In Baseball, Managers Come And Go
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIFE IS A BALL GAME")
SISTER WINONA CARR: (Singing) Life is a ball game being played each day. Life is a ballgame...
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The Olympics are over and we're all readjusting our focus to sports closer to home. A jet-lagged Mike Pesca is doing the same and he joins us now.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.
WERTHEIMER: So, there's really only one major league sport in full swing in the middle of August, and that is baseball. I hear the Red Sox manager is raising some eyebrows?
PESCA: Raising - it's interesting you would use that phrase, in that Bobby Valentine once quite famously snuck into a dugout after being kicked out of a game with a fake mustache, not fake eyebrows...
PESCA: But still, that's what Bobby Valentine is known or what was known for. He's also known for being a fiery guy, saying things to the media that get him quoted. And it's all come to the fore with the Boston Red Sox who are a few games under .500, underperforming after a very disappointing year last year. And much of the criticism has focused on Bobby Valentine who has picked fights with some team members, basically drove Kevin Youkilis off the team. And it was reported there was a big team meeting, and the headline from that meeting was Bobby Valentine not to be fired imminently - that's a real vote of confidence.
WERTHEIMER: Well, how does being a Major League Baseball manager compare with being a head coach of the NFL?
PESCA: I think that's the crux of the issue, because the thing that may be the Red Sox ownership, who are a bunch of smart guys, don't realize - or maybe they realize it but went against their inclination - is that in baseball, the manager's job is really responsible for very few wins. This has been studied extensively. And the greatest manager might get you a couple of extra wins a year and the worst might cost you a couple extra games. It's really sort of a PR job, a hand-holding job. There's a huge component to it, which is just about keeping your players away from scrutiny and away from pressure, taking the fire when you need to. It's why a guy like Joe Torre, when he managed the Yankees to four World Series champions - I think the experts can pick up little moves. But his comportment as manager was his very calm and soothing presence. And in the place that's been called the Bronx Zoo, it's what you needed. And Terry Francona, who proceeding Bobby Valentine as manager as the Red Sox, you know, he was fired after a tumultuous collapse at the end of last season. But if you look at his whole tenure, he was a guy the media loved, he was a guy the players loved, he was a guy who could take a bad situation, like Manny Ramirez not performing, brand it as Manny being Manny and just a lot of pressure would dissipate because of his personality. Bobby Valentine probably makes all the right baseball moves but then has this personality that goes against with the current state of the game. And the current state of the game is huge amounts of scrutiny to certain teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers.
WERTHEIMER: Now, I have to say, Mike, that we and the rest of the sports media obviously focus on the Red Sox, but they're trying hard just to break .500. Meanwhile, my hometown team, the Nationals are the best team in the league and they can't get no attention.
PESCA: That's right. And if they get attention, it's usually for the question of will their pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, be even allowed to pitch or will he have an innings cap. But here's the thing. What's attention good for, really? I mean, I guess you could argue that if you get more attention that would root down to more money in the coffers and then you can get bigger free agents. But I actually think that the rich teams that get attention rather than the teams that get attention becoming rich. And so I think in baseball terms, it's probably better to be a little under the radar. And you could say if you're the Tampa Bay Rays, oh, no one pays attention to us. Yeah, but we're probably going to make the playoffs, and the Boston Red Sox, with all their attention, probably aren't.
WERTHEIMER: So, have you got a curve ball for us this week?
PESCA: Yes, yes, and let's have the curve ball be the in-swing, because I take you across the Atlantic, where the big post-Olympic story is about cricket - in-swing being the curve ball cricket. And here we have Kevin Pietersen, a great batter for the English National Cricket team, but Pietersen was caught texting members of the South African team, saying things like I don't like my manager and I don't like my captain. And when these texts became public, well, the English team could not abide that and they had to sit down Kevin Pietersen. It's really a hilarious story because there was a fake Twitter account involved. Some people said other members of the national team were behind the fake Twitter account. Piers Morgan, you know that guy who hosts the show on CNN, he got somehow involved. But they sat Pietersen down, and they're going to go without his really potent bat just because he breeched the decorum of cricket.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mike Pesca. Mike, thank you.
PESCA: You're welcome.
WERTHEIMER: Mr. Pesca, of course, never breeches decorum.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Well, you know, life is a ball game but you've got to play it fair.
WERTHEIMER: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.