Monday, June 29, 2009

One of Those Seasons, Indeed

For a team that relies heavily on attendance for revenues, the Cleveland Indians sure don’t act like it. Speaking to the media last week, general manager Mark Shapiro more or less shrugged his shoulders at the team’s fate and said that this may just be one of those years. And a million Indians fans shrugged with him.

By the time Shapiro got around to admitting what most everyone else has known for months, the Indians were working their way to the worst record in the American League. As they were sending recently-acquired Mark DeRosa packing for greener grass, the Indians achieved that goal. Now it appears that the rest of the season will be a fight against the Washington Nationals for major league baseball futility. It may be close.

It was a little surprising that anyone thought to even ask whether the team’s latest mail-in loss, this time to the Cincinnati Reds, was a result of the DeRosa trade. Manager Eric Wedge, looking as if he was in need of a heavy laxative, patiently explained that the team has been through this before, most recently with CC Sabathia.

The question Wedge didn’t answer, though, was the one that was really asked: how do you motivate a team when the general manager has raised the white flag before the 4th of July? For that matter, how do you motivate the fan base?

Wedge doesn’t have any answers for it because there really aren’t any. This is a team that already knew they were going nowhere. When Shapiro issued his eulogy, all that was left for them to do was to get in line for the deli tray and reminisce with the other mourners.

The far larger problem, though, is the fan base that owners Larry and Paul Dolan are expecting to come out anyway and fund this enterprise through the end of the year. They’d have an easier time and probably face less questions if they applied for federal stimulus money instead. Other than already being in possession of tickets you bought way back when, what would motivate anyone to head to Progressive Field these days? It isn’t the product on the field. Maybe if they gave away free cars like Oprah that might yield an extra 10,000 fans or so per game.

That’s the real second punch coming as the result of the major miscalculations Shapiro made this season. The lack of attendance this year and the attendant loss of revenue will linger far longer than a week old stadium hot dog in your stomach. By trading DeRosa, that Indians already have cut their payroll by $1.4 million for the rest of the season but there is more work to do.

If you were the Dolans, wouldn’t you demand more payroll cuts? With a payroll upwards of $80 million and attendance slowing to a trickle, the Indians can’t afford not to cut more. But where? That’s the more difficult question.

In three players, the Indians are absorbing $31 million of their $81 million payroll. For those not doing the math at home, that’s nearly 40% of the team’s overall payroll. The problem is that two of those players are virtually untradeable—Travis Hafner and Jake Westbrook—and the third is Kerry Wood. Then there is Fausto Carmona pulling down nearly $3 million this season while playing rookie ball in Arizona. Kelly Shoppach is raking in nearly $2 million for all his lack of plate discipline and Rafael Betancort is making $3.3 million for doing what?

Of that group, there probably are teams willing to take on Carmona and Betancort and perhaps even Shoppach. But that would get the Dolans only about $3 million in salary relief for the remainder of the season. That isn’t going to be enough. Hafner would get his full salary if cut and Westbrook is just starting to come back from an injury. A decision about him is probably a year away.

In other words, Shapiro can hold his annual garage sale but after so many years of similar sales, the pickings now are getting pretty slim and the bounty will be small.

What the Indians need now is to stop trying to emulate the business model of the Browns and instead adopt an actual plan and stick with it. The problem with Shapiro is that he approaches his business these days as if he were playing a high/low poker game. As the cards are dealt he decides to concentrate on winning the high side of that pot. But somewhere around the fourth or fifth card he’s dealt he realizes that going high isn’t going to work so he swings to the other direction. In the end all he accomplished was feeding the pot for the more skilled players while he’s left holding one or two face cards, a couple of twos and a bunch of sixes and sevens.

What Shapiro hasn’t realized but perhaps the Dolans are starting to is that Shapiro keeps upping the ante at their expense, clueless to the fact that the deck is running colder than the walk down West 3rd Street in late December. We all understand the amorphous goal of building a team that can contend each and every year. At this point that means nothing. How about rightsizing the expectations and just work on building a team that can be competitive each and every year?

Will all due respect to Shapiro, this isn’t just one of those years and no amount of saying so is going to change that fact. This year is the inevitable collapse after years of skirting the building codes. Shapiro may not be George Bluth but each year he tries to put new wallpaper on the plywood frame he gets ever closer to resembling the patriarch of the fictional Bluth family.

The Cleveland Fan’s Jesse Lamovsky wrote a thought-provoking piece last week laying out the case for how the Browns and the Indians are like twin sons from different mothers yet only the Browns are viewed as the train wreck. For however true that once was, the tide is surely changing on that as well. Fans are quickly understanding that this team and this management at this moment is an absolute train wreck. About the only reason they are given a relative pass is that with such a long season, it takes awhile for the incompetence to sink in. With the Browns, the relative urgency of each game highlights organizational shortcomings much more quickly.

If you want to take Lamovsky’s analysis even further with regard to Shapiro what you’ll see is that he really has become the baseball version of Phil Savage but with a better sense of public relations. After trading DeRosa the other night, Shapiro talked about newly-acquired relief pitcher Chris Perez as someone with “swing and miss capability.” Close your eyes and it could have been Savage talking about a running back.

Even more like Savage was the almost complete lack of information in what was actually said. In truth, it was analysis by quip and had all the substance of a lettuce sandwich. They have a name for pitchers without “swing and miss capability.” They’re called football players. But the larger point is that it is just this kind of pabulum that Savage often fed the media about this player or that.

Shapiro is like Savage, too, in that somewhere along the line of believing all his press clippings the point of his job seems to have shifted from assembling a team to merely collecting players. It’s not just that the team lacks talent, it lacks players who mesh. There is so much sameness in the skills on this roster that it’s understandable why the team performs as it does no matter which roster Wedge uses on a particular day.

But for now, where Shapiro and Savage differ is in the patience of the owners. The Dolans seem well satisfied with Shapiro if not his results. But eventually the empty seats at Progressive Field will be the loudest voice in the room and no amount of diversionary swing and miss gobbledygook is going to drown it out.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lingering Items--Unfinished Business Edition

I’ve written several times about my disdain for the now-retiring Donald Fehr, the head of the major league baseball players’ union. That stems from his myopic view of his charge and the fact that he sold out the long-term health effects that steroids have for the near term riches demanded by the players he led.

I stand by all of it, and more. But I do owe Fehr an apology. I have said many times that he doesn’t give a damn about the good of the game, but I was wrong. How else to explain his retirement but that it is the ultimate gift to the good of the game?

Unquestionably, Fehr had a job to do and heading a union, any union, is one of the nation’s most thankless jobs. Most of your members are decent, hard working sorts who want nothing more than to do their jobs, get their paychecks and then go home to their families. It’s the subversive element, unfortunately, to whom guys like Fehr had to dedicate an inordinate amount of time. That can be draining.

But trying to keep the Milton Bradleys of the world in line is only part of the job. He, like Commissioner Bud Selig, is charged with being a caretaker of the game. Any union leader who doesn’t recognize that the health of the employer is the lynchpin to the riches the employees enjoy is part of the problem, not the solution. Not to get all political with anyone on this topic, but all the years of union greed in, pick the industry, coupled with weak and indifferent management just worried about today eventually comes back to haunt. Look at the auto industry.

It’s true, of course, that a greedy union leader needs a weak and compliant company executive on the other side to foster that greed. In Selig, Fehr had just the right stooge. It allowed Fehr to grow his power base and enhance his own status and that of the union. But it came at the price of the game’s soul. The steroids era of baseball is the blood on the hands of Fehr (and Selig) that he can never wash off.

Over the course of the next 20 or 30 years all of Fehr’s evil and cynical view of baseball will no longer permeate the game on a day-to-day basis. It will be relegated to the history books, written about in the same way the Black Sox scandal already is. But that won’t diminish the damage that could have been avoided by a more conscientious leader. Fehr, truthfully, was neither.

So here’s to Fehr, who can’t retire quickly enough. And with his departure some of the good of the game is on its way to being restored. The rest will have to wait Selig’s inevitable retirement.


The vultures are certainly circling around Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge these days. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who can make a compelling case to keep him. Considering that Wedge really isn’t a polarizing figure, surely someone should be coming to his defense.

It hasn’t happened.

The depth of the disappointment with the Indians’ season to date is one of the reasons. So too is the manner in which this team loses each night. Usually, it’s the bullpen. Usually it’s a blown save. And this was a reputed strength going into the season?

And that, folks, is the nub of the issue. Indians fans are disappointed precisely because they thought the team was more a slightly used but very useful luxury car than a clunker with the odometer rolled back. There are many culprits to blame for the misguided mindset of the fans entering into the season, but the usual suspects are again the usual suspects.

One of general manager Mark Shapiro’s strength is his unbridled optimism. He can convince himself that the sun shines at midnight and the smell emanating from the septic tank is roses. He wears easily with the local and national media, precisely because he’s so specific when he’s so upbeat. The national media in turn, which means those that follow baseball from the comfort of a desk in New York, buy into the hook and conclude, without much further review, that much was accomplished and thus much should be achieved. Most of the local media is just as compliant. Well, much wasn’t accomplished and less has been achieved.

Those who follow this team with their heads and not their hearts weren’t impressed with Shapiro’s offseason. Sure, he didn’t stand pat with a team that appeared to be on the upswing, itself a major improvement over previous seasons. But the kinds of moves he made were the same kinds of moves he always makes: fliers. Shapiro is Fred Sanford without the beard. Always with an eye on a bargain, Shapiro has unrelenting faith that in every junk pile lays an unpolished gem. This is how he fills out the roster each season while waiting for Wedge to develop the talent that’s been drafted.

Wherever you come out on the Wedge issue in a vacuum, just know that Shapiro’s acquisition model is either seriously flawed or poorly executed, maybe a little of both. For it to really work, you have to have a really good eye for bargains and you have to have someone who can develop the talent he’s been handed.

Developing talent is far more art than science and finding unpolished gems happens about as often as you find a Van Gogh at a flea market. Shapiro has more than proven that his trips to the bargain bin usually yield junk. And in Wedge, Shapiro has one of the worst gem polishers in the league. As I sit here and write this I can’t think of one piece of raw talent that’s realized his potential under Wedge.

As the Dolans contemplate what to do about Wedge, it’s time for them, too, to better hold Shapiro accountable for the mess he helps create each season. Wedge is seriously flawed as a manager and his days are surely numbered. Shapiro, on the other hand, is a more complex issue. He’s like a lot of the young players he drafts, talented but unfocused. Without some serious re-tooling in his thinking and approach, however, the firing Wedge won’t accomplish much by itself. If this season has proven anything, it’s that the problems with this team aren’t surface level.


It’s nice to know that Shaquille O’Neal is excited to be coming to Cleveland. It demonstrates more than anything else that it isn’t the city that’s the problem, it’s the teams. But the fact that fans were worried about how O’Neal would react speaks volumes about this town’s collective inferiority complex.

It is helpful that O’Neal is excited about being here. He’s one of the bigger ass pains in the league when he isn’t happy. A pouting O’Neal is a worthless O’Neal.

Overall, though, the reaction to the trade has been somewhat mixed. No one seems to have come out and panned it but there are many that are indifferent to it, mainly because of O’Neal’s age. There are some that find the pairing of O’Neal with LeBron James as unusual if only because the Cavs are working hard to retain James and O’Neal is one of the league’s great vagabonds. Early in his career O’Neil opted out of his contract in Orlando as soon as he could and, by doing so, arguably became more of a global icon for all the years he spent in Los Angeles. The fear is that he’ll take James down that same path.

I’m not sure I see that as much of a risk. James follows his own path. Whether O’Neal is on the same team with him or not, James is well aware of his history. The chance that James will be influenced by O’Neal in that regard seems remote.

General Manager Danny Ferry, in his press conference announcing the trade, acted as if he was Phil Ivey at the World Poker Championships going all in because he had just been dealt two aces. To some I’m sure Ferry came across somewhat as a person trying to make a big splash one final time before James leaves town with O’Neal after next season.

My read on it was a little different, but perhaps it’s just my version of Shapiro-think. I see Ferry as sending a message, like John Hart in the early ‘90s, that when this team is finally ready he’s going to go out and get those final pieces. This next season, it’s O’Neal. In subsequent years, it will be the O’Neal equivalent. More than anything else, Ferry is trying to position himself as the kind of general manager that isn’t afraid to make a leap.

Professional golfer and NBC golf commentator Johnny Miller is fond of saying that it takes great courage to shoot a low score. Too many golfers, once they get a few under par, spend the rest of the round protecting that score rather than risking it all to get even lower. That’s where Ferry finds himself at the moment. He’s assembled a very good team. Tweaking around the edges is probably the way to protect what he has. It will certainly guarantee him a good score. But it takes real courage to make bold strokes to get the team from good to great and win the whole damn thing.

It’s been a long time since any team in Cleveland has had someone willing to think big. Credit Ferry and, while you’re at it, credit owner Dan Gilbert, a bold thinker in his own right.


With the death of Michael Jackson, you can’t help but think how much great music didn’t get made once he became totally unhinged. Which leads to this week’s question to ponder: How many inquiries do you think former Browns receiver Michael Jackson’s family got yesterday asking whether it was he who died?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Job Security, Cleveland Style

The economy may be the reason that all those jobs are being shed in northeast Ohio, but it’s not the reason for all the job insecurity with Cleveland’s three major sports teams.

In just this last year, the Browns dumped a head coach that never deserved the job anyway. The Cavs’ Mike Brown was rumored to be in trouble because he couldn’t get his team past Orlando in this year’s Eastern Conference finals and now the Indians’ Eric Wedge’s head is on the chopping block and the Dolans are sharpening the axe.

Yes, kids, it’s been that kind of year on the lakefront.

It must be absolutely killing Indians’ general manager Mark Shapiro to see that the man he groomed, the man to whom he basically tied his own fate, presiding over a season so wrapped in awfulness that the stench is likely to linger long past season’s end, which, by the way, was officially declared Sunday with the third straight loss to the Cubs.

With Wedge literally dangling by the short hairs, everyone’s got an opinion. Let’s dispense with the easiest and work our way down.

The argument that merely changing managers isn’t going to change the fortunes of this team is true, at least for this season. The Indians right now more resemble the Columbus Clippers than any semblance of a comprehensive big-league team. It’s due to a combination of injuries, poor decisions by Shapiro and another season when hope once again was the company’s strategic plan.

No better example of these latter two attributes exists than in the body of Ben Francisco. He’s the kind of player that gets a spot on the roster by virtue of his youth and the theory that the hint of promise he’s shown previously magically translates to consistent, high-level performance by virtue of the old “another year of experience.” Right now, Francisco isn’t even a legitimate major league player.

In the 9th inning of Sunday’s game, Francisco let three straight fastballs blow right past him and never ever bothered to swing. Having a bat in your hand in a major league game doesn’t make you a major leaguer. Doing something with it does. Francisco couldn’t be more out of his element if he was a piano player in a marching band.

Using Francisco as the prototype and extrapolating from there, it’s easy to see why changing the manager doesn’t change the fortunes of the team. A roster of Franciscos would challenge Whitey Herzog. But that’s only part of the story.

The more difficult opinion to deflect is the one where it’s asked, if not Wedge then who? The point, I think, is that the season already is lost and there’s not much an interim manager can do except put the team further behind the development curve. The odds are that the Indians won’t find the right next manager until this season ends so they’re better off waiting anyway.

That’s probably true. But the flipside of all that is what good does it do to keep a lame duck in office? It’s been said that the players haven’t yet quit on Wedge but that’s just a final hurdle to navigate. Once it becomes clear that his future is behind him, the players won’t so much quit as tune him out. Indeed, a compelling case can already be made that Wedge is an analog broadcast in a digital world and there aren’t any more conversion boxes available.

Some (many?) still see great value in Wedge and thus argue that dumping him now scratches an immediate itch but ultimately will leave a rash. That’s probably the most difficult argument to confront because it’s not factually based. It’s opinion with a healthy dose of baggage and without any right answer to boot.

No one has a corner on the rightness of their views. But some, by virtue of the job they hold have more weight attached to them. In this case, Shapiro still appears to be a Wedge fan so that goes a wee bit further than the rest of the unwashed. Moreover, as a general manager, Shapiro is paid to have a long-term approach and not operate through just a series of resolutions to short-term crises. Shapiro absolutely has to think in terms of the team’s overall best interests not just today, but tomorrow and the thousands of other tomorrows.

That being the case, Shapiro owes it to the fans to explain exactly what continuing value he sees in Wedge long-term. That’s the case he’ll be making to the Dolans anyway if he wants to save him from so why not make it to the public as well? All Shapiro has done thus far is fall on his own sword while absolving Wedge of any crimes.

From where most fans sit, the most distinguishing thing about Wedge is his lack of distinction. You can’t really say objectively that he’s bad at anything just as you can’t really say objectively that he’s great at anything. He kind of hovers around the surface maintaining an even keel. Every once in awhile he let’s his facial hair grow out.

In a vacuum, those don’t exactly constitute dischargeable offenses. In context, they are but a few of the many symptoms of a far larger problem.

If Shapiro is being honest with himself, the case against Wedge is far more compelling than the transient concerns of another lost season. Simply put, it comes down to this: seven years into his career Wedge hasn’t grown much as a manager. The same annoying habits then are the same annoying habits now.

He rarely keeps a set lineup and that was in the good times, not just now. For a man who counsels patience in others he’s an inveterate tinkerer himself. He also has a tendency to favor the many mediocre veteran roster-fillers that Shapiro shoves his way each season. You almost get the sense that Shapiro had to pry David Dellucci from Wedge’s cold, dead hand.

The more damning evidence though is in the form of players like Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore. While Wedge is busy neither succeeding wildly nor cratering magnificently, players like Peralta and Sizemore find themselves on the precipice of failing major league careers.

Peralta may very well be a head case, but the job of a manager is to find a way to reach him. Wedge has tried a number of different approaches but nothing has resonated yet. That may be as much on Peralta as it is on Wedge, but as the leader it’s more Wedge’s failure than anyone’s. The ability to resonate with your players is at the very top of the long list of qualifications for any manager.

The same story is unfolding with Sizemore. At this point is there anyone out there that still believes that Sizemore is even close to delivering on the promise of his talent? Sizemore’s lack of development really mirrors that of Wedge and the picture isn’t pretty. Sizemore is a pretty decent defensive centerfielder and is developing decent power at the plate. But he hasn’t found a way to consistently make contact at the plate and, as a result, strikes out far too often for a player that’s supposed to be a table setter.

Wedge has had conversation after conversation with him. It hasn’t worked. Sizemore is still a young player but the fear is that his development is being, at the very least, stunted under the direction of Wedge. At most, it’s being ruined. That’s a circumstance that Shapiro simply cannot allow to linger.

It may be a mystery as to why Wedge consistently fails to develop the talent he’s given, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Who knows what he’s lost Fausto Carmona? But how many more prospects have to have their careers stuck in permanent neutral before Shapiro sees the trend? That’s the reality that Shapiro must confront more so than the current losing streak.

For Shapiro to be true to his own calling and job description he’s going to have to let go of his emotional attachment to Wedge and put him under the same exacting microscope he uses for the hundreds of players he looks at each season. Wedge can’t stand up to that scrutiny and Shapiro will realize it sooner rather than later. For his sake, not to mention his own job security, it probably better be before his bosses are forced to intervene.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lingering Items: Law & Order Edition

It’s too bad that Phil Savage is no longer the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. It makes it impossible to fire him again, this time for what’s now the aftermath of one of the worst deals in the history of the franchise, signing Donte Stallworth as a free agent.

The Browns find themselves bleeding money at the moment. A poor economy that has lowered the Browns’ season ticket base and left numerous loges unsold for the 2010 has put them on less than solid footing. They’ve laid off several workers as a result. The Stallworth signing didn’t help, but that’s a wound that’s purely self-inflicted.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did them a favor on Thursday and put a pretty hefty bandage on that wound by suspending Stallworth indefinitely and sending him a message that the ultimate penalty will be severed. But that doesn’t address the larger issues. That takes the Browns off the hook for his salary for awhile, although it does nothing to help the Browns recoup the $4.5 million roster bonus they gave him just hours before he killed Mario Reyes.

It had to be gratifying to owner Randy Lerner to learn that as part of the deal allowing Stallworth to plead guilty to DUI Manslaughter and escape with only 30 days in jail was the paying off the estate of the victim, undoubtedly with some of the millions Lerner paid him as compensation to catch a football.

If Lerner wants to regain some of the fans he’s lost through his rather indifferent approach to managing his assets, he can make a statement by immediately cutting Stallworth, financial consequences be damned. But if he fiddles, if he lets a transient salary cap issue trump doing the right thing, the Lerner, too, is effectively putting a rather dismal price on the consequences wrought by one of his employees.

Stallworth was never a fit in Cleveland and still isn’t. He’s a borderline prima donna with a serious substance abuse problem that’s now sporting the additional baggage of the guilt of actually having killed a man. From just a purely football perspective, he’s somewhere between Paul Hubbard and Braylon Edwards, and by Edwards I mean the bad Edwards, anyway. In trading card terms, he’s a common not a star. He didn’t deserve the contract Savage gave him initially and has systematically proven that point since almost day 1 of his stay in Cleveland. He won’t be missed.

The Browns have let it float out that cutting Stallworth now forces them to take a $7.6 million salary cap hit. So? How is that relevant? It will make absolutely no difference on their ability to field still another mediocre team.

And what of that issue? Although it’s difficult to find definitive figures, the Browns were several million under the league’s 2009 salary cap heading into the season. A cap hit of $7.6 million doesn’t help, but it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it’s being portrayed. Once the draft picks are signed, and there’s still plenty of money to do that even with the salary cap hit, the roster will basically be set. This isn’t a matter of money but one of conscience. Either the Browns make a statement about the kinds of people they employ or they don’t. It’s really that simple.

There’s no doubt in my mind that if Savage was still with the team, he’d be counseling patience and against overreaction, more so to protect his awful decision to sign Stallworth than to avoid cutting a player who is expected to contribute at a high level. But this is a new day and a new regime working to establish that it has actual boundaries and principles. Nothing would send a stronger signal that a player like Stallworth is everything that the new Browns are against than cutting him now.

Given Goodell’s actions, I have no doubt that the Browns will just sit back and wait. After all, Stallworth is suspended and not drawing a salary. What we don’t know, nor should it matter, is what Goodell ultimately will do. Let Stallworth be someone else’s problem, not Cleveland’s.

What surprises me most about the Stallworth case is the relatively muted outrage from the public. Sure, some in the media, like me, have gotten our panties in a twist over this. And sure, there is a little “there but for the grace of God go I” element to his situation in that a good many of us have likewise driven under the influence, so perhaps that explains it somewhat. There’s also a public so jaded by athlete misconduct that the only surprise anymore is when the sports pages doesn’t contain a story about another athlete committing a crime.

