The Indians TV folks began Friday’s telecast telling us about how Terry Francona called a nice little clubhouse chat with the general subject relating to how the team is not performing up to expectations. This is an experiences to which we all can relate.
You come in to work on a Thursday morning and learn that everyone is expected to attend a Friday afternoon meeting with the bosses. No exceptions.
In my experience, no good news comes from these encounters, but there will be news.
In the real world, this is when we learn that your buddy will be laid off and you will be adding his duties to your own. This is when you learn the boss you like will be replaced by the coworker your hate. Following this meeting, the bathroom stall will include a sign saying: The beatings will continue until morale improves.
But without having direct knowledge, I firmly believe Terry Francona is that boss you like. The one you hope will not get fired because of your own shortcomings. He knows lengthy speeches about poor performance will inspire little except more poor performances, often with the top performers having moved on to more pleasant working conditions.
But Francona did have a meeting and we will not learn all of the details. We will see the results, or at least what we think are results.
In this case, the Drone Guy (Trevor Bauer) clipped the wings of the guys once known as Killer Bs. (They do have Carlos Beltran and Alex Bregman, but they do not compare to Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell or even Lance Berkman). The Indians batters, who have demonstrated convincingly that they are limp-wristed when it comes to trying for one-run innings, came through with the commentator-cliché “Crooked Numbers”. (Solo home runs do not count as one-run rallies, in my armchair opinion).
It appears that Francona has learned that different people respond to different kinds of comments and leadership styles. Some will respond well when screamed at, although not many. Far more will resume winning ways when they are pointed in the direction of working together, working hard and keeping positive thoughts. Those who accept losing and retreat to the clubhouse for chicken dinners need to be spoken to in windowless rooms with security at hand. Bring your playbook… no, wait, wrong sport.
It was not a pre-game speech that hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning. That was Mr. Edwin Encarnacion, who is well compensated and well on his way to a disappointing season. With Francona’s guidance, that could and should change. The talented Jason Kipnis did not need to be told to buckle down in order to hit his solo home run in the fifth inning. He just needed to be reassured by his boss that he can buck up and keep on being Jason Kipnis.
Those of us who sit at home and believe we are entitled to judge professional athletes find it easy to psychoanalyze the cutting edge techniques of Bauer. Yelling, cursing and patronizing condemnation would seem to be an option. But adults – and Bauer is an adult whether we think so or not – rarely respond well from being told they are stupid, immature or failing to live up to their reputation. Those of us who have experienced that kind of treatment from the receiving end know these truths. I suspect Francona might have learned that lesson in Cincinnati in 1987 when he compiled a whopping .561 OPS and got shipped off to — wait for it! – Cleveland.
So we know that Francona said something and the Indians immediately beat the team with the best record in the American League, a title to which the Indians aspire, 5-3. As fans, we are all entitled to believe these two events are related. Francona probably knows life, at least his life, is more complicated than that.