What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Editor’s Note: Thanks to the Movie The King’s Speech, George VI came back into the view of the American populace. If it weren’t for that movie, most Yanks had long since forgotten George VI’s role as a wartime leader and the fact he ruled sovereign over a quarter of the world.
Much as he did through the Second World War, His Majesty George the Sixth, King of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Defender of the Faith, and Last Emperor of India endeavors to offer insights on the world of sport.
If you recall, I first came to commentary on this electronic screed back during the dark days of the NFL Lockout. Since then, I’ve become a dedicated fan of both blogs and American sport. One aspect that I particularly enjoy is one that is a common theme here on Dubsism; the comparison of something historical to something sporting. This is why I thought it might be a ripping good bit of fun to expand the horizons of the average Dubsism reader. I’m pretty sure many of you are aware that Great Britain has a long and storied military history. But I’m sure that your familarity with it’s depth may be quite limited.
After all, the British Empire once controlled a quarter of the known world. To accomplish that, we had to produce an inordinate amount of gifted military leaders. The paradox is that in order to produce such a big number of talented generals, one must also produce a significant number of incompetents. So that the typical American sports fan can get a better grasp of that issue, I’ve decided to compare a splendid list I found on Listverse of the 10 Worst British Generals of all time against a list of the 10 worst general mangers in American sport.
Be advised that you will notice many of these managers also happened to toil under the tutelage of some of the worst owners in the world of sport as well. That’s a frightful coincidence.
10) James Abercrombie (1706-1781)
Poor Edward Braddock always gets a drubbing for his mismanagement of the Monongahela Campaign. But the French and Indian War saw an equally stupid disaster perpetrated by James Abercrombie, who wasted thousands of men in a futile assault against Fort Ticonderoga in July 1758.
The French position at Ticonderoga was not insurmountable. The terrain gave the British a chance to flank the fort without difficulty, while unoccupied hills nearby offered prime artillery positions. “It is rare in military history for a commander to be faced by such a range of options,” notes Geoffrey Regan, “any one of which guaranteed success.”
Instead, Abercrombie opted for a suicidal frontal assault. The result was a bloodbath: 2,000 men fell, including nearly half of the famous “Black Watch” Highland regiment, and the attack was repulsed. Abercrombie lost his job to Edward Amherst, who captured Ticonderoga a year later with fewer men at a fraction of the cost.
Equivalent Incompetent Sports General Manager: Jim Paxson, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers under Jim Paxson never learned the lesson we did with the Royal Navy. Back in the days when we used the practice of impressment to bulk out ranks of sailors, eventually we discovered that we had to use other means to make matters complete. Sure, Paxson drafted LeBron James, and that begot him his sole winning campaign amongst the six he captained, but during and after the Paxson regime, Cleveland never learned to either develop talent or hire good
mercenaries free agents, not rabble like Trajan Langdon and DeSegana Diop.
9) FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, the 2nd Baron Raglan (1788-1855)
The Crimean War (1853-1856) is the apotheosis of British military incompetence, a conflict mismanaged on every level. Presiding over it was Lord Raglan, a former aide to the Duke of Wellington completely out of his depth. “Without the military trappings,” wrote Cecil Woodham-Smith, “one would never have guessed him to be a soldier.”
Raglan was an amiable man but at 65 years-old he was senile and unhealthy. On multiple occasions, he referred to the Russians as “the French,” forgetting France was now his ally. His inability to sort out differences amongst his subordinates, especially cavalry commanders Lucan and Cardigan, led to disaster in Balaclava’s infamous Charge of the Light Brigade.
Raglan blundered into victory at the Alma, making assaults to capture and recapture the same ground and allowing the routed Russians to escape unhindered. His mismanagement of Balaclava turned a potential victory into an epochal gaffe; the Light Brigade’s fate hinged on his inability to articulate a clear order. His troops then hunkered into trenches before Sebastopol, dying of disease and cold from atrocious medical care and inadequate provisions. Raglan suffered along with his troops, and in 1855 died of dysentery.
