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Savran: When all else fails, blame McClendon

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Taxes too high? Bank account too low? Find yourself in debt? Can't find weapons of mass destruction? Too much rain? Not enough? Hate your job? Can't find one? Looking for someone to blame? Why waste time looking for several different whipping boys? Consolidate!

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Just find one slag heap and dump all your troubles on it. Or him, as the case may be.

Unload on the man responsible for all evils ... from a lousy lawn to a losing record. Step right this way, ladies and germs, and meet your one-stop dumping ground ... Lloyd McClendon.

To some fans, the Pirates' manager is solely responsible for everything from Mad Cow's disease to Aramis Ramirez's puny production. Fire the manager, and all the dark clouds will be blown away. Blue skies and pennant heaven on the horizon.

Naturally, I totally disagree, (as any clear-thinking person should).

I'm not convinced McClendon is the man to direct this team as it continues it's sporadic climb toward some measure of respectability.

But he certainly hasn't demonstrated that he's not.

Presumably, that's partly what this season is all about.

But I don't get annoyed by those who disagree with me about McClendon. What's annoying is this kind of shallow, superficial, knee-jerk analysis that leads the great unwashed to believe that all it will take is a new manager to lead this franchise out of the desert. (By the way, it should be noted that Joe Torre had a losing pedigree at several outposts before falling into George Steinbrenner's vault.)

It always strikes me as odd that the same people who complain constantly about player's salaries are unwilling to blame those same players when they fail to perform.

If it's much easier to fire the manager than all the players, apparently the same applies when it comes to affixing blame. One target fits all.

In a 162-game season, a manager makes 10,000 decisions, and we're not going to like all of them, maybe not even most of them. But his job is to put the players available into the best position to succeed.

If he brings in one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball -- with a track record to support that designation -- and he can't find the plate or repeatedly gives up big hits in crucial situations, situations in which he's excelled in the past, is the manager to blame for that?

Or when the closer is called upon, a man who led the league in saves last year, and gives up a hit that loses a lead and a game, should McClendon get raked over the coals for that?

I guarantee neither Scott Sauerbeck nor Mike Williams thinks so.

All the manager did was put the right guy in the right situation for the right result. After that, all he can do is sit back and watch and hope. Just like the rest of us.

People complain about the shuffling of lineups. I'd like to see him stay with a hot hand, if ever there is one. But in general, if you had a batting order that produced as little as this one, what would you do?

You say you'd bench Ramirez? For whom, Rob Mackowiak or Abraham Nunez?

Also keep in mind that the Pirates have three 35-year-old outfielders (Kenny Lofton, Matt Stairs and Reggie Sanders), and they cannot and must not play every day. They've got to be used judiciously.

Plus, you can't expect bench players to produce unless you get them some at-bats. You've got to sprinkle them in the lineup wisely so you don't send out a Class AAA team, although given Nashville's record, maybe that's not such a bad idea.

Primarily because of the recent dramatic failures of what was supposed to be a reliable bullpen, fans now contend McClendon doesn't know how to handle his pitching staff.

How then do you explain the generally excellent performance of the starters? Are they not members of the pitching staff as well?

Or, as I suspect, is this an issue of "When the Pirates win, the manager plays no part. When they lose, it's all his fault?"

That, of course, is not only unfair, it's completely illogical. And patently ridiculous.

Upset about this team's performance? Put most of the blame where it belongs: on the players.

You can save some for McClendon, because if the team has a problem, he's a part of it. Just not all of it.

Do you honestly believe he's the only problem this team has? Or even the biggest?

Ultimately, of course, if the problems persist, he'll get all the blame, and the blade of the executioner's axe.

That's the way it is.

Then there will be a new guy to blame for those problems. And the rising cost of natural gas, as well.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show, weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. on WBGG-AM (970).

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