Monday, August 19, 2013

Spite and Stupidity Don't Start With the Same Letter by Accident

Ryan Dempster finally has one record to point to in his utterly routine major league career. Turning Alex Rodriguez into a sympathetic figure and losing a ballgame for your team in a pennant race in the bargain sets a mark for Biggest Fuck-Up, Single Game that should stand for decades unless glue-sniffing becomes the next fad in baseball substance abuse.

Dempster's terrible twos level behavior of throwing at A-Rod during the latter's first at-bat was a disgrace to his sport and to the idea man is a being capable of rational thought, let alone ethical thought. The Red Sox pitcher's fit of pique was such an all-encompassing failure, it's hard to know where to begin to denounce it.

Let's start with the obvious -- moral failure. A-Rod stands accused of some very bad baseball crimes, using performance-enhancing drugs, which many players resent, and being a rat stool pigeon about other players using PEDs, which ALL players resent. Meddling in the business of others is about the worst offense in the game's fortunately unwritten code of behavior.

Throwing a pitch to hit a batter on purpose is worse. That's assault with intent to commit bodily harm. Doesn't matter if Dempster didn't throw at Rodriguez's head. There's no part of the human body built to take contact with a major league pitch. Dempster should have been immediately ejected, and I suspect the only reason he wasn't was that ordinarily competent ump Brian O'Nora was so flabbergasted, he reacted with the rote bench warnings instead. Dempster should be suspended. If he isn't that'll be Bud Selig's moral failure.

So much for ethics. Let's descend to the lower level of practicality. Dempster is a middling starter for whom pitching appears to be a tremendous effort. Win or lose, watching him work is akin to watching convict labor break rocks under an August sun in southern Mississippi. He is nowhere near good enough to have the luxury of putting a leadoff runner on base as a political statement. Sure enough, the Yanks promptly erased the Red Sox lead in a game Dempster's team certainly would've appreciated winning.

There's also the effect of Dempster's assault on the Yankees to be considered. Not the least aspect of A-Rod's wretched situation is that among the players and with whom he is least popular are his teammates and his team's fans. When the ESPN cameras panned the Yankee dugout during the post-plunking rhubarb, the facial expression of the magnificent Mariano Rivera was a revelation. "Man," it said, "I really won't miss this shit next year."

With one spectacular act of unfair play, Dempster rallied both groups to A-Rod's side, at least for one night. Since Rodriguez is a mental wreck with an unhealthy dependence on the good opinion of others, this was just the thing to make him and his bat feel better. It's possible that could have a subsequent impact on the American League East.

Baseball is not a morality play. Good and Evil do not reveal themselves through the medium of the Astros and Marlins. The mistaken belief the sport does exemplify something beyond its wonderful self is one of the most important ingredients of the whole A-Rod fiasco. People, even ballplayers, can do wrong and not be doing evil. Dempster was wrong, just as A-Rod has been wrong, and you can't call one out without the other.

So I don't think the massive homer A-Rod hit off Dempster in the sixth inning tells us the slightest bit about each man's moral fiber. All it did was reveal the enormous gap between a Hall of Famer, even a terminally screwed-up, corrupted Hall of Famer, and a mutt.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

This Is Your Brain on Baseball Grandiosity

Until recently, I would have told you it was impossible for any fact about performance-enhancing drug use in baseball to interest me, let alone surprise me. Then I ran into a fact that astounded me. And it was about me, too!

As part of its lovingly puritanical coverage of the suspensions of Alex Rodriguez and 12 other saps, the Globe published a list (editors all love lists) of players who have been suspended under the sports' drug policy as agreed to by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association. There, under the list for 2012, I spotted the name of Bartolo Colon.

And this was news to me. I had completely forgotten that the A's pitcher served a 50-game suspension at the end of 2012 and the beginning of this season. When I saw Colon pitch, which I have at least once, he wasn't a wicked drug user, he was an older retread hurler having a damn good year, which he was and is.

If I forgot, so must have many other baseball fans. We had nothing on A's general manager Billy Beane. He must've forgotten the suspension while it was still going on, as he signed Colon to a $3 million contract before this season started, more than respectable money for a 40-year old pitcher or 40-year old anything.

Colon's suspension, in short, does not appear to have inflicted any material damage or moral stigma to his baseball life in 2013. Oh, maybe Keith Olbermann snubs him, but I bet Colon can life with that.

And that's fine!! That's great for baseball and baseball players. That's how a drug-use policy is supposed to work -- it should be dull and routine, like all policies. Here's a rule, you broke it, here's the penalty, see you when it's over. As I have stated before, the reason football fans don't get all hot and bothered over player drug use is that the NFL has made its policy so routine, fans get no signal to be bothered. Pro football treats its customers, at least in this case, as human beings mature enough to realize that human nature means that whenever an institution has rules, it will also have rulebreakers.

The Case of Forgetting Bartolo Colon goes a long way towards explaining why both Alex Rodriguez and Bud Selig have acted like damn fools in the Biogenesis affair, each with a flagrant disregard for their own best interests. It also suggests why Bud leads A-Rod by percentage points in the tightest pennant race of the season, the quest for the Missing Nose to Spite Face Division gonfalon.

A-Rod starts off with a handicap in that race -- a legimate excuse. He's a psychological basket case, way too messed-up and delusional to see what his best interests are. Out of an unhealthy desire to be loved, Rodriguez basically has come to believe that his own self-love is universal. He looks in the mirror and sees Derek Jeter. Baseball heroes like me don't do PEDs, Therefore, I will fight this charge with every fiber of my being.

This stance is hampered by the fact Rodriguez has already admitted to past PED use. If he'd only had the self-perception to crawl off his high horse, A-Rod could've already put Biogenesis behind him, serving a 50-game suspension that'd just be another unpleasant cloud across his superstar sunshine life, like getting booed, snarky items in Page Six, and the fact he sees the real Derek Jeter right next to him in the infield, or used to, anyway.

Selig cannot plead mental illness. He is of eminently sound if slow mind. Alas, rational people have egos, too. Since Selig is also the CEO of a multibillion dollar business enterprise, he deserves more public scorn for letting ego get in the way of his and his sport's best interests.

When it comes to PED use, what is baseball's best interest? To eliminate it? No, that's impossible. Minimizing it would be nice, but that's not nearly as important to the sport as the Colon Effect, that is, getting media and fans to stop freaking out about it. The less attention PED use gets, the better.

So Selig chose to pursue A-Rod in the Biogenesis case not just vigorously, which could be excused, but noisily, which cannot. He made PED use in baseball front page, network news lead item in August, the slowest month of the news year and not incidentally, one of the two months where baseball has the major team sports calendar all to itself. That's worth a stadium's worth of boos from Harvard Business School.

Selig had options with A-Rod. He could've, as he was advised by the MLBPA, given the miscreant a 50-game suspension indicating this case was just more grist for baseball's routine PED policy. But no, Bud was also enthralled with his self-image, in this case, the image of a fearless Commissioner crusading to clean up the sport. This image is as delusional as Rodriguez's. Selig, after all, was Commissioner for the Great PED Binge of the 1990s and early 2000s. He used to say then his hands were tied, and wow, did you see how far those balls Mark and Sammy hit went!

It's almost impossible to like A-Rod and if you meet him, it's almost impossible not to like Bud. But pleasant or unpleasant, dumb is dumb. Somebody needs to step in and take their scissors away, before the two kids hurt themselves even worse.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Not Quite As Free Paper

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has purchased the Washington Post for $250 million. Amazon is notoriously uninterested in short-term profitability, so he should feel right at home in the newspaper business.

Bezos has no ties to Washington, D.C. and the very first thing he told Post employees in a letter was that he had no intention of living there. He has been relatively inactive politically for a billionaire, so if he's buying the Post for the eons-old rich person purpose of having a platform from which to shoot off his mouth, whatever projectiles are emanated will come as a surprise at first.

Or it could be that Bezos found the financial logic of the purchase appealing. Maybe he, like Henry, feels that if one buys low, the chances of eventually selling high improve considerably. These guys are good at business, and they're calling a bottom to the so-far bottomless pit of newspaper finance in the 21st century.

They could be wrong. But their opinions are worth considering.

The Free Paper

What John Henry wants with the Boston Globe now that he owns it is a complete mystery to this former industry veteran. WHY he bought it in the first place is a simpler issue. It's the same reason a lot of people look at newspapers every day. It was being given away.

Oh, the alleged purchase price of New England Media (the entity through which the New York Times Co. owned the Globe and the Worcester Gazette & Telegraph) was $70 million in cash. To begin with, that's purchasing a very high profile business, a profile useful to a financier like Henry in many ways, for peanuts. $70 million is approximately one year's budget for another Henry enterprise, Roush Fenway Racing.

But wait, that's not all! Consider that as part of the deal, Times Co. agreed to assume the pension liabilities of the two newspapers, reported to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $110 million. If you pay x for a business, and the seller agrees to keep x + whatever of the liabilities on its books as part of the deal, in actuality, you got x + whatever off the sticker price. The Globe minus those obligations is $110 million more valuable to the buyer than before.

If the idea is buy low, sell high, Henry can't do much better on the first half of the plan than that. As for Times Co., well, it bought the Globe back in the '90s for over $1 billion. This is the sort of transaction that gets CEOs lynched by stockholders, unless, like at Times Co., the annual stockholders meeting is also Thanksgiving family dinner.

I assume Times Co. sold the paper to Henry instead of other bidders because it believes he will keep the Globe's journalism more or less intact, horrible front page weather puns, obsessive coverage of the Cape Flyer railroad train and centrist mush op-ed pieces included. This almost surely includes coverage of Henry's primary local business, the Red Sox.

Based on our very slight prior acquaintance, I can confidently report that Henry is no one's fool. He may have been angered, as all  sports people are, by stuff he read about the Red Sox in the Globe in the past. But he's far too astute a businessperson to meddle in Sox coverage. It'd hurt both businesses.

Look, newspaper sports journalism has two predictable tones of coverage. When a team's winning, all news is good news. When a team's losing, all news is bad news and cranky interpretations of reality become the norm. Globe coverage of the Sox this season has been very positive, because so are the American League East standings. Oh, if they found a missing page of Biogenesis records with David Ortiz's name on it, the coverage would be negative and how. But that's how all bad news gets covered.

People, even sports fans, are not stupid. They may be misinformed, overemotional, even downright nuts, yes, but seldom stupid. If fans (who else reads baseball news) suspect the Globe is turning in a daily bag job for the home team, they will stop reading it. This will be bad for what is not exactly a robust bottom line.

This same suspicion will lead to an even uglier suspicion as far as Henry is concerned. Those same fans will naturally conclude that the puff pieces in the Globe mean that the Sox have something to hide, whether they do or not. The maximal paranoid interpretations of baseball reality in Boston will gain credibility in leaps and bounds. There are  two sports talk radio stations whose own bottom lines thrive on mass paranoia. They won't be shy about promoting their own interests at Henry's expense, even his broadcasting partner.

This dire scenario isn't going to happen. Citizen Henry will almost surely do as what I and Times Co. expect. As a good publisher should, when he thinks of the Globe, he won't think about journalism. He'll think about how it could make some money.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Belichick Scorns Pros to Coach at Alma Mater!!!!

Every word in the above headline is true. Amanda Belichick, Wesleyan University Class of '07, has been named interim head coach of the school's women's lacrosse team. This alum (Class of '71) got an e-mail from the place yesterday telling me so.

I wonder if and/or when Bill Belichick (Class of '75) ever gets tired of the NFL racket, he'd consider taking an assistant's job with his daughter back at the old school. Lacrosse was Belichick's best sport as an athlete, after all.

It'd be just like Monte Kiffin coaching the defense for his son Lane at USC. Well, almost the same.