The Dodgers and Keeping Mattingly

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The Dodgers have yet to make it official, but reports state that the club is planning to bring Don Mattingly back as manager in 2014. In what would normally be an automatic move for a manager whose team won the division and a playoff series, it was in doubt as to whether Mattingly was going to return due to strategies that even have some players complaining about them. If the team goes on to win the World Series, obviously they won’t make a change. If they make it to the World Series, it’s exceedingly difficult to fire the manager no matter how poor an on-field job he’s perceived to have done. But if they lose this NLCS (they’re currently trailing 3 games to 2), are they right to look at their payroll, roster and expectations and say another manager would be a better option?

In sports, it’s not unprecedented for a manager to be fired even after he had what could only be described as a “successful” season or run. Winning a championship doesn’t necessarily imply managerial excellence. Bob Brenly won a World Series with the Diamondbacks, won 98 games and a division title the next season and hasn’t gotten close to getting another managerial job since because he’s not viewed as a good manager. Cito Gaston won two World Series with the Blue Jays, was fired four years later and didn’t get another managing job until the Blue Jays rehired him.

Dodgers part owner Magic Johnson is no stranger to coaching controversies and getting the boss fired if he didn’t agree with his philosophy. In the 1979-1980 NBA season, Paul Westhead won an NBA championship for the Lakers with the rookie Johnson leading the way. They won 54 games in 1980-81 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. In 1981-82, the team was 7-4 when Johnson – unhappy with the strategies employed by Westhead – helped usher him out the door to be replaced by Pat Riley. The Lakers won another title that year. If the players are complaining, the one person in the Dodgers organization who’ll be receptive is Johnson.

As for GM Ned Colletti and CEO Stan Kasten, they’re experienced baseball men who are well aware of Mattingly’s pluses and minuses. If they equate his ability to keep the players playing hard for him and that the ship didn’t sink while the team was struggling early in the summer as more important than negligible strategic choices, then they should keep Mattingly. If they want someone with a better strategic resume, a more iron-fisted disciplinarian style to rein in Yasiel Puig and who will command respect in the clubhouse, perhaps they should consider bringing back the manager who should never have been fired from the Dodgers in the first place, Jim Tracy. Or they could hire Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker or anyone who has more experience than Mattingly does and they’ll know what they’re getting with the star power the Dodgers want.

While hockey is run far differently than any other sport with coaches often fired almost immediately after the season starts as happened with the Flyers and Peter Laviolette last week, there might be a lesson the Dodgers can take from Devils boss Lou Lamoriello.

Lamoriello is entrenched in his job and built the Devils up from nothing to become one of the dominant teams in hockey for a vast portion of his tenure. While accumulating three Stanley Cups and two other finals appearances, he’s hired, fired and rehired coaches 19 times, twice taking the job himself. He has fired coaches right before the playoffs have started and fired coaches who won Stanley Cups for him. If he believes a change is needed, he makes that change. He doesn’t give a reason because he doesn’t feel as if he needs to give a reason and it’s not due to a bloated ego and public persona as has been seen in baseball with the managerial changes made by Athletics GM Billy Beane.

Beane’s managerial changes were based on him and the image that was cultivated through the creative non-fiction of Moneyball that: A) the manager doesn’t matter; and B) he’s an all-knowing, unassailable genius for whom every move is a testament to ingenuity.

He pushed Art Howe out the door in favor of Ken Macha. Macha got the Athletics further than any of Beane’s other managers with an ALCS appearance in 2006 and Beane fired him too. He hired his “best friend” Bob Geren and kept him on through years and years of win totals in the mid-70s, then only fired him because of the attention that his job status was receiving – not because he’d done a poor job. He hired a highly qualified manager who knows how to run his club on and off the field in Bob Melvin and, lo and behold, Beane’s genius returned with back-to-back division titles. Melvin has lost in the first round in those two division-winning seasons and hasn’t been fired. Yet.

There’s a difference. Lamoriello hires and fires for a team reason. Beane did it to shield himself. Lamoriello gets away with it because of the hardware. Beane gets away with it because of a book.

So what’s it to be with the Dodgers? Will Colletti’s loyalty, Kasten’s slow trigger or Magic’s understanding of player concerns win out? They could exercise Mattingly’s contract for 2014 with the intention of making a change if they team gets off to another slow start. Or they could just fire him and bring in a new manager.

Worrying about how it’s going to “look” is a mistake. If they don’t trust Mattingly as manager, then he shouldn’t be the manager. If they’re willing to accept his strategic fumblings because the players overcame adversity, then they should keep him. The best interests of the club are more important and need to take precedence. Make the commitment to Mattingly with all his baggage or make him disappear. It’s one or the other.




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Francona: The Red Sox Years by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy—Book Review

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It’s a fine line between revenge and clarification. In his new book detailing the eight years he spent as manager of the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona straddles the territory between the two. In Francona: The Red Sox Years written with Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, Francona does so with a mostly objective point of view and occasional digs at those who sought to undermine him and diminish his substantial accomplishments during his time at the helm.

The book functions as a biography, telling the story of Terry Francona’s father Tito Francona’s Major League career; the younger Francona’s life of frequent address changes as his father switched teams; the experience of hanging around the clubhouses with his dad; his own playing career as a college star and first round draft pick; the injuries that sabotaged him and relegated him to journeyman whose lifelong dream ended at age 31. When he became a manager in the White Sox system, he was making the same innocent climb that players make first running a single A club in Indiana, then spending three years in Double A. The second year was notable because it provided Francona a crash course in a media circus managing basketball star Michael Jordan during his yearlong break from the NBA and foray into baseball.

By the time he was 38, he was named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997. The Phillies were a bad team and Francona, by his own account, didn’t do a very good job running the club. Fired after four seasons, he seemed more relieved than unhappy. Following the firing after the 2000 season, he burnished his resume by working in the Indians’ front office in 2001, as the bench coach for Buck Showalter with the Rangers in 2002, and Ken Macha with the Athletics in 2003.

While with the Athletics, Francona received a first hand look at his future in two different ways, neither of which he likely saw when he was traveling with his dad, playing or working his way up as a field boss: the general manager of the new millennium was openly interfering with the way in which a manager ran the games. All through 2003, Macha was constantly fending off the regular “suggestions” (more like interrogations) that the A’s manager was forced to endure from the newly minted star of Moneyball, Billy Beane. Also in 2003, Francona was on the opposite bench when the Red Sox, then managed by Grady Little and in year one of their remaking with Theo Epstein as their GM, came from 2 games to 0 behind to defeat the Athletics in a dramatic 5 games series. It was a glimpse into the future for Francona with the tentacles of chance gripping him, Little, Epstein and the Red Sox, sometimes around their throats.

In the very next series, Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees cost him the job and opened it for Francona. Francona, ironically, was friends with Little for years and they even lived together when Francona served as Little’s bench coach in the Arizona Fall League in 1992. Also ironically, Francona—jokingly or not—told the Red Sox during the arduous interview process that he would have taken Pedro out of game 7 of the ALCS as Little was supposed to do. The interview process included written tests and games of the computer simulated baseball game “Diamond Mind” against Epstein’s assistants to see how Francona would react to game circumstances. Did Francona tell the Red Sox people what he knew they wanted to hear in terms of Little or would he have acquiesced to the demands of the numbers and ignored that the Red Sox bullpen didn’t have that one big arm in the bullpen that the manager could unequivocally trust in lieu of his ace?

Only Francona knows, but given the old-school sensibilities he exhibited, it’s not as cut-and-dried as implied that he wouldn’t have done the exact same thing Little did—the thing that got him fired.

This clash of civilizations is a key contention in this book and the books written by other managers such as Joe Torre with the Yankees who were unceremoniously relieved of their duties after immeasurable success that had not been enjoyed by their respective clubs for decades prior to their arrivals. The new landscape in baseball makes it necessary for managers to agree to listen to information that may or may not have real world validity in an exercise of going along to get along. Some managers like Joe Maddon embrace it; others, like Torre and Little, rebel against it with a head shake and bemused smirk; still others like Francona and Joe Girardi listen to the advice and try to incorporate it where applicable.

The fundamental civil war makes being a big league manager in today’s game an exercise in tightrope walking by maintaining respect with the players and not appear as a puppet while accessing and sifting through the reams of information burying them like corn in a silo. Torre, in fact, had his own issues magnified due to the presence of the big market rival using stats to build a club that was cheaper and better than his Yankees were. The Red Sox were Patient X in this experiment and where the entire virus got its start.

Little unabashedly ignored the advice. Francona was nuanced as he ignored some of it too, rebelling when he couldn’t tolerate it and telling Epstein to have his people back off a bit.

If anyone has the breadth of experience to be a manager and do his job without the overbearing interference of a staff of numbers crunchers and find methods to meld the highly paid egos, deal with the media, and make the players perform on the field, it’s Francona. The numbers crunchers that managers are forced to endure today may never have picked up a baseball and would be swallowed alive after two days of inhabiting the same space as Manny Ramirez, yet they see fit to question, criticize and send suggestions that eventually take the tone of orders.

For a pure baseball lifer, it’s a conundrum and necessary concession. Any manager who doesn’t adapt to the way baseball is run today is not going to get a job.

The battles he fought as manager were mostly with a front office that in the ownership suite didn’t appreciate the job he was doing. Francona was lowballed in his contract when he was initially hired and was saddled with the onus that he was taking orders from his bosses in every single aspect of on-field decisionmaking (this was right after the publication of Moneyball), and that he was selected because he was one of the few managers for whom Curt Schilling wanted to play. The Red Sox were closing in on acquiring Schilling simultaneously to hiring Francona. The Red Sox and Francona deny this, but the denial is formulated on a shaky premise. They didn’t decide out of the blue to get Schilling and it would certainly help to grease the negotiations if he knew he was getting a manager he wanted to play for instead of, say, Bobby Valentine.

The book doesn’t discuss significant conflict between Francona and Epstein in spite of Epstein making Francona’s life difficult with the overbearing and constant presence of the GM and his youthful assistants, or with acquisitions of the likes of David Wells, but there’s an unexplored and unmentioned tension that Francona may not admit or realize existed between him and Epstein.

Epstein, in fact, comes off as profoundly immature when the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the 2004 ALCS and his assistants decided that he couldn’t be left alone. Did they think he was suicidal? He couldn’t be left alone? It was a baseball game that they lost badly in a series they were about to lose, not life or death.

Rather than jump off the Green Monster, Epstein got drunk on a friend’s couch and passed out. As the GM was drowning his sorrows, the manager who was supposed to be manipulated by the “geniuses” in the front office was calmly saying that his team would show up to play and the series wasn’t over. While Epstein has continually denied the story of breaking furniture in Nicaragua when the Red Sox lost the bidding for free agent Cuban Jose Contreras to the Yankees, this type of story makes me believe that maybe he really did break the furniture in a tantrum that a 20-something is known to throw when he doesn’t get his way.

Reading between the lines, Epstein comes off looking immature, arrogant and self-centered.

The owners John Henry and Tom Werner, along with CEO Larry Lucchino are presented as the nemeses of Francona with Epstein serving as a buffer between the manager and the out-of-touch front office, but the book—again in an unsaid manner—presents Lucchino as the hatchet man carrying out the edicts of the two owners. More a devil’s advocate and overseer, Lucchino didn’t harass Epstein and Francona as much as he dared to question them and want an answer other than a spiraling stack of sludge that would placate a less-informed front office person or owner.

