"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: November 2007

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Yankee Panky #30: So the Rumors were True

In some respects, that the Yankees were ousted in the first round served as a benefit to the local media. Yes, I called this the “silly season” due to the prevalence of rumors, but there certainly is no shortage of subject matter, and the scribes have been relentless in their stumping, particularly in the past two weeks.

After the writers had their field day with the Joe Torre situation, Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez notified the Yankees of his opting out during the middle innings of Game 4 Sunday night, giving anyone with a byline something to kvetch about. (I wonder how Commissioner Selig would have disciplined Boras and A-Rod had the Rockies come back and forced a Game 5, since he notified the Yankees before the 10-day opt-out window even started.)

Was anyone surprised by this development? Many friends and colleagues of mine who are either fans of the Yankees or follow the team closely deemed it addition by subtraction.

1) He was above the game

The usual suspects like Mike Lupica and Buster Olney discussed the notion of super-duo of A-Rod and Boras putting themselves above the game with their pre-Series-ending announcement. Olney’s commentary was fact-based, solid, and went outside the scope of New York, bringing into account the similarities of his power play in Texas and the history of disingenuousness demonstrated by A-Rod and Boras. Lupica, on the other hand, his argument had more holes than Sonny Corleone at the toll booth. He asked why we as fans should have expected A-Rod to stay, considering he’d have “no loyalty to a manager who batted him eighth” against the Tigers, and when Daisuke Matsuzaka had more RBIs on one hit in a World Series game than A-Rod had in the last three postseasons. The loyalty bit really got me, especially when all year the talk from A-Rod and Joe Torre centered on how they mended their relationship and how Rodriguez enjoyed playing for Torre. Tim Kurkjian reported Monday night on SportsCenter that if Torre gets the Dodgers job (more on this later), that L.A. would be a likely landing spot because he enjoys playing for Torre. Good luck on that ace, Lip.

2) From the files of Captain Obvious … He was greedy
Monday night’s SportsCenter’s teaser: “Greediest move ever?” Who cares? It was greedy. He’s baseball’s version of Gordon Gekko. There were a number of indicators, as Olney pointed out in his column, leading one to believe that A-Rod would not sign an extension in New York.

3) Where will he end up?
The juxtaposition of A-Rod’s opt-out and Mike Lowell’s free-agent status had a certain faction of New York writers salivating about the potential of the third basemen changing places. The majority determined that Lowell would be best-served staying put.

Quick poll: Should the Yankees overpay for two or three years of Mike Lowell?

Wally Matthews opined that the Mets should put themselves in the running for A-Rod, probably to make amends for failing to acquiesce to his demands in 2001. Never mind that reports from Newsday’s Mets beat man David Lennon – the following day, no less – confirmed that the Mets are not interested in trading Jose Reyes or moving him to second base to make room for A-Rod. It’s not a good sign when beat colleagues are covering for columnists’ bravado. As you’ve probably seen over the years, it happens frequently.

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Monday was an interesting day as far as the Yankees’ managerial decision was concerned. Around 1 p.m., Pete Abraham posted on LoHud that the Yankees had made an offer to Joe Girardi. I was skeptical about the truth of the matter, until I saw on a ticker later in the afternoon that Don Mattingly announced that he would not return as a coach next season.

As I’ve written in this space and said to many friends and colleagues, I thought the best-case scenario, that would appease fans and help the Yankees save face from a PR standpoint, was to hire Mattingly as manager and bring Girardi on as bench coach. I thought Girardi would be biding his time for the Cubs job when Lou Piniella’s time is up. I was wrong.

1) Girardi is not Joe Torre
The similarities: they were both catchers. They both held broadcasting jobs before managing the Yankees. They’re both named Joe and have Italian ancestry.

The differences: Torre was a talker, a people person. His pregame powwows with the media could last anywhere from five minutes to a half hour. He was accommodating to anyone as long as the questions asked didn’t put him on the defensive. Girardi, while an excellent broadcaster, is very succinct and direct. It’ll be interesting to see how he manages the egoes of the players, and protects them the way that Torre did.

From what I gathered, the Girardi hire was treated as a ho-hum story. SportsCenter dedicated maybe two minutes to it Monday night, playing excerpts from the conference call. The newspapers were not much different in their presentation. Yes, it was headline news on Tuesday, but there were as many articles dedicated to Mattingly and Torre as there were to Girardi.

Since Tuesday, Girardi has been a nonentity in the local papers. Torre still dominates. Newsday’s Ken Davidoff, who was a busy man Monday, had an interesting take on how Torre has become a martyr in New York.

The most striking component of the announcement, to me, was that it came with no pomp outside of a conference call. Two years ago when Torre and Cashman re-upped their deals, a joint press conference was held and broadcast live on YES.

Are the Yankees growing humble? Did they consult Girardi and ask his preference for conference call over a large press conference? Having covered that craziness, I’d imagine that facing the horde in that capacity would be good practice, because in February, it’ll be worse.

2) It’s make-or-break time for Cashman
The Steinbrenner brothers were proved correct. The Girardi decision was all Brian Cashman’s. Many writers cited Girardi’s work ethic, statistical preparation and attention to detail as qualities Cashman admired. As many veteran NY writers noted, if GMS III was still ruling, Mattingly undoubtedly would have been hired.

The commentary on both topics will grow even more intense as the Yankees’ free agent picture comes into focus. The hot stove has a tendency to alter the writers’ brain chemistry.


The Worldwide Follower?

Over at Slate, Josh Levin has a critical piece about Sports Illustrated. In part, Levin writes:

Let’s begin with SI’s hiring, two weeks ago, of Dan Patrick. The former ESPN host is no man of letters. Take it from his ex-colleague Keith Olbermann, who once called Patrick’s softball-filled jock-talk column “a bi-weekly toe dip in the shallow end of the journalistic pool.” But Sports Illustrated didn’t hire Dan Patrick the writer. It hired Dan Patrick the sports-themed corporation. His magazine column, Web site, and radio show “represent engaging platforms to both sports fans and the advertisers looking to connect with them,” according to SI’s press release. When longtime columnist Rick Reilly departed for ESPN days later, SI’s biggest personnel move in years became, in effect, a swap of TV personalities. Who needs a journalist when you can get a celebrity multimedia empire?

SI’s focus on brand extension is a reaction to the competitiveness of the media environment. Before ESPN the Magazine launched almost 10 years ago, SI had never faced a sustained challenge from the print world. Rather than having faith in its product—curious, well-written literary journalism and vigorous reportage—Sports Illustrated has taken to imitating its younger rival. The result: a magazine that’s as hip as a 55-year-old with his hat turned backward. In 2004, the mag unveiled “SI Players,” a front-of-the-book section filled with lifestyle pieces that could’ve been lifted from a dumpster behind the ESPN offices. The section bursts with reports on Martin St. Louis’ glute exercises (“jump straight up and drive hips forward”) and Jose Vidro’s favorite off-day activity (“washing my cars”). In pandering to the sort of people who (allegedly) care about Dane Cook’s thoughts on George Steinbrenner, Sports Illustrated is allowing market research to masquerade as editorial judgment. Perhaps it’s effective from a business standpoint—the mag has maintained its huge circulation lead over ESPN the Magazine, and a recent industry survey showed an increase of 14 percent in readers between ages 18 and 24 the last two years—but it’s making the magazine an inferior product.

I’m curious as to what you guys think. How many of you still look to SI as a cornerstone of sports reporting? And if SI doesn’t hold that spot any longer, where do you turn for the best sports writing?

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver