Billy-Ball Daily: 2006-10-17

10/17/2006
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Top of the 1st
THE A’S DO THE MACHA-RENA
I was at P/T yesterday talking about Jimmy Leyland to my physical terrorist Chris Morin and he said something interesting that I managed to hear above my screams. He said, “I knew the Tigers were going to finish off the A’s because at 3-0 Leyland was asked what he said to his team and he said that he reminded them to stay focused and they still hadn’t reached their goal and keep giving it 100%. Then I heard Ken Macha answer the same question as to what he said to his A’s who were down 0-3 and Macha said that he hadn’t really said anything to his team, they knew what they had to do.”

Soon after I reattached my leg to my body I headed back to Billy-Ball World Headquarters and got the word that Kenny Macha had been fired by the A’s because of what general manager Billy Beane described as “a disconnect on several levels.” While Beane didn’t spell it out, he didn’t have to; Chris had already made it perfectly clear.

Two days after the A’s were eliminated from the postseason, after the A’s had swept the Minnesota Twin in the ALDS, after the A’s had decisively won the AL West, a year after the A’s brought Ken Macha back as their manager after he’d briefly left because of a contract stalemate, Macha was fired as the team’s manager.

By spelling out the successes of Macha don’t let me leave you the impression that I’m defending him. I think we are learning more and more about the role of the manager and how critical it is for him to be able to communicate and motivate.

“There were things that transpired over the course of the year that the players were unhappy about,” A’s center fielder Mark Kotsay said. “There’s no question there were things throughout the year, but the fact of the matter is that that by the end of the year, the players didn’t have the same feeling about the manager as they did at the start of the year — and that was at a point you’d think everybody would be happy, with a six-game lead. … I believe there was friction.”

You will never, never hear words like that from a member of the Tigers.

Read this excerpt from closer Todd Jones column in the Detroit Free Press, “Now fast forward to 2006: New manager, new style. Jim Leyland wrote us a letter before spring training, telling us he had a new way.

He respects everyone but fears no one. The season started and no one gave us a chance. He knew he had a window of about six weeks before the guys decided to buy or sell what he was doing. Then the famous blowup happened (Leyland after a 10-2 loss to Cleveland on April 17th) and we got a spark.”

Many of the A’s players felt that the tone set by Macha was gloomy, “The atmosphere wasn’t positive, for some reason,” A’s third baseman Eric Chavez said. “That was hard for us to deal with — here we are, winning the division, we’re banged up but we’re still doing what we should be doing, and every time he spoke to us, he’d say how much appreciated the effort, but then you’d read things where he was always smashing people. … This negative cloud was just eating at everybody.”

“When I got injured, I felt disrespected,” Mark Kotsay said. “The ‘puzzling’ comment really threw me. My manager didn’t have my back, and every manager’s first business is to protect his players. That totally lost my trust in that relationship, between us as player and manager.”

Let’s go back to the April 17, Leyland rant. The Tigers had just lost to the Indians, 10-2 and the score reflected their play. “We stunk,” Leyland said while speaking to reporters for less than a minute. “Period. Stunk. And it’s not good enough. It’s been going on here before, and it’s not going to happen.” “He wants our expectations to be greater than maybe they’ve been,” pitcher Nate Robertson said after giving up seven runs that day over 2 1-3 innings. Some point to that postgame address as the moment when the Tigers’ collective attitude changed for the better.

A’s pitcher Barry Zito was among those who felt that Macha had not done enough to back him. In today’s SF Chronicle he refers to his final start against Anaheim in 2004, when he came out after seven innings and 115 pitches. The A’s lost the lead after Zito left, and Macha said after the game that Zito had taken himself out of the game.

“I felt like he didn’t protect me,” Zito said. “I know a lot of managers do — (White Sox first baseman) Paul Konerko told me that Ozzie Guillen would take a bullet for his players. I was upset but Macha was fighting his own battle and he probably couldn’t process that kind of pressure, so, OK, I’ll wear it.”

Compare that to what Yankee Gary Sheffield who played for Leyland in Florida said prior to the Yankees defeat by Detroit this post-season, “There’s a lot of managers I loved playing for, and Jimmy Leyland was at the top of the food chain,” said Sheffield. “He makes you feel good as a player, his motivation and rah-rah speeches.

