Thursday, October 27, 2005

Whither Theo and the Trio?

By the time this editorial is posted, it could be a moot point. The fact is it should have been a moot point before I sat down to write it. For these negotiations to have gotten to this point is inexcusable, because it means that one party is being less than honest.

In listening to the various sports talk shows in town, along with reading the papers, what Mo Vaughn said during his negoations way back: "It Ain't about the money" is really true. Given his experience in the job (3 years), if the most recent offer rumored to have been made (3 yrs in the neighborhood of 1.75 million) is true, then that's a reasonable committment. That would be a doubling of his current income and personally, if my employer came knocking on my door with that kind of offer, I'd be signing my name on whatever line he wanted. And I think most people would do the same.

But this negotiation is more about authority, autonomy, power and respect than it is about money. Theo wants to be "the man", the final authority in all things related to player personnel movements. This apparently bothers Larry Luccino, who views himself as someone with both a good sense of business AND a decent evaluator of talent. While having Theo answer directly to John Henry wouldn't be a complete disaster, it would cut Larry out of part of the checks and balances that good, strong stable franchises need.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall during some of these sessions. For every Nomar move, there can be a Edgar counter. For each bullpen by committe mention, the acquestion of Foulke is brought up. Each time Curt comes out of someones mouth, another person will silently mutter Matt. The truth is that Theo is an average evaluator of major league talent. His batting average is around 500, as there have been as many Ramon Vazquez signings as there have been Mark Belhorn (ignore 2005. focus on what happened in 2004).

The minor leagues is where Theo gets to puff out his chest and proudly point to what's happening. But..... he's only as good as the info that the scouts give him. Plus, last time I checked, the only draftee to have made any impact with the big league team was Jonathan Papelbon. All those prospects are just that...prospects. And until they make it to the majors and show they can stay, they can't alter the balance of success regarding the major league mistakes Theo has made.

The 2006 season will be the test in that regard. Depending on trades and free agent signings, we could see the greatest influx of minor league talent in decades..... perhaps as far back as 75, when Fred Lynn and Jim Rice both arrived full time. If Dustin Pedroia, Manny Delcarmen, Jon Leicester and Hanley Ramirez are what "everyone" says they're destined to be, then Theo should get the keys to the house, because he kept them instead of trading them for immediate help. If, however, they turn out to be less than that.... say Brian Rose-like.... then what happened in 2004 will be a very distant memory.

Monday, October 24, 2005

It's NOT all about the bling

There's nothing quite like the sound of millionaires who have spent their entire lives from age 12 on reacting to the news that they can't do what they want all the time. I'm not sure you can call their indignation righteous, because most everyone else on the face of the planet has to answer to someone each and every day.

But to hear some of the NBA players react to the news of the upcoming dress code (or code of dress conduct) would lead one to think they've been told they can't dribble from coast to coast any more, that it's 4 star hotels henceforth, not 5 or that they're riding coach from now on.

Yet, in this case, I actually happen to agree with them. I understand that the people who run or manage a business have it within their rights to impose a standard to which all the employees of that business will be held. But in most cases the reasoning behind that standard is logical and makes sense for the business in the industry in which it operates.

The NBA is imposing this restrictions in response to reactions of the money behind the power- the national advertisers. The advertisers, a group of people who are, in most cases, white males living in segregated or isolated communities, can't related to tall black men wearing do-rags and enough jewelry to sink the yachts the advertising executives sail. And they think that because of this, the demographic population they're going after can't relate either.

They're right. And wrong. I can't relate to Alan Iverson, Paul Pierce or Ron Artest. I've never lived in a community where I was a member of the minority. I've never attended a school where I may have been pushed along from grade to grade not because I could dissect a frog, but because I could dissect a 2-1-2 zone defense. I've never been in a position where total strangers would approach me and make demands of me- where to go to college, donate money, spend time with other strangers- just because I could execute a cross-over dribble. And I certainly don't look at them with their pendants the size of the spare tire to the very small car I drive and think I want to be just like them.

But the way they look is not the reason I don't go to NBA games any more. Part of it is that I can't afford to. Except for the seats so high up in the "Gahden" that you need portable oxygen in order to avoid passing out, I can't afford to go to more than 1 game a year. I don't have 75 dollars to drop for a 3 hour experience that I DON'T LIKE WATCHING. And that is the bigger problem. The NBA has allowed itself to become the tall version of hockey- where the absolute goal is not to score, but stop the other team from scoring. Movement without the ball? Maybe during the pregame drills. Tough man to man defense? It's what happens in a different court. Today's basketball games are tedious affairs, slow movements punctuated by the odd sound of sneakers smacking onto the floor as the players run.

