Francesa’s Angel Is The Centerfold

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MattHarveypics

The ESPN Body Issue is a clever and creative response to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Rather than try and create a copy as other magazines have done, ESPN went one step further using athletes naked as an “ode to exceptional athletic form.” That it’s done to spur sales and create buzz goes without mention.

Mike Francesa sounded like he was about to burst into a teary rendition of Centerfold by the J. Geils Band when discussing Matt Harvey’s participation. It’s no secret that Francesa has developed a borderline disturbing man-crush on Harvey. One can only wonder whether Andy Pettitte feels like a member of the first wives’ club as Francesa is throwing him over for the younger, stronger Harvey.

Francesa couldn’t hide his disappointment in Harvey taking part in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue going so far as to say that Harvey’s demeanor had been Derek Jeter-like in not making any stupid and embarrassing mistakes in his young career. Harvey’s rise has been meteoric, but is this as much of a misstep as Francesa implies?

Much like it’s preferable for a young pitcher like Zack Wheeler to come to the big leagues and scuffle rather than dominate making the game look easy only to be jolted later on, it’s also preferable for Harvey to be the person he is rather than transform himself into the mythic idol that Jeter has become. For Jeter, his position as the ideal for so many has resulted in a level of expectation that no one could match. He’s almost been deified to the degree that when something, anything happens that could possibly tarnish that image, it evolves into a giant story where, if it were another player, it would either be shrugged off or ignored.

In short, the Jeter image has shunned any pretense of reality. When he first started in the majors, Jeter had the guidance from his parents as well as baseball people Don Zimmer, Joe Torre and Buck Showalter. It also helped Jeter that, as a rookie, he was surrounded by players like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden from whom he could learn and ask questions of what precisely not to do. His supposed playboy lifestyle with one starlet after another is winked and nodded at because he’s Derek Jeter. That it’s more of a show than anything else is beside the point.

With Jeter there has never been a public paternity question; never been a DUI; never been a bar fight or incident captured on cellphone camera of Jeter acting the fool. He’s guarded and careful with that image. In some instances it has turned into ridiculous expectations such as when he feigned being hit by a pitch against the Rays and took first base even though he hadn’t been hit. Parents were wondering how they could explain to their children how Derek Jeter could be so cavalier about fair play. This isn’t a carefully camouflaged, Christianity-tinged commercial from The Foundation for a Better Life in which the high school basketball player admits he touched the ball before it went out of bounds as a show of sportsmanship and Jeter was under no obligation to say he wasn’t hit when the ump told him to go to first base. The idea that he was “supposed” to do that because it was the “right” thing is ludicrous.

The one play that helped launch Jeter occurred in the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles when his deep fly ball was ably assisted out of the park by young fan Jeffrey Maier. It would not have gone out of the park if not for Maier and the Yankees might not have won that ALCS. Who knows how history would have been altered had they not won that first championship in 1996? Would Jeter turn the homer down in the interest of “fair play”? Of course not.

Jeter’s legend has grown to the level where it’s gone from he won’t take a misstep to he can’t take a misstep. That’s not an easy way to live. Harvey has the supermodel girlfriend and appears to be enjoying his success. He did the ESPN shoot and doesn’t need to explain nor apologize for it. Perhaps it would’ve helped Jeter if he’d pulled a Charles Barkley at some point and gone into an “I am not a role model” rant. Harvey probably wasn’t thinking that the appearance in the ESPN photo shoot would take a hammer to this image that the likes of Francesa were thrusting upon him, but it will have that affect. In the long run it’s a good thing.

There’s no question that Jeter is a player to emulate. For young stars including Harvey, he’s someone whose lead to follow, but that doesn’t mean the self should be superseded toward that end especially to live up to the dreamy expectations of someone like Mike Francesa.

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Bryce Harper’s Textgate With Davey Johnson

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Bryce Harper sent a text message to Nationals manager Davey Johnson with the ultimatum, “Play me or trade me.” The implication of this is that the 20-year-old was telling his veteran manager that he didn’t want to sit on the bench under any circumstances and that if Johnson knew what was good for him and the Nats, he’d write Harper’s name in the lineup. Or else. The reality of the situation is that Harper was being held out due to the lingering concerns over a knee injury that placed him on the disabled list and an ongoing slump. Johnson wanted to give him a few days off, but Harper wanted to play and said so. Johnson put him back in the lineup.

