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Thursday, June 12, 2008
Updated: June 19, 1:43 PM ET
The life of a manager can be a whirlwind

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

A mere week and a half ago, Ozzie Guillen was viewed by most of North America as a turbocharged motormouth who was either trying to get himself fired or get half his lineup released. Now, seven wins and 66 runs later, he's a frigging genius.

A year ago this time, Charlie Manuel was viewed by the populace of the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area as some kind of bumblehead out of "My Name is Earl" who couldn't win a bingo game, let alone the NL East. Now, one historic comeback and one MVP benching later, he's the poster boy for making players hustle.

Friends, these twists of fate illustrate why you should not let your children grow up to be managers. Not unless they don't care that the public's estimate of their I.Q. can tumble by, like, 150 points within a year, a week or possibly even a single pitching change.

You could ask Ozzie Guillen or Charlie Manuel. But you could also call Willie Randolph, Ned Yost, Clint Hurdle, John McLaren or even Jim Leyland to the witness stand these days -- for slightly different reasons.

Has there ever been a year in which more of today's managerial masterminds were yesterday's managerial dunderheads -- or vice-versa? Hey, before you answer, "Yeah, every year," let's take a look at the most notable examples:

Ozzie Guillen

Guillen

Ozzie Guillen
When you hire Ozzie Guillen as your manager, you know the next few years are not going to be a time of peace, serenity and nonstop political correctness. And if Kenny Williams had any illusions about that, he says they were erased the second that "this guy got into an argument with me in his job interview."

So it's never easy to assess the impact of any classic Ozzie diatribe. Even this most recent one. No matter how many games the White Sox have won since. So we asked Guillen's GM how much of his team's first 7-0 home stand in 25 years he thought could be attributed to his manager's verbiage. And here was Williams' answer: "Zero."

"Our guys are not affected by any of this," Williams said. "This is just [another] day at the park for them. 'Ozzie said what? OK, great. Whatever. What time's BP?'"

So maybe it really is that easy for these guys to tune it all out. Or maybe they're just used to it by now. But while Williams says this outburst was merely the latest impetus for him to spell out to the Oz Man what kind of topics are best left un-tiraded upon, it was never a litmus test on whether the manager was teetering out of control.

"It's not a sign of weakness, or losing the players," Williams said. "It's just him letting you know that this is unacceptable and it's time to take it to another level. All that's fine. His only mistake was mentioning my name."

Uh, right. That was one mistake that sure made it a lot tougher for the GM to dump Guillen's latest eruption into the voluminous Ozzie-being-Ozzie bin. But that doesn't mean there's a shred of evidence it was a mistake that ever threatened the Oz's job.

"Sometimes we clash, but that's OK," Williams said. "One thing I've always tried to do is hire people who are not afraid of a battle, even if it's a verbal battle with me. ... My attitude is, you are who you are -- and especially him."

Yeah, Ozzie Guillen is who he is, all right. And let us remind you again -- that guy who he is also happens to be under contract through 2012.

Charlie Manuel

Manuel

Charlie Manuel
Charlie Manuel almost didn't get to manage the greatest season of his managerial life.

In the offseason between the 2006 and 2007 seasons, the people who run the Phillies seriously debated whether to bring their manager back, even after two consecutive seasons in which Manuel's team stayed in the race into the final weekend.

Well, he's still managing. You might have noticed that. And if you have, you also have probably noticed that there might be no manager in baseball whose stature has made a more dramatic U-turn in the past year than his has.

You sure don't hear that old "Charlie from Mayberry" talk about him anymore -- not after the Phillies charged back from seven games out with 17 to play last September. And especially not after the events of last Thursday.

It was that day that Charlie Manuel changed his image forever. Changed it by yanking the incumbent MVP, Jimmy Rollins, out of a game for not hustling. And somehow managed to do it in a way that didn't even cause the guy who got benched to take it personally.

That, says Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr., is because Manuel has created a climate in which "you don't hear guys whining about playing time. They go out and play every day to contribute to their team winning."

