Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – Review

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Batman v. Superman poster

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has all the ingredients at its disposal to be a classic blockbuster while appealing to hard core comic book geeks, fans of a good story regardless of its subject matter, technophiles, and appreciators of talented actors dedicating themselves to a project and delivering nuanced performances. Ultimately, it misses the mark not because it’s a “bad” film – it’s not – but because dueling agendas conspired to cram so many different aspects into the story that the actors are constrained by a paucity of narrative and the indecisiveness and lack of conviction for the film’s director Zack Snyder.

Traversing the thin line of integrating superhero stories into the real world is a difficult task that has confounded Snyder before in Watchmen. Perhaps he learned a few lessons from that film’s ultimate underachievement from an admittedly promising idea, but Watchmen was not as well-known to the public at large as are Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor and the Justice League with their backstories ingrained prominently in the public discourse. Nor did it have the entire future of a franchise riding on its success or failure.

The sense of realism has to be adapted to suit the holes that will be in the story if one wants to look for them. Either it’s the real world or it’s not. If it’s going to be set in the real world, then there are certain facts that have to be altered to accommodate that. Superman v. Batman is not as clumsy, unwieldy, preachy and ridiculous as Watchmen, but it’s clear that Snyder is still unable to decide exactly what he’s trying to say, how closely he wants to adhere to the genesis of the characters, and what demands he and the writers acquiesced to in a “go along to get along” manner for the sake of commercialism.

Superman/Clark Kent is sufficiently vulnerable and confused as to his place in a world that is not his own. Batman/Bruce Wayne is well into his career as a crime fighter and wedged in with being unable to stop while wondering whether or not his actions have helped or hurt. The introspection of both as to what Superman should do and if Batman has wasted his energies or even made things worse could have been explored as they move through their lives in parallel lines that eventually intersect in large part due to their upbringings and circumstances.

The freshness of the idea in taking a younger actor like Jesse Eisenberg and casting him as Lex Luthor could have been a master stroke designed for the modern world in which the film is set. In the nascent stages of preproduction and casting decisions were being made, the usual interpretation of the character lent itself to it being a middle-aged corporate titan who saw the appearance of a being from another world as both an opportunity for himself and an affront to his own accomplishments as an all-powerful human who saw his life’s work decimated by this thing that did little more than appear and was, by accident of circumstance, accorded the power to rule should he choose to. That meant that the story would follow previous film incarnations of Luthor with Bryan Cranston the one most prominently mentioned to play it. This was a repeat of the same concept of Luthor that led to the casting of Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey in the role in prior film incarnations.

Eisenberg is the Luthor for a new generation. A Mark Zuckerberg-like tech genius who has achieved everything one could reasonably expect to achieve in life, he is seemingly haunted by his past – simplistically explained by an abusive father – and a brain that is operating on a level so far above everyone else that he simply does not know what to do next. He has every reason to be satisfied in life, but he’s not. Rather than being a Zuckerberg turned evil, he comes across as a Martin Shkreli-clone: a brat who has no respect for anyone or anything and will eventually face the consequences for that oblivious arrogance. In a comedic sense, the character devolves into something close to Scott Evil from Austin Powers instead of a fully-developed and layered badness that is as ingrained as Batman and Superman rather than him being bad and not having a single viable reason for it.

It’s not the fault of Eisenberg that his Luthor makes so little sense. Major plot lines were haphazardly tossed in like a paella in which the chicken is undercooked and the seafood is three weeks old. Eisenberg’s Luthor is manic and rudderless, unsure where to point his energies and acerbic tongue. He doesn’t seem to know what it is he exactly wants. The idea of a young Luthor is new and interesting, but with that comes immaturity and a lack of focus that is inherent in the character and was not present in Hackman or Spacey’s interpretation, nor would it have been an issue had Cranston been cast as a classic Luthor.

Whereas the older, wiser and more calculating Luthor subtly nudges the two heroes into a confrontation with neither knowing they’re being callously manipulated, the younger Luthor is afflicted with the impetuousness of youth and the “I want it NOW!!!” attitude that accompanies a level of wealth at which everyone bends to his will.

The suspension of belief goes too far in reconciling with Luthor who, by some inexplicable amount of self-control, was able to tamp down on his desire to commit mass murder and build a billion dollar company before age thirty until his derangement detonates. His plans and schemes are just as difficult to believe. The creation of Doomsday was not the initial goal, but a backup plan.

Doomsday was a backup plan only set into motion when Batman steals Luthor’s cache of Kryptonite and, rather than steal it with some semblance of ambiguity as to who took it, he leaves a mini Batarang as a method of taunting Luthor, confessing, or condescendingly informing audience members who took the stuff.

As the story moves along, the question continually arises as to what it is and what it’s supposed to be. Without coming up with story alternatives as to what they “should” have done, the fundamental differences between Batman/Wayne and Superman/Kent are such that they could easily have been adapted to today’s world and a film could have been made exploring the dichotomy as to how their characters and philosophies have been molded.

The alien Kent was raised in a conservative, middle-American enclave in Kansas – on a farm no less – by caring parents who created a family unit and successfully sought to instill in their adopted son a belief that people are inherently good and helping is not a right that he can take or leave at his whim, but a duty because he has the ability to be a force of good.

Wayne’s story has never deviated from its initial intent. He grew up as a wealthy city-dweller with liberal parents who’d spread their wealth to those less fortunate and sought – as Superman does – to do the conventionally “right” thing only to be randomly murdered by one of the same criminals their liberalism and sense of fairness allowed to roam the streets and do what it is criminals do: commit crimes. This lesson was never lost on young Wayne as, during the day, he maintained his father’s generosity and legacy and, at night, brutalized criminals who violated his own sense of justice that emanated from that one minute in his life in which his idyllic landscape was ripped from him in a senseless act of random violence. Batman’s violence is just as random in that he decides, unilaterally, who deserves it and who doesn’t.

These characterizations put Superman and Batman on an inevitable collision course. This is something the movie explored and inexplicably abandoned.

Simultaneously borrowing heavily from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in which the ultimate face off is not about Batman and Superman fighting for its own sake, but because their sensibilities were always so different that the eventual conflict was unavoidable, the movie goes halfway in fleshing out the disagreement in tactics that put the two on opposite sides.

There are so many unnecessary distractions and plot deviations that look like they were tossed in at the behest of upper-tier executives and it hampers the film. Was it necessary to see an extended montage of Bruce Wayne training for his fight with Superman? The amount of weight he has chained to himself as he does chin-ups will be irrelevant when it comes to that battle. It’s Superman. If Batman’s going to beat him it won’t matter if he can lift 500 pounds, but if his gadgets work and he’s been able to effectively synthesize the Kryptonite he stole. It was a vanity shot from Snyder and nothing more than needless filler right out of the Sylvester Stallone “look how ripped I am” days of Rocky IV and Rambo II.

One scene during the Batman-Superman fight is unintentionally symbolic as they end up in a public bathroom and Batman picks up a sink and uses it to batter Superman. The “kitchen sink” analogy is apropos as they threw everything in there including the kitchen sink because there was a commercial need to sacrifice continuity and common sense for the good of the other, forthcoming films in the burgeoning DC Universe including Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Justice League Part I and II and perhaps new standalone Batman and Superman films.

Unlike The Dark Knight Returns, there’s no clear explanation as to why they’re fighting in the first place. Nor does the end fight have any link to why Superman and Batman were eying one another as enemies.

The fight itself is misrepresented in the advertising campaign to appear longer than it is and for a different reason than what is portrayed. The script is, in part, responsible for that with its vacillation in answering the question of why. Initially, it appears that Superman is disgusted by Batman’s flouting of the law and violation of constitutional principles that all men have rights no matter what they’ve done or are accused of doing. Batman scoffs at Superman’s naïveté and his sheer and unavoidable inability to have a grasp on how humans function when they don’t have the ability to fly, move mountains, saved their loved ones as the child Wayne could not, or do whatever they want based on a sheer accident of birth and environment.

That foundation for the fight recedes into the background not because the two are facing a common threat, but because the reason morphs from a philosophical divide to a Luthor scheme to get the two to fight to destroy Superman.

There are a series of whys and whats that cannot be reconciled.

Why is Wonder Woman there in the first place and why is she interfering with what Wayne/Batman is trying to do if she had long ago abandoned humanity after her experiences in World War I – reportedly where the Wonder Woman film is set?

Why was she leaving only to decide to jump in when the Doomsday crisis looked set to destroy the entire planet?

Does Superman no longer see Batman as a threat to the American ideal once the two meet and come to an uneasy truce for the good of the masses?

Does Batman trust Superman when, before, he felt he was a threat to humankind that had to be preemptively destroyed?

Why is Luthor doing this? What’s his primary motivation, if he has one?

There are many more than this and it’s not nitpicking, it’s legitimate.

Interspersing social commentary into a story that, when dissected, could never happen in the world as we know it is a difficult strategy to take and the movie, trapped in its own excesses and corporate requirements fails to achieve it because the social commentary is abandoned in favor of special effects and settling the matter when it’s not actually settled.

When compared to the Marvel Universe, what’s missing here is more than story. The lightheartedness to take some of the edgy nature off the subject matter of life, death and how to counteract power and threats is noticeably absent. There are few moments of irony and no laughs as there are in every Marvel film. The darkness engulfs Batman v. Superman and its story is not able to bring it enough light to make it acceptable.

When there are great characters, there’s no need to tie them up. Great material is the fundamental basis for great work. Essentially, what Snyder did is akin to hiring James Taylor to sing and putting his voice into the same technical apparatus that makes the odious singing voices of Jennifer Lopez and Paula Abdul less objectionable. If this is what you were going to do, why bother? If the studio suits were looking at the script – as they appear to have done – and said, “Wait. Where’s Wonder Woman?” “We need more explosions and outer space and chase scenes and gunfights!!” where was Snyder, the in-the-trenches producers and the writers to say, “This won’t work. In fact, it’s gonna damage the brand”?

The actors are being unfairly castigated. Unlike many actors who have done superhero films for no reason other than the paycheck and the inevitable profile increase that comes with a massive blockbuster, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons are all onboard in inhabiting the characters and seem to enjoy what they’re doing. The material is such that they too are hamstrung just as Snyder seemed to be by what was required to be the jumping off point for subsequent films. Because of that, they made something that had the money, the star power, the automatic fan base and the storylines to make something spectacular and sadly isn’t.

For a movie to be disappointing, it does not have to be classified as “bad.” And that’s where Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice ends up. It’s watchable and enjoyable, but is ultimately disappointing because all the puzzle pieces were in place for it to be special and they were bashed together for the sake of outside requirements when the first tenet of any creative endeavor – a point – was ignored and all the participants were victimized as a result.

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The Solution For Brian Cashman’s Tantrums

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Multiple reasons have been floated for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman’s explosive overreaction to the Alex Rodriguez tweet that he’d been given the go-ahead to play in rehab games by the doctor who performed his hip surgery. Are Cashman and the organization sick of A-Rod and everything surrounding A-Rod? Do they not want him back? Is Cashman tired of answering questions about the latest A-Rod misadventure? Is it all of the above?

Cashman’s response was silly and he apologized for it, but that doesn’t cloud the number of times that the once taciturn Cashman has incrementally come out of the shell of nebbishness in which he once cloaked himself and done so in a clumsy and overtly embarrassing manner to himself and the Yankees. It’s not just the A-Rod incidents, but it’s the way he publicly dared Derek Jeter to leave in a game of chicken that he knew the Yankees would win; it’s the way his personal life became tabloid fodder; and it’s the hardheaded arrogance with which he insisted that his young pitchers be developed to results that have been mediocre (Phil Hughes) to disappointing (Joba Chamberlain) to disastrous (Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances).

Cashman’s attitude in press conferences and interviews even comes through when reading his words instead of hearing them: he doesn’t want to be there; he doesn’t want to be doing the interviews; and every time he speaks to the press, he sounds as if he’s either heading for, enduring or just left an exploratory anal examination. (Again, maybe it’s all of the above.)

