Monday, August 30, 2010

Baseball's Silver And Black

  • "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"

It's somehow appropriate that the main team color of the Chicago White Sox is black because the way GM Kenny Williams runs his team is eerily reminiscent to the glory days of the original man in black/outlaw of sports, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.

The similarities are striking and apply to the decades in which Davis was at the height of his power and maintained all his faculties.

Neither man cares what people say about them, but one would assume that they do want credit for what they do; both are fearless and ruthless; and they have interest in one thing----winning. Negative reputations or age-related decline do not dissuade them from bringing in whoever they feel they need to win; and money is no object. (In Davis's case, that was because he owned the place; in Williams's case, it's because he has the unwavering support of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.)

I liken Williams to a James Bond villain, brilliant and cunning. Davis was referred to as "Darth Raider", secretive, paranoid, vindictive, vengeful and successful. With skills at evaluating talent and a history of success, they're nearly mirror images of one another.

While Davis has become something of a sad sight, still clinging to power; refusing to let age and infirmity take him out of the public spotlight in running his team as he deteriorates, entering the press room aided by a walker and going on scattershot rants against his enemies, his borderline incoherence is embarrassing to those who remember his as the wiry and intimidating presence he was. He's got his team in a death grip/spiral literally and figuratively. It's somewhat understandable. Al Davis's life was dedicated to football on the whole and the various compartments of the game itself. It's all he knows.

But that doggedness and iconoclastic personality that drove him all those years won't let him retire; and if he did decide to step down, what would he do with himself? Retirement would be a death and that would, in a way, be worse than a physical death.

The procurement of players is one of the more glaring common denominators in the two men. In his heyday, Davis was famous for his reclamation projects and squeezing the very last bit of juice out of veterans who were supposedly shot. Believing, as I do and presumably Williams does, that any athlete who's known greatness can rediscover that at any moment and should never have their desire to continue competing brought into question regardless of age, they put that into practice repeatedly. You saw it over the course of Davis's career with Jerry Rice, Jim Plunkett, John Matuszak, Lyle Alzado among many others who'd either flamed out, failed or been dispatched from other venues because of personality/off-field issues and became useful again with the Raiders.

Williams has exhibited the same strategy. His manager, Ozzie Guillen, is widely perceived as a lunatic (he's not, but that's neither here nor there); the clubhouse is filled with players who ran themselves out of other organizations just by being themselves (A.J. Pierzynski); had off-field issues (Bobby Jenks); floundered (Alex Rios); were considered injury-prone busts (Carlos Quentin); reclamation projects (Freddy Garcia); or were a matter of Williams's talent recognition skills coming to the forefront in the face of shaky results (John Danks, Gavin Floyd).

There have been instances where it hasn't worked as was the case with Ken Griffey Jr. Williams long coveted Griffey and, despite the player's inability to play an adequate center field nor function as the lineup terror he once was, he traded for him anyway giving up a great arm in Nick Masset. It didn't work. With Williams, if you pointed out this fact, he most likely shrug.

How many other GMs would have the security to put with the ancillary stuff and import players who no one else wanted for a variety of reasons and live with the consequences and ridicule?

There are GMs with the courage to run their teams correctly in the face of public scorn: Larry Beinfest, Andrew Friedman, Theo Epstein, Brain Sabean, Jon Daniels----some are totems to various factional disputes prevalent in baseball today; some are simply ripped and reviled; but how many would do all the things Williams does and say the things he says without fear of reprisal?

Now Williams is taking another risk by claiming Manny Ramirez from the Dodgers (and apparently getting him by agreeing to do nothing other than take the remaining money on Manny's contract----ESPN Story).

The White Sox are 4 1/2 games behind the Twins in the AL Central. The Wild Card is not going to be an option because both the Yankees and Rays are 10 games ahead of them. They have to win the division if they want to make the playoffs. Having relied on the light-hitting Mark Kotsay as their primary DH for much of the season, how could they not take a chance on Manny by doing little more than taking his contract? They needed a bat and are weak in terms of tradeable prospects. Having made a major play for Adam Dunn and failing, they jumped on Manny.

Which Manny are they getting? Is he the injury-prone and disinterested Manny that has made the Dodgers look foolish in the past two years with his PED suspension and frequent lapses on and off the field? Or is it the inspired Manny who, when he wants to play, is still one of the most dangerous and terrifying hitters in all of baseball? He's been hurt and has barely played lately because----presumably----the Dodgers didn't want him to re-injure himself to prevent them from getting rid of him.

If Manny arrives in Chi-Town healthy enough to contribute and is motivated by whatever motivates Manny (you can venture a guess as to what that might be), if nothing else, he's someone who has to be accounted for in the lineup even if he's not hitting. You can't say that for Kotsay. Does Manny want to play next year? (I'm guessing he does.) Or would he like to end his storied and controversial career with a bang possibly helping the White Sox to the post-season?

Much in the same vein as Williams and Davis will literally do anything to win, anything is possible with Manny including the idea that he'll get his Sox confused and think he's going back to Boston. Williams has the freedom----financially and theoretically----to do this. Why not?

"Just win baby."

"The deep strike."

"Commitment to excellence."

These are all favored statements of Al Davis as he was when he cast his shadow over the NFL with his fondness for litigation and interest in nothing other than being the architect of a championship team and the ego to want to be known as a "genius".

The same can be said for Kenny Williams----James Bond villain.

  • Flinging ideas at the wall (that make financial and practical sense):

The Mets, as desperate as they are to dispatch troublesome contracts and people, could approach several teams about taking Francisco Rodriguez and other problems that need to be eliminated for them to move forward. Some make sense (Chone Figgins from the Mariners), some don't (Milton Bradley from the same Mariners; or Vernon Wells from the Blue Jays); but here's an idea: K-Rod and Luis Castillo to the Rangers for Michael Young.

The Rangers have a history of bringing in players with off-field issues and getting production from them as they have with Josh Hamilton; they've been understanding in cases where I wouldn't have been of a similarly generous mind (manger Ron Washington's failed drug test last season), and they could use a veteran closer to shift current closer Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation, which is where his long-term future lies. The money comes close to matching up with the Mets taking on Young's excess.

K-Rod is due a guaranteed $15 million with the probability of his $17.5 million performance/health option being activated for 2012. Of course this is all contingent on the Mets losing their attempt at "unguaranteeing" K-Rod's contract for his assault on his father-in-law----the Mets winning the case is an unlikely event.

Castillo has $6 million on his deal for next year.

Young is owed $16 million annually through 2013.

Monetarily and logistically, it fits. The Mets would get rid of two players they want out of their sight; they could shift the well-respected Young back to second base (he grew up a Mets fan); and find a new closer. The Rangers would have money free to possibly keep Cliff Lee; Feliz would start; and K-Rod could close. Perhaps they could shift Ian Kinsler to third base to replace Young and play Castillo, whose bat might rejuvenate in the hitter-haven of Texas.

There are worse suggestions out there. Much, much worse.

I posted on my alternate writings site on Saturday if you're interested----It's My Father's Ring.

  • The Prince on the Podcast:

I'm scheduled to be on with Sal at SportsFan Buzz on Thursday. Be afraid.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


Jeff said...

That sounds like a great move for both the Rangers AND the Mets!

But I gotta ask: where/how did you come up with that?

You think like a GM, Prince. Maybe you need to start sending your resume to some ball clubs.

Gabriel said...

I also enjoy Kenny Williams' style, even if I don't like the White Sox.

Vernon Wells for K-Rod and Castillo might make some sense, but I think Anthopoulos might want to swap some prospects in the process.