Earl Weaver (1930-2013)

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Glenn Gulliver exemplifies what it was that made Earl Weaver different as a manager from his contemporaries. It wasn’t Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr.—all Hall of Famers. Nor was it Ken Singleton, Boog Powell, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar—consistently top performers. It wasn’t Steve Stone or Wayne Garland—pitchers who had their best seasons under Weaver; it wasn’t Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein (an MVP-quality platoon) or role players Benny Ayala and Terry Crowley; it wasn’t even the one year Weaver had Reggie Jackson on his team and punctuated Jackson’s arrival by screaming in his face because Reggie wasn’t wearing a tie on the team plane. (Brooks Robinson found him one and explained how things worked in Baltimore—Earl’s way or…well, it was just Earl’s way. Reggie behaved that year.) It wasn’t the frequent ejections, the foul mouth, the chain-smoking, the public ripping of players, his longevity and consistency.

It was none of that.

It was a nondescript third baseman whom the Orioles purchased from the Indians prior to the 1982 season and who played in 73 big league games, 50 under Weaver. Gulliver, more than any other player, shows why Weaver was ahead of his time. If he were playing today, the two things Gulliver did well would’ve gotten him a multi-year contract as an in demand asset because he: A) walked a lot; and B) could catch the ball at third base.

Gulliver batted .200 in his 50 games under Weaver and walked so much that he had a .363 on base percentage. Weaver saw this, knew this, and could only wonder about the stupidity of those who questioned why Gulliver was playing at all with his low batting average.

Twenty years before Moneyball and everyone thinking they were a genius because they watched baseball for five minutes and knew how to read a stat sheet, Weaver was an actual genius and innovator by using a discarded player who other clubs had no clue was so valuable.

For all the talk of Weaver’s use of statistics, riding his starting pitchers, putting a premium on defense and battles with Palmer and Davey Johnson, the concept that Weaver was a dictator who didn’t know how to be flexible is only half-true. He was a ruthless dictator off the field, but on the field, he was willing to go to whatever lengths he needed in order to win.

Weaver’s teams were always near the top of the league in certain categories. They weren’t always the same. Many times, at the plate, it was on base percentage. On the mound, it was complete games and shutouts. Weaver was known not to be a fan of the riskiness of the stolen base, but as he looked at his transitioning club from 1973-1975 and realized he wouldn’t have the power to win, he let his players loose on the basepaths because he had no other alternative and during those years they were at or near the top of the American League in stolen bases.

If Weaver were managing today, that would be seen as “evolution,” or “adapting.” It wasn’t any of that. Often, the question has been asked how Weaver would function today if he were managing; if the old-school techniques of, “I’m the boss, shut up,” would fly with the multi-millionaire players who can get the manager fired if they choose to do so.

Like wondering why he was using Gulliver, it’s a stupid question. Because Weaver was so ahead of his time as a manager using statistics and that he adjusted and won regardless of his personnel, he would have won whenever he managed.

If a player had any talent to do anything at all, Weaver found it and exploited it for as long as he could, then he discarded them. He did so without apology.

Old-school managers who tear into the absence of the human element, increase of instant replay, and use of numbers are doing so because these techniques are marginalizing them and potentially taking their jobs away. Do you really believe that Weaver wouldn’t have wanted expanded instant replay? To have a better method to find tiny advantages over his opponents through numbers? The older managers who’ve subtly changed have hung around. The ones who couldn’t, haven’t.

On the other hand, Weaver wouldn’t have responded well to agents calling him and complaining over a pitcher’s workload; or to have a kid out of Harvard walking up to him and telling him he should bat X player in Y spot because of a reason that Weaver was probably already aware of and dismissed; or bloggers and the media constantly haranguing, second-guessing and criticizing managers and GMs endure today. But he always altered his strategy to the circumstances and he would’ve continued to do so if he managed in any era.

Interestingly, Weaver retired very young at age 52, then came back to manage a terrible team for a couple of more years before finally retiring for good at 56. In a day when Charlie Manuel, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre managed in their late-60s and early 70s, and Jack McKeon won a World Series at 74 and came back to manage again at 81, could Weaver had continued on? Could he have taken a couple of years off in his 50s and returned? Absolutely. He would’ve been well-compensated and just as successful as he was when he was in his 30s and 40s for one simple reason: he knew what he was doing. And that’s about as great a compliment that a manager can get.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part II—The Jeffrey Loria Version

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Anyone surprised by the Marlins is either blind or a fool. The facilitator of the circumstances that led to the trade between the Marlins and the Blue Jays is the the same owner, Jeffrey Loria, who:

▪   Is under investigation by the SEC for the questionable way in which Marlins Park was financed

▪   Is now on his eighth manager (counting Jack McKeon twice)

▪   Dragged Muhammad Ali out as the “surprise” star to throw out the first ball on opening night at the new park

▪   Was busted by MLB for pocketing revenue sharing money that was supposed to go into the team

Since he became involved with baseball first as the owner of the Montreal Expos and then the Marlins, Loria has been flipping the middle finger at convention and propriety with his treatment of underlings, fans, and anyone else who dared not to give him what he wanted. In a way, it’s refreshing that Loria takes baseball’s absurdity to its logical conclusion by repeatedly doing these types of things with impunity.

Technically, it’s his team and he can do whatever he wants. But the sneering, smirking, smarmy brazenness with which he continually does the same thing over and over again is a slap in the face to any fan that chooses to keep supporting the franchise.

And that’s the point.

The Marlins have fans to be sure, but they don’t have enough fans to make it worthwhile to have a team in Miami; they certainly didn’t have enough fans to justify building that ballpark. Was one year a reasonable duration to try and win before gutting the thing? No. But equating the Marlins 69-93 season with this latest razing is ludicrous. It wasn’t 2012 that spurred the series of deals that sent away Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez and led to the firing of manager Ozzie Guillen. Had the Marlins made the playoffs, there’s no reason to believe that they wouldn’t have done the same thing and found another reason—presumably the disappointing attendance—to wreck it like Gordon Gekko raiding a company and selling off all its assets.

That the Marlins baseball people led by Larry Beinfest have consistently mined other organizations for the right names under the pretense of “burn the village in order to save it” is meaningless as long as there’s a perception of profiteering surrounding the club. The baseball people know talent and know what they’re doing, but they’re perpetually functioning in an atmosphere that puts forth the image of satire where the more absurd the story is, the likelier it is to be true.

In retrospect, baseball should’ve cut their losses with the Marlins before that park was built or allowed them to move to a venue that would support the team. Instead, there’s this.

In Loria’s lukewarm defense, is it his fault that those enabling him are so stupid that they run endlessly on that treadmill like a hamster? Forgetting the methods that got the new stadium built, privately or publicly financed, the fans in Miami were not going to go. It wasn’t going to happen whether the Marlins bought high-profile players or didn’t. The audience matters. Because there are a cavalcade of stars in a film, if that film is shown to Eskimos, they’re not going to get it nor are they going to pay to see it. If a brilliant album is written and it’s sold in a location where the style of music is foreign or unwanted, it’s not going to be purchased.

Mariano Rivera, for all the mileage he’s gotten from his nickname “The Sandman” and how the Metallica song Enter Sandman is attached to his name, has said he’s not exactly a fan of Metallica and that he prefers Christian music. It’s not, “I don’t like that crap.” It’s Rivera being honest without vitriol. The fans in Miami have been honest regarding their interest in baseball: it doesn’t exist.

So they build this new park, buying into Loria’s and team president David Samson’s nonsense as to how the football stadium the Marlins used to play in was the problem; that it was the constant threat of rain that prevented the fans from coming out; that the lack of revenue from the park, concessions and other streams prevented ownership from investing in players. In part, it might have been true, but the end result with the stars, expectations and hype was the same thing as it’s been in the past only worse because not only were they bad, but they were expensive and uninteresting as anything other than an exercise in rubbernecking.

Good or bad, the fans don’t go see the Marlins. People want what they want. They don’t want what they don’t want. And what the fans in Miami don’t want is baseball.

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Did Ozzie Guillen Deserve to be Fired and What’s Next for the Marlins?

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After his firing as manager, Ozzie Guillen will receive $7.5 million over the next three years under the terms of the 4-year contract he signed when the Marlins acquired his rights from the White Sox at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Since they waited two weeks from the end of the 2012 season to pull the trigger, I thought that Guillen might get another shot to start the 2013 season, but the Marlins cut the ties and it’s understandable.

When a person is known for his shtick and pushing the envelope with, “he did not just say that,” level comments, the line between candor and self-immolation becomes blurred. A vast chunk of what Guillen says is simply for the sake of taking the pressure off his players and bringing the spotlight onto him. He doesn’t know when to stop and this is how he gets into trouble with statements of “love” for Fidel Castro—a reviled figure in the town in which Guillen had just signed on to manage for four seasons. For a club that was struggling and desperate to bring fans into their new ballpark and whose targeted fanbase includes a large number of Cuban expatriates, escapees, and descendants of people who lived under the oppression that accompanies a communist, dictatorial state, the laudatory comments about their nemesis was a fireable offense when he said it. The Marlins suspended Guillen, gave him another chance and it wasn’t his comments that were the impetus of his dismissal, but that the team didn’t respond to him on the field.

The Marlins are now examining what went wrong in 2012 and the first two things they did was jettison the two most prominent instigators, Heath Bell—who was traded to the Diamondbacks—and Guillen. After a second half full of rumors and innuendo debating who owner Jeffrey Loria was going to fire among the front office and field staff; which players would be next to follow Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, and others out the door, they got rid of Bell and Guillen and kept Larry Beinfest and his baseball staff.

In defense of the Marlins under Loria, they’ve had remarkable front office stability and treat the manager as a disposable entity that can be quickly replaced. Because the Marlins have made their managerial changes in a ham-handed fashion and made headlines with the decision, for example, to hire the 81-year-old Jack McKeon in 2011, there’s a perception that the firing of the manager is an inherent problem with the team. But if they were winning after doing it, there wouldn’t be the negative connotations. Loria had fired his friend Jeff Torborg in 2003, hired McKeon and the team won the World Series. The criticism is always in retrospect and contingent on whether or not the decision worked.

“What did they expect from Guillen?” is an unfair question to ask. Loria knew his new manager was controversial and would say things to generate headlines, but no one in their right mind could have foreseen the immediate uproar from pro-Castro comments for someone who’d just taken a job in Miami no less.

A 69-93 season amid the lavish outlays for star players and the talent on the club was unacceptable even if the team was injured and gutted at mid-season. Before they cleaned out the house, they were in mid-plummet and had widely become an industry-wide laughingstock. So yes, he deserved to be fired.

Guillen is young enough (48) and has a resume to get another managing job, but it won’t be in a new age situation where the GM is the boss and the manager is a mid-level functionary there to implement edicts coming from above. It would have to be a situation like that of the Dodgers where the front office is willing to take risks and wants to, as the Marlins did, generate buzz. Guillen is not an empty vessel designed to attract attention like a talentless sing-and-dance act that is created to sell a load of songs, records, and tickets, get the money and get out. He’s a good manager. We didn’t see that in Miami for a multitude of reasons, but most of those reasons were that the players didn’t perform.

The Marlins are rumored to be taking the young and cheap route when it comes to a replacement manager, probably with one of their minor league managers, Mike Redmond. Redmond was a member of the 2003 Marlins’ championship team and was also a respected backup to Joe Mauer with the Twins for a long time. He won’t take any nonsense, but with Bell gone the only nonsense he’ll presumably be dealing with will come from Loria himself and the speculation of when Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle are traded.

Even though they wound up 12th in the National League in attendance, the Marlins still drew over 2 million fans to their new park and experienced an increase of 700,000 in the number of people that came to watch them play. Had they been any good and contending, that number would probably have approached 3 million. If they’re retooling or rebuilding will determine what they’ll look like in 2013. Eliminating Bell and Guillen from the equation was a necessary first step back toward respect and respectability.

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Resuscitating A Dying Fish—Solutions For The Marlins

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Since Jack McKeon is so old that he has a rotary cell phone, bringing him back in a significant capacity is unrealistic.

But something has to be done.

The Marlins are 5-18 in June and have fallen into last place in the NL East.

All is not lost however. In spite of their 34-40 record, they’re 9 games out of first place in the division. It’s a deficit that can be overcome. They’re also 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card lead. With two Wild Cards available, there’s no reason for them to give up.

But they do need to do something to shake it up.

Let’s take a look at some of the options.

Fire someone.

Manager Ozzie Guillen is going nowhere.

It’s not pitching coach Randy St. Claire’s fault that Carlos Zambrano’s velocity is down to about 88 mph; that Heath Bell has been dreadful; that the bullpen overall hasn’t performed. But the pitching coach is an easy fire.

The Marlins are near the bottom of the NL in every offensive category. Hitting coach Eduardo Perez could be in the crosshairs as could bullpen coach Reid Cornelius.

It would be cannibalistic of owner Jerffrey Loria to fire Eduardo Perez while he counts Eduardo’s father Tony Perez as a friend and adviser, but he’s fired friends before when he dumped Jeff Torborg in favor of McKeon in 2003. Firing the hitting coach is symbolic, but it would count as doing something.

Make a trade/demotion.

Logan Morrison had a right to complain—within reason—when he was demoted to Triple A last August. But the club had warned him about his ubiquitous presence on social media and told him to tone it down. He ignored organizational responsibilities and those warnings. They sent him to the minors and brought him back shortly thereafter. He quieted down on Twitter. So it worked.

This time a demotion will be because of performance. Period. A .224/.302/.379 slash line with 7 homers isn’t cutting it.

They sent Gaby Sanchez down once and it didn’t help. The next step is to trade him for another team’s headache.

Trading Hanley Ramirez would drop a bomb in the clubhouse. The likeliest scenario of trading Ramirez would be during the off-season, but they can listen to offers now.

The Dodgers need a third baseman and a bat. The Padres are listening on Chase Headley. Maybe Ramirez and Morrison for Headley, Huston Street and Carlos Quentin would make sense. The Padres could spin Ramirez off this winter for more than they traded to get him.

Remove Bell from the closer’s role for the rest of the season.

If he wasn’t signed for 3 years not only would he have been demoted, they might’ve released him.

His teammates, coaches, manager and front office can say they believe in Bell all they want, but only a fool thinks they’re telling the truth. No one is comfortable when he enters the game and while a veteran is allowed to slump, he’s not allowed to torpedo the whole season. They don’t have enticing options, but a closer-by-committee is better than this.

Stay the course.

At this rate, if they do that they’ll be staying the course all the way to Miami’s finest golf courses.

With teams that are operating in bad luck or have veteran rosters with a history of winning, it’s reasonable to hold out and wait. That’s not the case with this patched together group. Loria knows this and something’s going to be done to awaken a shellshocked and increasingly ambivalent clubhouse.

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What’s Wrong With The Marlins?

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In a sane world, rather than find someone to blame and sacrifice for a poor performance, an organization steeped in common sense and with confidence in their decisionmakers and strategy would look at what’s wrong and try to fix it.

That’s in a sane world.

The world I’m talking about is that of the Miami Marlins and it’s anything but sane.

After today’s loss to the Blue Jays, the Marlins are now 33-38 and, pending the Phillies’ game being played as of this writing, are in last place in the National League East.

It’s a plummet from the heights that owner Jeffrey Loria envisioned in the first year of the new Marlins Park and after the money he spent to import expensive names Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, Carlos Zambrano and manager Ozzie Guillen.

Not only has the team floundered, flipped and flopped on the field, the attendance is 10th out of 16 teams and the empty seats have become more and more noticeable. Judging from their history the fans in Miami and surrounding areas have had other things to do on a warm summer night than to go see the Marlins. That’s been the case whether the team was good or not. With the team playing this brand of uninspiring and disinterested baseball, there’s no reason to go to the park at all.

In some circles, the Marlins were a trendy World Series pick.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t holes and questions.

The starting rotation had Josh Johnson returning from injury and Zambrano, who had worn out his welcome with the Cubs to the point where they paid the majority of his $18 million salary for the Marlins to take him. The bullpen added Bell and, in spite of his declining strikeout numbers and reputation of annoying his bosses, he should’ve been expected to convert the majority of his chances in the negligible save stat. As set-up men they’re using the homer-prone Edward Mujica and a pitcher with a great arm, Steve Cishek, who gives up rockets all over the place whenever I see him pitch. Many times those rockets are hit right at someone making his numbers better than what they should be.

The lineup has been a disappointment and is 12th in the National League in runs scored. Two of their everyday players, John Buck (.165) and Gaby Sanchez (.195) are trapped on the interstate. Reyes has a slash line of .270/.347/.381 with 16 stolen bases. It’s not bad, but not what he was for the Mets in 2011 when he won the batting title and was a phenomenon for much of the season. Hanley Ramirez is hitting better now after a rancid start. Emilio Bonifacio is on the disabled list. Logan Morrison has 7 homers and a .721 OPS.

In the past, the question for Loria has been, “Who can I fire?”

It worked in 2003 when Jeff Torborg was replaced by Jack McKeon. It didn’t work last season when Edwin Rodriguez was replaced by McKeon. Guillen has a 4-year contract at big money and isn’t going anywhere.

This group was Scotch-taped together with big names from the open market without consideration as to gelling and functioning as a unit.

And they’re not functioning as a unit. They don’t put forth the on-field impression that they like each other very much. The Marlins play as if they don’t care; as if they’ve accepted that this is the team, this is their status, and as long as the paychecks are signed and cashable, whatever.

We’re days away from a Loria explosion dutifully filtered through his hatchet man/son-in-law David Samson. It’s generally been Samson who’s been the public face for Loria’s displeasure. That’s coming soon.

