Non-baseball fans, or non-sports fans-stick with this for a second. There will be some kind of a point towards the end! I think. Maybe. I mean, that’s my plan, but a lot could happen between now and then. You know, things change.
Last year Brad Ausmus was the rookie manager of the Detroit Tigers, a team expected to be one of the top contenders for a World Series championship. A Dartmouth graduate, three-time Gold Glove winner and former All-Star in his 18-year playing career he is undoubtedly one of the most cerebral people involved with the silly little game. It was very amusing during the 1996 season to walk through the locker room and observe him reading the Wall Street Journal and NY Times while teammates were reading comics, Playboys and watching “The Jerry Springer Show!”
His pitching coach and right hand man is Jeff Jones, a veteran baseball man whom I have known since we played on a National Championship Little Caesar’s team (sponsored by Tiger’s owner Mike Ilitch) when we were 18 years old. Jonesy and I were also teammates on the 1984 Oakland A’s, and he was the bullpen coach for the Tigers in ’95 when I began as their broadcaster. We go back together.
Now that credentials and connections are in place fast-forward to game two of the playoffs last year, Tigers versus Baltimore. Annibel Sanchez , the number three starter pitching in relief after several months off due to injury, completes two very effective innings. Ausmus hooks him, the Tiger bullpen implodes, and they eventually are swept out of the series. The Internet being what it is, every Monday through Sunday morning quarterback checks in with their opinion of what should be done with a manager that most industry professionals feel is going to be very successful, including the Tiger front office. Second-guessers of the world-Unite! Have you found that most second guessers are people afraid to make the first guess?
Here is where it gets tricky with the planning angle. The Tigers had several days before the playoffs started to formulate their strategy. Keep in mind these are two veteran baseball professionals with 20+ years of playing experience and 30+ of coaching trials and tribulations. After consulting with half the planet and probably a couple Ouija boards, they develop a best-case scenario, a worst case scenario and several dozen variations in between. I mean, these guys don’t just go home after a team workout during the playoffs and watch Seinfeld re-runs or clean the garage!
They develop a pitch count number that makes sense based on his current arm-strength, the amount he had pitched in the recent past, which was one unimportant inning in over two months, and what the long term ramifications would be for the following season and beyond, not only for him but the organization. That’s the way it works.
It was easily best case scenario, pitch count was perfect, plan is implemented to get him out while the gettin’s good and all should be right with the world.
Except the bullpen stinks the joint up. They get their back sides handed to them, and slink home for a miserable four month off-season of “what-ifs?”
Ever happen to you? The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men? (Thank you Messrs. Burns and Steinbeck!) Military veterans to a man will say the last thing they are told before heading out to battle is “Expect the Unexpected.” Baseball people say “The only thing you know for sure is–You never know” (thank you Joaquin Andujar!)
I like to believe that these days (not so much before) I am a planner, and prepare for contingencies; it just never seems to work out that way. Always a last minute detail, a semi-glitch or a bend in the road. A big over-head curveball in the baseball game of life.
So now it’s just pray for guidance, patience and direction, then cross the fingers, hope for the best and plow onward. That’s why we have an alphabet, to prepare for Plans B through Z!
And somebody might want to mention that to Pete Carroll!