Can today's Managers be scapegoats?...

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T15D23
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Can today's Managers be scapegoats?...

Postby T15D23 » Thu Jun 06, 2019 1:30 pm

The manager role has changed, so why are they still scapegoats for a team’s failure?
Peter Gammons

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There was a time when being George Steinbrenner’s manager was always referred to as “a temp.” The managers didn’t laugh about it, nor did The Boss when we suggested his “you’re fired” routine was part of the inspiration for The National Lampoon Radio Hour, then Saturday Night Live.

Bill Virdon was Steinbrenner’s manager on July 25, 1975, and the Yankees were eight games behind the Red Sox when they began a four-game series at Shea Stadium, where the Yankees were playing while The Stadium Babe Ruth Built and Horace Clarke Tore Down was being renovated. The Yankees won that first game, but Boston won on Saturday (and Rick Burleson made a heart-stopping play) to set up the Sunday doubleheader. Game one would feature Catfish Hunter vs. Bill Lee.

It was scoreless in the bottom of the seventh when the Yankees loaded the bases with none out. Now, as you may remember, Steinbrenner was serving a suspension decreed by then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn. But George was in the first row behind the Yankee dugout, and as Lee got the first out then the second out without a run, Steinbrenner crawled partway onto the dugout roof and began banging it. We never knew precisely what it was that he wanted Virdon to do, but Lee got the third out. In the top of the ninth, Fred Lynn reached on an error by shortstop Jim Mason, stole second and scored on Rick Miller’s single off Hunter, and in the bottom of the ninth inning, Lynn made an unforgettable diving catch in left-center. The final out was a foul pop between home and third; Red Sox third baseman Bob Heise made a sliding catch, leaped in the air, spiked the ball in jubilation and, as Boston catcher Bob Montgomery noted before catching the team bus to the airport, “the Yankees are now marked absent.” Not to The Boss’s liking.

Indeed. Roger Moret shut out the Yankees 6-0 in the nightcap. Soon thereafter, Billy Martin replaced Virdon as manager. The pennant race was over.

Billy and The Boss had a comical relationship. Billy pulled Reggie Jackson from a game in Fenway Park on national television in 1977, but Reggie hit three home runs in a World Series game that October as the Yankees won another championship. In 1978, Martin was fired and replaced by pitching coach Bob Lemon; Billy had a tearful “resignation” ceremony in Kansas City that July.

The Boss once fired Yogi Berra 16 games into a season. Steinbrenner wasn’t alone; in 1988, the Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams fired Cal Ripken Sr. after an 0-6 start and replaced him with Frank Robinson.

We now are supposedly in an era when Theo Epstein, Brian Cashman, Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti and other baseball progressives have come to view their managers as key role-players in business organizations that are collaborative — where general managers and managers and players are interwoven in a tapestry of thought and open dialogues.

Still, we have the National League East. There is no doubt that many pundits, fans and talk show hosts believed that this was going to be a powerful division, perhaps the best division of all. Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto in Philly. Patrick Corbin in Washington to join the Juan Soto generation. Brodie Van Wagenen bringing Robinson Canó, Edwin Díaz and Wilson Ramos to a new age of enlightenment at Citi Field. The Braves got Josh Donaldson and a warehouse of young stars, from Ronald Acuña to Mike Soroka.

Then as the sun rose on Memorial Day, the National League East was a combined 12 games under .500; the only worse division was the American League Central. The NL East also had the worst run differential of any division, -97, 170 runs worse than the American League West.

And so the division became Execution Row. In this era of talk radio and social (often anti-social) media, great expectations unfulfilled create greater disappointment and, at times, overreaction. It began when the Phillies first gathered in Clearwater with Harper, Realmuto, David Robertson, et al, as their September had been a disappointment. Their manager, Gabe Kapler, is unconventional, and there were discussions from the outset about his job stability, given the expenditures and the passionate edge to the market’s sports fans.

Kapler clearly understood that managing in the I-95 Beltway between Queens, Philly and D.C. comes with heightened expectations. Curiously, despite the fact that Harper and Realmuto haven’t begun to approach their norms and Robertson has been injured, the Phillies are eight games over .500, and Kapler is managing a first-place team. Atlanta? Ownership chose not to join the free agent auctions, and Alex Anthopoulos chose to keep draft choices with his team in the midst of a long ban on international signings. And while the 33-28 record isn’t quite what they anticipated, the recall of Austin Riley and the development of their young pitching seemingly has their arrow pointing up.

