I don't regularly cover the Orioles, so I can't honestly say whether or not Dave Trembley is a good major league manager.
Nor can I tell you whether or not he'll still be managing this team next week, although I think we can probably agree that, barring more games like Tuesday night's comeback win against the Royals, it doesn't look promising.
What I can say with reasonable certainty is that, no matter what happens in the next few weeks, Trembley has handled a difficult situation with class. And in an emotionally charged sports climate, that's an increasingly rare thing.
I was thinking about Trembley Monday night when I saw the highlights of the Florida Marlins game where Hanley Ramirez booted a ball into left field, and then jogged after it as if he barely cared when he got there, a lazy display of sportsmanship if there ever was one. Ramirez, who is easily one of the best young players in the game, acted like a spoiled child when manager Fredi Gonzalez yanked him from the game, and in the clubhouse afterward, he told reporters that he didn't care what Gonzalez thought because Gonzalez "never played in the big leagues."
Gonzalez's response?"He's right, but I know how to play this game," he said.
Trembley too never played in the big leagues. He's one of only eight managers to not play professionally at any level, and I've always wondered if today's modern player ever tried to throw that back in his face. It's a unique snippet of baseball culture, when you think about it. No one in the NFL gives a damn that Bill Belichick didn't play college football, but baseball is such a cliquish game, it doesn't surprise me at all that Ramirez went there with Gonzalez instead of being accountable for himself.
Delicately, I asked Trembley what he thought about the incident concerned that he might think I was trying to provoke him, or imply that the players in the clubhouse didn't respect him. That wasn't my intent, but when a manager is fighting for his job, every question can feel like you're being cross examined.
But calmly and warmly, Trembley responded with, literally, a seven-minute answer that wasn't so much about Gonzalez and Ramirez as it was his philosophy about leadership, and the way baseball and sports have changed in the last 20 years. He even recommended I read a book about Chuck Daly, former Detroit Pistons coach, and the way he dealt with the frustrations and challenges of being a leader.
"I find it rather interesting that when someone does something that's not very responsible, that instead of taking responsibility for their own actions, they call out maybe some of the biographical things of someone else," Trembley said. "To me, that's rather cheap. But hey, that's just the way society is these days. It's a very passionate game and things are said. That's why I've always tried to have the 24-hour thing. Go home and think about it and if you have a problem the next day, come in and let's talk about it."
Think about this for a second: Trembley dreamed his entire adult life about getting a chance to manage a major league baseball team, and now that he'd had his chance, can we honestly say he was ever given a realistic chance to succeed? The right players to compete? He hasn't always made the right moves. I don't think even he would argue that he has. But even if he was perfect, would it have mattered? At the very least, Trembley would have needed a magic wand to give this team a consistent chance to win, night after night. I can't fault him for not being Dumbledore from Harry Potter.
And yet, with his lifelong dream hanging by a thread, have you seen Trembley call out his players for some of their boneheaded mistakes? Has he pointed to scapegoats, even when they were obvious? Nope.
"I think it's unfortunate that that kind of stuff gets put out there and gets put in headlines," Trembley said. "Most guys that I know do what I've tried to do in the last month here or six weeks, try to take the high road and not call out players."
Gonzalez is a friend of Trembley's, and their situation is hardly unique. Jim Leyland didn't play in the major leagues either, but it's hard to imagine a player popping off and calling him out like that. Because Leyland would probably challenge him to a fight, because he's as old school as they come. And though Trembley seems to long for that previous era, he's not the kind of manager who would react that way. Maybe it's his teaching background, but he seems to understand as frustrated and emotional as you might be in the moment, turning the other cheek is just as important.
"The game has changed," Trembley said. "You know why the game has changed? Because the people that are in it. I admire our guys. I admire every one of them. Because for the most part, with the exception of a handful, maybe two or three, they've all been stand-up guys. In situations that have not been pleasant. You know what I mean? And that's why it's so darn tough."
It's obvious this season hasn't been pleasant for Orioles fans. Even though the club has more young talent, both in the major leagues and in the minor leagues, than it did five years ago, it's not enough talent to consistently win baseball games. Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa probably couldn't turn this team into a winner, so I'm not sure why we think Trembley should.
Still, you can see the losses in Trembley's face, adding up, and adding years. This is killing him as much as killing any fan, yet he knows he has to be composed and calm, even when the second-guessing begins.
"Everyone is just as tired of asking me the questions as I'm tired of answering them," Trembley said. "What new spin can we put on it? But we all have to be decent about it because you have a job and I have a job. I understand that I'm required to come in here and talk to you all. But let's be honest. I'd rather talk about it when we win."
The fact that Trembley is a classy guy doesn't mean he's necessarily the right guy for this organization. But I don't think that means he's the wrong guy either. You may not have noticed, but in the last 24 games, the Orioles are 12-12. Not great, but not embarrassing either. To blame the team's lack of early success entirely on him would be ridiculous, especially considering their brutal schedule.
Trembley's done his best to not look for scapegoats. The sad reality of it is, he himself might end up being one.
-- Kevin Van Valkenburg