Terry Francona Chooses the Indians—Why?

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Terry Francona could conceivably have had his choice of jobs as the baseball managerial wheel spins. But, shockingly (to me at least), he decided to take over as the manager of the Cleveland Indians on a 4-year contract. The move is being lauded widely, but is it the right one for both sides?

Let’s see what this means for the Indians and Francona and why it might’ve happened.

Francona wants to prove himself

After his tenure in Philadelphia and in the throes of the Moneyball craze in which a manager was seen as little more than a faceless automaton whose prime directive is to follow orders from the front office, Francona took over as the Red Sox manager. He was hired because he was willing to do what he was told; would take short money; was agreeable to the players and especially Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire from the Diamondbacks; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

Even as the Red Sox won their long-elusive championship and another one three years later, there was forever an underlying feeling that Francona—in spite of his likability and deft handling of the media and egos in the Red Sox clubhouse—was along for the ride. Perhaps he’d like to show off his managerial skills in a less financially free situation such as that of the Indians. The Indians have some talent on the big league roster. Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson, and Ubaldo Jimenez are the foundation for a decent club. They should also have some money to spend on mid-level improvements with both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore coming off the books.

In order for a manager to eliminate the perception of what he was in his prior stop, he has to go to a totally different situation. Francona certainly has that with the Indians.

He enjoyed his time with the Indians, has ties to Cleveland, and misses the competition

Francona was a former front office assistant with the Indians and his father Tito Francona was an All-Star player for the Indians in the early-1960s. He knows the front office and there will be a cohesiveness that wasn’t present with the Red Sox. As successful as Francona was in Boston, there was a limit to his sway. With the Indians, his opinions will be heard and he must feel they’ll be adhered to.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. If a club is rebuilding and the manager is trying to justify his reputation, he’s going to want to win. There’s a tug-of-war at play when a manager wants to win and the organization is trying to develop. Francona might not be the same person he was when working for the Indians in his pre-Red Sox days and if the Indians aren’t willing to mortgage the future in a win-now maneuver, there could be unexpected friction.

Being around baseball as a broadcaster isn’t the same as being in the middle of the fight. Francona recharged his batteries, or may think he recharged his batteries after a year away, and wants to jump back into the fray.

He didn’t want to wait and see about other, higher-pressure jobs

The implication of Francona as the prototypical “nice guy” isn’t exactly accurate. He, like Joe Torre, has been a far more calculating presence than his portrayal and persona suggests. He played the martyr following the Red Sox collapse and became a victim to the players’ decision to disrespect him and the front office need to kick someone overboard as a show of “doing something.”

Was he innocent? It’s part of the manager’s job to be hypocritical, but if he was going to get the credit for being laid back when the team was winning and it was okay that the starting pitchers who weren’t working that day were off doing whatever, then he also gets the blame when clubhouse leaks and team fractures result in a disappointing fall. The idea that Francona wasn’t to be held accountable in any way for the Red Sox slide in 2011 (and in 2012 for that matter) is ludicrous. If his calm leadership was credited for them winning in 2004 and 2007, then his porous discipline is part of why they came undone.

Will there be expectations in Cleveland? Based on Francona’s reputation, there will be factions thinking the “proven manager” theory will work. But in the end, it’s about the players. Francona could have sat in the ESPN booth and waited for other jobs with more attractive on-field personnel—the Angels and Tigers specifically—to open. He wants to win, but with the Indians, he won’t get the blame if they don’t.

The Indians presented a plan to spend a bit more freely

As mentioned earlier, the Indians will be free of Hafner’s, Sizemore’s, and Derek Lowe’s paychecks and they may look to trade Choo. That should give them increased flexibility. If I’m Manny Acta, I would be offended if the Indians spend this winter, signing and trading for players who were off-limits due to finances simply because they hired Francona. Acta has been unlucky in his managerial stops. With the Nationals, he oversaw the breaking of the ground in their rebuild and was fired. He got the Indians job and did as much as he could with limited talent and again was fired. It’s a similar situation that we’ve seen with Art Howe and Torre. Howe left the Athletics for the Mets for many reasons. The Mets were going to pay him more than the A’s would have; Mets’ GM Steve Phillips wanted someone he could control better than the fired Bobby Valentine and another candidate Lou Piniella; and he also wanted to prove that his success wasn’t the fluke it was presented as in Moneyball.

Torre was fired by the Cardinals in 1995 and this was well before he became “The Godfather” of baseball and St. Joe—both images promulgated by Torre himself. He was considered a retread who knew how to handle the clubhouse, but wouldn’t do much to help the team one way or the other. If you examine the 1995 Cardinals team that Torre was fired from 47 games into the season, they weren’t very good and didn’t spend any money (20th in payroll that season). They’d allowed Gregg Jefferies, one player who had blossomed under Torre’s gentle hand where he’d failed everywhere else, to depart to the Phillies without replacing him. Back then, Tony LaRussa was viewed as the Mr. Fix-It who could win anywhere by sheer force of will and strategic brilliance. LaRussa was hired as Cardinals’ manager that winter after he left the Athletics as a managerial free agent and, lo and behold, they imported players LaRussa wanted because he had a power that Torre didn’t have and for him to take the job, that guarantee had to be made. A bad team was transformed into a club that lost in game 7 of the NLCS.

Torre, to put it mildly, landed on his feet with the Yankees.

Howe, on the other hand, took over a Mets team in disarray with a power struggle at the top and awkwardly moving on from the late 1990s-2000 years of contention. The 2003-2004 Mets under Howe had a misleadingly high payroll because of prior financial commitments they’d made to declining players. When Omar Minaya took over as GM late in the 2004 season, it was announced that Howe would finish the season and not be retained. The Mets hired an inexperienced Willie Randolph and opened the checkbook in the winter of 2004-2005 spending big money on Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. They finished at 83-79 in 2005 and would’ve finished with pretty much that same record under Howe. An in-demand manager can say what he wants and have it done. A retread can’t. Torre was a retread; Howe was a bystander; with the Phillies, Francona was a shrug. LaRussa was LaRussa and got what he wanted.

Will it work?

In the end, it’s the players. If Francona’s going to succeed in Cleveland, it won’t be through some “magic” that doesn’t exist. His reputation might be conducive to players wanting to go to Cleveland; his laid-back demeanor will be easier for young players to develop without someone screaming or glaring at them; but it won’t be due to the simplistic, “He won with the Red Sox so he’ll win here.” He didn’t win in Philadelphia because the team was bad. Does that factor in? If not, it should.

If the Indians toss the same roster in 2013 as they did in 2012, they’re not going to be all that much better under Francona than they were under Acta and Sandy Alomar Jr.

If that’s the case, then Francona wouldn’t have taken the job. The “name” manager gets his way, justified or not. If it fails or succeeds, we’ll know why.

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Blame for Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox Failure Extends Worldwide

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Bobby Valentine was fired as manager by the Boston Red Sox yesterday with approximately $2.5 million remaining on his 2-year contract. He’s taking the fall for what wasn’t simply an organizational set of problems, but for issues that extended far beyond Boston and were negatively influenced by people, perceptions, and circumstances. Valentine certainly bears a portion of the responsibility for what went wrong in his dream job that rapidly—immediately–degenerated into a nightmare, but there’s plenty to go around.

Let’s look at the map with percentages as to who’s at fault.

Boston, MA

The Red Sox were in total disarray after their collapse in September of 2011. Manager Terry Francona’s contract options were not exercised (technically he wasn’t fired, but he was fired); GM Theo Epstein left for the Cubs shortly thereafter; and the roster was essentially stagnant with owner John Henry slamming shut the vault that had bought and paid for Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

They had a choice: either hire one of the names that GM Ben Cherington preferred like Gene Lamont or Dale Sveum, or do as team CEO Larry Lucchino wanted and hire the polar opposite of Francona and a big name, Valentine. Lucchino was reestablishing his power with the departure of Epstein and, as expected, got his way. This implication that had the Red Sox hired one of Cherington’s choices as manager, everything would’ve been okay, is ridiculous. The team needed structural changes on the field—changes they didn’t make. Such maneuvers would’ve been nearly impossible to construct with other clubs and sell to their fanbase and media, but they could’ve done something to break from the past by dispatching a veteran or three.

I understand why they did what they did with Valentine, but do they? Are they willing to admit it and look into the mirror? Does the Red Sox front office know what they did wrong and why it didn’t work? That it was a huge gaffe to drop Valentine into that toxic stew without altering the ingredients by getting rid of Josh Beckett over the winter? That saddling Valentine with coaches that were a sure bet to undermine him would serve nothing apart from giving the players a sympathetic ear to complain to and the media an “unnamed source” through whom the players could anonymously air their gripes? That these coaches would play clubhouse politics to expand their own influence and possibly become the manager of the team themselves?

The transformation from intelligent and comprehensive decision-making that was implemented under Epstein was gone in favor of spending on free agents and making headline-worthy trades for big names to keep up with the Yankees.

After the 2011 debacle, rather than formulating a cogent plan that may or may not have included Valentine, everyone was looking out for himself. Lucchino with his freedom from Epstein to do what he preferred and have the world know he was in charge again; Cherington going along to get along and letting Lucchino have his way; Valentine for not making sure he wasn’t surrounded by a pack of Judases; and the players for behaving as spoiled, entitled brats.

35% at fault

Arizona

I’m sure Francona, observing the Red Sox train wreck from the ESPN booth and his Arizona home, was amused and satisfied at the 69-93 record and last place in the American League East that the Red Sox “achieved”. Not to imply that Francona wanted the Red Sox to disintegrate as they did, but the implosion somehow validates that the 2011 collapse was not the fault of the former manager when, in part, it was. Francona’s lackadaisical discipline and inability to stop the breakdown of intensity; stem the rise in overwhelming arrogance; and harpoon the sense that because the Red Sox had become such a machine over the years that they were automatically anointed a spot in the post-season, made 2011 inevitable. Francona had been there too long; the team had become complacent under his leadership; and his refusal to appear at the Red Sox 100th anniversary celebration and then decision to show up in a passive-aggressive display of selfishness against Lucchino while he knew the difficulty Valentine was having only exacerbated the situation.

His looming presence as a popular and well-liked person who happened to be in the ESPN broadcasting booth shadowed Valentine and the Red Sox. The idiotic entreaties from the likes of Ken Rosenthal and now others that the Red Sox bring him back are similar to a divorced couple that splits and only remembers the good times and not the reasons they broke up in the first place.

Francona is a good, but not great manager who will do well if he has the players to win. Put him in a rebuilding project such as the Indians and he’ll revert to the, “nice guy, okay enough manager…I guess” individual he was with the Phillies when all he did was lose. He got the Red Sox job because he was willing to take short money for the opportunity, he was agreeable to Curt Schilling whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire, and he would adhere to stat-based principles and do what the front office told him. In short, he was the opposite of Grady Little. The concept that he’s more than that because he was the manager of a loaded Red Sox team is a concocted story that will be proven to be false if he does indeed go to the Indians. (I don’t think he will. He’ll wait out the Tigers/Angels/Dodgers/Diamondbacks jobs.)

12% at fault

Toronto, Canada

The Red Sox are enamored of John Farrell. They wanted him a year ago and didn’t want to surrender what the Blue Jays supposedly asked for (Clay Buchholz) in compensation for their manager. Farrell desperately wants to go back to Boston and he is the next manager of the Red Sox, for better or worse.

That the Blue Jays are willing to let him go to a division rival should be a warning sign to the Red Sox that they may not be getting the problem-solver they’re looking for. Farrell is popular with the players, beloved by the Boston media, and a conduit to the memory of when the Red Sox were a championship team. But, as the Blue Jays and their fans will attest, his in-game managerial skills are lacking and the Blue Jays were an undisciplined and haphazardly run bunch that was expected to be much better than they were in 2012. His longing gaze back at Boston and that Boston was gazing back didn’t help Valentine either.

1% at fault

Chicago, IL

From poor drafts in 2008 and onward, to overpaying for free agents nationally and internationally, the 2012 Red Sox were largely put together by the current president of the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein. Those are the same Cubs that lost 101 games under Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, and the manager that Cherington preferred, Sveum. The Cubs were in need of a total overhaul and that’s what Epstein and his crew are doing, so he can’t be blamed for the monstrosity they were this season, but the 2012 Red Sox are absolutely Epstein’s responsibility. He decided to git while the gittin’ was good, but that doesn’t absolve him of the carnage that his acquisitions, signings, and failure to address lingering issues created.

Also in Chicago was Kevin Youkilis of the White Sox.

One of the seminal moments of Valentine’s downfall in Boston was his innocuous criticism of Youkilis early in the season in which he said he felt that Youkilis’s commitment was lacking. It was amazing how a presence like Youkilis, who had begun to be seen as a problematic clubhouse lawyer and divisive busybody in September of 2011, evolved into a rallying point for the Red Sox veterans to say, “See?!? Valentine’s a jerk!!”

Whatever the catalyst was of Valentine’s criticism and Youkilis’s eventual trade to the White Sox, was Valentine wrong?

The injury-prone Youkilis wasn’t hitting for the Red Sox, they had a replacement at the ready in the younger and cheaper Will Middlebrooks, and after Youkilis joined the White Sox, he was the same inconsistent, limited player he’d become for the Red Sox.

Youkilis was an outlet for strife within the Red Sox roster, but he was one of convenience.

30% at fault

Los Angeles, CA

Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Crawford were traded to the Dodgers in a salary dump that the Red Sox were beyond lucky that they were able to complete. Gonzalez was a bad fit for Boston due to his laid back West Coast personality and desire to be left alone to do his job. As the veteran leaders like David Ortiz got injured and Gonzalez was called to the forefront on and off the field, he was swallowed up, unable to come up with any legitimate, intelligent response as to why the club faltered in 2011 and was coming unglued in 2012 aside from referencing God.

Crawford tried hard, but was hurt. His deployment was a point of contention between Valentine and the front office with the random decision that he would play X number of games and get Y number of games off to account for an elbow that required Tommy John surgery.

Beckett is the epitome of the problem child bully who needed a smack, but no one in Boston willing to give him that smack. The one person that Valentine needed to come to an understanding with was Beckett. Or the Red Sox had to trade Beckett. Neither happened in time to save 2012, and when they finally traded Beckett in August, it was too late to do any good.

Is it fair to blame Beckett for not behaving as a professional and an adult when he’s never done it before in his entire career and it was up to the front office to accept that and get rid of him? Is it fair to blame Gonzalez for not being any more of a leader than he was with the twice-collapsed Padres clubs for whom he was also the centerpiece? Is it fair to blame Crawford because he was hurt?

Not really.

4% at fault

Stamford, CT

After waiting so long to get back into Major League Baseball as a manager, there has to be a sense of embarrassment for Valentine that he got the chance of a lifetime with a team that spends a lot of money and was rife with stars and that he “blew” it.

But did he blow it?

Valentine, being Valentine walked into the job with the knives already out to get him. The perception of him being a loud, arrogant, condescending, abrasive, micromanaging nuisance notwithstanding, it was up to him to get the players to take him at face value based on their dealings with him rather than dredging up old criticisms from those with an axe to grind such as John Franco, his deposed closer with the Mets.

Valentine saw how Francona became lauded and celebrated after breaking the “curse”; that it could have been him who was managing the Red Sox back in 2003 had he been willing to compromise on his principles and tell Lucchino during an informal chat that he disagreed with Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch in that fateful game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. But he refused to criticize Little, wound up in Japan for several years, missed out on the Marlins and Orioles jobs and was left with one final opportunity.

Early in the season, had Valentine been the strategic wizard he was portrayed to be, then it might’ve been okay. But he was rusty having not managed in the big leagues for 10 years and in the American League for 20. In an apropos analogy considering Valentine’s bicycle spill in Central Park during the last series against the Yankees, managing is not like getting on a bicycle. Valentine tried and fell.

Valentine won’t regret taking the job, but he will regret not making a greater effort to get the veterans on his side; on not allowing coaches that he didn’t want and were likely to be undermining influences to be on his staff; and for not making a greater effort to dispel the aura than he carried around with him. Making the effort could have helped. Telling Beckett and others, “Listen, I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories about me. Some are true, some aren’t. But I was in my 40s then. I’m 62 now. This is my last chance. I know it, you know it. I wanna win. You guys wanna forget about what happened last year. Let’s work together to make it happen.”

Beckett would probably have still acted the way he did (and does), but Valentine could say he tried.

This was Valentine’s last shot. There are two strategies to take when facing a last shot: 1) go for the deep strike and say, “If I’m going down, I’m going down my way,” and make sure you’re comfortable with everything for better or worse; or 2) be conciliatory and agreeable, hoping it works out based on talent level and available money.

Valentine chose the latter with the results we see. He bears a significant portion of the responsibility and was jettisoned, but this was a combined effort from all over the map and top to bottom. No one should be spared from their part in the horror film that is the 2012 Boston Red Sox.

18% at fault

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Schilling’s Cruelest Cut

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While the failure of Curt Schilling’s ill-conceived video game business has presumably damaged his financial circumstances beyond all repair, it’s been a multiple-pronged stabbing to Schilling’s persona and supposed beliefs to not only have his reputation damaged, but to have ostensibly been abandoned by the same conservative coalition for which he donated his time, name, fame, and presumably money.

You can read the tipping point here in the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard as the reality behind Schilling’s collapsed business hits home as it’s compared to a larger scale disaster as the Obama administration’s support of Solyndra.

I’ve said before that I don’t think Schilling meant any harm with his poorly planned and doomed to fail attempts to build a business post-baseball career, but it’s indicative of his insanely high opinion of himself that he chose to take his vast fortune and sink it into such a risky venture amid the hopes that he’d turn himself into a corporate titan and, presumably, become a wealthy man at an endeavor using something other than the gift of a 95-98 mph fastball. What people are missing when they try to adhere to what’s misinterpreted and bastardized as “conservative” principles is that not everyone is able to handle a business; not everyone can create a product; not everyone can transfer success from one narrow market to another market. Bill Gates couldn’t strike out 300 batters in a season and Schilling, as evidenced by the disaster for himself and the people of Rhode Island, can’t run a video game startup. It’s not a remote experience for athletes to try their hand at outside ventures and cost themselves the fortune they accrued as players, an amount of money they could easily have lived on had they not been convinced by others that they should diversify and invest. It’s greed, arrogance, and ignorance.

Schilling was a “believer”. He really felt that the politicians and causes he supported were on the side of right. However, as evidenced by his self-involved behaviors as a player such as when he was unhappy with the new tool known as QuesTec designed to make sure the umpires were adhering more closely to the rulebook strike zone rather than relying on their own interpretation, walked over to the expensive piece of equipment and smashed it like an impulsive, tantrum-throwing child who, unhappy that he’s not getting his way, will make a scene and break things. Presumably, Schilling had to pay for the machine he damaged, but that’s beside the point. If you’re for conservative causes, then you’re for law and order and adhering to the edicts of those in charge. Breaking that with which you disagree is a form of anarchy—the antithesis of what Schilling espoused.

The video game business and its shift to Rhode Island was a means to an end. Schilling’s mandate when he received the $75 million in loan guarantees to move the business from Massachusetts to Rhode Island was contingent on creating jobs in the state. And he did. The problem was that they weren’t bringing any money into the company because their product wasn’t finished and, according to The Weekly Standard piece, they were hiring people to meet the quota. In running a viable business, meeting the quota is secondary to having multiple people doing a job that one could do adequately. It’s circular and stupid.

What’s most ironic is that Schilling, the radical right winger who believes in small government, self-reliance, and a principled core of beliefs, exemplifies that which he rails against when he cost the taxpayers of Rhode Island an immense amount of money and ravaged his own personal finances, then blamed others and implied that it’s not his fault while hinting that he needs a bailout.

But the party that might be willing to bail him out isn’t because he’s not one of them; and the party to which he was inextricably aligned dispatched him because he was no longer of use.

If he were smarter, I’d say maybe he learned a lesson. But he’s not. So he probably didn’t.

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Farrell Would Fix Some, But Not All Of The Red Sox Problems

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Nine years after he was hired, oversaw two World Series wins, endured a martyred firing, and the inevitable sliming on his way out the door, it’s easily forgotten that Terry Francona was selected by the Red Sox for three main reasons:

  • He would adhere to organizational edicts regarding strategy
  • He would work relatively cheaply for the opportunity
  • He was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were desperately trying to acquire

Of course there are macro-reasons behind Francona’s hiring such as being salable to fans, that he was well-liked throughout baseball, he wasn’t Grady Little, among others, but it came down to those three simple factors that made him a reasonable choice. In fact, Larry Lucchino had chatted with Bobby Valentine about the job back then, but the chat never went far enough to warrant an interview because—according to Valentine—he wouldn’t criticize Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to keep pitching in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. It didn’t help that Valentine was Valentine and he would’ve wanted a significantly higher salary than Francona accepted.

