One of the tough things to accomplish – both as a sports fan and merely navigating life – is to find the balance between embracing new ideas and holding onto virtues from the past. I detest blind adherence to tradition. The worst sports fans are the ones who think that RBIs and AVG are how you rate hitters and Wins are how you value pitchers and that you need two infielders on each side of second base or civilization as we know it will end.
And nearly as bad are those fans who think that starters should not face a lineup for a third time or that carrying 14 pitchers is a good thing or that managers should be judged mostly on things that happen away from the actual game on the field.
My own personal barometer is to judge things on whether they make sense, if the changes or proposed changes increase your chances of winning. Jacob deGrom isn’t as effective overall facing a hitter a third time but he’s better the third time around than Jeurys Familia is the first time, so let’s keep that type of thing in perspective.
One thing that seems written in stone these days but makes no sense to me is the need for clubs to have a President of Baseball Operations (PoBO.) If you read any of the stories on mainstream sites, everything is all about the need to get a PoBO and get one quick or everything will be a train wreck. Everyone’s top choice for PoBO was Theo Epstein and if only the Mets could get Epstein, everything would magically be great.
Of course, there was as much of a chance of the Mets landing Epstein as there was of clubs going back to 10-man pitching staffs. Now SNY is reporting that neither Billy Beane nor David Stearns seems likely to be coming here, either. Since both are under contract to other clubs, it’s hard to tell why some people find this news surprising. But here we are.
Here’s a radical idea in this day but it used to be standard operating procedure. Skip hiring a PoBO and hire a GM to be a GM and handle those things instead of having him be a glorified manager. Then hire someone as a manager, have the GM give him some guidelines and get out of the way. Two jobs with well-defined responsibilities instead of three jobs with blurred lines of definition.
Maybe if managers were chosen for their abilities to make in-game moves rather than their ability to charm beat reporters, we wouldn’t have Familia and his 5.68 ERA being used 16 times in the last 32 games of the season, to use just one example.
For all things holy, if you must insert a third person into the two-person manager/GM roles, hire a PR professional to talk to the press before and after the games. Sure, we’re not operating under a Wilpon budget anymore, but it’s got to be less expensive and more efficient to hire someone from 5W Public Relations to speak to the press before and after the games than to pay Epstein, Beane or Stearns to be a GM with a job title inflation to work above someone with the actual GM title.
Our PR person can spend time with the manager before the game and with the GM during the game and get input from both of these parties and be able to answer any question asked by the press. And let’s be honest – all of the talk about how ruthless the NY Press is, well, that’s really from a bygone era, too. Today, the members of the media are more interested in preserving access than to write a scathing piece against any player, manager or executive.
It makes no sense to me to prioritize a smooth relationship with the press from a manager over everything else. Tommy Lasorda’s expletive-filled rant wasn’t more important than leading his team to the World Series three times in five years. Why are we valuing a manager’s ability not to be controversial to the press over everything else he does? And if that’s so unbelievably important – well, hire someone specifically for that job.
Do the people in power think that the fans are going to revolt somehow if the guy answering questions is a professional wearing a suit rather than the manager in full uniform? To me, that’s 100% absurd. If it’s truly the GM/front office making decisions, what’s the big deal about getting answers from the manager if he’s not responsible for the moves? Really, if that’s the objection – that you need the answers to come from uniformed personnel – give the PR guy a uniform. Shoot, it would probably be a thrill to the PR guy, anyway.
One of the failures of the Mets following the World Series was their decision to part ways with guys with big personalities in favor of the corporate-like players. Ray Knight, Kevin Mitchell and Lenny Dykstra are shown the door. Knight didn’t really do much but Mitchell wins an MVP and Dykstra is a 4-time All-Star after he’s traded.
To me, this corporate structure feels like the same thing. Don’t hire a manager who may be rough with the press – hire a guy who’s buttoned down and easy to control. And if he stinks at other aspects – just tell the unwashed masses that’s not important. It’s more important to have two Ivy League guys in positions with big titles – regardless of their qualifications – than it is to have a proven winner in the dugout.
A GM wants to have “his guy” as manager and it makes as much sense for a PoBO to have “his guy” as GM. But, really, why is it so important for a GM to have his guy as manager? A good GM should be able to work with a good manager, whether he hired him or not. Joe McIlvane hired Bobby Valentine, while Steve Phillips inherited him. Valentine led the Mets to the World Series. Phillips fired (or was allowed by Wilpon to do so) Valentine and he hired “his guy” in Art Howe. Well, Howe didn’t save Phillips’ job, did he?
Let’s focus on hiring the best people for the job and not be so concerned about the order it happens. If there’s a great manager out there available now – for Pete’s sake, hire him already! Or if there’s a great GM free, scoop him up and worry about the PoBO later. Or, better yet, don’t worry about a PoBO at all. The best news is that there are a ton of excellent PR professionals to hire at any point in time. You can hire that guy whenever you feel like it. Which makes the case to choose a PR guy over a PoBO even stronger.