Being in the middle of the final week of the season, not one National League team has clinched a playoff spot. This is not necessarily a sign of strength. It’s more a symbol of parity and it is about as pathetic as a new Britney Spears video. The American League is all but set and has been since Sunday. The Yankees will complete their remarkable comeback by winning the wild card any day now.
I’m sure baseball is thrilled that the NL is going down to the wire since it means larger crowds until the end of the year. But teams that fail to make the post-season will end with a false sense of confidence.
This includes the Milwaukee Brewers who provided their fans with an exciting season. No one expected them to stay in contention this long. General Manager Doug Melvin has put together this team like a brewmaster’s new pilsner. Their nucleus of young players broke the club’s single season home run record. Two rookie pitchers (Carlos Villenueva and Yovani Gallardo) showed they belong in the rotation next year. The bullpen provided some anxious moments which will need to be addressed. All in all, it looks like a promising future in Brew City.
But before fans get lulled into thinking that, they need to understand a few minor details. First, the Brewers play in the weakest division in baseball. It hardly takes a powerhouse to compete. Remember last year the Cardinals rode an 83 win season to the Series title.
Second, as of this evening, the Brewers are 81-76 thus assuring themselves of their second non-losing season in 13 years. If they were to win the last 3 out of five, realistic since they are Dr. Jekyll at home, the Brewers will finish 84-78. Progress sure, but hardly stellar and probably not enough to win the division. If the Brewers were in either of the other divisions, they would be in fourth place.
Third, the Brewers were once ten games ahead in the division only to blow it. None of the division leaders blew a lead that big although the Red Sox almost did.
For this accomplishment, club owner Mark Antanassio gave Manager Ned Yost the dreaded vote of confidence saying that he sees no reason why he should not bring him back. I can think of a few reasons, most notably his handling of the pitching staff and the teams inability to win on the road.
In this humble opinion, the team needs a new leader to take it to the next level. Ned Yost overmanages games and plays it too strictly by the book. If the rumor floating about that he will be the successor to Bobby Cox when he retires then he should go. After all, he still has a home in Atlanta and the team is more suited to his style of managing.
The Brewers need someone with experience managing youngsters. They need to go in a new direction in order to take full advantage of the enormous talent on this team. Another 83-84 win season next year won’t hack it. So Ned Yost got the dreaded vote of confidence which usually means a long walk off of a short plank. For 2008 and beyond, I hope this happens.
My most recent post addressed the state of umpiring and how even unprofessional behavior never gets punished. I know no one reads this blog, but I still take credit for the actions of MLB today when they suspended umpire Mike Winters for the rest of the season. As the story goes, Winters cursed at Milton Bradley after the Padres outfielder asked if Winters told the plate umpire that he threw a bat in his direction after being called out on strikes. Winters knows like all others that Bradley has a volatile personality.
It was said that knowing this, Winters baited Bradley with the curse.
It’s about time baseball disciplines arrogant, condescending umpires who think they are immune from the consequences of their actions. This is a good start.
My most recent post was about the fact that no manager has been fired this year. I wondered how often this has happened during the course of a full season. Well, according to my ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia (a reference tool no real fan is without) this has occurred only four previous times since 1917. I used this as a starting point since that was the year the Federal League folded and baseball returned to the two league structure that still exists.
So in the last 90 years, only in 1920, 1926, 1931, 1942 and surprisingly, as recently as 2000 did no manager lose his job during the season. Note that there was a span of 58 years where at least one manager got the ax during the season. Here, then are the lucky skippers who avoided the grim reaper in those years.
Boston George Stallings Boston Ed Barrow
Brooklyn Wilbert Robinson Chicago Kid Gleason
Chicago Fred Mitchell Cleveland Tris Speaker
Cincinnati Pat Moran Detroit Hughie Jennings
New York John McGraw New York Miller Huggins
Philadelphia Gavy Cravath Phil. Connie Mack
Pittsburgh George Gibson St Louis Jimmy Burke
St Louis Branch Rickey Washington Clark Griffith
Boston Dave Bancroft Boston Lee Fohl
Brookyn Wilbert Robinson Chicago Eddie Collins
Chicago Joe McCarthy Cleveland Tris Speaker
Cincinnati Jack Hendricks Detroit Ty Cobb
New York John McGraw New York Miller Huggins
Philadelphia Art Fletcher Phil Connie Mack
Pittsburgh Bill McKechnie St Louis George Sisler
St Louis Rogers Hornsby Washington Bucky Harris
Boston Bill McKechnie Boston Shano Collins
Brooklyn Wilbert Robinson Chicago Donie Bush
Chicago Rogers Hornsby Cleveland Roger Peckinpaugh
Cincinnati Dan Howley Detroit Bucky Harris
New York John McGraw New York Joe McCarthy
Philadelphia Burt Shotton Phil. Connie Mack
Pittsburgh Jewel Ens St Louis Bill Killifer
St Louis Gabby Street Washington Walter Johnson
Boston Casey Stengel Boston Joe Cronin
Brooklyn Leo Durocher Chicago Jimmy *****
Chicago Jimmie Wilson Cleveland Lou Boudreau
Cincinnati Bill McKechnie Detroit Del Baker
New York Mel Ott New York Joe McCarthy
Philadelphia Hans Lobert Phil. Connie Mack
Pittsburgh Frankie Frisch St Louis Luke Sewell
St Louis Billy Southworth Washington Bucky Harris
Arizona Buck Showalter Anaheim Mike Scioscia
Atlanta Bobby Cox Baltimore Mike Hargrove
Chicago Don Baylor Boston Jimy Williams
Cincinnati Jack McKeon Chicago Jerry Manual
Colorado Buddy Bell Cleveland Charlie Manual
Florida John Boles Detroit Phil Garner
Houston Larry Dierker Kansas City Tony Muser
Los Angeles Davey Johnson Minnesota Tom Kelly
Milwaukee Davey Lopes New York Joe Torre
Montreal Felipe Alou Oakland Art Howe
New York Bobby Valentine Seattle Lou Piniella
Philadelphia Terry Francona Tampa Bay Larry Rothschild
Pittsburgh Gene Lamont Texas Johnny Oates
St Louis Tony LaRussa Toronto Jim Fregosi
San Diego Bruce Bochy
San Francisco Dusty Baker
Of the 2000 list it is interesting to note that five are still with their present clubs (Cox, Scioscia, LaRussa, Torre, and Bochy) while eight others have re-surfaced with other teams (Showalter. Hargrove, Bell, Charlie Manual, Garner, Alou, Francona and Baker). Of all the managers on the above list, Connie Mack was the most secure (he owned the team) and would manage for an incredible 50 years.
Rating the Managers
As we head for the home stretch in another exciting baseball season a startling fact hit me. No manager this year has been fired. Remarkable. In the long and storied history of this grand game has there ever been a season where no managerial changes took place?
I’ll try to do the research and respond. In the meantime, let’s look at this year’s group to see if there is any justification for all of the skippers to keep their jobs. After some rudimentary analysis the answer is: maybe.
The fact is no team except maybe the Cubs and Braves have been a major disappointment. But that doesn’t mean that all of the jobs will be secure come October. I’ve listed each manager under one of three categories: Goodbye, Tightrope and Solid and brief reasons why.
Arizona Diamondbacks Bob Melvin Solid
The emergence of the D’backs pitching staff and a relatively weak Division will keep Melvin around for 2007. Melvin has a reputation as a taskmaster but has good game management skills and shows patience with young players.
Atlanta Braves Bobby Cox Solid
Despite a disappointing season, Bobby Cox will decide when he’s through. He’s earned it while managing an incredible 14 straight divisional titles. The rebuilding finally begins in Atlanta and it will be up to Cox to determine whether or not he wants to be a part of it. He is one of the finest managers in the history of the game.
Baltimore Orioles Sam Perlozzo Tightrope
On any other team, Perlozzo would get a pass. But on the unpredictable and dysfunctional Orioles, the last sure thing was Cal Ripken. Patience is the key and Perlozzo has the right temperament. But as long as Peter Angelos is ruining (running) the team no one is safe.
Boston Red Sox Terry Francona Tightrope
The best way to describe the Red Sox season is chaotic. They are simply not as good as many think as evidenced by the horrific showing of their pitching staff during the recent 5 game sweep by the Yankees. The players like playing for Francona who deserves the chance to stick around at least one more year. But expect a major housecleaning the severity to be determined by how far back they finish behind the Yankees. Unfortunately and undeservingly, Francona may be a part of it.
Chicago Cubs Dusty Baker Goodbye
If ever there was an upcoming managerial dismissal that is undeserved it will be this one. Baker will be the scapegoat for a team that from the very first month had numerous challenges. Baker will be relieved that he is out of there and will surely re-surface somewhere else.
Chicago White Sox Ozzie Guillen Solid
The only way Guillen leaves is if he implodes. He has kept the defending World Champs in contention in baseball’s toughest division and with a pitching staff that is not nearly as effective as last year.
Cincinnati Reds Jerry Narron Solid
Is the Reds surprising success this year a result of Narron’s dugout leadership or the revolving door of players?
It’s a bit of both. Narron’s done a masterful job even as the Reds begin to fade after the disaster of a recent Western road trip.
Cleveland Indians Eric Wedge Tightrope
Last year saw many proclaiming Wedge as the best young manager for the way the club stayed in the race until the last week of the season. The Indians have not delivered this year as expected and the first casualty is usually the manager. A one year reprieve may occur but if he doesn’t turn it around he’ll be in the unemployment line by June.
Colorado Rockies Clint Hurdle Tightrope
Hurdle has done a commendable job with a team of good young players yet to reach their prime. A gut feeling says that if the Rockies stumble out of the gate in 2007, Hurdle will be history.
Detroit Tigers Jim Leyland Solid
Is Leyland amazing, smart or lucky? While it’s true that he has benefited from the Tigers stellar young pitching all maturing at the same time, he has the perfect makeup for this team. His no-nonsense approach, baseball smarts and ability to work with young players is a formula that has the Tigers being the surprise team of the year. He’ll be in Detroit as long as he wishes to be.
Florida Marlins Joe Girardi Goodbye
What Girardi has done in his first managerial year with the Marlins is nothing short of amazing. A team that has used an incredible 21 rookies is still in the wild card race heading into September. He will be given serious consideration for Manager of the Year, yet he will be history. Why? An egotistical owner who was offended when Girardi had the audacity to ask him to stop baiting the umpires from his owner’s box during games. Is it any wonder that the Marlins fans are the most indifferent in the game?
Houston Astros Phil Garner Solid
This rating is based only on the recent surge to get back in the wild card race This is an underperforming club with some of the best starting pitching. Garner remains popular in Houston and the team draws well so it will probably stay the course.
Kansas City Royals Buddy Bell Goodbye
Pity Buddy Bell. He manages one of the worst teams ever. He’s in a small market. The team plays in an aging stadium. The GM has already been replaced. The pitching is horrendous. This is a hodge podge mish mash blend of washed up veterans, a few promising youngsters and minor league fill-ins. For Bell, it will be a relief to be relieved.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (in Orange County, somewhere near Disneyland off one of the freeways) Mike Scioscia Solid
The club’s recent success making it to the post season (and winning in 2003) will secure Scioscia’s job. He is a “player’s manager” (what does this mean??), a former catcher who knows how to handle the pitchers delicate psyche. While this season has been one of ups and downs, he’ll be back to lead the club again in 2007.
Los Angeles Dodgers Grady Little Solid
Like Jimy Williams before him, Little got a raw deal in Boston. He is a good manager as proven by the fact that he has the Dodgers in the race with good pitching and little else.
He didn’t panic when the team lost 13 of 14 after the All-Star Game and it paid off with the longest 2006 team winning streak that vaulted them into contention.
Milwaukee Brewers Ned Yost Tightrope
Hope springs eternal in Milwaukee especially after their first non-losing (81-81) season in 2005. Expectations were that the team would challenge for a wildcard and now it looks like they will be back to a sub-.500 club. The Brewers lack intensity and this year’s disappointment has probably put Yost on notice: get out of the gate fast next year or sayonara.
Minnesota Twins Ron Gardenhire Solid
The Twins got off to a shaky start but since June have been one of the best teams in baseball. Now they are in the thick of the wildcard race in the toughest division and with a starting rotation that features the stellar Johan Santana and three rookies. They are a group of solid ballplayers who are well managed.
New York Mets Willie Randolph Solid
It would be a surprise if the Mets were not in first place after all of the talent they have bought in the past two years. Tired of being in the shadow of the team in the Bronx, the Mets have pulverized the National League this year. While it might be easy to write this off as a team anyone can manage, it’s not so. Dealing with superstar egos is a challenge. Randolph, himself once a star, seems to have the perfect makeup for this team.
New York Yankees Joe Torre Solid
Don’t look now, but next year Torre ties both Casey Stengel and Miller Huggins for number two on the list of Yankee managerial longevity trailing only Joe McCarthy. Who would’ve thought anyone would’ve lasted this long under a George Steinbrenner team?
In front of arguably the most critical of all fans, Torre has probably done his best managing job taking the team to its customary perch atop the division while facing severe injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. He keeps the team focused and winning.
Oakland Athletics Ken Macha Solid
Billy Ball keeps winning in a city that is somewhat indifferent to its team. Year after year, the team changes players and keeps winning. Macha seems to be the right person to manage this team, but he needs to start taking them deeper into the playoffs or he could soon be on the tightrope.
Philadelphia Phillies Charlie Manual Tightrope
I try to think of something positive to say about Manual. Jim Thome likes him and that was enough to get him hired in Philly. But with Thome gone, a new GM – Pat Gillick and a team that can only see the Mets with a telescope, there may be some changes in the off season. Manual doesn’t strike me as having any significant strengths and was not all that successful in Cleveland.
Pittsburgh Pirates Jim Tracy Solid
After another atrocious season, nothing really changed in Pittsburgh this season. The Manager of this team might as well be faceless because until it commits to upgrading the talent around Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez it will continue to mire in the cold, musty basement of its division. Tracy certainly can’t be fully to blame with the talent-challenged team he has.
St Louis Cardinals Tony LaRussa Solid
I’ll admit I am not a LaRussa fan. He seems arrogant and his blinding loyalty to Mark McGwire seems hypocritical. He’s lucky his team is in the weakest division in baseball and that the fans are extremely devoted. He’s like a quarterback on a football team – too much credit when things go good and not enough blame when things go bad.
San Diego Padres Bruce Bochy Solid
There must be something about former catchers becoming good managers (See Florida and LA Angels). It must be that the catcher is in the middle of every situation in the game, He controls the pace and flow and communicates the manager’s strategy on the field. Bochy learned well and has used these skills to become one of the better, more solid managers in the game as the Padres again make a run at the wild card. Quick, who on this team made the All-Star team this year?
San Francisco Giants Felipe Alou Goodbye
While Alou is a good manager and has done an admirable job this year with the Giants and the distraction that is Barry Bonds, he is 71. The prediction is that the team will buy him off into retirement so they can make a run at Dusty Baker.
Seattle Mariners Mike Hargrove Goodbye
I questioned his hiring in the first place. While he had a modicum of success in Cleveland, he failed in Baltimore and is doing the same in Seattle with an eerily similar team. There is nothing about the teams performance this year that warrants his return.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays Joe Madden Solid
Major league baseball should be banished in Florida. Maybe it’s the call of the beach and other attractions that keeps people from the park…but the level of apathy for both the Marlins and the Rays is huge. While the Marlins continue to surprise, the Rays have yet to do much of anything. But there is a surfeit of young talent on this team, and a new owner who seems committed to making the team better. It will be an exciting young team that gets better each year and Madden should be a part of it.
Texas Rangers Buck Showalter Tightrope
Pitching has been and always will be an issue in Arlington. That will be Showalter’s downfall. While a good “mechanic” of the game — no one works harder – the tighly wound Showalter will either lose his composure and do something regrettable or the front office will grow impatient and cut him loose. The prediction is that the latter will occur sometime next year.
Toronto Blue Jays John Gibbons Tightrope
The Blue Jays made a sincere effort to improve this year and have some of the best talent in the game. The thoughtless trading of Orlando Hudson, Felipe Lopez and Cesar Izturis created unnecessary holes in the infield. Granted they play in a tough division but the
Jays should’ve been in contention longer than they were. The blow-up with Shea Hillenbrand earlier in the year and recently with Ted Lilly didn’t score any additional points for Gibbons.
Washington Nationals Frank Robinson Goodbye
Baseball owes a debt of gratitude to this classy Hall of Famer who kept this shaky franchise together during all of the Montreal upheaval and its eventual rebirth. But with new ownership and a new era comes change and Robinson at 71 should be giving way to a younger successor. On top of that, the team has not done well this year.