Friday, October 13, 2006

resolution of an impasse

the cubs today added padre skipper bruce bochy to the interview list, joining sweet lou piniella and joltin' joe girardi as a late entry into what had appeared a two-horse race.

while manager speculation has been all the talk of cubdom since dusty baker's release, you can probably tell, dear reader, by the breathless and exhaustive coverage you've here read about it that this all amounts to a sideshow of a sideshow in the eyes of this page. the winning and losing of 2007 and beyond will be done on the field by players, not managers, and it will be a lot more losing than winning without some thorough and magical work out of general manager jim hendry.

however, if we should deign to speculate, piniella was clearly the favorite through yesterday and probably still is. the pages of the tribune, last week singing the praises of girardi, have decidedly changed tune this week -- piniella dominates the pages of the trib spin machine here and here, not to mention the bright one.

and yet, something seems amiss -- why bother to interview bochy?

this writer for one understands the managerial tempest as a defining struggle for power between a lame-duck general manager who somehow survived the axeing of his boss and his manager, and the novice team president who knows lots about selling and little about baseball. john mcdonough, being completed unvetted for the job he has just been handed, is in a political quandary of sorts: he is surely bureaucrat enough, after two decades working for the tribune, to understand that his fief requires definition and consolidation behind the scenes and in public in order to make himself a leader of this organization; and yet, having only slight credibility in baseball operations if any, he is hamstrung to some extent by being reliant on hendry for access to that knowledge. hendry, on the other hand, is in a position of a sort of shaman, a guardian of secret knowledge -- and that gives him leverage over his boss enough to argue forcefully for his way.

this power struggle in the cub front office is being played out in the selection of manager. girardi is a favorite of mcdonough -- young, dynamic, highly marketable chicago roots and straight as an arrow, girardi is a brand manager's low-risk dream. hendry is said instead to be partial to piniella -- tested, durable, fiery and a frequent winner, piniella is seen (for whatever reason, such is the zeitgeist) to be the best-equipped to manage a team to winning sooner rather than later. with hendry nearing the end of his rope following 2006, that is a consideration -- but piniella has made a name for himself in baseball for biting the hand that feeds him. his constant attacks on ownership over his final two years in tampa made him a pariah when ownership changed, the new being unable to countenance a recurrence of the public damage done to the old -- and piniella proceeded to quickly lambaste the new ownership as well. in short, piniella is a brand manager's nightmare.

the outcome between girardi and piniella was to be seen as an outcome between mcdonough and hendry on some level, as so often corporate decisions are the reflections of subcutaneous interpersonal machinations. and the appearance of bochy, in that light, is perhaps the surfacing of an impasse between the president and the general manager -- and a third-way compromise. bochy too has won in san diego, including the 1998 nl pennant and three straight winning years since the institution of cavernous petco park. and his twelve years there have shown him to be a flexible company man -- not nearly so outspoken or dangerous as the loose-cannon piniella. in satisfying the conditions of both parties, bochy immediately becomes a very probable candidate, perhaps even the odds-on favorite.

where that leaves the border war between mcdonough and hendry is uncertain, but it is a face-saving solution for both and demonstrates some capacity to work together if it comes to fruition. but that conflicts will arise between them in the future is all but certain, and the resolutions of those conflicts will drive the fortunes of the team to a much greater degree than is popularly perceived.

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