Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lerner's Permit

I used to play fantasy baseball with a guy a lot like Jim Bowden. He was great to have in the league, in large part because he was about as willing a trade partner as you could find this side of the East India Company. He traded and churned his roster incessantly, and if you entered into negotiations with him, all you had to do was wait him out because sooner or later he'd propose a combination that you could live with.

This made for some interesting deals, but not a lot of upper-division finishes, and for the longest time I couldn't understand why he played the way he did. Then, finally, I figured it out.

He wasn't interested in winning. He was interested in looking smart. Every deal, every transaction was a chance to show off how clever he was. The macro didn't matter, and he was incapable of cohering his various moves into a long-term strategy. But each trade he made, he had to "win", and let you know he'd won, and have people tell him how clever he'd been.

That's Jim Bowden. He's completely failed to put together a team. He's made some good trades and interesting signings, but they don't fit together, and he's failed to deal from strength or address weaknesses. But each of those individual deals - for Milledge and Dukes and Willingham and whoever - is clever, right? Each of them by itself was a pretty good move.

As for the Dominican bonus scandal, well, that sounds like a guy trying to be too clever, too. The money, ultimately, couldn't have been the real incentive, not with the money that's floating around for successful GMs these days. No, it had to be the feeling of getting away with something, with getting one over on the system. Was it conducive to building a good team? No, but that's tomorrow's problem. Today was all about getting away with it.

He's probably not going to be getting away with it any more. There aren't going to be many more of those momentary victories. And the franchise he was entrusted with will be, at the end of the day, not very good as a result of all of his efforts.

Here's hoping the Lerners do the right thing, for their business' sake. Get rid of Bowden - his track record certainly mandates it. Let someone new come in to clean up the mess. Someone dedicated to teambuilding. Someone who can plan long-term. Someone who, at the end of the day, doesn't constantly need to be told he's clever.
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