- Let the managerial speculation begin:
It's a week into the season and already teams are starting to panic.
The oddest part is that the Angels, White Sox and Dodgers----good teams all from whom much is expected----have all gotten off to bad starts and no one is having the freakout sessions that are being exhibited in Queens and Milwaukee.
Six games is a little early to hit the ejector seat.
This isn't to imply I'm adverse to firing the manager; I'm an advocate of doing it sooner rather than later if a team is going to do it; but if it's done as a means to placate an agitated fan base or an agenda-driven media, then it's a mistake.
Jerry Manuel of the Mets is already having his job security threatened after a 2-4 start; the Brewers' Ken Macha is in trouble as well; and the Orioles----with raised hopes due to their young players and under-the-radar veteran acquisitions----are also going to make a change from Dave Trembley if their slump continues.
When contemplating a managerial change, several questions have to be asked and answered before pulling the trigger: Is it fair? Will it help? Would a new manager do any better with the current group than the current manager?
With Manuel and Macha, the firings would of course, be unfair.
To blame Jerry Manuel for what happened to the Mets last season is absurd. The entire team was on the disabled list. The entire team. Tony La Russa; Connie Mack; John McGraw; Earl Weaver; and Billy Martin combined couldn't have done any better than 70-92 with what the Mets were trotting out last year.
Macha brought the Brewers in at 80-82 in 2009, which was around where their talent level----especially on the mound----dictated they belonged.
With Trembley I have to shrug. He's lacking something; whether that's professional experience as a player despite having a long career as a minor league manager; or it's an absence of the aura a big league manager needs, I don't know; but he's the epitome of the manager who "won't take his team to the next level"; and of the three examples, a change needs to be made in Baltimore to a younger, strategically oriented manager who's going to be able to relate to his young players and forge a bond with the veterans.
Would firing any of the three above-mentioned managers help the club's fortunes immediately?
The Mets have had this cloud hanging over them going back to 2007 and the epic collapse. It's accurate to say clearing out Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen could help. If nothing else, it would bring in fresh blood and a spark with Bobby Valentine or Bob Melvin and could take the pressure off of GM Omar Minaya and ownership at least for awhile.
The Brewers have a manager-in-waiting in Willie Randolph; Macha's not well-liked despite making the right moves most of the time; he, like Manuel, is in the last year of his contract and was almost dumped after last season. The Brewers are a flawed team posing as a contender; after the money they spent on Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins, they're not going to let the season go down the tubes without sacrificing someone; the easiest thing to do is to fire the manager who they don't appear to want anyway.
Would Randolph do any better with the Brewers now than Macha? Would Valentine or Melvin fix the Mets?
Studying the "bottom-line"----the record----is like reading a three sentence summary of a 50 page book; it's taken woefully out of context.
The Brewers are currently 3-3. They lost two games in which their ace----Yovani Gallardo----started and lost; in one of the games, he got shelled. On Friday, Macha had his closer, Trevor Hoffman, in pitching the ninth; Hoffman coughed up the lead and the game by allowing a 2-run homer with 2 outs and 2 strikes on Cardinals pinch hitter Nick Stavinoha. Then last night, Hoffman blew a 7-4 lead by allowing a 2-out, 2-run homer to Albert Pujols to pull the Cardinals to within one; then Matt Holliday homered to tie it; the Brewers won in the bottom of the ninth as Casey McGehee homered to win it.
The implication was that the McGehee walk-off may have "saved" Macha's job.
Saved it from what?
Being fired for no reason?
If I'm Ken Macha and anyone started questioning me for what happened, I'd sit there with a bewildered, murderous look on my face accompanied by the rhetorical and unanswerable question: "What...did....you....want....me....to....do?"
He had his closer in the games and his closer blew the games. Was he supposed to do something other than what he did? Was it the wrong strategy?
If a manager does the right things and they don't work, how is he to blame? Just as when a manager does the wrong things and they do work (see Joe Maddon, circa 2008), there's not credit or blame to be doled out.
With Manuel, the 2-4 record is also misapplied as a reason to dump him. The Mets have shown fight; the bullpen and starting pitching have done well. Johan Santana ran into one of the more underrated sluggers in baseball in Josh Willingham yesterday and the hitters did nothing with Livan Hernandez. The starting pitching has been very good up to now; even Oliver Perez was serviceable on Saturday (in comparison to what he was last year anyway); and had it not been for a great catch by Willie Harris on Rod Barajas's sinking liner, the Mets would've won the game.
To think that one game either way should save or doom a manager is absurd.
Those clamoring for Bobby Valentine to return to the Mets are forgetting that, as great a manager as Valentine is (and he's probably one of the top three baseball strategists in the world), his Mets teams collapsed in both 1998 and 1999; and he lost the clubhouse by 2002.
I love Bobby Valentine as a manager and thought it was mistake to fire him, but to wax nostalgic for his Mets tenure is forgetting the negatives that come within the "Bobby V Package"----the arrogance, condescension, and occasional cold brutality with players he dislikes are part of the reason he's so good at other aspects of the job. Negatives don't outweigh positives; they can exist simultaneously and bolster strengths; but they're still there.
There were managerial changes last season that were made and ended as hit-or-miss.
The Rockies fired Clint Hurdle and replaced him with Jim Tracy because: A) the team was 10 games under .500; B) the relationship between Hurdle and star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki had deteriorated to the point that they could no longer co-exist; and C) GM Dan O'Dowd was under fire himself working in the last year of his contract and likely to be let go if the team didn't turn things around.
A case could easily be made for Tracy to be called the best manager in baseball and the Rockies ignited as soon as he took over; O'Dowd wound up with a contract extension and the Rockies are a trendy pick to make the World Series. This would not have happened had they kept Hurdle; in retrospect, it was the right move.
With the Diamondbacks, Bob Melvin was let go.
Melvin was very popular with the players and a solid manager who wasn't responsible for the Diamondbacks downfall last season. Losing Brandon Webb sabotaged any chance for them to contend in a rough division; and Melvin, too independent for the taste of GM Josh Byrnes, was dismissed.
What made things worse in Arizona was the elevation of A.J. Hinch----a managerial neophyte and cerebral front office man who had never shown any interest in returning to the field. Hinch made mostly the right moves strategically as he felt his way through and tried to win the backing of his players, but there will always be the Byrnes statement of Hinch providing "organizational advocacy" following him around as if he's being told what to do; why and how to do it.
Other teams that should've or still should make managerial changes have yet to do so. The Blue Jays' Cito Gaston should've been asked to resign after the way the Blue Jays quit last year; and with their numerous young players in the midst of a rebuild, they need a manager with whom they can forge a bond and grow together.
The Rays' Joe Maddon is one of the worst managers I've ever seen and more evidence was presented yesterday with his stupid decision to have Randy Choate pitch to Jorge Posada----Posada homered.
Bud Black of the Padres and Trey Hillman of the Royals are clueless.
Those that defend Yankees manager Joe Girardi are just as off topic as the "record-keepers" who think a 2-4, 3-3 start and a missed opportunity here and there----through no fault of the manager----are reason to fire someone. Girardi is still feeling his way through as Yankees manager and has been carried to a championship as the players protect him from himself with greatness. Truth be told, the Yankees could stick a mannequin in the corner of the dugout in full uniform and they'd still win 95 games. (That's essentially what the Diamondbacks did with Bob Brenly from 2001 onward.)
If a team wants to make a change, they should do so. It's their right and they don't have to give a reason, but for the media and fan base to take a firing as a cure-all and absolve the players and make the manager the scapegoat is the epitome of short-sightedness.
People forget now, but Charlie Manuel (3 straight division titles, a World Series win and a National League championship) was days away from being fired after the Phillies started 2007 at 3-10. The 1998, 125-50 Yankees were about to fire Joe Torre after a 1-4 start.
Did Manuel suddenly become smarter from early 2007 until now? Or did the players just start performing? He's managing now exactly as he did then; what he's doing is simply working better.
Did Torre steer the ship with his personality, charm and calm? Or did Chad Curtis hit a home run in Oakland to save his job? Would that Yankees team have won anyway had Jim Fregosi or whoever taken over? Probably----that's how good they were----but they would absolutely have lost the aesthetic that came from Torre running the show.
In the end, if a team is going hire a new manager, they should do it and end the speculation. The one thing I don't want to hear is that it's something other than what it is because just like most everything else, it's hit-or-miss and the only way to determine success or failure is in the rear-view-mirror.
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That's just fact.