Tag Archives: Leafs

Second-Guessing Managers and General Managers

About a week ago, 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, the NHL free agency period recently opened. 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.

Colleges Switching Conferences: Markets in Sports

A few weeks ago, 7 teams in the Big East conference voted to remove their men’s basketball teams from the conference. That’s a lot of teams to leave a conference at one time! Truth be told, I’m not an “avid” fan of college basketball, but I do like to catch some games every now and then and like most people, I always keep an eye on March Madness.

When I first heard the news of this happening, the first thing that came to mind: economics.

I never had an economics professor tell me, ‘it’s simply economics!’ but I certainly imagined one telling me this right along with this piece of news. How is it economics? Well, it’s all about markets. Markets? Yes, markets!

In hearing about this, I suspect that the seven teams that voted to leave the conference were noticing all the other teams that were leaving their conferences (in different sports). Many of those teams were moving conferences because of the possibility of more money. There are certain teams that play in certain markets (think: Big Ten) that are able to make a great deal of money for the networks that carry their games (is there any other conference that has its own TV channel?) This is probably why Nebraska joined the Big Ten and probably why Maryland and Rutgers will be joining in 2014.

So, as 7 of the teams that helped to make up the Big East conference in basketball watched as teams like Nebraska, Boise State, and Rutgers moved conferences, I’m sure that this helped to “light a fire” in motivating the teams in the Big East to consider a move.

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All that being said, I’m certainly sympathetic to those fans who hate to see these kinds of moves happen. Why? Rivalries are bound to die. In fact, I remember a time when this idea of a team switching conferences ended (or severely hampered!) one of the most famous rivalries in the sport! The Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Detroit Red Wings.

The Leafs were moved to the Eastern Conference in 1998 and when that happened, the number of times the Leafs and Red Wings played diminished — a lot. I remember being crushed as a kid because Leafs/Red Wings games were a delight to see. Of course, there’s talk of realignment now, which might see the Red Wings/Leafs back in the same conference (or division)!

In looking back at the history, the Leafs did quite a bit of moving around in the 1990s. This was, in part, because the NHL was going through a great deal of change. In fact, with the switch to Eastern and Western Conferences, the Leafs/Red Wings were relegated to the Western Conference, initially, with the understanding that they would (both!) eventually get moved to the Eastern Conference. This change happened in 1993 and five years later, the Leafs did get moved to the East. Although, The Red Wings remain in the Western Conference.

I don’t know if the moving around of teams in college sports is a perfect comparison to those teams being moved around in the NHL, but with rivalries likely to be greatly diminished, I can certainly empathize.