McCourt's very presence, particularly via the potential abandonment of Dodger Stadium or hanging of a corporate moniker upon it, poses no less a threat than the utter rape of the once-visionary franchise. How long before the Dodgers become a ramshackle squad of faceless ballplayers wearing head-to-toe teal uniforms in a domed mallpark? The time just drew a lot closer.
For what it's worth, the new Dodger owner claimed yesterday that the former was not an option:
"We have no plans to do anything but play baseball in Dodger Stadium."
Asked if that is his way of dispelling rumors that McCourt is scheming to build a new Dodgerplex downtown, he said, "Yes, it is."
Asked again later, McCourt said he had "zero intentions" to condemn baseball's best ballpark and the city's social Stonehenge.
However, the stadium name may be in play:
...McCourt does not work for the Historical Preservation Society. He seemed quite open to the idea of selling the naming rights to Dodger Stadium.
You know what? That's not so bad. Officially it can be known as Cadillac Stadium or Arco Stadium or even Preparation H Stadium. None of us will ever call it that, and McCourt will get the money to reduce his debt.
I'm going to have to agree to disagree on that front. Dodger Stadium, like Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and scant few others, holds a special (dare I say sacred?) spot in the minds of fans, names and places attached to great events in baseball's rich history. Who besides some purple-and-tealed yahoo is going to recount the glorious moments of Randy Johnson in Bank One Ballpark? And while I'm yapping about NL West ballparks, I'll ask the Giants fans what they're going to do now that Barry Bonds is no longer hitting homers in Pac Bell? Dodger Stadium remains a bastion of purity in that department, and sacrificing that is like auctioning your virgin daughter to the highest bidder -- icky to the nth power.
McCourt made more noises yesterday designed to appease the skeptics -- employee continuity, a new TV deal which will air every single game, and "a payroll of '$100-million-plus' and 'in the top quartile' of the 30 major-league clubs," according to the aforementioned article in the Orange County Register. But you can color me less than reassured, because I know the folks in his hometown of Boston can talk all day about the man's promises, promises. The Dodgers are already hamstrung by a winter of inactivity, and once that failure starts to manifest itself on the field, the changes will come -- a new front office (which won't feature Billy Beane), a new sense of (cough, cough) fiscal responsibility and lower payrolls... hell, with a couple of years of sub-3 million attendance, a cry for a new ballpark in spite of yesterday's soundbites.
Dodger Thoughts' Jon Weisman, who has done a fantastic job of covering the sale and who's about 3000 miles closer to the pulse than I am, has his Spidey-sense tingling:
Frank McCourt makes me feel powerless.
He could be the next great disaster for the Dodgers. Or, he could be a hidden treasure of, well, adequacy.
But how disturbing is it that after Thursday's press conference to discuss his purchase of the team, there is nothing that actually inspires confidence? Every potential positive statement made by or about McCourt had to be qualified.
Whatever the future holds, good or bad ... today, the Dodgers really seem to belong to someone else. Maybe this feeling will go away, but they don't feel like the city's team right now. They don't feel like our team.
Literally, they never were ours, but figuratively, they were. Not today.
Consider this: throughout the entire day, I didn't find a note of celebration that the News Corp. (majority) ownership of the Dodgers was over. Can you believe this? A few months ago, the city of Los Angeles would have held a bonfire of revelry at Fox's departure. Today, there's just uncertainty.
Weisman elaborates that feelling by picking apart several statements made yesterday by various principals and pundits. But he also offers a glimmer of hope going forward: "This is a whole new chapter. McCourt's actions are the key. Does he know right from wrong? Does he know good from bad? No matter how many misgivings have built up to this point, I don't think there's a Dodger fan in town who won't come to like McCourt if he can do the job."
