As announced, we published Public Bonehead, Private Hero, this week. It's an amazing story of sports' number one scapegoat of all time. If you think Bill Buckner had it bad, you are right, but read Public Bonehead, Private Hero and you'll see Fred Merkle had it much worse.
If you are wondering why a book on Merkle is relevant today, just listen to a few sports casters on most any team sport. Or "read the papers" as they say. Or better yet, listen to a sports radio talk show. We all know that the media has to appeal to our emotions and often it is done while seemingly stating opinion as if it was fact. In most papers, radio shows and TV broadcasts, you don't hear or read something like, "in my opinion, Lovie Smith is a bad coach." You will hear, "Lovie Smith should be fired because he is a bad coach."
I suppose it is common practice to scapegoat the coach, but it is scapegoating none the less. In Smith's case, anyone who watched the Bears this year, knows that Smith's coaching had little to do with some very poor fourth quarter passing. And while it seemed like everyone in Chicago wanted the Bears to finally acquire a first rate quarterback, Smith is getting a lot of blame because it didn't result in immediate gratification and a steep price in draft picks was paid for it.
What is even more ironic is that Ron Turner was sacrificed over the failed season. Based on the players performance on the field, it's hard to imagine how Turner could have made a difference. If the group of players, the team, does not executive the plays called, it seems wrong to blame the coaches. Many in the media have been upset with Turner's firing and Smith's retention, but you have to wonder if Smith had been fired and Turner retained, would the call for heads have stopped. In my opinion, the worst part of the scapegoating of the Bears coaches is that both Smith and Turner proved themselves by getting so much out of talent-challenged Bears teams. Patience seems required when you are building around such a key acquisition as a "franchise" quarterback.
The whole point here is that when a team does not play well, certainly the poor play of certain individuals and the poor decisions of coaches have in impact, but maybe we shouldn't be so anxious to look for one person to scapegoat as we often do. When you look back at the Bears season, a few more accurate passes could have made a huge difference in the won and loss column. A few less injuries on defense would have made a huge difference as well. These 2009 changes would have made a big difference in 2009. That's not to say that the same team personnel would render good results in 2010. Aggressive player acquisitions seems to be a must in all professional sports today based on a long history of successful teams that just don't stand still.
Can't we just say that the 2009 Bears were essentially a team building around a new quarterback--rather than requiring a pound of flesh from individuals who were obviously working very hard to make it work? One thing I do believe in team sports, is that when individuals are severely criticized unfairly, quite often their performance does not improve. Merkle had a very poor year after he was lambasted, but he was able to come back with great courage. I hope Smith can come back after his 2009 roasting.