The Costas Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


David Ortiz’s Response to Bobby Valentine

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Bobby Valentine must’ve experienced culture shock and felt lonely on the moral high ground. He’s never been there before.

During his barnburning tour after being fired by the Red Sox, Valentine unloaded on the deserved—bench coach Tim Bogar and the interfering and unsupportive front office; and the undeserved—Red Sox DH David Ortiz. After Valentine’s interview with Bob Costas on Costas Now (I discussed it here), Ortiz stayed quiet when Valentine accused him of quitting on the season. Clearly the slugger was waiting until his contract extension with the Red Sox had been completed before replying. As opposed to Valentine, Ortiz is a better cultivator of his image and able to show discipline. He would’ve loved to retort immediately, but didn’t.

You can read Ortiz’s comments here on

Valentine is incapable of functioning as a sympathetic figure. From the time he took the Red Sox job, he was in a dreadful position in part because of his reputation and in part because of the Red Sox disarray. They never gave him a chance; the team was badly overrated at the start; and the season came ended inevitably with the club 69-93 season and in last place. Whether Valentine was the manager or not, this result was unavoidable. He would’ve gotten a pass from baseball people who still respected his experience and savvy and possibly gotten another chance. Maybe.

But in true Bobby V style, he thoughtlessly chose to validate why many of the players didn’t trust him and tried to get him fired by taking one player who did give him a chance and impugning his character and professionalism.

Was Ortiz concerned about his contract? Knowing he’s been going year-to-year and wouldn’t get more money on the market than he would from the Red Sox, did he want to avoid giving them a reason to tell him to take a hike by showing loyalty with the manager they airdropped onto their sinking ship? Of course. Ortiz has been far more intense, cognizant of his image and invested in himself than the affable face he presents to the public would suggest. That competitiveness is a significant part of why he was able to transform from the player the Twins didn’t give a real opportunity to play every day and released into the basher he’s been with the Red Sox. In the Reggie Jackson tradition, he’s a recognizable star simply by uttering his nickname, Big Papi, because of the big hits he’s accrued and that personality.

Whatever the reason—selfish or not—Ortiz supported Valentine. This multiplies what Valentine did as wrong and is fully in line with the Valentine method of detonating a bridge as soon as he finishes crosses it. If he had any shot of managing in the big leagues again, it likely disappeared as soon as the ill-advised comments about Ortiz came out of his mouth because he’s not worth the aggravation, mutiny and fallout.


Bobby Valentine and Causes of Failure

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The one thing we can take from Bobby Valentine’s interview with Bob Costas from Tuesday on Costas Tonight is that Valentine was set up for failure, so no one should be surprised that he failed.

No one.

From day 1 it was known that the new GM Ben Cherington didn’t want Valentine. It was known that the reputation Valentine carted around with him wasn’t going to let the players give him a chance. It was known that the Red Sox, having collapsed in September of 2011 amid a lack of discipline, disinterest, and lack of cohesion, were on the downslide. How this was going to end was relatively predictable in that it wasn’t going to succeed, but I doubt anyone could have envisioned the Red Sox cleaning out the house of Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez—not because they wanted to keep them, but because no one was expected to take them.

Let’s look at the Bobby V statements and implications (paraphrased) and judge them on their merits.

He yelled at Mike Aviles in spring training.

In retrospect, it was called an “ugly” scene, but it sounds like Valentine was speaking loudly and telling the players how he wanted an infield drill handled—directed at Aviles, but for all of them to hear—and the players, accustomed to Terry Francona’s laissez faire attitude and already waiting for something to attack Valentine about, seized on it as a “here we go,” moment.

And if he did yell at Aviles, so what? Is the manager not allowed to yell at the players anymore without having other players come into his office to whine about it? The purpose of bringing in a more disciplined manager is so he can instill discipline that was missing; discipline that was a proximate cause of the downfall of the club in 2011.

Cause of failure: Valentine tried to discipline the players as a manager and they refused to be disciplined.

The coaches undermined Valentine.

I find it at best bizarre and at worst despicable that the Red Sox are allowing new manager John Farrell to have significant say-so in the constitution of his coaching staff and didn’t let Valentine pick the people on his staff.

In the Costas interview, Valentine said the coaches have to speak the manager’s language, but if the coaches—specifically bench coach Tim Bogar and pitching coach Bob McClure—barely knew Valentine and didn’t speak to him (or he to them), then how was it supposed to be functional?

The contentiousness between the manager and his coaches permeated the clubhouse. McClure didn’t want to make the pitching changes as Valentine prefers his pitching coaches to do and from the start, that was a bad sign of what was to come. Bogar sounds as if he was rolling his eyes and shaking his head behind Valentine’s back from the beginning.

Valentine has something Farrell doesn’t: managerial success in the big leagues. So why is Farrell receiving the courtesy that Valentine didn’t unless Cherington was waiting out the inevitable disaster of Valentine’s tenure knowing his contrariness in the hiring would make him essentially bulletproof if events transpired as they did in the worst case scenario?

Farrell’s qualifications as Red Sox manager are basically that he was the Red Sox pitching coach during their glory years, knows how things are done, isn’t Valentine, and the players like him. If a club was looking at the work Farrell did with the Blue Jays as manager as an individual entity, they would look elsewhere before hiring him and they certainly wouldn’t give up a useful player like Aviles to get him.

Cause of failure: They hired Valentine and handcuffed him.

Management was spying and suffocating.

In the Costas interview, Valentine said that he never received a series of binders (possibly a veiled shot at Joe Girardi) or stat sheets telling him what to do, but that there was one of Cherington’s assistants in the manager’s office before and after every game.

Not even in Moneyball, amid the ridiculous characterization of then-Athletics’ manager Art Howe as a hapless buffoon, was it written that a front office person was in Howe’s office to that degree. One of the issues Valentine had with Mets’ GM Steve Phillips during his tenure in New York was that Phillips was constantly huddling with leaders in the clubhouse like Al Leiter after games; he was also said to stalk around with a grumpy look on his face in what appeared to be an act of an upset GM following a loss.

After the lack of involvement in Valentine picking his coaches; the Aviles incident; the uproar over Valentine’s mostly innocuous comments about Youkilis early in the season; and the front office spying, Valentine should have gone to Larry Lucchino and asked if they wanted him to manage the team or not. The claustrophobic situation of a front office person loitering so constantly in the manager’s office exponentially adds to the stress of a long season. No one—especially someone with Valentine’s experience—needs to have this level of scrutiny from the people he’s working with.

Cause of failure: The factional disputes permeated the running of the club and that segments wanted and expedited Valentine’s downfall.

David Ortiz quit.

Only Ortiz knows if this is true. Valentine would probably have been better off not saying that Ortiz quit because if there’s a chance for him to manage again—and there is—he doesn’t need another, “Well, why’d you say this?” soundbite hanging over his head.

There’s an indignant reaction if it’s implied that the players went through the motions or decided to use an injury to spend time on the disabled list rather than play when they could have. Ortiz had had a brilliant season until he got injured and, with the season spiraling down the toilet and the looming probability of this being his final chance to get paid as a free agent, Ortiz might very well have chosen to shut it down.

What’s ironic about it is that Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia seemed to be two of the few veterans who gave Valentine a chance when the manager was hired, but in true Bobby V fashion, he’s detonating the bridge.

Players think about themselves more often than is realized. It’s easier in baseball than it is in other team sports because in football, basketball, and hockey, no individual can function without the group. In baseball, it’s an individual sport in a team concept. It’s not farfetched that Ortiz just sat out the rest of the season when, if the Red Sox were contending, he would’ve played. Ortiz, Valentine, the Red Sox, and their medical staff know what really happened here. True or not, Valentine shouldn’t have said this.

Cause of failure: Reality that’s generally swept under the rug.

The Valentine hire was a disaster in large part because the Red Sox made it a disaster. That’s not an exoneration of Valentine because a he deserves a large share of the blame, but it wasn’t going to work. It was never going to work. And the small chance it did have of working would’ve included making the drastic trades they made in-season before the season; letting Valentine have a voice in the constitution of his coaching staff; and allowing him to do the job he was hired to do.

None of that happened and these are the results we see. Let’s wait and watch if Farrell does any better, because if he doesn’t then Cherington will learn what it’s like to live in the shoes Valentine did for a miserable year of his life. These things have a habit of solving themselves.


How About A Reunion Of Scully And Garagiola?

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Watching the Braves-Diamondbacks game this afternoon I heard the familiar voice of Joe Garagiola working as a D-Backs analyst.

It brought me back to the days of the 1980s when it was unheard of to watch out-of-market games by the click of a button. If you wanted to hear clubs from outside your area (mine being New York), you had to fiddle around on your radio from various locations around the house and hope to pick up what was ostensibly a foreign signal that might as well have been coming from Nigeria rather than Philadelphia or Baltimore.

As a kid it was a thrill to go on road trips with my parents and stay in a hotel with cable. Having cable generally meant we’d have 18 channels rather than the usual 10.

One of those channels was Ted Turner’s TBS Superstation Channel 17 and we’d be able to watch the Braves. It was like going into space. “Why is Gilligan’s Island on at 3:05 and not 3:00?”

Apart from that? Nothing.

Nothing except the NBC Game of the Week and ABC’s Monday Night Baseball.

Monday Night Baseball had Howard Cosell whose baseball knowledge was highly limited and superseded further by the insinuation of his enormous ego on Al Michaels’s play-by-play.

The NBC Game of the Week generally featured Tony Kubek and Bob Costas or Vin Scully and Garagiola.

Hearing Garagiola’s voice this afternoon and with Scully having missed the opening of the Dodgers’ season because of a bad cold has added a sense of urgency to listen to the two Hall of Famers broadcast together for what might be the last time in both their careers.

The Dodgers and Diamondbacks should, at some point this season, stage a joint promotion to have Scully and Garagiola broadcast one entire game together. Or two games together, one in Los Angeles and one in Arizona.

Scully is a Dodgers’ icon and is taking it year-to-year as to whether he’ll continue working. He’s the only broadcaster I’m aware of that works alone as the play-by-play man and the analyst; he manages it without his voice growing tedious.

Scully is 84; Garagiola is 86; but when two people worked together for so long and did it so well, the chemistry, banter and camaraderie would return relatively quickly.

And if it doesn’t, so what?

It’d be great to hear them work together again, especially for people who remember them as part of their youth; it would be an opportunity to reminisce about a time when there wasn’t an inundation of self-proclaimed baseball experts on multiple outlets sabotaging our enjoyment with technical and pompous droning of numbers and condescending criticisms sapping the simplicity from the game itself—simplicity that might’ve attracted us to it in the first place.

Scully and Garagiola never did that and a reunion would be a terrific baseball moment for two Hall of Famers who made their names as part of a classic unit.