Robinson Cano Puts His Money Where His Heart Is

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The initial reaction to the splashy headline that Yankees’ second baseman Robinson Cano fired agent Scott Boras and replaced him with rapper Jay-Z was that I would follow suit and hire a literary agent with my first choice being comedian Dave Chappelle.

Of course Jay-Z isn’t going to be Cano’s agent in spirit where he’ll be sitting across from Brian Cashman and exchange numbers for the upcoming Cano mega-contract. The media is being politically correct by saying how smart Jay-Z and great a businessman Jay-Z is—and they’re right—but he’s not an attorney and he’s not an agent even though he recently received a temporary license to represent baseball players. This is a business expansion on the part of Jay-Z as a frontman and recognizable name to garner street cred with his athlete-friends and entirely unlike the idiotic decision on the part of former NFL player Ricky Williams who, in 1999, was drafted fifth overall with first overall talent and decided to hire Master P as his agent and signed what has been referred to as the “worst contract contract for a player” in NFL history.

Jay-Z didn’t get where he is being arrogant enough to think he’s capable of juggling all of these endeavors and handling the nuts and bolts. It’s a business deal with a legitimate agency, Creative Artists, that represents such diverse clientele as Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt (the real Pitt, not Billy Beane) and has also recently negotiated Buster Posey’s contract extension. Cano didn’t do something stupid here. He hired an agency to: A) get him paid; and B) keep him a Yankee, not necessarily in that order.

Cano’s personality never lent itself to Boras and the Boras style of negotiation with the current club portrayed as the enemy rather than an employer with whom to engage in a give-and-take to come to a reasonable agreement. It had already started with the Yankees making a conciliatory decision to forego their longstanding policy of not negotiating with players prior to the contract expiring by making what was termed a “significant” offer for Cano to preemptively sign. Boras scoffed at the offer. No one knows what it was, but it was probably a genuine, signable, framework deal to cobble something together. This is the Yankees we’re talking about so there wouldn’t be a Jeffrey Loria bout of lying and cheapness. They’re perfectly willing to pay their players. Presumably, Cano hired Boras because of the name recognition and the likelihood that other players were telling him, “Yeah, hire Scott. He’ll get you paid.” But if I, you or Jay-Z was functioning as Cano’s agent—and doing the actual agenting—we could get him $200 million from the Yankees. Alex Rodriguez, who knows more about the positives and negatives of having Boras as his father-figure and Svengali representative than anyone, might have told Cano that if the situation continued down this path, he’d be in a Dodgers’ uniform after the season. Cano doesn’t want to leave the Yankees and Jose Cano is his father. Cano is subdued, quiet, definitely not an overt leader, and relaxed to the point of appearing zombie-like. He didn’t need the uncertainty all season.

This will spur talk that Boras’s power base is evaporating; that players are no longer willing to follow the Boras plans and schemes to extract as much money as possible from someone whether it’s in their preferred locale or not, but these are exaggerations. There will always be players hypnotized by the Darth Vader-like fear that Boras’s name engenders throughout the industry and his history of coming through more often than not. In the end, Cano hired Boras in what was a clear preparation for free agency and saw his agent and club being at loggerheads with the potential of having to leave the only baseball home he’s ever known whether he wanted to or not over a negligible (at that level) amount of money. Perhaps Cano realized that when the offers are $230 million and $250 million, there’s really not much of a difference and decided to make the move to not move where he’s comfortable and happy. Cano wants to be a Yankee and the hiring of Jay-Z essentially assures that he’ll be a Yankee and that the negotiations will progress with an agreement likely sooner rather than later.

Please check out my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide, now available on Amazon, Smashwords, BN, and Lulu.

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Get Your Thetans Tested At Citi Field

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The thetans are important to judging one’s overall mental health.

At least that’s what I’ve heard.

Or is that Scientology? Was it L. Ron Hubbard who “discovered” this phenomenon or was it Amway? Am I  getting confused?

Considering the reaction to the Mets’ decision to go into a business partnership with Amway and allowing the company to place a storefront at Citi Field, you’d think they had entered into agreement with a cult to recruit weak-minded Mets fans (insert joke here) to leave the religion of their birth or choice and enter into the wondrous world that has engulfed the lives of so many of your favorite Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise, John Travolta and many others. Or, judging from the indignant eye-rolling, endless ridicule, public recriminations and accusations of more financial and ethical sleight of hand, you’d think the Mets had opened a combination sex shop/peep show/whorehouse/Euro-style hash bar in a New Amsterdam tradition of libertarian personal freedoms and challenges to the current conservative orthodoxy.

Just when the Amway aftershocks had subsided, up steps Howard Megdal—the self-styled “dogged” reporter of all supposed misdeeds of the Wilpon family—paying a visit to the Amway store located at Citi Field. The tour took on a strange note that made it feel as if it was a cult that was trying to recruit new members or, as other implications have suggested, a pyramid scheme trying to accrue more money from the bottom up by continually finding new people to take part in the “scam.”

