|  Baseball Index  |  Peter Gammons Bio


Don't blame the managers

Special to

September 30

Buck Showalter knows it's coming, but while he says "it's hard to debate with some of the inaccuracies in a local paper," he'll go quietly. On a Friday in which he was savaged, he presented Dusty Baker with a silver toothpick holder and went on with his business.

Gene Lamont has known for a month that it's coming, but asked to finish the season with dignity and refused comment until it becomes official Monday. Terry Francona figures it's coming, but has pushed on with his boundless energy. Jack McKeon has effectively said nothing, knowing for weeks that his time as a major-league manager is likely done.

Buck Showalter
Showalter is finished in Arizona.

Lamont, of course, is not the reason the Pirates did not fulfill Kevin McClatchy's goal of 90 wins; a lot of things went wrong, from pitching injuries to Chad Hermansen batting .224 -- in Nashville. Francona is not the reason the Phillies, who still don't know about a ballpark and seem frozen in the headlights with a $45 million payroll in an $80 million division, disappointed. McKeon is hardly the sole reason the Reds didn't win 96 games again, just as Tom Kelly, Davey Johnson, Larry Dierker, Larry Rothschild and the other bubble managers weren't the causes for their teams' struggles.

The ugliest scenario is Boston, ever the "dysfunctional family" as Derek Lowe put it. Because there is no one representing ownership who can seemingly deal with the rift between Dan Duquette and Jimy Williams -- one that people in the organization says was "frigid" going back to last December's winter meetings -- two stubborn individuals spent too much energy the last two months in a tug-of-war.

There is no right side, no wrong side to these battles; as Steve Phillips articulated this spring, there are few manager-general manager relationships these days that aren't rocky. And as uncommunicative as Duquette can be, he is not the only GM who wants to select the roster -- Phillips, Billy Beane, Pat Gillick and a lot of very successful GMs make no bones about their perception of the relative roles. Maybe the best thing is for Duquette to approach Chuck LaMar or Gillick and propose a deal for his manager, then go out and, if he feels it would be too risky at this time to turn the job over to minor-league field coordinator Dave Jauss, get Showalter or trade for Felipe Alou.

If he were able to hire another manager with whom he didn't fight over Michael Coleman, Sang Lee and Izzy Alcantara, would Duquette admit that micromanagement -- right down to neutering their domestic scouting staff -- is as much a problem as Williams' stubbornness? There's a reason the same complaints that were heard in the Kevin Kennedy clubhouse are now heard in the Jimy Williams clubhouse, with fingers pointed upwards.

In every one of the situations that necessitates the firing of managers, such a question can be asked, be it Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles or Houston. You can be certain LaMar has already looked long and hard in the mirror, as has Cam Bonifay and Gerry Hunsicker and Jim Bowden.

What's interesting about the Arizona situation isn't that Showalter is not without fault; he is, in terms of control and issues in his players' eyes. But some of those at the top and around the top of that franchise -- not the good men like Joe Garagiola and Sandy Johnson, but the non-baseball men -- are seemingly still under the delusion they are reinventing the game. They won 100 games in their second season, and in the third they dropped in attendance for a second straight year. They have borrowed so much money to win right away that they face potential cash flow problems, and the minor-league system is shallow as well. Jerry Colangelo's problem was that he didn't understand baseball management and gave his manager the same kind of authority the Celtics heirs gave Rick Pitino, which didn't work, either.

And for all the faults in Tampa Bay, from the market to the ballpark to the community perception of owner Vince Naimoli, when the dust settles and the teams have established their identities, the Devil Rays will have a far better team than Arizona. It takes eight years to develop a consistent talent base; ask Bobby Cox about taking over the Braves in November 1985. Take the three best-run expansion franchises: the Blue Jays, Royals and Mets were all built on scouting and development, and started winning in their ninth, eighth and seventh years, respectively. Oh, some point to the Rockies and Marlins as success stories, but they have each been in business eight years, each has been to one postseason and each is now in the upper stage of rebuilding, right on the same schedule as the Jays, Royals and Mets.

"We tried to speed our timetable up and go above .500 by spending some money last winter," says LaMar. "We all see it didn't work out too well. We were devastated by injuries, but there's nothing we can do about that. But we made a couple of deals at the trading deadline to lower payroll and bring some talent in, and now we have to get back to building this franchise. And from what we've seen these last couple of weeks (especially beating up on the Yankees so badly that George Steinbrenner stomped out in the seventh inning of Thursday's game), we can see some light. But it's not going to come overnight. The timetable for developing an expansion franchise the right way doesn't change."

Unless ownership decides to slash payroll, the Rays likely will not rush into their next stage. Brent Abernathy, acquired from Toronto, looks like a keeper at second base and played superbly for the Olympic team; he could be ready for 2001. But while Aubrey Huff can hit, he may need more work at third, and catcher Toby Hall and outfielder Jason Tyner could each use more time in Triple-A. It may take a few more minor-league starts for Travis Harper, Jason Standridge, Matt White, Olympian Bobby Seay, Jesus Colome and Dan Wheeler to be ready for the American League.

So the plan is to keep Vinny Castilla, Fred McGriff, Gerald Williams, John Flaherty, Roberto Hernandez and Juan Guzman to open the season. By July, especially if Castilla and Guzman are healthy, LaMar should be able to get a half dozen more prospects for all those players whose contracts are up at the end of the 2001 season. And by then the Rays' Double-A outfield of Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford and Kenny Kelly will be ready. If they finish with the worst record -- which their late run over the Yankees and Red Sox may kill -- then by August they will have switch-hitting Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira in Double-A, and their scouts believe Teixeira is the best college hitter they've ever seen.

Rothschild may be sacrificed this week, although neither LaMar or Naimoli will imply that he was the problem, or that Rothschild ever stopped working his heart out. But the organization, from scouting to development, is in place and there are great young players on the horizon.

If the people who walk so proud and talk so loud and thought they were reinventing baseball in Arizona think Buck Showalter is the only reason the D-Backs are finishing with the sixth- or seventh-best record in the National League, then reality may not seep in until 2003. By then they may be wishing they'd given Joe Garagiola the kind of authority LaMar has and that they had been more like the Devil Rays.

Yankees' struggles open up AL playoffs
The late crash of the Yankees pitching -- made even more ugly because of the ineffectiveness of their Columbus graduates and the struggles of Jason Grimsley -- and the questions about Mike Sirotka's elbow make the American League playoffs as open as the National League; if Sirotka has serious tendon problems, it is very bad news.

"If Cleveland could get through the crack and get into this thing, they could get to the World Series despite their bullpen problems," says a rival GM. The Yankees seemed a lock three weeks ago, but now the injury to Roger Clemens' thigh makes them less invincible, as does Denny Neagle's collapse, the middle relief problems, no RBI from Scott Brosius since September 10, no run scored from Paul O'Neill since September 12 and the infield uncertainty.

Can the Yankees turn it back on? Of course, especially if Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez pitch well, because that's still the best top three in the playoffs. It may be that Joe Torre uses Chuck Knoblauch as DH and a Jose Vizcaino/Luis Sojo platoon at second, as he seems to have tired of the all-or-nothing strikeouts from Jose Canseco.

If the Yankees are knocked out early, it will be interesting to see how Steinbrenner reacts. If he feels he must upgrade offensively, then his two veteran driving wheels, O'Neill and Tino Martinez, would seem the most likely to be sacrificed to sign Manny Ramirez or trade for a Mo Vaughn (a popular choice, but not a Yankee Stadium hitter). Several GMs believe Manny will be a Yankee, for what it's worth. If Cleveland is on the outside looking in for the playoffs, then New York's experience still means something; their roster has been through 288 clinches, as calculated by Buster Olney of the New York Times, with David Cone, O'Neill and Mike Stanton going through 16 apiece.

