Archives for posts with tag: Jeff Wilpon

I’m going to ramble, spitball, and generalize.  Bad ways to start a post-2009 entry.  But I have very general, very nebulous things on the mind.

If you’re desperate for the punch line, scroll down until you see, in bold, “This brings us back to the banana peel.”  But I’m no short-order cook, and this is a long boil, so read it all for full flavor.

I’m hungry.

As is often the case, I’ll start with the Times, which I keep swearing I’ll stop reading for baseball purposes, but can’t seem to get away:

“Back to the 2009 Yankees: they are quite likable as a group. The
players are, anyway. Their owners and top management are all too often
defined by haughtiness, greed and entitlement. In that sense, the
Yankees embody New York, where hauteur, avarice and entitlement are
hardly unknown. The Mets are almost polar opposites. Their fans know in
their bones that even when things seem to be going well, someone is sure to throw a banana peel in their path
.”

Emphasis mine; find the piece here, written by Clyde Haberman.

I don’t want to be that kind of fan, though I know sometimes I can be.  I know plenty of Mets fans who are, and they range from the remarkably astute and articulate to the “could you perhaps try breathing with your nose and NOT your mouth?”

But perhaps more importantly, I would like to no longer be perceived as that kind of fan.  I’ve written on a few occasions (do your own search on “fandom;” too lazy this morning to dig for links, and you might enjoy sifting) about the schism between Mets and Yankees fans, the level of entitlement, of perceived entitlement, and how I conduct my business as one who enjoys baseball.

I don’t grant the premise that to be a Mets fan means to be long-suffering, though many have suffered greatly.  I don’t recall on any occasion, after scanning my ticket for entry, being handed a promotional cross to bear, sponsored by Church’s Chicken.

Yes, there’s a Church’s Chicken franchise in New York City.  It’s on the corner of 44th and Eighth.

I thought, and to an extent still do think, that right thought will lead to right action, which will lead to right perception.  And while I batter the Buddha to my own baseball aims, I see that I’m going to have remarkable trouble making baseball friends this way, or managing not to sound like a know-it-all, or a smarmy sort of patzer, peddling his nonsense to people who are genuinely distressed, getting them to think positively until something bigger bursts their bubble.  Misery and company, you see. 

And someone with such a profound dislike of Sean Green and a fear that he may, somehow, return, should not be butchering Eastern religion so that he may get everyone off the page of “Woe is me,” or “This bites,” and onto the page of “We forgive you, Mets organization, but we have a list of grievances we’d like to file, in a collectively calm and reasoned manner.”

Lots of talk yesterday from Mets leaders reviewed by Mets bloggers, which, unless Will Leitch has scooped my idea to use Metsblog as a resource once more, you can find:

–here (Jerry Manuel at Citi Field; Michael Baron, why the long face? Who hurt you?);

–here (Omar Minaya and Jeff Wilpon from Citi Field);

–here (Messrs. Minaya and Wilpon on WFAN; read this while watching Monday Night Football. Green Bay, you embarrassed yourselves);

–here (germane to recent one-sided conversations I’ve had);

–and here.

There is little to find remarkably newsworthy in the conferences and interviews held.  Note that I did not state there was remarkably little to find newsworthy.  A subtle yet important difference.

Luis Alicea, first base coach, is out.  Sandy Alomar, bench coach, shifts about if he wants, or else splits.  Razor Shines, third base coach, stays pending re-assignment.  Dan Warthen stays.  Howard Johnson stays.  Jerry Manuel stays.  Omar Minaya stays. 

Payroll unaffected by Bernie Madoff’s criminality, but maybe Mr. Minaya will find some cost savings.  There will be more Mets imagery in the ball park next year.  There will be a prominent Mets museum (I’m now nearly convinced this will be over by that massively empty space behind center; just give me my museum as video academy and I’ll ride into the sunset).

Daniel Murphy will get better.  Oliver Perez (Fauxhawk) will have a good year again.  Injuries plagued the team.  Johan’s feeling great.

That’s the gist.

It is news that they came out and said these things.  But none of these things rise to the level of bombshell, and the presentation–I have to point out Caryn Rose’s excoriation, posted on her blog, as a prime example of “Yoikes”–left a bit to be desired.

I’m not trying to pull punches here.  I don’t feel as angry about this as others do because my expectations of upper management are different.  To an extent, my expectations are lower, but that’s mainly with with regard to their notes regarding the product on the field. 

And no, I can’t believe I wrote that either, but my observation in 2009 revealed to me baseball players who are fundamentally unsound and prone to injury.  Those grievances I take to the manager and the trainers.  I don’t expect Messrs. Minaya or Wilpon to break the matter down for me like I’m watching MLB Roundtripper or Baseball Tonight or SNY’s SportsNite. 

Instead, I expect them to have some idea of what they’re doing when they retain Jerry Manuel, who is responsible for the product on the field, as presented to him by the general manager.  Here we have the first of what will be many points in this off-season where I stop to suggest a question I believe should be asked.  (That was almost a sentence.  As I said: rambling.)

If the reason given to keep Jerry Manuel on was because his performance this year could not be adequately judged, and 2010 will provide the opportunity for a more balanced assessment:

  • was it argued–when discussing his larger body of work–that the product on the field this year could have avoided some of the errors in performance that sometimes led directly to losses, and if so, what was the outcome of that line of discussion? and,

  • is there a plan in place to re-evaluate matters if the 2010 Mets experience the same level of physical breakdown?

There’s more news in the answer of those questions than in simply saying he’ll be back because 2009 was atrocious and as such not appropriate for evaluation. 

It’s also easy to perceive a contradiction in describing the year as “unacceptable.” By not defining a root cause beyond injury yet retaining the training staff, you’ve either ignored or eliminated injury as a cause.  No one hears about reviewing training protocols or warm-ups or weight training.  They hear “unacceptable” and they want something equally stark done about it right just now. 

My concern is that no one in the Mets organization’s said Word One about what happens if these players, or other players, break down again, even with revised protocols and regimens.

On the whole, the conferences themselves seemed a way of quelling debate among fans and the media that was sure to grow coarser if silence followed Sunday.  Where senior management failed was in properly framing the debate prior to heading out there. 

Now, much like with the communication of injuries over the course of the season, I could ask whether failing to frame the debate was intentional or accidental; whether the goal was always to get the media and the blogosphere–don’t know why I separate them, but there you go–spinning its wheels while working privately to fix matters, or whether the fall-out from the conferences and the interview was unexpected.  At this point, the evidence
indicates the latter.

However, it could also be that the thought of the aftermath never occurs, or seems secondary to the work that needs to be done to pull together a champion organization.  The thought on the latter here would be that if the team were winning and winning convincingly, there’d be little to grouse about: “Yes, Mets fans, we hear you.  But if we kept worrying about trying to get to the end of this hamster wheel you call frank and honest discourse about this team we own, we wouldn’t be focused on getting you a team that could make the postseason and win on a regular basis, thus slowing down said hamster wheel.”

This brings us back to the banana peel.

The 2009 season was a fine illustration of just how many ways that banana peel can come at the Mets fan, and if you grab the average one at a party and ask them just what they think about Tony Bernazard, or the terrible onslaught of injuries, or a bases-loaded walk issued to a rival with their own boorish, loudmouthed fans, that Mets fan is going to feel just awful.

If nothing else sticks from this post; if nothing else has an impact that can make it to someone who can make a difference about it, let it be this: the 2009 season, with all of its horror and histrionics, has made a good number of fans embarrassed to be fans.

That word “embarrassed” is overused, too, but consider what it means: people have invested time and money in an entertainment product, and now they are open to abuse about that product.  These are not people who work for the Mets.  These are not shareholders.  All they did was hook onto a team.  And right now they feel like garbage.

For whatever reason they might feel like garbage, that they feel so is a tremendous problem–one that not a #2 pitcher, a left fielder, a catcher, or any back-up shortstop will fix. 

Winning might soothe it, until the next time the GM makes headlines by calling out a local reporter, or a manager makes comments about a guy’s twin concussions, or an executive vice president of business operations tries to parse the definition of “obstructed,” and makes a hash of it.  Then that fan is back to defending his team at the bar or at work or at the gym.

Lord, I cannot stress how important it is to grasp this concept.  Crawl into it, sleep in it, walk around with it for a couple of days: people spent lots of money to have fun, and instead they’re working to avoid feeling AWFUL.

Who the hell wants to do that?  Who wants to do MORE work? They’re not paid in tickets; the free hot dog came and went, and only with purchase to the game.  It’s horrible

I’ve advocated taking a break from the Mets when taking a break from them is warranted.  There are many other fantastic things with which to occupy your time.  I feel bad in that my entertainment is gone for six months, and the future does not look promising for extending next year beyond the obligatory.  But the angry people matter, too.  The ones anticipating the banana peels matter a great deal, and there is certainly no hope for them beyond praying for a good team.

The cheapest, easiest, most responsible thing that can be done to make the life of the average Mets fan a little easier is to get hard and expansive control of the message.  Take the discipline of the Bush Administration and coat liberally with the grassroots embrace of technology and expansiveness of applicable detail of the Obama Administration, and come out with a communications arm that’s capable of taking some of the heat off the fans that act as the team’s ambassadors.

I’ll say again: of the things on the 2010 To-Do List, it’s gotta be the cheapest, easiest, most responsible thing.  Don’t need an open door policy; don’t need to give away the Colonel’s secret recipe (I obviously could stand for some fried chicken).

But what must be done is put in place a structure by which the daily slings and arrows can be taken gracefully, and fans’ opinions considered and given voice, so that when seasons like 2009 happen again–and let’s hope baseball and the Mets last long enough so that we can see what it’s like to have a successful dynasty followed by the inevitable lean years–the team is prepared.

Be prepared.  Don’t bundle and announce and assert and bungle, like yesterday.  Finding an effective press secretary isn’t like trying to find a power bat for first.  The market is over-saturated.  Grab someone good and experienced and unemployed, and get cracking.

The alternative is seeing the fan base slip as one generation passes into the other, and that’d spell disaster in the long term.  Plan for decades; reap the rewards now.

That’s it; that’s all I’ve got on that.

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guinness.JPG

On Tuesday, Danny Frisella was traded for a Guinness.

Thing about Two Boots hosting Amazin’ Tuesdays is that owner Phil Hartman offers you a free beer if you bring in a Mets baseball card.  Greg Prince of Faith And Fear In Flushing kindly brought in one of his four (four, Mr. Prince?  Really?) Danny Frisellas and cashed it in, in honor of my birthday.

I am now fully ensconced in my late twenties, so beer has more cache than birthday cake, especially considering the day I’d had, and the day that was to come. 

Forget the fact that I’m 0-for-6 on the year when it comes to Mets events outside of the ball park; forget the extended crime that was last night’s ninth inning (vs. Braves, L; 6-5)–and on that note, let’s have Frankie Rodriguez pitch occasionally in game situations, just to see if he can plunk and give up hits during the fifth or sixth inning; I’m talking about struggling with a camera not more than six months old, a computer not more than three months old, and a cable box that won’t cooperate when all I want to do is catch up on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia before the premiere.

Come on, karma.  The Mets are guaranteed a losing season this year.  Haven’t I had enough?

The Mercury-in-retrograde-style hangups (The Wife is a big believer in that planet causing electronics to go goofy bananas) gave me time to think on some of what was said down on Grand Street the other night; make no mistake: the evening was packed with flavor.

phil hartman.JPGThat’s Mr. Hartman, above, extolling the virtues of an odd cocktail, shown below:

the kosher kid.JPGUnlike others I overheard during the evening, I’m avoiding any comment on the ethnic implications of Italian liqueur floating on top of Irish liqueur.  But take that comment to mean the comments were made.

On that note–reporting that things were said while not reporting WHAT was said–I give you Mr. Jeff Pearlman, who spoke third on Tuesday:

jeff pearlman speaks.JPGThat’s Mr. Pearlman (yessir: Mister; sorry that caught you off-guard, but better safe than sorry), standing, with Mr. Prince on the far left, in orange.  In case you’re unaware who Mr. Pearlman is and why he’s talking to a room full of Mets fans, here’s his Wikipedia entry, his website (which holds a link to his blog), and the article on John Rocker that everyone who loves sports and reads must’ve seen at least once.

There you are.  Context.

jeff pearlman and john rocker.JPGMr. Pearlman loves what he does, and that makes him a remarkably engaging speaker.  I like his prep style, too: the man was jotting notes to himself on a bar napkin minutes before he was to address the crowd (he sat to my left).  He’s off-the-cuff, he’s excitable, and he has a penchant for deep tangents that somehow doesn’t get in the way of him finishing a train of thought.

Tangents included:

  • “Always pay for lunch.”

  • Kevin Mitchell and Doc Gooden got into it about the cat incident, and he (Pearlman) watched the discussion unfold.  Actually, you can read all about it at that link.  Never thought I would link to Snopes.com, but there you are.

  • Jay Horwitz is a sweetheart of a guy.

  • The Mets are the ones putting the kibosh on any movie based on The Bad Guys Won, a move I find unfortunate.  It would be tremendous for business.  There’s such a fear of putting out anything that would make the Mets look bad, but we’re in an age where bad isn’t necessarily good, but humanizing, and thus interesting.  There’s a way to do that movie and leave feeling genuinely and positively proud to be a Mets fan.  Just requires a touch of finesse and imagination.

  • The guys who aren’t superstars are the guys with the best stories.

There were some other tangents, too, and that’s how we get out of my own tangent. 

Mr. Pearlman has more on John Rocker, if you can believe it.  Stuff that Rocker asked be off the record, stuff that came to him after the story came out.  Stuff you so badly wish you’d been at Two Boots to hear, because it’s deliciously excellent.  One story in particular which I will be redressing in order to use it as a joke in a screenplay; it’s too perfect.

Another Mets fan and writer, present at the event, wanted to ask why Mr. Pearlman would discuss these off-the-record happenings in an open forum, knowing full well that there are writers present.  He (Mets fan and writer) and I discussed this at length; I thought about it quite a bit more while alternately wondering how it could possibly be so packed at Pacific Standard on a Tuesday night.  Here’s what I came up with:

I don’t know that Pearlman’s mentioning that the stories were off the record when they were told means that they should be off-record when told to a room of folks eating slices of a pizza called “The Pig,” underneath a giant poster of Hubie Brooks. 

I know that while anything involving John Rocker’s ridiculous opinions is funny to me, it may not be funny to others. 

Additionally, I know his nonsense occurred about ten years ago, and whatever Neanderthal ideas he holds close to his heart may be fueled by ire toward the Mets but weren’t crafted by the Mets.  In other words, it’s not like the guy came running out of the bullpen, heard the boos, and thought, “You know what?  I’m gonna become a spitting-mad bigot.”  That’s screwing with the chronology a bit.  But to put it another way, he’s old news.  And not even Mets old news, really.  Just old news.

So it’s funny, like hearing a “Priest, Minister, and Rabbi” joke that ends with no one in that mix looking particularly good.  But I’m not ready to repeat said joke, and I’m not looking to cast aspersions on the guy who told it.  You should be sorry you missed it, though.  Oh, man… classic.

I have a lot more to say on Mr. Pearlman; his notes on what he does and how he does it were of great interest, and again, he was a presence before the crowd.  But I think best to keep that business in my back pocket.  I’ve gone on enough about him, and
I’m not even halfway done here.

jon springer and number 6.JPGJon Springer (above) gave the crowd his compilation of the best Mets to wear the number 6.  A full list can be found at his site, here.  (UPDATE: read the whole piece posted at his Mets By The Numbers site by clicking here.)

I don’t remember that he made the list (why would he), but I have zero recollection of Manny Alexander.  This is important because I took a minor hiatus from baseball in 1996, and came back with an artificial dedication in 1997.  I remember Lance Johnson leaving, and Turk Wendell coming.  My mind is a complete blank on Manny Alexander. 

This should teach the kids out there that if your mind won’t let you think about anything other than a woman who may become your future wife, you should probably just let it run its course.  That I spent any time thinking about some guy I wouldn’t remember at all twelve years later… though I do remember the first Zero bar I ever had.  Funny what sticks and what doesn’t.

metstradamus.JPGIf you don’t know John Coppinger’s work as Metstradamus, you should.  In fact, I’ll be adding his blog to the link list after I’m done with this epic.  He’s the gentleman presiding over the free-wheeling discussion on the 2010 iteration of the Mets in his Todd Zeile pinstripes.  Getting to that discussion means we’re halfway through.  Thanks for sticking around.

discussing the mets.JPGIf the level of discourse held on Tuesday is the level of discourse being held about the Mets in the majority of bars and living rooms, then the Mets as an organization are in fine shape.  I had a meta-moment sitting behind the crowd, realizing just how smart and hard everyone was thinking about a thing that’s that horribly wonderful hybrid between a game and a business.  It was said by Mr. Coppinger and I wholeheartedly agree: the Mets have one of the smartest fan bases in all of sport. 

I’ll exclude myself from that assessment; I don’t wish to toot my own horn, and while I love the game and love the players and fans, I don’t have a head for stats and whenever the Mets make me feel like jumping off a bridge, I take a break.  I think if I were smarter about the Mets, I’d either jump off that bridge, or not even want to jump in the first place.

You know, depending on the height of the bridge, jumping might classify me as a die hard.  But I’m afraid of heights.

That went a little Mitch Hedberg.  I’m sorry.  Someone please feed me a leaf.

But they’re smart.  Smart and opinionated.  Smart and opinionated and mad as all get out.  Goddamn.  Fewer heads were called for at the Bastille.  Turns out I was mad, too; here are my notes, taken on or after I shouted something about mercilessly heckling Gregor Blanco (Mr. Blanco, I sense a meme developing at your expense…)

The organization is incompetent? Without a plan? Reality time: This is a multimillion dollar operation, with a multinational presence. If you think they don’t have “a plan,” then you’re out of your mind. (Stress the ridiculousness of this “rudderless” assessment.)
 
The problem, manufactured or not, is communication. The plan, as it’s called; the injuries; the Bernazard.
 
How much communication is the fan base owed?
 
How much is this locked down by the organization to create family friendly and accessible fare?

Allow me to explain: it was my birthday and I was on my third beer.  Sure, I’d eaten.  But Tommy Hanson was running a clinic down in Atlanta and people were shouting and using the F-word.  How could one NOT get excited?

But allow me to explain further.

springer discusses.JPGSome advocated the ouster of General Manager Omar Minaya, and some went as far to suggest that if Jerry Manuel got the axe, Minaya would be Dead Man Walking.  As a simple “if –> then” premise, I have to agree, and would even go so far as to make it a bi-conditional: if Mr. Minaya goes, Mr. Manuel goes with.

…Here’s my tangent: if you’re talking about somebody’s job security, the least you can do is use a formal prefix.

But if the general manager is let go, who’s to say another GM wouldn’t want their own guy coaching the men on the field, and have their own opinion of the farm system, and make their own changes and have their own plan?  If Mr. Minaya gets the boot in 2010, are the Mets in for another few seasons or more in the tall grass?  Who’s so crazy as to come in after the past three seasons (four if you count 2006) and make any declaration of imminent success?

This was the argument made on Tuesday, not necessarily in favor of keeping the current regime, but in worry that the organization would suffer a far worse fate if it wasn’t kept.

By the way, just because Jon Springer and Jeff Pearlman are featured in this photo doesn’t mean they were arguing this point.  It’s just an action shot.

I have to believe, though, that an organization this large, employing this many people across so many states and in so many countries, with this extensive a public presence, has a plan.  The plan my not be good; it may not be sound as you see it.  Jeff Wilpon may be buying lottery tickets.  I highly doubt he is, though that Mega Millions jackpot a few weeks ago was a doozy.

The problem is not, “The Mets don’t have a plan.”  The problem is actually, “The Mets don’t appear to have a plan; not knowing that plan is infuriating.”

I don’t know what to do about that. 

I’ve mouthed off separately on how poorly I believe the string of injuries to key Mets players was communicated; there, too, I’m sure there was a plan but it was kept close to the vest–not necessarily to keep trade value up, because everybody has to pass a physical–because the goal was not to start a panic.  Frustration is panic’s kissing cousin, and that’s what we got.  The team looked bizarrely inept, and the suggested “crazy like a fox” stance appeared less and less plausible.  Some biting of the bullet and strength in the face of potential panic would’ve gone a long way there.

