I thought of my time with "The McLaughlin Group" last week, when George Steinbrenner died. For when people used to ask me what McLaughlin was like, I'd say, "George Steinbrenner with a considerably smaller empire."

Dr. McLaughlin ruled by fear. When he called into the office, the place immediately went to Defcon 1: McLaughlin paid for an intercom system to be set up - there were about eight people in the entire office - so that you could broadcast, "JM on the line for Steve," or whoever he wanted. It was insanity.

I could largely laugh it off, because a) I was headed back to college in the fall, and b) they weren't paying me, anyway. But the fully formed adults who depended on McLaughlin for a livelihood? They struggled to see the humor in it.

I remember one week, on a Monday, Dr. McLaughlin declared he was going to take a quick European jaunt the coming weekend I was assigned to conduct hours upon hours of research on Spain, I'm pretty sure - hotels, restaurants, tourist highlights, all that. Many of the full-timers put in extra hours to line up all of the logistics of the trip. And of course, everyone was looking forward to having him so far away for even a few days.

And then, after a week of intense preparation, following the show tapings on Friday, ...Dr. McLaughlin decided that he was tired and wasn't going to go abroad, after all. Nary a word of thanks or apology went to those of us who got him ready for the trip that never was. You could see that even some of the veteran employees were visibly shaken and exhausted by the turn of events.

Unlike Steinbrenner, Dr. McLaughlin didn't balance this ferocity with charity, or transcendent greatness, really; he made his mark on television, but not anywhere near the degree that The Boss impacted baseball. He made himself somewhat tolerable because, once the tapings ended on Friday, he often was able to let his guard down, joke around and treat his employees with a degree of humanity.

I'm not sure if I'm making a point here. I just enjoy studying people, particularly those who attain considerable degrees of success and fame, and appreciating their fullnesses, if you will. Understanding that, just like Steinbrenner, pretty much no one is wholly good or wholly bad. 

Onto the issues and the insults...

Issue One: What should the plummeting Mets do, with the non-waivers trade deadline approaching?

This is becoming an increasingly tough call. With the Mets now 1-4 out of the All-Star break - that one win resulted from some major luck, as you recall - should they even bother looking for an upgrade to their starting rotation? Or should they tuck away their money and prospects, ride out this season and appreciate the positive developments, and get ready for next year? After all, they're now tied (with the Dodgers) for fourth in the National League wild-card race, two and a half games behind leader Cincinnati.

I think they should continue to work hard to find a starting pitcher. With Cliff Lee off the board, you're not going to be trading any prospects of major consequence, unless the Astros relent and throw in huge amounts of money for a team to take Roy Oswalt (or the same with Arizona and Dan Haren - both scenarios being highly unlikely). For the likes of Ted Lilly and Brett Myers, it's going to be a matter of, "Who's willing to take on the money, and throw in a couple of second-tier prospects?"

And boy, do the Mets need to show their fans they're willing to spend a few bucks, as we've been discussing a lot recently. A friend of mine was among the former season-ticket holders the Mets recently invited back for a second freebie, in an effort to get former customers to return. He worked the room, and he said that he didn't find a single person who was even considering diving back into the season-ticket pool. 

I take his feedback with a grain of salt - it's not like he was conducting a formal survey - but only one grain of salt, for all of my anecdotal reporting brings back similar responses. So many Mets fans feel that, if they really want to attend a game, they can go on StubHub and get tickets at a lower price than the face value. Really, I think the Mets are going to have to lower the cost of their higher-end tickets this winter. But they can lower them less if they stay in the race for the entirety of the season.

When you throw in the Mets' easy schedule - although they're now 0-1 in the much-discussed 20-game cruise through the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Astros - I still think they have to give it a shot.

Issue Two: What should the Mets do with Oliver Perez?

At this point, if the Mets aren't willing to pay Perez to go away, they should deploy the four-corners offense: Determine in today's throwing session that he's still not healthy, and get another 30-day clock going. That'll bring the Mets well into August. If they can figure out a way to buy a little more time until September 1st, when rosters expand to 40 player, then they can activate him with no consequences.

And then, this winter, they can have Perez go back to working with Brett Fischer and hope, however unrealistically, that Ollie gains strength and rediscovers the missing miles per hour in his fastball.

Issue Three: What should the Yankees do with the trade deadline approaching?

I wrote a Yankees assessment for today's Newsday. It's not that tantalizing in that I don't see the Yankees making any huge moves in the next couple of weeks. Nor do they need to.

If the worst-case scenarios sprout up everywhere - if Andy Pettitte's recovery goes slower than hoped, if A.J. Burnett can't get it together, if Sergio Mitre can't be a capable back-end starter - then there will probably be some rotation options available in August. Guys like Jake Westbrook and Kevin Millwood who will clear waivers. 

I was on some California radio station yesterday, and the host said that the Yankees' starting rotation was in "disarray." Good Lord. I don't think I was very polite in challenging that adjective. As currently constituted, the Yankees still probably have the second-best starting rotation in the American League, behind Tampa Bay.

As I wrote, I think the most likely trade will come for an infield bench player. 

Issue Four: Out of the break, there have been notable swimmers (St. Louis, San Diego, Texas, San Francisco) and sinkers (Detroit, the Dodgers and of course the Mets). Which of these constitute illusions, and which are accurate bellwethers? 

Well, I always lean heavily upon my preseason predictions for help, as I think you forecast the destination and not the journey. However, even though I picked the Angels and Dodgers to win their respective divisions, you sure can't be feeling too good about them at the moment.

Neither club seems as deep as its rivals, and in the case of the Dodgers, you have to wonder whether the ugly ownership situation has flowed downward into the clubhouse. I think it definitely has impacted Joe Torre, who might be wrapping up his managerial career. 

So to answer the question: I think St. Louis and Texas are definitely legitimate swimmers; San Diego possibly and San Francisco not. I think the Tigers and Mets are bona fide sinkers. I'm not quite ready to write off the Dodgers yet, but they have to turn things around soon.

Here are the updated PECOTA playoff odds.

--Derek Jeter was voted the most marketable player in baseball, according to a Sports Business Daily survey. Here's my question: Which side does this information help in this November's extension negotiations between Jeter and the Yankees? Does Jeter say, "Look at me, I'm helping the Yankees brand?" Or do the Yankees say, "Let's see how you look in that survey wearing a Detroit Tigers uniform"? 

Both, I assume. But which one holds more leverage? The Yankees' side, IMO.

--Joba Chamberlain is on alert. You do wonder, if the Yankees' setup corps is still in flux come playoff time, will that influence the Yankees to switch Phil Hughes back to the bullpen? In other words, would they make their assessment as to what would help the bullpen the most, as opposed to simply choosing the four best starters for the rotation?

There are many hoops to jump through between now and then. Yet it's something to keep in the back of our minds.

--Have a great day.





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