- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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The Los Angeles Dodgers don't have much credibility as an organization these days, but they're certainly setting the pace for offseason transactions.
Most teams fresh off a 91-loss season would be content to offer up the manager or general manager as a human sacrifice. Not Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his wife, club president Jamie McCourt. They christened October by parting ways with Jim Tracy, and brought it to a close by firing Paul DePodesta.
Think about it: Is there a more dysfunctional scenario than ownership cutting loose the manager and general manager three weeks apart? Short of walking around wearing sandwich signs with "We're Clueless" on the front, the McCourts couldn't have provided a greater gift to media critics who view them as an easy target.
Of course, the Tracy and DePodesta departures pale in comparison to the biggest transaction of the month. On Oct. 14, the Dodgers fired three loyal public relations people and hired a new senior vice president of communications, Camille Johnston, to craft a more positive image. At Chavez Ravine, it's all about style over substance, and clinging to the misguided notion that the saps in the press are too thick to discern the difference.
"The McCourts can't deal with the media pressure," said a person close to the Dodgers situation. "So every time they start getting hammered, they try and figure out who they can get rid of that's not helping them alleviate the pressure or is hurting them.
"It's all ego driven with the McCourts. That's the sad part. They think if they sell themselves, the Dodgers will rise up as an organization. But it's really the other way around."
DePodesta is a good person at heart, and it says something about his intellect when A's GM Billy Beane calls him the smartest person he's ever been around. But after DePodesta's one-dimensional, computer-nerd portrayal in "Moneyball," he inadvertently became one of the most polarizing figures in the game.
There will be a mourning period for stat-geek Web sites, where posters worshipfully refer to DePodesta as "Paul" and revel in seeing one of their own entrusted with the responsibility of roster-building. The cynics on these sites love to recycle the same, tired jokes about Paul Lo Duca and "clubhouse chemistry," and were shocked that Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent might have problems co-existing in the same universe.
The anti-DePodesta faction -- made up of purists and scouts -- will reflect upon DePodesta's brief tenure with the Dodgers and write it off as a failure. The scouting community will advocate for some team, any team, to declare a moratorium on Harvard number-crunchers in favor of general managers who can actually evaluate talent.
There's no disputing that DePodesta's personal style was detrimental to his job security. He was harder to find than Sandy Koufax during spring training in Vero Beach. And in crisis time -- for instance, when the Dodgers took a pounding for backing out of the Javier Vazquez trade last winter -- he was slow to return phone calls and articulate his position to the press. Maybe he just felt that he shouldn't have to, that he was smarter than everybody else.
But this much is clear: DePodesta deserved more than 21 months to execute his vision and prove himself, just as his predecessor, Dan Evans, didn't deserve to be canned after two years on the job. There has to be a happy medium between Chuck LaMar's decade-long tenure with Tampa Bay and management-by-turnstile in LA.
DePodesta could have used more friends at the end, when the McCourts panicked and took the easy route yet again. He has three years remaining on his contract, which gives him time to take a breather and find the right spot to rehabilitate his career. As a friend of DePodesta's observed, "How many 32-year-old former general managers do you know out there right now?"
It's telling that just about every former Dodgers employee you talk to expresses relief at being away from this mess. It's common knowledge that Tommy Lasorda, who wants desperately to be heard, felt free to badmouth DePodesta and promote his own agenda with the McCourts.
Two years ago, before Frank and Jamie hired DePodesta, Lasorda pushed for Pat Gillick to get the job. And while DePodesta wanted Terry Collins or Giants coach Ron Wotus to succeed Tracy as manager, Lasorda lobbied passionately for Orel Hershiser or Bobby Valentine.
Lasorda's argument: The best way for the Dodgers to repair the damage is by evoking feel-good images from the past.
If only it were that easy. Dodger Blue once had great meaning to lots of people because of the organization's reputation for loyalty, integrity and class. The version making the rounds these days is nothing more than a pale imitation.
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