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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 24, 2021 6:38 am PDT
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Leadership matters. 

Look no further than the Padres falling apart down the stretch while the Cardinals came together to put themselves in perfect position to win the second NL wild card. The Padres had lost nine of 11 going into Wednesday’s games while the Cardinals have won 10 straight. The Padres have dropped 25 of their last 35 games.

Before we go any further, let’s go back to the marketing campaign from the start of the baseball year when Fernando Tatis Jr. put down the new ground rules for Major League Baseball, with the full endorsement of MLB.

That’s your first hint that this would not have a good ending.

Remember the non-stop commercial for MLB The Show 21. Cue Tatis:

“Pardon the interruption to your scheduled content. I’ve been asked to apologize for changing the game. Apparently, I’ve been breaking the unwritten rules of baseball. I’m sorry if things got too exciting and this isn’t the game that you remember. But, here’s the thing. We’re never going back.’’

Flash forward to this past weekend and Manny Machado unloading on Tatis after Tatis sulked after taking a called third strike from Adam Wainwright. Ironically, this happened in St. Louis in the visiting dugout. Tatis, in an MVP battle with Bryce Harper, was making it all about him.

Manny screamed at Tatis: “It’s not about you! You go play baseball! It’s not (bleeping) about you! … Everybody knows you’re the best player in baseball. Everybody in the stadium knows that. Go play baseball.’’

After the strikeout called by Phil Cuzzi, Tatis slammed his helmet into the dugout bench several times. This, after making faces at the plate and manager Jayce Tingler, and I use that term manager loosely, had to rush out and got thrown out trying to protect Tatis from getting tossed.

“Just play the game,’’ one longtime baseball ops person told Baseball or Bust. “You can have fun but the brands don’t work over 5 1/2 months, you have to play the game.’

The lesson here is simple and Machado was right, “Go play baseball.’’

It’s not about your feelings. This is not a video game. Before Manny got riled up, Bobby Dickerson, a Padres coach, was getting into it with Tatis.

Yes, the baseball gods are undefeated and here is another example why, an example I know will trigger the “Let the kids have fun,’’ crowd.

Pardon the interruption but WE’RE GOING BACK.

At least the winning teams are going back.

Play the game.

Sure, you can add your own flair, the young Blue Jays are good at that, entertaining and playing the game well and a big part of that is the leadership they have received from Marcus Semien.

This is one of those “How it started, how’s it going’’ things.

Evidently, to steal a line from Tatis. “I’m sorry if things got too exciting and this isn’t the game that you remember. But, here’s the thing. We’re never going back.’’

Machado went back. He went back at Tatis.

The next day Tatis dropped an easy fly ball, costing the Padres. Then the next game at home against the Giants the Padres dropped a 6-5 decision to the Giants at Petco, the winning run coming home when catcher Austin Nola could not hold onto the throw from the outfield as Brandon Belt scored.

The Giants have incredible leadership in players like Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, Evan Longoria and Belt and it has shown all year.

In-house leadership is huge. The Dodgers have it starting with Justin Turner and their manager Dave Roberts. Both the Giants and the Dodgers have obliterated the Padres in the NL West this season. The Padres were the toast of the town early in the season and their GM A.J. Preller has long been a favorite of the power media crowd.

How’s that going. Preller worked himself into a long extension by confused ownership but he keeps firing people for his shortcomings. Tingler, the third manager he has hired, will be next to go, and probably in a self-preservation move, Preller will hire Bruce Bochy. Bochy told me a year ago he wanted to take a season off but would be rarin’ to go and he would be a no-brainer hire that even Preller could not mess up.

Preller hired Tingler so he could have control over the manager.

Fernando tatis, Jr

Y'know. Let the kids play.

You see that often is the case in the majors by these control freak GMs. Tingler was never respected in his clubhouse because he wasn’t really in charge. After 45 years of covering pro sports, MLB, NFL and NBA, I can tell you, players spot a phony leader from miles away.

That lack of leadership lit the fuse for this blowup. True managers make a difference. Look at Alex Cora’s success in Boston. Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa for the Old Guys Rule crowd in Houston and the White Sox. You can add Bochy to that list when he returns to the dugout. When will the dopey owners stop falling for the bag of BS that is handed their way about the manager being a middle manager?

The pendulum needs to swing back in a true manager’s direction. Watch the Rays and you can tell that Kevin Cash is respected. The same with the Blue Jays and Charlie Montoyo and again, having leadership from within makes all the difference. Wainwright and Yadi Molina do a terrific job with the Cardinals, making Mike Shildt’s job so much easier. When new players join the Cardinals, if you are a pitcher you spend time with Wainwright and if you are a position player you spend time with Molina to learn how the Cardinals expect you to act.

There are certain expectations that must be met.

I like what Manny did but it should have come earlier. And certainly Manny learned the hard way by making his own mistakes as a player but he sought out guidance from veteran players. Young Tatis, for all his talent (39 home runs, .986 OPS) needs to take this as a learning experience and put winning first.

The Padres also didn’t help Tatis, taking him off shortstop and putting him in the outfield as a way to guard against injury.

Tatis is young. Hopefully he’ll learn. Machado and Tatis had a press conference Tuesday before the loss to the Giants. Manny apologized for airing the dirty laundry in public but in my mind he did not need to apologize. He also hit two home runs in the loss.

Flair and fun are great, but so is doing the job at hand. Play baseball.

“Just play the game,’’ one longtime baseball ops person told Baseball or Bust.  “You can have fun but the brands don’t work over 5 1/2 months, you have to play the game.’’

It is not about branding, it’s about playing.

Machado certainly is no throwback player and has made more than his share of mistakes.

