Mandel’s Musings

Let’s Get Wally Backman Back in a Big League Dugout

By Scott Mandel

From the “where did this come from” file, I recently listened to a Ron Gardenhire post-game presser. Gardy, a former Met, is a baseball lifer who is transforming the Tigers into a professional baseball team, again.

It reminds me of why guys like him, his buddy, Wally Backman, Bob Brenley, Jim Leyland and the rest of the “old” managers should always have a place in baseball, running a team. Players don’t care how old a manager is. The special ones, no matter their ages, relate to all players and are great at running the games.

Ron Gardenhire on Tigers' elite pitching prospects: 'I hope I don ...
Gardenhire is transforming Tigers from sad sacks to a young, competitive team

Today’s general managers, many in their 30s or 40s, think hiring a young guy who can “relate” better to today’s player, is an advantage. As I watch the new Mets manager, 16-year old Luis Rojas, I keep thinking about Wally Backman in that dugout, winning games instead of losing games, the way the Mets are doing, now. (Rojas is really 38).

Maybe, the new Mets owner will bring Wally back.

Mets’ Cespedes Opts Out from the Baseball Season

By Scott Mandel – sportsreporters.com

Cespedes decided to end his season with the Mets after nine games in 2020

Yoenis Cespedes has decided to opt out of the 2020 MLB season. The news comes hours after the Mets released a statement they were unable to get in contact with him after he failed to show up for the Sunday afternoon game in Atlanta.

“It’s disappointing,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “This is a disappointing end at least to his four-year agreement with the Mets.”

 Van Wagenen maintained the team had no knowledge of Cespedes’ plan to opt out before sending their statement out before game time on Sunday. The Mets G.M. also did not know whether the slugger was safe and healthy before releasing an initial statement. He explained his statement was made in an effort to be transparent and keep the public informed, “in real time,” the GM said later.

“As of game time, Yoenis Céspedes has not reported to the ballpark today,” Van Wagenen’s statement read. “He did not reach out to management with any explanation for his absence. Our attempts to contact him have been unsuccessful.”

The announcement of the lineup was also delayed, but when Rojas was asked directly if the team was waiting on any players to arrive, the manager chalked it up to the quick turnaround of Saturday night’s game to Sunday afternoon’s early arrival.

”Nothing in particular,” Rojas said on the delay of the lineup announcement. “We’re just arriving from the night-day game.”

Cespedes is in the final year of his contract with the Mets, which was restructured in January following his 2019 accident with a wild boar. He rehabbed from multiple surgeries on his heels and ankle and returned to play Opening Day in his first-big league game since July 2018.

The slugger is batting .161 (5-for-31) with two home runs, four RBI, two walks, three runs scored and 15 strikeouts from the designated-hitter spot across the first nine games of the season.

One suspects there is more to this story than meets the immediate eye. Stay tuned.

NASCAR Releases Photo of Noose Rope in Bubba Wallace’s Garage

By Scott Mandel

NASCAR released a photo of the garage pull-down rope fashioned as a noose that was found hanging in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday.

A Richard Petty Motorsports crewman noticed the noose and informed crew chief Jerry Baxter, who notified security. A photo was taken of the noose before it was cut down, and NASCAR contacted the FBI, who also viewed the picture. 

The Associated Press’s Jenna Fryer reports, “every single entity that viewed evidence—no other pull in any other stall had one like that—and ALL believed it was a noose.”

Following its investigation, the FBI announced Tuesday that the noose found in Wallace’s garage was there as early as October 2019 and the driver was not the target of a hate crime.

The Cup garage at Talladega Superspeedway was built in 2019 and had not been used again until Sunday. NASCAR president Steve Phelps said NASCAR has swept all 20 tracks, 1,648 garage stalls and found 11 total ropes that had a pull-down rope tied in a knot. Out of those 11, only one was a noose—the one found in Wallace’s garage stall.

Wallace issued a statement Wednesday afternoon regarding the FBI’s findings and said he felt “relieved that the investigation revealed that this wasn’t what we feared it was.”

Wallace, the lone Black driver in NASCAR’s top tour, added in his statement Wednesday that the findings of the investigation “should not detract from the show of unity we had on Monday, and the progress we’ve made as a sport to be a more welcoming environment for all.”

The act of unity that Wallace alludes to came Monday afternoon, ahead of the Geico 500. NASCAR drivers rallied around Wallace before the race, as they pushed his No. 43 car down the track to the front of the field in support.

Astros’ Cheating Won’t be Easily Forgotten by Major Leaguers

By Scott Mandel

Baseball is burning. Opposing players are pummeling the Houston Astros as the fallout from their cheating scandal refuses to dissipate, and fans are frothing for vengeance after the players involved were spared from discipline by the league. Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to wrap his arms around it all only for the anarchy to keep expanding. Every day is something new. Saturday, it was bad tattoos. Sunday, the commissioner will talk and try to explain how this all unfolded on his watch. Monday, if it came out that the Astros used furtive earpieces or Bluetooth buzzers or a robust artificial-intelligence operation to gain an advantage, it would surprise absolutely nobody.

There is no order. Just pure, distilled chaos.

It’s not going away any time soon. This is a reality every person involved should learn to understand sooner than later. Not because this is some media creation that thirsts for the mother’s milk of controversy and giddily gawks at the overnight transformation of Major League Baseball from the league of Charlie Chaplins into a full-flavored copy of the NBA, where no sacred cows exist. No, this is now about something much more primal: survival.

The tentacles of baseball’s cheating scandal are long and abundant. All of the Astros players, past and present. Their front-office members. Their opponents. Manfred and his associates. The MLB Players Association. Team owners. Fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch. Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, both of whom lost managing jobs on account of their involvement. It is a wide swath of characters with competing interests and self-preservation in mind, each with a story to tell. Already those involved are trying to game the timing, to ensure that their version does not find itself lost amid the morass of takes.

The prevailing narrative Saturday came from Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who originally declined comment through a team spokesman and then granted a wild interview to MLB Network in which he told the reigning National League MVP to “shut the f— up,” reiterated that the Astros’ 2017 World Series title was not won through ill-gotten gains and introduced the world to Jose Altuve ‘s unfortunate collarbone tattoo.

A quick backgrounder, since that last sentence sounds like a Mad Lib: Los Angeles Dodgers star Cody Bellinger unloaded on the Astros on Friday, a day after the beginning of their mea culpa tour turned disastrous, by saying Altuve “stole” the American League MVP award from New York Yankees star Aaron Judge in 2017 and that the Astros “stole the ring from us” by beating the Dodgers for the 2017 championship. Bellinger was the latest player to flout the game’s long-held omertà and unload a shotgun into the barrel in which the Astros swim these days. Dragging the Astros is the sport within a sport.

Correa decided to come clean with something that data compiled by an Astros fan named Tony Adams had seemed to show: Altuve did not like when his teammates banged on a trash can adjacent to the dugout to alert him of the coming pitch type. Adams logged more than 8,000 pitches from home games during the 2017 season and heard trash-can bangs on 13.2%. Of the 866 pitches to Altuve, there were bangs on only 24 — 2.8%.

MLB punishes Astros

“For [Bellinger] to go out there and defame Jose Altuve’s name like that — it doesn’t sit right with me,” Correa said. “‘Cause the man plays the game clean.”

Knowing the data, and having been told by another player on the 2017 Astros that Altuve did not engage regularly in the trash-can scheme, I had asked him Thursday to explain why.

“I know your question,” Altuve said. “I really appreciate your question. It’s good. But I want to take this as a team. I think we’re all at the same level right now of feeling the way we’re feeling about doing what we did. I’m not here to say you and you more than you and you. We’re a team. I’m not saying this today. I always say this is a team. And if we are something, we all are something.”

For all of the fallout from that day, particularly after owner Jim Crane’s contraction of foot-in-mouth disease, Altuve’s answer stood out as not just sincere but commendable — the sort of thing other players in baseball in different circumstances would respect and the rare instance, in this whole scandal, of someone not obviously acting in his own self-interest. Altuve could have absolved himself. He could have gone full Shaggy. He instead subjected himself to the fusillade of condemnation that would come.

Because it’s true: He didn’t stop it. No one did. And that’s a question the players lobbing grenades at the Astros ought to ask themselves, too. If they truly plumb the depths of their self-awareness, how many believe they would not simply be conscientious objectors as the data suggests Altuve was but entirely blow up a scheme being used by a team barreling toward 101 wins?

Social media vs. MLB

How the internet helped crack the Astros’ sign-stealing case.

What the Astros did was clearly cheating, clearly wrong, clearly a black mark on their championship. It is also naïve to think less hubristic versions of sign-stealing weren’t going on elsewhere and that had those been accelerated the players would have put a stop to them.

The defiance emanating from the Astros’ clubhouse, even after their apologies, is coated in this let-he-who-is-without-sin-cast-stones mentality. Correa besmirched Bellinger for suggesting Houston was cheating for the last three years, saying it occurred only in 2017. Ken Rosenthal immediately corrected him, saying Manfred’s report said the Astros had stolen signs in 2018, too. Correa danced around this, landing ultimately on a judgment of Bellinger daring to vilify Altuve and the Astros: “With me, that doesn’t sit right.”

The problem, of course, is that the moment the Astros decided to start banging on trash cans, they forfeited any sort of moral authority that allows them to differentiate between right and wrong. They might as well have KICK ME stitched across the backs of their jerseys instead of their last names, and it’s because of their collective action. So as satisfying as it feels to try and speak into existence this notion that their championship isn’t irreparably tainted, to drop F-bombs on the haters, to stand up for Altuve like Altuve stood up for him and the rest of the Astros who did think enough of the trash-can scheme to use it for months, it runs the risk of sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Correa’s defense stretched past aggrieved and into comedic during his denial that the Astros had used wearable buzzers during the 2019 season to signal the coming pitch. Bellinger and Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez had questioned why, after Altuve hit a walk-off home run to send the Astros to the World Series this year, he did not want his jersey ripped off. First, Correa said, Altuve’s wife had expressed discomfort with it when he and Kemp unclothed Altuve earlier in the season.

“The second reason that he don’t want me to talk about this, but I’m gonna say it, is because he’s got an unfinished tattoo on his collarbone, right here, that, honestly, looked terrible,” Correa said. “It was a bad tattoo. And he didn’t want nobody to see it. He didn’t want to show it at all.”

A bad tattoo. Welcome to baseball in 2020.

There’s more to come. There’s always more with this Astros story that drips out with all the efficiency of a broken faucet. The coming days, weeks, months will teem with more details, explanations, facts. Manfred’s report looks more and more like a Polaroid that needs to be shaken. The manifold characters all have their versions of the story to tell. There are reputations to be salvaged, careers to be saved, sides to be taken. This is the just the beginning.

It’s never too early to start or join a fantasy baseball league for the 2020 season.

The next step is Manfred addressing the media Sunday in North Port, Fla. As commissioner, the sport’s well-being ultimately falls on him. And while the ultimate fallout of the scandal is unclear — is it, in a perverse way, actually driving interest to baseball, or does the stench of misconduct have the opposite effect? — he must answer for his role in it reaching this point, where a new fire smolders every day.

And rest assured, potential arson abounds. What will Beltran, slimed and smeared, say when he speaks out? How will MLB, if at all, punish the Boston Red Sox, whom they’re investigating for stealing signs in 2018? What will the punishment for Cora, who is expected to be suspended, be? How can the MLBPA preach solidarity when its members attack one another on the daily? Will others join former MLB pitcher Mike Bolsinger and a daily fantasy player in filing lawsuits against the Astros and the league? Who will speak out next? What will he say?

In a week, spring-training games begin. The Astros will play the Washington Nationals, who beat them in the 2019 World Series. Across the sport, eyes will be trained on the game to see if Nationals pitchers intentionally throw at Astros hitters. Houston manager Dusty Baker tried to preempt any retaliation Saturday, asking MLB to do all it can to prevent premeditated beanings. It only served to draw the ire of those who see the inevitability of what is to come: a pitcher who dots an Astros hitter with a fastball to send a message that what they did is indefensible will receive a longer suspension than any of the Astros did for their indefensible acts.

Yes, baseball is burning, and nobody — not the Astros, not Manfred, not the rest of the players — can stop it. Only time will slow it, and until then, as baseball’s cheating scandal metastasizes, as it dirties all it touches, remember that what caused it in the first place will guide its direction going forward: the choices of individuals looking out for themselves.

Mandel’s Musings: Jeter, the Distant Yankee, Should Be Unanimously Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

By Scott Mandel

I’ve never been a big fan of Derek Jeter, the former New York Yankees shortstop, on a personal level. But, today, Derek Jeter is going to be elected, deservedly so, to the the Baseball Hall of Fame, an acknowledgement of his status as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.

