Jul 14

Behind the scenes with the McCourts


Carlos Delgado/APJamie and Frank McCourt, Sept. 25, 2008

ESPN The Magazine reporter Molly Knight has devoted a fair part of her year to some investigative reporting on Frank and Jamie McCourt. Here is the published product of her efforts, which I suspect only scratches the surface of what she learned.

Knight was kind enough to take a break from the McCourt whirlwind to talk to Dodger Thoughts about the pair and their legal showdown:

Math quiz: How many hours did you spend reporting this story?

I couldn’t even begin to count. I’m sure I spent at least 60 hours talking with their lawyers alone.

So much of this case hinges on the post-nup agreement to give the real estate to Jamie and the Dodgers to Frank. What can we say for certain about its validity, and what is legitimately unresolved about it?

That it exists is the only certainty. Right now Frank and Jamie are arguing about the schedules on the back after the signature page. Schedule A is Frank’s take; schedule B is Jamie’s haul. Unfortunately for Frank, his lawyer Larry Silverstein sent a draft to Jamie via e-mail about a week before it was executed that said Frank’s take (on schedule A) excluded the Dodgers. Frank’s lawyer Stephen Susman told me that was just a typo and that it was fixed before she signed it. Yikes.

Then on March 30 — the day before they signed the marital property agreement (MPA) in Boston — Silverstein sent an e-mail to Jamie without the schedules attached. You start to get the feeling why she says she was confused.

There are six copies of the marital property agreement for some reason. Jamie signed all six in Boston. Frank signed three in Boston and three two weeks later in L.A. Those documents have been in a vault in a law office for the past six years. They were flown to Long Beach yesterday (via private plane, I’m sure) to be examined by forensic scientists. The copies Frank signed in Boston were determined not to have been tampered with. Meaning they proved that Jamie signed over the Dodgers. The copies Frank signed in L.A., however, did not have the original schedule A that was present when Jamie signed them. What I think may have happened is Silverstein realized the typo’d version not giving Frank the Dodgers had accidentally been stapled to three of them and switched them out. This could come back to kill Frank.

After spending five minutes with Jamie you can’t convince me this is a woman who would knowingly sign away the Dodgers. She wants the spotlight like Dodgers fans want Cliff Lee. Plus she’s a shrewd businesswoman. I don’t see a scenario in which she knowingly gave that up. I also don’t know that I buy Frank tricked her. I think the likeliest scenario (if she did in fact sign the MPA giving away the Dodgers) is that the family had so much to do before going to L.A. — so many papers to sign and things to pack — that she didn’t read it all the way through. I mean, when you have a stack of things on your desk to sign and you are moving cross-country the next day do you take the time to sit down and read every word? I know I wouldn’t. She may not have known she was signing away the team, but if she did sign it she’s pretty much toast. A contract is a contract.

Considering how much the McCourts borrowed, why didn’t it occur to them to maybe rein in personal expenses just a little?

They live in a different world than we do, is the best answer to that. Frank has spent his adult life borrowing Peter to pay Paul. The only thing that changed is he got his hands on some better collateral. I think they were riding the gravy train knowing that when the TV rights came up in 2013 they’d become rich beyond their wildest dreams. I also think they desperately wanted to be part of L.A.’s high society. Trouble is out here you have to be a movie star to be A-List. No one cared until this divorce hit.

Is Frank really running out of money, or is this just a shell game?

It’s not so much that he’s running out of money as it is he has no liquidity. There was a great memo I saw from Frank’s money manager in 2008 describing his “love/hate” relationship with cash. “Love to have it, hate to have it lying around.” I believe he is having a hard time paying her because he doesn’t believe in putting money in his checking account.

Was Jamie’s role with the Dodgers unclear from the start, or did it just turn out that way after she and Frank started having problems?

