Fire Jim Tracy

Monday, October 11, 2004

Exploding the Meaningless Babble Machine

Anyone who watches sports regularly knows of the dreaded "sports bromide." "We gave 110%." "We gave it everything we had." These witless statements serve two different purposes. The first purpose is to give voice to events that defy description. These are times when athletes thank Jesus. The second purpose is to mask ignorance. So you say things that can not be easily proven or disproven, given that they have very little meaningful content. You get the handy side effect that the listener might mistake that lack of content for insider knowledge that the viewer could NOT POSSIBLY EVER KNOW, and therefore come off looking, to the undiscerning viewer, like some sort of expert.

With that introduction, allow me to eviscerate two of the sillier sports bromides that have been said about Jim Tracy by commentators throughout the year, particularly the ESPN guys, who seem to have Master's Degrees in Meaningless English. First, the idea that Jim Tracy gets "everything possible" or alternatively, "more," than other managers would get out of his players. Second, the idea that Jim Tracy is "supportive" of or "believes more in" his players to the point that this is a benefit to the team.

As to the first, one can see within the statement the reason for its genesis. To prove such a proposition with actual evidence is very difficult. It becomes somewhat easier when you cherry-pick favorable evidence, and point to Adrian Beltre's MVP season, Jose Lima's miracle comeback, or Jayson Werth's emergence as a rookie and future star. There is, of course, no evidence that any of these things occurred as a result of anything Jim Tracy did. Beltre has played for Tracy for three years, and only started to hit when Tim Wallach came on board this year. Lima is something of a shock, but his 9-1 record in Dodger Stadium, and the favorable conditions in which Dodger pitchers pitch, probably had something to do with it. Tracy was platooning Werth with Dave Roberts (?!) until DePodesta finally had to blow out Encarnacion and Roberts just to keep Tracy from playing them (Some of you may point to a Roberts resurgence in Boston -- I will only counter by suggesting that playing in that lineup would make anyone look good). Meanwhile, several players regressed as the season progressed, and several players just didn't play well. Jason Grabowski had some good early at-bats, but fell apart sometime around July. Cesar Izturis hit nothing but pop-ups for a month, and into the playoffs. Before Milton Bradley got famous for throwing that stupid bottle, he had basically become Juan Encarnacion for six weeks, swinging through hanging curve balls and showing all the patience of a cat in heat. The performances of Hideo Nomo and Kaz Ishii speak for themselves. I suppose there are two points here. The first is that if you are going to give Tracy credit for the good, you should at least look to the bad for equal evidence. The second is that even if you decide that the players play and the manager manages (and never the twain shall meet), that at least undermines the very essence of the "gets more out of his players" argument. You have made the manager a non-entity. I suppose there is room to debate whether the manager should be a non-entity, and whether if that is in fact the job description, Jim Tracy is the perfect man for the job.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, speaks more volumes about this particular argument than the performance of our starting pitchers, and particularly Odalis Perez, during the NLDS. After Jose Lima's gutsy, in-your-face performance of Saturday night, the momentum of the series had changed. The Cards were back on their heels, Dodger Stadium sounded like I have never heard it before, and it was time for someone to take the mound and assert Dodger Boldness. Instead, Perez looked from the first pitch like he was going to soil himself. Added to his belabored (45 seconds a pitch) performance in Game 1, in two of the four games, we ended up with a pitcher on the mound with all the bravado of Ken Berry in F Troop. Of course, Odalis is now on his way to Tampa Bay (more on this below), so he makes a convenient scapegoat. No one need ask the tough questions, because the enemy has gone. But answer this question, Tracy Defenders: Why shouldn't Perez's embarrassing mound presence in both games be a reflection on the manager who is supposed to be "getting more out of him" than anyone else would have? It would be fairly hard to have gotten less out of Perez than he got.

The "Tooth Fairy" argument next...

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