Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Lesson From One Of The Best (And Most Ruthless) Executives In Sports

  • Dodgers 7-Diamondbacks 0:
I'm not an advocate of rash firings unless they're warranted; nor am I in favor of someone
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losing their job especially when what's occurring isn't their fault; that being said, the Arizona Diamondbacks have done everything right in trying to create a championship contender including acquisitions before and during the season; giving young prospects a chance to play; and building an overall roster that should be better than 71-69 and a half game ahead of a Dodgers team that had lost eight in a row until last weekend and can't seem to get out of their own way half the time despite splashy trades of their own. In looking at everything they've done up to this point, the Diamondbacks may have to consider taking the bold step of changing managers at this late stage of the season if they have any hope of advancing as deeply into the playoffs as they thought they would when the team was constructed.
This is not the fault of manager Bob Melvin. He generally makes the correct moves during a game and he's a likable field boss despite the criticism he receives for being too vanilla in his personality. Sometimes a change has to be made for the short term in order to achieve a goal that just isn't going to happen otherwise. The Diamondbacks may want to take a page out of
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the book of one of the best and most successful executives in sports----New Jersey Devils hockey czar Lou Lamoriello.
Lamoriello operates in relative obscurity as the Devils are the second fiddle (that's being generous; it could be argued that the Devils are behind the Rangers, Islanders and Flyers in that NHL equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle of the New York metropolitan area); the negatives to that are obvious----they don't get the recognition for being as great an organization as they are; no one appreciates their three Stanley Cups; they have trouble filling their building even when they're on the way to a championship----but one of the main advantages of that obscurity is that Lamoriello can pretty much do whatever he wants and no one's going to say anything. Lamoriello treats his coaches and players as part of a machine; everyone has their value, their role and position and if they start to believe that they're too important to fit into the team structure or if something's not working, there's no vacillation; no wishy-washy hand-wringing over what to do next; Lamoriello acts sooner rather than later and doesn't look back.
Twice he's fired coaches days before the playoffs started as the team was at the top of their conference because he didn't think they were going to be able to win in the playoffs with the status quo. Once it resulted in another Stanley Cup; another time, in which Lamoriello himself took over as coach, it didn't work as they were eliminated in the second round; whether he succeeds or fails when he makes such a decision, at least he doesn't sit on his hands and worry about the public reaction when he feels the right move is to make a change. Players who want too much money or don't accept their roles are quickly dispatched; blockbuster player acquisitions occur without anyone even knowing that the Devils were involved until the last second. Everything in the organization is dedicated to one thing----winning; and they win under a budget. Lamoriello's smart and ruthless and dedicated to that one goal in his professional life----winning----which should be first and foremost with every sports executive even if in many cases, it isn't.
Of course it works to Lamoriello's advantage that he does have carte blanche with the
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organization due to those three championship rings (it's a circle, he's allowed to do what he wants because he wins and he wins because he's allowed to do what he wants); and that the NHL has very little attention paid to it until the playoffs start and barely much attention then; but no matter what kind of organization he ran, I believe that Lamoriello would function in the same way----mysteriously, close to the vest, ruthlessly----and do what's best for the moment. For the Arizona Diamondbacks, they've tried everything else, perhaps it's time to set off a bomb in their clubhouse and fire the manager. Melvin is a solid guy and a pretty good manager; he was blamed unfairly for what happened when he managed the Mariners and all of Lou Piniella's and Pat Gillick's players got old at once; there would be a major uproar if they pulled the trigger on Melvin, but it's something to consider even at this late date because as things stand right now, they're well on the way to blowing a division that they should be winning easily and all of those aggressive acquisitions will be seen as a waste because they haven't worked. It may be time to do something drastic and as Lamoriello has proven, firing the head coach/manager is about as drastic as it gets, and it might even work.
  • Phillies 3-Mets 0:
When Brett Myers was struggling earlier in the season and wound up back in the minor leagues to get both his arm and his head straight, it was thought that Myers had either never
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completely gotten his head and body out of the rush of closing; that he was overworked last season after being thrust into that unfamiliar role; and that he needed to rediscover his fastball and get his confidence back. It's clear that Myers's problem earlier in the season, whatever it was, is gone because he was confident and determined in the dominating performance against the Mets last night and, most importantly, he had his fastball back.
Whatever the cause, Myers's fastball was short that critical few inches to make his wicked curveball effective. A devastating curveball isn't as much of a challenge for the hitters if all they have to worry about is an 88 mph fastball, which is what Myers was throwing early in the season. Last night, he was popping 93-94 which puts the hitter in the position of gearing up for the fastball and adjusting to the curve rather than waiting for the curve and knowing he's going to be able to catch up to that average fastball. I'm sure Myers still misses the rush that comes from being the closer and having every game and everyone's hopes pinned on his shoulders, but after last night and the way he's pitched since returning from the minors, he's not letting that stop him from pitching as well as he did last
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night in a game the Phillies had to win.
  • Reds 10-Cubs 2:
I quit gambling, but if I had one bet to make today, I'd wager a chunk of money that Cubs manager Lou Piniella is a likely candidate to get ejected and go on a base-throwing, red-faced, Lou-natic-asylum level tirade tonight in Cincinnati. His team needs to be woken up and snapped out of this malaise; flipping out and getting ejected (sometimes for no reason) is Piniella's thing. It's worked before.
  • Mariners 3-Yankees 1:
As Tim Lincecum has overcome his doubters (due to his size, quirky mechanics and "stage-father") to become an All Star, there have been questions as to what the Mariners were thinking in drafting Brandon Morrow five spots ahead of Lincecum especially since
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Lincecum is from Washington and pitched at Washington State. After watching Morrow handcuff the Yankees last night as he begins his transformation from the bullpen to the starting rotation, I have to say that even with the hindsight of the past two years, I'd still take Morrow over Lincecum. Morrow's fastball was in the upper 90s, his motion is clean and he just looks like he's going to be more durable over the long term than Lincecum.
The argument to ignore "tools" over performance isn't to be completely ignored, but the jury, to me, is still out on Lincecum. Listed at 5'11", he's about two or three inches shorter and that motion and his specially-designed exercises will
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only be borne out in the even greater hindsight of five or six years from now; Morrow, 6'3", simply appears like he'll be able to handle a heavier workload and his fastball matches that of Lincecum. There's been righteous indignation as Lincecum has risen to All Star, Cy Young Award contender and cult hero to the undersized, but Morrow was a safer pick and if I had to choose between the two even now, I'd still take Morrow; the Mariners shouldn't be faulted for a scouting decision that took everything----size, mechanics, projectable future----into account because the final results remain to be seen.

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