Saturday, August 20, 2005

Just Please Go Away, Ken

There is a great Albert Einstein quote that accurately captures the moment for the A's. I don't know if Roman has used this in an earlier post; I can't even remember if I've used it. I don't care either way, really. I'll use it again, because it's too perfect.

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.


I can't even pretend to make this post funny. Because there is nothing funny about how poor a manager Ken Macha truly is. Unlike my other posts, this won't be a derivative of something you'd find on Dodger Blues. This won't be a tribute to it, either. I simply cannot vouchsafed the kind of emotional detachment you need to interject humor. If you want funny, go check out the picture they used on the August 10th entry at Dodger Blues. If you want to hear the emotional ramblings of a tired and melancholy fan, read on. I'm tired of Macha costing us games. I'm tired of Macha, period. I just want him gone.

At the end of the 2002 season, it was pretty clear that Art Howe wasn't coming back as manager. He was a calm presence for the young players in the late 90s, but when the team was a winner, a contender, he didn't possess the kind of tactical brilliance necessary to manage in the postseason, or otherwise big games. Despite the 3 playoff losses, he was too much a slave to matchups. The L-R-L-R of a batting order, regardless if said alternations meant Dave Justice was hitting 3rd. Insisting that a lefty reliever, even one as bad as Mike Magnante or Mike Venafro, come in to face the other team's lefties. Removing a then-completely on fire Scott Hatteberg in favor of a not so good Adam Piatt in the late innings of a playoff loss to the Twins. He managed by the book, and other managers knew it. He never made a gut decision. It was always by the book. At the end of the 7 years, I was just sick of the damn book. Have a spine, Art. He wasn't a bad manager, he just wasn't the guy to take them deep into the playoffs. In 1998 and 1999, there were few other men I'd rather have managing the team. He was good with young kids. Not so much with winning. That's ok. We all have our skills. Some of us are cut out to be elementary teachers. Others are meant to lecture at colleges.

But it was time for Howe to go. It is not necessary to recap the events (Moneyball does a great job of that), but Ken Macha was named the manager for the 2003 season. At that time, I don't think there was an A's fan in existence who honestly conceived that after Howe's departure, things would actually get worse. But they were about to. During the 1st game of the season against the Mariners, Tejada and Chavez pulled off a double steal. That was something we never saw in the Howe regime. I didn't want us to start playing small ball, but we should at least be more cognizant of what the opponent is going to give us. I was ecstatic after I saw that. Would we finally be a smart team? A fundamentally sound team? Throw the book out the window, because Ken Macha's in town. Sure, he'll study the numbers, but making the tough decisions are what make heroes. Using the book is what makes a babysitter. Ken Macha is a fucking hero. It was one game, but I was in love. The next morning, the sports pages informed me that Tejada and Chavez did that on their own. My enthusiasm for Macha was tempered. Over the next 6 months, as Macha displayed a surprising inability to react and adapt to situations, it was dwindling. The 2003 offense suffered a horrible slump, but he refused to change the lineup. Man, what a portend that would be. When he refused to allow the RedSox to put Jermaine Dye on base during the playoffs, a move that ended up costing us the season, it was gone. Since then, a deep, intense hatred of the man has festered inside me. And festered. And grown. And grown. Is there anything Ken Macha can't screw up?

Baseball players go through slumps. It happens. In a game that relies so heavily on hand-eye coordination and muscle memory, when either skill leaves, slumps enter. Such is life when it comes to baseball. Macha's job is minimize the detrimental effects of those slumps. Currently, our lineup is slumping. Bigtime. With the exception of a select few, these guys couldn't hit their way out of a wet paper bag right now. And it's been this way since the All-Star break. Has Macha even considered changing the lineup? Has he even considered removing the weakest link of that lineup in favor of a guy who is actually hitting? Does he not realize that Scott Hatteberg is completely done as a player, and that his constant insertion into the lineup is absolutely killing us? I don't think I have to tell you the answer. When our 4 best hitters currently occupy the 5th, 8th, and 9th spots of the lineup, and the remaining guy rots on the bench, something is wrong. The top 3 spots are killing us. Do something about that. Mark Ellis has the 6th highest OBP in baseball since the All-star break. Perhaps he should hit leadoff? And why is Swisher, our team leader in OPS, batting 8th? There are 362,880 permutations of a 9 man lineup. Is Macha really using the best possible combination? At what point does our failure to execute, ever, become a reflection on Macha? Yeah, these guys are professionals, but it is always their fault? Do you work on them in Spring Training? During off-day workouts? Ever? Should it really have taken your normally quiet 3rd baseman to tell the guys to stop drinking and partying at night? That perhaps being tired and hungover might contribute negatively to a team winning? How about being a leader, Ken?

A few days ago, a very poor umpiring call ended up costing us a run. Before all was said and done, on what would have been the third out, instead 3 more runs scored before we got out of the inning. When Macha went out of the dugout to argue (honestly, I was surprised he even did that), was he aware that this was the same crew that not weeks earlier had reversed (correctly) a similar call at first base? Did he ask the umpire to ask for help? Did he get thrown out to inspire his team? Or did he casually chew his gum as he strolled back to the dugout after exchaing quiche recipes with Chris Guccione?

But that's neither here nor there. It is not any great revelation to point out that our lineup is constructed suboptimally, or that Macha is a robotic manager. I'm not interested in rehashing anything here. If you didn't already know that Macha is stupid, you wouldn't be visiting this site.

It just all seems like a bad dream. That for the last 3 years, the A's have just been playing a cruel joke on us. Haha, they say. Ken Macha was never really managing this team. You just took the blue pill. And then a real manager, a cross between Vince Lombardi and John Mcgraw and John Wooden would come out of the woods, out of the fog, out of the blue, a fictional savior from Brigadoon, to lead us to the promised land. Into our hearts, into our lives. Fans know that we'll never lose again because we've got Vince McWooden, and you don't. But it never happens. Invariably, your thoughts end up back somewhere near reality, and Ken Macha is giving a press conference saying that he's worried about Hatteberg, that he probably needs to go on the DL, but in the meantime, he'll be damned if he takes him out of the lineup. It's not just a bad dream. It's a god damn nightmare.

Ken Macha has failed on almost every fundamental level of being a manager. Dumb lineups? Check. Leaving in starting pitchers too long? Check. Failing to recognize matchup advantages? Check. Failure to earn the respect of his players? Check. Despite what you read in the papers, I have it on very good authority (my own), that, at least when it comes to a certain shortstop from Southern California and a pitcher from Canada, the players don't respect Ken's managing abilities. It's not that they don't like him, for he seems like a nice guy. But he's overmatched as a big league manager. Fans know it. Players know it. And you better believe that opposing managers know it. And exploit it.

The A's were terrible for the first 1/3 of the season. Just terrible. But they came out of that slump, just as they will come out of this one. And when they did, people were quick to credit Ken's steady hand. He didn't panic as the team frittered away over 30% of its season. He didn't need to make any changes. After 8 short weeks of sucking, Macha finally changed the lineup, and the team got hot. Now that the team is playing terribly again, is it going to be another 8 weeks before something happens? Because in 8 weeks, if this keeps up, these guys will be playing golf, and not baseball.

I once read a story about Vietnam that was centered entirely around a yo-yo that a particular soldier carried around during the War. The yo-yo saw it all; death, destruction, mayhem. But it also saw beauty. Soldiers killing soldiers, and a god damn yo-yo was telling me how beautiful war was. And at the end of the story, you know what? That war was beautiful. It was the god damn most beautiful thing I'd ever read. M-16's and booby traps, and all I saw was the poignancy in all of it. Through the eyes of a yo-yo. Fucking incredible, huh? Point is, some things aren't meant to be poignant, but they are. Baseball shouldn't be this poignant, shouldn't be this important. The A's could never win a never another game, and the rest of my life would likely never change. I'm currently testing that hypothesis with the San Francisco 49ers, funnily enough. But it is important. I've invested more of my life into the A's than Ken Macha could ever possibly invest, possibly dream of investing. He's some stupid asshole from Pittsburgh, a god damn Pirates fan, a borderline imbecile with serious mental limitations, and he's in charge of my A's. He doesn't care about the A's like I care about the A's. He'll never care about the A's like I care about the A's. This is a job for him, a job he's screwing up royally. He's ruining the beauty of baseball for me. What would the yo-yo say about that?

There is a dark energy pemeating from the A's right now. Much like the dark energy of the universe, it's pushing the A's out. Out of first place, out of the wild card lead, and out of playoff contention. Albert Einstein, in an effort to make his equations work, once postulated a cosmological constant. Once Edwin Hubble confirmed the expansion of the universe, Einstein concluded that inventing said constant was the biggest blunder of his career. But it turns out he was right about that after all. You don't need me to tell you that Einstein was a smart fellow. So when he has a position on what insanity is, perhaps we should stand up and take notice. Perhaps we should listen.

Are you listening, Ken?

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