- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Matt Williams thought he was doing the right thing. He was doing what Buck Showalter, one of his mentors, had done before him.

He believed he was presenting a picture of calm and composure when he would come out, day after day, and give the public no sense of the anger and frustration it felt about his team.

General manager Mike Rizzo pointed that out a conference call with reporters on Monday, explaining why he fired Williams as manager of the Washington Nationals.

“I think Matt had a steadiness to him, a calmness to him,” Rizzo said.
He thought that was his job — to say everything was fine, even when it wasn’t, to protect his players when the decisions he made that seemed to be inexplicable were sometimes because of the failure or shortcomings of the player, not the manager.

But that’s not the job anymore. Showalter — and believe me, by no means am I comparing Williams to Showalter as a baseball manager — has come to understand that in now his fourth managing job, with the Baltimore Orioles.

You’ve got to give them more, and by them I mean, as Gracchus said in “Gladiator” — “the mob.” You’ve got to be a performer as well as a manager. You don’t have to be Jon Stewart up there, but you can’t underestimate the power of the mob.

Rizzo said “communication in the clubhouse, communication within the coaching staff, is vital” for a new manager.

He had better add to that communication with “the mob” — the fans.

No one in sports is presented to the public more than a baseball manager. Maybe as many as 200 times a year, if one includes spring training, the manager is on camera for all to see, explaining what went right and what went wrong twice a day, before and after every game.

It’s not like it was less than a generation ago, when the manager would sit in his office, do a quick hit of a few questions in front of the camera and then chat with reporters, giving them the perspective they may need on what really went right and what really went wrong. The trust for that is gone.

Now they parade you on a stage in pre- and post-game press conferences, like the Nationals do with their manager, and you better have more to say other than, “We’ll get them tomorrow.” If you don’t — and your team fails you, like this Nationals team — then they will tear you up and leave you a shell of yourself.

This job is not just about the players anymore. It’s about the mob as well, and if you don’t give it what it wants, it will mock and ridicule you on Twitter, Facebook, Vine and every other social media platform that serves as a weapon. And, it is ridicule — not criticism. We’ve long forgotten the difference between the two.

Whoever it is the Nationals hire to replace Williams, he better be prepared to perform, because that is part of the job. The worse your team is, the better performer you will have to be.

I look at some of the candidates being named out there — some of whom I know — and I already feel sorry for them.

Randy Knorr is as good a man as you will find in baseball, and I believe would be an excellent manager, but if his team fails him, I cringe at the attacks that will come. He will be mocked and ridiculed, like Matt Williams was — like Terry Collins often was before the New York Mets’ turnaround, like Don Mattingly — Donnie Baseball — has been during nearly all of his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers there.

Cal Ripken Jr.? One of the few icons left in baseball. I think if you were to take a risk on anyone without experience, Ripken would be the best. He understands the game from the minor leagues to the World Series and has a deep understanding of pitching. That is what made him such a great shortstop.

But if he comes to Washington and this team fails to meet expectations once more, the mob will revel in tearing down the icon. He will have to stand before it twice a day and explain what went wrong to the mob’s satisfaction, or else risk the embarrassment of being booed in a press conference like the punks who bravely did that to Williams behind the safety of the glass in the President’s Club this season.

Maybe, as part of the Nationals’ manager interview process, Rizzo should parade the candidates before the mob, and ask for a thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s what the job has become, live or die — and Williams died a slow death this season.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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