Belichick Won’t Be Blamed For Hernandez’s Mess

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Bill Belichick is one of the few coaches who won’t get any of the blame for the current predicament that Aaron Hernandez is facing. You can read about the latest with Hernandez here, but at best it sounds like another player who got involved with “associates” who he would have been better served not to have been involved with. At worst, he’s in a lot of trouble.

Regardless of that, what would be said if this were another incident in the long line of incidents that occurred with the Dallas Cowboys under Jerry Jones and company? What would be said if it was Rex Ryan and the New York Jets with their overt lack of discipline and seemingly fundamental need to embarrass themselves with loud talk and little on-field action? The Cincinnati Bengals have had their share of off-field turmoil. The Oakland Raiders have a long history of actively seeking out players who would be in jail if they couldn’t play football—and they might be in jail anyway.

Fairly or not, there are organizations for whom the players’ behaviors are seen as an entity unto themselves with no responsibility doled out on the team or the men who signed them, tacitly agreeing to take the personal problems in order to try and win. That the Patriots, under owner Bob Kraft, were the team that drafted Christian Peter claiming not to know his history of misogyny and then chose not to sign him once they “found out” about them created the image of a team that doesn’t do it “that” way meaning the Jones way or the Al Davis way in not caring about personality as long as the player can help them.

The image failing to jibe with the reality is meaningless. If the coach of the Patriots were a Barry Switzer-type outlaw, then of course the blame for Hernandez’s predicament would be dropped on the desk of the coach because he couldn’t “rein in” his player as if that’s even possible with grown men. Since it’s Belichick, he has the power to do the things he wants and if that includes dumping a player who can still produce because he’s mouthy and violates team rules, so be it. Other coaches without Belichick’s resume and the organizational track record of success would have to make certain compromises and bend the rules to try and win to keep their jobs and have the fans come to the games. Belichick has the best of both worlds: he can dump the player or he can sign the player and no one will say anything either way.

Belichick can sign Randy Moss, Chad Johnson, Albert Haynesworth and other players who’ve had on and off-field issues and see if they’ll fit into his program. He can sign Tim Tebow and not worry if it’s going to lead to a huge media circus around his team, nor be frightented of Tebow’s legions reacting negatively if he cuts him. If these players don’t help his team, he can dispatch them with no harm, no foul. If they do, it’s more evidence of Belichick’s “genius.” In truth, it’s still a compromise, but the compromise doesn’t have to be buttressed by putting up with the same behaviors that got the players in trouble and made them available to the Patriots on the cheap in the first place.

No matter who the coach is, how scary he can be and the rigid discipline he displays to keep his house in order, there will always be players for whom trouble is a magnet. Some skirt it and rejuvenate themselves, dodging the bullet sometimes literally and figuratively, as Ray Lewis did; sometimes they end up in jail for the rest of their lives like Rae Carruth. When dealing with grown men making the money amid the fame that NFL players are today, there’s nothing a coach can do to keep his players completely in line during their off-hours. Nor should it come as a surprise if a vast majority of professional athletes are carrying firearms. In fact, given the history of people seeking out athletes to rob because their salaries are so prominent, they’re irresponsible if they don’t take steps to protect themselves. Given today’s debate regarding guns, it’s not politically correct to say that, but there’s a difference between a person who has a need to protect himself and a mentally unstable person who is able to acquire weapons for the express purpose of committing mayhem.

A coach can’t tell a player not to take steps to keep himself safe and no one—not even Belichick—has such omnipotent powers to shield a key to his team like Hernandez from what happened in this case. Belichick has protection as well: the championships absolving him from any questioning and blame. Other coaches don’t have that. That’s his weapon if he chooses to use it and, unlike what might have happened with Hernandez, it’s not going to get him sent to jail if he does.

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The Costas Factor

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I’ll preface this by saying I agree with Bob Costas’s premise that the overt celebrations in baseball when there’s a walkoff of any kind, especially a walkoff homer, have gone so far over-the-top that it appears as if a relatively meaningless game in June is the seventh game of the World Series. We’re not that far away from players gathering at home plate on a first inning home run like they do in college and high school. It’s bush league, amateurish and ruins the specialness of games in which there should be a legitimate celebration: no-hitters, perfect games, milestone achievements, post-season clinchings and series victories.

When presenting the afternoon’s baseball highlights, however, Costas gave a mini-editorial with smiling disdain while calling the Mets’ celebration after winning in walkoff fashion on Kirk Nieuwenhuis’s home run “another indication of the ongoing decline of Western civilization.” The clip is below.

The truth of the matter regarding these celebrations is that everyone does it. Costas’s snide comment regarding the second division Mets and Cubs is accurate in the overriding silliness of the act, but the “classy” Cardinals and Yankees do it as well. Prince Fielder celebrated a walkoff homer with teammates by acting as if he was a bowling ball and knocking over the pins (his teammates) and got drilled for it the next year. Kendrys Morales, then of the Angels—a club that took their cue on stoicism and professionalism from manager Mike Scioscia—severely damaged his ankle leaping onto home plate and lost a year-and-a-half of his career because of it. They’re not going to stop doing it no matter how badly Costas wants to go back to 1960 with players celebrated by shaking hands like they’d just had a successful meeting at IBM.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less what Costas says. As he’s aged and his status has grown as a crossover broadcaster whose opinions on a wide range of subjects are given weight, he’s turned increasingly crotchety, preachy, smug and obnoxious. He’s almost a likable Bill O’Reilly with a smile—sort of how Bill O’Reilly was when he was hosting Inside Edition and when The O’Reilly Factor first started before market dictates and egomania forced him to lurch far to the right and put forth the persona of screaming in people’s faces as an omnipotent pedant. Costas has the forum and gets away with it because he’s Bob Costas, therefore he does it and this will happen again unless his bosses tell him to can it.

