While we watch Tampa Bay slice up the Red Sox (and check the box scores of the Phillies/Dodgers games), the only thing doing on the Royals front, other than the signing of Kevin Seitzer which I think everyone would agree is excellent news, is sort of a funny blog post Joe Posnanski put up about Trey Hillman the other day. It’s entertaining to me because Poz ripped Hillman for not being a leader and for losing the clubhouse during that dreadful stretch back in August. Then, in a season wrap-up interview with WHB radio, Dayton Moore—clearly ticked off about that article—said he found it sensationalistic, hinting that it damaged Joe’s credibility as a writer. A week or so later, Moore did an interview with Posnanski and talked candidly about his offseason plans. I have to say I was scratching my head over that one; after the WHB interview I thought Moore wouldn’t be going anywhere near Posnanski for a while. I can only guess that Poz called him up and said “Look, I’m sorry about the article, we were in the middle of a losing streak, everyone was frustrated, I had to write some explanation for why the Royals were losing, and I got some quotes from players to the effect that Hillman was losing the clubhouse.” Moore accepted the apology and then gave him the interview.
A week or so later, Posnanski publishes a piece on his blog about Hillman being totally insecure with himself. Hilarious.
So here’s a word on Posnanski’s take on Hillman: Let me start this off in the classic Poz style by saying I really like the guy (met him once and thought he was great) and I absolutely love a lot of his writing. BUT, I think he’s exaggerating and maybe just looking for a story where maybe there isn’t one. Poz starts out the blog entry by praising Hillman up and down. Now, every time you read a Poz article that starts off by praising someone, you know what’s coming: “HOWEVER...” (I think there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of praise Poz starts off with and the depth of the ‘however’ clause that follows).
This is not to jump to the defense of Hillman. I’d say that on the whole, readers of this blog among others pretty much agree Hillman’s managing skills are suspect, what with how he tends to ignore lefty/righty splits when he uses his bullpen, attempting to steal with Ross Gload, his bizarre intentional walk decisions, giving so many at-bats to Tony Pena, etc, etc. Criticizing his decisions is one thing. Posnanski though—despite his opening disclaimer that he likes Hillman—cuts the guy down pretty good by going after his manhood. In Posnanski’s eyes, Hillman is a faker. Is there really anything worse than being called a fake? Than somebody saying you’re not genuine? That you’re trying too hard to convince people that you belong, trying too hard to impress people? That’s the ultimate insecure loser, right? The guy you invite to poker night and he keeps trying to impress everyone at the table by throwing out the lingo when in fact he has no idea what he’s doing. The guy who moves to Kansas City and immediately buys a shiny red Chiefs jacket even though he’s never followed the team in his life. If you think about it, that’s a pretty harsh (and personal) critique, somehow made worse by the praise that precedes it.
Now, Hillman might be the guy that Posnanski described (but if he is, does Poz think he can somehow change him by pointing it out? Sort of snapping his fingers at Hillman, ‘hey buddy, snap out of it.’ And then, what, Hillman wakes up, becomes himself again and sends Poz a thank you letter...). Hillman definitely did seem defensive at times this year, heck pretty much ALL the time this year. Quick question: when was the last time you saw a baseball manager who was managing a terribly disappointing team—and that’s what the Royals were this year, despite their fun little September, a really disappointing team—who wasn’t defensive? Maybe a guy who’s been successful for a long time in MLB, like a Joe Torre or a Bobby Cox. Most guys, and especially most first year guys, are defensive unless they’re winning. If you only win, what, seven games in August, you’re probably not letting reporters into your office to chat. (Let’s be honest here, Joe was ticked that Hillman wasn’t letting reporters in, both literally and figuratively. He can’t stand Bill Belichik for the same reason). Poz pretty much lambasted Hillman for his generic answers in a Q and A session with fans on the KC Royals website. Okay, umm, first of all, when was the last time a manager this side of Earl Weaver said anything interesting in a Q and A session? Secondly, when was the last time the KC Royals website published anything that wasn’t totally bland? The site exists as the public face of the team, during some of the most historically awful losing streaks of all time, the site has posted articles with headlines like “Dejesus On a Tear!” KCRoyals.com might as well be the official site for Obama or McCain—we’re talking oatmeal without sugar. On top of that, Moore refuses to reveal any clue as to what the Royals’ plans are for the offseason, not which players they’re pursuing nor what they’re planning internally, absolutely nothing (I was shocked that he gave Joe a few hints at the end of the season). Moore has probably communicated this sentiment to Hillman, probably made it a bylaw in the Royals’ organization: we will never tip our hand. Responses to reporters (and fans, in this case) will be polite and vanilla. And reporters, of course, do not like this, it gives them less writing material. Reporters, in fact, resent being cut out of the loop very much, which I suspect was the motivation for Joe’s Hillman post.
I guess my point is this: when a team is winning, the manager’s great. And when a team is losing, the manager stinks. Writers often try to make this sound like cutting insight; “the real reason the Royals are struggling is that the manager is no good.” And Joe Madden, of course, is the whole reason the Rays are winning. And that’s fine, that’s what writers do, and who knows, maybe the reasons for the Royals’ struggle and the Rays’ surge really does have something to do with the managers.
Joe’s psycholanalysis of Hillman just seems based on a lot of conjecture, and I’m not sure how far playing armchair psychologist gets you anyway.