Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Payday For The Longshot

I have to be honest.

Everyday I posted odds over on the right side of this page, tracking who I thought the Royals would hire as their next manager.

I thought Buddy Bell was a longshot.

I just didn’t see how he could even be considered.

Sure Bell has the major league experience that Allard Baird so desperately craved, but what else does he bring to the table? Does he possess the ability to mold a young team into a contender? Or does he have a proven philosophy that will lead this team from the depths of the AL Central?

After watching Tuesday’s press conference, I don’t think Baird or Dan Glass or even Bell himself can answer those questions.

I think the only absolute is we’ve found rock bottom.


The only qualification set forth by Baird was that the next manager have major league managing experience. Fair enough.

But what about developing young players? And what about winning? Bell has never done either.

Bell took over a franchise in a similar situation when he was named manager of the Detroit Tigers for the 1996 season. The Tigers hadn’t contended in eight seasons and hadn’t won in nine. They had an aging group of players along with a veteran manager, and it just didn’t seem like winning was a priority anymore. Bell was charged with taking over a young team (average age 26) and teaching them how to win. The first season was a disaster (sound familiar yet?) but the team was showing improvement the second year winning 14 more times than the previous season. The team regressed in his third season and it cost Bell his job.

The Detroit front office has to shoulder some of the blame for that lack of success, but from his time as the manager of the Tigers, not a single player emerged that would make someone sit up and take notice. Bobby Higginson is average at best. Devi Cruz is below average. Tony Clark is a bust. How much of that do you hang on the manager? I’m not sure, but it would have been nice for Allard Baird to have been able to cite at least one success story from his years in Detroit at Tuesday’s press conference. Trouble is, there aren’t any.

And what about the true measure of managerial success, the wins? We know that Bell has managed only one team to a record above .500. (Colorado, 82-80, 2001) To be fair, you can’t look closely at the wins and losses when the manager is charged with rebuilding. But Bell’s teams have never really improved. That’s why he’s had two brief stops in his managerial career and that’s why he’s not a winning manager.


Over the next several days, I’m sure we’ll hear how Buddy Bell is a “good fit” for the Royals. We’ll hear he’s a “good baseball guy” and how he can “work with youngsters,” and "players love him." And if Peter Gammons can stop writing about the Red Sox for just a few minutes, he might tell us that Buddy is “a student of the game” who “brings experience” to the Royals.


Allard Baird was handed a golden opportunity, the chance to correct the mistake this organization made in hiring Tony Pena back in 2002. I know there has been some debate about how important managers really are to a baseball team. Five wins a season, maybe seven, possibly ten. But I’ve seen too many horrible ones at Kauffman Stadium over the last ten years not to think that the manager is a vital component of any successful team. This hire could help lead the Royals out of the cellar, or quite possibly bury them even deeper.

The candidates the Royals had to chose from were underwhelming to say the least. Was anyone out there getting excited about the possibility of Art Howe or Jerry Manuel wearing Royal blue? I didn’t think so.

But they had to have been able to do better than Buddy Bell.


At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Brett said...

I'll apologize up front for what's going to be a long and rambling post. I guess long, rambling posts are a side effect of hiring Buddy Bell.

I still don't know what to think. When I first heard this, I was in shock. I wandered around all day yesterday muttering "Buddy Bell?!?!" Hearing him, and Allard talk about him, before and during last night's game on the radio made me feel a little better. Or maybe it was just the win over the Yankees that had me in a better mood when I went to bed last night.

I didn't really have a strong opinion on who should be the next manager, mainly because there was nobody who seemed like a great choice. By the end, I was leaning towards Collins. Buddy Bell and Jerry Manuel were the two "finalists" that I was pretty sure I didn't want.

On the one hand, I'm pretty sure that Allard knows that this is probably his last chance to get it right with the manager, and that his job rests in the hands of the man he selected, so I'm sure he truly thinks that Buddy is the right guy.

On the other hand, there are two things that stand out to me when questioning Buddy Bell. First is the fact that Allard keeps pointing to the fact that Buddy was a young major leage player who became an All-Star by the time he was 21. Well, show me proof that a good player makes a good manager or that a good young player makes a good manager of a young team, and maybe I'll think that means something. The other thing is that most of the articles about the hiring say that Buddy has already been in charge of one turnaround, in 1997 with the Tigers. What they don't point out is that it was with him as a manager that they set their record for most losses the previous season. And that they still didn't finish at .500. And that the next year they regressed so far that he was fired.

I'm no longer in the shock/questioning/"Buddy Bell?!?!" stage. I've moved on to the resigned acceptance stage, where I'm now walking around shaking my head and muttering "Buddy Bell. Sigh."

1996 Tigers/2002 Royals - 100 losses
97 Tigers/03 Royals - hover around .500
98 Tigers/04 Royals - regress to about the same point as two years prior

Maybe what the Royals are trying to say is that If Tony Pena circa 2011 was available, they'd hire him.


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