But the GM of a baseball team has to speak to the press, doesn’t he? So what’s the solution?

Here’s the solution: Promote him.

I’m not talking about giving him points in the team as the A’s ludicrously did with Billy Beane. I’m not talking about him being moved up as a way to get him out of the baseball operations. I’m talking about benefiting him and the club by giving him a break and a change from the job he’s done for so long.

There are two types of promotions. One is when the individual is given an entirely new job and new sets of responsibilities; the other is when the individual has certain responsibilities that he or she doesn’t want to do anymore and no longer has to worry about them, but the other duties performed will essentially be the same. With Cashman, he wouldn’t be titled team president, but he could be named similarly to the titles that Theo Epstein has with the Cubs, Ken Williams has with the White Sox and Jon Daniels has with the Rangers. The change to president of baseball operations would not be made so he’d accumulate more power, but so he wouldn’t have to talk to the media every single day as the upfront voice of the organization. No longer would he run the risk of his frustration boiling over and manifesting itself with inappropriateness as it is on a continual basis now.

No matter what you think of him, Cashman has accomplished far more in his post than either Williams or Daniels have. In fact, he’s accomplished more in the bottom line than Epstein and Beane in spite of their fictional media portrayals as unassailable geniuses. But he’s still basically doing the same job he did when he was hired as GM in 1998. Yes, George Steinbrenner is gone and replaced with the rational Hal Steinbrenner; yes, he’s got more sway than he did then; and yes, he brought the entire baseball operation under his control without the Tampa shadow government, but he’s still the VP and general manager. He still has to do these press conferences and batting practice “chats” where he’s likely to have a fuse worn down to a nub and explode whenever the name A-Rod is mentioned, when he’s asked about what he’s planning to do to make the club better, when he’s asked about the Robinson Cano contract or anything else.

Of course there are other problems associated with the idea. First, current team president Randy Levine might see a Cashman promotion as an usurping of his position and react in a Randy Levine way by saying, “He can’t be the president, I’m the president.” Then slowly rising to a gradual climax with a raised voice, “I’m the president!!!!!” And finally, pounding on his desk with his face turning the color or a ripe eggplant as he strangles himself with his own tie, bellowing at the top of his lungs, “I……AM…..THE….PRES….I….DEEEEEEENNNNNNNTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!”

Jason Zillo would be dutifully standing nearby in sycophantic agreement presented in such a way that he almost appears to believe it, “Yep, he sure is. Randy’s the president.” Adding, “And I’m the gatekeeper,” with a certain smug pride and said in the tone of the child saying, “And I helped,” when his mother made the Stove Top Stuffing.

Would it really affect anyone if Cashman is kicked upstairs so he doesn’t have to endure the drudgery that he’s clearly tired of? If Damon Oppenheimer or Billy Eppler can handle the day-to-day minutiae that comes with being a GM—minutiae that is clearly taking its toll on Cashman—why not make the change? It wouldn’t alter the structure of the baseball operations in any significant way other than giving Cashman a bump that he’s earned after time served and a break from having to look at Joel Sherman and answer his ridiculous questions day after day.

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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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Brandon McCarthy vs. Keith Law—Live On Twitter

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An entertaining and extended Twitter fight went into the early morning hours (EST) between Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy and ESPN writer Keith Law after Law sent out a tweet decrying the concept of Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera being “locked in” during his three homer night against the Rangers. Cabrera also singled and walked. The Rangers won the game 11-8.

This isn’t about the debate of whether, as Law said, being locked in is a “myth.” Law’s argument centers around there not being any evidence to prove that being “locked in” exists. I don’t agree with the premise. Simply because there’s no study to prove or disprove “its” existence doesn’t mean the “it” doesn’t exist. It’s weak and pompous to suggest that there’s a conclusion one way or the other because there’s no study to footnote. Has anyone even tried to examine the brain-body link when a player is in a “zone” or “locked in” to see if there’s a difference between a hot streak and a slump? Pitchers’ mechanics and hitters’ swings are dissected through attachments of body to computer to spot flaws and correct them, so what about the brain-body link and the possibility of being “locked in”? If it hasn’t been studied, how do you prove it doesn’t exist? And how do you declare it’s a myth?

I feel some semblance of sympathy for Law here. As obnoxious, phony and as much of a created entity as he is, he tweeted one thing and found himself under siege not just by people who dislike him, but by many who actually are fans of his and a big league player who is sabermetrically inclined and cerebral basically telling him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It was one tweet that ended with a marathon that I’m sure Law wanted no part of after the first fifteen minutes, but couldn’t find a way to extricate himself from the situation while maintaining his unfounded reputation as an “expert.” It went on for hours and will undoubtedly continue throughout the day. Or the week. Or the month. Or the year. That’s how Twitter is.

I believe in the “locked in” idea and it’s not based on some throwaway line. Anyone who’s ever played a sport—or done anything at all on a regular basis—knows that there are times that it just feels “right” and there are instances when it’s not necessary to think about the things that a pitcher or hitter has to think about, sometimes to his detriment. When a hitter or pitcher has his mind on mechanics—where the hands are, where the feet are, where the landing spot is—and then has to deal with the pitches coming at him or the hitters standing at the plate, it makes it exponentially harder to focus on the one moment they need to be focusing on for sustained success. There are times when it all comes together and there’s no need to think about those mechanical necessities because all is in symmetry and it’s automatic.

The “you never played” argument is treated as if it’s irrelevant by those who never played because they can’t combat the assertion. It’s not easy to make it to the Major Leagues whether it’s someone who understands stats like McCarthy or someone for whom stats are an inconvenience like Jeff Francoeur. It is, however, remarkably easy in today’s game to make it to a Major League front office or into the media as an “expert.”

Law’s entire career has been based on an if this/then that premise. He was a writer on statistics and when the Blue Jays hired J.P. Ricciardi out of the Athletics front office as the Moneyball theory was first starting to be known and implemented, he hired Law. Law worked for the Blue Jays, left to take a job at ESPN and suddenly morphed through some inexplicable osmosis from the arrogant and condescending stat guy who Michael Lewis described in Moneyball (and after the Moneyball movie came out and Law panned it, in an entertaining slap fight between the two) into an arrogant and condescending stat and all-knowing scouting guy. In reality, there’s no scouting guy in there. He’s regurgitating stuff he heard. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s no foundation for his status as the ultimate insider and someone who knows both scouting and stats.