One would expect threats and demands will be leaked into the media to express ownserhip’s displeasure. But when does something get done?

A threat is worthless unless it’s carried out in some form and the Marlins under Loria have never been shy to follow through on their threats.

Will they try to trade LoMo? Shake up the bullpen? Or fire someone?

Who is there to fire?

Team President Larry Beinfest has been with the Marlins for a long time and for the most part has done a good job. It wasn’t long ago that he was widely considered one of the best executives in baseball for functioning in that world with Loria and Samson; without money to spend; with the other issues surrounding the club. He still placed a competitive team on the field. This team is a mess. It’s possible that Beinfest wasn’t onboard with the lavish spending spree the club undertook. That’s a dual-edged sword because if that’s the case, he’s expendable.

I doubt that Beinfest will be tossed overboard.

GM Michael Hill is another story. It’s known that Beinfest has been the man running the show and if the Marlins want to do something, firing or demoting Hill would be pretentious and useless, but that’s never mattered to Loria or Samson.

At 33-38 they’re going to do something. It all depends on who winds up in Loria’s crosshairs.

By now, it could be anyone.

The Marlins wanted to make a splash last winter and they did. But that splash is turning into a tsunami and it’s engulfing the club and everything in its path.

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National League Patience Or Panic?

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Earlier I wrote of the American League teams that either need to have patience or panic. Let’s look at the National League teams in the same predicament.

Miami Marlins

It’s safe to assume that Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria’s office is outfitted with escape hatches, listening devices, nefarious contraptions and trapdoors at various spots on the floor—one of which sends the hapless victim to the airtight, windowless room (complete with Lazarus Pit) in which Jack McKeon is kept.

There’s one small vent as a concession for McKeon’s cigar smoke.

Along with these amenities is, presumably, a dutiful assistant carrying a black box. Inside that black box is the panic button.

When said panic button is pressed, something happens: a manager is fired; a player is demoted; a son-in-law is sent to speak to the media; a pretentiously gauche extravaganza masquerading as art is activated; a fealty-induced political marker is cashed.

Something.

Is it time for the Marlins to panic?

Just about.

Already under investigation by the SEC for the way the new Marlins’ Stadium was financed, with manager Ozzie Guillen under siege for his pro-Fidel Castro comments and the team playing poorly, it’s not long before a Steinbrennerean missive is issued on stationary emblazoned across the top with the words:

From the Mildly Artistic Mind of Jeffrey L.

He learned his lessons from George Steinbrenner in terms of morally-challenged behavior under the guise of business and personal interests and now his team is eerily similar to the Yankees of the 1980s: expensive, underachieving, fractured, dysfunctional and disinterested.

Heath Bell and Jose Reyes have both been atrocious; Hanley Ramirez isn’t hitting; and, on the whole, they look like a group that not only doesn’t know how to play together, but don’t like each other very much.

Loria thought he was buying a contender and that the attendance to see that contender would be commensurate with the amenities of a new park and a good team.

The winning team would attract the real baseball fans; the nightclub, pool, dancing girls, acrobats, restaurants and art would attract the eclectic denizens of Miami who go where it’s cool regardless of the venue.

They’re seventh in the National League in attendance.

The team is flawed and, right now, just plain bad.

Loria’s finger is itching to hit that panic button and it should be because veteran teams in disarray tend to spiral out of control early once they sense the season is lost.

Philadelphia Phillies

No team could function with the spate of injuries that have befallen the Phillies. All they’re trying to do is keep their heads above water until Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee are healthy.

Manager Charlie Manuel has been trying to find a lineup combination that works. He’s playing small ball to account for the lost power and it’s failing. Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco aren’t hitting and as good as Freddy Galvis is defensively, the Phillies currently can’t afford to carry his popgun bat.

If they get healthy, they’ll be fine. The question is what level of Howard and Utley are they going to get when they return and how long is Lee going to be out with a strained oblique? They don’t want to fall too far behind, but the second Wild Card added this year makes it much easier to be patient even in a demanding city like Philadelphia.

Cincinnati Reds

Amid all the preseason talk that the Reds’ decision to trade chunks of their farm system to get Mat Latos and Sean Marshall and the pending free agencies (in 2014) of Joey Votto and (in 2013) of Brandon Phillips made them a “win now or else” team, they’re well-situated for the future with all their pieces in place.

Latos, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs are all under team control for the foreseeable future; and they signed Votto, Phillips and Marshall to contract extensions.

The loss of Ryan Madson was a blow, but they’ve replaced him with Marshall and Aroldis Chapman can close if necessary.

