Not a Manny culpa

August 1st, 2008 → 9:38 am @

Have you heard? Yeah – the Red Sox traded Manny. This may appear, at first blush, to be a near total refutation of my previous post, in which I accused Portfolio magazine of being full of crap for saying Manny wouldn’t be suiting up for the Crimson Hose next year.

In fact, it’s not…although I made the mistake of throwing in some opinions in a post that criticized another reporter as passing off an “experts” musings as if they were a reflection of what was going on inside the front office. (The difference here: I made the difference clear.) My beef, as I said, is that “neither I, nor Andrew Zimbalist [heretofore mentioned expert], nor Franz Lidz [author of said article], nor anyone else who isn’t actually in the room has any idea what’s actually going on in the Sox’s front office. To pretend any differently is, well, a load of crap.” It’s something we see again and again in sports reporting — one stray voice in the wilderness being quoted as if it represents a team’s view. We saw that being illustrated again and again (and again) over the last few days: just go back and look at how many reports cited a “senior level executive” or “a source close to the team” as saying a deal would not get done…or a deal with Florida was just awaiting Selig’s sign-off…or that the Sox would holding out for a package with a host of good young players.

Post Categories: Manny Ramirez & Sports Reporters & trade deadline

Portfolio says Manny will be gone; toilet bowl overflows.

July 25th, 2008 → 1:02 pm @

This morning, Portfolio magazine — a Conde Nast business title, for those of you not living in the Manhattan media echo chamber — published a report with a juicy sub-hed: “Red Sox appear increasingly likely to let Ramirez go in 2009.” The magazine has had some buzz-worthy sports stories in the past, notably last year’s dispatch in which Franz Lidz gave the best evidence yet that George Steinbrenner is no longer all there (before this year’s golf-cart trip around the field during the All-Star Game, that is).

Lidz is the author of the magazine’s Manny column as well. Unfortunately, it amounts to — to further a metaphor that Lidz labors over in his lede — an overflowing toiletbowl full of crap. There’s a drawn out anecdote provided by a “prominent relief pitcher” about how Manny refuses to use toilet paper that sounds an awfully lot like similar tales peddled to me back when I was with the team in ’04 and ’05, except the way I heard it, the overflowing toilet was in a hotel room, not the clubhouse. There’s a quote from an anonymous “fuming” member of “the Red Sox hierarchy” saying that Manny is “totally passive-aggressive.” (It took an anonymous source to figure that one out?) And there’s a rehash of the much-discussed incident in which Manny watched three of Mo’s pitches sail by him for a called K to end the ninth of a tie game in the Bronx.

Besides that, the “evidence” Lidz marshals is a series of quotes from Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor. Zimbalist has done some good work on the economics of sports, and has become a particular thorn in Bud Selig’s side in regards to his frequent, and frequently spot-on, critiques of MLB’s contra-logical profit-sharing system. But to say that he “has a pretty good idea what the Sox are thinking” is ridiculous; he has no better an idea of what the Sox are thinking than any stat geek with a well-thumbed collection of Bill James Abstracts on his bookshelves. He might, in fact, have a worse idea; Zimbalist’s conclusion is, according to Lidz, based on his belief that the team got “burned” when they signed Schilling to an $8 million deal and Zimbalist’s conclusion that Manny is an “adequate, injury-prone left fielder” with diminished sentimental value. Then, for good measure, Lidz reminds readers that the Sox placed Manny on waivers back in 2003, citing that as one of the “numerous occasions” that the team has “tried to bid farewell to Ramirez.” That’s like saying John McCain won’t carry South Carolina in the fall because he lost the state to George Bush in the 2000 Republican primary.

Back in 2006, I spent some time explaining why Manny would likely remain with the Sox and unpacking the extent to which the market has changed since 2003; these days, with low-revenue teams collecting more money from the rest of the league, it’s not as easy to spend $20 million on an immediate impact player as it once was. And the Sox are not, as Lidz quotes Zimbalist as saying, “very cautious about signing older players,” nor are they convinced that “performance peaks at age 28.” (See: Drew, J.D., signed at age 31 to a five-year, $70 million deal in 2007.) They are cautious — but they’re also cautious about signing younger players. And considering that Manny’s first year in Boston came when he was 29, he’s shown that players on the so-called downside of their career can do pretty well; in his seven full seasons with the Sox, he’s average 36 HRs and 114 RBIs.

This doesn’t mean that the Sox will pick up Manny’s $20 million option for 2009.* I could make arguments that would support either position, but at the end of the day, neither I, nor Andrew Zimbalist, nor Franz Lidz, nor anyone else who isn’t actually in the room has any idea what’s actually going on in the Sox’s front office. To pretend any differently is, well, a load of crap.

* It is worth pointing out that Manny is fourth in the league in OBP, tied (with Youk) for fifth in OPS, and ninth in RBIs. It’s also worth noting that while the last month or so worth of shenanigans are frustrating, they’re nothing the Sox haven’t dealt with before. Are there better players making less money? Of course. Are there better players that will be available next year for a one-year deal for $20 million? Unlikely.

Post Categories: Andrew Zimbalist & Franz Lidz & Manny Ramirez & Portfolio & Sports Reporters

We won’t have Murray Chass to kick around anymore (maybe…)

April 4th, 2008 → 9:36 am @

Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten lots of emails about the news that Murray Chass might have been nudged out the door at the Times. This would undoubtedly be a good thing for the sportswriting profession, as well as for anyone who regularly reads the Times’ sports section. (Just last week I had lunch with a longtime baseball scribe who said, more or less unprompted, that Chass was the worst sportswriter in the country…maybe ever.)

Chass has long been somewhat of a bete noire for me. I have no independent news about his supposed forced buyout, but if his career is actually done–and unlike Jackie Mac, I can’t imagine anyone bidding for his services–I’ll need to look elsewhere for my morning dose of indignation. And two-bit baseball officials and washed up hardball lifers will need to find someone else to faithfully regurgitate their pablum.

Post Categories: Murray Chass & Sports Reporters

Required Reading: U-L series on Sox farm system

March 30th, 2008 → 11:15 am @

Lord knows Boston sports fans have plenty of options when it comes to reading about Ye Olde Towne Team — I’d bet there’s more available information floating out there than about any other professional team in history. Much of the time, this means there’s a lot of redundant stories out there: the same Sox notes columns with the same quotes and the same observations.

A lot of the reason for that is systemic: if you’re covering the Sox beat and your game story is missing a quote that’s in every single competitor’s piece your editor is gonna be on your ass. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of smarts, to put together something that’s interesting, comprehensive, and new. That’s what makes Alex Speier’s new series in the New Hampshire Union-Leader so impressive (and enjoyable). It’s about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: the Sox player development system, the way the team has emphasized building–and keeping–young talent even when it means dealing with the wrath and scorn of the instant-gratification hoi polloi.

Today’s piece is the first in a six-part series. Those words–“first in a series”–usually serve as a cure to the most stubborn insomnia. Not this time. Do yourself a favor and skip the stories about Colon pitching the PawSox season opener and savor this instead. You’ll be glad you did.
(As an aside, Speier’s work also shows why the current evisceration of the country’s press corps so upsetting. Are there a lot of redundancies? Yes. But redundancies are necessary to make sure everything out there gets covered. Take the WMD controversy – it wasn’t the Times, or the Washington Post, that did the most important work when this story was in its early stages; it was Knight-Ridder’s Washington Bureau. A bureau that, along with Knight-Ridder itself, no longer exists.)

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Alex Speier & Sports Reporters

Wrong again!

September 5th, 2007 → 11:09 am @

I try not to respond to bait from those current (or former) Boston reporters who, for whatever reason, seem to have a bone to pick with the fact that I was the person who wrote the behind-the-scenes book on the Sox’s recent history…but I do feel compelled to correct one glaring inaccuracy in Howard Bryant’s recent column. In a column purportedly about…well, I’m actually not entirely sure what it’s about, but in said column, Bryant includes this paragraph:

“Henry, Werner and Lucchino needed validation for their collective erudition. In 2005 — in apparent response to Michael Lewis’ runaway bestseller ‘Moneyball’ — they commissioned a journalist, presumably for posterity, to chronicle their daily routines, management style and approach to the business of baseball, a behind-the-scenes, special features companion disc to the DVD that was the regular season.”

Since I actually know what I’m talking about here, l want to point out that every single statement in that graf is incorrect. I wasn’t commissioned to write Feeding the Monster; I pitched the book to my agent, we put together a proposal, and I hammered out a arrangement with the Sox that dictated the terms of my access. They didn’t come to me to propose the book; they didn’t commission anything; they had no editorial control over the final product; and no money between myself and the team ever exchanged hands. What’s more, I have no idea what any of that has to do with Moneyball…but whatever.

Maybe this shouldn’t bother me; as the good folks at Sons of Sam Horn recently pointed out, Bryant can be a little bit imprecise with his facts. (The example above is about a column titled “Mussina, Schilling being stalked by mortality” in which Bryant referred to Schilling’s recent loss to the Yankees as a game in which Curt “was beaten 5-0”; in fact, Curt gave up 2 runs in seven innings in what was eventually a 5-0 loss. What’s more, comparing a guy who recently took a one-hitter into the ninth and who has a 4 ERA and a 4-1 K/BB ratio to a guy who lost his starting job, has a 5.50 ERA, and less than a 3-1 K/BB ratio also seems kind of silly…) But as someone whose first book was about media ethics, I bristle at the notion of my being in financial cahoots with the subject of anything I happen to be writing about.

Post Categories: Feeding the Monster & Media reporting & Red Sox ownership & Sports Reporters

The ballad of Clay and Pedro

September 5th, 2007 → 10:48 am @

I tend to have inauspicious timing when it comes to taking time off: I was in North Carolina when the news broke that the Sox had won the Dice-K sweepstakes and I was getting married when Buchholz threw his no hitter. (Note: this does not mean that I will be on my honeymoon should the Sox make it to the World Series.) This deprived me of the chance to write many breathless posts about Buchholz’s composure, the fact that on a weekend in which Pedro returned to the mound for the first time in 11 months the most exciting baseball involving someone with “Pedro” in his name came from Dustin “DP” Pedroia, or how the past four-games have served as a good illustration of the Sox’s front office philosophy.

Actually, that last point can be illustrated in a way that will encapsulate everything else I wanted to talk about. There were a handful of mentions over the last several days about just how Buchholz happened to arrive in Boston: he was the chosen with the sandwich pick the Sox got in the ’05 draft after Pedro signed with the Mets. At the time, Pedro was hailed as the savior of the Mets; over the next two years, as the deficiencies in the Sox’s pitching became more and more apparent, Theo et al were excoriated for letting the most exciting pitcher, well, maybe ever, decamp for Queens; they were also excoriated for any number of other supposed sins. (To quote one example, chosen at random: “…there have been many bad decisions since [the World Series] – letting Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon escape to New York…Matt Clement, Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez, and the long-term contract for puzzling Josh Beckett, for starters,” from Phil O’Neill’s Worcester Telegram piece, “Epstein to blame for Boston’s downswing,” August 27. 2006.)

O’Neill, needless to say, didn’t revisit this topic over the weekend; nor has anyone else, as far as I can see. (I also haven’t seen O’Neill revisit his labeling the Beckett signing a “bad decision,” but I haven’t looked all that hard, either.) If you’re interested in just how horrendous Pedro’s three-year, $40-mil contract has been thus far, consider this comparison: since arriving at Shea, Pedro has started 54 games (and 354.7 innings) and gone 25-16 for a .610 winning percentage. Matt Clement, surely one of the Sox’s most disappointing signings of the last several years, has started 44 games (and thrown a total of 256.3 innings) and gone 18-11 for a .620 winning percentage. Put another way, Pedro’s been paid approximately $1.6 million per win and about $113,000 per inning; Clement has gotten a little less than $1.4 mil per win and about $98,000 per inning. I’m not pointing this out to illustrate how great Matt has been but how piss-poor Pedro has performed. (I’ll avoid getting into this too much, but I do feel compelled to point out the following: Pedro’s arm injuries could have been predicted; Clement getting nailed in the head with a ball traveling well over 100mph could not have been.)

As I was saying, pretty much all of this backstory has been ignored as Boston has reveled in the afterglow of Buchholz’s no-no…pretty much, but not entirely. Take Rob Neyer’s piece on ESPN, which I’m pointing out for reasons other than the fact that he very graciously refers to the ways in which Feeding the Monster addressed just these very issues in a section on the non-signing of Pedro in December of 2004. Neyer may be the only writer to lay out in plain English the implications of not overpaying Pedro many, many millions of dollars: “Because the Red Sox ‘lost’ Martinez to free agency, they were were awarded the 42nd pick in the 2005 draft, and they used that pick to draft Buchholz. So for the Red Sox, the Mets’ profligate offer to Martinez was a wonderful gift, and one that should keep on giving for a number of years.” Indeed. In fact, I’d bet Clay’s a gift we’ll all be talking about long after most folks have forgotten why he ever put on a Sox uni in the first place.

If you, too, want to deepen your understanding of everything happening in Red Sox Nationa and don’t yet have your copy of Feeding the Monster, the Boston Globe and New York Times bestseller that’s been called “Red Sox porn,” don’t delay: Now’s the perfect time to buy your copy (available from Amazon for only $10.20 (cheap)…and you can even get your copy inscribed with one of these free, signed, personalized bookplates. They’re really nice. Seriously: ask anyone you know who has one.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Clay Buchholz & Pedro Martinez & Rob Neyer & Sports Reporters & Theo Epstein

Dice-K: Get screwed by the Sox offense, local press

August 23rd, 2007 → 4:22 pm @

St. PETERSBURG, Fla. — This certainly isn’t what the Red Sox expected when they shelled out $100 million, give or take a nickel, to obtain the services of Daisuke Matsuzaka.

They didn’t expect him to be 13-10, just three games over .500 on a team that is 25 games over. And they didn’t expect him to be 1-3 against the Devil Rays, the worst team in the AL East, especially when the rest of the Boston pitching staff is 8-1 against Tampa Bay.

But this is the 2007 reality of Dice-K, who still has lots of time left on his contract, and who has really pitched a bit better than that 13-10 record indicates.”

Sox leave ’em stranded
By Bill Balou
August 23, 2007
The Worcester Telegram & Gazette

“A bit better”? Let’s go to the tape.

D. Matsuzaka 2007 stats

IP: 170.0, tops on Red Sox, 9th in AL
K’s: 172, tops on Red Sox, 4th in AL (Kazmir, currently third with 176, has started one more game)
K/9: 9.11, tops among Red Sox starters, 3rd on team (trailing Papelbon and Gagne), 4th in AL*
WHIP: 1.16, 2nd among Sox starters, trailing Beckett’s 1.10, 15th in AL*
ERA: 3.76, 2nd among Sox starters, trailing Beckett’s 3.15, 16th in AL*

So on a team with the second best ERA (1st in AL), the 3rd best BAA (1st in AL), and the 5th most strikeouts (2nd in AL), Dice-K is, without a doubt, the team’s 2nd best starter (in addition to being an inning eater). I’d agree that this certainly isn’t what the Sox expected; in fact, I’d guess that they expected he’d end the year with something like 14 wins and an ERA hovering around 4.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Daisuke Matsuzaka & Sports Reporters