Law didn’t pay his dues as a writer meeting deadlines, covering games and trying to get a usable quote from Barry Bonds; he didn’t play; he didn’t work his way up in the front office from getting coffee for people as an intern to a low-level staffer and eventually a baseball executive. I don’t agree with much of what Law’s fellow ESPN “Insider” Jim Bowden says, but at least Bowden was a scout and a GM who made the primordial climb working for George Steinbrenner and Marge Schott. Law just sort of showed up and was anointed as the all-seeing, all-knowing totem of the stat people.

And there’s the fundamental issue with him.

He’s a creation. The ridiculous mock MLB Drafts, smug style and wallowing in objective data as well as his only recently discovered interest in in-the-trenches scouting is similar to the marketing of a boy band. There had to be something there to start with, of course. Law’s obviously intelligent as he constantly tries to show with his “look how smart I am” tweets in Latin, but that doesn’t translate into industry-wide respect that they’re trying to desperately to cultivate. With a boy band, it’s a look and willingness to do what they’re taught, sing the songs they’re given and be happy that they’re making money and have girls screaming their names on a nightly basis. With Law, it’s his circular status as a guy who’s worked in an MLB front office as if that denotes credibility on all things baseball. Those who hate GMs and former GMs who shun many of the new and beloved stats wouldn’t listen to Omar Minaya, Bill Bavasi or Ruben Amaro Jr. if they were given the forum that Law has, so why does Law automatically receive undeserved respect?

Just like veteran baseball front office people and players have to deal with unwanted suggestions and the presence of people they don’t think know anything about how the actual game of baseball is played, so too do the sportswriters—many of whom worked their way up as beat reporters for box lacrosse until they’re in a coveted baseball columnist position—have to look at people like Law and wonder: “Why’s he here?” “Why does anyone listen to him?”

What must make it worse for the real reporters at ESPN like Buster Olney and Jayson Stark is that for the good of ESPN webhits and advertising rates, they have to promote Law’s writing due to organizational needs and orders from above. According to speculation, Law and Olney aren’t exactly buddies. It must burn Olney to have to lead his followers to Law’s mock drafts that Olney is experienced enough as a baseball writer to know are ridiculous.

Because it was McCarthy, a player who understands and utilizes the same stats that Law propounds in practice as a Major League baseball player and not a “me throw ball, me swing bat” player who isn’t aware of the war going on in Syria let alone WAR as a stat, Law couldn’t use the argument of an eyeroll and hand wave with backup from his minions. That, more than the relatively meaningless debate, is probably what stings most of all.

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Los Angeles Angels: 2013 Book Excerpt

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

The Los Angels Angels have gotten off to a horrific start. Their season, so far, has only been salvaged from an ever worse status by winning two of three against the woeful Astros. They were lucky to win those. What follows is an excerpt of my recently published book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide regarding one of the biggest problems the Angels have: a lack of continuity between manager Mike Scioscia and GM Jerry Dipoto.

I’m not going to say that everything in the book is as eerily accurate as this, but at the very least, it’s not a computer generated spitting out of numbers masking its creator with a façade of false expertise; nor is it randomness based on regurgitated stuff I heard elsewhere and pushed on the reader with an underlying and poorly hidden agenda. To be brutally honest, most of the stuff you see from bloggers, self-proclaimed “experts,” and the mainstream media is trash because they don’t know anything and are desperately trying to hide that fact through degrees, supposed credentials, obnoxious pomposity, and formulas that perhaps five people in the world truly understand.

My book has predictions, projections, fantasy picks and breakout candidates based on logic, reason and assessment. There are also players vital statistics and contract status for every key member of the organization. The full season predicted standings can be found here.

What follows is the assessments section on the Angels GM and manager and the pre-season prediction that was written well before the start of the season.

Jerry Dipoto—General Manager

Contract status: Signed through 2014 with club options for 2015 and 2016

When Dipoto took the job, it’s doubtful that he had it in mind that he would: A) be a checkbook GM; and B) would be usurping the longtime manager and most powerful voice in the organization as to the construction of the roster, Mike Scioscia.

Dipoto paid his dues as a baseball executive working in the front offices for the Red Sox, Rockies and Diamondbacks before serving as the interim GM in 2010 when Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes was fired and then moved back into an assistant role when Kevin Towers was hired as the permanent replacement. It was Dipoto’s trades of Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson at mid-season that played a large role in the Diamondbacks’ 2011 division title. Towers got the credit for the meal, but Dipoto brought in some of the ingredients and set the table.

The Angels were a disappointment in 2012 and it’s hard to know how much blame has to go to the GM. Did he want to sign Albert Pujols to that contract? Did he want to put a team that was so diametrically opposed to what the Angels have been and was ill-suited to the strategies and desires of the manager? Did he want the manager to begin with?

With everything the Angels have done since firing Tony Reagins as GM, there’s been a sense of collecting names that can’t be criticized from the outside, but don’t work as a cohesive unit when put into practice. The Angels never pursued the Pujols-type of player. In years past, they targeted what they wanted and made a quick strike to get them. There was a positive atmosphere and it was widely known that Scioscia was in command, the players were treated well, everything was kept in-house, and they won.

That’s gone. Pujols’s acquisition changed the template and it fits neither Dipoto or Scioscia. They’re still working together not as two men on the same page but as if Moreno told them that they’re two smart baseball men and they need to work it out.

Those things rarely get worked out.

This past winter it continued. Did Dipoto want to sign Josh Hamilton to a 5-year, $125 million contract, take him out of his comfort zone in Texas and put him in California with the requisite pressure and underlying dysfunction that hasn’t been repaired?

