The Boston Red Sox were supposed to do more than contend in 2011 – one Northeast beat writer humbly dubbed them the best team ever.
Fast forward to the final game of the season, and Boston lost to Baltimore, missing the post-season entirely. I tweeted from Safeco Field that night: “‘Tonight might have cost Terry Francona is job.” Now, it appears the Red Sox are about to cut their manager loose.
It’s the baseball way.
Managers I have respected, from Sparky Anderson to Lou Piniella to Jack McKeon, have all boiled down the art of their job with this: It’s putting players into situations where they’re suited to best succeed.
Francona had Jonathon Papelbon on the mound when the Sox lost. In the weeks prior, as his club collapsed, Franconca didn’t panic. He stayed with the players who were the ‘best ever’ in March.
In Seattle, the Mariners have long upheld baseball’s scapegoat tradition. It hasn’t usually been the general manager, but managers and hitting coaches? Open season never seems to close on them. Since Piniella’s decade-long run, the Mariners have been managed by Bob Melvin, Mike Hargrove, John McLaren, Jim Riggleman, Don Wakamatsu, Darren Brown and Eric Wedge.
Five of those managers were fired. One quit.
As for hitting coaches, you need a scorecard. Lamar Johnson, Lee Elia, Don Baylor, Paul Molitor, Jeff Pentland, Alan Cockrell, Alonzo Powell preceded Chris Chambliss in the post-Piniella era. All fired – and most helped produce better team averages than the dismal .233 of 2011, which ranked 30th amongst the 30 big-league teams.
The Mariners seem loathe to fire Chambliss, the perfect scapegoat. Aside from a team batting average, most fans aren’t certain what a hitting coach does, anyway. Did Chambliss cause Ichiro to bat .272? No. Ichiro has never listened to a hitting coach in Seattle.
GM Jack Zduriencik seems willing to let the season speak for itself and not fire any one coach as a sacrifice to public relations. By baseball’s low bar, that is almost saintly.
In Boston, Francona appears to be gone. He won’t be the only manager fired – Ozzie Guillen was hammered with a few White Sox games left to play. Often, with long-term managers, it comoes down to this: Players have heard their voice so often they no longer listen to them. Guillen has already found a job, apparently, and Francona will likely land on his feet elsewhere.
The theory in baseball is, lose too many games, somebody must be at fault. Those who control the firings often do what must be done to prevent fans from looking any higher up the chain.