Tom Brady, cheating, the NFL, and the American way

MLB, NFL

The decision by the NFL investigators that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Bradyprobably” cheated is a line-straddling concession similar to a civil court case in which the criteria is that the issue at hand “more likely than not” occurred. They don’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, so Brady still has plausible deniability even though he seems to have lied when he said he had nothing to do with the amount of air in the footballs for the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The important question isn’t whether or not he did it and if his legacy and the fourth Super Bowl he and the Patriots just won is tarnished. Nor is it whether or not he’s guilty. The important question is whether or not this is a scandal compromising the game’s competitiveness or an integral part of the game.

Cheating in sports has always been a nuanced and indefinable. Some believe that all is fair. It’s fine if there’s a certain of cheating going on as long as no one’s life is put at risk because of it and the integrity of the competition isn’t compromised by an intentional attempt to lose. If gamesmanship occurs, it’s generally perceived as acceptable in the context of professional competition. Most sports aren’t combat-related where an incident such as what happened between Luis Resto and his trainer Panama Lewis as padding was removed from Resto’s gloves and he battered Billy Collins, Jr. Lewis and Resto went to jail and Collins spiraled downward until he committed suicide. Resto later admitted that not only were the gloves tampered with, but his hand wraps were soaked in Plaster of Paris. That was criminality, not competitive gamesmanship. There’s a certain level of trust that competitors won’t go as far as Resto and Lewis did and cause severe injury even in a sport like boxing where injury is the defined intent. Although it’s a violent sport, Resto and Lewis went beyond negligible propriety of head butts, elbows and other acts that are generally accepted as part of the terrain in boxing.

Where does that put football, baseball and other sports? Is there a line between Brady (probably) having had the footballs deflated and a clever offensive lineman holding on every single play and getting away with it? What about in baseball were little tricks are used in every game – most of which are not within the confines of the rules – to gain an advantage? Gaylord Perry wrote a book called, “Me and the Spitter” based on his reliance of a career-saving spitball. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Don Drysdale pitched 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in 1968 and it was only stopped when he was caught and warned without being sanctioned for throwing a spitball. Mike Scott salvaged a dying career with a scuffball. No one cared. It was shrugged off.

In some cases, the league itself takes part in the “cheating” by allowing it to go on or tacitly encouraging it for the greater good. Major League Baseball easily falls into this category with the performance enhancing drug explosion. To imply that no one in MLB’s regulatory body was aware that players were not having a career renaissance based on hard work is the combination of naïve and idiotic.

In football, Brady’s success is part of the problem with this latest scandal. If it was discovered that Jay Cutler had a certain, rule-bending way he wanted his footballs prepared, he’d be the target of ridicule on talk radio, social media, mainstream media and in bars. “Heh, heh, heh. Better figure out a new way to keep your balls so they don’t end up in the hands of the other team, Jay. Heh, heh, heh.”

But it’s not a player who’s viewed as a sad sack loser like Cutler. It’s Brady. The winningest of the winners. The guy who married perhaps the most famous supermodel in the world. The guy who has the life many aspire to and didn’t have it handed to him as the first overall pick in the draft, anointed since birth. He was an afterthought sixth round draft pick who worked, studied, trained and made himself into one of the best quarterbacks in history.

The idea is that this taints Brady’s career in an exponential way because it’s not the first time that there have been allegations and proof of chicanery on the part of the Bill Belichick/Brady Patriots. Given the times they’ve been caught, logic dictates that there are probably twenty other incidents in which they’ve bent or outright broken the rules and gotten away with it. Back to the Cutler analogy, is it because the Patriots cheat more than other teams or is it because they’re simply better at football? This is in line with the PED use in baseball. Barry Bonds broke records and had the best years of his career at a time when he should have been in steady decline based on age and physical breakdown. Obviously, it was because of the drugs. But he was also better than the other players who were also using the same drugs. Doesn’t that, in a bizarre way, level the playing field back to how it was when everyone was clean?

Belichick and owner Bob Kraft have not been implicated in “deflategate.” Who knows whether or not either were aware of this? It’s doubtful that Kraft is so involved in the micromanagement of his team that he’d be aware of it, especially when he’s got someone so competent as Belichick as his football CEO. As for Belichick, it appears to be an intentional, “I can always say I didn’t know if I really didn’t know, but kinda knew” method of management that is far more common in successful companies that most are willing to admit.

Belichick’s managerial style is like that of any all-powerful dictator. The leader in a sustained dictatorship has a method with his generals and subordinates: if it works, great; if it doesn’t, you take the fall. Naturally, that won’t apply to Brady while he’s still of use to Belichick. But there will be others tossed overboard because they’re disposable. After all their years together and the amount of trust that Belichick puts in Brady as the conduit from the coach’s brain to the on-field game plan implementation, the quarterback presumably has autonomy to do whatever he needs to do including certain activities that push the envelope of the rules.

To settle the issue of how much the football is to be inflated and to satisfy the public, expect there to be a boxing-style pregame check by representatives of the opposing team similar to a boxer’s gloves being examined and marked. There will either be a range in which the balls can be inflated and deflated or the NFL will simply say, these are the balls; this is how much they’re inflated; deal with it. Brady will probably be fined heavily and suspended for a game or two. That will be it.

The NFL allowed this to happen. Do you believe the NFL became the powerful entity it is by following all the rules? They had their players as indentured servants until 25 years ago when nominal free agency came into being. Apart from the public image and financial ramifications, they still don’t really care about the players’ physical, emotional and mental condition in the aftermath of their careers as they’re addicted to painkillers, unable to walk and are wandering around with brain damage and no money to pay for treatment.