The media sought to make it into a big deal with a flashy headline, speculation and faux investigation into whether there’s any tension brewing between Harper, Johnson and the Nats where none appears to be in evidence. Johnson has never shied away from confrontation. As a player for the Braves, he got into a fistfight with manager Eddie Mathews. Mathews happened to be one of the toughest customers in baseball who simply liked to fight. Johnson blackened Mathews’s eye and the two made peace over drinks after airing their grievances with their fists. As a manager, Johnson had multiple altercations with Darryl Strawberry, fought with Kevin Mitchell, and nearly fought with Bobby Bonilla. It’s not as if he picked the lightweights. Those who have followed Johnson’s career know that even at age 70, he wouldn’t hesitate to take on the 6’2”, 230 pound 20-year-old Harper if it were necessary, but that’s not what this was. Not even close.

Harper has gotten a bad rap due to the perception that he was anointed at such a young age. He and support staff—family, representatives—are partly at fault for it by putting out preposterous stories of his exploits (he passed the GED without studying), his favorite players (Mickey Mantle and Pete Rose whose careers ended years and decades before his birth), and his own silly minor league behaviors (war paint and tantrums with umpires). There’s a pretentiousness in Harper’s biography that has not been consistent with his actions on the field.

He’s done some stupid things like smashing his bat against the runway wall in Cincinnati and nearly pulling a Ralphie from A Christmas Story (You’ll whack your eye out!), and plays the game with zero concern for his physical well-being. He goes all-out, doesn’t act like a spoiled brat on the field as shown with his mature and classic response to Cole Hamels intentionally hitting him as he humiliated Hamels by stealing home, and wants to play every day. His text message to Johnson may have sounded like a pampered would-be megastar making untoward demands upon his manager with implied threats knowing the club had little choice but to cave, but that’s just the way it’s being framed by the media and fans looking to find more reasons to knock Harper down a few pegs. In an age in which many players want to coast, Harper wants to play and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s refreshing.

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Mets Fans’ Negativity Toward Brian Wilson is Absurd

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Underneath his cautious word choices, poker face, military cachet and known bio as an Ivy League-trained lawyer, Sandy Alderson has the true countenance of a “get the job done however you have to” Marine grunt. We see it occasionally when he’s had enough of answering the same questions over and over again as he did with his snide (and unnecessary) comment about sending chocolates to Jose Reyes; with his crack about currently not having any outfielders; and with his blunt dismissal twelve years ago of Mike Hampton’s decision to sign with the Rockies when Hampton referenced the Colorado school system. (Alderson said, rightly, that Hampton went to Colorado because they offered the most money.)

For the Mets, he wants players who can play and who fit into what he’s trying to build. This concept of signing players who have class and dignity is ridiculous and no one—not even the case study of a club that portrays itself as that, namely the Yankees—adheres to it. It’s a storyline designed to create an image and has no basis in reality.

The absurdity of Mets fans complaining about the “act” of Brian Wilson as a foundation for not wanting the team to sign him is so glaring that one would think it’s satire. But it’s not. Alderson went to watch a Wilson workout and while the erstwhile Giants’ closer is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Mets are said to be interested in him. If he’s ready at some point in the early summer and they can to a two-year contract with an option for a third, he’d be a perfect addition to a team that, by 2014-2015, will need a legitimate closer for a playoff run.

Wilson’s off-field personality is a matter of taste. Personally, I think he’s funny. Even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t care about that when assessing whether or not the Mets should sign him. He’s all business on the mound and that’s what counts. As opposed to other closers who are reluctant or outright refuse to throw more than one inning to accumulate the relatively meaningless save stat, Wilson has shown a willingness to pitch more than one inning and sometimes more than two innings to help his team.

Would the fans prefer to have Frank Francisco closing over Wilson? Why? Because Wilson has an over-the-top beard and draws attention to himself? Francisco Rodriguez, the last star closer the Mets had, was arrested for punching his common-law father-in-law in the face in the Citi Field family room and there were fans who: A) didn’t want him traded the next year; and B) wanted the Mets to bring him back to close for them when he became available.

But they don’t want Wilson. The same fans who look back nostalgically on the 1980s Mets whose on-field attitude was closer to that of a street gang than a baseball team and whose partying led to them winning one championship with a squad that should have won at least three and probably five; a team that has had multiple members—Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Dwight Gooden, Wally Backman—in trouble with the law, is seen as a beacon in the organization’s existence, yet they don’t want Wilson because of his beard and Lady Gaga-like “look at me!!” persona.

