We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.
In recent years managerial hires have trended young and relatively inexperienced. Former players, many with little managing or coaching experience, have been hired by a number of teams. Brad Asumus in Detroit. Mike Matheny in St. Louis. Walt Weiss in Colorado. Craig Counsell in Milwaukee. The list goes on and on.
The rationale for this trend? Baseball has become a front office-oriented game, with general managers, their assistants and their analytics departments running the show and calling the shots to their on-field staff. The front office folks increasingly dictate the strategies and team philosophies, it is reasoned, so a crusty and experienced manager is not the most important thing. Indeed, managerial experience may be seen as a drawback by some, leading to a butting of heads between the uniformed and non-uniformed staff. It’s better to get a guy who is on the same page as the GM. It’s also a plus to get a guy who recently played the game so that he can better-relate to the players on the roster. The manager’s top job now: ensuring clubhouse harmony.
In May, the Miami Marlins took this theory to a whole new level. They wouldn’t just hire a manager who was on the same page as their general manager. They’d literally make their GM their manager. Dan Jennings replaced the fired Mike Redmond (who was supposed to be one of those new-style managers himself, but never mind that). When he took the job Jennings had no professional coaching or managing experience whatsoever. His only on-field experience was a stint as a high school coach in Alabama in 1985.
The move didn’t work out well. Under Redmond, the 2015 Marlins went 16-22, which is a .421 winning percentage. Under Jennings they went 55-69, or .444. Not terrible given that Jennings didn’t have Giancarlo Stanton on the roster for most of the season, but he wasn’t a revelation or anything. Soon after the hiring, several rival managers offered catty remarks about Jennings and his inexperience to the press. The Marlins, long a laughingstock under Jeff Loria, continued to be the butt of jokes.
Many think Jennings taking the manager job in the first place was less about him thinking it was a good idea and more a function of his loyalty to the Marlins organization. If so, he miscalculated. Jennings was fired after the season, both from his managerial job and from his old job as GM. He’s well-respected around the game and will likely, eventually, find a scouting or front office gig someplace, but for now he’s unemployed.
For as unfortunate as that all is for Dan Jennings, with his dismissal we may have finally reached Peak Inexperienced Manager in Major League Baseball. We may have witnessed that moment when the wave finally broke and then rolled back.
The Marlins hired Don Mattingly and his several years of experience coaching and managing as Jennings’ replacement. In Washington, Matt Williams completely lost his clubhouse in 2015 and was replaced by old hand Dusty Baker. Ryne Sandberg had a lot of minor league managing experience before taking the Phillies’ job, but he had no major league experience and still, generally, fit the “hire an ex-player” mold. When he resigned he was replaced by baseball lifer and 64-year-old Pete Mackanin. The gray hairs are, tentatively, regaining some of the ground they have lost.
Whether Dan Jennings is the reason for that, a symbol of it or an oddity separate and apart from these trends will ultimately be a matter for baseball historians.