The Pirates Navy SEALs Training: Designed to Kill and Get Executives Fired

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Ordinarily, I’d want to have a deeper understanding of exactly what the Pirates were doing when they decided to implement Navy SEALs training techniques for their minor leaguers. It was possible that the Pirates took aspects of the training—including the mindset—and adapted them to baseball. Many different training techniques that have become of value to baseball players such as plyometrics; parachute training; isometrics; cross-training by throwing a football all would’ve been seen as idiotic as recently as 20 years ago. Football coaches—including Vince Lombardi—used to refuse to give water to their players during summer training camp. Watch the film The Junction Boys about Paul “Bear” Bryant to see how deranged training camps were for college kids, the majority of whom were playing because they wanted to. So if the Pirates took the camaraderie that is instilled by Navy SEAL training and the fitness along with it, why not?

But according to the linked pieces I found here on Larry Brown Sports, the Pirates are reinventing the wheel and doing it in a way designed to get the executives who decided it was a good idea fired and drummed out of baseball entirely.

You can read the Dejan Kovasevic piece; the Pirates’ assistant GM Kyle Stark’s email here; and Jeff Passan’s column about it in which he discusses hand-to-hand combat and baseball’s reaction to this decision.

They want them to take the attitude of the Hells Angels? I certainly would prefer not to have my baseball players taking the personae of a sleazy, borderline satirical group with absurd militaristic designations such as “Sergeant-at-Arms” or other stranger-than-fiction silliness. But this is what the Pirates have chosen to do for reasons known only to them. There’s nothing wrong with fostering brotherhood, bonding, or a “take no crap” attitude. But to force teenagers who have substantial money invested in them into this type of training when it’s never been done before is a combination of arrogance and stupidity.

There’s thinking outside the box and tweaking innings pitched and pitch counts; there are theories of teaching hitting advocating patience or aggressiveness; there are varying theories of defensive shifts and positioning. There are many things in baseball that could and should be changed. I’d be an advocate of shortening spring training, among other things. But this? This is something that is so antithetic to baseball—the same sport for which John Kruk said something to the tune of, “I’m ain’t an athlete, I’m a baseball player,”—that people who decided to try it are going to get fired and deserve it.

This isn’t debating on the merits of running sprints vs weight training; it’s training more directed at slitting Stephen Strasburg’s throat rather than getting a hit off of him.

The Pirates were on the way to a very positive place earlier this season and still might be. There’s plenty of talent on the big league roster and in the organization. I see them as similar to the Minnesota Twins of 2001, a team that got off to a great start after years and years of futility and essentially collapsed in August and September, but used the experience as a life-lesson and became the dominant team in the AL Central for a decade with the only thing missing from their list of accomplishments being a World Series. Clint Hurdle has altered the culture and the Pirates are a good bet to take the next step of their innocent climb in 2013 and if I were to start a club with any player, Andrew McCutchen would be at the very top of that list. The future is still bright for the Pirates, but they’re going to be doing it with a new braintrust in the front office.

Stark can live out his tough guy fantasy in some other industry. GM Neal Huntington can go because he was the one who apparently okayed this. Frank Coonelly can be dispatched because he’s been clueless from the time he was appointed as the team president. There are better baseball people and human beings in front offices everywhere for the Pirates to hire.

Hells Angels?

Maybe Stark and Huntington can join them. They’ll be out of work soon enough.

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American League West—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I examined the AL East here and the AL Central here.

Now let’s look at the AL West

Texas Rangers

The Rangers are heading for the playoffs again and are a legitimate threat to win the World Series. The one question they have is in the same area that cost them the World Series last year, the closer. Historically, Joe Nathan is good during the regular season and struggles during the playoffs, especially against the Yankees.

The roster has playoff experience; the hitters can mash; Josh Hamilton will want to have a big post-season to increase his paycheck as a free agent; their starting pitchers aren’t expecting to be pulled because of an arbitrary pitch count and have the strikeout capability to get out of trouble and pitch confidently with a great defense behind them.

Whether they win the World Series or not, the upcoming off-season could be one of transition for the Rangers. In addition to Hamilton being a free agent, so are Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, and Ryan Dempster. This can be seen as a negative, but it’s also a positive. They have flexibility to do a great many things, the nerve to follow through on them, and the farm system to make it possible.

There’s been talk that they might be willing to trade Elvis Andrus to make room for Jurickson Profar, but I think it’s more likely that they’ll entertain trade offers for Ian Kinsler, play Profar at second base, and try to get Michael Young’s contract off the books in the deal. They’ve had interest in Ike Davis in the past and the Mets are going to be willing to make drastic moves.

They won’t break the bank for Adams and they have starting pitching to let Dempster go. They’ll set a price for Napoli and if another team surpasses it, will let him leave. I think he ultimately stays.

That leaves Hamilton.

The Rangers are not going to give him $200 million. I wouldn’t expect them to want to give him $140 million, nor would they like to commit to him for 6-8 years. The question becomes: Will there be a team that’s willing to pay Hamilton anything close to his asking price?

I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t. The teams with the money—the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Cubs—either don’t need Hamilton at that price or wouldn’t risk putting him in their towns with his history of substance abuse problems.

The Tigers have been mentioned, but I don’t see that either.

What then?

