One of the most famous bits in comedy history is “Who’s on First?” The premise of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s play-on-words sketch is identifying the players on a baseball team and their correct positions by their last names, though the latter can be interpreted as nonresponsive answers to Costello’s questions to Abbott.
The Wild Things, it seems, have put a new twist on the routine with something that can be titled “Who’s the manager?”
Entering Saturday night’s game against the River City Rascals, the Wild Things still did not have a manager to replace Bart Zeller, who resigned last Sunday morning.
Since then, Washington has gone with what was described Friday as a “coach-by-committee” approach as bench coach Bob Bozzuto, hitting coach Bob Didier and pitching coach Kevin Gryboski have shared managerial duties.
Because of the Frontier League’s all-star break last week, Washington played only two games since Zeller’s exit. Somehow, the Wild Things won both games, defeating Florence last Sunday and River City Friday night. Washington won each game handily and without any confusion in the coaching ranks.
If a person with no knowledge of the Wild Things’ unique coaching situation watched those two games, they would not have noticed anything unusual. Didier, who has major-league coaching experience, moved into Zeller’s role as the third-base coach. Gryboski still oversaw the pitchers and made an occasional trip to the mound. Bozzuto took the lineup card to home plate before the game and made a pitching change during an inning. Everything went smoothly.
When asked whom does a player approach if he has a problem on or off the field, left fielder C.J. Beatty said, “It depends. If you have a question about hitting, you probably go to Bob Didier. A pitcher would go to Kevin Gryboski. If it’s a question about the league or the team, you’d probably go to Bozz.”
While the co-coaches, or in this case tri-coaches, approach is not unique, it’s most commonly utilized in youth sports, where the fathers of Little Joey and Little Johnny coach their kid’s team and take the players for ice cream after the game. A few high school programs have used the co-coach approach with mixed results.
This coaching model has rarely worked in professional sports, though the Pennsylvania Rebellion softball team that plays in the National Pro Fastpitch women’s league and shares Consol Energy Park with the Wild Things, have been using co-coaches – Stacey Rice and Stephani Moore – since Rick Bertagnolli resigned as manager 12 games into the season.
That hasn’t translated into success for the 5-23 Rebellion.
Co-coaches was last tried in the NFL, for one game, in 1978. I can’t find a co-coaches approach being used in the NBA, NHL, major leagues or minor-league baseball for any extended period of time.
Or with any success.
Though the three-coaches setup has worked for a week, the Wild Things need to name a manager, even if he is tagged with the dreaded “interim manager” title. Aren’t all managers interim?
If for no other reason, people need to know who is in charge of the Wild Things on the field. The players need to know, the umpires need to know, the opposing managers need to know, the league needs to know and prospective players need to know.
There are too many questions, and potential problems, that come with the multiple-coaches situation. Who decides if a player is released? Is there a vote of the coaching committee? Who decides which player is signed to fill a roster spot? If an umpire botches a call, which coach goes on the field to argue? If a manager of another team wants to talk trade with Washington, who does the guy call? Who is in charge of watching the team’s salary cap status? Those are all questions that can be answered by somebody delegating authority.
The most important question remaining to be answered is which coach does the team look to for answers if a losing streak hits? The nine-game road trip that begins this week could put the tri-coaches model to a good test.
Wild Things general manager Steve Zavacky, who was busy Friday afternoon finalizing details of the team selling the contract of right fielder Stewart Ijames to the Arizona Diamondbacks, said after the win over River City that the manager situation “is being worked on.” There was a sense of urgency in his voice.
If there is a positive to the situation, it’s that the players don’t seem distracted by the coaching quandary. They seem to be acting with more maturity and professionalism than some others in the organization.
“Like they say in show business, the show must go on,” Beatty said. “We have to stick together. We have to control what we can control. It doesn’t matter who the nine players are on the field, they all have to hit, pitch and field well. It doesn’t matter what the manager situation is. We still expect to win.
“This is weird. It’s the first time in pro ball that a team has not had a manager. But, we feel comfortable with the coaches we have.”
Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.