The One-Oh-Eight That
don't have what it takes to be a decent manager of a decent baseball team. I'm far too temperamental. I'm far too easily provoked. I'm far too intolerant of pitchers who can't
find the strike zone, hitters who don't recognize pitches that are outside the
strike zone when they flail at the plate, and umpires who refuse to call the
strike zone as defined by the rulebook.
Ask my wife.
common phrases heard at my house — and for several hundred yards around it
—during baseball season are "Throw the goddam
ball over the goddam plate! The plate is the white thing laying on the
ground!!" "What in the hell are
you swinging at?!" And … well,
let's just say I exercise the hell out of the profane sections of my vocabulary
when I scream at umpires. I would do the
same from the dugout and probably all
over the field if I were a manager.
I am cut
from the mold of Earl Weaver and Lou Piniella, so it's not simply loud
profanities which would be all flying over the field. Bats, balls, bases, helmets, clipboards … Umpires who refused to do their job at
enforcing the rulebook as written in preference to their own inept
comprehension of it would be particularly at risk. Clue, boys: knees to nipples over the
plate. If you can't see a pitch and project
the spatial geometry of the strike zone in relation to it, then perhaps a bat
to the back of your skull would help.
Frankly, it couldn't hurt.
There'd be only a handful of umpires left standing at the end of a season with
me as a manager. But for some reason,
demanding that umpires follow the rules they are there to impose on others is
considered bad form. I wouldn't last a
season, but I'd make a mark — not to mention a few dents — and be entertaining
I'd probably also inspire open revolt among the players under me. For some other reason, players paid multiple
millions of dollars to consistently throw a ball through an invisible rectangle
suspended above a white pentangle, or hit a ball thrown through same, or hit
the cutoff man, et cetera, don't like being screamed at because they cannot consistently
do what they are being paid multiple millions of dollars to do. And — after all — it ain't my manager's money
they are being paid under false pretenses, is it?
So to anyone wanting to bitch and whine at me because I think I know so much
more than managers that I can do their job for them, you can keep it to yourselves. I've already conceded that I don't.
But I'm a Cubs fan. Have been since I
was 7 years old in '68 and I went to my first real baseball game at Wrigley. The Cubs lost — to the Giants, I recall. As a Cubs fan I'm used to having the rug
pulled out from under me. Sixty-nine was
a vague blur in my childhood.
Eighty-four was appalling, losing to a clearly inferior Padres team due
to panicked ineptitude. But if the
inferior Padres could take the pennant in '84, the Cubs could take it in '89
from the superior Giants — the only team I actually loathe. Nope; couldn't. Ninety-eight was a Cinderella dance. But '03 … more panicked ineptitude. Oh-four, the bloom was off the rose and they
were simply not as good. Oh-seven and
-eight, the superior Cubs lost to inferior others due, in no small part, to
astoundingly inept umpiring that should have resulted in occipital contusions
bearing the "Louisville Slugger" imprint, — and would have had I been
in a position to accomplish it.
Twenty-fifteen was a really good team finding its feet. They made a pathetic showing against the
inferior Mets in the Pennant series, and I refused to watch any of the games after
the first two inning of game one, simply because I didn't need the aggravation
it would cause. They can lose without me,
I told my wife who, gamely, put up with watching them on TV. And lose they did. She'd come to bed and jostle me awake; I'd
ask how bad it was, she'd tell me. We'd
go to sleep.
Twenty-sixteen, however, was The Year.
They were clearly the superior team in all of baseball, even — arguably
— in historical comparison. They had the
pitching, they had the hitting, and they had the nerve to generally ignore the
panic that sets in during pivotal games and the crucial times within them. And that is the consequence, in truly major
fashion, of the not-me-like manager they have: Joe Maddon.
your guys" is what Maddon preaches.
For 161 games of the regular season [one was rained out and not
rescheduled], for 4 games in the division series [bad name for the first round]
and 6 games of the Pennant series, he practiced that philosophy. Hell, even for the first five games of the
World Series, "Trust your guys" was going strong. Even when they got shut out 1-0 by a
third-rate starter who, by all accounts, should have given up four runs for
every six he pitched against the hitting the Cubs have.
were down three games to one going into the final World Series game at Wrigley,
where they'd dropped two straight in pathetic fashion. Maddon, trusting his guys, led them to win
game 5 by a score of 3-2. Back to
Cleveland. And Maddon stopped trusting
his guys. He indicated a single-minded
devotion to the pitching tandem of Arrieta and Chapman prior to the game, apparently
forgetting that he'd used Chapman — a one-inning guy — for two and a third in
Arrieta was spectacular in game 6 — the hitting was even better; he pitched
into the seventh and had two on with two out and looked to be running out of
steam. In the Six Degrees of Separation
game, we stand at 3 with Jake Arrieta: he is the cousin of the wife of our
Orkin guy. With Arrieta limping to get
out of the seventh and with a 5-run lead, Maddon had an entire bullpen at his
disposal, some of which hadn't seen action in the Series, and most of whom had
seen very little. Any one of them is
capable of getting one out and possibly pitching until ineffectiveness in the
8th or 9th inning in order to save bullets for the now-virtually-inevitable
But no. Maddon's single-minded devotion to
Arrieta/Chapman, despite a 5-run lead, was not about to change. Circumstances be damned. The fact that he'd just used his one-inning
guy in three innings two days before, and had a well-rested bullpen besides, didn't
alter that. Arrieta, then Chapman. "Trust"? Pfffsh!
So in comes
Chapman — the one-inning guy — to pitch his fourth and fifth innings in three
days. He starts leaking, exactly as I
knew would happen. "Maddon is
trying to 'cute' his way to disaster" is how I described it — fairly
loudly — on my way upstairs to seethe in front of the mlb.com version of the
game and spare my wife the profanity of me being in the same room. The first step of the three-step plan to lose
the series by overthinking it.
later the Cubs added two and the Indians added one and the final score was 9-3. It was a blowout that had not needed the
closer to do more than emerge from the dugout at the end and high-five the team
coming off the field. Yet he had pitched
another inning and a third, spanning two innings. I was glad the Cubs were going to Game Seven,
but fearful of the consequences if it wasn't another blowout and the one-inning
closer was actually needed for his role.
scuttlebutt prior to the final game of the Series was Maddon's selection of
Hendricks/Lester/Chapman as his preselected pitchers. I immediately got chills.
The Cubs were up 5-1 in the bottom of the 5th, and Hendricks walked a guy with
two out. Never mind that ball 3 was a
grooved change-up that an umpire who knew the strike-zone would have called for
the final out of the inning. A feeling
of dread came over me as Maddon emerged from the dugout. "Give him five, give him five…" I
muttered at the TV. "He's doing
Discussion on the mound, all too brief.
Dread turned to nausea.
"He's one out from qualifying!
There's a four-run lead!!"
I screamed. Maddon took the ball, he
signaled for the lefty. I felt ill. Step two of the three step plan to lose the
series by overthinking. I stomped
upstairs to fume in front of mlb.com. Is
this how you trust your guys, Joe?
Sure enough, Lester — despite being the legitimate ace that he is, but unused
to relieving and cold in what would be his between-start side-session day — allowed
another runner on a twenty-foot dribbler that Grandpa Ross, now in as the
personal catcher for Jon, yanked down the right field line. Two outs and runners on second and
third. For godsake, if that's what you
wanted, Hendricks could have done that!!
Then came the wild pitch that managed to get thrown, oh, all of 45 feet
before it plowed into the turf and caromed like a pinball behind home plate. Two runs — yes, two — scored on that monumental ineptitude.
Jon Lester got the third out, settled in to pitch three full and — the end of
the fifth notwithstanding — otherwise good innings, Ross hit his career-ending
homerun in his first at-bat. I came back downstairs to watch the game on
TV. The Cubs were up 6-3 in the 8th when
Lester — on his off-day — wore out.
Apparently he wore out, anyway … he gave up a two out grounder that went
for an infield hit. I say
"apparently" because, as with Hendricks in the 5th, Lester was one
out from pushing it to the next inning and was, despite having a runner on, doing
Maddon emerged from the dugout. I
immediately felt ill. Step three of the
three-step plan to blow the series by overthinking. He's going to bring in Chapman — the
one-inning guy who's thrown three and two-thirds over the last three days,
spanning five innings. I was incoherent
in rage. "Trust your guys"??? Even my normally placid wife was up and
pacing in what passes for disgust in her cool demeanor. "He's getting too cute," she
muttered. I grabbed a melatonin from the
cupboard because otherwise I'd be too agitated to sleep for the next several
days; I stomped upstairs, and caught, on mlb.com, Chapman giving up Lester's
base runner, and then a two-run homer to tie the game. Exactly what I expected out of a one-inning
guy who'd been used four times too much over the past three days. …when the
rest of the bullpen had been used not-at-all.
and shouted, livid, watching as once again the rug was being pulled out from
under me. They can lose without me. Thank you, Joe, for trusting your guys. It could have been a 6-3 game into the 9th by
letting Lester finish the 8th. It could
have been 5-1, with Hendricks getting the resume- and confidence-padder of a
World Series victory if you'd have waited another out before pulling the
starter. Several relievers could have
gotten a jolt out of throwing a few pitches if they'd been called on in the
game-6 blow-out, and who knows, you might have discovered a thing or two about
some of them.
I went to
bed. With a melatonin in me and being
emotionally drained, I fell asleep. At
some point my wife came in the room.
"Are they done losing?" I asked. She looked annoyed but didn't say anything. I rolled over and went back to sleep.
Some time later
I was awoken from fitful dreams of unlikely alternate and heroic endings to
Game Seven by a piercing "WHOOOOO
HOO!" coming from downstairs. I
stumbled down the steps to see on TV the Cubs players crawling all over each
other in the middle of the diamond.
"What the hell happened?" I asked, still two-thirds asleep. My wife was misty-eyed and couldn't speak. I heard the insufferable Joe Buck prattling
away saying who-knows- [and who-cares-] what, and watched a slow-motion replay
of Kris Bryant grabbing a grounder, heaving it and sprawling, and then Anthony
Rizzo bounding into the air. I saw the
final score — 8-7. Cubs.
The Cubs won
despite the distrust shown in them over the last two games by the guy who
manages by trusting his guys. I'll be
damned. As it turns out, the bullpen
needed to be used after all, the rest of the guys needed to be trusted, and
they pulled it out. We rewound the DVR by
a full inning.
to trust your philosophy, Joe. You
needed to trust your guys. It didn't
need to be this difficult. You're the
better manager and I shouldn't need to remind you of this. Don't let it happen