At one point in Moneyball, Michael Lewis quotes an anonymous Oakland player as saying it wouldn't affect the team at all if then-manager Art Howe was fired.
The manager didn't matter, the player told Lewis. Not with the Billy Beane A's.
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Nine years later, the manager does matter. Bob Melvin steps in at the perfect time to prove it.
On Thursday's conference call to announce that Melvin would replace Bob Geren, Beane kept talking about the "challenges" Melvin will face, with four starting pitchers on the disabled list.
"It's the situation Bob inherits," Beane said.
True, but this is also the situation Bob inherits: He takes over a team that was begging for a change. He takes over a clubhouse that Geren had more than lost weeks, months or years ago.
He comes in as the manager who will rescue these players from Bob Geren, which means he couldn't come in at a better time, or in a better place.
"They'll take to him like ducks to water," Phil Garner predicted Thursday afternoon.
Garner should know, because he's been there. Been there with Melvin, who was his bench coach with the Brewers and Tigers, and been there as the guy brought in to rescue a team at midseason.
In 2004, Garner took over a 44-44 Astros team at the All-Star break, when Jimy Williams was fired. Garner's Astros went 48-26 the rest of the way, and came within a win of the World Series. A year later, they went to the World Series.
Garner and Melvin have different personalities, though. Jim Tracy may be a better comparison, but that's fine, too.
Tracy took over the Rockies from Clint Hurdle when they were 18-28 in late May 2009. They went 74-42 the rest of the way and won the NL wild card.
Plenty of other midseason changes haven't worked (including the one the 2009 Diamondbacks made, when they fired Melvin and replaced him with A.J. Hinch). But if there's a team ready to respond to a new voice, this is the one.
And if there's a general manager ready to be convinced that a new manager can make a difference, Beane might be the one.
"Bob's got the rest of this year to make an impact," Beane said, after naming Melvin as the interim manager. "He's got a big job ahead of him. We'll see how it goes. I have a lot of confidence Bob will have a positive impact."
|Bob Melvin (right) figures to be a better communicator than Bob Geren, which should start him off on the right foot. (AP)|
A's players complained about Geren's communication skills, most notably when Brian Fuentes erupted a couple of weeks back in Anaheim.
So it's significant when Garner says that Melvin is a very good communicator.
"Bo does a fabulous job with a pitching staff," Garner said. "And he will communicate."
Melvin has had two previous chances to manage. He replaced Lou Piniella in a difficult situation in Seattle, won 93 games his first year and then lost 99 with an aging club the following year.
He took over for Bob Brenly in 2005 in Arizona, and two years later had the Diamondbacks in the playoffs as the National League West champions. His relationship with his players remained solid even as his relationship with general manager Josh Byrnes deteriorated, eventually leading to Melvin's firing in 2009.
"He's well-respected and very intelligent," Beane said. "He's got a great reputation."
Beane wouldn't say whether he believes Melvin is taking over a team that can or should make a run at the playoffs. He mentioned the injuries when asked if this A's team is good enough to win, saying, "I think we've yet to know that."
I'm not sure they are good enough, but I am fairly certain we were never going to find that out with Bob Geren as the manager.
And I am fairly sure that a manager can make a difference.
Even with the Moneyball A's.