Knight shows he can master his emotions

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ray Knight ought to be bouncing off the walls by now. He should be tearing out his hair by the handful. He should have kicked some dirt and dented some water coolers and achieved that raving lunatic look.

This is how a major-league manager is expected to behave when things go badly. Your team loses eight straight, and you're supposed to start acting like Albert Belle.

Ray Knight can't even get himself thrown out of a game.

"I really don't know how to argue," the Reds' rookie manager said Tuesday. "I can't bob my head and do the Earl Weaver deal. I think a lot of that is learned. Maybe I'll learn how to argue, but I go out there and say what I think. I said something the other day, 'Dad gum it, we haven't got a break this year.' He (the umpire) said, 'I'm not here to give you breaks.' "

Knight characteristically leads with his jaw - expressing himself before evaluating the consequences - and his remarks are not always calculated for maximum caution. He declared Chad Mottola an everyday player last Friday, and had reneged on that promise by Sunday morning.

It was not Knight's intention to mislead Mottola, but he did not allow for the possibility that circumstances could change suddenly. Curiously, Knight has had a harder time holding his tongue than holding his temper.

Patience a virtue

The Reds' exasperating April ended with a 9-16 record Tuesday night - Pittsburgh's 10-7 lashing of the locals extended the losing streak to eight - and Knight has willed himself to watch all of it. He has yet to be ejected from a game despite the occasional errors of the umpires, the frequent errors of his fielders, and a pitching staff that should cause all of us to take cover.

This is to his credit. Among the hardest things a manager must learn is how to handle recurring heartache, and the Reds' new skipper has passed the trauma test early and often. Davey Johnson wondered last winter whether his protege had enough patience for his new position. The good news is that Knight has more patience than previously perceived. The bad news is that it looks as though he's going to need every ounce of it this season.

The '96 Reds do not remotely resemble the team that won the National League's Central Division last year. Reggie Sanders is hurt, and Bret Boone has been, too, but they are not nearly all that ails this club.

The Reds' starting pitchers own a 5.50 ERA so far this spring, and the bullpen has made them all look like Greg Maddux. The National League was hitting .301 against the Reds at game time Tuesday, and this was before the Pirates' Jeff King pounded a pair of home runs against them in the fourth inning.

Knight has had to replace star players with role players and refugees - goodbye Ron Gant, hello Vince Coleman - and he has endured his mounting frustrations over flubbed fundamentals without ever once flinging first base into right field.

If Lou Piniella is a lava flow, Ray Knight is mellow as a mountain stream.

"If you ever watched me (as a player), I never threw a helmet, I never threw a bat - coming back to the dugout," he said. "I remember winging it once or twice on plays I was called out on, but I was very conscious of not showing the weakness of failing.

"My dad taught me, 'Don't show your anger. Don't show madness.' I seldom had any spats with umpires. I was ejected out of one game in my life - other than altercations or fights with players - and I held a lot of it in even then. I've never hit a wall. I've never kicked a cooler."

'We are in a funk'

He may not be able to say that much longer. When infielders fail to execute a rundown play, and pitchers walk the bases full, and three players converge on a foul pop and none of them catch it, even the most impassive manager can be provoked.

Ray Knight had to stomach all of these distasteful developments Tuesday night. "And Bret Boone didn't run out a popup," he added. "That's the thing that bothered me. But that's just who we are right now. We are in a funk."

If the Reds' manager doesn't get himself thrown out of a game soon, it can only be ascribed to masochism.

Published May 1, 1996.