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July 28, 2009

You Could Look It Up

Exhuming McCarthy, Burying Omar

by Steven Goldman

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If you're a student of Cold War politics, or perhaps just a fan of early R.E.M., Monday's Omar Minaya press conference announcing the termination of Mets Vice President of Player Development Tony Bernazard might have had a familiar ring to it. The moment came when Minaya deviated from his "I'm not going to get into the details" stance to accuse New York Daily News beat writer Adam Rubin of writing reports on Bernazard's inappropriate behavior because, "Adam, for the past couple of years, has lobbied for a player development position."

In dragging Rubin into the story, Minaya took a few flying leaps of logic into base vindictiveness. Now, it is possible that Rubin erred in asking people he was covering for pointers on how to break into baseball. While it wouldn't violate journalistic ethics to ask, "How do you get a job in baseball?" It is possible that the question could be misconstrued as "How can you get me a job in baseball?" Though he denied he felt Rubin had an ulterior motive in writing the pieces about Bernazard, Minaya seemed to be implying exactly that.

Rubin, of course, would have had to be mad, completely out of touch with reality, to think that somehow that a series of articles about Bernazard ripping his shirt off in front of a bunch of Double-A players would clear the way for his own hiring by the Mets. That would be a delusional plan worthy of Norma Desmond, with Rubin maniacally plotting like some comic book super-villain.

It's hard to believe someone like that could function in society well enough to hold their job, but in any case, it is clear that this is not what happened in the Bernazard situation, nor what Minaya really thinks. Consider several other statements he made during the press conference:

  1. 1. An internal investigation of Bernazard conducted by Mets Human Resources (an oxymoron) was already underway at the time the Rubin articles came out, due to complaints within the organization.

  2. 2. "All the things that have been public are… not exactly as they were reported." Not only is that an aspersion on Rubin's reporting, but a revelation: it wasn't the published stuff that got Bernazard canned, it was (in Minaya's words) "other things," matters that Minaya referred to as "interpersonal communications." "For me, it wasn't so much about the two reports that were out there." Rather, it was based on "a lot of things" that had come up as part of the aforementioned Human Resources investigation. Based on the Human Resources report, Minaya had to recommend to ownership that Bernazard be terminated despite being "a big part of our organization, our success."

  3. 3. That said, the investigation into Bernazard was "expedited" by the Rubin articles and, "I scuffled with it early on" because "I had to tell myself, 'Wow, these things are coming out…' because coming from Adam Rubin… You gotta understand this: Adam, for the past couple of years, has lobbied for a player development position. He has lobbied myself, he has lobbied Tony, so when these thing came out, I was a little bit-I had to think about it."

Thus did Minaya render transparent his motives in dragging Rubin into the story. Apparently, Bernazard's public outbursts were predictably accompanied by private misbehavior. Perhaps Minaya could have papered over the "interpersonal" problems, whatever they were, if not for Rubin publicizing the others-the Binghamton shirt incident, his accosting a Brooklyn Cyclones clubhouse man, arguing with Francisco Rodriguez, and more. Instead, he was forced to divest himself of a cherished (for whatever reason) subordinate.

Minaya's attack on Rubin, even if true, had no relevance to the story-Minaya had just spent half his press conference saying the firing was based on an internal investigation, not on Rubin's reportage. This turn was unprecedented in baseball history-never has a general manager been called "despicable" (as Rubin characterized Minaya's implications) at his own press conference. Think of the train-wreck GMs in history-Pinky Higgins, the Red Sox's apartheid GM, Chuck LaMar with the Devil Rays, Hawk Harrelson's year running the White Sox, Randy Smith in Detroit, six years of Allard Baird in Kansas City, Cam Bonifay's eight years in Pittsburgh, Jim Bowden with the Nationals-none has shot himself in the foot in quite so public a way. The closest thing that comes to mind is Al Campanis's self-immolation on "Nightline" in 1987… Or something else, something more significant.

One of the most arresting moments in American history came on June 9, 1954. A Senate subcommittee was conducting hearings on the charges and counter-charges tossed back and forth between Senator Joe McCarthy and the United States Army. McCarthy had claimed that the Army had been infiltrated by Communists, while the Army charged that McCarthy and his staff, including attorney Roy Cohn, were on a vendetta because the Army had refused to give preferential treatment to an associate of theirs, G. David Schine.

