The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons is an all-sports columnist for what would generously be referred to as a poor Canadian man’s version of the New York Post. His writing typically deals more in the currency of petulance than knowledge or insight, and yet his glaring ignorance of all things baseball has never stood in the way of him expressing his poorly informed opinions on the sport with the bluster normally reserved for a relative you awkwardly attempt to avoid at family gatherings.
His latest column criticizes Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell for not creating a “real definition of who he or what he is as a big league manager or what he might be one day.” And just for good measure, Mr. Simmons also calls him out for not achieving the same level of success as Bob Melvin (“a magician in Oakland”); Robin Ventura (“changed the culture of the Chicago White Sox”); and Buck Showalter (“altered the mental outlook of the Baltimore Orioles”).
It’s a mess of assumptive nonsense that unsurprisingly offers absolutely no insight whatsoever into anything.
1. Club House leadership
3. A solid training program
4. Player strengthening program (all the injuries aren’t just a coincidence)
5. A manager who runs the show and takes accountability
6. A batting coach
7. Fire and determination
8. Direction through a long season
9. A desire to win
10. Commitment to winning
We look at statistics in baseball, and we use math as a means of predicting the likelihood of certain outcomes, but baseball is not a mathematical equation with a simple answer. There is no “correct” way of doing things. There are certainly methods that can be followed to increase the likelihood of success, but even with the best possible process, successful results are far from guaranteed.
John Farrell, and the Toronto Blue Jays for that matter, do not need to add “fire and determination” to the franchise’s pot of stew. Nor, does the manager, so long as he remains in Toronto, have to define himself in terms that an all-sports columnist understands. What he has to do is manage a roster of baseball players in ways that we’ll never be able to judge or properly grade, outside of lineup-setting and in-game strategy, which is likely such a minuscule portion of his overall job.
Look at the managers that most of us would assume did a very good job this season because the teams that they were in charge of did better than expected: Davey Johnson, Bob Melvin and Buck Showalter. Now, remember back to the year before this one, when we assumed that Kirk Gibson was a very good manager because the Arizona Diamondbacks were better than most people anticipated. How did Mr. Gibson’s Diamondbacks perform this year with an improved roster?
Our very own Drew Fairservice compared Mr. Gibson to Mr. Showalter last month:
It happens nearly every year to one team or another. If not the D-Backs in 2011, maybe you prefer the story of the Padres in 2010. Hell, the Giants in 2010 are pretty much the same story. Some people don’t want to accept “it happens” as an explanation but, occasionally, it is the best one anyone can muster.
For every bitter/desperate pundit looking to heap scorn on what they term “bad process” or “dumb luck”, there is an ideologically opposed Showalter Truther looking to ascribe greatness and/or credit to some one or some thing for harnessing all the good vibes and good luck. It just happens. And that is okay.
Again, this isn’t to suggest that a manager has no impact on a team, just that we can’t measure the impact as easily as looking into wins and losses, or even smart decisions versus bad decisions, and especially not with how he’s defined himself within our own narrow understanding.
The term “philosophy is often associated with managers, and let’s pretend that this is more than merely a lazy coincidence. Let’s look at something that Plato said about true explanations:
Imagine not being able to distinguish the real cause, from that without which the cause would not be able to act, as a cause. It is what the majority appear to do, like people groping in the dark; they call it a cause, thus giving it a name that does not belong to it. That is why one man surrounds the earth with a vortex to make the heavens keep it in place, another makes the air support it like a wide lid. As for their capacity of being in the best place they could be at this very time, this they do not look for, nor do they believe it to have any divine force, but they believe that they will some time discover a stronger and more immortal Atlas to hold everything together more, and they do not believe that the truly good and ‘binding’ binds and holds them together.—Plato, Phaedo 99
The decisions that a manager makes are necessary for a baseball team to play baseball, but these decisions that comprise a manager’s duties aren’t sufficient to produce the outcome of the actual playing of baseball, and the success or failures that come with it.
Of course, all of this is probably moot, because Ben Cherington is going to trade Jacoby Ellsbury and Ruby De La Rosa to the Blue Jays for John Farrell.