Shaky Economy Forces MLB Owners to Balk at Firing Inept Leaders

Kevin O'BrienCorrespondent IJuly 21, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 17:  New York Mets interim manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya pose during a press conference at Angel Stadium on June 17, 2008 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Five years ago, there is no way New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya would still have a job.

If you listen to WFAN-AM, it's a safe bet that you will hear angry callers talk about the late-season collapses and the utter catastrophe that has been the 2009 season.

It's obvious the Mets need a change.

Additionally, considering Jerry Manuel was Minaya's guy, a manager that was used as a pretense to get Willie Randolph fired and save Minaya's backside, it would be no surprise that five years ago, Manuel would be packing along with the GM.

After all, the Mets play in New York, one of the biggest sports markets in the nation.

Mediocrity is not tolerated with any sport or team in the Big Apple.

Yet despite the callers, despite the experts chiming in that Minaya should be "out as soon as possible," and despite the Mets free-falling and their future as a team looking murkier every day, Minaya can sit pretty in his office at Citi Field.

On Monday, both Minaya and Manuel were given votes of confidences by Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon.

Expect this to be a trend for the rest of the year.

In this economic recession, MLB owners won't be as rash as they may have been in the past to fire front office personnel or managers.

Simply put, owners cannot afford to pay buyouts on fired managers or general managers on top of the ones they newly hire.

Attendance is predictably down from last season, and owners are going to get the most mileage they can out of their current organizations whether they are successful or not.

On Sunday, Royals GM Dayton Moore said manager Trey Hillman would be back next season despite the manager's .427 winning percentage since taking over (even though, to be fair, that is better than his predecessor Buddy Bell).

Despite many risky offseason acquisitions not living up to expectations and the team being mired in the basement of the AL West, no notion has been made at all about GM Billy Beane's or manager Bob Geren's job security.

Never mind that Beane broke the "Moneyball" mold this year and signed old-timers like Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra (the anti-Beane player).

Never mind that Geren hasn't had a winning record in his three seasons as manager of the A's, despite replacing a manager who led the A's to the ALCS.

With the A's a traditionally small-budget team, attendance suffering dismally, and the team's future in doubt, the A's have bigger problems to worry about than a "change of pace" in the front office or dugout.

The worst part of all this is that it isn't limited to the Mets, Royals, and A's.

You could take a roll call around the league with this issue.

With almost every team there are economic problems that will keep people in positions that normally would have gotten them fired five years ago, when the economic climate was better.

The challenges of Yankee Stadium and the A-Rod contract will probably be the reason why GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi will keep their jobs, even if they miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

Not even the richest and most prestigious team in baseball is exempt from the pitfalls this current economic recession has produced.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the firings of Washington manager Manny Acta and Colorado manager Clint Hurdle are the only firings that occur all season.

The reason those two managers got canned was simply because the fans' disapproval of those managers was actually affecting the attendance and support of those teams to such a great extent.

The Nationals were playing in front of empty seats even though they just opened up a new stadium.

The Rockies' fan support was dwindling despite having the same core from the team that made a run to the 2007 World Series.

So it made sense why those organizations made changes. They had no choice. They had to spark some interest in their clubs somehow in order to salvage something at the front gate.

It has worked in the case of Colorado, as it has played its way to contention under new manager Jim Tracy and rejuvenated the Rockies fanbase.

As for Washington, it is still to be determined whether or not there will be a difference since the firing (but with Jim Riggleman as manager and the team still the worst in baseball, there probably won't).

Basically, the economic hard times that this nation has gone through has seeped into our favorite pastime, and the days of the rotating manager and general manager door that has long been a guilty pleasure for some will be suspended for at least this season.

Owners can't simply do it unless it makes that big of a difference in the attendance, and unfortunately, there aren't a lot of cases where that would be valid.

Would attendance soar if the Mets fired Minaya?

Would those empty seats behind home plate of Yankee Stadium suddenly be filled if Cashman finally got the boot?

The honest answer is probably not, and thus, owners aren't going to be willing to pay the kind of money it takes to make those kinds of personnel changes.

Look at the case in Cleveland, where Eric Wedge still has a managerial position despite the Indians battling it out for last place in the mediocre AL Central.

He should have been fired by now. However, because of the contract extension he signed in 2007, not only are the chances of Wedge finishing out this season high, but there is also a good chance that he will back on the bench managing next season as well.

Cleveland just can't afford to buy out Wedge and hire a replacement manager. They simply don't have the funds to do it considering the current economic climate.

Wedge can thank his lucky stars the nation is mired in the slump that it is.

It is hard to determine whether or not owners suddenly standing pat on organizational changes is a good thing.

In some ways, it's good because it will give people in the organization that usually would be on the hot seat more confidence to make better decisions.

It gives them second chances they normally wouldn't get in any other time period.

Then again, the standing-still approach could backfire. After all, if incompetence is not dealt with immediately, it can spiral out of control.

Isiah Thomas and the New York Knicks showed us that.

Nonetheless, fans should start getting used to seeing more of the same in the headlines.

"(Insert team owner) gives vote of confidence in (insert General Manager or manager) with the (insert team)."

So all of those people calling into all those sports talk shows demanding their managers or general managers be fired can stop wasting their breath.

The owner won't be listening this time.


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