Unprecedented pressure for GMs
World of instant gratification puts respected names on hot seat
On the morning of May 19, 2007, the Yankees were 18-23 and 11 games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. The Mets were 28-14, up 2 1/2 games in the National League East. They were playing one another on the ESPN Sunday night game, and right about 9 a.m. ET, my phone rang.
It was Omar Minaya.
"This isn't right what they're doing to Brian Cashman," said Minaya, the general manager of the Mets. "I hope you'll set the record straight. He's a terrific general manager whose team is beaten up. But they'll be fine. And Cash is not being fired."
There had been columns in the New York papers suggesting that Cashman's job might be in jeopardy and that then-Yankees manager Joe Torre had passed his prime and someone had to pay for the plight of the team -- especially in comparison to the high-flying Mets, who'd won the first two games of the Subway Series.
How ironic. Cashman has a World Series ring and this week has watched his Yankees on a teeter-totter with the Rays for the best record in the AL. On the other hand, Minaya has endured speculation about his job security despite an absurd number of key injuries to, among others, the Mets' best pitcher and three of their four best position players.
Bobby Knight once said, "If you listen to the guys up in the stands, pretty soon you'll be sitting up there with them." But this season, it seems it's crazier than ever.
It was less than four years ago that Minaya and Cashman were trains seemingly leaving either way. It was at this time last year that Jack Zduriencik was being hailed for restoring the Seattle Mariners to their Pat Gillick days, and now he's in a fight for his job and had to fire a trusted lieutenant, partially because of the team's performance, partially because of the past of a pitcher they acquired from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal named Josh Lueke, a pitcher with a huge arm who had a past indiscretion but had turned his life around to the point where the Rangers still want him back.
Josh Byrnes was dismissed as general manager in Arizona in June, and we still don't know if his replacement, Jerry DiPoto, will keep his job or if the D-backs will turn elsewhere, perhaps, Kevin Towers. There are rumors that even though Neal Huntington has followed the development plan laid out for him when he became GM of the Pirates he could be sacrificed for public perception.
The managerial situation is so crazy that at one point on Thursday, one general manager said, "I've heard so many crazy rumors that another general manager told me he'd heard Joe Torre could end up with the Cardinals, Tony La Russa with the White Sox, Ozzie Guillen with the Marlins, Dusty Baker with the Dodgers and Bobby Valentine with the Mets or Mariners."
We know Fredi Gonzalez, Don Wakamatsu, Trey Hillman and Dave Trembley were dismissed during this season. Lou Piniella retired midseason to give the Cubs a chance to begin the search for his successor. Bobby Cox and Cito Gaston are retiring. There are rumors that Jerry Manuel, Ken Macha and John Russell could lose their jobs. Hey, La Russa, Torre and Baker haven't had their jobs settled.
"It's very different today," said one NL GM. "There is little perspective, little understanding of the impact of injuries. Sure, the money that big markets spend in the offseason builds expectations that are difficult to fulfill. Owners have to fill seats, and sometimes that leads to sacrificing managers and general managers.
"But there's a huge wing of the media that essentially have become talk-show callers. Between bloggers and talk radio and the lack of accountability, the everyday pressure in a game of 162 todays is crazier than ever."
There have been cries for Ken Williams' scalp in Chicago, despite his history and the only World Series championship in Chicago since the Wilson Administration. Hey, he went for it down four games to the Twins on Aug. 31, and Manny Ramirez hasn't had an extra-base hit or RBI, and injuries have set back Gordon Beckham and the bullpen.
There was a column on one blogosphere suggesting that Theo Epstein should be fired for failing to make the playoffs for the second time in his eight-year tenure; never mind that Boston has been savaged by injuries costing the club three-quarters of what might have been the best front four of any lineup in the league, he should have found a middle reliever at the Trade Deadline according to those who wished he'd traded Jon Lester for Johan Santana and Clay Buchholz for any big name.
It may be that in this era of immediate gratification that Billy Beane has it right. He may get criticized for his outside interests in soccer, music, politics and USC football, but he gets away from it. He is more interested in Manchester United than who's been dismissed from what job.
That may be what it takes in a business that fewer than four years ago had Omar Minaya defending Brian Cashman because Cashman was on the media firing line for being 11 games behind the Red Sox in the middle of May.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.