In his time as Athletics GM in the 1980s, Alderson wasn’t trying to score political points or build a G-rated theme park when he tolerated Jose Canseco’s act and had players who were using steroids without his consent to accumulate cartoonish muscles and hit home runs; he had Rickey Henderson on his team, a player who never met a management who couldn’t irritate; his manager was the notably egomaniacal and difficult Tony LaRussa. Alderson’s not building a military where conformity is necessary. He wants people who can play and help his team win. Period.

Wilson, as quirky as he is, has never had an incident off the field, nor have we heard of him being a clubhouse problem. If the Mets can get him at a discounted rate and he’s healthy, his post-season bona fides and willingness to do whatever is necessary to help the team win without complaint or thought of his own health and future would be a welcome change to a clubhouse that could use his fastball and veteran grit to counteract a vanilla group. Wilson cultivates the publicity and will gladly say, “I’ll take the heat. Follow me.” As much as David Wright is the acknowledged leader of the Mets, he doesn’t have that edge that Wilson would bring.

There’s no basis in saying “no” to him for his beard or tattoos or any off-field reason that’s not hurting anyone. “He annoys me,” is not a reason. Closing is more mentality than stuff and if Wilson has the mentality. If he can return to some semblance of form, the Mets should try and get him because he’d help them win more games. And that’s all that really matters.

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My Annual MLB Draft Rant

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I tuned into the draft coverage on the MLB Network last night for a brief moment as they were up to pick 40 or so.

When talking about the newly minted MLB draftees, Harold Reynolds had the same look on his face as Sarah Palin when she discusses neuroscience.

And among the panel on the MLB Network, Reynolds was the eloquent one.

Reynolds himself was the 2nd pick in the 1980 MLB Draft. To get a gauge on how convoluted the draft was back then, Reynolds was taken in the secondary phase of the June draft. It’s safe to say that if he’d been taken in the regular phase, Reynolds would not have been the second overall pick when Darryl Strawberry, Darnell Coles and Billy Beane—prep school standouts all—were in the draft.

Reynolds was a good big league player, but not worth such a high pick under any circumstances. That analysis is, of course, in retrospect.

He might’ve been drafted that highly because no one–no….one–knows what 99.9% of the drafted players are going to become. There are so many variables that it’s impossible to know. And that’s the point.

John Hart was also on the MLB Network panel and he has a unique perspective into the draft because he’s been a baseball man and run two different organizations. That perspective should have led Hart to toss his hands up in the air and say, “Who knows?”

Hart was one of the GMs who passed on Derek Jeter in 1992. In the case of the Indians (Hart’s club) it was in favor a right-handed pitcher named Paul Shuey.

Was it the ghastly mistake that hindsight suggests it was? Or did the Indians and the other teams who let Jeter “slip” by see something in another player that made those players preferable to Jeter?

There are very few players who are consensus first round picks and can be expected to be star big leaguers. It didn’t take much effort to look at Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg and anoint them as future megastars. For Jeter, who would’ve looked at that skinny and somewhat funny looking high school kid with the fade haircut and expected him to become what he’s become?

No one. Not even the Yankees.

Hart knows this. The armchair experts don’t.

Most of the draft comments I saw were coming from people who don’t know anything about MLB itself, so what are the odds they’re going to know anything about the draft?

What I found laughable was what passed for “insider” analysis from people on the web. They were regurgitating stuff they read in a scouting directory or saw online and treating it as if it’s gospel. If the inside baseball people don’t know what a player is going to be, then you can be pretty sure that a guy sitting in front of his computer and never picked up a baseball doesn’t know either.

There were players being compared to Willie Mays.

Willie Mays!!!

Willie Mays is, by many estimates, the best player ever. So some 17-year-old kid is going to be the next Mays? Really?

I can tell you right now that the odds of that happening are zero point zero zero zero zero zero zero zero.

In other words, it’s not going to happen.

Then imaginary controversies were created. What did it mean to Jose Iglesias that the Red Sox drafted a shortstop with their first pick?!? Did it mean they no longer believe in Iglesias?

No. It means that they saw a player they had use for—in some way as a player, as a trade chip, as a guy they didn’t want and decided to draft to save the money for next year’s draft, for whatever—and selected him. A shortstop can be moved anywhere on the field and play adequately. Bret Saberhagen was drafted as a shortstop who’d pitched a bit in high school and the Royals decided that he was going to pitch after they’d drafted him. Two Cy Young Awards and a World Series MVP later, a potential Hall of Fame career as a pitcher had been derailed by injuries. Saberhagen would not have been what he was as a shortstop if he even made it to the big leagues at all.