He won’t get 8 years, but I can see the Rangers going to 5 with an easily reachable set of options if he’s clean off the field and healthy on it to make it a 7-8 year deal. The Rangers have other choices such as B.J. Upton or Shane Victorino or by making a trade. Hamilton doesn’t.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s accumulated a lot of young talent last off-season as they cleared out Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey—that was known. But no one could’ve predicted that their young pitching would come so far so fast; that Yoenis Cespedes would be the impact bat he’s been; that Josh Reddick would become a 30 homer man; or that they’d be on the cusp of making the playoffs.

The financial and ballpark problems that made it necessary for the A’s to restart their rebuild and make those trades are still present. They need a new ballpark and don’t have a lot of money to spend to bring in players; in spite of their good play, they’re still only 12th in the American League in attendance. With that young pitching and the concession when they hired Bob Melvin to replace the overmatched Bob Geren that not just anyone can manage a big league team and be successful, they have the talent to be at least respectable and possibly very good for years to come.

Stephen Drew and Brandon McCarthy are free agents at the end of the season, but both have a good chance to stay with the A’s.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

They have a chance to salvage 2012 and make it to the Wild Card play in game. With a veteran team loaded with starting pitching and power bats, once they’re in the playoffs they’re a threat.

That doesn’t gloss over the management issues that aren’t going to go away.

Mike Scioscia is not the right manager for a team loaded with power hitting stars. He wants to hit and run, play defense, and rely on his pitching. The front office has a new, stat-based, “my manager will take orders” GM Jerry Dipoto, and an owner Arte Moreno who may be tired of making the playoffs just about every year and losing in large part because of his manager’s stubbornness in doing things his way in spite of talent and reality.

Scioscia is signed through 2018 with an opt-out after 2015, but if he wants to leave or they want to fire him, that’s what will happen. It’s not easy to function when one’s power is essentially taken away and that’s what happened with Scioscia. There’s been talk that he’d be a possible candidate to take over for Bobby Valentine with the Red Sox, but since the Red Sox are going back to their own stat-based roots and have publicly said that Bill James will take a larger role in putting their team together, Scioscia would be in the same situation in Boston that he’s in with the Angels. Forget it.

I have a hard time seeing Scioscia managing the Angels next season no matter what happens this season.

On the field, they owe Vernon Wells $42 million through 2014; Torii Hunter’s contract is expiring; they have a team option on Dan Haren; and Zack Greinke is a free agent.

The Angels will look markedly different in 2013, probably with a new manager who’s more in tune with strategies that fit the roster and what the front office wants.

Seattle Mariners

Getting rid of Ichiro Suzuki was a major step in a positive direction. But years and years of losing is finally taking a toll on their attendance figures. The Mariners fanbase is loyal and ten years ago, they had the highest attendance in the Major Leagues. Now they’re tenth. Until they start winning, that’s not going to improve.

They’re loaded with young pitching and led by a true megastar Felix Hernandez. They have some talented bats like Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, but are plain woeful offensively. Once they have some hitters to go along with that pitching, they’ll be a viable threat, but this ineptitude at the plate is going back a decade just like their attendance decline.

Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez are owed a combined $15.5 million in 2013, but if they take a bad contract and some money (Jason Bay?) maybe they can clear those players and try something different. Apart from that, they have money to spend and prospects to trade to pursue bats such as Justin Upton and B.J. Upton; Mike Morse; Justin Morneau; or possibly try to trade for Jacoby Ellsbury.

Unless they find some people who can produce offensively, the results are not going to change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tebow vs Sanchez is a Media/Fan Creation

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It’s no secret that Tim Tebow the person is a franchise that wouldn’t exist if his personal story wasn’t as unique and interesting as it is; if he weren’t the salable force for conservative values with an overt Christianity and deeply held beliefs that, as far as we know, are sincere. Because he’s had crackling moments such as the touchdown he threw to win the Broncos’ Wild Card playoff game last season and orchestrated “winning” moments late in games again-and-again, his quarterbacking skills legitimize an attempt to make him a starting player and not a project that would take years to develop and undo what it was that made him a success. His current mechanics and abilities do not translate to the NFL. As he stands right now, he’s not viable in the NFL running what amounts to the wishbone and resisting all efforts to turn him into a slash player who functions in multiple roles—occasionally at quarterback—and is a weapon that has to be planned for.

In spite of the Jets’ best efforts to suggest that he’s going to be used for X amount of plays per game, opposing defenses will keep him in the back of their minds, but not worry about what he’s going to do in games because he’s so prone to mistakes and limited in what he can do. He can throw the deep ball; he can run; people like him; he has a flair for the dramatic.

That’s about it.

Mark Sanchez, on the other hand, is not likable. He’s shown immaturity, arrogance and isn’t an off-field choir boy. On some level, he deserves credit for not portraying himself as anything but what he is. He’s the prototypically handsome quarterback who would be perfect for a football movie. He’s also been demonized (as a perfect foil to the angelic Tebow) because of his frailties. To blame Sanchez for the Jets’ disappointing 8-8 finish is ignoring all the disarray surrounding him. The loudmouthed Rex Ryan; the infighting; the open second-guessing of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer—all contributed to the club’s lack of cohesion. Objectively, if you look at Sanchez’s stats from his three year career, the numbers from 2011 are nearly identical to what they were in 2009-2010, but because year 3 was supposed to be the year he led the Jets back to the Super Bowl and was a Joe Namath not in his off-field skirt chasing but as a leader of men and it didn’t work out, that’s the storyline that’s easiest to submit.

His stats are below.

Year Age Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Int% Lng Y/A AY/A Y/C Y/G Rate Yds 4QC GWD
2009 23 196 364 53.8 2444 12 20 5.5 65 6.7 4.9 12.5 162.9 63.0 195 1 1
2010 24 278 507 54.8 3291 17 13 2.6 74 6.5 6.0 11.8 205.7 75.3 171 4 6
2011 25 308 543 56.7 3474 26 18 3.3 74 6.4 5.9 11.3 217.1 78.2 243 4 4
Career 782 1414 55.3 9209 55 51 3.6 74 6.5 5.7 11.8 195.9 73.2 609 9 11
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/27/2012.

Here’s the truth: Tim Tebow can be a useful NFL quarterback, but he’s not going to be one immediately and if a team is going to use him as such, it either has to be an expansion team (Los Angeles?) that will use him to sell the franchise and allow him to learn on the job amid the rampant mistakes he’ll make or a team that’s going to be so awful that they can toss him out there and hope the God Tebow so fervently believes in tosses a lightning bolt down and transforms him into Steve Young.*

*I’m not sure if the Mormon God and Tebow’s God are on speaking terms, but that would need to be collectively bargained.

This “battle” exists in the desperate clutching at webhits and stories to tell during the dull days of NFL training camp. Talking about what Tebow does on the field in drills is irrelevant; so too is discussing Sanchez’s state of mind as he enters this competition months after signing a lucrative contract that was intended to set his mind at ease and convey the message that he’s the man around here. Perhaps this will help Sanchez. If he’s able to overcome the scrutiny he’s under because of the golden boy who was brought in to share his job and take away his spotlight, it will mature him and he’ll become the leader the Jets need. Or it might exponentially multiply the disarray surrounding this team and speed Sanchez’s departure.

If Sanchez doesn’t rise to the challenge, they’ll have to move on. This will expedite the process either way. But to think that it’s a competition is ignoring the fact that Tebow cannot start every game for a team that has designs on a deep playoff run as the Jets clearly do. It’s not a story on the field. It’s a Don King-style boxing promotion that, if judged realistically, wouldn’t be worth the pay-per-view cost and anger thereafter when those who purchased the snake oil realize that they’ve been had.

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Who Cares What Bill James Says About Paterno?

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If Joe Shmo on the street says something offensive about the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky/Penn State mess, he’s dismissed as a crank and ignored. Bill James does it and it’s a national catastrophe of outrage and shame.

You can read the recap with all the required links here on Deadspin.

I’m not weighing in on what James said because I really don’t care what he said.

Why is James’s opinion on this story given weight? Why does anyone care what he says?

James’s obnoxious pomposity—that’s been present in his writings from the beginning—was accepted as the personality of an iconoclast and because he was providing something useful that the market wanted. Now that he says things that are borderline lunatic, he gets roasted or has excuses made for him. He’s the same person.

Frankly I never saw what the big deal about him was in the first place. His writing is overwrought and intentionally obtuse. He’s taken as the final word on baseball when he’s more of a theorist whose main attribute was that he was able to, as he himself said, “count things”. He’s just a guy. A guy who talks about baseball and managed to carve out a career for himself by appealing to those who were also crunching numbers and finding different ways to think and assess the game of baseball. He wasn’t curing cancer and he’s not always right. There are ways to analyze players and discuss the game without being a slave to numbers to the degree that much of James’s work has been twisted.

He’s been mythologized because he was the first so-called “stat geek” to enter the mainstream. Does that make him an authority on everything? He was asked about the Paterno situation and he gave his opinion. That opinion was somewhat ridiculous and in it he does what he used to tear into baseball executives for doing by making random statements based on nothing.

“(Showering with) boys was quite common in America 40 years ago”? Really? In how many homes was this prevalent? Did James do what he says is the basis for his baseball analysis: counting? Did he check into the number of homes from 40 years ago and do in-depth research with the requisite analysis of exactly how these showers were taken? Was it in a lockerroom situation with dividers between the showerheads? Was it in a bathtub? A walk-in? What?

How would he know that it was common? And if it was, why is that relevant to what Sandusky was doing? Maybe he needs to come up with the Pythagorean Shower Theorem to adequately categorize what’s deemed appropriate and inappropriate.

What I find ludicrous about the James story isn’t simply what he said, it’s that a large chunk of the criticisms of him are laden with caveats from people like Craig Calcaterra who believes similarly to James in baseball thinking and because of that feels the need to provide apologetic explanations and addendums for perfectly reasonable statements he’s made because they were later described as “cheap shots”.

Is there a difference between levying criticism at Bill James and the people in baseball who receive abuse from outsiders who don’t know anything about baseball other than how to read a stat sheet? Well-known Jamesean bloggers send nothing but cheap shots at GMs, managers, coaches, broadcasters and writers who dare disagree with them, but that’s okay?

In the end, why is anyone offended by something James says about a story not baseball-related? When did he become a credible commentator on subjects outside the world of intricate stats in baseball? He’s not a legal mind; he’s not a politician; he’s not a newsman; he’s not a columnist. He’s just a guy who wrote about baseball and is no more important than you or me.

By that shower-metric, there’s no reason for this over-the-top response to what he said because it’s essentially meaningless.

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You Can’t Have It Both Ways With Paterno

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Either Joe Paterno was an increasingly detached figurehead or a cold, calculating, self-interested manipulator.

Which is it?

The latest story is that Paterno, cognizant that the Jerry Sandusky arrest and subsequent revelations were likely to explode and take a large chunk of his program with him, renegotiated his contract to insulate his perks and those used by his family.

