Is a Vote of Confidence Truly the Kiss of Death for MLB Managers?
So, Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia was given a vote of confidence by team owner Arte Moreno this week. Moreno's super-expensive baby may be a super-disappointing 15-25, but he's not about to flip out.
“Mike has zero problems, OK?” Moreno told FoxSports.com. “This is his 14th year. Mike goes beyond what he does on the field. He’s a good person. He’s a good person in the community, a very good baseball guy. You don’t have to ask me. You just ask other managers, other baseball people."
Now that Moreno has said this, it surely won't be long before he's handing Scioscia a pink slip.
That's how these things usually go, right? Isn't a vote of confidence a kiss of death?
Since Baseball-Reference.com doesn't keep track of which managers got a VoC and when, there's no way to come up with any sort of statistical model. The best we can do here is take a stroll through some recent anecdotes and see what they say.
A Google session returned the following...
Ned Yost, 2007
Ned Yost's Milwaukee Brewers started off 2007 on a positive note, going 16-9 in April to make the locals wonder if the Brew Crew was going to be worth a darn for a change.
But nah. The fun times lasted until the All-Star break, and then the Brewers' supply of fun juice ran out. They went 11-16 in July and 9-18 in August, causing unrest among the Brewers faithful.
It was in early September that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio stepped in and backed his manager.
"There's certainly no reason to think he won't be back next year," Attanasio said, via the Associated Press.
And Yost was, but he didn't make it to the end of the year. Despite the fact the Brewers were in the thick of the postseason hunt, Yost was fired midway through September following a slump that was very much threatening the club's playoff chances.
Dale Sveum took Yost's spot and promptly led the Brewers into the postseason for the first time since 1982, and there was much rejoicing.
Joe Girardi, 2008
The 2008 season was Joe Girardi's first as the manager of the New York Yankees, and they didn't make the postseason. By the law of the Yankees, that's punishable by exile.
But the Yankees knew by early September that missing the postseason was in the cards, and Hank Steinbrenner said right then and there that the team wasn't about to pin it on Girardi.
"Joe will be back," said Steinbrenner, via the AP. "He's done everything he could. That's the bottom line."
Not long after Hank's vote of confidence came through, the Yankees stirred to life and won 12 of their last 15 games. Instead of a kiss of death, Girardi's VoC turned out to be a kick in the pants.
Willie Randolph, 2008
You knew there was going to be at least one New York Mets manager in here, right?
Willie Randolph's Mets choked away a huge NL East lead down the stretch in 2007, and 2008 didn't start much better. The Mets were under .500 in late May and Randolph's seat was scorching, but general manager Omar Minaya let everyone know things were cooler than they appeared.
"Willie has my support and the support of management," said Minaya, via the New York Daily News.
A couple weeks later, Randolph was fired along with pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto. Randolph's VoC was indeed a kiss of death, followed by a good, old-fashioned house-cleaning.
Joe Girardi, 2009
You might remember the 2009 Yankees as a juggernaut that succeeded in capturing the organization's (estimated) millionth championship.
If you do, you don't remember that they weren't so hot in the early stages of the season. Despite their huge payroll and collection of star power, they weren't even 10 games over .500 by the end of June.
But via River Ave. Blues, general manager Brian Cashman had this to say:
I think Joe’s done an exceptional job. We’re scuffling right now for three weeks, but he’s not humped over, slumped over, he’s not down and out and woe is me or depressed or on edge or tight. He’s keeping his guys up, he’s keeping them positive.
A few months later, the Yankees won the World Series. Once again, a VoC for Girardi turned out to be a catalyst of sorts. It's a wonder he doesn't get one every week.
Trey Hillman, 2009:
The 2009 season was Trey Hillman's second on the job with the Kansas City Royals, and it was proceeding about as poorly as the first.
After a decent start in April, the Royals were well under .500 by late July and Hillman was hearing it from the fans.
But not from general manager Dayton Moore. He told the Kansas City Star (via Hardball Talk) that Hillman would "absolutely" return in 2010.
And Hillman did, but this particular story isn't over yet. We'll get back to it in just a moment.
Clint Hurdle, 2009
The Colorado Rockies missed the playoffs in 2008 after going to the World Series in 2007 under Clint Hurdle, and the losses were coming early and often in 2009.
By early May, the Rockies were slipping further and further under .500, prompting Rockies owner Dick Monfort to quell unrest with some comments to the Denver Post:
To say he would be [fired] would be inaccurate. If you make the change, what is going to be better? And we are not going to make change for change's sake. If I felt it was going to make the difference in winning more games, we would do something. But I just don't think that's the case right now.
So what happened?
Hurdle was fired just a couple weeks later and replaced by Jim Tracy. He led the team to a 74-42 record and into the postseason and was rewarded with a Manager of the Year award.
Well played, Colorado.
Jerry Manuel, 2009
Jerry Manuel did a commendable job as manager of the Mets after taking over for Randolph in 2008, leading the team to a 55-38 finish.
But since he was a Mets manager, it was just a matter of time before Manuel also found himself on the hot seat.
Sure enough, the Mets were struggling along under .500 in late July of 2009, and that's when Minaya got a call from team owner Fred Wilpon. "I want you to be our general manager, and I want Jerry to be our manager," Minaya said Wilpon told him, via the AP.
The vote of confidence didn't do much good, as the Mets finished the season 70-92. But at least Manuel kept his job.
