Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tracy and McClendon

I think I like Tracy better than McClendon as a game manager, and I like his decisions about who plays and who sits better too. He bunts less frequently, calls fewer pointless hit and runs, and issues fewer intentional walks (I think)--all of which are positive qualities in a manager, whose team is better off when he does as little as possible to intervene in the natural flow of the game (because most in-game managerial moves are counter-productive).

But--and I can't believe I'm about to write this--McClendon was a better manager. And the reason he was better is because of qualities that are intangible. This is an odd assertion for me to be making, because when it comes to performance on the field, I tend to dismiss the notion of intangibles--if you can't measure it or quantify it, I usually don't want to hear about it.

Managers are different, though, because it is the job of managers to be leaders. The in-game moves they make have little to no effect on the outcomes of games--all managers are basically the same--so the ethereal qualities of leadership are all they have to offer that could be of any value. Confucius said that the people in a kingdom naturally assume and mimic the spiritual qualities of the ruler. With baseball managers, or any other kinds of leaders, people have a natural tendency to look to the person at the top as a model of how to behave and then to behave in a similar way. They don't do this consciously; it just happens.

McClendon didn't have much understanding about how teams actually win baseball games and what skills contribute to wins, and as a result, he frequently made foolish decisions. But what I realize now and didn't realize then is that the consequences of those decisions were less destructive than I thought they were. The more important point is that he was a good leader of men. He had a quality that is important in a baseball manager: passion. And his teams had it too. Other managers who have it or had it are Jim Leyland, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, and Earl Weaver. Gene Lamont didn't. Neither did Danny Murtaugh; but Murtaugh had the benefit of having an extraordinary collection of great players.

The decision by Tracy not to argue bad calls like the non-homerun last night is important not because arguing would have changed the outcome of the game, but because of what it represents--a passive acceptance of losing that now permeates the Pirates organization from the owners to the general manager to the manager and down to the players. McClendon was one guy who swam against the tide. Now everyone swims in one direction: downward.

McClatchy apologists often make statements such as, "Oh, Kevin hates to lose, believe me." Well, I don't believe them, because I have never once heard him evince passion about anything. Littlefield either--he lies, spins, and obfuscates, but he never loses his temper or expresses genuine, recognizable emotion about anything. Littlefield inherited McClendon, but he now has his man in place. The results speak for themselves. The McClendon teams were bad, but they were never this hopeless, this spineless, this pathetic.

Jeffrey Loria is hardly a guy I would hold up as a positive example of anything, but I invite you to look at the recent friction between Loria and manager Joe Girardi and realize that this passion erupted on a team that had, in effect, given up on this season by trading away most of its established players and making the decision to field a team of guys most of whom had no business being in the major leagues. Such a team could be excused for not caring much about winning games--this was declared to be a year dedicated to experience and growth, not to winning. And yet, this team is engaged in a real baseball season while the Pirates barely go through the motions.


Anonymous Bern1 said...

When Legendary Lloyd took the job, he said that he expected the team to assume his personality, follow his leadership and meld itself after his own makeup. Which turned out to be kind of ironic, considering his purported inability to communicate with or trust his young players. It turned out that much of the time his players appeared confused, dazed and lacking confidence.

Nevertheless, say what you will about Legendary Lloyd, he demonstrated passion, whether it was walking off the field with first base or erupting in a post-game tirade. In retrospect, those displays may have been rooted in a sense of insecurity, of feeling a need to prove himself since he was a first-time manager. In any case, Lloyd’s talent-starved teams almost always played hard to the bitter end.

Now, we are seeing a team that seems to have taken on the personality and makeup of its manager, Jim Tracy. The result is a team that is drifting, directionless, somnambulant, lethargic and passionless. It’s a team that takes the first opportunity to lie down and roll over. Just speculating here, but it appears that part of Jim Tracy’s failure to lead may be rooted in a sense of arrogance, entitlement and noblesse oblige.

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Greg Schuler said...

I disagree on Lloyd being a good leader - how do you explain the poisonous clubhouse he allowed to fester before Giles and Kendall et al were finally traded? A good leader would have made sure that did not happen. And for all his fiery antics, the umpires probably respected the club less and therefore that worked against the Pirates.

Tracy is an arrogant man - wrongly arrogant since his high payroll and talented clubs only made the playoffs once in the NL West during his managerial tenure. However, as bad as Tracy may be, McClendon had no business being a manager. The way he tried to ruin every young hitter the Pirates brought up is inexcusbale, both as a coach and manager.

This team is underperforming to a very limited extenst, and I don't believe this coaching staff is any good. In fact, I loathe that the Pirates win or become successful because I don't want any of them to take an ounce of credit.

Better players make better managers and until that quotient is fixed, it doesn't matter who is in charge. The Marlins have plenty of talent, regardless of service time - Cabrera and Bay are somewhat equal and the Pirates don't have anyone close to Willis. But the Marlins have impact prospects - Ramirez, Hermida, Willingham and Jacobs are better than any youg hitter in the Pirates system and there is more on the way. Same for the pitching - the Marlins have impact pitchers learning their craft at the MLB level - Johnson, Kensing, Tankersley, et al. Girardi has done very well to keep that team focused and in better shape than perhaps they deserve to be at this point of the rebuilding effort. But don't udnersell the players and their ability.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of good points here. But I would like to give Tracy a little more time.

I think McClendon's act of arguing so much with umps about everything (everyone is out to get us) and even fighting with the other team, wore very thin. I hated that he never stuck with a more set lineup long enough. Plus if I heard him use the term "young men" to describe his team one more time I was going to puke. He never won anything.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Bern1 said...

I don’t know that McLendon was any better than Tracy. Nor am I certain that he was any worse. Lloyd’s tenure was maddening and mystifying. Tracy’s is mystifying and maddening. Unfortunately, we are destined to continue our long descent into madness.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Billy said...

I'm willing to admit that the maxim, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" may be at work here. Reading these comments is bringing painful memories of the McClendon era back to me. It was bad, but bad in a different way than the current era is bad. I guess the question of which era was worse hardly even matters...

10:03 AM  
Anonymous bucdaddy said...


Thoughtful post, but I tend to agree more with your posters. I doubt Lloyd's tantrums, while certainly entertaining, ever resulted in a single win. Any bad team can play with passion. What I want to see through the entire organization is a passion for winning.

However, the phantom homer made me wonder if you-all would support a replay rule in baseball for such instances -- fair-foul, catch-trap, plays at the plate, that sort of thing. Imagine if, instead of running out of the dugout and throwing things and making a fool of yourself, ultimately to no avail, you could just throw the red hankie. Maybe you'd get one a game, and if you're right you keep it, and if you're not you lose it. Games already run so long, another couple minutes wouldn't bother me if it helped the umps get a key play right.

"I tend to dismiss the notion of intangibles -- if you can't measure it or quantify it, I usually don't want to hear about it."

Exactly how I feel about luck.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Billy said...

Exactly how I feel about luck.


But you can measure and quantify luck--at least that is the assertion of the Wall Street Journal article that started the original war of words between us.

11:29 AM  
Blogger the buccin' ear said...

The part I most agree with you onn is the culture of losing. I've said all year long that one of Tracy's worst traits is that he talks after losing games about the great job that so-and-so did in bouncing back from a four-run first or how wonderful it is that the team fought back from a 9-0 deficit to lose 12-8.

As long as losing is tolerated, and it clearly is, in the Pirates organization, we can look forward to 14 more losing seasons.

At least McClendon threw some bases around every now and then, although he never seemed to pass on his passion to his players to any great extent.

The Buccin' Ear

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Bern1 said...

I wouldn’t mind instant replay in baseball, but the umpires union sure would.

You make a good point that arguing with the umps can be counter-productive. Frankly, however, this current team is so vanilla and lacks identity to the point that ANYTHING of entertainment value would be welcome, in lieu of good baseball.

That’s one reason I wouldn’t have minded seeing a vehement argument following the phantom home rune. I was just bored. That, and the team needed a spark.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Billy said...

Right. Their commercials say "We will entertain." They're liars.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Rory said...

