Boston managerial job jewel of three vacancies
Two weeks into an already peculiar and potentially compelling offseason, and neither the usual nor unusual suspects have been mentioned as candidates for all three vacated big league managing positions.
Not one has that luxury. Or the leverage. But suppose Cito Gaston developed buyer's remorse after settling on retirement, or that Tom Kelly or Jim Riggleman wanted back in a dugout. Which of three dugouts would be most appealing? Into which on-deck circle might Phil Garner toss his cap if he were at all inclined to remove his lid and toss it?
This equation has three cities, three storied franchises and three decidedly different sets of circumstances tied to the three vacancies. The Back Bay, the Gateway or the North Side? Fenway, Busch III or Wrigley? Why Fenway, of course! An argument can't really exist here, can it? This isn't Willie, Mickey or the Duke. This is Fenway or the highway.
All right, so the manager's office is a tad cozy there, and the flooring of the walkway that connects the clubhouse and the dugout is known to have spawned bacteria as yet unidentified by the Centers for Disease Control. Fenway Park has charm regardless, and more history than you can shake a Splendid Splinter at.
Saloons galore surround the place where Mr. Theodore Ballgame played, in case interaction with the great unwashed is a preferred postgame activity for the manager. And they're open late enough that a few brews can be tipped even if the Saux and Yankees have staged one of their typically tidy, take-two marathons.
The working environment shouldn't be a concern for any candidate. The last guy worked in the Back Bay for eight years and enjoyed all but about a month of his tenure. It certainly wasn't the physical surroundings that soured him.
Now, not to disparage the other two clubs with vacant managerial positions that do business by Lake Michigan and the Mighty Mississip, but the Red Sox offer what neither the Cubs nor the Cardinals can -- East Coast baseball. There's nothing better. It's rich with roots as deep as a Jimmie Foxx home run. It's a hotbed for the game with the Yankees, the Phillies, the Red Sox and (sometimes) even the Mets all within a few Dwight Evans throws of each other. It may not be what it once was when Beantown and Philly had two teams each, and The Apple had three. But it's still good, and quite intense. You can find a good baseball debate on any street corner and, goodness knows, the East Coast has street corners.
Of course, with Olympic Stadium in Montreal and RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., removed from the Major League landscape, surroundings no longer constitute a primary consideration for potential managers. It's about winning or the potential to succeed, and in no other area do the Red Sox have so great an advantage over the Cubs and Cardinals. No matter what magic Theo Epstein may have brought with him to Chicago, it is unlikely to manifest in one season or even three. As colleague Mike Bauman noted the other day, the position of Cubs manager will be much more appealing and more likely to find success after Epstein has discarded his first managerial hire.
The manager who does for Chicago what Terry Francona did for Boston -- Reverse the Curse -- will be canonized. That makes the Cubs' position attractive. But the Cubs aren't remotely close to winning now.
The Cardinals are quite close whether they look behind or ahead, so long as Albert Pujols re-signs with them. Without him, the challenge of defusing their batting order would be quite diminished. Moreover, replacing Tony La Russa won't be without its obstacles for the new man. The first time La Russa's successor doesn't summon three relievers in a nothing-across clean seventh, his credentials, manhood, politics and choice of socks might be questioned.
Managing in St. Louis isn't scrutinized as it is in Boston, Philly and New York. But it's not nearly as angst-free as some suggest. The St. Louis market has been spoiled. And if Pujols is back and Adam Wainwright is right for 2012, expectations quickly will climb to the unreasonable level. Moreover, what's left on the Cardinals' to-do list after their unlikely ascent last month? If they're 10 1/2 games behind next August, chances are they'll be 15 1/2 out next September even with Pujols, Wainwright -- and La Russa.
What manager would welcome that potential mine field?
The Red Sox have issues as well, but money can make issues disappear like lifting the top page of a Magic Slate board. And the Sox have shown a willingness -- no, a need -- to spend. David Ortiz is likely to return if only because his value is greater to Boston than to any other club. And if Jonathan Papelbon's next opportunity to close involves a door and the Red Sox's face ... well, most regular-season saves come cheap anyway.
The expectations in New England can be a burden, but at least those prickly Vermonters don't waste their cell minutes on talk radio shows their radios can't receive. Besides, all the new man will have to do to avoid criticism is revise the in-game menu, dilute the clubhouse drinks and stay closer to the Yankees than the Red Sox did in September. It might suffice if the Sox merely finish with a better record than those wretched money mongers to their South whose strategies in player development and procurement they have copied. And the Red Sox, like the Evil Empire, pay well. Indeed, in Boston you get paid for what you probably do of your own volition -- hate the Yankees.
Can there be a better opening to fill?
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.