Equivalent Incompetent Sports General Manager: Tie – Woody Woodward, Seattle Mariners and Randy Smith, Detroit Tigers
Trades always seem to have a victor and a vanquished. In 1938, when Neville Chamberlain traded the Suedetenland for a worthless piece of paper, he really set the tone for the career of Woody Woodward. Despite the fact this chap architected teams which included such pips as Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Edgar Martinez, they consistently managed losing campaigns. This is because Woodward’s true legacy is in some of the truly ghastly trades he made; deals so bad they buggered the Mariners for nearly a decade after his departure. The flagship of his fleet of bad deals was Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb. But that was a large fleet…
One really can’t elaborate on such a bloody awful record such as that.
As far as Smith is concerned, what can you say about a bloke who traded six players for Juan Gonzalez, then offered him $140 million and got turned down. He quite needlessly chased himself up the money tree by giving gargatuan contracts to players like Bobby Higginson and Damion Easley in whom nobody else showed any appreciable interest. He then traded away Luis Gonzalez, Travis Fryman, David Wells, Cecil Fielder, and Brad Ausmus (twice) in lopsided deals. The capper was the fact he captained three 100-loss teams, including the 43-119 debacle which finally got him sacked.
8 ) Sir Redvers Buller (1839-1908)
“A brave man who loved action but feared responsibility for the lives of others” (Byron Farwell), Buller was Britain’s equivalent of Ambrose Burnside. Affable and well-liked, he had no business commanding an army. Early in the Boer War he lost battle after battle, never realizing infantry assaults against well-entrenched opponents rarely works. Spion Kop (January 23-24, 1900) is a representative case.
Buller’s first mistake was delegating responsibility to Charles Warren, his equally incompetent second-in-command. Warren’s lead brigade smashed into the teeth of the Boer position, becoming pinned down between two Boer forces. Without entrenchment tools, artillery support or proper leadership they were forced to endure a brutal crossfire.
Buller’s non-management is inexplicable. He made no effort to reinforce Warren, even calling off a flank attack that may have won the day. 1,700 troops fought while 28,000 remained idle. When Highland troops launched an unauthorized charge he angrily ordered them to withdrawal – after it succeeded! Ultimately 1,500 men died pointlessly. The bright side? Buller and Warren were finally sacked.
Equivalent Incompetent Sports General Manager: Kevin McHale, Minnesota Timberwolves
Note: I deferred to J-Dub on this commentary as the simple mention of the name “Kevin McHale” sets him off like a rabid wolfhound.
For the longest time, I wanted Kevin McHale dead. And not just dead; I wanted to drink beer out of his hollowed-out skull and piss on what was left of him. Like most Laker fans, I will always remember “McFail” for his clothesline of Kurt Rambis in the 1984 Finals. Had that flagrant foul happened in the NBA of today, he would have been suspended and fined. Instead, this play seemed to help shift some of the series momentum towards Boston, and McHale showed the world yet another Celtics player willing to be a cheap bitch.
But his complete and total failure as an NBA general manager was the sweetest plum. Run down the list of Kevin McHale draft picks…try to not to shudder when you see this level of not understanding talent:
Let that sink in for a moment. Think of that anytime in the future anybody tries to tell you what a great basketball guy “McFail” is.
7) William Howe, the 5th Viscount Howe (1729-1814)
As Britain’s commander-in-chief in the Revolutionary War, Howe won several battles and executed one brilliant campaign. But nearly all were Pyrrhic victories, Howe winning the battlefield while forfeiting long-term advantage.
Howe managed the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, winning a tactical victory only after suffering 30 percent casualties. Howe then offered a passive defense of Boston, playing cards instead of campaigning and ultimately abandoning the city without a fight.
