Thursday, October 21, 2010


  • If that wasn't panic, it was a pretty good facsimile:

Amid the Phillies consistent excellence over the past four years it's forgotten that Charlie Manuel was nearly fired in early 2007 as the team staggered out of the gate with a 3-10 start.

Never a strategic wizard, Manuel has been the right guy at the right time for the Phillies. Hired essentially as a polar opposite to the player-despised Larry Bowa and that he was agreeable to a "Bowa'd out" veteran core, Manuel has always been a players' manager whose overall steadiness and handling of the clubhouse was more important than his strategies.

It's "Charles in Charge" in Philadelphia; everyone knows Manuel's the boss; he's respected; doesn't put up with garbage; and will even bench his stars (Jimmy Rollins) or confront them in view of others (as he did with Brett Myers) if necessary.

The difference between the personalities and player-relation skills of Bowa and Manuel are stark and translate onto the field. While Manuel isn't a renowned tactician, Bowa is a brilliant baseball mind; yet Manuel has a World Series win; two pennants; and five division titles (four with the Phillies; one with the Indians); and is personally liked.

Bowa's baseball knowledge is known and admired, but as a manager, he was despised. Managers who rip their players publicly and whose emotions are on prominent display at every turn had better win; if they don't, the players are going to rebel. The days of a distant disciplinarian-type manager went out with the days of Walter Alston and long-term contracts for players. Even the sacred cows of managing----Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa----knew better than to take on their stars.

This, more than anything, is Manuel's main attribute as a manager. People like him. He's Uncle Charlie during the good times; and Concrete Charlie during bad times.

Be that as it may, I have to look in wonderment at two of Manuel's decisions in the Phillies' 6-5, game 4 loss to the Giants.

First, the more understandable choice to bench the slumping Raul Ibanez in favor of Ben Francisco made some semblance of sense with a lefty, Madison Bumgarner, pitching for the Giants. Ibanez is 0 for 11 in the NLCS and 3 for 23 in the playoffs overall; truth be told, he deserved to be benched; but Francisco isn't a murderer of any and all left-handed pitchers (career .806 OPS in 344 plate appearances; all 6 of Francisco's homers this year came against lefties); but it was worth a shot. Like the Yankees with Jorge Posada in their game 4 loss, I'd have played the veteran in both cases, Posada and Ibanez.

That's arguable and negligible. Manuel tried something different; Francisco went 1 for 4 with a runs scored; whatever.

But the decision that is ripe for second guessing is using Roy Oswalt in relief for the ninth inning rather than go with closer Brad Lidge.

First, I don't want to hear the silliness from the invisible "book" of managing that says you never use your closer in a tie game on the road. Never mind the idiocy of the "book" in and of itself----an idiocy that's self-evident if the rules therein are followed to the letter (see the managerial career of Jeff Torborg)----where in the book does it say anything about avoiding the closer in favor of the number 2 starter instead?

I understand that it was Oswalt's day to throw on the side and common sense says that in the playoffs, starting pitchers should put regular routines on the backburner to help the team out of the bullpen if necessary. Using Oswalt if they needed him was on the table; some of the greatest post-season memories I have are of starting pitchers coming out of the bullpen. Orel Hershiser in 1988; Roger Clemens in 2005 both crafted enduring images in this vein.

One of my favorite post-seasons ever is 1999----despite the Mets NLCS loss to the Braves----when two starting pitchers were involved in iconic (in my mind anyway) moments. First in the Robin Ventura "grand single" game 5, the Mets had run out of pitchers and the game 4 starter Rick Reed was warming up in the bullpen in the 15th inning of game 5 before the Mets won. The other was in game 6 as John Smoltz came trotting out of the bullpen to heroically save the day and Mike Piazza tattooed a Smoltz pitch over the right center field wall at Turner Field to tie the score before the Braves eventually won the game and the pennant in extra innings.

It's exciting for everyone when a starting pitcher pitches in relief.

But was it the right move yesterday?

