Manager's toughest call: sitting a slumping star


Manager's toughest call: sitting a slumping star

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Pete Rose sat in the World Series. So did Reggie Jackson, Barry Zito and Paul O'Neill. Tim Lincecum lost his spot in the San Francisco Giants' rotation this October, and Jose Valverde forfeited his role as the Detroit Tigers' closer.

Finessing slumping stars with enormous egos and prodigious paychecks is part of a major league manager's mandate, and sensitive situations can turn radioactive come October.

``It's one of your most difficult things you have to do as a manager, particularly when you're talking to a star player,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, ``and you have to tell him that you're going to go another way as far as the postseason.''

Yankees manager Joe Girardi set off storm when he parked Alex Rodriguez for three playoff games this October and pinch hit for him in three others.

``Any time I'm in any lineup, I think that lineup is better and has a better chance to win,'' said the $275 million man, baseball's highest-paid player. ``Any time I'm in the box, the game can change, and everyone knows that.''

But a string of strikeouts earned A-Rod his own private brig on the bench.

Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner for the Giants, won the Series opener and the Game 5 clincher against Texas two years ago. Dropped as a Series starter this year following a 10-15 regular season, he came out of the bullpen in Game 1 and retired seven straight batters, striking out five.

``A different vantage, a different kind of feeling,'' he said of his `pen appearances this October, ``a whole different experience for me.''

A World Series benching that brought a particularly resentful response came in 1983. Then 42, Rose had started 31 consecutive World Series games before Philadelphia manager Paul Owens banished him against Baltimore ace Jim Palmer in Game 3. Tony Perez, Rose's 41-year-old replacement, went 1 for 4, and the Orioles overcame a two-run deficit for a 3-2 win that gave them a Series lead en route to a five-game victory.

``I'm hurt and embarrassed,'' said Rose, who went on to become baseball's hits king. ``There are 65,000 people in this stadium tonight, and the two most surprised and astounded people are Pete Rose and Tony Perez. I didn't think that's the way baseball should be played.''

Yankees manager Joe Torre removed four-time All-Star Chuck Knoblauch for Games 4 and 5 of the 2001 World Series after an 0 for 12 start, put him back in the lineup for a night and then took him out again for Game 7.

``I'm just fiddling with it to see if we can stimulate some offense here,'' Torre said.

He also sat five-time All-Star Paul O'Neill against Curt Schilling in the opener and O'Neill was joined by two-time All-Star Tino Martinez in the dugout for Game 2 as Torre went with eight right-handed hitters plus Andy Pettitte against Randy Johnson.

Torre's moves didn't work. Johnson pitched a three-hit shutout to give Arizona a 2-0 Series lead. He restored Martinez for Game 6 but not O'Neill, and Arizona won 15-2 to force a Game 7.

``I liked the days when I didn't have to look at the lineup,'' O'Neill said.

In 1981, Reggie Jackson missed the final game of the AL championship series and the first two games of the World Series because of an injured calf. He said he could play in Game 3, but manager Bob Lemon held him out against Los Angeles Dodgers rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela.

``The best left-hander in the National League was pitching against us,'' Lemon said, ``and Reggie hasn't been at bat in quite awhile. It wasn't fair to him, and it wasn't fair to us.''

New York lost 5-4 that night and the Dodgers won the Series in six games. Jackson, in his final year with the Yankees, returned the following night and went 4 for 12 with an RBI over the rest of the Series.

Zito, a Cy Young Award winner with a $126 million contract, was dropped by Bochy from San Francisco's postseason rosters in 2002.

``The way he handled it was so impressive,'' Bochy said. ``I think he threw a bullpen that day and throughout the postseason he kept himself ready in case something happened. He didn't hang his head and he even threw to hitters. He said, `I'll keep myself ready. If you need me, I'll be ready.'''

And the manager maintained Zito's respect.

``He's always communicated,'' the pitcher said. ``Sometimes the truth was not what I wanted to hear, but it was the truth.''

Willie Mays, in the last of his 22 seasons, started the 1973 Series opener for the New York Mets and then entered Game 2 as a pinch runner. He fell down on Deron Johnson's fly ball leading off the ninth as Oakland rallied for two runs that sent the game into extra innings, then hit a tiebreaking single in the 12th. After Mays pinch hit in Game 3, manager Yogi Berra didn't use him in the final four games. And Mays didn't cause a fuss.

