Remember in “The Devil’s Advocate” when Keanu Reeves went up to Al Pacino’s office at the end and Pacino revealed that he not only was his father, but also the devil (which made the subsequent request to dance the bottomless tango with his newly-revealed sister somewhat more acceptable)? That truly has to be what it is like to be an employee of the Miami Marlins at this point.
Amid a sluggish start that has the Marlins in fourth place in the National League East, Miami finished off their weekend by being swept and nearly no-hit at the hands of their divisional rival Atlanta Braves in a three-game series. The Marlins acted quickly, and the move was made to remove manager Mike Redmond in an effort to stir things up.
This, in itself, is not that shocking of a move. It is fairly common for a team that carries expectations of being in the pennant race to shake things up on the bench to try to revive its team’s hopes before they are too far gone. That is a reasonable change with a clear goal on the other side of it.
However, when sound reasoning leaves the equation, the Jeffrey Loria Experience sets back in.
The ever uneasy Loria, who now has three former managers and/or general managers between Redmond, his predecessor Ozzie Guillen and former GM Larry Beinfest on his current payroll, is never not ready to be impatient. He is baseball’s answer to the atomic bomb, both indiscriminate and highly destructive. The only difference is that he sets the bomb off in his own backyard with what should not be still stunning regularity, but somehow still is.
The outcome of his most recent circus ringleader-style ownership may be his most remarkable to date. (Considering that this is a man that once authorized a trade of Miguel Cabrera, that is says a lot.) This time, the emperor has decided to take one quirky arrangement within his organization and give it an even more excruciating twist. In firing Redmond – a 12-year MLB vet, whom had never managed in the Majors previously, yet had some experience as a minor league skipper – the first news as that the organization was looking to continue with its raw, but baseball experienced former Marlin stable. The familiar names of Jeff Conine and Ivan Rodriguez emerged suddenly, both of whom would similarly reside in the big name, no experience crowd, in the hurricane of activity that came forward after Redmond’s late afternoon dismal yesterday. However, the final outcome left even the most knowing of baseball insiders slightly slack jawed.
The final call made was to take the club’s GM, Dan Jennings, out of the front office and into uniform in managing the team day-to-day on field. Even for the oft-exploratory Fish, this is about as unprecedented and head scratching of a move in ages. Jennings, whom has a shockingly long-term tenure with the shape-shifting Marlins (13 years that must feel like 33), has been essentially a GM in limbo. Most of the actual baseball decisions are pulled through president of baseball operations Michael Hill as is, so Jennings role has been an indeterminable one. The message delivered is one of Jennings being a bookmark on the bench: a quick fix capable of filling in immediately while a suitable replacement is found. Jennings will not handle both the on-field and general manager roles simultaneously. Rather the GM position will be considered officially vacant throughout the rest of the year, with Hill handling the roster duties and Jennings will be the manager until the end of the year – with a possibility of resuming his former role once the year is over.
In reality, who is buying on that, especially from this organization? It wreaks of mercy in a place where there is none. Sure, it is a nice way to candy coat it, but the underlying reality is far simpler than that. With Loria’s latest death-defying stunt, he makes it clear: Jennings either learns to be a Major League manager from scratch and save a Marlin season that is clearly only a success if it ends up (at least) playing postseason baseball, or he’s out.
If you’re keeping score at home, Jennings, whose last managerial job was with Davidson (Alabama) High School in the mid-1980s, is expected to turn around the fortunes for a team whose entire offseason effort was based around the expectation of winning immediately. This is akin to asking the CEO of McDonald’s to jump on the assembly line and turn around the fortunes of chain that is not pumping out the burgers like it was supposed to, with no training on how to do so instead of talking to a cashier about the menu.
The statement was made clear in the introductory address for Jennings’ installment as manager this morning (of which Loria was absent from):
“Jennings is our manager for the remainder of the regular season. As we do with everything, we re-evaluate at the end of the year.”
Never has a plank both so quickly appeared and been walked before. You can almost picture Loria sitting back in his office, chuckling like Jabba the Hutt when he submitted Luke Skywalker to a similar fate in the opening moments of “Return of the Jedi”. It seems that the true impetus is to make Jennings responsible for the results of the roster he constructed in a fashion that’s as extreme and unprecedented for any general manager in the modern era of the game.
If the assumptive goal of removing one manager to kick things into gear with another is to put a better baseball mind in place to put the pieces in place to better use, this certainly goes against the grain of that goal. As always, the Marlins march to the beat of a different drum.
Or in this case, they’ve decided to replace the drum with a kazoo, whilst looking for a better sound. Best of luck to all involved.
I’m a firm believer that the closest I’ve gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I’ll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’.