Saturday, October 4, 2014

The NY Media has found a new target - Derek Jeter

The final week of the regular season played out like a Hollywood script for Derek Jeter. First came the walkoff single against the Orioles in his final game in Yankee Stadium, and then came the three-day lovefest in, of all places, Boston's Fenway Park where the Yankee legend was greeted with the kind of cheers and "DER-EK JEE-TER" chants usually reserved for Yankees home games.

Photo courtesy Getty Images
From the moment back in February when Jeter announced his retirement via a post on his Facebook page - "First of all, everyone said they didn't even know I had a Facebook page" - the tributes came pouring in. The cynics started to wonder if Jeter was being credited with inventing and/or saving the game of baseball.

The final weekend in Boston was positively surreal. Sure, there were Yankees fans everywhere, but there were also a lot of Red Sox fans leading those cheers. Gone were the days of the "Nomar's better" chants...heck, Jeter and the rest of us might have even forgotten about the "Pokey's better" days of 2004.

And then came October 1.

The guy who had been so reserved in his comments to the media - has any player ever use so many words in a post-game interview to really say so little? - was now offering athletes a chance to speak out, albeit in a highly-controlled manner. "I do think fans deserve more than 'no comments' or 'I don’t knows.'" Jeter was "in the process of building a place where athletes have the tools they need to share what they really think and feel. We want to have a way to connect directly with our fans, with no filter."

David Waldstein's article in The New York Times revealed that "The website will have editorial oversight. Gary Hoenig, a former editorial director of ESPN Publishing and an editor of ESPN the Magazine, will be the editorial director. The website will be backed financially, in part, by Thomas Tull, whose production company was behind '42,' a film about Jackie Robinson."

Cue the media backlash. Writers who'd spent the better part of the past two decades singing Jeter's praises suddenly had their opening, and they ran with it.

John Harper from the New York Daily News offered this.

Steve Politi from the Newark Star Ledger was equally miffed.

Politi explained his lack of enthusiasm for Jeter's venture saying, "Here's my problem: After a lifetime spent guarding every detail, big and small, about his life it's a tad hypocritical to ask current athletes to bare their souls on his website. What's next? Joe Girardi encouraging other managers to throw out their research and just 'go with their gut?'"

The crowning touch came from New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica.

Lupica's column contained a couple of not-so-veiled very crude references to female anatomy that were, among other things, completely devoid of the class that Jeter showed throughout his career.

Jeter's been seemingly EVERYWHERE lately. An appearance on the Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and an online twitter chat of all things.

And Jeter Publishing is off to a roaring start.

Derek Jeter came into professional baseball with a plan - play the game the right way, and don't give the media a reason to take something you say and run with it. He's clearly treating the next step in his professional life with another carefully laid-out plan. That Players' Tribune twitter page and website were registered in November 2011; the domain for his Jeter Publishing website was also set up about a year ago. He managed to fly completely under the radar with both until he decided to make it public.

We all know that any content published by athletes via Jeter's site (Russell Wilson is the first to contribute) is going to be heavily edited. Big freaking deal. The media backlash - less than 72 hours after Jeter's career came to a close - is ridiculous and can be summed up in four words.



Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Red Sox fan bids farewell to Derek Jeter

If you've listened to me on the radio for any amount of time, you know I'm not a fan of the New York Yankees. Red Sox executive Larry Luchino dubbed them the "Evil Empire" some years back; I've been known to say things far less complimentary.

Photo courtesy Reuters
Derek Jeter's Hall-of-Fame career will come to an end Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park in what will otherwise be a completely meaningless baseball game for both the Yankees and the Red Sox.

Both teams are out of the playoffs, and the lineups for the two previous games of this series have looked like something you'd see in the late innings of a mid-March spring training game when the starters have long since left the field and showered.

Red Sox principal owner John Henry put Friday night's lineup into perspective with an all-too-appropriate seven-word tweet.



So with all that said, allow me to get the snark out of the way first.

I agree with much of what Keith Olbermann said this past week about Derek Jeter. In case you somehow managed to miss what Olbermann said, go here and here.

Derek Jeter isn't going to go down in baseball history as the "Greatest Yankee of All Time." There are at least five ahead of him you may have actually heard of - Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra. I'd even go so far as to offer up Don Mattingly as a better-than-Jeter candidate. You may have some others as well to throw into the mix.

Derek Jeter isn't the "Greatest Yankee Shortstop of All Time." That Rizzuto character was pretty good, you know.

And for awhile, you could make the argument that Derek Jeter wasn't even the best shortstop on his own team once that Alex Rodriguez fellow - remember him? - joined the Yankees.


Photo courtesy New York Times
Team leader? It was blatantly obvious that Jeter didn't make Rodriguez's transition to New York any easier. Truth be told, given my own feelings about Rodriguez I probably would have done the same thing, but as I said right from the start, this is the snarky part.

Team player? One could argue that the Captain could have and should have gone to manager Joe Girardi any number of times this year and asked to be moved out of the two-hole in the lineup as it became painfully evident that he wasn't producing well enough to be in the first third of the order.

Photo courtesy Associated Press
And don't even get me started on the whole "Derek Jeter Farewell Tour sponsored by Steiner Sports." My first thought on Thursday night when Jeter's teammates dumped a bucket of Gatorade (with the "2" in place of the usual logo) on him was, "Wonder how much Steiner will be charging for THAT jersey?"

Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of capitalism, and I've never once begrudged an athlete his mega-contract. But these last two weeks of the season have been more like a QVC Network production than a final well-deserved victory lap for a player of Jeter's stature. Anyone want to buy a rake?

The "flip" play against Oakland in the playoffs? I don't care how many times Joe Torre makes the claim, but I refuse to believe that the Yankees actually practiced that play. One could make the argument that the Captain was actually out of position. And if Jeremy Giambi had slid.... But I digress.

Photo courtesy Associated Press
That playoff home run against the Orioles in 1996? It would clearly have been overturned under the current replay rules.


Photo courtesy New York Times
The patented jump throw? I'm old enough to remember a guy named Bobby Wine making similar plays for the Phillies back in the mid-60's. But again, I digress.

Mr. November? As a Red Sox fan, I'll always have Jetes' performance in Games 4 through 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series to look back on.

** SNARK OVER **

Derek Jeter will play the last game of his Hall-of-Fame career Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park. It will cap off what has been a three-day love fest from Red Sox fans. And while details haven't been announced, you just know that Red Sox Executive Vice President Dr. Charles Steinberg and his staff will be pulling out all the stops to honor Jeter. And deservedly so.

Photo courtesy MLB.com
Plain and simple, Derek Jeter is everything I want a baseball player to be. And yes, he played hard...and he stayed cool.

He respected his teammates, his opponents, and more importantly, the Game of Baseball. In the PED era of players routinely putting up video game numbers, Jeter's name was never on the list of the usual suspects, even as some of his own teammates treated the clubhouse like a chemistry lab.

He battled his way through each and every at bat of his career. He may never have put up enough league-leading numbers to satisfy the likes of the Keith Olbermanns of the world, but he certainly had his share of big base hits, and I lost count of how many of those came at the expense of the Red Sox over the years. Derek Jeter could beat you with his bat, his glove, and his legs. And as someone who probably watched or listened to 90% of Jeter's career, I can say with confidence that he never stopped trying to beat the opponent no matter what the score was.

For years, I led the "if he played anywhere other than New York he'd be considered just another very good player" crowd when it came to assessing Captain Intangibles. But as the final weeks of Jeter's career have unfolded, I've started to appreciate Jeter in a whole new way. I've also discovered a sense of melancholy that I wasn't expecting.

Some of that came from knowing that Jeter is going through that phase of his life as described by Jackie Robinson when he said, "Athletes die twice." Derek Jeter's athletic mortality is playing out in front of our eyes. In many ways, I think it's reminding me of my own mortality.

Photo courtesy New York Times
The image of Jeter heading out to shortstop once last time following Thursday night's game and crouching down with his hands covering his face, clearly filled with emotion, is one that will stay for me forever. Jeter said more in that moment about his love for the game he played so eloquently for nearly 20 years than he could have said in a month of post-game press conferences.

