There have been a couple of notable developments in the Wisconsin sports landscape recently; the reaction to which I feel calls for a minor course correction.
The first of these is the addition of former North Carolina State quarterback (and erstwhile minor league baseball player) Russell Wilson to the football program at the University of Wisconsin. The recruiting of Wilson immediately raised the national profile of the Badgers’ football team and had some wags setting some lofty goals for them this season. Here in Green Bay, local radio host and former Green Bay Packer Harry Sydney extolled the virtues of Wilson and boldly predicted a national championship for Wisconsin. Sydney further opined that if the Badgers didn’t bring home the title, the fault would lie with head coach Bret Bielema for mishandling his indoctrination. Now I could mention that’s the stupidest thing that I’ve heard Sydney say but that would be too kind. No, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard anyone say…….EVER…..in the history of mankind.
I understand that Bielema pushed hard for Wilson, presumably because he was underwhelmed with Scott Tolzien heir apparent Jon Budmayr. Budmayr may not be “the answer” at quarterback. Then again, two years ago no one thought Tolzien would amount to much either and he ended up becoming the first Unitas Award winner in program history. While they may not have an elite legacy at the position, the Badgers have nonetheless sent a number of quarterbacks to the NFL. Maybe that’s what Wilson had in mind when he picked Wisconsin over Auburn. Of course, it could also have been the specter of NCAA violations looming over the Tigers program.
There’s no doubt that Wilson’s experience can be a benefit to the Badgers; Wilson put up some big numbers for the Wolfpack. That doesn’t automatically insure great things for the Badgers this year. Sure, Wisconsin will be a favorite in the Big(11,12)Ten but with the problems at Ohio State and Michigan they would have been that anyway. As we saw during last year’s bowl season, this conference is not exactly the SEC. Nor, for that matter, is the ACC, which brings me back to Wilson who, while talented, isn’t the second coming of Cam Newton (they couldn’t afford him anyway). The point is that the Badgers have always developed players within the program. The fact that Bielema was compelled to pursue Wilson in a sense smacks of desperation. Wilson will have a relatively short amount of time in which to acclimate himself to their system and his teammates. Dave Dye of Fox Sports Detroit, has Wilson ranked as only the 4th best QB in the conference http://tinyurl.com/6j86dm7 –that doesn’t scream national title contender to me. Blame my natural cynicism but I just don’t see this as a slam-dunk that the Badgers will be involved in the national title conversation.
The second instance of what I consider unreasonable assumptions concerns the Milwaukee Brewers.
Last winter, I posted a piece ( http://tinyurl.com/3zuvywu ) about holiday wishes for various Wisconsin sports personalities. My wish for incoming Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke was a season’s grace period from the Brewers’ intelligentsia. Well, that didn’t even last until the All-Star break. Roenicke has been criticized for everything from his offensive philosophy to his handling of the bullpen.
I’m not here to suggest that Roenicke should be above reproach. As a first year manager I’m sure he’d be the first to admit that he’s still learning his craft. Expectations play a huge part when evaluating the performance of managers and players. But what if those expectations are inflated or just flat out wrong? A manager can make all the right moves for very valid reasons, yet if his players don’t perform their jobs as expected why is that the manager’s fault and not the players? Or beyond that, the general manager and owner who supplied that manager with said players?
I am especially bemused by the second-guessing when it comes to the relief pitching. By and large, relievers are erratic journeymen who are going to blow up from time to time–that’s why they’re relief pitchers. You might get a season or two of effectiveness from them (Todd Coffey comes to mind) and then they go back to sucking and move on and out. And please don’t give me that line about ‘small sample size’ because that’s all relief pitchers get.
We judge our sports figures primarily on the results they produce. If you want to criticize Roenicke for his mistakes, that’s fine. No one’s infallible. But it becomes unfair when his successes are ascribed largely to luck because it doesn’t fit the narrative that people hold in their minds for him. There are a lot of fancy numbers these days that are useful for comparing players and teams, but they can’t acount for every variable and they don’t measure the heart of a champion. When I hear a Ryan Braun complain about hitting in the shadows at Miller Park, that tells me as much or more about a team’s ability to win than any computer generated statistic.