Results tagged ‘ Managers ’
Now that Bob Melvin has been fired as the skipper of the
Diamondbacks, the speculation can begin as to which team will be the next to
fire its field manager. The Cleveland Indians could be that team; with a record
of 13-22, the Indians have the worst record in the American League. That may
not bode well for the future of Eric Wedge, who has been on the hot seat ever
since the Indians started last season
Many observers have pointed to the Indians as first-class
underachievers, one of baseball’s biggest disappointments. Just two months ago,
the Indians were the fashionable pick to win the American League Central, a
balanced division ripe for the taking. Personally, I think that prediction was
a bit of a stretch, considering the departure of CC Sabathia, the regression of
Fausto Carmona, and the unsettled state of Cleveland’s outfield beyond superstar
Grady Sizemore. Still, there’s no question that the Indians have underachieved. They shouldn’t be
buried so many games below .500, just a couple of ticks ahead of the Washington
Nationals, the most dreadful team in either league. There’s just no excuse for
such a poor standing.
The Indians will probably give Wedge at least two to three
more weeks before making any kind of a change. If they do, they have two highly
logical candidates in place within their organization. First up is Joel
Skinner, currently their third base coach and now in his ninth year on the
staff. Skinner also has prior managerial experience. He served as the Indians’
interim skipper in 2002. Prior to that, Skinner managed for several years in
the Tribe’s farm system, developing a reputation for winning and developing
young talent. A former catcher, Skinner is very bright and familiar with the
organization from top to bottom. The other top candidate is Torey Lovullo,
currently the manager of the Columbus Clippers, who just so happen to be the
Indians’ Triple-A affiliate. Lovullo’s minor league managerial record is
spotless. He has won two International League titles, the highlight of a resume
that features a winning record every season he’s managed.
If none of those candidates are to your liking, then how
about this blast from the past? Mike Hargrove, who left the Mariners in
mid-season two years ago, is also available. He’s scheduled to manager a summer
league team of college prospects, but that contract could be broken in favor of
a return to the Midwest…
There’s an old axiom in baseball that says, “Every game you
watch, you’ll see something different, something you’ve never seen before.”
That’s an exaggeration, of course, but baseball is such an unpredictable game
of diverse outcomes that we often do come away seeing something new and without
precedent. That happened to me on Tuesday night, as I watched the game between
the Mets and Braves. In the top of the 10th inning, Mets utilityman
Alex Cora, who’s normally a middle infielder, took over at first base. (Cora
had played the position just once before, back in 2005 with the Red Sox.) After
warming up with a standard issue first baseman’s mitt, Cora decided he wasn’t
comfortable with it, ran to the dugout, and replaced it with a regular infielder’s
glove. As Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen commented that he had never seen that
before, I thought the same thing. I’ve never
seen a first baseman play the position without a first baseman’s mitt, just
like I’ve never seen a catcher go behind the plate without a standard catcher’s
mitt. It’s something that probably happened during baseball’s early history,
before gloves and mitts became so advanced and specialized. It might have even
happened sometime since World War II, but I just can’t recall it. Perhaps
someone out there has seen a first
baseman play without a mitt. If so, feel free to let us know…
Earlier this week, former big league right-hander Jack Billingham
visited the Hall of Fame here in Cooperstown.
As Billingham explained to a friend of mine, Hall senior researcher Bill
Francis, he and his wife Jolene, along with his sister and brother-in-law, have
been touring the country in RVs. Along the way, they’ve visited some of Jack’s
old stomping grounds, including Cincinnati (where he pitched most of his career
with the Reds) and Detroit (where he pitched for three seasons late in his
This was not Billingham’s first visit to Cooperstown.
Forty years ago, he came to town as part of a contingent with the Astros to
play in the annual Hall of Fame Game. He also has an indirect connection to the
Hall of Fame. Billingham is a distant cousin of Christy Mathewson, part of the
inaugural Hall of Fame Class in 1939.
“Cactus Jack,” as he’s sometimes called, remains one of the
most underrated members of Cincinnati’s
“Big Red Machine.” Too often Billingham is remembered for giving up Hank
Aaron’s record-tying 714th home run, and that’s just not fair. While
the Reds’ offensive stars, like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony
Perez, garnered most of the publicity, Billingham turned in workmanlike
performances for a reliable rotation that also included Gary Nolan, Don
Gullett, and Fredie Norman. Durable and consistent, Billingham used a
sinkerball to post consecutive 19-win seasons in 1973 and ’74, before winning a
total of 27 games during the two world championship seasons of 1975 and
’76. He raised his level of pitching in
World Series play, allowing only one earned run in just over 25 innings, and
still holds the record for lowest ERA in World Series history.
Yes, Cactus Jack was pretty good.
