McClendon Responds To The Cano Hustle Debate

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The ongoing back and forth about Robinson Cano’s hustle or lack thereof is gaining momentum and a life of its own. While Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long’s response to questions about Cano’s preference not to run hard to first base on ground balls was more of a simple answer to a question rather than an attempt to smear his former pupil, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon responded in an attempt to defend his new player.

I wrote about the initial statements made by Long regarding Cano here on AllVoices.com.

McClendon is in a tricky situation in his new job with the Mariners and had no choice but to defend his player publicly. Having waited so long to get another chance as a manager and with a general manager in Jack Zduriencik who is clearly on the hotseat, McClendon is facing the prospect of one bad season and being fired in a massive purge of the entire Mariners baseball hierarchy. What choice does he have other than to stand up for his player even if he knows that Cano is notorious around baseball for not running out ground balls and it’s a running commentary about how blatantly he does it?

Yes, it’s true that many players – including the best one in Mariners history Ken Griffey Jr. – didn’t hustle, but Cano takes it to the extreme of not even putting up the pretense of running moderately hard to first base. It’s also true that the number of plays in which it matters is a minuscule percentage and the argument is valid that it’s not worth the risk of injury for a meaningless play and would only harm the team in the long run. But Cano isn’t willing to act as if he’s giving the effort. Whereas for players like Griffey, they were running at, say, 75 percent, Cano is running at 45 percent. That’s too slow not to be noticed and it’s not going to change now that he’s a Mariner with a $240 million contract. Lest anyone believe that Cano’s status as a veteran leader and the highest paid player in club history is going to alter his view on the needlessness of running hard to first base.

The prevailing implication, elucidated by McClendon, is that Long spoke out of school and should keep quiet. In truth, he was uttering a truth that had been kept quiet by the Yankees to placate Cano. They and the rest of baseball have been aware of it. Some are bothered by it. Others don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Yankees GM Brian Cashman sounded surprised that Long said what he did and gave the politically correct – and mostly accurate – answer that Cano played every day and put up the numbers. It did not come from the Yankees organization with Long as the mouthpiece ripping Cano. They did their own version of taking a shot at him when they gave his uniform number away immediately to Scott Sizemore.

McClendon spent many years playing and working for Jim Leyland. He’s a good baseball man and learned his lessons well from Leyland that the players have to be shielded and it’s the managers job to do it. However, he’s not a manager who is going to be able to get through to Cano that it’s important that he set an example to the rest of the club. McClendon said, “As long as you don’t dog it down the line, what’s the difference between 65 and 85 percent? Just run down the line.” But Cano did dog it. And the 65 percent reference is an example of searching for points on a math test so the student will pass. Cano’s effort was rarely that high on balls in which he knew he was going to be out.

McClendon can state publicly how much he supports Cano and that his hitting and defense are far more important than keeping critics at bay with a transparent sprint to first base once a week. He knows that Cano isn’t going to bust it to first base, nor will he be able to threaten Cano into running hard. If Joe Girardi and Joe Torre couldn’t do it, what chance does McClendon have? His former Yankees managers, Long, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and many other players tried to get it through his head and it never sunk in. McClendon will have the same experience and won’t do anything different. He’ll shrug, accept it and take the bullets for his star player because he has no other choice.




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The Implausible Image Reconstruction of Joe Paterno

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The Joe Paterno image reconstruction has entered the last vestiges of rebuilding a myth that was undone months before Paterno’s death. For a man who dedicated his life and put forth the pretense of doing things differently—and “right”—while crafting an unassailable persona of delineating between what he did and what the likes of Barry Switzer did at the University of Oklahoma, the memory of decency and adhering to principles is all that’s left and the family is taking great pains and presumably undertaking significant expense to salvage whatever’s left of that crumbled persona.

Paterno took pride in not recruiting the type of player who wouldn’t go to class; who couldn’t read; who was passed through because of his skills on the football field and the money he could bring in by helping the team win; who would commit crimes and get away with them. He did all of this while allowing a pedophile, Jerry Sandusky, to work as his defensive coordinator and stalk his campus even after he was no longer the defensive coordinator. Which is worse?

