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Sunday, October 25, 2015

What Is This Crazy Thing Called "Love"?

"If you lose at the beginning, they say you're off to a bad start; if you lose in the middle, they say you're in a slump; but if you lose at the end, they say you choked."

-- Gene Mauch (former Major League baseball coach)


Given the pressure to win, coupled with the whimsical decisions of stubborn team owners and irrational reactions of wildly volatile fans, it's got to be tough being the head coach or manager of a professional sports team. Just look at NFL coaches Rex Ryan and Joe Philbin.

The New York Jets fire Ryan and his replacement has taken Jets to a very respectable 4-2 record. As for Ryan, the Buffalo Bills instantly hired him and he already has them mired in last place in their division. Meanwhile, Miami minus Philbin, has apparently been rejuvenated, going 2-0 with their new coach, including leading the Houston Texans 41-0 at halftime.

What must a coach feel when his replacement does demonstrably better than he, no matter what role luck, weirdness or circumstance played in it? Wouldn't it be natural for Ryan to hope the Jets do poorly without him, and for Philbin to hope the Dolphins never win another game? Is that schadenfreude or plain old human nature?

Putting it in non-sports terms, one thinks of the girlfriend who abruptly breaks up with her struggling playwright boyfriend -- she calls him a doofus and a loser, and he self-righteously warns her that she'll never again meet a fellow as interesting or accomplished as he -- and then she goes and marries a Pulitzer Prize winner. Bad, very bad.

Switching to baseball, look at what happened to Matt Williams and Don Mattingly. In 2014, while managing the Washington Nationals, Williams was named "National League Manager of the Year," an honor he undoubtedly deserved. Then, a mere one year later, the Nationals fire him, apparently having lost confidence in his ability to manage.

So what happened to Williams? What happened in the interim? During the ensuing year, did this man -- this former Manager of the Year -- forget how to run a Major League ball club? ("Oh my God! What have I done? I made a mental list of managerial Do's and Don'ts, but totally forgot to write them down!")

The same for Mattingly. In his three years as manager of the LA Dodgers, they won the division all three times, and led the Majors in attendance. What's not to like? Sure, it would have been great if they'd won a World Series or two, but was it Mattingly's fault that Kershaw couldn't beat the St. Louis Cardinals, or that Ryu, their third starter, was a no-show all season?

As for the team's anemic offense, it wasn't Mattingly who acquired Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, two classy, veteran players who, alas, had not only seen better days, but who, as Dodger batters, flirted dangerously close to the Mendoza Line. And it wasn't Mattlingly's idea to have a starting center-fielder who hit .211, and two weak-hitting catchers rotating behind the plate.

Instead of firing Donny, I would've extended his contract three years. This would not only have given him a shot of much-needed confidence and some much-appreciated breathing room, it would have served as a warning to the players to knock-off the whining and griping. This is your manager. He's going to be here a while. Deal with it.

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