Tough times last week for two of baseball’s most enduring managers. At 68 years old and 56 games into the final year on his contract, Joe Maddon was fired as manager of the Angels in the midst of a 12-game losing streak. A couple of days later 77-year-old Tony La Russa came under renewed fire from ever-critical White Sox fans and media for ordering an intentional walk to the Dodgers’ Trea Turner with a 1-2 count.
It didn’t matter that La Russa had a very logical explanation for the seemingly unorthodox move that backfired spectacularly when the next batter, Max Muncy, hit a three-run homer. This was red meat for the legions of La Russa critics clamoring for him to go the same way as Maddon in the wake of the White Sox’s disappointing season so far. ESPN ranked it the worst intentional walk in history.
As La Russa explained it, once a wild pitch by lefty White Sox reliever Bennett Sousa allowed the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman to advance to second base with two outs in the sixth inning last Thursday, “it wasn’t a tough call” to go ahead and walk the right-handed-hitting Turner — a .333 hitter with two strikes against a left-handed pitcher this year — in favor of the struggling lefty-hitting Muncy, who was hitting .150.
It’s been a trying year for La Russa. Once again the White Sox, 27-29, have been best with injuries. One of their best hitters, Eloy Jimenez, and last year’s No. 1 starter Lance Lynn have both been out all year, and Tim Anderson has been down for a couple of weeks now to name three big ones. Plus Yoan Moncada, expected to be a big cog in the lineup, has been both hurt and awful (.141).
With so many holes, La Russa has been roundly criticized for giving excessive playing time to .184-hitting utilityman Leury Garcia, especially when batting him leadoff or third in the lineup. But barring the kind of long losing streak that he did in Maddon, La Russa’s job is secure. It just might not be very pleasant dealing with the long knives, who think he’s lost it, on a day-to-day basis.
As for Maddon, who may have just been the luckiest manager on the face of the Earth, the gravy train is probably over after 1,382 wins (31st all-time) with three different teams and one world championship with the Cubs in 2016 — which many have agreed was one of the worst managed World Series ever. Mind you, I like Joe Maddon. He’s a genuinely good person whose Respect 90 Foundation in Chicago, Mesa, Ariz., southern California, Tampa and his hometown of Hazleton, Penn., has raised millions for families in need. But as a manager he was vastly overrated; his secret to success being in the right place at the right time.
He got his first break with the Rays in the cradle of analytics in 2006 when Lou Piniella got tired of all the losing that came with the lowest payroll in baseball. Maddon had to endure two more years of losing before all those top prospects — David Price, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, James Shields, et al., — Piniella couldn’t wait for all blossomed into stars and went to the World Series in 2008. With the Rays, Maddon quickly embraced analytics and among other things was generally credited for introducing the preponderance of shifts (which ironically may soon be following him out the door) to baseball.
When the Rays slipped under .500 for the first time in six years in 2014 and it appeared all the constant turnover from shedding their best players before they reached free agency had finally caught up to them, Maddon was able to use a loophole in his contract and jumped to the Cubs for a five-year/$25 million deal that made him the third highest-paid manager in the game. And like with the Rays, Maddon inherited a Cubs team that had just gone through five years of tanking under GM Theo Epstein and had a core of young players — Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler, Javy Baez, Kyle Hendricks, et al. , — who, augmented by Epstein’s signing of staff ace Jon Lester, were ready to win.
Maddon won the ’16 World Series with that group, but damn near managed himself out of it. In Game 7, he removed Hendricks, who was dealing and leading 5-1, after just 63 pitches in 4⅔ innings, with Lester, who had not pitched in relief since 2007. He also misused his closer Aroldis Chapman by pitching him in games that were already decided, most egregiously in Game 6 with a big lead. That led to Chapman’s inability to throw his patented 100 mph fastballs in Game 7 when Maddon called on him in the seventh inning.
Maddon eventually had a falling out with Epstein, who was said to be critical of his easygoing manner with the players, and after the Cubs missed the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2019, they parted ways. But Maddon wasn’t out of work long when Angels owner Arte Moreno, a longtime admirer from when he was an Angels coach, hired him as their manager over Buck Showalter, among others. In two-plus years with the Angels, Maddon was 130-148 and it would seem his prospects for making the Hall of Fame, which were once bright, have dimmed considerably.
Another irony of Maddon’s firing was that, on the way out the door, he had some parting shots at analytics for which he had once been considered the residing guru.
“The more we go to the left regarding analytics and become extreme with that, it’s just gonna lose its appeal completely,” Maddon said.
IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD
Commissioner Rob Manfredwho’s got enough franchise headaches with the long-festering stadium issues in both Oakland and Tampa Bay, had an unexpected bomb dropped on his head Thursday with the announcement of a lawsuit filed by Louis Angelosthe son of incapacitated Orioles owner Peter Angelos, against his brother John Angelos and his mother Georgia essentially claiming he’s been forced out of the decision-making process with the club. According to Louis Angelos, his brother his intends to maintain absolute control over the Orioles and has fired many longtime Oriole employees. The suit also says that Angelos’ 80-year-old wife Georgia’s top priority was to sell the team but that John nixed a sale in 2020. It’s going to be up to Manfred now — as his predecessor Bud Selig did with former Dodger owner Frank McCourt in 2012 — to step in and force a sale of the Orioles, once a model baseball franchise which has been run into the ground by John Angelos and his incompetent management team in recent years. Even though John Angelos lives in Nashville, Manfred will stipulate the team must be sold to local ownership and that baseball will not approve a move. …
Last Saturday in Pittsburgh a remarkable thing happened when Pirates reliever Duane Underwood Jr. pitched 1⅓ innings of spotless relief against the Diamondbacks. Why was that so remarkable? Because it was the first time in 42 consecutive relief appearances Underwood had not allowed a baserunner — a Pirates record. … Hail Steve Stone, White Sox broadcaster and former Cy Young Award winner, who celebrated his 40th year of announcing baseball games Tuesday by throwing out the first pitch (not without first affixing some sticky stuff to his fingers) of the Sox-Dodgers game. One of the great listens in baseball is Stone and his White Sox broadcast partner Jason Benetti.