Thursday, June 9, 2011
In firing Geren, A's search for change
By Jim Bowden
One of the most difficult responsibilities of a general manager is the hiring and firing of managers. You work as a team on a daily basis and in most cases become very close friends, on and off the field. However, when a team doesn’t win or the players don’t play up to their potential, sometimes a change in leadership can make a difference. Baseball is big business, and it's not personal. Bob Geren was the best man in Billy’s Beane wedding, but that’s not why he was hired and that’s not why he’s been fired.
The Athletics are on a nine-game losing streak and nine games under .500 at 27-36 after their loss to the Orioles on Wednesday. Under Geren's leadership, the A’s never finished above .500. In those four years, they were 334-376.
On May 23, after being pulled with one out in the eighth inning, A’s reliever Brian Fuentes had enough and in a postgame media tirade ripped Geren, complaining about the manager's lack of communication with players. Fuentes never backed down from his comments. However, he later admitted it was the wrong outlet to express those comments.
Colorado Rockies closer Huston Street, a former Athletic, decided to pile it on by telling the media, “For me personally, he was my least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports from age 6 to 27. I am very thankful to be in a place where I can trust my manager [Jim Tracy]."
Geren is a good man, and is obviously very close friends with the Beane. Geren wasn’t fired because of what Brian Fuentes said, nor was he fired because there were many people agreeing with Street. However, his troubles in communication with his players, coaches and front office did play a part. More importantly, Geren couldn’t get this offense working; the A's were 28th in runs scored and 26th in on-base percentage. Now, when your pitching is fourth in baseball in ERA behind only the Braves, Phillies and Giants, you expect to be contending. You don’t have to score a lot of runs to win, just some.
The A’s have only one hitter with more than five home runs and 22 RBIs, and it’s June 9. They have underperformed. The blame for this should go mostly to the players, and shared to an extent with the manager and coaching staff.
When a GM makes a midseason managerial change, he’s making a strong statement that his team is better than it’s record and there are problems in the clubhouse. If you make a change in June, you’re expecting a better win-loss record.
When you make a midseason change like this, you’re also looking for a different leadership style -- whether it be in-game strategy, handling of the pitching staff, communication, motivation, work ethic, intellect, working with the front office, emphasis on fundamentals, demeanor or just another voice.
Enter 49-year-old interim manager Bob Melvin, 49. Melvin has eight years of managerial experience, guiding the Seattle Mariners (2003-2004) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (2005-2009). A different leadership style has arrived in Oakland. Melvin’s strengths in leadership include tremendous communication skills, building trust with his players and solid game strategy.
Melvin has also won, winning the National League West in 2007 with a record of 90-72. The Diamondbacks swept the Chicago Cubs that year in the NLDS before being eliminated by the Colorado Rockies in the NLCS. He was fired just a year and half later, when the Diamondback offense got off to a slow start.
His in-game strategy will include persistent lineup shuffling, slow hooks on his starting pitchers and bullpen matchups that will combine statistical analysis and “gut” feel.
His reputation in baseball circles is that he is a class person with high character and an average major league manager. He will now get his third crack in the majors, hoping to prove that he’s better than an average manager and that 2007 was not an aberration in his career.
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