Manuel can proclaim his belief and trust in Lidge all he wants, but his actions are either borne of following that book; concern that Lidge can't physically handle more than 1 or 2 (if you're pushing it) innings; or he's concerned about Lidge's habitually fragile mental state and preferred to entrust Oswalt to keep the game tied.

He'd have gone to Lidge to close it if the Phillies had taken the lead, but preferred to use Oswalt in a tie game.

The stuff about it being Oswalt's throw day and "book" rules are fine, but there's a big difference between a pitcher having his throw day and saving his bullets in case he has to pitch in relief and doing so in the high-pressure of a playoff game. Intensity and concentration are lagging for the most determined when it's a meaningless session in the bullpen as opposed to a tie game in the ninth inning of a game 4.

If Manuel doesn't trust Lidge there, the Phillies are in more trouble than simply being down 3 games to 1.

A lot more trouble.

That was a panic move from Charlie Manuel; and if he panics, the rest of the Phillies and Philadelphia itself is going to follow suit.

It was a mistake.

  • The spinning wheel and grains (or buckets) of salt:

The managerial stuff----in suits and uniform----continues to evolve by the day. Let's take a look.

Mike Quade "lukewarm" to Ryne Sandberg:

The operative word "lukewarm" is from to

It's natural for Quade to be hesitant to have a rejected managerial candidate on his staff, especially when that candidate is a Hall of Fame player for the Cubs who desperately wanted and didn't get his job. Sandberg paid his minor league dues as a manager and it's an issue that Sandberg would subtly let his feelings be known and undermine his boss.

I'd probably be concerned about it as well, but wouldn't let Sandberg's status dissuade me from adding him to my staff if I felt he could help me.

One has to wonder as to the main reason Cubs GM Jim Hendry chose Quade over Sandberg. Was it the discipline and dedication Quade showed after taking over for Lou Piniella? Was it that he felt Quade was the better candidate? Or was it a self-interested maneuver to maintain his power by having a manager that he can fire?

Much like Don Mattingly would've been "Teflon Don" had he been chosen over Joe Girardi to succeed Joe Torre with the Yankees, Brian Cashman would never have been able to fire Mattingly; such is the case with Hendry-Sandberg. This isn't a small thing to a GM, especially a GM who's made some questionable decisions and isn't indispensable himself. Hendry's contract is up after 2012 and with the new ownership, his situation is slightly murky.

No GM in his right mind will want his power usurped by having the option of firing his manager snatched away---it's one of the few things he can do to light a spark under his team without it costing a load of money, prospects or bad press. With Sandberg, Hendry would've been trapped; with Quade, he's not.

That had to have been a factor in selecting Quade over Sandberg.

The second interview of Sandy Alderson:

The Mets are interviewing Sandy Alderson for a second time and Joel Sherman of the NY Post (get your salt, get your salt HERE!!!!) does his clumsy rain-dance of pushing Alderson; suggesting that Alderson's going to get the job; and simultaneously leaves himself wiggle room if Alderson doesn't get the job with some none-too-smooth parsing of words----link.

That's neither here nor there.

Along with entreating the Mets truly get the right answers from Alderson before hiring him, I'm also----in the self-interested sense----hoping they don't make the hire before I complete my dissection of the career of other top candidate Josh Byrnes.

The Mets want my approval before doing anything, don't they?!?

It seems everyone does!!!

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz last Friday talking about the LCS and other important baseball stuff. Click here for Sal's site or here to listen directly.


She-Fan said...

I was surprised to see Oswalt pitch the ninth. And blowing it had to put a huge dent in the team's confidence. Surprising move and surprising result.

Jeff said...

Since all the Giants needed was a pop fly to win it, I would've countered with Lidge and that nasty slider he throws in the dirt. Unless he hangs one, no one is hittin' that thing in the air.

PS, If it's a Texas/S.F. World Series, our Fredo might go take himself for a boat ride. Imagine how many people WON'T be watching the World Series. Just like 2006!