There’s a legitimate question as to who’s in charge with the Angels. In the days of Bill Stoneman as GM and Scioscia as manager, they worked hand-in-hand and all were on the same page. Now it appears as if the stat savvy Dipoto, who was brought up as an executive in situations where money was either secondary or tight, has become the type of GM who is a figurehead and spending money because the owner is telling him to spend money. His other acquisitions—Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Ryan Madson—are not slam dunks; nor are they the types of pitchers the Angels have historically pursued.

Is Dipoto in charge? Is this the kind of team he envisioned putting together when he got his opportunity to be a GM? It doesn’t look like it.

Mike Scioscia—Manager

Contract status: Signed through 2018

Scioscia, in the waning days of the 2012 season, had a look on his face like he wanted to be fired. It’s not easy for a man who was in such unwavering command to have his authority stripped from him and parceled to a GM he doesn’t know and thinks differently as to the most effective way to manage a game. That power also shifted to the owner who once treated Scioscia with pure trust and is now having a significant say in the construction of the club not based on what the manager wants and thinks he can win with, but what has sparked a showbiz atmosphere and a TV contract trumping winning.

These are not things that interested the pitching/bullpen/speed/defense/inside game-preferring manager.

Scioscia was unhappy when his longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired. The blame for that fell to Pujols. As respected a teammate Pujols is said to be and as much as former Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa worships him, I have to wonder how much of LaRussa’s crediting Pujols for his leadership abilities was a placating of the player and the golden rule (whoever has the gold makes the rules). It behooves  the manager of a megastar player to get that player on his side, but that was never a part of Scioscia’s job description. His old-school sensibilities went back to the days before guaranteed long-term contracts and players having the ability to dictate who the coaches are. In Scioscia’s world it’s, “I’m the manager. That’s why.” And Pujols is a player who can resist that style of dictatorship.

The 2012 team was not a Scioscia-style team. They still played good defense, stole bases and bunted, but the tenor was different. The all-for-one dynamic was gone and this is the risk taken when buying mercenaries who don’t fit in to what the manager wants to do.

Scioscia is signed through 2018, but his time with the Angels is coming to a close. It would be better for all parties to split and move on. Dipoto would be free to bring in a manager he prefers (if he’s allowed to), and Scioscia can get another job elsewhere in a situation that more fits his style.

PREDICTION

This season has disaster written all over it. The Angels have abandoned the dignified template they adhered to for so long and chose to take the tack of purchasing mercenaries thinking that the ends—a huge TV contract; the extra Wild Card; buzz—would justify the means. They’ve lost the plot and shunned the reason why the Angels were a consideration for every free agent not because they paid the most or because they won. That was, in part, important, but the Angels organization was respected because the problems were kept in-house and there was uncommon stability in the front office and field staff.

That’s gone.

The second they signed Pujols, that ended. Pujols is not a prototypical troublemaking diva, but if he’s unhappy, he has a way of letting everyone know it. The first salvo against Scioscia to indicate who was really running things now was the hiring of Dipoto. Pujols’s displeasure with Hatcher and the hitting coach’s firing was the second. As the 2012 season moved along, there was speculation that Scioscia would be out as manager because he wanted out and Dipoto wanted him out. It didn’t happen and it was another mistake in a litany of them. The two don’t believe the same things when it comes to strategy and the manager who liked to push the envelope offensively with speed and inside baseball now has no choice but to sit back and wait for the home run. The manager who wanted pitchers who gutted their way through games and gave innings and high pitch counts regardless of what a few bad innings did to their ERAs has been compromised with the injury-prone and pending free agents. The bullpen is not good.

This is not a Scioscia team, but he’s still managing it because they wouldn’t fire him and he didn’t resign.

That problem will be rectified—for him anyway—when he’s fired by May. He’ll take some time off, relax and wait for another job opening. Perhaps he’ll write a book about what went wrong. Pujols will lobby for Tony LaRussa and perhaps his former manager, bored in retirement, will be willing to come back on a short-term deal to save the day. But this team is not good enough for LaRussa to save the day even if he does choose to jump in, take Moreno’s money over the objections of the GM and try to steer the ship in the right direction. LaRussa is the same kind of manager as Sciosica only he’ll have the benefit of the tag, “Pujols Approved” on the inside of his jersey.

Hamilton was a mistake. The pitching is shaky from top-to-bottom. They’re overpaid and don’t appear to like each other very much.

These are not the Angels of a decade ago and this will go down as the latest example of collecting stars and expecting them to join together in harmony just because they’re stars.

It won’t work.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

2013 Book Cover 3

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide Now Available

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hockey, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

My book is available on Smashwords with other outlets coming soon.

Check it out.

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The Bourn Destination

Award Winners, CBA, Draft, Free Agents, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Movies, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

The Bourn Destination isn’t another change to the film adaptations of the Robert Ludlum series of books with protagonist Jason Bourne played by Matt Damon, then the new character, Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner. The spelling is different and Michael Bourn, while having attributes of his own, doesn’t possess the sets of skills, kills and thrills that the fictional Bourne characters do. Locations are being scouted and New York is under consideration, but in the end, it’s not going to happen.

Michael Bourn is more of a background character/sidekick than a headliner. Given that he’s the biggest name available on the free agent market and had his career season in 2012, he’s become a “star” by attrition. The teams that are willing to pay him what agent Scott Boras is asking (said to be $15 million per year for at least five years) are nonexistent.

The prevailing storyline has Bourn and the Mets flirting with one another, but this is contingent on Bourn’s price and contract duration coming down significantly and no other team jumping in at the last minute to take him away from the Mets. I wrote about the Mets and Bourn here. There are arguments for both sides of signing him and walking away, but like the Mets failed pursuit of Vladimir Guerrero in 2004, the interest is legitimate and the determination to get a good deal will preclude them from getting the player.

In the end, the Rangers are the most likely landing spot for Bourn.

The holdup for the Mets is no longer money. It’s the draft pick compensation. The Mets, rightfully, don’t want to trade the 11th pick of the first round of the upcoming draft for Bourn. Some will see this as an excuse not to pay him and that they’re using the public, vulture-like circling around Bourn and Boras as a means to excite the fans while hoping that the dominoes fall in place where the Mets can actually get him cheaply. GM Sandy Alderson is playing poker, putting it out there that the Mets are serious about Bourn and that they can seal the deal on their terms.

Under the Wilpons and then-GM Jim Duquette in 2003-2004, the Mets tried a similar strategy with Guerrero as his market was crashing due to a back injury that made clubs reluctant to guarantee him the five years he wanted. For days it was expected that the Mets would get Guerrero at favorable terms (three years with incentives raising it to five). The Orioles were also in the mix. The media and fans were shocked that the Angels dove in with a guaranteed five-year contract and nabbed Guerrero. It was conveniently ignored that the shy Guerrero wanted zero part of New York and was probably offended that the Mets thought they were going to swoop in and get him at a discount because of a back injury that wound up being a non-issue. Guerrero won the AL MVP in 2004 and finished third, ninth, and third again in the voting for the following three years of the deal.

In retrospect the Mets should have paid Guerrero. With Bourn, they’re pulling the same histrionics for the sake of PR with the end result—not getting the player—being the same as well.

If they want him, they need to go get him without these pretentious shows of cleverness. There isn’t a “we have to get this guy” tone with the Mets in this pursuit and Bourn isn’t that type of player. They’ll take him if he falls into their laps at the right price, but if he’s taking less money than he wants, why sign with the Mets?

The Rangers need a center fielder superior to Craig Gentry and Bourn is the logical choice. They have the money and the draft pick compensation is negligible to the Rangers since they hold the 25th pick and they will have the 34th pick as compensation for losing Josh Hamilton. We’re talking about dropping one pick nine slots before they have another pick to get a player they need to contend in 2013.

The Mets and Rangers are both waiting. But the Mets are waiting for more things—the resolution of the draft pick debate, the price to lower substantially—than the Rangers are. Bourn is from Texas, there’s no individual income tax in Texas, and the Rangers are a better team with a legitimate shot at the World Series. If he’s going to take short money, it will be from the Rangers and not the Mets.

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A-Rod Upstages the Super Bowl

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Jim Harbaugh. John Harbaugh. Ray Lewis. Colin Kaepernick. Randy Moss. Joe Flacco. And…Alex Rodriguez?

The easiest thing to do in this latest media firestorm surrounding A-Rod would be to set up a table in New Orleans at or around Super Bowl XLVII and let him join in with the frenzy to save time and airfare for everyone. A-Rod has a talent for jumping to the forefront of big events in which he is not participating. In 2007, during the Red Sox-Rockies World Series, it was announced that A-Rod was opting out of his Yankees contract. Blame for the “mistake” in timing was doled on agent Scott Boras. Because Boras is seen as the epitome of evil and a Svengali who latched his claws into the fatherless A-Rod at a young age and unduly influenced him to make decisions he wouldn’t have made if left to his own devices, it’s easy to turn him into the fall guy whether it’s true or not.

Boras no longer represents A-Rod and his problems have gotten worse, not better.

The latest is A-Rod’s name popping up in the notes of a shady anti-aging clinic in Miami—NY Times Story.

I suppose it’s possible that he’s innocent. We can ask the simplest questions: Why would anyone be stupid enough to write the actual name of the client instead of using a code? Why don’t these players just get up and go to Mexico, Switzerland, Iceland, Japan, Mars, Jupiter or anywhere they can simply do what they need to do using a false name, pay in cash and come back with no paper trail and no one the wiser? Why would A-Rod continue to poke the eyes of anyone and everyone for (considering his plummet in the past several years) what amounted to zero return?

A-Rod will be referred to as arrogant, but that may not be the case. It may be insecurity and, in a weird way, a certain nobility of trying to live up to the money the Yankees are paying him by taking PEDs to be able to perform. There will be comparisons to Lance Armstrong, but as far as we know, A-Rod has never wantonly destroyed the lives of those who tried to expose him in an effort to prop up a front of philanthropy and honor. The only person he’s succeeded in destroying is himself. He’s not as arrogant or stupid as he is oblivious.

That obliviousness hasn’t extended to ignorance of reality. He’s still cognizant of plausible deniability and legal ramifications. You won’t see A-Rod sitting in front of Congress denying PED use and wagging his finger in their faces a la Rafael Palmeiro; you won’t see him on 60 Minutes like Roger Clemens. You might see him pleading his case to the media as Barry Bonds did once a sufficient amount of time has passed and he thinks it might be safe to argue his Hall of Fame worthiness. For right now, A-Rod is smart enough to keep quiet and lawyer up.

Major League Baseball itself is again left running into one another like some slapstick comedy worthy of Benny Hill, trying to spin their inability to get in front of these stories and cleaning up the mess after the fact. They knew about this Miami clinic and were investigating it in the hopes that a bolt of lightning out of the sky would provide them with cause to suspend the players who used its services. They were unsuccessful.

A-Rod is the glossiest name on the list, but it’s no shock for him to wind up in the middle of incidents such as these. Gio Gonzalez, whose career has taken a wondrous jump to “ace” is on the list. Nelson Cruz was a journeyman until age 28 when he hit 33 homers is on the list. Melky Cabrera we already know about. Yasmani Grandal is a yet-to-be-established kid and is on the list. Bartolo Colon was trying to hang on and is on the list.

The fine line between developing and using outlawed “helpers” to improve is no longer blurred. It’s gone. Every player is under scrutiny. Which is the real Gonzalez? Did he naturally evolve from his initial opportunities in the big leagues in 2008-2009 when he showed flashes of great talent with terrible results to the rising star in 2010-2011 and then third in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2012? Or was it in 2009-2010 when someone whispered in his ear that if he went to this Miami clinic, they’d provide him with potions to send his career into the stratosphere?

Any statistical evidence is presented with the benefit of hindsight and all players are suspect.

For A-Rod, we’ll never know if everything was a creation of PEDs or if he was using them at age 25? 28? 30? 35? to perform and make a ton of money; to maintain; to return from injury and live up to his contract. The one thing he has in common with Armstrong is that he’s not credible in anything he says even if, at some point, he decides to “confess.”