The NFL itself is very effective at theoretically promoting one code of conduct to satisfy its customers and quiet the media while bowing to expediency in practice. Like the domestic violence issue in which the NFL only took steps to dispense punishments that are deemed appropriate after a video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée unconscious surfaced and they spun their own tale similar to Brady’s that they didn’t know anything about anything, they acted when they had no other choice. It was a business decision, not because it’s the right thing to do.

If Roger Goodell and the NFL are worried about this latest issue with the Patriots, it’s only because they want the fans to believe that the sport is on the up-and-up; that gamblers (who the sport won’t acknowledge either) are wagering fairly; and that the business dictates they act.

The United States didn’t become the world power it is by following rules that hinder achieving that end. The NFL sells itself as an American institution. Tom Brady is considered the All-American boy. They sure are. The underlying reality might not be the conveniently salable storyline, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Advertisements

The right question to ask about Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles

College Football, NFL

As the Philadelphia Eagles make one headline after another during the NFL’s free agent frenzy, the question most often being asked about Eagles coach and de facto organizational boss Chip Kelly is, “Does he know what he’s doing?”

It’s a bad question, but it’s all part of an agenda designed to ridicule, express sarcasm and make preemptive “predictions” as to how the additions and subtractions will fare. It unavoidably degenerated into the ludicrous as football know-nothing Stephen A. Smith of ESPN trolled for ratings and web hits by implying that Kelly is a racist.

The idea in and of itself is nonsensical but, ironically, it coincides with why Kelly’s wheeling and dealing shouldn’t be viewed as a blind loyalty to the University of Oregon at the expense of keeping his job. No football coach can be labeled a racist today because no football coach who wants to keep his job can afford to be a racist; no football coach can be labeled as married to a former college program and reunite it in the pros because no football coach in his right mind believes that even the best college teams can succeed in the pros.

The right question to ask regarding Kelly has nothing to do with racism, his college loyalties or his system. It has to do with whether or not what he’s doing will work. It’s that simple. And the answer to that won’t be known until the team is on the field.

Looking at NFL history, every coach who tried to do something different saw the new schemes universally treated as if there was a personal affront being committed against the history of the league; that it couldn’t possibly work…because…it just couldn’t. There was rarely a logical explanation with a point-by-point refutation of the new strategy. It was the simplistic and stupid, “That’s not the way we do things here.” If that were the case, there would never have been the forward pass, the spread formation, the run-and-shoot (which most teams use a variation of now), the slot receiver, the pass-catching tight end, or the decision to go back to the old-school smashmouth and a vicious, punishing defense. Anything will be viewed negatively for no other reason than it’s deviating from the current norm. When it’s an unwanted interloper like Kelly who purports to be reinventing the game, then the media and NFL lifers will grow even more incoherent, angry and restless.

The names of Eagles that have come, gone and remained – LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles, Sam Bradford, Kiko Alonso, Ryan Mathews, Jeremy Maclin, Mark Sanchez – are largely irrelevant. What’s important is whether or not Kelly is doing things his way and is going all-in as he does it.

Much was made of Kelly triangulating himself into being the main voice in running the Eagles after winning the power struggle with former general manager Howie Roseman. Roseman had his role changed to executive vice president of football operations, but his job will be limited to negotiating contracts. Kelly managed this by responding to the firing of his front office ally Tom Gamble by threatening to get out of his Eagles contract to go back to college.

College.

The looming threat is always there for coaches who made their names in the NCAA and are more than willing to go back if the “NFL thing” doesn’t work out. Some coaches like Jimmy Johnson were essentially professional coaches when they were in college. Some, like Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino, were college coaches who were giving the NFL a shot knowing they’d eventually head back to college sooner rather than later. And some are perfectly content with either/or. Jim Harbaugh and Kelly fall into that category.

The concept that Kelly is gutting the Eagles and replacing the erstwhile roster with something akin to what would have been found at a University of Oregon booster meet-and-greet with NCAA football championship contending players of yesteryear is a convenient storyline to make him look as if he’s pining for his college days and transferring what was in the Pacific Northwest to the Northeast and trying to succeed with it to prove his genius. In truth, any boss is going to want to import people with whom he has a rapport; who know how he wants things done; who are so accustomed to his tics and quirks and style that there’s a spoken shorthand streamlining communications. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Johnson was torched when he got to the NFL, took over the Dallas Cowboys and followed Tom Landry’s distinguished reign with a 1-15 embarrassment. But it was that 1-15 embarrassment that planted the seeds for the Cowboys’ three Super Bowls in four years. It was the decision to trade Herschel Walker at mid-season and getting what amounted to the S&P 500 worth of draft picks that let him get the players he wanted.

But Johnson was in the NFL and had zero intention of going back to college. Spurrier on the other hand, took the job as head coach of the Washington Redskins to feed his own ego, make a ton of money and try to prove that he was not only the best college football coach in the land, but the best football coach period. He’d do it his way with University of Florida players – whether they were suited to the NFL or not – and he’d do it while making plenty of time for golf. His offense didn’t work and his attitude was a disaster. He ran back to college as an almost foregone conclusion once he realized he couldn’t dominate the games with his offensive genius, intimidate the players by holding their scholarships over his head, and control the media simply through their lovelorn, glazed-over lust for him. People dared to have the audacity to question the ol’ ball coach Spurrier. He couldn’t have that.

When Vince Lombardi entered the NFL as an assistant coach for the New York Giants, the players rolled their eyes at him and thought he was some short, loud jerk from college. Eventually, he gained their respect and got the job as the czar of the Green Bay Packers. It was there that he set about resurrecting a moribund franchise by making such unpopular moves as immediately trading away the team’s best player and most prominent personality Billy Howton because Howton was insolent, had a big mouth, was divisive and was exactly the type of player who would sow dissent in the locker room because he wasn’t getting the ball enough. In part it was due to the new coach wanting to send a message; in part it was due to Lombardi realizing he was going to install a power-based running offense that didn’t need a mouthy end demanding the ball.

