Wednesday, October 27, 2010

War of Jenkins' Ear

In a recent article, the San Francisco Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins managed to take some of the generally positive sentiment generated by the Rangers-Giants World Series match, and somehow mold it into a cynical evaluation of A's General Manager Billy Beane. I'm not questioning Jenkins' credibility as a writer by any means-he's written plenty of columns that collectively reflect his knowledge, and he's done so for a long time. What I am calling into question is what he seems to imply in the article. His argument seems so shallow that once you read the title, you might as well have read the entire article (minus the factual tidbits at the end).

(pictured above: Ron Washington congratulates Milton Bradley in 2006
Source: Bush, Darryl. San Francisco Chronicle, 2006)

Do I disagree with the point? No, I don't. I agree with Bruce Jenkins. I agree that Ron Washington would not have worked out as the Athletics' manager to the same extent that he has for the Rangers.

Like I mentioned earlier, what I don't agree with (or at least need clarification on) is what Jenkins' seems to imply. After pondering the amount of managerial consideration Billy Beane gave to Washington prior to the 2007 season, (Jenkins also describes Washington as "a man with a pulse, someone who speaks from the heart") he then writes "nobody wonders too long about that, because the answer is an emphatic NO." The latter portion is fine. Without question. But if nobody wonders about it, then why is it the point of your column, Bruce? Well, it looks like readers have to assume that the reason is the simplest of the simple - because it's a dog-eat-dog world we live in, so almost everything comes down to some sort of comparison when you break it down to the core (sports columns would be one of the last things exempt from this train of thought). So it's here, in Bruce Jenkins comparative entry, where the certainty of hindsight allows Ron Washington to be the great baseball manager with a heart (and a pulse to go along with it) while Billy Beane's authoritarian approach to organizational operations apparently make the imperceptible Bob Geren the ideal man to squeeze 81 wins out of a team that evidently overachieved (according to Bruce) by finishing 2nd in the AL West.


Ron Washington has a pulse, and the Rangers finished in front of the A's, so he's the reason the Rangers are a good team. Is that what Bruce Jenkins means? I'm asking this because there isn't much else to go on . Where's the support? Wait...something else is missing...oh yeah! Where's the foundation? Ron Washington is a good baseball man, there's no denying that. But Bengie Molina could have player/coached the Rangers to a division title. The Rangers success and the A's mediocrity in 2010 was predictable three years ago. In fact, it's almost amazing the A's reached 81 wins just three seasons after having no significant big-league contributors and a depleted minor-league system. But Jenkins' article seems to give off the notion that if Billy Beane had loosened up the leash entering the 2007 season and hired Ron Washington, the 2010 Fall Classic would be a rematch of the 1989 series.

"It's just such a great thing that Washington left Oakland and joined a team he could really manage."

Is it such a great thing? Are we all simply astonished by Ron Washington's unique managerial approach to baseball? NO! That "NO" is more emphatic than Jenkins' "NO" regarding Washington's hypothetical managerial career in Oakland. At this point, Jenkins' seems to expose his own personal convictions more so than anything baseball-related. It's certainly a great thing for Ron Washington that he left Oakland and joined the Rangers. I don't know how great it would have turned out elsewhere. In some cases...actually quite a few cases, it may have turned out horribly! Would Jenkins' have written this same article if Ron Washington had been in Trey Hillman's shoes the past three years? Maybe - if Ron Washington managed the Royals to the World Series. More importantly, would that have been possible if Wash' was in KC? NO! The cards Wash' was handed when he took the job were his greatest asset, not something he inherently possessed before he left the Bay Area nearly 4 seasons ago.

"There's no pervasive offensive philosophy on the Rangers, no strict directive to go up there and watch a million pitches pass by."

It seems as though Bruce is attributing a ton of Ron Washington's success to the moment the Rangers apparently became the Burger King of MLB front offices and told their skipper "have it your way, Wash!" By comparison, it's a given that Washington has far more control over the Rangers than he would have had he been named manager of the Athletics. But Jenkins seems to be under the impression that either the A's are the only team that implements specific philosophical approaches from the GM on down, or the Rangers are the only ones who don't. I don't know if he did it intentionally or not, but Jenkins' was correct when he mentioned that there isn't any offensive philosophy implemented by the Texas front office (that is public knowledge at least). If that was indeed intentional, it's probably because Jenkins is aware of Nolan Ryan's emphasis on pitcher stamina, which minimizes the significance of pitch counts, but is a big reason the Rangers' staff stresses year-round conditioning to their pitchers. The rational effect of this approach undeniably alters such state-of-the-game decisions regarding how, when, and where to use which pitcher, and therefore, the managerial approach taken by Ron Washington.

I could go on to criticize Jenkins' article in a thousand more words than it was even written, but that would ultimately detract from my objective. Although, when Jenkins implies that Ron Washington is courageous because he confessed to his own personal weakness after testing positive for cocaine use prior to the start of the 2010 season, it seems as though Bruce is using the most arbitrary details of Washington's off-the-field life to accredit his managerial success. Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge Ron Washington fan, and I think he's a terrific manager. I think there's plenty of in-game decisions that make that evident. I also think that someones' personal life and professional life are two entirely different entities, and therefore should be kept separated in their respective analyses. I don't think Ron Washington is a bad person because he tested positive for an illegal narcotic. I don't know the man! I know little about his personal life other than Eric Chavez gave him one of his 6 Gold Glove Awards, and that his New Orleans home was ruined by Hurricane Katrina and Jason Giambi helped him recover in the aftermath. Beyond that, I could say nothing about Ron Washington that doesn't have something to do with baseball. His character is what distinguishes his status as a "good" or "bad" member of society, so only people who know Ron Washington could judge him in that respect. It's in that same respect that we can't accurately judge Ron Washington's professional career based on the decisions he makes in his personal life. We have an infinite number of metrics we could choose from to evaluate Ron Washington's effectiveness as a manager, so why would we throw in some anecdotal nonsense that isn't even close to baseball-related? Bruce Jenkins may not agree with that particular idea, and that's fine. But citing a positive drug test as an event that ultimately revealed Ron Washington's courage to the public and somehow tying it back to the Rangers playing in the World Series is ridiculous. The last I checked, it was a bad thing to test positive for illegal drugs. Jenkins goes on to say that Billy Martin and Tony LaRussa have proven that not-so-good life decisions don't have to get in the way of success on the field. Yes, once again, I agree with the idea, but what is Bruce implying in that statement? I'd like to point out that, although Tony LaRussa may have been arrested for DUI, he's one of the most respectable individuals in society - not just in baseball. He's an animal rights advocate, and I admire him more for his personal ideals and contributions to society (such as ARF) than I do for his contributions to the game...other than maybe the 89' World Series. I'm a far greater supporter of LaRussa outside of baseball because of all of the work he's done to protect animals. I actually can't stand his strategic approach to baseball...but LaRussa's managerial decisions are a completely different topic...just like they should be.

In Case He Ever Reads It (within the next few weeks)

You're covering the World Series, Bruce. Giants fans will probably appreciate a column about what you think they're doing right a lot more than A's fans will appreciate a column about what you think they're doing wrong. I hope you realize that. Go A's.

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