Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Softball, Wakamatsu and the blame game

I was in an amateur slo-pitch softball tournament in Revelstoke, B.C. over the weekend, and it brought some interesting ideas to my mind. For one thing, I left a lot of skin behind on the diamonds diving for fly balls in the outfield and sliding into the bases. As a result, I've got some rather painfully bunged-up knees and elbows. Conventional sports logic would suggest that it's hardly woth it to take that pain for so little gain; this was a rather unimportant tournament in the grand scheme of things. Yet, there was no question about it at the time; you do what you need to play hard and win, regardless of the stakes or the level competition. At the same time, though, it was refreshing to be participating in a sport that was just for fun.

The most interesting element of the tournament was that there wasn't a lot of blame passed around, though. Yes, people on every team screwed up, but the focus was on encouragement and getting it right the next time rather than assigning blame and finding scapegoats. That marked a refreshing change from the world of professional sports, where so much of the analysis focuses on who did what wrong.

I think elements of that approach could perhaps benefit professional sports, though. Yes, there's a need to identify past mistakes, but it seems often that changes are made not to better prepare a team for the future but as punishment for their past failures. One example that happened yesterday was the Seattle Mariners' decision to fire manager Don Wakamatsu; as Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times wrote, the move seemed to be more about finding a scapegoat for the team's disappointing season than any belief that Wakamatsu wasn't the best manager going forward. Last year, he demonstrated a great ability to work with and develop players; this year, he received remarkably little support from head office and was saddled with an inferior lineup sure to cause problems, including a rebellious Eric Byrnes and a almost-useless Ken Griffey Jr. who refused to admit his declining skills. As Joe Posnanski wrote, many people (including me) bought into the Mariners in the off season, creating artificially high expectations that probably weren't realistic. When the team failed to live up to those, a scapegoat was sought and Wakamatsu was chosen.

In contrast, a pair of CFL teams have made smarter personnel decisions that have looked at the future as well as assigning blame for the past. The Edmonton Eskimos recently fired general manager Danny Maciocia after the team's first victory of the season. There was an element of blame for past failures there, but also a recognition that Maciocia might not be the best person to move the team forward; their issues clearly were at least partly due to their personnel, and had been for several years. The B.C. Lions also have looked to the future thus far, electing to keep head coach and general manager Wally Buono despite the team's 1-5 start. It's a rare unsuccessful year for Buono, and his team's been close in almost every game. The Lions do have issues, but they have plenty of talented players and their future could be very bright. So far, they've wisely focused on what's best for that future rather than assigning blame for the past, and that's good to see. If only the Mariners had followed suit, their future might look brighter than it does right now.

Find all the best pubs for the next match at YellowPages.ca.

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