Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Lightning 12.6.2009

In his fourth attempt at co-writing a biography, Darryl Strawberry finally got it right.

Much like his life in which his on and off-field struggles, addictions, immaturity and illness ruined what should have been the rightful successor to Hank Aaron as baseball's home run champion; one of the greatest players in history; a multiple MVP-winner and key player in dynasties, Strawberry continually repeated the same mistakes over-and-over again in hiding his secrets, exemplified with cleverly crafted subterfuge, documented in the previous three books.

Now, in a no-holds barred, no subjects off limits, Strawberry comes clean with the real root of his wild days and nights as one of baseball's biggest stars who could've been so much more.

The stories of Strawberry's out-of-control lifestyle can be rooted to a chaotic home life in which he and his siblings endured the mental and physical abusive of their father. Fear and self-loathing led Strawberry to smoking pot and drinking at a young age. His athletic talents saved him from a life of nothingness, but those talents didn't prevent him from willingly walking down the path of self-destruction.

The book is not a self-righteous documentation of excuses to explain the pissed away talent; the lawsuits; drug and alcohol addiction; spousal abuse and financial ruin, but it does delve deeper into why someone such as Strawberry----who by all accounts is a generous guy who truly means well and never turned down an autograph request, especially from children----would ruin chance after chance to regain his lost greatness.

Even hard core Mets fans will be shocked at the depravity reached by the out-of-control team from the 80s. Drugs are referenced by outsiders as Strawberry's (and those Mets in general) problem, but it was alcohol and women that were the main culprits in the missed expectations of Strawberry and the team. The championship club in 1986 wasn't simply the best team in baseball; it wasn't hated because of its arrogance----the rest of the baseball was legitimately afraid of them. Every time a fight broke out there was a very real chance that Kevin Mitchell was going to kill someone---even teammates tread lightly around him. Strawberry's revelations make clear why the Mets front office acted so swiftly in busting up that group in trading Mitchell for Kevin McReynolds.

The rise, fall, rise, fall and rise again of Strawberry is a better cautionary tale for young players than any mandated course a team could provide. Young men who haven't the faintest idea what to do with their money; which "friends" and flunkies should be dispatched; and why young players need guidance is documented in Strawberry's book. Because he was a moderately uneducated man-child, presented with gifts that should've made him a legendary figure and contributed to his downfall, Strawberry is in a unique, "been there, done that" position to teach youngsters what traps to look for and avoid.

Strawberry, devoutly religious and notoriously flawed, detonated every opportunity because of his self-loathing and attraction to the wild side. He became addicted to crack; ruined two marriages that were rife with instances of physical abuse; found himself in jail and out of baseball. Tested by his upbringing, lack of maturity, sudden wealth and fame in a city with temptations at every corner (temptations in which he was more than willing to indulge), falling off the wagon, and finally being diagnosed with and beating cancer, this isn't some armchair pop-psychology exercise in telling youngsters how to behave----it's a straight from the horse's mouth explanation of what can happen when the word "no" is never uttered on either end.

This book should be required reading for young, burgeoning superstar athletes because it's a clear, line-by-line example of what not to do from a Hall of Fame talent that did it all on and off the field; he never fulfilled that potential because of his weaknesses. Now he's using his name and fame to help others. They'd be smart to listen.

  • The problem with the plug-ins:

Mentioning Kevin McReynolds and the 80s Mets made me think of why it's such a mistake to plug stat-machines into team and expect them to automatically make any club "better". Those Mets teams (especially the 1987 team) were said to have failed because the pitching didn't repeat their work from 1986. That was a major issue, but how much did the absence of intimidation provided by Mitchell and the leadership of Ray Knight destroy the would-be dynasty?

On paper, of course McReynolds was a major improvement over Mitchell. McReynolds was a clutch power hitter and the best defensive left fielder in baseball who put up numbers year after year. But that's not the only part of building a championship team. A vital part of what made those 1986 Mets gone with Mitchell, but that frightening swagger that pretty much said, "we're gonna kick you asses playing the game, we'll physically kick your asses too if you've got a problem with it----your choice".

Did Howard Johnson put up better numbers than Ray Knight could've and would've in the mid-to-late 80s? Absolutely. The argument could be made that for a few years, Johnson was one of the five best players in baseball; but Knight was a leader on and off the field who was willing to fight anyone, anywhere at any time. Keith Hernandez mentioned a rumor in his book of Knight doing a number on Cesar Cedeno and that Knight camly and matter-of-factly invited Dave Parker (nicknamed Cobra for a reason and it wasn't a term of endearment) to step into the ring before a game...and Parker backed down.

Would the 1987-1990 Mets have been better off in keeping together that group of maniacs that ran roughshod through baseball on and off the field? They might've imploded; and given the stories that have been told by Jeff Perlman in his book, and by Strawberry it's likely they would've flamed out totally.

It's understandable why ownership and GM Frank Cashen saw and heard enough in 1986 and the fear of an uncontrollable scandal spurred them to tear things up under the pretense of making the club "better", but occasionally, it's better to ride the wave even if it goes flying over the cliff. In retrospect, that's what the Mets of the 80s should've done. They could've ran 1000 miles into a wall, but they also could've notched two more championships. And it would've been worth it.

  • Searching for explanations of the Chone Figgins contract:

I've never been one to complain about the amount of money paid to or received by players. My argument has always been that if a team targets a certain player, feels they need him and if (this is important) the amount of money they pay to that player does not preclude them from making other necessary moves, then who cares about the salary?

The whole new definition of a player's value (the stat zombies have a formula to decide what a player is worth, I have no interest in it) is determined by a set of numbers, but what's the difference? The Yankees threw money at their problems last year and won a championship. Do I think A.J. Burnett was a worthwhile risk for the money he got? No. But they won a championship. The Red Sox flung big dollars at all their holes in 2006-2007...and they won a championship.

My issue with this stuff is the hypocrisy and self-justification. Both the Yankees and Red Sox came up with holier-than-thou self-justifications as they tried to build through the farm system and save money and quickly abandoned the strategy when enraged fan bases revolted as they didn't make the playoffs (the Red Sox in 2006; Yankees in 2008).

There's nothing wrong with spending money to fill holes, but teams are for some reason embarrassed by it and the stat zombies' main objective isn't to find better ways to build teams, but to accrue credit for being "smarter".

"Well, we got player A for 3-years, $20 million when player B cost $29 million for the same years; we're smarter."

Who cares? What's the difference? The Yankees had the money to spend on Burnett; on C.C. Sabathia; on Mark Teixeira. So? They spent it and they won.

Then we get to Chone Figgins and his new $36 million, 4-year deal with the Mariners (it vests to $45 million and 5-years with incentives, details will presumably be available when the contract's official).

Desperately in search of reasons why this is a good deal, we're hearing such crap as "maybe the Mariners are finding flaws in the market that diminish the importance of power"; or the classic, "well Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is smart, therefore he must know what he's doing."

Uh, yah. I've found it dangerous to automatically give someone a pass because of prior intelligence and that there's no other reason to justify what he's done aside from some faulty tenet of him "knowing what he's doing".

Sometimes being stupid is just being stupid.

I went into the reasons why I wouldn't have signed Figgins for that amount of money yesterday. If the Mariners get a power bat like Jason Bay, then the Figgins signing won't be the gaffe that it is now. But a team with the pitching issues of the Mariners had better have a plan in place, because a team built on pitching and defense needs both pitching and defense. That the Mariners have little pitching behind Felix Hernandez and no power whatsoever makes them a work in progress.

Flaws in the market can't explain away a load of money given to a player like Figgins----who's a step above Juan Pierre----if they don't bring in a Bay or John Lackey. And those players won't be acquired by brains; they'll be acquired by money. Smarts have nothing to do with it. Don't let anyone tell you any different.

  • Joe Girardi, man about town:

Am I the only one who thinks the New York Jets bringing Yankees manager Joe Girardi into camp to teach quarterback Mark Sanchez how to slide was a made-for-press photo op to draw some attention where none was warranted? In fact, it was dumb. Do the Jets and Sanchez really need Girardi to teach an athlete of Sanchez's caliber how to slide? Did the guy never play baseball at all?