This is only a small blip in comparison to his halftime op-ed regarding gun control the day after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder/suicide last December. That clip is below.

Speaking of the decline of Western civilization, the conceit that is evident everywhere stemming from the me-me-me attitude that has been exacerbated with social media, easy fame and its trappings has led to a rise in pushing the envelope to make one’s voice heard over the din whether it’s the proper forum to do so or not. Would a Costas commentary on gun control be given airtime anywhere if he didn’t blindside his employers by interjecting it during an NFL halftime show? Would anyone listen to it if there wasn’t a captive audience of people gathering to watch the game who were suddenly inundated with Costas’s political rant?

The NFL halftime show is meant to be talking about Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III, not going into a long-winded diatribe directly challenging the beliefs of a massive constituency of the NFL—conservatives who believe in the right to bear arms. If Costas has these little vignettes planned on the state of sports and the world in general, perhaps he should save it for a time in which people who are tuning in would expect it and make the conscious choice to hear what he has to say on the variety of off-field subjects and negligible behaviors that he’s made it a habit of sharing his feelings on. But then, maybe no one would tune in because they want to hear Costas talk about sports and would prefer if he saved his personal feelings for a time when it’s appropriate, not when viewers looking for sports and highlights have to endure his arrogant and high-handed opinions.

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From North Dallas Forty To Biogenesis

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Major League Baseball’s ham-handed investigation into the Biogenesis Clinic and the players who might have been involved in PEDs after being named as clinic clients is an attempt to appear as if they’re on top of the situation done in a way similar to how the National Football League would’ve done it. Except the way in which MLB is handling it is the way the NFL would’ve handled it in 1970, not 2013.

The tour-de-force account of how the NFL operated back then was the 1979 film North Dallas Forty as the protagonist, Phil Elliot is struggling through injuries and the refusal to “play the game” and the “game” isn’t football—it’s going along to get along, taking shots of painkillers, playing injured (different from playing hurt), being used and willing to be used to fill the masochistic need to play the actual on-field sport.

In the movie, the North Dallas Bulls with their megalomaniacal and exceedingly wealthy owner, iconic and cold-blooded coach, and hard-partying teammates (*wink wink* at the “similarities” to the Dallas Cowboys) prepare for the next week’s game. Early in the film, Elliot experiences a break-in at his home and catches the perpetrator in the act who threatens Elliot with a gun and flees. In the penultimate scene, the break-in was revealed to have actually executed by a private eye who had been hired by the club to get dirt on Elliot with the complicity of the league to catch disposable, independent-minded players like him smoking pot and using an excess of painkillers in order to exploit the violation of league rules not to pay their salaries when they’re dumped as Elliot eventually was. Left out of the equation was that Elliott was smoking pot with the team’s star quarterback, but the club couldn’t very well function without the star quarterback and cutting Elliott filled the dual function of sending a message to the rest of the team that they’d better behave or suffer the same fate of not only being cut, but also having their reputation sullied throughout the league and face a suspension for drug use if they didn’t do as they’re told.

Elliott’s quote regarding his marijuana use, “If you nailed every guy in the league who smoked grass, you wouldn’t have enough players left to field the punt return team,” still resonates today in every sport and with every drug—performance enhancing and otherwise.

MLB is trying the same type of thing sans the illegalities (that we know of) with the Biogenesis case in their over-the-top show of trying to extract information from the head of the clinic Anthony Bosch to the degree that they’re paying him and, according to other potential witnesses, “bullying” with threats and empty promises of help in a legal case if they cooperate. The problem for MLB is this when thinking about the tactics similar to those used in North Dallas Forty: the movie was from 34 years ago and it was adapted from a book published 40 years ago about the way the game was run in the 1960s.

And that’s what MLB is doing. They’re using methods from the 1960s to garner information in 2013.

The problems with the way in which MLB is reportedly running this investigation is manifold and goes far beyond the Cold War-era strategies. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that this Biogenesis clinic was used by players in today’s NFL and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who was at the top of the hill in this new scandal instead of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Would the entire structure be handled differently? Better? More competently?

Selig is essentially seen as a doddering figurehead whose main job descriptions is that of a functionary. It’s not far from the truth. His performance as commissioner has been a byproduct of what is good for the owners’ pockets rather than what is promoted as good for the game. While the PEDs were rampant throughout baseball and were used with the tacit approval of everyone in an effort to draw fans, restore the game’s popularity following the 1994 strike, and accrue money for the owners and players alike, there was Selig with a faraway gaze either clueless as to the reality or willfully ignoring it. Perhaps it was a combination of the two.

Selig’s performance in front of Congress along with the players who showed up that fateful day was humiliating in a myriad of ways. From Rafael Palmeiro’s finger-wagging lies; to Sammy Sosa’s “me no speaka the Inglés”; to Mark McGwire not being there to talk about the past; to Curt Schilling clamming up after his yapping for days before and after the fact, baseball has never acquitted itself well when self-preservation came to the forefront at the expense of stating the facts.

Has baseball improved since then? Has Selig gotten the message? Let’s just compare Selig with his NFL counterpart Goodell. Only people inside baseball’s front office know how alert Selig is to the Biogenesis investigation or anything else. Perhaps it’s a matter of, “Don’t tell me what I don’t want to know so I don’t have to lie about it later.” But this is an indicator that MLB should’ve tossed someone overboard when the entire PED scandal initially broke to send the message that a new sheriff was in town and things weren’t going to be done the old way. And I use old in every conceivable context of the word when discussing Selig. That would’ve meant that Selig had to go a decade ago, and he probably should’ve.