Now the Red Sox are said to be interested in reaching back to the Francona coaching staff and hiring (or trading for) John Farrell, current manager of the Blue Jays. There are positives and negatives to hiring Farrell that are reminiscent of the hiring of Francona. The negatives of Francona were his atrocious record as manager of the then-talentless Phillies, that his low salary would’ve made him an easy fire if the team didn’t live up to expectations, and there was a chance that the players would tune him out because this was in the aftermath of Moneyball and the manager was seen as a faceless, nameless, and replaceable functionary operating at the “do this or else” whims of the front office. With his record and popularity in subsequent years, Francona was able to break those shackles and get paid more lucratively while being treated with greater respect, but his power within the organization was limited and, as 2011 showed, there wasn’t much loyalty or appreciation considering all he’d done.

Farrell’s negatives include his strategic weaknesses during games, that he’s going to cost the Red Sox a player (the Blue Jays asked for Clay Buchholz last year; expect something less, but still useful); and he hasn’t been successful in the bottom line with the Blue Jays in spite of a powerful offense and plenty of talent.

The media, fans, and players would be fully onboard with the hire—something Valentine didn’t have; prospective players wouldn’t turn down the Red Sox money specifically because of the manager; and there would be a perception of, “Now we’re getting back to the Red Sox way.”

But are they getting back to the Red Sox “way”? Is Lucchino going to step back and let Ben Cherington do what Theo Epstein did and build a team the way he prefers with on base percentage, power, feisty competitors, and reasonable salaries? Or is he going to meddle, make his presence felt, and shoehorn players and people into the mix when they just don’t improve the recipe?

The Red Sox did a smart thing in getting rid of Josh Beckett (he had to go); Adrian Gonzalez (not cut out for Boston or for a leadership role); and Carl Crawford (miserable in Boston, injured). They slashed money and Valentine is clearly going to be out sooner or later. It’s irrelevant that Valentine’s “controversial” interview yesterday was blown out of proportion for soundbite and attention purposes—it’s not going to work with him. But it just as easily might not have worked for Francona had the Red Sox been as dysfunctional in 2004 as they were with Francona in 2011 and with Valentine in 2012. Would it be better with Farrell? It might if they truly get back to what it was they had in 2004. But everyone longing and promoting Farrell’s return had better realize that if they move forward with this same template of broken links in the chain-of-command, Farrell’s not going to have much more success that Valentine did this season of Francona did in September of 2011. It takes more than a managerial change to fix this mess.

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Curt Schilling’s Rhode Island Quagmire

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Curt Schilling has that Leona Helmsley “I’m about to faint” look on his face.

Leona famously said only the little people pay taxes. Schilling seems to think similarly in terms of business practices.

His logic is whiny to say the least and Richard Nixon/Bill Clinton-like to say the most.

It’s Rhode Island’s fault that his video game company is broke and he was unable to secure extra financing to prop it up for an extended period—a period that, from the looks of things, was going to do nothing more than postpone the inevitable? The other day, I discussed the Schilling-Rhode Island mess and wondered what he was thinking getting into such a niche venture and, according to him, risking his remaining (and vast) fortune from baseball of $50 million. Now I’m wondering what he’s going to do after this disaster. He’s not particularly well-liked in baseball; his Republican buddies aren’t going to have anything to do with him in an election year because he can’t help them; and he’s not qualified to do much of anything outside of baseball or being a celebrity endorser. And I doubt a “Will Pitch For Food” booth outside of Fenway Park is going to do much good because he can’t pitch anymore.

For someone whose rhetoric has been staunchly anti-government, he’s almost certain to need the government’s help to extricate himself from this financial quagmire.

My guess is if he calls his “friends” in politics they’ll be slow to return his calls, if they return them at all. There’s always the Family Guy Mayor of Quahog, Adam West. Then again, not even the original TV Batman can save Schilling from his archenemy Governor Lincoln Chafee.

Tune in next week. Same Schill-time; same Schill-channel.

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Curt Schilling Witlessly Follows The Lenny Dykstra Business Model

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Curt Schilling is a believer.

When he sticks to his Republican talking points, ends his self-righteous blog postings with “God bless you and God bless the United States of America” as if he’s concluding a Presidential address and appears as a prize showhorse at GOP events, he truly thinks he’s a part of the culture and is adhering to the strict principles of conservatism.

In a way it’s admirable. In another it’s stupid.

Perhaps Schilling was under the naïve impression that his Republican pals would bail him if he ran into trouble with his video game business. He was a “job creator” after all—the same type of person whose plans for expansion are strangled by a “socialist” administration bent on robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Schilling received a $75 million loan guarantee from the state of Rhode Island to move his company there from Massachusetts. The guarantee was provided by the ousted Republican Governor of the state, Donald Carcieri. Now that the former liberal Republican and now Independent Lincoln Chafee is the Governor, there’s a back and forth as to whom is responsible for the demise of Schilling’s company and what’s going to be done in its aftermath.

You can read the news story here on Boston.com.

It sounds as if Schilling’s looking for more money. Saying that he stands to lose the $50 million he claims to have left from his playing days isn’t going to elicit sympathy from the people of Rhode Island, nor is it going to persuade any “friend” Schilling has in the Republican party to stand up for him especially if he can no longer help them get elected.

Schilling’s adherence to the system is going to be his downfall. All he need do is look at how quickly Roger Clemens’s supporters ran from him once he found himself on trial for perjury. The battle lines were drawn at the congressional hearing when Clemens forcefully proclaimed his innocence of using PEDs and—according to the government—perjured himself in the process. The Republicans in the hearing were starstruck and aghast at the Democrats’ attacks on Clemens. Then their support withered away once Clemens became a detriment. Now he’s on trial and one would assume a vast chunk of his fortune is going towards legal fees.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Schilling made over $114 million as a player in his career. Those who think that’s all he made are not accounting for endorsements and other income that’s not counted in a player’s salary such as per diem benefits, licensing fees for things such as baseball cards and other enticements received by athletes that would be plenty for a normal person to live on quite comfortably. He’ll still receive his players’ pension.

It’s irrelevant whether or not the business model Schilling used to get the loan was solid enough to warrant a $75 million guarantee from Rhode Island or if Schilling was risking his own money. It’s his company and he’s responsible for it. For someone like Schilling this is a combination of the worst case scenario personally and publicly. He idealism has reverberated back on him and, in spite of his intentions, he’s left to portray himself as another victim of the economic downturn and political expediency.

He wants a bailout that neither the government nor the taxpayer are not going to want to give him. The United States couldn’t function without the banking industry and the auto industry—other recipients of such bailouts. It will survive the destruction of Schilling’s video game company.

Maybe he’ll be able to go to people from his baseball playing days to find a path out of this mess, but given his polarizing personality I can’t foresee anyone doing anything more than giving him a job as a coach or broadcaster and that’s not going to get him the money he needs. A tell-all book would make him Jose Canseco-money, but that won’t clear the debts either. No one will do what Rhode Island did and hand him a check.

Schilling sought to be an entrepreneur when he might’ve been better off holding onto his money. If he had $50 million, was that not suitable? He had to try and be a big shot and put his money where his principles were under the mistaken belief that this endeavor was a version of giving back and practicing what he preached as an overt supporter of conservative causes? Not everyone can be an innovator, a job-creator or a business titan. Some people are meant to do what it was Schilling did: throw a baseball.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

He’s learning the hard way.

Lenny Dykstra tried to create a vast empire of his own. He had a string of successful car washes that would’ve kept him comfortable for the rest of his life with little effort on his part, but he wanted more. He had to be a “player” as his ill-fated magazine “The Players Club” will attest. His schemes were ludicrous. Now he’s in jail and under siege by endless lawsuits.

Schilling was the polar opposite of Dykstra but his finances are heading for the same place. It’s likely because they both had delusions of grandeur and the mistaken thought that because they were successful as athletes and people cheered for them when they were in uniform that the blind idolatry would easily translate into the business world. If it didn’t work, well, there’s always someone to bail them out.

It’s not the case and Schilling could wind up a broken man in every conceivable sense because of it.

This doesn’t make Schilling a bad person as some suggest. But it does make him the epitome of what he railed against in his politics. No one wants to be called a hypocrite, but that’s the least of Schilling’s problems right now.

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A Bad Week For MLB’s Radical Right

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Political ideologies aren’t judged on their tenets, but on their representatives. Because we see the front people of their particular positions as extreme and overtly unlikable, the entire platform is poisoned because of personality and presentation.

It’s with that in mind that it makes many self-proclaimed conservatives—in statements and action—in MLB look hypocritical.

Three such individuals have found themselves in the public eye this week for various reasons that run the gamut on the scale from the overreaching, delusional businessman; to the ignorant and mouthy; and to the disturbing.

Here they are.

Curt Schilling’s video game company goes under.

Rhode Island has had a very public shortfall in their pension funds to retired city workers in the municipality of Central Falls, but the state had enough money to guarantee loans worth $75 million to Schilling’s video game company to lure them from Massachusetts.

Schilling, whose right wing politics were fodder for ridicule during his career, was playing the big businessman running a fledgling and hit-or-miss enterprise of creating video games and it collapsed without warning in a most embarrassing fashion.

I’m trying to reconcile how Rhode Island found the money to make that loan guarantee to Schilling and his video game company. Was there a coherent plan that made it a decision with solid foundation that simply failed or was the Republican governor of the state,  Donald Carcieri, trying to use Schilling’s star power to get himself reelected? Was Carcieri himself hypnotized by Schilling’s presence? Or was it bad business?

Possibly all of the above.

Carcieri lost and the business has gone under.

You can read the details here on Boston.com and decide for yourself.

Luke Scott has a lot to say.

Having first come under fire for his insistence that President Obama is not an American citizen, Luke Scott of the Rays is no stranger to controversy for his statements. Earlier this year, he said some none-too-flattering things about Fenway Park calling it a “dump”. Last night in the ninth inning of the Rays’ 7-4 win over the Red Sox in Boston, Franklin Morales drilled Scott. The benches emptied and there was a lot of shouting and shoving but no punches thrown.

Ostensibly the incident was in retaliation for Burke Badenhop hitting Dustin Pedroia in the sixth inning. Naturally Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine couldn’t resist stirring the cauldron by saying, “Maybe it was the Ghost of Fenway Past remembering he bad-mouthed all our fans and our stadium, directing the ball at his leg.”

Did the Red Sox pop Scott because of Pedroia or was it because of what he said about Fenway?

I’m inclined to think that it was a combination of the two and Scott was conveniently (or inconveniently for him) batting in the ninth inning of a game the Red Sox were likely to lose. They had the opening and took it. Morales didn’t throw at Scott’s head, so I don’t think this is that big of a deal; certainly not worth the war of words that’s not going to stop anytime soon as long as the managers are involved.

The Thong Song seems so long ago for Chad Curtis.

The journeyman Curtis had found a home as a useful extra outfielder for the Yankees and contributed many clutch hits to the 1998-1999 World Series winners. But because he made the mistake of choosing to take on Derek Jeter when Jeter was joking with Alex Rodriguez (then of the Mariners) during a bench clearing brawl between the two clubs, he was run out of town following the 1999 season.

Traded to the Rangers, Curtis again found himself talking about things other than baseball when he objected to teammate Royce Clayton playing Sisqó’s Thong Song in the Rangers’ clubhouse.

It doesn’t make much difference now, but Curtis happened to be right in both cases.

It was entirely inappropriate for Jeter to be standing in the middle of the field chatting with A-Rod while Joe Girardi was brawling with Frankie Rodriguez and Don Zimmer was staggering around on the field as if he was having a heart attack. Since it was Jeter, his behavior was sacrosanct even when he was wrong. Curtis called him out publicly and was dealt away.

As far as the Thong Song goes, if children are allowed in the clubhouse or there are religious people who object to certain content, that has to be taken into account for the sake of the group. Curtis didn’t like it and had a right to express that.

But Curtis’s presence in the news today is a typical political scandal as he has been charged with sexual misconduct for inappropriately touching two teenage girls at a Michigan school where he was volunteering.

“Inappropriate touching” could entail any number of things. Who knows if it’s true? If it is, listening to the Thong Song might’ve been a better alternative to the urges that caused Curtis’s behavior and all three of the above cases are prime examples of why athletes might be better served to keep their political affiliations more ambiguous or be quiet about them entirely.

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This Is The Yu Darvish The Rangers Paid For—Don’t Forget It

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It wasn’t Rangers’ righty Yu Darvish’s performance that was the most impressive thing in his 8 1/3 spectacular innings against the Yankees last night.

On paper and in practice, he looked great. Allowing 7 hits, 2 walks, striking out 10 and allowing no runs are all well and good, but it was the way he pounded the strike zone (119 pitches and 82 strikes) and displayed the presence and swagger of a star that provided a glimpse into his future.

Star power.

You either have it or you don’t.

The desire to be the center of attention in a big moment.

You either have it or you don’t.

Ability.

You either have it or you don’t.

Darvish has it.

All of it.

In spite of winning two of his first three starts, he’d done so in a shaky manner. His results echoed Barry Zito’s with control problems, wriggling in and out of trouble and always appearing to be on the verge of giving up 5 runs. He accumulated high pitch counts early in games; the Rangers’ bullpen was constantly on alert; he was nursed through and pulled before the games blew up from his walks.

In a game ripe for a meltdown with excuses at the ready (it’s the Yankees; he’s new to the league and North America; he’s getting used to the larger ball) Darvish displayed the stuff, composure and confidence that make him a top-of-the-rotation talent.

There are statistical suggestions that success in the post-season is a random occurrence; that the pitchers who’ve made a name for themselves in big games—John Smoltz, Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling, Dave Stewart, Orel Hershiser—were creatures of circumstance.

It’s nonsense.

Mentally handling pressure is just as important as ability in a big game.

Often, they’re wars of attrition.

Technically, for Darvish and the Rangers, last night’s game against the Yankees was a relatively meaningless start in April. But it wasn’t. Because it was Darvish vs Hiroki Kuroda and Darvish had pitched so inconsistently in his first three starts, the spotlight was on to see how he’d handle the Yankees’ bats and facing his countryman in front of millions of fans in Japan and across the world.

He didn’t survive the test. He embraced it as if to say, “This is my domain. Everyone’s watching and I’m giving them what they came to see. You wanna see something? Here it is.”

There are pitchers you trust in a big game. Darvish is one of those pitchers. He’s got that presence and the goods to back it up. He wants you and everyone else to know it.

Last night was just the beginning.

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Radio Appearances and International Disarray

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Terry Francona went on Michael Kay’s ESPN radio show in an apparent attempt to do some damage control to repair his fading image as the innocent bystander in the Red Sox’ 2011 collapse and only succeeded in making things worse.

You can read about the appearance here on ESPN.com.

In the piece, it’s revealed that—shocker!!—Francona is working on a book with none other than reporter Dan Shaughnessy who also happened to pen the piece in which Francona aired his reasons for not attending the 100th anniversary celebration to commemorate Fenway Park.

I’m not sure which upcoming book is going to fire more vendetta-tinged salvos, Francona’s or Tony LaRussa’s.

For someone who’s viewed positively throughout baseball for his good guy persona, Francona is doing his best Gary Sheffield impersonation.

Those who remember Sheffield know that whenever a reporter needed a hot story, all he had to do was walk over to Sheffield and ask him about something that he’d insisted he wasn’t going to talk about. Sheffield would invariably reiterate that stance…then go into a long-winded rant about precisely what he said he wasn’t going to discuss. Sheffield’s reputation made it easy to dismiss his complaints whether they were valid or not. Francona’s the opposite.

Francona backtracked on his decision to go public with his gripes and then snatched Kay’s bait like a starving shark.

Here’s a clip from the above-linked ESPN article:

Kay also asked the question many around Boston have been wondering: “As you sit back on Thursday, April 12, and the Red Sox are 1-5, is there a part of you that’s absolutely elated?”

