WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, THERE’S FIRING
While Yankee fans have come to expect the usual blabber ‘n’ smoke from George Steinbrenner whenever he thinks the Yanks need a public spanking or some fast headlines (wasn’t it an interesting coincidence that the Boss named Derek Jeter captain precisely when their Visa ad started running?), Met fans are probably still trying to figure out which side of Fred Wilpon‘s mouth to believe. We’re referring to the team owner’s bizarre press conference last week announcing that he’d finally lowered the boom on general manager Steve Phillips—and no, not just by having Mo Vaughn sit on him.
On the one hand, said Wilpon, part of the reason for the Mets’ downward spiral since their 2000 World Series appearance was the loss of “pure baseball people” like former executives Omar Minaya (now GM of the Expos) and Dave Wallace (now pitching coach of the Red Sox). On the other hand, Wilpon went out of his way to point out the great progress already being made in the redevelopment of the club’s minor league system by the person he installed as chief operating officer the minute he became sole owner last summer—his son Jeff. (Must be Jeff’s skills set.)
In retrospect, it made perfect Wilponian sense not to fire Phillips along with Bobby Valentine last fall, because, just as blame could be laid at Valentine’s cleats for the team’s poor showing the last two years, keeping Phillips around gave the Met owner a perfect front-office scapegoat-in-waiting for the so-far dismal ’03. Moreover, by making senior assistant Jim Duquette only the interim GM, Wilpon has more wiggle room if the Mets aren’t able to turn anything around in what’s left of the season. At least Duquette understands what he’s gotten himself into. Asked if it was possible to engineer the kind of rapid rebuild Wilpon would like Met fans to think is really possible, Duquette replied, “You can’t talk about young players and quick fixes at the same time.” Now that’s a pure baseball person talking. —Billy Altman
WHERE DOES YOUR GARDEN GO?
While the Nets and Devils remain embroiled in a stalemate with the state of New Jersey over plans for a new arena in Newark—when one unsourced rumor hit the press that the Nets could land in Brooklyn, we could hear Marty Markowitz‘s whoops of inchoate glee clear across the borough—the Knicks and Rangers are quietly mulling their own plans to bolt for greener pastures.
The city’s “Hudson Yards” plan for a new Olympic stadium has long included an option for a new Madison Square Garden (for those playing along at home, this would be Garden No. 5), and there are signs that Cablevision, which owns the Knicks, Rangers, and Garden, may be looking to take them up on the offer. At a June 5 hearing, amid the legion of garment workers complaining that the project would destroy their livelihood, was a sizable MSG contingent, with one Cablevision exec taking the mic to vaguely but forebodingly praise the plan for “providing needed flexibility to our efforts to plan for the future of Madison Square Garden.”
Neither the city nor the MSG directorate is saying where a new Garden would go—or, God forbid, who would pay for it—but it’s possible to make some educated guesses. Initial plans featured a new arena plunked down atop the Penn rail yards on 31st Street, between 10th and 11th, with the current World’s Most Famous Arena being scuttled to make way for new office towers. (The plan for Hudson Yards would rezone the MSG site for a floor-to-area ratio of 21.6, which one city planning expert describes as “a huge building.”) Recently, however, Hudson Yards backers have begun talking of how their proposed 75,000-seat “multi-use facility” (none dare call it a “stadium”) would feature a retractable roof and movable seats that would allow it to be converted to a 20,000-seat arena. While there’s no way the Knicks and Rangers would go for such a plan long-term—why be tenants in a converted football stadium when you can own your own arena outright?—it does open up the possibility of another scenario: Move the teams there for a year or two while a new Garden goes up on the current site—topped, of course, by some huge office towers.
It might seem odd that Cablevision (i.e., the Dolans) would even want a new building, given that the MSG unit is insanely profitable. But this, after all, is the company that still gets $11 million a year in city property tax abatements—21 years after the teams convinced Mayor Koch they’d move otherwise. The Knicks and Rangers may not be able to match their Jersey brethren in Finals appearances, but when it comes to going up against taxpayers, they’re undefeated. —Neil deMause
Yes, Tim Duncan is terrific, and the other Spurs—including, but not limited to, David Robinson, Stephen Jackson, Manu Ginóbili, and Speedy Claxton—gave him great support in the NBA Finals. Blah, blah, blah. But save one last blah for the Nets: their shooting. During the regular season, the Nets shot 44 percent from the field and outscored their opponents roughly 95 to 90. During the six-game Finals, they didn’t reach 90 once, let alone 95. The closest they came was 89 points in the first-game loss, followed by “outputs” of 87, 79, 77, 83, and 77. They shot 37.1 percent in the first game and then 42.2. After that, it was all downhill: 37.0, 35.9, 35.1, and 34.5. A tip of the hat to the Nets for not forcing a seventh game. —Ward Harkavy