Larry Bowa, twice fired himself, watched as three big-league managers were dismissed over four days this week. He considered the explanations.
Those clubs announced they needed new directions, new leadership and, his personal favorite, new voices.
"Maybe the next bunch of managers," he said Friday, "should be ventriloquists."
In order, Willie Randolph is out in New York, John McLaren out in Seattle, John Gibbons out in Toronto.
McLaren's and Gibbons' teams took postseason expectations and turned them into last-place realities. Randolph's might as well have.
Jim Riggleman, Cito Gaston and Jerry Manuel are the new voices, all three having been hired and fired before, all three now back into a culture where the man who leads is also the most expendable, which only makes sense in sports and third-world republics.
Since the end of the 2006 season, 17 major league teams have changed managers, two of them &nash; the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners – twice. One manager – Joe Torre – has managed two teams in that time. Dusty Baker, currently looking up at the rest of the NL Central, was among those cleared out after 2006, as was Joe Girardi, the year he was NL Manager of the Year, and Bruce Bochy.
This much is clear: Either general managers and their owners are becoming more demanding or field managers are becoming dumber.
"They want to keep their jobs," Bowa said of the former. "I don't think you can hold anything against anybody, because this is the way it operates now."
Yes, the game no longer concerns itself much with tomorrow. It's about today, winning today, filling the stands today, forcing revenue streams today. Young (and inexpensive) teams in Colorado and Arizona win today, young (and inexpensive) teams in Tampa Bay and Florida do the same, and now there is little to hold an organization's attention all the way 'til tomorrow.
How ridiculous do the payrolls in New York, Seattle and Toronto look when, if the season were to end today, the Rays would be in the playoffs and the Marlins would just miss them? At least the general managers in New York and Toronto accepted some of the blame, easier to do when it's not you packing pictures of the family dog into a box. Surely, the GM in Seattle would have accepted some responsibility, too, had he not been fired earlier in the same week.
So, down they go, one-tenth of the big league managers in a spree that began late Monday night in Anaheim and carried through Friday afternoon's announcement in Toronto, and three-fifths of the big league managers in a year-and-a-half. That's a lot of turnover for an occupation whose major duties are to run a bullpen and keep clubhouse fights to a minimum.
"Let's face it," Bowa said, "what's a manager win? Seven games? The good ones?"
Not all the firings are unfair of course. Randolph and Gibbons probably had theirs coming, and it's hard to argue for more of the same of anything in Seattle. But, still, panic seems to come early anymore, and conviction runs thin. Change is easier than forethought, blame better than accountability. Fans get a fresh face to belittle, general managers buy themselves a little more time and, who knows, the new guy may turn out to be a ventriloquist.
"Well, it's what we do, unfortunately," Torre said. "There's really no such thing as fair and unfair. It is what it is, and life isn't fair sometimes. It's the way it is."
Spoken like a man who's been hired five times, let go four and somewhere in there found the perfect job, the Yankees in New York, where he won four World Series.
"The thing I feel bad about is John McLaren, how long he was sitting on that doorstep," Torre said. "I feel bad for guys like John McLaren, who waits his whole life before getting that opportunity. In Willie's case, Willie had a great playing career, been in World Series, coached for me for nine years. Unfortunately, he got his dream job first, which is tough. That's tough. All the interviews he had, even the ones that took him seriously, they weren't New York. I'm sure this is a big blow to him."
Anyone who has been tapped on the shoulder – or, in Randolph's case, dragged across the country – can attest to the brutality of it.
"I know the pain of being wounded that way," said Manuel, Randolph's replacement. "I know that feeling. It takes a while to get through it."
Torre said he'd left Randolph a couple phone messages, but hadn't heard back.
So, yeah, Torre said, "If I get to thinking about it, I can empathize. But, it's the nature of the beast."
She is a ravenous creature, too, feeding on slight missteps and overstated expectations, emboldened by a media outlet on every street corner. People talk and gripe, just like before, only now everybody can hear them.
"Owners, they're not insulated from that," said Torre, who once had quite an owner himself. "They're very concerned about other people's opinions."
Going on seven years ago, Bowa was appointed manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. He replaced Terry Francona, who, he pointed out with a laugh, turned out to be a pretty good manager. A few years later, Bowa was out, too.
"Oh well," he said. "Someone's got to go."
- Larry Bowa
- Willie Randolph
- John McLaren
- Joe Torre
- John Gibbons