Less than six weeks into the season, the Diamondbacks have
decided that a major change is in order for their underachieving team. By
sacking Bob Melvin and hiring front office farm director A.J. Hinch to manage
the team, the D-Backs have signaled a radical change in the direction of their
on-field leadership. Hinch has no prior managing or coaching experience at any
level, not even in rookie ball. What he does have is an eye for young talent,
an ability that the D-Backs hope will translate into an ability to develop that talent. The latter area is
where Melvin fell short; too many of Arizona’s talented young players (like Mark
Reynolds and Chris Young) have failed to become significantly better than they were in
2007, when the Baby Backs came within two games of the World Series.
Did Melvin deserve to get fired? Perhaps, but not at this
early stage of the season. I tend to think that managers–like young unproven
players–deserve at least two full months of the season before we make
wide-sweeping judgments about their ability. I would have given Melvin until
the end of May; if the D-backs had shown no signs of a turnaround, a move would
have been mandatory. And what about Hinch? I know he’s a bright guy who has
drawn good reviews for his work as an Arizona’s
front office whiz kid, but his lack of any kind of on-field coaching or
managing experience is alarming. Contrary to what most Sabermetric general
managers like Josh Byrnes (and Billy Beane) seem to think, you cannot put just anyone into the managerial chair. It’s
not an interchangeable position. Rather, it’s a highly demanding and important
job that requires the right kind of temperament, personality, and experience.
Who knows how Hinch will do…
The Cubs made an interesting, if not major, transaction on
Friday, acquiring utilityman Ryan Freel from the Orioles for spare outfielder
Joey Gathright. Is this Chicago’s
way of trying to right the wrong that was done when GM Jim Hendry dealt Mark
DeRosa to the Indians for three middle-road prospects? Or is Hendry simply
trying to fortify his bench while ridding himself of a player (Gathright) who
had become so extraneous that he was sent to the minors earlier this week?
Freel isn’t the player that DeRosa is, either in terms of
power or versatility, but he does provide some flexibility. Freel can play
second base, third base, and all three outfield spots, while giving Lou
Piniella a decent pinch-running option in the late innings. Gathright is
certainly the more dangerous baserunner, but he’s strictly an outfielder, a
position that has become especially deep for Chicago given the resurgence of Kosuke
Fukudome and the presence of supersub Reed Johnson. This is really a no-brainer
move for the Cubs, who will benefit from Baltimore’s
inability to find a role for Freel…
In the late 1990s, Ted Williams championed Dom DiMaggio for
the Hall of Fame while serving as a member of the Veterans’ Committee. Even
with credit for the three seasons he lost to World War II, I felt that DiMaggio
fell short of the Hall of Fame standard. He was a very good player, but a bit
short of Cooperstown greatness.
That’s a trivial point, however. In many ways, Dom DiMaggio
represented everything that is good about baseball. DiMaggio, who died early
Friday morning at the age of 92, was a five-foot, nine-inch outfielder who wore
glasses; “The Little Professor” looked about as imposing on the ballfield as Chicken Little. But as
an overachiever performing in a sport where size plays little importance, he made
himself into a fine player who hit for average, drew walks, and played a dandy
center field–a very substantial player on some fine and underrated Red Sox
teams of the late 1940s. He was also, by all accounts, a true gentleman who was
highly regarded for his character by teammates and opponents alike. And that
matters a lot more than any argument about whether DiMaggio belongs in the Hall
The calendar has yet to turn from April to May, but the
calls for Jerry Manuel’s head have already begun to sound in New York. A second straight loss to the
previously slumping Marlins has created a sea of discontent, with much of the
focus centered on some bizarre strategy by Manuel in the ninth inning of
Wednesday afternoon’s loss to Florida.
With two outs and the bases loaded and the Mets down by a run, Manuel called
back Ramon Castro, who had banged out two hits in four at-bats. He summoned
backup catcher Omir Santos from the bullpen to pinch-hit, then watched him hit
a soft pop-up to end the game.
While the hue and cry for a change in managers is silly at
this early stage of the season, Manuel left me scratching my head with this
decision. Castro is a much better hitter than Santos, a career minor leaguer who has always
had a reputation as a good-field, weak-hit catcher. A few good games with the
Mets this past week should not have erased that reputation, nor should it have
fooled Manuel into thinking that Santos
posed more of an offensive threat than Castro. Bad move.
If Willie Randolph had pulled such a managerial rock, the New York media would
have roasted him. Manuel, who is a genuinely good guy and a great interview,
will probably be given a pass by most of the writers, but the fan base is beginning to lose patience with the Mets’ continuing ineptitude. In the meantime, expect
everyone to turn up the heat on David Wright, who looks lost at the plate and
in the field. Another target can be found in the Mets’ bullpen, which
was directly responsible for the one-run loss to the Marlins. J.J. Putz walked
the first two batters of the eighth inning, setting the stage for Florida’s comeback
rally. A few more outings like that, and we’ll start to hear speculation on
when Billy Wagner might be able to return this summer from Tommy John surgery.
