Craig Calcaterra

Lenny Dykstra

Lenny Dykstra pathetically claims he blackmailed umpires when he played

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Much like a hearsay statement during a trial, I am not offering this utterance for the truth of the matter asserted therein, but rather, to simply note that it was a thing that was said. And, for that matter, to ask whether or not we should be surprised.

The statement: Lenny Dykstra’s claim on Colin Cowherd’s show today that he hired private investigators to follow umpires around back in the 80s and 90s and then blackmailed the umpires with the information he obtained in order to get favorable ball and strike calls:

“Their blood’s just as red as ours. Some of them like women, some of them like men, some of them gamble…” As a result, the ex-ballplayer said, umpires sometimes called balls instead of strikes. “Fear does a lot to a man,” he said.

“You don’t think it was a coincidence that I lead the league in walks the two years, was it?,” he asked.

No, it was because you had a good batting eye, Lenny. See, despite all of the awful, criminal and/or sleazy things you have done, some of us still remember you as a dang good ballplayer. It’s sad that that’s not what most people think of now when they think of you, but I suppose you brought it in yourself.

In other news, Dykstra’s claim is pretty laughable. I give it a 99% chance of being totally phony and only reserve that 1% because of the impossibility of actually knowing what’s in the mind of another person for absolute certain. I also wonder why, if Colin Cowherd works for MLB rightsholder Fox, he can’t get a better quality of baseball guest for his show.

Here’s the video:

George Brett to throw out the first before a slightly less patriotic Game 1

Large Flag
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KANSAS CITY — Major League Baseball just announced the pregame and in-game activities that are not, you know, the actual game. National Anthems and first pitches and things of that nature.

Last year I observed that the level of patriotism and troops-related stuff in this mix — much of it corporately sponsored and, we learned later, likely paid for as an advertisement for the military — was high. This year it seems like they ratcheted it back a little bit. Here are the events listed:

  • George Brett will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game One;
  • Pop star Andy Grammer — who I have not heard of because I am old and out of touch with such things — will perform the National Anthem. The de riguerlarge American flag in the outfield will be held by airmen from Whiteman Air Force Base and at the Anthem’s conclusion there will be a flyover of U.S. Navy F-18s. If the fog currently sitting over Kansas City doesn’t lift by then we won’t see them, of course;
  • “Prior to Game One, Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. visited the local Boys & Girls Club as Major League Baseball and the Royals hosted a fun, baseball-skills oriented event . . . This effort sought to highlight the game’s commitment to youth, particularly through the PLAY BALL initiative, and to celebrate Baseball’s partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America . . .”
  • “God Bless America” will be performed by United States Air Force Technical Sergeant Keisha Gwin.
  • “BUDWEISER OUR HERO SEATS: Sergeant Aaron Becker – Sergeant Aaron Becker served in the United States Army for eight years as a combat engineer and explosive ordinance clearance agent. Deployed twice, he and his patrol searched for improvised explosive devices, personally finding fifty-four bombs and disposing of them. Hit by 17 total IEDs while in Afghanistan, Sergeant Becker was severely injured by three of them, causing concussions and damage to his spine. The recipient of three Purple Hearts, he also received the Bronze Star for his leadership and Army Commendation Medal with Valor for saving three men after their truck was hit by an IED.”
  • “BUCK O’NEIL LEGACY SEAT: Henry Wash – Henry Wash was raised in an underserved community and saddled with a myriad of issues, but overcame those circumstances largely due to the mentoring he received throughout his life. Wanting to return the favor, he started High Aspirations, a proactive mentoring program for African-American males, ages 8 to 18. The mission of the program is to raising aspirations by initiating innovative ways to improve lives – socially, emotionally, academically, and spiritually. Wash hopes, that through this program, he can change the direction of the young men in the Kansas City urban core, resulting in a stronger community.”
  • “FIRST-BALL DELIVERY: Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Youth of the Year, Whitney Stewart, 18, from the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota County in Sarasota, Florida, will deliver the ceremonial first ball to the mound with former Royals pitcher Danny Jackson, who was a key player for the 1985 World Series Champion Royals, winning both Game Five of the ALCS and Game Five of the World Series. Stewart is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.”

While that may seem like a lot of patriotism and troops-related things — and while we still somehow need Budweiser to sponsor the giving away of a couple of seats when both the Royals and Major League Baseball have the ability to do that themselves — last year was way more over the top.

Last year the Commissioner’s visit by Bud Selig was of a local veteran’s group, accompanied by the V.A. Secretary and one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There was also a special first pitch by a local veteran. The Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat was also bestowed on a veteran, in honor of his military service. There was a special item that didn’t deal with an event, actually, it was just a note that Bank of America sponsored the flags at the stadium entrances. There was an item noting that the son of an army major would be announcing “play ball.” There was also a note about a new “Welcome Back Veterans” commercial on the Fox broadcast.

As I said last year, it’s hard to take issue with any one of those efforts, but it’s also the case that the obligatory manner in which we have imported patriotism and honoring of the military into baseball has caused us to lose sight of the fact that, even if doing these things are good and admirable, when we make our patriotism obligatory and mindless, we lose an essential part of it, which is thoughtfulness.

Having spoken with some baseball sources about this over the past year, I got the sense that there is some of this feeling shared at the league office as well. That, however well-intentioned all of this is, baseball sort of painted itself into a corner with all of this since 9/11 and doesn’t know how to get out of it without looking callous or less-than-patriotic. If that is true, and perhaps the solution they settled on is to remove an item or two from the pregame patriotic agenda each year. Which is probably the best way to handle it, really.

Two of baseball’s least-popular owners are on baseball’s biggest stage

Fred Wilpon
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KANSAS CITY — Winning has a way of making you forget what’s bothering you. If you’re a Mets or a Royals fan getting hyped for tonight’s first pitch, it’s probably making you forget just how miserable your team’s owners have made you over the years.

Neither Mets owners Fred Wilpon nor Royals owner David Glass are quite as loathed as, say, Jeff Loria is down in Miami, but they certainly have given fans of their teams headaches at times. The Wilpons — the team is owned by the family and run by Fred’s son Jeff — have been embroiled in financial scandal and, to some degree, personal scandal. Both the Wilpons and Glass have been accused of being penny-pinchers at times and not without good reason. Both have been enriched at the expense of taxpayer-subsidized stadium construction and improvement, much to the chagrin of those taxpayers and folks who don’t think billionaires are owed charity.

But one of them will be hoisting up a World Series trophy some time between this Saturday and next Wednesday. Why? Mostly because they either learned from their mistakes or, at the very least, hired some whip smart baseball people who were able to work around them.

David Glass took over as Royals chairman in September 1993, shortly after the death of founding owner Ewing Kauffman. Pursuant to Kauffman’s succession plan, the team was offered for sale to Kansas City interests with the proceeds set to go to charity. There were years of limbo in which Glass attempted to sell the team and he eventually found a buyer in a group headed by Miles Prentice and which included local sports heroes like Tom Watson and Buck O’Neil. That group got rejected because Prentice wasn’t seen as someone who would toe Bud Selig’s line. Glass, the former CEO of Wal-Mart, eventually bought the team himself and has been its principle owner since 2000, always toeing Selig’s line, for all of the good and the bad that entailed.

Glass’ stewardship and then ownership of the Royals coincided with the Royals’ longest stretch of futility in franchise history, punctuated by four seasons in the space of five in which the team lost 100 games or more. If Kauffman had lived or Prentice took over that losing may have happened all the same, but Royals fans blamed Glass. And there was good reason to. He hired a series of inept executives to run the team on the cheap and allowed a franchise which was once considered to be the class of the American League to wither. Scouting operations were curtailed, international operations were cut and the team was seemingly run with an eye toward year-by-year profitability as opposed to winning or long term health. Over those same years the value of the team, like every other team, skyrocketed. Glass paid less than $100 million for the Royals in 2000. They are now worth hundreds of millions.

In 2006 Glass hired Dayton Moore away from the Braves and, at Moore’s instance, began to rebuild the organization rather than just operate it. It took some time, but Moore’s efforts — and Glass’ seemingly hands-off approach — paid dividends. Those scouting and international operations were restored and, over time, Glass has bumped the payroll up to a more respectable level. While, as I noted above, winning makes people forget what’s bothering them, it’s worth noting that Glass’ hire of Moore is specifically what led to the winning. These days, Royals fans have stopped complaining about Glass for the most part. He’s now like most other owners: easy to dislike if you fixate on any one thing, but easy to forget if the team is doing well. And it’s doing very, very well.

The Wilpons are a bit more complicated a case. Fred Wilpon, a real estate magnate by trade, started out with a one percent stake in the team back in 1980, expanding his stake to a 50/50 share with Nelson Doubleday in 1986 following a contentious reorganization of the club’s ownership group. Even when he only had one percent, however, he was no silent partner. Wilpon served as president and CEO of the team between 1980 to 2002 at which time he purchased the remaining 50% from Doubleday. Doubleday and Wilpon hated one another for a number of reasons. For our purposes here, it’s enough to say that Wilpon, a close ally of Bud Selig, was a far more hands-on owner than Doubleday and was cut from a very different sort of ownership cloth.

None of which would likely have mattered if all things were equal. New York baseball fans are no strangers to hands-on owners, and such an approach is not a necessary impediment to winning. Wilpon certainly loves baseball and has never seen his team as a mere investment, and fans usually like that in an owner. But all things haven’t been equal, and Wilpon’s friendship and investment with the now-incarcerated Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff changed everything.

The Wilpons invested some half a billion dollars with Madoff and, despite steady (fraudulent) returns over the years, they lost hundreds of millions of dollars. This led to a crazy spree of loans and cutbacks, all of which has caused the Wilpons to run the Mets as if it were some small-market outfit as opposed to a club in the nation’s largest media market. A club which owns its own cable company, no less. Cutting the payroll hurt the Mets, resulting in six straight seasons with fewer than 80 wins since the Madoff scandal broke. That, combined with some notable collapses and a handful of bad P.R. moments made the Wilpons a favorite target of the winning-is-everything New York tabloids and Mets fans alike. Not unreasonably, it should be noted.

But while the Wilpons can’t be excused for getting in bed with Madoff (note: if an investment looks too good to be true, it probably is) and while acting like a low-revenue team in big money New York is never going to win you allies, they have made the best of their own self-inflicted wounds. Mostly by having the good sense to get out of the way of GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins as they executed a long-term plan to build the farm system and the club. Maybe Alderson could’ve done it more quickly if he had a decent payroll to work with, but it’s also likely the case that Alderson — who was running the A’s with a “Moneyball”-style philosophy before Billy Beane was — wouldn’t have been hired if the Mets didn’t need to cut costs. Either way, the Mets have developed an amazing stable of young pitchers and several good position players which now have their fans justifiably excited again.

Should Glass and the Wilpons get credit for what Dayton Moore and Sandy Alderson were able to do? Not really. Or at least not any more than any executive should get credit for the accomplishments of the people they hire. But baseball history is rotten with teams that went nowhere due to bad owners making bad decisions and kneecapping their baseball operations department though either meddling or parsimony or both. That Glass and the Wilpons have managed to get the heck out of the way and to allow the Mets and Royals to get out of that particular historical pile is worth noting.

And, for the next week and a half or so, maybe even worth forgetting.