A Major League Baseball franchise in one of the East Coast’s biggest markets has hit hard times or at least harder times than they imagined they’d be facing for a long, long time. They’ve set an MLB record by blowing a stunning lead in the postseason race, even though not too long ago, they were leading their division and making and winning the World Series seemed very much possible. But now, in a move that positively reeks of desperation, they’ve decided to “fix” their troubles, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with the manager, by canning the skipper who led them to postseason success.
No, I’m not talking about the Boston Red Sox and their choice not to pick up the two remaining one-year options on Terry Francona’s contract (or as it’s called outside baseball and PR legalese, a “firing”). I’m talking about the New York Mets and their decision to ax Willie Randolph.
Granted, the circumstances are slightly different: Francona left Boston just two days after the Red Sox concluded the 2011 season by blowing what was left of their eight game lead on the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL Wild Card while the Mets waited until a rough patch of the 2008 season to replace Willie Randolph after the Mets wasted a seven game early September lead on the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East.
Also, Francona stepped down in the afternoon while Randolph was canned in the middle of the night so the Red Sox get points for tact.
But the thing about baseball is that managers have less power than arguably any of their major sports coaching counterparts. Managers don’t shape the offense like they often do in basketball; you’ll never see Pete Carril’s Princeton offense or Don Nelson’s Nellyball or Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or Less in baseball. You’ll never see Jacques Lemaire’s trap philosophy, which absolutely dominated the NHL to some extent from the mid-1990’s to the end of the NHL lockout in 2005. The coaches do not relay every single play call or reaction to a playcall like they do in the NFL.
All baseball managers do is set the lineups, decide when/whether to yank the starter, which relievers to use and for how long once the starters have been yanked and which players to substitute as pinch-hitters or pinch-runners. They can provide an idea of what they want hitters and pitchers to do better but really, they can’t throw the ball or hit it or try to outrun fielders or throw baserunners out.
Baseball is a game of chance. It is a game of what, for lack of a better word, might be called “luck.” Most of all, baseball is a game of percentages and odds. You can try to play the percentages as wisely as possible and Boston’s been pretty good at that for the past decade or so. But if you try to solve the problems associated with a 90-win team that can’t manage to make the playoffs by merely changing managers….well, don’t be surprised if Boston’s next skipper finishes with the same record as Randolph’s successor, Jerry Manuel: 204-212.