The Implausible Image Reconstruction of Joe Paterno

Award Winners, College Football, Football, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, Players, Politics

The Joe Paterno image reconstruction has entered the last vestiges of rebuilding a myth that was undone months before Paterno’s death. For a man who dedicated his life and put forth the pretense of doing things differently—and “right”—while crafting an unassailable persona of delineating between what he did and what the likes of Barry Switzer did at the University of Oklahoma, the memory of decency and adhering to principles is all that’s left and the family is taking great pains and presumably undertaking significant expense to salvage whatever’s left of that crumbled persona.

Paterno took pride in not recruiting the type of player who wouldn’t go to class; who couldn’t read; who was passed through because of his skills on the football field and the money he could bring in by helping the team win; who would commit crimes and get away with them. He did all of this while allowing a pedophile, Jerry Sandusky, to work as his defensive coordinator and stalk his campus even after he was no longer the defensive coordinator. Which is worse?

In this New York Times piece discussing the report commissioned by the family to defend Paterno, it’s noted that Paterno and Sandusky didn’t have a personal relationship; that Paterno didn’t like Sandusky. If that’s the case, why didn’t he fire Sandusky? I don’t mean for the child abuse allegations, but years before just because he felt like it? Even if Sandusky wasn’t accused of these heinous crimes, Paterno was under no obligation to keep Sandusky around if he didn’t want him. Was Penn State’s on-field dominance and recruiting going to suffer without Sandusky? Highly unlikely. Was Sandusky an irreplaceable defensive wizard? The consensus is that Sandusky was a good defensive coordinator, but this isn’t the NFL where there has to be a scheme to suit the players and the head coach’s job was dependent on the performance of his assistants. They could’ve found someone else to install as the defensive coordinator and there wouldn’t have been a noticeable difference on the field.

Did Sandusky have something on Paterno that necessitated keeping him around and letting him run free with his nefarious activities? It’s a viable question. Paterno was so powerful at Penn State that he was able to control the entire campus if not the entire state of Pennsylvania. His power was so vast that could’ve named his wife as defensive coordinator and gotten away with it and, given the talent levels they had, the team would’ve won anyway. In fact, he could’ve put a headset on a monkey and stuck him in the booth with a hat that said, “defensive coordinator” and there wouldn’t have been a marked difference between Sandusky or Sue Paterno doing the job.

This was not a professional sports situation in which a coach has to accept certain mandates in hiring his assistants because of owner desires or other factors. Paterno was basically the “owner.” He could do what he wanted. There are circumstances in professional sports where a manager is told which coaches he’s going to have. We saw it last year to disastrous results with the Red Sox and Bobby Valentine not speaking to his bench coach Tim Bogar, who he saw as an undermining spy (and was right), and not having a relationship with his pitching coach Bob McClure, who was fired during the season.

Veteran managers like Jim Leyland and Joe Torre have had coaches thrust upon them in the past. In all of Leyland’s jobs, there have been “his” guys Milt May, Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon and Rich Donnelly. He trusts them and they’re his aides-de-camp. With the Pirates, though, he had Ray Miller as his pitching coach. Leyland and Miller weren’t buddies, but Miller was a fine pitching coach and Leyland had little choice in the matter because Miller was hired by the front office.

In the end, Leyland was going to do what he wanted with the pitchers no matter what the pitching coach said so it didn’t matter who was sitting next to him on the bench and the same was true with Paterno. It was his show. When the aforementioned Switzer took over the Dallas Cowboys from Jimmy Johnson, he essentially inherited an entire coaching staff, many of whom wanted his job and were still loyal to Johnson. Switzer wanted to be Cowboys coach and that was a concession he was forced to accept to make it happen.

This is not unusual. Front offices don’t want managers hiring their buddies and managers don’t want people they don’t trust in their clubhouse. The front office always wins out. Paterno was not in the position where he had to be agreeable about anything. He was the front office and he made the final call.

Much like the saying that there’s nothing more useless than an unloaded gun, what purpose did Paterno’s accumulated power serve if he was more concerned about his legacy and pretentiously ensuring that the image surpassed the reality than with dealing with what Sandusky was doing? I get the impression that Paterno was told about Sandusky and didn’t truly understand what it was he was being told. Whether that was due to old age; a compartmentalized wall he’d built in his mind not to acknowledge that people—especially someone with whom he’d worked for decades—would do terrible things to children; a desire to protect himself, his legend and Penn State; or all of the above was known only to Paterno.

On both sides of a legal argument, anyone can find an “expert” to say whatever needs to be said to bolster the viewpoint of the person who requested the testimony and investigation. They’ll have “proof” regardless of how ludicrous and farfetched it sounds. The family collected credible names in former United States Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and attorney Wick Sollers to provide the defense. These men have lots of credentials, impressive resumes and letters after their names. Not to impugn their impartiality, but since they were paid by the Paterno family, what were the odds they would find fault in what Joe Paterno did? That they would agree with Louis Freeh’s conclusions? You don’t have to come up with a number because I can tell you what it is: zero.

Freeh, the former FBI Director and lead investigator hired by Penn State’s board of trustees in the Sandusky case, had no obvious vested interests. Agree with him or not, it made little difference to him whether Paterno was complicit in any part of the case. If he was innocent, what difference would it have made for Freeh to say so?

In such a public pronouncement and presentation as that of the Paterno family, there are no parameters for the defense. Paterno’s dead and the only dissection and finders of fact will be done and made by the public. Their judgment is not legally binding nor does it have worse consequences than what the Paterno family is currently fending off. They’re saving a monument, not keeping someone out of jail.

Some will be searching for justification of Paterno’s innocence; others seeking confirmation of his ignorance and/or guilt. Each side has their own versions of the facts and individual desires to have them seen as the “truth.” We’ll never know the answer. But if the Paterno family thinks that this report will rebuild “Paterno” as the totem and not the man, they’re as ignorant as Paterno himself was when Sandusky operated with impunity with Paterno the man, wittingly or not, contributing mightily to Paterno the totem’s downfall.

//

Advertisements

The Astros Experiment In Baseball Engineering

Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Stats, World Series

When the Astros offered Tim Bogar a job to be their new bench coach, Bogar turned it down because the deal included a clause that he couldn’t interview for managerial jobs elsewhere. When discussing this somewhat odd demand, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow said he didn’t comment on “human resource issues”.

Never before have I heard the words “human resources” referenced in a baseball context, especially by the GM.

This exemplifies the different tack the Astros are taking in rebuilding their club from what amounts to a moribund and barren expansion team. It’s an experiment in baseball engineering that continues from the hiring of Luhnow to the naming of a Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein as their pro scouting coordinator, to the unique title they anointed on Sig Mejdal as “Director of Decision Sciences”. Yesterday, they continued the trend of loading their front office with the highly educated when they hired Harvard graduate David Stearns as assistant GM. Whether or not it works will be known only in retrospect, but it strikes me as a reinvention of the wheel. Because Luhnow is so immersed in data crunching, is beloved by stat people for his supposed success in building the Cardinals minor league system into the pipeline for talent, and is running such a horrific and mostly talentless organization, he’s receive carte blanche from owner Jim Crane to do what he wants.

The credit for the Cardinals is a shaky premise at best. Luhnow’s entry into baseball was rocky and stemmed from Bill DeWitt’s desire to recreate the club in the Moneyball image. The insertion of a total outsider who’d come from the corporate world was not taken well by the old-school baseball men in the Cardinals organization and eventually sowed the seeds for Walt Jocketty’s firing and Tony LaRussa’s sharp-elbowed infighting in which the future Hall of Fame manager won the power struggle. It’s easily glossed over that Luhnow was stripped of his power after the 2010 season. I wrote of Luhnow’s drafts in this posting immediately after he got the Astros job. The truth about anyone’s drafts is that there are so many factors that go into a player’s development that blaming Luhnow for Colby Rasmus or crediting him for Allen Craig is a partisan attempt on the part of the analyst depending on his beliefs. Supporters will say that Rasmus is a talent who was mishandled by LaRussa, critics will say that Rasmus is badly overrated. The credit/blame game can go on forever. But now Luhnow’s in charge of the Astros and he’s implementing what he believes. It’s admirable, but admiration doesn’t mean it’s going to succeed.

Does Goldstein have the qualifications to do the job for which he was hired? Is there a joint appraisal process in effect and if the scouts disagree with what the numbers say, who breaks the tie and how does he do it? Goldstein comes from Baseball Prospectus which, like the Ivy League, has become a mill for baseball front offices and in the media. BP has a tendency (if you read the back of their annuals) to relentlessly promote what they got right. “Look, we nailed this, that and the other thing” is a selling point without mentioning what they got wrong as if it was a matter of circumstance and if the players, managers, or front office people had done what they were expected to do, the numbers would’ve played out as correct. It’s a wonderful world to live in in which there’s no possibility of being defined wrong due to a constant shifting of the goalposts after the fact to make oneself right.

I’ve had people credit me for being right about the Red Sox pending disaster (I had them at 81-81; no one could’ve predicted 69-93) with Bobby Valentine and am quick to point out that I also picked the 98-loss Colorado Rockies to the win the NL West. To me, it gives more credibility to embrace the negative and understand why it happened and learn from it to be more accurate the next time.

There is no “way” to build a team nor to make accurate projections in a sport. Nate Silver has had his reputation launched into the stratosphere because of his brilliant and right-on-the-money work with predicting the Presidential election on Fivethirtyeight.com. Inexplicably, that has morphed into a validation of his PECOTA baseball system of predictions, but it’s comparing the Earth to Neptune. There’s no connection. Baseball is not politics and in spite of the different algorithms used to come to the results, it’s easier to calculate a voting bloc than it is to determine how Bryce Harper or Mike Trout are going to function as big leaguers; how the Red Sox players would react to Valentine.

Keeping on the political theme, what we’ve seen recently is baseball’s extreme left wing and extreme right wing grapple for a proximate cause as to why the Giants have won two of the past three World Series. Questions and assertions are popping up as to whether Giants GM Brian Sabean’s old-school sensibility and management style signaled the “end” of Moneyball or if Moneyball is still the “way”. Both premises are ridiculous. Assuming that the Giants’ championships discredit Moneyball is presuming that Moneyball was a solidly researched and accurate foundation to begin with instead of a fictionalized and twisted story that was crafted by a skillful and self-indulgent mythmaker, Michael Lewis.

Moneyball was never an actual “thing,” therefore it’s not something that had to be proven wrong because it wasn’t right in the first place.

On the other side, this piece on HardballTalk discusses a stat guy in the Giants’ front office named Yeshayah Goldfarb. The posting lavishes praise on Goldfarb and doubles as an apparent repudiation of anyone who dare question the value of Moneyball and numbers. It’s written that Goldfarb influenced the Giants acquiring and keeping the likes of Javier Lopez and Juan Uribe for the 2010 club.

Lopez? They needed a stat guy to suggest they trade for a sidearming lefty? They got Lopez from the Pirates who was only a Pirate because, in 2009, he was horrendous for another stat based club with the Red Sox and allowed to leave as a free agent where no team other than the Pirates made him a decent offer.

But the stat guy knew!!

Um…no.

The truth is it had nothing to do with numbers. It had to do with Lopez being a breathing left-handed pitcher. Nothing more. If Tony Fossas at 55(?) years old chose to make a comeback, there would be a team to have a look at him because he’s lefty. Period. And Uribe? Really? So the Giants had a brilliant group of numbers people who advised them to keep Uribe in 2010 and he became a post-season hero, but the non-stat based Dodgers signed Uribe after that season, he’s been a disaster, and Ned Colletti’s an idiot? Goldfarb also gets credit for Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey, yet no one other than a Jewish weekly knew who he was. Amazing. Is that how it works?

No. It’s not how it works in any manner other than looking back at what occurred and finding “reasons” to bolster one’s position. The “Yeah, we’re in!!!” aspect of Moneyball still lives as the front offices are infested with people who didn’t play baseball, but have calculations and college degrees to get them in and become the new age hires. But much like Moneyball and the Giants, there’s a clutching at credit for floating principles that can’t be quantified. If the Astros are in the playoffs in 2-3 years, there will be an explanation for it, but the bickering factions will use their own methodology to determine what it is—both might be right, both might be wrong and neither side will admit it.

//

David Ortiz’s Response to Bobby Valentine

Free Agents, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players

Bobby Valentine must’ve experienced culture shock and felt lonely on the moral high ground. He’s never been there before.

During his barnburning tour after being fired by the Red Sox, Valentine unloaded on the deserved—bench coach Tim Bogar and the interfering and unsupportive front office; and the undeserved—Red Sox DH David Ortiz. After Valentine’s interview with Bob Costas on Costas Now (I discussed it here), Ortiz stayed quiet when Valentine accused him of quitting on the season. Clearly the slugger was waiting until his contract extension with the Red Sox had been completed before replying. As opposed to Valentine, Ortiz is a better cultivator of his image and able to show discipline. He would’ve loved to retort immediately, but didn’t.

You can read Ortiz’s comments here on Boston.com.

Valentine is incapable of functioning as a sympathetic figure. From the time he took the Red Sox job, he was in a dreadful position in part because of his reputation and in part because of the Red Sox disarray. They never gave him a chance; the team was badly overrated at the start; and the season came ended inevitably with the club 69-93 season and in last place. Whether Valentine was the manager or not, this result was unavoidable. He would’ve gotten a pass from baseball people who still respected his experience and savvy and possibly gotten another chance. Maybe.

But in true Bobby V style, he thoughtlessly chose to validate why many of the players didn’t trust him and tried to get him fired by taking one player who did give him a chance and impugning his character and professionalism.

Was Ortiz concerned about his contract? Knowing he’s been going year-to-year and wouldn’t get more money on the market than he would from the Red Sox, did he want to avoid giving them a reason to tell him to take a hike by showing loyalty with the manager they airdropped onto their sinking ship? Of course. Ortiz has been far more intense, cognizant of his image and invested in himself than the affable face he presents to the public would suggest. That competitiveness is a significant part of why he was able to transform from the player the Twins didn’t give a real opportunity to play every day and released into the basher he’s been with the Red Sox. In the Reggie Jackson tradition, he’s a recognizable star simply by uttering his nickname, Big Papi, because of the big hits he’s accrued and that personality.

Whatever the reason—selfish or not—Ortiz supported Valentine. This multiplies what Valentine did as wrong and is fully in line with the Valentine method of detonating a bridge as soon as he finishes crosses it. If he had any shot of managing in the big leagues again, it likely disappeared as soon as the ill-advised comments about Ortiz came out of his mouth because he’s not worth the aggravation, mutiny and fallout.

//

Bobby Valentine and Causes of Failure

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hockey, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, NFL, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Umpires

The one thing we can take from Bobby Valentine’s interview with Bob Costas from Tuesday on Costas Tonight is that Valentine was set up for failure, so no one should be surprised that he failed.

No one.

From day 1 it was known that the new GM Ben Cherington didn’t want Valentine. It was known that the reputation Valentine carted around with him wasn’t going to let the players give him a chance. It was known that the Red Sox, having collapsed in September of 2011 amid a lack of discipline, disinterest, and lack of cohesion, were on the downslide. How this was going to end was relatively predictable in that it wasn’t going to succeed, but I doubt anyone could have envisioned the Red Sox cleaning out the house of Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez—not because they wanted to keep them, but because no one was expected to take them.

Let’s look at the Bobby V statements and implications (paraphrased) and judge them on their merits.

He yelled at Mike Aviles in spring training.

In retrospect, it was called an “ugly” scene, but it sounds like Valentine was speaking loudly and telling the players how he wanted an infield drill handled—directed at Aviles, but for all of them to hear—and the players, accustomed to Terry Francona’s laissez faire attitude and already waiting for something to attack Valentine about, seized on it as a “here we go,” moment.

And if he did yell at Aviles, so what? Is the manager not allowed to yell at the players anymore without having other players come into his office to whine about it? The purpose of bringing in a more disciplined manager is so he can instill discipline that was missing; discipline that was a proximate cause of the downfall of the club in 2011.

Cause of failure: Valentine tried to discipline the players as a manager and they refused to be disciplined.

The coaches undermined Valentine.

I find it at best bizarre and at worst despicable that the Red Sox are allowing new manager John Farrell to have significant say-so in the constitution of his coaching staff and didn’t let Valentine pick the people on his staff.

In the Costas interview, Valentine said the coaches have to speak the manager’s language, but if the coaches—specifically bench coach Tim Bogar and pitching coach Bob McClure—barely knew Valentine and didn’t speak to him (or he to them), then how was it supposed to be functional?

The contentiousness between the manager and his coaches permeated the clubhouse. McClure didn’t want to make the pitching changes as Valentine prefers his pitching coaches to do and from the start, that was a bad sign of what was to come. Bogar sounds as if he was rolling his eyes and shaking his head behind Valentine’s back from the beginning.

Valentine has something Farrell doesn’t: managerial success in the big leagues. So why is Farrell receiving the courtesy that Valentine didn’t unless Cherington was waiting out the inevitable disaster of Valentine’s tenure knowing his contrariness in the hiring would make him essentially bulletproof if events transpired as they did in the worst case scenario?

Farrell’s qualifications as Red Sox manager are basically that he was the Red Sox pitching coach during their glory years, knows how things are done, isn’t Valentine, and the players like him. If a club was looking at the work Farrell did with the Blue Jays as manager as an individual entity, they would look elsewhere before hiring him and they certainly wouldn’t give up a useful player like Aviles to get him.

Cause of failure: They hired Valentine and handcuffed him.

Management was spying and suffocating.

In the Costas interview, Valentine said that he never received a series of binders (possibly a veiled shot at Joe Girardi) or stat sheets telling him what to do, but that there was one of Cherington’s assistants in the manager’s office before and after every game.

Not even in Moneyball, amid the ridiculous characterization of then-Athletics’ manager Art Howe as a hapless buffoon, was it written that a front office person was in Howe’s office to that degree. One of the issues Valentine had with Mets’ GM Steve Phillips during his tenure in New York was that Phillips was constantly huddling with leaders in the clubhouse like Al Leiter after games; he was also said to stalk around with a grumpy look on his face in what appeared to be an act of an upset GM following a loss.

After the lack of involvement in Valentine picking his coaches; the Aviles incident; the uproar over Valentine’s mostly innocuous comments about Youkilis early in the season; and the front office spying, Valentine should have gone to Larry Lucchino and asked if they wanted him to manage the team or not. The claustrophobic situation of a front office person loitering so constantly in the manager’s office exponentially adds to the stress of a long season. No one—especially someone with Valentine’s experience—needs to have this level of scrutiny from the people he’s working with.

Cause of failure: The factional disputes permeated the running of the club and that segments wanted and expedited Valentine’s downfall.

David Ortiz quit.

Only Ortiz knows if this is true. Valentine would probably have been better off not saying that Ortiz quit because if there’s a chance for him to manage again—and there is—he doesn’t need another, “Well, why’d you say this?” soundbite hanging over his head.

There’s an indignant reaction if it’s implied that the players went through the motions or decided to use an injury to spend time on the disabled list rather than play when they could have. Ortiz had had a brilliant season until he got injured and, with the season spiraling down the toilet and the looming probability of this being his final chance to get paid as a free agent, Ortiz might very well have chosen to shut it down.

What’s ironic about it is that Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia seemed to be two of the few veterans who gave Valentine a chance when the manager was hired, but in true Bobby V fashion, he’s detonating the bridge.

Players think about themselves more often than is realized. It’s easier in baseball than it is in other team sports because in football, basketball, and hockey, no individual can function without the group. In baseball, it’s an individual sport in a team concept. It’s not farfetched that Ortiz just sat out the rest of the season when, if the Red Sox were contending, he would’ve played. Ortiz, Valentine, the Red Sox, and their medical staff know what really happened here. True or not, Valentine shouldn’t have said this.

Cause of failure: Reality that’s generally swept under the rug.

The Valentine hire was a disaster in large part because the Red Sox made it a disaster. That’s not an exoneration of Valentine because a he deserves a large share of the blame, but it wasn’t going to work. It was never going to work. And the small chance it did have of working would’ve included making the drastic trades they made in-season before the season; letting Valentine have a voice in the constitution of his coaching staff; and allowing him to do the job he was hired to do.

None of that happened and these are the results we see. Let’s wait and watch if Farrell does any better, because if he doesn’t then Cherington will learn what it’s like to live in the shoes Valentine did for a miserable year of his life. These things have a habit of solving themselves.

//