Manuel probably has no idea how much buzz he created inside his own industry with that benching of one of the highest-profile players on his team. He should hear the stuff being said about him by people all over the sport. Stuff like: "I'm now a huge Charlie Manuel fan." And: "Only Charlie could have pulled that off." And: "To do that, you've got to know your players -- and let your players know you. And this guy does that."

You hear him compared now to Bobby Cox. You hear him compared now to Jim Leyland. And let's just say those are much different names than the ones he was being compared to a year ago this time. Gee, it's amazing what can happen to a guy once he's demonstrated he can win, and once he's demonstrated that even his biggest stars can't push him around.

"And you know the great thing about Charlie?" Amaro said. "He's never changed. Ever. Not one iota."

Ned Yost

Yost

Ned Yost
Nobody wanted Ned Yost to walk the plank when the 2007 Brewers won 24 of their first 34. But that was before a 7½-game lead in July disappeared by Labor Day. That was before the 2008 Brewers plummeted to 20-24, seven games back of the Cubs, a month and a half into the season.

And that was before the fire-Ned-Yost talk began to feel like more than typical talk-show blabbering.

It was all over baseball for a while there. Brewers players were telling their friends they thought the end might be near. Scouts were saying they'd heard it from their sources inside the club. Friends of owner Mark Attanasio were talking about the owner's feeling that this was a make-the-playoffs-or-else kind of season.

How true that was, how close Yost actually came to getting gonged, we may never know -- because a 12-out-of-16 streak made it all a moot discussion. Now GM Doug Melvin can honestly say his team's record after 64 games (33-31) was only one game worse than last year. Now he can look to ESPN.com's own RPI chart and point out that his team actually has outplayed its "expected" won-lost record.

So Ned Yost isn't going to get fired. Not anytime soon, at least. And his GM is fighting to make sure people get that message.

"I'm going to defend Ned as much as I can because I feel it's the right thing to do," Melvin said. "I feel strongly that Ned has done more for this organization than the won-loss column shows at times. ...

"Ned brought a culture change to this organization," Melvin went on. "People don't remember where the Milwaukee Brewers were when he got here. Just like I think Joe Maddon has changed the culture in Tampa Bay and Mike Scioscia has changed the culture of the Angels, I think there's a culture change that managers bring to an organization that's more important than wins and losses, and nobody ever talks about it."

TRIVIALITY

Only five active managers have managed first-place teams in both leagues. Can you name them? (Answer later.)

Yost has backed his young players more than they even know, Melvin said. He has promoted longtime minor league soldiers to his coaching staff. His team plays hard. So why does his seat still seem so hot?

Expectations have a lot to do with it, of course, particularly in a town that hasn't seen a postseason game since the Reagan administration. But some of those expectations, Melvin says, were based on an assumption that "our division was supposed to be the weakest in baseball. But right now, it's one of the strongest."

And Yost's bullpen -- which ranks 12th in the NL and 20th in baseball -- hasn't made him look brilliant at times, either.

"What's hurting some of these managers more than anything in the game today," Melvin said, "is bullpen situations. Most of the second-guessing you hear is about pitching moves."

Yeah, good point. It sure is coincidental how ingenious Ozzie Guillen and Charlie Manuel look now that their bullpens lead their league in ERA, isn't it?

Nevertheless, "in the end, we're all judged on wins and losses," Melvin said. "But I really believe, for all that Ned has done for this organization -- four years ago, our organization was nothing -- I really believe Ned deserves every chance."

So he'll no doubt get it. But there's also no doubt the endgame hasn't changed. And the endgame is: Yost very well may have to make the playoffs to save his job.

Willie Randolph, Clint Hurdle, John McLaren
Life is never one big edition of "Comedy Central Presents" when your team is picked to win and two months later it's, say, 19 games under .500. And these three guys could tell you all about that.

Clint Hurdle

Hurdle

But how much trouble are they really in? Let's take a quick look.

Hurdle: There's no doubt that the Rockies' manager is the member of this group with the least to worry about. He's only eight months removed from managing his team to one of the most magical and improbable World Series charges of all time. It's hard to blame the manager when his most important lineup cogs -- Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Hawpe -- all get hurt. And after what happened last year, the Rockies don't see an 8½-game hole as anything worthy of a panic attack.