This whole thing is a byproduct of Girardi riding along on a championship team that could've won with twenty other managers. In fact, Girardi came precariously close to blowing the title for his club with his gaffes of overmanaging in the ALCS against the Angels. If Brian Fuentes had been able to close out game 2 and the Angels had played the solid fundamental game they normally do, Girardi might've gotten fired and not been the toast on New York that he currently is. (Is he writing a book about his managing style yet? If not, hewill. Mark my words.)

The appellation of Girardi being "Don Zimmer with stats", implying that he'll go with his gut when necessary and use numbers to back him up is what really makes the old-school successful manager angrier than anything of the era of the stat zombie. Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre take rightful offense to the diminishing of their experience to the adherence of out-of-context numbers.

You can't stat your way into 40 years of experience no matter how smart you are.

Girardi is a very bright guy, but there have been numerous instances in his short managerial career where he's made humongous mistakes because he had neither the experience nor the balls to go with his gut and do what was right even if it looked wrong on paper.

To say to La Russa, Leyland and Torre that their instincts are misplaced when they say they looked at their pitcher and knew he wasn't going to get out of a certain jam; or that they just knew that a certain hitter was a bad matchup for a specific situation when the stats said otherwise is an insult on the surface. Such an evaluation comes from experience at not just managing players, but in understanding people and body language.

Girardi's getting credit because he won.

I suppose that's fair. But to blow it out of proportion as anything more than what it is----a guy who was steering a team full of stars and got away with massive playoff screw-ups----is twisting and turning bottom-line success into a basis for validation. And it's wrong.

  • Viewer Mail 12.6.2009:

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Billy Beane:

Ooooh... all this Billy Beane bashing is getting me excited. On the real.

And now it's not just payback for Moneyball anymore. It's more of a comeuppance. There's legit questioning of what he's doing and why.

Beane can deny his involvement in Michael Lewis's bit of creative non-fiction all he wants, but he made more than a few enemies with the way he was portrayed as this infallible genius and----consciously or not----made everyone who committed the sin of not being Billy Beane or a stat zombie want to participate in his downfall. He's doing some remarkably idiotic/strange things lately and if it continues on this current road, it's not hard to see where it's going to end.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jason Marquis:

Interesting article in today's Times about Jason Marquis and how he still lives in Staten Island. Could be a nice fit for the Mets, since he's a local boy.

I read that article----link----and have no problem with the Mets getting Marquis as a back of the rotation starter. Even with the potential addition of Marquis, they'll still need a legit 1A guy behind Johan Santana and Marquis ain't it. That said, a rotation of Santana, (the 1A guy, John Lackey for example); John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Jason Marquis, Oliver Perez wouldn't be all that bad.

Another thing I found funny about the article is how the writer Ben Shpigel----presumably a fellow Jew to Marquis, you and me----worked it into the piece that Marquis is Jewish as if to say, "Look, we've got athletes too. We can do more than just your taxes or get you out of prison on a plea bargain."

Joe at Statistician Magician writes RE J.D. Drew:

I know you think Theo doesn't want Drew's contract. But that isn't the case. Drew has played well enough in two of three years, and he plays on both sides of the ball. Plus, if nothing else, he is a stopgap now until the kids are ready.

So, are you back now, Joe? You think you're returning to my good graces after disappearing without explanation for months? Jeff's taking charge temporarily in a couple of weeks and still wants to extract his pound of flesh or at least use various Fulbright-sanctioned techniques to find out whether or not you're a spy. Tread carefully. The man's a little trigger happy.

As for Drew, why else would the Red Sox have even considered trading him for Jeff Francoeur early last summer----the last guy you'd think the Red Sox would be interested in because of his hitting style (swing hard at everything no matter where it is in case he hits it)----unless they wanted to get out from under his contract?

They'd be more than happy to deal Drew. They need the payroll flexibility and have to get younger.


Anonymous said...
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She-Fan said...

I didn't take the Jewish reference in the Times article about Marquis the same way you did at all. When Shawn Green was first talked about as a possible Met, the point was that NY has a large Jewish population and fans would enjoy seeing one of their own.

Jeff said...

*Got my finger on the trigga, trigga, trigga...*

Gabriel said...

There is a reason Brian CASHman is the Bankees' GM.