It was unclear from the start. I talked to a guy who was responsible for writing her bio in the media guide before the 2005 season, and he said they did it 27 or 28 times. They’d send it to her for approval and she’d send it back, etc. She was definitely very involved — probably even more so than Frank — and that might have pissed a lot of people off because they thought she gummed up the works by interjecting herself into the most random things. Another thing I heard from a few people — which didn’t make the story — is that she never bothered to learn the names of stadium employees she interacted with every day, from the security guards to the people who brought her drinks in her luxury box.

The PR department pleaded with her to take care of the people closest to her, because if you don’t do that you’re likely to get sniped. I think that’s what you’re seeing now in the press with both of them. Jamie acted a bit like Marie Antoinette (if these Dodgers employees are to be believed), and Frank created too many enemies by firing longtime Dodgers execs at will. I think that was their biggest mistake more than anything else they’ve done. They’ve created too many enemies to contain this PR nightmare. It wasn’t that hard to get people to talk.

What was her biggest impact on the organization?

I still have no idea. Oh, maybe the hiring of Ned Colletti. I’ve heard stories that she became close friends with Jeff Kent after he volunteered to help domestic violence victims as part of her WIN Initiative. Both she and Frank respected Kent’s willingness to serve the community. Jeff mentioned Ned Colletti to Jamie because he knew they were looking for a GM. Jamie suggested it to Frank. Ned killed in his interview because he didn’t ask how much money he’d have to play with. A few former execs told me all this, so take it with a grain of salt. But it starts to make sense that Kent was responsible for Colletti when you see the contract extension he was rewarded with after Colletti got there.

What was the most surprising thing you learned that you can talk about?

Besides the fact that Jamie Enterprises is 500 feet from where Frank now lives? Gosh. Um. Probably that they don’t hate each other and they’re both sad. They went to the homecoming dance together freshman year at Georgetown. Jamie told me she was ready to be with him forever until she died. That was sad. She is sad. He is sad. I asked her why they can’t just get together over a beer and put this behind them. She told me to ask Frank. Frank wouldn’t talk to me.

How shocked would we be by some of the stuff you can’t talk about?

I don’t think any of you would be shocked by anything anymore. I think your gag reflexes have been stretched.

At this point, do you expect the parties to settle?

Yeah, I do. I think the pressure to settle rises as the trial date gets closer. In addition to this being a PR nightmare, Frank has so much more to lose financially than Jamie at this point. They’re looking at staples and wondering if that MPA should be thrown out. If that happens he will be living a nightmare. I don’t think he can take that risk. If I’m Frank I pay her off with a backloaded deal. She can collect when the TV rights transfer to Frank in 2013.

Why do you think they didn’t settle this sooner, before more damage was done?

You’re asking me why Frank and Jamie are Frank and Jamie. I don’t think their split has anything to do with Jeff Fuller. I think Frank was tired of the figurative (and maybe literal) Project Jamie that was running wild on the Dodgers’ dime. I think he was annoyed that his wife considered herself the face of the Dodgers instead of, say, Andre Ethier. Eventually he’d had enough. But where he screwed up was in treating Jamie like just another adversary. This is a guy who Jamie alleges sued his own father-in-law because he didn’t want to pay him back. The man loves a lawsuit. And it’s worked out quite nicely for him, hasn’t it? He was in litigation for 17 years over a parking lot he parlayed into a baseball team. The trouble is this is the mother of his children. It doesn’t help public perception that he is a nice person.

If this goes all the way through trial, what do you think will be the ruling?

I have no idea, and neither does Frank, which is why he can’t take the risk of it going to trial. There is a chance that even if the MPA is found valid that the judge will rip it up because it’s patently unfair. (He can do that.) Jamie is the underdog, but if I’m Frank I don’t want to take any chances.

Who do you think will own the Dodgers next year? What’s going to happen to this franchise?

