- Nobody saw this coming:
After yesterday's 6-4 win over the Indians to snap a 7-game losing streak, the Kansas City Royals mercifully (to their fans mostly) ended the disastrous managerial tenure of Trey Hillman.
The only surprising thing is that it took this long for GM Dayton Moore to pull the trigger. Here's what I wrote in my book:
With his resume of having scouted and managed in the minors for the Yankees; run the farm system for the Rangers; and won a championship managing in Japan, who could’ve expected such rampant cluelessness? Hillman has no idea how to handle a bullpen; no clue how to run a club on the field. Everything is haphazard and strange as if he’s doing them on the fly. And it’s not working any better on the field than Moore is in the front office.
Hillman’s contract is up after this year, but with Moore having signed a contract extension, one has to wonder whether he’ll make a change if things get off poorly for the Royals again. Truth be told, the roster isn’t good enough to be any better than what they are, so it’s hard to blame Hillman for the end result; but that’s no excuse for not making the correct moves. If a manager makes the right moves and they don’t work, then fine; if he makes ridiculous bullpen decisions for example, then he’s responsible for that and something has to be done.
My guess is that if (when) the Royals get off to a poor start, Moore will pull the trigger on Hillman and replace him with bench coach (and solid manager with the Blue Jays) John Gibbons.
Then, in the prediction section for the Royals (I had them at 74-88), I wrote:
I believe that the pressure on Moore will lead him to fire Hillman, whose contract is up at the end of the year anyway. John Gibbons was a fine strategic manager for the Blue Jays and didn’t put up with crap. He’s the man they need in charge of the dugout over the bewildered Hillman.
It seems that I'm perpetually just missing on some ballsy predictions. Much like last season with the Marlins having barely missed the playoffs and come to withing 3 games of my 90 win prediction, so too have I just missed with Hillman and the Royals as----instead of hiring Gibbons----they chose Ned Yost, with whom Moore is familiar from the pair's days working for the Braves.
In retrospect, with Hillman, it plainly and simply didn't work.
His resume was amazingly impressive; he had a breadth of experience; a powerful charisma when he spoke at his introductory press conference; and enough respect within baseball that he may very well have gotten the Yankees job to replace Joe Torre.
In practice, it failed.
His strategies were inconsistent and laden with desperation; the conviction and "we're gonna do it this way" tone from when he took the job to when he was doing the job was strangely disconnected. It's fair to say that the Royals were never a very good team while he was running the club, but that doesn't excuse making the wrong moves.
Using Jamey Wright as a set-up man? Abusing Joakim Soria by pitching him multiple innings after he returned from shoulder trouble? The failure to develop talented youngsters Luke Hochevar and Alex Gordon?
These things fall at the feet of the manager.
A manager can have a bad team and still do the right things. If they don't work, that's a function of talent level more than a reflection on him. It's a barely perceptible difference to those that aren't playing close attention, but if you put a more competent manager----on and off the field----in the Royals clubhouse, they likely would've had a similar record to that of Hillman, but the club could've been moving in the right direction rather than staggering aimlessly like a punch drunk boxer.
Hillman's failure shows the hit-or-miss nature in hiring a manager or General Manager. By all possible permutations, it should've worked. Hillman's rise was organic. He did it the right way and gathered experience in multiple aspects of the game on a worldwide scale.
It didn't work. The Royals are doing the right thing in moving forward.
It's lost amid their championship from 2009, but the Yankees dodged a bullet in the accident of circumstances that led them to hiring Joe Girardi over Don Mattingly and Hillman.
Hillman indeed would've been a very serious candidate to replace Joe Torre. Simultaneously to the machinations that led to Torre's ouster in 2007, Hillman was accepting the Royals job. Had the whole sequence of events occurred slightly differently, Hillman may have gotten the Yankees job. He was familiar to GM Brian Cashman having worked for the Yankees; and fit into the profile of being easily dispatched if it didn't work and willing to operate under the auspices of Cashman running the whole show.
While he would've had a larger pool of talent and a more entrenched and smarter GM as his boss in Cashman, that doesn't repair the faults that contributed mightily to his failure with the Royals.
Hillman managing the Yankees would've been a disaster.
And what of Ned Yost?
