TAMPA, Fla. – Sweeping layoffs and high unemployment rates are nothing new to big league managers, who out of habit carry their stuff around in cardboard boxes. Even by those standards, however, 2009 could be a volatile season for field managers.
By Yahoo! Sports' count, 12 managers are under contracts that are not guaranteed beyond this season, including half the National League's 16.
Among the notables are Tony La Russa in St. Louis, Lou Piniella in Chicago, Jim Leyland in Detroit, Bobby Cox in Atlanta and Joe Maddon in Tampa.
None is griping yet. But, none has lost a game yet, and none has been fired by the local paper yet. A few – Piniella, Washington's Manny Acta, Texas' Ron Washington, among others – have club options for next season, thus far not exercised.
Maddon said he expects to work for the Devil Rays for a long time, a not unreasonable assumption given he's been in charge during the club's remarkable transformation, has a nice touch with young and veteran players, and wears interesting glasses. He won't get much sympathy from his bosses, however; GM Andrew Friedman and president Matt Silverman don't have contracts.
If working without a net is a bit frightening, there is a way around that, too. Asked about his contract status, Astros manager Cecil Cooper said, "I don't even know what it is."
Though his record is a reasonable 101-91 since taking over for Phil Garner, Cooper is a lame duck. He does have an option for 2010.
"I never thought about it," he said last week. "What am I going to do? We all have to prove ourselves. All you can do is do your best. If they appreciate it, they appreciate it. If they don't then you move to the next job that's available.
"I've been in this game for how many years? Forty-two or something like that? Forty-two years in the profession and always had a job every year. I'm not worried about it. If I do good they'll take care of me. If not, somebody will. I'm not worried about it, not even worried about it."
Acta had a similar view of the world and his place in it. And, of the men without guarantees next season, Acta stands with San Diego's Bud Black as most likely to be standing in close proximity as his team loses 100 games, and potentially taking a stray bullet.
This, Acta said, is no time to complain about potentially being out of work, not when so many are out of work.
"It doesn't bother me," he said. "Everybody in life likes security. In this day, with the economy the way it is, it'd be too selfish of me to worry about not having a job in 2010 when I do have a job in 2009. I'll have a job."
Acta smiled and said he recalled making $3,000 a year in rookie ball and now makes something more than $500,000 now.
"I can live anywhere in between," he said.
Yankees' infield takes a hit
In five days, Joe Girardi will lose three-quarters of his infield to the World Baseball Classic, which will scatter Derek Jeter to Team USA and Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano to the Dominican team. He'd rather not have such team cornerstones disappear for up to four weeks, particularly while trying to assimilate the likes of Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia into the Yankee routine, but he's all for the effort.
"When I was a player, I would have wanted to play," he said, "because I think it's an honor."
So, for most of the next month, he said, "You hold your breath."
The only real casualty three years ago was reliever Luis Ayala, who blew out his elbow pitching (to Alex Rodriguez) for Team Mexico. But, Girardi, then the Marlins manager, also recalls Dontrelle Willis returning and not quite being himself.
The once-dominant left-hander was 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA the season before the WBC. He was 12-12 in '06, when his ERA jumped more than a run, was worse in '07, and was a disaster in '08.
Asked if he thought Willis' decline might have been WBC related, Girardi said, "You know, I have no idea. That's too hard for me to figure out."
Welcome back, Bernie?
Bernie Williams is in Yankees camp preparing for the WBC and is again a pleasant personality and sight in the Yankees clubhouse. On Tuesday afternoon he got hold of Nick Swisher's guitar and happily strummed it, oblivious to the commotion around him until Jeter strolled by.
"I thought you were retired, man," Jeter said.
Bernie, still serene, nodded and continued his riff.
The week before he reported to spring training, Albert Pujols, through his own foundation, delivered 50 beds to a village outside San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. He intends to ship 50 more next month and another 100 in November, continuing a charitable endeavor that in years past has provided doctors, dentists and eye exams.
In the neighborhoods where he is providing the beds, Pujols said, "There are no places like them in the U.S. It's a bad situation these people are living in."
"And you can see a little bit of that," Cox said, "the way he moves the ball around and changes speeds."
Chipper weighs in on rivalry
Chipper Jones said he watches the Mets and Phillies trade barbs and claims to the paper division title and gets a kick out of it.
"I can feel the heat from all the way down in Atlanta," he said, laughing. "I think it's funny they get that fired up."
As for Cole Hamels assertion the Mets were "choke artists," Jones added, "I don't know if I would have gone that far, but that's what's going to fuel that series this year. I will say, when you win a World Series you can pop off, there's no doubt."
More fuzzy math from Tampa
You'll recall the motto that drove the Rays to the World Series: 9 = 8.
Seeking a new slogan that would affirm the glory of last season while asking for more, Maddon has a new equation: '09 > '08.