The Army had retained as its counsel Joseph Nye Welch, a Boston trial lawyer. Welch had one concern, that one of his staff attorneys, 33-year-old Fred Fisher, had belonged to the National Lawyers Guild, a left-leaning bar association that some believed was a Communist front organization. Fisher himself was not a Communist, and had left the organization as soon as it had come under a cloud. Still, he and Welch were concerned that McCarthy would "out" him during the televised hearings. Welch made a side deal with Cohn: McCarthy wouldn't mention Fisher, and in return Welch wouldn't question Cohn on his own questionable draft history.

Nonetheless, as soon as McCarthy felt cornered he went back on the deal. Welch was examining Cohn on one of those lists of Communists that McCarthy was always brandishing, and the curious lack of urgency that Cohn had shown in alerting the Army to that list. Welch was scoring points, at which point McCarthy said (I paraphrase; you can see the real thing here with the conclusion here , "If you want to know about Communists so badly, let me tell you about this one in your own law firm," and proceeded to name Fisher.

Fisher's response was instantly famous: "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness… Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad… He shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you…" McCarthy insisted on going on, at which point Welch cut him off, saying, "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" (R.E.M. put the words into the instrumental break of their 1987 song, "Exhuming McCarthy.")

McCarthy went on, and Welch closed him down in words that are particularly appropriate to Minaya's attack on Rubin: "Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me, and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have brought it out. If there is a God in Heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good." The audience, which had been instructed not to react to the hearings, burst into applause.

Minaya too sat within six feet of Rubin. Like Fisher, Rubin made a mistake. He actually made two: first, he asked questions that were possibly inappropriate given his relationship to those he was questioning. Second, he picked the wrong people to ask, not just because they were the subjects of his beat, but because they obviously couldn't be trusted. However, he could have spoken with Rubin about it. He could have spoken to Rubin's bosses at the Daily News. Instead, he took the McCarthy route and made the matter public because, like McCarthy, he thought it would afford him some small revenge on the "instigator" of the Bernazard situation, or perhaps because he thought it would afford him cover.

Cover is something Minaya needs. It takes special skills to take a team in the country's best and biggest baseball market and take it to the postseason just once in five seasons, and to preside over historic September collapses in two consecutive seasons. Minaya has made some brilliant moves since taking over as Mets GM in September, 2004, including the low-cost acquisition of Johan Santana, and like all GMs he has made some poor deals as well (Matt Lindstrom, Brian Bannister, Heath Bell, and Jeff Keppinger were all discarded for no return) and suffered some oversights, like leaving Jesus Flores unprotected in the Rule 5 draft. However one sums up the record, it is certain that the overall results are inadequate given the resources available to this franchise and the helpless way it fell out of certain postseason berths in 2007 and 2008.

Whatever the lows of those difficult Septembers, never did the club look as pathetically weak as it did on Monday. It may seem overwrought to compare Minaya's assassination of Rubin to the democracy-shaking events of the Army-McCarthy hearings, but darn it, you don't see examples of that kind of flailing, drag-'em-down-with-me anger too often.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

49 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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jimspivey8

Great article! As a Phillies fan, I feel like I should enjoy watching the Mets' implosion. Instead, it's just sad. I feel for the players.

Jul 28, 2009 09:58 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess
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Piling on. Yes, now the Mets entire organization copulates with Satan.

There isn't a single member of the media that can write about this and be unbiased. One of your own was attacked yesterday and damn the Mets to hell because of it.

Jul 28, 2009 09:58 AM
rating: -35
 
Hoff

Yeah but, seriously, what the fuck? Minaya just seems like a clown now. Maybe the A's want to fire Billy Beane?

Yeah the mets are awful right now; frankly this year isn't as bad as last year though. Everybody watches bad teams now and again; September surprise death traps can't be watched by men with mortal hearts. I'll take dl mishaps over september doldrums anyday. We still have the best 4 man core in baseball next year(yes, santana will bounce back).

Jul 28, 2009 10:19 AM
rating: -1
 
awayish

while what you said about the media may be true, it is not like steven has harped on this issue for long. a single article is not piling on. unless of course you are talking about the misfortunes and foibles of the Amazings. in that case, it is a pile of amazing mess indeed.

Jul 28, 2009 11:12 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Part of this situation is that the media is circling the wagons around one of its own. I'm reminded of the quote, "don't start a fight with people who buy ink by the barrelful". You'll never win.

Jul 28, 2009 11:50 AM
rating: -1
 
Drew Miller

"There isn't a single member of the media that can write about this and be unbiased."

Sure, but a) no one is unbiased, and b) even people who think Rubin overstepped himself think Minaya went too far.

It was a deliberate and petty attempt at character assassination. Maybe it was even the right thing for Minaya to do, in his eyes. But it is difficult to argue with how bad it makes Omar look, media bias or not.

