On the eve of the last non-Baseball month of the off-season, it’s striking to look in vain for a single first-time MLB manager. The closest we can come are Torey Lovullo, who replaced John Farrell while Farrell was recovering from cancer surgery last fall, and Brian Snitker, who will put in first spring-training skipperdom with the Braves. Lovullo, named to manage Arizona, has the lesser experience of the two; Snitker succeeded Fredi Gonzalez last May, and so had ample time to earn his spurs. His leading Atlanta to a strong 2016 finish earned him the permanent shot he’ll have this year.
First-timer Dave Roberts came close last season to guiding the Dodgers to the World Series. But he fell several games short of matching the success of the only skipper since 1969 expansion to win a championship his first time around. That was Bob Brenly, who led the Arizona Diamondbacks to the title in 2001, upsetting the Yankees in the Series. Brenly’s D-backs recaptured the NL pennant in 2002, but suffered the almost inevitable managerial fate of being fired in mid-season 2004.
Brenly did better than many skippers, relieved after or during their first MLB assignment. The record book shows that it takes several trial-and-error experiences before managers make it to – or near – the top. It’s not much different on the political field, as fans have seen in the case of National Skipper Barack Obama.
“Elect a rookie to fill the most powerful post in the world and you get rookie mistakes, with American soldiers paying in blood to educate their commander-in-chief.” That’s part of the Obama record book put together by official scorer and Boston U. emeritus Philip Bacevich. His essay, “An Education in Statecraft” is one of several published in a special edition of The Nation severely critical of the rookie’s two-term record. “The callow Obama arrived in the Oval Office largely unschooled,” Bacevich notes in his review of the Skipper’s home-field performance.
“For advice and counsel, of course, he, like (his two predecessors) recruited a coterie of impressively credentialed ‘wise men’ (and women)…Yet resumes do not connote actual wisdom; when it comes to decisions, presidents are on their own.” Bacevich concludes his lengthy official-scoring analysis this way: “Historians…may well see as Obama’s chief failing that, though he recognized the Washington playbook had become outmoded, he was unable to persuade others…to embrace an alternative. However obliquely, that failure contributed to the rise of Donald Trump, who recognizes no playbook whatsoever.”
Extra-Inning Scoreboard: Coach John Kerry’s late-inning criticism of Israel this week exemplifies Team Obama’s skill at talking a good game. The Skipper has consistently groused about his ally’s settlements and aggressive military policies while maintaining pro-Israeli arms support despite that team’s perceived misdeeds.
Furthermore, in belated response to criticisms of his usual “talk game”, Obama may have overreacted in a hardball way to the evidence-free cyberhacking charge against Russia.
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What We Think We Know: With Cleveland’s two-year, $40 million acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion finally completed, the AL boasts only two of 15 teams as likely pennant finalists: the Indians and Red Sox. The NL pennant finals figure to involve a pair of just four clubs: the Cubs, Dodgers, /Giants, Nationals. In other words, only one-fifth of the 30 MLB teams can be considered authentic World Series threats. And few of us will be surprised if the Cubs and Indians emerge for a Series rematch.
Encarnacion’s signing leaves two prime free agents still available: Mark Trumbo, who led the majors in HRs with 47, while playing for the Orioles, and Jose Bautista, who despite an injury-marred “walk” season, was offered a $17 million qualifying offer to return to the Blue Jays
(More of The Nub, a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey, can be found at perfectpitcher.org)