Fire the manager? Twins, Blue Jays employed better rebuilding strategies


October 13, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

Baseball's postseason tournament has been upstaged by a surprising string of managerial changes, but the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays make a convincing argument that it is the general manager who is most responsible for the on-field success of the team.

If not for the decisiveness of Twins GM Andy MacPhail last winter, his club might well have finished down where everyone expected. If not for the December dealings of Blue Jays GM Pat Gillick, Joe Morgan might still be managing the division-champion Boston Red Sox and Cito Gaston might have joined the growing list of unemployed ex-managers.

Both MacPhail and Gillick gambled heavily on their own judgment. Both went out on a limb. Both deserve to be American League Executive of the Year.

Gillick pulled off two major deals during the winter meetings, acquiring Devon White, Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter among others. He raised some eyebrows when he let George Bell go and gave up some major players in two major trades, but he took the plunge and was willing to suffer or celebrate the consequences.

In the space of one week, MacPhail signed new-look free agents Jack Morris and Chili Davis and changed the fortunes of a team that had been expected to finish well down in the American League West standings. His club went from last to first because he took a chance on two players who many experts believed were beyond their most productive years. Davis and Morris had outstanding seasons and contributed mightily to the Twins' division run.

What does all this mean? It means that, while Gaston and Tom Kelly deserve to be candidates for AL Manager of the Year, they are only as smart as the people who hired them. Championships are won with bold, decisive strokes, not with wily waiver moves. Perhaps this should be a lesson for everyone who took the easy way out and fired a manager this year.

There was a managerial move every business day last week, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average reacted accordingly. Here's the Wall Street week in review:

The stock market's bellwether index slipped 19 points Monday, supposedly because of spreading worries about corporate profits. But it was

the firing of New York Yankees manager Stump Merrill that sent a shiver through Wall Street and drove stocks lower.

The Dow staged a solid rally Tuesday, rising 21 points on news that Morgan was out in Boston. Blue Chip stocks accounted for much of the rally, but skepticism about the overall economic recovery -- and the Red Sox prospects for 1992 -- remained high.

Stocks dipped again Wednesday, falling 17.44 points when popular Milwaukee Brewers skipper Tom Trebelhorn was fired. The drop was attributed to falling treasury bond values, but bond traders were merely reacting to the baseball's erratic employment figures.

The market surged 30 points Thursday on news that former Yankees manager Bucky Dent might replace Jim Lefebvre, who was fired by the Seattle Mariners after the club finished above .500 (83-79) for the first time in its history. The overall economic outlook also improved, except for the Mariners.

The Dow rose 7.16 points Friday, as traders reacted favorably to the announcement that Jeff Torborg would manage the New York Mets for the first three weeks of the 1992 season.


Trebelhorn said the Brewers made a "tragic error" when he was relieved of his duties. He might be right.

The Brewers, riddled by injuries again this year, went 40-19 down the stretch to finish just a game out of second place in the AL East. Trebelhorn pointed out that if he had been replaced the day before the club began its late-season comeback, his replacement would be getting a contract extension about now.

He is correct. But where he went wrong was when he tried to apply logic to any decision made in a baseball front office. Read on.


With the usual apologies to talk show host and future Yankees manager David Letterman, here's my Top 10 list of individual reasons for this year's record number of managerial changes:

10. Somebody had to go and Frank just happened to show up at the ballpark on an off-day.

9. It's a fun excuse for a luncheon news conference.

8. Steel plate in Don Zimmer's head caused delays at airport metal detectors.

7. "Brewers can't get to next level without my old roommate."

6. Harrelson too many letters for New York Post headline.

5. Butch Hobson better at breaking up clubhouse fistfights.

4. If you can't fire a guy named Stump, who can you fire?

3. "The Braves and Twins went from last to first. What's your excuse?"

2. Didn't mean to hire that Joe Morgan in the first place.

1. Telling Buck Rodgers to stand under Olympic Stadium overhang didn't work.


Pitcher Kirk McCaskill seems almost certain to enter the free agent market in November, and the Baltimore Orioles are expected to show some interest in spite of his 10-19 record this season.

Here are some reasons they should:

* McCaskill surrendered two earned runs or fewer in 16 of his 30 starts, but six of his losses came in those games.

* In 17 of his starts and 14 of his losses, the California Angels scored two runs or fewer.

* His 4.26 ERA is high by major-league standards and high by McCaskill standards, but it is not high by Orioles standards. He figures to improve on it.

McCaskill isn't closing the door to the Angels just yet, but he grew up on the East Coast and seems more than likely to play for an East Coast team next year.


There are rumors that the Red Sox will try to hire hitting coach Terry Crowley away from the Twins after the postseason tournament.

Crowley's contract extends through Minnesota's involvement in the playoffs and World Series, and he has told reporters he will not comment on his future until then.

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