Search This Blog

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stop The Ride...I Want To Get Off! AJ Burnett and The Yankees Rotation

If this was a boxing fight, the corner would have thrown in the towel.

New York Yankees pitcher, AJ Burnett was “bloodied” once again, this time by the last place Baltimore Orioles on Friday night. At the end of the 5th inning, Burnett’s 116 pitches yielded nine runs, nine hits, two home runs, two walks, three wild pitches, and a crowd full of boos!  (By the way, the Yankees were on the road playing at Camden Yards in Baltimore.)  In the second inning, when Burnett was at his “best,” the Yankee starter gave up six runs as the Orioles had six extra base hits in a row.  And Yankees manager Joe Girard left this guy in for another three innings!!!  What was Girardi thinking?  In his last start, on August 20 versus the Minnesota Twins, Burnett allowed seven runs in one and two thirds innings, and was sent to the showers. (not before he had a few choice words for manager Girardi. Or did he…) How much longer can the Yankees watch this horror show unfold and still have confidence in Burnett? 

During the month of August, Burnett’s era is 11.91.  The guy is averaging almost 12 runs a game, and you still send him out there every 5th Day!!!  In his last ten starts, dating back to July 4th, Burnett is 1 and 5 with a 7.79 era.  That includes the game against the Chicago White Sox on August 7th, where Burnett imploded in the 4thinning and gave up five runs. He was pulled before the end of the fifth inning with the Yankees leading 13 to 7.  The Yankees went on to win the game 18 to 7, but Burnett didn’t get the decision.  Can you imagine what the Yankees clubhouse must be like every time Burnett’s name is listed as the day’s starting pitcher?   

Many of us realize that the Yankees are into Burnett for a lot of money- he is in the third year of a five year, $82.5 million contract.  But at some point you’ve got to admit to yourself it’s just not working out.  Putting this guy out there on the mound is not good business.  I can understand the thought that Burnett will work himself out of the slump.  We’ve all been there. But how long do you wait before you take action?  I can understand the desire for management to want to back “their guy.” Afterall, they’re the one’s who decided to bring him to New York.  But you can be penny wise and dollar foolish.  What are you hoping to prove?      

If you’re a Yankees fan, you have witnessed this type of behavior before.  Over the year, the New York Yankees have collected a star studded rotation of pitchers who seem to fade under the bright lights of New York.  Ed Whitson, Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez, Andy Hawkins, Kenny Rogers – all are perfect examples of what happens when you throw money away. The Yankees are in the middle of a pennant race, trailing the Red Sox by one game, and the general conclusion is that the Yanks will make the playoffs in some capacity.  (But we’ve seen collapses before…)  Making the playoffs is great for some teams, if you’re wearing the pinstripes it’s just not good enough – not for the players, not for ownership, and certainly, not for the fans.  

I always thought in business, leadership had to demonstrate patience with one eye on potential, and the other on results.  In today’s business world, I am sure we have first hand experience with leaders who were too quick to pull the trigger… “you have three months to prove yourself…or else,” and the “what have you done for me lately” mentality.  The pressure is on to perform and the threat of someone breathing down your back is always there.  I get it.  It's business.  We live in a world where results are expected, and if we don't get it done, they will find someone else who will.  But somehow, that doesn’t apply to sports.  Somehow, a guy who gets paid millions of dollars to perform to an expected standard gets a “hall pass.”  I don’t get it…and I guess I never will.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The SLUMP...Your Worst Nightmare!

The SLUMP…every athlete’s nightmare.  Just mention the word, and pro athletes can shrivel up and hide in the corner.  An 0 fer 4 game slowly turns into a 1 fer 25 week.   Save situations quickly take on a whole new meaning when a closer has blown their last three save opportunities.  Birdie after birdie, becomes bogey after bogey, and that two foot putt shot is no longer money in the bank.   Heck, why just allow that privilege for athletes – the slump can happen to the average Joe at the office.  Your sales calls to prospects aren’t returned.  Your voice messages just aren’t as effective, and your “go-to” closing technique just isn’t getting the client to sign on the bottom line.  Your motivational seminars are met with “Is That All There Is,” instead of “Thank You For Changing My Life!”  Your pick up lines at the local bar that used to be met with a smile and a phone number now fall on deaf ears and all you get back is a look of disgust, and a wave of the hand…Oh, the slump…One Word – A Whole Lot of Pain.

No one is immune to the slump.  At some point in an athlete’s career, there is going to be a time when the “basket looks like the size of keyhole” and those “seeing eye hits” no longer find their way around a fielders glove.  It doesn’t matter what status you have achieved, how many years you have played, or if your first name is Tiger, the slump is going to get you. 

