Monday, July 21, 2008

The Eerie Similarities Between The Padres Front Office And The Bush Administration

Strange things come into one's head at odd times; after the Padres lost another game yesterday in unique fashion----Aaron Miles hit a walk-off grand slam to win the game for the
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Cardinals after the Padres came back with two runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game after Heath Bell blew a lead in the bottom of the eighth----to extend their losing streak to six games and their string of embarrassing ineptitude to 19 losses in 24. What's worse, they're not even living up to their record under the Pygmalion
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Win Theorem anymore with an overall record of 37-62 and a Pygmalion Theorem Record is 39-60. It suddenly occurred to me last night, as I was watching The Pope of Greenwich Village on IFC, that there were eerie similarities between the Padres front office structure and the Bush administration.
Both are dogmatically driven, inept and historically disastrous, yet still insist that they're right and everyone else is wrong; that their view of how to run things would have worked had the delegates held their part in the bargain and done what was expected of them in their intricate theories and plans. What follows are the members of each failed management team and their counterparts:
  • Vice President Dick Cheney/Padres CEO Sandy Alderson:
Both portray themselves as strong, silent believers in an ideology whose main focus is to get results. Cheney's public stance is to create democracies around the world by use of the
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United States military might and thereby make the United States and its allies safer by creating allies where enemies once stood. The power, according to Cheney, should stand in a strong and unassailable executive branch led by the president and his proxies without question or objection from the inconvenient and inconsequential congress, media or voters.
Alderson, educated at Dartmouth and Harvard Law and a former Marine and an experienced executive whose modus operandi is to manipulate the strings of his subordinates from a behind-the-scenes position while not desiring credit for his work. Not wanting to hear about anything other than results, numbers and facts, he's been seen as a ruthless, corporate executive who lets nothing stand in the way of getting his operations in line with what he believes to be right.
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Both have been back room operators whose previous incarnations----Cheney as defense secretary for the first President Bush (in other words, the competent one) and chief-of-staff for President Ford; Alderson as a lawyer and then GM of the Oakland Athletics, followed by stints in the commissioner's office----provided an aura of competence, evenhandedness and professionalism. It was only when they achieved a level of power and recognition that their true natures came to the forefront as did their blind adherence to unyielding principles that work in theory, but not in practice (and one would presume that both knew the theories were unlikely to work in practice, but did them anyway).
Cheney with his goal to "re-make" the Middle East and enrich his allies (radical right-wingers whose main goal in life is to accrue power and money) is seen as the "evil genius" behind the "Bush-doctrine", but is in reality a small, petty man whose main objective is to garner credit for himself and push forward his narrow agenda to benefit that small group with a sociopathic lack of concern about the consequences. Alderson desperately tried to shoehorn his way into the Moneyball story in which Billy Beane was seen as the architect and genius behind the way the Athletics organization was built. Alderson pointed out relentlessly that it was Alderson who hired Billy Beane as a scout; it was Alderson who introduced Beane to the work of Bill James; it was Alderson who demanded that the Athletics organization focus on on-base-percentage, power and a figurehead as a manager; therefore it was actually Alderson who was the true mind behind the man and Alderson who is the true genius.
The thing about these men who are supposedly "evil-geniuses" is that the truly great ones have a certain amount of charisma to them that attracts both scorn and grudging credit. In looking at such characters, all have that certain "something" that demonstrates their power
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without necessitating an open exercising of it (see Vader, Darth; Lecter, Hannibal; Corleone, Michael; Lebowitz, Paul----aka New York, Prince Of).
Both men are "flexible" with the truth by using "insider's" terminology to disguise their true intent and swallowed by those who either take everything they say as gospel or are too desensitized to the subterfuge and disingenuousness to bother questioning them further. In reality, neither Cheney or Alderson have much of a persona that would attract people to them; it's their positions that get results rather than a force of personality and both have been the architects to historic disasters although they'll continue to insist that their blueprint was sound and the implementation the true failure. In other words: "Don't blame me; my ideas are brilliant, they screwed it up."
  • Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld/Special Assistant for Baseball Operations Paul DePodesta:
Rumsfeld's life has been spent attaching himself to people like Cheney, trying to accrue power, attempting to imply a level of confidence and use innovation to reinvent his image as
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that of an arrogant, pompous, condescending and despised bureaucrat. As defense secretary for the second time, Rumsfeld appeared to be trying to re-fight the Vietnam war, this time in Iraq and this time doing things his way by re-making the military by trusting his own theories rather than those of the experienced warriors who dared go against him. Surrounding himself with gutless armchair warriors like Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and military men who wouldn't object to his interference and lack of knowledge about that which he spoke, Rumsfeld succeeded in alienating anyone who did know what they were doing with his dogged interference and abusive intrusions to delay or prevent truly supporting the troops who were little more than vague, fungible pieces on a chess board to put forth his agenda. Humans aren't "real"; what's "real" is the plan and the focus on achieving it at any cost.
DePodesta benefited more than anyone by Moneyball as Beane's right-hand man. Hired by
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the Dodgers based on owner Frank McCourt's goal of building a profitable team and helped along by his young son's starstruck gaze at DePodesta after reading the book, he took twenty months to wreck the team with his adherence to out-of-context statistics rather than what the baseball people in the organization wanted. With two horrible drafts and a series of nightmarish results in his wake, along with an pomposity that alienated everyone in Los Angeles other than those that bought into whatever his laptop spit out, he was fired by the Dodgers and landed with the Padres to take a central part in another disaster.
