Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hack With A Vendetta

  • Badly written, twisted and poorly executed:

Any well-planned scheme has to be admired even if it's unprofessional and agenda-driven sludge disguised as investigative reporting and well-thought-out analysis. But when it's on a prominent platform, transparent and badly done, it's not worthy of respect in any sense at all.

Such is the case with ESPN New York's Mets beat reporter Adam Rubin and his vindictive three-part attack perpetrated against the club. In a vengeful series of shaky premises, clumsy analogies and selective use of facts to support his hypothesis, Rubin does what he's done for the better part of a year in savaging the Mets due to a combination of convenience to public perception and a desire to retaliate for a wrong done to him personally.

As has become a hallmark of ESPN on the whole, there's very little interest in factual reporting; rather, Rubin chooses to toss everything into one big pile and try to formulate an unimpeachable indictment of the club from the ownership all the way down to off-field security practices and former players who've fallen on hard times. What results is a patchwork quilt of viciousness.

The entire three part series can be read here: Part I, Part II, Part III.

There are so many concepts in the piece of "journalism" that one wonders if Rubin has a free hand at ESPN to do whatever he wants; a word number he had to reach like a high schooler writing an essay; or is so immersed in his hatred for Minaya and the Mets that content is largely irrelevant in the pursuit of his own ends.

ESPN long ago became a farce in terms of reporting. They neither care nor seek to improve their coverage. Everything they do is in the interests of pushing their brand; if it's at the expense of truth, who cares? But how is it possible for an entity that refers to itself as the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" to allow such slipshod and self-centered essays disguised as inside information? Are inaccuracies in both spirit and hard data acceptable when written by someone who is ostensibly there to provide objective coverage? Perhaps ESPN should change their slogan to: "ESPN---Expect Nothing".

The Rubin piece is poorly written and selective with citations in the interest of his intended conclusion, reality be damned. If fact didn't fit into the body, then it was twisted or eliminated. The most glaring instances of picking and choosing that which fits into his argument most conveniently are the allegations of the Wilpons' financial troubles due to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme; the lack of young talent in the organization; the blame laid on the club for off-field incidents present and past; and failures by acquisitions that made sense at the time and haven't worked as planned.

Mining for facts which bolster the premise of the author is not reporting. If one wants to make a cogent case for changing the entire baseball operation from the GM to the manager, it's easy to do without the self-justifying savagery.

Here's the case:

Since Omar Minaya took over as GM, from his first full season on, the Mets have spent approximately $737 million on big league payroll. In that time, they've made the playoffs once----in 2006 where they lost in game 7 of the NLCS.

They collapsed in both 2007 and 2008, blowing playoff spots that should've been assured in part due to poor depth to account for injuries to aging veterans. In 2009, the team endured a list of injuries that bordered on ridiculous in their variety and scope and the minor league system was unprepared to provide any competence whatsoever for the missing players. The Mets failure in this case has been brought into greater focus by the list of All Stars lost by both the Red Sox and Phillies in 2010 and that both teams have been able to stay in contention.

Minaya made several poor trades in which he dealt away useful pieces Heath Bell, Brian Bannister, Matt Lindstrom and Xavier Nady in exchange for the likes of Jon Adkins, Ambiorix Burgos, Jason Vargas, Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez. Free agent signings were expensive and poor with Scott Schoeneweis, Fernando Tatis and Jason Bay; plus the retention of Perez, Guillermo Mota and Luis Castillo for over-priced contracts.

The team medical protocol was dangerous to the players and embarrassing to the team with Ryan Church, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes being the most egregious examples of inaction or misdiagnosis.

Trusted assistant Tony Bernazard was allowed to run roughshod over the organization in general and throughout baseball in particular with his misanthropic, self-promoting and abusive behaviors. That Bernazard was a reviled detriment was clear to everyone but Minaya and Jeff Wilpon and they kept him until they had no choice but to fire him after several high-profile incidents including tearing off his shirt and screaming at minor league players and a near fight with closer Francisco Rodriguez.

The clumsy dismissal of Willie Randolph and continued language gaffes with the press have undermined Minaya's charisma and likability and made clear that a better communicator would be a more palatable front man for the organization on and off the field, in player procurement and practicality of being a GM in baseball today.

But the most telling aspect of this case and clearest window into Rubin's goal is that Minaya perpetrated an idiotic and ill-thought-out attack against one Adam Rubin in an attempt to defend his fired friend Bernazard.

There it is.

A clean, coherent series of reasons to replace Minaya based on fact and not innuendo without the cherry-picking to add to the list of charges in the interest of piling on.

Rubin doesn't have the integrity to disclose the fact that, yeah, he'd like to get back at Minaya for impugning his intentions with a ridiculous assertion that Rubin himself wanted a place in the organization as a possible replacement for Bernazard; nor does he have the skills to write his rip-piece in an aboveboard manner by admitting as such and saying, "regardless of my personal antipathy towards Minaya and the Mets, how can you argue with the facts in this case?"

Of course there are defenses for some of the Minaya decisions that haven't panned out.

As fantastic as Bell's been with the Padres and his anger-fueled "they never gave me a chance" complaints against the Mets, they're unfounded; they did give him a chance and he wasn't any good. Bannister has become a useful starter for the Royals, but the decision to trade him had to do with an assessment of talent----his stuff isn't impressive and when he's off, he gets blasted.

On the way to the playoffs, the 2006 Mets were desperate in finding arms after Duaner Sanchez's car accident (which probably cost them the World Series) and traded Nady for Roberto Hernandez and Perez. Perez pitched well in 2006, 2007 and for parts of 2008. Bidding against themselves and misjudging Perez's known flightiness was the huge error in Minaya's decision to keep him. The free agent signing of Bay made sense then and it makes sense now; he has been slow to adjust to New York and the pressure therein and now he's hurt with a concussion. Did anyone truly debate the signing of Bay at the time with a legitimate case against it? The Mets needed a bat and they got one of the top two available hitters; they weren't going to get the other----Matt Holliday----because the Cardinals paid him double what the Mets gave Bay and Holliday wanted no part of New York.

Randolph needed to go, but the reluctance to make the change and Minaya's kindness----something that is a hindrance to running a major league organization----forced the indecisive handling of said firing. With Jerry Manuel, his retention was, in part, due to the misapplied "fairness" that Minaya has clung to. What happened in 2008 and 2009 can't be laid at the desk of the manager alone, but sometimes a GM has to be unfair in his dealings and decisions.

The attack against Rubin was the most insipid and fireable off-field offense in Minaya's tenure. Under siege and angry after having to dismiss a trusted ally, Minaya stupidly lashed out and Rubin is taking his revenge again and again.

Certain incontrovertible facts exist here. Rubin never denied having asked about getting a job in baseball and claims to have accepted Minaya's apology for the gaffe----NY Times Bats Blog, July 30th, 2009 and FanHouse/Amazin' Avenue Posting, July 28th 2009.

Accepting the apology is one thing, but being passive aggressive and then overtly hostile is another.

Seek even-handed analysis and that's what you get. Rubin's potluck, throw everything in brand of reporting is an open secret to anyone who has the stomach to get through his exposé in 3 parts.

What precisely does Francisco Rodriguez's assault against his father-in-law in the Citi Field family room have to do with Minaya or Wilpon? What were they supposed to do about it aside from responding to it in the forceful manner they have in its aftermath?

Dwight Gooden was arrested in the spring for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident and Rubin makes the specious leap from that incident to suggest that the Mets are somehow responsible; that they should----in an unsaid inference----not have inducted Gooden into their Hall of Fame last month. What one thing has to do with another is unclear and unstated.

Johan Santana was accused of rape in the days following the 2009 season; no charges were filed. Was Minaya supposed to enact paranoid, Watergate-style techniques to prevent such occurrences? With men in their 20s and 30s, how is this to be regulated and prevented by an employer?

Does it need to be said to grown men not to punch people in the face? Not to behave in ways that could construed as sexually inappropriate? And if it does, what is the employer's recourse in such matters? Like the old Robin Williams routine lampooning the police force in England's entreaty to a perp, "Stop!!! Or, I' 'Stop!!!' again!"

What were they supposed to do?

Rubin doesn't specify.

Rubin writes about the club spending practices regarding prospects, but instead of using the same expertise that he apparently felt made him qualified to work in baseball himself, he went to Baseball America and used the amount of money spent as a reason to criticize the minor league system as if the two things are explicitly connected. Numerous entities spent the entire winter finding reasons to lambaste the Mets; the minor league system was said to be "barren"; instead, the team has shown a large number of useful-to-excellent prospects who've come to the big leagues and performed admirably and more.

Because Josh Thole, Jonathon Niese, Ike Davis, Mike Pelfrey and Bobby Parnell have been so promising, the argument had to be altered to the money the team has spent in finding players. Money is a factor in building a solid minor league foundation, but you can't have it every way; you can't credit a team like the Athletics under the Moneyball farce for saving money by finding baseball players rather than spending lavishly on glossy names, then tear into another team for trying to save a few dollars despite using a different methodology. Making things worse to this argument is that the Mets' young players look good!

Shouldn't Rubin----interested as he is in a job inside baseball----be able to come to his own conclusions regarding prospects? Wouldn't that be a prerequisite to working for a club in any capacity? Instead he goes to "credible" sources to fit neatly into his prejudged piece.

It was easier for Rubin to formulate his critique finding the remaining negativity about the club from such sources rather that to run the risk of having his tenets torn to shreds and sabotaged by facts.

