Thursday, September 23, 2010
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With the Sox season officially down the tubes, a lot of people have been commenting on how the team "made the season interesting" and commending them for fighting back and not giving up after the horrid start. The team did show some resiliency (up until last week anyway), no doubt.
But I find myself wondering: Is that really something to be so proud of? Isn't that a little like damning them with faint praise."Wow, you competed for a while in the division race." Shouldn't we expect an interesting season? Shouldn't we expect them to get out of the gate better, and if they don't, shouldn't we expect them to turn it around?
Nobody ever calls the Yankees "grindy", "scrappy", "resilient", or any of those type of adjectives. They have their share of soap operas in New York too, but they just play boring ol' good baseball all season. Now, it's definitely not fair to compare the Sox to the Yankees, a team with a virtually limitless payroll in a gigantic, always-engaged market. But if the Sox are looking to improve their lot as an organization, they could take a few lessons from the Bronx Bombers.
This is all an issue this week because of the soap opera surrounding manager Ozzie Guillen. Ozzie is mercurial manager. That makes for good quotes, good headlines, good storylines and a lot of good cliches and explanations for come-from-behind victories. "They won because they never give up!" "They won because Ozzie inspired them!" "They won because they wanted it more!"
Of course, if they were just a good team and took a lead in the first place, it would be just as satisfying of a win. The intense, volcanic energy that Ozzie provides fuels the Sox engine and leads a passionate charge to battle. However, we've seen for the last five years that the Sox fade down the stretch when the playoffs are on the line.
Maybe it's that same high energy act that drains the engine by August and September, when the team is exhausted from the routine. And maybe there isn't such a need for that intense approach in the first place.
We know the working relationship between Ozzie and Ken Williams has deteriorated pretty badly. We know Ozzie, and his family, are wont to cause unnecessary and often unwelcome waves. And we know the Sox will, once again, miss the playoffs in 2010. Would a manager change be the worst thing in the world?
If Ozzie does decide to walk away, possibly taking his act to Florida (all indications are that the Sox will not fire him, though the Yankees would surely fire their skipper for going 5-13 against their chief rival), it might be time for the Sox to seek a more level headed manager.
I'm not even talking about strategy, Xs and Os or even personnel decisions here- I'm not saying get rid of Ozzie because he is a bad manager. That wouldn't be true anyway, because Ozzie Guillen is a good major league manager. Sure, he has some faults, (he's a bad GM, he is too NL-oriented, he falls in love with veterans, he is a slave to lefty-righty matchups) but you won't find anyone that doesn't.
However, perhaps the Sox should seek a more stabilizing presence in the dugout, one that won't burn out by the stretch run of the season. One that doesn't get too high or too low or distracted my anything off the field.
Not a snoozer, mind you. (Speaking of snoozers by the way, it is worth pointing out that if Jerry Manuel were the manager of this team, he would get a bigger share of the blame for the Twins pants-pissing and 8-game losing streak than Ozzie's gotten. A similar late season meltdown in '03 got Manuel fired.) AL managers Joe Maddon, Mike Scioscia and Ron Gardenhire lead their teams with a steady hand. There might not be as many great quotes, but the commitment to winning is the same.
I still think Ozzie can be successful with the White Sox, and I wouldn't be against him managing the 2011 team for one last chance. That was, until his Me First media campaign started yesterday. I was very, very disappointed to see his whining about a contract extension.
AJ Pierzynski and Paul Konerko are in contract years and have handled themselves much better than Guillen, who has a contract for next year and yet still expects to be handed an extension regardless of the product on the field. Calling for an extension when your team is on a 7-game losing streak and has just been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs is a joke- it is something I would expect from a selfish, unprofessional, petulant manager.
As David Haugh said in his solid column today, "If one of Guillen's players brought up his contract status during a slump, imagine how many bleeps the manager's response would require."
Ozzie, much like Jermaine Dye, is just not a contract year kind of guy. He tenses up, becomes obsessed with the idea of money and his next contract and bristles at the possible idea of rejection whenever the topic comes up. That goes back to his playing days- remember his bitter, unceremonious exit from the team in 1997? It's 13 years later, and we're seeing signs of the same bitterness.
Williams, to his credit, responded perfectly:
“I am not planning on making a managerial change before next season. That said, with one more year left on his contract and another (for 2012) with the team option, if those are terms he’s no longer happy with, (Jerry and) I understand and respect him enough to let him out of his deal.”
What is it Ozzie said at the beginning of ever episode of The Club? Ah yes: "If this boat is gonna sink I will be the first guy to go down with it." (That should be especially true this year since Ozzie had such a big hand in personnel decisions like Thome, Kotsay, etc.)
To borrow from this year's marketing theme- White Sox Accountability: It's Black and White.
Or it should be.
Though one of the better baseball writers in town, Phil Rogers sometimes comes off as a little bit of a reactionary when analyzing Williams moves. (His response to the Brandon McCarthy deal comes to mind.) However Rogers makes a lot of good points in his article about Williams tenure as GM today:
- The Sox only had two homegrown players on their roster (most of) this year: Mark Buehrle and Gordon Beckham.
- The Sox farm system is ranked among the weakest in the league.
- The Sox efforts in Latin American scouting have been lackluster.
- The Sox spent a total of $12.7 million on the last three drafts, lowest in all of baseball.
- Williams has traded away a lot of inexpensive young arms (Gonzalez, Richard, Ely, Hudson) that are now succeeding elsewhere.
Rogers goes on to say that, going forward for the next few years, the Twins might "[rule] the AL Central with even more certainty than the Yankees have the AL East." I agree the Twins are not a one year wonder here and should be considered the favorite again in '11, but it is an overstatement to hand them the AL Central crown for the next three years.
Remember 2007? The Sox lost 90 games, the Indians were one win away from the World Series and the Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera right after the season. Things seemed a lot bleaker then, and yet the Sox won the division the next year.
A lot can change in a short time in baseball. The Sox have every bit as much of a chance to compete in 2011 as the Twins.