Meanwhile, the Marlins haven’t exactly publicly thanked Don Mattingly for putting his heart and soul into a roster that had recently dumped two MVPs and two other All-Stars. Mattingly has been patiently trying to keep their young pitching stable. A few weeks ago, the wRC+ analytics had their lineup as the worst ever. Isan Díaz has started to heat up in the minors. The hard feelings the new organizational regime created have not disappeared, and while Derek Jeter’s demands for better performance on every front were understandable, as the Royals, White Sox, Tigers and Padres know, these overhauls are five-year propositions. And in Miami’s case, it will have to happen in front of crowds that would disappoint the University of Maryland’s lacrosse teams.

Mattingly has said all the right things, enjoyed the young players, and has been left dangling, with a constant public reminder that his contract is up at the end of the season; firing Mike Pagliarulo as hitting coach was the front office’s clear statement about Mattingly’s role. The Marlins’ team slash line on Memorial Day morn was .233/,254/.325/.620; Zack Greinke’s slash was .320/.370/.720/1.090. At least the team was outhomering Christian Yelich, 35-20.

The Mets and Nationals have been stripped by injuries and, in Washington’s case, a bullpen core between their starters and Sean Doolittle that has been dreadful. So for a 10-day period in the last two weeks of May, Mickey Callaway and Davey Martinez seemed primed for firing squads. The Mets had a five-game losing streak May 15-19, and when they returned to Queens, a Jeff Wilpon/Van Wagenen/Callaway meeting seemingly was the sign that someone — Joe Girardi, for instance — would be replacing Callaway. But the team won a couple of games, Rajai Davis and Carlos Gómez were heroes, and Callaway temporarily left the headlines. Until the next bumper thumper.

Martinez seemed to be at any-moment status for days, in some reports held back only by ownership’s disdain for paying managers, hence the inability to hire Bud Black. Mike Rizzo came out and said “there are a lot of factors here, not just Davey Martinez,” and took a measure of the blame, but the cloud remains, perhaps until a POTUS tweet.

“You look at what some managers go through and it’s clear that some (teams) feed the public notion that somehow a major league baseball manager’s role is similar to that of movie fiction,” says one ex-manager. “It’s always the manager’s fault. Very seldom is there much public discussion about the players, or who assembled the roster of players.”

Indeed, when the Red Sox starting pitching was struggling in April and the defending world champions were at the bottom of the standings, one columnist wrote that Alex Cora needed to do a better job “motivating” his players.

Today’s management is about collaboration, between ownership, upper baseball management, analytics, video scouting, managers, coaches, players. This spring Gerry Hunsicker, one of the most intelligent general managers of his time, talked about how the legendary Frank Cashen — and most of the general managers of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s — hardly ever talked to players. Hunsicker, now a senior advisor for the Dodgers, watched the daily spring interactions — from Andrew Friedman to Dave Roberts on through coaches to young players — and marveled at how realistic, intelligent management has gone from “my way or the highway” to “our way or the highway.”

Sure, there comes a time in the life of a manager, or a coach in any sport, when somehow words lose their meaning and their volume. And there are plenty of instances on record when removing a manager was successful. Go back to 2003; Jeff Torborg was fired with a 16-22 record and replaced by Jack McKeon. The Marlins, with some Dave Dombrowski pickups and one of the highest payrolls in the game, went 75-49 under McKeon, got the wild card spot and went on to win the World Series in Yankee Stadium.

Lemon’s post-Martin Yankees went on to win the World Series in 1978. Cito Gaston replaced Jimy Williams and the 1989 Blue Jays won the AL East. Williams was fired, again, with a 44-44 record on July 15 by the Astros in 2004 and replaced by Phil Garner; the team finished second and got the wild card.

On the other hand, Williams was also fired by Dan Duquette on August 15, 2001 with the Red Sox 65-53, and was replaced by Joe Kerrigan; Boston went 17-26 with a Carl Everett insurrection, and the next time they played a regular-season game Mike Port was the GM, Theo Epstein his assistant, Grady Little the manager.

In general, when a team struggles, it rarely is entirely about the manager. A.J. Hinch was fired in Arizona and has become one of the game’s best managers since. Tony LaRussa was fired by Ken Harrelson. Terry Francona was fired in Philadelphia. Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Whitey Herzog and Dick Williams all were fired.

In the early 1970s when the Phillies were really bad and Frank Lucchesi’s managerial job was under fire, he called a team meeting. He held a stat sheet in one hand, they began reading each player’s name and statistics, followed by, “and they blame the skipper?”

In this era of enlightenment and collaboration, baseball was supposed to have moved far beyond what in the rearview mirror appears like medieval times. In sports and politics, we should never forget — watch when they’re losing, and you’ll usually understand why.MGR
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FW57cLIPPER51
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Re: Can today's Managers be scapegoats?...

Postby FW57cLIPPER51 » Sat Jun 08, 2019 6:43 pm

With today's MLB player contracts with their high salaries and the NTC's, it is still easier to fire 1 man (the Manager) than trade 25 players on the team.

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