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Insider

Fans can love (or hate) GMs in a blink

8/3/2011

Ruben Amaro is the toast of Philadelphia after his deadline deal for Hunter Pence; a statue of Amaro will soon be unveiled at Citizens Bank Park. The chamber of commerce in Dallas is planning a parade for Jon Daniels after his acquisitions of Mike Adams from San Diego and Koji Uehara from Baltimore. Atlanta is getting a key made to the city for Frank Wren, and the newest boy genius in Toronto, Alex Anthopolus, has been nominated for Canadian of the Year after making another long-term deal, this time for Cardinals center fielder Colby Ramus. Dinners are now complimentary and all of their favorite restaurants are offering them free bottles of fine wines in appreciation of their hard work. OK, so this might be a slight exaggeration, but you get my point. The fans love them.

Meanwhile, in Orange County (Angels fans), in the Bronx (Yankees fans) and in the Queen City (Reds fans), fan bases are wondering if Tony Reagins, Brian Cashman and Walt Jocketty have forgotten how to make trades. They can’t understand why their top-of-the-rotation starter, back-end reliever or middle-of-the-order bat weren’t acquired by the deadline. Fans are walking by them without saying hello, just sort of staring while whispering to their children or friends, explaining that’s the guy who couldn’t make the move to help their teams last week.

On the north side of Chicago and in Houston, fans are asking for the GMs heads. They want them fired, and they want it done now. Chants for Pat Gillick, Ben Cherington, Thad Levine or Josh Byrnes have already started. Cubs fans want a new direction, and Astros fans want to know why they don’t have much major league talent left after a flurry of deals for Single-A prospects.

In this social media era of Facebook and Twitter, general managers have become lighting rods for fans throughout the baseball world. They are loved or hated, and that status can change with a winning or losing streak, their latest trade or even their last decision to promote or not promote a minor league player. They have become celebrities rather than just suits in a boardroom. Every move is under the microscope, now more than ever.

Even when I was a rookie GM in Cincinnati in 1993, the attention was overwhelming -- and that was before social networking. That year the Reds finished 73-89, 31 games out of first place. I became one of the most hated people in Cincinnati, not only because of the abrupt and unfair firing of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, but because of the horrible team I put together on the mound and in the field. I had death threats that scared my family and led to sleepless nights. I was even booed at a local grocery store while reaching for a green pepper. Nobody likes to be hated, disliked, disrespected or embarrassed, let alone in front of their young children. But it comes with the territory. I had a phone conversation with then-Twins GM Andy MacPhail that September and he explained to me that, as a GM, you’ll be hated when you’re losing, but 12 months later when you’re winning the fans will do a 360 and love you again.

The Reds finished first the next two years. The fan base did a 360 and complimentary meals and bottles of wine were offered on a nightly basis. Radio shows and TV appearances were requested daily, and Bengals fans were asking me if I could GM both the Bengals and Reds. That love affair lasted two years until we started losing during the payroll reduction years of 1996-1998 but returned when we won 96 games in 1999. Fans and media always give GMs too much credit when they win and too much blame when they lose. GMs learn quickly that this is reality and understand that it comes with the honor and privilege of being in that position.

Tigers president and GM Dave Dombrowski made that point to me the other day. He said the fans want GMs to make a move and add a piece, but as soon as they do they’re criticized for dealing too much talent. Public opinion after most trades is that their favorite team should have traded for someone else or not mortgaged the future, or that the team didn’t make enough moves or should have given up less.

It doesn’t matter if the GM is restricted financially by ownership (like Andrew Friedman is in Tampa) or doesn’t have the minor league inventory to trade (like Reagins' situation in Los Angeles) or about bad evaluations by a scouting staff.

The Indians are the perfect example. Fans pleaded for an outfield upgrade because of the injuries to Chin-Shoo Choo and Grady Sizemore. However, after they acquired Kosuke Fukodome from the Cubs, he wasn’t good enough and they complained that a team this good should trade for a top-of-the-rotation starter. Once the team acquired starter Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies, the Indians were ripped for giving up their two best pitching prospects. The problem is they don’t get that top-of-the-rotation arm without giving up the future. Who wins that deal? Probably the Indians short-term and the Rockies long-term. If the Indians win a World Series with Jimenez, it will be a great trade. If they don’t make the playoffs with him, and Drew Pomeranz and Alex White become 15-game winners and help the Rockies to a World Series instead, it could become one of the worst trades in Indians history.

Indians GM Chris Antonetti will join Amaro, Daniels and Wren as GMs being celebrated -- if Cleveland can overtake the Tigers with Jimenez dominating like he did the first half of last year. However, if Jimenez pitches in August and September like he did last year at that time and they fade, it will be a long offseason for Antonetti and his family.

If you’re a GM, it comes down to the bottom line of winning and losing at the major league level. Win and you’re the toast of the town; lose and the fans want you replaced. It’s part of the job, and 30 unfortunate executives wouldn’t trade it for anything.