Thursday, April 25, 2002

Barry Bonds Among the Tents of the Achaeans

Last Thursday, the Milwaukee Brewers became the second team this young season to fire their manager. After two-plus years of futility, it’s probably no surprise that Davy Lopes got the axe, but he's hardly the only reason for the Brewers' woes. The fact is, Milwaukee faces a talent deficit of major proportions, and even the reanimated corpse of John McGraw wouldn’t be able to win with what Lopes has had to work with. Of course, when the guy who decides whether or not the manager gets canned -- Brewers’ GM Dean Taylor -- is the same guy responsible for bringing in talent, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s the manager who's going to be cleaning out his desk when things go south. It has always happened this way in baseball, and it probably always will.

Still, two firings and it's not even Secretaries’ Day yet. Normally I wouldn’t start my managerial dead pool until midseason, but since this year is shaping up as a bloodbath, I may as well get going now:

Go ahead and refinance, you’re not going anywhere:

Joe Torre (NYY), Grady Little (BOS), Charlie Manuel (CLE), Ron Gardenhire (MIN), Jerry Manuel (CHIW), Luis Pujols (DET), Lou Pinella (SEA), Mike Scioscia (ANA), Bobby Cox (ATL), Jeff Torborg (FLA), Jimy Williams (HOU), Tony LaRussa (STL), Bob Boone (CIN), Bob Brenly (ARI), Dusty Baker (SF), Jim Tracy (LA), Bruce Bochy (SD), Whoever the Hell follows Lopes (MIL).

Cox, Pinella, and LaRussa are all safe because (a) they have good teams that should be in the playoffs, and (b) even if something weird happens and they don’t make it, they don’t have bosses known for flying off the handle. Torre has four World Series rings and probably the best team of all, but he also works for Steinbrenner, and on the off chance the Yankees don't win, he could be in danger (not that the thought should be keeping him up nights). The rest of these guys are either new enough or have decent enough teams to make continued employment a relatively sure bet through the 2002 season. Well, except for Jeff Torborg, whose continued tenure as manager of the Expos/Marlins strongly suggests that he must have compromising pictures of owner Jeff Loria.

Dust off your resume just in case:

Buck Martinez (TOR), Art Howe (OAK), Jerry Narron (TEX), Larry Bowa (PHI), Bobby Valentine (NYM), Don Baylor (CHIC), Lloyd McClendon (PIT).

Martinez has a new boss who doesn't favor him. If he slips up once, he’s toast. The others are potential victims of the expectations game. Some, like Valentine and Howe, need to make the playoffs to be safe. Others, like Baylor and Bowa, preside over teams that are expected to continue improving. Either one could be out if his team even looks like it's starting to backslide (it doesn’t help that both of them have the rare ability to alienate star players). This is Narron’s first full season, but the ship he’s steering in Texas is mighty expensive, and Tom Hicks isn’t paying for a fourth place finish. McClendon is subject to lower expectations since his team is so bad and he’s only been on the job a year. But if the Pirates’ new stadium is three quarters empty in August, he could get axed too.

Dead men walking:

Hal McRae (TB), Mike Hargrove (BAL), Tony Muser (KC), Frank Robinson (MTL), Buddy Bell (COL).

Since he’s merely the MLB trustee for the soon to be liquidated or moved Expos, Frank Robinson doesn’t count. The rest of these guys are presiding over teams that look to be really stanky this year, and someone’s gonna have to pay.

So if you include Detroit and Milwaukee, we could have six firings by the end of the season -- a bit more than usual, but not at all impossible.

Good Faith Negotiations:

According to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, the owners’ most recent proposal to the players’ union included an item called a "Competitive Balance Tax." The idea is that teams would pay a 50 percent tax on payrolls above $98 million. But contrary to the impression given by the name of the tax, the proceeds would not go to the teams that Czar Bud Selig thinks are unable to compete with the Yankees of the world. Instead, the money would flow into a "Commissioner's Discretionary Pool." Will Bud distribute it among the owners? Will it go towards buying Selig some botox injections, which he appears to need desperately? I have no idea, but until the owners say what it would be used for, the players are likely to view it as nothing more than a giant burning pit where money that would otherwise go to them would disappear. Not exactly the sort of proposal the owners should be making if they really want to reach a compromise with the players.

Even more revealing of the owners’ motives is another one of their proposals: the implementation of "a mechanism through which clubs can secure the independent verification of offers purportedly made to free agents." -- in plain English, price-fixing. They were doing it informally in the mid-1980's, and got busted for collusion. Now they're at it again, but this time they're hiding their true intentions with lots of pious talk about preserving "competitive balance". Clearly their real goal is to lower player salaries. That’s fine; after all, it’s their negotiation. But just remember this when the owners claim that the coming strike is about the players’ greed and the owners’ efforts to protect the integrity of the game.

No Mulligans in Baseball:

It’s 2001 all over again in the AL West. Once again the A’s biggest competition -- the Mariners -- have roared out of the gate despite the absence of a superstar, and once again the A’s have stumbled in the early going despite being the better team on paper. Sixteen games in, and Oakland already finds itself four games back. Perhaps the A’s representatives should make their own proposal for the next labor agreement: the implementation of do-overs for April.

The Giants’ Achilles Hamstring:

I don’t know much about Barry Bonds’s upbringing, but rumor has it his mother dipped him into the River Styx as a child, rendering him invulnerable except at the hamstring by which she held him. [Ed's note: She held him by the hamstring?]

Now that Bonds has injured that hamstring , the outcome of the war against hated, er, Arizona, is in doubt for San Francisco. Luckily, the Giants have started quickly, so disaster may yet be averted if some Patroclus can be found to fight in Bonds’s armor in the event he has to go on the disabled list. That said, over the long run the Giants need Bonds to overcome the Hectors and Sarpedons of the NL West. If Bonds's injury proves too much for him, it will be the Giants dragged around the walls of Troy, while their women wail and beat their breasts in lamentation.

Hypocrisy Watch -- Yankees’ Fans:

As you probably know, New York Yankees fans booed Jason Giambi mercilessly on April 5th after he "failed" to earn his massive new contract in the first four games of the season. The booing was an example both of the ridiculous impatience of Yankees fans and the complete irrelevance of 16 at-bats over the course of a season. Since the boo-birds came out to sing, Giambi has been, well, Giambi, posting an on base percentage of .400+ and hitting three home runs. Eventually he’ll go on a tear and once again find himself atop the American League leader boards. Question: why do Yankees fans get so angry when they think you're denying the greatness of their team (a perception which usually stems from your failure to root for the Yankees as vigorously as they do) when they themselves are so damn fickle?