Vaughn, who has been overshadowed by Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus and Garret Anderson, clearly misses the safety net of Fenway Park's wall, for his swing is completely different from the one that hit between .300 and .337 his last five years in Boston. Vaughn said this week that he wants to meet with Angels president Tony Tavarez and GM Bill Stoneman this week to discuss what direction the club is going and which pitchers he thinks they should add. If he's not happy with the answers he said he would be open to a deal.

News and notes

  • Juan Gonzalez has assured agent Fernando Cusa that the bulging discs in his back are not serious. "He doesn't think it will be any problem," says Cusa. "But we haven't yet discussed what we'll do as far as free agency is concerned. Juan doesn't think he did anything but aggravate a pre-existing condition and his usual winter workouts should alleviate the problem, but we'll talk it over when the season is over." ... Cusa also has to sit down with Ramon Martinez, who pitched well at times and not so well at times for the Red Sox; his ERA ended up 6.13 and he averaged less than five innings a start. Boston has an $8 million option for next season, but Ramon believes his arm strength was getting close to its old self near the end of the season, although he struggled with his command, and there may be a way for Duquette to restructure the contract

  • There seems to be some mystery surrounding the future of Tom Kelly and Terry Ryan in Minnesota, compounded by Carl Pohlad's loyalty. CEO Chris Clouser would like each replaced, and the interest in Paul Molitor as manager from other teams (Seattle? Toronto?) makes him more attractive to Clouser. ... The Cubs have to decide whether or not to pay Ricky Gutierrez his $3.4 million option for next season, or the talented shortstop hits the market. Gutierrez is a big clubhouse guy who was sorely missed in Houston this season. ... Carlos Tosca, the Diamondbacks bench coach, reportedly is a strong candidate for the Arizona managing job. He has been overdue for an opportunity. ... The Yankees were set on doing a $9 million-a-year deal with Denny Neagle. His 7-7, 5.68 record with New York may have cooled that.

  • Go back to the heralded pennant-race deals. Charles Johnson, David Justice, Dante Bichette and Jim Mecir did exactly what they were acquired to do. But Neagle, Andy Ashby, Curt Schilling and Rolando Arrojo all had good and bad moments; in fact, Arrojo (who is 5-2 with Boston) may have pitched better than Neagle. ... The Dodgers have made it clear they desperately want to re-sign Darren Dreifort, who after an up-and-down career has pitched well down the stretch and has ungodly stuff -- that 87-88 mph slurve is one of a kind. But once Dreifort gets his $45 million for five years, what does that mean for Chan Ho Park, who's a better pitcher and as a fifth-year player eligible for arbitration can use free agents for salary comparison? Forget holding that payroll under $100 million.

  • When the time comes, if the Indians cannot re-sign Ramirez, they have to make a decision: Do they go for a Gonzalez or try to trade for a bat, or do they rebuild the lineup, sign Mike Mussina and change their focus to pitching and defense? With Bartolo Colon, they have a 1A starter for years to come, and their Triple-A starting staff next season should portend well for July -- C.C. Sabathia, Danys Baez (who threw very well in the Instructional League before going to Arizona), Jake Westbrook, Tim Drew and Jim Brower. A reliever to follow in Arizona is 6-7 lefty Roy Padilla, drafted two winters ago out of the Boston organization. He was clocked at 100 mph in the Eastern League, he terrorizes left-handed batters and could be a situational guy down the stretch next year if he improves. Next to former big leaguer Bill Campbell, Padilla is the greatest BP shagger you'll ever see.

  • Richie Hebner was in uniform when Three Rivers opened, as a player, and when it closes, as a September coach. He was there when Forbes Field closed. "Some guys close bars," says Hebner. "I close ballparks." Hebner belongs in the big leagues. ... One very encouraging sign for the Padres down the stretch: Matt Clement is not only throwing his running, sinking fastball in the 93-95 range, but he's starting to get his changeup over the plate. If he can throw 15 good changes a game, he can star. ... Marlins players really believe Charles Johnson will go back there as a free agent.

  • There are so many wild stories about what's going to happen to the Expos as they try to succeed as silent actors in Montreal. The rumor that Felipe Alou getting traded is a wild one, although owner Jeffrey Loria and Jeff Torborg do have a close and respectful relationship. Loria's enthusiastic assistant Mike Berger brought in his longtime friend and donut shop partner Tony LaCava as farm director; LaCava was a highly respected scout for the Braves. One player likely to be marketed is Dustin Hermanson, and they have to decide whether or not to pick up the option on Ugueth Urbina or trade him.

  • Colorado is close to signing Todd Hollandsworth away from the free-agent market, as Hollandsworth has not only hit, but he's shown to be a far better defensive center fielder than many realized. Hollandsworth and Brian Bohanon are good friends with Dreifort, who lives in Wichita, so if the Dodgers don't get the talented right-hander signed, Colorado is a potential destination. Ditto the Cubs. ... Very bad news for the Braves: When B.J. Surhoff pinch-hit and grounded out Friday night, he could barely run to first base.

    The next A's?

  • If there are assurances that Urbina is healthy, he will have a big market. The Phillies, Royals, Indians, Blue Jays and several teams talk wistfully about rebuilding their bullpens, but that is easier said than done. The free-agent market includes John Wetteland, Jeff Nelson, Rod Beck, Rick Aguilera, Turk Wendell, Tom Gordon, Ricky Bottalico, Hector Carrasco, Rheal Cormier and Jose Mesa, presuming the options on Curtis Leskanic and Paul Quantrill are picked up.
  • An informal poll of several AL GMs asked this question: "Is there any team that could be next year's Oakland?"

    In almost every case, the answer was "Kansas City."

    They have developed a pretty good starting rotation the last six weeks, with Dan Reichert, Blake Stein (who's starting to get it), Jeff Suppan and Brian Meadows joining Jose Rosado, presuming he comes back to his All-Star form. They are happy with Kris Wilson and would like to re-sign Bottalico and have Shawn Sonnier (2.25 ERA, 64 IP, 41 H, 23 BB, 90 K) coming out of the minors.

    They can mash, and if GM Allard Baird can find a catcher, they have a very good team. That is ... if they can afford it. Baird is trying to extend Johnny Damon, Mike Sweeney and Jermaine Dye, but whether or not David Glass' payroll will allow it is another story. Damon is a fifth-year arbitration case and has indicated he'd like to stay with the Royals, but at what price? "I look at players and look at three things," says Baird, "ability, character and durability. Johnny fits all three counts, so we're going to try our best."

    Bring on the lefties!
    The value of left-handed starting pitching is obvious, and don't drool when you watch Barry Zito and Rick Ankiel. Major-league teams are nearly 100 games over .500 when starting lefties. The lack of left-handed pitching clearly hurt the Devil Rays, Padres, Royals, Tigers and Orioles. The White Sox are 42-25 with lefties starting, the Mets have won 54 games started by lefties and Arizona 46, reasons Chicago and New York are so good and why Arizona can return to the highlife as long as Randy Johnson and Brian Anderson are around Curt Schilling.

    Calling around, here are some suggestions of left-handed starters who can take off next year: Pittsburgh's Jimmy Anderson, if he gets a defense behind him; Anaheim's Scott Schoeneweis, once he gets a changeup to go with the best groundball/flyball ratio in the AL; Baltimore's John Parrish; the Cubs' Joey Nation; Minnesota's Johan Santana, especially if he gets a couple of months in the minors. A lot of people still like the Yankees' Randy Keisler and Mark Buehrle of the White Sox.

    Everyone knows about Sabathia, Seattle's Ryan Anderson and Kansas City's Chris George, potential front-line starters. Scouts offered a few more names on the rise: Montreal's Josh Girdley, Atlanta's Horacio Ramirez, K.C.'s Mike Stodolka. And others still have hopes for Seay, Arizona's Nick Bierbrodt and Florida's Geoff Goetz.

    But there is one hugely overrated factor -- benching left-handed batters against left-handed pitchers. Many lefty pitchers are better against right-handed batters, especially the inferior right-handers many end up seeing. Jimy Williams drove Red Sox fans crazy by not letting Trot Nixon hit against lefties. Check this list of left-handed batters who through Wednesday had at least 150 at-bats against left-handed pitchers: Damon, O'Neill, Jason Giambi, Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff were all benched against lefties at some point in their careers.