But, Jeter was not always an easy guy to get along with or get to know, from a media point of view. And, he knew there was no prerequisite for trying to endear himself to the media or even, to the fans. He did his job as the Yankee shortstop, and did it better than anyone in the franchise’s history.

Jeter opted, over the course of his 21-year career, to play it close to the vest with the media and with Yankeee fans, His responses during interviews were filled with sports cliches, but never really offered his deepest feelings about any subject. Jeter was a bright guy and had many opinions to offer, particularly as the Yankee captain, but he chose not to share most of those feelings with his adoring public.

He was self-aware, always, and always tuned-in to saying as little as possible, as non-controversial as possible. Yet, his ego was so enormous, he had no problem with handing out “swag bags” of Jeter memorabilia to his one-night stands as they walked out his apartment door, in the previous night’s dress and makeup.

He left the Yankees, his beloved Yankees, acrimoniously after Brian Cashman refused to make him the highest paid shortstop in the game when he was 37 years old and had lost many of his skills.

Jeter has not been back to the stadium since retiring five years ago, other than one time to honor Mariano Rivera. He also showed up in Cooperstown to watch Rivera get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Other than that, the great Yankee has been as detached from Yankee tradition and the Yankee organization as any non-Yankee player would be. There are many who feel he has intentionally slighted the Yankees from capitalizing on their relationship with him, ie, profiting from the marketing possibilities of Jeter, the Yankee.

Jeter was indeed a role model for the way he treated kids and umpires in ballparks all across the country. But, as an owner in Miami, Jeter has looked a lot more fallible without the pinstripes on. He deserves a fair shot with the Marlins and enough time to build the organization the way he wants it built. It has never been a good idea to bet against Jeter. He can still turn this second baseball career into a big success.

But the fact that he fired a number of popular Marlins employees — including Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, and a longtime scout who was in the hospital trying to recover from cancer surgery — and handled various duties (including the Giancarlo Stanton trade) with what appeared to be a less-than-gentle approach, did not shock some who have known Jeter. That includes R.D. Long, the longtime running mate ejected from the shortstop’s inner circle years ago for a reason never explained to him.

“I can’t comment about Derek Jeter today, because I don’t know that person today,” Long, who spent six years in the Yankees system and who coached at Rochester Institute of Technology, said last week by phone. “But as a player, people who doubted him just don’t get it. If some think he’s overrated, that’s ludicrous. I think he might be the most underrated player of all time.

He’s a stranger in his own stadium, the “House that Jeter Built,” where he starred.

That said, Derek Jeter was the greatest shortstop in Yankee history and today, we will find out at 6 o’clock whether his inevitable election to the Baseball Hall of Fame will be unanimous, or not. If there is a voter who does not elect Derek Jeter to the Baseball Hall of Fame on this, Jeter’s first opportunity to get into the hallowed hall, that voter should be stripped of his vote. Jeter was a great player, possibly the greatest shortstop over the past 50 years. Despite his media foibles and his soiled relationship with his Yankee heritage, he deserves to be the second player in baseball history to be voted into the Hall of Fame, unanimously. The first, of course, was Mariano Rivera, last year.

Mandel’s Musings: Knicks “Interim” Coach, Mike Miller Has Similar Qualities to Another Interim Hire – Red Holzman

By Scott Mandel

The Knicks put up 77 points in the first half against the Hawks, last night at Madison Square Garden. Then, they proceeded to add another 66 points in the second half, completing a 143-120 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks, another struggling NBA team.

The win brought the Knicks’ record under their interim coach, Mike Miller, to 3-3, which includes four west coast road contests. The previous coach, David Fizdale, had compiled a record of 4-18 before he was fired.

I’m not about to compare this new coach, Miller, to the legendary Red Holzman, the former Knicks head coach when the franchise won its only NBA championships in 1969-70 and 1972-73 but he seems to share a lot of the same personality traits and coaching sensibilities the self-effacing, camera-shy Holzman used to impart to his players.

Image result for mike miller knicks coach
Interim Knicks coach, Mike Miller, may lose his interim title if team continues to progress

Holzman, an organizational scout who preferred to work behind the scenes in his scouting capacity, was brought in on an interim basis to replace Dick McGuire as Knicks coach in 1967. The Knicks were a putrid team going nowhere in those days but they did have a handful of talented parts on their roster. Today’s version of this franchise has continued a 20-year year run of mostly pitiful basketball, pitiful scouting, pitiful drafting, and pitiful coaching.

