McClure Was Fired Because He Didn’t Work

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The key word with a pitching coach is “work”. I don’t mean working hard nor do I mean to imply the the fired Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure didn’t do as much as he could to help the Red Sox pitchers and do his job; I mean that the pitching coach has to have a working relationship with the manager and his pitching techniques have to work with the pitchers. Neither appears to have been the case between Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, McClure, and the Red Sox pitching staff.

That McClure was hired a month before Valentine and that McClure was uncomfortable (for whatever reason) with making the pitching changes as Valentine prefers his pitching coaches to do were immediate warning signs that the relationship was not going to be a successful one.

This is not the fault of Valentine or McClure but, like everything that’s gone wrong with the Red Sox organization as a whole this season, it’s the fault of the organization in general.

Larry Lucchino has interfered and openly meddled, seemingly taking joy in the newfound freedom to assert his will with the departure of Theo Epstein.

Ben Cherington has not done enough to make sure the staff people he wanted were hired and that the players he wanted to keep and dispatch were there or gone.

Valentine is guilty of being Valentine—a crime in and of itself.

McClure’s transgression is that he wasn’t the right person to be Valentine’s pitching coach and the pitchers, specifically Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, pitched poorly.

There’s plenty of blame to go around and it extends to the departed Epstein and Terry Francona.

When a team hires Valentine, they have to be all-in with Valentine. Splitting the baby doesn’t work. He has to have coaches that he trusts and will buy into his methods; he has to have a longer contract than two years to eliminate the idea that he’s on a short leash, tryout type deal who can be dumped without any financial and perceptive hit; and he has to have that aforementioned working relationship with the pitching coach.

He has or had none of that in Boston. In some cases the firing of coaches is a warning to the managers that they’re going to be next if things don’t improve. That was so when Mets’ GM Steve Phillips fired Bob Apodaca as Valentine’s pitching coach and installed one of his assistants, Dave Wallace, as the new Mets’ pitching coach. Valentine and Wallace were not on the same page, but Wallace was a respected pitching voice; was willing to make the pitching changes (it sounds small, but McClure not doing it was a symptom of the illness); the team won; the pitchers pitched well and had been around Valentine long enough to know that he wasn’t going anywhere and learned to pretty much tune out his distractions.

Valentine liked having his people around and that included new Red Sox pitching coach Randy Niemann, his former Mets’ hitting and bench coach Tom Robson, and Apodaca. Niemann and Robson were also fired by Phillips when he fired Apodaca.

With the Red Sox, Valentine has been surrounded by front office appointees and those he didn’t know; for someone as justifiably paranoid as Valentine, a target for the knives was immediately placed on his back.

I’m not an advocate of the manager getting to pick his coaches without front office okay. For years, Billy Martin wanted Art Fowler around not because Fowler was a brilliant pitching mind, but because he was Martin’s drinking buddy. Pitchers on the old Yankees’ staffs like Ron Guidry would sing the praises of Fowler, but it wasn’t because of any wisdom he imparted. It was because Fowler left them alone and kept Martin calm. Omar Minaya (yes, Omar Minaya) put it succinctly when explaining why he didn’t let his managers pick their coaches on their own when he said that he didn’t want the manager surrounding himself with his buddies.

My criteria would be that the manager doesn’t have any coach on his staff that he doesn’t want. The decisions will be made as a consensus, but both the front office and the manager has a veto. Valentine was so grateful to have a chance to manage again and had no other options to do so that he would’ve agreed to almost anything including a short-term contract and a pitching coach he didn’t know or whose philosophies he didn’t agree with.

In explanation of the firing, the Red Sox basically admitted that they couldn’t go on with Valentine and McClure together. The obvious question is, “Why didn’t they do this two months ago?” Now is no different from then aside from having less time for the change to make a difference in the season.

If this was a conciliatory gesture to Valentine for 2012, it’s a bit late to help. Reading between the lines, this could bode well for Valentine coming back in 2013 with his coaches on the staff, substantial changes to the personnel, and more of a say in the construction of the club. This Red Sox team, regardless of the coaches, isn’t very good and I’m tired of hearing injuries being presented as an excuse. They’re dysfunctional, enabled and mismatched and that would be the case if the entire planned roster was healthy.

Perhaps Valentine demanded this change. Or it could be that the front office is realizing their mistake in using Scotch Tape to repair an infrastructure that needs a significant reconstruction. If Valentine is back in 2013, Beckett won’t be; Jose Iglesias will be at shortstop; Ryan Lavarnway will see legitimate playing time behind the plate; Daniel Bard will be in the bullpen from day 1; and Apodaca and Niemann will be part of the coaching staff. Valentine walked into this situation with one arm tied behind his back and duct tape around his mouth. (He chewed through the tape.) If he returns for 2013 and goes down, at least he’ll go down his way.

