Mariners fire batting coach.

June 12, 2008

The Mariners’ unerring executives took the first step in rooting out the team’s problems. It is clear that the executives hired superb baseball talent and have infused the team with inspiration. Obviously though no one has explained to the players how to use the equipment. The equipment getting the least use has been the team’s supply of bats. Some one needs to tell the players how to use them. Now that we’ve fired the guy that was supposed to do that, things should be fine.

But let’s not stop there. The bat boy is supposed to take care of bats and obviously is not doing his job. He’s got to go. The Mariners don’t need a bat boy; they need Batman.

Another problem is that attendance is down. We should fire the ticket people at the gate. They are not scanning enough tickets.

Good first step Mariners. Keep it up!

The Mariners: It’s captain can’t tell which way the wind’s blowing.

June 10, 2008

Recently I have been writing about conscienceless scammers who profit off the hopes of the innocence.  These are people who take money from others knowing that their hopes will inevitably lead to despair.  This brings the Mariners to mind.  Having now sunk into the familiar mire of inadequacy, the team is a touchstone for reflection rather than an opportunity for exultation.  (Mariner fans tend to be a rather reflective lot, finding pleasure in subtle aspects of the game rather the coarse, fist raising rush of victory.)

I have heard an endless stream of suggestions about what the manager should have done and what players didn’t do, but this is just nervous chatter from fans fearful that we have begun another decade or two of bleak futility.  People tend to fixate on the symptoms of a problem. The Mariners organization, however, has been uniquely resistance to addressing the reason for its malaise.

A dispassionate observer would view the problem as systemic.  Question: what has been a constant from the Mariner’s hopeless performance in the 1980’s through changes of ownership to their current trampling of expectations.  Answer:  Chuck Armstrong.  He is an academically successful, socially able, business oriented non-baseball person.  He came to the Mariners from Stanford without any meaningful background in baseball.  A biographer would would not focus on his ability to lead a baseball team, but his remarkable ability to ingraciate himself to the boards of directors that have shifted with time and change of ownership.

In recent years, since moving to Safeco, there has also been success in business.  To a substantial degree Safeco’s draw assures business success independent of the team’s woeful fortunes.  This of course is transient, as the sparse crowds at Jacobs Field show.  The “Jake” was the first of the neo-historical fields that proved to be fan magnates.

Item two: Howard Lincoln, hired during the team’s Renaissance period in 1999, and another non-baseball man.  To me the term “non-baseball man” means a person whose uncompromising fealty is owed to the board of directors, who measures success solely by the bottom line.  In corporate jargon this person has no sense of the “customer” or the customer’s relationship with the product, except indirectly through measurements of the revenue stream.

Lincoln is the poster child of non-baseball baseball executives.  Revenue measurements are never an adequate substitute for a real sense of the corporation’s business and they have betrayed Lincoln.  The revenue from the field gave Lincoln a smug complacency which he exhibited in an interview in which he indicated that his goal for the team was that the Mariners be good enough for high attendance.  This drove Lou Pinella crazy.  As Art Thiel’s book point’s out Lincoln’s ego did not leave room in the organization for Pinella.  When Lincoln felt that he had a documented breach of the chain of command, Pinella was history.)  Lincoln refused to do the small  things that that required budgetary tweeks but would put the team over the top and assure continued success.  Remember Pinella’s continual dirge about the lack of a left handed bat?  With crowds flocking to Safeco, Lincoln maintained the status quo into oblivion.  He did subsequently modify his rigid adherence to a budget but it was too late.  As if in penance, he now flaunts this new “flexibilty” in a kind of random grab of free agent superstars.

Roger Clemens and Partisan Politics

February 26, 2008

In 2006, when the Democrats threw off the shackles of being the minority party and took control of the House there was a lot of talk about how Henry Waxman was going to get to the bottom of the scandals and controversies that beset the federal government almost daily. He was a very tough cookie who would unearth and bring to light the clandestine nefarious conduct that was dragging our nation down. Well, we have finally seen the product of these mighty labors: Roger Clemens probably took steroids or human growth hormones! One thing is absolutely clear after Mr. Waxman’s public hearings: Mr. Clemens certainly has not been taking extension classes or drugs to enhance his mental acuity.

As pitchers age, they typically lose a few feet off their fastball, meaning it doesn’t go as far in the same period of time as it once did. If it once took the ball say 0.38 seconds to get to the plate, when the pitcher reaches his thirties 0.38 seconds after the ball leaves his hand it is still arriving at the plate instead of being safely tucked into the catcher’s glove. In order to compensate for this loss of velocity an older pitcher relies on the vast store of knowledge about hitters that he has accumulated over years of pitching. He becomes a wily veteran. (Left handers become crafty veterans.)

Clemens did not follow this paradigm. As any baseball card collector knows, Clemens’ career followed the recent trend set by Barry Bonds, the home run king. In his thirties he became bulkier, bigger than his predecessors at his position, and achieved staggering statistics. (Each of them had excellent stats to begin with.) Instead of declining in the August years of his career, Clemens like Bonds, improved as if the historical curve of productivity over the number of seasons played had been turned upside down. Until he left Boston after a dozen years as a power pitcher with a high number of innings, Clemens’ career seemed to be on the downward side of the historical productivity curve. At ages 30, 31 and 32 he was injured and his number of innings-pitched declined each successive season. Finally at age 33 he had a losing season and appeared to be through at least as a staff ace. Then the resurgence in Toronto. His “high performance years” were the dozen years that he spent in Boston, earning three Cy Young awards among many other awards. That was amazing but it was incredible that he won four Cy Youngs after leaving Boston at the age of 34!

Any viewer of Mr. Waxman’s hearings was able to eliminate one possible explanation of Mr. Clemens’ career revival after leaving Boston. He is neither crafty nor wily. One would generally not associate his mental activity with success of any sort.

The most interesting aspect of these hearings was that they were partisan. Partisan! Can you believe it! Republicans generally undertook to defend the honor of Mr. Clemens and attack his accuser, Brian McNamee. Most Democrats, such as Representative Waxman, were hostile to Clemens and approving of his accuser. How on earth did this become a partisan issue? I wonder how the parties line up on other pressing issues of the day like who should win American Idol, why doesn’t Britney behave, what can be done to bring back the sparkle to the Oscars, why does Ann Coulter have such a big adam’s apple?

The easy explanation is that each party recognized Mr. Clemens as a person whose financial interests are championed by Republicans. He does after all demand twenty million dollars to participate in a six month season or a portion of one. This is not big stuff compared to war profiteering but it admits you to the circle.

Maybe the notoriously lame Democrats are hunting for some icon that they can take down. This might be some sort of feast of sublimation. When confronted with their record of futility in investigations, they can say “Whud’ya mean, did you see us handle Clemens?”

Maybe the Republican see a disciple of their the-end-justifies-the-means philosophy. Clemens sought wealth and fame and broke the rules to get there. After his a ascension a bunch of nit pickers bring up the rules. What is important is that he made it, not how. Its like pumping up reasons to invade a country, granting no-bid war contracts, torture and stuff like that. It’s an emergency so shuddup.

On the other hand the Democrats might be resentful that Clemens actually did something. Their champion would be the player who couldn’t convince himself to take steroids (clearly a minority), but who would never think of identifying those who did, particularly late in the season.

The Republicans certainly must admire the enduring nature of Clemens career. There is no end in sight. Right after 9/11 our vice president told us that it would probably take about eighty years to eradicate terrorism from the face of the earth. (This certainly seems like reasonable estimate.) More recently Mr. McCain has told us that it might take one hundred years just to triumph on Iraq front of the global war on terror. Nearly perpetual war for hopefully perpetual peace in an arguably Orwellian society. Maybe Clemens’ chemical fueled fastball is a symbol of the petroleum sucking war. Who knows? (The prevailing theory of what we are doing in Iraq is that this massively fuel-consuming activity is for the sake of securing the supply of the resource depleted by the activity.)

I’m not sure what subliminal message Clemons carried that caused the committee members to line up according to party but somewhere in all that there is a clue to what is going on in Washington D.C.