Rays Diary  10/2/12

Stayed up til 1:15 AM watching Oakland steal a postseason berth right out from under the noses of Joe Maddon and the frustrated Rays.  Clawing and scratching, the Rays went down fighting, winning eleven of their last twelve games.  As their bats came alive for the longest hitting streak of the season, the team employed the long ball to win those games.  It was the scenario that Joe and his batting coach, Peter Principle had dreamed of for the entire year!  No longer being forced to manage and coach respectively, the relieved pair and their “management” team could simply watch from the dugout as their players, for the most part, hit the ball “up the middle,” as well as the opposite field and actually tried to “hit the ball solidly” instead of trying to hit “homeruns” at every at- bat (except for Desmond Jennings who has been taught to drive the ball to the warning track).  Even Carlos Pena, after scores of Tweets begging him to drop his left elbow “into the slot,” thereby resulting in a “level” swing, began to take the advice and started hitting the ball with authority!   B.J. Upton, in answer to his Tweets, actually stopped swaying backwards and started turning his shoulders before swinging, resulting in a dozen homeruns in a period of six weeks.   All Joe had to do was manage his pitching staff, perhaps the best in the history of modern baseball.

A consumate gentleman and one of the best clubhouse managers in the game, with the help of “Dr.” Jim Hickey, it took five years for Mr. Maddon to master the use of his relief pitchers.  Gone were the inappropriate obsessive compulsive lefty-lefty and righty-righty matchups of earlier years, matchups costing his team dozens of victories (including the J.P. Howell fiasco in last year’s playoff game against Texas).  Unfortunately, the season did show that the same manager who, in 2009, had stranded his .360 hitting Jason Bartlett in the ninth position in the lineup for some 106 games and his sub .200 hitter in the leadoff spot, still had no clue how to put together an intelligent baseball lineup.  In addition, sulking over the loss of the team’s star hitter and other supporting characters, Joe and Rays management seemed to forget that they really did have, essentially, the best pitching staff, perhaps, in the history of baseball.

Losing most of their one-run games, the eventual difference between first place and failing to make the playoffs, Joe, batting coach Peter Principle and Rays Management arbitrarily developed a non-baseball strategy or “philosophy” of not giving up an out for a base.  The “philosophy,” originally proposed by Aristotle and Plato had only been tried successfully by Earl Weaver and his phenomenal homerun hitting Orioles and the equally hard hitting world champion Boston RedSox.  It had never worked for other less successful teams with average or sub average batting lineups like the Rays.  In fact, the only team in history comparable to the Rays, Walter Alston’s Dodgers of the 1960’s won multiple pennants and World Series with a pitching staff almost exactly like the Rays’, by scratching out runs.  Almost totally avoiding shutouts in those years, the teams manufactured runs, often without the benefit of a base hit.  They became experts at bunting, advancing runners and scoring men from third by relentlessly hitting balls on the ground toward first base when called for.  Alston even penalized players, at times, for hitting the ball in the air!

Ironically, noone knows for sure, exactly where philosophers Aristotle and Plato played their baseball (Ancient Greece?) or where they managed.  What we do know, however, is that by disdaining the bunt and refusing to give up an out for a base, Joe managed to lose a record number of 1-0 shutouts in addition to a near record number of one run games.  Numerous times, he seemed to leave his pitchers, especially “workhorses” Price and Shields and poor second year man Jeremy Hellickson, in the lurch, not even trying to scratch out a single run for the poor guys.  In game after game and inning after inning, Joe made no attempt, with no outs, to advance runners from first or even first and second, into scoring position.    In fact, down one run or even with the score tied at 0-0 in extra innings, batters hitting less than .200, sometimes less than .100, were encouraged to hit into sure outs instead of advancing runners into scoring position.  Time after time, three batters in a row would pop up or strike out, leaving the base runners stranded.  Often times, a lazy fly ball that should have easily scored the runner from third, found the runners still on first and second.  Other batters would hit into double plays, often going out of their way to actually pull outside pitches,foolishly served up by opposing pitchers, toward “short” or “third” instead of first base.  Easily as many as a dozen or more sure victories were squandered by the Rays’ bizarre strategy and their coaches’ lack of respect for so many of the very basic fundamentals of baseball.

Whether various apologists and half hearted pseudo students of baseball wish to agree with Rays management's strange approach or not, noone can honestly deny that enough games were lost by the strategy to account for the team’s failure to easily finish in first place or at least in the playoffs this season.  One thing we never heard over the course of the year, was either Joe Maddon or batting coach Peter Principle taking responsibility for the team’s irresponsible losses.  In a way, it does not matter, because in the playoffs or the World Series, sooner or later, with their present “on the field” offensive strategy, Rays management will be out coached as they have always been, by a team whose manager actually manages.  As a sportswriter whom I greatly respect once graciously suggested, “Maybe it’s time for the Rays to revisit some of their policies.”

 “Ya think?”

Al Finkelstein  10/2/12