Column: Baseball managers are hired to be fired
'Beyond the Lines'
Baseball managers have never had much security, with the exception of Connie Mack who remained in the dugout for 53 years. Of course, Mack owned the team so he never had to worry about a pink slip from his boss. Managers are hired to be fired and they have never been more undervalued than they are today. The end of the 2017 season is a stark reminder of that.
Examples of managers who were relieved of their duties include John Farrell, who was discarded by Boston after leading the Red Sox to three American League East titles and one World Series flag in five years. The Nationals decided to move on from Dusty Baker who led the team to back-to-back National League East titles. Farrell and Baker committed the same sin: Losing in the Division Series in successive years. Perhaps the best example of the lack of respect accorded a manager occurred in the Bronx, where the Yankees elected to replace Joe Girardi.
During his 10 years managing the Yankees, Girardi accumulated a .562 winning percentage, six playoff appearances, and one World Series title. The decision not to bring Girardi back was made by Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman. Their relationship had deteriorated in recent years, and it played out publicly this season. It’s doubtful even a World Series title this year would have saved Girardi’s job.
The characteristics Cashman, indeed, virtually every MLB team, is looking for in today’s manager is someone who can embrace analytics and simultaneously command a clubhouse.
A manager must be willing to take input and direction from executives in the front office — many of whom have never played the game — and communicate with players on their terms. Neither task is easy and Girardi struggled in both areas.
Analytical analysis dominates today’s game and managers must accept that trend. Older managers in particular struggle with analytics. It may not be coincidence that two of the older managers in MLB this year, the aforementioned Baker and Terry Collins of the Mets, weren’t asked to return for 2018.
On the other hand, the managers of the two World Series teams, A.J. Hinch of the Astros and Dave Roberts of the Dodgers, are prime examples of men who have successfully done that. Both managers rely heavily on information provided from above for day-to-day decision making — e.g., who to play against a certain pitcher and which pitchers to employ against opposing batters, decisions that were once the sole province of the men in the dugout.
Girardi also failed to connect with his players. Although the team overachieved this year, Girardi seemed perpetually tense and uptight, with players and the media. Throw in his increasingly fractured relationship with his boss and the end result was predictable.
Players are more difficult to replace than managers so inevitably, it’s the men who sign the lineup cards who take the fall when teams fall short of expectations. As long as analytics rule the game, you can expect to see front offices place less and less value on managers.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a Professor in and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.