Mets GM: Opportunities lost and found

Now the worst-kept non-secret in town official, Sandy Alderson was is expected to be announced as the new Mets general manager on Friday.

I admit to having perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to the news he was the front-runner for the job a few weeks ago, particularly since the rumor mill had Tony LaRussa joining him. Blissfully, the pompous LaRussa is staying in St. Louis. So I am now more than a bit optimistic that the near-63-year-old Alderson can turn things around for the Amazin’s (though I still stand by my agreement with columnist Bill Madden that a general managership is a younger man’s game).

Alderson was a chief executive in the Oakland A’s organization from 1983 to 1998. He was Oakland’s GM in the late ’80s when Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were known as the Bash Brothers. That duo later became notable for their admitted steroid use, as did a later Oakland slugger, Jason Giambi (though Giambi didn’t become a full-time player until 1997, he came up in an organization with two steroid-using sluggers as star attractions, at least raising the question if the steroid culture, as prevalent as it was in the Major Leagues in the ’90s, was even more prevalent in Oakland).

Alderson should have to answer for this at some point. But just not at his introductory press conference, as ESPN columnist Ian O’Connor suggests (h/t MetsBlog).

(Digression No. 1: Ian O’Connor is a writer I greatly admired, and still do. We used to run his column in the lousy paper where I toiled more than a decade ago. My dream as a kid was to grow up to become a New York sportswriter, and when I was an exurban-New York high school sportswriter in my mid-to-late-20s, I narrowed my dream to become a columnist like him and his fellow Daily News alum Mark Kriegel. That dream for me died a slow and then final death for a variety of reasons beginning more than 10 years ago (some largely self-inflicted), and I stopped reading O’Connor regularly when I entered my own post-sportswriting exile, but he seems to have obviously done some great work since.)

(Digression No. 2: As I tried to point out on MetsBlog (my comment seems to be in perpetual moderation), in response to a comment about sportswriters not doing due diligence during the steroid era, Steve Wilstein stands alone. He was the AP scribe who spotted and then asked McGwire about the bottle of Andro in his locker during the ’98 homer chase. Wilstein’s sportswriting brethren largely left him twisting unsupported in the wind that summer while sales of Andro boomed after Wilstein’s story broke. In the face of a popular groundswell for McGwire and follow homer run chaser/suspected cheat Sammy Sosa, I am ashamed to admit that I can’t say I’d do anything different in asking such unpopular questions in the face of such overwhelming popularity. Though at least I can be certain and proud of the fact that I wouldn’t have asked for a hug from my buddy McGwire, as Joe Buck embarrassingly did.)

(Digression No. 3: Wilstein and his andro reportage was covered in Ken Burns’ recent addendum to his PBS “Baseball” documentary, “The Tenth Inning.” To me, the now-retired Steve Wilstein is a sportswriting version of an American hero. They should erect a statue of him in a press box of his chosing.)

I disagree with many of my fellow Mets fans on MetsBlog who largely say that Alderson is not coming here to talk about the past, which sounds dangerously close to his former star’s dispiriting and damning 2005 testimony to Congress. Alderson should talk about the past. But I’m going to punt and say that’s both a talk he can give later, and a penance he’s already begun to pay for.

I think the steroid culture of the Bash Brothers is a spot on Alderson’s record. Some day he should answer for it. But why now? This is not President Bush squandering an opportunity to talk straight with the American public nine years ago — instead of asking for the shared sacrifice our country gave circa 1941 to 1945, he told us to go shopping.

This is not that moment for Sandy Alderson (the steroids-in-baseball version of it, anyway). I’m not sure when that moment will come, or if it already came and went, another opportunity missed. Perhaps it came and went in 2005 on the “60 Minutes” program O’Connor refers to. Perhaps it came and went when Alderson was hired by the Padres earlier this decade or when Bud Selig hired him earlier this year to help clean up problems (steroids chief among them) in baseball in the prospects-rich Dominican Republic.

And not to give Alderson a pass, but perhaps his effort over the last eight months to try to police steroids in the Dominican at least pays some of that penance, an unspoken, unacknowledged atonement of sorts, a reckoning, however brief and targeted it may have been.

Being a fan — particularly an ex-Yankee fan/now-diehard-Mets fan — and an ex-sportswriter involves living with a large helping of hypocrisy (hell, being me involves a large degree of hypocrisy, but that’s a whole other series of blog posts. I feel like Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday: “It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.”). Apologies, if they are still to come, can come later. I’m looking forward to the Alderson era in Metsdom and all the opportunities it presents, today and in the future.

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RIP Vic Ziegel

Good-bye to one of my favorites from my formative sports-reading and sportswriting years, Vic Ziegel of the New York Daily News.

“The Long Island Press no longer exists. (So what else is new?) When I was still in college, I showed up at the Press several nights a week – eight splendid bucks a night – to take high school basketball results over the phone and write a few paragraphs of roundup, nothing too fancy.

“There were about a half-dozen of us living in this fast lane. One night, much like all the other nights, the scores starting running together. And to keep awake, and because I’m a cunning, vicious SOB, I urged my fellow eight-buckers to repeat the same phrase in the lead of our basketball roundups. The next day, on the high school page of the Long Island Press, in a half-dozen league stories, and another on non-conference games, it was reported that Chuck Lastname or Danny Lastname or Gerry Lastname led his team to victory by ‘performing yeoman work under the boards.’

“Seven times, yeoman work under the boards. And I was back the next night, accepting congratulations, another eight bucks heading my way. What did I learn? That you can get away with a few things in this world. That nobody cares what kind of work you do if you work cheap. That if I ever fell off a roof and landed on my head I could still edit stories about high school sports for the Long Island Press. That people would laugh when I repeated the story.

“Very seductive, the sound of laughter. And so I discovered, in my yeoman period, that if I wanted to continue hearing the pleasing sound of laughter, I could keep writing sports. At least until I discovered what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Nothing seems to have changed. I can still be found in the sports section, still trying to earn a smile. Makes me think, nights in Pittsburgh, Louisville, the Iona-Siena game, that maybe I did fall off that roof.”

—Introduction to Ziegel’s Sunday Punch: Strawberries, Raspberries, Steinbrenners and Tysons – A Famed Sports Columnist Takes His Best Shot at Sports’ Big Shots, 1991

(h/t to evesmag.com; I have this book buried somewhere in my attic, and damned it I can’t find it, though I can recall the “yeoman work under the boards” line as if I read it yesterday. I never had the gumption to try that prank when I was writing high school wrap-ups. Thanks to evesmag for saving the story online.

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Mets’ R.A. Dickey and the gift of perspective

Friday night’s seventh inning notwithstanding, R.A. Dickey is officially my favorite New York Met.

Not only was the man an English major in college — like me — but his career reboot is happening for him now, at age 35. A recent article at MLB Fanhouse summed it up perfectly: his entire career has been like The Odyssey. Here he is, starting over, perhaps for a long time, and maybe finally finding himself (or at least, finding success and confidence on the mound) at age 35, largely the result of re-inventing himself a few years earlier as a knuckleballer.

It’s a story I can entirely relate to. At age 37 (and shortly, it will be 38), I still often wonder what I’ll be when I grow up. A decade after leaving sportswriting full-time, I’m still looking for my own knuckleball, the pitch to re-invent my career, a way to re-boot to my season, or at least find some profession that will give me satisfaction, confidence, and self-worth.

Perhaps I’ll never find it, the way R.A. Dickey has for these last two magical months. I’m blessed with a radiant wife and an exuberant nearly-4-year-old son, a warm home with a roof over my head, a purring cat, and relatively healthy parents. These are real things. And even if you don’t have the career you thought you would at 21 years old, just merely seeing and rooting for someone who finally gains success in the second half of his 30s gives you both hope and perspective.

That’s why R.A. Dickey is my favorite Met.

(published concurrently at my baseball blog, Clutch Bingles)


Who listens to bloated aging Baby Boomers who took all the jobs and made all the rules so that Gen X’ers could never get ahead in the marketplace anyway?

Mike Francesa is basically the king of sports talk radio in the New York City area, which, by definition if you live in ego-centric New York City or its environs (within 100 miles), makes him the king of sports talk radio.

Based on reports, Mike Francesa, age 56, ripped into one of the leading Mets bloggers, first by insulting his hygiene (this from a man, whom I’ve seen in person, who could generously stand to lose a few pounds). Still, that sort of classlessness is de rigueur for talk radio, particularly sports talk radio, and is sadly endemic to our society. So I’m not going to debate its appropriateness, or complete lack thereof.

No, Francesa added to his talk: “who reads blogs anyway?

Well, Mike, plenty of Gen X’ers do, particularly those who write them and who couldn’t land jobs in traditional media (or get promoted or get new ones at bigger papers) because of bloated, egotistical, aging Baby Boomers like you who sucked up all the jobs, then changed the rules and qualifications for entry level and mid-level promotions, which might have been fine except that those rules never applied to you, Boomers, in middle and upper management and in the even-slightly-higher profile jobs.

No, asshats like you have made a career out of “do as I say, not as I do,” while fucking over the economy to fatten your wallets and bellies, and then had the temerity to cry about your retirements drying up in a poor economy that you created. Yeah, Mike, I read blogs. I write for two of them. So do a lot of Gen X’ers who got shut out of your fucking industry and others because of your bloated, whirlpool-sucking presence.

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Local-washing food and sportswriting

McDonald’s recently launched a local TV commercial around these parts (h/t All Over Albany). Yep, multi-national Mickey D’s name-dropped a bunch of Albany-isms (some of which The Locals don’t actually or frequently use) into a spot in a bid to put a local face on the Golden Arches.

I suppose it should be a compliment that parochial Small-bany rated a commercial geared directly toward its decidedly Single-A market. But a comment about “local-washing” in the All Over Albany blog got me thinking about the phenomenon.

The “Buy Local” movement has had some positive impacts, even beyond the obvious growth of the excellent farmer’s markets we have in upstate New York. I like that regional chain supermarket Hannaford sells some local produce from farms in a few-county radius here, even if the offerings are limited to one cart in a several-thousand-square-foot store. But they position the offering as you come into the produce section and label it with the farm it came from. Bully for them. It’s a good idea, and a smart idea. It appeals to my 100-Mile Food sensibilities, even if I don’t come close to fully practicing that.

But what about Starbucks re-naming one of its Seattle stores as “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea” to whitewash some corporate stain? What about the execrable Gannett Corporation’s deceptively named ShopLocal™ Web site? (h/t Forbes). Frito-Lay ads in Florida? Local-washing efforts by Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Citgo and Hellmann’s? Does at least some of what Wal-mart and other supermarkets do (in selling local produce) redeem themselves in the same way that Hannaford does in my mind (though Hannaford’s superior-for-a-chain organic section, including its own house-brand, gives it a bump in my book, and no, I’m no flack for them, I just like their store; but am I biased because I’m a fan?). And, as Elisabeth Eaves writes in Forbes, did the “Localvores” bring this onto themselves?

I have mixed feelings about this. Not about the McDonald’s commercial, but about the full ethos of buying local. I support that philosophy wholeheartedly, but I worry about the dogma of supporting that ethos to the exclusion of all other approaches.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that the chains do actually hire local people, which Eaves notes — yes, I agree that they do create jobs. On the flip side, those jobs often pay poorly, come with limited or no health insurance, send most (if not all) of the local franchise’s profits out of the area and back to the corporate headquarters, are situated in a building that often has no architectural relationship to long-standing neighboring structures (except to other chain places in a sea of urban sprawl, and this in the face of typically weak zoning laws), and quite possibly replaced jobs in locally owned businesses (not franchises) to begin with.

On the other hand, in these strained economic days, if I’m not eating PB&J for lunch (again) my lunch budget is $3 — enough for two items off McDonald’s Dollar Menu and a buck coffee, provided I can scrounge up enough change in between my car seats to cover the sales tax. Plus, we took Junior to the place once and he referred to it as “Old McDonald’s.” In fact, we tried Wendy’s a few weeks later, and eager to avoid him becoming brand-brainwashed, we called Dave Thomas’ place Old McDonald’s, too.

(Aside: At once point I had attempted the Neil Pollack approach in Alternadad and tried to flip branding on its ear by telling Junior that, whenever he saw the Golden Arches, it signaled a building that sold yucky food. That didn’t last long once we had a hungry 3-year-old suddenly awake on a road trip and the only thing open on a Thruway rest stop was Mickey D’s. But I digress.)

In the end, it’s a fine line. Hannaford’s approach seems to be the right one, though of course, I’d like to see even more local offerings there. But McDonald’s approach seems more sneaky, more insidious somehow.

It’s not entirely dissimilar from what ESPN is doing with ESPNChicago.com, ESPNBoston.com, ESPNDallas.com and (God help us) ESPNNewYork.com. (Though ESPNScranton.com still seems to be available.)

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Writing, journalism and the ‘way it is now’

Maybe as journalists, would-be journalists, wanna-be journalists, ex-journalists, bought-out journalists, hacks, reporters and disenchanted prematurely retired ex-journalists, perhaps all that is left to cover is ourselves and by extension, our opinions, even if it is only for an audience of one.

And as a seasoned reporter myself — after two whole conventions — I can safely say that you get about as many insights into the hearts and souls of the candidates on the campaign trail as you would watching a plastic fern grow.

—Matthew Klam, Fear and Laptops on the Campaign Trail, New York Times Magazine, September 2004

The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy says the same thing, almost four years later, about sports — “That’s just the way it is now,” he writes — and bemoans the lost access to players the media once had.

Shaughnessy is 100% correct — that’s just the way it is now.

To which I say, yeah, it sucks. Just deal with it.

Pat Jordan is worried, too, but he seems to be adapting to it better.

It’s been coming to this point for a long time. Thirty-five years ago, Red Smith said it best:

The sportswriter learns to adjust, to make allowances. When you’re listening to these people, who are serving special interests, you simply adjust by taking a little off the top.

Pat Jordan might have taken a lot off the top for his Deadspin article, but I applaud the adjustment. After all, it’s the future.

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