Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Little Things
By Blogger

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the new manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers: Grady Little!

Sorry, I just had to see how that looked all typed out. If you're a baseball fan and haven't been following the Dodgers melodrama, you're missing out. Seriously. It's a story that rivals Playmakers for most outrageous backstabbing and Machiavellian plotting. To catch up on all the hot gossip and wailing and gnashing of teeth and taunting, Jon Weisman's blog, Dodger Thoughts, is a must-read. (It's must-read, anyway, what with generally great baseball writing and all.)

Perhaps the juiciest angle of the whole story has been how Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times have become more than opinion-molders; they are the story. Folks across the internets now take for granted the storyline that their constant and relentless denigration of Paul DePodesta directly influenced Dodger owner Frank McCourt's decision to fire him. I say "denigration" and hesitate to use the word "criticism" because most of the attacks have been baseless. To paraphrase a post from Dodger Thoughts, they'd gone so far as to criticize DePo for letting Adrian Beltre go... because if he had stayed with the Dodgers, it's obvious he would have continued to hit as he did in 2004.

Let's take a page from Fire Joe Morgan and analyze Plaschke's recent column on Little's hiring. To get a sense of context, browse through his index. (Registration/bugmenot required)

There was an ex-manager out there who was fired because he trusted instinct over statistic, people over paradigms, baseball over everything.

This is classic "I'm a baseball man" nonsense. There's more of this later. For now, read between the lines. First, gut feelings are more reliable than sheer numbers because statistics can't tell you anything useful. Second... I have no idea what the hell he means by the next two phrases. I think he's trying to say that you need people skills to be a good manager, which nobody would dispute. However, one runs the risk of becoming that guy from Office Space who takes the specs from the customers to the engineers if people skills are the only skills he has.

Little's only other major league managerial experience consisted of two years with the Boston Red Sox, who fired him because of one bad decision he made when the still-cursed franchise was six outs from going to the 2003 World Series.
Going with his gut, his gut failed him, as he left a tiring Pedro Martinez on the mound to face the New York Yankees in the eighth inning with a 5-2 lead.

He was not fired because of one bad decision. It was more of a camel's back issue. At the time, I tried to argue with people that leaving Pedro in was justifiable because the Sox bullpen had been shaky all year long, but I didn't know Pedro's numbers after throwing 90, 95, then 100 pitches. Little ignored this information, which was readily available to him, and displayed terrible bullpen judgment all year long, essentially sabotaging the no-closer experiment. That's definitely grounds for firing.

...[L]eaving the Red Sox is generally a good and fortunate thing.
It happened to Babe Ruth. It happened to Roger Clemens. Heck, it has made a saint out of that lucky kid Theo Epstein.

Babe Ruth was one of the best pitchers and hitters in baseball while with the Red Sox. It's an arguable point over whether or not he would have been Hall-worthy had he simply pitched for his whole career. Clemens was fantastic with the Sox. Theo Epstein was a saint in New England a full year before leaving. And what's with the gratuitous use of the word "lucky"? The man took a foundation crafted by Dan Duquette and pushed the Red Sox over the top. Yes, the team was lucky, but every World Series winner has luck on their side.

Don Zimmer averaged 96 wins for his first three seasons, and was gone in his fourth...
Zimmer [later] became a legendary bench coach with the Yankees.

I don't know if anybody can be a "legendary bench coach", but plenty of pixels have been spilled on this issue before. Basically, Don Zimmer was The Hedgehog, experiencing some success managing the Red Sox and then the Cubs, but never having a team that got over the top. He became the Yankees' bench coach just after Steinbrenner stopped meddling and the talent subsequently spilled over. Does Plaschke believe that Zimmer had more than a negligible effect on the Yankees' success over the past decade? He would be mightly lonely in that belief.

This was a guy who had been director Ron Shelton's inspiration as the real manager of the Durham Bulls...

Wait. The lollygaggers guy? Grady Little is the inspiration for the lollygaggers guy? The manager who the unnamed big league club didn't trust enough to handle and teach their stud flamethrower with horrible peripherals, so much so that they sent a veteran AAA catcher down to A ball just to babysit? That's a helluva compliment.

Players understood and loved that he was all about the grass-roots part of the game. That he would judge them not for only how they looked, but who they were.

But he would never judge you based on your production. No, sir. If you dive for grounders and never miss a sign and drink your milk and take your vitamins and praise Jesus, then you're A-OK with Coach L. Never mind that Joe McEwing fits that description perfectly. This passage encapsulates everything that's wrong about choosing ballplayers and coaches based on being a "baseball man". It's a slippery slope. It's all well and good when you encourage hustle and admire a player who's willing to push his body's limits in the pursuit of athletic glory, but when you value those attributes over actual production and measurable abilities, well, you get Jason Phillips starting ahead of Hee Seop Choi, or Paul LoDuca getting paid multiple millions of dollars to be an otherwise run of the mill catcher.

[Little] added, "My philosophy is like that. Statistics can't show you everything. I'm a human kind of guy."
This humanness pulled together a clubhouse with players as diverse as Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe and Nomar Garciaparra.

As opposed to a gecko sort of guy. Treating Trot Nixon like he's a gecko works for him, but you have to treat Manny like he's human.

Ramirez averaged 34 homers and 106 runs batted in in two seasons with Little despite being benched for missing games. Lowe was 38-15 under Little and channeled his nervous energy into a force.

Since becoming a full time regular in 1995, Ramirez is averaging 37 home runs per year. That's under Mike Hargrove, Charlie Manuel, Jimy Williams, Joe Kerrigan, and Terry Francona, in addition to Little. Derek Lowe had one superb season as a starter under Little, and one average season. As time passes, that superb season appears more and more to have been a statistical fluke in the vein of Esteban Loaiza's 2003. In other words, Grady Little's influence as manager did not make Manny Ramirez a great hitter, nor did it make Derek Lowe the pitcher he is.

Little took a diverse group and turned them into winners who, months after he was fired, became nationally known as "the Idiots." Then, of course, they finally won the World Series.

See? It was all Grady Little's doing! Theo Epstein was lucky to have Grady Little around, not the other way around!

Little is relaxed enough to handle veterans, but crusty enough to gain the respect of kids, and media-savvy enough to handle buzz. All of that is required in this market, where the new manager must deal with an unsmiling Jeff Kent and effusive "Entertainment Tonight" and seemingly every shade of blue in between.

Crusty is a good thing? How many kids have you known that appreciate and seek crustiness? I'm a kid, and I think my supervisor at work is fantastic to work for precisely because he lacks crust, is the most laid-back 55 year old you'll ever meet, a jazz connouisseur and family man who emphasizes happiness via work instead of work as dues towards happiness. Also, just because Jeff Kent doesn't smile doesn't mean he's difficult to work with. From everything I've heard and read, he just wants to be left alone most of the time. We've all known that guy who would rather sit by himself during his lunch break, right? This ties in to the "judging based on who you are rather than what you do" trope.

Here's to a 60-102 season for the Dodgers next year. Will they fire Colletti if he doesn't make the playoffs?


Blogger Sports Litter said...

Very well written. You always put a lot of depth into your articles.

I hope the Dodgers (and Kent in particular) fail miserably this season.

And thanks for pointing out that there is a fire joe morgan website.. i never knew that

11:54 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

The Dodgers will be more competitive. Especially in the NL West. I expect them to actually win it (if not second). Plaschke...I think he invented the word "Homer"

4:11 AM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

Tony: Just because the Padres decided to re-tool with a couple of head-scratching moves (Vinny Castilla, anyone?), does that automatically make the Dodgers the best team in the NL West? I mean, if Bonds plays 110 games and Jason Schmidt comes back to some semblance of his former self, I'd expect the Giants to take the division in a cakewalk. They were without Bonds all last year, and if the Dodgers dump Milton Bradley and Hee Seop Choi (as expected), then it seems to me they will have traded Choi and Bradley for Furcal and someone else who likely won't be able to make up the difference in reasonably projected production. Izturis moves to 2B once he's back from injury, Kent moves to 1B, someone replaces Bradley in the outfield, and then you can chalk up Drew for his usual 95 games, and, in the end, it could very well be rearranging deck chairs, etc, while the Giants get miles better with the addition of Bonds. Basically, the whole situation in L.A. is just silliness that never should have been allowed to happen. DePo had just finished the second year of a five year plan, and there were obvious gains being made (I'd argue that last year's team was better than the division winner, but got derailed by freak injuries, including Drew's and Gagne's), but the Plaschkes and Fat Tommys on the scene were upset that the team wasn't doing things the way they'd always been done. Thus, the backlash, even though, from an objective standpoint, there was no legitimate basis for a backlash.

5:54 AM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

We all know I'm a huge DePo fan; if Omar makes one more trade like the LoDuca one I'm calling for DePo to take over the Mets. So basically, I'm biased in the other direction.

However, while Plaschke is laughable because he's so blatently homeristic and never has any proof of what he says, I also am filled with a lot of sadness when I read this stuff. Reason one: I'm convinced I could do a much better job and at a lot less salary. Reason two: The national media seems to agree with the guy.

A ton of people like the Furcal signing though it makes little sense. (Why are you paying a slight upgrade 13 million bucks?) Everyone said DePo ruined the Dodgers and give no facts as to how or why outside of "he traded Paul LoDuca."

Everyone wants them to deal Milton Bradley, though for the life of me I can't see why. Jeff Kent is as big "a clubhouse cancer" as Bradley and no one is calling for him to dealt. Derek Lowe is an embarrassment, why is he not disliked by more people?

Ironically, those two guys are DePo players who should be being criticized, yet aren't! Bradley was a key part of the team that won the division and he's getting torn a new one. Why? Well I can give you the reason, but I think Bradley already has.

The media in LA and nationally has no idea what the hell is going on with the Dodgers. They keep dreaming of this nostalgia of Dodger baseball that doesn't exist. Correction, many writers nowadays are resistant to a new found love of statistics that tell them things like "your favorite hustle player isn't that good after all." What Joe McEwing sucks because he posted an onbase of .290 last year? But he works hard, so those stats are blasphemy! In fact, LoDuca fits into that catagory perfectly. LA and the national media love this guy even though he is not a good player at all.

There's little wonder why there was such a start contrast between bloggers and writers; bloggers tend to be younger people who are into the stats, writers are older.

As for Bradley, I'm not going to delve into that any further here. That's a whole other can of worms.

11:45 PM  

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