Ask Gary: Would the worst record doom Cash?

by Gary Shelton on July 9, 2016 · 2 comments

in general

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Saturday, 6 a.m.

Will the Rays finish with the worst record in baseball and if they do, is manager Cash gone?

Howard Powders

I think it depends on how he gets there. I know that sounds odd, because losing more games than anyone -- and the Rays should be close to Minnesota or Atlanta -- is enough for fans to call for the manager's head in most cities.

I think if the team is playing hard but losing games because of design flaws, well, that's one thing. If players aren't giving enough of an effort, and that's been questioned, it would be tougher to keep him.

I thought Cash made a major mistake this week when he pulled Steven Souza from the game for not hustling. It was a very open punishment -- a public flogging -- but afterward, Cash wanted to keep it a secret. You can't have it both ways. If you make a public move, you talk about the message you sent and why. If you want to keep it private, you do it in your office after the game. This game isn't played in secret. It's an open game, and fans have a right to know what messages a manager is sending.

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Remember, though, the Rays aren't a manager-firing bunch by nature. When they took over, they replaced Lou Piniella because Piniella made too much salary on a team that wasn't making any. They hired Joe Maddon, who left when he had a chance to get paid. Then they hired Cash. I think they'll try as hard as they can to keep him. He'll be retained beyond most managers.

Still, losing the most games of any team would put any manager in jeopardy, wouldn't it?

Ok, so once I was at a funeral of a friend, and was standing near her casket with the now-widowed husband. Without thinking, I asked, "So, how's the wife?" My question is, what is the worst question you ever asked someone you were interviewing?

Cecil DeBald

I'm sure I've buried a thousand painful memories of bad questions. I know Don Shula busted me once because I asked three questions in a row asking if he was "sold'' on running back Lorenzo Hampton. Shula hated it when you put words in his mouth, and I was guilty. Shula would teach you how to phrase a question, though. He'd jump you if you were a hair off.

One good question I asked, though, came on a day when owner Joe Robbie came to camp. A couple of times as he was talking, he said "at the end of the season, Shula will deal with the players and I'll deal with Shula." That hit me wrong. What is an owner going to do. Bench the head coach? Make him run laps. So I asked "Are you talking about not bringing Shula back." Robbie stammered no, that Shula was safe, and the world went on.

But Shula was angry that I had even asked the question. He called me into his office and yelled at me. "I should be above those questions," he said. "Maybe you should," I said. "But Robbie isn't. He's done some weird things." And Shula got even angrier. The guy has a gift for anger.

Another question: I was talking to Tony Dungy after a game. The defense hadn't played well, and I had been on their backs about it. So they play great, and I asked Dungy about it. He said that the negative comments had driven them.

"I should get a game ball," I said.

"You got some votes," he said.

The question I regret the  most, though, is one I didn't ask. When I was young, I was interviewing a prison inmate named Joe Lingo who was averaging about 40 points a game in the prison league. I didn't ask enough questions, hard enough, about his crime. I just let him get by with saying "I'm a different guy now." But the guy had murdered several people, and I let him off easy. It was a lesson I learned, but it came with the embarrassment of having to explain it to the survivors of the victims.

For the most part, I always took pride in my questions. John Lynch told me once I was hard but fair, and I thought that was the best compliment a writer could ever hear. When a bunch of us were interviewing former Olympian Chris Witty about the sexual abuse of her childhood, I asked a few questions. A woman writer I barely knew approached me after and told me thought I asked wonderful questions.

I've been around a lot of silly questions, though. I was there when someone asked Javon Kearse about a large cross he was wearing. "What's the significance of that?" "Well," I wanted him to say, "About 2,000 years ago, there was this dude in Bethlehem..." I was there when someone allegedly asked Doug Williams how long he had been a black quarterback. It didn't happen quite that way. The question was "Obviously, you've been a black quarterback your whole life. When did it start to matter." Not even Doug remembers it that way.

Looking back, how have sports fans changed since you started covering sports?

Cecil DeBald

I think the volume has been turned up on them. I think fans love their teams just as much, and they cheer just as loud. But I think they're less tolerant of losing. Maybe that's because of rising prices, but I think it's because of social media. A fan feels entitled, more than ever, about their opinions.

That always struck me perfectly legitimate l if your opinion is the left fielder isn't playing well. It isn't accurate when you're trying to compare your scouting report on a guy you saw on TV three times vs. the professionals. Now, if you want to track a scout's career record and say, for instance, he misses too often on wide receivers, that's fair. But let's go beyond thinking our opinion carries more weight than the pro scouts.  As a writer, I tried to ask only about what I knew. If receivers were running open in the secondary, I wrote that it was a problem.  But I didn't try to evaluate their coverage techniques. To me, the fan should have a similar approach.

Another difference with the fans is this. We used to want to be the performer. The centerfielder. The quarterback. The goalkeeper. These days, however, we seem to want to be the coach or the general manager. I don't know if that's because of the glut of fantasy leagues. But that's why the drafts are so popular. Lightning fans would much rather be Steve Yzerman than, say, Nikita Kucherov.

Why do you think Phil Mickelson never achieved what he might have on the PGA tour?

Cecil DeBald

Cecil, you have high expectations, don't you? You're talking about a guy who has won 42 tournaments and five majors. He's won three of the four majors, and he's been second in the U.S. Open six times. He's won $66 million in his career and a reported $295 million in endorsements.

But I know what you think. There has been a feeling of disappointment his entire career. I think it stems from his head-to-head record against Tiger Woods during Tiger's dominant years. Most of the tour seemed to shrink at Tiger's presence in those days, and Phil was the guy we noticed more. It seemed he wanted to make a great shot in those days instead of win a tournament.