Would Goodell be so disengaged to not know every aspect of what’s going on with an investigation of this magnitude? Would he not take steps to control the message and how it’s framed as politicians—like Goodell and Goodell’s father Charles, a former United States Senator from New York—do and did? This is the fundamental difference between MLB and the NFL. Goodell is smooth, smart, and cagey. He’s available yet insulated; touchable but unknowable; protected and in command. Selig on the other hand is cadaverous and scripted, but unable to follow the script; he’s anything but smooth and the disheveled clothes, $10 haircut and bewildered countenance that was once somewhat charming lost its luster as he had to get to work to restore the game’s validity. What makes it worse when having a figurehead as commissioner is that baseball doesn’t appear to have taken steps to place competent people behind the scenes to pull the levers to keep the machine greased and running well. It’s people charging headlong into each other and having the bruises to prove it.

If Goodell makes the implication that the witnesses will be assisted in a criminal investigation as was alluded to in the ESPN piece linked above, you can bet that the NFL and Goodell himself will have the connections to follow through on the promise.

MLB? What are they going to do about it? Are they even capable of helping anyone? Would they know who to call and would that person even take the call as he would if he heard, “Roger Goodell is on the phone,” instead of “Bud Selig is on the phone,”?

Not much thought was put into any of this going back to allowing of players to get away with PED use and then the about-face due to public outcry, the banning of substances and the potential fallout of doing so. They want to clean up the game, but keep it entertaining to the fans. Did it ever occur to them that the reason that so many man games are being lost due to injury stems from the tendons and ligaments becoming weakened from carrying the extra muscle built through chemical means? That players can’t play 150 games and toss 225 innings and maintain performance without chemicals? That they aren’t going to be able to beat out a dribbler on the infield in August by chugging cups of coffee and cans of Red Bull as they would from their trusted amphetamines (greenies)? That the risk/reward for players like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera and anyone else whose name was caught up in Biogenesis was such that there was no reason not to do it?

What’s 100 games in comparison to the half a billion dollars in contracts—just for playing baseball alone and not counting endorsements—A-Rod will have made once his career is over? What’s 100 games in exchange for Braun’s MVP and the minute risk (Braun’s just unlucky, arrogant and somewhat stupid) of getting caught? What’s 100 games in exchange for a slightly above-average talent like Cabrera being given a contract for $16 million almost immediately after his humiliating suspension and public lambasting?

Until MLB does something about the laughable penalties, players will keep trying to navigate their way around the tests and punishments because it’s worth it for them to do it given the likelihood that they’ll get away with it.

Attendance and TV ratings are down all around baseball. In large part it’s because the fans who jumped on the bandwagon at the excitement of the home runs have little interest in watching Joe Maddon outmaneuver Joe Girardi with tactical skill. They want homers and if they’re not getting them, they won’t bother to watch. This new “get tough” policy is falling flat not just because of the maladroit manner in which it’s being implemented, but because there’s no integrity behind it. The owners are interested in one thing: the bottom line. Many are as blind as Selig was to the PED use and only came around when the evidence was plunked on their desks with the widespread demand to “do something” about it to “save the game.”

Using the 1960s as a guideline for running the Biogenesis investigation in 2013 forgets that back then, there wasn’t the constant flow of available information with real time stories, opinions and criticisms appearing immediately and going viral. Back then, MLB would’ve been able to get in front of the story using friendly, like-minded reporters who were willing to do the Max Mercy thing from The Natural and “protect” the game. In other words, they would protect the people who owned the game against the ephemeral presence of the players who come and go and who were using drugs to undeservedly place themselves in the stratosphere of legends that was once rightfully limited to Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Bob Feller. Now there are bloggers, reporters and networks gathering information as it comes in. It can’t be controlled.

For MLB to put forth the pretense of being all-in for the Biogenesis investigation is the epitome of wasteful hypocrisy. They can pound on doors, stand on rooftops and proclaim their commitment to stopping PED use. They can threaten, cajole, demand and make empty promises, but that’s not going to alter the reality that the changes to the game have to be foundational and not a self-serving attempt to clean up a game that has been infested from the top to the bottom due in large part to the inaction of MLB itself.

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Draft Day Rant Understated

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I’m not going into my usual rant about the attempts by Major League Baseball to turn the draft into an extravaganza along the lines of what the NFL does. The differences are obvious and conveniently glossed over. The most glaring being:

  • The game of football from college to pro is essentially the same.
  • The players are recognizable to a vast majority of people who follow both versions of the sport.
  • It’s easier to project what a player is going to be when he gets to the NFL than it is for a baseball player transitioning from amateur to pro.
  • And in the NFL (and NBA for that matter) the player is walking out of the amateurs and into the highest level of play he can achieve—there are no minor leagues and evolutionary climb along with the favoritism that’s shown to a higher draft pick who has a lot of money and hype invested in him in the other sports.

In addition, most of the “scouting reports” you get from the “experts” in the media is regurgitated trash that they’ve heard from someone else or have accumulated by watching a five minute clip of a player and using buzzwords and catchy phrases designed to make the statement sound in-depth when it’s anything but.

The most refreshing thing I read today regarding the draft came from a GM the stat guys have grown to loathe, Dan Duquette of the Orioles. Duquette was asked about the draft age son of the player he signed for the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez, and Duquette replied, “I don’t know much about Manny’s boy.”

If it were a GM with a pretentious reputation to protect like Billy Beane or a media draft “expert” like Keith Law, a load of facts, figures and analysis would’ve been rattled off as if it was only a matter of flipping through brain files, finding Manny Ramirez Jr. and providing a biography, a comparison to his dad, his positives and negatives, and projection of what he can be. Most of it would’ve come from the aforementioned brief clip of film, information from someone else that was memorized because they knew they’d be asked about him, or foundational statements that couldn’t be proven or disproven due to their all-encompassing randomness.

Here’s the truth: while a GM for a big league club follows the amateur players who are the potential high draft picks, the grunt work is left to the lower level scouts who find the players. They send information up to the cross-checkers to sift through the recommendations and verify what the scouts are saying. It’s then sent up through the ranks to the upper level of the organization to give a yay or nay to the top picks. Once it gets down to the later rounds, the players who aren’t in the top echelon become names in a barrel with some kind of skill or attribute—a searing fastball, a good eye, speed, home run power, a great glove—that makes it worth drafting them knowing that a player drafted from beyond the tenth round probably isn’t going to make it past Single A and if he does, it’s a fluke.

