It’s an off-night at the Liquor and Rubber Balls Sports Emporium and Muffler Bearing Replacement Center: in fact, the only customers are professional gambler Duck Diamonds and former sportswriter Lu Senz.
This is not to say they’re the only people in the bar, but they’re the only ones actually buying anything. The usual gaggle of barflies are wandering about, reading the wall posters they’ve read a thousand times and trying to look purposeful. Or at least not entirely useless.
As he pours me 20 cold ounces of smooth golden gorgeous Grolsch, I ask him why the hell he doesn’t throw these freeloaders out.
“Ambience,” he answers without looking. “Easier to care for than hanging plants and less prone to dropping shit to sweep up.”
Well, okay. The last idiot to argue with Don now wears a full set of dentures, giggles inappropriately, and walks with a limp.
When I join the two regulars at their table they’re talking about the 2015 Managers of the Year, just announced. Joe Maddon, in his first year with the Cubs, took the NL award, and Jeff (not Floyd) Banister of the Texas Rangers, also in his first year with the team, is the AL choice. Lu has her phone out and she’s reciting stats.
“I don’t have a problem with these choices,” says Duck, when she finishes. “Bannister took ‘em from worst to first, and under Maddon they won 24 games over the year before.”
“But?” asks Lu. “I hear the hedge.”
“These two didn’t win anything, did they?” asks Duck. “In fact, they didn’t even make it to the World Series. The Cubs didn’t even take their own division.”
“You do know that the award winners are picked before the post-season games start, right?” ask Lu.
“Yeah, but look, that’s not what I’m getting at. Like I say, I’m fine with these guys getting the award. What I’m thinking though, is that maybe there oughta be an adjustment in the way teams structure their post-season squads.”
“What’re you talking about, Duck? Teams already do that. If they want to make a run for it, they sign guys to fill gaps, boost their chances. Another arm for the bullpen, power off the bench, an acknowledged big-game player, you know. Hey, sometimes it actually works!”
“Exactly,” says Duck, slamming his shot glass down. “They rent specialists. The experienced middle relief guy. The clutch hitter. The defensive wiz for the late innings. Because everybody knows when the post-season comes around, all bets are off. Different aspects of the game take on different significance. Strategy changes.”
Strategery! That’s what George W, called it. Say — didn’t he own the Texas Rangers for a while?
“You got these teams that excel all year, winning the long race only to stumble during the short-series playoffs,” says Duck, ignoring me. “How come? Even though they make the personnel moves to address their weak spots.”
“What — you think it’s management?” asks Lu. “Coaching?”
“Well, that’s the missing link, innit? The same guy that confidently pilots the crew through the season’s shoals steers the ship into the rocks, sometimes in the very first game! Everything he does that works out great all year turns to shit in October. And everybody reminds us, ‘the season is one thing, the post-season entirely separate.’
“So maybe when teams are beefing up their benches and bullpens for the upcoming play-offs, there should be a change made at the helm as well. A manager brought in with a proven record of post-season success to guide the team through the very different circumstances that these shorts series games present.”
“They’d be tough to find, and probably retired or semi-retired — LaRusa, Lasorda, Torre, Leyland, Chollie Manuel — not Bobby Cox. We’re looking for the un-Bobby Cox’s of the world.”
“Still better than Bobby Cox,” says Lu. “Charlie Brown, too! But Duck — how’s this supposed to work? The season ends, they tell the manager to sit down, he’s done, they’re bringing in the new guy for the duration? They fire him, or tell him he’s the new 3B case or bench coach? Realistically, how’s that supposed to work?”
“Well, shit,” says Duck. (Ugh. Duck shit.) “Realistically, do you wanna win? I dunno how they make it work. Send the bastard home, or tell him to sit in the dugout and play bench coach, I don’t care. Thank him for the great job he did all season, hand him a bonus, and give him the rest of the year off.”
Duck, this is the dumbest idea about managing a team since the Marlins told Dan Jennings to suit up.
“I admit it’s revolutionary,” says Duck, getting up to get us all another round (I assume). But you watch — in ten years, they’ll all be doing it.”
“That’s what they said in the 70s about Disco,” says Lu. “How’d that work out?”
Tell him later, Lu. After he pays for the round.