It’s easy to forget that Wagner remains under contract to the Mets; just imagine a
three-man crew of Wagner, Putz and Francisco Rodriguez putting out fires in the
eighth and ninth innings of late-season games…
In anticipation of the new month of May, we’ll be changing our
baseball card image (which currently honors the late Dock Ellis) this weekend.
Feel free to submit nominations for a new card, either by posting a
recommendation here or by sending me an e-mail at email@example.com. Topps cards are
preferred, but we’ll consider Upper Deck, Fleer, and Donruss cards, as well.
Heck, if the suggestion is a good one, we’ll consider just about any company…
On a promotional note, my 2006 book, The Team That Changed Baseball, is now out in paperback. The book
tells the story of the 1971 Pirates, who fielded major league baseball’s first
all-black lineup on the way to winning the world championship over the heavily
favored Orioles. For more information, or to purchase a copy (hint, hint),
please visit the website www.westholmepublishing.com.
My thanks to publisher Bruce Franklin for his continued support and faith in
In 1984, Topps printed its final card for Lou Piniella as a
player. Even though he was hitting .302 at the time, Piniella realized that he
was blocking the way of younger outfielders in the organization and agreed to
retire in the midst of that season. The sweet swing, the reliable hands, and
the clubhouse agitation–all prominent features of the longtime Yankee–departed
the Bronx to make room for a new wave of outfield youth.
Piniella was one of the last remnants of Gabe Paul’s regime
as Yankee general manager. After the 1973 season, Paul sent aging reliever
Lindy McDaniel to the Royals for Piniella, who had won the American League’s
Rookie of the Year in 1969 but had slumped to a .250 batting average and a .291
on-base percentage during his final season in Kansas City. Paul figured that Piniella had
endured an off year, nothing more. Piniella fit Yankee needs precisely–given
their lefty-leaning lineup–providing them a semi-regular outfielder and DH who
would play against all left-handers and occasionally against right-handers,
too. In three of his first five seasons in pinstripes, Piniella hit .305 or
better while filling in day-to-day gaps in left field, right field, and at DH. He
became a vital complementary piece to the world championship teams of 1977 and
’78, culminating in his miraculous “stop” of Jerry Remy’s sun-screened line
drive in the tiebreaking playoff game of 1978.
Aside from his one-hop snare of Remy’s drive, I’ll remember two
features of Piniella’s game more than others. First, he owned one of the best
opposite-field strokes of any hitter I’ve seen. As he took his stance, he kept
his hands back, wrapped almost behind his right shoulder. With his left
shoulder tucked in and his back visible to the pitcher, Piniella pushed the
ball toward right field with the same kind of ease and precision that most
players reserve for their pull side. Then there was his reliability in the
field. Though he lacked speed and had nothing more than an average throwing
arm, Piniella possessed hands of velvet. If he could reach a fly ball, he
caught it. And whenever he pounded his fist into his glove, he was sure to make
Piniella’s line-drive stroke and sure hands represented the
best of his talents. But he had his critics–Clete Boyer was among them–those
who felt that he was vastly overrated. Piniella didn’t hit with much power,
rarely drew walks, and ran the bases poorly, sometimes atrociously. Most of his
value was tied up in his batting average. If he batted .300 or better, he could
help you, but if he hit anything less, he was just wasting at-bats that could
have gone to Roy White or Cliff Johnson.
While with the Yankees, Piniella also enhanced his
reputation as “Sweet Lou,” which had begun to form with Jim Bouton’s revealing
passages about him in Ball Four. As
is common with many nicknames, the origins of “Sweet Lou” derived from the
theory of opposites. Like the 400-pound guy who is called “Tiny,” both friends
and detractors of Piniella referred to him as Sweet Lou because of his sour
moods, sarcastic sense of humor, and his explosive temper tantrums. On the
field, his displays of anger, including incidents of helmet-and dirt-kicking,
sometimes reached comic proportions.
I first encountered Piniella three years after his
retirement from playing. By then, he was the Yankees’ manager, one of many
successors to Billy Martin. In 1987, the Yankees played the Braves in the Hall
of Fame Game here in Cooperstown. Aside from
recalling the hijinx of Rickey Henderson and Claudell Washington
at the Sheraton Hotel in UticaHe’s telling
me to go away, I thought to myself. Stopping dead in my tracks, I soon
realized that Piniella was gesturing toward someone else, someone he knew.
Relieved that he hadn’t dismissed me,
I was nonetheless intimidated, and gave up my pursuit of Sweet Lou.
(that’s an article for another day), my strongest memory of that weekend
involved Piniella. Covering the event for WIBX Radio, I had the assignment of
doing on-field interviews prior to the game. I targeted Piniella as one of my
prime interviews. I made my way in his direction amidst an army of media types
that swarmed Doubleday Field; we soon made eye contact each other. As I drew
closer, Piniella’s blank expression became a scowl, followed immediately by a
dismissive wave of the hand.
Piniella did not return to Cooperstown
until last year, when his Cubs were scheduled to play the Padres in the final
Hall of Fame Game. The two teams never actually played, the game canceled after
several downpours of rain. Unfortunately, Piniella provided the other downer of
the day. During the pre-game parade that made its way down Main Street,
Piniella made it obvious he wanted to be anywhere but Cooperstown, underscoring
some earlier negative comments he had made about having to travel to upstate
New York. According to my spies, a number of fans screamed “Lou! Lou,” hoping
that Piniella would wave–or even smile. Instead, he continued to frown,
maintaining a scowl that reflected his contempt for having to come to Cooperstown in the first place.
In spite of my disappointment in Piniella’s dismissive
attitude toward the Hall of Fame Game, I like him as a manager. Except for Tampa Bay,
he’s consistently posted winning records, even for teams with a recent history
of failure. Last year, Piniella guided the Cubs into the postseason for a
second straight fall (though the team followed up with a second straight early
exit from the playoffs). It’s amazing the impact that he continues to have on
his teams offensively, whether it was in New York
in the eighties, Cincinnati and Seattle in the nineties, or now the Windy City
in the 2000s. When Piniella took over Chicago’s helm four years ago, the Cubs
found themselves choked by an offense that could only kindly be described
as below-average. They didn’t walk, didn’t get on base, and didn’t score runs.
By 2008, Piniella’s philosophy had taken hold. Aside from Alfonso Soriano,
almost all of Chicago’s
hitters worked the count capably last summer. Youngsters like Geovany Soto
thrived under Piniella, as did seemingly past-their-prime veterans like Jim
Edmonds. Even the role players, from Mark DeRosa to Mike Fontenot to Reed Johnson,
make ample contributions. It’s no wonder that the Cubs scored 855 runs, putting
them well ahead of all teams in the National League. Simply put, runs
scored translated into games won for the Cubs, just as it did for Piniella
long ago with the Yankees, Reds, and Mariners.
So with Piniella, you take the bad–the temper tantrums and
the moodiness–with the good. Just a few weeks ago, Piniella unleashed another
tirade, this one directed at ESPN’s Steve Phillips. The former Mets general
manager had dared to mention that the presence of an impatient manager like
Piniella made life more difficult for Kosuke Fukudome, a Japanese player who
faced an extremely difficult transition to American culture. I thought it was a
fair point by Phillips, but Piniella took it as a personal insult.
There will likely be more tantrums from Piniella this
season, whether it be a public scolding of the media, an angry mound lecture to
a wild Cubs pitcher, or a childish dirt-kicking of an umpire. That’s Sweet Lou
for you: good player, better manager, and ready to scowl at a moment’s notice.
Jerry Manuel is not afraid to shake up things up when it comes to the construction of his lineup. Less than two weeks into spring training, the Mets manager has already made two major pronouncements. He created a few headlines early during the first week when he said he would like to experiment with the embattled Luis Castillo as his leadoff man. And now in week No. 2 of the spring, he has declared that Daniel Murphy will be his everyday left fielder–and not a platoon partner of Fernando Tatis, as most of us had expected. I have my doubts about Castillo’s ability to handle the leadoff role at this stage of his career, but I like the move with Murphy, who appears to have the offensive skills to fill a role as the Mets’ No. 6 hitter, batting behind some combination of Carlos Delgado and David Wright. This move might also free up Tatis to assume more of a utility role, taking Delgado’s place at first base against selected left-handers and backing up Wright at third base. The Mets need to take advantage of Tatis’ versatility; he can play four positions (both the infield and outfield corners), an ability that will come in handy now that Damion Easley is an ex-Met…
There are a few certainties in life: death, taxes, and Sean Penn making a jackass out of himself at the Oscars. Here’s another–injuries in spring training. The Blue Jays have suffered the first major setback of the spring, as Vernon Wells strained his hamstring during workouts on Monday. Wells is expected to miss a full month, which could be cutting it close in terms of his availability for Opening Day. This is exactly the kind of news the Jays don’t need after a winter that saw them lose A.J. Burnett to free agency while failing to make any major acquisitions of their own. With a few bad breaks, the Jays could be looking at last place in the stacked AL East, behind even the perennially disfunctional Orioles…
While most of the free agent focus remains centered on Manny Ramirez, another future Hall of Famer (at least in my mind) finds himself at home, waiting for the right offer. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is still available, a rather shocking development considering the lack of catching depth around the major leagues. I-Rod has received at least one offer–coming from the Astros–but is believed to be holding out hope for a contract offer from the Mets. Unfortunately for Pudge, the Mets have two healthy and capable catchers in Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro. At some point, Rodriguez will have to accept the Astros’ offer or swallow hard on a non-roster invite to some other spring locale. Whichever team ends up with Rodriguez will be getting a bargain, though. I’m convinced that his poor hitting with the Yankees late last season was caused, at least in part, by the difficult task of having to learn an entirely new pitching staff in mid-season. Given such defensive distractions, it’s understandable that Rodriguez hit so poorly as a stand-in for the injured Jorge Posada.
