Monday, October 16, 2006

Fair

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Last week, immediately following a dominant performance by the Tigers, we watched Yankees Czar George Steinbrenner wrestle with whether he should fire their manager. We debated with him, recounting Joe Torre’s gaffes (and there were some), evaluating the team’s talent, and remembering his championships. In the end, the Yankees (and I think, most baseball fans) decided that Torre should stay

Yesterday, immediately following a dominant performance by the Tigers, we watched the Athletics Czar Billy Beane fire manager Ken Macha. This time, there was no debate, precious little coverage beforehand, and the reasons were personal. “Success of the year probably didn't have to do with it, but stuff that happened behind the scenes,” said coach Ron Washington.

For a week, we debated the definition of fairness in regard to Torre’s job. Yesterday Beane showed us exactly what fair really was, and it turns out it isn’t pretty. “Fair” is managing a team with $62 million of talent to the second round of the American League playoffs, and getting fired. Fair is managing $200 million of talent that was eliminated a round earlier and getting paid $7 million next year.

Does that sound inconsistent? It’s not. If you’re not seeing the pattern, let me give you a clearer definition: Fair is what your boss thinks of the job you’ve done.

This is a reality that most of us understand from personal experience, and though we might disagree with it in instances, most of us buy into the concept. Our boss evaluates us because they’re as close to our situation as just about anyone. They pay attention, because they have to pay attention. They define fair for us, because someone is defining fair for him or her.

It would be nice if the process was more objective, but it’s rare that most of us have truly objective criteria for our performance. Reaching that standard is usually impossible, and the results are often less than desirable. For instance, we’ll set up tests to objectively evaluate if a teacher is good or not. Then we debate the inevitable effects of those tests, many of which are contrary to a successful education.

Meanwhile, in any given school, ask around who the best and worst teachers are. 80% of all students, parents, administrators and even teachers will agree on the best and worst in each grade. Objective? No. Effective? You decide.

Subjective judgments also often reflect the culture of an organization, which is usually necessary for long-term success. That certainly played a role this week. The Yankees’ decision included balancing their culture of high expectations with the challenges of managing public perception and the media. For the Athletics, Macha suffered from a certain level of isolation from Beane, who is probably more involved with the team than most GMs. “Not to fault either side, but I felt a disconnect on a lot of levels," Beane said.

The dichotomy of the organizations, the process and the outcome highlights a simple truth; we don’t really know these managers. We can watch how they handle a game. We can infer management style from a subset of quotes or anecdotes. This probably adds up to about 15% of the job, if that.

Debating the other 85% can be a lot of fun, but the decision lies where it should. And that’s not a bad definition of fair.

3 comments:

markominne said...

Agree that it's the owner and GM's right to make the personnel decisions, but what kind of decisions they make tells you something about the GM - maybe more than about the manager. In this case, Macha has taken the personnel given him, and consistently gotten them to perform at or above their level of talent. And now he's fired for the effort. Seems like a strong indication of a GM who either doesn't want to admit that he hasn't assembled a world championship roster, or one who is no longer satisfied making the roster decisions, and now wants to make the game decisions as well.

Is that Beane's right? Sure. Is it smart? Usually not, but that remains to be seen here.

JimCrikket said...

I'm a bit slow these days getting around to reading all the blogs I try to follow more regularly during the season, so pardon this somewhat tardy comment.

I personally think your point, TG, is as on-the-money as any I've read concerning these manager changes. Clearly, it is not all about wins and losses and it's not all about whether you make the playoffs. "Performance" takes in a much wider set of issues and, unlike the first comment above, I give Beane some credit for making this decision.

As fans, almost all of what we see about a manager's performance is reflected on the field and in the media. But performance also takes in to account the ability to work with other members of the management "team". I have no idea whether Macha had problems in this area or whether there were other issues that his boss considered him to fall short in.

Making a decision to fire a manager after a successful season can not be easy. Beane knows that his own future could be at risk if he lets a manager go after a successful season and then the team fails to maintain the same (or greater) level of success going forward.

Yet, he made the decision he felt was right for the present and future best interests of the organization. Whether he turns out to be right or wrong, I give him credit for proactively acting on his convictions when the "easy" thing to do would have been to just leave things as they were.

Fran said...

I have difficulty seeing how anyone could see this decision as fair to Macha without a huge stretch of logic.

I think the next A's manager is a fool. It's obvious the boss does not have any respect for the position and he will never be satisified with the results.

Beane comes off as an egomaniac, the Jerry Jones of baseball. I hope he has trouble filling the managerial job. I don't see how anyone with backbone or self-respect could be his field manager.