“Motivating guys, he’s the best at it I’ve ever seen. It’s quite evident that this man is a genius when it comes to talking to his players and getting them ready to play. Regardless of what the results are, he’s going to have the Tigers ready to play. So we’d better be able to match the intensity that team will show. Because I know they’ll show it. Leyland wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I know that the one thing any player wants from his manager is to be protected,” catcher Jason Kendall said.”If there’s a bang-bang play at first, even if you’re out, if you’re arguing you want someone there behind you. If you argue a pitch, even if you’re wrong, you want someone joining in. And I’m not sure Macha did that.”

“My job is to protect the players,” Terry Francona, manager of the Red Sox says. “When things get out, I haven’t done my job. Things do happen (that) people don’t know about.
“I never try to communicate with the players through the media. I don’t believe in that. … I ask the players to give me everything they have. When they do that, I try to be there for them. They’re supposed to get the credit. I don’t mind answering questions when we don’t play well. That’s part of my responsibility — to shoulder the burden. But I’m thrilled when they get the credit. It makes me proud.”

On the other hand, “For the last two years, our relationship has deteriorated to nothing,” back-up catcher A’s Adam Melhuse said about Macha,. “He didn’t even speak to me for well over the last month. For me, as a backup, all I want is communication. Every other coach, I get along with great, but with Macha, it is not an exaggeration to say he doesn’t speak to me — not ‘Hi,’ not anything.

Tigers coach and former Pirate Andy Van Slyke notes that, “For a long time when I was in St. Louis, I felt like a performance car with no fuel in my tank, and when I came to Pittsburgh, Jim Leyland became my fuel…I felt like my career was more important to him than [it was to me.] I think a lot of managers will say that, but the players will tell you that’s not the case. The great thing about playing for Jim Leyland is that he doesn’t care about winning and losing…I’m not saying he accepts losing. But his emphasis has always been on effort and preparation, and if you have that, you can go to bed at night.”

Fox’s Ken Rosenthal described Matt Mantei’s recollection of Leyland’s reaction to a really bad series against the Astros when Mantei played under Leyland during that 108-loss Marlins season of 1998

Mantei recalls Leyland ripping the team for 20 minutes, then marching out into a concrete hallway, the clicking of his metal spikes audible in a quiet clubhouse.

“We were like, ‘Can we get up and eat now?'” Mantei recalls. “Then here come the spikes again. You can hear him coming back down the hallway. He’s like, ‘Every one of you guys should be arrested for impersonating big-league ballplayers!’ He turned around, walked back out, came back and said, ‘Every one of you!”

Yet Mantei, like so many who played under Leyland calls him the best manager he’s had. If he blows up on a team, it’s for a reason, and it’s soon forgotten.

“The fact is, when you have someone leading people, you want them to be a visionary, to forge ahead and be on the front lines,” Zito said. “We felt like we were on the front lines, and he might have been with us but he didn’t have the same conviction or faith. I think it was a fear of failure. He was a little more focused on the pessimistic stuff than on success.”

“Deep down inside, I think he cared about the players, he just didn’t have a good way of communicating,” A’s third baseman Chavez said.”He was always asking me about guys, he wanted to know if they were OK, but I was always the one he talked to in his office and I was probably the one who least needed to be in there.”

My hope is that third base coach Ron Washington becomes the 15th manager of the Oakland Athletics. He has been an A’s coach for 11 seasons and is a former big-league teammate of Beane. Washington is renown for his tutoring of young infielders. He is well liked and well respected as a no-frills baseball guy.

These factors are important because in baseball, like so many sports, knowing a lot about the game doesn’t necessarily make you a great manager or coach. Communicating with your players, protecting them, motivating them, explaining rationales, teaching them, treating each player as an individual, being realistic about strengths and weaknesses, listening to your players, being realistic and being a part of the solution is every bit as important as knowing your sport. From what I have heard and read, that describes Washington.

Meanwhile, the Ken Macha firing should be a lesson to coaches at every level in every sport.

