This is Matt Harvey. Accept it and move on.

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey pic

Matt Harvey is trying to have a life comparable to that of Derek Jeter and Tom Brady sans the on-field production. With his latest foray into the gossip columns occurring simultaneous to his on-field future being in flux, it’s time for the Mets to accept that this is what Harvey is. There won’t be an awakening that he needs to focus primarily on his pitching and making as much money as he possibly can in his rapidly approaching free agency. There won’t be a more subdued off-field lifestyle. And there won’t be a “new” Matt Harvey in any way but as a statement that sounds good.

This is not to imply that he should stay home and watch TV, never leaving the house; but the intentional attempt to get his name and face in the gossip columns was growing tiresome when he was at his peak. Now that he’s trying to regain some semblance of what he lost, it’s growing offensive. The attention he gets from the images kissing models and partying late into the night is not a matter of circumstance. It’s intentional quid pro quo. Someone – whether it was the public relations representatives of Adriana Lima, Harvey or both – contacts the columnists and makes sure that the date will garner the desired attention and buzz. This is a fundamental reality of the trade-off between a famous person and the paparazzi. Harvey, however, does not need this type of attention just now. While spring training is essentially meaningless for a veteran player who is just trying to get in shape for the season, for a player – particularly a pitcher – like Harvey returning from a serious injury and two years away from free agency, it minimally behooves him to just show up, stay out of the limelight, do his work and party without the glare of the flashbulbs and the viral media attention endlessly shared in a hollow attempt to play the rock star when it’s unknown as to whether he can hit the same cords he once did.

Harvey has courted drama and the wrong kind of attention for much of his major-league career. The Mets looked the other way and shrugged because of his excellence on the field and that he was the clear star of their universe, for better or worse. Now, though, he’s their fourth starter behind Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Should Zack Wheeler prove himself healthy enough to start, Robert Gsellman replicates his surprising 2016 performance and Seth Lugo shows his workmanlike production, Harvey could find himself behind all of them.

The time for granting him passes, laughing and shrugging is over. He wants to be Jeter, but is turning into Bo Belinsky: someone whose fame is due to off-field pursuits rather than as a natural result of on-field performance. To make matters worse, Syndergaard has taken over as the man about town and is doing so in a more media savvy and salable way for himself and the organization.

Eventually, it gets to a point where the drama is no longer self-created as means to an end, but is just who he is. From the Scott Boras demands for Harvey’s innings limits to missing team workouts to the spate of injuries and talk-talk-talk of how he wants greatness but still pops up in the front of the newspaper rather than the back, the Mets are not motivated to placate Harvey or Boras any longer. Protecting him is not in their best interests because signing him to a long-term contract is not happening. He is not the type of person in whom a long-term, $100 million-plus investment is a wise one and every team that considers him will ask itself the hard question of whether he’s going to take the money and lose interest in being a baseball player. By now, it’s clear that the team that does it won’t be the Mets. With that, they need to wring him out, get what they can from him and move forward. Whether that parting of the ways is achieved through a trade or allowing him to leave as a free agent depends on his performance. Either way, he can be someone else’s distraction. It’s enough already.

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Jose Fernandez and politically correct delusion

MLB

Jose Fernandez

The only shocking part of the news that not only was Jose Fernandez on the speedboat at 3 a.m., drunk and high on cocaine, but that he was driving the boat is that there are a great number of people who are surprised.

In the initial hours after his death, there were the long-distance eulogies and lamentations over the unfairness of a life being snuffed out so senselessly and suddenly. After the toxicology report was released revealing that he had been using cocaine it evolved into a “yeah but” implying that he placed himself in that situation, but it does not diminish what a good person he was. Now the goalposts are moved again. Eventually, when it’s more palatable, there will be more and more voices saying that Fernandez did this to himself and, unfortunately, he took two others with him; that it’s lucky he didn’t kill any innocent bystanders who happened to cross his path amid his recklessness.

The cause and effect of his death places the onus squarely on Jose Fernandez. Had he not been on a boat, speeding over the coal black water, high on cocaine and drunk, he would not have died. It’s that simple. That’s not an indictment of his abilities or his overall good-heartedness and enthusiasm, but a bare fact that is being obscured within the attempts to make him into something more than what he was: a 24-year-old who did a stupid thing that a lot of 24-year-olds do and had the money to do bigger and riskier, stupid things that he’d probably done before and gotten away with, but didn’t this time.

Of course, there are teams that know their players are indulging in recreational drugs and fans will wonder why they don’t do something about it. The answer is simple and comes in the form of a rhetorical question: What are they supposed to do? Had the Marlins known or found out about Fernandez’s drug use, whether it was recreational or he was an addict, and ordered him to go into rehab, what if he said no? If the Marlins told him he’d be out of a job were he to refuse their order for him to get treatment, there would only have been 29 other teams for whom he could work and wouldn’t just give him a chance, but would fight over his services and pay him a lot of money to play for them, drugs or not.

Here’s a fact: Had Fernandez gotten through his wild night of partying unscathed, he would have done it again. And if the Marlins had known about it or his drug use, they would have shrugged amid the reality of not being able to stop it.

This is a concession in every sport and for every organization.

Sports is a moneymaking, performance-based endeavor. While there is a façade of uprightness and fan-friendliness, it comes down to winning and making money. If the players are performing in such a way that they can do their jobs and help the team make money – hopefully even playoff money – then the organization will turn its head and look the other way because it benefits them.

So after all the tears and the what might have beens about Fernandez’s career, it ends with him having been directly responsible for the crash that led to his death.

None of that diminishes the gifts he possessed and what the baseball world will be deprived of because he’s gone; that his newly born infant daughter will not have her father and she won’t even have a chunk of his fortune because of the wrongful death lawsuits that the family is destined to lose – and probably settle out of court – because of this new information. But it does place into context a fundamental truth that the mythmakers of the Spartan ideal of athletes would have the customers believe and openly promote while knowing what’s really happening behind the scenes, one that should have been discarded long ago.

Why a veteran player like Brett Lawrie would be released in March

MLB

brett-lawrie

The initial (over)reaction to the Chicago White Sox release of a relatively limited player with the known history of Brett Lawrie originates from the somewhat surprising nature of it, that he’s an “I recognize that guy” player, and that the club could have non-tendered him during the offseason and saved themselves the trouble of retaining him and then changing their minds.

However, there are several justifications for the club to have operated in the manner it did with Lawrie serving as a symbol for what an organization takes into consideration when mapping out their plans. Let’s look at the reasoning of a move not just as it pertains to Lawrie and the White Sox, but in general.

Money

Lawrie was set to earn $3.5 million in 2017, his final season under team control before free agency. In context, that’s not a lot of money. However, the White Sox are embarking on a long-overdue rebuild. For teams that are planning for an unknown future, there are categories into which players are placed:

  • There are the stars who are judged as to whether they will be useful once the background characters are ready to make significant contributions and if it is worth it to retain them or trade them for a large package of youngsters.
  • There are the young, unknown players set to be assessed and given opportunities to be part of that future.
  • Then there are the middling players like Lawrie who are useful on a good team as long as they’re not too heavily relied upon, but not integral nor indispensable.

Given the timing of the release, once Lawrie clears waivers – and he will – the White Sox are responsible for $570,000 of that $3.5 million. With the hamstring injury that shelved him for the final two months-plus of the 2016 season and that he’s still suffering from its lingering effects and has not played yet in 2017 spring training, it made no sense to move forward with him considering the twin realities between player and team. The money is better spent elsewhere or saved entirely.

This is not a decision based on cheapness, but one of frugality. There’s a difference. If a club releases the aforementioned “known” player in spring training who, if healthy, has moderate value, the dollars are a factor for every team including those that spend in the upper tier of baseball like the White Sox, at the top tier like the Los Angeles Dodgers, or the lower end like the Tampa Bay Rays.

His playing time was not guaranteed.

Veteran Todd Frazier is a third baseman. The White Sox have Matt Davidson, whose minor league numbers show that he at least deserves an extended look. Yoan Moncada, the centerpiece of the Chris Sale trade, has played some third base, but is primarily a second baseman.

In short, was there a benefit to keeping Lawrie?

Lawrie is intense and plays the game with an edge. In the past, he’s gone over the edge. There have never been known complaints about his attitude, but as he heads for free agency for a rebuilding team, there was no guarantee that he was going to get to play even if he was 100 percent healthy.

Players across the board whether perceived as “all about team” or “all about the me” have it in the backs of their mind that they want to get paid. For them to get paid, they have to play regularly.

Similarly, it’s a precarious situation for new manager Rick Renteria. Renteria is widely acknowledged a players’ manager, but he can still be sabotaged by circumstances as he was in his first chance at a big league managing job with the crosstown Cubs.

When a veteran player who has his own interests on the front burner, there could easily be an undercurrent of resentment that can infest a clubhouse and negatively impact young, impressionable players. As the video clip above indicates, Lawrie can explode. Even the most mild-mannered player can express his displeasure with numerous people – like the manager – caught in the crossfire.

This does not indicate that a player who is at least passively considering his future is to be reflexively labeled a “bad” guy, but that it could cause an issue when he’s sitting in favor of the unproven because the team knows what he is and needs to know what the other guys are.

Injuries and performance

Were Lawrie healthy, the White Sox could have held onto him and waited until midseason to see what they could get for him in a trade. If they were hell bent on playing Davidson, Moncada, et, al., they could have simply waited until the last few days of spring training, checked with teams who were weathering injuries on the infield, and moved him for a prospect.

But he’s not.

Teams who release a player at this juncture are doing so for a reason. Lawrie is precisely the player the White Sox thought they were getting when they acquired him from the Oakland Athletics for two low-level prospects. He’ll hit a few homers, play a solid second and third base, strike out a lot, post a low on-base percentage, and be a complementary piece. The problem for the White Sox is they they need frontline players, not complementary pieces. It took years for them to come to the acceptance phase of that reality and after annually spending, filling in and continuing to use the same antiquated playbook they did a decade ago when general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen won the 2005 World Series with a cast of reclamation projects, attitude issues and castoffs, they finally started to rebuild in earnest acquiring massive packages of prospects in trades of Sale and Adam Eaton. They’re doing so with the data-centric Rick Hahn making the decisions. The previous blueprint would likely have meant keeping Lawrie.

More trades are likely coming and the list of players who will yield notable prospects – Jose Abreu, Frazier and David Robertson – does not include Lawrie.

Courtesy.

The earlier he’s free to look for other opportunities, the better it is for him to find one. And he will find one. It certainly won’t be for the $3.5 million guarantee he had with the White Sox, but once he shows he’s healthy, he can get a million-dollar base salary with a multitude of incentives to reach and perhaps surpass that original dollar amount.

Players in Lawrie’s category of not reaching All-Star status, but being of some use will frequently ask the club to allow them to move on if there’s not a legitimate opportunity and clubs will respond by granting that request provided it’s not a player they can trade for value. Players know which teams are willing to be agreeable in this manner and which are unabashedly business-centric with the players functioning as little more than faceless chattel. The White Sox had multiple dustups with players over the past year over silly off-field issues and any amount of goodwill they can engender will only help them.

***

This decision might have seemed unusual, but it’s not. It’s going to happen again and with Lawrie as an example of why it’s done, the questions are not as necessary when it happens.

Joe Torre’s five-word method for dealing with Randy Levine

MLB, Uncategorized

betances-pic

“Randy, shut the fuck up.”

This statement, related on page 203 of The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, undoubtedly echoes what those inside and outside the New York Yankees organization feel today about team president Randy Levine after his combination monologue and touchdown dance following the Yankees prevailing in their arbitration hearing with relief pitcher Dellin Betances sparking an angry response from Betances.

Much like the intricacies of the arbitration hearing itself and the Yankees’ position compared to Betances’s position, there’s no reason to relate exactly why Torre colorfully told Levine to shut up. These details are secondary to Levine himself, his undefined role, and his constant and clumsy attempts to insert himself into baseball operations for which he’s more qualified to be a lunatic caller to WFAN seeking to trade a package led by Chase Headley to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Mike Trout than an actual key decision maker in club construction.

Looking more like a midlevel functionary who should be nowhere near either a camera or a microphone and behaving like a professional wrestling manager when he does, calling Levine’s statement ill-advised neither does it justice nor encompasses the full scope of his egocentric attempt to insinuate himself into the story. His behavior took a tone indicative of the entire process being a personal affront to him. Judging by Levine’s reaction even after winning the case, there’s an unsaid expectation for Betances to fall to his knees and thank the Yankees for making the offer they did, even going so far as tell the club that he’d take less like the petrified tenement owner Don Roberto in The Godfather, Part II when he garnered information as to whom Vito Corleone actually was and the consequences for not acquiescing to Don Corleone’s offer he couldn’t refuse.

Who is Randy Levine?

George Steinbrenner hired Levine due to Levine’s well-connected political position and that he was going to help the Yankees with the establishment of the YES Network and guide them through the labyrinth-like process of building a new Yankee Stadium. As far as baseball goes, he’s the epitome of “some guy” who happened to parlay various connections to place himself in a circumstance in which he had a forum to express these views without any understanding in a business or baseball sense as to what he’s talking about.

As evidenced by his statements related to Betances’s on-field performance, Levine remains suspended in the simplified statistics of two decades ago, equating the discredited save stat with a relief pitcher’s value. Since establishing himself as a big leaguer, few if any relief pitchers have been as dominant or valuable as Betances. Levine, with a blatantly vague understanding of how relief pitchers should be judged, takes the role at which the Yankees predominately deployed Betances and that he was not placed in situations that he would accrue negligible stats like saves and used it to denigrate one of the most valuable commodities that Yankees have.

This goes beyond Betances implying that he might rethink doing whatever manager Joe Girardi asks him to do for the sake of winning and his clear anger at what was said. Betances cannot be a free agent until after 2019, so the Yankees can shrug at any anger on the part of the pitcher. He’s essentially at their mercy. That said, if Betances was pitching when he wasn’t 100 percent to help the team and he’s being treated like an indentured servant, he’s more likely to take his own interests into consideration and save his bullets for the time at which he can get his lucrative long-term contract. Since he was such a late bloomer who was a starting pitcher in the minor leagues and didn’t establish himself as a big leaguer until he was moved to the bullpen at age 26, his window to make big money is limited. That foray into free agency after 2019 might be his one chance to get paid. Taking that into account was well within his rights before this. Now? He’s perfectly entitled to go all-in with being an independent contractor who is seeking to maximize his financial station.

To a man in the Yankees clubhouse and including the coaches and manager, you will be hard pressed to find one person who will disagree with one word that Betances said in response to Levine’s idiotic rant. For him to pitch on back-to-back days and do so for multiple innings after the Yankees had essentially punted the 2016 season by trading away Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran, he made a sacrifice that directly opposes his self-interest.

The question to ask is this: How much would Betances get on the open market if he was a 28-year-old free agent?

With his résumé and the combined contracts that lesser pitchers Brett Cecil, Mike Dunn and Brad Ziegler received (a combined $65.5 million over nine years), Levine is either ignorant of the reality of the market for relief pitchers or he is twisting reality to suit his position.

Betances isn’t trying to change any market. The market is what it is.

For Levine to again place himself at the center of a matter that has nothing whatsoever to do with him not only hurts the organization, but the cost could end up being far greater than that $2 million disparity with what Betances asked for and what the Yankees wanted to pay. Given his history and inexplicable arrogance, even if Levine understands this, it won’t matter. This is aggravation and attention the Yankees do not need, but to satisfy the craving Levine obviously has to be at the center of these stories, they’re getting it and will continue to do so until someone above him – the Steinbrenners – do as Torre did more than a decade ago and tell him to shut the fuck up with the power to make him do it and consequences if he doesn’t.

Knicks, Oakley and organizational estrangement

Basketball, MLB, NFL, Uncategorized

madison-square-gardenThe incident at Madison Square Garden in which former New York Knicks player and longtime fan favorite Charles Oakley was arrested for a confrontation with arena security has yielded a visceral reaction from fans and media members who see Oakley as the epitome of what the current Knicks are missing. As a player, he did the dirty work, protected his teammates and was the “lunch pail” guy – the ones no team or business in general can function successfully without and whose work is largely appreciated in every context but the stat sheet. Long since retired, Oakley does not have an official role with the organization.

Given their current plight with team president Phil Jackson viewed as a disinterested observer of a team he was tasked – and received a contract for close to $12 million annually – to rebuild and owner Jim Dolan’s perceived ineptitude, it’s no wonder that the anger is reaching explosive proportions.

Regardless of the negative views of Jackson and his commitment and Dolan and his competence, is Oakley to be granted the benefit of the doubt for his behavior when no one seems to know what the dispute was even about? There must be a separation between what a player might have represented to the organization in the past and what is good for business in the future.

Every sport has these uncomfortable situations of trying to respect the past, granting deference to those who played an integral role in it and doing what’s right for the organization in the present and future. Not all reach the level of embarrassment as Oakley and the Knicks, but they’re everywhere. Legacy jobs are often harmless as long as there’s no actual decision making involved with them, but when a person is given a role without the ability to function in it effectively, it’s like a virus.

Sandy Alderson’s New York Mets regime has faced passive aggressive criticism from former Mets stars Howard Johnson and Mookie Wilson among others for their abandonment of the team’s past, but the biggest name that has elicited an over the top reaction is Wally Backman. This in spite of the Mets giving Backman a job as a minor league manager when no one else would; in spite of him repeatedly angering Alderson and his lieutenants for going off the reservation, for self-promoting, and for being the last thing anyone wants in a minor league manager: visible. In September of 2016, Backman either left the organization of his own accord or was fired – it’s still fuzzy – smothering his supporters’ lingering hopes that he would be given a chance as, at a minimum, a coach on Terry Collins’s staff.

By now, it’s clear to anyone who can read between even the flimsiest of lines that Backman only lasted as long as he did with the Mets because of his popularity with the fans and that the Wilpons were protecting him from Alderson’s axe. There are still conspiracy theories speculating about the real genesis of Alderson’s issues with Backman and whether Backman has been blackballed or not.

The only thing we have to go on is what’s happened. With that, if Backman truly is the managerial genius his fans purport him to be, it only worsens the practical reality that no affiliated club will hire him in any capacity. That Backman, for lack of big league opportunities, needed to take a job in the Mexican League is conveniently ignored in the narrative of negativity that still surrounds the Mets even as they’ve won a pennant, made the playoffs as a wild card and are a favorite to contend for a World Series in 2017, all under Alderson and Collins.

Ozzie Smith was angry with the way Tony La Russa reduced his role in 1996 and basically forced him out when Smith wanted to keep playing after that season.

Smith is royalty with the Cardinals and was treated as such by Whitey Herzog and his successor Joe Torre. By the time La Russa arrived, he was unattached to the Cardinals’ past. The club had been declining for several years, sparking the hiring of La Russa to begin with. Was La Russa supposed to enter the 1996 season relying on a 41-year-old Smith who had batted .199 the previous year? Or should he have pinned his hopes on what Smith had been five years before to keep from angering fans who want to have a winning team but also want to continue treating their stars with blind loyalty?

In his lone year playing for La Russa, Smith had a solid comeback season showing a portion of his fielding genius and batting .282 in 82 games, sharing the job with Royce Clayton. Could he have maintained that over the course of the season at that age? Could La Russa bank on that? Deferring to the past has its place, but when there are substantive changes made, collateral damage is unavoidable. La Russa didn’t go to St. Louis to mess around with what was already there and had finished 19 games below .500 in 1995. Caught in the crossfire was Smith. He’s still bitter about it, but who can argue with the success the Cardinals had under La Russa? Now had the club been worse under La Russa than it was under the prior, old-school Cardinals front office or Clayton fallen flat on his face, then there would have been a larger contingent of angry fans and media members standing behind Smith just as Knicks fans are doing with Oakley.

Tom Landry was unceremoniously fired by Jerry Jones in 1989 when Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys. When Jones made the clumsy and necessary decision and subsequently walked face first into a public relations buzz saw, no one on this or any other planet could have envisioned that less than three decades later, Jones would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to take his place among the sport’s luminaries along with Landry.

In retrospect, the same fans and media members who were outraged at the crude dispatching of Landry had been privately saying that the coach needed to go and a full overhaul was needed. Jones, in telling his predecessor Bum Bright that he was not buying the team unless he was able to replace Landry with Jimmy Johnson, was setting the conditions that many advocated but few had the guts to follow through upon. By the time the Cowboys’ rebuild was completed four years later and culminated with a Super Bowl (and two more in the next three years), no one cared whether Landry would acknowledge Jones or still felt embittered about his dismissal.

The insular nature of sports front offices is exactly what owners sought to get away from when they hired outsiders from other industries to take charge. Before that, a large percentage of former players who rose to upper level positions in a front office did so not because of competence or skill at the job they were hired to do, but as a form of patronage. That is no longer the case and invites a backlash. When Jeff Luhnow was hired to run the Houston Astros and gutted the place down to its exoskeleton, the on-field product was so hideous and former Astros stars so callously discarded that the response was inevitable: he had abandoned luminaries and made the product worse. The Astros are contenders now and the groundswell is largely muted even if the anger is still there.

Giving former star performers a ceremonial title is not done to grant them sway with the club. It’s a placating measure to engender goodwill with the fans and media. When that comes undone, incidents like the Knicks and Oakley exacerbate current problems and provide evidence of ongoing and unstoppable turmoil.

The issue for the Knicks is that they’re in such disarray that this type of incident involving a player who was a key component of their glory years will be magnified.

The Oakley incident can be viewed as the nadir of the Knicks under Jackson and Dolan based on nothing more than Oakley having been a favorite of the fans and the media during his playing career and representing a past that is so far in the rearview mirror that a large bulk of younger fans are unlikely to believe it even existed in the first place. It occurred directly on the heels of a typically cryptic Jackson tweet that seemed to disparage Carmelo Anthony and sent the team president and “Zen master” into familiar spin control only contributes to their perceived dysfunction. If the Knicks were riding high and this happened, the reaction would have been that Oakley needs to know his place. Since they’re not, it’s symbolic of that which ails the club.

Adhering to the past might be palatable, particularly when Oakley-type incidents take place, but there needs to be a separation between what’s happening within the organization and its outskirts even if they appear to be inextricably connected.

Are the Mets really blackballing Wally Backman?

MiLB, MLB, Uncategorized

backman-picWally Backman is asserting that the New York Mets in general and general manager Sandy Alderson in particular have blackballed him in an effort to prevent him from getting another job with a major league organization, something he has yet to do in any capacity since he left the Mets in September. With that the case, Backman accepted a position to manage Monclova in the Mexican League this season.

Backman alleges that he has inside information from a friend in the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office who informed him of what Alderson is doing. In addition, he disputes the “resigned” narrative that was presented at the time of his departure even though it was he who stated that he walked away.

Backman also claims that Jeff Wilpon “betrayed” him. This ignores the reality that it was Wilpon who essentially forced Alderson to accept Backman as a minor league manager for his entire tenure as GM. Had Alderson been granted his wishes from the start, Backman would not have played an upfront role in the organization, particularly not as the steward to the team’s best young players.

While Alderson is an easy scapegoat, what seems to have happened is that Backman, understandably, had grown weary of languishing in Triple A and wanted to be moved up to Terry Collins’s coaching staff and the Mets refused. Had the Mets been willing to do that, it would have happened after the 2015 season when bench coach Bob Geren departed for the same job with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Instead, Alderson chose Dick Scott. Again, after 2016 with Tim Teufel being removed from the coaching staff, the Mets selected Glenn Sherlock to serve as third base coach and catching coach.

There was no opening for Backman and one was not forthcoming. Yet his decision to leave was done in a typical Backman fit of pique without understanding that it was not the Mets holding him back, but holding him up by giving him a job when no one else would have. There’s no doubt that Backman is an intense competitor, a good and wizened baseball mind, and fearless enough that he might be exactly what a team in the need of a kick start could use. But there’s a reason no one will hire him whether it’s his past, his reputation as a loose cannon, or something else. This has nothing to do with the team that did give him a job, the Mets.

