Why Did Macha Leave the A's?
But donít blame Billy Beane.
Beane is an easy target for writers who want to blast away without thinking. Ever since ďMoneyballĒ was published, Beane has been portrayed as an ego out of control, sometimes by writers who didnít even read the book.
Before you jump to the same conclusion, let me remind you of two factors:
1) Everyone who becomes a major figure in sports, entertainment or politics has a large ego. Thatís what it takes to withstand the criticism that comes in those positions. The question is not of ego but production. I have no problem with a person who has a large ego who produces, as Beane does.
2) The book was neither Beaneís idea nor his product. He co-operated with author Michael Lewis, but Lewis decided where to place his emphasis and reached his own conclusions. The book was very entertaining and well-researched, and itís been very successful. But I think the emphasis that it put on the Aís computer work led people to believe that the Aís pick players out of the computer instead of scouting, which is certainly not true.
Beane is a challenge to work for, because he is more involved with the daily operation than any other general manager in baseball. He is not, as one reader suggested, comparable to Al Davis, because heís more realistic about the team. When the Aís were doing so poorly in May, he didnít make any panicky moves or come down hard on Macha.
He also has a definite philosophy. He likes pitchers who strike out more than they walk, and he likes hitters with good plate discipline. (That does not mean, as some writers seem to think, that he wants Aís hitters going up looking for walks.) He doesnít want his team giving up outs by getting thrown out stealing or sacrificing, except late in the game, because this is an offensive era, especially in the American League.
All of these points make sense to me Ė and theyíre supported by many statistical studies, even though old-timers in the sport scorn them. Baseball is still the sport which has the most men who are saddled with outmoded ideas.
Art Howe was cowed by Beane. He came from the National League and preferred the style of play in that league when he was a player, when pitching was more dominant and managers played for one run, but he was afraid to try that because Beane would come down on him. He was so paralyzed by that fear that he didnít even pinch-run for Jeremy Giambi in the third game of the 2001 Division Series. Giambi was thrown out at the plate when he didnít slide, and the Aís lost that game and eventually the series.
Macha has been his own man. He has made jokes about Beaneís philosophy Ė he did so even at the news conference announcing his elevation to manager Ė but he has made the decisions he thought were correct, without worrying that heíd get criticized. He didnít have the speed on this yearís team to steal bases, but some players had the green light if they saw an opportunity and he encouraged aggressive baserunning; the Aís many times took the extra base.
But he and his agent overreached in contract negotiations. The Aís offered a good package, roughly $2.7 million over three years, but Machaís agent asked for $4.5 million over three years.
Do you think Ken Macha is a $1.5 million a year manager? His agent came down some but not much, so Beane decided, with reason, that there was no point in negotiating with someone who could not be realistic.
IT ALL COMES down to how much a manager is worth.
In football, coaches can make a big difference. The head coach sets the team philosophy, and coordinators call formations and plays.
A baseball manager doesnít have the same effect. Perhaps the best way to think of it is to compare it to horse racing. The jockey is important but the horse is the most important part of the equation. A mediocre jockey can win with the best horse, but the best jockey canít win with a mediocre horse. In baseball, a mediocre manager can win with the best talent but the best manager canít win with mediocre talent.
The only exception to that rule that Iíve seen is Billy Martin. For a short period, Martin was a great manager who won with all types of clubs; in Detroit, he won with a team that had good power but no speed, in Oakland, he won with a team which was just the opposite. Unfortunately, Martinís inner demons inevitably led him to self-destruct.
Tony La Russa was also a great manager for the Aís, who set up a pitching rotation with seventh- and eighth-inning set up men and a closer who came in only at the start of an inning when the Aís were ahead. Thatís common practice for everybody now. (For those who think Beane couldnít have lived with La Russa, when Beane and I talked confidentially about his dissatisfaction with Howe, the manager Beane always cited as his model was La Russa.)
Iíve seen good managers with the Giants Ė Frank Robinson, Roger Craig, Dusty Baker. Dick Williams was good with the Aís. Like La Russa, they made a difference, enough to win a close race. But they needed the players first.
Who is that kind of manager now? Joe Torre is the most successful now, with the Yankees, but nobody thought he was a miracle worker when he was 108 games under .500 in his first 13 seasons and part of a 14th. The World Series winner last year was Terry Francona, who was booed out of Philadelphia earlier.
The players are the most important part of the equation and, though there will be speculation about the next Aís manager, the most important move for the Aís will be to acquire a right-handed power hitter to be the DH. Mike Piazza is an intriguing possibility, and there are others who could be available for one year, while the Aís minor league hitting prospects are growing up.
MACHA WILL get another job, but it wonít be as good as the one heís leaving. The only team without a manager with comparable talent is Florida, and the Marlins wonít pay him anything like $1.5 million a year. Other teams have fired managers because they needed a scapegoat for a dysfunctional organization. If Macha takes one of those jobs, heíll be the next scapegoat.
With the Aís, Macha knew there would be a constant stream of young talent, especially pitching, supplied by Beane and his baseball people. He should still be a part of that, but donít blame Beane because heís gone.
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