Frank McCourt. I think he’ll settle to get Jamie out of his hair. The franchise will probably be OK eventually. If they get back to investing in the draft and in the Latin American market, then they’ll have the prospects to trade for deadline rentals that will complement the team’s already fantastic core. At this point I think the success of the team has more to do with the performance of Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw than of Stephen Susman and David Boies. I know Dodgers fans are sick of the McCourts, but there is no guarantee that a new owner would be any better. There is no owner’s manual, and no law that says the Dodgers’ owner must spend $140 million on payroll. It will be interesting to see if Frank ups the ante when more revenue starts rolling in with the TV stuff, though. That has certainly bankrolled the Yankees’ run.

Jul 13

CSI: McCourt – If the staple’s legit, you must submit?

Frank McCourt’s camp claimed a significant victory today in his battle royale with Jamie McCourt, with two sets of forensic scientists stating that a post-nup agreement that purports to give him control of the Dodgers is legitimate, reports Molly Knight of ESPN The Magazine. But surprise – Camp Jamie said, “Not so fast.”

… The agreement was extracted from a vault at the Boston law firm of Bingham McCutchen and examined by scientists from each team in Los Angeles on Tuesday.Jamie McCourt’s lawyers content that there are six different copies of the document, and tests show that three of them — signed at a different time than the other three, the lawyers said — did not include Schedule A when Jamie McCourt signed them. Schedule A lists the assets Frank McCourt claims he is entitled to — including the Dodgers.

Susman said the scientists found the document contained the original staple from 2004. In addition, an imprint of Jamie McCourt’s signature was determined to exist on the page that names Frank as sole owner — a potentially devastating blow to Jamie’s chances of being given half the team in the divorce settlement.

“We’ve got the same staple and her signature on something she claims she never signed,” says (McCourt lawyer Stephen) Susman. “Which proves all along she was not telling the truth.”

Jamie McCourt’s lawyers contend that because Larry Silverstein, the lawyer who drafted the document, has testified that he went over it with Jamie, he may have gone over a different version than the one signed by Frank McCourt. …

Frank McCourt still has other hurdles he must clear to walk away with the team after this goes to trial on Aug. 30, including Judge Scott Gordon’s right to throw the marital property agreement out on the basis of its fairness: The Dodgers are estimated to be worth nearly $800 million, and the team will be worth much more than that when it regains broadcasting rights from Fox in 2013.

If the team is able to establish a television station akin to the Yankees’ YES Network, it could potentially generate billions of dollars in revenue. The homes Jamie McCourt would walk away with would be worth around $100 million. …

Oh by the way — there’s more. Frank McCourt claimed in court today that his personal liquidity is down to $600,000 and that he borrowed money from his brother to make his latest monthly $650,000 spousal support payment to Jamie. (But, of course, we’re told that the Dodgers’ finances are not entwined with those of McCourt.)

Read the full story here.

Jul 13

Count it for Broxton and the NL: 3-1


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJonathan Broxton and Brian McCann shake on it.

Coast to coast, Jonathan Broxton naysayers revved their engines as he came out to save for the National League against the American League in tonight’s All-Star game.

And coast to coast Broxton silenced them, at least until the fall.

Whether Broxton truly stripped away any of the cynics’ ammunition in preserving the NL’s 3-1 victory – the NL’s first victory since 1996 – is doubtful. If the Dodgers are fortunate enough to play in October, the doubters will surely return, because past success has never slowed the cynics before.

But considering the alternative, Team Broxton will take it.

“It felt awesome,” a smiling Broxton told Fox’s Eric Karros after the game.

Employed as closer by the manager who profited from Broxton’s twin NLCS disappointments, Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel, Broxton raised the stakes with his first pitch, lined to right field by David Ortiz. That brought up former Dodger Adrian Beltre, in his first All-Star game. Broxton blew Beltre away on three fastballs between 97 and 99 miles per hour.

Broxton then started John Buck off with three balls that missed, followed by two fastballs for strikes. Buck hit the next pitch as a blooper to right, and it looked like the NL would be victimized by their maligned outfield defense. But Marlon Byrd fielded the ball on a bounce and quickly and alertly fired to Rafael Furcal covering second base for a 9-6 forceout – a huge play that wiped out what would have been an unlucky hit.

Ian Kinsler then hit a high fly to center field, which Chris Young of Arizona gloved for the final out. And Broxton could wear the All-Star S across his big chest.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Hong-Chih Kuo

Short of a blown save for Broxton, a Kuworst-case scenario seemed to be ripening for Dodger fans midgame, when Hong-Chih Kuo walked the leadoff American League batter in the fifth inning, made a throwing error that put runners at first and third and then surrendered a deep sacrifice fly that scored the game’s first run.

But Brian McCann provided the relief (if sadly reminding us that we used to think Russell Martin was a better-hitting catcher not too long ago) with a bases-clearing double in the seventh inning, taking Kuo off the hook.

McCann also relieved himself, if you will, from an earlier disappointment. In the top of the fifth, Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier (1 for 2) had a chance to be a hero when he lined a single to right field with David Wright on second base. But the ball was hit too hard for Wright to be sent home. Corey Hart struck out, and McCann then flied out to strand the two runners.

Kuo faced four batters and retired two, throwing 18 pitches. Furcal walked in his only plate appearance, before getting in position to complete the key play of the game in the ninth.

Jul 13

Andre Ethier and the proving ground


Kirby Lee/US PresswireAndre Ethier has earned the right to smile.

I think Andre Ethier has some of me in him.

I have high expectations of myself. I have a sense of pride in my abilities, but at the same time, frustration when I am not equal to the task before me. I get angry when I fail, and then the questioning of my self-worth revives.

I want people to know that I know that my failings are unacceptable, and sometimes there isn’t a graceful way to do that. If I know that I’m making my best effort, if I know I’m capable of better, and if the people around me know these things, then this shouldn’t be a problem.

But sometimes, I just feel like I have to keep proving myself — to myself and to others. And that’s when the frustration comes out for everyone to see.

I’m glad that Ethier is having his moment in the sun today — and surely hope that it isn’t clouded by playing out of position in center field. I hope that he can revel in this honor, because the next proving ground is just around the corner.

Congratulations, Andre.

* * *

National League at American League, 5:00 p.m.

Jul 13

Dodgers to sell some Field Level seats at $5 for kids

The Dodgers announced today that for remaining home games this season, fans can buy Loge and Field Level seats for kids 14-and-under for $5 with each adult ticket purchase. (The fine print is this: Availability begins two hours prior to game time, maximum of two $5 tickets per customer.)

So, if you time it right, you can pay $130 for your Field Level MVP seat or $35 for your garden-variety Loge seat and then $5 for your kid’s seat. More details here.

Jul 13

Another Yankee titan passes

Farewell, George Steinbrenner. Friday at Yankee Stadium, they’ll be mourning both Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard. That’s going to be quite a night.

The great Alex Belth has a remembrance of George Steinbrenner at SI.com.

* * *

  • Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the fun story of Hong-Chih Kuo interviewing All-Star Dodgers about Hong-Chih Kuo.
  • Manny Ramirez went 0 for 9 with five strikeouts in three rehab games with Inland Empire, but hey …
  • Joe Torre on Matt Kemp, to John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus: “Everyone thought I was punishing Matt, but it was just clear to me that he was pressing and needed to take a few days to clear his head and get his confidence back. There are no statistics to tell you how a guy is feeling on the inside, but I don’t think there was any question that Matt wasn’t in the right frame of mind. We all want to be perfect, and sometimes Matt has a hard time coming to grips with the fact that nobody is perfect. He holds everything inside and always tells you everything is all right, but it can’t always be all right and it wasn’t all right with him. However, I see him being back to the old Matt Kemp now. He’s playing with confidence again and that’s only going to make us an even better team for the second half of the season.”
  • The trade market for starting pitching gets a thorough analysis from Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. The options probably won’t bowl you over. Meanwhile, I contributed a very short, on-the-fly comment about Ted Lilly to View From the Bleachers, saying that I wouldn’t want the Dodgers to give up much for him.
  • Baseball-Reference.com looks at the Hall of Fame case for Kevin Brown. The ultimate conclusion seems to be “no,” but the “yes” case might surprise you.