Both Rumsfeld and DePodesta have supporters who defend them to the last. Rumsfeld has been seen to be an innovator who tried to put ideas that will eventually work into practice by streamlining the military. DePodesta is referenced by those that are attached to stat-driven
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theories for their own purposes and writes a delusional blog that has provided little nuggets such as that the Padres are "a winning team". Rumsfeld was fired (three years too late) after a hellish 2006 mid-term election for the republicans; DePodesta was dumped by the Dodgers after trashing the team and preparing to hire a manager who was "on the same page" as the front office. In parlance, that means someone who'll take short money and do what the front office tells him without question. For some unfathomable reason, DePodesta is still being presented as a possible future GM. The obvious reason is that DePodesta, like Rumsfeld, is one of "them" and is therefore qualified.
  • President George W. Bush/Executive Vice President and General Manager Kevin Towers:
Bush was a well-liked and popular governor of Texas when he utilized his father's connections to make himself the inevitable presidential nominee in 2000. His "Christian
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credentials", populist message and promise to restore "dignity" to the White House brought him enough centrist support to counteract a perceived lack of intelligence and experience to overcome Vice President Al Gore's woodenness and attachment to the scandals of the Clinton administration to win the electoral college and gain election even as he lost the popular vote.
Once elected, Bush did nothing in his first eight months other than go on repeated vacations. After 9/11, he became even more of a zealot for the conservative ideology espoused by his base. Bush was the front man armed with the enthusiasm for spreading democracy like a present day repeat of the Crusades without the expressed attempt to convert others to Christianity. Cheney and Rumsfeld's power behind the scenes became even more pronounced as they (and Karl Rove) guided Bush into places where his father never would have gone. In an attempt to "correct" his
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father's mistakes and listen to a voice (Rumsfeld) who the senior Bush is said to despise, the younger Bush has demolished his father's legacy and become perhaps the most polarizing (and worst) president in history.
Towers was a respected GM for years before Alderson arrived and exerted his theories on the GM. For Towers it was either go along or move along and, before they hired Josh Byrnes, it appeared that Towers would escape to Arizona and the Diamondbacks. After that fell through, Towers seems to have resigned himself to working under the Alderson parameters.
Towers worked with his solid field manager in Bruce Bochy and rebuilding his team using principles of both statistics and on-field results, the Padres had a reasonable budget and willingness to bring in stars to try and win. Towers rebuilt the team after a sell-off following the
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1998 World Series and again restored them to respectability and contention. After Alderson's arrival, Towers has scoured the bargain bins and tried to find whatever he could based on the budget. Their farm system is devoid of prospects and he's likely to get the blame for going along, just as Bush has. Unlike Bush, Towers will probably receive an opportunity to redeem himself as a solid baseball man in his own right after his inevitable departure, leaving the Padres to do as they wish without Towers on the firing line as the man in "charge" of an ill-thought-out train wreck.
  • Former Secretary of State Colin Powell/Manager Bud Black:
Powell could have done anything with his life after leaving the military. He could have run for president himself; he could've been vice president; he could've simply chosen to go and
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make himself a ton of money in private business or simply giving speeches. Instead, he decided to use his experience, likability, connections and pragmatism to be Bush's secretary of state. Powell's speech in front of the United Nations, which later was said to have contained claims that Powell himself didn't even believe, demolished all of the good will that Powell had accumulated in an exemplary life of public service.
Bud Black was respected as a player for his guts and honesty with the media, management and teammates. He was the well-liked and competent pitching coach for the world champion Angels of 2002 and was seen as such a smart baseball man that he was considered a second bench coach for Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Mentioned as a possible manager for many jobs, Black was reluctant to pull his daughters from school in Southern California and turned down opportunities to stay with the Angles. It was when the Padres job opened up that Black would
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have the opportunity to show his skills as the field boss; but in the system used by the Padres, the manager is never really in control of what happens----he does as he's told, takes an entry-level contract and is easily dispatched when things go wrong.
Black's lack of managerial experience and preparedness for all the criticism that comes down on the manager mirrors the excoriation that Powell has received for being the good soldier. Black has made some egregious mistakes that have been similar to those of Powell in following orders (in a less important sense of the baseball world compared to actual war) that have haunted him and sullied his reputation. Like Powell, it's likely that if Black is removed from his duties in San Diego, he'll have to do some penance as a coach or lower level subordinate, but is likely to get another chance to be the man in charge.

In the end, both are disasters of different levels of import. The Bush administration has wrecked the economy, the reputation of the United States around the world and ravaged the military to its breaking point with its adherence to that narrow conservative agenda held by a
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hard core, ruthless and disciplined few who care about what suits
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their grasp at power and money. In a baseball sense, the Padres are on a level with the Bush administration. There was great hope for a team that would build a financially restrained and successful team that utilizes principles, proven by numbers, and eventually result in a new age of monetary sanity and on-field success. Sadly both have failed in a massive way and it's going to take years to clean up each mess only if competent people are put into position to do it right. In both cases, we'll know soon enough which direction the management of each intends to head. I have more faith in the American public than I would in the front office of the San Diego Padres.

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