Duquette’s personality (or lack thereof) isn’t such that his ego has to be stroked with others marveling about what he “knows” because he’s perfectly willing to admit what he doesn’t know about the son of a player he himself gave $160 million to join the Red Sox. There is simply too much for a GM to do running the organization to watch every single draftable player and come to an assessment. There aren’t enough hours in the day. The GM will go and look at the top tier players, but apart from that, it’s left to the underlings. It reflects on the GM who he hires to be the scouting director and the methods in which they find players, but to blame the GM or give him credit? Not even the scouting directors are able to look at every single player past the projected first ten rounds and come to an ironclad conclusion as to what a player will be. It comes down to talent, development, opportunity and luck.

You’ll hear a lot of names today and vanilla scouting reports from the draft-watchers that they got from a guidebook, magazine, website or via the whispers of someone who’s supposed to know what the players can do. Most of those names you’ll never hear again. Then we’ll start the process all over again next year with the same wasted time and energy listening to people who are making money quantifying the unquantifiable exercise known as the MLB Draft.

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The Mick and the Corked Bat

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The corked bat that was allegedly used by Mickey Mantle and was set to be sold at auction is no longer available after Mantle’s family hired attorneys to prevent the item’s sale. This entire episode tears another scab off the sordid nature of sports memorabilia.

Ironically in the past week the industry was in the news in a more serious court case as O.J. Simpson’s appeal of his kidnapping and armed robbery conviction was being heard in Las Vegas. Simpson was involved with memorabilia dealers and claims he was trying to reclaim his property and it expanded into guns, shady characters and a conviction. Simpson says it was an innocent misunderstanding. Sort of similar to going to the home of his ex-wife, just happening to be wearing the outfit of an inept burglar and carrying a knife, and proclaiming his purity when she and her friend wound up dead, bathed in pools of their own blood. It started so innocently with the best of intentions.

I don’t understand the memorabilia industry from the perspective of people who buy this stuff for their own enjoyment. The players themselves—including Mantle—thought it was a ludicrous endeavor, but went along because it was making him a lot of money with little effort and after his career was over, he didn’t have much money until the industry blew up. I get people buying it as an investment, but that goes back to the circle of preying on the childhood memories of others for profit. For those who think that having a “piece of history” in their homes are going to impress anyone when there’s no truly flawless method to verify the piece’s authenticity, it’s a momentary and mostly insincere “wow.” How much time can they spend staring at an old jersey? An old hat? An old glove? A bat that was supposedly laced with cork to lighten it, increase the hitter’s bat speed, and add a substance that may or may not add distance to the ball’s travels? And nobody can say whether or not the bat was actually used by Mantle.

Was it?

Based on Mantle’s style, he might have just used it as a joke once or twice just to see what happened. He wasn’t one to look before he leaped and did things because he could do them or because he thought it might be a kick. That didn’t extend to a long series of off-field incidents due to his drinking and womanizing as it would today because the writers were protective of players’ off-field lives during Mantle’s day, but if he was playing today you can bet there would be DUI incidents, an array of barroom brawls, and other stories of his exploits popping out all over.

For all of Mike Francesa’s bluster about the “reality” of sports, it takes little prompting for him to revert to the adolescent Mantle idol-worshipper when anyone dare question his hero and all-knowing, ignoring other factors statement that Mantle didn’t need to use a corked bat, therefore it is proven that he didn’t use one.

Mantle’s family stated that he never used a corked bat. How they would know this is not stated.

Did Mantle “need” to use a corked bat? Of course not. Did he use one a few times? Possibly. Does it tarnish his legacy? Not if his 535th career homer off Denny McLain in which McLain tossed a tailor made batting practice fastball specifically for Mantle to hit out the park didn’t tarnish his legacy and ruin the aesthetic for Francesa and the aging men who treat Mantle as their ideal.

Mantle was a “Yeah, what the hell?” guy and that might have extended to him trying a corked bat a few times. But with no one to guarantee that it’s legitimate or that Mantle hit with it to the degree that it truly affected his results and career numbers, a chunk of people only care because they want to shield their bubble of beliefs; the others seek to maintain the profits they can make from “real” Mantle memorabilia. I understand why they’re doing it, but I’ll never understand why people would pay money for that stuff to begin with.

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The Astros Blueprint Begins To Fade

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For the Astros, all of a sudden the blueprint isn’t as simple as plugging a bunch of numbers into the machine and achieving the desired result. With the resignation of CEO George Postolos there’s speculation that the Astros “united front” of rebuilding by detonating the entire organization isn’t as united as it was portrayed to be. There’s also talk that Nolan Ryan now has an opening with the Astros to be the team president since the Rangers have mitigated his CEO role and he was unhappy about it.

To put an end to the speculation on both ends, Postolos is not a baseball guy. He’s a business guy who assisted Astros owner Jim Crane in getting the franchise. Losing him is irrelevant.

Ryan has ties to the Astros fans from his days pitching for them, but think about it logically: He would be leaving the Rangers because his say-so was supposedly undermined by the promotion of GM Jon Daniels to head of baseball operations and Ryan is now seen as a figurehead, but going to the Astros and working for GM Jeff Luhnow and placating the fans who are angry at the team being so supernaturally terrible would be the epitome of a figurehead move. Luhnow certainly wouldn’t listen to Ryan’s old-school baseball theories and the stat people in the front office would roll their eyes at him when he was out of the room. It wouldn’t be a lateral move, but a step down into the “old man” status he so clearly loathes. In actuality, the one place aside from public relations in which Ryan could help the Astros is on the mound. Since he could throw 90-mph years after his retirement, there’s a pretty good chance that he could still throw in the 80s even at age 66 and would have the pitching savvy to do better than what the Astros are currently tossing out there.