As I said after the deal was announced and the public shaming of the Mets for entering into a bargain with such a “disreputable” company began in earnest, Amway is a reputable company that’s been in business a long time. They work with other sports teams such as the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL and have well-liked endorsers in former NFL star Kurt Warner among others.

None of that is relevant. The Mets and Amway came to an agreement to have a storefront at the park. It’s a “pilot” program. In other words, they put the storefront there to see how it works. Presumably, if it doesn’t work out well and they don’t expand their business or make money with the endeavor, they’ll shutter it and chalk it up to an idea that failed. If it works, this will continue in other venues. Does it suggest a malicious intent on the part of the Mets or Amway? Will there be a Jim Jones massacre amid the tailgaters at Citi Field over the summer? If you read the constant haranguing and triangulation of the Mets as constantly evil, then that’s the logical conclusion.

Reading Megdal’s piece in a singular fashion as something you found on the web or was linked and you happened to click onto it and you won’t see the transparency in his endless stream of attacks against the Mets’ ownership. But if you know the history and the long-term desire to take the franchise and portray it as the epitome of evil and/or ineptitude in all of sports and you see a trend that is clearly advancing his personal biases. I can tell you from experience that the gist of the article was already planned out before Megdal set foot in the Amway store. Every writer does their thing in a different manner (I jot stuff down on Post-It notes), but like Sun Tzu says, every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought, the desired conclusions of a particular writer—portraying him or herself as an “investigator” or not—are known before the first word is written.

What Megdal writes about the debts ownership has accumulated; the payments upcoming; the reasons for the settlement from the Bernie Madoff case trustee Irving Picard all appear to be based in fact. I’m not questioning the facts. I’m questioning the agenda and the analysis.

How many times has Megdal shifted the goalposts to make himself be maybe, possibly, eventually “right” down the road? It’s a neverending wave of expectations, predictions, and movements to not be wrong. The problem with that type of predictive speculation is that while he may not technically be wrong, he’s not right either. Or should I say “Wright” because he was also wrong about David Wright and the third baseman’s prospects to stay with the club.

Repeatedly there were shadowy suggestions that the Mets wouldn’t have the means to keep their star third baseman in a similar “cut-their-losses because they can’t pay him in the future” manner as they did with Jose Reyes. When the Mets stepped up and paid Wright to keep him for the rest of his career, even that wasn’t good enough. Because the contract was backloaded and deferred, that morphed into a point of contention. So now, instead of “the Mets will trade Wright after putting together an offer designed to fail,” the construction of the contract is an issue. Not only do they have to sign their players, but they have to sign them to a contract structure that is Megdal-approved.

It’s not a matter of disagreeing with the methods in which the club does business, but in seeking out and finding any small thread of perceived wrongdoing to craft a new piece to savage the organization and make unfounded and new accusations whose veracity won’t be proven for years and leaves enough wiggleroom to “explain” with “explaining” being a more palatable word than backtracking or, even worse, admitting one is wrong.

The reality with Reyes is that if the Mets truly wanted him back, they’d have found a way to sign him. It was a baseball decision. While keeping Reyes at mid-summer of 2011 was obviously designed to sell a few extra tickets, is that so out of the ordinary with a sports franchise? Keeping a player to make some extra money? It may have been a mistake, but it’s not unusual.

The Mets signed Wright, but they traded their Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, so it turned into a financial decision in spite of (as even Megdal admits) getting a substantial return of young players for a 38-year-old who just came off the year of his life and whose future as a knuckleballer isn’t as simple as Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield comparisons because he throws the thing harder than they did. Mets GM Sandy Alderson makes a deal of an older player questionable to help the Mets when they’re ready to contend and who wanted a lot of money in a contract extension for a large package of high-end talent and the decision was based on cutting costs; Andrew Friedman does it with the Rays and gets Wil Myers and other prospects for James Shields and Wade Davis and he’s a “genius.”

Much like Maury Povich discovered a marketable niche in paternity tests, Megdal has the Madoff Ponzi scheme and the Wilpons. He is the father!!!

It was in 2008 that Madoff was arrested. We’re coming up on five years since it happened. Since then, the Wilpons’ finances have been expected to collapse with a liquidation and sell-off of everything including their beloved baseball franchise. And they’re still here. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, it just is. Fred Wilpon did not make the money he’s made in life and become the level of successful businessman by pure graft due to Madoff’s diabolical schemes. No one gets to that pinnacle without having a relationship with bankers and banks and the ability to manipulate their businesses, secure loans and keep things running in the bleakest of times. Doesn’t it behoove the bankers who would like to get a return on their investments to refinance these debts and help the debtor keep their businesses running? No one benefits from the Wilpon financial situation disintegrating, but that’s what’s expected if you continually read the doom and gloom of Megdal in E-book and web platform.

Digging through any and all sponsors and business partners of a sports franchise and the questionable tactics and profiteering are self-evident. Do you think the beer companies are truly concerned about fans leaving a ballpark and driving home after six overpriced cups of beer? In a legal and human sense, perhaps; in a business sense, no, and no amount of signs that say, “Enjoy responsibly” are going to change that.

You don’t want to know how sausages are made; you don’t want to think about the slave labor in Indonesia that’s sewing MLB licensed clothes and memorabilia; and you don’t want to scrutinize the people who are bringing money into the clubs. These morally despicable tactics have assisted MLB as a whole and helped to make the game of baseball into the cash cow that it is.

Seeking out the negative finds the negative. Formulating scenarios based on the worst possible outcome yields the worst possible outcome. If that’s what someone wants to look for, that’s what they’ll find. But maybe that’s the point.

Join Amway!! Or Scientology!! Or become a Mets fan!! Of course they’re different entities with zero connection to one another unless you’re reading the litany of columns like a wrestling main event, Megdal vs. the Mets. Then, like professional wrestling, the denouement is known before the fact and we as viewers, suspend disbelief and watch, putting our mind at rest because it’s an unnecessary inconvenience to the crafted and inevitable end.

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Amway Sponsors Sports Teams Other Than The Mets

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You may recognize the logo below. It’s one of the most respected sports franchises in the world with an owner who is universally known for being a nice, generous man and committed sports owner.

The Red Wings are the team and Mike Ilitch is the owner. The Amway logo is on the team’s practice jerseys.

How about the gentleman below?

A case study in perseverance; deeply religious; involved in noble causes; a three-time Super Bowl participant, two-time NFL MVP and probable Hall of Famer, Kurt Warner works for Amway promoting their nutrition products.

One of the founders of Amway, Richard DeVos, is the well-liked and philanthropic owner of the Orlando Magic, a consistently successful NBA franchise.

The Mets have reached agreement for Amway to be a sponsor. Yet because it’s the Mets and the media took Amway’s business model as a “pyramid” scheme, the perception became a reality. It was repeatedly said, therefore it must be true. None other than Mike Francesa, in his customary flying off half-cocked without knowing what he’s talking about, doled out authoritative advice based on nothing and said the Mets should consider advertisers like Disney.

Walt Disney was affiliated with American interest groups in the 1940s that were considered anti-Semitic. How would that play out today and is that better or worse than Amway?

How about, for some context, we look at the beacon-like franchises in sports today and list some of their sponsors, searching for signs of wrongdoing, real or not.

The New England Patriots and New York Yankees have Bank of America as a sponsor. In many ways what Bank of America has done in the interest of their shareholders and amassing cash was worse than anything the Wilpon family is accused of doing with the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.

Manchester United has Nike as a sponsor. Nike has long been accused of using child labor to make their products.

The point isn’t to perform a rudimentary websearch to find examples of other teams whose business dealings could be put under scrutiny and presented as an example of wrongdoing. All companies can have their inner workings scrutinized specifically to find evidence of moral repugnance and used to cast them as “evil.” But facts shine a light on reality. The Mets are not doing anything wrong by going into business with Amway. The current positives with the franchise—Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud—are referenced with a caveat implying, “but it’s the Mets, so they’ll screw something up. Oh, and they’re in business with Amway. AMWAY!!!!

It’s a manufactured controversy by the ignorant and those with an agenda.

Perhaps after the smoke clears and the media finds a story that they think is even more salacious, this truth will be pointed out as an “oh, yeah,” mention in the lower corner of a newspaper or website, but it’s the splash that’s remembered and not the droplets in its aftermath. The Mets’ image of cluelessly evil like a buffoonish villain from Austin Powers sells, therefore it will continue as long as it remains useful to the narrative whether it’s accurate or not.

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A-Rod Upstages the Super Bowl

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Jim Harbaugh. John Harbaugh. Ray Lewis. Colin Kaepernick. Randy Moss. Joe Flacco. And…Alex Rodriguez?

The easiest thing to do in this latest media firestorm surrounding A-Rod would be to set up a table in New Orleans at or around Super Bowl XLVII and let him join in with the frenzy to save time and airfare for everyone. A-Rod has a talent for jumping to the forefront of big events in which he is not participating. In 2007, during the Red Sox-Rockies World Series, it was announced that A-Rod was opting out of his Yankees contract. Blame for the “mistake” in timing was doled on agent Scott Boras. Because Boras is seen as the epitome of evil and a Svengali who latched his claws into the fatherless A-Rod at a young age and unduly influenced him to make decisions he wouldn’t have made if left to his own devices, it’s easy to turn him into the fall guy whether it’s true or not.

Boras no longer represents A-Rod and his problems have gotten worse, not better.

The latest is A-Rod’s name popping up in the notes of a shady anti-aging clinic in Miami—NY Times Story.

I suppose it’s possible that he’s innocent. We can ask the simplest questions: Why would anyone be stupid enough to write the actual name of the client instead of using a code? Why don’t these players just get up and go to Mexico, Switzerland, Iceland, Japan, Mars, Jupiter or anywhere they can simply do what they need to do using a false name, pay in cash and come back with no paper trail and no one the wiser? Why would A-Rod continue to poke the eyes of anyone and everyone for (considering his plummet in the past several years) what amounted to zero return?

A-Rod will be referred to as arrogant, but that may not be the case. It may be insecurity and, in a weird way, a certain nobility of trying to live up to the money the Yankees are paying him by taking PEDs to be able to perform. There will be comparisons to Lance Armstrong, but as far as we know, A-Rod has never wantonly destroyed the lives of those who tried to expose him in an effort to prop up a front of philanthropy and honor. The only person he’s succeeded in destroying is himself. He’s not as arrogant or stupid as he is oblivious.

That obliviousness hasn’t extended to ignorance of reality. He’s still cognizant of plausible deniability and legal ramifications. You won’t see A-Rod sitting in front of Congress denying PED use and wagging his finger in their faces a la Rafael Palmeiro; you won’t see him on 60 Minutes like Roger Clemens. You might see him pleading his case to the media as Barry Bonds did once a sufficient amount of time has passed and he thinks it might be safe to argue his Hall of Fame worthiness. For right now, A-Rod is smart enough to keep quiet and lawyer up.

Major League Baseball itself is again left running into one another like some slapstick comedy worthy of Benny Hill, trying to spin their inability to get in front of these stories and cleaning up the mess after the fact. They knew about this Miami clinic and were investigating it in the hopes that a bolt of lightning out of the sky would provide them with cause to suspend the players who used its services. They were unsuccessful.

A-Rod is the glossiest name on the list, but it’s no shock for him to wind up in the middle of incidents such as these. Gio Gonzalez, whose career has taken a wondrous jump to “ace” is on the list. Nelson Cruz was a journeyman until age 28 when he hit 33 homers is on the list. Melky Cabrera we already know about. Yasmani Grandal is a yet-to-be-established kid and is on the list. Bartolo Colon was trying to hang on and is on the list.

The fine line between developing and using outlawed “helpers” to improve is no longer blurred. It’s gone. Every player is under scrutiny. Which is the real Gonzalez? Did he naturally evolve from his initial opportunities in the big leagues in 2008-2009 when he showed flashes of great talent with terrible results to the rising star in 2010-2011 and then third in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2012? Or was it in 2009-2010 when someone whispered in his ear that if he went to this Miami clinic, they’d provide him with potions to send his career into the stratosphere?

Any statistical evidence is presented with the benefit of hindsight and all players are suspect.

For A-Rod, we’ll never know if everything was a creation of PEDs or if he was using them at age 25? 28? 30? 35? to perform and make a ton of money; to maintain; to return from injury and live up to his contract. The one thing he has in common with Armstrong is that he’s not credible in anything he says even if, at some point, he decides to “confess.”

A-Rod’s career with the Yankees is over. The Yankees are said to be poring over his contract to try and find a way to keep from paying him. As much as A-Rod is reviled by contemporaries, the MLB Players Association will fight for him to get every single penny on that contract from now until the Rapture and even then, they’ll have to stand in front of Jesus and find a reason not to give A-Rod his money. And they’ll lose. (When I say Jesus, I mean Christ. Not a distant A-Rod relative who did his bidding as a human shield.)

What will happen is this:

MLB will try and find a way to suspend A-Rod and these other players and fail.

The Yankees will try and get out of paying him and fail.

A-Rod won’t agree to the floated insurance scheme that a doctor says he can’t play again.

A-Rod won’t play again for the Yankees; they’ll come to an agreement to pay him off, perhaps deferring some of it so they have cash on hand and it’s not a lump sum payment.

A team like the Marlins, A’s or Rays will sign him against the wishes of MLB. A-Rod will repeat the 2011-2012 performances of Manny Ramirez and provide nothing other than aggravation and a media circus.

Some other embarrassment will occur with A-Rod because that’s like the sun coming up—once you see it happen every day of your life, you just sort of expect it.

A-Rod will epitomize the ending in the novel version of The Natural in which Roy Hobbs doesn’t redeem himself and lives his life wondering what might have been. This isn’t Hollywood, but the ending is just as predictable. Unlike Hobbs, A-Rod will be very wealthy when he fades into oblivion with a career blotted out by a giant asterisk of his own making. There are no excuses and no one left to blame anymore.

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Expressing Anger at Torii Hunter Solves Nothing

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It’s fine to expect all professional athletes to be as accepting and understanding of others as Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is in regards to the sexual orientation of others. Kluwe has expressed as such publicly, multiple times and as a result people who ordinarily haven’t the faintest clue who the punter for the Vikings is, now know due to his outspokenness on a controversial subject. But expecting every athlete to be so open is not reality. There’s still a wall between certain players and the possibility that in the future there will be an openly gay teammate in their clubhouse.

There are ways to deal with any reluctance on the part of players who are open about their feelings regarding this issue as Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter was when in this LA Times article on the subject he said he’d be “uncomfortable.” Savaging them in the media, getting them to backtrack and/or apologize when they don’t mean it isn’t an effective method to solve the underlying beliefs that led to his statement in the first place.

There are methods though. One is through management of the club saying that if you have a problem with it, we’ll accommodate you…by getting rid of you.

