Disclaimer: This is a long -- perhaps tl;dr-level -- piece replete with gut-level opinion and a minimum of statistical substantiation, delivered with as even a tone as I could muster and intended to be as devoid of personal rancor as I could fashion. Still, it is not the Feel-Good Post of the Summer, so if you don't need to have your Monday rendered any more of a bummer than Mondays already are, I might recommend caution in continuing past the fold. --EN
The sands of time
were eroded by
The River of Constant Change.
I have a job, you know. We all do; if we didn't most of us would probably starve. Some of us have jobs and still starve, to add insult to penury. In my job I just got a pretty bad and ominous review, and got myself essentially put on probation in the process. See, I am a copy editor and in the absence of author-provided photocaptions for some of the included images in the articles I deal with, I was supplying them myself by gleaning passages from the text and miniaturizing them into relevant captions. Turns out, the company I work for wants the captions to say stuff that's not gone into in the text, and I got raked over the coals for not knowing that, amongst other essentials. Leave it to me to get into trouble over captions for pictures... that's never happened before, has it? But I've been stressed out ever since, trying not to mess up further since this happened about 10 days ago. Because I have a job. And if I bollocks it up too egregiously, they'll find someone who won't who they think'll do the job better. And they'll be right.
Mark Ellis comforts Brian Fuentes as the reliever contemplates life without a left arm. Not pictured: Andrew Bailey, who must be contemplating life without a right arm should Best Man Bob use him in a similar fashion when he returns from the disabled list.
We rub up against these relationships every day in our lives: every business we enter, whether it's the bank or the barbershop, has managers and owners and expectations therein that guarantee -- or at least hope to help to ensure -- that the business remains viable and on course, whatever goods or services it may provide. At some point, you have to ask yourself: if a company I was patronizing allowed a history and a pattern of failure to develop under a particular management regime, and the owners failed to replace or even really reprimand that supervisor, would I still patronize that business? Especially if I continually perceived that this negligence was affecting, as it inevitably would after enough repeating instances of the same failure, the quality of the product or service I was purchasing. Or would I look for a competitor of that business that more had its shit together, and that wouldn't allow institutionalized mechanisms of underachievement and failure to fester unchallenged? Because in some cases, repetition isn't a form of change; it's an irritant and a demoralizing, limiting factor. Sometimes, if the record is skipping, you have to reposition the tonearm so it'll play the rest of the song and you won't go mad.
I'm not threatening to defect to the Minnesota Twins (they've got enough of their own problems these days), nor am I going to drill down into the specifics of every game Geren's put Fuentes into that was tied and on the road, or some other move where even the other team's TV broadcasters were thanking him out loud. Fuentes himself had questions, via the media, about all of that which apparently boiled over yesterday. But whether you think Fuentes is a crappy washed-up hack that can only get lefties out and should therefore STFU or a genuine victim of Geren's apocalyptic bullpen management that ought to speak out isn't really the point. The point is that when you're 6 weeks into the season and your go-to primary reliever (absent one DL'd All-Star closer) can't help but rip you for overusing him after the game, one begins to wonder whether -- especially following a 4-year pattern of bullpen overuse and questionable management of the relievers (think Wuertz and Breslow in past seasons) in particular -- you are the right man to manage a baseball team in the first place, given the truly relevant criteria for the position. Because many, many knowledgeable people will tell you that the central role of a manager -- and the area in which he has the most impact upon the results of the games -- is in his use of the bullpen. The rest, they'll tell you, can be done by your 11-year-old nephew from Manteca as long as he's had his Ritalin and something that wasn't Lik-m-Aid Fun Dip to eat for lunch. If this is so, then we need to start scouring the middle schools for sixth-graders that can fill out a lineup card, because our current occupant is unsuitable in extremis.
I don't think we need to get too into the whole thing about why you shouldn't hire your friends, either... that should be obvious to every businessperson from the smallest to the largest. I am as likely in life to acquire an MBA as Donald Trump is to acquire a shred of basic humility, but even I know that it's not the hiring, but the social connections and commitments that precede the hiring that cloud the judgment around the firing, all of which makes the truism that you oughtn't ever mix business with pleasure. What bothers me most about the failure of Beane to hold Geren accountable isn't really the obvious-as-a-white-elephant "insider" hire, nor is it the evasions and excuses about the injuries and whatnot. OK, Ken Macha was missing Milton Bradley and whoever else for whole segments of 2006 and still took the team to the ALCS, but whatever. It isn't even the soporific play by a team that often looks perennially underprepared and uninspired, even in the presence of a starting staff that could conceivably be the cornerstone of a run of excellence in the near future. It's not even the entropy I perceive around the role (or lack thereof) this manager takes in making sure the position players are prepared to get to the level where they can truly support and complement the pitchers and build a complete mechanism to win games on both sides of the ball, essential as I might feel that to be for a ballclub to have and retain that "it" factor. Geren's in-game style and moves may wither when subjected to scrutiny but it isn't even that, and to expect Beane to publicly second-guess those specific moves and that motivational tone is unreasonable.
Truth be told, what truly rankles is the contempt it expresses when you are the GM/owner (itself a conflict of interest in more than a few folks' opinions) and you blatantly hire your best pal and let him continuously fail as if you don't really mind or care about the hit that provides to your (once admirable and emulable) credibility in your industry. When you're in charge and you don't even respond as if something is going wrong with the proud, historical product of which you are the custodian and that you have expectations beyond what this current person may be able to realistically provide. When you allow the person in question to operate in a bubble free of basic accountability for so long that contradicting them or their actions in any way becomes difficult and a thing to be avoided at all costs. That's not an environment that breeds respect for leadership anyway, where anyone looking at the organization or thinking about signing here can see, like we can, the more-than-subtle hint of cronyism that the arc and air of Geren's tenure here has evidenced. As I see it, the reality is that to regain a semblance of credibility and balance on the matter, in this case the GM side of BB must bite the bullet and fire his best friend. This, if only to demonstrate that he's still got some stake in the on-field timbre/vibe and results and isn't just assisting in the treading-water process of which this ownership team -- of which he is an integral part -- is often accused.
Perhaps most troubling is the constant stream of bleat we hear from this front office about how small the margin of error is for these small market A's, and how every single "i" must be dotted and every "t" crossed for the beleaguered David franchise to have any chance against the behemoth Goliaths like the Yankees or the Red Sox or whoever. That every single stone must be turned over in search of players and personnel and data that can maximize the shred of opportunity our boys have to compete against the Big Money. We hear about it all the time and they even make the occasional movie about it... so why doesn't this philosophy extend to what might be this current configuration's biggest millstone? To the guy who has never shown the imagination to succeed in this job, and who has seen a lot of stuff written about how he needs to finally do so, and who now almost seems to have begun to manage the games in May like each one is the 7th Game of the World Series? I swear the way he burns the 'pen, you wonder if he's saving anything for September... or if maybe to him this is September and he feels somehow under the gun to win right now, lest he be relieved of his duties. I can't pretend to know for sure either way, but the question remains: how does someone who seems responsible for so many poor decisions that have led to so many dubious in-game situations and so many eventual losses for the team, all whilst roasting the vital personnel we'll need in some serviceable condition later on and thereby damaging our future prospects for success.... exactly how does this person fit in with the "we have too little margin for error to make avoidable mistakes" credo? You'd think that a braintrust that prides itself on statistical analysis of the mathematical realities of situations would have a manager that can see a series or even a homestand or roadtrip in terms of more than just the nine innings of one of its games anyway -- and act accordingly -- but apparently this is less of a prerequisite than might be imagined.