Top of the 2nd
POST-SEASON SCHEDULE AND RESULTS
AL DIVISION SERIES
Oakland Athletics vs. Minnesota Twins
OAK wins 3-0

Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees
DET wins 3-1
NL DIVISION SERIES
St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Diego Padres
STL wins 3-1

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. New York Mets
NYM wins 3-0

AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
Detroit Tigers vs. Oakland Athletics
Gm Date Site Time (TV)/Result
1 DET, 5-1 @ OAK WP Robertson – LP Zito
2 DET, 8-5 @ OAK WP Verlander – LP Loaiza
3 DET, 3-0 @ DET WP Rogers – LP Harden
4 DET, 6-3 @ DET WP Ledzema – LP Street

NL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
St. Louis Cardinals vs. N.Y. Mets
Gm Date Site Time (TV)/Result
1 NY, 2-0 @ NYM WP Glavine – LP Weaver
2 STL, 9-6 @ NYM WP Kinney – LP Wagner
3 STL, 5-0 @ STL WP Suppan – LP Trachsel
4 NY 12-5 @ STL WP Perez – LP Thomson
5 Tue. Oct. 17 @ STL 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
Glavine vs. Weaver
6 Wed. Oct. 18 @ NYM 4 p.m. ET (FOX)
7* Thu. Oct. 19* @ NYM 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
* – If necessary

WORLD SERIES
TBD vs. Detroit Tigers
Gm Date Site Time (TV)/Result
1 Sat. Oct. 21 @ Detroit 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
2 Sun. Oct. 22 @ Detroit 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
3 Tue. Oct. 24 @ NL 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
4 Wed. Oct. 25 @ NL 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
5* Thu. Oct. 26 @ NL 8 p.m. ET (FOX)
6* Sat. Oct. 28 @ Detroit 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
7* Sun. Oct. 29 @ Detroit 7:30 p.m. ET (FOX)
* – If necessary

All games can be heard on ESPN Radio

Top of the 3rd
CUBS TO GO FROM LOSERS TO LOU-SERS
Bad news for the Padres president Sandy Alderson, despite the rumors, San Diego manager Bruce Bochy was not interviewed or signed by the Chicago Cubs to be their future ex-manager.

The Cubs are hiring Lou Pinella.

The Cubs have called a press conference for this afternoon, to announce the signing of Lou Piniella to a three year deal. This will be the first time since 1981 that a team hired a manager who had at least 1,500 wins to his credit. In May 1981, the Angels replaced Jim Fregosi with Gene Mauch, who had been serving as the team’s director of player personnel.

“I feel terrific about Lou. I think he’s a tremendous baseball man and a proven winner from the beginning of his career,” Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. “I think he’s absolutely the perfect choice as we move forward.”
Piniella has a deal that is worth about $10 million. The Cubs hold an option for a fourth year, sources told ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark. Piniella replaces Dusty Baker who was let go a 66-96 last-place finish in the NL.

Piniella has 19 years experience managing in the big leagues with four teams — the Yankees, Reds, Mariners and Devil Rays with a record of 1,519-1,420 and was honored as AL manager of the year in 1995 and 2001. Piniella began managing in 1986 with the Yankees, where he lasted three years. He managed the Reds from 1990-92, leading them to a World Series championship in his first season. During his time in Cincinnati, he got national attention for a clubhouse wrestling match with reliever Rob Dibble. From there it was on to a long run in Seattle from 1993-02. His 2001 team went 116-46, but lost in the ALCS to the Yankees. His 1995 and 2000 Mariners teams also were beaten in the league championship series. During his decade in Seattle, the Mariners won at least 90 games four times. Piniella won 93 games his final season with the Mariners in 2002 before heading home to his native Tampa to try and build a winner for the Devil Rays.

Piniella had an 18-year career as a player, 11 of them with the Yankees, and was a career .291 hitter.

My only question will be whether Lou can kick his hat all the way to ivy at Wrigley.

Great choice for the moribund Cubs.

Top of the 4th
BYE BYE ZITO
There’s an excellent chance that left-hander Barry Zito has worn an A’s uniform for the final time. Zito, 102-73 in 222 starts over seven seasons for Oakland, said was disappointed in his performance on Saturday. “It stinks to lose in this fashion, four straight,” Zito said. “I take responsibility. I didn’t pitch up to my capabilities in the first game. When I pitched well in the division series, that momentum carried us to the sweep. And vice versa this time, it carried them to a sweep.”

General Manager Billy Beane said, “Zito is going to get a lot of attention from teams with a lot more resources they we have.”

Top of the 5th
BIGGIO TO RETURN
Expect Craig Biggio to be wearing an Astros uniform next year. The `Stros are still in negotiations with the second baseman’s agent, Barry Axelrod, regarding a contract for the 19-year veteran who will pursue his 3,000th hit in the 2007 season, presumably Biggio’s last.

Biggio completed a one-year deal worth $4 million in 2006, and both sides agreed he will not take a pay cut in 2007. How much of a raise he receives, however, is still in question.

Top of the 6th
YOU MAKE THE CALL
Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett reported to Lawrence (Kansas) Police over the weekend that someone was harassing him by phone from an apartment in Lawrence.
Brett told police someone had called him several times between 5 p.m. Friday and 1:40 a.m. Saturday and made “inappropriate comments.” Police wouldn’t go into detail about the nature of the calls but said they were tracked to a 22-year-old Lawrence man calling from an apartment in the 1000 block of Ohio Street. His explanation, police said, was that someone from Brett’s home had been calling him. Police said the Lawrence man agreed not to make any more calls and was not ticketed or arrested.

Enough about the pine tar already! The incident happened in 1983, let it go.

Top of the 7th
ON THIS DATE
On October 17, 1989, minutes before the start of Game 3 of the World Series between Oakland and San Francisco, an earthquake hit the Bay area. The game was postponed and the Series resumed 11 days later.

The A’s blamed Ken Macha for his disconnect with Mother Nature.

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
Ken Macha had a 93-69 record this past season. This will be the fourth time that an Oakland manager has led the team to 90 wins and a postseason appearance and not returned the next year. It also happened to Dick Williams after 1973, Alvin Dark after 1975 and Art Howe after 2002.

Top of the 9th
MEA CULPA
Okay, if you are a new reader to Billy-Ball, please forgive the fact that I occasionally err. You old readers stop laughing about the word “ocasionally.”

As it does appear that people actually read all the way to the 9th inning, I would like to report that yesterday I indicated in this spot that David Ortiz had a walkoff homer in the 2004 ALDS for the Red Sox against the Yankees. I, of course, was mistaken. I knew that and knew it many times over thanks to your e-mails.

In the 2004 ALDS, Ortiz and the Sox were up two-games-to-none against the Anaheim Angels. In the bottom of the 10th inning of Game Three, with the score tied at six, he drove the first pitch he saw from Jarrod Washburn into the Monster Seats for the walk-off, game-winning, series-clinching home run.

In the 2004 ALCS, Ortiz became the only major leaguer to have walk-off hits in two playoff games in one calendar day. His 12th-inning home run won Game 4 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees shortly after midnight on October 18, 2004, and his walk-off single won Game 5 less than 23 hours later.

Next, Lance Parrish was not the ineffective manager of the Tigers in the late 1990’s, that distinction belongs to Larry Parrish. Lance Parrish was once Tina Turner’s bodyguard.

Moving on, the Boston Red Sox have hired Will Ferrell to be their pitching coach. Great Odin’s raven! Why would the Sox hire the star of “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy?”

My mistake, it’s not Will Ferrell its John Farrell who spent the past five seasons as Cleveland’s director of player development. I just presumed that the staff that finished with the fifth-worst ERA in the majors last season could use a few laughs. As a team, Boston’s 4.83 ERA was 26th in the majors and its 4.51 bullpen ERA was 21st. Relievers had 22 blown saves, sixth most in the majors.

Farrell spent parts of five seasons as a pitcher with the Indians before retiring after pitching in just two games in 1996, both starts with Detroit. He also pitched for California in 1993 and 1994 and had a 36-46 career record with a 4.56 ERA, primarily as a starter. Sox manager Terry Francona and Farrell were teammates on the Indians in 1988. They also spent time together in Tucson where Francona lived and Farrell stayed the first three months of the year preparing for and attending spring training with Cleveland.

“I wanted somebody [as pitching coach] desperately that I was comfortable with, that Theo would be comfortable with, that the owners would be comfortable with and that the players would be comfortable with,” Francona said.

What about Billy-Ball? Shouldn’t I be comfortable too?

Bottom of the 9th
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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports, espn.com, sportsline.com, mlb.com and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.