Dismissing the departure of Postolos and the talk of hiring Ryan, the Astros are coming to the inevitable conclusion that the fans being onboard with this expansion-style rebuild was fleeting. They’re not going to pay to see a product that is so blatantly and intentionally not of Major League quality, nor are they going to sit happily while the owner scoffs at the fans wanting him to spend more money to at least make the team cosmetically better. It’s easy to draw up the plan for a teardown and reconstruction without accounting for the blowback from such a decision. There’s support for what Luhnow and Crane are doing and that support will not waver in places like the halls of Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law’s house, but that doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to do whatever they want with the fans merrily going along with it sans complaints. Ryan might quiet them briefly if he was hired, but how long would that last while his suggestions were being ignored and Crane was trotting him out as a human shield to protect him from fan and media vitriol? Fans don’t go to the park to see the team president do his presidenting. Most probably didn’t know who Postolos was and while they’d know Ryan, that wouldn’t perfume the stink that these Astros are generating.

The key for Crane is twofold: 1) can he stand the constant attacks he’ll be under as the team gets worse before it gets better? And 2) Can Luhnow find the talent to make the club viable again?

On the first front, Crane is probably not accustomed to people talking to or about him the way they currently are. Rich, successful businessmen aren’t pleased about criticism and when it’s an alpha-male Texan where any small concession is seen as a sign of weakness and can cost money and clients, it’s magnified.

Regarding Luhnow, because the Astros are going to have so many high draft picks and are pouring most of their resources into development, it will be hard not to get better and show signs of significant improvement eventually. Whether that will yield the results that are expected in a replication of the Rays or the new “genius” in the Moneyball sense remains to be seen and it’s not guaranteed to happen. Already there should be concerns that their hand-picked manager Bo Porter is starting to look overmatched and was rightfully mocked because he didn’t know a fundamental rule of the game last week against the Angels. To make matters worse, his coaches didn’t point out to him that what he was doing was illegal either. That he got away with it only made it look worse.

There are similarities between another Texas team that was purchased by a brash rich man who didn’t want to hear what didn’t work in the past as Jerry Jones bought the floundering Cowboys from Bum Bright in 1989. Jones said some stupid things as Crane has, but he also had the foresight and guts to fire Tom Landry and hire Jimmy Johnson to put him in charge of the entire on-field operation. Of course it helped that Troy Aikman was sitting there as the first pick in the 1989 NFL Draft and that Johnson was a ruthless wizard with moving up and down the NFL draftboard and dispatching those who couldn’t or wouldn’t help him achieve his goals as rapidly as possible. But the key for those Cowboys was the Herschel Walker trade in which Johnson fleeced the Vikings for a bounty of draft picks that he used to put a Super Bowl team together in four years.

Jeff Luhnow is not Jimmy Johnson in terms of personality nor intensity, can’t trade up and down the MLB draftboard, and he doesn’t have a Herschel Walker equivalent on his roster to trade. Porter is not Johnson in terms of on-field strategic skill and in threatening and pushing his coaches and players to get it done or else.

Unless there’s some past business animosity between the two, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones has called Crane as Al Davis used to call Jones during the Cowboys’ 1-15 season in Jones/Johnson’s first season running the team and told him to keep his chin up. By “chin up” I don’t mean Jones is suggesting to Crane to have the ill-advised, multiple plastic surgeries Jones has had as he’s aged, but to keep his chin up in response to the raking he’s getting for the atrociousness of his team. Not only does Crane need to keep his chin up, but it had better be able to take a punch as well because they’re starting in earnest now and won’t stop until there’s a marked improvement in the on-field product. And that’s a long way away.

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Enough About The Red Sox Chemistry

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There is a place for chemistry in baseball and I’m not talking about PEDs. The Red Sox have been lauded for their improved clubhouse atmosphere coinciding with more likable people in the room such as Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli, and manager John Farrell. It’s undoubtedly a more pleasant place without the rampant dysfunction and selfishness that culminated in a 69-93 last place disaster in 2012.

To put the team in context, however, they scarcely could’ve been worse in terms of cohesiveness and being on the same page than they were in 2012. The preponderance of the blame is placed on the desk of former manager Bobby Valentine because he’s a convenient scapegoat and is gone. But there’s more than enough responsibility to go around from owner John Henry with his increasing detachment from the Red Sox day-to-day affairs to focus on building the Fenway sports brand, much to the chagrin of the Liverpool football club’s faithful; CEO Larry Lucchino who spearheaded the Valentine hiring over the objections of the baseball people; and GM Ben Cherington who made the ill-fated decision to trade Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey among other questionable moves and whose head is now in the noose with the expensive signings of Victorino, Ryan Dempster and the trade for Joel Hanrahan along with the highly dubious decision to trade for Farrell to manage the team, ostensibly because they knew him and he was there when the team was at the height of its powers.

Amid all the chemistry talk and references—specifically from former manager Terry Francona in his book—that the 2011 club didn’t care about one another, all they needed to do was win one more game over the month of September that year and they still would’ve made the playoffs. You can’t blame a bad mix of players for the horrific final month of the season when they were widely regarded as the best team in baseball from May through August. They had two terrible months and they both happened to be in the first and last months of the season. If the players disliking one another wasn’t a problem in the summer, how did it turn into the biggest issue that led to their downfall?

