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WSI's FLYINGSOCK.COM.  Chicago White Sox coverage with totally biased attitude!

Understanding Manuel

by George Bova

Sox manager Jerry Manuel has a well-deserved reputation for being a diplomat both inside and outside the clubhouse.  He commands a lot of respect from his players who never quit on him.  This fact was best demonstrated by the 2001 club which stumbled 15 games beneath .500, yet made it all up in just a month's time.  They played hard for Manuel the remainder of the year in spite of the odds stacked against them all season long.  That's a fine tribute to the Sox manager's grasp of his team.

So it was more than a bit surprising to hear what Manuel had to say following the last game of the season in Minnesota.  Sox Fans have been confused about what precisely has been going through Manuel's mind these past several months.  Some have even asserted Manuel has no thoughts at all inside his head, simply making it up as he goes along.  In the absence of any thoughtful commentary from Manuel, it's not hard to understand how Sox Fans could draw that conclusion.

Consider some of the contradictory moves of Jerry Manuel this past season....

- adding Julio Ramirez and Royce Clayton to the everyday line up in an effort to tighten up defense, then late in the season suggesting pitching and offense are the most important ingredients to winning in the American League,

- using Kip Wells and Jon Garland like yo-yos between the bullpen and starting rotation,

- playing the percentages by reaching for southpaw bullpen slugs Alan Embree and Bill Pulsipher, but leaving the human torch Bob Howry in the game regardless of the situation,

- suggesting the Sox were still in the late-September pennant race as an excuse for not playing minor league call ups like Joe Crede.

Understanding the meaning of what Manuel says isn't easy.  Besides Sox Fans and the beat writers, it appears many Sox ballplayers haven't a clue what is inside Manuel's head either.  If they've complained publicly, Manuel had his retort at the end of the season:

"Everyone has to find an excuse as to why you're not performing."

Manuel was speaking about Sox players who complained about not knowing their role.  Several players complained about their confusion, oftentimes using the media as a sounding board for getting more playing time.  Among the more noteworthy of these were Jose Canseco, Chris Singleton, Herbert Perry, Royce Clayton, Jose Valentin, and Joe Crede.  

In fairness, they all had legitimate beefs.  If the manager won't talk straight with a player, the media is the only place left to seek restitution.  Did Manuel talk straight with these guys?  The sheer number of similar complaints indicates he did not.  That's not the players' fault; it's the manager's fault.  Too bad Manuel hasn't wised up yet.  Blaming his players is a prescription for more trouble in 2002.

"I probably wouldn't have had the same mix.  It just wasn't a good mix.  It's like a pot of gumbo.  It just didn't have the right stuff in it.  It didn't taste right.  What we felt was going to be a good mix wasn't."

Well, this ought to be obvious!  The 2001 Sox dropped twelve games in the standings versus the 2000 division championship team.  Whatever improvements were made surely didn't show up in the won-loss column.  If there is any problem with Manuel making this statement, it's the fact he waited until October to say it. If Manuel did anything behind the scenes to prod the Sox front office to fix the personnel problems, there was no outward effort made by the front office on Manuel's behalf.  Not unless you want to count the bargain basement signings of guys like Jose Canseco and Bill Pulsipher.  If Manuel felt his 2001 "gumbo" didn't taste right, he should have said so a long time ago.

Manuel was asked if he wanted shortstop Royce Clayton back.  His answer...

"A lot depends on what is around him.  It's too hard to say he didn't fulfill what we thought because he did.  He ended up hitting [.263] and he played the best shortstop I've seen since I've been her.  I can't say we don't want him back.  All the things have to fit.  

I'd like to have that type of shortstop, but the American League is so tough offensively.  We need to get offense and defense from that position." 

The last paragraph is the most telling.  Here Manuel is taking direct aim at what he feels killed the 2001 Sox more than anything else:  lack of offense.  Does he want Clayton back?  Sure, but not if he doesn't get improvement in the offense elsewhere.

Which three positions were at the bottom of Manuel's line up all season long?  Centerfielder, shortstop, and catcher, nearly always slotted in that precise order.  So Manuel is saying, quite emphatically, is he can't afford Clayton unless he gets more offense at these other two positions.

Of the three, which position is easiest to upgrade?  Is Chris Singleton or Sandy Alomar more easily upgraded than Clayton?  On that answer rests the fate of next year's starting shortstop and the very complexion of the 2002 team.


George Bova is editor and founder of White Sox Interactive.  You can write George at george@whitesoxinteractive.com

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