Mickelson will be remembered as having a fine career. Still, he's tied for 14th with five majors won. With his game, it's fair to suggest that should be a few more.

So what can you tell us about the Okie by way of Maryland, Mike Sherman, who will be the Times new sports editor come August? Is there a press box story you can share, since it seems obvious that you and he must have crossed paths somewhere during your careers? Neil Brown says the hiring, "..presents an opportunity to bolster the connection with sports readers..". Will that mean long time St Pete Times sports junkies will get our favorite sports columnist back to go along with the Trib guy we have now? That's all I'm asking!

Richard Wade

Richard, I don't know Mike. That's not unusual. Most sports staffs these days are divided between the writers and the inside guys. Mike's job, I would imagine, will be the day-to-day operations. He'll make sure he has a sidebar guy at the Lightning. He'll be sure the Rowdies are covered. He'll plan, say, Thursday for the big college feature.

I don't know how a sports editor really "bolsters a connection" with readers except by producing a top-notch product day after day. Maybe a few more blogs. A few more videos. But the guy you're going to be pleased, or angry, with is probably the columnist.

I'll say this. A columnist at his old paper was unlikely to know former sports editor Jack Sheppard, too. It's just two different worlds, two different jobs.

I haven't heard a word from the guys who run the Times. It seems they have moved on.

 What do you think the Rays should do this season to turn things around?  I live minutes from the stadium. I want the Rays to stay and think that people and companies should be more supportive.  But they are unwatchable.   I won't go to any games and I have stopped watching until they do something to show that they get it. Sternberg needs to have a come to Jesus meeting or something.  Too many people are thinking that they want attendance to crater.   Get pissed, Stu. I am all for patience but fans want to enjoy themselves.  Give us something to hang our hopes on.

Jim Willson
Jim, what can they do? There isn't a switch they can turn on. They have problems with their starting pitching, with their defense, with their hitting. It's a team built on faulty construction. If you and I owned the team, what could we do in July?
Now, I have to chuckle. I don't think Jewish men have "come to Jesus meetings." I know you didn't mean anything by it.
How in the world can you suggest they want attendance to crater. It's been in a crater for years. They were never going to trade for one of the best players in baseball. The farm system is a little better, but their best players still need time. If I'd criticize anything, I think they went too far away from run prevention in the name of more slugging, and that hasn't helped.
This team would be better if it still had Pearce and Kiermaier. With KK, they'd certainly be more athletic. As it is, they don't run very well, do they?
After all the big moves, will you be more or less excited for the new NBA season?
Jim Willson
I'll certainly want to see just how well Kevin Durant will mesh with the Warriors. The Knicks kind of interest me, but I don't think they'll be great. I didn't think the Magic was as good as they could have been, but I'll keep half an eye open to see if the team can finally make the playoffs.
A lot of average players made a lot of big money in the NBA this off-season. I think the way it shakes out will be interesting. I'll be interested to see if Billy Donovan can keep the Thunder  winning, for instance.
Here's one of my concerns. One of the big questions about the NBA is the effort during the regular season. Does making so many players multi-millionaires help that?
Don't you think it's time to admit that the Rays pretty much stink when it comes to evaluating, developing, and/or utilizing players? Especially the role players. Sean Rodriguez, Kelly Johnson, Jaso, Vogt, Navarro, even Matt Joyce is hitting .300! These players all seem to thrive in a different system or environment compared to the lugs brought in to replace them. And let's not even talk about super reliever Wade Davis and blossoming star Wil Myers. I think it may be time for an overhaul in the front office.
Barry McDowell
Barry, I'll certainly admit it. The team has drafted poorly ever since it was successful enough to get away from the top two picks. It has rarely developed hitters. Pitchers are more regular, but there hasn't been a lot of greatness. There is no speed. There is no athleticism.
Here's what I get from the players you mentioned. They are role players. That's because those are the top guys the Rays develop. In the first batch of players you mentioned, is there one you thought the Rays were dead wrong in getting rid of? Tell me: Who is the last genuine star who came out of the Rays' minor leagues? Kevin Kiermaier? He was a 32nd-round draft pick, which is like find a million-dollar bill lying on the ground.
So, yeah, I think it's completely fair to include the front office in your evaluations. The Rays have missed on too many high draft picks. Every team misses on a bunch, but a team -- especially one run like the Rays -- has to keep its farm system going. I've criticized the Rays a lot for their drafting in recent years. They need to pick, or develop, more great players, especially more hitters. They're historically weak at that.
To be fair, I think you could find any franchise and find role players who got away. Role players are nomads in today's game. They go from franchise to franchise, and they play in certain matchups, and the numbers make them look better than they are. My problem is that there isn't a time that Desmond Jennings walks to the plate, and I don't wish it was Joyce instead.
I wonder if the team was just dead wrong about Myers, either in trading for him or trading him away. It seems the Rays paid too much and got too little, you know? It's like overpaying for a car and then selling it for nothing. Neither transaction reflects the true price.
So, yeah. If it's fair to evaluate the shortstop, and it's fair to discuss the manager, of course it's fair to discuss the scouts and the front office. My problem isn't a few role players. My problem, this year, is the sacrifice of run prevention in return for a few more home runs. It hasn't been worth it.
Do you believe that the outcome of the MLB All-Star game should determine home field advantage for the World Series?
Scott Myers
Of course not. I know baseball was trying to juice attention to the all-star game when it did that, but why dilute the games that mean the most for a game that means nothing? In an all-star game, the manager is trying desperately to get most of his players into the game. So the guy who is the selection from the Twins getting a hit off the guy who is the selection from the Braves is going to have anything to do with the World Series? That's silly.
I'd much rather reward a team with the best winning percentage for the regular season. At least that team has something to do with the World Series, not an exhibition game that was played months before.

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