My 13-year old son wants to play baseball for a living. It's all he talks about. Like any of the tens of thousands of kids who call themselves Red Sox fans, he wants to call Fenway Park "home" some day, and he absolutely despises the Yankees.

Photo courtesy New York Times
But when Jeter dropped that single into right field in the final home game of his career to drive in the winning run against the Orioles, my son found himself filled with emotions he wasn't expecting for the only Yankees shortstop he's ever seen in his brief lifetime. "This is really the end of an era," he said in one of those moments that may be the first time he's felt a part of his own childhood dying.

So yes, Keith Olbermann and Derek Jeter's naysayers may indeed have a lot of valid points. And I warn you now that we're going to deal with the whole over-the-top Jeter Love Fest again in five years when Cooperstown surely comes calling.

But this Red Sox fan is also hopefully objective enough to acknowledge one of the all-time greats.

#RE2PECT, indeed.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving...and missing someone

Thanksgiving is around the corner and you're probably busy getting ready for a houseful of family and friends. Maybe you celebrate at your own home; perhaps you go to someone else's house.

As a child, Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays. For one, it meant my grandmother's turkey. I can still remember the frosting on the windows of my grandparents' house when we'd get there, and the smell of that turkey in the oven. There was nothing quite like that feeling when we were all around that table. My grandparents are no longer with us, but those memories....

A couple of friends of mine recently lost a parent, and this Thanksgiving will be the first since that happened.

There is no instruction manual for that first year after the death of someone close to you...especially a parent.

My Dad, age 10
We lost my Dad 33 years ago last night; it was less than a week before Thanksgiving. Needless to say, that Thursday was an emotional rollercoaster. Turned out he had also started to do some Christmas shopping before he died so on Christmas morning, my Mom gave my sister and me a couple of presents from him. Again, the emotional rollercoaster.

The whole first year is full of those moments - the first birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc. - and in some ways you say to yourself, "Just get through it." Even all these years later, I still have those moments when I say to myself, "I have to call my Dad and tell him about...." Usually it's regarding something one of my kids has done/accomplished. I remember saying to my wife after one such moment, "It's been all these years...when does that stop happening?" She thought a moment and replied, "Maybe it's not supposed to stop. Maybe that's how you know he's still with you."

I don't just try to get through those moments anymore. I treasure them. My son is the spitting image of my Dad from the shape of his face to the color of his hair and eyes. I think of all the times I was a little kid and wished I could have had him as a playmate. I've had that chance with my son.

Please know that parent will be with you in numerous ways this Thursday. Hold onto those moments...smile if you can...I'm sure a tear will fall too...but know he or she will be there.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

An Open Letter To Mets Management

(Note - this originally appeared on the blog page of Professional Baseball Instruction's website.)

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed September 24th on my calendar. The Mets and Pirates at Citi Field with possible playoff implications for both teams. Here at PBI we were positively giddy at the prospect of these two teams actually playing a meaningful late-September series.

The best laid plans....

The Mets went into the All Star Break with a record of 46-40, sitting just a half-game out of the Wild Card. At 48-37, the Pirates were in 1st place in the National League Central Division and had won 8 out of 10 games.

Since the All Star Break, the Pirates have stumbled a bit, and the Cincinnati Reds have gone on a ridiculous tear to pull ahead in the division. But make no mistake, the Pirates are hanging tough at 16 games over .500. The Mets on the other hand have won just 5 of their last 19 games and have dropped nearly 10 games off the Wild Card pace.

If you listen closely, you can hear the murmuring from a certain segment of Mets fans - fire Terry Collins and bring in the fiery Wally Backman from their AAA farm club to throw a few buckets of baseballs around and shake things up. And that is precisely what the Mets DON'T want to do. And if you need a reason why, look no further than the aforementioned Pittsburgh Pirates.

Last summer, their 1st under manager (and PBI Major League advisor) Clint Hurdle, the Pirates were one of the big surprises of the National League. With a core of good young players they were winning and putting fans back into the seats. Though they ultimately ran out of gas as the 162-game season wore on, the general mood among the players was that 2011 had brought about a change in Pirates baseball. So as the Pirates head into August still in contention, they've talked about how much they learned last year and how they're using that experience to maintain a level of consistency in 2012.

The Mets would do well to follow the same course of action. The 2012 Mets of the 1st half were exciting, they were winning games they would have lost a year or two ago, and the fans were starting to get excited again. Firing Terry Collins now, just to bring in the supposedly fiery Wally Backman would be a huge mistake. Like the 2012 Pirates who are using the lessons learned from the 2011 season to stay in contention, I think the 2013 Mets will be best served by keeping Terry Collins and learning from the mistakes of the 2012 second half.

There's a reason the Major League Baseball season is 162 games long. The Pirates learned it last year; the Mets are learning it this year.

Stay the course.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Johan (Finally) Closes the Deal

Fifty years. 8019 games. A list of some of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game on their all-time roster like Seaver, Ryan, Gooden. Ten pitchers who did it in their career BEFORE joining the Mets. Seven pitchers who accomplished it AFTER leaving the Mets. Opponents did it to the Mets six times, including Jim Bunning's 1964 perfect game on Father's Day at Shea Stadium. A grand total of 35 - THIRTY-FREAKING-FIVE - Mets pitchers had thrown 1-hitters including two by Tom Seaver who both times got into the 9th inning before giving up a base hit. But until Friday night, no Met in the entire history of the franchise had ever thrown a no-hitter.

Who could have even seen this one coming, too? In the fall of 2010, Johan Santana underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder. It was the third year in a row that Santana had been injured and there was some legitimate concern that his career might even be over. He missed the entire 2011 major league season while rehabbing. His game-time that year consisted of 2 minor league starts in A ball against college-age level minor leaguers. Heading into 2012, there was no guarantee that Santana would even leave spring training on the roster, let alone be the Opening Day starting pitcher.

His early bullpen sessions in spring training were encouraging. He had some velocity; more importantly, his surgically repaired shoulder was responding positively after he threw. Se there was Johan Santana on April 5, 2012 on the mound for the Mets as the Opening Day starting pitcher. He went 5 scoreless innings against Atlanta while striking out 5. Six weeks later, he threw a complete game against San Diego in which he struck out 7. It was clear he was healthy.

Friday night, Johan Santana did something no one - not Seaver, Ryan, Gooden or any of the rest - had ever done in a Mets uniform. In the 8020th game in Mets franchise history, he threw a no-hitter. Eight strikeouts, five walks, and a career-high 134 pitches. Add in 20-25 warm-up throws in the outfield to loosen up, followed by another 35-40 pitches in the pre-game bullpen, plus another 8 pre-inning warm-up throws and you have a VERY busy evening for Santana. It's no wonder manager Terry Collins was a bit guarded in his post-game press conference.

The game was not without a little controversy. What, after 50 years and 8019 games you thought it was going to be easy? Carlos Beltran's liner down the 3rd base line in the 6th inning was incorrectly ruled a foul ball and there are some Cardinals fans whining about how the no-hitter should have an asterisk next to it. I would offer that those Cardinals fans should be more concerned that their team has scored but a single run over the last 27 innings against a gritty Mets team that is proving all of its detractors very wrong.

Congratulations to Johan Santana and the New York Mets. Let's hope it's not another 8020 games until the next one.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Pitchers - Who's Bad?

We buy tickets to see them, or we pay for a cable link/satellite dish to watch them play, we buy the shirt with their names on the back, we may even try to emulate them in some way. They play for OUR team and wear OUR uniform, so they must be nice guys, right?

This past Sunday Andy Pettitte made his return to the Yankees against the Seattle Mariners. He was met with a resounding ovation both before the game and as he was leaving the field, even though he had given up a pair of home runs and was on the losing end of what was happening. Meanwhile a couple hundred miles to the north, Red Sox Nation was blasting one of their starting pitchers, Josh Beckett, for what is being perceived as a lack of proper commitment to THEIR team.

Pettitte is regarded as one of the good guys by Yankee fans. Along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada he was part of the "core four" who had anchored the Yankees through their amazing championship run in the 90's. Despite an admission of using HGH, Pettitte has rarely been subjected to any venom from the Yankee Faithful. Did using PED's make Pettitte a bad guy? I mean, it's cheating, right? I don't necessarily agree with his choice, but put me in the category of those who think that Pettitte was just doing whatever he could to keep making a living. Judging from the reaction Andy received throughout his career following his revelation, it was clear that the fans had long forgiven him (if they ever even cared).

Beckett, on the other hand, is the Poster Boy for the collapse of the 2011 Red Sox. For five months, that team was the best in baseball, prior to a September collapse that was almost beyond comprehension. Soon after Boston was eliminated from the playoffs word leaked out that Beckett and a few other pitchers had been drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games. Despite the fact that players have been eating/drinking in lockerrooms for years (especially pitchers after they have been removed from a game), angry Red Sox fans chose Beckett as the ring leader, questioned his work ethic and worried about the effect he was having on younger pitchers like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. More recently, he was skipped for a start with what was said to be a sore lat muscle. That would have fine, except it was later revealed that he had played 18 holes of golf on a non-game day shortly after it was announced that he would miss a game. When he subsequently got rocked in his next start, the boos that rained down upon him at Fenway Park were deafening.

In the post-game media interview, Beckett told fans what they most certainly didn't want to hear - what he does on a day off is no one's business but his. "I spend my off days the way I want to spend them." You can imagine the reaction. Twitter, Facebook, and the call-in shows were full of the expected knee-jerk reaction of "He gets an entire off-season...what does he need a day off for during the season?" Never mind what players do in the off-season - the running, the lifting, the throwing, etc. in an effort to get ready for 162 games packed into 180 days (with the possibility of post-season games). Oh, and I forgot to factor in the millions of dollars these guys get paid. Rachet the anger level of the fans up even higher when you start talking about the money athletes make.

Did Beckett's admonition that his private life is his and his alone make him a bad guy? I suppose it depends upon whether you think a professional athlete owes you anything. Speaking personally, I stopped the whole hero worship/role model thing with athletes years ago (okay, I will admit to having a small man-crush on Jacoby Ellsbury). They're human beings who perform HIGHLY skilled jobs. Say what you will about Andy Pettitte or Josh Beckett or any other MLB player but they hold two out of 750 possible jobs at the Major League level. What's that? You say you'd play for free? That's probably exactly what you'd be worth compared to an athlete who has reached the highest level of his profession.

Now excuse me...I have to check on Jacoby Ellsbury's rehab from his April shoulder injury.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When "If" Is the Biggest Word In the English Language

I don't know if I'd call it the best Super Bowl game I've ever seen - and I'm old enough to have seen each and every one of them - but I do know that Super Bowl XLVI came down to the last play of the game before it was ultimately decided. And for that reason, I have to say that it was certainly one of the most exciting NFL championship games we've ever had.

I'm writing this as thousands upon thousands of New York Giants fans are lining the streets of lower Manhattan for the team's victory parade, and just a handful of hours before the celebration moves to the New Jersey side of the Hudson River for the party at Met Life Stadium. And I can't help but wonder what if....



What if Wes Welker hadn't dropped that 4th quarter pass from Tom Brady? What if Aaron Hernandez hadn't dropped his own 4th quarter pass - arguably better thrown and an easier catch? What if Rob Gronkowski caught that deflection of that final Hail Mary pass in the endzone? What if Brady underthrows that final pass and Wes Welker (#83) - completely wide open in front of the end zone - catches it? What if Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw's stumble into the endzone (OF COURSE the Patriots let him score, they needed the ball back) ultimately left too much time on the clock and Brady manages to complete the final pass?



Let's just say the celebration today would probably be a few hundred miles to the north in a flotilla of duck boats.

That's not to take anything away from Eli Manning, his salsa-dancing wide receiver Victor Cruz, or any of the Giants who came from the depths of a 7-7 record and ran the table for the team's 2nd Super Bowl win in the last 4 years. The entire Giants organization, the players, and the fans should be very proud of what this team accomplished this season.

It's just that sometimes, "if" is a bigger word than it appears.