You can read the NY Times Story here.

Could Paterno take that strong a hand and look ahead with such ruthlessness that he was concerned about those issues? Or was it the people around him—his children and wife—who were insulating their benefits for the aftermath when Paterno might not have had that much longer to live anyway?

What we’re supposed to reconcile is that Paterno didn’t grasp the gravity of the Sandusky allegations in 1998-2011, but following his grand jury testimony he knew enough to shield his liability and ensure his contract wouldn’t be torn up if his part in a coverup was discovered.

It’s a bit farfetched.

Only those that were around the program and Paterno on a day-to-day basis knew whether he was totally in control of the team or was the old man on the sideline with his assistants handling things day-to-day. They’ll come up with funny JoePa stories of how he was still in charge, but who believes it other than those invested in the myth? It sounds like age discrimination to suggest that he wasn’t entirely aware of his surroundings and able to process all that was placed in front of him, but when someone is in their eighth and ninth decades on the planet—no matter how lucid and feisty they are—there’s going to be a decline in their faculties and speed of comprehension. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any man or woman in their mid-70s-mid-80s that can oversee a program as large as Penn State’s with the vigilance of a coach 20 years younger.

When he was informed of the Sandusky behaviors in 1998 (if that was indeed the first time he’d heard about them—a shaky premise) he could clearly have done more than he did. In his 70s and with so much to lose, was he capable of acting as an objective boss and do what needed to be done for those children even at the risk of sending his beloved program into disarray? Could he conceive of what would happen if they did nothing and allowed Sandusky to keep operating with clear impunity in the interests of Penn State and the Paterno “I’m better than you” legacy?

When someone is treated as if they’re above the fray and not subject to the human condition, the inherent danger is that they begin to think they have to bolster that lie at the expense of common decency. This 1950s style, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, Happy Days in Happy Valley perfection is drilled into the students of Penn State. Part of Paterno’s appeal was his insistence on doing things the “right” way. But that “right” way is always a matter of perception and, in many cases, it’s based on what the architects of the tale were able to hide and how effectively they hid it. The amount of good he did is now being obscured by the failure to act when he was informed of what was going on with one of his longtime assistants. And it should. That concept of the nuclear family with the mother and father in a loving home; with the 3 children who all go to school and behave themselves; who join the boy and girl scouts; call their mother ma’am and their father sir; and play football simply for the thrill of competition and the sporting ideal is not real. It never was. Don’t be surprised if more information comes out that the people at Penn State knew or suspected this despicable information about Sandusky long, long, long before 1998 and, in the interests of Paterno and the university, that it was swept under the rug.

No, there were no grade and recruiting violations at Penn State; no “bad seeds” hired as players because they could help the team win but would be terrifying presences around the campus; no compromises by the coach on the field and with the players he led to glory on Saturday afternoons. But there was this. It all fed into itself; it fed the monster until it grew too big to let die. The image-the ethics-the success-the money, the image-the ethics, the success, the money—a cycle that wouldn’t, couldn’t end.

The indoctrination of anyone and everyone who enters Penn State led to the riots when he was deservedly fired last December. Of course Paterno was still trying to stay on as coach. “Let Joe finish the season,” was the lament as if it mattered. It’s the same as any cult where the demagogue is not to be questioned, disciplined and, most importantly, dispatched. Dictators never leave their dictatorship willingly. They’re dragged off and many die during the transference of power or shortly thereafter by causes natural and not.

If they’d acted preemptively, would the cash cow that Paterno was have stopped that cash forever if this was addressed in 1998 or before? If they’d gotten in front of this whenever it was truly understood exactly what was going on, the story would’ve been devastating, but would’ve passed. Sandusky would’ve been a poison name for the university, but also would’ve been in jail and countless children would’ve been saved. If that were the case, Paterno and the people in charge of Penn State would’ve had the moral high ground that was the foundation of the Paterno legacy in the first place.

Now no one’s going to remember Paterno’s supposedly clean program or all the good that he did because of the mistakes he made (or was advised—poorly—to make) as he allowed a child molester to roam freely around his campus in the interest of personal gain and “protecting” Penn State as if it couldn’t exist without the idolatry lavished on Paterno.

The excuse of Paterno being too old to comprehend the severity of what Sandusky was doing can’t be valid when he wasn’t too old to coach a team of 18-22 year-olds every Saturday and reap the rewards of that responsibility as if he was better than the average human because he didn’t give his players a little pocket money; didn’t cover for them when they cheated on tests; didn’t look the other way at any little or big liberties they took because they were football players at the university.

In the end you have to look at what he did.

So was he able to calculate the consequences once Sandusky was arrested and take the action he did with his contract on his own? Or was he steered in a certain direction by his family? A direction not to salvage his legacy—only a delusional person isn’t taking an 85-year-old person’s life in short increments rather than the long-term—but his contract sweeteners that would have been in jeopardy and his widow and children would’ve lost if the scandal engulfed him as it eventually did?

That would shift the blame to the living; to those still dealing with the fallout; to those who stand to lose the perks that the contract renegotiation covered.

I doubt they’re going to permit that. What they’ll do is try to shift the goalposts of the legend of Paterno even if it’s a legend similar to those TV sitcoms from the 1950s and has little-to-no basis in reality.

Was he an out of touch old man? Or was he running the program and able to maintain enough mental acuity to renegotiate his deal so his wife could use the campus spa?

