Fredi Gonzalez's bullpen usage has had a major overhaul, but one reliever is resisting the change.
Fredi Gonzalez swore he would change, and he has. Dusty Baker never learned to love Mark Bellhorn, and Joe Torre never became a young player’s manager, but Gonzalez took the bullpen pedal off the floor. The Braves' manager started the 2011 season racing his bullpen around every turn, and by September the team was left with bald tires and in need of a pit-stop just sort of the finish line, blowing an eight-game lead to lose the wild card to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the biggest collapse in National League history. When the season ended, Gonzalez promised that next year would be different, and he changed… but perhaps he isn’t the only Brave who needs to adjust his strategy.
Gonzalez’s mantra in early 2011 was win early and win often, seemingly viewing nearly every game as an opportunity to use one of his big relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and closer Craig Kimbrel—a three-headed, three-armed force of despair and dashed hopes for a comeback. If the Vikings sacked villages and carried off its riches, the VOK-ings sacked opposing hitters and carried off their manhoods. Gonzalez went to them even if the situation didn’t follow the conventional wisdom as to when a manager should deploy his best relievers. This resulted in an unrealistically heavy workload for the trio, with the number of one-run games the Braves had in the first half (24) only serving to exacerbate an-already unrealistic pace for the pitchers.
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We can learn a lot from our most difficult seasons.
Routine decisions are the easiest. I know which coffee I like best, which chair in my living room is most comfortable, and which jeans in my closet are flattering. Medium-hard decisions require more thought, but when pushed I can decide where to go for vacation and what color would look best should I decide to paint the kitchen. But the hardest decisions are the ones that have financial implications, because, let’s face it, a life without money would be incredibly difficult.
There is nothing wrong with being particular if you can afford it. Roy Oswalt can afford to be the Van Halen of baseball—with stipulations that he’ll play only for teams in a particular time zone, and that all the brown M&Ms be removed from the clubhouse bowls. Most of us, though, players and people alike, have to risk venturing into situations that might not be suitable to us so we can maintain mere subsistence, never mind repose in candy-coded splendor.
If you're looking for a scapegoat for Boston's struggles, skip the manager's office.
Tensions remain high in Boston following the Red Sox’ September collapse, and the departures of Terry Francona and Theo Epstein are still fresh in mind. The Red Sox’ slow start has exacerbated the situation, leading some to condemn the easiest scapegoat: Bobby Valentine. Even if the Red Sox’ season had started on more positive footing, Valentine’s return to the dugout was going to be an uphill battle—10 years is a long time to be out of a major league clubhouse and still have credibility with players who are too young to be aware of your illustrious credentials or too old to care. But in an organization plagued by injuries, struggling pitching, an inconsistent offense, and inexplicable strokes of bad luck, the hostility Valentine has received has been disproportionate to any possible responsibility he could have had for the state of the team.
The team’s struggles have left some nostalgic for Francona, who received a standing ovation and chants of “We want Tito” at Fenway’s 100th anniversary celebration Friday. Those chants are a sure sign of lost perspective: Francona managed the 2011 Red Sox to the team’s worst start since 1945 and an unprecedented September collapse, then departed in the wake of questions regarding his ability to control the clubhouse, and reports of beer-guzzling and chicken-eating pitchers.
Kenny Williams and Teddy Ruxpin or: Why the White Sox can't have nice things.
At age 6, I had my first best friend. I do not remember why I was chosen as companion and owner of this particular Teddy Ruxpin, but he was mine. This robot-bear existed solely to read children’s stories via a tape player tucked in his stomach pouch. But it was easy for me, a wallflower with a stuffed animal obsession, to relate to the animatronic bear on a deeper level. I would rewind his cassette tape with a No. 2 pencil, surgically insert the tape into his stomach pouch, secure the Velcro, and we’d talk. He told me stories, stories I knew by heart, that six-year old me looked forward to more than most things— including, but not limited to, reruns of M*A*S*H, tee ball practice, and riding my Cabbage Patch Big Wheel.
What I do remember is a value that was instilled in me long before Mr. Ruxpin came to live with my family: Taking care of oneself and one’s possessions was of utmost importance. Caring for everything, even toys, was a reflection of something larger. It was indicative of a certain self-possession that always seemed important. Fortunately, caring for Teddy was easy.