In this New York Times piece discussing the report commissioned by the family to defend Paterno, it’s noted that Paterno and Sandusky didn’t have a personal relationship; that Paterno didn’t like Sandusky. If that’s the case, why didn’t he fire Sandusky? I don’t mean for the child abuse allegations, but years before just because he felt like it? Even if Sandusky wasn’t accused of these heinous crimes, Paterno was under no obligation to keep Sandusky around if he didn’t want him. Was Penn State’s on-field dominance and recruiting going to suffer without Sandusky? Highly unlikely. Was Sandusky an irreplaceable defensive wizard? The consensus is that Sandusky was a good defensive coordinator, but this isn’t the NFL where there has to be a scheme to suit the players and the head coach’s job was dependent on the performance of his assistants. They could’ve found someone else to install as the defensive coordinator and there wouldn’t have been a noticeable difference on the field.

Did Sandusky have something on Paterno that necessitated keeping him around and letting him run free with his nefarious activities? It’s a viable question. Paterno was so powerful at Penn State that he was able to control the entire campus if not the entire state of Pennsylvania. His power was so vast that could’ve named his wife as defensive coordinator and gotten away with it and, given the talent levels they had, the team would’ve won anyway. In fact, he could’ve put a headset on a monkey and stuck him in the booth with a hat that said, “defensive coordinator” and there wouldn’t have been a marked difference between Sandusky or Sue Paterno doing the job.

This was not a professional sports situation in which a coach has to accept certain mandates in hiring his assistants because of owner desires or other factors. Paterno was basically the “owner.” He could do what he wanted. There are circumstances in professional sports where a manager is told which coaches he’s going to have. We saw it last year to disastrous results with the Red Sox and Bobby Valentine not speaking to his bench coach Tim Bogar, who he saw as an undermining spy (and was right), and not having a relationship with his pitching coach Bob McClure, who was fired during the season.

Veteran managers like Jim Leyland and Joe Torre have had coaches thrust upon them in the past. In all of Leyland’s jobs, there have been “his” guys Milt May, Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon and Rich Donnelly. He trusts them and they’re his aides-de-camp. With the Pirates, though, he had Ray Miller as his pitching coach. Leyland and Miller weren’t buddies, but Miller was a fine pitching coach and Leyland had little choice in the matter because Miller was hired by the front office.

In the end, Leyland was going to do what he wanted with the pitchers no matter what the pitching coach said so it didn’t matter who was sitting next to him on the bench and the same was true with Paterno. It was his show. When the aforementioned Switzer took over the Dallas Cowboys from Jimmy Johnson, he essentially inherited an entire coaching staff, many of whom wanted his job and were still loyal to Johnson. Switzer wanted to be Cowboys coach and that was a concession he was forced to accept to make it happen.

This is not unusual. Front offices don’t want managers hiring their buddies and managers don’t want people they don’t trust in their clubhouse. The front office always wins out. Paterno was not in the position where he had to be agreeable about anything. He was the front office and he made the final call.

Much like the saying that there’s nothing more useless than an unloaded gun, what purpose did Paterno’s accumulated power serve if he was more concerned about his legacy and pretentiously ensuring that the image surpassed the reality than with dealing with what Sandusky was doing? I get the impression that Paterno was told about Sandusky and didn’t truly understand what it was he was being told. Whether that was due to old age; a compartmentalized wall he’d built in his mind not to acknowledge that people—especially someone with whom he’d worked for decades—would do terrible things to children; a desire to protect himself, his legend and Penn State; or all of the above was known only to Paterno.

On both sides of a legal argument, anyone can find an “expert” to say whatever needs to be said to bolster the viewpoint of the person who requested the testimony and investigation. They’ll have “proof” regardless of how ludicrous and farfetched it sounds. The family collected credible names in former United States Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and attorney Wick Sollers to provide the defense. These men have lots of credentials, impressive resumes and letters after their names. Not to impugn their impartiality, but since they were paid by the Paterno family, what were the odds they would find fault in what Joe Paterno did? That they would agree with Louis Freeh’s conclusions? You don’t have to come up with a number because I can tell you what it is: zero.

Freeh, the former FBI Director and lead investigator hired by Penn State’s board of trustees in the Sandusky case, had no obvious vested interests. Agree with him or not, it made little difference to him whether Paterno was complicit in any part of the case. If he was innocent, what difference would it have made for Freeh to say so?

In such a public pronouncement and presentation as that of the Paterno family, there are no parameters for the defense. Paterno’s dead and the only dissection and finders of fact will be done and made by the public. Their judgment is not legally binding nor does it have worse consequences than what the Paterno family is currently fending off. They’re saving a monument, not keeping someone out of jail.

