In Defense Of Dan O'Brien
I visit Redszone almost everyday - have done so for years - but I very seldom post anymore unless I feel strongly about something that merits an significant investment of time and energy. Today I'd like to address our perception of Dan O'Brien. It seems as though most posters have a distinctly negative disposition towards him; the bitter tonal seeds were planted in spring training when he was labeled by many as being too inactive. The comments I read from Redzone posters are not unlike the calls I hear on 700WLW when Tracy Jones and Andy Furman are on air. Not many people seem to like our new GM too much. No doubt the scrutiny is intensifying right now as O'Brien faces his first July 31st trading deadline as the Reds' GM. But before I really address the perception of O'Brien, let's put things into a miniature historical perspective:
It's cliche to say that Rome wasn't built in a day, but it makes the point nonetheless, and I think this cliche really surmises the tragic flaw of the Bowden era. He wanted to build his empire too quickly. That is precisely why he fired a rookie manager 44 games into the season. That is why he signed aged pitchers and coveted the infamous five-tool outfielders who seemed to represent the quickest, most reliable route to glory. Perhaps that is why Bowden was infatuated with Deion Sanders; Bowden wanted the bricks of his empire to go up at Prime-Time speed. Lastly, that is precisely why Jim Bowden let a promising team crumble away so that he could, supposedly in his defining moment of glory, bring Ken Griffey Jr. home from Disneyland.
History has shown that Jim Bowden was no Alexander the Great. Of course, it's really unfair to compare the two because afterall Alexander the Great had a larger operating budget than Bowden, plus Alexander had people training his infantry years before he rose to power, which Bowden did not. I could go on. You get the point.
But in the end I think Bowden's greatest legacy to the Cincinnati Reds was that he provided his successor an effective non-example. Dan O'Brien doesn't have to look real hard to learn from Bowden's mistakes, which is why O'Brien's plan is the exact antithesis of Bowden's plan. The Bowden plan: Talk a good game, buy sexy players, and hope for the best. The O'Brien plan: develop a plan that your organization can commit to, build around pitching and defense, and "stay the course," as current President Bush would say. The O'Brien plan isn't going to come to fruition overnight. Why? Because right now he is evaluating, assessing, and forming opinions. Does that really take a whole season? Yes. If you were one of those who cried outrage when Bowden fired Tony Perez after 44 games - and most of us did cry - then you have some sense of where I'm coming from. 44 games is not nearly enough time to evaluate a manager, right?!!? ESPECIALLY a rookie manager. A few weeks ago O'Brien took some heat for not offering Miley a contract extension based upon his performance after...you guessed it, just a little bit more than 44 games. I guess Miley is learning from Bowden's example. Not ONLY did Bowden fire Perez after 44 games, but he also gave Bob Boone a contract extension in 2002 because the team was still in contention in late July. A little more serious evaluation and assessment just might have saved Bowden's job in the long run.
For many people, O'Brien's head was already on a stake before the Reds even broke spring training camp because all he did was trade Chris Reitsma without ever acquiring any major-league-ready talent. (At least not the kind of talent that didn't get hurt shoveling snow.) And it's probably a lot of the same people who are criticizing O'Brien now because, in all probability, he's not going to make any significant upgrades to this year's team. This year's team, though it may be fun at times, is not the team that you bank on. This isn't the team that's chilling wine for October. This isn't the team that's keeping the Westin ballroom or Fountain Square reserved for a special team reception in November. This year's team isn't that good. That's the reality of it.
If the recent road trip didn't make that point clear to you, you probably quit reading this post a long time ago anyway. But I'll tell you something. Due to the surprising nature of this team's performance thus far, I would sure hate to be Dan O'Brien right now. I really would.
This next month is really going to test O'Brien's mettle. This next month will tell us how effectively he can commit to his plan. This next month will tell us whether he's going to cave into fan sentiment, or if he's going to stand his
ground and "stay the course" because he trusts the professional opinions of his staff. This next month may well tell us how Dan O'Brien defines the future of this ballclub, and which players are part of his definition. I would sure hate to feel the pressure he must be feeling as the first-year GM of a team and a city whose pride has been suffering from open wounds for over ten years.
So to those of you who have already decided you dislike O'Brien I ask you: what is that decision based upon? Has he been irrational, unclear, or whimsical thus far? I argue that we cannot even begin to assess him until we wake up on August 1st. And even then it may be premature. I give him until the GM meetings next winter. Until then, I'll say this for Dan O'Brien: I appreciate his professionalism, his temperament, and his tendancy to avoid sexy soundbytes that stir up the locals. It's a welcomed change from the previous administration. His quiet nature has restored a little decent respect to the organization, and that's a good thing when you consider what Cincinnati has endured in the recent past. I would hope others might share this sentiment with me.
"It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come out, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”
-A. Barlett Giamatti