The dirty dozen of MLB skipper ranks

Bobby Cox is the exception.

He walked away from his job as the manager of the Atlanta Braves at season’s end of his own volition, retiring from a career in which he managed teams to 16 postseason appearances and 15 division titles, including a professional sports-record 14 consecutive first-place finishes.

This year, he actually was joined in retiring from a managerial job by Joe Torre of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cito Gaston of the Toronto Blue Jays. It should be noted, however, that not only were Cox and Gaston both fired once in their managerial careers, but Torre was fired from managerial jobs with the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals and was forced out as manager of the New York Yankees before landing with the Dodgers.

And it is much more frequent to see managers fired — or forced out — than retire.

Patience no longer is a virtue in baseball.

While Cox, Torre and Gaston did retire at season’s end, nine other teams fired their managers since Opening Day, and that means 12 teams will have different managers in 2011 than on Opening Day in 2010, which equals the second-biggest managerial upheaval in major-league history.

Five of the changes came during the course of the 2010 season.

Only in 1992 — when 15 managerial changes were made — have more than 12 teams changed managers from one Opening Day to the next.

This is the fourth time 12 managerial changes have been made. It also happened in 1976, 1980 and 2003. While the number of changes is at the extreme, the tendency to make changes is a part of the modern-day game.

All 17 seasons in which at least nine managerial changes have been made from one Opening Day until the next have come since the second expansion in 1969.

Six of the 12 new skippers are filling out lineup cards for the first time.

A look at the dozen decisions:

FITS THE NEEDS

 

BALTIMORE hired former Yankees/Diamondbacks/Rangers manager Buck Showalter in midseason and saw him win 34 of the season’s final 57 games. The Orioles were 32-73 when he was hired. Showalter is the perfect choice for an organization that has floundered to 13 consecutive losing seasons since owner Peter Angelos’ meddling ways led to departures by manager Davey Johnson after a 98-win season in 1997 and general manager Pat Gillick a year later.

The hiring of Showalter would seem to indicate Angelos is ready to take a backseat, at least for now, because Showalter gives orders. He doesn’t take them.

Showalter has made it to the postseason only once and will wear out his welcome because of his controlling personality, but each team he has managed has been better because of his attention to detail and his ability to structure an organization.

PITTSBURGH has suffered a professional sports-record 18 consecutive losing seasons, losing at least 95 in each of the past six. The Pirates are a winner with the hiring of Clint Hurdle. He provides a strong personality to a franchise in need of an identity in a town that has turned its back on the hapless team. Hurdle showed in Colorado that he has the patience to work through a youthful building program and then the ability eventually to win with the product he helped build. He guided Colorado to the only World Series appearance in franchise history in 2007.

Talk about coincidences, of the men who have managed the Rockies in their history, three now have been the manager in Pittsburgh. Current Rockies manager Jim Tracy and Jim Leyland, who managed the Rockies in 1999, also held the Pirates job.

ATLANTA won’t be the same without Cox, and the Braves know Cox’s replacement had to be someone whose ego wouldn’t be bruised by the fact that every time the Braves stumble there will be grumbles about how Cox would have handled things. Fredi Gonzalez was the perfect choice. A former Cox lieutenant, he was fired in midseason by Florida in one of the stranger decisions ever and spent the rest of the summer at his suburban Atlanta home, regularly having coffee in the morning with Cox.

Gonzalez is well-regarded within the Braves, where he was a coach when the Marlins hired him to manage. He was the personal preference of both Cox and new general manager Frank Wren.

GAMBLES WORTH TAKING

 

CHICAGO CUBS general manager Jim Hendry took a gamble when Lou Piniella departed in midseason, hiring Mike Quade for the interim job, knowing that, given the high profile of the position, he couldn’t hire an inexperienced manager — but also knowing if Quade had success in the final weeks of 2010, he could force his way into a full-time job.

Mission accomplished. A Cubs team that stumbled to a 51-74 record for Piniella won 24 of 37 games under Quade. He gives the Cubs a no-nonsense baseball lifer who has excelled in developing young talent, a route the Cubs are looking to take in rebuilding the franchise.

TORONTO turned to Boston pitching coach John Farrell, a former big-league pitcher, scout and minor-league director who has yet to manager at any level. A reach? Maybe, but Buddy Black has done a quality job in San Diego, and his background was very similar to Farrell’s, including working for Cleveland in the scouting role, just as Farrell did.

A key for Farrell will be having a quality coaching staff.

MILWAUKEE is taking a route that has succeeded elsewhere — tapping into the staff of Angels manager Mike Scioscia by hiring his bench coach, Ron Roenicke. Do things really happen in threes? Tampa Bay went for a Scioscia lieutenant in hiring Joe Maddon. Ditto San Diego with Buddy Black. Neither team has regretted the decisions.

STARSTRUCK

 

ARIZONA lost all credibility when former GM Josh Byrnes installed his buddy, A.J. Hinch, as manager even though Hinch had never managed at any level. So when Hinch was finally fired during the 2010 season, having compiled an 89-123 managerial record, the high-energy Kirk Gibson was the logical choice off the coaching staff for at least an interim role. Gibson did not perform a miracle. The Diamondbacks were 34-49 with him in charge, but he quickly gained respect of the players and new general manager Kevin Towers felt the former Michigan State star receiver, who was a foundation for the Tigers’ success in the early ’80s and the NL MVP with the Dodgers in 1988, deserved the manager’s job without the interim title.

The LOS ANGELES DODGERS had strong in-house support for promoting Tim Wallach into the big-league managerial role, but Torre had the upper hand in picking his own replacement, and Don Mattingly wound up with the job. While Wallach did his prep work in the minor leagues, Mattingly is managing for the first time in the Arizona Fall League. He will, however, have Wallach at his side as a member of the coaching staff at Dodger Stadium.

SAFE ROUTE

 

KANSAS CITY general manager Dayton Moore wanted a comfort zone when he let Trey Hillman go in midseason, which led him to former Milwaukee manager Ned Yost, whom Moore knew when he worked in the Atlanta front office and Yost was a coach for Bobby Cox. The Royals have a bumper crop of prospects close to arriving, and Moore needed a manager who would buy into the program and develop the young players.

SEATTLE ownership demanded the new manager have experience, which led to general manager Jack Zduriencik’s making prime candidate Ted Simmons a special assistant and hiring Eric Wedge, who was a solid company man in his managerial tenure with Cleveland, where he took the hit for a front office that bungled its way through a decision-making process that led to the Indians’ demise.

The NEW YORK METS have a hands-on front office with general manager Sandy Alderson and his top two aides, DePodesta and former Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi, both of whom worked for Alderson when he was the president of the Oakland A’s. Terry Collins is intense but is a good company man, important to a team whose upper management feels the field manager is a mid-level management position that has been overhyped in baseball.

SAY WHAT?

 

FLORIDA owner Jeffrey Loria fired Gonzalez because he felt the Marlins were a good enough team to win the NL East. So what happens? After a flirtation with Bobby Valentine for the second time in less than a year, Edwin Rodriguez is put into an interim managerial role, goes 46-46 — that’s .500; that’s far from contending — and then is given the job on a full-time basis for 2011.

Does this mean Loria has come to his senses and realizes, finally, the challenges of contending for a division title with a team constantly turning over players because of its need to meet the budget exceeding the desire to win? Or does this mean Loria still harbors a passion to bring in Valentine, and it was easier to keep Rodriguez hanging around just in case?