Then we get into the pure speculative nature of the Wilpons finances after the Madoff losses.

Rubin writes the following without any citation whatsoever:

While the finances of the Wilpon family, which owns the Mets, are not public knowledge, their primary business is Sterling Equities, a real estate company. That sector of the economy has taken a particular hit in recent years.

Of course, then there's the Madoff mess, which is a double-whammy:

At least one Mets-related fund reportedly is recognized by the court-appointed trustee overseeing the disbursement of Madoff assets to victims as having profited from the scam -- meaning more money was removed from Madoff funds than invested over the years. Yet the Wilpons undoubtedly believed they had accumulated vastly more on their balance sheet than they actually possessed.

Using hypothetical numbers: If a person invested $10 million over 20 years with Madoff and had withdrawn $12 million over that span, technically they are net gainers. It probably does not feel that way if the investor believed he had $100 million.

Is there a basis for the doom and gloom of the Wilpons', and by proxy, the Mets' finances? Or is this simply some unknowing fool who's too lazy or incompetent to do any actual digging to try and find out the reality of the situation and report on it?

Rubin tosses an aside comment about real estate taking "a big hit in recent years". And? That means what? If he doesn't know the ins-and-outs of the Wilpons' real estate machinations, how can he make the assumption that they're having financial difficulties because of it?

Then he extrapolates from numbers based on absolutely nothing. You hear numerous different statements of the Wilpon financial empire and none have been corroborated nor refuted. Jeff Wilpon has said that the Madoff situation is not affecting team operations and they haven't. They spent money on Bay; they've spent money to sign their draft choices; and were willing to add payroll to improve the club as they were in contention early in the summer.

Stemming from club inaction, the idea is prevalent that finances were the cause of the Mets failure to bring in a big name starter/reliever last winter and that they didn't trade for a big name pitcher to help the starting rotation at mid-season.

Who were they supposed to sign? Jason Marquis? Jon Garland? Randy Wolf? Have any of these pitchers made the Mets look foolish for their reluctance to overpay for them? Marquis has been hurt; Garland didn't want to pitch in New York; and Wolf has been what Wolf is----mediocre.

What about Cliff Lee? Judging from the Yankees offer for Lee and what the Mariners netted for the lefty from the Rangers, the Mets would have had to surrender Ike Davis leading the package for the right to rent Lee and then sign him for $130-160 million.

Roy Oswalt? Let's say he would've agreed to come to the Mets, would that justify giving up Jon Niese and other prospects and taking on Oswalt's contract? The other pitchers available----Jake Westbrook, et al.----weren't worth the cost.

You cannot make these charges and not have hard data to back them up, but that's precisely what Rubin does.

Is Rubin a dogged reporter performing due diligence before publishing a piece? Or is he a clumsy and unprepared hit man splaying bullets in the general vicinity of his target hoping one of the shots hits and kills his enemy, not due to skill, but volume?

Barring a miracle, Minaya is not going to be back as GM. The Mets are portrayed terribly in part because they've earned it. If it takes the hiring of a new GM be it Gerry Hunsicker, Kevin Towers, Pat Gillick or whomever to restore credibility, then that's what they need to do; but for a lazy hack like Rubin to come out with something so transparently antagonistic, it has to be addressed and torn to pieces; it has to be exposed for what it is.

Had he sought out evenhanded analysis, that's what he would've gotten; instead he chose to make himself look like a bitter clown who wrote the story first and then found ways to neatly fit references into the predetermined conclusions.

The absence of organization and consequences for which the Mets are constantly harangued is just as evident by the majority of those covering the Mets. Because the Mets are in turmoil, that doesn't make it any more acceptable for reporters to do their jobs unprofessionally, but that's exactly what Adam Rubin has done on ESPN New York. He and his employers should be ashamed of themselves. For some reason, I doubt that they are.

I was a guest last Thursday with Sal at SportsFan Buzz. You can click the link to Sal's site to download the Podcast or listen directly here. Also, check Sal's Facebook page here.

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.


She-Fan said...

Ah, but look at how Rubin/ESPN got you to write an entire blog post about his three-part series.

Jeff said...

Adam who?

Worldwide Leader in what?

I don't even waste my time with them anymore.

Joe said...

Actually there were legitimate arguments against signing Bay. But no one could foresee him struggling this much in year one. And of course the concussion could not be predicted either.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

Over the last two days Joel Sherman and Rubin decided they want to catch up with yesterday's news? That's my angle; especially with Sherman on Tuesday. I don't begrudge Rubin for lambasting the Mets in three parts. We all do it. All that stuff he said is on the record and duly noted. His content usage was debatable but his context was all wrong. I accept some of the things he said at face value, but it is really hard to ignore his vindictiveness towards Omar. I think you could have brought down the heat by one degree (just one)...but in Rubin's case I guess what's good for the Goose is good for....