Bock’s Score: Absolute Power Corrupts In Sports

“Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’’

That bit of philosophy comes from Lord Acton, a British historian who died in 1902. Phil Jackson and Randy Levine never met the old guy but they are living, breathing proof that this member of England’s aristocracy had something there.

Jackson functions as president of the New York Knicks and Levine holds the same position with the New York Yankees. Both men are taken with their own considerable importance, often to the detriment of their teams.

Jackson has been on the warpath against 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, often tweeting disparaging comments about the best player on his team. The president of the Knicks is a somewhat obscure character, so his tweets often need to be translated from their original Zen. The bottom line, though, is that Jackson does not like Anthony’s game.

This may be a function of the anonymous cast of characters that Jackson has surrounding Anthony. When the game comes down to a last shot, who do you want taking it, Anthony or some other Knick like say Mindaugas Kuzminskas? Maybe Sasha Vujacic or Maurice Ndour. This is not exactly Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley or Willis Reed. For my part, I’m taking my chances with Melo.

When Derrick Rose disappeared one day earlier this season and missed a game, Jackson was mum about his point guard’s unexcused absence. When Jackson’s heralded free agent signing of a hobbled Joakim Noah turned out to be a bust, the silence from the Knicks’ president was deafening. But Anthony was a different story. Melo became Jackson’s whipping boy.

Despite Anthony’s impressive career credentials, Jackson disparaged his star’s game and tried mightily to trade him right up until the deadline. The $50 million or so remaining on his contract and the no-trade clause it contains were roadblocks, though. Both were part of Melo’s last contract, negotiated by and proudly signed by none other than the club president, Phil Jackson. So Melo remains a Knick, not that Jackson is thrilled by that turn of events. And, when he considers the condition of this franchise, Melo might not be either.

That brings us to another New York team president, Randy Levine. Assigned by ownership to represent the Yankees in an arbitration salary hearing against relief pitcher Dellin Betances, Levine swooped in and won handily, saving the team $2 million. In the overall fiduciary scheme of things for the fancy New York Yankees, $2 million is chump change. Levine did not see it that way. He became what is known as a sore winner.

Instead of letting the arbitrator’s decision speak for itself, Levine offered a few unsolicited thoughts, characterizing Betances’ demand for $5 million way out of line. The setup man reliever had some nerve asking for closer money, the club president said. Consider though, that Betances had the best strikeout ratio of any reliever in baseball – setup man or closer – last season.

There was no reason for Levine to attack Betances after the arbitration had ended. He won. That should have been enough. Instead, he left a valuable piece of the Yankee bullpen with a sour taste in his mouth. Players remember those kind of slights And that could come back and bite the Yankees in the backside in a couple of years when the young man becomes a free agent.

Was it foolish for Levine to celebrate his win over Betances so publicly? Of course. Was it silly for Jackson to rip Anthony for weeks, maybe months, on end? Certainly. But both team bosses have power and you know what Lord Acton said about that.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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