Friday, April 17, 2009

Reality Check: Brian Cashman gets owned by Matt Taibbi

Criticism of anything to do with the New York Yankees' fifedom baseball club is like an episode of Two and a Half Men: far too easy to predict in nature and ultimately pointless. But an article by the brilliant and highly caustic Matt Taibbi -- check out Taibbi's full evisceration of people involved in the corridors of American power in the wake of the ongoing financial crisis -- is the rawest, most corrosive attack on the Yankees' General Manager Brian Cashman in recent memory.

Did Taibbi go too far?

It's hard to say. Taibbi writes a sports column for a free weekly in the Boston area, but the man honed his journalistic chops on exposing abuses of power in politics and business (needless to say, Matt's had quite a busy last few years). In some respects, he's ideal to write up on Cashman -- a guy whom has expertly played the highly political game of keeping rivals off-balance and appeasing The Boss at the same time with the eventual endgame of rising to the position of General Manager of the New York Yankees. Let's just say Cashman's several big steps above George Costanza here when it comes to managing the power game.

Taibbi is positively acidic in his treatment of Cashman in the article. Some choice and very funny quotes:

"What Brian Cashman has accomplished as GM of the Yankees over the past few years, in turning a perennial World Series champ into a third-place also-ran, is like walking into a backstage party for Led Zeppelin with a two-pound bag of coke and a 28-inch penis and failing for a whole night to get laid."

"Cashman managed to discover the one avenue through which limitless money and power under the current Major League Baseball rules can be a competitive disadvantage. He found that if you pack your roster from top to bottom with pathologically needy, egomaniacal, paranoid megamillionaires aged 30 and up, you can more or less permanently block the development of the choice, hungry, 25- to 30-year-old talent group that serves as the core of virtually all winning baseball teams."

All potentially valid comments -- the last three sub-par Yankee seasons are solid supporting evidence -- that Taibbi makes, we'll give him that. Taibbi calls out Cashman as a masterful politician who can insulate himself against bad free agent signings as easily as he can take credit for good ones simply because of The Man, The Legend, Steinbrenner and his Spawn.

Taibbi's effectively insinuating with his column that Cashman's simply a politician that knows how to work the system and not baseball (never mind the fact being the GM that works for George Michael Steinbrenner III doesn't really mean much anyway -- check out the following video to see what "power" has meant in Yankees Land over the years).

Taibbi makes a lot of valid criticisms -- The Boss isn't known for his hands-off approach to the Yankees -- of the Insane Clown Yankee Posse, but the column ultimately misses the point, as ShysterBall points out as a response to Taibbi's column.

For one, Taibbi's piece smacks of really annoying New Yawk provincialism. Referring to the Tampa Bay Rays as a "Cape Cod League team?" Toronto's a "low-intensity" environment? Um, what?

ShysterBall also rightly points out that Cashman is in a no-win situation: any choice he makes in terms of player development, free agent signings or anything else to do with the on-field product is tempered by a whole host of pressures other than just George Steinbrenner. New York City is not an easy environment for anyone trying to succeed; imagine a media as rabid in their coverage of the Toronto Maple Leafs, only about 10 times larger than Toronto's and far, far less forgiving. This isn't excuse-making for Cashman -- to describe his player development approach as having mixed results is charitable at best -- but it does smack of Taibbi not getting the subtle nature of management in baseball's professional ranks.

Taibbi's column is superficially smart, funny and engaging. But it lacks real depth and understanding of the role of General Manager for any baseball team.

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