Craig Counsell retiring, joining the Brewers’ front office

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Craig Counsell don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.  With no interest in his services this offseason, he has decided to retire and will take a job with the Brewers’ front office.

Counsell is 41, which even though he’s been around forever, is older than I think of him as. That’s because he was already in his late 20s when he started to register in our baseball consciousness when he scored the winning run in the 1997 World Series. He played a good bit with the Marlins after that, but didn’t spend a full season with a full-time job until he was 30.

That was with the Diamondbacks in 2001, a year which would cement his place, such as it is, in baseball history. he was the NLCS MVP that season, going 8 for 21 and driving in four runs in five games against the Braves.  While he was only 2 for 24 in the World Series that year, he was famously hit by a Mariano Rivera pitch to load the bases for Luis Gonzalez in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7. And we all know what Luis Gonzalez did next.

After that he didn’t have trouble finding work for over a decade, going from Arizona to Milwaukee … and then back to Arizona … and then back to Milwaukee.  Hey, whatever worked.  For his career he posted a line of .255/.342/.344 which is useful enough for a middle infielder/third baseman. And with the caveat that fielding metrics often disagree with one another, his glove was reputed to be solid. At times excellent. He certainly seemed that way.

His career ended with something of a whimper, going hitless in four plate appearances during the 2011 postseason. This following a record-tying 45 consecutive hitless at bats during the regular season.

But you know what? There’s a saying in many professions which basically goes “you have to be something really special to screw up that many damn times.”  It’s not a backhanded compliment if you think about it. Being given an opportunity to fail big and/or to fail often means that someone trusts you, likes you and has confidence on some level that you’ll eventually succeed or that you’ll figure it out soon.  That doesn’t always happen, but it’s better to be given that chance than to have the account, the case, the task or, in Counsell’s situation, the bat, taken out of one’s hands.

Happy trails, Mr. Counsell.  You gave Craigs — and late bloomers — a good name.

Mike Piazza presided over the destruction of a 100-year-old soccer team

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Mike Piazza was elected to the Hall of Fame in January of 2016 and inducted in July of 2016. In between those dates he purchased an Italian soccer team, A.C. Reggiana 1919, a member of Italy’s third division. In June of that year he was greeted as a savior in Reggio Emilia, the small Italian town in which the team played. He was the big American sports star who was going to restore the venerable club to its past and rightful place of glory.

There were suggestions by last March that things weren’t going well, but know we know that in less than two years it all fell apart. Piazza and his wife Alicia presided over a hot mess of a business, losing millions of dollars and, this past June, they abruptly liquidated the club. It is now defunct — one year short of its centennial — and a semipro team is playing in its place, trying to acquire the naming rights from Piazza as it wends its way though bankruptcy.

Today at The Athletic, Robert Andrew Powell has a fascinating — no, make that outrageously entertaining — story of how that all went down from the perspective of the Piazzas. Mostly Alicia Piazza who ran the team in its second year when Mike realized he was in over his head. She is . . . something. Her quotes alone are worth the price of admission. For example:

Alicia, who refers to Mike’s ownership dream as “his midlife crisis,” offered up a counter argument.

“Who the f**k ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”

In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.

“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”

At this point it may be worth remembering that Piazza is from Pennsylvania. Eastern Pennsylvania to be sure, but still.

Shockingly, it didn’t end all that well for the Piazzas in Reggio Emilia:

One week later, the Piazzas returned to Reggio Emilia, and were spotted at the team offices. More than a hundred ultras marched into the office parking lot, chanting and demanding answers. Carabinieri—national police aligned with the military—showed up for the Piazzas’ safety. The police advised the Americans to avoid the front door of the complex and exit through the back. Mike assured them it wouldn’t be necessary—he had always enjoyed a good relationship with the fans.

The carabinieri informed him that the relationship had changed. The Piazzas slipped out the back door, under police escort.

The must-read of the week. Maybe the month. Hell, maybe the year. The only thing I can imagine topping it is if someone can tell this story from the perspective of the people in Reggio Emilia. I’m guessing their take is a bit different than the Piazzas.