HIRED TO BE FIRED

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Sports  |  House: Booksie Classic

The reality of being a manager or coach in the sports world

HIRED TO BE FIRED

By John Ross Hart

 

There is a old joke amongst baseball fans.It more than addresses the matter of security for a manager or a coach.

QUESTION:Name five New York Yankees managers?

ANSWER:Billy Martin!

This is insecurity at the worst.You could put an asterisk on it.George Steinbrenner owned the team.If he wasn't happy, he fired the manager.From the departure of Ralph Houk in 1973 to arrival of Joe Torre in 1996, Yankee managers came and went.

There was Bill Virdon, Billy Martin, Bob Lemon, Billy Martin, Bob Lemon, Dick Howser, Gene Michael, Bob Lemon (Billy Martin was in Oakland), Gene Michael, Clyde King, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Dallas Green, Bucky Dent, Stump Merrill (Billy was dead), and Buck Showalter (Steinbrenner was suspended).

Those Miller Lite beer commercials featuring former athletes made two commercials with Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner.They were interchangable, determining the situation.

"Less Filling!"

"Tastes great!"

"Billy!"

"Yeah, George."

"You're fired."

"Not again!"

Or...

"Billy!"

"Yeah, George."

"You're hired!"

"Not again!"

Most managers and coaches never had to deal with the insecurities of working for George Steinbrenner.Billy was a protege of Casey Stengel, who is best remembered as one of the greatest managers in baseball history.Between 1949 and 1960, Casey won ten American League pennants and seven world championships.Now granted, he had a plethora of talent and then some.That was not the case with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Braves, or the 1962 New York Mets.Casey managed baseball's best teams, but also had to manage its worst teams.

One manager with whom he broke even was Milwaukee Braves manager Fred Haney.Haney went one-up on Stengel in 1957, but Casey evened the score the following year.    Haney later became a successful General Manager with the Los Angeles Angels.

Until he came to Milwaukee, Haney piloted last place teams in St. Louis and Pittsburgh.

There are managers who spent their whole career with one team.Of course, Connie Mack had no one to answer to but himself.He was the manager, general manager, and owner of the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years.When he started, John McGraw began his three-decade tenure as manager of the New York Giants.Earl Weaver worked his way up through the Orioles organization, taking the reins of the parent club in 1968.The Earl of Baltimore stayed on the job, and very successfully, for 17 years.

Vince Lombardi is considered the greatest coach in National Football League.He is always identified with the Green Bay Packers, but in 1969 joined the Washington Redskins, and was rebuilding that franchise when colon cancer claimed him a year later.

Tom Landry, once an assistant coach Lombardi on the New York Giants, was head coach of the Dallas Cowboys from their inception in 1960, until new owner Jerry Jones fired him in 1988.

Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher only coached the Pittsburgh Steelers.

George Halas, like Connie Mack, was owner/general manager/coach of the Chicago Bears for over 45 years before calling it quits on the field.

John Wooden spent his entire career as "The Wizard of Westwood," winning NCAA basketball championships and turning out great players at UCLA.

But most managers or coaches attain their fame the old-fashioned way, paying their dues. Bill Belicheck of the New England Patriots is considered the best coach in the NFL today.But he was less than successful in his first head coaching job with the Cleveland Browns.

Save for the legendary Knute Rockne, all head coaches of Notre Dame football had to pay their dues elsewhere.Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz, and current coach Brian Kelly had to pay their dues at other schools before getting their keys to the kingdom.

Under Joe McCarthy, the New York Yankees made their most dominate stand, winning the most games, including five world championships in a row.Neither Miller Huggins or Casey Stengel could make that claim.But McCarthy's first managerial success came with the Chicago Cubs.By 1932, he was in the opposite dugout when Babe Ruth hit his supposed "called shot."

Even Billy Martin had to pay his dues, with the Minnesota Twins, the Detroit Tigers, and the Texas Rangers, being fired at all three stops.

Great managers and coaches get fired.  Hall-of-Fame manager Bill McKechnie was fired by the St. Louis Cardinals after losing the 1928 World Series.But he already had a ring from Pittsburgh and would gain two more in Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Sparky Anderson led the Reds to successive world championships in 1975 and 1976.That didn't stop his being fired two years later.So, he went to Detroit and won-it-all there in 1984.

Then there was "The Dodger Way."Charlie Dressen had led the team to National League pennants in 1952 and 1953.He lost in 1951 when Bobby Thomson of the rival New York Giants hit "the shot heard 'round the world."  Dressen was working on one-year contracts and decided to ask for two.Owner Walter O'Malley didn't believe in multi-year contracts.So he was sent packing.

Charlie would manage again, in Washington, Milwaukee, and Detroit but never won another pennant.

He would be replaced in Brooklyn by Walter Alston, a quiet and loyal up-through-the-ranks manager who would come to sign 23 one-year contracts, escort the team to Los Angeles, and win a few championships along the way.

When Alston retired, Tommy Lasorda took over.He had once pitched for the Dodgers, worked as a scout, and like Alston worked his way up through the farm system.Lasorda's personality was the opposite of Alston's.He bled Dodger blue.

Bill Russell was groomed in the same way to replace Lasorda, but change in ownership took away his opportunity.  Nonetheless, from 1954 to 1996, while managers came and went, the Dodgers only had two.They've had eight since under three sets of owners.

The National Basketball Association is a perfect location for recycled coaches.  Which brings up the question, where is George Karl these days?He was an aggressive player.As a coach he's been continually on the move.He wins wherever he goes.His stops have included Cleveland, Golden State, Denver, Milwaukee, Seattle, the CBA (twice), Real Madrid (twice), and most recently, Sacramento.At 69, he's tanned, rested, and ready to coach.

Lenny Wilkins was my favorite basketball player in my youth.He was at the peak of his playing career was he also began coaching the Seattle SuperSonics.He was later a player-coach at Portland.He started coaching full-time at Cleveland, then it was on to Atlanta, Toronto, and finally the New York Knicks.His honors include NBA All-Star, All-Star Game MVP, Coach of the Year, World Champion, and the Basketball Hall of Fame.Lenny Wilkins has spent more time on a basketball court than anyone and is second all-time in NBA wins.

Most managers and/or coaches usually have their own people.Tony LaRussa always had Dave Duncan along as his pitching coach, and later brought along Dave McKay as his first base coach.

Billy Martin always had Art Fowler as both pitching coach and drinking buddy.Check the long list of arms they blew out under their control.

When Hall-of-Fame manager Dick Williams took over the Mariners, he called his long time coaches and told them..."Pack it up fellas.We're headed for Seattle."

Williams would eventually be fired.It had happened before, although Seattle would be his last stop. 

A good manager or coach is measured by longevity.Bobby Cox managed the Atlanta Braves, twice.The second time, he won 13-straight division championships, plus a World Series.In-between, he took the Toronto Blue Jays to a division title, setting the stage for two successive world championships.

The aforementioned LaRussa won with the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland Athletics, and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Joe Torre had only so-so success with the Mets and the Cardinals and found some success with the Braves.But he was still a desired manager when the Yankees hired him in 1996.Patience brought forth a new reign.When it floundered, he was asked to leave.

I'm not sure who made the comment about a manager being hired to be fired.With today's sports talk radio and social networking, you hear about managers and coaches "on the hot seat."

Baseball's World Champion Washington Nationals actually got off to a very poor start for 2019.The biggest discussion was not so much would managet Dave Martinez get fired, but when.

When was not in 2019.But Dave Martinez will be fired one day.Andy Reid will be fired one day.He's already been fired once.Steve Kerr will one day have to clean out his office.In the sports profession, it happens to everybody.

Though it had nothing to do with his three firings, the great Yogi Berra probably said it best...

"It ain't over 'til it's over!"

###

 


Submitted: June 03, 2020

© Copyright 2021 John Ross Hart. All rights reserved.

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