keyboard_arrow_uptop

Now that Davey Johnson’s pink
slip has surfaced from a long lurk in the Dodgers’ interoffice mail, there
are five managers out of work. Within
the next couple of weeks, we’ll probably see Jimy Williams and Jim Fregosi
join the list. While it makes for nifty trivia that no manager was fired
in-season, the firings mean something slightly different for each of the
teams. The usual crocodile tears are being shed for the public’s benefit
about how Buck Showalter, Gene Lamont, Terry Francona and Jack McKeon all
deserve better, but what are the really important elements of these firings,
and the hirings yet to come? And how much recycling are we going to have
accept this time around?

If Jack McKeon was cranky enough to sue over the question of whether or not
he was fired because of age discrimination, his dismissal would be a
particularly interesting case. If Jim Bowden ends up selecting Bob Boone as
McKeon’s replacement, it would be Bowden who would have given greater
evidence of age-related handicaps like memory loss. Has everyone forgotten
Boone’s ineptitude as a manager during his stints with Tacoma and Kansas
City? There’s a hint of a glaucoma problem here if Boone gets the job, at
least as far as what George Bush called "the vision thing." Firing
the oft-recycled McKeon for someone who hasn’t demonstrated any core
competency to deserve recycling strikes me as poor judgment on a par with
acquiring Fonzie Bichette or Ruben Sierra. On a similar level of
irrelevance, Bowden is supposed to be considering Hal McRae, last seen as
the Phillies’ hitting coach. I don’t know what the fascination with
uninspired and uninspiring ex-Royals managers represents, but it isn’t a
good thing. Why not dig up Duke Wathan? If the objective is to bring back
Davey Johnson, that’s fine, but if the choices are limited to Ken Griffey’s
dad and some ex-Royal flops, then Bowden isn’t rating the job as one with
any real importance.

As for Arizona, we can only probably rule out Cotton Fitzsimmons,
because the early buzz is that Jerry Colangelo is also supposed to be
interested in the Terry Francona popularity contest. Since Francona’s
greatest strength is
his facility at working the press and gaining its sympathy, it looks like
the Snakes are overreacting to a media that turned on Buck Showalter for
failing to turn his pre-game interviews into industry-standard backslapping
and gladhanding sessions. The buddy system seems to be in full swing,
because the only other candidates being mentioned are team broadcaster Bob
Brenly (who’s impossible to dislike, even if you don’t remember him from his
playing days) and coach Carlos Tosca. All of these men will have to accept
less responsibility in the organization than Showalter had, which means more
responsibility for Joe Garagiola Jr. and the Colangelo cronies. Trying to
believe that that’s a good thing will take an awful lot of Kool-Aid.

With managers like Dusty Baker, Davey Johnson and Jimy Williams possibly
floating around this winter, Gene Lamont will probably have to settle for
the waystation of slipping into another coaching job. There are reasonable
questions about whether or not Lamont deserves to be criticized for his
handling of Aramis Ramirez and Chad Hermansen in recent years, as well as
Jason Schmidt and Francisco Cordova. On a certain level, it’s hard to fault
Lamont with what appears to be an organization-wide problem as far as
identifying and developing hitting talent.

Lamont just needs to thank his lucky stars that he’s no longer tied to Cam
Bonifay. The fact that Bonifay is seriously considering Terry Francona
should spell out how grim the future could be for the Pirates. Francona has
translated his singular experience of managing Michael Jordan in Birmingham
into four seasons of demonstrating a profound talent for trashing his
pitching staff from top to bottom. Firing Terry Francona was long overdue,
and is even the subject of some hope among the Phillies
disgruntled-yet-faithful.

Because of the Pirates’ state of haphazard chaos and wishful thinking,
hiring Buck Showalter to become the organization’s generalissimo would
probably be the closest thing to progress. However, keep in mind that
Showalter, while thoughtful and hard-working, did not demonstrate the same
eye for talent with the Snakes that he had with the Yankees, where he had
the benefit of a better group of people working in player development than
he had with the Snakes. Buck also had the advantage of having managed in the
organization’s minor leagues to gain familiarity with the players destined
to become Yankees.

The Phillies, freed from Francona’s uninspired and uninspiring rule, are
supposed to be considering Bob Boone, Dutch Daulton or Third Base Coach for
Life John Vukovich. Ed Wade already has to live down the Francona hiring, so
burdening the organization with Boone would probably wreck any chance he
has to finally turn the Phillies around. Daulton would be
popular, which isn’t a bad thing. However, hiring him would require some
very thoughtful considerations for who would fill the jobs of bench coach
(to help Daulton), hitting coach (to try to get Travis Lee‘s career back on
track) and pitching coach (if you can’t get Larry Andersen out of the booth,
bring up Gorm Heimueller). Marc Bombard managed at Scranton this year, and
has one of the best records in the minors in terms of winning consistently.
He deserves more than token consideration, whether it’s as the manager or as
Daulton’s bench coach and managing instructor.

The real crime is that one of the better managerial prospects in baseball,
Chris Chambliss, is not getting even token consideration. Chambliss’
continuing "problem" appears to be his inability to BS his way
through an interview. This isn’t exactly tragic, because Chambliss has been
an important coach for the Yankees during their championship run, but the
man earned his shot years ago. Other guys (and the organizations they’re
currently affiliated with) that I’d like to see get a chance include Gary
Jones (Red Sox), Grady Little (Red Sox), Ken Macha (Athletics), Greg Biagini
(Rangers) and Rick Down (Dodgers). Macha is on several short lists and may
get some consideration for the jobs with the Reds, Pirates and Red Sox,
while Little is supposed to be the default setting at manager if the Duke
manages to maneuver Jimy Williams out of the job, only to find everyone else
is no longer available. Like Little, Down is supposed to be the internal
candidate for the Dodgers’ job in case nobody else can be found.

Now, while I’ve consistently trashed Terry Francona so far, keep in mind
that all managers have some strengths and some weaknesses. In Francona’s
case, the strengths seem limited to personal charisma and a positive relationship
with the media, but that can be an important criterion in what is after all
an entertainment industry. But considerations of this sort, like Buck
Showalter’s fascination with dress codes, have to be considered secondary
skills to the more basic issue of whether or not the guy can manage.

There is an advantage to considering managers with outstanding track records
and little name recognition: it is, after all, the pool from which managers
like Earl Weaver, Tony LaRussa or Davey Johnson came from, while
"famous" managers like Don Baylor or Phil Garner don’t have a lot
to recommend them considering their performance as managers after talking or
whining their way into jobs.

There’s also a list of good managers from the "default" pool, the
guys who get the jobs that nobody else wanted, whether it was Tom Kelly with
the Twins or Mike Hargrove with the Indians. If Down or Little finally get
their opportunities with the Dodgers and Red Sox, it could turn out better
than anyone expects. What Red Sox fan doesn’t remember the improbable
success of the Joe Morgan era? However, they’re both stepping into
situations where expectations outstrip reality, and where they could just as
easily be dumped as fall guys for their GMs.

In the case of retreads like Francona or Bob Boone or Hal McRae or
(shudder) Kevin Kennedy, there are precedents that some of them deserve
a break, especially when you consider the modest beginnings of the careers
of managers like Bobby Cox, Bobby Valentine, Whitey Herzog, Jack McKeon, and
even Casey Stengel. The question for a retread has to be whether or not the
manager has demonstrated some core skills that a team that wants to help
itself would want. I think I’ve conveyed the amount of doubt I hold that
Francona, Boone, or McRae will grow up to be the next Herzog or Stengel.

Chris Kahrl can be reached at ckahrl@baseballprospectus.com.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe