The personality and intrinsically entertaining human being that is Ozzie Guillen tweeted an interesting photo Sunday.  The Miami Marlins manager posted the pic (above) of he and his wife having dinner in Madrid with some friends.  The caption reads, “dinner in madrid yes we having good time, stanton, ricky and petey. cenando en madrid que bueno.”

Ozzie’s three pals are Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco and Bryan Petersen, who just happen to be players on the Marlins’ roster.  How many times have you seen a coach or manager either vacationing with his or her players, or meeting up with them for dinner while abroad?

After I saw this tweet, the story below seemed less shocking. 

One of the several issues plaguing the Marlins concerned pitcher Heath Bell, who was none to pleased with a lot of things in Miami.  The Marlins unloaded Bell, shipping him off to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and seemingly with barely both feet out the door, the Miami Herald published these secrets from the inside:

"Unhappy with his diminished role, the bitter Bell was openly critical of pitching coach Randy St. Claire, the training staff, Marlins catchers, sportswriters, and even the Showtime production crew that filmed The Franchise. Bell said he was portrayed too negatively during the reality series.

"For the Marlins, the final straw might have come the final week of the season when Bell, in a live radio interview, said it was "hard to respect" manager Ozzie Guillen.

"The following day, Bell’s teammates, in a show of support for Guillen, turned on the manager’s weekly radio show inside the clubhouse, raised the volume, and made Bell listen to Guillen state that he no longer respected Bell "as a person."

Upon reading this anecdote, I was immediately transported back to the 8th grade where stuff like this happened all of the time.  Picking sides, bullying, humiliating your peers, etc.

I’m not saying Bell is a nice guy who got the shaft in this situation, but that sure seemed like a catty move for a group of adult men.  Then again, pro athletes as a whole, aren’t necessarily considered the most mature population segment of adult society. 

But this begs an important question.  Should a manager or coach be that close to his or her players? Can you properly discipline your employees and garner respect while on or close to their “level?” 

In Ozzie’s first season as manager, the Marlins finished dead last in the NL East with a 69-93 record and 19 games back of the division-winning Nationals. 

Yikes.

In my few stints as a manager, I found the line between friend and boss incredibly difficult to draw since I really liked most of my employees and considered them friends.  Depending on each individual, some listen to you and do what you ask as their boss because they respect you as a friend, while others do the opposite, undermining your authority because they consider you an equal. 

Terry Francona did the impossible, breaking the curse and bringing multiple World Championships to Boston.    Once his tenure as Red Sox skipper came to an end, various reports revealed that he had allegedly become so close with his players that he rarely disciplined the group when necessary and because of that, he “lost” the team.

Could Ozzie’s close-knit relationship with his players be one of the many reasons why the Marlins absolutely sucked last season?  I don’t know the answer, but I think it is a topic worth exploring. 

A few days before the brightest stars in baseball head to Kansas City, the All-Star Game has already seen several curve balls come its way.

From the surprising dominance of knuckle ball pitcher R.A. Dickey to the emergence of rookie Mike Trout and controversy surrounding fellow young buck Bryce Harper’s spot on the roster, baseball’s most famous heavy hitters seem to be an All-Star afterthought. 

Rookie vs. Rookie

Well hot diggity dog, look who snuck his way onto the NL All-Star roster?  Yes Harper-haters, the Nationals stand-out 19-year-old weaseled his way into a trip to Kansas City, thanks to Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton who will miss the game and undergo knee surgery.  Bryce Harper has felt the heat on a national level since gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old, and I’d say he’s met the challenge in his first season in the Majors. 

In 63 games, the right fielder is batting .282 with 8 home runs, 25 RBI and .472 slugging.  

Over in the AL, fellow rook Mike Trout blows Harper out of the water, statistically speaking.  The 20-year-old is hitting .342 with 12 HR, 40 RBI and .564 SLG in 64 games, not to mention his excellent fielding skills.  Oh ya, he also leads the AL with 26 stolen bases. 

While Trout had long been considered a stud by baseball insiders, he was relatively unknown to those outside “the know.”  Trout didn’t face nationwide pressure the way Harper has, or the expectations of carrying an entire big league ball club. 

Anyone in their right mind agrees that Trout is an All-Star (despite not making it as a starter) but the debate rages on in regard to Harper. 

Being selected to an All-Star team isn’t only about statistics.  It’s about representing each team in the league.  Sometimes it is strictly numbers based, other times it’s a popularity contest (decided by the fans), and once in a while the game is used to show respect for a player’s overall career rather than his accomplishments in that season.

What’s wrong with selecting Harper, whose numbers are absolutely respectable?  More importantly, he has reenergized a first-place team and its fans while drawing millions of eyeballs from all over the country to the sport.  With all of the BS tarnishing baseball over the last several years, the sport could use a guy like Harper, who thus far, has brought nothing but good PR, not to mention blessing the world with the great new catch phrase, “that’s a clown question bro.”

Hopefully the 2012 All-Star game will turn out to be an anecdote told in conversation several years from now:   “I watched those two share a field at an All-Star game in their rookie season, before they became two of the best to ever play the game.” 

You can’t go wrong having these two on the All-Star roster. 

The Unexpected Rise of R.A. Dickey

Nobody saw this coming.  Not even R.A. Dickey himself.  The Mets knuckleballer has had one hell of a ride.  The man has battled many demons in his life, from suffering sexual abuse to an injury expected to be career-ending to deep emotional depression.  At age 37, Dickey finally hit his stride with a 12-1 record and 2.40 ERA earning him his first-ever All-Star spot.

Dickey’s career seems to have played in reverse, starting out as a highlight touted first-round draft pick before doctors discovered he had an elbow injury, condemning him as damaged goods.  The more Dickey aged, the stronger he grew, learning, and now seemingly perfecting the art of the knuckleball pitch.  In June, Dickey made history throwing back-to-back one-hitters. 

Despite unquestionably earning a spot as an All-Star starter, the unique and rarely used pitch that got Dickey to this level may keep him out of the starting lineup in Kansas City.

Tony LaRussa, managing the NL team is concerned that his starting catcher, the young Buster Posey of the Giants might struggle to receive knucklers behind the plate.  Since the fans voted Posey a starter, LaRussa might feel forced to relegate Dickey to a backup spot.   Plus, the outcome of the MLB All Star game now actually means something to teams in World Series contention.

It would be an ironic shame if the talent that makes Dickey so spectacular forces him out of the starting lineup, but he is still an enigmatic figure with a story that fans love.  Being a first-time All-Star at age 37 is a great enough accomplishment to keep Dickey happy and the fans in his corner. 

Andrew Who?  Fans, Meet Andrew McCutchen

News of the injured Giancarlo Stanton proves to be the gift that keeps on giving.  First, Bryce Harper learned that he would replace Stanton on the NL All-Star roster.  Then, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen got the call that he would take Stanton’s place in the Home Run Derby.

The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t get a lot of love from the media, understandably so considering the franchise has been one of the worst in baseball for many years.  It’s mean, I know, but it’s the truth.  On the bright side, the Pirates have a potential superstar on their hands as McCutchen, in his third year in the Majors, is having an outstanding season thus far. 

In 81 games, McCutchen is hitting .362 with 18 HR (including two in Sunday’s win over the Giants) and 60 RBI.   His .362 average leads all of baseball.  Not too shabby for a 25-year-old playing in Pittsburgh. 

In fact, McCutchen has the highest batting average by a Pirate at the All-Star break since World War II. 

Win or lose, McCutchen’s Derby appearance should create some buzz for the emerging star by giving the country an opportunity to get to know the Pirates’ young standout. 

                     

Pitcher Mark Buehrle found himself between a rock and a hard place when it came time to sign his name on the dotted line in Miami.  Before agreeing to a four-year, $58 million dollar contract with the Marlins in December, the lefty had to figure out how he and his family could move  to South Florida because of a law banning various breeds of Pit Bulls in Miami-Dade County, on the books since 1989. 

Buehrle, his wife Jamie and their two children are proud owners of Slater, an American Staffordshire Terrier (pictured above), along with three Viszals (Diesel, Drake and Duke), and do a lot of work with animal organizations. 

If you recall, Buehrle stirred the pot after Michael Vick’s first season with the Eagles after the quarterback was reinstated following a federal prison sentence for his role in operating a vicious dog fighting ring. 

  

In a joint interview with his wife for MLB.com, Buehrle said of Vick, “He had a great year and a great comeback, but there were times where we watched the game, and I know it’s bad to say, but there were times where we hope he gets hurt.  Everything you’ve done to these dogs, something bad needs to happen to these guys.”

Strong words that were undoubtedly echoed by many animal lovers worldwide, and equally condemned at the same time. Buehrle, who as a result of the ban in Miami-Dade county is living farther away from the Marlins’ facility in Broward County, also lent his opinions on the Pit Bull law to the Miami Herald.

"It’s kind of ridiculous that because of the way a dog looks, people will ban it," Buehrle told the Herald.  "Every kind of dog has good and bad, and that depends on the handlers. If you leave a dog outside all the time, it’ll be crazy. Slater would never do anything harmful.”

In an unscientific poll I’ve conducted, the postal workers in my neighborhood (all of whom have been bitten by dogs on the job) all perceive small dogs as more of a threat than Pit Bulls based on the the pooches that have attacked them.  Yipper yappers, as I call them, can be quite dangerous themselves.  In other words, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Like Buehrle, I too am a bit biased as I own a Pit Bull mix who is the sweetest, friendliest dog you’ll ever meet.  A law banning a specific breed of dog is just one of many reasons why dogs end up on the streets, abandoned and in the pound.  A blogger on Yahoo Sports made a great point that not every family has Mark Buehrle money, and if you are forced to move for a new job, what choice are you left with in terms of the family pet?  It’s really a shame to even think about a situation like that.

Luckily, the Buehrle family has the resources to take a new job and keep their dog.  Hopefully the fact that Buerhle made a stink about it will raise awareness in the Miami area, perhaps influencing an eventual overturn of the ban.