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October 04, 2006

Showalter Fired

Texas fired manager Buck Showalter.

I haven’t written much about Showalter because I’m ambivalent about him. I agree that Showalter had to go, and I won’t miss him. Having said that, I have no doubt that he tried his best to make the team a winner and that he believed he could lead capably into the future. He refused to resign, and rightly so.

I doubt I’d enjoy working for him, but that’s an issue of personality, not managerial competence. Most people (and I can’t say I’m excluding myself) judge a manager based on personality because that’s all they have to go on. Sure, there are wins and losses, but that’s mostly the domain of the players. Grading managers objectively is a difficult task with nebulous results. Only those on the far end of the curve (say, Earl Weaver and Larry Bowa) are easily assessed.

Showalter’s dismissal actually did hinge on personality. Tom Hicks (and it is ultimately Hicks’s decision despite his public handoff to Jon Daniels) didn’t fire him because he started Rod Barajas too often. In today’s press conference Daniels expressed the need for a “fresh perspective,? usually an empty phrase but appropriate in this case. Not for the first time, Showalter’s personality didn’t mesh with the players. He consistently ranked among the least-liked managers according to secret ballots of players. Though a friendly relationship between manager and players certainly isn’t requisite to winning, too much dislike and mistrust can poison a clubhouse (or any working environment).

Tom Hicks may have wanted to retain Showalter, but Hicks himself paved the way for Showalter’s firing with his ill-advised interview questioning the character of the players. After the predictable backlash from the players, media and fans, the present situation could not stand. Someone had to go in order to relieve the tension. Should Hicks and Daniels have dismantled the team to save the manager? Of course not. Even on the assumption that Showalter is a great manager and doesn’t deserve firing, it’s far easier and sensible to replace him rather than the players.

Far more difficult is the task of replacing the team’s the biggest problem, its owner. As pointed out by Ed Coffin, frequent commenter at Lone Star Ball and Jamey Newberg’s message board, Tom Hicks is a deal broker, not an executive. It’s not that he has no plan. In fact, he’s had many plans, each diligently followed for a couple of years or so, whereupon an entirely new and often diametrically opposing plan takes its place.

In eight seasons of ownership, Hicks has employed three general managers and will soon hire his fourth manager. After 2001, Hicks replaced Doug Melvin with John Hart and simultaneously hired Grady Fuson with the understanding that Fuson would assume GM duties after a three-year “internship.? Two years and nine months later, Hicks dismissed Fuson. After Texas unexpectedly won 89 games in 2004, only the second winning season during Hicks’s tenure, he signed Hart to a rolling two-year extension and Showalter to a three-year extension with a club option. Nine months later, Hicks reassigned Hart. One year and nine months later, he fired Showalter before his extension began. Mull that one over. Hicks signed Showalter to a guaranteed three-year, $6 million contract when the existing contract still had two years remaining, and Showalter will receive that money without managing a single game.

Wait, there’s more. Hicks signed Alex Rodriguez to a ten-year, $252 million contract. Rodriguez lasted three years. During the next nineteen years the Rangers will pay him $87 million (plus interest) to play for the Yankees and to hone his golf skills after he retires. On a broader level, he instigated a period of frivolous spending followed by extreme parsimony. Accounting errors during 2001-2002 continue to haunt the team.

Replacing Showalter was necessary, but it doesn’t necessarily improve the team. I hope that in two years I’m discussing a Rangers playoff game and not the next Two Year Plan.

Posted by Lucas at October 4, 2006 06:52 PM