In both instances, there was no clamor from legitimate, high profile coaches to become the head coach of a franchise on its way to nowhere, either in 1967 or today. Even Steve Kerr, with no head coaching experience in 2013, turned down the Knicks. Whatever happened to him?

Both Holzman and Miller were organizational men who did what they were asked, which was to finish out the current season and try to get the team back on a path of respectability while a new coaching search began. Holzman did more than that, and has a bust in the NBA Hall of Fame to prove it. So far, Miller is 3-3. Both are superb accomplishments, given certain realities of the organizational history and the rosters they inherited.

At 4-18, it was time to say goodbye to David Fizdale. Enter organization man, Miller, a 55-year old basketball lifer who, like Holzman, worked the back roads of the basketball universe, far from the bright lights of Broadway, before being asked to take over a broken franchise. Miller became something of a last resort.

Like Holzman did, in 1967.

Back then, the team president, Ned Irish, decided to replace McGuire, who, like Fizdale, looked beaten and couldn’t wait to find the exit door. The team was in last place, and Irish decided to reach out to the nearest candidate, which he presumed to be Holzman. Holzman preferred the anonymity of scouting.

But Irish persisted.

”And I realized that if I didn’t take the coaching job,” Holzman, modest as always, said, ”I might not have any job.”

Miller, too, is one of those self-effacing types who doesn’t seek out television cameras or a high profile. He doesn’t make himself the story. Like Holzman, he’s a teacher, first, a disciplinarian, a basketball lifer, an old-school guy who focuses on the fundamentals of the game. Nothing fancy about the suits he wears or about the way he approaches the game.

Like Holzman.

Bill Bradley, who played for Holtzman from 1967 through 1977, once told me Holzman often solicited the players’ opinions on what they thought would work in a given game. The mutual respect sometimes made the process a collaborative one for those great Knicks teams. Of course, Holzman had the benefit of collaborating with basketball geniuses with very high hoops IQs. Bradley, DeBusshere, Frazier, Reed, Barnett, Phil Jackson, Jerry Lucas, Monroe. There wasn’t a Dennis Smith or a Julius Randle among them.

But, if last night’s game is any indication, we watched the youngsters on the Knicks, guys like Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox, cutting hard to the hoop off of pick and rolls for easy buckets or finding cutting teammates with slick, but basic passes for easy baskets. Fundamental basketball.

Like Holzman.

And, a quick history lesson. Those terrible 1967 Knicks made the playoffs in the season in which Holzman took over the club. He agreed to stay on as coach. In December of the next season, the team traded for DeBusschere, giving the Knicks a tremendous force around the basket, as a defensive forward and long-range shooter. It was the piece that made the difference and made Holzman a legendary figure in NBA history who never took credit for his success. It was always about the players.

This guy, Miller, a quiet, middle-aged, balding basketball lifer with the interim title seems like an odd fit for this young, hip-hop 2019 team. But, something here is clicking. Any coach who can convince freakishly athletic talents with low understandings of team basketball like Dennis Smith and Julius Randle to play more controlled and within team-oriented concepts on both sides of the floor has somehow figured out how to communicate with this younger generation, despite the 30+ years in age difference with this roster.

Just like Holzman.

Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Patrick Ewing and now, Marcus Morris

By Scott Mandel

The Knicks are advertising their next game with, “come see Marcus Morris and the Knicks at MSG.”
Wow.

If this is not quite a sign that the apocalypse is on its way, it may be a sign that basketball, once known as the city game (when the city referred to was New York) has become a secondary event in this city and at Madison Square Garden, which used to house the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus every year until that entity also went out of business.

Is Jim Dolan, the Knicks owner, doing the same thing to the Knicks that happened to the circus or, have the Knicks, with a record of 4-14, become the new circus in town with Dolan as the ringleader?

Image result for marcus morris
The Knicks are advertising on social media to “come out to MSG to watch Marcus Morris and the Knicks in 2019. Their record is 4-14.

Penn State Did Not Lose to a Better Ohio State Team, Their Coach, James Franklin Lost to Better Coach

By Scott Mandel

James Franklin, the head coach of Penn State, is terrible.

Letting Ohio State’s #2, defensive end Chase Young, the best football player in the country, rush his quarterback without a double team, or even a strong-side chip from a tight end or running back, is pathetic coaching at any level.

Leaving his helpless offensive lineman, #71, out there on an island by himself to block Mr. Young in obvious passing situations was truly the stupidest coaching I have ever seen in my life.

