Monday, June 13, 2005

Crossfire


For a moment, let's forget about everything else. Let's forget about Junior Spivey and Ryan Drese. Let's forget about my apparently single-minded compulsion to point out that Tomo Ohka's strikeout rate has plunged to "NBC, Thursday night at 9:30" status. Let's forget about Jim Bowden, his track record, and the urge to dismiss his moves based on the same.

Let's talk Ohka-Robinson. As noted by Farid, that's the story for the trade, and Bowden offered no public pretext:


We had to make a move with Ohka. He told us May 9th that he didn't want to be a part of the team anymore, and we certainly don't want any player who has a problem playing for a first place club.

That's blustery, yes, and nowhere does Bowden mention Frank Robinson. But only a tremendously narrow reading of Bowden's statement excludes Robinson from Bowden's expressed rationale. So let's translate this:


Ohka showed some disrespect to Frank. Frank didn't like it, and it's not the first time they clashed.You've got some faceless foreign pitcher versus a respected Hall of Famer, the face of the organization. On top of that, Frank has guided the team to first place. If that's not good enough for Ohka, he'll have a splendid time finishing fourth in the NL Central.

I'm not going to pass judgment on this reasoning, or if I do so, it'll be primarily for rhetorical purposes. I'll go as far as saying that it's valid from a certain point of view in vogue right now, and it might look pretty unreasonable down the road (or, to give greater credence to the conscientious objecters, it's unreasonable now and could prove deplorable later).

Pardon me for cribbing the premise of this post from a standard week one Criminal Procedure lecture, but there seems to be two ways to view a player/manager altercation like Ohka/Robinson:

---> the crime control model; or,
---> the reasonableness model.

The first model grants vast deference to an authority figure such as Frank Robinson. He sets the rules and the protocol; don't act up or show him up publicly, and you'll be alright. On the other hand, since Robinson's the authority, he can do just about what he damned well pleases, within limits. Historically, complaining about certain players isn't considered in strict conformity with decorum, but more importantly, it is within the limits. What Frank says go, and if you disagree, you'll soon be toiling for an also-ran. (Exception: If you are a star, you might be able to compel a trade to a contender.) Bowden's (revised) statement is straight-up crime control. For the sake of full disclosure, I recently framed a comment in crime control terms:



At any rate, Robinson is the manager, and a manager must command respect; thus, fine [Ohka] if you've got to.
The second model grants limited deference, if any perhaps, to the authority figure. At the very least, it affords little-to-no presumption of reasonableness by the authority figure. Thus, unlike the first model---which credits the authority figure with reasonableness as a default assumption---this model requires the authority figure to demonstrate reasonableness; if he (here, Robinson) cannot, then the authority figure shares (at least shares) blame. What is more, the reasonable analyst will look to more incidents than merely the immediate one and determine if an overarching policy exists---and whether it has been followed inconsistently.

Several bloggers have explored the reasonableness model. They all do it credit; for easy reference, however, I'll rely on Ryan's bittersweet farewell to Tomo, because it is long and representative and well-reasoned.

As an initial measure, note that Ryan applies no presumption in Robinson's favor concerning the "back-turning" incident:


I'm willing to defend Ohka in this incident. Frank yanked Ohka in the middle of an at-bat, something he's fond of doing and something that's unnecessarily humiliating for the pitcher. Yes, Ohka shouldn't have turned his back. But can't he be forgiven a slip-up in such a frustrating situation? I'd rather see a player enraged at his failure than cool with it.

Note that Ryan considers Robinson's consternation over the incident reasonable (both reactions being reasonable from the point of view of a rational observer) and approves of (or, at least, does not take issue with) Robinson's decision to impose a fine on Ohka. Further note, though, that the fine is an in-house measure. What Ryan does not appear to validate is Robinson's decision to speak ill of Ohka to the press. In this sense, you might say a reasonableness analyst (baseball-wise, at least) is concerned far more with a shared standard of decorum, a shared sense of dignity between player and manager, and---perhaps most importantly---the right of both parties to resolve differences internally. Strangely, this reaction seems appropriate, since Ohka was not allowed to "save face" after making a stupid mistake.

I don't want to take this line of reasoning too far; after all, Ohka (if you believe Robinson---and, of course, on this the two models might disagree) had been acting up over a period of several years. At a certain point, no doubt both perspectives would merge and decide that Ohka was a bad apple. But that hadn't happened yet, I suppose.

One final thing to point out: depending on your point of view, the crime control guys will be far more likely to rubber-stamp the team's rhetoric quickly, or the reasonableness guys will remain vaguely cynical over the whole thing. I direct you a final time to Ryan's analysis. I apologize for a long excerpt, but this is a fascinating argument:



Suddenly everyone hates Tomo: he had what's coming to him, the disrespectful jackass. Ron Darling's performance before Friday's game was shameful. He gleefully recounted the back-turning incident before exclaiming, "You're outta here!" Look, we don't know the whole story, but we can gather from Frank's comments that there's been tension between him and Ohka for some time. Why do we assume that Ohka is the jerk here? Is it because Frank's the manager, as though
that makes him infallible? Is it because Ohka's said next to nothing while Frank has mouthed off repeatedly? Is it resentment that Tomo's baneful influence on team chemistry kept us to only eight games over .500? If you're quick to condemn Ohka for not getting along with his manager but ready to absolve Jose Guillen of any act of violence against his, you may want to consider whether your judgments are based on the personalities involved or on the letters on their caps.

I can't really add much to this paragraph, except that it's tremendously thought-provoking.

_____________

Well, what was the point of all of this?

Remember way back to the beginning of this post, when I excerpted Bowden's statement to the XM radio guys (as dictated by Farid, a blogging colleague)? The slinky little premise of Bowden's quote---aside from Tomo Ohka being a bad apple, of course---was that, if Ohka could not tolerate being a part of a first place club, that's just too bad: have fun in Milwaukee, buddy!

Repeat after me: first place club.

Reinforcing the core crime control model is the correlation between Robinson's managing and the team's first place standing. (You want more of it? Check out tomorrow's Richmond Times-Dispatch.) One cannot possibly cross Robinson and come out alive right now; the team is winning, and Robinson must stay the course. Everyone is happy (Carlos Baerga was jumping for joy in the handshake line after the game; I guess that's his skill), Robinson is tipping his cap to standing ovations, and everyone is feeling just fine. The team is winning, and it must not abide those that can't accept the program?

What if it stops winning, though? What if those close wins turn into losses in the second half? What if, as a fellow blogger warned me earlier, the team is in for reversal of fortune next season?

If any of those things happen, I predict Robinson's ways will not remain firmly entrenched. It's possible the team will have a new general manager---perhaps a younger one like Josh Byrnes, perhaps one who is not predisposed to the crime control model of leadership. Perhaps Frank's grumpier edges will wear a bit and turn nastier; perhaps the team will be 38-52 or something and need "a change of pace."

And in comes a quieter manager, maybe a tactician, one whose very stature in the game does not draw immediate respect and awe.

I'm not trying to portend Frank Robinson's demise; why would I, especially when the team is winning? I am just noting that this cycle occurs all the time in Major League Baseball, and while we like to think of our team as special and different right now, the team is really no different than any other. These things happen, and they might happen to Frank Robinson.

Just get ready for it.



Comments:
Basil, just wanted to say that this was one of the more interesting deconstructions I've read. Great post.
 
Thanks for the kind words, D!

(A couple months Ryan quoted a lot of one of my posts, so the least I could do is return the favor. ;-)
 
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