It can be one or the other. But it can’t be both.

Either way his supporters can’t win. If it’s the former, then there’s an open admission that they kept him around as a prop when he was past his sell-by date. If it’s the latter then he was a severely flawed individual who put his own interests above those of the children that Sandusky was abusing.

You tell me which one it was.

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Kay’s and ESPN’s Radio Ratings Conundrum

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Michael Kay’s shtick is deigned for a Yankees’ loving audience. It works on the YES Network because that’s what the YES Network wants, but it isn’t going to work on a radio show.

Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kay’s poor ratings are now attracting notice since ESPN added an FM signal by taking over 98.7 in New York.

You can read the reports of Kay’s low ratings here on BobsBlitz.com.

Prior to the ESPN NY shift to FM, there were viable excuses for Kay not to have the ratings of Mike Francesa on WFAN. The station was hard to find if you weren’t looking for it; the signal for 1050 AM was weak.

Now that he’s on FM and ESPN is trying desperately to establish a foothold in the New York radio market, it comes down to the bottom line and the bottom line for Kay is he has to get ratings for the station. If he doesn’t do that, he’s going to be replaced. What makes the situation all the more untenable for Kay is the vulnerability of Francesa as a solo act. ESPN has to be asking itself where they’d be if they had a host who could attract those disenfranchised Francesa listeners who don’t want to hear him talk about horseracing or golf.

Kay worships the Yankees and says utterly idiotic things in fulfilling the mandate of the YES Network of selling the club above all notions of objectivity. That extended to his ESPN show and unless you’re a masochistic Mets’ fan or a sycophantic Yankees’ fan seeking validation, it’s not something to willingly listen to.

If Kay claims his persona on the YES broadcasts is an act taken to its logical extreme, that isn’t going to assuage the irritation of the fans who don’t want to hear his voice interjecting itself into their enjoyment with a pre-prepared, poorly written and narcissistic narration of such moments as Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit or Mariano Rivera’s record-breaking save; of omnipotent declarations that the 2010 ALCS was “over” after the Rangers blew game 1; of his statements that he “protected” Joe Torre while he was managing the team as if that was part of his job.

You can’t go from being a Yankees’ shill to an objective analyst.

Yankees’ fans don’t want to hear him, so what chance does he have attracting an audience for a radio show when fans have a choice they don’t have during the games on YES?

His ratings are weak because of him, not because of the signal and not because of other issues. I don’t see any possible way for him to stem the tide that will end in him being replaced with someone more marketable to a wider-ranging New York audience.

The ratings in the time slot wouldn’t be worse if ESPN NY had a syndicated national show that was just as likely to talk about the BCS and Alabama’s, Michigan’s or LSU’s chances at a National Championship than they are now with Kay talking about the Yankees.

That’s a clearer signal than you’d get on AM, FM or if you were being screamed at in your own home.

It says in the above-linked piece that he has the football season to get it right, but I don’t think he has that long. When the baseball season is over, so might be his show.

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Did The Dolphins Sign Ochocinco For Hard Knocks?

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HBO’s Hard Knocks wanted to have the New York Jets on for a second straight season but after the loud mouth of coach Rex Ryan and the lax—at best—discipline and profound lack of team unity contributed to the team’s late-season stumble, they decided against doing the show. Of course HBO would’ve wanted the Rex whose bluster far outweighs reality; would’ve wanted the Tim Tebow sideshow; would’ve wanted the Mark Sanchez reaction as he tries to get past the fan vitriol and the media and fan lust for his less polished but far more likable backup; would’ve wanted to see what Santonio Holmes is going to do to rehabilitate his image with the team after his display in the final game of the season when he was essentially tossed off the field by his teammates.

But it wasn’t to be.

For the good of the organization, if not for the good of the viewing public and Rex-baiting media, the Jets are going to do things a bit quieter. Or as quiet as possible with Ryan, Tebow and company doing their thing.

We’ll see what happens with the Jets on the field and not on HBO.

HBO instead selected the Miami Dolphins as the star of their show.

No one seemed to understand why when the selection was made.

The Dolphins aren’t the annual championship contender they were under Don Shula. There’s no Dan Marino, Mark Clayton, Mark Duper combination to pile up points with a laser show aerial display. The larger-than-life football men that replaced Shula in running the club—Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells—aren’t with the organization. Longtime Dolphin Ricky Williams had spent his final season with the Ravens, but he’s remembered as a Dolphin and his quirky personality and existential musings are gone into retirement.

They have some flashy players in Reggie Bush, but he might’ve been more of a magnet if he were still dating Kim Kardashian. There’s rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but the jury is still split on whether he’s a true prospect or was a product of a high-powered college offense; he’s raw and will take time to develop in the NFL. New coach Joe Philbin comes from the Green Bay Packers where he oversaw the development of Aaron Rodgers and endured an unspeakable tragedy when his son drowned right before the divisional playoff game against the Giants that the 15-1 Packers lost.

Owner Stephen Ross has been somewhat out there in the media eye in an embarrassing fashion. In January of 2011 he met with then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh about becoming the Dolphins’ head coach without bothering to dismiss his coach at the time, Tony Sparano.

Harbaugh went to the 49ers and Sparano was given a contract extension as a way of apologizing for embarrassing him, but his time as Dolphins’ coach was coming to an end and everyone knew it. Sparano was fired with the team’s record at 4-9.