A-Rod’s career with the Yankees is over. The Yankees are said to be poring over his contract to try and find a way to keep from paying him. As much as A-Rod is reviled by contemporaries, the MLB Players Association will fight for him to get every single penny on that contract from now until the Rapture and even then, they’ll have to stand in front of Jesus and find a reason not to give A-Rod his money. And they’ll lose. (When I say Jesus, I mean Christ. Not a distant A-Rod relative who did his bidding as a human shield.)

What will happen is this:

MLB will try and find a way to suspend A-Rod and these other players and fail.

The Yankees will try and get out of paying him and fail.

A-Rod won’t agree to the floated insurance scheme that a doctor says he can’t play again.

A-Rod won’t play again for the Yankees; they’ll come to an agreement to pay him off, perhaps deferring some of it so they have cash on hand and it’s not a lump sum payment.

A team like the Marlins, A’s or Rays will sign him against the wishes of MLB. A-Rod will repeat the 2011-2012 performances of Manny Ramirez and provide nothing other than aggravation and a media circus.

Some other embarrassment will occur with A-Rod because that’s like the sun coming up—once you see it happen every day of your life, you just sort of expect it.

A-Rod will epitomize the ending in the novel version of The Natural in which Roy Hobbs doesn’t redeem himself and lives his life wondering what might have been. This isn’t Hollywood, but the ending is just as predictable. Unlike Hobbs, A-Rod will be very wealthy when he fades into oblivion with a career blotted out by a giant asterisk of his own making. There are no excuses and no one left to blame anymore.

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The Hall of Fame of Apathy

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It’s a byproduct of the times we live in that not only does the vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame have to be counted, but we have to endure the detailing of the vote like the slaughtering and cleaning of a chicken before it winds up on our plate, grilled and placed over salad with a nice vinaigrette.

Or like a sausage. Sausage is a good analogy. The Hall of Fame voting exemplifies why, prior to choosing to eat it, we don’t want to see how sausage is made because if we did, we wouldn’t be able to take a bite. But combine the sausagemaker and the chef being careless about hygiene—disgusting even—and showing the world step-by-step why and how they’re coming to the conclusion that being filthy is the logical progression and for the diner, the response degenerates into an immense powerlessness and disinterest that, in the final analysis, will make us sick.

The noxious process of voting for the Hall of Fame might always have been as it is now, but we didn’t get to watch it and hear it ad nauseam until reaching this inevitable end.

I used to care about the Hall of Fame. As a kid, I wanted Phil Rizzuto to be inducted. It was mostly because others told me he should be inducted without providing viable reasons for this position, but what was the difference? Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese were contemporaries and inter-city rivals of New York, it suited the narrative if they went into the Hall together. They didn’t and that served the clashing of civilizations even more. Ted Williams supported Rizzuto’s candidacy. Writers didn’t. Eventually, the Rizzuto supporters—many of them friends on the Veterans Committee—let him in. Whether or not he “belongs” became irrelevant. Today would either Rizzuto or Reese have a chance of getting into the Hall? No. But that argument was part of what once made the debate interesting. It’s no longer so.

The dirtiest aspect of a conspiracy are those who are left to take the punishment after the fact while others walk away and join the chorus to punish the “guilty” for acts they made possible and participated in by direct involvement or by looking the other way. There are the disposable minions whose job it was to run interference for their charges (Greg Anderson for Barry Bonds; Brian McNamee for Roger Clemens) and take the legal consequences while the people they worked for walk away free.

And there are the players. The players who allegedly used the drugs or are suspected of using the drugs are serving the sentences for the people who were running baseball, allowed and cultivated the performance enhancing drug culture in the interests of making themselves more money and reviving a game that was on life-support after the canceled World Series of 1994 and evident avarice that led to that cancelation.

The media voting for the potential inductees? They’re showing a combination of righteous indignation and contemptuous dismissal of dissent that can only stem from an out-of-control egomania. As self-appointing “protectors” of the game, there’s an unstated similarity to what Max Mercy said in The Natural that his job as a reporter is not to tell the story of the game, but by creating an image that he—in an unabashed treatise of omnipotence—deems as proper and salable. We’re now getting a Hunter S. Thompson, “gonzo” voting bloc. Every reporter feels as though he not only has has to cast his ballot, but get in on the action and make public his choices, explaining why he did or didn’t select a certain player.

Mike Piazza didn’t get votes not because he was caught in a PED drug test in any context other than rumor, but because of the era in which he played and that he had acne on his back. This is presented as a reason. Not “feeling” that Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer, or that Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio don’t pass the smell test as PED suspects (Bagwell) and stat-compilers (Biggio) is equated as an excuse of why they’re not garnering support.

There’s no more conversation. No altering of hearts and minds. Perhaps there never was. But today, there are battle-lines and no hope for settlement, so the fight rages on without end in an immovable object vs. irresistible force aura of uselessness.

Like a Tim Tebow pro-life ad, each side sees it their way and takes it as a worthwhile cause to promote or an infringement on the liberty of others to behave in accordance to the laws of the land. Rather than accept it for what it actually is, a commercial, and understand that because Tebow took part in the ad and it was shown during a football game that it’s not an insult to the beliefs nor a threat to the freedoms of those who disagree, there’s a lunatic stimulus reaction. All this while no one says a word if they don’t have the money or the inclination to run out and purchase a Lexus when those commercials run non-stop during the NFL playoffs. There’s truly no difference.

Until a Hall of Fame voter has the supposed epiphany that George A. King of the New York Post claims to have had when he decided that Pedro Martinez wasn’t a worthy candidate for MVP in 1999 and hears from “people he respects” justifying the exclusion with the argument that pitchers have their award and the MVP should go to an everyday player, this will not stop. And that’s the point. As much as we can argue that King, as a Yankees beat writer and resident apologist, was simply punishing a reviled member of the arch-rival Red Sox, nothing can stop it from happening. The votes are what they are; the voters are who they are.

There’s not going to be a Skull and Bones society of enlightened and objective stat people with impressive degrees from Ivy League Universities, meeting in far off lands to determine the fate of the baseball universe, deciding that the logic of keeping Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa and anyone else from the Hall of Fame is a travesty considering who’s in the Hall of Fame and what they did to get there. Nor will there be a return to the old-school and how things were before Twitter, Facebook, blogging, glory-hunting, attention-seeking, and making a name for oneself by being outrageous as per the mandate like Rob Parker did with Robert Griffin III and lost his job at ESPN because of it.

