Oh look. The Mystery Team got its man

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Yesterday Jon Heyman said there was a “Mystery Team” in on Cliff Lee. Many mocked, but we mocked harder than anyone. Indeed, if you do a Google search for “Heyman Cliff Lee Mystery Team,” HardballTalk posts take the top three spots. And you know what happened next. There was a Mystery Team. And it actually signed the guy they were rumored to be courting.

How … awkward.

In light of this, many have asked me since last night if I believe Heyman is owed an apology.  My answer: yes. But a qualified one, as I shall explain.

To the extent that we cast doubt on the very existence of the Mystery Team — which we did until sometime mid-yesterday afternoon — we certainly owe him an apology for that. To the extent our tone was snotty and dismissive, we absolutely owe him an apology for that. In the former case we were wrong and in the latter case we were rude, and when one is wrong or rude, one must stand accountable for that. We hereby apologize for both of those things. No matter who may be the source of information or the target of our barbs, and no matter what our own history is with that person, they are owed better than that. Mr. Heyman is no exception.

That said, our apology to Mr. Heyman is not unequivocal. For one thing, it should not be taken as an acknowledgment that Heyman was completely omniscient here. His original report of the Mystery Team had him saying “hear it’s not the Phillies.” It was other reporters such as Jayson Stark,  Jerry Crasnick, Jim Salisbury and Ken Rosenthal who uncovered the identity of the team. It was Jack Curry who reported on the sense of Lee’s actual intentions. Minutes after Heyman reported that a decision was unlikely last night, Lee decided to go to Philly. The decision was reported by T.R. Sullivan. The terms of the deal were first reported by Crasnick. I don’t believe that who got something first is the most important thing on Earth — scoops are ephemeral things — but to the extent the media story that comes out of this is “Heyman was right all along,” that’s simply not accurate. He was right about one small, detail-light part of it and he was unfairly maligned for that, but this was not Heyman’s story by any reasonable estimate.

And we must also weigh the significance and implication of the portion of the story about which Heyman was correct. One of the reasons Heyman was not believed in this instance — and not just by us, but by multiple mainstream reporters and fans — was because he has made frequent use of the Mystery Team thing over the years, and this is the first time anyone can recall that it was actually borne out.  Aesop has covered this territory. If we disbelieved Mr. Heyman here, well, we had good reason to do so.

Moreover, we must ask what is really being accomplished when one puts out a report of a Mystery Team. However correct the report was, it only existed because someone — likely the agent — told him there was such a team but wouldn’t tell him who it was. If Heyman didn’t ask who it was, he wasn’t doing the basic job of a reporter. If Heyman did ask and the agent simply wouldn’t tell him, Heyman had a decision to make: deal with the information critically given the extreme lack of detail provided and/or dig for more, or merely parrot it and move on to the next thing. He chose the latter here and invariably chooses the latter when this sort of thing comes up, leaving the heavy lifting to others. In doing so he is either an unwitting or an active accomplice of PR.  Which is his prerogative — I would never suggest that Heyman has an obligation to report in just such a way that makes others happy — but which also means that one must still take his reports along these lines with an extreme dose of skepticism. Which we long have and which we will continue to do in the future.

But again, there’s a difference between skepticism and rudeness. I believe we crossed that line at some point with Heyman yesterday.  That was unfair to him and unprofessional. And for that, again, we apologize.

What in the heck is Derek Jeter doing with the Marlins?

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Last night we linked the Miami Herald story about the Marlins firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

The firings themselves are eyebrow-raising inasmuch as “special assistants” like that are rarely key front office personnel. Former players, Hall of Famers and former managers like those guys are really ambassadors for the team and, particularly in the case of Jeff Conine, who is known as “Mr. Marlin,” why would new ownership want to kick its ambassadors to the curb? It’s not like you can just hire a bunch of new franchise legends for he role. Who ya gonna call? Dan Uggla?

Sure, I can see an argument for changing their responsibilities. If they actually had say in baseball operations, I can see new ownership wanting to relieve them of those duties. It’s also possible that Jeff Loria paid them too much money for guys who are only team ambassadors. So, sure, if the job is too cushy by the standards of the gig, I could see Jeter cutting their pay or their duties to make it conform to what other clubs do with their former stars. Maybe that makes them want to quit. If so, that’s OK I suppose.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to see why you would NOT want guys like Conine, Dawson, Perez and McKeon to represent your club in the community and in the service of impressing prospective season ticket holders. The franchise’s first star player, a Hall of Famer who ended his career with the club, another Hall of Famer who is from Cuba (which is kind of a big deal in a place like Miami) and the manager who brought the club its last World Series championship are exactly who you want to represent your team. Especially when nearly everything else about your team has, for so very long, alienated the very public you want supporting it.

But let’s say, for the moment, that there was a good reason to fire those guys. Let’s say they’re all flaming jackwagons who have secretly poisoned the franchise from within. Let’s say that, despite his grandfatherly charm, Jack McKeon is a ruthless Machiavellian. Let’s say that Conine, Dawson and Perez beat up copy boys in the stairwells and microwave leftover fish in the break room every day. Even if that’s the case, how does this happen?

And here’s the twist: Jeter asked Marlins president David Samson to fire those four Marlins luminaries for him, because Jeter didn’t want to do it.

Even more strange, Jeter made the request after telling Samson what he already knew: that Samson would not be returning as team president.

It seems that Samson did carry out the firings. Unless some handsome severance package was being held hostage over it, I’m not sure how Samson doesn’t tell Jeter, “Hey Captain RE2PECT, know what? Up yours, you do it yourself.” Of course, one can only project one’s own sensibility on a guy like David Samson so much, so let’s cut him a bit of slack here. We don’t know how the conversation went. Maybe Samson was happy to tell those guys to hit the bricks.

But really, how doesn’t Jeter man-up and handle this himself? It’s not because he’s not yet officially the owner, because if he has the power to fire Samson, he has the power to fire Conine and his friends. Maybe there is more to this than the Herald story lets on, but as it stands now, it comes off as cowardice on Jeter’s part. It’s a really bad look.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays in the baseball establishment over the next couple of days. Everyone — particularly the press — loves Derek Jeter an credits him with a class, smoothness and media savvy matched by few others. This, though, was either (a) a failure of class and an act of disrespect to baseball luminaries; or (b) a complete bungling of public relations, serving to make what was, in reality, a reasonable move appear classless. It has to be one or the other.

Derek Jeter has been a teflon star for more than two decades, but two of the few things the media loves more than Derek Jeter are (a) old Baseball Men like McKeon, Dawson, Perez and Conine; and (b) “classiness.” It’ll be interesting to see if, for the first time in his professional life, the media gets its knives out for Derek Jeter for seeming content to dispense with both.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.