Francona’s health problems were much more serious than has ever been publicly revealed and his life was in jeopardy due to blood clots. He still endures terrible pain because of his wounds from a long playing career and the well-known issues with deep vein thrombosis. His use of pain medication was a point of contention and weaponized by someone with the Red Sox to impugn Francona’s reputation and justify his firing as if he was an addict whose use of the medicines, combined with the separation from his wife, led to a lack of focus allowing the players to run roughshod over all sense of propriety and culminating in the beer and chicken “scandal” that engulfed Francona and his team during their collapse in September 2011. The book explains Francona’s use of the medication in an evenhanded manner.

The players took advantage of Francona’s old-school demeanor in letting the players run their clubhouse. It’s an excuse to say that the beer and chicken had little to do with the collapse. If the players—especially pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey—had been in better shape, perhaps they wouldn’t have pitched as poorly as they did down the stretch and the team wouldn’t have missed the playoffs in the first place.

What Francona getting and losing the job hinged on was chance and the slippery slope of “if-thens.”  Would he have gotten the nod had Bernie Williams’s looping single in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS fallen into the glove of Nomar Garciaparra and the Red Sox held on to win the game and advanced to the World Series? Would he have retained the job if Dave Roberts hadn’t been safe by a hair on his stolen base in the ninth inning of game 4 in 2004, sparking the inconceivable four game comeback? Would he have lost the job if the Red Sox had been able to win two more games in September of 2011?

The final portion of the book centers around Francona’s estrangement from the Red Sox and his continued and understandably obsessive questioning of everyone as to who leaked to the media that he had a problem with prescription medications. Lucchino is alleged to have said he was going to find out who it was, but never did. Henry, the detached Dracula whose presence was rare and awkward, contributed his beloved stats and was notably out-of-touch in his attempts to get a grip on his crumbling would-be dynasty, had no reply for Francona. Werner was too busy trying to bolster his own bona fides and overemphasize his influence.

The book is not a vengeful and vicious, “I’m gonna get back at the guys who screwed me,” as Torre’s, at times, was. It tells Francona’s side in a context to put him in the best possible light, to be sure; he’s more calculating than an “Aw shucks,” baseball man who’s happiest at the ballpark and with the players. Clearly he’s hurt by the way his tenure ended especially considering he accomplished something in winning a World Series that hadn’t happened for 86 years prior to his arrival, then he turned around and won another title three years later. The concerns about his perception might have been the catalyst to jump back in the ring in a situation that isn’t ready-made to win immediately with the Indians. He took a job while the jobs were still being offered.

Francona gets his story out there, highlights how difficult the job of Red Sox manager truly is, and that it’s a borderline miracle that he: A) lasted as long as he did; and B) had the success he had while maintaining some semblance of sanity.

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Dale Sveum Didn’t Need A Second Interview; Albert Pujols’s Tax Haven

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Believe half of what you see in general and a quarter (at most) of what you see in the world of baseball rumors and innuendo.

Days ago, it was said that Brewers hitting coach (and former interim manager who ran the team in the 2008 playoffs) Dale Sveum would not receive a second interview to manage the Chicago Cubs; the natural inference would be that he’s not getting the job.

That’s what I thought.

But as it turns out, the Cubs didn’t give Sveum a second interview because he was their guy and is going to be the new manager.

It’s a good choice. Sveum handled a very difficult situation when he took over for Ned Yost in the last two weeks of the 2008 season as the Brewers were in the midst of a collapse; he cast a stoic and serious face and accepted that he wasn’t getting the full-time job after the season, went back to being the hitting coach under Ken Macha and Ron Roenicke and acted like a true professional.

The Cubs made a good choice.

The Marlins offer to Albert Pujols is reported to be for 9-years and for fewer dollars than the Cardinals offer.

Ordinarily the obvious response would be, “why would he want to leave the world champion Cardinals to go to the dysfunctional Marlins for less money?”, but if the Marlins are making an offer that’s somewhere close to the Cardinals offer and the state of Florida is offering the benefit of no state income tax, then the deal might end up putting more money in Pujols’s bank account.

It’s not going to work, but it’s not as ridiculous a concept as it seems on the surface. It might be done with a pretense on the part of the Marlins to make it look like they’re doing something when they have no intention of signing Pujols, but there’s a viability to the offer…if it’s close to what the Cardinals offer was.

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It’s Not Your Business

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For all the criticism he received for saying it, Jeff Wilpon was right when he said it wasn’t anyone’s business whom the Mets were considering—if there are indeed investors—to buy into the club. If they were a publicly traded company or a public trust, then yes, it would be the business of outsiders as to who’s trying to buy in. But they’re not.

Fans and media members are under the mistaken impression that they have a right to know.

They don’t have a right to know.

There’s a misplaced belief that because a fan is a fan of a team, they have a direct say in how that team is run. And they don’t. A baseball team is not a public endeavor; you, as a customer, have a say in one way and one way only: don’t purchase tickets; don’t watch the games; don’t indulge in the product and the problems you’re complaining about will solve themselves naturally.

This is a America; this means you’re free to purchase or not to purchase.

It’s that simple.

We’ve become a society of busybodies (or yentas; or whatever your individual ethnicity uses for slang to describe someone who’s into everyone else’s affairs in an unwanted manner).

What makes it worse is that the tiniest whisper from anywhere—regardless of where it’s from—becomes the basis for uninformed speculation disguised as fact.

Any tiny little bit of information—from what Jose Reyes ate while being courted by the Marlins; to the McCourts lavish and silly spending habits; to Dale Sveum not getting a second interview with the Cubs—are grounds for discussion.

I certainly don’t like people interfering in my affairs especially when it’s of absolutely no concern to them, nor do they have a right to be discussing it as if it is; as if they have some inside knowledge from a game of telephone that may or may not be accurate.

This is evident everywhere and it’s part of the reason I openly wonder how smart Billy Beane actually is. If he were a true “genius” as is suggested in Moneyball, he wouldn’t have to put on this pretentious “geniusy” air when he makes a decision like firing his managers. Ken Macha was fired after leading the A’s to the ALCS; they were swept and Beane fired him for “lack of communication”; Bob Geren (Beane’s “best friend”) was fired earlier this year because the Athletics were terrible and Geren was running the club in a haphazard and disagreeable way to the tastes of his veterans; Beane presented a case study in blaming others by referencing the constant media scrutiny and speculation about Geren’s job as the main reasons why he was fired. It couldn’t be that Beane himself might have been somehow responsible for what was going on, now could it?

What’s wrong with saying he fired them because he felt like it; or that he needed to make a change; or for whatever?

The appellation of “genius” for Beane might be better-described as a clever and gutsy opportunist who, out of necessity, altered the way he approached the running of his team, was successful for awhile, and when his techniques became publicly known, his success disappeared along with his “genius”.

Perception has become reality. So Sveum’s not getting a second interview with the Cubs but is a finalist for the Red Sox job; if you were interviewing for a job, would you like the fact that you were bypassed for a second interview broadcast for all to hear as if it means something? Maybe someone from the Red Sox whispered to the Cubs that Sveum’s going to get their managerial job and it made no sense to do another interview; maybe the Cubs didn’t like Sveum’s tie; or maybe they wanted to hire someone else.

The “why” is irrelevant; the fact that it’s not anyone else’s concern is the point.

Sports “reporting” has turned into a never-ending gossip column; but the most interesting gossip columns are about sex, drugs and drama.

This stuff isn’t interesting and, for the most part, it’s not even accurate.

Gossip rarely is.

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Firing Francona Is Plain Stupid

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I’m the first one to say fire the manager when things don’t go as planned.

It doesn’t have to be his fault. If the team isn’t responding; if a shakeup is needed; if there are strategic blunders; or if there’s someone better available—all are viable reasons.

There doesn’t even have to be a reason. This is one of the things I never understood about the Billy Beane decision to fire Ken Macha after the 2006 ALCS playoff loss and he was searching for something to feed to his media idolators and claimed it was due to “lack of communication”; Beane didn’t exactly distinguish himself with Macha or Bob Geren when he blamed Geren’s firing on the continued media onslaught that was questioning Geren’s job security. Geren was the one who didn’t communicate with his players—the higher paid ones as well including Brian Fuentes.

Macha didn’t talk to backup catcher Adam Melhuse.

What could he possibly have to say to a fringe major leaguer and backup catcher? “Go warm up the pitcher.” What else is there?

All the GM has to say is, “I felt like making a change.”

End of story. But there always has to be some litany of criticisms to justify it; this is a new phenomenon accompanying the rock star status of some GMs in today’s game.

With the Red Sox, Theo Epstein is a rock star and there’s talk that Terry Francona could be in trouble if they blow their playoff spot.

It’s an easy decision to make if it’s decided that it’s Francona’s fault that John Lackey is one of the worst free agent signings in the history of the sport this side of Carl Pavano and Jason Schmidt. But at least Pavano and Schmidt were hurt; Lackey’s just awful.

Is Francona the one who caused the injuries to Clay Buchholz and Bobby Jenks? Has he sabotaged Daniel Bard?

Francona is a good man and a good manager. He acquitted himself well managing the Phillies as they were terrible on an annual basis—they had no talent.

He handled the media firestorm of being Michael Jordan’s manager during the basketball legend’s foray into baseball in Double A for the White Sox; he was a bench coach and a front office assistant with some very well-run teams with the Athletics and Indians.

Francona did not get the Red Sox job because of his managerial brilliance nor that experience. They were part of the work experiences that made him a candidate, but not the most enticing aspects of his resume.

These are in no particular order, but Francona got the job because he was willing to take a short-money contract for the opportunity; he would acquiesce to front office edicts in terms of strategy based on stats; he was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom he’d managed with the Phillies and the Red Sox were desperate to acquire; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

The Red Sox were notoriously adamant about having a manager who wouldn’t ignore orders as Little did.

My question regarding the Red Sox and Little goes back well before the fateful decision to leave Pedro Martinez in the game when he was clearly exhausted in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

Why did it get to that point?

If the Red Sox didn’t trust Little to manage correctly (or the way they wanted) in the biggest game of the year without going off the reservation, they should’ve fired him long before the ALCS.

After dumping Little, the Red Sox spoke to Bobby Valentine while they were searching for a new manager. Valentine refused to criticize Little’s decision saying that he wasn’t in the dugout and didn’t know what he would’ve done in that situation.

That’s not what the Red Sox wanted to hear.

So Francona got the job; the Red Sox got a calm, guiding hand that players want to play for and someone who can navigate the all-but-impossible terrain of managing that team in that town.

Now if they miss the playoffs because of circumstances out of his control, he might be in trouble?

Fine.

He’ll be out of work for five seconds and will get another job in a good situation or he’ll sit out and wait until a high-profile, big money job opens up.

I can only hope that the Red Sox won’t use the corporate crud they used when they fired Little by saying they simply weren’t renewing Francona’s contract.

And I can’t wait to start writing if they go the road of Beane and provide some incomprehensible and unbelievable bit of spin to the media hordes who think every word is gospel. If they fire him, say what it is: We’re blaming Terry for our own mishaps.

