Tuesday, November 9, 2010


  • I do not fear Twilight Zone-level irony...

Twilight Zone-level irony should fear me.

Some may believe it's going to be hard for me the reconcile my constant railing against Moneyball as a large chunk of the cast of the fairy tale take over the Mets (without the protagonist, Billy Beane).

I've tried to put Moneyball into its proper context and explain why it's such a farce. Because of that, t's been necessary to use the failures of Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi, Sandy Alderson and Beane in the years since the book's publication as a tool to show why Michael Lewis's agenda-driven hypothesis was similar to taking any biblical text literally----you can't do it and survive as a human being.

It's the same in baseball----Moneyball didn't work because it can't work. You cannot ignore important, though unquantifiable, aspects such as team chemistry; managerial nuance; and clutch hitting.

Following the Mets hiring of Sandy Alderson as GM, both Ricciardi and DePodesta have also joined the Mets front office.

And the pre-emptive caveats are already starting for the flag-waving stat "revolutionaries" in case it doesn't work. It's evident in Rob Neyer's posting and the relevant bit (to me anyway) follows:

Keep your eye on the Mets. If they suddenly begin doing intelligent things, it won't take long before they've passed the Braves and are challenging the Phillies. If the organization continues to muddle along for two or three years, it will probably be due to the meddling of whoever hired all these smart guys.

The "meddling" crack is obviously an allusion to Frank McCourt with the Dodgers as DePodesta is still, in certain holdout circles, seen as having been "railroaded" out of Los Angeles. How he was railroaded is a mystery to me; McCourt essentially let DePodesta do whatever he wanted until it was clear that he'd demolished the team within 20 months, was about to make things worse, and was fired.

Ricciardi was allowed to do most of the things he wanted to do with the Blue Jays and wasn't sabotaged by his on-field product as much as he was by his inability to control his temper and keep his mouth shut. (It's becoming apparent that he didn't want to give Vernon Wells that heinous contract; he was forced and gets a pass for it.)

Alderson's tenure as president of the Padres was similarly pockmarked by a dictatorial style and intentionally deceptive statements to mask the true intent of his stewardship.

But how does this affect the Mets in the present and future?

There are drastic differences between the failures of the Moneyball caricatures and the present reality of the Mets.

Let's take a look.

Passion, overseeing and involvement:

Unlike his situation with the Padres, Alderson isn't the CEO (nor is he the Emperor) of the Mets; he's the GM. Because of that, it's impossible for him to be the puppeteer pulling the strings and cutting loose any and all marionettes who grow entangled in the inter-office scrums or don't acquiesce to the manipulations of the all-powerful overlord.

He's in charge; everyone knows he's in charge; it's his baby; and he's getting to do whatever he wants. He's hired people he trusts and know how he wants things done; he's free to trade anyone and everyone on the roster. He's rebuilding the entire operation.

There won't be any hands-off approach from Alderson; his fingerprints will be clearly visible on anything and everything that happens with the Mets. There's something more personal when the individual ego is invested in the result; when "don't blame me" is removed.

It's not that way with Alderson this time.

You can sense the hunger to win; to build; to put Moneyball and negative perception that resulted from its aftermath behind him. This is his chance and he won't want to blow it in the interests of "proving" accurate a nonsensical narrative.*

*It just occurred to me----Disney should make Moneyball into a cartoon!! With the whole cast of characters----Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, et al. It'd certainly be better than Brad Pitt as Billy Beane bedding Cammi the waitress.

The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves:

Yeah. I quoted Shakespeare. Do something about it.

The faults inherent in a faux resume are quickly transparent. Because Moneyball and Beane's rise from sneakily clever executive taking advantage of market inefficiencies was seen as a factual; since Alderson was so widely respected around baseball, both Ricciardi and DePodesta got jobs as big league GMs.

Neither worked out.

It was quickly apparent that neither had all-important qualities that a GM today must have.

DePodesta was almost wood-headed to the need to have a manager who the players respected when he fired Jim Tracy; there was a complete disregard for the way the Dodgers at the time had been built from within, knew each other and had the team chemistry that had made them a legitimate title contender when he blew them up at mid-season 2004 with a series of ridiculous trades and ill-thought-out assessments such as using Darren Dreifort as a set-up man.

Ricciardi----someone who I think still has the athlete's fire and is almost compulsively unable to keep himself from getting the last word----was undone by repeated battles with the media, agents, players and fans.

This won't happen with the Mets.

There's a chain-of-command that is delineated and known. DePodesta won't be the final decisionmaker; Ricciardi won't be dealing with the media on a daily basis (and he certainly won't have a call-in radio show as he did in Toronto----something that still shocks me).

Free of the floating concepts and divergent agendas of "proving" a point made in Moneyball and trying to live up to that hype, all that's left is building the team as best they can.

All hands can work together for the common goal of making the Mets a contender again.

This is a good thing.

Abandon the Stat Zombie Bible:

As much as they try to run from Moneyball----and they are running from Moneyball----there's no escape until the entire episode is behind them. Cowed by the backlash and practical failures from the book, don't expect to see a pure Moneyball-style building of the Mets.

Alderson not-so-subtly backtracked from some of the bulletpoints that were documented and put into practice such as having a "middle manager" to implement front office schemes; and this too is a good thing.

DePodesta, Ricciardi and Beane didn't live up to Moneyball because they couldn't live up to Moneyball. No one, nowhere could live up to the implication of knowing everything; of being an infallible genius with the Midas touch.

And I don't want to hear that Moneyball wasn't a sacrosanct series of tenets from which any self-respecting new age baseball executive couldn't and shouldn't deviate; nor that it was a business plan due to circumstance.

I'm not sure which book that faction read, but it sure wasn't Moneyball.

