Monday, May 29, 2006

Modern-Day Manager

The Red Sox have enjoyed success for a number of years, thanks to key players, a big payroll, and the willingness and ability of management to identify key players and to trade for and/or sign them. However, another component to success is the contemporary manager.

The argument in many sports centers around the 'players' manager' or the 'disciplinarian'. Inevitably, a teams' success wanes (or doesn't happen) and a paradigm shift results, the change from Column A (players' manager) to Column B (tough guy). The Red Sox developed an organizational tectonic shift, to 'Moneyball', and needed a manager who could bridge the gap between tradition and change.

Tradition includes the 'in your face' tough guy attitude with 'I know a player when I see him', while change understands the needs of the contemporary player and the relevance of statistics to player acquisition and development, matchups, and strategy. It soulds simple, especially to fans who often embrace baseball sophistry instead of sophistication.

In the 'blame your predecessor' category, we have Grady Little, a baseball old school lifer, who clung to his beliefs versus organizational philosophy. Enter Francona, who understands the advantages (and limitations) of the modern approach, and adheres to the dynamic of process and outcome explored in Moubassin's More Than You Know.

Yesterday's game exemplified Sophie's Choice, selecting among the alternatives of winning today versus sacrifice to win over the long pull. With our collective football mentality, we worship the 'Win Today' attitude, but often ignore the potential disaster inherent in that. The top of the bullpen (Papelbon, Timlin, Foulke) was either gassed or hurt (Timlin to the DL), and the Sox had some nicks on the field as well (Ramirez). Francona bit the proverbial bullet, and chose process over outcome, knowing the risks and benefits. The outcome pales in comparison with the process.

Fortunately, the Sox enjoyed a substantial lead headed into the fateful ninth inning, where the bullpen and defense imploded (key passed ball) but Fenway's short left field giveth and taketh away as Willie Harris gunned down Joey Galbraith to end the game.

Francona has the pelt (World Series title), the temperament (the guy can find the silver lining), and the experience (had the beatdown in Philly) to expect (.596 winning percentage in Boston coming into 2006) loyalty and respect if not adulation from Hub fans. Yes, he sometimes makes us crazy leaving pitchers out there (but who's the long man?), but he is genuine and knows that tomorrow is another day. He never publicly humiliates a player or throws them under the bus.

For all the Philistines out there, I say kudos to Francona; Red Sox Nation is lucky to have him.

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