A Kinder and Gentler Spring Training

A friend of mine said the reason the Mets ST is coming off like a tea dance by Sun Yung Moon is that I’m not there this year. I think there’s more to it than this.

I’ve been a Mets fan since the team was formed, but I’ve only been a Mets writer since 2004. Frankly, 2011 is the first year that I’m not writing some kind of prediction where the Mets will finish, or some feature on what it will take for them to make it to the World Series.

There’s no reason for either this season. The Mets are not in a pennant race and, thus, the entire climate of the camp has changed.

There are obvious changes that surround all that are there, like, err… a new General Manager and Manager.

The field manager is really different. He doesn’t stand in the middle of the off-limits area of the pitching mounds and it seems like he’s actually looking for reporters to ask him a question. Beat writers aren’t used to this. Jerry didn’t want to talk to anyone outside of a press conference. Willie was basically in a press coma.

Then there was the bowling night. That’s right… bowling. Two years ago, Tony B. was running around the hotel doing bed checks. This year, it’s pins and brew at Duffy’s with management and crew.

But the biggest change has been the owners. In the past, they wanted their team to win the World Series. This spring, they’re just trying to make minimum payments on their Visa.

I talked with one of my contacts today and asked what the big story was out of camp. He wasted very little time. It was the Knicks trade.

He also pointed out that it is obvious that the lack of pressure on the core of this team has already translated into a more positive clubhouse. New friendships are being made and players aren’t looking over their shoulder to see if some new dude  just got dropped off by a local cab.

This reeks of intelligent organization. Starters know they’re starters. The subs know they’re less minor leaguers around the main clubhouse. And elite minor leaguers found out on Thursday that they are elite.

The competiton for SP4 and SP5 actually seems calm and the only true question is who’s going to play second. No, this isn’t the spring training I’ve been used to the last few years.

This isn’t a team that is rebuilding. How do you rebuild something that hasn’t won in over 20 years?

No, this is a BUILDING process, being built by intelligent baseball people who have been given the authority to do what they do best. In a morose sense, ownership has developed its own problem off the field and, maybe that’s a good thing. Fans don’t have to worry whether Jeff, Fred, or Omar made the last decision.

Right now, this is Sandy’s team.

And my guess, it will remain that way through the 2012 season.

And then, we’ll get back to predictions.

Trading Draft Picks

Of the four major sports, baseball is the only one where you can’t trade a draft pick. It simply doesn’t make any sense, any longer.

 
It’s not like it’s going away. This is the 46th year of the draft, which has been modified a number of times over the year including supplement picks. To allow a team additional picks when players aren’t signed, you have to allow picks to be sold when players do sign. Everybody keeps telling me that this is a business. Well then add one of the most important tools to manage your business correctly.

 
Some will tell you that this will make the big market teams even bigger. Actually, it would benefit teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals much more than the Yankees and the Mets.
 

There is nothing wrong with the first picks going to the team with the worst win-loss record. This seems to be the only fair way to someday achieve equality in talent, but the problem is some teams simply can’t pay a nine figure salary and still make a buck at the end of the day.

 
Imagine if the Nats had the option to trade the picks for Steven Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Both could have easily attracted packages of three AAA/AA prospects with years of minimum salary options still in place. These picks could have translated into six top prospect players who have already proven their worth at lower levels. Washington wouldn’t be paying huge bonuses, their team salary would still be balanced, and they might have up to six every day players for the 2011 season.

 
On the other hand, what if the Yankees want an option to resigning an aging Derek Jeter for a gazillion bucks. Just trade one of your catcher prospects, plus two other players for Anthony Rendon and move A-Rod back to short.

 
My suggestion would be to institute a system in which only minor league players can be traded for a pick. This could be altered to include major league players down the road, but it seems to me a fair exchange would be all players involved still having a certain amount of guesswork involved. Strasburg has already proven nothing is a sure thing.

 

We learn every day to change in a better way. If I can tweet, and Egyptians can turn one into a revolution, than baseball can serve both their teams and their fans better.

 

You can do this.

The Role of Ownership

The Role of Ownership

We’re less than two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting and the only thing we seem to all be reading about is the possibility of the Mets taking on a new minority owner.

 
I counted 147 posts on my twitter account yesterday about the Mets, and 101 were on the ownership topic.

 
As some of you know, I was a 20% minority owner in a company. I also was the President, until my “partners” wanted to expand on the company in the troublesome 1980’s and I voted against it due to our already large debt owed to the banks. They met without me (their right), voted me out as President, and told me to take a hike while still retaining a personal guarantee against the debt. A year later, they sold the company for seven figures less than we owed and I got stuck with my portion of the bill. Trust me, it ain’t that special.

 
Is ownership that important to you, the fan?

 
Ask yourself a few questions:

 
1. How many names do you know that own either a team in the MLB, NBA, NFL, or NHL?

 
2. How many of them meddle in the day-to-day operation of their teams?

 
3. And, regarding those that meddle, how many times have they won a championship in their respective league?

 
Companies run best when ownership hires an excellent leader, and then let’s that person build the company with excellent divisional managers, who then… you get the picture.

 
The best example I worked for in this category was The Hearst Corporation. William Randolph Hearst actually set up a Board of Directors that had no family members. Each division head reported to him and the board and that divisional head had 100% say in the day-to-day operation of that division. I worked one floor below the President of Hearst Broadcasting as the General Sales Manager of their Pittsburgh radio stations. I met the President on my interview, each year’s Christmas lunch, and a five-minute exit-interview a few years later. My boss, the General Manager of the radio stations, met with him daily. I met with the GM daily. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

 
Some businesses have family problems. The New York Giants were a perfect example of this. Fifty per cent of the team was owned by the late Wellington Mara, while the other half was owned by his nephew, Tim Mara. They hated each other. In fact, they didn’t even talk to each other. But, both were smart enough to hire a competent General Manager, George Young, and then let him do their job. Young hired Bill Parcells and the rest is history.

 
I really don’t care who owns the rest, I care who runs it.

 
The fans own the Green Bay Packers, but they don’t pick the players. A Japanese company owns the Seattle Mariners, but they don’t serve goiza in the dugout.

 
A company takes on a minority partner because they either need additional operating monies, or a competent operator that demands a piece of the action. The company that hired me was operating into the grave. I got my piece to run their company and they never told me how to that. We became highly profitable, sold part of the company off to retire all the old debt, and then began to buy new additions into the company. We were then hit with the recession, and went south. Their solution was to buy more and run up more debt, while, at the same time, refinance the debt we then had over our head. I didn’t like the idea. So goes my ownership days.

 

Let the Wilpons work out their own problems. None directly relate to field operations. New money will come in, old contracts will run out at the end of 2011, and 2012 will begin a new chapter in New York baseball.

 
Just root for the team. They need your support.

Q&A: – Tools

Thomas asked: – Mack, good luck on the new site. Count me in as a subscriber.  Could you try and make me understand what makes a baseball prospect? It seems every so-called expert has their own definition.

 Mack: – Wow.

You’re not going to like this answer, but the fact is everybody looks upon this sport differently; however, there are some basics.

All of us that rank prospects begin the process with the 5-tool system. If you’re a “5-tool player”, chances are you are going somewhere. Baseball tools are:

1. Hitting for average
2. Hitting for power
3. Base running skills and speed
4. Throwing ability
5. Fielding abilities

Baseball managers, coaches, and trainers can make every ballplayer better, but only God can give you the raw ability to excel above others in the five categories listed above. Everybody starts out the same way. You’re born and your Dad puts a bat in your hand. Well’ there’s a little more to it than that, but the process of learning how to play the game begins in your back yard and continues in the fields, alley ways, and sand lots throughout the area you grew up in. At some point the game gets organized. You might be part of a Cub Scout team, or a church league, but whatever it is, things start to get a little more defined. People that played the game before you tell you how to hold a bat, where your weight should be distributed, how to run the bases, and how to play the field. These “coaches” are the first people around you to recognize if you do this better than the kids around you.

In my neighborhood, in Ozone Park, New York, everyone gathered at the P.S. 62 schoolyard and the two oldest kids had the task of choosing who would be on their team. Trust me, if you were one of the top three kids taken in this “street draft”, you may possess the “tools” needed to play this game at levels above your peers. If you’re chosen last, your name is probably Jimmy Armet.

Next comes youth leagues, Pony leagues, and eventually, high school. For many, this might be the first time someone actually tries to develop your skills above your natural ability. It’s hard to explain the maturing process. I had a friend named Tommy Leecock, who was a great center fielder (he was always chosen first in the schoolyard), until one day he threw out a runner at third base with a bullet. Tommy was switched to pitcher and did well for our high school team.

Those “in the know” pushed the better natural athletes to be “middle players”… catcher, pitcher, shortstop, second base, and center field. The slow guys play either right field or first base. The rest of us played left or third. Your tools are exposed at this point in your “career”. Now it depends on how hard you will work to develop them and how good the people around you are to help you accomplish these tasks. We always talk about it “being in your blood”. Trust me, the tie-breaker is always a son of a former major league baseball player. You just know that kid was trained correctly from the get-go.

By now, you, and everyone around you recognizes if you possess excellent skills in one of the five tools listed above. You also have played enough to develop some degree of “stats” Being the best on your high school team can get you a date, but being the best in the city you live in gets you the scholarship.

There’s a lot more to this process, which I’ll continue at a later date.