Clubs are staying course with managers
Season has seen only one skipper change across big leagues
Most observers were surprised when the Phillies replaced longtime manager Charlie Manuel with third-base coach Ryne Sandberg on Aug. 16. Sure, the team had lost 19 of 23 games. Sure, Manuel was in the last year of his contract. Still, the consensus was that the winningest manager in franchise history would at least finish out the schedule.
Here's something that was even more shocking: With six weeks and change remaining in the regular season, that was the first Major League managerial change this year.
Getting through an entire season without having a single manager dismissed is, as former Eagles coach Joe Kuharich is supposed to have said about trading quarterbacks, rare but not unusual. It happened in 2006, when seven skippers were let go shortly after the final game was played. It happened in 2000, when five teams made changes in the subsequent offseason.
At the other extreme, in 2002, 13 teams made a staggering 19 managerial changes. Seven of them came while the schedule was still being played out. As recently as 2010, a dozen teams made 14 switches, six of them during the season, although that includes Atlanta's Bobby Cox, Toronto's Cito Gaston and Joe Torre of the Dodgers, all of whom retired.
Since the first year of the new millennium, an average of slightly more than seven teams per year have made a change, with an average of 3.7 of them coming while the clubs were still playing.
In 2012, however, only the Indians (Manny Acta) and Astros (Brad Mills) made midseason switches. So far this year, there has been only the one, although there are certain to be others after the season, including the Nationals, who announced before the year began that Davey Johnson would transition into a consultant's role for '14.
Still, that's not a lot of turnover for such a historically volatile position.
That's baseball, suggested Dave Dombrowski, the president, CEO and general manager of the Tigers, whose manager, Jim Leyland, has been on the job since 2006.
"Sometimes it's cyclical," Dombrowski said. "It seems like [this is] a year where there are a lot of clubs still in contention for a Wild Card. The few clubs that you would look at and say are not very good in the standings, some of them may have anticipated being that way. Or at least, as the year has progressed, have made moves to think toward their future rather than this year.
"So I would think that's probably a main reason. If you picked out teams that are disappointing -- and that's not for me to decide -- it's one of those years where for one reason or another they have managers they like and think have done a good job for them. I think it's just one of those years."
One possible influence is the addition of a second Wild Card berth in each league last season, meaning more teams are in playoff contention later into the season.
No one understands how random managerial changes can be more than Pat Corrales. Now a special assistant to Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, Corrales was dismissed as Phillies manager in July 1983 -- when the team was tied for first place in the division.
Asked why the number of managerial changes varies from year to year, he shrugged.
"I can't answer that question. I really don't know," Corrales said. "In my case, when I got fired, I knew it was coming. You can sense it. But this is what I chose as a profession. It's going to have its ups, and it's going to have its downs. So you learn to roll with it."
Coincidentally, many thought the Dodgers would be the first club to make a change. When Los Angeles entered June in the National League West cellar, 7 1/2 games out of first, there was fevered speculation that Don Mattingly would be replaced. Instead, the Dodgers stayed the course and went on one of the hottest runs in baseball history. They'll open a series with the Red Sox on Friday with a 9 1/2-game lead on the second-place D-backs and the second-best record in baseball.
It's possible that sent a message to other teams considering a move that standing pat is sometimes the wiser choice.
"I don't know about that," Corrales said. "A lot of people really exaggerated that because we knew a lot had to do with the injuries. Matt Kemp. [Hanley] Ramirez. I mean, those are two of the best players we have. But this team has learned to function without them. I mean, we'd like to have both of them. But the [Skip] Schumakers and the [Nick] Puntos have really surfaced and done a good job for us.
"You've got to play your game and stick with it. You can't go from one extreme to the other. Donnie is really a good human being, plus being a good baseball guy."
Here's one more wrinkle. Had the conversation between Manuel and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gone differently, there may not yet have been any managerial changes this season. According to reports, it started when Amaro told Manuel that the team planned on going in a different direction at the end of the season. It was only when Manuel expressed his discomfort with that arrangement that the decision was made to promote Sandberg immediately.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.