x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Baseball: a tough game to manage

With Trey Hillman already fired, Sean McAdam writes about whose neck might be on the line next.

Trey Hillman was fired as manager of the Kansas City Royals.
Trey Hillman was fired as manager of the Kansas City Royals.

The 2010 season is not yet at the quarter pole, and already, a manager has been fired. And that may be only the beginning. Last week, the Kansas City Royals sacked Trey Hillman, their manager, who was in his third season in the Royals dugout. Days earlier, Drayton Moore, the Kansas City general manager, gave Hillman the dreaded vote of confidence - only to fire him 48 hours later.

Hillman was the first manager fired this season, but he almost certainly will not be the last. Even before the end of May, the point at which the standings begin to take on some significance, there are a handful of players seemingly set to join him. Jerry Manuel, the manager of the New York Mets, was rumoured to be in jeopardy even before the season began, thanks to the team's calamitous 2009, which followed two late-season collapses.

Manuel appeared to buy himself some time when his club went on a nine-game winning streak to grab a share of first place in the NL East. But just as quickly, the Mets fell backwards to last in the division, and the whispers about Manuel being let go resurfaced. Not that he will find it of much comfort, but he is not alone. Baltimore's Dave Trembley, Texas's Ron Washington, Florida's Freddi Gonzalez and Pittsburgh's John Russell have all had to endure talk that their employment may be coming to an end.

Trembley's Orioles have the worst record in the American League and despite a nucleus of young talent, they have yet to show the kind of progress that Andy McPhail, the team executive, said he expected at the end of spring training. Washington's Rangers are in first place, but he is operating on a short leash after testing positive for cocaine use last summer, a transgression that wasn't made public until March. Nolan Ryan, the team president, said he thought the Rangers should win 90-plus games and if they do not, Washington will pay.

The Marlins are accustomed to doing more with less - their payroll is third-lowest in the National League this season - but their owner, Jeffrey Loria, is said to be unhappy with the team's play. Finally, the Pirates are going through their umpteenth rebuilding program with the game's smallest payroll. Somehow, Russell is expected to get more. How much will any of the actual or rumoured managerial changes result in improved play for their respective teams? That's hard to say, but it won't stop the firings. In baseball, everybody needs a scapegoat and managers remain obvious targets.