The Jonathan Martin Case Puts the NFL in a Precarious Situation

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Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins having left the team due to what’s been referred to as locker room bullying has put the NFL in a delicate situation on how to regulate their players.

Years ago, this wouldn’t have been an issue. Martin would be declared weak and told that if he wanted to be an NFL player, he had to toughen up. As a former second round draft pick, the young offensive tackle has obvious value. He’s 6’5”, 310 pounds and teams don’t waste second round draft picks on players they’ll dispose of for a solvable problem. If this had happened before the NFL tried to become such a fan-friendly entity with crossover appeal, it’s doubtful it would have been a story at all.

Times are different. The simplistic approach says that when dealing with a group mentality with people in an aggressive, high-pressure environment, the way to put a stop to this type of behavior is to handle it physically. Fights within a sports team happen all the time whether they’re reported or not. The only time they are reported are when they occur in public or there’s an injury of some sort. Other than that, they’re occasionally necessary to clear out bad blood or, as in Martin’s case, to make his teammates cease being so abusive.

Could Martin have taken the supposed ringleader, Richie Incognito and given him a beating to send a message to him and the rest of the team to knock it off? Incognito is about the same size as Martin, but usually just the effort is enough to make a bully back away.

Perhaps Martin doesn’t want to resort to that.

Martin went to Stanford and both of his parents are attorneys who went to Harvard. When a physical confrontation is necessary, it’s not fear that stops the more cerebral and intelligent person from acting. It’s the potential consequences and weighing the results that keeps them from taking that step.

“What if I really hurt him?

“What if I go to jail?”

“Do I want to play this game if it makes me into something I’m not?”

They’re legitimate questions.

For whatever reason, Martin chose to take a different route and walked away. The whole episode is being portrayed as “Martin was picked on and he left the team.” It might not be that at all. No one knows the whole story. It could be a combination of issues that led to his departure. Whether or not he’ll be back is up to him.

To believe that the intra-team treatment of players is an isolated incident is naïve at best and stupid at worst.

The public response to a cellphone video that Giants punter Steve Weatherford made of Prince Amukamara being dumped into ice water by Jason Pierre-Paul was indicative of the culture. Weatherford posted it on Twitter and it became an “incident.” Was this hazing? Was it bullying?

If it’s guys goofing around, it’s one thing. If it reaches the level where the target doesn’t want to come to work, it’s another. It’s hard to blame the players because how are they supposed to know when to stop if there’s not a baseline criteria and standards of which action is in what category?

There’s a fine line between hazing and abusiveness. There’s also a fine line between looking like the school kid saying “I’m telling on you” to have it handled by a person in position of power and reporting a workplace violation. Many times, telling the boss or the teacher or the police about it is going to make matters worse. In the case of the Dolphins, what precisely is coach Joe Philbin going to do about it? He’s not exactly intimidating and doesn’t have the personality of someone the players will be frightened of. Much has been made of Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano and his staff violating what’s supposed to be a “players only” sanctuary of the locker room with spies and perceived inappropriate venturing into their territory. If the coaches aren’t supposed to go in there, then they’re not supposed to mess with the hierarchy of the room and any rituals that might go on either.

In the Giants incident, coach Tom Coughlin said that he didn’t know about it until he was told and would take care of it. Rest assured he did. Will Philbin? Or will he hem and haw and be wishy-washy about it hoping it goes away? Would anyone be scared enough to listen if he told them to stop?

A strong-handed head coach doesn’t necessarily have to be a stern, glowering taskmaster like Coughlin or Mike Tomlin; it doesn’t have to be someone whose personality permeates the room and the players know he’ll be ruthless in dealing with a problem as Jimmy Johnson was. Andy Reid and Mike Holmgren are soft-spoken puffballs, but the players know they’re in charge. And that’s without mentioning the Emperor Palpatine of the NFL, Bill Belichick.

With a coach, it comes down to this: Is it affecting the team? Since Martin left, it’s affecting the team, therefore it’s a problem that must be addressed. Other than that, they probably wouldn’t notice if they knew about it at all.

Given the nature of this story and the mere use of the word “bullying,” it puts the NFL in a precarious position on how to proceed. The NFL is taking part in anti-bullying campaigns and trying to educate young people on why not to do it and what to do if it does happen. So what is the NFL’s recourse if it’s happening with one of their own franchises to the point that the player who was reportedly subjected to the bullying got up and left?

The NFL Players Association is looking into it and there’s no doubt that Commissioner Roger Goodell is monitoring this closely. In combination with the league-wide efforts to take part in anti-bullying initiatives and that it’s making the league look bad, this happening so publicly will get some results. Whether it will stop throughout the league is the question. The answer is probably no.

Like the code red in the Marine Corps and made famous in A Few Good Men, these hazing rituals are part of the culture. On some level, the players, coaches and participants might think it’s a necessary part of building a bond and indicates acceptance into the group. Once something happens to draw it into public scrutiny, there will be the pretense of responding to the issue to prevent it from happening again, then it will be forgotten about. It’s been part of the dynamic forever. One story about a football player who decided he’d had enough won’t alter that fact.




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Yankees Belt-Tightening, Part I—A Cranky Fanbase Grows Crankier

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To gauge the short-term, “what have you done for me lately,” nature of sports fandom, you need only look at the absurd demands of fans of the New York Giants football team calling for the firing of coach Tom Coughlin and replacing quarterback Eli Manning less than eleven months after they won their second Super Bowl with Coughlin and Manning. Not only have they won two Super Bowls, but in both games they beat the Patriots with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, supposedly the best quarterback/coach combination since the 49ers had Joe Montana and Bill Walsh.

But the Giants are 8-7 and suffering through a second half slump that has left them on the outside looking in at a playoff spot, needing a win on Sunday against the Eagles and significant help from other teams to squeak into the playoffs. It has also put Coughlin and Manning in the crosshairs of angry fans’ venting.

Of course they’re greedy, but what’s happening now with the Giants pales in comparison to what’s going to happen with the Yankees in 2013 if their ancient veterans aren’t able to conjure one last run and make the playoffs with a legitimate chance at a World Series win. The same fanbase that booed Derek Jeter and referred to him as “Captain Double Play” among other, worse epithets, now reacts like a mother bear when one of her cubs is in danger should anyone say one negative word about Jeter, even if it’s true. His performance since he notched his 3000th hit has been a renaissance to the player he was a decade ago; that’s why he’s back to “untouchable” status.

It’s a fleeting loyalty especially with the nouveau Yankees fan who began rooting for the team at some point between their 1996 World Series win and their 1998 114 win claim to being one of the best teams in history. Like the newly rich, there’s a gaucheness combined with a lack of comprehension as to the reality of how difficult it is to win and maintain as the Yankees have. They want the team to just “buy stuff” and fill the house with gaudy showpieces and expect to find themselves admired and respected for their taste. But it’s not taste to buy a Picasso just because it’s a Picasso. It helps to understand the significance of the piece and it doesn’t have to be expensive to be of value. The same holds true with players. Fans wanted the Yankees to buy the most expensive pieces on the market and since 2000, that’s what they’ve done to maintain this level of play. Their cohesiveness and home built charm has suffered as they transformed into little more than a band of mercenaries without the on-field camaraderie that was a subtle and imperative portion of the four championships between 1996 and 2000. The pieces that once fit together no longer do.

What happened with the Yankees and Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Joe Torre and the other foundational members of the dynasty is an extreme rarity. A club showing the ability to make it through three rounds of short-series playoffs and win a championship is far more difficult to accomplish than it was when the Yankees were seemingly in the World Series every year from the 1920s to the 1960s.

That dynasty came undone as the stars got old and weren’t replaced. The draft had been implemented and the Yankees were unfamiliar with having to wait their turn and battle with other clubs for the right to get players—no longer could they offer the most money in a bonus for a kid who wanted to join them because of Mickey Mantle and that they won every year.

They were a dilapidated afterthought from 1966 through 1976 when they made it back to the Fall Classic and that was three years after George Steinbrenner purchased the team and set about doing what it was the Yankees always did—spend money and demand results now. Sometimes it worked and sometimes Steinbrenner’s immediate success of returning the club to its prior glory within 5 years after buying it set them on the path they took in the 1980s with dysfunction, rampant managerial and front office changes, money spent on trash and an eventual decline to last place. It was when Steinbrenner was suspended that Gene Michael and Buck Showalter were able to rebuild, develop, keep their youngsters and do something novel in Yankeeland: let the young players play for the Yankees.

It worked.

Success demanded more success, however, and any thought of stepping back and shunning the biggest free agent names/trade targets was dismissed out of hand. Money spent can’t guarantee a championship and the Yankees have won one since 2000. It’s the way the game is played now. It takes a certain amount of good fortune to win multiple titles in a short timeframe. The San Francisco Giants are considered something of a dynasty now with two titles in three years, but that too was circumstantial rather than the result of a new template or dominance.

The Yankees’ situation is different. Faced with the demands of a fanbase that doesn’t accept anything short of a World Series forces decisions that wouldn’t normally be made. When they tried to scale back on paying ludicrous amounts of money for other team’s stars by building their own pitchers Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, they were rewarded with a missed playoff spot in 2008 and their strange and paranoid restrictions on the above pitchers resulted in all being disappointments.

They responded by reversion to what was with big free agent signings of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. That worked in 2009 as they won the World Series, but the contracts were expensive and long-term. Burnett in particular was dumped after he pitched as he has in his entire career with customary mediocrity sprinkled in with flashes of teasing brilliance. The Yankees were somehow surprised by this. The belief that by sheer act of a player putting on a Yankees uniform, he’ll somehow evolve into something different than what he is has doomed the club before.

Teixeira is declining; Sabathia has a lot of wear on his tires at age 32 and is signed through 2016. That’s before getting to the other contracts such as that of Alex Rodriguez along with this new austerity that has culminated in a strange and unusual off-season for the 21st Century Yankees.

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Triple Crown Winners and the MVP

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The reason the Triple Crown is getting such attention is that it’s so unknown to most everyone because it hasn’t happened since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski won it leading the Red Sox to their “Impossible Dream” pennant. But now, with Tigers’ third baseman Miguel Cabrera on the verge of winning the Triple Crown in the American League, there’s an increasingly contentious debate as to whether leading the home runs, RBI, and batting average will justify Cabrera taking the Most Valuable Player over Angels’ center fielder Mike Trout.

Trout has the accumulation of numbers including great defense and stolen bases to go along with power for a 10.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Cabrera’s WAR has been reduced significantly because he’s a poor defensive third baseman. Discounting defense, Trout is still ahead by .9 wins per game over Cabrera when calculating offensive WAR.

So how is it going to be decided? Will it be based on the player with the big power numbers? The one with the higher WAR and better all-around game? Will the word “value” be taken literally and used out of convenience by the voter to achieve his ends of picking Cabrera or Trout and use a floating, elusive, and adaptive principle to counter disagreement? Will there be the “clutch” stats factored into the equation? Difficulty of opponent? Will it go macro by dissecting when they did their damage and against whom and a myriad of other reasons to do what one would prefer to do? A motivated supporter of either Trout or Cabrera can find a reason to do it. It’s not hard.

I wrote about Trout vs Cabrera recently here, but what’s interesting is examining how players who had previously won the Triple Crown were treated by the MVP voters. Let’s take a look at the Triple Crown winners, some of whom didn’t win the MVP.

(The MVP was called the “league award” before it became the MVP in 1931.)

1925: Triple Crown Winner—Rogers Hornsby, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals; won the MVP

Hornsby won the Triple Crown with 39 homers, 143 RBI, and a .403 BA. He had a 10.1 WAR and won the National League MVP. He also led the league in every major offensive category. His Cardinals team finished at 77-76.

Pirates’ right fielder Kiki Cuyler came in second in the voting and it was far closer than it should’ve been with Hornsby getting 91% of the votes and Cuyler 76%. Cuyler stole 41 bases, had 26 triples, and led the majors with 144 runs scored. Obviously the Pirates winning the pennant with a 95-58 record and pennant helped Cuyler’s case with many of the voters.

1933: Triple Crown Winner—Jimmie Foxx, 1B, Philadelphia Athletics; won the MVP

Foxx had 48 homers, 163 RBI, and batted .356. He also led the league in slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. He had a WAR of 9.0. Foxx won the award relatively easily with 91%. Next was Lou Gehrig at 69%. The only player who warranted consideration based on the way his team finished was third place finisher, left fielder Heinie Manush of the pennant winning Washington Senators, and his numbers weren’t MVP-quality. He led the league in hits and triples.

The Senators didn’t have one significant star who “made” their 99-53 record. They finished 19 ½ games ahead of the A’s, but Foxx won the MVP anyway.

1933: Triple Crown Winner—Chuck Klein, RF, Philadelphia Phillies; did not win the MVP

Klein played for the Phillies who finished in last place in the National League with a record of 60-92. Klein led the league in every significant offensive category and had a 7.3 WAR. Klein had won the MVP in the National League in 1932, but finished in second place to New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell (there was no Cy Young Award then). The Giants won the National League pennant that season, Hubbell went 23-12 with a 1.66 ERA and an 8.5 WAR. Hubbell deserved the award.

1934: Triple Crown Winner—Lou Gehrig, 1B, New York Yankees; did not win the MVP

The Yankees finished second to the Tigers by seven games in the American League. Gehrig led the AL in everything from homers, to RBI, to batting average, to on-base, slugging, and total bases. He had a 10.1 WAR. But Tigers’ catcher Mickey Cochrane won the MVP based on the Tigers winning the pennant. There could be no other reason. The voting was close…but it was close between Cochrane and his teammate Charlie Gehringer. Gehringer should’ve won it over Cochrane. Gehrig came in a ludicrous fifth. You could try to make the argument of Gehringer over Gehrig. You’d be wrong, but given Gehringer playing second base well and Gehrig playing first base poorly, along with the Tigers winning the pennant, you could make the argument.

1937: Triple Crown Winner—Joe Medwick, LF, St. Louis Cardinals; won the MVP

Looking at Medwick’s numbers, he reminds me of Don Mattingly. He was a hacker who never walked, but never struck out either. In addition to the Triple Crown numbers, he led the National League in hits, runs, doubles, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. His WAR was 8.1.

The Cardinals finished in fourth place in the National League far behind the pennant-winning Giants. Gabby Hartnett came in second in the MVP voting, but Medwick deserved it and won it.

1942: Triple Crown Winner—Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox; did not win the MVP

Williams led the AL in every offensive category by a lot. The Red Sox finished in second place in the AL behind the Yankees. Yankees’ second baseman Joe Gordon won the MVP. Williams’s WAR was 10.2 and Gordon’s was 7.8. The voting was close with Gordon accumulating 270 points to Williams’s 249. Of course Williams should’ve won. It’s doubtful anyone was paying attention to his shaky, uninterested defense back then, but the voters certainly knew that Williams had no use for the writers and perhaps that affected the voting more than Gordon’s Yankees winning the pennant with a far better team.

1947: Triple Crown Winner—Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox; did not win the MVP

The Red Sox finished in third place, 14 games behind the pennant winning Yankees, but the absurdity of this MVP voting was stark. Joe DiMaggio won it with mediocre (for him) numbers of 20 homers and a .315/.391/.522 split. His WAR was 4.5.

Williams led the American League in every major offensive category and was again playing for a far inferior team. DiMaggio won the award by 1 point when he should have come in third behind Williams and Lou Boudreau.

1956: Triple Crown Winner—Mickey Mantle, CF, New York Yankees; won the MVP

The Yankees won the pennant by 9 games, Mantle led the American League in every major offensive category; he won the award unanimously and deserved it.

1966: Triple Crown Winner—Frank Robinson, RF, Baltimore Orioles; won the MVP

The Orioles won the pennant that year and Robinson won the AL MVP unanimously and deserved it. The interesting part of the Robinson’s 1966 season was how he’d been traded by the Reds the year before because Reds’ owner Bill DeWitt called the 30-year-old Robinson “an old 30.”

Challenging someone as cantankerous as Robinson—even now at age 77—is not a good idea. In truth, this trade in which Robinson was dealt for pitchers Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson might’ve been something the self-proclaimed experts who think they can study a stat sheet and know the ins-and-outs of baseball would pull and, in theory, it wasn’t a horrible idea.

Pappas has had his name sullied because he was traded for Robinson, but he was a very good pitcher who won 209 big league games. Simpson was 21 and had a big year in Triple A for the Angels in 1965 with 24 homers and 29 stolen bases, a .301 BA and .380 OBP (he was traded to the Orioles a week before they traded him to the Reds). Baldschun had been a useful reliever for the Phillies in the preceding years.

The pride of a man like Robinson was ignored and the trade and comments about why they made it set Robinson off on a mission to prove DeWitt wrong. And he did.

1967: Triple Crown Winner—Carl Yastrzemski, LF, Boston Red Sox; won the MVP

The only thing preventing Yastrzemski from winning the AL MVP unanimously was someone, somewhere who decided to vote for Cesar Tovar. Tovar had led the league in games, plate appearances, and at-bats. He batted .267 with a .325 OBP, 6 homers and 19 stolen bases. He was average defensively. Tovar was apparently voted for the MVP because of his attendance record.

Yastrzemski led the Red Sox to the World Series. The race went down to the wire with the White Sox, Twins, Tigers, and Red Sox all fighting until the end. Yastrzemski hit 9 homers in Sept./Oct. and had a .417/.504/.760 split in that last month-plus when it counted most.

For the most part, the rightful MVP has tended to win. There are mitigating circumstances when humans who rely on various biases and criteria are making the decisions. Some will be starstruck from the Triple Crown because it’s something many probably haven’t seen before. Others will lodge a “protest” vote against the stat people who are rolling their eyes and trying to bully the objectors of Trout’s candidacy using WAR as an end-of-story hammer without taking other aspects into account. Still others will try to use either the Tigers or Angels making the playoffs (or not) as the context of voting for or against either Trout or Cabrera.

When baseball awards are selected, there’s no list of reasons to vote or not vote for a candidate. All that can be done is to make a case and hope others agree. But I don’t see people making a case either way. I just see fighting, and all fighting is going to do is cause the factions to dig in and ignore any list of reasons, regardless of how logical and sensible they are. Being a hardline old-schooler or a condescending and arrogant stat person isn’t going to sway people to either side. That much I can guarantee.

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Francesa’s Mets Rant Was Preplanned And Absurd

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It took two losses to light the fire under Mike Francesa that exploded with a comical rant against the Mets? Two losses from 24 hours earlier when he had as guests both Mets’ manager Terry Collins and General Manager Sandy Alderson that led to this “passionate” and “angry” fit of screaming? Was this the playoffs? Did the Mets, playing the Rockies needing one win in four games to secure a spot in the playoffs, lose all four games?

No.

It was four games played by two also-ran teams that are looking ahead toward 2013. So why this faux outrage? And why didn’t Francesa address these concerns with the Mets braintrust when he had them on the show? Instead of screaming in their faces, he acted as he always does when Alderson is a guest: like a cowering Marine recruit or fresh out of law school attorney talking to a combat veteran and experienced, Ivy League-educated partner at his firm. He was servile and bottom line intimidated by Alderson because every word Alderson says to him is underscored with the unsaid, “You don’t know anything and you’re a baseball idiot.”

On a day when the Yankees lead in the American League East was cut to 2 ½ games by the onrushing Rays and after Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi had a public meltdown of his own telling a heckler in Chicago to “shut up,” Francesa decided (and it was preplanned despite any allusions to the contrary) to unleash with both barrels on the Mets organization.

I CAN SIT HERE AND TYPE IN ALL CAPS AND ACT ENRAGED AT THE LACK OF BASEBALL SENSE AND POST-ALL-STAR-BREAK TUMBLE THE METS HAVE TAKEN!!!! I CAN TRY TO ACCUMULATE LISTENERS, WEBHITS WITH MY SCREAMING!!!!

But what good does it do? It would be transparent and stupid, drawing attention for the wrong reasons with a short-term burst and no legitimacy.

Francesa, the same man who said for a month that manager Collins deserved a contract extension without bothering to check or have it checked what Collins’s contract situation was (the Mets exercised Collins’s 2013 option last September), now compares Collins to one of Francesa’s favorite targets from years gone by, former Jets’ coach Rich Kotite?

How’s that work? He went from deserving a guarantee of employment to the blackest mark on a Jets franchise that has blocks of black like a partially declassified government document?

Like the callers who wait on hold for an eternity for the opportunity to “discuss” sports with the “knowledgeable” hosts on any sport-talk show, there was plenty of shouting to “do something” with no viable suggestions of precisely what should be done. What would he like them to do? All he did was reference runs scored, their record since the break, ridicule the young pitchers without knowing one thing about them, and tear into Collins.

Where’s the solution?

Could he come up with one?

In the act, Francesa sounds like a fool on the verge of a stroke. What makes it worse is that it’s fake.

The one thing Mets fans and personnel don’t need to hear is how bad the team is from those who had predicted that this same roster was going to lose somewhere between 90 and 110 games. Those same people who were strangely silent when the Mets were playing solid baseball and were one of the surprise stories of the first half of the season. All of a sudden, those silent voices—Francesa, Joel Sherman, Michael Kay—are going to pop up like the weasels that they are and pick at the bones with ego-propping exhortations of how “right” they were. But where were they back then? Were they waiting for the bottom to drop out “knowing” this would happen or were they simply hoping it would to boost their own poorly-disguised agendas?

It’s easier for Francesa to sit by like the lonely girl at the school dance hoping someone will pay attention to him and, when no one does, to strip off all his clothes and cause a humiliating scene that people are going to talk about—and ridicule—in its aftermath than to intelligently retort what the GM himself said to him directly the day before.

Are the Mets supposed to spend money they don’t have in the middle of a rebuild to keep the media off their backs when it’s been known since Alderson took over that the entire organization from top-to-bottom needed a total reconstruction? Which players did he want? No answer is given.

He wants them to spend money as if that’s the end-all/be-all of formulating a winning team after having watched the Yankees of the 1980s toss money at the wall, change managers and general managers and placate the fans with name players in free agency and trades that did little more than speed their descent to the depths. Did spending money help the Red Sox this season? The Angels? The Marlins? The Tigers? The Phillies?

In one breath he says something to the tune of “nobody knows with bullpens,” and in the next, he wants them to spend money on said bullpen. They did that and it hasn’t worked. Did he want Heath Bell? Jonathan Papelbon? Rafael Soriano was essentially useless to the Yankees until Mariano Rivera got hurt, now everyone’s in love with Soriano because he’s doing a job that he can do, a job that the Yankees only gave him because their designated replacement for Rivera, David Robertson, got hurt and looked like he needed to rush to the toilet when he was pitching the ninth inning instead of the eighth.

I didn’t hear one predictably negative word from Francesa about David Wright while Wright was carrying the team and playing like an MVP candidate in the first half, but now Wright’s not Evan Longoria; he’s not a player that can carry a team; he’s not a “superstar”. But why didn’t he say it then? Was he waiting until the inevitable slump?

Francesa doesn’t know the plan of Alderson, but when this primal scream started, did Francesa have a plan behind the shouting? If so, he’s got it hidden as well as he accuses the Mets of hiding their plan. The Mets do have a plan and it’s obvious, albeit unpopular: wait until the expensive contracts expire; wait until the financial circumstances of the Wilpons improve; take the lumps; and spend for 2014. They won’t say it, but it is what it is. It’s a rebuild. That’s what happens in a rebuild, like it or not.

If Francesa were an actual inside baseball person and walked into the clubhouse like a raving lunatic, he’d be ostracized similarly to former Mets’ employee Tony Bernazard who was fired due to his decision to do exactly what Francesa did yesterday with a bunch of minor leaguers.

It was embarrassing, but would be acceptable if he simply came up with a viable solution!

But he didn’t.

Instead, he referenced sore spots in New York sports and said things that would twist the knife to anyone who was the object of said vitriol by saying the words, “Rich Kotite”.

It’s indicative of the Francesa mentality that the replacement for Kotite was Francesa’s friend Bill Parcells and upon the hiring of Parcells the Jets went from clueless to Francesa’s team to the point that he wore a Jets pullover during his show.

The Jets are back to being on his hit list. Their GM Mike Tannenbaum worked with Parcells and the reference of “Mr. T” has gone from a term of endearment to a clean curse. Coach Rex Ryan has brought on much of the animosity himself with his blatantly arrogant, bloviating statements of perceived greatness that doesn’t exist on or off the field. In fact, Rex Ryan’s team is taking the mirror image of his father Buddy Ryan’s teams as they had a short burst of success after the new coach took charge with the lax discipline and player love for the coach, and is now coming undone as a direct result of the reasons that the players wanted to play for the Ryans. Francesa will turn his attention to them soon. Judging from their disarray, the Jets are well on the way to a truly disappointing season, one in which the rest of football would see as a piled on comeuppance worse than what they got from the Giants’ Super Bowl victory.

It grates Francesa that Alderson won’t kowtow to him and calmly, coolly answers his questions with logic and intelligence rather than stammering and return fire. The Jets steer clear of Francesa’s show for the most part. That Alderson isn’t going to hide or act capriciously to take the heat off of his organization or his bosses and make a desperate mistake that Omar Minaya’s operation made with signing Jason Bay or that the Red Sox, Phillies, Tigers, Yankees and Angels made in tossing money at their problems feeds into Francesa’s feelings of inadequacy because he can’t bully this new Mets regime with his spewing and attempts to foment a revolution among the fanbase.

If the Mets hire a “Francesa-approved” manager (since Collins has lost said approval), would he then refrain from this type of hate speech? Or if the players—and it’s the players, not the manager—aren’t good enough to compete, would they be on the burner?

Minaya was never treated in this way because everyone liked him and, occasionally, felt sorry for him as it was so easy to get him flustered and repetitive due to his desire to be everyone’s friend and his difficulties with the intricacies of the English language. Francesa wasn’t Minaya’s friend. It was another tactic to have his voice heard and, perhaps, listened to in a reactive fashion. “Francesa’s on our case and getting the fans after us, so we’d better do something.” It’s a blatant and transparent altering of strategy that Alderson, with his Marine training and legal background, is going to see right through and roundly ignore.

The Mets themselves were surprised by their early season vault into contention. They knew that the team was going to have a hard time competing unless Johan Santana came back strong; unless Wright had an MVP season; unless R.A. Dickey was a solid, mid-rotation starter; unless the young players Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole, Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis stepped forward; and unless the revamped bullpen performed. It just so happened that in the first half of the season, much of that (aside from the bullpen) and more happened. Suddenly the Mets were a feel-good story who couldn’t be criticized specifically because they were operating under constraints of a rebuild and the lack of money available to buy players—players who would’ve done more harm than good in the long-term had they bought them.

Once the players came back to earth, injuries mounted and hot streaks ended, the team came undone. But how can anyone scream about it when nothing was expected in the first place? That they played as well as they did given the difficulty of the National League East and the hindrances and negativity surrounding the club is a minor miracle.

This is an explanation of why the team’s come apart as it has. It’s not yelling and screaming. It’s just fact. Facts are what Francesa was unable to coherently provide yesterday. The session was designed to exert his will on the franchise when they don’t care what he says and don’t think much of his baseball-intelligence to begin with. In the past, the Mets played defense with Francesa; now they just treat him as a North Korea-style agitator that has to be paid attention to in a “watch him” sort of way, but has limited weapons to deploy and doesn’t want to push too far because if Alderson truly decides to tell Francesa what he thinks of him, he’ll be left publicly cowering instead of validating the still deniable underlying fear he has of the Mets’ GM.

If Alderson fires back, Francesa won’t have a response because yesterday’s bellowing was the one weapon he has left. It was noisy and little else.

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The Lawrence Taylor Super Bowl Ring Non-Story

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Former New York Giants’ star linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s championship ring from Super Bowl XXV was sold at auction by Taylor’s son T.J. for a total of $230,431. That’s Super Bowl 25 for us normal humans who don’t want to engage in the pageantry of the Roman numerals preferred by the NFL to “add” something (I’m not sure what) to the hype surrounding the “ultimate game” that’s played every single year.

Current Giants’ star Osi Umenyiora’s attempt to bolster his Twitter following by inserting himself into the drama fell flat. After saying that he’d purchase the ring at any cost and give it back to Taylor if he reached 500,000 followers by auction time, he made it to 55,000.

I guess Taylor’s Super Bowl ring wasn’t enough of a worthwhile cause for the Twittersphere to band together to follow Umenyiora and support his decision to waste a ridiculous amount of money on something stupid.

The whole this is just that. Ridiculous and stupid. Apparently Taylor had given the ring to his son and said he was fine with whatever decision T.J. made as to what to do with it.

I don’t think people understand the thinking of people who were involved in playing the game and winning the championship. It’s not a pleasant realization to know that these possessions that so many people say, “if I ever had that, I’d never give it up” are not cherished to that degree by the participants. For many, it’s a bauble that isn’t doing them any good sitting in a safe deposit box or a drawer or closet in their home. Taylor especially has shown little interest in being involved with the game of football following his retirement.

If you listen to him analyze the game, he’d be a brilliant broadcaster. He’s not interested.

If you listen to him talk about little wrinkles that player can and should use to advantage themselves, he’d be a successful coach. He’s not interested.

Taylor could be a scout or a front office person, but it’s not what he wants to do.

