Seems like the managers of all the National League East have been in the news lately. (That is to say, all of them, pretty much, except Terry Collins, who is noteworthy for having accomplished the feat of overseeing a major sports team in New York City and remaining entirely invisible. Quick-hit simile: Terry Collins is like Mr. Cellophane.) Here are a few of those individuals and other stuff to which they’re kind of similar:
Jim Riggleman is like Derek Bell.
The Common Man covered this in a more erudite fashion yesterday, but what Riggleman’s shocking and drastic departure from the Nats reminded me of most was former big-league outfielder Derek Bell and “Operation Shutdown.” In Spring Training 2002, Bell was incensed upon learning that he’d be competing for a job in the Pirates’ outfield, saying this to the media:
Nobody told me I was in competition. If there is competition, somebody better let me know. If there is competition, they better eliminate me out of the race and go ahead and do what they’re going to do with me. I ain’t never hit in spring training and I never will. If it ain’t settled with me out there, then they can trade me. I ain’t going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is [a competition], then I’m going into ‘Operation Shutdown.’ Tell them exactly what I said. I haven’t competed for a job since 1991.
And he followed through, storming out about ten days later (he was released two days after that), and he never played in the majors again.
The thing that made it so utterly ridiculous, though, was that Bell had not even the tiniest hint of a leg to stand on. After a very solid year (the only one of his career) in 1998, Bell had put up a .241/.323/.376 line (78 OPS+) 318 games over the three seasons since — absolutely dreadful numbers for a corner outfielder — culminating in a .173/.287/.288 line (and -1.1 WAR) in just 46 games with the Pirates in 2001. That he was even in consideration for a starting job said a lot more about the state of the Pirates in those days (they went on to go 72-89 in 2002 and employed as outfielders Brian Giles and a bunch of AAA guys) than it does about Bell’s abilities.
Riggleman basically pulled the grown-up version of Operation Shutdown on Thursday, when he abruptly resigned in frustration over Mike Rizzo’s failure to pick up Riggleman’s 2013 option. He was reportedly upset that the option wasn’t picked up last season, after which his record at the Nationals’ helm stood at 92-135. They’d started out 38-37 in 2011, thanks to Mike Morse and some very good starting pitching, but the fact remains that Riggleman is just not a particularly good manager. He’s the kind of guy you bring in when you’re at the point in your organizational development at which it doesn’t really matter who you bring in, as long as he’s not going to do anything to wreck the young guys. Riggleman seems to have seriously overestimated his place in the world, just like Bell did back in ’02.
Jack McKeon is like Joe Gibbs.
It’s way too easy to make age jokes about Jack McKeon, and that’s why I avoided it just then, but what can’t be avoided is that his age has the potential to present a real, significant problem in his ability to manage the Marlins at this point. It’s a strenuous, stressful job, and there’s a reason that no one has tried to do it at his age since Connie Mack (and it might be worth a mention that in his age 80 through 87 seasons, Mack’s Athletics went 517-711).
It’s just true, at least sometimes, that you can’t go home again. McKeon probably did a fine job in his first go-round with the Marlins — especially his 2003 World Championship run — but there were age jokes being told about him then, and that was eight years ago. And the team he’s taking over, while talented, isn’t on par with the Phillies or Braves. He’s just not set up for a lot of success here.
When Joe Gibbs came back to the Washington [NFL team that shall not be named] after twelve full years out of the game, in 2004, he was hailed as a returning hero and savior. In his four years there, the team went 30-34. They made the playoffs twice, but overall were very, very mediocre, the magic from his initial twelve-year run at the head of the team (from 1981-1992) gone completely. Gibbs wasn’t nearly McKeon’s age when he returned to Washington (just 63, seventeen years younger), but having spent twelve years racing cars rather than working in football, the game had more or less just passed him by.
That’s about the best I can see McKeon’s second tenure with the Marlins ending up. Puzzling decision, bringing a guy like this back right now.
Charlie Manuel is like your beloved great-uncle.
Now the age quip? Yeah. He’s 67, and he looks about McKeon’s age, and he just has this unbelievable grandfatherly quality about him. He does and says incredibly silly things sometimes, like the time last year when he picked Ryan Howard for the All-Star roster over the probable half-season MVP Joey Votto, saying simply “he’s my guy,” or how it took him forever to put Ryan Madson in the closer role and just leave him there, long after it had become clear that he was their best pitcher, or how he keeps batting Jimmy Rollins in the top three even though (while he’s still a useful player) his bat can’t justify it anymore.
And, so, maybe your great uncle (or grandfather, or whatever) told a slightly racist joke once, or complained about the music you like or something, but you love him anyway. But Charlie seems kind and good-natured and is always good for a funny quote, so it’s impossible (for me, anyway) not to like the guy. It helps that I don’t particularly care about the Phillies’ fortunes, so their having a tactically strong manager is of no importance at all to me, but either way, I really like Charlie, even though he makes me mad sometimes, and I hope he stays around for a very long time.