Jeffrey Loria isn’t the most popular or respected owner in baseball, and probably isn’t even in the top 29.
That’s not an easy status to attain when one of the other 29 is a Steinbrenner.
But give Loria credit, not for firing manager Mike Redmond within the hour after the Marlins were swept by the Braves and nearly no-hit Sunday, but for making general manager Dan Jennings take over on Monday. The message: You made this mess, you clean it up.
It’s eccentric, like Ted Turner going from owner to the dugout of the Braves.
(Turner is in the books at 0-1, losing 2-1 to Pittsburgh in 1977 and stretching a Braves losing streak to 17 games. According to an ESPN.com story, Turner consulted with starting pitcher Phil Niekro on the batting order. Niekro, according to the ESPN.com story: ” ‘I looked at him and jokingly I said, ‘Ted, what spot you got me hitting in today?’ And he said, ‘Hell, I don’t know. You want to lead off? You want to hit second or third? We just lost 16 in a row. You’ve been around here long enough. Hit wherever you want to.’ ” Given the penchant for pitchers batting eighth today, maybe Turner was progressive. The next day, Turner was barred from managing by a newly discovered/created rule barring stockholders from doing so. Turner, according to ESPN.com: “If I’m smart enough to save $11 million to buy the team, I ought to be smart enough to manage it.” To which we can only respond some 38 years later: Eleven million dollars bought a team? That’s barely enough to cover season tickets for four Yankees box seats today.)
But back to the Marlins. Jennings is not to be confused with the former Marlins reliever of the same name, whom he traded away in the last offseason to the White Sox. That’s the kind of lack of sentimentality it takes to build a winning team, which Jennings, as of yet, hasn’t.
His other trades of the most recent active offseason are mixed: Dee Gordon is hitting .420, which is higher even than his 37% caught stealing ratio; but opponents are slugging .447 off pitcher Mat Latos, and batting .300. David Phelps is 2-0 with a 2.68 ERA and has been the Marlins’ best starting pitcher, which is a little like being called the safest driver on Miami’s expressways — there’s not a lot of competition. Only one other starter has an ERA of less than 4.00. But Michael Morse is batting .210 and has five extra-base hits, or just three more than recently released catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in 90 more at-bats.
Jennings said his mother, upon hearing the news of her son becoming manager, asked if he was crazy. “Have you lost your mind,” mom asked, and it’s nice to see the family genes include a sense of humor. He’ll need it.
Of course, you haver to wonder why mom didn’t ask that sooner — like when he traded for Latos.
Loria made much of his money as an art dealer, and if he had eye for Stantons like he does for Picassos, he would have known this year’s Marlins were no masterpiece.
They’re tied for 20th in runs scored, despite being sixth in batting average thanks to Gordon. And they’re 19th in team ERA, despite a bullpen that is tied for 28th in save percentage — the Marlins’ bullpen has blown 8 of 12 save opportunities. (The Diamondbacks, having blown 7 of 9 save opportunities, are even worse.)
That’s not all the fault of Jennings the GM, but Jennings the manager has to fix it. Steve Cishek saved 73 games the last two seasons, had ERAs of 2.33 and 3.17 and OPSes of .568 and .643. Nothing in his performance foretold Cishek being 1-3 with an 8.78 ERA, .911 OPS against and four blown saves in 13.1 innings of 2015.
“I feel bad for them,” Cishek said of Redmond and also-fired bench coach Rob Leary. “It’s not their fault.”
Nobody knows that better than Cishek, but he shouldn’t feel badly for Redmond. No offense to Redmond, who seems a decent guy and a decent manager, but Loria has fired better. Jennings will be the team’s sixth manager in the last five seasons, a pace that would have made the late George Steinbrenner feel he wasn’t doing enough.
The Marlins are already paying Ozzie Guillen not to manage this year, and now they’ll pay Redmond not to, for this season and two more, having extended his contract through 2017 last September. That’s one reason Jennings got the gig. The team could ill afford to pay the next manager not to manage, once they fire him, too.
Being fired by Loria isn’t a demerit, but a testimonial. Two managers (Fredi Gonzalez and Joe Girardi) once fired by Loria are now managing other teams — when Redmond joins them, they should pin a ribbon pronouncing as much to their unforms. A Croix de Loria.
Guillen once won a World Series with the White Sox, but was fired after one disastrous season with the Marlins (some of it was certainly Ozzie’s doing). Joe Girardi was fired by Loria, and three seasons later he won a World Series with the Yankees.
That’s how much things have changed in baseball. The manager of the Yankees is in his eighth season, secure with tenure. The manager of the team in South Florida has his contract extended in September, and is fired eight months later. Maybe somewhere Billy Martin wonders how Redmond kept the job so long.