If Lombardi were around today, set about rebuilding the Packers in the way he did in 1959 with the same players and there was 24/7 sports talk and cable channels, Paul Hornung would be called a Heisman Trophy bust, Bart Starr would be called a non-prospect joke, and Lombardi would be referred to as a would-be drill sergeant who never served in the military and had a Napoleon complex with no clue how the NFL really functioned.

Lombardi is considered the greatest football coach in history.

Even Bill Belichick wasn’t immune to the criticism for making necessary cuts to further his plan for the New England Patriots. It’s easy to forget now, but Belichick was said to have “lost” the locker room after he cut Lawyer Milloy at the end of training camp in 2003. It was a salary cap move made because Milloy refused to take a pay cut. Leaders like Ty Law and Tedy Bruschi were livid. After Milloy (and former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe) and the Buffalo Bills obliterated the Patriots in the opening game of that year 31-0, there were questions as to whether Belichick’s job was on the line. He stayed stoic, explained his position, made clear he was the boss and in command, and that the decision to cut Milloy was best for the organization in the present and future.

Then the Patriots won 17 out of 18 games through the Super Bowl and Milloy wasn’t mentioned as anything but a meaningless, “Oh, yeah. That.” They won the Super Bowl the next year as well and Belichick’s job status has never been in question since.

Someone has to be in charge.

Coaching in the NFL can be a dirty business and if a coach isn’t willing to play dirty and use somewhat underhanded tactics in organizational politics, he’s not going to last very long. If being static were the idea with no room for innovation and change, we’d be trapped in a purgatory of players in leather helmets running into each other with no excitement, no innovation, no intelligence – just brute force and dullness. In a similar sense, in years gone by, coaches had bizarre – often dangerous – training tactics like refusing to allow players water while they were practicing and forcing the players to partake in pads-on scrimmages that were even more brutal than the games themselves. Without positive advancement, the players wouldn’t even be allowed to seek big money in free agency. It wasn’t that long ago that NFL free agency was a wink-and-nod joke with every team knowing they had what amounted to indentured servants at their disposal. Innovation and change is a good thing.

Kelly has a top-to-bottom idea of how he wants the team to function from the dietary habits of the players to the training techniques to the fast break offense he wants to implement. If he’s doing it and doing it his way, then he’d better make sure to throw all his chips into the center of the table and either win big or lose it all. That’s what he’s doing. It’s not racism. It’s not stupidity. It’s not ignorance. There’s only a hint of megalomaniacal arrogance that you find in all NFL head coaches and there’s a method behind the perceived madness. He’s right to do it his way in theory even if it fails in practice. At least then there won’t be the regret of woulda, shoulda, coulda. Like any other change, it’s either going to work or it’s not. Then will be the time to judge. Not now.

The Jonathan Martin Case Puts the NFL in a Precarious Situation

CBA, Draft, Football, Games, History, Management, Media, NFL, Players, Politics, Prospects

Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins having left the team due to what’s been referred to as locker room bullying has put the NFL in a delicate situation on how to regulate their players.

Years ago, this wouldn’t have been an issue. Martin would be declared weak and told that if he wanted to be an NFL player, he had to toughen up. As a former second round draft pick, the young offensive tackle has obvious value. He’s 6’5”, 310 pounds and teams don’t waste second round draft picks on players they’ll dispose of for a solvable problem. If this had happened before the NFL tried to become such a fan-friendly entity with crossover appeal, it’s doubtful it would have been a story at all.

Times are different. The simplistic approach says that when dealing with a group mentality with people in an aggressive, high-pressure environment, the way to put a stop to this type of behavior is to handle it physically. Fights within a sports team happen all the time whether they’re reported or not. The only time they are reported are when they occur in public or there’s an injury of some sort. Other than that, they’re occasionally necessary to clear out bad blood or, as in Martin’s case, to make his teammates cease being so abusive.

Could Martin have taken the supposed ringleader, Richie Incognito and given him a beating to send a message to him and the rest of the team to knock it off? Incognito is about the same size as Martin, but usually just the effort is enough to make a bully back away.

Perhaps Martin doesn’t want to resort to that.

Martin went to Stanford and both of his parents are attorneys who went to Harvard. When a physical confrontation is necessary, it’s not fear that stops the more cerebral and intelligent person from acting. It’s the potential consequences and weighing the results that keeps them from taking that step.

“What if I really hurt him?

“What if I go to jail?”

“Do I want to play this game if it makes me into something I’m not?”

They’re legitimate questions.

For whatever reason, Martin chose to take a different route and walked away. The whole episode is being portrayed as “Martin was picked on and he left the team.” It might not be that at all. No one knows the whole story. It could be a combination of issues that led to his departure. Whether or not he’ll be back is up to him.

To believe that the intra-team treatment of players is an isolated incident is naïve at best and stupid at worst.

The public response to a cellphone video that Giants punter Steve Weatherford made of Prince Amukamara being dumped into ice water by Jason Pierre-Paul was indicative of the culture. Weatherford posted it on Twitter and it became an “incident.” Was this hazing? Was it bullying?

If it’s guys goofing around, it’s one thing. If it reaches the level where the target doesn’t want to come to work, it’s another. It’s hard to blame the players because how are they supposed to know when to stop if there’s not a baseline criteria and standards of which action is in what category?

There’s a fine line between hazing and abusiveness. There’s also a fine line between looking like the school kid saying “I’m telling on you” to have it handled by a person in position of power and reporting a workplace violation. Many times, telling the boss or the teacher or the police about it is going to make matters worse. In the case of the Dolphins, what precisely is coach Joe Philbin going to do about it? He’s not exactly intimidating and doesn’t have the personality of someone the players will be frightened of. Much has been made of Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano and his staff violating what’s supposed to be a “players only” sanctuary of the locker room with spies and perceived inappropriate venturing into their territory. If the coaches aren’t supposed to go in there, then they’re not supposed to mess with the hierarchy of the room and any rituals that might go on either.

