This past summer, I was watching the Toronto Blue Jays baseball game and there were some questionable decisions made by the manager. (Note: questionable in that they didn’t really make all that much sense to me or another group of fans of the Blue Jays.) Based on the game situation, many viewers of the game who are familiar with the Blue Jays would have anticipated that the manager would have substituted a certain pitcher. However, this didn’t happen. In fact, the manager substituted a player that was completely unexpected.
As someone who wants to see the Blue Jays succeed, it’s flabbergasting when things like this happen. I watched as fans on Twitter were absolutely dumbfounded by the decision. And that one decision *seemingly* affected decisions in the following game. For instance, because some pitchers can’t necessarily pitch on consecutive days, by using one pitcher on Tuesday, he can’t be used on Wednesday. Having played baseball for some time and having a relatively sophisticated understanding of the game (at least when compared to an average fan), I found it hard to determine the reasoning for the decisions made by the manager. Of course, I was assuming that the primary goal was to “win the game.” However, when you consider that this might not always be the only goal, then one can begin to consider different possibilities.
For instance, maybe the general manager (GM) told the manager that he needed to have a certain pitcher showcased in a game because a scout from a different team was going to be in attendance. Or, maybe the GM said that a certain player was about to be called up and another released, so he should use that player in the game. Heck, maybe there are personality issues (or “office politics”) at play that can’t be seen by fans who simply watch the game on TV. Think about the kinds of politics that happen at your office. These kinds of politics are bound to be at play on baseball teams, especially because the personalities might be a bit more extreme (it takes a certain kind of person to become a high-performance athlete). And, sports teams probably spend more time with each other than your typical office does.
My point in all of this is that it can be tough for a fan when a manager makes a move that seems completely counter to what one would think is the primary goal: winning the game.
On a related note, when the NHL free agency period opened this past summer, much to the chagrin of Toronto Maple Leafs‘ fans, the Leafs decided to let go of their best center, Mikhail Grabovski. Statistically speaking, that is, if you use advanced statistics, there’s no question that Grabovski was the best center on the Leafs. However, as has been noted with statistics, one can interpret the data to fit their opinion. Regardless, the decision by the GM of the Leafs, like the decision of the manager of the Blue Jays, left fans dumbfounded. These moves by the Leafs were even more frustrating because they had to do with personnel. With the explosion of fantasy sports, many fans have had the ability to pretend to be GMs. My guess is that because of this, some fans may think that they know better (and have tangential proof?) than the current GM of their favorite team.
All this is to say that when your favorite team does something that seems contra-indicated, consider that there might be something behind the scenes that you can’t know. I know, this will probably be of little comfort, but it might allow you to gain a more nuanced perspective of the business of sports.
This article originally appeared on Jeremiah Stanghini and has been republished with permission.