Every team has a manager. He's a leader, a decision-maker, someone the team trusts to lead it to victory. I have seen my share of managers, all of whom had their own style. Jim Riggleman was the cool cucumber who stayed positive and had perspective. Terry Francona built the wall of fire around his players, took the heat, and moved on. Dusty Baker was old-school -- street justice, street laws, but he loved psychological battles. Buck Showalter was always prepared, very tactical, with spy missions in action everywhere. Larry Bowa moved by emotion, gut, smell and experience.
Within these differences is also their comfort in how much rope they will give players to make their own decisions on the field.
When I first came up to Chicago as a rookie, it was unlikely that I was going to veto a manager's plan. If I had the green light, then that was my only indication that I could make a decision on my own, but even then, I had to be sure. On most other decisions, I had to follow along.
Over time, as experience grows, all players are supposed to gain wisdom and trust. Never to the level where I expected Scott Rolen to make out our lineup in Philadelphia, but maybe just enough that I could work out a couple of understandings with him about when I might steal third while he was hitting. Our manager might or might not be in the know if it was a spontaneous game-time move.
It isn't enough to wait for the manager in every single case. Too much is going on, too much is changing, and no one has a better feel for the pulse of what is happening on the field than those on the field. That is not to say players should rule, but it is to say there may not be enough time for a player to relay back to the decision-makers that a pitcher is tipping his pickoff move. Not when the moment is now.
In the postseason there are a lot of "nows," and a little bit of information and knowing how to use it in a given moment goes a long way. This can be the difference between wearing a ring and wearing a diaper.
There were many years when I hit first or second in the lineup, and in most cases from Gregg Jefferies to Jimmy Rollins to Ryne Sandberg, we had agreements. We even had signals to one another to be ahead of the action. In one game against Carlos Perez, I had his pickoff move down pat. I ran him out of the stadium while Sandberg waited on all of those juicy fastballs that he had to throw to keep me from stealing even more. I told Sandberg and any baserunners who wanted to know. The third-base coach still put on signs, but as long as I had that green light, I could run at will and no one had any idea when that will was going to be exercised. Sandberg and I just worked a one-two punch that knocked Perez onto his back. No time to let it get caught up in the bureaucratic red tape. Play ball.
This is the same reason why the center fielder -- the captain of the outfield -- has to know his environment better than any manager. I knew the pitcher's plan, the hitters' spray charts, the wind, the grass, the loudness of the fans and the second-base umpire's favorite spot. And it was my job to convey that to my corner outfielders. Sure, once in a while a towel-waving outfield coach would wave me one way or the other, but after a while, I took that as an insult or some sign that I wasn't prepared because we went over everything the coaches wanted in the meetings. From there, if I knew the wind had just shifted -- a factor that would make me overrule the powers that be -- they needed to trust that I had a reason for moving; with that respect, the staff would have no issue with my doing so.
When David Murphy botched a ground-ball base hit to him in Game 5, I didn't hear much talk about how balls "snake" in the outfield when the grass is cut a certain way. On those fields, aggressiveness will destroy you. When I played at Coors Field or Dodger Stadium (particularly nasty snake fields), I had to field grounders very carefully because for every step I took to the ball, it moved from one side to the other -- slithering like a snake -- and that cost me a step or two at throwing out an advancing baserunner. Even so, that is better than over-running the ball and letting the hitter take another base. If someone questioned me on why I laid back on a ground ball, I had an answer that made a lot of sense. Then I earned the right to eventually say, "Trust me, I know what I am doing out here."
Albert Pujols has earned that trust and then some. If he called that hit-and-run, he can be questioned about it, just like with any other decision made on the field, but you cannot accuse Pujols of being unprepared or not thinking, even when it may have been a poor choice or result.
In summary, players take matters into their own hands all of the time. If they do not, they are prepared to. You don't just ignore your manager, but there are moments on the ground when you smell something, you know something, you anticipate something, and you may not have time to relay that to the people who typically make the calls.
That said, I don't expect Jon Jay to make that kind of decision, but Albert Pujols, sure. Apparently, he called a hit-and-run last night and the results were disastrous. Allen Craig got thrown out stealing twice, and on the supposed hit-and-run Pujols never took the bat off of his shoulder.
This is where I scratch my head. Maybe the pitch was unhittable, but if you take the time to call your own hit-and-run, then as a hitter my next thought would be, "I need to throw this bat at the ball if need be, and if nothing else, make Mike Napoli blink for just a split second." Maybe that is all it would take for the catcher to throw the ball off-line. But would I let Pujols manage a little? Yes, I would. And I would think Tony La Russa knows Pujols' managerial skills as well as anyone.
Baseball is a lot about odds. We cover our backs when we play the percentages. Pujols hits into a whole lot of double plays (less often than he hits home runs, mind you) and that could have been in his mind. Odds are, if he hits the ball with authority, he doesn't need the runner to be in motion to score him. His doubles are not just slow rollers down the line, they drive in runs, and with enough backspin, Pujols drives in himself.
Even so, it is OK for a player to call a baseball audible. Chris Carpenter shakes the catcher off, Rafael Furcal runs with the green light, Matt Holliday creeps a couple of steps toward the line because the light tower is right where the manager had put him. It happens 10s of times a game, quietly.
That is part of the game, and when it goes well, more power to that player for making a sound choice at the right time. The manager looks like a genius, too. But when it doesn't, on the heels of a bizarre night for St. Louis, it looks as though no one is paying attention when this is the time when all of your attention should have been there. But that's baseball. Everything looks clearer the second time we see 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 on the board of the MLB Players Alumni Association. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released in May 2010. Click here to buy it in paperback on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville