By Samson Barnes – CBA Prospectus
Galveston have gone from Champions to a team desperate to keep a seat at the table. I sat down with GM Ian Lamberson on deadline day for a surprisingly candid look at his rocky tenure.
This isn’t the first time I’ve visited Ian Lamberson’s office. I came in on deadline day a couple of years ago during a whirlwind of activity and watched as he manically divided his attention between a couple of smartphones and laptops.
I’ve seen great GMs at work on deadline day, and he lacked the refinement of a man conducting an orchestra he knows by heart, but it was hard to not be oddly won over by his intensity. Not a conductor, but an improviser. He was clearly making it up as he went along, but with the confidence of somebody who has made it up as he went along before.
He barely acknowledged my presence that day, which was fine. I was happy to observe. Though he did catch me completely off guard once, when after hanging up a phone, he stood up with a start, chewed on the nail of his ring finger and stared into space, he suddenly looked me dead in the eye and said,
“What do you think about Juan Chay?”
I was completely taken aback.
“He’s, uh, he’s good!”
He nodded assuredly.
“Yes. Yes. He IS good.”
That was all he had to say on the matter, until about half an hour later when he looked toward me again and said,
“We got Chay. If he sucks, it’s your fault, and I’m going to tell the press it was your idea.”
He smiled to let me know he was joking, but the volume at which he drummed his thumb tipped that while he may be joking, there was a little bit of him that was definitely NOT joking.
“Go ahead, but saying you let some CBA Prospectus blogger pick a trade target is gonna make you look a lot worse than it makes me look.”
“Eh, fair enough. Our secret then. But we’ll both know it was your fault.”
Fortunately, Juan Chay did not suck. He did quite well for the rest of that season, and has made a pretty credible case to be considered Galveston’s best starter since. You’re welcome Gremlins fans.
That manic new job energy isn’t here in the office today. Deadline Day is oddly quiet this year. During my first visit, I’d noticed an empty pack of nicotine gum on the ground by the trash can. A misjudged toss in the frenzy of deadline day. Now, I can see a barely obscured ashtray with a pair of cigarette butts blotted out.
Ian regards me with a half-hearted smile.
“Sam. Good to see you again. What in the world could possibly be going on here that would interest you enough to write about?”
I chuckle politely. “What isn’t?
I show him my phone with the recording app on. He nods his consent amiably.
I clear my throat. “So, how do you think it’s going?”
Ian sighs theatrically and rubs his face.
“It’s never a good sign when they ask that question. You cannot say “Great!” to that question convincingly, so I’ll just say that it’s been challenging, and we’ve made some good decisions and some bad decisions, and we’re happy with the good decisions, and we’ve adapted well to mitigate the bad decisions as much as we possibly can. This isn’t where we want to be every year, but it’s where we are right now, and as much as I hate telling fans to manage their expectations accordingly, I’d be lying if I suggested otherwise.”
“Can I ask you about the bad decisions?”
“Only if you promise to write about the good ones after.”
“I am not going to promise that.”
“Fine. Yeah, we made some bad signings and a couple of trades that, looking back, I’m not at all happy with. I’ll hold my hand up and admit some of that was naivety, but a lot of it was bad luck too. You have to remember I came into a team that had won 90 games the year before. I wasn’t looking to overhaul something that clearly wasn’t broken, I bought like somebody that had the luxury of overpaying for a couple of flourishes on the roster. It turns out that the reality of the situation was that Dustyn had built something incredible, but the foundations were about to collapse. I was like a first time home buyer seeing a great looking house and thinking about where I should put the hot tub when the roof was about to cave in and the floors were sinking. That was on me. I’m not saying I was ready to turn around and repeat a 90 win season, but I think, if I had been more astute, I would have invested differently early on. I regret not seeing that.
The decisions I made that summer were almost universally bad, but I’ll also say that there were a lot of teams in that race to sign Tim McDormand, and none of them would have expected it to turn out the way it did. Sam looked like a great pickup, Dustyn called me the next day to congratulate me on that deal. That broke about as badly as it possibly could have. At least we were able to flip him for [Galveston’s ever present second basemen and presumptive Golden Glove winner Jose] Nuno, but I look at how Rhett has grown now, and while you’d be hard pressed to find a guy on this team I like more than Jose, some young blood in that rotation would be incredible about now. Again, hindsight and all of that obviously.
“What about Gonzalez?” I prompt.
Gonzo? The guy that’s hit 28 homers this year? That disaster of a deal in which I got the guy that kept me up the year before and then went on to hit 28 homers so far this year? The walking injury crisis that’s missed like 6 games for me in a year and a half? Look, we wound up paying a steep price for him, but we also got Franz [Tiel], who, by the way, is arguably the best AAA guy in all of baseball this year, and may actually be the best defensive center fielder I’ve ever seen. He’ll be with us next season, and we got some stretch help in the bullpen and some cash we desperately needed.
“Two first round picks though?”
Ian waves his hands dismissively, angrily even. “People were upset because I traded them to Houston. Nobody would have even blinked if I traded those picks to Miami or Phoenix. I don’t like enriching the rich, but that was the deal I had on the table and things were looking dire. I was staring relegation directly in the eye. I hate having to make decisions from that position, and I’d love a year where I don’t have to do that.” I regret putting this team in a situation where we keep having to do that.
Ian’s mood has shifted from one of thoughtful reflection to outright defensive and bitter. It’s clear I’ve hit a sore spot.
“Would you consider that one of the bad deals?”
He closes his eyes and takes a deep measured breath. He’s picking his words carefully.
“I’m very happy with what Gonzo has done here. Our team and organization are better for having him be a part of it. I wish every bad decision I’ve ever made produced as much fruit as he has. That being said, I wish I had negotiated that deal differently.”
He raises his eyebrows and drums his thumbs on the desk. His cheeks puff before exhaling loudly. He forces a smile.
“Sorry, It’s not very General Managery of me to rant is it?”
I can’t help but laugh at that.
“It’s actually the most “General Mangery” thing you can do.”
Now, he’s laughing again and the tension seems to slink out of the room.
“You actually made some really good signings this year. I’m still not sure how you got Chad Ford for what you did.”
He smirks and shrugs. “Maybe, I’m a genius. I was so pleased to get him and Roland in at those numbers.”
He shrugs again but without the smirk. He leans closer and elaborates sotto-voce,
“Can you believe that? And look, trust me when I say that there is not a better human being, a better leader, a guy you want in your locker room in this entire league more than Roland Wilfing. There is nobody, you, me, our biggest fan, who was more disappointed and shocked with how things have gone on the field than he is. I have no regrets about that signing. That was shocking. I truly hope he finds his feet again wherever he ends up next.”
“So he won’t be with Galveston next year?”
“It was a short term contract, and I think he wants to look elsewhere, so I don’t think it’s likely he’ll be back with us next season.”
“What about Chad?”
“We’d love to bring Chad back, but he’s a premium player we got on a short term deal at a short term price, he’s obviously going to test the market again this offseason. We’ll see where things are as that develops, but I think it’s unlikely he’ll return.”
Suddenly the sound of Blue Rondo a’ la Turk pierces through the silence. Ian frowns and looks at his phone. He apologizes and gets up to take it. I indicate my willingness to step out, but he waves me off and walks out the door. I pack things up and turn off my recorder. I like Ian’s office because it has a great view of the field at Island Park. I stare at the empty seats, and unconsciously look back to the empty seat behind the desk. I look at the championship banners hanging from the rafters and think back to a different Premier League era.
The obvious question a lot of Galveston fans are going to have is, whether or not this Ian guy can turn things around, and I have to admit, I’m really not sure. I think he’s made some pretty big missteps, but I think he’s done a great job of avoiding a complete collapse so far. If he manages to stay up again, that job is only going to get tougher next season with his former mentor Dustyn’s assurgent Mexico City likely joining the fray, and I’m curious to see if he’s able to stave off relegation again. But mostly, I’d love to see him not have to worry about it for a year or two, and while I’m not sure he’ll get there, I come away today even less sure that he won’t.
Nobody serious would say that he’s done a great job thus far, but he’s learning. I’ve seen General Managers who don’t, and the only thing I can confidently assure Galveston fans is that you’d rather have the one who does.
He comes back in, and we have a friendly chat about Dave Brubeck and soccer for a few minutes before I excuse myself. He shakes my hand and as I’m about to step out, he calls out
“What do you think about Maheswari Nandy?”
Samson is a lifelong CBA fan and former high-school JV player. In addition to his regular contributions to CBA Prospectus, he also hosts the weekly podcast “Heading Home”, which you can find on your podcast app of choice.