For the time being...
Trey Hillman, 2010
In 2009, the VoC that Hillman got from Moore did not turn out to be a kiss of death.
As such, he could have been forgiven for thinking that the next vote of confidence he got from Moore in early May of 2010 was a good sign. Moore told the Kansas City Star (once again via Hardball Talk) that Hillman was "exactly what our organization needs at this point in time."
Evidently, the organization didn't take long to change its mind. Hillman was fired soon after following a 12-23 start to the season and replaced by Ned Yost.
Yost proceeded to go 55-72 in place of Hillman and managed to hang around long enough to get some good players to play with this season. Lucky him.
Jerry Manuel, 2010
By not firing him in 2009, the Mets gave Manuel a chance to prove that he could do better than 70-92 over a full season's worth of work.
Things were going better in the early portion of the season, but the Mets slipped into a tailspin in June that was still going on in late July. That's when Minaya came out and did his thing.
"There is no discussion at all," Minaya said, via the New York Post. "Jerry Manuel is our manager, will be our manager. I'm very happy with the job that he is doing."
Manuel made it to the end of the season, but the Mets' final record was an unimpressive 79-83. That's when the Wilpons decided they'd had enough and gave both Manuel and Minaya the axe.
Don Wakamatsu, 2010
The Seattle Mariners were a decent team under Don Wakamatsu in 2009, going 85-77 to finish third in the AL West. They went into 2010 with some momentum.
That momentum vanished in about, oh, five minutes. The Mariners had a terrible month of May after a decent April and later went 6-22 in July.
But Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik stood by his guy. Via CBSSports.com:
Don is our manager. Don and I, and his son went out to dinner last night. We had a very nice evening, spent like three or four hours together and talked about a lot of things. We talked where we're headed with the club, about Don and Don is our manager.
A week later, there was Jack Z at a podium saying he had "lost confidence" in Wakamatsu and had decided to fire him.
Insert "That escalated quickly" quip here.
Bob Geren, 2011
In the early portion of 2011, pretty much everyone hated Oakland A's manager Bob Geren's guts.
Well, OK, it was only Brian Fuentes and Huston Street. Fuentes publicly complained about Geren's managerial style, and Street called Geren his "least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports."
But A's owner Lew Wolff? He was cool with Geren, telling the San Francisco Chronicle:
I personally love the way he deals with everybody. It’s a long season. He’s had some long seasons. I love the guy. He’s a good teacher. I love everything about him. He’s a very solid person, and I like the way he deals with everything all year long. This is a hard job.
A couple weeks later, general manager Billy Beane felt it was time to make a change and gave Geren the boot. He was replaced by Bob Melvin, who led the team to a .500 record in the second half and a surprise AL West title last year.
Manny Acta, 2012
The Cleveland Indians were a solid team under Manny Acta early in 2012, as they had a 27-23 record at the end of May and were very much in the AL Central race.
It all went downhill after that, culminating in a 5-24 August. It was during the early stages of that struggle that Indians general manager Chris Antonetti sounded off on whether Acta would be back in 2013. Via the Akron Beacon Journal:
I have no reason to think otherwise. We’re very happy with the job Manny has done. It was a tough trip, but Manny has provided the proper leadership. He is part of the solution; he is not part of the problem.
Then came all the losses in August, and Acta was done in Cleveland by the end of September. He now works for ESPN, because somebody has to be their former manager analyst guy.
And speaking of ESPN former manager analyst guys...
Bobby Valentine, 2012
A manager has to know he's screwed when a vote of confidence is needed as early as April.
That's when Bobby Valentine got his first VoC as manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2012. The Red Sox started the season 4-10, but Boston's suits came out and voiced their approval of Bobby V's work.
"Very satisfied," said general manager Ben Cherington of Valentine's performance, via ESPNBoston.com. "He makes the lineup out, makes decisions during the game. The players will always influence wins and losses more than anybody else, and that's no different here."
The Red Sox, as I'm sure you remember, never got off the ground in 2012. And by early August, it was time for another VoC.
"We are not making a change in manager," team owner John Henry wrote in an email sent to reporters, via ESPNBoston.com.
The big trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers happened a couple weeks later, and Valentine was left to run an increasingly hopeless team for the rest of the season. His firing the day after the season ended may be the least surprising firing in baseball history.
OK, That's Enough. Let's Talk About This.
There are plenty more VoC stories out there that could have been discussed above. Dozens of them, even.
But we've gone far enough to get the general idea of what it means for a manager to get a VoC, and I wouldn't quite call it an automatic kiss of death. A couple of the guys we talked about managed to survive after getting a VoC, and Mr. Girardi did wonders both times he got a VoC.
However, he's clearly the exception to the rule. A VoC may not equal an imminent firing in every case, but it's also hardly a harbinger of many wins to come.
And there's a very simple, very obvious reason for that.
No VoC is ever going to inject a team with more talent, and no amount of talky-talky is ever going to change the fact that firing the manager is always the easiest card to play when a team is underperforming. The players can't be fired, and it's a lot more practical to bring in a new voice than it is to cultivate a new clubhouse culture by shaking up a roster.
And this is all leads back to Scioscia. It's nice that Moreno has confidence in his manager, but the Angels are still a mess. As long as that's the case, Scioscia is living on borrowed time.
Note: Record data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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