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot?

Sentimentality is fine and it wouldn’t have hurt the Phillies to let Manuel finish the season, but it wouldn’t have helped either. If they’re going to commit to Sandberg to manage the team, they need to have a look at him and he needs to have a look at the roster as the man in charge. They have to see how he handles the media and the egos. In short, they have to see without speculation and guessing. Giving him the chance now gives them that opportunity.

Ruben Amaro, Jr.

Another line from my book sums up Amaro’s future as GM:

Amaro’s status after the year is also uncertain. Then the long rebuild will begin in earnest as the Phillies come apart.

The Phillies are financially bloated, destitute of impact youngsters and trapped in a division with four other teams that are younger and with brighter futures. While not overtly defending many of the things Amaro has done in his tenure as GM, I understand why he did them. That won’t save him at the end of the season if ownership decides that they need a whole new regime.

Amaro had been completely upfront about Manuel’s future. There was no contract extension offered and given the team’s struggles last season, their age and huge holes, even Amaro knew that everything would have to break right for them to contend. It’s broken wrong and it was time to move on.

Giving Manuel the last month-and-a-half of the season might’ve been the nice thing to do, but why? There’s the “what’s the difference?” argument and there’s the “we have to see what we have” argument. Amaro chose the latter and it wasn’t wrong in a moral or practical fashion. He didn’t callously shove an old man in a wheelchair out a window. He dismissed his manager who wasn’t going to be managing past this season anyway.

Ryne Sandberg

Sandberg is far from a guy who decreed, “I’m a Hall of Fame player and now I wanna be a big league manager. Give me the job.” He began his managerial career in the minors with the Cubs, worked his way up from A ball to Triple A and left the Cubs organization after he was passed over for the big league managerial job in favor of Dale Sveum. He joined the Phillies, managed for two years in Triple A Lehigh Valley before joining Manuel’s coaching staff this season.

Only Manuel knows whether he felt threatened by Sandberg’s presence; whether there was an undermining aspect to Sandberg as to what he would’ve done in certain situations had he been managing. With the decision essentially fait accompli as soon as Sandberg joined the organization and hammered home when he joined the coaching staff, all the ambiguity was gone. Manuel was going to manage in 2013 and, unless there was the aforementioned and unlikely World Series run, he wasn’t going to be back. There was no reason for Sandberg to undermine or run interference because he was going to get the job regardless.

The Phillies organization

The Phillies are entering a new phase. Their signing of Chase Utley to a contract extension and refusal to clean out the house of marketable veterans Cliff Lee, Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Papelbon and Michael Young is an indicator that they have no intention of starting over again from scratch, but they’re incorporating young players like Cody Asche and must get younger and cheaper over the next several years. Part of that process includes the manager. Sandberg is younger and cheaper than Manuel. They knew what they had in Manuel and don’t know with Sandberg. It might sound cruel, but the Phillies had to break with the past and the only difference between doing it now and doing it after the season is that waiting would’ve postponed the inevitable. It elicited a fiery public response, but it was coming one way or the other. Doing it now was the logical decision.




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Why Is Ned Colletti’s Work With The Dodgers Forgotten?

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It’s to be expected that because Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti doesn’t fit today’s profile of what a GM is “supposed” to be, he won’t get any credit for the Dodgers’ blazing hot streak that has them suddenly declared World Series favorites. This is the same team that was on the verge of firing manager Don Mattingly in June and were hurtling toward a financial and on-field disaster. The easiest thing to do is to point to the club’s $220+ million payroll as a reason why they’re now in first place. Although the club’s turnaround has been due in part to their high-priced players Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, they’ve really been helped along by homegrown or found talent Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Hyun-jin Ryu and Yasiel Puig.

Puig is the big one because it was his recall that was seen as the catalyst and it was the decried decisions to pay big money for Ryu and Puig that are now paying significant dividends. Yet Colletti is an afterthought. If it was Billy Beane making these decisions, he would’ve been touted as a forward-thinking “genius” even while the team was struggling. Where are Colletti’s accolades?

The Puig signing was considered “puzzling.” The Ryu signing “foolish.” The Dodgers were torched for absorbing all those salaries from the Red Sox; for trading for Ramirez and moving him back to shortstop; for keeping Mattingly. Yet no one looks at the facts surrounding Colletti’s regime and that he’s dealt with circumstances that were nearly impossible to manage without the flexibility that comes from having spent a life in baseball in a variety of jobs and working his way up from public relations to the GM’s chair.

Having dealt with Frank McCourt’s circus and making the playoffs three times was enough to think that maybe he has an idea of how to run an organization. Now, amid all the talk of money, the fact is that the Dodgers turnaround was based on not blaming the manager for things he couldn’t control and a group of  players that Colletti’s staff selected.

With all the trades the Dodgers have made for veterans over the Colletti years, how many young players have they given up that are eliciting regret? Carlos Santana? He’s a good hitter, weak defensive catcher and not someone who’s missed. Rubby De La Rosa? He has a great arm and is wild. It’s going to take time to harness his control and then time to work on his command. Allen Webster? He’s a back-of-the-rotation starter, maybe. Where are these players the Dodgers should still have? The ones Colletti’s overaggressiveness cost them?

The convenient storyline is that Colletti doesn’t use the numbers as a be-all, end-all and therefore is a dinosaur that has to be euthanized through critical analysis from armchair experts. It’s when the team starts playing well that qualifications and silence are the responses. Coincidentally, Colletti was hired by the Dodgers after serving as an assistant to Giants GM Brian Sabean. Sabean saw his stellar work as the Giants’ GM diminished by the discovery of the “brains” behind the operation, Yeshayah Goldfarb. Also conveniently, few even knew who Goldfarb was before it became abundantly clear that the Giants two championships contradicted the narrative of stats, stats and more stats, so a “reason” was found for an old-schooler like Sabean to succeed. Except it doesn’t fit. It’s a plot device that fails. I’m expecting a similar type of clumsy, collateral attack against Colletti because the frontal attack is no longer working. Unfortunately, some people will buy it as the “truth.”

The Dodgers are lighting up the world and the person who should be given credit for it is the GM, but that’s not going to happen as long as there are these shrieking voices sitting in darkened rooms declaring how things “should” be and running away rather than admit they’re wrong and blow their cover.

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MLB Trade Deadline: Relievers and the Eric Gagne-Jesse Crain Parallel

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It’s safe to say the two veteran relief pitchers the Red Sox just signed to minor league contracts, Brandon Lyon and Jose Contreras, won’t be the missing pieces to their hoped-for 2013 championship puzzle. Suffice it to also say that neither will pitch as terribly as Eric Gagne did when the Red Sox surrendered three players to get the veteran closer from the Rangers in 2007. If they do, it’s no harm/no foul.

The trade for Gagne was meant to create shutdown eighth and ninth innings with Gagne and Jonathan Papelbon and lead them to a World Series title. They won the title with no help from Gagne, who posted a 6.75 ERA with 26 hits allowed in 18 2/3 innings after the trade and pitched as badly in the post-season as he did in the regular season. In retrospect the trade wasn’t one in which the Red Sox are lamenting letting young players they needed get away.

For Gagne, they traded former first round draft pick outfielder David Murphy, lefty pitcher Kason Gabbard and young outfielder Engel Beltre. Murphy has been a good player for the Rangers, but the Red Sox haven’t missed him. Gabbard was a soft-tossing lefty whose career was derailed by injuries and actually wound up back with the Red Sox in 2010 for 11 Triple A appearances and hasn’t pitched since. If the Red Sox wind up regretting the trade it will because of Beltre who is still only 23, has speed, occasional pop and can play centerfield. Regardless of what happens with him, few will hold it against them for trading a 17-year-old in the quest of a championship that they wound up winning independent of Gagne’s terribleness.

The trade could have been far more disastrous than it was and it was due to the club overvaluing both the player they were getting and the importance of a relief pitcher who was not a closer. Interestingly, as written by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy in The Red Sox Years, the Red Sox original intention was to use Papelbon as a set-up man and install Gagne as the closer. They went so far as to go to Papelbon’s home prior to pulling the trigger to discuss the possibility of letting Gagne close. Papelbon objected and the club made the trade anyway to use Gagne as the set-up man. As the numbers show, it didn’t work and it might have been hellish had they made Gagne the closer by alienating Papelbon, angering a clubhouse and fanbase still harboring dreaded memories from the failed 2003 attempt at a closer-by-committee, and repeating a mistake that the Red Sox have—even today—continued to make in undervaluing a good and reliable closer.

No one is expecting Lyon or Contreras to be key contributors to a title run, but they’re “why not?” moves to see if they can get cheap production from a couple of veterans. It’s doubtful the Red Sox are going to give up a top prospect for a non-closer again. Already the club inquired with the Mets about Bobby Parnell and the Mets reportedly asked for Jackie Bradley Jr., to which the Red Sox wisely said no. The Mets are willing to move Parnell if they get that kind of offer but it’s hard to see that happening, so it’s unlikely that they trade him. However, one relief pitcher who is on the market and will be traded is Jesse Crain of the White Sox. What happened with Gagne should not be lost on a team hoping to bolster their relief corps by acquiring Crain.

Gagne, before the trade, was closing for the Rangers. He’d saved 16 games, posted a 2.16 ERA, struck out 29 in 33 1/3 innings and allowed 23 hits. For the White Sox this season Crain made the All-Star team and is in the midst of the year of his life with a 0.74 ERA, 31 hits allowed in 36 2/3 innings (with a .337 BAbip), 46 strikeouts, 11 walks and no homers. Crain has always been a solid set-up man, strikes out more than a batter-per-inning and is a free agent at the end of the season. He’s a good pitcher, but he’s not worth what the White Sox are going to want for him and might possibly get from a desperate team looking to help their bullpen. In reality, the team that acquires Crain won’t win the championship because of him if he pitches as well as he is now, nor will they lose it if he falls to earth.

There are times in which it’s worth it to give up the top prospect to get that last missing piece if the championship is the goal. The Marlins traded former first pick in the draft Adrian Gonzalez to get Ugueth Urbina in 2003. That trade is nowhere near as bad as it would’ve been if Gonzalez had blossomed for the Rangers and the Marlins hadn’t won the World Series, but the Rangers also traded Gonzalez (no one knew how good he really was), and the Marlins did win the World Series that year. They might’ve won it with or without Urbina, but the bottom-line perception is what counts and the title justifies anything they did to get it. It’s the same thing with Gagne. The Red Sox won the title, so nothing else really matters.

Will Crain yield that for the team that acquires him? Is it likely? Probably not on both counts. The only time to give up a significant piece for a known set-up man is if you’re getting Mariano Rivera from 1996 Yankees or the Rob Dibble/Norm Charlton combination from the 1990 Reds’ Nasty Boys. Other than that, a team is better off doing what the Red Sox did with Lyon and Contreras and tossing a dart at a dartboard or finding a reliever who isn’t in the midst of his career year as Crain is and hoping that a move to a contending team and more than a little luck turns into a “genius” move when it was exceedingly lucky.

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Mets Fans’ Logic, Self-Loathing And Ike Davis

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Now Mets fans are having their newest irrational love affair with Josh Satin.

The response to last night’s news that the Mets had decided to recall regular first baseman Ike Davis was somewhere between a groan and outright rage that Satin’s “job” was being usurped by Davis. There’s a tendency in the Mets fanbase to turn their emotions to the underdog type player from whom nothing is expected vs. the former first round draft pick whose career has come undone to the degree that he needed to be sent to the minor leagues three months into the 2013 season after he’d hit 32 homers in 2012.

It’s happened before with an unsung player catching the fancy of the fans. Remember Jason Phillips? He had a surprisingly good rookie season in 2003 as a surprise starter in a position (ironically, first base) that was a switch from his normal one at catcher. Phillips posted a .298/.373/.442 slash line with 25 doubles and 11 homers. In the aftermath of the Moneyball “revolution” the Mets had a Scott Hatteberg of their very own. Except it didn’t last. In 2004, Phillips began the season as the starting first baseman and fell to earth with a thud batting .218. Right before the 2005 season he was traded to the Dodgers, then bounced around for a few more years with nary a flicker of the same success he’d enjoyed as a rookie. Eventually he regressed. While he was posting those numbers, no one wanted to hear that he had a hitch in his swing that was ripe for exploitation or that he had put up decent minor league numbers but nothing resembling what he did in the majors in 2003. He was a homegrown Met from whom nothing was expected, therefore, through some bizarre self-loathing cognitive association, Mets fans took to him. The difference between now and then is that the front office was willing to listen to the fans and media and do what the endlessly destructive “they” wanted. This front office doesn’t do that.

It must also be remembered that this from the same fanbase that booed Mike Piazza in 1998, almost causing him to leave as a free agent.

Why?

Is there an aversion to having stars or potential stars playing for the Mets? Does it suit the workmanlike, blue collar image that the Mets embody in comparison to the stuck-up, snotty, white collar fans and organization with the superiority complex from across town?

Satin has produced a few clutch hits in his brief opportunity to play and has a knowledge of the strike zone similar to what he’s shown in the minor leagues, but the same logic that has fans panicking over Zack Wheeler’s slow start is being exhibited on the opposite end with their newfound love for Satin. Wheeler’s been mediocre and inconsistent in his first few starts, the fans find him disappointing and want him traded for a bat; the media is scouring for analysis from anonymous scouts to validate their doomsaying columns with, “Yeah, he’s still talented but he’s either overrated or not ready for the majors.” Satin has a slash line of .353/.468/.549 slash line in 62 plate appearances. Why doesn’t the media ask a scout the odds of him maintaining that pace? Or is it too ludicrous to even consider that the 28-year-old career minor leaguer has suddenly found a method to post numbers nearly identical to those John Olerud did for the Mets in 1998 with the main difference being that Olerud did it in 160 games and Satin has done it in eighteen games.