Jul 28, 2009 11:51 AM
rating: 5
 
roughcarrigan

Did Minaya make a habit, in the past, of brandishing purported lists of reporters who were trying to break into baseball management?

The analogy seems a bit much. And in the recounting, words are attributed to Fisher that I believe should be coming from Welch.

Jul 28, 2009 10:05 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Yes, that's an error on my part that I should have caught. We'll fix it.

Jul 28, 2009 11:46 AM
 
amazin_mess
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The bottom line is the entire media is going to be up in arms over this and just about none of them can report on it without lashing out at Minaya and the Mets.

It's going to get old fast.

Jul 28, 2009 10:07 AM
rating: -14
 
Matt Kory

I think the point is that Minaya and the Mets deserve to be lashed out at. Look at their results and the way they've conducted themselves. It's embarrassing.

Jul 28, 2009 11:36 AM
rating: 8
 
roughcarrigan

Isn't there some sort of left wing Godwin's law that the first person who jumps to the use of McCarthy or McCarthy-ism in comparison or analogy has lost the argument?

Jul 28, 2009 10:07 AM
rating: -2
 
Dr. Dave

"If you’re a student of Cold War politics, or perhaps just a fan of early R.E.M. [...]"

Best article opening line of the year.

That said...

"'All the things that have been public are… not exactly as they were reported.' Not only is that an aspersion on Rubin’s reporting [...]"

Let's not be disingenuous; the standards for accuracy in reporting are very, very minimal. There have only been about half-a-dozen times in my life when I was directly involved in events that were reported in a major newspaper or wire service, but every single one of those reports contained significant errors of fact, sometimes even changing the character of the story. Is there a reason to suspect that the standards in sports reporting are higher than in the rest of the paper, or higher in the Daily News than in the Washington Post? I would say it's nearly certain that things were not exactly as they were reported. That's not to say that the report wasn't close enough for management work.

Jul 28, 2009 10:09 AM
rating: 10
 
ScottyB

I heard Randolph is very tight with the Daily News writing staff and is mulling a co-written book. Bernazard offed Willie and the DN has certainly helped off Bernazard (although he mostly did it to himself)

Jul 28, 2009 11:53 AM
rating: -2
 
WaldoInSC

Don't forget Minaya's handling of Willie Randolph's firing. If I recall correctly, it was executed in the middle of the night while on a West Coast road trip after Willie had been publicly hung out to dry for weeks.

Jul 28, 2009 10:44 AM
rating: 7
 
pmeneely

Not to be too snarky but if Minaya said that Bernazard was "a big part of our organization, our success", I have to wonder if he has seen the same Mets organization the rest of us have. All of those post-season appearances, all of those seasons above expectations, all of that success?

Jul 28, 2009 10:49 AM
rating: 8
 
awayish

What mistake did Fisher make?

Jul 28, 2009 11:02 AM
rating: -1
 
Jack G

Joined a (possibly) communist-linked trade group in college

Just makes you wonder when the Wilpons are going to figure out he's a liability and "censure" him

Jul 28, 2009 11:30 AM
rating: 0
 
carpoon

Excellent article. I love the historical analogy.

Jul 28, 2009 11:03 AM
rating: 1
 
eighteen

I watched Minaya's news conference. I've never heard a more convoluted, incomprehensible string of half-thoughts expressed in such a stumbling, bumbling, fumbling manner.

If his track record hasn't proven it, last night did - the man is a complete moron.

Jul 28, 2009 11:32 AM
rating: 10
 
sunpar

I regret... I don't regret... I mean to say that I regret the place... but I don't regret...

It was painful.

Jul 28, 2009 11:55 AM
rating: 2
 
anderson721

He's the Sarah Palin of baseball.

Jul 29, 2009 13:09 PM
rating: 0
 
TaylorSanders

I don't think Minaya is very smart either. People are sensitive about that suggestion though. They'd rather you blame his failings on something else.

The analogy the article made was a little off. Getting back to Minaya not being that smart I don't think he did it for the same reason that McCarthy did. I think he was really accusing Rubin of being motivated by jealousy or for reporting on Bernazard.

Jul 28, 2009 11:48 AM
rating: 4
 
woodruff11

The Mets have become the Raiders of MLB.

Jul 28, 2009 12:00 PM
rating: 0
 
Erik Visokey

"I've never heard a more convoluted, incomprehensible string of half-thoughts expressed in such a stumbling, bumbling, fumbling manner."