In the Giants incident, coach Tom Coughlin said that he didn’t know about it until he was told and would take care of it. Rest assured he did. Will Philbin? Or will he hem and haw and be wishy-washy about it hoping it goes away? Would anyone be scared enough to listen if he told them to stop?

A strong-handed head coach doesn’t necessarily have to be a stern, glowering taskmaster like Coughlin or Mike Tomlin; it doesn’t have to be someone whose personality permeates the room and the players know he’ll be ruthless in dealing with a problem as Jimmy Johnson was. Andy Reid and Mike Holmgren are soft-spoken puffballs, but the players know they’re in charge. And that’s without mentioning the Emperor Palpatine of the NFL, Bill Belichick.

With a coach, it comes down to this: Is it affecting the team? Since Martin left, it’s affecting the team, therefore it’s a problem that must be addressed. Other than that, they probably wouldn’t notice if they knew about it at all.

Given the nature of this story and the mere use of the word “bullying,” it puts the NFL in a precarious position on how to proceed. The NFL is taking part in anti-bullying campaigns and trying to educate young people on why not to do it and what to do if it does happen. So what is the NFL’s recourse if it’s happening with one of their own franchises to the point that the player who was reportedly subjected to the bullying got up and left?

The NFL Players Association is looking into it and there’s no doubt that Commissioner Roger Goodell is monitoring this closely. In combination with the league-wide efforts to take part in anti-bullying initiatives and that it’s making the league look bad, this happening so publicly will get some results. Whether it will stop throughout the league is the question. The answer is probably no.

Like the code red in the Marine Corps and made famous in A Few Good Men, these hazing rituals are part of the culture. On some level, the players, coaches and participants might think it’s a necessary part of building a bond and indicates acceptance into the group. Once something happens to draw it into public scrutiny, there will be the pretense of responding to the issue to prevent it from happening again, then it will be forgotten about. It’s been part of the dynamic forever. One story about a football player who decided he’d had enough won’t alter that fact.




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

American League Remaining Schedule and Playoff Chance Analysis

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Ballparks, Football, Games, History, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Let’s take a look at the remaining schedules for all the teams still in the hunt for an American League playoff berth.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 89-58; 15 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 9.5 games, American League East

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Rays; 3 games vs. Yankees; 3 games vs. Orioles; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 2 games at Rockies; 3 games at Orioles

The Red Sox have the best record in the American League by five games. They’re going to have a significant say in which team gets the second Wild Card given their six games against the Orioles and four against the Yankees. They’re not going to lay down as evidenced by manager John Farrell’s somewhat odd – but successful – decision last night to use Koji Uehara is a tie game that meant nothing to them. I’m wondering if Farrell has received advice from Patriots coach Bill Belichick on going for the throat at all costs because it was a Belichick move.

They don’t seem to have a preference as to whether they knock out the Yankees, Rays or Orioles. They’re playing all out, all the way.

Oakland Athletics

Record: 84-61; 17 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 3 games, American League West

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Twins; 3 games at Rangers; 3 games vs. Angels; 4 games vs. Twins; 3 games at Angels; 3 games at Mariners

The A’s lead the Rangers by three games and have three games with them this weekend. Strength of schedule can be a dual-edged sword. This isn’t the NFL, but teams whose seasons are coming to a disappointing close are just as likely to get some motivation by playing teams that have something to play for as they are to bag it and give up. The Angels have played better lately and the Mariners can pitch.

Detroit Tigers

Record: 84-62; 16 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 6.5 games, American League Central

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Royals; 4 games vs. Mariners; 3 games vs. White Sox; 3 games vs. Twins; 3 games vs. Marlins

The Tigers’ upcoming schedule is pretty weak and they have a good cushion for the division. They can’t coast, but they can relax a bit.

Texas Rangers

Record: 81-64; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 3 games, American League West; lead first Wild Card by 3.5 games

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Athletics; 4 games at Rays; 3 games at Royals; 3 games vs. Astros; 4 games vs. Angels

The Rangers are in jeopardy of falling out of the playoffs entirely if they slip up over the next ten games. All of those teams have something to play for and the Rangers have been slumping.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 78-66; 18 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 9.5 games, American League East; lead second Wild Card by 1 game

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Red Sox; 3 games at Twins; 4 games at Rangers; 4 games at Orioles; 3 games at Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays

With the way they’re currently playing (think the 2007 Mets) they’re not going to right their ship in time to make the playoffs. They’d better wake up. Fast.

New York Yankees

Record: 78-68; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 10.5 games; 1 game behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Orioles; 3 games at Red Sox; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Giants; 3 games vs. Rays; 3 games at Astros

There’s a reluctance to say it, but the Yankees are better off without this current version of Derek Jeter. He was hurting the team offensively and defensively. Their problem has nothing to do with schedules or how they’re playing, but with age and overuse. They’re hammering away with their ancient veterans for one last group run. Mariano Rivera is being repeatedly used for multiple innings out of necessity; Alex Rodriguez is hobbled; David Robertson is pitching hurt; Shawn Kelley isn’t 100 percent; Andy Pettitte is gutting his way through. If they’re in it in the last week, will there be any gas left in their collective tanks?

Cleveland Indians

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 6.5 games, American League Central; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 4 games at White Sox; 3 games at Royals; 4 games vs. Astros; 2 games vs. White Sox; 4 games at Twins

The White Sox are playing about as badly as the Astros without the excuse of lack of talent/innocent youth. They just don’t seem to care. The Indians’ schedule pretty much guarantees they’ll at least be alive in the last week of the season.

