Sniffer, general manager of the Oldtown Chokes, today hotly denied that Mugsy
Wump is on his way out as the Chokes' field boss. "We do not push the panic
button easily," snorted Snifter, emerging from a 2 a.m. meeting with
Chokes' Owner B. Odessa (Dry) Wells. "Mugsy has proved his ability to get
the most out of veteran players. As of this time he is our man and we are
behind him all the way. Speculation to the contrary only serves to put more
pressure on the team, which is now making an all-out bid for fifth
Wump resigned today as pilot of the Oldtown Chokes. General Manager Manley
Sniffer said, "Mugsy came to the conclusion after careful consideration
that a change might be in everyone's best interest; as we have always been, we
were in complete agreement. Mugsy has done a great job with us and we are
hoping he will stay on as our director of retired personnel." Sniffer said
the Chokes are carefully evaluating the credentials of candidates for Wump's
job. "In a stable organization," he said, "you don't rush into
these kinds of decisions."
(Hap) Hype was tapped today to take over the reins of the Oldtown Chokes. Hype
opened the season as the head man of the New City Outrage, but was released
after the Outrage fell behind the Chokes in the battle for fifth place. Chokes'
G.M. Manley Sniffer suggested that the club had been hoping to land Hype for
some time. "Hap has the reputation of being one of the game's finest
teachers and tacticians," Sniffer said. "The way the game is played
today you have to have a leader like Hap Hype who can relate to the modern
athlete. Hap and I have agreed he will be involved in all phases of our
operation now and hopefully for many years to come. Stability is the key to
success in sports."
This is the most
familiar story in professional sport. The shuffling of managers and coaches
occurs as regularly and rhythmically as tides ebb and flow or birds migrate.
The names and places vary from episode to episode, but the firings are as
stylized and predictable as the minuet of mating sandhill cranes.
In every league
or conference there is one final winner. Ergo, there are always a lot of
losers—and a lot of people fired.
exceptions to the cause-and-effect rule. During his four years with the New
York. Mets, Casey Stengel lost more games than any manager in major league
baseball, but he survived because his job was not to win but to entertain
sufficiently so that the New York press and public would forget how bad the
Mets were and how good the Yankees were. On rare occasions a manager or coach
is fired for what might be called moral turpitude, but most areas of sport have
developed considerable tolerance for minor mischief. Finally there are times
when winning, if it is done by the wrong man in the wrong way, can bring on a
firing. But of all the reasons for being fired, losing is the commonest. It
seems that no matter how much character he builds, no matter how much character
he has, no matter how deserving his children or attractive his wife, a coach or
manager who does much losing will be sacked.
It is not
surprising that somebody should get blamed and then fired for defeats. But why
the manager or coach? Though losing, like winning, is a cooperative affair,
some members of sports organizations are in a better position than others to
dissociate themselves from the consequence of losing. For example, nobody can
fire an owner. An owner can fire a general manager, but this is usually more
bother than it is worth, since the G.M. is usually an anonymous fellow.
Furthermore, he is likely to know where the keys, cash receipts and skeletons
are kept, which gives him a certain leverage. Players are shifted about but
seldom are canned outright. Getting rid of a player who theoretically is of
value (since he is on the roster) automatically raises questions about the good
sense of the G.M. or owner who acquired him. In sport the conventional thing to
do with a losing player is pass him along to another team where hopefully he
will be an even bigger loser.
So by a process
of elimination the managers and coaches are left. At best they are junior
partners when it comes to collecting the players who actually win and lose
games. In most cases they do not inspire fierce fan loyalties, nor does their
presence sell many tickets. They have little value on the sports flesh market.
In consequence they can be quickly given the heave-ho. As Jim Bouton said,
"It is easier for the general manager and/or owner to admit that there was
only one mistake and fire him [the manager]. Managers cannot fire general
managers for providing poor players."
A good example is
the case of Hal Blitman, once the coach of the ABA's Miami Floridians. Blitman
worked for an owner named Ned Doyle, who in an unguarded moment announced he
would spend any amount to bring Miami a winner. In due time Rick Barry and
Artis Gilmore, two players of good quality and large Florida reputations,
became available. Blitman, who felt Barry and Gilmore might make fine additions
to. his team, reminded Doyle of his pledge. Doyle said these two players were
not the type he had in mind. They cost too much. Then, to show he still cared
about basketball and Miami, he fired Blitman.
authority who has given some thought to the manager's function as a scapegoat
is Bob Scheffing, himself twice a manager (Cubs and Tigers) and once a G.M.
( Mets). "Even worse than losing, so far as a club is concerned," says
Scheffing, "is giving the impression that nobody cares whether the team
loses or not. When things are going bad you have to at least look like you are
doing something about it. What the team probably needs is a couple of starting
pitchers, a centerfielder who can catch the ball and another hitter, but there
is no way to get them. So to prove it is concerned, the management gets a new