Welcome to Snyder's Soapbox! Here I will pontificate about a matter related to Major League Baseball. Some of the topics I hit in the coming weeks will be pressing matters, some might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things and most will be somewhere in between. The good thing about this website is it's free and you are allowed to click away. If you stay, you'll get smarter, though, that's a money-back guarantee. Let's get to it.
Today, I'd like to talk about managers. Specifically the almost bloodthirsty calls to "fire him!" all too often. I know that in the social media era, things get amplified, but I remember going to games in the 1980s and constantly hearing cries to fire the manager. It's been this way for a long time.
Sure, sometimes it's deserved. We saw the Phillies in 2022 replace a stale Joe Girardi with Rob Thomson and they've been great since the move. Sometimes teams upgrade on the fly, such as the Cubs just a few days ago. Other times, however, moves are made just for the sake of moves (eye wash) when sticking with a good manager would've just been the play.
This fall, we witnessed Torey Lovullo guide an underdog Arizona Diamondbacks team to the National League pennant and get pretty damn close to having a 2-0 lead through two road games in the World Series. Look at his progression as a manager.
- 2017: 93 wins and top NL wild-card spot
- 2018: 82-80
- 2019: 85-77
- 2020: 25-35, no playoffs
- 2021: 110 losses
We can stop there, because in the overwhelming majority of jobs, the manager gets fired after losing 110 games in his fifth season, especially after making the playoffs in his first season and being shut out since. Can't you just hear the list of reasons? Stale, lost the clubhouse, need a new voice, his first year only carries so much weight, etc. On and on we could go, right?
Lovullo is a good manager and that 110-loss season was much more a product of awful personnel, but still, so many times in this situation the manager getting the ax would be simply part of the equation. No one would've even batted an eye.
The problem with firing a manager just for eye wash purposes is there needs to be a replacement hire. One of the mottos I've come to adopt in life is you don't get to complain about a problem without presenting a solution. Applied specifically here, you don't get to say "fire the manager!" unless you can explain who the replacement hire would be and why said replacement would do a better job. I suppose we could make exceptions if there's a manager so utterly terrible at his job that any reasonable replacement would be an upgrade, but I can't think of one in recent memory who would merit such treatment. Obviously off-field impropriety is an exception.
In the case of Lovullo, a good manager was left in place and the Diamondbacks can now hoist a 2023 NL Champions banner in Chase Field.
David Bell in Cincinnati is another example. Let's go back to the early 2000s to illustrate my issue with the bloodthirsty "fire him!" calls. The Reds ran through an uninspiring assembly line of managers after Jack McKeon: Bob Boone, Dave Miley, Jerry Narron and Pete Mackanin. Then they hired Dusty Baker. The Reds went to the playoffs zero times between 1995 and 2009, then Baker led them to the postseason three times in four years. There was a swell from the Cincy fan base screaming to fire Baker throughout most of the last two years, too.
They got their wish after 2013. Baker was fired. He was replaced with Bryan Price, who is most known for a. He never had a winning record, though he did top 90 losses three times.
The Reds hired David Bell before the 2019 season. He helped improve their record by eight games in his first season. The Reds went 31-29 in 2020 and while it's tough to judge that season, they were a playoff team. They won 83 games in 2021. Then, in 2022, the Reds started 3-22. It was one of the worst starts in baseball history. In so many cases with this sort of record, the manager would get fired. They ended up losing 100 games, so, again, there would've been ample excuse to fire him. What would that have actually solved, though? And who was going to take over? Would the replacement definitely be better?
The Reds stuck with Bell and were one of the more fun stories in baseball in 2023. They went 82-80 while employing a host of rookies. They'll be a contender in 2024.
It's difficult to know how things would have unfolded if Bell were fired after that 3-22 start or even after the season in 2022. What we know is that Bell had a successful season in 2023 and firing him wouldn't have erased that awful start a year earlier.
Look, I don't think the cases of Lovullo and Bell will change anything. I'd be a fool to think that. The second any team hits a rough patch next season, the local radio shows will light up with callers demanding the manager's head on a spike. And by no means do I feel sorry for the managers. It's the nature of the job and they are highly compensated for it. I just think we'd all do well to pause and think things through.
Will firing the manager actually solve the personnel issues? If the manager is fired, who will the replacement be? Will said replacement definitely be better?
I can promise you, no matter who the manager is, you're going to hate the lineup on occasion (or more often) and will complain about his handling of the bullpen, probably regularly. That doesn't mean he should be fired.
All too often, amid any struggles by a fan base's favorite team, this is the virtual scene outside the manager's office ...
... when the majority of the mob doesn't have any idea who the replacement would be.
We can do better. The cases of Lovullo and Bell say as much.