Vince Lombardi’s brother Harold was gay and in his time as a coach, Lombardi had gay players. He also made it a point to tell the other players that if they ever questioned said players’ manhood, they’d be gone. Presumably, he would also have used his power to blackball that particular player from other NFL teams. Nothing stops the side effects of prejudice like fearing for one’s livelihood that if you can’t deal with working X person, then you won’t have a job. It won’t eliminate the core beliefs that led to the prejudice, but it will prevent it from festering and infecting the club.

Interestingly, while Vince Lombardi is often held up as a paragon of conservative values, he was an ardent Democrat. It was Harold Lombardi who happened to be a staunch conservative when the Republican party was about business interests and not about telling people how to live their lives; he was a Republican before the Republican party was overrun by religious fundamentalists who excluded rather than included. That hardline attitude is shaking the ground beneath the feet of the ultra right wingers and religious right with the prospect of party marginalization that accompanies continuously losing elections with the untenable candidates they’re presenting such as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. This is serving to “educate” them far better than an enlightening discussion that’s not going to enlighten anyone.

The bottom line tells all. Losing jobs, losing elections, losing money—it all results in the sudden epiphany of, “Hey, okay. I can work with others! I can be flexible.”

Hunter’s comments have been the catalyst for indignant blog postings and Tweets expressing shock that someone would dare say such a thing on the eve of 2013 when we, as a society, are supposed to be beyond all that, but maybe a little understanding of where Hunter is coming from would be beneficial. When a person is told from the beginning of his or her life that homosexuality is a sin; when the “proof” of this is presented in biblical texts and hammered into their brains at home from their parents; when they hear from respected members of the community such as pastors, priests, and rabbis, and, in conjunction, they’re functioning in the testosterone-fueled fishbowl of sports, do you think they’re going to express a liberalism when it comes to a person’s sexuality?

Because the public doesn’t want to hear what Hunter said, it’s not eliminated from existence.

These are facts and they’re not politically correct. The ever-present litany of clichés for athletes was created for public consumption and is designed to shun controversy. With that, you have athletes saying flavorless sound bytes of vanilla nothingness. Hunter spoke honestly of his beliefs on the matter. It’s opened the door to talk about it and perhaps convince those who think like Hunter that they need to be a little more accepting of an issue that they can’t control and that their resistance in doing so might eventually cast them out if they’re unwilling or unable to adapt to the prospect of having a gay teammate.

The only way to end that type of ingrained feeling of discomfort is to confront it, not by providing standard, pat responses out of fear of public reprisal, but with actual, honest answers so Hunter can be convinced that not every gay person is going to be staring at him in the shower as if he’s their next date; that the person is not committing a mortal sin and sentencing themselves to an eternity of damnation from a behavior Hunter views as against God’s laws; that it isn’t a choice. If Hunter says, “I’d be fine with it,” when he wouldn’t be fine with it, it does more harm than good. Lying can’t make a player who’s gay feel comfortable living his life publicly with the unsaid knowledge that there are players who are steering clear of him intentionally because of it. Only true education, discussion, or at least agreeing to disagree and working together in spite of it can do that.

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An RG III Win for the Redskins Renders Rob Parker an Irrelevant Footnote

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Rob Parker’s ridiculous query as to whether Robert Griffin III was a “cornball brother” is evidence of the inherent stupidity of Parker himself. Anyone who’d seen Parker on ESPN’s First Take or read his writing before knew what he was prior to his insipid comments about Griffin. Now that stupidity is known to the masses. Parker became a national name through the cheapest of means and the attention he coveted has resulted in widespread awareness that he’s clueless about sports and uses controversy to stand out from the crowd. That he’s doing so as one black man questioning the racial bona fides of another black man is made worse by Griffin being a worthy role model for the community on and off the field even if he might be considered a “cornball brother” by Parker or anyone else.

The NFL rules of today are designed to protect the quarterback and prevent the “lessons” that went on years ago and had to be endured by Troy Aikman, Steve Young, John Elway and Hall of Famers from 10 years ago and beyond. They have also served to let rookies like Griffin and Andrew Luck enter the league and produce rather than struggle and be benched as they failed to learn quickly enough or took too brutal a beating.

For Griffin to be diminished by someone like Parker and have loyalty to his background called into question because he might or might not have a white fiancée; because he might or might not be a Republican; because there’s a lot Parker doesn’t know, is more despicable than what Parker actually said. Parker, if he wanted answers to his questions, should’ve had the courage to ask Griffin directly rather than use it as a topic for a show. But then he might’ve gotten an actual answer and that’s the last thing he wanted because he doesn’t care about Griffin’s personal life or his politics. He was using him.

Let’s say all of Parker’s questions (presented in the tone of accusation) received a response in the affirmative. Would it be reason to criticize someone who graduated from Baylor University in three years and may or may not be a Republican and may or may not have a white fiancée? What would he have to do to not be a “cornball brother?”

Griffin’s story, unlike that of another Washington phenom Bryce Harper, doesn’t have the phoniness crafted to sell it as someone “special” in every aspect of his life. Harper’s tale, including having passed the GED without studying, strikes of creative public relations nonsense. Griffin, in opposition to Parker’s passive aggressive insinuations and the faux storyline surrounding Harper, appears real. The Harper story is destructive because it puts readers and influential youngsters into a position of feeling unworthy because they couldn’t pass the test in similar fashion and fail to see the reality that it’s likely not even true. Griffin should be held up as an example and not used for selfish reasons by a hack seeking notoriety.

