Several days ago, I was listening to a program on the best active managers in the game. Bochy, Francona and Maddon. A foregone conclusion by those in baseball that they are shoo-ins for the Hall of Fame.
What piqued my interest was their shared mentality about refusing to accept setbacks, especially when it came to injuries. Each had the mindset that they always had the talent to succeed and win no matter who they lost to the DL. Each mentioned that they refuse to even consider using the injury bug as an excuse. And they were quite adamant in their statements.
We especially saw it last year with the Indians and the raft of players they lost for much of the year, including several starting pitchers. And then there was the dreaded drone accident to an essential pitcher at playoff time. And what did Francona do? He laughed it off in an interview and in typical humor said “Who hasn’t suffered a drone-related injury before?” in reference to Trevor Bauer’s accident. And yet despite all their injuries, they did pretty well, didn’t they?
And it’s important to note that with their loss in the World Series, no one within the Indians’ organization offered any excuses even though the injury bug explanation would have been a solid one.
In stark contrast, the Tigers start and end every year using injuries as an excuse. As a reminder at the beginning of the season that includes how the team would have been in contention if they hadn’t lost (insert a variety of names here) for part of the previous season. And a reminder at the end of the season that injuries were to blame for their record.
They have done this in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Sense a pattern here?
But don’t go blaming Brad because he’s only following the corporate culture. Jim Leyland did it, too. Al Avila does it as did his predecessor, Dave Dombrowski, before him. And of course, all the local newspapers willingly obliged in pounding home the same message.
And what everyone wants us all to hopefully understand is that the failure to be successful in October had nothing to do with anyone within the organization. No one was to blame is the silent message they are sending. No one failed in their attempts whether it was due to the farm system, player signings, roster makeup, player performance, the bullpen, coaching or managing. They keep telling us it is due to the circumstances beyond their control.
And when you keep deflecting blame and refuse to accept responsibility for your actions, it allows a nefarious mindset to take hold. A mindset that allows you a way out of just about anything. A reason why no one will be held accountable. A reason why most will not voluntarily leave their comfort zone and push beyond. And a reason for people to continue the same old, same old ways without repercussions.
Which brings me to a story published on Tuesday that made my face turn as red as my hair. A story so ridiculous in nature that you end up reading it with your mouth all the way open. A story that said the Tigers actually improved their base running in 2016! A story that insinuated acceptance of the team’s overall base running.
Unbelievably, they got Brad Ausmus, among others, to state that the team made progress and actually improved their base running! As proof were some really vague figures that did not include stats but included references to phrases such as “thrown out 3 fewer times” and “gained 5 more bases.” And Kirk Gibson was given the credit for “improving” the team with a whopping 2 days of instruction. At this point, I was thinking about seeking out the nearest porcelain god.
But Brad stated that fundamentals were not the problem and that the guys know them. But Bill James clearly says otherwise. Quotes about the Tigers’ really bad baserunning “points specifically to a lack of prowess and competency” as one of the primary reasons. Actual speed is another factor.
So how bad is the team in base running? (Ok, you know what to say…) They rank dead last by a mile (pun sadly not intended) for both 2015 and 2016. Their percentage at taking extra bases is a mere 34% (well below average) with 55 runners being thrown out on the base paths – with a third of them at home plate. And in 2016, their baserunning accounted for a – 107 runs gained. Yes, you read that correctly.
And one of the biggest reasons why a team with one of the very top offensive stats manages to rank in the middle of MLB re runs actually scored.
Shame on anyone who tries to tell fans that the team improved from 2015 to 2016. Last place to last place. Everyone involved in this charade should be forced to watch a double-header called by Hawk Harrelson and Joe Buck.
But Ausmus shouldn’t be the only one to shoulder the blame. Again, he’s practicing the corporate culture that the organization has developed, feeds and embraces. Not discussed beyond a whisper is why ownership and 2 GMs collected a group of big, lumbering players, pay them exorbitant salaries and then ignore teaching and emphasizing the little things that pay off in October.
But the scariest thing about this story is the huge amount of spin, the contentment and the acceptance of this level of performance. A culture signaling that this is OK. A culture telling everyone who sits in the Front Office and the dugout that no one will really be held accountable in the end. That reaching new levels of performance would be good, but no one will be pushed or motivated in reaching for new goals. As Brad so aptly summarized, “It is what it is.”
It won’t matter how much the team spends, or which players they sign, if the corporate culture doesn’t set higher standards and expectations. A last place finish should be the sounding bell for altering an attitude, not a cry for complacency.
If you’re not following us on Twitter (@totallytigersbb), here’s just some of what you missed the past couple days:
– Pics of Miggy looking amazing and at his physical best
– Some intriguing managers going into the last year of their contracts
– More teams retiring numbers of their players not in the Hall
– What players are doing now to prevent injuries
– Surprise benefits that come out of the new IBB policy
– New medical advancements to prevent Tommy John surgery
– Yet more statistical support for JV as the true Cy Young winner in 2016
– Slo-mo breakdown of Miggy’s perfect swing