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Phillips: A look at antics in the NLCS and Leyland's moves

Steve Phillips
10/18/2013 12:42:07 PM
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TSN baseball analyst Steve Phillips looks at the player antics in the Dodgers and Cardinals series, Jim Leyland's shuffling of the Tigers batting order, Which player the Braves should bring back and what the playoffs does to a manager and general manager.

1. The Dodgers and Cardinals are feuding about each team celebrating a bit too much during games.  Adam Wainwright and Carlos Beltran complained about Adrian Gonzalaz and Yasiel Puig doing "Mickey Mouse" stuff.  Dodgers manager Don Mattingly says that's a double-standard, pointing out that Michael Wacha and Yadier Molina have been animated in their own celebrations.  Are these antics over-the-top, or just a part of today's game that players need to accept? At what point should the manager's start to get worried that their own players are being distracted by such emotional outburst?

Baseball has so many unwritten rules.  One of them is don't show up or embarrass your teammates or the opposition.  There is a certain level of professional respect that is expected within a team and between competitors.  Where that line should be drawn is a difficult question to answer, as it is somewhat of a moving target.

What is deemed appropriate behavior depends upon years of experience, the quality and credibility of the player, situation in the game, position in standings, home game or road game, etc.  For instance older players who stand and watch home runs at home plate are less offensive than young players:  David Ortiz can admire a home run but Yasiel Puig will get screamed at to run.

A game critical situation with high drama and emotion typically allows for more leeway in player celebrations; the bigger the moment, the more acceptable the emotional response.  Big strikeouts and big hits are worthy of fist pumps and leaps in the air.

Another key factor is to not make eye contact.  If a player over-celebrates and looks into the eyes of his opponent when he does it, he is perceived to be taunting him with an "I beat you statement."  

That is a no-no.

There are a lot of rules for celebrating aren't there?

Yasiel Puig stared at the home run that wasn't a home run, flipped his bat and lifted his arms in the air in Game 3.  He then realized the ball stayed in the yard and he better run.  He ended up on third base and celebrated once again.  Celebrating home runs that are not home runs get your teammates, manager and front office mad at you even more so than the opposition.  You can't celebrate and have it hurt your team by getting thrown out on the bases or not advancing as far as you can. 

Puig was fortunate that didn't happen.  The Cardinals took issue with Puig's hyper celebration once he got to third base.  I think they are being overly sensitive.  He is in front of the home fans. He had been struggling, It was a big hit in a playoff game.  Celebration was appropriate.  The reason the Cardinals took issue though is that Puig has over celebrated previously when it wasn't appropriate and players hold grudges.  This celebration was attached to the ones that came before it.

Adrian Gonzalez's celebration was chastized by the Cardinals after a big hit as well.  Adam Wainwright referenced Gonzalez's actions as "mickey mouse" behavior. Gonzalez was also heckling Wainwright from third base.  Again, there is no shame in Gonzalez pumping his arms after driving in the first Dodger run in 22 innings.  But the heckling is a problem.  That is a direct attack on the opposition and inappropriate.  The part that is most offensive about this is how out of character it is for the typically mild mannered Gonzalez.  He tends to be easy going.  His actions drew more attention because they were unexpected.  The Cards had a right to be offended by them.

Certainly the Cards have celebrated hits and big strikeouts in the series too.  Adam Wainwright has pumped his fist and yelled more than a few times.  None of his reactions have been out of line but I understand why Dodger manager Don Mattingly thinks there is a double standard.  Both teams have celebrated.  The Dodgers a little more than the Cardinals.  We should have expected this though because the Dodgers are the team that urinated in the Diamondbacks' pool upon clinching the NL West title.

I don't think Don Mattingly needs to address his team and tell them to temper their emotions even though they have been a bit over the top.  I do believe that Mike Matheny needs to address his team to make sure they don't let the Dodgers get under their skin too much.  The Cardinals need to control their emotions.  There is no room for payback in the playoffs.  Every at bat and every pitch is critical.  They can't afford to hit a batter to make a statement and give the Dodgers a chance to score another run.

2. The Detroit Tigers shuffled their batting order before Game 4 against the Red Sox, moving Miguel Cabrera to the second spot for the first time in his career.  As a former GM, how involved are the numbers guys/others in the organization when a move like this is made?  Did you like this move when it was made?

The relationship between manager and general manager is unique to each team and the individuals who hold the jobs.  The general manager is the manager's boss.  He is above him on the organizational chart.  There are a few general managers that tell their managers directly whom they would like to play, where they should play and where they should hit in the lineup.  There are a few GMs who would never even suggest to their manager that a player be inserted in the lineup or how to set the rotation.  Most general managers find themselves in the middle.

After every game I spoke to my manager.  I would never challenge his decision making directly.  I would just ask him what he was thinking.
 
"Did you think of bunting in that situation?"  "Did you consider bringing in the lefty to pitch in the pinch hitter?"

If the team is struggling to score runs I would ask my manager something like:  "Have you thought about ways we can get the offense going?"  Should we consider playing Peralta over Iglesias at shortstop to get more offense in the lineup?"  "What do you see is wrong with Austin Jackson at the plate?"

I always found asking questions was a good way to make a point without making the manager defensive.  A general manager should ever tell a manager who to play in my opinion.  If the manager is accountable and responsible for the result on the field then he also needs the authority to make decisions.