A professional basketball game is 48 minutes long. The shot clock is 24 seconds in length. There are 120 sets of 24 seconds in a basketball game. Of the 6 games in last years finals that did not require OT, the teams averaged 151.3 shots combined- or a shot every 19 seconds. To put it in terms my math-phobic daughter would appreciate, they used slightly more than 79% of the available time to take a shot. The stunning part of that? The teams still managed to shoot for less that 50% (combined the teams shot for 42.8%). Which means they took 19 seconds to take a shot that missed more often than it went in. Could they have accomplished that level of "competency" in 13 seconds? Could they have at least made it interesting for the fans by running and, GASP, passing the ball while moving enroute to that missed 18 footer?

If David Stern and the rest of the suits in NY want to make a favorable impression on the public, the BUYING public, then they have to do what it took a lockout to accomplish in the NHL- they have to blow something up and reintroduce movement to a beautiful game. If they do that, then the players can wear whatever they want and the fans won't care. As long as the players stay out of the stands while doing it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Radio Wars

The summer ratings book was released recently. WEEI once again dominated, not just in the target demographic (men, 25-64), but in general, winning the drive time slot among all adults. Overall, the station posted a 6.6 rating, ahead of Magic 106.7 with a 6.1 rating.

Now I fall smack in the middle of the target audience for 'EEI. And for a long time I listened. Faithfully. On the way to work. On the way home. Sometimes on the weekends. I generally put the station on while I was in my car, hoping to hear something I hadn't read in the Globe or hadn't seen on SportsCenter the night before. Occasionally, I'd get that. Some of the regular guests brought to the table insight not readily available elsewhere.

But somewhere along the way, the essence of sports became secondary to the "art of entertaining". The station made the decision, based on what is broadcast most days, to table the deep details (why is Ozzie Guillen able to bunt when he does and get away with it) and instead spend large segments of time reading headlines from non-sports stories (and with horrid results). 'EEI was able to do this because they were the king of the mountain, the Sports Radio equivalent of Microsoft. No other station dared to challenge the king.

Then Sporting News Radio (The Zone) came to town. Big plans. Raising the bar radio. They made a big splash, stealing one of the original sports talk radio voices from 'EEI and signing a big name to handle the afternoon drive time slot. I, along with many of my friends, looked forward to this station.

The problem was that unless you were within 25 feet of the transmitter, what you heard initially, was static. And as the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Even some of the guests and personalities that migrated from 'EEI went back. Because it doesn't matter what your opinion is if no one can hear it. The Zone is still around, struggling to crack the ratings book, but things are gloomy.

For those of us who value meaningful dialog over talking heads, we do have a real alternative. One with deep pockets and a track record of succeeding in other marketplaces. ESPNRadio has come to Boston.

On the surface, the primary difference between the stations is the scope of topics. 'EEI is focused, almost exclusively, on local sports. (Well, most local sports. Hockey rarely is mentioned on that station.) Their guests are beat writers from the Herald, ProJo and other local papers, along with sports personalities from the local TV stations. Beyond Peter Gammons (a former writer for the Globe) and Boomer Easiason, there are few nationally recognized individuals who don't work for some local media entity. With such a narrow focus, the scope of topics are as narrow, resulting in day after day after day of "Tedy shouldn't play" or "Manny's being Manny again".

ESPNRadio, on the other hand, makes use of all the reporters who work for the various parts of the mothership. So you can hear John Clayton, Ron Jaworski or Chris Mortensen... sometimes ON THE SAME DAY, discussing various aspects of the upcoming NFL games, as an example. The commentators appear to be unbiased and informed. The guests are concise and to the point. It's like listening to a well written newspaper.

The other primary difference between the two? The use of the phone. 'EEi allows callers. In many cases, the same callers, day after day, week after week. Frank from Gloucester, Alison from Cambridge, Danny from Quincy.... All call with enough regularity that all the hosts have to do is say the name and the listeners will know, not only who they are, but what it is they're going to say. This is compounded by the fact that the on-air personalities feel it is their job to talk over, on and around the callers, so that having 4 voices attempting to be heard is not uncommon. On ESPNRadio, the afternoon drive time program allows some callers. The hosts listen to the comment, thank the caller, then respond. The mindset is 180 degrees from 'EEI.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the coming months. ESPNRadio launched just as the summer ratings book began. Many of my friends did not know that the station had started yet. But more and more know now and have begun listening. ESPNRadio will also be helped by their ability to broadcast the World Series games, along with the Sunday night games in both baseball and football. I'm hoping that serious sports fans will start listening and let those people who like the sound of their own voices stay with 'EEI.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Measure of Genius

I was recently given the last CD by Ray Charles, "Genius loves company". No matter what kind of music you enjoy, this is an electric collection. The duets are performed with some of today's best artists. It is truly a work of genius.