It would be nothing more and nothing less than the search for an undeserving scapegoat; if they do that, they’ll deserve their collective fates.

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Passing The BuckBall

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At what point are marketability and reputation trumped by results and overt alibis absolving oneself of blame?

I was wrong about one thing regarding the Billy Beane press conference announcing the dismissal of manager Bob Geren: he didn’t go into a long-winded academic, condescending, intimidation-tinged manifesto about taking personal responsibility for what’s gone wrong with the Athletics this year.

He blamed the media.

He mentioned the “continued speculation” about Geren’s job status; that the “focus” needed to be shifted away from the manager.

The change from Geren to Bob Melvin—a good manager and quality person—is supposedly going to achieve this end.

In retrospect and judging by what Beane’s reported to have said, he’d have been better off taking my advice from a few days ago and uttering the generalizations that all GMs have to learn when making a change.

“This is no reflection on…”

“We’re all responsible for…”

“I’m the GM and I have to take the hit for the club’s failures…”

Etc.

Etc.

Etc.

But without having seen the entire transcript of the press conference, there appeared to have been none of that.

Because Geren’s job was such a topic of discussion, that was the relevant issue above his haphazard bullpen usage, lack of relationship with his players and mounting losses.

I thought Geren had done as best he could with his prior Athletics teams based on talent level. Most of the club configurations weren’t particularly good and—apart from 2009 for which he should get one pass—there were limited expectations and drastic flaws with every roster.

But what world are we living in where the manager doesn’t talk to his players? Huston Street‘s comments about hating to play for Geren were telling; Dan Haren said that Geren’s credibility was a question mark when he replaced Ken Macha in 2007 due to the perception that Beane was running the team from afar.*

*But wasn’t that known from the sacred text of Moneyball?

After the Brian Fuentes dustup and the atrocious streak of losing, Beane made the change.

How can a manager fail to talk to his players? It’s one thing to be stoically quiet and still in charge like Gil Hodges; it’s another to be oblivious and disinterested.

Even if you’re yelling at them, at least there’s some dialogue going on; but to say nothing at all? Have them wondering what you’re thinking? How do you function that way? How do you run a clubhouse? Why should they listen when you do talk?

If the manager is screaming at his players like a raving maniac, that’s showing some form of interest in them. But to say nothing? To disregard the common courtesy and credibility enhancing act of telling a veteran like Fuentes—to his face—that he’s been demoted and then call down to the bullpen for him to warm up in the seventh inning of a game?

It’s unconscionable.

Geren had talent to work with in 2011, was expected to win, and was in the final year of his contract it’s no surprise that he was sacrificed as the team is spiraling like a headless goose; but for Beane to imply that results aren’t part of his job description is deranged.

This “genius” is based on what? A book? A movie?

It’s as if he’s openly scoffing at that which is supposed to be the basis of his team-building philosophy—results over aesthetic; like he’s saying, “Don’t blame me! I’m a genius; I’m still smarter than you!”

Five straight seasons of—at best—mediocrity don’t have a bearing on this crafted image of infallibility.

It it seems like I’m writing the same things over and over again, it’s probably because I am.

For how long is Beane going to be absolved for his capricious maneuverings and self-justifying circular corporate terminology and having a reason for doing what he does as a protective cloak if they don’t work?

Unlike Joe Morgan, I’m aware that Beane had nothing to do with the way Moneyball was presented. I don’t blame Beane for using that portrayal to his advantage. He’s made a lot of money and now has a piece of a major league baseball team—something that would never have happened without that book.

In the end, he’s a stereotypical GM without the filter; absent of fear for his job.

The Athletics should be a contending team this season. It hasn’t worked. None of the acquisitions they made to bolster the lineup—Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham—have performed up to expectations; Daric Barton hasn’t followed up on his excellent 2010 season; injuries have decimated an impressive young pitching staff and the bullpen has been spotty.

The American League is quite muddled and laden with parity, so it’s not out of the question that the team can get hot and crawl back into contention, but it won’t be due to a managerial change and it won’t be a validation of “genius”.

These are independent issues.

If Beane were just another GM, what would be said right now?

Would an even-handed look at his callous dismissal of the work of his managers Art Howe and Ken Macha be accepted so readily? Would faulty trades and signings—Esteban Loaiza; Matt Holliday; Jason Giambi (his second go round); Orlando Cabrera; Tim Hudson—be seen as part of the “process” and chalked up to the paucity of money in the Athletics coffers?

You can’t get credit without receiving blame.

It doesn’t work that way.

All Macha did was win, but Beane fired him because of a “lack of communication” after a season in which the A’s came within four wins of going to the World Series. How was Geren around for five years since a large chunk of his players say he never spoke to them?

My hunch is that Macha didn’t kowtow to Billy Beane; didn’t worship at his altar because he saw through the facade and didn’t put forth the pretense of hiding his disdain. That’s not the way to last with a dictator.

It’s the media’s fault? He’s still clinging to the concept that the manager is meaningless?

In certain cases, yes, the manager is meaningless; but with a young team that’s had zero success since 2006 and a make-or-break circumstance, the manager matters. A lot.

Geren was costing them games with his mistakes.

And what does it say to the new manager Melvin that Beane clearly thinks so little of the manager’s job that he doesn’t believe it makes a difference whom the manager is?

I’m hoping to read the full context of Beane’s remarks in the press conference, but can’t find it anywhere on the web; apparently there were technical difficulties (part of a diabolical, James Bond Villain-style scheme on the part of Beane?). All I’ve been able to piece together are rampant displays of disturbingly overwhelming arrogance in which Beane’s “shifting the focus” means he’s blaming everyone but himself.

