Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Gut Bomb

Were I still a young, idealistic student, instead of a jaded bitter old man, I'd have easy access to Lexis Nexis, so I could see how many times the Washington newspapers have used the insipid phrase "Manages by his gut," to describe Frank Robinson's management style. Instead, I'll make it up and say it was eleventy-billion times.

Regardless, last night's game exposed it for the over-written cliche it is. What exactly does it mean? Until last night's game, I was entertaining the offer that it meant he was using his thousands of games of experience to make informed hunches based on what he's seen with his aging eyes.

When he famously boasted about not using computers, I mounted a casual defense of him, saying that it's possible that the long catalog of game experiences he's had serve as a sort of database in his mind.

Well, I was wrong.

The man's a doddering idiot.

Alright, that's a bit harsh. He hasn't napped in the dugout yet. And as far as I know, he hasn't started drooling.

But, when the best thing you can say about a manager is that he was a hall-of-fame player, then you've got a problem.

To recap, there are two broad categories of things a manager needs to excel at: in-game decisions, and off-the-field issues.

A manager can succeed without mastering both, if he excels in one area or the other.

But, a manager can't be a failure at both.

And, the evidence is pointing that Frank can't handle both aspects of the job.

As OMG! so greatly points out (seriously, read their entire post), Frank doesn't seem to have any rhyme or reason to the decisions he makes, and the rewards he offers.

Then, there's the matter of him running down players in the papers. Most managers try to play the role of diplomat, preferring to keep their dirty laundry in-house. Instead, Frank's like the senile old grandmother who says whatever is on her mind, implications be damned -- "You've gotten fat!"

We put up with Grandma because she's family. (And we want her money when she kicks the bucket.) But, we don't have to put up with Frank.

Throughout the year, Zach Day, Endy Chavez and Tomo Ohka, to name a few, have felt his wrath, being blasted or insulted in the papers.

I guess that's just his way of doing things. But, think about the successful managers you see. Don't they stick up for their players? Aren't they loyal, often to a fault?

Maybe a successful manager doesn't need to be a friend to everyone, but the players have to know that they won't be thrown under a bus the first time their performance heads south.

And then, there's the in-game stuff.

First, the stuff he does well.

For the most part, he handles the pitching well. The bullpen has pitched amazingly. And the starters have pretty much been solid.

He, with a few notable exceptions, has shown a willingness to give a starter a quick hook, if he thinks the game's on the line.

But, then there's the bad.

We've been through his reluctance to double switch -- even in situations where it's blindingly obvious. As a result, he's sent relievers to hit far too many times -- in situations where a simple DS could have prevented it.

But, the most maddening thing has been his allocation of playing time. There's no rhyme, and little reason to it. It came to a head in last night's game.

At the very end of Spring Training, Ryan Church was named the team's centerfielder. Unfortunately for him, he tweaked his groin, and was held out for the first week or so. And then Frank never gave him a chance, completely forgetting what he had decided the previous week. Frank played Terrmel Sledge and the excruciatingly bad JJ Davis in a pretty strict platoon.

Once Davis was released and Sledge went down with an injury, it was Church's time to shine. He battered pitching on the road trip and won two consecutive games for the Nationals -- and then was strangely benched for an entire marathon extra-innings game.

Two nights ago, Church had another four-hit game. Even though the Nationals are facing a lefty, Church HAS to be in the lineup, especially the way this team has been scuffling. And with the injury to Wilkerson, no one needed to be benched. Eric Milton isn't even a particularly tough lefty. Last year, lefties knocked him around to a line of .252/ .338/ .521.

Instead, we get Tony Blanco hobbling around left field, putting up another 0-fer. I can understand the need to get Blanco some playing time, but with Vidro out, Guillen being injured to the point of uselessness, and Cristian Guzman existing, this team needs every ounce of offense it can get.

Even giving Frank the benefit of the doubt, what happened in the 9th inning was inexcusable. Down by two runs, he sent up backup catcher Gary Bennett to PH for the pitcher, leaving Church on the bench. Against a righty. Unless Church's piles were acting up, there's no reason for that.

On top of being bad strategy, Frank has refused to PH for Brian Schneider against some tough lefties late in games because of the whole 'saving your backup catcher' crap. And earlier in the year, his inability to use Jamie Carroll, the lone backup infielder, was infuriating. No Rhyme. No Reason. No Consistency.

Think about the games you've watched. I'm sure you can come up with two handfulls of situations where Frank didn't use his roster properly, or didn't do things to help the Nats win.

Yes, this team is playing better than we expected, but that isn't necessarily Frank's doing. And, as we're seeing, Frank has actually made a few decisions that have held this team back from having even more wins.

"Managing by his gut" is an empty phrase. It means nothing. It's just a weasley phrase that enables him to deflect criticism in a "Awww, Shucks!" way after the game.

It's time we start holding him accountable. Why does he make the decisions he does? What led him to pinch hit with Bennett? Why did he leave Loaiza in too long? There have to be reasons for these seemingly rational decisions.

These decisions are affecting the bottom line: wins and losses.

And the tired stock phrase won't cut it anymore.

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