June 26, 2014
The [Your Team Name Here] Way Power Rankings
When Mike Matheny bristled at the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy All-Star promotional video this month, one quickly sensed that the Cardinals’ skipper was upset about something deeper than an All-Star roster spot. “Not saying that's surprising,” Matheny said. “We've gone through this the last few years, especially last year with the Cardinal Way stuff getting blown way out of proportion. I think it can put a bad taste in a lot of peoples' mouth.”
We can all recognize the Cardinals have literally had a way (lowercase) of getting good players and performing well with them over the past, ohhhhh, century. As an observation, that’s nothing anybody would get upset over. That they’ve had a Way (capitalized), apparently, is something somebody would get upset over, or might be, or at least is something that Matheny thinks is, or might be. More block-quoting, this time from an article earlier in the season, when he spoke, unsolicited, about the need to put The Way behind him (as we all, once, put The Way behind us).
So the Cardinal Way stuff has been blown out of proportion. The question is what the appropriate proportion would be. The Cardinals aren't the only team with a self-proclaimed Way—not by a long shot. Is there any team that doesn’t deserve the “holier than thou” (reputation)? Without further ado, we present to you
The [Your Team Name Here] Way Power Rankings
(Quick note here: Every description of a club’s Way (where a club has a defined Way) will come directly from somebody in the organization. Some fan or writer has defined a way for every team, but those ways are unofficial; a Way from an official, meanwhile, is by one definition official.
Further: We prefer a Way that has been defined relatively recently, but it isn’t necessary. The Cardinal Way describes what the Cardinals do. The Cardinals are a franchise. A Way might not have been identified by each franchise at its inception, but once it is identified, it is permanent. Otherwise, we would refer to these as The John Mozeliak Way, or the Mike Matheny Way, the way we describe the Monroe Doctrine or the Carter Doctrine. Ways are like founding principles. Ways don’t change. I’m sticking to that.
Finally, small note: Positions listed for those quoted are the positions they held at the time they said it. Some might have changed.)
I might have been more sympathetic to Beinfest if he’d said, “There is no Marlins way, because ways are stupid; all of us are basically trying to do the same thing, and to the extent that some heuristic develops about how to do that, it is likely vague to the point of uselessness or else constraining. We don’t have a way, we’ll never have a way, and frankly at this point I’m not even comfortable with foods manufactured with whey products. Say ‘way’ again. Say 'way' again, I dare you, I double dare you, say ‘way’ one more Goddamn time!”
But he didn’t. He acknowledged that he buys into the Way paradigm, and that he’s flailing miserably in it, he and his whole stupid team of frauds and scoundrels.
I’m as surprised as you are that playing bad baseball is higher on these power rankings than playing good baseball is.
I’m tempted to put this one in the no. 1 spot, because we now know Ballplayer Beards to be just one more meme that ballplayers have turned into tinnitus. Nobody kills a meme like a bunch of ballplayers, a topic for another day (I promise). But there’s something maddeningly demeaning about Showalter’s ban, not because he didn’t want his men growing beards (I have no particular issue with the Yankees’ ban, for instance) but because he wrapped it in such condescension: The Diamondback Way of Life. Y’all ballplayers are a bunch of dumb children; I gotta talk to ya’s like I’m the volunteer football coach takin’ y’all off the street and teaching ya’s to be men and grownups. But, since ya actually are all incredibly accomplished and financially successful and good at making your dreams come true, I can’t be inspiring and tell you “reach for the stars” and “somebody loves you.” Nope. That’s all off the table. So to keep this illusion going I have to remind you to take the recycling to the curb on Thursdays and how to tie a tie and how nobody will take you seriously if you have a goatee. And he took this little book of rules and regulations and put a Huge Frickin' Title on it. The Way of Life. Actually, a lot of religion is stuff like this, so maybe Showalter’s a prophet. Whatever.
This was the Nationals’ first season as the Nationals, and they chose to define themselves by following the model set by a team who a) hadn’t had a winning record in seven years, and wouldn’t have one in seven years and who b) played in the market that the Nationals were attempting to steal, the market in which the Nationals were attempting to differentiate themselves. Weird choice. Of course, the Oriole Way as Robinson et al defined it was the way of decades earlier, so really what puts the National Way down here is not that they stole the Orioles’ Way but that it was basically just a way of Frank Robinson complaining that nobody does it like they used to in the good ol’ days, when everything was better (if you had the natural ability of Frank Robinson).
Nothing wrong with that; banal and mostly meaningless, and we’ll see plenty of teams whose Way is practically word-for-word the same. But some years later, after firing the hitting coach, Charlie Manuel justified the personnel change by saying, “I think we need to go back and play baseball the Phillie way. We've gotten away from it somehow. That doesn't mean that changing the hitting coach will bring that part back. But just having a new person, somebody different, might make a difference." It’s that part in the middle--“we’ve gotten away from it somehow”--that gets me. Somehow. Manuel is the manager of the team. Somehow, not sure how, certainly nothing he could have done, but somehow the Phillie Way had gotten away from them. The Phillie Way is treated like a mystical force that blesses them when they are pleasing to it. And if sometimes you have to throw a live body into a volcano to please it…
Gosh. I just think that there might be something else. Perhaps for this reason, Bo Porter is attempting to establish the new Astro Way, which he has described as “stress(ing) the synergistic chemistry of the team,” which is certainly the Astro Way Of Describing Stuff.
Come to think of it, the Rangers haven’t won a World Series, either.
They have a more specific definition of the Ranger Way, as displayed on t-shirts that their coaches wore in instructional league in 2010: Teamwork; Attitude; Discipline; Sacrifice. And, yes, no team has better exemplified sacrifice than Ron Washington’s Rangers.
But that’s the point, guys: The Way is The Fundamentals, as they are defined by you. It’s a way of saying, “we believe this particular area of focus and/or attribute is the fundamental key to winning baseball in the context of our franchise’s situation and history.” You can’t say fundamentals are the Way, any more than you can say that you favorite kind of music is the kind with notes, or that the thing you look for in a spouse is qualities you like. So get specific: Which “fundamentals” are fundamental to you? Awareness of the game situation? Preparedness on defense? Quiet hands in the batter’s box? A sweet pickoff move? I will show you how this is done:
What means something to you, Reds?
You wouldn’t think this would need to be said. You wouldn’t think, though, that “Thou Shalt Not Kill” would need to be carved into stone by God. You’d think if you had space for 10 rules, you might start with the ones that are more debatable and count on us to fill in the easy ones on our own. The 10 Commandments probably should have been something like:
That the 10 Commandments are nothing like that tells me that humans probably need to be told everything from the most simple thing on up. So the Indian Way is okay, barely. (Also, the answer sort of suggests that it is explicitly a response to the Manny Ramirez years. That those were the most successful years in franchise history tells me that Shapiro really, really has a good reason for feeling this way, same as God.)
Cool. Good stuff. Better than the Mariners’ Way, that’s for sure. This is the Royals team slogan this year, by the way. Really, that’s their team slogan: The Royal Way. Not enough teams’ players are this passionate about stadium ops.
19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13: Braves, Brewers, White Sox, Cubs, Rockies, Tigers, and Rays
Hazing is pretty tame in baseball—the demeaning costumes once a year for rookies, the veterans demanding bottled water service on the bus from the youngsters, etc.—until you realize that the entire minor-league system is a form of hazing. Someday you will be One Of Us, rich and lauded, but until then we are going to spend years making sure you are uncomfortable: You will be sleep deprived, you will be fed mostly crap, you won’t be given any of the luxuries that we upperclassmen get, and, while you are doing this, we will judge you harshly and send most of you home without ever getting the approval from us that you craved. We will make you feel scared; we will remove you from any support network you once had; we will injure you, and then we will heal you; we will make you wholly dependent on us for anything you need or most desire, though there is no promise that we will give you what you need or most desire. We will do this partly to humble you, and partly because we can; why spend money on you when we could instead funnel it into the few stars who make it to the top of this weird reality show we’re producing? And how do you make people love their hazers? You convince them that they are being considered by an organization that Means Something, that Stands For Greatness, and that Has A Plan For World Domination to which you are an ineffectual impediment unless you do things exactly our way. So that’s what these manuals are.
Either that or they’re really clear instructions helping everybody get on the same page as they all try to lift each other up and do great things together. It’s either ritualistic abuse or an inspiring example of humanity. I’ve been thinking about this game forever and I’m still not sure.
Exactly the same as the Ways ranked 19th through 13th, except this one makes opponents really mad, which is arguably the point of sports.
11. Blue Jays
This might seem like a continuation of nos. 19 through 12, but I like this Way. It’s not saying that they’ll focus on a bunch of vague things that will lead to winning, but rather that they will focus on winning games when other teams might not, because winning will lead to winning. Not every minor league team plays with a sense of urgency, and not every organization treats minor-league results as valuable—it might be more important to try new things, or to keep the top prospects on a promotion schedule even at the expense of High-A wins and losses, or to have a pitcher throw his so-so changeup way more than he should, so that it’ll develop someday. All well and good, and if a team’s Way was to treat the minor leagues as a laboratory where best practices can be tested away from the urgency of meaningful games, I’d like that Way, too—it would be specific and it would show intention. The Blue Jay Way, or at least what I’ve inferred about it from Wilson’s quote, also is specific and shows intention. It assumes that players will win more when they’re used to winning, or they need to learn how to play with urgency, or something along those lines. Also a pretty good song.
10. Red Sox
On my softball team, when we were trailing late in a game, and there’d be two outs while we were batting, my friend Keenan would yell, to whoever was batting: “Not you.” We all knew the game was going to end and we were probably going to lose, but this put the personal responsibility on each of us to not be the guy, to not be the weak link. Not you. That’s not a bad message to get across to 25 guys.
