Obstacles await newcomers

New hires like Lee Mazzilli and Ozzie Guillen start fresh, but not necessarily with a clean slate.

Originally Published: November 11, 2003
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

We learned more this week about why Grady Little had to get fired as the Red Sox manager, when Pedro Martinez expressly exonerated Little of any wrongdoing in the Game 7 loss, and subtly blamed him at the same time. Martinez said his reaction to Little's firing was 'Wow,' and Martinez echoed the words he spoke immediately after Game 7, that the finger of blame should be pointed at the star pitcher and not the manager.

Martinez
Martinez

But Martinez also let it be known -- in his version of what is already a major chapter in Red Sox history -- that he suggested after the seventh inning that Little should start warming up relievers for the bottom of the eighth inning. In other words: I warned him.

The Red Sox still haven't chosen a manager to replace Little, but whoever gets the job will face a major obstacle -- like all the newcomers to major jobs around the big leagues.

Red Sox manager: It's clear that the new ownership regime of John Henry, et al, wants a strong measure of control over their product, and their next manager is not going to be some independent Lou Piniella-type who will tell his bosses to stick it. The next manager will know, from the handling of Little, that an abiding loyalty is not a trait of the ownership group.

On the other hand, the next manager also needs to be strong enough to cope with some potentially sticky player issues. Martinez is entering the last year of his contract and indicated he will wait for the Red Sox to make the next move. But given Martinez's history, there figures to be about a 95 chance he is going to start complaining about his contract situation.

Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra will be playing in the last year of his current contract, if he's not traded before then, and Manny Ramirez must move on with the knowledge that the Red Sox would gladly give him away for nothing. The next manager might have to stand up to stars and find a way to get them to play, in spite of their personal circumstances. But remember that the last Red Sox manager who did the bidding of the front office was Joe Kerrigan, and this group of players all but revolted under his rule.

It's not going to be easy.

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen: He possesses a remarkable enthusiasm and knows the game. What Guillen has never had is a mute button. He has always uttered his strong opinions, and while baseball writers all over the country are celebrating the hiring of Guillen -- who instantly becomes the most quotable manager -- he cannot possibly succeed while offering blunt, day-to-day assessments of his players.

The latest generation of players is extremely sensitive to criticism, which is why the Yankees love Joe Torre (who almost never utters a negative word in public about any of his players) and why some of the Phillies are fed up with Larry Bowa (whose words and body language provide a constant barometer to his feelings). Guillen will have to swallow the truth sometimes, for his own sake.

Pete Rose
The possibility of Pete Rose's return still hangs over Cincinnati.

Cincinnati GM Dan O'Brien: Right away, he's got the Pete Thing hanging over his head, out of his control, until the Reds' ownership quashes it. The retired numbers in Cincinnati's new park are placed on a facade behind home plate, the No. 8 of Joe Morgan and the No. 5 of Johnny Bench, and right in the middle there is a wide open space -- and no one in baseball doubts for a minute that this space belongs to Rose, once he is reinstated.

The manager's job might be there waiting for him, too; the Reds still haven't indicated who their skipper will be for 2004. If Rose is hired, his presence will supercede anything else in the organization. If he wants a particular player move to be made, it's hard to imagine he won't get his way, and you could start to think of O'Brien as someone in a rowboat hanging on through a hurricane.

Mets GM Jim Duquette: He gets a chance at his first job and faces an extremely difficult personnel problem -- most of his stars are older players who probably aren't going to be around when the Mets rebound. Complicating that issue the influence pitchers Al Leiter, John Franco and Tom Glavine can exert with owner Fred Wilpon.

Most baseball officials would look at this team and understand immediately that the Mets need to rebuild -- trade Mike Piazza and perhaps even approach Leiter and Glavine about working out deals to other teams. But Duquette probably won't be able to go to that extreme, and that will make it difficult for him to effect change.

Seattle GM Bill Bavasi: The Mariners have the pitching to contend, but their collapse at season's end illuminated a need for an offensive overhaul. The Mariners need more left-handed bats, and Bavasi must make the changes with a budget constricted by other financial obligations (including third baseman Jeff Cirillo, who is the albatross of the Mariners' payroll, almost in a way that Manny Ramirez is to the Red Sox; Ramirez, at least, is productive.)

Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli: He comes to the Orioles as an outsider -- a Yankee -- which means that he's got a one-year grace period. If Baltimore struggles in 2004, the fan base will turn on him much more quickly than they would have turned on Rich Dauer or Eddie Murray.

Owner Peter Angelos let executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan pick their manager, which is a good thing; Angelos has not always trusted his baseball executives in this way. But that also means that Mazzilli's grace period with the owner probably won't be as long as if Angelos had made the choice himself.

Yankees hitting coach Don Mattingly: He stepped into the volcano and it's hard to imagine why. With Torre entering the last year of his contract, he is one short losing streak and a George Steinbrenner tantrum away from being fired in May or June. The conventional wisdom in baseball circles is that the job nobody wants is to be The Manager Who Follows Joe Torre, because the standard will be absurdly high.

That might turn out to be Willie Randolph, rather than Mattingly, but even then, once Teflon Torre is fired, Steinbrenner will be apt to return to his ways of the '80s, when he was firing his managers after weeks on the job. And Mattingly's stature as a revered Yankee won't save him.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine