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A Pox that Has Spread Across the Southland

December 9, 2016 21 comments

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I don’t want to get ahead of myself and have intentionally not written any articles since the playoff ouster, but like Donald Trump – the best predictor of what will happen is by what has happened. So far, contenders made deals at the Winter Meetings to shore up needs, trading away top prospects, opening up the checkbook and ensuring their fans 2017 will be a fun season with a retooled team to enjoy. The Dodgers? As is the custom in the Andrew Friedman era, unconventional non-moves, overpaying for inferior quality and PR-machine generated rumors to get fans excited enough to attend games next season – at increased ticket and parking prices. TV? No such luck, you can hear about how great the all Dodgers network is, but likely never see it for yourself. This is the way the latest negligent owner – the wealthy investment capital firm called the Guggenheim Group, runs business. Fans are just customers to pay higher rates and buy concessions and merchandise – the checks are already in the bank. Sadly, a new generation of fans are more loyal to trillionaire finance companies and overpaid executives than to themselves. Being guardians of these people’s wallets vs. their own self-interests as baseball fans. “Greinke was greedy!” “Kenley doesn’t deserve that!” “We got a bargain with Kazmir!” It’s a mental illness tide that has swept across Los Angeles like herpes, and where once Angelenos wore Fernando jerseys and rooted Garvey, Cey, Orel, Sax, Yeager, Gibson, etc., they now put their loyalties out to Friedman, his pet troll Farhan Zaidi, gym rat Gabe Kapler, Josh Byrnes, and their ilk. I am embarrassed by what the Dodgers have become, but more, what the fans have become.

Turned to bickering, if you point this out, the Twitter trolls will attack. How dare you question the genius of giving $16M to Brent Anderson? You’re too naive to see why Brandon McCarthy was a far smarter signing than keeping Greinke. If you had half a brain, you’d know trading away Dee Gordon for closer of the future Chris Hatcher was a master stroke. Oh, you don’t see the value in signing and then paying Cubans to leave? You idiot! Kiké Hernández, Austin Barnes, Josh Ravin, Luis Avilan – oh, you’re too ignorant to see greatness! All hail the small market executives who make us all better by allowing us to witness their brilliance! It’s a pox that has spread across the Southland and is fueled by the Internet bullying compulsion.

I am a grounded person living in a real world. I have the common sense to not vote for reality show billionaires for President of the United States or believe a second round of Moneyball in the country’s 2nd largest market will succeed after the 1st failed miserably. I have waited and watched and believe me, all the way up until Paul DePodesta blew up a highly competitive, fun Dodgers roster in 2004, I NEVER bashed the Dodgers front office. I understood that occasionally a deal didn’t work out but by and large knew the gatekeepers of my team had our best interests and knew what they were doing. Again, common sense told me what DePodesta did to the Dodgers roster was not in anyone’s best interest but his own. The Moneyball mentality, as shown by DePodesta and now this gang of rats, is about their own self-interest. To be smarter, look more clever, cute, as unconventional as possible to stick their middle fingers up at the fans and traditional baseball principles to be superior. What worked in part in Oakland out of necessity, is not made for the richest team in the sport. Small minded, small market narcissists should not be allowed the keys to the Dodgers kingdom. Like DePodesta, ultimately this will be figured out and the current crop shown the door. But in the meantime, fans, real fans who grew up loving the Dodgers, listening to stories their parents and uncles and aunts and cousins – and Vin Scully! – told them, are left to twist in the wind, paying higher prices, cheering on – what? A collection of bodies, intermingled with a few actual stars, when so much more could be delivered – if only ego maniacs were not calling the shots.

The fan boys and Sabermetrics sickos applaud every bad move and non-move. It empowers them, as they grew up playing too much fantasy baseball and paying too much attention to bloggers’ love of obscure statistics. They never admit that after tens of millions are squandered on career injury cases, the elderly, the never were’s – and said players are paid off to leave – that they were wrong. When Friedman loads his rotation with McCarthy, Anderson and Kazmir, and looks for a team foolish (desperate) enough to take on their deals, or has to juggle more roster moves than anyone in the history of the game to compensate for his short-sightedness, the cultists pretend it’s not happening and puff out their chest for the latest $48M deal given to an old pitcher with a history of injuries – someone, like the other, was out of baseball and trying to catch on with independent league teams. If Friedman and Zaidi signed the guy, they reason, it must be a masterful move. Until it’s not, and you’ll never hear from them that day.