Manny Machado with his young friend.

“What about when he wasn’t playing attention and the runner just ran to third base between pitches because he was looking into the stands trying to get the fans to try to do the wave,’’ the baseball operations person said of Machado. “Manny was laughing and joking and here’s the runner taking advantage.’’

Joey Votto was the runner who took advantage and it should be noted that on the play Tatis could not be bothered to try to keep Votto close at second from his shortstop position. Not a lot of teamwork in that instance.

Play baseball.

Attention to detail. Not attention to fans doing the wave.

Of course with Tingler in charge there is never accountability. He is much like Aaron Boone in his comments to the media. His guys always “battled.’’ And so and so (insert any pitcher) was “outstanding, just a few balls just found holes.’

Yeah, it’s called hitting.

Taking the fans for idiots is not a winning formula but baseball does it time and again these days.

The media often enables some of these GMs by putting them on a pedestal, making kings of jokers, and constantly pushing the same names for jobs. Look back at some of the names constantly being pushed. They are some of the biggest failures in the game.

Preller is running out of people to fire. He will fire Tingler, but the scapegoat list is much longer than any Padres recent winning streak. There was pitching coach Larry Rothschild recently fired and this week farm director Sam Geaney was fired after seven seasons.

Maybe the Padres are not developing players the right way, but Preller is the guy who traded away much of the farm system. Maybe MLB The Show 22 should be named No Accountability 22. When are Padres fans going to rise up. Just because every day is perfect in San Diego, and I spent 10 years there in the sunshine and blue skies of America’s Finest City, at some point the fans need to wake up.

The Dodgers are getting better and fleeced the Padres at the trade deadline, coming away with the two targeted stars Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, players that Preller thought he was landing.

“Tingler lost this club a while ago,’’ the evaluator said. The evaluator then made a tremendous overall observation about the game and so many teams have such swings, winning a bunch of games and then losing a bunch.

”These guys,’’ he said, “don’t grind.’’

Baseball is all about the grind. And as I pointed out last Sunday, with the help of former Mets pitcher and former Cubs GM Ed Lynch, baseball is about being Dirtdogs.

Same for front offices and managers. You have to grind. And grinders can be any age, they don’t have to be the age of old men yelling at clouds.

Yeah, maybe we yell at clouds.

They can be young men who understand the grind. And by the way, it’s not yelling at clouds, it’s yelling at the thunderstorm that is raging above our heads. The lack of hustle, the idiotic base-running, the pop ups in situational hitting, the poor defense, the inability to throw the ball home from the outfield, the ridiculous catcher framing, which should be re-named boxing because catchers like Gary Sanchez box so many balls giving 90 feet to runners, and so many other basic mistakes are poisoning the well of baseball.

Instead of “The Process’’ being the center of attention, it should be “The Wins’’ being the center of attention.

Could you imagine talking to some of these clueless baseball owners and discussing their real business, whatever that might be, and telling them, “Your company lost tons of money again this past year, but the process, and the buy-in was terrific.’’

You pick the buzzwords: The dynamic approach, the true partnership, the work behind the scenes, the “refined’’ process, the overhaul.

As a good baseball friend of mine always says, “Just make a bleeping adjustment, will you.’’

Players should not be congratulated for working on trying to get better. That is their job. How about shooting a single to the vacated hole at second base into right field as Vlad Guerrero Jr. has done time and again this season.

GMs get away with what I call fake-speak baseball. Sounds good, nothing is there. Jon Daniels in Texas is another media darling whose teams stink year after year. He’s always re-structuring the front office in one manner or another.

Since losing the World Series in back to back years in 2010-11, the Rangers have not won a playoff series. They have finished under .500 the last five years and will lose 100 games this year. Trust The Process.

What is going on here with these GMs? There are too many failures to list. Just look at the standings year after year. Just look at teams who haven’t been to the postseason in forever and a day or won a World Series in a long time. And let’s not consider last year a true postseason, it was a money grab by Rob Manfred and all these bad teams got to say they made the playoffs or were in contention until the end.

Here is one way for every team to get better overnight. It’s simple. Take your players out to second base and teach them how to get a good secondary lead.

I talked to a third base coach who admitted to me he sometimes does make a mistake and make a bad send. That is only because his internal baseball clock has been programmed for good base-running and he sees a ball hit to a certain area of the outfield and believes it’s a go situation. But the hard truth is that the secondary leads are so pathetic now and runners don’t bother to know where fielders are stationed, when he sends them home, they are out.

They don’t do their job properly, causing him to get burned.

“I’ve had to make a big adjustment,’’ the coach told me. “I can’t go off of what I know and what has been true in baseball for decades I have to take into account the lack of secondary lead, the lack of baseball awareness.’’

The lowering of the bar.

You might just go ahead and fix the secondary lead problem with extra work?

Again, this is just a lowly third base coach, he has to work in “partnership’’ with the players, the “buy-in’’ has to be there. The “synergy’’ has to be there. The Nerds have to okay it.

You expect the players to make the adjustment, no it’s the coaches who have to make the adjustment because the GM and the manager do not want to upset their coddled players. The good ones don’t mind upsetting the players but they are taking a job risk.

Can’t have that upset player going to the GM to complain or worse going to the owner to complain. It’s a slippery slope and a big reason why base-running is so atrocious these days.

“No secondary leads for the most part,’’ the evaluator concluded.

Mookie Betts knows how to get a secondary lead and that is contagious on a team.  When somebody does it right, others follow.

Doing it right makes a difference.

As Manny said, “Go play baseball.’’

In other words he told the super-talented Tatis: “We’re going back.’’

We’ll see.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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