Ten games into the season and Sports Illustrated had Phillie manager Joe Girardi on the hot seat after a 4-6 start.
It’s almost laughable when you remember that Gabe Kapler was once the fall guy in the City of Brotherly Love, run out of town and replaced by Girardi. He’s beloved now in San Francisco after winning 107 games in 2021 and taking home the National League Manager of the Year award by both the Baseball Writers’ Association and the Sporting News.
Days after the Phillies blew 6-run ninth inning lead at home to the visiting Metropolitans of New York, the baseball website Fansided has already begun measuring candidates’ inseams for a new managerial uniform to fit the soon-to-be-departed Girardi, who clearly cannot manage a bullpen.
Managers who order intentional walks with the bases loaded are sure to come under fire. That’s exactly what happened to Joe Maddon in a mid-April game against the Texas Rangers, when he gifted Texas a free run in the fourth inning. To be honest, the decision flew out of the realm of mere head-scratching into another space-time continuum entirely, one that led baseball writer Joe Sheehan to question whether Maddon has the tools to remain a major-league manager.
Full disclosure, the Angels are 21-12 as of May 11th, behind only the Yankees in wins.
Speaking of the Yankees, one of the names frequently mentioned as being on the “hot seat” has been manager Aaron Boone. Bullpen management has been a black mark on his resume, according to New York fans. Still, the Bronx owns the best record in baseball right now.
It should always be remembered that process should be valued over results. But it illustrates why you suddenly aren’t hearing much complaining from fans of the Angels or the Yankees. Winning isn’t just the defining measurement of dugout field generals. In reality, it’s the only measurement.
David Bell’s name sits near the top of most of the lists you’ll find when the subject turns to baseball’s soon-to-be unemployed. He doesn’t run a team with a payroll north of $200M like Girardi or Boone. He hasn’t had the firepower of players like Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani like Maddon does. Bell does share a few traits with Kapler. Both have made extensive use of platooning in an attempt to improve the offense. Both have a reputation of having good communication with their players, which has earned trust and loyalty in the clubhouse. And both were highly valued by what is considered a smart organization in San Francisco. The Giants, after all, once hired Bell to be their vice president of player development.
Still, the cri de coeur among Reds fans is to fire Bell. He’s only here because of the family name, they say. Like Girardi, he can’t fathom bullpen construct. Like Maddon, his moves are too head-scratching.
The Reds have won their last two series after a titanic disaster of a start to the season. Almost every player the Reds have counted on to be playoff-worthy in 2022 has been either traded, sentenced to the injured list, placed in covid-jail, or simply let go. Yet, Bell has stopped the bleeding—if only temporarily—despite ownership having taken a machete to the roster.
Dusty Baker is the new darling of the media when the subject turns to genius managers. Winning 2000 games will do that. It will make folks forget that his tactical skills during a game often left much to be desired. It probably cost him a world championship in San Francisco. It certainly cost him a series win here in Cincinnati in 2012 when he failed miserably to protect a 2-0 game lead in the NLDS. Analytics once mocked his lineup construction and pitcher usage. Almost everywhere he’s gone, he’s been handed talented teams to pilot. You can win a lot of games when you roll out lineups that have the likes of Barry Bonds, Will Clark, Jeff Kent, Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, and Johnny Cueto.
When few thought he would ever be handed a team to manage again, the Nationals and Astros came calling, gifting him players like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, George Springer, Jose Altuve, Zack Greinke, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Justin Verlander.
You can win a lot of games with a foundation of great and near-great players that Dusty has had at his disposal. Baker has certainly been beloved by his players and his ability to keep his clubhouses tight shouldn’t be ignored.
Still, the lesson here is two-fold: you win with good players. And if even “genius” managers can fall to earth, then no one in the manager’s office is safe.