April 24, 2014

On Self-Flaggelation, Remorse, and Mark Shapiro

Yesterday afternoon Mark Shapiro took to Twitter for an hour or so to answer a few questions, interrogations, insults, and threats from Tribe fans on what has become a nightmare season.  This appearance was after a sustained absence from the social media platform for which he felt compelled, oddly, to apologize.

For the most part, I thought he handled himself with humility and decency.  This was not a surprise, as I tend to think of Mark Shapiro as a humble and decent sort of guy.  He was asked some real questions (If you could go back in time, which trade would you reject? Sabathia, Lee, V-Mart, or Jimenez?) and some silly questions (What’s your favorite constellation?).  Some people were openly combative (Why not take money away from so many fireworks, promos &loge remodeling & instead translate it into better players on field?), while others seemed genuinely sympathetic (It’s been a rough season, but you still have my full support. Whats happening with Sizemore during the off season?).

If you can’t tell from that little sampling, it was a mixed bag, and—as often seems to be the case on Twitter—the conversation occasionally seemed on the verge of being held hostage by the lowest common denominator.  It’s for this reason that I tend not to understand honest attempts to engage difficult subjects on twitter.1  Sure, one can come across as earnest by engaging the masses on their terms (and boy does Shapiro strike me as earnest), but in the end you’re likely to end up being mocked for your inability to get it just right.  How can you explain the exigencies that led to the failure of the CC Sabathia trade, to cite just one example, in 140 paragraphs, much less 140 characters?  The medium necessarily obfuscates any point with the slightest degree of complexity, and before you know it, your words have been repurposed against you.  Or as J. Alfred once lamented, “That is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all.”

In the end, I got the sense that Shapiro wanted to (once again) demonstrate a few things to the fanbase.  First, that he deeply cares about the performance of the team.  I suppose to some people (and I probably fall into this category) that point goes without saying.  To me it is so obvious that he cares, that he’s desperate to demonstrate not only that winning is possible in our market, but that he’s the one who can do it, that I hardly need any reminder of how important this is to him.

But beyond his commitment to—for lack of a better phrase—doing a good job, these gestures of outreach seem to symbolize a rite of purification with which I’m a bit uncomfortable.  Granted, I’ve written before that Shapiro needed to find a way to communicate more openly and forthrightly with his fanbase.  But these twittervations make it appear almost like Shapiro feels the need to go through this public ritual of humiliation for the team—as if taking the barbs and insults from the angry fanbase will bestow his front office with a sense of gravitas or repentance or experience or wisdom.  That it’s only after you get openly mocked by internet tough guys can you truly get down to the business of building a baseball team on a budget.  That this little exercise could reset the clock, and we could all move on from this aborted and humiliating season.

And I think it needs to be said that this is utter nonsense.  While I find Shapiro’s tolerance for abuse saintly, that doesn’t mean that I find it particularly useful.

The problem here, and what amounts to the point of all these ramblings, is that there isn’t much left for Shapiro to do at this point, and I wonder if that’s not why he found himself taking an hour out of his schedule to openly suffer fools.  It’s evident that he cares.  It’s evident that he has a plan.  It’s evident that he will not stop trying to make this team better.2

But it’s also evident that the stinking failure of the 2012 Indians is the result of Shapiro’s custody and planning and effort, and his willingness to open himself up to the interrogations and abuse of the general public doesn’t do anything to alleviate that responsibility.

None of this is to say that I think Mark Shapiro should be fired, or that he should stay off twitter, or that he owes me or anybody else a detailed autopsy of the dumpster fire this season has become.3

I am merely acknowledging the possibility that he may have nothing left to give us but pounds of his e-flesh.

This possibility does not inspire me with great hope for the future.

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. I prefer twitter for oblique references to late-90s movies about the sanctity of bowling, but that’s just, like, my opinion, man… []
  2. At least it’s evident to anyone who’s not a conspiracy theorist. []
  3. I don’t have the heart for that last one anyway. []

  • Garry_Owen

    “It’s evident that he has a plan. It’s evident that he will not stop trying to make this team better.”
    Can you elaborate? I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it’s not evident to me.

  • http://twitter.com/WayneEmbrysKids WayneEmbrysKids

    In retrospect “Can you outrun a mountain lion?” was probably my favorite question.

  • WFNYJon

    Sure. The plan–and he’s made no secret of this–is to assemble young, similarly-aged and -controlled players through the draft and trades. Then you complement those players with dumpster-diving free agency signings. Because this isn’t a plan that can be sustained long-term (young cheap players become old expensive players, especially if they’re any good), you have to reload every four to six years, which requires tearing down those pieces that have become expensive and replacing them with new, younger, cheaper players. This obviously means that you will have years where you’re tearing things down and years where you’re building back up. Hence: ‘contention cycles’.
    My issue isn’t with the plan. It’s with the execution of the plan. For that, Shapiro is responsible. And I’m not sure there’s anyway for him to be accountable for it, short of firing himself (which, let’s be honest, is an impossibility).