Is it possible that Alderson is bad-mouthing Backman to prevent him from getting a job with the implication that a successful run from Backman with another organization and a chance at managing in the big leagues could end up embarrassing the Mets?

Anything is possible. However, a better question to ask is whether it’s likely. The answer is no.

In what is expected to be his final season as the everyday GM before retiring, moving to a senior role, or doing something else entirely, Alderson certainly has better things to do at age 69 than to orchestrate a whisper campaign against Backman, whom he clearly considers a non-entity. The likelier scenario is that the other MLB teams know Backman’s history and there are behind-the-scenes reasons for which he’s not getting hired. If asked for a recommendation, Alderson’s not going to give him one. As a professional, Alderson would presumably give the positives and negatives of Backman and leave it there without going to the energy-sapping lengths to overtly interfere with a job offer from another team.

What this appears to be is Backman leaving the Mets and thinking his work with the organization for six years and his on-field success was sufficient to cover up the warts before gauging the job market and if he was a candidate for any open position in MLB or the affiliated minors. Since his on-field baseball credentials are good enough to get a job, his inability to do so creates the image that there’s something up, true or not.

With his statements against Alderson and the Mets, he didn’t do himself any favors. Like most of the problems Backman has had in his attempts to manage in the big leagues, they’re predominately of his own making and the blackball explanation is another diversionary tactic that few will, and should, believe.

Bobby Valentine as ambassador to Japan is no joke

MLB, Politics, Uncategorized

bobby-vThe news that former major league player and manager Bobby Valentine might be a candidate to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan under President-elect Donald J. Trump has yielded incredulity while ignoring the reality that he actually has credentials for the job.

Valentine can be described neatly in one simple word: polarizing. This new career opportunity only adds to that perception.

His supporters swear by him; his detractors swear at him.

He’s one of the most skillful strategic managers in baseball history, innovative and gutsy – just ask him and he’ll tell you. That’s part of the problem. His ego and nature as a hardliner has also made him one the most reviled people in the sport.

Through his baseball career, he’s garnered connections that have resulted in a wide array of unique endeavors. For example, Valentine claims to have invented the wrap sandwich in his Connecticut restaurant; he oversaw public safety in Stamford, CT in a cabinet post for the city’s mayor; and he’s a close friend of former President George W. Bush in spite of Bush having fired him as manager of the Texas Rangers.

This is before getting into his career as an athlete. One of the true multi-sport stars coming out of high school, he was also a competitor in ballroom dancing. The Los Angeles Dodgers selected him fifth overall in the 1969 amateur draft one selection after the New York Yankees picked Thurman Munson. It was with that organization that his greatness was predicted, his lifelong father-son relationship with Tommy Lasorda started, he became loathed by his teammates for that “teacher’s pet” persona, and injuries sabotaged his talent.

Once his playing career ended, he embarked on a coaching career that led to him being viewed as a wunderkind manager with the Rangers; he went to Japan when his didn’t get another opportunity for a big league job after his dismissal in Texas; and eventually landed with the New York Mets, winning a pennant, before he was fired in a power struggle with general manager Steve Phillips. Then there was the disastrous year as Boston Red Sox manager in which he is blamed for a litany of issues that fermented the year before under Theo Epstein and Terry Francona and whose stink manifested and grew poisonous while he was steering the damaged ship.

He’s certainly eclectic and has forged a number of relationships sparking a cauterized loyalty among friends and mocking and ridicule among enemies. There are many on both counts.

Without getting into politics and the inevitable battle lines that accompany it, the Trump administration appointing Valentine as ambassador to Japan might, on the surface, seem silly. In truth, it’s not. The tentacles connecting Valentine to all the players in this drama boost his qualifications to take the job. He speaks Japanese, understands the culture, is well-regarded in the country as the second American-born man to manage a Japanese team and the first to win a championship there. He’s an experienced public speaker and has managed a great number of diverse personalities in different settings than this ambassadorship where bureaucratic necessities will regulate the behaviors of underlings in a sharply different way to what he grew accustomed to in baseball.

As with all things Valentine, there’s a caveat to appointing him and it could potentially explode with one “Bobby V” moment. Putting on a fake mustache and glasses and returning to the dugout after having been ejected while managing the Mets; picking unnecessary fights with his star players Todd Hundley and Kevin Youkilis among others; courting outrage with the media for his condescending arrogance; and refusing to be flexible when it meant the difference between keeping his job and getting fired all validate his reputation that ranges from difficult to a ticking time-bomb.

Does he do it on purpose? Is it the nature of his personality to be difficult? Or is it a combination of the two?

In his baseball career, he was a tactician without tact. Should he take an ambassadorship to Japan too seriously, there’s the potential of an international incident.