Update: Meant to mention this above: Alex Rodriguez has an acting role in the upcoming Mila Kunis-Justin Timberlake film, “Friends With Benefits,” reports Tatiana Siegel of Variety. My understanding is that he’s not playing himself.

Jul 12

Dodger Cog and Dogs: All-Star Break Edition 9


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireClayton Kershaw leads the National League in strikeouts per nine innings. His 2.96 ERA is ninth in the NL.

He didn’t make the National League All-Star team, but Clayton Kershaw is the Dodger Thoughts top cog for the first half of the 2010 season.

Andre Ethier, Rafael Furcal and Hiroki Kuroda each had hot streaks, but Kershaw was consistently strong for almost the entire season to date. In 2010, he has thrown 12 quality starts in 18 tries (most of those better than the six-inning, three-run variety) and allowed a maximum of two runs over at least five innings in three others. In only two starts this season has he failed to keep the Dodgers in the game.

After walking 24 batters in his first 30 2/3 innings, Kershaw has even gone a long way toward solving his biggest weakness, walking 26 in his last 81 1/3 innings. It has just been a very impressive first half, and the Dodgers are lucky to have him.

                   
7/12 7/1 6/21 6/10 5/24 5/13 5/3 4/19 4/12 Player Comment
1 1 1 2 3 5 6 10 20 Clayton Kershaw In 18 starts this year, allowed more than three earned runs only twice.
2 3 4 10 14 9 7 8 4 Rafael Furcal Reminding me of Magic Johnson lately. He’s the playmaker.
3 4 3 1 1 1 1 2 11 Andre Ethier Back in the swing of it with OPS over 1.000 in July.
4 5 5 12 5 3 4 4 9 Manny Ramirez Team-high 155 adjusted OPS (.937 OPS).
5 2 2 3 2 2 2 3 1 Hiroki Kuroda Disappointing to see him struggle after such a strong first three months.
6 8 8 13 10 6 8 9 24 James Loney He can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan.
7 6 6 4 11 10 5 6 13 Jonathan Broxton Broxton in the St. Louis heat next weekend: Bring some towels.
8 7 7 8 16 18 NR NR NR Hong-Chih Kuo The All-Star stranded two runners Sunday to lower ERA to 0.99.
9 11 9 9 4 4 3 1 5 Matt Kemp Frequent newsmaker leads team in HR, R, SB, CS, SO.
10 10 10 6 8 11 12 12 10 Chad Billingsley Allowed three HR to first eight batters May 31, none in 37 1/3 IP since.
11 12 12 11 9 16 11 7 6 Casey Blake Keep wanting to drop him because he’s really not hitting, but this is where he goes.
12 9 11 5 7 8 26 NR NR John Ely No one has forgotten what he meant to this team when the chips were down.
13 14 13 14 12 12 15 14 14 Blake DeWitt So far, OPS has improved for four consecutive months: .856 in July.
14 13 15 16 13 17 18 21 18 Jamey Carroll Pitching is hard: Carroll has seven extra-base hits, 31 walks.
15 15 14 15 6 7 10 5 2 Russell Martin Offense is hard to watch, but seems like he’s throwing his best in a few years.
16 16 16 18 21 22 21 17 15 Jeff Weaver Fourth on the team in wins.
17 22 25 25 22 23 20 15 25 Vicente Padilla Well, isn’t this a pleasant development: 10 walks, 54 strikeouts in 2010.
18 17 17 17 25 24 NR NR NR Ronald Belisario Really seemed like he had been finding a groove.
19 19 20 20 20 20 17 20 8 Reed Johnson You’re no Jamey Carroll, Reed – it’s okay if you hit a homer this year.
20 18 19 21 19 13 14 13 7 Ronnie Belliard Since June 28, 0 for 17 with four walks.
21 20 18 7 18 14 16 18 21 Carlos Monasterios 45 more games to September 1, and he’s a Dodger for keeps.
22 24 23 24 NR NR NR NR NR Travis Schlichting Hershiser’s record safe for now.
23 21 21 22 15 19 19 NR NR Xavier Paul 57 plate appearances since his last extra-base hit
24 23 22 19 17 15 9 11 12 Ramon Troncoso Not expecting his demotion to last long.
25 25 24 23 NR NR NR NR NR Justin Miller Pitching with a lead: opponents 10 for 24. Otherwise, opponents 11 for 63.
26 26 26 26 23 25 22 19 19 A.J. Ellis So little power, so little time.
27 27 27 27 29 29 28 25 NR Jon Link Unscored upon in past 10 1/3 innings with Isotopes.
28 28 28 28 24 26 24 23 23 Brad Ausmus Has as many doubles as Ellis this year.
29 29 29 NR NR NR NR NR NR Chin-Lung Hu He will not be Taiwan’s first to play in MLB All-Star Game.
30 30 31 29 26 21 23 24 17 Ramon Ortiz Continues to struggle in Buffalo worse than he had been with Dodgers.
31 31 32 30 27 27 NR NR NR Nick Green Eighteen doubles last year, none this year.
32 32 33 35 NR NR NR NR NR Scott Elbert For arguably the team’s No. 1 pitching prospect to have this kind of year is something else.
33 34 36 34 31 31 25 16 3 Charlie Haeger Don’t think we’ll see him back this season.
34 33 30 33 32 32 30 22 16 Garret Anderson Jay Gibbons OPSed .621 in last major-league season three years ago.
35 36 35 32 30 30 29 27 22 Russ Ortiz Gave up one double and no homers this year.
36 35 34 31 28 28 27 26 26 George Sherrill Has recorded one out this month.
Jul 11

