It was nice to hear him say something like that. Neither he nor Rick Churches have supported me very much since last season ended. I think part of that had to do with the way last season ended, with the controversy around (former) manager Larry Picketts and his criticism of the organization (peppered with some unprintable language - unprintable in any language). Spring training always brings hope for a new season. Maybe Alvin caught of whiff of hope and felt like spreading some goodwill toward his men.
Rick's another story. His first year at the helm here, and first year out of the broadcast booth in the last 18, Rick is trying to be part Marine drill sergeant and part teddy bear with everyone down here. His approach varies depending upon the situation, and I laud him for being flexible. The only person he hasn't been flexible with is...me.
I don't really know why.
Last week, in a rare moment of us being in the same room together for longer than it takes to sneeze, I asked him if he was upset that my father replaced him in the TV booth and now he had two different Scotts in two different forums available to skewer him when he makes a mistake. I meant it as a joke. My father, "Red" Scott, doesn't criticize from the TV booth. Like Alvin in spring training, "Red," when on the air, finds a piece of good in almost every event pertaining to a baseball game. There's virtually nothing Rick can do to face the wrath of "Red" Scott. And it's not my place here to openly Monday Morning Quarterback his every move.
He didn't think my joke was funny.
So when I beat the team on Monday, nothing from him. Nothing Tuesday or Wednesday. A couple of unnamed teammates (they have names, we all do, but I am just choosing here not to release them to the public without accepting monetary bribes first) told me, peppered with Larry Picketts-style bad language, that I should do something to fix this standoff. Rick's Marine drill sergeant act was wearing thin and they would soon take their frustration out on me (unless I offered them monetary bribes first).
So I called super agent Jack Perry and asked him to set up a meeting, an old fashioned, mob-style, Cosa Nostra sit-down, between Rick, Alvin and me at Morton's, a steakhouse in Ft. Pierce not far from our complex. No agent present. No assistant GMs jockeying for a seat closest to Alvin. No cameras or reporters.
They had one objection. They claimed I'm a reporter. What the f*ck, I said to Jack. I'm no more reporter than they are Marines. "Then stop blogging," Jack said. I conceded the point for the sake of team unity. They could invite one reporter to attend. But he had to be objective, I said. I'm sure they laughed at that one. An objective baseball columnist is as common as a four leaf clover in Baghdad. They chose Steve Guttman from the New York Independent.
I like Steve as a person. He's written some nice things about me in the past. In the more recent past, he hasn't. But his agenda is readership. Not skewership.
As I'm not talking to the media, I told Steve when we all sat down that everything I said was off the record. Immediately, Rick and Alvin objected. They said I couldn't post anything they said then. Our sit-down had become a standoff.
Steve suggested he call his editor, Mark Patton, who has covered the NY sports scene for almost 40 years. "Mark's seen everything," Steve said. "Let him reconcile this."
After arguing whose cell phone to use (nobody wanted to pay for the long-distance call), Steve said he'd use his. He put it on speaker and talked. Mark laughed for about 90 seconds before he told us how ridiculous we all were. Rick intervened and said we called for advice, not an intervention. Mark apologized through what sounded like a wide smile and said I should allow Steve to print my comments, as long as he slanted the comments in terms of a conversation he heard, not a direct interview with me. That kind of made sense, although I knew Mark's allegiance was to his paper and Steve before it was to me and my "cause." His suggestion was as slanted as his viewpoint. I quick-called super agent Jack Perry for his counsel and he told me to just do it and to stop calling him so he could do some work. I disagreed with everyone but knew I was outmanned and had been outflanked. I realized I should have thought about the issue before agreeing to having a reporter present. But, as Vanessa, my lovely and occasionally encouraging wife, knows I'm not one to think things through before acting. Case in point: This blog.
Steve took out a recorder and put it on the table. I told him to turn it off. Notes only. My voice would not be recorded. "Stealing your soul, Jimmy?" Rick said. I smiled and said no. I just didn't want him to get his fat hands on it to play for the world in a press conference the next day. Steve pulled it away and began writing furiously.
Alvin asked if we could start. I agreed and called over the waiter. It was time to order. Rick complained he hadn't had time to look at the menu. I told him we were at Morton's. They served steak. Order a f*cking steak. Steve wrote furiously, breaking the tip off of his pen and looking for a sharpener. Alvin patted Rick on the shoulder and told him to settle down. I asked for the NY sirloin, medium rare, and a water.
We all ordered, Steve got a new pen, and had our privacy back (we were in a meeting room, not the general dining room which was filled with early birds having dinner at 2:30 in the afternoon). The words began to fly from Alvin.
Alvin's a good man. Allegations aside, I know when it comes to baseball and our team, he wants us to win. He's willing to deal with the 25 personalities on a ballclub, as well as the personalities of the coaching staff, the front office staff, ownership, and the other 29 GMs trying to beat him. It's a tough job that I would never want to attempt, even for a day.