Though Boone was projected as the #9 hitter and is arguably the weakest link in the Yankee offensive chain, Yankee fans ought to think twice before unleashing such glee. Boone doesn't get on base particularly well (.327 last year, .332 career), but his power, speed, and defense are all enough to make him an above-average third baseman. Only seven third-sackers ranked higher in Baseball Prospectus' Runs Above Replacement Position than Boone, and taking defense into account, Boone ranked fourth among third basemen in Wins Above Replacement Player:
Scott Rolen 57.5 8.4
Bill Mueller 55.6 7.8
Eric Chavez 44.6 8.9
Mike Lowell 41.7 6.0
Corey Koskie 39.7 6.4
Hank Blalock 38.1 5.3
Morgan Ensberg 32.2 5.6
Aaron Boone 28.9 6.9
Adding insult to the injury is that Boone admitted to suffering it while playing basketball, an activity which Yankee GM Brian Cashman pointed out was strictly verboten: "Concerning his contract, I can confirm that there are certain prohibited activities which include basketball." Because he was hurt while chasing his hoop dreams, the Yankees are within their legal rights to terminate his one-year, $5.75 million contract with 30 days of termination pay, a situation which former Yankee staff counsel Andrew Baharlias discusses over at Baseball Prospectus:
In a fairy tale world of grand rewards for moral behavior, Boone would get credit for admitting his error without having fabricated some Jeff Kent-style story in which he tore up his knee after slipping off the top of Roger Clemens' Hummer while polishing the foghorn. Unfortunately, New York is the place where contract language trumps contrition every time out; truth is no defense when you've signed on the dotted line.
When Boone signed his contract... it contained language that would have prevented him from performing certain activities during and after the season. That language is the team's "out" of a guaranteed deal. It is very comprehensive legalese which allows the team to convert a guaranteed contract into one which is non-guaranteed. All guaranteed contracts contain a section that discusses the guarantee to pay and termination rights for the team. In fact, this aspect of a player's contract is usually what is fought over the most between agents and general managers after the "agreement in principle" is first struck.
... Following this paragraph, one might expect to find approximately three to five pages of gobbledygook that, "relieve[s]...the foregoing guarantee." In other words, the next set of paragraphs contains specific rules, prohibitions and events which, if they occur, trigger an option for the team to convert the guaranteed contract into a non-guaranteed contract. Examples of these events, rules and prohibitions are: getting injured while playing any sport other than baseball; the commission of a felony; riding a motorcycle; bad LASIK surgery; bowling; frying a turkey on any day other than Thanksgiving; and lots of other stuff that annoying lawyers like me can think up. The sheer exhaustiveness of these lists can lead to odd situations when one player is granted an exception and another isn't. In the 1980s, George Brett was contractually forbidden to do anything more vigorous than sit in a rocking chair, while his teammate Bo Jackson was permitted to play pro football.
Baharlias points out that one option the Yankees have is to release Boone and then re-sign him to "an incentive-laden Jon Lieber-style deal in which the Yankees pay him to stand by in case they still haven't found a long-term solution at the position by 2005."
All of that is well and good for George Steinbrenner's checkbook, but with the Yankees, money isn't generally the problem. Boone's absence leaves a gaping void due to the Yankees' lack of organizational depth at third base. On the major-league roster, futilitymen Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo would make one pine for the heyday of Clay Bellinger, Erick Almonte has almost no experience at the hot corner, and a move of Derek Jeter to third base -- pined for by a faction of Yankee fans aware of #2's defensive shortcomings -- has slightly less chance of happening than a Joe Lieberman sweep of next week's Democratic primaries.
Elsewhere in the Yankees' system, future quarterback Drew Henson's been practically laughed out of the room ("He's not even being considered," said one club official), while AA third baseman Brian Myrow, who hit an eye-opening .306/.447/.525 at Trenton, isn't getting much love either. That's because Myrow's a 27-year-old non-prospect whose glovework at third is reportedly somewhere south of the Hobson Line. To his credit, newcomer Gary Sheffield, who last manned the third sack in 1993, threw his glove in the ring but was politely rebuffed.
A quick look over the barren hot corner landscape ought to turn a Yankee fan's stomach further. Other teams' reclamation projects such as Jose Hernandez (L.A.), Fernando Tatis (Tampa), Tony Batista (Montreal), Jeff Cirillo (San Diego) dot the landscape, along with high-end options such as free agents-to-be Corey Koskie (Minnesota), Troy Glaus (Anaheim) and Eric Chavez (Oakland). About the latter, A's GM Billy Beane momentarily salivated about swooping in for a kill before claiming, "There's no one this side of Mickey Mantle we'd consider trading Eric Chavez for. He's more valuable than anything we could get in return." As Jim Bouton would say, "Yeah, surrrrrrrrrrre." Be that as it may, the Yanks have almost nothing to offer in the way of prospects to land an attractive player. Where have you gone, Brandon Claussen? Oh, right.
Another name receiving mention is last year's model, Robin Ventura, whose bat speed slowed so much that he was shipped out of here and replaced Boone in the first place. Also in that class of flatliners is another ex-Yankee, Todd Zeile, who was ungracious in his dismissal of the organization as he returned to the other New York team: "I have no desire to play again for that organization." Trust me Todd, the feeling is mutual.
The Yanks did make one move in the past couple of days since announcing Boone's injury, signing 33-year-old Tyler Houston to a minor-league deal. Houston has a bit of pop in his lefty bat and has hit .285/.331/.442 against righties over the past three years , but his fielding is suspect (BPro's numbers show him at nine runs below average per 100 games), and he was involved in a high-profile dustup with Phillies red-assed manager Larry Bowa last year which led to his release and to Bowa terming him a "loser." It takes one to know one. For all of the controversy surrounding him, Houston is actually a useful bench player, good at pinch-hitting (13-for-29 last year) and able to serve as a 3rd string catcher (where he's played 174 games in the bigs).
Clifford's Big Red Blog has had strong coverage of the Yanks' other third base options, including potential trade targets Edgardo Alfonzo and Adrian Beltre, pipe dreams such as Pudge Rodriguez (who has indicated in the past that he may eventually shift positions), and the assorted flotsam and jetsam which may wash ashore. But here's a tip: if luring Mike Bordick out of retirement is an option worth discussing, then the Yanks are better off doing what BPro's Derek Zumsteg suggests: "Hire biotech firms to inject Graig Nettles ("Best Yankee Third Baseman Ever for Duration of His YES Network Deal") with experimental revitalizing serums and see how long before side effects catch up to him in spectacular fashion." Short of a trade for Alex Rodriguez (which New York Times columnist George Vescey touts today), that's the best idea yet.
But Alex is well aware that there's a chunk of turf that he can call his own, and last night he sent out an email: "I feel its been too long since I've actually written anything in my baseball blog that has much to do with gay issues, so I've rectified the situation with my look at the top 10 gay icons in baseball. Some people may be horrified, some may be uninterested, but hopefully it'll be worth a chuckle or two."
True to his word, the Top 10 Gay Icons article is a howl, as Ciepley rounds up many of the usual suspects (the ones not-so-wittily lampooned by anonymous posters at a certain website) and offers his commentary. Some of it is tart and catty; on Mike Piazza (who I've always held doesn't exhibit enough good taste to be gay), Alex writes: "Some might say the lady doth protest too much...," and on Roberto Alomar: "Alomar had a wee mustache in his youth, and later sported full-on beards, most notably tennis star Mary Pierce." Ouch.
But much of Ciepley's commentary is more incisive. About Billy Bean, author Going the Other Way, he writes:
No OBP-obsessed assistants. No Moneyball props. And no "e" in that last name. Baseball's other Billy B. spent his career in the closet, even playing in a game immediately following his first lover's death because he was too scared to ask for leave. Bean wasn't going to go through that again, and left a mediocre career in baseball to live with his boyfriend in Miami. He's the current Dean of Out Gay Professional Baseball Players. Not that he has any competition, being the only out player alive.
Ciepley also covers former NL umpire Dave Pallone, who came out in an autobiography in 1990, and Glenn Burke, a Dodgers and A's outfielder credited with inventing the high five and with being the first former player to acknowledge his homosexuality (alas, Burke died of AIDS in 1995). Pinups such as Brady Anderson and Gabe Kapler are also here; be advised that the linked Kapler picture isn't for the faint of heart.
Not on Ciepley's list: Cleveland Indians prospect Kazuhito Tadano, who reportedly appeared in a gay porn movie while in college three years ago -- "a one-time mistake." Bronx Banter's Alex Belth covers that strange tale as well as some more general commentary from other writers about the inevitability of an openly gay ballplayer. Meanwhile, a reader of Belth's offered this Bottom 10 Gay Icon list, which features unsexy guys such as Yogi Berra, Don Zimmer and Greg Luzinski, along with notorious homophobes Chad Curtis and John Rocker. To that dubious company, I'll nominate another loudmouthed bigot, Todd Jones, whose 7.08 ERA could pass for his IQ.
I think there's a pretty good chance we'll see an openly gay active ballplayer in the next few years, though I doubt it will be from Ciepley's Top 10. When it comes about, it will likely be a fiasco at first, and the guy will need a skin as thick and a courage as great as Jackie Robinson's, but he'll also have a lot of support behind him, especially in the media, and that will be key. I look forward to that day.