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.

//

Mike Francesa’s Rant Against Twitter (With Video)

All Star Game, Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, NFL, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Podcasts, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Mike Francesa went on a semi-rant about Twitter a few days ago. The clip is below. In short, he’s against the concept.

Given the amount of ridicule Francesa receives on social media and that Twitter is specifically built for the quick witticism and has limited oversight, it’s understandable that he wouldn’t want to partake and, as he put it, wishes it never happened.

Francesa, like most old-school guys would prefer to go back to the late-1950s and a Pax Americana (basically peace on American terms in a Superman “truth, justice and the American way” concept). He openly pines for the long-lost hero of his youth, Mickey Mantle; reminisces about the days in which pitchers would throw at hitters’ heads; and wants reinstitution of the walls that separated people in sports from the common masses.

Part of it is absolute nostalgia and part of it is the marginalization of those who do what he does. Sports commentary was far easier on the commentator in the days of Dick Young, Jimmy Cannon and Tim Cohane when their views were in the newspaper and there were no 24-hour sports talk stations; no ESPN; no MLB package where every game could be watched; and the viewer wasn’t relying on the recaps of the writers and play-by-play of the broadcasters to know what was happening.

Obviously it makes his job harder when he says something totally ignorant like “I don’t know how much Andrew McCutchen is gonna hit” as if McCutchen is a sprinter placed in a uniform as Renaldo Nehemiah was by Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers. The more the listener knows, the harder a Francesa-type has to work to make sure he’s being factual or, at least, logical.

On some level, I empathize with Francesa. For him to have worked his way up to where he is now—and he did work hard to get where he is now, like him or not—it must be draining to have to interact with people who’ve never picked up a baseball and decided that reading a stat sheet and understanding basic concepts of sabermetrics made them a baseball “expert”.

But he also has to realize that he’s benefited from this new technology. Francesa is known worldwide because of the YES Network simulcast; because of the ability to listen to his show via the web; because of social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and yes, Twitter.

Like anything else, it has its drawbacks but there’s nothing that can be done to stop it and complaining about it because of the negatives doesn’t make it worthless. You get out what you put in. Short-term attention grabs are exactly that: short-term. Working to gain and maintain an audience isn’t about splashy statements that may or may not be true or boring ruminations about one’s day, but about providing interesting content. The new mediums are making Francesa have to work harder. And that might be the underlying problem.

//

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.

//

Let’s Talk Tebow

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

Judging by the reaction, the Jets just signed a Christian missionary who hadn’t played football since high school.

This isn’t the 49ers signing Renaldo Nehemiah and sticking him in a pair of shoulder pads because he could run really, really fast; this is the Jets signing a player who has talent that may not translate directly to playing quarterback in the NFL.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have use on and off the field.

Of course the Jets may be trying to sell tickets and merchandise, but Tebow isn’t a novelty like Eddie Gaedel or a silly freakshow like Michael Jordan deciding to play baseball. He can play. It’s just that his skills translate differently from the classic pocket passer that John Elway was and would clearly prefer as evidenced by his decision to sign Peyton Manning and trade away Tebow.

Is it the joke that the multitude of football experts in the media, on Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else are implying?

No.

Will it work?

Who knows?

Much like the attempts to separate Tebow from his religion and following, you can’t pigeonhole him as anything because he’s many things. To make the statement, “if he were just another everyday football player” is a waste of time and energy. He is what he is with everything—good and bad—that accompanies it. His piety is apparently sincere and fans have taken to him because of that. He’s also an interesting experiment on the field.

The concept that he’s going to make current Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez’s job harder by placing a target on his back from minute one is true, but so what? Sanchez has been inconsistent and if his rumored questionable work habits are accurate, there’s nothing wrong with a little pressure regardless of where it comes from and why. Jets fans are going to be screaming for Tebow not because they think he can play; not because they think the Jets will be better with him than Sanchez; but just to be obnoxious and get a reaction.

It’s not an indictment of Jets’ fans because fans everywhere would do the same thing. Had the Broncos kept Tebow, it would’ve happened with Manning if his recovery didn’t look to be complete and he was playing like it. And that’s Peyton Manning.

That the Jets functioned with backups that were non-threats (and aged Mark Brunell and Kellen Clemens) served to give Sanchez security in his job that he has yet to earn. Joe Montana had Steve Young behind him. The fans called for Young and Bill Walsh benched Montana in favor of Young, inviting Montana’s understated wrath.

It’s the way things are. There’s no loyalty. It’s a business.

Is it a bad move?

Is it a good move?

Depending on whether or not it works, we’ll see.

To think this is a “ridiculous” decision is based on outside interpretation. The Jets supposed failure to read through Tebow’s contract was used as a hammer to beat the organization up, but it appears to have been a misunderstanding and media play on the part of the Broncos.

If the way things were “always done” was the basis of everything that happens in the future, NFL players would be wearing leather helmets and working in sporting goods stores in the off-seasons; there would be no free agency; there wouldn’t have been any black quarterbacks, head coaches or front office people; the forward pass would never have been implemented; and no one would watch the NFL because it’d be too boring and tied to the early part of the 20th Century.

To me there’s nothing wrong with bringing a high-character talent into a lockerroom that had grown toxic. The reasons are irrelevant. Tebow isn’t coming in bible-thumping as his mandate. He’s a football player and should be treated as such.

//