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Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

Archive for July, 2010

John Schuerholz : Built To Win

Posted by athomeatfenway on July 25, 2010

BUILT TO WIN by John Schuerholz, Warner Books, 2006.

Judging by the Royals & Braves stars that played under him, it seems it would to have been near impossible for John Schuerholz to fail. 

In K.C., he employed George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Porter, Dennis Leonard, and Frank White.  Bo Jackson, too.

In Atlanta, he had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Terry Pendleton., Steve Avery, Fred McGriff, David Justice, Javy Lopez, Brian McCann and Kevin Millwood. 

His Royals won a World Championship in 1985; his Braves in 1995.  His Braves won their Division title for 14 consecutive years and 5 N.L. Pennants.

Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, are you feeling it ?  Someday, someday.

Well…..it’s easy when you have the players.

Right ?

Not exactly.  Along with the Bretts & Madduxs came Vida Blue, Deion Sanders John Rocker & others.  Blue infested The Royals with cocaine.  Sanders made the All Narcissist Team and signed to play football.  Darrell Porter succumbed to alcohol and drug addiction.  John Rocker ranted against jews, blacks, teenage mothers, immigrants and New York City in an S.I. interview.

Yet the hard parts of the G.M. job aren’t limited to players with warts and the firestorms that result.

According to JS, the evolving complexity of baseball itself is the challenge.

Schuerholz writes,

“In Baseball, change has come in a multitude of ways:  the explosion of media dealing with performance-enhancing substances and many other areas.  But the most pronounced and dramatic change in Baseball has been the evolution of our dysfunctional salary system and its impact on baseball economics.”

To paraphrase him, it isn’t enough to have a good staff, talented roster, full pipeline and a master plan.  The challenge is how to be a GM in the land of big contracts, an aggressive union, agents and the intrusive media.

Schuerholz’s views on agents are sharp and amusing.  They are the only participant in the dance of Baseball that does not add to the show.  Every other individual adds something to the game, from the greeter who tears your ticket to the concession worker who steams your dog.  Agents bring absolutely nothing to the equation.  Agents subtract.  They drain dollars.  They minimize competitiveness between teams.  They impersonalize labor-management relations.

Agents are everywhere.  Sometimes in the open, sometimes in hiding.  Minor Leaguers frequently have agents.  Even top high school players have them.  If you see a pair of shoes protruding from behind the curtains in a high school player’s home, that’s their agent, the person they typically refer to as the “family advisor”.

Schuerholz has had his run-in’s with agents.  He threw Randy Hendricks out of his office when the agent looked down his nose at the venerable G.M.  He said a heated & bitter farewell to Tom Glavine after Greg Clifton pressured him into reneging, actually a double reneging, from his commitment to resign with the Braves in 2002.  He circumvented Scott Boras while still paying him grudging respect in the long term resigning of 26 year old Andruw Jones.  His dealings with agents aren’t all distasteful, but they have run the gamut.  And judging from the narrative, Schuerholz felt he needed a shower after dealing with Boras, Hendricks and Clifton. 

Though Schuerholz won a round or two, it is clear who has the upper hand.

With the double barreled shotgun of free agency and arbitration, players and agents  cannot lose.  That shotgun has led to what Schuerholz calls the present economic stupidity of Baseball.

After the Braves allowed their player salaries to reach $100 million in 2003, they cut payroll to $80 million and won 96 games and their Division by 10 games in 2004.

Success on the field doesn’t equal financial success. They lost over $20 million in 2003.  They lost over $10 million in 2004.

How stupid is that.  Winners are the losers.

By comparison, the current financial landscape makes low budget winners like the Tampa Bay Rays all the more admirable given their 2008 AL Pennant on a $40 million budget, and their current status as perennial contender.

Schuerholz is the key note speaker at the annual S.A.B.R. convention in Atlanta on August 6.  I’d like to ask him just how hard it was for the Rays to construct what they have on that paltry sum, given agents, free agents and arbitration.

I’m sure his reply will reflect the depth of 40 years in Baseball.

He is the old school G.M. who has bridged the gap from hands on everything to specialization and delegation.

Probably what makes him so good as the final decision filter in the age of computerization is all the understanding gained while directly running every aspect of a team back in the day.

John paid attention along the way.

“I’ve always considered myself a rapt listener.  A person who wants to learn.  That is partly due to the fact that I became completely deaf in my right ear when I contracted measles at the age of five……..I began to instinctively compensate by learning to read lips and listen intently.  To this day, I still read lips and still listen carefully.

John’s athletic roots run deep.  He is a Baltimore kid.  He adores Brooks Robinson (along with Henry Aaron, as he should.).  His grandfather, William, at one time coached all five of his sons on the same semi-pro basketball team.  His Dad, John, Sr., was a successful amateur and pro athlete in the minors.  John, Sr. instilled in his less talented son a self-confidence that grew and grew.  A good college athlete that excelled in baseball, John won the Athlete of The Year Award at Towson State in 1962.  After teaching middle school for 4 years, John leveraged the family name  and attentive nature into a job assisting Lou Gorman, the AGM with the Orioles.

John is also a poet.

Baseball and poetry have been entangled in the Sports section for over 100 years and people have collected thousands of them.

It’s only fitting that Schuerholz, the old school guy, has written some poems.  Here is the one he wrote on the passing of K.C. Manager Dick Howser:

 

Connie Mack and Casey Stengel and Walter Alston wait,

To greet their newest brother outside the Pearly Gate,

Connie was the first to speak as their new member passed,

“You’ve taught us all something more about this word called class.”

Schuerholz understands what Baseball has become and where it is going…

If you read this book you’ll get his view of the past and vision of the future.  Don’t miss it.

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George, the poor little rich boy

Posted by athomeatfenway on July 8, 2010

Life seems like a long series of hello’s.  By the time we are George Steinbrenner’s age, we understand that life has actually been a long series of goodbyes.

George is saying goodbye now.  He turned 80 four days ago.  It is written that he was damaged by a stroke in 2003, and was later debilitated by Alzheimers.  He has not been running the Yankees for 5 or more years, I have read.

In his wake George leaves 11 pennants, 7 Championships, one felony conviction and a related banishment from baseball, one $100,000 fine for hiring a gambler to find embarrassing information about one of his players, a second banishment, unscrupulous business dealings including the bilking of taxpayers, broken promises, ruined careers, and on the flip side kind acts that include rebuilding burned homes and funding college for the poor.

One wonders if many of the kindnesses that George performed were inspired by a sense of guilt.

Don’t take my word for the above.

Read Pete Golenbock’s book, GEORGE, The Poor Little Rich boy who Built The Yankee Empire. (Wiley, 2009).

What rules ?

The defining moments of Steinbrenner’s life story involve his actions leading to a felony conviction for illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s Committee to Reelect The President (C.R.E.E.P.) in 1972.

Newspaper pundits and the spirit of Billy Martin are indebted to George’s criminality, which enabled Billy to fire off, “One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.”, to describe George & Reggie.

But that unforgettable line is not what makes his C.R.E.E.P. conviction a window into George’s psyche; it is the way he recklessly with premeditation & without concern for others required loyal employees to break the law on his behalf, and when caught he ultimately blamed the whole thing on an innocent, ruining at least one life and career, while making others miserable and scared.

In 1972, George decided to donate $100,000 to C.R.E.E.P..  He cut a personal check for $75,000.  That was perfectly legal.  Then, he decided he was above the law prohibiting the contribution of corporate funds to an election committee.  He browbeat eight of his American Shipping employees into a secret scheme to contribute about $25,000 in company funds.  He paid a bonus to each employee of $5,000 gross.  The employees wrote personal checks to C.R.E.E.P. equal to the take home amounts.  The employees, who made about $15,000 per year, a very good wage in 1972, were too scared to object.

Subsequently, the Government found the donations by the eight Am Ship employees to be suspicious and investigated Am Ship (along with American Airlines and others) for illegal campaign contributions.

With Steinbrenner’s company under threat of prosecution, George was front and center in a drama of manipulation and deceit.

The Prosecutor gave all accused corporations a chance to plead guilty privately and receive a slap on the wrist.

Only one C.E.O. said “no thank you” and forced the U.S. to mount a prosecution, declining the stay-out-of-jail-free card.

Steinbrenner, who had orchestrated the entire scheme, now lied to his 8 employees, telling them right until the night before trial that he would never let them go to court.  He would go to D.C. and get his wrist slapped, ending the ordeal.  In the meanwhile, he required them to deny everything.  Admit nothing.

He didn’t keep his promises.

In the months leading up to the trial, he brought in his personal attorney, Jack Melcher, to counsel him.  He asked Melcher to speak with the employees, too.

Ultimately, George kept his hands clean until the courts convicted him.  He made the employees endure the trial.  When they testified, their denials held up for a while but eventually one confessed that he had been told to lie on the stand by Jack Melcher.

To his death, Melcher insisted that was untrue and that George had manipulated the employees into pinning the whole thing on him.

George was convicted of a felony.   Melcher, who was only guilty of being Steinbrenner’s lawyer, was soon investigated by the Ohio Bar Association.  The Bar found him clean.

Then something strange occurred.  Something that almost never happens after a lawyer has been cleared by the Bar.  A second Bar investigation was launched and a hearing was set up.  Melcher, who had suffered a serious heart attack in 1971 didn’t believe he would survive the stress.  He resigned from the Bar.

For the rest of his life, George Steinbrenner was thus able to say that he had made a mistake, but that he was  victimized by a bad lawyer in the process.

What is so revealing about Steinbrenner  is that he chose to scheme and break the law, make 8 employees suffer, ruin someone’s career and do it all with  impunity.

He knew he could  manipulate or donate his way out of almost anything.

Brilliant.  Charismatic.  Attractive.  Energetic.  A gifted generalist.  A gifted salesman.  Instinctively Strategic.  Driven.  Rich.  Connected.

He was all of the above.  And he believed that the rules simply did not apply to him.

Not A Baseball Guy

I wince when I see that the last name listed under the Board of Directors of The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is George M. Steinbrenner III.

He must have paid for it in cash.  He surely didn’t get there by being a knowledgeable baseball man.

Golenbock reveals George as unaware that with two outs and a runner on third,that the run scoring from 3rd on a grounder doesn’t count when the out at first is recorded after the run scores.  He doesn’t know the rules.

Golenbock paints George’s acumen for assessing young talent as deficient.  George instructed Gene Michael to trade young & artistic Bernie Williams for being too soft.  He ordered Michael to contact every MLB G.M. and offer up Williams.  Michael knew George was wrong.  He made the contacts but withheld Bernie’s name.

Imagine the Yankees without Mariano Rivera.  George did not see the potential in 21-year-old Mo.  He ordered Michael to trade him to Toronto for David Wells.  Michael refused.  At the time, Mo was registering a 0.17 ERA w a 5 – 2 WL in the Gulf Rookie League.

Golenbock repeatedly shows how incompetent George is as a baseball talent man.  And yet, when his Player Development people built a winner, he got rid of them because he will not share the spotlight of success.

After returning from a 2.5 year banishment after the 1995 season, George fired GM Gene Michael and the entire Player Development team that brought the Yankees to their first post season in 14 years, the people who signed and developed Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Williams and Pettitte, the people who traded for or signed O’Neil, Boggs, Knoblauch, Girardi and Tino Martinez.

Mitch Lukevics was on that Player Development team.  He was canned with the rest of his colleagues after the 1995 post-season concluded in an LDS defeat by Seattle.

Today, Mitch and former Yankee colleague Bill Livesay have transformed a Tampa Bay team from one that had never won more than 71 games in a year to a pennant winner and perennial contender.

George didn’t know or didn’t care how valuable Michael, Lukevics and Livesay were to the Bombers.  In 7 years in the Bronx, they drafted 62 Yankee picks that played in the MLB.  From 1996 through 2008, the span starting after they were fired, not one 1st round Yankee draft pick had played for the New York Yankees.  Not one.

The Resourceful & Respected Joe Torre

Joe Torre has something in his background that no other Manager in the Steinbrenner era had:  His father was a NYPD night shift detective and “an abusive bastard”.  “Being a victim of abuse enabled him to handle and endure the humiliations of another abuser, George Steinbrenner.”

“Clueless Joe”, as the media first tagged him, turned out to be the perfect man for the job.

And…..‘Torre’s brilliance was to defend Steinbrenner to the world but in private to tell him he was full of shit.”

The Good Wife

Old family friend Patty Stecher quoted George’s wife, Joan as saying, “I don’t know why I married George.  I should have known because when I went out with him on our first date he talked for 3 hours about himself.”

The Good with the Bad

Golenbock details George’s cruelty and narcissism until it blurs.

But there are two passages about the good works that Steinbrenner has performed.  The longer of the two is the final chapter, titled, “George, The Munificent”.

George’s business crimes, social crimes and his personal cruelty are certainly somewhat balanced by his acts of generosity.

Golenbock doesn’t spare the rod.  But he does endorse George as a first ballot HOFer.  After all, his financial backing delivered 11 pennants and 7 Championships.

After spending over 300 pages revealing George as felonious, sadistic and narcissistic, Golenbock’s endorsement rings hollow.

It will be impossible to not pity Steinbrenner given that the stroke and Alzheimer’s have silenced the man.

Forgiving hearts will vote him into the HOF, I expect.

Some will believe he has earned a plaque.

And some of us believe that his plaque is tarnished.

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