  • Garry_Owen

    Okay. Check. I’m with you. Yes, it’s the execution, not the plan itself. (The execution has sort of made it look like there is no plan.)

  • EyesAbove

    Ive defended Shapiro for a long time, but the Dolans must hold his feet to the fire this offseason. Sorry to use the old cliche, but I dont know how else to word it.

  • Narm

    I agree with their ‘plan’ – I just wish they’d try it sometime. I’ve defended Shapiro (lord, how I’ve defended Shapiro) – but he specifically mentioned they don’t like to trade for pitching prospects – preferring to draft them and trade for position players. Yet they’ve drafted Nyquin, Washington, Wolters, Lindor, Chiz, Kipnis, etc in early rounds. And while they drafted White/Pomeranz – they traded them away. Add to the fact they traded for Masterson, Carrasco, Tomlin, McAllister, Kluber, Barnes, etc – it goes against what he was saying.

    Unless he meant MOVING FORWARD that is their thought – which is interesting and something to watch as we sell off Perez/Choo and enter into the 2013 draft.

  • Alex Wolcott

    Seems to me that Shapiro’s tenure has been a complete and unmitigated disaster.

    When he transitioned into the job, the 455 game streak was on and the Eara of (quasi) Champions was still running.

    Dolan takes over. Cablevision’s stock price collapses. Shapiro gets tasked with selling the new “austerity” message to the fanbase. That in and of itself was not his fault, but the WAY he did it was little short of disastrous. I remember this well, back in 2002. The condescension, the arrogant tone and incessant poor-mouthing of “the market.” I remember thinking – ‘ every time this moron gets in front of a mic the season ticket count drops by 200.’

    Little changed on that account over the years. The guy has been a PR disaster and is roundly hated by a majority of the fanbase.

    He hit big, hit lucky on the Colon trade. Ripped off Seattle (and arguably the Dodgers) on a couple of deals. But the rest of the deals – and you have to throw Roberto Alomar for Alex Escobar high onto that list – far outweigh this in the other direction.

    Free agent signings. The DRAFT. Oh good lord, the draft.

    Just an utter nightmare. Basically you give the keys to one of the showpiece franchises in baseball to this guy and a decade later it is at an ebb lower than the worst times of the 1960′s or 1970′s.

    Completely indefensible. In an ordinary business a record like this gets you fired long, long, long ago. But not here. We’ll be stuck with this guy and his particular brand of genius forever, no doubt. The fact that HIS future is never up for discussion is what keeps people like me from buying back in. You can throw Manny Acta under the bus. Maybe/probably Antonetti. But there Shapiro will still be. Twittering, fiddling with his little treasured computer program. Whatever.

    This guy is a bad parody of everything wrong with the “Moneyball” concept. Said concept itself being more or less a chimera. Hudson. Mulder. Zito. That was your “Moneyball” right there. Where are our Hudson, Mulder, and Zito, Shapiro? You’d think in a decade that your junk science methods would have turned them up. Rather than trading them away for ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

  • mgbode

    if you don’t execute the plan, then you are executed. simple business.

  • mgbode

    and note: I am not on the full train of firing Shapiro. He has done alot of good things. He has been able to make alot of good trades (and bad ones) while the GM. My main issue with him is that he is a bit slow at recognizing what isn’t working and shifting gears (Mirabelli comes to mind). However, Antonetti has been a disaster and I hope that Shapiro recognizes it and isn’t so slow on this one.

  • Alex Wolcott

    Yeah, my plan was to make a million dollars by the time I was 30. But then when the repo man took my car away a month before that birthday I had to face facts that I wasn’t up to the execution of same.

    Enough with the excuses for this guy. He did not get it done. How long do you get as far as “ruining a sports franchise” before there is some accountability where there needs to be?

  • Harv 21

    The FO is faced with the incredible shrinking season tix/packages base, and that seems the most obvious purpose of his exposure. They know advance ticket sales will continue the plummet after this season’s atrocity, but there are diehards who might now be on the fence about re-upping. They can’t lose the last diehards.

    Who should speak to these people? The Dolans are reviled, Antonetti would be a pinata if he goes directly to the public and, frankly, seems a little inexperienced to effectively assure the fans that he knows how to clean up his mess. Manny? Not after these past 2 months. The one guy in the FO who retains credibility with some fans is Shapiro. So there he is, the game dude shivering on the slippery stool in the dunk tank, acting like he really wants the people to hit the bullseye, taking one for this raggedy FO because if anyone else climbs onto the stool fans might just tip the whole tank over and laugh.

  • Steve

    There is a lot wrong here. Let’s try to break it down piece by piece

    “When he transitioned into the job, the 455 game streak was on and the Eara of (quasi) Champions was still running”

    Not really. He took over in 2001, and the sell out streak ending on opening day, but was widely known to be a sham through the second half of the previous season. The ticketbase had fallen before Shapiro took the reigns. Also, the Indians had missed the playoffs in 2000, and looked mighty old doing so. They bounced back in 2001, but anyone who thought they were going to sustain a playoff run was only fooling themselves. That team was old, and there was less in the well than there is today as John Hart had done been phoning it in for a while at that point, leaving nothing in the well. Even if he did acquire a good young talent, that guy was quickly moved for a mid rotation starter or Ricardo Rincon.