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Fourth Place by 11 games, American League East; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games at Red Sox; 4 games at Rays; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Red Sox

The Red Sox are taking great, sadistic pleasure in hampering the playoff hopes of anyone and everyone and have shown no preference in who they’re beating on. This will hurt and/or help the Orioles. The big games to watch are those four with the Rays.

Kansas City Royals

Record: 77-69; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 7 games, American League Central; 2 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 3 games at Tigers; 3 games vs. Indians; 3 games vs. Rangers; 3 games at Mariners; 4 games at White Sox

I’d like to see the Royals make the playoffs because: A) they’re a likable young team; B) we need some new blood in the post-season; and B) the likes of Rany Jazayerli, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan and the rest of the stat-obsessed “experts” who live to bash the Royals will either have to admit they’re wrong (unlikely) or will join together to play a disturbing game of middle-aged men Twister (hopefully clothed) to justify why they were “right” even though Dayton Moore’s moves worked and the Royals leapt into contention and more.

It will be nice having an experienced arm like James Shields for a one-game Wild Card playoff or for the first game of the ALDS. I have a feeling about the Royals making the playoffs. And it’s gonna be funny.




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

Belichick Won’t Be Blamed For Hernandez’s Mess

College Football, Draft, Football, Free Agents, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, NFL, Players, Playoffs, Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//

Passionless Managing, Numbers Crunching and Outsiders

Ballparks, Books, CBA, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, NFL, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

The new managerial template of eschewing experienced minor league managers or veteran big league managers and bringing in the likes of Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura has developed into a two-way street. Teams are making the hires and the managers aren’t fully invested in doing the job, putting forth an almost blasé sense of, “Oh, I’ll manage the team if that’s what your really want me to do until something better comes along.”

According to Matheny’s own account during the revelation of his financial issues, he had no intention of returning to the dugout if he didn’t have to find work. Intentional or not, Matheny saying that he wouldn’t be managing had he not lost all his money in real estate came across as arrogant and condescending. Considering that everything the Cardinals accomplished last season had more to do with the foundation left by Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan than with Matheny, it’s not the right attitude to have.

In a similar vein, Ventura turned down a contract extension because he wasn’t sure how long he wanted to manage. For a lifer such as Jim Leyland and Terry Francona, this would be totally foreign tack for a relatively young man such as the 45-year-old Ventura. Lifers manage, of course, for the money. They also love the competition and, in spite of the success they’ve had, there’s a certain amount of insecurity that comes from the journeyman way they were reared in baseball. Leyland rode minor league buses forever as a player and manager, got his chance as a coach with LaRussa, then began his long ride between Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado. He spent several years as a semi-retired adviser/observer insisting he was done managing, then returned to take over the Tigers in 2006 and has been there ever since. With all he’s accomplished and his resume, there’s still regular talk that his job is on the line.

Francona is fending off the perception that his two championships managing the Red Sox were a byproduct of the organization and he was an on-field functionary. As was detailed in his new book (my review is here), the reputation-bashing he endured when he left Boston was such that it could have festered into him becoming toxic to other clubs. I believe he took the Indians job in large part to put that talk to rest.

Both Matheny and Ventura were old-school as players, but this new school of managing is something that front office people have to decide is worth it.

The tree of coaches and managers has branches that sometimes grow in strange ways. In football, Bill Parcells was known as much for his brilliance as his constant vacillation, threats of retirement and resignations only to rise again in a different location. Two of his most successful assistants—Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin—have been on the sidelines constantly without needing a break due to burnout, failing health or exhaustion. Some clubs prefer short-term contracts with their managers and coaches and can live with not knowing one day to the next whether they’re going to stay or go. Others want a full commitment. I believe it helps the organization to have a coach/manager who wants to be there and has a passion for doing the job.

Passion. It must be there for long-term success. The job isn’t a hobby or a pleasant and brief diversion like going to the park and having a picnic. As Bill James said in his guest appearance on The Simpsons, “I made baseball as much fun as doing your taxes.” It’s the truth. With the new age people like Jeff Luhnow running the Astros like an ambitious startup, is there a love for the game or is it something they enjoy and see as a challenge, but don’t have a deep wellspring of passion for?

I don’t get the sense of passion from Matheny or Ventura. With Ventura, he’s so laid back that there are times that he looks like he needs to have a mirror placed under his nose to see if he’s still breathing. The White Sox functioned for so long under the volcanic Ozzie Guillen, that they sought someone who wasn’t going to create a crisis every time he opened his mouth. That’s exactly what they—from GM Ken Williams on through the coaches and players—needed. By 2014, Ventura might not have a choice in staying or going if the team looks disinterested and needs a spark.

Some veteran managers use their growing reputations and success to exact some revenge for years of subservience. Joe Torre and Francona took short money contracts to get their opportunities with the Yankees and Red Sox and when the time came to get paid and accumulate say-so as to the construction of their clubs—no rebuilding projects for them anymore—they took them.

We can debate the baseball qualifications and merits of hiring outsiders to work in front offices or run a baseball team. Many of these individuals are people with degrees from impressive universities who never picked up a ball themselves and haven’t the faintest idea about the social hierarchy and nuance necessary to handle a big league clubhouse or put a cohesive club together not just on the field, but off it as well.

Crunching numbers isn’t analysis and is decidedly not all there is to running a baseball team, nor the final word in determining the future. This is how we end up with the Pirates’ assistant Kyle Stark living out his tough guy fantasies by entreating his minor league players to follow Navy SEALs training techniques and telling them to think like a Hell’s Angel without understanding what that truly entails. It’s how insecure “analysts” such as Keith Law continually try to find excuses for the Orioles’ success in 2012 and why he and other “experts” were “right” in spirit about them having a prototypically terrible Orioles year, but the Orioles made up for their lack of talent with luck. Rather than simply enjoying an unexpected rise for a historic franchise as a baseball fan would, it turns into an egocentric treatise to bolster one’s own credentials and dissect why it’s not “real.” Is it necessary to find a “why” to justify the Orioles being lucky complete with turning one’s nose up in a pompous, snobby, sighing and eye-rolling dismissiveness?

