Jim Leyland is a funny guy

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I’ve learned to more or less ignore the managerial availabilities here at the Winter Meetings because, let’s be honest, they’re 30 slightly different exercises in saying nothing. At least they are now that Ozzie Guillen is gone. Just the offseason version of “we gotta take ’em one day at a time” ManagerSpeak.

I went to Jim Leyland’s just now, though, because he makes me laugh.  And he didn’t disappoint.  The highlights:

  • Leyland was asked about Miguel Cabrera playing in the World Baseball Classic. Leyland said he’s not a fan of the WBC but “I support it because the Commissioner gets mad when I say I don’t support it.” Mr. Leyland, Commissioner Selig is on line two. I think you had better take it.
  • He was asked about the Tigers’ closer situation and didn’t tip the Tigers’ hand, but he did say “One thing you can say about Jose Valverde, he knows how to turn the page.”  After watching him pitch late in the season, I think that book is “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
  • Asked about the future of the Tigers, and how long until Avisail Garcia or Nick Castellanos may become regulars, he said “you know, that’s a very good question.” He didn’t answer it, but he did acknowledge that it was a good question.
  • Leyland asked who the team to beat is in the AL Central: “Hopefully the Tigers.”
  • On an actually substantive topic, he was asked about Gene Lamont becoming the bench coach. He said that Lamont’s knees were going and it’d be easier on him to be in the dugout rather than couching third. Color me dubious. Leyland has never had a need for a bench coach and you don’t move an effective third base coach if you can avoid it. Gotta figure this was devised to get a better third base coach without firing Leyland’s longtime compadre.
  • Leyland, when asked about getting over the World Series, said “you can’t chew yesterday’s breakfast.” People who follow Leyland closely are mostly surprised that he only used that phrase once.
  • Leyland apparently just attended his 50th high school reunion. He said he had a good time. He was asked about the women at the reunion: “They looked pretty good to me. I wonder how they thought old Jimbo looked.” When people laughed he noted that, back in high school, he was voted “Most Popular Boy” and said that if we didn’t believe him we could go look in his yearbook.
  • Finally, as Leyland’s presser was ending, Terry Francona walked over and hovered, waiting to sit down for his own press conference. The reporters flocked to Francona, leaving old Jimbo with a much smaller crowd than he started with.

“Most Popular Boy” my foot.

OK, back to the rumors and stuff.

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.