A GRIP ON SPORTS • UPDATED 1 P.M.
While reading through items I found yesterday about the M's loss to Cleveland on Tuesday night, one line in a Geoff Baker blog post about Eric Wedge caught my eye. "Managing a baseball team is about leading people as much as it is about playing percentages and crunching numbers," Baker wrote. Now Baker, the longtime beat writer for the Seattle Times is a numbers guy, in the sense he understands all the statistics that are in play and have become the rage in baseball. But he also understands there is more to winning at the major league level than just running numbers through a laptop. Read on.
• Actually, l would argue managing a major league team is at least 75 percent (and maybe up to 90 percent) about leading people. It's why they are called managers and not head coaches, for goodness sakes. Major league teams play nearly 200 games a season, 162 of them that count toward the postseason. They are together at least eight months a year. There is a continuing churn among team members. A clubhouse teems with life as 30 or so people (including coaches) with varied backgrounds interact in a way unheard of within other businesses. All of that – and more, much more, including monetary issues, on-field performance, off-field problems – land in the lap of the manager. The most successful are able to juggle it all and meld a cohesive group that competes throughout the season. The group effectively deals with losses (every team loses a third of its games), with wins (every team wins a third of its games) and with whatever happens after the game ends. You think a guy like Lou Pinella threw tantrums on the field to garner favor with the fans and influence umpires? No, he was performing for the players in his dugout and bullpen, letting them know he had their backs. You think Jim Leyland is obtuse with the media because he enjoys driving writers nuts? No (not completely), he wants to say something without saying anything. When he needs to call out a player, he does it behind closed doors. Do you think Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire never complained about the Twins' financial situation because they are good soldiers? No, they know giving their players a potential crutch will just help them limp through the season. So when you examine a manager's on field decisions, especially early in the season, try to do so through the prism of an MBA. By doing that, some of Eric Wedge's recent actions, like benching Brendan Ryan for a day, like keeping Kevin Millwood in a bit too long, take on a different hue. In the long term it may help the team win that third of the games that are up for grabs. If it doesn't, someone else may be trying to manage the M's problems next season.
• Washington State: The Cougars practiced Tuesday and Christian Caple did his usual complete job of covering the event, including a video interview with linebacker Darren Markle and more on his morning blog post. Christian also held a live chat yesterday, which you can re-read here. ... Christian linked this, but I can't help myself. Athlon ranks Jeff Tuel third among Pac-12 quarterbacks. If Connor Halliday wins the starting job this fall, would that make him No. 3 and Tuel No. 4? ... One of the hot-button news stories from yesterday (we talked about extensively on 700 ESPN and hope beyond hope people could understand what I was saying with my foot in my mouth) came from ESPN the magazine. It concerned marijuana use and college football – in context with the NFL draft next week. Oregon is now dealing with the fallout from this sidebar (including columns from near and far), which includes an interesting quote from WSU athletic director Bill Moos. Remember, in Oregon (and Washington), the school cannot legally test an athlete for illegal drug use without a reasonable suspicion. ... Another big news story from yesterday that took up some air time was Pat Summitt's decision to step aside as women's coach at Tennessee. Dave Trimmer talked with former Vol – and U-Hi Titan – Angie Bjorklund about Summitt's decision. We also found a few stories from credible sources with more than a bit of a connection to the legendary coach.
• Gonzaga: Basketball coach Mark Few joined ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd (an EWU alum) this morning with the main subject one we haven't really touched here too much: coaches restricting transfers by not releasing them to certain schools. (In his comments, which you should be able to listen to here at some point (UPDATE: This is a better link), Few said he wouldn't limit options unless he thought there had been tampering and I believe the recent Ryan Spangler transfer illustrates that well). I've never understood how the NCAA can allow that, but then again, I take the athlete's side about 90 percent of the time. ... I link this story just because I am a college baseball fan and it is interesting to me. The game has changed the past couple years.
• Preps: It's Thursday, which means Prep Page day. The best item is Greg Lee's column on Albi Stadium, which once again is being examined with an eye on its future. ... Greg also has a track notebook and there is this feature on Cheney's undefeated soccer team.
• Chiefs: You may have been wondering why I waited until all the way down here to get into Spokane's 3-2, game-seven loss to Tri-City last night, a loss that ended the Chiefs' season. Simple. They loss. It's yesterday's news. ... Just kidding. I'm heartbroken I won't have much in the way of Chiefs news to write about anymore. We can pass along Jessica Brown's story from last night's loss, along with a photo gallery (love the first photo) and a story from the Tri-City Herald. ... Portland recovered last night from three consecutive losses, shut out Kamloops and moved into the WHL's Western Conference finals.
• Shock: Quarterback Eric Meyer is still not ready to come off the injured list and Spokane isn't going to push him, as Jim Meehan's story explains.
• Mariners: There was one number that stood out from the Mariners' 4-1 win over Cleveland last night. It's not two, as in the combined number of home runs hit by Chone Figgins and Ichiro. It's not six, the number of walks Indians' starter Derek Lowe gave up. It's not seven, the length in innings of Jason Vargas' stint, just another step en route to the Cy Young Award. No, it was 11,343, and I'm guessing you know the significance of that number. ... Some thoughts on one M's pitcher who hasn't found the mound yet. ... One of the best defensive catchers of all-time is calling it quits (and yes, catchers can play defense, all Seattle evidence to the contrary).
• NBA: Can Seattle support six pro teams? There is a report out there that doubts it.
• That's our morning report other than to say the sun is shining in Spokane and is expected to all through the weekend (if you are a Cougar fan, you know why that's important). And to add 11,343 is the lowest announced attendance in Safeco Field history. ... We're back on the radio this afternoon, so if you are not too busy, you can listen here. Until later ...