The baseball off-season is officially underway, what with trades already happening, players re-signing with their teams, a confessed steroid user exercising his $20 million player option rather than test the free agent market, after tanking on yet another team, following a 50-game suspension. It's just Manny being Manny, and it's just another off season in Major League Baseball. The countdown to pitchers and catcher reporting has begun (95 days, if you're counting at home). And it's also time to sort out new managers. Some teams are set with their skippers, while others will start scouring the available managers to lead their clubs into battle in 2010.
The Cleveland Indians have already made their selection. They interviewed several candidates. They looked at very qualified assistant coaches (Mattingly, Don) as well as plenty of re-treads (Hurdle, Clint). In the end, they settled on Manny Acta. He seems like a really nice guy, too. But what pedigree does he bring with him? His .385 winning percentage in 410 games managing the Washington Nationals? His propensity for finishing in last place? I'm curious as to the qualifications that Indians' GM Mark Shapiro was looking for in his next field boss.
There was another candidate that Shapiro and the Indians interviewed and tossed aside. He's currently employed part time by ESPN, and he's managed before. He's managed successfully, as a matter of fact. And he might very well be the smartest man in baseball who is not employed by a Major League Baseball team at the current time. He is the only man who, in 2000, said Ichiro could not only play baseball with Major League players here in America, but that he would excel at it. Other scouts, managers and GMs scoffed at the notion. They said Ichiro was too slight. That his game was great in Japan but would not translate well over here. All Ichiro has done since joining the Seattle Mariners is have 200 or more hits in every season he's played, break the single season hits record (262), win the rookie of the year, an AL MVP trophy, lead the league in batting average twice, stolen bases once and be an All Star selection every single year he's played. The same man who was the only man to predict Ichiro could do these things was also asked prior to game one of the 2009 World Series two questions. The first question was - who will win the World Series? He answered - The Yankees, in 6 games. The second question was - Who will be the X-factor in the World Series? He answered - Hideki Matsui. The Yankees won in 6 games, and Matsui was named MVP of the Series.
This man has managed two MLB teams in his career. In his first full season managing the Texas Rangers, he improved them by 25 wins over the previous season. He took a 62-99 team and turned them into an 85-77 team. Six years later, he was fired. He was fired mid season, with the Rangers 45-41. His replacement led the team to a 32-44 record the rest of the way. A few years later, after managing the New York Mets' triple-A team to an astounding 82-59 record, he was promoted to manage the big club. As manager of the Mets, he led them to 5 consecutive seasons of over .500 baseball. He led them to back to back playoff appearances (the Mets would kill for such success these days) in 1999 and 2000. And he led them to their first World Series berth in 14 years in 2000. Since he was fired after the 2002 season, the Mets have made the playoffs only once.
Yes, this man has his quirks. He was once ejected from a game. He proceeded to go into the clubhouse, put on funny glasses and nose and return to the dugout, "incognito". The umpires noticed the obvious, over-the-top costume and ejected him.....again. But his quirks and his quick temper do not take away from his genius. He was a transcendent figure while managing in Japan these past 5 seasons. He led his team to the championship over there. And, when the Chiba Lotte Marines' management decided they wanted to fire him after the 2009 season, the fans signed a petition in an attempt to keep him - all the fans. How beloved a man must he be to get fans to sign a petition to keep him - a manager, not a player? When Joe Torre and the Yankees parted ways after the 2007 season, there was no petition to keep Joe. And he led the Yankees to 13 consecutive playoff appearances and 4 World titles. After Joe Girardi botched the 2008 season so badly that the Yankees missed the playoffs, there was still no petition to bring the real Joe back to the Bronx. So, imagine how popular this man must have been to garner such respect and admiration of an entire fan base.
I implore some GM, some owner, someone in MLB with a brain - hire this man. He will do wonderful things for your ballclub. If I had Brian Sabean's number on speed dial, I would be calling him right now, telling him to dump Bruce Bochy and hire this man.
Please, somebody hire Bobby Valentine.