Is a young George Steinbrenner running the Brewers? Or, if you’ll give forgive me for a hockey reference, maybe an old Phil Esposito? That’s my immediate reaction to Monday’s stunning news that the Brew Crew have fired manager Ned Yost, replacing him with bench coach Dale Sveum. In fairness to Steinbrenner, this is almost an unprecedented move by the Brewers, firing the manager while the team is in the middle of a playoff race in September. Generally, Steinbrenner reserved most of his firings for June, July, and August–and not in the middle of the final month of the regular season. Precedents be damned, Brewers GM Doug Melvin decided that a change was in order after watching his team get swept four straight games over the weekend by the Phillies. Melvin has been intensely loyal to Yost for most of the last two years, resisting calls for his firing by many fans who have become dissatisfied with the team’s underachieving ways. But even Melvin realized that the Brewers were not playing up to snuff and were simply not responding to Yost’s nice-guy ways.
Melvin has set himself up for a major second guess here, but I applaud him for firing Yost, who has clearly been overmatched as a manager and simply doesn’t have enough of a mean streak or strategical acumen to thrive at the major league level. As for the hiring of Sveum, that may be another story entirely. Prior to being a bench coach, Sveum had been targeted by some Brewer observers as a poor third base coach with a history of making questionable decisions for his baserunners. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he will be a poor manager, but it does make one wonder. More pertinent is whether Sveum will avoid being the kind of enabler that Yost was to his players, constantly glossing over mistakes and making excuses for fundamental errors. If Sveum is cut from that same too-forgiving cloth, the Brewers may be doomed to an also-ran finish in the wild card race. If Sveum is willing to bring some fire and brimstone to the Brewers, perhaps Milwaukee’s talent will win out; after all, they’re the most talented team among the wild card contenders, better than Philadelphia, Houston, and possible even the Mets. We’ll see…
Speaking of managers who act as enablers to players, Joe Girardi finally took off the rose-colored glasses that he had been using on Robinson Cano all season and benched the enigmatic second baseman for lackadaisical play on Sunday afternoon. After watching Cano lollygag after a ground ball that had eluded Jason Giambi, a play that resulted in two bases for the Rays, Girardi removed Cano from the game. Not satisfied that his message had been completely received, Girardi also benched Cano prior to Monday night’s game against the White Sox. Frankly, it’s about time. Cano’s lackadaisical efforts in the field, his mindless first-pitch swinging at the plate, and general cluelessness with regard to fundamentals have gone unpunished all summer long. He’s been one of the biggest culprits in New York’s season of underperformance. If a mid-game removal and a subsequent sitdown aren’t enough to motivate the listless second baseman, the Yankees may have to consider the option of signing someone like Orlando Hudson as a free agent and trading Cano for the best available package this off season…
It’s hard to believe that 36 years had elapsed since a Cubs pitcher last threw a no-hit game. Carlos Zambrano ended the drought on Sunday when he silenced the Astros, though he had to do it in front of a neutral site crowd of fewer than 25,000 fans at Miller Park, which hosted the game because of the devastating presence of Hurricane Ike in the state of Texas. The last Cubs pitcher to throw a no-hitter was blast-from-the-past Milt “Gimpy” Pappas, at the time an aging but effective right-hander. Pappas accomplished the feat against the Padres on September 2, 1972, almost exactly one year before he would retire at the tender age of 34. This was the same game in which Pappas actually came within one batter of pitching a perfect game. With two outs and no one on in the ninth inning at Wrigley Field, Pappas issued a controversial walk on a disputed 3-2 pitch. To this day, Pappas has contended that home plate umpire Bruce Froemming blew the call; the two have carried on a feud ever since. Bad call or not, Pappas did recover to finish off the no-hitter, an accomplishment that Zambrano finally matched on Sunday.
I believe that one underlying factor has succeeded in keeping Willie Randolph in the Mets’ managerial office: there is no logical, ready-made candidate who is primed to step in and take the job. If there were, Randolph would have been fired by now, rather than allowed to twist in the gale-force winds swirling around Shea Stadium.
As many times as I’ve heard Mets fans and members of the media say that Randolph deserves to be fired, I have yet to hear any of those same observers deliver a clear and concise answer as to who should be the next Mets’ skipper. The Mets’ front office seems to be facing the same dilemma. Let’s consider each of the candidates, all of whom carry considerable “buyer beware” tags of one kind or another.
