It is sometimes difficult to see exactly what it is a Major League manager does on a daily basis.
Oh sure, we see him decide on the lineup, who's going to hit where and who is going to play. We see him decide when it's time to pull a starter, which pitcher to use out of the bullpen, and which pinch hitter to send to the plate with the game on the line.
We see when a manager calls for a hit and run, a suicide squeeze, and when a player should steal a base. And we also know that, behind the scenes, the manager is in charge of running the clubhouse and the myriad of personalities that inhabit it.
It is this last duty that is particularly mysterious to those of us who don't spend any time in there with the team. But one thing that has been talked about a lot by those who cover the Phillies is the difference in communication and energy between Pete Mackanin's clubhouse and the one run by the previous skipper, Ryne Sandberg.
By all accounts, Mackanin is well liked by his players. The lines of communication are open. Players feel free to be themselves. But that does not mean Mackanin won't take it upon himself to discipline someone if the situation warrants.
Enter Odubel Herrera, the team's best player. In the top of the 7th inning of last night's 5-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers, with the score tied at 4-4 and a runner on second with nobody out, Herrera, who already had three hits in the game, chopped a ball back to the pitcher.
Unfortunately, MLB won't let us embed the video here to show you what happened. You'll have to click this link. But what you'll see is Herrera not running hard out of the box and, as the pitcher looks the runner back to second, seems to double-clutch the throw to first, making the play close, even with Herrera not running hard.
After the game, Mackanin was not pleased with his superstar-in-training.
Mackanin also said this is not a one-time thing, that this has happened before with Herrera and that it has been "trickling in." And if you'll recall, Herrera had to be disciplined last year for something similar.
After the game, Herrera took his medicine.
So was this the right thing to do? Was benching Odubel Herrera in a close game the right call?
This season is not about winning baseball games. It never has been, even as the Phillies have gotten off to a hot start. This season has been about developing young players, and perhaps part of that development is not only on the stat sheets but also in the mindset of the players as well. Clearly, this is something that has been bothering the manager for a while, and he's the one who interacts and sees Herrera behind the scenes on a daily basis.
Herrera also appears to be a repeat offender in this area. Judging by Mackanin's words, this was not the first instance of a lack of hustle, or of a lack of effort or a bad attitude.
Not only that, Mackanin seems to be sending a message to the rest of the team as well. It doesn't matter who you are, how important you are, or what your status on the team is. You are going to have a good attitude and play the game "the right way."
The optics from the outside, however, are a bit different. Herrera is by far the team's best player, and there are plenty of other members of the team who have not been benched despite making boneheaded plays.
And while hustling and effort are both very important, it is unreasonable to think that a player is going to run 100% every single time on every single ground ball. You and I may think that we would bust it out of the box every single time, but the reality is that we probably would not.
Do you give maximum effort 100% of the time every single day at your job? All the time? It's a difficult standard to live up to. On a ground ball back to the pitcher, it's understandable why a player may jog out of the box. It's an automatic out, and why run the risk of blowing out a hamstring on a chopper back to the pitcher?
Jimmy Rollins was benched on a couple occasions for not hustling under similar circumstances, both by Charlie Manuel and Sandberg. And now Mackanin has done it with Herrera. Three very different managers with three very different personalities, and yet all have traveled down this same road.
At the time, I hated it. I hated pulling Herrera especially after watching so many players give away at bats and run into outs on a nightly basis, yet their place in the lineup seems to be assured, even when there are other options available.
But at the end of the day, it is Pete Mackanin's clubhouse. He's the boss and, in addition to winning games, he's managing people. That Herrera owned up to his part in this incident indicates that Mackanin probably did the right thing. Better to nip it in the bud now before it becomes a major problem later down the line.
Chances are, this will not be the last time something like this happens with Herrera. Players are human beings and make mistakes. And if anyone has earned some slack with which to make decisions like this, it's Pete Mackanin, who has pushed almost every correct button so far during his tenure as the Phillies manager. He is not a skipper who manages to put his name in the paper. He seems to genuinely want to get the best out of his players and help them become the best they can be.
I don't like that Odubel Herrera was benched last night. And I don't expect every player to run as fast as they can out of the box on every single play.
But in this case, I trust the manager. He's earned it.