Look at Ichiro, All Star outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, lifetime .327 average, and 10 years in a row of 200 hits more.  In 2011, the rightfielder’s average is 60 points below his career average, (.267) and he is not driving the ball as he has in the past.  At 37 years old, (Ichiro will turn 38 in October), could age be catching up to him? 

The question isn’t if it’s going to happen, the $64,000 question is WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?   Why do hitters start hitting feeble ground balls to the second baseman instead of line drives into the gaps…why do pitchers lose sight of the strike zone and instead start to find the sweet spot a hitter’s bat …a once sweet shot that found nothing but net, now clangs off the rim with greater frequency…forget where Jim Hoffa is buried, find a cure to avoid the slump, and you’ll be guaranteed your own show on the Oprah Network!

Many will say it’s all Mind Over Matter – the slump is nothing more than your mind working against you.  Clear your mind, and let your athleticism take over.  After all, you’ve done it before – why can’t you do it NOW!  Easier said then done.  Explain that logic to Florida Marlins Shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who at the prime age of 28, the 3 time National League All Star with a career .306 batting average is sitting on the Disabled List and looking at a .243 average for the 2011.  (How many people had Hanley as their #1 pick in their Fantasy Baseball League!)

Maybe the slump is caused by the pressure to perform.  The bright lights of the Big City can cause the weakest of minds to stumble.  In the off season, probably one of the biggest free agent signings took place in Boston where the Red Sox signed outfielder Carl Crawford to a 7 year $142 million contract, with a $6 million signing bonus.  The 3 time Tampa Bay Ray team MVP has not looked comfortable in Boston all year long, and is hitting .248 with 7 home runs and 38 runs batted in.  Think Crawford isn’t squeezing the bat a little tighter than usual…

For many of us, when the slump hits, it usually confined to our own little world.  It rarely goes outside our office or beyond our small circle of buddies who we hang out with after hours.  The crisis can be chalked up to a lack of focus, a break down in your daily discipline, or most likely, you’re bored, and you want to leave your job. How many times have you starred at the four walls of your office, and think “is this the best I can do?”  Your co-workers will tell you to go back to the basics, look outside your comfort zone, make that one extra call before you go home, everything is going to be okay

Unfortunately, for today’s athlete, it’s not that easy…your team is depending on you…the front office signed you to a long term contract and called you the SAVOIR on the day you signed…the media is dissecting every at bat, and the fans are holding up signs asking you what happened… “Get back on the bike…you’ve done it before…” Just doesn’t cut it, when your batting average is below the Mendoza Line!  "Tomorrow’s Another Day…” Yeah, that’s right, another day of doubt, ridicule, and no hits!  "Go back to the basics"…easy for you to say, but you're not the one under a microscope!  

The SLUMP…For A Professional Athlete, There Is Nothing Worse.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sometimes The Best Decision Is To Say Goodbye...The Chicago Cubs and Carlos Zambrano

“Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
Under pressure – that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on the streets" 
David Bowie - Queen

Pressure can take on several forms. In management, the pressure of making the right decision when your back is up against a wall and the rest of the organization is watching how you respond. In sports, the pressure of performing in front of a stadium filled with fans cheering and jeering your every move - the outcome of the game hanging on every play, action, and reaction. On Friday, August 12 in Atlanta, the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Atlanta Braves took on a whole different meaning for the Cubs organization, it’s fans, and one player in particular. What should have been a night celebrating an Atlanta Braves icon, (it was Bobby Cox Night as the Braves retired his #6), turned out to be a “performance” that could impact the future of the Cubs organization.

Can it be the pressure of performing at such a high level? The embarrassment of not performing at your standard? Or simply a matter of selfishness and childish behavior that drives Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs starting pitcher, into a one man wrecking crew. Throwing at opposing hitters, charging his teammates in the dugout, or having a shouting match with the home plate umpire - whatever the reason, “The Big Z” has got to go – his career with the Chicago Cubs is over.

Zambrano’s tirades are well documented. June 2010 – Cellular Field – Cub versus White Sox. Zambrano goes after 1st Baseman Derek Lee in the dugout after giving up four runs to the White Sox in the first inning. May 2009 – Wrigley Field - Cubs versus the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Zambrano is thrown out of the game by home plate umpire Mark Carlson after arguing a tag play at the plate. Zambrano proceeds to shove Carlson, and then pointed in Carlson’s face giving him the ejection sign. As he walked off the field, Zambrano threw the ball into left field, tossed his glove, and took a bat to the Gatorade bucket. June 2007 - Wrigley Field – Cubs versus the Atlanta Braves.  Zambrano gives up five runs to the Braves in the 5th inning, and gets into altercation with his catcher, Michael Barrett. The shoving match started in the dugout, and finished in the clubhouse. Is it me, or is there a pattern to Zambrano's madness. He gets pounded, gives up a bunch of runs, doesn't get his way, and then loses control of his emotions. And I thought that behavior was just reserved for children!!! Why the Cubs didn’t get rid of him after his third outburst involving Derek Lee is beyond me. (I know, I know…Zambrano was in the middle of a 5 year - $91.5 million contract extension signed in August 2007!)

After his latest stunt against the Atlanta Braves that saw him give up FIVE home runs, and then proceeded to throw at Chipper Jones twice during his at bat in the 5th inning, this has to be the end of the line for Zambrano with the Chicago Cubs. What makes matter’s worse, Zambrano cleans out his locker, alerts the clubhouse personnel that he is retiring and leaves the stadium. (Carlos did return to the locker room late Friday night, and restocked his locker) All the while, the 24 other players that call themselves the Chicago Cubs are left to finish the game. A game that Zambrano started and abruptly quit. Say what you want…Zambrano wears his emotions on his sleeve…Zambrano is a very passionate person…Zambrano just wants to win…Zambrano is an intense competitor…Zambrano has anger issues…the bottom line is The Big Z quit on his team and I can’t thing of anything worse than quitting on your team in the middle of a game. And that is exactly what happened!

How can this guy come back and look his teammates in the eye and say “I’m Sorry” (again). More importantly, how can the Chicago Cubs allow this guy to come back to the field and wear a Cubs jersey again. I realize sports is a business, and Zambrano’s contract ($23.5 million left through 2012) would be a lot for any team, let alone a team that is having financial challenges, to eat, but what’s worse for a business is putting up with a selfish individual who is a quitter. What message does it send your team when you allow this behavior to exist in your clubhouse?

Now the pressure is on the Chicago Cubs management (GM Jim Hendry) to make the right decision, and make a move that could change the culture of the organization. While the wins and losses are played out on the field, the attitude of the team is built in the front office by the General Manager and his coaching staff. The decision is easy…the pressure to make the right decision isn’t so…

It’s time for the Cubs to rid themselves of The Big Z…Roll Video...

Footnote To Zambrano: New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia also gave up five home runs to Tampa Bay Rays on Friday Night. No one was thrown at during the game and nobody retired!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Chatting Around With...Larry Bowa

Larry Bowa will always be known as a Philadelphia Phillie.  Sure, he ended his Major League Baseball career as a member of the New York Mets, playing only 86 games in 1985 before calling it a career.  (Bowa actually played 72 games that year with the Chicago Cubs before going to the Mets and seeing action in only 14 games.)  But for the first 12 years of his career, Bowa was THE PHILLIES SHORTSTOP, a National League All Star in five of those years.  He was the symbol of the Fightin’ Phils – tough, gritty, and never backing down to anyone.  A member of the 1980 World Series Championship team that defeated the Kansas City Royals, he batted .375 during the six game series, Bowa played every game as if it was his last, and put it all out on the field.  Bowa had one thing in mind – WIN - and the Philadelphia fans loved him for it. 

After his playing days were over, Bowa felt he still had something to give the game, and quickly got his first taste of managing with the San Diego Padres, only two years after retiring in 1987.  Bowa brought his fiery playing style to the coaching box, unfortunately, he couldn’t provide the spark for the Padres and after a year and half, Bowa was fired.

In Philadelphia, losing had become a habit.  From 1987 to 2000, the Phillies were anything but “fightin” as the team had suffered 13 losing seasons in 14 years.  In 2000, the Phillies had the worst record in Major League Baseball.  In 2001, Philadelphia Phillies baseball would change, and it started with the appointment of Larry Bowa as manager.  Bowa didn’t approve of complacency and demanded his team give 100% on the field – he would never settle for less.  And the team showed improvement right away.  In 2001, the fight returned to the Phillies, and the team finished within two games of winning the National League East with a record of 86 – 76.  (The Atlanta Braves won the NL East.)  The  Phillies resurgence and Bowa’s managerial style won him the 2001 NL Manager of the Year Award.  But Bowa’s hard edge and demanding style wore on his players, on and off the field, and  in September 2004, right before the end of the season, Larry Bowa was fired as manager of he Philadelphia Phillies.  

I caught up with Coach Bowa, a moniker he seemed very comfortable with at this stage in his life, and got a chance to hear his opinion on some random topics…The results are as follows:

Around The Horn:  What is the key to the Phillies success? 

Larry Bowa: It starts with the pitching.  That is key to any club’s success.  And when you have a staff that goes 3 deep like the Phillies with Halladay, Lee and Hamels – well, it’s going to be tough to beat them.  Then, you add Oswalt (who has been on the DL) and it’s going to be real tough to beat them. 

ATH:  You say it like the Phillies are already in the World Series.  Do you see any team beating the Phillies in the National League? 

Larry Bowa: Not at all.  Unless they (the Phillies) are hit with a rash of injuries to key players.  Look, no team has their pitching depth.  You’ve got Halladay, you’ve got Lee, you’ve got Hamels, Oswalt. And don’t forget, Worley – man, he is pitching well.  Who else has that kind of staff, and that kind of depth.  The Brewers?  The Braves?  No depth. 

ATH: What about last years’ Champions, the San Francisco Giants? 

Larry Bowa: Listen, the Giants should be worried about getting into the playoffs.  They need to watch out for the Diamondbacks.  Although, I don’t think the Diamondbacks have the pitching.  It all starts with pitching. 

ATH: How about in the American League, who do you see? 

Larry Bowa: Who do I see playing the Phillies you mean!  Because we’ve already discussed how I feel about the Phillies and the rest of the National League!  It’s going to be one of two teams…the Red Sox and the Yankees.  It’s going to come down to them playing each other, and the last team standing will play The Phillies.  Both teams’ lineups are stacked.  They each have some dangerous hitters in their lineup.  I don’t see anyone else beating those teams in the American League.  The Red Sox have the better pitching – at least on paper.  And they say Clay Buckholz (currently on the Disabled List with a Lower Back Injury) might be coming back. 

ATH: Where is there more pressure – playing in New York or playing in Philadelphia? 

Larry Bowa: New York, Boston and Philadelphia probably have the most pressure.  I mean the fans are in the game all the time, the media is on you.  Perhaps New York has the edge – and I mean the Yankees because of the amount of their payroll.  I mean, they are always over the Luxury Tax.  Each year, they are paying a baseball’s luxury tax. 

ATH: Okay, how about the other team in New York, the team you loved to beat when you played…The Mets…What would you do if you were managing?

Larry Bowa: The Mets are good young team, but they have to sign Reyes – that is key.  The guy can do so much – hit, run, field.  He brings excitement to the game. They’ve got to sign him.  They have some good players.  I like Murphy, the kid can hit.  They just have to find him a position.  But it is all going to depend on signing Reyes – that will be key.  If I’m managing, that’s what I am telling the Front Office – sign Reyes.

ATH: You were with Torre in New York – how was he as a manager? 

Larry Bowa: Torre is a good man and a real good manager.  I really enjoyed my time with Joe.

ATH:  You also recently coached in Los Angeles with ex-Yankee Don Mattingly?  How is Mattingly as a manager?

Larry Bowa: Donnie is a good guy.  But it’s way too early to tell out there (Los Angeles) with all that is going on, and the team that he has right now.  Give him a few years before you make your judgement. 

ATH: Let’s go back to the Giants and the Phillies.  People are talking about the new rivalry between the two teams.  Anything there?

Larry Bowa:  Both teams are good, and they play each other tough.  Sure the Giants took 2 of 3 recently from the Phillies at Citizen Bank Park.  It was a good series.  The Giants are a good team.  And then, the Phillies go to San Francisco, and take three of the four game series.  In both games the Phillies dominated.  The second game got a little out of hand with the bench clearing brawl in the 7th inning when Victorino was hit by a pitch. 

I think they (the Giants) were throwing at him because they felt the Phillies were running up the score.  There is no need to steal (Rollins) when you’re up 6 to 2 that late in the game.  No need.  They just wanted to show the Phillies that they weren’t going to allow them to run it (the score) up in front of the home crowd.  If it was a rookie who stole the base, well that is one thing…but Rollins is a veteran – he knows better!  Listen, the Phillies – Giant rivalry is getting started.  I heard some folks saying…The Giants have the Phillies number!  Are you serious?  The Giants beat the Phillies last year in the playoffs – it was a good series and the Giants got hot.  Their pitching is good, and their hitting got hot.  But to say they (the Giants) have the Phils number.  Cmon…Like I said before, no one has the pitching the Phillies have right now, and with the team starting to hit, the Phils are going to be real hard to beat.  You give that staff 5 or 4 runs a game, and they’re going to win.  It’s that simple.  And as I said early, the Giants should be worried about winning the National League West before they talk about having the Phillies number.  Cmon!    

I’ll take my Phillies all year long!