MLB is Singing 'Skipper to My Lou'
When Joe Torre told the press he is stepping down as the Dodgers’ manager, there was a whole bunch of the typical make-a-non-story-a-story nonsense that the sports media loves. Look: with the way the Dodgers were playing this year, Torre’s expiring contract, and several groomed managerial candidates in the wings, it just wasn’t shocking to see that tidbit crawling across the bottom of the ESPN screen. Joe hasn’t explicitly said he’s retiring either, which stoked this whole Mets controversy with an “I’d consider a job; or at least listen to an offer” from Joe, and a “How rude!” from the current manager in Queens, Jerry Manuel. Joe apologized, and like most 7th grade drama over “feelings”, it blew over.
This Torre thing was just the start; with the free agent player crop looking weaker than Johnny Damon’s left arm, the media will be humming "Skip to my Lou" during a big 'ol game of managerial musical chairs. Big moves are already happening as Ken Macha's option has been declined; Jerry Manuel has been fired; Dusty Baker already signed an extension; the Pirates fired John Russell; and the D-Backs decided to hold on to Kirk Gibson. The manager-effect sometimes gets over-played, but strategy, demeanor, and clubhouse sentiment play a big role in the minds of many players. Not only do managers play a role during the season, but they’ll affect who signs where this winter. If Carl Crawford wants to be part of an aggressive small-ball game that emphasizes stolen bases, he’ll be more inclined to play for Mike Scioscia and the Angels as opposed to Bruce Bochy’s Giants, who have stolen as a team just 5 more bases this year than Carl, himself. Anyways, here’s a few predictions at how this managerial mayhem winds up:
- Fredi Gonzalez replaces Bobby Cox in Atlanta. This is basically a foregone conclusion; sure, the Cubs might want to hook in the former Marlins skipper and Braves 3rd base coach, but Atlanta has the upper hand. The Braves are a better team, have a history with Gonzalez, and are a lot closer to his Marietta, GA home. I’d be more shocked than Ben Franklin’s kite if someone else ends up as Cox’s successor.
- Joe Girardi returns to New York. He won a World Series in ’09, hasn’t had a single clubhouse falling out with any player since taking over, and is much loved by the brothers Steinbrenner. There’s been speculation that the Illinois-native might want to go to Wrigley, but who would leave a job that pays better, gives him an annual shot at another title, and boasts the game’s fanciest manager’s office?
- Ron Washington is re-signed. When you take a team that’s not supposed to win the division, and then you win the division, you’re usually rewarded with a contract. Any questions?
- Tony La Russa and Joe Torre retire. Torre is done in LA, and he just doesn’t seem like a fit for anyone else. This is the first year Joe’s team has missed the playoffs since his inaugural season in the Bronx; a golf-filled October might help him realize it’s time to move on to a gated community in Florida. That said, if he signs anywhere, I’d put St. Louis as the frontrunner. As for La Russa, I still can’t get over his public endorsement of Arizona’s controversial immigration law this summer. His politics aren’t for me to judge, but many Latino ballplayers vehemently oppose the law; Milwaukee ace, Yovani Gallardo, has even stated that if voted into next year’s all-star game in Arizona, he’ll boycott. La Russa is coming off an uninspiring season, and his affect on Latin American recruiting could force him out of the dugout, for good.
- Ryne Sandberg takes over on the North Side. Interim manager Mike Quade is surviving, but the Cubs will have a new skip in 2011. Chicago never gets big rings, but they sure do love big names. Alfonso Soriano. Lou Piniella. Carlos Zambrano. Sure, that big name strategy never seems to work, but so long as Jim Hendry’s in the driver’s seat, my money’s on the hall-of-fame second baseman being promoted.
- Bob Melvin signs on with the Jays. When Alex Anthopoulos took over in Toronto, he expanded the organization’s scouting system to be the most expansive in baseball. As the league continued to delve into sabermetrics following that whole Moneyball thing, Anthopoulos decided to exploit what he believes is now an undervalued asset: scouts. Melvin, currently a scout for the Mets, reportedly interviewed with the Jays this past week (along with Eric Wedge), and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Anthopoulos tab a man with a scout’s mindset as Gaston’s succesor. If hired, expect him to play match-ups and emphasize scouting reports on opponents, as opposed to concentrating on new-age stats.
- Bobby Valentine returns to Queens. Valentine almost signed with Florida in July, but the deal never materialized. Now, he seems like a fit for his former employer: the Mets. Valentine managed them to back-to-back wild-card spots in '99 and '00. The former Chiba Lotte Marines manager, currently works for ESPN, but like this off-season should signal his return to the dugout. The star of "The Zen of Bobby V" is the calming force Citifield needs. As the Mets attempt to move towards respectability and, hopefully, the playoffs, a man comfortable with the October scene and the New York press will come in handy.
- Tony Pena becomes the Marlins next manager. The Palm Beach Post reports that Pena is a serious candidate for the job; the ‘03 AL Manager of the Year, has coached for the Yankees since '04, absorbing the styles of Torre and Girardi. Tony is due for another shot at managing, and Jeffrey Loria and company will be pleased to bring aboard a manager that won’t cost seven figures.
- Larry Bowa takes over in Seattle. Jack Zduriencik loves defense. Larry Bowa is known for emphasizing defense and fundamentals. Sounds like a match, eh? Bowa is currently the Dodger's 3rd base coach, but might not want to take a backseat to rookie manager (Don Mattingly). The two time gold-glover won the '01 Manager of the Year award, but didn't see much success managing outside of that campaign. Bowa might be categorized as a nutjob, or a drill sergeant, or a fiery lunatic, but that's exactly what Seattle needs after their miserable play under the calm hand of Don Wakamatsu.
- Willie Randolph replaces Ken Macha. The former Mets manager wants to manage again.The Milwaukee bench coach has developed strong relationships with players on the team, which would make a transition simple. That said, with Randolph's defensive expertise, he could also be on Seattle’s list of prospects.
- Chris Maloney succeeds Tony La Russa. Maloney is the Cardinals AAA Memphis Redbirds manager. The Mississippi native holds a 1,273-1,183 career record in 19 seasons of minor-league managing. Sixteen of those seasons have been in the Cardinals organization, so some of his former players are in that Busch Stadium clubhouse. He deserves for his 20th season to finally be in the Bigs. There are some big names out there in this skipper-to-my-lou winter, but seeing a career minor-league manager finally sit on a big league bench, well, that’s when baseball’s real beauty shows.
Editor’s Note: This sports column is a regular feature from “The Nightcap” crew, made up of a group of 5Cers who air a weekly radio sports talk show on KSPC. You can listen in live online every Monday from 8-10 PM or podcasted at any time from their website.