Since the dawn of baseball, players have been questioning authority and challenging their critics. Ballplayers are highly skilled, highly compensated and often highly strung performers who are accustomed to managing opinions by their performance. So it is not surprising that a pitcher who thinks he can go another inning argues that he should have been left in the game. Or that a batter who is sure he can hit a pitcher sees it as an insult to be pinch hit for in a particular situation. Even a whole team might question why, let's say, the GM acquired that guy from Cuba.
Such questioning has a lot to do with baseball being the ultimate second-guessing sport. You can spend a lot of time with the should-haves, could-haves and might-haves, because once a move is made you quickly find out the result. If the setup man gives up that game-changing RBI or the pinch-hitter punches out on three pitches, it is easy to backtrack and say "I knew we should have [insert here the opposite of what was decided]!" Second-guessing is particularly easy for a player because he isn't responsible for keeping 25 guys happy, just himself.
Of course it also works the other way, too -- authority questioning the player. After giving up that home run on a 3-2 slider you just hung after shaking off the catcher, be prepared to be asked, "Why did you throw that pitch?"
So in the wake of Mets pitcher John Maine expressing his discontent with the decision of manager Jerry Manuel to remove him after just one batter, I find a familiar conversation. After suffering arm problems in 2009, Maine has had trouble returning to his pre-injury velocity (94-95 mph), topping out at 85 mph in his last start. As a gamer, Maine expressed that he didn't care how hard he throws; he wants to be out there on the mound. But is that good for his long-term health or for the team's need to win ballgames? More specifically, is it right to question authority, especially publicly? (Maine ultimately ended up on the DL with tendinitis in his right rotator cuff.)
On every team I played for, the manager always began the season with that familiar phrase: "My door is always open." I never saw this as a desire for the team boss to talk about the best movies or find out about the new puppy I just rescued. He was saying, "If you don't like your situation, you can find me HERE."
If every manager (and I am confident "every" is the right word here) has issued the same invitation, why is it that so much strife between players and managers ends up on your home page? Apparently, the office door has security cameras hidden away or no one is actually entering before they speak to the media.
Nothing brings this more into focus than the recent back and forth between Marlins star shortstop Hanley Ramirez and manager Fredi Gonzalez. After fouling a ball off his foot, Ramirez came up short later in the game while chasing a blooper into left field. His momentum made him kick the ball all the way down the left-field line. While chasing it, he clearly downshifted a few gears, prompting Gonzalez to pull him from the game for loafing.
When we were playing in the sandlot, internal policing worked well. I remember telling a Little League coach that I didn't show up for a practice because, "I don't need to practice." My comment earned me a seat on the bench for a few games. I endured sitting on the pine, without question, and was given a hard dose of reality about teamwork and the dangers of overconfidence. I didn't have to deal with world-wide repercussions, just my teammates and a few concerned parents. Still, I survived.
Gonzalez decided to remove Ramirez from the game as punishment. In turn, Ramirez met the press and criticized Gonzalez profusely, not only about the absurdity of the move, but with personal attacks, including the fact Gonzalez never played in the major leagues.
This isn't an unusual angle to take when players get annoyed at a decision-maker that has never made it to "The Show." I used to hear comments about how a certain coach couldn't possibly teach anything of use since he didn't "make it."
There are plenty of Hall of Famers who probably can't teach worth a lick and plenty of managers with championship rings who didn't play or excel in the big leagues (Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland, respectively, for example). But this lack of credibility in Ramirez's eyes was the open door to take on his manager publicly. He later would listen to Tony Perez and Andre Dawson, but Ramirez had to learn something that the two Hall of Famers already knew. That he is the star, he is under the microscope, and taking on your manager in that fashion is a bad idea.
Of course, there was no way to turn the removal of Ramirez from a game into a private affair. Even without publicly saying "you loafed, so you are sitting," those words still get said across thousands of platforms well before the postgame news conference. They are tweeted, Facebooked, MySpaced and YouTubed. What a far cry from that one-on-one conversation between me and my Little League coach.
Ramirez versus Gonzalez went viral. Almost immediately, the public had a vote, a say in the matter. After Ramirez's lambasting of Gonzalez, he sat on the bench for a few days. Finally, he took a page from the archive of downloadable apologies and said all of the canned phrases that "Bull Durham" star journeyman Crash Davis would have been proud to hear.
Nevertheless, the weight falls on Ramirez's shoulders to take the high road even if he had a legitimate reason for slowing down to a near-walk after the ball rolled away from him. Your manager can be wrong, yet you have to find a way to keep the peace. Despite the code of baseball having such disdain for being "shown up" as Ramirez certainly felt, you can go nowhere ripping your manager. You can lose your entire team when you are the key cog in its engine.
Even so, for the most part, players and coaches move on, even if it may end up in separate directions. They have no choice if they want a fighting chance to work as a family. In Boston, when David Ortiz questioned manager Terry Francona's support during his slow start, Francona just did what he does best. He stayed rational and said he had Ortiz's back. The tricky part -- at which Francona is so adept -- is handling not just his star's back but his team's back; they don't always line up.
No matter how you slice it, authority will be questioned, sometimes for good reason, sometimes for the simple reason that they are the authority. Sometimes when you try to have everyone's back at the same time, your own back gets left unprotected. As a result, you have to accept that, every once in a while, someone will put a knife in it, maybe even while patting it.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and the fundraising committee of Boundless Readers. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released May 11. Click here to buy it on Amazon.com.