Chase Young , Ohio State’s pass-rushing machine, today set the all-time record for the storied university’s football program for most sacks in a season today with 16.5 sacks. There are still more games to be played to the 2019 season yet James Franklin could not figure out how to help his overmatched right offensive tackle.

Hell, most of the offensive tackles in the NFL will be overmatched against Young, who is profiling as the next Lawrence Taylor in the league where they play for pay.

There are rumors James Franklin is going to interviewed for the head coaching job with the University of Southern California. My strong advice for Penn State backers is to help Franklin pack his bags and send him on his way.

Today, in Columbus, Ohio, Penn State was not beaten by a better team. They were beaten by a better coach.

Is Eli Manning a Hall of Famer?

by Scott Mandel, SportsReporters.com

I’ve gotten backlash for this many times but, media guys who have never strapped on a helmet or pads should qualify their opinions about football with, “I have never, ever tackled or blocked anyone my entire life and this opinion is that of a pure fan. Call me Benigno.”

To say Eli Manning’s record of 116-116 does not qualify him for the NFL Hall of Fame shows a fair measure of ignorance, even as a “fan” who purports to be an “expert.” Whether Manning is a Hall of Famer is certainly debatable, but, do not turn his TEAM’S won-loss record into a rationale for or against his inclusion in the Canton shrine.

You see, if you ever played pee wee ball, you would know the quarterback cannot succeed without the 10 other guys on the field doing their jobs (as Belichick has preached for 40 years). Neither could the running backs, wide receivers, or offensive linemen. And, if the coach is a dummy, or, the team has changed coaches every couple of years, the continuity and consistency of an offensive unit disappears.

Football isn’t an individual sport like baseball, or basketball, or, even hockey, where one player’s individual skills can dominate a game, or, an era. It’s the ultimate in inter-dependence on your teammates for your own success.

Manning is currently seventh all-time in passing yards, eighth all-time in touchdown passes and sixth in most completed passes. He has played in 234 games.

For comparison’s sake, his brother, Peyton played in 266, Drew Brees in 267, Brett Favre in 303, Dan Marino in 242,

Image result for John Elway Denver super bowl
Elway finally won his Super Bowl, adding a second win before he retired

John Elway, who had a rough start to his NFL career after a legendary three years at Stanford, became a sure-fire Hall of Famer who played in the same number of games Eli has. Eli has almost 500 more completions, completed 61% of his passes vs. Elway’s 57%, and has thrown 62 more touchdown passes than the great Elway in the same amount of games. The one stat which stands out as one they have in common is, they are two of only five quarterbacks in NFL history whose team won two Super Bowls and, were the MVPs of each Super Bowl game they won.

Manning was never, in my view, better than a top five or six quarterback within his own era, but being behind Brees, Peyton, Aaron Rogers, Matt Ryan, Rivers, and Rothlisberger) does not disqualify him from Canton. Those six guys, all arguably better than him, will be joining Manning in the Hall of Fame, someday.

Dave Gettleman, NY Giants GM, Tanked This Season Before it Started, Sets Stage for Eli Manning to Jacksonville?

by Scott Mandel, SportsReporters.com

It’s just one game on the books for the 2019 New York Giants and 15 more to go for a once-proud original franchise in the National Football League. So why does it feel like this season is over?

One game in and 2019 is already shaping up to be a gigantic embarrassment for John Mara, the owner of the team as well as the legion of Giants fans. One game and you’ve never seen so many Big Blue fans burying their collective heads in their hands as they did yesterday after Dallas exposed the Giants defense and the Giants coaching staff for the frauds they truly are. The Giants, along with another once-proud franchise, the Miami Dolphins, are TANKING this season.

This roster of young Giants is comprised of respectful, well-mannered, polite guys, just as Giants general manager, Dave Gettleman, wanted. Good character guys. Unfortunately, good character is usually a buzzword in the sports business for losers. Anybody paying attention to Bill Belichick and Antonio Brown, lately?

History is dotted with teams with good character guys who couldn’t spell win, even if you spotted them the W. In getting rid of elite NFL talents over the past year like Pro-bowler Odell Beckham, cornerback Eli Apple, Pro-Bowl safety Landon Collins, Pro-Bowl defensive linemen Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, and Linval Joseph and soon, Eli Manning, Gettleman has destroyed the Giants for the foreseeable future by removing veteran, proven talent from a team that is painfully short on talent, coaching, and really, everything else.