The basic bottom line (!!!!!) in all of this is change: I feel that in order to maximize the chances to rescue the season while we're still close to the top of the division (or it's so bad that no team can really vault that far out in front yet) and make a run at not wasting these pitchers (as regards both the supremacy of the starters and the stamina of the relievers), things have got to substantively change. I look at Fuentes yesterday, and at all the times Geren has warmed up relievers from Ziegler to Breslow over the course of a game and failed to use them in the proper matchups (or use them at all), and I see something that must change. I see in my mind's eye a game earlier this season where Ziggy was all warmed up and left to hang by Geren, staring in from the bullpen as hitter after hitter batted against a gassed pitcher and in all likelihood wondering "WTF is this guy doing?" Eventually we lost, even before Brad was used... I can still see him there by the bullpen, incredulously waiting for a call that never came, and I know the pattern must change before this year turns into an even more disastrous impersonation of the four previous ones.
We have so little margin for error that I can't see how retaining the stagnant presence of an indisputably unsuccessful field general will bring about the basic need for a fresh approach and the renewed focus I have felt this franchise has lacked for some significant time now. I really just sense that only real and somewhat radical change can hope to bring that about, and that's why I wrote this, as hard as it is to start the week off all negative and such. I know we get our share of Cars tunes around here, with the fans always chanting "Let's Go!" while the few baserunners wonder who is gonna drive them home tonight. Hell, I thought this call to shake it up was just what I needed, but still the good times have yet to roll -- and no one likes a sad song anyway. But yet I continue to feel that however painful, this change is one (perhaps one among several) that has to be made or this will be a team that never emerges from the tractor beam of .500 or worse, won't ever resemble something we can bear to watch on a daily basis without resorting to stimulants -- if only to stem the vortex of ennui that seems to whirl around this franchise like a Catherine Wheel of Yawns.
I totally get that a new manager isn't going to immediately cause Barton to quit acting like he's in a contest to see who can take the closest pitch and get it called a ball, or Kouzmanoff to be able to field, no less hit, his weight. I also get that it's May, but for me just as much of the critique goes back to the seasons of the recent past where Geren's never failed to sit the hot bat or tax the gassed reliever. Like people were saying yesterday amidst the debacle of the weekend, where the Giants essentially took any remaining borderline/undecided fans the A's could have had and caused them all to paint their houses that hideous orange and black: there needs, at long last, to be a real shakeup. Maybe more change needs to happen and we need to see some of the youngsters (Weeks, Cardenas) like some people around here are saying, I don't really know. What I do know is that whatever ability this manager might have once had to lead the A's from their Space Malaise, it's gone. And until he follows it out the door we are gonna be stuck here watching this ballclub tread the territory back and forth around .500 like it's Waiting for Godot with rollover grounders to short and endless popups to the foul territory in front of the home dugout that go on longer than a performance of Satie's Vexations, and with far less excitement.
"Hey Blue, check out my new Facebook page... it's right over there!"
I don't have the answers and I'm operating under no delusion that the sad predictability of the outcomes so far (themselves really an extension of last year's established dance with the break-even zone of .500, fashioned from the formula of incredible pitchers + equally as awful hitters = one mediocre cocktail) are somehow all entirely the fault of the manager. As I said, this is a change (or series of changes) that needs to be intended to shake loose years of inertia at the clubhouse and dugout levels if it's to have a prayer of working and the performance (or at least the energy that informs and supplies it) is to measurably improve at all. And I know it's unlikely to happen or if it does it'll just be that they won't pick up his option after this season, because that's how they do things in the Athletics' universe of one part "OMG" and one part Omertà. I didn't want to come out all feral and call for the guy's head (even though I am sort of infamous for doing that in a public forum, whoops), but I've been watching baseball for my whole life and I've never felt in my bones that a manager needed to be replaced for the performance of the team to become unstuck from the muck of suck and a truck o'bad luck than I do this morning, and not just because of what transpired over the weekend, horrific as it was. It's simple: as Oldham A might say, no offence -- the team doesn't really have one anyway, but that's another Doomsday post for another post-Rapture weekend -- but Geren must go for the Green and Gold to get its groove back.
Sorry for the ridiculous length of this, but it wasn't just something I could just toss out there with no attempt at embellishment. Anyways,