So the gloves are off, the truth is out, and now we’re finally getting somewhere.
Jeff Luhnow is a sleazeball, an underhanded scoundrel, a veritable rapscallion. Finally, after months and months of speculation and conjecture, the rumors, muttering and grapevine hearsay has finally been documented in the end-all Evan Drellich piece last week.
Look, I’m not here to defend or sanction Luhnow. Virtually everyone agrees that the Astros have taken a road less traveled (okay, much less traveled) to rebuild one of the worst organizations in baseball from top to bottom. Drastic action was necessary. A radical blueprint was imperative. Hard decisions were unavoidable.
From the outset, not everyone was going to be happy. Clearly, everyone isn’t. But, then again, we haven’t heard from anyone significant yet. No, an anonymous source, a pitcher who was disgruntled while he was in Houston and a former Astros’ shortstop who really didn’t slam the methodology don’t count for much.
What matters is results. If the team is winning, all of this stuff is secondary and perhaps even goes away.
In fact, radical ideas have come and gone. But some have changed the game. Consider:
- Branch Rickey, who formed what we now know as the minor leagues. Then commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis thought it would ruin the game and sought to put a stop to it.
- Everyone knows the story of Money Ball. Billy Beane focused on sabermetrics to find undervalued players in an effort to build a low-cost, high-reward team. Sound familiar?
- About a decade ago, Lou Piniella became upset with the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays because they were focusing too much on the future (minor leagues) and not spending enough on the major league product. At one point, you may recall, there were rumblings that MLB should do something about the Rays. The Rays stuck with their plan and, it seemed to work out okay.
- Luhnow isn’t the first to try to tie up young players. Remember John Hart with the early 90s’ Indians? Seemed to work well then.
In football, many derided the West Coast Offense when it was introduced. Now, it’s the foundation of the the game. In many of our lifetimes, there was an ABA and an AFL. Eventually, they were swallowed up by the NBA and NFL, but they changed the way we played pro basketball and football.
The fact of the matter is that Luhnow may be out on his keister in a year or two. But it won’t be because his ideas failed. It will be because he refused to adapt and adjust along the way. It will be because he couldn’t communicate the “why” to the “what”. Why is the tandem pitching so important? What are the goals? Where are the success stories? What’s the basis for the premise?
Is the tandem pitching format something that will be copied in other organizations in five years? Will it be tweaked and become hugely successful? In 10 years, will Luhnow be looked at as an innovator and trail blazer or as a failure who couldn’t get his plan from paper to fruition?
Every successful idea goes through transition and some transformation. The key is for the genius behind the idea to adapt and adjust, taking the best parts of the idea, losing the stuff that doesn’t work and mixing the old ideas that work with the new innovations.
He is a fool who believes he can completely blow up hundreds of years of tried and true methods, implement an entirely new system…and still be successful. Those who succeed adapt and adjust, combining new tools with old practices and time-honored traditions. They recognize the necessary foundations to build on and know when to turn to the left or to the right to improve.
To be sure, the jury is still very out on Luhnow. But the test of his success won’t fall on his tandem pitching system, his efforts to lock up young players or his unusual defensive shifts.
Luhnow will rise or fall on his ability to build relationships and explain the “why” of the “what”. From Day 1, the Astros have dissed media and fans. And, apparently, players.
Rules without relationship breeds rebellion. To say that Luhnow is only concerned with the business of baseball is somewhat ludicrous. Every general manager makes decisions based on the dollars and sense of the deal. In fact, isn’t it all about the money for players? Aren’t players themselves encouraged — strongly encouraged — to take the best deal they can get?
Some of the best and most innovative doctors in the country have horrible bedside manner. But, if I was in a critical medical situation, forget the bedside manner, I’d rather have the best and most innovative working on me.
Has Luhnow clearly communicated the goal of the tandem pitching format? To players? To coaches? To fans? Have we heard all sides to the story of trying to lock up George Springer? Is he really keeping Jon Singleton on the farm just to keep him from becoming a Super Two?
And, he’s right in the sense that when the team starts to play better and win, complaints and murmuring will diminish.
Still, Luhnow’s success will rise and fall on a few things other than his blueprint, tandem pitching or managing a payroll. To succeed long term, he will need to:
- Communicate the “why” behind the “what”.
- Adapt and adjust. Be willing to tweak, modify or even discard ideas and methods that don’t work.
- Surround himself with people who “complete” him. That’s what makes a successful team.
- Admit and correct mistakes.
Frankly, there were no real revelations in last week’s article. Most of the things listed as “breaking” have been discussed here and elsewhere for over a year now. But what it has done is draw the line in the sand. It’s somewhat of a wake-up call that should cause Luhnow to reevaluate the direction of the team.
Reevaluate doesn’t necessarily mean change, but it should bring introspection and and openness to counsel. The next six months may tell the tale of the Luhnow Legacy. If he and the Astros can not and do not adapt and adjust, the organization may be staring at 5-6 consecutive 100-loss seasons.