There’s no going back.

Gaylord Perry cheated and everyone knew he was cheating. He admitted it. He wallowed in it. As a journeyman whose stuff wasn’t quite good enough, he extended his career by 20 years because of it. He’s in the Hall of Fame and there’s a smirk, wink and nod as to how he accomplished the feat of gaining enshrinement. There are drunks, recreational drug users and wife-beaters in the Hall of Fame. There are racists, gamblers and individuals who would accurately be described as sociopaths in the Hall of Fame.

None of that waned my interest in the proceedings as much as having to view the sausage being made; to endure the media throwing themselves into the fray as if they were just as important to the process as the process itself.

I paid attention to the election results in a vacuum of neutrality. That is not attached to an affiliation or deep-seated belief as to whether the players should or shouldn’t be elected, but because of pure apathy that has accumulated over a number of years as a side effect of the arrogance inherent with the doling, reporting and counting of the Hall of Fame vote. It grows exponentially with each writer who not only feels he has to vote, but feels the need to explain the vote as he makes it in the me-me-me self-involvement that’s become prevalent. It spreads with every player whose public agenda and lies insult my intelligence; with every owner or baseball official who crusades against that which they allowed and encouraged to happen.

No one was voted into the Hall of Fame for 2013. And I just don’t care.

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ESPN Is To Blame For Rob Parker

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Rob Parker is a symptom, not the disease. In spite of ESPN’s decision to suspend him for his absurd comments about Robert Griffin III, Parker’s presence or absence from the network is not going to cure the malady that infects any sports fan who has no choice but to use ESPN because it has such a wide-ranging hand in every sport.

Is Parker to blame for pushing the envelope with comments that were designed to provoke? Isn’t that the ESPN mandate? To get people to pay attention to them not with legitimate sports news and analysis, but by doing the equivalent of screaming “FIRE” in a crowded theater with impunity? So entwined with every aspect of sports, there’s no escaping ESPN. This makes Parker and his inept ilk in their employ all the more galling. They get away with this silliness, so why couldn’t they get away with deciding not to partake in this fire-stoking, and chose to provide quality and substance instead of resorting to antics like a bad Madonna outfit?

Parker maintains the inexplicable combination of knowing nothing about sports and writing in an amateurish, clumsy fashion. Yet he’s employed by ESPN and treated as one of their “signature” voices with a prominent platform. It’s just easier to find a stable of Rob Parkers than it is to find people who will be able to express themselves in a manner befitting such a pulpit.

Of course Parker’s responsible for what he says, but those claiming he should be fired for his offensive and borderline incoherent statements are missing the point of the entire Parker package: Why is he employed by ESPN in the first place? How can it be that the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports” is so incapable of hiring talented, intelligent, knowledgeable people who can draw an audience without having the content secondary to numbers they’re able to accumulate through cheap tactics.

ESPN need only look at the foundation of today’s NFL to understand the narrow difference between “look at me!!!” to accrue a brief burst of activity like staring at a train crash, and attracting a consistent viewer/readership.

The late Hall of Fame NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was a public relations man and knew how to create a business that would provide thrills and watchable sports action without turning it into a circularly ridiculous entity doomed to fail. Tex Schramm was also in publicity (in fact, he hired Rozelle with the Rams) and knew that in order to succeed, he also had to sell. With the Cowboys, that’s what he did: he sold an image. Tom Landry was the football guru; Gil Brandt the personnel “genius”; the Cowboys, with their space-age uniforms, unique style implemented by the religious, stoic Landry and moniker of “America’s Team” wouldn’t have gone anywhere if the product wasn’t high quality. In addition to creating an image and making money, the team won, so Schramm wasn’t tricking anyone with trash. There’s a fine line between sale and scam and ESPN crossed that line long ago. Whether or not they’re aware of it is the important question.

ESPN could learn the separation between entertainment and rubbernecking by examining how the NFL became what it is today in large part because of Schramm and Rozelle.

Rather than emulate the NFL, ESPN has chosen to copy the doomed Vince McMahon project the XFL in which pro wrestling announcers were shoved into a “professional” football broadcast booth and Jesse “The Body” Ventura (then Governor of Minnesota) tried to start a pro wrestling style feud with Rusty Tillman, one of the head coaches who wanted to coach football and not undertake a starring role in McMahon’s carnival. It didn’t work. There has to be something to cling to for the fans to stay and watch. Like McMahon’s main moneymaking venture, the WWE, you know what it is when watching it and if the viewer chooses to suspend disbelief and become invested in the canned nature of professional wrestling, it’s a wink-and-a-nod contract made with the show itself. There’s something dirtier about ESPN when they’re hiring the likes of Parker and encouraging these types of comments, then hanging Parker out to dry when the comments are deemed as “offensive.”

The difference between what Schramm and Rozelle built in the NFL is that if you pull back the curtain behind all the hype, there’s substance for the old-school football fan to still watch the game if they’re not interested in the sideshow. Is that the case with ESPN? Do they have anything substantive—from their intentions to their implementation—left? What is their long-term purpose apart from ratings, webhits, and the higher advertising rates that come along with it?

For every quality person ESPN has working for them, there are ten who shouldn’t be allowed to write a personal blog, let along have a forum on ESPN. Parker is one of those people. The only time people care about what he says is when he says what he said yesterday; they’re certainly not going to him for sports insight because he doesn’t have any, nor does he have the skills to present his non-existent knowledge in an engaging way. If he was able to do that, he’d be due a certain begrudging credit for being able to write. But he can’t, so there’s no reason whatsoever for him to be there.

Firing him will placate the masses who are calling for his dismissal as if it would accomplish something, but Parker isn’t the problem. ESPN is. If they fire Parker, they’ll simply replace him with someone else. I’d say whomever it is that replaces Parker couldn’t possibly be worse, but this is ESPN and if any company has the skills and history of discovering the newest-latest in lowest common denominator, it’s them.

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