There’s no “approach” to the draft. It’s not about signability; it’s not about drafting college players who are close to the big leagues to help immediately; it’s not about money in the bottom-line sense. It’s about picking players who you think have talent and hoping they develop to be used as trade chips or to make it to the big leagues and play for the team that drafted them.

The talk about the changes made to the draft in the CBA are irrelevant and missing the main point that it’s the big league players in the union now who screwed the amateurs because they’d had enough of the Harpers and Strasburgs of the world getting money that could have (and in their mind should have) been allocated to established big leaguers. I can tell you the thinking of the big leaguers who were faced with a relatively hard salary cap and teams like the Athletics and Rays telling potential free agents that they only had X amount of money to spend per year on the organization as a whole; Y was allocated to the big league product; Z was going into the draft.

Why would any big leaguer in his right mind want to see a $15 million check handed to some kid out of high school when an agreement could be made to tamp that down as a rule with punishing sanctions dropped on the collective heads of the teams that flout those rules?

The attitude of the MLB union chafing at a player never having played professionally getting that kind of money isn’t wrong. Let them work their way up. Let them deal with constrictions of what they can make.

You’re being sold snakeoil. The draft is important, but it’s not worth all this faux attention given to it by people who don’t know much of anything about the players they’re talking about apart from what they’re fed.

Reynolds, Hart and everyone else used the buzzwords: upside, power fastball, speed, athleticism to cover up the fact that they had no idea who or what the majority of the drafted players were.

It’s a speculative farce.

When he was broadcasting NFL games, Terry Bradshaw used to use a fake player’s name as being in on a tackle every single week regardless of which teams were playing. No one noticed.

I’d love to come up with a fictional player for next year’s draft complete with a bio, photo and video and say that he’s a potential top pick with some array of skills that make him viable not as the first pick in the first round, but as someone who could be taken between rounds one and five. Someone would buy into it’d go viral.

For a player and person who doesn’t exist.

Would anyone notice?

I’m dubious.

That might explain how ridiculous this whole charade is and the attention paid to it would stop.

It would work too. I know it would. And it would absolutely be more entertaining that this current nonsense.

It’s no contest.

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Bryce Harper In Center Field is a Bad Idea

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It’s good to know that Davey Johnson hasn’t entered the realm of the elderly manager.

Given how thin he looks and that his voice seemed to be a shell of what it once was after taking over the Nationals last summer, it’s still a question as to how much of a managerial fastball he has left and if he’s going to maintain his energy throughout the season. I might be reminiscing about the manager of the 1980s Mets who dealt with a star-studded, young and out-of-control team that was lucky to stay out of jail while they were playing.

Their scrapes with the law (and more) had to wait until their playing careers were over: see Dwight Gooden, Lenny Dykstra, Darryl Strawberry and Wally Backman.

Now he’s having a spring training look at Bryce Harper in center field and is insistent that there’s a legitimate chance that the 19-year-old will make the big league club to start the season.

Can Harper play center field?

Johnson thinks he can and the youngster played 20 games at the position in A-ball last season.

But is it a good idea?

Probably not.

Johnson doesn’t have the greatest history with adhering to reality when he believes in something strongly and that’s a detriment to being a truly great manager. In Johnson’s category of managers are Jim Leyland and Tony LaRussa who at times blindly stuck to failing strategies rather than acknowledge that they were wrong about anything. They clung to decisions they made even if they were hurting the team.

Johnson is the same man who, as manager of the Mets, stuck Kevin Mitchell and Howard Johnson at shortstop; continually wrote Gregg Jefferies’s name in the lineup when he needed to be sent down; put Keith Miller in center field; and absolutely refused to tell Strawberry to move from his Shea Stadium strawberry patch of faded grass which was his position—within a 15 foot radius—against every hitter on every pitch.

Johnson’s ego was part of the reason he was such a successful manager and able to keep that Mets group in line to a certain degree, but it was also part of the reason that most of his teams faltered at the end. Had the 1980s Mets paid a bit more attention to defense and fundamentals rather than starting pitching and home runs, they could’ve won more than one championship.

Johnson needs a rein on his over-the-top calls. It seems that the Nationals are entertaining the thought of having Harper break camp with the big league team.

If they deem him ready physically and especially emotionally; if they feel he can help the team contend, then by all means they should do it. But in center field?

No.

If they bring him North, Jayson Werth can play center field and Harper can play right. With all the scrutiny that will surround him, Harper doesn’t need to be learning a new position for a team that expects to win and a veteran pitching staff hounding him if he fails to make a play that an experienced center fielder would make.

Johnson needs someone to check him. In his other managerial stops, Johnson would be told to do something by upper management, then ignore it when he wrote the lineup cards.

He’s a great manager, but he’s made the same mistakes before. It shouldn’t happen again.

Click here to listen to my appearance with Les Norman on Breakin’ the Norm.

My new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide is available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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The Red Sox-Orioles “Brawl”

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The Red Sox and Orioles had what could be described as a “scuffle” last night during the Red Sox 10-3 win at Fenway.

Orioles closer Kevin Gregg threw a few pitches inside at David Ortiz; Ortiz gestured and shouted at Gregg, got back in the batter’s box and after Ortiz popped out, Gregg yelled at Ortiz who then charged the mound. Both threw a few flailing punches—with Gregg failing to remove his glove—and all missed. The bullpens came charging in, there was some pushing and shoving, but no legitimate fighting.

You can see the clip here although it’s only marginally interesting in a rare sort of way.

In fairness, there’s a limited amount of time for two baseball players to get their range to connect. By the time they’ve actually squared off, 60 other people are charging at them and bumping into one another like a CBGB mosh pit.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Yankees-Orioles brawl from 1998 when Armando Benitez had hit Tino Martinez. The benches emptied, players were red-faced and barking, but things had quieted down without a punch before Graeme Lloyd threw a series of haymakers at Benitez. Not one connected, but Lloyd was seen after the game in front of his locker exchanging high-fives with teammates.

It was due to solidarity more than success.

I also thought back to the ludicrousness of a famous confrontation Carlton Fisk had with Deion Sanders when Sanders was playing for the Yankees in 1990. Sanders was behaving as the young, flashy Deion often did with his at bat histrionics and drawing in the dirt with his bat; Fisk took exception to Sanders not running out a popup. They had a chat and both benches and bullpens emptied.

All this did was cement Fisk’s image as an old-school player who said what needed to be said and Deion’s reputation as a prima donna.

In other words, it was stupid.

Yankees reliever Greg Cadaret expressed his thoughts on the matter here in Sports Illustrated:

“It was kind of silly,” said Yankee reliever Greg Cadaret afterward. “Here we are, running out of the bullpen alongside the guys from Chicago’s bullpen, and we’re supposed to fight them when we get to the plate?”

It’s all about being a “good teammate”. Whatever that means.

Most players don’t want to fight, but don’t want to be perceived as shying from one either—you have to defend your teammates.

Perception is more important than reality. If you let the little things go, they can quickly turn into big things that extend to on the field as opposing players take liberties with crowding the plate, pitching inside and hard slides into bases.

No matter how idiotic they seem in the logical sense, these things are real and have to be nipped in the bud.

There are always a few players who can and like to fight. Kyle Farnsworth has the rep and the skills. Darryl Strawberry was one; Dave Parker another. The Mets of the mid-1980s not only looked for fights, they had players like Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight who wouldn’t hesitate with abilities honed in different arenas. Mitchell’s in the San Diego streets; Knight’s in Golden Gloves boxing rings.

It didn’t appear as if Gregg and Ortiz shared their pugilistic talents.

Gregg sounded like he was whining after the game with the comment: “We’re not scared of them — them and their $180 million payroll.”

Gregg would undoubtedly have loved to have been courted by the Red Sox whether he got the opportunity to close games or not.

He wasn’t. He wound up with the Orioles because the Orioles aren’t any good and didn’t have anyone better who was willing to sign with them for the money they were offering. And he’s able to accumulate saves which some still see as a valuable determination of reliever effectiveness.

What I’m wondering is whether those who feel free to scream at Gregg such well-thought-out analytical statements like, “you suck!!” realize that he’s 6’6″, 230 lbs.

It’s doubtful anyone would pull an Ortiz and charge at Gregg given the opportunity; nor would they say it to him in a one-on-one circumstance.

They might say it on Twitter though.

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Riggleman Did The Nats A Favor

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As a manager Davey Johnson is far superior to Jim Riggleman.

Johnson himself has acted in ways that could be considered “insubordinate” when he almost invariably took the sides of his players in every dispute they had with upper management, but it was that personality trait that inspired such fierce loyalty to him.

He clashed with his bosses but never upped and resigned in a fit of pique.

Johnson is expected to take over as Nationals manager for tomorrow’s game. While they don’t have the goods to contend this season, their rebuilding project has taken a drastic step forward because of their new manager. Since his contract has been reported to extend to 2013, the Nationals are going to contend for a playoff spot in 2012.

For real.

When a manager hasn’t been in the trenches for as long as Johnson, there’s a chance he’s mellowed or lost a few critical inches from his managerial fastball, but given his ego, that’s unlikely.

Johnson’s a great manager.

Just ask him and he’ll tell you.

Discipline won’t be a problem either. Never afraid to mix it up with his players—physically if need be—Johnson will be respected. And if you think the fact that he’s 68-years-old will preclude him from getting into a confrontation if needed, you don’t know Davey Johnson.

This is a man who chose to take on the biggest and baddest men on his rosters—Darryl Strawberry with the Mets; Kevin Mitchell with the Reds; Bobby Bonilla with the Orioles.

He will not back down.

A deft handler of personalities and the media, this managerial hire makes the Nationals a whole lot better.

Riggleman ruined his own reputation and career with one capricious and outright stupid maneuver.

And he did the Nationals a gigantic favor.

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Prospects

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Hyperbolic? Check.

Ignorant of a full historical perspective? Check.

Accumulating the necessary ingredients in this recipe for disaster? Check.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs came up with this little nugget about 18-year-old Nationals phenom Bryce HarperBryce Harper-Best Prospect Ever?

Once you get past the sheer lunacy of the title itself, the content is worse.

Not because it’s wrong—who knows?—but because it’s ignoring reality, history and the human nature of a game that can humble even the most talented player within a millisecond.

Cameron references some of the best prospects in baseball history in comparing Harper’s professional start. Such luminaries who, in retrospect, fulfilled their promise. Alex Rodriguez; Chipper Jones; Ken Griffey, Jr.; and Josh Hamilton are all mentioned.

Fair enough, but where are the rest of their stories?

The diversity of success, injuries, off-field issues and PED use should be accounted for when discussing Harper and making over-the-top equivalencies.

But Cameron fails to do so; instead he focuses on these players who, at the same ages as Harper, put up lesser stats.

Stats.

That’s the basis of the analysis.

But, as usual, they ignore other necessary aspects in the creation of a player.

Harper is a human being. He’s 18. And he’s already got a reputation as an immature and obnoxious jerk.

Had I been managing Harper when he first broke into pro ball, before anything else, I’d have told him to lose the warpaint on his face that’s little more than a means to draw attention to himself; whether he listened or gave me a problem would’ve indicated where the relationship was going to go; in addition to that, the support of the organization in reining in such a player could make or break his development.

Did Cameron’s salivating consider the injuries that hindered Jones’s early career? A-Rod’s PED use? Hamilton’s drug problems?

Cameron picks and chooses to bolster his point without factoring in such important pieces of information like the level of competition each player faced; instead he chooses to focus on pure numbers and level of play without the insight provided by including full disclosure of how those numbers were achieved.

And what about top prospects who were supposed to rock the baseball world, but didn’t such as Shawon Dunston?

Or others who did make it and never fulfilled their promise because of similar allegations of poor behavior (which were conveniently ignored for expediency) like Darryl Strawberry?

Or players who are doing well now as big leaguers like Justin Upton?

Where’s Joe Mauer? Mauer, whose drafting by the Twins was seen at the time—in part—as a bow to the hometown hero when the “better” choice was supposedly Mark Prior?

How’d that work out?

Personality has to be examined.

There’s having an attitude of confidence and maturity as Jones did. It wore on the veterans when he got to the big leagues and definitely irritated opponents, but he backed it all up and is now respected throughout baseball.

There are players who have cultivated a somewhat likable bluster based on prior insults as is the case of Dustin Pedroia; Pedroia has a chip on his shoulder the size of Mount Everest, but that’s more in part to his size and naysayers than it is a byproduct of him being a jerk. Had there been people telling him how wonderful he is and catering to his every whim because he was a “prodigy”, would Pedroia have become what he is? Maybe not.

Harper is being enabled by everyone.

It’s going to be a problem.

This type of column by Cameron certainly won’t help.

Plus it’s ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous…

Why are people discussing a long-term contract extension for Eric Hosmer and worrying about Scott Boras’s posturing about his player’s potential free agency?

You can read about this strangeness here on MLBTradeRumors.

Hosmer just got to the big leagues. How about having a look at him to see how he handles the circumstances before signing him long-term and locking him through arbitration/free agency? Maybe give him a chance to succeed or fail on his own?

There are so many inconsistencies and easily batted down arguments to the concept of signing him long-term immediately.

Boras is anything but stupid. Do you really believe that he’s going to allow another team to sign a contract like that which was signed by Evan Longoria right after he got to the big leagues? Longoria’s contract has been called the most value-laden in history in terms of money saved and performance; but it was still a risk for both sides. It turns out the Rays made out like bandits in the deal and Longoria—while securing long-term security for himself—cost himself a ton of cash.

Them’s the breaks.

Simply because Longoria chose the extension rather than playing it out; that the Rays made such a gutsy and retrospectively brilliant move (and it could’ve failed had Longoria faltered), doesn’t provide a template for the future of every player. Boras won’t advise his players to do such a deal. If they hire Boras to begin with, that means they want to get paid, period.

As teams have signed their young stars to long-term deals, some have chosen to tear up said deals repeatedly—as the Rockies did with Troy Tulowitzki—and extend the extensions on top of the extensions. If Hosmer signed a deal now, what difference would that make? A contract is relatively meaningless if a motivated player decides he wants to be traded as Zack Greinke did this past winter to Hosmer’s team, the Royals.

Why should the Royals and their fans even be concerned about this now and why would there be the suggestion that they won’t have the money to sign Hosmer when the time comes?

Hosmer’s years away from free agency and the Royals have been mentioned as a possible destination for Albert Pujols if he leaves the Cardinals. They’ll have the money to pay Pujols but not to keep a homegrown star?

There’s mathematical formulas and objective analysis; then there’s realistic logic and common sense.

Guess where I stand in that battle for baseball’s soul.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

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Not Feelin’ Badly For Milton Bradley

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Go elsewhere for sympathy/explanations for whatever consumes Milton Bradley; for that which has sabotaged his career.

I don’t care.

Bradley was designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners yesterday ending the latest (and probably last, at least on the field) chapter in the tale of a good player who ruined any and all opportunities he received.

Because of his talent, his anger issues and frequent run-ins with, well, everyone were accepted as a part of doing business with Bradley. Now that he doesn’t perform on the field and is a raving lunatic, no one’s going to touch him. I don’t even think he’s redeemable at this point.

There have been players with problems who’ve gotten one chance after another. Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry and Gary Sheffield come to mind. Howe could still pitch no matter how much he abused himself and was never seen as a clubhouse problem to anyone but himself; Strawberry always put forth the image of a well-meaning, affable person with an inability to keep from destroying himself; Sheffield was well-liked by teammates and his paranoid rants obscured legitimate gripes for which others would’ve been taken at their word.

Every venue for Bradley—except his one season in Texas—has ended in a bitter departure.

If there was one incident; two incidents; three incidents—with explanations—then perhaps there would be justification for Bradley’s antics.

There aren’t.

If he could still play, the Mariners wouldn’t have dumped him. They traded for him because they needed a bat and wanted to dispatch a bad contract of their own in Carlos Silva; they found a match with the Cubs.

The Mariners tolerated Bradley far longer than I would have and GM Jack Zduriencik expressed the reality with perfect succinctness in this sentence:  “The situation with Milton is that we determined he’s not part of our future and not part of our present.”

Bradley’s on-field downfall aside, his reputation is one of his own design. I’m sure some of those saying they hope Bradley gets his life together are sincere; some aren’t. But I doubt any will be staying up nights worrying about Bradley and whether he’s doing something about whatever drives him to these acts of self-destruction.

He’ll find something to do with himself: Dancing with the Stars; WWE heel; Donald Trump running mate.

Something.

You’ll notice however that none of the above have anything to do with playing baseball for a big league club.

That part of his life is likely over.

His abilities have caught up to his issues on a downward scale.

And that’s a lethal combination for his career.

****

I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

//

Instant Gratification

Hall Of Fame, Media, Players, Spring Training

I fancy myself as a pretty good judge of talent.

But sometimes I miss.

Yes.

It’s true.

Digging through some old baseball cards, I found certain young players who, at the time, I thought were going to be stars; because they were going to be stars, I felt it was prudent to protect their rookie cards not only in plastic looseleafs, but in an individual plastic sheet before putting it into the plastic looseleaf.

Some of the names now appear ridiculous.

Todd Hollandsworth.

Tony Tarasco.

Ben Grieve.

Of course there were a few that were good for awhile like Raul Mondesi.

Then there are the Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Greg Maddux, Cal Ripken that have some legitimate value.

It’s a crapshoot to see if a young prospect is going to live up to the hype or not.

We can also look at the drafts from yesteryear and examine the 1st round picks to get a gauge on how easily a players career can falter.

1992 had Phil Nevin, Jeffrey Hammonds, Paul Shuey and Preston Wilson sandwiching Derek Jeter.

In 1993 Darren Dreifort was selected after Alex Rodriguez; after that there were a series of names you might or might not recognize before Billy Wagner was taken. Three players after Wagner, Chris Carpenter was picked.

There are so many variables in a player’s development that the last thing he needs is to be anointed before he’s physically and emotionally ready.

You would think the lesson of caution would have permeated any fan base by now—especially ones like the Yankees and Braves who have known success and recent failure for big time prospects who simply didn’t make it for one reason or another.

But they’re not.

The Braves haven’t placed any undue pressure of Freddie Freeman, but they did place the entire organization’s fortunes on Jason Heyward last year; Bobby Cox went so far as to compare him to Willie Mays. Heyward was one of the rare few able to withstand the hype; we’ll see with Freeman.

Memories of the Yankees trio of homegrown pitchers who were meant to dominate baseball—two of whom failed—should cause hesitation among the Yankees, the media and fans before raving about Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos.

Apparently not.

We hear the fans go off in borderline orgasmic glee at the mere sight of Banuelos and Betances; David Wells makes idiotic statements to the tune of Banuelos being ready to pitch in the majors now; the media runs with the stories because they know that it can create a critical mass of attention.

Do they not remember Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy? Of the three young pitchers, only Phil Hughes is doing what he was supposed to do; Chamberlain is a nondescript middle-reliever and butt of jokes; Kennedy is in Arizona.

It never stops.

Is Banuelos ready? I doubt it. Physically perhaps he can compete; but emotionally? Do they really want to take that chance now? Especially with the starting rotation questionable at the back end?

Two prospects who did make it were Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry; both had moments of true greatness; both flamed out with drug, alcohol and personal problems before they could be what their abilities suggested. Yes, they had good careers, but they were nowhere near what they were supposed to be; what they should’ve been.

Former Mets GM Frank Cashen always lamented rushing both to the majors and felt partially responsible for their off-field failings. It’s not a remote concept that both Strawberry and Gooden would’ve been better equipped to deal with the spotlight had they spent full seasons in Triple A before coming to the majors.

Is Cashen being too hard on himself? Probably. Both Gooden and Strawberry would’ve found trouble whether they were in the majors at 19 and 21 respectively or 21 and 23.

To their credit, the Yankees are steadfastly refusing to rush Banuelos and Betances despite their tattered starting rotation; but that’s not stopping the lust.

This is one of the reasons it was so important that they get Cliff Lee—so they didn’t have to make that decision so quickly; the decision to try and win now with pitchers who could help that end or leave them in the minors to grow as players and people.

Will they make the same error they did with Chamberlain and let the lofty hopes of a franchise simmer like an unstable volcano, unleash him to the world, then deal with the fallout from scaling back and placing him in a preferable role?

I doubt we’ll see Banuelos or Betances coming up to the big leagues this season other than in September for a look-see at the big leagues. And if that means missing the playoffs, so be it.

The instant gratification from a youngster who’s homegrown and deemed “ready” and simultaneously fills a need is tempting; it’s a siren whose true face and consequences are known only in the aftermath.

Naturally it’s more of a point of pride to say, “these are our players”. That’s why there’s such a bond between Yankees fans and the “core four” of Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera; they weren’t mercenaries; they’re Yankees; they bleed pinstripes and there’s a connection that comes with that.

The Mets of Gooden and Strawberry could say the same thing; regardless of the success the duo had in latter years with the Yankees, they’re still Mets. It was that way with Lenny Dykstra in his star years with the Phillies—he didn’t look right in a uniform other than that of the Mets.

The Braves had that with John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones. The Phillies have it with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels.

It’s a comfort to say, “they’re ours”.

What’s missed is how rarely that happens; that young players come up together; bleed, fight, scrap and win. That nostalgia for days gone by and the realization it may not happen again explains why it hit people so hard when Pettitte retired; a piece of that history is gone; it’s a form of baseball mortality and the innate knowledge of the passage of an era.

But they’re trying to force it to happen again with the youngsters the Yankees have accumulated; it’s bad enough to saddle young players with the hopes of a franchise; it’s worse to force it on them.

In fact, it’s a recipe for disaster.

We’ve seen it over-and-over again.

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