``Just because it was my last game, it didn't make any difference to me if I played or not,'' Mays said then.

By then, Mays was 42. Rodriguez, at 37, stills thinks of himself as a power. Girardi's move paid off when Raul Ibanez batted for A-Rod in the ninth inning of Game 3 of this year's division series and hit a tying home run. Ibanez homered again in the 12th to win the game.

``Those were tough moves to make - pinch hitting for a guy that's going to be a Hall of Famer,'' Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. ``But it certainly turned out to be the right thing to do.''

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Report suggests Barack Obama is trying to recruit Masai Ujiri to Wizards

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Report suggests Barack Obama is trying to recruit Masai Ujiri to Wizards

The Wizards are reportedly preparing to make Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri a massive offer to run Washington's NBA franchise. And they may have some big-time help recruiting him to D.C. 

Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, is trying to persuade Ujiri to leave the NBA champions to join the Wizards, according to The Athletic's Ethan Strauss. 

"I hear Barack Obama's a part of that whole Masai recruitment to D.C.," Strauss said on a recent episode of the "Back To Back" podcast. "I've heard Obama wants Masai in D.C. Obama wants to do something with basketball."

Obama and Ujiri are close friends. Obama was in attendance at Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Toronto, while Ujiri attended the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2015 when Obama was in office. 

The Wizards' potential offer for Ujiri is reportedly for six years, $60 million, and could possibly include an ownership stake in Monumental Sports & Entertainment and other responsibilities within the company, sources have told NBC Sports Washington. 

And hey, it doesn't hurt to have the former Commander in Chief making your sales pitch.


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Sekou Doumbouya visits Wizards hoping to sell them on his defense

Sekou Doumbouya visits Wizards hoping to sell them on his defense

WASHINGTON -- The Wizards hosted one of their final prospect workouts in anticipation of the June 20 NBA Draft on Friday, as six players battled in three-on-three drills with every member of Washington's front office and coaching staff in sight. But behind the glass wall of the dining lounge at the Wizards' practice facility at St. Elizabeth's was the player everyone wanted to see.

Sekou Doumbouya, who is projected to land in the lottery on draft night, made a visit to Washington to speak with Wizards personnel. He did not participate in the workout, but through face-to-face interviews gave the Wizards an up-close look at a player who may or may not be on the board when they are on the clock with the ninth overall pick.

Doumbouya is the youngest player in the draft at just 18 years old, with his birthday not until late December. He is originally from Guinea but played professional basketball in France. Given his age and the fact he played in a second-tier league before making the leap to the NBA, Doumbouya holds some mystery as a prospect.

In his meetings with teams, Doumbouya has tried to hammer home one point in particular.

"My defense," he said. "I can play everywhere [because] if you play defense, you can play everywhere in the league."

Defense certainly stands out when it comes to Doumbouya's potential. He is 6-foot-9 with a reported 7-foot-2 wingspan. At his age, he could keep growing. And at that size, he has the mobility to guard multiple positions, force turnovers and maybe even block some shots.

The Wizards need help with just about every area of their defense. They were 27th in defensive rating last season and 29th in points allowed. They couldn't defend the perimeter or the lane, allowing the fourth-highest three-point percentage (37%) and the fifth-most three-point makes (12.1/g), while also allowing more field goals within five feet of the rim than any team (22.1/g) and the third-highest percentage (64.2%) in that range. 

Doumbouya projects as the type of defensive anchor who could help in a variety of ways. He could step out to guard three-point shooters while also clogging lanes to the basket with his length.

The questions for Doumbouya center around how NBA-ready he is at his age and experience, and what his ceiling will ultimately be on the offensive end. Doumbouya, though, believes he can be especially effective in transition.

"Fastbreak," he said when listing his strengths. "I love running [the floor]."

Whether Doumbouya will be available at the ninth pick depends on who you ask. Most mock drafts have him at nine or lower, but his athleticism and versatility could entice a team that picks before the Wizards.

The Hawks, whom Doumbouya met with the day after seeing the Wizards, are a team to watch. They have the eighth, 10th and 17th picks in the first round, so they can afford to take a risk. They could snag Doumbouya at No. 8, then go with a safer pick or two with their other selections.

But there is a very good chance Doumbouya is the best player available when the Wizards get set to make their pick. If he does, defense will be his biggest selling point.