Maybe there’s an explanation for Beane’s obnoxious skill at maintaining this absurd perception of “genius” based on a fairy tale. Perhaps Michael Lewis’s shelved “sequel” to Moneyball would take advantage of the popularity of vampires and Beane—with his clear inability to see his own visage in a reflective surface—could be The Vampire GM.

You don’t have to worry about the Moneyball sequel though. I got it covered. And it won’t be punctuating the story. It’ll blow the thing to smithereens.

It’s what I do.

Years ago, there was a professional wrestler named Rick Martel who took on the bad guy personality of a pure narcissist who told anyone and everyone he was a model and promoted a cologne called Arrogance.

Let’s revive Arrogance.

Professional wrestling fits neatly with Beane’s famous chair throwing incident at the scouting department’s drafting of Jeremy Bonderman before Beane consolidated his power over the whole team.

Tantrums, bluster, bullying, self-justification—this is not what I want in my totem.

I want confidence and competence.

Is that what the Athletics have in Beane?

Let’s abandon Moneyball and the Billy Beane “genius” and let him push something more applicable.

The sweet smell of Arrogance isn’t so sweet when tearing away the layers and examining the truth.

Beane no longer passes the smell test unless said smell is a whiff of failure.

//

Manager Billy

Books, Games, Management, Media, Players

In a destructive fashion that almost appears intentional, Billy Beane has taken steps to dismantle the aura of genius created by Moneyball as if the yoke around his neck was far too much for him to bear. In the years since the Michael Lewis farce was published, Beane has eschewed a vast number of the tenets upon which the foundation of his supposed infallibility was concocted.  Hindered by the fleeting nature of perfection, Beane’s work hasn’t only been slipshod for the most part, but it’s been poor; in addition to that, his treatment of players and employees—specifically his managers—has been at best inconsistent and arbitrary.

How is it possible that Bob Geren is still managing the Athletics?

Of course you can make the argument that Geren hasn’t been at fault for the team’s mediocre showings since he took over; but given the way Beane callously dismissed the managerial contributions of Art Howe and Ken Macha, one cannot escape the contention that the only reason that Geren is still there is because of his personal friendship with Beane.

After the Brian Fuentes dustup several weeks ago—that was the fault of the manager—what other explanation is there?

You can read about the issues with Geren and the club in detail here in a piece by Ann Killion for Sports Illustrated.

Because Beane’s entire being was crafted by Moneyball, his only recourse is to live up to the fantasy by doing what it was that he was said to have been doing, or demolish it completely.

With the ridiculous movie soon to be released, Beane’s story is nearly at its logical conclusion and it ain’t gonna be Rocky. My friend Jane Heller was right when she told me that the movie would get made and it would bear little resemblance to that which was intended when the entire concept of a movie adaptation from that book was hatched.

When a manager isn’t given credit, nor should he be given blame. So who else is there apart from the “all-seeing/all-knowing” general manager?

Eventually it gets to the point—even for his remaining idol-worshippers for whom he can do no wrong—that there’s nowhere else to look but Beane.

As the team is stumbling badly and complaining about the way in which they’re handled, how is it glossed over so ignorantly? Fuentes isn’t a good closer, but he was right in his complaints about a “lack of communication”—conveniently the very reason (arbitrary as it was) for the firing of Macha.

All Macha did was win; all Geren has done is lose; but Macha wasn’t Beane’s buddy, so the clear implication is that Geren is either there because Beane is objectively looking at the circumstances under which the manager is working and saying, “it’s not his fault” or he’s keeping him for a subjective reason such as friendship—a reason that contradicts that which the Beane legend was based as a ruthless corporate titan or cold Michael Corleone clone who did whatever was necessary to win and maintain control.

But Macha was fired for no reason other than Beane’s whims; Howe was pushed out the door in part so he could make an amount of money with the Mets that he never would’ve made with the A’s (I honestly believe Beane was doing Howe a favor financially), and because Beane wanted to make a managerial change.

So what now?

It won’t happen, but here’s what I’d like to see: Manager Billy Beane.

Rather than “manage the team from the weight room” as was alleged in Moneyball, let Beane get back into uniform and put the onus of the entire organization on his desk. There’d no longer be anyone else to hold accountable; no one to toss overboard but Beane himself. But as much as every GM claims to be the one who is responsible for what goes on throughout an organization, that’s the last thing 99.9% of them would be willing to do.

It’d be a predictable train wreck, but a fitting end to the myth of Lewis and Moneyball.

//

Fast And Loose

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Ken Rosenthal writes about the Oakland Athletics and their manager Bob Geren in this column on Foxsports.com.

Within the piece it’s implied that Geren—for the first time in his tenure—could be replaced if the team doesn’t perform up to expectations; that because the Athletics have some talent to work with, Geren is responsible for the results.

This is another example of the “Billy Beane” character moving to the forefront and taking precedence over reality. Beane the GM has played fast and loose with his supposed belief systems when it’s been advantageous for him to do so.

Rosenthal casually mentions the 2009 season when the Athletics made a series of bold maneuvers to try and vault into contention. They traded for Matt Holliday; signed Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera to contracts to bolster a young pitching staff. Holliday got off to a slow start and seemed unhappy in the American League amid the vast dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum; Giambi looked finished and was released; and Cabrera got off to an atrocious start before being traded to the Twins.

The team finished at 75-87.

Beane didn’t fire Geren.

I’m not suggesting he should’ve fired Geren on his own merits; I don’t hold the manager responsible for the Athletics poor showings in the won/lost column with Geren as the manager; but if Beane is so desperately determined to stick to his public portrayal of a ruthless corporate assassin, then Geren had to go.

Rosenthal points out the Moneyball model in which Beane runs the club from the front office; told Art Howe where and how to stand in the dugout; dismissed Ken Macha for daring to lose in the ALCS; and that the final tally of A’s success or failure lands at the desk of the GM.

But if Beane were consistent in his dealings—or at least honest—he’d have said that Geren is still the manager, in part, because the two are close friends. Beane fired Macha for literally no reason other than the oft-proffered and unquantifiable old standby, “lack of communication”.

I’d like to have a manager with a lack of communication achieve a record of 368-280 in his tenure.

I wondered at the time if Beane would’ve used his “objectivity” to fire Macha had the manager won four more games in 2006 and gotten to the World Series; or eight more and won a championship. The absence of communication was such a problem that it shouldn’t have mattered and he should’ve been canned regardless, right?

I’m no fan of Macha as a manager, but the firing and self-serving justifications were ridiculous.

I’m not begrudging Beane’s right to fire his managers—I’m fully on-board with making a managerial change sooner rather than later and don’t believe a GM or owner has to give a reason other than, “I felt like it.”

But that doesn’t fit the Beane caricature. Everything Beane does is supposed to be steeped in reasoning, objective analysis, logic and the bottom line.

Of course it’s nonsense.

If that were the case, would Geren—who I happen to think is a competent manager—still be in the A’s dugout?

No.

Geren could very well be in trouble if the A’s underachieve again and it won’t be because of anything he does wrong, but because Beane himself will be under fire from a disgusted fan base, impatient owner and skeptical public tired of the moniker of “genius” that has yet to bear fruit anywhere aside from print and, soon, a movie theater near you.

When he’s cornered, Beane won’t take the blame.

He’ll use his “best friend” as a human shield and fling him to the flocking and angry crowd by means of sacrifice, thereby saving himself and his unjustified reputation—with a segment of the believers anyway.

He can fire whomever he wants, whyever he wants; but to make it anything more than an act of self-preservation for a desperate executive trying to cling to the last vestiges of an increasingly tarnished and questionable reputation and storyline of success is the height of hypocrisy and fits right into the fable of Billy Beane.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


//

Viewer Mail 1.19.2011

Books, Hot Stove

Ah, the mail.

The Other Mike at (or is it “in”) The Bleacher Seats writes RE Rafael Soriano and the Yankees:

This is one of the better (and more rational) analyses that I have read regarding this signing. Jon Heyman’s gut reaction was “best ‘pen in the majors” and I have a serious problem with that. Soriano only really serves to replace the loss of Kerry Wood from last year’s squad. I doubt he’ll be doing much more work than Wood did for them down the stretch.

What the Yankees really needed was to get at least one starting pitcher and somehow address their older (and slower) fielders. Russ Martin was a good pick-up, but his hitting is questionable in my mind.

As far as having the “best set-up/closer combo” I don’t know about that. I’ve seen the Rangers’ Ogando/Feliz combo and in a 1-to-1 pitch-off I think it’s a push. Especially considering that Ogando and Feliz will be older and wiser after their first full seasons in the bigs.
[Disclaimer: I am a Rangers fan, so I’ll admit that I am a bit biased. I tried to think of another set-up/closer combo, but I’m not familiar enough with anyone else’s roster to know set-up men.]

I’m surprised that more people aren’t looking at what this means for the reliever market in the next couple of seasons. $12MM/year is an awful lot of money to pay someone that isn’t even your closer. Even if he were the closer, he’s only topped 10 saves twice in 9 seasons.

Considering that a player’s value is often based on how much he is getting paid compared to how much other players in similar positions (and with similar skill) are getting paid, what might this mean for signing relievers in the future? At $12MM, will anyone besides Boston or NY be able to afford a top-of-the-line closer?

I straddle the line between rational and deranged depending on the moon and the tides.

Jon Heyman’s gut reactions are of little interest to me; I respect his ability to get a story and that he’s not mean-spirited in the way he presents them, but he’s got a super-thin skin and his analysis leaves a great deal to be desired.

The “best” is a term that can only be used in retrospect. Will Soriano be good for the Yankees during the regular season? I say absolutely…mostly. I don’t trust him in a big game given his history; the attitude problems won’t be an issue in the Yankees clubhouse…I don’t think.

The Yankees starting rotation is currently so short that they’re going to have games in which they have trouble getting the game to Soriano/Rivera. We can debate “best” forever; doing it before the season starts is a war of attrition.

The Red Sox bullpen is excellent; the Athletics bullpen is deep and diverse; you can make a case for Alexi Ogando/Neftali Feliz. It’s an endless stream of speculation. Which is more important? Having the ironclad, “it’s Soriano in the 8th and Rivera in the 9th” to take the game out of manager Joe Girardi’s (and the Blue Binder’s) hands? Or is Tony La Russa with his mixing and matching result in a “better” bullpen?

I don’t see the Soriano contract as a problem, per se. It’s the Yankees; they have the money; they have more money to spend on mid-season acquisitions and free agents after the season; and the opt-outs are much ado about nothing; the only way Soriano leaves is if Rivera gets hurt, Soriano takes over as the closer and has a 2008 Brad Lidge-style run leading the team to a championship. The odds of that are about non-existent since Soriano has seen his market (and not the closer market, his market) crash; he was saved by the Yankees desperation this winter.

Next winter the list of free agent closers with a better resume than Soriano will include Jonathan Papelbon, Lidge and possibly Francisco Rodriguez. Also available, as of right now, will be Heath Bell and Fernando Rodney. Closers with club options on their contracts are Jose Valverde, Joe Nathan and Francisco Cordero. Trade possibilities are Jonathan Broxton and Huston Street.

Is Soriano that stupid to opt out of a guaranteed $11 million in 2012 and $14 million in 2013? Forget it.

Performance wise, he’s a huge question mark in a big game and his attitude is similar to the mercenary-types the Yankees imported to terrible results as they frantically tried to win another championship, eschewing the cohesion that was a hallmark of the dynasty.