But the job isn’t one that is designated to someone who has to save the world. The current ambassador to Japan is Caroline Kennedy – most famously known as the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy. It was basically her lineage that made her a candidate to get the job and she doesn’t speak Japanese. Why was her appointment acceptable when Valentine’s isn’t?

This is not a partisan issue. Every president doles sweetheart assignments to people who were big contributors or prominent supporters to the campaign as a form of reciprocity. The difference with Valentine is that in spite of his lack of skills as a diplomat in his baseball career, he has the qualifications for the job if it was advertised in an open job search and he applied for it. So what’s the joke?

Aroldis Chapman’s fastball eclipses principles on off-field conduct

MLB, NFL, Uncategorized

chapman-pic

The immediate reactions to Aroldis Chapman’s five-year, $86 million contract with the New York Yankees will fall into several categories. Some will be outraged that he’s become the highest paid relief pitcher in baseball history after his domestic violence suspension. Others will take the politically expeditious route saying that while they do not condone what he did, he has the right to work at market value. Still others won’t care a whit about the allegations as long as he lights up the radar gun and renders batters inert with his searing fastball that surpasses 100 miles-per-hour.

This is not to judge anyone who falls into those three categories or any other combination that emanate from so contentious an issue, but to state a reality that few want to acknowledge: regardless of what he’s done, as long as an athlete can perform on the field he’s going to get his money from somewhere.

The easy response regarding this particular case is to present a self-righteous polemic that the Yankees are a cold, corporate entity who care about nothing other than winning and do so with a contemptible worldview. The nuanced response is that had they not paid Chapman, someone else would have. In fact, several other teams would have.

Since there are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, the competition is growing fiercer, rules are in place to render the Yankees’ financial might as less of an advantage, and the organization is in the midst of a pseudo-rebuild that is placing them on the fringes – if that – of playoff contention, they have to make concessions they otherwise might not have had to make in the past. Rather than being an annual preseason favorite to win the World Series and the team players chose to join regardless of other suitors, the Yankees are among the rabble with multitude of holes and a “plan.” Part of that plan has involved an attempt at financial sanity and accepting that in order to take one step forward, they have to take two or three steps back resulting in four consecutive seasons of win totals in the mid-80s, one brief appearance in the postseason in which they were unceremoniously dispatched, and lost aura, ticket sales, memorabilia sales, and viewership on the YES Network. Suffice it to say that worrying about curing social ills such as Chapman being accused of domestic violence or the negative public relations they’ll get for signing him fall further and further down the list of worries.

Teams will express outrage over a domestic violence allegation commensurate with how the fans and media are reacting. Perhaps there’s a legitimate feeling of anger at what the player allegedly did, but the reality is that the bottom line will take precedence. If the player can help the billion dollar business maintain or increase its value and reach a higher level on the field, they’ll look beyond a great number of transgressions toward that end.

The talents that these athletes have is so narrow and difficult to find that there will always be multiple teams who will portray themselves as giving him a second chance in the American tradition, but in truth are simply looking out for their own interests.

The name Ray Rice is frequently mentioned in this context since he’s never been able to secure another job in the NFL following the disturbing video clip of him knocking his then-fiancée (now his wife) unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator. He was subsequently suspended by the NFL and released by the Baltimore Ravens. He hasn’t been with an NFL organization since. The incident is only part of the reason why this is the case.

The video itself, shown below, is so graphic and disturbing that it added a layer of difficulty to him getting another chance in the NFL.

Without it, maybe he’d have gotten another job. That’s a big maybe for the simple reason that his ability to play was in question. For a team to take a chance on Rice, they would need to have the willingness to withstand the P.R. hit, have the need at running back, and, most importantly, believe that Rice can still play well enough to help them. If he were 24-years-old having just led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, do you really believe that him slugging his fiancée would stop some team, somewhere from signing him? The Ravens might not even have cut him. But Rice committed his act at exactly the wrong time in his career and in the wrong place that there was a video of it to have his employer or another franchise look beyond it, formulate an excuse-laden and banal statement excoriating the act while expressing belief in the player’s remorse and that he’s in treatment as a justification to give him another chance. In 2013, he had the worst season of his career and appeared to be in decline. The Ravens might have cut him without the video simply because he could not help them any longer.

Contrast that with Chapman. If he’d blown out his elbow or his fastball suddenly disappeared, he’s signing a minor league contract with a zero-tolerance mandate that if he does anything untoward, he’s gone. Since he’s boosted his credentials even further by proving he could play in New York and helping the Chicago Cubs win the World Series, he’s gotten a contract that he’d get if he was as solid a citizen as Dale Murphy.

Athletes are not paid to be a shining example to the public. They’re paid to perform. If they can perform, a multitude of sins both public and private will be mitigated; if they can’t, they won’t. This is not condoning what they did, just expressing a truth that has gone unacknowledged and will continue to be so.

