If you DO happen to be a Nats fan, then accept my condolences. I know I’m pulling off a scab that hasn’t even finished forming.
The Washington Nationals literally choked away their season this year (ala Papelbon v.Harper) by vastly under performing as the season wound down. Sophomore Noob Nationals Manager Matt Williams paid the price by getting fired for missing the playoffs and allowing the team to spiral into turmoil. He took his rightful share of criticism for questionable and rigid decision making.
But here’s the part of the pro sports org chart that I struggle with. You have a General Manager that hires the Coach or Manager. That GM is also responsible for bringing in the players for the Coach or Manager to play to gain success. Many Coaches/Managers think they are a better judge of talent than their boss. Many GMs act like they can better manage/coach the team than the person they hire to do that function.
Sometimes a Coach or Manager’s style or game-plan doesn’t mesh with the players that the GM insists on bringing in. A recipe for immediate friction. It’s rare to have these two key management positions be in sync. Organizations that can get that done can focus on going for the gold, while the ones that can’t spiral into dysfunction, politics, and drama. It’s a MAJOR disruption. And the GM almost always has the upper hand and can extend their job tenure simply by throwing their own hire into the fire as a sacrifice.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo was the one three years ago that pulled his ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg out of the rotation when he was arguably at the top of his game. I’m aware there are debatable points for his decision at the time, byt I’m not going to reopen that can. He still made the decision. Time will tell if that was maybe the best shot the Nats had at a title with a young core of talented players. Rizzo hired Matt Williams two seasons ago.
I heard an intriguing point this week while listening to sports talk radio. John Feinstein does one of those “Sports Minute” type segments where they take a topic and make a case for it in a minute. It’s kind of the Twitter of the sports radio world. In that segment, he stated that instead of a Bud Black type Manager (Feinstein’s shot, not mine), he should instead bring in a bigger name like a Cal Ripken Jr.
He (Feinstein) said he didn’t see that happening due to the fact that the reasons they should do it are the reasons they (specifically Mike Rizzo) won’t do it. First, he acknowledged there’s a risk of bringing in and repeating the woes of a rookie Manager after hiring and firing rookie Manager Matt Williams. Also Cal Ripken Jr would bring in immediate respect, order, and authority. And even as Manager, he would be the biggest star in the Nationals organization.
And there lies the rub. Feinstein doesn’t think Rizzo wants that competition. Remember earlier, when I laid out the problems with the whole GM and Coach/Manager org chart relationship in professional sports? Ego mixed with paranoia will kill a team faster than anything from an organization perspective. They’ll preach team to their players, but many can’t put themselves aside long enough to allow the team to progress.
Cal Ripken Jr. expressed his interest in managing a team two years ago when Rizzo ultimately hired Williams. Will he step up this time with a big name hire like Ripken, or do what he did last time? Time will soon tell.
Here’s another great question: If you’re the Baltimore Orioles, why would you EVER not find a way to have arguably your most legendary player locked up in your organization? That kids, is a post for another time.
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