For better or worse, Davis is currently the Mets’ best option at first base. He spent a month in the minor leagues and, for what it’s worth, hit 7 homers in 21 games with a .293 average, a .424 OBP. He hit like the player he was when he was recalled in 2010 and before he got injured in 2011. Those 32 homers last season came after a wretched start and threats to send him to the minors. The majority of his production came in the second half. The Mets were expecting him to pick up where he left off in 2013. Instead, he repeated the 2012 start only worse and they followed through on the threat to send him to the minors. All the objections from the players who love Davis and manager who believes in him couldn’t save him this time. It was the right thing to do. He’s back and he deserved to come back. The Mets intentionally brought him up as they embark on a nine game road trip so he won’t have to deal with the boos of the fans if he doesn’t hit a home run in his first at bat, but he still has to deal with an inexplicable vitriol back home from fans who acted disgusted at the mere mentioning of his name.

The Mets may be hoping that Davis hits enough to replenish his trade value to get rid of him and upgrade at first base with someone more consistent. They might still believe in Davis. Or they might feel that he’d been in Triple A long enough and there was nothing more to be gained from him staying there. One thing’s for certain: if the Mets eventually replace Davis, Satin will have to hit for a bit longer than two weeks before he’s anointed the job by the organization in the same manner as the fans have decided that he’s fit to replace a former first round draft pick who, as recently as this spring, was lauded as a possible home run champion.

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Manny Ramirez’s Last(?) Fight

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Manny Ramirez will either wind up like Muhammad Ali or George Foreman. With Ali, his final comeback attempt (not counting a last-last, this is definitely the last fight in 1981 in which he lost to journeyman Trevor Berbick) came when he took a ferocious beating from a reluctant, in-his-prime heavyweight champ Larry Holmes. Ali went to great lengths to show what great shape he was in prior to the fight by getting back to the weight he fought at when he defeated Foreman in Zaire. But the fact that he was in shape didn’t matter. Holmes battered him in a perfunctory manner and, by the end, was screaming at the referee to stop the fight before he seriously injured Ali. Ali certainly didn’t need the money nor the increased number of blows to his already damaged brain, but he couldn’t stop himself from seeking the limelight and that one last shot at glory doing the one thing he truly knew how to do better than anyone else.

With Foreman, he was ridiculed when he came out of retirement and is still looked at with a jaundiced gaze by saying God told him to do it. He was overweight and old, but the laughter ended when he showed he still had the punching power and savvy to win fights. He put up a great show when losing to Evander Holyfield and eventually knocked out Michael Moorer to regain the title he’d lost twenty years earlier to Ali in 1974.

With Ramirez, he is returning after a stint hitting against, in boxing parlance, tomato cans in Taiwan. In Taiwan, they’re professionals and they’re talented, but they’re not on a level with a good Double A team in North America. While there, he was hitting subpar pitching in accumulating a .352 average, .422 OBP, and eight homers in 49 games. Abruptly leaving his Taiwanese team—the EDA Rhinos—Ramirez was rumored to be heading to Japan before deciding he’d like another shot with an MLB team. No one seemed interested until the Rangers decided to take a chance on him. The question is, can he help them?

Ramirez hasn’t played with a major league team since he went 1 for 17 for the Rays in 2011 before walking away and subsequently being caught failing another PED test. Amid much fanfare in an otherwise dreary off-season for the Athletics in the winter of 2011-2012, he was signed to a minor league contract. At that point, the A’s were embarking on another rebuilding project and for half the season, played as poorly as predicted before a sudden hot streak vaulted them into the playoffs. No one knew they could achieve those heights when they signed Ramirez and they needed him to sell a few seats with the mere hint of him being in the big leagues as a sideshow. In a best case scenario, he’d attract a few fans and hit well enough for the A’s to trade him to a contender (because not even Billy Beane thought they’d contend in 2012); worst case, they’d release him. He batted .302 in 63 at bats for Triple A Sacramento with no homers. The A’s released him last June and he went to Taiwan.

Now he’s back.

Can the Rangers expect anything from him? Like the decision on the part of the A’s to sign him, this is a test case for team benefit. The Rangers are contenders and need a righty bat. The trade deadline is July 31st and the Rangers are aggressive and active in improving their team. With a month to go before the time comes when they’ll have to make an acquisition along the lines of Mike Morse to boost their righty power, it’s cheaper and zero risk to look at Ramirez and get an answer as to whether he can still hit. Like Ali’s last fight, it could be a “would you stop it already?” moment. Or it could be an out-of-shape former star who shows he can still perform as Foreman did. The odds are it’s the former and even if the evidence is clear that Ramirez needs to hang it up, he probably won’t. Either way, there’s no risk for the Rangers to have a look.

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MLB Inches Closer Toward The Trading Of Draft Picks

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The trades that were completed yesterday were a distraction for a slow day. Righty pitcher Scott Feldman was traded from the Cubs along with catcher Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for righty pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop and cash. The cash in a trade is usually to offset contracts or provide a sweetener to complete a deal, but in this case the cash is international bonus money that the Cubs will use to accrue extra wiggleroom to sign free agents. They also acquired more bonus pool money from the Astros in exchange for minor leaguer Ronald Torreyes. They traded away some of that money in sending Carlos Marmol and cash to the Dodgers for veteran reliever Matt Guerrier.

The trades are secondary to the money exchanges. You can read about the ins-and-outs of why the Cubs, Dodgers and Astros did this here and the details of trading bonus slot money here. What the shifting around of money says to me is that MLB is experimenting with the concept of trading draft picks, something I’ve long advocated. That they’re trying to implement an international draft to shackle clubs’ hands even further from spending makes the trading of draft picks more likely.

With the increased interest in the MLB draft, one of the only ways to turn it into a spectacle that will function as a moon to the NFL draft’s sun and NBA’s Earth is to allow teams to trade their picks. Because amateur baseball pales in comparison to the attention college football and college basketball receive; because the game of baseball is so fundamentally different when making the transition from the amateurs to the pros, there is a finite number of people who watch it with any vested interest and a minimum percentage of those actually know what they’re looking at with enough erudition to accurately analyze it. It’s never going to be on a level with a Mel Kiper Jr. sitting in the ESPN draft headquarters knowing every player in the college ranks and being able to rattle off positives, negatives and why the player should or shouldn’t have been drafted where he was with it having a chance to be accurate. MLB tries to do that, but it’s transparent when John Hart, Harold Reynolds and whoever else are sitting around a table in an empty studio miraculously proclaiming X player of reminds them of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Matt Harvey, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez or Dustin Pedroia when they’ve seen (or haven’t seen) a five second clip of him; when Bud Selig takes his mummified steps to the podium to announce the names of players he couldn’t recognize if they were playing in the big leagues now. And don’t get me started on the overall ludicrousness of Keith Law.

There’s no comparison between baseball and the other sports because in baseball, there’s a climb that has to be made after becoming a professional. In football and basketball, a drafted player automatically walks into the highest possible level of competition. With a top-tier pick, the football and basketball player isn’t just a member of the club, but he’s expected to be a significant contributor to that club.

With baseball, there’s no waste in a late-round draft pick because there’s nothing to waste. Some players are drafted to be organizational filler designed to complete the minor league rosters. If one happens to make it? Hey, look who the genius is for finding a diamond in the rough! Except it’s not true. A player from the 20th round onward (and that’s being generous) making it to the majors at all, let alone becoming a star, is a fluke. But with MLB putting such a focus on the draft, that’s the little secret they don’t want revealed to these newly minted baseball “experts” who started watching the game soon after they read Moneyball and thinks a fat kid who walks a lot for a division III college is going to be the next “star.” Trust me, the scouts saw that kid and didn’t think he could play. That’s why he was drafted late if he was drafted at all. There’s no reinventing of the wheel here in spite of Michael Lewis’s hackneyed and self-serving attempts to do so.  Yet MLB draft projecting has blossomed into a webhit accumulator and talking point. There’s a demand for it, so they’ll sell it regardless of how random and meaningless it truly is.

So what does all this have to do with the trading of the bonus slot money? MLB allowing the exchange of this money will give a gauge on the public reaction and interest level to such exchanges being made to provide market research as to the expanded reach the trading of draft picks would yield. If there’s a vast number of websearches that lead MLB to believe that it’s something that can spark fan fascination, then it’s something they can sell advertising for and make money. It’s a test case and once the results are in, you’ll see movement on the trading of draft picks. It’s a good idea no matter how it happens. Now if we can only do something to educate the masses on how little Keith Law knows, we’ll really be getting somewhere.

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