“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” — President Harry S. Truman
When Carlos Santana opted to not run out a ground ball in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game against the Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta had seen enough. Not only was his team in the midst of one of the worst months in the history of the franchise, but his catcher, already a position which is typically populated by the not-so-fleet of foot, decided to pout on the base paths after swinging at an otherwise wayward pitch.
Acta would remind his team, via the media, that despite losing 26 of their last 31 contests 1 , that he would not expect anything shy of full effort; that his team may be beaten when the nine innings are complete, but they will not appear to be beaten while there is still baseball to be played.
A little over one year ago, while Santana was attempting to evolve on the fly as a professional first baseman, he gave a half-hearted attempt at digging a Lonnie Chisenhall throw out of the dirt for what would have been an inning-ending groundout. The Detroit Tigers, instead, would take advantage of the extended inning by scoring an unearned run. Once the inning came to an end, Santana and All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera had to be separated in the dugout with the veteran attempting to wake up the rookie; it was a Santana error just a few evenings earlier, on a Cabrera throw, which led to three more unearned runs.
Fast forward to the sixth inning of Wednesday night and Cabrera was nowhere to be found as he had been ejected after losing his mind at the plate, arguing balls and strikes during the first inning 2 . Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe, the two championsip-tested veterans added to this otherwise young team, have since been released. Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, the team’s offensive leaders, are both just 25 years of age and have barely played enough professional games of their own to speak as if they were cagey veterans. Chris Perez, the most vocal of the Indians, was roughly 325 feet away with the rest of the bullpen in the team’s dugout.
The Indians aren’t just lacking offensive prowess and timely pitching, they’re lacking the in-house leaders to help keep the poison out of the Wahoo well.
For all of the negative reactions drawn by the front office of the Cleveland Cavaliers for re-signing players like Anthony Parker and not trading the expiring contract of Antawn Jamison, the Wine and Gold, despite losing a lot of games over the course of the last two seasons, never allowed things to spiral out of control from a morale and body language standpoint. The Cavaliers, following a 2010-11 season that featured a historical losing streak, credited their demanding head coach in Byron Scott, but also the veteran leadership that, despite being well past their prime in terms of on-court performance, kept an otherwise young team from getting overly discouraged or even quitting 3 .
The Santana incident is far from the only example to plague the second half of the 2012 Cleveland Indians as it was just a few weeks earlier when, with one out in the ninth inning with runners on base in a winnable game, outfielder Ezekiel Carrera drove a pitch straight into the ground. The catcher would simply take a step forward, pick up the baseball and fire it to second base for the force out. Much to the second baseman’s surprise, Carrera, potentially the quickest player on the Indians’ active roster, was still in the batters box. The ball was relayed over to first base for the third out and yet another Tribe loss.
Jack Hannahan isn’t about to chew out a teammate. Shelley Duncan, perhaps the toughest player to wear the Wahoo red, white and blue this season, has been designated for assignment — both players are unlikely to be in Cleveland next season. Grady Sizemore, for all of his years spent in Cleveland, has never been a great clubhouse orator. It would be tough to find a more frustrated player than right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, making him more in need of leadership than displaying it. While division opponents are trading for veteran leaders like Kevin Youkilis, the Indians added a new age Jamey Carroll in Brent Lillibridge.
And the issues range from the top…
“I don’t know how (to explain the free fall), don’t understand exactly what’s happened — other than we haven’t performed at virtually every level of the game for the last month,” said team CEO Paul Dolan.
“I’ve never been through a month like this anywhere,” said Acta.
…On down the roster…
“I’m just as perplexed as anybody,” said “ace” starting pitcher Justin Masterson.
“There’s no real words that I know to convey just how upset [we are],” echoed reliever Vinnie Pestano. “You can say, ‘We’re a better baseball team than this,’ but we’re not”
“It’s pretty embarrassing,” said reliever Cody Allen.
It’s not just a lack of quality — the two bats and a starting pitcher which Acta was clamoring for in July — that is plaguing this roster, it’s a lack of leaders. One can argue that it’s the manager’s job to lead teams through the marathon that is the major league baseball regular season. One could also add that there are reason that team’s hold player-only meetings when times get dire; it’s where the Derek Jeters and Chipper Jones’ and Jason Veriteks and Jim Thomes of the world add even more value to their respective teams.
Potentially the worse part of the entire debacle, these leader-types do not simply grow on trees; these players are typically successful veterans who may cost more money per season than the wins they will provide — with this leadership premium, these players are not SABR-friendly, if you will. No spreadsheet or statistical algorithm in the world can quantify how much a clubhouse or locker room leader means to a franchise. Sure, a team can get lucky and draft a natural-born leader as the Cavaliers did with point guard Kyrie Irving, a player who will admit that he is an “old soul,” but the game of baseball is decidedly different when it comes to personalities as well as the lag between when a player is drafted and when he makes an impact at the big-league level.
Santana, being placed back into the starting lineup one day after his incident, says that he wants to help his team and will now give 100 percent despite the potential for self-pity. The Indians will have roughly $20 million coming off of their books this off-season, but if they’re going to use any of this to add quality to a roster bereft of such, it will not leave a lot of resources around to address the complete absence of leadership. And as Harry Truman put so eloquently during his presidency, where there is no leadership, society stands still.
Photo: Associated Press/Carlos Osorio
- Since having been extended to 27 of their last 32 contests [back]
- The quickest way to avoid the inevitable, bettered only by doing such on the road [back]
- Baron Davis was, surprisingly, included among those given praise [back]