Griffin’s brilliant season and star presence is singlehandedly changing the culture of the Washington Redskins. Whereas they were a dysfunctional mess with accompanying coaching changes, front office restructurings, past-their-prime star players signed to outrageous contracts by owner Dan Snyder to piece together a winner without a payoff, they’ve turned into a place where players will want to go specifically to play with Griffin.

Parker asserting that Griffin is not “down with the cause,” or “not one of us,” or “he’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the kind of guy you really want to hang out with,” and the firestorm that followed is missing the true point of contention that Parker was denigrating someone he should’ve been crediting. Parker was indulging in inaccurate armchair sociology. Would it be negative for Griffin to use his own mind and beliefs to come to a political affiliation? To decide whom to marry? To shun going with the crowd to fit in due to skin color or other factors of birth that are only relevant because someone like Parker brings them up?

On the field, players looking at the Redskins as a destination aren’t going there to hang out with Griffin away from the football field. If they’re looking for someone with whom to party or to go where the girls are, they can go to play with the annual team that signs the useless journeyman Matt Leinart.

Griffin can lead the Redskins to the playoffs on Sunday. That will go further in garnering positive perception than being “down with the cause.” Winning and leading can attract other players to want to join him in Washington. None of his teammates or the Redskins fans will care about his personal life or politics. They’ll be riding along with him and not using him as the equivalent of a promotional gimmick as Parker did. It will also quiet the footnote to Griffin’s season overtly referencing Parker’s incendiary and unnecessary attack on one who should be celebrated for what he is and not ridiculed for what, in the view of one talentless face in the crowd with a forum like Parker, says he is or should be.

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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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Tim Tebow’s Sideshow Reaches Its Climax

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Tim Tebow was acquired by the Jets as a gimmick while thinking he’s a football player. When the Jets saw what a limited football player he was and that the packages they installed centered around him didn’t fool anyone, they used him in a perfunctory fashion with dreadful results.

While still in the playoff picture, they marginalized Tebow. To make matters worse for Tebow, the game against the Cardinals in which Rex Ryan had finally seen enough of Mark Sanchez to pull him, Tebow was injured with fractured ribs, so Greg McElroy entered the game and led a game-winning drive. In a dysfunctional manner only the Jets can muster, Tebow’s fractured ribs prevented him from playing in the week before’s Thanksgiving night humiliation at the hands of Tom Brady and the Patriots (complete with Sanchez’s buttfumble) even though he was inexplicably active. It was inexplicable since the Jets never gave a coherent explanation. He was inactive against the Cardinals in the McElroy game. Then, in Jacksonville, Tebow was the number two QB and didn’t play when Sanchez played poorly again, but not poorly enough to be yanked, especially with Tebow sitting behind him and not McElroy.

If this sounds convoluted and confusing, that’s only because it is.

Sanchez stayed in the Jaguars game and the Jets won again, through no fault or help from Sanchez. Would Ryan have pulled Sanchez if he’d had McElroy available? And why wasn’t McElroy available? Because Tebow was needed in uniform in the town in which he starred for the University of Florida; playing against the Jaguars team for whom he’s likely to play in 2013 (and I do mean play, not stand there as an owner’s show pony and object for him to tell his socialite friends, “Look what I bought.”), he was the second quarterback with, barring an injury, no chance to actually play. Period.

Was it naïveté on the part of Tebow to believe that the Jets had intentions for him other than the owner seeing dollar signs when looking at Tebow’s chiseled arms? Did he truly believe the whispered sweet nothings Ryan, GM Mike Tannenbaum and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano (the “innovator” of the Wildcat formation that was supposed to be Tebow’s forte)? Was he confident enough in his abilities or trusting to the point that he felt that he’d be an important part of the offense and see 20 plays a game when its logic and reason were nonexistent? Was he hearing what he wanted to hear? Did he look at Sanchez and say, “I can beat out that guy,”? (In fairness, Steve DeBerg might be saying that right now and planning a comeback.) Did he believe that his faith was directing him to the Jets for a reason?

Was it all of the above?

More importantly, was Tebow wrong to allegedly refuse to play in the Wildcat packages last Sunday in the Jets’ loss to the Chargers, leaving the Jets to use Jeremy Kerley in the package and Tebow to put forth the decidedly un-Christian like pouting and self-interest when he was asked to do something by the team and refused?

I understand why he did it as do the other players, but given what he believes, he should have done what he was asked to do. That they intended to use him as an attention-grabber the week after the team was eliminated from the playoffs and he declined to partake is ignorant of the reality that he was being used as an attention-grabber when they traded for him.

This is where the self-image and truth clash. Tebow thinks he can play; the Jets thought he’d sell some stuff.

Perhaps Tebow has had enough of the Jets and how they run things and would like to stay healthy and alive to join another club that’s not going to treat him so shabbily and openly lie to him to use his star power to sell some jerseys and garner attention for themselves. But he has to accept that his limits as a quarterback predicate that he’s going to be given an opportunity, in large part, due to his celebrity. If, as expected, he winds up in Jacksonville next year, it will be a similar situation for a Jaguars team that has no expectations and nothing much to lose by playing him.

With he combination of Tebow’s inability to play, the lack of respect as a player he has throughout the league, and his latest episode of refusing to participate in the game when asked, how can the Jets bring him back?

Tebow can’t use his status to continually get job after job and make a ton of money with limited skills and then complain when teams use him for the same reason they keep giving him a job. It’s possible that he can learn to be a competent quarterback or, at the very least, one who can manage a game. The Jets used him and he used the Jets. The only ones that benefited from this use/use relationship were the Jets off the field by selling some stuff. That didn’t last long. Owner Woody Johnson’s deep involvement in Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid as the chairman of Romney’s New York campaign was repeatedly peppered with questions about Tebow and Johnson said while discussing his political activities that he “can’t get enough Tebow,” making clear where he stands in this messy situation.

As nightmarish as the scenario may be to Jets’ fans and Sanchez, with Johnson’s affinity for Tebow, he might be back with the Jets in 2013. Ryan and Tannenbaum are presumably dead-set against this and have to impress upon the owner the disastrous nature of a return engagement of Tebowing in 2013 is similar to the Republicans turning around and re-Romneyating Romney in 2016 expecting it to work better than it did the first time. Maybe Johnson would get that analogy and see past his own arrogance to comprehend that Romney 2016 and Tebow 2013 would be identically ludicrous and fail miserably. Maybe.

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ESPN’s Rob Parker is “Sincerely Sorry,” and “Completely Understands”

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On Twitter, ESPN’s Rob Parker apologized for his comments about Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III. He expressed “sincerity” and “understanding” and completely contradicted the defiant tone he took on that same forum in the immediate aftermath of his intentionally controversial implications about Griffin as a person.

Parker has been suspended for 30 days by ESPN and is, for the moment, keeping his job. Much like Parker, ESPN’s reaction came after the fact when the response was so profoundly and universally negative that they had to do something, so they suspended him and made a flamboyant show of “deciding” what to do with him. This suspension presumably includes the time already served, which means that Parker will be suspended for two more weeks and then be back doing whatever it is he does. Maybe. Judging by ESPN’s usual conduct, they’ll wait and see whether the suspension and apology are enough to quell the anger. If it’s not, then they’ll fire him. His place at the network is still not completely secure.

He says he’s sorry, but I don’t know how sorry he is. There are levels of sorry. When you have someone tied to a chair and are towering over the helpless figure, holding their life in your hands, then yes, they’ll be sorry for whatever they think they’re supposed to be sorry for. In Parker’s situation, it was either be sorry or be fired, so of course he’ll say he’s sorry.

Making it worse is the pure lack of conviction behind Parker’s critique of Griffin. If Parker had a foundation for his criticisms, he’d have the ability to make a cogent argument and defend it rather than using it for selfish purposes. Considering Parker’s replies to those who challenged him on the same platform in which he posted his apology—Twitter—he’s not actually sorry. From start to finish, it’s been a farce. It’s staged. And that typifies ESPN’s conundrum.

Parker wasn’t hired to deliver intelligent analysis on sports. He was hired to do exactly what he did with Griffin—draw attention to himself by any methods necessary. Then it blew out of control. At first he stood behind his statements, then backtracked on them when he got into trouble. I find it difficult accept Parker’s reflection over this episode or that he had a sudden epiphany and realized he was wrong; he apologized because it was either apologize or lose his job.

The underpinning for being truly regretful is to have a set of belief systems to begin with and that is not, nor has it ever been the case with Parker. What does he believe? Does he believe that Griffin’s validity in the black community is in question due to what amounted to accusations because Griffin is reportedly a Republican and has a white fiancée? Or was he stirring things up on ESPN because that’s why they hired him?

That’s the key point: why they hired him.

ESPN didn’t hire Parker for his writing skills because he doesn’t have any. They didn’t hire him because of his sports knowledge because he doesn’t have any of that either. They hired him to garner ratings, webhits and attention by doing exactly what he did. Once the negativity exploded, he was suspended. When a disposable underling has a wide range of freedoms to achieve the ends mandated by his bosses, he can say or do what he wants…until it boomerangs on the bosses and they have to deal with it as ESPN did. Then the empty vessel, in this instance Parker, is on his own.

The only circumstance under which Parker should be fired is if ESPN chooses to abandon the rhetoric that Parker was hired to provide. If they decided to take that route and say, “we’re not indulging in this type of lowest common denominator programming anymore,” and wanted to hammer that fact home by using Parker as an example of what would no longer be tolerated, then yes, Parker should have been fired. But they haven’t done that, nor does it appear that they intend to. They’re still putting forth the pretense of a genuine debate between their personalities when the programming they present is anything but. It’s a show. With that in mind, what’s the difference if it’s Parker or Random Guy or Girl X who would replace Parker if they fired him? There is none.

