A GRIP ON SPORTS
You know who might have the toughest job in major league baseball these days? No, it's not Alex Rodriguez's PR guy, though that has to be right up there. It's Robby Thompson, the Mariners' interim manager. Read on.
• Remember that one substitute teacher? You know the guy I'm talking about. The one who had no clue how to control a classroom. In sixth or seventh grade we had a substitute that got so discombobulated he ran into the lectern as he was backing up a row, turned and kicked it across the room, limped out of the classroom and could be seen sitting on a brick planter, shoe off, examining what I can only imagine was a broken toe. He never returned. By the time Sister Patrice took control of the classroom with her ruler and I'm-sending-you-straight-to-purgatory looks, the place was a mess. But even the best substitute teacher was just holding the fort, keeping everyone on task until the "real" teacher returned. Such is the role for Thompson. He has to keep the Mariners rolling – they were just coming off their best stretch of the season when manager Eric Wedge went down with a stroke – and do it during one of their roughest road trips of the season – six games in Boston and Baltimore. It's not an easy job and it's made that much tougher by the fact Wedge and Thompson are close friends. You know Thompson has to be thinking about his buddy's health, all the while trying to juggle a team in transition (the Mariners activated Michael Morse from the disabled list yesterday and designated for assignment Jason Bay), a situation that could get worse if the front office decides to make a deal or two before tomorrow's trade deadline. When Wedge returns – Thompson is adamant he will – then it's back to the role as a bench coach, though the relationship with some of the players will have changed. See, the role of any assistant is different than that of the manager or head coach. The assistant can be the fence-mender, the buddy, the good guy. The manager has the hammer, the lineup card, and has to wield it with authority. Even an interim manager. Thompson has to make some tough calls. Take the outfield. With Morse back, there is a glut of guys who need to play. Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders are supposed to be your outfielders of the future, so they need time. Morse has to be in the lineup. So what do you do with Raul Ibanez, who has been slumping since the All-Star break but is still in the midst of an age-defying season, and Endy Chavez? What happens if Franklin Gutierrez is healthy to return to the big club? Who plays? No matter the decision, it creates some rancor. That's what Wedge is paid for, to take the heat. Thompson is new to the role. He'll have to walk the tightrope over the next week or so, hoping he, and the M's, don't fall off.
• WSU: This just in. Christian Caple has a morning blog post with links. Which means, other than this link to the news about Travis Long signing with the Philadelphia Eagles, we don't have to worry about Cougar news. But I do want to say a couple words about Long (pictured with another sack). If you look at the WSU career defensive lists, you'll see his name in the sixth spot in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss. That's the raw data. But, as always, raw data doesn't tell the whole story. Think about this. In the four years Long was at WSU, the Cougars were 10-38. Many of those losses were blowouts, with the opposition jumping ahead early. What happens when a college team gets an early lead? In most cases they run the ball, milking the clock. Yet Long still had 20.5 career sacks. Just think how many he might have had on a team that was good, that led games and forced the opposition to throw the ball. Besides, for most of Long's four years in Pullman, I watched as the opposition rolled their protection his way, making sure he was accounted for on each play. Long's career is more than his numbers, that's for sure. ... The Cougars will have to replace Long at linebacker and that won't be easy. ... USC is closing practices to the media. How about Will Ferrell? ... The new targeting rules are a topic of discussion.
• Mariners: With the travel day to Boston, there wasn't a game, but the M's still made news when they activated Morse and let go of Bay, the former North Idaho College and Gonzaga star. ... Jesus Montero is still trying to regain his batting stroke.
• Seahawks: Thanks to some depth built up over the recent years, the Hawks are ready to deal with Percy Harvin's injury, no matter how bad it is. Tight end might be a different story. ... What have we learned after four preseason practices?
• I just realized there is no substitute for me. I go down, so does this column. That's sort of scary. Maybe Robby Thompson could become the interim Grip on Sports guy if need be. Until later ...