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…. Talk talk, ad infinitum

Reading this story, one might get the impression that Felipe Alou seems to think his inability to communicate with his players is funny; and Brian Sabean seems to think communicating with his players is not part of his job description.

…. I was trying to figure out how I was going to get through the rest of my dinner,” Tomko said. “Rags called me, and we had a two-minute conversation. That’s all I got out of it. I haven’t talked to (Felipe) Alou. I haven’t talked to Sabean. It’s interesting to me that the manager wouldn’t even come tell me what he’s thinking.”

To that, Alou smiled, pointed toward himself, and poking fun at his own clubhouse reputation, said, “Bad communicator here.”

Sabean said: “What’s to communicate? He’s been in the game a long time. If he doesn’t understand what’s going on, he needs to look at himself. I’m not going to worry about what his feelings are and how we communicate. I don’t think at this stage of his career I, or anybody else, needs to hold his hand. Whether he’s in denial or not is his business.”

Yeah, well, I don’t agree with either sentiment. Here we’ve got a team with almost the entire pitching staff having career-worst performances (notwithstanding Noah Lowry’s awesome August), and several members of that staff are now complaining in the media that they have been in the dark as to the intentions and/or needs of management, which of course means that management has been in the dark as to the intentions and/or needs of the pitchers.

That means that management has a responsibility towards its players that isn’t being met. As much as it is the players responsibility to prepare themselves to meet their job requirements, (i.e., stay in shape, get plenty of rest, etc.), management also has responsibilities. You could say that a primary job of the manager is to put the players in the best position to win. In fact, both the manager and the general manager share this responsibility. Put the players in the best position to win.

Have the two men charged with running the day to day doings of the Giants put these players in the best possible position to win? I hardly see how you could answer yes to that question. Building a roster with the oldest players in major league history, virtually guaranteeing a slow, injury-prone defense, could hardly be considered a recipe for pitching success. Asking players like Alfonzo and Snow to provide offensive firepower could hardly be considered putting them in position to win. Making one pitching change after another, slowing the pace of the game down to a crawl and instilling nothing but fear of failure in your pitchers, well, I’ve already written about that.

Sure, I know it’s “up to the players.” It’s always up to the players, I don’t need Alou to tell me that. But a clearly defined plan of action put forth by management and then followed through on allows the players to organize their approach to their jobs in such a way that they are able to maximize their efforts. Is it tough to have a game plan when your stars are hurt? Absolutely. There is no question that the major injuries the Giants have been beset by were unfortunate and contributed to the disorganization of this season.

But there is also no question that Sabean and Alou should have had contingency plans in place for just such events. When you are listening to Sabean and Alou with their snappy comebacks about how this player or that player should just “buckle up and be a man,” or “don’t they see how tough things are around here,” never forget that having a 35-year old miss significant time due to injury is nothing at all like having a 25-year old do so. Never forget that having essentially every pitcher on your roster miss time due to overwork and injury is not bad luck, it’s bad managing. It’s not the players fault they are overworked and misused, it’s the managers. It’s not the players fault that they are being asked to produce what they cannot, it’s the general managers.

UPDATE: It’s a different sport, but this Len Pasquarelli piece on the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots illustrates exactly how Sabean and Alou are missing the point:

…. And the organization, in an era when longevity with the same team has been replaced by a lure of the big paycheck, manages to engender loyalty in its players. Most of the all, though, the Patriots succeed because the trinity of owner Bob Kraft, Belichick and vice president of personnel Scott Pioli has perfected a paradigm which marries football and finances.

…. Such synergy, at least under the current system, has proved elusive for most teams. But the potion so difficult for other franchises to concoct has been an elixir for the Patriots in the past half-decade. Somehow, the Patriots have gotten the players to buy into the business of winning more so than the business of big bucks.

They have turned a simple philosophy — that winning benefits everyone — into the closest thing the NFL has to a dynasty under this collective bargaining agreement. It is a concept that has a surprisingly effective appeal, and one with results to reinforce it. It is, in a word, efficient.

“They pretty much look you in the eye, tell you how you’re going to fit in and what they expect from you, what you’re going to mean for the team,” said star strong safety Rodney Harrison. “You’d be surprised how easy they make it to buy into that. So you’re sitting there thinking, ‘Well, maybe I can make more money if I go somewhere else. But, man, I’d love to get me a [Super Bowl] ring.’ And suddenly, it all makes sense, and you want to be here.”

When the Patriots brought Harrison to town two years ago after his release by the San Diego Chargers, he was on the verge of signing with the Oakland Raiders for more money. Poised to agree to terms with the Raiders but sensing the deal would still be on the table, Harrison figured he had nothing to lose by listening to Belichick’s sales rap. He ended up winning two Super Bowl rings because he heeded the logic articulated by the New England coach.

It isn’t as if Belichick, the reigning genius of this era, is a pied piper. But players savvy enough to peruse the Patriots’ recent track record for reclamation projects, and for being able to enunciate roles for lesser-known veterans still seeking validation for their careers, have certainly reaped the benefits.

“I think we’re honest [with players],” said Belichick. “If you work hard, play hard and play well, and do the things that are asked of you, then you’re going to fit in here.”

Said (CB Duane) Starks, a once-brilliant coverage defender whose recent career has been plagued by injuries, but who has witnessed what Harrison and players like cornerback Tyrone Poole accomplished by moving to New England: “It’s like they don’t do anything without a plan for you. There’s no wasted effort, no wasted energy here, it seems. I guess, yeah, they really are efficient in how they do things. They know what they want from you. They know what they’re willing to pay to have you come in and do it. And it seems like, if you don’t want to do it, they’ll find someone else who will.”

…. “There’s a kind of tunnel vision here,” (LB Monty) Beisel said. “They want you to put blinders on, to not notice those three [Super Bowl] trophies, to just worry about winning the next one. But part of the reason some of us are here is because of those trophies. I mean, you can’t help but be aware of them, and of what this organization has accomplished. It’s a very streamlined mind-set around here. Everyone is here for one purpose.”

Sabean overpays mediocrity to come to SF, while the Pats actually underpay for talent because of their ability to communicate effectively. Get it?


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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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