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October 24, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Breakin' the Law

by Jim Baker

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Baseball, A Game Without Honor; Part 72,201

Mon dieu! You would think nobody in baseball ever cheated before to hear folks carrying on about Kenny Rogers and his dirty hand. Remember: this is a game with a long history of players and teams doing untoward things to get the upper…er…hand. When somebody does something to lessen their ability to succeed, then baseball takes action. As long as it's done in the name of trying to win, however, the powers that be never get too upset. I discussed this early in the season on the occasion of a play in which Paul Lo Duca made like he had tagged a runner when he clearly had not. If baseball truly cared about these sorts of things, Lo Duca would have been fined for conduct unbecoming or even suspended for three or four games.

Personally, I can't stand that sort of thing, even when it's done by a player on my favorite team as was the case with Lo Duca. In fact, I got so sick of the diving and fakery in the World Cup this summer that I finally gave up on it after investing a lot of time in watching the early rounds. It's so pathetic, and is so common in that sport, that I don't know how a referee can ever navigate his way through all the %&@!& the players throw his way during the course of a game.

Baseball has its own traditions in this regard and while it can be argued that some are worse than others, they are all part of the same approach. Whether it's the phantom double play, the area tag, framing pitches, scuffing the ball, corking bats or even enhancing one's self physically through artificial means, they all fall under the headings of either misrepresenting reality or monkeying with it.

This is, and always has been, the climate of the game. Some would argue that's part of its charm. Maybe that's soccer's charm as well and I just don't get it--not that I find it charming in baseball, either. Let's be rid of it all, I say.

Lou Piniella: scene stealer?

Once again, Lou Piniella has gotten himself a job during the playoffs. Four years ago, he was scouting around for a new project after leading the Mariners to 209 wins in two seasons. Apparently bored with all that winning, he and his people were meeting with the Devil Rays during the Angels-Giants Series that year. It's interesting that his new Cubs job was announced during the NLCS. Lest we forget, there used to be a gag order on such announcements. That directive could very well have been called the "Piniella Rule" because it was put in place after George Steinbrenner upstaged Game 7 of the 1985 World Series by announcing he had hired Piniella to lead the Yankees.

Alan Trammell: victim of fate?

In a bit of further irony, Piniella has signed on Alan Trammell to be his bench coach and made the announcement smack-dab in the middle of this year's World Series. This has got to be a bit of a pick-me-up for Trammell during a week in which the world is genuflecting at the feet of his replacement, Jim Leyland. If the implication is that Leyland has gotten the Tigers to where they are, then isn't it also implied that Trammell aided in keeping them down?

Let's look at these hypotheticals:

What would Trammell have done with the 2006 version of the Tigers had he not been axed after last year? Would they currently be tied with the Cardinals 1-1 in the World Series?

Conversely, what would Leyland have done with the 2003 Tigers? Would they have lost 119 games? How about the 2004-05 versions? Is he that wonderful that he would have gotten them to the World Series last year had the Tigers only thought to hire him a year sooner?

Knowing that we can't know for certain, I'm still going to take a stab at answering these:

Had Trammell been able to stay around, they'd very likely be right where they are today. They reversed course to the tune of about 200 runs this year, picking up 100 on offense and losing over 100 on the other side. Can we really attribute that kind of swing to a manager? Isn't it more likely that, given the changes in some personnel and improvements in others, Trammell would have gotten similar results?

We do have some idea what the Tigers of the previous three years would have done under Leyland and it would have looked a lot like what they did under Trammell. How do we know this? Because Leyland has been left holding the bag on franchises gone wrong twice in his career and he was unable to elevate them beyond their likely status. Not that any man who ever drew breath could have made something of the '98 Marlins or the mid-'90s Pirates.

Leyland has had an interesting career. Twice he has had the rug pulled out from under him by management (1993 in Pittsburgh and 1998 in Florida) and twice he has showed up at just the right moment (1997 in Florida and 2006 in Detroit) to reap the whirlwind. Maybe fate will be as kind to Trammell someday and he'll land a manager's job with a club whose general manager has just put all the pieces in place for a fun run. Then the man he replaced can spend the ensuing postseason hearing about what a cagey genius his replacement is.

Bruce Bochy: new adventurist?

According to a report by the Associated Press, the Giants are likely to interview San Diego's Bruce Bochy for their managerial opening. The question is, why would Bochy--who has another year left on his contract--want to leave the Padres? Very few managers have been able to keep their jobs in modern times after experiencing the sub-.500 run that Bochy had from 1999 to 2003. (Tom Kelly had eight straight sub-.500 years with the Twins.) Plenty of managers have been fired for better showings than that. If Bochy were the adventurous sort, would he have stuck around this long? His tenure with San Diego is the second-longest current stay behind Bobby Cox of Atlanta. Joe Torre and Tony La Russa started with the Yankees and Cardinals the year after he took over with the Padres. At a certain point, a manager becomes an institution. I'm not quite sure when that point is, but Bochy has survived many seasons that would have gotten men in other cities fired, so he's got to be getting close to institutionalization.

Joe Girardi: persona non grata?

And why is Joe Girardi, late of the semi-near-miracle-all-rookies-all-the-time Marlins not in line for a job with the Giants or Rangers or any other big league team? By having at the owner, did he do himself a disservice above and beyond losing his spot with the team? Why is he more likely to end up in a broadcast booth than in a dugout in 2007? Is it a grand conspiracy to keep him without a manager's job? Naah. He's just setting himself up to be on hand for a much better opening when the time comes.

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