It’s not all Gettleman’s fault, of course. He was brought in by Mara to replace another incompetent football executive, Jerry Reese, who was fired in 2017. Reese’s main problem was he couldn’t judge talent, as only four players, Sterling Shepherd, Evan Engram, Davlin Tomlinson, and Wayne Gallman remain on the Giants from Reese’s ten-year (2007-2017) draft history.

For comparison’s sake, the New England Patriots, who compete for or win the Super Bowl every year, never get to draft high picks because NFL rules give the worst teams, like the Giants, the first opportunities to grab the best players in the country. The Patriots get stuck with a lot of players in the later rounds. So, how many players do the Patriots still have on their current roster from the past 10 years of drafts? Thirty-three players still perform in the NFL, drafted by the Patriots, since 2010.

But this 35-10 loss last night to Dallas, in a game that wasn’t even THAT close, was not Manning, who threw for 305 yards, or the offense’s fault. This loss could be pinned on exactly what we thought the Giants’ most glaring weaknesses were all along entering the season: their young, inexperienced cornerbacks and their nonexistent pass rush. The problem in those two units are two-fold. They are very young players and, they possibly will not turn out to be any good, at any age.

The Giants’ secondary couldn’t cover anybody the Cowboys sent out to catch passes, and their pass rush treated Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott (25 of 32, 404 yards, four touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating) with more respect than Cowboys’ team owner Jerry Jones has in not signing him to a contract extension.

In short, the NFL debut for Giants rookie cornerback DeAndre Baker was a nightmare, and the day wasn’t much better for backup Antonio Hamilton, either. Not that this was all on those two players.

“Reality check?’’ safety Michael Thomas said. “We’ve got to get back to work. We can’t make the mistakes we made out there regardless of [whether we’re] young or not. And it wasn’t just young guys, myself included. We’ve got to get better.’’

Safety Antoine Bethea, a veteran of 14 seasons, and, a character guy with little speed or NFL skill remaining, said, “Yeah, we’re young, but we get paid to do a job, and we’ve got to do it with no excuses.’’

Bethea’s message to the youngsters?

“They’re going to keep coming at you until you start making plays,’’ he said.

Baker, the first-round draft pick from Georgia, had the roughest game of all.

“Rookie corner in the NFL, out there playing for the first time, there’s a lot to be learned,’’ Giants coach Pat Shurmur said.

With Baker and Hamilton out there looking like raw meat to a lion (with the lion being Prescott), the Cowboys quarterback never bothered to look in the direction of Giants veteran cornerback Janoris Jenkins once all afternoon.

“I expected that,’’ Jenkins said.

Image result for Giants lose to Prescott
Giants QB of the future, Jones, came in for final two minutes of garbage time, completing 3 of 4

Jenkins’ message to Baker and Hamilton?

“You got a lot of talent, a lot of potential, and we’ve got 15 more games to go,’’ he said. “It’s pretty tough, but you’re either going to man up or lay down.’’

The nightmare for the secondary began early, on the Cowboys’ second offensive series after the Giants had taken a 7-0 lead on the opening possession. Baker was beaten by Cowboys receiver Michael Gallup (7 catches for 158 yards) on a 13-yard completion on third-and-4 to keep the drive alive.

Several plays later, the Cowboys tied the game at 7-7 on a busted coverage that left tight end Blake Jarwin wide open on a 28-yard TD.

“It’s the NFL, so there’s no excuses about whoever they’re throwing the ball at — whether they’re throwing at me 10 times, DeAndre 10 times — we’ve got to make our plays,’’ Hamilton said. “There ain’t no excuse.’’

Baker was torched by Amari Cooper (6-106, TD) on a 21-yard Prescott TD pass that made it 21-7 Cowboys.

“I didn’t have the best game that I wanted to have, but it’s about bouncing back and showing what I can do next week,’’ Baker said. “I have to fight to through adversity.’’

How does Jenkins, the veteran of the cornerback group, think the youngsters will come back from this next Sunday against the Bills in the home opener?

“We’re going to respond like big dogs,’’ Jenkins promised. “We came out a little short this week. We’re not far away. Just mental mistakes, small things that can be fixed in practice.’’

That all sounds good. It’s just that none of what happened to the Giants on Sunday seemed small.

Fifteen more to go.