Matheny and Ventura are running toward the mistaken path that other coaches and managers have taken in assuming that because they did what can be perceived as a good job, that they’ll always have another opportunity to manage if they need it. It’s not the case. The attitude of “I’m doing you a favor by being here” only lasts for so long. Perhaps Ventura doesn’t need to manage or to have the job, but with Matheny’s financial plight now known, he does need the job, making that attitude worse.

As Parcells repeatedly showed, it’s a tradeoff to take his ambiguity from one year to the next to have his coaching expertise. With Ventura and Matheny, it can be seen as an advantage to have a replaceable overseer rather than a difficult and well-compensated manager with a track record like LaRussa. Whether they realize that it won’t cost much to fire them is the question. Maybe Matheny will think about that if the transition from the veterans that performed under LaRussa and maintained that performance under Matheny evolves into youngsters who must to be nurtured and guided with strategies a legitimate manager must impart. His strategic work was wanting in 2012 even though the Cardinals made it to game 7 of the NLCS. If it becomes clear that the Cardinals don’t need him, that flippancy will dissolve, but it might be too late. Front offices will tolerate it while it’s working. When it’s not, they won’t. It could come back to haunt them. When they realize the job wasn’t such a bad deal after all, it will no longer be theirs to keep at their discretion.

//

Yankees Belt-Tightening, Part I—A Cranky Fanbase Grows Crankier

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, NFL, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

To gauge the short-term, “what have you done for me lately,” nature of sports fandom, you need only look at the absurd demands of fans of the New York Giants football team calling for the firing of coach Tom Coughlin and replacing quarterback Eli Manning less than eleven months after they won their second Super Bowl with Coughlin and Manning. Not only have they won two Super Bowls, but in both games they beat the Patriots with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, supposedly the best quarterback/coach combination since the 49ers had Joe Montana and Bill Walsh.

But the Giants are 8-7 and suffering through a second half slump that has left them on the outside looking in at a playoff spot, needing a win on Sunday against the Eagles and significant help from other teams to squeak into the playoffs. It has also put Coughlin and Manning in the crosshairs of angry fans’ venting.

Of course they’re greedy, but what’s happening now with the Giants pales in comparison to what’s going to happen with the Yankees in 2013 if their ancient veterans aren’t able to conjure one last run and make the playoffs with a legitimate chance at a World Series win. The same fanbase that booed Derek Jeter and referred to him as “Captain Double Play” among other, worse epithets, now reacts like a mother bear when one of her cubs is in danger should anyone say one negative word about Jeter, even if it’s true. His performance since he notched his 3000th hit has been a renaissance to the player he was a decade ago; that’s why he’s back to “untouchable” status.

It’s a fleeting loyalty especially with the nouveau Yankees fan who began rooting for the team at some point between their 1996 World Series win and their 1998 114 win claim to being one of the best teams in history. Like the newly rich, there’s a gaucheness combined with a lack of comprehension as to the reality of how difficult it is to win and maintain as the Yankees have. They want the team to just “buy stuff” and fill the house with gaudy showpieces and expect to find themselves admired and respected for their taste. But it’s not taste to buy a Picasso just because it’s a Picasso. It helps to understand the significance of the piece and it doesn’t have to be expensive to be of value. The same holds true with players. Fans wanted the Yankees to buy the most expensive pieces on the market and since 2000, that’s what they’ve done to maintain this level of play. Their cohesiveness and home built charm has suffered as they transformed into little more than a band of mercenaries without the on-field camaraderie that was a subtle and imperative portion of the four championships between 1996 and 2000. The pieces that once fit together no longer do.

What happened with the Yankees and Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Joe Torre and the other foundational members of the dynasty is an extreme rarity. A club showing the ability to make it through three rounds of short-series playoffs and win a championship is far more difficult to accomplish than it was when the Yankees were seemingly in the World Series every year from the 1920s to the 1960s.

That dynasty came undone as the stars got old and weren’t replaced. The draft had been implemented and the Yankees were unfamiliar with having to wait their turn and battle with other clubs for the right to get players—no longer could they offer the most money in a bonus for a kid who wanted to join them because of Mickey Mantle and that they won every year.

They were a dilapidated afterthought from 1966 through 1976 when they made it back to the Fall Classic and that was three years after George Steinbrenner purchased the team and set about doing what it was the Yankees always did—spend money and demand results now. Sometimes it worked and sometimes Steinbrenner’s immediate success of returning the club to its prior glory within 5 years after buying it set them on the path they took in the 1980s with dysfunction, rampant managerial and front office changes, money spent on trash and an eventual decline to last place. It was when Steinbrenner was suspended that Gene Michael and Buck Showalter were able to rebuild, develop, keep their youngsters and do something novel in Yankeeland: let the young players play for the Yankees.

It worked.

Success demanded more success, however, and any thought of stepping back and shunning the biggest free agent names/trade targets was dismissed out of hand. Money spent can’t guarantee a championship and the Yankees have won one since 2000. It’s the way the game is played now. It takes a certain amount of good fortune to win multiple titles in a short timeframe. The San Francisco Giants are considered something of a dynasty now with two titles in three years, but that too was circumstantial rather than the result of a new template or dominance.

The Yankees’ situation is different. Faced with the demands of a fanbase that doesn’t accept anything short of a World Series forces decisions that wouldn’t normally be made. When they tried to scale back on paying ludicrous amounts of money for other team’s stars by building their own pitchers Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, they were rewarded with a missed playoff spot in 2008 and their strange and paranoid restrictions on the above pitchers resulted in all being disappointments.