All I know is what I know. I look at what has happened and what is happening. I use that reality to gauge the future. I see the mistakes from the past repeating themselves. Wait for 2018. 2018! 2018! Ok – in 2018 magic potion will sprinkle from the skies over Chavez Ravine and every prospect in the system will be a superstar. Payroll will be low, homegrown talent will rule Blue Heaven on Earth. Never will a prospect bust, or just be a bench player. In this utopia, every player under the age of 22 will be a superstar. Never mind Clayton Kershaw will have an opt out; never mind generally most prospects do not become superstars; never mind the clear majority of the prospects were handed to Friedman from Ned Colletti and Logan White. 2018 is the year. The year. So why should fans spend hard earned money in 2017? Why not wait?

I see the reality of good teams getting the pieces they need to remain good, or get better. I see deals happening where the Giants addressed their main deficiency – a closer. I see the Red Sox being bold enough to deal a Cuban (egad!) to acquire an ace starter. I see the Cubs lose their closer and quickly acquire another – plus a setup man, so they can return for another World Series title. I see the White Sox inexplicably give up when they had most of the pieces, but reload with other teams blue chips. I see the Yankees, who came close after a bold youth movement mid-season, reacquire their closer. I watch the Cardinals add a great defender, offensive player and leader in center field. On it goes. I see the Dodgers talk about players they are “in” on – or more accurately, I see baseball writers say they probably are, but of course time and time and time again they are beat to the punch. The fan boys remain hopeful. They scoff, “Anyone can shop at the Winter Meetings. Anyone can make deals in late July.” They are convinced every absurd move, every lack of action, is right. It must be. If the actions of Friedman and Zaidi are not, everything the fan boys believe in is false. The prospect of this is dizzying, so they act superior, bully online and disappear when “ringers” fail and are paid off to leave town.

As I said at the top, it’s “still early” – though I would also argue not shopping, not dealing, when others are is a big disadvantage, and an unnecessary one. Since cult members are obsessed with owners saving money, shouldn’t the Dodgers save on airfare and hotel by leaving their genius brain trust at home and not attend the Winter Meetings at all? Imagine how all powerful and magnificent they would look if they snubbed their nose at baseball convention and sat it out altogether? Wouldn’t they be awesome?

It is possible the Dodgers make moves – and they will, some – and it’s also possible that in the course of doing this they surprise somehow and do something unprecedented in the Friedman regime and do something right. But that wouldn’t erase all the mistakes – the dumb trades, the unnecessary holes they create, the unrealistic, small time thinking that you must keep EVERY prospect and can never deal some for what you need at the big-league level. It will not change the fact that 2016 was a rather lucky year where the entire division took a nap and repeating that luck statistically (they will like that term) isn’t likely.

When the Guggenheim conglomerate hired Moneyballers to run the Dodgers, it was in large part to reduce payroll and hand over control to a “new” philosophy they’d heard about in Brad Pitt movies. The investment firm honchos do not know or care about baseball – the Dodgers are another piece of the portfolio. You pay $2B to a Botox’d dandy and immediately get an $8B TV deal – plus the gate, MLB revenues, merchandise, etc., etc. If a bunch of kangaroo and monkeys could run out onto the field at 7:10 to play the games, that would be fine with the owners. As long as 40K+ paying customers showed up to watch.

I hope for a few things. I hope first that fans fight back and boycott the games, leaving Guggenheim to look at balance sheets and scratch their heads. The plan worked with Frank McCourt – stop attending games, hitting ownership in the wallet, works. I hope the Moneyballers are shown the door so the few great pieces like Kershaw and Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez, aren’t left out to dry. I hope Los Angeles baseball fans stop rooting for rich executives and start believing as fans of the game and team, that they deserve better. I hope fans who bicker and snipe at one another realize we’re all supposed to be in it together and quarreling is what we are supposed to do with Giants fans, Padres fans, Diamondbacks fans and Rockies fans – all in a respectful, decent way that doesn’t turn us into ugly animals like Twitter trolls and an orange president-elect. I hope for these things, and mostly for the young, naive or continually let down to wise up and see the truth. As the X-Files TV show famously stated, “The truth is out there.” It really is, you just must open your eyes and see it.

