Thursday, May 26, 2005

Playing the Pete Gillen card

Pete Gillen coached the Virginia Cavaliers for seven seasons, and during his stay in Charlottesville exhibited an uncanny proclivity for dishing out blame to targets other than his big, sweaty forehead. Eventually, this practice caught up with him, when the writers and boosters realized that a quotable Northerner who can't win big ballgames is just a quotable Northerner.

For awhile, though, Gillen was a smooth operator of the blame game; until a victory in the 2004 play-in game, the ratio of critical deflections-to-ACC tourney wins was infinite---literally.

Frank Robinson, on the other hand, always struck me as a no-nonsense, take-the-responsibility kind of guy. I don't care about you, and I don't care what you think of me. A few weeks ago, I compared him to Doug Wilder in this respect, and if you're familiar with Wilder's crabiness, you'll understand it's not an insult.

Maybe it's not true, though. As pointed out by other members of the Nats blogosphere, Robinson has begun to play the Gillen card.

St. Barry recorded Robinson's sentiments thusly:

"When we're going good, it's not the manager; it's the players," he said. "And when you're going bad, it's not the manager; it's the players. All I can do is make out a lineup, and hopefully go out and perform. We're not performing, right now, at any level."

Uh oh.

As Svrluga seemed to angle, it's one thing if John McGraw-dressed-as-Copernicus fills out the lineup; when the manager is acting a bit odd, though, that's another story.

In his Guide to Baseball Managers, Bill James wrote that, essentially, the one indispensable quality of a good manager is the ability to command his players' respect; "everything else is negotiable." Maybe that's truly insightful, and maybe it's an easy generalization; maybe it's not even true. And maybe that is precisely what Robinson aims to do here, by placing the blame squarely on his players' shoulders.

This rhetorical tactic bears close scrutiny, though. The Nats are in the midst of a disheartening stage of the season. Overall, they're ahead of where we realistically pegged them at this stage, yes, but is that really relevant now? They could have been playing over their heads, sure, and the injuries might really spank them soon. Well, I'm done with foreseeing potential "Waterloo" scenarios, anyway.

Nevertheless, if Robinson deflects too much blame, it could get ugly. He got a free pass for two months, but if St. Barry's article is any indication, Robinson is in an EZPass lane without the tag.

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