He’s done some acting, professional wrestling and commercials with various levels of competence and success. But he’s never shown a serious desire to become a breakout star in anything other than playing the game of football. That’s what he was great at and he doesn’t do it anymore.

His Super Bowl ring was sold and it’s no one’s business. Even if it was, Taylor himself doesn’t care, so why should we?

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The Truth About the Drafts—NFL and MLB

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New York football Giants’ GM Jerry Reese was a guest with Mike Francesa yesterday to discuss his team’s haul in the NFL draft a week ago.

You can listen to the interview here.

Reese has won two Super Bowls and is the top football man of one of the most organized and serious front offices in the profession. During the interview, when discussing the media’s and public’s analysis of players and the draft, Reese said something very simple, highly intelligent and laser precise enough to stick a pin in the enormous and bloated egos of those who think they’re more qualified to assess, analyze, advise and criticize the players that are taken in any draft than those who are making the picks.

Well, I just think that there’s so many draft shows and people talk about draft picks and people don’t do it professionally for a job. We have guys who do it for a living. And the guys who don’t go to all the ballgames and scout them like we do here, I think there can be some misinformation.

He was speaking from his position running the Giants, but it applies to all drafts. My focus is on the NFL draft and the MLB draft.

The NFL draft has long been an extravaganza with a phalanx of armchair experts anointed credibility in a circular exercise without end. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines—with no responsibility—and say anything. Occasionally you’ll be right; occasionally you’ll be wrong; but without a career or job on the line, what difference does it make? All that’s necessary are a forum, the buzzwords and an audience.

I say this having great admiration for what a true NFL draftnik like Mel Kiper Jr. has been able to do in creating a niche for himself where there wasn’t one before. He worked very hard to get where he is and has made a lot of money doing what he loves.

That said, is anyone going to notice if Kiper says that he’d choose X player over Y player and Y player turns into a star? Probably. But is he going to lose his job? No.

Because the mandate of the draft analysts on ESPN, NFL Network, MLB and other outlets is to stimulate debate, disagree and draw attention to what they’re saying, there’s no reason to take it seriously.

If the mock drafts pop up and the repeated changes, “raging debates” and “eureka” discoveries as to why the “experts” are changing their minds isn’t based on any new information, what’s the point? We’re oversaturated with information as it is. It’s designed to attract webhits, ratings, attention and to sell draft guides. From higher ratings come more advertising dollars. If you know this going in and still partake for the theater, fine; if you don’t, then you’re being treated as and acting like a mindless sheep.

I could get my hands on a reputable website with the list of the top 30 potential picks in the NFL and MLB drafts, pick one and formulate a roundabout explanation as to why I did it without actually saying anything and there would be 1000 people saying it’s brilliant and another 1000 saying it’s idiotic.

Jon Gruden was savaged on Twitter for his negativity about drafted players. Said savagery was uttered by people who have no credentials to be critiquing someone like Gruden who is a Super Bowl winning coach, has extensive experience and would have another coaching job almost immediately if he chose to leave the broadcast booth.

Are you more credible than Jon Gruden? Is some guy on Twitter?

With the number of NFL players who were late-bloomers (Rich Gannon); lower round draft choices who found themselves in an advantageous system and circumstances (Joe Montana; Tom Brady); journeyman free agents who wouldn’t give up (Kurt Warner); or foundlings (Victor Cruz), and the number of top 3 pick busts (Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich, Blair Thomas), it’s not a science. Top NFL people are going to hit and miss.

So where does that leave Twitter-guy? Guy with a draft book and a dream? Radio man? Mel Kiper Jr.?

MLB former top picks in the draft are no more of a guarantee of success on the field or intelligence off the field. Just last week, former first overall pick Delmon Young was arrested for a fight outside a New York hotel that was classified as a hate crime because he, in a drunken state, made anti-Semitic references to the people he was fighting with.

In hindsight, Young hasn’t been a player worthy of the top pick in the draft either.

Anointed megastar Bryce Harper was caught in a viral video playing softball in a Washington DC park. What would’ve happened if Harper, trying to impress the people he was playing with, swung too hard and awkwardly and tore his shoulder in a softball game?

The video is below. It’s evidence.

Brien Taylor got into a fight and destroyed his shoulder.

Scouts were split on whether to select Ken Griffey Jr. first overall or a player named Mark Merchant. Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather Tommy Lasorda. James Shields was a 16th round pick. Albert Pujols was a 13th round pick. Jose Bautista was a 20th round journeyman who hopped from one organization to another before getting a chance to play with the Blue Jays—who almost released him.

The Reese quote basically says that if a talking head on TV gets a pick wrong, he’s still going to be a talking head on TV the next year and five years after that. If Jerry Reese gets it wrong, he might survive in his job for a year or two, but five years of mistakes and he’s out of a job and possibly out of football entirely.

It’s their living.

If you’re suggesting that you know more than they do and have on the line what they have on the line, here’s a flash: you don’t.

It’s even worse if you say you do.

Because you don’t. And won’t.

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Tejada Should’ve Been In Camp Early

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One would think that the intensity and disciplined approach by Mets’ manager Terry Collins would be en vogue after Tom Coughlin was validated by the specious reason that his team won the Super Bowl for the Giants.

It’s more glaring that Coughlin’s team won under his system while their stadium/city mates, the Jets, came apart because of the overwhelming expectations created by their coach Rex Ryan with his foolish bluster and inmates running the asylum lockerroom dynamic.

In reality, Coughlin’s system has always been smarter than making outrageous statements designed for headlines. It weeds out the frontrunners that don’t want to play while Ryan’s way attracts wilder personalities and leads to the infighting that permeated their team as the season came apart.

Collins wanted Jose Reyes’s heir apparent shortstop Ruben Tejada in camp early to get a head start on his new, pressure-packed job.

Was Tejada “late”?

No. Not according to the collective bargaining agreement.

But should he have shown up early?

It would’ve behooved him to be in camp early.

In reality, a few days probably aren’t going to make much of a difference in the long-term—either Tejada’s going to handle the job or he won’t.

I happen to think he will.

But Collins’s statements implying that he was disappointed in Tejada for not taking the initiative and making sure he was able to arrive early at camp are sure to resonate with the young player. They don’t suggest that punishment is warranted or that Collins is flouting the rules. Tejada is under intense scrutiny because of the man he’s replacing. Complacency is a factor when he’s not fighting for a job and the early call into the manager’s office is a signal that even though he’s walking into camp as the starting shortstop, it’s not set in stone that the job is his if he doesn’t work and perform.

Collins can’t discipline Tejada for showing up when he was contractually obligated to do so, but he certainly can send him to the minors if he doesn’t play well in the spring.

That, more than any arcane rule of “be here five minutes early or you’re late”, is the message that the manager wanted to send.

It’s better to be strict with him than let him do what he wants and possibly fail because of it.

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Viewer Mail 7.11.2011

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Mike Tursi at YankeesGab writes RE Michael Kay and Derek Jeter:

2 points. See if you agree with me. 1) Kay is a writer by trade, so he broadcasts like he writes. Not saying it’s right or wrong. But that’s why he’ll never be like those broadcasters you mentioned. 2) Kay is a Bronx native & a huge Yankees fan. I’m sure his bias was coming through.

All fair points, but there’s a difference between innocent enthusiasm or simple excitement a la Russ Hodges and “The Giants won the pennant!!!” and a planned and crafted series of statements that, truth be told, were horribly constructed and telegraphed in their presentation.

I don’t remember him as a sportswriter and I say this in all seriousness: it’s Michael Kay; how good could he have been?

Part of Kay’s shtick is to be annoying; no one is expecting any broadcaster—especially one who’s a fan of the team—to be impartial, but the Jeter worship was beyond over-the-top; it was off-putting and egomaniacal in its attempt to forcibly act as the spokesman for the moment and be part of it rather than to do his job and step back from it, letting the story be the story.

Nick Dimi writes RE Kay and the Yankees:

Johnny Sterling is the voice of the Yankees. Let’s not forget Michael Kay was just his Suzyn Waldman in the 90s.

I like Sterling because he’s not trying to portray himself as a reporter/baseball expert while simultaneously wearing his Yankees footy pajamas and waving a pennant in the booth.

Sterling’s there to entertain Yankee fans, pure and simple; he puts out no pretense of impartiality. Plus Jane Heller says he’s a terrific guy.

Think about how disturbing it was that Kay was the analyst while in the booth with Sterling. Suzyn knows more about baseball than Kay ever will and I don’t think Suzyn knows much of anything either.

Franklin Rabon writes RE Jair Jurrjens:

The problem with Jurrjens is that he isn’t that much different than he was last year, he just is getting wildly different results. This happens a lot with pitch to contact guys. They’re wildly inconsistent. I expect Jair to regress a lot, though I hope he keeps it rolling.

The only thing is that it’s hard to tell if his drastically lowered walk rate is real or just an aberration.

I tend to think this year is a combo of real improvement (better movement on his pitches, and better control) and pure dumb luck. I hope it’s all real improvement, obviously, but I also hope to win powerball.

Apart from the fewer walks, Jurrjens’s in-depth numbers are almost identical to what they’ve been year-after-year.

If the Braves have gotten it into his head to throw the ball over the plate and let the movement and his defenders take care of things after the fact, then there’s no reason he can’t continue pitching well. It’s doubtful he’ll maintain an under 2 ERA the whole season, but he’s never allowed a lot of homers and the Braves infield defense isn’t exactly mobile, fast or rangy.

Maybe, just maybe, he’s figured it out and is adhering and executing a game plan.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Pirates:

I would love to see the Pirates throw the bomb. It’d be good for the game.

We’re all learning the lesson from teams that have built for the future with an organic plan of action; cultivated youngsters and made what were perceived to be smart free agent signings and trades, but have failed. It rarely works as it was drawn up on the blueprint.

The Pirates have an unexpected opening and it’s either try to charge through it or don’t. The NL Central is wide open and they have to make a move to steal it.

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