I've been open in my preference for bench coach John Gibbons. Despite operating in the J.P. Ricciardi circus with the Blue Jays and trying to overcome the Moneyball idea of a manager being a low-level functionary acting under the narrow parameters of upper management controlling his decisions, Gibbons didn't put up with garbage from the players; made the right strategic calls; and had the presence to be a good manager.
Yost is probably the safer and more preferable choice for Moore because of their familiarity; but Yost lost his job as Brewers manager with two weeks left in the 2008 season as the club was collapsing. His intensity and tightness made the players nervous. This is the foundation for physical and mental mistakes.
In fairness, Yost deserves another chance; there are cases in which a manager blows his first opportunity, learns his lessons and capitalizes on his next shot. With all the retreads that have gotten job-after-job and failed (Jeff Torborg for example), the Royals are in such dire straits that any change will foster improvement.
Time will tell whether Yost is in the category of Torborg or Torre.
To me, GM Dayton Moore's reluctance to replace Hillman stemmed from his loyalty to a person he believed in and, more importantly, that firing the manager for a GM who's under scrutiny is the last line of defense before he finds himself in thecross-hairs.
Moore held out as long as he possibly could with Hillman, but the failure on the field had grown so pronounced that he was either going to make a change or go down with the ship himself along with his on field lieutenant.
It was Moore who signed the likes of Willie Bloomquist; Kyle Farnsworth; Juan Cruz; and Jose Guillen.
It was Moore who made the trades of Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs; of Ramon Ramirez for Coco Crisp.
That wasn't the fault of the manager.
If Moore is going to save himself, someone had to be sacrificed and that someone was Hillman. He'd better hope that Yost can develop the youngsters, because there's no one left to blame now.
- The Phillies go Belichick:
It's bizarre how the levels of cheating are tolerated and/or condemned in baseball.
It was okay for Gaylord Perry to use Vaseline or whatever other substance he could get his hands on to make the ball dance and carve out a Hall of Fame career for himself when he was floundering as an on-the-bubble long reliever for the Giants.
It was okay for Mike Scott to use the pretense of a split-finger fastball along with a sliver of sandpaper to cut an identical scuff in dozens of balls and become a Cy Young Award winner and post-season star.
It was okay for the alleged "ball-loaders" Tommy John, Don Sutton and Greg Maddux to do whatever they had to do to make the ball dance, dive, spin, twist and twitch to flummox batters for years and years.
It was okay for Norm Cash, Amos Otis, Sammy Sosa and Albert Belle to use loaded bats to extend the distance on their drives those critical feet to transform into star players.
It was even okay for players (with the tacit approval of everyone from the fans to ownership to baseball itself) to load their bodies all for the greater good of filling stadiums, bank accounts and record books.
Nobody complained until after the fact; but the Phillies using binoculars and allegedly sign stealing has made them into the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick of MLB.
Because they've been successful in winning a World Series and National League pennant, they're a target for their behaviors. Despised throughout baseball, it's easy to pick on the Phillies, but baseball has always been a culture of "it ain't cheating if you don't get caught"; and the Phillies got caught. It's as simple as that.
Of course, Charlie Manuel's arrogance in telling the Rockies to "keep crying" and referencing the Mets (the Mets!!!) home record as a bizarre, nonsensical evidentiary reach that other teams do it as well is symptomatic of why the Phillies have become so reviled; but that's neither here nor there.
I and just about any other fan of any team would take the Phillies success as their own in a heartbeat no matter how they achieved it. Just because they may have had a slight advantage of knowing the signs of the opposing team doesn't automatically mean they're going to execute when the time comes; and the Phillies have done that. The game predicates itself on doing whatever you can get away with and that's what the Phillies (and other teams) do.
It's part of the game.
- Published by mistake?
Here's a new one. Ken Griffey Jr.'s agent, Brian Goldberg, is claiming that the Larry LaRue story about Griffey's nap was published by mistake when LaRue hit the "send" key before getting the chance to talk to Griffey or manager Don Wakamatsu regarding the matter----ESPN Story.
The Tacoma News Tribune is denying this.
Here's my question: let's say that LaRue hit "send" by mistake (very possible), what difference does that make? What was Griffey going to say had he spoken to LaRue before the story was sent? "No, I wasn't sleeping"? What was Wakamatsu going to say? "Junor was available to hit, I didn't use him"?
Does the failure to speak to either the player in question or the manager alter the statements of the two players who supposedly told LaRue the story to begin with?
I don't see what one thing has to do with the other even if the agent's spin is 100% true. (And I don't buy it anyway.)
The Mariners are a train wreck.
- Viewer Mail 5.14.2010:
Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE the Mariners:
I write this comment while listening to the M's/O's game (Felix v. Millwood). When Millwood effortlessly mows down your entire lineup the first time through then it is definitely panic time. Again, I am saddened by the Mariners, this time for senselessly wasting so many splendid pitching performances because they simply can't hit.
And I'm down for the 718, 510, 209, 212, etc... but again let us not forget the power of the 312. When it comes to runnin' outfits, we have an edge.
Must disagree about Kevin Millwood----he's a good pitcher, albeit hittable, and they started hitting him shortly thereafter.
I can't say I feel sympathy for the Mariners. If nothing else, they've made their own mess by playing into the "genius" routine of their GM and trying to placate the fans by re-signing Griffey. Sometimes, in order for the truth to be revealed, people have to be sacrificed. The stat zombies and lovestruck media were swooning for GM Jack Zduriencik, but reality is kicking them in the head. It needed to happen. There was no other way.
Our Family is far more organized than any stitched together area code crew. We have our own deal working here.
Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Mariners:
Sounds like the Mariners are truly in a mess. And to think I picked them to win the AL West. Guess I'd better stick to my day job.
Predictions sometimes hit and sometimes miss. Even I've gotten things wrong in the past. Believe it or not. If there's a viable reason for the pick----any pick----it's no shame to be wrong.
The thing I'll say about Zduriencik is that he's not going to sit around and let the entire thing collapse. He's going to do something and if that means forcing Griffey to retire, that's what he'll do. In fact, that's what I expect to happen.
Jennifer at The Simple Dish writes RE the Mariners:
Perhaps the Mariners should put some of that energy into winning games instead of becoming Griffey Jr's entourage. I understand supporting a team, but if they keep this up, they're not going anywhere.
Oh stat zombies. I hate to break it to you but baseball is not one big algebraic equation. Stats do not predict team chemistry(the Sox seriously lack this), injuries, break outs, declines and slumps. They're merely numbers. Just because you can over emphasize 2-4 stats does not make you the next best GM.
It's sad when well-respected players (on and off the field) like Mike Sweeney are reduced to the "all-for-one" silliness that permeates any group dynamic. It's understandable and there are no easy answers, but deep down, the entire Mariners roster knows it's time for Griffey to call it quits and in a true baseball sense, are probably hoping that he does indeed walk away and that this story goes along with him.
There's no talking to a vast percentage of the stat zombies, Jennifer. The mutlitude of stat zombie failures is tearing apart their dogmatism one brick at a time. They combine arrogance and a lack of human undetstanding with out-and-out ignorance of in-the-trenches baseball. Their destruction is the only logical response----with me emerging from the muck as ruler. It must be done.
The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE the Mariners:
I tend to look up. When the players rub me the wrong way I look at the manager. When the manager makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I look at the GM. When the GM looks like he has more problems than a math book, I look at the owner (the same owners who incidentally hired these last two GMs that went hog-wide with their organization). The M's aren't the Angels with solid people in place from ownership down. It's evident the Angels are reshaping/rebuilding. I'm not sure the M's even have a plan.
This should not have been Wakamatsu's mess to clean up because Griffey shouldn't even be on the roster to begin with. Putting the manager in this box with Griffey; with Milton Bradley; with Erik Bedard, is setting him up for failure. A team with the holes that permeate the Mariners roster can't be distracted from finding any and all ways to win games with what he has. This does fall on the GM.
In defense of Zduriencik, as I've said before I can't imagine that he wanted to bring Griffey back. He does have a keen scouting eye; is aggressive and understands all aspects of the game. My issue with him regarding Griffey is that he had to step in and do something and he's been silent. It's his job to deal with it and tell everyone to shut up while he looks into exactly what happened. He needs to take control.