Sports

METS' BIGGEST DOPE PROBLEM? THE FRONT OFFICE

We found it interesting that with all the discussion of the long-running bad relationship between Met general manager Steve Phillips and now-deposed manager Bobby Valentine, not one media hound thought it relevant to revisit the firing of Phillips's predecessor, Joe McIlvaine, in 1997, midway through Valentine's first full year as Met skipper.

At the time, Valentine was accused by virtually everyone of having orchestrated McIlvaine's firing so as to get "his" guy, Phillips, into the GM's seat—the plan supposedly being that "kingmaker" Valentine would be able to clandestinely call the shots on player personnel moves, with Phillips rubber-stamping them.

Seeing as how one of the first things Valentine talked about publicly after his October 1 firing was that his opinions during organizational meetings were either brushed aside or simply ignored, it would seem much more likely that it was Phillips who greased the skids for his then boss McIlvaine's departure, while all the flak flowed towards the lightning rod that was (and still is) Bobby Valentine. All in all, Bobby V.'s then scoffed-at words—"My hands may look bloodied, but in time they'll be cleansed"—seem to have finally been borne out.

Of course, it also shouldn't be forgotten that, just as Fred Wilpon personally manned the podium to officially kick Bobby V. out the Shea Stadium door last week, it was Wilpon who held the press conference announcing McIlvaine's firing and Phillips's promotion back in '97. In fact, it was during that press conference that Wilpon, never a great fan of McIlvaine's to begin with (Joe was firmly in the camp of co-owner Nelson Doubleday), praised the then-unproven Phillips as having the proper "skill set" to be a new-school baseball GM. That Wilpon chose to let Valentine rather than Phillips take the fall for the Mets' pathetic '02 campaign makes perfect corporate sense—especially if you understand that some owners can't accept the foolishness of their own overspending or admit they personally have made any mistakes. As one former high-ranking Met official told us a while ago, "People may not realize it, but there's an awful lot of George Steinbrenner in Fred Wilpon. He's just a lot quieter most of the time." Now that Wilpon's the sole owner of the Mets, those words may finally get borne out as well. —Billy Altman


OFF TO A ROCKER START

After third-string tight end Marcellus Rivers made what turned out to be the game-winning catch in the Giants' 21-17 win in Dallas on Sunday, Big Blue radio voice Bob Papa crowed, "Who needs Jeremy Shockey?" Papa, of course, was joking. After all, Shockey, New York's first-round draft pick, has been billed as the team's tight end of the present and future. But even before Shockey went down with "turf toe" on Sunday, some in the organization were probably asking themselves the same question. Since the rookie's arrival, he's gotten into a well-publicized fight in training camp, trashed the New York media in a Giant e-zine, and said on Howard Stern's show that he hoped there are no gay players in the NFL. Earlier in the season, some in the Giants' front office wondered aloud whether the rookie was committed to the game, given his endorsements with Nike and Steiner Sports, radio commitments to Stern and WFAN, and his deal to design shoes for Steve Madden. Shockey has sworn to the Voice that he's "all football," and he has shown flashes of brilliance in making 16 catches for 209 yards in five starts. But he's also disappeared for long stretches during games. With his first catch of the season Sunday, Rivers now has as many TD catches as Shockey. Speaking of Rivers, Giant coach Jim Fassel told reporters after the game that it was "good to see him step up." It must have been. The tight end has been a project of Fassel's since he was signed as a rookie free agent before last season. —Brian P. Dunleavy


THUH-UH-UH ANNOUNCERS BLOW!

Apart from the always edifying spectacle of George Steinbrenner's wrath, the best news about the Bombers' premature demise is not having to listen to John Sterling and Charlie Steiner for another year. The terrible twosome, who call every regular and post-season Yankees game on WCBS radio, are more incompetent than a stoned Jason Giambi trying to field a one-hopper down the line, routinely butchering their play-by-play in favor of self-satisfied anecdotes and sycophantic praise. Where former co-host Michael Kay—now departed to YES's greener pastures—offset Sterling's blathering with shrewd analysis (their seemingly mutual dislike was an added bonus), his replacement clearly knows who rules the roost. Ever ready to chuckle heartily at Sterling's corny comments, Steiner repeats his own tortured puns endlessly from inning to inning. And if he mentions one more time how Soriano has "lightning in his wrists," he ought to be tied to the pitcher's mound in Yankee Stadium when a hungry Challenger is released.

Through long usage, Sterling's trademark calls—including, of course, "Thuh-uh-uh Yankees win!"—have gone from grating to acceptable (the way a hideous office building blocking out the sun is acceptable, because you can't do anything about it). If only the loquacious broadcaster would drop the excruciating tags he trots out whenever specific Yanks hit homers. "A Jeter jolt"? "Bern, baby, Bern"? "The Giam-bino"? (We felt a sneaking fondness for the old "Bam-Tino", though—so bad, it's good.) Recently, the Boss vowed to trim the "fat" off his payroll by axing players this winter. We can think of a couple employees who should go first. —J.Y. Yeh

 
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