Howe redeemed himself routing George Washington’s army on Long Island and seizing New York City. Howe’s hesitance in attacking Brooklyn Heights, however, allowed Washington to escape. Worse, Howe left scattered outposts throughout New Jersey, allowing Washington easy victories at Trenton and Princeton that winter.
Howe’s final blunder came during 1777’s Saratoga Campaign. John Burgoyne’s New York offensive threatened to split the colonies in two, and Howe was to join in a pincer movement against Horatio Gates’ Continentals. Howe instead marched on Philadelphia. He won a costly victory at Brandywine and captured Philadelphia but again allowed Washington to escape. Meanwhile Burgoyne was trounced by Gates and forced to surrender – an event that brought France into the war. After this debacle, Howe was finally sacked.
Equivalent Incompetent Sports General Manager: Mike Milbury, New York Islanders
If this list were solely about general managers who were just bloody awful twats, Milbury would be a far and away winner. A noted yeller and screamer, he was dubbed “Mad Mike” for his propensity for the “blockbuster” trade. To be fair to the chap, he was saddled had to deal with cheapskate ownership which forced him into a lot of “dump” deals; players who were exiled off Long Island included Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Bryan Berard, Tommy Salo, Olli Jokinen, Todd Bertuzzi, and Raffi Torres. But Milbury will be best remembered for three moves which doomed the Islanders to the doldrums of the Eastern Conference. That’s correct isn’t it? They don’t callit the Prince of Wales Conference anymore? Bloody Canucks…
6) John Whitelocke 1757-1833
Sir John Fortescue described Whitelocke as “bound up indissolubly with foolish expeditions.” He spent most of his career in the West Indies, notably in Britain’s disastrous attempts to conquer Santo Domingo during Touissant L’Overture’s slave revolt. He earns his place here for mismanaging the 1807 Buenos Aires expedition, a costly sideshow of the Napoleonic Wars.
Whitelocke’s troops landed outside Buenos Aires on July 1st and routed a token Spanish force. However, Whitelocke delayed following up, giving local militia time to organize. Whitelocke’s troops marched into the city, only to face a hostile citizenry. Every window housed a sniper, an artilleryman or an angry local with a pot full of boiling oil. Whitelocke exercised little control, allowing his force to be divided and attacked piecemeal in the streets.
Trapped in Buenos Ares, Whitelocke capitulated to Spanish General Liniares on August 12th. He’d lost more than 3,000 of his 10,000-man force in the meantime. He was ignominiously cashiered upon returning to England.
Equivalent Incompetent Sports General Manager: Tie – Bill Bavasi, California/Anaheim Angels and Seattle Mariners and the Dave Littlefield/Cam Bonifay tandem with the Pittsburgh Pirates
Despite the fact Bavasi did a masterful job of developing the Angels minor league system, he made some seriously questionable moves as a general manager of both Angels and Mariners. First, he signed fat, past-his-prime first baseman Mo Vaughn to a disastrous multi-year contract in Anaheim, then repeated that same mistake is Seattle with skinny, past-his-prime first baseman Richie Sexson.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, no general manager built a better resume for trading talent for a bag of bollocks. Established stars were allowed to go for nearly nothing, like Jason Schmidt and Aramis Ramirez. He gave away players who developed elsewhere, like Chris Young and Oliver Perez. Then there was the Dunkirk-like disaster of trading for Matt Morris with an astronomical $9.5 million left on his contract. However, Littlefield’s predecessor fared little better, which is why we must consider them as two parts of the same whole. Cam Bonifay’s portion of the madness included huge dollar, multi-year contracts for heaps like Kevin Young, Pat Meares, and Mike Benjamin. The capper was a six-year, $60 million deal for Jason Kendall which was put together when the Pirates were teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.
5) Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend (1861-1924)
To hear Charles Townshend tell it, he was a genius comparable to Napoleon and Clausewitz. The 43,000 troops lost during the Siege of Kut might beg to differ. Driven by ambition and overconfidence, Townshend led his 6th Indian Division into Britain’s greatest humiliation of World War I.
