On June 5, 1999 -- a Saturday night -- I fired my pitching coach, hitting coach and bullpen coach. We were in the midst of interleague play, in a weekend series against the New York Yankees. We were 27-28 at the time, and in my mind underachieving in most aspects of the game. I had made the decision to fire the coaches but wanted to wait until after the series for the off day on Monday June 7 to execute it. Unfortunately, the story leaked out to the media on Saturday so I had to move sooner than anticipated. I didn't want to lie to coaches just to buy time until Monday, so after our game on Saturday I held a meeting with my manager, Bobby Valentine and then his coaches. I told Valentine my plan and despite his disagreement I proceeded.
Valentine said after the firings that the next 55 games would tell whether it was a good decision or not. We went 40-15 over those games. The decision turned our season around. It changed our preparation, our work environment and our performance. It worked and we ended up making the playoffs.
Time to bare my soul. There were two reasons I didn't bring Bobby Valentine into the decision-making process at that time. The first was because I didn't really care about his opinion. Whether he agreed or not, I was going to move forward with the change. My mind was made up. If I brought him into the process and he disagreed, then I would put myself in a spot where I had to argue it with him. The second reason I didn't include him was that if Valentine agreed with the move, he would have blood on his hands. He already got blamed for everything bad that went on with our club. Effectively, I protected him by not telling him my plan before putting it in motion.
The Mariners fired Cockrell because the production of their hitters hasn't been what they had hoped it would be. They rank last in the American League in runs, batting average, hits, home runs, RBI, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Got a baseball question you want answered? Send it to Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org and he might answer it on FanHouse TV.
So do the Mariners truly believe that new hitting coach will improve their offense? Well ... they hope so, but they really don't know. Sometimes you have to try something.
Truth be told, I didn't really KNOW my team would go 40-15 over those next 55 games in '99. More truth: I knew that Bobby Valentine was managing the team but was also assuming duties of the pitching coach and hitting coach. I also sensed that the coaches were so tied to Bobby that they were afraid to think independently for fear of disagreeing with him. I hoped that inserting two independent thinkers that were loyal to the organization and not just to the manager to whom they owed their job would make a difference. I hoped that it would force Bobby to focus on managing more than coaching the hitters and pitchers. But, again, I didn't really KNOW that it would work.
The Mariners don't seem to have many of the issues I did with the Mets. They are just not hitting. But should Alan Cockrell really be blamed for the lack of offense? If there were questions coming into the season about whether an offense that ranked last in the AL in runs in 2009 could even be as good in 2010, how can they fire the coach? Because that's how it works in baseball. Sometimes change helps. Sometimes change is made for a good reason and sometimes change for the sake of change is a good enough reason.
The reality is that there are layers of protection for general managers. Players are the first layer. If they don't produce they can be traded or released in an effort to improve production. Of course, not every player can be released or traded because of his contract status or tenure.
If player changes don't work then coaches are the next layer. Old school baseball people were very critical of me when I fired Valentine's coaches. There is a belief that the coaches work for the manager, but I believe they work for the organization and report to the manager. When coaches feel beholden to the manager for their very job, they sometimes won't say what they feel. I wanted coaches who thought independently and made decisions that were best for the organization. It is OK to disagree in a meeting. Ultimately, everyone should be on the same page, but the process getting there needs to be honest.
If coaching changes don't work or aren't appropriate then the manager is in jeopardy. A manager gets fired when his team is losing and decision-makers believe they should be winning. Managers get fired if their teams are not prepared to play. If a manager doesn't maintain and cultivate relationships with players that too is a red flag for management.
As a general manager I knew that when my team was playing poorly my owners wanted explanations and solutions. So ...
With my staff, I sorted through evaluations of our players. Do we have the right ones? Are there any players that could help us from the minor leagues? Any available in trades?
Then we looked at the processes. Are the coaches preparing the players properly? Are we making the adjustments necessary to improve?
Then we looked at in-game decisions. Is the manager handling the pitching staff properly? How is he using his personnel in his lineup? Are we aggressive enough offensively?
If there are any red flags in any area, then decisions have to be made.
Of course, when you decide that a change needs to be made timing becomes important. I was going to fire my coaches after that June Subway Series in 1999. I didn't want to sit at a press conference at Yankee Stadium and discuss the firings, I can promise you that, but my hand got forced because of the media leak. In-season firings most typically occur on off days. Not only does it afford time for the tough conversations to take place, but it affords the new coach or manager the opportunity to get settled. It also allows information to get relayed to the players so that they are prepared to answer questions when they get to the ballpark the next day.
I hate talking about people getting fired. I have been fired. I know it is a reality of the business, but let's not forget the impact it has on the families of the individuals who lose their jobs. It really stinks.
You should know that well before any firing happens there are conversations about whether it is a decision that should be considered. For instance, with the struggles in Baltimore, I am sure there have been conversations about what to do.
Can they dump all of the players who are struggling? No, they can't.
Would they consider making a change with their hitting coach? Terry Crowley has been there for a long time and is thought to be one of the better coaches in the game. A move with him seems unlikely.
Should they fire Dave Trembley, the manager? They must have discussed this. How could they not at 9-23. Three weeks ago when I looked at their schedule, this sure looked like a potential D-Day for a potential move. It's an off day after a run in the schedule in which they played the Red Sox, Yankees, Red Sox, Yankees and Twins in succession.
There's been no move yet, but the Orioles need to give their fans some hope and a managerial change can bring it. Will a new manager do a better job than Trembley? It's very hard to say. Trembley cares and is a very hard worker. He is prepared and is competitive. But, for whatever reason, the team is underachieving. So if a move is made soon you will understand what went into it. Mark your calendar for the next off day -- May 24. My hope is that Dave Trembley and the Orioles start to get things turned around and he keeps his job.
Other teams have surely have had some discussions about their coaches or managers. Think of Mets hitting coach Howard Johnson, White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, Astros hitting coach Sean Berry, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendelton, Diamondbacks pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and Kansas City manager Trey Hillman to name a few.
I am not calling for any of the above to lose their jobs. In fact, I hope they all keep them. But knowing how organizations think, I am sure there have been conversations about possible changes at these positions.
I have a confession to make. My coaching changes worked in 1999, but I tried it again a couple of years later and saw no improvement. I guess maybe what matters most is having good players and a little bit of luck.
I hope your team is playing well but if not change may be exactly what you need. Seattle Mariners fans have a reason to hope now after the change made there.