That got me thinking. The word genius is used frequently in sports, particularly when discussing managers and coaches. Phil Jackson is a genius. Joe Torre is a genius. Bill Bellicek is a genius. But to me the question is "How do you measure genius?" when discussing guiding a team to the pinnacle of your sport?

I suppose the first thing you need to do is define what the word "genius" means. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the following are the first two definitions of "Genius":

1. a. Extraordinary intellectual and creative power.
b. A person of extraordinary intellect and talent: "One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius" (Simone de Beauvoir).
c. A person who has an exceptionally high intelligence quotient, typically above 140.

2. a. A strong natural talent, aptitude, or inclination: has a genius for choosing the right words
b. One who has such a talent or inclination: a genius at diplomacy.

Using these, then I think the second definition applies to the prowess of a leader in a sporting capacity. A strong, natural talent, aptitude or inclination.... sounds as if genius is something you are born with.

Perhaps it's because he's the manager of the Yankees and, as such, is in charge of the baseball team I loathe more than any other, but I feel compelled to look at the "genius" of Joe Torre. Can you identify these stats:

  • 709 286 420 .405
  • 486 257 229 .529
  • 706 351 354 .498
  • 1618 982 634 .608

They are Joe's records at each of his managerial stops. The first is tenure in New York, with the Mets (from 77-81), the Braves (82-84), the Cardinals (90-94) and the Yanks (95-05). How is it that Joe became that much more of a "natural talent" during the between Oct 94 and April 95? Is it, perhaps, not his natural talent but rather the talent belonging to the 25+ players assigned to him each year while he wore the pinstripes?

During the 80's, KC Jones took over the coaching duties of the Celtics from Bill Fitch. It is alleged that he would frequently comment that his duties consisted of nothing more than rolling the balls onto the floor and getting out of the way. Whether that was true or not is less important than the fact that no one considered him a genius because of the talent on that team. Not only were the players talented, but they were smart (of the starting 5 that were generally on the court, 3 of them currently hold GM or equivalent positions in the league).

I don't mean or intend to disparage the job that Joe Torre has done. He's a very good manager, I truly believe that. But if as the manager you don't have the players to put on the field or into the rotation, there's little you can do. Since there is no way to prove how some other manager would have handled the exact same situations that Joe faced while with the Yanks, we can't say that he did exceptionally better, marginally better or no better at all than you or I would have done. And without that ability, how can we realistically call him a genius?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Where have we heard this before?

It's now a week since the World Champion Red Sox came tumbling down and lost their crown. At least officially. Truth is, they lost it back in April.

They came out of spring training with more questions than a Presidential press conference: Who would start? Who were the set-up men? Which Kevin Millar would show up this season? Was Edgar a good choice to replace Orlando? Would Manny be Manny again, and if so, how many times would he turn a double into a single, then follow that up with a meaningless headfirst dive into 3rd base? Would the utility players provide enough to allow the regulars time to recharge their engines?

Sadly, the answers to most of those questions turned out badly. There was much discussion on the subject of 6 starters. By year's end, we had 5 in name and only 2 in the postseason rotation. The bullpen, over the course of the year, spent more time introducing themselves to each other than actually saving any games. (Anyone have an email address for Blaine Neal?)

The front office managed to handicap Terry with the reserves. For the better part of the early season, the team carried 2 players that he had NO faith in. Vasquez and Stern may be players, but they brought nothing to this team this season. Due to his inability to hit, Vasquez rarely saw the plate, meaning that Terry was forced to use Mark Belhorn far more often than most people believed was reasonable. Stern may develop into an adequate outfielder, but he only left the bench to pinch run or maybe play an inning or two in the outfield but beyond that, he was as useful to this team as I was. Until the signing of John Olerud, there was no real option at first base short of pulling David Ortiz out of the DH slot. The constant use of Kevin Millar, particularly after Olerud's arrival, ranks up with the shooting of JFK as one of the biggest mysteries to affect Boston.

We made it to the post season because we were bullies. We bludgeoned the opposition into submission, effectively masking one of the worst pitching staffs to make the post season. It was sad, but inevitable, that we would go down before the finals. No one thought it would be in a 3 game sweep.

So it's once again, "Wait 'til next year". What will next year bring? Massive changes no doubt. Minimally, a new infield, with the exception of Renteria (who isn't as bad as he played, but may not be worth what he's being paid) and potentially new outfielders in 2 positions. The rotation is in flux, the bullpen is holding cattle calls and anyone will to play for short money and limited playing time will be invited to sit next to Terry and the rest of the coaching staff. It's going to be interesting.