Friday, June 10, 2011

10 Thoughts: Oakland A's -- May 2011 Bob Geren Memorial Edition

April: 13-14
May: 14-15
June: 0-8

Shortly after 10:00 AM on Thursday morning, my Oakland Athletics announced that manager Bob Geren had been relieved of his duties. Geren had spent four-plus seasons at the helm and leaves with a 334-376 record. It would be insensitive to suggest my fellow Athletics fans and I took pleasure in the firing of a 49-year-old baseball lifer, but my friend Smitty sent me an email with the subject "The Lord Be Praised" after the news broke.

I spent the next 12 hours devouring the story and absorbing the reactions -- while establishing new lows in workplace productivity. The Bob Geren era makes for some interesting epitaphs.

(1) Which group did Geren lose first: the clubhouse or the fanbase? Hired after Ken Macha was canned at the end of the 2006 season (after winning an American League West division title and making it to the ALCS), Geren finished his first season 76-86. That 2007 team was crushed by injuries (not to mention a certain
time-released tumor), so Geren was effectively given a pass by the fans. On the players' side -- even if we ignore the Milton Bradley blow-up (which, to be fair, was directed at Oakland's boy-genius General Manager) -- there were an awful lot of guys on that team who'd eventually have public fallings-out with the organization at some point (1B Dan Johnson, SS Bobby Crosby, OF Travis Buck, DH Jack Cust, C Rob Bowen, C Adam Melhuse, SP Chad Gaudin, SP Rich Harden and RP Huston Street). Hmmm...

(2) After a 4-1 loss to the hated Angels on May 23, Oakland interim closer Brian Fuentes
ripped Geren apart to the press. The 35-year-old Fuentes is relatively new to the team -- in the first year of a two-year contract -- but, has built a respectable resume over eight-plus season in the big leagues. And, with the security of a multi-year deal, Fuentes' pointed comments were met with lukewarm retorts from Geren and GM Billy Beane. (Septuagenarian A's owner Lew Wolff graciously provided the comic relief everyone needed with the single most effusively oblivious vote of confidence ever issued.)

(3) Despite claims that the team had put the Fuentes controversy behind them, it's clear that it was the final nail in the coffin for Geren. He was fired a little over two weeks after it went down. It's not unreasonable to think that Beane could reach out to Melvin (who had rejoined the Arizona Diamondbacks last month in an advisory capacity), make him an offer, accept a counter-offer, agree to a deal with obligatory legal review and have a signed contract in that time? Trust me: I'm in my 12th year as a contract negotiator/administrator and it takes me about 17 days to get anything done.

(4) On the same night that Fuentes became famous (for something other than his 1-7 record and 5.06 ERA, at the time) erstwhile A's closer Huston Street
piled on Geren -- via text message to an A's beat writer. Street was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2005 and equally impressive for Oakland in 2006. Injuries and an increasing proclivity for surrendering tape-measure, game-tying home runs in the ninth inning marred his final two seasons (2007-08) with the A's. Street's criticism was undeniably petty and obscured his own ineffectiveness that -- coincidental or not -- overlapped with Geren's first two seasons as manager. (This season, Street's allowed seven home runs in 29 innings (or more than two for every nine innings). But, sure, keep running your mouth.)

(5) The cavalcade of former A's referenced yesterday included 1B/DH Mike Sweeney. He spent a single season (2008) in Oakland -- most of it on the disabled list -- and was released after...well, after something happened. According to San Francisco Chronicle writer
John Shea's sources, Sweeney lit into Geren after the manager wouldn't give him more starts during a late season series in Kansas City (against Sweeney's longtime former team). According to Sweeney, Geren established a "culture of fear" and, more egregiously, he wouldn't let the players ride in the bus by themselves just one time! Ballplayers are far and away my favorite athletes.

(6) Even Rob Bowen got in on the all-day dance atop Geren's grave. Yes, THAT Rob Bowen! He posted a .209/.289/.336 slash line in 1 1/2 seasons with Oakland from 2007-08. After being released during Spring Training 2009, he left the game and now works in law enforcement. He's also on Twitter! Bowen fanned the flames with
this tweet a-a-a-and especially this tweet. Now, let's not start making up sh*t to pin on Geren, Rob. Yes, SP Josh Outman and RP Joey Devine were on your 2008 team and needed Tommy John surgery the following year. And, RP Andrew Brown's shoulder exploded during the same season. Of course, Rich Harden IS made of paper mache. But, Geren didn't ruin any of them. It's common knowledge that the only career he killed off was Michael Wuertz's -- as irrationally outlined here.

(7) During Beane's conference call with the media to explain the firing, he said, "It got to the point where the emphasis was on the status of the manager on a daily basis and no longer on the field." The team had lost NINE games in a row (and, now, ten consecutive losses, after Thursday's game). It was the performance on the field that was putting the "emphasis" on the manager's status. This is the kind of circular reasoning and specious thought that's been lampooned in the business world for decades. Now,
the pointy-haired boss is running my favorite baseball team?!

(8) Your guess is as good as mine as to why Beane isn't held accountable for this mess. His close friendship with Geren (did ya know that Geren was best man at Beane's second wedding?!) screamed "incestuous" and "conflict of interest" on a business level. Furthermore, Beane's first two handpicked managers (Ken Macha in 2003 and Geren) were both fired after irreparable rifts with their players. I know Beane now holds an ownership stake in the A's and isn't going anywhere (against his will, at least). But, it would be nice if one of the A's three beat writers could ask why Beane believes his third hire is a charm.

(9) My take: Geren had to go. You can't blame him for the unprecedented parade of injuries or the inept offense, but let's not rewrite history, either. The oft-opined idea that this 2011 team was the first time Geren ever had expectations of winning hanging over him is patently ridiculous. The 2007 A's lost 16-game winner Barry Zito to free agency and essentially swapped out a monster year from DH Frank Thomas for a thought-to-be still-productive Mike Piazza, but still had most of the pieces that won the division in 2006.

The 2009 A's inexplicably reversed course after a year of rebuilding, trading for OF Matt Moss Holliday and plugging holes with the calcified remains of players who were good ten years earlier in an ill-fated attempt to make a playoff run. In 2011, my A's had become unwatchable. 250-foot fly outs, a steady stream of weak groundballs to second base and a pitching staff that couldn't allow opponents to put a two or three-run lead on the board, since Oakland doesn't score enough to come from behind. I would've already punted on the season if not for my seven-year-old son Jalen. I love watching the games with him as I quietly seethe and simmer, while Jalen boils over. The look on his face when we win is all that keeps me coming back.

(10) Speaking of Jalen, I tweeted this yesterday:

I support the #Athletics managerial change for the sake of my seven-year-old son. He's two or three more losses away from taking up smoking.

After last night's loss with our new manager, I should probably start pricing
kid-friendly Laramies this weekend.


Kristen said...

Since there aren't any comments here, I'll just say...woooo.... Oakland drafted a Vanderbilt player in the first draft! If he stays with you and makes it to the major leagues, I will have to start rooting for the As!

Aaron C. said...

I love the kid's name: Sonny Gray. I've never seen a first name and surname cancel each other out.

Why am I not surprised that my A's found the one guy that applies to?