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Managing the “AAA” Franchise: A View from 102

“Baseball is a simple game. If you have good players and if you keep them in the right frame of mind then the manager is a success.” Sparky Anderson

“I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.”  Tommy Lasorda

This has been an interesting year for the Norfolk Tides.  For me the year has been the first where I have had the opportunity to observe the game on nearly a daily basis from field level behind the plate. The proximity of where I sit to the playing field in Section 102, Row B Seat 2 at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish has given me the chance to sharpen my eye for the nuances of the game.  Part of this has been lessons on life, leadership, strategy, player development and the psychology of winning and organizations that win.  In fact if you are a regular reader of this website you will likely note that baseball is pervasive in my writings.  Likewise the subject of baseball is usually entwined with my local team the Norfolk Tides who inhabit the parish church with me.  Thus my closest observations of the game come from watching the Tides.  Over the course of the season I have become familiar with the players met a decent number of the starting pitchers on more than one occasion each as well as talked with scouts and former players.  Additionally one of the best baseball men round who really needs to be hired as a color man for the Tides radio show is Elliott the Usher. Elliott and I have had numerous discussions regarding strategy, player development and baseball philosophy throughout the season, not always agreeing, but each hearing what the other had to say.  Elliott knows the game, knows the players and despite being a Red Sox fan, not that there’s anything wrong with that is a great human being.  Thank the Deity Herself that he is not a Dodgers fan, yeech!

So anyway, here are a couple of Padre Steve’s observations about the Tides this year that I think hurt player development and kept them out of the playoffs.   Now I don’t think being in the playoff as a minor league team is the end all of life, but it does not hurt the organization.  My thesis is that although the Tides suffered an end of July and August collapse that need not have happened and may have hurt a number of player’s chances of making the majors.   The collapse was like the old “June Swoon” days of the San Francisco Giants only worse.  Yet despite the swoon the Tides continued to maintain one of the highest batting averages in the league and their pitching, though not as reliable as earlier in the season was constantly around the middle of the league.  I think that there is a reason for what happened to the reliability of the pitching and it is not because the pitchers suddenly went bad. I’ll explain this further on in this article.

Fielding, in regard to the number of errors committed by the infield was not that much different than their International League South rivals.  However it seemed that the errors committed by Tides players tended to come at the worst possible time and often scuttled solid performances by pitchers.  My thesis is that this was not a case of the talent available to the team despite mid-season call ups and injuries. Nor is it just because the players did not play as well as they could thus I would take issue with those who would who want to simply blame the collapse on these factors.  Did they play a part? Yes, were they the over-riding factor? I don’t think so.

The most important person on a Triple “A” team is the Manager.  The manager sets the tone for the team and is the face of the team.  The manager is not simply a teacher, but someone who has to have a feel, almost a 6th sense for how players are doing at given points in the game or season, what their strengths and weaknesses are and what makes them tick…in other words the way that a manager deals with his players is as important to their development and success as is the talent and ability that the players bring to the team when they show up.  A minor league manager cannot allow himself to just be a cog in the big league club’s system.  The manager needs to be able to make the hard calls of telling the big club what he thinks of where players can fit and when and where they should play. A manager should never be a slave to arbitrary pitch counts, especially if he sees a pitcher is really doing badly early, or if he sees a pitcher doing well enough to complete a game.   Psychology is as important as numbers.  There are times players need to be handled with great care and other times that they might need a dressing down or boot up their ass, but this must be well thought out and not an arbitrary process.  Likewise, there is the emotional tone that a player sets in the clubhouse.  There is no right or wrong as to style, but the manager needs to be able to make his style work. If he cannot the cohesion of the club will suffer as will the hardiness of the players, individually and as a team to weather difficult times during the season.   All this said it is my belief that Tides manager Gary Allenson was not effective in this, especially during July and August.  This is certainly not to be interpreted as a sour grapes kind of accusation.  As someone who has had the responsibility for over a hundred personnel, and a couple of million dollars worth of equipment and property as well as regularly dealing with people in life and death circumstances I am sensitive to the weight on a manager’s shoulders and I have taken my share of criticism.  The job is not easy and Allenson has had a lot of success during his managing career.  So I am not saying that he is a bad manager, but that this year his management of the team was a causal factor in the collapse.

To go into specifics the biggest places that this was apparent was with the pitching staff.  When a starter of reliever got in trouble it seemed that Allenson was often disengaged.  Maybe he was trying to reach a pitch count with them or maybe trying to teach them how to pitch through difficult situations. Patently these are important in grooming pitchers but cannot be seen as the goal itself.  They are rather measurement tool to assess the pitcher’s development and readiness to play at the current level or move up in the organization.  However, the tools cannot be allowed to dictate the manager’s decision making process.  Observing this close hand watching the pitchers at various points during the game and season and watching Allenson’s body language in the dugout as well as how long it would take to have  a reliever ready makes me believe that these were overriding factors in the decision making process.

I do not know if Allenson’s intent was to let pitchers try to work through rough outings without relief every time that they pitch, or if it is something that the Orioles have instructed him to do.  Regardless of what it is that plan did not work.  The pitching staff became demoralized it was evident in their body language and by what was heard around the park.  It is fine to occasionally let a pitcher work through a difficult patch and even get roughed up a bit.  That builds character and perseverance, in fact not to do it promotes a false sense of confidence that hurts the pitcher later on.  However it is not a good policy to do this in every game as it becomes counterproductive as the pitcher loses confidence because they are not winning.  This appeared to be what was happening with Tides pitchers.  The psychology of pitchers depends a lot on winning. To take a pitcher out before he gets in trouble while he is ahead is not a bad thing. Winning helps promote a winning attitude that carries over from game to game.  Pulling a pitcher before he gets in trouble can be used to the benefit of the pitcher and the team.  This is the way of great major league managers including Earl Weaver.  Allowing pitchers to be roughed up and have no relief waiting in the bullpen on a regular basis is detrimental to their development and serves no purpose.  Thus if a pitcher is beaten and the manager knows it leaving him in the game serves no purpose unless it is simply to preserve the bullpen.  If a manager senses that a pitcher is in trouble he should be more like Earl Weaver and get the guy out of the game for his good as well as that of the team.  Losing is contagious.  Lose a lot, especially when the losses could have been avoided and a team loses its fire and often its heart.  Take a look at perennial winning and losing teams and you will find that it is not just the talent that makes a team, it is the management and manner in which they work with the talent available that make them the organizations that they are.  Winning organizations promote winning at all levels.

Another aspect of the management of Tides pitchers has been the lack of consistency in developing relief pitchers.  It is important to work to individual pitcher’s strengths in how they are employed.  If a reliever finds his particular niche then it is incumbent on management to build on this.  Relievers are a quirky breed and by the time that they are in Triple “A” ball the management should have a relatively good idea of where they fit in the organization and start preparing them for that role on the big league club.  Thus at Triple “A” it is not the best policy to give players shots at all the different relief situations, especially if it takes someone who has the potential to be a great closer out of his game.  Case in point for the Tides was the use of Jim Miller.  Miller became the Tides closer early in the season and by the All-Star break had 15 saves.  When Miller went in during the first half of the season it was almost automatic that he would close the game successfully.  After the All-Star break Miller was bounced to middle relief and occasional set up roles as the Orioles according to Gary Allenson “wanted to turn him into a two-inning pitcher, because he’s probably not going to close games in the big leagues.”  Miller said recently that he would rather finish games. “That’s what I’ve done my whole career. They wanted to stretch me out, have me throwing 30-35 pitches. If that’s what they want, of course, that’s what I’ll do. But I like closing games.” It was noticeable how uncomfortable Miller was and how his effectiveness went down when moved out of the closer role.  I’m a firm believer that if someone does something better than others that you play to strength and build on it. Guys who can close a game and have a closers mindset are rare; those guys need to be coached to be even better and not bounced around.  Miller has come into the game in the 9th in close situations since the 31st and has been his old self, even games where he had no chance at a save he shut the opponent down.  It may be the case that the Orioles do not need Miller as a closer, however he could be the 8th inning set up man, not the 5th to 7th inning middle reliever and still keep a closer mindset.

Winning organizations know when a player is in his element and from thereon work hard to make him the best at that position and to put complementary players around him. To win an organization needs no only to produce a lot of middle of the road jack of all trades utility players but guys who can become All-Stars.  Utility players do not end up on the All-Star team and while important to an organization are not the building blocks of it.  I have heard it said that giving infielders experience at a lot of different positions helps them get to the majors.  While I believe this has some validity,  I think if an infielder is gifted at a certain position, say 2nd, 3rd or shortstop and has the potential to be a starter in that position on the major league club then it imperative that the organization focus on making him the best possible player at that position.  Can the player be used at other positions occasionally?  Of course, they need to be somewhat versatile but to use a military expression, I think it is best to “train as you fight.”  In other words of the player is being groomed for a certain position don’t waste too much time trying him at other positions, or moving him to allow someone who is a utility player to play in his spot.  A Triple “A” team might have one of these players on their team at any given time; they should be the linchpin around which utility players are utilized.   I think that 2nd Baseman Justin Turner was this player on the 2009 Tides and should be used in this manner in 2010 as the Orioles prepare to bring him up. Can he play other positions? Certainly, but watching him the further he was moved from 2nd base the less effective and sure of himself he became.

Next year should be interesting.  Several of the late season call ups from Bowie should be good additions to the club, notably outfielders Jonathan Tucker and Dave Krynzel.  Guillermo Rodriguez should remain at catcher as he has the potential to develop pitchers and be available on short notice to play in Baltimore as a backup for Matt Wieters.  Injured Scott Moore, Donnie Murphy and Justin Christian should be back as should Rhyne Hughes, Brandon Snyder and Brandon Pinckney.  Pitchers Chris Waters if not taken up to Baltimore or traded should be back, as should Jake Arrieta, Chris Lambert and Chris George.  Andy Mitchell would be an ideal middle to long reliever to follow hard throwing starters with his submarine style delivery. Jim Miller needs to be kept if not brought up to the Orioles or traded, as should Josh Perrault and Troy Patton.  Other pitchers on the current staff could still be of use; Bob McCrory seemed to be doing well at the end of the season and as did Ross Wolf.  I believe that starter David Pauley is a free agent after this season so I do not know if he will be back.  Of the other position players I think it unlikely that 37 year old Jolbert Cabrera comes back and wonder if Melvin Dorta and Blake Davis need to be at Norfolk as both had significant numbers of errors.

If I was the Orioles organization I would re-look to see if Gary Allenson is the man to continue to lead the team.  The last half of the season the team has not performed to the level that it could have. Some of this maybe a lot has to do with management.  It is possible that Allenson’s superiors in Baltimore are calling the shots at Norfolk and that he wants to manage differently.  However my assumption has to be that Allenson was unable to get the team to gel after the loss of players to mid-year injuries and call-ups and did not adjust well to losing so much hitting at that time.  Again my take is not that of a disgruntled fan, but an observer trying to make sense of what happened from the end of July until the end of August.  My assessment is that it is largely a managerial problem, likely at the field level, though possibly higher in the Orioles organization as well.

It is too easy to criticize a manager and I have tried to be as fair as possible, however a team’s success is always to a great degree dictated by the manager and at the end of the year every organization has to ask itself if it has the right man for the manager’s job.  It is incumbent to the organization to do so.

Peace, Steve+

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Trust in God and Keep a Strong Bullpen

“A fellow has to have faith in God above and Rollie Fingers in the bullpen.” Alvin Dark

043Tides Reliever Alberto Castillo against Charlotte

Organizations often face time when due to either talent, injuries or staffing shortages that they must make adjustments in mid-stride in order to continue to function.  Nowhere is this more apparent than on a baseball team, especially in relationship to the pitching staff.  The bullpen must be good in order for a team to weather the ups and downs of a season as well as the ups and downs of the starting rotation. When the starters are doing well and being supported by good hitting a good bullpen is what ensures the win.  When a starter slips up and has a bad outing a good bullpen steps up and gets the game back under control to give their offense a chance to win.  Conversely if a starting rotation is not doing well, either due to injuries, lack of talent or lack of experience the bullpen has to take up the slack.  In such cases even a good bullpen staffed with experienced relievers can get worn down by being forced to pitch too many innings too many times.  This became apparent to me last night as I watched the Yankees beat the Red Sox.  The Red Sox starter, in fact the last three starters had pitched well, unfortunately due to a number of times during the past few weeks the starters had been beaten up force the relief staff to do a lot more work than they are programmed to do.  Thus when the game got into the deep innings, particularly on when the teams went over 14 scoreless innings, the Red Sox bullpen was ground down.  In the end they ended up losing games to the Yankees despite good performances from the starters but lousy hitting, Yankees pitching blanking the Red Sox for 31 innings before the Red Sox Victor Martinez managed a two run home run in top of the 8th in Sunday night’s game. It was then that the Red Sox bullpen fell apart with Daniel Bard and Hideki Okijima combining to give up 4 runs on 5 hits including 2 home runs, all with two outs and no one on base.

To have an effective bullpen you have to have a staff that knows their roles and are comfortable coming on in relief. By way of analogy my military career has been marked where I have had to go into a situation in relief of someone who had been fired, transferred early or was hurt, I experienced this as a Company Commander and a good number of times as a chaplain.  All of these came with little or no notice, much the way a relief pitcher is called upon to do.  If you have worked in some institutional setting such as the military, this is a common occurrence.   The key to such situations, just like baseball, is that the person coming in relief needs to know what their role is.  Is this a short relief outing, to get a specific task done, like a pitcher might be put in to face one batter and no one else?  Or is it to recover a situation and stay in the game for an extended period of time, or even to come on in the final inning to close out the game?  No matter what it is the reliever must know his role, just as someone being brought in a institutional setting to take over in a difficult situation needs to know what he or she is expected to accomplish and how much time they are expected to be in.  Thus the onus is on the organization, in particular the leadership to know what the abilities of their “relievers” are and be forthright in telling them what they need to accomplish.

In building an organization you need people on your staff that are suited to change gears in the middle of something and go into a relief situation.  It is true in baseball as well as life.  As a season ticket holder for the Norfolk Tides Baseball Club, the AAA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles I watch a lot of baseball from my seat in section 102, row B seat 2.  The Tides started out the year with a great starting pitching rotation most of who have been called to the majors as well as relief staff.  The still have decent pitching but it is not up to the level that it was at the beginning of the season. Whereas earlier in the season up until the All-Star break the starters we getting good starts and relievers were able to come in later in the game in roles that they were ready to fulfill.  Now with our losses and the addition of pitchers called up from AA or A ball we are struggling in this department.  With starters not getting quality starts or not going deep into the game the relief staff has been worn down. Pitchers who were solid earlier in the year are not as dependable, and this comes often from having to come in too early, too often in situations where the games are already out of hand.  Yet even so tonight I saw relievers Kam Mikolio and Alberto Castillo regain control of the game in the 8th and 9th inning, but too late to do any good because the damage had been done earlier against Andy Mitchell the statrer and Jim Miller who came on in middle relief.

In the majors a staff needs a couple of guys who can come in to do long or middle relief, a couple of set up pitchers and a good closer.  Ever since the Oakland A’s used Rollie Fingers in this role the relief pitchers have become an vital part of any pitching staff and good managers know when the right time to pull a pitcher and put in the right reliever is.  Good managers also know to let the relief know what is expected.  In places that I have done well in relief I knew what my mission was, how long it was going to be and set myself to accomplish that mission.  When the relief appearance was ill defined and I did not have much experience I would do well for a while and then get in trouble because I had to use the baseball term gone beyond my pitch count or overmatched.

Sometimes even excellent relievers get beat up. Everyone has a bad day and even guys like Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Papelbon occasionally get roughed up.  However, most of the time these pitchers have enjoyed success because they were part of a pitching staff that was strong in both starters and relievers.  A good reliever on a bad team often gets worn down.  Likewise when organizations suffer significant losses the people left, experienced and inexperienced, strong and weak are put into situation after situation where they have to do more on less rest.

russ ortizRuss Ortiz

Tonight I met pitcher Russ Ortiz who has played a good number of years in the majors.  He was recently picked up by the New York Yankees after being released by the Astros.  He was assigned to the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees and is making a start tomorrow night.  This evening he was charting the game for the Yankees in section 100.  Now Russ was with the Giants in 2002 when they went to the World Series against the Angels.  With one out in the bottom of the 7th leading 5-0 Ortiz gave up two hits and was replaced by Manager Dusty Baker with set-up man Felix Rodriguez.  Rodriguez gave up a 3 run home run to Scott Spiezio.  The Angles picked up three more off Rodriguez and closer Rob Nen to go ahead and win the game.  I told Ortiz that I still curse the day that Baker pulled him and told him how much I thought that he deserved the win.  Ortiz is a gentleman and nice guy.  Standing back with Elliott the Usher I meet a decent number of players and Ortiz is a class act.  I asked Russ if he would do me a favor and sign a baseball card for me, he said gladly.  So Marty the Card Dealer sold me a card with Ortiz in his Giants uniform and in the top of the 9th Russ signed it for me on the concourse.  It goes into my kitchen baseball shrine where so many of my other signed cards, balls and memorabilia are on display.

Without going into a sermon it is important to remember that many businesses and organizations are going through difficult times with many trying to do more with less.  In the military we are seeing our numbers go up a bit but with mission increases that stress our system.  These are like teams where there are gaps in the starting rotation and where guys and gals have to come in to relieve folks more often that should be the case.

Yes we do trust God, and patently the Deity Herself tells me that such is necessary especially for a miscreant Priest like me.  At the same time we need to have a strong bullpen in order to weather difficult situations. May we all have our Rivera’s, Papelbon’s, and guys like Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersly on our team with some good set up guys as well as some long and middle relievers.

Peace, Steve+

On a side note I was charged with an error by Barry the Scorekeeper when I lost track of my beer and kicked it over when it was still 2/3 full.  Since to waste good beer is a sin, I’m sure that Martin Luther believed this to be the case, I had to buy another and trust that the Deity would forgive me.

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Roster Moves: No Game, Series or Season in Baseball or Life Goes Without Them

046Norfolk Tides Manager Gary Allenson making a Slight Adjustment to the Outfield with 1 Out in the 9th Inning

Larry: Who’s this? Who are you?
Crash Davis: I’m the player to be named later.

From Bull Durham

Sometimes I feel like the player to be named later.  I am amazed at the changes on a baseball team’s roster during the course of a season.  At the same time being in the military for almost 28 years I have some understanding of them in daily life.  This season with the Norfolk Tides and my place of work at a Major Naval Medical Center has been a perfect example of how no roster survives intact.

Now this is nothing new, as long as there have been baseball teams and militaries there have been personnel changes.  In baseball as in the military there is constant moves of personnel as people are transferred, promoted, demoted, are injured or retire from either the service or the game.  Sometimes roster moves are part of a natural process as an organization decides how it wants to chart its future. Other times they are dictated by a need that occurs that has not been anticipated such as injuries, trades, transfers, retirements or personnel or budget constraints, either expected or unexpected.

In the Minor Leagues the Minor League affiliates exist to supply their Major League organization with young talent, player development, rehabilitation and depth to meet the demands of a long season.  It is similar in the military where support and training organizations exist to meet the needs of the operating forces.  This is true regardless of military branch of service.   When the Major League Team or the operating forces are stretched, experience losses or suffer setbacks it is common for them to draw upon the support and training organizations to fill the holes and meet the needs of the larger organization.

I have watched this close up in two worlds this year both where I work and where I watch the Tides play ball.  At work this has occurred where due to retirements and transfers our department has lost a lot of people who have not yet been replaced, creating a lot of pressure on those who remain, likewise we are tasked with more missions to support the operating forces.  The same is true of the rest of the Medical Center where many physicians, nurses, corpsmen and other sailors have been deployed to meet the demands of the expanding war in Afghanistan while still supporting other worldwide commitments and our own home town mission.  While this is going on other needs have come up in caring for returning warriors, wounded warriors and their families as well as the rest of the military community that depends on us for their primary and specialized medical care.  I have seen more colleagues and friends than I can count be deployed from what is supposedly a pretty safe “non-deploying” shore billet to support the operating forces, Navy, Marines and Joint or NATO.  I have watched the organization adapt to the call ups by moving people around as well as finding people to fill the void, even if they are only on contract.

Our Norfolk Tides began the season with a very solid roster and within two months the big club, the Baltimore Orioles had called up several pitchers as well as the heart of the batting order, Outfielder Nolan Reimold, Catcher Matt Wieters and Infielder Oscar Salazar.  Meanwhile the Tides lost several players to injuries which forced Manager Gary Allenson and the Orioles organization to fins personnel both within and outside of the organization to fill the gaps created by call ups to the big team and injuries.  To do this they brought up players from AA Bowie, moved players down from Baltimore and found and traded for players outside of the Orioles system.  At first the adjustment was difficult but now the new players and those who were left are coming together to keep the team, at least for now in first place in the International League South.   Yet with every move the organization has to decide how to best utilize the players that it has.  In the case of the Tides this comes down to Manager Gary Allenson and his coaches working together with the rest of the Orioles organization.

Even in the midst of a game there are roster changes, sometimes for pitchers, sometimes hitter and sometimes even for running or defense.  Some of the changes are for injuries, or situational based on statistics of what you have empirical evidence to show that one course of action is better than another.  Thus you have relief pitchers and pinch hitters or runners.  No at bat or even pitch is the same, which is like life, nothing remains the same so you must make the adjustments on every play.

At the personal level changes affects everyone in the organization even if their job in the organization does not change.  At the minimum the changes affect the dynamics of the work environment, the chemistry between teams and the concern for friends who have left the organization with whom we have invested significant amounts of time and emotional energy.  Thus when Oscar Salazar was called up by Baltimore it left a huge hole in the team because Salazar was not only a leading contributor on the field but his tremendously positive attitude off the field in energizing the team and working with younger players.  Individual losses while seemingly statistically insignificant can be magnified by the intangibles of what a person brings to the team.  Some who seem to have all the right stuff may not be missed, while others who maybe don’t have the same talent level as others might be more sorely missed.  Since a team depends on the efforts of everyone, especially in baseball where the game is both immensely individual and absolutely interdependent personnel changes must be weighed carefully in the overall mission of the team or organization.  The Tides are fortunate to be with Baltimore as the organization is not only scouting talent for the O’s but their Minor League affiliates.  I met a Baltimore Scout at a Tides game over the weekend who said they were out seeking hitters for Norfolk due to call ups to the O’s and injuries to members of the Tides.  The larger organization, though a work in progress recognizes that its future lies in its Minor League system.  Thus over the past couple of weeks they have picked up Michael Aubrey from the Cleveland organization and Victor Diaz, a former Tides Outfielder when they were in the Mets organization and who later played in New York, Texas and the Houston organization before playing with the Hanwha Eagles in South Korea before being signed by the Orioles and assisted to the Tides.  A good organization not only looks to the situation they are currently facing u to the future.  A bad organization does not plan for the future but only concentrates on the present.  In the case of the Tides we are prospering under Baltimore but suffered for almost 20 years under the Mets, who have continued to neglect and abuse their farm system, especially their AAA affiliates.  The fans in Buffalo despise the relationship.

On the personal level this also means that individuals can be moved around to meet the needs of the organization.  This does not always make players happy be they ball players or military personnel.  There have been times in my career that I did not like what was happening to me in the organization, not so in the Navy but definitely in hte first part of my Army career. Such unhappiness when left unchecked can lead to blow ups.  The movie Bull Durham has a great example where Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner complains about his reassignment from an AAA team back to a single A team.

Crash Davis: You don’t want a ballplayer; you want a stable pony.
Skip: Nah.
Crash Davis: Well, my triple-A contract gets bought out so I can hold some flavor-of-the-month’s dick in the bus leagues, is that it? Well, f— this f—ing game!
[pause]
Crash Davis: I quit, all right? I f—ing quit.
[Crash exits the office and stands in the clubhouse for a minute before sticking his head back through the door]
Crash Davis: Who we play tomorrow?
Skip: Winston-Salem. Batting practice at 11:30.

I cannot say that in my Navy career I have ever felt like Crash Davis,  in fact I have even when doing a lot of “relief” work and been moved around sometimes faster than I wanted to be because I was needed to put out a fire. At the same time I have  always been dealt with well.  I have not been sent back down in the organization, but have been moved up or laterally to do different jobs, like I said often on short notice like the time when two different chaplains were fired and I went from one job to the next and ended up nine or ten weeks at 29 Palms prior to a 7 month deployment in two different battalions. Those were stressful, but not bad and the organization treated me well.  Some people don’t have that experience however and roster moves on short notice can be a source of consternation, anger and discord if not handled well by the team manager or the command.

However I did come into the Navy at a lower rank than I left the Army in 1999 just to get back in the show that was the cost of getting back in the game full time, something I am amazed that I got the chance to do and every grateful to the Navy, my Bishop and the Deity Herself.   In my current billet I love what I do and who I do it with, but the organization will be making some changes as we graduate our current residents, gain new residents, gain and lose other personnel and adjust to meet an ever changing and increasing mission.  While we do this we seek to set the standard of professional competency not only in the Navy but the civilian world.  For me this will involve changes, changes that on one level I resist, but on another level completely understand and agree with as the way to help the organization move forward.  Come September those changes will be made.  I can say that I don’t feel like Crash because this involves things that I have always wanted to do but unless I am adaptable will not be able to do, unless the Deity Herself creates a couple extra days to the week and makes every day a 32 hour day.  Thus I will adjust as will the rest of the organization as we collectively work together to ensure that we are taking care of those that God has given us.

So far as the story goes tonight, the one constant in the season is change, teamwork and adjustment to change. As Sparky Anderson once said “If a team is in a positive frame of mind, it will have a good attitude. If it has a good attitude, it will make a commitment to playing the game right. If it plays the game right, it will win—unless, of course, it doesn’t have enough talent to win, and no manager can make goose-liver pate out of goose feathers, so why worry?”  Thankfully, our leadership seems to be rising to the task and and we have the talent, so why worry?

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, leadership, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, philosophy

Interns and Residents Graduate while New Ones Arrive; Save #500 for Mariano Rivera and I Know Why the North Koreans are So Belligerent…They Don’t Have Baseball!

Well. I got back to work today and I’m glad to be back.  The trip to DC was really nice.  Having duty the first day back well, what can I say?  Tonight has been very busy but not too sporty yet, although I am wondering as the night has a weird feel, which a resident that I have worked with a lot feels too.  Hopefully we are just paranoid.  I wrote this at my dinner break and thankfully I picked relatively uncomplicated things to write about tonight, I had it done by the time the cardiac response pager went off following some meetings and early rounds and patient visits.  It’s about 2300 and I am just now sitting down to finish this prologue.

Today we graduated our Intern Class.  I have gotten to know a good number of these young physicians during the past year during their ICU rotation as well as when I have been on call throughout the house.  It was a privilege to be at the graduation at the invitation of the class leadership as I had been with them on their Dining Out back in April.  To have one more time with them before they go on to residency, the Fleet Marine Force or Sea Billets as General Medical Officers or Surgeons, as well as those selected to become Flight Surgeons or Diving Medical Officers assigned to Special Operations, Diving or EOD units was really nice.  Having spent a lot of time with many on the ICU I see the toll that the internship places on them and their families.  These young physicians have done well and will serve our Sailors and Marines, as well as Soldiers and Airmen and their families well.  Some will remain to complete residencies of various types and lengths, while those who do not initially get a residency will likely be on the front line of caring for our servicemen and women in harm’s way or on medical and humanitarian missions.  Some will end up with the Marines in Iraq or Afghanistan and others serve as the “Doctor” for a ship or Marine battalion often far from any immediate back up or specialty care.  I wish all of them the best.  We have also had residents leave us for new horizons.  Some will be going on to advanced fellowships while others will serve as staff physicians or surgeons throughout the world.   It has been great working with many of them in their final residency year.

While these young physicians are leaving us, we have some who will remain on as residents here or fellowships.  It will be good to continue to work with and get to know them over the coming years.  Now the fun part, we have a butt load of brand new Interns who are reporting to us as well as some Residents from other institutions or coming back from their tours in the Fleet.  I remember my time at civilian teaching hospitals where I served as a chaplain or did my residency.  Pastoral Care Residencies typically start in September or October which takes them out of the cycle that most residents or interns have in the medical community.  I hope that we will eventually have our program lined up so our new residents report the same time the physician internships and residencies begin and for our residents to have more interaction with them.  I think the latter will happen sooner than the first mentioned with things that we are in the process of instituting.  I really believe that the cross pollination of physician and pastoral care residencies will benefit both specialties as they meet at the intersections of healing, life and death, faith and spirituality.  Tonight when I have been greeting every new physician I see and introducing myself to them.  They come from quite a few interesting places and I hope to get to know them all pretty well.

Last night was a great event.  Yankees ace reliever and “closer deluxe” Mariano Rivera notched his 500th save.  He became the second pitcher to achieve this number as he shut down the New York Mets at Citi Park.  To some this may not seem too much of an accomplishment.  After all, the relief pitcher as a specialty and development of pitchers to serve in different relief roles is a relatively new part of baseball, really only going back to the 1970s.  Of course there were relieves before, but they had a limited role as starters often would pitch complete games.  Satchel Paige was an exception when he came to the Majors from the Negro Leagues spending most of his time in a relief role, and there are a few others but the reliever was in many cases a former starter who didn’t have the juice to pitch complete games later in their careers.  Rivera is a special breed even as a reliever.  He is a closer.  This means that when he comes in he is either trying to save the victory or stave off defeat.  He has to come in at a moment’s notice in any park, weather or situation often to deal with the heart of an opponent’s batting order.  He has the 500 saves and a career 2.29 ERA.  In the World Series he has 9 saves and a 1.16 ERA.  It gets better.  In the League Championship Series that he has pitched in he has 10 saves and a 0.97 ERA and in Division Series he has 15 saves and a 0.38 ERA.  Since the playoffs tend to have the better and more competitive teams in them so these are amazing statistics.  In the playoff he has 8 wins and only one loss.  At age 39 he shows no sign of letting up.

What makes a guy like Mariano so special is first that he is nearly unhittable and his very presence on the mound gives confidence to the Yankees and sends a message to their opponents.  He will if he has any say in the matter save or win that game even if he comes in early with the bases loaded and no outs in the 8th inning.  Rivera is like a really hot ER or ICU team that has to save a life when the situation is at the worst or if not that bad where it could get sporty.  I have always admired relievers who do the job well having had to go into a number of jobs where my predecessor both as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army or Navy Chaplain was fired.  That is no fun when you have to go pick up the pieces.  Relievers make their living doing this and Rivera has to be the best reliever who has ever lived.  To top it off he is regarded as a nice guy, a leader and one of baseball’s good guys.  And last but not least Mariano was not a “bonus baby.”  He came up as an undrafted free agent.  Some Trevor Hoffman fans may argue this point but the high intensity playoff game record speaks for itself.  Nobody does it better.  Someday Jonathan Papelbon may do so for the Red Sox, but he has many years to go before he hits 500 saves.  He has the advantage of starting his Major League career as a closer and already has as of the end of 2008 114 saves and a 1.84 ERA.  He is the real deal and hopefully will remain healthy.

Finally a closing thought for the night.  I have wondered for some time just why the North Koreans can be so bellicose and ill tempered.  They are threatening to incinerate us and upset that we have moved missile interceptors to Hawaii, like hello, Hawaii is 4000 miles away from North Korea.  Needless to say the whole bunch of nations in the neighborhood is not real happy with the Dictator named Kim. The Japanese are upping their readiness, the South Koreans sending folks to the border and talking of pre-emption and even the Chicoms and Russians are not real happy.  Some sources are even saying the Nutty North Koreans may launch and ICBM in our general direction around the 4th of July.  That would not be cool.

So like I said, I was wondering about what makes the North Koreans so ill tempered.  It finally came to me last week at Harbor Park when watching the Tides play the Pawtucket Red Sox.  There were scouts from the Korean Professional Baseball league in the stands as well as Japanese scouts and American scouts.  Then it hit me.  Baseball is big in South Korea and they are getting pretty darned good in international competition.  They are so good in fact that they have won the Olympic Gold Medal and finished second in the World Baseball Classic.  In contrast the North Koreans don’t have baseball.  If they had baseball they would be able to work off all that unhealthy stress and hatred, the Yin and Yang would come back into balance.  What if Kim Jung Il had played little league and high school ball?  Who knows he might be a manager in the Korean Leagues taking out all that anger on the umpires when they make a bad call or executing his closers when they fail.  The South Koreans have been blessed by the Deity Herself with Baseball and I do believe that this has to be the difference.  Even Communist Cuba is nowhere near as nutty as North Korea and this too I attribute to Baseball and Fidel having played ball himself.   Maybe we should instead of negotiators send Baseball players, scouts and instructors to North Korea?  It just might work. Look what McDonald’s and Coke did to the former Soviet Union….

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Foreign Policy, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, philosophy

Everybody has a Pitch Count…Good Managers Know When You’ve Reached It

Everybody has a pitch count, be they a baseball pitcher or a military, police or critical care health provider.  At some point one can push themselves so hard that they can injure themselves or if not that start making mental mistakes that cost games for a pitcher or lives to people in military, public safety or critical care medicine.  In baseball managers have to make sure that their pitchers don’t wear themselves down.  It is very easy for a pitcher, especially a hard thrower to wear out early from overuse causing injury.  At times hard throwers, or for that matter any pitcher can over pitch.  They can try to do too much.  At first this may not be noticeable, maybe they lose a little bit off of their fastball or their curve ball may not be as sharp.  The pitcher may shake it off and tell his coaches and trainers that nothing is wrong.  They do this for a couple of reasons.  First, they are competitors; they want to do the job that they have to do.  Second, they don’t want to admit that something is wrong with them be it a possible physical injury or maybe even a mental issue which is keeping them from getting good control of their pitches.  Of course the physical wear and tear on pitcher is brutal.  The physical punishment of throwing a baseball 80-100 mph on the arm, especially the elbow and shoulder is brutal.   The amount of torque applied to these joints is severe.  If a pitcher is using incorrect technique or has thrown too many pitches the effects can be devastating to his career.

While I am not a pitcher, when I played I was a utility infielder and catcher, I do think that everyone has something to learn about life and work from managers, pitchers and knowing when a pitcher is suffering from overuse injuries or has lost his physical or mental edge.  The manager has to know when the pitcher has reached his pitch count and when it is time to pull him even if the pitcher wants to stay in the game.  The same is true with anyone who serves in military, police or intensive medical professions such as EMS, Emergency Rooms and Intensive Care units. This became apparent to me over the past year and a quarter since I returned from Iraq.  I am now 49 years old. I stay in pretty good shape and physically can still outperform many younger people in such things as push-ups, sit-ups and running.  I pretty much know my physical limitations especially coming back from Iraq with some physical and emotional scars.  I work in ICUs and if my life as a chaplain was limited to simply doing that work on the floor I could do it forever.  I thrive in the environment and actually am more at ease on an ICU or in an ER than I am on general patient floors or doing administrative tasks.  However, those are also part of my life.  So I have to achieve a balance.  I am usually pretty good at knowing when it is time to tell my manager, in this case our director of pastoral care that I am not doing well.  Yet, sometimes even when I know I’m not doing well I won’t stop.  I will push myself to the point of physical and emotional collapse.  I hit this point last week following a month of family illness, end of life planning for my dad, a medical emergency with Judy and several very demanding weeks at work where I put in a huge amount of hours because the job had to get done.  I hate to leave something undone or have to leave something for someone else to do.  I don’t like to be taken out of a game.  My first Navy tour after 17 ½ years in the Army I was my Division Chaplain’s relief pitcher.  I ended up taking several battalions because their chaplains either got in trouble or were pulled for another assignment.  Likewise I was given the task of working with young guys who had run into some kind of trouble to see if they could be salvaged.

A good manager has to recognize when his pitcher is having problems before he gets in trouble.  Until the advent of relief pitchers that were primarily relief pitchers and not washed up former starters, they generally pitched deep into a game.  As such many racked up huge numbers of wins, strike outs and complete games.  In fact most of the top ten are guys that pitched when it was almost unheard of to bring in a reliever.  Thus there are men like Cy Young who won 511 games, Walter Johnson with 473 wins and Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Matthewson who won 373 each.  Young played 22 years and had a record of 511 wins and 316 losses.  He pitched 7356 innings. He played in 906 games, started 815 games and had 749 complete games.  No wonder the award for best pitcher is named after him.  Cardinals Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson started 482 games and completed 255 of them. In 1969 he won 20 games, 13 of which were shut outs. Gibson once reportedly said:  “I used to get tired in the seventh inning too. And the manager would come to the mound and ask me if I wanted to come out. Then I would look over at the bullpen and see who was warming up. Then I would say, ‘No, I’m going to stay in.”

As baseball moved forward teams began to have more depth on their pitching staffs. Rotations were developed where pitchers pitched every 4th game, and frequently in our era every 5th game.  Additionally since the 1970s the specialist relief pitcher has become a key part of the game.  While there were relievers prior to that, the relief pitcher as a specialist did not really get off the ground until Rollie Fingers of the Oakland A’s won salary arbitration against A’s owner Charlie Finely. At that point pitchers who could come into a game on no notice in certain situations became more and more a trend.  Now it is standard for a team to have long, middle and short relief specialist as well as “Closers.”

In a sense while some people may not like it, it is not a bad thing for the game.  One only has to look at how many pitchers had abbreviated careers o of overuse injuries including Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean who are both in the Hall of Fame.  If you look you can find others. This was especially true before the advent of “Tommy John surgery” when pitchers with a torn rotator cuff faced the end of their careers. As such teams became much more aware of how many pitches a starting pitcher and even relievers should throw in a game.  The pitch count was developed.  For a healthy starting pitcher in the middle of a season this is usually around 100 pitches.  Relief pitcher counts will vary.  While pitch counts are not necessarily the Gospel, there is a point in every pitcher’s career where he hits his own pitch count limit, be it in a game or a career. As Whitey Ford said:  “Sooner or later the arm goes bad. It has to…Sooner or later you have to start pitching in pain.”

So you may be asking what does something arcane like the mechanics, kinetics and injuries have to do with life.  As you know the Deity Herself speaks to me through baseball.   This has application to those in high stress jobs where they are called on to put their lives on the line for others or deal with danger, death or tragedy in an environment where just one mistake can be fatal or where a word, gesture or throw away comment can harm someone else.  The managers, supervisors or commanders of people who do such work have to be cognizant of the effects of this on their people.

I am luck, the Deity Herself has surrounded me with a number of people who can look at me and tell me to sit down even when I want to continue to keep pushing.  Last Friday was one of those days.  It was the culminating point of a nearly a month of personal and professional stress, lack of sleep and the lingering effects of my PTSD and chronic pain which flare up when I have exceeded my personal pitch count.  My boss was away last week.  However we remained in communication.  I was scheduled for weekend duty, which for me I remain in house because I am not able for the most part to meet the response time for a emergency call.  When my boss came back he must have checked in with several folks who k now me to see how they thought I was doing.  Friday afternoon after I got home I got a call from the acting department head who told me to stay at home that my boss was going to pull my duty for me.  I really needed this.  However, I told him that I still could come in if needed and was told to stay home and take care of myself.

With a manager like that I will be able to keep playing my game longer.  I may have occasional rough outings but I will do fine.  The lesson is that everybody has their own personal “pitch count” even if they do not throw a baseball.  Like my favorite theologian Harry Callahan says: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

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Filed under Baseball, ER's and Trauma, healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD