Billy Beane ordinarily isn't one for drama, mid-season heaves or springtime alarm.
And yet, as his Oakland Athletics drifted through Game 63, through nine consecutive losses and into last place in the AL West, it was Beane who struck the early blow against patience, malaise and, well, his manager, Bob Geren.
In an early afternoon conference call from a hotel room in Chicago, next door to a room where new hire Bob Melvin was meeting with his new coaching staff and across town from where the team later would begin a four-game series against the White Sox, Beane said it was simply time.
"The focus" of the season, Beane said, had drifted to Geren's job status, which he believed was counterproductive to the club's efforts to win games and become a factor in the AL West race.
"I've been in the game long enough, you get a feel of the tone of what's going on," he said, later adding, "It certainly starts in the media. At some point it can gain some momentum and infiltrate other parts of the organization."
Then, he said, "You get a general sense there's a right time to change the message of the guy who speaks to these guys every day and fills out the lineup card."
Melvin, he admitted, "Will inherit some of the challenges [Geren] had."
Geren, who once served as Beane's best man, was fired Thursday morning after four-plus seasons, a decision Beane said he'd pondered for "a few weeks." Melvin, the former manager of the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks and recently an adviser to Arizona's president, replaces Geren for at least the remainder of the season.
Only two weeks ago, amid a clubhouse that had become nearly as fouled as his offense, Geren possessed a managerial hand that was both "terrific" and "fantastic," according to A's owner Lew Wolff.
And then the losses kept coming, and the disabled list kept growing, and the bats kept staggering, and Beane, whose taste in managers runs toward understated, pink-slipped one of his oldest friends. In a time for introspection around baseball – the Florida Marlins and Texas Rangers dismissed their hitting coaches a day earlier – Oakland decided it was time for change.
There are two thoughts to be had here:
One, the A's aren't going anywhere until they hit. They are the lowest-scoring team in the league, and for the fourth time in five years are in the American League's bottom four. To a core that didn't hit much last season, the A's added David DeJesus(notes), Hideki Matsui(notes) and Josh Willingham(notes), and the offense ranks last in home runs and near last in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging.
Two, the A's aren't going anywhere until they heal. Four starting pitchers – Brett Anderson(notes), Dallas Braden(notes), Brandon McCarthy(notes) and Tyson Ross(notes) – are on the disabled list. Closer Andrew Bailey(notes) only recently returned from the DL. While the club leads the league in ERA, its starters have a 6.00 ERA in June.
There's a third, actually, and it involves the general manager. The A's haven't had a winning record since 2006. They've finished higher than third in the division once in that time.
In baseball's sometimes-hopeless world of mid and small markets, the A's have fallen behind the Tampa Bay Rays, Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres and, this season, the Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks in the realm of occasional overachievers.
Anchored at times by their market and a cold, cavernous, thinly populated ballpark, the A's earned a reputation early in the last decade for doing more with less, primarily because of Beane's cleverness. In recent years, they've done less with less, in part, yes, because of injury and, inherent to smaller payrolls, depth issues.
Their 2011 payroll – about $67 million – is nearly $10 million more than it was in 2010 and ranks 21st out of 30 teams.
Though spurned by free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre(notes) last winter, the A's were counting in part on what looked to be an improved lineup. Matsui has three home runs and is batting .209. DeJesus is batting .236. Willingham leads the club with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs, but incumbent third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff(notes) was hitting .221 and was demoted to Triple-A.
"It's our responsibility to try and give them players they can win with," Beane said.
Whether he failed at that or not, he said, could not be determined yet, not in June, and not through all the injuries.
While Melvin has a great reputation for connecting with his clubhouses – in Arizona he was affectionately known as "Bo-Mel" – the job here will be bigger than making nice with Brian Fuentes(notes), who three weeks ago called out Geren's communication and in-game skills, and those who privately agreed with him.
The A's, banged up again, will need their good players to be good, and their infirmed players on the field. Otherwise, one Bob will look an awful lot like another.
Meantime, there remain 99 games to play. The players would appear to have gotten their way. Beane has made a decision that had to have been difficult. The rest plays out on the field and in the standings, two blind spots for the A's so far.
"I don't think there's anybody in my position or on the field that wants to give up anything by June," Beane said. "As far as making predictions to you, I don't feel this is the right time to even consider that."
- Billy Beane
- Bob Geren
- Bob Melvin