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Food Chain Reality

It is really nothing new. In the ‘real world,’ it happens a lot. A business goes sour or takes a downhill slide, and changes are made. People lose their jobs, and the business tries to re-group and get back on the right track with new people in charge. Sometimes changes create a momentary spark giving

It is really nothing new. In the ‘real world,’ it happens a lot. A business goes sour or takes a downhill slide, and changes are made. People lose their jobs, and the business tries to re-group and get back on the right track with new people in charge. Sometimes changes create a momentary spark giving the appearance that things will get better. Sometimes the changes are just camouflage for bigger problems existing higher up the food chain. But very rarely do those at the very top take the blame and you ‘can’t fire all the workers’ so somebody has to take the fall.

Then the search begins for a replacement. Perhaps the job description should read: “Wanted: a proven leader, with thick skin, possessing the ability to command a bi-lingual workforce in a competitive environment, media and community relations skills paramount, willingness to take directions in daily decisions from upper management, be immune to second-guessing from paying customers and adaptability to long hours and frequent changes in working conditions. Outstanding benefits with first-class travel and hotel accommodations. Those desiring a long-term relationship need not apply.”

Welcome to the reality of being a Major League Baseball manager, a job once described by writer Ron Fimrite in a April 13, 1981 Sports Illustrated story as, “A manager may have many talents — molder of men, master tactician, super psychologist — but the only thing he’s sure to be is a goner.” It’s been proven many times over; a major league manager is hired to be fired.

The 2019 Major League Baseball regular season is over; its playoffs are underway continuing to the crowning of a new World Series champion later this month. Then what the sport refers to as its ‘hot stove league’ will get underway in earnest. Rich men will get richer, the annual ‘wait until next year’ optimism will prevail among fan bases, the reality for some that their baseball employment is over and the countdown to spring training will ease the winter blues and begin to erase those forgettable memories of the preceding season.

As this is being written, six MLB teams are looking for new managers for next year, and that count will no doubt rise in the coming days if it hasn’t already.

Two men, Bruce Bochy of San Francisco and Kansas City’s Ned Yost beat the odds and announced their retirement as the season ended. Bochy, likely headed for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, was the longest-tenured manager in baseball. He led the Giants to three World Series championships and won more than 2,000 games, becoming the 11th manager to accomplish that feat. Yost was the Royals all-time leader in managerial wins and led his team to the 2015 World Series title.

Four others, three with losing 2019 campaigns are contemplating their baseball futures after being fired.

San Diego’s Andy Green was the first to feel the ax. In his four seasons with the Padres his team compiled a 274-366 record never finishing higher than fourth place in the NL West. The Pirates’ Clint Hurdle and the Cubs’ Joe Madden were let go on the season’s final day. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim waited until the 162nd game had been played to give its rookie manager Brad Ausmus his walking papers following a 72-90 year.

As a Pirates fan, it was Hurdle’s fate that left me with mixed emotions. As any Buccos fan out there can attest, following this team is every bit as challenging as ‘walking the plank’ on a daily basis. Pittsburgh had endured 20 consecutive losing seasons until Hurdle came along and changed the culture, not only of the baseball team but the city they represented. He inspired hope and some competitive baseball as illustrated by the Pirates’ three straight playoff appearances from 2013-2015. Had he returned for 2020 he would have been baseball’s longest-tenured manager, and in nine years he has compiled an overall winning record of 735-720.

But it must have been the, ‘what have you done for me lately’ attitude that sealed his doom. Yes, the team had more than its share of injuries this past season. But that is part of the game. Teams have to deal with it and while there may be ‘no crying in baseball’ there’s also exists no competitive sympathy among the MLB brethren.

The past few seasons have seen a Pirates downturn and 2019, especially after the awful post-all-star break collapse sent the Pirates’ ship adrift. Similar to the ‘chicken or the egg’ discussion, was it the losses or the team turmoil that sealed Hurdle’s fate? It was probably both. Losing creates problems, and finger-pointing destroys team morale, and the Pirates had both in spades.

Not that it matters, but personally I liked Clint Hurdle. He seemed like a good man who cared about the team he was managing and the community he represented. Those who fired him said similar things. Sports are all about winning, and when that doesn’t happen, heads will roll. It’s just a bit curious to me that General Manager Neal Huntington, who announced Hurdle’s ouster and came to the Pirates nine years ago with Hurdle sharing the responsibility of the team’s fate, retained his job while Hurdle didn’t.

It’s all about the food chain. The higher up you are, the more immune you are to getting served a bad meal.

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