Fear made Francona do it ... but of what?

October, 15, 2009
10/15/09
2:22
PM ET
Yes, it now seems crazy to walk the bases loaded to face Vladimir Guerrero. And yes, the move seemed particularly odd, coming as it did from the manager of the most sabermetrically oriented team in the history of ever. So why did Terry Francona do it? We already know that his explanations make little sense. Well, MGL thinks he knows (with maybe a bit of hyperbole tucked in somewhere). Money quote:
    Despite what they say, managers are all about trying to look like they had a hand in their team winning and avoiding looking like a goat as much as possible. I’m sorry to say it, but that is the way it is.

    I am being a little hyperbolic, but I truly believe that to be the case to some extent. That is why some managers bunt so often. If they don’t bunt, and the batter makes out, which will happen 70% of the time, they get criticized for not bunting. If they call for the bunt and the batter is not successful (which is why the bunt is often not correct - because the batter is not going to be successful enough), it is because the batter screwed up. Bunting is the perfect risk-averse strategy from the standpoint of the manager looking bad.

    And of course it all boils down to ignorance and upper-level management. If you educate your manager and demand and reward him for doing the correct things, regardless of the outcome, he will be more likely to do so (do the correct thing). If you don’t, then his actions will be largely governed by what is standard human nature - a fear of looking bad and a desire to be perceived as a hero rather than a goat.

I can't claim to know more about human nature than the estimable MGL but I do think he's missing something here. Yes, it's true that nobody wants to look bad and everyone wants to be a hero. There's a deeper human impulse, though: the desire for control. Terry Francona is a baseball manager, and his job for nine innings almost every night for six or seven months is to control, to the limited degree that he can, what happens within those white lines. He's got a professional obligation to control those events and he's got that basic human impulse to control the world around him; to avoid that desperate feeling of helplessness with which we're all only too familiar.

Mickey is right: managers can be educated and incentivized away from making foolish moves, and in fact that's happening at this very moment. Today's managers, I'm virtually certain, make fewer foolish moves than ever before. But I suspect that managers will always do foolish things, and it's not because they're afraid of looking bad. More than that, it's the fear of something much deeper and far scarier: merely awaiting one's fate.

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