Francona laughed at first, but then said: “I wouldn’t say elated. I know what you mean, though. You know, everybody has human emotions … there are so many people there that I’ve gone through so many things with, that I care so much about. You know, somebody asked me yesterday and I said ‘I hope (Dustin) Pedroia hits 1.000 and I hope (Jon) Lester wins every game.’ … At the same time, I recognize the way things ended there didn’t make me very happy. And actually really hurt me. And I’m aware of that also. So, you try to balance it a little bit. But being vindictive is not a good way to go through life. And I hope I’m not that way.”

No, the Red Sox are not playing well. Yes, it’s natural for Francona to feel a certain amount of satisfaction that they’re going poorly without him. But this looks and sounds bad because it is bad in perception and practice.

Would the Red Sox be better with Francona? If Francona had stayed, Theo Epstein was going to stay as well, so the construction of the club would be radically different. We don’t know what they’d look like with a different GM and manager, who would and wouldn’t be on the team.

It’s a question that can’t be answered.

What he’s doing is distracting and unfair to the club that gave him an opportunity that other teams weren’t prepared to give him in a situation that was ready-made to win immediately.

It’s clearly intentional payback.

Regardless of how it ended with the Red Sox, Francona’s in a far better position now with a lot more money in the bank and industry-wide respect that wasn’t there when he was fired by the Phillies after a four-year tenure of 285-363.

He wasn’t hired by the Red Sox because they were expecting the reincarnation of Connie Mack. He was hired by the Red Sox because the Red Sox were trying to get Curt Schilling to agree to a trade to Boston and Francona was an agreeable choice to the pitcher; Francona was willing to take short money for the opportunity; and he would do what Grady Little didn’t do—take orders from the front office.

This labeling of Francona being a “great” manager is directly connected to the results he achieved. That Red Sox team in 2004 was very good and it wasn’t his mere presence that was the final piece in the championship puzzle. They would’ve been good with or without Francona.

The Red Sox have earned the right to celebrate their ballpark and try to right the ship on the field. Francona’s gloating makes him look petty and babyish and won’t be lost on any club that considers hiring him as their manager in the future. He may feel safe in his new broadcasting job and is trying to retaliate for the shoddy manner in which he was treated when the Red Sox let him go, but he’s making himself look terrible and it’s casting the Red Sox in a far more sympathetic light than they were in before.

Francona needs to shut up.

Period.

On another Red Sox-related note, the football club their ownership purchased that was supposedly siphoning money away from the Red Sox—Liverpool FC—has made their own change at the top. This clip is from the NY Times:

Liverpool dismissed its director of football, Damien Comolli, after criticism of his transfer strategy since he was hired 16 months ago. Liverpool has spent $183 million on players since Comolli joined the club, but expensive recruits like Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing have failed to impress.

You can read analysis of this maneuver here.

Is Comolli going to go on Kay’s show? Will he write a book?

The mess has gone international and it shows no signs of abating any time soon.

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Schilling and the Red Sox

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When I think of Curt Schilling, I think of Doug Neidermeyer from Animal House: “shot in Vietnam by his own troops”.

Schilling is polarizing.

He’s intelligent, well-spoken, self-interested, slightly disingenuous, generous and astute.

He’s a person who can’t be pigeonholed.

His latest controversy stems from comments he’s made regarding the Red Sox.

In short, he doesn’t think the Bobby Valentine-Red Sox marriage is going to work. You can read about it here on ESPN.com.

If this were coming from anyone other than Schilling—Pedro Martinez; Jason Varitek; Tim Wakefield; Kevin Millar—an acknowledged Red Sox hero and/or leader from the past, it would be taken as a legitimate concern without pretense or favor. Since it’s coming from Schilling, the comments are being dissected to interpret what he’s really trying to say; what underlying reason he has for basically telling the Red Sox and their fans that they’re in for a long year.

The Valentine hire was rife with risk. This was known from the start. Because he has controversy attached to him like an underdeveloped and troublesome conjoined twin, the media is going to take everything Valentine says and magnify it. The perceived disagreements regarding the decision to start Mike Aviles over Jose Iglesias at shortstop and the role of Daniel Bard are no more outrageous than what any other club with similar questions would deal with.

Since Valentine has that history of clashing with management, media and players, those small fires are going to be stoked to create an inferno where there normally wouldn’t be one. If Terry Francona were still managing the team, the decisions would be questioned, but the motives wouldn’t be; nor would they be exacerbated by implying a “fight” between manager and front office that’s nothing more than a discussion and disagreement within the organization.

Had the Red Sox hired Pete Mackanin, Sandy Alomar Jr., Gene Lamont or any of the other candidates for the job, the personnel issues would still be present.

That’s the bigger problem for the Red Sox.

For observers who’ve grown accustomed to writing the Red Sox down as championship contenders every year, this is a new dynamic. They could win 90 games; they could win 78 games. The Red Sox circumstances haven’t been so ambiguous for over a decade. Valentine increases the spotlight.

If you look at their personalities and how others view them, Valentine and Schilling are basically the same guy.

That and Schilling’s experience playing for the Red Sox give him an insight into the clubhouse that others don’t have. He can see what’s coming.

There’s a possibility that Schilling is advancing a personal agenda by saying negative things about the Red Sox. I don’t know what that agenda could be. But he might in fact be telling the truth as he sees it.

And that would be far worse for the Red Sox than Schilling trying to get his name in the newspapers and blogs. It’s not the comments that are making people angry. It’s the fear that he might be right.

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