Macha, Managers, Free Agents, Raiders
Ever since Macha replaced Art Howe, who never tried to discipline or control his players, there have been A’s players willing to talk to writers about their unhappiness.
I didn’t pay much attention when it was somebody like Terrence Long. Perhaps the best thing Macha did as a manager was to bench Long, which sent a message to the team that players had to contribute or they wouldn’t play. Conversely, one of the worst things Howe ever did was to continue to play Long to keep his consecutive game streak going. Long is a talented player who should have been much better than he is, but he wouldn’t work on his game. Despite his speed, he was not a good defensive outfielder. Pitchers adjusted to him, but he never made his own adjustments. He kept that same loopy swing that reduced him to a .250 hitter without much power.
Nor did it mean anything when fringe players like Adam Piatt and Chris Singleton complained. And Adam Melheuse? Please. He was playing behind Jason Kendall, who catches 150 games or more a season. What did he expect?
But when a player like Mark Kotsay is unhappy, that’s an entirely different matter. Kotsay is a great defensive centerfielder and can be a good hitter, though he had an off year this season. He has a troublesome back but has mostly played through it. He didn’t deserve to be platooned, as he basically was the last two months of the season, nor did he deserve to have Macha make skeptical comments about his health.
Kotsay and Kendall were the only key players to make public comments about Macha, but there were apparently others who also came to general manager Billy Beane, who had no choice but to fire Macha. In this era of free agency, when players can walk away from a team, you can’t afford to alienate them.
Macha surely knew this, and it’s significant that, when he came back to the A’s a week after negotiations had broken off after last season, A’s players supported him publicly.
What changed this year? I suspect Macha had reached the point of no return with Beane. More than any other GM in baseball, Beane is hands-on, often making decisions that managers make for other teams. He doesn’t make game day decisions, but it is his overall philosophy that is in play. The latest example came when Rich Harden came off the disabled list. Macha wanted to put him in the bullpen but Beane insisted he be prepared for a starting role in the postseason. Beane was right, incidentally. Harden is the A’s best starter, even coming off that long stay on the DL.
There was also tremendous pressure on Macha to win, after the big offseason moves to acquire Frank Thomas, Milton Bradley and Esteban Loaiza.
I thought Macha did a very good job with the A’s. I liked the way he handled his pitching staff, and I was impressed with the way he held the club together in May, 2005, when the A’s seemed to be in a hopeless downward spiral, and during an injury-filled first half of the season this year. He got the A’s as far as they deserved to go. The Detroit Tigers, having come out of that late season funk, are the best team in baseball again, with outstanding young pitching and dangerous hitting. They dominated the Yankees and A’s, and they should win the World Series just as easily.
I’m sure Macha leaves with few, if any, regrets. And, because he signed a three-year contract before last season, he will get paid for not managing the next two years. We should all be so lucky.
PEOPLE’S CHOICE: Ron Washington would be a very popular choice with both players and fans as the next A’s manager, but Washington may be an example of a great coach who should stay in place. In his two years of managing in the minor leagues, his teams finished 64-77 and 59-76.
Washington is a great coach, who has improved all the A’s infielders, most notably Eric Chavez, who had the reputation of being good hit, no field when he came to the A’s but has become a perennial Gold Glover. Players like him, but that might change if he became manager. Coaches don’t have to make the tough decisions on playing time that managers have to.
The A’s have had a couple of pitching coaches, Rick Peterson and Dave Duncan, who have never tried to advance beyond that. I thought Peterson was the best I’ve seen, but I never thought he would be a good manager. Duncan has been content to stay in the coaching role, too, and he worked his magic again this year by making Jeff Weaver a reliable starter again.
Washington wants to move up to manager and I’m sure he’ll get his shot, if not with the A’s, perhaps with the Texas Rangers. But one day, he may wish he’d followed the Peterson/Duncan model.
FREE AGENTS: The A’s are smart to let Barry Zito go, and the Giants will be equally smart to let Jason Schmidt go.
In both cases, the teams have gotten good years out of the pitchers. They’ll both get far more money than they deserve on the free market. Zito will come closest to earning it because of his durability, but he would really have been the A’s No. 3 pitcher if Harden had stayed healthy this year. Schmidt hasn’t been the same since his 16-strikeout game midway through the season. The team that signs him will pay a lot of money for a pitcher with his best years behind him.
NATIONAL INTEREST: One of the advantages of writing on-line is that interest in a subject can be measured directly by the number of hits. When I was writing five days a week on this site, the two top subjects were the 49ers and Cal football, with hits about 20 per cent more than Giants topics in third place. The A’s, Raiders, Warriors and Cal basketball were all bunched behind the Giants. Individually, it was the same story. The two biggest columns were interviews with Bill Walsh and Jeff Tedford, which got more than 39,000 and 31,000 hits, respectively.
On the Examiner website, it’s much the same, with one significant exception: Raider columns do much better on that site because of the national interest in the team. On the Examiner site, there are hourly updates measuring the 10 most popular articles. Typically, my columns get into the top 10 by late morning and stay there during the day. My Tuesday Raiders column, though, was No. 2 in the 7 a.m. hour, which is obviously predominantly Eastern readers. It was still No. 2 at 10 p.m. last night, and a Raiders column a couple of weeks ago made it to No. 1 for a time.
Obviously, the further readers are from the Raiders, the more interesting they look.
ANOTHER SERIES? With his two best starters ready to go, Tony La Russa has the St. Louis Cardinals poised to make the World Series, though the New York Mets seemed the better team going into the NCLS.
La Russa is certainly due, because the postseason has not been kind to him. His 1988-90 A’s were the best in baseball, but they only proved it once, in the 1989 Series against the Giants. His last World Series team, the 2004 Cardinals, was swept by the Boston Red Sox, who were on that incredible 8-0 postseason run.
In the regular season, La Russa is the best manager I’ve seen on a daily basis, even better than Billy Martin, with his strategic moves and sure touch with pitchers. But he is incredibly intense, the only baseball manager I’ve known who approaches games as a football coach does. When his teams get to the postseason, they’re emotionally worn out. They can’t dial it up another notch, as a team must.
Perhaps Tony has finally cut down on that intensity.
HARD LUCK KID: You have to feel sorry for Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards, whose season has again come to an early end because of an injury.
Edwards is a very talented quarterback who has been cursed with a bad supporting cast. That will hurt his prospects for the NFL draft, but some team is going to get lucky by taking him with a relatively low pick. If he doesn’t have to run for his life on every down, he could be a very effective pro quarterback.
THIS JUST IN: The Oakland Raiders have canceled plans for a highlights video.
LETTERS: I updated this section yesterday/
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