Monday, March 19, 2012

3 comments Frank Deford Wonders Why There Aren't any "Character Coaches" Anymore, Comes to the Obvious Conclusion Statistics are to Blame

Frank Deford, the same guy who has a random hatred of field goals and thinks trick plays are child abuse, misses the good ol' days when baseball had managers who were characters. I know it is shocking to hear an older writer being wistful for good old days that may or may not have ever existed, but please suspend your disbelief for a few minutes. The biggest issue it seems Frank has with sports at this point is the lack of character coaches or managers with an edge or a personality about them. There are no coaches like Ozzie Guillen, Joe Maddon, or Rex Ryan anymore. These guys are long gone, only to be replaced by computer-like human managers.

Coaches and managers, as a group, have always been pretty straightforward types.

The end. Frank Deford has destroyed the conclusion of his article before it even starts. He wants to know what happened to all of the character managers, but then he begins his article with stating managers have always been straightforward types. So if there never were many character managers, does that mean the numbers are dwindling or there never were that many character managers as it is?

But at least in the past, there were always a fair complement of coaching characters -- old cracker-barrel philosophers,

Like Ron Gardenhire, Charlie Manuel, Doug Collins, Jim Leyland or Dusty Baker?

feisty wiseguys

Like Ozzie Guillen, Buck Showalter, Rex Ryan, Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, or Bobby Valentine?

and even a few sardonic intellectuals.

Like Joe Maddon, Sean Payton, Gregg Popovich, Tom Thibodeau or Bill Belchick?

But the oddballs are diminishing.

Not really. I do know something that IS diminishing (makes writing motion and points to Frank Deford).

I think much of this has to do with the fact that sports have increasingly come to depend upon statistics,

YES! That is exactly the reason this fictional group of people are diminishing in size. I'm guessing those old school sardonic intellectuals used to be so oh-so-intellectual without the use of any actual data or statistics.

and so more and more coaches aren't skippers, as they've been colloquially in the past, but programmers, for goodness sakes.

For golly sakes, you aren't right at all. I can't wait to receive some proof this is true from Frank Deford. Unfortunately, I will have to wait for the rest of eternity because he doesn't explain or say much else about this. He calls managers and coaches programmers and doesn't elaborate much further. This appears to be a poorly veiled shot at using statistics to make managerial decisions, except it is based on the principle that managers who use statistics aren't capable of being interesting managers. Joe Maddon argues differently. It doesn't seem mutually exclusive for a manager to use statistics and also be a interesting person.

Not only that, but when these dull guys lose their jobs, they're precisely the ones picked by ESPN so they can then bloviate over the air the same trite truisms that got them fired.

Examples of this? None? Great.

What's so great is Frank Deford later writes that Bobby Valentine is the fix for all these trite truisms and boring non-character managers that permeate the coaching ranks. Who did he work for up until the very point he was hired by the Red Sox? ESPN.

So yet again, Frank Deford seems to submarine his own point. He says ESPN hires boring non-character managers to bloviate, but uses Valentine as the antidote to this issue, despite the fact he bloviated for ESPN just last year.

Where is Al McGuire when we need him?

This is awkward. He's dead.

Abe Lemons?

Okay, now you are just making up names. (checks Wikipedia)

Wait, he did exist and he is also dead.

Duffy Daugherty?

Wasn't he the guitarist for Guns 'N Roses at one point? (checks Wikipedia)

Again, dead.

Al Davis?

Dead. It appears that any coach/manager that was ever in any way interesting is now deceased. All we are left with are the currently managers or coaches that are amusing and interesting people.

I'm not buying there aren't as many character managers as their used to be. I can pretend though, so I can take on Deford's argument from a different perspective. Let's briefly discuss why there hypothetically could not be more character managers around these days. You'll never guess who I am going to blame this on...

It's the media's fault. The 24/7 media cycle has taken the interesting comments out of the athletes and coaches. Can you imagine what the media would say if a coach said...

"Football isn't a contact sport, it's a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport."

JemeHill and various other columnists would write an article saying this coach doesn't get the severity of head trauma in the game of football and needs to be taught a lesson on his player's safety. This quote came from Duffy Daugherty by the way.

What do you think the media would do with a comment like this one...

"I never substitute just to substitute. I play my regulars. The only way a guy gets off the floor is if he dies."

Or this one...

"Doctors bury their mistakes, but mine are still on scholarship."

That last quote brings back memories of the video of Pat Knight destroying his seniors in a press conference a few weeks ago. I have a feeling the media would have something to say about these comments if a modern manager or coach had made them.

I believe the 24/7 media cycle has caused players and coaches to get to the point where there is no incentive to say anything negative or positive or remotely interesting to the media. If anything relatively interesting is stated, it is chewed up, spit out and then judged by 100 different columnists. Just look at the minor uproar Bobby Valentine has caused with his relatively tame comments about the Yankees. Anything stated publicly is a news story now. We've sucked the interesting out of coaches and managers.

But it is in baseball where we most miss the characters at the helm. Baseball, after all, is the national pastime. A lot of time passes in the dugout. It's the most oral of sports.

Ignoring this blatant attempt to get me to make a sexually suggestive comeback, what can be gained from saying anything interesting to the media or being a character? The media will absolutely eat up, deconstruct and then reconstruct the comments to discover the "real" meaning. Look at Kobe's comments about the Lakers front office. It was speculated endlessly what they "really" meant. I don't know if Kobe wishes he had kept his mouth shut, but there is little incentive for a player/coach to say anything interesting for fear of what those comments will be interpreted as once they are out of his mouth.

Thank heavens, even if his address has changed to Miami, Ozzie Guillen is still around to shoot his mouth off in the best tradition of Casey Stengel and Earl Weaver.

And how is Guillen or "the Blizzard of Oz" as Jay Mariotti so famously called him treated at times by the media? He's a character but he is also characterized as having a big mouth and shooting from the hip too much at times. The media wants characters in managerial positions so they have better content to write on and discuss.

But all praise and glory go to the Boston Red Sox for bringing Bobby Valentine back to provide some antic charm and irritation.

He worked for ESPN last year.

The irony is that the faceless new Boston general manager was determined to bring in another bland button-pusher, but Larry Lucchino, the club president -- the same original thinker who utterly changed the whole face of baseball by championing the construction of Camden Yards in Baltimore, which thereby created the friendly modern ballpark -- pushed for articulation and pizzazz, for a man smart enough to have learned Japanese when he was managing in exile over there.

I love how the media loves Bobby Valentine. Valentine was managing in exile over in Japan because he got fired as the Mets manager. Not ironically, he was fired from his team in Japan, despite the fact he was beloved.

I love how Frank Deford perceives it as Valentine was blackballed from the majors for some reason. In reality, Valentine had managed in Japan prior to being hired by the Mets, so it was natural for him to go back to Japan to manage after being fired by the Mets. He learned Japanese because he managed in Japan in 1995 and then from 2004-2009. It was sort of a job requirement that he learn the language. If not an outright requirement, I think it was pretty necessary.

So Spring Training has hardly started, but here we have Valentine, already having fun in English by teasing, prodding, and especially nettling the pompous Yankees, stirring up the best rivalry in the sport.

That's what this really all boils down to. The media wants managers who will say crazy things and make it easier to write stories or need quotes to create stories for them to write on. It isn't necessary for managers to be characters and the need for more characters isn't even about statistics, but the mainstream media's overwhelming laziness and need to create stories out of a short quote.

Valentine actually managed to get A-Rod to say something cute and unscripted. "I have my new press secretary, Reggie Jackson, so I'll let him handle that," the erstwhile artless slugger wisecracked. With such witty repartee, for the first time I could appreciate what Cameron Diaz saw in the guy.

A baseball player said something interesting! This made it easier to write a story about these comments on Bobby Valentine! Baseball has been saved!

So welcome back to baseball and byplay, Valentine-San. If your team wins, fine, but it's enough to just keep talking a good game.

Really? Because this seems to be the very opposite opinion most of the media has about coaches like Rex or Rob Ryan when they open their mouth and say something "interesting." It's funny how Frank Deford wants more interesting coaches despite that team's record, but when coaches say something interesting the team's record is always discussed by the media in conjunction with the comments.

I think Deford wants more interesting coaches so these comments can eventually be thrown back in the coach's face. If not Deford, I would bet many other sportswriters crave this.

Lord, do we need more of that in sports today.

No, we don't. What does the use of statistics have to do with this again? That comment was sort of dropped into this column and then never elaborated upon nor explained.


rich said...

You know why these types of managers aren't around anymore? Because they're fucking horrible to work with. Could you imagine being the boss of Ozzie Guillen? He, and his fucknugget son, constantly took shots at the organization and Williams, his fucking boss.

Managers are also relatively replaceable. For example, Francona sucked as the Phillies manager and then wins multiple titles in Boston. He didn't become a better manager, he got better players.

While there are a few teams who you go "ya, they shouldn't have won as many games as they should have," you could find a fan who could do as good a job managing most clubs.

Charlie Manuel won 100 games last year by filling out the same exactly lineup any Phillies fan would have.

What most fans can't do:
1. Actually coach the players. I know baseball, but I don't think Ryan Howard is taking advice from me on his fucking strikeout ratio.

2. Manage the characters on the team.

That's it.

So basically if you're an owner or GM and you have two managerial candidates who are equally competent at their job, who in their right mind is hiring the guy who makes a complete ass of himself?

On the flip side, I think Deford is confusing "Character" with "being an asshole." There are plenty of coaches and managers who have character. I think Charlie Manuel is fucking hysterical in his interviews. He's articulate and has a sense of humor.

Just because he isn't a complete asshole who says shit like "My starters are going to play until they're dead" doesn't mean he isn't a character.

I'd hypothesize that we're not running out of character coaches, we just have an excess of asshole coaches. When you have a character like Jim Harbaugh or Charlie Manuel, they don't look as exciting when compared to assholes like Rex Ryan or Ozzie Guillen.

You don't need a complete dipshit asshole to win a championship (in fact, Coughlin has won two since he stopped being an asshole), so why the fuck would anyone hire someone like that?

Unknown said...

What's most sad about this article? Frank Deford used to be a fantastic sports writer, and now he puts out this crap. There was a time from about 1982-92 when Sports Illustrated wasn't just the best sports magazine, but might have been the best written American magazine, and Deford was a big part of that. It's a freaking shame.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, those are good points. I like how Deford touched on blaming statistics and then didn't really speak about it anymore. I think a manager who is a "character" is getting confused with being a jerk, too. I'm trying to think of managers that were characters of some sort and I can think of a few, Casey Stengel, Earl Weaver, etc...but I think they are still few and far between even back in the olden days.

I blame it on the 24/7 sports cycle and the fact, like you said, a team isn't going to want a manager who becomes a distraction for his crazy quotes. Teams pay a ton of money for a guy who can manage, not give a good quote to the media.

Unknown, I agree. It is how I feel about Furman Bisher. I used to enjoy reading Furman Bisher, but at a certain point he ended up drawing my ire.

I miss the Deford who wrote articles that could end up in books like this one.

It feels like he comes out of left field with his articles now. Hating on field goals, missing character coaches and saying trick plays are child abuse. What makes it worse is he only writes 750 words, so he doesn't even have time to elaborate to explain his view. I almost feel like his PoV is "the guy who hates things in sports no reasonable person has even pondered hating." It is a bit sad.