So, the Mets will not be firing Willie Randolph; how generous of them. As I pointed out in my Sports Illustrated column on the greatest collapses in baseball history, this is pretty much par for the course. Among the 11 teams that held places in the Inner Circle of Choke prior to this weekend, only one of them fired their manager in the subsequent off-season. That was the 2003 Red Sox and Grady Little, who had arguably done the most of anyone on this list to contribute to his own demise.
The most dangerous time to be a CEO in any business is not when things are going really badly. When something really unforeseen and terrible has happened, the first instinct is to buckle down, count your blessings, and get the ship sailing again. There are too many other things to worry about than to fire someone. Moreover, when something so unlikely has happened as to defy credulity, that naturally provides a defense to everyone involved.
Rather, the most dangerous time to be a CEO is at a time of raised expectations. And what a dramatic collapse in the midst of a pennant race does is to raise expectations to their fullest. You could reach out and touch the pennant — you could smell it, you could taste it — and then it was stolen out from under you. You no longer just hope to get back to the promised land — you expect it, and nothing less than a championship will do.
So, returning to our list of collapsing teams, we find that most of the managers lasted … but not for very long. In fact, their median remaining tenure with the club was just two seasons, and only the estimable John McGraw lasted as long as four (in fact, McGraw lasted 23). If Randolph’s Mets do not reach at least the NLCS next year, you can bet he’ll meet the same fate.
2003 Red Sox Grady Little 0.0 (fired after 2003)
1995 Angels Marcel Lachemann 0.5 (mid 1996)
1986 Angels Gene Mauch 1.0 (end 1987)
1986 Red Sox John McNamara 1.5 (mid 1988)
1951 Dodgers Chuck Dressen 2.0 (end 1953)
1978 Red Sox Don Zimmer 2.0 (end 1980)
1969 Cubs Leo Durocher 2.5 (mid 1972)
2003 Cubs Dusty Baker 3.0 (end 2006)
2004 Yankees Joe Torre 3.0+ (2007 and counting)
1964 Phillies Gene Mauch 3.5 (mid 1968)
1908 Giants John McGraw 23.5 (mid 1932)