Ordered to advance on Baghdad in September 1915, Townshend expressed private misgivings. Publicly though, he leaped at the chance for glory, dreaming himself Governor of Mesopotamia. After several initial victories, stiffening Turkish resistance and heavy casualties stopped Townshend’s advance. Ordered to withdraw to Basra, Townshend instead hunkered down in the village of Kut.
Townshend’s men endured a horrific 147-day siege. Townshend made little effort to escape or prevent the Turks from surrounding him. He even forbade sorties on the grounds that “withdrawing” afterwards sapped morale! A hastily-organized relief force lost 23,000 men trying to raise the siege. His troops decimated by starvation and cholera, Townshend finally surrendered on April 29th, 1916.
Townshend enjoyed a cushy captivity in Constantinople while his troops endured forced labor. The British government was so embarrassed by Kut that they censored mention of it. Townshend became a Lieutenant-General, knight and MP, but history remembers him as an arrogant boob.
Equivalent Incompetent Sports General Manager: Billy Knight, Atlanta Hawks
Knight was less a knight and more a (hard) court jester. To wax Napoleonic, the point guard position would prove to be Knight’s Waterloo. Honestly, he did bring the Hawks talent like Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Josh Smith, and Al Horford. But he never could get a star on the point, which has been a millstone around this team’s neck for years. It’s not like he didn’t have opportunities; in 2005, Knight drafted forward Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams. A year later, Knight passed on Rajon Rondo to pick Shelden Williams; he really needed to have Duke’s next ghastly failure on his roster. We need hardly mention to folly of giving the crown jewels to Speedy Claxton in a Quixotic exercise in abject futilty to fix Atlanta’s point guard woes.
4) Arthur Percival (1887-1966)
When Japan entered World War II, Britain was understandably preoccupied with Nazi Germany. The Japanese overran Hong Kong, Malay and Burma in lightning campaigns. The biggest prize, however, was Singapore, the heavily-fortified port considered “the Gibraltar of the East.” Fortunately for Japan, its opponent was the singularly inept Arthur Percival.
Percival apparently occupied a strong position. His 85,000 Commonwealth troops vastly outnumbered Yamashita’s 36,000 Japanese. But his men were badly overstretched, with few tanks or modern planes to oppose Yamashita. Percival’s myopic focus on a naval attack – he believed landward defenses would be “bad for the morale of troops and civilians” – ceded initiative to Yamashita, who navigated the “impassible” Malay jungle and overwhelmed the British. Percival folded with a whimper, surrendering to Yamashita in “the worst disaster in British history” (Winston Churchill).
Unlike Townshend, Percival endured imprisonment just as bad as his men. Percival came out of it worse, however; he became the only Lieutenant-General in British history not to receive a knighthood.
Equivalent Incompetent Sports General Manager: Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers
On top of being another one of those damn Canadians, Clarke’s lasting legacy is that he is the father of that bloody awful neutral zone trap might which ushered in the big, slow, clutch-and-grab style of play that almost killed the league.
Yet, Clarke also managed to trade for Eric Lindros, while though literally giving away the store in the form of Peter Forsberg and a cavalcade of players and picks which the Colorado Avalanche turned into Hall-of-Fame goalkeeper Patrick Roy, who led them to a pair of Stanley Cup championships. If that weren’t enough, during his reign general manager 1998 Canadian Olympic hockey team, which just so happened to be the first Olympic hockey tournament to allow professional players, he somehow managed to lead the country which produces the lion’s share of the professional players to an out-of-the-medals finish. Stupid git.
3) Sir Charles MacCarthy (1764-1824)
What’s worse than surrendering an entire army? How about utterly destroying one? “A decent, proud, but stupid man” (James M. Perry), MacCarthy inherited a difficult situation as Governor of Africa’s Gold Coast. Ongoing disputes with the powerful Ashanti tribe led to war in 1824. MacCarthy mismanaged the resultant campaign in bizarrely comic fashion.
