The Pinstriped Curtain And The Little Gatekeeper

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

Drunk with power and taking quite literally his wide-ranging parameters, the Yankees czar/zealot/dictator of a media director Jason Zillo refused access to writer Michael Sokolove as Sokolove wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine about the natural, age-related decline of athletes with Derek Jeter at the center.

It’s a combination profile, statistical and historical analysis not of Jeter alone, but of athletes in general as they age.

What jumped out at me was the behavior of Zillo and the Napoleonic arrogance he shows in what apparently is perceived as all-encompassing power.

I was baffled when I read the following:

The prospect of this article did not sit well with the Yankees, or at least elements of its hierarchy. Jason Zillo, the team’s media director, would not grant me access to the Yankees’ clubhouse before games to do interviews. I have been a baseball beat writer, have written two baseball books and have routinely been granted clubhouse credentials for a quarter-century, as just about anyone connected to a reputable publication or broadcast outlet usually is. “We’re not interested in helping you, so why should I let you in?” Zillo said, before further explaining that he views his role as a “gatekeeper” against stories the Yankees would rather not see in print.

Hearkening back to Jane Heller‘s tongue-in-cheek book, Confessions of a She-Fan—which was a love-letter to the Yankees and was actually more about being a fan and how it affects one’s life—Zillo also refused Jane access to the club in any way; not even John Sterling was able to help her in her efforts to talk to the players for a book that was written in a comedic, fan-centric tone.

What is this?

Are the Yankees seriously trying to stifle the media like a paranoid carbon-copy of the Nixon Administration?

Jeter is the catalyst for unending debate; his game is being put into perspective as to whether it’s intangibles, performance, personality or all of the above that have created this mythic figure.

On one end of the spectrum, you have Michael Kay’s orgasmic verbal expulsions when Jeter grounds a single through the middle and the caller who told Mike Francesa that Jeter was going to do something “special” (whatever that means) before this season ends; on the other end are the media members like Rob Neyer who imply Jeter shouldn’t be playing at all, the fans who want to give his job to Eduardo Nunez or call him “Captain DP” among the more printable references in a family-friendly blog.

But this isn’t about Jeter; not about the wide-ranging reactions he receives as his skills diminish; it’s about Zillo and the Yankees (because they’re the entity Zillo represents) as he wallows in a self-created, all-encompassing power he believes he has and is in the process (a Brian Cashman word) of embarrassing the Yankees organization with his growing megalomania.

It’s despicable.

MLB should examine the “Zillo Policy” and step in to prevent these kinds of random refusals of access from happening again.

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Manager Billy

Books, Games, Management, Media, Players

In a destructive fashion that almost appears intentional, Billy Beane has taken steps to dismantle the aura of genius created by Moneyball as if the yoke around his neck was far too much for him to bear. In the years since the Michael Lewis farce was published, Beane has eschewed a vast number of the tenets upon which the foundation of his supposed infallibility was concocted.  Hindered by the fleeting nature of perfection, Beane’s work hasn’t only been slipshod for the most part, but it’s been poor; in addition to that, his treatment of players and employees—specifically his managers—has been at best inconsistent and arbitrary.

How is it possible that Bob Geren is still managing the Athletics?

Of course you can make the argument that Geren hasn’t been at fault for the team’s mediocre showings since he took over; but given the way Beane callously dismissed the managerial contributions of Art Howe and Ken Macha, one cannot escape the contention that the only reason that Geren is still there is because of his personal friendship with Beane.

After the Brian Fuentes dustup several weeks ago—that was the fault of the manager—what other explanation is there?

You can read about the issues with Geren and the club in detail here in a piece by Ann Killion for Sports Illustrated.

Because Beane’s entire being was crafted by Moneyball, his only recourse is to live up to the fantasy by doing what it was that he was said to have been doing, or demolish it completely.

With the ridiculous movie soon to be released, Beane’s story is nearly at its logical conclusion and it ain’t gonna be Rocky. My friend Jane Heller was right when she told me that the movie would get made and it would bear little resemblance to that which was intended when the entire concept of a movie adaptation from that book was hatched.

When a manager isn’t given credit, nor should he be given blame. So who else is there apart from the “all-seeing/all-knowing” general manager?

Eventually it gets to the point—even for his remaining idol-worshippers for whom he can do no wrong—that there’s nowhere else to look but Beane.

As the team is stumbling badly and complaining about the way in which they’re handled, how is it glossed over so ignorantly? Fuentes isn’t a good closer, but he was right in his complaints about a “lack of communication”—conveniently the very reason (arbitrary as it was) for the firing of Macha.

All Macha did was win; all Geren has done is lose; but Macha wasn’t Beane’s buddy, so the clear implication is that Geren is either there because Beane is objectively looking at the circumstances under which the manager is working and saying, “it’s not his fault” or he’s keeping him for a subjective reason such as friendship—a reason that contradicts that which the Beane legend was based as a ruthless corporate titan or cold Michael Corleone clone who did whatever was necessary to win and maintain control.

But Macha was fired for no reason other than Beane’s whims; Howe was pushed out the door in part so he could make an amount of money with the Mets that he never would’ve made with the A’s (I honestly believe Beane was doing Howe a favor financially), and because Beane wanted to make a managerial change.

So what now?

It won’t happen, but here’s what I’d like to see: Manager Billy Beane.

Rather than “manage the team from the weight room” as was alleged in Moneyball, let Beane get back into uniform and put the onus of the entire organization on his desk. There’d no longer be anyone else to hold accountable; no one to toss overboard but Beane himself. But as much as every GM claims to be the one who is responsible for what goes on throughout an organization, that’s the last thing 99.9% of them would be willing to do.

It’d be a predictable train wreck, but a fitting end to the myth of Lewis and Moneyball.

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