The pitching has been solid; they just haven’t hit. This core of this Reds team was second in runs scored in 2011 and first in 2010. They’re going to hit.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants’ strength was in their starting rotation and that they had a deep, diverse and organized bullpen with a horse of a closer.

The rotation should be fine but the bullpen is in flux with the loss of Brian Wilson. Bruce Bochy is not the closer-by-committee type of manager, but that’s where he is as of now. He named Santiago Casilla as the closer and proceeded to treat him as if he’s just another arm in the bullpen as soon as he got in trouble in one of his first save chances after being dubbed the closer.

The lineup has been better than expected, but is still carrying potential black spots at shortstop, second base, first base and right field.

And Angel Pagan, being Angel Pagan, will inspire the entire team—individually—to strangle him at least once by forgetting how many outs there are; running the team out of an inning; throwing to the wrong base (or wrong team); or something.

The Giants don’t need to panic, but they do need to be vigilant that unless they settle on a reasonable plan with their bullpen, they’re going to fade by August.

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Heads Will Roll(?)

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The difference in perception is stark.

Tony LaRussa is entirely safe in his job with the Cardinals despite underachieving for much of the year and looking finished in the playoff race three weeks ago. Had the trend continued; had the Braves played even mediocre baseball, no one would’ve said a word about LaRussa or Braves’ manager Fredi Gonzalez and their respective job securities.

LaRussa’s job is safe no matter what and the Cardinals—despite their best efforts to open the door for the Braves to clinch with inexplicable losses to the Mets, Cubs and Astros—are tied for the Wild Card lead.

The Braves are reeling, shocked and desperate.

This could all be moot in 16 hours if the Braves win and Cardinals lose.

Tim Hudson is pitching for the Braves against the Phillies. The Phillies have clinched everything they can clinch and are starting Joe Blanton.

If the Braves lose tonight, they have no one to blame but themselves…and their manager.

Stability was one of the reasons that Bobby Cox lasted as long as he did with the Braves.

That and he won.

What’s going to happen if the Braves gack up this playoff spot that should’ve been wrapped up two weeks ago?

Gonzalez’s strategic mistakes and injuries to the team’s starting rotation are independent of one another. Their offense is not good.

But Braves fans are notorious frontrunners and nostalgic toward history.

What if a firing is necessary in the interests of placating the angry?

Are Cox’s batteries recharged after a year out of the dugout?

And would GM Frank Wren—with whom Cox had a somewhat stormy relationship—be on board if upper management says that Gonzalez has to go and Cox is willing to come back?

Jack McKeon provided a new ceiling for managers when he won a World Series at the age of 72 with the 2003 Marlins; then again this season when he took over at mid-season at the age of 80 and acquitted himself well without it showing up in the standings.

Cox is 70 and will be 71 next May.

He might be willing to go back on the field, but would he be okay with replacing his friend and hand-picked successor Gonzalez?

If the Braves frame it correctly by saying “listen Bobby, Fredi’s gone whether you take the job or not,” it wouldn’t be seen as Cox pushing Gonzalez out of the way, but taking an open position.

Cox might’ve lost in the playoffs and World Series every year but one, but his teams never came apart like this and those losses weren’t because of managerial missteps.

Making the playoffs will render this speculation meaningless, but if the Braves complete this collapse will they be willing to stay the course and run the risk of this happening again a year from now? Of having the endless criticism from inside and outside the industry as to what they’re thinking in entrusting a strong young team with a manager that’s costing them games?

Collapses take years to get over and not before significant alterations are made in personnel or management.

All of that young talent is not accompanied by a guarantee of contention on an annual basis, especially in the NL East.

Suffice it to say that the Braves had better make the playoffs—getting swept in the first round would be better than this embarrassing crumble. And if they make it, who knows? Maybe they’ll straighten themselves out, play relaxed and run the table.

But they have to make it.

Jobs may be riding on it.

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The Marlins: Where Good Vets Go Bad

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Mike Cameron is the second respected veteran the Marlins have—for all intents and purposes—fired for off-field issues.

A month ago, Wes Helms was released as a middleman in the reining in of Logan Morrison; now Cameron was dumped for the wide-ranging and unexplained “conduct detrimental to the team”.

No other details have been disclosed as to what Cameron did to warrant a release with two weeks left in the season; it’s generally a courtesy that players like Cameron will be allowed to retire gracefully rather than endure this.

By this I mean a story that’s going to metastasize until both sides are heard as to what really happened.

Since the Marlins have yet to explain, here’s some speculation from mein own head:

He was spending too much pre-game time on MySpace.