Some will be searching for justification of Paterno’s innocence; others seeking confirmation of his ignorance and/or guilt. Each side has their own versions of the facts and individual desires to have them seen as the “truth.” We’ll never know the answer. But if the Paterno family thinks that this report will rebuild “Paterno” as the totem and not the man, they’re as ignorant as Paterno himself was when Sandusky operated with impunity with Paterno the man, wittingly or not, contributing mightily to Paterno the totem’s downfall.

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Wayside Mandate

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What happened to the rule in baseball that minority candidates had to receive interviews for high profile jobs as managers and general managers?

Is it no longer in effect?

Does it receive a waiver when a club decides to hire a “star” executive or field boss or promotes from within using the “next in line” approach?

Why is it that Theo Epstein was essentially rubber-stamped to go to the Cubs with the Cubs not fulfilling the requirement of interviewing a minority?

Or that Ben Cherington was promoted as Red Sox GM without so much as a peep from MLB that they had to talk to other candidates to satisfy the rule?

Initially I felt that the rule was a half-hearted attempt to appear progressive in name only; I didn’t think it would do much good; if a club has a specific person in mind for a job—and that may have race as a part of the subconscious exclusionary process—there’s not much that can be done to change their minds.

But what if a candidate walks in and wows the prospective employer? And what if that candidate’s reputation is boosted by the fact that teams were forced to interview them when, short of the mandate, they might not have done so?

Executives chat regularly; it’s a relatively closed society. They complain about players’ behaviors; their bosses; the media; and other mundane aspects of doing a job that many think is the pinnacle in baseball.

Doesn’t it make sense that if a Demarlo Hale or Bo Porter go in for an interview as manager and doesn’t get it for whatever reason that doing well will boost them for another opportunity?

But baseball has given a pass to clubs like the Cubs who hired Epstein away from the Red Sox; watched silently as Epstein hired Jed Hoyer from the Padres; and may look the other way when he hires his next manager whether it’s Ryne Sandberg (the “Cubs institution” excuse—which can be altered to make light of the Cubs being something of an institution) or Terry Francona (Epstein and Hoyer know and have worked with him before) to replace the fired Mike Quade.

The Padres promoted Josh Byrnes to take over for Hoyer.

No interviews?

Why?

Of course in some situations there is a “token” aspect to interviewing a candidate because of his or her racial profile, but it’s a means to an end.

Ten short years ago, there was one minority GM—Kenny Williams of the White Sox, who is black.

The minority managers from 2001 were Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, Jerry Manuel, Tony Perez, Davey Lopes, Felipe Alou, Hal McRae and Lloyd McClendon.

Failed retreads Buddy Bell, Bob Boone and Jeff Torborg were also managing that year.

Today, we have Manny Acta, Ron Washington, Ozzie Guillen, Fredi Gonzalez and Baker on the job with three openings with the Cardinals, Red Sox and Cubs.

Journeyman manager Jim Riggleman has been mentioned as a possibility for the Cardinals.

Jim Riggleman? The same Riggleman who quit on the Nationals in a self-immolating snit because they didn’t want to exercise his option for 2012? That guy? Teams want to hire him to manage?

I wouldn’t even consider him after what he pulled with the Nationals.

The Athletics hired Bob Melvin as interim manager after firing Bob Geren and gave him the full-time job. No minority interviews.

The Nationals hired Davey Johnson—their interim manager and a supremely qualified candidate with a terrific resume of managerial success, but someone who appeared tired at times in 2011 and may have lost his managerial fastball—no minority interviews.

What about Willie Randolph? Is he toxic? His strategic skills weren’t great when managing the Mets, but he had control of the clubhouse and deserves another chance.

Today Ruben Amaro Jr. and Michael Hill are working GMs; Tony Reagins was just fired by the Angels; and Kim Ng is an Asian-American woman who’s interviewed to be a GM and is currently an executive with Major League Baseball—the same MLB that is tacitly allowing clubs to selectively bypass the the mandatory minority interview rule to hire “names”.

Progress has been limited, but it’s progress nonetheless.

A rule that has helped make positive improvements in this realm is being dispatched out of convenience due to the recognition of those that are currently getting those jobs.

Epstein was going to be the Cubs boss one way or the other, but that doesn’t render the requirement meaningless.

At least it shouldn’t.

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