Is It Time to Manage?

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Is It Time to Manage?
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Red Sox manager Terry Francona

Sometimes you have to wonder, when you're watching a game on TV: Is it real or is it a movie?

In a baseball movie, of course, Your Guy, the Good Guy, always, always, gets the big hit or makes the perfect pitch, even if he needs a little help from his girlfriend, voodoo or some other out-of-this-world power.

Reality is more like this: Players rarely are asked to bunt or, if they are asked, they can't bunt very well or they refuse to bunt— or the manager lets a guy swing at 2-0 when the pitcher walked the previous hitter and his team is desperate for base runners.

Really, sometimes, you gotta ask: Is the manager running a tape of “Major League” in his head?

In the 2-0 situation, for example, do you think the pitcher might continue to have trouble throwing strikes, with the hitter likely to reach base without taking the bat off his shoulder? Ya think?

Shouldn't the manager give the hitter the take sign in that situation, regardless of who's at the plate? Or should he help solve the pitcher's control woes by letting his hitter swing when he doesn't have to—opting for the less than 3-in-10 chance of getting a hit?

This is repeated nightly in most games in the Major Leagues.

Regarding the bunt/don't bunt scenario, the Boston-Cleveland game Monday night provides an interesting example.

Carl Crawford of the Red Sox was at the plate in the top of the ninth, one out, with runners on first and third.

Now, there are times in baseball games when a manager can only sit on his hands in the dugout and root for his guy to get a hit or to get that precious run in from third somehow.   

Then there are times when the manager might say to himself, “There's only one out. Let's see, how about making something happen here? What can we do to upgrade our chances for success?”

The thought process might go something like this:

“Ummm, Crawford may be the fastest runner in the game, so the chances of him hitting into a double-play are pretty slim. That's a good thing for us, a very good thing, because the game would be over. 

“However, (dum-de-dum-dum) there's even a better chance of getting the run in if he lays down some kind of bunt, a squeeze or a safety-squeeze, or even a drag bunt. I'd like to see them beat him to the bag on a bunt up the first-base line!

“But … can he bunt? Come to think of it, I don't know. He's new to the team this year and I can't remember ever seeing him bunt. Did we work on that in spring training? Is that something us coaches are supposed to know? Are we paying him a gazillion dollars a year to bunt? Is he OK with bunting? Can we get a TO and talk to him?

“Then again, he is off to an awful start at the plate for us, and a hit here would do wonders for his confidence. And it would make our general manager feel better, too, since he's the guy who unloaded all of that money for a guy now stuck with a batting average in the low .200s. So, what's important—how the GM feels about himself, how Crawford feels about himself or whether we take our best shot to tie, and then win, the game?

“So much to think about!

“Oh no, he just did the thing That Makes Everybody Look Bad: He hit into a double-play, and we lose. I guess we'll have to wait for another time to boost his confidence. And he looks bad, I look bad, the GM looks bad …. We should've bunted!”

Or a thought process something like that, if there's any thinking going on in the dugout.

Of course, a player or a manager—or the GM, even—could opt for another approach before the game, rubbing the bat with some chicken feathers or getting a bunny's foot (sorry, bunny, but this is important!) ….

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