They responded by reversion to what was with big free agent signings of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. That worked in 2009 as they won the World Series, but the contracts were expensive and long-term. Burnett in particular was dumped after he pitched as he has in his entire career with customary mediocrity sprinkled in with flashes of teasing brilliance. The Yankees were somehow surprised by this. The belief that by sheer act of a player putting on a Yankees uniform, he’ll somehow evolve into something different than what he is has doomed the club before.

Teixeira is declining; Sabathia has a lot of wear on his tires at age 32 and is signed through 2016. That’s before getting to the other contracts such as that of Alex Rodriguez along with this new austerity that has culminated in a strange and unusual off-season for the 21st Century Yankees.

//

Did The Dolphins Sign Ochocinco For Hard Knocks?

Books, College Football, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, NFL, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects

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

But it wasn’t to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//

The Tim Tebow Press Orgy

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, College Football, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, NFL, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Mike Francesa is the same person who relentlessly defended a ridiculous Bill Parcells decision to have Leon Johnson throw an option pass that was intercepted in the final game of the 1997 season to cost the Jets a playoff spot.

It was in that same game that Parcells did with Neil O’Donnell and Ray Lucas what the Jets are planning to do with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow by interchanging them based on the situation. Then came that idiotic option pass that was picked off.

You can read the game recap here on NYTimes.com from 12/22/1997 and see the boxscore here on Pro-Football Reference.

In the tone of an exasperated defense attorney/advocate, Francesa twisted himself into a pretzel (no small feat) to justify the Parcells decisions with: “He (Parcells) tried something and it didn’t work.”

If anyone else had done that, what would Francesa have said?

The Jets-Lions game was, for all intents and purposes, a playoff game for the Jets and Parcells botched it.

What if it were Rich Kotite? Ray Handley? Barry Switzer? Rex Ryan?

Francesa would’ve spent a month on the subject.

But it wasn’t any of those coaches. It was Parcells and objective reality was of no consequence and non-existent.

His criticisms of the current Jets have been valid, but there’s not even a hint of evenhandedness because: A) he dislikes the organization, its members and how they run things; and B) extended Jets rants help his flagging ratings.

Now it’s Tebow and the press conference that has drawn his ire.

But Tebow’s no ordinary backup.

The press conference was necessary and Tebow handled himself brilliantly.

In baseball, if you want attention you mention Tim Lincecum, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper or Alex Rodriguez; in basketball you mention Jeremy Lin; in football, you mention Tim Tebow.

Were the Jets not supposed to have a press conference?

This typhoon of lunacy is taking over the entire sports world and it doesn’t matter whether Tebow warrants the coverage or is talented enough to be accumulating this amount of press. It’s not about ability in the fame game, it’s about interest. Tebow generates interest and as long as the webhits and ratings come in when he’s the subject of the story, he’ll continue to be the subject of the story.

It’s a media firestorm with segments saying he can’t play; others saying he can. The Jets are being called a laughingstock that continually undermines their starting quarterbacks with desperation. The have a loundmouthed coach; an overmatched GM; and a meddlesome, starstruck, rich kid owner.

Bear in mind that Francesa also regularly defends Jim Dolan. Think about that.

The Jets were savaged for turning their back-to-back appearances (and losses) in AFC Championship Games as validation for their template “working”. It was that success that led to the perception that they were knocking at the door to something special and it was only a matter of time before they kicked it down. That, in part, was what gave Rex Ryan the basis to make his outrageous Super Bowl predictions. He probably would’ve made the same predictions anyway, but that’s irrelevant to the suggestion that because Sanchez won four road playoff games that the Jets shouldn’t have acquired Tebow.

Francesa referred to Tebow as a “competitive assassin” who’s going to want the starting job.

Isn’t that a good thing?

Or is Sanchez’s confidence so demolished that he has to have a clipboard backup who doesn’t want to play for his own ego not to be shattered?

The days of a quarterback being ensconced in his position because of his draft status, name recognition and fleeting success ended 20 years ago. Go up and down the league and find one that’s irreplaceable. Even the Patriots went 11-5 when Tom Brady was lost for the season and they did it with Matt Cassel who didn’t even start in college.

Increasingly, it’s become a system game. Would Joe Montana have become Joe Montana without Bill Walsh?

Tebow needs his Walsh and he needs an opportunity. If it’s not going to be given to him because of his Heisman Trophy and draft status, then he’s clearly going to try and take it.

This should be appreciated and not ridiculed.

No, Tebow currently can’t run a system, but he can do two things well: he can throw the deep ball and he can run. Is that not of any use? When he comes into the game, doesn’t the opposing defense have to prepare for a bomb or some gadget running play? Wouldn’t that make a mess of their defense? And wouldn’t a defensive whiz like Ryan know how hard that is to counteract?

There are armchair GMs, experts, draftniks and capologists on social media and the sports networks opining about every sport. Their opinions are given weight—without accountability— and it’s degenerated into a zero sum game. No matter what the Jets did with Tebow, it would’ve been wrong.

If they didn’t make a move to get him, a segment of the gallery would’ve wondered why.

If they didn’t have a press conference, the media would’ve screamed and shouted that they needed to talk to Tebow.

If the Jets moved forward with Sanchez and he struggled, it wouldn’t matter who the backup was, the fans would’ve called for the backup to get a chance to play.

The Patriots were supposedly considering drafting Tebow and might’ve had interest in him had the Jets and Jaguars not been after him—would that have been a “stupid” move by a “clown” organization? Or would it have been more geniusy geniusness from Bill Belichick for thinking outside the box?

Tebow wouldn’t have been a threat to Tom Brady because he’s Tom Brady.

He’s a threat to Mark Sanchez because he’s Mark Sanchez.

If they don’t want to have a controversy, then Sanchez has to perform.

They didn’t give up much to get Tebow; he’s garnering interest; they’re selling merchandise; and I’m not prepared to say that it’s not going to work because I don’t know. And nor do you.

He’s a backup to Sanchez—a player whom the fans don’t particularly like and is making his name on four road wins in the playoffs. It’s not an unimpeachable megastar that Tebow is competing with and he’s right to think he’s got a shot at the full-time job because Sanchez has never given anyone reason to think otherwise apart from draft status and some negligible success. If he can’t deal with this, then it’s on him and the Jets would probably have to go out and get someone else anyway. Maybe a little of what Tebow has can rub off on Sanchez or at least get him to work harder. There’s nothing wrong with that.

//

2012 Starts Now For The Blue Jays

All Star Game, Books, College Football, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors

The Blue Jays can and will contend for a playoff spot in 2012 if they make smart personnel decisions this winter.

Here’s what they have to do:

Get a legitimate closer.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is notoriously close-to-the-vest in how he runs his team; there’s no ironclad “strategy” of using stats or scouting; he doesn’t betray his hand and acts stealthily and aggressively in making his moves.

He may or may not care what’s said about him, but he doesn’t allow it to interfere with what he does.

This past winter, Anthopoulos signed two former closers in Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch; he also traded for Frank Francisco.

In the logistical sense, they were all interchangeable and were signed to short-term deals to preclude widespread complaining about not being the closer. But if the Blue Jays want to be taken seriously next season, they have to get someone better and more trustworthy than Rauch or Francisco. (Dotel was traded to the Cardinals at the end of July.)

The market will be flush with established closers via free agency and trade. Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon (who worked with Blue Jays manager John Farrell with the Red Sox) and Ryan Madson are all free agents or potential free agents. Jonathan Broxton is a probable non-tender; and Joakim Soria is a trade candidate.

All are worthy of consideration and are better than Rauch/Francisco.

Find a veteran anchor for the starting rotation.

The Blue Jays let a future Cy Young Award winner get away.

No. I’m not talking about Roy Halladay. I’m talking about Chris Carpenter.

To be fair, when the Blue Jays non-tendered Carpenter under J.P. Ricciardi’s regime, Carpenter was injured and hadn’t been particularly effective; the talent that made him a 1st round draft choice wasn’t going to be fulfilled until he was streamlined—mentally, mechanically and physically—under Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan with the Cardinals. The Blue Jays wanted to bring him back for less money, but he smartly went to the Cardinals, rehabbed his injury for a year and became a star when he got healthy.

Carpenter has a $15 million option for 2012, but he’s a 10-and-5 player so he can veto any trade; for him to waive it, the trading team would presumably have to give him a contract extension.

The Cardinals are in major flux, but if they’re looking for salary relief and want to bolster a sagging farm system, they could exercise the option rather than pay Carpenter’s $1 million buyout and trade him. This would all have to be done within a rapid series of maneuvers to make it work.

Shedding that $15 million and trading him would give the Cardinals room to re-sign Albert Pujols; re-signing Pujols might be the key to LaRussa coming back for another year; Adam Wainwright will be back next season and they could bring back Joel Pineiro to fill Carpenter’s slot and hope reuniting with Duncan will return Pineiro to his Cardinals form.

The Blue Jays have prospects to trade.

Carpenter leading a rotation with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek would be superior to most of baseball if the younger pitchers fulfill their potential; Carpenter could teach them how.

Be flexible and think outside-the-box.

They don’t have the cash to go after Jose Reyes and they signed Yunel Escobar to a contract extension; but Brett Lawrie‘s ability to play third and second base allows the Blue Jays to go after a David Wright.

The recently acquired Kelly Johnson is a free agent, but if they offer him arbitration he’d probably take it. An infield of Adam Lind, Johnson, Escobar and Lawrie can mash—whether it’d be adequate defensively for the pitching staff would have to be determined.

The Mets probably aren’t going to trade Wright, but the Blue Jays have a lot of young pitching and outfield bats. Anthopoulos thinks outside-the-box and goes after players who “probably aren’t” getting traded. Sometimes the players who “probably aren’t” getting traded do get traded and extract a major chunk of a trading team’s farm system. (See Ubaldo Jimenez.)

Alter the strategy on the bases and with the lineup.

The Blue Jays run the bases with abandon. If they’re doing it at the bottom of the lineup to try and make something happen, it’s an arguable premise; doing it in front of a basher like Jose Bautista is a mistake.

Without doing any deep statistical research into the matter, there’s no excuse for Bautista to have 37 homers and only 83 RBI.

Before Corey Patterson was traded, he was batting in front of Bautista for much of the season; Patterson steals bases, but has a woeful on base percentage. Escobar also batted in front of Bautista and gets on base at a good clip. Since his arrival, Colby Rasmus has been batting second with Bautista third.

A better plan would be batting Bautista fourth and having Escobar lead off; Johnson would bat second; Lawrie third; and Rasmus and Lind behind Bautista.

The haphazard stolen bases also have to stop.

Temper expectations and idol worship.

There was recent talk of Anthopoulos being a “genius”.

Yah. Well. Billy Beane was a genius once too. So was Theo Epstein. So was Jack Zduriencik.

Are you getting my point?

Listening to sports talk radio on Friday, Jim Mora Jr. was being interviewed about the upcoming NFL season and he subtly hit back at the notion of Patriots coach Bill Belichick being a “genius” saying something to the tune of, “he’s a good football coach; a genius is someone who comes up with life-saving vaccines”.

He’s right.

The Blue Jays have been built the right way so far, but expectations and idolatry have doomed even the smartest people with the most coherent and logical plans.

They’re in a great position now to take the next step, but keeping from doing something stupid isn’t as easy as it sounds.

If they follow some incarnation of the plan I laid out (or something similar), they could be a playoff team in 2012.

If….

//