The Marlins way

MLB

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria finally gave in and did what he’s clearly wanted to do by firing manager Mike Redmond. My prediction was off by two-and-a-half weeks.

Let’s not treat Redmond as a victim here. Yes, he got caught in an Oliver Stone-conspiracy style of triangulation of crossfire between the demanding owner, the roster that was thought to be better than it actually is, and the fact that he is, at best, an average manager. He didn’t do a particularly good job, doesn’t have the resume to say that he should have been given more time, and the team is floundering. High expectations can cost a manager his job and if the expectations are reasonable, then the firing is deserved. Unreasonable expectations will get a manager fired, but that doesn’t mean that the firing isn’t justified.

These ambiguities can be viewed as unfair, but they’re part of the landscape when choosing managing a baseball team as a vocation.

When a manager takes a job offered by Loria, it’s not hard to predict how it’s going to end. Like Al Davis with the Oakland Raiders, the manager/head coach is a supporting character in the drama. That said, many clubs in sports treat their field bosses as disposable entities and have been far more callous about it than Loria, doing so with the tacit protection of a starstruck gallery of supporters and media factions invested in selling a myth.

Billy Beane – considered a “genius” – has gone through four managers in his time. Some were fired for cause; others were fired just because he felt like firing them; others were tossed overboard with Beane blaming the media, not the manager, for his failings. Theo Epstein fired both Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria and was given a widespread pass for it from the same people who are unloading on Loria now. Because Epstein got the so-called “best” manager in baseball Joe Maddon, his tactics are somehow more honorable because there’s a reason behind them rather than emanating from Loria’s reflexive response to fire the easiest target: the manager.

It’s partisan nonsense hidden behind analysis and excuses.

Loria is an easy target because he’s the one who was investigated by the SEC, hoodwinked the State of Florida into building him a new stadium, was slapped on the wrist by Major League Baseball for pocketing revenue-sharing money, and fires his manager when things don’t go the way he thinks they should. This is how he does business and he’s successful at it. Who’s to say he’s wrong?

Redmond joins an eclectic group of past victims buried in the body orchard of Loria’s impatience, petulance, anger and blameworthiness that includes respected GM Larry Beinfest; one of the best current managers in baseball Joe Girardi; an underrated baseball lifer Jack McKeon; the mediocre Fredi Gonzalez; the missing in action Edwin Rodriguez; and the magnet for self-inflicted, intentionally-created controversy Ozzie Guillen.

With the daylong speculation as to where Loria was going to go to replace Redmond, the names that popped up included Dusty Baker, Jeff Conine, Wally Backman, and Bo Porter. In a tactical move seemingly designed to surprise, general manager Dan Jennings will take over in the dugout. Jennings has been a respected scout and front office man, but has never managed or coached at the professional level.

While unusual, this is not completely unheard of in today’s game. Former Marlins manager John Boles didn’t play professionally. Nor did former Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Trembley. Their results when managing were poor and while there was limited talent on the teams they managed, it’s naïve and ignorant to dismiss their lack of professional playing experienced as irrelevant.

Playing for a year or two as a low-level minor leaguer with zero chance of making it any further than the bottom rung or professional baseball shouldn’t add any more credibility than someone who worked his way up through the minors. But that ignores the macho, testosterone-fueled nature of baseball.

Hiring Jennings might craft greater organizational continuity between the field staff, president of baseball operations Michael Hill, and, naturally, Loria. Some are questioning the decision, but Loria has – intentionally or not – shielded himself from criticism by a large portion of the viewing public by doing what the stat people say should be done more often and ignore the “experience” factor when making a decision on whom the manager should be. They can’t critique it in anything more than a nitpicky fashion because doing so inadvertently chips away at their own belief system and its tenets.

Jennings might think that since he’s been a longtime confidant and is a trusted member of Loria’s baseball operations staff that he’s safe. If this was a short-term attempt on the part of Loria and Jennings to get a close look at what’s happening on the field and in the clubhouse, then it makes sense on all ends. That may yet be the case. The Marlins run their club differently than other teams do in which the general manager is the ultimate face of the franchise and runs the club on a day-to-day basis. The Marlins have Hill, Loria’s stepson David Samson, Jennings, and Loria himself taking part in how the team is run with numerous advisers and kibitzers jockeying for position. In theory, Jennings can do what he was doing as the GM and still manage the team.

The players are the keys here. They didn’t hate Redmond, so his departure won’t be viewed with a sense of relief. There’s a very real possibility that the team really isn’t much better than a .500 team, so it won’t matter who the manager is unless structural changes to the roster are made. Players, being the entitled, blame-shifting, “nothing’s my fault” entities that they are, will look at Jennings and raise an eyebrow if (when) he simply looks out of place in uniform. Ostensibly, Jennings is the players’ “boss,” but in sports that’s largely meaningless unless the owner himself is taking over the team. Sharing an office with a boss is uncomfortable no matter how good a person is at his or her job; no matter how secure within the terms of employment he or she is. The idea that the “boss” is with them 24/7, watching, judging assessing, scrutinizing is awkward.

The players are the ones with the power and the larger paychecks. They’re the ones who should be blamed, but rarely are. Now Jennings is on the field. Undoubtedly, given the flawed nature of the Marlins’ roster, he’ll learn the same thing that Redmond did: there’s not much he can do to fix it unless the players play better. The biggest problem with this team stems from the thought that they were going to be a World Series contender when they are, in reality, a mediocre team who can make the playoffs if everything goes right. Since it didn’t go right, it cost Redmond his job and put this odd chain of events in motion.

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