Tagged: Coaching

The Dreaded Vote of Confidence

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.

SIDEBAR
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.     Capt16133182e0324482ba6d58e2531317a5wint_1

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Managers…Redux

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.

1920
NL                                                    AL       
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

1926
NL                                                    AL
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

1931
NL                                                    AL
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

1942
NL                                                                AL
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

2000
NL                                                    AL
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

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.