    Lefty hitters vs. lefty pitchers (min. 150 at-bats)

    Player                    AB   H   AVG
    Johnny Damon, K.C.       166  59  .355
    Paul O'Neill, N.Y.       153  54  .353
    Darin Erstad, Ana.       205  69  .337
    Garret Anderson, Ana.    185  61  .330
    Carlos Delgado, Tor.     181  59  .326
    Jason Giambi, Oak.       168  53  .315
    Matt Lawton, Min.        162  48  .296
    Tino Martinez, N.Y.      168  48  .286
    Steve Finley, Ari.       156  43  .276
    Fred McGriff, Tam.       157  43  .274
    Jim Edmonds, Stl.        150  41  .273
    Ben Grieve, Oak.         184  50  .272
    Ken Griffey Jr., Cin.    152  40  .263
    Shawn Green, L.A.        178  46  .258
    Bobby Higginson, Det.    176  45  .256
    Terrence Long, Oak.      161  41  .255
    Luis Gonzalez, Ari.      175  44  .251
    Jeromy Burnitz, Mil.     158  38  .241
    Mo Vaughn, Ana.          187  38  .203

    Now, there are some left-handed pitchers who bury lefties, and sometimes -- as is the case with Al Leiter -- that is learned. Here are the best:

    Left-handed pitchers vs. left-handed hitters (min. 20 at-bats)

    Pitcher                HR   SLG   AVG
    Al Leiter, N.Y.         3  .235  .118
    Mike Myers, Col.        1  .200  .121
    Greg Swindell, Ari.     2  .236  .160
    Kelly Wunsch, Chi.      1  .248  .168
    Doug Creek, Tam.        1  .256  .174
    Felix Heredia, Chi.     2  .333  .179
    B.J. Ryan, Bal.         1  .291  .182
    Dennys Reyes, Cin.      2  .310  .183
    Vic Darensbourg, Fla.   2  .321  .192
    Brian Bohanon, Col.     5  .337  .196
    Gabe White, Col.        4  .343  .196
    Armando Almanza, Fla.   1  .333  .197
    Buddy Groom, Bal.       2  .282  .200
    John Rocker, Atl.       1  .286  .200
    Ray King, Mil.          1  .306  .204
    Randy Johnson, Ari.     0  .232  .207

    The midway point for all left-handed pitchers against left-handed batter -- taking everyone with 20 or more plate appearances -- is .250. Among those pitchers who fared worse against lefties:

    Pitcher                HR   SLG   AVG
    Jamie Moyer, Sea.       5  .450  .281
    Mark Redman, Min.       5  .450  .282
    Jeff Wallace, Pit.      3  .490  .286
    Mike Magnante, Oak.     2  .397  .288
    Denny Neagle, N.Y.      8  .472  .289
    Terry Mulholland, Atl.  2  .388  .293
    Scott Schoeneweis, Ana. 4  .399  .294
    Omar Daal, Phi.         6  .496  .298
    Glendon Rusch. N.Y.     3  .411  .304
    Jimmy Anderson, Pit.    5  .500  .305
    Jim Parque, Chi.        5  .449  .308
    Dennis Cook, N.Y.       3  .460  .310
    Kenny Rogers, Tex.      5  .512  .316
    Mike Sirotka, Chi.      7  .486  .318
    Billy Wagner, Hou.      3  .679  .321
    Matt Perisho, Tex.      4  .468  .324
    Doug Davis, Tex.        4  .506  .325
    Mike Stanton, N.Y.      3  .508  .339
    John Halama, Sea.       4  .506  .340
    Mark Mulder, Oak.       4  .523  .368

    The moral of the story is that kneejerk platooning is overrated.

  • Gammons: 2000 column archive

    Apolitical blues
 Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
    Copyright ©2000 ESPN Internet Ventures. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site.