Jim Leyland said he was sitting on his couch on Tuesday night watching the Cards and Dodgers game when he made the decision to move his lineup around for Game 4 on Wednesday.  He acknowledged that like many others he knew some thing had to be done to shake things up offensively. The offense was stagnant and disconnected.  A manager has two choices; change the players who play or change how they are lined up.  I loved the move by Leyland.  A less experienced manager might get accused of over-managing but Leyland's credibility screamed that it was the right thing to do.

The fact that the Tigers scored 7 runs reinforced Leyland's brilliance with his players and makes his next move even easier to sell.  Even though the lineup wasn't as successful in Game 5 the players realize that they had the right players (Cabrera and Fielder) up in the right situations.  Leyland will have to come up with something else to help his team or they won't advance to the series. 

Can't wait to see what it will be.

3. If you were running the Atlanta Braves, which soon to be free agent player would you more likely want to bring back in the off-season, Brian McCann or Tim Hudson?

The Braves are faced with some tough decisions this offseason.  They won 96 games but fell short in the NLDS to the Dodgers.  They have to evaluate what made them successful and where they are weak. 

They have good pitching depth there is no question about it.  Their bullpen is one of the best in baseball while their starting pitching lacks an ace.

They have some nice young pitchers but they don't have an Adam Wainwright or Clayton Kershaw.  They don't have a John Lester or Justin Verlander.  They have a roster built to get to the playoffs but not to win once they are there.  Consistently good pitching over 162 regular season games gets you to the playoffs while great starting pitching wins in the post season.

One of the biggest questions for the Braves entering 2013 was who would take over as leader of the team in Chipper Jones' absence.  Brian McCann was that guy on the player side and Tim Hudson was the leader of the pitchers.  So the Braves are not only making decisions about McCann and Hudson as players but their decision will also impact team chemistry.  If they don't bring them back there will be a physical void as well as a spiritual void to be filled by their replacements.

Evan Gattis proved he is more than just a back up catcher when he filled in for McCann early in the year.  Gattis can call a game and handle the pitching staff.  He isn't McCann but he isn't bad.  Gattis hit 21 homes and drove in 60+ runs.  He provides the Braves a reasonable and known alternative to McCann if McCann's market gets crazy.  The Yankees need a catcher.  The left-hand hitting McCann would be a perfect fit in pinstripes.  The Rangers will be in on McCann too.

As far as Hudson goes, he is recovering from a devastating ankle injury.  When he recovers he will pitch at 39 years old next season.
  
He is no longer the ace of the staff.  In fact, the Braves have other pitchers like him.  He doesn't satisfy a major need of their team.  He could be considered as additional inventory if they want to sign him for depth and leadership.

The Braves need an ace.  There aren't any that will obviously be available in the free agent market this year so they may have to find one via trade.  Either way, ace pitchers cost money and the Braves may actually walk away from both McCann and Hudson if they need the money. 

There is a chance that both McCann and Hudson could be back with the Braves but I think there is a greater chance that neither will return. 

If only one of the two were to return, Hudson is more likely.  He will get a low base salary and be much more affordable than McCann.

The Braves may be a very active and interesting team this winter.

Fair or Foul

I love the playoffs and I hate the playoffs.  I felt the same way when I was the general manager for the Mets.  We went to the playoffs in back-to-back years (1999-2000) for the first time in Mets' franchise history.  We went to the World Series in 2000 against the New York Yankees.  I remember the champagne celebrations like they were yesterday, what fun right?

Sure.  For about an hour it was fun.  Otherwise it was agonizing.  Don't get me wrong; winning is far better than losing but it really only means that the anxiety and pain and suffering are delayed for a while.

When you watch the game you know that every pitch could be the deciding pitch for that game.  You know that every opportunity you have to score may be the last one you get on that day. The successful outcomes don't feel great they just stand as a buffer from the pain of ultimate defeat.

It takes a ton of work to put a team together and play 162 games and get to the playoffs.  There is so much that goes into it.  When you finally get to October baseball you want the ultimate payoff for the blood, sweat and tears it took to get there.  You desperately want that payoff.

Next time you watch a playoff game watch what the managers and general managers look like during the game.  They have bile in their throats.  I actually wanted to vomit watching our playoff games.  The managers pace and the GMs squirm in their seats.

It isn't fun.  It may be fun for the fans and even the players but for the manager and general manager it actually causes physical pain.  It does.  My stomach hurt.  My head hurt. My shoulders and knees ached.  The tension is excruciating.  I found myself holding my breath.

When I look back now I can reflect upon the success and the excitement of winning big playoff games.  But I can just as easily recall how painful the process was.  Here is the truth:  It wasn't enjoyable or fun in the moment.  It sucked being in the playoffs.

Did I say that out loud?

Of course I am glad my teams made the playoffs. It is an honor to have participated in a World Series.  As I reflect back upon it I am proud of the accomplishment as not many people get an opportunity to put together a team that goes that far.

I can't wait to see how this baseball season ends up. I am enjoying watching the games.  Kind of.  Sort of.   Every once in a while I get that uneasy feeling of impending doom when watching the games.  I guess it's post-traumatic stress.

Play ball!!!   When does the fun start?



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