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Schadenfreude Follies: Sucka GMs


It’s tricky taking pleasure in the misfortune of others–karma does have a way of coming back to bite you–but here are two stories that are making plenty of folks chuckle. The first is local and it involves Omar Minaya’s unfortunate press conference yesterday, ostensibly about the firing of team executive Tony Bernazard. Instead of being a routine firing, it turned into an attack of a journalist’s ethics.

Minaya called out Daily News beat writer Adam Rubin in an attempt to discredit Rubin’s recent coverage of the Bernazard controversy. Funny how a personable and seemingly unflappable guy like Minaya can fall apart like this. Just goes to show you what happens when things get too hot.

The SNY broadcast team ripped Minaya. Bob Klapisch adds, “There’s a flurry of Internet chatter now that likens Minaya to Isiah Thomas; Wilpon is the new James Dolan.”

Ah, the kiss of death, bringing the Knicks into the equation. That’s when you know the ship be sinkin.’

I exchanged e-mails this morning with our own Will Weiss about the Minaya press conference:

Q: Are you surprised that Omar Minaya, who appears so savvy with the media, unravelled like he did yesterday?

WW: No. While it was an unenviable position to be thrust into, it’s not the first time he has bungled a public-speaking engagement. During the NY Baseball Writer’s Annual Dinner following the 2005 season, he mistakenly called Braves manager Bobby Cox “Bobby Cock” and never corrected himself. It became a running joke around the room for the rest of the night. But if you go through the last year, the item that particularly sticks out is the way he publicly handled Randolph’s firing. He’s an intelligent man but I think is uncomfortable in difficult public relations situations. He’s not as adept at spin as Brian Cashman. Few GMs are. The mistake Minaya made was the same mistake that can easily be made in our profession: he made it personal. He made it clear that it pained him to fire Bernazard, and rather than say that, he felt compelled to point a finger. I feel terrible for Adam. The irony of the situation is tha this might be a great thing for his career.

Q: Did Minaya’s performance seal his own fate?

WW: Without question. The players standing behind him are doing the right thing by publicly stating their loyalty, but given what’s happened with the Mets under his watch over the last 2 1/2 years — the two collapses, the mishandling of Willie Randolph’s ouster, the continuing transgressions of Tony Bernazard, Jerry Manuel’s perpetual ho-hum attitude at the state of affairs with no reaction from up top — I would be surprised if he remains the Mets’ GM past this season.

Q: Are the Mets really this bad at public relations or do things like this just come out when a team is going badly?

WW: Yes, and when the team is going poorly, their PR foibles are further exposed. Like the Jets, they operate in the vacuum of a “second-class citizen” mentality, and for whatever reason, they can’t get past it to make things right. It’s a shame, because their fans deserve better.

Q: What’s your take on Rubin?

WW: I’m inclined to believe his reports. The only thing I take issue with is his asking career advice from people within the organization he covers. I can’t help but think of my own experiences. While I was friendly with many people on the Yankees’ staff during my years at YES, I would not ever have considered asking anyone there for career counseling. The supposed reward wouldn’t have been worth the risk. That said, I did have a career conversation, albeit unintentionally, with someone from a different Major League franchise. It was in 2005; I happened to sit at one of the dinner tables in the Yankee Stadium Press Room with an advanced scout for the Oakland A’s who was there to observe Aaron Small. We got to talking baseball, I asked him a few questions on the record about Small and I told him my observations. When we were done with the elements for my story, he asked me if I ever considered working in a baseball front office, or even as a scout. I said no and when he asked why, I told him I never considered it because I enjoy being on the media side. That was it. We exchanged business cards, shook hands and set out to do our jobs for the night.

The other piece is about Billy Beane. From Howard Bryant’s excellent piece over at ESPN.com:

For his singular, unapologetic iconoclasm in the face of the game’s long tradition, Lewis lionized him six years ago in “Moneyball,” which became a must-read for both baseball and business aficionados. Beane became the lead evangelist of a new baseball orthodoxy that emphasizes greater statistical analysis in the scouting and development of players. The Moneyball way also diminishes the field manager’s organizational influence while it increases the power and profile of the general manager position — a job that was once largely invisible. In the 140-year history of Major League Baseball, the office of field manager has never held less power than it does now, in the wake of Moneyball.
…If Beane didn’t singlehandedly reinvent how hitting is evaluated, he almost certainly has become the face of the massive change in prioritizing how certain components of the craft are now compensated.

In the process, he also became a corporate sensation. Fortune 500 CEOs suddenly were interested in him as that rare commodity: the athlete thinker. He may very well be the most influential figure in the game over the past 25 years, and some in the sport seem to have never forgiven him for it. Now, he was about to be immortalized on the silver screen, portrayed by one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. And it is in this spirit, as his team suffers in last place without a single .300 hitter or a box-office draw, that the knives sharpen.

“So much for the genius…He doesn’t look so smart anymore, does he?” an American League scout sneers while looking up the paltry batting averages of the A’s hitters before a June A’s-Padres game. “Let’s see them make a movie out of that.”

I’ve never been convinced that Beane is all that brilliant. I don’t fawn over the intellectual gifts of baseball executives, though there is no denying there are beaucoup brianiacs running front offices all around baseball these days.

But I think Beane is a compelling and vivid character, the dream protagonist for Michael Lewis. It’s understandable why there is a backlash against him now (dogpile on the rabbit, dogpile on the rabbit):

“A profile of me? Oh, jeez,” Beane wrote in a text message recently. “I’m so yesterday. Can’t I just live out my J.D. Salinger existence and just fade away?”

The revolution, in a way, has consumed the revolutionary. He cannot escape.

Something tells me that Beane, no matter how things turn out for him in Oakland or in baseball, for that matter, will have the last laugh. I’m not sure the same can be said for Minaya.

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1 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 28, 2009 10:25 am

The Bryant piece is a great read. His point about the battle over the place of SABRmetrics in roster construction being "all over but the shouting" is spot on.

I happen to agree that Beane's supposed "genius" is wildly overstated. Plenty of front offices around the game have built consistently solid teams on a shoestring without half the hype surrounding Oakland (Minnesota is the team that comes immediately to mind).

As for Minaya, that was just classic. As a Yankee fan there's definitely a little bit of schadenfreude to be had, but just as a NY sports fan it was a classic moment. On par with anything that came out of the Bronx Zoo or even some of the Mets' prouder moments (Piazza's "gay" press conference, Bobby V. sharing his thoughts on weed and batting stances). I kept thinking "this is the most bizzare thing I've seen since Belichick resigned as HC of the NYJ."

2 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 28, 2009 10:27 am

I think there are two myths at play here:

1) When did Omar Minaya become a "shrewd and seemingly unflappable guy"? Maybe it's just me, but I've never found him to be that way. He always seems very unprepared when he speaks and often puts his foot in his mouth.

2) Everyone always refers to Moneyball as if it is about Beane's discovery of OBP and revolutionizing statistical analysis. It isn't about that at all...Moneyball was about Beane trying to find an undervalued skill that he could exploit because of his limited means. Well, the moneyball skils aren't undervalued anymore, so I'd imagine Beane is looking for another mine to exploit. Unfortunately, many others are now doing the same, so replicating success might not be so easy. Beane probably isn't a genius, but he is a smart GM.

3 RIYank   ~  Jul 28, 2009 10:31 am

Billy Beane is not a genius. A genius is somebody like Norman Einstein.

4 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 28, 2009 10:31 am

Well, perhaps I didn't phrase that just right. But Minaya, like JP in Toronto, seems like a guy who got his job because he's good with people, a smooth talker...if not with the media than at least with the powers at be, because he doesn't seem especially bright.

5 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 28, 2009 10:32 am

Also, Minaya handled the press conference so poorly that it's a minor side issue, but Rubin's conduct, even if just asking for career advice, is very questionable. A reporter covering a team for an independent party (although the Daily News link to SNY raises questions about that) should not be asking for career advice. I am sorry, but that definitely raises some eyebrows. If I was Minaya, I would also have taken his inquiry as a feeling out process for a potential job. When you consider the media/front office cross over of late, that's not so outlandish.

So, if you put yourself in Minaya's shoes, his explanation is very sensible. While he may not have been accusing Rubin of setting up Bernazard, it's easy to see why Minaya would want to really look into the allegations considering who wrote the stories. Once he determined that the allegations were true, however, he had no business mentioning Rubin's inquiry at the press conference.

Furthermore, I wonder how the Daily News feels about its employees looking for another career while on the job?

6 Shaun P.   ~  Jul 28, 2009 10:34 am

[2] Beane is very smart, and very well-positioned. IIRC, he's a part-owner of the A's now. He has a job he loves that pays him well and that he can keep probably as long as he wants it. When he decides to stop being the GM, he can become a VP or team President or a special adviser or whatever, keep collecting a paycheck and still have a heck of a lot of fun being in the game.

In comparison, Minaya is toast. Charred toast, about to be tossed into the compost heap, from which he may never emerge.

Though given their propensity for picking up such "talent", I'm sure ESPN will hire him as an analyst. A paycheck's a paycheck, right?

[1] Funny you should compare Minnesota to the A's. The Twins' problem, forever it seems, has been that they don't develop many power bats, and the ones they do develop, they somehow let go - the same problem Oakland has had for the last four or five years. There are exceptions (Morneau, Mauer this year) - but how many times have the Twins seemingly been a big bat or two away from being unstoppable? Goes back all the way to the last of the Tom Kelly days.

7 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 28, 2009 10:37 am

[4] I think Minaya has been good at feeding the media's ego (aka kissing @$$), but that only goes so far. As soon as blood is in the water, the sharks starts to circle.

JP, on the other hand, seems to be living off Beane's reputation. I've yet to see the Bluejays adopt and stick to a coherent philosophy, so I have no idea what is hold on Toronto is.

What both seem to have in common is the ability to sell themselves...to convince everyone that they are more intelligent than they really are.

8 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 28, 2009 10:39 am

I can totally see Omar being a smooth talker, when he gets canned (and you know its gonna be soon) he'll immediately end up on TV and honestly he'll probably be pretty good at it.

But I think it should be noted that he's a smooth talker "for a GM." Kinda like how Swisher is funny "for a ballplayer."

The expectations are lowered once you enter the realm of sports, so a guy like Omar can sound like a great communicator on par with Reagan or Obama when you put him up against guys like Ned Colleti or Walt Jocketty. Just like Swisher suddenly seems like Richard Pryor when he's competing for laughs with Jose Molina and Cody Ransom.

9 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 28, 2009 10:56 am

As for Rubin, I think much of the debate over his behavior hinges on whether or not he actually "lobbied" for a job as Omar suggested.

The guys at "Faith and Fear" mentioned that point, and I think it's a very good one. There is a big difference between asking some off-the-record questions about pursuing a career in the industry and actively "lobbying" for someone else's job. Either way, Omar even bringing it up in that forum was one of the most self destructive things I've ever seen.

10 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:01 am

[9] It sounds like Rubin asked for advice from Omar, Bernazard and Wilpon. At some point, the repeated quest for advice implies a desire for a job. I don't think I've read much of Rubin's work, but he definitely has less credibility in my eyes after what he admitted yesterday.

11 monkeypants   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:03 am

[4][7] I agree regarding Ricciardi. He may be a smooth talker, but he owes his present job almost entirely to Beane's supposed genius.

12 Paul   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:09 am

They don't give out genius awards for being ahead of the curve. But it takes smarts, especially when fighting against the current. Only dead salmon quit.

I agree with Bryant. The problem is Beane won - decisively. Now even defense is rigorously studied. It was huge change that swept the game in a very short period of time. It doesn't me Beane did anything different from smart GMs, but their success and the book made all the excuses disappear from the landscape.

13 Ken Arneson   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:12 am

Beane is smart. He's not smartER. He had a temporary information advantage. That advantage which is now much smaller, if not gone, thanks a lot to that book.

The A's can't afford free agents, and haven't had a top-10 draft pick in a decade. Eventually that will catch up to you, no matter how smart you are. If you can't draft or afford or dig up any superstars, your lineup has to be extremely balanced in order to win. You can't have ANY holes. That's really hard to do.

In a way, the draft is working the way it's supposed to. A good team finds it harder and harder to get good players, and then starts drifting towards the top of the draft, where good players will be available for them to get. That's where the A's are now.

14 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:12 am

[10] I think it's only been acknowledged (I could be wrong) that he asked Wilpon for advice, Wilpon gave it to him and extended an open invitation to discuss it further which Rubin never took him up on. If that is indeed the extent of it, then I really don't think Rubin did anything wrong.

15 Raf   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:19 am

Like the Jets, they operate in the vacuum of a “second-class citizen” mentality, and for whatever reason, they can’t get past it to make things right.

Third class citizens, behind the Yanks and Dodgers.

Furthermore, I wonder how the Daily News feels about its employees looking for another career while on the job?

The same as any other employer, I presume. I have Craigslist open, seeing what's out there. Nothing wrong with doing a little due diligence. Networking, I believe they call it :)

A good team finds it harder and harder to get good players

I don't know about that. The draft is but one resource. A good team would get players through the draft, they would also comb through other teams systems to see what they have, they would also go the international route, as well as signing 2nd or 3rd tier FA's on the cheap.

16 Paul   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:21 am

I think Simmons is right on drafts. Teams should be rewarded for winning, not losing. The Pirates haven't changed anything with all their top picks. The Nationals either. You're basically rewarding incompetence.

Of course, it will never happen in baseball, but it should. I'd be willing to accept a salary cap if they changed the ordering of the draft.

17 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:22 am

[14] Maybe I misheard, but I think he also acknowledged asking Bernazard and Minaya. Regardless, I think it does point to the rampant conflict of interest that exists in the modern media.

18 monkeypants   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:24 am

The question with Beane, though, is what does he have to show for it? And no, I am not one of these "if you don't win a ring you a failure" guys. I understand that he faces an uphill battle operating on limited resources. Still, his success has been pretty mixed. His teams have won four division titles in the eleven years that he has been GM--that's something.

But how many trades have really worked out? How many personnel decisions? He is willing to let expensive FAs walk rather than resign them...and that takes balls. But I am not convinced that he gets much return for these decisions. One of the few long-term deals that he made was Chavez, and that has been a disaster (though it is hard to blame him for the injuries, I guess).

For years, it seems, guys like Neyer used to assume that any deal Beane made was genius, so what appeared to be a head scratcher MUST have really been part of a super secret Beane plan all along. But now even Neyer has soured a bit.

The last three years have been pretty bad. He does appear to have built a very nice core of young pitchers. But the offense is woeful. Maybe they have great talent on the farm that I am not aware of, or maybe he's saving up to find some bargain deals (like when he squeezed a fine year out of 38 y.o. Frank Thomas). But I have my doubts.

19 monkeypants   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:27 am

[16] Interesting idea. I probably favor that the draft remain the way it is--that is, poorer teams pick higher. That said, perhaps they could create a hybrid system, where teams are placed in pools based on record (maybe three tiers), but then rewarded within that pool based on improved or decreased performance from the previous year, or based on the "success" of draft picks, or some other formula.

One thing I would definitely change: teams should be allowed to trade draft picks, like they do in other major sports.

20 monkeypants   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:30 am

[17] It also points to how incestuous professional sports leagues are, and why so few new, fresh ideas or individuals show up on the scene.

21 Shaun P.   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:32 am

[13] Or they can take advantage of international talent as well, as Raf suggests in [15] and the A's have of course done.

The problem with building that way is that it takes time, time for all those young, athletic, toolsy players to develop, and in the meantime, the big league club might not win much. And you're right Ken, that's exactly where the A's are now.

22 Shaun P.   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:46 am

[18] Depends on how you define success, as you say. If its having a winning record, Beane clearly is failing. If its building a team that will win in the future, while not overpaying to lose now, Beane is probably winning. Not all of his deals have worked out, but with the exception of (I'd say) the Chavez contract and the Hudson trade, none have completely blown up in his face either. The guy keeps the A's operating, and most years, if they aren't winning in the bigs, they have a heck of a chance at winning again. When they're down, they're down, but not out - like the Pirates, Royals, and Nats of the world.

23 monkeypants   ~  Jul 28, 2009 11:51 am

[22] If its building a team that will win in the future, while not overpaying to lose now, Beane is probably winning.

Exactly. But at some point the future is now and he has to win. The big question is how long can (should?) the organization wait? He has a good track record, and three stinky seasons is not too bad of a wait if success is right around the corner.

I wonder what folks would think about Beane if the A's won a WS or two? You know, the Marlins apparent fire-sale-and-WS five year plan (if they even have a plan).

24 PJ   ~  Jul 28, 2009 12:50 pm

Woohoo @ another Will Weiss sighting today!

Of course we all know what that means, right CC?

: )

25 ms october   ~  Jul 28, 2009 12:51 pm

i agree with your point on rubin, william. it goes against two things i don't like - a media that finds a way to be even less objective and independent - and utilzing power connections to get a job (rest assured i know this is common)

i actually feel this whole situation shows what an idiot minaya is. does he really think bernazard wasn't back-stabbing him too?

also bernazard is the guy that supposedly caused delgado to sign with the marlins a few years ago because bernazard spoke to delgado like he was a thug.

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