MacCarthy anticipated a colonial mistake repeated by Custer, Chelmsford and Baratieri. Starting with a 6,000-man force, he divided it into four uneven columns. MacCarthy’s own force numbered a mere 500, against 10,000 Ashanti. When the Ashanti initiated battle on January 20th, the other columns were tens of miles away.
At the battle’s onset, MacCarthy ordered his musicians to play God Save the King, thinking this would scare the Ashanti away. It did not. A ferocious battle ensued, MacCarthy’s troops holding their own until ammunition began running out. Hard-pressed, MacCarthy called up his reserve ammunition, only to find macaroni instead of bullets!
The Ashanti overran and massacred the British force, with only 20 survivors. MacCarthy was killed, his heart eaten and head used as a fetish for years. It took 50 years of intermittent warfare to subdue the Ashanti.
Equivalent Incompetent Sports General Manager: Tie – M. Donald Grant, New York Mets and Harry Frazee, Boston Red Sox
Grant was a complete codger; part of the old guard who continued to see players as indentured servants well after the advent of free agency in baseball. This meant he eschewed top-flight talent, preferring to trade them away for more economical players. In conjunction, he refused to grant salaries even remotely resembling a reasonable market value. This philosophy led to the infamous trade of Tom Seaver, an event which still sends many Mets’ supporters over the brink. Then there was the debacle of the Nolan Ryan package deal for Jim Fregosi. Had the Mets not had their miracle win in 1969, Grant easily could have topped this list.
As far as Frazee is concerend, it is a common bit of piffle that he sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to fund a Broadway musical. The bloody awful truth is far worse; Ruth was a crashing boor and Frazee simply tired of Ruth’s antics. Hence, Frazee sent him packing rather than harness his remarkable ability of the man who would cause the ascendance of professional sport in North America. What a buggery pillock.
2) William Hicks (1830-1883)
Assigned to suppress the Mahdist Uprising in the Sudan, Hicks led what Winston Churchill called “the worst Army that has ever marched to war” – a rabble of Egyptian prisoners and ex-rebels, some shipped to the front in shackles. Arrogant British officials assumed this paltry force would put the pesky Mohammedans in their place. Hicks proved them wrong.
In fall 1883, Hicks marched his jerry-rigged 10,000-man army into Sudan. Misled by treacherous guides, Hicks’ army fell victim to the desert clime, losing hundreds to desertion and dehydration. On November 3rd, the Mahdists, 40,000 strong, finally pounced at the oasis of El Obeid. After two days of desperate fighting, the army was overrun and massacred, with all but 500 men killed (Hicks included). Hicks’ stupendous failure set the stage for Charles Gordon’s doomed stand at Khartoum and fifteen years of fighting in Sudan.
Equivalent Incompetent Sports General Manager: Tie – Isiah Thomas, New York Knicks and Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles Clippers
Not only are these two former roundballers largely responsible for their franchises both dredging the cesspool for at least a decade, but they also both worked for dreadful owners. In the case of Thomas, ownership wasn’t so much a problem as was his own complete ham-handedness as a decision maker. Exhibit A was when Thomas traded four players, two draft picks, and cash to the Phoenix Suns in order to build his team around shoot-first-ask-questions-later point guard Stephon Marbury.
To fix the Marbury problem, Thomas thought partnering one shoot-firster with another was a “can’t miss” proposition. Needless to say, the Steve Francis-Stephon Marbury backcourt marriage was a short one.
Then, Thomas sent three players and four draft picks to the Chicago Bulls to get the soon-to-be morbidly obese Eddy Curry, all 37 stone of him.
All this meant Thomas managed to build a team with a corpulent payroll which couldn’t win 30 games a season. Under Thomas, the Knicks morphed into a team of overpaid underachievers which had no draft picks and spent millions in luxury taxes for being over the salary cap.
As far as Elgin Baylor is concerned, he did have a major handicap by being employed by legendary cheapskate cock-up Donald Sterling. But that doesn’t change the fact many teams succeeded with miniscule payrolls. Somehow, Baylor lasted as the Clippers’ general manager for 22 years during which the Clips racked up exactly two winning seasons. This span of futility includes a 12-70 season and five seasons of 65 or more losses and just two winning seasons.
This level of terrible was accomplished largely through Baylor’s either making a McHale-esque cavalcade of terrible draft picks and/or not retaining the picks which weren’t bloody awful.
1) William George Keith Elphinstone (1782-1842)
Britain won the Anglo-Afghan War’s first round, routing Dost Mohammed and capturing Kabul. But the Afghans hated English rule and quickly revolted. Into this firestorm stepped William Elphinstone, the only man to lose an entire British army.
Riddled with gout and heart disease, Elphinstone was a poor choice to command. He arrived in Kabul in 1842, with disaster looming. British encampments were sighted lower than Kabul’s city walls, with provisions located outside them. Afghan bandits murdered Britons who ventured out of camp.
Patrick Macrory characterizes Elphinstone as “[seeking] every man’s advice… he was at the mercy of the last speaker.” Fatally indecisive, he allowed Afghans to kill envoys Alexander Burns and William Macnaghten, capture his supplies and snipe at his men without response. Elphinstone finally capitulated, agreeing to withdraw his army to India.
Elphinstone’s army, accompanied by thousands of camp followers, staggered through the Afghan mountains. Their numbers were whittled down by disease, cold weather and incessant Afghan attacks. In the Khyber passes, the Afghans finally massacred the survivors. A single European, Dr. Brydon, survived of 16,000 who’d left Kabul. Elphinstone himself died in Afghan captivity.
Novelist George Macdonald Fraser aptly called Elphinstone “the greatest military idiot, of our own or any day.”
Equivalent Incompetent Sports General Manager: Matt Millen, Detroit Lions
There really couldn’t be another choice to head this list, he is the Maximus Regis of blithering idiots. Not only was Millen brutally incompetent, but he actually got owner William Clay Ford to give him a five-year contract extension at $5 million per year; this coming after his first four years on the job during which the Lions never once won more than six games. Not only did this set the table for Millen to lead the Lions into the abyss of an 0-16 season in 2008, it cemented Ford as one of the worst owners ever. Honestly it takes work to be this bad. Again, Millen mastered butchering draft picks, from the Joey Harrington debacle to selecting every underperforming wide receiver available. It would actually be easier to name the first-round picks Millen didn’t blow (Calvin Johnson).
Whether is is back in England or with you bloody colonial revolutionaries, we are all sports fans, and as such, one of our favorite pastimes is to look down upon the architects of our beloved teams with our perfect hindsight and second-guess their every move. We may never fully appreciate just how difficult it is to construct and then maintain a winning team, and we may be horribly awry in believing we could do it better. However, every so often a general manager comes along and fuels our mistaken beliefs with his own spectacular idiocy.
May He bless and keep us all.
– King George VI
I admit to taking a peek at the winning equivalent before digesting the entire post. I knew the post would be a winner when I saw THAT winner. That being said, Millen does indeed get moderate praise for both his longevity and ability to con so much insane coin out of someone else…no matter how sane the individual spending it.
Another brilliant masterpiece J-dub. This former historian waited to read this piece with my morning coffee and was not disappointed. I look forward to the another installment…whenever that may come. Cheers.
Whenever I feel down, I read over Kevin McHale’s former draft picks.
They make me smile.
Although, I’m also not a Timberwolves fan.
I’d probably feel differently if I were.
As the author of said Listverse article, I am very happy to see it put to such excellent use. I never would have thought to equate Elphinstone to Matt Millen, but in retrospect I can’t think of anything more apropos. Cheers!