Within the piece it’s implied that Geren—for the first time in his tenure—could be replaced if the team doesn’t perform up to expectations; that because the Athletics have some talent to work with, Geren is responsible for the results.
This is another example of the “Billy Beane” character moving to the forefront and taking precedence over reality. Beane the GM has played fast and loose with his supposed belief systems when it’s been advantageous for him to do so.
Rosenthal casually mentions the 2009 season when the Athletics made a series of bold maneuvers to try and vault into contention. They traded for Matt Holliday; signed Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera to contracts to bolster a young pitching staff. Holliday got off to a slow start and seemed unhappy in the American League amid the vast dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum; Giambi looked finished and was released; and Cabrera got off to an atrocious start before being traded to the Twins.
The team finished at 75-87.
Beane didn’t fire Geren.
I’m not suggesting he should’ve fired Geren on his own merits; I don’t hold the manager responsible for the Athletics poor showings in the won/lost column with Geren as the manager; but if Beane is so desperately determined to stick to his public portrayal of a ruthless corporate assassin, then Geren had to go.
Rosenthal points out the Moneyball model in which Beane runs the club from the front office; told Art Howe where and how to stand in the dugout; dismissed Ken Macha for daring to lose in the ALCS; and that the final tally of A’s success or failure lands at the desk of the GM.
But if Beane were consistent in his dealings—or at least honest—he’d have said that Geren is still the manager, in part, because the two are close friends. Beane fired Macha for literally no reason other than the oft-proffered and unquantifiable old standby, “lack of communication”.
I’d like to have a manager with a lack of communication achieve a record of 368-280 in his tenure.
I wondered at the time if Beane would’ve used his “objectivity” to fire Macha had the manager won four more games in 2006 and gotten to the World Series; or eight more and won a championship. The absence of communication was such a problem that it shouldn’t have mattered and he should’ve been canned regardless, right?
I’m no fan of Macha as a manager, but the firing and self-serving justifications were ridiculous.
I’m not begrudging Beane’s right to fire his managers—I’m fully on-board with making a managerial change sooner rather than later and don’t believe a GM or owner has to give a reason other than, “I felt like it.”
But that doesn’t fit the Beane caricature. Everything Beane does is supposed to be steeped in reasoning, objective analysis, logic and the bottom line.
Of course it’s nonsense.
If that were the case, would Geren—who I happen to think is a competent manager—still be in the A’s dugout?
Geren could very well be in trouble if the A’s underachieve again and it won’t be because of anything he does wrong, but because Beane himself will be under fire from a disgusted fan base, impatient owner and skeptical public tired of the moniker of “genius” that has yet to bear fruit anywhere aside from print and, soon, a movie theater near you.
When he’s cornered, Beane won’t take the blame.
He’ll use his “best friend” as a human shield and fling him to the flocking and angry crowd by means of sacrifice, thereby saving himself and his unjustified reputation—with a segment of the believers anyway.
He can fire whomever he wants, whyever he wants; but to make it anything more than an act of self-preservation for a desperate executive trying to cling to the last vestiges of an increasingly tarnished and questionable reputation and storyline of success is the height of hypocrisy and fits right into the fable of Billy Beane.
Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.
I published a full excerpt of my book here.