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Strasburg Ambiguity Mars The Nationals’ Magical Season

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How can anyone involved with the Nationals justify looking into Stephen Strasburg’s face and telling him that while the team is on its way to the playoffs and is a legitimate World Series contender that because of a random number of innings and the edicts of one person’s dictatorial, unchecked authority, he can’t be a part of it?

The number (supposedly 160 innings or thereabouts), so random and capricious with no ironclad guarantee that it’s going to help him stay healthy over the long-term, predicates that Strasburg should resist and use his power over the situation to escape it.

There are so many compelling stories with the Nationals that the looming shutdown of Strasburg is marring all they’ve accomplished and it’s coming down to the self-proclaimed final word, GM Mike Rizzo. Given the number of GMs who’ve been celebrated in recent years and either found themselves fired (Omar Minaya); on the hotseat (Jack Zduriencik, Dan O’Dowd); or seen their reputations shattered (Billy Beane), Rizzo might not even be there in 2015. Manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty are going along to get along, but Johnson’s style in his prior stops and the atmosphere in which he spent his formative baseball years—the Earl Weaver Orioles of Jim Palmer throwing 300+ innings—do you really think Johnson, at age 69, wants to hold back on the once-in-a-lifetime arm of Strasburg when he might be writing his ticket to the Hall of Fame with another World Series win? A win that could hinge on Strasburg being allowed to pitch? Do you believe that McCatty, who saw his own career demolished by Billy Martin’s and Art Fowler’s abuse, doesn’t understand the limits of a pitcher and when he needs to have the brakes put on? It’s inexplicable to hire qualified people to do their jobs and not let them do them; to have experienced baseball people whose in-the-trenches understanding of the game are dismissed in the interests of self-protection and “I’m not gonna be the one that’s blamed if he gets hurt.”

That’s what Rizzo is doing. It’s got nothing to do with studies or protecting the player; Rizzo is protecting himself. No one else.

The implementation of pitcher workloads has become a circular defense and is a logical fallacy. Because Jordan Zimmerman underwent the same Tommy John surgery as Strasburg and was limited to 160 innings last season, it’s presented as validation for Strasburg’s final number of 160 or so innings. But they’re two different pitchers with two different levels of talent and two different thresholds along with dozens of other variables that aren’t being publicly accounted for in the interests of a short and sweet, salable list of “reasons” to place Strasburg on the sidelines as the kid who has to take his piano lessons while the other kids in the neighborhood out enjoying the sun and playing ball.

No one’s saying to abuse him as the Cubs, chasing a dream and trying to slay ghosts, did to Kerry Wood in 1998. But to just say STOP!!! and be done with it is a different form of abuse.

Strasburg doesn’t want to have his season ended prematurely, but if the Nats get to the playoffs or World Series, he’s not going to be a participant; or if he is, it will be after a month of barely pitching. It’s ludicrous and could also hinder his career rather than save it. Strasburg has to have some recourse. Saying all the right things and being a willing accomplice are separate. If I were Strasburg and his representatives, I’d push back. Agent Scott Boras, no stranger to hardball as a former player and negotiator, knows the terrain of arm-twisting organizations in the interests of his clients. Strasburg and Boras have a large share of the say-so in this situation. The point of power is to use it. If it’s put out publicly that Strasburg won’t sign any long-term deal with the Nationals if they continue to put their constraints on his career, what’s going to happen? Strasburg could refuse to report to the club next season and force his way out of Washington; he could be a test case because the Nats are not operating in his best interests. The blowback of Strasburg tearing at his chains legally and in a public relations blitz would be fierce and Rizzo wouldn’t have a choice but to back down.

The number of great players in sports who have been part of teams that made it to the pinnacle of team achievement or came thisclose but didn’t close the deal are legion. Ernie Banks, Don Mattingly and the new Hall of Famer Ron Santo are three of dozens of examples who would’ve traded years of their careers for a title shot.

Exacerbating this travesty is that the Nationals—or simply Rizzo and Rizzo alone—didn’t take steps such as the 6-man rotation to specifically prevent the need to end Strasburg’s season in September.

It’s easy to suggest that what the Nats have built will be sustainable and they’ll have multiple opportunities to make it back again and again; that with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and the young pitching staff, they’ll be contenders for years to come. Facts and history say otherwise. It’s not true that they’re absolutely going to have chance after chance. Ask Dan Marino if he’s stunned by never having made it back to the Super Bowl after his sophomore season in which he demolished the NFL record books and carried the Dolphins to the NFL’s ultimate game. Then ask him if he’d have sat by quietly if the coaches and front office decided that he’s thrown too many passes after 13 games and they were sitting him down to lengthen his career. You can say it’s not the same thing, but it actually is the same thing. Strasburg is a baseball player; he’s a pitcher. Sometimes, regardless of how they’re handled and babied, they get injured as happened with Strasburg two years ago. Nothing is to be gained by sitting him down with numbers that have no basis in reality. Yet that’s what the Nats are doing and it’s not about protecting anyone other than the GM of the team, which makes it exponentially worse.

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