LONGSHOTS: Spine vs. lack of spine theme for school board debate
by Dave Long
Anyone know why the manager or coach is ALWAYS wrong?
Yes, I know second-guessing is part of the game. But, even though it stands to reason that no one, not even Rush Limbaugh, can be wrong 100 percent of the time, when things go wrong coaches always are. Except of course when the public agrees and things go right. Then they are brilliant.
Talk about ego.
It’s true players catch flack when things go wrong, but the manager is a co-conspirator. For instance, I say if Grady Little had pulled Pedro Martinez after six in the seventh game of the 2003 playoffs vs. the Yankees and the bullpen still coughed up the lead, he’d have been fired anyway. He was red meat for the second-guessers, where his only chance no matter what he did was for the players to do their job. In this case, Pedro tried but he couldn’t, yet the most unprecedented torrent of acrimony this side of Alabama getting smoking by Auburn in the Iron Bowl was unleashed on Little and not Pedro. Not that it should fall on a guy who pitched his heart out either.
And it’s not just on-field decisions. Think about how they get after Tito Francona for Manny Being Manny. You tell me what you’re supposed to do with a guy who lives in the ozone with a $20 million financial noose around his team’s neck? Trade him? They tried four times. Bench him and talk radio shouts the run production should be the same even with 130 RBI missing. If they play him, Tito’s soft on crime. Even after he knocks in the winning run in game one and then hits .400 in August after his trading deadline funk in 2005.
And don’t think it’s confined to pro sports. Anyone who’s coached in a high school team can tell you the second-guessing is far worse with parents. That’s because many simply can’t detach themselves from what’s best for their kids and an objective thought process. Take the events at the Manchester School Board meeting that aired on MCTV last week more often than Seinfeld re-runs on TNT. It pitted a group of parents against Memorial Softball coach Dave Hedge, whose actions they feel prevented their daughters from playing in the Class L Softball Tournament in June.
The turn of events came in an interesting week illustrating how good managing is more dependent on players doing their job than it is on any one decision. On Monday Tim Wakefield befuddles Tampa Bay for eight innings in allowing two meaningless hits. Still with a 3-0 lead Tito brings in Jonathan Paplebon. Since there’s no guarantee the reliable Pap would be on his game and my eyes said the un-hittable Wake was not out of juice, I saw it as a gamble. It worked out fine, but if it hadn’t – oh mama. The next night Scott Kazmir, who absolutely owns Boston, had a shutout after six. Yet Joe Maddon follows the LaRussa Manual and yanks him after 100 pitches, even though if you look Blow Torch up in the dictionary there’s a picture of their bullpen next to it. I said — YES! And two innings later they score twice to win in the ninth. Same decision, different outcomes. Also on the mound in the ninth was Eric Gagne, who’d blown two games the previous weekend. Tito stuck with him and he got his first Red Sox win. But if he’d failed – it’s, oh mama times TEN!
The point is some good decisions don’t work. Some bad ones do and some aren’t real popular. In the pro game it comes with the territory and people deal with it because where else could they make money like that? High school sports are completely different. Most are quasi volunteers who face yakking parents on a regular basis and can find themselves alone on a limb when not backed by election-conscious school board members. In the Hedge situation, I’m watching from afar so I don’t know what has or hasn’t gone on behind the scenes as some parents suggest and I wouldn’t know any of the parents if I fell over them.
But here is what I do know. It is the job of the school board to hear what tax payers have to say — although you’d hope they’d act more like Bob Leonard and with a little more spine than Arthur Beaudry and the pandering Doug Kruse. The problem started when six girls from the Memorial softball team skipped school illegally the day before a playoff game as part of senior hike day tradition. When you miss school you are not allowed to practice that day. But they did practice because Coach Hedge told them to be at practice. That, according to NHIAA rules, made them ineligible for the playoff game the next day. Memorial, minus several key players, lost that game and their season ended abruptly.
What is a little more murky is, did Hedge know the kids were in school or not? And did the victimization of the missing players start before or after semi beloved (though apparently a little less so in the south end of town), semi-retired scribe Joe Sullivan had the audacity to write about it for the state’s largest newspaper in what I thought was one of his best columns ever? That apparently struck a chord as it came up repeatedly on MCTV. Imagine having the audacity to write about someone trying to dig up a pitching rubber, to presumably get the game postponed, which, oh by the way, let the girls play the next day. You know if the alleged perpetrator of the fig leaf bank robberies wasn’t in the slammer, I’d think he was behind that brilliant caper too.
Can you imagine ANYBODY wanting to win that badly? I guess, sadly I can.
In the end I see it this way. It doesn’t matter if Hedge knew the girls were in school or not. And most assuredly they are not the victims. The innocent victims are the girls who did go to practice. Kids whose dreams of winning a state softball title were dashed when six young women, contrary to the tradition of a team, put personal interests ahead of their teammates. If that hadn’t happened, they still might not have won that state title, but I doubt very much any of the “other issues” being used to justify this mess would have come up.
So I wonder if the kids, whose actions put a tireless worker under scrutiny, are learning anything from their selfish act. Because with parents looking to lay the blame for their mistake anywhere but where it belongs, you can see how they probably didn’t get why it was such a mistake in the first place.
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).