Tag Archives: a-rod

The Stargell Bobblehead Obsession

What’s in the confluence of eBay, late-night PowerPoint editing, and a disgust with Alex Rodriguez that borders on something you accidentally stepped in while using a public bathroom in the Port Authority? Bobbleheads. Willie Stargell bobbleheads and figurines, to be specific. After re-arranging my desk (retired the tired old iMac desktop, moved some pictures around, and decided to aggregate anything Stargell-oriented on its own shelf) I made the fatal mistake of seeing what eBay might have to offer to fill up my personal Hall of Resin Fame.

Willie Stargell Bobblehead Collection

Willie Stargell Bobblehead Collection

I use eBay for a work break the way I used to use a box of Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies as a paper-writing motivation. You start with a small reward, then you’re up to a cookie each time you finish a page, and the whole thing collapses when you’re alternating word completion and cookie bites. In many cases, it starts with a simple search to see what new and exciting items I might have to add to a collection, or what inventories are showing up in the resale market. And this turned into an itemization of the various and sundry Willie Stargell bobbleheads available. Because if one mass-produced resin tribute to your boyhood hero is good, then ten of them reflect a healthy obsession. Or a flush PayPal account. Even if one of the figures is from the Danbury Mint, and owning anything from a pseudo-mint in one of America’s worst traffic states is a sign that there’s an AARP card with your name on it.

My desire to collect is also driven by a need to reconnect with my happier memories of baseball: A time when players had jobs in the off-season, and realized they were lucky to be playing a game for at least part of the year. Teams that had character, like Pittsburgh’s “Lumber Company” of the late 70s (Stennett, Sanguillen, Parker, Oliver, Zisk, Stargell, Hebner – 7 out of 8 position players who could deliver a hit when needed). Ballplayers who were humble, self-effacing, and hustled, all without the benefit of a lab in Florida. This counter-balances the rising tide of disgust I feel for the Yankees. They have the audacity to charge ticket prices that would bankrupt a family of four, hold onto or re-sign aging players in some hope they will jump-start a team without a soul, and find themselves in fourth place due to their inability to have both pitching and hitting on the same night. A-rod’s insistence on turning every stepping stone in his sordid path from post-season disappointment to Pete Rose sentence companion just pours more fuel on the fire. I’m quietly cheering the Red Sox, and of course the Pirates, knowing that somewhere “Pops” is smiling that his Bucs have figured out all of the pieces of the puzzle and might be headed to the playoffs. My Stargell shrine cannot hurt, of course.

The Kovulchuk Konklusion

Apologies for abusing my minimally competent knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet, but I’m at a loss for a more respectable post title.

[Updated/Edited July 22: OK, only #4 is right. Kovulchuk is the A-Rod of the NHL, and should be pilloried accordingly. Yes, his “retirement” helps the Devils out of a cash flow problem now and in the waning years of the CBA, but basically, he’s a selfish, greedy player, now demonstrated on and off the ice.]

Kovulchuk is going back to Russia. His contract is void, with 11 years left on it. After all the strum und drang over the terms and conditions, the final cut was foreshortened by a decade: he’s leaving early.

Here is my purely speculative thinking on the situation. I know nothing, I am merely attempting to read the tea leaves left in the Russian room (even my word ordering fails at punnery here). Below are my stabs at four explanations, in what I think are the likely order; there may be more than one reason in which case they are presented with Gartner-esque probabilities of 0.5, 0.3, 0.15 and 0.05.

Explanation #1: Kovy really wants to go back to Russia, to represent his home country in the Olympics, perhaps to raise his family there, or to be with his own family. Sometimes Occam’s Razor slices the news along the simplest explanation lines. The impact on family, particularly an ex-patriate family, cannot be underestimated in professional sports. Based on my 38 seconds of more than arms’ length interactions with him, Kovy has strong family feelings (I write that looking at the signed t-shirt I received for supporting Kovy’s fundraising for the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv families). Petr Nedved’s wife nixed a centering role in Edmonton, and Janet Gretzky brought the Great One out of the Great White North. It happens, and we should respect it.

Explanation #2: He’s hurt, and the nagging injury that slowed him in the 2012 Cup Finals hasn’t fully healed. Rather than facing a potential “unfit to play” issue, everyone saves face through retirement, and any injury spectre doesn’t impact his future signing ability with the KHL. “Retirement” is another way of saying “I cannot play at the level the fans and I expect, and I’m going to stop instead of not playing at 100%.” If this is the case, Kovy should be held up as an exemplar of good behavior, of proper sportsmanship, and of being one of the only athletes who actually do something good for the fans. There are precedents for athletes retiring for non-sports reasons. Kovy could well be the anti A-Rod.

Explanation #3: The team is facing such a cash flow problem that it can’t be sold “as is”, and removing the Kovulchuk contract is the only way someone with an operative hockey operations plan will buy the Devils from Vandebeek. I’ve alternately thought this was the first reason, given the post-draft timing and recent rumors about the impending sale. Sadly, if there’s even an element of truth to this explanation, then the Devils will replace Kovulchuk with someone from my beer league (contract value: -$420, we pay to play).

Explanation #4: He’s the A-Rod of the NHL, with all invective, derision, and scorn heaped upon him. I really don’t think this is the case; he’s a significantly harder worker, a better team player, and a more honest and less self-centered person than that. Turning your back on what you wanted — a $100M+ contract in a major market with a contending team — doesn’t make sense unless there are complicating factors.

Rueing Clarkson’s departure doesn’t help; Clowe and Ryder will replace Clarkson with proper coaching (watch him as a Shark, not a Ranger — Tortorella managed to even make Brad Richards suck). Time for the Devils to invest in some up and coming talent — who heard of Matt Moulson before last year? And if the Devils front office wants to regain some fan cred, why not offer 75% off jerseys (basically: at cost) if you trade in a Parise, Kovulchuk, or Clarkson sweater for a Schneider, Henrique, Elias, Clowe, Ryder or M. Brodeur?

The Value of Pie

No, not 3.14159 or circumference divided by diameter or even the real but irrational part of the natural logarithm of -1 (e to the i pi references rule). Something natural, real, rational and not subject to circular arguments.

It’s not even a thinly veiled reference to my favorite high school hockey goalie, best known for saying “Mr. Stern, I like pie” at least a few times.

I’m talking about the value of a pie in the face, the Yankee’s informal ritual celebrating a walk-off hit that began sometime last season. Last night was the first pie plate-at-the-plate appearance of the relatively young season, marking Marcus Thames as a pie-zon. It wasn’t just seeing A-Rod jumping up and down and being first on the third base line to wave Thames in. It wasn’t the delight in seeing Papelbon get dinged for a pair of gopher balls in the bottom on the 9th (although that made up for Chan Ho Park looking like he came off the disabled list to join the incapable list). It was the fact that the Yankees are having fun in public, and they make it looks easy as, well, pie.

There is immense value in team chemistry, and having fun in sports. It was the watchword of my all-time baseball hero Willie Stargell: It is supposed to be fun. The man says “Play ball” not “Work ball”. When the pies started flying, the Yankees fortunes on the field seemed to similarly alight. It’s something to which the Devils should pay close attention, especially if Rich Chere’s comments from Brian Gionta are within the circle of possibly explaining the Devils’ post-season collapses.

It’s just fun to watch athletes having fun. The best post game interview is one given behind a veil of cream.

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Going For Joe

I find myself in a strange position this first week of October: There’s baseball on TV, and I am only counting the days until hockey coverage begins. In every fall since I’ve been able to carve out sports-watching time (read: after the great sleeplessness of having two toddlers), I’ve been able to cheer for some combination of New York hardball teams. This season was one to forget across the entire Tri-State area: this may be the first year I didn’t blog once about Major League Baseball until after the regular season reached its regular and final conclusion.

There were highlights: I completed my annual Willie Stargell pilgrimmage, enjoying Chicken on the Hill, sporting my Cooperstown Classic t-shirt with a large snowman on the back, watching the Pirates get demolished by Joe Torre’s Dodgers. I watched with interest as Will Venable started in a game for the Padres, joining fellow Princetonian Chris Young in the lower left hand corner of the nation. After those small flashes, though, there weren’t many other bright spots. Kind of a sad season for baseball around here.

But here’s a parting thought: anyone who blamed Joe Torre for the sad state of the New York Yankees should carefully check this week’s NLDS box scores. The Dodgers are doing more damage to the Cubs than a decade’s worth of Bartman incidents. Torre has a hodgepodge of slightly muted stars, cast off from other teams – Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra – and he’s made them into his team. So perhaps I am watching baseball, slyly, out of the corner of my eye, hoping that Joe Torre is vindicated for the wonderful years he poured his heart and soul into the Bronx.

The Bronx is Churning

It’s been a few days since Joe Torre’s implicit dismissal as the Yankee skipper, coming full circle with Joe Girardi’s filling the managerial jersey today. I’m still flabbergasted by this move: Torre was micro-managed from above (like he couldn’t figure out how to pitch Joba Chamberlain himself?), was given horrible resources to manage (his pitchers either sucked or were ancient or both, with the exception of Chamerblain), and had to deal with the media circus known as Alex Rodriguez. And he made the playoffs, again, as he did every single year he was in the Bronx. Normally I’m not a big LA fan, but go get’em Joe, and return some of that Dodger blue pride to the La-la-valley.

Then there’s A-Rod. The picture says it all — I snapped this one coming out of the Hynes/Convention Center “T” stop on the Green Line in Boston, halfway between the hub of the universe and Fenway Park, the true heliocentric point for the sun shining on Red Sox Nation. Why would the Sox want A-Rod? They actually won two World Series titles without him, and seeing how much Rodriguez failed to contribute in terms of baseball performance or on-field leadership, he’d only reverse the winning curve again. What on earth are A-Rod and Scott Boras thinking? That fans stop caring after the last regular season game? That someone who shelled out thousands of dollars on season tickets, and then doubled down for the playoffs, is going to think it’s fair that their signature player checks out for the postseason? The Yankees offered him more than he’s worth, which isn’t atypical, but somehow Boras thinks A-Rod can get more money for more years somewhere else. Loyalty, anyone? What difference will $3-5 million a year make for Rodriguez? Please don’t tell me it’s about the money, or providing for his future after baseball. It’s not about loyalty. Maybe it’s about where A-Rod thinks he can chase Barry Bonds’ record, and he’s shopping for a ballpark, not a team. That I could understand because it fits his public persona so well.

In the warped universe where I’m a baseball GM, here’s how I’d sign Rodriguez: give him a nice base above where the Yankees pitched, but with a negative performance option: Miss the playoffs, and he’ll forfeit the amount that would have been paid by season ticket holders for the divisional and league championship series home games. Get knocked out in the division series, and forgo the LCS home season ticket holder revenue. If you average out to 3.5 home games, $100 a ticket, and 15,000 season ticket holders, that’s $5.25 million a round. And that money would go directly back to the season ticket holders (if the team signed him it clearly had the cash to spare, all I’d be doing is redistributing it to the people who really lose when someone isn’t a team player.

Missed, er, October

Almost precisely 3 months ago I posited that Scott Gomez and Alex Rodriguez were increasingly alike.

Let me add to the list: neither one has shown up for big games in October. At least Gomez recorded three shots tonight (plus one miss, and one blocked, is it me or are the new NHL statistics not bad once you learn to decode them)? A-Rod is A-WOL for the Division Championship Series (let’s hear John Sterling make a big deal out of that one). That giant sucking sound you hear is the extra $7 million or so that Rodriguez thought he’d coax out of a team next year when he exercises his contract option. I think I’ve invented a new unit of measure: The Gomez, more specifically, $7M paid for non-performance when people are watching.

Some other random thoughts, two games into the season:

I like Kevin Weekes. He brings his A-game, a solid effort, and he has no fear. Goalies are always a few sigma off of normal anyway, but he has impressed.

The Islanders are 2-0, and the Sabres are 0-2 as a result. So much for the predictive power of the hockey press. Yes, it’s early, but c’mon. Shuffle off to Buffalo for some ugly practices this week.

The Capitals are better than anyone thinks, and the Rangers will miss Nylander as they realize why.

Mike Cammalleri is now in my top five favorite players. Three goals, same pace as Dany Heatly through week one. The Kings aren’t as bad as everyone thinks, and the Ducks might not be as good as everyone predicted.

Free Agency and the Price of Beer

I’m about two weeks behind in blogging various trips, adventures and random technology thoughts, so I’ll probably start with the most recent and work backwards.

Scott Gomez’ departure across the Hudson River was not the way I wanted to start my summer vacation. At some level; I knew he was leaving the Devils because he and general manager Lou Lamariello didn’t see eye to eye on just about anything. But going to the Rangers was painful for those of us who started cheering for Gomez when he was 19 and enjoying a Calder Trophy rewarded rookie year. He’s going to make $10M for somewhere between 80 and 100 games of hockey next season, or about $100,000 a game. High priced free agents usually are short-term pops for attendance, but long-term, they tend to crank the price of beer and do little for long-term fan support.

I carry on about this topic to the point of drawing a parallel between Alex Rodriguez and Scott Gomez. Building a fan base means investing in the community, in the media, in accessibility, and in brand image of your players, your club and your league. Hence the A-Rod comparisons.

Gomez Is The Next A-Rod

First the strong words: Forget the comparisons to Bobby Holik. Scott Gomez is the next Alex Rodriguez, in the eyes of the fans, the league, the press, sports agents and possibly youth hockey players. Tough call? Absolutely, and not one I’ll make in publicly lightly, because as a person I still think Scott Gomez is mostly a good guy. Don’t ever confuse business success with personal and brand integrity. Gomez has assured himself of business success (financially); he’s still got his personal integrity (in terms of being approachable, kid-friendly, and an outstanding spokesman for hockey diversity); but he’s taking a brand hit. That’s the A-rod comparison.

Let’s go down the list one demographic at a time:

  • Fans. When A-rod signed his quarter-billion dollar contract with the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners fans felt betrayed. It wasn’t the notion of him going to a divisonal rival that raised hackles in the permanently dank Northwest; it was more the sense of him cashing in without any sense of the fan base that had propelled and supported him in the first place. What upsets everyone about Gomez’ meeting across the river is that it’s effectively a big “I don’t care what the fans think” to everyone who is a Devils fan. Could Gomez have gotten a deal that rich from another team? Possibly. Would it have ameliorated Devils fan’s anguish if he had signed for, say, a few million less over half a decade with another team outside of the tri-state area? Absolutely. Many people have said to me “When you only have a few years of playing time, you should sign for as much as you can get.” There’s not a lot of difference between $48M and $52M over that many years if you have a good financial manager and don’t over-spend. Either way, it’s enough to live on in just about any lifestyle after your playing days are over. The question is: what reputation will you live with in the two-thirds of your life that follows your retirement from sports?
  • League. Let’s be realistic — the league loves the Rangers, Gomez and anything that hints at creative uses of the cap system. $10M for one year is a definite bubble in the capitated spending limits imposed post-lockout, and it will be interesting to see who the Rangers can still afford as September gets closer. The NHL loves the Rangers because they’re in the largest market, and anything that draws attention and fans is good for the league (and hence, good for the cap, and by inference, good for other players too). Gomez is a favorite because he’s out in front of hockey diversity. Does MLB love A-rod? Controversy generates press, press generates ratings, and money generates all of the above. Draw your own conclusions.
  • Press. I howled quite loudly when reading the Rangers press conference coverage showing both Drury and Gomez with #23 blue sweaters. Drury is the senior guy, and the gentlemanly (and smart) thing to do is say “Hey, if you want #23, it’s yours, I’ll pick number ____ because I’m making a fresh start in a new arena.” But this kidding around — and really weak kidding around — about not honoring the deal because his number is taken is the kind of pedantic, puerile pap peddled by the press (without alliteration). Excuse me while I puke. It’s as pathetic as the flap over Mrs. A-Rod’s tank top.
  • Sports Agents With his father negotiating, Gomez got $5M for one year from Lou (never mind the cap issues or home town discount in the same year that Elias set a good example). Aren’t fathers supposed to teach us about loyalty and doing the right thing? Put in a “real” agent and that figure doubles with the Rangers, but the Devils fans are livid. Who’s right here? Doesn’t matter. What’s wrong here is that overpaying for free agents upsets the “certainty” that Bettman promised, and for which hockey fans lost an entire season. The only certainty is that beer and ticket prices in the Garden are never going to be cheaper.
  • Youth Players. One of the kids who played on a team I managed a few years ago loves Scott Gomez. Adores him. The kid identified with Gomez on everything from heritage to solid skating and passing skills. But that was with Gomez as a Devil. Gomez as a Ranger is akin to seeing the first girl you had a crush on going out with the cro-mag guy who used to give you wedgies. It’s a bad definition of “team player” for a group who need solid team player role models.
  • In the summer of 2007 it’s a parade of free agents who form a veritable Clustrmap of player movement. Continuity in rosters builds a fan base; it helps drive attendance and loyalties in kids who eventually pass those on to their kids. When the players that your kids adore take off, either their loyalties go to an out of market team or their interest in the home team declines. Neither is good for the long-term health of the league. Just because the salary cap forms a nice big allowance doesn’t mean owners have to spend the whole thing; spending less on players and then building a local fan base through local broadcast television rights, local cable coverage, or even community outreach like low-cost ticket distribution will ensure the “financial certainty” that figured so prominently in the lockout settlement. Paying players to jet set between teams only ensures that at some point, owners are going to scratch their heads trying to figure out how to de-cap-itate a long-term contract with a player who is nursing a sore groin for what seems like half a season.

    Final A-Rod comparison: Mike Greenberg of ESPN Radio claims that A-Rod is going to escape from New York this year, setting up “the biggest free agency” in recent history. Ask the kids who follow baseball if they care. None of them want to be A-Rod, proving that maybe the Beatles were right: Money can’t buy you love. But it can buy you a pair of centers.

    Say It Ain’t So, Joe

    The New York papers are abuzz with rumors of Joe Torre’s imminent firing. I hope the reports of his coaching death are greatly exaggerated, because Torre was far from the one to blame for the Yankees’ post-season demise. He was handed a pitching staff that might have been young (as opposed to the Padres’ Chris Young, who looked spectacular) a decade ago, sporting Carl Pavano (who didn’t throw a single pitch in pinstripes this year) as its poster child. Matsui and Sheffield got hurt, and along comes Melky Cabrera. Who knew? Joe knew. Joe managed, and played the hand he was dealt, and played it well. If Steinbrenner is going to give him the equivalent of 7-2 offsuit hole cards in a game of hold’em, Joe knows how to play it.

    On my way to the airport this morning, the sports talk radio was filled with “Ditch A-rod” and “Take Jeter’s captaincy” complaints. The engineers were hitting the dump button more than for the Howard Stern show, deleting invective laced with expletive. Everyone seems to think it’s Jeter’s problem that A-rod doesn’t feel loved, and if A-rod isn’t loved then he can’t play well.

    Excuse me? A-rod gets paid in a year what most people make in ten careers. That’s love. That’s the fans love of the game translated into insane ticket prices and $7 beers and $9 sausages and $25 t-shirts to pay for Mr. “I want to be liked”. You want to be liked? Start with the fans, and the community, and your teammates. Don’t wait for people to come to you, go to the people. Do the work. Joe Torre is in front of the press, win or lose, every day, doing the work even when his team isn’t.

    Young, exciting prospects sell tickets and jerseys too. And they are eager to build up some street cred, on the street, so they’ll engage with the community. Veterans who want to win with every fiber of their (able) bodies sell tickets. Ray Borque, anyone? Pudge Rodriguez?

    The Yankees will retool, and there will be a long winter of discontent when everyone is a manager, coach, third baseman, and negotiator, and then it starts again in 22 weeks. For once, it would be nice if the Yankees opened up with a clear gap between the average age of the players and that of the year-round residents around training camp. I just hope Joe’s still there to point out the players.

    Choking Into The Winter

    Stick a fork in the Yankees. They’re doing their best Atlanta Braves imitation, consistently winning the division and then failing to advance in the post season. This season’s choke-fest, though, was spectacular: They went without a run for 20 consecutive innings. Want to call a turning point? How about A-rod failing to do anything – anything at all – with the bases loaded in Game 2, at home, in front of a crowd that so very much wants him to be a hero.

    The Yankees need pitching. They need to get Sheffield out of the infield, and maybe to the golf course permanently. More than anything else, they need leadership. Not “Jeter, the captain,” but someone in the club house who will step up and be the consistent performer; the player willing to do the work every pitch of every game. No whining about tags. No whining about called strikes. Sacrifice flies when they’ll break a tie, personal attention discarded in favor of team contribution.

    At the 2000 All-Star Game in Seattle, my son was wearing a Texas jersey with “Rodriguez” on the back. Not A-Rod, but Pudge. Pudge, who put in his time in Florida, and then went to Detroit where he did the work through a few miserable seasons. We got some jeers from Seattle locals still reeling from A-rod’s departure for a Texas-sized contract — our four-letter word of choice was Ivan, not Alex or something else thrown our way.

    I ignored the economics talking until I had a chance encounter outside the player’s hotel with A-rod. He walked by, spotted the two of us in our baseball finery, and kept walking. No autographs. No effort to reach out, literally, to the fans. All about A-rod.

    I’d wager that Steinbrenner pays part of A-rod’s contract in an effort to deal him elsewhere. You can’t put a price on disappointment.