Interestingly, he’s now the offensive coordinator for the Jets and has to find some avenue to incorporate Tebow into his hard-nosed offense. Sparano was only the Dolphins’ head coach because he was a favorite of Parcells; had worked for him with the Cowboys; and would implement the Parcells-preferred method of running an offense. Once Parcells was gone, Sparano’s time was running out.

Even with Ross, Bush, Philbin and the other “name” Dolphins, there’s not much juice there apart from the cheerleaders and that they’re in Miami. With Brandon Marshall traded to the Bears, there’s an absence of people to watch and wait to see what they’re going to do.

That changed when the Dolphins signed Chad Ochocinco to a contract. But the question is whether Ochocinco was signed as a threat on the field or a ratings booster for HBO when there are few personalities with the Dolphins upon whom the show can be promoted.

There’s a perception that Ochocinco is a lockerroom malcontent who causes problems wherever he goes, but that’s not the case. He’s not Terrell Owens nor is he Randy Moss. He has been a good player and a good guy. The attention he’s generated has been somewhat like that garnered by the misunderstood types whose reputations were sullied by media dislike but weren’t the problems they were made out to be. It wasn’t a failure to assimilate to the attitude preferred by Bill Belichick in New England as was exhibited by Albert Haynesworth. Ochocinco didn’t fit in because the Patriots offense was centered around their two tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez; and quarterback Tom Brady’s possession receiver Wes Welker and his deep threat Deion Branch.

The Dolphins aren’t paying him a lot of money and didn’t give up any draft picks to get him, so he’s a “why not?” player who’s worth a look and might thrive in a pass-happy offense implemented by Philbin and run by Tannehill.

He can still play at 34 if he’s in the right situation. But he’s more of a signing that the old Cowboys would’ve made in the vein of veterans like Mike Ditka and Lance Alworth who had once known greatness and could help a team on the precipice of a championship win their title with a catch here, a block there, experience and leadership. The Raiders used to do it; the 49ers used to do it; and the Patriots do it.

In other words, he’s not a signing that the Dolphins would’ve made if they were looking for pure on-field use. Their planned appearance on Hard Knocks might’ve been the catalyst for the signing. Bringing in players for reasons other than what they can do on the field and how they can help is a mistake. Ochocinco won’t be dumped because he’s causing trouble or that he can’t play anymore; he’ll be dumped because the Dolphins are using him for HBO. Once the HBO-Dolphins marriage ends, so too will the marriage between the Dolphins and Ochocinco.

Hopefully, for his sake, Ochocinco is aware of this and prepared to look for work elsewhere if he wants to continue his career.

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Soler Provides A Window Into The Future

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Through Jorge Soler, I’ve gazed into the future.

Not because he’s such a hot prospect and was so heavily in demand that the Cubs today signed the 20-year-old Cuban outfielder to a 9-year, $30 million contract. I have no idea how good he is or if he’s going to take 3-5 years of seasoning to become anything close to what his talent indicates he could be. Cubs’ team President Theo Epstein is a good executive, but he’s gotten torched on the international market before both practically and narratively.

The posting fee and signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka was costly. The results were inconsistent at best and, by all accounts, disappointing. One can only hope that Epstein won’t take to calling a 20-year-old from Cuba “Mr.” Soler as he called Matsuzaka “Mr.” Matsuzaka.

When the Red Sox were avidly pursuing Jose Contreras, Epstein had just taken over as their GM and there was still a sense of puppetry with Larry Lucchino holding the strings floating over the head of the then-28-year-old, so it wasn’t such a shock that the story of Epstein being so angry that the Yankees had signed Contreras that he broke a chair in the Nicaragua hotel in a fit of rage.

Epstein vehemently denied it and I believe him. In subsequent years, he became a respected GM and won two championships while working in his hometown and running what isn’t a passion in Boston, but is a religion. It’s no surprise that he was showing the wear of eight years at their helm—he was burned out and needed a new mountain to climb. The Cubs are certainly that.

That said, no one knows what Soler will be. In that sense, he’s like a highly drafted player who is given a massive signing bonus along the lines of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg just for signing his name on a contract.

But he’s not a drafted player. He was a former professional player in Cuba who, because of that status, became an MLB free agent.

It’s ironic that the Soler signing occurred during the frenzied confusion that’s been a corollary to the new MLB draft rules that have the “experts” and advocates of drafting and developing throwing hissy fits over players like Stanford pitcher Mark Appel. Appel was considered one of the top if not the top player in the draft, but fell to the Pirates at 8 because of signability concerns that have placed him in a box: his eligibility as an amateur is exhausted; MLB is the only game in town; it’s sign or don’t play.

A large part of the preparation for a drawn out battle is Appel’s adviser, Scott Boras. Boras has been openly critical of the new draft rules.

You can read about the new draft rules here. They’re hardline to say the least.

It’s only a matter of time before the defector’s handbook is used in the opposite way for the known amateur stars in North America and Canada to circumnavigate the draft. Much like the reserve clause challenged and from which Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally eventually won their freedom from the indentured servitude that used to be in place, someone will try to take MLB to court to negate the draft. From the legal wrangling initiated by Flood, the entire wall came crashing down not long after. It only takes one player and one agent to try and sue baseball to get out of the requirement that the player go to the team that drafted him or be forced to delay the start of his career by years if necessary to get the opportunity to be paid and go to a venue he prefers. J.D. Drew tried something similar when he (also represented by Boras) played with an independent minor league team after being drafted 2nd overall by the Phillies and couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract. The ploy didn’t work, Drew went back into the draft the next year and was taken by the Cardinals with the 5th pick in the first round. This time he signed.