He spoke eloquently about the problems we've had with each other, going back to November. He addressed some miscommunication between his staff and my agent. He addressed their frustration at my "duplicitous" nature - allegedly agreeing to retire, then not, then turning toward this public forum and turning away from traditional media. He explained that, at the time, they believed their tact of using a second opinion from a doctor who never even examined me to force me to retire was the right move, even though, yes, it came back to embarrass the team. And he apologized for Rick's stubbornness throughout the entire affair.
In my rebuttal, I explained I was upset the moment they approached me about not invoking my personal option to play this year, about pushing their "youth movement" stance that led to them signing 3 free agents older than 33. I said that if any party had been "duplicitous," it had been them; that their "miscommunication" with my super agent was what led them to believe I was "duplicitous," and since he admitted to a "miscommunication" with Jack, in turn, Alvin should also admit that I had not been "duplicitous" at all.
"We're getting caught up in tiny details," Alvin said. "Let's move on."
"Sure," I said. "As long as you stop bringing up tiny details."
He didn't say anything. I turned to Rick, my new field manager, the man at the table who, going forward, really held the power. I had my roster spot. I was going to play this year. Alvin was committed to my being on the team at some point. But Rick - he was the one who either would or would not put me in the game. And he knew this. That's why he was sitting up straighter than anyone else, wearing the smirk he bought in the off season to show off to me.
"You hate me," I said to him, hoping to jump start a dialog.
Rick said nothing. Steve stopped taking notes and watched. Then, there was this exchange:
Alvin: Rick doesn't hate you.
Me: Yes he does.
Alvin: No he doesn't.
Waiter: How is everything?
Rick: Get the f*ck out of here.
Me: See? He's not a happy man when I'm around. Alvin, you'll have to leave an extra-large tip because of Rick's outburst. He's already cost you a loss in my arbitration. If he keeps this up all year, the team won't be able to afford to pay for its dry cleaning bill.
Rick: I don't hate you.
It was strange. At that moment, I could tell that he didn't hate me. At that moment, maybe he didn't. But moments pass, replaced by new ones. I stayed on my toes in case a bad moment was around the corner.
Rick: I despise you. I loathe you. I can't stand you. But I don't hate you.
Me: You getting this, Steve? He can repeat it if you need him to.
Steve: I get the gist.
Me: We just don't want you to misquote him.
Steve: As long as you don't.
Me: I'm wired. We're cool.
It was right about here that Rick flipped out. The moment had definitely passed.
Rick jumped up from the table and approached me very quickly, yelling about how I probably was wired and the whole tape recorder discussion half an hour before was a sham, how everything about me was a sham, how my whole career had been a scam.
I commented on the rhythm of his rhyme scheme while Alvin stood between us. Then I said I wasn't wired. He be better off if he didn't listen to conversations other people wee having.
Alvin told me it was okay to climb out of the fetal position I had coiled into under the table. We all sat back down and tried to have a civilized conversation.
Rick: Don't undermine me. That's all I ask.
Me: Why would I do that?
Rick: Because you hate me back.
Me: You realize you just admitted that you hated me.
Rick: I do now.
The moment really had passed.
Me: No, I don't want to undermine you.
Alvin: No breaking news before we release a statement. No comments on personnel without running it through me. No criticisms of anyone sitting at the table.
Me: Should I ask Congress to revoke the entire first amendment?
Rick: Don't be a wise ass all the time.
Me: Don't try to control something you have no control over.
Rick: You have no idea the pressure a manager is under.
Me: I don't.
Rick: Just cut me some slack.
Me: Promise you won't try to hit me?
Me: You have to leave your paranoia at your bungalow before coming to the ballpark each day. I'm not out to get you. I'm not out to get Alvin, or Steve, or anyone else. I want to get healthy, play baseball, and have a little control over my life.
Rick: You're talking from both sides. You complain that we're too controlling then you claim you want control.
Me: Yes. I'm a control freak. I'm due back at the circus in ten minutes, so let's wrap this up.
One of my problems is my nervous energy. If I don't have a baseball in my hand, I don't deal with the my internal goings-on too well. I sound like a wise ass. Unlikable. Unfriendly. Deep down, or not so deep, I know I'm just as insecure as Rick. I've just won more games than him, that's all.
I apologized then. A flat out, straight-from-the-heart, truly sincere apology. No sarcasm. No witty remarks. I said I was sorry. I told Rick that he did have a high-pressure job. And even though neither one of us, obviously, believed either one of us should be in the shoes we stand in, we should each step back and try to start fresh. I promised to be objective in my comments about team management. No, I wouldn't submit my posts to Alvin's office for editing. But I'd do a responsible job of self-editing. I wouldn't break news unless it applied to me, because, frankly, the team had a pretty lousy track record of late when it came to making announcements about me. I said I'd be more open with them about my rehab progress, but they had to be more open with me (through super agent Jack Perry, of course) about their feelings.
Then the strangest thing happened. Rick offered to shake my hand. I never thought I'd see it. This man, who admitted to hating me, reached out to me. At that moment, he was a better man than me. I shook it, knowing that moments pass into the next. Tomorrow, he may change his mind again. Maybe even sooner. But I promise it won't be because of me. For now on, if somebody's going to hate me, I'm going to have nothing to do with it.