Managers getting fired for many wrong reasons

May 24, 1991|By Bill Glauber etB

This is baseball's mean season -- four managers ousted before Memorial Day, including three in the past three days.

Goodbye, Nick Leyva, Don Zimmer, John Wathan and Frank Robinson.

But not every general manager is in a rush to blame one man for all that ails a team.

"If a corporation was run like some baseball teams were run, it would be out of control," Texas Rangers general manager Tom Grieve said. "Fortunately, those decisions to fire managers quickly aren't often made. You need the patience to succeed or fail.

"I've seen owners. They're high-strung, wealthy, impatient people who don't like going to the country club and have people making fun of their team. They're used to making quick decisions. It's a lot harder to do that in baseball then in other walks of business."

Since 1986, Grieve and the Rangers have stuck with one manager, Bobby Valentine. Grieve remembers that during his playing career in Texas, the Rangers routinely hired and fired managers.

"Too many times, the manager is fired to disguise the lack of performance by somebody else," Grieve said. "From my perspective, that's unfair for the manager. But, let's face it, that's the way it goes. That's the way it is done in baseball."

But does firing a manager in the middle of a season help a team? The answer, in all but a handful of cases, is usually no. Still, teams follow tradition. Johnny Oates, who replaces Robinson, becomes the fifth man to manage the Orioles since 1985. That's a startling development for a franchise that employed only six managers in its first 29 seasons.

The Orioles aren't the only team to take the fire-the-manager approach, though.

Some facts:

* Since World War II, 40 managers have been fired 50 games into the season or earlier.

* Two of the 40 teams went on to win pennants.

* Ten teams went on to winning records; 13 finished in last place.

Still, it is growing increasingly rare for a front office to act calmly while losses mount.

San Francisco Giants general manager Al Rosen recently has warded off criticism leveled at his manager, Roger Craig. The Giants are in last place in the National League West, but Rosen said it would be ridiculous to pin the blame on Craig. Wasn't it only two seasons ago that Craig was being hailed as a genius who resurrected the Giants pitching staff?

"I never felt the manager should be a scapegoat, but that is obviously what happens when a player or a team goes bad," Rosen said. "I can't fault Roger Craig that my third baseman has 18 RBI and is hitting .200, or a young catcher is barely over .200, or a shortstop is barely over .100, or an outfielder, a lifetime .290 to .300 hitter, is hitting .210."

But conditions can warrant a managerial change.

"When it's obvious that the talent on the field is better than the performance being shown, and the manager is not getting the most out of the players, or he has lost respect of the players, then there is nothing else to do," Grieve said.

Sometimes a change works. In 1982, the Milwaukee Brewers sent Buck Rodgers home after a 23-24 start. Harvey Kuenn took over and guided the team to a 95-67 finish and the American League East title.

"It was just a matter of a talented club and a manager fitting in with a cast of players," said Brewers general manager Harry Dalton. "I knew Buck Rodgers could manage, but Harvey Kuenn just had the right touch. For whatever reason, the club was underachieving."

But even an attitude readjustment can't help a wretched team. Consider the 1988 Orioles. After an 0-6 start, manager Cal Ripken Sr. was given the quickest hook in major-league history. Robinson took over, and the team finished 54-107. The next season, the Orioles rebounded under Robinson to 87-75 and nearly won the AL East.

Billy Sample, a former player turned commentator for ESPN, said: "Gee, just three years ago, Frank had a higher position in the organization than just about anyone there, and then two years ago they almost won a division with him managing," Sample said. "Now, the top brass is making decisions for Frank. Strange."

Change for the better


Five teams that won 90 games after early firings:

Year, team. . . Old manager. .. Record. . . New manager..Finish

1985, Yankees. .Yogi Berra. . . 6-10. . . . Billy Martin. . . 97-64

1982, Brewers. .Buck Rodgers. . .23-24. . . .Harvey Kuenn.. 95-67

1956, Braves. . Charlie Grimm. . 24-22. . . . Fred Haney. .. . 92-62

1990, Mets. .. .Dave Johnson. .. 20-22. . .. Bud Harrelson.. .91-71

1967, Twins. .. Sam Mele. . . .. 25-25.. . ...Cal Ermer. . . . 91-71

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