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Character counts

"Character counts" Continued...

Issue: "History speaks," April 1, 2006

What should a general manager look for? According to Mr. Smoltz, he should see whether a player loves baseball (so that he's willing to work hard at it) and has successfully "gone through trials and tribulations, because that's how we improve." The most useful stats, he says, are those that show how a player performs in clutch situations: "I want gamers, guys who will lay it all on the line under pressure. I want to know whether a player is too high-strung, too wired-up, or whether he is calm under pressure."

Overall stats can be deceiving, Mr. Smoltz said, because "a guy may be impressive in relaxed situations, only to choke when you really need him."

Team-spiritedness is also important, but impressions based on image can be wrong: "Players sometimes get negative because they're trapped in a bad situation. Sometimes they learn from that experience and change. . . . You need to stay away from the troublemakers, but don't assume that a guy who's had trouble will always be a problem. . . . You've got to fight the easy judgments and push your scouts to go the extra mile."

The other advice he has for baseball teams is to be patient with personnel, from the top down-and here the Dodgers and the Braves have been utterly different in recent years. The Dodgers change general managers and philosophies; the Braves since the 1991 season have had one general manager, John Schuerholz, whose approach combines statistical and personal research. Since that year the Dodgers have had six managers, the Braves one, Bobby Cox, an eight-time Manager of the Year, according to The Sporting News.

Mr. Smoltz says Braves success-a record 14 consecutive division championships-owes much to that duo. (Of course, winning makes the regular rehiring of both men a no-brainer for Braves ownership.) Consistency and patience contribute to victory: "So many people in this game panic easily. They push a guy off a building if he's in a slump. Bobby pays attention to the numbers but doesn't swear by them. He tries to look inside a person and bring out what's there."

All of that sounds like not only a prescription for general managers but a set of principles for managing generally: Use stats but not stats only; examine hearts and not just arms and legs; judge but don't be judgmental; look for gamers who love the game and have learned from it. And, in examining both players and politicians, be skeptical about "a guy who brags a lot," as Mr. Smoltz notes, for players "who have lots of words often don't match that with their deeds."

Yakyu news

Japan, baseball, and Peter Moylan won. A Cuban manager and a Japanese teacher lost.

On March 20 Japan defeated Cuba 10-6 in the championship game of the first World Baseball Classic and earned naming rights until the next WBC: The sport should no longer be called baseball or beisbol, but yakyu, the Japanese word for baseball (literally, "field ball").

Yakyu players increased their international prestige by triumphing in a 16-nation tournament that included U.S., Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rican teams packed with major leaguers. Baseball itself gained in its guerrilla war against soccer, as games televised to multiple continents gained big audiences. And Peter Moylan, a 27-year-old pharmaceutical salesman from Australia, threw so well in the WBC that the Atlanta Braves signed him to a contract.

But pity Higinio Velez, the Cuban manager forced to explain to 1950s pitcher Fidel Castro why he yanked starting hurler Ormari Romero after only 23 pitches in the first inning. Sure, Mr. Romero gave up a walk and two infield singles while retiring only one batter, but the next pitcher did worse. Mr. Velez felt that he could not wait any longer, yet Cubans have waited during 47 years of Communist rule for life to improve.

Mr. Castro has never apologized, but a Japanese teacher did after watching a WBC game on a classroom television while students were taking a test. Some students complained that they could not concentrate, particularly when other students yelled out, "Hit the ball!"

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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