- Lessons from history:
In an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal----Main Street by William McGurn----the alliance between Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson is broken down in terms of a mutually advantageous business arrangement. Following are the relevant clips:
Sixty-five years ago this coming Saturday, an innovative businessman named Branch Rickey signed a ballplayer named Jackie Robinson. The partnership that began in a Brooklyn office would radically change both baseball and the nation for the better. In the many retellings of this story, alas, one point is often overlooked: The Rickey-Robinson relationship was at bottom a business partnership.
"My grandfather never accepted any effort to recognize him as a champion of civil rights, because he believed that you don't accept awards for doing what's right." says Branch Rickey III, president of the Pacific Coast League. "His partnership with Jackie was perhaps the most daring in American sports history, but he knew, too, that it was a good business move, and he never ran away from that justification."
(H)e did it with the acumen of a businessman, plotting every step of the way. Along the way he showed courage. At a 1946 meeting of all 16 major league teams, for example, he was the only one who came out against a resolution calling for teams not to integrate. Later, when his star pitcher Dixie Walker made clear he didn't want to take the field with a black man, Rickey risked the wrath of Dodger fans by trading him.
Not to turn this site of honest ruthlessness into a morality play the type you see in a commercial for Liberty Mutual where the implication that holding a door open for someone will yield a community-oriented society in place of rampant selfishness, but good things come from doing what's right; doing what's necessary whether or not it's popular.
Because Rickey took the courageous step he did in allowing Robinson to play in the big leagues, it's lost that he wasn't bringing Robinson in for the sole purpose of having any black man on his roster. As is said in the article, Robinson was an excellent player and, more importantly, had the attributes required to handle the stress of being the first----he was able to turn away from the epithets, high spikes and beanballs designed to make him quit.
Both men gained from the partnership.
Rickey's decision to sign Robinson led to the trickle down effect of other teams having to take similar steps----even if they didn't want to----to be able to compete. This too was a business decision and, while not as noble an endeavor as that of Rickey, contained as much self-interest.
There is much to be learned from the simple act of knowing what's right personally and organizationally and following through in the face of ignorant ridicule and baseless criticism. Bowing to expediency in times of stress and staving off attacks is the easiest thing to do. In today's game we have the factional disputes between stat zombies and old-school thinkers; the agenda-driven cheap shot artists clinging desperately to dwindling influence and unjustified power; a culture of entitlement among the players; and a reactionary, haphazard and fearful non-plan from executives who are more concerned with public perception than in running their teams properly.
Of course it's easier to come down on one side or the other; be with the group and maintain comfort and safety as a part of the monolith. Deviation from the talking points runs the risk of being cast out; the safety in numbers (literally and figuratively) prevents defection. It's easier.
But is it right?
Is it difficult to point to a preseason prediction that turns out to be close to accurate on the surface and take credit for it in an effort to gain credibility and accolades even if the predictor and public knows the truth---that they weren't accurate at all? Or to subtly (and not-so-subtly) twist facts out of convenience to bolster oneself? Taking a stand requires the realization and acceptance of the worst-case scenario.
It's stunning how quickly these supposed "experts" abandon their beliefs at the first sign of trouble or possibility of being wrong.
You see it with the likes of Mike Francesa; the cheap shot artist Joel Sherman; the stat zombies Rob Neyer and Dave Cameron; even those I respect Bill Madden and Jeff Pearlman----let's chase the wounded animal and omit context to make it easier for us to have a show; to write our columns; to promote ourselves.
Who gives Francesa credibility? I didn't hear his latest treatise against the Mets yesterday, but anyone who's been subjected to his rants in recent years knows he's desperately clinging to the last shreds of influence he thinks he has; but as his audience and desire to do his job decline, no one listens anymore; no one cares. The days of pre-season statements disappearing into the wind or only being available to those with the time and inclination to mine through reams of old articles to find the original text are over. The internet has seen to that. There's no clarification; no explanation; no simple statement of "I was wrong". They ignore and hope it goes away or that their mistakes won't be pointed out.
Admitting an error does not diminish credibility; it enhances it.
Going off on self-justifying bloviation is transparent and embarrassing. Those in the know see it, address it and are ignored until the time comes when independent thinkers follow them.
It's happened again in the past week as the defenders of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik are either abandoning him and the ill-thought-out appellation of "genius" or are stepping back and trying to find another way to defend him and his team----a team that can only be described as atrocious. Now, as Brandon Morrow develops into what anyone who knows anything about baseball knew he was----an ultra-talented potential star----there are the repeated questions as to who thought it was a good idea to trade Morrow to the Blue Jays for Brandon League. Talent wise? The Mariners should've kept Morrow, but was it the "right" thing to do?
Akin to any immediate baseless, negative reaction to a decision, the retrospective criticism is ludicrous. Morrow was injured and ineffective for the Mariners; he'd been relentlessly jerked around from the starting rotation to the bullpen, demoted and had his mechanics tweaked; he was a mental train wreck and reeling due to circumstances he neither created nor exacerbated. Was it Morrow's fault that he was drafted by the Mariners ahead of Washington State native Tim Lincecum? That Lincecum won two Cy Young Awards while Morrow was stumbling along?
Morrow was unlikely to make it with the Mariners. My guess is that Zduriencik knew this and got rid of him as a concession to that fact. Could he have gotten more that League for Morrow? Possibly. But the best thing for everyone was to cut the cord and move on knowing that what's happened could happen----that Morrow would take advantage of his opportunity with the Blue Jays and live up to his capabilities; and in looking at his 2010 season (Gamelogs), Morrow has been up-and-down this year with the near no-hitter thrusting him and his stuff into public consciousness; I hesitate to say he's "turned the corner" after a few dominating starts.
Ripping a draft strategy is random and meaningless. The Mariners took Morrow ahead of Lincecum; but take a look at the teams who drafted ahead of the Giants and the players they took:
Royals- RHP Luke Hochevar
Rockies-RHP Greg Reynolds
Rays-3B Evan Longoria
Pirates-RHP Brad Lincoln
Tigers-LHP Andrew Miller
Dodgers-LHP Clayton Kershaw
Reds-OF Drew Stubbs
Orioles-3B William Rowell
Does anyone unleash on the above teams as they did the Mariners for deciding that Lincecum was too small; that his motion too unique and chafed at his father's demands that it not be altered in any way; that the bonus money was too steep to take a risk when prototypes with more conventional motions----Hochevar, Morrow, Miller----were available?
It's only because it's a simpler "cause-effect" column to write than express the truth that the scrutiny and misuse that Morrow endured caused his downfall in Seattle.
There are a load of reasons to savage Zduriencik, but trading Morrow is not one of them.
We see this phenomenon in jumping down the throats of Ruben Amaro Jr., the Mets, Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein and Billy Beane----anyone you can name.
The leap from the case for Amaro's lack of foresight in trading Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay while maintaining the veneer of keeping the Phillies' farm system intact is something in which you can make an argument either way. I thought it was a mistake. But to blame him for prospect Tyson Gillies's cocaine arrest and for the struggles of Phillippe Aumont in the minors is the epitome of piling on. Time will tell whether Gillies will straighten out; whether Aumont will be any good, but Amaro is not responsible for Gillies's off-field issues unless he knew about and ignored them.
Francesa and others have turned Met bashing into a cottage industry; it's interesting and informative to note that they were strangely quiet in June when the team rose to 11 games over .500 and was in the thick of the playoff race. It's these types of people who are given a forum, yet do nothing to earn any respect; they have no accountability. If they stuck to their beliefs and added a trace of honesty by admission of being wrong, it would be fine; I respectfully disagree with them and admire their willingness to acknowledge their faults. But they don't. They can't. Francesa's influence is now limited to those who are either too indoctrinated into his nonsense or need an outlet to vent on their own; he's become a mirror image of the callers who suggest trades of Elmer Dessens for Dan Haren, straight up----and he knows it, but can't stop the plummet into irrelevance.
I'd love to know which Mets player it was who half-joked that he wanted to go with Rod Barajas as Barajas departed for the Dodgers after being claimed on waivers. It's this type of comment that has to be eradicated from a unified and successful club. If I were Omar Minaya/Jeff Wilpon and company, this is exactly what I'd want to get away from. If they don't want to be Mets, they can leave. Period.
That too is a mutual business arrangement. Part of running a baseball team is instituting a code of conduct. Branch Rickey got rid of Dixie Walker for the greater good in the face of fan angst because it had to be done. Making clear that anti-social behavior or inappropriate comments aren't tolerated is a step into crafting a respectable organization inside and out. In some cases, it does need to be said that you can't be punching people in the face in the club family room. Perhaps the Mets bold action in taking on the Players Association in regards to Francisco Rodriguez is the biggest step in holding employees accountable for their actions.
Crunching numbers, self-aggrandizement, lazy work habits and altering beliefs based on the last thing that happened is not intelligent analysis. Listen to and associate with fools and that's exactly what you become. Individual thought is what made Rickey's decision so bold and transformative in baseball and society.
Such a core belief in doing what's right professionally and personally can be adjusted to fit into anything if you're willing to let it; if you're able to think on your own in the face of scorn.
It's up to you.