Obviously, this was the first time you've heard Minaya speak at a newsconference, interview, or as a guest in the broadcast booth.

I don't know if he really is that much of a moron but he certainly sounds like one every time he opens his mouth.

Jul 28, 2009 12:07 PM
rating: 3
 
amazin_mess
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Raiders of MLB...come on....what talent do the Raiders actually have? The Raiders suck...the Mets, once healthy again, won't. Sure, Omar is an idiot, but the actual team doesn't compare to the Raiders.

But again, it's fashionable to pile all over the Mets right now, so have at it.

Jul 28, 2009 12:12 PM
rating: -14
 
Matt Kory

Again, fashionable or not, there are actual reasons for 'piling on' the Mets now. You know, every time a writer at BP is critical of a team, someone comes out of the woodwork to accuse them of anti-Team X bias. Just because you are a fan of the Mets, G&B, doesn't make them or their incompetent off-the-field leadership out of bounds.

If you want to only read positive things about your team that's fine, there are many other places that provide that kind of coverage.

I'd also like to point out that in this thread you've accused Mr. Goldman of 'piling on' multiple times without once bringing any other information to support your accusations to the table.

Jul 28, 2009 12:42 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

I don't have a horse in this race you're imagining. I have no interest in piling on the Mets, though "piling on" is a mischaracterization. The organization has been run in a mediocre way for a long time, and Minaya's attempt at assassinating a journalist was so strange as to draw increased scrutiny of his overall record. This is entirely fair. Second, the health issue for the Mets is real, but their overall depth, which has been a problem for years, is real as well, and that can be laid at Minaya's doorstep. I am also not interested in defending Rubin as a member of the media, just as someone who took a shot for no reason other than doing his job, and the piece above bends over backwards to say that he put himself in a bad position.

Finally, I always try to use this column to explore current events. This is the big story of the current news cycle, and I had thoughts on it I wanted to share. If that's piling on, so be it, because the alternative is that we run something irrelevant in this spot. I can only do "Babe Ruth: What a Guy" so often before this feature becomes a useless exercise in nostalgia.

Jul 28, 2009 12:48 PM
 
ofMontreal

Cheers Steve! This was quite fun to read. It's not your fault that everyone is writing about this. I like that i got a real story from a credible outlet (BP that is).

Jul 28, 2009 13:56 PM
rating: 6
 
Hoff

But seriously, What a guy.

Jul 28, 2009 15:36 PM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess
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I have no problem bashing the Mets. And I accused Goldman of piling on once.

Jul 28, 2009 12:46 PM
rating: -24
 
wileecoyote121

I'm a long-time Mets fan but this group is turning into a Grade D facsimile of the '77 (Bronx Zoo) Yankees. All the drama, but none of the championship aspirations.

"Fashionable" or not, you have to be embarrassed as a fan at the public image of incompetence that the club has created for itself.

Jul 28, 2009 12:46 PM
rating: 3
 
fielding99

Firing Minaya will only solve 2/3 of the problem. The Mets will never be class organization so long as the Wilpons are around.

Maybe Bernie Madoff did Mets fans a favor.

Jul 28, 2009 12:57 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

I will say this....I have never seen a GM with a weaker command of the spoken language than Minaya. I know it's his second language, but he sounds like an unabashed idiot. It's painful to watch him speak.

Jul 28, 2009 13:33 PM
rating: -2
 
awayish

the mets are showing their regional cable company management roots. strive to be respectable with a few star signings, keep up the storefront and stabilize the territory. however, they have no real commitment to improving their lot, so there is no attention to detail and effort at improving operations/management that determine the quality of the majority of your roster spots. smart and diligent teams would have at least presentable replacements. in the cable business, some of your customers are stuck with you, whether it is because of the location of their home, or that special deal you have with attractive channels. whether you slack off in managing their customer service requests, signal problems, or the upload/download cap of bundled internet services, your customers are still there. energy spent on improving marginal services to these people is not rewarded. as long as you make deals with the big players, present some bullet point attractions on your ads, you have fulfilled the duties of a cable company.

Jul 28, 2009 13:56 PM
rating: 5
 
joel3green

My memory is really fouled up, but hasn't Mr.Rubin been accused of being a little bit shaky on the reporter's ethics front before now, and by somebody else?

Reporter Prospectus? Tom Shales is probably too busy.

Jul 28, 2009 14:19 PM
rating: 0
 
wileecoyote121

To the extent that Adam Rubin has an ethics problem, that is for the NY Daily News to resolve and deal with, consistent with it's own standards for fairness and ethics. It does not distract from the fact that the basic elements of what Rubin reported appear to have been confirmed by Bernazard's firing. And that there may even have been more that was not reported, but which Minaya alluded to in his statement.

