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November 18, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Welcome, Interstate Managers

by Jim Baker

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By the time the 2006 season begins, five new managers will be in place. Four of them--Jim Tracy in Pittsburgh, Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay, Joe Girardi in Florida and Jim Leyland in Detroit--have already been named. The Dodgers vacancy is still open, so get your resumés to Klass-e Temps in Encino, the agency the team is using to screen applicants for the position.

With these new folks coming online, I thought it would be informative to look at the results of the men who have been in this same position over the last decade. In that time, 54 men have assumed managerial positions between seasons. This list does not include managers like Dave Miley and his replacement in Cincinnati, Jerry Narron. Both of them took over in the middle of the previous season. For our purposes, we're looking only at those managers who got a fresh start at the dawning of a new season.

The Caretakers

First, do no harm. These are the men who inherited teams with three-figure run differentials on the positive side. Because it is less likely that a successful manager is fired, there aren't a whole lot of these.

167: Felipe Alou, 2003 Giants. Alou inherited a league champion, as sometimes happens when winning makes everyone just as crazy as losing usually does. The Giants differential narrowed by 50 runs, but they got into the playoffs again in Alou's first season.

152: Terry Francona, 2004 Red Sox. Francona's predecessor, Grady Little, amassed a two-year run differential of 346, but made the mistake of listening to his ace instead of his instincts at the wrong moment. It was the equivalent of the football coach at Alabama losing to Auburn one too many times. Regardless of what else you've done for the team, you've got to go. Francona inherited a very good team that improved its spread by 29 runs. You know the rest. Francona, Joe Torre with the '96 Yankees, Leyland with the '97 Marlins and Bob Brenly with the '01 Diamondbacks are the four first-year managers in the last decade to take their teams all the way.

149: Charlie Manuel, 2000 Indians. The '99 Indians had the last of the 1,000-run offenses. The version in Manuel's first year wasn't as prolific, but the team did allow fewer runs. A 15-run drop in differential isn't very significant except that the White Sox rose up to grab the division at the same time.

146: Ken Macha, 2003 A's. As somebody once said to the director handed the reins of one of Hollywood's more bankable sequels: "Don't screw up the franchise." That was Macha's task: just keep it going. Which he did...at least in the first year.

140: Ray Knight, 1996 Reds. In the last 10 years, Knight is the one manager who inherited a very good team and oversaw its demise. By the end of his first year, they were essentially a break-even unit. The offense held but the pitching went to ruin as '95 ace Pete Schourek came back down to earth courtesy of an injury.

The Inheritors of Doom

These are the managers who signed up for a tour in hell.

-289: Alan Trammell, 2003 Tigers. Take a bad song and make it worse. Trammell was handed one of the biggest black holes in the history of new manager takeovers. Ask yourself this: would you take a job with a club whose best hitter might well be Randall Simon? They dropped another 48 runs in his first year but, like the Boy Scouts and their campsites, Trammell leaves a much tidier place for his successor than he inherited.

-284: Bob Melvin, 2005 Diamondbacks. Arizona has been in flux for much of their brief history. The '04 team was the nadir of that fluxing--in other words, it couldn't get any worse. Melvin looks good right about now. He was at the helm of a 124-run improvement, which looks even better than that since the team overshot its run projection by a good amount. He may well be set up for disappointment in '06, however.

-256: John Boles, 1999 Marlins. Jim Leyland is one of the few managers who is able to leave jobs when he says he wants to leave--like when management strips his team of all discernable talent. Boles inherited the wreckage of the Wayne Huizinga-gutted '98 Marlins and saw them better their differential by 95 runs. Boles, you might remember, caught a lot of grief from Dan Miceli for never having been a player. Miceli has actually been much better since he got shipped out for these utterances.

-245: Lou Piniella, 2003 Devil Rays. In the end, it doesn't matter who you are if ownership and upper management remain the same. Piniella was supposed to save this franchise, but no manager on the planet could do that as long as the D-Rays' old management team was in place. No wonder he sounded so calm in the broadcast booth during the playoffs--he had gotten off the island. The Rays did improve by 108 runs under Piniella in their first year. Not surprisingly, the new Rays job comes with the largest differential of all the new positions. Maddon inherits a 186-run deficit but a pretty nice offense.

-214: Buddy Bell, 1996 Tigers. It says a lot about a franchise that two of the worst inheritances of the last decade belong to them, just seven years apart. Bell got there just in time to behold a pitching staff that gave up more home runs than any other in history. They nosedived by another 106 runs before getting nearly back to .500 in 1997. Actually getting to .500 is something they still have not managed to do. It will be interesting to see how Leyland handles this round of deprivation. He's never inherited a team with a positive differential:

1986 Pirates: -140 in 1985
1997 Marlins: -15 in 1996
2000 Rockies: -29 in 1999
2006 Tigers: -64 in 2005

The Growers

These are the new managers whose teams showed the greatest run differentials from the previous season.

216: Terry Collins, 1997 Angels. Man, one sub-.500 season and you never get to manage again.

193: Buddy Bell, 2000 Rockies. Bell's managerial career isn't shaping up very well, but he'll always have this to brag about: the best season in Rockies history.

171: Tony La Russa, 1996 Cardinals

167: Grady Little, 2002 Red Sox

159: Frank Robinson, 2002 Expos

The Droppers

These managers were on hand for the biggest drops in their first year:

-175: Bob Boone, 2001 Reds. You want to know when it's time to find a new team to root for? When they hire Bob Boone to manage. He turns 58 tomorrow, so there is still plenty of time for him to come back and drag another couple of teams down.

-155: Mike Hargrove, 2000 Orioles. This was his first year away from the Indians. He's been melting his career managerial winning percentage ever since. If the Mariners go 76-86 or worse this year, his career mark will be back under .500 for the first time since 1995.

-135: Ray Knight, 1996 Reds. Knight didn't make it through his second season, being replaced by Jack McKeon, just now departed from Florida. He leaves Girardi with a small 15-run deficit to overcome.

-106: Buddy Bell, 1996 Tigers

-106: Lloyd McClendon, 2001 Pirates. McClendon and his interim replacement, Pete Mackanin, leave an 89-run deficit for Jim Tracy. Tracy left the Dodgers with a slightly more modest 70-run hole. Given the volatility of the National League West, though, the new Dodgers skipper is in a much better position to make the playoffs in his first year than Tracy is in Pittsburgh. Having said that, though, the Pirates are looking very smart this week with their signing of Jason Bay. If this bit of smoothness is an indicator of things to come, then things are looking up in Buctown.

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