02 July 2010

Room For Two

After navigating the toughest month of opponents in franchise history, skipper AJ Hinch has predictably been dismissed. Less predictably, he took the General Manager with him. Like Bob Melvin's ouster a year prior, the timing of the firings, relative to the seasonal schedule, leave little doubt as to the short term impetus or curious integrity of the changes.

If you recall, Melvin was axed immediately after surviving a 29 game stretch against almost exclusively .500 or better teams, ushering in Hinch to face the then hapless Nats and Reds at home - and one of the easiest extended stretches in recent memory. Today, Hinch endured a brutal interleague schedule to make way for Kirk Gibson, who will be greeted by 17 of 20 at home against lesser foes. After that, the schedule trends even easier, if that's possible. Sound familiar?

The other parallel involves tangential effects. Melvin's dismissal didnt stir much outrage, at least outside the clubhouse, but did lead directly to the departure of Bryan Price. Today, most everyone is relieved to see Hinch exit, but the absence of Josh Byrnes may prove more strategically problematic.

Byrnes, it is rumored, is the early odds on hero in all this, standing by his man, a la Tammy Wynette. Just kidding. I think it's actually damn dignified and a pretty rare thing to do. To punt a high profile baseball job, because you really believe in someone you think is getting a raw deal.

Just ask Bryan Price.

Longer term, jettisoning AJ Hinch is a good thing, although not as good as never inserting him in the dugout in the first place. The clubhouse vibe, which he was hired to improve, never did, and in fact badly deteriorated. Reportedly, the relationship between Byrnes and Hall had also grown strained. That's what happens when you put a marketing careerist ostensibly in charge of a substantive baseball mind competing under tight fiscal pressures.

The marketing careerist won and I'm not sure that's a good thing for the franchise.

What easily gets lost in all this shifting, is that Melvin and Hinch both had their clubs objectively playing better just before they were dropped. That doesnt mean AJ should've ever been hired, or that Melvin was a great manager. But both teams had settled down, with clearer skies ahead. That contextual performance tends to fall by the wayside, however, when what matters most to the leaders of an organization is manipulating fans and perception. When what's more important than fielding a good team is telling you how good it is. When what trumps winning is manipulating personnel so you can take credit for anticipated bumps a softer schedule affords.

I fear that's what this organization has largely become. It's defining character seems to be perception, rather than substance, driven. Hinch and Byrnes were party to that, at times, and received criticism here. So, I harbor mixed feelings about both of them. But in the end, seeing how their respective if not always respectable tenures played out to the bitter end, it's hard to escape my impression that each young man, in his own way, was probably a little too good for the room.


Russell said...

Hinch was undermined from day one with the whole "organizational advocacy" thing. It made him seem weak to players, fans, and the rest of baseball. It was a bad appointment from the off, but that just made it worse.

You have to respect Byrne's taking the high road on the issue of firing Hinch, but I suspect he felt that his ability to carry on performing his role had been weakened by the whole affair anyway.

And yeah, you're right, stop telling us how great the team is until they do something on the field. I do wonder if some of the younger players haven't started to believe their own hype. Upton already has a section of the stadium named after him for God's sake!

Constantly telling a young team that they are championship material is more likely to make them coast than work harder.

Diamondhacks said...


Byrnes is a negotiating pro, so I'm pretty sure he felt this course was "worth it" - at least for him - even if it sounds unusual to most outsiders. For whatever reason(s), I dont get the sense he was either too bothered or surprised by the prospect of being let go.

Not sure "org advocacy" really bothered the players though, like it did fans and media. I think players judged AJ based on their personal and professional interactions, and were prejudiced by his overall lack of reputation more than anything JB specifically said.

Heard Kendrick today on a local radio show, with a sympathetic WVU alum Ron Wolfley and I was struck by how relaxed and kinda stupid he sounded. He said AJ was the victim of 'bad luck', kinda rambled on about how things werent going well and didnt seem at all confident (to me anyway) about turning this around with Gibby. He didnt sound arrogant, more like somebody's grandpa in over his head.