I want to go beyond the Seal training, Stark's e-mail and step back and look at the broader picture as I see it, based on my own conclusions from what I have heard and seen, as well as what I have read here and elsewhere. I think the majority agree that based on smoked's excellent, well-described and enlightening discussion, as well as individual knowledge in the cases of others who have experienced them, that there isn't any serious doubt that there is real value to be found in such exercises, as long as they are administered by people who know what they are doing, and how to integrate them into an overall philosophy for training ballplayers in their craft and building their individual and collective character.
We don’t have anywhere close to enough empirical evidence about how well or poorly they are teaching people to play baseball, or how to relate to each other for that matter. The major league roster is so varied in its origins as to make impossible an evaluation of Stark's team on that basis alone. I’ve seen four minor league games, and in those there was the usual mix of great, good, bad and ugly. I am even persuaded that the pecking on tablets and standing around I saw amounts to nothing in the scheme of things. So, after distilling it all, listening, reading and thinking as hard as I can, here is where I come out.
There seems to be some deep division in the organization involving at least a few dozen people, and perhaps more. In many cases, there is deep, visceral hostility. Who is right and who is wrong (or even if anybody is right or wrong) probably isn’t capable of discernment any time soon. Much of where you stand seems to be a product of your opinion of the individuals involved. In some cases that opinion is a product of one’s view of the personality in question (Stark, who has acolytes and people who wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire to put it out). In others, it is opinion about performance (Smith, who doesn’t seem to be as personally polarizing). In yet others, it is both (Coonelly and Huntingon, who have their adherents and detractors on all grounds).
Now, what do we make of all of this? Well, the major league team conned folks yet again, and then proved (yet again) that Wilbur’s non-existential explanation was the correct one: not enough good ballplayers. But all the while the team was doing well, the roiling in the organization continued over draft choices, over development philosophies, over personality conflicts. When the team went under the second time, the anti-Coonelly, Huntington, Stark and Smith forces (I view them as overlapping factions, some focused on one person, others two or all) began talking in earnest to reporters, to their friends and to others in baseball. The tower of Babble kicked into high gear when Nutting’s public displeasure seemingly gave license for people to spill their guts, and lo the guts began spilling.
Stark's e-mail reinforced an impression that he is immature, and he managed to trivialize a serious process on which lives depend, going so far as to proclaim that it is a great day to die. I have seen people soon after they have been killed by gunfire. There is no more horrific sight to be experienced. This is the language of a person who is a not yet formed adult, and who is temperamentslly unsuited to managing investments worth tens of millions of dollars. I'm certain he would have been fired already were it not for the likelihood that he is going in a package deal on October 4th. In this age of rapid reaction and little reflection, he managed to give ammunition to those who were more than happy to turn his e-mail into the main act in a farce. He learned the hard lesson that many in authority learn sooner later: if you know that it will cause cringes if it appears in public, don't write it. One might argue he had no reason to expect that it would be seen outside, but if he believed that, he probably should not have been promoted for that reason alone.
Stark isn't all good or all bad. He just isn't mature enough to manage a lot of people and expensive baseball players. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we will admit that all involved have good ideas, and if they could play well together and extract best practices from all of their experiences, the collective would be better off. That didn’t happen, and this is now a classic zero-sum game. Huntington, Stark and Smith are fighting for their jobs, and they likely will lose. The irony here, at least for me, is the one whose actual job performance is the most difficult to acccurately critique, Stark, is the one taking the hardest hit. That is in part because he appears to be the most polarizing personality. Greg Smith, who has more for which to answer, has received comparitively less criticism. Huntington can’t escape, because he is titularly in charge of both.
Then we have the invisible man. Now, knowing Frank for some time from having been in the same law firm and having mutual friends, as well as in his present incarnation, I have concluded that the DUI and then the internal battles led him to disappear, in the hope that he’d be left standing when his people are fired. If they are fired, we’ll know a lot about how this went down and what will happen next by watching who makes the announcement and what he says at that time.
As is the case with the overwhelming majority of corporate knife-fights, this is more about personalities than substance. The epitaph for this management team will be that they restocked the farm system and started the long road toward rebuilding. And that they could not complete the job because their successes could not overcome their mistakes when their personalities and management deficiencies resulted in the making of one enemy too many. Perhaps Stark should have done a team building exercise for management instead of the players. They appear, in the end, to have been more in need of it than even the players.
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