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

Books, MLB, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the logic he uses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Angels’ structure was doomed to fail

MLB

Combine an old-school entrenched manager, a new-school stat-based general manager, and a meddlesome owner and you have the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Angels’ situation finally blew up this week after 3 ½ years of dysfunction and disagreement between the direction in which GM Jerry Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia, and owner Arte Moreno wanted the club to go. In 2014, those fissures and diametrically opposed philosophies were glossed over by a misleading 98-win season and American League West title – the Angels’ first playoff appearance since 2009. They were unceremoniously swept away by the Kansas City Royals before they had the chance to enjoy their resurgence. While on the surface the rocky start to the relationship between Dipoto and Scioscia appeared to have stabilized with Moreno making clear than neither was going anywhere, the dueling belief systems were too much to overcome and Dipoto walked.

As the Angels struggled amid significant changes to the roster, were hovering around .500 and falling further and further behind the division-leading Houston Astros, Dipoto’s frustration with the on-field staff overtly ignoring the detailed statistical analysis and recommendations that were prepared reached a climax as he went to the clubhouse and addressed the issue to the manager, coaching staff and players. It did not go well. Rather than welcome the GM into the clubhouse, he was treated as an unwanted interloper undermining the manager and making unwelcome decrees.

This is a cultural issue more than disagreements regarding strategy. The old school that held sway as recently as ten years ago did not want the GM walking into the clubhouse and telling the manager and players, straight out, what he wanted. In today’s culture, such an instance is not only common, but expected. The days of the manager being left to run the team on the field as he sees fit are all but over in just about every venue except for Anaheim. And this is the problem.

Nowhere but in Anaheim does the manager have the power that Scioscia does. Bolstered by a 10-year contract and the (mostly) unwavering support of the owner, Scioscia has a backchannel to complain to the owner that has all but disappeared with the retirements of the likes of Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella and Tony La Russa. Managers without a resume to pull such an end-around will get fired as Bo Porter did by the Astros in late 2014.

The mistake Moreno has made is not in allowing Scioscia that power, nor was it in hiring Dipoto. The mistake was that he kept Scioscia in place and allowed him to retain the power while hiring a GM whose philosophy was so diametrically opposed to the manager’s. There’s a misplaced belief that putting high-quality people together in the same room and telling them to work together will somehow yield a positive result. As has been proven repeatedly, that is not the case. Because they couldn’t get on the same page does not imply that either man was wrong. The fact that Dipoto and Scioscia were not able to reach a détente in spite of Moreno’s attempts to placate both does not mean that any one person is responsible. Moreno’s intentions were good; Dipoto and Scioscia are smart baseball men; and the three could not work together if the team wasn’t streaking towards winning 100 games and cruising to the division title.

Scioscia wasn’t going anywhere and Dipoto knew it. Dipoto comes from conflicting experiences that collided with his realities. As a former player, he knew that there were certain lines that players, coaches and managers didn’t want crossed by upper management. As a front office executive, he also knew he would not be doing his job were he not to address issues that he felt were hindering the club. Going into the clubhouse might have been done out of frustration with the enough’s enough tone that if the manager and the team were not going to be receptive to his ideas, then he’d simply give them what he had and hope they used it. Once the reaction was so profoundly negative and quickly degenerated into a confrontation, he threw his hands up in the air and quit. Everyone has their breaking point at which they say, “I can’t work like this.” For Dipoto to react negatively to essentially being attacked in the clubhouse is thoroughly understandable for someone who’d been hired to do a job and was not being allowed to do it in the way he was trained.

Dipoto isn’t some outsider who went to a well-regarded university and decided that he’d like to work in baseball. This adds another layer to the complicated nature of his time with the Angels. He could be classified as a stat-guy, but he’s also a stat-guy who had an eight-year career in the Majors. He’s not some guy in a suit walking into the clubhouse, sticking a chew of dip into his lower lip, talking in clubhouse vernacular and eliciting “look at this poser” eye rolls.

Like the separation between church and state, Scioscia wants the lines between the manager’s office and the front office to be adhered to. He has transferred his known catching skills from being the best plate-blocker of the 1980s into his protectionist nature of his territory as a manager. Moreno did nothing other than smooth the egos to try and keep the front office and on-field staff working together.

In the final analysis, did Dipoto need to keep the job in the sense that he is not going to get hired elsewhere as Ruben Amaro Jr. won’t once the Philadelphia Phillies dismiss him? The answer is no. He’ll get another chance to be a GM. Dipoto is respected inside baseball. The circumstances he walked into are understood as having been untenable. Most importantly, he’s worked with a large proportion of the baseball community that is now making the bulk of the decisions as baseball bosses and is choosing whom to hire and fire. The Angels were probably the worst place for Dipoto to go given the unprecedented power the manager has and what Dipoto’s beliefs as to what the GM’s job are. Short of Moreno openly choosing one or the other by firing either Dipoto or Scioscia, Dipoto resigned. It was the only way this forced marriage could end.