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Kansas City Blues

The Helpless Manuel

Has the Sox manager been given every opportunity to succeed?


by Bradley Joseph

 

I used to really like Jerry Manuel.  I can remember decisions that Manuel made that were bold and applaudable.  When Keith Foulke opened the 2000 season with unhittable stuff, Manuel swiftly put him in the closer role and demoted the struggling Bobby Howry to set-up man.  I loved Jerry for that because I remembered that it took the stubborn Gene Lemont way too long to get Bobby Thigpen out of the closer role, when everyone knew he had lost his stuff.  Furthermore, Manuel acted firmly and decisively with the lazy and bad Mike Carrusso.  By benching the former rookie of the year candidate he triggered a chain of events that lead to Slappy’s necessary exile from the organization and the eventual arrival of Jose Valentin.  And of course there was the highly publicized spring training fiasco where Jerry called out Frank Thomas for not running his sprints.  This act purportedly set the tone for the 2000 season, and secured Manuel’s control of the clubhouse.

 

So where did it all go wrong?  When did Jerry Manuel become this ever-tinkering, station-to-station, over-managing, oft beleaguered, oft maligned poor excuse for a major league manager?  September of 2000.  That’s when. We all know about his being badly out-managed by Lou Piniella in the playoffs, but the tone was set in the final two weeks of the regular season.  Inexplicably, Manuel decided that he would “rest” his starting players in preparation for the playoffs.  He ran out lineups day after day with three and four, bench and/or utility players in the starting lineup, and the offense went into the playoffs completely out of sync.  This was the beginning of a major ongoing gripe that I, and of course, most sox fans have with Manuel. He has got to wake up and realize that you don’t have to “rest” baseball players very often.  All they do is rest!  99% of the game a baseball player is either standing around in a field, or sitting on a wooden bench.  This is not basketball or soccer where they are running around constantly.  I acknowledge that there is a need for occasional rest due to the mental strain of the game.  But in baseball, rhythm is far far more important than rest, as is evidenced by the peculiarly repetitious idiosyncratic processes that most baseball players go through when they get into the batters box.  It is a game of routine and repetition.  To excessively sit your everyday players disorients their daily regimen, and thus their rhythm (not too mention hurts the daily potency of the lineup). 

 

As we all know, Manuel’s obsession with “rest” and the resultant tinkering has not ceased since the end of the 2000 season.  His relentless devotion to rest is constantly rearing its ugly head, as was the case in his post-game remarks Sunday night:  “It’s good to see Magglio getting the hits and playing consistently in the outfield.  You look to give him a day off, but I wish I could give him innings off instead.” Why should he give him any time off right now?  Maggs is in a mental and physical groove.  But Manuel did get Maggs “innings off,” or ½ innings anyway, as Maggs was the DH the following game.  Manuel must think that sparing Maggs from standing out in a grass field for parts of a game is a surefire way to boost his energy.  I’m sure Maggs feels like a new man!  Ack.  My suggestion to Manuel would be to monitor himself.   For the final game of the most recent Cleveland series he had Rios, Daubach, and Graffinino all in the lineup. Why must he play all three at once?  If he would limit himself to playing a maximum of one backup per day, he could still keep the subs fairly fresh without disrupting the flow of the regular lineup.

 

My other gripe with Manuel is timing.  It's all wrong.  As where he seemingly made most of the right moves with the right degree of swiftness until 2001, now he makes major decisions with a neurotic grasp of flexibility and timing.  Last year he finally moved Frank Thomas down in the lineup just before the Wrigley Field series, and he put a struggling Carlos Lee in the 3 hole.  I was ok with that.  Konerko and Maggs being on fire, and not wanting to risk messing up their grove by juggling them in the order, combined with Lee’s habitual pounding of the Cubs, made the decision at least understandable, if not sensical.  I told my brother that I didn’t mind Lee in the 3 hole, and he said, “yeah, but the problem is that if he does well this series, Manuel will keep him there forever, even after he returns to mediocrity.”  Sure enough, Lee raked the Cubs the whole series, then tailed off, but remained a fixed albatross in the 3 hole for much of the remainder of the season.  So basically, he waited way too long to get Frank out of the 3 hole, replaced him with another struggling hitter, was easily deceived from one series’ performances that he had made the right decision, and did not readjust until the sox were effectively eliminated from contention.  We are approaching a similar situation right now.  Sure, with Frank currently walking so much, the sox can bear his low batting average in the 3 spot, but Manuel needs to keep a keen eye on the situation, and carefully decide if and when to move frank down in the lineup.  Lets face it, Frank has not been close to our best hitter for more than two years now.  It might be time we let our all-star hit in the most important run producing spot (Magglio), or perhaps experiment with Lee and Konerko batting 3rd, if either of them start producing consistently. 

 

At all costs, the Sox cannot survive the long-term with a .240 hitter batting third.  But if history is any indicator, Manuel will under-manage, and then over-manage, as he flails helplessly in seek of the elusive happy medium that seems to come natural to a good manager.

 

Finally, Foul Territory’s NOT DOIN’ THE LITTLE THINGS award of the week goes to Armando Rios for his brutal baserunning.  In game #1 of the Royals series he tried to advance to 3rd on a pass ball in the 9th with the tying run at the plate.  What base he is on was virtually insignificant because he would have scored by default if the tying run managed to score.  Then, Monday’s game against the Indians saw Rios get picked off second when the Sox were down 4-0.  Even the politically muzzled Harrelson let loose: “DJ, you just don’t get picked off when you’re down four runs.”  It is tempting to blame Manuel for not preparing his troops to play smart, but I was taught in 7th grade to run the bases conservatively when down big, and to run the bases with staunch conservatism when down big in the ninth.  Manuel probably assumes, and understandably so, that his major league players would have already figured out such common sense nuances.  But apparently that is not the case. 


 

Bradley Josesph grew up in Aurora, IL, but now resides in downstate Bloomington where he teaches English at Heartland Community College.  He became an obsessive Sox fan in 1983 when he was 8 years old.  Brad struggles to maintain sanity living in central Illinois because it is saturated with Cubs and Cardinals fans.  Regular attempts to subtly brainwash his students into Sox fans have proven largely unsuccessful.  Brad’s White Sox memories include being struck in the chest by a Carlos Lee homerun ball and catching two foul balls in one game against the Devil Rays while vacationing in Tampa.  Both of these events happened during the glorious 2000 season, leading Brad to consider himself an instrument of cosmologically orchestrated events that were a sure-fire omen of a division title.  He of course is crazy, but in a good way.  Feel free to contact Brad at bwjosep@yahoo.com

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