Dr. Strangeglove: Leonid Brezhnev, GM

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, December 09, 2011 12:26 PM | Comments: 24
Dr. Strangeglove, Opinion, Posts, Whimsy

Because it’s finals week at universities across North America, I’d like to encourage everyone to do the following: if there’s a college professor who impacted your life for the better whom you never thanked, go back and do that. For me, it would be Dr. Gordon Smith, Director of the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies at the University of South Carolina and one of American academia’s foremost experts on Russian politics. My junior year of undergrad, I took his Russian foreign policy class because 1) I needed an international relations elective and 2) my girlfriend, a Russian major, was taking it.

That class was the first impetus for my choosing to attend graduate school for political science–international relations in particular–and Dr. Smith was a fabulous teacher. I wasn’t one of the star students, and I figured that if Dr. Smith remembered me at all, it would be as the sleepy-looking bearded guy who sat next to KTLSF in the back row–she was one of the star students–and thought it was funny to characterize the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko as “in Soviet Russia, tea drinks you!” But more than a year after our last class meeting, he spotted me on the street, called me by name, and we talked for several minutes about life, the universe, and everything.

This post was made possible because of one word–gerontocracy–to which Dr. Smith introduced me that semester. I’d like to dedicate this post to Dr. Gordon Smith, who, I’m sure would be proud to know that one of his students got just enough out of his class to spot the parallels between Ruben Amaro Jr., general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union.

Leonid Brezhnev, in case you were unaware, was General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1982, bridging the gap between the frenetic reign of Nikita Khrushchev and the short reigns of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, the two forgotten Soviet leaders who preceded Mikhail Gorbachev and the fall of the Soviet Union. He’s the froglike gentleman in the khaki uniform pictured above and without question the owner of the most awesome set of eyebrows of any statesman in the history of this or any other planet. His were eyebrows worthy of a nuclear power, eyebrows to set the world tapdancing to the drumbeat of the vanguard of the worldwide worker’s revolution. Eyebrows that made Roman Cechmanek look like Charlie Villanueva.

But all joking aside, Brezhnev, despite being less celebrated than probably any other long-term Soviet leader, had a massive effect on the direction of Eastern Bloc, and by extension, world politics for two decades. After Khrushchev left office in disgrace in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Brezhnev was a steadier hand at the wheel for the Soviets, a conservative leader who represented a welcome change of pace from the choleric midget shoe-banger who preceded him. Brezhnev’s reign was in many respects quite successful–he guided the Soviet Union into the modern era without coming close to ending the world, as Khrushchev did, committing mass murder, as Stalin did, or causing the whole exercise to collapse on its head, as Gorbachev did. He was so steady-handed, Richard Nixon started acting like a lunatic just so the Cold War would get less boring.

But back to baseball and that word, gerontocracy, which means “rule by the old.” Brezhnev embraced the advice of a set of advisers who served with him in the Great Patriotic War, which, by the time his rule came to an end in 1982, made them very old indeed–in their 70s and 80s. Contrast this to Ruben Amaro’s policy of signing veterans to multi-year deals rather than promoting from within or taking risks on youth: Raul Ibanez, Jose Contreras, Ross Gload, even Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are signed to deals that take them well into their sporting dotage. I know Amaro gets credit for having the stones to make big moves (I even wrote something to that effect yesterday morning), but in some respects, he’s actually quite conservative.

Critics of Brezhnev note that he put the Soviet Union on sort of an economic autopilot that actually caused sustained negative economic growth–ask an economist how difficult that is to accomplish and how damaging that can be–that went largely unnoticed because price controls set by the Communist government kept Soviet citizens from starving due to the massive and rapid inflation that plagued interwar Weimar Germany. In reality, the USSR went through an economic ordeal under Brezhnev compared to which the contemporary and much-celebrated stagflation that derailed Jimmy Carter’s presidency was equivalent to leaving your wallet at home and asking your buddy to float you $10 for dinner and train fare.

Then there’s Afghanistan. In 1979, as you know, the USSR sent troops into Afghanistan and accomplished, well, not very much except to spend billions of rubles in military materiel and lose some 30,000 Soviet troops to hiding Mujahideen with Kalashnikovs.