    “The condescension, the arrogant tone and incessant poor-mouthing of “the market.””

    Who was he condescending? What was said with arrogance? Vague accusations are less than useless here. And, sorry to say, but anyone who lived in Cleveland saw this firsthand, the market did suck. We currently have approximately 1/3 the Fortune 500 companies we do in town compared to 1990. We have to face facts.

    “He hit big, hit lucky on the Colon trade. Ripped off Seattle (and
    arguably the Dodgers) on a couple of deals. But the rest of the deals –
    and you have to throw Roberto Alomar for Alex Escobar high onto that
    list – far outweigh this in the other direction.”

    We’ve gone over his moves many times here, no need to again, but I like that when he made a good move, he was just lucky. And we have to consider the cliff that Alomar fell off, and the inability to retain Sabathia, Lee and likely Martinez. It’s not as simple as ‘gave up all-star, got back busted prospect’.

    The draft has sucked, I’ll give you that. I’ll patiently wait for your analysis as to why.

    The shots at the computer program, and moneyball, and calling it junk science is laughably ignorant. The team built a database and tried to keep up with the Joneses out there when it came to technological and sabermetric information. This is neither a point to laud nor attack.

  • Steve

    Did he say that on twitter recently? It’s just something I can’t imagine the team pigeonholing itself into doing. They understand as well as anyone out there that the plan may have to adjust at a moments notice. Or maybe they would just prefer to draft pitchers rather than trade for them, but if the market bears out better deals in trades than in the draft for pitchers, they’ll still take try to take advantage of that.

  • Steve

    I need an editor.

    Simply though: there are good reasons to fire Shapiro (and other guys in the front office). But, wishcasting that the 90s would never end, saying he just got lucky whenever he did get something right, and taking jabs at using advances in information/technology are not legitimate criticisms.

    And anyone saying “the drafts stunk!” without any deeper analysis need to take a rest. We all know the results. That doesn’t help us. We need to know what the team can do better in the draft room.

  • thepaledragon

    “Who should speak to these people?”

    Sounds like a job for Slider!

  • nj0

    Less fireworks = more Pujols!

  • nj0

    Steve, thanks for continuing to fight good fight.

    I love that Shapiro and the Indians have the balls to deal with the rabble head on.

    Busting on the Indians is Animal House logic — to blame Shapiro is to blame Dolan, to blame Dolan is to blame the local market, to blame Cleveland is to blame the whole league structure which is to blame all of major league baseball…. and Selig isn’t going tp stand there and watch you blame billionaires running a league that is a government protected monopoly!!!!!

    This is Cleveland baseball life. Shapiro or no. Dolan or no. Stop watching.

  • Steve

    It’s just incredibly frustrating for people to incorrectly badmouth the team (especially when there are enough legit criticisms) and then say things like “fair or not, the perception of the Dolans is in the toilet”.

    On an unrelated note. I do enjoy the downvotes without any responses. If you disagree, I will gladly discuss, but don’t just get grumpy that you don’t like what I have to say.

  • Larry

    Their draft philosophy of selecting position players based on college OPS is flawed. Draft players who either have speed or power, not a Trevor Crowe, Beau Mills, Michael Aubrey who had neither. They made the same mistake again with Naquin. You have to draft players in the 1st round who are speedy leadoff hitters or power hitters. That is what the fans want to see. The decisions the FO made this off-season defied logic. There is no excuse for paying Sizemore five mil. No contender would ever have Shelly Duncan on their roster. Shapiro has consistently been fooled by strong September performances. See Karim Garcia as the cleanup hitter in 2003 after a great Sept in 2002. A team already heavy with left handed hitters could not sign Kotchman at 1st or bring in Damon for left field. The all left handed lineup killed them in the late innings. Plus there is no excuse for not having a left handed starter. No other team in MLB had all RH starters. Shapiro also places way too much emphasis on adding a veteran presence. Lowe started out well but he had no impact on the rest of the pitching staff. This front office is more concerned with showing how smart they are than producing a winner. Why else would they wait so long to cut Wheeler, Damon, Cunningham and Duncan when it was obvious to the entire league that they can’t play. As long as Shaponetti are still there, they should go with the philosophy of WWBBD. What would Billy Beane Do? In the last 10 years he has far outperformed Shapiro. He would never make the Ubaldo or Lowe trades. He would have recognized that the current team is not a contender and traded Masterson, Choo & Perez at the deadline for prospects to try again. That is what I want. Acknowledge your mistakes early and take steps to correct them. I will watch prospects but not Kotchman, Marson, Rottino, Lillibridge, Canzler, Maine. Stop pulling journeyman off the scrap heap and bring in some young talent.