Chemistry is not to be disregarded, but the media constantly harping on the dynamic of the personalities strikes as hunting for a narrative. If they play well, the new players and better communication will be seen as the “why” whether it’s accurate or not. Because the media no longer has to deal with Josh Beckett and his Neanderthal-like grunting and glaring; Adrian Gonzalez with his deer-in-the-headlights reaction to all things Boston; Carl Crawford and his “get me outta here” body language; and Valentine with his Valentineisms, their life is much easier and they don’t have to dread going to work. But so what? This isn’t about the media and the fans having players with a high wattage smile and charm; it’s not about having a manager who looks like he should be a manager, therefore is a manager even though his in-game strategies are widely regarded as terrible. It’s about performing and last night was an ominous sign for the third closer they’ve tried, Hanrahan, since Jonathan Papelbon was allowed to leave without so much as a whimper of protest and an unmistakable air of good riddance.

Closers blow games. It happens. Truth be told, the pitch that was called ball four on Nate McLouth could very easily (and probably should’ve) been called a strike, but big game closers have to overcome that and last night Hanrahan responded to not getting the call by throwing a wild pitch to let the Orioles tie the game, and then served up a meatball to Manny Machado to torch the thing completely.

Hanrahan is better than Bailey and Alfredo Aceves, but he’s never been in a situation like that of Boston where he’s expected to be a linchpin to the club’s success. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season. This isn’t a rebuilding Nationals team or the Pirates. There’s a lot of pressure on him. The starting rotation is woefully short and the aforementioned personnel and management issues haven’t gone away simply because of their attempts to weed out the problem people who are perceived to have led to the crumbling of the infrastructure. They may have been patched the personality gap to the satisfaction of the media at large, but the players also have to be able to play and play in Boston. Whether they can or not has yet to be determined in spite of the feeling of sunshine permeating the reconfigured room.

Chemistry only goes as far. If they don’t find some starting pitching and have a closer that can finish a game, this discussion on how much more positive the Red Sox are will be all they have to talk about in July because they certainly won’t be discussing preparations for a playoff run.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Captainship in Baseball

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The Yankees name Derek Jeter captain and it’s part of their “rich tapestry of history.” The Mets do it with David Wright and it’s foundation for ridicule. Neither is accurate. What has to be asked about baseball and captaincies is whether there’s any value in it on the field or if it’s shtick.

The three current captains in baseball are Wright, Jeter and Paul Konerko of the White Sox. In the past, teams have had captains but the most prominent in recent memory have been Jason Varitek of the Red Sox and Jeter. The Mets named John Franco the captain of the team in May of 2001 and he had a “C” stitched to his jersey like he was leading the New York Rangers on the ice for a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Varitek was named captain of the Red Sox after his somewhat contentious free agency foray following the Red Sox World Series win in 2004. The Red Sox couldn’t let Varitek leave a week after losing Pedro Martinez to the Mets, but they didn’t want to give him the no-trade clause that Varitek had said was a deal-breaker. Varitek’s pride was at stake and the unsaid compromise they made was to give Varitek the captaincy and no no-trade clause. Whether or not Varitek was savvy enough to catch onto the trick is unknown. It reminded me of an old episode of Cheers when—ironically—the fictional former Red Sox reliever Sam Malone and two other workers walked into the boss’s office seeking a raise and were met with a surprising agreeability and open checkbook as long as they didn’t ask for a title. They got the titles and not the raises.

Is the captaincy worth the attention? Will Wright do anything differently now that he’s officially the captain of the Mets—something that had been apparent for years? Probably not.

The Mets have had three prior captains. Keith Hernandez was named captain, similarly to Jeter, while he was the acknowledged leader and the team was in the midst of a slump in 1987 with management trying to fire up the troops and fans. An insulted Gary Carter was named co-captain in 1988 as a placating gesture. Then there was Franco. If the captain had any legitimate on-field value than for its novelty and “coolness” (Turk Wendell wanted the “C” in Franco’s jersey for that reason), a closer couldn’t be an effective captain and then-Mets manager Bobby Valentine certainly would not have named Franco his captain considering the difficult relationship between the two. Valentine’s reaction was probably an eye-roll and, “Yeah, whatever. Make him captain. As if it means anything.” Franco never got over Valentine taking the closer job away and giving it to Armando Benitez while Franco was hurt in 1999 and he got his revenge when, due to his close relationship with the Wilpons, he helped cement the decision to fire Valentine after the 2002 season. Franco could be divisive, selfish and vindictive when he wanted to be.

While the Yankees exhibit a smug superiority as to the “value” of their captains, there’s a perception—probably due to silent implication that the truth doesn’t feed the narrative of Yankees “specialness”—that the three “real” captains of the Yankees in their history have been Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson and Jeter. But did you know that Graig Nettles was a Yankees captain and thought so little of the “honor” that he angered George Steinbrenner by saying, in his typical caustic realism:

“Really, all I do as captain is take the lineups up to home plate before the game.” (Balls by Graig Nettles and Peter Golenbock, page 20, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1984)

Of course Steinbrenner had a fit:

“The captain is supposed to show some leadership out there. That’s why he’s captain. To show leadership.” (Balls, page 21)

Nettles, the “captain” and so important to team success because of his leadership was traded to the Padres in the spring of 1984 after signing a contract to remain with the Yankees as a free agent after the 1983 season in large part because of that book.

Before Gehrig, the Yankees captain had been Hal Chase. Chase was a notorious gambler and repeatedly accused of throwing games. The Yankees would prefer Chase’s name not be affiliated with them in their current incarnation. Chase wasn’t a “Yankee,” he was a “Highlander.” Two different things I suppose.

After Nettles, the Yankees named Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph co-captains and then Don Mattingly as captain. The team didn’t win in those years and the captaincy didn’t help or hurt them toward that end. The teams weren’t very good, so they didn’t win.

The Yankees made a big show of the captaincy because Steinbrenner liked it. He thought it was important in a similar fashion to his rah-rah football speeches and constant haranguing of his field personnel with firings and entreaties to “do something” even when there was little that could be done.

Depending on who is named captain, it can matter in a negative sense if the individual walks around trying to lead and gets on the nerves of others. For example, if Curt Schilling was named a captain, he’d walk around with a beatific look on his face, altered body language and manner and make sure to do some “captaining,” whatever that is. But with Wright, nothing will change, and like Jeter and Konerko, it won’t matter much. It’s not going to affect the teams one way or the other whether the captain is in a Yankees uniform and has become part of their “storied history,” of if it’s the Mets and the world-at-large is waiting for the inevitable cheesiness that is a Mets trademark. It’s an honor and it’s nice for the fans, but that’s pretty much it.

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Get Your Thetans Tested At Citi Field

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The thetans are important to judging one’s overall mental health.

At least that’s what I’ve heard.

Or is that Scientology? Was it L. Ron Hubbard who “discovered” this phenomenon or was it Amway? Am I  getting confused?

Considering the reaction to the Mets’ decision to go into a business partnership with Amway and allowing the company to place a storefront at Citi Field, you’d think they had entered into agreement with a cult to recruit weak-minded Mets fans (insert joke here) to leave the religion of their birth or choice and enter into the wondrous world that has engulfed the lives of so many of your favorite Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise, John Travolta and many others. Or, judging from the indignant eye-rolling, endless ridicule, public recriminations and accusations of more financial and ethical sleight of hand, you’d think the Mets had opened a combination sex shop/peep show/whorehouse/Euro-style hash bar in a New Amsterdam tradition of libertarian personal freedoms and challenges to the current conservative orthodoxy.

Just when the Amway aftershocks had subsided, up steps Howard Megdal—the self-styled “dogged” reporter of all supposed misdeeds of the Wilpon family—paying a visit to the Amway store located at Citi Field. The tour took on a strange note that made it feel as if it was a cult that was trying to recruit new members or, as other implications have suggested, a pyramid scheme trying to accrue more money from the bottom up by continually finding new people to take part in the “scam.”

As I said after the deal was announced and the public shaming of the Mets for entering into a bargain with such a “disreputable” company began in earnest, Amway is a reputable company that’s been in business a long time. They work with other sports teams such as the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL and have well-liked endorsers in former NFL star Kurt Warner among others.

None of that is relevant. The Mets and Amway came to an agreement to have a storefront at the park. It’s a “pilot” program. In other words, they put the storefront there to see how it works. Presumably, if it doesn’t work out well and they don’t expand their business or make money with the endeavor, they’ll shutter it and chalk it up to an idea that failed. If it works, this will continue in other venues. Does it suggest a malicious intent on the part of the Mets or Amway? Will there be a Jim Jones massacre amid the tailgaters at Citi Field over the summer? If you read the constant haranguing and triangulation of the Mets as constantly evil, then that’s the logical conclusion.

Reading Megdal’s piece in a singular fashion as something you found on the web or was linked and you happened to click onto it and you won’t see the transparency in his endless stream of attacks against the Mets’ ownership. But if you know the history and the long-term desire to take the franchise and portray it as the epitome of evil and/or ineptitude in all of sports and you see a trend that is clearly advancing his personal biases. I can tell you from experience that the gist of the article was already planned out before Megdal set foot in the Amway store. Every writer does their thing in a different manner (I jot stuff down on Post-It notes), but like Sun Tzu says, every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought, the desired conclusions of a particular writer—portraying him or herself as an “investigator” or not—are known before the first word is written.

What Megdal writes about the debts ownership has accumulated; the payments upcoming; the reasons for the settlement from the Bernie Madoff case trustee Irving Picard all appear to be based in fact. I’m not questioning the facts. I’m questioning the agenda and the analysis.

How many times has Megdal shifted the goalposts to make himself be maybe, possibly, eventually “right” down the road? It’s a neverending wave of expectations, predictions, and movements to not be wrong. The problem with that type of predictive speculation is that while he may not technically be wrong, he’s not right either. Or should I say “Wright” because he was also wrong about David Wright and the third baseman’s prospects to stay with the club.

Repeatedly there were shadowy suggestions that the Mets wouldn’t have the means to keep their star third baseman in a similar “cut-their-losses because they can’t pay him in the future” manner as they did with Jose Reyes. When the Mets stepped up and paid Wright to keep him for the rest of his career, even that wasn’t good enough. Because the contract was backloaded and deferred, that morphed into a point of contention. So now, instead of “the Mets will trade Wright after putting together an offer designed to fail,” the construction of the contract is an issue. Not only do they have to sign their players, but they have to sign them to a contract structure that is Megdal-approved.

It’s not a matter of disagreeing with the methods in which the club does business, but in seeking out and finding any small thread of perceived wrongdoing to craft a new piece to savage the organization and make unfounded and new accusations whose veracity won’t be proven for years and leaves enough wiggleroom to “explain” with “explaining” being a more palatable word than backtracking or, even worse, admitting one is wrong.

The reality with Reyes is that if the Mets truly wanted him back, they’d have found a way to sign him. It was a baseball decision. While keeping Reyes at mid-summer of 2011 was obviously designed to sell a few extra tickets, is that so out of the ordinary with a sports franchise? Keeping a player to make some extra money? It may have been a mistake, but it’s not unusual.

The Mets signed Wright, but they traded their Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, so it turned into a financial decision in spite of (as even Megdal admits) getting a substantial return of young players for a 38-year-old who just came off the year of his life and whose future as a knuckleballer isn’t as simple as Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield comparisons because he throws the thing harder than they did. Mets GM Sandy Alderson makes a deal of an older player questionable to help the Mets when they’re ready to contend and who wanted a lot of money in a contract extension for a large package of high-end talent and the decision was based on cutting costs; Andrew Friedman does it with the Rays and gets Wil Myers and other prospects for James Shields and Wade Davis and he’s a “genius.”

Much like Maury Povich discovered a marketable niche in paternity tests, Megdal has the Madoff Ponzi scheme and the Wilpons. He is the father!!!

It was in 2008 that Madoff was arrested. We’re coming up on five years since it happened. Since then, the Wilpons’ finances have been expected to collapse with a liquidation and sell-off of everything including their beloved baseball franchise. And they’re still here. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, it just is. Fred Wilpon did not make the money he’s made in life and become the level of successful businessman by pure graft due to Madoff’s diabolical schemes. No one gets to that pinnacle without having a relationship with bankers and banks and the ability to manipulate their businesses, secure loans and keep things running in the bleakest of times. Doesn’t it behoove the bankers who would like to get a return on their investments to refinance these debts and help the debtor keep their businesses running? No one benefits from the Wilpon financial situation disintegrating, but that’s what’s expected if you continually read the doom and gloom of Megdal in E-book and web platform.

Digging through any and all sponsors and business partners of a sports franchise and the questionable tactics and profiteering are self-evident. Do you think the beer companies are truly concerned about fans leaving a ballpark and driving home after six overpriced cups of beer? In a legal and human sense, perhaps; in a business sense, no, and no amount of signs that say, “Enjoy responsibly” are going to change that.

You don’t want to know how sausages are made; you don’t want to think about the slave labor in Indonesia that’s sewing MLB licensed clothes and memorabilia; and you don’t want to scrutinize the people who are bringing money into the clubs. These morally despicable tactics have assisted MLB as a whole and helped to make the game of baseball into the cash cow that it is.

Seeking out the negative finds the negative. Formulating scenarios based on the worst possible outcome yields the worst possible outcome. If that’s what someone wants to look for, that’s what they’ll find. But maybe that’s the point.

Join Amway!! Or Scientology!! Or become a Mets fan!! Of course they’re different entities with zero connection to one another unless you’re reading the litany of columns like a wrestling main event, Megdal vs. the Mets. Then, like professional wrestling, the denouement is known before the fact and we as viewers, suspend disbelief and watch, putting our mind at rest because it’s an unnecessary inconvenience to the crafted and inevitable end.

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The Latest Yankees Injury: First The Jokes, Then The Reality

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Mark Teixeira has a strained right wrist and will be out for 8-10 weeks.

Considering the age permeating the Yankees’ roster, Joe Pepitone would fit right in.

When Brian Cashman broke his right fibula and dislocated his ankle skydiving and doing his Flyin’ Brian act that turned out to be Flyin’ Brian Landin’ and Breakin’ His Bones, I compared him to George Costanza, a fictional former Yankees’ employee on Seinfeld. As an organization, the Yankees are playing out the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine starts acting like (and gets identical results) as George. “I’ve become George,” she exclaimed. Well, the Yankees have become the Mets. “We’ve become the Mets!!!” Expect to hear that soon. Only it’s worse. The Mets, in recent years, have grown so accustomed to bad things happening that it’s just sort of there like a goiter. With the Yankees, though, they’re expected to be in the World Series every year. The fans have deluded themselves into thinking that they should be treated as if they won the World Series the year before even if they got bounced in the first or second round of the playoffs or, perish the thought, didn’t make the playoffs at all. History must be altered; facts must be twisted; truth must be ignored—all options are on the table to maintain the alternate reality.

A panic-stricken Mike Francesa wants them to trade for Justin Morneau. This is based on the Twins rebuilding and that Morneau will be available. What he’s missing in his desperation is that while it’s logical that the Yankees, because of fan demands and ticket prices, can’t put a team with the likes of Dan Johnson at first base and Juan Rivera/Matt Diaz or some amalgam of rookies in left field joining a lineup with a catcher who might as well not even bring a bat to the park, the Twins are in a position of having to fill a new ballpark of their own and to put up a pretense of trying to be respectable, at least in the beginning of the season. There was a similar dynamic with Francisco Liriano a couple of years ago that the Twins were going to trade him to the Yankees before the season started. Why? Because the Yankees needed an arm? And this was while the Twins were expecting to actually compete for a playoff spot.

Yankees fans and apologists in the media still don’t get it. They don’t understand that the Yankees don’t get whatever they want. You’d think it would’ve sunk in by now, especially after Cliff Lee told them to take a hike, but it’s still not getting through. Also, immediately after this story broke, a fan called into Francesa’s show and said he wouldn’t be surprised if this Yankees team doesn’t make the playoffs.

Doesn’t make the playoffs? Here’s a clip for you:

Not only is this current configuration not making the playoffs, but without Curtis Granderson and Teixeira for extended periods; with Alex Rodriguez gone ‘til who knows when; with Derek Jeter returning from a serious injury; with the age on the pitching staff, they’re lucky to be a .500 team.

There’s not going to be a Morneau trade to the Yankees. It had better sink in that this is the future that they mortgaged for so long, kicking the need to rebuild down the road with Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera maintaining performance and staying healthy at an almost supernatural rate. Last year, all three got hurt. Now Teixeira, A-Rod and Granderson are out. Now, with the age on this team and the inability for older players to take special potions, pills and manufactured concoctions to get on the field, this is what happens to players of a certain age. They get hurt and they’re out for extended periods. They can’t play as well as they once did, nor can they recover as rapidly from the wear-and-tear of the games. It would be fine if the Yankees still had an offense that could possibly account for the age and decline of their core players, but they don’t. They made a conscious and stupid decision to let Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez leave. Could they use those players as backups now?

All of a sudden, the absurd and uncharacteristic cheapness is spinning around on them and immediately blowing up in their faces. Fans are going to demand something drastic that’s not going to happen. They’d better get accustomed to the way things are and how they’ll be for the next two seasons. The type of player that will be available to them to play first base for the next couple of months is identical to the faceless cast of retread characters they have manning the outfield in Granderson’s absence—I’m talking about the Daric Barton-type from the Athletics. Barton has put up good on-base numbers when healthy, but he’s always hurt and makes Jason Giambi look like a Rhodes Scholar.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Yankees.

Get used to it and brace yourself. It gets worse from here.

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