But even then, doesn’t the public feel anything for Mario Reyes? The randomness of his death at the hands of Stallworth is jarring. He just comes off the night shift, probably thinking about coming home to kiss his wife and kids before heading for some well deserved sleep in order to return the next night to a job that probably paid him less a year than the $43,000+ Stallworth earns per game. But he doesn’t make it home because some privileged drunken jerk in a Bentley celebrating nothing more than being an overpaid jerk is still buzzing from an all-night drinking binge. Too many of us can relate to drinking and driving, but apparently not enough of us have been victimized by the random acts of bad people to want to put a stake in the ground over the light treatment Stallworth got. That’s a pity.

The real truth in all of this is that today’s athletes engage in so much misconduct because they have too much free time, too much money and too little character. That isn’t to paint every professional athlete with a broad brush. The good, hopefully, outnumber the bad. But that doesn’t mean we just shrug our shoulders at the bad and get on with our insular little lives. We either send a message to our teams that having players like Stallworth on the roster is going to hit them where it hurts most, on the balance sheet, or we get what we deserve—a roster full of reprobates more notable for the crap they do off the field than the good they do on it.

It’s time for the Browns to decide on which side of the fence they sit.


Whatever else one thinks about Stallworth, there’s no question that he has a top-notch lawyer. The deal that was struck was so favorable and so disparate to the crime committed that no matter what Stallworth paid him, it probably wasn’t enough.

I can’t help but think that former Cleveland Indians’ outfielder, Mel Hall, wishes he had hired the same guy.

Hall was convicted recently of raping a 12-year-old girl he coached on an elite basketball team. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison which, if served to its limit, would make Hall 98 years old when released. In other words, it’s more or less a life sentence. Apparently the argument his lawyer advanced, that “Hall was a good man who mentored a lot of athletes and had a lot of good still to do” didn’t quite resonate with the jury. Good.

Hall is still professing his innocence in the whole matter but he just couldn’t overcome the parade of witnesses that said otherwise. Given the despicable nature of his acts, justice was clearly served.

One can only speculate about what Bud Selig would do with all this if Hall was still in the major leagues. Sure, the whole prison thing would crimp Hall’s availability, but considering how Selig has not dealt with steroids abusers, the chances are that Selig would probably petition the court on Hall’s behalf for work privileges.


Speaking of steroids abusers, it was hardly a shock to hear that Sammy Sosa was one of those players who tested positive in 2003. Little by little, the names are finally coming out.

Although Sosa sort of told Congress in 2005 that he never used illegal performance-enhancing drugs, the positive test says otherwise. But then again Sosa acted as if he couldn’t speak English during those Congressional hearings, so maybe he just misunderstood the question.

Certainly Sosa has gotten a better grasp of the language these days. He seems unfazed by the whole matter and told the media he’d just calmly wait for the Hall of Fame to call because, hey, he’s got the numbers, doesn’t he? Sammy, if the phone isn’t ringing, it’s them.


The news about Sosa comes on the heels of another moment of levity in the legal world offered up again by Jose Canseco. When you Google Wickipedia and look for “doofus” it takes you to Canseco’s entry.

Canseco feels that he and others, like Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, have been blackballed by major league baseball and thus is considering suing them and the players’ union for, among other things, lost wages and defamation of character. Canseco feels like he’s been deprived of various opportunities in baseball, such as a managerial or coaching job or just a “proper reference.” Believing he and the others will be deprived of the Hall of Fame, he posits that he’ll lose out on the ancillary income that comes with being able to advertise yourself as a Hall of Famer.

Here’s a note to Canseco. Even if he had never admitted to steroids use he would have had no shot at the Hall of Fame. He was far from a complete player. His 462 home runs would be impressive but not Hall-worthy. He was a liability in the outfield. He has fewer credentials than George Foster. When you throw in the steroids use, whatever accomplishments he had at the plate are essentially nullified.

An untainted Palmeiro or Sosa might have a chance at the Hall of Fame and might still anyway. A lawsuit on their behalf is, at best, premature.

But the larger problem with the potential lawsuit is the pure folly of it all. It’s honorable, in a perverse way, that he’s been candid about his illegal drug use. But that kind of honor only places one a notch about people like Pameiro, Sosa, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds who remain in denial. It doesn’t qualify him for accolades, let alone a job working around ballplayers at any level. What is the job reference he craves? “Jose Canseco was a long-time abuser of illegal drugs. It helped him play the game at a level his talent would not have otherwise allowed. But he told the truth.” He can have that reference now and I won’t even charge him.

Canseco, like so many others, lives in world where everyone’s a victim just waiting for his day in court. He can’t even begin to comprehend the unclean hands he brings to any conversation about his future. Ask yourself this: would you want him working for you?

Still, I’m kind of hoping he does go through with the lawsuit. While he has no chance of winning, if he does manage to avoid having it summarily dismissed it would be great to have him take the depositions of Selig and the other owners who have knowingly tolerated the degradation of their game. Watching them all squirm might not be real justice, but it might be the best we have.

And what would a week of law and order be without Maurice Clarett resurfacing.

Apparently Clarett wants an early release so that he can resume his “career,” potentially in the NFL. You can’t resume what you never had. But what struck me most about the story is that Clarett’s lawyer claims that Clarett supposedly has been contacted by NFL teams while in jail.

Really? Prove it. Not surprisingly, the lawyer refused to name which ones, probably because it never happened. My recollection is that when Clarett was cut by the Denver Broncos no one came rushing up to sign him then, and that was before he ever went to jail. Why would any team be interested in him now? They aren’t.

If Clarett does get out of jail, he may get a try out somewhere. But it won’t amount to anything. As Woody Hayes might have said to him if he were still alive, “Maurice, it’s time to get on with your life’s work.” For now and hopefully a good while longer, that life’s work is making license plates.


Given how legal news tends to now dominate the sports pages, this week’s question to ponder is: How long before NBC gives a thumbs up to “Law & Order: Sports Page Edition?”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The King and His Court

My daughter cringed at the television Monday night as Jim Donovan was reporting that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ interest in acquiring Shaquille O’Neal from the Phoenix Suns. She wasn’t the only one.

While she really couldn’t offer up a solid reason why she had such an adverse reaction, my guess is that it has more to do with his acting and rapping career than his basketball skills. Maybe she just doesn’t want another player on the team that can’t make a free throw.

Whatever it might have been, one thing is certain. O’Neal is a polarizing figure. Not Charles Barkley polarizing, mind you, but polarizing nonetheless. O’Neal represents either the last piece of the puzzle or a distraction this team doesn’t need. Personally, my only question is how does LeBron James feel about it?

If James is for grabbing O’Neal, assuming it’s not at the expense of Moe Williams or Delonte West, then so am I. More importantly, so will be Dan Gilbert, Danny Ferry and Mike Brown. When you currently have the game’s best player under a tenuous one-year contract, the front office paradigm inevitably shifts.

You’d have to be incredibly naïve to think that the Cavs won’t follow James’ lead on this one. His official title is “player” but it might as well be “all powerful Oz.” Nothing will happen to the make up of this team unless it comes with James’ seal of approval.

This, of course, puts the team in a pretty tight little jam, a jam that gets tighter the longer James waits to commit to the Cavs for more than another year. Rightly, the quest of the official management troika has to be to surround James with the players he wants to make a run at next year’s title. James is a basketball savant with a singularly rare ability. Brown and Ferry have good basketball instincts, but nothing in either’s background suggests a James-like understanding of the game. James has court awareness that extends well beyond the reach of mere mortals. If he thinks the answer is O’Neal, then James has earned the benefit of that doubt.

The problem, though, is that it is the franchise that could find itself left holding the bag for a lot of salary and players it wouldn’t otherwise want on a James-less team. In other words, the Cavs could easily and quickly become the New York Knicks if it doesn’t work out and James is done in Cleveland after next season.

Putting aside those particularly difficult issues for the moment and no matter which camp you may find yourself in with respect to O’Neal, you have to admit that having him in Cleveland would keep things interesting. O’Neal’s best days may be behind him, but his star power is intact. Outside of Kobe Bryant, O’Neal represents about the only other player in the NBA right now that could fairly share the celebrity spotlight with James.

For James, that’s probably a good thing. Though he never seems to get tired of it, it would probably benefit James for someone else with some gravitas to step forward and take the pressure off him of always having to be the face of the franchise. O’Neal isn’t always the most compelling interview, particularly after games, but he’s willing to venture off the cliché-ridden path just often enough to keep the media breathing down his neck every step of the way. Every moment with O’Neal is one less distraction for James.

O’Neal had one of his better seasons in recent memory last year, averaging nearly 18 points a game and 8 rebounds. But late in games he’s still a liability because he is such a gawd-awful free throw shooter. He’s also 37 and has 17 seasons behind him and a decent injury history. With his size and weight, there are only so many more trips up and down the court his knees can take. He’s moody, too, in a Randy Moss sort of way, and sometimes exhibits the same work ethic as Moss. He’s not without risk. But if the cost is relatively reasonable, as in Ben Wallace/Sasha Pavolic reasonable, then the risks are manageable.

If O’Neal does end up in Cleveland it also sets up an interesting “legacy” issue for James. For reasons that I still don’t quite understand, the theme of this year’s NBA Finals was whether Bryant could win a title without O’Neal. The implication was that Bryant wasn’t good enough on his own to do it.

Here’s a newsflash. Bryant wasn’t good enough on his own to win the NBA title. Either is James. Either was Michael Jordan. The league might be built around superstars, but the rest of the players aren’t window dressing. The reason it took Bryant so long to win a title after O’Neal left Los Angeles was because he had a sub-par supporting cast. As it got better, so did the Lakers’ chances of winning the title. The same thing will play out with James.

Still, if O’Neal comes to Cleveland and the Cavs do win the title next year, some will saddle James with the same set of unfair baggage that has dogged Bryant for these many years. Then James will have to prove himself all over again once O’Neal leaves town, at least in the eyes of certain media members too lazy to do anything but draw surface level conclusions about far more complex issues.

It seems rather doubtful that James would let any of these kinds of backdrop issues affect his thinking about whether or not O’Neal in a Cavs uniform makes sense. But James has a healthy ego so anything’s possible. In that case, the Cavs will have to turn elsewhere and turn they will.

The larger issue that the Cavs really are addressing in the courtship of O’Neal or, if not him, then what amounts to a younger, if slightly less effective O’Neal, is how to deal with Dwight Howard. Apparently Howard will be a fixture for years to come in Orlando even though he has a similar contract situation as James. The difference is that Howard has been far clearer in his desire to remain in Orlando. Knowing that, the Cavs have to build a team that can match up with any of the contenders in the Eastern Conference, and Orlando looks to be one for awhile or forever find themselves where the Mark Price/Brad Daughtery/Larry Nance Cavs found themselves—one player short.

The NBA is a league of match ups. The Lakers may have been on a mission after losing out to the Celtics a year ago, but in truth they matched up far better with the Magic than did the Cavs. Howard wasn’t ineffective against the Lakers, just merely mortal. The Lakers had enough of an answer for him to make their quest for this year’s title more of a stroll than a struggle.

The Cavs have to get to that same place as well. If that’s with O’Neal, so be it. If it’s someone else, that’s fine, too, just as long as they do. Whatever James want, because that, perhaps more than anything else right now, is what will keep him in Cleveland. Without the King, in the near term there is no court.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lingering Items-Fascination Edition

The fascinating thing about Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini’s approach to almost everything is how much it stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, Romeo Crennel. It’s fascinating because both coaches, presumably, have the same coaching lineage.

If the two were brothers, undoubtedly Crennel would be Fredo Corleone and Mangini would be Michael. Cold, calculating, standoffish and paranoid almost to a fault, Mangini is almost all business. Crennel, on the other hand, came across as a patsy put in charge while others more devious (can you say “Phil Savage?”) played the part of Moe Greene. If it was a good-time-let-the-inmates-run-the-asylum approach you coveted, Crennel was your man.

Right now, Mangini seems to be settling all family business once and for all. He quickly put both Shaun Rogers and Josh Cribbs in line. Phil Dawson will be next. He’s sent a message to all the veterans that their personal comfort is not a concern by making them practice in the rain during mini-camp. In ways large and small and in ways that Crennel never did, Mangini has established that he’s in charge.

But in thinking about the larger issue as to how someone like Bill Belichick could raise two such disparate sons, I can’t help but conclude that maybe that’s part of Belichick’s underlying genius. Not only do the two represent polar opposites in approach and demeanor but they also are markers for what can make an organization successful.

Any time like-minded group think becomes prevalent an organization puts itself into the wrong kind of red zone. The New England Patriots could never have succeeded if the only voice they ever heard was Belichick’s. Crennel’s demeanor acted as a bit of a balm to the red-ass that Belichick would deliver on a regular basis. And Belichick was smart enough to know that he couldn’t play both roles but that he needed both roles.

When Crennel took over the Browns and throughout his tenure, there was no one delivering the tough love. All the players saw was the father figure who occasionally wagged a disapproving finger. It was as though the players knew that dad would never stay mad at them for too long and they were right. Savage was the designated organizational prick but he was largely a loner and gone too often to be effective. There was no Yin to counter Crennel’s Yang.

With the Mangini regime just getting started, there’s no way yet to know if his staff will be all tough lovers like him or whether one or more of his key coaches will take on a Crennel-like persona as a counterbalance. That, as much as anything else, will determine whether Mangini can be successful and turn his most recent job into an actual career.


Speaking of fascinating, the “news” that the Cleveland Cavaliers front office was on the verge of firing head coach Mike Brown is either the textbook example of all that is bad about the internet or an actual trial balloon floated by the organization to gauge public reaction to something LeBron James might be contemplating.

If it’s the latter, the public seems to have spoken pretty loudly, pretty quickly. At the moment, while fans have their quibbles with Brown, there is absolutely no uprising to get him replaced. I understand the mentality that tends to devalue regular season accomplishments in light of playoff failures. But I’m more in the camp that thinks that getting there is the far harder part, even in a league where seemingly every team makes the playoffs.

Though the NBA puts more teams in the playoffs than either baseball or football, it doesn’t put any more teams in the playoffs with an actual chance at the title than does either of those other sports. The list of teams with an actual chance at the title this year was pretty short, with the Lakers and the Cavs at the top of those lists and the Celtics and Magic maybe one step behind. And guess what? It’s playing out that way.

The NBA playoffs, like those in other sports, expose a team’s weaknesses in a far shorter time frame than the regular season ever could. Certainly Brown made some suspect coaching decisions in the conference finals, but the reason the Cavs lost has more to do with talent than anything else. It’s not that the Cavs weren’t talented. It’s just that they weren’t talented enough. That’s on Danny Ferry more than anyone else.

The larger point, though, is the one made by Bud Shaw in Friday’s Plain Dealer. Brown is around for as long as LeBron James wants him around. It’s probably an exaggeration to say that James is functioning as the de facto general manager/president/head coach, but only slightly. With 2010 being James’ getaway year, the Cavs can’t afford to make any moves that James might not approve. He doesn’t get a vote, certainly, yet he wields the most potent veto imaginable.

James has never given a hint, at least publicly, that he is anything but simpatico with his head coach. Chances are that no matter who was the head coach the last four years, James’ game was going to improve. But under Brown, James has learned defense in ways he might never have and has become a complete player. James was always a better player than Carmelo Anthony, but there was a time when they were close. Anthony is doing fine, but James has lapped him and everyone else is now running neck and neck with the only other car still left in the field, Kobe Bryant. That’s on Brown as much as James.

In the end, the Brown rumors read far more like the sleazy side of the internet where the stock in trade is not just unsubstantiated rumor but outright fiction. The last thing the Cavs need at the moment is the kind of turmoil that comes with a head coaching change. Unless, of course, The Franchise thinks that’s the first thing it needs, in which case it will be time for Brown to find a realtor.


If your fascination runs more in the nature of baseball, you can’t get more fascinating than the American League Central. After taking two of three from the Kansas City Royals, the Indians found themselves 8 games under .500 and only 7 games out of first place. That kind of confluence is hard to find.

What’s even more fascinating is that despite a team that, in mid-June, already has more resemblance to the Columbus Clippers than the team that broke camp in Arizona, being 7 games behind doesn’t seem insurmountable. It’s not that I think they’ll surmount it. It’s just that this division is starting to resemble the AFC West last season. Now, if the Indians can actually play the part of the San Diego Chargers and Detroit crumbles like the Denver Broncos did, then there will be meaningful fall ball in this town.

What helps even more is that the Indians get to keep playing teams within their division. In just the last 10 games, the Indians have picked up two games on the White Sox and three on the Royals, both of whom are also well in the thick of things.

What all this demonstrates more than anything is that every team in the AL Central is deeply flawed. The Royals can pitch but not hit. The White Sox can pitch OK but they can’t score runs. The Twins and the Tigers are simply inconsistent. It’s in this context that it’s wondering what general manager Mark Shapiro plans to do about it.

The Indians have plenty of players in waiting on the disabled list. But it’s not as if they were doing all that much when those players were healthy. A return by Jake Westbrook would be a big bonus, but coming off of arm surgery he’ll at best be a spot contributor for the rest of the season.

Despite all that’s happened both inside and around this team, the keys to its success remain the same—the bullpen. It has settled as of late but that’s only as of late. Whether that’s the blip or what they did earlier in the year is their actual level will take several more weeks to figure out. In the meantime, it would be really nice if they can find starters that can go deeper into a game than 5 innings. Apparently David Huff got that message.


Apropos to nothing about Cleveland sports, but the big news in golf this week is the simultaneous returns of Phil Mickelson and John Daly. Good luck to Phil and his family. As for Daly, he’s one too many beers away from another suspension. In the meantime, he’s the subject of this week’s question to ponder, which is: Given his wardrobe choices of late, is it possible that he lost all his mirrors in his various divorces?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Next Biggest Thing

It’s probably already too late to figure out how many young savants have been labeled the next “LeBron” in their respective sport or pursuit and mostly futile to stop future ones from having to labor under that tag, but it does beg the question of whether the writer making the comparison is just being lazy or whether he’s also being stupid.

Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, as well-credentialed of a sports writer as there is out there, mindlessly fell into that trap this past week when filing his fawning story about high school baseball phenom Bryce Harper. When I say fawning, I mean ridiculously down-on-your-knees for hours at a time ass-kissing, fawning. And when I say ass-kissing, I mean “if there anything else I can do for you now or in the future, just call, day or night, doesn’t matter, this goes beyond man-love” ass-kissing groveling.

To say that Harper is a richly-talented 16-year old ballplayer probably doesn’t quite put enough emphasis on the skills he has at such a young age. But to put him already in the same category as James, Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods as Verducci does is about as far over the top as you can get.

It’s a disservice to James, Gretzky and Woods to put their brand on a 16-year old kid who hasn’t accomplished much of anything outside of his confined world of high school baseball in Las Vegas. I get it, he can hit the ball a long way. He throws hard, too. He’s also a good catcher. He’s a man among boys and opposing teams don’t stand a chance against his awesomeness. That’s the short story of LeBron, too. But all that does is set the table for Harper.

That isn’t to knock Harper as much as it is to remind the Verduccis of the world that each icon to whom he compared Harper have actually done something at the highest level, something Harper won’t even begin to contemplate until a year or two more.

If Harper can make the jump directly from high school to the big leagues and then star immediately, as James, Woods and Gretzky did, then it might be time to consider where Harper’s accomplishments fit into the debate. Until then, everything else is premature. And before you send me your emails, I recognize that Woods went to college for a few years. But at the same time he was competing directly at the highest level and had entered several pro tournaments even as a collegiate.

No question that the story of a phenom makes compelling reading. Who doesn’t want to contemplate the future of a kid that looks so bright? But the sports world is full of cautionary tales of Harper-like kids that labored under can’t miss tags until crushed by the expectations of others to make even the most optimistic person cynical about the Harper article.

Harper may very well make it and Verducci’s article may be prescient, but let’s not anoint him the next anything except the next kid, like a million before him, that has a chance to make a decent living chasing around a little white ball.

But coming across like somebody’s crazy grandpa sitting in the corner mumbling something about socialism was not my intent. But this really isn’t a column about Harper or Verducci so much as it is about what it says about the state of the game, any game really. The story of Harper comes on the heels of a somewhat similar story in the New York Times about a month ago. This time the player’s name is Jeremy Tyler and his sport is basketball.

Like Harper, Tyler is freakishly talented at such a young age. Like Harper, Tyler feels that he can no longer compete against the mere mortals that inhabit high school ball. And, like Harper, Tyler is considering novel ways to jump start his pro career.

In the case of Harper, the idea was floated about his moving to the Dominican Republic to play for a year and then come into the major leagues as a free agent. Although his mother steadfastly denies it will happen, just remember that behind every stupid idea is a stupid agent.

In Harper’s case, it’s Scott Boras. It’s not known whether this Dominican Republic foray could even skirt the league’s rules. But if it can, Boras is just the creep to do it. And if Harper’s mom doesn’t think that Boras has the verbal skills to spin a tale that makes leaving high school early and playing in the Dominican Republic sound downright All American, then she needs to look up from her scorebook once in awhile. My guess, though, is that Harper’s parents already are well schooled in agent oiliness as one of the unfortunate hazards of raising the gifted.
Tyler, too, has thoughts of leaving his high school mopes behind and heading off to Europe. It will accomplish two things according to, wait for it, “advisor” Sonny Vaccaro, expose Tyler to better competition and avoid the NBA’s rule about having to wait until he’s at least a year our of high school before entering the NBA. Oh yea, there’s money involved, too.

My naïveté about the underbelly of sports dissipated somewhere around the time that the Indians signed Wayne Garland, so none of this comes as a surprise. But still, even these moves, or potential moves in the case of Harper, take this to a whole other level. Capitalism may be the best economic system, but it does have some downsides.

As I wound my way through Harper’s story, I couldn’t help but think how awfully far off the mark Verducci really was. Maybe it was Harper and his dudes that labeled him the next LeBron and all this talk is kind of cute. But it also underscores a certain level of sophistication that has crept into their conversations in a way that probably has robbed them of some of the charms of being young. Rather than see the point, Verducci contributes to it.

Buried in the Harper story were his goals, which I quote, are to “be in the Hall of Fame. Play in Yankee Stadium. Play in the pinstripes. Be considered the greatest baseball player who ever lived.” In that short burst, Harper has succinctly but sadly captured baseball in all of its economic dysfunction with the sophistication of someone that isn’t spending all his free time on Facebook.

Recognizing that he’ll likely end up on a dreg of a team at the outset of his career owing to how the baseball draft works, Harper first sets his sights on just playing in Yankee stadium. Even with the Yankees in a new stadium that has yet to build its own history, his sentiment is understandable. It’s the game’s biggest day-to-day stage.

But like the teenage gymnast in Jerry McGuire pretending to cry when on the phone with Jerry and coldly negotiating with Sugar on the other line, Harper demonstrates his worldliness and a bit of his own cockiness by then saying he wants to play in pinstripes. By that Harper means that when his accomplishments outgrown his current team’s ability to compensate him adequately, it’s off to the Yankees. That’s baseball’s unspoken but ever present dynamic.

