Firing John Gibbons will most likely change nothing for the Blue Jays.
If you don’t already know this simple truth, then you are probably one of the fans out there who wants to be mad at something and you don’t really care what that something is. Yet, even if John Gibbons gets the axe, the chances that any ship-righting impact would stem from it are slim to none, with that “slim” being more coincidence than substance.
That’s not to say managers don’t have some modicum of impact. It’s simply that managers are so accessory to the crime of bad baseball that expecting their addition or subtraction to move the dial is folly.
Most managers perform the exact same functions with near identical information. In fact, most of what’s required in team management can be done from an Iphone app. Your Playstation offers more complex systems of interactions than most managers go through.
In a data saturated world like professional baseball, the nuts and bolts of putting players on the field almost takes care of itself, with match-up algorithms helping set rotations, switches, transactions, and contract amounts. The game spits out stat sheets so dense you’d think you were watching a team of financial analysts pick stocks, not “ball players”, and most of this info is condensed down to best case scenarios that the manager merely has to ratify into law via permanent marker stroke across a roster sheet.
That’s why Jeffery Loria can promote Dan Jennings, a guy with no professional playing experience—outside getting cut in low level spring training—to be the manager of his Marlins. Yes, it’s still crazy, but nowhere near as crazy as it would have been a decade or so ago, when casual fans still had allergic reactions to data based baseball decision making. But the reason it can work, and, well, will work (since it’s happening) is that managing who goes into what spot when, is now more algorithm than art, with the other coaches having more direct influence on skill building than the manager.
When Jennings goes out to the mound to take the ball from one of his pitcher’s hands during a game wherein said pitcher is fully invested… that’s a different story.
It’s hard to respect a guy who has no playing experience, and that could be a liability later on. Handling personnel, motivating people, keeping a work/life balance: that’s always been an art. And in baseball, that art has always been built on the rock of playing experience. You don’t take heartbreak advice from someone who’s never felt heartbreak, and you don’t take advice, direction, or critique about handling yourself in the bigs from a guy who has never played. For Christ sakes, rookie pecking order squabbles come down to matters of days and hours in MLB clubhouses. What, is Jennings going to have to carry the pink princess backpack out to the dugout?
More seriously, will he win any argument with an umpire? Another coach? A veteran player? Loria, when the time comes to take a stand?
Maybe, if his team wins. I mean, goes on a tear and eats the world. But did Jennings do that? And, if we talk about what a landmark decision this is in years to come, was it Jennings that made the results happen, good or bad?
Bottom line, playing experience totals and their linked respect function can be issues for managers. They are, however, not issues for John Gibbons, nor is the data access or scouting or iPhone apps he has at his disposal. Gibby’s team respects him, and why wouldn’t they? He’s got playing experience. He knows the lay of the land. He has everything he needs to manage…except a team that wins, which is still our ultimate gauge on whether a manager can actually manage.
Is that his fault?
Some of the best athletes in the game are under Gibby’s charge and they still flounder, fizzle, and flop. That’s because some of the best athletes in the game flounder, fizzle, and flop every year. They don’t put it together when they want to, when the manager wants them to, or, more importantly, when we want them to.
For lack of a better term, they suck.
But, don’t look now, this happens to lots of other teams too, with lots of other big league managers at the helm, some with more experience than Gibbons, and all of them with more experience than Jennings.
More big league playing experience. More fame. More analytical skills. More locker room meetings… at some point they are not better or useful, they are just more. And, sadly, ironically, pathetically, that point is very quickly reached. I could manage a big league team. Hell, Keith Olbermann could manage a big league team (he’s coached first base in a real professional game, folks = more experienced than Jennings). But would our players play for us? Would they make us look like heroes despite no experience, or idiots despite all the experience in the world? What we get credited for doing is all about what they end up doing.Because of this simple fact, being a manager can really suck.
So, again, why the push to fire Gibbons? For that matter, why the push to fire any manager that hasn’t done anything wrong besides get attached to a team that doesn’t win?
Because it makes sense to us.
When a business doesn’t perform, you fire the managers who are “responsible” for that talent, right? But putting guys on the field and making sure the media stays sated is not the same as being “responsible” for them. Instead, fire pitching coaches who spend much more time with the players than managers. Fire scouts who pick guys who can’t get it done at the top. Fire minor league cross-checkers that don’t know how to tell if a guy is ready to go up or not. Fire field coordinators who rush prospects to the top before they’re done baking. Fire the GM who put the whole damn crew together.
Oh yes, there are lots of people to fire. Lots of people who actually play a roll in a player’s ability to blossom—including the player. The manager is just one of them, and he’s not even the most significant guy on the list.