I’m a little late to the party on this one, but the most recent bit of stupidity from ESPN’s Steve Phillips warrants mentioning, however tardy.
As you might know, the much–maligned former general manager went off the deep end a little bit in a recent Mets-Braves broadcast. Phillips apparently partook in the current fad amongst baseball analysts and sports radio hosts, which is the diagnosis of what exactly is wrong with the New York Mets (answer: it’s May). The popular conclusion to this diagnosis – thanks partly to the team’s own GM – is usually that the Mets lack an “edge” or the toughness necessary to win consistently. Phillips did nothing to correct this ambiguous and useless sentiment. Instead, he offered a more specific criticism by targeting center fielder Carlos Beltran as a symbol of what is wrong with the Mets. Of course, his argument maintained the total ambiguity that so often characterizes a poorly conceived position on an issue. Many writers took note of Phillips’ dumbfounding tirade and responded with an appropriate mix of disbelief and chagrin. I’d recommend you check out Ted Berg, Bob Raissman, Sam Page, and Joe Posnanski’s responses in particular.
Steve Phillips’ recent chat on ESPN.com provided an opportunity for him to clarify, amend, and reconsider his clearly wrongheaded position on the Mets and Carlos Beltran. As a general fan of clarity and accountability, I was more than a little interested in Phillips’ response to the inevitable question about his infamous denunciation. Indeed, the last question of the chat was an admirably restrained disagreement with Phillips’ position. In light of the overwhelming evidence against Phillips’ argument, I was sure he would concede at least some ground. I was totally wrong:
Beltran Stays (New York): Steve, while I respect your work, I disagree with your statements about Carlos Beltran on Sunday Night Baseball. The guy has done nothing but produce, and name me a CF who’s better in the game right now.
Steve Phillips: If the Mets don’t make the playoffs, I firmly believe they need to reconfigure the core of this team. While Beltran does have talent, I just don’t see him as a winning player. Even after my comments on Sunday night, Beltran let a fly ball drop in between himself and Angel Pagan in the Dodger game. I see him putting up numbers but not making plays to win games. I would take Torii Hunter, Grady Sizemore, Curtis Granderson, and Nate McLouth over Beltran, and use the financial difference to improve the team in other ways. Beltran isn’t a $17 million dollar a year player. He just doesn’t have the kind of impact for that kind of money.
Steve Phillips: Many people think that Alex Rodriguez is the best player in the game, but he’s never won anything. I look at Beltran in a similar fashion as Rodriguez–a great talent that just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to win championships. Maybe the Mets can keep him and add pieces to the core around him and still win. But when you’re dealing with a budget and the screams of immediacy in New York, I’m not sure the Mets can wait to piece it together around him. I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me, but it’s just the way I see it. Beltran is a very good person and a solid citizen, in addition to being a guy who puts up numbers. I like him, I just don’t think they can win with him.
Once again, Phillips reveals that he is simply not a smart person. His arbitrary labeling of Beltran as a non-“winning player” illustrates his total ignorance of how baseball works while doing nothing to cut through the pervasive ambiguity of his argument. Allow me to be perfectly clear about the fact that Beltran is an exceptional, wonderful, Hall of Fame-caliber baseball player. His .370 batting average ranks first in baseball among outfielders. That goes for his .467 on-base percentage. His .584 slugging percentage ranks eighth. He does these things while providing extraordinary baserunning and defense. Phillips just cannot seem to grasp that these numbers represent the careful recording of real-life events that have occurred in real-life baseball games played by real-life baseball players. “Putting up numbers,” particularly those of Beltran’s caliber, is synonymous with “making plays to win games.” It’s also ridiculous and unfair to say that Beltran “just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to win championships.” He’s been on some horrendous teams and some unlucky teams in his career. That’s why he hasn’t won a World Series.
I wonder if Phillips thinks the same of Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, or any other Hall of Fame-caliber player that hasn’t won a championship. I’m guessing he’d draw yet another arbitrary and ambiguous distinction to keep Beltran separate from those players.