In each of their two current pieces on the subject, the Toronto Star has a poll up about what the fate of John Gibbons should be. The one in Cathal Kelly’s evenhanded piece, in which he states emphatically that “in every instance, the specific fault for each incremental failure that led to this long slog into mediocrity lies with the roster,” is buried at the bottom. The one in Damien Cox’s puddle of goo is practically front and centre– at the end of his sharted out rant, but in the middle of a bigger pile of ramblings on a number of topics.
Not that I’m suggesting placement has all that much to do with it, but at the time of this writing, Star readers are about 82% in favour of Gibby being shitcanned.
This is, of course, incredibly dumb, and rests on foundation of assumptions that crumble easily with a nanosecond of thought, but which are so ingrained that people will defend them like you’re questioning the existence of God– which, given what they seem to think about a manager’s magical powers, you essentially are.
“Nobody could fairly blame Gibbons for all that has gone wrong,” Cox fully admits.
“At the same time,” he continues, “he’s hardly come in and re-set the table or established a new winning culture.”
Well, then, I guess he’s dogshit, because he hasn’t met some magical expectation that I’ve created for him in hindsight in order to mask the fact that I can’t be bothered to challenge the hopelessly dumb idea that all the injuries and underperformances that sank this year’s club somehow lead back to the manager’s office, and whatever establishment of a winning culture he totally cocked up by not sufficiently filling Josh Johnson or Brandon Morrow or R.A. Dickey with the kind of winning mentality that only winning winners win with (and would have prevented them all from getting hurt to varying degrees, apparently).
Do this many people seriously not realize how incredibly ridiculous this all sounds? The equivalent of a middle management drone, who takes a paycheque home that’s in the same ballpark as the greenest rookie on the club, is there to be some kind of winning culture-establishing spirit animal??? And when players don’t perform and the team isn’t very good it’s not at all his fault, but he needs to be fired anyway because we need to keep trying out different pairs of socks before we find out which ones are the lucky ones???
Don’t get me wrong, managers aren’t so nonessential that any old asshole could do what they do. They need to run a bullpen, they need to strategize in-game– two things that Gibbons does particularly well. And yes, there is certainly an element to what they do that involves creating a positive work environment, too, even if the on-field impact of that sort of thing can only plausibly believed to be marginal, no matter how badly some folks feel the need to pretend otherwise. As I’ve said many times, there are just too many other forces– natural born competitiveness and the drive to maximize earnings– and factors– like the weeding out on the way to the Majors of players who can’t handle pressure or respond negatively on the field to having teammates or managers they don’t like– to hold a manager and his magical culture-creation abilities in anything close to the regard that we do when it comes to that stuff, even as we bizarrely acknowledge the unfairness of how we do so, and completely ignore the chicken-and-egg nature of any of this kind of talk.
Do winning cultures produce winners, or do winning teams produce winning cultures?
The answer actually would seem pretty bloody obvious if people could just be bothered to look in front of their noses and see it. The Rays didn’t make the playoffs in 2012 or in 2009: did Joe Maddon suddenly get dumb or lose his magic, or is the world infinitely more fucking complex than this “the manager creates a winning culture and then the players go win” bullshit? Look at the last two NL Managers Of The Year– Davey Johnson and Kirk Gibson– who each watched their teams go tits up in the year following their award wins. How could that be??? How could Jimy Williams have been a manager of the year? How were Joe Torre and Terry Francona bad enough to be fired from their first gigs? How can Ron Gardenhire and Mike Scioscia win Manager Of The Year and in short time watch their teams fall apart? Or Bud Black, or Jim Tracy?
This isn’t difficult stuff. And yet we still get statements like this, from Dirk Hayhurst of Sportsnet, in a piece titled– of course– Fair or not, time for Gibbons to go:
Newly assembled free agent vets and stars can go through growing pains as they settle into their new roles. That raised a lot of questions. Who was going to be the new leader? Was Jose Bautista going to be upstaged by one of the many new stars? Would that create friction? Would the new egos gel together? Would they become the Miami Marlins of Toronto if managed by another wild-card personality like Ozzie Guillen?
Wouldn’t a better question than any of those be something like, “Wouldn’t this team have been miles better off if Brandon Morrow didn’t get hurt and Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey were remotely close to what they’d been in prior years?”
Of course it would have been. And while I’m not saying that there can’t be reasons to fire John Gibbons that can only be understood by those behind the scenes– or that might relate to pressures on the front office to offer him up as a scapegoat– what we can see from the results tells us nothing about his lack of fitness for the job, and certainly doesn’t say that seasons like this are bound to happen again as long as he’s in charge. And unfortunately for those who are desperate to see him gone, Alex Anthopoulos obviously believed that about his first tenure, too, or he would have never re-hired him in the first place.
At Baseball Prospectus today, Sam Miller makes an astute observation on Mike Scioscia and the Angels’ awful season, which I think applies nicely to the Gibbons situation:
Measuring manager contributions is tough. But the Angels are underperforming by about 20 wins or so this year. Unless you think managers are worth something close to 20 wins, then this isn’t all, or mostly, on him. Maybe some of it is, but good luck finding which some. And once you concede that most of the 20 wins aren’t his fault, and that the Angels are perfectly capable of underperforming by, say, 17 wins by chance and awfulness alone, then a) you must allow that for all we know they’re also capable of underperforming by 22 wins, and Scioscia has actually been worth wins this year and b) it stops mattering all that much, because somebody was going to get fired if this team won 79 games, too, and they dropped that far with or without whatever Scioscia was or was not worth.
The Angels, Miller’s piece notes, are expected to replace either their GM or their manager following this season, according to a tweet from Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, hence the talk about someone being fired regardless.
I have a very strong feeling it’s not going to happen here, though, and that the Jays are going to sell hard on their three-year vision and insist that most of what when wrong is completely unattributable to the manager. Why wouldn’t they? It’s the truth.
Just for curiosity’s sake, though, I want to know what you all think, and how DJF readers differ from those at the Star. So check out our Smokin’ Poll and weigh in!