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MORRISSEY: Managers tend to get undeserved blame and credit

12-4-2009 PhoRick Morrissey new Chicago Sun-Times Sports columnist.  Phoby Dom NajoliChicago Sun-Times

12-4-2009 Photo of Rick Morrissey, new Chicago Sun-Times Sports columnist. Photo by Dom Najolia, Chicago Sun-Times

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Listening to Yankees manager Joe Girardi talk about Alex Rodriguez the other day, I was reminded of the “Seinfeld’’ episode in which George suggests that Jerry pitch a show to NBC about nothing.

Jerry: “I still don’t know what the idea is.’’

George: “It’s about nothing.’’

Jerry: “Right.’’

George: “Everybody’s doing something; we’ll do nothing.’’

Jerry: “So we go into NBC, we tell them we’ve got an idea for a show about nothing.’’

George: “Exactly.’’

Jerry: “They say, ‘What’s your show about?’ I say, ‘Nothing.’ ”

George: “There you go.’’

Jerry: “I think you may have something there.’’

I don’t mean to pick on Girardi, who was in a difficult spot Monday with A-Rod’s decision to appeal a long suspension for alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. He was trying to back, sort of, a player who can’t be backed. But I was struck by how narrow Girardi considers his job duties to be when it comes to Rodriguez, who, by all indications, has been a walking syringe for years.

It leads to the eternal question: What the hell do managers do, anyway?

Here are a few things Girardi said about Rodriguez during Monday’s pregame media session. If you didn’t know better, you’d think being a manager is a profession about nothing.

“I’m not here to judge people. That’s not my job.’’

“I’m not going to [give him] advice on how to handle [the situation]. I don’t think that’s my position.’’

“I’ve never asked him [if he’s clean], and I don’t necessarily think that that’s my place right now. My conversations have to do with what we need to do on the field and not what you do off the field.’’

The best managers know that dealing with struggling players away from the field is their biggest job. Apparently, A-Rod is too far gone for any intervention. Or maybe Girardi knows it’s in his best interest to keep a distance.

What makes a good manager? A good manager has good players. A bad manager has bad players.

Too simplistic for you? Take a look at Robin Ventura and his role in the White Sox’ sad, underachieving season. He told media members Monday that it’s all his fault. No, it isn’t. It’s not his fault the Sox are awful offensively. A manager can’t make Adam Dunn hit better. Ask Ozzie Guillen. A manager has very little control over hitters’ performances.

Defense and mental mistakes are a different story. Those are on the manager. Making players do extra defensive drills can help make errors go away. Extra batting practice doesn’t always translate into better hitting.

Last week, Cubs manager Dale Sveum helped show Julio Borbon the door after the reserve outfielder made another baserunning blunder. The move resonated with law-and-order types, but it’s interesting how often in sports the person being made an example of is a nobody. You’ll see NFL teams similarly cut kickers when things are going south.

Is that good coaching/managing?

Ventura was a good manager last season, when the Sox went into the last week of the regular season with a chance for a division title. He’s a bad manager this season because his players forgot how to be good baseball players. The talk from critics that Ventura isn’t pulling the right strings during games? Just talk.

As Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said a few years ago, there are very few strategic situations that arise during a game that call for creativity. In other words, most decisions follow the book, and any player, coach or manager who has been around the game knows those decisions in advance. That would include Ventura.

The talk that his sleepy demeanor has made his team sleepy? Funny, but it wasn’t an issue last season.

There have been lots of calls for Ventura’s head. That’s what people do when a team is going bad. The fact that he didn’t want to sign a contract extension before the season made people wonder whether he wanted to be a manager. I thought it was a sign of a healthy human being. It’s a difficult job, and if your heart isn’t totally in it, there’s a decent chance you’ll wake up each day hating yourself.

He now says he wants to be back, but fans who want him out have used his earlier hesitation against him. He’s not all in, they say. Not fully committed, they say. A bad manager, they say.

When you figure out what a good manager is, please let me know.



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