Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Funny Ball

Amazingly, the Giants have won the Super Bowl. Lin-sanity has lifted the once woebegone Knicks along with the city and the entire country. The Yankees have shipped Burnett and millions to the Pirates and added two new strong arms to the rotation as Spring Training arrives and hope prevails for so many.

And then, there are the Mets.

Name one really good thing about the Mets? Well, how about this: Sandy Alderson, the team’s GM drove all the way to Florida recently without mistakenly strapping his dog, Buddy, to the top of his car. If that isn’t enough, there is the fact that nobody, including Alderson and perhaps even the tenacious field-manager Terry Collins expects much from the Mets this season.

This season marks the Mets’ 50th Anniversary. One of the stars of the team’s 1986 Series team, Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, died recently. It was Carter who got a hit in the tenth inning of Game Six with the Mets down to their last Series’ out, and the Red Sox poised in the field to rid themselves of their long curse. What resulted is the stuff of legend in Mets-dom, and infamy among the Fenway Faithful, who will always see the ball that dribbled by Bill Buckner into the foulest of territories down right field.

That error also provided me with an opportunity me to witness Game Seven from high up behind home plate, where I had to duck down to see a dramatic Carter home run among other hits. The Mets came from behind to finally and completely break Red Sox hearts once more.

At the time, I worked in New York for a company based in Cambridge, MA. My colleagues had been pounding me after the Sox won the first two Series’ games, as only Boston fans could do. After the Mets won, I kept that ticket in my wallet for a long time, just to be able to take it out and show it to the same guys when they tried to bully the Rangers, Knicks, Yankees, or the same Mets.

The ticket was still in my wallet, when I met Gary Carter a few years later at a CYO dinner. People lined up to have him sign their program, but he smiled a huge Carter smile at me as I pulled my ticket out of my wallet and handed it to him. “Do you just carry this around all the time?” he asked. Well, yeah, I did.

Ever the contrarian, my 2012 pre-season baseball thoughts have drifted towards the Mets. Why? Maybe because I learned early on about the role that the improbable plays each season. The first game I saw was in 1955, when the then New York Giants played the Milwaukee Braves at the Polo Grounds. The Giants were reigning World Champs. Willie Mays was their young center fielder. How was I to know that it would be fifty-five more years before the Giants would reign again from another city?

When my baseball thoughts drift to the 2012 Mets, these improbable names keep popping into my head: Jeremy Lin and Victor Cruz. I’ll bet that Alderson and Collins are wondering about those guys as well, as they contemplate how they might dare to contend, while the legally and financially besieged owners, Wilpon & Katz, continue to battle the Madoff forces in the courts. But, where will the Mets find their own Lin and or Cruz, for whom they will not be able to pay very much? Or, are they hiding on the current roster somewhere?

Talk about improbable!

The Mets were born in 1962, five years after the Dodgers and Giants slipped out of town. The new team borrowed their orange and blue team colors from their departed cousins; and their first home was my beloved Polo Grounds. Just for good measure they added Casey Stengel, late of the Yanks. Their co-founder and majority owner was Joan Whitney Payson, who had been a minority Giants owner. This at least gave the team a social pedigree off the field if not on it. (Mets faithful will recall that the other co-founder, one M. Donald Grant, infamously traded Tom Seaver, the best Met ever)

The Mets proceeded to astound us with lows, forty wins in that first season, and with highs, the 1969 Miracle. In between, they have often been mediocre, an afterthought, based in an afterthought borough, in a Yankee town. Instead of Money Ball, they often dabbled in a weird brand of Funny Ball.

Fortune (and politics) brought the Mets a new home in 1964, Shea Stadium. I attended the first game played there on April 17, along with 50,311 other hearty souls (Pirates 4, Mets 3), while on a one-day hiatus from high school with a serious Opening Day fever.

The Mets have suddenly become attractive to me. There’s something so drastically wrong with the Mets that they cannot help reminding me of the 2011 mid-season NY Giants, and the pre-Lin NY Knicks. Media and fans alike wanted new players, new coaches, new GM’s and new owners for those teams not so very long ago.

I can’t help wondering if the Mets have what it takes to somehow rise above their recent near total ineptitude on the field and off to become the real story of this new season. Alderson and Collins are a great one-two punch who compliment each other well. They will need the owners and their families to stay distracted, while they whittle away at the team. They will also need some new heroes and a series of improbable events to go their way

And, of course, there is always prayer.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Her One And Only


                                         Let's imagine.
                                                                     If Cupid’s arrow
                                         had flown
                                         we’d never
                                         how dull things 
                                         might be;
                                         late at night,
                                         in February,
                                         you would be
                                         the one 
                                         who must
                                         walk the dog,
                                         and wait, 
                                         and wait,
                                         for her
                                         to find
                                         her one and only
                                         right spot.

- from Less Is Less ©twmcdermott2010

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

FactBook: Greece, Facebook, Chrysler


Number of Greek public sector employees                      750,000

Number of public sector layoffs planned for 2012             15,000
                                                                   by 2015           150,000

Current  official Greek unemployment rate                            19%

Amount of pending private sector loans to Greece      $171Billion

% of loans returning to banks                                                   100

% trickling down thru Greek economy                                        0

Arabic spelling of "Greece"                                            E-g-y-p-t        

Most important Greek export                                              Greeks


Number of reported Facebook (FB) users/friends            845 Million

Value of pending FB IPO                                            $75-100Billion

Actual annual FB profit                                                       $1Billion  

Reported value of FB COO Cheryl Sandberg's shares     $1.2Billion  

Most important FB product                                              Friends' info

% of  IPO proceeds reserved for each of FB's "Friends"                  0


Most talked about Super Bowl ad                                      "Chrysler"

Authorizer of 2008 $17.4B Chrysler bailout                  George W Bush

% of Chrysler now owned by Italian-based Fiat                       58%

Number of times Fiat name mentioned/shown in ad                    0

Considered most effective SB ad                                           Fiat

Nationality of Fiat model Catrinel Menghia                     Romanian

 The ads:      







Monday, February 6, 2012

Then                        Now  

high school              ischool

desk                         tablet

ink                           Inc.

Harvard                   Harvard drop-out

MBA                        DIY

popular                    busy

homework               work

athlete                      mathlete

SAT                         IPO

tuition                      equity
campus                    phone  

pom-poms               .coms

quarterback              engineer

band practice           algorithm

principal                  capital    

date                         Friend

fake i.d.                   Starbuck's

Madonna                Cheryl Sandberg

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cry Me A River? Amazon Rising

     My first remembered books were a Doubleday Kipling with an orange cover and a Grossett & Dunlap Riders Of The Purple Sage by Zane Grey. I distinctly recall looking through them often, if not exactly reading them cover to cover, on the floor of my room when I was about six or seven years old.

     I soon graduated to reading the Hardy Boys mysteries, some from the Forest Hills, Queens NY branch of the public library, and others bought and shared with two friends. Yes, a little book club. Two favorites were The Shore Road Mystery and The Yellow Feather Mystery. I have never lost my desire for mysteries, suspense, and espionage stories all the way to finishing Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson (yes) last week, beginning Death In Summer by Benjamin Black (yes!), AKA John Banville, this week, and getting bogged down in The Return of John Emmet (no) in between.

     But, why am I telling you this? Well, I just want to share a few bona fides regarding my love of reading, books, bookshops, and what is known in general as trade publishing. Publishing has been experiencing paradigm changes since Amazon was born, and those changes are accelerating today, with Amazon itself becoming a publisher in addition to being an online distributor of new and used titles.

     I once worked for a large media/publishing empire. About twenty years ago, I was dispatched up to Boston to meet with the administrator of a smallish world-renowned trade publisher we owned in order to help them reduce costs. I was received in their beautiful brick house/office, which overlooked the Common and Public Garden, as if I had been the chief of a book-burning brigade in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

     I learned that the company was run almost like a charity, with authors, books, and readers treated like service beneficiaries. I exaggerate, but only a little. The entire editorial process was treated as a noble calling, and there was a distinguished list of famous authors and literature going back to the nineteenth century to demonstrate why this was so. In fact, even to a dedicated reader and book-lover like myself, the whole thing seemed as if it were stuck in the nineteenth century. It seemed more like visiting a well-appointed orphanage than a business.

     They had little regard for profits, which were considered, if at all, as a lucky by-product of their noble cause, and less regard for the behemoth media conglomerate who now reigned over them and had dispatched me. Consequently, they treated me very politely, very agreeably, but turned out to be masterful passive-aggresives as soon as I went out the door.

    Soon after, the media conglomerate moved that little publisher to a centralized book unit HQ in New York and brought in a publishing heavy-weight from a dreaded super-commercialized publishing "house" to run the whole thing. He did so, with a vengeance. In fact, he did it so well, the media giant was able to sell it off after a few years to another global publisher.

     And that guy who headed the whole thing? He is now in charge of Amazon's new publishing unit and is much-hated, at least for now, by independent booksellers and trade publishers (except for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which has a deal with Amazon).

     Publishing in its glory-days was more about lunch than profitability. It was a cozy world, much cozier than the music industry before Apple knocked-off those guys, since publishing, at least on the surface, was mostly a game for gentlemen and ladies: a claim Big Music could never make.

     You didn't make much dough in publishing, but you got to feel superior to a lot of people, and that was a pretty good deal to the right kind of person, especially certain people who had migrated to Manhattan from afar to become important and influential, not to mention have long lunches.  This little world was ripe for someone like Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and now Jeff Bezos's Amazon to come around and thumb their noses at the whole thing, just the way Jobs did to Big Music, and the cell-phone industry.

    Now, irony of ironies, trade publishing's newest hero is none other than...Barnes & Noble? Yes, because it's troubled brick and mortar stores, new Nook reader, and its online empire make it, if not exactly a friend, at least the enemy of publishing's biggest current enemy, Amazon, who is signing up big name authors and wants to own the Whole Shebang. Bezos doesn't like sharing any more than Gates or Jobs did.

      I love independent bookshops and frequent them whenever I have a chance: Diane's in Greenwich CT, The Mysterious Bookshop, McNally Jackson, Crawford Doyle, all in Manhattan. I was also a very early user of Amazon and its brilliant, patented 1-Click purchase. I have been underwhelmed over the years by Amazon's customer service and disappointed in its aggressor attitude towards indies, which pose little threat to it, but add such richness to our lives.

"Jane" Austen
     In the eye of this storm it's important to keep one very important fact in mind: people are reading a lot of books in various forms. At dinner the other night, my friend proudly told of how he is reading Jane Austen and Dumas on his Kindle, while riding the train! How can this be a bad thing? Next thing you know, students will be shaking off their Reading List collars and actually reading books of their own choosing, in their own free time, and not even in summer!

     In publishing, McLuhan was wrong; the medium is not the message, the story is the message.

     It is up to us to decide what story we want, how we want it, when we want it, and how much it is worth to us. The rest, as Pound wrote, is dross.

     This story has a long way to go yet. Meanwhile, keep reading.