Managerial Quick Change Rare and Ineffective

Eighteen games into the current baseball season, Bryan Price was fired as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. There wasn’t much reaction in light of the fact the Reds had opened the season losing 15 of 18 games. And losing is a reason for dismissal as the manager of the Major League team.

But be honest. The manager is more often the scapegoat for organizational failure than the bottom line problem. And Price’s situation underscores that.

Consider that the Reds came into this season having finished in place in the NL Central the last three seasons. The Reds .412 winning percentage (230-286) matched the Phillies for the worst in MLB over those three seasons.

The Phillies front office looked to make an impact in the off-season with the signing of established free agents Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta.

The Reds?

The biggest thing that happened in the off-season was they lost starting shortstop Zack Cosart, an All-Star last year, to free agency, and they replaced him with Jose Peraza, the Reds utility infielder the last two years.

 So let’s see, the Reds lost an impact player, pretty much kept the pitching staff of a year ago in place, and 18 games into the season decided the problem with the team was Price, who had been filling out the Reds’ lineup cards for the past four seasons?

Now managers get fired pretty regularly. The puzzle is if the Reds were in such a hurry to unload Price why did it take 18 games into the season to make the change?

Why wasn’t a change made in the off-season? Then a new manager could be hired, spend the spring getting to know the roster, and start making steps to get the franchise headed back in the right direction. Instead, there was an early-season disruption, sending the signal that the folks upstairs have no confidence in the roster in the clubhouse.

In-season managerial changes aren’t rare. Since the advent of divisional play in 1969 there have been 205 changes, but only 10 of them have come within the first 20 games of a season, and only one made a significant difference. When the Yankees fired Yogi Berra after a 6-10 start to 1975, Billy Martin stepped in. The Yankees won 91 of their final 145 games, but they still finished in second place, and were post-season observers, not participants.

Quick Trigger Fingers

Team Year Fired Record Hired Record Finish
WhiteSox 1969 Al Lopez 8 - 9 Don Gutterridge 60-85 5th ALW
Padres 1972 Preston Gomez 4 - 7 Don Zimmer 55-98 6th NLW
Cardinals 1978 Vern Rapp 6 - 11 Ken Boyer 62-81 5th NLE
Yankees 1985 Yogi Berra 6 10 Billy Martin 91-54 2nd ALE
Orioles 1988 Cal Ripken, Sr. 0 - 6 Frank Robinson 54-101 6th ALE
Phillies 1991 Nick Leyva 4 - 9 Jim Fregosi 74-75 3rd NLE
Rays 2001 Larry Rothschild 4 - 10 Hal McRae 58-90 5th ALE
Tigers 2002 Phil Garner 0 - 6 Luis Pujols 55-100 5th ALC
Brewers 2002 Davey Lopes 3 - 15 Jerry Royster 53-94 6th NLC
Reds 2018 Brian Price 3 - 15 Jim Riggleman TBD

And it’s not like changes later in the season have been successful.

Out of the 205 in-season managerial changes since 1969, only 15 times has a team advanced to the post-season, and only twice has one of those teams won a world championship.

The 1978 Yankees fired Billy Martin after a 52-42 start, hired Bob Lemon, who finished the regular season 48-20, knocked off the Red Sox at Fenway Park in a Game 163 to decide the AL East title, and eventually knocked off the Dodgers for the world championship.

In 2003, Jack McKeon replaced Jeff Torborg as the manager of the Marlins, who were off to a 16-22 start, and the Marlins rallied to go 75-49 under the guidance of McKeon en route to a world championship.

Changes Brought Post-Season Opportunity

Team Year Fired Record Hired Record Finish
Yankees 1978 Billy Martin 52-42 Bob Lemon 49-20 World Champions
Yankees 1981 Gene Michael 48-34 Bob Lemon 11 - 14 Lost World Series
Royals 1981 Jim Frey 30-40 Dick Howser 20-13 Lost ALDS
Expos 1981 Dick Williams 44-37 Jim Fanning 16-11 Lost NLCS
Brewers 1982 Buck Rodgers 23-24 Harvey Kuenn 72-43 Lost World Series
Phillies 1983 Pat Corrales 43-42 Paul Owens 47-30 Lost World Series
Red Sox 1987 Jimy Williams 12- 24 Cito Gaston 77-49 Lost ALCS
Red Sox 1988 John McNamara 43-42 Joe Morgan 46-31 Swept ALCS
Blue Jays 1991 Cito Gaston 72-57 Gene Tenace 19-14 Lost ALCS
Dodgers 1996 Tommy Lasorda 41-35 Bill Russell 49-37 Lost NLDS
Astros 1999 Larry Dierker 84-51 Matt Galante 13-14 Lost NLDS
Marlins 2003 Jeff Torborg 16-22 JackMcKeon 75-49 World Champions
Astros 2004 Jimy Williams 44-44 Phil Garner 48-26 Lost NLCS
Brewers 2008 Ed Yost 83-67 Dale Sveum 7 - 5 Lost NLDS
Rockies 2009 Clint Hurdle 18-28 Jim Tracy 74-42 Lost NLDS

Among the interesting aspects of the in-season managerial changes is the obvious impact George Steinbrenner had on the Yankees. The Yankees changed managers 10 times in the 11-year period from 1975-90. They have not made a managerial change since that day in 1990 when Stump Merrill replaced Bucky Dent.

Only two teams have gone longer without an in-season managerial makeover _ the Twins (Tom Kelly replaced Ray Miller in the midst of the 1986 season) and the Giants (Roger Craig replaced Jim Davenport during the 1985 season).

Tracy RingolsbyComment