Jerry Manuel: Good organizations usually look within in making mid-season changes. Of all of the Mets’ coaches, Manuel is the only one with major league managing experience. But that came in a non-descript tenure with the White Sox, where Manuel developed a reputation for being too king and laid back with his players. And that is exactly the kind of manager the Mets don’t need as they try to lift themselves out of a malaise filled with bad baserunning, uninspiring effort, and a lack of clubhouse leadership.
Howard Johnson: HoJo is the only other coach the Mets will consider. (Sandy Alomar, Sr. and Tom Nieto are not candidates, nor is pitching guru Rick Peterson, given the sorry history of pitching coaches trying to make the transition to managing). HoJo’s youth and name value will help him in some circles, but he’s had a checkered career as a minor league coach (including a suspension at Double-A Binghamton) and was never regarded as a thinking man’s ballplayer during his days with the Tigers and Mets. Perhaps Johnson will fool me, but I’d proceed with caution before giving him the managerial reigns.
Davey Johnson: He would be a popular choice among Mets fans, based largely on his connection to the Mets of 1986 and ’88. He is smart, knows how to use his 25-man roster, and would bring some credibility to the dugout. But I think he is a pipe dream at this point. He hasn’t worked for the Mets in years; it’s hard to believe that he has many, if any, connections remaining within the organization. He also lacks the fire and discipline that the Mets need right now. Let’s not forget the state of the Mets’ clubhouse when he was let go as manager. It was bad–worse than the clubhouse problems the Mets are currently facing in 2008.
Bobby Valentine: Although he has a brilliant mind and the experience of managing in so many pennant races, his candidacy might be another pipe dream. He’s under contract as a manager in the Japanese Leagues, where he seems quite content. The Mets need someone now, not someone who might be available this winter. I’d be shocked if the Mets were willing or able to bring back Bobby V. at this stage.
Lee Mazzilli: Maz is smarter than most people think; perhaps they don’t give him enough respect because of his thick New York accent. Whatever the case, Mazzilli knows the rulebook better than most managers and has had the advantage of watching every Mets game from his perch in the SNY studios. On the down side, Maz earned only lukewarm reviews for his first managerial tenure in Baltimore. If the Mets hire him now, he will come into the job as a failed manager, something that the media will remind us of time and time again.
Ken Oberkfell: Currently the manager of the Mets’ Triple-A franchise at New Orleans, Oberkfell has quietly worked his way up the organizational ladder. He’s forged a minor league record well above .500, culminating in his selection as Baseball America’s minor league manager of the year in 2005. He’s a diligent, hard worker, but might lack the fire-and-brimstone the Mets would prefer from their next manager. Then there’s his connection to the Cardinals, which really shouldn’t matter, but will definitely be brought up if he replaces Randolph.
Wally Backman: This would be the most interesting–and the most daring–selection for the Mets. Smart and tough, Backman is an excellent motivator who has won at just about every stop in the minor leagues. He also carries nostalgic memories of 1986. But he also brings with him mammoth-sized baggage in the form of a ferocious temper, past legal problems involving spousal abuse, and a reputation for excessively baiting umpires. He could be a powder keg in the Big Apple, one that might light up and explode under the spotlight of the New York media.
So those are the choices–well, at least some of them. Feel free to submit your own. Just be prepared to make a convincing argument to the Mets’ front office. They’re looking for one.
Ron Washington and John Gibbons are the two names mentioned most frequently when it comes to discussion of the first manager to be fired in 2008. With Washington’s Rangers tied for the American League’s worst record, and Gibbons’ Blue Jays continuing to struggle despite superior starting pitching, it’s only natural that the axe looms for both men. But when will Padres manager Bud Black fall under the same kind of scrutiny? With a record of 12-20, the Padres are not only underachieving, but have also matched the disappointing Reds for the worst record in either league. By all accounts, Black is well-liked by his players and respected for his knowledge of pitching, but the team’s late-season collapse in 2007 coupled with the dismal start to 2008 should put the former big league left-hander on the spot. Black hasn’t been able to settle the Padres’ muddled outfield mess and has shown little interest in demoting Trevor Hoffman from his role as closer despite his awful start and the presence of premier set-up man Heath Bell…
Whether it’s Black, Gibbons, or Washington who becomes the first managerial casualty of the season, it’s possible that his successor could be Torey Lovullo. Currently in his third season as skipper of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, the top affiliate of the Indians, Lovullo is arguably the most heralded managerial prospect in the game. A minor league manager since 2002, Lovullo has already won two league championships while instilling a relentlessly positive and upbeat attitude with his teams…
Finally, I was saddened to hear of the passing of former Red Sox and Senators right-hander Walt Masterson, who died in April at the age of 87. Last fall, I had the pleasure of interviewing Masterson as part of a series of articles for the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. Although he was recovering from a stroke at the time, Masterson patiently answered my questions, maintaining a friendly and cordial tone throughout our conversation. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to his friends, who remembered him as a gentleman–and as one of the pioneers who started the alumni association in 1982. At his peak, Masterson was also a pretty good pitcher. Though he won only 78 games in his career, he managed to earn selection to two All-Star Games, including a start in the 1948 classic.