Looking at Lack-of-Longball Loney

The question of whether James Loney will ever develop home run power gets a long look from Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

The swing has always been there.

The bat control and the ability to hit to all fields, too.

But into the fifth year of his major league career, we’re still waiting for James Loney to display consistent home run power. After hitting 15 in only 344 at-bats as a 23-year-old in 2007, Loney put only 26 balls over the wall in 1,302 plate appearances over his next two seasons. This year he’s fallen behind that already modest pace, with only five homers in 361 trips to the plate.

James Loney has just five home runs in more than 325 at-bats this season.

Not that the Blue have abandoned hope. “As he continues to mature as a hitter and continues to learn his swing I think he’ll start to hit 20 to 25 home runs,” says Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. “Once he starts to pull. Because he has great pull power, it’s just that his approach is typically [to hit] the other way.”

Colletti’s hope isn’t without historical precedent. Over his first 2,031 at-bats, Rafael Palmeiro had 47 homers. Jeff Bagwell had 53 in 1,675, Steve Garvey 46 in 1,606. Loney has 50 in 1,943. Power can develop later in a player’s career.

But what if it doesn’t? …

Bagwell was named the Astros’ hitting coach today, by the way.

Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone would have parted with Loney if it meant acquiring Cliff Lee.

Jul 11

Starting over: John Ely goes to Albuquerque

The Dodgers announced today that they have optioned John Ely to Albuquerque and recalled Jon Link in time for tonight’s game.

Ely’s next scheduled start for the Dodgers was July 19, so unless he is replacing an injured player, he cannot be recalled in time for that start. But of course, there’s always the chance the Dodgers will have an injured player for him to replace.

Sending Ely to Albuquerque presumably allows him to work on some things in game action, rather than being sidelined for nine days.

