A week of pink slips for skippers of sinking ships
Baseball's pink slip-wielding Grim Reaper made Its unwelcome visit last week to three big-league managers -- I envision a kind of dark, gliding presence, carrying a maple bat over Its shoulder; either that, or somebody who looks a lot like Omar Minaya -- in one of the more brutal weeks in recent memory. Starting with Willie Randolph's canning in the middle of the night, through John McLaren's off-day axing and into John Gibbons' much-expected whack at the knees, it was a bad week for a lot of teams and a lot of skippers.
Changing managers during the season is always a choppy proposition. Only 13 teams who have made in-season switches have advanced to the postseason, and only two have won the World Series. (That'd be the '03 Marlins, who switched from Jeff Torborg to Jack McKeon, and the 1978 Yankees, from Billy Martin to Bob Lemon.)
Managers are moved all the time during the season, too. In the last five years alone, before last week, there were 14 midseason (roughly speaking) changes in managers. Only two of those teams (the Series-winning '03 Marlins and the '04 Astros) made it to the postseason.
So kicking out a manager, if a team wants to make it to the postseason, is not exactly playing the odds. What are the chances of any of these moves doing any good? Let's take a look:
Out: Willie Randolph
In: Jerry Manuel
This is a classic case of a team looking for something -- anything -- to get it going and settling on replacing the guy in charge. If you talk to those around the Mets, most believe that they have enough talent on hand to play in October. But after the collapse of '07, and after starting so slowly under Randolph this year (34-35, 6 1/2 games back in the National League East), and after the snowball of media and public opinion started to roll against Randolph, the Mets certainly needed to do something.
Is Manuel the guy to give it to them? "He's one of the smartest, most prepared people in the game," White Sox general manager Ken Williams told me of the man he fired after the 2003 season to bring on Ozzie Guillen. "Creative. He really deals with everyone equally. Whether it's the star or the 25th man, he understands that he has to know what makes that person tick."
Critics say that the laid-back Manuel (500-471 lifetime as a manager) is too much like the laid-back Randolph, and that the Mets need somebody to kick butts, not pat them. If Manuel can coax a better performance out of Carlos Delgado (.237, .311 on-base), Oliver Perez (5.06 ERA) and an inconsistent bullpen, though, he'll work out just fine.
Chances of making the postseason: They're now 3 1/2 games out in the NL East. I'd say even money.
Out: John McLaren
In: Jim Riggleman
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum are the Mariners, a crushingly disappointing team that was badly misjudged by many in the business. McLaren, a longtime baseball man who was getting his first chance at managing, ended up taking the fall though, clearly, he had very little to do with this mess. "It's terrible," outfielder Raul Ibanez said, "to know you're partially responsible for that. It's terrible."
Ibanez had less to do with McLaren's firing than just about anyone on the team. Most of the blame can be laid on a roster filled with underperforming players, including Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, new Mariners' pitchers Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva, veteran M's pitchers Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista ... the list goes on and on, but it probably doesn't include Ibanez. Much blame also can be laid on former general manager Bill Bavasi (also fired last week), who built and perpetuated much of this dysfunctional team.
Riggleman, smartly, was non-committal on the issue of whether he thought that the Mariners had enough talent to win. "I just feel like whatever is there," said Riggleman, who has his first managing job since 1999, when his Cubs went 67-95, "we'll get it out of them."
Whatever is there, though, is not enough to get anywhere close to .500, let alone the playoffs.
Chances of making the postseason: Off the board.
Out: John Gibbons
In: Cito Gaston
The firing of Gibbons, who was 306-307 in four-plus years with the Jays, was hardly a surprise. He has been a divisive figure for the last couple of years, both in and out of the clubhouse. He famously scrapped with a couple of his players (Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly) and the fans were clearly frustrated with him.
Still, he was a roughly .500 manager for a team that always had the odds stacked against it. For a long time, all many expected was for the Jays to stick close to the Yankees and Red Sox. And, for a long time, that's what the Jays did.
Gibbons' downfall probably came because, this year, both the Orioles and the Rays have passed the Jays in the standings. Despite a faulty roster devoid of any real power, and a lot of front-office gaffes along the way, the Blue Jays, 10 1/2 games back, pushed out Gibbons and turned to the man who won the franchise's two World Series, in 1992 and '93.
Chances of making the postseason: 100-1.