Much like the concussion and long-term damage inspired lawsuits now being filed on behalf of retired NFL players, it only takes one to start the train rolling before others (some traveling in first class; others hopping onto the boxcar) join in and try to get their piece of the American Dream of riches through lawsuits.

That’s not to diminish the tragic deaths of Dave Duerson, Andre Waters and Mike Webster among many others, but did they need a warning that playing in the NFL was dangerous? That repeated blows to the head and body would eventually take its toll and that they were trading years off their lives for the money, glory, excitement and perks of playing in the NFL?

How long before Boras convinces a top draft pick to shun MLB and walk through the loophole of age and professional status presented by players who’ve played in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Cuba? According to this piece on MLB.com, that loophole is big enough for a convoy of prospects to walk through—maybe even the entire first round of the draft.

The relevant bit follows:

Not all international players will be subject to these rules. Players in leagues deemed to be professional (those in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Cuba apply), are at least 23 years old and have played a certain number of years in those leagues can be signed without the money counting against the pool. Yoenis Cespedes, the 26-year-old outfielder who is a free agent after defecting from Cuba for example, would not count against the pool. Neither would Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, should he be posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters. But the money spent on Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman, who was 22 when he signed with the Reds almost two years ago, would have counted against the pool.

Japan has a working relationship with MLB that nets them large sums of money for the posting fees on players like Darvish and Matsuzaka so it’s unlikely that they’d want to upset that applecart by messing with MLB’s attempt to install cost certainty into the draft and cap the bonuses, but would Taiwan care? Would Korea? And if Cuba sees a way to really stick it to a big American business that has raided their players and caused embarrassment with worldwide stories on players defecting, what’s to stop them from creating a baseball player program where college age players would be able to come to Cuba, make some money and then walk back into MLB as free agents and make a truckload of cash that they wouldn’t make otherwise?

Don’t think these scenarios haven’t been considered by Boras.

And don’t think that a player isn’t going to be willing to destroy the draft and the rules because it’s depriving him—in a way that doesn’t reflect the capitalism of what America stands for—of the freedom to auction his skills to the highest bidder due to MLB’s oligarchical constraints.

Baseball as an industry has to think about this. They never thought the reserve clause would be struck down, but it was. The same thing could happen to the draft if they wind up in front of the wrong judge.

It’s going to be tested. Soon.

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Bounties vs Targets—the NFL and MLB

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The New Orleans Saints have been given harsh sentences for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams encouraging a culture of paying cash bonuses for his players on hard hits and knockouts of opposing players. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season; GM Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the season; and Williams, who was hired as the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams in January, was suspended indefinitely—NY Times Story.

On Sunday afternoon Peter Gammons, filling in for Jerry Remy on the Red Sox TV broadcasts, was talking with broadcast partner Don Orsillo about the NFL bountygate. Gammons said it was inexcusable and that if anyone in baseball did it, Bud Selig had told him that those involved would be banned for life. Period.

If it was a player, I’m sure the MLBPA would have something to say about that penalty.

In what was a conveniently timed sequence of events, Phillies’ starter Cole Hamels hit Nationals’ rookie Bryce Harper in the back with a fastball in Sunday night’s Phillies-Nats game in Washington and then inexplicably announced that he’d done it intentionally in an “old-school” method of initiation for an arrogant, hot shot rookie.

Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo called Hamels a series of names including “gutless” and said he was “opposite of old-school”. Ken Rosenthal said it was an overreaction on the part of Rizzo for a legitimate play from years gone by. Other sportswriters like Jon Heyman, admired the “toughness” of Hamels.

This is on the heels of Mike Francesa’s suggestion two weeks ago that the Mets, rather than give Jose Reyes a small video tribute on his return to Citi Field as an opponent with the Marlins, throw the ball at his head.

He said this twice.

It’s very easy to encourage these types of things when not actually standing in the box and facing the prospect of getting hit with a 95-mph fastball that can end a career or seriously injure the recipient.

I don’t have a problem with Hamels popping Harper; I do have a problem with him announcing it as if he wants credit for it. It was obvious to any longtime observer of baseball that it was done intentionally, but did the pleased-with-himself Hamels need to say, “Look! See what I did?”

In essence, because Harper is a former number 1 overall pick and is widely expected to embark on a potential Hall of Fame career starting now, he had a bulls-eye on his back and Hamels hit that bulls-eye.

We can debate the propriety of the decision by Hamels to throw at Harper just like we can debate collisions at the plate; umpires having larger strike zones for rookies to test them; or any other rites of passage that occur as a common hazing ritual for newcomers.

But you don’t announce it.

This all fits in neatly with Gammons’s discussion of the bounty program used by the Saints.

What’s missed in many of the analysis and commentaries regarding the Saints is that it wasn’t the program itself that got them in trouble. It was that the NFL told them to stop it, they said they would and didn’t.

And they got caught.

The NFL—conservative as a whole and run by Roger Goodell, whose father was a Republican U.S. Senator—is image-conscious and serious about their perception and disciplinary programs. Punishing the Saints is a combination of punitive measures and a message to everyone else not to do this.

Transferring one sport’s rules and regulations to another can be done in theory but is difficult to do in practice. There’s an overt failure to account for the differences between baseball and football. I’m not talking about the classic George Carlin comedy routine in which he declares the superiority of football to baseball—YouTube link. I’m talking about the fundamental differences between the two sports on and off the field.

MLB players have guaranteed contracts and 100% medical coverage. NFL players don’t. Because NFL players’ contracts are not guaranteed, there’s more pressure for them to play in order to keep those game checks coming in. They can be cut at anytime and be completely out of work. The NFL, such as it is, is a close-knit community and if a player is judged as not being willing to take shots and medications to get out on the field and play when he’s hurt, the rest of the league is going to know about it. It spreads like wildfire and affects their careers negatively or ends them completely.

For every star like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning who have the power to command their organization to make certain maneuvers, there are the rank and file players who have to adhere to the culture or else. It’s a brutal version of survival of the fittest and most resilient, rewarding the player who can live through the war of attrition in exchange continued employment.

This doesn’t happen in baseball.

When a player signs a $100 million contract in football, his stature as a talent predicates a large signing bonus which he gets to keep, but the rest of the deal isn’t guaranteed; therefore it’s not really $100 million even though that’s what the news reports say without full context of the disposability of the contract. We see situations where teams can’t cut a player they’d dearly love to be rid of (Santonio Holmes of the Jets for example), but can’t because of salary cap ramifications. But that’s due to overzealousness and a myriad of other factors such as arrogantly thinking “we’ll be able to handle this guy”. Historically when one team can’t “handle” a guy and gets rid of him based on that and that alone, no one—not the Jets; not the Al Davis Raiders of the 1970s and 80s—will be able to handle him for any amount of money. That’s a foundational error.

Contracts in baseball are such that when Albert Pujols signed a $240 million contract with the Angels last winter, it was guaranteed that he’d collect $240 million if he never plays another game.

How many MLB players do you read about committing suicide after their careers are over? Winding up in serious trouble with the law? Have debilitating injuries?

Just last week Junior Seau committed suicide and it was forgotten the next day because the “tragedy” of the day became Mariano Rivera tearing his ACL and being lost for the season.

Which is the true tragedy?

Both are future Hall of Famers in their respective sports; both were well-liked; but Rivera will collect his $15 million salary for 2012 and receive a similar contract for 2013; Seau was rumored to be having financial troubles and domestic squabbles and was entirely unable to adjust to the freedom, emptiness and depression of not having a season or game to prepare for to go along with the wear-and-tear of a 13-year NFL career.

You can call baseball a “contact” sport, but considering the uproar when a collision at home plate occurs and knocks out the catcher, it—clean or not—becomes the impetus for calls to outlaw the home plate collision entirely. It degenerates into a pseudo-contact sport. In football, the mandate is to hit hard—it’s inherent; in baseball, a hard hit is a rare, incidental and predominately unintentional byproduct.

In football, they’ve taken steps to reduce the injuries and number of hard hits because of the bottom line need for offensive production and the stars being on the field to keep the fans engaged and happy, but they’re still very large, well-conditioned men running into one another at full speed. People get hurt. If you can’t or won’t play through pain and the backup will, then your job and career are in jeopardy without any outlet for the aggression that led to an NFL career in the first place, nor the opportunity to make the kind of money they’re making once their careers are over.

Players don’t know what to do with themselves once their regimented lives as football players are done. The simultaneous addictions to the attention, painkillers, money, pain and the compulsive need to keep going in spite of the threat of long-term damage already in place is being exacerbated; irrationality and rudderless post-career lives are too often rife with financial missteps, legal entanglements, after-effects and early deaths.

Coaches and managers are not exempt from the urgency of their professions.

MLB managers and coaches are not working the hours that NFL coaches are. Rank and file MLB assistants are comparatively well-paid and their jobs are many times as a result of patronage, friendship, loyalty or payback. In reality, apart from the pitching coach, not many MLB coaches influence the team to any grand degree.

Not so with the NFL on any count.

NFL assistants work ridiculous hours and, apart from star coordinators, aren’t paid all that well and, like the players, if they don’t have friends in the league or a good reputation, they won’t have another job when they’re let go.

John Madden left coaching because of his ulcer and didn’t return because he replaced it by carving out a Hall of Fame broadcasting career. Jim Brown retired at the top of his game to go to Hollywood. Barry Sanders and Tiki Barber both retired while they still had a few years left in them, but also had their health.

How many other football players can say that?

Mostly they play until they’re dragged off the field knowing what awaits them in the aftermath.

The sporting ideal of competitiveness, honor and fair play doesn’t truly exist. Baseball players subsist in the bubble of individual achievement within a team concept. It’s one man against another when a pitcher and hitter square off. It’s not that way in football where no one player can function without the other ten men. Football players are warriors who know their time is short and every play could be their last with nothing to fall back on aside from a lifetime of pain and mounting bills for medical and family expenses. Baseball players are covered. Football players can’t just turn off that intensity and otherworldliness that allows them to ignore aches and pains that would hospitalize a normal man.

Baseball is languid; football is full-speed and frantic.

Comparing baseball and football is apples and oranges. They’re different. A bounty program wouldn’t specifically exist in baseball because how would it be enacted? A bounty program in football is easy because, in general, a player contract in the NFL is a bounty, but it’s a bounty the player places on himself. He knows when he signs it that one day, he’ll have to pay up with his physical and emotional well being.

Sometimes he pays with his life in quality and permanence.

They know that going in and, invariably, it gets them in the end.

The bounty a player puts on his own head is carried out by football itself.

And football is tantamount to the monolithic hit man that never, ever fails in its objective.

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