LoMo got into trouble with the organization for his candor and overuse of Twitter and was sent down to get him in line. I agreed with the move; LoMo needs to understand that he’s not a veteran on the club; he’s basically subject to the whims of the front office and has to be subservient while he’s laying the foundation to his career. Was Cameron MySpacing too much? Was his elder statesman status extending to the dying MySpace?

He failed to bow in a courtly manner to David Samson.

Perhaps the notoriously touchy team president Samson (son-in-law to owner Jeffrey Loria) wasn’t treated with the proper reverence by the veteran center fielder; he ran and told his daddy-in-law and Loria released him immediately to show Cameron and the rest of the organization who the boss is.

He’s somehow responsible for Josh Johnson‘s shoulder injury.

Johnson needing Tommy John surgery in 2006 was lain at the feet of former manager Joe Girardi for reinserting Johnson in a game against the Mets after an hourlong rain delay.

Of course it’s ridiculous, but these are the Marlins.

He was unable to converse intelligently with manager Jack McKeon on the presidency of Herbert Hoover.

McKeon’s 146-years-old; Cameron’s 39. What did they expect from the guy in terms of an oral history?

I’m only partially kidding.

I have no idea who leaked the story that Cameron was released because of intra-team issues, but why was it necessary? What could he possibly have done to inspire the club to embarrass him in this way just as he’s hinting at retirement in the final two weeks of the season?

Unless he did something totally out of character for a player who’s been respected and liked everywhere he’s been (and he’s a journeyman’s journeyman), what was the point?

I was totally on-board with both the releasing of Helms and the demotion of LoMo. If Helms—who wasn’t contributing on the field—was advising Morrison to blow off team functions and Morrison listened to the harebrained advice, the Marlins were well within their rights as employers to punish both men for it.

But this?

I don’t want to comment directly because it’s quite possible that Cameron did do something to warrant being released for conduct detrimental. It’s hard to believe, but possible.

Regarding the Marlins organization itself, I’ve long been an admirer of the way they’ve run their franchise. As much as Loria is called one of the worst owners in sports, to me he’s run the team as a successful business. He won the World Series in 2003; he’s decisive way in changing managers if he deems it necessary; the team wins within a budget and is profitable; he’s aggressive when the opportunity to win is there; and he’s getting a new ballpark with public funding.

This is a smart businessman.

However, going back to last winter, the Marlins betrayed much of what made me admire them.

They altered their strategy by spending capriciously on a mediocre catcher in John Buck; they shunned their bullpen-building practice by trading for veterans Ryan Webb, Edward Mujica and Michael Dunn in an opposite manner than what they’ve been successful with in the past of finding a load of young and/or cheap arms and patching a bullpen together; they made a rushed and stupid trade in dumping Dan Uggla on the Braves for two players you can find everywhere, Omar Infante and Dunn; and now it’s being said that Loria and Samson are going to take a more active role in the construction of the team.

That’s a questionable strategy considering the smart baseball people they have in place with Larry Beinfest leading the way.

Before there was a haphazard sense of urgency that the team was expected to win independent of obstacles.

The dysfunction was part of the function.

And it worked.

But now they’re veering into a direction that is concerning and the Cameron release adds another ingredient to the toxic brew that has sabotaged a club that has a lot of talent, is underachieving and seemingly blowing up from the inside.

It’s not good.

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Showalter For Manager/GM?

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It has been whispered that the Orioles should do something decidedly old-school and name manager Buck Showalter GM as well.

There hasn’t been a manager/GM since Bobby Cox went back on the field to replace Russ Nixon as Braves manager in 1990 and that didn’t last long as John Schuerholz was hired as GM after that season and Cox stayed on the field for…well, forever.

Jack McKeon was the GM/manager for the Padres in the late-1980s; Whitey Herzog did it for the Cardinals in the early 1980s.

It’s all but impossible to do both jobs correctly in today’s game of GM-rock stardom. There’s really no way Showalter could do it and maintain his sanity and/or health.

That said, there’s a way to go about it if the Orioles want to give Showalter final say in the direction of the franchise.

Herzog joined the Cardinals as manager in 1980; late in the season they fired GM John Clairborne and named Herzog GM as well. Completely out of contention, Herzog handed the managerial reins to Red Schoendienst for the rest of 1980. Herzog didn’t do both jobs simultaneously. That’s a good thing given Herzog’s penchant for saying whatever popped into his head without concern as to how it was framed or perceived (think J.P. Ricciardi to the tenth power); it would be a PR disaster in today’s game.

But he was able to find players and he’d do the same thing today.

Showalter can do it in a similar fashion if he steps off the field because he’s more tight-lipped and manipulative of the media than Herzog was. Herzog was a gruff, intimidating type; Showalter is more nuanced and calculating.

Herzog built the Cardinals for the spacious dimensions of Busch Stadium with improved speed by getting Lonnie Smith, and installing Tommy Herr at 2nd base; he shored up the defense and attitude by trading Garry Templeton for Ozzie Smith; traded for a defensive minded catcher, Darrell Porter; brought in pitchers who threw strikes like Joaquin Andujar; and got the game’s best closer in Bruce Sutter.

By 1982, the Cardinals were World Series champions and won two more pennants under Herzog in the next five years.

Could Showalter do that as GM?

The Orioles can hit, but their top-to-bottom pitching is so awful that they’re going to have to consider trading some of their young bats Nick Markakis or Adam Jones to find some arms. Those arms would have to strike people out or coax ground balls to mitigate the bandbox of Camden Yards; he needs to improve the bullpen and the infield defense.

Trading talented bats like Jones, Markakis and Matt Wieters are not easy decisions to make.

If someone is going to make that call, it has to be the man who’s entrusted with the future of the organization and is completely responsible for what happens, good or bad.

Showalter would have to stop managing for a time to do the GM job properly; he’d have to be given an autonomy that owner Peter Angelos might balk at providing, but if the Orioles are going to have Showalter give his approval to whom is hired as the new GM, it’s probably easier to let Showalter do it while the Orioles are rebuilding and then have him go back on the field when he has the players he wants.

That’s the only way it could work.

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Combustibility And The Marlins

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The most prominent name associated with the job as Marlins’ manager for 2012 has been current White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Guillen has a contract with the White Sox for next season and owner Jerry Reinsdorf has said he wants both Guillen and GM Kenny Williams back, but if the Marlins come calling, it’s very possible that the White Sox will let Guillen leave without compensation and move on. This is the third straight season in which the White Sox will miss the playoffs amid preseason expectations of contention; the last two seasons especially have been major disappointments. Williams isn’t going anywhere, so if the White Sox make a change, it will be in the manager’s office and not the GM.

So what would happen with Guillen and the Marlins?

It’s hard to say what kind of sparks would fly when the combustible personalities of Guillen, owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson all exist in the same vacuum. Guillen is going to make his presence felt and he’s most definitely not going to tolerate the diva act from Hanley Ramirez; on the other side of the coin Guillen—a social media user himself—won’t give Logan Morrison a hard time about his Twitter account.

Guillen has experience with difficult players. He won a World Series with A.J. Pierzynski, Carl Everett and Bobby Jenks on his roster so he can handle the Marlins. It might be that Loria, while not wanting to trade Ramirez as some (Jeff Conine, Keith Hernandez and myself) have suggested, he might want someone to reign in his prodigal and wayward son.

Under Loria, the Marlins have hired: Jeff Torborg; Jack McKeon; Joe Girardi; Fredi Gonzalez; Edwin Rodriguez and McKeon again. All were forced out in one way or another. Torborg had the team playing the way Torborg’s teams generally have in all his managerial stops—stiff and mediocre at best; with the team reeling in May of 2003, he was replaced by McKeon and the Marlins wound up winning the World Series under McKeon’s old school leadership style; Girardi clashed with Loria and was fired despite winning Manager of the Year with an overachieving, young and minimalist roster; Gonzalez’s teams played at or above expectations and he was fired because of strategic differences with upper management and overreaching beliefs that they should’ve done better; Rodriguez acquitted himself well, but resigned as the team came apart this past June; McKeon was kicked upstairs after 2005, went back into the dugout to replace Rodriguez and isn’t going to be back next season.

Loria, as is his right as owner, has been very free with the “you’re fired” card.

I have no issue with that. I don’t begrudge any manager or GM—from the late George Steinbrenner to Billy Beane—the right to make a managerial change for whatever reason he wants—he doesn’t have to give a reason. “I wanted to make a change” is good enough for me.

But what will Loria do with Guillen if he’s the choice? Samson notably got into an argument with Bobby Valentine during Valentine’s interview to replace Gonzalez; Valentine would have and would still be an excellent choice for a talented Marlins squad that needs discipline and a solid strategist.

But Guillen would be a good choice as well.

Loria wouldn’t be able to fire him though. And how the Marlins organization would function with that kind of restraint over their petulant owner is an interesting dynamic that has to be considered before making the move for an established manager who’s going to require a lot of guaranteed money and say-so to take the job.

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