I always thought Lloyd got a worse rap then he deserved. I agree he was not a good manager, he was terrible at putting together a lineup, he meddled too much over the course of the game, and I think had a poor sense of when to remove his starters. But the Lloyd character was awesome, and his first season he was the only reason to watch the Pirates. And the team was only as complacent as he was.

Many people complained that errors on the basepath, people not covering bases, and the general miscues were his fault, they may have been, but I think Tracy has proven that he is equally as at fault for those type of things since they seem to happen with the same frequency. I would contend this is a development issue, but that's another topic.

And I think there are negatives with Tracy non-meddling. I'd disagree with him not bunting as much, and he seems to do it unsuccessfully quite frequently. He'll also leave relief pitcher into bat more then anyone should, and the concept of a good batting order seem foreign to him.

If it weren't for Tracy playing the right players more often then not I'd say they were pretty even in the managerial department, but you gotta miss that fire. And I agree with you on your conclusion Billy.

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Bern1 said...

Not that anyone would EVER suggest Ozzie Guillen is a hothead, or that his style in any way compares to Jim Tracy's, but here's what happened last night,according to the New York Times:

"Abreu was nearly doubled off first, and White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillén was ejected for arguing the call."

Craig Wilson went 2 for 4 with a double.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Billy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Billy said...

My world is turning all topsy turvy. Craig Wilson is turning me into a Yankee fan.

I want Craig to hit a Bucky Dent/Aaron Boone style home run in the playoffs this year. I want the whole world to know about the suffering that Dave Littlefield has inflicted on the few of us remaining in Pittsburgh who still care about the Pirates.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous bucdaddy said...

"War of words"? Hey, this ain't Lebanon. We're just talkin' baseball here, my friend :-)

11:11 AM  
Anonymous bucdaddy said...

Oh yeah, I picked this up in my wanderings today:

"What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself." -- Roland Barthes

So start throwing those bases, Mr. Tracy, and everyone will love you!

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Bern1 said...

Unrelated, but what the hell: Last night, Royals vs. Red Sox, eighth inning, Ryan Shealy delivers the winning hit off Curt Schilling.

Meanwhile, Craig Wilson went 2 for 4 with a double. Shawn Chacon visits the orthopedist to have his knee examined. Not to be bitter.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous bucdaddy said...

Back to an old subject for just a second, because it sort of came up elsewhere.

I honestly don't know whether something as ethereal as luck can possibly be quantified. Maybe it can, though it seems to me like trying to take a photo of a ghost.

But anyway, here's the kind of thing that makes me a skeptic: One of the other bloggers posted of Gorzelanny's start against Houston that "He was a tough luck loser tonight." Well, he pitched against Clemens. Isn't it remarkable how many pitchers suddenly have tough luck when they pitch against Rocket? And if you say, well, his tough luck IS that he had to face Rocket, I say: Hey, this is the big leagues. You don't get to start all your games against Shawn Chacon. Sometimes you get him, and sometimes you get Clemens, or Pedro, or Maddux. They start every five days. SOMEBODY has to take the mound for the other guys. When it's your turn, you take the ball. Shut the other team out and take your chances.

Now, back into hibernation I go.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Billy said...

Let's assume that the random distribution of pitching matchups results in Pitcher A facing the equivalent of Roger Clemens every fifth day and Pitcher B facing the equivalent of Shawn Chacon every fifth day. Are you saying that, from the point of view of won-lost record, Pitcher B is not luckier than Pitcher A?

Won-lost record is one of the most situationally dependent statistics we have for pitchers, and is therefore one of the least valid for predicting future performance. Exhibit A: Jason Marquis entered today's game vs. the Pirates with 12 wins despite being one of the worst pitchers in the league according to nearly every other statistic that measures pitching effectiveness.

Situationally dependent statistics are affected by luck. That's why, if you really want to be able to predict with some validity what a pitcher will do in the future, you look at three things: strikouts, walks, and home runs allowed. These are the only three things that are fully within a pitcher's control. Everything else, from the point of view of pitching skill, is affected by luck.

4:09 PM  

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