Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Andy Van Slyke And My Surprise Choice For The Next Bucs Manager

ABOVE: If you want to get under this guy's skin real fast, just call him "Slyke".

Some of you may already be aware of my extensive golf prowess from an earlier lifetime, so I won't make you have to re-read that story here today. However, I do have a very interesting tale for you and one that might shed some light into the topic of Andy Van Slyke possibly being the next Pirates skipper. Van Slyke, by the way, has already interviewed for the job.

It was in the late 90's when I found myself sitting in a golf cart with my playing partner for that day: One Andy Van Slyke. The event was the Mario Lemieux golf tournament and it was absolutely loaded with some of the biggest names ever in the world of sports (my being there only added to the star-studded lineup of course). 

When I first met Andy, he seemed like a nice enough guy, but I could tell that there was an "edge" about him. I don't want to say that he was "standoffish" because I had just met him. But to give you an example of how surly he would become on this day...We were in our golf cart together driving towards our first tee and had just introduced ourselves to each other moments earlier. We were slated to start on #10 at Nevillewood and while we were en route to that hole, several young boys ages 10-12 came running up to our cart yelling for us to please stop.

These boys were yelling, "MISTER SLYYYYKE...MISTER SLYYYYKE! CAN WE HAVE YOUR AUTOGRAPH?? PLEEEASE??" I was stunned to see him stop the cart and hear him yell back, "IT'S VAN SLYKE KID AND NO!!! COME BACK LATER WHEN I'M DONE GOLFING."

I had never before seen an athlete treat young kids like this and I guess in his mind he figured that he's probably already signed a million autographs. But this incident stuck with me and actually really was one of the few things from that day that made a lasting impression...that and watching a naked Michael Jordan and John Elway snapping wet towels and arguing over golf bets in the locker room afterwards...priceless.


ABOVE: After first snapping wet towels in the locker room, these two cleaned up rather nicely.

I've always had a real soft spot for kids and I just felt as though for the minute or so it would have taken, that it wouldn't have killed us to stop. I didn't like this attitude at all, especially not at a celebrity event such as this. It's not like we were playing in the Masters or something, it was a celebrity golf event!

On the first hole (as I said earlier, actually number ten) I had a terrific drive, great approach and just missed a birdie putt. What a day I was going to have!!! Hold on there cowboy, not so fast. I then went on to have 17 of the most horrible holes of my already-legendary if not somewhat infamous career. I think that Van Slyke would have gladly cut his arm off with a chainsaw if he had one. Either that or cut my head off! He was that extremely uncomfortable watching me hack away. My sensing his unease did absolutely nothing to help me get my game untracked either. While I'm certain that I had to have set another course as well as Lemieux Tournament record for my score that day, the overwhelming feeling of being uncomfortable was the only thing I took with me. What should have been a memorable, fun day turned out to be my second-worst day ever on a golf course. You probably know what day was the first, but if not, this link will refresh your memory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfIWNUW-lbg 

Maybe I'm wrong about "Slyke", but then again, maybe I'm not. He just didn't strike me as someone I'd want to go out and bust my butt for or who would be an inspirational type of leader. I saw him as a guy who could really get sour on people and then just ride them for the sake of riding them. I've coached with and been coached by people like this, and believe me, they're no fun to be around.

Maybe Andy was just in a bad mood that day? Who knows? But then if he was, it leads to the next question: How can you be in a bad mood playing in the Lemieux Tournament at Nevillewood on a perfect sunny day and before you've taken your first swing in anger? Hard to figure unless that's just your personality.

Now let me tell you who I feel would be THE GUY to manage the Pirates. Not "Slyke" or any of the other popular flavors of the day you've heard bantied about. How about this guy:

ABOVE: Every baseball comment I've ever heard from this man has been "spot-on". He's not afraid to call a "spade a spade" either or call out people if necessary. He's had a successful history as a pitcher for a franchise that has had darn few of them and I know that he would be a much more interesting manager for both the players and fans than the near-comatose John Russell was...incidentally another great Pirates personnel decision there.

But even if the Pirates could resurrect Danny Murtaugh, even he couldn't win with the horrible pitching staff that this team has. John Russell may not have been "Mr. Personality" but if you ever needed someone to stand in front of a firing squad, he'd be your guy. After all, he's done it on hundreds of occasions.

He wasn't my favorite manager by a longshot, but if anyone ever "took one for the team" it was him...every day.

But I like Bob Walk a lot for this job. So that being the case, don't bank on it happening because the Pirates have such great skill making these kinds of decisions as you well know.