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The View from the Cheap Seats

July 29, 2009 under Cheap Seats

It’s time.  After Omar Minaya’s meltdown at the press conference called to cheap_seats_3_owumannounce the firing of Tony Bernazard, there is no logical course for the Mets to follow other than tearing the whole thing down and starting over.  Just three years after coming within one game of the World Series, theirs is a fractured organization lacking both leadership and direction.  Minaya’s performance on Monday is just the latest in a series of embarrassing incidents  that have reduced the franchise to a laughingstock.

We often hear talk in the sports world of the “window of opportunity”.  With salary caps and free agency now the order of the day, sports teams must take advantage of the circumstances that allow them to assemble as much affordable talent as possible because, eventually, they will not be able to pay all of their stars.  For the Mets, the window seemed wide open in 2006.  After years of mismanagement created by the Wilpons’ affinity for soliciting every opinion in the building, Minaya, as the single voice, was able to assemble a strong mix of young and veteran talent that looked as good as any in the NL.  Then Yadier Molina’s homer in Game Seven of the NLCS sent the Mets home and two straight late season collapses gave evidence the window was closing.  But Minaya recruited J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez last winter to help fix the team’s biggest problem and the faithful were, once again, filled with optimism.  That is, until the ambulance was backed up to the players’ exit.

Injuries abounded as five members of the team’s Opening Day lineup went down along with two starting pitchers and a reliever.  Compounding the problem was the misdiagnosis of Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran.  Reyes was originally treated for a calf problem that turned out to be a hamstring while Beltran received a cortisone shot for a bone bruise that actually doubled in size as he continued to play on it.  This week, John Maine will receive a second opinion on a shoulder injury that has kept him out much longer than originally expected.  These incidents have all served to call into question the competence of the team’s medical staff.

The bloated disabled list has also exposed a lack of depth in the minor leagues where the organization is not only absent the major league ready prospects that could bring help by way of a trade but has seen its top affiliates wallow near the bottom of the standings. These failings apparently took their toll on the head of player development, Tony Bernazard, whose often erratic and bizarre behavior has been well chronicled over the last two weeks.  All of which culminated in Minaya’s now infamous performance on Monday.

First of all, why was there a need for a question and answer session with the media over the firing of a relatively lower level administrator?  I’m not sure that even the most astute fan can identify the player development guy for his or her favorite ballclub.  But, in the Wilpon’s world where, once again, no chain of command seems to exist, everyone has the ear of the owners, even a Tony Bernazard.  Secondly, if it was decided that a press conference was actually in order, why wasn’t Jeff Wilpon at the microphone?  The fact that Bernazard was let go for cause made the issue organizational and not departmental.  And, finally, what did Minaya accomplish in his attack on Daily News beat writer, Adam Rubin, other than exposing himself as mean spirited and vindictive?   That Wilpon spent Tuesday apologizing for his GM’s behavior and lamenting the embarrassment Minaya had caused both him and his dad, Fred, is an indication that even they have had enough.

The news isn’t all bad, however.  The team’s two young stars, Reyes and David Wright, are signed for three more years.  Two of the game’s best, Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez, anchor the pitching staff while, in Beltran, the Amazins’ have the game’s best centerfielder.  But fences must be mended, especially with Beltran, who is reported to be furious with the organization over the original diagnosis of his injury.  He’ll be looking for a new contract next year, one that should be given him based on his terrific production since joining the club.  The GM that negotiates that contract should be the face of the franchise, the guy whose been given the keys by ownership to build a winner by whatever means he sees fit.  Over the last few weeks we’ve learned that that person can no longer be Omar Minaya.  The question is, have the Wilpons figured it out yet?

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USA Today writer, Christine Brennan, in response to ESPN reporter Erin Andrews being secretly videotaped in her hotel room, stuck her foot squarely in her mouth with this little gem that she shared on Twitter. “Women sports journalists need to be smart and not play to the frat house. There are tons of nuts out there.” Then, in trying to explain away the faux pas, went on television Monday and stuck the other foot in even deeper. “If you trade off your sex appeal, if you trade off your looks, eventually you’re going to lose those.  She doesn’t deserve what happened to her but part of the schtick, seems to me, is being a little bit out there in a way that then you are encouraging the complete nutcase to drill a hole in your room.” Nice. Last week, when I pointed out that the dogs abused by Michael Vick had more advocates than women abused by other NFL players, I caught some crap from a few people who thought that women shouldn’t need advocacy; that they can speak for themselves and call on their own strength to leave their abuser.  Thank you, Ms. Brennan, for reinforcing my point.  Erin Andrews is a competent professional who covers a wide range of sports.  She may not be a probing, investigative reporter but she performs well within her own arena.  To say that she trades off her sex appeal and looks is as insulting as it is mean.  Yet, her ability is not the issue here.  Even if she was a bumbling, talking hairdo doing her sideline reports in a Hooters outfit, she does not deserve the violation of privacy that she suffered in that hotel room.  To even insinuate that she somehow contributed to it is, well, playing to the frat house.

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So, Bud Selig is considering the reinstatement of Pete Rose to Major League Baseball.  Who cares?  Just do it already and let Rose take his chances with a veteran’s committee not all that happy with the hit king’s legacy of lies.  That Rose tries to somehow contest the fact that he bet on baseball after having accepted a lifetime ban for it is one of the more brazen stances I’ve ever seen.  Ironically, had he admitted his offenses, he more than likely would have been reinstated long ago and would already be enshrined in Cooperstown.  But, as long as he’s arrogant enough to think he can deny his way into the Hall, he’ll make his induction that much tougher.

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Any word on those Yankee fans that gave the team up for dead back in April and then, again, in June?  I’ve been tuning into sports radio hoping they’d turn up but, as yet, have been unsuccessful.  I’m figuring the next place I’ll see them will be on Broadway during the ticker tape parade.

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BIG XII FOOTBALL PREVIEW

July 28, 2009 under College Football

In a conference that returns not only a Heisman Trophy winner but also the big 12 2runner-up, the battle for a BCS Championship could come down to a divisional battle and one Saturday in October when Texas and Oklahoma renew the Red River Challenge.  It’s hard to find any preseason forecasts that have the league season unfolding any other way.  Except here.  To find out who will actually wear the conference crown, check out our Big XII Football Preview.

PAC TEN FOOTBALL PREVIEW

July 22, 2009 under College Football

The conference that’s been USC and the other nine for the last seven years may actually have a new resident at the top of pac10-the standings this season. USC football coach Pete Carroll will be faced with replacing what seemed like half of the first round of the NFL draft while many of his PAC TEN rivals head into the season with uncertain situations at Quarterback. Can Washington crack the win column after an 0-12 season? Will Rick Neuheisel and Norm Chow be able to reverse UCLA’s offensive doldrums? If USC doesn’t win, who will? Check out our PAC TEN Football Preview.

The View from the Cheap Seats

July 21, 2009 under Cheap Seats

cheap_seats_3_owumIt had come down to this. A nine foot putt that would break a little bit to the left as it got to the hole. It was the kind of putt Tom Watson had been knocking in all week in writing one of the most incredible sports stories of the last decade. Seeking to become the oldest player in PGA history to win a major by a full thirteen years, Watson needed only to drain this short bender to raise the Claret Jug. Seemingly unfazed by the fact that his approach shot had been right at the flag before rolling off the back edge of the green, Watson decided to putt his ball rather than chip up, and failed to get it as close as he wanted. Sadly, his second putt never had a chance and he was off to a four hole playoff against fellow American, Stewart Cink. Somewhere between the eighteenth hole and the first playoff tee, however, Watson seemed to tire, as if suddenly realizing how old he actually is. He bogeyed the first to drop a shot back and drove his ball way left on the third, ensuring Cink’s first victory in a major. And just like that, the Open Championship became that novel we’ve all read; a terrific story with a terrible ending.

I’ve heard the argument many times that golf is a game and not a sport. That, while there are athletes that play, athleticism is not required. There are points on both sides with which I agree. But, if anyone tries to tell me that what we all watched on Sunday morning wasn’t sport, I’ll have to check them for a pulse. Tom Watson, an unfailing gentleman and one of the most popular players in the history of the game, gave us a glimpse of the determination and heart of a champion. That, while age may compromise ability and endurance, it can never douse the competitive fire that burns within a great player. That, some times, when things are right, true champions have the ability to reach back and remind us what made them so special. At the British Open, this was the second time in a row where such magic was witnessed. Last year, Greg Norman was on the leader board through Sunday, only to fade on the back nine. Watson, however, just kept coming, unfazed by the attention and seemingly savoring what had to be a completely unexpected result. Until the ending went bad on eighteen.

In 1975, after the Reds and Red Sox had done battle in what may have been the greatest World Series ever, a Boston writer said that the Sox had won the series “three games to four.” Anyone who had witnessed the Game Six heroics of Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk knew exactly what he meant. I thought of that Sunday, as I watched Watson struggle to find his ball in whatever they call that high stuff that passes for rough on the other side of the pond. In my heart, Tom Watson won the Open Championship. Stewart Cink won the trophy.

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With Michael Vick having completed his term of house arrest that was the last part of his prison sentence, the debate about whether or not he should be able to resume his NFL career rages on. Vick will meet soon with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to find out his fate in a meeting that will surely be difficult for the man convicted of operating a dog fighting ring. Two years ago, before Vick pled guilty, he met with Goodell about the charges and lied right to his face, telling the league boss that he was innocent. Not much of a chance that Goodell will forget that one.

I’m both amused and saddened by various aspects of this controversy. It’s almost comical to hear the experts theorize that franchises are worried about taking a public relations hit for signing Vick. Rest assured that the decision to ink the troubled QB will come down to one point: Can he help our team? If he can, he’ll be signed. If he can’t, he won’t. The sadder issue is the indignation that many feel toward Vick for his horrible crimes. Now, I’ll be the first to say that his offenses were horrendous, despicable and inhuman. His abuse of the animals knew no bounds; not even murder. However, he’s served his sentence, paid fines and lost two years of compensation. He can’t legally be prevented from pursuing a career. But, even if he could be, where are the groups outraged by the current professional athletes that have abused women? Michael Vick is the first sports figure I can recall that’s been convicted of animal abuse while, each month, we learn about another player that smacked around his wife or girlfriend. Isn’t it a shame that dogs seem to have more advocates than women?

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For those Knicks fans waiting for the free agent class of 2010 to return a championship banner to Madison Square Garden, it’s been a tough summer. First, the NBA announced that it was lowering the salary cap by a million dollars. Then Trevor Ariza, who eventually signed with Houston, revealed that while Cleveland was recruiting him, he was assured by LeBron James that the Cavs’ superstar would resign with his hometown club. Miami started negotiating a long term contract with Dwyane Wade and Steve Nash re-upped in Phoenix. Unsure about whether to save the cap money or re sign David Lee, the Knicks have let their best player twist in the wind all summer. Fans had better hope that Lee returns, Danilo Galinari recovers from back surgery and that draft picks Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas can actually play as it’s looking more and more likely that they and not any of the potential free agents, will be the team’s core going forward.

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If the reports that Omar Minaya turned down an offer for Toronto ace Roy Halladay that would have sent Jonathan Niese to the Jays are true, then let’s get Niese up to the big leagues. You can’t tell your fans that you’re not giving up on the season and then trot Livan Hernandez out to the mound every five days. There’s a reason this guy’s got a closet full of jerseys.

The View from the Cheap Seats

July 14, 2009 under Cheap Seats

cheap_seats_3_owumIt has become the standard by which fans judge their favorite teams.  In an era where sports talk radio and the internet give anyone the opportunity to publicly express an opinion by simply picking up a phone or powering up a computer, fans now assign daily accountability to players, coaches and executives.  First place team loses four out of six? Pick up the phone and scream at the radio host that the general manager has to make a trade. A bunch of close games go the other way?  Hit redial and tell the same guy that the coach’s game management skills are lacking.  Cleanup hitter hasn’t gone deep in a while?  Post a blog demanding that he be dropped in the order.  Unfortunately, in their desire for instant gratification, fans have lost sight of two things:  A season is a marathon, not a sprint and, since the other guy is also trying to win, sometimes you lose.

Here in New York, it is impossible to listen to a radio call-in show for more than ten minutes without hearing one of the local nines get clobbered.  Mets’ fans alternately call for the heads of GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel as the team has now slipped into fourth place in the NL East, six games behind the Phillies.  Despite the fact that nine players, including five all stars, two starting pitchers and the team’s top prospect, are currently on the disabled list, the onslaught gains momentum every day as outraged fans demand action.  “Hi, Junior from Flushing, how ya doin?  First time, long time.  Listen, I gotta problem with this Minaya guy.  How could he not have better guys backing up Beltran and Reyes.  And what kind of lineup is Manuel puttin’ out there?  They make me sick.  These guys gotta go.”    No acknowledgement that the total number of injuries is miles above what any GM could reasonably expect to incur and an absolutely blind eye to the fact that, despite using a batting order that, on most nights, is weaker than the last place Nats, Manuel still has his overmatched squad within spitting distance of the Phils.  If, as many bloggers would have you believe, he should no longer be the Mets’ skipper, he might enjoy a career as a magician.  Fans used to rally around underdogs.  Now, too many belittle them for being just that.

In the Bronx, the Yankees have pulled off a neat trick, managing to mathematically eliminate themselves from the AL East race three or four different times over the first half of the season; at least in the eyes of some of their less patient loyalists.  Despite having the third best record in the game and standing just three games out of first while leading the AL wild card race, they have been written off by many of their fans each time they’ve hit a bump in the road.  Back in April, during their customary slow start, the Bombers were being killed by fans upset not only with their place in the standings but the sub par performance of free agent signees C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira.  Talk show groupies wanted anyone to pay, with GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi the most popular choices.  When things turned around for both superstars as well as the team, naysayers pointed their venom at a favorite target, Alex Rodriguez.  Say what you will about the enigmatic third baseman but, since his return from hip surgery on May 8th, only Albert Pujols has hit more HR while his RBI total has been surpassed by Pujols, Prince Fielder and no one else.  Many of ARod’s detractors point, sometimes accurately, to his failures in the clutch.  There is no disputing, however, that his return coincided with the onset of the Yankees’ success over the last two months.  Unless, of course, you turn on your radio where you’ll hear that fact disputed every hour on the hour.  Eight straight losses to Boston have also gotten a lot of play as; somehow, they seem to count as more than eight if they come at the hands of the Red Sox.  Finally, a weekend sweep by the Angels sent them into the break dealing with a ton of negative questions and headlines.  That it came on the heels of three straight wins in Minnesota was dismissed almost immediately in the new sports world of “What have you done for me lately?”

While technology and media can be blamed for a large part of this phenomenon, the teams, themselves, have fueled the fire, as well.  The ridiculous prices being charged for tickets have helped spawn a mentality among fans that something is owed them whenever they go to the park.  Irrational?  Maybe, but not without some merit.  For instance, I wouldn’t be too happy, after coughing up a few hundred bucks, to arrive at Citi Field and find that David Wright had the day off.   Be that as it may, it’d be nice to see more fans supporting their teams instead of knocking them.  Back in May, on the “perfect afternoon” referred to by Terrence Mann  in the classic, Field of Dreams, my seven year old was treated to a game at Citi Field by his three older brothers.  Wearing his Johan Santana jersey and his “real” Mets hat, Timmy was thrilled just to be at the game.  He took a few swings in the tee ball park, (before the game, of course), sampled the Pepsi Porch and was ecstatic to be included as one of “the guys”.  He saw a beauty, too, as the game went twelve innings.  When he arrived home, he was bubbling.  He couldn’t wait to tell his mom and me about sitting in left field, the grand slam hit by Fernando Tatis, two Met comebacks to tie the game, the hot dogs, popcorn, crazy people in the stands, “free baseball”, and, of course, the fun he had with his big brothers.  The last thing he said?  “Too bad the Mets lost but what a great game.”  Good man, that Tim.  I’ll have to teach him how to blog.

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