Looks as if all the hate for Hal Steinbrenner was a bit premature. Then again, maybe hate is too strong a word. Dissatisfaction probably is a better fit.
Such is life as owner of the Yankees. You don’t deliver a Carlos Correa or a Freddie Freeman or even a Trevor Story and fans get that much angrier about the 12-year World Series drought, regardless of the $260 million spent on the 2022 roster.
All that spring training noise (full disclosure: some of it broadcast from this space) has quieted significantly with the Yankees sitting atop the AL East with MLB's best record (18-7). Bypassing Freeman for Anthony Rizzo (.938 OPS, 21 RBIs) and skipping Correa for Isiah Kiner-Falefa (11th in WAR among MLB shortstops) haven’t been the worst crimes. Let’s see how it goes from here.
But we bring up Steinbrenner mostly to illustrate the difference between criticism over checkbook management and what legitimately qualifies as despicable behavior by other ownership groups at this early juncture of the season, specifically in Cincinnati and Oakland.
As if MLB’s owners didn’t come off bad enough during the winter’s bitter CBA negotiations — you may remember that 99-day lockout orchestrated by Rob Manfred, essentially their captain — the Reds and A’s chose to flip off their own fans beyond the insulting offseason. If any loyal customers of these two franchises wondered how they were viewed by the people in charge, they got an answer, first through the gutting of their teams and then by getting publicly mocked for caring.
It’s hard to stomach. Rather than try to win back disenchanted fan bases, the Reds and A’s went to war with them, a not-so-subtle reminder that MLB continues to have issues that exist beyond settling for an uneasy labor peace in March.
The worst offender has been Reds president/CEO Phil Castellini — son of principal owner Bob (shocker) — who had the nerve to taunt/threaten fans upset by Cincy bailing on the 2022 season before Opening Day.
The Reds' winter fire sale included Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez, Tucker Barnhart, Sonny Gray and Amir Garrett. Nick Castellanos opted for free agency and Wade Miley was allowed to walk on waivers. Predictably, fans lashed out against the ownership group for dealing away a group of not only talented but popular players. When asked about it during a radio interview last month by the team’s flagship radio station, WLW, son of Castellini was not having it.
“Well, where you gonna go? Let’s start there,” Castellini told the station. “I mean, sell the team to who? I mean, that’s the other thing. I mean, you wanna have this debate? If you wanna look at what would you have this team do to have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists, it would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else. And so be careful what you ask for. I think we’re doing the best we can do with the resources that we have.”
The Reds were founded in 1882 and are one of only four 19th-century teams that still play in their original city, along with the Phillies, Cubs and Cardinals. So we’re not talking about uprooting the Rays or Rockies here. For the Queen City, it was an incredibly offensive thing to say, which is why Castellini eventually apologized — five days later — in a hollow statement that contained little more than sorry.
But as insulting as Castellini’s comments were at the time, the Reds’ on-field performance has been just as repulsive, if not more so. Before winning on Saturday, the Reds were 3-22 and on pace to shatter the 1962 Mets record for futility (40-120) — without the excuse of being a first-year start-up. At that .120 clip, Cincy would be on pace for roughly 20 wins, and the motivation for this group isn’t likely to improve much. Before Saturday's 9-2 win over the Pirates, the Reds’ minus-87 run differential was the worst in baseball by a lot (the Royals were next at minus-39). They ranked 30th overall with a puny .585 OPS despite having potential Hall of Famer Joey Votto (career 146 OPS+).
Over in Oakland (for now), the A’s not only dismantled their roster while angling for a new waterfront ballpark (and simultaneously using Las Vegas as blackmail) but compounded their dirty business with juvenile behavior. Not sure what the A’s expected after trading three All-Stars in Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Chris Bassitt, along with a likely future one in Sean Manaea. Even for a fan base painfully accustomed to such abuse, chopping the payroll to $47.6 million (29th overall) in this fashion, with the A’s having one foot in Vegas, felt like the last straw.
What’s happened to this point was predictable — and no doubt schemed by the A’s ownership group, which wants to show why their home ballpark since 1968, currently named RingCentral Coliseum, no longer is a viable stadium for them. Through the first 13 home games, the A’s were averaging 7,715 fans, easily the worst attendance in the majors and nearly 50% less than the Pirates (12,256).
Despite those embarrassing numbers, A’s president Dave Kaval still had the gall to take Twitter shots at the crosstown Giants, with photos that showed a sparsely filled Oracle Park (before the first pitch) of the Bay Bridge series matchup.
“It is sad how few fans are out at the game,” Kaval tweeted. “Maybe the local media can look into the [Giants'] marketing? Ask some questions. Get to the bottom of what’s going on.”
The Giants’ official attendance that night was 32,898. Overall, they rank seventh, drawing 32,263 per home game, two spots below the Yankees (35,385). Not that it really needs any additional context, but the A’s total for 13 games at RingCentral is 100,301 — or what amounts to roughly two games worth of fans at Dodger Stadium (49,057 average).
Why Kaval would even go there on Twitter is bewildering. It’s bad enough that the A’s ownership group is poisoning the well to strong-arm the new ballpark project at Howard Terminal or flee Oakland altogether. But welcoming further ridicule with dumb commentary on Twitter only accentuates the club’s ineptitude (the A's were 10-16 entering Saturday's play).
Apparently some owners didn’t learn all that much from being routinely pantsed on the public stage by the Players Association during the CBA negotiations. For them, there’s no offseason for boorish behavior. Sticking it to their customers is a year-round sport while they act like the aggrieved party in this arrangement.
Fortunately, New York baseball doesn’t have to deal with such buffoons. Steinbrenner and Mets second-year owner Steve Cohen have followed through on their pledges to field World Series contenders — and there’s no reason to suspect that’s ever going to change, even if the dollar amounts fluctuate.
Had their Phil of Joe?
As giddy as the Mets were about Thursday’s miraculous comeback, when they scored seven runs in the ninth for an 8-7 victory over the Phillies, the stunning collapse could result in more dark clouds hovering over the future of manager Joe Girardi.
The Phillies, who have not made the playoffs since a Division Series loss to the Cardinals in 2011, are off to an 11-15 start despite having the fourth-highest payroll in the majors at $232 million. They signed Castellanos (five years/$100 million) and Kyle Schwarber (four years/$79 million) to embolden their all-in stance, but when disappointment follows that level of investment, the blame typically falls on the manager.
Girardi is in the final season of his three-year deal, with a club option for 2023, but the Phillies are 121-127 on his watch. On Opening Day, Girardi was listed at 9-1 odds of being the first manager fired this season, behind Aaron Boone (7-1) and Joe Maddon (15-2). But with the Yankees (18-7) atop the AL East and the surprising Angels (18-10) leading the AL West, those odds have dramatically shifted, and Girardi currently occupies the hottest seat in baseball.
Umps gone bad
By now everyone has seen the viral video of umpire Dan Bellino staring down the Diamondbacks’ Madison Bumgarner while purportedly checking his pitching hand for illegal substances after the first inning of Wednesday’s game against the Marlins. It’s almost uncomfortable to watch, with the stone-faced Bellino glaring at Bumgarner, who starts off confused but then gets outraged by the umpire’s over-the-line behavior.
Earlier that inning, Bumgarner looked upset with a few ball-strike calls by plate umpire Ryan Wills. It happens. But for Bellino to follow that up by clearly antagonizing Bumgarner is inexcusable.
Let’s face it. The checking for sticky stuff has always been a touchy subject. Pitchers are much more comfortable with the practice, which has been altered to focus on the hands this season, but it’s still not their favorite thing. And for Bellino to use that check to further annoy Bumgarner, then eject him from the game, is one of the more egregious offenses by an umpire in recent memory.
A source confirmed Saturday that Bellino was disciplined by MLB, but that apparently did not include a suspension. He was on the field Friday for the Astros-Tigers series after issuing an apology.
“When I began my MLB career almost 15 years ago, I received some good advice,” Bellino said in a statement. “I was told to umpire every game as if my children were sitting in the front row. I fell short of those expectations this week. While I can’t go back and change what happened, I take full accountability. I will learn from this incident, and I sincerely apologize.”
Bumgarner was not disciplined for the ejection, which Bellino said at the time was for using profanity toward him. And seriously, could you really blame Bumgarner for that?