DePodesta admirably pulled his image from the upcoming Moneyball film; the resume-builder it was (and one of the major reasons he got the Dodgers job) turned out to be a diversion from the truth. Was DePodesta qualified to run a big league club as a GM at the time he got the job? Probably. Did it work? No. His yanking of his name from the movie shows he may have learned the lesson of something being too good to be true being too good to be true.

The best case scenario:

The best case scenario for the Mets isn't----as some commentators are suggesting----that the Mets have a Moneyball feel; the best case scenario for the Mets is to replicate the success of the Red Sox.

Because they have a smart front office with statistical know-how, a reliance on some old-school scouting and are backed up by a large payroll, the Red Sox are the blueprint for the Mets to copy. With the way they've crafted an annual contender and won two championships despite the turmoil that comes with high expectations from the fans and media, there's no reason the Mets can't build from within; make bold trades; and cover mistakes with money.

The Red Sox have tried some stat zombie tenets like the closer-by-committee and made some dreadful signings and trades, but that hasn't obscured the smart things they've done. Most importantly, they immediately admit mistakes by taking steps to correct them.

Rather than try to emulate and implement Moneyball, the Red Sox success should be what the Mets aspire to.

The Mets are not an expansion team or devoid of talent in that they have to be rebuilt from the bottom up; the foundation is quite good with Ike Davis, Jon Niese, Angel Pagan, Josh Thole and Mike Pelfrey----all young and controllable; the veterans David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana have use; and the nonsense that went on with Francisco Rodriguez won't be allowed to continue under the new regime.

All the pieces are in place; the Mets can be taped together fast to contend as early as 2011. They have to move intelligently and with the proper plan from within----not from Moneyball.

  • From the "worldwide leader in sports":

I literally could not function without ESPN.

Sometimes it's for sports news; other times it's for their simple act of being ESPN.

Two things happened in the past couple of days; one, Michael Kay does his Michael Kay thing; and two, Sunday Night Baseball will have a new broadcasting crew.

Embracing one's buffoonery:

There were two ways to go for Michael Kay when he made a bigger idiot of himself than that which is the general, baseline idiot he usually is as he declared the ALCS "over" after the Yankees game 1 comeback win.

One, he could have toned down his act (if it is an act) of bluster and self-proclaimed expertise and not been so open in his Yankee bias. He could've tried to be as neutral a voice as possible; to do his research before making statements he claims are fact; and evolve into a viable broadcaster.

Two, he could go further over the top and make even more ridiculous guarantees that won't be taken seriously as anything but after-the-fact inanities.

Read the following from Phil Mushnick of the NY Post and tell me which road Kay chose in his ironclad statement Isiah Thomas will be the next GM of the New York Knicks----link.

I don't follow basketball, but being in New York, it's known to anyone who can read and has any ability at interpretive analysis that Thomas was a horrific GM for the Knicks. That said, anything is possible in the world of Jim Dolan. Dolan loves Thomas and it's not out of the realm of possibility that Thomas again finds a way to work his way back into the job.

But Kay "guarantees" it?

Based on what?

It seems to me that Kay is throwing a Hail Mary without the risk of an interception. If he's right, he'll play it to the hilt that he was "right"; if he's wrong, he's oddly protected by his reputation of being a fool.

To conduct oneself in this way and to rely on the protective embrace of being so poorly regarded is admirable in a way, but it doesn't make it good.

ESPN dumps Morgan and Miller:

Joe Morgan's and Jon Miller's contracts as the voices of the Sunday Night Baseball telecasts are not being renewed by ESPN----NY Times Blog.

I have to admit, I'm kind of torn about this. Both Miller and Morgan are annoying. Miller and his canned and tiresome cliches and insistence of pronouncing players' names "correctly"---Bel-TRAY; Bel-TRAN, etc.----won't be missed.

With Morgan, there was an entertaining aspect to his pronouncements and outright bizarreness along the lines of contradicting himself three times within the same sentence. I think people are going to miss Morgan more than they realize for the simple fact that he provided something to scream, write and tweet about.

As irritating as they were, if given the choice of a baseball duo being replaced from their prominent roles, which would be preferable? Morgan and Miller, or Fox's Joe Buck and Tim McCarver?

If you took a vote, the consensus would be to get rid of Buck and McCarver, who have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. At least Morgan was a Hall of Fame player and wasn't overtly malicious or self-promoting when he said stupid things.

I was on with Sal at the Sportsfan Buzz on Wednesday talking about the World Series; Cliff Lee; Derek Jeter; and other stuff. You can listen directly here; or download it from I-Tunes on Sal's site here.


Jeff said...

Oh, the agony in having to choose Miller/Morgan over Buck/McCarver!!!

As for the Mets' front office, I feel like this was all done to make your life miserable, Prince... or at least, more interesting. With all those zombies wandering CITI Field's offices, it'll be a big challenge to see them succeed.

Joe said...

I am one of the few that doesn't mind Buck, I guess. But Miller is actually good. Buck reminds me of great things in 2004, so maybe that is why. But Morgan is actually good. Hmmm...

She-Fan said...

I thought the same thing about Buck and McCarver - THEY'RE the ones I want dumped. Joe Morgan was annoying but benign, as far as I was concerned, and he gave off a nice guy vibe. And I've always liked Jon Miller despite the pronunciation thing. He's a HOF broadcaster who does a great job for the Giants and on the national radio broadcasts. I'll miss him.

mike fierman said...

I've been wondering how you would handle this and then when DePodesta's name came out as the last in the unholy trinity I really thought you'd flip out. and maybe you have. but what you write makes me think you are actually pleased with this team, despite your obsession about that book- maybe this will signal you moving on...
good work!