Being the head coach or manager of an athletic team is quite a bipolar position in the sporting world: it’s good when the team is winning, but it’s horrible when they’re losing.
Credit is oftentimes overly given during teams’ successes, but blame is too when failure is more dominant and frequent.
When the losses become commonplace, the head coach shoulders culpability and is ultimately run out of town, even if it’s not entirely his fault.
It’s easy for this to be the result, because fans demand accountability from those in charge, even though assessment of head coaches is sometimes difficult.
This is no truer than in baseball, where the manager’s managing is not as visually ratable as other sports’ head coaches.
They don’t draw up and shout out plays like a basketball coach. They’re not responsible for drafting players and integrating organizational offensive and defensive systems the way most football coaches do. And unlike hockey, they don’t call timeouts to stop the bleeding and yell at their team.
For the most part, baseball managers are seen as handlers who oversee a bunch of players.
The most coaching they do seeming to be touching their noses, ears and sleeves when a runner is on base. Given the course of 162 games, it’s hard to identify nightly coaching that truly determines wins and loses.
But true evaluation can be made both before the game begins when lineup cards are distributed and the few in-game moments when the manager steps out of the dugout to take a pitcher out of the game.
That’s all it takes.
In his fifth season as head coach of the A’s, Geren has become too familiar with different starting lineups, batting orders and pitching changes.
He has had the unenviable task of dealing with player injuries, offseason acquisition busts, trades and generally underwhelming performances. His commitment to leading a rebuilding era has been hindered by a combination of unprecedented visits to the disabled list along with trading deadline fire sales.
This 2011 season was supposed to be different because of the A’s added depth that would compensate for any player health issues. Despite four non-winning campaigns, Geren was given another chance to produce a turn-around.
However, it’s become clear that no matter who’s healthy or not producing, Geren cannot do the right things while running the show. He simply fails in his decision making time and time again, resulting in more losses and player inadequacies.
The recent grumblings from closer Brian Fuentes are exemplary of the precipice of Geren’s departure. Coming off of four straight appearances where he took the loss, Fuentes’ fumes were en fuego, as he ripped Geren for his lack of tactical practices.
It was hard to misinterpret Fuentes’ calling out the manager’s poor communication skills.
And while the timing of such criticism may be result of the team’s six-game losing streak, there’s something to be said finally about Geren and his bad coaching.
There are too many instances where Geren over-thinks and babies his players. The daily lineup changes and rearranged batting orders create disgruntlement within the clubhouse because of the inconsistencies.
Granted, there have been some woeful performances from players, but over-platooning is not conducive for a struggling team nor is it a recipe for long-term success.
Is it Andy LaRoche or Kevin Kouzmanoff today at third? Is it Ryan Sweeney or David DeJesus in right? Grant Balfour or Brian Fuentes closing?
Clearly, Geren believes in head-scratching micromanagement. Taking out starters after six innings and 88 pitches, pinch-hitting a lefty for a righty who had gone two-for-three, pinch-running a catcher for a catcher on first with two outs in the eighth (last Saturday versus the Giants) and apparently sending in the closer into four consecutive tied games.
Fuentes, the designated closer in All-Star Andrew Bailey’s absence, was brought into tied-game situations but has struggled mightily recently, with five losses in his last nine appearances, giving up seven runs in 6.1 innings during that stretch.
And still, Geren waves him in during these pressure moments.
Geren’s constant faith-based decisions change each day, especially with the bullpen, where he continually makes backfiring changes and tweaks. He’ll lift a starter after six innings and leading but leave in Brandon McCarthy during a 3-3 game in the ninth inning on the road (result: 4-3 loss).
Fuentes’ comments may have been out of line, but they ring true considering the team’s results: losses.
General Manager, Billy Beane has long articulated his belief that managers are not that impactful in the success of the team, which is why, despite playoff appearances by Art Howe and Ken Macha, they were both unretained.
If it’s true that managers are negligibly consequential, it’s apparent that Geren’s worth is torrentially less, given that the A’s have not come close to sniffing the playoffs and appear on the outside smelling in this season.
The A’s front office should draw the conclusion fast that managerial ability is the direct product of losing. And when they do come to that summary, they’ll realized that Geren is not the man to get them on the winning track.
If losing is truly the demise for a manager’s job, then the only fast track Geren is on is the one out of Oakland.