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BOSTON RED SOX
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Announced a failure to reach an agreement with General Manager Theo Epstein,
making him a free agent executive. [10/31]

LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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Fired General Manager Paul DePodesta. [10/29]

The revolution is dead, long live the revolution…. now wait a minute, what
the hell is going on here, and since when? If you thought it was Turn Back
the Clock Day at the Congress of Vienna, when Old Europe tried to pretend
that revolutions hadn’t happened, then you’ll be even more impressed by this
new trend in ignorance on the diamond. But in this, baseball is only
imitating the days in which it is played.

In case you’ve missed the events of the last 72 hours, counterrevolution is
the fashion, and as our own Will Carroll has put it, the weapon of choice is
the White Sox. Skip however smug and frequently fact-free interpretations of
why the White Sox won are–maybe it’s just me, but “pitching, defense and the
three-run home run” was Earl Weaver’s formula, not Gene Mauch’s. However much
Ozzieball is a put-up job, it’s manna from heaven for the industry’s old
guard, a generation of men grown jealous in recent years over the credit
heaped upon the game’s up-and-coming wave of general managers.

However unnecessary the “rivalry” between old-school baseball and the
next generation of management techniques could and should have been, that struggle has
taken on a life of its own. In this sort of contest, the scorecard is not
one that counts whether DePo and Theo were both General Managers of teams in
the postseason in 2004, or one that records that Epstein’s Red Sox did
something that Gorman’s or Duquette’s did not. Success is apparently not the
measure of success, it is instead what the now-unfashionable smart kids were
damned well supposed to deliver, and the moment that they didn’t, they were
there to be scapegoated.

These are not the same stories, this particular tale of two cities, but I
would suggest that both team’s decisions to make changes at the top reflect
a battle over fundamentals, not just over the way the game is operated, but
how it is supposed to be remembered, and more basically, who is
supposed to be remembered. In Beantown, the capacity for jealousy is what
poisoned what was supposed to be a model for success in contemporary front
office management. Sadly, a team president seems unusually insecure over his
place in history. But when America was treated to the bizarre spectacle of
Tom Werner, the man who Huizenganated San Diego baseball, suddenly sharing
in the credit for Boston’s victory in 2004, we were reminded of the truth in
the adage that victory has many fathers, while defeat is an orphan.

In Larry Lucchino, we have a man who long ago cultivated the legend that
he’s somehow solely responsible for Camden Yards, and devil take those who
remember otherwise. Especially those who might recall his stated desire from
the time, which was to tear down the warehouse that today is the signature
feature of Baltimore’s ballpark. Such a man is jealous of his place in
history, coveting the past and the present as comfortably as he feigns
disinterest in taking up Czar Bud’s scepter the day after the car salesman
steps down. In his need to portray himself as the father of victory, he has
instead become like Cronus, so jealous
of his prerogatives that he would rather consume the future than truly
shepherd it. He came to Boston with a reputation for self-promotion, and
this latest incident makes it plain that in Lucchino’s world, he’s the star
of his own show.

As for events in L.A., whether you’re a boomer on the beat or a frustrated
fan of the boys in blue, it’s an easy exercise to gleefully blame these
newfangled ideas for this past season’s failures. We’ve already had to
endure a season’s worth of uncomprehending screeching from the likes of Bill
Plaschke, but Plaschke was merely the point man in a media crowd ready to
blame failure on a willingness to take risks. Such a racket seemed to
overlook that DePodesta’s willingness to take risks is what helped the
Dodgers win their division in 2004. For whatever reason, some people never
got over trading Paul Lo Duca or Guillermo
Mota
, and were only too ready to blame DePo’s willingness to
upgrade his ballclub as some sort of shortcoming.

But in letting those complaints make him wonder about what was going on with
his ballclub, and then subsequently taking too seriously the counsels of men
like Tommy Lasorda, team owner Frank McCourt betrayed the quality that has
been feared from the start as his stewardship’s symbolic signature:
weakness. But where before his shallow pockets were supposed to be the source
of his problems, McCourt has added a more basic weakness of character. By
gutlessly catering to the local media harpies, McCourt ignored the unhappy
accidents that reduced the Dodgers to also-rans, and fudged his commitment
to a sharp GM with the ability to build a winner. McCourt has instead chosen
to kowtow to the memory of the Pastaman, but all he will get for his
troubles is a mouthful of wet noodle. That, and the canny wisdom of the man
who dumped Paul Konerko, and then tried to cover his tracks
by making up a career-ending injury that, last I checked, never did end up
keeping Konerko off of the diamond. And did I mention Pedro
Martinez
, a fact which has left Pedro bitter to this day?

The poisonous synergy between baseball’s old guard and media figures only
too ready to rely upon them for the peculiarly dopey “inside dope”
is a significant component of this backlash. Both are motivated by
careerism, and both stand to lose a lot to what will inevitably be
characterized as the “Moneyball” generation of GMs. Again, baseball reflects the times in which we live, an age where the historical
actors and the fourth estate interact in such a way that each simultaneously
perverts and supports the purposes of the other. Journalists consider their
jobs to be no more than the regurgitation of the information they’re handed,
either from every baseball club’s increasingly polished media relations
department, or courtesy of some unnamed inside source. It doesn’t matter
that such sourcing is transparent, whether it’s Bob Nightengale’s
reliance on tales told by two owners named Jerry, or Dan Shaughnessy playing
Howdy Doody to fulfill the desire of a Larry To Be Named Later to play “who’s your daddy.” The ’90s
showed us that careers involving hopping up and dancing on laps were
lucrative; little did we know it was journalism that was the real growth
industry on that score. Face it, whether you’re a columnist or you’re on the
beat, once you’ve settled in, it’s not only easy to settle for repeating
what you’re told, it spares you a lot of the lame daily exercise that goes
with chasing down stale pre- and postgame quotes. Nobody thinks of affording
themselves the opportunity to pursue actual storylines, like the events of a
game (you know, the news event), or assessing a team’s performance using
facts. Such things simply are not done.

But however bad that content, or however transparent its craven quality,
however standard-issue the bilge may be, that bilge possesses an addictive
quality all its own to the subjects of such attention. Insulated within
their profession, baseball management, on the field or off, is notoriously
tin-eared. It’s this that links these two decisions, whether it is
Lucchino’s jealousy of the credit given to his one-time protege, or
McCourt’s fear of being singled out for not being a good “baseball
guy” for hiring one of those damned kids. In both cases, the elder man
has betrayed his responsibilities to the future to hoard the worthless kudos
of fickle friends. In each case, I would suggest they have made life easier
for their division rivals in the long term. In the short term, whoever
inherits the Dodgers has a great chance to look good for a year before
being forced to rely on his own judgement. As for the immediate future for
whoever goes to Boston, I think it’s much less rosy: whoever goes in is
going to have to have plenty of Blistex on hand to keep the Bossling happy,
while having very little actual control over the franchise.

And what of the so-called revolution? It won’t go away, in the same way that
I’d argue that it never did in the first place. The game’s mechanics just
aren’t that complicated once you’ve mastered the waiver rules and built
up the contacts to be able to assemble a management and player development
team that can run an entire organization. What the current disappearances of
figures like Epstein and DePodesta from the stage represent is the object
lesson that in the future it’s going to be better to be the stathead in
scout’s clothing, someone who walks the old school walk, but whose actions
will be an informed blend of Moneyball sensibilities and traditional player
evaluation. The next-gen GM who can do that is the one who will slip under
the radar long enough to build, win, and stay, no differently than the
original artifact, Billy Beane, has in Oakland.