Posting here about the Mariners’ firing of manager Don Wakamatsu is about as far away from the ears of anybody who cares or has sway in the situation as one can get. I guess I could write my thoughts on a post-it note and stick it on a bathroom stall, but WordPress is closer than the bathroom.
In short: the Mariners have a poorly constructed roster, and the bright spots are by and large underperforming. There have been questions all year about certain players’ respect for Wakamatsu, or their willingness to play hard for him. Firing the manager is the traditional baseball scapegoating for a miserable season. But I can’t help thinking that without holding the players responsible for their lousy play, it sends the message that the players are more important than the manager. And if the next manager benches them, or does something they don’t like, they can grouse and get him fired, too.
It’s trendy in some baseball analysis circles to dismiss chemistry as a byproduct of winning, and to ignore psychological theories explaining underperformance and focus on definable characteristics like inability to hit a curveball. But I think too little effort has been put into the idea of letting a manager establish himself in a dugout for several seasons. Baseball players are not generally the coddled crybabies that NFL players are, but they are still million-dollar athletes who have spent most of their lives being told they’re terrific.
Great managers like Torre, Cox, Scioscia and La Russa are great in part because they are the senior man in the dugout. They command the respect of their players because management gave them time to establish themselves. Would Figgins, or John Lackey, have barked at Mike Scioscia in the dugout? Maybe not, and if he did, Scioscia would have the credibility to play the disciplinarian because his track record is longer than that specific roster. Wakamatsu was an unproven manager but had great success his first season. Now we’ll never know if he could have found success here, because GM Zduriencik showed less patience with his manager than he did with the roster he built.
On this subject, here is a great little post at Fangraphs about the inconsistency with which teams seem to judge managers.