I’m also roughly 100 percent certain that Jonny Gomes would have said this was the A’s Way when he was in Oakland, and the Reds Way when he was in Cincinnati, and the Gaucho Way when he was playing for Casa Grande High School. This one actually sucks, now that you mention it. We’re into the top 10, and they all still suck.
Can I count this one? It’s so perfect, and it’s foreshadows so much of the following quarter-century of Oakland baseball. There’s even a quote in there by Joe Morgan, diminishing Sandy Alderson and attributing the A’s brain trust’s success to “luck”—though it’s not that Joe Morgan, but the other one, the one who managed the Red Sox. Can I count that? Can I count the Joe Morgan quote if it’s the other Joe Morgan? Can I count the rest of this Oakland Way stuff? La Russa didn’t actually say the words that I’m quoting, and Way isn’t even capitalized. If I can’t count it, then lump the A’s in with the player development teams. From 2008: “Thus, Oakland's player development department (in 1999) came up with ‘The Athletics Way to Play Baseball.’ Under this system, every Oakland player from rookie ball to the majors underwent rigorous training every spring so that they would all react to every game situation in exactly the same way.” So boring. I want to count the La Russa one.
He doesn’t explain further, so we can only guess what the Padre Way is, but there’s nobody whose star I’d rather hitch my Waygon to than Gwynn. There are at least 21 teams whose Way should be “instead of batting practice or weights or sleep we all just stare at Tony Gwynn’s Baseball-Reference page.”
This might seem very unspecific and pointless, but you have to remember: This was Jim Thome talking. He’s a man of few words but many insights. He can say more with a twitch of his nose than most of us can do in a book. (“A twitch here is worth a thousand words” is actually the original phrase, and referred to Jim Thome; it was bastardized to “a picture is worth a thousand words” over time—regrettably, most linguists agree.) Here, for instance, are a few Thome translations:
Dickens: There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.
Wharton: She had been bored all afternoon by Percy Gryce... but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptibilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life.
Wolfe: That baby sees the world with completeness that you and I will never know again. His doors of perception have not yet been closed. He still experiences the moment he lives in. The inevitable bullshit hasn't constipated his cerebral cortex yet. He still sees the world as it really is, while we sit here, left with only a dim historical version of it manufactured for us by words and official bullshit, and so forth and so on.
Heaven knows what the Twin Way is, but I trust Thome: It’s something pretty big.
6, 5. Orioles, Giants
These are the original manual writers, or close to it. The Oriole Way is very frequently cited, not just by the Nationals but by other teams who later wrote manuals, including the A’s, for example. Richards wrote it, after first publishing in 1955 a book called Modern Baseball Strategy. His manual is so influential, and has survived for so long, that there are a ton of great quotes about it or from it that give us a sense of what it was and why it’s still getting ripped off today.
“The Oriole Way was ‘never beat yourself,” catcher Elrod Hendricks said. “And that’s why we won so many close games. We let the other team make mistakes and beat themselves, and when the opportunity came we’d jump on it.” It was the gospel according to Paul Richards: Most games are lost rather than won.
So why are they only tied with the Giant Way? Because the origins were in his years spent playing with the New York Giants.
In his two years with the Giants, Richards learned under Bill Terry (“He stressed pitching and defense”), who had learned from John McGraw, the stern patriarch of New York baseball for 30 years starting in 1902. Richards, in turn took “The Giant Way” with him to Baltimore as their manager the mid-1950s.
Then, when Frank Robinson took over as the Giants manager in the early 1980s, guess what he did: “I took the (Orioles) manual with me there and put a Giants cover on it.”
Bill Neukom, the Giants’ team president, seemed to be channeling the Giant/Oriole/Giant Way in 2008, just before the Giants got good again:
We are going to stress fundamentals. We will have a Giants Way. We will be better conditioned and we will work harder. We will be better prepared. We will master the fundamentals in all aspects of the game. And that, we believe, will pay dividends.
Of course, everything that anybody in baseball ever says sounds like it’s channeling the Giant/Oriole Way, which is kind of its point, and kind of my point.
This is perfect. It captures what the Yankees do. It tells players why they were acquired, and it tells other players why they were traded away. It pretty clearly communicates to players what the expectations are, and that you don’t have long to fit into the Yankee Way—it being, in a sense, the enforcement of its own ideology. And, especially, it’s specific to the Yankees. Only a couple teams could even aspire to this Way. It’s pretty perfect.
Points for longevity, but especially points for being specific—poll everybody in baseball and they’d almost all say the Dodger Way is emphasizing pitching—and for being predictive, as the book predates the Dodgers’ actual establishment as a pitching-dominant franchise. The phrase retains more meaning than most teams’, even now, even after the lousy Murdoch years and the disastrous McCourt years: "Easy to articulate; complicated and hard to achieve,” said Stan Kasten in 2012. “We didn't invent the Dodger way of doing things. We had to try to get it back."