A call to fire McClendon 7-20-05

Sunday, January 28 2007 @ 12:38 am UTC

Contributed by: Staff

By Stephen Zielinski

Taking my cue from Justice Potter Stewartís famous but ultimately futile effort to denote obscenity in court=us&vol=378&invol=184"> Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964),

Itís time.

I believe itís time to fire McClendon even though I am one who claimed that this yearís team might make its 75 win goal; who thought the 2005 team lacked the talent needed to post a winning season without having every member of the 25-man roster enjoying their career year; who strongly suspects the McClatchy partnership will sell the team soon after the 2006 All Star game; and who has long been convinced that the rot which pervades the organization originates in the boardroom and top corporate offices. In short, I believed McClendon to be the least of the major problems the organization confronted. He is a problem, though.

If McClendon can be considered a cause of the mess the team and its fans now confront, and he certainly can be measured as such, I believe he should be identified as the proximate cause, not the first cause of the catastrophe. After all, his hand has been on the till for years. He has made his mark on the franchise. The players follow his lead. Yet, it remains the case that the McClatchy partnership and its officers built the rudderless, leaky ship McClendon pilots. The set the budget constraints and thus priorities for the organization. As such, they own the greater share of the blame we fans might want to give out. McClendon, on the other hand, has only been the most accessible public face of the team, the scapegoat in waiting. He holds just enough power and thus responsibility to make him a plausible scapegoat.

Frustrated with the team and lusting for blood, metaphorically speaking, of course, we fans might ask ourselves what spilling McClendonís would accomplish?

Not much, Iím afraid.

We surely should not delude ourselves by believing the team will begin to win or play to its talent under a new manager. Itís playing to its talent right now and has done so all year. This is not a talented team. Itís not a team likely to win more than 81 games.

Executing the shipís captain because he was unlucky enough to have been given charge of an incapable boat is surely unfair. And by calling for his removal I certainly do not want to create an excuse for Littlefield and the McClatchy partnership. They are full of such. They donít need my help when trying to evade their due. Rather, I want them to be held accountable, and I believe the process of making the organization accountable for its actions and the results it produces needs to begin somewhere. I believe it ought to begin with the appearance of the team on the field, the place where the faults of the organization first manifest themselves in public.

When the majority of the players are performing as expected or failing to perform because of injury, it follows that the blame for their play ought to fall higher on the organizational ladder than the field manager. Winning baseball is mostly a matter of having the talent needed to win. Teams lacking talent do not win. If character and morale are important, and they are, they are not decisive per se. Talent acquisition is, of course, the general managerís responsibility.

But, itís not always and only a matter of talent. It now appears as though this yearís Pirates team has Ďquití on McClendon. By quit I mean that the players seemingly have come to accept the nightly beatings they have received from their less than terrifying opponents, that they no longer have any fight left in their bellies and ammunition in their magazines. Their resignation shows up in their play, their body language and the losses they produce. Itís the managerís responsibility to keep his team mentally prepared to play the game. It remains his responsibility even when the team is undermanned, such as this one is. Morale and esprit de corps ought to be his forte, since a well-written computer program possessing the relevant information would better make most of the tactical decisions which compose a baseball game. If, therefore, when a team looks unprepared to compete and remains so for a significant stretch of time, it should be the field manager who first needs to shoulder the blame for this problem.

So, I believe McClendon must go. However, if his departure is to be meaningful in the larger sense of the word, his firing ought to be the initial step of a complete program of organizational reform. If McClendonís termination were effected without a broader focus and an intention to build a winner for Pirate fans, his demise would amount only to a vain and destructive act, one that might momentarily secure the well-being of his superiors. They would benefit the most and the longest from a McClendon firing which lacked this radical impulse. As the above should have made clear, it is my conviction that itís the McClatchy partnership and the middle managers it employs who bear the greater responsibility and who most need to worry about the wrath of the fans.


Addendum: Mike Prisuta made an argument similar to mine in his íBucs haven't quit under McClendon, but nor are they getting anywhereí, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 22, 2005.