David Ortiz doesn’t give a [expletive] about what you think makes a leader

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David Ortiz has, what I think anyway, is some righteous anger. It came out last night after the Sox beat the Orioles, and it came in response to reports that he called a closed-door meeting a couple of weeks ago in which the hitters yelled at the pitchers.

Since that meeting, by the way, the Sox have won 9 of 11 and the starting pitcher has been back on point.  Which, if you’re into these sorts of stories, makes David Ortiz look a hell of a lot like a team leader.  And, while he has done nothing to proclaim himself a leader  publicly — indeed, he was irked that the story of the team meeting leaked out  — Ortiz bristled at the Boston media’s notion of what a leader looks like. From Gordon Edes’ article:

“Well, let me tell you, I was reading an article [that] talked about the leaders people call ‘leaders’ in this town,” he said. “Basically, it seems like no matter what you do, it’s not good enough. And you can only call leaders the guys who are out diving for balls on the field or calling pitches behind the plate?” …

… “No. 1, I don’t agree with that,” Ortiz said. “And No. 2, what I do I don’t do for people to know. I do it for my teammates, to get to know things better. I don’t give a [expletive] about anybody knowing what we talk about, No. 1. And No. 2, I don’t give a [expletive] what they call leaders …

He went on to say “I don’t get no respect.” Which, while if it was said in an isolated way, could come off petty or self-centered.  But I think in context with all of this other stuff, he has a pretty good point.

Our ideas about leadership in sports are kinda screwy. When things go well for a ballclub, we look at certain people and call them leaders. When they go poorly, we rarely blame them for their lack of leadership. A couple of writers asked where Jason Varitek was when it was allegedly all going to hell for the Sox last September, but it was certainly a minority view. For the most part, guys who are cast as captains are only talked about in those terms when things go well. When things go poorly it’s because of screwups like Josh Beckett.

And, as Ortiz may or may not have intended to imply, it’s funny how the people we call leaders on ballclubs tend to fit a certain type. Everyday position players who, coincidentally or not, are often scrappy or fiery players. And, coincidentally or not, are usually white dudes. Why couldn’t David Ortiz be a leader? Why must someone like Dustin Pedroia be assumed to be? Why must it be a vocal person as opposed to someone who leads by example or behind the scenes? Why must it be one person? I often get the sense that we writers unconsciously project leadership on people who have traits that we understand or share ourmselves because it makes something amorphous and complicated a lot more understandable to us.

Anyway, I’m not saying that Ortiz is a great leader. I have no idea what he does along those lines. Maybe he had a good moment with that team meeting and the rest of the time he’s like everyone else.  Maybe the Sox’ good play of late is a total coincidence (if the Sox played poorly for the past week, would the narrative be “Ortiz sows dissension in the clubhouse?”).

But I can certainly see how he or other players could get a bit rankled when it comes to the leadership talk we like so much in the media.

(Thanks to reader Big Leagues for the heads up)

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.