I think things like Mr. Bernazard’s pulling a Randy Marsh (cartoon, not umpire) would be better handled when the team isn’t falling apart at the joints, but when things snowball, they REALLY snowball.

But I don’t know what to do about a lack of communication about a plan.  This thing is a business, and the same is true throughout baseball: newspaper titans; gum manufacturers; phone companies; rea
l estate barons.  They don’t have to tell us what they intend to do about the lack of a true left fielder, though one can easily assume they think, at the least, that it would be nice to have one.  I’m sure they think, perhaps correctly, that no one would be clamoring about “hearing what the plan is” if the team were cranking out seven- and ten-game winning streaks.

Additionally, I don’t think you can reasonably legitimize what went down at Two Boots by slapping a Mets logo on it and holding regular salons at the Caesar’s Club, or some other sort of thing.  They’d be mobbed, or would cost an arm and a leg to get into and STILL be sort of mobbed, on the thought that any Johnny Crackpot or Sally Gottaplan could wield some influence. 

the crowd at two boots.JPGNo, there must be a level of accountability there that begins with the organization paying employees for their input and hard work.  The product of that relationship shows on the field and in the press.  We know what’s happened on the field, to an extent.  We don’t know why what’s happened in the press has happened in the press, aside from what was relayed; again I’m citing communication of injuries and the Bernazard incident, but also continued questions of lack of “grit.”  And that, reasonably, has colored what we’ve seen on the field.

Again, success is the fastest way to cure dissatisfaction; evincing a belief in imminent success is not enough because of the old “fool me once” trap.  But besides offering the usual bread and circuses: batting helmets brought to you by Harrah’s; awful music videos by teen pop stars; “Everybody Clap Your Hands!”–how does one satisfy a rabid fan base that demands answers to questions one doesn’t want to answer?

…That’s not a rhetorical question.  I’m actually asking it.

If I had the reins, I think I would start by thinking about what I could do to re-frame the questions, so that they’d be ones I WOULD want to answer.  That’s if I cared.  I don’t do the sacred work of the Mets, but in my little bit of the earth I get plenty of questions that are the wrong questions to ask, and spend much of my day re-framing the debate, and educating.

That, and staring at databases.  Seems I do a lot of database work these days.  Not what I signed up for, let me tell you.

I would urge ownership to care about the questions coming up at events like these, if they do not currently.  I wouldn’t urge them to release private data, or put the whammy on their behind-the-scenes moves by telling us how great that Carl Crawford guy is, or some other such thing.  But I would urge some sort of education: not condescension, not lip service; an actual explanation of how the business operates, why it operates in the way that it does, and what questions they think we should be asking.

Truly no idea how to present that conversation, but if they could do that, and do away with the Miley Cyrus music videos at the start of some home games, and turn off the canned noise for an inning a game, AND please the ya-yos by giving away something not branded by Aflac or Premio Sausage–

–That’s right; I called you ya-yos.  I’d prefer the end of ALL giveaways and a reduction in the price of tickets, and have that brought to me by Corporation, Inc.–

…then that’d please all manner of folks.

glee.JPGThis is not an endorsement of a show I find visually arresting but otherwise stultifyingly awful.  I just like to be artsy.

Anyway, more on that to come, I’m sure.  Otherwise, I’d like to offer my thanks again to Greg Prince, who along with his partner-in-crime, Jason Fry, put together these events.  An additional thanks to Mr. Prince for reading about his experience in 1977, and talking with me a bit about blogging, the upcoming off-season, and what Felix Millan brought to the ball club.

Word is Two Boots would like to do more of these in the off-season, and I imagine if that does happen, the discussion will be similar to what was held the other night.  Don’t miss it.  Unless the Mets begin hosting blogger-only press conferences with a rotating cast and a pre-determined subject of discussion, events such as these will be the only place you’ll get to hear intelligent wrangling, however ridiculous you may think the opinions to be.

Ridiculous or not, I’d be so much more worried if people stopped caring.