This post might meander a bit. I have a lot of disjointed thoughts in my head, most of them tangentially related to each other, but haven’t yet figured out how to make them into one cohesive post. Hopefully, it happens as I write. We’ll see.
Don Wakamatsu says the words belief system so often that it’s become a punchline, but he doesn’t care. He keeps repeating the phrase, using it as an explanation for why he does things the way he does, even those things that appear quite curious on their face. But while this Wakism might not be the verbiage that most people use, he’s really just describing a trait that most good leaders have – confidence.
The man has the courage of his own convictions. When he believes in a player, he goes out of his way to let everyone know that he has confidence in him in an effort to transfer some of his own confidence to the player himself. He carefully protects the minds of the core players on the team, creating an atmosphere where they believe they can fail without being punished. By allowing room for failure, he believes that he is actually cultivating success, and he has a lot of successes he can point to where his belief system in a player has paid off.
This steady brand of leadership is a really good trait to have in a manager. While some react to every perceived problem, tinkering with roles or jerking players around, Wak holds true to what he believes, even if the present results aren’t necessarily a match for what he expected. We’re big process people around here, and constantly talk about not judging players on small sample sizes or results they can’t control. Wak might not use the same words, but his belief system is essentially the same philosophy.
It’s one of the main reasons why I believe he’s one of the better managers in baseball. Steady decision making and the ability to instill confidence in a player can create an environment where players can develop into more than what they’ve been before. We saw that last year with Branyan, Gutierrez, and Aardsma, and may be seeing that now with Kotchman. A manager who can help players improve their talent levels is far more valuable than one who makes the right strategic decisions or uses his bullpen perfectly. Wak’s belief system, as cliche as it may be at this point, is a boon to this franchise.
However, it’s not just enough for a manager to believe in a player – there has to be underlying truth in the belief to begin with. Believing in Gutierrez’s defense, Branyan’s power, or Aardsma’s fastball is one thing, as they all have plus plus tools that are among the best in the game in a particular area. The things that Wak believed in were real, and his beliefs were vindicated by their natural abilities when he gave them a chance to shine.
It’s when he starts believing in things that are not real that the belief system becomes something of a problem. A leader with the courage of his convictions is a double-edged sword, because while he has the ability to stand his ground when the results are not matching the process, so too can he rely too heavily, and for too long, on something that is not able to justify the faith.
His belief system in the ability of Ken Griffey Jr and Mike Sweeney have led to the team placing two bad hitters in the middle of a line-up that is struggling to score runs, while his lack of belief system (to date) in Milton Bradley and Casey Kotchman have left the team with two of their best hitters setting up RBI opportunities for the catchers and Jack Wilson. His belief system in Sean White has led him to put an inferior reliever into high leverage situations while better pitchers sit as leads disappear. And it can be highly frustrating to watch. Believe me, I feel it too.
But if I had to choose between a manager who showed too little patience with good players or too much patience with bad ones, I’d go with the latter every time. And so, while the batting orders can be frustrating and we all sit around and wonder how much longer the team will put up with a DH platoon that can’t hit, keep in mind that this is the downside to a philosophy that brings with it more good than bad.
We can get caught up in the minutia of the day day to aspects of line-up construction, bullpen usage, and things of the like that we miss the big picture. This is why almost every single fan base has a problem with their manager. It’s much easier to focus on the things they do wrong, that we’re confronted with everyday, than those things that they do right, which only get born out over longer periods of time.
Wak does some things that frustrate all of us, but he’s an excellent manager. I have a belief system in the man, and I hope that we don’t take him for granted.