Nevertheless, by the sounds of Joe Torre’s media session today, it doesn’t look like the Dodgers are eying Ely for that next start. Torre said that he and Ned Colletti decided that Ely needs to get back on track, and that James McDonald, Carlos Monasterios and Claudio Vargas are currently candidates for the July 19 start against the Giants. That’s assuming the Dodgers don’t make a trade.

McDonald extended his recent relatively hot streak today, allowing a run in 6 1/3 innings for the Isotopes, though he walked four and struck out only two. McDonald has a 2.08 ERA in his past four appearances, with no home runs allowed.

Jul 11

Farewell, Bob Sheppard

The Yankee Stadium legend, who became the ballpark’s public address announcer in 1951, the year after Vin Scully joined the Dodgers, and stayed until 2008, passed away this morning at age 99. The New York Times has an obituary, and Keith Olbermann has this remembrance.

… His sense of humor was nearly as legendary as his enunciation and the meticulousness of his preparation. He had joined the Yankees so long ago – 1951 – that it was a point of perverse pride that the team had no record of who preceded him, and said so in its media guide. When I picked up the gauntlet of research I went first to Mr. Sheppard himself and asked him if, by chance, he knew but just hadn’t been asked. “Yes,” he intoned, pausing just as he did while behind the microphone. “Methusaleh,” he said with a laugh, referencing a biblical figure who lasted into quadruple figures. It turned out Bob had actually been hired by Red Patterson, the Yankees’ public relations director of the time.

In the ’40s and ’50s, public address announcing at Yankee Stadium – and elsewhere – was an afterthought. Patterson did it in between bon mots with the writers. He and other Yankee officials attended a football game played by the old Yankees of the All American Football Conference and were struck by the professionalism and thoroughness of the PA announcer there. They approached him as early as 1948 about doing baseball, but Sheppard could not fit the team’s weekday schedule into his full-time life as a speech professor at St. John’s University. Bob was more of a football guy anyway – he had quarterbacked St. John’s in the ’30s – and once confessed to me with a laugh that he had never attended a baseball game at Yankee Stadium until the team hired him during what would be Mickey Mantle’s first year (and Joe DiMaggio’s last).

In the new job, Sheppard essentially invented the process with which we are familiar today. Before him, stadium announcers rarely provided any information to the audience. Line-ups would be announced, and then each batter’s first plate appearance as we, but often thereafter the fan was on his own. The idea of the dramatic announcement in the ninth inning of a tie in the Bronx: “Now batting for the Yankees, number seven, Mickey Mantle,” was Sheppard’s. It truly changed not just the fans’ experience at the game, but the game itself. …

Jul 10

John Ely tells us the oldest tale in the book

The story was that John Ely not only came up challenging hitters, but that he convinced the tentative Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw to do the same. Ely the golden child, Ely the student as master.

It’s all so simple, right? Just throw strikes.

Maybe Ely gave his two teammates something to think about. Maybe. But the real story is that throwing strikes isn’t a matter of simply choosing to do so.

Pitchers don’t will themselves to have command. Command comes from something far more nebulous, a combination of ability, mechanics, faith and fortune. And if just one piece of that puzzle is missing, the whole thing falls apart.

No one issues a four-pitch walk to start the second inning because they think it’s a good idea. It happens because pitching is hard. Just because you can throw strikes one day doesn’t mean you’ll throw them the next.

Ely seemed like he might have a preternatural or even supernatural ability to harness those mysterious forces. Now, we find he’s just like everyone else – except that, as we knew before, he has a thinner margin for error than everyone else.

Ely might bounce back. We’ll see. We’ll hope. If he isn’t as good as he was at the outset of his career, he’s not as bad as he was today.

But just remember this the next time you see a pitcher struggle with control. Don’t be that guy that asks, “How could he walk the pitcher?” Don’t be the one asking, “Why doesn’t he just throw strikes?” Don’t be that person. Because if you’ve ever watched baseball, you know the answer.

Pitching is hard.