The cool seat

Around this time last year, I wrote on THT Live observing that no manager had been fired through roughly 100 games of the season, and that this was a pretty uncommon event. On the other hand, my writing about this phenomenon turns out to be a pretty common event, because it is happening again this year.

Despite one close call with Don Mattingly of the Los Angeles Dodgers, no manager has yet gotten the boot in 2013. His team having risen from worst to first in the NL West, Donnie Baseball now looks pretty safe. There have been rumbles here and there about a couple other managers, but no hot-seat watch like there was with Mattingly. And there might not be any this season.

That’s not guaranteed, of course. I ventured in my original article that we’d get through the 62 remaining games of 2012 without a mid-season canning, but we got two: Brad Mills of the Astros, and Manny Acta of the Indians, just six games shy of season’s end.

Before I go farther down that road, let me update and extend my previous table of firings by 100 games, extending by a few years and adding a line for all in-season firings.

Year              '13 '12 '11 '10 '09 '08 '07 '06 '05 '04 '03 '02 '01 '00 '99
Firings by 100G     0   0   3   4   3   3   3   0   1#  2   1   7   4   0   0
Firings by 161G     ?   2   4   5*  4   4   4   0   3#  4   2   7   5   0   3

* Excludes the resignation of Lou Piniella from the Chicago Cubs.
# Excludes the resignation of Tony Pena from the Kansas City Royals.

Given my swing and a miss last year, it would be wise for me to refrain from making any predictions about what will happen this year. But where’s the fun in a measured, conservative analysis? Well, maybe I can split the difference.

For maybe half the managers in the league, one can make at least a sketchy case for his in-season firing without invoking some bizarre PR meltdown. I’ll take a quick look at most of them, breaking them down into several categories.

Teams making big acquisitions that didn’t pan out: This category includes John Gibbons of the Blue Jays, Ned Yost of the Royals, and Mike Scioscia of the Angels. Yost is probably most vulnerable of the three. Royals GM Dayton Moore made an off-season “playoffs or bust” trade, getting James Shields and Wade Davis for, primarily, Wil Myers. KC has improved this year, but not much and not enough. (And they really wish they had Myers around to fill the space of the released Jeff Francoeur.) Moore might well drop the axe, to avoid the one aimed at his own neck.

The general underachievers: Under this heading I would count Robin Ventura of the White Sox, Ron Roenicke of the Brewers, and Terry Collins of the Mets. The Pale Hose collapse this year could definitely imperil Ventura, favorite son of Chicago or not. Three solid years of losing can’t be raising Collins’ stock, whatever the woes of the franchise owners, but it’s not like the Mets were expected to win. As for Roenicke, firing him on the heels of the Ryan Braun suspension would be a rabbit punch to a reeling fanbase. Not impossible, but really cold if they do it.

Too little, too late?: Ron Gardenhire of the Twins, Dale Sveum of the Cubs, and maybe Eric Wedge of the Mariners fit here. Their teams are looking up this year, while still looking up at .500. Gardenhire has division titles in six of his 12 seasons, probably enough to buffer him. Sveum has Theo Epstein the Miracle Worker behind him, who can’t be too disappointed with an escape from the cellar this year.

Wedge is suddenly a special case. After the mild stroke Wedge suffered on Wednesday, Jack Zduriencik would be a cad to fire him this season. The worst I can imagine happening is a mutually-agreed retirement at year’s end, if Wedge’s medical condition is worse than it currently appears. Get well and stay well, Eric.

The anchor men: Bo Porter of the Astros and Mike Redmond of the Marlins. Porter is safe. The Astros front office expected and accepts the terrible year they’re having, and no blame will accrue to the rookie manager. Redmond isn’t as safe, because while the Astros have a management with a plan, the Marlins have Jeffrey Loria. If any owner could turn into George Steinbrenner Redux, it’s Loria. Then again, he waited one full season to fire Ozzie Guillen. Redmond should survive, and may wish he hadn’t.

How the mighty have fallen: Dave Johnson of the Nationals and Joe Girardi of the Yankees stand under this Sword of Damocles. Johnson has less excuse for his team’s drop, but he announced before the season that this would be his last campaign helming Washington. There’s no point to firing him other than spite, and it won’t happen. Canning hitting coach Rick Eckstein earlier this week will have to suffice. (Good thing you saved Stephen Strasburg for this season, right, guys?)

As for Girardi, remember in early May the boom behind him for Manager of the Year? A few months of DL therapy cured that. There was also more recent talk of the Steinbrenner brothers extending Girardi’s contract, which expires this year, but that has also faded as the Yankees have faded. Girardi’s on the last year of his deal, so his situation resembles Johnson’s. Scapegoating him in-season with all his team’s injuries would look awful: quietly waving good-bye at year’s end is much more likely.

The least of the EastWest: Given what a tight dogfight the NL West was just a few weeks ago, four games separating first from last, whichever team winds up in fifth is going to feel badly disappointed. The front office in question might turn that into a punitive September firing, a la Acta last year. I think Bruce Bochy of the Giants is immune, but anyone else, even Mattingly, could be vulnerable. Right now, Bud Black of the Padres is wearing the target, and his early departure feels plausible to me, if only plausible.

That is as close as I will get to making predictions about this year. But there is next year to tempt me also. Does two years of no firings through 100 mean we have entered an era of managerial peace, where skippers know they’ll have a few months to prove themselves without having to worry about a quick sacking?

I’m not ready to say that. We had two such years in 1999 and 2000, and the years right after that were almost a shooting gallery for managers. Nothing’s proven yet—but if it happens for a third straight year, then I’ll venture to say that we have a pattern.

So if you see another article like this, same time next year, you know at least some of what I’ll be saying.

A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
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Paul G.
9 years ago

What about Charlie Manuel with the “are we buyers or sellers” Phillies?

Shane Tourtellotte
9 years ago

Paul:  Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t have the impression that anybody blames the Phillies’ water-treading on Manuel.  Much the same conditions hold this year as last year, and booting him would seem like transparent blame-shifting by a front office distracting people from its own mistakes. (Ryan Howard extension, anybody?)  If Manuel does go, it’s going to be an after-season move.