Teams are backing away from the big money closer and the saturated market will keep prices down in 2012. In fact, we might see four or five of them sitting out and waiting into January/February waiting to see who blinks.

And then there are the Moneyball comments.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes:

If it has a good soundtrack and the occasional flash of female nudity, I will go and see it.

But I am a pig and easy to entertain 😉

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes:

I can’t figure out why you’re so fixated on this movie! It’s rare when Hollywood stays faithful to a book when shooting an adaptation. “Reimagining” happens all the time – and with good reason a lot of the time. Moneyball won’t be a documentary; it’s a fictional tale loosely based on the book. I’m looking forward to it, mostly because it’s about baseball.

Joe writes:

The only place I ever even hear the word ‘Moneyball’ is here…

And Norm writes:

Will the movie address the steroid usage?  The fact that the A’s success was predicated on PEDs?
Nah, the movie will just try for a subtle rehash of The Blind Side, facts be damned.  And without the Black Man as Jesus character, I can’t foresee boffo box office.

Here is something people don’t seem to get: I’m trying to expose the reality behind a fantasy. It’s not on a level of debunking biblical myths; nor is it the exposing of a scam, but it’s an attempt to provide some background into a story—and that’s what it is, a story—that was crafted, marketed and created based on nothing other than an agenda by Michael Lewis to prop Billy Beane up as “better” than everyone else and replace the old-school baseball people who inhabited front offices before the book with Ivy League educated “geniuses” who were reinventing the wheel and steamrolling—with stats—anyone and everyone who got in their way.

The “revolution” so often referred to by those who are still placing relevance on the book’s supposed accuracy petered out; it wasn’t because of blowback, but because when taken to the logical conclusion and used as a blueprint, Moneyball doesn’t work.

Lewis and his supporters can move the goalposts all they want with the shaky, “you weren’t supposed to take it literally” defense, but maybe I read a different book than what Lewis wrote—and interpreted it wrongly.

I don’t think I did.

I have a fundamental problem with people who have neither the competence nor practical knowledge believing they know more than a lifelong baseball person or one who’s watched the game and its participants long enough to be able to come to a conclusion with information and experience rather than pure statistics.

Others seem to be afraid to protest because of the shouting down that occurs whenever a dissenter is posted on Baseball Think Factory or a chat forum created to have a back-and-forth of ideas.

A numbers cruncher walking into Bruce Bochy’s office and suggesting he bat pitcher Woody Williams second? In what world—corporate or otherwise—would someone have the audacity to go to a baseball lifer and, because of numbers, be that idiotic and wood-headed that they: A) thought it was a good idea; and B) didn’t have the social skills to realize the breach of etiquette in approaching the manager of the team with such stupidity?

And it’s not an isolated incident.

The book created a culture of would-be experts who don’t know basic facts about baseball, the history, and the participants.

The movie will have nothing to do with the book and main characters from the book either pulled their names and likenesses from the project as Paul DePodesta did (and I respect him for it); or will presumably want to crawl into a hole and disappear if the screenplay drafts which have been leaked are anywhere close to what’s going to be thrust upon us.

Billy Beane had a long run as Teflon Billy. It was a circular entity. Beane was a genius because Moneyball said so; his maneuvers/wheeling and dealing failed, but he had the numbers to back up everything he did, so it was all okay; nothing was his fault. The A’s lost in the playoffs? Get rid of the manager. He wanted to clean out the house of all veterans just because? He did it. He traded for veteran stars like Matt Holliday and abandoned objectivity when using sentimentality to justify bringing back a shot Jason Giambi? It was all justifiable because he was Billy Beane; because he’d become this totem to worship rather than a baseball executive whose very touch didn’t turn everything to gold. And it all stems from the book.

Yet the remaining holdouts who have a stake in being “right” ramble on about their “revolution” that no longer exists. If they were correct, it was about data; if someone thinks differently and uses an breadth of experience in studying the sport to come to their conclusions and are correct, they were “lucky”.

It’s not hard to win an argument when never admitting to be wrong; when continually shifting the playing field to an area where their way works. The arrogance and stifling of debate is more off-putting than anything in the tale itself.

Norm mentions The Blind Side and it’s a clear window, along with Moneyball, into Lewis’s agenda. He’s a skillful writer who saw an opportunity and ran with it. While it’s made Billy Beane famous and accrues him respect and a ridiculous speaking fee, more than a few people in baseball who were savaged without remorse, pity or concern about their reputations and lifelong work haven’t been sad to see Beane get his comeuppance.

Here’s a revelation for those who wonder why I don’t write a point-by-point dissection of Moneyball and the failures therein: I did.

It’s fragmented and needs to be edited and streamlined, but there’s a book there.

And here’s another revelation: I sent an outline to a publisher for whom I’ve done some reviews and received the following email:

Thank you for sending us your outline. It’s an interesting outline, but unfortunately, we switched distributors to W.W. Norton who published Moneyball and our relationship with them precludes us from considering a book on the subject.

As far as rejection letters go, this is one of the better ones. It’s not on a level with one Charles Bukowski received that said, in caps, “WHAT THE <BLEEP> IS THIS?!?”, but I’m getting there.

What are they afraid of?

If I’m a crank and a lunatic (as some see me); if their way is the “right” way, then why not let me come after them publicly and have an in-print basis for their contention that I’m wrong?

I understand money; I understand business; and I understand the tie-in Lewis, the book and the movie have with publishing and studios; but what are they afraid of?

Would they have a viable response? Let’s see what they have to say then as I singlehandedly carpet bomb their “revolution” using nothing but facts and reality; something that Hollywood and Moneyball advocates knows absolutely nothing about.