"From what I see, I don't think Clint has changed at all," said GM Dan O'Dowd. "And we're not the type of organization that puts the blame on anybody."

John McLaren

McLaren

McLaren: McLaren's many friends in the game weren't shocked by his McMeltdown this month -- just that it took so long in coming. But this is a team in major trouble, and (in a related development) a team now threatening to bring down everyone responsible for putting it together. So the question almost certainly isn't whether somebody is going to get fired. The more realistic questions are who and when.

According to baseball men familiar with how the Mariners operate, GM Bill Bavasi could be in more imminent danger than his manager. Maybe that's only because Bavasi has told everyone around him he is not going to fire McLaren to protect his own butt. But those are the vibes within the sport, anyway.

We should also remember that this team hasn't fired a manager or GM in midseason in 20 years (since Dick Balderson and Dick Williams in 1988). But given the expectations and that $118-million payroll, it's impossible to believe that this group could possibly survive what's looking like a 100-loss season. So "sooner or later," said one prominent baseball man, "this is going to get dicey."

Willie Randolph

Randolph

Randolph: The Willie Watch seems as if it's back on in Flushing Meadow, now that the glow of the Mets' brief seven-out-of-nine tear has been obliterated by the five-game losing streak they finally ended Wednesday. But don't be so sure that Randolph's axing is going to arrive before the next No. 7 train.

GM Omar Minaya repeated again Tuesday night that Randolph is safe. And he's not just blowing PR fog. According to one baseball man who speaks regularly with Mets management, Randolph is "not going to get fired. Period."

Not that there isn't nonstop debate about the manager's status, a debate that reverberates around all levels of Shea Stadium. Not that there isn't constant second-guessing of Randolph's bullpen usage or his often-dispassionate style of player relations.

But the fellow who has to make this call, Minaya, isn't giving in to that talk. Minaya "has made his decision," said the same baseball man. "And the decision is, this is Willie's team. And he's not going away."

Then again, though, neither is The Willie Watch -- not if his $138-million baseball team doesn't click into gear in a hurry, at least.

Rumbling through the jungle

Happy Hollidays: Clubs that have felt out the Rockies about Matt Holliday's availability say that if they do decide to dangle their biggest star, they are not using last July's Mark Teixeira deal as their blueprint. Instead, the Rockies are telling other teams that:

Matt Holliday

Holliday

(A) They don't need quantity. Since their young core group is basically in place virtually all over the diamond and their farm system is in good shape, they don't need to rebuild their system with one trade, as Texas did.

(B) They would want "impact" back, but aren't asking for a specific number of impact players. They could settle for a two-player package if it's the right two. They could even, conceivably, take one player back -- assuming the one player was in the Jay Bruce/Evan Longoria/Cameron Maybin mega-impact category.

(C) They wouldn't even necessarily ask for young players. The only condition would be getting back someone they could control longer than Holliday, who can be a free agent after 2009.

(D) If they move any bats at all, they would be in a mode to trade Holliday or Garrett Atkins, but not both.

All of this, by the way, is contingent on the Rockies finding themselves clearly and hopelessly out of contention next month. And there are no signs at the moment they've even remotely considered themselves done.

Cook-off dept.: While O'Dowd declined to comment about Holliday or any other of the Rockies' specific, prospective trade plans, he did shoot down last week's Rumblings note that Aaron Cook could be available. "We're not doing anything with Cookie," the GM said flatly.

Jason Bay

Bay

Pass the Bucco: The Jason Bay/Xavier Nady rumors continue to percolate. But an official of one team that investigated says we should take all Pirates trade rumors this July with an entire shaker of salt. "My feeling is they're not going to trade any of those guys, because [their ownership] wants to finish at .500. They haven't done it in 15 years. So if they're even close at the deadline, they won't trade anybody."

Deal-less in Seattle: What's even more terrifying than having the worst record in baseball? How about having a team like that and almost nothing you can deal?

We've been running through the Mariners' trade options with people across the sport. And those options look worse than you'd imagine, considering how many of these same people once thought this was a team that could win the West. Here are some of the topical names -- and the reactions we heard:

Erik Bedard? "Only a different GM could trade him."

Richie Sexson? "Useless."

Adrian Beltre? "For the money [$12M next year], impossible to find a fit."

Carlos Silva? See above.

Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista? "I'm not sure you could give them away."

Raul Ibanez? "He's got a lot of value. But he wouldn't get you an elite player. Just a couple of parts."

Jose Lopez? "Ordinary guy. Not as good as his numbers."

Ichiro? "Can't trade him."

J.J. Putz? "They'd never trade him."

Felix Hernandez? "Ha-ha-ha-ha. You're kidding, right?"

In sum, there's no one the Mariners can afford to trade who has significant value -- and no one with value they'd even think about trading. One baseball man's review of this situation: "Hopeless."

Ken Griffey Jr.

Griffey

Whither Junior: Now that that pesky 600-Homer Watch is out of the way, the Reds can listen to offers on Junior Griffey. But unless he relaxes and starts swinging the bat dramatically better, scouts we've surveyed say they wouldn't recommend him as a thumper worth trading for.

"You're talking about a guy who can't catch up to a good fastball anymore," said one scout, "unless it's guess-guess, cheat-cheat. I hate to say it, but it was no accident that 600th homer came on a breaking ball."

Meanwhile, a friend of Griffey's says to forget, once and for all, the idea of Junior returning to that mess in Seattle -- because "what's the draw? Playing for a mediocre club a half-continent away from home? I don't think so."

Whither Junior, 2009 edition: But if you're looking for a destination Griffey could land in next year, once there are no worries about surrendering prospects or picking up a $16-million contract, here's a club we've started to hear some guesswork about: Tampa Bay.

The Trop is an easy commute from Griffey's home in Orlando. It's a fun team on the rise, with a chance to win. And it's an AL team that could mix in some DH-ing opportunities. So why not?

"If I were them, I think it would be a great move," said one veteran baseball man. "You run him out there with his big smile and his sweet swing, and it's a drawing card. And even if he's slipped, you're putting another left-handed bat in the middle of that lineup. Could be scary."

Rays of hope: Speaking of Tampa Bay, we continue to see no reason to assume the Rays will be coming back toward what they used to know as earth. One scout's review: "Here's the thing. [Evan] Longoria and [B.J.] Upton are guys who can hit good pitching. There are a lot of hitters out there who hit average pitching. But this club, if they can get to the playoffs, can do some damage because they can handle the good pitchers."

Juan Rincon

Rincon

Closeout sales: The pitching bargain bin was overstuffed this week, with the release of Steve Trachsel, Sidney Ponson and Armando Benitez, and Juan Rincon's placement on irrevocable waivers by the Twins. So can those guys still help anybody? Here are some scout reviews:

Rincon: "He labored like hell when I saw him. His delivery looks different, and he's not throwing as many strikes. But maybe a change of scenery would be worth a shot."

Benitez: "You know, he still runs it up there at 95-96 [mph], and he still throws that slider at around 86. But he is what he is -- a guy who implodes."

Trachsel: "He hasn't pitched worth a flip this year. I guess if you were just looking for an experienced back-end starter, you might look at him. He made some sense at one time. But he doesn't make much sense now."

Ponson: "He still probably has more talent than some guys you see out there. But can you keep him in line? Nobody ever has."

Still aloft: We hear the White Sox recently made the most serious run yet at signing Kenny Lofton. But Lofton is still looking for a deal in the $2.5-to-$3-million neighborhood, which wasn't what the White Sox had in mind. We take this as not just an indication of Lofton's mind-set, but an indication of the White Sox's shopping plans between now and the deadline. Barring injury, they figure to be mostly in the market for a left-handed-hitting complementary part -- ideally one who can motor a little.

Pedro Martinez

Martinez

Pedro's got a gun: For the first time in at least two years, scouts found themselves blinking twice at their radar guns during Pedro Martinez's comeback start in San Francisco. Nine times, he registered either 92 or 93 miles per hour -- a number he never even approached after his return last year.

"I was shocked by how good his stuff was," said one scout. "I always try to give a little wiggle room on those gun readings. But he could definitely go get 92-93 when he wanted to. I think even he was shocked at the finish to his fastball. Watching him, I thought, 'This guy is really going to give this team a lift.' "

O-no: And while we're talking Mets, it remains staggering how many people in baseball continue to ask why they handed second baseman Luis Castillo a four-year deal last winter. Here's one more ripple effect to consider:

"Orlando Hudson [a free agent to be] would have signed under market to play in New York," said an official of one team. "I've heard that a lot. But now there's no place for him to play because Luis Castillo's there for three more years."

Zack Greinke

Greinke

Deal him or keep him: It seems obvious that the Royals should be trying to build around Zack Greinke. But one AL executive says they should think seriously about another game plan -- i.e., dealing him.

"When you're in their position," he said, "your best move might be to trade your best assets to get three or four centerpiece guys back. They might need to do that to reload, like Baltimore did with [Erik] Bedard: Bring back numbers and hope most of those numbers will stick. I understand why you'd want to keep a guy like that. But the progress they're making is slow progress. Now they're even putting in money, with [Gil] Meche and [Jose] Guillen, and there's still no light at the end of the tunnel."

End of an era: Monday is a sad day in the history of this sport. It's the final Hall of Fame exhibition game at Cooperstown's Doubleday Field, the needless end of an awesome 68-year tradition.

Five members of Congress sent letters of complaint to Bud Selig protesting this decision. Selig told them, in a letter back, that the "logistics" of working this game into the schedule had simply become too "complicated." But what that really means is that players weren't interested in sacrificing an off day anymore for the greater good.

Selig promised that baseball will promote the Hall of Fame in other ways, including bringing most of the sport's living Hall of Famers to this year's All Star Game. Hey, great. We're all for it. But as someone who has been to a half-dozen Hall of Fame games, I understand what it means -- or meant.

The Hall of Fame game meant more to Cooperstown, and to the Hall, than Bud Selig will ever realize.

It supported the museum and the exalted village of Cooperstown. Just as important, it gave players a chance they otherwise wouldn't get -- to see Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame Museum with their own eyes. At a time when players' appreciation of history has shrunk to embarrassing levels, baseball is now guaranteeing that 99 percent of its players will never set foot in baseball's most hallowed space. And that's the biggest tragedy of all.

There will be a "moment" of silence Monday, during the entire bottom half of the third inning. But after Monday, the silence at Doubleday Field will last forever -- another tribute to the selfishness of baseball's leaders and players. If you'd like to add your voice to the protest, visit savethefamegame.com.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and Charlie Manuel. For those answering Jim Leyland, good try, but wrong answer. Yes, Leyland managed World Series teams in both leagues -- but both of them (the '97 Marlins and '06 Tigers) were wild cards. Leyland's only first-place finishes were with the Pirates in 1991 and 1992.

Headliner of the week

Our favorite Chicago parody site, The Heckler, is back. Its June issue features another of its compelling "retro" front pages -- this one from October 1945, in the midst of a Cubs-Tigers World Series that the Cubs were (ahem) destined to win:

Foolish old man with goat attempts to hex mighty Cubs

Impatient Fans: 'We've waited 37 long years for this. Any longer and we'll stop caring about this team.'

Quotes of the week

• From Rays vocabulary champ Joe Maddon, to the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin, after an interesting day of umpiring by plate ump James Hoye:

"The strike zone was slightly amorphous today."

• From an observer who asked to remain anonymous, on Evan Longoria's 431-foot homer that cleared the left-field bullpen in normally homer-proof Anaheim Stadium on Monday:

"Where that ball went, that's basically a no-fly zone."

• From Astros catcher/humorist Brad Ausmus, to the media hordes descending on Miguel Tejada after he took the lead Tuesday in the NL's All-Star voting:

"What's up? Did he have another birthday?"

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.