Continuing the Amaro-as-Brezhnev analogy, we haven’t seen these parts of Amaro’s reign, but they’re coming. Brezhnev’s economic failures were the result of a planned economic model that didn’t adapt quickly to changing demands or incentivize innovation. As a result, Dr. Smith got to tell stories about how on the road from the airport to downtown in Moscow, the highway is lined with foundations with no buildings on top of them–because the people who lay foundations met their five-year quota and the people putting buildings on top of those foundations didn’t. Given the Phillies’ refusal to change their own economic model as their team gets older, either by acquiring younger players or by adopting innovative practices along the lines of what the Blue Jays or the Rays (who did another evil genius thing this morning) are doing.

As for that whole Afghanistan thing? Not wishing to belabor the point, I’ll direct your attention to Ryan Howard‘s contract and say no more.

I’ve been prone to senselessly bashing the Phillies’ general manager here in recent years, but I really want to make it clear that I’m not senselessly Rubenbashing. Amaro’s three years as Phillies GM are tied for the highest regular-season win total of any three-year span in franchise history. He’s 3-for-3 in division titles and has won a National League pennant–a successful set of results by anyone’s definition, including my own.

Likewise, Brezhnev managed to track the USSR back from the brink of nuclear annihilation without significantly losing face in the international community. By and large, he put a Lada in every driveway and a pot of borscht on every table. Brezhnev put down revolution in Czechoslovakia (though Flyers winger Jaromir Jagr, who wears No. 68 in honor of those who participated in the 1968 rebellion, might not agree this was a good thing) while maintaining the military strength to keep America at bay.

We can mock Brezhnev’s eyebrows and criticize his economic policy from now until the worldwide proletarian revolution, but the fact remains: he held the Soviet Bloc together for nearly two decades, he prevented internal economic panic, and most importantly he maintained enough military power to nuke you, your granddad, and Lyndon Johnson back into the paleolithic era. Brezhnev didn’t bang his shoe on the dais at the UN, and he didn’t make a Pizza Hut commercial. But he kept a superpower at the top of the Eurasian political and diplomatic food chain, which is analogous to what Ruben Amaro has accomplished here.

Perhaps in a generation we’ll look back on Ruben Amaro with the same sort of bemusement with which we look on Brezhnev. Maybe future Phillies GMs will institute the reforms to take this team into the 21st Century, but we can be thankful, for now, that the whole enterprise hasn’t collapsed. Sure, Amaro’s made mistakes, but so did Brezhnev. Be patient, everyone, because glasnost is coming.

Michael Baumann writes the weekly Dr. Strangeglove column, which appears every Friday on Phillies Nation. You can follow him on Twitter at @atomicruckus

Avatar of Michael Baumann

About Michael Baumann

Michael Baumann has written 229 articles on Phillies Nation.

Michael is a graduate student at Temple University who lost his childlike innocence when, at the age of 6, his dad let him stay up for the end of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Unsettled by the Phillies' recent success, he has threatened over the years to leave the team he loves if they don't start losing again, but has so far been unable to follow through. Michael spent 4 years as an undercover agent in Braves territory at the University of South Carolina, where he covered football and soccer for The Daily Gamecock before moving back up north. He began writing for The Phrontiersman in June 2009 before moving to Phillies Nation in January 2010.

  • Posts: 427 Publius

    Avatar of Publius

    Let me just say that as a Poli Sci Ph.D. student I love this

  • Posts: 577 Brian Sr. of CO

    Avatar of Brian Sr. of CO

    a Soviet leader of the Central Committee of the Communist Party being called a conservative? I have seen it all. Not so sure I would label RAJ anything close to conservative with the finances of the Phillies. I still think RAJ is quite a bit under appreciated. Sure he has made mistakes…Ryan Howard just as you said, MORONIC, but he also made some pretty decent moves. Halladay may be older, but he is still one of the best pitchers in the game, plus Cliff Lee. If he can keep Cole Hamels, RAJ would have made a great move. We shall see just what the future holds, but fact remains, the Phillies while older still have some decent prospects in the system, and still have a really damn good team that only needs minor tweaks and not a massive overhaul yet. The questions will really come around in 3-4 years.

  • Posts: 0 George

    Amaro as Brezhnev? That is really a stretch!

    You admit to not being a star poli-sci student and I’d accept that even without the further proof supplied by this pointless and ill-conceived analogy. I’m sorry I ever read this tripe.

    • Posts: 427 Publius

      Avatar of Publius

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Posts: 3084 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.

    Well, it’s obvious that the Winter Meetings are officially over as we are now subjected to articles such as this. Whatever… to each his own I guess.

  • Posts: 0 BART SHART

    This article is a stretch. I guess we have run out of news. Enjoyable article, but not the kind I expect from a Phillies Blog. No news is not always good news.

  • Posts: 0 800812

    The term “conservative” is relative to the country of reference. In other words, Soviet conservatives bore ZERO similarity to contemporary American conservatism.

    • Posts: 577 Brian Sr. of CO

      Avatar of Brian Sr. of CO

      I don’t completely agree. conservative is relative to some things, country of reference can be one, but conservative and communist are two completely contradictory philsophy’s. Thats like saying German turkey tastes like American chicken, because they have two different country’s of reference. There is no real comparison that can be made. Not to mention when someone compares one person to the other, they would need to have common reference or meaning. Further making the point that this is an ill-concieved analogy that has no real merit, or solid research to back it up, making it further of a stretch.

  • Posts: 0 Chris

    I get that the Phillies are getting older, hence your whole gerontocracy bit or whatever. But I feel like there are no viable options within the system to take over for what we have and perform nearly as well. Now you can say that this is a result of a number of trades that depleted the farm system, however none of the people he has traded so far are really doing anything at the major league level yet.

    For example the guys in the Lee trade. None of them have done anything at all and I don’t think they will end up doing anything. Donald, Marson, Carrasco, and Knapp . None of them are even top prospects anymore or contributors.

    Then you can look at the Halladay deal that had Taylor, D’Arnaud, Drabek. Taylor still hasn’t done anything despite already being in AAA with the Phillies. Drabek has had a few shots at the big leagues and flopped although he could still turn it around. D’arnaud is by far the best prospect in that deal and he hasn’t even reached AAA yet.

    The Oswalt deal the Phils gave up Villar, Gose and Happ. Happ turned out to be a fraud so far. Villar is meh and is only as high as AA and Gose is by far the best prospect in that deal. However he’s only as high as AA as well.

    And then you have the Pence trade. Where the Phils gave up what many consider is hefty and I would say so too. Singleton, Cosart, Santana, Zeid. Singleton looks like a darn good prospect so far but he is only as far as high A. Cosart is considered a similarly good prospect and he has only gotten a small taste of AA so far. Domingo Santana is really raw but could turn into something, he’s only been in low A. And Zeid is a non factor.

    • Posts: 0 Chris

      Now let’s say the Phillies don’t make some of these trades. Then the last few years we’re playing with a rotation of, Hamels/Happ/Drabek/Carrasco/Kendrick or something close to that. That doesn’t even come close to nearly as quality as what the Phillies had and have now. However we’d still have what many like to call a declining offense because none of Donald, Marson or Taylor would even be able to play a major role on the Phillies. Now Brown could have maybe factored into last year or this upcoming year but the Phillies don’t believe in his complete package of abilities yet.

      Now the top prospects that we have given up could end up playing great. D’arnaud, Gose, Singleton, Cosart, Santana. However D’arnaud and Gose are not due to be contributors at the major league level until at least 2013. Singleton, Cosart and Santana could all take until 2014 or later to get here.

      So now the question is considering the pitching rotations and lineups that could have been put together with and without some trades and signings did RAJ make the right choices. I think the Pence trade may have been a little foolish in terms of what we gave up. However, consider that the lineup/rotation we have had recently and going forward spanks the possible lineup/rotation we could have had recently and in the future. The best chance at a championship between what did happen and what could have happened belongs to what did happen.

  • Posts: 0 Don M

    An article about Russians … on a sports blog…. that containts no pictures of Anna Kournikova ???????

    here, I fixed it

    • Posts: 577 Brian Sr. of CO

      Avatar of Brian Sr. of CO

      That would have made this article far more enjoyable! :)

  • Posts: 276 Jeff of Nova

    Avatar of Jeff of Nova

    Anyone see the release, that the Phillies are working on possibly signing Omar Vizquel

    •When asked if he would sign with the Phillies, Omar Vizquel told Manuel Lira of the Venezuelan newspaper Lider en Deportes (passed on by ESPN’s Enrique Rojas) that “We’re working on it.” Vizquel turns 45 in April and would be playing his 24th Major League season in 2012. Vizquel played under Charlie Manuel when Manuel managed the Indians from 2000-02

    • Posts: 0 Chris

      Yeah to me it’s pretty stupid unless they’re looking at him being a SS coach for Galvis in AAA.

    • Posts: 577 Brian Sr. of CO

      Avatar of Brian Sr. of CO

      Sadly yes. This is good because the Phillies are not quite old enough yet, so it is a great idea to sign a 45 yr old player with no power to speak of, low average. His average is comparable to Valdez, only he is 12 yrs older than Wilson. If they do sign him, I hope that the salary is roughly the same to Valdez, and not what his last contract was worth. Valdez was paid $560K in 2011, while Vizquel was paid $1.75Mill in 2011 (the same as Jim Thome just signed). If they sign him for $1.75 Mill, that would be insanely STUPID.

  • Posts: 19 Moondog

    Avatar of Moondog

    What a waste of time. Brezhnez. was also a drunk. Come in off the ledge. RAJ is doing just fine remember Ed Wade?

  • Posts: 0 George

    Some reason why the Brezhnev/Amaro analogy sucks:
    1. There are likely many REAL political scientists who would disagree with Bauman’s assessment of the Brezhnev regime.
    2. Some might also disagree with the premise that Kruschev came “close to ending the world” or that Gorbachev caused “the whole exercise to collapse on its head.” (It could very easily be argued that Kruschev’s actions were a product of cold war posturing and there are many who claim it was actually Kennedy who came closest to pushing the actual button. It would also be easy to argue that Brezhnev’s economic policies had already set the collapse in motion, and Gorbachev did his best to right a sinking ship.)
    3. Relying on the advice of old farts is not the same as keeping old players around. Advisors have an entirely different function.
    4. Ryan Howard’s contract bears no similarities to an Afghanistan campaign that resulted in 30,000 Soviet deaths as well as countless Afghani ones. (Howard, as far as I know, hasn’t even seriously injured anyone with a foul ball.) Nor will Howard’s contract destabilize an existing government to the point where a terrorist regime such as the Taliban can take over.

    Really, I’m not sure why I bother with any of this, when there’s that lovely link Don M has supplied!

  • Posts: 3084 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.
  • Posts: 0 George

    Strange how such lovely women have come from portions of what was once the USSR, but all that seem to show on the male side are bald runts, thugs with bushy eyebrows, dudes with strange birthmarks, bloated drunkards, and ill-tempered and nasty looking mafia types.

    Then again, I suppose the same is true of the U.S. Just put a picture of Newt Gingrich or Bob Dole next to one of Jennifer Aniston or Marilyn Monroe and you’ll see what I mean. (Or for that matter, a picture of myself next to a picture of almost any American woman!)

    • Posts: 577 Brian Sr. of CO

      Avatar of Brian Sr. of CO

      Or you can also put a picture of Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton next to a picture of Ann Coulter and Megan Kelly. Same difference.

      • Posts: 0 George

        Are you saying that Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton are men?

      • Posts: 577 Brian Sr. of CO

        Avatar of Brian Sr. of CO

        LOL. They often look like men.

  • Posts: 0 Bob in Bucks

    Uhhh…NO. Absurd attempt at a poor analogy. Let’s stay on baseball.

  • Posts: 5519 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    Nice job Don and Chuck, that’s some fine quality penmanship in my book.

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