My old friend and colleague Nate Bennett has a column in Business Week. His latest entry is about the challenges of baseball managers on teams that really have little hope of winning the World Series. The trick is to get the most out of each player while not losing your credibility about the team’s chances. If you succeed your team just might contend. Think Joe Madden and the Rays.
Jim Leyland of my Tigers has a different problem. He is expected to win. In fact his team is expected to dominate. When it doesn’t, like for most of last season, people want his head. Expectations are even higher this year: he is expect to win the Wold Series. Nothing less will do.
The problem is the Tigers don’t have a closer. Guys on teams need clearly defined roles. If you bat first or second in the order, your job is to get on base: hit, walk, hit by pitch..doesn’t matter. Just get on base. If you bat three through six, you need to drive people in. If you bat seven through nine, a hit would be nice but you are on the team to get the other team out. Starting pitchers need to go five innings and give up less than four runs. Middle relief specialists get specific types of hitters out.
Then there is the closer. His job is to get the last three outs when everyone else has already done their job. The team is ahead. You take the mound and if you do your job, the team wins. If you don’t, everyone is disappointed with you. And if you do disappoint, your job is to forget about it, go out the next day and pitch like you never ever get beat. The ninth inning is yours…act like you own it.
The problem is that Jim Leyland doesn’t have this guy. He knows it and the team knows it. He has lots of good pitchers who can get people out, but none that have had to own the ninth inning. So guys will have to play multiple roles. That is hard to do.
Some say you don’t need this, that you can close by committee. It can be one guys job today and another tomorrow. That is a bit like saying
The people who work for you need to know that you can close. That when they have done all that they can to set you up for success and you take the mound that you will be lights out. Frankly they deserve this and if they believe that they can depend on you to close, they will work tirelessly for you. If they doubt you, or you doubt you, you will not get their A game.
That’s why Jim Leyland needs a closer. Every team does.