Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vox Victory one for Out-of-the-Box Ownership


He was a Spice Girl among Renaissance composers, or the guy in the draft room nobody respected; an easy mark and surely not to be taken seriously. While other owners and GMs poured over statistics, Cleveland native SamVox was watching porn. Or playing poker. Or speed chess. Or a hundred and one other useless stunts not related to homers, wins and saves.

He was always a poor drafter, and his franchise would suffer for twelve years. But the Vox was the only game in town, and the apathetic majority trumped those hardcore Van Nuys fans begging SamVox to sell the team. The lack of interest gave him leeway to chase after his mission statement: win it with my guys. Those guys, of course, were the Virgin Pimps-- an aging collection of stylish, big-ass ballplayers that had peaked in the 1980s. As the losing seasons began to mount, so did the VP retirements-- and the team was renamed in late 2006.

The summer of '06 actually brought two turning points: The implementation of the free-agent auction and an anonymous GM poll that asked 'who is the worst owner?' The Vox was one of only three choices, and he hasn't forgotten the sting of catching a few votes. "What really burns me, said Sam, "is that I was up against two owners that aren't even in the league anymore. They were cellar-dwellars without fail. That was a kick in the face to our club. Now, those GMs that voted for me may have hurt their necks looking up at me in the standings the last two years."

Shortly after the poll, the Vox won the month of June. Last summer, they contended until early September. This season, Van Nuys became the greatest pitching staff in league history. Says one scout; "There is simply nobody in baseball that plays the waiver wire like the Vox. Every week, he is scouting two-start pitchers or undervalued position players. You could say he's overly aggressive and spends too much on free agents, but it's no coincidence that the team's success coincided with the change in how our league does pickups."

At the winter meetings, the Vox is always lobbying for reform-- a keeper format, an auction with salaries, and any other modification that can strategically shake up the league. He's usually ignored. When I suggest that his status as defending champion will open more doors, the always loquacious Vox scoffs at the sentiment. "Look Bill, I'm a fucking founding member of this league. I shouldn't have to earn credibility by what happens on the diamond. I was in that kitchen on Chittenden Avenue in April of '96 when we were still doing stats by hand."

In '98, he drafted Doc and Daryl in the tenth round, and he's equally sensitive about that subject. "Yeah, I took'em a bit early, but the draft is a fucking formality for me now. Next year, I may just skip it. I can build my roster from just free agents. Look at what happened this year. I got nothing from my 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th pick. I drafted the ace of my staff (Chien-Ming Wang) in the 11th round and he was out for the season by June. I traded away Kazmir before the All-Star break and I still dominated pitching."

Most of the team will be back in '09. The Vox is loyal, and never more so than the final week of this season when everything was on the line and he benched the always-effective Josh Johnson in favor of two starts from Tim Wakefield, who had given up 6 runs in 2.1 innings in his previous start. "Tim's been with me since '96," said Sam, about to embark on a rant that will probably be tuned out by his peers. But I reckon the Vox likes it that way.