Ringolsby: Price Of Indecision

Eighteen games into this season, the Reds fired manager Bryan Price. There wasn’t much reaction in light of the fact the Reds had opened the season at 3-15. And losing is grounds for dismissal for a big league manager.

But if we’re being honest, the manager is more scapegoat for organizational failure than the bottom line problem. And Price’s situation underscores that.

Consider that the Reds came into this season having finished in last place in the NL Central the last three seasons. Cincinnati’s .412 winning percentage matched the Phillies for the worst in baseball in that time.

The Phillies looked to make an impact by signing established free agents Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta last offseason.

The Reds? The biggest thing they did in the offseason was let all-star shortstop Zack Cozart walk as a free agent—without making him a qualifying offer—and they replaced him with Jose Peraza, their utility infielder the last two years.

In summary, the Reds lost an impact player, pretty much kept the pitching staff of a year ago in place, and then 18 games into the season decided the problem with the team was Price, who had been filling out the Reds’ lineup cards for the past four seasons?

While managers get fired pretty regularly, the puzzle is if the Reds were in such a hurry to unload Price, why did it take 18 games into the season to make the change?

Why wasn’t a change made in the offseason so a new manager could be hired, spend the spring getting to know the roster, and start taking steps to get the franchise headed in the right direction. Instead, the Reds opted for an early-season disruption, while sending the signal that the folks upstairs have no confidence in the roster. Bench coach Jim Riggleman stepped in as interim manager.

In-season managerial changes aren’t rare. Since the advent of divisional play in 1969, there have been 205 changes, but just 10 of them have come within the first 20 games of a season, and only one made a significant different. When the Yankees fired Yogi Berra after a 6-10 start in 1975, Billy Martin stepped in, and the Yankees won 91 of their final 145 games to finish in second place.

And it’s not like changes later in the season have been successful.

Just 15 times since 1969 has a team that made an in-season manager change advanced to the postseason, and just twice has one of those teams won the World Series.

The 1978 Yankees fired Martin after a 52-42 start and hired Bob Lemon, who finished the regular season 48-20. New York knocked off the Red Sox in Game 163 to win the AL East and eventually knocked off the Dodgers in the Fall Classic.

In 2003, Jack McKeon replaced Jeff Torborg as manager of the Marlins, who were off to a 16-22 start. The Marlins rallied to go 75-49 under the guidance of McKeon, en route to a World Series title against . . . the Yankees.

Among the interesting aspects of the in-season managerial changes is the obvious impact George Steinbrenner had on the Yankees. The Yankees changed managers 10 times in the 11-year period from 1975 to 1990, but they haven’t made an in-season managerial change since that day in 1990 when Stump Merrill replaced Bucky Dent.

Just two teams have gone longer without an in-season managerial makeover. The 1986 Twins replaced Ray Miller with Tom Kelly, and the 1985 Giants replaced Jim Davenport with Roger Craig. Those two examples had staying power, at least, with Kelly lasting 16 seasons in Minnesota and Craig eight seasons in San Francisco.

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