Debunking the Church of Jeter

Originally Published: October 20, 2009
By Tim Keown | Page 2

Here's one reason so many people love to hate the Yankees: The lovefest for Derek Jeter knows no bounds. It's natural to attempt to find fault with a guy who is constantly praised to the heavens and beyond, and that's why so many people get so excited in the effort.

And this isn't a criticism, just an observation: If I had watched Bobby Abreu's Game 3 baserunning mistake -- back-picked at second by Jeter and Mark Teixeira in the bottom of the 8th -- with the sound down on the television, I would have considered it a perfect example of the Yankees' ability to execute defensively. They're pros.

But since the sound was on, it's a different story. We were shown replays of the play and told over and over how brilliant Jeter is because he thought the play was at third but the play ended up being at second and there was nobody there to tell him.

Nobody there? Really? Even though Teixeira was right there to take the throw and apply the tag? I mean, let's get real: Jeter is a great player, but sometimes things happen on the field -- really cool things -- that don't center on him.

Teixeira followed the runner, just like every first baseman is supposed to do but not all do. He was right there. He made the play. Jeter would be the first to admit that.

The Raiders have company. On the day they got their second win and stunned the football world by beating the Eagles, the Raiders were surpassed in the all-important statistic of institutional weirdness. For a week at least, the Washington Redskins are the new champs.

The Redskins lost to the Chiefs in a game that someone scheduled either out of sarcasm or just plain meanness. And then after the game Redskins GM Vinny Cerrato relieved coach Jim Zorn of his play-calling duties while scheduling a Monday appointment with Zorn to discuss who will take over the play-calling duties.

It's not a coach breaking another coach's jaw (allegedly), but the only surprise is that no jaw-breaking occurred in the making of this mess. We'll reserve judgment on Zorn's self-esteem levels right now -- even pre-Riggins Rant they couldn't have been good -- but there is an enduring lesson to take out of this:

There are people in charge of huge, multimillion-dollar businesses like NFL teams who appear to have no savvy whatsoever. That goes for sports savvy, business savvy, general human-interaction savvy -- none of it.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a company named SpongeTech and its high-visibility, high-volume advertising campaign targeted at sports fans. My curiosity was piqued when I kept seeing their signs behind home plate and at big-time events such as the U.S. Open. I spoke to the company's chief operating officer and it turned into a little how-we-live-today slice of life, centering on the company's decision to jump into the sports market when the rates were low and the competitors few.

Fair enough. But shortly after the piece ran I started getting e-mails from people who said they found it fishy that a company selling pre-soaped sponges would advertise so prominently at sporting events. I didn't give it much thought -- if Taco Bell thinks we're all going to buy black tacos, why can't someone think we're buying sponges? -- until I read some e-mails from people who had bought SpongeTech stock and felt it was a scam.

It turns out the SEC had enough concerns to temporarily halt trading of SpongeTech stock. The suspension began on Oct. 5 after the SEC found discrepancies in SpongeTech's accounting and reporting. The sale of more than 3 billion shares of the stock raised red flags concerning a pump-and-dump scheme, and a class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of investors. There are also questions, raised by the New York Post, about the legitimacy -- read: existence -- of the companies SpongeTech lists as its top five customers. All are said to be headquartered overseas.

As an article on The Motley Fool Web site stated, "The company's filings lead the skeptical reader to some pretty clear conclusions. The first is that SpongeTech exists primarily to sell stock, and pretty much everything else comes second."

My conversation with COO Steven Moskowitz was strange; when you've interviewed enough people you learn to identify certain types of responses. Moskowitz wanted to steer the conversation from the beginning, to the point where he wasn't necessarily interested in questions. He talked through questions and seemed generally nervous. I don't know the man, so I don't know enough to know whether the company's problems and the COO's manner are connected.

Roddy Boyd of Slate (whose article was reprinted on The Motley Fool) went to the Connecticut home of CEO Michael Metter seeking a comment after being stonewalled by Moskowitz and the company's PR firm. A man who looked a lot like Metter answered the door and said Metter wasn't home. When Boyd showed Metter a photo of himself and noted the resemblance, the man said, "Metter isn't doing any interviews" and shut the door. Then, in a move that should be included in a story of reporting tactics, Boyd knocked on the window and said, "Mike, can I leave my contact info?" The man who wasn't Metter turned and said, "Sure."

This is a sports story only because SpongeTech clearly used sporting events and sports television as an engine to promote the company and increase its visibility. Since many people equate visibility with success, a lot of investors evidently were duped into buying the stock, which, as of Monday, was still suspended from trading.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Sound off to Tim here.

Tim Keown | email

ESPN Senior Writer