Unfortunately, that’s also the way young phenoms now think and there’s no turning back. But I have a suggestion to Verducci. He should have read his own story more closely. It would have been far more accurate for Verducci to label Harper as the next CC Sabathia. That’s his story and his trajectory. For now James remains true to the team that drafted him. For now.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Lingering Items--Born In the USA Edition

As still another off-season Camp Mangini winds it way down, there is a real sense of déjà vu all over again about this Cleveland Browns team.

Let’s see, the Browns haven’t yet landed on a starter at quarterback. That’s got a familiar ring to it. A new offense is being installed. Been there, seen that. A few veterans aren’t happy with their contacts. Yawn. Wake me when something actually happens that’s different.

Actually, despite the painfully familiar tone to the Browns at the moment, there really are fundamental changes taking place underneath. Mangini, for all the paranoia and insecurity he brings to his position, has quickly established himself as the face and voice of the Browns as he tries to deliver to the fans the relative glory days of the late 1980s. True, that may not be saying much given the rather low profile owner Randy Lerner has always taken, but in ways that former coach Romeo Crennel never did, Mangini has positioned himself as the voice of authority on a team that’s needed some solid parenting and not the extended visit it’s had for the last several years from the good time favorite uncle.

It may seem rather high schoolish to have professional ballplayers run laps when they forget the snap count or execute the wrong play. But one of the bigger problems on this team under Crennel was its rather casual approach to the fundamentals. Having eschewed any interest in them it wasn’t much of a surprise that they struggled executing more complex concepts.

A far more interesting development has been Mangini’s unwillingness to name a starting quarterback some 10 weeks before the first preseason game is played. Never having coached either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson, it’s a pretty understandable posture. Mangini seems to have taken a measured approach to this, indicating over time the starter will essentially reveal himself. It will be based on amorphous concepts like huddle presence as well as the tangible results from the practice and preseason fields.

Nothing earth shattering in any of that, but the thing to keep in mind is that not all competitions are created equally. It’s simply far-fetched to believe that Mangini won’t have or doesn’t have a favorite, even if undeclared, going forward. While Mangini will no doubt keep both Quinn and Anderson dancing in the dark, mainly because Mangini likes others to share his own healthy sense of paranoia, the so-called competition isn’t likely to be evaluated simply on a bald comparison of the two’s results.

Whoever is Mangini’s undeclared favorite will be evaluated in the context of it being his job to lose. The underdog then gets evaluated in terms of whether or not he did enough to unseat the favorite. The distinction between that and an open competition may be subtle but it is significant. More to the point though, it isn’t a bad thing, particularly in the context of these two quarterbacks.

Fans clearly have their favorite so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the coach probably has one as well. Things may be rough, but they’ll just get rougher if a starter doesn’t emerge or if one performs better but the other is chosen starter.

If neither player is able to grab the reigns, then this team has a leadership problem and it will matter little who ultimately gets the start. That would be big trouble and it’s worth noting that the coaching staff seemed to think this could happen by at least floating rumors out there about acquiring another quarterback in the run up to the draft. Maybe that was just a way of making freight trains run through the middle of his quarterbacks heads, but, on the other hand you can’t start a fire without a few sparks.

If one plays better but the other is named starter, then there will be a credibility problem. Think back to the last two pre-seasons. No matter which quarterback you prefer, there’s no question that Quinn looked better in those games. But Rob Chudzinksi had a favorite, and that was the bigger arm of Anderson, and as a result Quinn sat.

That process worked well for one season and was a disaster the next. But beyond all that, it put the players into either a Quinn or an Anderson camp, just one of the dozens of unhealthy developments that emerged under the prior regime.

Mangini has done a decent job of asserting his authority. But that’s the easy part. The hard part will come in exercising it appropriately.


Never underestimate the value of public relations professionals within an organization. I can’t help but think, for example, that many of the Browns’ initial missteps in their rollout of the two-headed Mangini/Kokinis hydra could have been avoided had they not just gotten rid of their p.r. staff. Lesson learned, perhaps.

For pure spin, you’d have trouble finding anything more enticing then the announcement a few days ago that the Browns and the Indians were teaming up on a unique partnership to peddle unsold loges at each stadium.

According to various reports, the two teams are offering “fans” the chance to purchase a “Touchdown Package” for $15,000. For that they get the chance to watch the Tribe play St. Louis and Detroit and the Browns play Pittsburgh, both from the relative luxury of a suite. There’s also a more moderate package for $10,000 that includes tickets to watch the Indians play St. Louis and Cincinnati and the Browns play the Packers. It’s their lucky day, for sure, all right.

Having spent some time in the suites at both stadiums, I can definitively tell you that neither lacks for luxury or comfort. While some suite locations are better than others, that’s mostly quibbling. I’m trying to play salesman here, but the loges are a nice way to watch a game. The biggest selling point, perhaps, is that they have dedicated bathrooms. Maybe that was a bigger selling point in the days of Municipal Stadium, but it’s still a pretty good selling point nonetheless.

The question is whether or not you have a spare 10 or 15 grand floating around to take advantage of that privilege. Of course you don’t, even if you’re all day working on the highway laying down some blacktop. But don’t worry; you’re not the fans either team has in mind.

The back story in all of this is that a bad local economy has caused many businesses to feel like they’ve been working at a car wash where all it ever does is rain. It’s forced them to rethink how they spend their entertainment dollars, assuming they have any to spare. With both teams struggling on the field, a business trying to balance budgets against that backdrop makes the decision not to splurge on a loge a little easier. Many businesses right now don’t feel their missing out on entertainment opportunities by not purchasing a full season loge. In truth, if you really want to take a customer to a game, there’s plenty of tickets available right up to game time.

While the two teams are certainly to be applauded for being innovative, undoubtedly they both see this as a stop gap measure. For each team to be financially successful, they need full commitments on their loges before the seasons start. Right now it seems like there ain’t nobody that wants to come down there no more. The ability of the Indians to sell the 43 loges that are unsold this season may not have a direct line relationship to their ability to re-sign Cliff Lee, but it isn’t exactly an indirect line either. Both teams need this kind of revenue to remain competitive.

If there is any good news in this it’s that most other teams are struggling on the same streets with their lights growing dim and their access to ancillary revenue growing slim. It’s hard to get solid figures on where the Indians, for example, stand relative to their peers on this issue, but undoubtedly every team is sitting in that same lonely motel room with only a radio playing as they contemplate their dwindling luxury revenue at the moment. If this maneuver ends up giving both teams a competitive advantage, you can bet other teams in other cities will follow suit.


It was interesting that David Stern said earlier this week that he still needed to talk to LeBron James before deciding whether or not to fine him for not shaking hands with the Orlando Magic players after game 6 and for not attending the post-game press conference; interesting because a day later Stern announced he was fining James $25,000 for those transgression.

On the day that fine was announced, James was also named the 19th most powerful celebrity in the recent annual rankings by Forbes magazine. James is on the list not only for his money but his influence. He’s got the money. He can rock all night. In fact, the $25,000 fine represents about .000625% of James’ reported $40,000,000/year income. For perspective, it’s the equivalent of a $46 fine to someone making $75,000/year. In other words, it’s not even a parking ticket. More like a night at the Regal Cinema.

The fact that Stern fined James so quickly after saying he would take his time sure sounds like the amount and announcement was coordinated with James. Stern probably made the point to James that he had to be consistent in approach and James probably said “whatever.”

The question about James’ conduct after the game six loss has received roughly the same media play as President Obama’s speech in Egypt but has been far more passionately presented. Frankly, it’s only an issue because it’s James. Nobody much cares if Wally Szcerbiak does the same thing.

James is the face of the NBA, a position he’s courted through word and deed. It does come with responsibility and my sense is that he recognizes that as well. But after everything James did to will the team to victory, he undoubtedly felt like a dog that had been beaten too much and decided to just walk away.

In the grand scale of misdeeds, this isn’t worth the mention, so I’ll do what pretty much everyone else talking about it should have done and stop.


Twenty-five years ago this week, one of life’s seminal albums by life’s seminal artist was released, Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen This album more than any other solidified Springsteen as a cultural icon and treasure that he will forever remain and coincidentally launched the career of Courtney Cox. It leads to this week’s question to ponder: It’s 10 more years burning down the road, is Mangini still leading the Browns?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Hope Not Fate

The ball sure does take some funny bounces. Talk about disappointment.

Last weekend I played two more rounds of golf and didn’t have a hole-in-one, again. It’s a pattern that has repeated itself over year after year over hundreds of rounds of golf on every kind of course imaginable, from some of the great courses of the world to some of the ugliest cow pastures around.

Ever hopeful despite this repeated failure, there isn’t a round of golf where I haven’t thought that today might be the day. Nor has there been a Par 3 that I didn’t walk off of slightly disappointed that I wasn’t able to enter a “1” on my score card or a Par 3 that I’ve approached that I thought I might conquer.

I’ve witnessed golfers of lesser ability achieve the kind of success I think my skill better deserves. I’ve seen my friend, Tim, a 20-handicapper get two holes-in one in the same season. Another friend, Andy, sporting a 25 or so handicap, just joined Firestone Country Club, where I’ve been a member the last several years. Two days into his tenure, he had a hole-in-one.

If I was looking for signs, that probably would have been it. Either that or the many, many times I’ve watched my ball land within inches of the cup but not fall in. If it isn’t fate, then I’m out of ways to describe it.

My repeated failures in the pursuit of the hack golfer’s ultimate goal stands as my own personal metaphor for the repeated failures of the Cleveland sports fan’s ultimate goal: a championship, any championship. Weighted down by getting close, I either accept the inevitability of it and find another pursuit or I find another reason to keep coming back in hopes that the God’s of golf or pick-your-sport will be sleeping long enough to reach that goal.

Sports have always been and will forever be the cruelest of mistresses. You can buy it dinner and drinks until you’re bankrupt but it will never give you everything you think you deserve. The truth is, sports, like life, don’t work that way. Nothing is predestined. You never get what you fully expect just because you think you deserve it. Luck, both good and bad, is e a far bigger factor than skill in outcomes and it’s always been that way. I didn’t tick off the golf gods any more than Frank Lane ticked off the baseball gods when he traded Rocky Colavito. But for a few bounces that went that way instead of this way all this talk of failed destiny would have never taken place.

I’ll get a hole-in-one someday and a Cleveland team sometime will win a championship. If not this season, then next. If not next, then someday. It will happen. It’s just that it won’t be on your time table or mine and it won’t be because it’s a payback for previous failures we’ve been forced to endure.

The death of hope is not failure but indifference. Once the outcome doesn’t matter, neither does the underlying endeavor. Despite the name of my own website, Wait ‘til Next Year, Again, I’m not one of those guys that believe that Clevelanders will never experience sports ultimate thrill What I am is one of those guys that thinks it just hasn’t yet been Cleveland’s moment where skill and great luck coalesce into that magic moment where the unthinkable actually happens.

When I contemplate the fact that I’ve not yet had a hole-in-one or experienced a championship in my life time (the ’64 Browns don’t count, I was only 5), it doesn’t really occur to me that at some point in my life that it will never happen. It’s just that my moment hasn’t yet come. It will. I truly believe it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

What’s the play in approaching every hole or every game and every season of every team with a sense of dread? If you lose faith that there will be success, if not now then sometime, you’ll eventually lose faith in the sport. More specifically, if you think this year was the Cavs only chance to with the NBA Championship, then what would be the point in going through another season? Especially when you think it will end up in disappointment anyway. Fold the franchise.

The other thing is that as good as winning a championship is, it’s probably the worst thing that can happen for those who live with perpetual dread. It just means another one will probably never happen. When success is measured only in the ability to win that one final game or sink that one shot, then what do you do when that’s accomplished? For many, what they do is fall right back in that sense of dread that the team will never win another. That’s depressing on just about every level imaginable.

See, the thing about sports of any stripe is that it’s the intrigue of the moment that keeps us coming back for more. Every sport is a metaphor for life. Enough happens within a game or a season that applies with equal force to whatever other challenges you might face in life. But the advantage sports have is that the stakes are far smaller.

When Ohio State beat Miami in 2002 for the National Championship, there wasn’t anyone anywhere that was happier than I was. And when Ohio State was blistered by both Florida and LSU in subsequent national championship games, there wasn’t anyone more disappointed. I don’t mean to be Little Gary Sunshine here and remind you that after every disappoint the sun still will come up tomorrow (to mix my Broadway metaphors a bit) but I do mean to be is that guy that tells you that having your team win it all or get blown out in that final game has a shelf life that lasts until the next great moment or major disappointment comes along, and it will come along. Was there anything more glorious than LeBron James’ last second shot in game 2 of the Orlando series? Yet, it’s kind of hard to remember it right now.

If your approach to watching sports is singular in its focus, you’re going to miss all the fun in between. As much as I hated watching Ohio State get blown out by Florida (and I was there), keeping that in perspective helps me remember and, better yet, appreciate the glee I felt when they beat Michigan several weeks prior (and I was there, too). But even that is thinking too small. When I sit back now and think about those seasons, what I remember far more is that I got to witness a player like Troy Smith literally grow up in front of my eyes under head coach Jim Tressel. I got to watch Ted Ginn, Jr. put fears in the eyes of opposing teams every time they had to punt or kick off. The thrill of those overtime victories still lingers.

The same holds true for the Cavaliers this season. I’m as disappointed as the next person that they didn’t get it done this season. But I have a pretty easy time actually accepting that it didn’t happen because in large measure they just weren’t good enough. Someone was better and when that happens, you tip your hat and move on.

More important than all of that, I got to witness the greatest Cavaliers team ever assembled, which is saying something despite a mostly inglorious history. A NBA Championship would have been nice, but the lack of one doesn’t diminish the milestones they achieved and it certainly doesn’t diminish the spectacular play that James provided the fans for the better part of 8 straight months. The singular moment of a championship is far more fleeting than the multiple moments of otherworldly play by the most otherworldly of player.

The same goes for the Indians. When Jose Mesa was on the mound in ’97 against the Florida Marlins, I literally watched those final moments through a tiny crack between my fingers as I was mostly shielding myself from what seemed inevitable. And I was mightily pissed when that turned out to be the case. But that didn’t stop me from watching in 1998 or in any year before or since. Heck, I’ve been watching these guys since probably 1965 or so. The lack of a World Series title hasn’t kept me from enjoying the games anyway.

And as much as I like to bitch about the Browns and the ineptness of its organization, it’s my favorite love/hate relationship. Winning the Super Bowl would be great. Far more important to me, though, is having the opportunity to have that relationship. The worst time for me wasn’t the Earnest Byner fumble or the Rich Karlis field goal, it was when a morally and financially bankrupt Art Modell ripped the team away from the town.

What this all really comes down to is that it isn’t the transient players or there intermittent accomplishments that twang my buds in any particular sport, it’s the games themselves. The pressure-filled successes and abject failures that happen on a daily basis will always remain the lure as will the intrigue behind the scenes. That’s what keeps me coming back. And when that ultimately pays off in a championship somewhere, or, God forbid, a hole-in-one, I’ll be as happy as the next person. But as I wait for that to happen I’ll continue tune in to the next game or tee it up again the next day anyway. I don’t want to miss the game. My goals may be simpler, but they keep me saner.