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May 30, 2008 at 9:30 AM

Remembering Guillen

Interesting to see what’s going on with Jose Guillen in Kansas City, where he dropped an F-bomb laden tirade two nights ago after the Royals had lost their 10th game in a row. Guillen stepped up and ripped his teammates, calling them out for not playing hard enough. And the teammates appear to agree with him. Either that, or they’re afraid to disagree.
Guillen says the main reason he went public is he was tired of folks bashing manager Trey Hillman.
“Too many babies in here,” Guillen said in the clubhouse during his tirade. “They don’t know how to play the game and how to win the game. That’s the problem here. Now I know why this organization has been losing for a while. Now I know…It’s not the manager. Things are going to change here, I can tell you that. I promise you that. Soon.”
Guillen hinted at similar stuff with the Mariners throughout last season. By season’s end, he was hoping to stick around and finish what had been started with the 88-win campaign.
Now, let’s be clear. Guillen is no saint, as the KC Star story mentions. He showed up to Royals camp 20 pounds overweight and appears to have dogged it down to first base on routine grounders at times. But he is at least calling things for what they are.
And no, a manager can’t always sit there and force players at gunpoint to play hard. There are certain things a manager can do, like shuffle lineups around and sit players who don’t run out ground balls. But if an entire team is playing at a level slightly beneath where it needs to be, you can’t bench all 25 guys.
Let’s look at the Mariners. I happen to think the level of play they’ve shown as a team, overall, has lifted dramatically the last four days. John McLaren disagrees, saying the players were “playing hard” during the series sweep in Detroit last week.
I respectfully disagree with him to a point.
I do believe McLaren is right in that the hitters were still trying to generate offense each inning, even while the deficit kept growing bigger as opposing hitters went to town on his pitching. But I did not see the defense I’ve been seeing from the M’s the past four days. All season long, I’ve seen too many gloves waved at ground balls. Too many diving attempts at balls that somehow managed to go underneath the diving body — meaning the effort was poorly-timed.
All of a sudden now, the balls are winding up in gloves. The pitchers are suddenly going six innings and more, keeping the team in it all night.

McLaren is right. When a team is behind 11-1 by the fifth inning, as it was one night during the last road trip, it’s tough for any team to look competitive. No offense is going to come back from such a deficit, so to expect human beings to stay motivated at that point is a bit much. But there were also some games when it was 2-1 or 3-1 before the blowout began and the M’s did what they’ve done all season. Stranded runners in scoring position with less than two out.
So, was that a lack of execution? A lack of focus? Or both?
Playing hard often means maintaining your focus at the highest level at all times in a game.
When you’re focused on getting to a ground ball, they tend to end up in the glove. You don’t see the pro forma approach of waving that glove as the ball bounces into the outfield. Ichiro nearly killed himself going for that fly ball the other night. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a Mariners position player injured for an on-field effort.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think a team has to injure itself on the field to show that it is playing hard. No one wants to see Ichiro break his shoulder, jaw or legs crashing into the wall.
But I like what I’ve seen from this team in all facets of the game — offense, defense and pitching — the past four nights. Still not enough runs offensively. But the hits the M’s have gotten have tended to be more important ones. I don’t care about scoring six runs when you lose 12-6. Scoring once in a 1-0 game impresses me more.
This team has played to win the last four games. Prior to that, it was playing well enough to lose. The hitters may not have given up in the face of 9-2 deficits, but the team as a whole was not doing enough to win games.
That’s what I believe Jose Guillen is talking about in Kansas City. Guillen standing up and calling it for what it is, the way he did on a team he’s only been part of for two months, is more of what GM Bill Bavasi was talking about last weekend in regards to his own clubhouse. I’m sure Bavasi could do without all the public F-bombs. But he wanted players to let teammates know, in their own way, that what was taking place on the field was unacceptable.
Does Bavasi regret letting Guillen go? Not for the $36 million it would have cost to keep him, no. But for what he brought this team, I’m sure he does. And that .816 OPS he put up last year — while modest for a right fielder — would be leading this team at the moment.



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