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Baseball downsizing

As a general rule, job retention depends on personal performance. A notable exception, however, is being the manager of a professional baseball team. In all honesty, it's a job only slightly more complicated than a full-time nanny. Other than choosing which nine names to etch on the lineup card on game days and trotting out to the pitcher's mound a couple times a game to take the ball from struggling pitchers, the manager's primary duty is to stop a bunch of babies from squabbling long enough to play a 3-hour baseball game.

There's little proof that a good manager versus one that's been shuffled through more minor league franchises than Crash Davis makes much difference at all once the game starts. For that reason, the whole business of firing managers when a team starts to plummet in the standings is a bit illogical. But since there are hundreds managers with past experience coaching professional baseball ready to step in as soon as their cell phones light up and ten times more guys that no one has ever heard of who would do the same thing, managers can be fired at will. It makes you wonder if their fungibility isn't their greatest asset. Capable players are a bit harder to come by -- plus they earn a lot more money -- so jettisoning them isn't an option.

Already this year a couple of managers have been chased out of town, and two others will unquestionably follow. After that, there are a couple of others feeling a bit of pressure as well, wondering how many more times they'll be asked to put on the uniform hanging in their locker

.

Larry Bowa
At this point, Bowa isn't so much a manager as an afterthought. If Bowa holds onto his job for 2005, it will make people who bet the farm on Smarty Jones think the Belmont Stakes was just another race. A week ago, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick wrote a piece explaining why the Phillies aren't actually that good. The problem is he's wrong. The Phillies roster is as good as any team in the National League. Whether you look at their lineup, pitching staff or bullpen, there's nowhere to point to and scream, "See, that's where things are getting fouled up"! And whenever production doesn't match talent, one can count down the days to a manager's demise. I'm already in the negatives for Bowa.

Dusty Baker
One may ask what in the name of reasonable expectations is Baker doing on this list. However, looking at the situation in the North Side of Chi-town reveals that the Cubs have been a colossal disappointment thus far this year. In his two years since arriving in the Windy City, Baker has neither found a way to keep his staff healthy nor piece together a reasonable bullpen. And while no one questions his ability to motivate players, his parents would call his game management decisions questionable. If the Cubs are watching the postseason on the big screen, Baker may need to start looking into what penalties he'll occur for breaking his lease prematurely.

Frank Robinson
By virtue of the numbers, Robinson almost has to be fired. After winning 83 games in each of the previous two seasons, the Expos are on pace to win a whopping 68 this year. In all fairness, Robinson has had to deal with a lot of adversity, what with the dual-citizenship of his home ballparks. And when your best hitter and one of your best pitchers miss most of the season, that doesn't make things easier. Literally, the Expos may be a franchise headed nowhere, with only the baseball owners knowing whether they will be able to call some city in Puerto Rico home next year. Wherever they move, it will provide an easy excuse for the Expos to change directions by firing their captain.

Al Pedrique
If someone gave you a dozen rotten eggs and a quart of spoiled milk and told you to bake a chocolate souffl, you'd call them crazy. Well, that's what the Diamondbacks asked Bob Brenly to do and when he couldn't get it done, they fired him and gave the job to Pedrique. Granted, there are many things that smart individuals can do that Brenly cannot -- statistics, baseball strategy -- but to expect a turnaround from the 29-41 start after firing Brenly would have been foolish. By the same token, it's not Pedrique that deserves most of the blame for the D-backs' atrocious record since he took the helm. However, if management had given him a team fresh off elimination from the Little League World Series they would've expected a mark better than 10-37.

Special commendation this week goes to the Chicago Cubs for their astute acquisition of SS Neifi Perez off of waivers. Nine days after the San Francisco Giants kicked Perez off the bus -- in favor of uber-prospect Cody Ransom -- the Cubs signed Perez to a minor league contract.

His addition to their organization means the Cubs now boast not only the worst hitting shortstop with major league service, Rey Ordonez, but also the runner-up in the category. Ordonez's OPS of .453 with the big club puts him squarely in between slugging teammates Carlos Zambrano and Kerry Wood. Perez, on the other hand, has been far stronger, posting an OPS of .562. If either of them ever makes it back to the big club, it will be the proof that the Cubs truly are a cursed organization.

As always, all comments are welcome and can be sent to [email protected].