I was ready to write a 6-4-3 this week that gave Cam Bonifay as fond a
farewell as possible, focusing on his tremendous deal that brought
Giles to the Pirates in exchange for Ricardo Rincon. It was an
absolutely masterful deal, one that could have been the cornerstone for a
very successful franchise.
Mr. Bonifay was also one of the first front office people to give us the
time of day, something for which we here at Baseball Prospectus will
be grateful. However, despite Mr. Bonifay’s kindness towards a young
enterprise, and despite my preference to not kick someone when he’s down,
just can’t write that 6-4-3. Instead, we’ll look at The Beginning
the End of Pittsburgh’s Nightmare, and a few other points of alleged
I probably could have put together a positive piece on Cam’s tenure, had
Bonifay shown more decorum and taken greater responsibility during his
farewell address. Instead, he spent his airtime pointedly and aggressively
demonstrating how thoroughly unqualified he was to be running a
ballclub. His wasn’t the most deranged act of semi-defiance on June 11,
it was certainly puzzling.
Bonifay reportedly was asked to resign by Pirates’ CEO Kevin McClatchy,
declined. At his Monday press conference, he passed the buck like a
public-sector middle manager nearing a pension. "I was disappointed
because I didn’t feel it was time for me to leave this post," said
Bonifay. "There is no club in major-league baseball that could have
undergone the injuries that we’ve suffered this year." The injuries
which he speaks are presumably Kris Benson, Francisco
Jason Schmidt, and Terry Mulholland. Obviously, these
are completely random, and are the main reason why Pittsburgh is basically
the Tampa Bay of the National League.
Bonifay is a hard worker, but was more or less uneven in his execution.
of the optimism of the 1997 season was the result of a Mexican program
netted Rincon and Cordova. During that same year, Bonifay oversaw an
outstanding salary purge, dumping a number of veterans who were expensive
and unproductive, including Jay Bell, Orlando Merced, and
Carlos Garcia. In short, he was demonstrating exactly the kind of
player personnel acumen needed to run a ballclub. Paying for excellence is
OK, but don’t pay for mediocrity.
A couple of years later, Bonifay appears to have been possessed by either
Tommy Lasorda or Jim Frey. Players that not only aren’t valuable, but are
downright detrimental to a club’s success, have been signed to long-term
deals. Pat Meares? Meares was more or less without other career
options after 1998, so he hooked up with Pirates…who awarded him a
long-term deal, one that’s paying him nearly $4 million this season.
Derek Bell? Another old guy without any demonstrable ability to
a club, and who usurps the position of a productive and inexpensive player
in John Vander Wal, who, incidentally, has been highly productive
despite not sticking to his role.
Bonifay seemed genuinely surprised by the Pirates’ poor play. The question
is pretty simple: if you assume he’s telling the truth, why could he
possibly be surprised?
- Did he expect Jason Schmidt to come back immediately from rotator cuff
surgery and be effective?
- Did he expect Kris Benson, who worked more innings than ever in 2000,
only to see his numbers drop alarmingly in the second half (strikeout rate
down, ERA up from 3.00 to 5.00), to be healthy and effective?
- Did he think that Derek Bell, Pat Meares, and Terry Mulholland would
young and more productive than they’ve ever been?
- Did he expect the farm system, which has been among the least
in baseball at developing offensive players, to suddenly start churning
If Bonifay thought all these things would happen, he clearly had lost
of his plan, or he didn’t have one in the first place. W. Edwards Deming
once said, "Management should not be surprised when expected outcomes
become actual outcomes."
Deming was pretty smart.
Bonifay wants to be a GM again. Until he’s ready, he shouldn’t get that
opportunity. He has been somewhat successful at unearthing talent through
international programs. Perhaps he should spend some time in an
doing what he’s good at, and learn from a GM who’s better at the other
facets of the job (player development, contract negotiation) than he is.
It’s not easy to keep trying to learn all the time at any age. Sometimes,
people mistakenly think you’re unsure of your own abilities. But Cam
isn’t yet ready to be a successful major-league general manager. Until he
invests the time to learn the skills, opens his mind to new ways of doing
things, and develops a method to separate the valuable skills from the
non-valuable skills, he’ll never succeed.
Which is true for all of us.
Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.