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Something Old, Something New, Something Unseen, Something Blue

April 4, 2015 1 comment

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The 2015 Dodgers season is about to get underway and there’s a mixture of giddy optimism and disinterest among longtime Dodgers fans. The excitement breaks into two camps – those who love the fact Moneyball style “geniuses” are calling the shots for the team, and those who would cheer a Dodger themed diaper sitting on the side of the road. The disinterested fall flatly into one group – those who have been screwed over, lied to, ripped off and left for dead for the better part of 33 years. On with the show…

The Giddy:

If you watched the HBO Scientology show, “Going Clear,” that aired this past weekend, you will understand the mindset of this group. Watching that documentary, as a sane person, you thought – how is this happening? Why do they allow it to happen? Why are they so clueless and even stupid that they buy into this shit show? Why does this obvious charlatan (L. Ron Hubbard or his successor, David Miscavige) have such a hold over all of these people?

Whether they’re fans of data or just will root on anything blue, no matter what form it takes, it’s more a case of brainwashing, mass hypnosis, Stockholm Syndrome and perhaps a huge jolt of arrogance (calling Tom Cruise) that fuels these people. Like Scientology, there is no fact, evidence of any kind, or reason to firmly believe, yet they do. Like Scientology, the hold is powerful. If someone disputes the team or its resident “geniuses,” they attack and ostracize. Like Scientology, a person who criticizes the current Dodgers, cites history of questionable or plain crazy treatment, or heaven forbid, comment against the Svengali like leader – in this case, Andrew Friedman – they are labeled an SP, or Suppressive Person. They also cut ties with those SPs, since it doesn’t fall logically into their rosy view of life.

I find it funny when young fans that have little sense of history and are merely fueled by today’s need to be smarter than everyone and “right”, will question your thinking, dismissing you because you are not young and therefore relevant like they are. Baseball fans that understand the history of the game, and know no matter who plays, who comes, who goes, the game has largely remained the same since its inception. This kind of thinking, and the rules that govern how the game is played, basic concepts, etc., are outdated to the nouveau and being old, can’t possibly be right. Yet, somehow this mindset tries to lead us to believe they have a respect for Vin Scully, or perhaps Tommy Lasorda, both older than most anyone on the planet and certainly within the Dodgers universe. Newsflash – they do not like or respect Vin or Tommy – both are “old fools” and don’t get it. But they know that if they take that one extra step and condemn them, it will be going too far and likely get them torn to shreds by the masses. So, they nod, placate us with rhetoric that they love these guys and therefore try to justify their loyalty as true Dodgers fans.

There’s also the blind faithful I alluded to, which are less douchey than the first chunk of the giddy, but in their own way enabling and part of the greater problem. Being a fan, good or bad, is certainly not a terrible thing. It’s admirable, as any Cubs fan will tell you, to root, root, root, no matter what the final numbers say in the standings at the end of the season. That said, its one thing to be a fan and love the team – history, memories, and geographic allegiance – yet another to suggest everything is ok, when clearly it is not.

These people are either pedestrian fans who watch X number of games per year, just don’t care that deeply, are naive, or want desperately to assume no matter who owns or runs the team, that it is the very same Dodgers team they grew up enjoying. This has proven NOT to be the case when Fox owned the club, and of course NOT the case when Frank McCourt was its figurehead. Now there is the much beloved Guggenheim Group, who have largely disappeared once ink was put to the lucrative Time Warner Cable TV deal. There are no more Dream Team partners, no more smiling Magic, and we all know, no TV deal. The Dodgers twitter feed and sycophants laud the 24/7 new all Dodgers TV channel, and the radio guys have been gotten to and smile and not, positively (like Scientologists), and make like everything is great. Why would anyone criticize the team/ownership/leaders when all this good is happening? It would be un-American to think this way, and positively anti-Dodgers. So the two factions of the giddy are in alignment, and anyone not on their side, even with evidence to the contrary that perhaps all is NOT well, are labeled the baseball fan equivalents to the dreaded SP.

The Disinterested:

This group is based on people weary of being beaten and occasionally snap back. Many, too tired to snap, merely have checked out and engage in other activities – perhaps other teams, or have abandoned the sport entirely. Baseball lost fans after all their work stoppages; lost others after various cheating scandals; and now are losing fans of one of their flagship franchises due to horrible mismanagement that has lingered in some form or other since the final days of the O’Malley family’s tenure.

The Guggenheim team came in with bold promises to win the fans back. It took years of neglect and physical abuse at the hands of the McCourt era for many to finally tune out. People stopped going to the games and the Dodgers were no longer LA’s darlings. There was a time in the city when the whole town was blue – and the Lakers games were relegated to tape delay airings late at night. It took quite a lot of mediocrity and bad leadership for the tumble to happen, but it did. Now, beginning the 2015 season, there is the euphoric delight of the aforementioned giddy, and the disgust of the disinterested.

While the data crowd will crow loudly for its Moneyball heroes, and the mindlessly happy loyalists will cheer anything at all, there’s reason, certainly, to question another re-org, as it were, of the Dodgers. A new plan was brought in – the old one scrapped after just a few seasons – and a new leader came aboard to replace the old leader, also touted as a “genius.” The new “genius” brought in more “geniuses” because as any fan of corporate America knows, you can never have too many levels of highly paid management around. Of course it remains to be seen what 2015 will bring, or for that matter, 2016, 2017, etc. I think it is safe though to point out a few things, much to the chagrin of the giddy factions, purely based on educated hunches.

One thing worth noting is – the games are unavailable on TV for the majority of the city. This is the second year in a row that the second largest market in the nation cannot watch its home town baseball team. If you lived in Milwaukee, you could see the Brewers. If you lived in Cleveland, you could see the Indians. If you lived in Tampa, you could see the Rays. If you live in LA, you can see the Angels. Hmm. The checks are being cashed and there’s every reason to suspect Guggenheim doesn’t give a shit what happens – well, perhaps they would if they experienced a McCourt era style boycott, but right now? There’s no reason to panic as the giddy will fill seats and give the appearance that all is right in LA – even though many have checked out, are about to check out and don’t know who the hell the players are anyway, after Friedman’s rash of crazy player personnel moves and mad spending.

Another thing to note is likely at best this year’s Dodgers – if that’s what you want to call them – are yet another transitional group that aren’t worth that much interest anyway. Before you invest in expensive pro jerseys of many of these players, remember that a good many will not be here in 2016. Ask yourself, do you really want to be that guy wearing a Rollins jersey when no one remembers he ever played in LA? If the Dodgers do well and win the West and go to the playoffs, it will satisfy the giddy, and perhaps pique the interest of the disinterested, but ultimately this year’s team will drift into the dusty corners of Dodgers lore along with teams populated with the likes of Tito Landrum, Pat Perry, Enos Cabell and others.

To the disinterested, this act has played before. Lots of promises, lots of pomp and circumstance, but ultimately a con job. Frank McCourt brought in “his Theo” in ego maniac Paul DePodesta, and the fans were treated to one of the most comically bad lineups in Dodgers history. The supporters of DePo cried, if only he had been given more time. More time? To do what, sell us a monorail? When Stan Kasten came in, Guggenheim told us things would be different and the architect of all those wonderful Braves teams would turn the Dodgers around. I could argue how great the Braves teams were – 14 division titles with just 1 World Series trophy, while boasting perhaps the most star-studded pitching staffs in baseball history? The plan was to spend a lot of money, under Kasten, win the fans back with flashy names they all heard of, and eventually move out these placeholders in favor of cheap kids. Well, that plan was quickly scrapped and the next group of “geniuses” came in. A whirlwind of trades and acquisitions, lots of money spent, and much of it foolishly, with players sent packing in all directions while the team continued to pay their salaries. We are where we are today, like it or not.

From where I stand, I know this all feels familiar; there is no reason to be that loyal since I can’t even watch the games; I barely know who’s on the roster due to all the change; and very much I know that pitching is key in baseball and the 2015 Dodgers are a shoddy bunch in that area. Several of the guys Friedman brought in, and his giddy disciples swore would be great, have already failed, gotten hurt or are just gone. It is possible the team does well in 2015, but how much should I care when I can’t watch them play? And how can they do this with a massive payroll and perhaps as many, or more, holes as they had the past couple of years? It’s concerning to me that with a payroll pushing $300M (I don’t care about payroll per se as I am not a guardian of wealthy owners’ wallets, but it is worth noting since all of this spending still amounts to a team with many obvious deficiencies), we still have to worry about a suspect rotation and flimsy bullpen.

The Dodgers – Guggenheim – have continued me being pushed to the sidelines, not to watch baseball games (I can’t), but to scrutinize the larger game happening behind the scenes. Rather than listening and watching Vin Scully, perhaps in his final season in the booth, I have to be reminded – like in Scientology – that all is well and if I can’t watch the game, I can just wave a foam finger and dance to bubbles and blaring music. The sport of baseball in LA is not the action on the field, but the action in offices deep within the stadium. The figures we’re to watch aren’t Joc Pederson or mangled elbow import Hector Olivera, but guys in suits and polo shirts that are slicker than any fielder could ever hope to be.

It’s a less than satisfying feeling to have to debate/argue with the giddy who love all this “real life fantasy baseball” excitement and hopefully predict greatness that never really comes. You would think – much like America – that we should be united as one common group, but rather are infighting like members of Congress. The smarmy young fans who were slurping on their baa-baa’s while I was watching games for decades, will tell me how little I know and how it’s idiotic to question the data. The data, they will remind you, never lies. Well, unless it does. Ask Paul DePodesta.

The irony of the data-minded is that Billy Beane himself, their Hubbard, says the data is only good to fill in the circles to get X amount of production at position Y or position Z, therefore, hopefully, “guaranteeing” an overall amount of productivity that should, could, win a specific amount of games. As Beane has said, this all goes out the window come October, when the best and/or hottest teams win, not generic figures who were assembled to perform called upon tasks. This is all well and good, and worked for Beane, often, but not all the way, who was strapped to a small budget by miserly owners. Just getting to the dance, Beane figured, was enough. He did his job. He put together a rag-tag team that got a chance at baseball’s lottery. Of course, oftentimes his teams were quickly brushed aside, but it did not deter him – he accomplished what he wanted to do, and on such a budget, perhaps rightfully earned his “genius” label.

With the Dodgers, however, money flows like wine, and it’s a strange concoction of Moneyball where a $270M+ payroll is still playing fast and loose with the rules and has so many question marks. One would think that for this type of payroll, there would be NO (or very few) stones left unturned. Why are there 3 suspect pitchers in the rotation (counting Ryu’s shoulder damage I noted repeatedly throughout the off-season) and as shaky a pen as there was the past 2 seasons? Maybe because so much money is invested in players being paid NOT to play in LA, and some on teams within the Dodgers division. At any rate, a large amount of money is being thrown around and there are many areas a bright fan would not feel confident about. And if Beane’s Moneyball was to assemble a data-driven group that could get so many home runs, so many hits, so many walks, etc., etc. in order to get a chance to play in October, what is Friedman’s Moneyball about? Spending more than any team in baseball history to not necessarily have any guarantee of regular season success, but maybe overpower teams come October? A reverse Beane Moneyball?

To me the approach is curious because it’s pretty evident that in October weaknesses are exposed even more, and relying on less-than-stellar pitching may be that much more obvious in the post-season. If the Dodgers got to the post-season, which they might not.

To me, a disinterested, put upon fan who has been sold many tall tales, 2015 to me is about the kids. The ONLY interest is seeing how kids perform, which make it, which don’t, who gets promoted, etc. In effect, what will the future look like? I KNOW Rollins, Kendrick, Ethier, CC, AJ, Uribe, likely Greinke, Grandal even, and others, don’t factor in for long. So without TV to see the games anyway, why would I be blindly loyal to a team that won’t be a team for long? If Guggenheim has taken the money and run, why should I care? If I can’t sit down, turn on the TV and watch the Dodgers play throughout the summer, why bicker and fight with others who claim they like the same thing I do? It’s ludicrous.

To me, the two groups are at war – one is blissfully ignorant of anything awry, and will disown you like Hubbard, err, Friedman, wants. The other is just exhausted from all the bullshit and wishes (probably unrealistically) that the team they loved all their lives were still around to be enjoyed. Maybe someday, maybe not, but it would be hard to say it will happen in 2015.

All this said, no matter what side of the equation you fall into, be kind to others, like what you like, dislike what you dislike, but understand we all have a right to our own opinion. Being young, loving data, doesn’t make you a genius. Very few cases of this amounting to anything substantial in baseball terms exist. We can agree to disagree. But the facts are the facts – Fox made a lot of money while owning the Dodgers. McCourt made billions while owning the Dodgers. And now the Guggenheim Group is making even more billions while owning the Dodgers. At least the first two greedy entities allowed us to watch the team play on TV. Now, the data is against them. Better tune in to Netflix instead or peruse social media for Kylie Jenner’s latest selfie. It’s all we can do in 2015.