Masterson was also a very close friend of Ted Williams. “He and I became friends in 1949,” Masterson told me, referring to the season he was traded from Washington to Boston. “I lived across the street from him. We rode to the ballpark together for three years. Every week, he’d visit a hospital that had kids in it. He’d bring a package of baseball that he signed for the kids. He’d tell the nurse, ‘If you tell anyone I was here, I won’t come back.’ ” As Masterson explained to me, Williams simply didn’t want publicity for his visits to ailing children. “He was just a wonderful, wonderful man. No one knew about the things that he did for other people.” Few people knew about the good things that Masterson did, too, especially when it came to launching the alumni association. Rest in peace, Walter.
Who is the worst manager in all of baseball?
Maxim (yes, I admit it, I do read Maxim, though I restrict my reading to the web site) has a list of the five worst managers in the game. From the least worst to the actual worst, they are:
Dave Trembley, Orioles
John Gibbons, Blue Jays
Willie Randolph, Mets
Ozzie Guillen, White Sox
Dusty Baker, Reds
Do you agree or disagree with the listing? Well, I have some problems with it. Trembley has the Orioles playing the most surprising ball of the new season, after making a good first impression in 2007. I’m not sure exactly what he’s done to merit inclusion on this list. Randolph definitely doesn’t belong here, but is being buried because of the Mets’ disastrous performance in September.
Given Baker’s current status as the Sabermetric whipping post among managers, I wonder if the article was written by someone with a statistical inclination. I have mixed feelings about Baker (great motivator, lacks a disciplinary touch), but some of his recent rants against on-base percentage make me wonder if all of his success in San Francisco was merely a mirage.
Next Monday, the Hall of Fame will announce the results of its newly structured balloting for managers, executives, umpires, and pioneers. A field of seven skippers will be considered by a 16-man panel that meets this Sunday, December 2. The group of managers includes Whitey Herzog, Davey Johnson, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Southworth, and “Dick” Williams.
Throughout the week, we’ll analyze the candidacies of the three men who stand the strongest chances of election–Herzog, Martin, and Williams. Let’s begin with “The White Rat.”
As a journeyman outfielder-first baseman, Whitey Herzog had little lasting impact on the game. His post-playing career, however, has produced far more meaningful storylines. During the 1970s and eighties, Herzog became a revolutionary manager, tailoring two ball clubs to a slash-and-speed style that fit perfectly with their distinctive ballparks.
Though it doesn’t technically have any effect on his Hall of Fame candidacy as a manager, Herzog’s work as a scout with the old Kansas City A’s represented the first groundbreaking measures of his post-playing career. Working under the employ of the difficult and demanding Charlie Finley, Herzog signed seven players who eventually made the major league roster, including talented but mercurial right-hander Chuck Dobson. Herzog also scouted Don Sutton for the A’s, strongly recommending to the owner that he sign the future Hall of Fame right-hander. The A’s would have followed through on Herzog’s legwork if not for some Finley foolishness; he insisted that Sutton adopt a nickname, ala Jim “Catfish” Hunter and John “Blue Moon” Odom. When Sutton refused the demand, Finley withdrew the contract offer. As a fan of Finley’s A’s, I can only imagine how formidable an early 1970s rotation of Hunter, Vida Blue, Sutton, and Ken Holtzman would have been for the franchise that had had relocated to Oakland.
After fighting Finley over travel expenses, Herzog left the A’s to become a coach with the Mets. He soon moved up to the front office, becoming the team’s director of player personnel in 1967 and having an influence on the development of minor league talent. As young pitching becoming the hallmark of the franchise in the late 1960s, the Mets shocked all observers by winning the World Series in 1969, with Herzog playing at least a small, indirect role.
From there, Herzog feuded with Mets chairman M. Donald Grant and then assumed his first managerial role with the Rangers. Greatly influenced by the teaching of Casey Stengel, who had managed the Yankees while Herzog played in their farm system, Whitey began to put some of Stengel’s principles, such as platooning and roster usage, into play. Unfortunately, Herzog had little talent at his disposal. Presiding over directionless franchises in Texas and California (where he served the Angels on an interim basis), Herzog managed without fanfare, acclaim, or success. Then came what would prove to be a dream job–two miles from his home in Kansas City. In taking over the upstart Royals in 1975, Herzog assumed leadership of a team that had won nothing since its inception in 1969.
Realizing that the fast artificial turf and lengthy dimensions of Royals Stadium penalized slow, plodding sluggers, and favored players who could run and defend, Herzog made quick and drastic changes to his lineup. He benched slow-footed second baseman Cookie Rojas and aging right fielder Vada Pinson, replacing them with Frank White and Al Cowens, respectively. Cowens and White had their flaws offensively, but both ran well, and both played the field exceptionally. White’s blanket-like range at second base, coupled with Cowens’ range and throwing arm in right field, fit Royals Stadium to a tee. On offense, Herzog showed a preference for players who could get on base, at a time when on-base percentage was not emphasized the way it is in today’s game. He gave players like Hal McRae and Darrell Porter increased roles, taking advantage of their ability to hit and draw walks.
With “Whiteyball” in place, the Royals intimidated other teams with their ability to pepper line drives from foul line to foul line while aggressively stealing bases. Elevating the team from non-contention in 1975 and overcoming the lack of a dominant closer, Herzog oversaw three American League West titles from 1976 through 1978. Unfortunately, each season ended with a League Championship Series loss to the rival Yankees.
It was during his Royals’ tenure that Herzog first began to show his intolerance of players he believed to be drug abusers or heavy drinkers. Suspecting that the play of slugging first baseman John Mayberry was being affected by cocaine and alcohol abuse, Herzog convinced the front office to rid the team of its cleanup hitter in the spring of 1978, when the Royals sold him to the Blue Jays in a cash deal. (Herzog would later do the same with the Cardinals, ridding them of Keith Hernandez, one of St. Louis’ key contributors to the 1982 World Championship. Unlike the Mayberry deal, the Hernandez trade would badly hurt Herzog’s team, especially in the short term.) Although the Royals ended up winning the AL West without Mayberry, Herzog’s influence in riding the popular slugger out of town made him a target within the organization. A developing feud with batting coach Charlie Lau only exacerbated the situation; when the Royals finished second in 1979, the front office had its excuse to fire Herzog.
To his full credit, Herzog did not allow the firing to become a career-killer. He became the manager of the Cardinals in 1980, then actually modified his career path, moving to the front office and becoming St. Louis’ general manager. By October, Herzog had assumed the dual role of general manager and manager. (Such an arrangement in today’s game is almost unthinkable.) With the Cardinals, he did exactly what he did to the Royals–but now with full power over player personnel decisions. Herzog shipped out slower players and sluggers, replacing them with superior defensive players who could run. Through a series of blockbuster trades, Herzog phased out Ted Simmons, Leon “Bull” Durham, Garry Templeton, and Ken Reitz. In most cases, he brought in a better defender to man each position. At catcher, Darrell Porter replaced Simmons. At shortstop, Ozzie Smith succeeded Templeton. In another move, Herzog stole Willie McGee from the Yankees for Bob Sykes, giving the Cardinals a top-flight center fielder. The succession of deals also netted a Hall of Fame closer, Bruce Sutter, who gave the Cardinals a lockdown quality in the late innings.
Emphasizing speed, defense, and the ability to hit line drives into the spacious outfield gaps, the Cardinals conformed to the fast-paced artificial surface of Busch Stadium. In spite of a shocking lack of power, the Cardinals scored runs efficiently while putting enormous pressure on opposing defenders. They also overcame a lack of dominant starting pitching, in part because of Herzog’s masterful use of the bullpen and overall skill as an in-game strategist. The end result? The Cardinals won the World Series in 1982, then followed up with National League pennants in 1985 and ’87. They narrowly missed a second title under Herzog’s watch in ’85, in part because of Don Denkinger’s blatantly bad call at first base in Game Six of the World Series.
With three pennants, one World Championship, and a successful reign as general manager in St. Louis (a later stint as Angels GM proved largely ineffective), Herzog built up a considerable Hall of Fame resume. But is it strong enough? Three straight losses in the American League Championship Series certainly damage Herzog’s cause. (Unlike some, I’m not a big proponent of the “crapshoot” theory of postseason baseball.) The personality conflicts in Kansas City led to his premature firing, denying him of an opportunity to manage the Royals in 1980, when they ended up winning the AL pennant under a lesser manager in Jim Frey. And then there were the two World Series failures in the mid-1980s, with the Cardinals losing to seemingly inferior teams in Kansas City and Minnesota, despite building early leads in each Series. The defeat at the hands of the Royals was especially disheartening, given the Cardinals’ three-games-to-one lead in the Series.
Objectively, Herzog seems like a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. Managing for part or all of 18 seasons, he compiled a .532 winning percentage, which compares favorably with Tommy Lasorda (.526) and Bill McKechnie (.524). He dared to buck–and successfully so–the conventional wisdom that dictated power hitting was a prerequisite to making the postseason. He also succeeded in the dual role of manager-general manager, an incredible accomplishment given the time demands of both jobs. Yet, there were two large failings: Herzog’s inability to coexist with others, which short-circuited his Royals tenure, and the ill-fated trade of Hernandez for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey, which weakened the Cardinals while simultaneously strengthening a division rival in New York. While a reasonable argument for Herzog’s election can be made, I think he may have fallen one World Championship (or perhaps just one league pennant) shy of Hall of Fame induction.