Sunday, October 06, 2002

Just win, baby

Lose games, fire the manager

AP Sports Writer

        Baseball executives have 100 ways of saying the same thing when they fire managers. The bottom line never changes, though. Win, and the manager sticks around. Lose, and it's out the door.

        A half-dozen of them went down last week, a particularly difficult stretch for the men who are paid to outthink one another. That pushed the casualty count for the season to 13, not counting interim John Mizerock, who bridged Tony Muser and Tony Pena for a couple of days in Kansas City. In each case, the trap door opened after a losing record — or sometimes a losing legacy.

        The next time Tampa Bay has more wins than losses in a season will be the first time. So long, Hal McRae.

        The Milwaukee Brewers went through the worst season in franchise history. See you later, Jerry Royster.

        Detroit has a lovely ballpark and a lousy ball club. It's been nice knowing you, Luis Pujols.

        The Texas Rangers have finished last three straight times. That meant the end of the line for Jerry Narron.

        The Chicago Cubs haven't been to a World Series since 1945 and didn't get close this season. Tough luck, Bruce Kimm.

        Two years after they were in the World Series, the New York Mets finished in last place. Have a nice life, Bobby Valentine.

        Three of the victims — Pujols, Royster and Kimm — had less than a season on the job, each plugged in after their teams got off to shaky starts under other managers. Kimm made a particularly brief cameo appearance, hired on July 6, fired on Sept. 29.

        Does that seem a tad unfair?

        Consider McRae's task. Win with a Devil Rays lineup devoid of any marquee names. Or Narron's situation, with 17 Texas players spending 1,429 days on the disabled list.

        Sorry, guys. No excuses. It was football's Al Davis who put it best: “Just win, baby.”

        In baseball, the accepted code for fired managers is to take the shot and walk away quietly, waiting for the next opportunity that invariably comes. In an attack of honesty, Royster chose a different route, terming the Brewers team he took over “an absolute mess.”

        And what would you call the Tigers and Devil Rays, who, like Milwaukee, lost 106 games?

        There was plenty of mess to go around with the Mets. Valentine, who so often got in hot water because of his mouth, tried to be diplomatic this time when asked if he thought his dismissal by owner Fred Wilpon was fair.

        “It's fair that I'm not managing the team,” he said, probably biting down hard on his tongue. “Fred wants to base that on performance.”

        And the Mets' performance left plenty to be desired.

        It should be noted that the Milwaukee mess reached record proportions. The Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates are the latest additions to the list of franchises that have endured at least 10 consecutive losing seasons.

        Heading that group are the Philadelphia Phillies, who went from 1918-1948 with just one winning season and had five consecutive 100-plus losing seasons in that stretch.

        Talk about a slump.

        The Phillies' lone winning season in that stretch was 1932, when they barely made it at 78-76. In those three decades, the team went through 16 managers — Hans Lobert had two chances — before they found the winning combination in 1949 under Eddie Sawyer.

        Sawyer's team won the pennant in 1950 but two years later, he was gone, only to be rehired in 1958. In his second managerial incarnation, Sawyer lasted through the first game of the 1960 season. The Phillies lost that day and the manager announced his resignation.

        “I'm 49 years old,” he said. “I want to live to be 50.”

        Most managers know when they're cornered by a bad team. They do the best they can under what are difficult circumstances. It was the immortal Joe Schultz, manager of the Seattle Pilots of blessed memory, who sat through a doubleheader blowout one day and was asked his thoughts about the performance of his expansion team.

        Schultz thought for a moment and then offered a comment that, although probably not original, still captured the essence of every manager who was ever stuck in a losing situation.

        “I managed good,” he said, “but they played bad.”


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