Shame on Rubin for putting himself in a position where this could be an issue and shame on Omar and the Mets for trying to distract the public by putting some blame on Rubin (even if he said he wasn't doing so) for what could only be Bernazard's personal faults.

Can we get back to the game now?

Jul 28, 2009 14:50 PM
rating: 2
 
wileecoyote121

Wow. That analogy was so spot on it scared the hell out of me.

I can't conceive of the Wilpons so completely ignoring their stewardship on purpose. Negligently, yes. But purposefully?

Jul 28, 2009 14:53 PM
rating: 1
 
orlandoca7

Cool article. Thanks. Goldman for Flushing GM!

To this Mets' fan, this piece highlights well the foolishness and paranoia of Mets' leadership. And for a few seconds I thought Ike was in the White House, the VP was the original -- and only -- Dick, and a smiling Ronnie Reagan was testifying before McCarthy, quoting Thomas Jefferson.

By the by, Wilpon's creepy smile and coolness in the second conference was odd and off-putting, I thought. Anyway, what kind of managers require two press conferences to make one change in their executive team?

Where have you gone Frank Cashen?

Jul 28, 2009 16:26 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'm a history buff and history major and while I loved the little joyride, I'm not sure the analogy applies directly. McCarthyism was a conspired witchhunt harkening back to Puritanism. Minaya's just trying to pass the blame.

A better comparison might be John McCain's camp blaming the presidential loss on Sarah Palin for not following the campaign "script" when they were the ones who brought her in in the first place and on accusing the media of liberal bias against a self-proclaimed "maverick".

Jul 28, 2009 16:31 PM
rating: 4
 
amazin_mess

Ah yes....Frank Cashen.

The man who built and then dismantled the greatest Mets team in history. Now THERE'S a paranoid executive.

Jul 28, 2009 16:36 PM
rating: -1
 
ciarfella

Let's separate the issues here a bit...

Omar and the Mets management team has done a terrible job of investing money to build a team and taking care of the "assets they own". Saved a few bucks by keeping Oliver Perez versus signing Lowe, how'd that work out? Saved a few more bucks by not signing Dunn to a 2 year deal, how's the offense working for you in LF and 1B now? How is that farm system depth working out in terms of having anything, anybody wants in trade for a veteren to help fill the gaps? Happy with how we rode Reyes, Beltran, and FMart into the ground for what we got for it in the standings? For all that, fire the guy and build a real management team to replace them. I will stand and cheer from the stands.

But to not understand how anybody in the crucible of the NY Tabloid press (when things are going really badly) could want to lash back out is difficult to grasp. And to confuse that simple reaction with what McCarthy did as a calculated style over a long period of time is a real leap. Did he do a dumb, unfair thing to the guy? Yep, he did. Will he get run out on a rail for it by the guys peers because he did? Yep, he will. They won't forget and they'll spin him into his career grave because of it. But that, in the end, is why he lashed out in the beginning...

Jul 28, 2009 16:50 PM
rating: 4
 
R.A.Wagman

I don;'t think Goldman is comparing Minaya-ism with McCarthyism, just comparing the one act of McCarthy's to the one act of Minaya

Jul 28, 2009 20:11 PM
rating: 2
 
Sharky

Two words: Bully Pulpit. (Minaya's, but not for long)

Jul 28, 2009 18:55 PM
rating: 3
 
ZachAttack123

Nice R.E.M reference. Document was a solid album.

Jul 28, 2009 19:14 PM
rating: 2
 
amazin_mess
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Minaya is going nowhere.

The NY fishwraps wish they could take him down, but they can't.

Jul 28, 2009 20:25 PM
rating: -6
 
jwschaefer

probably the best recap i've read (and i've read them all). i would recommend putting this on the free side.

Jul 29, 2009 06:03 AM
rating: 2
 
Schere

The insinuation was that Rubin was a hell-hath-no-fury scorned applicant, not that he thought he could maneuver himself into Bernazard's seat.

Jul 29, 2009 07:51 AM
rating: 1
 
bokosox13

Great article Steve. I'm with jwschaefer, this article should be labeled free, its a great representation of the quality of writing and minds available at BP.

Jul 29, 2009 10:43 AM
rating: 0
 
Tank
(989)

I'm a little late to the party, but I third that this should be a freebie; it really does showcase BP's excellence.

Jul 30, 2009 09:40 AM
rating: 0
 
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