For the sake of public consumption and the perception of taking a stand, ESPN suspended Parker, Parker accepted the suspension as part of the clear terms of clemency from his employer, and he apologized. But just like Parker’s coerced apology rife with contrite terminology, I doubt its legitimacy because, judging from history and the way this tragicomedy played out for both Parker and ESPN, it’s not legitimate at all.

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ESPN Is To Blame For Rob Parker

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Rob Parker is a symptom, not the disease. In spite of ESPN’s decision to suspend him for his absurd comments about Robert Griffin III, Parker’s presence or absence from the network is not going to cure the malady that infects any sports fan who has no choice but to use ESPN because it has such a wide-ranging hand in every sport.

Is Parker to blame for pushing the envelope with comments that were designed to provoke? Isn’t that the ESPN mandate? To get people to pay attention to them not with legitimate sports news and analysis, but by doing the equivalent of screaming “FIRE” in a crowded theater with impunity? So entwined with every aspect of sports, there’s no escaping ESPN. This makes Parker and his inept ilk in their employ all the more galling. They get away with this silliness, so why couldn’t they get away with deciding not to partake in this fire-stoking, and chose to provide quality and substance instead of resorting to antics like a bad Madonna outfit?

Parker maintains the inexplicable combination of knowing nothing about sports and writing in an amateurish, clumsy fashion. Yet he’s employed by ESPN and treated as one of their “signature” voices with a prominent platform. It’s just easier to find a stable of Rob Parkers than it is to find people who will be able to express themselves in a manner befitting such a pulpit.

Of course Parker’s responsible for what he says, but those claiming he should be fired for his offensive and borderline incoherent statements are missing the point of the entire Parker package: Why is he employed by ESPN in the first place? How can it be that the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports” is so incapable of hiring talented, intelligent, knowledgeable people who can draw an audience without having the content secondary to numbers they’re able to accumulate through cheap tactics.

ESPN need only look at the foundation of today’s NFL to understand the narrow difference between “look at me!!!” to accrue a brief burst of activity like staring at a train crash, and attracting a consistent viewer/readership.

The late Hall of Fame NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was a public relations man and knew how to create a business that would provide thrills and watchable sports action without turning it into a circularly ridiculous entity doomed to fail. Tex Schramm was also in publicity (in fact, he hired Rozelle with the Rams) and knew that in order to succeed, he also had to sell. With the Cowboys, that’s what he did: he sold an image. Tom Landry was the football guru; Gil Brandt the personnel “genius”; the Cowboys, with their space-age uniforms, unique style implemented by the religious, stoic Landry and moniker of “America’s Team” wouldn’t have gone anywhere if the product wasn’t high quality. In addition to creating an image and making money, the team won, so Schramm wasn’t tricking anyone with trash. There’s a fine line between sale and scam and ESPN crossed that line long ago. Whether or not they’re aware of it is the important question.

ESPN could learn the separation between entertainment and rubbernecking by examining how the NFL became what it is today in large part because of Schramm and Rozelle.

Rather than emulate the NFL, ESPN has chosen to copy the doomed Vince McMahon project the XFL in which pro wrestling announcers were shoved into a “professional” football broadcast booth and Jesse “The Body” Ventura (then Governor of Minnesota) tried to start a pro wrestling style feud with Rusty Tillman, one of the head coaches who wanted to coach football and not undertake a starring role in McMahon’s carnival. It didn’t work. There has to be something to cling to for the fans to stay and watch. Like McMahon’s main moneymaking venture, the WWE, you know what it is when watching it and if the viewer chooses to suspend disbelief and become invested in the canned nature of professional wrestling, it’s a wink-and-a-nod contract made with the show itself. There’s something dirtier about ESPN when they’re hiring the likes of Parker and encouraging these types of comments, then hanging Parker out to dry when the comments are deemed as “offensive.”

The difference between what Schramm and Rozelle built in the NFL is that if you pull back the curtain behind all the hype, there’s substance for the old-school football fan to still watch the game if they’re not interested in the sideshow. Is that the case with ESPN? Do they have anything substantive—from their intentions to their implementation—left? What is their long-term purpose apart from ratings, webhits, and the higher advertising rates that come along with it?

For every quality person ESPN has working for them, there are ten who shouldn’t be allowed to write a personal blog, let along have a forum on ESPN. Parker is one of those people. The only time people care about what he says is when he says what he said yesterday; they’re certainly not going to him for sports insight because he doesn’t have any, nor does he have the skills to present his non-existent knowledge in an engaging way. If he was able to do that, he’d be due a certain begrudging credit for being able to write. But he can’t, so there’s no reason whatsoever for him to be there.

Firing him will placate the masses who are calling for his dismissal as if it would accomplish something, but Parker isn’t the problem. ESPN is. If they fire Parker, they’ll simply replace him with someone else. I’d say whomever it is that replaces Parker couldn’t possibly be worse, but this is ESPN and if any company has the skills and history of discovering the newest-latest in lowest common denominator, it’s them.

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